Monday, November 21, 2005
Alaska Airlines, flight 509
San Diego, California (SAN) to Portland, Oregon (PDX)
Photo © Sokol Ymeri
After comparing the costs of taking a shuttle to the airport versus parking, I saw that the shuttle would be about half the price, so I elected for that option. The shuttle was scheduled to pick me up at 0445, and at 0440 my doorbell rang. I was packed and ready; the driver took my suitcase and I took my backpack, and we boarded his van. He didn't have any other passengers to pick up, so we headed straight to the airport.
By 0455 I was in the terminal, waiting in line for the Alaska ticket counter to open, which it did at 0500. I went up to a kiosk and checked myself in, declining the option to purchase a first class upgrade for $50. The agent stapled the checked baggage claim ticket to the back of my boarding pass and checked my ID. Alaska's boarding passes have space for up to four segments, so I had only one that I would use for both flights. I wasn't given a ticket jacket.
Once I was done, I stopped to remove my laptop from my backpack before heading to the security checkpoint. At the checkpoint, my boarding pass and ID were checked, and I went up to an x-ray machine that had no waiting. I placed my laptop and shoes in a plastic tub and slid that and my backpack up to the x-ray belt before walking through the metal detector. I was waved on, and went to the other side of the x-ray machine to reclaim my backpack and laptop, put my shoes back on, and headed up the stairs to the gate.
Terminal 1 in San Diego consists of two separate circles, connected at the base with a building running parallel to the access road, holding the check in counters, baggage claim, and main food court. Many people seem to complain about Terminal 1 being old and needing to be redone, but it doesn't seem too bad to me. Terminal 1 East is used by Southwest, and was also used by TWA until it's acquisition by American. Terminal 2 West is used by United, Alaska, and US Airways, which is still separate from America West in Terminal 2.
After walking around the circle to see what planes were there, I settled down at a window near gate 17 to wait for boarding. I had gotten there earlier than I ultimately needed, so I was in for a bit of a wait.
San Diego's curfew ends at 0630, so there are several flights scheduled to depart around 0620, with the expectation that it would be nearly 0630 by the time the flight actually reached runway 27. United had a couple of these first flights, as did Alaska, with an 0630 scheduled departure for Seattle.
The Seattle-bound 737-900 was parked right outside the window, and I had an excellent opportunity to observe Alaska's boarding procedure. It started out normally enough, with passengers needing special assistance and those with small children invited to board first, followed by MVP Gold members, then MVP and partner elites, then first class. Then things got interesting, when everyone else was invited to board. That's right, no row numbers or boarding groups or zones. Just "everyone". And remember, Alaska has assigned seats. With all this recent discussion of trying to optimize the boarding process to make it as efficient as possible, this method seems the worst possible when you have assigned seats, since you'll have people trying to get to their specific seat, rather than just taking whatever they want as on Southwest. Perhaps they are on to something, as strange as it seems, as both the Seattle flight and my flight both left the gate ahead of schedule (although boarding was started before the 0630 boarding time printed on my boarding pass).
As the Seattle flight prepared to leave, I turned my attention to my own flight. At 0622 boarding started, using the same method as the Seattle flight. By the time general boarding started, passengers had already formed some sort of line, but other people approaching the gate from various directions were trying to merge in as well. I slowly shuffled to the gate, where an agent scanned my boarding pass and handed it back to me. I made my way down the jetway and onboard the aircraft, and towards the back of the plane to my seat. As it was to be a full flight, I elected to just place my backpack under the seat in front of me rather than in the overhead bin. I can survive with the lesser legroom for a couple of hours.
Though the flight attendants had stated we had a completely full flight, we did end up with a few empty seats, including the middle seat next to me. The flight attendants did their final pre-departure checks and we pushed back from the gate as they did the safety demonstration. After the engines were started, we made our way down taxiway B to the threshold of runway 27, where we were second for departure after Southwest's New Mexico One.
Photo © Jason Knutson
We climbed out over Point Loma and headed north. The pilots welcomed us aboard, explaining our basic flight plan as well as giving us an update on the weather in Portland. We would fly up the coast of California until about Salinas, where he said the flight was usually cleared direct to Portland. Current weather in Portland was foggy and 32°F (0°C), but was expected to have cleared some by the time we got there. We made our way up the coast offshore, and I spotted the former El Toro Marine Corps station, Orange County's John Wayne Airport, Los Alamitos Army Airfield, Long Beach Airport, and LAX. An announcement was also made pointing out Catalina and the other islands that passengers on the port side of the aircraft would be able to see, and that starboard side passengers had a view of the Los Angeles area.
As we continued our journey up the coast, flight attendants came through the cabin offering drinks and a warm breakfast pastry. The pastry was some sort of coffee cake, and to drink I requested a glass of cranberry juice. A bit later, the flight attendants came through again offering drink refills.
A second update on Portland was given, visibility had improved but the temperature had dropped to 30°F. I looked through Alaska's in-flight magazine for a bit, reading some of the articles. As we passed Oregon's Crater Lake, it was pointed out for those of us on the starboard side to see, and a couple of facts about it were given.
We began our descent into a mostly-foggy Portland, though parts of the airport were clear, including the north runway, where we touched down on runway 10L at 0914. We rolled out all the way to the end, and as we made our way past the north concourse I could see a Southwest 737 and a Delta 737 land after us. We made our way to Alaska's gates on the south concourse, where we parked at gate C3 at 0921.
I disembarked, and having plenty of time before my connecting flight, decided to walk around a bit and check things out. Fog of varying densities was moving across the airport, so the opportunity for photographs wasn't that great. I started out by walking down to the end of the C gates, then turned around and went back, through the passage that allowed passengers to move between the north and south concourses without exiting the secure area, where I looked out at the Maui-bound Hawaiian 767. A Northwest A330 was also parked at the end of the D gates. I walked down to the end of D, but discovered that the end there had no windows, so I couldn't get a close-up look at the Airbus. I had never been in the north concourse before, so I wanted to check it out. I then turned around and walked to the other end, the E gates, then back across to the south concourse and down through the B gates to the A gates, where my connecting flight would be leaving from.
As I walked through the gate area, I saw live news coverage of an aircraft circling over Portland on the television in the bar. I stopped for a couple minutes to watch, and saw that it was a Nike Gulfstream V with gear trouble. At first I thought it was a repeat of September's JetBlue incident, until I saw the pictures and realized that they were talking about the main gear, and not the nose gear as in JetBlue's case. When I was there, there was talk about it attempting to make an emergency landing at Portland, and the TV station had a reporter on scene outside, near the north runway. I didn't stop too long though, figuring I'd follow up on the incident later. I ultimately learned that the flight had safely landed in Hillsboro, it's point of departure, after the gear came loose.
Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, flight 2067
Portland, Oregon (PDX) to Medford, Oregon (MFR)
Bombardier Dash 8Q-402
Photo © Justin Idle
I settled down into a seat near the window in the gate area to wait for boarding. I still had some time before that would happen, so I pulled out my laptop and used the airport's free wireless Internet access to check my e-mail.
As I was doing that, an announcement was made that boarding would begin shortly, but due to fog in Medford there was a chance that we wouldn't be able to land, meaning the flight would return to Portland as it was the alternate airport. Overhearing other passengers' conversations, I was able to discern that the earlier flights to Medford had been unable to depart at all.
After attending to a wheelchair passenger, boarding started at 1130, though I didn't hear an announcement, but simply saw that the agent started to check people's boarding passes and they were heading outside. It moved somewhat slow, and there sure seemed to be a lot of people for our scheduled 37 seat Q200. Once I reached the agent, she checked my boarding pass, told me to go to the aircraft at door E, and stamped my boarding pass with the same information. I headed outside and down the walkway to door E, and saw that Horizon's solution to the Medford cancellations was to substitute for the Q200 the larger, faster, and overall niftier Q400. They had done the same thing last year.
My usual seating preference for turboprop aircraft is to sit towards the back, away from the propellors, to lessen the vibration. On the 37 versions on the Dash 8 (the 100 and 200) row 7 isn't too bad, as it's close to the back of the engine nacelle. However, with the switch to the Q400, I saw that row 7 was almost exactly inline with the propellor. I actually thought this was a good thing, since it would give me a chance to see for myself just how good the Q400 was, as my previous flight on a Q400 had been in the front, away from the propellors.
I sat down, and a couple minutes later the gentleman assigned to the seat next to me arrived, and I had the answer to the question of how big guys fit in small seats: Badly. Thus, I spent most of the flight leaning slightly to the right. Insert bad political joke here.
We pushed back from the gate at 1157, and the flight attendants did the safety demonstration. Her announcements were full of jokes, some of them classics, like pointing out the smoking section as being outside on the wing (an especially difficult location to reach, considering that the Q400 is a high wing aircraft, coupled with the lack of a mid-cabin emergency exit). She also stated that the movie in that section would be "Gone In Sixty Seconds", though I thought to myself "Gone With The Wind" would have been an appropriate choice as well. She also stated there was no smoking in the lavatory; if they did see smoke coming out, they would assume you were on fire and put you out. In the event of a water landing, the seat cushions could be used for floatation, and we were welcome to keep them if they became needed. When she said this, I thought back to my Air Wisconsin/United Express flight in August, when we were asked to return them to United within three days in order to save money.
The engines were started, and we made our way to the runway. As we taxied, I noticed no vibration at all. We entered runway 10R at intersection E and took off. As the engines went to full power I noticed a bit of vibration on the floor, but nothing like being next to the propellor in an EMB-120, and noise was not bad either.
The pilots advised us that the weather was still foggy in Medford, and they were going to go down and shoot the approach and try to land. They told us that it was the airport, not the plane, that was the problem.
We headed south, and the flight attendants came through the cabin serving potato chips and drinks. They reminded us that it's always Happy Hour on Horizon: Beer and wine are free. I passed on the alcohol and had another cup of cranberry juice. I also noticed that the bag of chips contained 15% of the recommended daily allowance of fat. The pilots pointed out the tops of some of the various mountains sticking out above the clouds and fog.
Aside from the drinks, I spent most of the flight either reading the Horizon Air magazine, which had some of the same articles at the Alaska magazine, but some were different. I also looked outside at our big, slow spinning props.
The fast Q400 made up some of the delay from the late departure, and the flight attendants were still working on serving the cabin as our descent began. We descended into the fog, the landing gear extended, and I kept my eyes peeled outside the window...
Ooh, look! Ground! Yay!
We made a hard touchdown on runway 14 at 1245, and just a couple of minutes later at 1247, we were parked on the ramp. The flight attendants advised that we would be exiting through both the front and rear doors, and if you had left bags planeside to wait by the sign on the ramp. I disembarked, but since I hadn't left any bags planeside, headed into the terminal. I saw that our flight appeared to be the second aircraft to arrive, as there was a SkyWest EMB-120 already on the ramp that was boarding passengers, and arriving in baggage claim there were bags from that flight. I waited for the Horizon bags to arrive, and mine was among the first.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, flight 2066
Medford, Oregon (MFR) to Portland, Oregon (PDX)
Bombardier Dash 8Q-202
N345PH - "The Great City of Wenatchee"
Photo © Jason Whitebird
It was a rainy morning in the Medford area, and that was a good thing. For rain meant fog was rather unlikely, and fog at MFR means planes don't land.
I arrived at the airport and saw that Horizon had replaced their one kiosk at Medford with four of them, integrated into the ticket counter. There were a couple open, and I used one to check myself in, and an agent came over to tag my checked suitcase and stick the claim check to the back of my boarding pass. She then instructed me to take the bag over to the TSA, where an agent there asked if it was unlocked, took it from me, and wished me a good flight.
After that, I went over to the security checkpoint, where there wasn't any waiting. I had my laptop, boarding pass, and ID out of my backpack, and everything else in it. Once through, I reclaimed my stuff and sat down by the windows to wait for boarding.
There wasn't a whole lot going on, mostly people just waiting for their flights. San Francisco weather apparently wasn't so great, as the United Express flight there was delayed. They made an announcement asking that passengers that had connecting flights to come up to the counter. The agents working the counter checked on the passengers' connections and if necessary, made arrangements for alternate flights.
My plane arrived, passengers disembarked, and a few minutes later at 1252, boarding started. Passengers needing special assistance and elites were invited to board first, followed seconds later by general boarding for all seats, all rows.
It was drizzling as I walked across the ramp to the waiting Dash 8. I climbed the steps into the cabin, and walked back to row 7. After placing my backpack under the seat in front of me, I settled into my seat and waited for departure.
Before departing, the pilots welcomed us on board and advised us that with the weather both at MFR and PDX, they expected some bumps during climb out and descent. The flight attendant did the safety demonstration, the engines were started, and at 1311 we pulled away from the gate. We taxied to runway 32 but held short of the runway for a few minutes while a SkyWest/Delta Connection CRJ landed the opposite direction, on runway 14. Once they were clear of the runway, we moved on to the runway and took off at 1316.
As promised, the climb was bumpy. It was smooth once we reached our cruise altitude however, and the flight attendant came through the cabin offering drinks and a Nature's Valley granola bar. Cranberry juice was still my drink of choice. I also snapped a photo out the window of the engine:
As we began our descent, the bumps returned, and the pilots asked the flight attendant to collect the service items a bit early. She apologized to those who were unable to finish their drinks, then once she had collected the garbage, took her seat as we descended into Portland.
We emerged from the clouds over the Columbia River, passed Pearson Field in Vancouver, Washington before touching down on runway 10R at 1408. We had a short taxi to the gate, parking at about 1410. The rampers were quick to unload the bags left plane side, and we disembarked, walked across the ramp, and entered the terminal through gate A2.
I had quite a bit a layover, a side effect of planning Thanksgiving week travel just two weeks before departure. I headed over to the north concourse to check out what was there, then went back to the south concourse and had an Oregon Smokey sausage at Good Dog/Bad Dog.
After roaming a bit more, I settled down at gate C3 for a bit. It was overcast, so no good for photos. My flight was departing from C4, but C3 affords a better view. I pulled out my laptop and checked my e-mail. After an Alaska 737 pulled into C2, limiting my view, I went across to C4, got the laptop back out, and continued surfing the web. I also dropped into the Airliners.net chat room for a bit.
Alaska Airlines, flight 540
Portland, Oregon (PDX) to San Diego, California (SAN)
Photo © Matthew Hom--Frame of Mind, Inc.
As I returned to the gate area after a visit to the restroom, I saw that the agent was changing the text on the departure sign behind the podium. Once she was finished, she made the announcement that the flight was delayed. I took a seat near the podium, where I could overhear her telling other passengers that the plane was coming from Oakland, where it had been delayed due to a mechanical problem. They were estimating a new departure time of 1813.
The plane arrived, the passengers disembarked, and as soon as the plane had been cleaned and serviced, boarding started at 1757. Passengers requiring assistance were invited to board first, followed by MVP Gold, then MVP, partner elites, first class, and row 6. As in San Diego, general boarding consisted of all passengers being invited to board at the same time. I made my way to the gate, where the agent tried to scan my boarding pass, but as in Medford, it didn't want to scan, so she entered my information manually and I headed down the jetway.
This flight was less than full, so upon reaching my seat, I removed my iPod and earphones from my backpack and placed it in the overhead bin. I settled into my seat, and nobody sat in either of the seats next to me. In fact, the only other person in row 22 was in 22A, the other window seat.
We pushed back at 1816, initially tail-west before doing a 180 to face tail-east. The flight attendants demonstrated the safety features of our 737-400, the engines were started, and we made our way to the runway. Shortly before boarding, I'd noticed traffic had switched directions, and sure enough, we headed to runway 28R, where we taxied right onto the runway and went to takeoff power at 1826, without stopping.
We turned and headed south, and had a few bumps on the climb out. The pilots advised that they were expecting some turbulence during the flight, but part way during the climb to 35,000 feet it smoothed out, and the seat belt sign went off.
The flight attendants came through with a beverage service, and I had a glass of apple juice. It was accompanied by a bag of party mix, which consisted of mini pretzel twists, barbecue flavored sticks, and ranch flavored bagel chips.
A short time after they finished their first service, they came through again offering additional drinks, and I had a glass of water.
We turned toward the coast, and after a few minutes I was able to recognize the lights of the Bay Bridge, with it's turn at Treasure Island, and thus place our location as over the San Francisco Bay. We seemed to be flying south over the center of the bay, though we could have actually been over the east bay cities, since I couldn't see that direction. I could see SFO, and once we reached the South Bay, I could also pick out San Jose Airport, but I couldn't locate Moffett Field. There were some scattered clouds, so it is possible that it was under one and thus hidden from view.
Seven minutes after passing San Jose, the pilots advised that we were about 30 minutes from beginning our descent into San Diego, and they would provide an update on the weather there at that time.
We hit some turbulence and the seat belt sign came back on. I spent most of the flight just listening to music on the iPod. We began our descent, and the pilots updated us on the weather. San Diego had overcast skies but good visibility. We descended into the clouds then emerged over the city lights, on course for runway 27.
We seemed to be passing through downtown rather low, but since it has been a few years since I had landed in San Diego in a jet (the last time was in an EMB-120), it is difficult for me to compare. We touched down on runway 27 at 2030, made the B6 turn off and were parked at gate 17 at 2032.
We disembarked, and as I passed through the gate area on my way to baggage claim, I saw that the delay had cascaded onto the next flight, a trip back to Portland, as well.
I went down the steps and headed to baggage claim, which was pretty crowded. None of the carousels mentioned my flight, but after a few minutes an announcement was made that my flight's bags were coming on carousel 3. A few minutes after that my suitcase arrived, and I headed up the escalator and across the bridge to the transportation area, where I caught a shuttle and headed back home.