With daytime highs barely getting over the freezing point of water, and a good foot of snow on the ground, it seemed like a good time as any to get the heck out of the frozen tundra of upstate New York and head out to the desert for some family holiday fun. This report covers my holiday vacation travels on US Airways/America West from Syracuse, NY (SYR) to Phoenix, AZ (PHX)
Saturday December 24th, 2005.
The world looks different at the ungodly hour of 4 in the AM. The very hour that I loaded up my car and headed out for the 45 minutes drive to Syracuse's Hancock International Airport. The roads are strangely vacant at that hour, save the stray semi-truck or other poor soul who has business to conduct at such an early hour.
After a brief pit stop/coffee stop I arrive at Hancock around 5 AM. The digital sign on the airport approach road tells me the local time and the current temp, a balmy 37F. After finding a close parking spot in the open lot I proceed to the USAirways ticketing counter to check-in. It seems that 5 am is the busiest time of the day at SYR. With 3 USAir, 1 JetBlue, and 1 Northwest flight all leaving with +/- 90 minutes of 6am, you could say the south terminal was busy. This morning check-in takes ~ 15 minutes. By the time I get up to the counter it seems that a slow bag tag printer is partly to blame. Soon enough I am checked in and dump my bag with the fine folks @ the TSA and I head upstairs towards security and my gate.
USAirways 393, SYR-DCA
Departure time 6:20 AM
Honestly not too much to write about this short 45 minute hop down to National. The plane was generally full, the middle seat next to me remained vacant. The passengers were in a generally good mood. This particular 734 was continuing onto Nassau... and quite a few folks onboard were talking about their Christmas vacation plans in the Bahamas. I couldn't get too jealous as I was heading out to Phoenix, which was expecting highs in the upper 70s. As with all flights out of the 'Cuse to DCA, a drink/pretzel service was offered. I politely declined both.
Our arrival into National was ontime, flying the River Visual Approach to RWY 19. I may be getting blase, but I don't get too excited about this approach anymore. I've seen all the monuments before, flown that exact same approach too many times before, but it felt good to be back (even for a few hours) in one of my favorite cities. We pull into gate 39 and I walk out into a busy terminal as the morning push is well underway.
For the time being I stake out some space at gate 38 where my flight to Phoenix will be departing from. I have a few hours to kill. Also one this flight I am meeting up with my brother, sister-in-law, and their kids. We all flew out to PHX on the same flight. After the morning push dies down I grab some breakfast at Jerry's Subs.
America West 196, PHX-DCA
Boeing 757-200 (AZ Diamondbacks plane)
Departure time 10:14 AM
As I was waiting at the gate I remarked to myself that this must be the visiting grandma and grandpa express. Lots of rugrats and anklebiters on this flight. HP 196 that morning was filled to the gills... I guess there is no better way to kill a few hours than to sit in an aluminum tube with 189 strangers.
With everyone packed on board we had an on-time departure, taxied to RWY 01, and had a typical rocket like take-off; as our Rolls Royce powered 57 launched itself off of DCA 6850' main runway.
In-flight service was standard fare. 2 drink services, with the buy-on-board meal service in between. The in-flight feature was "Christmas with the Cranks", staring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. Unfortunately it seems like the IFE system on this plane was showing its age. Looking up the aisle the picture quality on the CRT monitors varied greatly, and the audio channel for the movie had some horrible background noise. Made watching the movie a bit of a challenge.
The buy-on-board service seemed to work well, IMO. My lunch included a Diet Pepsi and the hot roast beef sandwich. For US$5.00 it was a decent value. It had several slices of thick cut roast beef with melted cheese on a kaiser style sub roll. I've had better sandwiches, but for the most part I was pretty happy with the meal.
Due to light headwinds we arrived into the Phoenix area about 45 minutes ahead of schedule, which was fine by me. After a smooth touchdown on RWY 8 we quickly taxied to gate B13 at terminal four, which was abuzz with activity. Our particular 757 was continuing onto San Diego.
Now my only complaint about this particular leg of the journey is the glacial speed at which the baggage service occurs at Sky Harbor... and this has been a problem as far back as I can remember. While normally a minor inconvenience, when you are helping keep an eye on a 3 year old and a 6 month old it can quickly become a major pain in the ass. This is something that the airport and the airlines need to seriously improve. At the very least have better signage so arriving pax know which carousel their bags are arriving on.
The homebound flights:
Monday January 2nd, 2006
After 10 days of fun filled family holiday time I was more than ready to head back home and sleep in my own bed. My dad and I left their house @ 8:45 for the quick drive to Sky Harbor airport, which was busy, but not hectic that morning. Check-in and security screening took some time, I figure it took ~ 25-30 minutes from curbside to entering the concourse. After clearing security I was off to gate A24 to catch my flight to Philadelphia.
America West 250, PHX-PHL
Departure time 10:14 AM
Yet another packed plane full of people returning home from their fun filled family holiday time. Like I said above, no better way to kill a few hours than sit in a tube with 149 strangers.
Our 'Bus was loaded up and ready to go ahead of schedule... however there was a problem. Right around departure time the captain comes on to tell us that MX still has the logbooks and is trying to round them up. Obviously they cannot legally dispatch a flight without the logs, so we wait, and we wait some more. After a rather long "5" minutes (more like 20) we finally push and begin the long taxi to RWY 7R. Just to sit and wait in line behind 7-10 other departing aircraft. I believe we finally depart around 10:50 AM.
The inflight service today consisted of 2 drink services with the buy-on-board meal service in between. The inflight movie was "Just Like Heaven" with Reese Witherspoon. I caught a bit of it, and I am ashamed to say that I actually liked it. Horribly cheesy and corny... but Reese is so easy on the eyes, and that makes it worthwhile.
For the meal service I took another can of Diet Pepsi and had the turkey and ham sandwich. The sandwich was on a nice Focacia roll with several slices of turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Again for $5.00 a pretty good deal.
Like my flight from National we were very ahead of schedule. Despite the delays at departure we arrived at our gate (B7), in a very rainy and gloomy Philadelphia, @ ~ 4:50 PM. Scheduled time was 5:07 PM.
With 90 minutes to kill I made my way over to the F terminal to catch my connecting flight to Syracuse. After a quick walk over to C16 to catch the shuttle bus, I was in F terminal. A quick potty stop later I decided it was time for dinner as I did not know how late I would be home. Unfortunately the dining choices in F are somewhat limited compared to the large mall/food court in B/C. I was limited to Sbarro, Asian Chao, and a crowded sports bar were waiting pax were watching the Fiesta Bowl. Asian Chao it was.
US Airways 3994 (Operated by Air Wisconsin Airline Corporation), PHL-SYR
Departure time 6:45 PM
F terminal was abuzz with tons of freshly painted AWAC Canuckjets heading off to every imaginable city on the east coast and midwest. This is where my journey gets interesting. As we get closer and closer to departure time everyone begins to notice that we are not boarding. 6:45 rolls around and we are still sitting in the departure lounge. Something is up for sure. However because of the weather there are several other flights that have been delayed or canceled. By 6:50 a gate agent comes on and tells us their is a problem with the plane and they will swap out the troublesome aircraft. After a rather long 5-10 minutes (more like 20) they send us down 2 gates were a working CRJ is waiting to be loaded.
Another 15 minutes later, after pre-flight checks and all, we are loaded aboard. Just to wait some more. Due to some misplaced paperwork we wait what seems like another 15-20 minutes before the door is finally closed and we get pushed from the gate. By the time we push it is almost 8:30 PM.... given the crappy weather and the high level of traffic waiting to take off we begin a slow taxi towards to end of RWY 27R. About halfway through the taxi the captain comes to tell us that our wait is pretty long and ATC has not given them a sequence for departure yet. He goes on to say that there are about 20 aircraft ahead of use waiting to depart.
However after that we moved much more quickly to the departure end of the runway. I suppose some of the traffic, including the international heavies, were waiting to use the longer RWY 27L. So within 15 minutes we had lined up and departed from Philly. By then it was almost 9 PM.
Due to the short flight and predicted turbulence enroute the flight attendant, Lorie, only did a water service. But we finally did make it back to a cold and wet Syracuse sometime around 9:30 or so. Honestly by that point I wasn't paying much attention.
To make a long story short... after seeing the same bags go around the baggage carousel a few too many times I realized that my suitcase was probably still in Philly. So after waiting at the baggage service office I finally get into my car and head home a little after 10 PM, stopping only to pick up a few toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, bottle of Diet Pepsi, etc), so I wouldn't offend my coworkers the next day. It was already well after 11 pm by the time I made it home, sans bag.
The women at baggage service informed me that my bag would likely come in on the midnight arrival from Philly.... which seems to be a normal dumping point for all mishandled bags on USAir in the SYR. I got a call the next morning from Andy with the baggage service. I was finally reunited with my bag late in the afternoon, after poor Andy got lost trying to find my office.
You would think in this day and age traveling cross-country would be easier, less stressful, and all that. A 13-14 hr travel day still sucks, no matter what. A non-stop flight would have been nice, but I doubt that a SYR-PHX nonstop will be a likely outcome of the HP/US merger.