Booked schedule: ELM-ROC-PIT-SFO
Actual schedule: ELM-ROC-ORD-SFO
The Elmira/Corning Regional Airport was my departure point for a trip home from the Watkins Glen International racetrack, where my Grand-Am racing team employer finished second. I booked this roundabout itinerary to get my first-ever flight on a Beechcraft 1900. ELM is a typical small-town American airport, served by US Airways Express with Dash-8s and CRJs to Philly, Northwest Airlink with CRJs to Detroit and an odd Continental Connection/Commutair presence, serving Cleveland (which makes sense) and Rochester (which doesn't). I was scheduled to connect at ROC to a Piedmont prop to Pittsburgh for an A319 transcon leg to San Francisco. But schedules ran into airline reality...
CO8718 operated by Commutair - Beech 1900 - Seat 4F
ELM-ROC, depart 14:40, arrive 15:10
Wow! is all I can say. Six pax for the 77-mile hop across New York the short way, and the takeoff roll could be measured in triple digit feet. The lightly-loaded Beechcraft fairly leaped into the air... then dropped, then leaped again. Ah, welcome to the world of tiny aircraft! The crew left the cockpit door open so we got a great view of the work they do.
Upon arrival in Rochester, I thanked the crew for an amazing flight on a great aircraft - sure, a bit hairy at times but it was an E-ticket ride all the way. After deplaning, I grabbed a couple snapshots of the bird on the ramp and climbed the stairs to the concourse for the hike over to the US Airways gates all the way on the other side of the airport. Then again, "all the way on the other side of the airport" is really only like a B-to-C connection at Philly, so perhaps I doth protest too much.
As I walked through the A gates at Rochester, the reminders of what had once been were everywhere. Two of AirTran's gates were clearly ex-US Airways and still had the trademark red electronic sign. I walked past the abandoned and forlorn site of the US Airways Club, an empty special services counter and two more former US gates before arriving at what was left of US Airways' presence at Rochester - a pair of jetways at the end of the concourse and a ramp chock-full of Piedmont props. One of them was my ride to Pittsburgh - at least, I thought it was.
Taking up station by the check-in counter, I opened my laptop bag to fish out my heritage and Cockroach pins... and overheard the CSRs talking about something to do with "Pittsburgh... volunteers..." I wasn't exactly relishing a five-plus-hour trip in US Y, even with a bulkhead window seat - as expected, my Platinum upgrade chances were exactly nil on the 12F A319 assigned to the evening PIT-SFO flight. I figured I'd see what was up.
My ROC-PIT Dash-8 flight was weight-restricted (weather?) and they needed a volunteer. Bump city, here we come. I handed the agent my US boarding passes and told her I was headed to San Francisco and didn't care how I got there. She first tried United, but nothing doing there. Then she tried American - and that, as Jon Fogarty likes to say, was money. So I had a flight out and I had a bump voucher - but let's see if I couldn't get something more...
I politely asked the agent if she could put me in the F-cabin - and got a frown and a "Sorry." Oh well - I wasn't in F on US so anything would have been a bonus. I chuckled and said, "Hey, it was worth a shot." The agent smiled and tapped away on her computer. Moments later, *Kachunk* *Kachunk* *Kachunk* The boarding pass printer spat out a pile of paperwork, including my bump voucher. "It's all electronic," she explained. "Just check in at the American gate in the other concourse." (If it's all electronic, why do I need a dozen pieces of paper? Ah, airlines.)
I scanned the itinerary card - Rochester to O'Hare on American Eagle, "ECONOMY/FOOD FOR PUR," O'Hare to San Francisco on American... wait a minute, what's this, "FIRST CL/DINNER?!?!" I just stared for a moment. The agent grinned, said "I got you a good seat," and handed me the voucher to sign. What can I say - fate and the airline gods smile on me again. A profusion of thank-yous and I was on my way across the terminal.
When I checked in with the Eagle gate agent, I think the Heritage pin threw her off - she thought I was non-revving! "Oh, I'll page you and let you know if you clear the standby list," she said. "Erm, no, I'm confirmed," I said as I handed her the USAir itinerary card along with my passport. That did it - two fresh American boarding passes, one with "FIRST" on it. A few minutes with Rochester's free wi-fi and it was time to board the Eagle jet to Chicago. Oddly, this marked a pair of firsts - my first flight on a Embraer RJ and my first connection through American's Chicago hub.
AE4233 operated by American Eagle - Embraer ERJ-145 - Seat 18A
ROC-ORD, depart 16:37, arrive 17:39
I got what was left - 18A - and despite being way way way in the back, the A-side of the Jungle Jet lived up to its reputation. Comfortable for an RJ, the large window was a big plus and the flight was totally painless. A quick flyby of downtown Chicago and we touched down at O'Hare ahead of schedule.
The AA terminal at ORD is a zoo - mazes of relatively narrow walkways branching out, just about the worst layout for a hub anyone could imagine.
AA1843 - McDonnell Douglas DC-9-83 "Super 80" - Seat 6E
ORD-SFO, depart 19:00, arrive 21:39
One word could suffice to describe this flight: Underwhelming. Given all the bashing that I've seen of US Airways F compared to other US domestic airlines, I was expecting quite a bit more from this four-and-a-half-hour flight. Upon boarding, no choice of pre-departure drinks was offered - just water or OJ. OK, strike one - I mean, freaking AMERICA WEST does pre-departure drink orders, and if they're setting the standard here, there's something wrong. We lifted off a little behind schedule thanks to a delayed inbound flight crew, Warm nuts and glassware - so far, so good. But mealtime came and... cloth on the tray, good, cloth napkin, good... wait a minute, clear plastic picnic-style utensils? Strike two - at least the US Airways plastic utensils have a little class to them. American's look like they came in a box from the supermarket. The tray was served with a scrawny salad and my FEBO-friendly placement meant I got first pick of entreé - chicken with spinach or tortellini? I took the pasta. It was served in a bowl about the size of the US Airways pasta bowl, and I was offered a piece of cheese bread not much bigger than my laptop trackpad. And that was it. The pasta was pretty good, but the meal's saving grace was the chocolate ice cream with cake chunks on top... real dessert, what a concept!
Still, for all the whining I heard about US Airways F being utterly horrid, without compare and the worst in the industry... well, American is definitely better, but not by as much as some people think. And, of course, no snack basket - I definitely missed it.
[Edited 2006-06-05 08:42:51]
[Edited 2006-06-05 08:47:42]