It’s the end of the busiest time of the year for us CPAs, so it was time to take a vacation. First, I was headed to Las Vegas for a bit of partying, then off to Austin, TX to visit a friend who is in college. The first leg of the flight (SEA-LAS) was on AS; I chose AS based on the fact that I am MVP with them and saving miles to go to New Zealand or Australia. For the remaining portion of the trip, a multi-city open jaw was pretty expensive so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to use my 25,000 UA miles that I had lying around – plus it gave me a chance to fly Ted. While my time in Nevada and Texas was awesome, these three flight segments were some of the most miserable I’ve ever had. Read below to find out more.
M80, Seat 15D
Scheduled Departure Time: 10:40A
Actual Departure Time: 2:00P
I got to the airport Masterpark around 8:30 and took the shuttle to the airport. The flight was showing on-time, and I checked in using a kiosk. I was hoping that my MVP upgrade would clear so I could donate it to a family member who was just turning 21. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so we sat together in the back.
Security lines were short on this Friday morning, taking only about 5 minutes at the N/D security checkpoint. SEA used to have terrible security lines but now I think it’s one of the shortest I’ve been through. In the last year I’ve never waited more than 5 or ten minutes. Our gate was N8, and we took the train to the North Satellite.
I thought maybe I would grab something at the food court in the Pacific Marketplace, but instead thought Cinnabon on the North Satellite sounded good. Big Mistake! The N-Satellite food court is undergoing renovations and Burger King and Dryers Ice Cream are currently the only options out there. Rather than go back to the main terminal I sucked it up and ate at Burger King.
Next I checked out the gate area and they were showing delays. Apparently the M80 we were supposed to use was having maintenance issues and flight time pushed back to 11:00 (20 minute delay). So we waited and around 11:30 an announcement was made that there was a lack of pressure on the emergency exit slides and it would be at least another hour before we could leave. So we waited some more. Then another announcement that there would be another one hour delay because the problem was still being worked out. At this time they gave $6 food voucher to everyone, which is typical AS delay procedure (I’m familiar enough with the drill by now). People everywhere were mad and I felt bad for the gate agents who were taking such a beating – they were very professional and friendly despite the issues going on. I suppose AS gate agents are so used to these sorts of delays by now that they know how to deal with them.
Rather than stand in the line of over 100 people at Burger King, I went to Dreyers which only had 15 or so people in line. Once I got my ice cream and killed a little more time, the plane finally started boarding around 1:30. Boarding went pretty fast, and of course I got stuck next to the rowdy 35-year old act-like-a-frat-boy group that decided to be obnoxious and loud the whole flight.
The flight itself was pretty uneventful. The FA’s were great – and even gave everyone free liquor to compensate for the delay. In fact, they announced on the intercom that they were going to keep serving until the cart was empty. The FA’s were really awesome on this flight, like they are on all AS flights; it’s just a shame that their company doesn’t seem to have it’s act together. I should mention that the alcohol didn’t help with the annoying passengers around me. In fact, they started congregating in the aisle and talking to each other like they were at a bar. I hate the crowd on these Vegas flights sometimes.
We landed in “Lost Wages” as the FA put it around 5:00. Landing was very bumpy because of turbulence around Vegas. In fact, the FA’s had to sit down early about 30 minutes before landing.
Once in the air, this flight was great. Every AS employee I came into contact with was also wonderful. However, these delays are becoming the norm for AS. In the past 6 months, all QX flights have been on time, however two AS flights (SEA-SMF, SMF-SEA) were over 2 hours late, and my LAX-SEA was 1 ½ hours late. Only one flight was on time (SEA-SFO). I was leery about booking this flight because it was on an MD-80, and of course my worst fear came true – DON”T EVER BOOK AN ALASKA AIR FLIGHT ON AN MD-80!! They are always having maintenance issues and result in big delays. They can’t be gone from the fleet soon enough as far as I am concerned.
So unfortunately, this flight left a bad taste in my mouth. While I have MVP status on AS, I’m thinking it’s not worth it anymore and I’ll probably just ditch them later this year after I complete all my booked flights. QX flights to places like PUW (who no one else serves) will have to get me the rest of the way to Oz on miles. I’m just fed up with these delays and it’s hard to keep giving this company the benefit of the doubt.
After a few days in Vegas, I was ready to move on to my next flight. I was looking particularly forward to trying “Ted”, because I’d never flown Song or Ted before. I had the unfortunate circumstance of flying Shuttle By United several years back, so I was hoping Ted would be better.
Ted (United) #1478
A320, Seat 10C
Scheduled Departure Time: 2:30P
Actual Departure Time: 2:30P
I was a little nervous for this flight because I had to get seat assignments at the gate, and because I was on a free ticket (so I thought I’d be the first to get bumped if oversold). Actually, just the reverse happened. I made my way through security (not too bad for LAS – only about 15 minutes) and got go the gate. I went to the agent and was assigned 10C – an exit row with a ridiculous amount of leg room. I loved it – probably the most comfortable coach seat I was ever in.
Waiting to board I walked around the terminal. I got a glimpse of some DL FA’s and have to say that the new uniforms are very impressive. Finally boarding started around 2:00. I was in zone 4, which meant I was last to board. Nevertheless, there was plenty of overhead space available. The first thing I noticed about the Ted A320 was that it seemed a lot more open than mainline (no first class). Otherwise it looked the same – same seat covers, same FA uniforms, etc. In fact, I didn’t really notice any difference at all, other than the safety video.
The flight was comfortable, but again very bumpy. FA’s did a service run and were efficient, though not overly friendly. All in all I would say they were so-so. I do wish they would serve something besides those horrible pretzels.
We landed at A concourse in DEN. Landing was smooth and on time. Can’t really ask for much more.
I got off the plane in DEN and made my way to Concourse B. I then learned that my flight to AUS was 2 hours late. Great, another delay! I went to Wolfgang Puck café and had some pizza, then sucked up the $5 to use one of the public internet terminals. Finally I headed over to the gate and read a book until we were ready to go.
A320, Seat 14A
Scheduled Departure Time: 7:10P
Actual Departure Time: 9:15P
Now I don’t know why this flight was late, because only one announcement was made in the hour prior to departure and I was on the phone at the time. I have to say, at least AS gave frequent updates and UA gave precisely one. The mood was generally apathetic, as if there were nothing wrong and everything was normal. I consider a 2-hour delay to be abnormal and would like to be kept a bit more in the loop. I’ve noticed this in the past with UA – other airlines like AS, DL, and US seem to be concerned about delays and keep the passengers informed. I’ve flown UA several times and departure time seems to come and go without a blink of the eye. My 5th flight segment (with the worst delays) was much better in this respect, however. The screen flashed “aircraft availability” so I’m assuming the delays were due to the plane being late from elsewhere.
This flight was packed to the gills, but I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me. I could definitely feel the difference in legroom compared with the prior flight – the legroom in UA E- is not the most pleasant. But for a 2 hour flight it worked fine. I will say that I really like UA’s Airbus planes – the seats themselves are quite comfy, I like the headrests, and the cabin feels somewhat spacious.
I was very tired during this flight and slept through most of it. The FA’s were efficient if not overly friendly. I think they were tired from the long day and the delays. Inflight service consisted of the standard bag of pretzels and drink service.
We touched down in AUS around midnight, nearly 2 hours after the scheduled arrival time of 10:08pm. The airport was deserted at this hour and I called my ride who was on his way. The AUS airport was deserted at this late hour.
After a few fun-filled days in AUS, I got to the airport for the beginning of my trip home:
A320, Seat 13A
Scheduled Departure Time: 5:20P
Actual Departure Time: 5:30P
I went through the quick security line and went straight to the gate. The UA gates were pretty packed as there were several flights leaving at once. UA seems to have very high loads out of AUS – my flight was oversold, and the nearby flight to ORD was taking volunteers and eventually had to involuntarily deny boarding. I think UA would be in a good position to expand a bit in AUS – maybe LAX and additional frequencies. I know the SFO flight has also done well because it was upgraded to mainline in the past year.
Boarding commenced for elites, which seemed like half of the crowd waiting to board. I didn’t expect so many elites on this flight. I board with zone 2, and took my seat. Despite the full flight, there was lots of overhead space available, however this was filled by all the rollaboards.
We taxied out to the runway and then had to sit in the penalty box for about 25 minutes while “paperwork” was completed. Apparently there were issues in Chicago and the weight and balance paperwork took longer than usual to calculate. The pilot kept everyone updated of the delays. Soon enough we took off towards the south, and looped back over AUS on our flight to DEN.
The flight was smooth and the service was average. Typical pretzels and drink. I should mention that I listed to Channel 9 on all of my UA segments. It is interesting and fun to hear the AC control for the flight. I also like hearing ATC telling the pilot they are cleared, and then hearing the announcement by the pilots shortly after.
Landing into DEN was very bumpy and again FA’s were asked to sit for approximately 45 mins prior to landing. We landed at DEN (which seems out in the middle of nowhere), and taxied to the gate. Deplaning was quick and I was shortly inside the terminal.
B737-300, Seat 7A
Scheduled Departure Time: 7:40P
Actual Departure Time: 11:30P
I went into the terminal and saw that my flight was delayed – par for the course for this trip. No estimated departure time was given, and as I had time to kill, I again went to Wolfgang Puck and got a pizza.
About 7:00 I went to the gate and my flight continued to show “delayed”. About this time I looked out the window and noticed that the sky had turned black with storm clouds. Great!
First we waited for our inbound plane from SAN, and it arrived around an hour late. I thought we’d soon be on our way. But then the gate agent announced that we were waiting for the pilots to arrive on a delayed flight from SFO and it could be another hour.
I noted that there were flights also leaving at approximately 8:30 and 9:30, so I went over to the board, and noticed that pretty much every flight was now showing as delayed. The other two SEA departures were now pushed back to around 10:30 or 11:00, so I figured they wouldn’t be any better than my own flight. I walked up and down the concourse observing the chaos. Then I went to an internet station for a few minutes and read an A.net post from RoseFlyer who was also stuck in the mess, however I didn’t meet him because I don’t know what he looks like.
I went back to the gate area and the situation had deteriorated. Apparently the 737 crew coming from SFO had to divert to COS due to weather. The gate agent wasn’t sure when they’d be to DEN because of the weather. However, the flight attendants for our flight were already at the gate area and they were chatting with the passengers and attempting to keep things a little lighter. I was impressed by their professionalism.
Time passed and around 9:30 we were told that the pilots had left COS, however now they had to divert to Cheyenne, WY because of continued weather problems. No one was happy at this point. Then they said that at 11:00 they’d make the judgment on whether to cancel the flight or not. That was just great! I went down to the other two SEA flights and put my name on the standby lists, but it was chaos there too as many people were doing the same thing, and I was on a free ticket so I didn’t think I’d stand much chance. I went back to my scheduled gate and waited 20 minutes. Then all of a sudden the gate agent announced that the pilots were landing in Denver and they were going to start boarding the plane. I didn’t think I’d ever end up seeing that happen! I got on board and quickly took my seat. There was still a huge line of people trying to get reaccomodated from earlier in the day. While the gate agent dealt with them, he had everyone scan their own boarding passes and board in a self-service fashion.
I took my seat (13F) but shortly a FA asked if I would move to 7A to switch with someone. E+? You bet I would! I also realized that no one was sitting next to me. Score 2!
The flight took off (no wait at 11:30pm when we finally left). It was very bumpy and the FA’s came around and took drink orders rather than use the cart. I fell asleep shortly after and then woke up around landing time..
I will say that this flight had some of the best FA’s I’ve ever seen. There was one older lady with short gray hair that was amazing. Very nice to everyone, really making us feel welcome. The whole FA team really did a good job at making us comfortable and trying to keep spirits high, even though they were very tired themselves. This Seattle-based flight crew was one of the best I’ve had on any airline, and made an otherwise poor experience very good.
After the long night, I was just happy to be back in SEA. I took the airport taxi home and was glad that the trip was over.
In summary, this was the trip from Hell. Well, not quite. The destinations themselves were a blast, but all of the flights were a pain. I have several more flights booked this summer and hope that my luck improves. In summary, I rate my flights as follows:
#1: AS, SEA-LAS Grade: F
Sorry AS but you’ve pretty much lost me forever. I simply don’t understand what the problem is with this airline. I understand that delays happen, but it is a pattern. 2+ hour delays with this airline are the norm. And I really can’t justify it anymore either – what’s the use of a few miles that I’ll probably never get to use when HP and WN fly to the same destination without all of the stress and unanticipated “adventure”? I’ll probably fly out my remaining flights on AS and then move on to someone else. I don’t like making this decision because AS is so convenient at SEA, and their people are the best in the industry (gate agents and FAs especially). But I’m tired of giving “one more chance” and then sitting there feeling like a fool while I watch all the other flights take off.
As a side note, I recently flew SEA-PHX-SEA on HP. While the service and planes weren’t as nice as AS, I didn’t have any of the drama, which was a nice change. About 10 of us from work were all going to PHX – ½ on US/HP and the other ½ on AS. The AS flight was delayed 2 hours on the return, while those of us on US/HP were 15 minutes early. Hmm.
#2: UA (Ted), LAS-DEN Grade: A-
Ted got my to my destination safely and on time. Service was average, nothing exceptional but not bad either. I loved the emergency exit row with tons of legroom. I don’t really see what the point of Ted is, because it feels exactly like UA except for the first class, but if it’s working for UA more power to them. I probably won’t end up on Ted again because they don’t really fly to SEA, but if they were to start SEA-LAS (wink wink) I’d be on them all the time.
#3: UA, DEN-AUS Grade: F
This flight was 2 hours late with no updates, and rude ground staff at DEN. Even the FA’s and pilots didn’t apologize once for the delays – in fact, the only reference to the fact that we were late was when the FA’s said over the PA that “hey, at least on UA we have same-day service” when we landed at 11:59. Not good.
#4: UA, AUS-DEN Grade: B
This flight was fine, the only bad points being the issues in Chicago that prevented an on-time departure, and the chaotic and crowded boarding process. UA should look to add frequencies and destinations in AUS.
#5: UA, DEN-SEA Grade: D
This flight was delayed by weather, which is understandable. Of course, the official reason by UA was “late arriving staff” (I have the screenshot to prove it – ha). I would hope that UA’s second largest hub, there would be relief pilots on hand to prevent delays of this nature, but that isn’t the way things work. All the ground problems aside, this flight was salvaged by the A+ flight attendants on board. This Seattle-based FA group was one of the best I’ve ever seen, even beating some of the best on AS and DL, which I consider the standard for FAs. While this flight was just the icing on the cake in a line of miserable flights, the FA’s were the brightest spot, so thanks to them for that (I plan to write on their behalf to UA customer service).
I have the following flights scheduled for later in the year, and I’m hoping they go better than these ones – if not, it’s going to be a long summer:
July: SEA-DFW-BNA-DFW-SEA (AA)
September: SEA-BOS, BOS-JFK, EWR-SEA (AS, DL, AS)
September: SEA-LAS-SEA (AS)
Thanks for reading – any questions or comments, please let me know!