This is a slightly different trip report from usual. It's not an exciting type of aircraft or exciting routing. It's just an interesting situation, and I'm glad it worked out the way it did.
I work for American Eagle and I commute between SHV and DFW. I had checked in and gotten a boarding pass for AA 3814 SHV-DFW at 1722. When I checked in, the current ETD was 1807 due to weather in DFW. I noticed, when I was being dropped off, that the 1600 departure was still at the gate at 1630. Two Continental flights (an Express ERJ and a Colgan Saab) were at the Continental gate, and I had checked earlier and noticed IAH was running with massive delays due to thunderstorms (144 minutes posted on www.fly.faa.gov/ois ).
I knew there was a possibility that I might get stuck in SHV due to the thunderstorms that were basically all over Texas and Louisiana. When I was passing through security, the TSA agent that I usually speak to said that I picked the wrong time to not bring my laptop with me, as I'll probably be sitting for a while. He said that the last American Eagle (1930 departure) had been cancelled.
When I made it to the AA gate, the two Continentals were taxiing out, but the Eagle was sitting at the jetbridge, not going anywhere. I noticed that it was boarded because the gate just had a few folks, and I knew that flight was to go out full.
I was sitting at the Eagle gate reading a book, and was unable to because an obnoxious lady sitting behind me kept making cell phone calls and was speaking so loud that I could not concentrate on my book. So I got up and moved over to the nearby vacant gate (first constructed for L'Express airlines, Kenner, LA based airline with Beech C99s and 1900s.) The gate then was leased by American Eagle (it's just across the hall from the main Eagle gate) when TWA Express became American Connection. The STL flights ran from here when they were no longer TW flights.
The gate that I moved to faces the runway, so it's a better view anyway. There was quite a bit of activity, as I saw the two Continental flights take off for IAH. THen an Allegiant Air MD80 took off for somewhere--it wasn't the scheduled flight, so it was a charter. Then there were a couple general avaition. After that, I heard something big. It was a bright, shiny, American Airlines MD80!
This was good and bad. This meant that DFW was in serious trouble with thunderstorms, because this was a diversion. The good news was that I got to see an American MD80 at SHV. The last time AA Super 80s were scheduled to SHV was like 10 years ago.
There is the track AA1141 took. See all the circling in East Texas before it diverted to SHV.
Anyway, it was N552AA, an American MD80.
As you can tell, I'm really interested in this diverted flight. Well, they parked it next to the terminal, sort of alongside the building not near the jetways. And they didn't bring any stairs up to it. It was just a gas-and-go, I figured.
Here it is from that gate I mentioned.
The agent then came up the stairs where I was and, since I kind of know him after 6 years of commuting, he mentioned to me, under his breath, that "our flight has been canceled."
That got me worried. I thought, "I wonder if he means the Saab at 1930" So I asked him. I went over to the gate, and he was getting ready to make his announcement and I asked if it was the 1722 or the 1930, and he told me, "both flights to DFW are cancelled tonight."
I asked him if I should just leave or if there's any chance I might still get out somehow. He said the ERJ sitting at the gate (1600 departure) was full, but the MD80 has 16 seats open and the captain said we can fill it up if we hurry. I asked him if there's any chance I could get on standby. He told me it depended on how many passengers in the gate area wanted to get on the MD80 sans bags, etc.
So I start thinking of ways to get to DFW, including calling Allegiant Air and seeing if one of their $79 tickets to LAS was open and then connect to the AA red-eye to DFW. I keep meaning to do that but just haven't. Well the AA red-eye was full according to the automated non-rev line.
American Eagle has the latest flights out of SHV so it was either wait until morning or drive tonight. I stayed at the gate just to see. I was REALLY hoping I could fly an MD80 out of SHV once again! The last time we had any mainline service (other than Allegiant which started up in January) was Delta, which had mainline jets to DFW and ATL until 2002 or 2003ish.
The customers were all confused that somehow the SHV flights are canceled but yet flights were still running to DFW. I thought about helping out the very stressed gate agent by explaining to the passengers how ATC flow controls work, and why it makes sense to cancel some flights but not others. How you can, for instance, run 100% of the flights 4 hours late, or 80% of the flights 2 hours late, or 60% of the flights all on-time. I didn't speak up!
After a few minutes the agent got rid of all the passengers, sending them through the back stairs and telling them to walk toward the aircraft. There was an agent at the bottom of the stairs.
It was just me and an old lady, and once he was done with the old lady, he walked over to me and tore my ticket. I thanked him like three times. I was so excited! I get to board an AA MD80 at SHV!
Well I walked down the stairs that I hadn't used in a few years--when American Eagle had a "Commut-a-walk" (remember those?) connected to Saabs and ATRs. Then I realized that I would board through the back stairs of the MD80! The agent downstairs on the ramp gave me a briefing. She said "walk to the rear stairs and then at the top of the stairs, just push the door open." I get to open the door of an MD80!
I walked the old lady out there and carried her heavy carryon up the steps. Because of my good-samaritan efforts, I was unable to take pictures no matter how bad I wanted to take them. I still regret that.
As I walked under the MD80 I walked just beside the left wingtip, which I noticed is not very high off the ground. It was maybe 2' above my head. Then it got really loud as I approached the rear of the aircraft due to the APU. I looked up at the engines and noticed how big they looked from the ramp. I felt like ducking my head to avoid any exhaust, though I knew full well the engines were off (not that I know where the APU exhaust is).
The stairs were silver metal as was the rail and the whole are was silver metal like on some military ship. Up at the top of the stairs the door was unlocked and I just pushed it open, and all the sudden I was in an MD80 by the lavatories! There were two flight attendants at the back talking with passengers and they welcomed us on board and said take a seat anywhere you can find one.
I walked up a few rows so that the window had a view clear of the engine and sat down in 26E. The two ladies on either side of me were thin and seemed friendly enough to let me sit there. I still didn't know where the flight had originated so I said, as an ice breaker, "So, where are y'all from?." They said they had departed RDU.
We hadn't talked for long before flight attendants positioned themselves in the aisle for the briefing and the engines started up. The engines were really loud from here. In fact it was hard to hear the briefing because of it. As a nonrev I spoil myself by flying first class when I can, and you can't hear the engines from the front.
One of my seatmates thought it was silly that they did another demonstration. The MD80 started taxiing, and seemed to be really heavy (or maybe just the engines were really loud) because they revved up really high and we just barely moved. As soon as the demonstration was over, we were holding short of runway 14 in SHV. We took the runway in one of those high speed 90 degree turns onto the runway and gunned it. It was a very long takeoff roll, and when we rotated and got positive rate a little bit, they pulled back even further, possibly to clear the treeline (it seemed to me). Then a couple hundred feet in the air the pitch was relaxed a bit.
We then turned toward GGG and climbed to FL260. The flight attendants explained that our flight time was only 39 minutes and the flight was completely full, so they would not attempt a beverage service. The captain then chimed in that he might require the FAs to be seated for the duration due to the thunderstorms. By the time we hit FL260 we then nosed over for our descent into DFW. It was a very quick flight, and we landed at DFW 35R.
It was 39 minutes in the air and then 45 minutes from the runway to the gate! The captain shut off one engine and taxied extremely slowly--even crossing the runways it was slow as if the plane was full of pax and fuel. DFW was in an off-schedule-operation and the gates were chaos (at least for us). We taxied up to between terminals A and C, as our gate was to be C12. A 737-800 (no winglets) was on it and the captain said it would be maybe 15minutes. Everyone was checking their boarding passes, getting worried about the time. We landed at 1829. The captain kept updating us, which I really commend, because it had a noticable calming effect on the passengers, who at this point, had been on an MD80 for 5 hours. After about 20 minutes sitting there, I thought we were about to move because the engine revved up. We didn't budge, so I figured out what it was. It was getting hot in the plane, so the captain was running the engine up to boost the air conditioning.
I thought that was a really nice touch. I was beginning to really like the cockpit crew. At 1900 the captain said. "As I said before, you and I both see lots of open gates. They have a staffing issue today so many gates are closed. However I have some good news, we are off for gate C31!"
And we started moving again. Then he said "OK we are 30 feet short of the gate waiting for someone to wave us in. We're almost home." Then we parked. After everyone had been standing for like 5 minutes. "Ladies and Gentlemen, it just won't end. We're waiting for a jetbridge driver!" That took a few more minutes and we parked at 1915.
Finally we had arrived DFW. I exited the aircraft through the front!