It was off to Nashville for Christmas, and as my 07 elite status on NW was all tied up already, I thought AL might be a good way to get down there. This is just a report on the quirks of YX, AL, and the 328 jet. Nothing too long, no pics. But as AL’s days may well be numbered, it’s good to get the experience down on paper. Anyway, my flight was scheduled to leave MKE at 1:50 PM on Saturday the 23rd, and I arrived to relative pandemonium around 12:30.
The departures area of MKE was fairly crowded, and I hopped in a good-sized line for the kiosks. The line moved well at times, but many people got to the front of the line and announced that they had to check in with an agent, causing one of the agents to have to stop tagging luggage and check them in manually. Having said that, though, the YX agents handled the line very professionally. The only criticism I have, and it was pretty minor, was that the lady who tagged my bags declined to put my NW FF number on the reservation and instead told me to do it at the gate. It was a perfectly reasonable request; I guess I just expect a little more from YX. It was then upstairs to the remodeled D security checkpoint. They now have 5 lanes there, 2 or 3 more than when I last went through (Summer 2003). Unfortunately, only 2 were open. Still, MKE’s TSA screeners are consistently above average, and I negotiated the line that snaked back to the BP and ID checkers in about 15 minutes. I thus arrived in the secure area at about 1:10, 10 minutes before we were scheduled to board.
As I made my way down the stairs to D27, I noted what a nice job YX did with the downstairs gate areas. The lounges are large enough to accommodate multiple flights leaving from the gates, and in addition to the usual lines of airport seating, the lounges also feature much more comfortable seats with small tables on a swiveling stand. Kind of hard to explain, but definitely nicer than the average airport seating. The agent quickly put my FF number on the reservation, and about that time Ship 353 pulled in. Ramp staff began the preparations for our flight, but soon 357 pulled in (late). It seemed that all attention turned to the delayed CLE departure on 357, leaving us to languish until about 1:40. One sort of curious thing was that they boarded the CLE flight with one of the ramp contraptions but left us to climb the stairs to 353. About 1:40, boarding was announced for
Operated by Skyway
Fairchild 328 Jet
Scheduled Departure: 1:50 PM
Actual Departure: 2:01 PM
Wheels Up: 2:10 PM
Scheduled Arrival: 3:23 PM
Wheels Down: 3:25 PM
Actual Arrival: 3:31 PM
The agent took all of the boarding passes and we stood in a line in the terminal and waited… and waited… and waited. Eventually a ramper came over to open the door and point out our aircraft. I climbed the stairs and Dorothy, our f/a. welcomed us aboard. After throwing my bag in the overhead (a bit bigger than the ERJ and CRJ overheads I think), I settled into Seat 3A. One fun thing about the FRJ is that there is a little compartment in front of the overheads that is a perfect size for the pilots’ hats. So on this flight, the first thing one saw when climbing aboard was the hats. As the cabin filled, I peered into the cockpit. As you might expect, the 328 Jet has a modern glass cockpit. The only notable thing about it is that the windows seem very small and high, a contrast with the passenger windows which are large and well positioned. I found the knee room in 3A to be a bit inadequate and made a mental note to request a different seat on the way home, but the seat (brown leather) was comfortable enough.
Soon enough boarding had completed. Our load was 29 passengers, including one unaccompanied minor and a commuting AL pilot. We pushed back and began a rapid taxi to 25L. The safety recording was played during pushback and taxi. Not much to note here, though it’s odd that they give the seat numbers of the window exits. The FRJs have a bit of a strange exit configuration, 1 door and 1 window both in front and in back. They also feature an infant flotation pouch located above 6C and (for those who really care- apparently the FAA thinks someone does) were assembled in Germany. I don’t know if it’s something about AL pilots or the 328, but AL 328s tend to taxi a lot faster than other aircraft. They’re definitely the RJ equivalent of a Corvette. The terminal was fairly empty, just occupied by a couple of 1900s and sister ship 352, one of the FRJs not painted in full Midwest Connect colors. We arrived at the threshold of 25L and awaited a NW DC-9 (N773NC) and another FRJ (N358SK), pretty normal for MKE.
Once our turn came, we rocketed down the runway, rotating after some 1800 feet and beginning a rapid climb to FL 310. Soon enough, we turned left and headed for Nashville. Filed route was OBK (Northbrook VOR) TTH (Terre Haute VOR) HEHAW4, and from what I could tell with the clouds, that’s pretty much what we flew. Due to our rapid climb, we reached 10,000 feet pretty quickly, and Dorothy headed back to the galley to begin her service. Like its big brother, AL begins its service with a pretty pedestrian offering of pretzels and beverages (alcohol is $4 or $5), but then the cookies arrived, and they were every bit as good as I remembered. The commuting AL pilot across the aisle from me had gone to sleep as we taxied, but the smell of warm cookies awakened him and he was able to get one. Dorothy made a couple more passes through the cabin, and I headed back to use the lav. The lav on the 328 is in the galley, and I had to maneuver around some service items to get to it. The f/a realized when I got back there that she had never unlocked it; it was locked with no one in it, leading to some momentary confusion.
As Blood, Sweat, and Tears sang, “what goes up, must come down” (“Spinning wheel, spin me around”). And after I returned from the lav, our rapid descent began. Something like a German car, the FRJ is a very capable airplane, and it can descend very well. We came out of the clouds over Antioch, TN, and flew a downwind for 2L right along Interstate 65. We turned onto final over Old Hickory Blvd. in Brentwood, and as we crossed Interstate 24 (2-3 miles from the threshold, now), disaster struck. An older woman seated in 6A lost her purse, and she went after it. Naturally, the f/a had to take off down the aisle to get her seated, and she succeeded in doing this, running back, and being secure in her jumpseat by the time we touched down. After a fairly long rollout, we quickly taxied over to C12, where the MQ rampers awaited us.
The woman driving the jetway had some trouble getting it positioned, but soon enough we were off the airplane. I use Terminal 2 at ORD a lot, and I suppose that now that it has been refloored, the flooring would be ripped up at another airport I frequent. Concourse C at BNA is that place. After trudging over a lot of bare concrete, I was at a very crowded baggage claim where AA had probably close to 100 bags, mostly from HDN, actually. Our bags were delivered in about 10 minutes, and I was on I-40 in another 5. BNA is a delightful airport to get in to and out of. It’s not such a nice airport to spend any quantity of time in. More on that later…
I was scheduled to fly from the mid-South back to the Midwest on 30 December, and I arrived at BNA around 2:00 for my 3:45 flight. At the risk of belaboring the point, BNA is a wonderful airport for the O&D passenger. It’s easy to get to, and checkin and security are generally painless. There were 3 people in front of me for the single AL checkin position, but once I got to the front of the line, the MQ agent very efficiently tagged my bags and moved me to seat 1D (exit row window). Bag dropoff at BNA is a little confusing as all of the carriers are slightly different, but AA passengers carry their bags to the TSA folks, so I did just that. The agent told me that the inbound aircraft was showing an hour delay. Turns out the weather in MKE had been horrendous, backing up the whole system. Nevertheless, I made my way through security in about 2 minutes and decided to wander.around BNA.
There’s not much to see at BNA, though I did catch 2 heavies. DL flew a 752 in as DL 1508 and 1619, and the Patriots flew in to play the Titans on a DL 763 which parked out beyond the DL gates before ferrying out to ATL. I saw N247JB, which is a somewhat new, if regular, visitor, and I saw Shamu (N713SW) preparing to operate an epic route, WN 1243 BNA-BHM-PHX-SNA-SJC. A couple of F9 birds (one from DEN, one from CUN) provided the only other eye candy, though I did get to see the international arrivals area in use and I saw 2 more heavies than I usually see at BNA, so I guess the spotting was somewhat exciting. The other thing I noted was how poor WN’s gate utilization is. WN has 12 gates and runs fewer than 100 flights, for something like 7 flights per day per gate.
As I mentioned before, AL had a horrid operational day on the 30th thanks to weather in MKE. However, the MQ staff did do an excellent job of keeping pax informed, and soon enough told us that the inbound aircraft would be arriving a little before 5:00. And just as they said, N353SK pulled in about 4:55. The turn was nice and quick, and we boarded about 5:10. Load was only 24 passengers, so before too long we were ready to depart.
Operated by Skyway
Fairchild 328 Jet
Scheduled Departure: 3:45 PM
Actual Departure: 5:20 PM
Wheels Up: 5:24 PM
Scheduled Arrival: 5:20 PM
Wheels Down: 6:44 PM
Actual Arrival: 6:47 PM
I guess I should mention one thing about my fellow passengers. We had a lady who was flying for the first time over in 2A, and the f/a, Cheryl, was really wonderful to her. She was actually really nice to all of us, starting with the exit row briefing for me and continuing with a discussion of the FL merger as well as a short conversation about cookies. The exit row briefing in Row 1 on an FRJ is actually somewhat important as the seats have a shoulder harness to go along with the usual lap belt, making seat belt fastening somewhat difficult. I love FRJs. They are SO WEIRD! In any event, we were soon off to 20C for departure. Though the MQ ERJs pull through C12, we were pushed back, owing (I assume) to the proximity of the FRJ wing and engine to the jetway. Our filed route was BWG (Bowling Green VOR) IIU (Louisville VOR) J89 BVT (Boiler VOR) CGT (Chicago Heights VOR) BRAVE V170 PETTY.
As is typical at BNA, there was no wait for departure, and we were soon off and turning right to head up toward Bowling Green. Our flight crew was much more conservative than most AL crews, taxiing at a normal pace and taking a whole 2500 feet for the takeoff roll. That was probably a good thing, as flying for t he first time in an FRJ is something like driving for the first time in a Corvette. Climbout was pretty bumpy (leading to some shrieks from 2A) and the visibility was not very good so we were in the clouds before we passed over I-40. Nonetheless, the f/a was released for her service and headed back to the galley. As on the way down, service was very quick and attentive, and when the time came for cookies, I got two (probably thanks to our prior conversation about them). Soon, descent was announced and as we flew up over the lake, Cheryl took her seat.
The good conversation continued, and Cheryl offered the little kid behind me a cockpit visit without anyone asking for it. I’m too tall to be jealous of an RJ cockpit visit. After plenty of turns through the muck, we were lined up for 7R and made a smooth, floating landing. After liberal braking, we turned off the active abeam Concourse E and rapidly made our way over to D27.
It took a little time for the rampers to get the deboarding ramp positioned. I guess that they use the ramps when they have wheelchair pax (we had one) and don’t when they don’t; we used the stairs when we left MKE. However, by the time it was in place, the rampers had the bin emptied out. That’s very easy for AL at MKE as they don’t have beltloaders, so it’s a matter of dropping the bags on to the tarmac. After a quick stop at the bathroom, I was unsurprised to find large piles of lost bags at the baggage claim along with my bags going around. The bags couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes.
Despite all the crap the industry has been through, YX manages to continue to deliver a superior product. I hope the FL merger does not go through. There are so many things about YX that work so well. The people are wonderful, there is service to speak of, and baggage service is generally good beyond belief (mainline is somewhat slower, and having MKE helps a lot- NW can have a 753 worth of bags on the belt in 10-15 minutes). I will continue to fly YX when I can for the foreseeable future. It sure beats the ORDeal.