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Tue Jun 05, 2007 5:23 am

I've had to hop back and forth between Washington DC and New York City a few times in the last week. I flew four different airlines between four different airport pairs, and thought it would be interesting to write a trip report comparing them.

My first flight was DCA-LGA on the Delta Shuttle. I was scheduled for a Shuttle flight on Sunday but decided to go home on Friday instead. I made absolutely amazing time on this trip. I got into a cab at my dorm room at 3:55 PM, and was at DCA by 4:15. I walked right up to the Delta Shuttle counter and a very friendly agent took care of me and changed my ticket. She said I could probably make the 4:30 Shuttle, but I glanced at the security line which was very long at that point and told her I'd rather go on the 5:30 Shuttle and that I'd grab a bite to eat. I got on the line for security and it went a lot faster than I thought. As it was 4:20ish and I had already cleared security, I decided to take the 4:30 Shuttle. I walked right up to the gate and asked the agent if I could take the 4:30 Shuttle. She said sure, and scanned my ticket. I boarded to find a mostly empty MD-80---maybe about 30 seats were taken.

I sat in the middle of the plane on the left side...There was nobody in front of me for behind me for a few rows. We pushed back exactly on time. The pilot came on to tell us that it would be a ~40 minute flight (I forget the exact number of minutes), and that we would be landing from the north at LGA on runway 22. As we started taxing to the runway, the pilot came back on to tell us that we were # 1 for takeoff. It was a perfect day for flying---sunny and warm outside, no line for takeoff, etc. As always, the flight went by quickly. The snacks served on the Shuttle are always great. This one consisted of crackers and cheese, an apple, some cookies, and a peppermint. Before long we were passing over Brooklyn and then up the Hudson River, which gave us a wonderful view of Manhattan. I had switched to a window seat on the right side of the plane for the approach into New York. We landed on runway 22 and there was a HUGE line for takeoff on runway 13. Since there were so few people on the flight, I was off in a minute or two and outside the terminal two minutes later.

My next flight was JFK-DCA on American Eagle. I booked this because I wanted to checkout the new Terminal 9 at JFK. I had flown into there before, but didn't really spend time exploring. So I showed up about an hour earlier than I normally would for my flight. The new terminal is giant. It looks really weird with the plastic covering on one side of terminal, but hopefully the entire check-in area will be completed soon. I used a kiosk to check in, and was through security in under two minutes. There was surprisingly no line at 7PM. I walked through what will soon be the food court but was not yet open.

First, I checked out the new gates that were built where the old T9 was. It is very spacious and modern, but the terminal was so quiet! There was one flight leaving for LHR in about an hour, but other than that the gate areas were empty! So I walked to the midfield concourse next. This is a really, really long walk that can't be well-liked by AA regulars at JFK. It involves an escalator down to the tunnel, then a moving walkway, then an escalator up to the midfield concourse. For the LAX/SFO regulars, this must be a royal pain compared to flying United where you can exit your car and be at your gate in three minutes.

This concourse was slightly more busy but still pretty quiet. A flight was boarding for CDG as I walked by. I walked through the entire length of the concourse, and then headed to the Eagle section at the end of the concourse. I grabbed some food at Au Bon Pain, and watched a beautiful QF 744 taxi past. The new terminal has great views of 31L/13R and of Jamaica Bay. At this time, takeoffs were on 22R and 31L at the KK intersection. In a few minutes, they announced boarding. It's an interesting setup for Eagle...They have gate desks where you had to show your boarding pass, and then you descend down a few ramps into a smaller area that has a few RJ gates. I noticed that there were quite a few people on my flight connecting from Europe (one from AerLingus). We pushed back on time, and began taxiing towards 13R, which was now being used for takeoffs. About ten or so aircraft were ahead of us on line, and since I was on the left side, I got a beautiful view of the departing aircraft, most of which were heading across the pond...Air India 744, Virgin A-346, Swiss 332, Lufthansa 346, El Al 744, and more. We had a very nice takeoff and I couldn't believe my eyes when we passed T2 and I saw how many RJs Delta had there.

The flight was pretty uneventful...Drinks only, snacks were for sale. We flew the river visual into DCA which gave me a gorgeous view of the National Mall. I was off the plane in no time.

My third flight was IAD-JFK on jetBlue. Although I had flown into IAD a few times, this was my first trip departing from IAD. I took the Metro to West Falls Church and connected to the Washington Flyer coach bus. This would have been a fast way to go had I timed it well. But I got to the station a minute after a bus had left, so I had to wait about 30 minutes in ninety-degree DC heat for the next bus. But it was a fairly easy way to get to the airport. We arrived at IAD and I walked up the departures level. I loved walking around the main terminal area as it is a famous design. I also liked the retro airline signs...That being said, the terminal could use some new touches...For example, the Air France counter had one of those signs where you had to change the clip letters individually.

I went to a jetBlue kiosk to get my boarding pass, and then sat down for some delicious chicken tenders at a restaurant in the main hall (I can't remember the name). It was pushing 6:50 PM and I was nervous about the famous IAD security lines I read about, so I headed over to security. There was little to no line---I was through security in a matter of minutes. I walked through the underground tunnel to Concourse B instead of taking the mobile lounge. I was really quite impressed by Concourse B. It was spacious and airy, had a great assortment of stores and restaurants, and was just very comfortable. Frankly, I thought it was a much nicer concourse than Terminal 4 at JFK, where many international flights depart from.

Now I must admit that I was an early critic when jetBlue announced that they were putting their E190s on JFK-BOS/IAD service. I'm not sure how financially successful it is for them as I had booked this ticket a few days before for $130 one-way (the earlier flights in the day were $99 each way); had I tried to book a walk-up ticket on the Delta Shuttle it would probably have been in the $300-$400 range. So the plane from JFK was due in at 7:08 PM I believe....It probably came in a few minutes early as boarding for our 7:40 flight began at about 7:15. By 7:25 everyone had boarded and taken their seats. So clearly jetBlue could tweak their turnaround times a little bit. It's definitely a bad allocation of resources to have a plane full of passengers and crew sitting there for fifteen minutes.

This was my first time on the E190 and I really liked it. Nice, large windows...Large enough to feel like you were on an A320 or B737. Very comfortable overall. We pushed back around 7:40 and taxied for a few minutes before taking off around 7:55. The flight was uneventful...Having the television really does make for a nice way to pass the time. Though I don't really mind too much when flying DL or AA with no TV, jetBlue definitely gets a plus mark. You get your value between the television, comfortable seats, full can of soda, and snack. Somewhere over New Jersey the pilot came on to tell us that JFK was a bit congested and that we were placed in a holding pattern. I believe we did just one circle/turn before the pilot came back on to tell us that we were cleared to approach New York. We had a very nice descent and flew the Canarsie Approach into 13L, which is always a favorite of mine as I could see my neighborhood and block! As always, it was nice to fly into JFK. I was impressed by how much the construction of jetBlue's new terminal had progressed since the last time I had flown jetBlue in January. We parked at the temporary concourse and I had to wait a few minutes to exit as I was sitting all the way in the back.

The temporary concourse was PACKED...Much more busy than the last two times I flew out of there. There was even a decent line to board the shuttle bus, which, of course, many passengers were complaining about. The lady next to me was lecturing to someone about how jetBlue was building a new terminal and said something like "they're building a new terminal where the old TWA terminal was...Or maybe it was Pan Am, the old Pan Am terminal" to which the lady next to her replied "oh wow." I, of course, just smiled silently and did not correct her. Once on the shuttle bus it was a fast ride to T6, but even then we had to wait to get off the bus because another bus in front of us was loading. Once off the bus I was outside the terminal in a minute or so.

My final flight was LGA-IAD on United. I booked this flight because I had never flown United mainline and loved the idea of flying LGA-IAD on a 757. It was also very, very cheap considering that I booked a few days before ($70 one way). When I booked online, I selected the last available seat in coach. When I went to check-in online the day before my flight, United offered to upgrade me to premium economy for $14, which I readily accepted. I was also able to select a window seat.

On the day of the flight, the NYC and DC areas were both predicted to get hit by horrible storms. I knew that the aircraft that would operate LGA-IAD was coming from DEN. Early in the afternoon I tracked that flight and saw it was due into LGA about an hour late and that my departure was now scheduled for 8 PM instead of 7:22 PM. So I left my house later than I planned and first arrived at LGA at about 7:15 PM, at which point I saw that the flight from Denver was now due in at ~7:50 PM. So I spent some time in Borders before heading to security. The security line was not long but it was moving incredibly slowly. Luckily another security checkpoint was opened and I was able to be the first person through there. As I walked down Concourse C, I noticed that just about every American Eagle flight was running an hour to two hours late. As I entered the United gate area, passengers were deplaning from the DEN-LGA flight. This seemed like it took quite a while, perhaps because I was standing waiting for them to begin boarding. On the plus side though, I saw a Northwest aircraft taxi past and it then rolled down runway 13 minutes later so I knew the line for takeoff wouldn't be so bad.

After every passenger deplaned, the new F/As entered the aircraft followed by the pilots a few minutes later. Boarding began promptly and I was in my comfortable seat in no time. On a side note, I really like United's uniforms---both the ground staff and the flight attendants'. I noticed that the rain was POURING HARD now. Before long everyone was boarded and we pushed back. Much to my disappointment, Channel 9 was disabled for this flight. We taxied to runway 13 and there were maybe four aircraft ahead of us, mostly RJs. I could not believe that in the middle of a torrential rain storm, there were only five plans waiting to takeoff at LGA. On most days at that time of night there are a ton of departures!

We had a nice takeoff and were on our way to IAD in no time. The pilot came on to say that because of the bumpy ride he was going to ask the F/As to remain seated for the entire flight, which they did. He also said that they were gunning the engines trying to make good time to DC because they realized that many people had connections to make. It was a very nice flight even though it was bumpy (I personally prefer that though). It was definitely nice traveling down to DC in a spacious 757 compared to an RJ on American! We began our descent and remained in clouds until about a minute or two before landing.

It was a smooth landing and we pulled into gate C-11 (we had departed C-11 in LGA ironically). A ton of passengers with tight connections raced off. Many of them were heading to EZE, which was the same flight number as us but a different aircraft obviously. Luckily for them, the flight to EZE left a few minutes later than scheduled and I assume everyone made their connection. Although as I passed the connections desk, there were at least twenty people lined up (though not all of them were from my flight). I grabbed some Wendy's and overheard one of the F/As from my flight saying how she missed the last flight out to DEN. I wonder if she was new or something because she didn't seem to know the procedure...I don't know who she was on the phone with, but I heard her ask something like "Do I have to call the hotel desk for a voucher?" and also writing down the information for the next flight to Denver the next morning.

I took the Mobile Lounge back to the main terminal building. We passed a Virgin A343 and an Air France 772 on the way. It was a pleasure not checking bags (as it was on all of these flights) so I was able to walk right to the taxi cab line. On the way I stopped at the exhibition of the new people mover car. The line for cabs was a bit long but after 7 or so minutes I was at the front and on my way onto the Dulles Access Road.

Overall, I very much enjoyed sampling the four different services. Clearly the Shuttles (Delta and US) are the best way for business travelers or anyone on a tight schedule to travel. If I were a regular commuter between NYC and DC, the Shuttle would be my first choice. But jetBlue's JFK-IAD service has some advantages as well, assuming you are able to travel from Kennedy and Dulles instead of LaGuardia and National. With the Metropolitan areas of NYC and DC being so large, there is enough of a market for both carriers. I just don't expect to see the top executives, politicians, media figures, etc flying JFK-IAD regularly. The Delta Shuttle still has their niche. But for a last minute flight that was relatively inexpensive, jetBlue was a great deal and I will definitely be flying them again on that route.

American can't really expect to compete with the Delta and US Airways Shuttles using RJs. I seriously can not imagine traveling in one of those things on some of the long flights they are operated on these days. They probably serve American well on JFK-DCA as a feeder flight for American's large JFK operation (as well as AA's oneworld partners), but I wonder why they don't use a larger aircraft on LGA-DCA.

United has their niche in the market as well. The flight I took was clearly designed for passengers continuing on elsewhere in United's system, as are their JFK-IAD flights. This probably explains why the cheapest fares for travel between New York and DC can be usually found on United.

For those who have read this far, thank you for taking the time and I look forward to your comments!
"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon"
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Tue Jun 05, 2007 5:50 am

Hey RJ,
Nice report. As you know, I also do this route frequently since I live on Long Island and also go to school in DC. I have flown every route and airline you put in the report.
IMO Delta Shuttle is great as its at National which is close to AU and GWU, but it lands at LGA which stinks when I live on the South Shore of the Island. Also, it's so expensive if you don't book in advance.
The AA Eagle has to be my favorite one as it flies from DCA to JFK, both close to my house/dorm. I love the ERJs of having a window and aisle seat, but again it gets expensive for some flights. I love terminal 9 at JFK. Like you said, every time I've flown on the late evening flights, the terminal is empty.
The JetBlue is also great. Having my car in DC, getting to Dulles can be quicker then National during rush hour thanks to the Dulles Toll road and having the DirectTV makes the flight fly right by. That B6 temp terminal and its main terminal at JFK do stink though, when is the new one opening? It's Always overcrowded. But unlike you, I never had a problem with the bus to main terminal, always right there almost waiting for me and constantly running.
I will always try to fly the AA flights but price will always prevail and its such a short flight. But advice to you, NEVER fly the Comair IAD/DCA-JFK/LGA flights. I have watched them and them are usually 1 hour plus late and the ground crew at JFK and IAD is just plain nasty, thats a whole different story.
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Tue Jun 05, 2007 5:57 am

Very nice trip report! Of course pictures would have been appreciated but I know that it is not always possible.
It sounds like each of UA, DL and B6 have something to offer between NYC and Washington - too bad AA Eagle doesn't upgrade and make themselves more competitive. Then again, maybe they don't have to (I think T9 at JFK is a wonderful facility, but you are correct it is almost always empty. I think this will change once T8 is officially decommissioned.)
I am also in agreement with you that the RJs are no match for mainline equipment when it comes to comfort. I am well aware that flying time between the cities is relatively short but with current delays, it is inevitable that 40 minutes of flying time will equal two hours or more in the sardine can.

I am reminded of an article Car & Driver magazine did several years back. They unscientifically raced from the center of DC to Midtown Manhattan, one person each using the US Shuttle (& taxi), Amtrak, a rental car and Greyhound. Incidentally, this was final order of the race in terms of speed and also the inverse order in terms of cost. I wonder if things have changed now with increased airport congestion (in general) and also the Amtrak Acela service....
None shall pass!!!!
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Tue Jun 05, 2007 7:06 am

Ive flown the DL shuttle when it was 733, it was really nice. Free Beer also
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Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:57 am

I forgot to mention one thing...There were FIVE Hudson News shops in Terminal 9 at JFK! This seemed like a bit overkill to me...
"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon"
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Wed Jun 06, 2007 12:52 am

I just took the JFK-IAD-JFK flight on B6 on the 190. The 190 is a great a/c...comfortable seats, decent pitch, and great windows! The IFE was a plus too, but not really necessary on a short flight. While the flights were good, the f/a's weren't anything like the ones you get at the major airlines....it seemed like they just got out of high school lol. That temporary term. at JFK is kinda bad though...though I must say I did enjoy the blue chips  Smile. Great TR!!
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Wed Jun 06, 2007 2:44 am

Nice report RJ, I used to live in Burke Fairfax County, I would travel back and forth with NJ/Ny all the time. Mostly PeoplExpress to EWR from IAD for $20, or NY Air to Laguardia.

NY Air had the best shuttle IMO.

Wall Street Journal and a bagel.
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Wed Jun 06, 2007 3:39 am

Thank you for the TR and the comparings between the Washington airports and the New York airports.
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Wed Jun 06, 2007 11:32 am

Quoting RJpieces (Thread starter):
(the earlier flights in the day were $99 each way)

I enjoyed the report very much, RE: the $99 fare on B6. Thats the same fare, one way from BOS to BDA on B6 right now..........And I agree the E190 is very comfy down back. More legroom!)
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Sun Jun 24, 2007 3:15 am

It is good report about your trip between DC area and NY area. I was student at Gallaudet University in DC. I would use DCA often since it would flying me non stop to IND on US Airways. But I has use DL, UA, SW, NW, US. I would flew out of IAD to MCO on Delta Express before they pulled out of service. I would sometimes flying out of DCA aboard boeing 757, the taking off would be so powerful and faster since that runway on DCA is short. I love to flying out of DCA because many times pilot would use the full power during taking off.
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Thu Aug 23, 2007 12:08 pm

It's quite an impressive TR, having sampled different carriers like that!
Keep up the good work in your writing!

May 23rd of this year, I flew USAirways Shuttle from DCA-LGA, and I found US Airways ops to be quite impressive. However, DCA remains a zoo! It was quite a hectic evening as we boarded flight 2186 to LGA. I've never really flown regionals on this route. The last time I flew LGA-DCA and v.v. was with my parents in 1990 when we flew Pan Am Shuttle (now defunct, how sad!! The 727s were really good!). US Airways Shuttle is a good choice. An exclusive terminal away from the CTA in LGA was really nice to arrive into too! I really dread the old terminal for its aged facilities. The USAirways terminal at LGA was a welcome change.
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Fri Aug 24, 2007 3:53 am

I'm really susprirsed American doesn't offer free snacks to compete with the shuttles on their RJ.

Excellent report, you've covered basically all NYC-Washington options (RJ, Shuttle, Mainline, LCC)

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