This report will cover a recent trip from Washington, DC to Bozeman, MT
. I currently work in DC and live across the river in Virginia, but Montana will always be home and most of my family members are there. This particular trip was extra special given the occasion—my sister’s wedding on May 17.
I booked an award ticket for this trip back in January, which cost me 25,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles (with Northwest as the operating carrier). I’ve mostly abandoned NW
after a long series of bad experiences, but because this was an award ticket, and because of the convenience of the itinerary, I decided to give NW
another shot. All in all, it was a pretty good experience. Hope you enjoy this report.
Wed. May 14, 2008
N374NW (old colors)
Scheduled Departure: 17:31
Scheduled Arrival: 19:14
Actual Takeoff: 18:01
Actual Landing: 19:25
Flight Time: 2:24
Load Factor: 100%
I left work in downtown DC at 16:15 and caught the blue line metro to DCA
, where I arrived at 16:45. Though DCA
is relatively small, it took about 10 minutes to walk from the metro platform down to Terminal A at the south end of the airport where NW
is located (along with Spirit, Midwest, & AirTran). Luckily security was a breeze and I was at the gate at 17:00, just before boarding was supposed to commence. The aircraft, however, had not yet arrived.
At about 17:10 the old A320 finally pulled up to the gate. The deplaning passengers cleared out and the ground crew did their best to enable a quick turnaround. At 17:25 the gate agent invited the First Class pax on board, then invited literally everyone else on board a few minutes later (which resulted in chaos). I appreciate the effort to load the aircraft quickly, but boarding the entire coach section en masse, as opposed to by rows or sections, proved to be a mess. Still, everyone was on board and the door was closed by 17:50.
We pushed back a few minutes before 18:00 and taxied to the north end of the field for a RWY 19 departure. Just before turning onto the active runway, I caught a quick glimpse of my apartment building out the window, located a short distance away in Pentagon City.
At 18:01 pm we began our takeoff roll, lifted off smoothly, and climbed out steeply to the south. Over the Mt. Vernon area about 10 miles south of the airport we made a right-hand turn back to the northwest. A few minutes later, Dulles Airport came into view under the wing.
Here’s a zoomed-in shot of Dulles. The third RWY 1/19, which is currently under construction, is clearly visible.
Soon after passing Dulles we climbed through several high overcast layers of clouds and the ride became very bumpy. In addition to the turbulence, which I actually don't mind at all, the ride was more uncomfortable because of an incredibly loud 2-year old girl directly behind me. She wasn’t crying, but rather was over-excited, screaming and laughing and constantly kicking the back of my seat. The mother made no effort to calm her child and at times even seemed to indulge this kid’s wild behavior. Several passengers made requests of the mother to quiet her kid, but she still didn’t seem to make an effort. For their part, the flight attendants either didn’t notice or didn’t care, and took no initiative to talk to the mother. At any rate, I tried my best to ignore the little brat and enjoy the view.
We soon emerged from the overcast layers and the Captain informed us that we were level, for the time being, at FL260. She also mentioned that the turbulence would probably continue for the next hour or so, and that she’d instructed the flight attendants to remain seated and not begin the beverage service until the turbulence subsided. I passed the time by attempting to grab level pics of the wing and cloud formations—no easy task given all the bumps and jumps.
Shortly after passing Pittsburgh, PA, we continued our climb from FL260 up to FL340. The ride became smoother as we flew higher and the flight attendants began the beverage service. I asked for a tomato juice with no ice, along with a water with no ice—both were served to me with ice. Not worth complaining about, but I suppose this particular FA
either had a short-term memory or was not paying attention. Oh well. I didn't take any pics of the beverages, as we all know what a plastic cup sitting on a tray table looks like. Nothing special. Here are some more cloud pics, tho.
Over central Michigan the cloud layer beneath us gave way to nice views of the landscape. I always find it interesting to watch the weather below change during the course of a flight.
Soon the eastern shore of Lake Michigan appeared beneath the wing, along with Silver Lake State Park. The big sand dunes at this park are visible as the light-colored area near the bulge in the shoreline.
Another shot of the dunes and Silver Lake just to the left thereof.
As we headed out over Lake Michigan, the eastern shoreline disappeared behind us, and for a couple of minutes, the horizon showed nothing but water. Almost like a transoceanic flight…almost. Soon enough, though, the lake’s western shoreline came into view along with the Wisconsin countryside.
Here’s a shot as we approached the shore.
We made landfall close to Manitowoc (south of the Green Bay area) and continued on a west-north-west course. A couple of minutes later, with the aircraft directly over Appleton, I snapped a photo of the town of Menasha, Wisconsin and Lake Winnebago. Though it is difficult to see through the haze, the town of Oshkosh, scene of the famous fly-in, is also visible along the lake near the top of the picture. In fact, if you really strain your eyes, the runways at Oshkosh can be seen as well. Thought I’d mention that in case any aviation fans just so happen to be reading this.
At roughly this point in the flight, still some 250 or so miles from Minneapolis, we began a long, slow descent. The weather remained clear as we plotted along over Wisconsin, so I had a great view of the lush, green rolling hills and farmland. After passing near Eau Claire, we made a left-hand turn and assumed a southwesterly course.
We soon passed the St. Croix River and crossed into Minnesota before making a right-hand turn back to the northwest. At this point we were roughly 30 miles southeast of the airport, at about 8,000 ft. MSL.
The approach was smooth and the soft evening light made for more nice views out the window.
We passed over the Minnesota River just before crossing the threshold of the runway…
…and began our flare on RWY 30R at MSP
Touchdown was smooth, we exited the runway to the left, and headed toward the C Concourse. With the aircraft parked and docked, the pax began to clear out. It took another few minutes until it was my turn, and I hurried off, glad to be away from the annoying 2-year old, who, by the way, had persisted in providing her noise pollution the ENTIRE time. Oh well. Here is the final routing from DCA
Once in the terminal, I did a bit of spotting out the windows—mostly the typical NW
ramp filled with 319s/320s, a few 757s and some occasional DC-9 classics. I really hope to make one more trip on one of these old birds before they’re gone forever.
After awhile, I headed over to Maui Tacos to grab a bite to eat and a beer. I knew that friends of my sister, also passing through MSP
on their way to BZN
for the wedding, would be arriving shortly, so I texted them with my location. After their inbound flight landed, they joined me for a quick beer before we all made our way over to GATE C14 for the Bozeman flight.
Wed. May 14, 2008
Scheduled Departure: 21:35
Actual Liftoff: 21:42
Scheduled Arrival: 23:01
Actual Touchdown: 22:35
Flight Time: 1:53
Load Factor: 95%
Boarding began on time at 21:05 pm. The process this time, by the way, was much more orderly than what I had experienced earlier at DCA
. Everyone was on board and the door was closed at 9:30. I also lucked out, as I had all three seats to myself despite a nearly full flight. We pushed back, the engines spooled to life and we made the short taxi to RWY 30R.
The takeoff roll began at 21:42 and we were soon airborne and climbing out of MSP
to the northwest. I snapped a pic of the engine nacelle shortly after liftoff, still illuminated by the landing lights...
…followed by another shot looking back toward the winglet.
The climb-out was smooth and the city lights of Minneapolis soon disappeared. In their place, the lights of the occasional small farming community appeared every so often in the midst of an otherwise dark landscape.
The flightdeck soon welcomed us aboard and announced the total flight time to BZN
would be 1:52. The pilot also mentioned we would be leveling off in a few more minutes at FL380 and that the forecast called for smooth air ahead. The seatbelt sign soon came off and the beverage service began. I ordered a Diet Coke, no ice. This time the FA
got it right. I stretched out across all three seats, grabbed my book and let the minutes and miles fly by. Who says flying coach can’t be comfortable (with a bit of luck, perhaps)?!
Every so often I glimpsed out the window. Each time, the landscape was mostly dark, either because of cloud cover or due to the sparsely populated stretches of South Dakota and eastern Montana. Here’s another shot of the left engine, this time illuminated by the red, rotating beacon beneath the fuselage.
And another pic looking back toward the winglet.
Before long, the flight deck announced we were starting our descent. I was happy to be nearly home! We descended through several cloud layers before popping out of the murk probably 5,000 ft. above the ground. Given the lack of lights below, I knew we were making an approach to RWY 12 over the rural fields and hills northwest of the airport. Had we been coming in for a RWY 30 approach, the lights of Bozeman would have brightened up my window, which was not the case.
Touchdown was smooth at 22:35, nearly a half hour early. With light braking we used up all of the 9,000 ft. runway, exited to the right and taxied back toward the terminal. Once docked, I was off the plane within a couple minutes and made the short walk downstairs to the reception area. My mother, sister, and her groom-to-be arrived about 10 minutes later and were surprised to find that I had arrived well ahead of schedule. As I didn’t have checked luggage, we headed straight for the car. Kudos to Northwest for getting me to BZN
not only on time, but substantially early!
Below is our route from MSP
Bozeman—May 15-18, 2008
It was great to be home. The next 4 days were very busy, exciting, and joyful. I’ve included a smattering of pics from my time at home in order to provide everyone a glimpse of the community and landscape. A trip, after all, involves the destination as well as the journey, so I think this trip report should reflect that.
A pic of the Bridger Mountains from near my mother’s house on the south side of town.
This is the neighborhood where I grew up.
The Spanish Peaks south of town. The highest point, the triangular peak on the left, is Gallatin Peak, which tops out at 11,015 feet (3,357 M).
These mountains provided the backdrop for the wedding, with the altar directly beneath the tree branches.
Setting up for the wedding.
The barn, which is quite nice on the inside, is where the dinner and reception were held following the wedding.
A blend of fancy and rustic was the theme inside the barn.
Some fields south of town.
The Spanish Peaks again. In my opinion, May is the best month in Bozeman, as the peaks are still snowy and white, but the valley is green and lush.
On Friday, the day before the wedding, my girlfriend flew in from DC on UA
/Skywest, via ORD
. While waiting for her plane to arrive, I snapped a couple pictures of the front of the small terminal building at BZN
The mountains to the right of the terminal building are the Bridger Range.
The wedding on Saturday went flawlessly, the weather was perfect, and it was great to share the joy of this occasion with the 150 or so family, friends, and guests who attended.
Before I knew it, though, everything was over and it was time to head back to work in DC.
Sun. May 18, 2008
Scheduled Departure: 14:00
Scheduled Arrival: 17:17
Actual Liftoff: 14:04
Actual Touchdown: 16:49
Flight Time: 1:45
Load Factor: 100%
After spending the morning cleaning up the barn after the wedding, my aunt and uncle drove my girl and I to the airport. We arrived at 11:30 am, plenty of time for my girl to catch her 12:45 United Express flight to ORD
, and with even more time for me to catch my 2:00 pm to MSP
(by the way, we were on separate airlines as I had my AS
award ticket on NW
, while she had used her UA
Mileage Plus miles for a United freebie).
After my girl checked in and cleared security, I hung out and waited for my father and stepmother to arrive at the airport. By sheer coincidence, they were booked on the same NW
flight as I to MSP
; from MSP
, they would then journey onward to Amsterdam and Bergen, Norway for a business trip/vacation. So, the plan was for us to fly together as far as MSP
and have a quick bite to eat at the airport before I headed for my connecting flight to DCA
. Their flight across the pond would then leave MSP
several hours later, at 21:15.
The two of them arrived at the airport around 12:30 and we all proceeded toward the self-service kiosks to check in. My check-in went smoothly, but the kiosk indicated that my dad and stepmother had to talk to an agent. Unfortunately, the agent informed them that the Bergen airport was closed due to a strike, and that their AMS
flight was cancelled. He checked them in as far as AMS
, and told them they would receive more information upon arrival there.
With boarding passes in hand, we all proceeded through security and to the gate. I grabbed a shot of our aircraft freshly arrived from MSP
. Looking at this photo, I’m reminded of my childhood, when my father flew all the time as a private pilot and we spent many long hours hanging out with the crew at BZN
’s small FBO. Quite often, we tagged along with the fueling guys to tank up the old Western Airlines 737-200s that flew in and out of BZN
back in the ‘80s. In fact, I recall being 6 or 7 years old and standing next to the guy hooking the fuel hose to the wing. I was a lot shorter, the aircraft seemed even more massive, and those days are long gone. I certainly did not see any 6-year olds standing under the wing this time. A lot has changed at this airport, in the Bozeman community, and in the world in general.
Here is another pic, this time a Skywest United Express CRJ poised for its trip back to DEN
. I like the mis-matched nosecone.
Boarding began on time at 13:30 and the three of us queued up. By 13:40 we were in our seats, 16D/E/F on the right-hand side. The aircraft pushed back 10 minutes later and we taxied out to RWY 30. Along the way we passed by what used to be the old FBO, now a fancy new one. Though I didn’t take any pictures of them, the number of biz jets sitting on the ramp served as yet another reminder of just how much things have changed at this airport—changes that have been both good and bad, I think.
At 14:04 we began our takeoff roll with a great view of the still-snowy Bridger Range just north of the airport.
We rotated smoothly and blasted off into Montana sky. I grabbed another shot shortly after takeoff. I remember these ponds at the end of the runway from my childhood days of flying with my father. As a small kid I remember dreading the sight of them on approach, as it meant we were nearly home and the flight was nearly over (unless, of course, we were doing touch-and-go’s).
As we climbed out to the northwest, I snapped a pic of Sacajawea, the highest point in the Bridger Range at 9,665 ft. (2,946 M).
Soon we passed over the Horseshoe Hills north of the Three Forks area. Not far from here is where the Gallatin, Jefferson, and Madison Rivers converge to form the Missouri River.
As we continued to climb, we made a right-hand turn back to the north, and then northeast. The Bridger Mountains soon came into view again.
We soon passed directly over the north end of the range.
Another shot of the Bridgers. Bozeman is at the south end of the range, just below and to the right of the winglet.
The next photo is a zoomed-in shot of Sacajawea Peak. In case any skiers or mountain enthusiasts are reading this, I’ve pointed out some features of this mountain. The narrow chute within the rectangle is “The Great Northern Coulior,” or “Great One,” a favorite place for the local backcountry skiers. It holds snow through mid-late July, and I have had many wonderful ski descents down this beauty—one time even at night with a full moon.
My dad, who is a geologist, kept his eyes on the window as well, following our progress from the visual cues of the various mountain peaks. He has spent the last 30 years studying every feature of these amazing mountains and knows them better than anyone.
Soon, Bridger Bowl ski area came into view. It’s visible in the following photo as the snowy, less forested area on the far left of the frame.
As we continued on, the Bangtail Mountains, a series of smaller, forested hills appeared just below the wing.
Another shot of the Bangtails, still holding on to a fair amount of snow.
As we flew onward to the east, the massive Absarokee-Beartooth range came into view. These mountains, straddling the Montana-Wyoming state line, constitute an 80 mile-long arc along the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. These mountains are home to wolves, bears, a handful of glaciers, and endless possibilities for backcountry skiing.
I grabbed one last shot of the mountains, this time with the zoomed-in winglet in the foreground, before we entered the murk of the high-altitude overcast.
The flight deck soon announced that we were level at FL380. Total flight time, we were told, was 1:45. The seatbelt sign remained on because of a few bumps, but the beverage service began. The three of us ordered 3 waters, plus my father had a coffee and I had a Merlot for $5. We also ordered 2 bags of snack mix for $3 each.
At one point, my father spied one of the First Class passengers as he was getting out of his seat to go to the lavatory. It was Max, Montana’s long-time Senator—a career politician, my one-time boss, and one of the most powerful people in the U.S. government (for example, he controls much of the U.S. trade agenda thanks to his position as head of the Senate Finance Committee). I couldn’t help but wonder if he was upgraded to First Class, or if my tax dollars paid for his extra legroom. While I hope it was the former as opposed to the latter, it was cool knowing he was on our flight.
As we continued our cruise, I lowered the window shade and turned on my computer. The three of us passed the time looking through all the pictures of the wedding the day before. As one can imagine, looking at several hundred photos took up most of the rest of the flight.
When we started our descent, I switched off my computer and opened the window shade. We were greeted by sunny skies and the farmland of Minnesota below.
Our approach took us south of the airport before making a left-hand turn back to the northwest. Soon we were configured on short final…
…and we passed over the Minnesota River again just before the airport perimeter.
We touched down smoothly on RWY 30L at 16:49 CDT, an hour and 45 minutes after departing BZN
. We exited to the right and proceeded to the G Concourse. Below is our flight path from BZN
The three of us deplaned and headed to Rock Bottom Restaurant, just off the main terminal at the start of the C Concourse. We ordered wine, food, and chatted for an hour or so until it was time for me to head for the DCA
gate. I said farewell to my father and stepmother, wished them a great trip to Norway, and hurried down the C Concourse.
Sun. May 18, 2008
Scheduled Departure: 18:53
Scheduled Arrival: 22:13
Actual Liftoff: 20:03
Actual Touchdown: 22:54
Flight Time: 1:51
Load Factor: 95%
Boarding began on time and I was soon in my seat, near the back of the aircraft on the left-hand side. The door closed a few minutes before our scheduled departure time of 18:53, and all seemed in order.
At about 19:00, the Captain announced that a fuel indicator in the flight deck wasn’t showing the proper amount of fuel, based on the quantity that had just been added to the tanks. He said he would put in a call to the maintenance team and that he would give us an update in about 20 minutes. Most of the fellow passengers seemed to take things in stride.
Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, we were greeted with another announcement. This time, the Captain indicated that we would be able to depart despite the fuel indicator, but that the maintenance team would have to perform the so-called “stick method” to verify that the correct amount of fuel was on board. I’m not sure exactly what this means, but if the words are at all descriptive of the procedure, I’d imagine it’s basically similar to checking the quantity of oil in an automobile—putting the dipstick in the tank, pulling it out, and looking at the line. If anyone knows more about this procedure and wishes to elaborate, feel free!
I grabbed a shot of the maintenance team briefing the pilot.
At about 19:45, the Captain announced that not only was the stick method complete, but that in the meantime, the fuel indicator had also begun to function correctly. At any rate, we would soon be on our way. We pushed back a few minutes before 20:00, roughly an hour behind schedule, and taxied out to RWY 30R. Our takeoff roll began at 20:03 and we climbed quickly out of MSP
Shortly after takeoff, we made a right-hand turn to the north and then to the east. I grabbed some pics as we continued our climb over western Wisconsin.
As we were flying east, the sun set quickly behind the aircraft. I took one final pic before stowing my camera for the rest of the flight. Notice the nozzle inside the rear of the engine—very cool detail thanks to the light from the sunset.
The pilot eventually made an announcement apologizing for the delay and mentioned that we were about to level off at FL370. The beverage service began shortly thereafter, and I ordered water and a Chardonnay. The wine was $5 bucks, as usual. I passed the time by reading, and after I finished my wine, closed my eyes for a while. After all, it had been an exhausting weekend.
I woke up when the seatbelt sign dinged on as we were beginning our approach into Washington. The city lights and the Washington Monument appeared some minutes later, far below off the left-hand side. Based on our position and altitude, I knew we would not be making the exciting “river approach” to RWY 19 to DCA
. Instead, we continued southward and were soon abeam the airport, probably 5-10 miles east thereof, on the downwind leg. Sorry, no pictures—my point and shoot camera probably would not have revealed much, anyway.
After a 180 degree left-hand turn, we stabilized on the final approach to RWY 01. As is often the case at DCA
, touchdown was firm and we used all of the relatively short runway. We exited to the left on the final taxiway, before heading back down to Terminal A toward the south end of the field. Here’s our route from MSP
I called my girl as we taxied in and asked if she would make the three-minute drive from our apartment to pick me up. Given her shorter layover in ORD
, and my delay in MSP
, she had arrived over two hours earlier and was already home. The aircraft arrived at the gate just before 23:00, and I was off the plane about 5 minutes later. I arrived at the pickup curb just as my girl pulled up in the car, and 5 minutes after that, we were home. Convenience is one of the many perks of living near the airport, in addition to the great spotting opportunities.
So, what is my final impression of NW
on this trip? Despite the delay on the final leg and a few other minor mess-ups, Northwest was basically okay. And in some cases, NW
did a great job—like getting me to BZN
a half hour ahead of schedule. Though I’m mostly a dedicated UA
passenger at this point (that is, if I am paying for a ticket), I would consider flying NW
again if the fare was especially appealing.
Finally, apart from the fun of flying, this trip was absolutely wonderful given the occasion. It was great to see my sister “tie the knot.” All in all—a wonderful few days.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed. Feedback always appreciated!