Every year, I travel to Minnesota to attend and work at a rodeo as well as visit my uncle and family in Barnum, MN, 35 miles outside of Duluth. The Minnesota Rodeo members have been very friendly and fun to get to know over the years, and it's the perfect excuse to visit Minnesota (a beautiful state!!) and see family.
Because of the travel costs (hotel, rental car, gas, food, etc) coupled with my decision to sponsor two of the belt buckles ($400 - these are the prizes for the first place contestants), I go with the airline that fits both my budget and my schedule. This year the choice was Frontier, an airline I have flown before. I was quite satisfied with my choices.
FIRST SEGMENT: SAN-DEN
Frontier Airlines flight #294
Airbus A319 N923FR
"Rick The Raccoon"
Photo © John E. Jauchler - New England Airports
Photo © Dan Brownlee
Since the 4th of July fell on a Friday this year, I expected airports to be a zoo with people rushing off to catch planes. This proved NOT to be the case!!
I arrived at the airport bright and early Friday morning, just before 5:00 AM. The last time I flew Frontier their check-in was long and tedious, as they were doing Midwest check-in first, then us. This time, however, there was no one in line except me!! I got switched to exit row aisle seating and had time to talk with the check-in personnel. They were all great!!
Security was walk-right-up-and-zip-through at Terminal 2E, and in no time I was through. Then I set off in search of food, only to discover that if something is open early at SAN, they are probably not serving breakfast. McDonald's didn't open until well after 5 AM and they had a queue going before the shutters were raised! Even the bakery was only selling pre-packaged tuna sandwiches and stuff from the day before...breakfast wouldn't be available until much later I was informed...
Coffee, however, was plentiful, and that did the trick until SAN's restaurants got their act together!!
Frontier has, without a doubt, the fastest boarding of any airline. Either that, or they simply have the fastest boarding passengers. We were set, ready, and pushed back before the 6:20 departure time!!
For those that have never flown out of SAN, it's interesting first thing in the morning you will hear the captain discuss not only the facts about the curfew (no take-off's before 6:30 AM, although you can push back earlier!), but that it's just about that time that the fog starts rolling in. Fortunately, we were about fifth in line and took off just about 6:35 AM.
The flight to Denver was uneventful, although the DirecTV wasn't working. Not a big deal as I was planning on reading the entire trip anyway. The gentleman sitting across the aisle had come up from Mazatlan (to Tijuana) on a bus and was flying SAN-DEN-BOI...talk about a long trip!! I tried to point out that ExpressJet flew SAN-BOI non-stop, but he expressed a fear about "smaller planes". Oh well...he enjoyed his flight, so who am I to interfere?
We landed in DEN and taxiied to our gate. De-planing was just as quick as boarding, and I hurried off to my connecting flight.
However, on the way, I took these pictures from DEN's airbridge:
|DEN Airbridge, looking east into the morning sun.|
|DEN Airbridge, looking west.|
Yes, that's my cowboy hat you can see in the reflection.
When I continued my walk down the easiest airport in the world to navigate, I got to my gate as they were in the middle of boarding, and I walked RIGHT on to the plane!!
SECOND SEGMENT: DEN-MSP
Frontier Airlines flight #106
Airbus A319 N921FR
"Fritz The Bighorn Sheep"
Photo © Matthew C. Lyons
Photo © John R. Beckman
Both of these A319's had two rows of emergency exit row seating - 10 and 11. Row 10 had only two seats (none on the window) and row 11 had three seats; however, row 11 did NOT have any significant extra legroom.
Whereas the SAN-DEN flight was about 80% full, this flight was completely occupied! Interestingly, most of the overhead bins were not fully occupied, so closing them and getting pushed back for an on-time departure was a piece of cake. AA, UA, and US, are you suffering delays? Maybe this is the problem!
I was still engrossed in my book, so the DirecTV was only of interest to me for indicating where we were. The winds were from the south today, so we flew a northerly arrival route, with Lake Minnetonka visible on the right side of the plane on final approach. We landed on runway 12R and taxied to gate E5.
While I rave about the efficiency of MSP (and Minnesota in general), these was simply beyond comparison - as near to the main terminal as the E gates are, our luggage almost beat us there!! Less than ten minutes after walking off the plane we were having our bags delivered. Hertz rent-a-car was just as quick, and less than an hour after touching down I was having lunch in the Mall Of America. The BBQ restaurant there is top notch!!
Hence why I originally planned to call this report "It Should ALWAYS Be This Easy!"
The rodeo was a lot of fun (I work as a timer for them) and the visit to Duluth and Jay Cook State Park was spectacular. If you're interested, here's my Flickr page:
Tuesday morning I left my uncle and aunt's house north of Barnum and headed back for the city. Lunch with a buddy, then a bit of exploring the Twin Cities (this is the day most of the pictures were taken), and then I headed off for the airport.
This picture was taken from the northeast corner of the top level of the Mall Of America parking structure. Sadly, I wonder how long it is until two things in the picture are no longer with us: the name "Northwest" and a ubiquitous DC-9:
|The name "Northwest" is visible - for now - and is a DC-9 - also for now...|
THIRD SEGMENT: MSP-DEN
Frontier Airlines flight #667
Airbus A319 N904FR
"Grace The Trumpeter Swan"
Photo © Matthew C. Lyons
Photo © Bruce Leibowitz
On these two flights, the A319's had only one emergency exit row, but it had LOTS of legroom!!
Check-in was once again as easy as it gets, as I arrived VERY early for my 7:25 PM flight, but after the earlier DEN flight was completely checked-in. Emergency exit row seating was mine (10D for both flights), and MSP security was a breeze. The plane was about ten minutes late in arriving, and ten minutes late in departing, but not a problem.
What trip to MSP would be complete without a picture of perhaps the most famous airport bathroom on the planet?
|"Senator Craig, Senator Larry Craig, please report to the MSP airport police located at the men's restroom in the Northstar Crossing..."|
The flight was smoothe and uneventful, and I had a nice conversation with an Englishman now living in Denver. His flight from Amsterdam had been delayed by baggage handlers in AMS denting the A330, but NW re-booked him on F9 to DEN, thereby saving him more than 2 hours waiting for the next flight!
As for the definition of the term hard luck, this Continental 737, scheduled to IAH at 6 that morning, was still stuck there more than twelve hours later:
|CO 1521 delayed more than 12 hours at this point.|
When we landed, we were told that most connecting flights were being held, as there was a system-wide weather delay (was there a ground-stop at DEN that day?), so no one needed to panic or push anyone out of the way. That turned out to be an understatement!!
Here's were the trip turned into kind of organized chaos.
FOURTH SEGMENT: DEN-SAN
Frontier Airlines flight #563
Airbus A319 N922FR
"Foxy The Red Fox"
Photo © Matthew C. Lyons
Photo © Matthew C. Lyons
As great as Frontier people are, circumstances at DEN that night were "chaotic", to say the least, and some Frontier employees came across as frazzled, cranky, and in some cases, clueless!
In checking the monitors, flight 563 was marked as delayed from 9:25 PM to 10:50 PM. Wanting to check on the accuracy (and having the knowledge that flight 563 originates at STL), I asked the gate agent if this was the correct gate, as it was marked for Austin. She replied politely (if unenthusiastically) that as soon as the Austin flight gets away, this would indeed be the SAN gate. I thanked her and asked her if the incoming flight from STL had left already. I was kind of surprised no one had asked that, but she checked and saw that it had not. This said to me that 10:50 was now just an estimate, so I wandered over to the bar (two gates down) and had a couple of Southern Comfort & Cranberry's along with a Quizno's sandwich.
When I was done, I noticed that the former plane - N939FR - had departed and now our plane, N922FR, had arrived. I have seen senior citizens with walkers deplane faster than the passengers on this flight - it was ludicrously slow. Yes, I was tired and cranky, but there would be a group of 3-5 people, then a long break, then 3-5 more, then another break, and so on.
So, any announcements from Frontier about a new boarding time? Nope. Any sign of trying to have an expedited arrival? Nope. Any new information on the display at the gate? Nope. Still showing a 9:25 PM departure time.
I realize that nobody wants a delayed flight to leave the gate more than the airline, but in this case, it just didn't seem that way. While the plane was catered and cleaned (yes, these planes were VERY clean every single time!!), the gate crew and flight attendants talked among themselves and paid no attention to the passengers. Not that they were rude, but it strikes me as too bad as at least a courtesy notice could have been made. Then, without any fanfare, "okay, we're going to begin boarding!!"
We got in and seated and were given free DirecTV. By this time the 18+ hour day coupled with the Southern Comfort made me too sleepy to watch TV too carefully.
Oddly enough, I believe it used to be airline/airport policy not to let any pictures or stories of aircraft disasters into the airport or airplanes, but this isn't the case anymore - I half watched a History channel production on runway incursions, complete with oft-repeating simulations (and pictures) of the Tenerife disaster and future possible A380 runway collisions.
We arrived in San Diego just under two hours late at a mostly deserted terminal two. However, even with six baggage carousels - and no one else there - we had to wait for Air Tran to off-load their bags first, and then later came ours. I am assuming that the same company that baggage handles Air Tran baggage handles Frontier as well. And once you see your bag coming off the conveyor belt, it's all moot anyway.
I took a taxi home (instead of my friend who was going to pick me up) and collapsed in my bed. Today I downloaded and sorted the 100+ pictures for viewing, and having done that, I can now do my trip report.
As for Frontier, I would fly them again without hesitation. Other than the weather issues leading to the delays, my trip went just great. I sincerely hope that this great airline survives the current mess plaguing the industry - there are a lot of GREAT employees here!!