Part Three (the journey home):
My flight home began with a check-in mess at St. Louis' Lambert Field. In my search for a cheap DC-9 flight, I had booked a flight departing STL
at 06:00, connecting in Minneapolis to a leg on a DC-9-50, and then finally connecting in Detroit for the flight over to PWM
. The 06:00 departure time proved to be troublesome, although the rest of the flight went off without a hitch.
KSTL - KMSP
Flight # MES 3600
Equipment:Bombardier CRJ-900 (N902XJ)
Scheduled Departure: 06:00 Actual Departure: 06:20
Scheduled Arrival: 07:46 Actual Arrival: 07:55
the Northwest and Delta check-in counters have not yet been integrated. Despite being in the same room, and literally just feet from each other, flights booked through NWA must use a much smaller counter that looks as if it hasn't been cleaned since construction in the '80s. To add to the confusion, the NWA check-in counter opens at 05:00, a full hour after Delta begins checking in passengers. At STL
at least, the integration of the two carriers cannot happen fast enough.
I arrived at the airport at a little past 4:00am, as a few other flight team members had earlier flights out. When I found out (from other disgruntled passengers) that NWA's counter does not open until 5:00, I gave up my spot in line and headed over to Delta's nearly empty counter to see what they could do. While my boarding pass could be printed at the Delta counter, the agent was unable to check my luggage, so I ended up at the back of an even longer line for the NWA counter. When I finally checked in, it was 5:25 and there was still a long line behind me full of passengers for the 5:45 and 6:00 flights to Detroit and Minneapolis. Adding the time spent in security, I arrived at the gate with about ten minutes to spare. I would hope that Northwest is able to check in an entire flight in that little time, but I would not be surprised if morning delays are common in STL
due to the line at the check-in counter.
My aircraft for this flight was a CRJ-900, flown by Mesaba. Much to my surprise, when I peered out into the darkness from the terminal windows, I saw not the bright-red tail I was expecting, but the dark hues of Delta's Citgo tail scheme. While this didn't change anything about the flight (there was surprisingly little mention of Delta onboard the plane), I was looking forward to this itinerary being one last ride on Northwest's red-tails.
Stepping on board the Northwest/Airlink/Delta/Connection/Mesaba aircraft.
On board, I took my seat in 16D and promptly noticed that the no-smoking sign was not illuminated. Taking note of it as being a little odd, it was not until later that I noticed that the plane didn't have a no-smoking light at all. It seems that all of the new CRJ-900s (perhaps other planes as well?) are being delivered with a no-electronics placard instead of one for no-smoking.
Does that mean that smoking is allowed on board?...
Seated in the back of the plane, I ended up in the center of a track and field team that was returning home from a competition. I must say, these were the most obnoxious seat mates I have ever flown with. The guys seated around me were constantly trying to act masculine for the girls, and the majority of the girls were run of the mill ditzy blonds. So it goes. At least it was a short flight.
On the ground we were delayed a few minutes waiting for a start-cart, due to an inoperative APU. When the captain announced that the APU was inoperative (mostly to explain why it was getting so hot in the cabin), one of the girls seated behind me called for a Flight Attendant, stating her uneasiness with flying on a broken plane. She said that she "didn't want the pilots just playing with things in flight to find out what else is broken."
After a long wait for a really short taxi, we departed from runway 12L, flying to the North of downtown St. Louis and the arch, before turning Northwest on course.
Lift off from STL.
The sun rising through the clouds. This picture could almost be artistic...if the window wasn't so dirty.
The flight itself was, well, standard. Shortly after reaching 10,000 feet, a sole Flight Attendant came through with miniature water bottles, and shortly afterward with the whole drink cart (still only offering a limited selection of water, juices, and hot drinks) as well as the standard Delta Biscoff Cookies.
The rest of the one-hour flight was remarkably uneventful. Before landing at MSP
we flew a downwind just West of the airport before making a right base to Runway 12R. Landing on 12R, we rolled out past the Signature FBO, where a plethora of interesting jets were parked. Personally, my favorite is still the Falcon 900...
Spoilers deployed, about to turn base.
Welcome to Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, where the local time is...too early in the morning. What time zone are we in now?...
Not knowing my way around Minneapolis and only having an hour connection, I quickly deplaned and headed out into the airport. Walking into the main terminal I was pleasantly surprised. For some reason I have always held the impression of Northwest being a sub-par legacy carrier, lacking in customer service and in facilities. I had expected that their two biggest hubs would reflect that impression, being rundown and unkempt. Minneapolis (and even more so Detroit) were quite the opposite.
While parts of the terminal had a mall-ish feel to them (makes sense being next-door neighbors with the Mall of America), the building was nicely kept on the inside. I didn't have the time to ride the tram around, but I was interested to see that MSP
has a steel-rail/steel-wheel tram system, more akin to a light rail system than an airport tram. Unfortunately, the tram is no help at all for getting from the A terminal where I arrived to the F terminal where I was departing, so I had to hike almost the entire length of the airport to get to my departure gate (not that I'm complaining, I enjoyed the walk, I just wanted to ride a train...)
I'm not sure where this walkway goes, but the only people up here were me and the TSA. Suffice to say, I took the stairs back down after I took the picture.
I didn't happen across MSP
's well regarded observation deck on my way to gate F6
, but the gate area provided a nice view of aircraft pulling off of Runway 12R, as well as the cluster of NWA aircraft and equipment parked in the general area.
Finally, a red-tail DC-9! I know I'm in Northwest territory now!
A *really* old-school paint job.
How many Northwest logos can you count?
KMSP - KDTW
Flight #NWA 1452
Equipment:Douglas DC-9-50 (N785NC)
Scheduled Departure: 08:50 Actual Departure: 08:48
Scheduled Arrival: 11:31 Actual Arrival: 11:25
My aircraft for the short hop over to DTW
was a DC-9-50, N785NC, still in the Northwest new-colors. Since this was my first flight (and probably last) with NWA, I was hoping to see plenty of red tails (and perhaps an old bowling shoe livery.) Instead, I was surprised by a decent number of Delta-painted A319s and A320s. While Airbii in Delta colors are still a novel sight, I have a feeling that they will soon become just another boring white airplane. (Is it just me, or does Delta's livery get worse every time they change it?)
Adding up the time it took to walk across the terminal and the time I spent sightseeing around the concourse, I arrived at the gate with only 5 or 10 minutes left before boarding.
My aircraft for the flight over to Detroit, N785NC.
I was one of the first to board the aircraft (the plane was boarded by rows, instead of the zones that I'm used to at Delta.) I made my way back to seat 23A, right by the engine. I made up my mind when I booked the seat that I was going to go deaf on this flight, but I was going to love every minute of it. The interior of this DC-9 looked extremely
worn out and the seats felt like they were made of rather thick cardboard, but it was a short flight and it could have been worse for a 30 year old plane.
Not my seat, but an example of the worn-out cabin. On most of the seats you could see the outline of metal supports through the fabric.
Sitting just one or two rows in front of the engine's fan disk, I got the full JT8D audio-experience on this flight. Taxiing out was probably the worst on my ears, as the engine noise was a low pitch that was constantly oscillating in volume and tone. You can hear some of this in the video I took of the takeoff, but my camera certainly did not capture all of the interesting sounds that were bouncing around in the cabin at takeoff.
Takeoff from Minneapolis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXamX_chRgI
After takeoff, either the engines quieted down or my senses became dulled (probably a little of both), but I didn't really find it bothersome to be sitting next to the engine. I understand why SeatGuru places warnings next to the aft seats, cautioning of bothersome noise, but in cruise I don't think this flight was any louder than others.
Shortly after passing over Minneapolis the scenery quickly became sparse, with vast expanses of flat, green areas dominating the landscape. This flat featureless farmland (how's that for alliteration?) continued until reaching Lake Michigan.
Downtown Minneapolis perhaps. Or St. Paul. I'm not really sure...
The vast green nothingness that is the Midwest.
I'm not sure how many times I can write about Delta's domestic in-flight service, because as far as I can tell it never changes. While there's always the gamble between getting peanuts or getting Biscoff, Delta/Northwest's in flight service is boringly consistent. First come the snacks and napkins, followed a couple minutes later by the drink cart. I was surprised to be served a Pepsi produced drink, but it all tastes the same at altitude anyways. (I thought that Delta/Northwest had consolidated their catering with Coke products, but I guess it still depends on the station that the aircraft was serviced at, as my STL
flight had been stocked with Coke and Sprite.)
mmm! A can of sugar and a glorified Graham Cracker! (a really really tasty glorified Graham Cracker that is...)
By the time the cans and trash were collected, we were already over Lake Michigan, with little left of the flight. At this point, I reached the conclusion that I need to fly in this manner more often, taking short hops of an hour or so, leisurely making my way to my destination. The glory of flight is often lost in the boredom of a trans-continental or trans-oceanic flight...it is the short hops, seeing new airports, and experiencing new aircraft that I truly enjoy.
We approached DTW
from the West, overflying the field before turning back to the airport and making an approach to (what I believe was) Runway 4L. We used the majority of the runway, coming to a gentle stop before beginning a circuitous taxi in to the terminal. After what felt like a field trip into a farmer's field on taxiway Quebec, the aircraft came to a stop at Gate A11. Since I was in the back of the aircraft to start with, I waited for everyone else on the plane to depart and headed up to the Flight Deck to take some pictures. When I asked the captain "what's it like to fly something this old?" his response was "what do you mean old?" Apparently he had started out with Mesaba in Saabs, and stuck with the DC-9 ever since. This 1982 DC-9 was still relatively new to him.
One of these dials is not like the others! (TCAS is digital, everything else is...not.)
The jet bridge deposited me at the South end of the MacNamera Terminal, right next to the tram stop. My connecting flight was out of gate B1, in the smaller sattelite terminal, but I had nearly two hours to kill, so I was in no rush to get to the gate. I had never been through Detroit before, so I spent the first 45 minutes just exploring. I rode the tram back and fourth through the terminal a few times, looking for interesting things that I should check out on the ground floor. While I was impressed by the Minneapolis terminal, Detroit really
The entire MacNamera terminal has a very spacious and open feel to it. The high ceilings, abundance of windows, and ample room available for passengers all contributed to making the airport have a very enjoyable aura to it. Atlanta's terminal, for example, has low ceilings, no windows, and half the seating that it should at gates. I loathe spending more than an hour in Atlanta. In Detroit, I wouldn't mind waiting out a delay at all.
Looking down the mile-long terminal from the tram station.
Decorative fountains should feature 747s more often.
I get the feeling that someone (something?) is watching...
The only complaint I have about Detroit is the terminal windows. Every window in the terminal is completely covered by little black dots. While I understand the reason for the dots, to keep the sun from heating up the glass covered building too badly, it makes it very
hard to take pictures of airplanes. The dots don't become visible until you get close to the window, but it's hard to take any decent photographs standing back from the window. So it goes. That just means I get stuck photographing the architecture and indoor mass-transit instead. Not a terrible trade-off.
Detroit's infamous dots...
Detroit's multi-lingual tram terminal.
Descending under the ramp next to a 747.
KDTW - KPWM
Flight # MES 3619
Equipment:Bombardier CRJ-900 (N915XJ)
Scheduled Departure: 13:35 Actual Departure: 13:38
Scheduled Arrival: 15:28 Actual Arrival: 15:28
My final leg home to Portland was departing out of the smaller RJ
(B/C) concourse which is located parallel to the main terminal building. The architecture in this concourse is much the same as the main terminal, except smaller. The ceilings are lower, the windows are smaller, and the terminal is about half the length. Regardless of size, it was still a nice looking building. The only way to reach this concourse is through an underground tunnel below the ramp. This "tunnel of lights" features a psychedelic mixture of colored lights and nondescript music. On my first escalator ride into the tunnel I found myself totally alone in the echoing and colorful space. I had to double check to see if I was actually in Detroit...
Ooh...trippy as well...
My flight was departing from gate B1. In an epic lack of observation, I assumed that gate B1 would be at the end of the concourse, not the middle where I exited the escelator. It wasn't until I reached gate B-twenty-something at the end of the terminal that I realized I had walked a quarter mile for nothing, and now I needed to walk back.
My aircraft resting at the gate (as seen through dots.)
A CRJ-440 was boarding directly across the concourse from my gate heading to Bangor, Maine. There was an oddly high concentration of L.L. Bean merchandise and other outdoor clothing in the gate area that day, especially for being in Detroit.
After a brief wait (I had killed most of my layover riding the tram back and fourth and admiring the architecture in the A concourse) boarding began. The gate agent gave plenty of time for first class/elites to board before calling general boarding for the rest of the aircraft. The electronic scanner was broken this day, so the gate agent was checking and writing down the last names by hand. Despite causing a bit of a line at the gate, everyone managed to get on the plane in a timely manner.
The flight to Portland was full on this day, so I had forked over the $20 when I purchased my ticket for an exit row window seat. The seat pitch was wonderfully generous, and the seat was as comfortable as I've ever experienced in an RJ
. (Certainly nothing to write home about, but hey, it's a CRJ so expectations are lower to start with.)
More than enough leg room.
After pushback, staring down another RJ. Note the mini-super-tug on the CRJ in the background.
Before boarding was complete, a man came back from the front of the plane asking if I would like to trade seats so that he could be seated with his wife. While I was contemplating trying to work out a deal with him that didn't involve me giving up my $20 seat, he retracted his request, apparently reading the look of "I don't want to trade seats" off my face. As he walked back forward I was releived I hadn't been persuaded into a trade, as he sat back down in an aisle seat next to a mother with a noisy lap child.
Taxi and takeoff was extremely quick. Climbout and cruise was utterly uneventful. Snack service was exactly the same as all of my previous Delta/NWA flights, featuring soft drinks, juice, water, and/or Biscoff cookies. Before I knew it, we broke through some light clouds and I recognized some landmarks of Southern Maine.
A hazy day over Buxton/Gorham, with Sebago Lake visible in the background.
Cape Elizabeth perhaps, with one of the two lighthouses of "Two Lights Park" in the foreground. Setting up for the Harbor Visual approach to Runway 29.
Established on the Harbor Visual, visible are Little Diamond, Peaks, Cushings, and House Islands.
I will never get tired of flying the Harbor Visual approach. They claim that the approach is for noise abatement around the city, but I almost suspect that it's to give tourists a stunning view of Casco Bay before landing in Portland. Skimming just a few thousand feet over islands and sailboats with the city of Portland just off to the right of the plane, the route is much the same path that scenic charters take when they want to see Casco Bay.
Pulling in to a crowded summer ramp in Portland.
I was surprised by the frequency of control inputs I could feel while we were on approach. Perhaps I'm just used to the straight-in ILS approaches when I'm sitting in the back, but it really felt like the pilots were having some fun and actually flying the plane, instead of sipping coffee and watching the computer. When I deplaned, I inquired to the pilots about how much of the approach they had flown manually. Their first response was "what, could you tell? was it that bad?" but they continued to elaborate, stating that it was easier to fly the non-standard approach without any input from the autopilot. Also, it seems that Portland's Harbor Visual is very non-standard as far as noise abatement goes. Both the captain and first officer commented that Washington National's approach is the only thing like it that they've experienced flying in the US (and that's hardly for noise abatement...)
N915XJ parked at the gate at PWM.
And that brings to a close my two weeks of aviation goodness, jetting with jetBlue, flying the red tailed diesel on Northwest, and generally having fun around planes. It's actually taken me longer to write this trip report than I was on the trip, so I hope you've all enjoyed reading it!
I reject your reality and substitute my own...