During this year's holiday season I made my customary trip home from University to visit my family and friends in Maine over break. As of early December I had flown over 100,000 miles, most of those miles on Delta or Delta Connection metal. While browsing fares online, I found a convenient schedule up from Florida to Maine, on Continental/United through Newark in December, and back down into Daytona Beach on US Airways in January. I decided that this would be a good chance to check out the competition and to check off some new aircraft types in my log so I went for it!
The final routing for my flights would be MCO-EWR on a Continental 737-500, EWR-PWM on a United Express (Colgan) Q400, as well as PWM-CLT on a US Airways A319 and CLT-DAB on a US Airways Express (PSA) CRJ-700. This would be my first flight on the relatively rare 737-500 and my first flight on the Q400, and would be my first experience with the post-merger United/Continental. While the Q400 and the 737-500 were fun to fly, the fact remains that this trip was a simple East-Coast US domestic hop - no glamor, no first class frills, and fortunately no mishaps to report. For those of you who are up for reading it, here's a straight forward report of an uneventful set of flights in the US!
Without further ado, on to the flights:
KMCO - KEWR
Flight # CO 056
Equipment:Boeing 737-500 (N16648)
Scheduled Departure: 13:05 Actual Departure: 13:20
Scheduled Arrival: 15:30 Actual Arrival: 15:25
On the morning of December 18th I caught a shuttle bus from my apartment in Port Orange, FL (just a couple miles south of Daytona Beach) down to the Orlando airport. A few shuttle companies operate this route and probably make most of their profit during the busy school break season. The 25 passenger mini-bus was packed to the gills, and they had managed to extract nearly double the normal fare from many of riders for a household pick-up. Long term parking is non-existant in Daytona and taxi service is spotty at best; I figured it to be a reasonable investment of $50 to receive door-to-door service to the Orlando airport, an hour's drive away.
The shuttle bus dropped me at Airside B in Orlando, the South side of the main terminal complex. With about 1:50 to spare before departure I made my way to the United check-in desk. Even though my flights were ticketed and operated by Continental, the carriers had recently merged to a single operating certificate and I figured it to be a fair bet that the United ticket counter would work just as well as CO's counter (which I couldn't find anywhere...)
Checking in with a self-service kiosk I initially had some trouble printing my boarding passes. While I was able to check in and my checked baggage was successfully tagged, only one of my two boarding passes actually printed. Oddly, the boarding pass for EWR-PWM was the only one to come out, and the machine spat it out rather wrinkled and smeared with ink. The kiosk didn't indicate that anything was awry and it wished me a good flight, but as soon as I clicked "done" the machine went out of service. I side-stepped to the next kiosk and successfully re-checked-in and printed two new boarding passes.
The TSA line was surprisingly short (Orlando's security screening is notoriously slow and painful), but the line still took more than ten minutes to process the handful of passengers in front of me. A quick walk from the TSA checkpoint brought me to Orlando's Air-Train to the airside complex.
Approaching the airside terminal on an empty people-mover.
The central concourse area for Airside 3, decorated with a huge faux Christmas-tree.
A large "tree" of departure boards. Mine's on there somewhere...
The airside area was busy, but not nearly as mobbed as I've seen in the past. Continental and United currently occupy seperate arms of the same airside, while the rest of the gates are distributed between various low cost carriers. Spirit, Frontier, and Sun Country were all operating flights while I was waiting.
Doing some spotting while waiting; Frontier pushing back to Denver.
Sun Country arriving.
I was glad to see this A319 in the Spirit old-color scheme. Between Frontier, Sun Country, and this aircraft, I happened to see the three best looking LCC liveries flying today (IMHO).
After grabbing a quick Q'Doba burrito I made my way to the gate where a massive crowd of passengers had already gathered. Continental operates nearly hourly service between Orlando and Newark and the previous hour's flight was still finishing up the boarding process. While the crowd thinned out as the previous flight departed, the swarm of gate-lice remained. It seemed as if more passengers decided to push their way towards the podium after each announcement about limited overhead space and consolidation of baggage.
Gate lice, so many gate lice. This is before the aircraft had even arrived...
About 50 minutes prior to scheduled departure our aircraft pulled in. Much to my delight, the scheduled 737-500 was still in use. This aircraft, United ship number 648 (former Continental ship number 2690, N16648, a Boeing 737-524) was built in 1997 for Continental Airlines, and was fitted with APB winglets in 2008. This aircraft is one of 25 737-500s active in the CO/UA fleet, and one of 389 built.
N16648 hiding behind the jetbridge.
Boarding of the flight began 45 minute prior to departure, and honestly I've never experienced a boarding process so slow. I've seen 747s loaded and pushed back faster than it took to load this 152 seat 737. The vast majority of passengers flying through Orlando are very infrequent travelers and it shows. One middle-aged man and his family took a full four minutes entirely blocking the aircraft's aisle at row 15 before even considering moving into their seats. Despite frequent nagging from the flight attendants over the PA, passengers still backed up well into the jet bridge. Eventually I made it to my seat, 14A, a worn but comfortable cloth economy class seat at the leading edge of the wing, just in front of the emergency exit row.
Seat 14A (all of row 14) does not recline due to the over wing exit row behind. Due to an equipment swap from a 737-900 a few months prior, 14A was my only choice if I wanted a window seat. I almost scored the far-superior seat 15A, as the elderly woman seated there said she wasn't comfortable with the responsibility of having an exit row. At the last minute she changed her mind and stuck with the seat, apparently deciding the the extra leg-room was worth taking on the exit row responsibility.
The view from 14A. Note the row of vortex generators, and the seemingly out of place winglet.
Looking out at the CFM56 engine. Looks like the thrust reverser translating sleeve has been wearing on the aft strakes - I see exposed carbon fiber...
we pushed back from the gate about fifteen minutes late, not bad considering the messy boarding process. The flight attendants were all very up-beat and positive throughout the whole boarding process and were confident that we would arrive on time.
Taxiing over MCO's access roads on our way to the runway.
In line for departure, a US Airways A319 on the roll.
The queue for takeoff was short, only three or four aircraft ahead of us in line. The takeoff roll was not very exciting, the engines produced only a dull roar and Orlando's 10,000ft runway didn't necessitate a very high thrust setting. Soon we were airborne in the surprisingly clear Florida sky.
Just after rotation, looking down at Delta's airside (boarding those 757-300s must be hellish...)
The West runway complex and Airside.
Climbing over Orlando Executive Airport (KORL) and downtown Orlando.
Surprisingly, throughout the entire boarding process, taxi, and takeoff the "fasten seat belts" light had remained off throughout the cabin. Passing through 10,000ft the flight attendants made their standard electronic devices announcement and noted that seat belts should remain fastened. They neglected to specifically mention the seat belt sign though, something I have never seen before.
The flight attendants waited until we were at cruising altitude before starting drink service. Surprisingly, I was the first one on the aircraft to be served - the drink cart was pulled back to row 14 and moved aft from there. Quite some time later, the flight attendant taking care of First Class came back and served rows 7-13. I guess the "preferred" seating at the front gets you quicker access to the door after landing, but not much else.
I asked for a Sprite and was offered the full can. "Sure, why not!" Continental has adopted the pre-merger United philosophy on snacks, which is "you get what you pay for." No snacks (not even pretzels or peanuts) are offered for free, but a selection of snack boxes and snack items are offered at reasonable prices. One of the passengers seated next to me ordered a snack box, it actually did look quite tasty.
"Planes Change, Values Don't" ...What about the pre-merger CO value of offering free food in coach, hot food at that?
Small ice crystals forming on the inner panes of the window.
Interior shot, with an older style of ceiling panels and PSUs.
After the conclusion of drink service the flight was entirely uneventful. No IFE was available (can't wait 'till all the PMCO aircraft are upgraded to include Channel 9), and the passengers seated around me were relatively quiet. A woman seated next to me was very aggressive with her small talk, it almost felt as if I was being interrogated even though the questions were just "where are you from?" or "going home for Christmas?"
After a very quick hour at cruising altitude we began a gentle descent, straight in for Newark's runway 4R.
Passing over the now-closed Naval Air Station Willow Grove.
Linden Airport, a small GA field tucked right in the middle of the town of Linden.
Okay, now we're certainly in New Jersey. For better or for worse, when many Americans think of New Jersey, they don't think of the "Garden State", they think of these gas refineries.
As we passed through 10,000ft the seat belt sign came on for the first time; apparently the flight deck had simply forgotten to turn it on for takeoff. The descent continued straight in to the North for Runway 4R at EWR (yay, no holding patterns!) The landing was firm, but not rough, although braking was rather extreme as we neared a taxiway turn-off. After a short delay to cross the parallel runway it took no more than five minutes to taxi to the gate, arriving right on schedule.
Pulling into Gate C136 amidst dozens of Continited aircraft, not a single tulip-livery in sight.
Even after a five minute wait for the jetbridge to attach, deplaning the aircraft was much faster than the boarding process in Orlando. This left me with about an hour and 45 minutes to make my way to the far opposite side of the Newark airport and board my flight up to Portland.
The last time I passed through the Newark airport was in 2006 (my first trip report actually: PWM-EWR-SEA-IAD-PWM On CO/UA (by KPWMSpotter Dec 25 2006 in Trip Reports) ) and things didn't go nearly as smoothly. On that trip I ended up diverting to Allentown, PA and spending the night at a very sketchy Newark airport hotel due to a missed connection. No such problems this time, I even had some time to explore the airport...
Lots of CO globe tails, with the New York City skyline behind.
The sun is starting to set, casting a shadow over this 737-900ER.
I arrived at my gate with about an hour and fifteen minutes to go until departure. The gate area was relatively empty, with a few passengers waiting for the Portland flight and no gate agent or staff present. WiFi was available, but only for purchase from Boingo. I alternated between reading at the gate area and wandering around the surrounding concourses until boarding was called.
KEWR - KPWM
Flight # CO / CJC 4943
Equipment:Bombardier DHC-8-Q400 NextGen (N345NG)
Scheduled Departure: 17:20 Actual Departure:17:15
Scheduled Arrival: 18:50 Actual Arrival: 18:40
Gate C70, still missing both the aircraft and gate agents.
More 737s, plus an American Eagle CRJ-700 departing in the background.
I noticed a Q400 sitting at C70 about 40 minutes prior to scheduled departure and made my way back to the gate. A short delay was announced as we waited for a Flight Attendant to make her way to the gate, but boarding began just about on time, 20 minutes prior to scheduled departure.
My ride up to PWM, a Q400NG, N345NG.
I had checked my seat assignment at a kiosk in the terminal. I had picked 9D, a window seat just rear of the propeller. As of my check at the kiosk, 9C was still showing empty - even better!
Boarding was called for elites (only one or two people moved towards the gate), shortly followed by a call for all passengers seated in all rows. The Q400 seats 74 passengers but the entire boarding process was smooth and calm; none of the cattle-car feel I've experienced boarding even smaller CRJs.
Taking my seat, I was surprised by how massive the engine nacelle was. My entire view to the side and rear was obstructed by the massive flat side of the cowl. Luckily, the high wing afforded a great view of the ground below, as well as the spining prop and landing gear just over my shoulder. Despite the added noise and vibration, the view of the aircraft's mechanical functions was excellent.
View to the rear, engine nacelle and landing gear.
Big six-bladed prop, just before pushback.
Nice Dash-8 stylized seatbelt buckles. I wish more manufacturers personalized their aircraft like this.
For the vast majority of the boarding process seat 9C remained empty. Unfortunately, just as the door was about to close, a family boarded with seat assignments scattered all around the airplane (non-revs perhaps?) A man seated across the aisle (with an empty window seat beside him) offered his row to the family, moving over to 9C. A kind gesture, but one that limited my leg room substantially.
The door closed quickly (it was a fairly light load on board, maybe 70%) and the engines were started as we pushed back from the gate. At idle power, the Pratt and Whitney PW150 turboprops were hardly louder than vacuum cleaners - I could even hear the ramp agents outside the aircraft shouting while the engines were running.
Taxiing out; so quiet I could barely tell the engine was on.
Taxiing to the runway was surprisingly fast (efficiency is something I've never associated with EWR), and we were soon launching into the air. From my seat I had a great view of the New York City skyline lit up at night - unfortunately, shooting photos out the window was nearly impossible. The Q400 features an all-LED light system and the personal reading lights are extremely bright. The reflections on my window all but ruined most of my shots.
Climbing sharply out of Newark.
Very bright LED lights punctuating a dark cabin.
Good legroom, impeded slightly by the sloping cabin wall.
The flight up to PWM was scheduled for only about 50 minutes in the air. After the quick trip to the runway it felt like no time at all before we were over the dark Maine/New Hampshire border. A quick round of drinks had been served shortly after reaching cruising altitude - small UA/CO plastic cups as before, but not even the slightly ironic napkins this time.
As we descended, I noticed that my ears weren't ringing and the items hadn't been dancing around at all, unlike my previous turboprop experience in the Brasilia. Either the active noise cancellation was working, or the Q400's just a sturdier plane. I think it was a little of both.
Landing light back on, on approach to Runway 11 at PWM.
The landing in Portland was smooth (all the wheels stayed on and the landing gear stayed down and locked). As always at PWM, the taxi to the gate was nearly instantaneous (left on Charlie, left on Alpha, right into the ramp...) and we pulled up to UA/CO's gate 1B, one of PWM's three semi-enclosed RJ stands. These stands took the place of Business Express and American Eagle's old open-air ramp in Portland, replacing the four or five Saab and ERJ parking positions with three fixed covered walkways. I'm sure most passengers prefer to be out of the elements, but I would have preferred a trek across the open ramp.
My bags quickly arrived at the carrousel, although it took some guessing to figure out which carousel they were on. The baggage claim at PWM is equipped with digital screens which display the arriving flight numbers. Unfortunately, it seems that these screens never update their flight data until well after all the bags have arrived. With only three carousels to choose from it's not really a big deal, but it makes me wonder why the airport invested in the fancy flat-screen monitors...
I met my ride home outside at the curb and was on my way for a well-deserved Christmas break. I always have a hard time taking "destination photos" when I travel home to Maine - it's hard being touristy where I grew up. Needless to say, it snowed a bit, there were plenty of pine trees and a rugged coastline, good seafood in the Old Port and even some Lobster. I'll take pictures next time, promise...
Too soon my break was over and I was on my way back down to Florida for another semester.
KPWM - KCLT
Flight # US 1835
Equipment:Airbus A319 (N769US)
Scheduled Departure: 07:30 Actual Departure:07:30
Scheduled Arrival: 09:50 Actual Arrival: 09:45
Arriving at PWM about an hour prior to departure, I quickly progressed through the check-in line and printed out my boarding passes. US Airways' boarding passes seem to be designed for infrequent travellers, as the information is printed in huge font with none of the frivolous codes and technobabble that cover other airlines' passes. As a connoisseur of boarding passes, I almost prefer the look of the frivolous codes, but I'm sure I'm in a minority with that thought.
PWM's morning rush of flights departs between 5:30am and 7:00am, US Airways' A319 to CLT is at the very tail end of the rush. It appeared that most of the TSA officials on duty had packed up and gone home for the day, leaving only one lane of screening open. Even though there were only a half dozen people in front of me, it took almost fifteen minutes to clear security...
An early Bleirot hanging above the security checkpoint at PWM, on loan from the Owl's Head Transportation Museum in Rockland.
First glimpse of my aircraft through the pre-dawn darkness.
With little to do in the nearly empty terminal, I wandered up and down the concourse. PWM is still in various stages of reconstruction. Even though the terminal expansion officially opened in October, the "legacy" terminal building is still undergoing heavy rennovations to bring it up to par with the brand new space. In the old side of the terminal I stumbled across an empty advertising display, decorated with aircraft models and an old PWM route map. Interestingly, the route map included Starlink Airlines service to Montreal, a route that I'm pretty sure never saw service.
Some interesting items on display in an empty advertising case.
Sun starting to come up, about time for boarding. Notice the E190 headed to PHL being de-iced in the background.
Boarding began at T-30 and proceeded smoothly, including credit card advertisements plugged into each of the "priority boarding" group calls.
The US heritage logo just to the side of the boarding door.
This JetBlue E-190 was supposed to leave for JFK almost an hour earlier...
The aircraft was loaded quickly, the load factor appeared to be near 90% (not bad, considering that the flight had been downgraded to an E-170 for the past two weeks). The door was closed and we were pushed back. Luckily no de-icing was required, even though the E-190 at the next gate over needed it.
Looking back at the terminal, looks like JetBlue is pushing back while a Delta CRJ is finishing boarding.
Taxi to the runway was a quick trip down Alpha to Runway 29. Power was applied as we rounded the corner and we were off to CLT without delay. While the A319's certainly not a sluggish plane, I can only describe the takeoff as "average."
Lining up on Runway 29.
Climbing over I-95 in South Portland.
"Turn left, direct Pease, climb and maintain 1-0-thousand.
I honestly can't say much about my flight down to CLT. US Airways' Airbus flights can only be described as "generic." I've never been thrilled by the inflight service, but I've never been disappointed either. All announcements, interactions, and experiences I've had with US Airways have been...adequate. For a quick hop down the US East Coast, that's about all I can expect, especially for a fare that's about a quarter of the cost of driving the same distance.
Enjoying my complimentary glass of ice while perusing the US Airways route map.
I'm always surprised by Trip Reports which describe hot sandwiches and meals served on one-hour hops through Europe, as even trans-cons in the US feature nothing more than soda on some airlines. I don't feel put off by the lack of food, especially considering the bargain price of travel these days. A few domestic carriers (JetBlue, Delta, Southwest) continue to offer small snacks, which certainly make a difference, but the days of substantial food on US airlines are certainly long gone...
Standard US domestic legroom. Not painful but not great.
Cruising somewhere over Massachusetts or Connecticut.
Stowaway mosquito dead between the window panes.
Descending through a broken ceiling near Charlotte.
After the meager drink service I settled in with my book (made it through another dozen or so pages of the 1069 pages of "Atlas Shrugged") and waited for landing in Charlotte.
Short final to 36L at CLT.
Rolling to a stop, spoilers deployed.
Pulling into a relatively empty B-pier.
I've covered US Airways' operation in Charlotte in detail in past trip reports, this time wasn't much different. US Airways' hub in Charlotte has a certain small-town feel. Perhaps it's the carpeted and dated interior, or the lack of a central "corridor", but I really haven't decided whether I like it or not. Much like US Airways as a whole, CLT gets the job done without much flair.
On the moving walkway through CLT's main atrium.
Finally caught the registration of my aircraft from PWM (viewed from the C pier), N769US.
KCLT - KDAB
Flight # US / PSA 2235
Equipment:Bombardier CRJ-700 (N708US)
Scheduled Departure: 11:45 Actual Departure:11:45
Scheduled Arrival: 13:10 Actual Arrival: 13:10
My flight down to Daytona would be operated on a CRJ-700, surprisingly small equipment for the day before Embry-Riddle's semester starts. US Airways typically runs 4 or 5 flights daily to DAB on CRJ-700 and CRJ-900s. Delta, on the other hand, has been running 5x daily with a mix of MD-88s, MD-90s and 757-200s for the winter season, an odd disparity in capacity for very similar routes.
And finally, my ride down to Daytona Beach.
Wish this was my ride, one of PSA's DHC-8-300s.
Arriving at the general area of my gate I was momentarily confused, as there was no sign above the gate marking the gate number (down for maintenance I guess?) It was quickly confirmed that I was in the right place though, as a gate agent made an announcement asking for five volunteers to be bumped and moved to an Orlando flight, as the DAB flight was oversold. The gate agent was only offering $200 vouchers, and I had a check-out flight scheduled in DAB later that afternoon. I passed.
Boarding began at T-25, and passengers wearing Embry-Riddle sweatshirts began to appear all around the gate area. It seems that most Riddle students choose to wear the Embry-Riddle logo when they fly, either to show off or in hopes of preferential treatment. I've found that there are just as many people in the industry that hate Riddle as there are that praise it, so I leave my Riddle attire in the suitcase. I didn't realize 'till after I boarded my US Airways flight that I was wearing a Delta Air Lines polo shirt...
Spacious looking (but not spacious feeling) cabin.
The taxi from the RJ gates to Runway 18L was quick, but we still had to hold for a long line of aircraft coming from the other direction. As we waited on the tarmac, I watched a Beechcraft Bonanza taxi up to the opposite taxiway and join the queue. It must have been getting pretty toasty inside that Bonanza, sitting on the tarmac for at least twenty minutes waiting to go...
Holding short 18L, waiting.
Beechcraft Bonanza, holding short on the opposite side.
Back above the clouds, southbound.
Our flight path down to Daytona would be following the Atlantic coastline and took slightly over one hour. Clouds obscured the ground for almost the entire route, so there wasn't much to look at.
Classy minimalistic napkins. Less classy, a minimalistic snack service...
A man seated behind me struck up a conversation in German with his seatmate. My German is...well, I don't really speak German, but I'm pretty sure one of them was from Austria and the other spent time in Germany with the Air Force. Nevertheless, I was surprised to be hearing an impromptu conversation in German on a flight from Charlotte to Daytona...
Crossing over Daytona Beach, on final for 25R.
Our route into Daytona beach required a long jog out over the Atlantic before turning inbound for Runway 25R. Arriving into Daytona almost always requires some sort of spacing maneuver, as even CRJs fly about 80kts faster than most of the traffic around the airport. The landing was firm and we rolled off the runway at N3, right next to the Daytona International Speedway.