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The Next Ten (Leg 7/8): Motor City Madness

Tue Jul 24, 2012 3:46 am

Leg 7: Motor City Madness – April 28-29, 2012

Hello again, fellow A.netters, and welcome to the next wonderful journey in “The Next Ten”! Today, you will see how I fared at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. DTW ranks as the 17th busiest airport in the United States. I had a couple of options to get there: spend $500-600 on a nonstop flight, or spend less than half of that amount for three flights. The option was clear: three flights it is! That meant three cute Canadian jets would hop, skip, and jump me to Detroit. Also, there would be two bonus airports owing to stops in Memphis and Nashville. So, without any further ado, let’s get to business.

(Some pictures have been omitted for your convenience. If you wish to see them all, feel free to follow the link: Slideshow for Leg Seven)

Saturday, April 28

Compared to the 6 AM departure from the previous week, my 7:20 AM felt like heaven. I passed through security just like I usually do: with no problems. I took a seat at the gate area and expected to board within a few minutes, but the gate agent said that we’d have to wait for maintenance to resolve an issue. I had about an hour to connect in Memphis, so I figured that whatever it was, it could be resolved quickly. Indeed, within five minutes of the announcement, we were ready to go.

My first ride on a CRJ-900 awaits at the end of the bridge

Unloading a UPS 757 (I hope the boys in MEM don’t catch me with this photo…)

Delta Air Lines 3420 OKC-MEM (operated by Pinnacle Airlines dba Delta Connection)
Scheduled: 07:20-08:42
Actual: 07:31-08:33 (wheels up/wheels down); 07:18-08:43 (gate to gate)
Canadair CL-600-2D24 Regional Jet [CRJ-900] (N929XJ)

It had been a while since I was in the economy section of a CRJ. Well, you can’t have it good all the time… At any rate, the seat was fine. The person next to me had the armrest up (they required the room), so that was a little awkward. Other than that, it was fine for the one hour flight.

Taxiing to Runway 17R

Pointing our nose to yet another cloudy sky


For all of the things I could look past, there was one thing that I couldn’t: the misaligned windows. It seemed that they wanted us to see the maximum amount of wall as we could. As such, I had to turn my head past my shoulder to see through the window. I couldn’t keep that up, lest I risk a crick in the ‘ol neck. And it cost me at least a couple of pictures when I didn’t see things in time to grab my camera.

You remember this, don’t you? Biscoff and apple juice


A portion of Cherry Valley, Arkansas

Downtown Memphis is visible at the end of the wing

Note the vapor trail

Our shadow rises to meet us once again

As we got closer to the ground, I noted that it still seemed to be zipping by rather quickly, and it was coming toward us rather quickly as well. Not long after that, we hit the hit the concrete with a firm *WHACK*. Then, perhaps as an afterthought, the captain applied the brakes with sufficient force to make the armrest fall on its own. We were at the gate a few minutes later, and I took a brief look around Bonus Number One: Memphis International Airport.

Interactive picture: shake around in your chair as if you’ve just had a hard landing

CR9 N601LR following us to the gates

Why do those buildings remind me of Newark?

An Airbus? I thought mainline jets were outlawed here!

A last look at my plane

Looking around Concourse B

MEM has rather low architecture, which means that standard narrow-bodies look absolutely gigantic

My flight would depart from Concourse A; it was an easy journey to the appropriate location

If only I could be a package for this one day…

A12…that’s my stop

I think my plane is a bit shy…

I staked out an outlet and a USB port and charged up for the little while I had to wait. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred, so we got out of Memphis smoothly.

Delta Air Lines 4843 MEM-BNA (operated by SkyWest Airlines dba Delta Connection)
Scheduled: 09:55-10:57
Actual: 10:08-10:44 (wheels up/wheels down); 09:52-10:54 (gate to gate)
Canadair CL-600-2B19 Regional Jet [CRJ-200] (N426SW)

Lots of tiny jets over there

From large to small: this would be my first time on a CRJ-200. I did have a suitable window this time around, but I had to bend down to see it. A small victory.

I think a C-5 has the trump card in the size department. Until it meets an Antonov, that is…

Looking back at MEM

The flight was a short and easy one. We did not receive any food or drink owing to the short segment length. I thought about telling them about how AA manages to do it between OKC and DFW, but decided to cut them some slack on the grounds that we only had one flight attendant.

Once again, we had a quick approach and a hard touchdown. I had a little less time to connect, so I looked for my next gate. Turns out it was right across the hall. Not only that, I again walked up just in time to see my next plane pull up to the gate. As such, there isn’t quite as much to see of Bonus Number Two

Terminal in the distance

At the gate

Here be BNA

My next plane

Yet another DC-9; this is N777NC

Delta Air Lines 3552 BNA-DTW (operated by Pinnacle Airlines dba Delta Connection)
Scheduled: 11:45-14:28
Actual: 11:46-13:56 (wheels up/wheels down); 11:39-14:03 (gate to gate)
Canadair CL-600-2D24 Regional Jet [CRJ-900] (N916XJ)

Another down-the-side shot

I’ll bet you’ve seen this before

Off we go

Looking down on downtown Nashville

Pretzels and Coke Zero

Applying the brakes

In a repeat of the previous two flights, not much happened. The ride was mostly smooth all the way to the ground. This time, the captain treated us to a much softer landing. Actually, “a less rough landing” would be a better way to say it.

Methinks we’re almost there…

Here we are at the Atlanta of the north


Now it was just me and the airport. I was lucky that we parked at the end of Concourse B; that would cut down on some of the walking time. As such, I could exit the plane and immediately start looking around.

Some of the famous rocks. Alas, I had no writing utensil to leave my mark. (Yay, I have a reason to go back!)

I took a look down the hall and immediately liked what I saw. Wide open spaces and plenty of light. Best of all, it was crisp and clean. It had only been a minute or two, but DTW made itself the favorite in the beauty contest. Of course, it still had a long way to go if it wanted to cement a spot at the top of the list.

My CR9, dots included

The layout of the airport is as simple as it gets. Two terminals, three buildings; all three are linear. Delta is the primary tenant of the McNamara Terminal. Concourses B and C share a building while Concourse A is its own building, boasting one mile of gates and restaurants and shops. The two are connected by an underground tunnel such as the one at ORD. Yes, it also has its own light show, which you’ll see below. The North Terminal consists of Concourse D and houses all other airlines. It’s accessible by a shuttle bus that runs every few minutes. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here…back to Concourse B.

The gate numbering switches to Concourse C at the center of the building. There are minor aesthetic differences, but the general theme is the same.

Flight info display

Going down to the tunnel that links the two buildings of the McNamara Terminal

Going back up…

A bathroom in Concourse A. I naturally attempted a shot soon after I exited the plane, but it was too busy. Worry not, though—this bathroom shares its design with the one I visited in Concourse B.

Another linear concourse means another timed walk. Here you see A from wall to wall, Gate A1 to A78.

Terminal entrance/exit

The famous fountain-with-747 shot

As you saw, A78 was in use, so I went to the adjacent A77 to end the trek

End of the line. The walk, utilizing moving walkways and including a pause here or there for pictures, took just under 17 minutes. Along the way, I heard a couple of comments about the size of the building. One Delta flight attendant looked at the terminal map and said to her colleague, “This is unbelievable, the layout of this place. It’s so big!” Not long after that, I passed by a person talking on the phone; she quipped “My legs are about to fall off.” Lightweights.   

The North Terminal

For surviving the harrowing mile-long voyage from the low end to the high end of Concourse A, the airport seemed to suggest that I could claim a reward for my conquest.

With that done, it was time to get over to the North Terminal so I could look it over. Also, it’s where my next flight would call home, so it all made sense. I used the express tram to get to the center and the exit; there are three stations in the concourse; the tram runs on tracks on the upper level of the concourse. Yes, the whole thing is inside, too. They seem to have thought of everything…

Typical tram station

The info board lets you know where you are, where the trams are, and how long until the next one arrives

Here it comes!

On board

I exited the terminal and waited outside for the shuttle to the North Terminal. The easy-to-follow signage pointed me right where I needed to go. The shuttle arrived after a few minutes and whisked us to the appropriate spot.

Going to the North Terminal ticketing area to get my boarding pass

I went up to the counter and got what I wanted with no troubles. The agent informed me that the flight was running a bit behind schedule, which I initially welcomed—it would give me a bit more time to look the concourse over. But then I had a slightly more disturbing thought: “Wait a minute, that doesn’t help me; I have a tight connection to make!” That was a bridge I’d have to cross when I came to it. In the meantime, I had another concourse to walk.

For a ginger-stepchild concourse, it’s not bad. Obviously not as flashy as McNamara, but still open and bright.

This is my gate; there’s supposed to be an A319 there. I could only hope that it was speeding its way to the city…

It also happened that there was a surprise at each end of the concourse. Here was the first:

Good night, and keep watching the skis. Uh, skies.
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RE: The Next Ten (Leg 7/8): Motor City Madness

Tue Jul 24, 2012 3:50 am

As I walked back towards my gate, I had the fortune of seeing Rudy the raccoon scamper to the gate. I knew that there would be some time until we boarded, so I walked on past and looked at the other end of the concourse.

You’re a little late, pal…

…and here’s the second surprise

With that picture, I declared victory over DTW. The airport proved to be one of the most seamless experiences I’ve ever had. However, it remained to be seen if I could claim a similar victory over my flight delay, which loomed ever more significant.

Frontier Airlines 626 DTW-DEN
Scheduled: 16:11-17:23
Actual: 16:56-17:32 (wheels up/wheels down); 16:43-17:40 (gate to gate)
Airbus A319-111 (N923FR)

It must be said: the boarding process never seems slower than when you know you’ll be against the clock the moment you land. I silently sweated out the minutes as we got everything in order and pushed away from the gate. All I could do was hope for a swift flight…

Lotsa room

See that CR7? I obviously didn’t pay it much attention until I happened to see the registration. It’s N503MJ. Again. I guess I’m going to see that plane on every travel day for the rest of my life.

Lined up and ready to prove that raccoons can fly

See? Raccoons can fly!

One last look at the airfield

We break through the clouds covering so much of the land below

The food and drink service started and I was informed of some disappointing news: out with cookies, in with Goldfish or animal crackers.    I accepted a packet of Goldfish and fondly remembered back to January 5, henceforth known as the date that I consumed my final Frontier cookie. They were certainly something I could always look forward to, but they did present cost and food safety issues that other snacks don’t. In this case, the sensible business decision was made, albeit a less tasty decision.

Though the air rushed by and the engines hummed, it didn’t seem as if we were moving at all. The clouds below were an infinite blanket of white, with no variation as far as the eye could see. The only indication that we were hurtling toward the Rockies was the minimap, which, due to my time constraints, was relevant to my interests. Over Lake Michigan, over Iowa, over Nebraska—it all looked the same through the window. Really, it should have been a relaxing mood, and it was—at least when I wasn’t looking at the map and making calculations in my head.

Somewhere northeast of North Platte, Nebraska, the clouds decided to give way. Not long after that, I was given some things to identify.

Broken Bow, NE and its Municipal Airport (BBW / KBBW)

Callaway, NE

North Platte Regional Airport, aka Lee Bird Field (LBF / KLBF), serving the city of…

North Platte, NE

Grant, NE and its Municipal Airport (KGGF)

Holyoke, Colorado; the Holyoke Airport is also barely visible

Haxtun, CO; its Municipal Airport is apparently down there as well. Good luck finding the asphalt and grass runways

Some time later, the captain came on the intercom and told us we would soon begin descent. According to the computer, we would be at the gate at about 40 minutes past the hour. At that announcement, I felt like I had consumed a couple gallons of Red Bull. I would have started to bite my fingernails if I hadn’t clipped them a couple of days earlier…

Casting shadows

Rudy set his wheels on the runway, and I patiently ticked away the seconds as we taxied to the gate.

Good news: raccoons can land, too

Seen: Ozzie, Ollie, and Woody

After that, a brisk jaunt: out of the door, through the concourse, to the train station (where I saw the train leave as I descended the escalator), on the next train, into Concourse B, and to the appointed gate. And there were people at the appointed gate…for the next flight to Salt Lake City.   

Since I was suddenly holding an indefinite number of hours in my hands, I decided to assign myself blame, slap myself on the wrist, and quickly move on. The next step was to consider my options. With no more flights to OKC on that day, I considered the following: either sleep it off and get out tomorrow, or see if I could get to Dallas and rent a car to drive back. Though I wasn’t really keen on sleeping somewhere other than my bed, being back lickety-split wasn’t a necessity. Also, that prospect was rather pricey for short notice. So it was that I cast my eye towards a Sunday morning CRJ. A quick trip to a United customer service desk produced the proper result: a seat on the first flight out the next morning.

Once I had my new boarding pass, I went to a Frontier customer service desk to inquire about hotel accommodations. They provided me a voucher to book a hotel room at a discount; in this case, I snagged a room at the Doubletree for $69. I took a few moments to settle the details—a task made easier by the free wi-fi. After a minute or two, I had a hotel room to go along with a homeward-bound flight. All I had to do was go outside and wait for the hotel shuttle. Along the way:

Statue of Elrey Jeppesen in the terminal that bears his name

Baggage claim

A neat gargoyle (“Notre Denver”); there are two that watch over the claim areas ensuring passengers’ bags arrive safely

Door 508, where I was instructed to go

Island 3, also where I was instructed to go

Only one other passenger went along on my shuttle, along with perhaps a dozen or so Southwest crew members. Just the thing for a person such as myself who is in cahoots with F9 and UA.   

As I listened to my iPod on the shuttle, its habit of playing timely music while on the randomizer cropped up again. It played “Airplanes”, which contains this stanza:

So airplane, airplane, sorry I'm late
I'm on my way so don't close that gate
If I don't make that then I'll switch my flight
And I'll be right back at it by the end of the night

I could only smile and stare though the window as we rolled along the streets of Denver. After all that happened, I just couldn’t call it a bad evening…

Twenty or so minutes later, there I was at the hotel. I handed the voucher over and the desk clerk immediately went to work; all of a sudden, I knew what room I was staying in. I made arrangements for the shuttle to take me back to the airport at 6 AM, and that was that. By the way, if ever you stay in room 452 at this hotel, here is what you will see:

Doubletree comes through in a pinch with its own cookie

The rest of the evening was spent in relaxation. I clacked away on my laptop, recounting the events of the previous few hours, followed by a refreshing shower before sliding between the fresh bed sheets. And the cap to the night? I was able to watch the Thunder defeat the Mavericks in the 1st round NBA playoff game. Hey, if missing a flight means they won’t lose, then I need to find a bunch of el cheapo tickets to blow through.   

[new post]

Sunday, April 29

Though I didn’t want to leave the rather comfortable bed, the alternative was a bit more undesirable. Thus, I dragged myself out and gathered my things. I checked out and waited for the shuttle; I was the only person going to the airport at that time.

The shuttle bus

Terminal and a blue horse

The security line was nonexistent and I was quickly in the secure area again. The speedy service allowed me some time to get breakfast and peacefully wait for my ride home.

Looking at my plane from the walkway to The Cave

United Airlines 5426 DEN-OKC (operated by SkyWest Airlines dba United Express)
Scheduled: 07:52-10:25
Actual: 08:16-10:30 (wheels up/wheels down); 07:51-10:35 (gate to gate)
Canadair CL-600-2B19 Regional Jet [CRJ-200LR] (N986SW)

As you can imagine, I was very glad to be on my way. As such, you will hear no complaining from me about being in the back of a CR2. To be honest, it actually wasn’t bad. Anyway, I chatted with my seatmate for a little while before tuning in to music and tuning out everything else.

Looking through the jetway window

For being so close to the engine, the ride was quieter than I expected

Skip a few minutes and here we are back in OKC. I first thought that we were in the middle of some thick fog…
But then I saw that it was my thick head that didn’t register that the window had fogged up.

My longer-than-expected trip was finally at an end. First off, I give it up to the customer service agents from United and Frontier that I talked to. They were very friendly and professional and were able to accommodate my needs quickly. Second, the inevitable review of my booking decisions. In short, I shouldn’t have done it, and that’s not just because of the events above. I probably should have known better, but I guess I’d gotten a bit complacent since every other connection experience had been peaches and cream. (Actually thinking about it, I see now how silly it is to book a 26 minute connection between two airlines in different concourses requiring a train to get there. These are the things you think about only after you’ve screwed up.) On the other hand, if I’m ever in a tight scheduling conflict again, staying overnight could be a viable option…

[Edited 2012-07-23 20:59:41]
Good night, and keep watching the skis. Uh, skies.
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RE: The Next Ten (Leg 7/8): Motor City Madness

Tue Jul 24, 2012 3:52 am

Airport Conclusions

MEM: In brief, I wasn’t a big fan of the places where I trod. Low ceilings and a bit dark in most places. The lackluster design reminded me of a ‘blah’ experience I had in SLC, another smaller Delta hub. However, like SLC, I found it easy to get to where I needed to go.

BNA: Pretty much on the same page as Memphis. Of course, that’s based on looking down one end of the hall, then the other. For a brief connection such as mine, the facility appears adequate. I can’t really go into much more since my departure gate was literally a stone’s throw from the arrival gate.

DTW: I can see why this airport is a favorite for passengers. It’s easy to navigate. It’s modern. It’s got a lot of food and shopping to offer. It’s not depressing. Frankly, it’s what’s good in airport design. (To me, anyway.) I was able to look through the entire airport and had time to spare, even if you discount the departure delay. For its size, it was quite efficient. The whole experience was refreshing to the point of being obscene. If most days for passengers at DTW go as mine did, then there’s no question that this airport is one of the best in the country.

Coming up next: Blue/Bed/Boston

Tigerguy’s Tales:

The Top Ten (Leg 1): Texas Two-Step (by Tigerguy Jun 26 2011 in Trip Reports) Featuring: DFW, IAH
The Top Ten (Leg 2/7): How To Book... (by Tigerguy Jun 29 2011 in Trip Reports) Featuring: LAS, with SLC
The Top Ten (Leg 3/7): Masochism For Dummies (by Tigerguy Jul 2 2011 in Trip Reports) Featuring: ORD, JFK, ATL, with LGA
The Top Ten (Leg 4/7): Phoenix Rising (by Tigerguy Jul 5 2011 in Trip Reports) Featuring: DEN (A/C), PHX
The Top Ten (Leg 5/7): Dash To The Rockies (by Tigerguy Jul 8 2011 in Trip Reports) Featuring: DEN (B)
The Top Ten (Leg 6/7): SoCal (by Tigerguy Jul 11 2011 in Trip Reports) Featuring: LAX
The Top Ten (Leg 7/7): NorCal (by Tigerguy Jul 14 2011 in Trip Reports) Featuring: SFO
Jet Be Nimble, Jet Be Quick! - A DC-9 Story (by Tigerguy Oct 6 2011 in Trip Reports)
The Pacific Northwest, D.B. Cooper, And Me (by Tigerguy Dec 4 2011 in Trip Reports)
Paying The Piper: A Mini-TR (by Tigerguy May 12 2012 in Trip Reports)

The Next Ten (Leg 1/8): Triple Seven, Twin Cities (by Tigerguy Jun 30 2012 in Trip Reports) Featuring: MSP
The Next Ten (Leg 2/8): Masochism For Dummies II (by Tigerguy Jul 3 2012 in Trip Reports) Featuring: LGA, CLT
The Next Ten (Leg 3/8): Miami Nice? (by Tigerguy Jul 6 2012 in Trip Reports) Featuring: MIA
The Next Ten (Leg 4/8): ...Two If By Sea-Tac (by Tigerguy Jul 9 2012 in Trip Reports) Featuring: SEA
The Next Ten (Leg 5/8): Beasts Of The East (by Tigerguy Jul 12 2012 in Trip Reports) Featuring: EWR, PHL
The Next Ten (Leg 6/8): Where The Magic Happens (by Tigerguy Jul 15 2012 in Trip Reports) Featuring: MCO
Good night, and keep watching the skis. Uh, skies.
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RE: The Next Ten (Leg 7/8): Motor City Madness

Tue Jul 24, 2012 9:09 am

AWESOME trip report! Very entertaining! I always love trip reports that read like travel journals so that you feel like you are on the trip too!

I *LOVE* DTW and have my own stone there which I visit whenever I transit DTW....and since the ink fades over time I take a thick black marker and "freshen" it up.... I always get funny looks from people watching me go from planter to planter looking for my stone!

Thanks for all the North terminal photos....being a Delta/SkyTeam person I've NEVER been to North Terminal and have only seen it from a distance...

The "floating arm" in your hotel bathroom photo is great...that is ALWAYS the problem when trying to take photos of hotel rooms...
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RE: The Next Ten (Leg 7/8): Motor City Madness

Tue Jul 24, 2012 5:02 pm

Thank you for a very nice trip report.

Quoting Tigerguy (Thread starter):
For all of the things I could look past, there was one thing that I couldn’t: the misaligned windows. It seemed that they wanted us to see the maximum amount of wall as we could. As such, I had to turn my head past my shoulder to see through the window. I couldn’t keep that up, lest I risk a crick in the ‘ol neck.

When the CRJ 100 first entered service, one of my friends came up with a phrase to describe this: "CRJ Neck" - the pain you feel when you twist your neck unnaturally to try to see out the windows.

Quoting Tigerguy (Thread starter):
The North Terminal

The turquoise buildings in this photo, and the gate areas to their right, are actually DTW's old L.C. Smith Terminal, which was built in 1954, and expanded several times in the 1950s and 1960s. They are no longer used for flights, but the airport still has offices there.
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RE: The Next Ten (Leg 7/8): Motor City Madness

Tue Jul 24, 2012 9:20 pm


Thanks for sharing your latest installation of your Airport tour series.
I was in DTW and MEM in 2006 and liked both airports (back in the days NW was there. Routing was BRU-AMS-MEM-ATL-DTW-AMS-BRU)

Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
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RE: The Next Ten (Leg 7/8): Motor City Madness

Wed Jul 25, 2012 5:09 am

Quoting burj (Reply 3):

I could certainly see why DTW holds a soft spot with you. It's a shame that it doesn't figure in my travels more often. And as for the floating arm, I'm glad that it was attached to the rest of me when all was said and done. I wouldn't have been too crazy about a haunted hotel room...

Quoting WA707atMSP (Reply 4):

CRJ Neck, eh? That's catchy. I think I'll have to steal it.

Quoting WA707atMSP (Reply 4):
The turquoise buildings in this photo, and the gate areas to their right, are actually DTW's old L.C. Smith Terminal

Upon further review, I have indeed goofed. Thanks for the correction. Believe it or not, I try to be as meticulous as possible when presenting bits of information, so any help is much appreciated. (you can only imagine how I felt when I caught some editorial errors too late to correct them...)

Quoting MSS658 (Reply 5):

Hmmmm, what was that trip for? Seems to be a somewhat interesting routing...

Thanks for reading, everybody!
Good night, and keep watching the skis. Uh, skies.

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