Hi fellow A.Netters,
Welcome to my 25th trip report, which covers a short hop on Horizon Air from Bozeman, Montana to Seattle, Washington in August of 2011. In addition to the flight, this trip report also highlights the new terminal facilities at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport following its major expansion and renovation.
This flight from Bozeman to Seattle was one leg of my roundtrip travel last summer between Belgium, where I am now living, and my home state of Montana. From a geographic standpoint, you may be wondering how a flight to Seattle fits into an itinerary with endpoints in Brussels and Bozeman. The answer is that it was not supposed to—but more on that in a moment.
Last autumn, I posted the first two reports of this series covering my outbound travel, including my transatlantic flight from Belgium to Newark, followed by the journey from New York out west to Montana. These reports can be seen at: Farewell CO - A Transatlantic First And Last (by BZNPilot Apr 23 2012 in Trip Reports)
and Big Apple To Big Sky Country On Delta/Skywest (by BZNPilot Apr 30 2012 in Trip Reports)
. I had begun writing this report covering the return flights from Bozeman to Brussels some months ago, but did not find the time to finish until now, as I finally have some spare time away from work during the summer holiday. Better late than never. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy following along on this leg of my journey.
AN UNEXPECTED RETURN
After ten wonderful days with my family at home in Bozeman, it was time to return to life and work in Brussels. My plan had been to return to Brussels more or less the way I had flown on the outbound journey—from Bozeman back to Newark on Delta (the return portion of my NYC-BZN
-NYC roundtrip ticket), continuing on Continental from Newark to London-Heathrow and on to Brussels (the return portion of my BRU
roundtrip ticket). I was scheduled to leave Bozeman on 27 August and arrive in Brussels on the evening of the 28th.
The day before my return to Belgium, these plans collapsed entirely. As Hurricane Irene approached the east coast of the US on the 25th and 26th of August 2011, airlines began cancelling flights up and down the eastern seaboard. By the 26th it was clear that all major New York airports would be shut down indefinitely. Unfortunately, the airlines were ill-equipped to deal with this situation. I received an email from Delta notifying me of my cancelled flights 24 hours in advance, although no information was yet given about how and when I would be rebooked. Still, this email from Delta showed that the airline was aware of the situation. Continental, on the other hand, did not communicate with me at all. In fact, long after the decision had been made that the Newark airport would shut down, which I heard about on the national news, Continental’s website still showed my departure from Newark to London on the 27th as “on time.” It continued to show that status up until just a few hours before the scheduled departure, at which point the Newark airport had long been closed.
Unfortunately, as the hurricane approached and it became apparent that I would not reach Europe anytime soon by transiting through the east coast, it was impossible to get information about my rebooking options from both Delta and Continental. In fact, all carriers were all so swamped with telephone calls that wait times to speak with an agent were in excess of six hours. After a while, Continental even stopped accepting calls, even from those passengers willing to wait on hold for hours on end. At least Delta had a telephone system that accepted calls while also giving regular updates on the remaining wait time, even if it was hours long. This whole experience, which allowed me to compare the way Delta and Continental (CO was, by the way, being folded into United at the time) handled the situation left me with one conclusion: while both airlines were in a bad situation with no good answers, Delta seemed to confront the problem to a certain degree, while Continental/United seemed to wish it would go away.
With no idea how long the disruption might be to airline operations on the east coast, I decided I had to find an alternative way to Brussels. I scrambled to build a last-minute itinerary that did not involve the east coast, and soon came across a one-way ticket with Icelandair from Seattle to Brussels, via Keflavik, departing on the 28th of August. Not only would this itinerary bypass the weather mess on the east coast entirely, but it would also allow me to briefly visit Iceland—which I had long hoped to do—during my 10-hour layover. This last-minute arrangement was not cheap, at about $900, but it would get me back to Brussels in time to return to work, which was vitally important. Moreover, I knew that because of the cancellations I could get partially refunded for my unused return trips on both Delta and Continental, which would help to offset the new cost. I went ahead and booked the Icelandair ticket. The report covering my experience on Icelandair from Seattle to Keflavik and on to Brussels will be posted as a separate trip report very soon.
The only catch with this itinerary was that I had to get from Bozeman to Seattle. Horizon Air, which offers nonstop service, was the obvious choice, so I quickly booked a last-minute, one-way ticket departing on the afternoon of the 27th. This was not cheap for a short one-way ticket, at almost $300, but it would give me the opportunity to spend the evening of the 27th and part of the 28th in Seattle with my sister before continuing to Iceland and beyond. Family is important to me, and I welcomed this opportunity! I booked the Horizon ticket, which marked another first for me. With just about twelve hours until the Horizon flight would depart, this was the most spontaneous ticket I had ever booked.
By the time I finally pieced all of this together, it was five o’clock in the morning of the 27th. Given that I was awake, and that I had been unable to speak to an agent on the phone to ask for a refund for my unused return tickets, I decided to drive the 15 minutes to the Bozeman airport and speak with a Delta agent in person. At least that way I could make progress in addressing at least one of my unusable tickets.
When I arrived at the airport around 6:00 am, I entered a world of pandemonium. Even though Bozeman is nearly 2,000 miles from the hurricane hitting the east coast, airline operations were stressed across the country and even around the world. Hundreds of Bozeman passengers departing for the east coast were stuck on the ground indefinitely, and the agents at the counter were struggling to accommodate one grumpy ticketholder after the other. Still, the line went surprisingly quick and after about twenty minutes, I reached the counter and was greeted by a real-life Delta employee. I explained quickly that I was supposed to fly to Newark but that instead I would like to cancel that return and have a refund for that portion of the ticket. The friendly agent looked up my reservation and within two minutes was able to calculate the amount of the refund—which amounted to almost $300—and printed me a receipt showing that the refund would be sent to my credit card. She apologized for the fact that it may take a couple of days and expressed her hope that I would consider Delta in the future. I thanked her repeatedly and wished her the best of luck for what was certainly going to be a difficult day at the airport counter. Within 48 hours, my credit card account had received the refund. Good job, Delta.
With one portion of my cancelled flights remunerated, and with my new itinerary to Seattle, Keflavik and Brussels in order, I headed home to have breakfast and finish packing.
TIME TO FLY
Later that afternoon, my mother drove me back to the airport to catch my Seattle flight. We arrived in front of the terminal at 14:30 and I said a sad goodbye to my dog, who had to stay in the car.
This is the section of the report where I would like to share some of the highlights of the new Bozeman airport, which in the meantime has taken on the new, somewhat unwieldy name of “Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport at Gallatin Field.” If you prefer to skip ahead to the portion of the report covering the flight, please do so. However, for those interested in seeing the new and improved facilities, here are some photos and additional information.
The renovation was completed in the summer of 2011 after two years of work and a cost of $40 million, which was paid with a combination of the airport’s own funds, financing and federal grants through the Airport Improvement Program. Here is an image of the front of the new building.
As a native Bozemanite who first flew out of this airport as a baby, I think it has come a long way over the years. In my opinion, the airport still has the same feel it has had for decades and still seems to reflect the Bozeman community, which has a long tradition of ranch folks, college students, world-class academics, ski bums, elite mountaineers, and yes, the super-rich—all in one place. Although my photos may not necessarily convey all of that, the new terminal retains aspects of those themes, but is much, much bigger than the old one! Here is a photo showing the landside facilities on the ground floor.
The check-in area is much bigger than before, although the photo below just captures one part of it.
Everything was brand new, still with that “new airport smell” in the air.
It was good to see that the original look and feel of the place had been preserved during the renovations. For example, the metal geese hanging from the ceiling have been at the airport as long as I can remember. Back in the 1980s, when I was six or seven years old, my father used to take me to the airport to look at planes and collect baggage tags from the airline check-in counters. I remember those geese, which are the creations of a local metal artist, suspended from the ceiling in those early days. They changed their position in the terminal, but they are still there.
As a result of the airport’s steady growth over the last decade, the renovation was absolutely necessary. BZN
is now the second-busiest airport in the state of Montana, only slightly behind Billings, which is a city twice the size of Bozeman. In fact, in 2011, BZN
experienced almost 400,000 boardings, a nearly 20 percent increase since 2005. Much of this growth is due to the airport’s aggressive campaign to attract new carriers and new routes, combined with the growth of the Bozeman area and its ongoing “discovery” by tourists and people from out of the state. This has all happened while other airports in Montana have seen their services cut. Still, the growth at BZN
has benefitted me, at least in terms of my ability to have excellent connections to get home. As of the summer of 2012, the airport has nonstop service on Delta and/or Delta Connection to Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City; United and/or United Express to Denver, Chicago, Newark, Los Angeles and San Francisco; Frontier to Denver; Horizon Air to Portland and Seattle; and Allegiant to Las Vegas, Phoenix-Mesa and Oakland. The airport also recently was outfitted with customs and immigration facilities, which were pushed for by the private jet crowd.
Now back to the trip report. I proceeded to the Horizon check in counter and the process was quick and easy. I used the kiosk to print my lone boarding pass and pay for my checked suitcase before dropping the bag at the counter. I said goodbye to my mother and continued through the security checkpoint, which has also been expanded and is now much more efficient.
Once through security, I walked the length of the terminal to take in the new airside facilities. In addition to a large restaurant and bar overlooking the ramp, there is a gift shop offering Montana and Bozeman-related souvenirs as well as magazines, newspapers, snacks and drinks. This is a significant improvement over the small newsstand that used to be the only airside retail option. I purchased a couple of pint glasses with the logo of the local brewery to take back to Brussels. Of course, I also investigated the ramp action, including this Delta A319 awaiting its flight to Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, my Q400 was being loaded in preparation for departure to Seattle.
Date: 27 August 2011
Route: Bozeman (BZN
) – Seattle (SEA
Flight #: AS2459 (Operated by Horizon Air)
Aircraft Type: Bombardier DHC-8-402
Aircraft Registration: N413QX (manufactured in 2002)
Scheduled Departure: 15:45 MDT
Actual Takeoff: 15:48 MDT
Scheduled Arrival: 16:50 PDT
Actual Landing: 16:38 PDT
Flight Time: 1:50
Distance: 543 miles / 874 kilometers
Altitude: FL240 (24,000 feet / 7,300 meters)
Estimated Load: 95%
Personal Stats: 287th airline flight / 6th flight on Horizon Air / 5th flight on the Dash-8 Q400
Boarding began at 15:20 and I made my way onboard the aircraft a few minutes thereafter. My seat was 5A
, a window on the left side just next to the massive prop.
Legroom was sufficient for a short-haul aircraft.
The interior condition of the aircraft was good. While the plane had clearly seen some use, it was clean. The safety card was a little tattered, though.
At 15:35, we were given a brief welcome announcement from the flight deck. The pilot indicated our flying time would be one hour and forty-seven minutes with some light turbulence for much of the flight. We pushed back from the gate at 15:43 and taxied to the northwestern end of the airport for a departure from RWY12.
The sleek fuselage straightened out on the centerline at 15:48 and the big turboprops accelerated us rapidly down the runway.
It had been some time since I departed Bozeman on a turboprop and it was noticeable how little runway we used to become airborne.
We climbed out to the southeast, the window framing the Bridger Mountains off the left side.
The aircraft then made a right-hand turn and the city of Bozeman appeared at the eastern end of the Gallatin Valley.
The wings leveled with a westerly heading and the Gallatin River came into view, looking like a ribbon flowing north out of the big mountains of the Gallatin Range.
As we continued to the west, the Madison River appeared as a similar ribbon flowing north. The Madison merges with the Gallatin and Jefferson Rivers near the town of Three Forks, just west of Bozeman, to form the mighty Missouri River, the longest river in North America at 2,341 miles (3,767 km).
We continued our climb and the Tobacco Root Mountains came into view. Just a few days earlier, my father and I had hiked to the summit of the highest peak in that range, Hollowtop Mountain, which stands at 10,604 feet (3,232 m). Unfortunately the skies were hazy and the views were not as crisp as they normally are.
Soon the reason for the haze became apparent as I spied columns of rising smoke from wildfires.
We leveled off at 24,000 feet amid some light turbulence. About 45 minutes into the flight, the cabin crew reached me with the beverage cart. One of the great things about Horizon is that they offer free microbrew beer and wine from the Pacific Northwest. This is one detail that really sets Horizon apart from other US carriers and reflects the culture of the region where the airline is based. I had a tasty IPA and a bag of snack mix.
As we continued to the west, more columns of smoke appeared. Indeed, August is the month for wildfires in the western US. Fortunately the 2011 fire season was not a bad one in most parts of Montana, but there were still a number of smaller blazes.
We crossed the Idaho panhandle and before long the vast plains of eastern Washington came into view.
As we approached the eastern slope of the Cascade Range, just east of Seattle, the Columbia River came into view at the town of Entiat, Washington. One of the big Cascade volcanoes appeared as a bubble on the horizon to the south.
We continued west over the rugged range.
I always like flying into Seattle on a clear day for views like this.
We reached the western side of the range and the terrain began to flatten out into the Seattle metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, the magnificent contours of Mount Rainier came fully into view.
As we neared the airport, the aircraft turned to the south to begin the downwind leg for an arrival to the north. A few minutes later, we made a 180-degree, right-hand turn with the Port of Tacoma coming into view.
We dropped ever lower over the neighborhoods south of the airport.
The aircraft swooped over the perimeter fence and the tires hit the asphalt of RWY34R with a thud at 16:38 local time.
We exited the runway to the right and made the short taxi toward the terminal.
The aircraft came to a stop at gate C2L/C2M at 16:41, just about ten minutes ahead of schedule.
I deplaned through the forward door and paused briefly on the ramp to get a shot of the nice, sleek turboprop basking in the late-afternoon sun.
My bag was already waiting upon my arrival at baggage claim, and I met my sister shortly thereafter. My visit was unexpected, but when my sister heard the news of my travel fiasco due to the hurricane, and that I would be spending 24 hours with her in Seattle, she dropped everything and came to pick me up. It was wonderful to spend that time with her before returning to Europe.
After picking me up at the airport, my sister and I headed north to Seattle to catch a Mariners baseball came. On the way, we pulled over and I spied this Boeing beauty plying the skies over the Puget Sound—my first and only sighting of a 787 in flight, so far!
Here are a couple of photos from my short visit in Seattle and the surrounding area. First the baseball game. I am not a huge baseball fan, but it was a great evening to be outside at the ballpark!
Indeed, Seattle and aviation are closely linked.
From the top of the ballpark we had some great views of downtown Seattle.
After the game, we walked across the street to the Pyramid Brew Pub. My sister and I shared the sampler, which was quite nice!
We then headed across the Puget Sound by ferry to my sister’s home near the town of Poulsbo, on the Kitsap Peninsula. The next morning we had breakfast and walked around Poulsbo, which is a great little town located next to the waters of Liberty Bay.
Based on this experience, I have very positive things to say about Horizon’s product. Below I have rated my experiences in seven different categories on a scale of 1 to 10.
Reservation & online services: Score 9/10
I booked this flight just hours before departure, but the whole process was easy and smooth. Alaska Airlines has an excellent website, in my opinion. It offers the all-important tool of advance seat selection, not unlike other US carriers, but in my opinion the overall website is one of the more intuitive and easily navigable airline websites. Also, my mileage credit for this flight posted within hours of landing in Seattle. It is important to note that I have never had to “fight” Alaska/Horizon to get my miles posted, whereas I have had to do so for probably a third of my United flights. Well done from the standpoint of online service, Alaska/Horizon.
Seats and cabin condition: Score 8/10
The seats were nothing special on this Q400, but were completely acceptable for a relatively short flight. The cabin was a little worn, but generally clean—no trash under the seats or in the seatback pockets.
Cabin crew: Score 7/10
The flight attendants were not remarkable when compared to those on most other flights, but they were courteous and professional.
Food and drink: Score 9/10
Horizon really shined in this category. Free beer or wine from the Pacific Northwest is certainly a treat, and my brew went well with the pack of snack mix. Not bad for a short domestic hop.
Inflight entertainment: Score 7/10
Other than the inflight magazine, there was no entertainment available on this flight. However, I do not think most passengers, including myself, would expect any fancier entertainment on regional route. The Alaska Airlines inflight magazine contained some good reads and kept me occupied when not watching the window.
Baggage: Score 8/10
Like almost all other US carriers (Southwest being an exception), Alaska/Horizon charge for a checked bag for regular, non-elite passengers on domestic routes (inter-Alaska flights allow up to three free checked bags for all). However, for my ticket and route, $20 for each of the first three checked bags was pretty generous as far as industry standards go. I only had one checked bag, and saw no problem in forking over the $20. Delta and United would have both charged $25. Moreover, upon arriving at the baggage claim in Seattle, my bag was already waiting for me on the carrousel; the Alaska/Horizon folks managed to get my luggage curbside faster than I could walk. Nice job!
Punctuality: Score 10/10
Horizon delivered me to the gate a few minutes ahead of schedule. Yes, the weather was favorable, and the entire operation took place under sunny skies. Still, with an early arrival at the gate, I have to give credit where credit is due.
RESERVATION & ONLINE SERVICES: 9/10
SEATS & CABIN CONDITION: 8/10
CABIN CREW: 7/10
FOOD & DRINK: 9/10
INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: 7/10
AVERAGE SCORE: 58/70 = 83%
All in all, Horizon/Alaska provided great service on this short hop. Although the Horizon Air brand has since been phased out in favor of the Alaska brand, in my opinion, Horizon continues to be one of the very best airlines in the United States—regional or not. It was a pleasure to fly with them on this leg and I will go out of my way to give them my business in the future.
Thank you for reading this report and I hope you enjoyed it! Again, I will post a report covering the next stage of my journey on Icelandair very soon. Feedback, comments and questions are welcome and appreciated!
My previous reports on Airliners.net can be seen at:
Big Apple To Big Sky Country On Delta/Skywest (by BZNPilot Apr 30 2012 in Trip Reports)
Farewell CO - A Transatlantic First And Last (by BZNPilot Apr 23 2012 in Trip Reports)
Short & Long On LH: BRU-MUC-IAD, DCA-BOS-FRA-BRU (by BZNPilot Oct 30 2011 in Trip Reports)
Day Tripping: 3 Flights, 3 Countries, Many Pics (by BZNPilot Jun 13 2011 in Trip Reports)
Trans-Atlantic Part 2: BZN-DEN-OKC-IAD-GVA-BRU (by BZNPilot Dec 3 2010 in Trip Reports)
Trans-Atlantic Part 1: BRU-ATL-SLC-BZN On DL (by BZNPilot Nov 15 2010 in Trip Reports)
A Bee-Line To Madrid: SN’s A319 & B733 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 13 2010 in Trip Reports)
YVR-PDX-BFI: Horizon + SeaPort's PC-12 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 6 2010 in Trip Reports)
Day Tripping: DCA-DTW-MKE-DCA On NW/YX (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 25 2009 in Trip Reports)
BZN-IAD On Skywest/Delta (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2009 in Trip Reports)
DCA-SEA + Boeing Field + Holiday Travel Odyssey (by BZNPilot Jan 3 2009 in Trip Reports)
CDG-FRA-IAD On AF/UA (Part 2, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
DCA-ORD-FRA-CDG On UA/LH/AF (Part 1, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 9 2008 in Trip Reports)
Planes & Trains To Montreal (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
IAD-DEN-BZN-ORD-DCA On UA Biz/Y (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 12 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC-9+A320+738s On NW/DL To MT (pics) (by BZNPilot Aug 3 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC To Montana On NW (many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jun 15 2008 in Trip Reports)
HKG-ORD-DCA On UA In Coach (pics) (by BZNPilot Jun 14 2008 in Trip Reports)
HKG-MNL-HKG On CX (Business) W Pics (by BZNPilot Feb 25 2008 in Trip Reports)
Manila-Caticlan-Manila For New Years (Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2008 in Trip Reports)
MRY-SFO-HKG On UA (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Feb 2 2008 in Trip Reports)
DCA-PHL-SFO (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 29 2008 in Trip Reports)
Northwest Tri-Jets To Germany In 1999 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Feb 5 2010 in Trip Reports)
Lama Chopper In The Montana Mountains (w Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 21 2008 in Trip Reports)