In late August I packed a bag and headed to the West Coast for a week of vacation. A few of my family members were vacationing on the Oregon coast. I decided that it was a good time to relax and explore a part of the US I'd never really seen before, so I went and joined them! To get to the other coast I booked myself a flight with Alaska Airlines (a new airline for me) flying MCO-SEA-PDX. On the return I booked a ticket with American and Horizon, flying PDX-SEA-DFW-MCO. After about a dozen schedule changes, some IROPS, and some terrible customer service on the part of AA that's not entirely the route I ended up flying, but I'll cover that later...
As you may recall from my last TR, I spent the summer working in Atlanta. In mid-August I packed all of my belongings into my car and moved back down to Daytona Beach. Not wanting to waste any of my valuable time off, I barely stopped to catch my breath in DAB. A few hours after arrival I hopped a bus down to MCO for an early morning departure to the west coast.
Alaska Airlines operates a once-daily service from its hub in Seattle to 'Mickey's Corporate Office' in Orlando using their 737-800s. The route stretches the limits of what can be called a domestic flight (you'd have to go to Siberia to find a longer "domestic" segment), but Alaska's prices blew the competition out of the water. As I would soon find out, Alaska's comfortable interiors and generous service made the distance just fly by.
KMCO - KSEA
Flight # AS 0009
Equipment:Boeing 737-890 (N558AS)
Scheduled Departure: 08:05 Actual Departure: 08:05
Scheduled Arrival: 11:05 Actual Arrival: 11:20
Since I was stuck relying on a bus to get to the airport, I walked up to Alaska's check-in counter far too early. Having woken up at 3:30am, departed the DAB bus terminal at 5:00am, and walked into the airport just after 6:00am, I was in no mood to wait around for the Alaska Airlines counter to open up. I found a communal self-service kiosk, printed a flimsy receipt-style boarding pass, and headed towards the TSA checkpoint.
The TSA had some trouble with the flimsy receipt (they couldn't find the airline name printed on it - they thought "Alaska" was my destination. Luckily I didn't have to escalate it to the supervisor level like I did when I flew Georgia Skies.) Thankfully the TSA nude-o-scope operators were all still sleeping and I made it through to the quiet airside without a fuss. I arrived at the Alaska Airlines gate area just in time to see my plane taxiing in out of the pre-dawn darkness.
It's too early to be up...
Everyone else got to sleep in... Alaska's empty gate area.
Generic Orlando gate equipment; certainly not bad looking.
As the sun came up a few people began to trickle into the gate area. I decided to take the time to get up and wander around a bit. The only food available was from Burger King; a bacon and egg croissant sounded tasty, so I bought one. What I got was hardly a croissant, but at least it tasted alright...
This is food?..
Wandering around the concourse, JetBlue was already running a busy early morning operation. Plenty of planes were arriving and departing from Central American destinations and the first wave of domestic departures was on its way out. American's gates were slowly gearing up for the day, waking a small fleet of MD-80s from their overnight slumber.
A better look at my aircraft in the early dawn light: N558AS, a 2006 model Boeing 737-890.
Lots of early morning JetBlue action. B6 operates a round-the-clock schedule at MCO to various South American destinations.
Sun rising over the terminal.
Lots of AA flights heading out as well.
Boarding began about 35 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. The gate area was still quite empty as I boarded (lots of people sleeping in today?); the plane filled slowly until just prior to the scheduled departure when (unfortunately) one last person ran on board and sat down in the middle seat beside me.
Wow, not bad. No PTV, but plenty of leg-room.
Comfortable, slim leather seats.
My seatmate turned out to be quite a character. The first words out of his mouth as he sat down were "mind if I smoke?" Before I had time to utter an "uhh...yes?" he had whipped out a package of chewing tobacco and was stuffing a pinch in his mouth. While I searched for a passage in the in-flight magazine stating Alaska's policy on tobacco products, he introduced himself as a welder headed up to the Alaska oil fields. Apparently he had missed his flight the previous night after getting drunk in the bar and had been re-booked. I almost had an empty middle seat, instead I got stuck with this character...
Not much of a view, obscured by heavy condensation.
The cabin was closed up and push back was accomplished more-or-less on time. The high Florida humidity completely fogged the windows so I took a moment to explore the seat-back offerings. Alaska's in flight magazine easily could have passed for an adventure-sports or outdoors-man's journal, but everything else was pretty standard for a domestic US carrier.
Very professional looking safety card.
Alaska's entire fleet is GoGo equipped; certainly a lot cheaper than installing AVOD.
Not a bad network for a quasi-regional airline. It thins out quite a bit when you remove the DL and AA connections.
Alaska's Alaskan network; not as extensive as it once was but still impressive.
MCO was still very quiet as we taxied to the runway. Without delay the pair of CFM-56s spooled up and began the sluggish takeoff roll down 17R. As the aircraft's speed increased, a sheet of water shed down the fuselage, cleaning off the condensation and finally giving me a decent window view. We rotated nearly 2/3 of the way down the 10,000 foot runway (a full load on MCO-SEA certainly must be maxing out the 737-800's performance figures).
As we rotated the engine nacelle strake produced a powerful vortex, made visible by the high atmospheric humidity; good to see that the strake's doing its job! (Apparently the nacelle vortex can increase the sectional lift coefficient at the pylon by as much as 0.2 at high angles of attack.)
Here we go! Condensation clearing from the windows so I can see outside!
Huge vortex coming over the wing from the engine nacelle strake.
Lifting off to the South we made a wide left turn to the East, then finally back North on course to Seattle. The seat I had selected was a little too far forward to have great views of the ground, the view straight down blocked by the 737's small Yahudi fairing. Climbing out over Florida this was no issue. Florida's topography is only slightly more interesting than open ocean...
Being a five and a half hour flight the in-flight service was done at a rather leisurely pace. Alaska offers "DigiPlayers" for rent rather than offering any complimentary IFE. The DigiPlayers are essentially large tablets pre-loaded with hundreds of movies and TV shows, available for $10 per flight. The players were brought through the cabin prior to the first snack service. Since I had my iPad I decided to purchase internet service and catch up on reading some Trip Reports instead.
The flight had been catered as a breakfast flight; none of the hot offerings looked much better than the Burger King croissant I'd bought in the terminal. I decided to purchase one of Alaska's "picnic packs", their take on the generic non-perishable snack box. For $7 I received some chips, crackers, cookies, as well as some processed meats and cheeses to nibble on throughout the flight. The first drink service also came with a complimentary blueberry almond cookie (very tasty.)
Snack service, Part 1. The drink and blueberry-almond cookie were complimentary, the snack box was $7.
The flight deck did a good job of updating the cabin as we passed over landmarks along our route. Snack service wrapped up as we passed over the Mississippi River at the southern border of Illinois.
Well underway at this point, crossing the intersection of the Ohio and Mississipi rivers just south of St Louis.
About ten minutes after the trash was collected from the first snack service, a second round of service was offered with Coffee, Tea, and water.
Refreshment service, Part 2. Coffee.
As I pulled out my iPad my seat-mate expressed quite a bit of interest, asking what games I had installed and what I was going to play. I had no intention of playing any games, so I decided to browse the most boring plain-text websites I could think of until he lost interest and stopped looking over my shoulder...
"For those of you on the left side of the plane, we will shortly be passing over Mt. Rushmore"
Buying internet service was worth the money for this flight (time flies when you can watch yourself on FlightAware), soon we were crossing the Rocky Mountains and beginning a gradual descent into the Seattle area.
Refreshment Service, Part 3, while catching up on some Trip Report reading. (Of course I had to have Ginger Ale for this service...)
Crossing over the relatively flat northern Rocky Mountains of Montana.
Descending towards Seattle over the Cascades range.
The flight attendants were very preemptive with their "sit down, buckle up" announcements, everyone seemed to be snugly in their seats well before passing 10,000ft. As we descended, I noticed that we turned several times to the North, then West, then back North again. At first I assumed we were being vectored onto an approach path around the area's mountains, but soon the real reason became apparent. The flight deck announced that there was a radar-outage in Seattle and planes were being vectored into Sea-Tac one by one. We entered a holding pattern Northeast of Seattle and waited...and waited...
Everyone buckled in early in the descent. I like the Alaskan-style upholstery on the cabin bulkhead.
Holding, about fifty miles Northeast of Seattle.
My layover in Seattle was originally scheduled to be about an hour, apparently a number of folks on board had even tighter connections. While we held, the flight attendants were very proactive in making sure that tight connections would be allowed to deplane first.
The original announcement from the flight deck had offered a best-case scenario of a 30-45 minute delay. After only ten minutes of circling we were headed back in the correct direction towards Seattle. A few additional delay-vectors later we were descending into the clouds over Seattle.
Well of course Seattle is socked-in with clouds. Descending towards the solid murky layer.
Wow, that's one dense cloud...
Broken out of the soup, on a long final for 16R.
Short final, trailing a vortex from the outboard flap.
Hey, I recognize that plane! Last time I was in Seattle I was on board that flight from Osaka.
All said-and-done the original flight deck delay announcement had been quite accurate. After the long delay vectors around Seattle, we pulled into the gate a little more than a half hour behind schedule. The flight attendants asked that only passengers with connections before 12:15 deplane first (my noon connection was my ticket off the plane!) and I soon stepped out into Seattle's Concourse C. All of Horizon's Dash-8 flights depart from the end of the C concourse and I was only a brief walk away.
In Orlando I hadn't been able to print a boarding pass for the SEA-PDX segment of my trip. I stopped at a service counter and asked to have a pass printed. The friendly agent offered to swap my seat for one closer to the front (no thanks!) and handed me a boarding pass. As she handed it over she advised that "Boarding for your flight starts...oh wow, your flight is boarding now, hurry up!" With that, I made my way to the gate.
FIDS, packed with all sorts of interesting destinations in the Pacific Northwest.
Flight # QX 2015
Equipment: Bombardier DHC-8-Q402 (N425QX)
Scheduled Departure: 12:00 Actual Departure: 13:20
Scheduled Arrival: 12:50 Actual Arrival: 14:05
Horizon's busy Seattle operation sprawls across the ramp, all centered at a single gate. Individual "sub-gates" allow access to the single doorway to the ramp. Today, my flight was boarding from Gate 2, sub-gate B. The gate area was swamped with passengers waiting for my flight and a dozen others departing soon afterwards. I made my way through the crowd of gate-lice and found myself somehow first in line for my flight (it's hard to tell who's loitering and who's in line sometimes...)
Horizon's busy ramp at Gate 2.
Behind the glass wall, headed to the plane!
On the ramp. The window boxes of flowers don't really detract from the industrial vibe of being on an airport apron...
A mini-super-tug pushing back one of many Horizon Q400s.
My aircraft was parked at the far end of the ramp (the gate agent marked the specific door number on my boarding pass in crayon). Horizon boards through both the front and rear doors of their Q400s. I had selected myself a seat in Row 18; partially for the better view, partially just to board through the rear door and walk under the wing!
Horizon has streamlined the process of gate-checked luggage with their "A La Carte" service, allowing passengers to deposit their rollaboards on a covered cart on the ramp before boarding. While my fellow passengers all fiddled with their large luggage, I snuck through the back door to be one of the first on board!
Portland, yep, that's me! Destination displayed on the "A La Carte" cart(e). Funny that they don't specify *which* Portland...
Rear stairs, under the wing? Of course!
First person aboard, while everyone else fiddled with their rollaboard baggage outside.
The Dash-8's cabin was certainly showing some wear-and-tear. The Q400s are fitted with standard non-reclining regional type seats (the same awful seats on the CRJ-200 series), but I had no major complaints about the cabin. Like with all Dash-8s the fuselage curved in at the window, slightly limiting legroom.
Not bad legroom, not great either. Standard for a regional turboprop.
Exploring the seat-back pockets I stumbled across a card detailing the free beverage options, including free regional beer and wines! At first I thought I'd missed out on plenty of free beer on my previous flight, but I later found out that the complimentary drinks are unique to Horizon's turboprop services. The rest of the seat back contents were showing the same general wear as the cabin, not quite as polished and professional as the Alaska Airlines handouts on the previous flight.
Standard safety card, older style than Alaska's.
Old, cartoon style safety information.
What's this? Free beer and wine? Nice.
I had selected a seat in row 18 hoping that I would be aft of the engine for a decent view. It turns out I was off by a couple rows; only the far back of the plane and the far front get clear views. As I've noted before, the Q400's engines are absolutely massive and dominate any views out the window.
Not much of a view...unless you like airplane parts!
Right on time the engines started up and we pushed back from the gate. It took quite a while to get moving from the ramp. At first I attributed this to congestion on the taxiway behind us, but soon one of the pilots came over the intercom with the dreaded "Well folks..." message. Apparently one of the rudder pedals was sticking and they were in the process of consulting with maintenance.
After a very brief consultation the captain came back over the intercom to explain that the plane would have to be taken out of service. Everyone needed to go back to the terminal and wait for them to find a new plane... The engines shut down and everyone was herded off, just a couple gates away from where we started.
...and back off again, a bit sooner than planned.
No instructions were given about where to wait or who to talk to for the replacement flight. The gate where we deplaned had no clue, the service center had no clue, but I eventually found the gate agent at our original departure gate was on top of things. All of the flight's 70-something passengers somehow found their way to the gate where the gate agent was promising that we'd be boarding very shortly.
Peering out at the now empty ramp, I only saw one plane...and it was much more colorful than the standard Alaska Horizon livery. Waiting at the foot of the stairs was Horizon's confetti and banner draped 25th anniversary celebration plane! My hopes were confirmed when an angry passenger demanded to know where the replacement plane was. The gate agent gestured towards the colorful Q400 and said "It's right there!"
I only see one plane out there...and it's not white!
After only 15 minutes in the terminal boarding began exactly as it had earlier...except this time I had a better idea of which airplane on the ramp would be my ride!
Yes! Horizon's 25th Anniversary "birthday celebration" livery!
The paint's starting to show its age, but still so much better than a plain white livery!
Under the wing (again).
Boarding through the same back door, I said hi to the same flight attendants, took the same seat, and was joined by the same seat-mate. The seat back pockets were the same as the previous plane. The safety demo and push-back procedure were (what a surprise) the same. Luckily, this time the before-taxi checklist went more smoothly and we taxied down to the runway.
Slightly more colorful view from the window this time.
Lining up on 16L (for real this time!)
Wheels coming up, headed to Portland.
How many heavies can you count?
Climbing into the very hazy skies.
The wheels had barely retracted into their wells before the flight attendants were up and about preparing their carts for service. I was surprised that the flight attendants were attempting service on this short flight...they seemed well aware of the short duration that they had available to serve 74 passengers.
The skies over Washington and Oregon were grey and hazy, a deck of clouds hovered just above our cruising altitude. As we neared the Oregon border turbulence started to really pick up. When bottles started bouncing off of the carts the Flight Attendants decided to pack up and strap in for the remainder of the flight. One of the two FAs stumbled and decided to crouch in the aisle with her cart, waiting out the worst of the bumps.
Just as both FAs got to their jumpseats the flight deck came on with a "helpful" announcement asking them to be seated due to the turbulence. From my seat I could hear as one of the FAs muttered an exasperated and slightly resentful "Thanks for the heads up..." The pilots went on to explain that the bumps were quite unexpected, and that they rarely experience rough air with an overcast deck of stratus clouds like those in the sky today.
Unfortunately the bumpy skies meant that I wouldn't have a chance to try Horizon's selected microbrew of the month; I would have to wait until the trip back.
Mt. Hood, poking into the clouds above our altitude.
Very bumpy, making it hard to take photos...
Gear down, taking a scenic tour of suburban Portland.
The bumps kept up all the way to the ground. On final I decided I was going to try my hand at the iconic "smoking landing gear" shot as the Dash-8's wheels touched the ground. On short final I switched my camera into continuous mode and started clicking away. My camera kept clicking as we kept floating...all the way down the runway. Just as I thought to myself "This is ridiculous" and put my camera away we slammed down to the pavement. All I managed were about 25 photos of Portland's runway edge lighting...
After a very brief taxi we pulled up to the gate. The weather in Portland was beautiful, the sun was just starting to poke through the clouds, so I took a couple last shots of my very colorful ride!
Stepping out the back door; slightly better weather in Portland than Seattle.
One last look at the most colorful plane I've ever ridden on.
From the airport I met up with some family members, hopped in a rental car, and drove a few hours further South to Newport, a small town on the Oregon coast where I'd be spending the next few days.
For the first few days in Oregon I did absolutely nothing. Having a vacation was nice...
Not a bad sunset at the end of a long day of flying.
A few days after I arrived I decided to get off my ass and look at some airplanes! The Evergreen Aviation Museum is located in McMinnville, Oregon; about half way between Portland and Newport, in the heart of Oregon's wine country. I managed to convince a few of my relatives to tag along with the promise of wine tasting afterwards.
The Evergreen museum is actually built on the site of a Vineyard. Much of the museum is surrounded by grape vines, as it was more difficult to remove the vines than it was to continue to let them grow. The museum sells the wine, branded as "Spruce Goose Pinot" - not exactly top-notch wine, but a must-have on the wine rack of any aviation buff. The Evergreen Museum is probably the only aviation museum in the world to feature wine tasting in the cafeteria, and to sell full bottles of wine alongside typical museum cafeteria fare. Evergreen is probably also the only aviation museum in the world to feature a water slide which originates in the belly of a classic 747, but I didn't spend any time on that side of the park, choosing instead to browse the dozens upon dozens of rare aircraft.
Evergreen's aircraft collection is very, very diverse. In addition to the famous Spruce Goose, Evergreen is home to a large collection of helicopters, vintage military aircraft, rockets, and even a couple of MiGs. Evergreen's collection seemed to be out-growing the space available in its two large display halls, making it quite difficult to capture images of the larger aircraft (i.e. the Spruce Goose).
Even more airplanes! Grumman OV-1 Mohawk, at the Evergreen Air and Space Museum.
Apollo space capsule, hanging from a Sikorsky Sea King.
The FJ-3 Fury is a cool plane, but I think the more interesting attraction is in the background: the Hughes H-4 Hercules!
Plenty of cool planes outside the museum too; Northrop F-5 Tiger II.
Not very common in the US, Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum.
Convair F-106 Delta Dart.
Douglas A-4 Skyhawk.
*starships were meant to fly...* Beechcraft BE-2000 Starship.
Wow, not many of these left, I'm surprised they've pushed it back into the corner like this. Sikorsky CH-37 Mojave.
Nice; Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
Sitting gate-guard in front of the museum: Lockheed P-2V Neptune.
While I had been exploring the aircraft displays my Aunt and Uncle had been chatting up the employees at the wine-tasting stand and had picked out our next destination for the day, a vineyard a few miles down the road towards Newport.
Not a bad view at all; stopping at the Youngsberg Hill vineyard.
The first of a few wine-tastings.
After a few glasses of wine and some excellent cheese at the top of the picturesque Youngsberg Hill it was just about time to head home for the day. Time sure flies when you're looking at airplanes and drinking wine...
Another nice sunset after a long day of airplaning.
Returning home I found out that my brother had booked a fishing trip departing early the next morning. After just a couple hours of sleep I headed down to the Newport docks for a morning of fishing and crabbing on the Pacific. Despite being the middle of August the early morning air was absolutely frigid, a pleasant change from the oppressive humid Florida summer I had come from!
Up early to catch some fish!
Motoring out into the Pacific, under the Yaquima Bay Bridge and US Route 101.
Clear of the bridge, heading out to sea!
Once we reached open water we dropped some Dungeness crab traps before casting lines to fish.
That sun feels good! Getting ready to drop some crab traps.
Setting up to catch some fish. I pulled