ATL-TUP-GLH & Return on Silver Airways
The 4th of July is an American holiday intended solely for flag waving, patriotism, and the celebration of the United States. I've decided to form my own July 4th tradition, a celebration of my favorite program of the federal government: the Essential Air Service network!
Last July I took a trip on Georgia Skies purely out of curiosity about the airline ( Southern Hospitality? Georgia Skies C208, ATL-AHN (by KPWMSpotter Jul 9 2012 in Trip Reports) ). Since last summer, Georgia Skies has gone belly-up, its Cessna 208s replaced in Atlanta by sharp looking Saab 340s from Silver Airways. As I pondered what to do with my holiday weekend, I thought "why not try out the Saabs and make a tradition out of it?" Within a couple days I had booked myself a trip out to the very very small town of Greenville, Mississippi.
"Why Greenville?" you may ask. The answer is simple: more flights for the money! Silver Airways operates a rather substantial network of routes out of Atlanta, mostly EAS routes, mostly taken over from Delta and Georgia Skies. Silver operates to a hand full of "deep south" destinations such as Muscle Shoals, Macon, and Tupelo. Greenville, however, is such a small market that it doesn't even warrant direct service from Atlanta. Greenville's three daily Saabs make stopovers in Tupelo in each direction. With fares averaging a little over $100 each way, that's four flights for only about $50 each!
The itinerary I decided on was ATL-TUP-GLH // GLH-TUP-ATL, with a sixteen hour overnight to enjoy Greenville, the "heart and soul of the Mississippi River Delta."
KATL-KGLH (via KTUP) Flight # SIL 3623
Equipment:Saab 340B (N341AG)
Scheduled Departure: 19:45 Actual Departure: 19:30
Scheduled Arrival: 21:30 Actual Arrival: 20:46
The week of July 4th was an ugly one in Atlanta. A massive occluded front sat over the East coast of the US, drawing a constant stream of moisture up from the Gulf. The 3rd and 4th had been dominated by non-stop thunderstorms (of course making a mess of the Atlanta airport), but my flight out on the 5th was looking promising. Even though the weather had cooled down, my co-workers handed me a surplus air-sick bag as a "gift" as I headed out the door on Friday.
Still plenty of wet weather in the South.
Checking in online, I found Silver's website to be surprisingly easy to navigate. Last year's trip on Georgia Skies was riddled with confused phone agents and unusable website features; Silver Airways' website felt like that of a real airline. While I was checking in I found that Silver even offers its own frequent flyer program; it appears to be tied directly to United's MileagePlus system, but it's certainly better than nothing.
Checking in online.
Seat selection for my outbound flight. Looks like only one other passenger today. The return flight looked just as empty.
Checking out Silver's online route map. Looks like it shows all destinations as "non-stop" (even though they're not), but still an impressive collection of cities.
At about 5pm I headed across the field to check in at Silver's counter in the domestic terminal of Hartsfield Atlanta Airport. I found a single agent manning the Silver Airways counter, looking very very bored. Once she put away her phone she quickly checked me in, remarking "I didn't expect any passengers today!" Like Georgia Skies, Silver's flights depart from remote stands at a far corner of the E concourse. From check in to the gate takes almost 20 minutes, assuming no hassles with the TSA (none this time luckily).
Stormy skies on the other side of security.
Plenty of Delta traffic, but no sign of Silver Airways yet.
SAAB! Not my ride to Greenville though, this one would depart to Muscle Shoals, AL.
I checked in with the gate agent and asked how full the flight would be. He sort of grinned and told me "Only four passengers, but one hasn't checked in. We'll try to get you out of here early! As I took a seat, the Muscle Shoals flight starting boarding (a full hour before scheduled) and only two passengers got on the plane.
My ride to GLH: N341AG, a 1998 build Saab 340B, formerly operated by Mesaba as N437XJ.
Lots of traffic dodging the storm clouds.
China Airlines Cargo B747-400F departing against a dramatic sky.
Boarding pass; actually printed on custom Silver Airways card stock!
Exactly 45 minutes prior to departure (the cut-off time for checking in) boarding was called for the flight. Three passengers showed up at the gate: a businessman headed to Tupelo, a woman headed to Greenville, and myself. The gate agent tore off and retained our boarding passes before leading everyone downstairs, onto the ramp, and into a waiting bus.
Getting up close to a Delta 737-700 while boarding.
Being bused to the plane.
There she is, looking very good in the Silver livery.
The bus pulled up in front of N341AG, a very smart looking Saab 340B+ painted in Silver Airways' own livery. This Saab is actually relatively new, having been delivered in 1998 to Mesaba, flying as N437XJ under the Northwest and Delta banners before being retired in late 2011 and delivered as Silver's first Saab in 2012. It's quite likely that this airframe was once used to serve Tupelo and Greenville under the Delta and Northwest brands; Mesaba ran this route until Delta divested the majority of its EAS flying about a year ago.
Walking around the plane to board - the best way to board.
It looks like Silver names all of their Saabs. This is "Only the Beginning."
I climbed up the integral air-stairs and was greeted by a friendly flight attendant. "Watch your head on the door! Take a seat anywhere you would like, row 9 or further back for weight and balance, thanks!" I made my way back to my previously assigned seat at 10A, but found the window a bit smudged. Having plenty of room to move around, I moved one back to 11A where I found a cleaner window. As soon as all three of us were on board, the flight attendant came back and distributed miniature water bottles and wished everyone a pleasant flight.
All major passenger announcements were made using an automated recording, but the flight attendant supplemented the recording where necessary. I was surprised to hear, though, that the pilots gave no flight information or greeting, only a short "Flight Attendant, Take-Off" or "Landing Momentarily" where required during the flight.
Seated in the back; the view from 11A.
Not terrible leg-room, felt better than a CRJ-200.
The engines were started soon after the door was closed. The ramp agents wheeled away the ground power unit and we simply taxied forward out of the stand. Atlanta was using an eastbound operation, so we had a lengthy taxi down to 8R.
Taxiing out past another Saab which just arrived.
Lining up on 8R.
Airborne, just past the famous (to spotters) Renaissance Hotel.
Quick turn out to the North to keep from getting run over by an MD-88.
In and out of the clouds during climb.
Turboprop takeoffs are always fun, since you really feel a surge of power as the props bite into the air. After the initial acceleration, though, climb out was quite slow meaning we spent lots of time being bumped around in and out of the clouds. Things settled out after ten minutes at a cruising altitude of only 16,000ft. The flight attendant came back and offered a selection of Coca-Cola products to drink (but no snacks.)
One passenger was looking visibly distraught, and seemed quite nervous to be on a small plane in bad weather. Since there were no magazines available in the seat-back pocket, the flight attendant offered her a selection of magazines from her personal collection to help keep her calm and distracted.
Beverage service. Everyone got a full can.
Seat-back contents: only a safety card and sick-sack.
Looks like a typical safety card to me.
...although, the authors appear to have either overestimated the size of the plane, or underestimated the size of the passengers.
Silver branded napkins, touting their Air Transport World "Best Regional Airline" award.
Flying into some darker clouds.
The flight was totally uneventful until we started descending into Tupelo. We entered a line of thunderstorms that had the plane rocking and rolling all over the sky. Both other passengers were holding on for dear life; I was cursing my camera's low-light performance... We broke out of the storms and into the clear about ten miles out.
On approach to TUP under a glowing sky.
Flaps down, turning right base.
Sun poking through the clouds on final.
Touchdown (with some smoke!)
As we pulled off the runway in Tupelo I noticed something odd in the distance: a United Airlines 747-400 with its entire cockpit section cut out. I didn't realize it then, but apparently Tupelo is home to quite a large aircraft boneyard! I didn't get many good pictures in the low evening light, but don't worry, I took plenty on the return flight.
The aircraft pulled up to the Tupelo terminal and shut down. The one passenger heading to TUP was let off and both pilots disappeared onto the ramp to have lengthy cell-phone conversations. Once the pilots were back on board we were quickly underway for a short flight across the state of Mississippi to Greenville.
What's this? I see a topless 747 in the distance.
Pulling up to Tupelo's nice looking terminal.
The cockpit emptied for a couple minutes while the pilots called dispatch between segments.
Taxiing out for a departure on Runway 18.
Wow, that's quite a boneyard. Wasn't expecting that.
The flight attendant came back and again offered drinks, even though the flight was only scheduled to be 20 minutes.
More setting sun.
The flight, approach, and landing into Greenville were uneventful. On landing we managed to use all 8001 feet of runway, using the least braking I've ever felt on landing. The door was quickly opened once we reached the terminal and I walked out into a well maintained terminal, packed full of aircraft models. More on that later.
Stepping off the plane into the dark in Greenville.
Ground crew putting the plane to bed for the night.
I had arranged for a taxi from the only cab company in town. The taxi driver was waiting in the terminal (even though we had arrived 45 minutes early) and greeted me by name.
Apparently the flight crew had arranged a ride with the same company and I ended up sharing a cab with the Flight Attendant and First Officer. The Flight Attendant asked why I had chosen Greenville for my trip, I explained the concept of a "Trip Report" and my interest in Silver Airways. She seemed pleased that I had enjoyed her airline so far, but had one warning about Greenville: "The water is brown!
She was right. The water in Greenville is always brown. When I checked into my hotel they explained that it was due to the Cypress Tree roots in the water table; still, it was quite odd to see. I settled in for the night and set an alarm so that I could explore the town early the next morning before my flight.
Very big hotel room, not bad for $59 USD.
The next morning I awoke with the sun, skipped the cheap hotel breakfast, and walked outside. According to Google Maps, the Mississippi river should have been right across the street, instead I was faced with a very very big grassy hill. It took me a couple seconds before I realized "Oh, right, levee." and climbed the hill.
Greenville was once a busy railroad and manufacturing town, back when the Mississippi river was an essential link for commerce in the US. These days, Greenville is primarily agricultural, with a few factories and small railroad connections left. The city seems to be marketing itself around its riverboat casinos nowadays.
Walking through downtown, the area did have a certain Southern charm to it. Much of the architecture hadn't been updated since the 1940s (or longer in some cases), and was a little run-down in areas, but it all had much more character than today's cookie-cutter suburban landscapes.
I hardly saw any other people out and about during my walk. This may have been because it was 9am on a Saturday morning, but the whole town felt...sleepy.
The Mississippi Levee, just across the street from the hotel.
Stereotypical Mississippi River riverboat casino.
Main Street Greenville.
Imposing Roman style banking building. No longer used as a bank though.
A few run down row-houses. Most of the town was similarly run down.
Once busy streets, looking less-than-busy now.
Former depot of the Columbus and Greenville Railroad. Now abandoned, like much of the town.
Smokestack which used to belong to a lumber company.
At 10:30 I called a taxi (same one as picked me up last night) and headed back to the Airport for my flight to Atlanta.
KGLH-KATL (via KTUP) Flight # SIL 3620
Equipment:Saab 340B (N346AG)
Scheduled Departure: 12:10 Actual Departure: 12:13
Scheduled Arrival: 15:45 Actual Arrival: 15:40
The Greenville Mid Delta Airport was once known as the Greenville Air Force Base, until the base was shut down in the 1960s. Greenville AFB trained many pilots through WWII and the early Cold War on Stearmans, T-6s, T-28s, and finally the T-33. The entrance to the Greenville Airport is now guarded by one of the T-33 Shooting Stars which was formerly stationed at the base. Between the classic jet on a stick and the orange checkered water tower, GLH certainly plays the part of a classic cold war air base.
T-33-on-a-stick guarding the gate at GLH.
Well maintained for being on a stick.
Greenville's air carrier terminal is much newer than its gate guard. The modern building is more than big enough for the three 34-seat props it serves daily, with ample creature-comforts for passengers. The terminal even caters to aviation geeks like me.
The second story of the terminal is occupied by an air museum which details the military history of the airport and Air Force base. Between the dozens of aircraft models, preserved aircraft engines, and lots of other aviation artifacts, there was plenty to keep me occupied for the hour before flight.
Small terminal building.
"Mid Delta" Airport, not for the airline, but for the Mississippi Delta.
Inside the terminal, in the cozy landside waiting room.
Lots of models hanging from the ceiling. A C-47 towing a Waco CJ-4 assault glider.
A Jacobs R-755 radial, off of a PT-18 Kaydet.
One of a dozen info boards at the upstairs museum describing the former Greenville Air Base.
"Night Landing" Looks like my flight through the thunderstorms later in the day...
Looks about right...
Looking down at the terminal from the museum balcony.
Relaxing in the free recliner, waiting for the security checkpoint to open.
While relaxing with my feet up in the waiting area, a TSA official appeared from the back offices and began setting up the security checkpoint for the day. With no nude-o-scope in sight, the official turned on and began testing the metal detector. I was surprised to watch him pull a small brass weight from a drawer and begin doing laps through the detector with the weight at various locations. Weight-on-top-of-head. beeeeeeeep! Weight-in-pocket. beeeeeeep! Weight-held-against-butt. beeeeeep! This process was repeated a couple dozen times, taking about five laps in each configuration. I was dizzy just watching him walk in circles that many times...
Eventually the security checkpoint opened up with a 1:1 passenger-to-screener ratio. Three TSA clerks and a local police officer were on hand to search the two passengers and two non-revs (I could tell they were non-revs because they were the flight attendant and first officer I had flown over and shared a cab with the night before...)
Small security checkpoint. No nude-o-scope here.
Small airside area. Plenty of space for the two passengers today.
Interesting tile mosaic table in the airside area.
While the land-side check in area was branded clearly with Silver's name and logo, the air side area still housed a number of left-over artifacts from Mesaba's service to GLH. The most obvious of these was the "SkyPriority" mat and pole, but some signs on the podium dated back to Northwest's service to the airport.
For some reason the inbound flight from Tupelo never showed up on FlightAware (never climbed high enough for radar coverage perhaps?), but showed up right on time. About a dozen people deplaned, the two ramp agents swapped the baggage out of the hold, and all four of us (wow, full flight...) boarded for an on-time departure.
Left over Delta branding from the Delta/Mesaba days at Greenville.
N346AG, my ride today, arriving from Tupelo.
Right engine already shut down, being marshaled in.
Hooking up the tail stand and emptying the baggage compartment.
Walking out to the plane.
I reject your reality and substitute my own...