CLT-XNA on US Airways by Bruce

Allergy season in Northwest Arkansas and the Mrs. has had it develop into pneumonia and my daughter is also unwell. So when I got a call Thursday evening, I dropped my weekend plans and burned some miles for a last minute flight. Booking the award on united.com was easy and fast – 25000 miles and $5 for a direct partner flight on US. [I’ve since learned that with my Gold status, it should have been $25.] During booking, I was offered the itinerary for $346.10 if I wanted to buy it with cash. I was at the airport 90 minutes later.

When printing my boarding pass, in addition to the usual “destination weather and highlights,” I was offered tick boxes for Sudoku and crossword puzzles (with the answers on separate sheets). Nice touch!

Parking shuttles at CLT are hit-or-miss. Sometimes, it’s quick. Sometimes, it isn’t. I missed the first one that was just arriving when I parked as I had to run back to my car for my phone. The next one was 10 minutes later and I was the only one boarding in the Long Term 1 lot at 21:15. The ticketing concourse was quiet with a dozen or so people in line at one of the US counters and no one elsewhere. Security gates A & B were closed and there were 10 passengers in the line at C. There was no one in the “preferred” line and I was not queried for my status. The TSO scanned my boarding pass, glanced at my ID and I stepped into one of the three scanning lines.

When directed to the AIT, I opted out. The TSO had me regather my items from the belt before they went into the scanner and sit in the chair (penalty box?) for a few minutes until the “male assist” arrived, still putting on his new gloves. He put my two bins and two bags back on the belt in front of another passenger (not very politely) and I went through the magnetometer without alerting. Standard “enhanced” pat down. All told, ten minutes from entering the queue to putting my shoes back on.

I stopped in the US Club with my blue “United Club” card for a drink, but there were five people already waiting to catch the bartender’s eye. I bailed, grabbing a bag of “sweet potato” chips and 6 packets of Milanos. The D/E corridor was busy in the opposite direction with arriving passengers and this is the first time I’ve been down the E concourse in at least a year. [Is that a new international arrivals TSA scanning station at the top of the escalator?] No other changes – the slidewalks were working and I stopped next to E27 at the combined Salsarita’s / Burger King for a burrito. I got to listen to the CLT-AVL being weather delayed at the next gate while I ate.

My flight was called on time with a warning about how boarding works by zone. I was prepared and with Zone 1 on my boarding pass, I was the first to board the aircraft. This gate has one of the “regional jet” jetbridges, so we were not outside. I left my yellow-tagged rollaboard at the door. Seat 3A on this CRJ-200, I was fortunate that a seatmate never boarded allowing me a reasonable amount of comfort.

Our flight attendant was super excellent. Truly top notch. I’ve never seen an FA ensure that ALL of the passengers were paying attention to the safety briefing and he achieved this with humor and a great outgoing nature. “Welcome aboard US Airways to Rio de Janeiro. Oh… wait. Sorry!” and “The word of the day is ‘unencumbered’.” Professional, but engaging. If I had an Above and Beyond certificate, I would have given it to him. Instead, I wrote a compliment on usairways.com. The highlight was his spot on lip-sync to the recording while he demoed the equipment. He got a full round of applause and took a bow at the end.

Lights dimmed, we were third to go on 18C. Half-can service with buy-on-board. Smooth flight, we were 12 minutes late as we had to zig-zag around two weather systems. There was also a slow loop over XNA for some reason after which we landed smoothly and taxied to one of XNA’s new gates. Gate checked bags were brought out with the usual idiots blocking the way in the jetbridge.

Summary: I can’t complain much. I was transported safely and in a timely manner to my destination. US did what they do just fine. If I had had a seatmate, it would have been uncomfortable for two hours. But I didn’t and with the great FA, US gets a B+. 25000 miles for an 800-mile roundtrip is a lot – I could have gone to SEA or SAN for the same “price.” Even a “Saver” award to LHR is only 50000.

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