US: CLT-TRI (1-Feb-2014) by Bruce

View from the wing, sort of.

View from the wing, sort of.

Editor’s Note: First of all, I must thank Bruce for taking his only day off to do this for me! Secondly, my apologies for not keeping this blog active, but I’ve moved most of my writing to Traveling Wine Chick. I hope you will join me there.

When Beth mentioned that she was having some troubles getting her car transported and asked for someone help and drive it to INT or GSO, I looked at my calendar. Saturday was completely free. “Sure, I’m up for a little adventure,” I posted.

By Thursday night, we had a plan. By Friday morning, I had a plane ticket for CLT-TRI. By Friday afternoon, we had a hope that one of Beth’s friends to pick me up at the airport and take me to the car. We still didn’t know where the car was to go, so I checked the Amtrak schedule for INT-CLT and the Greyhound schedule for GSO-CLT. Both were options for a Saturday evening trip and both were much cheaper and much shorter than a one-way award ticket. By Saturday morning, it was confirmed that I could bring the car directly back to my house in Charlotte.

US Express CRJ200

US Express CRJ200

At 10:00, I parked my car at the Park ‘n’ Go. No luggage and my Pre-Check boarding pass in hand, I was through the TSA’s security at the D checkpoint in a few minutes. A quick stop for a latte at the Starbucks in the D concourse, I sat for the first time in one of CLT’s famed rocking chairs to drink it. I then started the hike to E23. Since the last time I was out here, the E gates go all the way up to 50 and there are a few external hard stands out there as well. CLT has reached its maximum gate capacity. On the plus side, there was plenty of seating, there was a free wifi and there were a few power outlets to be had.

Boarding started on time, with pre-boards (no takers). My Star Gold status allowed me to board with the Zone 1 folks. We boarded Bombardier’s most prolific products, the CRJ-200 via the aircraft’s own stairs. I had selected seat 5A (a window) which was strangely no charge (US Airways charges for “Choice seats”). No one took the seat next to me by the time the doors closed, as well the 5D and 5F were also open.

What legroom?

What legroom?

We pushed back from the gate on time and then taxied, with wheels up about 20 minutes later off Runway 18C, which is a head scratching distance across the airport from our gate. There was no beverage or snack service during the 25 minute flight and we landed uneventfully at TRI about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. As I did not have checked luggage or anything gate checked, I proceeded directly into the terminal.

TRI is a small airport with only a few gates and service to either Charlotte (on US) or Atlanta (on DL) or one of a few weekly Allegiant flights to Orlando. One bar air-side, a small business lounge, and a bar ground-side. Short-term parking for less than an hour is 50 cents.

BBQ at Smokey's in Wytheville, VA

BBQ at Smokey’s in Wytheville, VA

Beth’s friend was waiting and she drove us the short distance to Beth’s car. Key in, it started right up on the first try and I was off. An hour later, I stopped in Wytheville at Smokey’s BBQ for lunch (combo brisket and ribs with sweet tea). Then it was back on the road for about two hours to home.

Traffic was light for a mostly sunny Saturday afternoon. I was able to stick to 70 or 75mph despite the significant police presence.

Cost: 12,500 miles redeemed on United.com for CLT-TRI. US had wanted 25,000 miles plus a $105 “close-in booking” fee or $287. Delta wanted 40,000 miles (for a round trip I would never take – they don’t offer one-way award redemption) or $425. $33 to top off the car in Charlotte (it got about 20 mpg). Door to door, maybe 6 hours. And I got a new (very short) line on my flight memory.

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DL/CZ: CLT-ATL-LAX-CAN-KUL 23 Feb 2013 by Bruce

International Arrivals and China Immigration Hallway at Guangzhou, China airport

International Arrivals and China Immigration Hallway at Guangzhou, China airport

On Thursday, I was given the go ahead to travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and to be in the office on Tuesday. The customer specified that the travel budget including hotel was $4000. This left me rather short – searches on Delta, Air France and KLM were running over $5000. But a mixed itinerary brought it down to $2500: CLT-ATL-LAX on Delta, LAX-CAN-KUL on China Southern (CZ), KUL-PVG-JFK on China Eastern (MU) and JFK-CLT on Delta. Cheaper flights on Emirates or other carriers that are neither SkyTeam or  Star Alliance were closer to $2000. [It’s worth noting that I was having trouble finding this itinerary on my own, so I hired a Travel Messiah (TM) who was tremendously helpful.]

Friday afternoon, I was unable to check in on delta.com and nor was the TM. A call to Delta was similarly unhelpful – I was told that due to the number of segments, I had to check in at the airport. I was also unable to change my seat assignments for the CZ segments.

I arrived CLT on Saturday at 12:00, dropping my car at the Business Valet ($10/day instead of $7/day for long term lot). At the Delta ticket counter, the ticket agent (TA) had a few challenges getting me checked in, but managed to figure it out. A bag tag with four segments was printed and a Priority tag attached. My passport was reviewed. Four boarding passes (BPs) were printed as well, including an upgrade for the first short segment.

Boarding for CLT-ATL was called at 13:15 and I took seat 3D in F on this 737. Pre-departure drinks were offered and I took advantage of a gin and tonic. In the air, another drink service and the snack basket which had peanuts, pretzels and Biscoffs. Each passenger in F was thanked for their business by the flight attendant (FA). With my Gold status and an international itinerary, I was able to access the Delta Sky Club in ATL where I grabbed some snacks and power.

No upgrade on ATL-LAX, I had 10G on a 767. Bulkhead row. One drink service cart with buy-on-board was offered. Gogo In-flight Internet was not operational, several satellite channels on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) were not working and there was no power at the seat. I did not hear an apology or announcement. The flight had significant turbulence almost the entire time. Arrival at LAX was still 10 minutes early.

I was warned that the walk to the international terminal was a headache, but it’s really not so bad. From T4, you walk past T5 (American) to the terminal. It took a while to find the ticket counter for CZ, but there was no one waiting in the Sky Priority lane when I arrived. My BPs were reprinted and I was able to slightly change my seat assignment from 79D (the last row, aisle) to 74A. I was also given a VIP Pass for the lounge.

The CZ lounge was pretty decent with sandwiches, serve yourself drinks and free wireless. A shower was also available. I stayed for about an hour before heading to the flight.

At the gate, several rope lines were set up for passengers based on seat and deck. No status other than business and first had separate queues. Boarding for the 22:00 departure commenced at 20:30. Yes, 90 minutes to board the plane and we pushed back on time. From there, a 30-minute taxi around the airport and past runway 7R to take off on 25L. I could see a wingtip escort car for most of the taxi and while it’s hard to judge distances, I am sure that we missed one light post and one hangar by less than six feet.

The upper deck on this CZ A380 configuration is 2-4-2 with storage bins between the window seat and the window. A pillow, an amenity kit (toothpaste, eye mask, etc.) and a thick blanket was on the seat. There was a 7-inch IFE in the seatback with no power outlet. While the extra storage was nice, it meant that there was nothing to lean against. And with all but five or six of the seats taken, there was no opportunity to switch to an open row. 79D would have been an AWFUL seat – it’s the last row and not only has limited recline, it is immediately next to the galley and lavatory area so there is constant foot traffic.

Until this flight, my longest had been 11 hours on AMS-IAH. LAX-CAN is 15 hours. Extreme! With my Bose QC15s, it was at least quiet but I was still not able to sleep. After pushback, they dimmed the lights for a half hour. And then turned them back up for dinner service, leaving the lights on for about two hours. Then the lights were dimmed until two hours prior to arrival.

Two meal services (Dinner: tuna salad appetizer, steamed cod with white rice and sliced fruit. Breakfast: quiche with tater tots and a slice of ham, a croissant and sliced fruit) and a few water services, but mostly the FAs were hiding. Since I couldn’t sleep, I watched three or four movies, a few sitcoms and tried to read. An hour before departure, it was time for final cleanup and seatbacks restored to upright. A few videos describing the China immigration and transit process were shown and then a 10-minute “flight exercises” video. And then 40 minutes of… nothing. Boring as hell.

China immigration was pleasant and quick as I was a transit passenger. A quick review of my passport and onward boarding pass, I got a stamp and was directed to the China Southern lounge in Guangzhou where I entered at about 05:30 AM. There were a couple of cold snacks that looked stale and a self-service fridge of drinks. Hot food started to arrive at around 06:30 which included meat buns, some sort of chicken in sauce and beef with wheat noodles. Aside from the time anachronism, it was pretty good. I left the lounge at 07:45 and made my way to the KUL departure gate.

The gate is a “commuter airline” set up with a large common area that smelled of cigarette smoke and eight gates. Boarding announcement in Chinese only, but I got the gist of it and had my “Economy Plus” boarding pass ready. A standing-room only bus took us to the hard stand where we made our way up the stairs into the three-class 737.

I saw no one in first class and of the 24 seats in Economy Plus, only three were occupied. A pillow and blanket were waiting and then the FA distributed small water bottles to us and then closed the curtains between the three sections. I had all three seats to myself and on the four-hour flight, I managed to sleep for an hour or so. Meal service was a chicken in sauce concoction with white rice and some sliced fruit. I wanted a drink at this point, and while the FA said they had gin, she did not have tonic. I stuck with water.

We arrived KUL on time. Baggage claim took about 15 minutes, but my Priority tagged suitcase was one of the first out for the Guangzhou flight. Immigration and Customs were extremely quick, even for foreign passport holders – ten minutes in queue and no visa is required for stays less than 90 days. Images of index fingerprints were taken.

Summary: From leaving home at 11:30 AM ET on Saturday to arriving at the hotel at 14:00 Malaysia time (13 hours ahead) on Monday (I lost Sunday crossing the International Date Line) makes for a very long trip, especially when you can’t sleep on the plane. Delta: Only a B due to the very high fare they offered and the broken IFE. China Southern: A- for nice lounges and on-board meals plus I appreciated the E+ upgrade.

Effective 1 March 2013, Delta has changed redemption for most economy fare classes on most partner airlines. Even though I’m flying 21309 miles, I will only earn 16709 MQM’s. Some fare classes earn zero! Serious bummer.

I’m sorry for the extended length of the TR, but this is the first time that I have ever flown a four-segment/three-country itinerary! The return on Wednesday, March 6 will be KUL-PVG-JFK-CLT and I will write upon my return.

Total Trip Cost: $ 2,529.40
Actual Airfare: $ 1,933.00
Actual Miles Flown: 21309 (http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=CLT-ATL-LAX-CAN-KUL-PVG-JFK-CLT&MS=wls&MP=r&DU=mi)
Yield: $ 0.091 per mile (0.116 per MQM)
Taxes & Fees: $ 596.40, 23.58% of ticket price

Dear United: What gives? (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:  This is a follow-up letter to this post dated August 27, 2012.  The United customer still has not received a response, so he has escalated his complaint.

September 27, 2012

I wonder what I need to do to get United Airlines to reply on this issue. I had even copied the President of your company and I’ve not even been given the courtesy of a reply. It’s been more than two months since you unilaterally changed the terms of my ticket purchase, a violation of DOT regulations that I referenced in my reply to your message from a month ago. A reply which you have not acknowledged or responded to.

I am extremely disappointed in United Airlines. Here we are, MONTHS after your famously bunged technology merger with the acquired Continental Airlines, and it feels like Customer Care is similarly lost like many people’s baggage. It’s been three YEARS since the famous United Breaks Guitars, after which I heard that United was changing its customer service policy. Well, it seems like nothing has changed. You are ignoring me, like you seem to ignore so many other customers.

It is very, very sad to see the result of what was once two great airlines turn into this. Where do we go from here?

Dear United: What gives?

Below is feedback sent to United a little over two weeks ago about a trip that took place on August 10, 2012.  The customer has not yet received a response, so he gave me permission to share his issues via my blog and social media.

In 300 segments of travel in the last couple of years, I have never seen a worse performance by an airline as I did last night, starting with the operations team that decided to board Charlotte NC (CLT) and Charlottesville VA (CHO) at the same gate – A1E and A1F.

But perhaps that would have been acceptable if the gate agents had a clue what they were doing. Starting by calling the boarding for Charlottesville, they had scanned the boarding passes for four or five passengers before they realized that they were BOARDING THE WRONG FLIGHT! They had to send someone down the hallway to bring these passengers back. And then they started calling Charlotte.

While I don’t want to add a racial component here, the fact that neither of these two GAs were primary English speakers certainly didn’t help.

All of this on top of several other late flights being screamed and shouted at the same podium and the one next to it.

What the h*** is going on at United Airlines these days?

Below is a list of issues the customer encountered:

– Cancelled flights (they cancelled two of the afternoon’s three ATL-ORD due to weather)
– Unhappy passengers (the one flight that did go still left 20+ standbys behind)
– An “almost-a-mechanical” on the runway. Quote: “We’re being rerouted and need to update the computer, but it shouldn’t be more than a few minutes,” then the cockpit didn’t give us any further info for 25 minutes. By that point, I had signalled the FA to call and ask what’s up. The Captain said that they had a mechanical issue that took them a little while to resolve but “it’s all good now and we’ll be on our way in a few minutes.”
– And I-don’t-know-what was going on with the baggage carousel at Charlotte. They couldn’t open the door to the belt or something and so it took a half hour for me to get my bag, which was thankfully the first one on the belt.
– There were eight passengers from an earlier flight that didn’t get their bags. This was at 12:15 AM while I was watching them fiddle with the carousel.

So United, what is going on?  And why has this customer waited 17 days and counting for a response?

Travel as Solace

A person needs at intervals to separate from family and companions and go to new places. One must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change. ~ Katharine Butler Hathaway

Seattle

My summer has been one of change and unspeakable loss. I was wondering how I would cope, but I have challenged myself to travel a minimum of once per month, but with the condition that the trip must have a real purpose related to one of my careers. I threw myself into planning my trips and I’m finding myself away from home more than once per month, which is perfect, because I don’t want to be alone at home to dwell on the past. The process of planning and booking is also an activity that keeps my mind occupied.

My first purposeful trip as a solo traveler is this week. I will be traveling to Seattle, Washington, my first trip to the Pacific Northwest. In addition to sightseeing and wine tasting, one of the activities I have planned is to fly on my first seaplane to Victoria, British Columbia. I can’t wait to share this trip with you. I hope you will continue to follow my blog as I take my first step into a positive, purposeful future.

14 July 2012 YBG-YUL [AC] YUL-EWR [UA] EWR-CLT [US] by Bruce

Returning from three weeks onsite in lovely Bagotville, Quebec. A nice little town, I was pleasantly surprised. Lots of French speaking, but almost the entire time I was able to get by with English or I could fall back to pointing. Lots of restaurants (smoked meat is basically pastrami) and good beer. I was sad to learn that I missed this weekend’s wine festival and next weekend’s beer festival.

Bagotville (YBG) is a very small airport, with one departure gate area. I checked two bags which did not get a Priority tag on them. I didn’t really want to be one of “those” people at this point, so I let it slide. I waited in the main area about ten minutes before the flight was called.

Their version of the TSA only opens up when the arriving flight is on final approach. Just as well, as there is not even a Coke machine in the waiting area. Magnetometer and baggage xray only, we get to keep our shoes on. I did not alert and was not selected for a wanding.

Three flights a day from Bagotville to Montréal are served by Air Canada’s Jazz Express on a DH-1. Eight rows of two-by-two and a ninth row that is five across. It’s a one-hour flight, but the flight attendant managed to dispense half-can drink service and a small bag of AC-branded pretzels. There are no decent seats on the aircraft – the exit row has a bit more legroom but it is right behind the propeller so there is more engine noise. I had 6F and fortunately no seatmate. If you can choose, 9A and 9F are the best only because they are the furthest from the engine.

Arriving at YUL, we used the “domestic jetty” area and the aircraft’s own stairs. It’s a long walk to the US departures area. US Customs and Immigration at YUL is staffed by US agents. I had my immigration card ready and was not queried extensively. From there, it’s another good walk to the gate areas.

AC has three Maple Leaf lounges at YUL and somehow I thought that one of them was where I was headed. I was mistaken. There is the Domestic lounge (which I used when I came down to YUL a couple weekends ago), an International lounge and the Transborder lounge. None of these are in the USA departures area where UA, AA, DL and US have their gates.

The flight was called for “All elite 1K, Platinum, Gold, Silver and Zones 1 through 5 may board at this time.” The gate agent here is an airport employee and is not UA. UA upgraded me on this ERJ-170 and I had seat 3F. A pleasant flight attendent served a half can (with a lime!) with a bag of snack mix and offered a refill. An hour flight, we were on the ground in Newark before the battery on my laptop even reached 50%. I spent the two-hour layover in the Club, eating single-wrapped cheese, yogurt raisins and drinking Sam Adams.

Over to the gate, there is no transfer shuttle between the two concourses, you have to leave the secure area. Security took 20 minutes, including 7 crew who showed up at the head of the line. I don’t begrudge them, but 7 in a row is a bit much. I did not set off the magnetometer and there is no advanced screening at this particular area.

Very few power outlets in this area, so I people watched. Especially the US-operated EWR-LAS flight at the next gate. The gate lice here are extreme. Even the one guy who I thought was cutting through the crowd when they called Zone 1 came to a screeching halt in front of everyone. And then he stood there through Zone 2. And Zone 3. And finally moved forward for Zone 4. Twit!

It was the same again for the Charlotte flight, but I was past caring. At least the FA turned away a Zone 5 and a Zone 4 that tried to board with Zone 1, but she had no enforcement of carry-on bag sizes. I had seat 3F on this A320, a bulkhead. This gave me a bird’s eye view of the massive luggage being carried on and lugged down the aisle. Two of them came forward again as they wouldn’t be jammed into an overhead.

After departure, the dude in 3D put his feet up on the wall. It’s no longer carpet, it’s some sort of plastic that must be easy to wash if they ever get around to it. I caught his eye and told him to take his feet down. “This isn’t your house.” Half can beverage service was interrupted by brief turbulence and then discontinued for the remainder of the flight. The FA’s had already done their last patrol and then they pulled out their electronics again. I caught the eye of the guys in 3B and 3C and told them to turn off their electronics. “Why?,” they asked. “Because they said so,” I replied. I was now going to be one of “those” people.

We arrived CLT 25 minutes early (pad your schedule much?) but our gate was ready. B1. The carousel areas were very crowded with a couple of flights in the B areas waiting. EWR’s took 25 minutes to appear on the carousel. Even though I did not have a Priority tag, my two were among the first to appear. Amazingly, there was a Long Term 1 parking shuttle just pulling up as I stepped outside.

Summary: I was expecting my luggage to get screwed up with a three-carrier itinerary across a border, but it somehow made it. Kudos to AC, UA and US on that. The travel itself was good. Nothing to complain about, though I would prefer UA was using a mainline for YUL-EWR. US was just fine. Grade of B all around.

Side note: Flying three carriers in a day gave me a good look at their in-flight magazines. Of course, all the cover stories were on London. Air Canada’s enRoute had the most detail with three reporters filing stories on the city, but United’s Hemispheres was the best read. Their “Three Perfect Days” column has always been useful for me when visiting a new city. Having spent two years in the London area, I thought their recommendations were pretty solid. US’s in flight magazine (no special title) was more of a sales tool with more stories about the Piedmont Triad area than London.

Total Trip Cost: $ 1,285.21
Actual Airfare: $ 1,102.24
Actual Miles Flown: 2191 (3058 EQM’s with 500 mile rounding)
Yield: $ 0.503 per mile (0.360 per EQM)
Taxes & Fees: $ 182.97, 14.24% of ticket price

The Westin Austin at The Domain

Lobby of The Westin Austin at The Domain

I stay at many hotels, but it isn’t often that one merits a great review and mention. However, The Westin Austin at The Domain is one to recommend and remember.

Although the location of the Westin isn’t in downtown Austin, it’s well worth staying here and driving into Austin, or just enjoying The Domain, the retail and dining complex across the street. I can’t rave enough about the property itself, the restaurant, urban an american grill, and the room.

The service was outstanding. Everyone I encountered at check-in, the restaurant, and around the property were friendly and accommodating.

Brunch at urban an american grill

I loved both the food and the service I received at urban an american grill. I ate three meals there, two dinners at the bar and the Sunday brunch. The food was outstanding, the local beers cold and plentiful, and the wine list comprensive. I was also impressed with one of the bartender’s wine knowledge as she helped me select a wine with one of my meals, a pairing of NY Strip on spinach with Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot.

NY Strip on spinach with Gloria Ferrer Merlot

I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to the executive suite, which was luxurious and well-appointed, with a large living area, one and a half baths, and a large bedroom. My favorite part of the room was Westin’s famous Heavenly Bed. I didn’t want to get out of it either morning I was there. The full bathroom had both a bath/shower and a standalone shower, both with Westin’s branded shower heads. How often do you wish to stay in the shower forever?

The Westin Heavenly Bed

When I return to Austin, I definitely plan to return to the Westin. You should plan your next stay there as well, or I can plan it for you!

TYS-DEN-TYS on United Express June 14 and June 18, 2012

Note: Both flights were UA 6075 operated by ExpressJet on the Embraer 145 (E145, EMB-145, ER-145) regional jet aircraft with only one class of service and no Economy Plus or “premium” seating except for exit row 12.

When I checked in online for my June 14 outbound flight, I discovered I had lost my paid, premium seat assignment and had been moved to 19A. I had to re-select exit 12A. The baggage fee was easy to pay online. I wasn’t offered the option to buy extra redeemable miles or Elite Access.

When I arrived at TYS (Knoxville MGhee Tyson Airport), I discovered the two Uniteds (United/former Continental) still had separate ticket counters, one for DEN/IAD/ORD and one for EWR/IAH departures.

Security was very quick and easy, but I was disappointed that TYS had a full-body scanner.

We boarded by groups. There were a few passengers in groups 1-4, but most were 5-6.  I think I boarded last.

In flight, there was only one beverage service. No snacks or food were offered. I spent the flight reading a wine book I had downloaded onto my iPad from amazon.com. A 2-hour 37-minute flight (1162 nautical miles) was too long without any in-flight entertainment, Internet, or snacks/food for sale. However, my flight arrived on time and baggage arrived promptly at baggage claim.

On Saturday, June 16, I checked my return seat assignment for Monday, June 18 and I had been bumped again to 19A. I re-selected 12A, but it did not take on the website or app. A call to United confirmed I really had 12A. When I checked in at exactly 24 hours out, the website and app said I had 19A, but in reality, I did have 12A, and I prepaid my luggage. Again, I wasn’t offered the option to buy extra redeemable miles or Elite Access.

I arrived at DEN (Denver International Airport) on June 18 and took advantage of curbside check-in, where there was absolutely no one waiting. I tipped the skycap $3 and she directed me to security. I also re-activated my Clear card. The Clear line was shorter than the elite line and there was only a metal detector. I will renew my Clear membership when it comes up for renewal in about eight months.

After boarding by group number, the aircraft was sweltering. The auxiliary power was either not available or not working, so there was no air conditioning until we departed at 10:15 a.m.

One hour into the flight, there was still no in-flight service. Thank God I had the Southwest peanuts and pretzels from my TBEX conference swag bag! Finally the flight attendant showed up with a tray of cups with water, Coke, Diet Coke, or ginger ale. Really? On a 2-hour, 35-minute flight after sweating on the tarmac? I helped myself to two drinks. The flight attendant did not offer any additional service.

Again, I spent the flight reading a wine book I had downloaded onto my iPad from amazon.com. And again, this was too long of a flight with no in-flight entertainment, Internet, or snacks for sale.

In summary, I’d rather connect on my usual airline and save myself baggage and premium seat fees, feel confident about my seat assignment selections, have Internet and/or in-flight entertainment options, and receive in-flight service that includes free and/or paid snacks options.

Grade = C (only because we were on time both directions and I had no baggage issues)

For assistance in planning your next trip, please visit my website.

XNA-MSP-YYC on Delta 10 June 2012 by Bruce

I wasn’t going to write a trip report for XNA-MSP-YYC because I thought it was boring. But I like writing and maybe someone will get some enjoyment from my experience.

As mentioned elsewhere, DL is not my carrier of choice. After switching to CO from US in 2008, I’ve been happy. And now with UA, no problems. But for this weekend trip to XNA, UA wanted $1200 and anything over $1000 has to be approved by the customer. The only way the client’s travel agent (I have a client who has a customer. I’m a third-party provider) could book it under the limit was to break it into 2 one-ways, outbound on AA and the return on DL. So while I don’t get to earn for Mileage Plus, I at least get to refresh the several thousand miles I have in these other two programs.

XNA is Northwest Arkansas Regional and exists mostly to serve Wal-Mart vendors and the few people who work for Wal-Mart that fly commercially (they have a massive private fleet that is based at a regional air strip not far away). Tyson Foods, JB Hunt and the University of Arkansas (Soooooie! Pig!) are the other three very large employers in the area. The airport recently completed construction of an extended 12 gate concourse, complete with jetbridges. Some of the carriers have moved over to these. Very nice, very modern, very spacious, very comfortable with plentiful power and free wifi. Five stars.

The inbound arrived a few minutes late, but the crew turned it quickly and boarding for Group 1 was called manually. With no status, I had a Group 3 boarding pass so I waited out of the way. A few minutes later, my boarding pass was scanned and beeped. I was ready with my passport and I entered the jetbridge with my very small rollaboard. It easily fit into the overhead and I took 10A on this ERJ-145. It’s the same configuration as the CO/UA ExpressJet with one on the left / two on the right and exit row in 12. Barely 25% filled. We pushed back 2 minutes late and were first to depart. Beverage service (half-can) with two bags of peanuts. Hmmm… US doesn’t offer anything with their drinks. AA didn’t offer anything. UA doesn’t offer anything. On the way to the galley after serving the rows behind me, the flight attendant offered me the rest of the can.

The approach into MSP was one of the bumpiest rides I can recall in some time. We managed to get on the ground and stopped about 50 feet from the gate. The captain announced that there was an electrical storm in the area and we would be waiting at least 10 minutes and possibly 25 minutes until the lightning stopped. Looking out the window, I could see the wind pushing the standing water and the rain. The plane rocked from side to side, as we were sideways to the wind. After 20 minutes, still with a bit of storm in the air, the engines spooled up and we finished into the gate.

A very long walk from gate A12 to gate C4, at least a mile with scattered slidewalks and a repeated overhead announcement, “emergency response teams – activate your severe weather plans.” Arriving at the gate, the gate agent was answering questions to passengers saying that there would be a half-hour delay. She didn’t make any overhead announcements. As it turned out, we boarded only ten minutes late in one of the fastest boards I’ve seen. Again in Group 3, but after paging Group 1 and getting no response (I don’t think anyone was ready at this point), she called all rows.

Seat 16A on this ERJ-175 is a two-by-two behind the exit row and behind the wing. Almost all rows were occupied, but my seatmate was too slow to go grab the empty row just in front of us before another passenger got it.

We pushed back 13 minutes late and had a very bumpy climb, which continued for about the first hour of flight. I was surprised to see the flight attendant do beverage service (“Peanuts, pretzels or cookies?”) as she nearly fell down at least twice. Gogo Internet was available for $12.95 which I didn’t use. I tried sleeping or reading but was mostly just bored for three hours from Minneapolis to Calgary (I had no idea it was so damn far). We ended up arriving only six minutes late.

Customs and Immigration to enter Canada, I had my rollaboard and did not have to wait for the carousel.

Summary: Good flights and good service. I really liked that the captain came out of the cockpit to greet (with eye contact!) passengers for both flights (is this normal for DL/DL express?). I thanked the first one for a great approach under what were certainly challenging conditions. Beverage service with a nibble (it’s not quite a snack but much better than nothing) from friendly flight attendants. The planes were clean and well-kept. Wi-Fi on the second segment (a regional!) even though I didn’t use it. An F section on the ERJ-175. Organized boarding. Delta earned an A. They did well.

In the last four months, I’ve flown mainline on three of the legacy carriers. US for CLT-EWR, UA for ORD-YYC and AA for YYC-DFW. DL for XNA-MSP-YYC was not mainline but skywest and Compass. I’m not having second thoughts about my choice to stay with UA out of CLT, but I’m certainly thinking that DL might know what they’re doing.

Total Trip Cost: $ 318.50
Actual Airfare: $ 220.00
Actual Miles Flown: 1648
Yield: $ 0.133 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 98.50, 30.93% of ticket price