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.

Advertisements

Delta versus United: A new Delta frequent flyer’s perspective by Bruce

I have flown fourteen segments on Delta in the last four weeks since I requested that they match my United Gold elite status to Delta’s Gold Medallion. In that time, I have experienced Delta in economy as a non-elite flyer (the status match request took three weeks to be processed) and in the first class cabin (50% upgrades so far). I have also seen how they handle irregular operations.

First of all, economy is about the same on Delta as on every other carrier: zone 4 or 5 boarding, no room in the overhead bins by the time you’re on the plane, small seat pitch, and your checked bags are not the first onto the carousel. That said, Delta’s aircraft (at least the Boeing 757/767, Airbus 319 and MD-88’s) are clean and functional. Longer flights have a beverage service with a choice of peanuts, Biscoff cookies or pretzels. On seven of my eight forty-minute flights between Charlotte and Atlanta, we did not have a beverage service “due to the short duration” and on the eighth, the flight attendants passed out mini bottles of Dasani.

Once my status match was processed, I was upgraded on two of my four segments. On the others, I have received Sky Priority boarding, which is ahead of Zone 1, and when I checked bags, they were yellow Priority tagged and were in the first few to arrive on the carousel.

On one of my trips, there was a ground traffic problem that caused our push-back to be delayed by 45 minutes. During that time, the Captain made announcements every 10 minutes with the status and he apologized for the delay. Arriving late in Atlanta, I missed my connection, which was the last flight to San Diego. Delta gave me a hotel voucher (the agent allowed me select the hotel), $22 in food vouchers, and a small amenity kit of personal care items. I understand that non-elite travelers receive a bit less.

For the replacement flight, Delta booked me in first class (I might have been upgraded, not sure). First class is top notch. On the long Atlanta to San Diego segment, we were served a full breakfast –cheese omelet with sausages and potatoes, a bowl of fruit, a toasted bagel and decent coffee. On a Charlotte-Detroit flight segment in first class, I was offered a pre-departure beverage (I chose a gin & tonic, which came with a squeezed lime), another one in flight (I was offered a third) and the snack basket.

Almost all of my flights had in-flight entertainment. In economy, the movies and TV shows are not free – usually a dollar for a half-hour show or $4 for a full length movie. When I got bored with my book, I watched the free satellite stations  – CNN, ESPN, TNT – and the broadcast networks.

Where is Delta better than United?

Delta’s flights have WiFi, which for many is a big deal but has not been for me. My work does not require that level of connectivity and I can’t justify $15 to surf for entertainment (though Delta’s website is free and they have also had free access to eBay). There are satellite stations on the in-flight TVs. Delta Sky Clubs have better snacks and drinks than United. I am truly sick of the three choices of wrapped cheese and the Walker’s shortbread cookies. (US Airways is an alliance partner of United and their snacks are awful!)

Where is United better than Delta?

I have had a few bumps with Delta’s app for Android where it gets confused with viewing my itineraries. United’s app has more features: you can actually book a flight on it and do basic searches for award bookings. Delta’s app has also gotten stuck a couple of times on loading itineraries and never completing the request. Both have flight status searches, airport maps, and searches for clubs. Searching for flights by schedule and by price is easier on United.com. Delta has hidden the price when I searched by schedule. Channel 9 allows you to listen to in-flight communications with ground control. Delta does not offer this.

So for now, I’m a happy Delta flyer. I would much rather connect in Houston or even Chicago rather than Atlanta. I find Atlanta a difficult airport to change concourses. I found that I needed at least 45 minutes, especially if you’re not in the front of the aircraft. However, Atlanta’s One Flew South restaurant is excellent if you have the time.

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

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

American Airlines: YYC-DFW-XNA 8 June 2012 by Bruce

Fri., 8-Jun
AA694 dep YYC 14:25 arr DFW 19:15 (MD80)
AA2917 dep DFW 20:30 arr XNA 21:35 (E145)

On AA because they were way cheaper than UA. It’s crazy how expensive it is to fly across a border. I wonder how many people aren’t coming to the US because of the taxes.

Calgary has US Immigration and Customs – it only took about 25 minutes. Then security screening, though not the TSA. Initially only magnetometers, anyone who alerts gets to go through one of the “old” ProVision full body scanners. I didn’t alert the magnetometer, but somehow earned a random secondary. They directed me to the machine but I opted out and got a pretty lame pat-down. Into the terminal, decent food options and a lot of comfy chairs. There is an Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge, but that’s not in the same concourse as the AA flights.

I have no status on AA, so my boarding pass was Group 4. Very organized boarding process, they called each of the groups and passengers didn’t rush the line at all. Despite being in the last group, as the flight was only half full, I had no trouble putting my small roll-aboard in the overhead above 21F on this MD-80. Thankfully, D and E never arrived so I was able to stretch out. If they hadn’t, it would have been an extremely uncomfortable three hours with my knees rubbing the seat in front. Once reaching 10,000 feet, I put my seat back and zonked out. When I woke up an hour later, I had missed the beverage service. During cleanup, the flight attendant stopped by, said he noticed I had been asleep when he came by and asked if I wanted anything. Nice touch.

Gogo inflight available. $14.95 for three hours (90 minutes after my nap) wasn’t worth it.

We arrived DFW 25 minutes early. I took the opportunity to visit the United Club in Terminal E. It’s a small one and they close at 7:30 p.m., which I assume is around the time that the last UA flight departs. I had a beer, a few nibbles and then took the Skytrain back to Terminal B. DFW is a massively huge airport – it’s a long ride to go around.

Another Group 4 boarding pass, I was one of the last to board this ERJ-145. It’s the same configuration as the United Express aircraft, but I was in 10A, not 12A. Short flight with a beverage service, we arrived on time. Nothing unusual.

Total Trip Cost: $ 528.10
Actual Airfare: $ 471.16
Actual Miles Flown: 1804
Yield: $ 0.261 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 56.94, 10.78% of ticket price

US Airways: CLT-EWR-CLT 16 Apr-20 Apr 2012 by Bruce

Thanks to my compadre in travel, Bruce, for reviving my blog!

Mon., 16 Apr 2012
US1972 dep CLT 15:10 arr EWR 17:06 (737-400)

Fri., 20 Apr 2012
US1291 dep EWR 13:15 arr CLT 15:09 (737-400)

It’s been five months since I was last on a plane, so I got to the airport extra early to soak up the atmosphere. As is normal at Charlotte, the shuttles from the long term lot bunch up – nothing for ten minutes and then three in a row. I was finally at the terminal at 12:00 where I easily printed a replacement boarding pass at one of the US kiosks. This flight will be credited to Mileage Plus and my Star Gold status meant that it printed with Zone 1.

Security was a breeze with no queue at the B terminal where I used the priority lane even though there was no one waiting in the regular lane. There are still none of the advanced screening devices there, so I emptied my stuff into bins, removed my shoes and belt and pulled my laptop. I did not set off the magnetometer and did not earn any additional screening. The TSOs were friendly.

A 20-minute shoe shine ($5 plus $2 tip) and then I spent two hours in the C/D Club. Free soft drinks and the snacks were good – fruit and a big bowl of pretzels. I liked the individual packs of Milano cookies and grabbed a handful for later.

At the gate (the last one in the C terminal), they were offering $250 vouchers for volunteers. I was tempted, but the next flight wasn’t until 9 PM. Boarding was called right on time with F and then by zone. The gate fleas were not too bad.

Seat 5A in Y is the second row in coach. There was plenty of room in the overhead when I got there but the seat was far from Choice. No premium economy and a tight pitch. A married couple exchanged with a guy across the aisle so that they could have B and C. I did not see any empty seats in the aircraft.

We pushed back on time, were first for takeoff on 36L and there was a beverage service (half can, no lime) that was picked up a half hour later. Decent into Newark was from the north and the landing was good. We were at the gate a few minutes later, which was 14 minutes ahead of schedule. I was out at the taxi stand a few minutes later.

For the return, more of the same. The ID check for the concourse was well backed up, even for priority passengers. That took ten minutes and they pulled a few people forward who were headed to Miami. There was a whole body scanner being used for one of the security lanes, but I bypassed that and went further in where there was not one of those. I did not set off the magnetometer and was not selected for additional screening. Security took about 20 minutes from start to finish.

The concourse where US has its gates is served by an Admirals Club, so I had a sandwich at Phillips Seafood and then waited with the rest of the cattle. Boarding was again F first, then Zone 1. The usual obliviots with Zone 2 and higher were standing in the flow.

Otherwise, the flight was the same. It could well have been the same aircraft as the outbound with the same tight pitch and lack of power or IFE. Smooth flight, half can, and we landed 15 minutes early on runway 23.

Summary: I’m glad I decided to keep my UA status and not return to US. The lack of premium economy, power, and IFE would make this a very uncomfortable flight for anything more than a short trip. There’s no way I could do a transcon in that seat. When we talk about a bus in the sky, this is it. The rest of my flights to Newark on this engagement will be on United metal. Grade: C.

Total Trip Cost: $ 406.10
Actual Airfare: $ 359.07
Actual Miles Flown: 1057
Yield: $ 0.340 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 47.03, 11.58% of ticket price

LHR-IAH-XNA 30 Sep to 1 Oct 2011 on Continental by Bruce

At the end of 22 months of European adventures, this is the return of a trip purchased in August. At booking, I was immediately able to choose exit row seats. I checked the seat assignments and schedule a couple of times over the last few weeks – there was no issue.

CO flight 5 is scheduled for an 11:40 departure. That morning, I received Trip Alerts from Continental at midnight, 06:00, 08:30, 09:40 and 11:25 with notifications that the flight was running late due to a delayed inbound aircraft. Rather than sit in an empty apartment, I chose to stick to my schedule and arrived Heathrow at 09:30.

Quick interview to enter the line for a counter agent (“Did you pack these bags yourself?,” etc.). Check-in was normal and the counter agent helpfully assisted with checking my first three suitcases at no charge, thanks to my Gold status. The fourth and fifth suitcases were each $200. All were well under weight but quite full (almost all of it clothing), so an attempt to compress down and leave an empty suitcase would have been fruitless.

Continental’s presence in Terminal 4 dates back to the SkyTeam days and they have an agreement with the SkyTeam lounge (operated by Etihad Airlines). It’s a large lounge on two levels with a capacity for maybe 250 people. Nicely laid out, it’s usually rather quiet. The standard European features – self-service booze, beers, wine and sodas plus coffee machines. Free wi-fi. Hot and cold breakfast items include yogurt, cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes, baked beans (yep, Brits eat these at breakfast), chicken sausages and bacon. I ate, caught up on some emails and even managed to snooze for an hour in one of the sleep rooms. At 11:30, the lunch items come out and it’s sliced ham and beef pastrami, slivers of cheese and bread rolls.

Boarding started at 13:00 with F. 50 F seats on this 777, so that took a bit. I did see two people turned away. Then elites. As the BP’s are scanned, a brief passport check. A currency interview and random screening (I was not selected) on the jet bridge. I learned that the reason for the delay was a thunderstorm in Houston the previous day – the 777 was diverted to MSY for two hours, starting a chain of lateness that would last for another day.

I took my seat, 16A on this 777-200. The first row in Y, there is a solid bulkhead and the tray tables/video monitors are in the armrests. After boarding completed, we sat in the plane for another 90 minutes while they cleared a mechanical issue: one of the Y toilets was broken. They were unable to fix it, so they sealed it off and we pushed back. Since it happened in the UK, this would be a ‘loo out of order.’

Service in the air was standard and boring – chicken or beef for dinner (served and cleared before we’d even left Ireland air space), no charge for the first drink (I had one of three Heinekens), a few water services, ice cream, pre-arrival sandwich and landing. We arrived at 19:05 (over three hours late) and so I missed my connection.

Immigration was somewhat slow. I don’t understand why people can’t wait in the roped lines and then direct just two or three people in front of each desk. Instead, they line up 8 people deep at each of the desks, which is the most inefficient method possible. The officer, however, was friendly and pleasant. Since my last arrival in the US, I’ve been to England, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands which earned a couple of extra (harmless) questions.

All five of my checked bags were waiting on the carousel with priority tags. I loaded up a trolley and was amazed to clear Customs with this massive stack of stuff and got barely an acknowledgement from the CBP officer as she glanced at my entry form.

At the counter for rebooking, I was first in the elite line where there were 10 people waiting in the economy line. I tried to ignore their evil looks as the counter agent printed out hotel (Hilton Garden Inn) and meal vouchers ($12 dinner, $6 breakfast) because there was a portion of the delay caused by the mechanical. I had missed the last flight of the day, so I was booked on the 10:00 AM and even managed to get 12A. I was thoroughly pleasant and had the agent laughing a couple of times. She said that there had been a couple of very upset people earlier. Before giving over my suitcases, I pulled an outfit for the next day and my dopp kit.

Rather than go straight to the hotel, I used the boarding pass from my missed connection to enter the secure zone (quick security) and went to the Terminal E President’s Club for a beer, some wifi and a short rest.

The hotel was not noteworthy and I was back at the airport at 08:30. At security, I took an opt-out that was professional and 85% thorough. The TSO managed to discover my cheap flip-phone I had forgotten in my pocket that the magnetometer had missed! Up to the Terminal B President’s Club which is now the United Club. All new signage had been replaced overnight. They’d even renamed the wi-fi access point. Same breakfast food items as usual (mini-yogurts, small muffins, bagels and cream cheese).

The flight to XNA was unremarkable – it boarded on time (military personnel called first, then elites). I sat in 12A on this ERJ-145, we pushed back on time, there was a full can drink service, we landed on time, and my five suitcases were almost the only stuff to come on to the carousel. It filled the trunk and back seat of my daughter’s car.

Summary: Irregular operations were handled smoothly and I have no complaints. In flight service was good with a power socket at my seat (that fit both US and UK plugs, maybe others too). The IFE was flawless (Hanna, Fast Five, Source Code and A Fish Called Wanda). It was consistently consistent and completely boring, which is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. Despite sitting in coach, Continental for this trip deserves an A+. The only thing that would have improved my experience would have been an op-up.

Total Trip Cost: $617.05
Actual Airfare: $344.50
Actual Miles Flown: 5272
Yield: $ 0.065 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $272.55, 44.17% of ticket price
Generated by the VanMetric Airfare Info Generator, version 0.11.

Day 8: Travel to West Palm Beach

Day 8 was another travel day, this time from LaGuardia to West Palm Beach on Delta.  The trip was thankfully uneventful, except for a small maintenance delay at the gate. The first officer noticed a small fuel leak, so they ran the engine, and determined the leak was within safe limits, so we departed close to our original departure time and arrived on time. Service in first class on the former Northwest Airbus 319 included beverages, a cold-plate lunch, snack basket, and the option to purchase Gogo inflight internet.

We spent the day at our hotel, the Hilton Singer Island. This was the day of the only negative part of our trip. I became very ill that evening and broke out in a rash from something I ate, most likely the conch chowder I had for dinner, although I don’t know for sure. My boyfriend and I split dinner, which consisted of mahi mahi fish tacos, crab cakes, and the conch chowder, but he didn’t have much of the chowder while I ate most of it.  He did not become ill. Unfortunately, it looks like I will need to be tested for allergies before I eat shellfish again, which is a bummer, because I love all shellfish.

ROA-DTW-JFK-ATL-ROA on Delta 15-17 April 2011

I decided to write this trip report more about the handling of the irregular operations, rather than the in-flight service, because I think Delta responded well to both situations.

I won’t spend time on the Roanoke-Detroit and Atlanta-Roanoke flights except to say that they both boarded by zone, were on time, and were standard Delta Connection CRJ-200 flights, complete with a full beverage and snack service (peanuts, pretzels, or Biscoffs).

When I arrived in Detroit, I visited the main Sky Club in the center of Concourse A.  It has a self-service bar and ample room, as it is a very large club.  It was quite busy the hour or so that I was there.

We boarded the MD-88 for JFK and as we were about to depart, the pilot shut down the engines and performed a “maintenance check.” Then mechanics boarded the flight.  This did not bode well.  About 15-20 minutes later, the pilot asked us to deplane and inquire about alternate flights, because the ground power that starts the plane had experienced a power surge that basically fried the computer system.  As I was waiting to speak to the gate agent, the crew deplaned and announced that we were going to the next gate to board an alternate MD-88.  We quickly boarded and were on our way.  The in-flight service consisted of the usual full beverage and snack basket service.  We only arrived about 45 minutes late.

This morning, Sunday, April 17, I was scheduled to depart JFK at 7:00 am through Detroit.  When my alarm sounded at 4:00 am, I checked my BlackBerry and I had one e-mail and three missed calls from Delta.  My flight had been canceled and I was automatically rebooked for Monday, April 18, which I could not do.  I called Delta and reached a Platinum Medallion agent.  He asked me how close I was to JFK and I said, “I’m close, at an airport hotel.”  He asked if I could make 6:20 am and I said yes, and he rebooked me in full F (first class) and Y (economy) through Atlanta to Roanoke. He finished the call by thanking me for my loyalty and understanding of the situation. I dressed and packed quickly and arrived at JFK Terminal 2 around 5:00 am.  I checked in at a kiosk and there was no line at the Sky Priority security checkpoint.  Delta at JFK does not have the full body scanners yet, thank goodness. I enjoyed a coffee at the iPad/charging station/restaurant located near gate 15.

The flight itself was what I have come to expect from Delta: blankets, pillows, and Dasani at every first class seat, Gogo Inflight Internet for purchase, in-flight entertainment (in-seat, on-demand on today’s 737-800), hot towel service, full beverage service, and continental breakfast (croissant, fresh fruit, cereal, and yogurt).

When I arrived in Atlanta, I enjoyed a couple of the best Bloody Marys I’ve ever had in the C Concourse Sky Club.

Grade = A, in spite of the two irregular operations incidents

XNA-ATL-ORD-CVG-XNA on Delta 7-9 Apr 2011 by Bruce

by Bruce K.

Thu., Apr. 7
DL5083 dep XNA 07:10 arr ATL 09:59
DL1677 dep ATL 10:50 arr ORD 12:00

Planned return:
Fri., Apr 8
DL1977 dep ORD 18:05 arr ATL 21:10
DL5059 dep ATL 22:05 arr XNA 22:57

Actual IRROPS return:
Sat., Apr. 9
DL3225 dep ORD 06:05 arr CVG 08:26
DL6264 dep CVG 09:30 arr XNA 10:22

A last-minute trip for a personal appointment, I would not have chosen this particular itinerary or carrier. I did look online and it was the cheapest fare – AA and UA direct would have been $300 more because it was inside of 24 hours. I was concerned that 51 and 55 minutes might not be enough time to change planes in Atlanta. But it wasn’t up to me – the client travel agency did the booking. At least I was able to credit it to my SkyMiles account, where I have no elite status.

Thursday morning, the taxi to the airport dropped me off at 06:25. XNA is still a sweet little airport with a minimal TSA presence. Magnetometers but no full body scanners. Yet. My stuff and I went through without issue.

Boarding was an “all” call at 06:55 and we pushed back on time. This was a Mesaba-operated CRJ-200 and the seat was a small fit. Beverage service was a half-can and a choice of cookies (Biscoffs), peanuts (dry-roasted) or pretzels. We landed on time in Atlanta and pulled up to our gate at the end of the D terminal. I made it to the gate at A in 15 minutes, which gave me enough time for a coffee.

The O’Hare flight was called on time. One passenger tried to board ahead of his zone and was turned back. My seat was behind the exit row, a window. Another small seat, I really don’t like the MD-88! We pushed back on time, but sat at the end of the taxiway for ten minutes before the Captain announced that we were being held by O’Hare for flow control. He said he was on with the Delta dispatch office to find out if we would go back to the gate or would wait and that it could be as much as 90 minutes. It ended up being 40 minutes of penalty box before we headed to the runway. Arrival was 46 minutes late.

For the return, I dropped off the rental car at O’Hare at 14:30 (the appointment finished earlier than I expected) and the shuttle dropped me off at terminal 2. While eating cheese cubes in a full RCC, my phone rang at 14:53 to inform me that my 18:05 departure was canceled. I called Delta. A pleasant operator (Southern accent) informed me that I had been protected to the soonest available – the next morning. I headed to the gate, but there was no one there. At the nearby SkyClub, where the club angel was able to print a “distressed traveler” coupon and I headed to the Marriott Courtyard.

Saturday morning, 4:00 wake-up call and their shuttle dropped me off at 4:55. A long line of sailors was arriving at the same time to access the USO. All clutching their manila folders and huge duffel bags. And all so young!

Security at Terminal 2 was slow, taking 20 minutes. They switched the line at the last minute, pointing us to the imaging machines. The woman ahead of me opted out and insisted on a private screening. She gathered up her stuff and was led elsewhere. I also opted out, but let them do it there. I was pleasant and smiled so no hassle and no attitude from anyone. The pat down was 90% thorough, narrating what he was doing as he did his thing. I was able to keep an eye on my buckets of stuff on the belt. He did not “meet resistance” and I was cleared.

From this point, everything was standard. Boarding on time by zone, small seat on the CRJ-900 with a wide-hipped seatmate. On time into CVG, where I transited from one end of Terminal B to the other. The gate agent called our flight early, where the 11 of us boarded the CRJ-200. Everyone had a row to themselves. Full can beverage service with peanuts. We landed 20 minutes early into XNA where my taxi driver was waiting for me.

Summary: I was on three different aircraft (2 x CRJ-200, MD-88 and CRJ-900) and all had very small seats, though they were all clean with a noticeable lack of duct tape. Pleasant gate agents and flight attendants. The IRROPS was handled as smoothly as I’ve ever experienced. I was very pleased that the pilot came out of the flight deck to welcome passengers after each of the four flights (where I thanked the ATL-ORD for keeping us updated). Overall grade: B-. I think CO’s planes have bigger seats.

XNA now offers free wi-fi, but ATL, ORD and CVG still do not.

Total Trip Cost: $ 875.47
Actual Airfare: $ 774.58
Actual Miles Flown: 2021
Yield: $ 0.383 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 100.89, 11.52% of ticket price

**Beth’s note:  I checked and the CRJ-200 seat width is comparable to those of other domestic carriers that use that aircraft.  However, the MD-88 seats are narrower than those of American.**