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!

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UA/VS: XNA-ORD-LHR 24 June 2011 by Bruce

A sufficient amount of time has passed so that I can calmly relate the trip I booked with my Continental miles for my wife to visit me in the UK. I’ll start off with the opinion that it was a disaster so that you can accept that this is a complete rant and also understand my state of mind.

I booked the trip on continental.com using my own miles and somehow managed to get it to see my OnePass number, even though the booked passenger was my wife. This allowed me to select exit row seats for her before it timed out and caught up. Only $175 and 80,000 miles for the round trip, it was the same itinerary that I had flown a few weeks back and included 12A on the ERJ and Upper Class on the A340. I really wanted her to be comfortable and relaxed for the week-long visit.

Original outbound itinerary for Friday, 24-June:
United (UA) flight 5927 departing XNA at 10:26, arriving ORD at 12:10
Virgin Atlantic (VS) flight 40 departing ORD at 18:00, arriving LHR at 08:00

All was well until 08:00 GMT (02:00 CDT) when I got an automated call from United, informing me that the initial outbound was cancelled and a new flight had been booked. I hit the buttons to be connected to an agent and got a thick and incomprehensible Indian accent. I hung up on him and dialed back in, getting someone I could understand. The 10:26 flight was cancelled (no reason) and I was rebooked on the 06:00 flight. There were alternatives that routed through Houston or Newark, but there was no first class availability on the segments to London. If I wanted my wife to fly in first, she would now have an 11-hour layover in Chicago (instead of the six that was accepted).

By this point, it is approaching 4:00 AM in Arkansas and I’m sure that there are alarm clocks set to wake up for the 10:26 flight that is now cancelled. After an hour of urgent texts and voice mails to both my wife and my daughter, I finally got a bleary answer. My daughter was able to wake up my wife (who had only gotten to sleep two hours before) and she promised that they would make the earlier flight. Fortunately, she was already packed.

My wife was dropped off at the airport at 05:15 (for the 06:00 flight) and was able to get the UA agent to print a boarding pass for the UA flight, but she was unable to do so for the VS flight. She had also lost 12A on the ERJ-145, getting 17C.

My wife is not a travel expert, so when she got to Chicago she first went to the Virgin America (VX) desk for the boarding pass and they were of course unable to help her. She then made it to Terminal 5 and was not able to find a Virgin Atlantic desk. She called me, upset. It turns out that ORD is a seasonal destination for VS and they only share the Korean Air desk. Korean was unable to help her obtain a boarding pass and said that the VX staff would not turn up for another three hours. I tried to check her in online, but the site reported an error and said I needed to speak with an agent.

Here’s where it could have been saved but the disaster only continued. I was able to call a Virgin agent who refused to talk to me about the booking, citing UK data privacy laws. Even though I had booked the ticket and I was the one paying for it, she could only talk to the booked passenger! Argh! I got my wife on a three-way call to authorize me. (I should mention that at this point, her phone is on minimum battery.) With that formality complete, the agent apologized but said that that there was nothing she could do. She was unable to help me print the boarding pass and was also unable to create one herself. Only an airport agent could do so. They had apparently reached the limit on the number of check-ins that could be completed online. And even though my wife was booked in Upper Class (which I repeated several times), she could not help. She said that it wasn’t her fault that my wife was too early in Chicago and that the website could not be overridden to print a boarding pass. My wife was now stuck, landside without a lounge, for three hours. Not a whole lot of power or comfortable seats in Chicago, as you may know.

Three hours pass and the VX staff turned up and printed the boarding pass. They also took pity on my wife and provided her with a pass to the BA “First” lounge. Hooray, maybe things are improved? An hour later, I get an email from my wife. She got into the lounge, found a seat near an electrical outlet, got a soda and some snacks and finally got comfortable. Just as she’s about to bite into what looks like a delicious snack, the Lounge Manager comes over and says “Ma’am, you’re going to have to leave. The lounge is full and we have to give priority to BA passengers.” Embarrassed beyond belief, she leaves with everyone staring and makes her way to the Scandinavian lounge which is by now jam-packed. Eventually finding a bar stool (all the good seats are taken), there are signs posted apologizing for the catering problem but they only have paper plates and plastic cutlery. Seriously, WTF.

After spending some time perched on a stool drinking a cool (not cold) soda and some warm (not cold) snacks, she made her way to the gate and was able to board. From this point forward, everything goes as expected. VS Upper Class takes fantastic care of her, she had a very comfortable, relaxing flight and arrives in London without further issue.

Summary: Flight cancelled and replaced with one four hours early, no boarding pass or gate staff to provide one, getting tossed out of one lounge and getting crap service in the other, and an excellent flight. I’d have to rate this experience as a D-. I won’t say that I’ll never fly VS or use miles on them again, but I’ll certainly never book my wife on that carrier ever again.

LCY-GVA-PRG-ZRH-LHR 21 June-23 June 2011 on Swiss by Bruce

My team’s quarterly meeting was in Prague this week. Several direct British Airways flights from LHR, but I wanted Star Alliance miles and I also wanted to arrive into PRG before noon so that I could catch a 14:00 walking tour. The only option was a 06:50 departure from LCY (London City) on LX (Swiss). Because it takes me 2+ hours to get to the other side of London, I spent the night at a Travelodge near the airport and was able to walk over and arrive at 06:15 for the 06:50 departure. Security was magnetomers only. Swiss-like timeliness – boarding was organized. No jet bridge, we walked 20 yards to the Avro RJ100. I had 8F with no middle seat passenger. Surprisingly quiet, despite being right next to the engines. Good legroom. The seats on the right side seemed to be installed too far to the left. There was a three inch gap between the arm rest and the wall which made for really comfy leg and shoulder room.

In flight service was a pre-wrapped muffin and a drink tray with water, coffee, wine and Coke or Diet Coke. We landed 10 minutes early under sunny skies and were shuttled from the aircraft to the terminal in a bus. Swiss immigration took 10 minutes, followed by a long walk to the other part of the terminal. I made a quick stop for souvenirs and then a bus to the plane. It turned out to be the exact same aircraft and the same crew. And my same seat!

We pushed back on time and were wheels up a few minutes later. In-flight service was a cheese sandwich (not individually wrapped) with same limited drinks. After cleanup, the crew passed through the aircraft with a chocolate basket. Swiss Air-labeled chocolate bars. I greedily took two and saved one for the Mrs. We landed in Prague 15 minutes early. There was no immigration and I was out to the taxi stand a few minutes later.

For the return, I went with the electronic boarding pass option. I arrived PRG at 13:45 for 14:50 departure. Very quick security took only two minutes with six baggage scanners open and three magnetometers. The combined SkyTeam/Star Alliance lounge was open with salads sandwiches and and other nibbles. Self-serve beer, wine and a soda fountain. At the gate, boarding did not start until 14:35 (it was scheduled for 14:20). Very un-Swiss! Worse, it was a gate rush. They did let a special assist passenger go first at least.

The aircraft was a Fokker 100 operated by Contact Air with Star Alliance livery. Doors closed at 14:45, ten minutes of waiting and then wheels up at 14:56. Very nice legroom and super great recline – 5 inches back. I slept the entire one hour flight. Zurich was an apron stand with shuttle bus.

I found the Swiss Lounge at Zurich even though I only had five minutes. They had drinks but no food with a voucher for only one hour of free wi-fi. I stole a bottle of beer but had to toss it at the security line because I wasn’t going to guzzle it and also I didn’t have an opener. Magnetometer that I did not alert. (Which was odd, because I found my camera battery in my jeans pocket later.)

The gate area was a zoo. Very crowded. Boarding passes were scanned and that led into a corral that in turn went to a shuttle bus that went to the apron. We climbed up a flight of stairs onto an Airbus 320 that soon became completely full. Extremely small seat, 9A. Absolutely no legroom and a tight fit with a middle seat passenger. 90 minutes I could handle, but more than that would have been very uncomfortable and cramp-inducing. Again with the sandwich service and a plastic cup of soda followed by the chocolate basket.

One completely new feature on this aircraft. After the safety video, the screens remained down with a live view from a camera that must have been mounted on the landing gear doors. We could see out the front of the plane as we taxied and then a look down at the ground after takeoff. At altitude, this switched to a boring slideshow of Swiss Air offerings and such, changing back to the ground over London and then Heathrow runway. Me likey!

Summary: Good service and three out of the four seats were very comfortable only to be completely lost on the final leg. I do understand using the shuttle bus instead of a jet bridge to maximize airport space, but it doesn’t respect elites very nicely. Boarding could use some Swiss efficiency. Decent lounges. Final score: B.

Total Trip Cost: $ 308.82
Actual Airfare: $ 110.40
Actual Miles Flown: 1727
Yield: $ 0.064 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 198.42, 64.25% of ticket price

TRI-ATL-LGA, LGA-PWM-LGA, LGA-ATL-TRI on Delta, June 2-6, 2011

This is going to be very brief. I flew six segments on Delta and Delta Connection June 2-6 and all of the flights were consistently good, even the flight with the mechanical delay at the gate (ATL-LGA on June 2, a 757-200). The pilot kept us updated every 20-30 minutes, the flight attendants served us snacks and drinks, the plane was kept cool, and we had full use of our portable electronic devices. A few passengers asked to deplane to try to get on another flight and were accommodated. The pilot went back to coach at one point and spoke to some who were getting restless, which I thought was a nice move. I believe his gesture and explanation caused some of them to stick it out. We were at the gate about two hours, from boarding until pushback. Once we departed, we received Delta’s consistently good service in the air. I am glad that the pre-flight safety check yielded a leaky hose in the hydraulic system BEFORE we took off, the TOC (Technical Operations Center) had the part(s) needed, and the mechanics repaired the leak quickly and safely. I received a survey about the delay a day or two later and completed it, saying the delay was handled as well as could be expected.

LHR-ORD-XNA-ORD-LHR on United and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class 13 May to 16 May 2011 by Bruce

Fri., May 13
UA949 dep LHR 12:20 arr ORD 15:18
UA6063 dep ORD 18:00 arr XNA 19:43

Mon., May 16
UA5927 dep XNA 10:21 arr ORD 12:02
VS40 dep ORD 18:00 arr LHR 08:00 (+1 day)

This trip was outside my usual rotation (my daughter’s Master’s degree graduation ceremony), so I paid for the tickets instead of my employer. Rather than spend $1200+, I opted to use miles. CO’s super-saver was 55,000 miles for the RT in Y but they also offered some partner fares. Since Tuesday was a work day, I chose the VS seat in Upper Class for an additional 25,000 miles, totaling 80,000 miles (plus taxes and fees).

The UA 767-200 LHR-ORD (2-3-2) in Premium Economy did not have power outlets in the seats and the IFE was 8 channels on a rotation. Four-inch screens were mounted in the seat back area. Channel 9 had a loud whine that made it impossible to enjoy. I watched movies on my iPhone instead and plugged it into my laptop to recharge until that too was drained. For dinner, I chose the cheese ravioli.

The departure from ORD to XNA was delayed by a half hour due to a late inbound, but it was communicated well at the gate. The ERJ-145 XNA-ORD was completely full and 12A is still a great seat. Beverage service only. Otherwise, the three of the United flights were boring and without any memorable or noteworthy comment. The Red Carpet Clubs I visited in Chicago were also unremarkable other than being very busy.

For the return, the only itinerary that lined up with the Virgin Atlantic flight gave me a six-hour layover in Chicago. I spent it at the SAS Business Lounge in Terminal 5. ORD terminal changes are outside security, so I rescanned. All four security lines led to full body scanners (the one where you stand between two blue boxes) and I politely said “I’m not going through that!” The TSO was polite, thorough and complete – he briefly brushed up against ‘resistance’. I then spotted that there is no food in T5 and decided not to leave because I would have to be rescanned.

Terminal 5 does have lounges – Star Alliance (and Virgin Atlantic) are in the SAS Business Lounge. Self-serve alcohol and beer (Carlsberg Export, Sam Adams and Miller Lite) with sliced bread, smoked cheese and sliced turkey plus sliced red and green peppers and pickles. I made a couple of sandwiches. Free wifi worked well. Plenty of chairs and power outlets (as well as three Mac desktops), so what was left of my layover passed quickly.

And then the fun begins! Boarding for the 18:00 PM departure started at 16:45. They called Upper Class and I was prepared so I was the first passenger to board. A left turn and down to seat 3K on this A340. Upper Class is an angled seat (with personal IFE) that converts to a 180-degree lie flat bed. Three seats across with two on the left separated from the one on the right by a three-foot wall. Extremely polite (and very attractive) flight attendant offered me a pre-departure champagne that I allowed to be refilled once. On reaching altitude, I asked her to help me convert the seat (including the “mattress” and duvet from the overhead bin). I slept for about four hours (through dinner) and woke at 5AM. It was still too soon for breakfast, so I sat at the bar (yes, there’s a three-seat bar!), drinking sparkling water and chatting with the flight attendant for a bit before heading back to my seat. I chose the “Full English” breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms and tomato, served with a toasted croissant) with two cups of excellent coffee.

If I wasn’t planning on going to work immediately after arriving, I might have chosen to partake more of the champagne or tasted the “guest” vodka and mixed drinks. The amenity kit included a shoe bag, eye mask, ear plugs, flight socks, toothbrush and toothpaste. I was also offered a sleep suit (like a track suit) but declined.

Great smooth landing at Heathrow and Economy passengers were held so that the Upper Class passengers were allowed to deplane first. The usual mile-long hike to border security. The non-EU citizens queue was backed up and looked like at least an hour. The EU citizen line moved faster and only took 15 minutes. I had no checked baggage (in fact, I traveled with only my backpack) so I was on to the Heathrow Express train to Paddington moments later.

Summary: United’s flights were comfortable and unremarkable. The seat in Economy Plus was good, but there was no power outlet. Food was good and there were sufficient drink and water services during the long flight, full can on the regional jets. Grade: B. The Virgin Atlantic flight was top notch. Absolutely excellent, but possibly influenced by Upper Class service and a superior flight attendant. I can’t imagine paying three times or more than the regular fare for Upper Class but two times in miles was quite reasonable. Grade: A+ with extra credit.

Notes: Seat Guru’s review of the VS configuration is correct. You want to sit in the middle of the section, away from the bar (chatty passengers and clinking glasses) and away from the lavatories. I’d also recommend the right side seats with one across as there is less foot traffic compared to the left side which has two across.

Total Trip Cost: $ 173.20 and 80,000 miles
Actual Airfare: $ 0.00
Actual Miles Flown: 8949
Yield: $ 0.019 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 173.20, 100.00% of ticket price

There’s something in the water at Delta, and I like it!

There’s something in the water at Delta and I like it.

I flew four segments this weekend on Delta and Delta Connection and not only were the flights early, but the customer service was impressive.  And by service, I just don’t mean what the employees did, but how they did it and what they said. Every employee I encountered was genuinely friendly and customer-centered.  I was addressed by name on board and in the Delta Sky Clubs.  In fact, on my last flight, the flight attendant came to my seat, asked me if I was Ms. Smith, and personally thanked me for being Delta Gold Medallion.

On my flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta, the lead flight attendant was dressed in the pink uniform, to honor mothers on Mother’s Day.  She received applause from the passengers, and she continued to tell us that she had four grown children and had opted to work so that mothers with young children could enjoy the holiday.  Then she proceeded to tell us that if we had ever mentored a child, then we, too, were like mothers.  Wow.

At the end of the flight, she, too, thanked all Delta Medallion passengers for their loyalty.

On both flights today, the flight attendant introduced the crew by first and last name, and told us where they were based.

On Friday’s flight from Atlanta, the flight attendant recognized the military passengers and thanked them for their service.

On all flights, the pilots and flight attendants thanked passengers one by one for flying Delta as they were deplaning.

I am not sure if it’s the bottled Dasani or what, but I am loving the kindness that Delta employees are offering to passengers.  Kindness and respect are infectious, so I hope it continues.

London-Heathrow to Basel, Switzerland on BMI 27 April to 1 May 2011 by Bruce

A huge thank you to my frequent traveler friend, Bruce, for contributing great trip reports from abroad!

Wed., April 27
BD161 dep LHR 07:15 arr BSL 09:50

Sun., May 1
BD168 dep BSL 20:30 arr LHR 21:05

A holiday was declared for the royal wedding, so I decided to take advantage of the long weekend. When BMI sent me an email offering fare sales, Basel was a good choice because a) it was cheap, b) there was a Marriott where I could use points, c) the Swiss have a culture of speaking English, and d) there was much to see in a city and country I’d never visited.

BMI’s purchase process is simple enough and I booked for an early Wednesday departure and a late Sunday return to maximize my time in Switzerland. My alarm woke me up at 04:15 and I was on the way, arriving at Heathrow at 05:45 for the 07:15 departure. Security was simple and I did not alert on the magnetometer. I did see a full-body imager off to the side that was not being used. (In the UK, if you’re selected you can either refuse or not fly. No pat-down option.)

BMI has two lounges in Terminal 1 – “The London Room” for domestic and Ireland destinations and “The Great British Lounge” for international departures. I was in the former for Dublin in January, this time I was in the latter. It’s a very large lounge with lots of seating and power outlets at every chair and table. Not much for food, a couple of pastries and a big cauldron of porridge available with golden syrup. Coffee was good. And as at most of the European lounges I’ve visited, self-serve alcohol and fridges full of assorted mixers. A great view of 9L, right at the taxiway where the aircraft finish decelerating and head to the gates. I kept hoping for a 380, but the 330s, 340s and 747s kept me entertained. I still think BA’s livery is top notch and the planes are always bright white with no peeling paint. *cough* US *cough*

I headed over to the gate at 06:30, where passports were checked again against photos and boarding was called for special assist and elites. It was a gate rush though 47 passengers left a lot of room on this A319 with a capacity of 130. I had 6A with the row to myself. Legroom was fair-to-good and seat width was reasonable. We pushed back at 07:20 and were wheels up at 07:27.

In flight, a sandwich (mushroom and cheese ciabatta) and a small cup of soda. I was pleased to see that Voyager (the BMI flight magazine) had a full article on Basel, so I took it with me for reference. We landed ten minutes early. Swiss immigration was easy as an EU citizen and I was off to explore the city. As with most of Europe, BSL has excellent public transport and Bus 50 goes into town for CHF4.00 (about $5). Basel is wonderful and five days was sufficient, including a day trip to Zurich for lunch with a colleague.

For the return, my tired and sore feet brought me to the airport at 17:30 for the 20:30 departure. BMI does not have their own counters or kiosks at BSL, they partner with LX. Swiss has a “Gold” Star Alliance line, so I was able to skip the queue of 20 people to get my boarding pass. Security was slow and could use some efficiency. The elite line was marked for F customers only. It took about 40 minutes for me to clear the magnetometers, as the security officers were “helping” and checking BP’s/passports on the land-side, which slowed the queue.

The Swiss Lounge was near my gate. Quite possibly the best designed lounge I have visited. Panoramic 360-degree view of the entire airfield and enough space for 200+ on three levels. Showers, quiet areas, computers, telephone cubicles and I was given a voucher to access the wi-fi. The self-service food, spirits and beer were okay.

I headed to the gate at 19:45 and cleared border control without issue. Boarding was again a gate rush despite directions in German, French and English. We pushed back five minutes late but landed 15 minutes early. In flight, a veggie sandwich and a cup of soda or juice. We disembarked onto a jetbridge and then were loaded onto a bus for the 10 minute drive to UK immigration. I had not checked my rollaboard in either direction, so there was no wait for luggage.

Summary: A great yield as BMI has low prices to introduce flights to this new destination. Excellent lounges. Comfortable seating, even in Y. The flight attendants and gate agents were friendly and otherwise unremarkable. On-time departures and arrivals. I’m pleased that there is still a free snack on board. Grade: A-. The only demerits were the boarding process (carrier controllable) and the bus to the international arrivals area (not carrier controllable). BMI is an excellent Star Alliance partner and I would be happy to fly them again.

Total Trip Cost: $ 139.20
Actual Airfare: $ 56.64
Actual Miles Flown: 896
Yield: $ 0.063 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 82.56, 59.31% of ticket price

Notes
– Even though the gate agents at both airports gave instructions in English and German (and French at Basel), the flight attendant safety instruction was only in English.
– UK taxes and fees are Out. Of. Control. £12 UK air passenger duty, £9.60 UK security and noise charge, £23.60 UK passenger service charge. I don’t see how BMI can make a profit (or even break even) on £35.40 for a 900-mile roundtrip.
– BSL (Basel EuroAirport) is in France and is operated jointly by the French and Swiss with separate border control depending on which way you’re headed.

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.**

TRI-DTW-RIC on Delta 30 March 2011

I arrived at TRI to find out my flight through Atlanta had just been cancelled. I approached the agent and Delta had already proactively rebooked me on the 12:10 pm flight to Detroit (DTW). Unfortunately I lost my upgrade, as both flights were regional jets operated by Comair and Pinnacle.

The TRI-DTW flight boarded promptly and quickly. We departed seven minutes early and arrived 55 minutes early. The flight is blocked at an hour 48 minutes, but it’s only an hour from takeoff to touchdown. I was seated in the exit row aisle with no seatmate. We had a full bev and snack service and the flight attendant addressed me by name.  She also passed through the cabin again with more snacks.

Because we arrived so early, I was able to catch my breath, recharge, and make myself a drink at the self-serve bar in the Delta Sky Club.

I had been assigned a window seat (my preference is an aisle), but when I inquired at the gate about row 1, which is usually blocked for special assist passengers, 1B aisle was available, so I took it. This flight also boarded promptly, but was a bit slow backing away from the gate and departing DTW. We departed about 20 minutes past scheduled departure and arrived in Richmond (RIC) about 10 minutes early. On this flight, I had an “Up in the Air” type seatmate (he even resembled George Clooney! Sigh…) and a full snack service. My seatmate and I had a good time discussing travel, Europe, and wine (of course)! Upon arrival, I deplaned, visited the ladies’ room, proceeded to baggage claim, and my bag was already going around the carousel.

Grade = A+.  Delta handled the cancellation well and the service on both flights and by the ground personnel was outstanding.