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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Trains, planes, TSA, and exit row seating compliance

Yesterday could only be described as a comedy of errors of sorts.

I arrived at Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TN/VA), checked my Wine Check without incident, passed through security, checked e-mail, etc. Boarding was announced for the plane, which was a few minutes late arriving. Pre-boards and people needing extra time boarded first. I saw one lady board. Zone 1 was next, so I boarded and discovered the pre-board seated to me in the exit row, which I thought was probably not appropriate if she needed extra time to board. I wondered why the flight attendant didn’t notice and switch her with somone else. During the exit row spiel, she even said, “I didn’t even know I was in the exit row, but I will do whatever I need to do.” The flight attendant’s eyes lit up, but she still didn’t move the passenger. I tweeted, “‎@Delta Why is a special assist pre-board in the exit row?” and one of the @DeltaAssist team send me a private message asking for the flight information, so they could follow up.

We departed and it was the longest 45 minutes of my life, as this 65-year-old woman (yes, she told me her age) with some sort of nerve battery implant (why she was a pre-board) told me about her entire life, family, and how she ended up on the flight. She had missed her delayed US Airways flight because despite having medical documentation of the implant, was subjected to not just a secondary search, but one behind the curtain, a full-on, comprehensive body search. She appeared frazzled and shaken from it all, and told me she hadn’t flown in years. I felt sorry for her and at the same time thought, “This passenger should not be sitting here.” Once we landed, I told her to see a gate agent and to check the monitors in Atlanta to obtain to her connecting flight gate. Incidentally, she had shown me her other boarding pass and she was also seated in the exit row on that flight.

I wished her safe travels and visited the Delta Sky Club before heading to my departure gate. Unfortunately, when I boarded the train to my next concourse, it was declared inoperable, so we had to disembark and walk to our concourses.

Once at the gate, we boarded and were ready to depart at 5:40 p.m. when two mechanics boarded. The pilot announced that the forward lavatory was broken, but would be repaired quickly. The mechanics exited and the gate agent tried to shut the door, but it appeared jammed.  It took about three people to finally get it shut and we backed away from the gate. This was a 757-200 with individual in-flight entertainment at all seats, so one of the flight attendants turned on the safety video. It froze, so the flight attendants scrambled to find seatbelts and face masks and gave the fastest pre-departure safety presentation I’ve ever seen. We departed about 25 minutes past the originally scheduled departure time.

After all of this, my trip settled down. I used coupons to purchase a snack box and beer and enjoyed Gogo Inflight Internet on my iPad until we landed 31 minutes early at LaGuardia. My Wine Check, priority tagged and marked fragile, was the third bag to arrive on the carousel.

Day 11: Dear Delta

Dear Delta,

I am a frequent flyer of 14 years and I love to travel, but travel days like August 15 are exhausting, stressful, and exasperating. May I say that I am glad to have a month off from air travel?

On a positive note, I would like to offer my praise to the pilots and flight attendants of the flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. They performed above and beyond under conditions beyond their control. I especially appreciated the lead flight attendant who came to each first class row and thanked us for our loyalty, business, and patience. Sincere appreciation can do a world of good.

However, that being said, my travel day with you was very frustrating.  Our inbound plane at LaGuardia arrived late, so we boarded and pushed back late. The weather in the area was not good, so we spent an hour or so on the tarmac waiting to depart. Just as we had been given clearance to depart, the pilots discovered an electrical problem with the navigation system, so we lost our place in line and had to return the gate. We spent almost two hours on the plane waiting for maintenance to determine the problem, locate the part, and replace the part. We pushed back again and spent another hour waiting to depart due to weather and air traffic control. In total, we spent almost four hours aboard the plane and never got anywhere. That was followed by a two-hour flight with the usual inflight service: beverages, lunch (well, it was almost dinnertime!), on-demand inflight entertainment, and optional Gogo Inflight Internet.

During the mechanical delay, we were told that agents were working on rebooking us. I must advise that your personnel should only say that if it is true. I always proceed with caution and check for myself. I discovered that my itinerary hadn’t been touched, so I contacted my boyfriend prior to departure and asked him to have Delta back me up on my connecting flight. By the time we reached Atlanta, I had missed two possible connections, was on standby for another, and was confirmed on the last flight of the day. I must request from you to never subject me to a six-hour LGA-ATL flight again, OK?

Our plane arrived at concourse E and it was a sign to spend time at One Flew South, where I enjoyed their amazing chicken noodle soup and a glass of 2010 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc.

I headed to the gate of the standby flight and luckily, I was cleared to board. Amazingly, this flight went off without a hitch, nor a wait on the runway, and we arrived at Tri-Cities (TRI) early. Even my bag made it.

In closing, I’d like to say thank you for the crew on the first flight and the good connecting flight. I am still exhausted, but perhaps a bit less exasperated today.

Sincerely,
Beth

Day 4: Travel to Richmond, VA

This is my first WordPress for BlackBerry post! I hope it works!

I redeemed 25,000 miles for my trip to Richmond so I wouldn’t have to drive 10 hours roundtrip for a 12-hour conference. The only available outbound was the last itinerary of the day, so I booked it with the intent of standing by for an earlier option. However, today nothing earlier was for sale. I arrived at TRI and discovered my outbound was already delayed. As I was coming down the escalator toward the gate, the agent invited passengers on my flight to take the delayed, earlier flight if no luggage was checked, so I took it. Although it departed an hour and 15 minutes late, it was a good decision, as I would have misconnected otherwise.

My connection ended up taking a delay because the crew was on another flight that was diverted due to the storms. However, Delta found another crew. We departed 49 minutes late and arrived only 17 minutes late. I was very lucky.

TRI-CLT-SFO roundtrip on US Airways 11-14 July 2011

This was a 50,000-mile first class award ticket redemption booked on continental.com. It was very easy to research and book and I was able to find the US Airways record locator by entering my flight number and passenger name at usairways.com. I was automatically assigned seats according to my preference (aisle).

The day I was scheduled to depart, I went to check in for my TRI-CLT flight and usairways.com wouldn’t let me. Then I checked my BlackBerry and my first flight had been canceled, according to the Tripit Pro alert I received. Since I am affiliated with a travel agency, I called the US Airways travel agent center to be rebooked. Luckily there was another flight option I could take so that I could make my original connection to SFO. However, I was never notified directly by US Airways that my flight was canceled.

The rebooked first flight was rather uneventful, except that it was blazing hot on the Dash 8-100 prop plane. The flight attendant said that US Airways almost canceled that flight due to the heat. It was in the 90s on the East Coast and she indicated that maintenance would be waiting on the plane upon its arrival in CLT. To help compensate for the heat, she offered us an unscheduled beverage service.

Upon arriving in CLT, I spent my time waiting in the club until I received a Tripit Pro alert, not a US Airways alert, that my flight was delayed until 6:40 pm. Around 6:10 pm, I headed to the gate and when I arrived, the gate agent announced that there was a weather/ATC delay into SFO and that he had not received any updates from operations except that the flight’s wheels-up time was estimated to be 8:45 pm. However, he advised customers to stay in the gate area. 6:40 pm came and went with no further updates, so I returned to the club and hoped that I could rely on my Tripit Pro alerts to keep me informed. When I reached the club, I overheard another passenger on my flight asking the club agent the CLT-SFO flight status and the club agent promised to contact the gate and monitor the flight. After that, there was no further information about the flight provided. The flight even dropped off the departure board, as operations neglected to keep the ETD current.  Finally at 7:45 pm, the club agent announced that customers should go to the gate for an 8:00 pm boarding time. The flight did board around that time and we pushed back and headed toward the runway. However, just short of the runway, the pilot announced that the plane was overheating and we had to return to the gate. We spent another hour at the gate while the plane was repaired and finally took off around 9:40 pm, three and a half hours late. In-flight service in first class consisted of two dinner choices and beverage service. There was no pre-departure beverage, no hot towel service, no snack basket, no in-flight entertainment, and the Gogo Inflight Internet was inoperable. It was a long five hours to SFO. We arrived three hours late. My bags arrived after about a 45-minute wait.

My return was scheduled for 7:25 am July 14. This was the one, near perfect flight of the trip. I was able to check in quickly and pass through the security checkpoint by way of a first class/elite line. I was not chosen for the full body scanner, but instead the metal detector, because apparently there was a problem with the scanner and the agent called for someone to “recalibrate it.” We boarded on time: specials, first class, then by zone. There was no pre-departure beverage service or snack basket service, as catering did not provide snacks. However, the Gogo Inflight Internet worked, the in-flight beverage service was plentiful, there was hot towel service prior to the meal, and there was a choice of two breakfast entrées. We arrived early, but were given an arrival gate change at the last minute, so we arrived at the new gate a few minutes late.

I hurried from gate B13 to E29 for my connection.  Around our scheduled departure time, 4:12 pm, the gate agent announced a delay until 4:40 pm due to a late-arriving crew. Finally the crew arrived, we boarded, and we took off close to our delayed departure time.  There was no in-flight service, but the flight attendant did have time to sit and chat with one of the passengers.

Upon arrival in TRI, my two bags, tagged Star Alliance Priority, arrived as scheduled.

Grade = C-

*Only one of four flights was not canceled or delayed; customer service and communication regarding the canceled and delayed flights were poor; there was simply nothing to do on the CLT-SFO flight with no in-flight entertainment and inoperable Gogo Inflight Internet. The saving grace was the one on-time flight.

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.

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.

TRI-ATL-LGA-ATL-TRI on Delta 11-13 Feb 2011

What a near-perfect trip!  All flights departed on time and arrived either early or on time.  The service can be summarized as follows:

1.  TRI-ATL and ATL-TRI:  In-flight service was by request only since the flights are only 40 minutes, so both directions were uneventful.  On the return, the flight attendant called out Delta elites by last name and thanked them for their business, then proceeded with the usual announcement about SkyMiles and how one can earn miles and status.

2.  ATL-LGA:  Since the flight was after 8:00 pm, service in the first class cabin consisted of a full pre-departure beverage service and a full in-flight beverage and snack basket service.  Pre-departure drinks were served in plastic, while in-flight beverages were served in glass.  Gogo Inflight Internet and television entertainment were available.  All seats in first class were “adorned” with a red Delta blanket, bottled Dasani, and earbuds for the in-flight entertainment.

3.  LGA-ATL:  Service in the first class cabin consisted of a full pre-departure beverage service and a full in-flight beverage and lunch service.  The meals on this flight were a sandwich with potato soup or a salad with potato soup.  The salad had grilled chicken, Romaine lettuce, carrot and celery sticks, tomato, radicchio, real bacon bits, and a choice of dressings: blue cheese or ranch.  No cheese, for my lactose intolerant friends! Both meals came with a pre-packaged brownie for dessert.  My only complaints about the meal were that the chicken was dry and the white wine was bad.  Again, pre-departure drinks were served in plastic, while in-flight beverages and the meal were served in glass and real dinnerware.  Gogo Inflight Internet and television entertainment were available.  All seats in first class had the same red Delta blanket, bottled Dasani, and earbuds for the in-flight entertainment.

While in ATL, I noticed that the gate areas has the new recharging stations that Delta is installing at all hub and major airport gate areas.  At LGA, the Sky Club renovations are nearing completion.  This time, the old Northwest club side was open, with new seating and a new bar.  The club should be quite large when the old Delta section reopens.

Grade = A

Thanksgiving Travel on US Airways

Wed., Nov. 24, 2010:
US 2370 departing TRI at 1:00 PM arriving CLT at 2:02 PM CRJ Seat 4D aisle
US 1490 departing CLT at 4:11 PM arriving LGA at 6:00 PM A321 Seat 22D exit aisle (Thanks, Tad!)

Sat., Nov. 27, 2010:
US 2181 departing LGA at 4:00 PM arriving DCA at 5:16 PM E190 Seat 12C exit aisle (Snagged when I checked in Saturday)
US 3109 departing DCA at 6:30 PM arriving CLT at 7:56 PM E175 Seat 7D aisle (There are no exit rows on the E175)
US 2559 departing CLT at 10:35 PM arriving TRI at 11:31 PM CRJ Seat 4D aisle (But I moved to 3C to have a row to myself)

My trip report is very brief. All flights operated on time and arrived either early or on time, except for my LGA arrival, which was only about 15 minutes late, as the flight boarded very slowly due to many pre-boards (imagine that on Thanksgiving Eve)! All flights were full or nearly full except for the CLT-TRI late last night. The service in coach was very basic on all flights:  complimentary beverages, alcohol for sale (except the Shuttle flight, where beer and wine are complimentary), and snacks for sale, except for the legs in and out of TRI, which are beverages by request only. There is no IFE, as you know. The CLT-LGA flight had Gogo Inflight Internet for purchase, which I used. The flight attendants were efficient and professional, but not friendly. The friendliest was one on the A321, the one who sat in the jump seat facing my row. I did not receive beverage service CLT-LGA due to some turbulence and the pilots asked the flight attendants to discontinue service. I checked a bag both ways and it arrived as scheduled. First class on the shuttle was offered for $50, but I declined, as I knew beer and wine were free anyway, it’s a short flight, and I knew I was going to sit in the exit row.

I visited the LGA, CLT, and DCA clubs with my Continental Presidential Plus MasterCard/Presidents Club membership. I appreciate the quiet and free Wi Fi, but I don’t like that only certain beers and wines are free and others are for sale. The freebies included Beringer Merlot, Beringer Chardonnay, Bud, and Bud Light in the LGA club.

Grade = B+, good service, but nothing above and beyond and no in-flight amenities except Gogo Inflight Internet on one flight.

TRI-ATL-LGA Roundtrip on Delta 24-26 Sept 2010

This was a 25,000-mile award ticket and I was upgraded both ways as per Delta’s new award ticket upgrade perk for Gold and higher frequent flyers (stolen from Northwest). I checked in both directions using Delta’s new iPhone/iPod Touch app.

The flights were typical, very good. The flights between TRI and ATL are by request only service. The flight attendants both directions did come through the aisles seeing if passengers wanted or needed anything.

I discovered the first flight of my itinerary was delayed when I went to check my itinerary on delta.com. So I rushed to get ready and headed to the airport. I called Delta on my way to see if I could get on the earlier flight and I did. Just as soon as I hung up, Delta both called and e-mailed me with my changed itinerary.

On my ATL-LGA flight, I was on a refurbished Northwest 757-200 (N) 5500 series. It had the new leather seat covers, but still had the foot rests. I also had Gogo Inflight Internet, but no IFE or power. The in-flight service consisted of the snack basket and beverages only since it was after 8:00 pm.

On my return LGA-ATL, I was on one of the nicer 757-200s with the in-seat in-flight entertainment system and power ports. I also had Gogo Inflight. Service included pre-departure beverages, hot towels, lunch, and beverages.

When I landed in ATL, I had an e-mail from Delta saying my connection was delayed, so I proceeded to an agent upon deplaning and was confirmed on an earlier ATL-TRI flight.

I must say that Delta serves me very well and they do seem to be trying to improve their recent DOT ratings. They have a new ad campaign and the Red Coat customer service agents have returned.

Here are the links to their new video ads on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/DeltaAirLines#p/a/u/0/o2Ltz8d16kE

http://www.youtube.com/user/DeltaAirLines#p/a/u/1/lpie7-lhok8