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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My latest trip on US Airways

As some of my friends and followers know, I have a sordid relationship with US Airways. It was my carrier of choice until after a disastrous year of air travel in 2007, where I earned around $1200 in vouchers due to countless incidences of mishandled irregular operations and poor customer service. I went from Chairman’s Preferred to Platinum Preferred to Silver Preferred to non-elite from 2007-2009. I still find it hard to give US Airways my money.

Recently I flew a four-segment, roundtrip award ticket to Providence, RI on US Airways by redeeming Continental OnePass miles. Overall, the travel was just OK. It was very basic transportation. The two longer, mainline segments between Charlotte and Providence were honestly quite boring. There is no in-flight entertainment, no power outlets for one’s own portable electronic devices, no Gogo inflight Internet, and no food at all (free or for sale). There is one pass of the beverage cart.

One incident I found bothersome is that US Airways, like other carriers, sells “Choice” and exit row seats. Before departing Charlotte, a flight attendant invited anyone to come sit in the exit row. There was a lady seated there who had paid an extra $27 for her exit row seat and she was upset that people were invited to sit there for free. In this case, I think the flight attendant was just trying to help people have more room, but what she did was contrary to company policy. The woman who purchased the seat had a right to be angry and she told the flight attendant she would be writing to complain. I don’t blame her. Either sell the seats or don’t sell the seats, but don’t give away paid seats in front of paying customers.

My trip ended with a delayed US Airways Express flight. First we had no aircraft, then no crew, and then we sat on the runway for at least 30 minutes waiting in line to take off. When I arrived at my home airport, my bag didn’t make it, and I had to stop and file a baggage claim. The end result was that I arrived late for an appointment and my bag was delivered five hours later.

My recommendation regarding US Airways is that if you want a no-frills, bare-bones method of air travel, then this is the airline for you. However, if you want more, select another carrier.

CLT-LGA on US Airways Express operated by Mesa 21 May 2010

US 2936 CLT-LGA 6:10-7:53 am Seat 16C Exit Aisle
Actual departure: 6:07 am, Actual arrival: 7:53 am ON TIME

I stayed overnight at a cheap park and fly hotel last night and a friend of mine and his wife picked me up for dinner, which was super nice of them!

I got up at 3:00 am, midnight in Tempe, to check in and maybe get an exit row seat and they were ALL empty, so I snagged 16C aisle, so that was a great relief.

I went downstairs to get my 5:00 am shuttle (the earliest one), and the desk clerk had to go wake up the driver when he didn’t show up by like 5:05 am!  We departed the hotel at 5:10 am and arrived at CLT at 5:15 am, so I was a little nervous getting there that late.  But I was able to get my boarding pass quickly at a kiosk and pass through the C security elite line, both in seven minutes.  In fact, there were no elites in front of me, so I went straight to the front.

I stopped at the D/E Starbucks and said hello to my friend’s son who works there.  I got a regular coffee and a banana nut muffin and I have to say, worst Starbucks coffee ever.  It was way too strong and it should have been freshly made, since it was around 5:30 am.

Anyway, I got my workout in hiking to gate E28.  I hurried to the bathroom near E25, which was closed for cleaning, so I had to backtrack to the bathroom at the beginning of that hallway, then walk back to E28!  By that time, boarding began and I was the only elite to approach in zone 1, on a CLT-LGA morning flight.  Weird.  At any rate, the flight was almost full, the exit rows filled up, and I ended up seated next to one of my friend’s former co-workers.  We talked the entire flight about airline and travel topics.

The in-flight service was a full beverage service and snacks for sale.  I had orange juice.

The most interesting part of the flight was the final approach to LGA.  I am not sure why, but ATC had this pilot going all over the place.  It was almost like we made a few S turns and finally ended up making the approach from the south, with Manhattan on the left.  After we landed and were deplaning, my seatmate asked him about it and the pilot laughed and said, “They kept telling me to turn here, go back here, etc.!”

Anyway, I can never give a CRJ-900 flight an A, because my derrière hurt after that, but I will give the flight a B+ otherwise. Kudos to Mesa: it was the best Mesa experience I’ve ever had.