CLT-XNA on US Airways by Bruce

Allergy season in Northwest Arkansas and the Mrs. has had it develop into pneumonia and my daughter is also unwell. So when I got a call Thursday evening, I dropped my weekend plans and burned some miles for a last minute flight. Booking the award on united.com was easy and fast – 25000 miles and $5 for a direct partner flight on US. [I’ve since learned that with my Gold status, it should have been $25.] During booking, I was offered the itinerary for $346.10 if I wanted to buy it with cash. I was at the airport 90 minutes later.

When printing my boarding pass, in addition to the usual “destination weather and highlights,” I was offered tick boxes for Sudoku and crossword puzzles (with the answers on separate sheets). Nice touch!

Parking shuttles at CLT are hit-or-miss. Sometimes, it’s quick. Sometimes, it isn’t. I missed the first one that was just arriving when I parked as I had to run back to my car for my phone. The next one was 10 minutes later and I was the only one boarding in the Long Term 1 lot at 21:15. The ticketing concourse was quiet with a dozen or so people in line at one of the US counters and no one elsewhere. Security gates A & B were closed and there were 10 passengers in the line at C. There was no one in the “preferred” line and I was not queried for my status. The TSO scanned my boarding pass, glanced at my ID and I stepped into one of the three scanning lines.

When directed to the AIT, I opted out. The TSO had me regather my items from the belt before they went into the scanner and sit in the chair (penalty box?) for a few minutes until the “male assist” arrived, still putting on his new gloves. He put my two bins and two bags back on the belt in front of another passenger (not very politely) and I went through the magnetometer without alerting. Standard “enhanced” pat down. All told, ten minutes from entering the queue to putting my shoes back on.

I stopped in the US Club with my blue “United Club” card for a drink, but there were five people already waiting to catch the bartender’s eye. I bailed, grabbing a bag of “sweet potato” chips and 6 packets of Milanos. The D/E corridor was busy in the opposite direction with arriving passengers and this is the first time I’ve been down the E concourse in at least a year. [Is that a new international arrivals TSA scanning station at the top of the escalator?] No other changes – the slidewalks were working and I stopped next to E27 at the combined Salsarita’s / Burger King for a burrito. I got to listen to the CLT-AVL being weather delayed at the next gate while I ate.

My flight was called on time with a warning about how boarding works by zone. I was prepared and with Zone 1 on my boarding pass, I was the first to board the aircraft. This gate has one of the “regional jet” jetbridges, so we were not outside. I left my yellow-tagged rollaboard at the door. Seat 3A on this CRJ-200, I was fortunate that a seatmate never boarded allowing me a reasonable amount of comfort.

Our flight attendant was super excellent. Truly top notch. I’ve never seen an FA ensure that ALL of the passengers were paying attention to the safety briefing and he achieved this with humor and a great outgoing nature. “Welcome aboard US Airways to Rio de Janeiro. Oh… wait. Sorry!” and “The word of the day is ‘unencumbered’.” Professional, but engaging. If I had an Above and Beyond certificate, I would have given it to him. Instead, I wrote a compliment on usairways.com. The highlight was his spot on lip-sync to the recording while he demoed the equipment. He got a full round of applause and took a bow at the end.

Lights dimmed, we were third to go on 18C. Half-can service with buy-on-board. Smooth flight, we were 12 minutes late as we had to zig-zag around two weather systems. There was also a slow loop over XNA for some reason after which we landed smoothly and taxied to one of XNA’s new gates. Gate checked bags were brought out with the usual idiots blocking the way in the jetbridge.

Summary: I can’t complain much. I was transported safely and in a timely manner to my destination. US did what they do just fine. If I had had a seatmate, it would have been uncomfortable for two hours. But I didn’t and with the great FA, US gets a B+. 25000 miles for an 800-mile roundtrip is a lot – I could have gone to SEA or SAN for the same “price.” Even a “Saver” award to LHR is only 50000.

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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

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.

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

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.**

CO: XNA-IAH-LHR 30 Dec 2010 by Bruce

My daughter dropped me off at XNA a little late – 2:45 for a 3:35 departure. That’s not usually a worry at this large regional airport which continues to grow. They’re adding another above-ground concourse and several more gates with jetbridges here for AA. AA is the only carrier flying other than regional jets here, with a single MD-80 service to DFW. XNA still doesn’t have the millimeter wave scanners, just magnetometers. After my two laptops went in separate bins and I went through without alerting, I was randomly selected for a palm swipe. No worries there.

Boarding was on time and I had managed to upgrade to 12A (exit row) on this ERJ-145 when I checked in via the CO iPhone app. I’d guess 70% full. We pushed back on time, were the only plane moving so we were wheels-up two minutes later. Beverage service was a full can. Descent into IAH was very bumpy with a few stomach-jumping drops and two crying babies through a very firm cloud layer.

Between the gate and the President’s Club, I read from the screens that LHR was delayed. Once I could get online, pda.continental.com informed me that the inbound was 90 minutes late, so I made myself comfortable in the club and waited it out. Standard club offerings – wrapped cheese, crackers, cheese spread, etc. I had a couple of the draft Heinekens while web surfing. There were several announcements made about the delay on the overhead and then we were informed that boarding would start soon.

Our 18:35 departure was delayed to 21:00. At the gate, the usual gate fleas and boarding was done with the boarding pass scanner/gate things. I didn’t see anyone turned back. When boarding the delayed flight, everyone was issued a “Customer Care Kit” which contained a Continental Currency drink coupon and “Travel Discount Coupon” for a 10% discount off a future flight. F, then Elites. I was in 17A, the second row in the back on this 777. We pushed back at 21:16 and were first in line for departure a few minutes later. In-flight entertainment was decent and I managed to find two car-crash/shoot up movies I was interested in watching in between meal services. An amazingly cramped seat, more so after last week’s upgraded AMS-ORD and my wife’s Christmas meals. It’s been a good few months since I wasn’t in a bulkhead or exit row for a transatlantic flight and my legs complained the whole way. It was very confining and I was not able to get comfortable enough to sleep. Seven hours in, I had to disturb my seatmates to visit the lav.

We landed LHR runway 9 left, three hours 18 minutes late and had a long taxi around the western perimeter of the airport until we got to our gate at the south end of T4. We were held just short of the gate because the automated docking system was broken and a gate marshal had to be called over. Ten minutes later, we drove in the remaining 100 feet and parked. No issues at immigration. This was my first time using my new UK passport. The queue for non-EU citizens looked to be at least an hour, but as a local I had no queue. There was an automated scanner/video camera barricade thing, so I didn’t even have to interact with a Border Agent.

Summary: The same as every other transatlantic CO flight I’ve been on (this was my 11th), seating, food, in-flight entertainment, on-board staff, all good. Grade: B+. Other than the delayed inbound from London that caused a delayed outbound from Houston, a very consistent experience from CO.

Ticket purchased 11 days in advance:
Total Trip Cost: $ 948.20
Actual Airfare: $ 497.00
Actual Miles Flown: 10544 (XNA-IAH-LHR-IAH-XNA)
Yield: $ 0.047 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 451.20, 47.58% of ticket price

I’m really hoping that post-merger, the new United brings Economy Plus seating to the CO fleet. It’s also sad that 14 seats in F went empty on this flight.

XNA-DEN-IAD-LHR on United 8-Nov 2010 by Bruce

The purchase process was okay, but it could be improved. I don’t like having to click on each itinerary to see the price. I think US actually does this better. I was looking to maximize EQMs so I spent a few dollars more for a slight zig-zag itinerary, picking up an extra few over my usual XNA-IAH-LHR route. As expected, United.com allows you to enter your OnePass number but I had to call in to get Economy Plus seats without the upcharge. With only a week until departure, seats were poor and I ended up in a middle seat for the DEN-IAD leg.

I arrived at XNA at 8:20 am for the 9:35 am departure. I had to see gate agent so that he could check my passport as the machine wouldn’t print a boarding pass. I wonder how this might have worked if I’d printed the boarding pass at home?

CRJ-200 from XNA to DEN. No seat on this piece of crap is any good, but 1A was particularly bad – a bulkhead with no cutout and the tray table in the armrest. We pushed back at 9:25 am, 10 minutes early. Drink service was cash only for beer and wine.

About 15 minutes into the flight, the plane made an unexpected ‘jig’ to the right which spilled my drink. Captain came on after and said it was a “mountain wave” which seemed particularly odd as we were over eastern Kansas. About as flat as it gets.

At Denver, I popped into the Red Carpet Club East. Nothing special, only cereal and milk at 9:30 am. I think the CO Presidents Clubs have better food options, even if they never change the choices. The club was right next to my IAD flight, so a short walk. Boarding was called on time and started with Zone 1. Since I was 33rd for the upgrade, I figured I was out of luck. Even still, the overhead bins were full from 1 to 12 so mine went over 13. When boarding was complete for a full aircraft, all bins were full and at least 10 passengers had to gate check. Our IFE on this 757 was overhead TV screens, showing an episode of The Office and then a strange movie, Flipped. I watched it anyway and then did the Channel 9 thing, which always interests me.

We arrived at IAD on time but taxi’ed for ten minutes. There was just enough time for me to hike from C to D, pop into the RCC to try my wi-fi (unsuccessfully!) and then arrive at the gate where 1K was being called. Then Zone 1 and I was on board.

A decent sized plane this time, a 777. I landed 20J, the aisle of the first bulkhead with excellent legroom. I could see into Business class which had cocoon seating, some of which was reversed. I’m not sure if I would like sitting backwards.

We pushed back on time and I tuned myself into the flip-out IFE. Only 6 movies available on the “free” options, which was disappointing. I still found two movies I hadn’t seen before – Salt and Inception – before an hour and a half of Channel 9. It was really interesting to hear the different carriers and their obvious accents. AF sounding very French and LH sounding German of course, but compared to those, I could really hear the Texas in the CO Captain and the Southern drawl from DL.

There was no food on the CRJ, just pretzels. The domestic flight was BOB – the Apple and Cheese plate was okay. On the International flight, I had chosen the kosher meal as I’ve heard those are usually fresher than the regular meals. It was Chicken and pasta, and compared to the small chicken breast my neighbor had, a good choice. Salad and a big chocolate brownie. For breakfast, the kosher meal was a well frozen bagel with cream cheese that had separated and a cup of OJ that was a single block of ice. A complimentary serving of wine was offered, which I accepted. Redwood Creek’s 2009 Cabernet. Decent, considering the plastic cup.

We landed on time in cold and wet London, where I almost get through Immigration! The Border Agent noticed that I’ve been coming over here for a year on my 6-month visa, but I fortunately had the letter from the Passport Agency with my appointment for my UK passport, as I am now a dual citizen. Whew!

Summary: B+. UA does a decent job and I don’t see a whole lot of difference between the domestic or the International flights compared to CO. The food was decent on the plane, though the President’s Club in Houston had better food choices than the Red Carpet Club East in Denver. The IFE is better on the CO International flights. I’d fly them again, I suppose.

Note: My UA tickets were “S” class, and I was pleased to see an unexpected 25% bonus EQMs in my OnePass account.

Total Trip Cost: $ 957.20
Actual Airfare: $ 781.20
Actual Miles Flown: 5745
Yield: $ 0.136 per mile (Decent, considering they were only 7 days out)
Taxes & Fees: $ 176.00, 18.39% of ticket price