Trip Report: Breezing Into Dallas and Phoenix

If it seems like it’s been a long time since my last trip report, it’s because it has been. I haven’t been on a plane since December, believe it or not, but it’s about to get a lot busier. Last week, I had to be in both Dallas and Phoenix, so it was time to hit the road. And the theme for the week was . . . wind.

First up, Southwest flew me out to Dallas, as you’ve already read on this blog before. Thanks to the kooky The Dreaded Paper TicketWright Amendment settlement, I can now get a ticket from LA to Dallas on Southwest, but I have to stop somewhere. And thanks to Southwest’s antiquated travel pass setup, I had to actually go pick up a paper ticket at the airport. I haven’t done that in a long time. For an airline that handles e-ticketing so well, this was really surprising. I was at the airport the day before, so I picked up the ticket and checked in for my flight. Yep, with these paper tickets you can’t check in online either.

I decided not to have a repeat of my last Southwest trip, so I wanted to get the airport early this time. Even stranger, I decided to take public transit. I’ve always shied away from taking public transit to LAX because it doesn’t go directly into the airport, but this gave me a good chance to try it. Two trains, a shuttle bus, $2.50, and about an hour later, I was there. That’s only about 30 minutes longer than driving.

The line for security was long, but I didn’t care at this point. I made it through and went to the strange gate 2 which is wedged in on the side behind the US Airways club. The waiting area was packed, so I assumed this was going to be a full flight. I was right.

March 23, 2009
Southwest #41 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1015a Arr El Paso (ELP) 105p
LAX: Gate 2, Runway 24L, Dept 15m Late
ELP: Gate B4, Runway 22, Arr 5m Late
Aircraft: N611SW, Boeing 737-3H4, Canyon Blue Colors, 100% Full
Seat: 22A
Flight Time: 1h18m

I was a middle B number due to my late check-in, so I watched as people walked onboard. The flight was oversold, but they found plenty of volunteers. I did get on and happily grabbed one of the last windows toward the back. As usual, it Southwest Winglet Over Palos Verdeswas a quick taxi and we were airborne, but the effects of the previous day’s storm were still being felt. It was a bumpy climb into the clear blue sky, and people actually gasped around me at some of the drops. But the winds meant that we had a beautiful day in LA. You can see Palos Verdes and much of the Santa Monica Bay at right.

Once we were at altitude, it was an easy flight over. Nintendo’s PR guys recently sent me a DS along with the puzzle game Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and I have to admit that it made the time fly by. Once we descended toward El Paso, the winds started howling to the point where our approach made our LAX departure look like it was calm. Of course, we landed safely and taxied to the gate.

March 23, 2009
Southwest #41 Lv El Paso (ELP) 125p Arr Dallas/Love Field (DAL) 400p
ELP: Gate B4, Runway 26L, Dept 7m Late
DAL: Gate 6, Runway 13L, Arr 2m Early
Aircraft: N611SW, Boeing 737-3H4, Canyon Blue Colors, ~99% Full
Seat: 11A
Flight Time: 1h06m

The best part of a Southwest through-flight is that once everyone gets off, you have your pick of seats. There were actually 42 passengers traveling through to Dallas, but I was able to snag 11A, the revered exit row window seat. We loaded up and got on our way. I’m not sure how they decided to build this airport, but as we turned on the runway, I noticed our nose was pointed directly at a mountain. We took off into the chop and then turned around for our ride to Dallas.

Again, it was an uneventful flight of about the same time, but by the time we got to Dallas, it had clouded up. The captain had the flight attendants button up a little early because once again, there were strong winds. This one was a piece of cake compared to our El Paso adventure, and I tried to get my lay of the land as we went toward the gate. See, this was my first trip to Love Field.

I’ve already written about my excellent boondoggle with Southwest here. I stayed an extra night to have dinner with a friend, and flew out way too early the next morning.

March 25, 2009
Southwest #703 Lv Dallas/Love Field (DAL) 750a Arr Albuquerque (ABQ) 840a
DAL: Gate 7, Runway 31R, Dept 2m Late
ABQ: Gate A5, Runway 3, Arr On-Time
Aircraft: N375SW, Boeing 737-3H4, Canyon Blue Colors, ~50% Full
Seat: 4F
Flight Time: 1h31m

During my tour of the airport that day before, I checked myself in. I had an A number for my first flight but a B for my second. Bummer. I actually thought about doing an old-school Southwest run by flying to Lubbock, then Albuquerque, but I decided I’d just skip Lubbock and connect in Albuquerque instead.

This flight was relatively light, and I had plenty of room to spread out. It was cloudy most of the way until we left Texas, and then the blue skies opened up and we descended into Albuquerque, where the winds were surprisingly not bad at all. I had to quickly hop off in order to make my short, 25 minute connection.

March 25, 2009
Southwest #483 Lv Albuquerque (ABQ) 905a Arr Phoenix (PHX) 925a
ABQ: Gate A8, Runway 8, Dept 7m Late
PHX: Gate C7, Runway 8, Arr 10m Late
Aircraft: N629SW, Boeing 737-3H4, Silver One Special Colors, ~99% Full
Seat: 15B
Flight Time: 54m

Once I got the new gate, boarding hadn’t even begun, so I looked around for a seat. Not finding one nearby, I wandered to the window and saw that we were riding on Silver One, the plane celebrating the Honey Roasted Peanuts are Backairline’s 25th anniversary. It appears to be Gray One these days instead of Silver, but I’m told that was done for paint reasons.

This flight was packed, and I got stuck in the middle next to a fairly big guy. Fortunately, it was a short flight and I filled myself with honey roasted peanuts (at left). I tried to sleep but I couldn’t, so I just read. I finally started to doze but then it was time to descend and I didn’t get much sleep at all before landing.

While in Phoenix for the aviation symposium, the winds really kicked up. It got so bad on Thursday night that the airport was actually shut down for awhile. Sadly for us, we had an outdoor dinner that night. It didn’t go as well as they would have hoped. By the end of the weekend, I was ready to get home.

I bought my ticket home on United for $59, as mentioned before, and after later finding out the flight was oversold, I felt lucky to get it for so cheap.

March 29, 2009
United #6321 Lv Phoenix (PHX) 850a Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 1016a
PHX: Gate 3, Runway 7L, Dept 1m Late
LAX: Gate 83, Runway 25L, Arr 6m Early
Aircraft: N959SW, Bombardier CRJ-200, Gray Colors, 100% Full
Seat: 6D
Flight Time: 1h4m

I fully expected that a Sunday morning during the busy March season was going to be insane, so I got to the airport extra early. As usually happens in situations like this, I didn’t need to. I hadn’t flown out of Terminal 2 in Phoenix for many years, and I was happy to see that they gutted the restaurant on the west side and created a much more functional security area than existed in the past. It wasn’t necessary today though, because I just sailed through.

With time to kill, I popped open my laptop and blogged. Kudos are definitely due to Phoenix for offering very fast and free wi-fi throughout the airport. Once I found a power outlet, I was happy. Our plane arrived on time, and we boarded what was my first 50 seat regional jet in awhile. It was just as cramped as I remembered.

The flight itself was uneventful, but it was annoying. You know when there’s a high, thin cloud layer and you happen to just sit in it the whole time? That was what happened to us. For someone who likes to stare out the window like me, that was a true bummer. We descended into LAX as the clouds cleared out, but then we came down through the marine layer before touching down a little early at Terminal 8.

I walked out and took a strange side door that dumps you at the east end of the arrivals level, my wife picked me up, and I was on my way home.

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