Mr Cranky Goes to Washington on US Airways (Trip Report)

As mentioned yesterday, I was in DC last week to speak on a panel. Transportation was provided on US Airways, so it gave me an opportunity to do a few things I haven’t done in a long time. First, I flew Mesa. (That’s not something I’ve done in a long time.) Second, I flew US Airways long haul. And third, I flew into National. I love that airport.

Landing at DCA 2

So why did I fly Mesa? I needed an early flight, and knowing that I would only be back for less than 24 hours from my previous trip, I couldn’t justify an even earlier wake up call just to go to LAX. I needed every extra minute I could get. It turns out, I almost took a couple minutes too many.

As usual, I checked in online and then left home an hour before my flight. Only this time, I got there and saw a long security line snaking back into the terminal, almost as far as the ticket counter. This wasn’t good. There were a lot of nervous faces in line. I was curious what the heck was going on, and I found out when a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) came by to check on America West Interior on Mesathe line’s length. Apparently, another TSO was late so they could only open up one lane instead of the normal two. Great.

It took nearly 30 minutes for me to get to the front of the line when the guy checking IDs stopped me. I’m not sure why, but any time I print out a US Airways boarding pass (my wife has flown them a lot recently), the top part is blacked out except for the barcode while the bottom part shows everything. (Yes, I’ve tried this in multiple browsers.) This time, the TSO decided it wasn’t a valid boarding pass. I disagreed. So he called his supervisor over who said that since it didn’t have my name on it, it couldn’t be valid. I politely but firmly pointed out where my name was. She then decided she had to go to the gate to ask the US Airways people if it was valid.

She finally came back and said it was ok, so I made it through. With five minutes to spare, I walked on to the airplane, but I wasn’t the last. We took a five minute delay while others behind me ran to the airplane.

February 22, 2011
US Airways 2762 Lv Long Beach 645a Arr Phoenix 910a
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 21, Runway 30, Depart 5m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B9, Runway 7R, Arrive 3m Early
N915FJ, Bombardier CRJ-900, US Airways White Colors, 100% Full
Seat 3A
Flight Time 55m

This flight was a blast from the past. The first thing I noticed when I boarded? All the America West “bug” logos still adorned the bulkhead and the seats. I thought Mesa was supposed to update its interiors? America West hasn’t existed in over five years, so clearly this airplane had seen better days. The seats were worn, the cushion had lost a lot of its, um, cushion, and the elastic was gone in the seatback pockets. Combine that with the fact that Mesa’s seats Misaligned Windoware almost all misaligned with the windows, and you have a pretty nasty interior experience on this airplane.

Fortunately, the airplane itself worked just fine. We jumped up into the morning sun and winged our way toward Phoenix. The flight attendants came through and served drinks. I promptly spilled my ginger ale all over the only pair of jeans I’d brought on the trip. Great. Now I looked like I peed my pants and it felt awful. Once we landed, I got up and immediately headed toward the bathrooms. Even though I only had a 45 minute layover, I had to try to dry off a little better. Somehow, Phoenix is the only airport on earth that doesn’t have dryers in the bathroom. It was paper towel-only. So my saggy pants and I headed toward our connecting gate.

When I arrived, I saw that someone I knew from my America West days was working at the gate. We talked for a couple minutes until the last few people boarded, and then I hopped on.

February 22, 2011
US Airways 44 Lv Phoenix 947a Arr Washington/National 359p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate A19, Runway 7L, Depart 19m Late
Washington/National (DCA): Gate 42, Runway 1, Arrive 17m Early
N832AW, Airbus A319-132, US Airways White Colors, ~99% Full
Seat 14A
Flight Time 3h26m

I wish I could say that we were on our way and airborne within a few minutes but it wasn’t that easy. The captain came on and told us that maintenance was on its way. That was followed by a collective sigh throughout the cabin. He did, however, tell us not to worry since they’d probably just write up the problem and order the part from Toulouse, or some place like that. Funny guy. Turns out one of the plastic Onboard Foodwindow rims had seen better days, so they replaced it and we pushed back.

Then we sat. And sat. This is rush hour in Phoenix and the taxiways were jammed. It was actually frustrating that the pilots didn’t tell us anything during our 40 minute taxi delay. We could see airplanes passing us on parallel taxiways and we weren’t moving. Having already had maintenance on the airplane, there was concern that there was some more work to be done. But it turns out that they were just using two taxiways. They filled ours up and then filled the next one up. We soon enough passed in front of all those airplanes that had passed us on the parallel taxiway earlier and we headed off toward DC.

This is a route that I know well. Before Senator McCain worked his magic to get America West a couple of nonstops from Phoenix, I used to go back and forth to school at GW via America West’s Columbus mini-hub. This flight brought back a lot of memories.

We had a quick flight time with a stiff headtailwind, so it made the fact that there was no movie on this flight (or any US Airways domestic flight) slightly more palatable. (It still bugs me a lot, though.) The only thing I wanted to do was eat, but they ran out of the sub sandwich way in the front and even the cheese plate was gone by the exit row. The rest of us in the back half of the plane were forced to forage for leftovers. I had pretzel M&Ms and chips and salsa.

The one New DCA Terminalthing I can say is that the service was excellent. The flight attendants were constantly going up and down the aisle with water and collecting trash. It was actually some of the most attentive service in coach that I’ve seen in a long time.

Soon, we were descending into Washington. I had picked my left-side window with the hope that we would do the river visual approach from the north, but the winds forced us to come from the south. I missed the great views of the District and instead just stared at farmland.

Less than 2 days later, it was time to come home. I got to National very early so I could spend time at one of my favorite airports in the world. In fact, I may write another post about the airport soon. After spending a while roaming the halls, I went to board my packed flight home.

February 24, 2011
US Airways 267 Lv Washington/National 1030a Arr Phoenix 140p
Washington/National (DCA): Gate 39, Runway 19, Depart On Time
Phoenix (PHX): Gate A28, Runway 26, Arrive 10m Late
N823AW, Airbus A319-132, US Airways White Colors, 100% Full
Seat 11A
Flight Time 4h54m

The jet bridge was overflowing with people and the line was barely crawling. Not long after boarding began, it was announced that the bins were full. They at least had printed out barcoded bag tags so that when bags had to be View of Main Terminal Waiting Areachecked, people could feel comfortable that they were in the system. I opted to keep my bag with me and either hope for an overhead space to squeeze in or just stick it under my seat. There were a couple crevices for my bag up top, but none near my seat, so I just stuck the bag under my feet and killed my legroom.

A storm was coming but it hadn’t hit DC yet. We took off into the clouds and didn’t break out for about 2.5 hours. It was a little bumpy so the captain kept the seatbelt sign on that whole time. We finally broke out and I was able to run to the bathroom.

Once back at my seat, we had about an hour of calm before the seatbelt sign came on, the engines were throttled back, and we started descending at the same time. With 1.5 hours left, we weren’t close enough to Phoenix. Either we were diverting or this was a turbulence-evasion move. Fortunately, it was the latter, and our descent from 36,000 to 30,000 feet must have been to find smoother air. It worked, because we just had a few small jolts along with some light chop.

The next time we descended, it was for our uneventful landing in Phoenix. I spent the weekend there and drove home with my wife afterwards, so that was the last flight on this trip.

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