DelAAyed by Mesa and Its Tired and Worn Interiors (Trip Report)

For this year’s Phoenix Aviation Symposium, I was asked to moderate a panel about the customer. I’ve always enjoyed that conference, so I knew I’d go but didn’t book flights until a couple weeks out. Fortunately, I saw award availability on American’s Long Beach – Phoenix flights for the dates I needed (7,500 BA Avios each way) and jumped on it. The downside? Mesa is the still the sole operator of those flights, and the experience is subpar to say the least. Both of my flights were delayed for maintenance (though my return had a double bonus of also being delayed for crew reasons), but that wasn’t my biggest issue. I was mostly angry at how bad Mesa managed the delay information and how worn the aircraft interiors are.

Broken Mesa Armrest

I had to be in Phoenix for an evening cocktail event to kick off the conference, but I decided to go in earlier so I could spend some time with my nephew at the pool. (This was at the Phoenician and there’s a great kids area there.) Things were going well until my first delay notification came in. The airplane broke in Phoenix and they hoped it would arrive at 101p (scheduled at 1154a). With the hilariously-short 10 minute turnaround shown in the system, we’d be half an hour late. That sounded impossible, however, and I figured we’d leave closer to 130p.

Since our departure time was clearly a work of fiction, I continued to watch the flight from Phoenix to see how that was faring. Departure time slipped from 1035a to 1130a and then to 1230p. It quickly was moved up to 1210p and I figured maybe that meant they had solved the problem. By 1240p, the system was still showing a 1210p departure with no updates in sight. Then, the departure time moved to 1225p. (Yeah, that’s right. The estimated departure time was proactively moved to be 15 minutes before the current time.)

Finally it slipped again until 1250p and that proved to be accurate with an estimated arrival in Long Beach of 159p. Our departure? 201p. Give me a friggin’ break. If there’s one thing an airline can do to make delays more tolerable, it’s provide timely and accurate delay information. Mesa is the one that updates the system on its flights, and it failed miserably in this case.

The good news for me is that I’m so close to Long Beach airport, that I didn’t have to leave home until I knew the airplane was in the air from Phoenix. I figured we’d leave around 230p so I left for the airport at 130p. Once again, the Pre Check line was closed, but this time the area was pretty empty anyway. I got my silly laminated boarding card allowing me to keep my shoes on and then I had time to kill in what looked like a very empty gate area.

Empty Long Beach Gate Area

The airplane arrived and that’s when the Piedmont-employed ground staff stepped into high gear. As people started to deplane, the agents began boarding our flight. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, but they just scanned our boarding passes and held us outside while the last people exited. Then they let us go and we headed up the ramp. There was a sense of urgency, and I really appreciated that. When the gate agents understand that delays are painful and try to hustle, it makes it easier to accept the situation. Kudos to the Piedmont staff (and yes, I told American they did a great job).


May 9, 2016
American Eagle 5687 Lv Long Beach 1240p Arr Phoenix 204p (operated by Mesa)
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 3, Runway 30, Depart 1h34m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B19, Runway 26, Arrive 1h18m Late
N907FJ, Bombardier CRJ-900, Ugly Flag Tail, 25% Full
Seat 14A, Coach
Flight Time 58m

There was one smiling flight attendant up front when I boarded and then a grumpy looking one in the back as I went to take my seat. Once again the Mesa merry-go-round of configurations meant my assigned seat wasn’t what I expected. I had chosen 14A which, on the seat map, is a non-reclining seat in front of the exit. Instead, it turned out I was in the exit row on a different configuration. That may sound good, but I’m not a big fan of the exit row on these airplanes. Yes, there’s a ton of legroom, but the seat cushions are really terrible and the armrest doesn’t come up. (And as you could see above, it was broken.)

This airplane was vintage Mesa. It might have looked all shiny and American-y on the outside, but on the inside it was the usual scuffed and worn interior that makes you wonder how much money they’re spending on maintaining these airplanes. It’s pathetic, and I don’t know why American allows it.

I looked up and realized that this was one empty flight. As people hopped on, they announced there were only 38 people booked and everyone would have their own row. By the time boarding finished, I’d have been shocked if there were more than 20 people. Toward the end, they just told people to take any open seat. Like the gate agents, the flight attendants acted like they were in a hurry to make up for the delay. I thought about moving my seat, but I didn’t want to slow us down.

Quarter Full Mesa CRJ-900

In the end, the turn took… 17 minutes! Yes, it wasn’t a full flight, but that was still impressive. The pilots were trying to make up time as well, and we seemed to be on the runway in no time. We took off and climbed through the scattered remains of the marine layer. It felt like the pilots were hand-flying and they were having fun with this extremely empty and light airplane.

Port of Long Beach

The flight attendants came through and served drinks. American’s free snack was also handed out (pretzels). I know it’s a little thing, but I do like that freebie. I could see the Colorado River ahead of us when we started descending. That’s earlier than usual, but we did it gradually.

American snack

The captain came on and apologized for the delay. He told us they were trying to move quickly, they had asked for a couple of shortcuts and “eliminated some speed restrictions” to get us there faster. Then he said he thought it was one of the fastest flights ever between the two cities. That was definitely an overstatement since 58 minutes is no record. Though we did have to circle around and land from the east which adds time. Though it was only in the 80s in Phoenix, the thermals that were bouncing us around made it feel like it was the middle of the summer.

Nameless America West US Airways Headquarters

I had to take a self-imposed moment of silence as we glided in on final approach past the now nameless former America West and US Airways headquarters building (at left in the above photo). It just doesn’t look right. The pilots planted us firmly on the pavement and then apparently decided to run a test to see if the brakes worked. They did… very well. I’m guessing they were really just trying to catch an earlier turn-off to get us to our gate more quickly. It worked, and it helped that we had also landed on runway 26 on the north side. We parked at the gate only 1 hour and 18 minutes after schedule. That was far better than I expected thanks to the employees really trying hard to make it right.

It did, however, mean I missed spending time with my nephew. I headed to the hotel and got ready for the symposium. Two days later, it was time to come home.

I rode over to the airport with some other folks from the conference, and arrived a little more than an hour before my flight. I figured that Pre Check would be open here in American’s hub, but again, I was wrong. In Phoenix, however, TSA handles it in a completely different and moronic way. I was told I had to have my boarding pass and ID with me before going through the metal detector to prove that I was Pre Check and could keep my shoes on. My boarding pass was my phone (unlike in Long Beach where American still doesn’t allow mobile BPs), so I was really curious how this was going to work.

Right before the metal detector, that made me scan my boarding pass on a machine just like the one at the ID checker. Then I had to cut in line and drop my phone in a bin to run it through the x-ray machine. I walked through, they looked at my ID, and then I had to go to pick up my bags. This was a mess since many people had put their bags in between mine and my phone. I wasn’t the only one. People were milling around and clogging the area up. This took 10 to 15 minutes to get through the process when it wasn’t crowded at all. On my way to the gate, I took a look out the window and saw a lot of US Airways tails.

US Airways Tails in Phoenix

Once at the gate, I had a seat, waiting for boarding to begin. Right when it should have started, the Piedmont agent told us that our plane was on a maintenance delay and she’d let us know when we could board. There were no further details except that we should wait in the gate area for 15 minutes.

A few minutes later, she came on and changed her mind. She had clearly spoken to someone on the ramp or in the airplane and said it wasn’t a maintenance delay but in fact they were just looking for a flight attendant. There was no estimated time given, and the crowd just sort of laughed at the absurdity of this.


May 11, 2016
American Eagle 5619 Lv Phoenix 235p Arr Long Beach 351p (operated by Mesa)
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B20, Runway 25R, Depart 27m Late
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 3, Runway 30, Arrive 15m Late
N911FJ, Bombardier CRJ-900, Final US Airways colors, 50% Full
Seat 11A, Coach
Flight Time 54m

We did end up boarding maybe 15 minutes late, but nothing was said about the delay or that they had found their flight attendant. I hopped onboard and took my seat, 11A, which was a normal seat as expected this time around. But it was windowless, like so many of those CRJ-900 seats.

Windowless Seats Mesa CRJ-900

It was also in much worse shape than even the last airplane with all kinds of scuff marks, worn cushions, and chipped paint.

Tired Mesa Interior

We finished boarding and the flight was maybe half full (or with a more positive spin, twice as full as my flight out). Then I saw something I’d never seen before. There was an elderly Asian couple sitting in the exit row. When the flight attendant asked if they would be willing to do their duties in an emergency, they either said no or didn’t respond. (I think one of them spoke broken English at best while the other wasn’t even that good.) Since the flight was half full, the flight attendant moved them up to the seats next to me.

A couple minutes later, they got back up and went back to the exit row. The flight attendant went to them and said they couldn’t sit there if they couldn’t handle the responsibility. They somehow conveyed that they didn’t like the legroom, so the flight attendant had them move to another row, this time with Main Cabin Extra.

As this was wrapping up I received an alert on my phone. Now it showed we were delayed half an hour due to maintenance. Shortly after, the first officer came on and said in a thick accent that “we were on a maintenance.” Not again.

A few minutes later, the captain came on and explained that everything was ok but we were waiting on paperwork. I don’t remember how many times he and the flight attendant kept saying they just needed to “cross their Ts and dot their Is.” For what it’s worth, the flight attendant working in the front of the cabin was excellent. He was cheerful, informative, and prompt with his updates. The estimated delay proved to be just about right, and we pushed about half an hour late.

The delay meant we were outside of the hub bank, and that meant the runways were ours for the taking. It took just a few minutes for us to taxi and get airborne. There were a few bumps on the climb out but nothing like what we had coming in two days earlier. Once above that, the flight attendants served drinks. I just stared out the window since we stayed just north of the 10 freeway all the way to Palm Springs. It was fun to look down on a route I’ve driven many, many times.

Over Palm Springs, we began our descent. It was a very hazy day until we reached the coast. We flew just north of the old El Toro base, and then north of Orange County airport. On final approach, I tried to snap a photo of all the beautiful blooming purple Jacarandas that dot Long Beach, but the window was so scratched up that I couldn’t get anything decent.

We taxied to the gate and parked 15 minutes late… just past the cutoff for what DOT calls on time.

Despite some employees doing great work to make the situation less painful, I continue to be disappointed by Mesa. Obviously I don’t like delays, but in general Mesa doesn’t do worse than most other regionals in that respect. They just need to do a better job at managing the information being given to passengers.

The bigger issue to me is how dirty and worn the interiors are. That doesn’t have anything to do with how they maintain the airplanes on the outside, but it doesn’t inspire confidence in the average traveler. It’s also not the kind of presentation American should want its customers to see. I compare that to the brand new Compass Embraer 175s and there’s no contest. Something needs to be done here.

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47 Comments on "DelAAyed by Mesa and Its Tired and Worn Interiors (Trip Report)"

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ptsbeyond
Member
All airlines lie when it comes to flight info – the question is how badly. I find that AA and UA are the worst, with DL and AS better, and WN hit and miss. I’ve never had an answer from anyone – gate agent, club agent, pilot or flight attendant – as to why airlines insist on “Magical Thinking” when it comes to late flights. If the plane isn’t arriving until X time, then why not post Y time with a reasonable time to turn it? Insisting that the plane will depart before it arrives is just insane, and completely… Read more »
XJT DX
Guest
Regarding the delay decisions and timing, it is controlled by operations, with some input from the mainline partner. One of the main reasons you’ll see a new delay every 30 minutes instead of a fixed time from the get-go is that Operations is constantly trying to improve the time, whether it be swapping aircraft (much more common than you think), improving the route for weather delays, or physically tracking down a crew for the next flight, no delay time is certain until the flight is in the air and on it’s way. Once the flight is on it’s way out… Read more »
Fr8dogg
Guest

Cheap feed, cheap experience. Welcome to the “New American”.

drybean
Member

This is the old US Air throngs of frequent fliers went the extra measure to avoid. Nothing has changed.

Comanche Pilot
Guest

This is the old America West . . . . just they kept all the Philly pilots and FA’s . . .

Jared Hanner
Member
I fly AA mostly but have only flown Eagle three times from the LA area. The first two times were BUR-PHX and were operated my Mesa as well. I was semi-horrified when I got on the plane at how terrible the condition was. All 4 legs on the two round trips were the same. By the last one I just figured it was Mesa. A few weeks ago I flew from LAX-SFO on a Compass E175 and what a difference. Brand new. I felt like I was in a mainline flight except for the compass logo on the safety card.… Read more »
Spirit FF
Member

Remember it’s America West/Us Airways that took over AA! AA standards are not AA standards, they are AW standards!

Wes
Guest
I agree that it’s incredibly frustrating the way airlines routinely misrepresent the extent of a delay. That said, I’d have to agree with XJT DX’s analysis above. The overall goal of the airline must be to keep pax near the gate in case the airline reaches a solution to the problem earlier than what may otherwise be expected. If the airlines fail to keep people thinking that they perpetually close to boarding time in these situations, they place themselves in a position where they may have to compound the problem by either delaying further than necessary in order to allow… Read more »
jeff
Member

You should experience some of the Dash interiors over here on the East coast, makes Mesa loom sparkly! Although that newly painted retro Dash is kinda gorgeous on the outside.

peter
Member

Those of us who remember People Express, probably remember how dirty and shabby their planes got in bot the interior and exterior. That was the signal of the beginning of the end for People Express: Good riddance. Hope, for Mesa’s sake they aren’t following down the same path but, a dirty plane is not a well maintained plane. Hello? FAA.

Gary
Member
I must add a comment RE Mesa…I am forced to fly this sad operation since I live in New Mexico and have to fly out of El Paso and I am an American Air FF/Million Miler etc. etc. Last Thanksgiving I visited my daughter who lives in Paris and upon my return ended up in Dallas waiting for a delayed connection to El Paso. The Mesa aircraft was actually at the DFW airport, but something about the interior and detached on the incoming leg earlier in the day and the section/part had been glued back but had not set and… Read more »
Oliver
Guest

Worthy of a DOT complaint…

jgjohnson2
Member

“Scuffed and worn interior” (Mesa). Maybe too many shoes put up on the seats?

Miss Informed
Guest

Nope, sorry, Mesa is a ONE-bit operation. My most recent experience combines all the complaints above with broken a/c. Thank the aviation gods it was only about an hour gate-to-gate. When the rush of air entering the plane in Phoenix feels cooler than the inside air, you know it’s hot.

Joey Jaidee
Guest

In regards to unrealistic turn times it’s my understanding it’s some schmoe in ops usually sitting in some bunker like setting. I too shake my head at totally unreasonable turn times. I would think it’s a policy set by management. If a delay doesn’t seem as long it appeases customers.

In delay situations I always find more is better even if there is no new information. You might be a bit surprised at how some pilots think they actually gets charged by the word themselves.

jtwhatheheck
Guest

I fly AA flights from DFW-AMA or LBB and back frequently to visit my daughter (ironically an ex Mesa FA). Many of these are Mesa flights-usually on CJ900’s. I agree with everyone-these are some of the shabbiest planes I fly on. The exteriors look new but the interiors are awful. Luckily these are a 1 hour flight tops but the experience is really lousy, worn interiors, flattened seats, etc. You would think AA would have some influence over the product Mesa is supplying to them ?

David SF eastbay
Member

It’s never a good sign when you have flight delays on all your flights on the same airline and maintenance keeps coming up as the issue.

phdmad
Member
Appreciate your comments. The experience described almost mimics exactly the experience I had on Mesa flying between DFW and BHM. Given my past experience with these flights I even built in an overnight stay at DFW instead of taking the stated l connection to SEA. It was a good thing as my flight from BHM to DFW was over 90 minutes for no apparent reason and I would have missed the last flight to SEA out of DFE. AA should be ashamed of flying these old dirty planes and pretending that they can meet a schedule. It is a disservice… Read more »
Eric C
Guest
One of many fun parts of working at a regional is having so little access to information. At a major a mechanic meets the airplane and can start diagnosing (and getting a time estimate) as soon as the parking brake is set. At a regional you might have two or three line maintenance teams working the entire hub. If they’re busy your estimated departure time now must figure how long it’ll take them to finish their current job, come to your plane, diagnose and fix it. Will they need a part from the warehouse? Who knows, but that’s 30 or… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Purple jacarandas… Thankfully we moved recently (just a few blocks away), and now I no longer have to park my car under one.

cee
Member

Interesting review………….. but I question why the plane’s condition was so bad.

Surely it must be John Q. Public abusing the plane.

I know when flying, even in business, that attitude of some passengers is deplorable.

adf55
Member

Several times I saw references to “Piedmont;” did US, then AA, keep the Piedmont name for some facet of their operations? The name of course brought back memories of Piedmont Airlines, a pretty good — primarily eastern seaboard — carrier.

Jon
Guest

If you flew by the old US Airways building on approach to Phoenix you landed on 26.

paulsaz
Member

I thought mainline “HP” agents were above ground in LGB? and Piedmont was ramp.

jaybru
Member

Has Consumer Reports ever had a story on the regional “operated by’s….ones to avoid, ones to, well if you really, really have to, etc.?

Give a few years, will there be any regionals left, or will they all go over to a new, gigantic EAS program?

I don’t blame the regionals for anything. The blame lies with the marketing airline beauties.

dc.contarino
Member
In my experience at the airport working with many of them, Mesa is the worst. GoJet (which is owned by Trans States) runs a great operation under the United Express banner, and all the Republic-owned carriers (Republic, Shuttle America) are good too. Before all of Mesa’s planes had ACARS, we’d have turns come and go and up in tower (ops) and we didn’t even know they had come and gone. I’d have to go into Flight Explorer and find out if they were airborne yet and enter estimated times based on that. Crazy. Regionals have a contract to carry out,… Read more »
Yo
Guest

Mesa blows. Never on time, crappy planes.

I take that back, we were on time once, Jonathan O was a passenger. So glad I never went to work there. Sub par outfit. I avoid their planes at all cost.

dc.contarino
Member
Mesa has always been a challenge, going back to my days as tower manager at UA in BOS, when Mesa flew some of the BOS-IAD runs (2003-2005 time frame). Terrible communication, shoddy interiors, etc. I would try to update the times in Apollo (UA’s res system at the time) but then Mesa’s HQ people would clearly not see I had posted an update and over-write it with some crazy inaccurate time. The issue may still be the same. The airport people are probably entering an ETD, then Mesa’s HQ folks try to one-up them (or just don’t look clearly) and… Read more »
Tim in Boston
Guest

It’s not just the Mesa planes that are beat up. I flew on a legacy US 757 between BOS and PHL on Friday and it was in really rough shape inside. Frayed fabric, dirty and scraped buttons. I know that AA is in the midst of a big fleet changeover, but they’re really pushing the limits on how long they can fly these planes without some TLC.

JB
Member

wow, 31 comments and no one whining about the “Ugly Flag Tail!” Nice!

Chuck
Guest

Sounds like things at Mesa haven’t changed much since I left their employ – which was over 15 years ago. I don’t miss working there other than winters in Phoenix.

davidp627
Member

When you are competing with driving and other forms of transportation (does Amtrak serve this route?), you’d better have good on time figures and not have a clearly inferior in flight product. I guess that may be why both flights were less than 50% full.

John G
Guest
I am a long term AA Ex Plat, pushing 4 million miles. I’m based in Dallas. The experience that Cranky had is extremely common…in fact it is the norm…for regionals. Be glad it was Mesa. Envoy is considerably worse. The majors have engaged in a race to the bottom with their regionals. They have outsourced all of the work, and the regionals are barely getting by so they scrimp on everything. I NEVER get updated delay information. Just in the last six weeks on two occasions I had to tell the gate agent that we were going to be late… Read more »
Dick Z
Member
Thanks for the great article and summary of your distressed flights on American Eagle/Mesa I too have had multiple and very similar experiences on AE flights operated by Envoy Air No regard/consideration for trying to keep to schedules Interior of aircraft filthy and falling apart. I was stuck on one delayed Envoy flight out of SYR because one of the interior panels between the lav and the luggage hold fell off during inbound landing and we had to wait (over 1 hour) to fine someone who could tape it back on!! All this besides the huge problems and delays at… Read more »
IA Brian
Guest

Too funny! I flew to Chicago last week on a UA 737; selected my E+ window seat of 10F to only find out there is no window… :(. Lesson learned.

T
Guest
I am AA Exec Platinum, former US Airways Chairmans, have been for a decade…one of the happiest moments of the last 5 years was the day American announced Mesa would move all Charlotte operations to Dallas and PSA would take over those routes. No more Mesa in my life! How sad is that? (Insert joke about my happiness here). For all the reasons cited above and more, Mesa is awful. Some employees are great, for sure. Many appeared to be straight out of who knows where…definitely not paying for high quality planes, maintenance, and (sadly) sometimes service staff. Ugh. I… Read more »
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