A New JetBlue Route and Finishing the Companion Pass Run (Trip Report)

For the 2nd year in a row, I attended the Boyd Conference. This year, however, it was up at Lake Tahoe, and that meant flying into Reno. I’ve only done that once before, but I couldn’t have been happier about the timing of this event. See, JetBlue just started nonstops from Long Beach. In the end, however, I only chose to do that one way.

I booked JetBlue going up for a mere $58.10. But on the way back, I decided to fly Southwest. Apparently my quest for 10 one ways in order to qualify for a companion pass hit a snag. I had booked the first two flights (not part of my 9 Airports, 1 Day adventure) before registering for the promo, and I misread the terms. Those didn’t count. I needed two more. So I booked a flight from Reno to Oakland for $38.98 and then another from Oakland to Long Beach for $58.98. Problem solved.


For my flight up, I left home an hour before departure, got through security in about 5 seconds (Pre Check was open, no wait), and then parked it in the gate area. Our airplane, the one with the special 10th anniversary livery, was letting its passengers off and I just did a little work.

JetBlue 10th Anniversary

They called boarding, and I waited closer to the end. Technically in row 13 I should have boarded from the front, but I was close enough that I figured it would be fine to go from the back. I wanted to see that tail up close.

September 18, 2016
JetBlue 42 Lv Long Beach 1153a Arr Reno 115p
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 7, Runway 30, Depart 2m Late
Reno (RNO): Gate B6, Runway 34L, Arrive 12m Early
N569JB, Airbus A320-232, 10 Year Anniversary Colors, ~90% Full
Seat 13F, Coach
Flight Time 1h0m

Once onboard, I was surprised to see a mostly full flight. I guess that’s what $58 fares will get you. Still, for a September day, that seemed pretty promising.

As I made my way to my seat, I encountered Quintin. He was a really talkative flight attendant who has been there for years. (He proudly announced that he and one of the other flight attendants onboard opened the Long Beach station for JetBlue. That was 15 years ago.)

You could tell this crew had been flying together for a long time. During the safety briefing intro, the flight attendant on the PA said something to the effect of “You have a fabulous crew with Jessica near the exits. Quintin’s up front. [pause] He’s alright.”

Over LAX

We took off and danced our way through LAX traffic before climbing up to cruise. I will say this about JetBlue, I do love that free wifi. I wouldn’t pay for wifi on an hour-long flight, but if it’s there and free, then I’ll use it. And I was productive.

The flight attendants came through with snacks and drinks, and then a few minutes later we were descending. The flight attendants warned us that Reno is often bumpy so they cleaned up early. They were right. It was a bumpy ride in.

Once we landed, Quintin hopped on the PA and talked about all kinds of things. He had us all clap for the two first-time fliers on board. Then he told us all to be nice to each other. “If someone has a turn signal on, let them in.” I liked his whole shtick for a short mid-day flight like this.

We spilled off into the B gates in Reno. This terminal looks like it’s been here for a really long time. Landing on B is odd, because you have to then walk all the way back toward the A gates before finding an exit. But it was easy enough to navigate and I was in the bus on the way to Tahoe in no time.

All the time I’ve spent in the area before was in South Lake Tahoe, so it was nice to visit Squaw Valley for the first time. What a beautiful spot. But of course, I couldn’t stay long, and soon enough I was in a bus for the hour drive back to Reno.

Reno Airport

The airport looks pretty tiny from the outside, with a single level for both departures and arrivals. I had checked in on my phone but figured I’d print out a boarding pass, so I walked to Southwest’s counter at the far end. There was a full service line, a priority line, and an international line (seriously). No other kiosks were around, so I said screw it and hoped my phone would pull up the boarding pass when I needed it.

Amy the Poodle

Security lines were short, and on the other side I was greeted by Amy the poodle. Apparently Reno brings these therapy dogs around to help calm people. She was a pretty sweet pup, and I stayed to pet her a little. Then I headed to the gate to find this glorious sight:

Southwest N237WN in Reno

Pretty photogenic, eh?

It took a long time to turn the airplane around despite its early arrival. We had 4 or 5 wheelchair passengers on our flight, and there was only one gate agent to help them all.

September 21, 2016
Southwest 257 Lv Reno 1205p Arr Oakland 110p
Reno (RNO): Gate B3, Runway 16R, Depart 2m Early
Oakland (OAK): Gate 4, Runway 30, Arrive 3m Early
N237WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue Colors, 55% Full
Seat 7F, Coach
Flight Time 39m

This time I wanted to be on the right side so I could get a view of Lake Tahoe, and 2F was open. No bins were, however, so I went to row 7. The flight was half full and I had an empty middle next to me.

The pilots came on and said it would be a quick 38 minute flight, but it was going to be bumpy due to a cold front that was rolling through bringing some rain and clouds. The flight attendants would have to stay seated the entire time. (I had so many drink coupons to burn, but I’d make up for it later.)

The pilots were right. We took off to the south and it was pretty bouncy until we got to about 10,000 feet. The winds weren’t consistent, and it felt like we were fishtailing a few times. It calmed down and we were able to get a spectacular view of Lake Tahoe between the clouds.

Lake Tahoe

Originally we were to climb to 19,000 feet, but we ended up at 22,000 skimming the cloud tops much of the way. The pilots were darting around the clouds to try to keep it as smooth as possible. Every so often we’d graze something and bump around a bit, but it was all pretty light.

We began descending through the clouds and they started to disappear. By the time we could see the edges of the SF metro area, there was a thinning high cloud layer and nothing else blocking the view.

Exiting the Storm

We landed early and then had to wait for our gate, which was in Terminal 1. Southwest needs more gates, so it’s started picking some up there now.

Just as we landed, I got the delay notification on my phone. My next flight would be about half an hour late, and I had 3 hours to kill.

I found a quiet gate where I could plugin and do work, and it just happened to be where JetBlue was finishing up boarding for its Long Beach flight. It was so tempting, but no… I had to keep my eyes on the companion pass prize.

I was, however, glad I stuck around Terminal 1, because my next flight ended up there as well, at gate 6. I wandered over after working for a couple hours and waited for the airplane to arrive.

There were a few oddballs in this group of passengers. First a guy walked up and tried to board with the A group using his B pass. He was told no, and he just stood there, seemingly unclear on what was going on. Then another person tried to board a flight to Portland. She was told this wasn’t a Portland flight and she backed up and stood there looking confused, seemingly unhurried to find the right gate. I checked later and the Portland flight wasn’t scheduled until 445p, so it’s unclear what this woman was thinking.

September 21, 2016
Southwest 5266 Lv Oakland 330p Arr Long Beach 450p
Oakland (OAK): Gate 6, Runway 30, Depart 20m Late
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 1, Runway 30, Arrive 10m Late
N746SW, Boeing 737-7H4, Hot Dog on a Stick Colors, 55% Full
Seat 2F, Coach
Flight Time 59m

Once on the airplane comfortably in seat 2F, the flight attendants announced continuously that it was only about half full so everyone should spread out. When Mr. B Group got on board, he tried to sit in the middle in the bulkhead. The flight attendant told him that there was plenty of room in the back, but he decided no, he was going to take that middle.

I wish I could have seen the looks on the faces of 1D and 1F. Just as he was sitting down, the flight attendant told him he couldn’t, in fact, take his bag with him since there’s no place to put it in the bulkhead. He’d have to put it up. He didn’t like that so he started to get up.

That’s when it dawned on me. His next choice would probably be seat 2E, my open middle. But nay, he just kept walking back, and I didn’t see him again.

San Francisco

The flight itself was fine. I had a tremendous view of San Francisco on the way out. I settled in to watch some TV when the flight attendants came by. I used a drink coupon and had a Wild Turkey. Since the flight was only half full, the service was quick, and I was asked if I wanted anything else. I had another one, because… why not?

Wild Turkey

We made up some time and landed only about 10 minutes late. I was at the curb ready to go home about 5 minutes later.

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