Trip Report: Oh, But Ain’t That America (West)

America West, Trip Reports

You know if I break out some of the Coug’s lyrics, it must involve a trip to Indiana. This was just a short trip to visit my girlfriend’s parents, and amazingly it was my first flight in three months. That means it was my first trip under the new liquid ban, and I personally am not a fan. Sure, the planes boarded more quickly and there were plenty of empty overhead bins, but our bag didn’t bother showing up until the next day. Grrr. More details below.

The America West/US Airways experience was very good overall. One flight was delayed due to late arriving flight attendants and a ridiculously long, out-of-the way route, but they handled the delay well. Total cost was $277.20 per person booked a month or so in advance.

The trip started with an early wakeup call on Friday. We were scheduled out of LAX, but I looked online to find that our flight was delayed 2 hours and we would misconnect in PHX. They also notified us by cell phone. I called reservations to find out that the wingtip flight (another flight leaving at the same time) was also fully booked and that they couldn’t get us to IND until 1a that night. Um, no. So, I suggested that they check LGB instead, and sure enough there were seats. This made it much easier since my girlfriend lives just a few minutes away.

August 25, 2006
US Airways/America West #2870 Lv Long Beach (LGB) 655a Arr Phoenix (PHX) 820a
LGB: Gate 21, Runway 30, Dept 5m Early
PHX: Gate B5, Runway 7R, Arr 10m Early
Aircraft: N911FJ, Bombardier CRJ-900, America West colors, ~95% Full
Flight Time: 51m
Seat: 15C, Coach

We headed over and parked in the long term lot near the soon to be vacant Douglas, er, Boeing plant. The shuttles over there are great because they pick you up right at your car and take you on the couple minute ride to the terminal.

We checked in online the day before, but once they changed our flight, the online check-in didn’t work again so we went to the ticket counter. There were a couple people in line ahead of us (and no elite line that I saw), and soon we were at the counter. My girlfriend checked a bag and I threw my toiletries in there as well. Without the liquid ban, we both would have carried on.

Security was empty, and I had no issues getting through. We sat down in a very crowded boarding area and waited. Boarding was on time, and they had random TSA checks for which I was of course chosen. That took no time and we hopped on board to find that we were in the
non-reclining exit row. I couldn’t complain since we just switched that morning – at least it was a short flight.

It was my favorite kind of flight. We took off into the marine layer, slicing through until seeing the brilliant morning sun turning the mountains golden. Then we headed east in deep blue skies, had a drink service, and then landed straight in to the east.

We had a little time to kill, so we slowly wandered over to our gate (only one concourse over). PHX has done a great job of “localizing” the airport. All the stores now sell local tchotchkes, and they seemed to be packed. Lots of southwestern and Native American things are for sale. I was surprised to see someone selling lotion though – that can’t do well anymore.

It was time to board, so we picked up some See’s Candies for her parents and then went to the gate.

August 25, 2006
US Airways/America West #460 Lv Phoenix (PHX) 931a Arr Indianapolis (IND) 403p
PHX: Gate A10, Runway 7L, Dept 39m Late
IND: Gate D6, Runway 23R, Arr 59m Late
Aircraft: N604AW, Airbus A320, America West colors, ~85% Full
Flight Time: 3h12m
Seat: 11A, Coach

The plane was there, but two of the three flight attendants were on a late inbound flight from Portland. This meant, according to the agent, that our scheduled 931a departure time was to slip to 1008a. The flight attendants fortunately landed at the gate next door, so it was a quick walk for them, and we started boarding soon after. I asked the one flight attendant who was already in PHX, and she said that they didn’t have any reserves in the airport that day to get everyone boarded before the real flight attendants for our flight showed up. Bummer.

They did show up as promised, and everyone boarded. I tried to board with my silver status, but the agent barked at me and said he was only boarding first class, not elites. I told him that I thought I heard him call for elites and he, again with a raised voice, said that was the gate next to us, and I had to wait. Then, as if it were “Meet the Parents,” the guy stood there boarding nobody and finally called for elites. And just to top it off, he flagged me for the random TSA search. Punk.

This time the TSA agent said I was lucky they weren’t confiscating chocolate (remember the See’s). I made the comment that it’s a good thing I didn’t get the chocolate with liquid centers, and then I realized I should just shut up. I think for a brief second she thought about going through them herself. My girlfriend wasn’t so lucky. She had gotten a salad and had to throw away the dressing.

hpseatWe got onboard and sat down in our exit row seats. There was plenty of legroom, and even though there was no armrest on the window side of the seat, they did have a handle/armrest on the door which worked well. I like the cloth seat covers they have, but my girlfriend pointed out that they aren’t wearing well. Look at the picture on the left and you’ll see how they’re coming apart at the seems. This was consistent on all of the seats we saw around us.

Anyway, the crew got the cabin buttoned up quickly and they kept to their word – we left only two minutes later than expected. The captain came on and said to expect a 3:27 flying time, a good 45 minutes longer than usual because of a long route we had to take to avoid storms. Well, we must have found a shortcut because it only took 3:12, but click on the flight time above to see our route. We went over El Paso and barely clipped Oklahoma at all before heading north over Arkansas.

The flight itself was uneventful. It was mostly smooth until we found ourselves in some high clouds toward the end. The service was great. There was one dedicated beverage service as well as one dedicated buy on board service. Toward the end, there was a combined service which offered just water or coffee in addition to the buy on board. The flight attendants were very friendly and professional. Inflight movie was Goal! – pretty good.

After landing, we taxied for 37 hours (as you always do in IND), but I was pleased to see them making some good progress on the new terminal. That should help to reduce taxi times significantly. It was cool to see an ATA L1011 parked in the hangar. Ah I love that plane. And the Thunderbirds were parked at IND as well since they were performing at the Mt Comfort air show over the weekend.

We got off the plane and went down to the hell that is baggage claim. That’s a very tiny claim area, and there are so many more people checking bags now that it was jammed 4 and 5 deep at each carousel. It took roughly 30 minutes for the first bag to roll out from the time the seat belt sign went off. As the crowd continued to thin, we realized that we were in trouble and our bag wasn’t going to show up. There were probably about 6 to 10 others with the same problem, but I anticipated it and was first in line at the baggage office.

This experience really epitomizes the US Airways/America West merger for me. I found
myself dealing with an America West employee. She was very nice, quite sympathetic, and helped us quickly and competently. The other two people in the office were US Airways employees. They were older, had a scowl on their faces, and were quite abrupt and unfriendly when dealing with the customers. Yes, this will be an interesting integration.

Our agent said that the bag wasn’t in the system yet, but that she expected it would show up on the next flight – the one that would arrive at 1a. If it somehow got there before 10p, they’d send it over that night. Otherwise they’d send in the morning and we could keep track online with a tracking code she gave us.

Sure enough, it showed up that night on the late flight, and it was delivered the next day at 2p. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but it was as expected and it didn’t hurt our plans much.

August 27, 2006
US Airways/America West #463 Lv Indianapolis (IND) 539p Arr Phoenix (PHX) 625p
IND: Gate D6, Runway 23R, Dept 5m Early
PHX: Gate A25, Runway 25L, Arr 10m Early
Aircraft: N605AW, Airbus A320, New US Airways colors, ~95% Full
Flight Time: 3h15m
Seat: 11A, Coach

After an all-too-short weekend, it was time to head home. We checked in online and then drove to the airport. There was only one person ahead of us in line, so it didn’t take long to drop our bag off. The security line was a bit longer, but it still only took 5 minutes. This was my first experience with the puffer machine. It seems like they just pull people out of line to go through as soon as the person before was finished – no profiling here. It’s definitely a non-invasive type of test and I was glad to do it. Then of course, I had to put my shoes through the screening and walk through the regular metal detector.

We were there a bit early, so my girlfriend got a massage (nice feature of the IND airport) and I wandered the very short concourse which appears to be just United and US Airways. We headed over to board and found they were already halfway done filling up the plane in the new US Airways colors. (It looks really good.) There were people lined up at the TSA screening area, so we waited. Then we realized that it was random and we didn’t have to wait, so we boarded and took our seats, again in the exit row.

The captain advised that there was weather on the climb out (which we could see out the window), so there would be some light turbulence at first. Then we could expect a smooth ride and he’d turn the seatbelt sign off at cruise altitude.

Well, he was right about one thing. There was light turbulence on the way up. But then we got above it and . . . . Well, he never came on the PA again and he never turned off the seatbelt sign the entire flight even though it was smooth. In the end, everybody just ignored it which is certainly very bad were we to actually encounter some real turbulence.

I headed to the bathroom in the middle of the flight (I think Mission Impossible 3 made me sick), and the flight attendant glared at me. I apologized for getting up while the seatbelt sign was on, but I couldn’t wait. She just said, “Oh I don’t care. I don’t know why it’s still on anyway.” She then turned away and went back to reading her newspaper. When I asked for water after coming out of the lav, another flight attendant looked as if I had asked him to move a mountain for me and then he told me to step out of the galley into the now overcrowded aisle if I wanted water.

So with that, I headed back to my seat and parked it for the duration. Even with all the weather we were dodging, we ended up with a pretty direct route. In fact this flight was a mere 3 minutes longer than the outbound. Very strange considering you go with the wind on the way out and against it on the way back.

The approach was kind of a crazy one. We came up from the south over Tempe and turned west right over ASU. Then we cut north again and back west to line up with the runway all while descending very quickly. I’m guessing ATC had room for us if we could get in there, and sure enough, our pilots did a good job. It definitely was an interesting ride, especially when combined with the thermals bouncing us around. I can’t say I remember seeing the PHX runways out my
window that late into an approach before.

August 27, 2006
US Airways/America West #2726 Lv Phoenix (PHX) 738p Arr Long Beach (LGB) 902p
PHX: Gate B21, Runway 25R, Dept 6m Early
LGB: Gate 21, Runway 30, Arr 17m Early
Aircraft: N942LR, Bombardier CRJ-900, America West colors, 100% Full
Flight Time: 57m
Seat: 16A, Coach

We stepped off the plane about as far from our connecting gate as is humanly possible, so it took us a good amount of time to wander over there to the high B gates. We got to the gate and then parked it. We were both very tired, but I felt the need to walk around and see what was going on. The British Airways flight was leaving a couple gates down from us and there didn’t seem to be a lot of people waiting to board. I wonder how the loads have been holding up for them overall since the plot was foiled.

When I got back to the gate, the agent was requesting volunteers to stay overnight and fly out first thing in the morning. At first, I jumped at the opportunity. But then I remembered how tired we were and how we both had to work in the morning. When I found out the offer was for a capacity controlled ticket anywhere in the continental US, I decided to pass. Those free tickets are almost impossible to use — a friend has one expiring soon, because she could never find availability — but if it were a dollar voucher I would have reconsidered.

We boarded and took our now standard exit row seats. It was a beautiful sunset and we departed straight to the west. I could see the lights of Yuma and Imperial on the left before San Diego and Orange County came into view. We then descended and cut up the coast around Huntington Beach. We had great views of Bolsa Chica, Seal Beach, Long Beach, and Palos Verdes in the distance before touching down nice and early.

We had to wait about 20 minutes before bags started coming out, but we had no problems with the bag showing up this time and soon we were on our way out of there.

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