Trip Report: Not Long Enough

Trip Reports, US Airways

Last year, I went with a group of friends on a trip to Hawai’i for a week. We were amazed that all eight of us could get the same week off last year, but it was even more surprising this year when all but one of us were able to coordinate again. This time, half the group had a wedding in Puerto Vallarta, so we decided to all go early and spend a few days in the sun beforehand.

My girlfriend and I booked the trip back in July for $478.10 per person. Later on, the fare went down by $80, so we were able to take advantage of the Guaranteed Air Fare Rule to get the difference in a voucher. You can read the full saga of that battle here.

October 14, 2006
US Airways #2952 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1103a Arr Puerto Vallarta (PVR) 355p
LAX: Gate 11, Runway 24L, Dept ~2h Late
PVR: Gate 7, Runway 4, Arr ~2h10m Late
Aircraft: N907FJ, Bombardier CRJ-900, New white colors, 82 out of 86 seats filled
Flight Time: ~2h37m
Seat: 16F, Coach

US Airways flies a Saturday-only nonstop from LA to Puerto Vallarta so we took it, even if it did mean 2.5 hours on an overgrown regional jet. At least my elite status meant we could reserve the exit row.

Before leaving for the airport, I checked and saw the flight was ontime. Unfortunately, US Airways doesn’t allow online check in for intl flights, so once we got to the airport, we went to the kiosk to check in. (Why is that any different than doing it online?) At that point, an agent tagged our bag and told us we’d be delayed 1:20 since the crew wasn’t able to get in the night before. I was angry, because a crew rest delay is one that could have been updated on the website hours earlier, but annoyingly it was not. I wonder if that’s a communication issue between US Airways and their commuter partner Mesa, who operated our flight.

We went through security quickly and then parked it and waited in the chaotic terminal 1. The soundtrack made life far worse with horrible selections from the 80’s including bands like Erasure. Ugh.

There was also a Mesa flight to Phoenix that was delayed and they were focused on rebooking all the misconnects on that flight. That lent to an even greater feeling of chaos than the usual levels in that terminal. We received periodic updates from the harried gate agents saying that our plane was there, but our crew wasn’t. Finally we were told they wouldn’t arrive until 1230p, 1.5 hours after scheduled

The crew showed up and we boarded. The crew apologized to us and said they were supposed to go to Vegas the night before, but they couldn’t get in due to weather. They diverted to Phoenix where they ran out of time and they couldn’t get into LAX until that day at 1230p. Bummer.

Then trying to be lighthearted, the captain said that our delay meant we had great weather in LA now, but unfortunately, it was terrible in Puerto Vallarta with lots of t-storms. Because of that, he said we might have to go to Guadalajara and he was topping off the fuel tanks. That meant we had to kick four people off the flight for weight reasons and then sift through the luggage to pull their bags off.

We finally pushed back but then waited for 15 minutes before departing. The first 2 hours of the flight were uneventful with beautiful views of the Seat of Cortez the entire way down. Then, just as we started our descent, the weather rolled in. The captain expertly avoided the worst bumps through weaving this way and that. Finally, we broke out of the clouds at a very low altitude in the middle of Banderas Bay. Soon after we were on the ground and the sky exploded with rain.

We pulled up to a hardstand and they opened the door so we could cr9hop off the plane onto a bus. After about 20 people, they closed the door again. The captain said it was raining so hard that the water was getting into the cockpit and they were worried about shorting instruments. So we waited for 15 minutes for the rain to let up. It was amazing how loud that rain was hitting the plane while we waited. That gave us time to stare out the window and watch them unload our bags into the wet mess. Uh oh.

We finally got off the plane onto the steamy bus for the short ride to the terminal. I took this picture from the bus right after the rain had let up. It doesn’t really make it clear how bad the rain was, but you get the idea. Once we got to the terminal, we went through immigration, picked up our drenched baggage, and headed toward the condo.

It was a nice few days. The rain and overcast didn’t let up until Monday, but from then on the weather was beautiful. Unfortunately, the trip was way too short and just as I was starting to relax, it was time to come home. At least the trip home was much better.

October 18, 2006

US Airways #409 Lv Puerto Vallarta (PVR) 248p Arr Phoenix (PHX) 315p
PVR: Gate 5, Runway 22, Dept 7m Early
PHX: Gate B27, Runway 26, Arr 14m Early
Aircraft: N817AW, Airbus A319, New white colors, ~90% Full
Flight Time: ~2h00m
Seat: 7F, Coach

We got to the airport two hours early as instructed, but we definitely didn’t need to do it. We got in line at the elite/first class line, but even though nobody else was in line, the non elites were taken before us. I’m not quite sure why that line existed. It took 15 minutes anyway because the systems went down, but once we got there it was easy. Though we had reserved exit rows on both flights, we weren’t given them on either leg. The first one had us in row 7 for some odd reason. The second one was much better, we were put in first class.

The airport in Puerto Vallarta is nice and new with lots of shops and nice areas to wait. Our plane in the shiny new US Airways colors pulled in early and parked at a hardstand instead of at one of the three translucent jet bridges that looked really cool. Strangely, they decided to hand search everyone’s carry on before boarding. I was angry to find out that the water I purchased past security according to TSA rules apparently wasn’t permitted under Mexican rules. I had to toss it right there.

We took the bus over the plane and boarded to find a very friendly and smiling crew. We took our seats and relaxed. The flight departed over the Bay and we had a spectacular view again all the way up the east coast of the Sea of Cortez. I was surprised to see they played a movie on the short flight, but they did manage to fit the whole thing in. They did numerous beverage passes and sold a $3 snack pack which sold out less than halfway down the aircraft.

I hadn’t realized how long it had been when the captain pointed out the Old Pueblo (Tucson) on the right hand side and we started our descent. It was a beautiful 77 and sunny in PHX, but the winds were gusting pretty well on the descent. We touched down and taxied back to the international gates at terminal 4 ready to go.

Of course, we ended up in the wrong immigration line as one guy was escorted to the side office for further questioning. My girlfriend almost didn’t make it back in the country because the agent in Puerto Vallarta had entered her passport and birthdate incorrectly. It took about 5 minutes before they let her go.

October 18, 2006
US Airways #308 Lv Phoenix (PHX) 433p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 558p
PHX: Gate A14, Runway 25R, Dept 5m Early
LAX: Gate 11, Runway 24R, Arr 7m Early
Aircraft: N663AW, Airbus A320, New white colors, ~60% Full
Flight Time: 59m
Seat: 3D, First

phxAfter claiming the bag, we walked through customs and I realized that we had to go back through security again here in the US. Bummer. I don’t know how long it has been like that, but I remember when you could pop right back up into the concourse in Phoenix. At least it gave us time to wander through the newly-renovated central concourse area outside security. It looks amazing, and as you can see, it looks like a mall now.

The security line wasn’t long at all, but in my tired state, I forgot to remove the liquids ziploc from my carry on bag. Bad move. They called for a bag check, but there was a line of requests. I felt like such an idiot, but the agents were at least nice about it. We had to wait probably 5 to 10 minutes before they could get to my bag.

Once through, we headed to the gate and parked it waiting to board the aircraft again in the new colors. While there, I noticed they’ve made good progress painting the old America West aircraft. I saw one 757 and two 737-300s in the new colors among a sea of Airbus birds. It’s sad seeing fewer and fewer America West birds there.

We boarded the aircraft and grabbed our first class seats at the back of the cabin. We had a predeparture drink and then we were on our way. It was a beautiful day to fly and the service was excellent as well. The flight attendant started in November 1983, only a couple of months after America West started flying. She did a great job, and it was all too soon that we were on our way into LA.

This was one of those days you love living in LA. The Santa Ana winds had blown the smog out to sea, so it was amazingly clear and you could see for miles as the sun set. We landed and made our way to baggage claim quickly shocked to find the bag already rolling off the carousel. Then we hopped in the car and headed home.

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3 comments on “Trip Report: Not Long Enough

  1. Way to make me feel guilty about not joining you guys! Seriously though, it sounds like quite a trip.

  2. Cool blog, I spend a lot of time in Puerto Vallarta and live there part time. I always do a Google search for all the blogs about Puerto Vallarta so I can keep up with what is going on when I am not there. Have a great day. pvkid

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