Four Hours in Phoenix (Trip Report)

Southwest, Trip Reports, US Airways

When my wife gave birth to our son in January, one of my best friends hopped in the car from Phoenix and surprised us with a visit. That was such an awesome thing that when his wife gave birth last Saturday, I wanted to do the same. But of course, I couldn’t hop in the car. I had to have something to write about for you guys, right?

The baby was born on Saturday so I quickly started the search for flights on Sunday. Flights out to Phoenix were wide open that day but the returns were jam-packed. In fact, most flights coming back didn’t have seats to buy. So, I had to get a little creative. I called an old friend from my America West days and she gave me a buddy pass for $60 to get out to Phoenix from LAX. (The timing was better than Long Beach on this holiday-gutted schedule.) For the return, I found a seat on Southwest back to Orange County for $187.80. This would give me 3 hours and 56 minutes on the ground in Phoenix. Perfect.

CRJ at Gate 6 at LAX

I got to the airport an hour early, grabbed a pass to get me through security from the kiosk, and then walked on through security in about 10 minutes. Once through, I grabbed a snack for me and bought a couple of gifts for my friend’s other kids. After that, I went to the gate and waited.

The airplane was at the gate waiting for me, and people were still trickling off from the flight in. I just parked it and waited to see if I would clear the standby list.

There was one agent working the flight and she started boarding early. There was good reason for that – just about everyone needed to gate check a bag since this was on a tiny CRJ-200. What shocked me was the lack of early boarding. There were no elite members, nobody with paid “Preferred Access” and no members of the military. Even the agent looked surprised.

She then boarded groups 1 through 4 before clearing the three standbys on the list. I was given an exit row window, and I hopped on the airplane.

May 27, 2012
US Airways Express 2968 Lv Los Angeles 1125a Arr Phoenix 1249p (operated by SkyWest)
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 6, Runway 24L, Depart 3m Early
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B18, Runway 25L, Arrive 3m Early
N906SW, Bombardier CRJ-200, US Airways colors, 75% Full
Seat 8A
Flight Time 1h0m

This was my first time flying on SkyWest as US Airways Express, a contract which went into effect just a few months ago. It was clear the airplane had been around for a long time (used to fly under the United Express banner). It looked to be in pretty good shape with clean leather seats and an updated bulkhead in US Airways colors. We had a pretty light load (so funny that 75 percent is now considered a light load) and I had nobody next to me in the aisle.

The Foot Ledge

One thing I do like about those CRJs is the little shelf next to the window where you can prop up your leg. Of course, it doesn’t work very well if there’s someone in the aisle, but I had plenty of room on this one.

We took off into the clear blue sky and passed Palos Verdes before coming around just south of Long Beach, as usual, for the flight to Phoenix. I had a ginger ale, got some writing done, and then it was time to descend. Phoenix was uncharacteristically cool for this time of year (in the 80s) so the usual summer bumps thanks to thermals were pretty minor. We parked at the gate and I raced off the to the rental car center.

With family and friends in Phoenix, I had never rented a car there before. I was eager to see how long it took since they opened the new off-site rental car center. There were three buses waiting at the curb to go over there, one that left right after I got on. Each terminal has a direct bus to the center so you don’t have to stop at every terminal along the way. The place is pretty far, however, so it takes about 10 minutes on a good day from Terminal 4.

I had rented from National so I could just go to the Emerald Aisle and be on my way. Normally I don’t care about that, but on such a short trip, I wanted the extra time. I snagged a nice little Kia Rio (I always get Economy or Compact cars when I’m on my own). That gave me a good 1.5 hours with my friends and their new baby before I turned back around.

One problem with the Kia is that the gas gauge is pretty slow to respond. I thought I had filled up to full with one gallon but it still showed below the line. So, I tried it again and got nothing. I just gave up. It started to rise slowly as I got closer to the rental car center and when I explained the situation, the guy acted like this wasn’t a rare occurrence.

Our 737 to Orange County

I went to a packed bus to go back to Terminal 4 and it left once again right after I got on. At about 405p, I stepped off the bus and went up through security. As expected on an afternoon in the middle of a holiday weekend, security was a ghost town. I got to the gate at 415p just as boarding was beginning.

May 27, 2012
Southwest 716 Lv Phoenix 445p Arr Orange County 6p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate C11, Runway 25R, Depart On time
Orange County (SNA): Gate 18, Runway 19R, Arrive 5m Early
N484WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue colors, 96% Full
Seat 15A
Flight Time 59m

Since I had just purchased the ticket that day, I got B30 when I checked in and I was prepared for a middle seat. The gate area was very crowded and cramped, but when I got on, there were still a handful of windows. I settled into mine, right behind the wing. We had 5 empty seats onboard and one was not next to me. Instead that was filled by a SkyWest captain who was along for the ride. (I could only laugh when he ignored the flight attendants request to turn phones off completely and just left it in airplane mode.)

Cramped Southwest Boarding

We took off to the west, so it was a very short taxi before we launched into the warm afternoon air. I had another ginger ale and soon we were on our way into Orange County. Descent reminded me just how many families were on the airplane. There was a chorus of screaming babies, clearly having issues with their ears. As a new father, I was very sympathetic. The crying stopped right as we landed.

Orange County New Terminal C

This was my first time in the new terminal in Orange County and it looks a lot like the old one, just newer and fancier. I quickly walked through and headed to the curb where my wife was waiting to pick me up. The day went like clockwork with everything going perfectly as planned.

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24 comments on “Four Hours in Phoenix (Trip Report)

  1. It’s not just the Kia with the gas gauge. A fair number of cars I rent have the same problem — doesn’t look full once you fill it up, but the dial starts to move towards full as you head toward the rental car center.

    1. DesertGhost – It’s hard to say if there’s a big difference after just one flight, but the flight attendant on this one did seem more polished and friendly than I’m used to seeing on Mesa.

    1. David – Actually, she was down there doing some shopping at South Coast Plaza anyway, and my parents were in town with the baby. So this worked out very well.

  2. Pretty gutsy only planning on 1.5 hrs to visit. I did a day trip from DC to Chicago a few months ago, but left early the next morning. My flight out was delayed about 1.5 hours which had me landing in Chicago at the beginning of rush hour, causing me to be late to the suprise dinner. My itinerary had about 3 hours of float and I used every minute.

    1. Shane – It wasn’t too gutsy because it was easy to back out. If the first flight was delayed, then I could cancel the Southwest return and the car rental without penalty. If Southwest was delayed, well, then I’d just have more time in Phoenix. So there was zero risk.

    1. Just booked a car for July at LAX. Tried National, Enterprise, and Hertz Gold and Enterprise and National were about the same and Hertz Gold was $100 more for three days

  3. (I could only laugh when he ignored the flight attendants request to turn phones off completely and just left it in airplane mode.)


  4. I traveled on United Sunday and flights were pretty mostly full in/out of Denver, but I noticed a similar lack of elites and military. During boarding of my first and third flights we had maybe one person board with Group 1. We even had some Economy Plus seats open.

  5. Unless my maths are wrong, 4 empty seats on a Southwest 737 equals to more than a 96% load ! But I guess that with such a short roundtrip, why bother with maths … :-)

  6. …early boarding? Not sure that’s the case. Flight attendant contracts dictate the time of boarding. Based on the size of aircraft. Most agents want the passengers on the aircraft, instead of in the boarding area, even with light loads.

    Shocked you did a buddy pass. Flying non revenue with 80 percent load factor is very brave. LOL.

    1. Frank – I think you misunderstand what I mean by early boarding. My point was that when they called for elites, First Class, etc, nobody was there. So most people hopped on with general boarding.

      The buddy pass had zero risk. It was booked to 37 out of 50 when I left for the airport, and earlier flights had already departed. So I felt good about it. But the reason it was no risk was because I could have canceled everything else if this didn’t work out and not been out any money.

    1. Nick – You know, I actually thought to ask him that but he was clearly not in a mood to talk. I never opened my mouth.

  7. I think I have the same shoes as you.

    Good that your CRJ was in good shape inside. Whenever I’m on one, it looks like a plane that nobody wants to invest in, knowing that it’ll probably be retired soon. Ratty old interiors.

  8. Last time I non-rev’d on a CRJ 50, we had Jonathan Ornstein on board, I didn’t know that until I was getting off the plane and I was chatting with the pilots “so…how is JO treating you guys?” the guarded answer was “ask him, he is getting off the plane right now” Glad to see SkyWest metal in US colors, they are a good airline

  9. Man I love hearing fun stories about any excuse to fly!

    As a Captain for the “new” and former AWA (sigh) I still love strapping on a jet–even from the back–for an impromptu trip to Point B, esp. to visit old friends!

    I do think Skywest is serving us substantially better than Mesa ever did. They’ve always been a pro outfit.

    Capn Aux

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