A Trio of US Airways First Class Seats (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, US Airways

After a week at home, it was time to hit the road again for a couple of trips to Phoenix, all courtesy of US Airways. First up was the (I assume) last annual US Airways media day to be held in Arizona followed by the annual Phoenix Aviation Symposium where I moderated a panel. Then the following week, I did a day trip to attend the US Airways annual leadership conference that had previously been closed to media. All flights were provided by US Airways.

The first trip was a trip of firsts. I ended up being upgraded on all my flights into First Class, giving me a great opportunity to compare three distinct products. It was my first time flying out of the new concourse in Long Beach, my first time in First Class on a US Airways regional jet, and then my first flight in Envoy on a US Airways (East) 757.

For the first trip, I left my home an hour before departure out of Long Beach as usual. The new security area is big and spacious but the TSA was completely mismanaging it. They had a regular line and an elite line leading to the same one ID checker. With a constant stream of elite/First Class travelers the other line never moved. People in that line started getting angry and finally someone came to help. (On my second trip, they had fixed this problem.) Once through, I still had time to kill before the flight.

April 23, 2013
US Airways Express 2766 Lv Long Beach 1005a Arr Phoenix 1122a (operated by Mesa)
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Depart 3m Early
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B7, Runway 25L, Arrive 2m Late
N934FJ, Bombardier CRJ-900, Standard livery, ~85% Full
Seat 3A
Flight Time 1h00m

I got on when they called for First Class boarding and took my seat in the last row of the cabin, on the left side where it’s just a single seat. There’s nothing special about the seat itself other than it being a bit wider and having decent legroom. The tray table comes out of the armrest, and there is a little place to put a cup so you don’t have to pull the entire table out. A flight attendant quickly came through offering pre-departure drinks and I had a water.

It turned out I had a friend who was also booked on this flight for business. She pulled up just past the deadline and they wouldn’t let her on. A rule is a rule, but with 25 minutes until departure, she easily would have made it in a place like Long Beach. It’s really too bad they can’t be more flexible when reality dictates.

We pushed back on time and then waited for a couple minutes at the end of the runway before departing into the marine layer, my favorite way to start a flight. Soon, the gloom was under us and we were in the bright (though hazy) morning sun. The flight attendant had taken orders for drinks before we departed, so he brought me a ginger ale as requested.

Then he came through and brought a basket of snacks for people to choose from. He did a great job, and in fact, provided better service than I received on the 3 US Airways-operated flights. When my glass was empty, he saw it and gave me a refill. In the meantime, he was just trying to help the other flight attendant with the drink service for the coach cabin. Soon we were on our way into Phoenix.

After a very busy week in Phoenix, I was on my way back to the airport. Instead of going back to Long Beach, I had weekend plans in San Diego, so I ducked out a little early from the symposium to catch the 510p flight.

This flight operates 5 days a week with an A319, but on Friday and Sunday, a 757 that usually spends the night in Phoenix does a little turn to San Diego because of the higher demand. This is an East 757 with the old school Envoy cradle seats, so I was excited to try it out.

The security line was really long, but my First Class boarding pass helped speed up the process. I was with another person who had PreCheck and he sailed through about 10 minutes before I did. I really need to get that. Our 757 had come in from Philly and was parked at the far end of the concourse. Soon we were boarding.

April 26, 2013
US Airways 1197 Lv Phoenix 510p Arr San Diego 618p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate A28, Runway 25R, Depart 4m Early
San Diego (SAN): Gate 34, Runway 27, Arrive 6m Early
N940UW, Boeing 757-2B7, Standard livery, 100% Full in biz
Seat 3A
Flight Time 51m

It’s always a treat when you get to turn left after entering an airplane. US Airways has a mini-coach cabin and then three rows of Envoy in front of the boarding door.

While coach looked like you would expect on any US Airways aircraft, Envoy was old school. The bins were smaller, the window shades were old and yellowed, the seats were scuffed up. This was an old cradle-style business class seat at its finest. And you know what, I’d take it any day over an angled flat bed.

A flight attendant came through with pre-departure drinks. (I soon found out she was a 35-year Piedmont veteran.) I just had water, but the guy in front of me asked for a gin and tonic. Then he stopped her and asked what kind of gin she had. The reply? “I don’t know. It’s just gin.” Oy.

We pushed back and had no delay getting into the air. There’s nothing quite like the whine of those Rolls Royce engines pushing the airplane effortlessly into the sky. We climbed through the usual afternoon chop in Phoenix and then headed south before going west toward San Diego.

It was a quick flight, but I had time for a drink. The flight attendant asked before departure what everyone wanted, and I asked for a scotch. She came back and said, “Here’s your scotch. It’s a double.” And smiled. Excellent.

In the meantime, I went to play with the seat. It was scuffed up but it worked just fine. Other than the lack of underseat storage (my laptop bag barely fit), there wasn’t much to complain about for such a short flight. Oh, there is an arm that comes out of the seat to hold the inflight entertainment, but we weren’t handed the units. That was weird that it wasn’t built-in, but then again, these seats were old.

It was pretty easy to get the cradle seat into a position that was comfortable to me. I can’t really sleep on airplanes, but I got drowsy pretty quickly once I found that comfort spot. Others were passed out already, including the guy in front of me who appeared to be dead he was so soundly sleeping. I was actually surprised how comfortable it ended up being. Do I want to take it over the Atlantic? Not overnight if I can have a flat bed. But it would be great for a daylight trip, and like I said, I’d take it over an angled lie flat seat in a second.

I didn’t have much time to rest because we descended into San Diego all too quickly. It was a beautiful late afternoon with stellar views of Coronado and downtown on the way in. We landed and taxied to the gate in just a couple minutes. Soon I was on my way to a weekend with friends.

I had a great time in San Diego, but then I went back home for a couple days. On Wednesday, it was time to head back to Phoenix once more for the US Airways annual leadership conference. This was the first time they extended a broad invitation to the media, and I was eager to go. But this time, I just did a day trip.

Have I mentioned I love Long Beach Airport? I woke up at 530a, was out the door at 545a, parked in the long term lot, went through security, and was at my gate by 610a. That gave me a little time to check emails and then it was time to board. My only complaint? The parking is absurdly expensive. There is no cheap long term option. If it’s more than a day trip, it’s cheaper for me to take a cab.

May 1, 2013
US Airways 149 Lv Long Beach 645a Arr Phoenix 809a
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Depart 1m Early
Phoenix (PHX): Gate A5, Runway 8, Arrive 10m Early
N806AW, Airbus A319-132, Standard livery, 11/12 in First
Seat 3A
Flight Time 54m

US Airways is still running one mainline flight a day into Long Beach. It’s the late night flight in and the morning return. I was again in First Class, and this gave me the chance to compare mainline to Express. The seat was wider and certainly more comfortable. But it felt like there was less legroom. There was still plenty for me, since I’m short. The flight attendant came by with a cup of water before departure.

We didn’t seem to be in a hurry to push back, and that’s not a surprise. Flights can’t depart Long Beach until 7a, so we took our time getting down to the end of the runway. Once there, we waited a couple minutes and then launched into the marine layer. A minute later, we were in the brilliant bright sunshine, such a great contrast to the gray beneath the deck.

As soon as I heard the ding, I pulled out my laptop and worked on a post. There was wifi on this A319, but I wasn’t about to pay Gogo’s rate just to use it for 30 minutes.

The flight attendant came through with another round of drinks but no snacks. It seemed strange that my Express flight offered more than mainline. But soon we had crossed into Arizona and we were on our way into Phoenix.

It was a good day, but I was downright exhausted as I headed back to Sky Harbor for my flight home. Security lines were non-existent and I was at my gate with time to spare. I was glad when it was time to board, because I just wanted to go home.

May 1, 2013
US Airways 131 Lv Phoenix 805p Arr Long Beach 926p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B6, Runway 25R, Depart 5m Early
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Arrive 1m Late
N835AW, Airbus A319-132, Standard livery, ~85% Full
Seat 2A
Flight Time 55m

This flight attendant was in a great mood, and the First Class cabin enjoyed it. One woman lost her phone, so he called it and found it for her. Then he said that as a New Yorker, he couldn’t just give it to her but instead offered to sell it back to her. Then he went through the cabin bringing drinks to all. I told him I’d just have water but I’d have a scotch in the air, and he just brought me the mini bottle before departure so I’d have it ready.

We pushed back on time and taxied to the runway only to pull off of it and sit for another 10 minutes. Not sure what the delay was, but the captain never told us. After letting maybe a dozen other planes go, it was our turn and we headed west.

Once airborne, drinks came quickly and this time we got, as a friend calls it, “salty death mix” with nuts and about 10 times the recommended daily salt intake. But it was tasty. With Santa Ana winds kicking up around the LA Basin, we were told that it was going to be bumpy. So they buttoned up the cabin very early and took their seats for the ride in. After only a couple of minor bumps, we were on the ground and I was ready to hit the pillow.

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29 comments on “A Trio of US Airways First Class Seats (Trip Report)

  1. I’m curious why you dislike the angled lie flat seats? For clarity’s sake can you give an example of an airline with a seat that you don’t like?

    I’ve been lucky enough to take a number of long haul international trips over the years and I don’t remember a big difference in sleep quality from the old United Recliner Style Business class seats (but then again that was in my early 30’s) to the lie flat products (Old UAL lie flat first, BA, and Delta lie flat Business) that I’ve flown more recently. I will say that some of the motorized seats seem to not be as nice a recliner when your just looking to relax as opposed to sleep. The BA design with the footrest that is at a fixed height is a good example of this problem.

    Now if your talking angled non-lie flat seats (Lufthansa’s old business class for example) that is a different story. My wife recently took a trip from IAD to DXB on UAL/Lufthansa and found their non lie flat seats on the A330 distincly uncomfortable and almost impossible to sleep in. The new seat on the 747-8 was a vast improvement she said.

    1. 121Pilot – I think we’re just having a naming issue here. When I talk about angled flat seats, I’m talking about the seats that are flat surfaces but they are at an angle to the floor of the cabin. The AA business class seat I just flew a couple weeks ago is a perfect example. The Lufthansa seat is the same.

      The old United recliners are what I call “cradle” seats meaning they cradle you like a lounge chair. I think those are way better than the AA/Lufthansa-style seats.

      BA has fully flat beds as does Delta on most aircraft now. I don’t think Delta ever installed angled flat beds on any aircraft except for the ones that came with that when they merged with Northwest. And those weren’t good either. Delta has already replaced those on all 747s and the A330s are starting their modifications now.

      1. Ok Brett that makes sense and I fully agree. The “angled” lie flat seat which of course isn’t flat at all is a truly miserable idea. It makes you wonder why anyone Installed them (probably to fool people I to thinking it was a true lie flat) and if those responsible tested the seats before picking them.

    1. SEAN – He said he’s sell it back to her for half what she paid. The guy was great. It’s amazing how the attitude of a flight attendant can set the mood in the cabin.

      1. Brett,

        So true regarding a good attitude in a service business like this. I have friends who work in retail on various levels & everyone of them would agree with your last statement. In this case part of good service includes a sence of humor since flying as you well know can be stressful & that last FA gets it.

  2. I totally agree with Cranky that those cradle seats beat angled lie-flat. They don’t recline quite as far, but you’re not going to slide down them, either, so you have a chance of getting some sleep.

    Overall Cranky, sounds like pretty standard US Airways service–nothing flashy, but reliable and consistent.

    Now all you need to do is take a trip in Envoy on one of their A330’s!

    1. Andrew – Very true, that’s the only one I’m missing. I will be flying on American’s new seat in June over to London, and that’s the same seat US Airways has installed already. So that’ll be close enough for now.

  3. You would think after 35 years that one F/A would know what brand Gin they carry.

    I know it’s just the photo, but that first photo when I sat the foot rest I thought it looked like a lawn chair you would buy at Walmart in summer.

      1. I know Nick, I was thinking more after 35 years older workers tend to remember the little details since back then knowing which brands you carried was something F/A’s had to know.

        I do wonder if they change brands a lot depending on what price they can get, which may be why she didn’t know.

        1. It might even change by station? Who knows… But after 35 years in the airline business you’re doing alright if you still know what airline you’re working for!

    1. For the record, according to USAirways.com, it’s Tanqueray gin. I have no clue how long it’s been that way.

  4. It’s interesting to see the variation in “meal” service. I thought the standard is snack basket with the first beverage, at least that was the case with my last 4 US Airways flight in first. Could be they double catered in PHX, and ran out on the way out of LGB?

    1. ptahcha – I was confused as well, but I did get clarification on what it should be. The only flight that gave me the correct service was the last one. For flights under 1.5 hours, you get either a Biscoff cookie or a little pretzel snack pack. For flights between 1.5 and 3.5 hours, they trot out the snack basket. Over 3.5 hours and you get a meal.

      My guess is that on the first flight, they just had the snack basket on board from an earlier flight so they brought it out even though they probably weren’t supposed to. For the next two flights, they were probably just being lazy because the flights were so short. But I can’t say for sure. Maybe there was a catering issue.

  5. I booked F in US recently. The cradle seat on a 757 was incredibly uncomfortable when seated fully upright for take off and landing. The seat literally pushed my head down into my chest. UGH. It was much better when in the hammock position. I actually was able to sleep a bit. But upright it was just too painful. Fortunately the flight attendant was tolerant of a bit of recline to the seat.

    1. Steve – Agreed. I couldn’t wait until we got off the ground so I could recline, because the upright position was very uncomfortable.

  6. Brett:
    I am a LGB flyer almost every week. I LOVE the new LGB more than I loved the old LGB. I have never had an issue with the TSA security line… I am a US Airways Chairmans and a jetBlue Mosaic member and I always use the premium line. What happened to you was probably some temporary issue. They usually have a person who quickly reviews your boarding pass to see what line you should go in, and then you go into one of two lines… there are two TSA agents one for each line, and I have never waited more than 2 minutes since December when the new terminal opened.

    As far as parking, come on Brett… take a cab! Here is my rule… I live in Belmont Heights, and a cab costs $15.00 each way (plus a tip). So, if I am going to be traveling more than two days… I take a cab. If its just a one day quickie trip, Ill park. You can park in the farther lot (lot “B”) for $17 per day. But, frankly, the on-airport parking at LGB is cheaper than any other Southern California airport. But, come on, take a cab! You save money AND time. Since Long Beach Taxi uses the app “Taxi Magic”, use that on your phone to order a cab, and track their progress. Usually, I get service within about 3 minutes from when I hit “send”. Enjoy the new LGB… its awesome. LGB enhances my quality of life as an on-the road guy. Now, lets hope that with US Airways and American combining, we get to keep the US Airways flights from LGB into an easy hub at PHX — and they reinstate LGB-DFW and LGB-ORD flights. That would make my life hum!

    1. Jeremy – I think the TSA thing was a temporary issue because it had been fixed when I was there for the trip the following week.

      As for parking, you use the same pitch that the airport does… “the on-airport parking at LGB is cheaper than any other Southern California airport.” That is true but misleading. Every other airport in Southern California has off-airport long term lots that are far cheaper, and LGB does not. I always do the math. On my first trip, I got a ride from my wife. On the second trip, it was a day trip so parking was cheaper than a cab. But anything longer than a day and it’s better to take a cab for sure.

  7. Brett-
    So it sounds like you live insanely close to LGB, is that correct?
    And you are able to cut real close on boardings?
    I personally don’t think you should be encouraging others into the same behavior with regard to boarding a plane.
    Just saying :)

    1. Don’t mean to speak for Cranky, but I suspect it’s probably more along the lines of he’s so familiar with the airport that he has his arrival times down to a science. Most folks who travel frequently for business can say the same thing about their home airports. I for one will time leaving my house and my arrival at DFW much closer than I would recommend to someone who isn’t familiar with the airport, simply because I’ve been there so much that I know all the ins and outs of both the route from my house to the airport, and which screening lines are the shortest.

    2. Robby – I’m not encouraging anyone. I’m simply writing about how I do things. I live about 10 to 15 minutes from the airport, and I always leave home an hour before departure.

  8. The answer to this is probably painfully obvious, but an enquiring mind wants to know. You said airport restrictions prohibit departures prior to 7 A.M., but your scheduled departure time out of LGB on the third leg was 6:45. I’m assuming US isn’t the only airline that does that. Do they do that just so they can be first in line for takeoff once the restriction lifts?

    1. MeanMeosh – Yeah, the restriction on getting into the air, so you can push back whenever you want. You see the same kind of thing at John Wayne airport as well. Right now, US Airways is at 645a and JetBlue has an Oakland flight at 650a. I remember previously Alaska had a flight around that time as well.

  9. Spot-on post, Bret. I’ll have to re-read for a bit more detail; this is a good one. Thanks also for the disclosure. Sorry, but that IS an important part of maintaining your credibility. The simple statement, ,in the first sentence no less, covers you with grace. (I’ve read your posts long enough to know that you don’t quibble, no matter who host’s the boarding pass. Please keep it as clean as it has always been. Important.)
    US Airways apparently did quite well on your three trips. My mileage with US has not been quite that good, even in front-end cabins, but mileage does vary. I know there will be some bumps as the meld systems with American, but if they work together, rather than the slap fights that UA and CO (?) experienced, they will eventually comprise a good carrier. Sadly, on-board service integration will – and should – be a later consideration. When they officially join, the reservations and ticketing systems have to work. (Lessons learned and UA/CO and NW/DL won’t help them.) If they are smart, they will implement the reservations and ticketing as well as their internal operating routines in pieces – and not move on until all of the expected bugs are eliminated. Yes, they CAN do this in pieces, by offering the new, combined systems to only a few, select groups of clients while doing the beta testing. I would not want that job and would not accept it, without full and absolute support from the CEO and a lot of money. I’m grateful that I no longer do those kinds of projects…
    An excellent post and please keep them coming. -C.

  10. Enjoyed your article.. Flying first class for first time tomorrow. Very excited!! Trying to learn everything I can. That was nice of you to share your experiences w others.

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