Just A Miserable Day of Travel (Trip Report)

Alaska Airlines, Delta, Trip Reports

There’s an annual trip I do with my cousin and brother’s family up to Sonoma to honor my late cousin Danny, but this year was different. Nobody else could make it. Still wanting to represent the family at this event, I decided to make it a day trip, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take my 5-year-old son on an adventure. While we had a good time together, our flights on Delta and Alaska were tough, each with lengthy delays for different reasons.

I decided to let my son have fun with this one. I showed him pictures of the different airplanes we could take to get up to the Bay Area, and he quickly zoned in on two of them. He’s a fan of the T-tail (or, as he calls it, a “flat wing”), so he liked the Delta 717 and the Alaska (Horizon) Q400. That meant we’d fly up on Delta into San Francisco for $70.20 each and we’d fly back from Santa Rosa on Alaska for $83.20 each. National had a car for cheap without a drop charge, so we were set.

I checked us in for both flights in advance so we had our boarding passes ready. My son had a backpack with an iPad and snacks while I had my laptop bag, so we were traveling light and ready for a good but tiring day. It quickly got a lot more tiring.

The flight up was scheduled to depart Los Angeles at 9am, so we left around 7 to get there. Right around 7:30am, the first alert came in that we were delayed until 10. I was sort of expecting this since there were low clouds in San Francisco, but I had hoped we’d escape without too much pain. This still wasn’t bad, but oh there was more to come. The next time you hear me talking about buying a ticket to SFO, please stop me.

We weren’t going to turn around, so we decided to explore Delta’s new home at LAX. Our flight was leaving from Terminal 3, so we went through security there and then took a shuttle over to Terminal 2. That meant we had a little ramp time on our way to the shuttle.

After walking around, we took a shuttle back over to the Bradley Terminal and wandered some more, looking at all the big airplanes. It was then that the next delay alert came through. We wouldn’t leave until 11:13am. Crap. This was almost a futile trip since it was questionable that we’d even make the event by the 3:30pm required arrival. But we decided to push on and hope for the best.

At this point, my son was already getting tired and cranky, so we took the bus back to Terminal 3. The place was absolutely jammed. They can’t knock this down soon enough.

Somehow, we found a couple of seats, and my son watched a movie on his iPad. The weather improved at SFO enough that our departure time moved up to 10:55am. That was a relief, and I was excited to see boarding finally beginning.

June 30, 2017
Delta 2756 Lv Los Angeles 9a Arr San Francisco 1041a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 31A, Runway 24L, Depart 2h6m Late
San Francisco (SFO): Gate 44, Runway 28L, Arrive 2h11m Late
N896AT, Boeing 717-2BD, Standard Delta colors, ~90% Full
Seat 18D, Coach
Flight Time 55m

We got onboard, and I was surprised to find this 717 looking very tired. The walls were dirty and scuffed (below), and some of the window casings were no longer flush against the wall (didn’t get a photo).

Though we were now supposed to leave by 10:55, we didn’t leave for another 11 minutes. Then we started taxiing the wrong way, and I got a bad feeling. Sure enough, according to the pilots, we were given a further 30 minute hold after we left. (I wondered if we had missed our window.)

Instead of sitting in a penalty box, however, they put us on a taxiway with other aircraft toward the west end. When one of the aircraft was cleared, everyone else had to move, so we went around in a circle on this taxiway until we were finally released to depart. After going in circles for half an hour, we were airborne.

It’s been awhile, but I remember Delta having little Luvo food plates/boxes on the Delta Shuttle to SFO. I was relying on that and snacks to make for a light lunch, but apparently those are gone. I see absolutely nothing that differentiates the Shuttle from a regular Delta flight now.

They handed out a little pack of almonds, and my son was sad that there were no Biscoff.

The flight attendant did, however, say he had a couple onboard and gave him one. That saved us from a meltdown.

We landed in San Francisco close to 1, and as we got off, the First Officer was walking off as well. He asked my son if he had been given wings. He said no, so the First Officer crouched down, grabbed him a pair of wings from his bag, and gave them to him. That was great.

We were in a hurry, however, so I rushed us through the terminal and on to the train to the rental car center. It was a busy train, and just as we got to the parking garages, the train went out of service and everyone had to get off. We had to wait for the next train, and we were barely able to squeeze on it. The rental car center was absolutely jammed at the beginning of this holiday weekend, but I’m an Emerald Club member, so we walked out, grabbed a car, and hit the road.

We were late enough in the day that holiday traffic had gotten worse. Waze routed us along the Pacific coast up through San Francisco before heading over the Golden Gate Bridge. It took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get up to Sonoma State University, and we were indeed late.

Fortunately, we did get there just in time for what we needed to be there for, but we missed some of the other non-essential stuff. Within half an hour, we were done, and I was ready to start heading back home. But oh, the first delay alert for the return had just come in.

I figured we’d be in great shape since Santa Rosa has no congestion issues, but I was wrong. Horizon, you see, is having big crew shortages. And our aircraft was delayed in Seattle waiting for a crew to show up. At first it was a 20 minute delay, but then it kept slipping. In 15 minute increments, we kept getting pushed back further and further. It peaked at 7:43pm, just shy of being 1.5 hours late, before moving back up to 7:33pm. In the end, we didn’t leave until later than that.

We now had all kinds of time to kill, but my son was exhausted. He had been cooped up all day, hadn’t eaten a proper meal, and hadn’t taken more than a 10 minute catnap. I asked him what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to just go to the airport. I took the slow route since we had nothing but time, and we got to the Charles M Schulz (creator of the Peanuts) Airport just around 5:30pm.

This airport makes even the old Long Beach Airport look gigantic. With the addition of American and United recently, it is absolutely bursting at the seams and is in desperate need of its planned expansion.

United and American use a trailer for ticketing while Allegiant (which just announced it’s leaving), Alaska, and I think Sun Country are in the terminal. In front of the terminal, Charlie Brown and Linus are there to greet you.

On the inside we found Alaska’s tiny ticket counter.

The rental car counters, and the one miniscule baggage claim belt are wedged in there as well.

When we arrived, security was closed, so we went into the big and busy restaurant in the airport. This was a highlight. The restaurant has a big outdoor patio, so we sat down and had dinner.

My son polished off some ice cream to round out the meal. By the time we were done messing around, we decided to head through security around 6:45pm.

Santa Rosa has a tiny security area with just one lane. I was told since it’s a small airport, I had to take my laptop out of the bag despite having Pre Check. Ok. I did notice that this was a contract airport – no TSA there but a contractor instead.

On the other side was a small waiting room that held gate 1. That’s only used by Allegiant today, though I assume someone else will take it over once that airline leaves. For everyone else, you have to walk outside to what looks like a pop-up circus tent that holds gate 2.

This was probably the nicest part of the airport. It was big and cold (thank you, ample air conditioning) on the inside with plenty of seating.

Bathroom? Well, you had to walk out the other side and use the portables. (They were fancy ones on trailers, at least.)

Our airplane pulled up at 6:58pm. I figured they’d be able to turn the Q400 quickly, but I was wrong. Once everyone was off the inbound flight from Seattle, we started to board.

June 30, 2017
Alaska 2475 Lv Santa Rosa 616p Arr Los Angeles 753p (operated by Horizon)
Santa Rosa (STS): Gate 2, Runway 14, Depart 1h33m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 60B (bus gate), Runway 24R, Arrive 1h37m Late (2h7m late to the terminal)
N404QX, Bombardier Dash 8-402Q, old Alaska Eskimo colors, ~95% Full
Seat 17D, Coach
Flight Time 1h15m

I had specifically chosen seats in the back since I wanted to avoid having the engine on the high wing block our view. We boarded through the rear stairs and found our seats.

These seats were probably old since they were in the old Horizon burgundy colors. They were slim, however, and they didn’t recline. That being said, they were comfortable, more so than those on the Delta 717 that morning.

This was a full flight with only 1 or 2 empty seats. Yet somehow they kept getting the passenger count wrong. The flight attendants both came up and down the aisles multiple times, and we could hear them going back and forth behind us on how many people were actually on the airplane. Then I think they had to go back to get more paperwork. All in all, it took 50 minutes to turn the airplane, and that seems crazy. Oh, and it was warm onboard.

When we finally did get on our way, it was delightful. We took off into the smooth air and had a spectacular view of the sunset. My son usually likes to mess with me and close the window shades, but this plane has none. Ha! I win. On the right, we could see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. (Sorry for the quality, but the windows were pretty scratched up.)

I was surprised to see that Horizon still has its own inflight magazine. It shares some pieces with the main Alaska magazine, but it focuses more on the destinations Horizon serves. I was happy since I had read the Alaska magazine just a couple weeks before, but I still think it’s strange.

On the Q400s, Horizon hands out free beer and wine, and on this flight the beer was a Lagunitas IPA. I don’t really like IPAs, but I really needed a beer after that day. They also handed out Cheez-Its, but I’m firmly on Team Goldfish and gave them to my son instead.

The flight continued south as the sun crept closer and closer to the horizon. My son, previously captivated by the iPad, couldn’t stop staring out the window at the pinks and oranges and yellows.

The ride was mostly smooth, though at one point it got bumpy enough they flipped the seatbelt sign on. We came in over the Grapevine and followed the 5 freeway toward downtown LA. On our side, my son again was glued to the window seeing all the lights of Los Angeles beneath him.

As we came past downtown Los Angeles on final approach, I told him to keep looking out the window for a surprise. Just a couple minutes before arrival, the surprise arrived with the gear dropping down out of the wing. He thought that was amazing, having missed the retraction upon departure. I thought this was a nice end to a challenging day, but I was wrong. It wasn’t over.

We landed on the north side and started taxiing back over to the south side. The pilots came on to tell us that we’d have to park at a remote gate and bus in. Seriously? The only remote gates I’ve ever seen at LAX (outside of the American Eagle terminal) are at the far west end of the airport. But here we were taxiing on the south side toward the east, past all of the terminals… slowly.

We made it all the way toward the threshold of the 25 runways when we parked. There was a Cathay Pacific 777-300ER, an Ethiopian 787, and a Mokulele Grand Caravan there as well. Has anyone ever parked there before? This must be new. Soon after we shut down, a bus showed up, and we walked off.

Now were done, right? Nope. The bus gate is 60B, but it’s wedged into a very small area on the ramp. We had to wait for two buses in front of us before we could get off. The first one unloaded and then sat there, waiting for people to board it for the flight out. Our driver was really friendly, and he just kept apologizing, saying the buses are supposed to drop people off and get back in line, not wait and block everyone behind. Apparently someone didn’t get the memo. All in all, we sat there not moving for more than 15 minutes. Everyone was standing, wedged into this tiny bus, and we were exhausted.

Once we got off the bus, I was glad I didn’t have a big carry-on. People had to lug their bags up a flight of stairs with no elevator option around that I could see. My son and I stumbled into the terminal right around 10pm, more than 2 hours late.

Like I said, while it was a good day of father/son bonding, it was just a miserable day of travel. I could point fingers, but really, the fingers would point everywhere.

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41 comments on “Just A Miserable Day of Travel (Trip Report)

  1. Your son is a trooper, especially for putting up with a routing far inferior to LGB-OAK, which his dad would normally otherwise pick. :)

    1. There’s hope for him yet on the window! My 4 YO daughter is a shade puller as well, so I understand your pain! Now that I see your son’s appreciation for the view on the last flight, I’m holding out hope for my daughter as well! I suppose I could just give her the middle/aisle seat and take the window for myself…

  2. Besides the blog being interesting about life in aging airports and delayed flights, it shows the job of an empathic father!!
    Great going!
    Your son will thank you someday

  3. Having done more than my share of IAD-BOS and DCA-DFW day trips, I can only say that when things go well, its Ok. When they don’t, it’s really really bad.

    Your son did incredibly well, all factors considered.

  4. So no food, even for our base, on a long enough lunchtime flight with a 5 year old? That’s very uncivilized. Shame on the U.S.A.

  5. I never understand why people choose SFO over OAK or SJC unless they live in San Francisco or the northern two thirds of San Mateo County. Otherwise, it’s easier to fly into or out of any other airport. To get to Santa Rosa, it’s easier to fly drive out of OAK because it’s all freeway to Santa Rosa (even though going through the Novato Narrows is not fun).

    1. I suspect people simply don’t think about it. Which is unfortunate, especially for West Coast shorthaul travel. I did SNA-SFO once because my wife (who is generally knowledgeable) never realized the risk. A three-hour-delay later, I said “never again!” and she learned her lesson.

      I still don’t understand how UA encourages anyone to do shorthaul-to-longhaul travel from the west coast via SFO.

    2. southbay – I never would have picked SFO either, but he really wanted that 717. (Plus he wanted Delta thanks to the Biscoff. Little did he know they almost didn’t have one. He would have lost it. He calls them Delta cookies.)

      1. IIRC, Delta also flies the 717 from LAX to SJC. I do see them periodically flying over my place. Of course, that would have resulted in about another 45 minutes worth of driving to Santa Rosa, but on the other hand, SJC doesn’t make you take a train to the rental car counter as you can walk from Terminal A to B if you didn’t check bags and your flight would have a better chance of being on-time.

        1. southbay – We actually looked at it once our flight delayed. The flight we needed was on an E75. It was also more expensive to then change the rental car up, so I didn’t push it.

    1. David SF – Sure did. It was actually really nice in there. If you can’t climb stairs though, ugh, then you get a normal port-a-potty.

  6. When I was at the LAX Marriott last weekend I watched several Alaska/Horizon Q400s come and go from that location you were apparently sent to. That Ethiopian jet was there too which I guess means they park it out there for like half a day before it gets dragged back to the gate for the evening’s flight ala Qantas, Air New Zealand, and Air Tahiti Nui.

  7. Good on both you and your son for making the best of the day!

    That LAX-STS flight is gorgeous. I’ve done it once before (taking the full direct LAX-STS-SEA flight, which believe it or not was the most efficient routing connecting SYD-LAX-SEA shortly before Delta started their LAX-SEA nonstops). We also went right up the middle of San Francisco Bay at probably 10,000 feet. Horizon normally turns their Q400s in 20 minutes flat at outstations in my experience; your experience was an outlier. I’ve never been on a Horizon Q400 with reclining seats.

    STS looks bigger than EAT, which doesn’t even have a conveyer belt at baggage claim, just a sloped metal slide that the rampers (who are also the ticket agents and gate agents) drop the bags on.

    1. Q400s seem to fly much lower than jets, so they’re great for those of us who like to watch the landscape go by. Flying OAK-PDX you’ll see Mt Shasta, the Trinity Alps, Crater Lake, etc.

  8. Great report. My parents live in Santa Rosa and I love the convenience of flying in and out of STS. When it works, it works really well – although they’re in desperate need of additional terminal space, and Horizon is much less reliable lately with all their crew issues.

    SFO is such a gamble. A beautiful facility on the surface, but a complete operational disaster and no political will to do anything about it (a statement which pretty much sums up everything about life in northern California). A thin layer of clouds jams up operations for hours on end. If I don’t have business directly in the city, I use SJC.

  9. Nice story Crankster. I still remember when my Mom took my brothers and I on a DC-3 from Nashville to Clarksville, way back in 1965. It was our first airline ride (on Ozark).Millions of miles later, it’s one of the few trips I remember like it was yesterday. here’s hoping your son has the same memory.

  10. I’ve had a flight park at that remote gate on AA. We arrived about 30 minutes early and was delighted at that, until we started heading in the wrong direction from Terminal 4. To make matters worse, there was no crew at our remote gate and we waited 45 minutes for people to show up and the buses to come out to take us to T4. The only good side was being able to take a ride super close to the tarmac and see all the planes from ground-level.

  11. The circus tent terminal reminds me of the departure tents for cruises in some cruise ports. A nice tent like that just screams, “We know we’ll be here for months, but we’re not sure if we’ll be here long enough to justify or get permission to construct an actual building.”

  12. Great report–such experiences build his traveling character!

    Future topic, please: big Frontier expansion announced today.

  13. I always board/deplane at that bus situation near the Menzies building when I fly in on Great Lakes. They used to do it directly at T6 but for the past year and a half or so it has been bus. Nice bus tour of the airport though.

    1. That area is formally know as the ‘C1 Pad’ (Since taxiway Charlie 1 is the point of egress/ingress). It has been in use for remote parking for about two years. Initially, used for OSO situations. But, as demand as outstripped supply at T-6, the T-props are now regularly using that area.

      The heavies that are parked in that area are all ‘remain-all-day’ (RAD) types that usually would park at the “official” remote gates. With the gate closures at TBIT, the remote gates are being constantly used for live flights. As a result, demand is outstripping supply. So LAWA designated C1 and adjacent B1 (just north of the departure end of runway 25R) as additional hardstand parking.

  14. Nothing I like better than flying on a big ol’ airliner–your expectations are high and they are soon smashed. For those of you who have to travel all the time, and those who have to serve them, my hat’s off to you all. Recent trip of mine–we are overbooked–looking for 10 volunteers—but, of course we are overweight–6-hour-plus flight ORD to Fairbanks, of which there is only one RT a day. The gate is aflutter, but not to worry, the en route weather doesn’t look good so we may not be leaving soon. We get there, anyway. So, returning, I see the outbound 737 of the day before has had serious problems, still at the gate. The overnight en route lightning was spectacular, weather rough, the arrival weather around ORD. is a mess, but we luck out, the aircraft (UA 737-800) is looking shabby, (Mesa’s Embraer E-175), nice, but the monthly cleaning hasn’t occurred yet, my bag didn’t make the connection, but….I’m working on my next trip!

  15. WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL!  You’re a great Dad, though a bit ‘cranky’ at times.
    Wish you two could have included a DC-3, Convair 340, maybe an early Viscount, and DC-6B into your adventure.  How about a beautifully-curved triple-tailedL-1049 Connie [my 2nd wife’s name]?
    Cranky, how could you not have spotted the PAA STRATOCRUISER [B377] on the ramp behind the Caravan?  1954 Round-The-World authentic PAA Clipper Club member at Age 12.

    Dr. Norman L. Wherrett, Jr.Neuroproctologist – Retiredaka A Kindred-Spirit

  16. I consider myself to be a pretty big airplane nerd who is very knowledgeable about this stuff – I can name airport codes the world over like the back of my hand, tell you who flies which obscure routes, talk about different equipment all day long…but I can honestly say I’ve never heard of Santa Rosa airport before this trip report, nor ever seen that airport code. Not sure how that one slipped through, but glad I’m aware of it now!

      1. Horizon has been flying to STS for several years now. The other airlines have started recently, though.

  17. Thanks for passing along the wonder of aviation to a new generation and for giving us the opportunity to share in it.
    West coast air travel has been just plain horrible this year due to construction, wet weather, mergers and staffing. For years, east coast air travel was looked at with derision by those on the west coast…. now both coasts are regularly a disaster.
    People will make travel what they want and a little aviation magic that most don’t see helps but the US is hitting the capacity limits of the air transportation system and ATC reform isn’t going to come close to solving the problem. The problem is a lack of concrete and terminal space that won’t ever be expanded on both sides of the US.

    Thanks for being a great Dad in spite of it all.

  18. Actually, for a Friday trip- on Express flights- preceding a major four day weekend holiday, it seems to me your trip wasn’t that horrific, excepting the scratched window.

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