Other than my Hawaiian trip in October, I haven’t flown anywhere in over a year, so it was with just a little excitement that I booked this day trip to Phoenix a mere four days before travel. I flew two different airlines, and one offered a good experience while the other… not so much. Was American or Southwest better? There’s a good chance you guessed wrong.
The biggest difference in booking a flight these days is that the price is now a whole lot lower. Even at this last minute, tickets were only $72.40 each way from Long Beach. I could have flown for half that from LAX, and during normal times that might have been a fun choice. But flying out of LGB allowed me to avoid crowds and wait outside for my flight for a very short time since I can arrive so close to departure. That sounded a lot better than squeezing into LAX.
American had the first flight out, so that’s what I took. I was pleasantly surprised to find that SkyWest would be operating the flight with a CRJ-700 instead of Mesa’s CRJ-900. On the return, Southwest had a flight at the right time, so I snagged it using points.
Leading up to the flights, both airlines sent me emails. American just wanted to reassure me about all the measures they’d put in place to protect travelers from getting sick, but Southwest sent me this:
Is this really still necessary? Flights are becoming more full, and I imagine it’s pretty common for there not to be an alternative. At this point, you’re just reminding people, and that’s not helping anyone. I think it’s time to sunset this email.
The morning of travel, I left home an hour before departure, as usual. I like that this first flight has been pushed a half hour later than it used to be. A 7:15am flight seems much more civilized than one at 6:45am, especially since we used to have to wait at the end of the runway until 7am due to the noise ordinance anyway.
I was going to just park in the garage, but then I realized that since it was a day trip, I could just park on the street outside the airport. It added about 5 extra minutes to my walk into the terminal, but it was free. You can see above that white building which is the garage and how much further I had to park. Not much.
I strolled by the historic terminal looking quite stately in the morning light and walked inside. I was surprised to find that nobody is using JetBlue’s old ticket counter space yet. Everyone is crammed in at one end.
The security lines were empty, so I sailed through and found myself staring out at this view:
I sat down at a table in the courtyard and waited until it looked like we had started boarding. American is now using gate 5, one of the old JetBlue gates. Other than Hawaiian and one other Southwest airplane, the whole area looked pretty empty that morning.
Since I have the AA credit card, I can board with group 5, but when I got there, they were already at group 7. Oh well, didn’t matter. I just had a laptop case to put under the seat anyway.
February 21, 2021
American 3114 Lv Long Beach 715a Arr Phoenix 947a (operated by SkyWest)
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 5, Runway 30, Depart 2m Early
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B22, Runway 7R, Arrive 6m Early
N758EV, Mitsubishi CRJ-701ER, Ugly Flag colors, ~80% Full
Seat 14A, Coach
Flight Time 56m
As I boarded, the flight attendant at the door handed out sanitizer wipes which I used to clean my seat area further even though it already looked pretty clean.
The former Atlantic Southeast airplane looked good inside, much better than the usual Mesa interior. I took my seat in row 14 and looked around only to find the window badly scratched. Bummer.
The flight attendants had a good boilerplate spiel that now includes much about pandemic measures. It was a friendly crew.
Fortunately, the flight wasn’t completely full, and the seat next to me stayed empty. How nice. We taxied down but then we waited. And waited. I was surprised when the pilot told us that we had an air traffic control delay in Phoenix. It lasted less than 10 minutes, and at 7:30am, our wheels were up into the morning sky.
This was a barebones flight. Due to the pandemic, there was no service, and the flight attendants announced that there was no wifi either. It was a choppy day at altitude, so we cruised really low. The pilots originally announced, I think, we would be at 35,000 ft, but we never went above 29,000. Then after 5 minutes there, we came all the way down to 23,000 where we stayed until descent. The seat belt sign stayed on the entire time even though the ride smoothed out once we got over Arizona.
Despite the earlier air traffic control hold, we still landed early enough that we had to wait for an airplane to clear our gate. It didn’t take too long. Once we were taxiing in, the flight attendants said that due to the pandemic they would ask everyone to stay seated and they would let people off a couple rows at a time. Then this happened:
What, you don’t see anything? That’s because PEOPLE LISTENED. It was so weird… and pleasant. Overall, it was a nice flight, and even if the seat next to me had been filled, it wouldn’t have changed my experience much. I was just staring out the window anyway.
A mere 7 hours after I arrived, I was dropped back off for my flight home. This time, I had opted for Southwest because the flight time was better. It’s nice to have more options in the Long Beach – Phoenix market again after American’s pulldown.
I had checked in on my phone at the 24 hour mark and got B10. I was surprised to see nobody obeying social distancing rules in the security lines except for me. The people behind me were RIGHT behind me. The good news is it didn’t take long at all to get through the line anyway.
On the other side, I took a slow walk to the high C gates whence I’d be departing. It wasn’t too crowded there, but around my gate there were a fair number of people, so I wandered. The gate podiums have all been outfitted with protective shields. It feels like I’m walking into a check cashing place.
I finally found a seat a couple gates down that was away from everyone. I heard them announce that boarding was beginning for our flight, and then I realized I hadn’t heard anything else in awhile. Turns out that only the initial announcement was broadcast that far, so by the time I got there, they were boarding B21-30. During the pandemic, they only do boarding 10 at a time. I walked right on.
February 21, 2021
Southwest 3373 Lv Phoenix 543p Arr Long Beach 6p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate C17, Runway 25R, Depart 3m Late
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Arrive 4m Early
N969WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Hot Dog on a Stick colors, ~99% Full
Seat 5A, Coach
Flight Time 57m
There was no wipe handed out on the airplane, but that wouldn’t have helped anyway. I needed a vacuum. I was pleased to see an empty window in row 5, but man, they did not clean this thing at all. The seat was dirty, but I didn’t get a photo of that. I did get a shot of the floor, however.
You probably assume it was just a quick turn so they didn’t have time to clean, but no. The airplane had a very long 1.5 hours between its arrival from Houston and our departure. The more I thought about this, the more it bothered me. Sure I’ve been in dirty planes before, but during the pandemic, it made me wonder just how dirty the airplane was. So much for enhanced cleaning.
The plane was packed full and so were the bins. There seemed to be some confusion around carry-ons. I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening, but it definitely involved there being no bin space and people still thinking they could jam stuff in. The flight attendants did their best to help, but in the end it meant we pushed back a couple minutes late while everything got sorted. The good news about these gates, however, is they are right next to the runway threshold so there is no taxi time.
Once in the air, the glare was strong and my window was dirty. The pilots told us that since it was a pandemic and the ride was “not good,” there would be no service and the flight attendants would stay seated. I’m guessing that means there wouldn’t have been service anyway due to the pandemic, but the part about the flight attendants being seated was because of the turbulence, but I don’t really know.
I was so exhausted, I just stared out the window the best I could with the glare as the sun slowly sunk toward the horizon. Shortly after passing the Salton Sea (visible above), we began our descent over a snow-capped Mt San Jacinto.
I was surprised when our airplane took a left turn and started heading south. I had sweeping views of Camp Pendleton as we turned back north around San Juan Capistrano. It was a beautiful setting as the sun began its dip below the horizon.
After passing over Newport Beach (above), we went over Huntington Beach and saw dozens of ships waiting for their turn in the port (below). The ports are doing good business these days.
We touched down and then went straight to the penalty box. This was my view:
There are 11 gates in the terminal, and only gates 1 and 2 had airplanes at them. We somehow had to wait for the airplane to push off gate 2. After maybe 5 to 10 minutes, we apparently got permission to go to gate 3 instead and pulled up a few minutes before scheduled arrival.
We all hopped off the plane, and I took this spectacular shot.
Overall, I liked what American did. There were constant reminders about the airline taking cleaning seriously, including that sanitizer wipe on boarding. The airplane looked clean, and it felt clean. Southwest, however, well, it didn’t feel the same way. Of course, both flights were on time, so I can’t complain too much. But comparing the two, I felt more comfortable on American, and that’s not because of the seating configuration. I was just staring out the window either way. These are things that I wouldn’t have thought about a year ago.