I was really excited about this trip for many reasons. First, my brother was graduating from medical school. Second, I was able to fly ExpressJet, a new airline for me (well, new if you don’t count flying on Continental Express). Third, it was the first time I’d ever flown in or out of Ontario. On top of all that, the trip was free. When I met with ExpressJet management a couple months ago, they offered me the chance to fly them if I’d be willing to give them a detailed review of my thoughts on the trip. I assume they knew I’d write a blog post as well, but that would only be a good thing if the experience lived up to expectations. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.
So, how’d it turn out? Overall, the experience was excellent, but Ontario is just too far for me to be worth it. For that reason alone, I’m unlikely to fly them again unless they start serving other nearby airports. I wish they’d pick up some commuter slots at Long Beach. Then I’d fly them any time.
May 11, 2007
ExpressJet #25 Lv Ontario (ONT) 1030a Arr Tucson (TUS) 1148a
: Gate 209, Runway 26R, Dept 8m Late
: Gate 28, Runway 11L, Arr 9m Late
Aircraft: N13550, Embraer ERJ-145, ExpressJet colors, 100% full
Flight Time: 1h2m
Seat: 6C, Coach
As I said, Ontario is far. It’s 50 miles whether starting from my place or my girlfriend’s. Since leaving from her place would avoid traveling through downtown LA on a weekday morning, we decided to start from there. We left her place at about 8a and we were at the airport just over an hour later. And that was with no traffic at all. We parked in long term parking and took the shuttle in.
Since we had checked in online, we went straight to the security line. It was short, but it took awhile due to the very, um, inexperienced nature of the customers. People didn’t have their ID’s out, they didn’t take their shoes off, blah blah blah. Fortunately, we had plenty of time. The airport itself is very nice. We were in terminal 2. There is also a terminal 4 and that’s it. Terminal 1 is the old terminal that isn’t in use other than for tv and movies, I think. They have room for terminal 3 if they want to expand between 2 and 4.
We went to the gate and I walked up to the agent to ask if we could change seats (they don’t let you change seats online, booo). At the time, she was giving directions to Ontario to a customer on the phone! She said she gets all kinds of calls at the gate. When she hung up, I asked if we could change our seats and she said no (quite nicely), the plane was full. After I left, she wandered the boarding area tagging bags that would need to be gate checked, and then they started boarding.
Sure enough, the plane was full. They actually boarded 51 people to fill the 50 seats. Without boarding pass scanners, they boarded two people with the same seat assignment. After a lot of discussion and pleas for volunteers or employees to come forward, they found an employee who was hiding in the back, trying to avoid giving up her seat. Fortunately, they found her and we were on our way a few minutes late.
XM radio was on from the moment we boarded, and the flight attendant walked through handing out headphones. I thought it was rather odd that the boarding announcement (which was recorded) didn’t interrupt the radio. We took off quickly and went west for what seemed like a long time. Then we headed north before finally turning back around. Gotta love LAX traffic, I guess.
Service began quickly and the flight attendant handed out Sun Chips along with drinks. They have really nice heavy plastic cups (at right). The flight attendant was very friendly and helpful throughout the flight. In the end, she came by with a single biscotti and a mint for everyone. It was certainly some of the best service I’ve had on a short haul in a long time.
Now let’s talk about the seat. ExpressJet’s CEO Jim Ream kept bragging to us about the seats a couple months ago, so I made sure to pay close attention (at left). He talked about how they used memory foam and they were amazingly comfortable. Even with all that hype, I have to say I agree. The cushioning was fantastic. The seat bottom was very comfortable and the headrest was the perfect mix of cushy yet firm. These were far better than the seats on American last week. The only complaint? Those armrests are VERY skinny. It’s enough of a problem fighting your seatmate at normal width, but thanks to the size of the small cabin, I guess they couldn’t do anything about that. That’s unfortunate, because it is a problem.
We landed in Tucson and our gate checked bag was brought up very quickly.
May 12, 2007
ExpressJet #54 Lv Tucson (TUS) 235p Arr Ontario (ONT) 403p
: Gate 28, Runway 11L, Dept 4m Early
: Gate 209, Runway 26R, Arr 22m Early
Aircraft: N16559, Embraer ERJ-145, ExpressJet colors, 42% full
Flight Time: 59m
Seat: 3C, Coach
I knew there was no way this Saturday afternoon flight would be full, but we still arrived an hour before departure. We hadn’t been able to check in online because we had no printer access, so we went to the ticket counter and used a kiosk. There was a very nice grandmotherly figure working the counter, but despite her offer to help, we were fine on our own.
The security line was a mess here. There were three lines that led to two x-ray machines, but only one gate for passenger screening. As you can imagine, this caused confusion. Fortunately, it only took 10 minutes to get through.
As predicted, this flight was less than full with only 21 people onboard. We got to the gate to find the gate agent hanging out behind the podium talking to some rampers. That was the first and only complaint I had about an employee on the entire trip. And even that wasn’t really a problem, because nobody was up there trying to get help. Meanwhile, I was busy staring out the window at this beautiful view of our plane with the Catalinas in the background.
They boarded the flight 20 minutes before departure and decided to tag bags as we boarded. That made for a short backup at the jet bridge, but with only 21 people onboard, that wasn’t a big problem. That plane had been there for more than 30 minutes before we started boarding so I was surprised to see some trash from the previous flight still sitting in my seatback pocket.
It was also surprising that with a light load like this, there was no need to move people around for weight and balance. There were definitely a lot more people up front so I’m wondering if they were able to counter it with baggage loading in the back? Still, it was nice to not be asked to move to the back.
We taxied Southwest-style (fast) and were airborne quickly. It was a hot day in Tucson, and the thermals were bouncing us around to the surprisingly high altitude of 20,000 ft. Then it finally smoothed out and the service began. This time we were offered a choice of SunChips, granola mix, or peanuts. Since it was an afternoon flight, I decided to splurge and have another ExpressJet creation – the $1 beer. Tasty.
The rest of the flight was spent listening to XM radio and watching the great view out the window. We were in the bulkhead, and I wouldn’t recommend that seat again. The legroom is decent, but the tray table is so low and so close to your body that it makes it very awkward (resting on my leg at left). We landed very early and once again it only took a couple minutes for the bag to appear at the bottom of the jetway.
Overall, it was a great experience, with almost no issues. I hope that the chaotic handling of the 51st passenger on board the first flight was just an isolated incident. But other than that, it was excellent. As far as I’m concerned, I’d definitely fly them again . . . if they start flying out of a closer airport.