Getting Back on the Horse (Trip Report)

It has been a long four months since I last stepped on an airplane. Crazy, I know. But I locked it down before my son was born and then obviously for a little while after as well. This was my first opportunity to get back in the air, and it came courtesy of US Airways, which is always happy to fly people out without charge for the airline’s annual media day.

This was my first chance to see the newly-refurbished US Airways Express aircraft operated by Mesa. It was also the first chance I had to fly a US Airways mainline aircraft into Long Beach in quite some time. Overall, everything was fine but the ground experience in both places left something to be desired.

March 20, 2012
US Airways 2829 Lv Long Beach 430p Arr Phoenix 553p
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 8, Runway 30, Depart 1m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B18, Runway 25L, Arrive 5m Late
N902FJ, Bombardier CRJ-900, US Airways colors, ~95% Full
Seat 10A
Flight Time 59m

As usual, I left home an hour before the flight and found myself in a short but barely-moving security line. It was apparently amateur-hour at LGB with every other person forgetting to empty pockets, take liquids out, remove shoes etc. Once through, I tried to find a seat in the packed trailer terminal.

It was packed because US Airways, Delta, and Alaska were all pushing out airplanes at the same time, and the little trailer isn’t meant to handle that much at once. I can’t wait until the new concourse opens up.

Even though everything was running on time, it was a tense situation just because of the packed house. When they called boarding for our flight, people rushed up to get on board quickly just to escape the terminal.

The agent who was boarding was aggressive and forced almost everyone to tag their bags for planeside checking for this CRJ-900. The guy in front of me balked and said he had brought his (relatively small) bag on board this exact same aircraft type on the way out, but she wanted to hear nothing of it. She barked back at him that he had to check his bag.

He looked like he wanted to fight, but instead, he just shoved his boarding pass in front of the agent and said “fine, just check me in.” That did it. She made him stand to the side, scolding him publicly for his behavior. Soon after, she let him board after his tone softened. I was just happy to be out of there.

The construction is coming along nicely but that means the walk to the airplane is long and confusing. With several aircraft boarding at once, we all merged into one lane for walking and then there was a split to different aircraft at the end. Needless to say, they were pretty loudly announcing where our airplane was going once we boarded, just in case.

This was my first chance to see the new Mesa interiors and they looked good. First Class seats were a nice touch, and even the recovered leather coach seats looked significantly better. Our mostly full flight pushed back just about on time and we took off on a relatively uneventful flight.

I say “relatively” uneventful, because there were some strange characters onboard. The woman next to me stared at a copy of her itinerary for most of the flight. She just held it up in front of her face . . . for maybe 30 minutes. Very weird.

I had my customary ginger ale and that’s when I started to notice that these seats didn’t look as good as I first thought. The seatback looked like stucco that had been painted over one too many times. There were chips in the paint and it just didn’t look great.

More annoyingly, these seats would not stay upright. The flight attendant had asked several of us to push the button to bring our seats up before departure. I had figured that came from the last person in the seat, but I was wrong because when we descended into Phoenix, the same thing happened. Apparently, these seats do their own thing.

March 23, 2012
US Airways 123 Lv Phoenix 806p Arr Long Beach 927p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate A4, Runway 7L, Depart 5m Early
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 8, Runway 30, Arrive 6m Early
N819AW, Airbus A319-131, US Airways colors, ~75% Full
Seat 12A
Flight Time 59m

Normally after a hard week of work, I like to stay overnight and have a beer with friends. But I couldn’t leave my wife alone with the little guy any longer, so I came back Friday night, taking advantage of a nice mainline flight home.

I got to the airport about an hour in advance and it was surprisingly busy. The A350 model I had won at the conference was suspicious enough that the TSA pulled me aside and searched my bag. Funny.

I went to my gate and found a fair number of people waiting around with our airplane there already. I had thought that tickets provided by US Airways were upgradeable if seats were open so I went to the gate agent to ask. She looked at me funny and asked if this was a mileage ticket. I explained to her what it was and she said I could buy an upgrade like anyone else for $50. Ok. I didn’t take it and just went to wander and remember the good old days when I use to roam these halls.

I’m always surprised when I find someone who I knew from my America West days, but sure enough I ran into a guy who was there back then and we caught up on life. He took at a look at my ticket and said it really did look like it was a travel voucher used to purchase it. Interesting. I should ask the US Airways folks about that one.

I went to board the flight and asked the gate agent if it was full. Without looking up, she said it was very full and hurried me along. It wasn’t full at all. I took my window seat and had an empty middle and aisle next to me. I’m guessing we were three quarters full at most for the short ride home.

The captain was in a good mood. He came on and thanked “junior travelers” James and Bella for stopping by the cockpit on their way on to the airplane. I loved that because I knew the kids probably went nuts hearing their names over the PA. It’s a little thing, but it’s a great way to make kids feel special when they fly.

The airport had gone and uncharacteristically switched the runways on us, so we had a long taxi to the west end of the airport only to take off to the east and then turn right around. It was a mostly clear night so the view was beautiful. I had a ginger ale and soon we were on our way into Long Beach and I was on my way home.

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