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

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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