Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 on proving flight in Juneau, Alaska – Photo: AirlineReporter.com
Alaska Airlines (AS), through their wholly-owned subsidiary Horizon Air, recently announced that they would deploy some of their Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 aircraft to the State of Alaska. While Dash-8’s have long been a fixture in Alaska Airlines’ pacific northwest network via Horizon (I was flying them within Washington as a child), this marks their first major deployment up north.
Why would AS begin flying Q400s in Alaska? For the same reasons other carriers have moved towards regional jets and turbo props – operating costs, frequency, and flexibility. On the operating cost side, Q400s are extremely efficient, particularly compared to the Boeing 737-400s that are a mainstay of the AS fleet in Alaska. Bombardier estimates savings in examples like this to approach 40%. From a frequency and flexibility standpoint, more flights on a smaller plane can meet passenger demands, maximizing load factor while increasing service frequency, to the benefit of passengers.
Bahamasair Dash 8 300 at Fort Lauderdale.
Who wouldn’t be excited about taking a press trip to the Bahamas? Of course, for an AvGeek, getting there is half the fun. I wasn’t super excited about my red-eye from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL). I was excited about flying on Bahamasair from FLL to Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS). This was the first time flying on Bahamasair and I hadn’t been on a Boeing 737-500 in quite sometime (note: The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, which also oversees the airline, covered the cost of my trip).
Before leaving Seattle, I did some research on the airline and found that many passengers have publicly complained about their flights being consistently delayed. Many of the reviews were older and the airline had recently upgraded from the very aged Boeing 737-200 to the newer (but still old) 737-500 and I was hoping most of these issues would have been resolved (foreshadowing? yup).
Trying to find an outlet and being able to hear announcements was not easy. I ended up sitting on the floor in a busy hallway, but whatever.
By the time my flight landed at FLL, I was pretty tired from getting three hours of sleep. It was about 7am and I was supposed to have a two hour layover before heading to the Bahamas and it was time for me to find my way to my new gate.
I had to transfer terminals at FLL, which requires a short shuttle ride that was supposed to run every 15 minutes, but I ended up waiting almost 30. This was not a huge deal since I had the time, but if my connection was close, that would have surely caused additional stress.
Once getting off the shuttle I had to wait in a short line to check in at the ticket counter since the airline does not currently have a web check-in option. I received my boarding pass and then had the “privilege” of going through security for the second time that morning.
After finding my gate, I moved down towards the end of the terminal to try to get a good photo of the 737-500 taxiing. The flight status board showed the arriving flight was on-time, but time passed and no plane showed. The status board continued to show “on time,” even after it reached 8:55am, when my flight was supposed to be departing. Odd.
How many Dash 8’s does it take to replace a Boeing 737? Two. The first one wasn’t as colorful as the second (this is the 1st). Notice the air stairs going up to the jetway.
I can handle flights being late. However, I have less patience for lack of communication. The fact that there was not even a gate agent present was pretty bad. Needless to say, there were quite a few passengers pacing around who were getting quite frustrated.
Time kept rolling along before the board finally showed our new departure time was at 11:30am. Our gate had also changed from E3 to E1 where amazingly there was a gate agent there. I had no connecting flights to make, so I wasn’t too worried about the delays. Unfortunately this was the time that I really started to regret my decision to put my laptop in my checked bag — I could have been blogging.
After a while, it was announced that our Boeing 737-500 had broken down and they were trying to get two Bombardier Dash 8 300s to FLL. Some passengers showed their anger that they now had to fly on a small prop plane instead of a jet. As an AvGeek, I was pretty excited for the wings being up high, flying lower, no middle seat, and tarmac boarding.
Not the most spacious, but for a 45min flight, it does the job.
At about 11:30am the first Dash 8 showed up. It was announced that people with connections, people with kids and those who needed additional assistance could board plane 1 and the rest would take plane 2.
As our flights (plural now) became more delayed, some passengers got very angry and unfortunately took it out on the gate agents. It is best to judge an airline’s employees not when things are going smoothly, but when things are going wrong. Yes, they dropped the ball by not being at the gate during the initial delay, but their ability to handle the angry passengers in a calm manner was quite impressive.
The four gate agents worked non-stop for hours trying to help while keeping their cool, manually boarding passengers one-by-one for the first flight and then they re-booked everyone for the second flight. They also had to work with those who would miss their connections getting them on alternative flights.
At around 12:15pm (3hrs 20min after original departure time), when the first Dash 8 left the gate, most of the remaining passengers were calm. Those who were previously upset has already missed their connecting flights and were finally ready to accept reality and chill out.
After a short 45min flight (made shorter by sleep), we were flying close over the blue waters and landing at NAS.
At about 1pm (4hrs 5min late) I boarded the second Dash 8 (which had the more colorful livery). Most people boarding with me felt like they just had one of the most horrid experiences known to man. By no means is sitting around in E-Terminal, at FLL for almost six hours, enjoyable, but this stuff happens and getting angry doesn’t make things any easier.
I had a window seat secured on the original 737 flight and got another one for the Dash 8 — seat 8A. I was hoping to get some amazing photos with the high-wing and flying low, but was disappointed to see that the windows were dirty (I assume from salt water). At 1:20pm, we (finally) took off from FLL, heading to paradise.
Previously, I have flown on Alaska Airlines and Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400s (the newest version of the Dash 8) and the difference in age and cabin interiors showed. The only carry-on that I had was my camera bag and it even had a hard time fitting in the crazy-small overhead bin (it is free to check in your first bag on Bahamasair).
Yes. A pirate in the airport welcomed me to The Bahamas. How cool is that?
I was hoping to enjoy the blue waters during the flight, but with my lack of sleep I quickly passed out and woke up just in time to enjoy the view during landing.
I deplaned on the tarmac and was able to walk through the new international terminal at NAS. Before hitting customs, I was greeted by a pirate (yea, a frek’n pirate) who was more than happy to have his photo taken.
When dealing with a challenging travel scenario, I find it always important to find the positives. I was now in the Bahamas, I just met a pirate and my bag had made it on the first Dash 8, so it was waiting for me when I arrived at baggage claim.
My original schedule was to interview the man in charge of the airline, Van Diah, 4.5 hours earlier and I wasn’t sure if he would still was able to meet with me. I felt very privileged that he was able to work me into his packed schedule to sit down and talk about his airline. Obviously one of the big questions on my mind at the time was the airline’s reliability and on-time performance. Surprisingly, he was more than happy to discuss these and other aspects that I will share in a future story.
I have to say that just a few short minutes of getting away from the airport and seeing the beautiful blue ocean quickly made me forget the long journey it took for me to get there. I felt like the difficulties might have been worth it and I was looking forward to exploring Nassau (which will also be shared in future stories).
ADDITIONAL PHOTOS OF MY BAHAMASAIR FLIGHT