Browsing Tag: My Review

US Airways CRJ-900, operated by Mesa Airlines

US Airways CRJ-900, operated by Mesa Airlines. This is one slick looking plane.

Recently I flew from Seattle (SEA) to Tucson (TUS) with a stop in Phoenix (PHX) on US Airways. The first leg was on an Airbus A320 and then a very short layover before heading down to TUS on a CRJ-900 regional jet. Since my flight out of SEA was at 5:15am and I woke up at 2:30am to catch the flight, I slept the whole way down to PHX. That makes for a pretty poor review, so I decided to share the shorter of the two flights: PHX to TUS on US Airways Express (operated by Mesa Air). The flight is very short, only 23 minutes, meaning no beverage service and very little time to even turn on your electronics.

This was my first flight on a CRJ-900. Being based on the west coast, we really didn’t see many regional jets until recently. Even now, we don’t see nearly as many regional jets as folks over on the east coast. Not too long ago, I flew a CRJ-700 for the first time and had mix feelings about the aircraft.

First off, the gate agent was probably the best I have ever experienced. It seems that so many gate agents are hardened by annoying and demanding customers that you don’t see too many who are genuinely friendly. She was welcoming everyone by last name, “Welcome Mr. Brown, how are you today?” – and then actually interacted with each passenger as they boarded.

When getting on the aircraft I could help but notice there were America West emblems on the seats and the bulkhead. (I forgot my camera, so the photos are from my iPhone). Most people probably didn’t notice, but as an airline nerd, this was very odd. US Airways and America West merged in 2005, giving over five years to re-brand the regional fleet. I am big on airlines having consistent branding and although fun to see the old America West logo, it does no good having passengers stare at that logo during their flight. I contacted US Airways via phone and email, but as of posing this story, I have not received a reply.  I assume this must have to do with Mesa Air (which operated the flight) filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2010.

The next issue were the windows. On the CRJ aircraft, they are widely spaced out meaning that many of them are in odd positions. For most of us in the front, we really didn’t have a window. I had one blocked by the seat in front of me and one behind my shoulders. Sure, most aircraft have a dead spot in a row or two, but most seats on the CRJs have this issue. Just like flying on the CRJ-700, my neck was sore by the time we left the gate from looking out the window. I understand that the windows need to be spaced out for structural integrity and it is up to the airline to figure out seat spacing, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The flight was only going to be 23 minutes so what did it matter, right? Well, the flight itself did only take about 23 minutes, but it took us over 40 minutes to take off after leaving the gate. It is difficult when you have in your mind that you will only have to sit on the plane for 23 minutes and it ends up being over an hour. Especially when you can’t be on your phone or laptop during that whole time on the ground.

This must be a common occurrence for this flight, since it was scheduled to leave at 9:56am and arrive at 10:55am. When you consider it only takes two hours to drive between the airports, if you need to rent a car in Tucson, it might be better just to rent the car in Phoenix and drive. I can’t believe I am saying that, since I would normally take any opportunity to fly when I can, but sitting in a plane not being able to see out the window for so long on the ground, with people from Arizona who think 75deg is cold (I was sweating the entire time) is just frustrating.

Most times on smaller aircraft I feel more connected to the flying experience, but this time I felt disconnected. It could have been the heat, the large guy sitting next to me or the odd yellow interior lighting of the airplane (lack of sleep might have been a factor as well). All I know is having a real window can make a huge difference and I will be double checking my seat placement before I fly on another CRJ.

Image: Willamor Media

The tower at Tucson's Airport on Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900

The tower at Tucson's Airport on Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900

Since Alaska Airlines and I are both based in Seattle, I end up flying them quite a bit. That, of course is not a bad thing, since I love their combination of cheap fares, high level of service and all Boeing 737 fleet (okay, I guess Q400’s now too). Recently I flew from Tucson(TUS) to Seattle (SEA) in First Class on Alaska which I haven’t been able to do in quite sometime. Oh yes, I wish I could say I am a high roller, but this First Class flight came thanks to my mom and her Alaska miles. Heck, I will still take it.

The rock star benefits of First Class start before you actually get onto the airplane. Alaska only operates one flight per day from Seattle to Tucson, so they only have one ticket counter and gate. I was actually surprised to see they had their own gate and counter, since I have seen them use Delta’s at other smaller locations. It could be because TUS seems to have more counter and gate space than needed?!

I only had a carry-on but my mom had a bag to check. If we were flying economy, that would be a $20.00 charge, but in First Class, your first two bags fly with no additional fee.

When we arrived, the line at the ticket counter was long — very long. Like 20 people deep and two people working the counter. We had 2.5 hours before the flight took off, but this is where flying First Class kicks in. The First Class and MVP line had no one in it. Sure,  I feel a little bad “cutting” everyone just because I have a First Class ticket, but I sure as heck don’t want to wait in a long line.

The food was filling and good and yes I took advantage of having free drinks.

The food was filling and good and yes I took advantage of having free drinks.

The second benefit happens at the security check point. The airport doesn’t have much traffic, so there wasn’t much of a line. Since the main line was short and we had over two hours to burn before the flight, we decided to hang out with the economy folks instead of taking the First Class line.

While everyone else lines up at the gate to board, we lined up in the First Class line. Not having to wait in line and having to not worry about overhead space is a good feeling. It is hard not to watch as others board while looking happy about being in First Class.

When I fly First Class on most other airlines they will serve you a “real” drink before takeoff, but we were only offered water.  Not a huge deal; it is not that I need a little buzz before take off. Once we got in the air, the flight attendant came around and actually called passengers by name. That is right, we were called “Mr. and Mrs. Brown.” My mom made it a little awkward by pointing out we were mother and son, not cougar and boy-toy, but it just made the flight attendant laugh. I know many flight attendants are trained to call First Class passengers by name, but this is the first time I have seen it in action. It was a nice touch and takes the level of service to a whole new level.

We sat in 1D and 1F — bulkhead First Class. My mom likes this seat since she can be one of the first ones out and stretch her legs fully out. She is 5’3″ so this works for her, but I am 6’1″ so the bulkhead is actually worse for me since I can’t put my feet under the seat in front of me. Since we were in the front of the plane, I had plenty of room, but I normally try to avoid the bulkhead when sitting in economy. Plus, not having a seat back pocket to store my mini-laptop, camera and iPhone makes things a bit difficult as well. When I normally fly, I take the window seat, but my mom took dibs on the window and since her miles got me up to First Class, I didn’t complain (okay, I did a little bit — sorry mom).

We got a nice view of the Grand Canyon during flight. Who could not love flying?

We got a nice view of the Grand Canyon during flight. Who could not love flying? Thanks to my mom for taking this photo.

The meal is what you would expect in a domestic First Class seat. There was salad, ravioli and a bread stick. Real glass, silverware and plates were used. The ravioli was good — not just airline-food good, but actually, food I would pay for in a restaurant good. Even though the larger seats make for great sleeping, I always try to stay awake when I am sitting up front so I can enjoy the experience. This flight wasn’t long enough to have free digEplayers for First Class passengers, but there was Wi-Fi available for only $9.95. Since the flight was about three hours and I was flying with my mom, I decided not to get the internet.

Another bonus of sitting in the front is you get to get off first. One of the downsides of getting off first is having to wait in baggage claim for your bag. But wait! Alaska has the deal, where if your bag doesn’t get to you with-in 20 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate, you get $20 off your next flight or 2000 bonus miles. My mom was actually excited about getting bonus miles, but we had our bag with-in 14 minutes of the plane hitting the gate — very impressive.

For those of you who are missing how flying used to be, do not worry, it still exists — up in First Class. You get top notch service, meals, no fees and treated like royalty by choosing to fly First Class. Of course, all this service comes at a price and you will end up paying more — just like you used to have to pay more for economy back in the “good old days.”

Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 (N204FR) at snowy Denver with "Freedom" the Bald Eagle on the tail.

Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 (N204FR) at snowy Denver with "Freedom" the Bald Eagle on the tail.

I was hoping to do a review of Frontier on an Airbus A320 from Seattle (SEA) to Denver (DIA) and then on a Bombardier Q400 from DIA to Aspen (ASE). However, life doesn’t always work out how we plan it. I was heading to Aspen to fly on a Beechcraft Starship, but snow had other plans and while in Denver, my flight to Aspen was canceled. Instead of taking a low-level flight on a Q400 to beautiful Aspen, I got to hop on another Airbus A320 back to Seattle (Note: I paid out of pocket for my flight on Frontier).

Not being able to fly the Q400 into Aspen and not fly on the Starship was bad, but for reviewing the Frontier Airlines experience, this actually worked out better. For my flight to DIA, I had to get up at 3:45am to catch my 6:15am flight out of Seattle. Before we left the gate I was asleep and woke up during the final 10 minutes. The flight back to Seattle provided me a better opportunity to review the flight and service.

When booking my flights 99% of the time I end up purchasing the tickets on the airline’s website, since it is normally the cheapest. In this case, it turned out to be about $20 cheaper to get my ticket through Orbitz — whatever, it works for me. When buying a ticket you have three choices: Economy, Classic and Classic Plus. The more you pay, the more features you get like free checked bags, free TV, and the ability to sit in seats with more legroom (check out the differences). Check-in and printing off the boarding pass were pretty standard and I was lucky enough to get a window seat, 27A, on the flight to DIA.

Every seat back has a little TV to watch movies and television, for a fee.

Every seat back has a little TV to watch movies and television, for a fee.

One of the fun parts of flying on Frontier is wondering what animal will be on the tail. Every airplane in Frontier’s fleet (well, those with a Frontier livery) have a unique animal. If you don’t catch the animal on the tail or can’t view the animal on the inside of the winglets, there is a nice big image of the animal when you walk into the door and the flight attendants make sure to announce which plane you are on. I got Mustang Sally on the flight down and Freedom the Bald Eagle on the flight back. I think it is pretty neat for each aircraft to have a different overall livery and I would have to imagine it is even cooler for kids.

The airline was extremely helpful and quick with helping me with my canceled Aspen flight. I wasn’t sitting at the gate for my flight, but kept updating my phone with the flight status. The second I saw it said “canceled” I headed to one of the many customer service desks located around the airport. I imagine this was much better than going to the gate, since no other flights were  canceled at the time and there was no line at the customer service desk. The woman confirmed there were no other flights to Aspen from any airline going out that day and started looking for the next day. I asked if I might be able to just fly back to Seattle and she got me on the next flight — which was scheduled to leave in 45minutes for no charge.

Even at 6'1" I had PLENTY of room in Frontier's STRETCH seats which give an extra 5" of room in the first four rows.

Even at 6'1" I had PLENTY of room in Frontier's STRETCH seats which give an extra 5" of room in the first four rows.

With boarding they have an “express boarding” phase. These are for people that have carry-ons that will only be put under the seat in front of them versus taking up overhead space. The concept of this is simple and genius. However, I saw quite a few people lined up that had bags I questioned if they would put under their seat and when checking it out when I boarded, they did not. The idea is great, but I am not sure how well it can be regulated.

Frontier has all economy seats that are leather with fancy headrests and a small TV screen in the seat back. The first four rows give you five more inches of legroom, but the rest of the seats have a decent 31″ seat pitch. Although I was in the back of the (air) bus on the flight down to Denver, I ended up in 3A on the flight back which was a STRECH seat. Although a little extra legroom is nice, even at 6’1″ I don’t think I would be willing to pay anymore for the extra room. I felt super lucky since I could have been trapped in Denver for quite some time, but not only did I get the next flight home and a window seat, but also one with bonus legroom.

Having LiveTV is pretty sweet, but it will set you back money. To watch the TV it will cost you $6 or $8 for a movie. Part of me whats to be like “what the heck?” knowing I can watch TV for free on other airlines like jetBlue and Virgin America and why should I have to pay on Frontier? However, it does cost them more money and on a three hour flight, $6 for entertainment would be greatly worth it. If you are flying Frontier internationally, the TV is free, but movies still cost money.

Before we left the gate at DIA the whole window ended up being blocked with snow. Kind of cool and kind of lame.

Before we left the gate at DIA the whole window ended up being blocked with snow. Kind of cool and kind of lame.

On the plus side, you are able to get ear buds for free. It worked out for our flight, since TV ended up being free since the football playoffs were on (although I think it might have had more to do with being over an hour late due to weather).

When watching the TV, I found the controls on the arm rest quite annoying. On more than one occasion I ended up changing the channel with my elbow and I could imagine if you are in the middle seat, it being worse.  I kind of wished they had the controls on the seat back, but of course that could make people pushing on your seat back a bit too hard. Not a deal breaker by any means.

On the flight south I was sad since I thought I missed my warm cookie because I was sleeping. However, it turned out they don’t give out the cookies for flights that leave before 10am. Oh yes, I did get my cookie on the way back home and it was delicious.

The only real bad part of the flight was leaving about 1.5hrs late, but I can’t hold that against the airline. It was snowing quite a bit at DIA and it took us awhile to get de-icded. I have to say I was quite impressed with how quickly DIA got planes moving. Of course there were passengers who weren’t so understanding and started to get pissy, but I would much rather wait for de-icing than not and deal with the consequences. It also provided a fun experiment in social media. I had been Tweeting about being in Denver and turned out one of my Twitter followers (@CruiseNerd), was in the plane next to me and sent a photo.

They were both a nice and comfortable flights, but since Frontier doesn’t fly to many locations out of Seattle (Denver, Kansas City and Milwaukee) I don’t get to fly them very often. I end up flying through Denver quite a bit, but Frontier doesn’t end up being the cheapest at the time. I hope I get more opportunities to fly on Frontier in the future.

What? You want to see 17 photos of the fun weather at DIA and the flight? Sure!

Allegiant MD-82 (N416NV) at Bellingham with a blue tail.

Allegiant MD-82 (N416NV) at Bellingham with a blue tail.

I recently had the opportunity to fly from Bellingham, WA to Las Vegas, NV on Allegiant Air (note: this was not a free ticket and I paid full fare). It was time for a little vacation, but vacation doesn’t mean I can’t review my flight.

On the blog, I have covered Allegiant quite a bit. I have looked at the possibility of them starting flights from Paine Field, talked about their Boeing 757’s and have explored their recent growth. However, I have never actually flown Allegiant and felt it was about time.

Although I haven’t flown them, I have had a small, odd crush on the airline. They have a very unique business model of flying older MD-80’s out of smaller airports and are geared towards the leisure traveler trying to get somewhere warm. They fly places that other low cost carriers don’t fly offering non-stop service to airports not usually served. They also seem to under cut the competition in fare price.

When booking my ticket I was looking at flights out of Seattle (SEA) and Bellingham (BLI – which is located about 1.5hours north of Seattle). Flying Allegiant out of BLI was $50.00 cheaper than anyone else — even after the fees I ended up paying. Add that parking at BLI is only $9/day vs $28/day at SEA and the 1.5hr drive north sounds like a good idea compared to the 30min drive south for me to SEA (ok, so when I have to drive it from 1am-2:30am when I got back, it didn’t seem so great at the time).

There is no hiding that Allegiant love their fees. If you are just flying with a carry-on. don’t care about where you sit  and you don’t eat anything you can get to your destination for dirt cheap. Allegiant has become quite skilled at trying to sell you things during every step of the travel process from going onto their website to getting off the airplane.

Allegiant's new seats have the seat pocket located on the top of the seat.

Allegiant's new seats have the seat pocket located on the top of the seat.

This is not to say I blame them for this, I have always said I do not mind fees. If I am traveling light why should I have to pay for people who are not? When booking my ticket these were some of the “upgrades” I was offered. Some of these fees you do not see on every airline (note that the priority boarding fee is the same for each flight, but the other seat fees will differ depending on flight length):

* Priority boarding: $9.99 – allows you to get on the plane first making sure you have overhead room.
* Premium seat selection: $9.99 – you get an assigned seat near the front or at the exit rows.
* Standard seat assignment: $6.99 – gives you an assigned seat towards the back of the aircraft.
* Online checked bag fee: $39.98 – might be more than the industry average, but you want to pay it online, since it will cost you $70.00 per bag at the airport.

You can fly without having to pay any of these fees, but many will end up paying. Allegiant recently went to a new boarding process. First the people that pay the $9.99 for the priority boarding  get to board. Then those who need a little extra time (not kids or family) that they need extra time getting seated get to board. Next, passengers with seat assignments get to find their seats. Then those who do not have seat assignments, but have kids that are under 7. Then it goes to open seating and people get to pick what is left as far as seats and overhead bin space. On the flight to LAS, there weren’t many who went with open seating, but it seemed most of the plane was open seating on the way home.

Normally I wouldn’t pay for an assigned seat, but on this trip I was flying with my girlfriend Amy and I wanted to make sure we sat together. I didn’t get the premium seats and even after the $32.00 seating fees (for both of us there and back) our tickets were still $50.00 cheaper than the competition. Since Allegiant flies MD-80 aircraft, paying more to sit up front can be more useful since you are farther away from the jets in the rear of the plane.

Got a nice view of Mount Rainier heading south towards Vegas.

Got a nice view of Mount Rainier heading south towards Vegas.

One annoying aspect of Allegiant’s fees is most are opt-out fees. It automatically signs you up for the $9.99 priority boarding and seat assignment charges and asks if you are really sure you want to opt-out. After I thought I opted out for everything and I was on the payment screen and I had “additional charges” adding up to around $60.00 that I didn’t know what they were. It took me a while to realize Allegiant already added two tickets for a hotel shuttle and for travel insurance. I could see people not realizing what is going on and paying for them, even if they didn’t want or need them. Even though it was a bit more work to get the tickets (it was almost game like and I think I won) I still ended up with super cheap tickets.

Although their aircraft are a bit older, the ones I flew on (N416NV & N419NV) were quite clean. The new Allegiant seats are a bit unique with not having a standard seat pocket. Instead of the seat pocket being down by the knees, it is up above the tray table and is much smaller. This allows them to put the seats closer together and cut down on turnaround time since there really isn’t room to put trash.

The new seats are also “pre-reclined,” which is fancy airline-speak for they do not recline. For me, this is a non-issue. I rarely recline my seat out of respect for the people behind me. Non-recling seats allow more seats to be put in, cuts down on maintenance costs, which allows more revenue and keeps your ticket cost cheaper. For some reason, so many people do not see this connection. There are many other airlines out there that might provide a bit more room, less fees and a reclining seat, but it will cost you more to fly them.

Once you are on board the plane, you have more fees to consider paying as well. Unlike most other airlines, there is no free food or drinks. Not even that small glass of Diet Coke or a miniature bag of peanuts. A 12oz soda will cost you $2 and snacks range from $2-$6. Of course you also have the choice of beer for $5 or mixed drinks for $7. Considering I paid $3 for a soda and $5 for a bagel with cream cheese at the airport before boarding, I should have waited.

Boarding on the tarmac at Bellingham allows one to get views like this, which you can't get on a jetway.

Boarding on the tarmac at Bellingham allows one to get views like this, which you can't get on a jetway.

The flight attendants also sell tickets to events and shuttle tickets while on board (at least on my Vegas flight). My biggest regrets of my flight was not getting an Allegiant MD-80 model – which they also sell. They won’t advertise them, so you have to ask for it. I totally forgot on the flight to LAS and was sleeping the entire way back to BLI.

One reason I slept the entire flight back was it was so late. The plane was scheduled to leave LAS at 8:05pm, but we didn’t take off until about 10:30pm. De-icing and flight plan issues caused the delay. Add to that sitting in the plane for about 1.5hrs of that delay with a loud kid in front of us and a group of college kids behind us, it was not fun. At least they did allow us to use our electronic devices and the restroom during the wait. Although it was annoying, what can you do? There are delays in any form of transportation. How many times am I sitting in Seattle traffic and it takes me an hour to go just ten miles (a lot btw)? As always people seem to get angry at the airline for delays; like someone is sitting in a room somewhere making a plane late for fun. The pilots, flight attendants, ground crews, airport personnel, operations managers and everyone else waiting on the last flight of the day do not want the delay anymore than you. These sorts of things happen in a complex business like this and I always find it is best to roll with the punches (although Amy can attest I was getting grumpy at the time).

Allegiant has a smart model that works and they will continue to grow their route map. They own their planes, fly to smaller airports, concentrate on leisure travelers, provide complete travel options and have fees. It obviously is working for them since they have been able to grow rapidly over the past few years and I have a feeling it will continue to work for them. How have your experiences with Allegiant been?

During my time in Vegas, I was also able to take a visit of Allegiant’s head quarters and will be sharing that with you soon. Stay tuned.

SeaPort Air Pilatus PC-12 (N58VS) parked at Portland before our flight back to Seattle.

SeaPort Air Pilatus PC-12 (N58VS) parked at Portland before our flight back to Seattle.

You might be an aviation geek if you take a flight, wait around for five minutes, then get back on the plane to fly home. I love doing that stuff and I recently got to fly SeaPort Air from Seattle to Portland to check out their product (disclaimer: I did not have to pay for my flight).

SeaPort Air is one interesting airline. Service started in June of 2008 flying between Seattle and Portland. However they not only fly to additional destinations in Oregon, they also fly to destinations in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Say what? Do not worry, I will explore the airline’s interesting history in another blog. On this one I want to take a look at their flight from Seattle to Portland.

Not a shabby view. Nice thing about a small plane is you can take photos out your neighbor's window.

Not a shabby view. Nice thing about a small plane is you can take photos out of your neighbor's window.

Unlike most other flights out of Seattle, that leave from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), SeaPort flies out of King County International Airport (aka Boeing Field – BFI), which is located just north of SEA. The big benefit of operating out of BFI is no TSA. That means, no privacy invading body scanners, no putting your toiletries into a ziploc bag and no waiting in long lines. SeaPort has no problem advertising the lack of TSA. On their website they state, “No lines. No rubber gloves. No need to take your shoes off. Simply arrive 15 minutes before your flight, board and go.” What a simple concept. SeaPort shares a common ticket and boarding area with Kenmore Express, the only two scheduled airlines that currently operate out of BFI.

This aircraft was in executive configuration. Yes, that is suave on the walls and ceiling -- classy.

This aircraft was in executive configuration. Yes, that is suede on the walls and ceiling -- classy.

SeaPort is geared towards the business traveler. They fly the Pilatus PC-12 which they have set up to hold 6-9 passengers. My flight was in an executive configuration of six passengers and I got to sit backwards flying south (photo of commuter configuration). With the pressurized cabin, turboprop engine and executive layout, the flight really felt VIP.  During flight, the Pilatus felt much larger than other aircraft of the same size.

My big regret was not sitting on the left side of the plane on the flight down to Portland. Even though it was the middle of November, the sky was clear and there was plenty of great mountain eye-candy to be seen. Luckily for me, the passenger sitting next to me didn’t mine me taking a few shots out his window (he was sleeping). When coming back to BFI I wanted to sit on the right side to catch the views I missed on the way down. However Christian, one of the pilots, suggested I sit on the left side. He explained we would be doing a fly-by of downtown Seattle on a northern approach to BFI and it would be worth it. I took his advise and I am glad I did. Unfortunately it was night time by the time we reached the city, which provided an amazing few, but taking photos was difficult (photo).

Speaking of pilots, you will find two of them upfront. Airlines are able to fly with only one pilot on the Pilatus PC-12, but SeaPort has decided to fly with two. This is an unusual business decision, since not only does the second pilot cost more money, they also take up a seat that could be used for revenue. Although most passengers prefer having two pilots, I prefer only having one, since that gives me a chance to sit in the empty co-pilot’s seat.

Even though there is no direct BFI-PDX competition, both Horizon (with their their Q400’s or CRJ700’s) and United Express (with their E120s) fly on the SEA-PDX route. Flying on SeaPort Air via BFI versus others airlines at SEA definitely has some benefits. Passengers get free parking both at BFI and SeaPort’s terminal at PDX and of course you don’t have to deal with TSA at either. Even though SeaPort’s ticket prices might be a bit higher, when you factor in free parking and no bag charge, the overall cost becomes very competitive.

Time, especially with business travelers, can be worth much more than money. When I landed back at BFI, from the time the plane was stopped, to me pulling out of the parking lot in my car it was about three minutes (yes I was timing it). Try doing that at SEA.