A British Airways Boeing 747-400 – Photo: Cory W Watts | Flickr CC
I think of my nearest airport as the worldâ€™s biggest little airport. Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) serves the 12th-largest metro area in the country, yet its only intercontinental flight is a daily British Airways 747-400 to London Heathrow (LHR). The laundry list of reasons to explain this doesnâ€™t make the situation any more palatable when I book a long-haul flight â€¦ and have to go through Los Angeles, Chicago, or San Francisco. I even get envious when I see the internationalÂ flights from cities like Portland, Seattle, or even Charlotte.
Often overlooked, there are many great international options are smaller airports. There are benefits likeÂ being less busy, parking is cheaper, and it provides a little different experience. I started researching long-haul flights that would let me skip the big airports as much as possible. Hereâ€™s what I learned:
An American Eagle CRJ200 taxiing at LAX, with an Embraer 175 following – Photo: John Nguyen | AirlineReporter
Let’s face it… the 50-seatÂ Bombardier CRJ200 isn’t very popular. Â At all. Â You’llÂ find countless articles and blogs about how much flyers dread flying in it, and how all-around terrible the experience was. Â Complaints were numerous: claustrophobic cabin, tiny overhead bins that fit only the smallest of carry-on bags, no first class, inoperable lavatories, and so on. This wasn’t limited to just one airline either;Â CR2s are found in the regional fleets for most of the major U.S. airlines. Â Coincidentally, manyÂ of them are operated under contract by the same regional carrier, SkyWest Airlines.
Does the CR2 deserve its bum rap? Maybe, maybe not (but probably). Â For someÂ passengers,Â however, there is hope just over the horizon…
An American Eagle CRJ-200 during boarding at LAX – Photo: John Nguyen | AirlineReporter
Occasionally, I’ll be as lucky as some of my AirlineReporter colleaguesÂ to be flying high in a premium cabin while being waited on hand and foot (see, e.g., David Delagarza’s vacation flight in first-class on ANA, orÂ Jacob’s Pfledger’s mile-high shower on Emirates). But as most of us can attest to, sometimes (or most of the time) we have to schlep it to get to where we want to go.
My wife and I traveled to Europe for a two-week whirlwind honeymoon tour that included 10Â cities in eight countries, as well as eight individual flights within Europe. We found a smashing deal from DeltaÂ to experienceÂ premium economy on Air France’s Airbus A380 to Paris. Â There was just one slight issue: our Air France flight tookÂ off from San Francisco, but we live in Southern California — over 350 miles away. Â The solution: flying in the much-maligned CRJ-200.Â What sort of life decisions did I getÂ wrong to lead me toÂ suffering this mighty indignity?
US Airways Airbus A319 getting work done inside the facility
All photos by Jason Rabinowitz
US Airways has a pretty large fleet of aircraft – over 340. From time to time, every aircraft needs to have some maintenance done to it; some scheduled and some not. We recently were able to take a photo tour of US Airways / American Airlines maintenance facility in Phoenix and wanted to share the photos. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show…
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 areÂ genuinelyÂ 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).Â 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. Â 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.Â 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