Trip Report: Drinking the Southwest Koolaid – Dallas to Seattle

Tuesday 9th September 2014

After taking the employee shuttle from the HQ building through the back parking lots of the facilities and around the outside perimeter of the airport, we arrived over at the new Love Field terminal. Dallas’s closer airport to downtown is Love Field and it was old. But with the massive upcoming changes to the Wright Amendment coming up in October the whole airport was upgraded. The terminal feels fresh and new and not at all outdated.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As I headed over towards the ticket counters I grabbed a few snaps of the new branding that was installed on Sunday night while no one was around. The entire airport was redone so that there was at least one terminal done. Check in took a while as only one counter was open for those of us who couldn’t use the self tagging kiosks (wish I could as I was travelling on an old school paper ticket). The paper ticket issue was resolved swiftly and quickly when I got a chance and I was shortly headed off to security. Having to sit in normal security lines for once was a bit of a change as normally I could use a premium lane with a card from another airline or something like that. Not here in Dallas, since the only airline in the terminal at the moment is southwest, and I dont’t have southwest status.. that aint gonna happen. But the TSA stuff at Love Field were great, friendly across the board and that surprised me. There was even one staff member walking through the lines wishing everyone a good day, at least you know some TSA employees can be nice.

From Southwest Heart

As I cleared security I had just walked past a gate Flight Information Display Screen and low and behold…. delay. This was not good. My flights today would take me from Dallas to San Diego with a brief stop in Albuquerque where I would not get off the aircraft. After a 39 minute connection in San Diego I was to fly home to Seattle. My flights were now screwed essentially. I headed off to find the customer service desk near my gate (Southwest generally have a counter that serves multiple gates at once). After speaking with a gate agent who informed me I would not have a problem and that my flight will connect as they would hold the plane for me, I was skeptical, very very skeptical. I headed off into the terminal and since I was still on my work “Vacation time” and off the clock for the blog for the trip home… I took it upon myself to enjoy a donut, A Dunkin Donut no less! Since not having the chance to see a Dunkin since I was in New York last year and not getting the chance to have one then, I figured I might as well. I felt like a treat as my entire day could possibly turn to shit.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I also took a brief walk around the terminal, scoping things out and checking out all the goodies. The place was pretty amazing, fresh, modern, plenty of places to sit (since Southwest doesn’t have a lounge) and socialize. Plenty of food outlets especially local options like BBQ or Whataburger (which I am not quite sure how good that is, but apparently the amount of people who had some would have to mean something right?). I headed over to the gate area, found a spot and sat down to wait, tweet, and enjoy my pumpkin pie donut. After a while of tweeting and worrying a plane pulled up to our gate. At least I know I would be getting out of there. However luck was holding out as there had been an equipment swap to a 700 series which meant WIFI!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN802
Dallas Love Field to Albuquerque
1610-1650
Boeing 737-700 (N752SW)
Economy – Seat 16F (Seq B36)

Boarding: 1630 (Gate 6)
Push Back: 1700
Take Off Roll: 1707 (Runway 13L)
Top of Descent: 1705
Touch Down: 1731 (Runway 26)
Shut Down: 1735 (Gate A7)

While waiting for the passengers to deboard, I moved myself over closer to the windows where the side I needed to be on when my group was called to line up and took some photos of the plane, wrote a couple of notes, sent a few texts home. Everyone was lined up quickly ready to go. They all knew they had to get onboard quickly to make up some of the time. The best part was watching people organise themselves into the right order. No one was fighting, everyone just got in line like they should. There is something to the way Southwest’s boarding system works and although some people may not like it, you have to give them props for it.

From Southwest Heart

My turn was called and I lined up and once let onboard I headed on down to the plane. Seeing the WiFi logo by the door was great as it meant that an $8 investment could give me a good afternoon of WiFi and productiveness onboard. It would also mean that i could stay connected while the flight was going so i could keep abreast of the situation at hand. I could research gate positions, maps of the terminals, times anything needed to get me between planes quickly.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I found a window seat towards the back but first I had to ask someone to step out of the aisle first. He was taking the aisle seat in the hopes that he could get a full row. Nice try buddy. As I settled in and the plane filled up. Someone asked if he would mind moving to the middle at all so he could sit down (this guy was not small but not overly large but obviously could do with some space into the aisle) and the guy on the end of the row rudely said “I ain’t sitting in the middle for no one, go somewhere else”. Not the best way to start a flight. It did mean in the end that the middle seat stayed open next to me for the first leg through to ABQ.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We pushed back and headed for the runway which was as far away from the southwest headquarters as we could possibly go. I was hoping to get one last photo but sadly that was not to be the case. We took off very quickly without much of a hold and I was pleasantly surprised by that. The climb out was pretty standard with a good right turn over downtown Dallas so I got to see everything I saw on the way in but from a different angle.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we climbed out and passed 10,000ft my laptop came out and so did my wallet to process the $8 fee and that bought me WiFi for the next several hours. It wasn’t just $8 per session but $8 per day on a single device. So although I was now only stuck using it on my laptop I was still ok with that. As we climbed out I kind of tuned out to the flight and didn’t even put any music in or anything while we were flying. The first couple of flights were about 90 minutes each so I was more interested in getting work done than doing anything else. When the beverage service came around I tried out what I had found out on the way into Dallas. If you ask for a “Can of Water” you literally get a can filled with water. I had not seen that before the flight and wasn’t sure if it would work. I gave it a shot and it worked! I had a whole can to myself.

From Southwest Heart

I worked away and then as we dipped towards New Mexico and the ABQ Sunport i put away the laptop and out came the camera. I was enjoying it as we came in closer and closer. I had no idea where I was at all but the surroundings were great. I had not been in ABQ since I had passed through quite a long time ago. As we approached ABQ on finals I noticed a couple of C130 hulks sitting in some grassy area so figured that there must have been a national guard base around. Wrong!! As we landed I passed about a dozen more Hercs then about a good 30 or so Blackhawks. Then I saw it, a building that said “Kirtland Air Force Base” and sitting in front of that was an Osprey. It could only mean one thing was stationed there Air Force Spec Ops but really because of the Helicopters it was the rescue squadrons that were present.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we taxiied to the gate I flicked my phone back out of Airplane mode in the hopes of getting an update on the flight connection and giving one to home as well. The time was spent trying to get a connection and waiting for everyone to get off the flight.

Southwest Airlines – WN802
Albuquerque to San Diego
1730-1820
Boeing 737-700 (N752SW)
Economy – Seat 6A

Boarding: 1742 (Gate A7)
Push Back: 1759
Take Off Roll: 1807 (Runway 21)
Top of Descent: 1805
Touch Down: 1836 (Runway 27)
Shut Down: 1838 (Gate A7)

Once everyone was off that was meant to get off, they counted the people up and gave the go ahead to move about the cabin. I quickly got up and grabbed my bag heading for the front to try and snag a window seat as close to the door as possible. I wanted to make sure that when I got to San Diego I could get through as quickly as possible. I got the gate updates come through on my phone through Tripit (thanks for the flight delay information guys… ) and then heard someone say “We will have to go through security again… I panicked. Please don’t do this to me!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We had a fairly quick turn in Albuquerque and as we pushed back and taxiied out I got a good couple of shots of a Delta 757 landing and taxiing up right next to us. We headed over to a different runway from the one we used on arrival and that had me puzzling. Then we stopped and waited. This was weird because I heard the double chime for the flight attendants telling them to take a seat, and there was no one else ahead of us on the taxiway and I couldn’t see anyone at all. What the hell were we waiting for. Turns out a tiny small cessna was landing on a small cross runway so when he passed us the pilots gave the plane the boot and off we went!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we climbed out I looked down and saw a familiar looking river. One that I had floated over a number of years ago in a hot air balloon. That made me think back to some good times on my first real overseas adventure on my own. Memories! We shortly passed 10,000ft and i went back to work on the laptop. As I worked away the service came around and I got a can of water again. Deciding to focus more on working out this connection. It was true what I had heard, we were going to have to reclear security and I was frantically trying to work out what to do. Without really realising just how long we were in the air, the plane made it’s top of descent dip and next thing I know we get the initial descent greeting by the pilots.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we headed into San Diego I was looking around for familiar landmarks. I had only ever flown into San Diego once before and was not sure what I would see from this direction. I think I saw MCAS Miramar off in the distance, but I wasn’t sure but then as we started to turn and descend further the Navy Facilities came into view. Seeing the Amphibs come in to view then the big white ship standing out put things down for sure. We were coming in over the city on the 27 approach and that white ship (which is the US Navy’s Hospital Ship USNS Mercy) meant that the Naval Station San Diego was in sight and that we would be on the ground in minutes.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we came in to San Diego I could see plenty of Southwest Aircraft on the ground and numerous lined up for take off. For me it meant that I didn’t have long as the taxi times at Southwest for landing can be quite short. We were not on the taxi way long at all after landing and in the gate moments are pulling off the runway and as we pulled in I noticed that there was a special over near the gate area we were going to. I couldn’t see a gate number at that point but I was fairly certain that it was on our gate. Which special? Nevada One painted to pay tribute to the State of Nevada.

From Southwest Heart

Once they pulled into the gate there was a mad scramble for bags and then they made a blessing of an announcement. “Would all the passengers travelling to Seattle, please make themselves known to the two staff waiting at the end of the Air bridge. You will be escorted to your gate so that you do not need to reclear security”. That sentence was probably one of the best I had heard all night. I made it off the plane quickly and identified myself and then we had to wait a few minutes to collect a few more people (as they wanted to move us in two groups).

From Southwest Heart

When we left the gate area heading towards the exits right before heading out of the secure area they moved us left towards an exit door and that meant one thing. A Tarmac walk. They told us “No cameras” to which I promptly ignored and off we went outside across the tarmac from one secure area to another. It was then that I saw that Nevada One was most certainly sitting on our gate. As we walked into the secure area again I saw a whole heap of people sitting around and thinking they hadn’t boarded yet that was good, then I saw they were gate 2 not 1 and had to quickly run off towards our gate.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN238
San Diego to Seattle Tacoma
1905-2155
Boeing 737-700 (N727SW – Nevada One)
Economy Seat – 4A

Boarding: 1855 (Gate A1)
Push Back: 1907
Take Off Roll: 1910 (Runway 27)
Top of Descent: 2120
Touch Down: 2145 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 2150 (Gate B6)

I made it to gate 1 and there was still people standing there. Not quite sure what was going on I asked the first person I saw if they had boarded the Seattle flight to which the gentleman said that since there was only 50 people on the flight they were going to wait for a bit to since they couldn’t depart early. THANK GOD!! I had made my flight and when I looked at my watch it meant we may not be delayed all that much. This made me a very very happy man.

I had a chance to take a deep breath and take my space in line. I headed over to the boarding lanes and got myself in the right spot. Asking someone who was standing there already what his number was so that I could work out if i was in front or behind of him and he said that he didn’t care he would board whenever he wanted. That is so not how things are done buddy and I would have been extremely unhappy if I had the ability to care right that moment. But I didn’t so I just waited to board. When it was time to get on I was giddy, I had never flown a special livery before.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Boarding Nevada One was like any other flight, except the plane was just painted differently. We boarded very quickly and since the load was so we could have all had rows to ourselves. As it was I had a row of 3 in row 4 to myself and I was a happy chappy. Quick chat to the young lady in the row in front of me and demonstrating my muscles as I helped her with her carry on. When we pushed back I checked my watch to enter the data in my log book and it turns out we were departing ON TIME! I had gone from 50 minutes late departing Dallas to making up all that lost time in San Diego. Sure I didn’t get a chance to grab any food so since having that donut in Dallas all i had was a cookie i had stashed in my bag and forgotten about and that was all I was going to get till I got home.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We headed for a taxi to the end of the runway and the sun was setting fast. The light was getting amazing but it was making it tough for the camera to focus and that meant I missed a fantastic avgeek shot of a 737 making a right turn in sunset. A brilliant composition missed by seconds. When it was our turn to hit the sky, we leapt off the pavement and made a right turn out over North Island Naval Air Station and out over the coastline. The sun kept fading and the photos were just being snapped continuously. Once clear of 10,000ft I pulled the laptop out for the final time and got to work.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

This sector was going to be boring. I was going to work, and just work. The drink service got me a full can of Diet Dr Pepper (as shock as water in a can was to me, Diet Dr Pepper onboard a flight had me flawed) and some wifi and a small pack of peanuts had me going to a happy place. We cruised up the coast and I flicked between my work and twitter most of the way and just relaxed, something I had not fully done since leaving Dallas. It was a good feeling. We passed the coastal parts of Southern California at first, then flew straight north as we flicked over the inland of Northern California. At one point I saw Reno off our right side on the map.

From Southwest Heart

We started descent roughly over Portland and I slowly packed up my stuff, not before informing my ride that she should head towards the airport to pick me up, sure was going to be happy to be home for once and not have to spend another hour in the truck getting home. I was coming home to someone that was as happy to see me as I was to see her. We got our descent briefing from the cockpit and he said we would be down on the ground in ten minutes and had to take a northerly pattern to come in towards the south. I just laughed inside at that, no way we were landing in 10 minutes, we were no where near seattle at that point, 20 minutes at least. As we descended towards the city I was struggling to keep my eyes open at this point.

Right turn over Freemont & Ballard and tracking for a 16R arrival all while not being able to get a great shot of the Space Needle due to being in the dark. We landed right as another 737 was taking off (not that i could tell who from in the dark, but probably Alaska and we started taxiing over towards the terminals. We had to hold at 16C for another aircraft taxiing infront of us and then at 16L for a departure. We taxiied quickly around to the B gates and pulled up pretty much right where I had left a couple of days earlier.

Through the terminal, down to get my bags and my bag spat out around #5 in the queue. I was extremely happy to find out that it had made it as it was full of all the airline swag I had managed to gather. Heading up to the departures level to be picked up (always a smarter idea at night when there is barely anyone using it) and it was off home. From touch down to home in 20 minutes…. can’t beat that!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Trip Report: Drinking the Southwest Koolaid – Dallas

My time in Dallas wasn’t going to be long but I was here for a good reason. I was here as a guest of Southwest Airlines for their 2014 media day. The whole event was organised to be non stop start to finish. I was here for two nights and it was certainly not going to be over quickly. The airline covered my accomodation, my flights and my transportation (and everything here is my own opinion of course). The driver who was meeting me was waiting at the arrivals area of the car park so I knew eventually where I was headed. As I exited off the aircraft and into the terminal it was a shock as to how nice the new Dallas Love Field terminal would be. I was blown away by just how modern and smart it looked. I didn’t have much time to explore but felt that I should definitely stop by here on the way out for a better look.

As I headed for baggage claim I waited for my bag (which was one of the first few out) then headed over to the arrivals area to meet the driver. After waiting a bit for a couple of other people who were set to join us (and they were not able to unfortunately due to flight delays), we headed off to the hotel. Dropped off at the Warwick Melrose Hotel it was in a very affluent area not to far from the Love Field airport but close enough to the city. It was a historic hotel that had a lot of history and it wasn’t too bad. Probably not somewhere I would have chosen for myself, but hey, its free!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to fix my fitbit which had decided to crap out on me, catch up on life, emails, writing etc and get myself prepared for the big day ahead tomorrow. Media guests were invited to a happy hour function at a local bar (and apparently a dallas institution) and it was great to meet some people I had conversed with on twitter for a while. After a quick detour to a local market to pick up some breakfast for the next day I hit the sack after an extremely long day.

From Southwest Heart

Monday 8th September 2014

Waking up and going for a morning run as per my normal routine made this feel kind of like any other monday morning. Apart from the fact that I was no where near my work. I was all the way over in Texas. I scoffed down my breakfast moments before having to be in the lobby for our early morning pick up. It was going to be a busy day as a small part of the morning had already been leaked Saturday night with a new livery for Southwest going to be revealed. Even though they were not saying anything, we all knew it, and the airlines knew that we knew, but it was a big deal.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The morning went off like a giant party. Lots of excitement, buzz and an almost party like atmosphere. The livery was pretty great and I had a fantastic time just getting up close and personal with the aircraft and also seeing some of the staffs and employees reactions to the changes. The livery reveal was not the only thing we were doing that day. We had a full day of meetings with the executives at Southwest so as we moved from meeting to meeting, I learnt a lot not only about the new livery and branding (sorry, not a rebranding, a bold new change to the look of the airline) but also about the airline in General. Unlike some of the people who where at the media day, the history of Southwest was not something I was totally familiar with.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The day went by almost so fast and with a bit of free time to be able to work on my story, we headed off to the weekly Monday “Deck” party. This time though the party was held on the ramp at the Tech Ops building. They had the two aircraft with the new livery nose to nose (although some people think I should say “Heart to Heart” on display. This was a party like I had not seen before. It was a huge event with hundreds of people in attendance, all of them out for a great time. No one was worried at all and they had plenty of wine, beer & other drinks (plus all the airline snacks you could think of) for everyone. With freedom to have a bit of fun and not be on the Media clock for a little bit, I could relax, chat with some of the other media and also get some personal photos (I may have gotten myself a heart selfie).

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

After the party it was off to dinner with the executives and after breakfast at 730am, lunch at 11 it was time for dinner around 8pm. It was a good night anyway and after that broke up and we could return to the hotel, I still had some story work to do to make sure that the piece went out on time. By the time I made it to sleep around 1115pm, it sure had been a really long day.

Tuesday 9th Septmeber 2014

The fun of the day began after a run in the morning and packing up to check out. We were back to the airport and the Southwest training center (called TOPS). The morning was going to be a bit of a tour around the facilities, some “Heart racing” activities and then a tour of the Network Operations Center. The few things that were interesting me were the NOC and getting a few extra pictures of another area.

From Southwest Heart

The Heart racing activities though were pretty fun. We got taken into the full mock up area where they train employees in check in and gate area activities. These mock ups replicate fully the area in which the employees will do their job. They have full check in kiosks and even boarding podiums, even an old Love Field air bridge! So we boarded our flight to “Aruba” and headed on down the airbridge. Our flight wasn’t going anywhere though, we were boarding the Emergency Operations trainer. It was a full airline cabin mock up that could simulate movements and emergency prodcedures like smoke evacuation, fire drills etc. It was a blast.

From Southwest Heart

We went through the full evac demonstration as though we were going to have an emergency landing. A small tip though. If you are onboard a flight and hear 4 chimes in a row (usually 2 or 3 is the norm) then you know something is going to go down. 4 chimes is emergency time. I got a video of us going through the emergency and it sure was an experience. Hearing the yells of “Heads Down Stay Down” continuously certainly was a start to get the adrenaline pumping. Then as they cleared the front of the plane we heard it out the back. The next thing we heard from the front was the emergency slide being activated. O yes… I got to go down the slide. It was fun! My heart was racing like crazy by the time we got the bottom and had i known we were doing something like that, I would have worn my heart rate monitor.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The tour continued onto the NOC (which I am going to write about for AirlineReporter) and then after that we went back to the main headquarters building for a tour through and then some lunch. The tour through the headquarters building was an experience all on its own as the building was like a living museum. The staff have the most amazing work areas with heaps of shared work stations and environments where you could go to get away from your desk or have a meeting without feeling trapped in a room. The conference rooms were all named and were also themed. So if there was a break area (called a Culture Center) that had an awards theme, all the conference rooms around it were generally of a similar theme.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The whole time in Southwest Country was amazing and as i caught up on life before my shuttle back to the airport, I had to think to myself just how great the experience was. So many people love working for the airline and fight hand over fist to get in there. I can now see why.

Trip Report: Drinking the Southwest Koolaid – Seattle to Dallas

Sunday September 7th 2014

I had to get up super early this morning for this trip. My flight was due to depart around 530am and i was living closer to the airport now, but it meant that I could justify a work out in the morning. It would save me having to go for one when I reached my destination. But it ate into my sleep. But I would live. Heidi dropped me at the airport around 345am and I walked straight inside into the line full of people.

Check in apparently doesn’t open until 4am and since I had a paper ticket (yes an actual paper ticket), I couldn’t just use my phone or anything. I had to drop a bag off anyway but it meant waiting in line. Which wasn’t all that bad. When check in opened I was helped fairly quickly but it was still a bit of a wait. When I got to the front of the queue, I told the agent directing traffic that I had a “4 Pack” to which she corrected me and told me in Southwest Terms it is a “4 Part” and sent me on my way saying it will be fine.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I checked my bag through to Dallas and rather than stand in the normal security queue, I tried an old trick. Flash the Gold Card and see if it works, well it did. Premium Security for me! Through security and spat out airside. Awesome! It was a short walk from security to the start of the B concourse then it was out in search of coffee and a power point. Why a power point? I didn’t charge my phone properly before leaving the house and was hovering in the teens on my phone. Not a good thing for a day full of flying on planes without power.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I got a coffee and some water and then when and stuck it out by the gate with some power, catching up on my life for the morning. I was waiting for them to start the boarding line up calls and was close enough to hear the gate calls, but far enough away I wasn’t caught in the masses. O how much I would love an airline lounge right now!

Southwest Airlines – WN1632
Seattle Tacoma to Denver
0535-0915
Boeing 737-800 (N8616C)
Economy – Seat 19F (Seq B11)

Boarding: 0505 (Gate B8)
Push Back: 0536
Take Off Roll: 0546 (Runway 34R)
Top of Descent: 0830
Touch Down: 0901 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 0906 (Gate C30)

Boarding was called for the A Group and then once they were set free, they allowed the start of the B group to line up. So being B11 I had a good chance of a half decent seat. When they called down the B group I waited my turn, got scanned and headed on down the bridge. Down to our shiny new BSI 737-800. At least I could get some stuff done on the flight now that I was awake thanks to the coffee!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The flight boarded as expected and I got myself settled in. The usual process and right on time we pushed back. No real funny stuff this morning, nothing over the top at all, but then half the plane probably was not awake. The guy in the seat next to me had two pillows. One for his neck and one for his face. We had a quick taxi to the runway as they were using 16R and since the B gates are practically on the Taxiway, we were 2nd in line behind a United 737 and then we were off into the morning sky. I picked wisely as the sun was rising out the left side and I was seated on the right. So i could still see things out my window and not be blinded. Smart!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The guy next to me decided that as soon as we got the right altitude he would recline his seat back with a slam and then off to sleep he went. Although 10 minutes later he decided to tray table sleep. So why he needed full recline I don’t know. I was really waiting for the person behind him to get angry so they would start a fight. Then i could video tape it and sell it to CNN. Sadly that didn’t happen and I am still poor.

From Southwest Heart

The flight went by pretty simply and I had a cup of coffee from the service and stashed the snack they offered. I had thought Southwest only served peanuts on their flights, but I was a little bit wrong. They also serve mini graham crackers. Which was new to me! But they got stashed for later on. I worked away on the WiFi which was an ok speed and nothing to complain about. The price was ok for a 2.5 hour flight at $8 but it is a day pass. Although this first flight would be the only one with WiFi.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Top of Descent came and I started to pack up my stuff. This first leg would be the only one where I had to plane change. The next two flights would be the same plane and same crew. Southwest do things a little differently, that is for sure. I saw nothing on the approach into Denver as I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane. I had wanted to be able to see something but I guess I can’t complain. We landed easily and on time and taxiied straight to the gate. We pulled into our assigned gate and within seconds the engines were off, seat belt signs dinged and everyone was getting up!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

My job now once I could get off the plane was to get out into the terminal and find a bathroom, some liquids, the gate and some power. That is generally the order that is preferable, as the bathroom was required, but I passed the gate first and decided to scope out the terminal as much as I could.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I found the gate area and went for a stroll around the shops after finding the nearest bathroom. I grabbed some water and then headed back to the gate for a power outlet and some more relaxing. I didn’t really have all that much to do till tonight, but I was going to enjoy myself for the mean time. Once the inbound came in, I packed up my stuff and went over to a more reasonable spot to jump into the lines once they formed. I had an A group this time so that made me happy :D

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN4376
Denver to Kansas City
1020-1255
Boeing 737-300 (N619SW)
Economy – Seat 11A (Seq A43)
Boarding: 0950 (Gate C46)
Push Back: 1021
Take Off Roll: 1036 (Runway 17L)
Top of Descent: 1220
Touch Down: 1245 (Runway 19R)
Shut Down: 1248 (Gate B41)

Boarding was called and they pre warned us this was going to be a full flight. They were actively selling the first 15 a spaces for $40 so that people could get overhead bin space. I couldn’t care less as with an A space anyway i would get bin space and a decent seat. The funny thing for it all was that half the flight looked to be filled with one group heading back to Kansas City. Fun for them! I found a decent seat once it was my turn to get onboard but it was non reclining. It didn’t matter to me all that much as for the next 3 hours of flying it was two short hops. I was joined within 5 minutes by a nice older couple and I settled in for the flight.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Looking around as the boarding countinued it was all young, college age girls, all athletes (as they had school sporting gear on) but I wasn’t sure what sport. That was fixed as they came on to announce that the team onboard had just won their competition. YAY THEM! Me all I cared about was getting more power into my phone. I had resorted to using my portable battery pack, even though I wasn’t sure how much power was on it. We pushed back from the gate on time (who says that Southwest are never on time!) and started a long slow taxi, way off into the middle of no where.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We took off without stopping as we turned onto the active and headed up into the skies. More seat miles, same old thing. Relax, coffee, this time eat my breakfast that I had brought with me from home (bagel and banana, my on the road fuel) and relax. Relax I certainly did, with my music and nothing much else other than the window to look out of. I didn’t want to touch the laptop for this flight (to be honest there wasn’t really all that much room for it) and I stayed away from it.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

By the time we got to top of descent, I had kind of drifted off into my own little world and then as we were turning towards finals for the airport, the battery in my camera died. I had drained it all the way intentionally as I was using my new camera that I got for my birthday. We landed at Kansas City and it looked deserted. There was one lonely United 757 and then one other Southwest 737 which seemed to push back not long after we landed. As we taxiied to the gate they told those of us staying on board we could not stand up until instructed and to let all the people getting off to get off.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Once they were all off, they counted up the people onboard (46!) and let us loose in the cabin. This is what I like to call Southwest Roulette. Once you’re onboard waiting for people you never know what other people are going to do about their seats. Me, well I had eyed off the unlimited legroom seat in the exit row, so as soon as they let me loose, I saw no one was in it, turned around and swung my bag into the seat. Score!

Southwest Airlines – WN4376
Kansas City to Dallas Love Field
1325-1450
Boeing 737-300 (N619SW)
Economy – Seat 13A

Boarding: 1300 (Gate B41)
Push Back: 1320
Take Off Roll: 1327 (Runway 19R)
Top of Descent: 1405
Touch Down: 1435 (Runway 31R)
Shut Down: 1440 (Gate 5)

I got settled into the new seat as the boarding announcement was made to let the crew know that new passengers were coming on and then I waited for the cabin to fill back up again. I did more of the usual as I waited for push back and tweeted away with all the people who were waking up from their slow sunday mornings out west…. Bastards.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We pushed back from the gate this time early by a few minutes, and headed back off to the runway. We climbed out 2 minutes after scheduled departure so we made some good headway. It was only a short hop up into the Sky and just over an hour to Dallas. It seems that any time I head to Texas I end up with 3 flights. Last time it was in the middle of winter and I barely made it. This time, I did pretty well in the summer with all on time flights.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The flight went along pretty boring, third flight of the day and it should be boring by now. I was getting tired and fading a little bit at the same time. So I stuck it out by reading my book and just looking out the window. No WiFi or Entertainment is that big of a deal these days, I can survive either way. The unlimited legroom didn’t hurt either.

From Southwest Heart

We began descent above a giant bank of clouds so the weather in Texas was definitely not as good as what I had been through most of the day. Both Denver and Kansas were blue as far as the eye could see, however in Dallas it looked to be grey all the way.

We started approaching Dallas and again, I couldn’t see anything of the airport but I did get a decent look at the downtown area as we turned for finals and it is surprising to see just how close to the city that the airport is. Coming into Love Field is so much better than into DFW. We touched down a little bit early, not by much though. The airport was very small so it didn’t take long to taxi to the gate. As we pulled up I was called by the driver who was picking me up to check on me and i told him i wouldn’t be long. Off the plane and into one of the nicest terminals I have seen.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Trip Report – To the Last Frontier: Conclusion

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

My trip to Alaska was something I desperately needed on many levels. I had a big yearning to fly as so far this year up until this trip, I had flown 0 miles. For someone who flew over 60,000 miles last year, I was desperate. I just wanted to get up there again. This trip also allowed me to tick Alaska off my state list. Even though it was only a short trip, it allows me to plan on heading back there in the future.

Even though the weather was crap for most of the time, I still enjoyed myself. I stuck it out in the rain for a good portion of the day and just kept taking photos. I would have done the same back here, had I still been in the city (speaking of which I missed a test flight of the Air New Zealand 787-9 because I was playing around in the rain, I just can’t get that thing!).

The flight up was down right horrible (thanks to a crappy crew who didn’t seem to care and also the delay and the WiFi issue (All of which I have made complaints about, but nothing so far). The flight back though was the total opposite, so how United can get away with being Day & Night differences, I don’t know. But it also shows that any airline can be good or bad. United gets a bum wrap at times, and this time I can’t really fault them all that much for the return flight. Having an entire row of 6 to myself, exit row as well! Can’t be all that bad.

The hotel in Anchorage did it’s job. It wasn’t flash or luxurious, but it was close to the airport and exactly what I needed to get me through. I wouldn’t ask for anything more than a clean room, a gym, WiFi & some parking. Anything more than that is just more frosting on the cake.

All told I took over 7588 photos of just planes over the weekend. The processing of these is going to take some time, that is for sure. I don’t quite know how long but I usually budget about 10% of photos taken, make it out of the cull. What does that really mean… I am going to be working on these for quite some time!

Trip Report – To The Last Frontier: Anchorage to Seattle

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

Sunday 1st June 2014

I returned the truck to the airport, happy in that I was now going to remain dry for the rest of the afternoon and also happy in the knowledge that I had enjoyed myself immensly. After 2 days of spotting, my camera batteries needing charging, my arms needed a rest (that bigma is heavy!) and my body needed refueling…. badly.

From Anchorage

I headed from the Rental Car center over to the main terminal via the underground walkway. The walkway was pretty neat, they had aerial photos of the airport from the day it opened. Staggered every 5 years or so you could see the changes that were made over time. The airport has become so busy now that it definitely does hold the titles of “Crossroads of the North” and deserves it.

From Anchorage

After entering the small terminal, I headed up and to the left to the United check in area and dropped my bag off. Sadly no United Club here in Anchorage so my plans were to get through security and find somewhere to get some lunch. I had found out online that the airport had an “Observation Deck” above the main concourse, which had some Alaskan Native Art in there as well. I was more interested in the view than anything. With my bag dropped off and disposing of the unfinished portion of my water, off through security I went. Premium Security line was empty but as I got there up comes two ladies in Wheelchairs, shutting down my side of the check point. Joy. What it meant was that while they let everyone in the general queue go for boarding pass inspection, I had to wait. Even when they reopened it and called me forward. A lady from the general queue pushed her way in front of me. Whatever

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I made it through security easily and with my belongings in hand. I found a place that had a half decent sounding salad and headed up to the observation deck to get some last minute enjoyment while I waited for boarding. The time went by quickly and about 4pm I headed down towards the gate and just as I got there, the aircraft arrived. Love timing it like that! I headed up to the desk to try my luck at another Exit Row and with a smile and a nice kind ask, I had an exit row boarding pass.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I found somewhere to sit in the middle of the concourse, a shot distance from the gate as it seemed that every man and his dog (well no animals, but you know what I mean) were waiting at the gate. It was pretty packed but the seat map looked decidedly empty last time i checked. I rearranged a few things so that I did not have to get up to my camera bag in the middle of the flight (hate doing that, since it is really bulky and heavy). The seats where I was doing that were very unique. They felt more like pieces of art than actual seats, but it was a unique way of looking at something that is required for people to rest and wait.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As I was waiting for boarding it was time for the freighter change over as the current waive left their gates and were replaced by another set. I had packed my camera away, but had the windows not been covered in rain, I may have contemplated pulling it out again. Why not add a few more images to the count.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

The boarding area filled once they announced that boarding would begin shortly and the new United boarding area (with sign posted gate lines) certainly does make things easier. The gate area looks far less crammed and feels more controlled. The Gate lice still exist, however they are more handled and kept in line. Something for other airlines to consider maybe?

United Airlines – UA1129
Anchorage to Seattle Tacoma
1705-2130
Boeing 737-900ER (N68801)
Economy Plus – Seat 20A (Exit Row)

Boarding: 1640 (Gate B5)
Push Back: 1706
Take off Roll: 1716 (Runway 25R)
Top of Descent: 2049
Touch Down: 2114 (Runway 34L)
Shut Down: 2121 (Gate A10)

When the boarding commenced for Global Services and those who needed help, it was a while before Zone 1 was called and even then, the difference between Zone 1 & Zone 2 boarding was non existent. Everyone in that line just rushed the boarding door. I hung back in the knowledge that being in Zone 2, still gets me to my seat, still gets me overhead space for the camera bag and still gives me plenty of time to relax.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I took my seat in the first of the Exit Rows (I went up in the 2nd exit row) and tried to settle in as quick as possible. No one was sitting next to me for a while as boarding happened around me, but I wasn’t sure if that was going to remain. I saw that power was working this time, and as everyone boarded around me, I started plugging some stuff in. My camera batteries were running a bit low (for the P&S) and so I decided to give them some power in case I lost the last remaining battery while I was up in the air. Something That just would not do! I kept waiting and soon enough they announced that the doors were about to shut and could everyone take their seat. Not only did I have an empty middle seat, but an empty aisle seat as well. In fact the entire exit row apart from me was empty. SCORE!!!!!!

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

The crew warned everyone jammed down the back that they could not self upgrade to “Economy Plus” once the flight got to cruise altitude, they had to stay in their assigned seat. This got a few people unhappy but I didn’t care. All you have to do is ask and if they are open, generally you receive. The manual safety demo happened around me and all I know is that I was to busy answering a few last tweets before I had to switch off my phone. We pushed back and started taxiing for the runway. Things had changed since that morning and they were now using 15 for arrivals and 25R for some departures.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As we taxiied down towards the 25R threshold, we passed a lot of the smaller regional planes belonging to Pen Air & Era … I mean Ravn Air. Past all the small turbo props and then it was into the smaller local freight operators. This is where the interesting stuff lives. NAC and their 737-200s & DC-6s. Even a number of DC3s and one lone Convair. Alaska is always fun for this kind of thing. We turned onto the active and held in place for a minute or so. I could hear it in my head. United Eleven Twenty Nine, Runway Two Five Right, Winds 150 at 10 (at least thats what it was the last time I was listening in on the scanner a few hours ago), Cleared for Takeoff. The pilot would respond and then you could hear the engines spool up. Brakes still holding and then let the baby fly!!!

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Take off roll was spirited and before we had even passed the South Hangars of Lynden Aviation and the Alaska Air National Guard we were airborne and climbing. Wheels up, flaps up, we climbed out and away from the airport and turned towards Seattle. Not much to see out my side of the aircraft, but hey… I couldn’t complain though, I could have just moved to the other window and I would have it all. No one to blame but myself.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

My attention from that point, as we climbed up through the cloud base towards the blue sky, turned to getting my self situated in what was to become my little encampment. Out came my devices and I took over the power ports (both of them) to get my phone back on power to stay juiced and to change over the batteries as one of them had the top off it needed. I distributed all my gear as needed and settled in for a comfortable, spacious flight home.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

By the time we were a decent height, I pulled the laptop out to do some work on the trip reports and just generally sat back and relaxed for the flight. It took quite a while before they switched off the seat belt sign (not that anyone cared or paid any attention to it) and the pilot annouced a flight time of 2 hours 53 minutes home to Seattle.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Service commenced just after this and the crew were slow but methodical in getting the drinks out. Sadly I did not get more than a cup this time (how I got the whole can before I don’t know) but the smells coming back to us from the front of the plane were just not fair. At one point all I could smell was coffee and made a mental note to have one later to give me a bit of a pick me up before I got in the truck.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

While the flight cruised on, I read my book and decided it was time to finally get that coffee. I headed to the back of the plane to get the coffee & everyone looked so unhappy down there. All jammed in :( But hey, that could have been me, so no complaining, no making fun right? With coffee in hand I headed back to my seat and I had barely settled back in when they did a rubbish run through the plane. Knowing that they would collect all my stuff, I ended up downing the coffee fairly quickly (it wasn’t that hot at all) and figured that it would be good while it lasted. I “enjoyed” my coffee with a Protein bar that Heidi had made me pack (and it came in handy as a dinner replacement), although this one was far from tasty.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

We got a pre descent warning from the pilots somewhere over BC and as we started descent, we had just passed Vancouver off to the left side. I wasn’t sure if it was Vancouver to begin with, but it had to of been it. The city is fairly obvious from above and the man made island for the airport is really distinguishable. I kept an eye out the window on descent as we seemed awfully high passing Everett and that meant we were heading for a southern arrival, heading down towards Tacoma and turning north back towards SeaTac.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As we passed over downtown the sun was setting with beautiful red & orange tones and I spent a good amount of time trying to get the perfect photo. I think I did, but not quite sure. We turned as expected right over the Port of Tacoma and were vectored in for a 34L arrival. How do I know this? We were hugging the coastline from Tacoma, up over Federal Way & Des Moines. So much that we flew almost over Heidi’s parents place and over Burien where she lives at the moment.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Touching down about 15 minutes early we had a long taxi from the top of 34L and we held for the 34R runway to clear. What passes me by out the window? An Alaska 737 with Split Scimitar Winglets. Damn! Not fast enough… that and the light was fading. Yep, that’s my excuse, light wasn’t great.

From Anchorage

We pulled into the gate 9 minutes early and since I had no one else next to me (or even at the end of the row) I was quickly up and moving. Though we had to wait to get lot off, I was off the aircraft pretty quickly and by the time I had made the long trek from A10 to the baggage claim, the baggage carousel had just started moving. Thinking that I was going to get a repeat of Friday night, I was shocked to see my bag first on the belt! That has not happened in a long long time. Since my bag was first on the belt and I did not even break stride to grab it and turn around headed for the car park. I was out of the terminal in minutes rather than the usual 20-30 minutes it takes.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I was waiting for a shuttle longer than I had to wait for my bag, but pretty soon I was at Wallypark, paying off my bill and then jumping in the truck to drive home. I was looking forward to some sleeeeep!

Trip Report – To The Last Frontier: Anchorage

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

I was met at the terminal by the shuttle from the Holiday Inn Express Anchorage and the person working the desk had asked my name when picking me up. The moment I stepped into the lobby off the shuttle, he greeted me by name and had me checked in already to go. I just had to sign a couple of pieces of paper and he pointed me in the right direction towards my room. Within 10 minutes of stepping in the door, I was asleep.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Saturday 31st May 2014

I awoke this morning after only 4 hours sleep, not much but it would have to do. I looked out the window and all I saw was rain :( So I gave up on the idea of running to the airport and instead, went to the gym to wake myself up. After a morning workout that was fairly intense compared to my usual one (maybe I was just feeling great, I don’t know why it was so quick to complete today), I got myself ready quickly as they schedule the shuttles in the morning and I was about 15 minutes off a departure. After that it was another hour. So I rushed back to get changed and showered and made it in time, to be the only person on the shuttle.

From Anchorage

I had originally intended on running to the airport, and when my 5k run was over just picking up the rental truck to get back. But since it was raining, I was just shuttling back to the airport to the rental car facility. The rental car facility was fairly deserted but so was the Enterprise counter. I waited a good 5 minutes before someone decided to show up. But once they did, I was off upstairs to the booth to get my truck. When I got up to the booth she gave me a choice of either a Dodge Ram or a Ford F150. Since I drive a Ram at home, I went with the F150. At least then I can see what makes this truck so popular.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Pretty soon I was headed back to the airport to get myself sorted for the day. Some breakfast, a quick plan of where to stop to get some water and then off to get some spotting done. Free breakfast is never all that great when you don’t eat that much (like I try to) but when it is a Holiday Inn Express, the selection’s are never over the top. Something that I appreciate, makes me feel like I am not wasting it. The main thing it had was coffee, I wanted coffee, I was dreaming of coffee, I would of injected it into my veins if I had the choice. The brew was passable, but it hit the spot and with an extra cup in hand, it was off for a day of spotting.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Spotting is pretty much what I did all day. It may have been raining (fairly lightly at that point) and the wind blowing a good 15-20 knots, but hey, I am here to get photos and the planes were lining up for me. One after the other, they just kept on coming. As a bank of freighters started to leave, another set would come in. All of them heavies, all of them so so good looking. I won’t got into too much depth about the spotting, but suffice it to say, I had a REALLY good haul over the weekend.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I took a break in the morning to thaw out at the Alaska Aviation Museum and it was ok. Nothing over the top but worth the $10 donation for a true avgeek cause. I learnt a little about the history of Airlines in Alaska and there was number that I had ever even heard of. Interesting pieces that’s for sure. I also took a break in the afternoon to head downtown for some souvenir hunting. I needed to get a postcard (which I managed to forget to write) and a shot glass for the collection, and see if I could find something special for the lady. I didn’t want to get something over the top (we have rules against that) and I managed to find something that would make her giggle at least.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

The first day ended with dinner at a place that was high on the Urbanspoon and Wikitravel suggestions, and a very tasty burger it was. I never would of thought to combine BBQ sauce, Jalapeno Cheese, Onion Strings and Bacon on a burger. I might in the future though! The coleslaw that it came with was tasty as well. The dried cranberries in it, gave an interesting texture, might have to try that sometime myself.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I passed out in front of the TV at about 9pm (it was still light outside as though it was noon), watching Batman with a piece of pie and some ice cream. Can’t beat it.

From Anchorage

Sunday 1st June

This time the weather held out and I sure as hell was going to go for my run. Not only would it add to my list but, I was going to enjoy running around an airport (Lake Hood is classed as a separate airport to Anchorage International. What I forgot was that it was 5k run to get me to the airport, I still had to get back. All up…. just under 8kms. Woops!

I grabbed breakfast again and checked out. I was heading back to the airport for another day of spotting, before my flight home. Today’s plan was all weather dependent and there was forecast of rain. At least yesterday the rain abated and left me dry for the afternoon. Today I was racing the rain in the hopes that it would come after I dropped the truck off Speaking of which, I probably didn’t need the truck this weekend. I could have had a normal car thanks to the winds situation that was happening this weekend. But there was no way to tell. The F150 was a good choice. Not because I liked it, but because I now know that I am glad I never bought one. It just never gave me the impression that I was going to enjoy it. The indicators were one of the reasons I didn’t buy it in the first place. That decision was totally reasonable, as they drove me nuts the whole weekend.

From Anchorage

The rain hit about half way through my morning and went from light to moderate but I toughed it out in the name of spotting and got what I needed to get. There was plenty to watch come in and out still, but it was lighter than the day before. Not many in the way of special liveries at all.

From Anchorage

By around 230pm I was starting to get cold and tired of standing in the rain, so headed on over to the airport to drop off the truck and start heading home.

Trip Report – To the Last Frontier: Seattle to Anchorage

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

Friday 30th May 2014

I left work on time, but thanks to traffic it was slow going on the 405 (nothing new there really) but it wasn’t to bad getting to the airport. I parked the truck at Wallypark, my usual spot, and instead of going straight to the Terminal, I met up with Heidi for dinner. We stuck close by and went to the new L&L Hawaiian BBQ for dinner and although it is not at all that classy, it sure was tasty. Just as Heidi arrived I got the first bit of bad news for the evening.

An email and a Tripit push notification, both saying that unwanted note…… Delayed. That wouldn’t have been too bad had I dropped my bag off first then gone to meet up with Heidi. Sadly it still meant I had to be there before the usual cut off time, just in case. After a quick trip to the local Safeway to pick up some protein bars for the upcoming weekend (I had planned to stash a couple in my camera bag so that I didn’t have to leave the spotting areas when it came time for food), Heidi dropped me off on the Departures deck and after a kiss goodbye (definitely a new thing for me) I was on my way to check in.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Check in for United was deserted, to be honest the entire South End of the terminal felt like a ghost town. However the few people who were checking in, just had to be in the queue that I was going to be using. So rather than wait in line for the Premier Access counters, I just used a normal counter. I tried to get a free Econ Plus row, but no deal. The boarding pass didn’t even show the delay so that was really disappointing. I got a printed boarding pass purely for the collection and after my bag was sent on its way (I didn’t notice if a priority tag was added to my bag or not) I snapped a few pictures and headed towards the security check point as instructed. Thankfully I had been told that the South Checkpoint was closed and that everyone had to pass through the Central point.

The good news was that the checkpoint was empty and I breezed through the ID check, then I was 2nd in line for the scanner and I was through within minutes. I seem to get pulled up as though there is something on my body (same spot, each and every time, I swear that there is a metal implement or something inside my stomach?) and I got a light pat down in the usual spot. Nothing too huge, and I had contemplated opting out for shits and giggles but decided against it. Once through to the other side I collected my gear and stopped by the Food Court windows for a squiz at the ramp. Nothing but normal out there today so to the United Club we go! A long long walk down to the High A gates (the club is opposite A9) and with my gate at A8 it meant for convenience later on.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Checking into the club was painless and I even managed to snag that Exit Row, thanks to a smile and asking nicely. Originally the “dragon” (not that she was one, since she was nicer than nice) thought I meant a First Upgrade, but I just wanted a bit of extra space, no First Class seat and meal required. It was sure going to be tough to leave the club without inhaling what goodies were there. But I got handed my Exit Row Window (is there a better seat than that in Economy?) Boarding pass and I did a lap of the lounge to find the best spot to sit. Plonking my butt in an empty area, I grabbed some snacks (hello Yogurt Raisins, I see you have returned to provide me with a challenge of can I stop myself from eating all of you) and by snacks i mean cookies (small ones though) and some coffee and got settled.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I caught up on my emails, charged my phone a little and generally goofed off for like the next hour and even managed to get myself sorted. The flight was due to touch down around 915pm and we were meant to depart at 10pm. Though I doubted this from the moment I received the first delay notification. Still you expect to do the right thing and headed out of the lounge at my usual early time to find a spot by the windows for when the plane arrives. I wanted that nice empty clean plane shot either just as it pulls up or a few moments after. Makes getting the registration all that easier.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

20 minutes later (by that time 5 minutes after the plane was scheduled to arrive) it still hadn’t shown up but low and behold, people are moving about on the ramp and that meant an incoming aircraft. As the flight rolled into the gate, I got my shots and then checked the registration against the lists and turns out it was a barely year old 737-900ER! So not only was I getting a new BSI fitted aircraft, but being an ER, it meant a first on type! So had this been a new airline I could have snagged a trifecta. Guess the fact I was flying to a new Airport on a new type would have to suffice.

From Anchorage

The plane disgorged all the people and that was a good thing as the sooner they got off, the sooner we could get on. But we were not getting out on time. I got a further delay announcement, just 10 more minutes. I can deal with that, but at this rate we are approaching a 1am touch down and that would mean a painful morning, especially if I want to be up at Sparrows Fart for plane spotting. Since I had the rego and photos, I headed over towards the gate area, where sadly no seats were vacant but I could wait standing up. Wait is something I did, we waited quite some time. About 15 minutes into my wait (about 5 minutes after the crew headed on) I was playing around in the United App when it just stopped working….o dear! United’s computers had crashed and this was confirmed moments later when it was announced we would have to manually board.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

United Airlines – UA1603
Seattle Tacoma to Anchorage
2110-2347
Boeing 737-900ER (N38473)
Economy Plus – Seat 21A (Exit Row)

Boarding: 2155 (Gate A8)
Push Back: 2303
Take off Roll: 2311 (Runway 34R)
Top of Descent: 0052
Touch Down: 0115 (Runway 15)
Shut Down: 0121 (Gate B6)

When boarding was called we were fast approaching an hours delay, just as I was boarding I got another flight delay notice from Tripit and I just knew that was begging for hope that it would be accurate, but it wasn’t to be. I boarded at the appropriate time with the appropriate zone (Zone 2) and I walked onboard, happy to see the “United WiFi” sticker at the door. I was going to give the WiFi a good test and really see how it went. I got my stuff sorted and had a chuckle at the Fact the rows went 13,14,15,20,21. That confused the hell out of me but according to the FA working my area, it has to be that way so that all Exit Rows have a common number. Why I have no idea, it makes NO sense, but hey…. This is America.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As everyone boarded, time stretched longer and longer. The boarding process was done and then we were told we were waiting… A LONG time. We had to wait for a Houston flight to land that was late Being that we were already late, hey why not delay us further. The groans onboard were lengthy and loud, it was obvious that people were not happy about the situation. I just sucked it up and sat back, reading my book and waiting. Wait we did!

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Almost 2 hours late by this stage we finally had doors shut and a push back (albeit slow) from the terminal. It was a quick taxi from the A gates out to the Runway and we had no one in front of us, so with a short wait (seconds) we were heading into the skies. Climb out was quick and it was surprisingly comfortable even after being stuck in the seat for an hour. I wanted to get up to height as soon as possible so that I could get connected to the WiFi. I had been sent an email the day prior to let me know that I would have WiFi on this flight. Great!! As soon as I heard the dings to signify we had past 10,000ft I pulled the laptop out and got started.

From Anchorage

I started off by connecting to the WiFi with my phone to see how easily it connected and it was a breeze. Then I switched over to the laptop, took out my wallet and paid for it. I was hoping to get some travel booked while on the flight, but first things first, speed test. I ran a few speed tests, did some screen captures for a review I was going to have to write and then once that was done “Out of Coverage” ummmmmm say what Now? I just spent $4 on WiFi ($2 per hour is pretty good compared to GoGo for a short flight) and it said I had “3 hours of United WiFi” when really I had 15 minutes? I also didn’t have a working power plug at the seat so couldn’t charge my phone (and it was fairly low on power).

By this time I had been given my drink (full can!) on the service and so with that done and not possible to do work (I had been looking through the FAQs and stuff while doing my prep for the review to find that you can request a refund and I had screen captured that stuff before I lost coverage), guess it was time to relax. So I read for a while, and when I couldn’t read any longer, I shut my eyes and tried to relax.

Next thing I know we are about an hour away from Anchorage, shut my eyes again and I am looking out the window on the other side of the plane and I can see sunlight. I check my watch and its after 130am Seattle time… WTF! I fixed up my watch and knew that we would be descending fairly soon so Just sat back and enjoyed the ride with my eyes shut as much as possible. I was tired, I wanted a drink, I just wanted sleep. I sucked up the crappiness of it all and just switched my brain off.

We hit descent and I packed up my stuff, I was hoping to escape the plane quickly and get to the bag claim as quickly as possible. We circled over and around Anchorage through some clouds and lots of lumps. To be honest I had no idea where I was but the lights down below were on and I could see stuff so I can’t complain really. As we approached the airport I was trying hard to see what was on the ramp and I was not disappointed as we came into land. It was all freight, everywhere. Fed Ex, UPS, Cathay, Korean, China Airlines. All the stuff I came here to see.

It was a slow roll out to the end of Runway 15 and then we circled around to the pier that was not used by Alaska Airlines. We pulled in next to a US Airways flight and Frontier was in there somewhere as well. I was off the flight fairly quickly and without to much stress either. The walk from the gate to the baggage claim was fairly long but easy and then I had to wait. Wait a lot. That priority tag for my bag that I wasn’t sure if it got on my bag. Well it did, but it didn’t do anything at all. My bag was one of the last ones off the plane and by the time I had my bag I was just cranky. By then it was almost 2am Alaska time and I was just tired.

From Anchorage

Bag in hand I headed out to the shuttle stand to get the already ordered shuttle to my hotel, The Holiday Inn Express Anchorage. Barely a mile and a half away from the hotel. But it was close enough that at 2am.. I was head down on a pillow.

Trip Report – To the Last Frontier: Introduction

It’s currently the end of May. So far this year my mileage balanace for total travelled miles is 0. That’s right, a big giant Donut. I need to fly! I must get up in the air, now, anywhere.. please just let me fly. When I saw a fare sale on a weekend telling me that fares to Alaska were $100 each way… well.. guess where I am going!! Since I had considered going to Alaska at the end of last year during my “$100 Challenge” and instead went to Kansas, might as well tick another state off my list right?

So after finding a decent weekend that would work with the fares (sadly on United so that is going to be interesting, since I have’t flown them intentionally in a while) and work as well, I locked it in. The hotel actually cost more than the flights in this situation. Hotel prices in Anchorage just are not cheap (well it is cruise ship season I guess) but I managed to find a decent rate at the Holiday Inn Express near the airport. Considering I intend on spending most of my time taking photos around the airport I might as well stay close by right? Saves having to go that far after getting off a flight at like 1am in the morning.

The hardest part of the trip planning was arranging a car. Normally I would just book the usual National car rental in a mid size, pick up off the Executive line and all would be good. But a few friends had suggested previously that a Truck is needed for spotting. Since I wouldn’t have access to a step ladder and with fairly large fence lines in some area, I needed to get an MFAP. What’s an MFAP? A Mobile Fence Avoidance Platform… aka a Truck. Normally I would avoid driving a truck when renting. I drive one at home, why do I need another one? Well since I need it, I might as well get it. But for some reason the only company that had availability for one was Enterprise. I even had the National Car Rental Social Media team check for me. Nada. O well :(

So I booked the truck rental, the hotel and the flights and with everything fast approaching (tonight) I can finally get back up in the Air!! A Map right about now would look fairly boring and since it is just up and back on United, that is fairly boring. But the plane spotting will be good (if I am lucky I will get a lot of freighter traffic and HOPEFULLY a Everts Commando), the weather might hold out, but no matter what. I am up for whatever it brings.

Bring on the Travel!!!!!

Trip Report: To Kansas for BBQ – Kansas City to Seattle

After winding my way fairly slowly from the downtown core out into the suburbs north of the city to the airport it was a stark contrast to living back west. The area was just flat, way flat. I would of loved to of gotten a chance to go out running in warmer weather here as I am sure I could get some decent times on the flat ground. I stopped to fill the car and in the process while doing so I tried ever so hard not to fall over and kill myself in the gas station car park as it was covered in ice and snow. Add on some gasoline and you have a lovely slushy mixture of slipperiness. I was going to miss this city, it wasn’t at all as bleak or as desolate as I expected. The people were great and the city itself was a unique twist of old and new. I had to come back.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

I dropped the car off at the rental lot, waving bye bye to another awesome 300C experience. I was going to miss being National Executive, I was considering buying the membership for $50, as it did feel worth it. Right after dropping off the car and making my way back inside into the warmth, the shuttle was boarding full of people so I had barely stopped for a few moments before I was on my way again. Back to the terminal and starting to begin my journey home. Kansas City airport is made up of 3 horseshoe shaped terminals and I was heading to a terminal that was shared with Delta, Alaska & Southwest. Stupidly I got off at the wrong end and had to walk the entire horse shoe, all the way to the other end where Alaska was right next to Delta. I was on the hunt for a good place to leave behind an AirlineReporter sticker so had a few spaces in mind.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

I checked in pretty quickly and was handed a boarding pass and pointed towards security. While the terminals were fairly small it meant that once you clear security there really isn’t that much at all. I had not even thought about the half bottle of water I had in my bag when I got into the security line… rookie mistake! It took a good 10 minutes to get through the security check point. Not that there was many people ahead of me (about 5) but that they just took forever! Why is it when I am in the midwest I get stuck at security. But then I got myself stuck because I forgot to empty my water bottle. Even bigger rookie mistake!

From Kansas City BBQ Run

So I took my walk of shame after the security agent (not the TSA) brought my water bottle back to me empty, although he pointed me towards where I could fill it up (funnily enough right where he just emptied it). I went towards the gate and then a very familiar accent started making annoucements to gate check bags free of charge. Figuring that I could now offload some stuff for free and dodge a bag fee, well… who was I to say no to that! So I gate checked my bag and turns out the Delta agent working the Alaska gate was actually an Aussie from Brisbane (well the Gold Coast really). Totally wierd to run into a fellow Aussie in the middle of no where almost. Both of us a LOOOONG way from home. I settled in with a gate checked bag tag while I moved some stuff around to make sure that I had a light backpack for the flight. I even managed to stash a AR Sticker somewhere in the terminal while I was waiting for my flight.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

Alaska Airlines – AS759
Kansas City International to Seattle Tacoma
1645-1830
Boeing 737-800 (N558AS)
Economy Class – Seat 29F

Boarding: 1605 (Gate 59)
Push Back: 1646
Take off Roll: 1710 (Runway 19L)
Top of Descent: 1813
Touch Down: 1836 (Runway 16L)
Shut Down: 1844 (Gate N3)

Boarding was called and it took a while to get through all the different elites that Alaska allows. It seems that by the time they got to my group it was like the entire plane was trying to get on first before me. Ah well didn’t matter I wasn’t needing overhead bin space, though I wondered as I dropped my bag at the door, with the other gate check bags, if I would ever see it again. As I walked onboard I finally paid attention to the tail and noticed the Flower Lei on the tail which denotes a 737-800 with Etops. Something Alaska did to really promote their hawaii flights. The day before it had been a 900 today an 800. I am totally confused here. As I walked up to my seat, the crew member there looked familiar. It was the same one that worked yesterday, so I said to her “hello again” to which she half recognised me and said “quick trip?”. It certainly was! Had a quick chat about the aircraft and the swap and them doing back to back different aircraft different days.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

I settled into my seat conducting the usual things, not that many photos as it was pretty crappy looking outside. Then it happened. My seat mate showed up… and she was old, and looked not at all there. That was confirmed moments later when she sat down and started rocking back and forth…. continuously… something that would continue for the entire flight. We were warned by the captain about wanting to get out of there quickly as we had to de ice and that would eat up time obviously. So Alaska doesn’t seem to paid their flight schedule they just make everyone board way early.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

We deiced and headed for the runway. Waving bye bye to Kansas City as we climbed out through the clouds and the crap below into the sky. I settled in as best I could next to the crazy lady. Thank god for noise cancelling headphones as not only was there crazy lady next to me, but two screaming babies in the rows behind me. I didn’t hear a thing though. Ahhh bliss. I declined the snacks on offer instead thinking I will just have a few sodas and relax before getting back and scurrying home. Sadly the crew just ignored me for the drink runs and every time I tried to ask they just kept on walking past me. This happened for every single service during the flight. Why I wasn’t offered I have no idea but the crazy lady next to me seemed to be having a hell of a time constantly fidgeting and moving about and several times elbowing me in the ribs.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

The one thing that brought a smile to my face was that while she kept fidgeting, the lady next to me kicked her travelling companions beer all over them. I smiled while she went into an overdrive of craziness. I just sat back watched Top Gear and laughed silently and sneakily. It was probably bad of me to be like that but hey, if your going to be an ass on a flight, it is going to come back to you eventually.

From Kansas City BBQ Run

We started descent somewhere over lights and I had no idea where we were or what was going on because it was just so dark out. Eventually I think we head north over elliot bay and then right turned right over downtown and onto approach to SeaTac. We landed comfortably and easily and started taxiing to the gate, right back to N3 where it all started the day before. While I sat at the back waiting for the plane to empty out, I was catching up on life via the internet and texting away. By the time I made it off the plane it was a solid 12 minutes after we had pulled up. If this time kept eating up and I beat my bag to the baggage area I could pretty much recoup most of the costs of my flights thanks to baggage delay points… come on delays!

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

I made it off the train and rocked up at baggage claim with my bag circling the far side to which I just ran around and grabbed it. Damn it! Pretty soon I was heading over to the shuttles and it was already ahead of me just leaving the 1st pick up point. I sprinted after it running the entire length of the pick up points to finally get onboard… I had made it all the way to the shuttle point without getting to cold and I was soon in the warmth of my truck, driving home!

Trip Report: To Kansas for BBQ – Seattle to Kansas City

Saturday 7th April 2013

A leisurely morning almost compared to my usual trips as I could sleep in till a half normal time, work out, have breakfast and partially clean the house all with a couple of coffees under my belt and making my flight without a hassle. An extra coffee for the truck and I was headed out a little delayed waiting for something to upload to my tablet. I was travelling light this time with just my duffle and a backpack. No SLR, no laptop, just the tablet and my p&s.

From Kansas City BBQ Run

I made it to the parking garage with good timing and by the time I hit the terminal since I already had my boarding pass I was looking good if the lines were not to bad, sadly… they were not good. I tried and old trick since the Alaska mobile boarding passes barely showed any information and used the United/Alaska premium security entry and funnily enough they let me through showing my Gold Card. O silly Seattle TSA, how Gullible you are.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

Through security (eventually), grab a photo of one of the numerous Alaska special liveries at SeaTac that morning and onto the Train to the N Gates, popping out just about 10 minutes before boarding should commence. Being mindful that Alaska board almost an hour before departure for some unknown reason. Ran into someone I knew for a quick hello and chat, grabbing a printed boarding pass and then it was to Starbucks for more coffee and a water bottle fill and I was off to the gate, rocking up just as boarding started for general economy.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

Alaska Airlines – AS762
Seattle Tacoma to Kansas City International (SEA-MCI)
1030-1542
Boeing 737-900 (N315AS)
Economy Class – Seat 24A

Boarding: 0950 (Gate N3)
Push Back: 1029
Take off Roll: 1040 (Runway 34R)
Top of Descent: 1513
Touch Down: 1540 (Runway 1L)
Shut Down: 1458 (Gate 59)

Boarding for my area was called and I was off to the back of the flight, all the way back. Being a 737-900 (my 3rd flight on the type) it is like boarding an A321… lots of way to go to the back (not as much though but you get the idea). The whole point of this trip was doing it on the cheap, I wasn’t checking bags or anything so I just sucked it up and went all the way to back like I was meant to. Luckily I was at the front of the line so I did manage to get some overhead bin space. With a full flight expected I stashed my gear and sat down as quickly as possible.

From Kansas City BBQ Run

All my gear stored appropriately and I was doing the usual pre flight stuff (photos, log book, general tweeting) and next thing I know the doors are shut, theres a middle seat next to me free and we are pushing back. SCORE! What was even better was the sun was out as we pushed back and although it was freakishly cold the light was awesome. So as we taxiied past a few specials and some heavies at the South Terminal, I saw the Spirit of Hawaii (which had been parked at the gate next to ours) sitting in the penalty box… o no! We took off ahead of them and pretty soon we were turning left towards the east and parts unknown.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

It was wierd to be using my phone and tablet all the way over as it was my first flight with the new PED rules and I do like it! Managed to get through a good chunk of my book but sadly, no music for the first part of the flight. I hadn’t checked the batteries on my headphones so as soon as I turned them on, they went dead. Checked for spares…none… DOH! So no music till I could take out my earplugs.. dammit, ah well.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

We cruised east and the crew started a very long service process, selling their entertainment systems, then food, then we can get a drink. But it was ok I had water and thought ahead to bring some lunch with me. Bagel, Turkey and some carrots. Boring, cheap ($3 total) and filling enough for a 3 hour flight. With a diet lemonade I was ok enough. Even managed a few rounds before they closed up service. What did I do on the flight? I read, used some free wifi thanks to Gogo and just bummed about.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

We started descent somewhere outside of the airport, I had no idea where I was or what should or shouldn’t look familiar so just took it all in. As we approached Kansas City (Missouri side) you could see a sprinkling of snow around the airport, which did not bode well at all really. It was going to be cold, I had expected that but I didn’t want it to snow on me. We came back around after going the long way into the airport. As we touched down and cleared the runway it was a plethora of trijets on the freight ramp. A couple of 727s and an MD11F, add on a DC9 as well and it was awesome vintage time. Off in the distance was a couple of ex Qantas 767s awaiting destruction as well. It is always unique being in the midwest. The rest of the airport seemed deserted with just one or two aircraft in existence it seemed.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run

We pulled into the gates next to a Delta 757 and just like that my flight to Kansas City is over. By the time I Was able to extricate myself from the back of the plane, I was prepped to grab my jacket from my bag before I froze to death. That didn’t take all that long as once you leave the gates your about 4 steps from the landside of the terminal…Aircraft to Landside in less than 10 metres…. SCORE! Next thing I know its time to get my jacket out and get moving, since I had just officially stepped foot in a new state.

From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run
From Kansas City BBQ Run