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Old Jul 16, 99, 5:38 pm   #1
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: SFO
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SFO-DTW-ROA-PIT-SFO-EWR-DCA-IAD-PHX-SFO (Interminable)

This is my first stab at a trip report. This was actually two trips, but since I just had one day between them, it felt like one big, long trip – so here’s one big, long trip report.

7/7: NW 342 SFO-DTW (first)

Spacious DC-10, comfortable, clean, attractive cabin, nice seat pitch. We were served drinks prior to takeoff and shortly thereafter. Takeoff was on time. Drinks were served with peanuts and pretzels, little bags like you would get in coach on other airlines.

FA’s came around about an hour into the flight with meal service – pretty late for a 12:30 departure. The meal was served from carts. Food quality was substandard for first class – choice of a hot ham sandwich and a small salad or a big salad with 3 slices of rolled, smoked turkey plopped unceremoniously on top. Dessert was 2 scoops of mediocre vanilla ice cream, topped with liqueurs – not a very appealing choice for this non-drinker. We didn’t see the FA’s again on this flight after meal service.

A video presentation (sitcom reruns) was started about 3 hours into the 4 1/2 hour flight. Even though first class seats were equipped with personal video screens, they were not available for use on this flight. Announcements were made several times during the show, but the video was not stopped during them. We had a “talky” pilot on this flight, and the long interruptions during the video that were made without stopping the video were annoying. A few minutes before arrival, the video was abruptly stopped in the middle of one of the features, with no warning that it was about to be stopped, and no apology for stopping it in the middle of what had been playing.

All in all, I was disappointed in NW’s FC service on this flight. Quality of both food and service was significantly lower than on any of the other 5 FC legs on this trip. This was the only long haul leg that didn’t show a movie.

Arrival at DTW was 15 minutes early.

DTW

A l-o-o-o-o-ong walk from my gate at terminal D to the commuter terminal A.

Since lunch was smallish, and I would not arrive in ROA until 11:30 PM, I sought out a bite to eat at DTW. What a poor choice of restaurants, and most closed at 9 PM! I finally settled on a bagel sandwich at “Big Apple Bagel” in the attractive Mesaba commuter terminal – not too bad.

7/7: NW 3310 DTW-ROA (coach)

Your basic 30 seat non-jet commuter flight. On time departure and arrival on this short hop.

Marriott – Roanoke,VA Airport

Three hotel guests at the check in counter (I was guest #3) took 15 minutes to check-in. The lone person staffing the front desk also had telephone operator duty, and the phone was ringing off the hook. Pet peeve: hotel manager drops the ball by not putting enough staff on duty, but the staff, not the manager, ends up having to deal with all the complaints. You can be sure I was especially nice to the woman at the front desk who got put in an impossible position by her management.

I was surprised to find a largish Marriott in Roanoke. Pretty oriental rugs on the ground floor – a nice decorating touch. The rest of the hotel looked pretty much like nearly every other Marriott I have ever stayed at. My room was comfortable but unremarkable.

I had two meals at the hotel – one a nice room service dinner after a very long day of work Thursday, and the other a really poor breakfast buffet – everything I took from the buffet was cold. Fine for the fruit, not so nice for the eggs and meats. Pet peeve: why do business hotels invariably serve the same underripe cut up pieces of melon at the height of the fresh fruit season?

7/9: NW 2979 – DTW-ROA (coach)

Upon arriving at ROA, I checked the departure screen to find that my flight was delayed about 20 minutes. I was surprised to discover that it went through Charleston, WV, which I had not been told when I made the reservation. I arrived at the counter about 45 minutes before takeoff. I gave the agent my name and he told me he had been waiting for me, then handed me a flight coupon for a US Airways flight. I asked about my upgrade – he couldn’t get it for me on ROA-PIT, but was able to upgrade me PIT-SFO. And when I asked about my OnePass miles, he filled out a form to get me miles for this flight on my primary program, no questions asked. (I’m not sure if they will count towards elite status, though.) Then he sent me over to the US Airways counter.

I have rarely encountered such good service at an airport counter when facing a flight delay or a potential or actual missed connection. What I have encountered many times is an attempt on the part of the agent to try to make sure that my revenue on their airline is not lost to another airline, regardless of my comfort or convenience. Great job, Mesaba / Northwest!

7/9: US 779 – ROA-PIT (coach)

Although I lost my upgrade on this flight, I got seat 4D on the bulkhead of this DC-9. Legroom was nearly equivalent to that of a first class seat. US’s DC-9 coach cabin was clean, attractive, and extremely comfortable. The short hop to PIT departed and arrived on time.

Pittsburgh Airport

This was my first time at PIT, as I avoid US after some bad experiences with them a few years ago. PIT’s a fun airport, with a shopping mall built in to the airport and stores scattered among he gates. There is no shortage of places to eat. Moving walkways are everywhere, so no forced marches like the one I had to get from the D gates to the A gates at DTW.

7/9: US 79 – PIT-SFO (first)

I had seat 1A on a 757. Drink service before our on time departure. First class service was excellent, starting with drinks and mixed nuts, a lovely fresh seafood cocktail, a nice salad with fresh asparagus spears, and a choice of 3 entrees, followed by dessert.

The FA’s were especially good on this flight – friendly and extremely attentive. They came around numerous times after dinner service to refresh drinks.

US fliers: is the service in first always this good or was I just lucky on my two flights?

Arrival at SFO was on time.

7/11: CO 325 – SFO-EWR-DCA (first)

SFO-EWR leg took off on time. CO delivered its usual high quality of service on this transcon flight. Drinks were refreshed constantly, and the FA’s were friendly and attentive. Lunch, which consisted of a salmon and horseradish cream appetizer, a nice “designer greens” salad, choice of four entrees (rack of lamb, shrimp in a chile sauce, chicken with morel mushrooms, and pasta with marinara sauce), and an ice cream sundae for dessert, was very good. Several announcements were made during the movie, and the movie was stopped for them. The flight arrived 15 minutes early at EWR.

The EWR-DCA leg took off 45 minutes late. The pilot first announced that the flight would leave and arrive on time, then came on about 15 minutes later, while we were still sitting at the gate, and said that he was unable to push back, due to lots of traffic in the area. Ah, Newark. We finally got out of the gate about 30 minutes after scheduled departure time, then waited behind a string of about 10 planes before taking off. I had a window seat on the left side of the plane; the great view of the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments and of the Capitol that you get flying into DCA is sweet.

Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that baggage service at DCA is always s-l-o-o-o-w? The new terminal seems to have made no difference in baggage service whatsoever. Another gripe: CO elite passengers’ bags are supposed to receive priority handling if we attach one of CO’s blue tags; mine are often the first off the plane. The system works fine at EWR, IAH, and SFO, but not at DCA. Tonight, my bag was among the last off the plane.

Hilton – Gaithersburg, MD

Excellent check in service in this standard business Hilton. My paperwork was waiting at the front desk, I signed a credit card slip, gave my OnePass number for double dipping, and I was on my way. The entire check in process took no more than 1 minute.

The Hilton is your basic business hotel. I had a clean, functional if undistinguished room. I did not have any room service meals or eat in the restaurant. Front desk was extremely helpful on a couple of occasions.

I don’t normally go for Thai food, but since several people recommended Tara Thai in the “Where to Eat in Gaithersburg” thread, I thought I’d try it. I went to the one in Bethesda, which is close to the Bethesda Metro stop. (I made the mistake of driving Rockville Pike from Gaithersburg. Won’t do that again!) The surrounding neighborhood is interesting to walk around in, with lots of shops and cafes, and interesting street life. The meal at Tara Thai was a highlight of this trip. Every plate looked beautiful coming out of the kitchen, and my food was wonderful. I had a seafood salad with lime, cabbage, and fennel (sublime), and two huge soft shell crabs, fried, with chili and garlic sauce (excellent). Thanks, TribeFlyer and EMD for an excellent suggestion.

On my way down to Bethesda, I noticed that an Eatzi’s had opened on Rockville Pike near White Flint Mall. Eatzi’s is one of my favorite places to go on the road, and I went back there the night after Tara Thai. They sell fancy food to go – you can get a wonderful meal and carry it back with you to your hotel. There are hundreds of choices, like poached salmon, grilled flank steak, cocktail shrimp, all kinds of salads, both pre-made and made to order, fancy sandwiches made to order, sushi, all kinds of high quality fresh fruit, hot entrees, and an excellent bakery with both bread and desserts. I first encountered Eatzi’s in Dallas about a year ago and spent about an hour wandering around there, wishing we had something like that in San Francisco. (We were supposed to get a branch on Van Ness, but for reasons unknown, they recently forfeited their lease.) The food’s not cheap, but it’s well worth the price IMO. If you stay in places with a kitchen like Marriott Residence Inns, you can get a bunch of stuff to go at Eatzi’s and lay it away in the fridge.

7/15: HP 402 – IAD-PHX (first)

Incoming aircraft was late. I boarded the flight to discover America West has adopted Catman’s favorite - the fishy fishy video. (This makes three airlines that use it that I am aware of – UA, AA, and HP.) Drinks and a nice foil bag of smokehouse almonds (an HP specialty) were served before takeoff. Nice touch to serve the nuts before takeoff – I was particularly hungry, and it was good to get something.

The plane was a recently updated A319. I was in my usual window bulkhead seat in first, and discovered that HP has changed their bulkhead design to afford more leg room. The lower part of the bulkhead wall is now indented about half a foot towards the galley. Very nice. The new seats are excellent, significantly more comfortable than the previous seats (which I had on my connecting flight). The new color scheme (gray tones) is light and attractive.

Meal service was fine – a boiled shrimp appetizer, salad, and a nice piece of poached salmon followed by ice cream covered with a candy coating, sort of like a Dove Bar except ball-shaped. (And not as good!) A movie was played on the flight, and it was paused when interrupted for announcements. FA’s were especially attentive and pleasant throughout this flight, repeatedly filling drinks.

After a beautiful descent over Eastern Arizona during sunset time, the flight arrived on time at PHX, but our gate was unavailable. We waited on the tarmac about 20 minutes for the gate to clear, and finally arrived approximately 25 minutes late.

Sky Harbor Airport America West Club, Terminal A

Yesterday was the day from hell at PHX - thunderstorms in the area, tons of delays, herds of pax all over the terminal. I stopped at the Club upon arrival from IAD for an hour-long connection. The departure screen showed my connection scheduled to leave on-time, but I noticed that a flight for DEN was parked at my gate.

I asked Diane "What's up" and in no time at all, she had me rebooked, in first (I was travelling on an H fare), on an earlier flight that had also been delayed. She said the flight I had ticketed probably wouldn't depart for another 3 hours.

Excellent service - much appreciated. Club memberships make my life a lot easier, especially when the clubs are staffed by great people like Diane, or Debbie at CO’s Presidents Club at SFO.

7/15: HP 2811 – PHX-SFO (first)

The last leg of this long trip. We departed at 9:10 and got in at 11:15, exactly the ETA of the flight that I was supposed to be on. There was a snack consisting of three finger sandwiches and a pasta salad. I have been eating the same pasta salad on SFO-PHX flights for the last year and a half; come on, HP, how about changing the menu a little! I slept most of the flight.

My luggage did not arrive; it went later on my original flight. Because of the mess at PHX, there were about a dozen distressed travelers at HP’s SFO baggage service, and only a single person to handle them. A rerun of the Marriott check in at ROA – the attendant on duty gets abuse because of a poor management staffing decision. It was particularly inexcusable, given that PHX had delays all day.

Rather than wait an hour inline to file a baggage report, I decided to come back to SFO the next morning (about 20 min each way). I picked up my bags today, and that ends the saga.
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Old Jul 16, 99, 6:57 pm   #2
 
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Thank you, dgolds, for the very interesting and easy to read trip report That Thai restaurant sounds great!
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Old Jul 16, 99, 8:01 pm   #3
 
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great report, dgolds...and a long trip!

One comment about your PIT-SFO leg. As you were describing the meal it sounded similar to UA's offerings for transcon FC meals. Then the bulb went off...Gerald Wolfe, ex-CEO of UA is now at US. Sounds like he is trying to bring some of old UA to his new employer...

Your Rockville/Bethesda/Gaithersburg really brought back memories. Before I moved west, I lived in Westminster, MD and worked on the Rockville Pike for 2 years, right across from the Diner. It was a warm fuzzy.
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Old Jul 16, 99, 9:49 pm   #4
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I have been trying to put all of my miles towards CO, so I have been trying to fly NW and AS as well as CO. I have also been flying alot to Charleston, WV on US and have received great service both in FC and coach.
The few times that I have flown on NW have been in FC and it comes nowhere near the service or food on CO or US.

And I agree with you on the PIT and DTW airports. PIT is really a nice airport. DTW is terrible except for the Mesaba terminal.

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Old Jul 17, 99, 9:58 am   #5
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Eatzis is an interesting place--there is one in Buckhead in Atlanta, just down the street from the Embassy Suites/Holiday Inn/Swissotel. Appx 2900 Peachtree Road.

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Old Jul 17, 99, 5:31 pm   #6
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A few comments about CO, US, EWR, and DCA:

1. CO service from EWR-DCA is usually late. That is the norm, particularly on Friday afternoons. This really has more to do with the terrible state of things at EWR (my least favorite airport) than CO.
2. US has drastically improved from a few years ago so I'm not surprised at the excellent service you received. (I'm a Preferred level member and they continue to surprise me.)
3. DCA baggage handling is usually fairly quick, especially compared to SFO which has got to be the slowest airport around (maybe its just UA, but I typically wait 20-25 minutes for bags at SFO).
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Old Jul 17, 99, 7:40 pm   #7
 
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Mileking,

Baggage at PHX usually takes 30 minutes for me. I usually end up talking to one of the Poterrs there and they agree. No reason why, it takes so long, just does. I usually rund down to Avis to get my car and come back for the bag
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Old Jul 19, 99, 11:13 am   #8
 
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Yup, my NW, CO, and HP service experiences match yours almost verbatim.

I LOVE the NW seats on their DC-10s (they use them for international)...they're the best domestic FC seats I've had the pleasure to sit in. As long as my goal is to sleep, NW's got it hands-down. OTOH, their service in FC is tolerable, rather than wonderful. BTW, flying on NW's narrow-body aircraft in FC is even worse. Not only is the service nothing to write home about, but the seats are uncomfortable and the pitch is barely better than coach.
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Old Jul 19, 99, 12:32 pm   #9
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Thanks for the easy to read details!
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