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Tales From The Troposphere ~ Random Thoughts & Observations on 3 Weeks of Air Travel

Tales From The Troposphere ~ Random Thoughts & Observations on 3 Weeks of Air Travel

Old Feb 9, 10, 7:53 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,758
Tales From The Troposphere ~ Random Thoughts & Observations on 3 Weeks of Air Travel

Tro•po•sphere: [trō-pə-sfir’]: The lowest and densest region of the Earth's atmosphere, extending 4-11 miles from the earth’s surface depending upon the latitude. The troposphere is characterized by temperatures that decrease with increasing altitude. The weather, major wind systems, and cloud formations occur mostly in the troposphere.

Commercial airliners fly in the troposphere.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve spent just over one year of my life flying around the troposphere. Put that way, it doesn’t sound like much. I mean, it’s only a year, right? Let’s look at it from a different perspective:

One year equals 8,760 hours. That’s 24 hours per day multiplied by 365 days. If, starting at birth, you were to take a one hour flight each and every day of your life, you would be 24 years old by the time you’d flown 8760 hours. If, starting at age 24, you flew 7 hours per week each and every week of the year, you’d be 48 by the time you’d accrued another year worth of flight time.

Here’s another way of looking at it: Many FlyerTalkers have posted their flights on flightmemory.com. A casual perusal of the statistics shows that most members have flown between 200,000 and 400,000 miles. Let’s work with the larger figure. 400,000 miles divided by an average speed of 500 mph comes to 800 hours. One million miles divided by an average speed of 500mph comes to 2000 hours.

As of today, my log shows 8890 hours spent aboard 4,101 flights covering 3,822,980 miles.

You’d think I’d have tired of it all by now and started to move away from a youthful fad that should have run its course years ago. You’d think I’d have put this mileage running business in the rear view mirror and set course toward pursuits more appropriate to my age and assumed maturity level. Things like trading in my old backpack for a proper rollaboard suitcase and staying in real hotels with names like Starwood or Hilton instead of on airport floors.

Think again ~

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 10, 10 at 9:22 am
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 9, 10, 7:54 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,758
The second line in Willie Nelson’s classic “On The Road Again” goes “Just can’t wait to get on the road again…” You know, that line pretty much sums up my life. Quite literally I just can’t wait to get on the road again. It seems that I’m always dreaming of or planning to go somewhere. Planes, trains, boats, cars, rafts, mules ~ it doesn’t matter. Just go, baby! Even my job involves driving 110 miles every day.

This trip started out quite by accident, as so many of my trips do. Three weeks ago I had just made arrangements to use my MVP Gold upgrade certificates to upgrade a couple of friends who were flying on Alaska Airlines from Hawaii back to Chicago. They had used my $50.00 companion certificate to book their tickets to Hawaii but had no idea that I was fixing to upgrade them on the return flight. From my perspective, it was the least I could do after they’d treated me to elk steaks and lots of good bourbon during a recent three day visit to Indiana in December.

In any event, while visiting in Indiana I’d set the table by telling them that I’d love to upgrade them on one of their flights across the Pacific to or from Hawaii but that upgrades were next to impossible to come by during the holidays. To that end, we’d even called and checked only to be told that no upgrades were available. Oh well, perhaps they could get lucky and get an exit row or bulkhead seat assigned upon check in. I did not tell them that there were nine unsold F seats on the return leg from Kona and that the chances of an upgrade actually looked pretty good. No – I had them well and truly resigned to seats 25A/B. They were of course quite happy just to be going to Hawaii so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Nevertheless, like so many people I know, they’d never been in First Class and the idea of sitting in a big seat while drinking Mai Tais for five hours did hold considerable appeal. Ah well, maybe another time when they weren’t flying around the New Year’s holiday period.

Thanks to a fortuitously timed call on my part, (I hadn’t checked in a week) I was able to procure them upgrades out of Kona and so I sat down at my computer to email them the good news that their seats for that five and a half hour flight were now 2A/C. Somewhere along the way I got to thinking it would be fun to meet up with them “by accident” in the Seattle airport. Back in the days when I worked in the industry or had my 50 State Marathon pass, I used to do stuff like this all the time, meeting up “accidently” with friends in airports all over the country. Even though I no longer have unlimited free or deeply discounted travel, my mind still works in the same devious manner and I’m nothing if not a daydreamer so I sped on over to alaskaair.com just to see if timely award space out of Fairbanks were available. It was.

Well that’s the first step. The possibility exists.

Now, I would never use 25,000 of my hard earned award miles to do something so frivolous as simply meet a couple friends for an hour or so in a distant airport. There definitely needs to be something more. So I sped over to Travelocity to check out the fares to Florida in anticipation of a possible mileage run or two. Hmm… nice, very nice, especially out of Portland. There were numerous one way fares to both Tampa and Orlando of about $83.00 base, $110.00 all in. I plugged in a few sample dates to see if the routings and prices were there. They were.


There’s never a bad time to do a mileage run, especially for a guy like me who’s gotta pay his own way all year. The sooner I get started, the sooner I’ll make Gold. As such, I have little sympathy for most of the whiners who fill up the forums during the last three weeks of December with their plaintive bleats about being a bit short on mileage. Geez, like they didn’t have a good idea that this might be the case back in October? And they didn’t address it then?! The airlines ought to have a Pyrite Level for these people.

Well, just like a bad alcoholic who gets a taste of good whiskey and then can’t help but finish the rest of the bottle on the spot, I got right after it. I love putting mileage runs together! I’m not a high tech guy with KVG tools and fare buckets or whatever. I just go directly to the airline or whatever online travel agency will give me the routing and price that I want and then I book it. It’s that simple. I know a good routing when I see one and I’ve seen a lot of them. After all, I’ve been mileage running since 1988 and using creative routings to mileage extend my flights since back in the mid-seventies.

I spent the next five hours going back and forth between the websites of Alaska, Northwest,. Delta and Travelocity. By the time I finally shut down the computer at 2:30am, I’d booked seven round trips between Portland and either Tampa or Orlando with a couple of train trips and weekend car rentals thrown in for good measure.

The result of all this is that over the next three weeks, I’ll be flying fifty-three flights aboard five airlines for a total of 62,240 miles. And to think that only five hours ago I wasn’t planning on going anywhere but to bed.

Anyway, this trip report is as much for my benefit than it is for yours. Over the next three weeks I’ll be spending a lot of time sitting on airplanes or in airline lounges. Sure, I could read or listen to music but I enjoy writing about flying and I know there are at least six of you who consistently read my reports and seem to enjoy them. So, for you six and anybody I missed ~ this one’s for you!

As for the rest of youse, be warned: This is not a trip report about how to create mileage runs. It might give you some good information about how to do a mileage run once you’ve got the tickets purchased but for anyone looking to gather information about building a good mileage run, I refer you to the Mileage Run Deals forum here at FlyerTalk.

And for those of you who think mileage runs are silly, go watch a George Clooney movie or something. After all, if a character played by George Clooney does something, it must be cool.

Alrighty then, enough palaver. Let’s push back and get this trip in the air 
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 9, 10, 7:55 pm
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Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
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Posts: 8,758
January 14, 2010
Alaska Airlines Fairbanks – Anchorage 900a – 1003a 737-800 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Anchorage – Seattle 340p – 758p 737-800 Economy Class

9:00am sounds like a late start but it feels early in Fairbanks since the sun is still an hour away from rising. The thermometer on the sign welcoming people to Fairbanks International Airport read -24°, quite an improvement over just two days ago when the mercury dipped to -41° at FAI. Check in was speedy as always and minutes later I was through security and sipping hot coffee whilst perusing the day’s news in gate lounge 2.

Fairbanks International Airport Terminal

9:00am Departure at Fairbanks, AK

Despite the chilly temperatures, there was no precipitation and so we were not deiced. As we taxied out to the runway, I took in the large collection of DC-6s resting quietly at the western end of the field. Fairbanks International has one of the world’s largest collections of DC-6s, with Everts Air Cargo and Northern Air Cargo being the primary operators. Only about a quarter of the planes parked at FAI are flyable with the rest being used for spares. There are also a couple of DC-4s, a Convair and even an ancient Curtiss C-46. If you’re into piston powered propliners, FAI is one of the best airports in the world to spot them.

Fifty-three minutes later we landed on a snowy day in Anchorage. With five and a half hours before the departure of my flight down to Seattle, I joined a couple of old friends for lunch in town. The roads were a mess and we almost got stuck in the parking lot. Fairbanks may be cold, but we don’t have anywhere near the snowfall or traffic that Anchorage does. Once again I counted my blessings that I live on the north side of the Alaska Range where snowfall and low population levels make for a much mellower existence.

Those of you who’ve read my previous trip reports know that I log my flights, including the registration numbers on the aircraft. Because of this, I know that out of a fleet of fifty-one 737-800s operated by Alaska Airlines, I have flown just 33. Having logged 805 flights on Alaska since 1976, I’ve managed to fly all of their MD-80s, all of their 737-200s, -400s and -900s along with most of their 737-700s and 727-100 and 200s. A couple of the 727-200s I flew aboard with other airlines before Alaska purchased the same aircraft secondhand. It’s only natural then that I should want to complete my collection of 737-700s and -800s. Unfortunately, there is no prize for this accomplishment other than personal satisfaction and the ability to gloat some in these trip reports.

Over the course of this trip, I’ve got 13 flights scheduled aboard Alaska 737-800s, so if I can add just three or four new aircraft to my collection, I’ll be a happy logger. Unfortunately, today’s trip got off to an inauspicious start aboard ship 593, an aircraft I’d previously flown back in May of 2009. None of the other passengers seemed the least bit bothered by the choice of aircraft for today’s flight, and when boarding was called there were no anguished cries of “Noooo! Not ship 593 again!”

I was seated in row 6, on the “bulkhead” right behind First Class. Once upon a time there may have been a bulkhead on Alaska’s -800s but the only thing now separating the First and Coach Class cabins is a small curtain that hangs down just behind the last row of First Class. The legroom in row six is almost as good as an exit row and, as an added advantage, you can easily see what’s being served to those lucky stiffs up in First Class.

Today’s First Class offering was described as a “Flatbread Chicken Sandwich” with salad. I’ve been served this sandwich on a number of occasions and while I’m not saying it’s unappealing or inappropriate given today’s service standards, it is a definite play on words not unlike calling your garbage man a Sanitation Engineer. It’s basically a glorified chicken wrap with a slightly thicker tortilla.

Meanwhile, back in Steerage, Cheeseburgers were all the rage. All of us on my side of row 6 ordered them and Alaska sweetened the deal for me with a complimentary Alaska Amber. As an MVP Gold traveling in Coach, the first drink is always on the house. It’s one of the little things that Alaska does for its elite flyers that no doubt contribute to Alaska’s Mileage Plan being consistently voted the Best Frequent Flyer Program in the industry.

The best $6.00 Cheeseburger in the air

Flight time was described as being just a little over three hours. When we landed on a rainy night in Seattle, I looked at my watch and noted the flight time: 3:02. Well done, Alaska Airlines.

As we taxied in to the gate, I got my first glimpse of the “Spirit of Disneyland II”, a 737-900 painted to replace the original “Spirit of Disneyland”, a 737-400 that was recently returned to its owner at ILFC. I posted something about this at the Alaska Airlines forum and it immediately devolved into an excoriation of Disney’s corporate practices. These were all points well taken, so let me just say that if you really must paint up one of your jets in a Disney themed livery, I think Alaska has done a very nice job with this airplane.

January 15, 2010
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 900a – 950a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Amtrak Cascades Portland – Tukwila 250p – 546p Business Class

I’m traveling out of Alaska on an award ticket that allows me one enroute stopover between Fairbanks and Denver. That stop will be Portland since that is where I’m basing most of my mileage running out of.

I collect old timetables and for this report I thought one or two of you might enjoy seeing the historic schedules between select city pairs from the November 15, 1970 edition of the North American OAG or Official Airline Guide.

Seattle to Portland Schedule Nov. 15, 1970

Starting with the Seattle to Portland schedule, note the size of the aircraft serving the route. There are lots of Boeing 720s from Northwest, United, Braniff, Western and Continental along with a couple of 707s and a DC-8 from United. These were all big, four engine aircraft with First Class cabins and even lounges aboard some of them. The smallest aircraft serving the route was a Hughes Airwest F-27 operating out of Boeing Field. That’s quite a far cry from the largest aircraft on the route today, a Dash 8-400.

Horizon has been looking to divest itself of its CRJ-700s and go with an all Q400 fleet. The Q400s, better known as Dash 8s and more correctly as DHC-8-402s, are substantially more fuel efficient than the CRJs and they actually carry six more passengers. Unfortunately for Horizon, the market for used CRJs coupled with the delivery schedule on new Dash 8s is not ideal, so it looks like the CRJs will be around a bit longer. Last month I logged four flights on Horizon CRJs, picking up two previously unflown aircraft along the way, including the OSU liveried airplane. Go Beavers!

I’d like to fly the rest of the CRJs before they’re completely gone, but the only morning CRJ down to Portland leaves at the ignominious hour of 6:30am. That’s a bit too early for my tastes so I booked the 9:00am Dash 8. And of course, I’m looking to collect all of Horizon’s Dash 8s as well, so I was pleased to see N420QX awaiting my patronage at gate C2K.

Flight time to Portland was a lengthy 43 minutes and we were served a choice of orange juice, coffee or water. Gone are the mini-breakfast bars that went so well with that good hot coffee. I had a great chat with seatmate, a Boeing engineer on her way down to Portland to commence a drive with her boyfriend down to the Bay Area. I didn’t envy her that drive as the forecast over the next few days was calling for rain, heavy at times, from Northern California all the way up into Southern BC.

The principal reason for my trip to Portland today is to drop off a bag containing changes of clothing that I’ll need over the next few days. I don’t want to be burdened with hundreds of dollars in checked baggage fees over the next two weeks and since I’ll be passing through Portland every two days, why not check my bag into storage with J&B Storage and pay just $5.00 a day with visitation privileges? Why not, indeed! I used to do this back in the Seventies when I logged over 100,000 miles in three weeks on Eastern Airlines’ Unlimited Mileage Fare. I’d pass through Atlanta every day and so I just kept a bag in a locker there and scheduled one day off every 7 days so I could do laundry. Locker fees were .75 cents back then, but then that was a kinder, gentler world where we didn’t have to worry quite so much about misguided religious extremists placing explosives in lockers.

Once I’d dropped off my bag, I caught the light rail from the airport down to the Chinatown stop where it’s only about a ten block walk to Portland’s Union Station. I stopped for lunch along the way at a – you guessed it – Chinese restaurant – before boarding Amtrak’s northbound Cascade for the three hour journey up to Tukwila. Prior to boarding, I tried to upgrade my ticket to Business Class but was informed that the train was sold out in both classes. Alas…

No doubt, some of you may be wondering why I’m going back to Seattle. The answer to that is in the first part of this trip report. My friends are flying in tonight from Kona and I’m planning to surprise them at the airport. As such, the first leg of this year’s mileage running departs from Seattle tomorrow morning.

January 16, 2010
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 800a – 950a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
American Airlines Portland - Dallas 1225p – 605p DC-9-80 Economy Class
American Airlines Dallas – Tampa 640p – 1010p DC-9-80 Economy Class

Even though Alaska doesn’t fly to Tampa from Seattle, they do offer a fare in conjunction with American Airlines via Portland and Chicago. Normally this routing wouldn’t offer all that much extra mileage, but with an extra 1750 miles coming via a double mileage promotion between Portland and Chicago, it becomes substantially more lucrative.

After washing up downstairs and then enjoying a coffee and toasted bagel in Alaska’s Board Room, I headed over to gate C2D only to find that my 8:00am flight had been delayed until 8:20. Apparently, the inbound aircraft was unable to land due to localized fog. No worries, I’ve got an hour and twenty minute layover in Portland. As 8:20 approached, the departure time was changed to 8:45am. Still okay by me with a 10:10am departure out of Portland. About 8:35 the departure time was changed to 9:45am. Uh oh…

My friends were departing to Chicago aboard the 12:30pm flight and I briefly looked into seeing if I could get a seat on that flight. It was available in First Class which would have been fun since they were in steerage and I’d told them I was going to Portland and Tampa today. Unfortunately, there were no appropriately timed connecting flights to Tampa from Chicago and so I ended up flying down to Portland and then continuing on to Tampa via Dallas on American. Although I lost out on a couple thousand miles with the reroute, I was happy to fly the PDX-DFW route, a new one for me that would bring my unduplicated route mileage to near 800,000 miles. Of course, I’m going for 1 million. As well, I’d get to add a couple more MD-80s to my collection before the breed disappears altogether.

After my now 9:45am flight to Portland was further delayed to 10:15am, I decided the flight was cursed. I then called Alaska and was able to switch to the 10:00am flight. This was a good move since I later found out the 8:00am/10:15am had finally been cancelled. Apparently, the inbound flight from Yakima happened to be operated by one of the only aircraft in the fleet that was not equipped for category 3 landings.

From Portland I lucked out on seating with American, snagging a seat in the bulkhead row of the MD-80 which provided substantially better legroom and allowed me to observe the forward cabin as its occupants dined upon a steak salad, served from the cart. Back in Coach, I opted for a cheese and cracker packet, washed down with a gin and tonic.

My rerouted reservation called for a three hour layover in Dallas, getting into Tampa at 12:16am. Not if I can help it. I hopped the Sky Train over to gate A20 and, thanks to some no-shows off a late inbound flight from London, I managed to score not only a seat but a reclining exit row window seat. Oh yeah! Thankfully a barbeque place was located just across from the gate, so I purchased a pulled pork sandwich and headed onboard the MD-80. It’s worth noting here that American’s onboard food selections consist of either prepackaged comfort foods or overpriced sandwiches ($10.00). The cheese plate I purchased on the flight in from Portland cost me $4.00 and came with raisins, crackers and a bag of mixed nuts.

It was Saturday night and the mood onboard the airplane was festive to say the least, due in no small measure to a women’s Christian group returning home to Tampa from a convention in Dallas. They got about as loud and boisterous as Christian women can get (which is pretty loud) with big rounds of applause on takeoff and landing. Hallelujah!

The last time I spent a few nights at TPA, I was informed by the airport police that the prayer chapel would be a good place to sleep. It is, if only for the peace and quiet that it provides relative to the main terminal which has its music turned up way too loud, 24 hours a day. The only visitors to the chapel came between 6 and 7AM when two different airport employees of Muslim faith set up their prayer rugs and went through their morning prayer ritual.

January 17, 2010
Northwest Airlines Tampa – Detroit 815a – 1107a 757-200 Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Detroit – Los Angeles 1210p – 230p 757-200 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Los Angeles – Portland 545p – 808p 737-800 First Class

Because of the football games yesterday, I got fooled into thinking today was Monday and so was expecting longer lines at security. I could have slept a half hour longer! I didn’t realize it was Sunday until I stopped at the news stand and asked where all the Monday papers were. The gum chewing teenager working the counter looked at me like I was from, like, Mars or something and sold me a copy of the Sunday paper. Whatever.

As usual, I was one of the last people to arrive at the gate and so had to get creative with regard to storing my carry on. For late boarders like me, it was bad enough before the airlines started charging for bags. Now that they do, I guess it would behoove me to get down to the gate a couple minutes earlier. I’ve certainly got the boarding preference. Perhaps because I don’t carry a big roll aboard bag, I’ve yet to have a bag gate checked but I suppose it’s only a matter of time. On the other hand, I like to fly on planes, not sit around on the tarmac in them. All these people rushing to queue up so they can get on the plane with their bags just seems like a lot of stress I don’t need.

The only time I like to be amongst the first to board is when I have a suite in International First Class on a non-US airline. The service starts the moment you enter the First Class cabin, so why not start enjoying it as soon as possible?

Now that Northwest/Delta no longer offers complimentary upgrades to Alaska Golds, I’ve had to get acquainted with coach seating aboard Northwest’s fleet. Honestly, prior to the merger, I used to always get upgraded and this extended well into my flights last Spring. I first noticed a definite drop off in upgrades this Fall as Delta’s Medallions were integrated into the Northwest system. So, back to coach go I. The DC-9s and the A320 coach seats suit me just fine, but the seats on the 757 definitely do not agree with me. I’ve got some spinal issues and depending upon how you’re sitting and how hard the surface is, I can be relatively comfortable or in pain. Today, I was in pain. Nerve pain.

Although the captain talked up our early arrival into DTW (15 minutes early), by the time a gate crew showed up to guide us in, we were back to an on time arrival. I had an hour and ten minute layover and so headed over to the WorldCl – er – Sky Club for a Bloody Mary and some snack mix.

As a Priority Pass holder, I’m disappointed that Delta/Northwest no longer participate in the lounge program. The double whammy is that with Continental’s move to Star Alliance, my Presidents Club card will no longer gain me entrance to any Sky Club after January 31st. So, given the amount of flying that I do each year with Delta/Northwest, it looks like I’ll have to pony up $790.00 for a three year membership in Alaska’s Board Room while downgrading my Priority Pass from the unlimited visits to the 10 visit pass. By no longer paying $400.00 per year for the Priority Pass, I’ll actually be paying slightly less per year for lounge access than I do now. Between the Boardroom and Presidents Club cards, I’ll have domestic access to all lounges from Alaska, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways plus the American Admirals Club in Chicago. I’ll use my $99.00 Priority Pass membership for overseas lounges.

Some airlines, like Continental, like to advertise how young their fleet is. Now that Northwest has been merged into the Delta system, the average age of Delta’s overall fleet has jumped considerably. The 757 flying me down to Los Angeles today was delivered new to Northwest in 1987. The DC-9-30 parked next door was originally an Eastern Airlines machine delivered new to the airline in 1967. It was just the 169th DC-9 off the assembly line and I last flew that exact same aircraft as a Northwest flight between Minneapolis and Denver back in 1986. While many people would recoil in terror at the thought of flying somewhere on a 43 year old airplane, I would gladly trade in my seat on a new A320 for a seat on that old DC-9. Those old jets are for me a link back to the Golden Age of jet travel and I’m quite confident that Northwest wouldn’t put them in the air if they weren’t confident in their safety. On the other hand, were a 42 year old plane flying for the national airline of some third world African nation, I’d likely be taking the train.

Clouds covered most of America so I spent the majority of my four hour flight to Los Angeles reading or sleeping. The only sun I’ve seen over the past couple of days has been above the cloud layer. It’s always a beautiful world up there!

Sometime in the next few months Alaska airlines will move its LAX operations from musty old Terminal 3 over to the remodeled and much nicer Terminal 6. In the meantime, the transit between the two terminals requires s a long walk out to street level, then a five minute wait amidst the exhaust from all the busses and other traffic driving by. Finally, the inter-terminal bus dropped me at Terminal 3 where the main security check point was closed down and we were forced to head downstairs for a long wait through a small, cramped checkpoint. I think I’m going to dole out some money for a completely refundable, no change fee ticket on American Eagle to somewhere like SJC or LAS so I can ride the American Eagle shuttle between terminals.

In Alaska’s Boardroom, hot Cream of Asparagus soup and tepid Sierra Nevada Pale Ale accompanied me to a comfy chair in front of a big screen TV where I watched the Jets dismantle the Chargers in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. I had a feeling the Jets were going to win this game, though I’m confident they’ll have a harder time of it against a superior Colts team still stinging from a game that most observers felt they gave away to the Jets just four weeks ago.

Upon arriving at gate 31A, I was delighted to see 737-800 N514AS would be doing the honors up to Portland this evening. 34 down, 17 to go. As I took my seat in the forward cabin, I noted that most of this flight’s First Class clientele were surprisingly young, as in high school age young. Perhaps Beverly Hills High School is having a field trip?

Dinner was described as a Beef Short Rib with Salad. The meat included no rib bone but it definitely had the texture of short rib meat. At first I thought the meat was pretty tough as I tried to saw through it with my knife but as it turned out the meat was fine, the knife was dull. I accompanied dinner with a glass of red wine and prepared myself for lots more beef rib since I’m pretty sure Alaska cycles its meals only once a month.

AS LAX-PDX Dinner: Beef Short Rib with Salad

Upon arrival in Portland, I found a great place to sleep that was dark, quiet and surrounded by plants and trees. Unlike most people, I have no compunctions about sleeping in airports. A couple of FTers have sent me links to the website sleepinginairports.net and I did take a look at it before flying into Portland. The problem for me with this website is that it seems designed for people who are stuck overnight in an airport rather than those people like me who actually plan to sleep in the airport. The difference is that people who are “stuck” overnight in an airport are usually not as well prepared to stay in that airport as those of us who plan to do so. Whereas people stuck in airports seem to gravitate to brightly lit lounges with carpeting and couches and endless cycled airport announcements, I can take any old floor in a darker, quieter area of the airport and ultimately get a much better night’s sleep. To that end, my “overnight bag” includes an inflatable Thermarest pad, a full sized wool blanket, a small pillow, a headlamp, eye shades and Melatonin tablets. In Portland, I spent about forty minutes strolling the airport before I found my spot and so I slept soundly until my alarm went off at 6:00am.

One of my typical airport campsites

Last edited by Seat 2A; Mar 20, 14 at 8:28 pm
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 9, 10, 7:58 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,758
January 18, 2010
Alaska Airlines Portland – Boston 725a – 337p 737-800 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Boston – Orlando DC-9-80 650p – 1018p First Class

Despite starting my trip to Orlando with a flight on Alaska Airlines to Boston, this ticket was issued by Delta. As such, despite my MVP Gold status, I was unable to even be considered for an upgrade on the Alaska flight until checking in on the day of travel. Fair enough. It’s worth noting however that Golds can still reserve exit row seats at time of purchase, so upgrade or not I was still sitting pretty.

Alas, when I arrived at the gate, I noted that I was number 5 on the upgrade list. Not gonna happen today, I guess. As such, I headed down the concourse and purchased a delicious breakfast burrito. I returned to the gate just as an announcement was made saying that due to snow in Boston, the ATC had placed us on a weather related hold and set a new departure time of 9:40am. Thankfully I had a three hour and fifteen minute layover scheduled, so I wasn’t overly concerned. The Boardroom across the hall provided hot coffee and internet access during the two hour delay.

By the time we finally took to the air, it was 10:10am, with arrival time in Boston projected at 6:08pm, just 42 minutes before my connecting flight to Orlando. If weather’s been a problem in Boston all day, that connecting flight may be delayed as well. Hopefully not. Thankfully, Delta and Alaska operate out of the same terminal and there’s a Crown Room on premises should there be any delays.

There weren’t. We landed in Boston right on time per the revised schedule and I made my way down to gate 13 where my Orlando flight was showing a 7:00pm departure, only 10 minutes late. Based upon the small amount of snow on the ground, I suspect the problems earlier today were probably due to visibility.

This will be my 227th flight on Delta. For a Medallion member that probably doesn’t sound like much and indeed it wouldn’t be if Delta were my preferred hometown airline. Back when I lived in Colorado and banked my miles in United’s Mileage Plus, I logged 1,176 flights on United not counting flights with TED and United Express for a total of 1,233,540 miles. Now that I live in Alaska and do my banking at Alaska’s Mileage Plan, I’ve logged 808 flights on Alaska totaling 733,740 miles. Before the year is out, I’ll have logged an additional 60+ flights with Alaska.

Out of all those flights aboard Delta, only five have come aboard MD-80s. Most have come aboard 727s and DC-8-61s, the latter having been sold off to air freight operators before many FlyerTalkers could even spell DC-8. This trip will include four flights on Delta MD-80s plus one more on American. I’m looking forward to them all.

Why try to schedule flights on MD-80s? Judging from many of the posts I’ve seen at FlyerTalk, many of you can’t stand this airplane. For me, it’s not so much that I like the MD-80 as it is that I’ve never had any complaints about it. I like the 2-3 seating arrangement and the rear mounted engines make for a fairly quiet cabin, particularly in First Class. Add to this the fact that MD-80s will soon be gone from North American skies and I want to get as many flights on them as reasonably possible.

The load was light for tonight’s flight down to Orlando and I got a chance to chat a bit with the agent working the flight. We started out with my asking how the boarding scheme worked if one were Gold with a partner airline and finished with him asking about when to come to Alaska. As a surprise parting gift, I got an upgrade to the half full First Class cabin. Sweet!

It’s hard to get the registration number off the aircraft when you can’t see it from either the gate lounge or the jetway. Some airlines, like Alaska, have the FAA airworthiness certificate posted just above the door as you enter. With American’s MD-80s, I always look out the little windows at the end of the jetway, on your right just before you enter the airplane. Down low on the fuselage is American’s fleet number for the aircraft. Later, I can go online and match that up with the correct N-number. Tonight, neither of those options was available so I used a third lesser known option. On the inside of the aircraft door is a small metal plate with the aircraft manufacture’s serial number stamped into it. Tonight’s number: 53267. Later, I can match that up at airfleets.net.

It was announced at the gate that there would be no pre-departure drink service in First Class so that we could expedite our late departure. Bottled water was available at each seat however and, after a short delay waiting for catering to finish up, we pushed back, taxied out and took off into the cold night sky.

A window seat on the right side is the place to sit on this flight. Despite the earlier bad weather, the skies had cleared nicely and as we flew down the Eastern seaboard the view of the various cities large and small was quite pretty.

Twenty minutes into the flight, hot towels were presented and a flight attendant stopped by to take my dinner order. I was offered a choice of Mandarin Chicken Salad or a Turkey Panini Sandwich and I opted for the sandwich. And to drink? Hmm… I’ll have a glass of Woodford Reserve on the rocks, please. For a domestic flight, I must say that Delta offers an admirable array of spirits. Consider from the following:

Bacardi Rum
Canadian Club Reserve Whiskey
Dewars Scotch
Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
Skyy Vodka
Tanqueray Gin
Woodford Reserve Small Batch Bourbon

For a US airline, on a domestic flight, this is a very nice selection.

DL BOS-MCO DINNER: Turkey Sandwich

My turkey sandwich was delivered promptly, accompanied by a bag of potato chips, sliced tomatoes, a small fruit plate and a large cookie. Not bad at all by today’s standards. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but look back to the late seventies and early eighties when I flew the Boston-Orlando route a number of times, mostly aboard Eastern Airlines L-1011s. Lunch or dinner was usually a steak with a double stuffed potato. And that was in coach!

We landed on a beautiful clear night in Orlando and I made my way downstairs to the ground transit level where a couple of years ago I’d discovered a dark and quiet lounge that serves as a gathering point for charter flight passengers. There were neither music nor security announcements down there, so I slept quite nicely indeed.

January 19, 2010
Northwest Airlines Orlando – Detroit 940a – 1231p 757-300 Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Detroit – Los Angeles 330p – 545p A320-200 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Los Angeles – Portland 900p – 1124p 737-800 First Class

Delta’s Sky Club in Orlando is one of the more attractive airline lounges that I have ever visited. The ornate ceiling and walls are very tastefully done in warm earth tones of peach and almond while spacious seating areas are arranged under a long glass canopy that adorns one side of the lounge. I helped myself to coffee and orange juice from the bar before relocating to a comfy chair under the glass for the remainder of my visit.

Orlando Sky Club Entrance Area

Orlando Sky Club Seating

Orlando Sky Club Window Seating

Boeing’s 757-300 could hardly be described as one of the world’s most beautiful airliners – the attractive symmetry of the -200 model was thrown totally askew by the 23 foot fuselage extension of the -300. Still, if any paint job could bring out the best in this ungainly looking machine, Delta’s new livery does so quite nicely. Check it out HERE.

Flight time up to Detroit was a short two hours and twelve minutes, most of which I spent answering questions about Alaska from my seatmates, a couple of Yoopers from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who’d always wanted to go to Alaska. I’m sure when they do get to Alaska they’ll have a great time there because they sounded like folks who liked to get the most out of life. They’d recently each bought motorcycles to tour the US on, had tried parasailing and spelunking and were on their way home from a trip to Florida during which they’d swum with manatees. My advice to anyone thinking of going to Alaska, much less anywhere else: Don’t get caught up with planning. Unless you’re wanting to stay at some places which are difficult to find accommodation at, just show up and figure it out as you go. I think this adds a sense of adventure otherwise missing when you’ve got everything planned out.

My three hour layover in Detroit allowed me to get caught up with this trip report. I can and often do write more about a domestic flight in coach between Los Angeles and Portland than some trip reporters write about their First Class flight overseas. Depending upon your point of view, this can be either a blessing or a curse. Thankfully, for any of you finding the going a bit tedious about now, the Internet offers a lot of alternative reading.

While riding the Sky Link train down the length of the terminal to gate A74, it was nice to see that the bulk of North Central’s DC-9-50 fleet lives on with many of them being repainted in Delta’s new livery. This would certainly suggest that Delta plans to keep these airplanes around for while despite the fact that many of them are approaching 30 years old. Sadly, but perhaps understandably, I’ve yet to see any of the older DC-9-30s wearing the new colors. I did however spot N8928E, an ex-Eastern DC-9-30 I’d last flown in 1978 between Greensboro and Miami. Many planes younger than that have long since met the welder’s torch.

By contrast, Airbus A320 N367NW was one of the younger aircraft in Northwest’s fleet, having joined the airline in April of 1999. I found it interesting that this flight also represented only the 125th time I’d flown aboard any member of the narrow bodied Airbus family, my first flight having come aboard a Northwest A320 in April of 1993. By contrast, my first flight aboard a 737-800 came in December of 2001 and I’ve since logged 147 flights just on that derivative.

Following a smooth flight across the country, our descent into LAX was fairly bumpy due to a Pacific storm that had been pounding the region for a couple of days. Unfortunately for Southern Californians, the worst is yet to come. I headed over to Delta’s Sky Club for a quick shower and a glass of bourbon before making my way over to Terminal 3 where a tureen of Chicken and Wild Rice soup awaited in Alaska’s Boardroom.

Alaska also makes its LAX Boardroom available to Premium Class passengers flying aboard V Australia. There were two of the Australian 777-300s parked at T-3 and they both must have been full up front because I dare say that on this evening non-Australian speaking passengers were a distinct minority in the Boardroom. For the Aussie’s sake, I was pleased to see that the Boardroom has Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. Australians certainly do like their beer and many of the Aussie’s I’ve met have a poor opinion of our American beer. That’s little wonder considering that for the most part, the only American beers I’ve seen sold down in Australia are Budweiser and Miller. Nowadays America has hundreds if not thousands of quality microbreweries putting out some very fine beers indeed, in some cases world class stuff. I sincerely hope any and all foreigners visiting our fair shores and pubs will get ample opportunity to quaff a few pints of anything other than Budweiser and Miller.

In my quest to fly each and every jet in Alaska’s fleet, you can imagine the anticipation as I approach the gate to see which aircraft awaits. And you can imagine my disappointment to see ship 548 doing the honors for tonight’s service up to Portland. I just flew this plane yesterday morning from Portland to Boston! Since then, it apparently flew back to Portland and overnighted there before flying down to Los Angeles and Mexico City and back to LAX today. Interestingly, even before yesterday’s flight to Boston, I have logged more miles (19,460) aboard this particular jet than any other jet in Alaska’s fleet.

Despite the late departure time of 9:00pm, Alaska served a very nice snack in First Class. It was three warmed pot stickers accompanied by a pile of shredded lettuce and Sesame Oriental dressing. This is indeed a rare case where Alaska’s meal service has improved compared to years past. Just a few years ago, we would have been served anything from a big bowl of mixed nuts to a cheese or hummus plate or worse, the dreaded snack basket. Thank you Alaska Airlines for such a nice offering.

AS LAX-PDX SNACK: Pot Stickers with side salad

Upon arrival in Portland, I checked the TV monitor to see which gate my 6:55am flight down to LA tomorrow morning would be departing from. Oh no! Gate C2, the one I just came in on, meaning yet another flight on ship 548!

January 20, 2010
Alaska Airlines Portland – Los Angeles 737-800 655a – 913a Coach Class
Northwest Airlines Los Angeles – Detroit A320-200 1100a – 628p Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Detroit – Tampa A319-100 830p – 1119p Economy Class

The TV monitor was wrong! Ship 548 is headed down to Phoenix this morning and I am flying down to LAX aboard hitherto unflown ship 520! The flight was packed, so I took my seat in 6D and watched as the First Class passengers dined on what was described as a sundried tomato quiche. Just one row behind them, I munched on a bacon, egg and avocado breakfast burrito and sipped hot coffee whilst perusing a colorful copy of USA Today. It’s been said that if it’s in USA Today, it must be true!

Due to the stormy weather affecting southern California, we made our approach into LAX from out over the Pacific. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done that. And now, to make my way over to Terminal 5 for my flight to Detroit.

Tired of having to head outside the terminal, catch a bus over to T5 and then pass back through security again, I went and bought myself a totally refundable ticket on this evening’s American Eagle flight to San Jose. Now I could ride the shuttle bus over to the American Eagle Terminal and connect over to T5. In addition, because the American Eagle ticket I’d purchased allowed changes without penalty, I could rebook and use it again tomorrow night. I am one clever guy…

As I made my way over to Gate 39 from whence the American Eagle shuttle bus departs, I was surprised at the size of the assembled crowd. Normally you might find two or three people waiting but today there were about 20 gathered. I overheard heard a couple of guys in front of me saying they hoped the bus would get them over to the Delta terminal in time. I was tempted to say something but the gate agent arrived and announced that only passengers traveling on American, American Eagle, Delta or Northwest could board the bus. Really! Perhaps NW, DL and AS decided to pitch in some money towards the operation of this bus service but whatever the case, this is great news for those of us making intra-terminal connections with these airlines. I called American and immediately cancelled my flight to San Jose.

I’ve mentioned in previous trip reports that one of the great benefits of riding the bus between terminals is that you’re right out there on the tarmac as giant airliners taxi less than 100 feet away. Today we were treated to close up views of a United 747, an Air Tahiti Nui A340 and best of all, an enormous Qantas A380. The huge Airbus was being escorted by two LA Airport Police cars with their lights flashing. The sight elicited some major oohs and aahs from the crowd as well as a couple of interesting comments.

“Why are the police cars following that airplane?”
“It’s probably being stopped for taxiing too fast.”
“This is a notorious speed trap right here.” I added.
Then the lady next to me declared “I’ll bet Arnold Schwarzenegger is on that plane!” to which I asked “Why? Did the Governor go to Australia?”
And she said: “He’s from there.” Whaaat?
“No he’s not! He’s from Austria!”
“He is? Are you sure?”
“Yep. Otherwise, his famous ‘All be bock’ line from the Terminator movie would be ‘Oy’ll be bahk, Mite!”

Flight time to Detroit was projected at a quick 3hrs 52min. I logged it as 4hrs and in reality we landed after 4hrs 03min. On flights of that length, Delta offers some enhanced onboard food options in addition to its usual snack items. Today I purchased the Asian Shrimp Noodle Salad for $8.00. This is a great meal, much better than the flimsy wrap which seemed to disintegrate as I ate it the last time I ordered one. The salad comes with a good sized portion of vermicelli noodles topped with four good sized shrimp and a nice variety of vegetables such as snow peas, red onions, green and red peppers and zucchini strips. The Asian Sesame dressing is delicious and a lemon wedge is included for additional zest.

Delta’s $8.00 Shrimp and Noodle Salad

In Detroit I asked a couple of gate agents if they knew anything yet about the new upgrade policy for MVP Golds from partner Alaska Airlines. I was informed that it will involve certificates but as of yet there was no set date for its implementation. Until then, MVP Golds get priority seating and they may also use the Breezeway lane and board with Medallions in Zone 2.

We enjoyed a quick flight down to Tampa with a light load. I moved out of the full exit row and grabbed an equally spacious seat in the deserted bulkhead row. As we landed in Tampa at 10:55pm, it occurred to me that as this day was ending, tomorrow at this time I’d still be an hour away from the departure of my last flight of the night up to Portland.

January 21, 2010
Northwest Airlines Tampa – Detroit 1130a – 222p A320-200 First Class
Northwest Airlines Detroit – Los Angeles 330p – 545p A320-200 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Los Angeles – Portland 900p – 1124p 737-800 First Class

I always feel better about flying west. West is home. West is adventure. In the afternoon and evening, flying west is flying into the warm glow of the setting sun. Flying west excites and invigorates me. This is particularly true today because once I arrive in Portland, I’ve got the next three days off. I’ve rented a car and am headed for the Oregon coast. One night in Seaside, then down the coast to Bandon to enjoy seafood, billiards, beer and football with old friends from Denali.

The late morning departure up to Detroit was so lightly loaded that the gate agent saw fit to upgrade me to First Class. Truth be known, I was chatting with him about the old DC-9 next door while getting reassigned to the bulkhead row. It so happened he was familiar with the fact that Alaska MVP Golds used to get complimentary upgrades on Northwest and given the light load, he tossed me a freebie. I thanked him and sped down the empty jetway to seat 1D where a pre-departure Bloody Mary awaited.

Luncheon was a choice of a Turkey Sandwich or Mandarin Chicken Salad, the same as I was offered three nights ago on my flight from Boston to Orlando. This time I selected the chicken salad. It was served with Grissini bread sticks, a large cookie and a fruit plate. I ate everything but the cookie and overall found this meal quite satisfying.

DL TPA-DTW LUNCH: Mandarin Chicken Salad

Had I been offered these choices thirty years ago, I would likely have been a bit disappointed. The standards for First Class catering, not to mention the budget, were considerably higher.

In August of 1978, I used a joint fare to fly from Atlanta to Denver using Eastern Airlines to Dallas, then Continental from Dallas to Denver connecting in Albuquerque. Since I’d booked First Class, I scheduled my flights so that I would get a full meal service on each one. After all, First Class just isn’t as entertaining unless you got that First Class meal service. I can sit around in a comfy chair at home anytime.

The one hour and forty minute flight from Atlanta to Dallas was operated by one of Eastern’s attractive two tone blue and white DC-9-30 Whisperjets. The First Class seats were upholstered in a colorful blue paisley pattern of a style far too extravagant for today’s conservative cabin interiors. Though the seats were a bit narrower than those found on the 727s, they were thickly padded and were very comfortable. Leather was unheard of! For lunch I enjoyed a plate of Trout Almandine, served hot with veggies and starch. On the one and a half hour flight up to Albuquerque aboard Continental’s beautiful 727-200, I was served a sirloin steak that had to be a good 8-10 ounces. It looked like a restaurant steak, not the little 3” square things you see now, even on some international First Class services. The one hour flight from Albuquerque up to Denver offered a dinner in First Class and a snack in coach. We were served a hot breaded chicken breast entrée, but it was presented in a smaller dish like a coach meal. Today, none of these flights would rate any more than a bag of pretzels.

In Detroit, a man who was a thru-passenger to LA got himself removed from the flight for being a contentious jerk on the inbound flight as well as in the gate lounge. I was getting my seat changed to a now unoccupied bulkhead seat when he strode up to the podium and lambasted the other gate agent for not announcing that our flight would be slightly delayed. An announcement had been made – I’d heard it – but he wouldn’t budge from his contention. Finally, he wandered off and stood scowling by the Breezeway sign. Later, he overheard the same gate agent as she was on the phone talking with the crew onboard the airplane. She acknowledged over the phone that they’d start boarding soon. He immediately headed for the locked jetway door. When he was informed that boarding was not yet taking place, he said “I clearly heard her announce that it was.” No sir, she was speaking on the phone. He continued to argue for awhile before resuming his pout. One of the gate agents then indicated to the other that this guy had some comments in his PNR detailing his behavior. The agent then went onboard and returned a couple moments later with a carryon bag. Finally, when boarding for First Class passengers was announced, the jerk headed straight for the jetway and was directed to wait for an agent on the other side of the podium. With his bag. I never saw him board. Being an airline employee in a public contact position is hard enough these days without having to put up with guys like this. Let him ride the bus to LA.

Southern California has been under assault from Mother Nature all week as one storm after another has inundated the LA Basin and surrounding mountains with excessive rainfall. Once these storms are done with California, they continue east. This afternoon’s flight encountered strong headwinds and high clouds most of the way out to LA resulting in a flight time of 5 hours. As ever, I had a good book to read and a report to write.

On the 9:00pm flight up to Portland, a number of passengers commented favorably on the new pot stickers snack. One of the flight attendants mentioned that they’d been a real hit since they were introduced and how nice it was to serve food that people didn’t complain about. I’ll drink (and eat) to that! Here’s hoping that Alaska continues to surprise us favorably in this regard.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 10, 10 at 10:01 pm
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 9, 10, 8:01 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,758
January 25, 2010
Alaska Airlines Portland – Boston 725a – 337p 737-800 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Boston – Orlando DC-9-80 650p – 1018p Economy Class

One thing about doing mega mileage runs – it’s important to take a break every few days. Even a guy like me who actually enjoys the entire flight experience from airport lounges to inflight scenery still needs to stop and recharge with proper sleep and a couple of days off. It’s also a good opportunity to do laundry. So when I reported to Alaska’s counter this morning, I was more than ready to continue on with another block of seventeen flights around the country.

When I’d booked these Delta tickets from Portland to Orlando via Boston, I’d done so in the hope that I’d be able to enjoy an upgrade or two on Alaska’s transcon flight across to Boston. Unfortunately for me, Alaska’s morning nonstop to Boston appears to be quite popular and as such attracts an abundance of MVP Golds . Even checking in almost two hours early at 5:30am placed me no higher than fifth on the upgrade waitlist.

Thankfully, I had pre-booked a spacious exit row seat. Unfortunately, by the time the food and beverage cart made it back to row 15, all of the hot breakfasts had already been spoken for. The flight attendant apologized and explained that there had been an unusually large run on the $6.00 scrambled egg breakfast and could she offer me a snack pack instead?

Well let me tell you, those snack packs are fine for kids and junk food junkies but on a five hour transcontinental flight they leave a lot to be desired. I realize that the amount of meals loaded is an educated guess at best and that there’s always a risk of leftover meals and lost revenue from them, but on a five hour flight departing at 7:25am, I should think the odds are pretty good that a large number of passengers are going to want a more filling hot meal than a collection of single serving snack items. Then again, I could be wrong since many people don’t like to eat breakfast. This despite it having been a long established fact that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In any event, there wasn’t much I could do but swallow my frustration along with my cheese dip, crackers and salami. Next time I’m on one of Alaska’s morning flights offering breakfast for sale, I’ll make sure I buy something in advance at the airport unless I’m seated in the forward part of the main cabin.

Here’s a thought for Alaska: In addition to a hot choice, how about offering some of those prepackaged bowls of cold cereal or oatmeal? Better yet, consider offering hot meals for sale in advance on the internet. Many foreign airlines already do this. Keep it simple, with no refund if you miss or change your flight at the last minute.

As I disembarked in rainy Boston, I grabbed a copy of the First Class menu. Here’s what was served up front:


To Start

Fresh Seasonal Fruit Bowl
Warm Fresh Pastries

Choice of Entrees

Sun-Dried Tomato Quiche
Turkey Sausage


Northwest Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon
Steamed Asparagus

Strong headwinds made for a long flight down to Orlando. It took our MD-88 three hours and thirty one minutes to cover the 1,121 mile flight. That translates to an average speed of 320mph, right up there with modern day propeller aircraft such as the Dash 8, which is actually rated at over 400 mph but against a headwind, maybe a bit less.

January 26, 2010
Northwest Airlines Orlando – Detroit 815a – 1103a 757-200 Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Detroit – Los Angeles 330p – 545p A320-200 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Los Angeles – Portland 900p – 1124p 737-800 First Class

Orlando International may be my favorite airport to sleep in. Downstairs on Level One are a couple of large lounge areas where at night the lights are dimmed, the music is turned off and the annoying TSA announcements are nonexistent. I caught a solid six hours of uninterrupted sleep and showed up at the Sky Club feeling downright chipper. Hot coffee and a pastry served to enhance my sense of well being, and my spacious exit row aisle seat on the packed 757 up to Detroit rounded out a great start to the day.

It was snowing lightly as we parked at gate A10. I caught the Sky Train down to the opposite end of the terminal and stopped in the World Club to while away the next hour. And while away I did, emerging from the Club at 12:05pm to head down to my 12:30pm flight to Los Angeles. There was however one large problem: The flight was scheduled to leave at 12:10pm, which was just about the time I arrived at the gate. The jetway door had been closed and the jetway was just preparing to retract from the aircraft.

For some odd reason I’d gotten it in my head that this flight departed at 12:30pm. It just seemed right somehow. Unfortunately it was wrong. In any event, once that jetway starts its journey back from the aircraft you’re well and truly out of luck. In situations like this, especially those that I may have precipitated, I’m not one to wheedle and plead. I know the score and so I’ve already moved on to damage control. I explained what had happened to the gate agents, who were quite sympathetic and helpful, even thanking me for not giving them a rasher of BS as to why I missed the flight. They relayed to me that it’s not at all unusual for people to come up with all kinds of excuses as to why they couldn’t get to the gate on time, up to and including screaming at the agents as if it were their fault. Normally, the tardy passengers are placed on standby for the next available flight. In my case however, I was reconfirmed on the 3:30pm flight to LA connecting to the 9:00pm departure up to Portland. Both agents explained that they appreciated my honesty and thanked me for my patience. Actually it was I who should have thanked them for their patience and extra effort and so indeed I did. If there’s a moral to this tale, it’s that it pays to be honest and nice, especially to airline employees.

By the way, I don’t mean to paint myself as Goody Two Shoes here, and certainly those of you who’ve read my posts over at the Alaska Airlines forum may not think I’m very nice at all. Last year I actually flamed a fellow poster over what, I can’t remember exactly. Something about not getting an upgrade on Alaska and possibly taking his business elsewhere. Either way my response was out of line and okay, so I was under the influence of post surgical drugs but still… I wasn’t that stoned. Not nice. And I’m a real hard liner to people who failed to qualify for the elite level in whatever frequent flyer program they’re in and then go and post threads hoping for or worse, expecting the airline to offer them a chance to regain their status for cheap. Most of these people whining about their lack of status in December should have had a real good clue by October that they might not or definitely would not make status, at which time they could have easily addressed their mileage shortfall over any of the next twelve weekends with a mileage run or two. Oh No! Not a mileage run! Yes, a mileage run. Just do it!

And then there are these trip reports I write – who knows how many people I’ve offended and/or bored to tears with endless tales of getting there as opposed to being there. When I have written about being there, it’s often an account of a hostel or some other budget accommodation, not the Starwoods and Hiltons that most FlyerTalkers know and love. Some of my trip reports, like this one, have an inordinate amount of focus on flights in Economy Class. As well, the vast majority of my reports are simply too long for some readers to remain focused. (So you veteran readers of my reports are truly extraordinary!) Why, I’ve been known to devote two or three pages and well over 1500 words just to describe a single flight in International First Class. Of course for this I am totally unrepentant, but still, many of our more recent trip reporters will announce their reports weeks in advance to build excitement (and get ego stroking pre-report pats on the back!) and then they're able to accomplish the same flight description in a single paragraph (or a collection of pictures) and don’t take up valuable space with lengthy menu transcripts or descriptions of the cabin layout. It's really quite amazing and seems to be the preferred style these days. Ah well, it's said a picture is worth a thousand words (except for the blurry ones) so maybe I should write less and photograph more.

Honestly though, I’m not all bad. I am nice to airline employees (I used to be one myself) as well as horses and dogs and the occasional small child. I recently bought my 6 year old niece a big case of dolphin safe canned tuna for Christmas. The price at Costco was simply too good to pass up.

* * *

Four hours and thirty-eight minutes was the projected flying time to cover the 1980 miles between Detroit and Los Angeles. And what a great day for flying it was! Beautiful sun tinged clouds, clear views of the Colorado Rockies and smooth flying most of the way over to Los Angeles. As it turned out, a rare approach into LAX from the west resulted in a flight time of four hours and fifty-one minutes. Nobody complained.

Headwinds also resulted in a long flight up to Portland, two hours and twenty minutes to cover just 830 miles. Being as this was my 150th flight on a 737-800, I celebrated with a plate of pot stickers and not one, not two but three Alaskan Ambers.

January 27, 2010
Alaska Airlines Portland – Los Angeles 737-800 655a – 913a First Class
Northwest Airlines Los Angeles – Detroit A320-200 1100a – 628p Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Detroit – Tampa A319-100 830p – 1119p Economy Class

6:55am sure comes early, especially when you’ve been rousted at 5:00am by the Port of Portland Airport Police and told that your preferred sleeping spot is no longer appropriate. The problem is that most people who have to sleep over in the Portland airport stay in the lounges at the entrance to the A/B/C or D/E concourses. Those lounges offer well padded chairs, bright lights and lonely, bored people that’ll keep you awake as they talk on their cell phones all night. My spot, located just past the Horizon ticket counters and out the sliding doors on the way to employee parking, was essentially in a little area between sliding doors exiting the terminal and more doors leading to a stairway up to a parking area. The area between these doors was spacious enough to house three big wooden planters sporting some mighty impressive vegetation. Where I was sleeping was almost out of sight at the base of one planter underneath this big tree. Because there were no chairs or couches available, this area would likely be uncomfortable for anyone less prepared than I to sleep there. Remember, I’ve got a Thermarest pad, pillow, full wool blanket, etc. Unfortunately, because I was in an area not usually frequented by overnight travelers, I’d generated (unbeknownst to me) a lot of calls to the Airport Police by airport employees concerned that I might be a suspicious homeless person sleeping out there. This was especially possible since I’d spent a total of four nights there, including last night.

Two nights ago a couple of cops stopped by to make sure I had a valid reason to be in the airport, i.e. a boarding pass showing I’d flown in late that night or was flying out the next morning. I have absolutely no problem with this as airports occasionally attract pick-pockets, thieves and other garden variety pests of nefarious intent that have no business being in airports. Once, while sleeping in O’Hare back in the eighties, I had my wallet slit right out of my back pocket with a razor blade as I slept. I never felt a thing. Of course, I’d just come from three days with the Grateful Dead up at Alpine Valley and for a variety of reasons I hadn’t slept much during that time. I crashed hard at O’Hare.

In any event, the cops are just doing their job and unfortunately they had received so many calls about me (Remember, I’d managed four nights in that spot so far) that they were tired of dealing with them. I was told I could sleep anywhere within the confines of the main terminal, preferably in the lounges. As always, we had an interesting discussion about mileage running that left them scratching their heads but, after checking my ID and seeing that I haven’t had so much as a traffic ticket since 1991, I was deemed safe but eccentric. Just try to keep him calm. In any event, I reckon I’ll be looking for a new spot tomorrow night and while I’m at it I’ll probably drop in at the airport police headquarters and leave them a copy of my itinerary, something that in retrospect I probably should have done at the very beginning.

Moving on to today’s first flight between Portland and Los Angeles, I’ve posted another schedule from the November 15th, 1970 Official Airline Guide.

Portland to Los Angeles Schedule: November 15, 1970

First off, note the difference between the First Class and Coach fares. $16.00. Factoring in inflation, you’d probably multiply that by about five to get the equivalent amount in today’s money, so make it $80.00 difference. Checking today’s prices on Alaska Airlines, the difference between their most expensive coach fare and First Class is $40.00. However, the difference between the lowest coach fare on one day advance purchase and First Class is $75.00.

Secondly, note the aircraft, stops and meals. The Boeing 720B was designated B2F and it was a common sight on medium range routes. I used to fly Western 720s a lot between Denver and Phoenix. That four stop Hughes Airwest flight touched down in Klamath Falls, Sacramento, San Francisco and Monterey on its way to LAX. Finally, nobody went hungry back then. One of the better airline steaks I ever ate was served aboard a United DC-8 between Portland and San Francisco. I don’t believe even First Class rates anything more than a light snack on that route these days.

I returned to Los Angeles this morning aboard 737-800 N553AS, an airplane I’d flown five times previously. My disappointment was tempered substantially by a First Class upgrade and a delicious sun-dried tomato quiche. Three or four years ago I had a quiche on Alaska and it was pretty bad. The quiche I was served this morning had a flaky, nicely browned crust and I think would have been well received in many land based restaurants. My plate included two link sausages and some fruit.

AS PDX-LAX BREAKFAST: Sun Dried Tomato Quiche

What a gorgeous day in Los Angeles! Clear blue skies and lots of sunshine highlighted the Catalina Islands as we made a wide turn out over the Pacific before circling around and landing from the east. Taxiing in, we passed an A340 and a winglet equipped 767 from LAN. I thought LAN had only one flight per day into LAX. Perhaps LAN Argentina or LAN Peru also fly in.

Over at the Delta Sky Club, I took a shower and then printed off my boarding passes for tomorrow’s flights. I’m using my Continental Presidents Club card to gain access to the Sky Clubs but that will come to an end after January 31st. Until I sign on with Alaska’s Boardroom, I guess I’ll be slummin’ it in the gate lounge on my February Delta flights. Seeing as how the mileage running portion of this trip is over on February 4th, I won’t be too put out.

This midday flight to Detroit is my 200th flight on Northwest. While lots of WorldPerks members have logged that many flights and more under the red tail, I doubt very many of them have also logged over 200 flights on five other airlines. (Alaska, American, Delta, Eastern, United) US Airways is within 37 flights of joining that group. Continental is 68 flights away.

I gave away my window seat to an excited young lady who really wanted to see Las Vegas from the air because her grandmother lived there. Anybody who’s excited about flying, checking out the view, enjoying the service etc. is always welcome to my window seat. Unfortunately, air travel has become so commonplace these days that it’s become rare to find anyone older than about 10 who still finds it exciting.

The rest of the day proceeded apace. A two hour layover in Detroit, a Philly Cheese Steak dinner, phone calls and Internet time in the Sky Club followed by a two hour flight down to Tampa. It occurred to me as we departed Detroit at 8:30pm that tomorrow at this same time I’ll be departing Seattle at 5:30pm, arriving in Portland at 6:20pm as opposed to tonight’s arrival in Tampa at 11:19pm.

January 28, 2010
American Airlines Tampa – Miami 737-800 715a – 815a Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Miami – Seattle 737-800 1000a – 147p Coach Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland DHC-8-400 530p – 620p Economy Class

Back in November 1970, there were sixteen flights per day between Tampa and Miami that were operated with four engine jetliners.

Tampa to Miami Schedule: November 15, 1970

We’re talkin’ 707s, DC-8s, Convair 880s… Jet fuel prices were substantially lower and, as you can see from the schedule, the planes were flown at a faster speed than today’s jets. Also of interest is the number of multi-stop flights. National’s flight 453 departed Tampa at 7:00am and made stops in Sarasota and Ft. Myers, arriving Miami just an hour and forty-five minutes later. Somewhere along the line a snack was served to passengers in both cabins. Two years later, it was not uncommon to find wide-bodied DC-10s and L-1011s from National and Eastern flying the 200 mile hop between Tampa and Miami. In 1978, I flew an Eastern A300 between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, at only 20 miles quite possibly the shortest scheduled flight ever operated with wide-bodied equipment.

Early this morning I stepped aboard a nine year old 737-800 wearing the red, white and blue livery of American Airlines. Back in the early 1970s, American didn’t even fly to the state of Florida. Now AA is the largest carrier out of Miami. How times have changed…

My one hour and forty-five minute layover in Miami allowed plenty of time to visit one of my favorite breakfast eateries – the Top Of The Port Restaurant located high atop the Miami International Airport Hotel. A window seat at this fine establishment offers a superb view of the airport grounds, and it’s always fun to daydream that instead of looking out over all those silver American jetliners, I’m instead viewing DC-8s from National, Eastern and Delta, 707s from Pan American, Braniff and BWIA and maybe even a Caravelle from Air France’s services to Martinique and Haiti. Back to the present, I admired a beautiful Arrow Air DC-10 taxiing by and watched as a red and white Santa Barbara 757 pulled into the F Concourse. Then my Eggs Benedict arrived with a refill on that delicious coffee. Bon Apetite!

Thank goodness Alaska decided to reschedule its Seattle-Miami flights from those horrible red-eyes to a 1:00pm departure that arrives in Miami in time to connect to all the overnight flights to South America. The aircraft remains overnight in Miami and returns to Seattle at the civilized hour of 10:00am. Luncheon is served enroute.

Unless, that is, you’re sat in Steerage or Coach as we like to say in America. Alas, MVP Gold status notwithstanding on an Alaska issued fare, I was unable to procure a First Class upgrade and so it is that I report to you from seat 6D, offering me a clear view of all the proceedings in the forward cabin. The fortunate few started with a nice bowl of salad followed by good looking plates of chicken or pork. Here’s the menu:

Miami to Seattle

Appetizer Salad
Red Pepper Hummus Pitas
Served with Gourmet Mixed Greens
Balsamic Vinaigrette
Warmed Rolls with Butter


Braised Pork Shank

Accented with a savory sun-dried tomato relish and accompanied by
Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Asparagus

Chicken Marsala
Presented with Sautéed Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Sauce
Penne Pasta tossed with olive oil
Sautéed Green Beans


Crispy Bread Pudding

Tossed with Cinnamon Sugar and drizzled with Caramel Sauce
Topped with Blueberries and Strawberries

Coffee and Liqueurs

Flight time to Seattle was projected at six hours and one minute – more than enough time to peruse the Alaska Airlines magazine in search of food options and maybe even complete the crossword puzzle. And what about wi-fi? Lots of other airlines have it now. At the bottom of the Inflight Entertainment page is an informational blurb about Alaska testing a satellite based Internet service. A six hour flight would be perfect for some Internet time! The Inflight Entertainment page goes on to say that flight attendants will make an announcement as to whether your aircraft is wi-fi equipped. Oh goody! Hopefully one of these new 737-800s will have the wi-fi!

Alas, nothing could be farther from the truth. What Alaska’s Inflight Entertainment page doesn’t tell us is that only one aircraft out of a fleet of over 110 is wi-fi equipped, making the odds that your aircraft will offer wi-fi Internet access so infinitesimally small as to be unworthy of comment. In fact, from what I hear, Alaska Airlines has had so many technical problems with their current Internet provider that they’re thinking of dropping them and going with GoGo, the current provider for American and Delta and others. In any event, wide spread Internet access across a large enough portion of Alaska’s fleet to be worthy of the current informational write up is at best months away, making the current write up, as written, at best disingenuous. At present, if you’re flying one of Alaska’s 737-400s, 800s or 900s, the aircraft that make up the bulk of the fleet, there is zero chance that you will have wi-fi access. If you are flying aboard a 737-700, you’ll have about a 5% chance of getting wi-fi as only ship 644 is so equipped. Here is a list of today’s wi-fi operated flights across Alaska’s system.

Until they get their act together, perhaps Alaska Airlines should limit any mention of wi-fi aboard its aircraft to the one aircraft that actually offers it.

In Seattle, I considered standing by for the 6:00pm CRJ down to Portland but given the crowd of people already standing by for my flight I decided to stick with my ticketed 5:30pm departure. Imagine then my disappointment to see that the CRJ operating the 6:00pm flight was none other than ship 616, the Washington State liveried aircraft and the only one of the collegiate series that I’ve not yet flown. Oh well. I’ve got three more flights aboard the CRJs coming up in the next few days, so maybe I’ll get lucky.

As for tonight, I’ve decided to splurge and get a hotel for the night. My 6:20pm arrival coupled with a relatively late 8:30am start tomorrow morning provides more than enough time to actually utilize the hotel facilities in addition to enjoying its amenities and a comfortable night’s sleep. Through Priceline I bid $35.00 for a three star hotel and got a night at the Airport Holiday Inn.

Dinner and a baseball game on ESPN Classic closed out the evening. By 10:30pm I was sound asleep.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 11, 10 at 12:18 pm
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Old Feb 9, 10, 8:04 pm
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January 29, 2010
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle CRJ-700 830a – 920a Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Seattle – Minneapolis 757-300 1230p – 558p Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Minneapolis – Orlando 757-300 700p – 1113p Economy Class

As I was boarding the CRJ-700 that would fly me up to Seattle this morning, it occurred to me that tomorrow at this very time (That’ll be 11:20am Eastern Standard Time) I’ll be arriving at New York’s LaGuardia Airport having just flown in from Orlando, Florida. After taking lunch at one of LaGuardia’s fine eateries, and perhaps a drink at Delta’s Sky Club, I’ll continue on to Minneapolis and Sacramento, California where I’ll board Amtrak’s northbound Coast Starlight bound for Portland, Oregon. Assuming the train is on time, I’ll arrive back in Portland at 3:40pm, just 31 hours and 10 minutes after my departure this morning.

Last night I slept in a hotel bed in Portland. Tonight I’ll sleep on the airport floor in Orlando. Tomorrow night I’ll sleep on the train while rolling through northern California. One week from now I’ll be hittin’ the hot springs and vapor caves in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Two days after that I’ll be back home in Alaska. One month later I’ll be in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I love this life!

As for today’s flights, I had originally been ticketed to fly between Seattle and Orlando via Memphis. The benefit of the Memphis connection of course was that it provided yet another opportunity to enjoy some of the South’s finest cuisine at Dave Neely’s Interstate Barbecue. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another day because Northwest cancelled my Seattle to Memphis flight due to mechanical reasons. I was rebooked on a pair of 757-300s via Minneapolis forcing me to settle instead for a Quiznos Sandwich out on the G Concourse at MSP.

January 30, 2010
Delta Airlines Orlando – New York DC-9-80 900a – 1139a Economy Class
Northwest Airlines New York – Minneapolis 140p – 348p Economy Class
Northwest Airlines Minneapolis – Sacramento 520p – 726p Economy Class
Amtrak Sacramento – Portland California Zephyr 1159p – 340p Coach Class

9:00am is such a leisurely hour (even if it is 6:00am back in Portland – my body clock is somewhere in between, like Tulsa time) that despite sleeping in til 7:00, I still had more than enough time to wash up and change in the deserted level one rest room before negotiating security and presenting myself in the Sky Club at 8:50am. Hot coffee and bran muffins awaited, along with an Internet connection enabling me to fire off some work related documents.

One would think that a Saturday morning flight up to chilly New York City would be lightly patronized, but this morning’s MD-80 was almost completely full. I was thankful for my spacious exit row seat, even if it didn’t recline. Inclement weather was affecting most of the southeastern seaboard and so the first hour of the flight was quite turbulent. We didn’t level out for a good half hour after takeoff as the Captain took us higher and higher in an attempt to find smoother air. I don’t know what the service ceiling is on those MD-80s, but we certainly must have brushed up against it. High altitude flight level notwithstanding, we were still stuck in solid high cloud making the view out the window a tad depressing.

Things improved markedly as we descended into LaGuardia. My seatmate was a native New Yorker and provided color commentary as we flew past beaches, bridges and neighborhoods. Unfortunately, I once again was seated on the wrong side of the aircraft and so missed out on the scenic flyby of downtown Manhattan.

A two hour layover at LaGuardia provided ample time to visit Sbarro’s Italian Café for a tasty plate of grilled chicken with mushrooms and sautéed veggies. Afterwards, I savored a glass of Woodford’s Reserve in the Sky Club while bringing this report up to date.

So here I am, 36 flights and over 42000 miles into this little jaunt of mine. You’d think I’d be more than a bit weary of it all by now, mentally and physically drained and wondering why I ever booked so darned many of these flights all at once. Without question flying 36 times in two weeks does have its tiresome moments. However, for me at least, surviving and indeed flourishing throughout these mega-mileage runs is about 70% mental and 30% physical.

The physical part is easy. Make sure that you get enough rest. Under the circumstances I probably accomplish this better than most given that I am not only comfortable with the idea of sleeping in an airport but I am exceedingly well prepared to do so comfortably.

From a mental perspective, I truly enjoy flying. That’s hugely important to my overall wellbeing on a trip of this nature. Faced with flying forty or fifty flights in three weeks, most people would have a sense of dread that would negatively color their entire trip. As such, they probably couldn’t do a run like this and of course wouldn’t even want to. My advantage is that I actually look forward to things like flying aboard Alaska 737-800s I haven’t yet flown, flying a new route I’ve not yet flown, having a window seat on the proper side of the plane for a sunset flight down the coast, getting upgraded on meal flights, visiting certain airline lounges and enjoying everything from their comfort to their amenities, visiting restaurants and enjoying food that I really like in certain airports, looking out the window now and then simply to enjoy the view, relaxing in a comfortable window or aisle seat and reading any of the many books that I’ve brought along, putting in time to write these “reports”… I enjoy it all. Speaking strictly for myself, flying is not a challenge or a burden, it’s an adventure.

I could have told you three weeks ago exactly what I’d be looking forward to on this particular day on these particular flights. Before having even seen what kind of day it was going to be, I could have told you that just on general principal I’d be looking forward to flying Delta’s MD-80 up the East Coast to LaGuardia. I like flying aboard MD-80s, I like flying into LaGuardia, I like knowing that I’d have enough time there to eat an unhurried lunch and while I didn’t know where or what I’d be eating, I was confident that it would be an enjoyable break. Afterwards I’d be looking forward to a glass of Woodford’s Reserve bourbon at Delta’s Sky Club. Indeed, even as I booked these particular flights four weeks ago I had a mental picture of myself enjoying all the things I’ve just described. It’s all positive. It’s all good. I like everything about flying the way I do it and so even after having just flown 36 flights, I’m looking forward to the next 17, after which I’m really looking forward to being back home in Alaska for awhile. Until I fly again.

On a somewhat sadder note, this evening’s flight between Minneapolis and Sacramento will be my very last flight aboard Northwest Airlines. As of 11:59pm on January 31st, the Northwest brand will officially be retired to the dustbin of history. It was a good history, too. Read all about it right HERE.

If you’ll permit me a bit of shameless reminiscing here, I remember my very first flight aboard Northwest. It came thirty-four years ago aboard a 727-200 operating a four stop milk run from Billings to Seattle. The four hour air tour of south central Montana made stops in Helena, Butte, Missoula and Spokane enroute to Seattle. There I connected to a 747 for the 30 minute flight down to Portland. Imagine that - a 747 on the SEA-PDX run! That flight was actually a SEA-PDX-HNL flight. Given the size of the 747 and the average loads in August between SEA and HNL, it made sense to stop in PDX and pick up a few more fare paying passengers.

And of course, anyone who is a fan of vintage jetliners owes Northwest a debt of gratitude for operating a large fleet of red tailed DC-9-10s, -30s, -40s and -50s right here in North America well after most North American airlines had sold those airplanes off to third world carriers. Or to Northwest.

I was looking over my flight log just now and with the retirement of Northwest Airlines, I see that I’ve logged over 700 flights aboard 65 airlines that no longer exist.

Another reason I’ve been looking forward to today is this evening’s train ride from Sacramento up to Portland. I like riding trains almost as much as I like flying planes and mixing in this 16 hour journey
aboard the Coast Starlight will be a welcome break from another full day of flying. I should note however that the real reason I’m routing via Sacramento and the train is because I couldn’t find a good airfare from Orlando back to Portland on this day. There was however an excellent one way fare to Sacramento which, when combined with Amtrak’s 20% off sale fare of $54.00 up to Portland made this routing with train preferable to flying straight back to Portland and taking a day off.

Unfortunately, Amtrak’s late night departure out of Sacramento was delayed by almost three hours because a man had committed suicide by quickly placing himself in front of an onrushing commuter train running just ahead of the Coast Starlight. The result was a mess and of course the tracks were closed until the police and coroner could complete their related tasks. Needless to say, the “victim” garnered little sympathy from the assembled masses, most voicing that he’d taken a rather selfish approach as opposed to simply jumping off the Vallejo Bridge or sucking on an exhaust pipe. Interestingly, there was another suicide by train down near San Diego today as well.

The end result of all this for me was that I boarded the train at 2:45am, found a seat, popped a melatonin and soon fell fast asleep for the next six hours. During breakfast in the diner, we were treated to beautiful views of Northern California countryside normally never seen by passengers were the train traveling on time. The highlight was Mt. Shasta, certainly one of the prettiest mountains in North America and a volcano to boot.

We made remarkably good time rolling up through south central Oregon. By the time we pulled into Portland’s Union Station at 5:10pm, we were only an hour and a half late. I was met by a friend and fellow Denali driver who recently returned to Portland from a road trip back east. We had dinner at a weird Vietnamese/Thai restaurant that served comparatively bland food that tasted more like Mandarin Chinese, complete with MSG. Oh well, at least it looked good from the outside. I was dropped off at the airport at 8:45pm so that I could hit the baggage storage place before they closed and exchange some clothing for the next couple of days. Then I checked in with the Port of Portland Police and by 11:00pm was out for the night.

February 1, 2010
Alaska Airlines Portland – Boston 725a – 337p 737-800 First Class
Delta Airlines Boston – Orlando DC-9-80 650p – 1018p Economy Class

I don’t have too many flights aboard Alaska 737-800s coming up in my immediate future, so I was pleased to see ship 524 operating the 7:25am departure to Boston this morning. On a less positive note, my excitement at being number one on the upgrade list was quashed when the First Class cabin checked in full.

Here’s what I missed for breakfast up front:

Portland to Boston

To Begin
Fresh Seasonal Fruit Bowl
Warm Fresh Pastries

Choice of Entrees

Asparagus and Feta Quiche

Chicken Sausage


Sun Dried Tomato Frittata
Applewood Smoked Bacon

And here’s what I bought for $6.00 back in Coach:

Alaska’s $6.00 Scrambled Eggs and Chicken Sausage Breakfast

This is a great hot breakfast, every bit as filling as many that I’ve been served in First Class. The only thing missing is a couple pieces of toast or a biscuit. Speaking of which, the morning breadbasket Alaska offers to its First Class passengers has a very nice selection including croissants, muffins and Danishes.

An on-time arrival at Boston Logan meant that I was faced with a three hour layover and no lounge access. At least, not in Terminal A. The problem is that as of today, February 1st , my Presidents Club card is no longer accepted at Delta Sky Lounges. Since I’ve only got four more days of flying ahead of me, I’ll just tough it out and grab a table somewhere. Were I faced with a week or longer of upcoming travel, I’d avail myself of Delta’s one month pass for $90.00, an excellent deal especially when you consider that a single day pass is $50.00.

So, in lieu of lounging about at the Sky Club, I did find a table with a nearby electrical outlet in the food court. I could’ve had a burrito for about $5.00, but that just seemed wrong. I mean, it’s Boston. Have some fish or some chowda! So, I shelled out considerably more money for deep fried haddock with hushpuppies and coleslaw at Phillips Seafood Express. Good stuff!

There were only 18 people on the flight down to Orlando and seating was essentially wherever looked good. I grabbed an aisle seat in the bulkhead row and was just getting settled in when a man arrived and sat down in the aisle seat right behind me. Hoooey! I’ve smelled alcohol on people before but this guy definitely took the cake. And it wasn’t just alcohol either. I would describe his stink as bad odor with definite alcohol overtones. I gathered my gear and relocated all the way back to the exit row.

With so few people on board, there was plenty of time for the flight attendants to mingle. A couple of them were very senior, including one who’d started with Western Airlines back in 1975. We had a great time exchanging stories from the good old days of flying, especially on Western where everyone enjoyed First Class legroom and free Champagne. Western’s advertising mascot Wally the bird said it best: “Western Airlines ~ The Only Way To Fly!

February 2, 2010
Delta Airlines Orlando – Detroit 815a – 1103a 757-200 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Detroit – Atlanta 1155a – 209p 737-800 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Atlanta – Portland 520p – 751p 757-200 Economy Class

Even though Northwest Airlines is no more, many of its airplanes have yet to be repainted in the new Delta livery. Such was the case with N518US, a 24 year old red-tailed 757-200 that came complete with Northwest’s old blue cloth seats. It’s advanced years notwithstanding, ship 518 whisked us up to the Motor City in just under two hours, landing smoothly amidst lightly falling snow at DTW. Notably missing however was the phrase “Welcome aboard Northwest – Now a part of Delta Airlines”.

The last time I flew nonstop between Detroit and Atlanta was thirty-one years ago, back in 1979. I know the route well because I used to fly it four times a week. Why so often? I was employed as an onboard courier. Every Monday thru Thursday night, I would escort about 80 pounds of cancelled Federal Reserve bank checks to Detroit. The checks had been collected in Denver from cities all over the west and we would take them to Detroit where our own fleet of Turbo Commanders would then deliver those checks to cities all over the east. This meant that when I arrived at Detroit Metro each night at 11:00pm, I’d be met and driven across town to Detroit City Airport. There we’d get the checks loaded on the proper airplanes that would deliver them to whatever eastern city they were destined to. Then I’d be driven back to Detroit Metro with a small bag of checks from Detroit and I’d catch the 3:00am Delta 727 down to Atlanta. Upon my 5:00am arrival there, I’d grab a parked company van, drive over to Delta Dash and pick up another 70 or so pounds of checks destined for all manner of western cities via Denver. The checks were placed in sturdy 30 gallon size plastic bags and we’d just check them in as baggage. Some days I’d have six or seven garbage bags to check. The reason I was involved was because it was cheaper to have the company buy me a ticket and have me check in the checks for free as baggage than it would have been to send the checks airfreight to Detroit and/or from Atlanta.

In any event, I did a lot of flying over the four months that I had that job. DEN-DTW-ATL-DEN on Monday thru Thursday nights and then occasionally I’d get a Friday afternoon run out to San Francisco. We had one bank in Denver that was always running late getting its checks together and so we were often barely making the 7:00pm departure out of Denver. When Frontier moved that flight’s departure up to 6:30pm, my job as an onboard courier came to an end.

In Atlanta I had a three hour layover until my flight to Portland. Since I no longer have access to Delta’s Sky Clubs, I took the train over to Concourse D where Continental’s President’s Club is located. Though not as large or well appointed as Delta’s Sky Clubs, the smaller Presidents Club provided a welcome haven from the noise and bustle of the main terminal.

Did I mention that airline lounge membership is integral to surviving a life of flying? While those who only fly once or twice a year may think of an airline lounge membership as an unnecessary extravagance, for frequent flyers like us they play a huge role in maintaining our sanity. Though I appreciate the complimentary food and drink on offer, what I really appreciate is the peace and quiet, often accompanied by a table and an electrical outlet.

Upon arriving at the gate for the 5:20pm departure to Portland, I was pleased to see that the aircraft operating this evening’s flight was an ex-Song machine, equipped with all the whistles and bells that made a flight on Song such an enjoyable if not distracting experience. I am particularly enamored of the seatback television that in addition to live TV also offers movies, a moving map and a variety of games. My favorite is the inflight trivia of which I must be one of the all time champs. The cool thing about the trivia game is that you play against anyone else on the plane who’s also playing. At one point, we had eleven different people playing. Each game has twenty questions and takes about fifteen minutes. Thus, over a five hour flight, one could play about twenty games. I was in on about a dozen of them and only lost twice all night, once because I came into the game late. My high score was 6600 points and my goal is to break 7000 points.
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Old Feb 9, 10, 8:06 pm
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February 3, 2010
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle CRJ-700 830a – 920a Economy Class
American Airlines Seattle – Chicago 737-800 1200n – 610p Economy Class
American Airlines Chicago – Orlando DC-9-80 740p – 1120p Economy Class

This is the final roundtrip of this mileage run. I am so looking forward to getting this done and taking a long break in Colorado this weekend. But right now, duty calls and so off to gate A4 I head. Waiting at the gate is N614QX, the first CRJ-700 I ever flew. That was back in November of 2002, over 1,100 flights ago. I’ve covered a lot of miles since then –1,358,090 of them to be precise. A complimentary Wall Street Journal and a hot cup of coffee made the 30 minute flight up to Seattle seem much shorter and soon I was headed into the terminal in search of breakfast.

If ever you should find yourself hungry with time to spare in Seattle’s airport, consider a visit to Anthony’s Restaurant and Fish Bar, located on the Concourse C/D side of the central commons area. While Anthony’s does offer full service dining, I am particularly enamored of their fine breakfast tacos, offered from a little take away grill at the far side of the restaurant. These “tacos” include a mountain of scrambled eggs, a slice of bacon, some cheese and salsa all placed in a warmed Santa Fe tortilla. It’s a lot of food for $3.99 and even comes with fried breakfast potatoes at no extra cost.

During my layover in SeaTac, I headed over to the American Airlines counter to see if I could improve my seat assignments. I believe the long walk down to American’s counter and back is well worth the time spent doing so as the extra space afforded me in an exit or bulkhead seat is especially appreciated on these extended mileage runs. Despite the long cooperative relationship between American and Alaska Airlines, I remain uncertain whether Alaska MVP Golds get preferential seating on American – we certainly don’t when booking online – but agents at both the counter and the gate have always been very accommodating. Today was no different and I was assigned exit row seats for both of my flights to Chicago and Tampa. Seat 15C on the first leg to Chicago indicated to me that we had one of American’s new 737-800s, as the reclining exit row is 14 in the older ones. The best part of the new 737s is that they have AC plug outlets as opposed to the cigarette lighter type plugs with adaptors you need in the older aircraft.

So just how new was the 737-800 that took me to Chicago? The airworthiness certificate above the entrance door was issued on October 5th, 2009. This jet was less than four months old.

I like the new coach seats that American’s installed on these new 737-800s. When you hit the recline button, the seatback reclines while the seat bottom rolls forward slightly. Very comfortable.

Were I flying this route forty years ago, I might be raving about the spaciousness aboard one of Northwest’s two daily 747s serving the route.

Seattle to Chicago Schedule: November 15, 1970

Back then, four engined aircraft were generally used on routes of this length while 727s and 737s were scheduled for shorter mid-range routes. One notable exception was a 727-100 operated by Northeast Airlines on the 2,340 mile run between Miami and Los Angeles. Check out the 6 stop service operated by NW 120. That nine hour trip made stops in PDX, GEG, GTF, BIL, FAR and MSP enroute to ORD. Dinner was served between Billings and Fargo.

Three hours and thirty-eight minutes was the projected flight time into Chicago this afternoon. Once we’d leveled off at thirty some odd thousand feet, I retrieved my carry-on bag and set up my luncheon table. Given American’s expensive and, I think, inferior inflight menu for economy class passengers, bringing your own food along is a must. While others munched on $10.00 sandwiches and so-so snack boxes, I dined on a delicious Chicken BLT Salad from Wendy’s.

Despite spending over three and a half generally smooth hours aloft, the flight attendants managed only one pass with the food and beverage carts for the entire flight. Were I in a position to do something about it, that lazy crew would be facing a write up at the very least.

Of minor interest, the ex-TWA MD-80 that operated the flight down to Orlando was one of the last MD-80s ever built. That said, the airplane was just over ten years old, still in the prime of its life.

February 4, 2010
Delta Airlines Orlando – Detroit 815a – 1103a 757-200 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Detroit – Atlanta 1155a – 209p 737-800 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Atlanta – Los Angeles 415p – 605p 767-300 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Los Angeles – Portland 900p – 1124p First Class

A winglet equipped 757 wearing the new Delta livery delivered about one hundred of us up to Detroit this morning. Though the outside of Northwest’s old 757s may look quite sharp in their new colors, on the inside they remain relatively Spartan compared to their Delta counterparts. There are no seatback TVs, drop down TV screens, music or wi-fi of any kind. Thus far, the “Deltafication” of the interior has been limited to the re-upholstering of the seats with blue leather covers.

In Detroit, I overheard the gate agents determining that the flight down to Atlanta had been oversold. I quickly strolled up to the podium and volunteered to be bumped, The agent took neither my name nor boarding pass, saying instead she’d remember my seat. Yeah, right. Must not be that oversold… Rather than hang out in the gate lounge to find out, I decided to utilize my MVP Gold status to board with zone 2, thus assuring me of a spot for my carryon bag. Of course, I was downright delighted to see the jetway agent turning away the surprisingly large number of passengers who attempted to board the aircraft despite the agent very clearly announcing that zone one was for First Class only, and zone 2 for Medallions.

Be it Detroit or Los Angeles, I can’t help but wonder what’s with these people who just mindlessly charge the jetway when boarding is announced. Despite the plethora of pre-boarding announcements, they appear not to have heard a word. Are they just stupid? Okay, maybe stupid is a bit overboard, but you have to wonder about people who clearly aren’t paying any attention and who’s actions are reactionary rather than planned. I mean, I’d probably think a bit more highly of them if there was some element of cunning like they were trying to sneak past the gate agent but I honestly think these people move blindly towards the jetway simply because they see other people moving towards the door. Cattle and sheep do this, too. Follow the herd. And, like cattle and sheep, I think these people should not only be herded away from the jetway but maybe they should also get a good slap on the rump for good measure. MmmmmMMmMMMMMooo! G’wan now… over to the zone 5 corral, you dogies.

So there we were, all packed into our seats aboard the fully loaded 737 when the Captain came on over the PA to inform us that Atlanta ATC had given us new departure time of 12:45pm. It was now noon. The captain then mentioned that he would be on the phone trying to get us an earlier departure time.

Now I’m thinking we’re not the only flight being delayed into Atlanta, so why should ATC grant us any special favors? Does the Captain have some special pull with ATC down there? Highly unlikely, but I suppose everyone felt better that the Captain was trying to better our lot.

At about 12:20pm, the Captain comes on to tell us that he’s managed to get us cleared to push back from the gate at 12:30pm. “Oh, that is good news!” the couple in front of me uttered. Of course, what was never mentioned right from the get go was that the 12:45pm departure was a “wheels up” time, not pushback time. Just wait, I told my seatmate, we may push back at 12:30pm but we’ll still be taking off at 12:45pm. Sure enough, we took a long, stately taxi out to the runway, held short of it for about four minutes, then turned and took off at exactly 12:45pm.

Does Delta teach its pilots to say stuff like this or is that pilot just one clever cowboy?

In Atlanta I headed over to a Delta automated kiosk to see if I might be able to improve my seating on the long flight to Portland. There were still over two hours until departure, so checking directly with the gate agents was not yet an option. Imagine then my surprise upon displaying my reservation to find that the system, having taken into consideration our 50 minute delay inbound from Detroit, apparently assumed I might not make my three hour connection in Atlanta and so offered me an attractive free option to change to a flight to Los Angeles on a 767, connecting to an upgradeable Alaska flight up to Portland. In addition, I’d gain another 1600 miles for my effort. Some people spend years shopping at Safeway to accumulate that amount!

So, off I went to LA aboard the second oldest 767 in Delta’s fleet (N126DL), comfortably ensconced in an exit row window seat while dining on shrimp salad ($8.00) while kickin’ butt in the inflight trivia game. If only high scorer for the day won some sort of prize, like say – a free upgrade.

I got my free upgrade on Alaska’s 9:00pm service up to Portland. Better yet, I also got to fly aboard N512AS, the “Spirit of Seattle”. This is a 737-800 painted in Boeing’s promotional livery and with this flight, my collection of Alaska 737-800s now stands at 38 out of 51. Only 13 more to go!

The First Class meal on this evening’s flight was an antipasto plate. While neither as filling or as tasty as the pot stickers, this was more than acceptable for a 9:00pm departure and a big improvement over the service in years past.

AS LAX-PDX SNACK: Antipasto Plate

February 5, 2010
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle CRJ-700 830a – 920a Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Denver 737-800 1245p – 422p Economy Class

My seatmate on the short 30 minute flight up to Seattle was a fishing boat captain. He was heading up to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to pick up a 150’ fishing boat along with his crew, then head off to go fishing over the next four months. He had some great stories to tell about life on the boat as well as a few tales about Dutch Harbor’s old Elbow Room, once ranked as the “Most Dangerous Bar in America”. He was just getting warmed up when we touched down at SeaTac. It would have been fun to talk further but he had to hurry off for a quick connection to Anchorage leaving from the dreaded N gates.

I don’t really mind the N gates – they’re easy enough to get to and don’t seem as far as walking all the way out to the end of the D Concourse. I only wish Alaska would install a small Boardroom over there as United’s downstairs lounge has no windows and feels a bit cave-like after a spell. Following breakfast at Anthony’s, I headed over to the North Satellite and hung out in The Cave for an hour before heading up to N6 for my flight to Denver.

Lots of people are headed to Denver on this flight … it’s Friday, so maybe they’re going skiing. Rocky Mountain Powder beats that Cascade Concrete any day. The people in front of me had their licenses out along with their boarding passes. I see this quite often and yet I don’t believe gate side ID checks have been required on domestic flights since about 2002. I reminded myself that not everyone flies as much as we do. I was talking to my old landlord down in Florida last week. He’s 63 and he’s never even been on a jet plane.

Sitting next to me in row 6 was a a lady and her son, a young boy of about 6. The boy had the window seat and yet spent the entire taxi, takeoff and climb out playing some kind of handheld video game. At his age I would have thought everything about an airplane flight would have been incredibly exciting - the noise of the jet engines spooling up, the rush of the take off, the roads, houses and land falling away beneath us, the clouds… I did hear that his father was in Colorado, so perhaps the kid was a veteran flyer shuttling back and forth between parents. He did watch our approach into DIA though.

As for me, I’m excited to be heading up into the Colorado Rockies for a couple of days. I’ll be visiting friends at the Glenwood Springs Hostel and won’t see the inside of an airplane for another 72 hours!
As an added bonus, the lot attendant at Alamo upgraded me from my normal full size car into a Chrysler 300. I was just looking for satellite radio. This time of year, the most popular car out of DIA is an SUV, so there were plenty of nice sedans sitting around.

February 8, 2010
Alaska Airlines Denver –Seattle 737-800 505p – 703p Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Fairbanks 737-800 855p – 1142p Economy Class

While waiting in line at DIA’s security check point this afternoon, I met a lady and her daughter who were flying up to Anchorage to visit a relative. Facing a two hour flight to Seattle followed by a three and a half hour flight to Anchorage, both of them felt that they were in for an exceedingly long travel day. I remember when I used to think like they do. How times have changed…

Over the past three weeks I’ve taken 59 flights, ridden a couple of trains and driven over 1000 miles. All told, I’ve covered almost 62,000 miles. During that time, my typical day has me spending about eight and a half hours aboard three flights. My total travel time each day averages about twelve hours. And of course the biggest shocker is that it’s all self inflicted.

The payoff is that I’ve earned a lot of mileage, enough to allow me to more affordably sustain a lifestyle that demands more travel than most people require. Using saver award tickets, my per trip cost is substantially less than say, the over $800.00 per ticket I’d have to pay just to fly from Fairbanks roundtrip to Denver.

Given my recent travel history, today’s journey from Denver to Fairbanks via Seattle seems like a short day to me. I’m looking forward to getting home, enjoying the increasingly long days as we transition from winter to spring, and then getting ready for my next big trip.

So, until then, thanks to all of you who’ve read this far. This report, like this trip, was long and no doubt occasionally tedious. But on a positive note, some of you may be happy to know that the aircraft operating my flight from Seattle to Fairbanks last night was N518AS, making it the 40th 737-800 that I’ve flown out of Alaska’s fleet of 51. Only eleven more to go.

Wish me luck!
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 9, 10, 11:54 pm
Join Date: Aug 2008
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A wonderful report

The whole thing is great but I really enjoyed your story concerning the courier flights. Thank you.
swing84 is offline  
Old Feb 10, 10, 12:31 am
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Hooray, to read another great Seat 2A trip report is a fabulous distraction to my own unlamented temporarily grounded status.
Kiwi Flyer is offline  
Old Feb 10, 10, 8:12 am
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Originally Posted by Seat 2A View Post
So, for you six and anybody I missed ~ this one’s for you!
Make it Seven!

Safe travels and I await the full report!

Originally Posted by Seat 2A View Post
An on-time arrival at Boston Logan meant that I was faced with a three hour layover and no lounge access. At least, not in Terminal A. The problem is that as of today, February 1st , my Presidents Club card is no longer accepted at Delta Sky Lounges. Since I’ve only got four more days of flying ahead of me, I’ll just tough it out and grab a table somewhere. Were I faced with a week or longer of upcoming travel, I’d avail myself of Delta’s one month pass for $90.00, an excellent deal especially when you consider that a single day pass is $50.00.
I'm confused. There's a CO President's Club in Terminal A. It's upstairs next to the security checkpoint. Was it closed? Why weren't you able to use that?

Last edited by warreng24; Feb 10, 10 at 11:04 am
warreng24 is offline  
Old Feb 10, 10, 8:54 am
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Great read and pics. Thanks!
chanp is offline  
Old Feb 10, 10, 10:59 am
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Originally Posted by Seat 2A View Post
... the aircraft operating my flight from Seattle to Fairbanks last night was N518AS, making it the 40th 737-800 that I’ve flown out of Alaska’s fleet of 51. Only eleven more to go.

Wish me luck!
Good luck!

Thanks for the TR. Enjoyed reading it.
RCyyz is offline  
Old Feb 10, 10, 11:24 am
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Originally Posted by warreng24 View Post
I'm confused. There's a CO President's Club in Terminal A. Why weren't you able to use that?
You know, I should have checked! I last visited CO's PC in 2003 and I could have sworn it was in a different terminal but obviously I was wrong.
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 10, 10, 12:18 pm
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Prompted to check my FM stats I notice that last week I flew my 250th (& 251st) 747 flights.
Kiwi Flyer is offline  
Old Feb 10, 10, 1:19 pm
Join Date: Aug 2001
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One of the faithful

As you know, I do read all that you write. Certainly not as obsessive about facts as you, I take a certain amount of pleasure reminiscing about what used to be.

Sorry to have missed the opportunity to spend an evening with you here in PDX, but SQ11 and SQ12 in seat 2A beckoned instead. Must be jaded, as an evening with you might have been more entertaining.

My memory is failing, there used to be a NW flight (Northwest Orient) PDX-MSP with intermediate stops including GEG. Do you happen to have the schedule circa 1978 and be willing to share it, perhaps in this report? Believe it was a 727.

My mileage runs to TPA are running $240 so I assume the pricing you mentioned was a short-term aberration.
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