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Not For The Faint Hearted ~ 82 Flights and 87830 Miles of Mileage Running

Not For The Faint Hearted ~ 82 Flights and 87830 Miles of Mileage Running

Old Feb 24, 12, 1:06 am
FlyerTalk Evangelist
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Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Million Miler, United Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond, Choice Hotels Diamond
Posts: 11,231
Not For The Faint Hearted ~ 82 Flights and 87830 Miles of Mileage Running

Every December here at FlyerTalk, the Airline and Mileage Run forums are littered with plaintive bleats from wretched souls who haven’t yet earned the requisite amount of mileage to re-qualify for their cherished elite status. Time is running short and many of them, rather than going out and doing a mileage run to earn the requisite mileage, choose to stay at home and ask the rest of us our opinions on whether or not their frequent flyer program might possibly comp them another year of elite status. Of course, it’s not their fault they haven’t yet earned enough mileage. The most common excuse is that their company cut back on the travel budget.

Amazingly, most of these folks seem blissfully unaware that they could have addressed their potential mileage shortfall back in October or November rather than wait until December when many of the lowest fares have already been gobbled up by holiday vacation travelers. Many of them are only a few thousand miles short of re-qualifying and in most cases, with just a modicum of advance planning, they could have resolved their mileage needs with a quick transcon or a couple of weekend trips down the coast. Rather than actually do this however, a good number of them will instead wheedle and plead at their airline forums where there are always a few kind hearted souls who will offer them a maternal “There, there, it’ll be okay. Perhaps there'll be a challenge…” or they'll help them come up with a mileage run after they've already shown no inclination to at least try and get out of their predicament on their own.

What really galls me is the misplaced sense of entitlement evidenced by those who feel that they ought to be awarded elite status anyway because even though they haven’t met the requirements for elite benefits, they have been loyal flyers. As if one deserves the points for a touchdown even though they only made it to the eight yard line. These could very well be the same people who as children benefitted from that “enlightened” educational approach whereby even though they didn’t put forth the effort to earn a B grade, they were rewarded with one anyway since that was deemed better than possibly damaging their self-esteem by giving them the grade they’d actually earned.

Now I know what many of you are thinking – Jeez, that 2A sure is a hard a$$.... Yeah, I suppose in this regard I am since I grew up in a world where if you wanted something, you went out and actually earned it. Be it an A grade or a new stereo or a better job ~ there were no short cuts. The airlines have presented us with a challenge and a reward. Those of us who meet the challenge are rewarded accordingly. However, to reward those who haven’t met the challenge for whatever reason only serves to cheapen the overall program and denigrate the efforts of those of us who’ve played the game fairly. It’s not the airline’s fault that some companies cut back on their travel budget. In most cases, the signs that budget cuts might affect one’s total amount of travel are evident much earlier in the year. To wait until December to discover or address this is just incomprehensibly shortsighted.

For the past twenty-six years I have been employed as a shuttle/tour bus driver in Denali National Park, Alaska. My job has me transporting park visitors along a primitive dirt road anywhere from 50 to 90 miles into the park and back out again. My job does not require me to fly anywhere on company business, so unlike those who only have to resort to mileage runs if their work related travel leaves them a few thousand miles short of elite status, if I want to enjoy top tier elite status on Alaska or any other airline I need to go out and earn the mileage on my own. All of it. Attaining MVP Gold 75K, the highest level on Alaska, requires me to purchase at least 90000 miles worth of air travel each year.

I used to go on 5-7 day backpacking trips and in the fall, when weather could set in, I'd always pack 8-9 days’ worth of food just in case. That way I wouldn't be left in a bad way if something unexpected happened. Yes, it was an imposition to carry that extra weight but on two occasions I'm sure glad I did.

My yearly effort to attain elite status is approached in much the same way. I always plan on getting a bit of extra mileage over and above trips that I expect I'll be doing anyway - even if the best opportunity to economically accrue that extra mileage comes up earlier in the year. I don't wait until the end of the year because I never know what my schedule and availability might be, not to mention the fact that fares are often higher in December. One thing you definitely won't find me doing is whining in these forums because I got caught unprepared or because events beyond my control threw me a curve in the last month of the year that prevented me from attaining status.

This mileage run is dedicated to all of those folks who wait until December to address their elite qualification shortfalls. If the status and the benefits associated with elite status are truly important, monitor your current and future travels throughout the year. There are plenty of well-established tools here at Flyertalk to assist you. As with any business, anticipation and good planning go a long way towards success. If extra mileage might be needed, you'll find that being alert to great fare sales and taking advantage of them whenever they might occur can save you a lot of money as opposed to waiting until December when you may have neither the time nor the money. The Mileage Run forum always seems to have three or four amazingly low fares listed.

Whereas I need 90000 miles to attain my desired status level, for those of you who end up needing five to ten thousand miles at years end, consider that with the super low fares routinely offered over the course of the year, it’s quite possible to earn as many as 6500 status miles (or more) for as little as $240.00. Most of the flights I'm utilizing for this trip cost from $40 to $100.00 one way. The likelihood of finding fares that low in the last three weeks of December is almost impossible.

Procrastination never has served me well. I don’t need all that last minute stress. It’s been my experience that if you want something done, the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll get it done. So it is that I start out 2012 with a nice amount of overall mileage banked but zero miles in my status account. I’ve got until December 31st to reach the 90000 miles required to attain the elite status I desire. Let’s get started!

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

When it comes to planning mileage runs, I’m definitely old school. I don’t have any of those new-fangled KVS planning applications and I’m not overly impressed with the veracity of sites like expertflyer.com. So – I do it the old fashioned way. I scour the internet for deals in markets that I know to offer good routings and I’m always willing to check new markets that I don’t know about. I used to use Fare Compare’s comparison tool until they mucked everything up with the empty promise that a new version will be on line soon. We’re stilllll waiting. I have no doubt there are more efficient means of finding and constructing mileage runs than I employ, but I’m just not that interested in taking the time to learn them. As a result I sift through a hell of a lot of dirt and gravel to find those elusive mileage run nuggets but what the heck – I enjoy the hunt.

Alaska Airlines made my job a lot easier when, back in early December of 2011, they had one of the better sales I’ve seen in quite a while. There were one way fares from Portland to Boston for as low as $100.00 and Seattle or Portland to a variety of destinations in southern California for as little as $40.00 one way. I quickly set to buying a whole bunch of tickets and spent the next month in eager anticipation of this latest adventure. That’s right – adventure. While some FlyerTalkers view a Mileage Run as strictly a last minute solution to be endured rather than enjoyed, I look forward to everything from the flights to revisiting the airports and lounges and even camping out in some of my favorite airport niches. And of course I especially look forward to all those extra miles I’ll be adding to my account.

Friends and acquaintances think I’m crazy, or at the very least in need of therapy. They just can't get past the fact that rather than stay and enjoy some place like Orlando, I’m going to grab a cup of coffee and get right back on a plane. The idea of flying somewhere just for the mileage is simply incomprehensible to them. My patient explanations of Mileage Run economics (such as once earning 21,240 miles from a single $204.00 LAX-BOS roundtrip ticket (flying via SJC, DFW and JFK during AA/AS’s Double Mileage Promotion in 2004, during which, as an MVP Gold, I accrued triple miles) falls on deaf ears. I explain that a single roundtrip ticket from Fairbanks to Seattle usually costs over $700.00. Now, for substantially less than that price, I’ve earned enough miles to fly from Fairbanks to wherever it is in the U.S. or Canada that I really want to visit and stay awhile. With a free stopover in Seattle if I want. Or, I could have done seven or eight LAX-BOS Mileage Runs and earned enough award mileage for a First Class ticket to Australia or South Africa for far less than I’d pay if I bought that First Class seat outright. None of this registers with them. Who in their right mind would want to sit on all those airplanes? It’s like work, I explain. Easy work, during which I’m occasionally upgraded to First Class and between flights get to relax in airport lounges. Of course, like most occasional travelers, they have no real concept of either First Class or airport lounges. Everybody on the plane arrives at the same time is their standard retort.

I’ve decided that more often than not, arguing the merits of Mileage Runs with people who only fly once or twice a year is not worth the effort. It’s a no win situation. You either get it or you don’t. People who only fly once or twice a year generally don’t get it. Even so, I do have a couple of friends and fellow drivers who in addition to their regular travels invested the time and money into taking some mileage runs last year and the year before. One of them did six transcon roundtrips in a row! Now, when they fly to Hawaii each winter, or back to Alaska in the summer, it’s in First Class. They’re already planning for that First Class suite on their next trip overseas.

To be sure, mileage running isn’t for everyone, but for the .000457 percent of the population who do take my rather extreme approach, I’d like to think a big part of the reason we do it and also have a good time doing it is because we actually enjoy flying.

Well alrighty then, let’s head on out to the airport!

Last edited by Seat 2A; Dec 16, 18 at 12:40 pm
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:12 am
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January 13, 2012
Alaska Airlines Fairbanks – Anchorage 800a – 915a 737-900 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Anchorage – Portland 1215p – 434p 737-400 Economy Class

Winter Departure from Fairbanks at -42°F

It’s been a cold winter in Fairbanks. The January temperature average has been -26°F. This weekend it’s supposed to get down to the -40° to -50° range for a few days. As much as I miss my home in Alaska any time of year, I certainly won’t miss it quite as much this winter, especially since there are reports that the coldest weather is yet to come.

As my 737 climbed away from Fairbanks, I took a moment to reflect upon the journey ahead. This is a fairly ambitious undertaking – even for me. It took thirty-three separate tickets to book this trip. As presently booked and paid for, I’m looking at flying 82 flights covering 87830 miles over the next five weeks. Twenty-seven of those flights will be aboard propeller driven DeHavilland Canada DHC-8-400 aircraft. Twenty-four of the flights will be over 2000 miles in length. Eight more will be over 1000 miles in length. I anticipate quite a few upgrades along the way. Over the course of this trip I’ll also be flying through at least twenty different cities. Twenty-eight nights will be spent in airports. Three train trips will be taken, two of them along previously unexplored trackage. Strange though it may sound, I’m looking forward to all of it!

Denali’s 20,320’ Summit Rises Above The Cloud Cover between Fairbanks and Anchorage

In a sense, this trip will be like going off to work. In exchange for planting my butt in all those airplane seats, I’ll be able to deposit a nice chunk of mileage to my account by the time I get back home. Some of those miles will go to immediate use transporting me to Queensland, Australia for a wedding. I won’t be staying long though – just three days – because work awaits me back home in Alaska.

Sorry gang, there will be no trip report on the Australia trip. I tried to get a seat in Business Class but there simply wasn’t availability, especially into Brisbane. After years of writing about wonderful trips abroad whilst being wined and dined in First or Business Class suites, I just can’t bring myself to write about sitting in Economy Class on such a long journey. It would be too depressing.

On Alaska’s three hour and fourteen minute flight from Anchorage down to Portland, I purchased a delicious bowl of Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo from Alaska’s Northern Bites Buy On Board menu. This dish featured fettuccine pasta with sliced chicken, alfredo sauce, parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley. It was served with warm garlic bread and cost just $6.00.

Alaska’s $6.00 bowl of Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Upon landing in Portland, I picked up a rental car and sped off down the highway towards Bandon, Oregon where a weekend filled with fellow Denali drivers, football, good food and maybe a beer or two awaited. Unfortunately, a huge winter storm bearing down on the Pacific Northwest caused me to have to head back up to Portland a day early. It’s a good thing I did, too. By the time I got up to the Tillamook/Seaside area, it was snowing heavily and all of the highways heading across the coastal range to Portland were requiring chains or snow tires. My rental car, a Ford Taurus, was equipped with standard highway tires. Not wanting to have an experience similar to eightblack’s on his epic journey out to New York last winter, I pressed northward into Washington where I was able to ever so carefully guide the Taurus through fog and over icy roads into Kelso for the night. Now just fifty miles from Portland on the I-5 corridor, I was virtually assured of getting into Portland without incident. As such, I splurged and got a room at the local Econo Lodge.

Here are some pictures from my drive up some of the less wintry portions of the Oregon coast…

Storm clouds gather off the Oregon Coast as seen along US 101

Looking north along the tracks of the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

Not a good day for going to Oregon’s beaches

January 16, 2012
Amtrak Portland – Tukwila 515p – 816p The Cascade Business Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 1100p – 1147p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

As originally planned, I would have started this day with a leisurely drive over the Coastal Range from Seaside into Portland. Well it’s a good thing I continued on last night because by this morning, US 26, the straight shot from Seaside into Portland, was closed. US 30 was chains or snow tires only and Washington State Highway 4, the road I took last night, was now also under chain law.

In Portland I stopped for a quick breakfast at my favorite New York Deli in the Pacific Northwest, after which I started in on a long list of errands. Thankfully the roads around Portland were in good shape but there was a chill in the air and a big storm on the way. By the time I returned the rental car it was 3:00pm and the first flakes of snow were starting to fall. The light rail got me from the airport to within a block of Portland’s Union Station and soon I was relaxing with hot coffee and an internet connection in Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge. This lounge is actually reserved for sleeping car passengers on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Empire Builder trains, not Business Class passengers on Amtrak’s Cascades, but I flashed my Presidents Club card and the receptionist allowed me in anyway.

Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge at Portland

It was close to 5:00pm when the lounge receptionist informed me that the train was boarding. As I stepped out of the lounge’s special trackside door, an Amtrak employee quickly showed up with a golf cart and whisked me off to my train car. This was totally unexpected and I noticed that I got some odd looks from all the Coach and Business Class passengers who had apparently not yet been called to board. While Amtrak’s golf cart is no Porsche, I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit like one of Lufthansa’s First Class passengers.

My rail journey today takes me 160 miles north to Tukwila. The station is located just a few blocks from the junction of Interstates 5 and 405, making it the closest stop to SeaTac Airport. There is infrequent Metro bus service to SeaTac or you can walk about four blocks up to a busier road where there’s direct bus service to the airport every 20 minutes. Given the inclement weather, I’d called in advance and arranged to have a taxi meet my train upon arrival.

Amtrak’s Cascades utilize a unique consist known as the Talgo. This train was built in Spain and incorporates enhancements to the suspension system that result in the ability to travel more smoothly at higher speeds. The train usually consists of, in order, two Business Class cars, the Bistro car and six or seven coaches. The cars and the engine are painted in an attractive green, brown and white color scheme.

Amtrak’s Cascades ready for the northbound journey to Seattle

Business Class cars offer 1 x 2 seating in comfortable leather upholstered recliners. The large windows are curtained and a single 110-volt outlet is located beside each row of seats. Mounted on the ceiling of each car are TV monitors that display our route and location. Toward the rear of the car is a magazine rack filled with fresh copies of both Portland and Seattle newspapers. With Business Class fares normally running just $15.00 more than Economy for the 3.5 hour service to Seattle, I think it’s money well spent for a decent product.

Cascades Business Class

About an hour into the trip I paid a visit to the Bistro or café car. The menu offered three different sandwiches for $6.75 each, Ivar’s clam chowder or the soup of the day for $4.55 and two different pasta bowls or a rice and chicken bowl for $6.75. One of the perks of traveling in Business Class is that you get a coupon good for $3.00 off anything in the Bistro. Hot and filling, the Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl turned out to be an excellent choice for a cold, wintry day like today.

The Bistro car offers seats at the counter or buffet style seating in the dining area, which also serves as the train lounge. I headed back to my seat where there was plenty of room to spread out with my meal and laptop both close at hand.

Amtrak’s Cascade Bistro Car

Amtrak’s Cascade Bistro Car

My taxi was waiting for me when I alighted from the train in Tukwila, right on time. Ten minutes later I presented myself at the Alaska counter to ask if, given the current poor weather and a forecast calling for even worse weather tomorrow, might I fly down to Portland tonight instead of waiting for my scheduled flight tomorrow morning. As scheduled, I had a tight connection in Portland and if the weather was bad in Seattle, there was a good chance my flight down to Portland would be delayed. If I missed my flight out of Portland to Boston, there would be no more that day, nor online connections. Normally to do this would be considered a stopover in Portland and the overall fare would be much higher. Thankfully however, the agent listened patiently, concurred with my logic and moments later handed me a boarding pass for the 11:00pm departure.

Last edited by Seat 2A; May 3, 14 at 8:49 am
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:19 am
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Join Date: Apr 2001
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Posts: 11,231
January 17, 2012
Alaska Airlines Portland – Boston 727a – 341p 737-800 First Class
Alaska Airlines Boston – Seattle 620p – 938p 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 1100p – 1147p Economy Class

I awoke to a cold and rainy day in Portland, with snow in the forecast for later in the afternoon. And not just simple snow mind you – the forecast was actually referring to the incoming weather as an “extremely powerful winter storm” and advising people to take appropriate precautions. Apparently, for about one hundred and fifty Portlanders, that meant leaving town aboard Alaska’s flight #30, ever so thankful that they wouldn’t have to deal with wintry conditions forecast to last over the next two or three days.

I on the other hand would be staying in Boston just long enough to enjoy a cocktail or two in the Sky Club before heading back to Portland via Seattle (which was expected to have similar if perhaps even worse weather on the way). Then, just for the mileage, I’m going to do it all over again tomorrow, right in the heart of the maelstrom. Sigh... Such is life for a winter mileage runner. Truth be known, I purchased these tickets on a sunny day during Alaska’s big sale back in early December. If anything I would have expected the worst weather to be in Boston, not Seattle. Regardless, it’s here now and so am I. There’s not much I can do about it but go with the flow as much as I can.

Those of you who’ve read my past reports will recall that I usually reference the fact that I’ve flown most of Alaska’s fifty-eight 737-800s and what the heck – since I’ve flown that many, why not fly them all? Of course, this pursuit is left totally to chance. So far I’ve flown 47 out of the 58 aircraft, so with just eleven more to go, I reckon my odds are about 1 in 5.

Today got off to a nice start with hot coffee and a sweet roll in Alaska’s airport lounge, the Boardroom. Arriving at the gate, my mood was further enhanced by the sight of ship 592 doing the honors to Boston this morning. Awright!! Forty-eight down, ten to go!

Happiness is a First Class seat on a long flight. Even on a U.S. airline. My status as an MVP Gold 75K in Alaska’s Mileage Plan secured me an upgrade to First Class five days ago. Even better, I’d been upgraded on the return flight to Seattle as well. So – this ought to be a nice day, starting with a flight across the country to Boston, a hot breakfast along the way, a couple of cocktails in Delta’s Sky Club at Logan, and then a nice dinner while comfortably ensconced in a First Class seat for the long flight back to the west coast. Life is good.

One of my favorite aspects of flying is when I take off on a grey and rainy day, then break through the cloud layer and into the bright sunny world above. Visually at least, the temperature rises to a much more pleasant level. Why then do so many people quickly shut their window shades? Life in the dark is for mushrooms and vampires. I’ll take the sun, thanks.

Flight time to Boston was a relatively expeditious 4 hours and 38 minutes. Service started with hot coffee and orange juice, followed by the presentation of the menu cards. Here’s what’s on offer this month:


Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Warm Fresh Pastries

Choice of Entrees

Mini Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Quiche and
Mini Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Swiss Cheese

Caramelized Onion Strata
Served with Asparagus and Chicken Apple Sausage

I thought this seemed pretty basic for a trans-con breakfast, but it is 2012, thirty-four years after deregulation, so I suppose it’s no longer realistic to expect much more. Unless, that is, you’ve paid full fare. But of course I haven’t, so I won’t belabor this point.

I requested the mini quiche plate and then started in on the inflight magazine crossword puzzle. Twice now I’ve managed to complete the entire Horizon Airlines magazine crossword during a single flight from Seattle to Portland, but this month’s Alaska Airlines magazine crossword is a bit more difficult. I’d gotten about a quarter the way through the puzzle when my breakfast arrived – all on one tray.

The complete breakfast on this 2,530 mile transcon flight

All on one tray? So? What’s the problem with that? Sadly, more and more Americans seem to be thinking along these lines, as the extra little touches that once served to add a bit of flair to even the most mundane of tasks and services are now seen less and less. Service from the heart is being replaced by that which is most expedient and/or profitable and for the most part we the consumers simply accept it as changing times. What a shame.

In this case, we’re dealing with a four and a half hour trans-continental flight in First Class. There’s plenty of time to present the breakfast course by course – coffee and orange juice, the fruit plate, a pass with the bread basket and then the main course. After all, what did our flight attendant do when he finished his express service? He sat in the galley and read his magazine. What ever happened to actually earning your pay? I understand that employees are entitled to a break every now and then and that on a four and a half hour flight the FAs might enjoy more down time than on a two hour flight but if an airline chooses to provide its premium passengers with separately plated fruit plates and a variety of breakfast breads with a basket to present them in, any flight attendant who chooses to disregard the proper presentation of those items is cheating both the company and the passengers out of the advertised service. Yeah, yeah, I know Alaska doesn’t specifically advertise course by course or bread basket service, but in describing its First Class, it does say:

“We have always set ourselves apart for our attention to quality food and a commitment to providing a First Class complimentary service to look forward to.”

To me at least, it should go without saying that presenting a First Class meal to a mix of the airline’s most loyal customers and/or those who have paid top dollar for the service should include a proper and gracious presentation of the meal. The exception might be if someone specifically asked for an expedited service in order to get in more work or rest. Anything less is just lazy and inexcusable, particularly on a long flight.

Ideally the hiring process finds people who take pride in their work and by extension will take pride in making their company look good. For the most part, Alaska Airlines does a good job at hiring people with these attributes. It’s always a shame to bear witness to those occasions when it’s failed.

Anyway, I know we’d like all of these trip reports to be light and airy with sunshine and butterflies and birdies chirping about (Read my international First Class reports) and now here it seems I’ve gone and cast a shadow over it all whilst bemoaning the increasing despoliation of service and standards over the years. Such is life over American skies. I apologize… a little bit, but only a little bit, especially since so many people including a good number of them here at FlyerTalk aren’t at all bothered by it all. It’s just airline food and service. It’s not expected to be good. What a sorry state that is to be so resigned. Service cuts notwithstanding, I’ve flown with many folks from a wide variety of airlines here in America whose pride in their jobs really shone through and made flying with them a most enjoyable experience. To all those employees who do care about consistently doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, I salute them.

Later, in Delta’s Sky Club at Boston Logan, I relaxed over bourbon and mixed nuts while awaiting my 6:20pm return to Seattle. Bourbon aficionados will be pleased to note that Woodford Reserve is still the well pour in the Boston Sky Club. Delta has always poured the Woodford’s in its First Class cabins but most Sky Clubs now pour no better than Jack Daniels from the well – not that JD is bad stuff, mind you, but for my tastes at least the Woodford Reserve is just a bit smoother and mellower.

Boarding for tonight’s 2,492 mile flight to Seattle commenced shortly before 6:00pm. Waiting at the gate was N549AS, an aircraft that inclusive of this flight I’ve now flown 11 times for a total of 18,320 miles. Those lofty numbers notwithstanding, it’s still not the most heavily flown Alaska jet I’ve flown upon, but one more transcon and it will be. The other milestone I reached with this flight is even loftier. At some point while speeding westward over Minnesota, I will have accumulated over 2000 hours flying aboard Alaska Airlines. Now I’m sure quite a few of your million milers have transcended levels similar to this but the odds are good that most of them never knew it because they don’t keep a flight log. Most people don’t. But for those of us that do, stuff like this is kind of cool to know about.

In contrast to this morning’s flight into Boston, tonight’s flight back to Seattle featured wonderful service in the First Class cabin. Our flight attendant couldn’t have been more gracious or accommodating – she truly embodied Alaska’s North of Expected slogan and it’ll be a pleasure to pass along a certificate acknowledging her fine efforts.

Here is this month’s dinner menu:


Appetizer Salad

Tomato Frisée Salad
Warm Dinner Roll


Herb Chicken Breast with Lemon Herb Sauce

Barley Couscous
Sautéed Squash

Petite Pork Shank with Port Wine Demi
Creamy Polenta
Asparagus Spears


White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle
Coffee & Liqueurs

Dinner orders were taken from front to back, so my location at 2D meant there was still a choice of entrees available to me. “What’s the more filling entrée?” I asked. “Chicken” was the reply. Chicken it is, then. First came the salad – a collection of sliced tomatoes and grated cheese drizzled with Italian salad dressing and garnished with droplets of pesto. I like tomatoes, but not as a main course, so while I give this salad points on presentation, my preference would have been for a more traditional salad. The main course was very good in both presentation and flavor. The chicken breast was nicely cooked and the accompanying vegetable and starch were quite good as well. A White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle brought this meal to a delicious close and, unlike a lot of meals on Alaska Airlines, this one left me satisfyingly full. Well done, Alaska Airlines!

The Menu

Tomato Frisée Salad

Herb Chicken Breast with Lemon Herb Sauce

White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle

Strong headwinds caused us to take a more northerly routing over southern Canada. Interestingly, this affected the GoGo Wi-Fi service until we crossed back into U.S. airspace over eastern Washington.

We landed on a nice looking evening in Seattle, so nice that warnings of a “powerful Pacific storm” seemed like they must have been overstated. The bad weather was coming, however. This was just the calm before the storm. South of us the snow was already falling. My 11:00pm departure to Portland had been delayed until 1:00am because the aircraft operating it was still down in Portland on a weather delay. Worse yet, I was scheduled for a 5:30am departure out of PDX tomorrow morning, so the new 1:47am arrival time in Portland didn’t leave me much time for sleep. This was assuming of course that we’d even make it down to Portland tonight. Meanwhile, a look at the weather forecast indicated that the worst of tomorrow’s weather would be in Seattle where there was a 100% probability of snow with total accumulation ranging from 2-10 inches. Down in Portland, the forecast called for rain.

Hmm… sounds like Portland is the place to be. I called Alaska and we talked about the weather for a while until it was decided that I could change from my scheduled PDX-SEA-BOS routing to a nonstop PDX-BOS flight. I’d be losing out on the 500 mile leg from PDX up to SEA, as well as a confirmed First Class seat on the SEA-BOS flight. Still, if I got stuck in Seattle I’d miss out on the entire round trip. I’d gotten a great fare on this trip, one that probably wouldn’t be seen again for some time if at all, particularly with $4.00 or more per gallon of gas forecast for later this year. So – off I went to Portland, finally arriving at 2:05am. Check out the snow at the gate! At least I was able to get a little more sleep since the nonstop to Boston didn’t depart until 7:27am.

A snowy night in Portland

January 18, 2012
Alaska Airlines Portland –Boston 727a – 341p 737-800 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Boston – Seattle 620p – 938p 737-800 First Class

I’ve done a lot of mileage runs during the winter months and I must say that I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate with the weather. Past mileage runs have had me transiting Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis on multiple occasions, all with very little or no delay. Today and tomorrow would surely test my luck.

Last night’s snow had turned to rain in Portland, resulting in plenty of slush around the ramp. It was nothing that couldn’t be dealt with however and my Boston flight was showing an on time departure. Meanwhile, up in Seattle…

Wintry scene at SeaTac on January 18, 2012

Adding to my good fortune was the assignment of ship 534 to this morning’s Boston service. Now I’ve only got nine out of the fifty-eight left to fly. First Class checked in full but I was fortunate to have scored an exit row window seat. Indeed, given the current conditions I was thankful that I was even going to Boston.

I don’t know of any other airline that offers economy class passengers the option of hot Buy On Board meals. On a cold, rainy day like today, a hot meal is doubly appreciated. This month’s hot breakfast selection for eastbound travelers consists of a waffle topped with peach compote, a chicken-apple sausage link and some scrambled eggs. It’s a pretty good deal for just $6.00. Lots of hot coffee washed it all down, after which I had another three hours to work on this report.

Waffle and Scrambled Egg Skillet

By the time we landed in Boston, my butt and lower back were pretty darned sore. This was of course due in no small part to those wimpy cushions that many airlines have installed on their exit row seats next to a window. Anyone know why this is? On a long, transcon flight, it beats the hell out of me both literally and figuratively! How much extra weight can a decently padded seat cushion add? Would a more padded cushion somehow hinder evacuation efforts? We’re told that these seat cushions can be used as flotation devises simply by pulling them up off the seat. Why should passengers in an exit row window seat get a lesser cushion than anyone else? I could go on but really, I’d love to hear the reason someday. If I find out before I finish this trip report I’ll letcha’ll know.

A beautiful winter day as we approach Boston Logan over the harbor

Whereas yesterday it was wicked cold in Boston, today was sunny and about 15 degrees warmer. Before heading up to the Sky Club, I stopped by the podium to pick up my boarding pass for the return flight to Seattle via Portland. Even though I’d clearly booked the BOS-PDX-SEA route the night before, the gate agent informed me that I now held a First Class seat on the nonstop to Seattle. I wasn’t too keen on losing that 500 mile status bump for the PDX-SEA leg but the agent explained that Horizon flights between Seattle and Portland had been cancelling all day, so it was probably best to take the nonstop. The airplane operating that flight had originated in Seattle earlier in the day and so had gotten a late start due to the weather. As such, our departure was set back by an hour to 7:20pm.

Up in the Sky Club, nicely chilled glasses of ice cold Sam Adams Boston Lager were the order of the day. I overheard a couple from New Zealand comment on how much they liked this beer. It’s always nice to hear people from overseas comment favorably on our country, especially our beer which for so many years was quite deservedly the subject of widespread derision. In my travels overseas, I’m always amazed how Budweiser and Miller remain the predominantly exported American beers. No wonder foreigners have such a poor opinion of American beer! These days, I believe our best Microbrews can stand toe to toe with any beer on the planet.

Tonight’s dinner menu was of course the exact same as last night’s. Since I’d chosen the chicken last night, I just had to try out the pork tonight. Unfortunately the flight attendant working tonight’s flight was a bit of a slacker, so drinks were served with dinner and we were never offered a choice of dinner rolls even though I noticed a variety of rolls as she walked by my seat to deliver trays to passengers behind me. When I took a moment to visit the lav after the meal, I saw the bread basket sitting unused in the galley. She was simply too lazy to do a bread service. On a six and a half hour flight.

As for the pork entrée, it was delicious. My only complaint was that there wasn’t much meat on the bone. I ate it all in four bites, a couple of which were not that big. However, while our flight attendant was taking the dinner orders, I noticed that two people chose not to eat. Thankfully, that meant there was an extra portion which she was kind enough to present me upon my request.

Petite Pork Shank with Port Wine Demi

The winds were incredible this evening. Once again we routed over southern Canada, but with the stronger winds it still took us six and a half hours to complete this flight. Never having flown westbound on the Chicago to Anchorage run, I suspect this may well be the longest flight I have ever taken on Alaska Airlines.

Although it wasn’t snowing when we landed in Seattle, there was a lot more snow on the ground than there was last night at this time. Here is tomorrow’s forecast copied verbatim off the NOAA website:

Forecast: Freezing rain in the morning...then cloudy with a chance of rain or snow in the afternoon. Ice accumulation of a quarter to half and inch possible. Highs in the mid to upper 30s. North wind 10 to 15 mph.

Hopefully that forecast will be wrong.

Last edited by Seat 2A; May 3, 14 at 8:55 am
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:26 am
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January 19, 2012
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 900a – 950a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Portland – Atlanta 110p – 839p 737-800 Economy Class
Express Jet Atlanta – Nashville CRJ-700 1050p – 1106p Economy Class

With my first flight of the day not scheduled to depart until 9:00am, it sure was nice to be able to sleep in. As such I set my alarm clock to 7:30 and knocked off about seven much needed hours of continuous sleep. Since I carry a Thermarest pad along with me, I can sleep on cold, hard surfaces like linoleum or even concrete and still be quite warm and comfortable. Additionally, I can set up for the night in some sections of the airport that most casual airport sleepers never could or would. The sections I’m talking about are usually away from the crowded public areas and not affected by the endless cacophony of airport announcements throughout the night. That’s why I sleep so much better in airports than the average traveler and as a result am far more willing to do so than most other travelers.

The first sign of trouble came when I tried to check in via the kiosk. It was unable to display my reservation and directed me to an Alaska counter agent. Hmm... The departures board showed my 9:00am flight to Portland was still operating on time, so at least that was good. Otherwise, the lines at the check-in counters were all quite long, especially the line at the MVP Gold and First Class counter. By the time I made my way up to an agent, my 9:00am PDX flight had indeed been cancelled. The good news was that I’d been protected aboard Alaska’s 9:15am nonstop to Atlanta which was now scheduled to depart at 10:00am. Additionally, I’d been upgraded to First Class. Well alrighty, then...

So, off I went to the Boardroom for coffee and a bagel. At about 9:15am I glanced at the departures screen and saw that flight 742 was boarding out at N-1. What? Ohmigod, they’re trying to get out a bit early! I quickly collected my gear and hustled on over to the North Satellite train. Along the way I encountered a fellow Denali driver on his way back up to Alaska. Of all the times to meet someone you know in the airport. We said a quick hello and goodbye and I continued my rush to the gate. Upon arrival however, I found a normal gate lounge with no sign of boarding. Sigh… it’s one of those days.

This flight to Honolulu has boarded and was being deiced. An hour later however, it still hadn’t departed.

At about 9:45am, an announcement was made over the PA that AS 742 was on a weather delay and that the next update wouldn’t come until 10:30. Five minutes later though, a lady rushed to the podium claiming she’d just been texted a massage from Alaska Airlines indicating that AS742 had been cancelled. The Alaska agent had not heard anything along those lines and so the lady showed him her phone. I was reminded of those television commercials about some new phone with G4 speed: “That’s so 46 seconds ago!” A phone call was made and moments later it was verified – AS 742 was no more. Please proceed to a Customer Service Desk for further assistance and rebooking. My first instinct was to avoid the lines at the Customer Service desks and make any changes through Alaska’s MVP Gold reservations line. Unfortunately, the response on it, the normal line and even the partner desk line was an automatic disconnect. I quickly got in line at the nearest Customer Service Desk for what turned out to be about an hour’s wait.

Passengers destined for Atlanta were being told that it might be a day or two before Alaska could get them there. My final destination was Nashville, and so my approach with the Customer Service agent was based upon getting out of Seattle on any Alaska flight to a city where I could connect to Delta. Soon I’d gotten myself rebooked on Alaska’s 2:05pm departure to Washington National with an onward connection to American Eagle into Nashville the next morning. Had I not been able to rebook a flight out of SEA this afternoon, I would have had to cancel this trip to Nashville as well as tomorrow’s return trip. With fuel prices projected to climb later in the year, it’s unlikely I could have gotten this trip rebooked at a later date for the same great fare. My sincere thanks go out to the Alaska Airlines agent who worked quickly and efficiently with me towards getting this unfortunate situation resolved.

The flight to Washington was scheduled to depart from gate C-16 at 3:15pm. That left me plenty of time to get lunch at Anthony’s Fish Restaurant on the SeaTac commons, and then head back over to the United Club for a little R&R before my flight. The SeaTac commons, known as the Pacific Marketplace, provides one of the best tarmac views of any airport I’ve ever been in.

Making a long story just a wee bit shorter, we ultimately boarded AS 2 to DCA at about 4:15, then waited more than an hour for the de-icing truck to make its way over to us. By the time we finally took to the air, it was 5:45pm. Once inflight, it was discovered that the hot BOB meals had only been catered per the original load which was about 50 passengers. On a cold, rainy day like today, those meals sold out long before the cart ever made it back in the exit row, where I and 60 or 70 passengers behind me were sat. Thankfully, we had a great tailwind which enabled us to speed across country from takeoff to touchdown in just under four hours.

By the time I stepped into the terminal it was 1:00am. My flight tomorrow morning was due to depart at 7:35am. That didn’t leave me much time to sleep. On the advice of a fellow Denali Driver I found a fairly quiet place over in the old terminal and knocked off about five hours.

January 20, 2010
American Eagle Washington DC - Nashville 735a – 840a ERJ-140 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Nashville – Atlanta 1200n – 220p DC-9-50 First Class
Delta Airlines Atlanta – Portland 455p – 725p 757-200 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 830p – 920p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

The last time I flew out of DCA was 1983 and the airport was called Washington National and Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president. Now, twenty-nine years later, his presidency has come and gone, as has his time with us here on planet earth. His name however lives on at Washington Reagan National Airport.

The airport’s a lot nicer now than the facility I used to transit back in the seventies whilst flying the likes of Allegheny, Eastern and TWA. There’s a shiny new terminal and a lot more airplanes than there ever used to be. I was particularly impressed by the spacious well lit promenade and the nice variety of eateries on either side of the security check points. The lounges looked pretty nice too – that is what I could see of them from the outside since I didn’t have time to visit during this trip. Thankfully I’ll have plenty of time to visit during any one or all of my five booked trips to DCA next month.

Back in 1983, the smallest jet flying out of DCA was probably a DC-9-10. The aircraft operating my flight down to Nashville this morning would make that little DC-9 of yesteryear seem positively spacious. I ducked my head as I entered the doorway and made my way down the aisle of the Embraer RJ140 assigned to this morning’s American Eagle flight. Thankfully I’d managed to procure an exit row seat upon the little Jungle Jet and so was able to get somewhat more comfortable in those tiny seats that are better designed for Beech 1900s. Exit seats notwithstanding, I’m not a fan of the ERJ-135/145 series. They’re too narrow. If and when American Eagle re-equips its fleet, I would hope they purchase some of the larger and more spacious ERJ-170/190 family of jets.

An hour and forty-five minutes later I was able to stand tall again as I strode up the jetway into Nashville International Airport. With a three hour layover before my flight down to Atlanta, I stopped by the food court for a breakfast burrito before heading down to Delta’s Sky Club for a comfortable chair and some internet time.

My flight down to Atlanta this afternoon was aboard a DC-9-50. Unlike some, I go out of my way to fly these old birds. Delta is one of the few airlines left in the world that operate the -50s. Most of its fleet is comprised of ex-North Central  Republic  Northwest machines but there are a few ex-Alitalia, Allegheny, Eastern and Swissair planes in the mix as well. The aircraft operating my flight down to Atlanta this afternoon was N773NC, built in 1978 for North Central Airlines. I remember flying a few of these planes when they wore the North Central livery. The seats were upholstered in light blue and gold and the meals served were quite good, particularly the picnic basket luncheons which featured filling sandwiches with tasty side salads on the longer flights. Since those days, this particular plane has worn six different liveries ~ two from Republic Airlines, three from Northwest and now Delta’s most recent colors. The original seats have long since been replaced with newer lighter weight models but I still find them the most comfortable in Delta’s fleet.

Due to strong headwinds, the flight between Atlanta and Portland took all of five hours and ten minutes. The result was I and four or five other passengers missed our 8:30p connection to Seattle despite an impressive hustle from the Delta gates over on the D Concourse all the way across the airport to Horizon’s gates over on the A Concourse. Thankfully, the 9:30pm departure had plenty of seats. As an added bonus, it was operating on time. The worst of the storm had passed.

Tomorrow’s 6:30am departure from Seattle would require me to set my alarm for 5:30am, but since that was the equivalent of 8:30am on the east coast where earlier this morning I’d gotten up at 6:15am, I felt like I was actually sleeping in.

January 21, 2012
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Los Angeles 800a – 1032a 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Burbank – Portland 507p – 724p CRJ-700 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 930p – 1020p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

Sleep in, I did. I don’t know how but either I slept through the alarm or inadvertently set it for 5:30pm. Either way, the end result was I didn’t wake up until 6:30am – just as my flight to Los Angeles was departing. We’ve all done this in one form or another and the adrenalin rush is considerable. No grogginess for me this morning. I got my gear folded up and packed away in record time, then proceeded to the Alaska ticket counter to determine my fate.

Originally I was scheduled to arrive LAX at 9:05am. Now, well… let’s see what’s available. The counter agent was able to offer me standby on the 8:00am flight and confirm me on the 9:30am flight. The 8:00am flight was showing sold out with three people yet to check in. The 9:30 flight wouldn’t arrive until just after 12:30pm and I was planning to leave LAX by 1:30pm in order to catch a flight out of Burbank back up to Portland and Seattle. More on that later, though.

By the time I showed up at the gate for the 8:00 flight, there was just one seat showing not having checked in with one person ahead of me on the waitlist. I came that close to bagging it and heading on down to Anthony’s for a bit of breakfast, but since we were just a couple of minutes away from the 20 minute limit, I decided to wait. Who knows, perhaps someone had checked in online and then overslept as well…

Well it’s a good thing I stuck around because not only did I get on that flight; I bagged a First Class seat as well. Is this my lucky day or what? Breakfast was a plate of mini-quiches – essentially the same as the transcon meal but with the accompanying fruit served on the same plate with the quiches instead of being separately plated. We landed in LA on a gorgeous winter day – you could clearly see the San Bernardino Mountains in the distance – and I caught a shuttle van over to the Embassy Suites South where the convention was being held.

Quiche and Fruit on the SEA-LAX run

The reason for today’s trip down to LA was that I wanted to spend some time at the Southern California Airline Collectibles Convention, put on by a couple of friends of mine from way back in the day when I used to be a vendor at these shows as well. These days I’m merely an attendee but it’s always nice to go back and renew old acquaintances while also having time to browse through the assortment of airline paraphernalia.

Now I realize most FlyerTalkers don’t care about airplanes so much as they do free travel, preferably in premium accommodations, so I won’t go into overt detail about the airline collectibles convention except to say that it’s a big ballroom full of airline paraphernalia – everything from timetables to models to ticket jackets to china table settings to t-shirts to books to pilots wings. Just about anything related to airlines – even emergency exit cards and air sickness bags – can be found and purchased. There are about ten of these conventions per year around the U.S. and a few overseas as well. There are no stuffy, pragmatic business flyers like you occasionally find in the FlyerTalk forums, just a bunch of airplane geeks, many of whom work or have worked in the airline industry, and really like commercial airliners. I had a great time visiting with old friends and looking over some of the offerings. My baggage space is limited, so I ended up purchasing only a couple of old Pan Am menus and some airline issue postcards that I hadn’t yet procured.

I’ve been flying for six straight days, so at this point I really should have taken a few days off, rented a car and sped off into California for a spell. To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking or why I didn’t. Maybe there were no good fares out of LA on later days. In any event, the flying continues with no rest in sight until the 25th when I spend most of the day on a train. In the meantime, the best fare I could get out of the LA area today ended up being out of Burbank to Nashville, allowing me an overnight in Seattle. So, my next challenge was to get cross town from LAX over to Burbank in time for a 5:07pm departure up to Portland.

As ever, I’m not on some two week vacation here, so I’ve got to watch my budget. There are shuttles available from LAX direct to Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport but they run about $30.00 one way and would only save me about 45 minutes over the less expensive option, which involved leaving LAX on the 1:30 Fly Away bus to Union Station ($7.00), then catching Amtrak’s northbound Pacific Surfliner up to the Burbank Airport stop ($7.20). This was accomplished easily with just a half hour layover between bus and train at Union Station. From the Burbank Airport train station, it’s about a 400 yard walk to the terminal or you can call for the free shuttle bus which will quickly come and deliver you and your baggage to the terminal.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner at the Burbank Airport Station

I’d only flown into the Burbank Airport once before, back in 1991 aboard a United 737-500. I didn’t get much of a chance to check out the terminal back then, but my 3:25pm arrival allowed plenty of time to do so this afternoon. The terminal looks pretty old fashioned, which I rather like. We had to walk out onto the tarmac to board the CRJ-700 up to Portland. The 818 mile flight up to Portland was my longest ever in a regional jet, edging out the previous longest flight between Detroit and Jacksonville by 3 miles. The differences between these two flights however were manifest.

The DTW-JAX flight was aboard Northwest AirLink’s ERJ-175, operated by Compass Airlines. There was a First Class cabin and I was sat in one of its big seats on the way down. On the way back I sat in Coach. In both cabins, the seats were spacious and had good recline. By comparison, the seats aboard this ex-Horizon CRJ-700 now operated by Sky West were hard and narrow with minimal recline. There was no First Class cabin. I don’t mind sitting in coach on a two hour flight, but I expect the seat to be a little more comfortable. Those ex-Horizon seats are fine for something like SEA-BOI but I will try to avoid flying aboard AS/SkyWest’s CRJs for anything longer.

Pretty view out my window while enroute to Portland

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 24, 12 at 6:57 pm
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:28 am
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January 22, 2012
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Atlanta 915a – 459p 737-800 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Atlanta – Nashville 840p – 853p DC-9-80 Economy Class

Over the past five consecutive mornings, I have started my day by flying to – in chronological order - Boston, Washington, Nashville, Los Angeles and now Atlanta. Nothing like a little geographical diversity to get the day started. Unfortunately, my seat today will be back behind the curtain as First Class has checked in full. Of course, one of the nicer benefits of elite status with most major airlines is the ability to select a good seat in economy at the time of booking, so even though my lot is back with the great unwashed today, I do have a great seat at the exit row aisle.

One downside to flying today is that I’m going to miss a couple of potentially great football games, those being the AFC and NFC Championship games. I suppose I could follow the play by play off the internet inflight but I should be able to catch the end of the AFC game in Atlanta as well as the end of the NFC game upon arrival in Nashville. And, I do have Super Bowl Sunday off.

I had hoped to meet up with a friend who was flying into Atlanta this afternoon on United. Since United’s flights operate out of the T Concourse, I headed over there to await their flight in Delta’s Sky Club. What a nice facility this is! Well appointed, not too big, not too small – it might just be my favorite ATL Sky Club. As things turned out, I never did connect with my friends as their flight from Chicago was delayed. I did however manage to catch the end of the New England – Baltimore game and was able to watch most of the first half of the NFC game before heading out to my Nashville flight over on the B Concourse.

Sleeping at Nashville International Airport is a breeze in the airport’s Meditation Room. Many airports have facilities like these and in years past I had always avoided sleeping in them because I assumed it wouldn’t be allowed or appropriate. It wasn’t until the airport police recommended them on two or three separate occasions that I’ve started using them more often. Generally, after 1000p I’ve found them to be deserted, except for the odd overnighter like myself. I’m generally up and on my way by 7:30 at the latest and always take care to leave the room looking as if I were never there.

January 23, 2012
Delta Airlines Nashville – Atlanta 1200n – 220p DC-9-50 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Atlanta – Portland 455p – 725p 757-200 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 830p – 923p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

Has anyone ever seen that movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I can’t help but notice the similarities considering that I was in Nashville just three days ago flying these exact same flights. And, in retrospect, there really weren’t any differences worthy of note between that day and today. As such, let’s call it a day and move on to the excitement of navigating Detroit’s city transit system which I’ll do tomorrow as I make my way from Detroit Metro Airport to the Dearborn Amtrak station and thence northward to Pontiac, Michigan for the night.

Pretty sunset seen while flying between Atlanta and Portland

January 24, 2012
Delta Airlines Seattle – Detroit 705a – 236p 737-800 Economy Class
Amtrak Detroit – Pontiac 646p – 745p The Wolverine Economy Class

I set my alarm to go off at 5:45am and this time didn’t sleep through it. Still, since I didn’t get to sleep last night until around midnight, I didn’t exactly awake full of vim and vigor. These mileage runs have me traveling through all of the time zones, often departing at hours that don’t permit me a whole lot of sleep, especially quality sleep such as you’d enjoy in your own bed back home. What I’d give to get a full eight hours of undisturbed sleep…

In any event, it took me a little bit longer to get my act together this morning, so by the time I stepped off the Airport train at SeaTac’s South satellite, there really wasn’t enough time to visit Delta’s Sky Club. Instead, I visited the Runway Grill, located in the central food court. From my recent flights upon Delta, the pictures I’d seen of their BOB breakfast sandwich didn’t look all that appealing, and of course when you consider that the pictures used in advertising usually represent the ideal, and even that still didn’t look good to me, well, I really had no choice but to purchase a breakfast sandwich at the Runway Grill. This was a mistake. Four year olds playing at cooking could have made a better breakfast sandwich than the sorry mess of eggs, cheese, bacon and bread that I was presented.

Flight time to the Motor City was an expeditious three hours and thirty-two minutes, only one minute off from the Captain’s stated prediction. We parked way down at the very end of the now ten year old Edward H. McNamara Terminal (It seems like only yesterday that it opened!) and, for the first time ever, I actually exited the terminal instead of connecting to another flight.

My mission this afternoon was to make my way to the Dearborn Amtrak station ~ as inexpensively as possible. Doing so entailed utilizing Detroit’s SMART bus. I had figured SMART was an acronym for something like Southeastern Michigan Area Rapid Transit but I wasn’t even close with that one. SMART actually stands for Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transit. Huh?!

Getting to the designated airport bus stop was the first challenge. That involved heading over to the Westin Hotel and catching an inter-terminal bus over to the old North Terminal. From that bus stop it was up the escalators to the sky bridge across the road into the terminal building, then down to the main floor, walk about one hundred yards and then take another escalator down to the arrivals level, out the door and down the sidewalk about 70 yards to the SMART bus stop.

Once on board the bus, things went pretty smoothly. I rode the #280 to Middlebelt and Michigan, ever vigilant to make sure I didn’t miss my stop, then caught the #200 down Michigan Ave. to the Henry J. Ford Museum where I alighted and walked another third of a mile along some side street with broken pavement and crumbling sidewalks until I reached the train station. This was not an architecturally stunning train station but rather a small brick building sitting rather forlornly back behind the police station. Still, it’s warm and well lit interior was in stark contrast to the cold, blustery day outside.

The northbound Wolverine arrived at 7:10pm, nearly an hour late. About a dozen of us boarded and without further ado we were off, rolling up to Detroit and beyond to Pontiac at about 60 mph. About fifteen minutes out from Pontiac I called a local taxi company who said they’d have a car there at the station to meet me. When we arrived however, the station was closed, the wind was blowing and there was no cab. It was just me, a stray dog and some drunk guy that teetered up the street and into the parking lot. He bellowed out something unintelligible but otherwise took scant notice of me as he continued on to wherever it was he called home for the night – hopefully somewhere indoors.

My home for the night was a room at McGuire’s Motor Inn, located just about three miles away in Waterford. I’d discovered it while researching accommodations on the internet. Built in 1957, it had been recently renovated and offered a clean, quiet room at just $45.00 per night.

January 25, 2012
Amtrak Pontiac – Chicago 1040a – 416p The Wolverine Business Class
Alaska Airlines Chicago – Seattle 740p – 1020p 737-800 First Class

I love days like this. Here I am waking up in cold, blustery Michigan secure in the knowledge that I’ve got a ticket out of town, heading all the way to the west coast. My day would start with Business Class accommodations aboard Amtrak’s Wolverine. Upon arrival in Chicago, I’ll make my way over to O’Hare where a First Class seat awaits me aboard Alaska’s 7:40pm departure to Seattle. I am and always have been very positively oriented towards traveling west so starting the morning in the east with the promise of being in the west that night is always a good feeling in my book.

Although I’ve ridden portions of Amtrak’s Wolverine before, until today I’ve never ridden the train in its entirety between Pontiac, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. The Wolverine is also the last of Amtrak’s Michigan lines that I’ve not yet ridden. After this, I’ll have just four short lines to ride before I’ve managed to ride every mile of rail in the Amtrak system. Those short lines would be Oklahoma City to Ft. Worth, Chicago to Quincy, Orlando to Tampa and Boston to Portland, Maine.

With my train not departing until 10:40am, I was able to sleep in until 9:00am (6:00am PST), enjoy coffee and conversation with the owners down in the lobby, then catch a taxi back to the Pontiac Transportation Center at 10:00am. Little did I know that the Transportation Center wouldn’t be open until 11:00am. Whaaaat? Why not?! Who knows… Things look pretty tired and run down in Pontiac. Its namesake automobile is no longer in production and the city just seems depressed. The unemployment rate is just over 25%. It’s really quite sad to see this in any place, large or small. The cold, gray day only served to emphasize the fact that Pontiac is going through hard times. I hope the city rebounds nicely someday soon.

Since Pontiac is the end of the line, our train was parked for the night just a hundred yards or so up from the Transportation Center. The five of us huddled outside watched as the engineers did a walk around inspection, then climbed up into the locomotive. The lights came on, the horn blew a few times and then the bells started clanging as the train slowly began to approach the station.

Amtrak’s Wolverine pulls into Pontiac Station

Today’s consist was fairly typical for the Wolverine: Four Horizon Coaches and one Amfleet Café Car were braced by a pair of GE P42 “Genesis” locomotives – one on each end. The Business Class section is located in the rear third of the Café Car. It comprises 18 seats configured in six rows of 1-2. On the other end of the Café Car is the lounge/dining area – four rows of buffet style tables and seating. Plugs are available at each seat in the lounge, so for those like me who like a table to type upon, this worked out just fine. It should be noted that seat side plugs are also available throughout the train in all classes. Wireless Internet is not available.

Business Class on Amtrak’s Wolverine

We pulled out of Pontiac right on time, as punctual as a Swiss watch. Unfortunately, no service from the café would be available until after we’d left Detroit because that’s where the crew who manned the café would board. Once past Detroit though, we had full service until about half an hour out of Chicago.

I must say I quite like the convenience of simply getting up from your seat and walking twenty feet to the café. It’s especially nice not having to carry hot coffee back to your seat through two or three cars while rockin’ and rollin’ down the tracks. I purchased a breakfast sandwich and took full advantage of the free coffee and newspapers offered to Business Class travelers. Taking a table in the lounge, I put in some work on this report while glancing occasionally at the wintertime scenery of southern Michigan which was not particularly dramatic or memorable. Later, I got caught up in a rousing debate in the café car over the relative strengths and weaknesses of this year’s Superbowl contenders that eventually spilled over to include the Bears and the Lions.

A little bit of research prior to departing on this trip had me well prepared to get from Chicago’s Union Station to O’Hare Airport for the least amount of expenditure. First, take the Clinton Street exit from the Great Hall, then walk down about a block and a half to the Blue Line MTA station. Hop on the train marked O’Hare Airport. It was that simple. The journey took about 45 minutes and cost $2.25. A taxi would run about $30.00 and might take longer depending upon traffic.

This evening’s flight from Chicago to Seattle will be my first “Mid-Con” flight of the trip. I’ve been looking forward to it because it will feature Alaska’s new upgraded catering in First Class. Over the past few years Alaska has really cut back on the quantity and quality of its First Class catering to the point where often the better and more filling meal option on these Mid-con flights was back in Economy. Case in point was the last time I flew ORD-SEA this past autumn. On the four hour dinner time departure to Seattle, First Class was served a small bowl of penne pasta with cheese accompanied by a small side salad and a wrapped piece of chocolate. Back in Coach they had the option to purchase a delicious Beef Fajita Skillet consisting of beef, green peppers, onions, rice, salsa and a couple of tortillas for just $6.00. A few of us wrote to Alaska Airlines, many more complained at Flyer Talk’s Alaska Forum and eventually Alaska management responded with an upgraded meal service for Mid-con dinner flights. Luncheon and breakfast flights will not be affected.

The service commenced about thirty minutes into the flight with a round of cocktails and mixed nuts. Jack Daniels on the rocks, please. Make it a double. When dinner was served, it was presented all at once on a single tray containing the salad and the main course. There are no entrée choices on Alaska’s Mid-cons, but I thought both the meal and the presentation were quite good. The salad was presented in a separate bowl and included shredded carrots and cherry tomatoes. The main course was a seasoned chicken breast of medium size accompanied by a nice portion of lentils and a couple of baby carrots. The chicken was nicely cooked and the lentils were flavorful. I was impressed. Dessert was a pair of cookies, freshly baked onboard. They were served about an hour out of Seattle. The aroma permeating the cabin must have been tortuous for those sat in Coach who wouldn’t get to have any of them. Overall I think Alaska’s made a very nice improvement here and I look forward to seconds when I once again fly this route in a couple of days.

Alaska’s Mid-Con dinner service between Chicago and Seattle

January 26, 2012
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Oakland 610a – 810a 737-800 First Class
SkyWest Airlines Oakland – Los Angeles 949a – 1115a CRJ-200 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Los Angeles – Atlanta 1215p – 733p 767-300 Economy Class
Delta Airlines Atlanta – Chicago 945p – 1100p DC-9-50 Economy Class

From my experience it’s pretty rare that an MVP Gold 75K – the highest elite level at Alaska – doesn’t get upgraded into First Class on a flight up or down the west coast. Indeed, I’ve flown LAX-SEA on more than a couple of occasions with empty seats next to me in First Class. Not today, though. I took my seat on the exit row window and proceeded to sleep through most of the hour and a half long flight down to Oakland.

My original plans for today would have had me visiting friends in Indiana. As things turned out however, I had an opportunity to sell off some of my airline postcards at a location that was very affordable to get to from Chicago. That location was at the Oakland Airport, through a gentleman I know who lives just down the road in San Leandro. He’d contacted me representing another buyer and I made arrangements to have the cards in question – all of my Russian and ex-Russian satellite countries – close to 900 cards – sent down from Fairbanks with the understanding that if the buyer approved, I’d cover the cost of that shipment. If he decided against purchasing the cards, he’d reimburse me the cost to ship them back to Alaska. Normally I would not want to sell off any part of my collection piecemeal, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Russian jetliners or airlines, even though I’ve maintained most all of the latest cards published through the years. To make a long story short, I departed the Oakland Airport $800.00 richer. Although I’d actually paid more than that for the cards, pages and books they were displayed in, it was an amenable deal for both sides, especially since it would be extremely unlikely that I’d have another offer for just my Russian cards in my lifetime.

Right, then, back through security and on to Los Angeles aboard SkyWest’s CRJ-200. Thankfully it was a quick flight as seating is tight aboard SkyWest’s CRJs. During the layover I had just enough time to visit the Sky Club, print off a couple of documents, and head on down to gate 57 where an exit row seat aboard Delta’s midday 767 to Atlanta awaited.

Ahh… much nicer. Coach ain’t bad if you’ve got some decent legroom. These exit row seats on Delta’s 763s are just about as nice as it gets behind the curtain with the exception of row 17 on American’s 763s. Those American seats are wider and have greater recline in addition to extra legroom. American designates them as crew rest seats on their international flights, but on most domestic operations they’ll put them up for assignment to the coach roaches.

I’m pretty sure I ordered something off the Buy On Board menu, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was. I do however remember that while on layover in Atlanta I stopped by a Manchu Wok or some such place and ordered this delicious combo of Mango Chicken and something else doused in hot pepper sauce. Man, was that ever good! Then it was off to the Sky Club for a drink.

Chicago lies 610 miles north northwest of Atlanta and back in 1974 was the beneficiary of nonstop 747 service on Delta. Can you imagine boarding a plane that large for such a short domestic flight today? Tonight, I stepped aboard my 35 year old DC-9-50, settled into my comfortable and spacious exit row aisle seat and relaxed all the way to Chicago in just one hour and twenty-one minutes.

I have a friend up in nearby Deerfield but he lives in a house that he and his temperamental and occasionally tempestuous brother inherited when their father died. Given the late arrival time of my flight (11:00pm), I thought it best to get a hotel for the night. Travelocity has these Secret Hotel deals that I’ve used a few times with good results. Tonight was no different as I scored a room at the Holiday Inn O’Hare for just 51.00 all in.

January 27, 2012
Alaska Airlines Chicago – Seattle 335p – 608p 737-800 First Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – San Francisco 845p – 1054p 737-800 First Class

What a leisurely day! I slept in until almost 10:00am Chicago time, then enjoyed a nice long shower. At about noon I met my friend from Deerfield for lunch. We went to Harry Caray’s Restaurant in nearby Rosemont where we dined on 10oz Holy Cow burgers washed down with copious quantities of good, cold locally produced Goose Island Ale. Seriously, that Holy Cow burger is one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten – right up there with this big burger with the lot that I got at this little stand out in Quindallup, Australia. The Aussies definitely know how to make a good burger and as such, should any of you Aussies be in Chicago, I think you’ll appreciate both the beer and the burgers at Harry’s.

Bust of Harry Caray at his restaurant

Back to the airport and on to Alaska’s 3:35pm departure to Seattle where I enjoyed another serving of chicken, lentil and carrots along the way. Interestingly, there was a prayer card on my meal tray tonight after I’d just received an email from Alaska Airlines stating that this 30 year tradition would now come to an end. I was never raised with any religion and so tend to lean towards spirituality more so than organized religion. Still, it’s been interesting to watch the rather heated debate on this over at FlyerTalk’s Alaska Airlines Forum. Personally, I could care less if Alaska wants to put prayer cards on their meal trays. I mean, it’s not like the flight attendants are making us all stop before the meal so that they can say grace over the P.A. before we’re allowed to eat. Some people are saying that so long as Alaska places those little prayer cards on the meal trays, they will refuse to fly Alaska. It would seem that for some the religious right is taking over America via these passive prayer cards on Alaska’s meal trays. Man oh man, it just seems like there are bigger fish to fry out there… at least for some heathen like me. Now if the Religious Right ever acts up and truly does get in my face, then I’ll be singing a different, much more reactionary and proactive tune, but for now, it’s all cool.

By the way, this flight between Chicago and Seattle represents the 300,000th mile I’ve flown aboard a 737-800. My all-time leader (so far…) is Boeing’s once ubiquitous 727-200 upon which I’ve logged 713 flights totaling 474,240 miles. Still, to have logged over 300000 miles aboard the -800 in just ten years is fairly impressive if I do say so me self.
Following a short layover in Seattle, it was on to San Francisco, 678 air miles to the south. I was a bit disappointed to see ship 549 doing the honors as I’ve now flown this plane 13 times for 19680 miles. While it’s a perfectly good aircraft, I’m looking for ships 564, 566 and 594 in addition to all the newer ones numbered in the 530s. And, being as I’m coming right back up to Seattle on the 7:00am departure tomorrow morning, I should imagine it’s quite likely I’ll see ship 549 operating that flight as well. Sigh… The things we airplane geeks gotta put up with…

Upon arrival at San Francisco International, I was thankful that the authorities there allow properly documented passengers who are flying out the next morning to stay overnight on the airside of the airport. This is great in two ways. One – it’s a lot quieter on the airside as you don’t have to listen to those endless security announcements all night, and two – you don’t have to go through security in the morning. I found a nice dark corner of an unused departure lounge to crash in and slept comfortably through the night.

January 28, 2012
Alaska Airlines San Francisco – Seattle 700a – 903a 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 1100a – 1147a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 1230p – 120p DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Orange County 230p – 507p 737-700 First Class
Alaska Airlines Orange County – Seattle 555p – 842p 737-700 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 1100p – 1147p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

You know, I’ve really been looking forward to this day. I don’t know why, exactly, because all I’m doing is just flying up and down and up the west coast, punctuated by short hooks down to Portland. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I get to get on and off so many airplanes instead of be stuck in a single plane for a long transcon flight. In between flights I can hang out in lounges, visit a good airport restaurant or two and visit with a couple of friends who are themselves in the midst of a shorter mileage run (two roundtrips between Charlotte and LA). Honestly though, I like getting on and off a lot of planes during the day. I’ve done it often, and often to extremes. For example, one day, while flying about on Eastern Airline’s Unlimited Mileage fare, I flew the following routing over 24 hours: TPA-ATL-EWR-IAH-CLT-PIT-ATL-STL-PDX. Only the ATL-PDX flight offered same plane service via STL. Everything else was a connection to a different aircraft.

Breakfast on this one hour and thirty-eight minute flight up to Seattle consisted of a bowl of granola topped with sliced strawberries and accompanied by a small carton of milk. I thought it was alright until I could smell the nice hot skillets of waffles and scrambled eggs being doled out in steerage for the bargain basement price of just $6.00. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we be getting served the hot breakfasts up in First Class with the cold breakfasts being offered for sale back in Coach?

Alaska’s Granola Breakfast

Arriving in Seattle right on time at 9:03am, I had to hang around until 11:00 before I could return to the skies aboard a pair of Horizon Dash 8s down to Portland and back. Then it was off to the Boardroom where I had a nice rendezvous with my friends from Indiana who had flown in from Charlotte and Atlanta. Their flight to Los Angeles wasn’t until later in the afternoon while my flight to Orange County was just forty minutes from boarding. Still, it was good to see them if only briefly and hopefully our paths will cross later this spring before we return to work in Alaska.

Rainbow over the Alaska ramp at PDX

On the flight down to Orange County I was served one of Alaska’s ubiquitous turkey sandwiches accompanied by the small side salad. More than any other meal I can think of, this one has been a standard on Alaska Airlines for a few years now. Still, for a flight of this length, I think it’s a pretty darned good meal, especially since I’d been expecting something along the lines of the cheese plate for this 2:30 departure.

The ever popular turkey sandwich

It was 81° as we stepped off the plane at SNA. I hadn’t been in temperatures this warm since last July, and indeed only yesterday was dealing with a wind chill in the 20s while in Chicago. It would have been nice to have gone outside the terminal building to enjoy the nice day during my layover but I didn’t want to deal with security again so instead I visited the United Club, located just three gates down from my gate. I was the only patron on this Saturday afternoon and since I’d had a beer on the way down and desired only a glass of water for this visit, the bartender was left to literally pace the seating area in front of his bar due to the lack of patronage. Only… three… more… hours… until… closing..!

The United Club at SNA

After that nice sandwich on the flight down from Seattle, I was curious what would be offered for “dinner” on the 5:55pm departure back to Seattle. Something equally filling or… Oh no! It’s the Macaroni and Cheese! Truth be known, it’s not actually macaroni noodles but rather penne pasta. Aside from that, it is what it is – a simple bowl of pasta with melted cheese and something crunchy on top. As pasta and cheese goes, it tastes okay but honestly, it’s not a very First Class offering. I mean, the way First Class is marketed, with flowery descriptions of enhanced dining, a small bowl of pasta and cheese is not what comes to mind. Maybe a Chef’s Salad or even a hamburger. When you consider the cost of bulk pasta and cheese, I doubt if a portion of this meal costs Alaska Airlines even 50 cents. I shouldn’t imagine Alaska Airlines or its employees will ever reference the “Macaroni & Cheese” meal when describing highlights of their First Class service.

On the other hand, Alaska was offering a pretty good deal to its Economy Class passengers in the form of a hot “Philly Cheese Steak” sandwich for just $6.00. Served on a 6” roll, this sandwich offered lots more flavor than the macaroni dish. Thankfully First Class passengers may request the Economy Class meal and if there are any left over, they will be offered to First Class patrons at no cost. I took advantage of this and enjoyed a nicer dinner as a result.

Perhaps it was the sandwich that sparked a comment from my seatmate, but from that grew a conversation between us that lasted the remainder of the flight. Seatmate claimed that he usually never talks to anyone on flights, but he was a pretty talkative guy nonetheless. I also enjoyed chatting with him. Sometimes you just hit it off and conversation flows. Most of the time on airplanes however, aside from a perfunctory greeting, I don’t get involved in much conversation either. It’s interesting because it’s not like I’m particularly taciturn but I do think that for many people, especially business professionals who’ve perhaps been dealing with people all day, airplanes are one of the few places where they can finally enjoy some peace and quiet. Additionally, there are those who fear that they’re going to get the hyper-talkative seatmate and so avoid getting into any conversation whatsoever. Either way, I’m fine with it and I suppose if I had a preference, I rather like it on the quiet side. A bit of conversation, okay, but not the whole flight. But each situation unfolds differently and as things turned out tonight, I think we both enjoyed talking the flight away.

The last time I flew upon the Horizon Dash 8 (N439QX) operating this evening’s flight down to Portland, it was painted bright green to better promote Horizon’s Comfortably Greener initiative utilizing the Dash 8-400s. These propjets burn 30 to 40 percent less fuel and produce 30 to 40 percent less carbon emissions than comparable jet aircraft, making them comfortably greener and thus likely to be more popular with all those environmentally conscious folks who live in the Pacific Northwest. It also helps that the planes seat 76 passengers in a much more spacious environment than that offered by the competition which is flying tiny little Embraer EMB.120 Brasilias. In any event, ship 439 and its sister ship 438 have both been repainted with the current corporate logo featuring the eskimo on the tail and the fuselage titling “Alaska Horizon”. Either way, it’s a good looking airplane.

January 29, 2012
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 930p – 1020p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

Finally, a day off from flying! I have been in at least one airplane every single day since January 16th. Just being able to sleep in will be nice. Of course, you can never sleep in too long in an airport, what with all the hustle and bustle that starts early in the morning, but if you pick your spots wisely, you can avoid most of the noise until later. I managed to sleep well until 7:30am.

By 9:00am I’d picked up a rental car to whisk me more efficiently around Portland. The weekend rate of just $15.78 for a full sized car was more than amenable to me and I managed to complete a myriad of small tasks, including laundry and finding some great used CDs over at Music Millennium on Burnside. Later that evening, I met up with fellow FlyerTalker and Portland Do organizer extraordinaire opushomes and his lovely wife who treated me to a delicious barbecued dinner at Famous Dave’s BBQ located in the nearby Cascade Mall. I look forward to returning the good times in kind on a future visit through Portland.

Although I was booked on a 5:30am flight to Seattle tomorrow morning, thence to connect to an 8:57am flight to Boston, Alaska was kind enough to let me fly up to Seattle tonight on the 9:30pm departure. This was really great because now, instead of having to get up at 4:45am, I could sleep in and arise at 7:00. Swwweet!

January 30, 2012
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Boston 857a – 520p 737-800 First Class
Alaska Airlines Boston – Seattle 620p – 938p 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 1100p – 1147p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

Following a quick shower over at Delta’s Sky Club, I caught three trains from the South Satellite over to the C Concourse, emerging from the escalator just sixty feet from where my flight to Boston was boarding. I stopped to pick up a couple of newspapers and a copy of The Economist before striding down the jetway and settling into my seat at 2D.

Today’s itinerary calls for me to fly 2,490 miles across the country to Boston, have a drink in the nearby Sky Club, then reboard the exact same plane and fly all the way back to Seattle where yet another flight awaits me down to Portland. If anybody asks why, I’ll just say I forgot my toothbrush. And here’s the really weird part ~ tomorrow I’ll be doing it all over again! Thanks to Alaska’s $100.00 one way fares being offered between Portland and Boston back in December, I can afford to do this. I particularly like the idea of being able to return “home” to the west coast each night, even though it means I’ll have to be up at 4:45am tomorrow.

Up in First Class the festivities commenced with a glass of water, followed by the presentation of menu cards. Some of you may remember that the choices this month are a pair of mini-quiches or something called a Caramelized Onion Strata. It’s high time I discovered what exactly that is.

Following coffee, orange juice and a delicious serving of assorted melon, pineapple and berries, I was presented a plate bearing a large wedge of egg and onion pie accompanied by three pieces of asparagus and a couple links of chicken sausage. On appearance alone this plate looked much better than the mini-quiches which were accompanied by a single lonely wedge of tomato, sitting forlornly off to the side of the plate. Truth be known, I’ve always thought the mini-quiches tasted alright but they really ought to have a proper accompaniment, perhaps some roasted potatoes or even a few stalks of asparagus. As for the onion strata, it was delicious, as was the chicken sausage.

Caramelized Onion Strata

On the flight back to Seattle I opted for the chicken breast over the pork shank and was rewarded with a piece of chicken cooked just about as nicely as it could possibly be regardless of where the oven was located. The meat was actually moist and juicy which is saying a lot for airline chicken. I spent the remainder of the flight nursing a couple glasses of Jack Daniels while putting in some work on this trip report. I’m still about four days behind but being the diligent and dedicated reporter that I am, I won’t let it get too far behind.

The Dash 8 operating my flight down to Portland this evening was ship 425, the 25 Year Celebration airplane. As celebratory liveries go, this one is, I think, one of the better ones.

Horizon’s 25th Anniversary Livery

January 31, 2012
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 530a – 620a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Boston 857a – 520p 737-800 First Class
Alaska Airlines Boston – Seattle 620p – 938p 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 1100p – 1147p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

For best results, rinse and repeat.

That’s right, this is pretty much the exact same itinerary as yesterday with the only real difference being that this time I had the pork shank for dinner.

Actually, there was one amusing moment when I boarded the flight. We had the same crew working it who’d flown with me on the eastbound flight yesterday. They thought it was pretty impressive that I’d flown out to Boston with them yesterday and was now flying back to Seattle so soon. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell them that since yesterday afternoon, when their day had ended in Boston, I had flown all the way back to Seattle, then down to Portland, slept four and a half hours, and then flown back up to Seattle and all the way back to Boston whence I now stood before them ready to fly back to Seattle again, and then onwards to Portland. And then tomorrow…

Last edited by Seat 2A; May 3, 14 at 8:58 am
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 24, 12, 1:34 am
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February 1, 2012
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 730a – 820a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Orange County 1010a – 1250p 737-700 First Class
Alaska Airlines Orange County – Seattle 340p – 629p 737-700 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 830p – 920p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

Finally! Finally Horizon’s Dash 8 N401QX gets assigned to one of my flights. Why should that be even remotely remarkable, you ask? Well if you were to look at a fleet list of Horizon Dash 8s listed N400QX through N429QX, there are only two that I’ve not yet flown upon – 401 and 412. Those two have stuck out like missing front teeth over the years, but as of this morning that situation is 50% improved.

After all the flying I’ve done over the past two days, it’ll sure be nice to have a shorter day. I’m tellin’ ya, two days of those marathon roundtrip runs to Boston and back really wear on me. Even though I’m essentially sitting on my butt all day, those long transcon nonstops feel a lot harder than taking three or four shorter flights across the country. It really makes a difference to be able to get up and walk around once in a while. Two or three connections along the way accomplish that quite nicely but on a nonstop flight, the trick for me at least is to get an aisle seat so I can get up every now and then for a good stretch. Today thankfully that won’t be an issue with flight time down to Orange County at just a little over two hours in each direction.

Since I’ve already flown all of Alaska’s 737-700s, which one I fly upon next isn’t of much concern so I guess all I have to worry about is what’s for breakfast. Or is it a snack? Had I gotten to the gate area a bit earlier, I would have purchased a bowl of fried rice and chicken from Waji’s, the great Asian food concession located just down the hall from the end of the C Concourse where Alaska’s gates C9-C20 are clustered. As it was, I didn’t arrive until just twenty minutes out when they were calling last call, so on to the plane sped I.

Although Seattle may have been shrouded in the gloom of low cloud cover and intermittent rain, up above the clouds it was a beautiful sunny day. Most everyone kept their window shades up as we climbed to 37000 feet for the 980 mile journey down to Orange County. Thirty years ago I remember flying into Santa Ana, California, airport code SNA. Somewhere along the line it became known as Orange County, perhaps when the airport was named in honor of John Wayne.

It was almost 11:00am by the time the inflight service commenced. It was too late for breakfast yet too early for lunch. The result was the fruit and cheese plate that tasted fine but could have used more crackers. Each plate came with a single packet of two crackers. Once plates were cleared, I spent the remainder of the flight chatting with seatmate, an electrical engineer from Seattle with a passion for backpacking. I’ve done a lot of long trips through the Sierras and the Cascades, so we had a lot to talk about, not to mention a few pictures to share.

The Cheese Plate on Alaska’s SEA-SNA flight

The flight crew warned us that the descent into SNA would be quite choppy due to warm Santa Ana winds combined with the cooler air above. They weren’t wrong! We were tossed about the flight path quite vigorously while descending through clear, sunny skies. From her jump seat, the flight attendant did her best to calm everyone with tales of even rougher turbulence encountered this past month on flights to and from Anchorage.

During my layover I bought an overpriced Southwest Salad from McDonald’s that cost about $1.50 more than they charge at their restaurants outside the airport. I really wish that more airports would ensure that their concessionaires would not be allowed to gouge the travelling public who are, essentially, a captive audience. Of course, it would also help if airports charged reasonable rent to those concessionaires as well.

The flight back up to Seattle featured the tried and true chicken or turkey sandwich. I never can tell which it is exactly, but it was a good and filling option for this two hour and twenty minute mid-afternoon departure. The short flight down to Portland was noteworthy only for its ten second takeoff roll. Very impressive!

February 2, 2012
Alaska Airlines Portland – Boston 727a – 341p 737-800 First Class
Alaska Airlines Boston – Portland 445p – 810p 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 930p – 1020p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

Another day, and another five hour flight across the country to Boston. Today however will be a bit nicer in that I’m taking the nonstop direct from Portland instead of connecting through Seattle. This will allow me a later departure time and thus a couple more hours of sleep. Additionally, it’s now February and so there will be new breakfast and dinner entrées to look forward to. Let’s start with breakfast:



Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Scrambled Eggs with German Potato Cake
Accompanied by Turkey Canadian Bacon and Asparagus


Orange Pecan French Toast
Presented with Scrambled Eggs and Chicken Apple Sausage

Warm Fresh Pastries

I’ve had Alaska’s French Toast entrée on numerous occasions, both in First Class and in Coach. I think it is an excellent entrée by any domestic airline’s standard. However, given my desire to check out any and all of Alaska’s new dishes, I opted instead for the scrambled eggs with the German potato cake. I was not disappointed. The potato cake was of good size and nicely flavored with whatever makes it “German”. I added salt and pepper. I will never disparage a side of asparagus, but the Canadian Bacon was, alas, a bit of a disappointment. It was cut fairly thin and I’ve yet to see an aircraft oven that can heat it up and still leave it moist and pliable. Today’s version was tough and rugged. I practically had to gnaw hard and snap my head back to get it down.

My short one hour layover in Boston allowed me just enough time to enjoy a couple glasses of Woodford Reserve at the Sky Club bar before heading back downstairs to re-board Alaska 35 back to Portland. The flight was fairly full tonight but despite my being the second to last person to board, there was plenty of space in the overhead storage bins up in First Class.

Here is the dinner menu from the return flight:


Appetizer Salad

Chicken Roulade with Frisée Salad

Herb Chicken Breast with Red Pepper Sauce
Presented with Beluga Lentils and Baby Carrots


Seared Pork Medallions with Mustard Sauce
Served with Mashed Potatoes and Garlic Green Beans

Warm Dinner Roll

Mini Apple Pie with Whipped Cream

I was immediately impressed with the Chicken Roulade appetizer. For starters, it actually looked appetizing and, with the nice selection of salad greens that accompanied it, tasted quite good as well. I liked it much more than last month’s “Poor Peasant’s Special” of sliced tomatoes and cheese.

My entrée selection was the Seared Pork Medallions with Mustard Sauce. Although I didn’t detect much (if any) mustard flavor in the sauce, the meat itself was moist and tender. Interestingly, the other entrée was rotated out of last month’s mid-con dinner offerings. It’s a good selection as well with a nicely flavored chicken breast accompanied by lentils and carrots. Not many airlines offer lentils to their passengers. Dessert was a delicious baked apple pie. I would call it closer to a tart, but I especially liked the slivered almonds on top and the flaky crust. This “pie” rates as one of the best desserts I’ve ever had on Alaska Airlines.

Chicken Roulade with Frisée Salad

Seared Pork Medallions with Mustard Sauce

Mini Apple Pie with Whipped Cream

Thankfully the winds that bedeviled us just three days earlier had either diminished or moved out of our flight path. The result was a relatively expeditious westbound crossing and an early arrival in Portland.

My 9:30pm flight up to Seattle was operated by the exact same aircraft that flew me down to Portland last night. There are 48 Dash 8s in Horizon’s fleet, so what’re the odds of getting that exact same aircraft two days in a row on the same route? Go figure…

February 3, 2012
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Denver 735a – 1114a 737-900 Economy Class

I’d been watching the weather reports since yesterday and knew that a major winter storm was moving into Colorado. Even so, I set my alarm clock for 6:15am in anticipation of an on-time departure. It was unlikely to happen, but still… until the delay’s officially posted…

Anyway, at 6:15 my alarm went off and by 6:30am I was repacked and ready to go. Breaking camp for me involves refolding my blanket, taking the batteries out of my alarm clock and repackaging it in its zip-lock baggie with its batteries, repacking my alarm clock, blanket, pillow, headlamp and eyeshades into my single carry-on bag, and disposing of any empty water bottles. Next I've got to deflate my Thermarest Pad and then tightly roll it up and slip it into its carry bag. Then it’s off to a bathroom down in the baggage claim area to change and clean up for the day.

The departures board indicated that Alaska 676 to Denver was delayed and that a new departure would be announced at 8:00am. Since the departure gate was N-3, I headed over to the United Club for cold cereal and coffee. While on the internet, I pulled up the forecast for Denver:

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect in many areas of Colorado. Blizzard conditions and heavy snow east of Denver with snow accumulations possible of 12"-24". High winds are likely. Denver/Front Range area will see continued snow Friday, accumulations vary depending on location.
Reported Time: February 3rd, 2012 at 8:21 AM

Checking back with Alaska, I saw that a new departure time would now be announced at 8:30am. At this point we were only an hour late and I’d still have plenty of time to drive 200 miles down to Alamosa. I should mention that the primary purpose of this trip down to Colorado was to ride aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railway’s “Taste of San Luis” special train that would be running from Alamosa over La Veta Pass and back. During the six hour journey, we’d be wined and dined by local chefs from the San Luis Valley whilst sat under the glass aboard an ex-Santa Fe Super Dome. This was my kind of train ride, so I was hoping to catch a slight break in the weather.

At about 8:20, despite not having heard anything new on the departure time and still operating based upon an 8:30am weather advisory regarding our departure, I decided to saunter on up to the gate and see how things were looking. I arrived to find an empty gate lounge and a couple of gate agents ready to give away my seat! Whew! There are of course no announcements for Alaska flights in United’s lounge, so it was a good thing I chose to head up a bit early or I’d have been standing by on the 12:55pm departure to Denver.

The flight to Denver was uneventful, but the drive down to Alamosa did have its moments of intrigue as I negotiated icy roads and the occasional off road accidents – mostly four wheel drive vehicles driven by people who’d probably been driving too fast for the conditions. When conditions and particularly traction are less than ideal, s l o w d o w n and leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the next one ahead. To me this is just common sense but unfortunately there are plenty of less than intelligent people out there who think a 4 wheel drive is a license to fly regardless of the conditions.

South of Colorado Springs, conditions improved to clean, dry pavement all the way down to Walsenburg. Heading west from there over the Sangre de Cristos brought more snow and a chain law for CMVs. Thankfully my Chevy Malibu was equipped with decent tires – I know, I checked before driving in out of the lot in Denver – so I had no problem getting up and over La Veta Pass. My pre-trip inspection was unable to check for whatever it was that was caused the check engine light to go on while I was descending the west side of the pass. Everything was running fine, but still… the car only had 12,900 miles on it, so why a check engine light would come on was a bit mystifying. I pulled over in Fort Garland and gave Alamo’s Denver office a call, if only to advise them of the incident so I wouldn’t be charged with damaging the car if I drove on. The girl I talked to figured the car must be in need of an oil change or something and wasn’t the least bit concerned. I was reminded of the Cheech and Chong skit where Cheech can’t start the car and Chong says “Did you check the air in the tires, man?” I did manage to get her to at least put a notation in my rental record that I’d called and advised them of it. Then off I drove to Monte Vista, Colorado where I’d found a classic old 12 room log cabin motel for substantially less than what was being charged in Alamosa for the night.

My room at the Rio Grande Motel

This room must be popular with hunters and fishermen

February 4, 2012
Rio Grande Scenic Railroad Alamosa – La Veta 1000a – 500p “Taste of San Luis”

Anyone who peruses their weather page and takes note of where the coldest temperature in the nation was recorded might know of Alamosa, Colorado which occasionally garners that honor. Last night was not all that cold – only about 7°F, but when I went out to start the car this morning, it made some halfhearted starting sounds and then went back to bed, never to start again - that is until the tow truck arrived about two hours later and the car had warmed up a bit while sitting in the sun. Meanwhile, I’d missed my train though thankfully the railroad was kind enough to refund my money after hearing of my travails.

Not the way you want to “drive” your rental car

The “Taste of the San Luis” was a once a year excursion train, so it wasn’t like I could stick around and try again tomorrow. Instead, I rode up to Colorado Springs with the tow truck driver, picked up a replacement Chevy Malibu (with only 3700 miles on it) - and headed on up to my sister’s place up by the Wyoming border. There I drank cold Guinness Stouts with my brother in law and the next day enjoyed the Super Bowl with a few more assorted guests who showed up to watch.

By the way, I should mention that Alamo was simply excellent with their response to my situation. They called a tow truck out of nearby Alamosa and checked back often to advise me of what they’d done and then to check back and see that the tow truck had actually arrived. It sucks to have your rental car break down, but Alamo really impressed me with their overall response.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 24, 12 at 1:33 pm
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:36 am
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February 7, 2012
Delta Airlines Denver – Memphis 300p – 610p CRJ-900 Economy Class
Delta Connection Memphis – Oklahoma City 730p – 904p CRJ-200 Economy Class

On the night before my departure from Denver, I stayed up in Evergreen with some old friends who I used to live with back in the eighties. The storm that had deposited 15” on Denver this past weekend dumped 36” up in Evergreen. It snowed four more inches during the night while I was there, making the drive back down to DIA a tad dodgier than I would have liked.

When I showed up at the gate to board the CRJ-900 to Memphis, I noted the sign indicating that First Class had checked in full. Right – on to the airplane then. Not so fast, said the gate agent. There were still two people who hadn’t shown up yet, so if I were willing to hang out a bit longer, I might snag an upgrade. I waited about ten minutes while she paged them three or four times. Things were starting to look good until first one and then finally the other showed up, leaving me to trudge back to my exit row seat at row 13.

In Memphis, we parked right across from my favorite Memphis eatery – Dave Neely’s Interstate Barbecue – the finest barbecue I have ever eaten! I wasted no time in ordering a hot pork sandwich with a side of barbecue sauce and coleslaw, washed down with an ice cold Sam Adams. Life is good!

The short flight over to Oklahoma City brought back memories of the last time I flew this route. It was October 1977 and I was seated in Coach aboard a two-tone green Braniff 727-100. We were served a hot chicken dinner on that flight, after which I connected in OKC to a two tone red 727-200 down to DFW. Back in those days, it was rare not to get a meal on a flight.

The purpose of this trip to Oklahoma City is to ride Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer on its 212 mile journey down to Dallas. That train leaves Oklahoma City tomorrow morning at 8:25am, so I needed to find the most economical and efficient way to get downtown from the airport in the morning. A check of the internet revealed that Oklahoma City’s municipal bus does service the airport, but unfortunately the first bus wouldn’t depart for downtown until almost 8:00am. So much for the least expensive option.

Upon arrival at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers International Airport, I headed downstairs to baggage claim where I located an information booth and inquired as to the least expensive options to get me downtown. Amazingly, the guy working there suggested I go outside and inquire individually of each taxi driver. When I asked about shuttles into town, he indicated that there were a couple, but he was unable to elucidate any farther. Really, it seemed almost like a new concept to him that anyone flying into OKC would want to go into town on anything other than a horse or a wagon. I thanked him for his time and went over to an electronic information kiosk that listed two shuttle companies serving the airport. Calls were made and soon I’d arranged for a 7:15am pick-up the next morning. Total cost: $16.00.

Now, if I can just find a nice quiet place to sleep. This I accomplished just outside the now closed Delta Baggage Service office. It was nice and quiet until about 4:30am when most every TSA agent on duty arrived and entered into their offices or locker room accessed through a door just twenty feet away. Thankfully, the majority of them seemed to have arrived by 5:00am and I was able to knock off another hour and a half of decent sleep.

February 8, 2012
Amtrak Oklahoma City – Ft. Worth 825a – 1239p Heartland Flyer Economy Class

Oklahoma City's Amtrak station is the old Santa Fe Depot. It’s located downtown right across the street from the city’s historic and now trendy Bricktown district. In fact, the same developer who spruced up the Bricktown district now owns the old Santa Fe Depot. Architecturally, the station is considered to be Art Deco, but while that may be true inside, I did not find the exterior to be overly attractive.

Oklahoma City’s Santa Fe Depot

The interior has been renovated revealing a nice frescoed ceiling and a couple of nice chandeliers. Otherwise, this station offers only a stark waiting room with hard backed wooden railway pews to sit on. There are no restaurants or other concessions in the station, but there is a well-stocked brochure rack at one end of the waiting room. I picked up a train timetable and began to daydream.

The “Great Hall” at Oklahoma City’s Station

A Southwest Themed Chandelier

Amtrak's Heartland Flyer is the only train serving Oklahoma City. It provides one round-trip from Oklahoma City down to Fort Worth, Texas and back each day. Boarding for the forty or so of us gathered began at about 8:00am. The Heartland Flyer uses Amtrak’s bi-level Superliner equipment, and since Superliner cars are normally used on long distance services and so offer more spacious seating with deeper recline, this translates into a very comfortable ride for the four hour journey down to Ft. Worth.

Train time at OKC

Spacious seating and OKC’s Bricktown District in the background

Today’s train consisted of four coaches, one of which had a downstairs snack bar. I hesitate to call it a lounge because there was really nowhere to sit. You pretty much go down and order, then return to your seat. $6.00 scored me a coffee and a decent breakfast sandwich. Back at my seat a 120 volt outlet provided electrical power to my laptop. W.E.B. Griffin’s latest provided plenty of entertainment in between. The scenery was not particularly inspiring, but then it was a cloudy day in the dead of winter. There was one stretch about midway into the trip where rolling hills became a shallow but attractive river canyon that I should imagine would be much prettier under the green palette of spring.

Rolling south through the Red River Canyon

We arrived at Fort Worth’s Intermodal Transportation Center right on time. From here one can take a city bus locally or a Greyhound bus farther. There is also commuter train service available over to Dallas, including convenient service to DFW. I had arranged for a rental car in downtown Ft. Worth, to be dropped off at DFW the next day. The rental car company had a pick-up service, so after availing myself of a $5.00 Foot Long at the local Subway concession, I picked up my car and relocated to Plano where I had an appointment at the Baylor Medical Center the next morning.

February 9, 2012
Alaska Airlines Dallas – Seattle 155p – 415p 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Portland 730p – 818p DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Spokane 900p – 1005p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

It was 11:00am by the time I’d finished up at Baylor, plenty of time to get down to DFW for my 1:55pm departure up to Seattle. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten my laptop power cord at a Fed Ex Kinko’s outlet in Ft. Worth the day before and so had to drive all the way out there to retrieve it before I could return my car at DFW. Thanks to minimal traffic, I made it out back to DFW with plenty of time to spare – enough time to enjoy a couple of Shiner Bocks in the Sky Club before boarding.

Although this flight was originally scheduled to operate with a 737-900, it was switched to an -800 about two weeks ago. This is the third flight on this trip where a flight I booked as a -900 has been switched out. Now I understand that most people could probably care less about such things, and ordinarily I wouldn’t have given it much thought either, but here’s the thing: Prior to this trip I’d logged 92 flights aboard Alaska 737-900s. Having one hundred or more flights aboard this and other aircraft in Alaska’s fleet holds a certain allure to guys like me. It looks like I’ll just have to wait a while longer for that milestone.

Anyone who enjoys the view from their window seats will find that on a clear day, flying from Dallas to Seattle can be quite pretty. Entering Colorado from the southeast, you’ll usually fly just south of Colorado Springs. On the right side of the plane is Pikes Peak while on the left are the rugged 14000’ peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range. Keen eyed viewers may also note the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The mountains, valleys and rivers of Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington are just ahead, followed by the often pretty approach into Seattle. Today offered only brief glimpses of the grandeur below, but good glimpses they were.

Luncheon was the ever ubiquitous turkey sandwich – or is it chicken? – washed down with surprisingly cold Alaskan Amber. I usually don’t order beer on airplanes because most of the time it’s cool rather than cold. I know, I know… most brewers will tell you the beer ought to be served at about 45°F, but I like it colder. If seatmate hadn’t commented favorably about how nicely chilled his beer was, I wouldn’t have joined him for a couple more.

A pair of previously flown Dash 8s took me from Seattle to Spokane via Portland. The temperature in Spokane was a good 20° colder than it was over on the coast, and for those of us shivering in the wind on the tarmac while awaiting our gate checked baggage, that cart just couldn’t come fast enough.

I once slept in the Spokane airport back in 1985. Back then, you could stay airside. These days that’s no longer the case and I must say the options on landside are not very good. Ideally I look for somewhere that’s off the main public corridors and is not brightly lit. Most of Spokane’s main terminal is anything but. I found what I thought was a suitable spot off a hallway upstairs but the local constabulary stopped by to inform me that they didn’t agree. It was about 1:30am when I was awoken and asked to move, so downstairs I trudged to the now quiet but still brightly lit baggage claim area. I’ve got four more nights scheduled here at GEG, so I’m just going to have to come up with a better plan.

February 10, 2012
Horizon Airlines Spokane – Portland 840a – 1000a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 1030a – 1110a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Washington DC 205p – 955p 737-800 First Class

The Spokane Airport’s less than ideal sleeping nooks notwithstanding, at least I’ll get to sleep in on each of the five upcoming departures I’ve booked from here. That’s because each of my first flights of the day out of here don’t depart until 8:40am.

Alaska and Horizon flights depart from concourse C. More than a mere concourse, this building appears to be an entirely different terminal connected to the main terminal building by a long, narrow hallway. Although the concourse sports three jetways, they are rarely used since Frontier operates only a couple of flights per day into GEG and most of Alaska/Horizon’s flights are operated with Dash 8s. In the morning the upstairs jetway equipped portion of the terminal is completely deserted, leaving me a choice of deserted restrooms in which to wash up undisturbed.

Hair freshly washed and now clean shaven, I proceeded downstairs to the Horizon gate area where an affordably priced selection of breakfast entrees was being offered at the Taproom, along with good looking Bloody Mary’s. I’ve never been a morning drinker, so I settled on some good coffee and a breakfast burrito. Then it was off to gate 25 where ship 432, a Dash 8 freshly painted in the attractive new Alaska Horizon livery, awaited. With my flights aboard this aircraft to Portland and on up to Seattle, I’ve now flown 40 of Horizon’s 48 Dash 8s.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been so fortunate when it comes to adding to my collection of Alaska 737-800s flown upon. After starting hot with new additions on two out of my first four flights, I haven’t managed to add to my fleet totals in the eighteen flights I’ve flown aboard Alaska 737-800s since then. As such, you can only imagine my disappointment at seeing ship 560 – a perfectly good but nonetheless previously flown 737 – parked at the gate to operate my flight to Washington this afternoon. Oh well. At least I had a First Class seat to look forward to.

Oh yeah, there is one other little milestone I’ll have reached upon boarding this aircraft. This will be my 250th flight upon a 737-800.

Due to some windy conditions as we climbed away from Seattle, it took a good half hour before the inflight service commenced. Drinks were delivered with a nice ramekin of mixed nuts followed by the menu presentation. I had always thought that Alaska’s transcon menus were in effect on all routes for one month cycles, so I was quite surprised to see that this was an entirely different menu from what I’d been offered on my BOS-PDX flight earlier this month. Check it out:


Appetizer Salad

Mixed Green Salad with Seasonal Fruit and Sliced Almonds

Chicken Breast with Bacon Sage Sauce
Polenta Cake and Julienne Vegetables


Steak Kabob with Bordelaise Sauce
Mashed Parsnip and Potatoes
Garlic Green Beans

Warm Dinner Roll

Mini Cheesecakes

What a welcome surprise! I’d never had a salad with blueberries in it before, but the berries and slivered almonds worked quite well. I only wish that Alaska would find a new salad dressing vendor. I’ve always loved Italian or Vinaigrette dressings, but there’s something in the texture of that Naturally Fresh brand that just doesn’t taste right. Maybe I’ll see if I can grab an extra packet or two of Paul Newman’s Lite Ranch over at Delta’s SEA Sky Club in advance of my next Alaska flight.

Mixed Green Salad with Seasonal Fruit and Sliced Almonds

For the main course I opted for the steak kabobs. This can be risky given the smaller cuts of meat involved – i.e. tough, overcooked meat – but I was willing to gamble if only because over the years I’ve eaten so much chicken on Alaska that I really crave an alternative. I’m pleased to report that the steak I was presented was nicely cooked – about medium, I’d say – and the accompanying vegetables were tasty additions. A glass of red wine accompanied this meal and like most reds I’ve had on Alaska, it tasted like a $7-10.00 bottle of wine. Not bad but certainly nothing that would inspire me to take note of the label. Still, I remember buying a $6.00 bottle of Chilean red a few years ago that was – per my tastes at least – just fantastic, so I figure it never hurts to at least taste what Alaska’s offering each month.

Steak Kabob with Bordelaise Sauce

Dessert was a couple of mini-cheesecakes that were actually pretty good, especially with coffee and Baileys. Plates were cleared, coffee was refilled and now there were just three more hours to go until our arrival in Washington. Satisfyingly sated, I reclined my seat and knocked off another one hundred or so pages from my book of the week. I go through a lot of books on a trip like this, but what better place to read than sat in a reasonably comfy armchair while jetting along 38000 feet above the planet.

Mini-Cheesecakes for dessert

That said, I couldn’t help but notice the middle aged lady across the aisle from me. She was travelling alone and had evidently brought nothing along to read or otherwise entertain herself with. Her seatmate was watching a Digiplayer, but for whatever reason she’d declined one, preferring instead to stare straight ahead at the seatback in front of her. Perhaps she was meditating. Whatever, three hours is a long time to just sit there.

Arrival at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport was right on time, as in when we’d parked at the gate and the bell chimed signaling we were free to stand, I looked at my watch and saw it was exactly 9:55pm. My next flight wouldn’t be for another ten hours, so I had plenty of time to sleep. On the other hand, it was only 6:55pm Pacific time and I wasn’t that tired. Thankfully, I’d managed to get prescribed a small amount of Ambien, primarily because my back is occasionally sensitive to certain hotel mattresses, resulting in a sleepless night. I have never taken more than just a quarter tablet of this stuff and it works just fine for me. I can’t imagine taking an entire tablet - especially when I’m only looking to get about six hours of sleep.

I located a quiet, fairly dark area over by the old terminal building. It was quite a walk, but worth it for the quality of sleep possible without the loud music and annoying announcements that make sleep in the main terminal simply untenable. As an added bonus, the cold, linoleum floors meant I wouldn’t have any additional company fidgeting or snoring the night away like you’ll find in the public lounge areas. I can sleep quite comfortably on most any surface thanks to my Thermarest pad and a really warm and perfectly sized wool blanket. I’ve also got a small pillow, eyeshades and a headlamp for reading. Just a little bit of advance planning makes all the difference between a comfortable night’s sleep and an uncomfortable, noisy unpleasant night. Plus, I’ve saved a bundle in hotel fees.

February 11, 2012
Alaska Airlines Washington DC –Seattle 755a – 1045a 737-800 Economy Class

Transcon flights can be difficult to get upgraded on if only because the extended length of the flight results in a higher percentage of passengers (or their companies) willing to pay more to guarantee a seat in First Class. I have heard that the SEA-DCA run is perhaps the hardest of all Alaska’s flights to get upgraded on, so I’m not particularly surprised or disappointed to be sat back in the exit row this morning.

An Einstein’s Bagels concession satisfied my breakfast needs, so once onboard all I required was coffee and an internet connection. I’d gotten about five days behind in this trip report, so the surprisingly short four hour and fifty minute westbound flight allowed me more than enough time to get back on track.

We arrived in Seattle at 10:20am, a little more than twenty minutes early. My originally scheduled flight to Spokane was to depart at 1:00pm, but thanks to one of the more cherished benefits of being an MVP Gold 75K, I was able to call Alaska reservations and secure a confirmed seat on the 7:00pm departure. This left me plenty of time to catch the train into downtown, then connect to a bus up to the University District where I took advantage of the excellent vegan lunch buffet at Flowers Bar & Restaurant located at 43rd and University. I’m an omnivore rather than vegetarian, so I had to supply my own steak chunks to add to the dishes (just kidding, of course!) but I’ve been eating at Flowers for years and highly recommend it to anyone desiring quality meatless fare while in the Seattle area.

After lunch, I got a haircut and then visited one of my favorite old used CD stores on the Ave where I scored a great deal on Alison Krauss’s latest CD “Paper Airplane”, which coincidently won best bluegrass album at the Grammys. I’ve been listening to Alison Krauss since she was just a 14 year old fiddle playing phenom on Rounder Records. It’s nice to see her and her band achieve mainstream recognition.

Back at SeaTac, I checked in at a kiosk for my 7:00pm flight to Spokane and was advised that the flight was oversold. Would I be interested in volunteering? Oh, you betcha! In fact, I went up to the gate and told the agent that if she could get me on the first flight tomorrow morning instead of later tonight, I’d volunteer my seat for free. No compensation necessary. Seattle’s a lot nicer airport to sleep in than Spokane. As things turned out, I was actually first on the volunteer list and they did indeed need my seat, so I got a $300.00 voucher and I got to crash in my nice little corner of the Seattle airport.

If you click on my Flight Memory link, you’ll see that I’ve flown through Seattle over 1200 times. I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve very likely spent over one hundred nights in the Seattle airport. I’ve also stayed in over twenty different hotels and motels around the airport. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know people all over the Seattle airport, from airline lounge staff to gate agents to concession employees. Even some of the airport police know me now. Twice this past month they’ve stopped by to rouse what they thought might be a homeless person (most legitimate passengers sleep in the brightly lit and noisy public areas) and upon discovering it was me as I peered out from under my blanket, essentially said “Oh, it’s you! Sorry about that. Have a good night, now.” I love it!
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:40 am
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February 12, 2010
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Spokane 700a – 807a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Spokane – Portland 840a – 1000a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 1100a – 1140a CRJ-700 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Washington DC 205p – 955p 737-800 First Class

Most of Horizon’s flights from Seattle depart from the C2 complex of gates, conveniently located at the head of the C concourse, less than a minute’s walk from Alaska’s Boardroom or the central food court. This is especially true of the Portland Shuttle flights, almost all of which depart from C2B/D. Unfortunately, almost all of the Spokane flights seem to depart from over on the older, narrower and more distant B Concourse. Oh well. At least there are some exercise benefits to be had from the longer walk.

So, my day started out with a quick triangle of flights from Seattle to Spokane to Portland and back to Seattle, followed by the transcon across to Washington, DC. I look forward to the short flights, though not so much to my exit row window seat on the long flight. A lot of people would look at an itinerary like this and get stressed over all the connections. Granted, most people would never fly a routing like this, but then when one’s in pursuit of miles, it’s surprising what can be endured. Having gotten a better sleep last night than I would have gotten had I been in Spokane, I arrived at B3 reasonably bright eyed and ready to go. With no baggage checked, my connections in Spokane and Portland should be no big deal. Indeed, I rather like the idea of getting off one plane long enough to have a good stretch, perhaps enjoy a cup of coffee, and then be on my way again.

And so it was today as we whisked over to Spokane in just 42 minutes, arriving early enough that I had time to wash up in the deserted restroom facilities on the upper level and then grab a leisurely cup of coffee at the gate side Starbucks concession. Then it was off to Portland aboard N415QX, allowing me to cross another Horizon Dash 8 off my list. Our arrival at 9:50am left me plenty of time to sit down to breakfast at the Laurelwood Public House and Brewery. This restaurant/bar is conveniently located right in the heart of Portland’s A Concourse, from which all of Horizon’s flights operate. I’d walked by it so many times in years past but had never eaten here. Although it was a bit early to sample their locally brewed ales, I thoroughly enjoyed my excellent Denver omelet as well as the top notch service from the ladies working the floor. When I come back through here in a couple of days, I’m definitely going to order the Tree Hugger Skillet. The couple across from me had it and it looked delicious.

Flight time to Seattle aboard SkyWest’s ex-Horizon CRJ-700 was 34 minutes – no better or worse than flying aboard the Dash 8s. In fact, I’ve timed a Dash 8 SEA-PDX flight at 27 minutes, possibly faster than any jet I’ve flown on this route. Granted, the 129 mile distance between Portland and Seattle doesn’t give jets any time to maximize their speed, so the Dash 8 makes perfect sense for this route. It’s hard to believe that back in the seventies, the Seattle to Portland route was routinely flown with large four engine aircraft. I’ve even flown it in all three widebodies (United DC-10, Eastern L-1011 and Northwest 747).

With all flights operating on time, I had plenty of time to rendezvous in the Boardroom with a friend who was passing through Seattle on her way to Denver. After seeing her off, I relocated to the United Club, conveniently located in the basement of the North Satellite from whence Alaska’s flight 2 to Washington National routinely departs from.

Once again I found myself ensconced in an Economy Class seat for the four hour and fifty minute flight over to Washington. As I mentioned earlier, this route is one of the hardest – perhaps the hardest in Alaska’s system on which to score an upgrade. Still, I’m feeling pretty comfortable back here in exit row 15C and I’m also looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow since my flight to LA doesn’t depart until 9:15am.

February 13, 2012
Alaska Airlines Washington DC – Los Angeles 915a – 1205p 737-800 First Class
Alaska Airlines Los Angeles - Seattle 315p – 552p 737-800 First Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Spokane 800p – 859p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

And sleep in I did until the airport police stopped by to inform me that despite the relative obscurity of my chosen campsite, they’d really prefer I be up and at ‘em by 7:00am. Yes, officer.

Being up a little earlier than planned allowed me that much more time to check out Delta’s Sky Club, located upstairs above gate level in terminal B. As always, there was a pot of fresh hot oatmeal and a nice selection of mini-breakfast muffins available. Since both of my upgrades came through today, I limited myself to a coffee and orange juice in anticipation of the more sizeable hot breakfast to be offered on Alaska’s flight to LA. A wide selection of newspapers and magazines was available, so I grabbed a copy of last month’s Business Traveler magazine and retired to a comfy chair by one of the large picture windows that provided an excellent view of the ramp below.

Business Traveler magazine has a section called Tried and Tested where the First or Business Class products of various airlines are reviewed. Prior to discovering FlyerTalk back in 2001, BT was one of my best sources of information about premium class airline services. Interestingly, I discovered FlyerTalk after Googling “Trip Reports” after seeing the term used in a BT article. A link then led me to a report by one time Trip Report Forum luminary tfung, whose well written and well photographed reports made him one of the best trip reporters I’ve ever read here at FlyerTalk.

Down at the gate, a large crowd was gathered and even though boarding had probably been underway for some time, the small gate lounge looked more than a bit overwhelmed by the crush of humanity. I picked up a couple of newspapers and then took advantage of the First Class/MVP line to skip the long line of people still waiting to board.

Once settled into my seat, my seatmate took notice of my two newspapers and offered me any of his six different papers if I so chose. He then proceeded to rattle off the names of each of his papers – all of them high powered business or political journals that I would never ever read with the occasional exception of the Wall Street Journal. I couldn’t help but sense that he was showing off or at the very least yanking my chain a bit, so I pointed to my comparatively pedestrian copy of USA Today and reminded him of that time honored adage: “If it’s in USA Today, it must be true!” I then took a quick look around us as if to ensure nobody was listening and then confided that I only looked at the pictures anyway. He had a good laugh over that and then pretty much ignored me the rest of the flight. No problem there.

Breakfast would be served on this five hour and twenty minute flight to Los Angeles. Menus had been distributed just prior to pushback and I was disappointed to see that the two main choices were the same as what had been being served on my five flights to Boston from Portland and Seattle last month. It’s not that I didn’t care for the choices so much as I was simply looking forward to something different. Oh well. I’ll have the Caramelized Onion Strata please. The other option was the two mini-quiches. I liked the onion strata better because it was accompanied by sausage and asparagus whereas the quiches were served with a single small wedge of tomato. The service was very good as our coffee cups were never left wanting and our trays were cleared promptly once we were finished.

Outside the airplane it was a nice day for flying. The skies were clear over much of the country as we sped westward, and with the assistance of flightaware.com I watched as we passed right over Alamosa and Monte Vista, Colorado where my rental car had broken down just nine days ago. We landed in Los Angeles about fifteen minutes early and I headed upstairs to Alaska’s Boardroom where hot soup, cold beer and a great view of the LAX tarmac could be found in abundance.

Next month Alaska will be moving into its new home in Terminal 6. While I’m definitely looking forward to enjoying the newly refurbished and improved facilities available there, I’ll sorta miss old Terminal 3. It’s like a living museum – a window into LAX as it was back in the 1960s and 70s. But, it’s also an outdated and aging facility in serious need of a facelift. It’ll no doubt get that in the coming months and then I can look forward to coming back and seeing the new Terminal 3. In the meantime, I also have fond memories of the old Terminal 6 which I used to fly out of regularly back in the 1970s aboard Continental and Hughes Airwest, the primary tenants of the building back then. It’ll be interesting to see how much the building has changed with the new improvements. I particularly look forward to checking out Alaska’s new lounge facilities.

Having stocked up on chicken gumbo soup and salad in the Boardroom, I decided to pass on the turkey sandwich that was being served on the flight up to Seattle. A couple of Bloody Marys did nicely in accompanying me through one hundred pages or so of John Grisham’s latest legal thriller. Upon landing in Seattle, I stopped by the Boardroom to pick up a fax I’d been sent, then headed over to B3 for the flight to Spokane. An hour later I stepped off the plane into a cold, windy night. Thankfully the Ala Cart baggage was ready and waiting by the time I’d disembarked. I hurried inside and, after a short consultation with the local constabulary, returned to my quiet spot upstairs but on the other side of the hallway. I was sleeping comfortably just a couple of hours later.

February 14, 2012
Horizon Airlines Spokane – Portland 840a – 1000a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 1100a – 1140a CRJ-700 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Washington DC 205p – 955p 737-800 Economy Class

February 15, 2012
Alaska Airlines Washington DC –Seattle 755a – 1045a 737-800 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Spokane 100p – 200p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

Wash, rinse, repeat. None of my longer flights upgraded and aside from this being my third trip to Washington in the past five days, there really wasn’t anything worthy of reporting. I had the next day off – no flights to anywhere! - and so upon arrival in Spokane I booked a room through Travelocity’s Secret Hotels where I ended up at the airport Ramada Inn. The next two days were spent in and around snowy Spokane.

On the topic of hotels, I would like to say that over the years I’ve grown a bit leery of Ramada Inns. I have stayed in some that were very poorly run and, perhaps because their price was lower than many of the surrounding properties, they seemed to attract some of the worst clientele – i.e. idiots young and old who couldn’t appreciate that they were in a public setting rather than a private home and so carried on noisily and drunkenly into all hours of the night, be it in the hallways or in their rooms.

Most of you who’ve read my past reports will know that I have no qualms about staying at budget properties. I’d like to think I have a discerning eye and pick some pretty decent places but the fact remains that many of the places I consider decent hotels or motels would not be acceptable to most FlyerTalkers. I understand. I myself know people who actually think that flying in economy on international flights is perfectly acceptable while I think that even Business Class is slumming it compared to flying First Class on airlines like Cathay Pacific. I’m still trying to come to grips with the fact that next week I’m flying all the way to Brisbane and back in Economy.

But I digress. The Ramada Inn at Spokane International Airport deserves kudos for being the nicest Ramada Inn I have ever stayed at. Everyone – from the maid to the bartender to the front desk staff was both very presentable in appearance as well as being very polite and efficient. Whoever runs this hotel deserves a medal! A letter singing their praises is forthcoming to both the hotel and Ramada’s corporate offices.

One thing that’s odd though is that this hotel is described as a “waterpark”. From what I could see, there was a swimming pool and an 8 foot tall slide into the pool. This was hardly a waterpark. No complaints here though as waterparks generally include lots of noisy children running about.

February 17, 2012
Horizon Airlines Spokane – Seattle 930a – 1040a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Washington DC 205p – 955p 737-800 First Class

I love mid-morning departures. With no alarms going off at some dreadful hour of the morning, I get to sleep in. Today my alarm went off at 7:30am. I took a leisurely shower, enjoyed a hot breakfast in the hotel dining room and then caught the shuttle van out to the airport.

So – two more roundtrips to Washington, DC and then I’m finally done. It certainly has been a long haul! I left Fairbanks on January 13th and have been on an airplane all but eight days since then. About a week ago, USA Today had an article in their Business section about so-called “extreme flyers” focusing primarily on some folks who had attended a OneWorld Mega-Do. Their itinerary had them flying to New York, London, Dallas, Seattle and Los Angeles – all in just a few short days. The article went on to gush reverentially about one guy who’d flown roundtrip from Austin to San Francisco via Dallas in a single day! I wonder what they’d have written about me if they’d have known – I probably would have been written up in the mental health section. Austin to San Francisco in a single day – pffft! On this trip alone I’ve done five PDX/SEA to BOS single day round trips.

Seriously though, hats off to anyone who’s willing to do a mileage run and not be too embarrassed to talk or write about it. That’s the part that always gets me – people who feel awkward or embarrassed about flying for the sake of mileage. What are they – too grown up to be associated with such frivolity? What’s to be embarrassed about? Oh, it’s not normal. So what? But what will people think? Who cares? We’re up in First Class while they’re jammed into a coach seat. Let them be normal back there as we eclectics get wined and dined like plutocrats while ensconced in the lap of luxury, sometimes for less than they’re paying back in economy all because we’re just weird enough to have taken the time to apply ourselves a bit towards something that we enjoy. Normal is overrated and conformity is stultifying. If you’ve got a freak flag, go ahead and fly it high and proud!

As for me, sure, I like flying, but my days of flying simply for the sake of flying (as with those Unlimited Mileage Fares of the 70s) are for the most part behind me – unless some incredible deal comes up overseas that allows me to fly aboard a whole bunch of airlines that I’ve never flown before. Or if I won free First Class for life aboard Cathay Pacific – I guess I’d just move into Suite 2A, like those eccentric billionaires who just buy a room at some swank Florida hotel for the winter. No - this trip is all about mileage accrual and frankly it’s been hard work at times. Most people would never subject themselves to 82 flights worth of domestic US air travel in four weeks, but the payoff of course is that by the time I get home to my humble abode in the spruce forests outside Fairbanks I’ll have deposited quite a significant amount of mileage to my account. And then, the real fun will be traveling in the lap of luxury after having spent some of those miles on international First Class air travel. But that’s another trip report for another time.

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

Back in April of 1997, I was aware that both my 1000th flight upon United and my one millionth mile flown upon United would both be coming up in the same week. I knew Joe Hopkins, United’s PR man, from back when I did the 50 State Marathon, so I sent him a package with copied pages from my flight log detailing every flight I’d flown upon United. I thought he might get a kick out of it, especially the coincidence of my 1000th flight and millionth mile coming just three flights apart. About two weeks later I got a call from United’s Anchorage Station Chief asking if I’d mind if they commemorated my feat with a small reception at the gate. Sure, that’d be really cool!

On the day of flight, I checked in a bit early and was met by a lady from the Anchorage Sales Office. She presented me with a nice leather tote bag bearing United’s logo. I was also informed that I’d been upgraded to First Class on that morning’s flight to San Francisco. Finally, down at the gate, there were two big cakes and a couple of coffee urns. A small speech was made by the station chief and I was presented a plaque commemorating my 1000 flights with United. I took a bow and thanked United for all the great times I’d had in the friendly skies and then all of us had coffee and cake. It was a very nice gesture by United, an airline that for the most part I’ve had very favorable experiences with.

Today marks my 1000th flight on Alaska Airlines. It’s taken me thirty-seven years since my first flight back in 1976 from Seattle to Juneau aboard a 727-100 emblazoned with a red miner on the tail. That flight also marked my first ever trip to Alaska and at the time I could never have known that Alaska would someday become my home or that I’d one day log 1000 flights with them, much less any other airline. Indeed, back then, the idea of just logging 1000 flights was a pretty fantastic concept since at that time I’d flown just 124 flights in my whole life. In any event, it’s been a good relationship with Alaska – I’ve been fortunate to have logged a lot of flights with them when their First Class was amongst the finest in the industry, and although the stark reality of trying to operate profitably in today’s environment has resulted in a considerable loss of inflight élan, Alaska has always remained as friendly an airline as ever there was. So to Alaska and its many great employees, I say Thanks for the memories and I look forward to many more.

I did not inform Alaska of my 1000th flight because these days I honestly doubt it’s all that big a deal to anyone anymore. I have mentioned it in passing to a couple of Alaska employees and the response has generally been along the lines of “That’s nice.” (Try to keep him calm…) Seriously though, lots of people have flown a million of miles and a thousand flights on Alaska, even if they weren’t aware of exactly when they crossed those thresholds. As for flying a million miles on Alaska, I expect to cross that threshold sometime next year. I’m at just over 950,000 right now.

As for my 1000th flight, I’ll chalk it up to good fortune that I was able to get upgraded. As I’ve no doubt mentioned earlier, the Seattle to Washington route is a tough one to score an upgrade on with so many people buying First Class seats outright, or purchasing upgrades at the gate. The primary benefit for me on this flight was getting to try out that other entrée on the February transcon menu. That would be the chicken breast with bacon and sage sauce, accompanied by julienne vegetables and polenta cake. It was delicious!

Chicken Breast with Bacon and Sage Sauce

The flight attendant serving the First Class cabin did a great job despite the occasional distraction from a male flight attendant who from what I could see and hear seemed to be trying his best to hit on her. From my vantage point at 1C, I watched as he spent an inordinate amount of time hanging around the First Class galley where he referred to her as “girl” almost exclusively, as in “I’ll get that for you, girl” and even the old tried and true “You go, girl!” Nothing in her actions or demeanor suggested she had any more interest in him than she would a doorknob and ultimately she did a good job of ignoring him while still managing to handle her duties with aplomb.

Our early arrival in Washington allowed me a chance to scope out Terminal 2 and 3 for a decent place to sleep. I found none because the entire building is extremely well lit and has those obnoxious airport safety announcements going on all night. So, I made the long walk back over to Terminal 1 where I’ve been using an excellent spot just off the old viewing area that’s dimly lit and very quiet.

February 18, 2012
Alaska Airlines Washington DC –Seattle 755a – 1045a 737-800 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Seattle – Spokane 700p – 814p DHC-8-400 Economy Class

One of the nicer benefits about being at the top tier of Alaska’s Mileage Plan frequent flyer program is the ability to not just standby for a later flight on day of departure but to actually confirm a seat on that later flight – pending availability, of course. My flight from Washington arrived in Seattle at 10:45am and I was scheduled to connect to a 12:00n flight to Spokane. Well, there’s a lot more to do in Seattle than Spokane, so I rebooked for the 7:00pm departure out of Seattle and then caught the train into the city for lunch and a movie.

Arriving back at the airport with an hour and a half to go before my flight, I rehydrated with a couple pints of delicious Manny’s Pale Ale in the Boardroom, then stopped by the bookstore at the head of concourse B to pick up a couple of new books before heading over to B3 where boarding of my Dash 8 to Spokane was in progress.

There’s a thread currently making the rounds over at the Travel Buzz forum asking what could you absolutely not do without on a long flight. Long flight, short flight – it doesn’t matter – I need a book. My brain requires a good book every bit as much as my body requires food, and for me at least, when it comes to high quality nutrition I find books far preferable to the internet. The bookstore at the head of the B Concourse offers a good selection of reading material – far more than the average Hudsons.
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Feb 24, 12, 1:42 am
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February 19, 2012
Horizon Airlines Spokane – Portland 840a – 1000a DHC-8-400 Economy Class
Horizon Airlines Portland – Seattle 1100a – 1140a CRJ-700 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Washington DC 205p – 955p 737-800 First Class

Ah… my last trip to Washington DC – at least for a while. This will also be my last flight on one of Horizon’s Dash 8s for this trip. The total flights, hours and miles I’ve logged aboard Dash 8s over the past month are slightly mind boggling. As of today’s flight over to Portland, I’ll have logged twenty-seven flights and eighteen total hours aboard Horizon’s Dash 8s covering 4,810 miles. That’s a lot of time and mileage aboard an airplane that doesn’t have reclining seats. Lifetime I’ve logged eighty-nine flights for 17260 miles on it.

This is the fourth time on this trip that I’ve flown aboard N218AG, the CRJ-700 that delivered me up to Seattle from Portland. This airplane seems to be locked on to the 11:00am departure up to Seattle as I’ve flown it on three separate occasions on that flight. Prior to its sale to SkyWest, this airplane wore Horizon’s corporate livery and was registered N618QX. In that guise I’d logged a further two flights aboard it for a total of six flights covering 1470 miles. It’ll be nice to not have to fly aboard small planes anymore.

My flight over to Washington had once again cleared in First Class and so it was that I settled into seat 2C, gratefully accepted a Bloody Mary and thoroughly enjoyed my second encounter with a delicious plate of Steak Kabobs with Bordelaise Sauce. A strong tailwind allowed the Boeing to make short work of the 2,332 mile flight across the continent to Washington DC and it was all I could do to down one more Bloody Mary, set up a new playlist for my MP3 player and read a couple of chapters from my latest book before my ears told me that we’d begun our descent into Washington.

This was my last revenue flight of this mileage run. It’s been fun to watch the miles steadily add up, carrying me through the various strata of Alaska’s Mileage Plan until I’ve finally broken through to the very top – 75K. That happened last week though. From this point on it’s all gravy.

A great start to any flight

February 20, 2012
Alaska Airlines Washington DC –Seattle 755a – 1045a 737-800 Economy Class

From this point on, I’m using award travel to get back home to Fairbanks. As such I’m not eligible for any upgrades. On the three times that I’ve flown this flight previously over the past nine days, First Class has always checked in full. Today, when I’m not eligible to upgrade, there were two seats available at the gate. Sigh…

I mentioned earlier in this report that I’m trying – by chance as it were – to fly aboard each and every one of Alaska’s 60 737-800s. At the beginning of this trip I logged two quick flights aboard hitherto unflown aircraft. In twenty-eight flights I’ve flown aboard Alaska 737-800s since then, I’ve logged none. Zero. Zilch. At this rate it could be ten years or more before I manage to collect them all. There really ought to be a prize!

I could at least take some consolation in that fact that as of this flight, I’d now flown over 250,000 miles aboard Alaska 737-800s. A quarter million miles so far. Not bad.

Though I may have missed out on a First Class upgrade, I’m not totally convinced that per my tastes at least I didn’t get the better breakfast. This month’s Buy On Board skillet includes a good sized portion of scrambled eggs, red and green peppers, asparagus, diced ham and potatoes accompanied by a packet of Cholula hot sauce. At only $6.00 per skillet, it is an excellent meal whether served in the air or on the ground. Well done, Alaska!

The February Breakfast Skillet

Upon arrival in Seattle, I stored my carry-on bag at Ken’s Baggage Storage and then headed downtown to catch a ride on the Washington State ferry over to Bremerton. I consider that ferry ride the poor man’s tour of the Puget Sound. The last thirty minutes before arrival in Bremerton are particularly pretty. From the ferry terminal it’s just a short walk into town where a nice variety of decent eateries await. I was back in Seattle by 6:00pm and, after dinner in the U-District, back at the airport by 9:00pm.

Tomorrow would be a short day – two flights covering just 1710 miles back up to Fairbanks. I slept well in anticipation of once again sleeping in my own bed.

February 21, 2012
Alaska Airlines Seattle – Anchorage 800a – 1033a 737-400 Economy Class
Alaska Airlines Anchorage – Fairbanks 340p – 439p 737-400 Economy Class

Wow! I like that breakfast skillet even more out of Seattle where the flight kitchen cuts the asparagus into larger pieces and – for my dish at least – added even more eggs. Unfortunately Tabasco Sauce replaced the Cholula, but this meal was still an excellent start to the day.

100+ mph headwinds resulted in a three hour and forty minute flight up to Anchorage, accompanied by a fair bit of turbulence along the way. We landed amidst a swirl of snow flakes and taxied past an impressive collection of 747 freighters from Asia before parking at C1, conveniently located right below Alaska’s Boardroom.

I was originally booked on the 1:30pm departure to Fairbanks but managed to get myself reconfirmed on the 3:40 which worked out much better for a ride from the airport and thus a savings of $23.00 that would have otherwise gone towards taxi fare. Instead we used it for chimichangas and beer at Miguels, a local Mexican restaurant just down the road from the airport.

I left home on January 13th and since then have logged 87830 miles aboard 82 flights. Given that 95% of those miles will apply towards status, along with extra mileage accrued via the 500 mile minimum mileage provision, I’m in great shape all the way through to December 2013.

Now to start burning some of those miles…
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:48 am
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Location: MEL CHC
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Just read the first installment. Great as always :-:

Originally Posted by Seat 2A View Post
.... Some of those miles will go to immediate use transporting me to Queensland, Australia for a wedding.

Sorry gang, there will be no trip report on the Australia trip. I tried to get a seat in Business Class but there simply wasn’t availability, especially into Brisbane. After years of writing about wonderful trips abroad whilst being wined and dined in First or Business Class suites, I just can’t bring myself to write about sitting in Economy Class on such a long journey. It would be too depressing..
Am sure the guys in BNE will shout you a XXXX to drown the sorrows of Y (QF WP: that means you]

An international F must be in the crystal ball
Now when can we expect the TR on burning those miles ?

Last edited by Mwenenzi; Feb 25, 12 at 6:31 pm Reason: spelling
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:49 am
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Reserving this space to comment after I get off today's 11hr flight. Scrolling through so far, it looks like you have outdone yourself again! Great job, Seat 2A!!
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Old Feb 24, 12, 12:47 pm
Join Date: Dec 2010
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Great TR as always Seat 2A. I'm not surprised you found it difficult to find transport in OKC. Here in Oklahoma, public transportation is something that has been slow to progress. People here cling to their cars .. as well as their guns and religion
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Old Feb 24, 12, 12:51 pm
Join Date: Jun 2009
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this is one serious TR
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:10 pm
Join Date: Oct 2009
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What a wonderful TR!

I have something in common with you that I imagaine very few flyertalkers have; I have stayed at McGuire’s Motor Inn. My high school football team stayed there on Thanksgiving in 1992. We went on to win the State Championship the following day at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Nothing like walking a few blocks to Big Boy for Thanksgiving dinner.
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Old Feb 24, 12, 1:50 pm
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Another great TR and mileage run Seat 2A! That Harry Caray shot is awesome. You gotta love the madness ^.

Last edited by jv66; Feb 24, 12 at 1:56 pm
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