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A quick jaunt to Huntsville (and, getting acquainted with US again)

A quick jaunt to Huntsville (and, getting acquainted with US again)

Old May 25, 07, 1:05 am
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Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Washington DC USA
Posts: 2,570
A quick jaunt to Huntsville (and, getting acquainted with US again)

I haven’t flown on US since late 2004. Even then, that was to burn the remainder of my US miles, because at that point they were mired in bankruptcy #2 and I was convinced they weren’t going to survive. I had stopped flying them earlier…I’m guessing my last revenue flight was probably around 2002 because I hated their hubs and the generally lackluster service. (To think I had been elite on this airline at one point…shudder!)

Anyway, I needed to go to Huntsville, AL for work, and US was the least expensive option. I was a little wary…as I said, I had gone out of my way to avoid them for about 5 years, and my colleague who still flies with them a lot has said he’s trying to quit also. But, no matter who I took, I still had to get on a RJ to go to Huntsville, and I figured one RJ was as bad as another. Plus, I could accrue United miles. So, off I went.

My itinerary was BWI-CLT-HSV-CLT-BWI.

I got to BWI at 6 AM for a 7 AM flight. The security line for the D terminal was ¾ of the way down the hallway. Luckily, it moved quickly and I was through in less than 15 minutes. Directly behind me in line were two Air Force members who had just flown in from Iraq and were heading home. I was pleased to notice that they gave an earful to the TSA guy about having to take off their boots. TSA guy also adopted a very different attitude towards them than they have towards most complainers – never once did I hear “do you want to fly today”? Instead, it was “I’m really sorry, those are the rules, and I don’t make them.” Maybe he would have just been too embarrassed to utter the former in response to one of the GI’s asking him why he wasn’t over in Iraq helping out.

Anyway, as I said, I made it through the line quickly and headed to the gate.

Flight #1: BWI-CLT (Boeing 737-400)
This was apparently a very full flight; when I booked the ticket, all the aisle seats were taken, so I selected a window. Luckily, at the counter, they were able to move me into an aisle. This actually turned out to be a bad move…

I boarded the flight and easily found space for my bag. My first impression of the plane was that the interior was dated and decrepit. The gray decor was reminiscent of 1995. The overhead bins were the “old” kind which could not accommodate a standard-size rollaboard in the lengthwise position. I think the only other time I’ve seen that recently was on some of CO’s older 737’s. As I walked to my seat, which was about 2/3 of the way back in coach, I noticed a broken seat where the seat bottom cushion had fallen off and was sitting on the floor.

I sat in my aisle seat. Pretty soon, the other 2 people in my row arrived. They appeared to be a boyfriend/girlfriend. She was very petite and he was extremely large. Unfortunately for me, he decided to sit in the middle seat. The good: he didn’t ask to raise the armrest. The bad: even without raising it, he still took up about a third of my seat. I spent the entire flight leaning into the aisle. The flight did end up taking off quite full. I only counted a handful of empty coach seats.

The in-flight service in coach consisted of a single round of beverages only.

Luckily, this is a short flight, and we were descending for CLT before I knew it.

Changing planes in CLT:
I hadn’t been to the CLT airport in several years, and all my latent dislike for the long hikes across the terminal on foot came rushing back as soon as I determined that I’d landed at the far end of B and my flight to Huntsville took off from E26. I trekked over there and made it to my gate with half an hour to spare. I read a book to kill time, and then about 5 minutes before we were scheduled to start boarding, the gate agent announced that there had been an aircraft switch, and we were now leaving from E15. The mob of pax headed across to the other side of E, and there we actually boarded a plane via a jetway, and took off on time!

Flight #2: CLT-HSV (US Express CRJ-200)
This flight was uneventful, and also fairly short. I had an aisle seat, and the window seat next to me was empty. The coffee I had consumed on the first flight was wearing off, and I was pretty tired, so I fell asleep almost as soon as we took off, and didn’t wake up until we were descending into Huntsville.

The Huntsville airport is a typical small-city airport. One terminal, 12 gates, numbered 1 through 12 from front to back on a single corridor. US is located at gate 1, so I was out of there very quickly. Car rental counters are in the terminal, and Avis doesn’t have a separate preferred line, so I had to wait behind several people just to pick up my keys. Then, the car I was assigned was dirty and smelled like smoke, so I came back to exchange for another one. Luckily, this resulted in my being given a Subaru Outback wagon with only 1,200 miles on the odometer – a very nice ride.

Huntsville:
My 2 days of work in Huntsville aren’t of interest to anyone, so I’ll skip them. I will say that it’s a fairly pleasant small Southern city, with an above-average variety of ethnic food. I’m guessing that has something to do with the many rocket scientists, who come from all over the world to work there. I had dinner at the Sitar, an Indian restaurant, and it was pretty good.

Huntsville airport:
The TSA had 3 employees up front, checking tickets, and another one asking you if you had any liquids, in addition to a total of 7 people working the single x-ray machine. Thousands Standing Around was a pretty apt acronym for this airport. The liquid guy asked if I had any liquids or gels, and I decided to get smart with him, so I said "I shore do!" with as dumb a smile as I could muster. We schlepped over to a nearby table, where I pulled out my ziplock bag and watched the disappointment seep into his face.

In the end, the TSA had the last laugh...one of the x-ray guys decided to randomly start frisking people just as I got through the line, so me and about four other people got patted down for no apparent reason, and my wallet (??) was x-rayed twice.

Flight #3: HSV-CLT (US Express CRJ-200)
This flight was scheduled to depart at 6:30 PM, but the inbound plane didn’t arrive until 6:20, and we didn’t leave until almost 7:00. With a one hour time change and a one hour flight, this was going to make my 9:40 PM connection in CLT interesting (especially if I had another long walk). Then again, some of the others on the flight had 9:30 connections, so they were even worse off than me.

I stayed awake this time, so I got to observe the Express in-flight service. We had a rather limited choice of beverages...Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, or water. The FA also made up some interesting words when she was announcing connecting gates. I’ve never heard someone make Atlanta into a 4 syllable word before (imagine if you said Atlanta the way you would Indiana). She also pronounced the other DC airport Doo-liss instead of Dull-us.

For some reason, even though all our other RJ boarding/deboarding had been by jetbridge, we taxied up to just outside the E terminal, deplaned by the stairs, and then had to wait for our gate-checked bags. Then, it was off to the races again!

Changing planes in CLT:
By the time I got into the terminal, it was close to 9:15. I checked the monitors and learned that I had another long run (E-something to C-19), but that my flight had been delayed until 10:00, so I could actually walk, and not run. That was nice. I even had time to stop and grab some fast food on the way to the gate.

When I got to the gate, there was no plane there and no flight announced on the electronic sign. The agent announced that the plane would be arriving momentarily, and that the crew was coming from somewhere else but would also be arriving shortly.

The plane arrived around 9:30, everyone deboarded, and then the door was locked while we sat around and continued to wait for the crew. Eventually, the crew showed up, apologizing for their tardiness. I think we started boarding around 10:15 and we were up in the air around 10:40.

Flight #4: CLT-BWI (Boeing 737-400)
This was also a very full flight. At the time of booking, all I could get was a middle seat. I was able to change this to a window seat at the airport. I believe the flight ended up with only 1 or 2 empty seats.

Since the flight had left so late, the pilots came on the PA and announced that they were staying at a lower altitude to try to get there faster, which would lead to it being bumpy. It was a little bumpy, but really nothing out of the ordinary. However, this led to the in-flight service starting late, so that the folks in the back of the plane were just being served when we started our descent. We got drinks and a bag of pretzels.

The plane made several sharp turns in the descent before landing at BWI. We arrived at 11:40, roughly 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival time. Everyone got off the plane rather quickly. I think with the late hour and it being Friday night, people just wanted to get where they were going.

This plane had the same ancient interior as the other 737-400 I took. I noticed that it also had a broken seat – one of the aisle seats towards the front was missing the tip of the armrest, and it had been fixed by wrapping a large amount of red colored masking tape around it. I was amazed they let the plane fly with seats like that.

All in all, even though nothing really terrible happened, the experience was generally lackluster. I’d have to say this trip reminded me of a lot of the reasons why I try not to fly US Airways if there is a viable alternative.
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