Monday, August 30, 2004

Hotel: Mill Creek Inn, Salem Oregon

See previous review here.

Flight: United #333 DEN-PDX

Departing From: Denver, Colorado (DEN)
Traveling To: Portland, Oregon (PDX)
ETD: 5:00 PM CST
ETA: 6:30 PM PST
Est. Duration: 2 h 30 m
Departure Gate: B-49
Arrival Gate: E-8
Seat: 14D (Economy Plus)
Equipment: Boeing 757

Another 757, economy plus again. A little bumpy from weather in the Denver area, but not too bad. Seems smooth to me as we get close to cruising altitude.

Have an aisle seat, empty next to me again, not noisy at all. Everyone seems to be tired.

Flight: United #779 BWI-DEN

Departing From: Baltimore, Maryland (BWI)
Traveling To: Denver, Colorado (DEN)
ETD: 2:40 PM EST
ETA: 8:30 PM EST (Few Minutes Early)
Est. Duration: 3 h 41 m (Act. Duration: 3 hr 35 min)
Departure Gate: D-11
Arrival Gate: B-44
Seat: 12D (Economy Plus)
Equipment: Boeing 757
Miles: 1294

Equipment is Boeing 757. Pretty full flight, although the seat next to me is empty (low budget 1st class seat!). Should be a little quiet, although the kids behind be keep kicking the seat...

I'm in Economy Plus for this flight, and I'm thinking there is no reason to fly United unless you can get there. he legroom is respectable, although I'm hoping the person in front of me doesn't lean their seat back so I can type on my laptop computer. I can't believe airplane seats still lean back -- it sets up people to be rude to each other since there is so little room between seats.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Picture: This is Why You Request an Exit Row

This picture shows the legroom in an exit row seat on a Boeing 757 operated by United. Note that there is enough room to move past someone even when they are sitting down.

Potential negatives:

= Sometimes there is a bulkhead in front of you or equipment underneath the seat in front of you that prevents placing of carry-on baggage here.

= The food tray is not attached to the seat in front of you, but usually folds out of the arm rest. This generally removes an inch or so of seat space, and usually can't slide away from you far enough to comfortably use. It's kind of flimsy too.

= Usually no chance of the seat in the middle being unoccupied. When a plane is crowded, or when a person can't get the seat they want, the next tier down is to ask for the exit row. The theory is if I'm not going to get side space I'm at least going to have leg room.

= There is responsibility with the exit row. You have to work the exit door and follow directions. And don't be a wise guy when the flight attendants are going through this with you. They don't have senses of humor about safety related things.

Posted by Hello

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Flight: United Express #7112 AUS to IAD

Departing From: Austin, Texas (AUS)
Traveling To: Washington Dulles (IAD)
ETD: 4:10 PM CST (Actual 5:45 PM CST)
ETA: 8:30 PM EST (Actual 10:15 PM EST)
Est. Duration: 3 h 20 m (Act. Duration: 4 hr 10 min)
Departure Gate: 21 (actual 23)
Arrival Gate: Concourse "G"
Seat: 15D
Equipment: CRJ700
Miles: 1294

Actual time leaving around 5:45 pm CST. Extremely hot geetting onto the plane because it had been sitting in the Austin sun during the delay. Completely full, everyone coming back from the same trade show at the same time.

Other than the huge delay based on local weather at Dulles, the usual CRJ experience. Quite a bit turbulent this flight as we cross storm fronts all along the country. Summertime is a lousy time to fly because of storms. Wintertime is pretty bad too because of snow. I wonder what flying is like on other planets?

Well, let's discuss "Concourse G" for a little bit.

For those that use Dulles International Airport, you may have heard of the new airline Independence Air. This new airline was started earlier this year as fallout between the regional airline Atlantic Coast and United Airlines. Atlantic Coast served as the United Express regional carrier out of Dulles. The two of them had a contract dispute, and the fallout is that Atlantic Coast decided to start their own airline as a new entity Independence Air, and United decided to replace Atlantic Coast with their own flights. If you need more information on this dispute check elsewhere (Washington Post had a number of articles on this, but you'll have to pay for their content).

After all this, Dulles now has a bunch of new commuter flights as United tries to keep their schedule and Independence adds their service. Lots more CRJ's in and out of Dulles, more competition, all of which is good for travelers in the DC area.

The bad news is that all this happens in the midst of major construction at Dulles, which has rapidly moved from curious to inconvenient to annoying. Dulles is building a subway system to replace their "moon buses", they are dealing with the security related terminal changes that the original architect couldn't anticipate for life in 2004, and they have relocated commuter flights from close to the main terminal to out in the mid-field terminals. This flight introduced me to "Concourse G", which United Express is running.

Concourse G can best be described as a large rectangle out past the last concourse in an area so remote that it's past the construction equipment storage area. It's design seems to be a late-60's era storage depot. This hastily constructed building was obviously slapped together to deal with the sudden need for more gates for small planes, and feels just a little more permanent than a tool shed. Ground control mustn't be able to see out this far because our plane had to taxi back out to the runway after being directed head on to another plane in motion (planes can't go in reverse, and pilots seem to get annoyed when faced with this situation).

Once our plane stopped we had a long walk into the concourse which seemed to be designed to hold around 500 passengers and was currently occupied by about 800. Arriving passengers are diverted to the right, where we found out they weren't sending buses out to this concourse quickly enough to return passengers. After a crowded wait, a shuttle bus (a new kind - not a moon bus) pulled up to drive us to the main terminal.

Normally, the moon buses move between the main terminal and the midfield terminals passing under a bridge in the middle of the concourse A-B structure. This new bus must not be allowed to go through the middle path the larger moon buses run, so we had to drive around all the end concourses, stopping frequently at crossing paths. After this 15 minute drive we were dumped out at the main terminal at the bottom of what seemed to be fire exit stairs. We then had to climb two flights of stairs in to a new passenger receiving area, then down an escalator into a construction zone, then up an escalator to another hidden lounge, then down an escalator as we dealt with this temporary route to baggage claim caused by the subway construction.

One bright spot -- it took so long to get to baggage claim that all our luggage was there by the time we showed up.

This whole adventure wasn't so bad for me, since I was home. Others had missed connecting flights, so there was a lot of tension in the air while waiting for the shuttle bus to the main terminal.

Summary: the flight was about an hour and a half late leaving due to weather, then it took about an hour between landing and getting to baggage claim for all the other reasons.

It's possible that a lot of this was due to Concourse G being new, as I can't believe that shuttle bus was really supposed to drop us off at that bottom of all those stairs in the main terminal (seemed like a security risk too, since we could have bolted across the grounds instead of climbing the stairs). The walk to baggage claim is kind of amusing in its complexity, and lack of signs informing you if you are moving the right way makes this process silly (one little "pardon the inconvenience" sign as you exit to baggage claim made everyone laugh). My advice right now is that United Express at Dulles is probably best avoided for a while until operations gets used to the new building or the subway system becomes operational. How long is a "while" is the remaining question.

One last comment concerns the placement of "commuter flight" gates. One of the great things about Dulles used to be the "commuter" flights were located right next to the main terminal, removing the need to get on the big moon buses. This made it very quick to get in and out on those short flights. Placing commuter flights way out in the mid-field concourse kind of kills your ability to get in and out quickly -- the "express" in United Express is just a catchy slogan at this point. It's not a physically exhausting to get to them, like BWI where they make you walk to gate "D97" to catch a short flight to Norfolk, but it is as inconvenient.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Restaurant: Dan McKlusky's Restaurant

City: Austin, Texas
Location: 301 East 6th Street at San Jacinto
Phone: 512.473.8924

Had dinner here with some collegues, within an easy walking distance from the Austin Convention Center. 6th street is kind of a happenin' area in Austin, with lots of places to eat and drink, live music coming from a couple of different places, and only a few outposts of questionable taste (nothing too embarrassing).

Everyone else had steak, I had seafood to be different (a haddock special, I believe). Food was great, not too expensive, and it was a nice place to sit in. Dark wood, pretty big, and overlooked the street outside for a little people watching.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Restaurant: Chango's

(content moved here)

City: Austin, Texas
Location: 3023 Guadalupe, Austin, TX 78705
Phone: 512.480.TACO

Second time back to this place, which we found just by accident last year looking for something local (non-national chain) for lunch. We wondered if it was as good as we remembered it, and it more than exceeded expecations.

Chango's is a small casual place near the college section of Austin specializing in Tex-Mex food. The place is clean, fast, and makes great food. Lunch was probably 8 bucks or less for a large burrito and a taco (I wanted to try the Shrimp taco, which was new or a special I think). They give you a lot of food, it's prepared fresh, and it is really good. You tell them how spicy you want the food, and there are a selection of hot sauces to adjust as needed. One caution, what they consider "mild" is what I would consider "medium". This is an adjustment anyone from the east coast needs to make when visiting Texas and the southwest!

Chango's sits right on the road and parking is easy. They also have free wireless Internet access for someone that wants to sit there for a while. Gets crowded around lunch, but outside the lunch rush its usually easy to claim a table for a while.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Flight: United Express #7139 ORD to AUS

Departing From: Chicago Ohare (ORD)
Traveling To: Austin, Texas (AUS)
ETD: 5:30 PM CST
Est. Duration:
Departure Gate: F12
Arrival Gate:
Seat: 7C
Equipment: CRJ700
Miles: 973

Actual carrier is Mesa Airlines for United Express.

This flight was on the longer version of the CRJ. The cabin was even configured for 1st class (and no one was sitting there).

If you've never been on a CRJ jet, it can be disorienting how quiet they are. This one rolled down the runway at Ohare with hardly any engine or mechanical noise. It seems like the only noise comes from the wind and rolling of the wheels.

While they are a little cramped when standing up, they have storage overhead and underneath the seat in front of you, and all the amenities you would expect on a larger plane except for the entertainment systems.

Flight: United #323 IAD to ORD

Departing From: Washington Dulles (IAD)
Traveling To: Chicago Ohare (ORD)
ETD: 2:50 PM EST
Est. Duration: 2 hr 20 min
Departure Gate: D1
Arrival Gate:
Seat: 9D
Equipment: Airbus 319
Miles: 589