Monday, November 28, 2011

The Old And The New - US Airways In Economy

I had a very interesting experience on US Airways today. Granted, it's the first time I've flown with them in probably three years at least. Still, every time I do, I end up wondering why in the world I would subject myself to the pain and agony (I exaggerate, of course). But that's how today started out.

I needed to be in Las Vegas this week for a conference, and since my company doesn't use Southwest (the only airline that flies SJC-LAS direct), I was left with the options of connecting through LAX, PHX, or even stranger routings such as SEA. I figured I'd milk a few more United miles out of the situation by flying US Airways 683 through PHX, but I started to regret that decision when I boarded the plane and was greeted with the oldest looking 737-300 aircraft I had ever been on. The seats had a strange floral pattern on them, and as I walked down the aisle, I noticed broken window covers jammed at odd angles, discolored panels, and ancient call/light buttons. I didn't think too much of this though, since I figured there are probably plenty of these old aircraft in service all over the world, with no issues whatsoever.

I quickly dozed off after takeoff, and was awakened later by the beverage service and flight attendants chatting with each other next to my seat. I didn't hear the entire conversation but I caught the last bit. It went something like:

"That lady just said it should be illegal..." (chuckling)

"Yeah I can't decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing"

"Well we have much better 37s out there, at least with 2 bathrooms in the back" (more laughter)

After I heard this, I started to wonder what the heck they were talking about. But I figured it probably had something to do with the age of the aircraft. About 10 minutes later, one of the flight attendants came over the speaker and announced (almost in an overtly self-conscious way), that this was the last day this aircraft would be in service since it was being retired afterwards... and then added that it has been flying since 1987 - which elicited a couple of gasps, head shakes, and a few laughs as well. At that point, I understood what she meant earlier when she said she couldn't decide if this was "a good thing or a bad thing". I certainly couldn't decide if I should be feeling happy that I was there to witness this occasion or concerned that US Airways would actually still be flying this aircraft! I just chuckled at the entire situation.

Later on, I went to the back of the aircraft to go to the bathroom, and I noticed a shoddy piece of paper taped to one of the lavatories proclaiming it "INOPERATIVE". More chuckling. Then I stepped into the other lavatory... my oh my I have never seen an aircraft lavatory in such a condition. It literally looked like it was being held together by bathroom sealant and tape. I couldn't help myself, so I took a few snapshots in there as well :)  Then when I got back to my seat, I overheard a couple behind me trying to figure out what the strange whistling sound was all throughout the flight, almost like wind noise going over a car door with a broken seal. I grew slightly concerned, but decided that if the aircraft were to go down in a ball of flames on the day of its retirement, I could at least have one last laugh at the irony of it all.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining a lot, but actually, I was having an absolute ball on this flight. I really did feel a tinge of nostalgia and sadness that this plane would be mothballed, after almost a quarter century of ferrying passengers to and fro. The sights it must have seen in its lifetime! Service was surly, of course, but once I asked one of the flight attendants about the plane some more, she perked up and gladly answered my questions, and even showed me the little plaque in the back of the plane that proudly displayed the aircraft number 332.

Sadly, the flight quickly came to an end, and I soon found myself at Phoenix Sky Harbor awaiting my short hop to Las Vegas, which, ironically (there was a lot of that today), was serviced by one of the newest and most modern A321-200s in US Airways' fleet, complete with in-flight WiFi. Everything in the aircraft looked brand-spankin new, and best of all, I overheard one of the flight attendants say there was only about 40 passengers total! Funny thing was, about half of those passengers were in first class up front, which was completely full. For once in my life, I was ecstatic to be flying in economy, where I could stretch my legs out and have an entire row to myself :)

So new... and so empty...

And in another first for me, before pulling away from the gate, the flight attendant came up to those of us near the front of the economy section and asked for 12 volunteers to sit anywhere behind row 17. I didn't mind moving since the entire back of the plane was empty. But this was the first time I'd ever witnessed weight/balance issues on anything larger than a CRJ! I guess first class was overloaded ;)

So all in all, a very strange of day of flying with US Airways... an exercise in extremes, if you will. But I would say there were definitely more positives than negatives, and I wouldn't hesitate to fly US Airways more in the near future!

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