The following are Don Phillips's impressions of the 18 flights he took across the country over a three-week period.
Delta 839. Dulles to Atlanta, May 4, due out at 4:40 p.m., Boeing 757. On time.
Getting to the plane was the hardest part, as is true of many flights. The bus from the Gold satellite lot was slow in arriving and got to the terminal at 4:01 p.m. As I stood in line at the gate, a Delta rep walked up and down the line asking where people were going and pulling out those who were approaching their departure times. Good job.
Captain had a semi-hick comforting voice, obviously ex-military, as are most Delta pilots, and said we would be taking off "to the south on runway one-niner left."
Served "Harvest Brand Snack Mix," 28 grams, 130 calories, 300 milligrams of sodium. This, rather than peanuts, is now one of the typical airline snacks.
Delta 241. Atlanta to Dallas-Fort Worth, May 4, due out at 7:45 p.m., Boeing 767. Pushed back an hour and 10 minutes late because of weather.
The Delta gate people and flight attendants were absolutely the best of the trip, setting the standard by which I judged others. The gate agents were informed, helpful and trustworthy. The flight attendants gave the impression they were having a ball at their jobs.
American 1662. DFW to Atlanta, May 6, due out at 9:07 a.m., MD-80. Pushed back 12 minutes--basically on time--but ran into weather delays en route.
My bag got a security check with the new explosives detector. "You ever catch anyone with one of those?" I asked. "Not yet--so far," he replied.
I had seat 20A, over the wing. Comfortable, but very confining when I wanted to go to the bathroom.
A urologist once told me, "Coffee and orange juice are a deadly combination." Never again.
The captain kept us well informed about weather delays.
United 1960. Atlanta to Dulles, May 7, due out at 5:01 p.m. Delayed 25 minutes because of late incoming aircraft.
Gate T-14 area was really dirty. Unpleasant, crowded and a little warm.
Totally full flight, the norm.
The mobile lounge was extremely crowded, and the operator was testy. "Let me through, folks," he said. "If I can't get through, we ain't going nowhere and I'm not walking over you."
The only pleasant thing about this trip was my bag waiting for me at the carousel.
United 427. BWI to Denver, May 8, due out at 8:45 a.m., Boeing 757. On time.
I was in a terrible mood after discovering BWI had raised its parking garage rates from $12 to $20 a day, sending me scrambling to the cheaper satellite lots.
Almost too late back to the counter. The gate agent looked up at me and said, "I'm tired." I was, too. We formed a bond. There was no one at the counter then, but she had just re-accommodated an entire canceled flight. "We did well," she said. "I'm proud."
An utterly uneventful flight. With fatigue already beginning to set in, I slept most of the way.
United 2707. Denver to Las Vegas, May 8, due out at 11:20 a.m., Boeing 737. On time.
Pushed up two minutes. I was awake now. It was a beautiful day.
Except for a huge fat guy in the middle seat, effectively plugging me in the window seat, it was a great flight. By now, United had made up for the Atlanta-Dulles flight.
Southwest 145. Las Vegas to Burbank, May 10, due out at 1:45 p.m., Boeing 737. Thirty-five minutes late, for reasons mentioned in the story.
This is the flight on which the pilot lied to us. Took some of the bloom off of Southwest's rose for me.
Southwest attendants did the usual happy stuff as we landed and began braking at Burbank. "Whoaaaa, big fellow," one said over the public address system.
Burbank is a wonderfully uncrowded, convenient airport. I will try using it instead of LAX in the future.
Southwest 698. Kansas City to St. Louis, May 13, due out at 7:05 p.m., Boeing 737. One hour late because of weather.
This Southwest flight made up for the Burbank flight. (After Burbank, I took a break from flying and got here by train.) Gate agents made constant announcements on the weather and boarding. The pilot gave a crisp explanation of why weather slows traffic into St. Louis, using no jargon. I was really impressed with the whole operation.
What a contrast.
TWA 312. St. Louis to BWI, May 14, due out at 6:50 p.m., Boeing 727. On time.
Constant announcements really pushed us to get to our seats so we could get out on time.
The pilot was my kind of man. He obviously loved to fly.
The negative was a flight attendant who apparently was offended by a passenger trying to give her a $50 bill for a drink. She didn't snarl, but she kept making reference to it as she served.
When the man later asked if she had change yet (he never got his drink), she replied, "I'm the person controlling the change, and I don't have enough for that yet."
Continental 1517. BWI to Cleveland, May 16, due out at 9:45 a.m., Boeing 737. On time.
The security screeners at BWI are routinely gruff and poker-faced. No exception this time.
An utterly routine, quick flight. I tried to chat with a little girl named Miranda in the center seat, but her mom said she was shy.
Suddenly we were descending into Cleveland.
Continental 1731. Cleveland to Phoenix, May 16, due out at 12:14 p.m., Boeing 737. On time.
There was a real scramble to help a family sit together, fraying some tempers slightly. Things finally settled down even though some folks who had had aisle seats ended up in middle seats.
This plane was not made for long flights. The "thinline" seats get uncomfortable over a four-hour-and-four-minute flight.
Otherwise the flight was routine.
My impression of my two Continental flights was: efficient, properly pleasant, on time. Sort of what you would wish for on those days when you have flights from hell.
America West 2271 (Continental code share). Phoenix to Houston, May 19, due out at 8:54 a.m., Boeing 737. Thirty minutes late because of a mechanical problem.
This is the only non-Big 8 flight I took, even though it was a Continental code share.
It was a confusing flight. The mechanical problem was never explained other than, "It's a computer thing."
Seating at the end was confusing, as several people seemed to think they had the same seats.
My seatmates were shallow little lovebirds who deserved each other. Loud, silly, hard to turn off.
Mini-pretzels with 340 milligrams of sodium.
I was glad to get off. Baggage was amazingly slow.
Southwest 284. Houston to Dallas, May 20, due out at 5 p.m., Boeing 737. Took off seven minutes late but was on time at Dallas Love Field.
The culture of this flight was totally different from other Southwest flights. No screaming kids, no first-time fliers. This was filled with businesspeople, many of whom appeared to have it made.
I had a discussion with my seatmate about whether her next car should be a Cadillac or a Lexus. She was torn. She complained that Southwest had canceled service to Beaumont, Tex., something the airline did more than a decade ago. She had not forgiven them.
A quick flight. Everything ran well.
Love Field was packed wall to wall. It was hard to walk.
US Airways 1128. Dallas to Charlotte, May 21, due out at 2:30 p.m., MD-80. On time.
DFW is a spread-out, hard-to-use airport.
The jet bridge was so hot some people couldn't stand it and went outside until the line subsides. The plane was also hot.
The pilot announced: "We do understand it's stifling hot. It'll get much cooler when we get moving."
This was the first flight on which I saw a lot of carry-on bags being stuffed into every corner.
US Airways 1876. Charlotte to BWI, May 21, due out at 6:50 p.m., Boeing 737. On time.
There was actually an empty center seat next to me. My first of the trip. Wow.
This was also my first female captain of the trip. "Nice evening to fly. 59 minutes en route," she said.
I relaxed. Female pilots, like female cops, tend to be strict, by-the-book types. No one was about to take a chance with my life on this flight.
My bag was actually the first off the conveyor. I ran to chase it down.
I was getting really fatigued by now. I didn't realize it at the time, but the trip was beginning to take a toll.
United 277. Dulles to Chicago, May 23, due out at 4:43 p.m., Boeing 777. Fifty minutes late because of weather in Chicago.
The 777 is a nice plane. The seats are an inch or two wider than normal.
Dulles was really crowded.
Northwest 131. Chicago to Minneapolis, May 25, due out at noon, Boeing 727. On time.
Only about one-third full, by far the emptiest flight of the trip. There's too much capacity in the market.
I was given a choice of peanuts or pretzels. My only choice of a snack on any flight.
We were on time all right, but there was a jam-up getting into the gate. A minor delay, but annoying.
Northwest 626. Minneapolis to Dulles, May 24, due out at 6:40 p.m., DC-9. On time.
As we took off, I got a warm feeling. This was the last flight. Damn, it'd be good to get on the ground. As we got to cruising altitude, I ordered a couple of red wines and toasted a beautiful red sunset.
The food was reasonable. It was a beautiful night. I was going home.
I can't judge this flight. It might have been as wonderful as it seemed or it might have been terrible. But it was taking me home, and it was a wonderful plane.