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US Airways
by Haas Mroue


 PHOTO: ROY LOCK

Flight: US 518/514
Route: Seattle, Washington (Sea-Tac) (IATA: SEA/ICAO: KSEA)–Charlotte (CLT/KCLT)–New York LaGuardia (LGA/KLGA)
Date: April 6-7, 2006
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Seat Number: 1F
Departure time: 2230/0810
Arrival time: 0618/0957
Passenger: Haas Mroue


Check-in


As the fusion of US Airways and America West continues, check-in is done by destination according to which aircraft is being used on what route. When I approached the US Airways desk, an agent asked where I was flying and directed me to the Charlotte desk. She explained that the PHL flight that night was being operated by an AWA aircraft and therefore required a separate procedure for check-in. It must be confusing for both the passenger and the agents around the country. Check-in was very quick and security took less than five minutes for this red-eye flight.


Boarding/Cabin


Boarding started a little bit early at 2200 and was quick and seamless. By 2220 drinks were offered in the first class cabin, which had comfortable seats with decent pitch.


In Flight


Pushback occurred at 2235 and after a quick taxi, we took off to the south at 2245. We made a left turn and flew due east, passing a little south of Spokane. Later, we passed Boise, St Louis, and Indiana.

After takeoff the no-nonsense flight attendant took our drinks order. Several passengers around me asked for champagne, but no champagne is served on US domestic flights; however, there was a full bar service and beer and wine. Drinks were served in plastic cups which ranks US Airways on the bottom of domestic first class service. The flight attendant passed a basket filled with potato chips, cookies, or cashew packets and that was that for the food service. Even nuts in ramekins seemed to be unheard of here.

Service was good if a bit standoffish. The passenger behind me asked what movie would be playing on this flight (there were no headsets anywhere) and the flight attendant replied curtly that “most passengers on this flight prefer to sleep so there will be no movie.” I imagined myself taking a head count on who wanted a movie and who didn’t and sending the results to US Airways. Other airlines give you a choice—but US decides for you.

US does not believe in choice. No movie. No short subjects. No moving map. No headsets, therefore no audio. No real glasses. No light meal or sandwich like other domestic red-eyes.

Four hours later, the captain bid us good morning and we began our very bumpy decent into a rainy, cloudy, and windy Charlotte. The FA passed out small bottles of water, but no coffee or tea was offered. We pulled up to the gate more than 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Charlotte is a compact airport with good shops and plenty of space. The US Airways lounge is very spacious with fantastic large windows overlooking the ramp. Coffee and soft drinks as well as mini-muffins were available.

A delay of 20 minutes was announced for the LGA flight because of an equipment change, with the A319 operating this sector arriving from Richmond at 0810. The aircraft actually landed at 0800 and pre-boarding began at 0825; general boarding began at 0830.


Cabin


Boarding was completed at 0845 and we pushed back two minutes later. No drinks or coffee were offered before takeoff. Very efficient (but not warm or overly friendly) female FA took our drinks order while on the ground by repeating her mantra to every passenger: “drinks in the air?” so it was clear that we wouldn’t see the drinks until after takeoff. Bottles of water were handed out during taxi.

I noted that on this particular aircraft the ubiquitous and superfluous ‘No Smoking Sign’ has been replaced with ‘Please Turn Off Electronic Devices’, which stays on below 10,000 feet. The safety video was shown in English and Spanish on both US Airways flights.

We took off at 0900 and a flight time of 1hr 5min was announced.

Once the drinks—coffee in my case—were passed out, the FA offered snacks from a basket identical to the last flight—unhealthy and pedestrian brands you can find at any 7-11 store for under $1 each. A very embarrassing ‘breakfast’, to say the least; however, service was very professional and more coffee was immediately brought as soon as a cup was empty.

After the beverage service, the FA settled into her jump-seat to read the newspaper.

The light turbulence cleared up south of Washington, DC, and visibility was excellent all the way over Manhattan and into LaGuardia, where we landed smoothly at 1015.

 

Overall impression


I would be embarrassed to call this product first class—a more accurate description would be ‘enhanced seating economy’. The only perk is that the FA hangs your jacket on a hanger and you have a wide seat and some extra pitch. Everything else is coach all the way.

How US Airways can keep its head high among its Star Alliance partners is a conundrum. The airline’s offering doesn’t even come close to an intra-European business class product, such as that of Lufthansa, Austrian, Scandinavian, or Spanair. I was using frequent flier miles for this trip and would never pay to fly US Airways in first class unless some pretty drastic changes are made to its so-called premium product. On red-eye transcontinental flights, even cost-cutting United serves drinks in real glasses, offers a freshly prepared light snack, headsets, a movie and audio, as well as live air traffic control communications and hot coffee before landing.

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