Sunday, July 31, 2011

Unholy (Savings) Angel.

So what makes this angel so unholy? A mixture of unrealistic expectations for the normal person's schedule, and the lack of actual product on their own website.

What does this mean? Well it means that Savings-Angel does not actually contain the coupons that they advertise. Once you have spent 45 minutes to an hour searching the list(s) of specials they have, you can create your "list" and print it. Have you actually printed any coupons however? No, not a single one. You now must need to go out and subscribe to the publications, newspapers and websites/email lists that contain these coupons simply to get them. If you have the time and patience to do this, then it may work for you. The normal human being in this country is not a stay-at-home mother/father, so the time needed to invest is rather unrealistic for anyone who works a normal schedule, let alone the person who works more than 40 hours a week. In only 15 minutes my girlfriend was able to clip 8-9 "normal" coupons from a weekly ad mailer. Having paid $5 for a two-week membership and invested three to four times the actual time and effort of "normal" coupon clipping, we were empty handed.

Savings Angel presents itself as a time-saver as well as a money-saver. The first variable I would say is quite misleading. While it can save you some money, the amount of time and effort it seems one needs to invest is completely unrealistic. If you are a normal family of four, BOTH parents work at least 40 hours a week. In MOST cases, neither of those parents have the time to sit online for an hour or more to search for and print coupons. There are random exceptions, but if I had two kids, I don't think I would have much time to devote to a website that simply adds to the time it takes to search for coupons.

In my own opinion, if you require me to pay a membership to your coupon website, you'd better have all those coupons available on your site and let me print those coupons right from your website, other than that you haven't really done me many favors worth my money.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The District Through my Eyes.

Here's a small photographic sampling of my wanderings around downtown Washington D.C. during my trip. Remember, you can click on each picture for a larger, more detailed version. Thanks and ENJOY!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Return Leg: AirTran BWI-GRR

So after a quick few days in the Washington D.C. metro region, it was time to return to 'The Mitten'. Good times, great family, amazingly delicious bbq and middle-eastern food and more than a few tasty East-coast craft beers were had.

On Sunday, July 17 we began our journey up the 295 Baltimore-Washington Parkway toward BWI about 1:15pm EST for our 3:30pm departure. Immediatly upon entering the parkway we encountered bottlenecked and clogged traffic travelling at only 5-10mph. My concerns began to grow each minute we were stuck in the mess with no forseeable end. Soon enough however (in about 15 mins) the clog mercifully cleared at the exit for the (now closed) Goddard Space Center. No accident, no construction, no lane closures. I guess beltway people like to gawk at off-ramps ;). At any length, we arrived promptly curbside about 2pm sharp. I immediatly got myself checked in at a kiosk and then proceeded to show my technology-deficient mom how to use the kiosks, haha. A small backup in the TSA lines were no problem, and by 2:30 we were walking toward gate D23.

Sunday, July 17, 2011.
AirTran Airways
Flight #484 BWI-GRR
Equipment: Boeing 717-200
Seat: 23A - Window
Dep. 3:33 PM
Arr. 5:06 PM

On time departure saw us launching to the West, which sadly meant no banking out over the Chesapeake. One could immediatly see the heat haze in the small-popping clouds as we ascended over the mid-atlantic toward the great lakes region.

Super-quick climb-out. You can simply tell how warm and volatile the air is from the clouds.

The last shot over Lake Erie really let's the viewer see the heat-haze I speak of. Pictured is the start of the Toledo River. Upon landing in GRR it was well above 90 Degrees F.

During the flight I would have said the load was only between 60% and 70%. We were seated in row 23 on the left side, right behind the second exit row. Behind us there were only 5-7 people. Both seats in the exit row in front of us was empty, so yours truly jumped forward and grabbed some extra leg room for a little bit.

All too quickly I recognized the Northwestern Ohio coast of Lake Erie below us, and soon after decent began. The quickness of that hop seemed odd to me, as all my travels in the last several years have taken me to California. It was however over all too soon and we landed parallel I-196 on rwy. 26L in GRR. A quick taxi in and my amazing girlfriend was waiting for us at the end of concourse B. I could not think up a better welcoming comittee!

As mentioned in the out-going trip report, the only flaw of AirTran was the dang destroyed arm-rest. Boarding was event-free and even though I was in zone 5, I was on in under 6 minutes! Now I use Delta (and formerly Northwest) for most of my flying needs. It seems as if on all of my Delta flights, no matter where, the gate lice and line-jumpers are everywhere. The gate dragon calls for first class only, and 40 people run to the gate, or during the call for those needing assistance four able-bodied business men/women head up. I don't know what the difference is, it might have just been random circumstance, but it was pleasant to see!

Apologies for the lack of photos on this leg, I think I was more focused on the chores to catch up on at home upon return, as well as being somewhat sad of the vacation's end.

I hope all have enjoyed, even though the experience is short and ordinary.

Thank you and happy travels!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

AirTran Airways and BWI/Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

At the end of June a relative of mine living in the Washington D.C. area contacted my mother and I about coming down in a few weeks for a visit. Since I had not been to the D.C. area since middle school I was immediatly up for the getaway. I would travel down on Wednesday, July 13, my mother would travel the day after on July 14th and we'd both travel back to GRR together on Sunday, July 17. With the dates set, travel logistics needed to be figured out. When travelling into the Washington D.C. area you have a choice of three airports. The first, and largest, is Washington Dulles airport in Northern Virginia which is a ways from the center of the metro, but is a major hub for United Airlines and serves as the regions international gateway. One needs access Dulles by freeway or shuttle, or likely bus as the Metro rail does not reach out to it yet. Second is the most convenient, Washington Reagan National airport. This airport is very similar to NY-LaGuardia, it sits in the center of everything, right on the Potomac and more than a mile South of the Pentagon on the Virginia side. It's land-size is small, but it's extremely busy and congested, again similar to LaGuardia. It's usually a more expensive airport to fly through as it's used a lot by businessmen and politicians due to it's location and ground/public transportation options.

From GRR, you have a non-stop flight to Reagan National (DCA) by Delta, but it's often expensive as mentioned earlier. There exists no direct flights between GRR and IAD (Dulles) as of yet, so one must likely take United and connect in Chicago. Until the last year, the third choice wasn't much better. The third choice being BWI, or Baltimore-Washington International. BWI sits South of Baltimore and is only a half-hour's drive from D.C.'s Northern suburbs. In May of 2010 low cost carrier AirTran Airways began several daily round-trips between GRR and it's BWI mini-hub. BWI is not only home to AirTran, but it also serves as a massive East-coast hub for Southwest. Fares here are usually heavily disounted compared to choices one and two. As an example, both my mother and I had ticket prices that were below $200 R/T, likely 1/3 of what it would have cost to fly into DCA, the most convenient airport. With my relatives living in Greenbelt, Maryland (North of D.C. proper) BWI made the most sense. We found out there was a shuttle running every 40 minutes between BWI and the Greenbelt Metro station (the last stop on the Green Line and a mile from my relative's residence!). It was sealed and all was booked with AirTran, an airline I had never flown with previously.

Wed. July 13, 2011
AirTran Airways
Flight 959
Seat 26 A - Window
Dep. 2:34 PM
Arr. 4:04 PM

I arrived at GRR around 11:00 in the morning due to it being my only option for a ride to the airport, and I wasn't going to pay for parking so it was worth it in the end. After sitting around for a while I made my way through security and down the B councourse to gate B-5.

My Boeing 717 awaited me, my first Boeing 717 experience. It turned out to be very similar to a DC-9, just 40-years younger. Before boarding the gate dragons were announcing an upgrade to business class for $49, not bad at all. I gave it some thought, but decided against as it was only a 1hr. 15min. flight. In no time my zone number four was called to board. I am very impressed with AirTran's boarding process, both times we loaded fast, orderly and without gate-lice and line-jumpers.
We pushed back and taxied out for an Easterly takeoff from rwy. 8R. We proceeded out over the Michigan countryside, over Lowell, MI, passed over DTW and Downriver Detroit, and Lake Erie. We made land-fall around Cleveland and continued on our Southeastern heading over W. Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Upon our arrival there had been storms in the area that were moving South and it was a rainy approach over the Chesapeake Bay into BWI.

Detroit Metro Airport below!

Obligatory legroom shot. My legs are almost stretched out all the way, when you're 5'3", even coach isn't bad.

Our rainy approach over the bay.

Upon landing it became very clear to us that the storm had just passed through BWI and was headed South toward Dulles and Reagan. These two United Boeing 777's and the SAS Scandinavian Airbus were all diverted to BWI on their way to Dulles. The flight crew also informed us upon landing that BWI controllers had issued a ground-stop to all departing aircraft. As we taxied in, we passed a holding que with no less than 8 Southwest 737's, a US A320 and two AA 737's waiting for clearance to get outta dodge.
We taxied around from the South side of the terminal over to the North side where concourse D sits, and where AirTran resides. As we pulled in we were one of only a handful of jets at the councourse nearly 30 gates large; a couple US E-145's waited with a US A320 to Phoenix, a lone United 757 stood by waiting to head back to Chicago. We were the only AirTran flight present when we arrived. BWI, aside from the gorgous and relatively new Southwest Airlines terminal, is somewhat lacking. It has a very 1980's spartan feel to it, but it's efficiently utilitarian. Concourse D has sufficient food and dining, but is nothing to write home about. If connecting between concourses and terminals, one must leave security and then re-enter as one cannot traverse between the airport concourses without leaving the sterile airside area. I failed to take any pictures either in-bound or out-bound of the terminal and gate areas, my appologies. In Lieu of photos, here is a gate map:

AirTran is overall a pretty decent low-cost airline. The price is right and they seem to have things down to a pretty efficient science. Modest cabin crew and clean, new planes. My only real complaint was that on both my flights I encountered a severely broken armrest in my row. When I say severely broken, I mean actually busted/physically broken and coming apart. Even though you are an LCC, this is not the image you want to leave a customer with. Would I fly with them again however? Certainly, if they have a price and schedule that works for me.

With the pending merger of AirTran and Southwest, it is un-clear what changes are in store for the airline. There has been a lot of speculation about SWA cutting some service(AirTran) to smaller cities like Grand Rapids. I for one am really hoping that does not happen, but I will remain dubious until official news arrives. With the merger in mind, I will leave you with a picture of AirTran's future.