TRIP REPORT: US Airways MAN-PHL-MCO and back again!

Before I start with the report, I may as well say yes, I’m sorry for not posting anything for a while, I’m a bit of a slowcoach when it comes to posting things! I’ve got a few plans for thing so expect them “sometime within the next year”!

PART 1: SPOTTING AND MISSED CONNECTIONS

Hi everyone, I’ve thought about writing a trip report for a while and so here is my first, I hope you enjoy! It follows my recent adventure to Florida with US Airways, via Philadelphia. Please give me some feedback, I would really appreciate it for my next trip in December!

First up, a bit of spotting in T2 at Manchester, my departure airport. Stood at the gate waiting to board, I spotted the light blue tail of a large Thomson jet right at the far end of the terminal. Having not seen a 787 before, I was very curious as to whether this could be it so felt like I would have a walk to investigate.

On the way down there I saw a few monarch aircraft, A 757 and A321 were parked up at the terminal and a few others on remote stands. The A321 happened to start it’s push-back as I passed and so I briefly stopped to watch.

Getting closer to the end of the terminal, I found I was correct; The Thomson aircraft had the swooping, unmistakable wings of a 787!

It was in a pretty good position for a nice overview but sadly I couldn’t get a good view of the wings because there was a gate in the way.

Upon returning to my own gate, I found that our own aircraft, N274AY, had arrived at the gate. I was rather pleased to see that this was an A330-300 rather than the usual -200; it meant I might have a chance of journeying on both types in this trip.

Interesting to see Thomson still hadn’t finished painting all the First Choice aircraft yet.

Some point later on the 787 was towed to a proper gate at the other end of T2, an event I almost entirely missed and so didn’t get any good shots from. Virgin Atlantic A333 G-VSXY (Which I have in 1:400 form) was also present but was in the process of boarding so people were in the way of the gate as I headed up to see more of the 787.

And finally I got to the (mostly quiet) gate with the 787 in. A few passengers had already arrived, and every single one was making slightly nervous jokes about batteries and fire…

Soon after taking that, boarding was announced so I headed back to rendezvous with the family and get on board our flight.
I’m afraid I didn’t take many pictures here so I’ll place more detailed opinions into the return journey.

Date: 26/07/2013
Airline: US Airways
Flight Number: AWE735
Departure Airport: Manchester International Airport, UK (MAN/EGCC)
Arrival Airport: Philadelphia International Airport, USA (PHL/KPHL)
Departure Time: 12:00
Arrival Time: 14:55
Flight Duration: 7hr 55min
Aircraft Type: Airbus A330-313X
Aircraft Registration: N274AY
Seat Number: 22H (Window seat, Starboard side)

Upon boarding, I found my seat (which I admittedly ‘earned’ off another family member instead of the central aisle seat I was originally given) and found I had a

rather nice view over the wing. G-VSXY was parked up beside us and G-TUIA (the 787) next to that.

Legroom was alright for a 16-year old like myself, but the under-seat are was rather small and, as you can see below, with my bag and pillows stowed there wasn’t any space for legs. I could have put the bag overhead but I’m a little neurotic about leaving my laptop and things out of sight while travelling. I did move my bag to make enough space to fit my legs once we were taxiing.

We were the only aircraft departing at the time so it was a quick taxi to runway 23R and an immediate departure. I sat back to watch the UK and Ireland drop away from us as we climbed up to altitude (I didn’t fancy disobeying the request to “Turn phones off, Aeroplane mode doesn’t count” since we know what US security can be like, so no pics/videos). As soon as I could I snapped a quick picture of the A333’s wings fully flexed and sat back to enjoy an X-Men film – I’ll talk about the IFE later, but my opinion wasn’t great.

The flight across was rather uneventful, though the cabin attendants seemed to be less than enjoying their job, one of them was scowling for the majority of the flight. They also made fun of me for calling sprite lemonade, a perfectly legitimate thing to do in the UK… I later understand US lemonade is the cloudy, fresh-lemony stuff.

Arrival in Philadelphia was smooth enough and all seemed alright since we were about 30 mins early. This was, of course,  until we realised that not only did we have to go through the US border there (which was as dull as always), we also had to collect our bags and drop them back into the domestic system or something, then pass through security, which was hideously slow and tedious, primarily because the crew used the same line as everyone else but actually were more useless than us cattle; they repeatedly tried going through with shoes on, or metal labels/badges! This meant lots of waiting and a queue going out the door for security!
What’s worse is we had the wrong time for our flight, someone in our group misread the time as 5:55pm when it was actually 15:55 and nobody bothered to double-check… This meant we didn’t ask to be put at the front, and subsequently missed our connection; not that we would have made it anyway, having taken so long to get through security and bag drops.
Once we were back to the airside area of PHL we realised our mistake, though only after trying to scour the awful arrival boards at the international terminal, which were dim and on a nasty contrast level so they almost looked like they were just blank screens from a (short) distance.

Fortunately US had a flight 2 hours later to Orlando we could take, along with a fair few others who missed the same connection. This was on an A321 rather than a B752 (what we would have been on) so while I knew we would be sampling less variants of the US Airways fleet (I knew we’d be on an A32X aircraft on the return to PHL) I like the A321 a lot as an aircraft so it wasn’t so bad.

All that was left was an agonising wait in terminal B of PHL. My thoughts on the airport? it’s a bit rubbish. The place is overcrowded (At peak times), sprawling, and generally a bit outdated. Everyone has to run to catch connections because AWE puts them too close together for an airport of that size. Didn’t take any photos since there was too much hustle and bustle but I was pleased to see lots of E170s, which are very rare here in the north of England.

Date: 26/07/2013
Airline: US Airways
Flight Number: AWE759
Departure Airport: Philadelphia International Airport, USA (PHL/KPHL)
Arrival Airport: Orlando International Airport, FL, USA (MCO/KMCO)
Departure Time: 19:29
Arrival Time: 21:21
Flight Duration: 1hr 52min
Aircraft Type: Airbus A321
Aircraft Registration: UNKNOWN
Seat Number: 13F (Window seat, Starboard side)

On to our replacement flight we eventually got, sadly there weren’t any good points to grab the registration so I’ve no idea which aircraft it was other than an A321.

I once again managed to swap my way into a window seat (as always!) and got to enjoy the quick flight down the East coast, watching the (rather impressive) sunset.

I also found it quite amusing sitting far forward enough to be able to see my own reflection in the engine cowling; normally I’m seated above or behind the wing on a flight since I’m always in economy. I had the 6th (and 7th when reclined) windows from the door in the image.

Legroom wasn’t too bad either since there wasn’t an IFE box in the way any more. Fortunately I’d charge my phone in PHL so listened to music for a bit while enjoying the outside view. I did do another shot of the legroom but my bag was again poorly positioned to make it look rather uncomfortable.

Arriving in Orlando was again very smooth, and we happened to pull up next to the 757 that should have taken us there in the first place.

PART 2: MORE US AIRWAYS CHAOS

After a good couple of weeks in Orlando and Tampa, we set off towards MCO only slightly fearful of getting a missed connection and being stuck in PHL. These would become much worse fears later on but for now everything was, for the most part, alright.

At the airport, we were allocated seats all over the plane; nobody was sat next to each other for the PHL-MAN leg. The attendant at the desk informed us this was due to US trying to get us to pay extra to select seats (the flight wasn’t full and we were the first to check in too). Again, not cool, especially when there are kids in our group who really don’t want to be sat alone. Fortunately we managed to persuade them to give us a middle row for one family so that they were together but only following a lot of fuss.

After that, MCO was alright though again there were horrible queues for security. UK airports manage it so much better with the same equipment, I’ve never seen a particularly long queue at a UK airport as far as I remember. Fortunately, perhaps the only cheerful TSA officer in existence decided to push us to the front of the queue since we were such a big group. MCO is a bit of a dull airport, everything is spread out in the domestic terminals and there aren’t many stores in the US Airways bit to start with. Fortunately there are plenty of windows to look out of; I spotted this United 757 but can’t tell if it’s a -200 or -300, can anyone enlighten me?

Soon after arriving, our aircraft, an A320-214, pulled up to the gate as well. This time I caugt the registration, the rather pleasing numbered N123UW.

Date: 07/08/2013
Airline: US Airways
Flight Number: AWE734
Departure Airport: Orlando International Airport, FL, USA (MCO/KMCO)
Arrival Airport: Philadelphia International Airport, USA (PHL/KPHL)
Departure Time: 17:30
Arrival Time: 19:27
Flight Duration: 1hr 57min
Aircraft Type: Airbus A320-214
Aircraft Registration: N123UW
Seat Number: 19F (Window seat, Starboard side)

Boarding all went smoothly, nothing really worth mentioning. Pretty much the same legroom as the A321; Same product, obviously.

I could see a US Airways A321 and the UA 757 from earlier out my window. Have I mentioned that I love the A320-series’ wing and those cool little winglets? Much more interesting than sharklets.

Here’s a pic of the cabin. Does anyone know what the faintly visible clouds that come out of the air con system are? I’ve only seen them a few times while boarding.
Somebody in front had a lobster in a box as hand luggage, which I found quite amusing.

These signs are new to me. Much more useful than no smoking these days, too!

And here is a quick shot of a tray table, for reasons I will mention later. For now, note how it is quite spacious and square.

I stopped taking photos after this, I think my phone ran out of power after being used all day. So I’ll have to describe the rest of the journey to Philadelphia myself. We pushed back on time, but spent about 10-15 minutes sat on the tarmac with the engines running. We started to think how a hold up would be catastrophic for getting home.
Next, we hear the unmistakeable groan of the engine shutting down. We worry even more.
Finally, we’re told that the pilots have found a computer malfunction of some sort and are re-starting EVERYTHING to fix it and will take 5 minutes. Not so bad then, though the nervous flyers with us weren’t so happy. By thew way, remember the words ‘Computer Malfunction’ for later. Anyway, in the same message, we’re told we’ve been given a departure time 20 minutes later than scheduled. Our worries return.

For the most part, the rest of the flight was uneventful (I fell asleep after the early morning trip from Tampa), though the arrival to PHL was agonising slow, both because we sat in holds for ages and because we were so nervous about this tiny connection time. Once we finally made it onto the ground we made a loooooong taxi all the way across the airport, and then once we arrived at the terminal were told we had to wait for a Delta CRJ700 to move out the way. It took something like 5-10 minutes to do so, for some reason. Of course we charged off as quickly and politely as we could, and while we had booked a wheelchair for my grandmother, we (well, she did anyway) gave up on it anyway when they told us we had to wait for the plane to empty for some reason. So the younger ones sprinted to stop our flight leaving (we had maybe 15-20 minutes to cross the airport at disembarktion) so the older folk had time to not sprint to the gate.

Once we arrived, instead of finding an empty gate area and no plane like we were expecting, it was actually full, and our flight had been unloaded and delayed for what was at that point one hour due to… yep, ‘Computer problems’ (Turns out they couldn’t get the thing to take on fuel).
5 Hours, a free food voucher and a pack of dodgy tasting mentos later, we finally got the call that we were no longer delayed as, instead of the plane’s computers (which had at this point been replaced in some form) being dodgy it was actually the fuel truck all along, and we could have been delayed a lot less. By the way, we would have made it on to the flight if it was on time anyway!

Anyway, after this point things weren’t so bad.

Date: 07/08/2013
Airline: US Airways
Flight Number: AWE734
Departure Airport: Philadelphia International Airport, USA (PHL/KPHL)
Arrival Airport: Manchester International Airport, UK (MAN/EGCC)
Departure Time: 01:40
Arrival Time: 12:07
Flight Duration: 5hr 27min
Aircraft Type: Airbus A330-243
Aircraft Registration: N287AY
Seat Number: 12A (Window seat, Port side)

Quickly looking up the registration of the aircraft I realised we had the nearly-new N287AY, delivered in May 2013! Sadly the mythical ‘new plane smell’ seemed to have dissipated at this point but everything was still very clean. I’d heard of US Airways having dreadful legroom in their A332s but since this is a newer model it seems they’ve (thankfully) fixed things, since the space was about the same as the MAN-PHL leg in the A333. Space for my feet with my bag properly positioned this time.

Another shot of the modern overhead signage, I swear I’ve never seen this before!

Sadly there wasn’t much to see out at a rainy 1AM, but you can see how clean this brand-new plane is!

I was pleased to find a USB port in the armrest too, I managed to put some more power into my phone after adding about 20% at a very busy plug socket at the gate.

We were stuck with an annoying wait for the IFE though as they rebooted in after we boarded. Previously, it had been usable from boarding, with sfety shown only on large screens at the front of the cabin.

Once it loaded we were already taxiing and the safety video didn’t finish until we were practically lined up with the runway! Once we were going though, I put on another X-Men film to watch since it was absolute darkness outside.

While the UI for the IFE in these aircraft is very nice, the screens themselves used the most unresponsive pressure-based sytem I’ve ever come across. To select anything required at least 2 very violent taps on the screen, which was very annoying for everyone. Took ages to select a film if it was at the end of a list!

Not long after the film ended, I began to see the usual pretty sunrise of a red-eye flight, something I enjoy seeing every time, revealing the alien landscape of clouds below. I also finally found out that I was sat in a good position, very near the leading edge of the wing and with an interesting view of the powerhouse that is the Trent 700.

Breakfast was also served around this time, and I realised that I greatly prefer the domestic tray tables since they’re blank and provide more space than the International ones, completely the opposite of what I’d want. On US’ A330s, the tray tables are smeared with phone network advertising which is rather annoying, and the odd wavy shape really doesn’t provide the greatest amout of room. On a slightly unrelated note, anyone else think there should be two spaces for drinks? I always find I have a half-full can and a full cup but only space for one on the table.

Evcentually we landed back at Manchester after a very, very short flight (Thanks, Jetstream!). The landing was spectacularly gentle, we honestly didn’t feel a bump when we touched down. I’d like to think it was the pilot from this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lowrM-780tg) that flew us there.
We taxied back up past the brand-new Manchester control Tower, and I managed to get a nice shot of it too!

I saw a glimpse of the Emirates A380 and Thomson 787 through the windows on the other side of the plane but only really saw a flash of colour as we went past; I was on the wrong side, sadly. I did spot two interesting liveries I didn’t recognise, anyone able to help me out?

The latter is a TUI aircraft of some sort I think. Speaking of which, we pulled up to this Jetairfly 737, presumably covering for Thomson.

Anyway, my conclusions.
US Airways is alright for short 1-3 hour flights on their own, and their fleet is in pretty good condition, however their international product leaves a lot to be desired and is rather irritating at times, not to mention numerous technical problems, a horrible hub airport and nearly impossible connections. I’d say spend a bit more and go direct if you can. Let’s hope they merge with American and improve themselves. SOON.

Domestic: 6/10

International: 5/10

My next trip should be with BA to Hong Kong aboard their new A380, around New Year. Feel free to pop any suggestions for improvement as I plan to report on that too!

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