A weekend jaunt to Lexington 

by Seat 2A 

DEN-LEX-DEN?!! Why would anyone want to read about that? Granted, you've really gotta enjoy reading about flying to proceed beyond this point so I guess that my primary challenge here is to see if I can bring some life to such a pedestrian sounding itinerary. Would it help if I told you that most of this trip was done in First Class and that there were lots of meals? No? Ah well then, this one's for the hardcores. The rest of you will have to wait until my International First Class travel commences later this year.

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With no plans to do anything that might result in personal monetary gain until Tuesday the 14th, I decided to use a couple of days of my free time by taking advantage of a great deal being offered by Northwest between Denver and Lexington, KY. Not that I – despite my love of horses – have any real business in Lexington. No – this trip was purely a Mileage Run from the word “Confirm”. I booked the following routing:


Total Cost: $139.50
Total Status Miles: 6300 or 0.02214 per mile
Total Earned Miles: 12600 or 0.01107 per mile

It’s only eight flights and to be honest I wasn’t going to write a report but I was upgraded to First Class on most of the flights and was surprised not only that meals were offered but also at the amount of food offered relative to the length of the flight. So, I just had to write the report!

10 January
DEN-MSP 915a-1208p First Class A320-211 N321US Seat 3B
MSP-EWR 101p-446p Coach Class A319-114 N319NB Seat 5F
EWR-MEM 600p-812p First Class DC-9-31 N90S Seat 2A
MEM-LEX 925p-1210a Coach Class SAAB 340 N424XJ Seat 5A

I’m spending the winter in Dillon, Colorado – located about 80 miles west of and 4000 feet higher than Denver. I didn’t relish the prospect of getting up at 5:00am and so decided to drive down to a point near DIA and sleep in the back of my truck. My sleeping bag is rated to –5 degrees but it felt like I needed every bit of its insulation as the overnight temperature dropped down to 11 degrees at my little spot off south Airport Road. I awoke at 7:00am to find my water bottle almost entirely frozen. It yielded only a few sparse drops of water to start the day with. I headed up the road to a McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin and some coffee before parking my rig over at DIAPark. The sun was just rising over the gently rolling farmland of eastern Colorado and as we drove the 10 miles up Pena Blvd. to DIA I was happy to know that it was going to be a fine day for flying.

I’d managed to get upgraded into First Class between Denver and Minneapolis and also between Newark and Memphis, so I checked in at the empty First Class check in counter. By contrast, the Coach check in counters were quite busy with similarly timed departures to Memphis and Detroit also checking in. In no time I was on my way to Continental’s President’s Club where I enjoyed a coffee, a Danish and a copy of the Denver Post before heading on over to the C Concourse for my flight to Minneapolis.

Northwest’s A320s offer 16 First Class seats upholstered in dark blue fabric. All of Northwest’s First Class seats fleet wide are upholstered in this manner and while the First Class cabin does not reflect much imagination on behalf of Northwest’s interior designer team, I’ll take fabric over leather any day. First Class was full this morning but my jacket was quickly hung and soon after settling into my seat I was sipping a glass of nicely chilled orange juice.

Take off was to the north and after banking slightly to the northeast, we continued on up to our cruising altitude of 37000 feet and pretty much bee lined it on into the Twin Cities. About 20 minutes into the flight, the beverage cart appeared and I was more than happy to accept my third cup of coffee for the day. Northwest serves Caravali Coffee and as airline coffee goes, it’s more than potable. Breakfast followed soon after. Today’s offering consisted of a bowl of Corn Chex, a banana, a bagel and a Quaker Oats granola bar. I believe Northwest calls this a First Class Breakfast Snack rather than a full breakfast but it looked quite good and had I known it was to be served I’d have passed on Mickey D’s. I flew Northwest First to MSP on a similarly timed departure a couple of years ago and there was no meal service.

It’s only 693 miles between Denver and Minneapolis so before long we were on final approach over the frozen suburbs of western Minneapolis. Like most mid-western cities, it sure looked bleak in the wintertime. We parked at gate G-22, down at the very end of the G Concourse. From there it was a leisurely stroll down a series of moving sidewalks that whisked me on over to the C Concourse for my onward flight to Newark. It was departing from gate C-12, conveniently located right next door to the finest domestic airline lounge in the nation – Northwest’s new C Concourse World Club. Those of you who’ve read any of my ramblings over the past year may recall my descriptions of this fine lounge and its counterparts at DTW and MEM. They are truly beautiful lounges, far superior in style, furnishings and amenities than most of their counterparts operated by American and United. From my experience at least, only Continental offers lounges of similar quality.

As an Alaska MVP Gold, I had little chance of clearing the upgrade list vs. all the Northwest Golds and Plats on this popular mid-day departure into the busy New York area. As such, I was more than happy to have snagged bulkhead seat 5F on the little A319 operating this flight. Northwest does not have a solid bulkhead on it’s 319s and 320s so the bulkhead seats are quite good to have in that they offer plenty of legroom and even an occasional glimpse of whatever food’s being served up in First Class. Today, that meal appeared to be a nice chicken noodle salad consisting of a full chicken breast resting quietly amidst a pile of what appeared to be soba noodles accented with scallions and peanuts. Unfortunately, I only got a short glimpse when the cart came through as Northwest normally closes the curtain off between First Class and Coach and unlike some airlines does not allow Coach passengers to wander through the First Class cabin and use the First Class lavatories. This is a policy that I whole heartedly endorse and any of you that peruse the Alaska Airlines forum may have noticed my comments there in this regard.

Without a doubt, my steadfast refusal to budge from my assertion that Coach passengers belong in Coach (except in an incontinence related emergency) and that their occasionally constant intrusion into the sanctity of the First Class cabin only serves to degrade the traditional peace and quiet of First Class as advertised has served to alienate me amongst a good number of Alaska fliers who for the most part seem to thoroughly enjoy their right to traipse through First Class at will. I say hats off to Northwest and the rest of the world’s finest airlines who close the curtain between cabins and thereby maintain the sanctity of the First Class cabin and by extension the quieter ambience of the First Class experience.

We arrived in Newark on a beautiful winter afternoon – well, at least an afternoon as beautiful as one could possibly get in Newark. I actually put down my book and spent the final ten minutes of the flight looking out the window. Any of you who’ve flown into Newark very often know that unless it’s a clear day and you’ve a nice view of the Manhattan skyline, the land and sights around Newark offer little of inspiration. Today however, the interplay between the sun, the clouds, the shadows, the wetlands and the numerous highways, chemical factories and tank farms was truly stunning!

Despite operating only 15-20 daily flights into Newark, Northwest operates a sizeable World Club at EWR. It’s not one of the newer designs that I gushed over earlier in this report but it’s well appointed and made for a most pleasant break between flights. The fridge was well stocked with Heinekens, Miller Lights and MGDs along with a full open bar and a selection of pretzels, crackers, cheese and cookies.

Ex-Southern Airways DC-9-31 N90S awaited us for this evening dinner flight down to Memphis. This particular aircraft took its first production flight on April 23rd, 1969 making it almost 34 years old! Still, it wore its years well and as I settled comfortably into Seat 2A, I accepted an ice cold James Page lager and awaited the dinner to follow.

As we taxied out to the runway, we passed A340s from Air France and Lufthansa along with a 747-400 from EL AL. I like EL AL’s new color scheme a lot. Very stylish. We followed a Continental 767-400 onto the runway and soon were climbing out over Elizabeth, New Brunswick and Trenton whilst climbing to our assigned cruising altitude of 36000 feet on down to Memphis. Flight time was projected to be 2 hours, 39 minutes over our 946 mile route tonight and an on time arrival in Memphis was expected.

Inflight service commenced with the beverage cart and I was soon enjoying my second beer of the evening, offered with a choice of pretzels or smoked almonds from the snack basket. Of course I selected the almonds and when the basket made its second round through the cabin I wasn’t surprised to find plenty of pretzels but no more almonds. That’s alright – at least Northwest still offers almonds!

The dinner choices this evening were as follows:

Roasted Chicken in Port Wine Sauce
Accompanied by green beans and mashed potatoes

Ravioli Stuffed with Cheese and Spinach
Topped with a creamy mushroom sauce

I selected the chicken and was not disappointed. A decently sized chicken breast had been skinned, then baked and doused with a sizeable portion of a fairly flavorful port wine sauce. There were plenty of mashed potatoes and green beans accompanied by a large sourdough roll. The salad could best be described as a Greek Salad, accented by Greek olives, Feta cheese, pepperoncini, tomatoes and onions. It was offered with a container of Greek Vinaigrette and as airline salads go, it was excellent. Dessert was a small slice of Sacher Torte. It was topped with a small dollop of whipped cream and shaved chocolate and made a nice ending to this meal. For a 950 mile flight in this day and age, this dinner represented an excellent First Class meal.

My flight up to Lexington was operated by Northwest Airlink in conjunction with Mesaba Airlines. The aircraft was a Saab 340, a propeller driven aircraft seating about 30 passengers in a 2-1 configuration. Mesaba’s layout was comfortable enough for the 1:15 minute flight though I’d advise anyone flying this aircraft to avoid row 5 as it is just before the exit row and as such the seats don’t recline. We arrived in Lexington right at midnight. The temperature was quoted as 25 degrees.

The last time I flew into LEX was back in 1979. The current terminal bore no resemblance to the little airport that served Lexington back then. The new terminal was modern and spacious and I had no problem finding a secluded place to set out my Thermarest pad and sleeping bag. I slept soundly until 5:45am. Had I not brought an alarm, I might have slept far longer.

11 January
LEX-MEM 705a-801a Coach Class SAAB 340 N424XJ Seat 6D
MEM-EWR 855a-1228p First Class DC-9-32 N613NW Seat 2A
EWR-MSP 130p-333p First Class DC-9-32 N613NW Seat 2A
MSP-DEN 445p-549p First Class A319-114 N328NB Seat 2A

As I boarded the same Saab 340 that brought me up from Memphis, it quickly became obvious that nothing had been done to preheat the aircraft prior to our boarding. It was really cold! Interestingly, our pilots and flight attendant were the same ones that had worked the flight in from MEM last night. This meant the pilots in particular were operating on only about 5 hours sleep. DOT regulations affecting my job require us to have eight hours off between shifts. Interesting that the same safety measures don’t come into play in the air…

Flight time to Memphis was an hour and 40 minutes, substantially longer than the flight in last night. We cruised at 16000 feet and the cabin warmed up quickly once the props started spinning. I regretted not getting a seat on the A side of the cabin as the sunrise looked very pretty. Coffee and granola bars were served but I passed and slept through most of the flight.

The flight from Memphis into Newark was offering a breakfast service in First Class so I passed on the array of Biscotti in the MEM World Club and enjoyed a latte from the automated coffee maker. On the way to the gate I stopped at the Paradies airport store and purchased a Tennessee Titans cap for the unconscionable price of $21.84! Thankfully, it wasn’t for me and I would be reimbursed. If the Titans lose to the Raiders next week, those caps’ll be sellin’ for a far sight less!

Another vintage DC-9 awaited me at Gate B-39. N613NW first flew on September 29th, 1969 and after serving with Italy’s Alitalia, ATI and Eurofly Airlines, it joined Northwest in 1995. All of Northwest’s DC-9 fleet have been completely refurbished and I find them as comfortable as most any other domestic jetliner out there. Granted, the First Class seats are Slimline, but the padding was adequate and overall they are plenty comfortable for the flights on which Northwest schedules them – generally nothing longer than 1-2.5 hours.

Breakfast this morning was a choice between scrambled eggs or Corn Flakes. I chose the corn flakes while seatmate chose the eggs. My cereal arrived in a large bowl accompanied by a nice fruit bowl (A big strawberry, cantaloupe and Orange slices) and a small carton of 2% milk. Seatmate enjoyed his eggs which were accompanied by some greasy looking Potatoes O’Brien and two link sausages. Both entrees were offered with a choice of bagel and cream cheese or an apple crumble muffin. I chose the bagel and will be sure to drop Northwest a line thanking them for their reasonably bountiful breakfast selections but recommending they find a different bagel supplier. Northwest’s bagels are without a doubt the worst bagels I have ever eaten!

Our mid-day arrival into Newark was lacking in the late day sun and shadows of my previous arrival so I spent the approach chatting with seatmate about neat places to consider for his upcoming vacation to Australia. I’ve made numerous trips to Australia and have quite literally been all over the continent. What a great place to visit!

The change in flight numbers notwithstanding, N613NW remained the aircraft of record for my continuing flight into Minneapolis. Meal service was described as a lunch for First Class. Here are the offerings:


To Begin

Greek Salad Bowl
Accented by Greek Olives, Feta Cheese, Pepperoncinis, Tomatoes and Red Onions. Offered with pre-packaged Greek Vinaigrette Dressing


Cherry Chicken Salad
Radiccio lettuce is topped with a generous portion of chicken mayonnaise blended with tri-colored penne pasta and accented with onions, celery and dried bing cherries

Italian Sandwich
A large hoagie roll is stuffed with ham, salami, turkey and Provolone cheese.
Garnished with lettuce, red onions, tomatoes and Dijon mustard

Sacher Torte

Our flight attendant offered a polite and gracious service – really I thought she must have been on loan from the International division! Not only did she inform us of the menu choices, she actually displayed both entrees. The sandwich looked huge and with another meal coming up on my MSP-DEN leg, I opted for the Chicken Salad. It was delicious! A cup of coffee accompanied the rich Sacher Torte and I spent the remainder of the flight comfortably reclined with a glass of cheap red wine whilst polishing off Barbara Ehrenreich’s soon to be classic book “Nickle And Dimed”. I highly recommend this book in which Ms. Ehrenreich, a well educated woman and author of numerous books, decides to join the minimum wage work force in an attempt to discover whether or not anyone can really survive in America, much less prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour. To find out, she moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide and Wal-Mart salesperson. It’s a great Trip Report about life on the other side of capitalism.

In Minneapolis, I walked from the end of the F Concourse all the way over to the C Concourse World Club, a distance I would estimate at a little over half a mile. The C Concourse at MSP certainly gets my vote as one of the nicest airport concourses anywhere, including Singapore’s Changi. It’s wide and well lit, offering spacious boarding lounges with plenty of shops along the way. The food court area down near the middle of the concourse is very attractively designed and if any of you are passing through MSP and have the time to investigate, I recommend you get a little exercise and check out this fine concourse! It’ll be that much better if your flight is scheduled to leave from there anyway.

My flight to Denver was to depart from gate G-20 so in essence I’d just about circumnavigated the Minneapolis airport during my one hour layover. I boarded the A319 and once again settled into my favorite seat. The sun sat low on the horizon as we climbed out of Minneapolis and as we banked towards Denver I reclined my seat and took in the beautiful late afternoon sun and shadows.

Years ago, this flight used to rate a dinner but these days, I considered myself lucky to get anything at all given that flight time was only an hour and a half. This was listed as a snack service in First and after downing my first beer, I was pleased to receive a large Roast beef and Cheddar sandwich accompanied by all the usual garnishes and a fruit salad. Dessert was a large and delicious slice of carrot cake. The sandwich came with a horseradish sauce but I decided to use some of my Grey Poupon packets from last week’s trip up to Alaska.

And that, folks, brings me to the end of this mini-Trip Report. I hope you liked it. In all, this was a nice little weekend excursion. I accrued a nice chunk of miles for the money and Northwest fed me far better and far more than I had expected. Home       Trip Reports Index       Whine And Cheez Index       Discussion Forums

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