Doing the San Diego shuffle 

by Charles M. Kunz

Through some rather astounding course of events which even I can’t believe, I am now dating a very wonderful girl. Coupled with the fact that the weekend of October 24-26 was my 18th birthday weekend, I decided a day trip might be fun. Sean was able to find me a good fare on America West and I figured bringing Marissa along would lead to an enjoyable trip. She enjoys traveling as much as I do and she’s never flown First Class. Being HP Gold which comes with unlimited upgrades plus companion upgrades sealed the deal. The plan was to grab the earliest flight of the day out and an early evening flight back to maximize time in So-Cal. So we were off to San Diego the day after I turned 18.


America West Flight 180
Scheduled Departure: 7:32 AM
Scheduled Board: 7:02 AM

At 5:20 AM while the majority of Tempe (especially Arizona State Slept) a piercing klaxon penetrated my sleep and I flung myself out of bed to turn my alarm off before it awakened my roommate Spencer. I needn’t have worried as I soon discovered he was in a Light Beer induced slumber and didn’t move during my entire morning routine. I dressed quickly and walked out of my dorm with a USAToday and a big grin, I was expecting a great trip. After two minutes Marissa pulled up at the curb and switched to the passenger seat. While she dozed, I zipped us down the 202 Loop to the floodlit Barry M. Goldwater Terminal at Phoenix Skyharbor Airport. After parking the car she presented me with my birthday gift which was a slew of inside jokes and I don’t want to go into again but I’m impressed with the collection she got for me. Even thought it was barely six AM the Ticketing/Check-In area was teaming with crowds headed out for the weekend as I had been. I saw a look of annoyance begin to spread on Marissa’s face as the thoughts of joining a 100 deep line entered her pretty head. Never fear honey! You’re dating an America West Elite! To the First Class line!

Once we got there we were behind one person and within a minute we were at the counter where an agent was able to confirm Marissa into Seat 2B next to me for the flight to SAN. I was quite impressed by the way I was treated by the agent. Coming off experiences with the American staff at LaGuardia where every three out of four check in experiences in the First Class/Platinum line is as pleasant as scrubbing mildew from your bathroom, this made for a breath of fresh air. I must say I am pleased with the way PHX is built, baggage claim/pick up on level 1, check in on level 2, gates on level 3 then parking garages up to level 9. After ascending the escalator and picking up some eats at a Bakery we headed to “Security Checkpoint A.” As there was at the ticket counter, a massive line was slowly snaking its way to the front, but once again I pulled us into the Elite/First Class line which was empty. At the front a security guard with her arms folded over her chest appraised the two of us and grunted “First Class or Coach?” Once I showed her the big “FIRST” written on the boarding pass she broke into a smile and wished us a pleasant flight. Do I not look like First Class material? Ouch. Once through security and she’d purchased a good supply of magazines, we secured ourselves at the mainly empty gate and began the waiting game. It passed quickly though as she began to wake up and became more talkative and soon Group 1 (First Class/HP Elites, same as AA) was called to board the Airbus going westbound.


Gate A6
Seat 2A First Class
A320 N642AW
Actual Board: 7:05 AM
Actual Depart: 7:28 AM – 4 Minutes Early
Take off 10 minutes after departure

Soon we were settled into the 12 seat First Class cabin of the relatively new Airbus and I began to compare its First Class cabin to that of the American MD-80’s I’m used to. There were fewer seats here by two (four with an ex-TWA in its original configuration) and the legroom seemed slightly less, the seats felt wider but missing the winged headrests I appreciate. Overall it was a very nice place to spend the hour or so flight. Soon after our f/a Robert brought around pre-departure beverages. America West has big cups but the orange juice was too watery but it was way too early to care. I’ve only been up earlier then 9:30 once since getting to college! I reminisced how exactly one year ago, I had been sitting on an aircraft waiting to go to California, but then it was an American 757 to San Jose to see my friend Josh and I was alone. While sitting in the second row and looking around I’d forgotten how close to the front of the plane you feel when you’re at the front of an Airbus, I could see the walls start to curve in Row 1, much different then on an MD-80 or 757. I figured the trip was off to a good omen when we pushed back four minutes early and after the scenic trip around the airport passing by Terminals 3 and 2 consecutively and what I believe to be some AZ National Guard Choppers; we turned onto the runway and after a long roll took off towards the Golden State.

Once airborne Marissa decided to take a nap (yeah I know, on her first trip up front all she wants to do is catch some Z’s) and she decided to do it on my right arm. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to read a magazine when you can’t use one arm and I’ll tell you, it is HARD. I didn’t complain though, that wouldn’t be gentlemanly. For these short flights up front HP services a cup of your beverage with a bag of its “Snack Mix” containing cranberries, pistachios, almonds and these brown rice squares that even now make me queasy just thinking about them. In coach they do express beverage service and implore you to “have your tray table down and your drink choice in mind.” Soon Skymall got boring so I stuck it back and alternated between looking out the window and looking at the gem I had asleep on my right arm, both views were breathtaking I’ll tell you.

About ten minutes from our scheduled arrival time the sun baked ground was blocked out by a large, low cloud layer. The First Officer soon came on the Intercom and said the visibility was below their minimums so we were going to circle for a while and hope it would clear. About twenty minutes later he came back on and said that we were low on fuel and we were going to attempt a landing that “no one has made so far” and if we missed it we were going back to Phoenix. We got lower and lower and broke through the clouds where I saw a few houses shrouded in the gloom of the fog and I actually thought we were going to make it when the sounds of full power was put on and we abruptly pulled up at so steep an angle I could hear the carts in the galley straining against their locks. The pilot then came back on and told us the aircraft needed back at Phoenix for a run to Tampa so our flight was going to be canceled. Our f/a suggested places in the Phoenix area First Class passengers could enjoy if we decided to axe our trip, he recommended a place for cocktails for Marissa and I, should I tell him I’m only 18? Marissa and I began to think up contingency plans as we’d just had at least half of our day cut by the cancellation when she suggested a hotel, the wheels in my mind began to turn and I knew just who to call. As soon as the plane touched down in Phoenix and parked at a gate, I grabbed my phone and called a man I knew could help, Sean Mendis.

Land Time: 6 Minutes before Arrival
Scheduled Arrival: 8:49 AM
Actual Arrival: 9:59 PM – Wrong Airport Though
Gate A11

“Sean I got a situation” were the first words out of my mouth as I walked at a brisk pace out of the jet way to hopefully beat the lines at the Passenger Assistance Center. I demonstrated the finest examples of multi-tasking as I managed to relay the situation to Sean, and find my way without walking into anyone or losing my girl on the way to getting rebooked. I got online behind four people and began to scribble flight numbers on a folded piece of paper when I heard “Kunz” (my last name) to my left, I was handed a boarding pass on the 1:20 flight out to San Diego, in First Class with a window seat and my name was even pronounced right, +1 to America West! I asked the woman if she had one for Marissa and she did, sitting right next to me. I got out of line and handed the phone to Marissa who talked about the hotel details with Sean, and we soon had ourselves a priceline reservation at the Torrey Pines Hilton in LaJolla, a ritzy SD suburb for only $50!

As it was just after 10:15 and we had 3 hours to kill, Marissa and I were talking about what we were going to do when I mentioned that I had “great people skills.” She nearly fell over laughing at this so I decided to prove myself. I headed back to the Passenger Assistance Center to get us rebooked for the next day on the 3:40 PM flight back to Phoenix and at the end of an easy going conversation with Diane the “Special Assistance Officer” I asked if I could squeeze a meal voucher out of her. She told me “normally no, but because you’re Gold, sure.” And zipped one out giving me a great impression of HP customer service, they know who matters! Marissa had to admit defeat to my skills.


America West Flight 196
Scheduled Departure: 1:20 PM
Scheduled Board: 12:50 PM

After an hour of sitting and watching planes taxi by we decided to walk our way over to the other part of the concourse where our flight would be departing from and use up my hard earned meal vouchers on some eats. Once there she went for a burrito and I got in line at California Pizza Kitchen. I decided to take care of some important business so I pulled out my phone and called Jordan who’s on my floor at school and told him to tell anyone who asked that I wasn’t going to be back that night and I asked him to watch the World Series Game 6 for me as I had a feeling I wouldn’t get to see it. We then went to the empty gate to eat, she moved relatively far away from me as I’m dating the only girl I know who detests pizza, strange and sad if you ask me, what she needs is a good slice from Ray Bari’s in the city, that’ll straighten her out. America West was having a variety of problems that Saturday, our flight was canceled, a flight to Spokane boarded and then had to be delayed as a part malfunctioned, then canceled. Their departure boards stopped working so the gate agents had to write with black magic marker “HP xxx to yyy departs at zzz” on computer paper and tape them to the screens. After a short time of waiting while she laughed at me for making a mess with my pizza cheese and another phone call to my buddy Josh who hails from CA and couldn’t believe there would be fog down south, they called First Class passengers and Elites for:


Gate A24
Seat 1A First Class
757-200 N901AW Arizona Special Scheme
Actual Board: 12:45 PM
Actual Depart: 2:13 PM – 53 Minutes Late
Take off 10 minutes after departure

We boarded through door 2L which enabled us the simple enjoyment of making the left turn to First Class. The bulkhead seats on the A/B side aren’t the best as they lack the foot cutouts that the seats in 2C/D have so your legroom is impaired. Pre-departure drinks were brought quickly and this time the OJ was better without all the excess water of the last flights beverage. I sensed a problem soon as I looked down and saw an HP ramper pointing to something in the fore cargo hold and gesturing wildly with his other hand to his buddy who shrugged. Sure enough the captain announced a ten minute delay while they found a part for a broken panel. This ten minutes evolved into nearly an hour as the part was brought over on a golf cart that had putted its way across most of the airport, why they didn’t use a truck I don’t know. During the wait they played trivia questions on the TV screens, I was able to impress Marissa with my infinite knowledge, ok fine I guessed one out of every three right, but she found my reactions funny. Soon enough though we pushed back and for the second time were on our way westbound.
Once airborne the in-flight service was the same as the last flight except I switched to Diet Pepsi with just the right amount of ice. Marissa and I ended up playing hangman on napkins, the f/a was nice enough to bestow us with extra ones. I beat her consistently although she figured out “Charles Loves Marissa” quite easily. Soon we came over the now cloud-free San Diego downtown with views of the harbor and skyline and landed at the airport that is the closest to downtown of any airport I’ve ever been to.

Land Time: 2 Minutes before Arrival
Scheduled Arrival: 2:30 PM
Actual Arrival: 3:10 PM
Gate 33

Once we left the gate I decided that because of all my domestic travels I should make an investment and I joined the Admirals Club.

--October 25, 2003 – San Diego/La Jolla, CA—

We grabbed a cab up to our hotel which is an amazing hotel on a really nice golf course. I'll spare you the details of what we got up to in LaJolla, but I ended up missing the game as I figured I would. Good thing too, my poor Yankees. :-(

--October 26, 2003 – La Jolla/San Diego, CA—

After hearing about all the fires we decided it would be best to get back to Lindberg Field as quickly as possible so we got a Super Saver Shuttle for 10:30 and got back to the airport at 11. I knew things weren’t very good when the skies were yellow something I’d only seen in tornado videos and all staff working outside wore masks.


America West Flight 187
Scheduled Departure: 3:40 PM
Scheduled Board: 3:10 PM

The ticketing area at SAN is too small for all the flights it has to accommodate and the lines and counters are not very well marked at all. The line in the First Elite lane was short but a family with four bags, each one way over the maximum limit in front of us took a long time, don’t people learn that “but they didn’t charge us last time!” arguments don’t work? Soon we got checked in, I got her confirmed into F but she was in 2C and I in 1A, the agent advised me to check and see if there was anything we could do at the gate. I figured we’d be in for a long wait and I mentally congratulated myself on joining the Admirals Club. Once there I looked out over the tarmac and was greeted by a horrific sight. Ash was falling from the sky like snow, the airport lights were all on and everything was covered in an eerie yellow glow. A quick glance at the American departure board showed a displeasing sight, half the flights delayed and a third of them canceled, God can I take an America West flight to or from San Diego without a **** problem? Unfortunately, the prospect of another delay didn’t sit too well with Marissa so she became withdrawn and concentrated on crossword puzzles and her magazines.

Eventually I got a message from Sean saying “I’m getting all kinds of confusing messages from America West, go the gate NOW and figure out what’s going on.” Once there I was greeted by a scene that made me think of the “storm footage” you always see on the news; people all over the place, long lines at every podium, agents on two phones at once. One of the departure boards showed our 3:40 flight as having departed at 1:40, so I got in line and was on the phone with HP reservations when an agent realizing the error made an announcement saying our plane would be there in a minute and we’d get off to Phoenix soon. As they called boarding and Marissa and I lined up I heard an announcement that made me thank whatever good luck was guiding me, it went “If you are on any of the remaining flights out of San Diego on America West, they are 6138, 210 and 6459 they have been canceled, please see the agents.” I moved away from the mad house and boarded:


Gate 34
Seat 2C First Class
757-200 N902AW “Teamwork Coast to Coast” Plane
Actual Board: 3:55 PM
Actual Depart: 4:32 PM – 52 Minutes Late
Take off 30 minutes after departure

Pre-departure drinks again, this time with good orange juice again. Most of the cabin was drinking alcohol and when I boarded it was like being back in the dorm again as I saw the familiar can of Coors Light that my roommates suck down as if it’s the elixir of life itself, maybe it is, I wouldn’t know. Now being the good man that I am, and the fact that 2D was empty, I let Marissa have the window and I sat in my first aisle in just under 26 months. Soon we were back and moving slowly by the ramshackle Terminal 1, Terminal 2 is nice though and then past the “Commuter Terminal” with a UA EMB and four (!) AA Saabs, where are they all going? We had to hold on the taxiway behind a private Falcon and right when it was about to be our turn, a ten minute ground hold was put on. Then after a bit of time and an Alaska MD-83 taking off we were in the air headed back to Phoenix after quite an adventure.

The flight passed by quickly, Marissa slept (yes, after I gave her the window seat!) and I sipped Diet Pepsi and picked out the parts of the Snack Mix that I could enjoy. I love seeing a sunset from the air, and the few lights you could see in the desert made for quite a romantic scene, too bad she wasn’t in the best of moods. We came over the 202 Loop, right over ASU actually, had I been on the left side I could have picked out my dorm and waved at my friends and landed back in Arizona, it felt good to be home. Of course, something else had to go wrong and our gate was occupied so we sat on the taxiway for ten minutes. Then our trip was over and I got to go from a nice large bed with my girl friend with me to a small one with my roommate snoring.

Land Time: 14 Minutes before Arrival
Scheduled Arrival: 5:56 PM
Actual Arrival: 7:12 PM
Gate A14.


Awesome trip, I may not have seen anything of San Diego except the airport, the hotel and Interstate-5 but I wouldn’t have traded the time we had together for anything. She’s a great traveling companion too!  Home       Trip Reports Index       Whine And Cheez Index       Discussion Forums

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