Thursday, April 26, 2007

Not Skyworst, not today.

Over the many years that I flew out of Fresno, I usually flew United, and each trip usually included a short 40-minute hop up to SFO inside a Skywest EMB-120 Brasilia. The carrier's growing pains caused regular delays, and coupled with the cramped quarters and poor ride quality of their aging Brasilia fleet, the line became know to the Fresno traveler as SkyWORST.

It's been a long time since the good old days when a little upstart airline began hauling people up to the Bay out of Fresno Air Terminal, known affectionately as FAT:
That identifier has been part of Fresno lore as long as airplanes have coming been in and out of the patch formerly known as Hammer Field. The story goes that many, many overweight people have lost their cool when a Ticket Agent bent down and tied a big red F - A - T tag on their Samsonite. Oh, and don't ever try to get a WX briefing for FYI, even though the official name of the field is now Fresno-Yosemite International Airport. It's still FAT to the FAA, but many of the Ugly Americans who pass through there can easily qualify for that supersized nickname these days due to their addiction to Krispy Kremes and Budweiser.
Skywest today is a huge, successful line, and they have spread their wings across much of the USA. But out of FAT, fuggetaboutit, you still have to ride their “Vibroliners” to South SanFran. It's always a gas to board from FAT's giant new terminal building, at a gate with a jetway that seems rarely used, because you board the Brasilias after a walk down stairs and out across the tarmac.

But after my flight home yesterday from a couple of days shooting photos in Fresno, I am happy to give Skywest major league kudos. You know I bang pretty hard on the airlines in this blog, but today, the crew of flight 6195 did an amazing job.

After boarding 20 minutes late because of lack of airplane syndrome, I could see my connection to Eugene was going to be tight. But when the Cabin Attendant jumped on the horn and told us there was a “mechanical problem” and we were waiting for the A & P to arrive, it looked like my day was deteriorating fast. From 4A of the tiny “airliner”, I could hear the wrench tell the pilot, Amber Ridgeway, that “this was going to take a while.”

Down the tubes was the only place this flight looked to be headed.

After we watched the United mechanic talk a moment on the radio, we joked about hoping he wasn't ordering parts. But he quickly returned to sign off whatever squawk was found, and in a flash, we were rolling briskly to two niner left.

Once airborne, the attendant came up to my seat with a printout showing every passenger name and their connecting flight. She told me since my gate dash was the tightest, she'd “see what she could do.” My reaction – to myself – was to wonder what she could really do but maybe make excuses. Silly me...I underestimated the power of this attendant and this crew:
Soon she again got on the horn and told the other 20 souls in the Brasilia that they would have to sit tight when we arrived at the gate so the gentleman in 4A (me) could dash off first. She also said the Captain was calling ahead and asking them to hold MY plane! MY Plane! That is freakin' unheard of in airline land. Maybe this crew never got that memo.
After Captain Ridgeway greased the smoothest landing I've ever seen from the back of a Brasilia (say what you want, but I find lady pilots to have a much more graceful hand on the yoke), we hit the gate with 7 minutes before the schedule departure of my Eugene flight. I grabbed the 'puter and camera bags and dashed, and arrived at gate 77A just as they were checking in a standby soul to occupy 10D. The gate agent shouted to the ticket clerk “Wait, this guy has a boarding pass!” and the ticket clerk replied “oh yeah, he's they guy we were holding for - they called in about him!”

Damn straights they did...because they were holding MY plane. I made the seat before the cabin doors closed, and arrived back in paradise an hour later. But with only SEVEN MINUTES between planes, there was no way my baggage would be in Eugene. No way.

You could have picked me up off the floor when I saw my Samsonite on the carousel. How the HELL did they perform that magic?

So major kudos to everyone up and down the chain of command at SkyWEST...I promise to retire the Skyworst name forever, because today, you won me over, big time.