AirTran B737-700 BusinessBack to Forum
Anonymous9 Apr 2014
Las Vegas NV – Atlanta GA, and Atlanta – Tampa FL
Business class B737 and B717
I recently travelled AirTran on the above as their schedule and price suited my one way needs. For those that are not aware, AirTran is a subsidiary of Southwest the one class behemoth with 600 737’s that until recently did not fly outside the contiguous 48 states. Indeed it does not yet reach all 48. AirTran however did and does fly to the Caribbean and Mexico with a fleet of almost 100, split between 737’s and 717’s, the latter being the last version of the venerable DC9/MD80 series. AirTran’s 717’s are now being retired in the direction of Delta who are using them to replace some of the oldest versions in their fleet. The 737’s are being integrated into Southwest.
I booked on line at just over $600 compared with $800 for the legacy airlines in First. Coach in AirTran is no frills so you pay for light refreshments and drinks, in Business these are free as are two checked bags and for me the advantage of 3 rows of 2by2 seating with a stated pitch of 36 inches compared with 3by3 at 31. In addition all Business seating is allocated, and you can choose your seat at the time of booking, for a fee in coach. Their FF scheme is coordinated with Southwest’s and no doubt will soon be one.
Within ten days of booking my original connecting flight was cancelled and a 70 minute connection became 175 minutes on a Friday night at Atlanta, always busy and demonstrably so – see later. It made me think hard about re booking again perhaps on Southwest – a seat and service I detest for a long flight c 5hours and with the only non stop direct service to TPA leaving LAS around 9am, which would necessitate an overnight hotel at Las Vegas or missing breakfast before a 3 hour drive from the mountain hotel I was in, so I stayed with AirTran and put up with it.
I arrived at the terminal around 1000 to check in before the 1210 departure. Check in is now with the substantial Southwest counter(and curbside) check in area. Swiftly directed to a machine to check in, it refused my booking and FF numbers until prompted by a floor walker seemingly because I had bags to check in. Both boarding passes were issued by the machine. After this 10+ minute faffing around I was made to wait another couple of minutes in a short line to actually pass my bags over to an agent. She unfortunately did not know the AirTran system to book bags thru, and neither did two of her dozen or so colleagues on duty. Despite working an AirTran branded desk seemingly she had neither been trained nor did the AirTran specialist appear to be on duty after his reporting time. All in all a 15minute process to get her to process 2 bags.
Off thru security where my ID was checked for the only time on the whole journey, pleasantly by the TSA agent. A long walk to the gate, a pretty standard chaos process for a flight that was described as ‘completely full’ , surrounded by the usual plethora of fast food joints and gaming machines – this is Vegas after all. The former were much in evidence with my fellow passengers and the cabin crew when boarding was called just before 1200.Well I think it was called by the general rush to the gate despite the allocated and zoned seating. Generally the bulk of the passengers looked like they had lost a small fortune and all their hopes at the casinos. Boarding was by airbridge and needless to say the door was closed late as the flight boarded slowly with passengers carefully guarding their cokes and burgers. After a slow trundle out to the runway we took to the west on Runway 25R at 1233 and turned left to proceed south then east, overflying Henderson and Boulder City before the engineering marvel that is the Hoover Dam, followed shortly after by the natural marvel of the Grand Canyon. Thankfully I had chosen wisely with seat 2A and had a good view of both.
The Pre flight safety briefing was unintelligible, reeled off at a very fast lick by the female FA, who had a distinct accent, indeed all 3 women FA’s were hard to comprehend on tis flight at any time , such was their mangling of the English tongue. If I had been in another continent I would have ascribed this to being their second language but it clearly was not the case. Despite the modest age of 9 years for this 737 there is no IFE or moving map nor safety video facilities to assist communications. The assumption must be that you know what to expect or do. Some AirTran aircraft are wifi enabled, this was not. The seat by Recaro was an old fashioned business seat with minimal recline and offered little in the way of comfort. Notably no one in the 12 Business seats reclined their seat during the whole flight, but the cabin was disturbed throughout by two pairs of loud mouths ego centric ‘business’ men who happily tried to outsmart each other. Sadly they were in rows 1 and 3 while I was in row 2. There is no curtain or divider between the two cabins. Give me a bawling baby anytime , at least they stop whereas these 4 went at it 13 to a dozen for over 4 hours continuously, enough to make sleep impossible whatever your state of weariness/boredom.
‘Service’ started shortly before getting up to cruise at 39000 feet with a pass through the 3 rows of Business offering beer, spirits or sodas and assorted snacks for free. A request for the listed Merlot brought disbelief, but I persisted and eventually had it delivered in a small ¼ bottle plastic miniature with a rough edged plastic glass. A second service brought it already poured in a similarly rough vessel. If you like pretzels or chips or Oreos this is the place to be. There is no food service otherwise on what is a flight schedule of 3 hours 55minutes. Incidentally I have never before seen such long, untidy and loose hair down to below their shoulder blades ,as those 3 women FA’s, given that they were handing food, albeit wrapped but also open glasses of refreshments that no restaurant of my knowledge could accept as hygienic . A few words from the flight deck before take off and just before landing were just that, a minimal impart of welcome and thanks, done again with a rapid fire technique.
The flight was uneventful and we arrived at the stand 15 minutes early after a short wait for it to be cleared. Then it was the usual scrum to find the connecting gate at another terminal after a short connection shuttle ride deep in the bowels of good Georgia earth.
At the gate there was a traditional full to overflowing scenario, not helped by the adjacent gate departing just minutes before. Both flights were overbooked and volunteers were sought in coach for $300 in bills and a nights accommodation before being put on the first Saturday flight that was available. Seemingly overbooking is the norm on AirTran. The full including jump seat situation extended to at least one off duty in uniform cabin crew member not making it to TPA to see her boyfriend.
Boarding was again somewhat chaotic, the entry to the airbridge being called by zone, but seemingly widely ignored from my observation in the rush to get the carry on bags into the somewhat restricted 717 overheads. The 717 trip down to TPA was also uneventful, but what a difference – again no IFE but a clear and unambiguously short safety briefing with again 3 women FA’s who seemed to take a great deal more care with their tasks, including a drink and snack run. This plane was wifi fitted, but I did not avail of it given the late hour and a surfeit of surfing at ATL where I ate well at one of the many branded restaurants. The seat (unbranded) while ostensibly the same in dimensions was altogether more spacious both in width and leg room, nominally the same 36 inches. However the 717 was notably noisier from an air rushing noise, enough to make one of my fellow passengers query whether the door was properly closed and sealed. At that time of day mercifully most of us were visibly weary and the cabin was quiet. We left sharp on time from the stand, arrived a few minutes early at 1123 into a deserted TPA, as this is one of the last flights in and the plane stays there overnight for an early getaway. The bags came thru after a 10 minute wait at the carousel, which was mysteriously changed after half the bags had been made available.
In conclusion, well you get what you pay for – transport in a slightly better seat, on time, luggage not lost or delayed, minimal catering and no frills. Apart from some issues that better training could address e.g. the inability to label bags onto a connecting flight and unintelligible announcements both on planes and at gates – for a long time I thought we were going to Havana not Atlanta, consider AirTran Business class while it lasts as offering a slightly cheaper alternative if it takes you where you want when you want, but that is a long way short of an outright recommendation. Or if you want to experience the narrow ex DC9 cabin one last time or Delta keep the same 717 Business seats.9 Apr 2014