If you’re flying out of Phoenix, your two biggest airline choices are Southwest Airlines or US Airways.
You know Southwest: It’s a perky, courteous brand with few frills – but not a lot of hidden costs. US Airways gets unfairly demonized. I’ve flown it many times, and had only one hiccup over the years. It’s not great, but it’s not the flying snake pit it’s made out to be.
Still, I didn’t want to fly either for a recent trip to Denver for skiing. Why?
- Air Miles – I’m starting to collect a good number on my Continental OnePass account. That’s also the one that has the most potential value for international flights.
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Terminal Four – T4 is the lunatic asylum from which Southwest and US Airways fly. Parking is awful, which drives us over to East Long-Term Parking, which requires a bus ride. It’s laid out awkwardly, and security lines are frequently a mixed martial arts cage fight.
Continental, on the other hand, flies out of the sedate, compact Terminal 2. Is it old and outdated? Yes to the former, no to the latter. Unless you think it’s not cool to be able to walk from long-term parking to check-in within moments.
My wife booked the flights through Continental.com (CO 6498, an Airbus A319, and CO6491, an A320), and soon discovered a surprise: The flight was a code share, and we’d actually fly on United Airlines (one of Continental’s partners in the Star Alliance, along with Air New Zealand!). I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve seen travelers really slam its international service, but I didn’t see much about domestic flights. Of course, Twitter is aflame with travelers seething at United. Either way, I figure it had to be better than American Airlines! Fortunately, the code share situation didn’t deprive me of using Terminal 2 since that’s where United plops, too. Here’s the low-down:
CO 6498 – Phoenix, AZ (PHX) to Denver, CO (DEN) on Wed., Feb. 17, 2010
CO 6491 – Denver, CO (DEN) to Phoenix, AZ (PHX) on Sun., Feb. 21, 2010
United surprised us in a pleasant way. Both flights were absolutely dead on-time. The cabin crews were extraordinarily pleasant – some crew members even demonstrated a Southwest level of personality. Both aircraft were immaculate, and probably hadn’t been flying long. The seats were comfortable, too: I’m pretty sure they were the slimline type because I felt like I had a little extra legroom (for new readers, I’m 6’2, 195. I take up some room!). Checked bags were $25, not unreasonable especially considering the low fares.
The United terminal at Denver International Airport was outstanding. And DIA had the fastest baggage claim I’ve ever seen. The airport is designed in a line, with all terminals connected by a fast tram system. All terminals share a common check-in and baggage claim area. Brilliant! Unfortunately, it’s too late to bulldoze Sky Harbor and use DIA as a template for the way a real international airport should be designed.
Based on what I learned from these flights, United is a smart bet for future flights. I’d fly United again in a second, especially since it’s teamed up with Continental. Good job!