Three of us flew AirTran Airways from St Paul, MN to Fort Lauderdale, FL, to run the A1A Marathon on Sunday, February 21, 2010.
AirTran has an excellent web site - I had no problems with ticket purchase or check-in. After the purchase, I enrolled each of us in AirTran's A-Plus rewards program, then went back to add those perks numbers to the flight itineraries. No problem. On-line check-in went smoothly as well, with the computer seating the three of us together in one row. I could have changed those assignments, but had no need. Receipts and tickets were printed easily.
One disappointment: A few days after the purchase, AirTran changed the itinerary from a "direct" flight with one stop in Atlanta to a connection in Atlanta, thereby adding the possibility of a missed connection and doubling our risk of lost luggage. The new flight schedule actually got us into Fort Lauderdale at about the same time, but with only a 45-minute connection in Atlanta. That's good when the first flight is on time, but how often does that happen in winter/spring weather? Concerned about missing the connection, I phoned and asked for a later flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale (about an hour later) and was quickly and courteously accommodated. No problem. If we had known that the direct flight would become a connection, however, we might have bought non-stop tickets on Delta in the first place, even though that cost a bit more.
But disappointment became appreciation when we discovered, at the gate for the first flight, that our seat assignments had been moved to the business-class section, which affords more space for long legs and laptops.
On board, while enjoying the hospitality of business class, I launched Internet Explorer 8 (x32) on a brand-new laptop running Windows 7 Professional x64, hoping to use AirTran's GoGo Inflight Internet service. No dice. I could connect to the GoGo web site at an incredibly slow pace, but nothing else at all, and could not figure out how to pay for a "flight pass." Then Google Chrome to the rescue! Upon launch it immediately redirected to the pay-here page, as IE should have done. I declined to pay $10 for the remainder of that flight, but now I thought I knew how to make it work. Just DON'T USE Internet Explorer.
I am constantly amazed by the shoddiness of the software that Microsoft considers fit for the market. They seem to think that they can get away with anything, and depend on their marketing clout to cover their technical sloth. We only have to buy it, not like it. But that's for another post on Peagravel.
The second AirTran flight, from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale, was miserable. AirTran employees were courteous and helpful as before, but we three were together in the very last row of the Boeing 717 (upgraded DC9, MD80). Not only is there no window in that row, but the window of the next row forward is completely obscured by the huge jet engine just outside it. The seat backs are right up against the lavatories, so close in fact that the seats cannot be pushed back. This unpleasant two-hour ride was partly my fault too, of course, because I didn't know enough to change the seat selection when I checked in on line - I forgot how bad those seats are in a DC9. We were very happy to be off that flight.
When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale our bags had already arrived, apparently on the connection that we thought might be too close. I thought that air travel security required that bags fly with the passengers, but these definitely went ahead.
Checking in for the return flights, I was careful to get seating assignments well forward of the back row. The plane to Atlanta was full, and we were not offered a free upgrade to business class. The woman ahead of me put her seat back as soon as she was allowed, and kept it back throughout the flight. That left very little space for my large laptop, which would have been cramped even if the seat did not go back. I doubt that the seat-to-seat space is different from any other airline. Certainly it isn't better.
I think that people who want to push their seats back should pay a fee to the person behind them whose space they will use. Make it plenty high. It's rude. Maybe it should only be allowed between 10 pm and 6 am. Never would be fine too.
On this flight, neither browser would automatically redirect to the Wi-Fi login page. I did manage to get there eventually, by entering the URL directly into the Google Chrome address window. When I tried to play their stupid game to get a discount voucher, however, it complained that "Flash 10" was not installed on my computer. Then when I clicked the button labeled "Get Adobe Flash Player," I got an error message saying "this web page has a redirect loop." Bottom line, I couldn't play the stupid game without Flash 10, and I couldn't get Flash 10 without first buying air time. I do have Adobe Flash, by the way, and it does appear to be version 10.
The flight left Ft Lauderdale at least 20 minutes late, because the inbound aircraft had arrived late, but it landed in Atlanta only about five minutes late.
The next and last flight left the Atlanta gate five minutes early, but stood in line behind several other aircraft for some time before taking off. Atlanta is a very busy airport. We were in coach again - the plane was full and no upgrade was offered.
This time Chrome tripped on the Flash 10 error again, but Internet Explorer got access to the game if I keyed in the correct URL. It stopped briefly for the Flash 10 error, and then went ahead anyway. But after collecting the code generated by the game, I needed Chrome to get to the pay-here page that would actually connect me to the internet. Upon entering the code, I was offered free internet access, so I connected, and from then on both IE and Chrome worked properly, as did email. I do like having internet access aboard the aircraft, and there may be times that it will be worth the cost.
The final flight got us back to MSP about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. That was most welcome.
Overall impression of AirTran: They do seem to try harder than Delta, the other airline I've flown most recently. At bottom, though, they are in the business of making money by cramming as many passengers into their planes as possible, at the expense of comfort and enjoyment, just like the other airlines.
The in-flight internet service was very hard to access and rather expensive, but worked well once I got connected.