Chicago, IL - Dallas, TX
(10-13 Oct 2005)
Had to fly down to Dallas, Texas for work and it was a great opportunity to get a nice long flight in and see how this compared to the airlines. Just like the Millington Trip in August, flight time was longer than a commercial jet but time saved on the ground at both ends more than made up for it. A non-stop flight from Chicago to Dallas ran about 2.5 hours. Add on getting to the O'Hare at least 90 minutes early (and you need that at O'Hare!), and around 45 minutes to get luggage and the rental car in Dallas and you get about a 4.75 total trip time.
Unfortunately I was not able to take my digital camera on this trip (wife needed it at home) so there are no pictures on this trip report. Hopefully the lessons learned and information I picked up more than makes up for it. Flying into Dallas the first decision was what airport. I was going to be working out of an office park right next to DFW, but landing fees and other costs for DFW made it prohibitively expensive. Research on the AOPA and AIRNAV websites convinced me the right place to fly into was Love Field (KDAL). There are actually six different FBO's at Love. Based on a number of website reviews and recommendations, I made the decision to use TXI aviation. This was absolutely the right decision, but more on that later.
Flight planning was routine, I've come to the comclusion the way to address routing is to file the flightplan using a Victor Airway route (as amended by STARs and SIDs -- boy does the GNS-530 make that easy). I normally file for between 12,000 and 17,000 feet. If there are high hadwinds and I gain some advantage by flying lower (decreased headwinds) I will go somewhat lower, but I don't like to do the long distance flights below about 12K....take a real hit on fuel efficiency. Any kind of tailwind or minimal headwind I go higher (16 or 17K) to get the low fuel burn and maximize True Airspeed. Above 18,000 feet I have to wear an oxygen mask which just isn't that comfortable. Below 18K I can weary my cannula and be quite comfortable. As a note...got the plane in March with a full oxygen bottle (had about 1,800 psi in it)...with all the trips I have done, it is only down to 700 psi! Suspect it will last me about 12 months...not too bad for a tankful.
One tool I've discovered on the net that I now use is www.fltplan.com. This site has some great flight planning utilities...but the two things it does that nobody else does (at least not for free) are a depiction of what your flight time and fuel burn will be at the two altitudes higher and two altitudes lower than what you are planning for (based on winds aloft data at that altitude). It makes it incredibly easy to pick what altitude to use for the flight since you can clearly see where you will be fastest and/or most fuel efficient. Like many other sites it will also file your flightplan for you (and allow you to print out a navlog for the flight), but one service I haven't seen anywhere else is the FBO fax ahead. It allows you to put details of your trip (planned arrival time, planned departure time, services requested (rental car, fuel, tie down, hangar, etc.). This data will be faxed to the FBO whenever you want (immediately, night before, 2 hours prior to arrival, whatever). So far it has been 100% reliable and the FBO's seem to like it.
Back to route planning. The other reason I have been using altitudes in the 12-17K range has been traffic. While I can't prove it, I believe that the majority of GA traffic is at 10K and below (normally aspirated at least) and the majority of the jets are well above 18K...more like 25K to 40K. That 12-7K range is (relatively speaking) emptier of traffic. Once I get handed off to center I have been able to get GPS direct destination on every trip I have taken in N99376 with the exception of the flights to/from Newport, RI last summer...and I didn't ask for it there because it would have taken me way out to sea. That ends up saving me about 5-7% of the airway distance which gives me fuel and time savings. Others may have a different experience, but so far it's worked for me.
This trip bore that out. Vectors west of O'Hare and then a handoff to Center when I was approaching the edge of the Chicago Class B. Got direct DAL about 15 minutes later and settled in for the trip at 16,000 feet. This was also my first trip with the GAMIjectors I had put in so I was able to run comfortably lean of peak...40 degrees lean is what they recommended and at 16K I was burning about 9.8 GPH giving me an endurance of over 7 hours with a TAS of about 165 knots...not too shabby and a big Mooney owner smile on my face as I made my way to the Lone Star State. For this trip I borrowed my wife's IPOD (had put my songs on it as well) and hooked it up into the intercom system via an installed audio port with a jumper cable I bought from Radio Shack. This was a great way to while away the hours and I am seriously considering buying my own IPOD after seeing how good and easy to use it is...
As I got into Southern Oklahoma I was directed to fly a STAR into DAL and began my descent. Quite a few rain showers and clouds in Dallas so I was IFR for a bit of the arrival and then broke out under about a 3,000 foot ceiling. DAL has two parallel runways 13L and 13R. Commercial jets were flying into 13R and I was sent to 13L. Flew a parallel approach with a Southwest 737 and landed in some pretty heavy rain...no big deal with a runway that long in front of me. Was directed to exit runway to the left and contact ground. Here was Lesson Learned #1 for this trip. Every FBO at DAL is East of 13L (where tower had me turn to) EXCEPT TXI aviation which is West of 13R and actually off the departure end of 36. So I had to hold before crossing 13L, then wound my way around the terminal and all the big jets, then had to wait to get across 13R behind a line of Southwest jets, then finally made my way to TXI...and by now it was a downpour. Result was almost 15 minutes of taxi time burning that expensive 100LL. When flying into DAL and going to TXI, request the West runway from approach or tower...it will make your life a lot easier. Total flight time was 4.6 hours with about a 35 knot headwind.
Lineman had me park right in front of the FBO, held an umbrella over my head while I unloaded luggage to a dolly another lineman brought out, and then helped me button up the plane while the other guy took all my bags into the terminal. They told me they would take care of tying the plane down and he was familiar with moving a Mooney (if you don't know, Mooney nosewheel steering is limited to about 1/2 of any other piston plane it seems. Result is that guys using a tractor can quite easily exceed the nosegear steering limit and snap the tabs or damage the linkages. I've learned to always ask and point this out to anyone who is going to move my plane).
Got into the FBO soaking wet, hit the bathroom and then ran into my first real problem and Lesson Learned #2 for this trip. Enterprise and Hertz service TXI. Since I was flying on government orders I needed a car at the government rate that minimized the expense (and my command's TDY budget). Hertz was around $70/day...Enterprise was something like $22/day. No question what I chose. I called TXI and was told they could make the reservation for me or I could call the Enterprise office directly (this was NOT the office at DAL's terminal but rather another one somewhere near TXI). Since I wanted to make sure I got the government rate, I elected to call and make the reservation myself. Personally spoke to the manager and he said the car would be dropped off no later that 4:00 pm as I was arriving around 7:00 pm and they would be closed then. He also gave me a confirmation number.
Murphy's law stepped in. Checked in at the FBO desk and the nice lady informed me they had no car for me (none had been dropped off), and of course that office was now closed. Bless her heart and commitment to customer service, she called the Enterrpise office at DAL (which was open) and spoke to a manager. She told him what happened and he confirmed my reservation was in the computer. She then told the manager she had another Enterprise vehicle sitting there awaiting pickup (another customer had not used it) and asked if she could give it to me. Manager agreed to give it to me at the government rate I had been quoted...so now I had a brand new, huge Tahoe to drive instead of the Neon I was expecting! She also told me this had happened more than once with Enterprise and that if people made reservations with TXI, they always called the Enterprise Office before it closed to make sure cars they needed/were expecting got delivered. Lesson learned -- ask TXI to make the reservation for you and they will ensure the car is there!
Departure and flight back were also a non-event. TXI had plane filled up and ready to go when I requested it. They gave me a significant discount over what their advertised 100LL price is and my understanding is they give that to pretty much everyone...that makes them the cheapest 100LL at DAL and one of the cheapest around the Dallas metropolitan area. They also have NO Landing, Tiedown or Overnight fees. After getting my clearance I was cleared to taxi across 13R between Southwest departures and then got in line behind the airliners...Not a big deal, did my runup and finished other checks while waiting and was ready to go when my turn came up. Got an interesting takeoff clearance...takeoff and directed to make a TIGHT turn to the North staying over the airport to keep clear of other traffic. No problem in N99376. Once I was talking to Fort Worth Center I got my "cleared UGN direct" and settled in to enjoy the tailwind at 17,000' with th engine leaned back again to just under 10GPH and about 165 TAS.
As I've come to expect, once handed off to Chicago Center I get given a new routing...in this case West of the Class B (just skirting it actually) at about 9K with vectors for the ILS23 arrival. I was in solid IMC for almost 45 minutes and broke out about 600 feet above the ground. Flew a coupled ILS approach and had no problems. Total flight time was 4.1 hours, if not for the vectors for the ILS it would have been more like 3.8 or 3.9 hours. Not too shabby and a great way to finish another magical journey in this plane I'm coming to love.
I have one P.S. to this story. A few days after I got home I received an email from Robert Hellner, the manager of TXI. This email was so unique I'm actually going to quote it here:
"I was upset to hear about your rental car misfortune at TXI Aviation. Please accept my apologies for the breakdown of aircraft support here at Dallas Love Field. However if you are interested we can always make different arrangements with other car rental companies or we would be happy to book rental cars for you or your clients through TXI. Please let me know how I can be of any further assistance in your future visits to Dallas Love Field. Hope to meet you in the future. "
Now that is what I call customer service. There is no doubt in my mind that I will use TXI aviation every time I fly into Dallas in the futuer. They are cheaper than anyone else, have great customer service, and actually go out of their way to take care of you. I was the only piston aircraft on their line during my visit and the next smaller plane was a Citation, yet I was treated as if I had arrived in a Gulfstream V. How can you not support a company like that?