A couple of weeks ago I finally took a much-needed vacation, and since I could get a "cheap" (aka free) place to stay near Myrtle Beach, I decided it was a good a place as any to go. My parents make the trip a lot and since they're in central NJ, they've been flying into and out of ACY, and since I did an LGA-MYR trip once and thought LGA was a [bleep]hole, I decided to give ACY a shot.

The downside of this choice is that there's only one direct flight a day between ACY and MYR, and the ACY-MYR flight leaves at 6:55am. So we got into the car around 3am and after stopping to get the keys for the place in SC, were off the airport. Parked in the economy lot ($8/day) and got on line to check in/check bags. Since Spirit has the 6:55 flight to MYR and then a 7:10 flight to FLL, there was a line for the check-in, and we were already behind schedule. They were (slowly) pulling the MYR people to the front of the line, but by the time we got up there it was too late to use the kiosk to check in. Eventually we made it and got the bags checked (they kept the checkin open long enough to us to get through), and then with the other late MYR people got to the front of the security line. Just your typical security checkpoint experience, except that they did have to take out my 100-400 lens and run it separately ("not sure if it was a Thermos or something", they said, probably because I didn't have it attached to the camera and had the lens hood on). We didn't have a lot of time to check out the airport as we headed right for the gate and onto the plane.

We had seat 1D and 1F (both ways; it was only $1 per seat for the "Big Front Seat" and it's also 2+2 seating instead of 3+3) so once we were on it was nice and easy to find. I was a bit surprised to find there was still room in the overhead bins above the seats, as people just love to stick their bags in the first bin they come across, no matter where their seat is. To my surprise we weren't the last people on the plane. Before we left, they made an announcement that the flight was overbooked by one seat and offered a free round trip + $100 to anyone who wanted to give up their seat. Not sure how that person made it to MYR, whether they waited until the next day or took an ACY-FLL-MYR trip.

Taxi out and takeoff were pretty uneventful. It was a very hazy morning so there wasn't a whole lot to be seen out the window while airborne. Since we'd been going for a while without breakfast or anything, we sprung for sodas on the plane. $2.50 for a can of Coke (!) is not something I intend to make a habit of, but it was refreshing nonetheless. During the flight, they made an announcement (sales pitch) for the "Free Spirit MasterCard"; I guess that's what you get when you fly on an ULCC but man was that annoying.

Flight time was a scant 1:12 until we landed on runway 18. Another short taxi and we were at the gate. (Small airports are great for that.) Since we had seats up front we were almost the first people off the plane. We made our way downstairs, got our bags and the rental car. Picking up the car is nice and easy; they hand you the key at the counter, you walk across the road just outside the terminal and there's a parking lot for all the rental agencies. Find the spot with your car and you're off.

After an all-too-short week, it was time to head back. The return flight (NKS354) leaves at a more reasonable 8:55am, so after a bit of last-minute packing and cleanup, we had time to get breakfast before heading to the airport. Dropped off the car (pull into the same lot, park in one of the "return" spaces, and someone comes by to take care of everything) and into the terminal. Naturally, Spirit's checkin counter is at the opposite end of the terminal from the rental lot, but at least we had plenty of time. Once we got that done and through security, we had a bunch of time, which I spent in front of the window. I caught the US Airways Philadelphia Eagles special scheme departing off of runway 36, which had me excited because that I'd probably have a nice view along the shore as we departed, but then the Spirit BOS-MYR-FLL and ACY-MYR flights both came in on 18. I watched the ground crew working on the BOS-MYR-FLL flight. I don't know how the scheduling usually works out, since the MYR-FLL flight is a scheduled 8:09am departure and the ACY-MYR flight is scheduled for an 8:18 arrival but usually gets in early, but this time the inbound flight had to wait a couple of minutes for the outbound to push back and the gate to open up.

Since we were not just getting there at the last minute, we got to board in the normal order (passengers with kids and such, then the first few rows, and so on) I didn't have to worry about finding room in the bins this time. Once again, a short taxi and we were departing rwy 18 over the ocean (boo!). After a bit more than an hour (and another irritating pitch for the credit card) we landed on rwy 31 at ACY. Exited off on rwy 4/22 and taxied to the gate.

For reasons I can't possibly understand, ACY has an "airlock" system for going from the 'secure' area to the baggage claim (I guess installing these was cheaper than paying someone to sit by the changeover, like everywhere else). There are about a half-dozen 'tubes' with doors on both sides. You walk up to one, wait for the door on your side to open, step inside, wait for that door to close and the next door to open (several seconds), and then walk out. (I'm told this is a fairly recent thing; I don't know who thought it was a good idea but it definitely isn't). The wait for bags was longer than I expected it was going to be, considering that it's a small airport. (Still, not nearly as bad at the 45+ minutes I had to wait at LGA.)

All in all, it wasn't a bad trip. The droning on with the credit card pitch was annoying but I guess that's what you have to put up with on something like Spirit. The "Big Front Seats" are nice and comfortable, and much nicer than being stuck in a too-narrow and not-enough-legroom regular 3+3 seat, especially for a grand total of $4. (Getting these seats also meant I didn't get stuck with either an assigned-at-the-gate seat or the charge for picking a seat; for that alone this was worth it.)

One thing about ACY is that the FAA has a facility there, and there are bunch of old airframes around. I saw a 747SP, 737-200, 727, and L1011, among others. Too bad they weren't flying. I also noticed that seemed to be two private 737s hardstanded near the terminal on the way back in; we didn't get close enough for me to tell any of the marking of the registration.