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East Side Urbanite

Comparing the manmade fabric of Tennessee's Big Four

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The following are this poster's views regarding the manmade environment strengths and weaknesses of Tennessee's Big Four cities.

 

The positives and negatives focus on the built form (design, density, mass transit, mixed-use districts, etc.) and not on, for example, crime, economy, demographics, quality of schools, government, perception, etc.

 

Chattanooga 

 

Strengths

 

Layout: the urban mass (the North Shore notwithstanding) flows seamlessly. It's about a two-mile stretch of nicely connected built fabric. Within the core, there is a relatively small number of dead spaces and no interstate to sever the mass. 

 

Electric mini-buses

 

Strong vintage building stock

 

Weaknesses

 

Fairly small city with limited (in both number and quality) of buildings. However, the Noog (for its population) does have a decent number of mixed-use districts outside the CBD, with the North Shore, South Side and St. Elmo all being strong.

 

 

Knoxville

 

Strengths

 

An underrated CBD, with Market Square as the anchor and Gay Street as a stellar downtown stretch of public realm. And The Old City is very cool.

 

The general urban area is fairly compact, which makes it relatively building-dense and pedestrian vibrant. And it offers an underrated vintage building stock

 

UT campus: very big league

 

Weaknesses

 

Go about two miles in any direction and Knoxville becomes very suburban and/or ramshackle (worse than is the case in Nashville). Battered streets with no curbs, tacky mailboxes, modest houses. Just ugly.

 

Very weak collection of mixed-use districts outside the CBD

 

Poor mass transit

 

 

Memphis

 

Strengths

 

Hands-down the best traditional/conventional urban layout of the state's big four. Very gridded with most streets having sidewalks/curbs, mailboxes on the front porches of the homes, lots of vintage commercial buildings positioned at the sidewalk, many streets have buried utility infrastructures, modest amount of dead space.

 

A two-line trolley system (north-south on Main Street and east-west on Madison Avenue)

 

Outstanding collection of civic buildings (churches, schools, community centers, fire halls, etc.), many of them historic.

 

The state's two largest mixed-use non-CBD urban districts: the neo-trad Harbor Town and the gritty and historic South Main Arts District

 

Midtown: With the grand homes, beautiful churches, Overton Park (with art museum, arboretum and zoo) and lots of vintage commercial buildings with cool restaurants, bars and shops, it reminds me of a smaller version of St. Louis' vibrant  Central West End district.

 

Weaknesses

 

Lack of post-1990 contemporary architecture. 

 

A modest (at best) collection of buildings 100 feet tall or taller, particularly for a city of this population

 

A significant number of unused and/or deteriorating buildings

 

 

Nashville

 

Strengths

 

Lots of striking contemporary buildings

 

Multiple well-defined mixed-use urban districts (more than in most mid-sized cities) outside the CBD. On this theme, The Gulch (few, if any, mid-sized cities have a comparable district) is outstanding.

 

Lots of buildings 100 feet tall or taller

 

Midtown is like a "second downtown" and Vanderbilt provides a strong anchor

 

Weaknesses

 

Multiple older neighborhoods not far from downtown (e.g., Woodbine, Sylvan Heights, Wedgwood-Houston, etc.) that are simply brutal (no sidewalks and curbs, battered mailboxes at the street, tacky homes, etc.)

 

Modest mass transit for a city of its size

 

The city transitions from urban form to sprawling suburban form within only a few miles of downtown and in three directions (north, east and south)

 

Inner-interstate loop is both dysfunctional and severs downtown from East Nashville and Midtown/West End

 

Poor collection of vintage commercial buildings for a city of this population

 

 

I would be curious to get the opinions of the posters on this board.

 

WW

Edited by East Side Urbanite
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I think you hit a lot of the points well. I've pondered the same question before.

 

Here are some of my thoughts:

 

-Memphis has the largest overall urban center of any Tennessee city. This is primarily a product of its explosion of growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nashville was larger than Memphis in 1890 (76,000 to 64,000), but Memphis shot past Nashville in the first half of the 20th century. By 1940, Memphis had 293,000 residents in 46 square miles. By contrast, Nashville had 167,000 residents in 22 square miles. So Memphis's pre-interstate urban footprint was more than twice as large as Nashville's. Also of note: in 1940, Chattanooga had 128,000 residents in 27 square miles, and Knoxville had 112,000 in 25 square miles. So at that time, the urban footprints of Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga were very similar, but Memphis was nearly twice as large. What this means is that Memphis has tremendously more urban housing stock than any other Tennessee city.

 

-However, in terms of the "concrete footprint" (best viewed by satellite), Nashville and Memphis compare fairly well, with Knoxville and Chattanooga somewhat behind. By concrete footprint, I mean the urban areas that are not dominated by single family homes, and best suited for large scale urban development (office, multifamily residential, mixed use, and large civic structures. See below:

 

Memphis

 

Nashville

 

Knoxville

 

Chattanooga

 

Note: I don't think there is a massive difference here -- but Nashville and Memphis have a slightly larger contiguous concrete/asphalt footprint (both aided by large medical districts adjacent to downtown).

 

-Knoxville has a relatively small actual downtown area (topography plays a large role, with it being squeezed by a pair of drainage creeks). The UT and Fort Sanders neighborhood are considerably larger than downtown proper. Other than that, only a few small urban districts spur off from downtown.

 

-Also of note, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga benefit from having fairly large universities in close proximity to downtown. Memphis does have a large university, and while it is still in the urban footprint, it is not as much of a contributor to the central urban environment like the other 3 cities (it is surrounded by single family development). At more than 6.5 miles from downtown (as the crow flies), it is even farther from the urban core than TSU is in Nashville.

 

-The biggest difference right now is the post 2000s urban boom among the Big 4. Nashville is obviously leaps and bounds above the other 3, in terms of size and scale of development, as well as gentrification and real estate value. After that, Chattanooga and Memphis both have a modest amount of new development (I think I would actually give the edge to Chattanooga given the impact). Knoxville has been the one that is late to the party, but from what I have seen, it looks like it will be changing quite a bit in the near future. Memphis has a few fairly ambitious proposals in terms of repurposing that could really do a lot for the city (Sears Crosstown and 100 N Main, primarily).

 

-All four cities are river cities, and all have varying levels of finished riverfront greenspace. I think this is an area where Chattanooga safely leads, but Memphis also has a strongly developed riverfront. Nashville seems to have just realized that there is more to the riverfront than a few hundred feet of terraced park -- I think it will probably pass Memphis when the next two phases of the riverfront plan are complete. Knoxville's riverfront is small, and choked off by Neyland Dr, but it easily has more dock space than any of the other cities. However, it is not easily accessible for pedestrians (partly due to most of the urban area being sharp bluff). I would say it has less potential than the other cities to enhance its riverfront.

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I don't know if you guys want to add a sub-category into this mix, but if I may;

Logistics;

Chattanooga and Knoxville;

Both topographically isolated. Neither has Amtrak service (unless I'm mistaken) or a major airport. Both have a modest interstate highway system. However, both cities have a small chance of tying into the east coast rail service.

Nashville;

The clear winner in the interstate category. A modest rail shipping hub, but no Amtrak service. Probably the biggest passenger airport in the state.

Memphis;

A decent interstate system, but not as strong as Nashville. However, the mighty Mississippi River is invaluable as a shipping port and the rail system is very strong in Memphis. Amtrak makes a small presence in passenger rail. The airport is very healthy with Fedex.

I would call Memphis the winner in this category with a solid shipping infrastructure. If Nashville can find a way to cater to passengers (become the inner-state hub to interstate passenger rail) it could edge out Memphis.

Edited by nashvillwill

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from a potential standpoint I like Chattanooga over the rest (unless of course Nashville is allowed to leverage a Virgin hotel into Virgin International air routes)...

The proximity to ATL's northern population will propel Chattanooga airport into a growth mode...especially if a modern rail line is connected.

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I think you hit a lot of the points well. I've pondered the same question before.

 

Here are some of my thoughts:

 

-Memphis has the largest overall urban center of any Tennessee city. This is primarily a product of its explosion of growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nashville was larger than Memphis in 1890 (76,000 to 64,000), but Memphis shot past Nashville in the first half of the 20th century. By 1940, Memphis had 293,000 residents in 46 square miles. By contrast, Nashville had 167,000 residents in 22 square miles. So Memphis's pre-interstate urban footprint was more than twice as large as Nashville's. Also of note: in 1940, Chattanooga had 128,000 residents in 27 square miles, and Knoxville had 112,000 in 25 square miles. So at that time, the urban footprints of Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga were very similar, but Memphis was nearly twice as large. What this means is that Memphis has tremendously more urban housing stock than any other Tennessee city.

 

-However, in terms of the "concrete footprint" (best viewed by satellite), Nashville and Memphis compare fairly well, with Knoxville and Chattanooga somewhat behind. By concrete footprint, I mean the urban areas that are not dominated by single family homes, and best suited for large scale urban development (office, multifamily residential, mixed use, and large civic structures. See below:

 

Memphis

 

Nashville

 

Knoxville

 

Chattanooga

 

Note: I don't think there is a massive difference here -- but Nashville and Memphis have a slightly larger contiguous concrete/asphalt footprint (both aided by large medical districts adjacent to downtown).

 

-Knoxville has a relatively small actual downtown area (topography plays a large role, with it being squeezed by a pair of drainage creeks). The UT and Fort Sanders neighborhood are considerably larger than downtown proper. Other than that, only a few small urban districts spur off from downtown.

 

-Also of note, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga benefit from having fairly large universities in close proximity to downtown. Memphis does have a large university, and while it is still in the urban footprint, it is not as much of a contributor to the central urban environment like the other 3 cities (it is surrounded by single family development). At more than 6.5 miles from downtown (as the crow flies), it is even farther from the urban core than TSU is in Nashville.

 

-The biggest difference right now is the post 2000s urban boom among the Big 4. Nashville is obviously leaps and bounds above the other 3, in terms of size and scale of development, as well as gentrification and real estate value. After that, Chattanooga and Memphis both have a modest amount of new development (I think I would actually give the edge to Chattanooga given the impact). Knoxville has been the one that is late to the party, but from what I have seen, it looks like it will be changing quite a bit in the near future. Memphis has a few fairly ambitious proposals in terms of repurposing that could really do a lot for the city (Sears Crosstown and 100 N Main, primarily).

 

-All four cities are river cities, and all have varying levels of finished riverfront greenspace. I think this is an area where Chattanooga safely leads, but Memphis also has a strongly developed riverfront. Nashville seems to have just realized that there is more to the riverfront than a few hundred feet of terraced park -- I think it will probably pass Memphis when the next two phases of the riverfront plan are complete. Knoxville's riverfront is small, and choked off by Neyland Dr, but it easily has more dock space than any of the other cities. However, it is not easily accessible for pedestrians (partly due to most of the urban area being sharp bluff). I would say it has less potential than the other cities to enhance its riverfront.

 

 

 

Excellent post, Kevin. Thoroughly enjoyed reading.

 

WW

I don't know if you guys want to add a sub-category into this mix, but if I may;

Logistics;

Chattanooga and Knoxville;

Both topographically isolated. Neither has Amtrak service (unless I'm mistaken) or a major airport. Both have a modest interstate highway system. However, both cities have a small chance of tying into the east coast rail service.

Nashville;

The clear winner in the interstate category. A modest rail shipping hub, but no Amtrak service. Probably the biggest passenger airport in the state.

Memphis;

A decent interstate system, but not as strong as Nashville. However, the mighty Mississippi River is invaluable as a shipping port and the rail system is very strong in Memphis. Amtrak makes a small presence in passenger rail. The airport is very healthy with Fedex.

I would call Memphis the winner in this category with a solid shipping infrastructure. If Nashville can find a way to cater to passengers (become the inner-state hub to interstate passenger rail) it could edge out Memphis.

 

 

 

Nashvillwill,

 

Good thinking to add logistics. That is worth being consider for putting on the list of characteristics.

 

WW

from a potential standpoint I like Chattanooga over the rest (unless of course Nashville is allowed to leverage a Virgin hotel into Virgin International air routes)...

The proximity to ATL's northern population will propel Chattanooga airport into a growth mode...especially if a modern rail line is connected.

 

Agree, NBound

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Ah, in terms of airports, Nashville has become far and above the leader in passenger traffic. With Memphis getting de-hubbed, they have fallen quite a bit behind, and have less than half the traffic of Nashville. Knoxville and Chattanooga have minor passenger traffic. 

 

I'm not sure I would agree about the growth potential for Chattanooga. It's really too far from Atlanta to be a reliever airport, even if it did have a high speed rail line.

 

Airport comparison:

 

Nashville (BNA)

53 nonstop destinations

10,352,000 total passengers

88,000 total movements

50,234,000 lbs of cargo

 

Memphis (MEM)

36 nonstop destinations

4,598,000 total passengers

233,000 total movements

9,124,148,000 lbs of cargo

 

Knoxville (TYS)

18 nonstop destinations

1,676,000 total passengers

101,000 total movements

84,000,000 lbs of cargo

 

Chattanooga (CHA)

8 nonstop destinations

618,000 total passengers

54,000 total movements 

18,755,000 lbs of cargo

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Chattanooga City Council approves study of proposed light rail

 

http://timesfreepress.com/news/2014/apr/23/city-council-chattanooga-light-rail-study-must-be-/?local

 

Came across this article. I know this is about Chattanooga, but since the Chattanooga forum is dead, I wanted to see what your thoughts are on this. How can they get light rail for $35mil and we are getting a 9mile BRT for 175mil??? We could have 5 light rail lines for $175mil.

 

I understand they will be using existing rails (which there are a ton in chattanooga), but $35mil seems awfully cheap. It's costing more to fix one of the tunnels in Chattanooga than it would be for the first light rail line. The articel doesnt state how many miles or stops the line would have, but if they can pull it off it would be amazing for the city.

 

Wow

 

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Hmmm, very interesting!  Well from first "glance" it seems that using the existing rail is the key.  Whether that is true or not, I do not know.
 
Funny quote:
 

Before approving the study — which the city will have to match $300,000 — officials also wanted to know logistics such as who would operate the train, how many passengers are expected to use it and would it hurt the city’s taxi industry.


Funny quote and bad "typing" grammar:
 

“I’m concerned about the price tag being so expensive we wouldn’t be able to fund it,” said Council Chairman Chip Henderson, who voted against the study. “If [the study] comes back and says it’s going to reduce congestion, it’s going to provide an economic catalyst and it’s going to be insanely affordable — than yeah.”


Map of line:
proposed_light_rail_Chatt.png

Edited by timmay143
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Good for Chat-town. I hope they get it built.

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Nashville (BNA)

53 nonstop destinations

10,352,000 total passengers

88,000 total movements

50,234,000 lbs of cargo

 

Memphis (MEM)

36 nonstop destinations

4,598,000 total passengers

233,000 total movements

9,124,148,000 lbs of cargo

 

Knoxville (TYS)

18 nonstop destinations

1,676,000 total passengers

101,000 total movements

84,000,000 lbs of cargo

 

Chattanooga (CHA)

8 nonstop destinations

618,000 total passengers

54,000 total movements 

18,755,000 lbs of cargo

BNA is pretty low on cargo flights.  Is that because Smyrna or some other airport picks up some of the remainder...or is Nashville just not much of a cargo area? (I'm aware that Memphis has FedEx...but was wondering why the Knoxville numbers were so much larger).

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BNA is pretty low on cargo flights.  Is that because Smyrna or some other airport picks up some of the remainder...or is Nashville just not much of a cargo area? (I'm aware that Memphis has FedEx...but was wondering why the Knoxville numbers were so much larger).

Does FedEx or UPS fly into Nashville? We're close enough to Memphis and Louisville that I would think FedEx and UPS would drive all of the packages to Nashville instead of flying them. Would that mean we get substantially less in the way of cargo since we ours are delivered by vehicle? I would bet UPS and FedEx make up a large percentage of freight in most cities.

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Does FedEx or UPS fly into Nashville? We're close enough to Memphis and Louisville that I would think FedEx and UPS would drive all of the packages to Nashville instead of flying them. Would that mean we get substantially less in the way of cargo since we ours are delivered by vehicle? I would bet UPS and FedEx make up a large percentage of freight in most cities.

You're probably right.

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I do know Fed ex and DHL fly into Nashville. Fed Ex has a small facility on the western edge of the airport near Briley. I know DHL comes into Nashville. There was some kind of agreement between them and UPS several years ago.

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The more I think about that. Any package that is marked express or next day will come into town by air. Everything else will be ground and travel by truck no matter where it is shipped from in the US.

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BNA is pretty low on cargo flights.  Is that because Smyrna or some other airport picks up some of the remainder...or is Nashville just not much of a cargo area? (I'm aware that Memphis has FedEx...but was wondering why the Knoxville numbers were so much larger).

 

I'm not completely sure -- I looked at some data from BNA's website and saw a year over year cargo comparison, and the number was 3x higher in the early 2000s. Smyrna is probably some cause, as it is a reliever airport (and I believe Nissan uses it) and it can land big planes....but I haven't noticed any sort of presence from the main freight companies (UPS. FedEx, DHL) or any big planes flying into Smyrna. Maybe they have charter freight or something.

 

I also agree with the others that our proximity to both Memphis and Louisville, which are two of the busiest cargo airports in the world, has quite an effect on those numbers. I'm not sure why Knoxville is higher, (maybe more of a mail freight exchange?), but it's not a big deal. You're either a cargo airport or you aren't. Even a lot of the big time airports aren't major cargo centers. 

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Now that I think about it, one thing that did change was a daily 747 cargo jet from Taiwan for Dell. That ended several years ago.

Edited by UTgrad09
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Maybe not as significant, but I remember thinking Indy had a large cargo area when I drove by it a few years ago.

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I don't know if you guys want to add a sub-category into this mix, but if I may;

Logistics;

Chattanooga and Knoxville;

Both topographically isolated. Neither has Amtrak service (unless I'm mistaken) or a major airport. Both have a modest interstate highway system. However, both cities have a small chance of tying into the east coast rail service.

 

I would say that Knoxville's airport is rather impressive for a city of its status, both in service levels and architecture.  Leaps and bounds beyond either Chattanooga or the Tri-Cities airports.

 

And Memphis is a hub for Delta still, I think, right? So it probably has a higher passenger throughput than Nashville, although Nashville probably has higher end-destination traffic (that is, passengers either beginning or ending their journeys instead of just passing through). 

 

Edit: Just saw the above numbers, guess Delta pulled out after the Northwest merger.

Edited by Nathan_in_DC

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There is an article in the NBJ saying that losing the Delta hub was good for ticket prices into Memphis.  So Memphis flights are now becoming more affordable, which will no doubt increase that airport's popularity with consumers.

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There is an article in the NBJ saying that losing the Delta hub was good for ticket prices into Memphis.  So Memphis flights are now becoming more affordable, which will no doubt increase that airport's popularity with consumers.

 

In the long run maybe, but that's just what the Airport Authority here was pimping out in the months before Delta shut the hub down. In reality, since there's barely any substantial presence by ultra low cost carrier or a low cost carrier here, Delta still has a monopoly on that place. Since the O&D here is so low, there won't be any major announcements of airlines coming in. Southwest already has the region with LIT and BNA so it would be financially irresponsible for them to offer a large amount of flights from MEM. They're currently moth balling A and C terminal. I'm not 100 on this, but I think they said they only need 30-40 gates to operate now. 

 

People were praising Southwest coming when in reality Southwest won't offer fares hundreds of dollars less than Delta, they would just offer a $375 flight instead of Delta's $400 flight. Southwest is moving toward more of a legacy carrier now anyways, I think that's why Frontier is dropping down to low cost since they serve a lot of the same markets. 

 

There was a Delta Does Memphis group on Facebook where thousands of people were members and the majority of them bought into the bs that Delta had forever ruined commercial flights at MEM when in reality the local gov't and the airport authority did a pretty good job in putting all of their eggs in Delta's basket. 

 

Also, what FedEx wants usually happens (UPS realized that and they're expanding here in Memphis as well), and to answer the questions on the last page, FedEx usually flies 757-200's between BNA and MEM (1 or 2 a day, but that flight back to MEM is usually scheduled for 11pm). I think UPS usually flies an Airbus 300 between MEM and SDF, however some of those are scheduled for stops at BNA, but I'm not 100 on the frequency of that. 

Edited by arkitekte

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Now that I think about it, one thing that did change was a daily 747 cargo jet from Taiwan for Dell. That ended several years ago.

yes, I was going to mention that, when I worked for Dell 6 years ago, all Dell laptops sold in the US were shipped from Taiwan to Nashville, then distributed through out the country. Daily 747 flights. I think that stopped around when the Logistics building was sold sometime in 2009 or 10, I left in late 2009.

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People were praising Southwest coming when in reality Southwest won't offer fares hundreds of dollars less than Delta, they would just offer a $375 flight instead of Delta's $400 flight. Southwest is moving toward more of a legacy carrier now anyways, I think that's why Frontier is dropping down to low cost since they serve a lot of the same markets. 

 

Even going to and from Nashville on busy routes like DC or Philadelphia, Southwest is never any cheaper than competing airlines, even if you factor in baggage fees.  I've discovered that US Airways (and now with the merger, American), tends towards being the cheapest when there isn't a Frontier flight available.

 

I don't understand the draw towards Southwest that people have.  I think a lot of their customer base was sort of suckered in with low fares, maybe they got a deal a few years back, and now they just go to them first with the misguided assumption that they'll be the cheapest without doing major research.  Frankly, if you're paying too much for airfare in the era of the likes of Kayak, then you deserve it.

 

Honestly, it's going to sound horribly elitist of me, but I prefer to NOT fly Southwest simply because of the people you often end up sharing the plane with... The 3 or 4 times I've taken it, I've been jammed in next to someone too large for the seat in their overalls who won't shut up about the free pretzels.

Edited by Nathan_in_DC

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Honestly, it's going to sound horribly elitist of me, but I prefer to NOT fly Southwest simply because of the people you often end up sharing the plane with... The 3 or 4 times I've taken it, I've been jammed in next to someone too large for the seat in their overalls who won't shut up about the free pretzels.

 

I like Southwest. Part of the reason why is that you generally know what to expect (never had a cancelled flight on SWA due to something other than weather -- can't say the same about American or Delta). And speaking of jamming people in, that's what many of the other airlines are notorious for. I'm 6'6". I physically can't sit in a seat where there is a 6" gap between the end of my seat and the seat in front of me.

 

Also, I've had ,more pleasant experiences with the staff on SWA. Usually cordial, sometimes downright entertaining, though (some of you may have seen the funny safety briefing video that came out a week or so ago. I had a similar experience probably a decade ago). I can only describe the flight attendants on American as cold, heartless, broken people. They look like they work in a concentration camp. Delta and American deliver Walmart product at Nordstrom's price.

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