Later, 'Bro!

Farewell to the Brasilia

On May 5, 2015, SkyWest Airlines retired its last Embraer 120 Brasilia, known lovingly by those that work on them as the “Bro”.  According to, the Brazilian Air Force is now the largest Brasilia operator with 19 aircraft, followed by Swiftair in Spain with 10 aircraft.  The end has most certainly come for the this once-mainstay aircraft that served small towns and communities throughout the United States as an important link to hubs to the rest of the world.

Truth be told, as an airliner enthusiast, I never really liked the Brasilia.  It is not a particular good looking airplane; it is more of an utility van or a commuter bus that just its job day in and day out without any flare.  If you lived in California as I do, they were everywhere.  I’d see them at all airports throughout the west, big and small.  At major hubs such as San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX), they buzzed in and out all day long like insects.

In November 2014, SkyWest announced the Brasilia would be retired from their fleet by June of 2015.  Suddenly, E120s disappeared from sight, as evidenced by the flight schedule from April through the last day of service in May:  ten flights in and out of LAX and a paltry four flights at SFO. 

Feeling melancholy and finding a soft spot in my heart for the ‘Bro, I wanted to bid my farewell to the E120.  I found award seats available on a Sunday two weeks before the end, from SFO to Bakersfield and back.  It cost me 20,000 miles plus $85.60.  Sure, it was costly for two one-hour flights, but it beats $700+ if I had paid straight up dollars.

I got dropped off at SFO's recently refurbished Terminal 3 East, known as T3E, and checked in at one of many available kiosks.

I was randomly selected for Pre Check. I had gone through "Pre" only a couple times before and for the first time in a while, I was intimidated by the security check point because I didn't know what to do. The line was flying through.  TSA was checking IDs and boarding passes expediently and frequent travelers were going through the paces quickly.  Monkey see, monkey do.  That’s in the small tray and camera bag on the belt and just walk through the metal detector. No body scan, no taking shoes off, no taking jacket off - just go. Despite the queue being 30 to 40 deep, I literally made it through in five minutes. I was impressed!  Thanks SFO and TSA - that's how security should be done!

Inbound flight arriving from Fresno. It was a beautifully clear morning - a sign of good things to come.

N291SW was delivered new to SkyWest in 1996

Departure monitor

Classic central rotunda at Terminal 3.

I met up with my friends Pete and Jordan at gate 76A. That lighted gate signage has been around ever since I started coming to this terminal since the 1980s. So familiar. Every time I see this sign, I know I am at SFO flying United.

Tail number on the gate display is always appreciated. People at United have us spotters in mind.

No in-seat power nor in-flight entertainment?  I want my money back, LOL!

United Express UA 5613 (operated by SkyWest Airlines)
San Francisco (SFO) - Bakersfield (BFL)

Embraer 120 Brasilia
Registration: N291SW
Msn: 318
Delivered: July, 1996

Scheduled Departure - Arrival: 8:40 am - 10:06 am
Actual Departure - Arrival: 8:38 am - 9:55 am
Takeoff SFO Runway 01R: 9:02 am
Landing BFL Runway 30R: 9:51 am
Duration: 49 minutes  

Flightaware flight track

Boarding started about 25 minutes before departure. Boarding was through the jet bridge and down a ramp to the apron. There is something magical with seeing your airplane as you approach it in the open air - taking it all in as you walk towards it, with noisy activities all around along with the smell of jet fuel permeating in the air.

A gate check baggage cart was waiting at the bottom of the ramp going up to the aircraft. An agent checked our boarding passes again to ensure we were boarding the correct flight.

On board, our sole flight attendant Tiffany greeted us warmly. We told her that we were flying today on the Brasilia just for fun. She was rather sad about their pending retirement as well and shared a few interesting stories with us.

E120 cabin is in a 1-2 seat configuration with a total of 30 seats.

I made my way to seat 8A on the single seat side, across the aisle from the behind-wing emergency exit. Despite the tight legroom, seats do not recline assuring your knee space would not be further encroached.  I love flying the smaller Embraers for the single seats - you get the enjoyment and the flexibility of a window and aisle seat at the same time.

The Embraer logo was a nice touch. As I later found out, it was a cover for the overhead light switch used on the two seat side.

Captain Jason and First Officer Ethan introduced our flight:  Flying time is expected to be 51 minutes, with an altitude of 23,000 feet. Visibility is good in Bakersfield with clear skies, and temperature of 51°F – it is a beautiful day for flying!

Door closed a few minutes ahead of our 8:40 am departure time. I counted 24 passengers for our 30-seat airplane. Some passengers were asked to move to different seats, probably for weight distribution.

With that familiar twirling and propeller whooshing sound, the Pratt and Whitney Canada P118 turboprops started up. There was less vibration than expected, which was nice!

We made a long 15-minute taxi around the corner to Runway 01R amidst a bevy of 9 am departures, include transcon competitors American A321 and JetBlue A321 departing ahead and behind us. 

Lifting off, I was greeted with a nice view of our shadow leaving us.

We continued east, over the East Bay Area cities of Oakland and Livermore, before headed south down the arid Central Valley to BFL.

Flight attendant Tiffany took drink orders and they were later delivered on a tray.

About 15 minutes after takeoff with 45 minutes remaining in our flight, we reached our cruising altitude of 23,000 feet. The captain delivered his standard "sit back and enjoy" message but added a surprising shoutout for me and my friends over the PA. That was nice!  Thanks to our friend and SFO ramp controller Gail for arranging this!

The lavatory was quite narrow - wide enough for only one and I could barely turn around. I did not find a sink either.

Twenty minutes to go, we started our descend and the seat belt light came on. It was interesting to see the oil field on the eastern side of Bakersfield dotted with oil pumps. I never realized it was so vast!  Our downwind approach over the oil field was turbulent and bumpy, however.  After making a tight right base for Runway 30R, we touched down at Meadows Field 49 minutes after departing SFO. Four short minutes later, we parked at the gate. It took about 30 seconds or so after parking before the props stopped spinning and the boarding door opened.

After a temporary goodbye with Tiffany, we went down a ramp and across the apron and made our way into the modern terminal at BFL and waited for the short turn back to SFO.

Welcome to Meadows Field!

United Express UA 5637 (operated by SkyWest Airlines)
Bakersfield (BFL) - San Francisco (SFO)

Scheduled Departure - Arrival
: 10:31 am - 12:01 pm
Actual Departure - Arrival: 10:26 am - 11:42 am
Takeoff BFL Runway 30R: 10:34 am
Landing SFO Runway 28R: 11:30 am
Duration: 56 minutes

Flightaware flight track

(BFL to SFO in 12 minutes)

Departing from gate 6, the same outbound crew would be taking us back to SFO. On this return trip, I decided to try a seat on the right hand side of the aircraft, the 2-seat side, in the very last row, in front of the lavatory.

Captain Jason briefed that, once again, it is a beautiful day for flying. Flying time is expected to be one hour with cruising altitude of 22.000 feet. The weather in San Francisco is 10 mph winds with good visibility, clear skies with temperature of 57°F.

Minutes later we powered out for taxi. Four short minutes after that, we took to the skies from Runway 30R.

Routing back to SFO was different from the trip south. We headed west, across the Central Valley, over Paso Robles, to the coast at Monterey before approaching SFO from Santa Cruz along with arrivals from the Los Angeles area. 
The pilots once again gave us a shoutout on the PA - I had a big grin on my face and the person seated next to me had no idea why.

I had orange juice again.

Noise on the return flight was decidedly different. Not sure if it was because where I was seated or the props were not in sync. It was louder and there was more vibration and it was more uncomfortable.

On approach, we made sweeping wide turns over the Santa Cruz Mountains - not uncharacteristic for landings at SFO due to spacing considerations.

View of the Santa Clara Valley. City of Cupertino is closest to us. Can you find Apple's new "spaceship" campus under construction?

Less than one hour after taking off from BFL, we touched down at SFO’s Runway 28R. Unlike the outbound flight, the distance from Runway 28 to Terminal 3 is short and we quickly taxied to the same gate from where we departed earlier that morning. 

Before bidding my final farewell, I personally thanked our pilots, Jason and Ethan, and flight attendant Tiffany for a memorable flight and had them sign my ticket receipt.

Funny moment once inside the terminal. The gate agent thought the flight had to turn back since she saw us earlier in the morning.  We explained, "no - we were just flying on the Brasilia for fun before retirement". She laughed and agreed. They were going to miss it as well.

The end of the Brasilia is a double edged sword. It means most former cities where it served now have regional jet service. This also means SkyWest is now an all-jet airline. However, for some smaller cities (such as Cresent City or Carlsbad in California) that are unable to sustain the passenger traffic required for regional jets - it means no more air service altogether until another airline is willing to step in flying the right equipment. 

Farewell, ‘Bro!  I will miss you!

Copyright © 2015 Ben Wang.  All Rights Reserved.


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