A Legend in Its Own Time?

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Outside gate 42 at Dulles airport last week, my emotions yo-yoed from giddy excitement to that other, dread traveler's feeling, deja vu. Though the sign under Legend Airline's Flight 3 said ON TIME, the gate agents kept announcing delay after delay because of bad weather. Here we go again, I thought; just another airline.

But once onboard, I found that the interior of this DC-9 looked like an executive lounge--fresh flowers, patterned blue carpeting and all the bosses' comfy chairs facing one way. I felt as if I'd slipped into an exclusive club. There were only 15 passengers for 56 seats, so we spread out like kids at a playground.

I settled into an exit row, buckled the seat belt, then tried to get my briefcase from under the seat in front of me. I couldn't reach it. My feet didn't reach the floor, either. These weren't plane seats; they were CEO chairs, meant for the big guys. Even though we hadn't taken off yet, I felt as if I'd already arrived.

Shortly after the plane took off (an hour late), my flight attendant appeared with a food tray laden with warm bread, real-butter pats shaped like flowers, chicken with black-bean salsa and fresh fruit. I washed this down with a Fetzer Eagle Peak Merlot and topped it all off with chocolate truffles. I fired up the TV in the seat back--all 24 channels worked fine--and entertained myself by flipping through everything from ESPN Classic to CNNfn. I called my office from the armrest phone, then plugged in my computer.

Landing at Dallas was nearly as disorienting as the flight. I stepped off the plane into a sleek, nearly empty building that housed Legend's terminal--a long white hallway with large windows and six gates. Fifty-six seconds later I was at the taxi's door.

Now for the competition. Arriving for my return flight on American Airlines, I realized I didn't know which of the four terminals or 122 gates at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport I was supposed to use. I listened to the Dallas radio station devoted to American departures, but my flight wasn't mentioned. On a hunch, I picked one terminal and got out of the cab. Bad move. In an airport that covers 20,000 acres and crosses a county line, I wasn't even close to my plane. Later, I approached two unoccupied American ticket agents at what I thought might be my gate, and stood for half a minute while they finished a joke. They told me to try the service desk.

American Flight 1640 to Washington took off on time with a full load. I was glad to learn that 1640 was flying a plane already on American's "More Room Throughout Coach" program. But after Legend, my window seat resembled a nursery-school chair. I measured 32 in. of "pitch"--the space between the seat in front of me and the seat behind me--but that was before the guy in front reclined. He was so close I could have given him a shampoo.

Drinks and dinner arrived 45 minutes after takeoff. "Meat-loaf sandwich or cold chicken fingers with salad?" I chose the latter, but one bite persuaded me to wait for Cheerios once I got home. We pulled into the gate at National a few minutes early. The verdict: I need more test runs on Legend.