Atlanta or Bust (oh and Frankfurt too)! (BHX-FRA, FRA-ORD-ATL, ATL-IAD-LHR)
With Lufthansa and United. If you can’t guess the class by now…
What happened to the Seoul trip? Umm. Yeah. The matter of re-qualification is more important that Seoul alas. It’ll happen. Sooner rather than later. But now the matter of qualification miles takes to the fore.
For those who are unfamiliar with my trip report writing style, it is a mix of facts, fun, Ghetto IFE Systems (read on) humour and down right evilness. It takes PRACTICE this does kids – all done from the back of the plane!
For those of you who are familiar – yes – it’s more of the same masochistic delights of economy class travel with a dose of madness. But you guessed that already
As usual comments are welcome as well as questions of why I didn’t take advantage of the LH fare sale so I could had wrapped up *G in 3 flights…
Essay Question. Is it worth it? Use diagrams as needed. Bonus points awarded if you can convince yourself it’s the right thing to do. Volcano Insurance as special. (Yes, it’s the introduction)
With the prospect of a hard year to re-qualify for Star Alliance Gold (and however I cut it – it will be a very hard year – the bargain fares are few and far between) it’s a matter of finding the good fares when they pop up and making them work whilst making everything around those prices to extract the most benefit.
Now I could just be done with it and get a American Express Platinum Charge Card (along with the £300 fee with it) which would sort out the majority of my lounge access.
But there are other things, including the luggage allowances (which I have used in the past when I choose to take 60kg across the pond and back) and the other intangibles (for example, Op-ups here and there, reassigned seating, priority queues) – stuff you can only measure by experience.
Therefore, it’s my strong thought Star Gold in my case cannot be measured by cost – but by actual usage of Gold and the benefits it gives.
A bit more math (based on prices elsewhere and last years travels)
20 lounge visits = £700 @ £35 a visit (Excluding currency variations)
2nd Item fees = £300 or so with the amount of luggage I tote around.
So we’re looking a the best part of £1000 of savings – which considering my mileage runs and travel comes to a number only a few hundred notes above that, it represents excellent value to me.
The economics of a mileage run are of course in the eye of the beholder – as opposed to just “a mileage run”, I do like to visit places and turn my Mileage runs into trips where possible – or as one person described online “A mileage run with benefits”
A good enough term for me
It was 1am on a February morning – and once again – my lack of sleep wasn’t helping (as usual).
Thankfully, my office is slowly learning to appropriate this madness – It’s got to the point where I’ve stuck a little travel agents sticker on my PC (when I start pricing better than the preferred office travel agency – people listen bizarrely).
So off I go to United.com to price this. And then it .bombs classically when I enter my address. Bizarrely, it doesn’t want to accept a UK Address for the transaction, and would rather send me to United UK and charge an additional £120 for the privilege.
Well nuts to that. As much as I love to support the US aviation industry, I don’t love it that much – the Bank of Kevincm doesn’t support that many bail outs.
So a chat to web-support, and they refused to ticket it, stating I must use United UK website to book the ticket.
I think not.
Time to think laterally around the problem. How could I get round it?
So it was off to Orbitz to see if I could ticket it. After a major faff to make it work with the right times and other solutions so the fares marched into the correct buckets – it finally ticketed with the PNR and E-Ticket numbers showing as valid (and a payment of the Orbitz “service” fee of course.
So that’s FRA-ORD-ATL-IAD-LHR sorted. Except there’s one minor little issue – how to get to FRA. Now I could wander down to LHR and catch a stupid o’clock flight to FRA, or take advantage of my home airport for once and have a relative lie-in for once for this mad trip and extend this trip for a day in Germany.
The lie-in unsurprisingly won.
With a voucher in my pocket I had got, I managed to get the base fare down to £0, and taxes at £31.
Which kind of stinks, until Lufthansa slaps another £4 on top for paying with a debit/credit card which really makes it stink (their “free” method of payment is surprisingly – PayPal). So £35 later, I had a PNR for my positioning flight to FRA (which would alas involve an overnight)
So obviously, I need to sort out hotels for this trip. For this run, I decided to keep my costs low, whilst trying to have a good time. For Frankfurt, a basic bed is need, but either near a major communication point or right next door to the airport. This meant browsing through the online hotel stocks to see what there was.
In this case, I’ve settled on The Savoy Hotel, which is across the road near enough from Frankfurt train station, whilst in Atlanta, I wanted something nice to sleep in before the long journey back – so it’s off to the Hyatt Regency there – on a redemption.
Two weeks before this run was due to kick off, an Icelandic Volcano thought it would be fun to erupt, causing massive travel chaos. And there was me in some respects ready to scrub the entire trip (life in the office was getting far too busy thanks to my real job – OK you try and set up, install, a rack, UPS, 4 servers, 6 copies of Windows, 2 CentOS servers and a partridge in a pear tree, you run out of time quickly).
3 days before the trip occurred, all the air spaces were reopened and things slowly returned to normal as United were only doing waivers to the day before I was due to travel. Oh well. Thankfully my workload decreased enough to make this trip to be slightly relaxing.
My office colleagues predicted doom and delays – I was cheerfully thought that everything would be fine. And who says I’m not an optimist?
So, Lets and hum the BBC Version of Tara’s Theme (wha.. you don’t Remember Atlanta 1996? Sigh….), and in the style of the 11th Doctor – GERONIMO!!!!
Off to BHX!
(That’s the original Birmingham kids, not the one in Alabama)
To start this little journey off, I need to position myself for the oncoming storm that is Row 99Z in a United 777. To this end, I’ve decided to start not a million miles from home and travel from Birmingham International Airport.
Whilst not the greatest price in the world the £3.00 fare from New Street to International isn’t bad and is easy to swallow in comparison to some fees that come my way. Interesting to not that the kiosks were also selling “Virgin Trains Only” tickets to the airport for £2.40 – useful to know know when each penny counts. Not that I got this ticket… as the Virgin direct service had just pulled out…
London Midland Trains, Birmingham New Street to Birmingham International
Class 350 Desiro “Midland” 4 Car Configuration
The train was as standard Siemens Desiro – i.e. modern, nicely designed, comfortable and reasonable for a 10 minute hop or longer. The airport on this trip was the second stop on the trains long winding road to Northampton.
After wandering up the stairs and onto the air train, and promptly dumped in the main terminal.
Nearing BHX T1
Now I’ve talked about this … airport (well it can dream being the 6th largest airport in the UK) before, but things are slowly changing at BHX.
When I last popped through it was fighting off becoming a RyanAirport and getting more carriers in. Even though US Airways came and went, if anything – the Star Alliance has tightened its grip on this airport, with Turkish, Swiss, Continental, BMI Regional and of course Lufthansa. With Emirates at BHX on a twin daily service, and SkyTeam holding as the other major alliance with Air France and KLM shuttling passengers back and forth (as well as plethora of other exotic nd not so exotic carriers), BHX is slowly improving and turning into a hub for the second city.
I arrived at BHX just before 8:45am, and reprinted by boarding pass (as to be honest I like my boarding passes to look like them – and not a piece of A4 paper). No issues there – although I recheck the loads on the plane and it was surprisingly empty – so I selected the 2nd to last row on the plane – for one simple reason – A complete row to myself.
The queues were comparatively short – a mix of the usual business people and stag/hen weekend do’s going through .
And what a fantastic system they have – a returning tray system that’s very 21st century like that shoves trays around.
No issues – and through within minutes.
As I had a few minutes, and hold one of those lovely star gold things, I decided to stop off for a lounge
Micro-lounge stop: Aviance Lounge.
Why did I bother?
Well if you’re stuck at BHX for hours on end, the Aviance lounge obviously isn’t the place to hang out. There’s a wonderful branch of Weatherspoons (that high quality chain that has kitchen technicians – not cooks).
I had a little trouble being swiped in (least of all the attendant couldn’t be bothered to use the right reader), but after being let in I settled down for 15 minutes before the flight.
Enough time for a pre-flight drink
Regular viewers will notice my obsession with vodka when flying. I believe the two are mutually compatible.
Drinks as usual were on free-pour, and the stack range was… passable. It’s certainly better than the main terminal, and no worse than a RCC. If that’s at all possible.
Boarding was announced within the lounge , and I tootled off to the “new” international pier . It’s very modern – polished floors, gleaming metal and glass – very 2007 like and a reasonable place to be (it’s also the home to the Emirates Lounge).
The New “International” Pier
By the time I had got to the gate, a small queue was building due to the fact that boarding scanners weren’t working, so a manual count and tick was in progress. Boarding commenced with no priority for business or Star members by airbridge.
Which is nice except when you have a couple who are trying to board a buggy (unfolded) on a plane. Eventually, they were moved to one side to collapse the buggy and I boarded.
Lufthansa 4901, Birmingham International – Frankfurt am Main
Boeing 737-300, Seat 23A (Equipment swap from B737-500)
449 miles flown, 0 Status miles earned, 52 Destination miles earned (thank you BMI Credit Card!)
The last time I was aboard a German carrier was when GermanWings tried to ply its trade between BHX and CGN unsuccessfully, so it’s nice to be aboard an efficient carrier for once.
The crew were in a friendly and talkative mood this morning, helping people get settled in. Pretty soon “Boarding Komplete” was announced, and after a short wait, we begun push-back.
Y’know, I get the feeling everyone knows I always end up in Chicago one way or another… even Lufthansa….
Safety announcement was an interesting one – more like a friendly chat rather than the full on “Do this or we’ll see the local authorities on you” that certain carriers (no names mentioned… you should be able to guess who I’m thinking of here)
Once complete, the plane begun one of the quickest taxi’s around an airport I’ve been on. Either it was down to the light load or the captain really wanted to go back home and was taxiing like a madman to get to the threshold…
The plane was held briefly on the threshold of the runway, and then the two engines roared into life dragging the 737-300 into the air quite powerfully.
Off we go!
After a short time, the crew were released to conduct service, with a lovely plastic seeded roll to started.
The seeded roll in question.
Food whilst travelling over London – best seen in the air…
Eventually the drinks trolley came too, and it was Cola und Kaffee (with the flight attendants giggling at my extremely bad German (hey – I was making an effort for once – my GCSE German is of some cop).
Cola und Kaffee.
Service was cleared down early, and the crew went off to hide for the rest of the flight.
For compatibility purposes, I used one of the lovely branded Lufthansa Sick Bags to make a GhettoIFE system – and it fitted nicely.
I suspect James May was shocked it fitted too – Top Gear – Vietnam Special
Soon enough, after crossing into France and then into Germany, the River Main came into view, and the aircraft was cleared down again, and secured for landing.
After a gentle landing at Frankfurt, we peeled off the runway, and turned into a nice spot where we sat for the next 20 minutes waiting for a gate to clear.
Eventually the engines spooled up again and we taxied along until reaching the A-pier, and even though there was an airbridge, it was decided to do disembarkation by steps and bus.
Overall: It’s hard to mess up short hops like this – and Lufthansa delivered in terms of product and service. It makes me more amenable to travelling with them in the future…
Now normally this means muggins is stuck crammed against the window of a bus – however it was the turn of the premium passengers to be disappointed as there was only one set of stairs available – at the back of the aircraft.
So muggins was first off for once (rare, but good, and a prime position for a ramp tour to immigration). After wandering around the underbelly of the airport we finally were dumped at Immigration
Immigration was a slow process, with names being typed in as well as passports examined. I was soon through and wandered through the maze of Frankfurt airport and eventually down to the Regionalbahnhoff
The vending machine saw it fit to remove €3.80 from my pocket and 20 minutes later, I was dumped at the dark underbelly of Frankfurt Hbf. After wandering to the surface, it was across the road, and my hotel was in front of me.
Hotel: The Savoy, Frankfurt am Main.
Rate paid: £39.66 via eBookers.
Well, it’s an optimistic name I suppose.
An “alleged” 4* hotel, we’re in reality looking at a 2* on a good day special with the other two stars gone fallen off the sign.
I’ve documented the hunt for the hotel in my blog, so lets look at the hotel itself. The foyer is well maintained, and looks pretty, and as is part for course in these small hotels – the lifts were small too!
Which brings nicely to the cubbyhole of the room – and there’s no other way to describe it – its small.
Whilst basic, it had the main features (power, a bed, bathroom with a nice powerful hot water blast)
The Bed was as soft as heck, but I’ve slept in worse. I thought about Internet access for minutes, then thought again when I saw how much they were trying to con for access at €10/2 hours or €5 for 30 minutes. What is it with European hotels and wanting to charge the earth for WiFi?
A long walk around Frankfurt ensured – with all the interesting things that one sees.
I checked out at 6am after oversleeping without any issues or any other charges made.
Overall: For £40 what do you expect? A Crown Plaza? An InterContinental? A view of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? I’ve stayed in better and come away feeling like I’ve been ripped off. This hotel – whilst having small rooms was reasonable for what it was.
Back to FRA.
Early Morning in Frankfurt.
Another 6am rolls past and it’s out of the hotel and straight to the airport on the ever efficient DB drops me back at the RegionalBahnhoff.
Up into the maelstrom
A quick wander up the B check in peer revealed an ugly sight – a very long check in queue at the United counters that wasn’t moving an inch. I joined the Premier queue (with the 1K lines backing up to) and waited it out. From the looks of things, the local IT systems decided the ability to work wasn’t needed today and the ground staff were sitting it out until things came back on line.
Not a sight I want to see..
Which was when the “go to gate” command was issued.
Once everything was back up, the queues moved quick, and I was seen to quickly, and boarding passes for ORD and ATL were issued.
I quickly made my way to the gate area, following the signs to the “US Departures” area, and went through German security theatre – again – efficient and apologetic when they needed to rescan my shoes – even invited to wait on seats whilst they were being rescanned.
Lots of typing again at the Border, and then I wandered off to find the lounge. I saw the check in boarding queue, and boarding was 20 minutes away. In the distance – I saw the sign for the Tower lounge, and after presenting my credentials, I was invited in.
Lufthansa Tower Lounge
Well… no guesses who runs this lounge
High on the 5th floor at FRA, it gives nice panoramic views of the field. Its very Swedish/German design, with a food and drink station and lots of different areas. Of interest to me was a separate snack bar where Panini and wraps were made to order. Now his Is something positive and dare I say quite premium compared to a lot of the lounges I had been in (obviously I need to get in more… or is it get out more?)
The Panini itself was reasonable – and a nice filler for the trip ahead.
However, time was moving on, and I needed to descend downstairs for the flight.
Boarding had begun by the time I got to the gate, and everyone had lined up, ignoring this “Zone” concept. An agent was walking round, pulling elites out, and I was sent down the red carpet queue, a beep of the boarding pass and I made my way down the jetway.
United Airlines 954, Frankfurt am Main – Chicago O’Hare International
Boeing 777-200, Seat 39J
4343 miles flown, 4331 miles earned
Channel 9: On
I made my way to the back of the plane. Whilst 39J isn’t exactly great in the big overview of things, it’s better than Row 42/43 on a 777 (i.e. right at the back).
I plonked my stuff away, and took my seat, and was pleasantly surprised to find channel 9 on from the get-go. Meanwhile, boarding was continuing its merry way. It was looking positive in the end with a surprising amount of seats spare… until about 5 minutes from doors going to close where it seems the Ukrainian mothers convention decide it was time to board the plane, filling up all the spare seats.
Oh well., I knew my chances of an empty seat were minimal, least of all due to this ash cloud.
So… I’m having trouble working out which airport I’m at…
Pushback commenced, and a manual safety demo was done. Why they still do manual demos n these birds is beyond me unless they’re holding off redoing them until the reconfiguration of the 777 fleet begins. …
After a short wait, the aircraft turned, and begun trundling around FRA. Surprisingly, we held short of the runway for a minute to let another aircraft land, and then we were straight up in the air
Me and my shadow…
The aircraft begun it’s climb into clear skies, with a lovely view of the European countryside, crossing Paris, up to the Channel Islands, and the over Cornwall before heading out to the Atlantic, on what seems to be a much more southerly track than normal between The UK and the USA.
Jersey. I think
Soon enough, first service commenced with breakfast and drinks. Now regular readers will know of my dislike of breakfast service – as (and I’m being generous here) the quality of the breakfasts are… variable. Variably bad.
So I was in for a shock when I chose the United Plastic Omelet this morning. Everything was 1) Cooked, 2) Edible and 3) a good quality spread!
an Edible United breakfast? What is the world coming to?
I actually was very impressed with the service, and it proves when you have a crew who are paying attention to the ovens and a caterer who can do a service like that – it makes a big difference. Will wonders never cease?
The crew were in an eager mood today, and clear-down was comparatively quick, and soon enough the lights went down.
Time for some IFE, and once again – United’s offerings are more than sub-par. Can you guess what I made next?
After watching the Doctor fail to defeat the Daleks (again) I decided that the best course of action was to get some rest. And that’s what I did. I work up in time for the Mid-flight “Snack”. Now what catering wonders would appear?
Have a guess.
Toblerone and Shortbread.
I should had guessed really
The flight plodded along, with landfall near St Johns, and a long track across Canada and into the USA. The crew were doing regular drinks runs, keeping people hydrated.
I just wish someone occasionally wiped the windows of these planes y’know.
Now there are little signs that this aircraft (Like a lot of the 777 fleet) need a bit of love and attention. Little things like cracks here and there, chipped plastic, and some foam near the toilets that looks very out of place. Whilst these are all little things, they do add up and make you wander about the state of these aircraft and when they’re going in the shop for a good old cleanup and refresh – in many respects these birds haven’t changed much since delivery on the inside.
Cracks and chips…
After passing Montreal Centre, it turned into a light chop and turbulent flight – with the seatbelt sign mostly on for the remainder of the time. Meanwhile, the crew begun the pre-arrival snack delivery service.
Again – seeded bun.
But again, it’s the little touches that matter – as Frankfurt catering are showing – things like a reasonable sized bar of chocolate, nice crisps, mustard. The little things all add up.
Drinks followed after, and cleardown was done very fast as the bumps increased on our decent to Chicago.
Pretty much all I could see before we touched the ground
The plane itself went inland, turned and finally landed in Chicago, before the long taxi to T5 M Gates.
Overall: I keep writing good things about United at the moment, because quite frankly, things are improving. It shows with good catering, a bit of thought and customer service that any dull flight can be made good – even if you’re close enough near the back row.
Back to the Bunny
10am in Chicago. Nothing like it. Except the London early morning arrival had beat us in, and as a result, the immigration queue was solid with a cabin full of 767 and 777 passengers.
Working through the switchbacks, it was nearly an hour till I was seen to. And of course, I was honest and stated why I was in the USA (Mileage running), much to the incredulous look of the immigration agents face.
A bit of deep questioning and I was finally stamped through, where the luggage belt had long since spinning, and exited the customs point, dumped my rechecked bag (with an indication which gate I should head too) and I exited the secure area.
After proceeding upstairs and taking the fun of the ATS, I arrived at T1, and proceeded through security – which for a Saturday was very quiet. As the flight was leaving from C Concourse, it means heading to United’s Brainwashing tunnel, and then off to the wood panelled hell of the C17 concourse.
United Red Carpet Club C17
I’ve written about this lounge ad-infinitum and how it’s a wood panelled hell. And of course, its distinct lack of snacks, food and anything of value.
However, there have been some improvement – little things like the trail mix dispensers are improvement, but compared to the FRA Tower lounge or even the Star Alliance Lounge at LHR, it is lacking. But hey, its a seat in a lounge.
I wandered over to the gate, to find the queue from hell. A quick chat to the agent indicated that the plane was being held by ATC for storm threats and tornado watch. I quickly added myself to the list if needed, and wandered back to the lounge, where I was re-greeted and I wandered to the bar – finding a poor leftover drink chit on the way which the occupant had long gone.
Obviously, it was liberated and converted into a vodka and cola. At the bar the was a person who was moaning about the quality of the cola. Both the bartender and I couldn’t tell the difference, and after the other person had disappeared, an “accidental” top up of vodka occurred
After that was down, I wandered back to the gate to find most of the plane had boarded, and my seat wasn’t needed. I was beeped and boarded.
United Airlines 554, Chicago O’Hare International to Atlanta Hartsfield–Jackson International
Airbus A319-100, Seat 20F, Channel 9 On.
606 miles flown, 607 miles earned
Of course boarding a plane which is almost boarded means no overhead luggage space. This didn’t represent a problem thankfully as the rucksack is small enough to slide under the seat in front whilst not causing too many foot-space issues.
The plane was further delayed, as ATC were holding us till the last possible minute, with the doors finally closed an hour and 10 minutes late.
Take off was finally authorised and after a long taxi to the international terminal, the plane turned and off we went.
I said it was pea soup there…
Of course, with the peasoup cloud we were taking off into, it was a bumpy ride until we reached cruising altitude.
Entertainment begun, and for the first time in ages, I actually witnessed a snackbox run, with a few takers. Of course, knowing the plastic contained in these, I just skipped and proceed to the the drinks run.
Of course – its a diet coke. nothing changes.
The flight bumped along its merry way, until a clear-down occurred. The flight attendants also decided due to the amount of bumps, they would be doing the “Honour system” used to make sure seats were back up and seat-belts fastened.
Down below… it looks darn ugly…
Which from the looks of the 3 rows in front and the couple behind, not many people were paying attention to.
Still, the plane turned and turned, making it’s final approach into ATL, where we landed, then taxied all the way back to the main terminal, docking at T14.
I thanked the crew and left the plane, and wandered through the expanse of ATL airport to the back end of luggage delivery – of course the United belt was close enough near the main exit. That didn’t help much as luggage delivery was at a snails pace
Welcome to ATL.
After about 10 items of luggage spat out, my second little rucksack was spat out, and I wandered over to the MARTA station and made my way downtown.
Overall: Again, it’s nearly impossible to stuff up a short segment, and it was a surprise to see a snackbox run being done. Now if ATL would kindly sort out baggage delivery speeds, we’d all be a lot happier…
Hotel: Hyatt Regency Atlanta
Price Paid: 12000 points
Of course, with it being a stormy day, when I got out of the MARTA, it was throwing it down. Still – mustn’t grumble.
The Hyatt was two crossings away, and I made it doors to be confronted with Prom season in full swing. I made my way to reception, and was welcomed, and switched from a queen room to a king room in the International tower. I was also informed my Internet would be free of charge too.
After catching the lift to the 23rd floor, I found the room – and in typical Hyatt style – very nice it is too. A nice large size, big television and a “balcony” of sorts.
The view from here…
The TV – note I’m watching local programming
Opening it of course lead to rain in my face and the heat of the evening.
I wandered out to get some food, although I considered going to the Olympic Centennial park, it was 1) wet, 2) dark and 3) looked pretty darn unfriendly. I popped into the Chinese restaurant, got food to go, and wandered back into the prom night hotel and up to my room to crash for the night.
Overall: A nice enough hotel. Certainly in cash terms, I wouldn’t had paid the $250 (The points worked out cheaper) they were asking for it for the night. Putting it on points made things bearable, and of course reduced the cost of the run – which is always helpful.
Homewards … or not.
Eventually I made my way back to ATL after wandering around Atlanta in the morning, and checked in, to be met with the queues from hell both at United Check-in and the miles long queues at the TSA that to be honest, weren’t moving.
After a minor grilling from the TSA why I dared to have film and have it manually scanned, I was let through.
I wandered over to the Presidents Club to briefly too out of the window, and then headed back to encounter a document issue at the gate.
Enough of a document issue to make me miss the flight
I was re-booked onto the next day fight, and decided to just sit for a bit, and sort out a hotel room thanks to the night thanks the pink slip thing I was given (that and I refused to pay for WiFi around ATL airport)
So an extra night in Atlanta. Whoopee do.
Hotel: Embassy Suites, Atlanta Airport
Price $65+tax ($73.14)
Earning notes: 1000 BMI Destination miles (Hilton Double Dip – if they ever post
Well it’s a Hilton – Just. I arrived about 3pm and was informed no rooms were ready – so I just sat down with the laptop and typed for an hour or so.
For a suite hotel, this place was in love with its water features.
Water water everywhere…
Soon enough I was assigned a room near an elevator – and I just went there and just watched box for a bit. A waste some might say – but to put it blunt – I wasn’t hell bent to return to downtown Atlanta. On check in I was offered an apology voucher with 500 points or WiFi – like any computer geek.
Moving onto the room – yes, its a suite hotel. In other words, a window into the atrium, a window outside, a living area and a bed area.
Bed (Two doubles)
The Managers reception didn’t seem to take place, and so I comforted myself with a bottle of Mountain Dew and Crisps and headed upstairs again to doze.
At 4am I woke up and finished putting my crap away, and got ready to travel. I checked out (having the bill adjusted down for the Internet voucher, and paying the stay in cash), and requested a cab to the airport as it was too early for the shuttle to run (that and I wanted to minimise the risk of anything going wrong at all)
The taxi pulled up, and I was off.
Overall: Whilst larger than the room in Frankfurt, it seems a nice enough environment (although they loved their water fountains). For what it was an how much it was – I wasn’t arguing at all.
ATL, Take 2.
Another $8 later I was at the front door for ATL Departures. I walked to the main security queues to find the place almost deserted, and proceeded through security with no discussions over film scanning.
ATL seems to be well facilities, both air side and ground side. I’d just wish they’d sort the luggage claim areas so they weren’t a major hike from one end of the terminal to the other.
The dead of the morning…
The gate was a short hike away, so I made myself comfortable whilst announcements were made. As Starbucks opened, I made my way over for a caffeine shot, then back to the gate where the plane was being readied to board.
United Airlines , Atlanta Hartsfield–Jackson International – Washington Dulles International
Canadair CRJ-700 , Seat 10A
Operated by United Express/Mesa Airlines
534 miles flown, 600 miles earned.
Oh its back to Messy Air. Surprisingly for a Messy Air aircraft, this CRJ appears to be in better condition than the CRJ-200 that I’ve been in before, but again – there are signs of wear and tear – and that it needs love.
TLC need…Apply in writing to Mesa air (cash up front though)…
Boarding was completed on time, but of course, this is no ordinary CRJ-700, it’s a Mesa CRJ-700. Which means of course whilst its reasonably clean, nothing that a deep clean wouldn’t fix as well as a trip to the shop to repair the little cracks.
Whilst boarding was going on there was of course the usual issue of Rollaboards and no one wanting to give up their rollaboards. Sigh. Whilst I know people love them, please consider what class of aircraft you’re going to fly on. If it’s a tiddly regional jet, the chances of a big bag with wheels isn’t going to fit into your overhead isn’t it?
Retrojet – with clown nose – well it’s better than looking at people trying to stuff rollaboards on a RJ isn’t it?
Push-back was on time, and after taxing all the way down to the Fly Delta Jets hanger, we turned and took off.
So the dominant carrier here is….?
Off we go!
Climbing out – Darkness and light
After a nice long climb-out, a drinks service was carried out – and the long 1 hour and 25 plod over to Washington Dulles begun.
A lovely morning to fly
As the flight went on, we were warned of Dulles weather (i.e. Pea-soup – similar the ORD the day before, as the storms had plagued Georgia had moved north to DC).
On finals for Dulles
After cloud skipping and a fair few bumps, the plane landed in the back end of Dulles, and a long taxi to the infamous Dulles Bus station (or as everyone knows it better – the A Gates)
Once on stand, we were back on A2 I thanked the crew and deplaned.
Overall: A standard CRJ hop. But there are better options on equipment out there – the CRJ’s feel more cramped each time I get aboard one… And parking up at the Dulles Bus Station feels like the final insult…
Back to Dulles.
Of course, being stuck in the back end of Dulles means a hike through all of the A concourse, and finally into the new “Train station”. For those of you who are wondering, a lot of the wonderful Dulles moon buggies have been replaced with an “AeroTrain” (with limited moon buggy service around the airport now).
And whilst nice and fast between concourses, its a mile hike to get to it, then another mile to get to C Concourse at the end of it. Whist I understand this when for when the “new” Concourse C/D gets built, some of us are wondering when are they going to be bothered to start – as we all know Dulles C/D are some of the most depressing places on the planet.
Where moonbuggies once departed… Even Michelle Obama is smiling about them being gone…
Being in Dulles of course means a visit to one of it’s lovely lounges – and C7 was selected as my flight was going from C5
The Entrance to the C7 RCC
United RCC C7 Lounge
I made my way in and presented my Diamond Club card and my boarding pass, where I was greeted warmly. I then asked about my luggage, as I had this fear Air Wisconsin had once again decide to leave my luggage out in the open (as they did last May). A few clicked gave an interesting result – my luggage had decided to travel without me to London the night before.
Can anyone say the words “Security Breach” here?
In addition, I was moved forward a few rows to 30K – whilst not big, its better than 35K at the back of the plane.
But anyway, drink chits were offered freely – a shame the bar was very quiet and I wasn’t in the mood for a vodka this morning. So instead I raided the orange juice and coffee bar for a bit.
The view over the bus station
A shame the breakfast snacks here are so weak in comparison to other stations, but that seems to be Dulles’s big problem for United – it has a big load of “MEH” to it and they urgently need to de-meh the place.
I kept an eye on the clock, and saw my flight was about to board to London, so I walked around the lounge and exited to C5 where Star Golds were being boarded. Excellent timing as always. I presented my boarding pass and was beeped aboard. America’s Finest TSA was out in force at the gate, but they didn’t seem interested in me this time, and let me pass onto the plane
United Airlines 922 Washington Dulles International – London Heathrow Airport
Boeing 767-300ER, Seat 30K, Channel 9 Off
3677 miles flown, 3677 miles earned.
I boarded the plane and was greeted by a London crew heading home. I was directed to the back of the plane, where I stowed my backpack and popped the little red bag underneath the seat – running into the first problem of the 767-300ERs – the size of the IFE box in these aircraft is pretty darn big. This doesn’t help when your seatmate arrives and starts intruding into the remaining foot space.
Pretty soon the plane filled up again, and interestingly, a full paper run was done through the whole aircraft. A very nice touch by the London crew.
Pushback as slightly delayed, but eventually, the plane pushed back and begun winding it’s way around Dulles… and straight into a Penalty Box to allow for a storm cell to pass.
I don’t know, but I get the feeling someone at Dulles doesn’t like me as I’m now 3 for 3 with penalty box waits here now…
Eventually, the aircraft turned and begun a very long takeoff roll, and eventually, we were up in the air.
Off we go for one last time
Of course, it was as choppy as hell getting in the air, so it took some time for the crew to be released to conduct service.
And when it started, it was glacially slow. Eventually, the offer of Pancakes or Omelet made its way to my row, and in a fit of madness, I chose the UA omelet again – whilst joking with the pursers what concoctions Dulles catering came up with again.
Well the omelet – it’s “Inspired” I suppose – a cheese and spinach one. Whilst the sausage was slightly burned, I’ve had worse out of London.
Then there’s the pastry.
Oh dear. Whilst not on US Airways bad of level catering (those who have flown TATL with US Airways in the back will know what I mean), it was lacking a lot of things.
A drinks run followed the food, but performance seemed to be very slow in the back – maybe they were short on crew, but it did seem overly slow.
To relive the boredom, I decided to make a GhettoIFE system, and ran into a problem – plastic bags. Whilst it sounds good in theory, the plastic on these bags is – to be blunt – tough. And lets face it, I’m going to win no awards this time for the state of this system
Plastic Sickbag Ghetto IFE Systems = FAIL
However, I decided the only course of action since the cloud was solid would be to crash out of for a bit… and crashed out I did. A good 3 hours rest and I was once again ready to watch stuff on the system.
This being a shorter flight, there was of course no snack run, but there were oversalted pretzels in the galley
About a 1000 miles out from London, it started to get a bit bumpy, with solid cloud above and below us. The captain popped the seat-belt sign on, and everyone was locked down for a good few hundred miles. It smoothed out enough for the snack service to begin
The Pre-arrival snack
Whilst comparable to the FRA-ORD snack, this snack wasn’t bad, but again, its the details. Things like a larger chocolate bar for example. The drinks service as I had come to expect was very slow.
A clear-down was done, and as the cloud cleared over the Irish sea, we made landfall near Swansea and begun the slow trek and decent to London.
Clearing as we cross the Irish sea
Being late of course, we were chucked into one of Heathrow’s stacks (the Ockham stack) for a good five rotations before we were allowed to approach South London, turn and finally land.
Stuck in a stack
Alas, we landed at the back end of beyond, which meant a long taxi over to Terminal 1, and of course the preferred place to park US bound aircraft – the back end of beyond. The captain released the seat-belt signs, and it was a mad scramble for everyone to get out of the plane.
Overall: Not a bad service, and delays were really out of the flight decks hands, but I can’t help feel that the onboard crew were short staffed – and very slow. I’m not sure about the daytime flights (although I can see the benefit of them) – maybe I’m just too used to redeye TATL’s…
Back to LHR
Being a US Arrival, of course we were shoved down the back end of beyond at Gate 38 or so, therefore it was a hike to the Europier and then moreso into T1 itself.
IRIS was dead at Heathrow T1, meaning I had to join the 10 switchback queue at Passport control – again, even for a UK Citizen to entry, the passport control people were taking their own sweet time.
It was then a matter of racing to luggage reclaim to see where the little rucksack was – and it was sitting out with yesterdays luggage.
After grunting at a United Luggage handler, it was in my hands and I was through the Green Control Zone, and heading off for the first HEC or HEX to get me into town.
Heathrow Connect – Heathrow Central – London Paddington
Class 360 Desiro (Heathrow Connect 5 Car Configuration), £7.90 Single
As I headed downstairs, a HEX decided to pull out. Doing a quick bit of math in my head working out which train would make it into London in time so I could race across the city, the Heathrow Connect was chosen due to two good reasons – 1) It was the first train to arrive after the HEX, 2) it’s half the price of a HEX and 3) 10 minutes .
Ticket inspection was carried out after leaving the Heathrow Central, and the guard hid for the rest of the journey.
25 minutes later, the train arrived at London Paddington at Platform 12 – time enough to get some cash out, and run to the Taxi rank.
It was coming up to 23:00 when the train pulled into Paddington – with 30 minutes to play with – with those time limits, it’s no point messing around – it’s easier to jump a cab and say that magical colloquium – “Euston Main Line Station, and step on it!”.
And apart from the 1 minute wait outside Paddington Station to get out of the place – he did – 7 minutes later the cab was at Euston Mainline taxi drop off.
A quick bound up the stairs indicated that Euston control once again cannot organise anything, and the 23:30 was awaiting a platform description. As the deadline pasted to 15 minutes before departure, the platform was announced, and half of who were at Euston station moved in the general direction of Platform 15.
Ticket inspectors were at the entry point, and were clipping them before boarding the train.
Virgin Trains London Euston to Birmingham New Street
Class 390 Pendolino
For the last train of the day, it certainly was very busy (even up in the arches of C Coach). The train pulled off on scheduled, and happily whooshed past Watford Junction before grinding to a halt and switching to the slow lines for run up to Milton Keynes. This normally is fine – except for the slow train in-front of us.
After Milton Keynes, the train sped back up, and Rugby, Coventry, Birmingham International and finally Birmingham New Street.
At Birmingham New Street
Not wanting to mess about, another taxi was hailed, and I was dropped off at the flat, bringing another adventure to an end.
My bags – normally I’d do it at the flat, but this time on a train.
9205 miles. Not great by a long stretch, but not bad. Maybe I could had pushed the miles better, but of a quick weekend run, I’m happy with the results – even if I had to spend a second night in Atlanta.
The push for Star Gold 2011/2012 is moving along slowly and at the 1/4 way mark, I’m half way to retaining Gold for another year.
The challenge for Star Gold will continue this year – least of all I’ve scrubbed one trip that I due to take in July which could make qualification more of a challenge than I would like to be honest.
May I’ll head East next time – as I am really fed up to the back teeth of US Immigration at the moment – but hey – I can see the immigration agents point, but it doesn’t help when you’ve been stuck in a queue for an hour waiting to be seen to.
The facts are this though. I’m 50% done this year already, and I’m crediting to a programme that had it’s first scare when the first batch of members were moved off from Diamond Club into Miles and More, and if my hunch is correct – more of us may move soon.
It could be time soon to have a mileage burning party….
Comments and Thoughts as usual welcome!