Gold Run 2: Blame Canada! It’s only a mileage run anyway!* – Locking in Gold for another year (with BMI, Air Canada, Continental and Aer Lingus) – BHX-DUB, DUB-LHR-YVR-IAH-LHR
(*I blame South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut for that)
Previous reports are at the back end of this trip report.
WARNING: This trip report does contain potty mouth words. It’s one of the few times I’m using “Freedom of Expression” to express how I really felt on this trip thanks to some parties.
Welcome back faithful reader to yet another one of my infamous mileage run trip reports. And yes, it’s in Economy class with not a hope in hell of an upgrade.
This time, as opposed to United Airlines alone, it’s a veritable bevy of Star Alliance Carriers (and non Star Alliance carriers to come to think of it…)
And more importantly from me – no cheating here – it’s in the back all the way (and you know what, it’s nice to be back). The usual rules do apply to this trip report (in other words, bad humour, very bad puns, musical references that not man people get, random Youtube videos, and of course – GhettoIFE systems.
3AM… Eternal…. (Yes, it’s the introduction)
** The KLF still rocks me still alas .
Whilst not occupying my waking moments, this year is going to be one of the most important Star Alliance years for me as the final acts of BMI occur. The fact is, I need to renew my Star Gold again or face a life of idiotic luggage fees – and considering some of the luggage I travel with, this is not a bad idea at all.
And to be honest, I’d rather travel in back of a plane than face crippling luggage fees (which wind up costing as much as a trip or like this over a year).
To this end, I have been keeping an eye out on good fares, and whilst the was a very acceptable CO €202 fare, it was 2 days AFTER I had booked my Chicago trip fare. Which was a pain to put it bluntly as I couldn’t change the UA trip to nest it in.
So once again, it was… 3am, and I was browsing the Mileage Run forum when I saw a nice reasonable Dublin Fare to Vancouver, with a base of $148, taxes of $384, banking in at a grand total of $534.49. As exchange rates when this was booked were riding, high – the hammer fell and it was a matter of finding a route that appealed to my insanity – and my pocket.
A bit more fiddling, and I managed to force Orbitz to cough out the following itinerary:
LHR-YVR (Air Canada)
Whilst routing back via LHR would had been fun and had generated a few more miles, 1) the times were wrong and 2) taxes pushed the fare into the $600’s
So here’s the map- laugh away down in back.
Map of course by the Great Circle Mapper- www.gcmap.com
You think that’s of the planning section? Oh no. More is to come .
Late September wound it’s merry way along, and I took my regular look at all the active PNR’s to see what had changed if anything, when I saw that there were two CO269’s to EWR. A quick look and Uh-oh. My DEN-EWR flight had been completely retimed so I’d see my Dublin flight long sailed into the sunset.
Grudgingly, I powered on Skype and dialled numbers. And I must congratulate the poor agent who had to go off to continental to get seats released, then off to Air Canada to reticket, then back to Continental to get the DUB tag-on leg sorted.
Originally, it was suggested I was diverted to Chicago, then off to Dublin on the EI direct flight. Whilst I would had been in with a chance of scraping BMI Gold, it wasn’t my first option. I offered a divert via EWR and the late BMI connection to DUB. However, the agent came up with a bit of gold and instead diverted me from DEN to IAH (Houston), then to London and then to Dublin. A net gain of 2000 miles before any bonuses, and the possibility of skipping the last leg if I felt the urge.
SCORE! 12500 miles. Now we’re back in Mileage run territory for the win.
1 hour later, and after being thanked profusely for waiting, my ticket was stuck back in the ticketing queue. However, there was one slight issue – I was originally requested the midday flight to Dublin. Alas, they rebooked me on the late evening flight. So I had a choice, 12 hours at Heathrow, another flight, a night in Dublin then home, or offload myself at Heathrow and go home with a 3 hour journey.
You’ll find out what I did later
So what does the map look like now?
Much simpler with Denver removed. However, something or someone is telling me New York (and the surrounding area) and me aren’t just meant to mix at all. Although intend to deal with that soon…
In terms of hotels, this is a difficult one to play really . Whilst chain hotels would be nice in terms of points, I don’t stay enough for me to consider mattress running. For Dublin, a cheap night a Travelodge during a €19 stay would suffice, however the Vancouver hotel would be a tiny bit of a challenge.
For Vancouver, I had the choice of burning a bunch of Hyatt points, or paying ICHG some money for once. And believe it or not, it’s a hard choice – least of all there’s the fact of paying money, or starting to “Crack the Case”. In the end, I plumped for Cracking the Case with some PP points. As part of CtC, this is one set of the two Saturdays required, and 2 nights from the 10 I need. Which is nice.
Right enough chatting – onto the flying part
Part I – Off to BHX, BHX to DUB with EI.
Off to BHX!
(Pictures can be found at: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…ge-swords.html )
Most of the packing was done the night before, with important things popped in the bag (namely, the camera, laptop, 4 T-shirts, clothes, etc)
Obligatory bag shot
After finishing off being evil in the office (I’m a Systems Administrator – it’s in my nature), I popped my mini-rucksack on my back, and it was time for the off. A hop into town, and a M&S; to get some currency, and then off to Birmingham New Street to catch the train to Birmingham Airport.
Walking down central Birmingham
As it was peak time, trains were amazingly running to schedule, and it was a short walk to check in.
Reaching the check desks, I noticed the complete lack of queues, and was checked in quickly, with seat 2F assigned.
It was then a case of going upstairs to the newly expanded security area the airport has recently enlarged.
Birmingham Airport (no longer calling itself Birmingham International Airport) still has it’s delusions of grandeur, and is trying to merge it’s two terminals (The Main Terminal and EuroHub) into one beast – with all the fun that goes with it.
However, all the changes in the world don’t make much difference – if the staff are slothly as heck. And Birmingham Airport takes the biscuit here, with 2 security lanes open only, luggage bin delivery crawling along, and even when they finally scanned my bag, it beeped and the camera was run through the wipe explosives tests. Even that took a full five minutes.
Not impressive. I guess de-branding yourself as an international airport means you can be more slothly.
After making into the terminal (no lounge access this time as I’m flying EI), I found a nice perch, spent a bit catching up with the world. However as some have noticed – staying in the public area verses the Servisair lounge at BHX isn’t that much difference, except for an annoying Tweenies Kiddies ride machine.
The central waiting area
A look up at the departure screens showed the flight was going to be 15 minutes late – not the end of the he world.
Soon enough the bar went green, and it was off to Gate 57 where boarding begun when I arrived.
Even though we were at an abridge gate, the corridor was broken, so it was a hike downstairs and onto the tarmac, then up the portastairs again and aboard.
The bird of the night
Aer Lingus EI0277, Birmingham Airport – Dublin International Airport
Airbus A320, Seat 2F, Economy Class
200 Miles Flown, 0 QF miles earned, 42 BMI destination miles earned
I was welcomed aboard to find the plane was packed, as well as the luggage bins were filling out quickly. Thankfully, I stowed the rucksack, and took my seat.
The plane of course filled out, with only a couple of spare seats – namely the one next to me was free – which is always nice.
However, alas – there are other people on a flight. In front of me, two “Merry” Irish lads who used my underseat space to store their luggage (and the crew didn’t notice that), and behind me, kiddies who thought playing with the tray would be the fun activity of the night.
The doors however were sealed 10 minutes late, pushback and safety demo commenced. Which would had been nice to hear if not for the lads in front and kids behind making a racket.
Eventually, we taxied out to the North-Westerly runway, and after a FlyBe ERJ 195 took off, we lined up and powered out into the night sky.
Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If-WrJ7NSjM
The climb was long, but soon enough, the crew were released to conduct service, and I popped the iPhone on to listen to a few tunes for the short hop.
The lights of Birmingham
Service was conducted with a food and drinks run, with a reasonable take up. Of course, the kids decided to play with the tray table a bit more
Which was a royal PITA.
However, after Duty free was done, the cabin was secured, the kids put the table away finally, and the lads in front were told to switch off their music by both of the front cabin crew, and with a direct approach, we landed at Dublin Airport.
Youtube Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4Uw97B2sEo
A quiet Dublin evening
Overall: As usual, a good friendly service by Aer Lingus. A shame that people take the shine of the glamour that was air travel…
The bird at Dublin Airport
After deplaning, I made my way through immigration, and was into the public area in five minutes or so.
It’s late, and as I need to get some rest, it’s off to my cheap hotel for the night. I decided to be extravagant, and paid a taxi to take me to the hotel – which cost about half the price of the hotel itself.
Hotel: Travelodge Swords
Of course, a Travelodge is a Travelodge. Expect the bare minimums if you’ve been good. And it wasn’t that bad. The bed was sleepable in, and warm (which is more than could be said of the room). It was clean and simple. Enough for a night.
It even had a real key!
See… none of this fancy keycard stuff…
But it was a bed for the night, and at the price, I wasn’t arguing.
Overall: It’s a bed. That’s it
Soon enough, it was time to wake up, wash, grog, and re-bag for the oncoming storm. I’m taking two little rucksacks with me – one that was tightly packed away now comes out as it’s good for cargo, the other will be my “day” rucksack.
And thankfully there’s a shuttle bus running to the airport. Alas, Dublin Airport is copying Heathrow in some bad ways – the main way of charging €5 for the privilege of sitting in a bus that goes around the houses, sits in places for minutes, and finally arrives in the middle of nowhere with a 3 mile hike to the terminal building.
Part II – Diamond Club at DUB, DUB-LHR with BMI, Transit and London Lounge
However, I wandered to in the joy of Dubin T1 and it still feels as expansive, and… tired (in comparison to the shiny new T2 next door).
I queued up at the manual check in, and was checked in all the way to Vancouver. With no bags, it was a case of lugging the minirucksack along and off through security which was a quick 2 minute job and up to the BMI Diamond Club Lounge.
Once more unto the breech…
Lounge Stop: BMI Diamond Club Lounge
I was greeted and invited into the lounge and took a perch near the back of the club. Food was limited at this time of the morning, but drinks were a-flowing. Whilst the club has free WiFi, it was… bouncy. Bouncy and up and down. Annoying, but it seems the cheap Eirecom router was the problem.
Nothing like the joy of technology.
The club itself seems tired. For those who remember the olde Gate 14 lounge at LHR or the Manchester Lounge – like that. With all the stains in the furniture too. Snacks were limited to chocolates, breakfast items and some spirits beers and wines. Well might as well make the start of the day appropriate I say…
From the back of the lounge
Soon enough, the flight was called and it was down to the gate to pick up BD122. A short wait, and the flight was called for boarding.
The bird at the gate
BD122 Dublin International Airport – London Heathrow Terminal 1
British Midland International (BMI), Airbus A319, 21A, Economy Class,
280 Miles flown, 400 earned
Now this is a rarity – me actually boarding and travelling on a BMI flight. Actually flying with my “Home” airline. The crew were friendly in greeting, pointing me to the back of the plane and allowed me to get settled as the rest of the plane boarded.
From the looks of the load of the plane, it was pretty well loaded, however, (and thankfully), the Gold Seat Block next me to me worked, and I had 1 ½ seats to myself (with the person in the isle seat taking the other 1 ½ seats). Loading itself was slow with a fair few small people boarding too, and a lot of international connections – at least BMI hasn’t lost all of that traffic to Aer Lingus (although it’s done a very good job of loosing a lot of it so far)
Crew were in a friendly mood, and we holding babies as the parents were settling down -a very “fun” crew.
Pushback was on schedule, the saftey video flipped out for us all to watch, and we taxied out, with a Ryanair bird held for us so we could take off first
Youtube – takeoff video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Chts_WkEqM
After take off we climbed, turned and headed for the Irish sea, crossing over Manchester and descending over Climb, turn, Irish sea, Manchester, decent over Birmingham before heading into Heathrow.
The crew were in good spirits, talkative and chatting to passenger as they were carrying out the BOB service (which had little uptake from what I could see). After BOB had been completed, the crew tried to sell Heathrow Express tickets without success and settled in the back to stock-take.
The seats themselves were the classic Recaro blue leather seats – nice and comfortable- although a proper adjustable headrest would had been nice, but still a comfortable place to be in.
The seat picture was a lot more generous than EI, with a purported 31” pitch. It felt like there may had been an extra inch or two – but it was comfortable and I was able to stretch out for a bit.
There were frequent walk-throughs for tidy ups, and soon enough the seatbelt sign was on again as we begun the decent into Heathrow. This of course being Heathrow in the daytime means of course, three laps of the Ockingham Stack. After the laps, we crossed over the city to complete a river approach before turning to land.
The city is underneath somewhere
Youtube – Landing Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctAVyseKeiw
A short taxi via T3 and the little A320 docked at the Green Mile in T1. The bong went, and everyone climbed out. I thanked the crew and headed off.
Overall: the schedules may not be up to much (we can thank others for that mess), BMI shorthaul is still a reasonable product – no worse than US domestics. Taking some lessons from papa Lufthansa in terms of a drink service wouldn’t go amiss. The crew are still it’s biggest asset – and it shows with the caring and quality of service by all staff.
Now fly to more destinations I want to fly to BMI, and I’ll still send trade your way..
Off unto the green mile….
Transfer at LHR
Through all the times I’ve travelled, I’ve never actually transited at Heathrow airport – I’ve only gone in and out of it. So this will be a new experience for me.
Like a good traveller, I followed the signs and went down the green mile, through Domestic Arrivals, and dumped at T1 Departures. Backside.
I caught the lift down, and wandered over to T3. And T3 seems to be worse that I remember it, with the low ceilings, the place being madder than anything.
Heck, it made T1 look like a tranquil garden.
After risking HMV for another set of headphones (Don’t ask – it’s turning into a bad joke with a nearly a new set of earbuds on each trip – the rate I’m going, I should buy shares in Sennheiser), I made my way to the The London Lounge.
Lounge Stop: The London Lounge (Operated by SAS and Air Canada)
Imagine walking into Ikea. Right. That’s the lounge. . In terms content, there seating areas, food areas, and Apple Macs. All very… Swedish.
The food itself was of reasonable quality – seemingly arriving at the end of Breakfast and the beginning of lunch, with lots of little sections (a kids room, a TV room, Apple Macs Zone, etc)
It was a reasonable spread, but the lounge did seem very busy and a distinct lack of power sockets. Which is a pain if you don’t know how your plane is configured…
However, time winds its way, and it was time to head to the gate area where boarding had begun. A quick boarding pass scan, and I was on my way, and thereafter, a general boarding call for the back of the plane.
Sweet Chariot – To Canada!
Part III – LHR-YVR with Air Canada and the joy of Secondary.
AC855 London Heathrow Terminal 3 – Vancouver International Airport
Air Canada, Airbus A330-300, 37K, Economy Class,
4723 Miles flown, 4710Miles earned.
I was welcomed aboard, and made my way down the coffin business seats, and through to the first economy cabin, and finally, to my seat in the second economy cabin.
My seatmate was already in-situ, but it was easy getting in and out of the seat – one of the reasons why I like the A330’s is the 2 x 4 x 2 seating – only having to disturb one person in the worst situations.
Looking at the seat, what a well appointed seat we have here. A nice large IFE screen, a single power socket down below and shock and horror – a USB power socket! The seat itself is a 32” seat, and again – it felt a lot bigger than that.
Pushback was on schedule, and after a taxi around to 27R, the plane powered out and took off for the long 10 hour flight to Vancouver.
Youtube takeoff video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZqNZKBn1Ds
Climbout over a nice day over Great Britain
Shortly after take off, I tried to use the IFE. And this is where it went pear shaped, with it crashing. The system was rebooted twice, but in our section of the plane – the IFE was out for the count. Blue compensation vouchers were issued… and we’ll get to that in the wrap up.
So, no working big IFE Screen. What does that mean faithful viewer? Oh if you haven’t guessed by now….
GhettoIFE – iPhone4 edition (and no, I haven’t got the cash for an iPad version yet…) – and yes It’s a trap!
Soon enough first it was time for first service and drinks, with a choice of salmon with rice or chicken with pasta.
The chicken was edible, and pretty filling, but quantity seemed a bit small (like the Salmon in that respect). The Bean salad inspired and tangy. And dread the thought – wine (complimentary!), which was served in a plastic bottle and glass – the wine was nothing special, but it helped the meal go down reasonably well.
A cleardown and second drinks service followed dinner, where after I settled in for a bit. As the pitch was quiet nice, I raised the headrest up, and left the seat in the upright position. As duty free came round, I sort of added to the plane collection, and overhead the couple in front of me having problems with seat power. Apparently they forgot their plug adaptors and left them in the hold.
Good thing I carry a spare on me at most times
From what I saw of the working IFE systems on other seats, EnRoute seems a stacked IFE system – when it works. Alas I couldn’t test it – heck I couldn’t get it to display a map.
Broken IFE on top, working IFE to the right – note the USB power for devices – it does work!
After dinner I crashed for a bit, and woke over Greenland to see one of the most lovely sights in flying – and I’ll let the pics do the talking.
After this, it went dark again, and I crashed out for a bit further – the new headphones doing their job splendidly. The crew were pro-active, and helping people out, doing water runs and being generally nice.
About 4 hours out came the “second service” was delivered – a bit early for an arrivals service, but hey. What’s that all about?
A choice of veg bake or chicken bake was offered – both edible and non artificial. Additionally, this was offered a reasonable quality vanilla ice cream. It was a good selection for a 10 hour leg – better than what other carriers call a second service.
Eventually, the sky brightened again as we dipped southwards, and a final service was carriered out an hour and a half before Vancouver – with a drinks service and nibbles.
Soon enough, a service cleardown was completed, and the cabin was prepared for landing, heading out over the bay, and finally turning for the airport
Beginning final approach
Youtube landing video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyBdW4FgqME
Disembarkation was slow, but eventually, everyone was off the plane. I thanked the crew and left, not knowing the hell that was to be ahead of me…
Overall: Crew can make or break a flight if something goes wrong. With the IFE rebooted twice, vouchers were issued without question. The crew were helpful and talkative, offering a good quality service and apart from the pain that is Heathrow T3, it’s a very good option to North America. A 5% off voucher was issued in compensation when issued – not great, but better than a kick in the teeth. Which is what I got next…..
The Hell of Canadian Immigration.
(Warning: Potty mouth language ahead)
I made my way to immigration, and was lightly asked why I was visiting Canada for 2 days, with an indication of plans. She stamped the forms and I thought my passport and headed on my way.
I had a quick flight through the passport, and found no Canadian immigration stamp. Uh oh. And as if by magic when reaching the exit, I was directed to secondary area
Oh well – this is the joy of mileage running. And I was kept waiting for ½ an hour for an agent to see me.
I then repeated my journey, my plans, my past journeys, basically my travel history and why I only spend a few days in places. The agent then wanted confirmation of onward flights and hotels which I provided without a question. And then a full luggage stripdown.
And the agent saw my laptop. Which was promptly borrowed for an hour to see what they could glem off it.
A little did you know – they have free WiFi in the YVR airport area – that extends into the secondary customs hall. It’s a convenient place to blog I’ve got to admit whilst stuck in customs for an hour. Eventually, the laptop was returned to me (the content of my laptop I’ll grant you is risque and adult in some of the work I do – that’s the joy of being a photographer in my spare time) as it had raised an eyebrow or two (but no content that was offending to the Canadian Nation).
Well that’s fine and dandy.
I was stamped into Canada without the words “Apologises for the delay” and sent on my merry way after handing my form in.
How can I put this politely?
WHAT A LOAD OF STEAMING FECKING CRAP. TWO HOURS OF A TRIP GONE BANG WITHOUT A SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.
I’m also bloody annoyed with the computer inspection – for the simple fact that some the content of my hard disk is yet, adult in nature (and considering I am a Fetish Photographer in my spare time, that should quite frankly come as no surprise)
I know mileage running can look suspicious, but my travel pattern should had given that away quickly.
It’s also taught me to travel with a lighter configured computer. When presenting 30k of images to a customs officer, I’m sure it confuses the hell out of them too. That and please close the applications you use – it’s just good manners.
So you’ll forgive me at this point my thoughts about Canada were Blame Canada? FECK Canada more like!
I wandered out of the secure zone, and hiked down to the domestic end of the airport, and raided 7-11 for a pair of transit cards that I would use for the next few days (and as a useful factiod – it avoids the $5 surcharge for buying tickets from the ticket machines at the train station.
A wander up to the Canada line train station, and soon I was on my way to the hotel, fuming like hell still.
Part IV – Holiday Inn Broadway, Vancouver, One Time Exception
HOTEL – Holiday Inn, Broadway, Vancouver.
The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…vancouver.html
Whilst not in the heart of Vancouver, it is on the main transit routes in and out of the city, 10 minutes walk from the Canada lines station and also a bit of a bargain at $90 a night.
I was welcomed, checked in, card imprint took for incidentals and was assigned a 6th floor room, in actual fact the 2nd accommodation level. The hotel itself is in the middle of a big refurbishment (from the looks of it, it’s rebranding itself into a “new” Holiday Inn, but there was no visible dust around – which is very acceptable).
The bed itself was high up, and comfortable, whilst the TV is an old CRT, it’s not the end of the world when I’m meant to be out and about. What is more important is that there’s a distinct lack of power sockets in the room when I could find a grand total of 3 in the room. When you’ve got a laptop around and trying to hunt around, it’s a challenge to find a power socket to charge everything else around.
Welcome amenity – Bottle of water and chocolate
The area around the hotel has a fair mix of usual facilities, most notably, a London Drugs Store, and about 4 different sushi places within spitting distance of each other (and reasonably priced too – good if you want something nice to eat after the end of a very long trip)
Time for a One-Time Exception, and continuing with the theme from Chicago, it appears to be water based… again.
ONE TIME EXCEPTION – Vancouver Sea Bus
Cost $2.50 for a 90 minute ticket on Vancouver Translink Services, or $9 Day ticket for use on transit services all day.
The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…er-seabus.html
The Vancouver SeaBus is a link between North Vancouver and Vancouver, accessible from the Waterfront Station. As a cheap way to cross the city, it’s a passenger ferry capable of carrying 400 people at a time.
There’s a video on Youtube for you to view with lovely views from both sides as you cross the bay, with the city on one side, and the mountains on the other. Whilst not as comprehensive as say a full boat tour, it has the advantage of being every 15 minutes during the day, lasting 10 minutes, and if you have an all day ticket, it’s a great way to keep warm, dry and see bits of the city from sometimes the best place – on the water.
Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S56trYhyxno (long)
From the other side
North Vancouver and the mountains
It also allows easy access to both cities – Waterfront on the Vancouver side, Grouse Mountain and other locations from the North Vancouver side. Depending on how cold it is or if you’re equipped for it, a trip up Grouse Mountain is amazing.
Right. Enough of this ground stuff. Back to earning miles…
Part V – YVR – IAH with Continental and Houston Presidents Club
Soon enough Sunday morning rolled round, and as usual, it was a first thing in the morning start (5am starts) – which sums up this run completely. it was time to head off over to the SkyTrain and on the Canada line straight to the airport.
As an automated system, it was on time, and I was dumped back at the Airport, and after a hike, I was back at International arrivals. A wander upstairs showed a packed economy queue. That was ignored for a few seconds whilst I filled in my customs declaration. It was a case of then pulling out my BMI*G card out, and headed over to the Elite Queue, where I was checked in for the three remaining legs on Continental metal back to Dublin.
After confirming no bags were being checked in, I was sent on my merry way to security where my external hard disk seemed to give their X-ray machine a hard time and then it was off to the joy that is the US Border.
The agent looked at me oddly when I stated why I was in Canada for a short time, and asked me to repeat a few details in my passport. That seemed to satisfy him, and the passport was stamped again. It was then off to customs, where I turned my form in without any issue, and wandered off to the Maple Leaf Lounge for breakfast.
Lounge Stop: Air Canada Maple Leaf Trans-border lounge
I was welcomed into the comparatively small, but busy lounge. As it was breakfast, cereals and toasts were out. Which for the mood I was in, was ok. The airport WiFi was also on, which also helped me phone home and update a few things before heading off.
The view from the lounge
Whilst not the largest place in the world, I feel a few hot items (not toast. Toast is hardly a hot item) would suit it better as an international lounge. But it was a place to get away from the world for a bit – which was nice. The only major complaint about the lounge is the distinct lack of toilet cubicles – all of 1 in the mens section….
7am rolled over – and I bagged everything up and after picking up some maple leaf cookies (for the office), I saw my fight was boarding
CO288 Vancouver International Airport – Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Texas
Continental Airlines , Boeing 737-900ER
1979 miles flown, 1979 miles earned
I was welcomed aboard, and the crew were seemingly in a good mood this morning. I settled in, popped the bag in the overhead and saw a lovely DirecTV infront of me. The flight itself was packed, with not a single seat free. Of course, I utilised all the space I could being near the window to dump the coat and the day bag.
Soon enough, the plane filled up, and free headphones were offered, with reminders that DirecTV was $6 a shot. A quick browse showed no map or anything, so I shut it down pretty quick, only to bring it back to life for the safety demonstration – with Jeff Smeick giving his introductory speal… and him not blinking throughout (is it me, or that slightly disturbing?)
The plane pushed back and we taxied onto the runway for a rolling takeoff.
Youtube takeoff video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpGoDeBEMxc
Of course, DirecTV had little intrest for me for a 4 hour flight. I therefore booted up the iPhone and set up IFE system number 2..
Both IFE systems
Service on this flight was BOB, and for once – I took part as the cereals didn’t do much for me in the lounge. I therefore risked the breakfast muffin. And here it is in all it’s morning glory.
Well it was warm, so I’ll give it that at least. The fruit was nice and fresh at least. Worth $4.75. I’m not too sure to be honest.
Hot Breakfast Muffin
The service was cleared down, and I settled in for the long 4 hour hop southwards to Houston, dozing off here and there and shooting random photos as you do.
There was a water run or two during the flight, with the crew in a reasonable mood, whilst not bending over backwards.
As we begun our approach into Houston, the cabin was cleared down in a hurry and the cabin crew secured quickly as the captain had warned of a few bumps on the decent.
And boy, there was lot of bumps as we made our decent on the way down with a few pockets bumping the plane around, and the rain was falling as we landed.
Youtube landing video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNmUbsXymC4
IAH – Continental Land
My next ride….
After pulling off the runway, we headed for the D gates, and after docking at the gate, it was a matter of waiting for the plane to empty, and boy those 737-900ER’s are *long*
Overall: Not so bad for a domestic flight – I’ve had plenty worse, but nothing outstanding really. Continetal’s US Domestic service isn’t that bad, but it would be nice to throw in a free map or audio channels in the DirecTV product….
A Houston Stopover.
Well some people say everything is bigger in Texas. I’d agree with the hike to and from the gates and lounges.
I found a machine and quickly checked the load on the flight – and to my delight, the back of the plane was emptying. I reset the my seating selection from a packed row of 3 people to a quiet row of 2 at the back of the plane.
After hiking down to the E gates, and passing a guitar, I wandered into the Presidents Club and discovered – like it seems with the Newark PC’s that it was rammed solid with very little space in the lounge. Seems that not everything is bigger…
Didn’t stop me having a couple of vodka’s and diet cola’s to keep me going.
In terms of snacks, it was the same sort of thing as useul – a mix of Crisps, Cornsnacks, Pretzels and that’s about it. The WiFi was pretty stable, and suitable for Skype calling – which is useful.
It was a short enough stop, and soon enough, I repacked the bag and headed off to E4 for the next fight
Again, my boarding pass was rescanned and verified as a document check was required, and I boarded the flight to London.
CO34 Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Texas – London Heathrow Terminal 4
Continental Airlines, Boeing 777-200ER
4834 Miles flown, 4834 Miles earned
(Contains minor potty mouthed words)
Now you’re probably wondering why the hell I chose to sit at the back of the plane? Two very good reasons. Firstly, it is a 2 seater seat in the A/B H/K sections, and a quick inspection of the seat map showed this part of the plane was going to be practically empty. Which suited me nicely. And two seaters make very nice curling up places on a long flight.
A perfect pair
Empty during load
I greeted the crew to the sound of grunts. Uh oh. I then made my way promptly down the back of the plane and got settled, hoping my plane for a empty back of the plane would work out – and lo and behold -it did.
Pushback was slightly late, and the Lord Jeff appeared once again to introduce his combined airline – the plane I was on was a “combined” airline plane (In other words, the paint shop got some new stickers out).
Watch his safety videos. I swear he doesn’t blink…..
We taxied out, and took off into the rain and storms into the skies.
After we had settled into a cruise, the first of four drink services begun, with drinks and pretzels.
This was followed by the second service – a choice of pasta or chicken. Once again, I risked the chicken.
Again, not a bad meal – the salad was fresh, the roll was of the sort I could knock someone out with and the chicken, rice and beans seemed not to have been over done.
As the journey settled, we tracked over North America, with the sun setting, and then the bright lights of the cities showing up, including those of Washington DC.
Now it’s at this point you’ll notice a dearth of pictures. As a member of the crew said that picture taking wasn’t allowed on Continental Airlines.
You fecking what?
Rather than antagonise anything anymore or refer the said crew member to their own magazine of what electronics were allowed, I turned off the camera – save for the laughable breakfast shot that will come up in a bit.
The flight then settled down and I used the two seats as a curling sleep zone. Until an announcement for medical staff to come forward. There was the sounds of biohazard kits and ugly ill sounding sounds. So much so I think the pilot “put his foot down”, with a 6:50 arrival now becoming a 6am arrival.
As the cabin settled down again for a bit, the crew were going back and forth, making sure the poor person was stable, and seeing if they could help.
About an hour and fifteen before landing, it was time for a quick breakfast service. And it was more laughable than normal
The croissant.. plastic. The fruit. Well it’s almost impossible to screw up fruit I suppose. Two drinks runs were carried out. At least the coffee that was provided was brown and warm.
It still amazes me that the breakfast service seems to defeat most carriers – be it UA, CO, BA, or in fact BMI. How hard is it to get a couple of decent pastries or a muffin, orange juice and some fruit, keep it fresh and not stale for the 7 hours flight?
Very hard I suspect.
The cabin was cleared down and the crew secured. The plane itself flew south of London, turned, made a river approach, and finally landed at Heathrow, where we taxied non stop to our stand at T4 where the ambulance and police were waiting.
T4 disembarkation was very slow due to the paramedics on site, as well as her Majesties constabulary blocking rows 29 onwards. Once they cleared the right hand side of the plane, everyone was allowed to disembark.
I overheard the crew chatting “today we earned our pay”. Almost kiddies. Almost.
Eventually people were let off the plane, where I thanked the purser and decided to head homeward.
Overall: Whilst the crew were capable, and did the job they needed to do (especially when medical assistance was needed), they had the air of “being there for your safety” and “we really have to work a London flight” about them. To be blunt: Disappointing. The fact they don’t know their own SOP’s and own documentation when it comes to photography too is of concern. And I’m sorry the crew felt like we were honoured to be in their presense on the IAH-LHR run. Don’t like the roseter? Don’t do it then!
How can I put it nicely - this crew felt more like a United crew on a bad day than any Continental Crew I’ve had in the past.
I reached the UK border, and saw the IRIS gates had gone, and had how been swapped over to a Biometric Gate. For fun, I tried it out – and whilst slower than the IRIS system, I was let into the country without a problem. A quick trip downstairs, and I was back into the United Kingdom.
At this point, I was pretty tired, so I made a a quick hop over to T1, and I offloaded myself from the LHR-DUB flight as 1) I couldn’t face a 12 hour wait for the next flight and 2) I sort of forgot to book an onwards segment back to Birmingham . The offload was handled without any question, and I was thanked for making the effort to offload myself.
Now it was a choice of the tube or the Heathrow Connect. And I decided to spoil myself and catch the Heathrow Connect to Paddington – forgetting it was Monday morning rush hour.
Oops. It got loaded very quickly, and didn’t help that the Great Western Main Line was running at a snails pace. However, the journey was about 10 minutes extra than normal. The useful thing catching the Heathrow Connect is that it’s right next door to the Bakerloo line entrance, which is useful as that links me up to my next hop – Marylebone station.
As it was peak, it was only a minute for a tube, and I was at Marleybone 5 minutes later. A quick walk upstairs, and their was an express heading to Birmingham in another 5 minutes.
Chiltern Railways London Marylebone – Birmingham Moor Street
Class 168. Held return portion used.
What can said about this service that I haven’t talked about before? Oh yes, with the opening of the “new” platforms at Moor Street, Chiltern are using it as a terminating service these days.
However, the service is clean, reasonably quick, and low on people as everyone is heading into the city as opposed to heading into it. Additionally it’s a fast service through the Chilterns which makes it a very pleasurable journey – with the service only packing slightly at Solihull as it’s one of the first OAP pass trains of the morning.
Another interesting fact is going northbound, there is no such thing as a “peak” ticket on this route – a little money saver especially when Virgin Trains from London Euston will ask you to open your wallet and scream when you see how much a peak return is!
As usual, the Chiltern service was on time, and dropped me at Moor Street where I wandered onto the bus and headed for the big red front door – the end of another mileage run.
So in closing up:
Well it was all for this:
Another year of Star Alliance Gold sewn up. That was the aim of this project, and it was done successfully, but at what cost?
Setting aside the monetary aspect, the whole thing was soured by Canadian Border security who wasted a good two hours of I’ll never get back. In fact I’m still fuming about it.
Heck, even the US CBP people get the idea of a mileage run. Very annoying really.
Perhaps this is the most annoying thing of all – of all the places I’ve visit, the only places I don’t have any issues with is within the EU, Asia and Australia. The Americas just seem to cause pain. Heck, I think visiting Damascus or Beirut would probably be easier to visit for the weekend (and no, I’m not kidding sadly).
And in turn I suppose, it’s soured what as a good trip. I enjoyed my time in Vancouver, and whilst I doubt I’ll return there, it’s a nice enough place not to write off in a hurry.
Air Canada was a very nice surprise in this trip – enough to reconsider some of my future trips. Continental was a very big disappointment. I guess I had a crew that was on it’s off day, but were suited to the emergency task when they had to do it. BMI and Aer Lingus did their jobs commendably as usual and it’s good to see things haven’t changed much with either of them.
Alll of this gives a lot of exploring options for Star Alliance Gold next year. And plenty of food for thought.
Next up originally, it was going to be back to Chicago. However, mistake fares happen, so I’ll be back in the back of the bus in a few weeks – and it’s back to the USA, as I found a mistake fare and took advantage of it. And the next trip report is going to be slightly different as I have “an objective”.
So tune in sometime next month for “Re-creating a Photo – Taking advantage of a mistake fare with United and other fiends”
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