Long Haul Commuter Run with UA (LHR-IAD-ORD and back again)
(Redux and Revisited)
This trip report was originally posted on Flyertalk. However as it’s now come over to GhettoIFE.com there have been some major changes – so even if you’ve visited this report before, have a read again. This version of the report contains new images and a bit more commentary.
By now, you should know the drill on how I write my trip reports. If not, expect thrills, random moans, links to things that make no sense whatsoever and of course – very bad humour.
The emergency escapes are towards the front of the report, over the wings and at the rear of the report. You can also use the X button on the top right of the report
To use the emergency photo link, being sure it opens in a new window, and making sure your life jacket is inflated after using leaving this page. Your seat cushion is not a floatation device, so please don’t take use it like that – if anything it’s for SITTING on.
I’m still refining my trip report writing style alas – so I will be writing it “trip like”, but with emphasis on ground services as well as air services. This includes the lounges. That’s right kids – LOUNGES!.
To fly, to moan (yes, it’s that intro bit that no one pays attention to)
As I might have to eluded to in few previous reports, I was a bit of a BMI fanboy, due to some very simple reasons:
- I could avoid LHR completely (miles vs dealing with LHR – believe it or not, that’s an easy decision – I’d sacrifice a few miles to avoid the hell of LHR)
- I was a sucker for the expedited check in at MAN (wave card, go to the top of the queue or straight to an agent)
- The escort from the lounge, past the gate lice and onto the plane was always appreciated (It was like going to school – except we didn’t turn up our noses at people who had already got in line as we bypassed them)
- BMI – how to fly across the pond in some style and feel like I haven’t been overly ripped off.
As a result, twice a year to Chicago – it’s turning pretty much into a commuter trip to see friends and do some photography – and it was very nice flying BMI, being treated like a human being, etc.
Alas, all this has drifted into the past with BMI abandoning the USA routes (at the time of rewriting, all the USA routes are axed in favour of mid-haul routes), leaving its Star Alliance partners LH, UA and US pick up the remaining pieces. (SQ is excluded – whilst handy – it’s not exactly easy to get to first thing in the morning from most of Europe)
So, looking forward to the future, it’s a choice of a UA 777/UA767 or a US A330/B767 across the pond. As I’ve had my fill of US Airways for some time (I don’t know, maybe my previous mileage run killed it off for me – that and the possibility of a US 767 really doesn’t bear thinking about if you’re in Y – that and US Airways seriously wrecking my flight stats recently), it’s time to fly… United!
The big question is after experiencing the wonder of United’s 747 product , would their 767/777 products fair better?
One slight important note: There is now a little game changer – After the pain that was my last mileage run (one of the tendons in my foot continues to tell me this), I’m now a Star Alliance Gold member… so lets see if this makes a dot of difference.. or not….
Booking was done entirely through the UA website, with seats assigned. No upsell to E+ was offered at this point – however I have been targeting the empty rows to make sure the flight is a bit pleasant. I am thinking about E+ as I go along, but will see how that pans out.
Journey booked initially priced into T bucket for £288. About right for this time of year, however I held off for a few days and got that magic balance between a lower ticket price, another segment by routing via IAD to £272 (the next available ticket jumped to £365 in V bucket!). Considering LHR-ORD non-stop both ways was £268 (going up the £284), I felt I had a bit of a bargain for the extra miles. Equally, I found out my friend who was on the direct flights was paying £288. Just shows what a tiny bit of creative routing and risk taking can do…
In a vain attempt to make things slightly interesting, I’ve routed the entire trip through IAD to rack up a few more miles in the vain attempt to hit Gold for next year… and to make some time to pop towards Washington DC too (wha.. again? There is an ulterior motive this time…).
Your map. From left to right, ORD – IAD – LHR. Powered of course by http://gc.kls2.com
Do I need to explain this bit? Oh very well then.
Normally at this point, I’d be moaning like hell about National Express and the joy of coaches and going to a coach station at 3am in the morning. However, there is one thing I do have in the world – and that’s friends (shock and horror I know!).
The day before I had done the packing as a friend had offered a lift from near down south to LHR. This meant of course, negotiating the Chiltern railway lines from Birmingham down to High Wycombe and then another train to my final destination for the night (for which there was wine and much merriment)
An early start however ensured as we’re both insomniacs, and before I knew it, I was seeing the Heathrow approach road.
After bidding farewell to my friend (who was passing through T5 later on that day), I unloaded and begun the slow morning slow to UA check zone C in Terminal 1.
LHR – yes it’s the dead of the morning
London Heathrow Airport – Terminal 1
Initially I arrived at 5am in the morning. Of course, check in was being set up, with no action for a full 30 minutes.
As I’m on a full cargo load this time (unlike the last trip where I had a little rucksack), this time it’s full battle dress – 100ltr Rucksack, 1.38mtr ski bag with tripods). I played my *G card for the first time this trip, and got access onto the Gold queue (the Y queue was looking.. umm.. yeah).
Travelling light: One day…
Check in was done quickly, with no offer to buy up to E+ for any segments made.
After clearing T1 Security via the FastTrack, it was off to a couple of places – mainly to stock up on some chocolate (I WILL educate some of the USA about chocolate if it’s the last thing I do), and for my friend a trip to Duty Free. It was the off to the wonder that is the Star Alliance Lounge.
Star Alliance Lounge
After being swiped in (and NOT wanting to ” borrow” the model A380 they had on display), i made my in, and settled down.
As my lounge experience is limited, I am liking this lounge. BBC News on the plasma screens, and there were Bacon and or Sausage Rolls. Knowing the possible plastic ahead, I took full advantage of this.
The food selection, whilst basic, was warm and very edible. Although too early for alcohol, the drinks that were out looked reasonable. Personally I was more interested in the coffee and the orange juice (as well a bottle of water for later).
It was a pleasant way to spend a good hour or so. After I checked that the plane was boarding, I made the hike to Gate 40 where the plane had mostly boarded, so there were no queues at all when I arrived. After being beeped successfully, I boarded the aircraft.
United Airlines 923, 05/03/09
Boeing 767-300 New International Configuration, Seat 35K
3677 miles flown, 3677 earned.
Channel 9 enabled.
Time for a new aircraft subtype to wreck my flight memory statistics – this time Mr Boeing’s 767-300ER series. The plane itself had had a refurbished in Business Class, with First looking its usual suite self. However, these things are not for me – passing the rows of E+ and finally in the back to E-.
Although nearer the back – I had been playing the seat maps carefully and took a gamble that this flight wouldn’t be loaded to the brim.
Preparing for pushback
It paid off with a 2 seater relaxayvous option when doors went to close. However, as we were taxiing someone decided that regulations were to be dammed… and they were going to the toilet.
The warning were given over the announcement system, but these were ignored. It took the purser finally coming down the plane and banging the door… with the toilet victim going back to his seat with most of the economy cabin tutting at him.
Captain made his greeting, and was very open – and also is Channel 9 positive… so some entertainment for take off and landing.
T5B – Everyone humming Larkme’s Flower Duet yet?
After a bit more taxing past T5 the plane turned right, and took up to the sky, turning right, swinging 180 degrees past itself and off up into the blue
Heathrow from the air
Now I know people have different opinions of when to recline your seat – mine is that 1) after the seatbelt release bong has gone and 2) keep upright when having food.
Guess what I had in front of me Recline after about 5000 ft. … and not upright for food service.
Sigh. My knees had a busy flight reminding the person in-front of me. At least I could stretch sideways which was one thing.
A form run was done, followed by a Breakfast service was carried out, with omelette, potato, tomatoes and a chicken sausage – with fruit, bread, yogurt and fruit salad.
The chicken sausage was a bit odd – but edible, the omelette was a bit plastic, with the potatoes pretty nicely done. The fruit salad was cold, and a reasonable mix. Going back to my GateGorment trip, I could see how a tray meal like this was built to a price – but for a breakfast flight – this was not a bad meal IMO. Certainly I’ve had worse (yes I’m looking at you US Airways)
Alas the seat in front me wasn’t getting the message, so after making sure the seat behind me reclined, I completed the seat domino effect (wha… Seat Domino? Delta even knows about Seat Domino) and crashed for a bit. Every hour or so, the crew were doing water runs, so it was good to see the crew being pro-active.
IFE was… yeah. Moving on. I booted up the iPhone… and… oh you know what happens next:
Getto IFE installed: UA Edition – Notice the SickBag Max Visualtairum Jumbotron style thing (considering how close that other seat was in front of me it was like a cinema experience)
More importantly – what is a manamana?
Alas, the only thing of value was the map.. .which was offline
Moving onto the plane itself, whilst the overhead bins look like something out of the late 80’s – however the plane had been cleaned and tided in a pretty reasonable condition even in Y. That and PTV’s instead of overhead screens and a centre TFT.
Alas the weather failed to play its part today, with clouds over Greenland and a fair amount of chop and cloud cover. Guess some days you can’t win them all. However over the Labrador coast, the cloud lifted once again, with a apart from a few bumps here and there lead to a clear flight to Dulles.
Somewhere near the Labrador coast
A snack service was handed out with the usual Swiss cheese and turkey ham roll (more chewy than normal), chocolate and crisps. However, it defiantly must be recession time. Gone are the Walkers crisps, and now KP crisps are served instead… is nothing sacred any more?
The plane made its landing successfully at Dulles and after a comparatively short taxi, it docked at C24, and after a short wait, I successfully disembarked.
Taxiing around Dulles
I’m slowly warming to the 767 as a nice aircraft – if it’s maintained well and doesn’t look like it’s been in the wars (Yes, I’m still looking at you US Airways). The 2-3-2 seating arrangement is a interesting balance of capacity vs service, and if configured well (which UA has done) it works.- even though I’m not used to a plane without winglets. Guess that’s Pam Ann doing here brainwashing at her best
The crew did a good job – whilst not outstanding, they were delivering the service – about all you can ask for in the back of the cabin.
How it will compare with the 777 on the way home – we’ll see.
Transit Immigration was surprisingly quick (2 in the queue even though I was near enough at the back of the plane), without much discussion – actually one of the quickest entries I’ve had into the USA. I then walked over to luggage claim, with the priority tags WORKING for once – with my bags coming out first and third. Now I don’t care what anyone says – that’s quick.
After passing through agriculture, and the beloved TSA (full foot and shoe fetish in progress) I made my way up to the C gates.
Of course. My flight was at the D gates. After making sure my Sherpa hiking gear was set, I made my way over to D7 for the next flight – with a good 15 minutes to spare before boarding.
Of course… the D8 club was right behind me. So sad.
But before I head off to my plane to The Bunny, I’m thirsty… where’s is that dratted Red Carpet Club?
Lounge stop: United Red Carpet Club, D8 Club, D Concourse
Drinks drunk: 2 Coke Zeros, 1 Coke Cherry taken just in case
Rats found: Zero
After the race to D7, I made my way down, presented my BP and my BMI *G Card, and was admitted without any discussion. Enough time to sit down, drink a coke in the lounge and get comfy for a few seconds, visit the clean toilets and sit in a comfy chair and reorganise myself.
Overall – not a bad place to stay, but to be honest, the LHR *G lounge whoops the lounge without trying….
However pretty soon, it was time to leave the delights of IAD behind and head to the bunny.
Went upstairs to find 1K red carpet boarding had commenced – with Premiers and *G boarding called – at which point, I made myself present and boarded the jet.
It’s getting to the point that the A319 is turning into an old friend every time I get aboard one – it’s one aircraft that is almost impossible to mess up.
I was greeted aboard – with a choice of my luggage lockers and sat down. When booked, this row was clear – the seat next door remained clear, ok not totally brilliant, but it’s still a spare seat on a 2 hour hop.
Alas, the captain didn’t want to share his thoughts today, so channel 9 was off (although he made the bare minimum announcements)
According to the purser on my previous flight, the most ridiculous form of transport – the Dulles Moon Buggies
Push back was early, and we were up in the air after a short taxi, taxiing past the C dock, and then left, then onto the runway
TED… RAR…… but not for much longer
Service commenced shortly thereafter, which of course means drinking more diet coke and coffee than is good for me.
Service in progress
Crew were friendly and talkative, with a good service being carried out, and clean-ups done reasonably.
Seat pitch was typical 31” seat, and didn’t feel too tight.
The plane approached Chicago with the city to the right of the approach, before swinging around it, and then out across Lake Michigan before looping back into ORD.
You can see the rest of this set on my photoblog
Back at The Bunny
Landing was pretty swift, and after a short taxi, we docked into the B gates and disembarked. Alas, luggage was at belt 12, where we had come in the equivalent of belt 1.
Once at the belt, again my luggage was amongst the first out, and I was off to the hotel.
Not a bad domestic flight – the crew did their job and ATC did a great job of sending the plane around the windy city. A bit of Channel 9 would had been perfect though…
Hotel: Hyatt Regency Chicago O’Hare (Rosemont)
As I’m working an event, it’s time to one day to unpack, 3 hours downtown to stock up on junk needed for the next few days (with tapes made with added ducks, Squids with extra power, Oreos with… double stuffing), to be honest, the most I saw of the hotel was when I went in (with luggage delivered to my room), the room itself (the balcony was nice – even if the hotel was on finals or the climbout point for ORD)
The staff were friendly, and the service that was given was good. Although I’m still of the opinion that $139/night ++ is far too overpriced for my blood for a double hotel room…
Hotel: Comfort Suites O’Hare (Shiller Park)
However, as indicated above, staying at the Hyatt O’Hare wasn’t good for the long term option. Therefore I had made a booking with HotelClub (with a $20 coupon) for the Comfort Suites – as it’s where I’ve stayed a few times before when working events, and after discounts, it worked out to a much more wallet friendly $70 a night.
Even though it’s slightly further away from ORD, it’s a very nice hotel for which I have no objections to staying at.
Back to The Bunny (O’Heck, O’Riley, O’B***ger, O’Scare, O’Hare)
O’Hare L Station
After making sure that I was making my credit… crunch in the states, and many photographs later, it was time to head homewards.
Of course O’Hare is its usual self, but I have the joy of a BMI Diamond Club Gold, so at least I could access the priority security lanes.
After being forced to use a chicken, my luggage was tagged all the way back to London (so no pickup was needed at IAD), so I could relax on that front.
The TSA in Chicago seem to have had a kick up the backside as they were a LOT friendlier than they have been in some time.
A dinosaur in the UA terminal – friendly bedfellows maybe?
Down the interconnect to C Gates. The motion effect is really how I felt…
Alas I had left it a bit late for the RCC’s so it was straight to the C gates and to the gate for my flight to await boarding
Quiet C Gates
United Airlines 382, 10/03/09
588 flown, 600 Earned
Channel 9: Enabled
After being on of the first aboard, judging by the amount of other pre-boarders, this was going to be a very quiet flight. Eventually the plane started to fill, but once again, my luck held and I had the half row next to me clear. . Channel 9 was available from the moment I sat at my seat
After a taxi past the International Terminal, and a turn, the plane took to the air, crossing over the big CN train yard, then over Lake Michigan and off to IAD At least I presume and then off took due to the amount of cloud
See what I mean?
Due to the cloud, it was quite turbulent, with the flight deck trying different levels of flight until we finally got some clear air, at which point, the flight attendants were released to do the usual drinks run (with me partaking in the usual drinks – Coffee and a diet coke to wake up.
As the flight continued, an extra water run was carried out – quite good for such a short run.
Eventually, we made our approach to IAD, with the flight attendants returned to seats early due to the upcoming turbulence – which was a bit buffering, but not the worse I’ve sat through, with a nice landing at IAD, followed by a taxi to D dock.
Back at Dulles
I took my time getting off and thanked the flight attendants and flight deck crew for Channel 9 – and I cheekily asked if I could take a picture of the cockpit.
Instead what happened was that I had MY picture taken in the left hand chair (this picture has been removed for all the sensitivity of Flyertalk, Photoblog and GhettoIFE.com )
I thanked the crew again, and disembarked, with my luggage hopefully staying in transit to LHR….
Well, when United want to shine, they can do. An excellent crew, attentive and proactive with an extra water run – and a friendly Captain and first officer afterwards. The trip to the cockpit was the icing on the cake. MAJOR thumbs up to United!
Dulles … for a reason…
Now why the long layover in DC? In fact… why DC at all? I was here a couple of months ago no?
Well there is one museum I missed out on my last trip that I had to go and visit.
The National Air and Space Museum has two big branches in the DC area – one down the National Mall, and a branch at Washington Dulles Airport.
Oh. How convenient! I’m at Dulles Not planned at all!
The Steven Ughar Hazey Centre – National Museum of Space and Flight.
Now expanded with more content!
From Dulles there are two simple choices – cab or pay 50 cents for a cheap bus each way.
Well you should had guessed that one coming a mile off!
The UHC has a few star attractions – some of which go into photographic depth, but here we go…
B-29 “Enola Gay”
It’s an easy way to kill a few hours.
Boeing 367-80 and Concorde
On the way back I overheard two AA members of staff say “probably the best dollar I’ve spent in ages”.
I’d agree with that sentiment.
Back to Dulles.
After taking some architecture pictures of IAD, I got bored and headed for the Diamond lane. After getting a snooty look for having Star G, I had the audacity to ask to have my film hand scanned.
I know. Asking a worker to conduct a manual scan! I’m actually making the Friends of Kip Hawley Society (tm pending) to do some work. Eventually I finally had someone get the magic paper and wipe the film, putting the magic paper in the magic scanner to say the film is clean.
The joy of the TSA . Peak time, Frequent Travellers lane, and 1 station open. Express screening my cute back side.
As I was in no rush to get to my gate, I took the travelators over to A/B dock and had a nice walk around the terminal. What struck me was how nice and organised it looked – in comparison that quite frankly that’s an embarrassment known as the C/D Concourse.
But eventually I got bored, and went back to the main terminal before taking another moonbuggy to the D gates, then walking the length of D and C to C7 (it’s called exercise – something I’m lacking in sometimes)
C7 Red Carpet Club
After presenting myself, I went into the RCC (no drink chits offered) and had a walk round.
Well how can I put this politely? This is a MAJOR comedown from the Star Alliance Gold Lounge at LHR!
My home for a few hours at the RCC
Apart from the paid for bar, the lack of fresh options (amazingly, carrot sticks, celery and baby tomatoes with pots of ranch salad dressing counts as a snack, with pre-packed cheese and crackers – and shortbread to sink a small ship), lets put it like this – I wouldn’t pay for this lounge if I had to. The club itself was clean, and looked fine, but compared with the ambience of the LHR lounge or even the PHL Envoy lounge, there is defiantly a LOT of room for improvement here.
the best I could find in the end
If I was to compare it to a lounge, it would be the Gate 14 Diamond Club lounge at LHR London, United Kingdom – Heathrow – without the fancy coffee machine, alcohol on tap and cold drink selection. Heck – even the D8 lounge is a LOT better with the self select soft drinks.
I then made a classic class 1 mistake. Instead of it being C dock – it had changed to D dock.
Sigh. After a global announcement that the bar was closing at 21:00, I decided not to move until 21:40 because despite the disappointment, I was rather comfortable here.
Eventually, I made my way over to the gate area, and watched the Red Carpet lice fill up quickly. Me? I was stuck in the economy land waiting for Zone 1 to be called.
Gate area – full of Red Carpet lice
Eventually, duty free was picked up and boarding for mere Star Gold’s called, and I was on my plane for the ride home.
United Airlines 924, 10/03/09
Boeing 777-200 Seat 18A (was 40J)
3677 miles flown, 3677 earned.
E+ Buyup made ($79), Channel 9 Enabled
Another flight, another new class of aircraft (and I’m amazed I’ve avoided them for so long) it’s time to try the United’s 777 product.
A walk through the business section gave a hint for what was to come – the seats were the old recliners, which meant as soon as I passed through to economy plus, the lovely chevron red/blue/orange/grey seats were in full evidence. Thankfully with the E+ configuration of 36”, this was going to be a pleasant flight.
Waiting for pushback
Boarding was completed on scheduled, and loaded with a London based crew, after a short taxi, once again we were up in the skies, tracking across the east coast, up to the Labrador coast, and the long way round to the united kingdom.
Today, as I had another London based crew, there was a bit of humour going on and banter with the customers
Up and flying over the East Coast
An initial drink run commenced shortly after take off.
followed by A dinner run with a choice of chicken or pasta. Or to quote “It could be teriyaki chicken – Well I think it is…”
Lets tear this down: The rice, Soggy. The Chicken, not that bad. The projectile (roll), soft. The lettuce, firm, The oat thing – I still have that to eat…
Not a bad meal per say, but I am getting annoyed with UA for not putting a proper desert on in Y, and instead resorting to a snack/biscuit thing. It just smacks of cheapness.
But pretty soon after this, I succumbed to sleep. After a while I woke up, and saw one of my favourite views of the world – dawn in the air.
Pretty soon it was time for breakfast – I was excepting the Swiss cheeses and turkey ham roll… but shock and horror.. it was something different.. Yoghurt and Banana bread
Oh dear. As I’m not a yoghurt lover, this was pretty much a disappointment. However an orange juice and coffee helped me perk up before landing.
As we got closer to London, it was possible to see the world contrailling above us, and we slowly begun our decent.
Eventually we entered a stack, lowering ourselves over London,
London Baby YEAH! – well the south of London anyway.
Eventually, after 1 loop, we made a gentle decent into Heathrow on the opposite of the runway where this adventure begun, and started the long taxi to T1.
Obligatory A380 shot – its the QF one – there was also a SQ A380 on stand on T3.
Eventually, we docked at T1, and everyone disembarked.
My ride at T1
After the usual hike from the UA dock, I made immigration to find IRIS operational, and after one attempt, made it through successfully. Eventually, my luggage was spat out, and then it was a Heathrow Connect, a taxi ride, and a run for a Chiltern Railways service to Birmingham, another taxi, and finally – my front door.
Home So to sum up…
So in summing up, UA’s 767 and 777 based services in comparison to the 747 service from a Y Class passengers viewpoint, and I’d say defiantly better than the US Airways equivalent services via PHL.
Whilst Y bucket travel may be mostly the same across the pond (there’s your bucket, here’s some fake food, be happy), things like good customer service, the patience to do water runs, and good communication with the customer really help.
That and a lot of humour goes one heck of a long way.
If we are holding the Star Gold Lounge at LHR as a standard, then I really do fear for UA’s Red Carpet Clubs. I found the food options to be laughable, with the lack of some drink options from a fridge (I’m thinking of the C7 bar) to be near enough silly – I’d say it’s worth it if you carry your *G card, but if you’re ponying up for an RCC membership, I’d certainly think twice. If there is a lounge that sort of gets near the standard of the LHR, it has to be the PHL International Envoy lounge.
Which is fine if you want to fly US Airways
A big thank you to the crew of UA382 for the excellent short haul service – and the visit up to the cockpit… it was very much appreciated.
Overall, in comparison to the US experiences, I’d take UA any day of the week providing the cost was near enough the same (and this time, the US option was a good £30 more expensive.. so UA wins hands down)
Right – that’s it for another fun packed Y class adventure! I don’t know what’s next but I could be in for a little Seoul… or maybe a trip to Minneapolis.