The Autumn Run – Mixing Business with Pleasure with UA and US
Or “Go on… add me to the volunteer list please”
WARNING: This is a LOT longer than I thought it would be when I started putting keyboard to screen. Sorry!
Do I really need to introduce this report? Oh very well then! This was going to be the usual Autumn audit of Economy class travel (for those of you who have forgotten, it’s the back of the plane, seats are upright, minimal space, etc, etcm etc) However, circumstances changed as things on the ground moved along. Be prepared for a few surprises than normal in this report…
And now – the prologue
(you might wish to skip this bit if you want to get to the meat of this report. Those who wish to understand my madness may continue at their own risk).
So after returning to the after the never to be repeated BA Ashes Fare Sale, I realised that my regular October photography trip to Chicago was coming up again… which meant time to look at tickets. More importantly, it was time to examine where I was in the race for re-qualification for 10/11 (providing Diamond Club exists by the point of writing).
A lot of this madness was explored on the blog, but to recap.. Now I was planning a simple LHR-ORD-LHR with a mini mileage run originally. But then BA had to go and launch a LHR-LAS direct route. Why is that relevant? Well lets see, a bunch of BA board members would be aboard requiring people to “drink” with (uh-oh….).
So the route became LHR-ORD-LAS and back… Then one 3am morning (my traditional zombie time) I thought… lets add some fun to this run… How much could I push the ticket to?
Initially I was pricing this in lots of segments, and in the first instance, these were coming up cheaply. However towards when I actually started booking the trip, a lot of availability had dried up completely, and the “direct” flights were a lot cheaper than the segments (in fact, the only set of flights I could toy with were the ORD-LAS segments). However, tagging a trip onto San Francisco at the end of it made no difference to the price – with the extra miles that route gives (even though the pain of 10 hours in United E-), it seemed worth it.
Map as ever – Great Circle Mapper – http://gc.kls2.com
But there is still the matter of a few missing miles to hit *G for the year. The current situation would had left a gaping hole of 1300 miles or so. Adding more segment in would had been extremely costly alas (increasing costs by at least £200). Even Backtracking to ORD would had hurt in an attempt to keep everything in “V”.
Two options were available – either a segment run to the East Cost with United, or a segment run on the West Coast with US Airways. Both were looking good until I realised the amount of work I needed to do upon arriving in Chicago – so the East coast run was ruled out in favour of a Two state hop from Vegas. Whilst cutting down time there – I can always visit Vegas again – retaining Gold is a LOT harder…
Map as ever – Great Circle Mapper – http://gc.kls2.com
So that’s it – seats assigned for all runs (even after a little discussion over the phone with US Airways), and E- assigned for all the United legs as BA drained some of that cash earlier this year.
What could possibly go wrong?
Part I – Coaches, Heathrow T1 and Lounges.
After the disaster that was packing (and to be honest partially my fault for accepting more work that I should had) by 2am, I was ready for the off. A cab was called, and after he go lost finding where I live (cabbies are good at that) and wearing clogs instead of shoes, it was a quick dash to the coach station for the early bus to Heathrow.
This travelling light concept… explain it to me one more time…
National Express Service 210
Birmingham City Centre Coach station to Heathrow Central Bus Station
Soon enough, I was at Digbeth Coach station, with the coach loading. I had my ticket validated, and boarded.
Of course, at this time of night, only the usual nutters were travelling – with families. Thankfully a pair of noise isolation headphones I obtained from the last trip shut the families up.
At the first available opportunity, I fell asleep and slowly woke up when the coach was reaching M25. As I entered the Heathrow approach tunnel, my iPhone decided to play the following song
Hmm. This iPhone knows *FAR* too much about me. Has Steve Jobs actually made it sentient?
Within minutes, I was ejected as my luggage was at Heathrow Central Bus station – in time for the long push to T1.
Heathrow T1 has changed a fair bit – least of all with all the premium areas springing up, but since a lot of the Star Alliance has moved in – it feels lighter and breezier than before.
The UA check-in queue system for Star Silver or Star Gold can be haphazard some days, clearly indicated as they were processing everyone from all queues.
Here is the exact conversation that took place between me and the queue agent
“Star Gold – Economy”
“Follow me please…”
I was lead to the amazing place that is the First Class/United Global Services check-in section and checked in there. A bit of banter went on, and of course – I offered my seat for VDB if needed. It was kindly declined and I asked if I had time to go to both the BMI Number One and Star Alliance Lounge which there was a bright “Of course sir…”
Once everything was dumped at Zone Y for over-sized, it was off to security. Again no queues, and as I was passing a scanner, the agents opened a unit up for me. No objections were raised for a manual scan of my film and I was through quickly.
Then it was straight off through the rabbit warren that is the BMI end of T1 and to the Number One end of the lounge. As I entered, I had a brisk “Where do you think you’re going sir?” (travelling in my usual look I don’t exactly look like a business professional – more like a student…). A flash of the BMI Gold Card and her tone changed and a smile, – “Please come in sir…”
Lounge Stop – BMI Diamond Club – The Number One Lounge
Plenty of Flyertalkers have been through this lounge – and it is fast making a big impact in LHR T1 operations. But why? Is it something that can take on the holy grail of the Virgin Clubhouse at T1? Or is it an oddly filled space?
I was warmly greeted and given a quick verbal tour of the lounge as it was my first time there. I then had a walk round, looking at the well-lit spaces, the small corners and finally, I grabbed a coffee, a few Lily O’Brien chocolates (Well… a certain BMI flyer doesn’t need them anyway when flying on his little EmBRUair) and sat down.
WiFi access is via “The Cloud” – was free of charge – just enter your details and off it went – so much so the first blog post of this journey was made their (with awful pictures).
Here are some better ones
And a sign of times that have changed…
This is defiantly a nice place to spend time, with excellent design and thought. Excellent work BMI.
One little critique – and its been pointed out by others before – the food options for breakfast are pretty poor (pan -au-chocalat, toast, croissants). So as had a long hike ahead, I thanked the staff for an excellent lounge visit, and hiked back across T1 to the other lounge option – the Star Alliance Common Lounge.
Lounge Stop – Star Alliance Common Lounge
After being let in, and being directed in, the first thing I noticed was how busy the lounge was. The second thing I noticed was the lack of plugs in the place now. In the end I made a nest in the business centre for another 45 minutes, stocking up on bacon rolls and sausage baps for a bit.
The Breakfast of Champions – A Proper Bacon Roll is always appreciated!
WiFi has changed in this lounge – it’s now a BT OpenZone WiFi hotspot – but within the lounge complex – it’s free. I quickly has some nibbles, a splash charge of the iPhone and the MacBook and soon enough – 7am had rolled around. Time for me to bid farewell to the lounge and begin the long hike.
Thankfully UA929 was assigned to Gate 38 – so the hike was quite short for once. Upon arriving, Zone 1 and 2 were being called, so I made myself present.
My boarding pass was scanned – and she said “Have a good Mr H… Hold it – You’re Mr Kevin…”
Hold breath – was it?
“Sir – 36K has been taken from you. You’ve moved you into 9H. Have a pleasant flight – your Star Gold has helped you today”
WOOHOO! BATTLEFIELD UPGRADE
London Heathrow – Chicago O’Hare International
United Airlines UA929, 21/10/09
Boeing 767-300 New International Configuration,
Was Seat 36K (E-), Battlefield Upgrade to 9H (United International Business Class)
3953 miles flown, 3942 earned.
Channel 9: Well. I’ll explain about that in a mo…
(Apologies for the photography at this point – I couldn’t get to my main camera in time, and the service had begun by the time I wanted to get to it…)
Bouncing my way down the jetway, I made it to the plane and greeted the crew with a smile. Soon enough I was at my seat near the front of the plane (it’s a rare enough experience alas).
Slowly, I settled into my seat discovering the big space infront of me. Drinks were offered. Of course as I have learned from a certain other forum, “its never too early for Champagne”.
And thus a glass of sparkling something or other was consumed. In honour of Moomba, I present a plastic champers glass in its best state
As we were prepping to take off I discovered problem number 1 of the day – some person before me managed to break their headphones into the IFE system – resulting in me not being able to use headphones.
Oh well. Be British. Don’t grumble
Soon enough, the cabin was secured for take off and we were off into the morning sky. Now normally, you’d expect a 101 pictures – being in a middle isle doesn’t lend itself unfortunately – neither does the one problem with the new UA Business seats – the lack of at seat storage. Taking off backwards was an interesting experience – one that works well for the seating and the full flat nature of it when you need it.
Soon enough we climbed out – heading over London, Leicester, Manchester, out via Blackpool and Belfast, reaching our height of 34,000ft.
It was breakfast time. This is where problem number 2 manifested itself – the overhead light had gone bang too. In addition 9J’s light was doing a flashing on and off thing.
Rather than worry the crew at this point – I tried my best with the iPhone to get this trip report done (darned hard too!).
Firstly the lunch order was taken, with the purser darting back and forth by status. Being an op-up obviously meant I was near the bottom of the list – but thankfully – all options were available still.
Breakfast service was then carried out – firstly with a fruit tray and then 2 hot dishes or cold cuts were offered. I decided to live dangerously and have an UA Omelet.
It wasn’t that rubbery – which was a nice surprise. The chicken sausage was as usual, completely inoffensive, the hash was hashy, and the onions… were earthy.
Still by this point – I was exhausted after being up for 24 hours with only an hour or two in between, so I popped the bed into a comfortable position and that was me out until the Labrador coast – a good 3 hours kip there. I had the bed angled upward slightly whilst also proved a bit of support too.
Moving onto the IFE system, this is an example of the Panasonic ex2 System in business and first, with full AVOD on a nice 15” screen. Image clarity was clear (I was watching Star Trek from row 9 …. With row 10’s screen) and the software and UI is clear and thought out. Now if I had a headphone socket, I would had really appreciated this – alas – not to be.
Lets move onto the seat. At 77″ in flat mode, it’s a very nice space. Even in a mid configuration, my feet were on the footrest fine and I could just relax and sleep in any given and set configuration. The padding is reasonably soft, with the lumbar support programme full of fun and games. Of course, like most modern business seats, there are power sockets and USB charging areas.
After a quick trip to the small room, I wandered to the Galley and explained what had happened. The flight attendant was very sorry, and without prompting, gave me an appreciation card. To be honest – I wasn’t expecting a card – I just wanted to let the team know so when the aircraft goes to maintenance, they can fix the issues…
Drink and Hot Towel
But time wandered on, and lunch was served.
To start off with – UA’s signature dish…
Starter – Regular viewers will note the wine glass is indeed full. What of? Oh come on… Chardonnay of course
Service was the carried out on a tray with the starter (salmon and a salad – of course add a sesame seed dressing and we’ll call it an Asian salad…).
Shortly after, I had the vegetarian curry – actually a very nice option – nicely spiced, although I still question the peas in the rice.
Desert followed of cheese or a triple chocolate desert thing. This again is another easy guess…
And of course, Chinese Diet Cola.
After this point, people had raised blinds and I wandered around the cabin a bit.
However, time was a coming on, and it was soon enough time to secure the cabin. At this time the purser came along and introduced herself, and apologised for the problems – and offered a bottle of wine with compliments. A simple act – but very nice of her to offer the wine for the technical issues that were beyond her control.
After a long taxi into T5, it was off with me to the border where I was stamped in, ID’d and greeted, and then of course the wonders that is “waiting for luggage to spit out”.
Unsurprisingly, BP1/2 luggage spat out first, then no priority, and finally – priority luggage appeared. Nice work ORD Luggage handlers. A quick visit to our friends at Customs, and once again – I entered the Land of the Free(TM)…
Overall: A very unexpected experience and a great surprise. The United Business product seemed to be very well rounded, and where needed – service recovery carried out. It’s occasions like this where you go with the flow, and manners and politeness can make a heck of a difference. Now if we can get some consistency with the ORD Luggage destroyers…
Hotel: Hyatt O’Hare
Once again, it’s back to this lovely hotel – except for one little issue – I was placed in the Executive wing. Now that may sound nice in theory, but it’s a substantial hike from one end of the hotel to the other. However, Hyatt Platinum was acknowledged, with WiFi given away as promised (probably the best beanie of Hyatt Platinum at $9.99 a day). As usual, the beds were sumptuous and comfortable, as were the surroundings, including the flatscreen TV and the bathroom.
To be honest – the room didn’t feel that executive-y – but it was good, with adequate working spaces. Next time, I’ll arrange to be in the main atrium. If you’re working until 2am in the morning, the shorter the hike back to the bedroom – the better…
Bell and Concierge were as good as ever, and prompt.
The bar was… full of marketing reps most of the weekend – but was reasonably efficient once the barperson worked out how to make a Cosmo and draw a diet coke from the machine (no – lets not go there)
Rosemont Station at night
From the 10th floor in the main Atrium
But anyway, Monday came soon enough. A 06:00 wake up and at reception by 07:00 – it was back the the Bunny….
Part IV – Bunny’s, Dragons, and Seats that go Bump in the Night…
Ah. Chicago O’Hare. Can I compare thee to a Autumn’s Day? Can I compare thee to the weather outside – wet and dreary. Yes? Oh Goody.
I wandered to PremExec Check-in, and dumped my pile of luggage, with LR’s signed on the tripods, and an option to put myself on the Volunteer list. Judging I was in 27F already, anything would be an upgrade from that – so I tapped it out. Pretty soon my boarding passes were spat out at me.
Looking at the queues, they were for miles around, so a check-in agent who needed to take my idiot sized luggage through directed me to a shorter priority queue. Quickly enough, it was a liquids scan, with a manual film scan (no questions). Soon enough I located that I would be at concourse C and foolishly decided to head to C17 as a lounge.
Through the Hypnotunnel… with Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background
United Red Carpet Club – C17.
Drunk: Coffee. Lots of it.
Bagel things consumed: Few
Juvenile laughter amount for the word “Smuckers”: Infinite.
A forced smile greeted me and I went to the enquiry desk to be told loudly and in a clipped style that “VDB’s would be managed at gate and I have no views of what’s going on”.
Nothing like friendliness eh?
Anyhoo, I went into the lounge to be disappear to see what wonders would be served this time of morning… and compared to the simple Star Alliance or even BMI Number One Lounge, I was in for the usual disappointment of mini muffins, bagel things, Snuckers, Fruit and Yoghurt.
Nothing like a healthy breakfast then…
But my hotspot access was still working – enough to phone the office and to do a bit of light surfing before the stamped at C25.
Ok – it had reasonable views art least
Of course, as soon as time allowed, I made my way out of this RCC with a mental note not to darken its doors again.
I wandered down to C25, with the Red Boarding Carpet lice swarming and politely inquired if my seat was needed. I was told a good chance – please take a seat.
5 minutes later – I was paged to go to the podium -I was being VDB’d and after a little discussion – I successfully VBD’d at the gate for the 10:10 flight (with an attempt to get me on the direct Vegas flight that was met with a raised eyebrow). A lot of tapping later, and two new boarding passes spat out with a Voucher. It was only after I walked away from the podium did I actually start reading it. Firstly I saw my LAX-LAS flight I had been reassigned an isle seat (which I would correct later), a DBC Free Voucher (that had to be corrected too) but the boarding pass for the ORD-LAX leg was saying 4J. A quick bit of math in my head and a look at the top of the boarding pass gave it
My First FIRST
As I didn’t want to experience the dragons in C17 again – I headed to customer service to get the seating assignment changed (and was upgraded to E+) and the DBC converted into Travel Credits (this trip is turning into rich pickings!) and then went to hang around the gate. More logical really as boarding was a few minutes away.
That and my iPhone is trying to tell me something again (Hint: Yana’s Aria – BA 1989 Face Advert)
Are you *sure* you’re trying to tell me something iPhone?
Soon enough boarding was called, and I bounced my way on-board to the wonders that is United Domestic First Class
Chicago O’Hare International – Los Angeles International
United Airlines UA531, 26/10/09
Boeing 767-300 Domestic Configuration
Seat 4J – United First
Channel 9: On
I was greeted and went to my seat a 4J. I thought the numbering was bit odd, until I saw the innards – a Boeing 767-300 greeted me. On top of that, a Window seat too. I quickly stowed what I needed, and sat down in the big recliner that was waiting for me.
Pretty soon a drinks round of orange or water was done as boarding continued. Service items were mostly collected up and eventually, the plane pushed back and taxied around.
After a while, wheels went up, and it was off into the big blue for a while. Service was delayed for 25 minutes as turbulence was a bit rough, but eventually, the flight attendants were released, so service could begin.
Yes – United’s Signature Dish. The drink might be familiar. Here’s a hint – there’s Vodka inside
An offer of a Turkey roll or an Asian Salad was made. I once again wondered what sesame dressing would be deemed as Asian today.
Don’t you hate being right…
However – this is one of the better salads I’ve had in the air – least of all with size but with content. The salad itself was fresh – the chicken not overly dry. The Tomato Bisk was also very nice – very flavoursome.
Compared to some meals I’ve had in the air – it was very edible.
The flight then settled into a slow journey across the Americas, passing slowly away. I felt the need for a bit of IFE… and as the United options weren’t too hot – there was only one thing I could do…
Ghetto IFE system – compatible with United First (Family Guy: PTV)
The seat itself was well spaced at a 38″ pitch – adequate for a 4 hour flight, but still required the person next door to climb out if you want to go to the small room. Recline is of a mechanical nature as opposed to electric
Time passed, and slowly the journey came to an end, crossing the Grand Canyon…
with regular water runs…
and finally ending up in LAX, touching down on scheduled.
Overall: First is sometimes an overused word. Business would be a better descriptor in terms of the seat, and space (Least of all – compared to International 767). Still service was excellent and carried out with a smile. Nice one crew.
Soon enough I was wondering around LAX T7. Looks nice and modern – and whilst I *could* go and get an In-and-Out Burger, I decided just to head to the lounge. An early start and a comfortable wait with an active WiFi account was an easy win here.
The RCC lounge at LAX is of MUCH higher quality that of ORD (if anything – B18 is the nearest thing that could hold a candle to it) with access to drinks and a wider range of snacks too. It was well lit, and with lots of natural sunlight coming in (if filtered with blinds), it was a very relaxing environment – enough to spend a couple of hours for the next flight without any particular panic.
The RCC innards
My plane at the gate
Boarding again was done by Zones, with Star Gold boarding after 1K/GS and F. I was assigned 10A – an E+ Row in-front of the emergency exit. Whilst this would mean minimal recline, for a 50 minute hop – that wasn’t that important.
Los Angeles International – Las Vegas McCarran International.
United Airlines UA378, 26/10/09
Airbus A320, Version 2 Configuration, Seat 10A
236 miles flown, 600 earned.
Channel 9: Off
The Encounter on taxi..
After a short taxi, we pulled up into the air and over the pacific, before turning inland and making the short hop over to LAS.
Obligatory A380 Photo – Both a QF747 and A380
A quick drinks run was done – this being an exTED route … drinks were done TED style
TED – Happy to Share Cola with Anyone – but in single cup! RAR!
However, there was still time to set up an IFE system…
However there wasn’t much time to drink it, and service was cleared up before landing in Las Vegas McCarran Airport.
Turning for LAS
Overall – E+ wasn’t needed for this hop – but was appreciated by the Chicago Ground Team. Whilst a TED style drink may be appropriate – it does feel like it cheapens the service slightly. But again – 50 minutes from wheels up to down doesn’t leave a lot of time for a drinks run – let alone anything else…
Hotel: MGM Grand
One of the bigger hotels on the Strip, the MGM is easily visible from McCarran Airport. Reception is tastefully done out with Leo the Lion standing guard.
Check in was painless, and a bellman helped me with my luggage to the back end of beyond – I mean the West Wing of the hotel. Which brings me onto my first tip: If you’re planning to stay at the MGM Grand… Bring Hiking Boots. You’ll need them.
The room itself is a King Bed, with all the usual amenities of that sort of style room – in other words, lots of glass and of course – an eerie green glow. Still at $59++ a night – I wasn’t exactly arguing.
Of course, after a couple of hours sorting myself out, I did the Vegas thing, seeing all the usual sights, getting enough calling cards to make my own Vegas deck, and of course taking far too many pictures that won’t appear here
However, I did decide to have a lil flutter, so I approached a slot machine in trepidation, and popped in a dollar… and on the very first go … I WON AT VEGAS!!!!
Yes It’s $5. $5 is $5. Your point being…
But bed beckoned. Because at 5am I would had needed to have hiked out of the hotel for the mileage run…
After ponying up for another expensive taxi, I wandered to check in, and confused the poor check in agent.
“Where are you going today sir?”
“… oh.. you’re trying to confuse the computer”
“Two words: Mileage run”
tap tap tap…
“… and here are the boarding passes”
A short walk to the TSA who were in a friendly mood – film scanned by hand without questions and it was a short walk to the A Gates where my flight would go from.
As US Airways have pulled the lounge in LAS, it was off to waiting at the gate. However, there is one minor upside to this (apart from the slot machines making noises) – free WiFi!
How I’ll remember LAS airport…
Soon enough boarding came around, and once the person on the Segway boarded – as well as a couple of families, it was time to board in the first boarding group.
Las Vegas McCarran International – Phoenix Sky Harbour
US Airways US460, 27/10/09
Airbus A320, Seat 5F
255 Miles flown, 600 Earnt
Ah. Good old US Airways. You always know which bucket you’re sitting in. Defiantly one of America West’s old machines, the aircraft was in good shape – as was the seating. Boarding was very slow, and to be honest, I nodded off.
The announcements must had been quiet because I missed the safety demo (not that I read the card on boarding, counted the rows back and forward to the exits… call me old fashioned, but I like to know HOW I’m going to escape) and the next thing I knew – it was up in the air with us.
Clearing city limits
The crew managed a 60% service on this flight, however leaving Las Vegas and approaching Phoenix was pretty bumpy, so crews were trapped in seats a lot of the time.
Points for how many of those services are running…
Soon enough, it was time to line up for Phoenix, and we taxied into the B Concourse. This was my juncture to make use of my BMI Star Gold Card – and head for the lounge
Another airport – time to hike again
Of course, this meant a hike from one end of B concourse to the other and back again for about 15 minutes in a lounge. In the name of research of course
US Airways Club, Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport
Coffee’s drunk: One
Bagels eaten: 2
Muffins eaten: 1
Bagels smuggled out: 2
Juvenile laughter amount for the word “Smuckers”: 12 minutes at least.
Just a quick visit really to poke around and see what’s what. The lounge felt comparatively small for a “Hub” lounge, but the food options were stocked as well as they could be for a morning in a US lounge and the coffee was hot.
Another healthy breakfast
Enough to rest for a few minutes before picking up the rush of this run.
After wandering to the gate – two flights were listed. This was going to be fun. After a 10 minute delay to boarding, the LAX passengers were invited to board.
Phoenix Sky Harbour – Los Angeles International
US Airways Express US2611 operated by Mesa Airlines, 27/10/09
Canadair CRJ200, Seat 2A
370 Miles flown, 600 Earned
Mesa.. Mesa… Messy air. There is a running joke that in express carriers, one does the following. Considering a Mesa friend of mine once said “We got compared how bad we were to Ryanair. I was proud”… how bad are they?
Boarding was a mess with both a plane for somewhere in the Orange County and LAX loading at the same time, with the LAX passengers being sent to the wrong jet…. before being sent back to our CRJ-200.
Inside the CRJ – we hadn’t closed up yet
Safety demo was done manually, with the flight attendant having to stop at each segment of the demo to show the mask and seatbelt – this is where Republics/Trans-State’s idea of recording the demo once, then allowing it to work on playback isn’t a bad idea.
After a short taxi, it was back up in the air for the second leg of this hop. Again – it was bumpy of out of Phoenix, but after a while the air settled down.
Up we go again
Now the state of this CRJ…. Oh dear. Someone needs to show a little love to this aircraft. Uncared for would be one word. In need of a deep clean would be a better description.
Now I freely admit I didn’t have much sleep at all the night before, so I took the opportunity to doze. As it feels you’re in a sardine can in a CRJ-200, this isn’t too hard for ones head to rest against the bulkhead. Saying that, I drifted in and out enough to snap some pics, and saw a service being carried out – even requests for drinks after service was met with a smile.
Soon enough – the little CRJ was lining up for LA, and after a nice gentle touchdown, it was a quick taxi to the gate. Seeing that the earlier LAS flight had just gone to doors closed, I wandered off to another US Airways club to empty them of coffee and crunchy mix.
Overall: A little love is needed for the plane, but the basic service was reasonable and the flight attendant was in full smile mode. Whilst Mesa does have a reputation that puts it in the lower classes, lets put it like this: I’ve been on worse flights.
US Airways Club – LAX.
Fun with the coffee machine: Lots
What the hell I am doing drinking in LA? Waiting for the next flight obviously!
After being admitted, I found a nice corner to sit in. Again – this area had a T-Mobile hotspot (and another $7.99 goes fizzle) and started raiding the snack bar (woefully filled – but about right for US carriers I suppose), and I settled down.
Now there is one thing about this club – a distinct lack of sunlight as it is boxed in a corner practically – so it is a very “dark” environment. But still – it was a quiet time of day and not many people until boarding time – so I could get on with a bit of typing and catch up with “the real world”.
Soon enough, it was time to wander off again so I thanked the staff, and wandered down to the gate where I waited for the next flight.
Meanwhile in Southwest Land…
Los Angeles International – Las Vegas McCarran International.
US Airways US162, Seat 5F
Airbus A319, Seat 5A
After boarding and once again, stowing my stuff the plane filled up very quickly for this short hop back to LAS. Again – US Seems to doing well as all the seats seem to had been taken – mainly with connecting passengers (a lot of Japanese tourists as well as British tourists flying in for the Half-Term break).
Repairing the Encounter
Soon enough, we pushed back, safety demo completed and after a very short taxi from T1, we were up in the air going out over the pacific, before turning back inland.
Very quickly the flight attendants were released, and a drinks run was done, with a warning that would be a fair bit of turbulence at the end of the flight as there were dust storms in the Vegas vicinity.
Now lets get to the state of this poor plane. Whilst looking good on first inspection (the grey walls indicating this was either a post merger or US Airways plane), getting to the seat – things are little more visible that US isn’t showing the love, and nor are the passengers for that matter.
Wanted: Person to care for inside of Airbus A319. Apply in writing to US Airways, Tempe, Arizona..
Out of scientific interest I also decided to waste $7 on a US NapPack. So exactly what’s in one?
Well we have a blanket (made of very cheap fleece – not nice to the touch), a inflatable pillow (not too bad I suppose), Blindfold (Airline quality) and earplugs (untested) and a $10 SkyMall catalogue discount (laughable) and a bag to hold it all in (branded). Whilst not the best value in the air, it saves some costs for US, whilst also seemingly adding value for customers.
As we descended, the cabin was locked down early and out of the window, it was possible to see the dust whipping up. A comparatively gentle landing, and once again – I had reached Vegas.
Overall: Oh US Airways. A bit of love and care would go a long way with your aircraft. The service itself was good, and was paced reasonably for the flights and the clubs were acceptable. I however still think that US *really* needs to raise it’s game further now that Continental have joined the Star Alliance.
Well that’s enough US Airways isn’t it?
Another night at the MGM Grand – and some time catching up with FlyerTalkers, but as usual – time was not on my side.
Lets get back to the home run shall we?
After paying out another idiot amount for a taxi , I made my way to a heaving check-in. After a lot of flicking in my passport, the luggage was tagged with priority markers, and after being asked window or isle (and saying window), I was upgraded to E+ at check in.
A short hike, and I was at D Gates TSA. And this is where the fun began. If you’ve noted through this trip report, I’ve been asking for manual scans of all my film. Why? Well I’m an old fashioned so and so who 1) uses 120 film, 2) actually understands the damage X-rays can do to film and 3) If the packet on the film says “DO NOT EXPOSE TO X-RAY”, you follow that instruction.
So I got a full “it can be scanned, not it can’t, I want to scan it, I’ve had no problems elsewhere, strop, go off scan, tell me to mail it home next time (what and subject it to industrial X-ray… clever idea). You just have to LOVE the TSA for inconstancy.
To be honest, I just got out of the TSA zone, and headed to the gate. I wasn’t that fussed on Lounge access, and besides, it was a chance to catch up on mail before heading home.
After making sure no volunteers were required (yes – I would try it on), I joined the queue and boarded in the first group.
UA567 – Las Vegas McCarran International- San Francisco International
United Airlines UA567, 28/10/09, 10A
Airbus A320S – ExTED Configuration
After boarded, I discovered to my delight that I had actually got an exit row – ok not the fabled Row 11 – but still a substantial amount of space.
However, this is defiantly an exTED aircraft (even though in United colours). Apart from the classic orange chet lines on the luggage bins, the big FlyTED.com on the back gave it away
TED is still Happy to see you! RAR!
Still the aircraft was clean, and looked in good condition. After being asked if I would be happy to perform the exit row functions, boarding completed and a long taxi ensued before the Airbus took to the sky.
Leaving Las Vegas…
Safety belts were left on for a bit due to turbulence in the area, thanks to the high winds in the area. Soon enough the lights were extinguished, and a drinks service commenced – will full cans of coke being issued
See TED. Full Can. RAR!
Again – once past the turbulence, a nice gentle flight. Soon enough it was time to batten down the hatches for landing and after a nice touch down, it was a short taxi to the terminal.
On approach for SFO
The doors were released quickly, and I made a bolt for the exit.
With a good 10 hours before my next flight, it seemed a waste to spend it in the RCC at SFO, so instead I wandered off to down-town San Francisco and explored some of the places I missed last time when I was doing the MegaDo last time.
However, time as usual evaporated quickly, and it was back on the BART to the airport. As I had my Boarding pass already issued, I proceed to security, where upon the scanner failed, and I was put in the glass box for 5 minutes for a pat-down.
After that little humiliation, I headed straight for the RCC. I was greeted by a friendly receptionist, and immediately given my two drink chits without prompting.
The SFO International RCC
After wandering upstairs, I found a nice window seat overlooking both the International and Domestic areas. A quick gaze out of it and I saw four fire engines… lights ablaze… what was going on. Soon enough I had an answer – with a United 737 taxing in (and after a bit of research, the last UA737 coming home
United Recommends San Francisco Airport Cleaning Services. More at www.ghettoife.com
The lounge itself is nice and airy, with the usual paid for bar and the mixes and cruets. Whilst not a brilliant selection (much like the LAX lounge), it still puts the ORD and IAD lounges to shame.
Soon enough 7pm rolled around, and I packed up my trash one more time and headed for the gate, where r Star Gold/Prem Exec boarding was announced, I made my way into the aircraft for the final leg home.
UA930 – San Francisco International – London Heathrow Airport
United Airlines UA920, 28/10/09
Boeing 777-200, Seat 42A
5368 miles flown, 5355 miles earnt
Alas, the only window seat that was open when I was booking was… 42A (lets call it seat 99Z. It felt that far back). For those who don’t know, 42A is basically the last row of a UA 777.
Safety demo was done manually, and the aircraft pushed back on time. A bit of a taxi around SFO and the engines roared up for take off
Off we go for one last time
Nighttime over the bay area
Bear in mind, at this point – I was pretty tired with little sleep since Chicago, so my head was against the bulkhead, and soon enough I was out cold – missing the first drinks service – and trying to keep awake for the food service. I almost wish I didn’t looking at the what came out.
Ok… I’m taking a Wild guess and this logically must Cajun chicken – the rice might be a give away.
This was actually a reasonable in-flight meal.
After food, I zonked out again. The next thing I knew,6 hours had passed, and we were tracking southwards of Iceland, heading for Scotland – so I had by this point missed the mid-flight snacks, and I was pretty much trapped in the seat as I had a sleeping passenger who only woke up when the snack service arrived.
Speaking of the snack service – it’s the classic chewable tooth destroying Pretzel-bread….
The more things change…
A drinks run was done behind this – and at this point, I set up a Ghetto IFE system just to watch a couple of things, before switching back to Channel 9 for approach and landing.
Ghetto IFE System featuring Top Gear: Race to the North – Tornado (Steam Train) vs Car vs a Hamster on a Bike
After doing a loop of the north-western hold, it was through the cloud, past Windsor Castle, and a firm landing on the runway, and a quick taxi over to the other-side of beyond of LHR T1 – Gate 46.
A short hike to immigration as I disembarked – least of all the travelators are “under repair”, constricting the access-way and also making people exercise for once
IRIS for once was operational at T1, and after looking at the the mirror, I was let into the UK. My luggage was already on the belt (or off the belt in the case of the Ski Bag), so I made my way down to the Heathrow Connect.
Heathrow Connect, Class 334
Heathrow Central – London Paddington (£7.40)
The usual 25 minute journey to London – again, tickets were checked, no issues with anything. Upon arrival at Paddington, the Barriers were open – a very logical move considering how much luggage goes through there and the revenue protection done on the service itself.
A taxi to Euston to argue with Virgin Trains (apparently, the peak period for Virgin commences at 15:15, not 15:30 – nice of them to publish that then a Taxi back to Marylebone (with a meter runner), and I boarded the 16:00 to Birmingham Snow Hill.
Chiltern Railways, Class 168/2 “Clubman”
London Marylebone – Birmingham Snow Hill (Saver Return RTN portion only – £44)
Even though it was approaching peak time, the service wasn’t that packed out. I thankfully located a twosome seat, plonked my luggage down and crashed again between Wembley and Banbury.
The loads increased as the train passed through Leamington Spa – peak time had arrived – but there was no “pushing” or “demands” for space – people were comfortable.
Upon arrival at Snow Hill, I pushed my way through the barriers, found a taxi, and finally ended up at Chez Kevincm.
Where upon I unpacked, dumped the washing in the machine, and went off to get some Fish and Chips – and after a while – dozed off on the sofa.
Trip Report Card:
OpUp’s: 2 (LHR-ORD in C, ORD-LAX in F)
E+’s FOC: 2 (LAX-LAS, LAS-SFO)
Exit Rows: 1 (LAS-SFO)
Travel credits: $350
Channel 9 on: 3 out of 5 (probably 4…)
Vodkas and Colas Consumed: 3
Other vodka based products: 1
TSA’s annoyed: 2 (At LAS)
US Airways love: None
Before, I’ve always been on deadlines when I travelled – travelling with flexibility has really helped.
Overall a very good performance from United in all classes – a MAJOR improvement to the June trip, and I’d say an improvement from the Feb run. The crews were all reasonably happy, requests were met well. Again – a smile and politeness goes a long way. I’d say even the catering has improved out of SFO… but I could had been very lucky…
The Business and First Class experiences were enjoyable. Whilst I would not go out of my way to spend actual money (it’s called “prioritising” – I have other priorities in life), I can see how these products work, and when they’re delivered well – they work very well.
US Airways… is still US Airways. Even on short-haul, they’re performing – if insisting on TED like service on flights (Plastic cup of drink for you.. and buy our sleep-pack please).
I think with Continentals entry in Star Alliance – Hopefully, a good sharp kick has been delivered to both US and United to improve their products further. Well I can hope.
Well that’s it from me for a fair old bit – partially to appease my bank manager and as Gold is sewn up for another year, I’m running low on Annual leave at work.
Feb and March are looking good for travel next year… and there is still the battle for *G qualification for either CO or BD next year. Ah the games we play…
Although my feet are very itchy still. Either I need to see a foot specialist – or I need to plan a trip…