Re-creating a photo – To New York (AKA The Spring United Audit)
BHX-AMS, AMS-IAD-LGA, LGA-IAD-FRA, FRA-LCY
A mileage run with United, British Airways and BMI Baby
So nice to see you so soon! One mileage run tends to lead to another, and this trip is no exception. Except as you know I prefer my mileage runs with benefits. Like some of my friends.
In terms of seating and class, we’re firmly entrenched in traditional Kevincm territory here – back of the bus, GhettoIFE systems, Low end hotels, cheap flights, cheap flights (oops.That’s a song), with all the fun that goes with them. So sit back, relax and prepare for some fun….
Will fly for miles (Yes, it’s the introduction)
So just before my last trip to the states (and that’s some time ago), I saw this picture at one of those home furnishing places that you poke your head into, then run away quickly screaming when you see how bad the junk is in there.
But a picture caught my eye when I visited some time ago.
And I looked at it. And I liked it. But then I thought – can I do better? Lets find out and see if I can wrap this into a mileage run.
Mileage runs as we all know are there to get the maximum amount of miles for the least amount of outlay, whilst spending the barest amount of time. Of course, I prefer if possible to spend time at a location – least of all if I haven’t been there, I’d like to see more of a place than the airport.
A bit of research one November evening found a fare that reduced fuel surcharge to a silly amount, and thus the main fare to a very stupid amount using open jaw journeys. Enough that I should had booked 2 tickets really. But 1 ticket will suffice if this year continues as it goes on.
So what’s the location – New York!
When booking the ticket I had two options on the table: Direct flights with Continental, or Indirect with United.
Now, as much as I would had preferred the Continental service (although it seems people based out of IAH seem to have bees in their bonnets after my last trip), I’ll happily fly for miles. And here are a few numbers.
CO Direct: AMS-EWR-FRA yields: 7525 miles
UA Indirect: AMS-IAD-LGA-IAD-FRA: 9147 Miles (where short segments are deemed 600 miles/segment in Diamond Club land)
The price difference of course about $3. With an extra 1600 miles or so (by the time the Diamond Club rounders get there – it’ll be less than that), a short connection risk at IAD, and a day off work booked the day after this, I’ve decided to route via IAD and take the miles. And considering Diamond Club will be alive to at least the end of 2011, this is no bad thing.
Now there is the additional matter of “positioning in” and “positioning out”. So, BHX-AMS initially. Now, originally I thought it’s time to try KLM. Except for one little thing (or not so little). With Five Services a day, not a problem you’d think. Except I’d call £310 for a single from a regional destination to a AMS is akin to being a bad joke.
Or to be local What the heck are they smoking???
Therefore it was time to be friends again with BMI Baby who wanted £44.99 for the same ticket. And I’m sorry, there’s no contest there. BMI Baby wins – and even after waiting a few weeks, the price magically drops to £29.99 + £4 booking fee.
There’s also the upside of 150 BMI Destination miles too. Which is better than a kick in the teeth – especially when it’s double miles and a 150 miles bonus flies in too.
Then the final leg home alas turned into a sorry story very quickly. What was going to be a simple Eurohop with Lufthansa turned into a palava when all the super-cheap fares sold out.
Which was annoying.
A quick check indicated that Lufthansa had bumped all it’s fares up, so the first thought was to overnight in Frankfurt (There are worse places in the world to overnight I suppose). Until I saw how much British Airways were charging for a single – £62 to LHR or £63 to LCY. With a price difference of £1 to fly into City or to fly into LHR T5, it was a very easy choice – City Airport (somewhere I haven’t been for the past 25 years or so!)
For hotels, thankfully I don’t have to worry about positioning in overnight, but I want something that’s reasonable value. And the best value seemed to be over the river from Manhattan in Long Island, for a paltry $100 or so a night. And yes, it’s a Holiday Inn. Not that I’m on a Crack the Case hunt still….
So, here’s the map. Read and weep.
Map Generated by the Great Circle Mapper – www.gcmap.com
Enough of the yabbering. Onto the main event!
Part I – The long and winding road to BHX, and onwards to AMS
With a 6;45 pushback, it’s sadly a case of get up at 4:30, wander over and the train to the the train station, and back to the armpit of an airport that is BHX.
However, this plan was almost down the pan before I started as I selected the bus to get me to New Street Station. Which was 3 minutes late. Which caused me to miss the first train.
If you can see the 82, you’ve got better eyesight than me
What was a nice 1 hour 10 window had now been shaved down to 45 minutes. Running would be needed….
As is becoming norm, the Virgin Trains service was on schedule and considering where I was positioned on the train, I was dropped off outside the doors leading upward to the main concourse and the shuttle train.
At this point, I was down to 45 minutes. Another couple of minutes later, I managed to cross to the main terminal. 43 minutes and the clock is still ticking with boarding commencing in 13 minutes….
Thankfully, I’d checked in online a few days before, so I had already had my boarding pass. A beep at the first security point, and I was through to the main security point with 10 minutes to go before boarding.
Now as part of the “One Terminal” Project they have (continuing with it’s makeover from Birmingham International Airport to Birmingham Airport), they merged the security zones. Which means the Ryanair passengers the used to live in T2 are now in the main concourse as well. And it seems they’re still getting to grips with security regulations.
Meanwhile, I was placed in a small queue and was seen to quickly. I was fully expecting my bag to be pulled, but this time it trundled along and through. Guess they finally know what a Canon EOS and a big Canon L series looks like. With that done I was down to 5 minutes to go. A quick race into the main terminal and boarding had been announced.
A quick wander to the gate, and boarding was about to begin. Train to gate 15 minutes flat. Not bad at all considering some journeys I’ve been stuck in BHX security for 30 minutes and more…..
Boarding commenced without an announcement, and everyone piled through – thankfully with BMI Baby there is a thing as “assigned seats”. Which is nice…
A walk down the stairs at Gate 57, and a walk up the stairs, and I was on my BabyBird.
My Baby for the day
WW1101 Birmingham Airport – Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, 11/02/11
BMI Baby, Boeing 737-300, Single Economy Class, Seat 22D
150 Destination Miles Earned + 150 bonus (BD Bonus)
Ah, the forlorn child… or perhaps “Baby” of the BMI family of airlines. The aircraft was empty on boarding, but quickly filled up.
Looking around the aircraft, it seemed to be in a reasonable condition, clean and reasonably pictured seating. Heck, there were even IFE controls (not connected to anything). Turns out this aircraft belonged initially to that well known airline, Air Vanuatu who disposed of these aircraft in favour of more modern 737-800’s. Of course BMI Baby says these aircraft are a perfect fit at the moment. Whatever helps you sleep at night Julian Carr (BMI Baby CEO)
Tight as heck seat pitch
Non working IFE
Now you’ll notice I’m nowhere near a window seat this time, but at an isle seat. Why you may ask?
Because I don’t like ponying up £5.50 for a seat for an hour’s flight. 2 hours maybe, 1 hour no.
Flying on LLC’s you do see a fair old mix – be it the odd business traveller who is travelling on the cheap, the fitness fanatic next door. But this is the AMS run. Which means it’s Stag Do/Hen Do City.
And they were out in force. Wonderful, especially when the hens were trying to put their rollaboards on top. The crew meanwhile were actually very happy to help everyone out. Even though it was the first roster of the day the crew were in a good mood.
The plane doors closed with pretty much a full load, where a 20 minute ATC hold was announced. The crew in the meantime preped for takeoff and took orders for hot food.
Soon enough, pushback begun and the safety demo begun, with the purser inviting us to get as comfortable or uncomfortable as we could for the short 40 minute hop.
Since I can’t show you many pretty pictures of the morning sky, lets look around at the hard product.
Well maybe one
The seat pitch is your traditional LCC seat pitch – ie Tight as heck. The padding on the seat was very “traditional” non slimline seats. Not that bad for a long period, but the pitch could get annoying.
Shortly after the bongs went to indicate we’d cleared 10,000ft the crew were out with a full trolly service and doing a roaring trade it seems for drinks and food. Guess these stag/hen people can’t not have a drink for 30 minutes or so.
Service in progress
Soon enough, the curse of the LCC’s arrived with the sale of scratchcards – and yes, a grand two of two were sold. This didn’t diswade the crew who decided to run the risk of gift/duty free purchasing.
And yes, I fell victim to it. Besides, I haven’t got one of these…
Yes, I’m sad. And?
During the sales, the crew started buttoning up the plane as we had begun our approach to AMS, with the plane finally landing in.
Alas, this being Amsterdam, you run the risk of the Polderbaan, and that’s where we ended up. So it was it was a long 15 minute taxi around AMS until we reached our parking gate at the D dock, where we had a airbridge mated up.
This still being a stag/hen do special flight, people too their time deplaning. Eventually I thanked the purser, made it off onto the airbridge and into Schipol Airport
Overall: Not bad, a good morning performance from the crew who were rushing to complete service in a tough sector. The humour of the crew suited the service well and shows signs that BMI Baby is doing ok. How about some nice new aircraft though please….
Skipping around Schipol
For those who haven’t been to Schipol before, here’s a little hint: It’s big. I’d say this is comfortable shoe territory, and a few Sherpas as guides could be useful to be honest.
Rather than going landside and attempting to find check in, I decided for fun to try and find the transfer point and check in there.
Had I realised I’d be walking to the other end of the airport, I would had probably cleared immigration, and checked in properly. But hey ho.
After hiking to Transfer Point 9 (near the G gates, from the D gates), the agent was surprised to see someone, and happily checked me in for the flight, and advised to me head to the Menzies Lounge (Number 41).
Of course, I thought I knew better, and made a first lounge stop at the destination Star Alliance Lounge – The Singapore airlines lounge.
Lounge Stop: Singapore Airlines SilverKirs Lounge
Two Words. Ohhhh dear. Ok, it’s a small lounge and the totally free WiFi is appechiated, but it’s a lounge that needs a bit more love to it, but not the sort of quality I’d expect of SQ at a major hub.
The business class welcome mat of course is an extra touch. The lounge is small to put it blunt – enough to deal with the SQ flight that goes each day, and that’s it. The business centre is well equipped, as the WiFi (which is separate to the KPN WiFi in the rest of the terminal was strong enough for a clean Skype call )
That and there’s Soup. We’ll talk more about soup in a minute.
Still, the coffee machine did its job well, and the treasures from the fridge were extracted too. Not the greatest of catering, and not what I’d expect from an SQ outstation – but then maybe my expectations are little high thanks to the SQ Lounge I experienced in Hong Kong…
Whilst the lounge was meant to be open until 11:00, the fight was leaving early, so it was kicking out time at 10:30. I took an early option at 10:15, thanked the lounge attendant, and headed off to my next lounge stop – the Menzies Lounge.
Lounge Stop: Menzies Lounge
The Menzies Lounge
I pootled over from the SQ lounge to the Menzies lounge to be greeted and then a concerned question if I had any bags I needed retagged. I confirmed I didn’t, and was welcomed into the lounge.
Now for a major hub, this is more like it. More space, less dingy than the SQ lounge and a better food selection. That involves soup. Now, can someone please tell me what is it with the Dutch and Soup?
It seems every time I looked, the consumption of soup was everywhere!?!
The lounge itself is appointed with reasonable seating, workstations, all divided into different zones. However, there did seem to be a distinct lack of plug sockets around. Thankfully, I found one to give both the phone and the laptop a quick zap for the TATL run ahead.
The lounge also seemed to be cleaned regularly which is good considering the amount of turnover that lounge was having.
Eventually, the clock ran down to 11:10, and it was time to hike back over to the G gates for Security and boarding
I G5, where G4 Security were doing full background checks on everyone. And of course, I got pulled aside for a 3 day trip. What normally is a 2 minute interview turned into a 15 minute questioning of where I travelled from, where I was travelling to, why, how I was returning, show me the paperwork for everything.
And then a supervisor was involved asking the same questions yet again.
Finally I was sent on my way without a “sorry for the delay sir”, and went through the mandatory nude-o-scopes they have a Schiphol, and finally, directly onto the plane where Zone 4 had boarded, and they were collecting all the stragglers.
Efficient… my… well you know what I’m thinking dear readers.
Anyhoo, I wandered up to the podium and saw a 777-200 in “New” Continited Colours (Or is it Uninetnal? I’m still working on that one). A quick beep and I was invited down the jetway
Part II – AMS-IAD with United
UA947 Amsterdam Schiphol to Washington Dulles International, 11/02/11
United Airlines, Boeing 777-200 (WW1 Configuration), 36J, Economy Class
3852 Miles flown, 3852 Status Miles Earned
Channel 9: On
Boarding the 777-200, I was welcomed by the crew, and headed down the back of the plane. Whilst on the outside it was a brand new paintjob, on the inside, it’s the classic old internior.
And if I was selfish, I kind of like this olde interior still – for one simple reason – the 2 x 5 x 2 layout. Now whilst it’s a pain if you’re in the middle seat, for the rest of us (and me who loves sitting at a window seat), it’s easier for one person to hop out and the ease of access it offers
As I had boarded whilst Group 4 was loading, it was a very slow load. In the end I cheated and snuck through the galley to my seat.
Now what hasn’t been said about this seat before? Not a lot. I do like there’s a nice gap that one can put a foot through to expand leg/footspace in the flight.
Eventually my seatmate came, and the plane begun to fill up. A few spare seats appeared, and people started grabbing them when the doors went to closed for their Ghetto Flat Beds.
At this point I double checked the IFE. The Map was working (helpful) and for a giggle, I tried Channel 9. And it was on Well that’s my IFE sorted for a bit…
Soon after the plane pushed back, and as is tradition on the 777’s, the safety video was ditched for yet another manual demo (Psst. Flight crews – if you need a copy, it’s on your Youtube feed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzA6U…eature=related
A short taxi, and we positioned for our trip into the sky
As usual, it’s a pretty reasonable climb, however, it leads my first minor moan – can someone get a cloth and wipe the windows/wash the plane every now and again please? Some of the those 777 windows are getting awful to take pictures out of…
Someone sell WHQ a cleaning cloth please…
Soon enough, crew were released for first service. Which in United land means oversalted pretzels and Coke. By this point, I was bored, and yes, that is GhettoIFE system in the corner you spy. Alas, this was done with United headphones (Which aren’t that bad) but it seems AMS as well as claiming some of my dignity had claimed yet another set of smegging Senhessier headphones!
After that, it was time to see what catering delights that Amsterdam had for us.
And this was a meal that falls into “Actually – that’s rather good for a Y class tray meal”
The salad was un-adventrous but fresh, the roll could had been handed over to the cast of “Life of Brian” for Stoning people with.
Looking at the main meal itself, the chicken was very nicely done with veggies reasonably well done. This brings me onto the cheesy thing. And Even after a week or so, I’m still working out what the hell it is. Still it was edible. Which is more than can be said of some meals.
There was even a proper cake desert – which brings me onto one of my constant United bug-bearers. It seems that outstations can happily cater meals with deserts in them. How come anything catered from a US station (be it SFO, DEN or IAD, EWR) has to involve a crappy packet cake when other stations can get it right? Considering the outstations are doing it to the same cost as the home stations, it can’t be that hard – can it?
Service was cleared down in a reasonable time frame, and by the time I used the facilities, the plane was in night mode. Which brings me onto the state of the 777. And apart from a few dirty windows, this one seemed to be in pretty good condition. Yes, the usual scratches are here and there, but it seemed mostly cosmetic stuff. In other words, one of the better ones – easier to repaint first, then refit later.
But I was tired – so I crashed out for a the next few hours. Upon waking up, I wanted to know where we were. And that’s when I found out the video screen had died. The Audio programming was alive still, but anything from Row 31 onwards seemed to be dead.
I raised the issue when the crew were doing water walk rounds, and a couple of attempts to reboot the IFE system were made to no avail. So it was back to the GhettoIFE system for a bit.
Speaking of water runs, the crew were very proactive, being out and about every hour or so.
The flight tracked over the Canadian coast, and well – I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
As we hit the 1.5 hour before landing marker, the lights came up, and the second service begun. So what delights to expect of the second service then?
It’s a sandwich of circular turkey meat, cream cheese and more cheese, with Dutch Corn snacks and a KitKat.
Whilst the sandwich was small, it was not a bad portion. The rest of the stuff was of a reasonable quality. I’d say it was pretty good, whilst not as good as the Frankfurt service you can get, it was better than some catering I’ve had.
Now most people know I’m not an arrogant little git who demands XYZ, rather I ask nicely and say “please” and “thank you”. Whilst this is common good manners to me, it seems it was in short supply on this flight from some people. So when the the flight attendant said I was “the politest person on the plane” I took that as a big compliment. And returned the compliment in kind.
Soon enough, it was cleardown time again before the hell of IAD. But before that, the Apologies Cards were being handed out by the purser, who apologised for the lack of video screens – and she was making sure everyone who was hit got one.
After vectoring in, the crew had the plane buckled up tight – which was good as we were descending it was as bumpy as heck.
After landing we docked at the far end of C Concourse, and the bong went off, releasing us to leave the plane. I thanked the crew for their service, and begun the hike over to C concourse immigration and transfer.
Overall: What a bloody excellent crew. No issues at all with the crew or the service. What I’d consider a perfect example of a GOOD United International Crew who were attentive, polite and were willing to help. The gift voucher is appreciated too which cashed out at a measly $50. It’s still better than a poke in the eye.
Now of course being at IAD means one can either take the spacebuggy to immigration, or take head to the transfer section on C Concourse. I headed to transfer.
And oh dear. 4 lanes of switchbacks in the visitors queue. At least every booth was manned. Alas, they couldn’t redirect people to the US Residents lane as that was filling up rapidly.
At my turn in the queue, I was seen to, and stamped into the country in about 3 minutes or so. Not so bad at all.
By this point, the luggage had long since been offloaded from the carousel (and as I had none, that was besides the point), so I made my way to the customs check, where I was greeted with a friendly “Welcome to the United States”
What wasn’t friendly was the 5 lane switchback for midfield security. And it was full TSA games today with handwipes, in the presecurity queue. Another 30 minutes and I made it to my lane (with people who had just flown in working out they had to take their shoes off and laptops out.
I was then directed to the Nude-O-Scope. To which I bluntly replied “I Opt Out”. Much to the facial consternation of the TSA person who was in flapjacket kit.
Another 5 minutes and I was directed through the side gate and given the full fondle, although to compliment the inspecting officer, he gave me the opportunity to have the screening in private, and he explained what he was doing. Thankfully I was cleared, and thanked for my time and understanding.
(and no, I didn’t get any flowers, chocolates or anything. Jumping to second base before going through the dating routines. I ask you…)
What was a 3:30 hour connection had been burned down to an mere 1 and a half hour. And as much as I really wanted to get to the Dulles Bus Station, I decided head to the RCC instead for 40 minutes.
Lounge stop: United Red Carpet Club C7
Why do I always end up at this Club at IAD? Ho hum. I was greeted at the podium, and after the agent had fun swiping my BMI Diamond Club card, she manually entered it to make it work. I was offered a free T-Mobile internet card as well – how very nice.
Which for 40 minutes is perfect time to have a couple of colas, look at the lack of food, and get my mail and call home.
Otherwise, look through my previous trip reports – it hasn’t changed. But it does need a change and a lick of paint like the B Gate Lounges at ORD…
Eventually, 15:30 came round and it was time to hike over to the A gates. Now crossing IAD as many of us remember used to be a matter of getting on a Space Buggy and trundling around the terminal. Well now they have this wonder Aerotrain.
Yes, it seemed EXACTLY like this
Except the C station concourse is at the site of where the “New” C/D Concourse will be built. And considering this is IAD, whole civilisations could had risen and fallen in that time. Therefore a lot of hiking is needed.
Ah, nothing like a good stretch of the legs.
Thankfully there was a train waiting, and soon enough I was in the back end of Dulles – the United Express A Gates where I had 5 minutes to wait before boarding was called. Our ERJ of the day was awaiting outside, set to rock.
UA7517 Washington Dulles International to New York La Guardia, 11/02/11
United Express Operated by Shuttle America, Embraer 170, Economy Class 14A
277 miles flown, 600 Miles Earned,
The Pictures http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…-at-night.html
Y’know, I may be seen as odd, but this is an Regional Jet that I actually like (along with most of the Embraer aeroplanes to be honest), as it feels big, roomy and the 2 x 2 seating that you’re not compressed against is a winner. It’s a shame the windows are misaligned though.
It seems everyone was at the gate on time, as the door was sealed quickly and we pushed back.
The last of a breed
Safety demo was carried out manually by the crew, and the plane begun it’s taxi… until we made a very familiar turn to the penalty boxes. Thankfully, it was 10 minute hold – and for once it was just that. Soon enough we rocketed up into the evening sun
The service was a glass of coke, but lets be honest, that’s not important right now. What is more important is what’s going on outside the window.
From the sunset
Over the East Coast Lakes
To a night time approach with Manhattan to the left
And Crossing near LGA
and finally landing
After a short hold, we taxied to the gate and an airbridge was connected, allowing people to leave the plane
Overall: Yet another excellent performance by Republic Airlines crews. The flight attendants whilst sluggish did the job they could do in a 40 minute flight. But who cares about that. Sometimes the view out of the window makes up for any flight – and this was one of those times.
Upon exiting at LGA, I followed the signs out and having no luggage – was at the kerb in 5 minutes. It was then a matter of dealing with a NYC Cabbie, who got lost and drove round in circles a couple of times until I reached my hotel on 29th and 39th – the Holiday Inn Long Island.
Part IV – The Holiday Inn Long Island and OTE: 30 Rock.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Long Island City Manhattan View
Yes, My tradition of shooting hotel pictures at night continues
Ok, why am i staying all the way out here? Because I am as cheap as hell really. Whilst I could spend hours risking my life with Priceline, I chose the easy option of a Holiday Inn near just over the river.
And what a good option it was. The hotel looked brand spanking new still.
I checked in, and was greeted as a Priority Club member, and given a bottle of water and jellybeans as a thank you for being a member.
Chaise with my junk on it
The room itself was spacious. No cubby hole here. Lots of room to swing multiple cats, with a flat screen telly to boot. Only a shower though which isn’t bad, but I do like a nice long bath.
The beauty of this place is it’s a block away from a Subway station, and you’re in Manhattan in 5 minutes, and midtown in 20.
Overall: For the rate paid, it’s a Bargain. Clean, lots of room and the bed was sleepable in. What more can I ask for? Oh points. We’ll talk about that later.
Now I had things to do various bits of shopping in New York, but I did have one little thing to do – something I meant to do on my last trip via New York. And it’s time for the One Time Exception.
Now I need a snappy script writer for these trip reports, as well as a cast of tag alongs that make it look like Saturday Night Live. But since it’s just me, I’ll head to the top.. of the rock.
One Time Exception: From the Top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Cost $22 – $2 discount ($20 Paid)
– Day Through Evening – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…o-evening.html
– Evening Through Sunset – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…o-evening.html
– Night http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…-at-night.html
30 Rockefeller Plaza is one of the observation platforms in New York. Of course, one could head to The Empire State Building, but that is so touristy… Once paying to get in, its a matter of going through a metal detector, walking around the ground floor exhibit, and then taking a multicolour lift of NBC history up to the 69th floor.
Of course, it’s a matter of going up and just looking. But as well as enclosed areas there are open air areas.
Central Park Snowed in
Empire and Downtown
Liberty in the distance
Sunset over Newark
Chrysler Building and the Pan Am Offices
And it was windy.
Overall: Observation posts are that. To observe and watch. Not just the sights, but the people. And whilst $22 is a bit steep (in comparison to the John Hancock Observatory in Chicago which sums in at $11), it’s still a good option for an evening sunset. Recommended.
Part V – LGA-IAD
Back to LGA.
This being a mileage run, my time was short, but as usual – well coordinated and used. Whilst I had missed out on some things (like the Intrepid or Ground Zero Memorial Museum), I have a strong suspicion I’ll be back to New York eventually.
The hotel got me a livery car, that drove me back to LGA for another $25. No one was at Check-in, so I was checked in quickly, and my bag checked through all the way to Frankfurt.
Whilst I had an hour to spare before boarding, a mix of the Red Carpet Club on the outside of security plus knowing my luck long security when I needed to get to my flight equalled “get through, find power and charge”.
And that’s what I did.
Security thankfully was quick and painless with no nude-o-scoping. In the meantime, I parked myself near the gate and found a plug to charge both the phone and the laptop for a bit.
Ahh. The olde Tulip.
When I returned to the gate I saw my luck hadn’t changed, and a CRJ-200 was sitting there waiting for me.
A portable vision of hell
Meanwhile, the gate agents were tagging the rollaboards and larger bags – thankfully, neither of mine were targeted.
Boarding was eventually called, and I made my way forward.
Part VI – IAD-FRA
UA6047 New York La Guardia to Washington Dulles International, 13/02/11
United Express operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Bombardier CRJ-200, Economy Class, 2A
278 miles flown 600 Status Miles Earned.
Oh heck. My favourite aircraft in the world… NOT. The CRJ unfortunately is a crammed up piece of metal with a pair of engines at the back of it that allegedly transfers people from point A to point B, in total discomfort. Which is a total downgrade from the Seat 1A I had on a ERJ-145 before the equipment swap.
At least this one isn’t operated by Mesa. Small consolation I suppose. And it showed. For starters, the usual CRJ seating of low back seats was no where to be found, and on top of that the cabin was kept in reasonable condition.
Either I’ve lost a lot of weight or this CRJ has a slightly different configuration. Then of course, I remembered who Atlantic South East flew for – and the seat designs had a distinct “Delta” feeling about them.
The plane loaded up quickly and the doors were buttoned away with a full load to IAD.
Safety demo was done manually, and after a short taxi, we took off
Now, my luck for this trip is holding still, as I had Manhattan to my left on take off, and well…
Soon enough the bongs went off, and a drinks service commenced. For this shorter run, a diet coke is enough to keep going.
And touch trolley, head back to the galley. Touch trolley, crush ice, head back to the galley. Touch trolly…
During the flight, the flight deck came on the tannoy, and announced to my joy that we were docking at C Concourse and not the Dulles bus station (to a minor whoop from me). This is very beneficial as it means I won’t miss my short connection at IAD
As the sun begun to set, the service was cleared down and we begun the short decent into Dulles with lovely colours in the sky.
Soon enough though, we had touched down and the little CRJ trundled across the airport to gate C26 where we parked up at the ramp, and released to leave via the ramp.
Overall: Not a bad little flight. The CRJ although a hateful aircraft seemed better in this configuration for some reason. I suppose when someone looks after an aircraft, it’s a good thing. And yes, that was a hint Mesa to sort your aircraft out.
A quick IAD stop
With 25 minutes till boarding for the next flight, it’s a case of “guess the gate” as some of the gate monitors can be unintelligible and few and far between at IAD. Thankfully, a quick look and the departure gate listed was D1 – a short walk back to where I had came from.
Whilst I could had slummed it over to D8 for a quick lounge stop, I had my final priority of the trip – Duty Free. Normally I don’t partake, but I have friends who I like to keep as friends
A quick stock-up, and the duty free was sent to the gate, as I was as boarding was no more than 10 minutes away.
A quick chat to the gate agents revealed that First and Business was going to be busy, but Economy was wide open – especially down the back.
All good for me – and the hope that my seat mate might get the hint
Boarding commenced on schedule, and soon enough mere Star Golds were allowed to board
UA952 Washington Dulles International to Frankfurt-am-Main International 13/02/11
United Airlines, Boeing 767-300ER, Economy Class, 36J
4,081 miles flown 4070 Status Miles Earned.
Channel 9: On
I made my way aboard greeting the crew, and directed to my home down the back. As one of the first economy class victims aboard, I had a choice of overhead bins, and dumped my crap appropriately.
However as we were settling, the power went out on the plane. It came back up quickly, and I had a flight attendant in stitches when I stated “So the pilot forgot to feed another $5 in the meter?”
My seat mate came soon enough, and we both noticed that there was going to be acres of space on the flight, so he pro-actively found another isle seat, giving me the pair of seats across the pond.
From those two points, I could tell this was going to be a good flight.
The rest of the plane loaded quickly, and then my favourite version of the United Safety Video came on – the Boeing 767-300ER one. (and I’m NOT referring to the great God Jeff not blinking throughout his introduction) as we pushed back.
Call me sad, or I’ve been overexposed to this video as I fly in UA’s 767-300ER fleet WAY too much, but I’ve always loved the way the introduction has always been delivered in this video in comparison to some. That and I can recite the first part of the video nowdays without prompting….
The crew made sure the aircraft was buttoned up as the captain was being a bit fast around Dulles – to the point we lined up and did a rolling takeoff
The 767 took off with its usual grace, and we were up into the night sky, crossing over Baltimore, and then upwards for the long trek to Frankfurt
Whilst the crew were getting ready for the first service, I saw that the IFE had nothing on, so I decided to load up something that’s from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away….
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away when customer service was different…
The crew were released for first service quickly.
C’mon. You should all know United’s First service by now
Which then followed into the catering delights that Dulles can cook up. And for Dulles, this wasn’t THAT bad, given it was a choice of beef or pasta. And I took the beef.
The beef wasn’t tough, and edible, the vegetables were of a reasonable consistency. Even the caterers are getting creative adding carrot to the salad. The only minor let-down (as to be expected when catered from a US Station) is the desert. But I’ve ranted about that already.
Cleanup was quick, and soon enough the cabin descended into darkness as we begun the long slog across the pond.
Nighttime in the cabin
I woke up over Ireland, with about 2 hours to go in flight with breakfast being served over the English countryside, with the lights coming on.
It’s England. Trust me on this.
Of course, this is a UA breakfast, and its the usual pastry with a pot of bacterial fermentation of milk. What were we saying about breakfast being an afterthought… this sums it up.
Soon enough, the sun had risen, and we were beginning our decent over Northern Europe, and tracking close to Frankfurt.
A few turns and after we decended, our plane’s wheels planted firmly on the runway at Frankfurt am Main.
And after waiting for a few aircraft to take off, the aircraft taxied like a nut to the A gates, where an airbridge was connected and we were allowed to disembark.
The crew were still smiling and talking to passengers. I thanked the crew for their good and friendly service and disembarked.
Overall: This is the United I remember – good and friendly service, delivered no matter what. It quite frankly puts it’s Continental cousins to shame after the last trip. I’d go as far as to say the crew wanted to be on this trip, and actually wanted to fly dread the thought. Excellent work – and a reminder why I pay the high fares when I have other options.
Part VII – FRA and FRA-LCY with BA.
Guten Morgen Frankfurt!
After leaving the gate, I was thrust into the joy of Frankfurt A gates, and after a quick comfort break, I found a short queue at passport control. After being welcomed with typical German inefficiency that is the the Bundespolizei, I descended to the A baggage reclaim, where my bag had just come off the belt, and then entered Germany.
After navigating that was the joy of luggage claim, I begun the hunt for the Skytrain that would connect me to T2. A bit of hunting and I found it, and was shortly transferred to the non Star Alliance side of Frankfurt airport.
The joy of automated trains…
After hunting for the BA check in desk, I double checked, and found I’d have to repack my duty free even though it was in a tamperproof bag.
So this is when the bag packed out, taking the little rucksack to 10kg of cargo. After repacking, I presented in for the LCY flight, and had my boarding pass issued. It was then a matter of exiting Germany again, and waiting for a bit until I was ready to go through security. As the D/E gates of Frankfurt have an odd setup – with document check first, then duty free, THEN security.
Mad I tell you!
After a while and after sorting things out, I went through security, and of course, beeped, and then my camera and other stuff wanded for security.
I was let go, and found a window, and watched planes for a bit until our plane was called.
Two busloads of passengers were sent – I managed to grab the first bus. After driving round for 10 minutes, our bus reached the little Embraer 170 at the back of Frankfurt airport. I went for the back entrance.
BA8733 Frankfurt-am-Main International to London City Airport
British Airways CityFlyer, Embraer 170, Seat 14D EuroTraveller
447 miles flown, 125 Qantas FF miles earned, 10 Status Points Earned
I was greeted aboard, and found my seat of 14D. After popping the rucksack down and the ragbag down, the plane begun to slowly fill up. Except no one was intrested in sitting next to me.
The plane was secured and the safety briefing done. And then begun the taxi. And at this point, I’ll freely admit I fell asleep right until the plane lined up on the runway
Like in all these ERJ’s it was a quick take off and quick climb into the skies.
So lets look around – well it’s an ERJ-170. So misaligned windows are the order of the day. Seat pitch is 31″, and a tightish one at that -but no worse that Shuttle America’s ERJ-170.
The cabin itself was nice and fresh, and well looked after.
The cabin crew were soon released with a basket snack service. Don’t get too excited kids – it was a choice of crisps, a biscuit or a graniola bar.
Crisps and Biscuits.
Well – it’s the thought that counts I suppose.
After the snacks had been distributed, it was time for drinks, and I opted for a Diet Coke to tide me home.
It wants to be a full can of Diet Coke when it grows up…
Now, I know BA is trying help me watch my waistline, but please – can we quit with the fun sized cans of coke please and introduce cans of Coke that have grown up?
Service was cleared down near France, and we begun a track over the channel, before lining up for City Airport, making landfall over Thanett and it’s wind farm, and slowly tracking down until the fast landing at City Airport.
England’s Green and Pleasant Land
The plane taxied around city, and parked up at City. Again, I exited from the back of the plane and thanked the cabin attendant
I’ve got to admit, I still love the Chatham Dockyard Tail
Overall: A short trip, with good friendly service and few more nibbles – for less than other carriers would take me that day. Why choose anyone else? BA was a good selection in this case, and the novelty of going into City Airport makes it just as fun.
After exiting the plane, it was a short walk to the UK border where I was welcomed. Soon after the baggage arrived.
And oh dear. The packing tape fairy’s had been at it. BIG TIME.
Vielen Dank Flughaven Frankfurt.
I asked for some assistance, but the ground team couldn’t be bothered to file a luggage report even.
I tested the straps, and they seemed stable. The trick would be getting from one side of London to the other, and then the train home…
Thankfully, there was a DLR which was leaving in a few moments after arrival, and I boared that to Canning town, then the Jubellie Line from Canning Town, across the city, and up to Baker Street, and then a change to the Bakerloo line up over to Marylebone.
No bag split yet. Beeped my way out of the tube station. No split yet.
I reached the concourse, saw a train was going in 7 minutes, and rushed to the ticket machine to pick up a ticket. No split.
A race through the gates, and onto the top of the train as it was terminating at Moor Street. No split.
Chiltern Railways London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street.
£19.50 Super Off Peak Return
It’s the usual. Fast to Bicester North, then stopping to Moor Street. As usual, Chiltern did an excellent job of getting me to Birmingham. Alas I had a reminder of valentines day on the train with the amounts of red ballons and red paraphernalia on the train.
Considering it’s only 30 minutes slower than the Virgin service, and it’s £19.50 to go to Birmingham after 11am, it’s a bargain of a ticket.
Upon reaching Moor Street, it was through the barriers, and through the Bull Ring Centre, to find a taxi, and finally, home to my flat front door.
In closing up….
The surprise of the whole thing is still United. And how it’s improved, and how crews still seem to be excellent, both their mainline international crews and their regional affiliates. All conducted themselves with excellent service and good conduct.
It’s how I remember the best of United, and I hope that this propagates through Continental Airlines as the company merges. Because those sloth’s at Houston firmly need a kick if they’re going to pull this service over customers eyes.
BMI Baby… was a LCC experience. It did the job. Not ideal, but then when faced with an option to pay £310 or £33… it becomes a very simple option. The plane was clean and the staff were friendly. Not much more you can ask for on a short hop.
British Airways CityFlyer was a lovely surprise, and for £60, an excellent value product back and forth to Europe. And it was lovely to board a British carrier to take me home. I’d say the product is well rounded, delivered, and suitable for the time of day they were carrying people.
The Holiday Inn was rewarding – in more ways than one. Apart from a very fresh hotel, the slug of 14k of points was very very very very welcome (and another part of “Crack the Case” gone!)
And I’m still annoyed as hell about the bag, and awaiting a telephone call from British Airways about repairs and replacement…
But wait – there’s more! What about the photo? Well Read on (and it’s optional reading)
And there’s more – Creating the picture
You really didn’t think you’d escape this bit did you?
For those who do lots of digital photography will recognise this as a “workflow”. I’m using a much simpler workflow than normal – as I have a life
So after, capturing the images with my Canon 50D, they are copied into Lightroom for Group Analysis (I could use Apple’s Apeture for this, but I’ve never been happy with the performance of it).
After spending a few hours with the contact sheets, I’ve got the image I want to work with. When I select an image, it’s normally one that I’ll commit to so I can get a bit of quality from it
First up, we need to straighten the image and clear any abnormalities, colour contrasts and other junk before doing much more.
I’ve boosted the contrast in the image as I really want some of this stand out well in black and white.
Finally, I apply a bit of noise reduction to make the image look “smoother”
Brilliant. We’ll export this as an uncompressed TIF for working purposes, and now head over to GIMP for the next part of the process (I’m very old fashioned, and I tend to work with uncompressed images so there is no degradation of the image like JPG suffers – in fact, I won’t create a JEPG until the image is ready to ship).
Next I’ll take a copied layer, hide the working layer, and desaturate the main image so it goes into black and white.
We’ll create two layers in this – one containing the sharp yellows of the cab, one for the black and white for the background
Now I’m after more of a landscape sort of image, so lets trim, save, and merge the layers together.
And because this is going on the interwebs too, I’ve added a little border around it and a copyright marker
Image (c) Kevin Marshall 2011, All Rights Reserved,
Electronic reproduction permitted for personal use only
Any other use requires negotiation and licensing where appropriate.
For those who want a copy, feel free and click here for a high res copy, but please note, I’m exercising my copyright on them. So in other words, if I find this in a household store on my next visit to the shops, I’ll be… unamused
And the final Canvas, now the pride of the flat – and the reward of a mileage run.
Well, that’s me for another couple of months. However, it’ll be soon time to head back to Sweet Home Chicago as I put Air Canada under the spotlight (Yes, it’s entirely your fault Continental) in North America with Polite Canadians? Chicago X with Air Canada
Until then, I wish you safe travels, unharrased by groping officers, Group 4 Security Staff who won’t question your mileage runs and Frankfurt Security who want to rip apart your bags.
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