A Smooch of Chicago and a Kiss of DC – LHR-ORD-IAD-LHR with United
Yes, it’s October. That means it’s time to decamp back to my favourite city to visit in the world – Chicago. And yes, that means I write lots about the usual things. So yes, settle dow for a mix of the the usual ramblings, iPhones in Sickbags, paint falling off planes, and general geeking. And if you thought this was any class other than Economy… you’d be wrong.
I’d like to offer a special welcome to my new BoardingArea.com readers too – this probably isn’t the sort of trip report you’ll see on here, but a dose of realism is always good. So sit back, grab a coffee, and enjoy!
Money Money Money.. Must be funny… In a rich mans world (The Introduction)
Airfares fill me with constant wonder. Normally the wonder is replaced with madness very quickly. Locking down a “cheap” fare to Chicago was proving difficult, with the shock of the >£550 for an “Economy” return to Chicago in October at one point
I’m sorry, even by my standards for a 8000 mile or less hop, that is close enough to extortion. As redemption seats were again non existent, I sighed and left the ticket engines for a couple of day.
Thankfully the madness abated slightly and the airfare dropped to £475 for a return ticket.
Pardon me, but £475 on a TATL hop in October is bordering on expensive. I suppose there’s a part of me who thinks anything more than £500 for a ticket is pushing their luck to put it blunt.
On top of this, things at home are… busy. The life of being an evil person (sometimes known as a Systems Administrator), mean the trips have been shorter each time, and this trip is no exception sadly What as going to be a nice relaxing 6 day trip was shrunk to 5 – leaving less time in Chicago. Unhappy, but life goes on.
Of course I tried to have a little fun with the trip, and as it’s a short trip (in fact, I haven’t done over a 6 day trip this year) so I priced in a trip via IAD with a 12 hour stopover on the way home, and the early flight on the way out. And this seems to be too much for United.bomb, which bomb out time after time putting in a long break in journey.
Thankfully, Continental.com priced it, and ticketed it without a second though. Hey kids, nothing like organised booking system that works.
As I’m at a conference for 3 of the 4 days, I decided to stick with what I know best, and book the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. Whilst not the cheapest property on the planet, you try heading back and forth at 2am in the morning after doing conference things. Only heading upstairs to bed is not a bad thing! However, I’m honestly not in the mood to pay a lot this time – and a bit of prodding indicated I had enough points for a 4 night stay.
With the changes that have happened at the base level of GoldPassport – good enough as Asia is off for a while – and I seem to have an abundance of ICHG points at the moment without a hope in hell of re-qualifying for Hyatt Platinum – let alone Diamond, so the hammer was put on that for the 4 nights.
So, a comparatively simple trip:
Map by the Great Circle Mapper – http://www.gcmap.com
So off we go!
Part I, To London, and Lounging around LHR
2am starts are never fun. Alas when you need to catch the first bird of the day to Chicago, it’s not a nicety – it’s a requirement.
Regulars will note the Salomon Bag back in service after the TSA destruction last time. There are of course, very good reasons why I’m using it – mainly because 1) I fixed the zip and 2) the replacement bag just didn’t fit the stuff I wanted to take with me. Hopefully it will last the trip. We’ll find out soon enough…
By 2:30, the cab had dropped me off at the wrong side of Digbeth Coach Station, and a walk round to the other side showed that was open.
Strangely, National Express has twigged that people like to travel, but also communicate, and throw in an hour of free Internet Access. Which if you’ve been stuck on a broken down coach would had bee a blessing. Which was useful for a final bit of blogging before getting on the coach.
Shortly after I dropped my post to the blog, boarding was called, and it was time to board.
National Express Bus 210 Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station to London Heathrow Central Bus Station
Price paid £49.40 Return
However the 2:45 was on time, and boarded early, with a pittance of people aboard… and they have the bare faced cheek to charge £50 for this… I swear it was something like 15 people if that boarded the bus.
Doors closed a minute early. Time for the off!
After pulling out, the coach made it’s way to Birmingham Airport, and after where the driver got thoroughly confused as there were roadworks on the slipway to the M42.
Now traffic jams in Birmingham City Centre aren’t uncommon any time of day are not that uncommon. Traffic Jams in Solihull are rarer (normally if there’s a sale in John Lewis… that’s enough to get a Solihull resident out of bed), but it seems that the local roads in Solihull couldn’t take the extra load at 3am in the morning of diverted traffic, and that took 30 minutes or so to clear.
This is precious lounge time we’re wasting here kids!
Eventually the bus cleared the traffic jam, and then it was a matter of hitting the M42 and M40 to our next stop – Banbury… where we picked up a grand total of ZERO passengers.
So that’s why I’m being diddled 50 notes – to fund the actual service today.
After brief stop, the coach rejoined the M42, then the M25 and finally the M4, down to the Heathrow Approach road.
Being a “through” service to Gatwick, we parked of course at the back of beyond at Heathrow Central Bus Station. Still it gave me time for some cold Heathrow air before being cooped up for the next few hours.
After hauling the stuff away from the coach, I loaded up a trolley, and headed to the lift, to begin the great push.
London Heathrow T1 Adventures.
And thus the great push to T1 begun, going through the underground maze that is below the Heathrow Central Area. Quickly enough, I made it into Zone C of Terminal 1, and headed to the *G/1K/Elite line (of which – there was no line). After a brief interrogation by ITCS, i was allowed to proceed to check in. the agent as usual didn’t bother to weigh my bags, and told me that I’d had to be escorted to overside check-in (apparently people had been getting lost getting to Zone Y – which I find completely unbelievable….).
After confirming my seat and the loads for the flight (and more importantly, confirming the seat next to me was empty!), I was escorted to Zone Y, where I dumped my bags, and then headed to main security.
It seems even at this time of day, it was amateur hour with people not knowing the top end of from a security baggie from another.
I of course just breezed through, and proceeded to Boarding Pass Check, then onto Security. Whilst it was busy, it wasn’t heaving.
Put it like this, from the queue I joined to being on the other side was a grand total of 5 minutes. As most of us who fly (semi) regularly know “Be Prepared”. Know what they want, do it and then get the hell out of there ASAP.
I took a left after security to the first lounge stop of the morning – The BMI Diamond Club Great British Lounge
British Midland International’s “The Great British Lounge”.
I was welcomed to the lounge, and asked if I needed a tour. I politely declined the tour and headed to my usual haunt in the lounge – “The Local”
The lounge hasn’t changed an iota from my last visit (and I remember the GBL being a very nice lounge). A new addition was the offer of hot food from the BMI Aga – the offering was Porridge. Whilst not my personal taste, it’s nice to see warm breakfast offerings.
With the state BMI is in – it’ll probably the last time I see it in it’s current ownership hands and I wish I could be down south more to support BMI. Alas, my reasons for not flying BMI as much as I would like to are pretty much on record (an ever shrinking network and bad timings). I just wish all the BMI staff the best of luck for the future because if anyone is going to get screwed by the change of ownership BMI is suffering – it will be them.
And since BMI is being sold to BA, can we put these in the bin please?
Exiting the lounge, it was time to walk down to through T1
T1 – Sleep Inducing
Next stop (and to be closer to the jetbridge) would be a lounge stop at the Star Alliance Common Lounge.
Star Alliance Common Lounge
Where as the GBL is a beacon on light, the *A lounge… isn’t. It is actually a darkly mood light multiple room. And whilst it may be dark, the food offerings are slightly better. However cutbacks seem to be hitting this lounge, with bacon and sausages still there… and if you hunted around for them – rolls too. No more pre-made rolls for you.
Bacon and Sausages
Good thing I can make bacon and sausage rolls then.
After beating the laptop around, I got the Wifi to work and did what I wanted to do for BoardingArea (what? You didn’t realise I had a blog there? Shame on you! Over to GhettoIFE.com at BoardingArea after you’re finished here! By that point the rolls were consumed, and it was getting on for 7am, which means time to pack everything away again and head over to the gate.
If there is one thing you can be assured of at Heathrow T1, it’s the guarantee of a good hike from the central waiting area to the UA gates which today was at the far end of the Europier Extension – Gate 47A.
Again, ICTS were there asking questions, picking people at random to be screened further. I was waived through, where boarding was almost ready to begin. And then I looked closely at the paintwork of the 747-400. OOOOH DEAR.
FAO: Jeff Smisek – Pssst. This isn’t a change I like – A very poor first impression… and they do count sadly for people like me.
Eventually after 1K’s First and Business was boarded, it was time for us mere Star Golds to board. I was beeped aboard, and told to use the right land left bridge (Heathrow – using TWO jetbridges? Am I at the right airport????)
UA929 (Booked as CO4234/CO929) London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare International
United Airlines, Boeing 747-400, Seat 48K, “Premium Configuration”, Economy Class
3953 Miles flown, 3952 Miles earned
Channel 9: Off
I was sort of welcomed aboard (sadly, I had to make the first welcome, and was directed to my seat down the back in row 48 (and give up with this new Economy row numbering UA – it’s getting on my nerves already), and made myself comfortable for this flight in what I’m trademarking a GhettoPlane (we all know what GhettoIFE is, the concept of a GhettoFlatBed – row of seats to yourself).
And United 747-400’s in Economy – are Ghetto Birds. Whilst up the front they have been “Premiumised” with the excellent United C/F hard products, down the back Economy got… well lets see
- New carpet
- put new seat covers on the seats
- Got shot of the old 3 colour projector for some flat screens.
And United. All I’m going to say to that is BIG WHOOP. The word I’m looking for here PATHETIC. Economy Plus is hardly worth upgrading on this bird (despite the agents claim you get 5 extra inches, it’s more like 2 on the 747-400’s) and the lack of AVOD installed in this bird in Y is beyond inexcusable. If British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific can install AVOD in their 747-400’s (and worth them like dogs too), there’s really no excuse to install a passenger amenity like that in United’s 747-400s.
Down in back!
Seating for the next 8 hours or so
As we boarded late, we pushed back a bit late, and this was the first time I’ve seen Jeff walking around with a gaggle of photogenic United workers promoting the new Mileage Plus and new MilegePlus Card (a subject I touched on in my Blog. US Chase applicants can get up to 40k on a successful app. UK MBNA Mileage Plus cards get… 1 mile per £1. No bonus. Rather pathetic really.), followed by the refreshed safety video (New “Continited Globe logos, with the old video spliced in).
After that, it was a short taxi to the runway, holding short to let another aircraft take off first, then it was our turn for the 747-400 for it’s 4 P&W Engines to roar into life, propelling us down the runway, and up into the air. Being a 27R take off, it was past Windsor Castle, and over Wales, Over Ireland, up to the tip of Greenland, and down over Goose Bay, over the wild expanses of Canada and finally over to Chicago.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs4dZX4D23E – Take off video
Climbing and turning
Of course the twit infront of me decided to recline his seat after a few hundred feet in air. Whilst I respect his privilege to recline his seat, not when we’re in initial climb please incase we have to land in an emergency and I have fight to get off the plane because of your stupidity please…
And at this point, I had minimal sleep the night before thanks to going out for a coffee with a friend (and Jenny, if you’re reading, I was quite happy to wait another hour to make sure you were ok… call it the old woman in me) I zonked out over the Irish sea, only waking up after we had crossed Ireland to see breakfast had been served. Thankfully, the flight attendant noticed, and imminently offered me a choice of Scrambled Eggs or Waffles.
Knowing how ANY LHR caterer can louse up an Economy breakfast, I took the scrambled eggs. Or lets put it like this – the flight attendant “suggested” the scrambled eggs.
It almost was edible at this angle
And a beverage….
And whilst the quantities were smaller than I remember, it was a hearty fill.
The eggs were reconstituted I think, whilst the non offensive sausage was indeed non offensive – and cooked well. The bread was this wonderful two types of bread in one that United enjoys giving out on these LHR trips (although it was soft – I’ll grant it that). Meanwhile the orange juice was wet, and the fruit salad… was a bit brown. Been out oxygenating itself for a bit I’d wager. Still comparatively fresh though.
Service was relatively quick, and clear-down was done quickly.
Now we’re aboard an United Boeing 747-400. Which means if you’re in Economy or Economy Plus, you’ve got a big screen for entertainment. And United’s choices of movies really don’t float my boat – at all.
And not viewable at this angle really
Thankfully as most of you are sadly aware, I have the perfect solution.
Oh yes. It’s my beloved GhettoIFE System on a GhettoPlane!
Featuring today Star Trek
For those of you who DON’T what a GhettoIFE system is, head here, or accept this explanation – the idea of putting a SmartPhone in a sick bag, mounting it on the back of the table and using it as an entertainment device that you’ve loaded all the content on. Rather simple really. I prefer Apple’s iPhone4 product (not a 4S – my contract date is still some months away), but I’m sure they’re compatible with any smartphone with a large screen.
Alas, I wasn’t that awake to be blunt, so I closed my eyes and had a flitful sleep, waking up with the coast of Greenland tracking past.
Looking at the plane, it seems the refurb has cleaned the plane a fair bit – considering the state of one of the UA747-400’s I flew a couple of years ago, with bits of the inside held together with speedtape, and the bird looked in good condition (apart from the flaking paint on the nosecone).
From what i could tell, this was a pretty senior crew aboard today – and in some cases, it showed, with some flight attendants really going through the motions – an example was the male flight attended in the pink tie who was doing the mid-flight snack service who wasn’t talking much, and just going through the motions. On the other hand, there were others who who actively engaging with the passengers. And then there are the bunch who hogged the exit row seats during the flight using it as a discussion area.
We tracked over Canada, and about an hour and a half before landing, it was time to see what other delights were coming from Heathrow catering. And it seems to be return of the seeded by with questionable innards.
Meat – Circular
The Bun was 1) small and 2) contained cream cheese, turkey in disc shapes and cheese. It wasn’t that bad, but a bit of creativity might be better sometimes here. This was served with a pack of KP crisps (cheap – we all know that Walkers Crisps are the gold standard) and a Two-Fingered Twix. Oh. And the only United napkin I’ve seen which contains no advertising apart from the logo.
Yes. I was in shock too.
Well it was better than nothing I suppose.
Eventually, a drinks round followed, and I was still in the mood for IFE.
And apparently. The Bird is indeed the Word.
Soon it was time to begin descent from the lovely blue skies of up above, and down to the murk that laid in wait of a wet Chicago morning.
Arriving in Chicago near the International terminal, it was a relatively quick taxi to the terminal where upon we docked.
Of course, the entire plane got up, and was rooting around for their luggage. Earlier, I semi-cheated, and brought all my luggage down. Call it planning.
As usual I said thank you to the crew as they were departing, except one of the crew was busy doing their makeup and not paying a blind bit of attention to what was going on around them. Sigh.
Eventually, I made my way to 2L, and made my way out of the queen of the skies.
Overall: I’ve had better flights with United. I’ve had worse. Very much down the middle the flight was, with middling crew and a GhettoPlane. Nothing special at all, and it seemed a lot of the crew were going though the motions – a shame really.
Now I hear improvements are on the way, and if United are running these birds to far and flung places, they must improve the hard product on these birds in all classes. The joke that is E+ in a 747, and the lack of any meaningful IFE must force an improvement in the hard product in all classes – not just First and Business.
After getting off the plane,, I knew it was a matter of rushing past all the slowcoaches to get through the queue quickly, and not be at the back of the immigration queue. And seeing that it was at area A as opposed to area B, I power-walked through and got to the 3rd switchback of the queue. Which if you’re in the visitors queue for the USA in a 10 minute wait as opposed to an hour in the 5 switchback in the queue.
I was seen to, and greeted in a friendly manner. My purposes was asked, and I made the mistake of calling the Sears Tower the Wills Tower. Ah. How to make a customs agent laugh and be friendly.
I was stamped in, and welcomed to United States of America. It was the a case of waiting for the luggage carousels to spit into life, with the rucksack arriving quickly, and the ski bag taking it’s time through oversized luggage.
All luggage assembled, I made my way to the customs point, where I was invited into the United States.
Quick, simple, and all done in about 30 minutes. Now that’s one hell of an improvement and the sort of times we need to have people.
After settling in, I made my calls home, and then headed out to a grey Chicago day and off to the Taxi rank. Being relatively early it was a short wait for a cab, but amazingly, the taxi driver didn’t seem to get lost going to the hotel – The Hyatt Regency O’Hare.
Part III – Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare… And a Pizza One-Time Exception
Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Chicago
Price paid: 32,000 points + $40 for Internet Access.
Ok, I know – not the most effective use of points when there are nicer Hyatt properties around. The fact is I need to 1) conserve some costs after the costs of this journey 2) as my plans for Asia are pretty much on ice for a long time it’s not worth hanging on to them and 3) I’ve got enough ICHG points for that sort of trip, I might as well blow some points.After arriving at the hotel I was greeted with “Are you at the right Hyatt” as opposed to “Welcome to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare”.Uhoh.
Well you can guess which room
Still the bellman and door staff got me a King Room for 4 days without a question. Speaking of the rooms… I felt the Double-Double’s had a lot more room in them as opposed to the Kings which did feel a might pokey. Also – they don’t have a balcony to them. Which if you’re 1) a smoker (I’m not) or 2) watch to watch planes land (I did), the glass makes watching them… annoying.
Good use of space
Whilst I was there, I did have trouble with my room keys, with one of the keys de-magnatising. As I was helping out downstairs with a set-up of an event, I left everything upstairs, so security had to let me in to my room. Which was a 30 minute wait. Not overly impressive with what seems one member of staff working the security detail.
The rest of the stay was as usual – staff being helpful, bed made up well each day… but the toiletries only replenished evey other day.
Overall: It’s the little things in life that are important. And it seems that this Hyatt property is forgetting about these little things – the polish if you will to a great product. And whilst the basic stay was very acceptable, a bit more polish there, a few more people on security here, and a warmer welcome wouldn’t had gone amiss.
Now whilst my time in Chicago was extremely limited (a Five day trip when 3 of them are spent at a conference leaves little time for anything), originally there was going to be no one time exception, Well I changed my mind after the conference when I was invited out to dinner….and this is worthy of a fight if you’re a Chicago resident…
One Time Exception – Giordano’s Pizzeria.
Price Paid ~ $70 for 5 people (no alcohol)
Now I’ll freely admit I’m going to start a war when it comes to “Which Deep Dish Pizza is the best in Chicago”. And I’m ducking out of this argument for one simple reason – I didn’t pay… and was with my friends
The order was for a couple of Pizza’s (One New York Style, One Chicago Style, salad and a few cups of soup) and some drinks.
And it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. And I was back in shock when I saw it.
And yes, for some people there were normal pizza too.
It was lovely. End of discussion. Deep, Cheese, well stuffed… the works. And when the bill is that cheap for a great dinner (with plenty of leftovers), it was also breakfast on flight day. Which is nice.
Overall: People can argue that it isn’t real Pizza. And I don’t honestly care. Go, Eat and Enjoy! 😉
Right. Back to the flying malarkey.
So Monday turned around I checked out and paid the internet fees, and it time to queue up for the shuttle bus, once again it was on the shuttle bus (which was without chaos thanks to a husband boarding a bus, and the girlfriend not, and then… oh domestics). Finally, we made our way to O’Hare with the shuttle bus dropping off at premier access.
Convenient as I needed to be there.
I checked in with the machine, and saw nothing in E+ that looked valugely interesting. I therefore stuck with 40A for the evening flight, and kept the domestic leg the same.
However, it seems my luggage tags didn’t come out. A bit of tapping, and two tags spatted out, with the agent saying I needed to pay for the excess weight (except if I was a Star Gold).
BMI Gold (Or Lufthansa Senator) = Star Gold.
Sometimes I love to be right.
I looked at both security lines – and it was 7:40AM at O”hare on a Monday. So I headed to the non premier lines and went through.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly relaxed over security in the UK or Europe even. The only place in the world I really get het up about the entire process is the USA. Or more precisely, O’Hare (knowing the oncoming damage that can occur). Of course the TDC got her magic light that proves nothing out, and then I went to to the machine where no one knew how to follow protocol, nor seemed to be organised. And then I saw at practically at every queue they have a backscatter machine.
Things the TSA might or might do
The Eric Cartman officer on duty was filtering people one way or another – and thankfully I was filtered through the scanner arch as opposed to the backscatter machine. My luggage scanned, I was able to grab my stuff in trays, move it to the shoe area, reassemble it, and take a picture that all of us need to remember as this is the only way the idiots in the TSA will EVER learn.
Looking at the clock, I knew I had bugger all time for the lounge, so I headed down the mind control tunnel between B and C Concourses and straight over to C11 for the flight.
Down the mind control tunnel
Heading down C Concourse
Thankfully, I made it to the gate where the call had gone out. Waiting for the 1K’s to board, Star Golds and Premiers Execs were called. Time to get on-board this chariot of the day
UA382 Chicago O’Hare International – Washington Dulles International
United Airlines, Boeing 757-200, Seat 40A, Economy Class
588 Miles flown, 600 Miles earned
Channel 9: On – but very quiet….
I think we can all agree that the 757 can be a very nice plane no matter how airlines try and abuse it. This United 757 whilst not in tip top condition, was looked after at least.
Making my way to the back, there was a lot of people pre-boarded already, and the gate area had was packed solid – indicating a full flight. In fact, looking around I could count one seat free during the flight
As I went through my pre takeoff sequence (passport in pocket, credit card wallet in coat, keys where I can find them after the “Korean Incident”, count rows backwards then forwards), I reached under the seat.. and found no life jacket. Slightly worried, I pulled out the safety card, and found this was a non-over water bird, and one was meant to hug the pillow if you landed in the drink – and survived the process. This is why kids it’s always an excellent idea to read the safety card.
A bit late, we pushed back and the safety video with Jeff and his darling pretty things walking around O’Hare played. Well sort of. As the tape machine broke down a few times. This happened still as we were taxing around O’Hare. By the time the plane taxied to the International Terminal, the video had finally played completely, and the cabin secured for take-off.
The one thing about 757’s is that no matter what engines you slap on those birds, it always feels like a rocket when they take off – this 757 was no different.
As we turned out of the O’Hare vicinity I saw the Loop and Downtown Chicago from my side of the plane. Was I going to strike gold once – or was the plane going to to turn a different direction?
I struck Gold.
And you know what that was the highlight of the flight.
Drinks service was slow as anything, but a Coffee and a Diet Cola was delivered to me (I’m easy to keep amused on a flight) and I just sat back and watched the world go by.
The crew again weren’t in an over communicative mood, rather just doing the service and scurrying back to the galley, but wandered out a few times for clear-down duties.
Through a side
Soon enough, it started bumping, and it was time to land, and the cabin was secured down as the plane made it’s way onto 19C at Washington Dulles
A short drive around IAD to the D Gates, and the plane docked at D8, completing it’s mission. Again, it was the mass escape from the plane, and I grabbed my stuff, and took my leave out of 2L again.
Overall: Nothing much to report really. Just your bog standard 1 hour 30 minute domestic hop. The tour over Chicago and Lake Michigan was appreciated, but the service was.. unnoticeable.
Now I’m at Washington Dulles International with a 12 hour connection… what can one do. I could 1) sit in a lounge and bore myself silly or 2) head lovely aerospace museum just down the road.
Which do you think I did?
Cost $0 (Donations Welcome) + $1.00 Transit (50cents there – 50 cents back!)The Udvar Hazy (named after Steven F Udvar Hazy – a quite important person industry wide and it’s very likely you’ve flown on one of if is his planes as both International Lease Finance Corporation ILFC and Air Lease International have his fingerprints all over it in terms of leased planes) is a big complex near Washington Dulles Airport, and you have to go round the beltway to get to it. Thankfully, if you’re on Shuttle Bus, it’s 50cents each way to let someone else do all the dirty work It holds over 163 aircraft and 154 large space bits and bobs. Which is nice and if you want to just walk around and explore. With free tours around the site too, it’s an interesting day out.There’s a few important items in there….
The SR-71 that featured in Transformers.
An Air France Concorde
Pan Am Boeing 307
The forerunner of most modern Boeings – The Boeing 367-80
and finally for now – Enterprise
strong>Part VI – United Clubs, IAD-LHR and Home.
Me? I popped a $5 bill It is still without doubt and if you’re in the area the best day out in DC if you like planes :p
Taking the shuttle bus to Dulles was a quiet affair, only delayed slightly due to the traffic on the beltway. Soon enough, I was dumped back at Arrivals, and took advantage of the Dulles Diamond Lane. Which turned into a joke. Thankfully, I negated any backscatter scanner and was through in a few minutes, and took the train back to C Concourse. It was then a case of getting the Duty Free I wanted, picking up a few gifts at the “America!” shoppie, and then decamping to a lounge – and since the plane was going from C3, it made sense to head to the wood panelled hell known as The C7 United Club.
The C7 United Club (ex Red Carpet Lounge)
I won’t talk about this lounge much, for the very simple reason I’ve talked about it time and again. I was welcomed and beeped in, and WiFi card offered… alas, the WiFi within the lounge had given up for most of the evening, so I was attempting to hook onto the WiFi in the terminal with not much success. Still it gave me time to dump the photos from museum trip (so what if I shot 40GB worth… oops), and teach the bar staff how to make Vodka and colas in very large glasses… 😉
As a lounge, and like all olde RCC’s, the range of snacks is of course abysmal, and the nibbles weren’t much better either. Still it was quieter than hanging around the terminal area.
Boarding begun late, and a call was made from the lounge to board which was appreciated.
Heading out of the lounge, both the Frankfurt and the London flights were loading at the same time from nearby gates – so you can guess the absolute confusion going on near C3 and C4. Elite boarding of the flight I was on began, and the Elite queue seemed to go on forever. Eventually Star Gold and Premiers were called, and I took my leave of Washington Dulles, picking up my duty free, and headed down the jetbridge.
UA924 (Booked as CO4229/CO924)
United Airlines, Boeing 777-200ER, Old Configuration, Seat 48A, Economy Class
3667 Miles flown 3667 Miles Earned
It fills up. Trust me
Time to go…
Now whilst the new configuration of the UA 777-200’s is nice and shiny, there is one thing I like about the old configuration if you’re a passenger stuck in the back of the plane – the 2-5-2 seating configuration. Yes, it’s a royal pain if you’re in middle of the middle block, but if you’re on the window, it’s a one person hop out of the seat. This appeals to me being “brought up” on A330’s and their 2 x 4 x 2 layout.
Getting to the seat first, I stowed what I needed, got everything else out required (which for a night flight – not a lot), only to discover my headphones had wandered off on an adventure of their own… again.
Saying that, the PTV in-front of me wasn’t exactly behaving either. Sometimes it would display the map, other times it would be in a constantly bad mood asking to select another channel. Sigh.
Eventually, my seatmate arrived, and promptly put a blindfold on for the night. I watched the still manual safety demo and we pushed back and taxied away from the gate, turning onto 19L for a rolling takeoff
As we crossed over Virginia, the night lights twinkled away.
Soon enough, it was time time for dinner. And as I’ve stated many a time, To louse up a meal takes style. To louse it up consistently, takes Washington Dulles Catering. And they didn’t disappoint.
Chicken with pasta in a sauce. So you can guess that part of the pasta were overcooked, parts under and the chicken wasn’t in the best of states. The roll was soft and the salad – well the Dulles caterers have discovered the miracle – of grated carrot. Yes I was surprised too.
Roll and Ranch Dressing
The derisory desert was… derisory.
It wasn’t a bad meal to eat after walking around all day, but too many negatives and not enough positives in it. The only positive thing is that it filled a corner up for a bit of the flight.
The crew seemed to be helpful – being a London crew it was good to see them helping out, but being a night flight, once they completed service, they scarpered for the night mainly on to reappear at breakfast.
After that disappointment, I put on some semi-decent IFE, with a Doctor to help me to sleep.
Waking up, I noticed the sun was in the sky already, and that breakfast wasn’t that far away as we were closing in on the Irish coast, and sunrise happening.
Well what I could see it through dirty windows.
Soon enough as Ireland began to track past, breakfast was served. And we all know what United offer for breakfast – a Pastry and a dairy product produced by bacterial fermentation of milk.
I took the pastry which was… instantly forgettable. The Yoghurt was equally forgettable as I didn’t touch the darn stuff. Drinks followed in the sluggish way after the food service, and was cleared down with time to spare as we crossed over Wales and into the United Kingdom.
The plane made landfall over Swansea, and tracked along the coast, past the Severn Bridge and into England, beginning the decent to London Heathrow. The cabin lights came up as the cabin was prepared to land, with notice that we were going to be stacked into Heathrow. And as we begun the decent, we indeed stacked Ockingham Stack, but not for long as we entered the stack, headed to the south of Heathrow, then tracked back towards Reading, before tracking back over to Heathrow – in an S sort of way. A very odd approach, but hey, I’ll take it.
Landing on runway 09L, it was a quick taxi to the gate. Being a quick taxi to the gate at T1 means one thing – a long hike at the other end at customs.
The plane pulled up at the gate, and the seatbelt bong went, and the entire plane got up. Looking at the time we were at the gate (9:55) there was a chance – a small one – that I could make the early coach home. I took my leave, and thanked the crew. Knowing I was at Gate 38 meant one thing: Run.
Overall: Not a bad flight, but the catering was…. awful. Once again, Dulles Catering strikes again. I wish someone would send the CEO’s in United some of the tray meals that are given out to understand how bad they are, and how they could be improved.
At Heathrow, it was a case of run – There was a choice of the 10:45 Coach or the 12:30 Coach back to Birmingham. And run I did. From the back end of EuroPier (Gate 38) to Immigration is a 15 minute walk allegedly. I was there in 10. Thankfully IRIS was live, and I was through within seconds. A scoot down to the luggage belt, and it was an impatient wait. The skibag made it out first (and intact), and after another 10 minutes (priority luggage – what is that at LHR?) the rucksack made it’s way around the belt. Looking at the clock… it was closing down on 10:25. Still time.
I made my way through customs, and then the great push down the trolley route, and a run to the coach station elevator’s.
10:35… Not good…
Not bothering to check to rebook or not, I just headed for the coach stand, to find the driver was in his own little world on the phone. I waited patiently, and after showing my ticket for the “next bus”, I was allowed to board, with my luggage stowed underneath. It is of course at this point the bag from the Smithsonian gave out.
National Express Coach 210
Heathrow Airport to Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station
Oh well – 2 hours 30 to fix everything. The coach itself was better loaded than the outbound leg, and would be going via Coventry and Birmingham Airport. And it seemed to do just that, heading up the M4, M25, and M40, and going through the Chilterns, before heading into Warwickshire, and leaving the M40 for the concrete monstrosity known as Coventry. A short wait there to pick up people, then it was over to BHX, and finally Digbeth Coach Station.
From there – it was time to deal with the wonderfully unhelpfully Birmingham Taxi Owners association (with a meter runner I should add), before being deposited back at the flat.
I was expecting some changes. All I seem to get a feeling for was a “meh”, we’re here for your safety sort of trip as opposed to some of the United crews I’ve had in the past. And that is a disappointment if I’m honest. Or it’s not the United I remember from February. Which is a shame.The 747-400 trip whilst fun, was a throwback to travel in the past. In the wrong way. Again, the little things matter… and it seems that United seem to not to care about the 747-400 on a comparatively short leg.The Domestic 757-200 leg was good, with the crew doing a reasonably fast service, with the highlight of Chicago departure control sending the plane over the Windy City. It was appreciated.The 777 service was the usual last plane of the night service. And god the food needs sorting at IAD – it’s getting worse each time I go through there. The 777 whilst not in the freshest of states was a great flight and I still prefer the 2-5-2 seating over the 3-3-3 seating arrangement.Overall… a very forgettable trip with zero memorable things. Well. Except one memory that I got in DC…
Right, that’s your lot for this trip. But I’m still a few miles short of a party this year for re-qualification (even with the chaos going on at BMI with Diamond Club), so come back in December for one of the most nuttiest trips I’ve come with… and it’s a TATL with a Transcon.. So rejoin me in December for the end of year qualification run that I like to call “Narrow Minds and Narrow Bodies – Denver Bound”
Until then, Comments are Welcome, and I’ll see you on the flip-side!
I really like your trip report! I used to take UA/CO TPAC frequently. Basic impression: their food tray was pathetically small. I have to purchase a box full of junk food before boarding those 777/744s. 2-5-2 is annoying as well,especially it showed 3-3-3 on the check in seat map but switched to 2-5-2 when you board the plane!
The food tray is larger than AC’s, but depending where catered from can be woeful.
I can understand if you’re expecting new UA business and to be presented with a clapped out 772 interior too. I guess it works both ways… Like most things in life.
I’m not a fan of the new config – least of all I found the padding in the seating woefully understuffed compared to the olde seats.
Flying regularly between SFO and LHR, I find the catering out of LHR to be perfectly acceptable, apart from the mystery meat in the snack sandwich. But the food out of SFO is every bit as bad as that you experienced out of Dulles. And the yogurt fro breakfast is beyond disgusting – so sweet, it’s like a cupful of high fructose corn syrup with white coloring.
I might be a little harsh with LHR Catering but it is decidedly variable these days.
SFO Food I found wasn’t that bad (although on a longer leg, it becomes annoying quickly), but it was a step-up from IAD food… if that’s at all possible.
Very interesting report – are you tempted to gain UA status to access Economy+ in the future?
The backscatter machines may be a pain, but at least you can opt-out in the USA – unlike in Britain.
Not sure if you’ve suffered from an overzealous search and replace, but every “its” has posted as “it’s”. Kids – make sure you commit http://garyes.stormloader.com/its.html to memory!