Narrow Minds and Narrow Bodies – To Denver with the New United, Aer Lingus and FlyBe – BHX-DUB, DUB-EWR-LAX-DEN, DEN-SFO-EWR-BFS, BHD-BHX
NOT ANOTHER BLEEDING BOEING 757!!!
Hello dear readers. And welcome to my end-of-year trip. Why? For miles of course and to maintain status – so I don’t have to fly in January in a mad panic.
Newbies! Welcome to the madness that is a Kevincm mileage run trip report! It’s full of taking an airline by the scruff, satirical humour, hard and honest reviews and of course an epic dose of photography. And maybe an iPhone in a sick bag.
Regular readers will probably see the route above and laughed their heads off knowing what is to come. And yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.
Does Size Matter? Or is it what you do with it that counts? (The introduction)
With a few thousand miles still outstanding before the year is out, I was looking forward to a Eurotrip which was expensive and yielded a fair few miles. However, as usual, I was reading and came across a Denver return trip. For under £280. Now whilst this may not sound exciting, it was routable across the width of the USA – in other words – mega miles. And even though BMI looks like it’s being IAG’d (BA/IB and we might get.. umm… Avois instead) or Virgin’d (Flying Club Miles? Umm… Are Delta Skymiles worth more?), miles are always good.
Besides – as you all know it’s never about the destination – it’s always the journey for me.
Now whilst this is all good in principle, as I was looking, I found out this run would be solely on narrow-body jets, and maybe I’m slightly prejudiced against narrow-body airplanes that fly across the pond. Mainly because I love the room that you get in a wide-body such as the Boeing 767, The Boeing 777 Series or the Airbus A330 Series, compared to the “narrow” 3 x 3 you get down the back of a narrow-body jet.
Or maybe I’m imagining it. Guess we’ll find out in this run if I do get over this prejudice – or not…
Now, this fare required a bit of thinking as it starts in Dublin’s Fair City and ends in Belfast. And there’s another bit of water called the Irish Sea between me and the start and end points. So of course, it’s time to buy positioning flights and timings. With a 9am pushback from Dublin, no early flight from Birmingham was going to make it in time, therefore I’m falling back on the good olde combo of “Aer Lingus and Travelodge” and considering the flight was a mere £26, and the hotel was €19… I wasn’t objecting at the price. Good value like that is hard to find
Getting back, however, was going to be another matter. As I intend to bring a few things back with me – some of a liquid nature – I was going to need luggage space. And if I wanted to fly “home” as opposed to flying into Heathrow with BMI and then crossing London and finding a train home, there was going to have to pay a luggage surcharge. Which leaves FlyBe and BMIBaby.
Now as I was lazy and waited to book my ticket back, all I was planning was to take a midday flight home. By the time I got around to book it, most of the cheap tickets had of course sold out, and all that was left that was cheap was… the late-night special. As it departs 10 minutes before BMIBaby flight, I did a price comparison, and everything came together, FlyBe was cheaper by a good £10, whereas Flybe came away at £44.98. With luggage. And yes, I felt dirty paying for luggage. These “Low Cost” carriers will get you no matter how you try sadly.
So here is the map – people at the back can laugh… now.
Map by Great Circle Mapper – www.gcmap.com
So on the stats a new airline (FlyBe), and over 13644 miles to cover in 4 days. This could hurt my back a lot…
As another day comes to the end of this System Administrator’s day, it’s time to head off from the office, and off to the UK’s 7th most used airport (yes Birmingham airport lovers – the few of you as you are, the traffic stats say you’re 7th this year, behind Edinburgh airport) – Birmingham Airport.
My stuff at the office
So it’s a bus from the back end of Birmingham, into the city centre, and off to the hell-hole known as Birmingham New Street station
Birmingham New Street – Birmingham International Train Station
£2 SuperSaver Return
As the clock passed 18:30, Supersaver tickets are the name of the game. And I can live with that since there was a Virgin Trains service departing at… 18:30. That works for me.
Being an off-peak train, it was of course packed solid. Still, for a 10-minute ride, it got me to the airport station – which is what counts.
Hopping onto the air-rail link, I was deposited at the main terminal departures level.
Popping downstairs, I found the quiet Aer Lingus desks and checked. I know a lot of people love On-Line Check-In, but for me, I like the sense of occasion of flying, and checking in is just one of those things to do.
Well – here we go again!
My boarding pass was issued, and I made my way up to Security, where I managed to set off the security arch. After a good touchdown by the Birmingham security staff, I was let through.
The welcome agent – Hint – it’s a projection at the top of it.
Since I was flying “sans status”, I had to hang out in the main departure area. At Birmingham airport is not a bad thing as the only good thing about the ServisAir lounge is the free alcohol. So I spent some time vainly getting the local free WiFi to work unsuccessfully and watching the local colour. Boarding time came and it was time to head to Gate 54, where boarding had begun.
Boarding in full swing
I queued up, my boarding pass was beeped and I was allowed to walk downstairs and walk on the tarmac to the plane boarding by the back stairs.
Bird of the day.
Birmingham Airport – Dublin Airport.
EI277 – Operated by Aer Lingus, Airbus A320, Seat 23A, Economy Class
200 miles flown, 0QF Miles Earned
The plane was filling up nicely when I boarded, and I took my place aboard the plane. Still, it wasn’t what I’d called packed – more like busy. I chucked my bag in the overhead bin and sat myself down. A person joined me on the Isle seat, and boarding continued when a disorganised person arrived with the doors closing behind him. And lo and behold – I had a spare seat next to me.
This is quite acceptable to me.
The plane pushed back 10 minutes early and at 2 minutes our stated departure time the A320 up into the air
The plane took off, with Birmingham City Centre passing to the left, then Wednesbury, Wolverhampton and then tracking north and the Irish Sea.
The state of the A320… has seen what I would say are “better days”. The leather seats are now showing their age – although they are nice and soft to sit in. The cabin itself again has seen better days, with the strip lighting at the passenger edge just that shade of yellow where you know the plane has been flying around for a fair olde bit.
Now, Birmingham to Dublin is a very short hop. And with a 40-minute stated flight time, the crew sprang into action doing a drinks service.
I partook of the option of falling asleep. Which was rather annoying, as I wanted to pick up an Aer Lingus A320 retro model plane. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll be on another Aer Lingus flight sooner rather than later.
All I knew is that I woke up 10 minutes before landing as the crew were buttoning down the plane.
Soon enough, Dublin bay appeared to the left-hand side and the planed lined up for landing
The plane taxied from one end of Dublin to the other (as usual as it seems for Dublin), and docked at what I still call the “B” Pier (what is now the 300 gates). The seatbelt sign has switched off, and everyone made like the wind off the plane.
Closing in on the gate
Overall: As usual, Aer Lingus delivered a good service and a comfortable flight. A tiny bit of looking after their planes wouldn’t go amiss though.
Of course, since the plane docked over the far of the 300 gates, it was a long hike to Immigration in T2. The immigration agent just glanced at my passport and waved me through. It was then the “hunt for the taxi rank. Which was successful in the end.
A short while later, I was dropped off at my base for the night – the Travelodge North Dublin Airport “Swords”
Overnight: Travelodge Dublin Swords.
Price paid: €19+€5 for 24 Internet access
Yes, we’re back here. Why? €19 says why we’re back here compared to the HIX at €70 up the road near the airport. So let’s quickly review.
A room with…
After signing the guest agreement in for the evening and purchasing my Internet access I went to my room, operated the key lock (with a real key) and settled down for the evening.
Yup – a real key
Double bed and a single bed
Sealed with a sticker
Forget the mega-amenities that you have in a posh IC or a Hyatt. This is bare bones. And you know what – I didn’t care. There was power, an Internet connection, a TV and the room was warm.
And the bed didn’t feel like a rock or a marshmallow. In other words, enough for a night’s sleep. And with great respect, sometimes that is all you need. And it suited me to a tee.
Overall: Good value is hard to beat. And €24 for everything I needed… I’m not objecting.
Alas, 5:30 in the morning comes around far too soon alas, and it was time to pack the bag down and check out. By 6:00 I was outside the hotel, and by 6:06, the shuttle bus had arrived. Another €5, and the bus took its sweet olde time winding its way around from another hotel, a couple of car parks, and finally parking up in Dublin Airport Coach station. Why they cannot route these buses through to the actual terminals is still beyond me still.
Anyway, another morning hike around the back end of Dublin Airport before entering T2.
I headed to the ICTS security check and was let through to flight check-in, where I confirmed the route and seats. I was warned to get to the US Pre-Clearance checkpoint by 7:30. With an hour to go, I wandered off to find a lounge – Whilst BusinessFirst could use the DAA lounge, the Star Alliance lounge for me was… the BMI Diamond Club Lounge in the old T1
Lounge Stop: BMI Diamond Club Lounge.
I made my way in and woke up the poor lounge attendant to find… near enough no-one there. I swiped in, logged on and settled in for a morning coffee – and a pre-departure vodka and orange
It was just quiet. Compared to the chaos below, is not a bad thing. In some ways, a bad thing least of all it shows people aren’t using the facilities, and that Aer Lingus is caning BMI on the Dublin to Heathrow run. That or I missed all the LHR people.
As the clock ticked past 7:20, I packed up my trash and left her back to her magazine, and headed back to the 400 gates, and towards US Pre-Clearance
I was expecting the worst when I arrived, but there were no queues. My passport and customs form was checked as clear, and I was sent through to the agent. The agent took my form, confirmed what I was doing and what I do in the UK, and stamped my passport into the USA.
Now, this is the way to travel kids. Immigration in seconds, rather than hours. Looking behind me, my timing again was perfect a queue was starting to form at the checkpoint.
Another x-ray scan of shoes and bags, and I was pre-cleared and headed to the gate. The gate pen was filling up nicely with what was looking like a full flight. I took advantage of the Eircom “10 minutes of interwebs for free”, which filled up the time nicely to boarding – which started early.
The plane resting before the long TATL slog.
A final boarding pass check, then the escalators to the Irish departures level where ICTS were waiting, asking questions. A few questions were asked, and I was allowed to board the plane.
CO23 – United Airlines (As Continental Airlines) , Boeing 757-200WL, Seat 35F, Economy Class (New United Colours)
3193 miles flown, 3193 miles earned
I was welcomed aboard and made my way down the back of the plane. Knowing the full length of what was ahead, I chucked the rucksack in the overhead bin, coat to the side, and settled in for the long flight. Eventually, I was joined by my two seatmates, and a quick look around the plane showed that every economy seat was accounted for.
Looks like United made a few pennies on this route today – well not from me maybe, but that’s beside the point.
The safety video played again, and this time it seems Jeff Smiek is still walking around Chicago O’Hare with his staff but is skipping anything to do with the United Mileage Plus Credit Card, rather than just getting to the message of the video. It’s a welcome change considering UK people who consider Mileage Plus Credit cards get small beer in comparison to some of the US Credit Card deals. The safety video played (the same Continental video with Rhapsody in Blue dubbed over it) and soon enough, we were pushing back and underway.
We know who this is…
After allowing an Etihad A330 to take off, and a BMI A319 to land, it was our turn to take to the skies.
The course of the flight was… odd to my thoughts. Rather than striking out west on a traditional Great Circle route, we struck southwest for some considerable time before turning onto a great circle path that takes us way south of Goose Bay, Newfoundland and make landfall over the Boston area, before taking a path to Newark International.
Flightpath – taken later during the flight
It seemed however I got the first taste of what would be the hallmark of the outbound… and inbound flights, which was medium turbulence. It was easier to count the periods where the seatbelt sign was off rather than on.
Because of this, service was delayed. Eventually, the first service begun
Yes – drinks and pretzels. And it seems that the Continental side of United has copied an idea from TED – cups of drinks and not full cans. And this became more evident later during the flight when they ran out of actual cans Coca Cola (something I’ve never seen at all in all my flying). Yes, it’s a very small thing, but if they’re not overloading the Coca-Cola on a flight… what cuts are being made to the service? It’s a big question..
Maybe it’s that time of year, but there seem to be a lot of cuts to the Continental IFE system in terms of content. And we all know whilst a nice big screen and easy controls make for a great IFE system, ultimately – it’s content that matters. And it was lacking this time.
So we can all guess what I did next.
Yup. For days of air travel long gone.
The second service arrived – now what catering wonders were to come? Could Dublin louse up a meal… or can the caters actually cook a meal? Admittedly, the last meal I had on the US Airways DUB-PHL trip a few years ago was inedible (Macaroni cheese is not my idea of a meal – sorry), so I was quite surprised to hear the two options – Chicken or Beef (and no vegetarian option). I went for Chicken, which came with rice, salad, a chibatta-style roll and a pre-packaged brownie.
Chicken and rice
The chicken was cuttable and tasted of chicken, and the rice was not soggy. Normally a good combination and it was in this case. The roll could have been used as a WMD, whilst the salad was fresh (again – the Continental “salad” seems to be better than “old” United’s Green leaves). The Pre-packaged brownie, however… was a joke.
Service cleardown was comparatively quick as we bumped across the pond. I took the opportunity to grab some sleep in the meantime.
And when I was not sleeping…
As we started closing in on Boston, the snack service commenced, with a pretty box and a hot product. The hot product was a ciabatta bread roll with mystery meat and a sauce, whilst the box contained a packet of french crisps and a Lily O’Brians Chocolate. And when the drinks service commenced, I got something odd – a full can of Diet Coke!
Inside the hot ciabatta
The crew we seemingly friendly and engaging, but with a full load of a 757, were extremely busy throughout the flight.
Somewhere over Massachusetts
With time slipping away, it was time to clear down and secure the plane as the pilot was expecting more bumps on the way down. And bumpy it was. A few turns and a while later, the plane was lining up for Newark International Airport
The plane landed, and after a while the taxi began to the 100 gates, docking at Gate 112. After a short wait, the plane was connected to the jetway, and after waiting for the sea of humanity to move, I made my own way off the plane.
Overall: I can see why they choose the 757 for this sort of mission, and the economics of it probably make it work. However, it is tight down the back of the plane – in width more than legroom. Still, the service in comparison to “old United” was slightly better with the catering options good (unless you’re a veggie) and a friendly service. The preclearance to the USA is just the icing on the cake.
The plane had docked in C Concourse at Newark and connected directly into the USA without any customs formalities (those long completed in Dublin, so the arrival was treated as a domestic arrival. Or to put it bluntly – no TSA to deal with. Those of you who know of my “love” of the Transportation Security Administration were relived not to deal with them after a 7-hour 30 flight.
Newark C Concourse
Instead, I headed straight to the monitors to find a delay had been posted on the LAX flight with a big gate change from 126 to 86. I wandered down to the lounge
Lounge Stop: United Club (Presidents Club) C Gates near the 80x range.
I took the lift upstairs and checked in. I then found a perch to do some blogging with, as well as grab a couple of cups of coffee. The lounge was comparatively quiet in comparison to the last time I was here (bear in mind the last time I came through EWR, it was a Monday late afternoon/rush hour).
The WiFI appeared to work for once – which was nice. And unlike the Red Carpet Clubs – no need to use silly T-Mobile WiFi keys. Again a simple thing.
I kept an eye on the board and with 20 minutes to go before the stated departure I headed down to the gate – to find boarding had not even begun yet. No rush. And with a 1:30 hour layover at LAX, no rush at all from me… or so I thought…
Next flight at the gate…
CO17 – United Airlines (As Continental Airlines), Boeing 757-200WL – Seat 32F, Economy Class (New United Colours)
2454 miles flown, 2448 miles earned
As we looped around Newark, a view came into view – a view of Manhattan. And what a view it was.
Newark at the bottom, Manhattan at the top
The captain made a few calls on the horn and also announced why the flight was so bumpy due to the high-powered jet streams which were flying against and advised people to keep their seatbelts on. Which some of the people promptly ignored.
International IFE System – the bird was late in from a Glasgow run
I decided to attempt to see if there was anything different on the IFE system… and failed miserably. Although I watched 1 episode of 30 rock about 4 times to get to the end of it, I finally gave in and made myself another GhettoIFE system
James May – The Great Toy Train Race
Once the chop had settled down for a bit, the crew did conduct a service. And yes, I decided to risk arm and limb and risk one of United’s “Fresh” options with the Asian noodle salad box
The box looks nice…
Chicken, Noodle, Chilli…
Not bad at all..
And for a “paid” option, it wasn’t that bad in the least – actually, it was quite passable. As we passed over Lake Michigan, the chop increased again to the point where the crew had to take their seats for a short while. I took advantage of the quiet time by dozing off here and there and capturing the sights that mother nature laid out for me.
There was a second drink run, and a few other water runs too with the crew being friendly, whilst being semi-strict over seatbelts in-case sudden turbulence.
Long way to go yet.
I merely took the chance to grab a few zzzz’s after not getting to sleep early the night before.
As we crossed Nevada and the Grand Canyon, daytime began to turn to evening and the reds of the evening filled the cabin.
The Grand Canyon I think
Slowing for LAX
Decent was also bumpy as heck too as we lined up for LAX Airport, but we made it down in a hurry it seems.
Eventually, we touched down at LAX, and after a taxi, we parked up. I said farewell to the frequent flyer next to me as he rushed to the exit. I sort of took my time as I didn’t know
Overall: A good flight. The big difference of an extra seat shows as the space was much better than the previous flight. The use of an “international” bird on a domestic leg was appreciated with in-seat power. With a good crew, this made for a good flight. A shame about the chop…
LAX – A place for the touchy-feely type of people?
After looking where I was, I realised I was in T6. My “Old United” flight was going to depart from T7. This of course necessitated a hike to the next terminal.
Now, will the person who designed LAX please be taken away and evil things are done to them?
I honestly have not seen so little joined-up thinking with an Airport as I have with LAX.
But I did have a chance encounter with the Theme building – as close as I’ll ever get to I suspect
As I entered the non-sterile zone, I knew my luck had run out – and I had to deal with my friends in the TSA. After ducking into the elite queue, I was directed to a Nude-o-Scope machine.
I popped my stuff through the converter and in the nicest possible way I said “I Opt Out. Manual Screening Please”.
A look of resignation passed over the security agent that I didn’t trust their beloved machines. The machines I have an issue with – it’s the people who operate them that I have the real problem with.
However, I was seen to within a minute, and an agent explained what he was going to do, and gave me my grope for freedom. He conducted the search meticulously, and carefully.
The agent put the swap in the Itemiser, and I was declared clean by the machine (And I know what an Itemiser looks like now thanks to Border Security Australia) and let on my way.
As usual, I took my time packing my stuff away and I thanked the TSA in a loud non-condescending British Accent. And didn’t look back as I headed up the escalator.
With the minimal time I had, I could have skipped the lounge – but I wanted to check my mail and do a few bits on Boarding Area before continuing. With the flight going from 70A, there was usefully a United Club next door to the gate. How convenient.
Lounge stop: United Club (Red Carpet Club)
I was welcome to the club, with my boarding pass refused to scan. The agent re-issued my boarding pass, but it still wasn’t playing ball. In the end, I was just granted access to the lounge and given a WiFi key on entry.
For me, I did what I needed to – update my blog, check my mail, and swapped my memory card over.
Not the best pic – but the next bird already at the gate
I even had time for a couple of espressos before the flight to keep me awake for a bit longer – bear in mind I was up at 5am UK time, and it was the best part of 2am on my body clock.
Soon enough, boarding time commenced, and I grabbed my trash for the final leg of the journey of the day – to Denver.
With the lounge next door to the gate, it was a quick walk, and boarding was in full swing by the time I got there – and I sneaked up on the Elite Access land as Zone 2 was boarding. I was beeped aboard, and after a short wait on the jetbridge.
UA364 – United Airlines, Airbus A319 Seat 30F, Economy Class (New United Colours)
862 miles flown, 860 miles earned
Channel 9: ON 😀
The shot of espresso was keeping me in good spirits as I greeted the crew, and made my way down to the back of the plane. I dumped my rucksack in the top bin, and the little day bag I purchased in Dublin by my side.
And considering the amount of space I had – not a bad thing!
As only an hour had passed, the chop was still pretty appalling out of LAX, and the seatbelt sign was on for a good 30 minutes before conditions improved enough for the seatbelt sign to be switched off. As a result, drinks service was delayed. Such is life. On a two-hour hop, this isn’t that bad. With an additional 25 minutes shaved off the Captain put his foot down with those tailwinds – along with Channel 9 on and legged it to Denver.
Eventually, a snack box and drinks service was carried out on the service. I took the opportunity to update most of my photo library I had shot during the day. Soon enough, the bongs went off and it was time to land in the dead of a cold night in Denver.
Again, I waited for the slightly more organised sea of humanity to clear, and I thanked the crew and headed into a very cold Denver Jet Bridge and into the B Concourse
Overall: Chop is one of those things you accept in flight. However, it seems the crew were in good spirits and willing to do a good service
The main terminal building
After negotiating my way past the metro system and being welcome to Denver I made my way out of the secured area into the Terminal Building. It was then a matter of locating the hotel telephone bank and ringing for a shuttle. This was handled quickly and effectively, and after using the free WiFi in the terminal, I headed outside to the biting cold of a Colorado night. The “bus” or should I say “SUV” arrived, and after a 5-mile drive, I was dropped off at the entrance to the entrance to the hotel.
HOTEL: Hyatt Summerfield Suites, Denver Airport
Price paid: $84+Tax a night
Those of you who know me may go into shock that I haven’t chosen an ICHG Hotel, and instead chosen a Hyatt. There are various reasons that only make sense to me. Namely, the promise of a morning breakfast included sort of weighed in which sort won in comparison to the Holiday Inn.
I was welcomed and I was checked in. The front desk clerk assigned me a 4th-floor room after verifying my card.
on the way to the 4th floor – a longer-term resident
Going into the room – it is truly a “longer-term” stay suite as opposed to some suites stayed in. As in this place had a full kitchen, living area, bathroom, and a TV mounted on a rotating plinth.
…and yes it had white ginger. Haters can continue to hate :p
The bed, whilst not the usual Hyatt bed I’m used to in the Regency was actually quite sleepable and well-supported. The heating system also did a very good job of keeping me warm – convenient when you’ve been out in the cold of Denver.
The room was serviced on the days I was there – for longer-term residents could choose not to have their rooms serviced if needed.
Breakfast was variable from the two days I was there – one day it was omelettes and sausages, it was scrambled eggs and what Americans call “bacon”, along with all the usual cereals, juices and coffees
As I’m in Denver, it would be a crying shame not to wander downtown. So it’s time for One Time Exception – a Walk in Denver.
Price: $22 for bus to and from the airport
Two forms of art
Cow Snowed in
For those of us who don’t drive (or refuse to drive for personal reasons), a warning: Denver is defiantly a “car-required city”, with some cabs off the 16th Street strip, but not as many as I’ve seen in other cities. So plan accordingly… or find a flunky who can drive for you 😉
Sunday morning came around like the ugly thing it is again, after breakfast and checking out, it was time for the off. On time, the shuttle van was ready and drove the 5 miles back to the airport.
Now going through DIA, I noticed for the first time some of the luggage carousels. Or more precisely – the ski Carrousels. Now that’s a clever idea!
I made my way up to the United check-in desks, passed the massive queue for Economy Class and headed for the elite queues. I then began my battle with the United’s Mr Chicken. And failed as I could get it only to list two of the three segments of the day. Thankfully an agent came to my rescue, and did the check-in for me manually, and tagged my goodie rucksack all the way to Belfast International. I thanked the staff (who were in love with my accent for some reason) and headed down from check-in to TSA land. With the Star Gold on my Boarding Pass, I was allowed access to the elite queue, and I self-selected a lane without a nude-o-scope in it.
I was through security in a few minutes, with no scans, or asking – only to find the tube of Carmex was in my pocket still.
From there it was downstairs to the shuttle train. And what an amusing thing that is with the jovial jingles and happy-sounding announcer. Maybe too happy. Still, the train deposited me at the B Gates, and after getting my bearings, it was time to visit another United Club
Lounge Stop United Club (Red Carpet Club) Denver-East.
At the entrance, the dragon was waiting and was asking if I had an international segment on my flights today. I had all the coupons to hand so she ummed and ahhed and kindly decided to let me in.
I proceeded upstairs to use the WiFi to call home, check my mail and drink a few glasses of orange juice to properly wake up. And admire the view (bear in mind conditions were awful the day before, and most of what I’ve seen of Denver is at night – so this was my first view of the Rockies)
Soon enough, boarding time arrived, and it was down to the gate for the continuation of the madness that is the mileage run. The local signage confused me at first stating the flight was for Hong Kong, but then changed to San Francisco. So we have United doing its 1 flight number, 2 birds thing. Elite boarding was called, with people jumping in, whilst I patiently waited for Star Golds to be called. The gate agent on the other hand was telling people off as they cheekily went past. When my time came, I was waved through.
At the gate
I went down the cold jetway, onto my 3rd 757-200 in 3 days.
Leg 5 Denver International Airport – San Francisco International Airport
UA869 – United Airlines (as United Airlines), Boeing 757-200, Seat 29A, Economy Class (United Blue Tulip)
967 miles flown, 966 miles earned
Channel 9: Off 🙁
Thankfully the welcome was warm – like the plane – when I boarded, and I once again made my way down the back of the plane. With the two bags I had, I popped the laptop and camera bag my the floor with the coat and my backpack in the overhead bin.
The plane packed out with about one seat remaining aboard the whole plane – it seemed the early flight to SFO was popular today.
The safety video played on the overhead monitors (again a different one to the one I saw on the UA bird on Friday!) and soon enough we taxied past the Animal Gates at Denver, before turning and heading for the sky on a rolling takeoff. Again, those P&W 757 engines – like the RR 757 engines are powerful beasts and it felt like the captain wasn’t sparing the horses this morning.
The climb-out took us upward with Downtown Denver to left, before heading over the Rocky Mountains and onto San Francisco.
Climbout – Denver in the distance
Clearing the Denver/Golden area
As we climbed out, Elbow as playing on the iPhone, with an appropriate song as we cracked through the clouds
Drinking in the morning sun….
Service commenced with a snack box and drinks service. I opted out of the snack box but had a diet coke to wake up on. Because of my sleeping pattern, I was more my “normal” sleeping pattern, so to me, this was Sunday wandering outside the flat time. And yes, I’m lazy, but Sundays are lazy days.
Against the sun
Again, the jet streams were up to their usual tricks with a fair old bit of chop, but nothing earth-shattering or drink spilling. People were still ignoring signs and heading for the small room.
In comparison to the Continental 757, the United 757’s… could do with a little love internally. Whilst there was nothing stand-out bad, the cabin did look very tired and it could do with a Continental Cabin refresh – with some decent IFE.
Speaking of IFE, the TV monitors were working, but the audio in my row wasn’t. I flagged down a flight attendant when she was doing the drinks service who managed to bring the audio back. Sadly, the Captain wasn’t in a Channel 9 mood 🙁
Soon enough the snow on the hills had evaporated as we lined up for San Francisco with a gentle landing at SFO.
From nature to mankind
The plane speeded through to gates at SFO, docking at Gate 81 and once again the sea of humanity took its time disembarking.
Overall: For a 2-hour hop, the service was adequate and well delivered. The problems encountered were fixed and the staff was friendly as usual. I just wish the captain had stuck on Channel 9…
A San Francisco panic
Heading off the plane, there was one priority – to get some decent chocolate for the folks back home and demonstrate the Hershey company doesn’t have an exclusive on chocolate in the USA. I quickly repacked my back on landing and headed off to the Ghirardelli chocolate shop (where I stocked up on bits for friends and family). Looking at the time on the board I had a good half hour before boarding – time for a United Club Visit
United Club (ex Red Carpet Club)
After a short wait as there was a queue, I was welcomed in the lounge and another WiFi Card was given. It was then the usual opportunity to hammer the OJ Machine and sit down to do some image downloading.
I then had a look around. Where was the PITA Canon EOS 50D gone? Check bags. Nope. Under Coat? Nope. Under Chair? Nope.
To quote the opening line from Four Weddings: Oh ****, ****, ****ity ****! (fill in the stars ;))
I sunk the OJ in a flash and retraced my steps back to the gate where I asked a gate agent if a camera had been handed in. And someone must have been looking down on me that day as a slightly beat-up 50D with an even more beaten-up 17-40L lens was handed back. I profusely thanked the agent and cursed that I had no camera strap for that thing.
That and this EOS 50D and I are not getting on (for various different reasons I should add).
After the madness.. a bit of art
Camera in hand, I headed down to Gate 86 where the 737 was waiting for loading for the trans-con run. Boarding was announced, and at the appropriate time, I made my way aboard.
CO1130 – United Airlines (As Continental Airlines) , Boeing 737-800, Seat 30A, Economy Class (New United Colours)
2565 miles flown, 2560 miles earned
Still, he had the middle seat – like I did to spread out into.
Eventually, the videos played. Firstly with Jeff looking godly around Chicago O’Hare…
Then the actual safety video.
The plane pushed back and it began the taxi around SFO, finally lining a queue of 5 planes readying for departure.
Now I lucked out again, with San Francisco to my left as we climbed out. I’ll let the pictures do the talking 😉
Soon enough we turned away from the bay area and begun tracking eastwards to Newark NJ.
This is a way too short cabin for my liking…
In terms of IFE this bird was kitted out with LiveTV’s IFE product (with the introduction channel showing adverts mainly). Which is fine and dandy… for $6.99 a flight. So we all know what happens next.
Yes, Harriet Jones. Ex-Prime Minister. We know who you are…..
$6.99 or a sick bag with an iPhone? You should all know the answer… But the least they could do is integrate an Airshow client for free… oh well.
As I was most impressed with the Asian Noodle Salad, I again partook of another one and remembered to ask for a full can of Diet Coke (which was delivered).
The crews were friendly and did a couple of services before heading to the back of the plane. There was the odd water service too, with the staff being friendly. In fact.. very friendly. Definitely good to see compared to some Continental crews I’ve run into in the past.
As the flight settled down into the long slog with a fair few bumps to Newark. It continued to plod its way slowly across the United States of America from the height of midday sunlight to cloudy layers and then to dusk. I took advantage of the quiet time and grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep. By the time the plane had crossed over the midwest day had given way to night, passing through the reds of the evening, and then the inky blue and black of the night.
Decent began about 30 minutes before the stated landing time, with a full cabin clear down. Eventually, the cabin turned to night, and the plane lined up to land at Newark, with Downtown Manhattan to the left of me, lighting up the night sky.
In the words of John Madden… FOOTBALL!
As we approached the Newark area, the night lights twinkled away, with the MetLife Stadium lit up below. Eventually, Manhattan swung into view on the final approach to Newark.
The plane landed at Newark and after a short taxi past the A and B gates, the plane docked at the 90 gates. Again, I waited for the sea of humanity to dissipate before thanking the crew and making my way off the plane.
Overall: Not a bad flight overall. The flight attendants were engaging and felt like they wanted to be there. The 737 itself seemed to suit the mission… even if that plane felt a tad small on the inside. The product seemed pretty rounded with the LiveTV product, and that spare middle seat – I tell you – It makes one hell of a difference
After disembarking, I caught up with circumknowitall and we chatted about our mad trips, our mileage runs and other bits and bobs.
However, I had to split after a short while to pick up a few things and “enjoy” dealing with the Duty-Free shop and get a few things for friends at work. And deal with wonderful customer service and well-staffed shops.
I’ll let you work out what was true in the previous statement and which is slight at DruFry.
With that done, it was back to the United Club to chill for a bit.
United Club – C Gates (80ish Area)
I was welcomed to the club, with ID requested to access the club. I made my way back to the same place (but not before picking up a vodka and diet coke) and settled down to do a bit of typing and general stretching before the flight to Belfast.
In fact, the Vodka and Diet Coke was so good. I had another one. However, after 2 vodkas and diet coke and a tub of snacky mix, the flight was called from the lounge. Once again, I packed up the trash and headed down to the gate.
And at the gate, my name was called. I was slightly excited. Was I getting an upgrade? Nope. I had left my Senator card in the lounge. Oopsie. the second oopsie of the day. I trundled back to the lounge where I collected my card and headed back to the gate where boarding was just about beginning.
I collected my duty-free, and then headed down the jetbridge.
The final 757 of the trip…
CO94 – United Airlines (Continental Airlines) , Boeing 757-200WL, Seat 35A, Economy Class (New United Colours)
3177 miles flown, 3257 miles earned
Home for the final leg
Eventually, the plane filled up with the load it had that night (I’d say 80% or so down the back), and we pushed back a few minutes bit late for the comparatively short hop to Belfast.
The problem with East coast hops is not enough time for a decent sleep. With 6:30 block to block stated, we were to make the crossing in a rapid 5:30 minutes. Now if we chop off the first two hours for dinner service, and the last hour for breakfast and tidying down, that leaves a short 2:30 minutes for a rest period. And that’s a short amount of time, no matter how you cut it! Even a tag on to LHR would only give you an extra hour.
The joy of Jetstreams.
Once again Jeff Smisek came on in *another* video (I swear this trip I’ve counted 3 different Jeff videos), this time with a bunch of flunkies walking around Chicago O’Hare with him.
Soon enough, it was our turn to line up on the runway and let those Rolls Royce RB-211’s power us into the night sky.
The plane took off into the night sky, again, banking around Newark (not that I saw this time as I was on the “wrong” side of the plane), the MetLife Stadium was still lit up like a Christmas tree, and the plane began to track northwards before resuming the great circle path towards Belfast.
Meanwhile, the cabin was quiet
Soon enough it was time for drinks and dinner, with a choice of beef or chicken. I risked the chicken again. The tray was handed over… and here’s what we’ve got.
A Salad.. with cheese????
The roll could have been used as a WMD this time – it was that hard. Newark Catering seemingly had a few pennies extra to include cheese in a salad. This is getting dangerously creative out of this catering branch! The Chicken, rice and beans were edible – not brilliant, but not bad. Sadly, it’s still much better catering than you’d get out of IAD.
A drinks run followed behind, and I had finally worked out the trick of getting a full can of cola – ask for one! The first run gave me a cup, but the second run gave me a full can.
Even with all this caffeine in my system, I managed to rest against the bulkhead and get some good shuteye before the breakfast service. Which on this very short hop – came around too soon.
The breakfast service I’ve complained as being feeble in the past, but looking back at all the other carriers who do the EU<>North America run, (and it pains me to say this), Continental-operated routes have one of the best breakfasts down the back of the plane.
Yes. That did hurt me quite badly to type that. Compared with US Airways “Hot Danish Pastry”, Air Canada’s Banana Bread, and MainLine United’s Pastry and a Pot of Yorgart, the Melon and Pastry option seems to be the best in the sky.
Make of that what you will.
A drinks service again followed, and slowly, the inky black of the night turned into blue, and then the reds of the morning began to appear.
A Transatlantic dawn
At this point the decent into Northern Ireland began, and I was treated to a visual feast as it seems what we call snow had fallen overnight.
Decent continued, and headed out of over Belfast, out of the bay and turned for Belfast International Airport.
And decent continued into the snowy thing that is Belfast International Airport.
After a short taxi, the plane parked at Belfast International Airport’s sole jetbridge at 2L, and I took my leave of the still-smiling crew.
Overall: A great flight with a wonderful smiling crew who actually seemed happy to be doing a service on this run as opposed to a Continental Crew I’ve had in the past (yes you lot in IAH, I’m looking at you). The service runs that were conducted suited the length of the flight and all in all – a great set of UA/CO flights.
As we’re back in the United Kingdom (or as my passport cover eloquently puts it “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”), it’s back to using real currency to buy things, which will be useful in a shake as I’ll need to get into town to grab my next connection. Heading to the Border there was a bit of a queue building, but I was seen to soon enough. After messing with my passport to get the reader to work, I was let into the UK. It was then a case of heading downstairs and collecting luggage. At this point, I said farewell to circumknowitall as my luggage began to trundle around the belt. Everything in hand, it was off through customs, then then hunt to find a cash machine. Why you might ask?
Alas, being at Belfast International Airport is much like being at a UK Railway Parkway station. In other words, the airport is in the middle of nowhere. This of course leads of the local bus company taking full advantage of you and charging a £7 for the privilege of a 20 mile bus ride. £7 plus another £2 to get to BHD later. Ouch. And of course, it was a single decker bus, so it packed out. Wonderful at 9am in the morning.
Whilst the Airporter would had been cheaper overall, the times didn’t work out right sadly – least of all with my extended connection.
Arriving in the city centre (and being victim to a bit of peak time traffic which was thrown into chaos thanks to a tiny bit of snow), I was dropped off at Linenhall Street, and I wandered into a Cafe Nero to 1) attempt to wake up in 2) repack my bags now that I was carrying a lot more than earlier.
A Big Cappuccino and a bit of time to pack everything into two bags (that’s another challenge), and soon enough I was ready to face the world – or so I thought. I walked around Belfast, taking in the Christmas market at the City Hall, and wander eastwards, looping back towards Victoria Square… where the tiredness begun to hit me. Not so good when you’ve only been walking for about an hour and a half. In the end, I took refuge in a Starbucks with a Venti Americano with an extra shot to try and keep me awake. It also gave me the chance to download some pics and recharge the laptop.
Even this didn’t work…
An hour wasted there, I had another walk, and saw it was coming up on 2pm, and my body was saying “that’s enough of that”. I paid attention for once to my mind and changed course heading for the Europa Bus Centre, where I ponied up my £2 for a local ticket for a 4 mile trip in 25 minutes to Belfast City Airport.
Outside Europa Bus Centre
Pulling into the check-in area I saw that the 14:15 flight was still open. I checked briefly at the the sales desk, but they confirmed that the cut off had been passed and whilst the flight hadn’t even yet begun boarding, it was too late. It was nice of the ground staff to try, so I checked my bag in (3 kilograms under the brought limit of 15kg). With that tagged, I munched on the lunch I got a Tesco, emptied my water bottle and went through the quiet security lanes at BHD. The formalities were done within a minute as no one else was waiting, and I was in the departures area before 14:30. And yes, the earlier Birmingham flight hadn’t been called with a 40 minute delay posted.
I grabbed a coffee, and slumped down for a bit. Since I was within range of the BMI lounge (which as I was flying FlyBe, I couldn’t access), I grabbed their Internet connection and watched daylight turn into twilight into evening. Allegedly at 18:30 we were due to depart. And at 18:30… a delay was announced with the flight put back to 19:00. As 19:00 crept up, we were still waiting until 19:20, when the go to gate command was issued. And a sea of humanity moved at once down to the departures zone, and down into the cold waiting area where boarding passes were ripped up, and we waited for to board.
The final bird of the trip
The weather by this point had deteriorated, with a rain falling into the evening. Thankfully, we were allowed to board the plane keeping contact with the wet to a minimum.
George Best Belfast City Airport – Birmingham Airport
BE415 – FlyBe, Embarer 195, Seat 2A Economy Class
226 miles flown, 1 FlyBe Reward point earned.
I boarded the plane and made my way to 2A, whilst main loading was continued. With 62 people boarding, it was going to be a reasonably loaded flight.
The plane being an Embarer 195 as we know, it’s only slightly impossible to louse up one of these internally (normally displacing window and seats so they’re not aligned). This bird seemed to have the windows aligned correctly (well at the front of the plane anyway). During boarding the cabin crew were being very strict with seating positions due to “weight and trim restrictions”.
That and I wager they were hoping still to sell the expensive seats. This is FlyBe after all.
As the doors sealed up, 62 passengers were aboard, and soon enough it was time for pushback and a manual safety demonstration.
The plane taxied all the way to the bottom of the runway, turned in an impressively tight space, and the two GE Turbofans spooled up and rocketed the plane down the runway.
The cabin itself is a standard Embraer cabin – and lets face it – that’s not a bad thing. It means comfortable seats, a reasonable amount of leg space (if anything, the 30” advertised seat pitch felt a bit more than that), and with no one next to me, room to veg out.
Passenger service unit
What they tout as their green fleet with Electrical Appliance labels
With a quick 40 minutes in the air the crew sprang into full sales drive mode, and seemingly did a good trade with 3 flight attendants aboard. Heck – they even had time to do a “duty free” service. And yes. I did partake for one reason alone.
Don’t look at me at that tone of voice. It’s not that I need to create more space for the model plane collection. Honest…
Again, people were buying so FlyBe must be doing something right.
With such a short flight time, the cabin was cleared down quickly, the plane secured before we commenced vectoring for Birmingham, flying over the city, then heading to Coventry before turning back for Birmingham Airport.
Touching down a mere 4 days from when I left the same piece of tarmac, the mileage run was almost over. The ERJ taxied over to the combined terminal (what in the old days I would had called the EuroHub or T2) and docked. Within minutes, a jetbridge had docked next to us, and the doors opened and I was on my way.
Overall: A reasonable experience in the air – spoiled by the weather and a distinct lack of communication from FlyBe over the delays on the ground. Sadly FlyBe in my eyes lives up to its old name: FlyMayBe. And I hate to be blunt, but there was a communication breakdown. More information and announcements were needed so people didn’t have to glance at monitors waiting for the next update.
After being cleared through arrivals, I went to the luggage belt (not carousel – it was a belt this time), where there was a 10 minute wait for luggage. Eventually, mine spat out and I was on my way.
Told you it was a belt…
Stumbling through Birmingham Airport, I somehow made it to the train station. Another £2 ticket was purchased and I descended to the platform where a Virgin service to Wolverhampton had just pulled in. 10 minutes later, I was at Birmingham New Street, before grabbing a cab back home, depositing me outside my block of flats.
Finally, 4 days, 13000 miles or so and 3 nights in the hotel – I was at my Front Door.
And after taking this photo, I unpacked, then headed to my bedroom and snored.
The two sides of United are… still two sided – the Continental Side and the “old” United side – and it shows in all sorts of ways with Ex-Continental routes calling themselves by the old name, and United having actually to interline luggage between itself. The different levels of service show with minor differences here and there in service offerings and operations. Even the United Clubs whilst re-branded show their Presidents Club or Red Carpet Club roots.
Now that United has one operating certificate, lets hope they start to merge the airline and the best of both cultures together. Because that would be a change I would like to see (to quote Jeff Smiesk). Still, it’s a stark improvement on United Mainline routes in October (where United put up quite a feeble performance that trip)
Transatlantic crossings in a Narrow body Jet – Unless the price is right, I’m going to stick to these wonderful Wide Bodied jets. With due respect, the Boeing 757-200 is a good jet doing this TATL job and makes economic sense to operate these thin and log routes. But if you’ve got a fully loaded jet and you’re down the back end, it is akin to Dante’s inferno with the lack of space onboard those birds compared with even a 767-300ER or even a A330.
If one was to compare the A320 series to the Boeing Narrow Body series, there’s 1ft 4 inches difference in the inner cabin dimensions – and it makes a works of difference in shoulder room. So dear Airbus, please design a Narrow Body Jet that can do extended TATL ranges without running out of gas in high headwinds please – that’s not an A319.
As one advertiser said – size matters, but it’s what you do with it that counts.
Aer Lingus as usual, delivered a good service in a short time frame. FlyBe on the other hand… yes, the on-board service was good. The wait and the lack of explanation of why our plane was delayed… was not good. It seems that not being prepared for a little bit of snow is an excuse for delays at BHD. Unimpressive… and just another reason why FlyBe live up to their misnomer of FlyMayBe.
The Travelodge… was a Travelodge. It did the job and I didn’t feel conned. These are all good things.
The Hyatt Summerfield Suites was a lovely discovery. From the full kitchen to a decent TV selection, to a bed that was comfortable. The free Internet access was a lovely bonus too. It’s a shame (like most Denver Airport hotels) it was 1) miles to get to and 2) in the middle of nowhere.
As for Denver. It’s a nice city…. but a car required city (as I have an aversion to driving normally), so I didn’t get the best out of the place. Put it like this: I wouldn’t be disappointed if Denver came up in a Mileage run at all again.
And that as they say is that for another year. No more flying till way into the New Year.
For my regular and not so regular readers, I’d like to extend a special thanks for putting up with more Economy Class drivel from me over the year and the exploits I’ve been on. For those too used to Business and First Class, I hope I’ve documented a dose of reality when your miles expire, your employer no longer pays for you to go in the big seats and you realise if you’re going away, it’s down the back. For the rest of us who travel in Economy, I hope I haven’t brought back too many nightmares
Coming up next… something a bit special. Ok, it’s going to very special.
Please join me in February/March for “Japan Bound – to Asia with ANA, Thai and Asiana featuring ANA’s Long Haul 787”
Comments welcome as always.
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Wonderful report – I’m thoroughly jealous actually!!
Interesting to see the differences between the old UA and CO.
Totally agree about Y breakfast on TATL eastbound flights – I feel cheated most of the time when they serve up what they call breakfast. As you said, sad that melon+croissant = best Y breakfast.
The two sides of the airline are still.. two sides. Hopefully the strengths of them will come together. Or else there will be one heck of a mess after….
Sadly, the CO breakfast is the best in Y. Which goes to show how downhill the quality of an economy class breakfast has gone down hill over the years 🙁