Sweet Home Chicago
Welcome Back to the UK – Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
- Well, it’s been
- Well, it’s been a long two years, hasn’t it?
- Testing, Testing, Swab 1-2-3…
- Off to Heathrow (Take the coach they say. It’s fun they say)
- Cathay Pacific T3 lounge, Heathrow Airport
- AA87 London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare International (Main Cabin Extra)
- Into the USA, Crown Plaza O’Hare
- Hyatt Regency O’Hare
- Airplane Art from the Hyatt Regency O’Hare
- Fooding around Chicago… Badly
- Starbucks Reserve Rosterary, North Michigan Avenue
- Exploring Chicago with a smartphone
- Back to O’Hare, British Airways Lounge
- BA296 Chicago O’Hare to London Heathrow (World Traveller Plus – Premium Economy)
- Welcome back to the UK, or how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory
- To the Journey
Welcome to the UK
After a long wait on the taxiway and on the aircraft, I made my way into the terminal. There was one priority to get out of the way – and that was to find the small room after a long flight.
Docking at Terminal 5 C Gates, there are thankfully many small rooms as you’re heading to the transit back towards the main Terminal 5 building.
With my bladder feeling a lot better about the world, I made my way over to the transit system and followed the staff back to Terminal 5A.
This is important, as they know where to stand for the quickest exit from the transit and from the airport.
After a short ride to pick up a load of people at T5B, the transit arrived at T5A. From here, it was a case of heading to lifts (which are still quicker than the escalators) and heading up to the UK Border to be processed back into the country.
Immigration was pretty busy. I was directed to the ePassport lanes (with me having the vague hope the chip in my passport would work).
Alas, my passport was not recognised by the machine, so I was shunted to the rejects queue where one border agent was handling the long queue.
It took the best part of 20 minutes to clear it, but eventually, I made the head of the queue.
I was called forward by an agent, and I was asked where I was coming in from. With a quick inspection of the passport, I was allowed to proceed into the country.
With that done it was time to see if my luggage had hit the belt.
And in a surprise to no one, luggage delivery had barely begun. I don’t know why I’m not remotely surprised anymore at Heathrow. If anything, things have gotten a lot worse as staff shortages continue to bite at British Airways.
I settled in to write my post “Snatching Defeat from the jaws of victory.” The first bag came out reasonably quickly enough – with the second bag finally making its way out after a good 10 minutes.
In some ways, I wish it didn’t make the flight – I wouldn’t have to carry home this bag now. This crossing London was NOT going to be fun.
With both bags in hand, I made my way to customs, where someone was being escorted away with a lot of cigarettes they “forgot” to declare when bringing them into the country. Oopsie.
I cleared the customs area, with no one in the area to greet me.
Clearing customs came to Heathrow’s last chance to sell me all the things – which I declined. I was trying to put my skates on at this point, as there was a cheap direct train to London going in a few minutes after I cleared customs.
And it will be no surprise to anyone that I missed it.
I, therefore, took the next Heathrow Express train to Heathrow Central and changed there for the TfL Rail service to London Paddington.
And I’m sorry – I’m still refusing to pay the excess for Heathrow Express at £25 one-way – especially with the Class 387 rolling stock that is used – this upcycled commuter stock train is just not suitable for the task – it should have had new seating put in from nose to tail – rather than the ironing board seats from commuter runs.
I got off at Heathrow Central, with time to make it up the platform – I didn’t know which platform the train would come in at Paddington, so I assumed that boarding the train at the front of it would be a “good idea to cut down the walking distance later on.
Whilst the TfL Rail service is slower (all of 10 minutes slower, where a Heathrow Express service will overtake you), I find the purple trains more than suitable at both comfort and cost levels. Yes, the Underground is a lot cheaper – but they contain the one thing that suitcases with wheels fear most: stairs.
Put it like this: the bike seats make the perfect place to crash for a while.
However, I couldn’t relax, as I needed to plan my trip home.
And that was a little harder than I wanted at this point of the game. There are three options for travelling to Birmingham. I also knew I would hit Paddington at 12:25. I, therefore, had three options:
- Chiltern Railway – there was a departure at 12:39, but an hour’s wait for the next train if I missed it for £30.50
- London Northwestern had the cheapest fare at £16.50 but was going at 12:49 with the next one an hour later
- Avanti West Coast had an advance fare, bookable up to departure for £20.90 with a departure at 12:59
As much as I like London, hanging around the city is not my idea of fun when I’m exhausted from a flight. What was more important was I knew I had options at that point.
The Purple Train pulled into Paddington on time – and I slowly made my way to the taxi rank after fighting my way through the barriers.
No, I’m not prepared to fight for an Uber around Paddington – at least in London, taxis have contactless card readers – which is more than acceptable for payment these days. This concept scares Birmingham taxi drivers as far as I can see, however.
With me in a taxi, trains out of Marleybone went out of the window – I would be heading to Euston to make it homewards.
There is one advantage to taking a black cab (or licenced taxi) over an Uber in Central London – the drivers can use bus lanes. This is important, as traffic on the A501 (Marylebone Road/Euston Road) can be choc-a-block.
Whilst in the taxi, I brought an Advance train ticket for the 12:59 to Birmingham – with the risk that I would not make the train in time. It was one worth taking, with the cost savings that could be made compared to an off-peak single ticket (the best part of £15).
The minutes passed by, as the taxi fought through London Traffic, but at 12:47, the taxi arrived at Euston. I had made it to the taxi rank.
From here there was the last fight to drag my crap across the train station to Platform 4. Even with the crap I had, I was on the platform at 12:52. A clear 5 minutes to find my carriage and seat.
I spent another few minutes dragging myself to the coach I was allocated to – and boarded. By some strange means, I had come in near the wheelchair section – which had storage space behind the seat.
That would do with four minutes to go before departure.
Avanti West Coast
London Euston to Birmingham New Street
Advance Purchase Ticket: £20.90 purchased via TrainPal
I’ve been using TrainPal on and off for tickets these days, as it can tend to pick up two ends of ticketing I like – Split Ticketing (which can pick up on some major discounts) and also Advance Tickets (and companies that sell Advance Tickets up to 15 minutes before departure).
The train today was an 11-Car Alstom Pendolino that would operate the run to Birmingham – something in the next few years might change as the new Avanti West Coast fleet is added to, with Hitachi Intercity Express Trains.
At 12:59 on the dot, the train pulled out of Euston Station to begin the quick run to Birmingham – with a journey time of 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Avanti West Coast tends to be the premium option between the two cities, with the quickest times to Birmingham (until HS2 is built), with Chiltern Railways (via High Wycombe and Banbury taking 1 hour 40) and London NorthWestern (via Milton Keynes and Northampton on the local lines taking 2 hours 30) being slower respectively. Today, the pricing worked in my favour – as well as the times.
The train I took would pick up passengers from Watford Junction, then stop at Rugby, Coventry, Birmingham International and finally Birmingham New Street.
Whilst the train externally has Avanti branding, internally the train is fitted with the “classic” Virgin Trains internal colours. This will change over the year as the fleet is refitted and new seat covers are found and the trains go through their refit process.
This being a Pendolino suffers from the usual issue a Pendolino has – narrow seats, a profile that is slightly narrow at the peak due to the tilting nature of the train and the biggest sin of all – misaligned windows.
But at this point, I didn’t care – I had made the train and was relaxing, with me being able to finish up an article on the train due to the onboard Wi-Fi and being able to catch up with some friends.
The train made good time on its journey – skipping Milton Keynes always makes a journey feel “faster” (and if you’re travelling at peak or near the last train of the day – less cramped as the locals will treat this as a “fast train”).
Whilst there is an onboard shop and an at-seat catering service, I did not partake – rather I drained a bottle of water I had filled at O’Hare airport and that had racked up as many miles as I had.
Even though there was a ticket inspection at Euston station, there was an additional inspection on the train – a welcome sign that revenue protection is back after being kept in the background during the pandemic.
After Rugby, the train started making its regional stops, with stops 10 minutes apart.
By the time train reached Birmingham International station, it was time to dig out the keys to the flat and put them in the jacket. It was also time to repack anything else up as within 10 minutes I would be at the last stop – Birmingham New Street station.
On-time, the train pulled in – that was the good news.
The bad news was that the train had pulled into Platform 1 – requiring a long walk to an escalator or elevator (as the elevators were not working at one end of the platform).
I made it to the upper level of the station and cleared the ticket barrier. I now had two options – if I was masochistic, I could have taken the bus home. Or I could jump a black cab and be done with it.
Black Cab it is.
Thankfully, some cabbies were waiting outside – squabbling and swapping rides. I jumped in a cab for the short ride home, which the driver managed to do without too many problems or pushes on how to be directed in the city.
14:45, I was at my front door – the end of something I had missed – a long haul adventure.
Finally: To the Journey.
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