It’s Sunday again, so it must be time for some more Airplane Art.

This week, taxing towards Terminal 8 on a chilly January evening is one of the venerable American Airlines Boeing 757-200 aircraft at New York-JFK International Airport, completing a long journey.

American Airlines Boeing 757-200 - Image GhettoIFE

More airplane art next week!


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Also remember that as well as being part of BoardingArea, we’re also part of BoardingArea.eu, delivering frequent flyer news, miles and points to European readers!

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
700 Tier Points: Job Done

tr-lastpush

Contents!

700 Tier Points: Job done

So what was this all for – apart for a damn good winter holiday (with Christmas and New Year this year, I was stuck at the console or behind a camera for most of it)?

This.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 22.51.00

700 British Airways Tier Points, pushing me to a total of 1535 Tier Points for the year – 35 points over the required amount for retaining BA Gold for 2014/2015.  A true challenge completed (which, unlike the BMI Gold card I used to have, I could had done in my sleep).

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 18.59.13
(alas, I’m back to Zero TP now!)

Let’s look back at the products and try to sum up everything in a few sentences:

Air France were mostly ok for the short hop. Nothing overly important to report… other than a lack of safety cards on the plane (which is a worry in itself….). Although if you want cheap singles on some Air France routes, book your ticket via FlyBe…

Ibis Paris CDG did the job for a night’s crash-pad. Yes, there are better options in the area, but it did what it needed to do on the tin at an acceptable cost. The size of that room though is the one remaining thought (and a distinct lack of Accor Hotel Points too!!!)…

American Airlines at CDG need to buck their ideas up. There was near enough total disorganisation at check in, unmanaged queues that shouldn’t have happened that was causing people to miss flights. Can do a LOT better here.

American Airlines in the air… continue prove exactly what I was trying to say on the San Juan Tier Point run. A lack of consistency in the air. There were a lot of variations in the sky even between these three services encountered. Still, whilst there were challenges in the air, the crews delivered their service reasonably. The IFE units are a great choice, with good content loaded on them… probably one of the few times I’ve used the AA given IFE in anger. And I’m so glad they’re retiring those rattletrap 767-200ERs…

Hyatt San Francisco Airport was a much better Hyatt property than the Hyatt Regency O’Hare – although that’s not saying much. The staff in the hotel were willing to help, friendly and provided a great room. All good things in my book, and not a bad property at all.

The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins (San Francisco) is a timeless property. Great customer service and a lovely room – combined with a great location. Just be prepared to invest in a Muni pass or a lot of spare change in taxi fares unless you like walking UP the Nob Hill….

The Crowne Plaza San Francisco was… pretty much what I thought it would be. A bland airport hotel (with apples that were going off in the Club Lounge). But at nearly the same prices as the Ibis Paris CDG, with a lot more room and Club Access (for what that was worth), it provided reasonable value for money.

OpenSkies is an oddball of a product – in a good way. I suppose the best description I have for it is “Club World Plus”. There are elements of the BA Club World product (including the seat and the food), but there were signs of first class in the softer product (Slippers, Pyjamas and style of service), It’s a BA product… but different (very much like the London City Club World service). It’s one – if you find a good fare on it – I would encourage you to try.

Eurostar – Start to end, this is one organisation that can provide a lesson in High Quality Customer service. Every interaction was great and welcoming (from their Twitter Feed, to In-Person at Gare Du Nord, to the Buffet person). The service is dominant between London, Paris and Brussels – with a 2 hour 15 (or 2 hour 25 service in my case) centre to centre journey, it beats planes hands down on these routes.

IMG_9972

San Francisco remains one of my favourite US Cities – a wonderfully relaxed place with plenty options for anyone. Recommended for what it is (even with annoying 10cent charges for bags!!!)

… and Paris? The less said about the place, the better (I’m still feeling the after-effects of this one… the joy of dealing with Credit Card companies post fraud).

And that wraps up The Last Pushthank you for joining for the ride.

Coming up shortly – it’s back to the back for me as we go from Club World and Business Class back to my usual home of Economy class, as I carry out the Spring Travel Audit, with American Airlines, British Airways and Hyatt back in the spotlight in “Springtime Travels – Back to Chicago in Economy” (unless I get a better title in the meantime!).

I’ll hope you’ll join me for it, as it  promises to have more fun and games that make my travels what they are – an experience.

Your comments and feedback are always welcome :)


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Posted by Kevincm | 4 Comments

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
Eurostar 9013 Paris Gare du Nord to London St Pancras International and homewards with Chiltern Railways

tr-lastpush

Contents!

Eurostar 9013 Paris Gare Du Nord – London St Pancras International
Price paid: £50/$60 (Booked via Voyages SNCF)
Class 373 Trans-Mache Super Train, Coach 5, Seat 11, Standard Class.
282 miles travelled, 0 Miles Earned.

Heading down the ramp, it was a simple matter of locating the coach I was in.

The outer part of the Gare du Nord Trainshed

Eurostar trains are configured as such where they have a standard class section, a buffet/bistro car, the Premier and Plus section, then another buffet and standard class section. To help, the carriages are numbers 1 to 18, (Car 1 at the London end, Car 18 at the Paris/Brussels end), so it was a matter of finding my coach – not impossible to find as the cards have LCD displays telling you which coach you’re at.


Just in case I need to reminded where I’m escaping.


Car number 5 (Could do with a wash)

When I reached coach 5, I headed in, and found my seat… with the luggage rack behind me. Ho hum. Could be worse.

Legroom

Seating taken later on in journey


Overhead controls


In case of emergency…

I popped the bags in the luggage storage above my head, and retrieved my laptop and charger (as well as an iPhone charging cable) and settled in.

The train seemed to be filled up to a reasonable load, but it wasn’t full – which helps, as the seat next to me was free for the 2 hour and 30 run to London.


The view from the top of car 5

On time, the Trans-Marche Super Train pulled out of Gare Du Nord, beginning its trek to London. With only a stop at Ebbsfleet International booked, this was due to a quick journey.


Pulling out – another Eurostar train awaiting duties .

The train begun its journey, building speed as it passed suburban Paris – and then unleashing the 180mph when the it left the conventional lines and onto the LGV Nord – on a track for the Channel Tunnel.


Suburban Paris


At Line Speed- LGV Nord.

Part of the reason why I selected this coach is simple – only certain cars in Standard class have power installed in them, and thus this pair of seats had a UK style power socket (three pin BS1353 style). Other seats had the French style socket too, alternating between rows.


Power socket – BS1353 style (or as most of us know it as, the British Plug).

Power was not what I’d calls stable – with at one point me pushing the plug in so it made contact with my leg, and during points where power dropped or a changeover of power was done, the lack of mains power was noticeable. Still, it gave me enough time to write, sort and upload photos onto the laptop and relax.

Car 5 is also next to the Cafe/Buffet car – so in the name of research – I had a look (primarily as I needed a coffee to keep going after the days fun and games so far).

The Eurostar Cafe/Buffet is atypical of the TGV style – ie a counter and lots of standing space. I partook of a large Americano coffee to keep me sane (for €3. Not overpriced, but definitely taking advantage of the market).


Drinks menu


Buffet selection

For those who wanted hot meals, Eurostar also offers meals… from of all people – Waitrose (a high-end British Supermarket). Prices were about £2 over the store price (which considering the captive market – not surprising), but the food smelled fresh and edible. Or to put it another way, that Chicken Tikka Masalla did smell VERY tempting!!!


Waitrose selections


Deals

Our speed only let up for Lille (which went past in a blur), as we accelerated back to line speed on the LGV Nord – and also the grey skies that had been tracking me since Paris started to lift into blue skies at last.


Closing in on Lille Europe – Many Train à Grande Vitesse awaiting next services in the yard


Blue sky at last – lifting the clouds of the day.

Our speed then began to fall again as we prepared to dip under the channel as we passed Calais, and finally into the Channel Tunnel.


Passing Calais-Fréthun at line speed


Preparing to dive…


Last view of France.

25 minutes of darkness followed, as the train pushed through the artificial night. In the past there used to be a warning that the train was entering the channel tunnel. Now, nothing. It’s just part of the journey – maybe how it should be.

At speed in the tunnel

The train accelerated out of the tunnel at Cheriton, passing the Dollands Moor Freight yard – now firmly back in the United Kingdom… and straight into Vodafone’s awful mobile phone signal area. Wonderful.

For me, there was brand new experience to be had – and that was to travel on the United Kingdom’s sole High Speed Rail Line. The line which is built to TGV standards allowed the train to accelerate back up to the 180 mph, and the Kent countryside whizzed past cutting through Ashford and continuing a high speed run until we slowed finally for Ebsfleet International.


Passing Ashford at speed – Note the suburban commuter train in white, and the express services in dark blue.


Crossing the Medway River

There was a minor exodus of passengers here, before the train began to accelerate again.


A Javelin High speed train heading into London (interesting side-note, The Class 395 Hitachi A-Train is a derivative of the 400 series Shinkansen… so we have Bullet Trains in the UK… of sorts).

This time, acceleration was at a slower pace as it had to negotiate the River Thames, and then a complex mix of high and low rails as it dived under the East of London, around Stratford International, and finally our destination – London St Pancras.


On final approach – The Kings Cross Great Northern complex coming into view

The train pulled in on time, and the doors were released, with a mass exodus from the train.

The Grand and Restored St Pancras station

Overall: Eurostar delivered a high quality service, end to end through every interaction, along with a well-timed service. It’s no wonder that they dominate the London-Paris/Brussels route – whilst the plane beats Eurostar on the actual travel part, it fails on the getting to the airport, security and getting into town bit. 2 hours 20, centre to centre cannot be beaten. End of matter. Combine that with the high quality service, there’s only one winner.

Diving down the ramp, UK Customs were awaiting passengers. Thankfully, they took little interest in me as I headed for the exit. Within minutes, I was through to the public area of St Pancras International, and on my way to the King Cross St Pancras Tube station complex.

Now, when I got here, I was crossing everything – hoping the bank didn’t cancel the wrong credit card as I would need to it buy a new Oyster card

Thankfully, £5 for an Oyster card and £5 of credit was processed successfully, allowing me to use the tube to get to my next stop: Marylebone station. To make matter a lot simpler, a Metropolitan line train arrived (which makes the transfer at Baker Street a doddle as opposed to the circle line which invokes lots of stairs)


Inbound Metropolitan line


Quiet on the ‘Met


Winding my way down Baker Street…

A quick transfer and £2.80 of Oyster credit gone, I was at the old Great Central terminus of London Marylebone.

Another trip to a ticket machine, and I had a ticket for Birmingham (and at the super off-peak price of £28.90 return). With a train going in 10 minutes, I wasted no time heading up to platform 5 – where a waiting (and refurbished) train was waiting to go.


The Grand Central Railway shed – Or Marylebone Station


A Refurbished Chiltern Clubman waiting for the 1 hour 40 trip. 

Chiltern Railways London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill
Class 168/2 Chiltern Clubman (4 car unit)
£28.90 return

Boarding the train, I realised I had got in at the quiet coach. To be honest – at this point, I hardly cared as I was going home.

After nearly totalling a businessman’s laptop, and myself, I settled down for the final leg home.

The route was a “fast mainline” route, only stopping at Banbury, Leamington spa, Warwick parkway, Solihull, Birmingham Moor Street and Birmingham Snow hill. I was happy for a terminus at snow hill as taxis are bit easier to use from there.

Ssssssh!!


Route map

Let’s look at the train as it’s been to be refurbished. The first thing to note is the outside which has some gray go faster stripes

Inside, the dark blue these trains had before have turned… You guessed it – grey.

Still have power at seat.

Notice a theme?

Still, the seats whilst re-upholstered were quite comfortable for a train seat.

The train pulled out Marylebone on time, and accelerated out of London, crisis crossing lines and onto the Chiltern Main line.

There was a trolley service of drinks and snacks that passed through the train (and had a very low uptake) as the train sped through High Wycombe.

However, a call if nature needed to be answered… and Chiltern railways seemed to have gone mad with the refurbishment here too.

Well judge for yourself.


Congratulations Chiltern railways. You win.

There was a swap around of passengers at Leamington Spa, with a lot of people getting off, and a fair amount of people getting on the train. I was still in my post holiday bubble, watching the world go by.

Soon enough Warwickshire melted away and the train entered into the urban area of Birmingham… Where I decided to play “hunt the keys to the flag”… And promptly lost in the time allowed.

I exited Snow hill station, I decided the best thing was to look for my keys in comfort – and do it in a Starbucks as the rain had begun falling again in Birmingham.


Snow Hill station

Thankfully, there’s a small branch on Colmore Row, and for the cost of a tall Americano, I had a warm place to find my keys (which were not in any of the usual places – it was in the laptop storage area. I’m still working out how.)

Coffee.. with keys


And me taking over Starbucks.

With the keys back in their usual pocket and the bags replaced, there was only one place I wanted to go… And that was in a taxi back to my flat.

Thankfully there were some parked up, that took me the mile or so to the gateway of my block of flats. With the keys working, I was in the complex of flats…

… And finally at my front door.


There’s no place like home. 

NEXT (and finally): 700 Tier Points: Job Done.


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
Paris: City of Dreams, Romance… and Pickpockets?

tr-lastpush

Contents!

After a short bus ride around Orly, the bus deposited us at Orly West Immigration.

Still unloading passengers – first bus has its benefits.


The plane, resting after its journey


Into France…

This was seen to in the same French fashion as before (look at passport, glance upward, hand back). From there, luggage claim is in front of you. Whilst we on the ground at 9:40CET, it seems that luggage delivery would be taking its own sweet time – with the first bags delivered at 10:00 and my bag spitting out 10 minutes later.


To get to Paris…

With that, it was a quick walk through French customs, and I was in France again. My next challenge was to find the OrlyVAL station. An escultator and some blind luck lead me to the train station.


To the OrlyVAL!

Now, there was a ticket kiosk at the station – and it’s an important one because the OrlyVAL is chargeable if you want to exit the system and enter the RER station. So, I ponied up the €11.25 for a single to Paris-Nord, and headed for the OrlyVAL station. I must have been bumped on the way as I got into the narrow train to Athony.


Ticket Kiosk.


Ticket Machines


VAlwards.

The OrlyVAL (much like the CDG VAL) is useful in getting from point A to point B, in a very narrow train. With a 6 minute ride, there’s not much room to go wrong.

Although I wish they built these trains a bit wider…

I managed to get out of the OrlyVAL and fed my ticket into the barrier. It spat out the ticket unhappily and open up the barrier allowing me to enter Antony station – and like any suburban station it looks like a place for not hanging around.

Next train indicator

Single decker special coming in.

Thankfully with a train due to central Paris in 3 minutes, I didn’t have to hang around.

The RER Line B service arrived (heading up to CDG) arrived promptly, and I found some seats near the entrance.


Seating.

As I tend to do, I checked my pockets for everything. Passport… yes… wallet…. wallet… wallet… OH F**K.

A full empty of the coat indicated that my wallet had gone. You know that feeling when everything goes white? This is one I had. I attempted to find it a few more times, but each time getting more frustrated.

My next concern was how the hell was I to get home – as my train ticket home was in there. Thankfully – I had put a spare wallet with a spare credit card and £10 in the back of in the bottom of my black rucksack…. and more importantly – my passport was safe.

Things were now not looking so black. Heck when I finally got to Gare du Nord, I hade time to share my experiance

With the RER arriving at Gare Du Nord, I bundled out of it, and headed straight for the Eurostar Check-in area.


Crossing the RER station to the main line station


Art. I think.


The grand departures list.


Old vs New – The newer Thalys PKA on the left, and a classic broken nose SNCF train with Corail coaches on the right


A Waiting Eurostar


The Gare Du Nord Train shed from The London Hall

Not to check in, but to make calls to my bank and credit card issuer. My debit card issuer noted no transactions had been made, whilst my credit card issuer noted a transaction had been made at McDonnalds at Orly airport (two transactions I found out later for a grand total of £10).

That would have to be dealt with when I got home.

For now, I needed to get home… and with some minor trepidation I headed to the Eurostar Check in. With the card stolen that I checked in with, I was expecting to buy a new ticket to get home.

But no, the agent understood my problem, and asked for my passport. With the details verified, a boarding pass was issued to London St Pancras.

Phew.

With that done, it was time to clear immigration and enter the Eurostar waiting area. This is a three stage process – firstly “Exiting” France, then “Entering” the United Kingdom (as the UK border is in Paris for Eurostar), and finally clearing security and customs.

And surprise – Customs too an interest in me asking if I had anything to declare to French Customs. I presented my duty free (which was cleared without an issue), and they did a full baggage strip down.

Wonderful.

Eventually, I was let on my way, with another 10 minutes of my life taken.

Entering the main departure hall, there’s a lounge at the bottom of it – which I can’t use as I’m not on a business ticket. And unsurprisingly, there were no power outlets too.


Waiting areas…


Waiting trains…

Thankfully, the laptop had a good charge left in it, and combined with the phone, I tethered my phone to the laptop for a bit of internet and admin. A good hour later, boarding was called for the 13:13 to London St Pancras. Boarding would be split by two zones – Zone A for one set of coaches at the “Paris” end of the train, and Zone B for Business and the “London” end of the service.

And yes, Eurostar has gate lice too.

A final ticket inspection was carried out once boarding was classed , and I headed down to the train

Next – Eurostar to familiar shores and homeward bound


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!


Posted by Kevincm | 8 Comments

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
A Dash Across Manhattan to Newark

tr-lastpush

Contents!

I checked in the podium (with no queues), and my bag was tagged for the trip to Paris-Orly. A boarding pass was issued for the EWR-ORY segment. I was given directions to the boarding and security area too.

Check in area


More 787 advertising

With those formalities done, it was time to go and relax for a bit. Firstly to pick up some duty free… and then to the lounge.

I headed back up the escalators and through security (where the TSA were their usual selves sadly…), and went to inspect the airside area. Which – and I’ll be honest – looked like a building site.

A quick visit to duty free (where for once, I could actually take my duty free with me, rather than have it delivered at a gate), and I trekked back to towards the security area – and upstairs to the BA Lounge.


Proper sized bottles of Jack Daniels


This way to the lounge!

Lounge Stop: British Airways Galleries Lounge

I was welcomed warmly to the lounge, and offered a meal voucher for the evening. I was also offered the usual of a storage cabinet to stow my items before flight.

That’s a nice thing!

With that, I headed off to the food area. Well I have to investigate food section.

The food selection was quite nice, covering a load of tastes from salads to hot items – a rather good mix timed well for the day. The staff seemed quite proud of the lounge of the food as the presentation was rather good (as a member of staff pipe up and asked if it looked good – I said (and honestly… it did look good!)

After dining, it was back into the main lounge, where the staff were friendly and talkative,

… and proactive in bringing bubbles.

Looking around the lounge, this lounge is based on BA’s “Galleries” concept – and it shows as it’s a nice looking lounge, providing a very quiet environment for a before flight

BA Brand water…

And to me, time to recuperate in peace and quiet is important in a lounge. That and the WiFi that was in the lounge was pretty reasonable.

The lounge cleared a bit after a London flight went, leaving the OpenSkies and the late London flight passengers left.

Classic BOAC poster art (British Overseas Airways Corperation – the for-runner of British Airways)

Oh yes, the 787 for tonight was cancelled. Some things never change.

Sooner than I would have liked, the call for the OpenSkies flight to Paris Orly was made. I took my leave of the lounge and thanked the kind lounge host, and headed down to the gate.

Boarding was in full progress at the gate – with priority boarding thrown to the wind it seemed. Considering the load at the front, this wasn’t exactly a big thing as the flight looked lightly loaded towards the back.

My boarding pass was beeped, and I headed down the jetway to the waiting Boeing 757-200 to take me across the pond.

EC8004 Newark International Airport – Paris Orly West
Operated by Openskies (British Airways), Codeshared as IB7514
Seat 1F, BizBed Class, 2oth January
140 Tier Points Earned, 3,648 miles flown, 3,648+1,824+3,648 Avios Earned

After being welcomed aboard, I turned left (now That’s a change I like!) and headed to my seat at row 1, right hand side.

At the seat already was a bottle of water, amenity kit, pillow and a light blanket. Buried in the Ottoman was a pair of slippers too.

BizBed Cabin


The Front office


Home.

Seat controls… not many compared to the AA Seat –
but it does go flat!

Folded privacy fan


The BizBed Cabin from 1F- note the white stuff in plastic bags – these are important in a bit .


Day blanket at seat


Water and Amenity kit at seat (Amenity kit is the BA Club World Kit)


Legroom – note the slippers. Don’t get these in Club World

The crew welcomed everyone aboard warmly, lead by an American CSD with a mixture of American and French cabin crew.

Lets talk about the seat before we go any further – and yes, it’s the old generation Club World flat seat, in a 2-2 formation. In terms of seat controls… well it’s one control that goes to flat-bed or upright. And that’s it. The layout is a Ying/Yang layout with a dividing fan between the seats.

At seat, there were electrical charging points, a bracket for IFE devices. Noise cancelling headsets were also there as well.

Pre-departure beverages were offered… and since this is French airline (even if it’s a form of BA), there can be only one drink….

Le Bubbles.

The load at the front of the plane was busy, with every seat taken.

Pushback seemed to be delayed, but eventually our Boeing 757 pushed away from Newark Terminal B, and headed off for a runway to take off from.

The safety demo was carried out manually as the plane had no IFE installed. In the Club World style seats, my line of sight was down to the 2L entrances, and it was odd-looking backwards.

I guess I can’t get used to this flying backwards malarkey.

The two RB-211s spooled up and like any 757, we rocketed off into the night sky, with a few nice views of Manhattan Area.


Dusk in the cabin

After a while, lights came up to commence the service. Food orders were taken for those who wanted food, and for those who wanted rest. At this point, Mattress Pads, Duvet style blankets were distributed, with beds made for those who wanted it. I made mine in an Upright position, so it could be transformed into a bed after dinner.

Mattress pads, proper duvets… this is not Club World by any stretch of the imagination!

Mattress pad installed


Privacy fan in-situ

IFE devices were handed out – and its another tablet to behold. This time, they were Apple iPads. Mine was 57% charged (seemingly used from the last flight). This would matter as the iPad was down to its last 1% of power by the time I handed it back in!


Holder flipped out


With Apple iPad Installed

Another hint this wasn’t Club world is the provision of PAJAMAS on this flight. The only time I’ve had pyjamas before is aboard Asiana… in First Class.

Service was quick and efficient, with a trayed meal appearing rather quickly. Of course, more champers was offered (and accepted… well it would had been rude not to.)


Table


More bubbles


Salmon Light meal


Pay Attention BA Mainline: PROPER SALT AND PEPPER POTS.


With chocolates.


Baked Cheesecake

After this, the lights went down for the rather quick journey across the pond. I put the blanket on, put the bed into a flattish state, and got comfortable.


The minions sent me to sleep. TADA!

And I must had got some good sleep as I was woken 1 and half hours to go to Paris, with the offer of a breakfast service that I requested.


Breakfast tray

Bloody heck. An Airline that can make REAL COFFEE in the air. Look. It even has a bit of a Crema on it!!!


Fruit


We don’t like to think about this stuff at GhettoIFE towers.


Muffin

Coffee top up… again with a crema on it. An airline that can make reasonable strength coffee in the morning. This – I approve of.

Meanwhile outside, light was beginning to flow in. A few windows were open, so I cracked mine open a bit too.

Nearing that 1%… keep going Shelly!

And then nature did her thing with sunrise

During this time, the crew came around to collect service items, and the iPad (by now, on its last legs). However the crew were so friendly and understanding, and as well as delivering a great service – there was only one thing I could do – and give out a BA Golden Ticket for great customer service.

I think the crew-member was quite shocked and didn’t know what to do with it until told by the CSD (who was very appreciative of one of her crew getting a Golden Ticket).


Packed away.


It isn’t just me that likes to look out of the window.

Closing in on Orly, it was announced we would be stacked for 30 minutes. This suited me, as we were still 30 minutes early. After 10 minutes, we were cleared to land.

Turning


Sunrise in the cabin.

Preparing to dive into the murk.

The landing was very typical 757… quick, powerful and bumpy. But we had made it to Orly in the murk of a Paris morning… with plenty of Eau d’Paris around.

Our plane taxied for a short while, before parking up at a hard stand. Buses were sent to meet us, as well as air-stairs. I gathered my things together and chatted to the CSD before leaving the plane.

The plane on the tarmac.

Overall: Impressive. VERY IMPRESSIVE if I’m honest. Whilst the seat was the old product, the things they did to improve it puts it beyond Club World and Club World London City (which in itself is a very good service – probably the only one I could match this against).

Food was passable and enjoyable, again served with touches that put it ahead of Club World.

Don’t confuse BizBed with Club World – different products from start to end in terms of delivery. And that includes both in terms of hard product and the softer product as the crew were all-outstanding. This is a product I have very little hesitation in recommending… except it ends at Paris Orly. This… has its disadvantages compared to CDG in terms of connections onward… and other things if you’re not careful…

Next. Paris. OH HELL….


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

 

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
A Dash Across Manhattan to Newark

tr-lastpush

Contents!

After exting the plane there were two priorities: a toilet and picking up my luggage. The former was an easy task (as the toilet block was next door to the gate). It was then a matter of exiting the terminal and heading to baggage claim

Some art to help ease the soul.

When I got to the luggage belt, delivery had not even started. Once it did, it took 30 minutes from docking to my bag finally being spat out onto the carasol. Not a very timely delivery at all, and had decreased the comfort time zone that the early arrival had given me.

With the bag finally spat out of the luggage delivery machine, my next task overall task was to get to Newark Airport. There’s two main ways of doing this:

  1. Use the Airport Porter bus service
  2. Take the train, changing at Jamaica, New York Pennsylvania Station and Newark Airport.

I decided on the train (there’s also the minor issue of the last time I took the Airporter from JFK to Grand Central, the driver was more interested in eating potatoes chips from a bag rather than driving… with some wild driving around the back-end of JFK). There was also the matter that rush hour was going to be starting soon, and I didn’t fancy an evening fighting traffic all the way to Newark.

My timing was pretty much perfect for the AirTrain to Jamaica station, with a shuttle departing within a few minutes of arriving. Whilst it was standing room only to Jamaica it did the job getting me from JFK T8 to the Long Island Rail Road station.

After paying the $6 fine for using the AirTrain ($5 for the gate exit fee, $1 for the fare media… bit cheeky to charge for a fare card…), it was across the bridge to the Long Island Rail Road ticket office to get a ticket to Penn Station. Another $5.50, and another stroke of good timing indicated that a direct service to Penn station was about to arrive.

Sometimes, things do fall in the right places for me.

The ride from Jamaica to Penn Station was a quick one as the train passed through suburban Queens and under the East River, eventually pulling into Penn Station.

The train was pretty empty going into the city.

Amtrak yard, readying for the evening rush

Eventually after crossing Queens, the train dipped into the dark to cross under the East River and to Penn Station

The train pulled into Penn Station, and in reasonable time too, with the door I was at also a reasonable exit into Penn Station.

Not bad at all, and reasonably priced. However, my next challenge was in front of me: navigating New York Penn Station. And I’m going to be very impolite about this place – it’s a dark rabbits warren when trying to find the NJ Transit section of the station.

Eventually, I found the ticket machines for NJ transit and a waiting area. Another $11.25 and the machine spat out a ticket which inculded the Newark Airport Monorail gateway pass.

Trains also to Newark Airport were not what I’d call plentiful, with a 30-minute wait for a service. During this time I struck up a conversation with a person about travel… to find they were learning Korean by using a children’s book to learn. Interesting way round to learn….

The time now clicking toward 5pm – there’s no nice way to say this – the train were packed. Even these double-decker trains were having fun carrying everyone this evening.

I picked a carriage at random, and thankfully found some space in the top deck. This suited me for the 30 minute ride to Newark Airport, leaving the tunnels of New York and the Hudson, surfacing in New Jersey, crossing through New Jersey Penn Station and finally Newark Airport station.

The double decker train was pretty packed, this being the start of the rush hour, but I managed to find a seat for the journey.

Watching the evieng go past

 

Yup. Right direction


On the top deck.

One of the things I’ve been working on when travelling the Underground in the UK is “Which carriage to be on so I get off first”.

Well the instinct and training in me is paying off as I popped out right next door to the stairs to the transfer deck.

After fighting with the ticket machine to be let through (better markings on the machines next time please NJ Transit), it was off to the Monorail.

And we all know what that means. Cue “The Simpsons” Monorail” song ;)

Gliding around like a cloud…


Monorail… Monorail… Monorail! Mono…D’OH!

Once the Monorail glided as softly as a cloud to Terminal B, I took my leave and headed for the BA Check in area… which was on the bottom deck. Oh heck… one of these “well designed” airport terminals here?

Indeed it seems as check in was in a segment in level 0, with security at level 2.

Sigh. Here we go….

On the plus side, the transit was one of the easiest going – a case of following the signs, paying the tickets as you go – without dealing with bus drivers that seemingly want to eat rather than drive. The longest wait was the 30 minutes at New York Penn station, and an interesting trip.

Next: BA Galleries Lounge Newark Airport, OpenSkies EC8004 Newark to Paris-Orly

Posted by Kevincm | 9 Comments

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
AA24 San Francisco – New York JFK

tr-lastpush

Contents!

Arriving back at the airport, it was straight to check-in, where I checked my bag. The agent took one look at my ticket and queried if I really wanted to go via Newark. A few taps later, and she had found space on the JFK to Paris flight… Paris CDG – meaning it would be the AA flight. I declined (even though it would had been easier…) as I wanted that flat bed across the pond, and stuck with my OpenSkies itinerary.

A boarding pass was issued and a nice comment about the Pan American bag was made… and off I went to clear security. Even at 5amish in the morning, it was busy with the Team SFO opening extra lanes when needed. I was cleared quickly and headed to the lounge to wait the flight

Admirals Club

A beep of my boarding pass (with the BA Gold Credentials on it), and I was let into the lounge. There was only one priority at this time of the morning

Coffee! – Well espresso and lots of it!

I found a corner to work in and sat back whilst waiting for the flight. The lounge whilst not heaving, was quite busy as it was Monday morning and people were commuting all over from San Francisco to where they needed to be in the US that day

Meanwhile outside, a Virgin America Airbus A320 was photobombing the AA Lounge

Look at meee! I’m not American Airlines!


Food and beverage station

It was quite and relaxing enough – heck I Lost track of time. Thankfully, there was a call for Flight 24 to New York, at which point, the lounge emptied – me with it.


Through the terminal

Boarding was almost ready to commence when I got to the gate so there was time to grab a picture of the plane before getting down to the flying part of the day.

And also a first – my first AA plane with the new livery I’ve flown on.


Busy moments at the gate before boarding begins

A priority boarding and first class boarding call was made, and I headed down the jet bridge

AA24 San Francisco International to New York T8 JFK -
American Airlines Boeing 767-300ER with Winglets, New Colours
Seat 2A, First Class
210 Tier Points Earned, 2,572 miles flown, 2,572 +1,286+2,572 Avios Earned

I boarded the plane and was welcomed aboard. I took my seat at in the first row of business class – this time this 767-300ER featured the International cabin with wedige beds that I had on the way out from Paris. This time, the cabin was sold as a “First” Class cabin. Funny how American Airlines  can re-designate a cabin type purely on the route…

Business/First Class Cabin loading


Seat controls



Bulkhead view

An interesting service happened whilst on the ground – pre-flight drinks. A nice touch.

The cabin again was full load in First – and judging by how many rollaboard were heading to the front of the plane – a full load in the back of the plane too.

On-time, our Boeing 767 pushed back, and the safety video played (Its starting to get to the point where I can memorise the faces and words that come out of each person’s mouth in that video. Bad sign methinks… although I used to be able to do the first minute of the old United 767 IPTE video off by heart)

AirBridge away!

As the airport was clear of any fog and such, with a clear ride up into the air forecasted, the pilot didn’t hang around. There was a wait whilst other traffic cleared allowing me to watch take off wars

After a short wait, the plane cleared the queue, turning onto the runway for a powerful take-offf out of San Francisco

With the colours so amazing, it was time to use the camera for what it was for:

With the flight scheduled for 6 hours, it seems the winds were with us, with 4 hours and 50 from pushback to landing

Menus were handed out for the service.

Whilst Mother Nature did her thing.

Food orders were taken, and Samsung Galaxy Tablets were handed out with Bose Headphones

Hot towels followed too

And yes, I was still watching Despicable Me 2

With Minion Phil at the front door.

Breakfast arrived with me going for the Omelette.

The breakfast offering wasn’t bad (compared to some economy class meals I’ve had Westbound or Eastbound), with the fruit fresh, and the omelette tasting of egg and its filling (and not burned). The chicken sausage was very much of a muchness and the biscuit… a very American thing (although I prefer my biscuits as chocolate digestives personally…)

The service was cleared down as the flight made its way across the United States of America, crossing off states quickly.

Time passed quickly on this flight as the cookies came around

And lots of clouds

As this flight was operated by an International 767-300ER, there was a downside of no GoGo internet connectivity – which annoyed a few people who were trying to connect in the air. The crew was proactive, checking for top ups as needed .

As I said, the flight was quick, as the plane begun its decent into the New York area. Our plane tracked past the cloud and past JFK, heading out for the Atlantic, for an approach over Rockerway Beach.

Cloud breaking – New York underneath


JFK near the cloud


Beginning final descent


That’s a cute plane in the clouds….



Gotta admit – I like this one.


Crossing Rockaway Beach


Landing was a typically a rather gentle affair, with our 767-300ER landing safely on the tarmac at JFK.

There was a bit of a delay of a taxi as the clock passed 3pm, but we were a full hour ahead of the nominated landing time, so I was feeling rather relaxed about the connection to Newark at that moment in time.

Overall: A reasonably competent service delivered well with a quick flight time. These things are good to me. The wedgie seat that AA have – I suppose I’ll never get on with it as finding a comfortable position in it for me was pretty hard. But for a daylight flight – not a bad choice at all.

Next: From JFK to EWR… Umm… Luggage belt… come on…


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
The Crowne Plaza San Francisco Airport

tr-lastpush

Contents!

After a cab ride down the Nob Hill to Embarcadero station, it was back onto the BART to head out of the city (whilst most of it was watching the Seahawks showing why they were going to be NFL Champions in the end).

Heading into the station

As I got to the platform, I saw that a train to SFO was about to arrive. Convenient timing indeed!

The BART made its way through downtown San Francisco, loosing a lot of passengers on the way. Soon it was out in into the open, where the California sun was giving a wonderful display

Another 25 minutes, and the BART service pulled into San Francisco Airport, with me leaving the train here

Non-Futuristic C type train.

Exiting the BART, my next stop would be the hotel shuttle to the Crowne Plaza. But not without passing through the stunning International Terminal


Again, sheer luck was on my side with a shuttle bus arriving about 10 minutes after I exited the international terminal. This is important as the shuttle to the Crowne Plaza is every 30 minutes as opposed to every 15 or so to the Hyatt

A short ride later, the shuttle bus passed the Mariott and the Hyatt, and finally reached the Crowne Plaza.

Crowne Plaza San Francisco Airport
Rate Paid: $89++

Entrance

After a short wait to check in, I was seen to. My rate was confirmed and keycards issued. Helpfully, there were shuttle bus timetables photocopied and waiting for collection. During check-in, I was offered a choice of three amenities:

  • A Drink in the Bar
  • A bottle of water
  • 600 IHG points

I was dissuaded away from the bottle of waters as I was given Club access (where there was water), and I didn’t value a drink in the bar… so I went for 600 points (which posted the next day). Considering I earned only 1,227 points on this stay, that was basically 50% extra points for nothing.

Public areas

With that, I headed for my room on the 9th floor.


Retro.

The room itself is a pretty standard Crowne Plaza room… and that’s no bad thing in this case, as it provided the facilities I needed for the night – a bed, a bath, somewhere to wash and relax.

Bed area and TV

Bathroom

The view… well… it wouldn’t win any awards…

Since I had Club access, I decided to use it (if just to get a bottle of water). And I’m glad I set my expectations low in this case…

What it was – well it seems like two rooms were knocked together to create a lounge area

Meanwhile, loosing a game…


Seating


Kitchen Area

Fruit and cookies.

The kitchen area had a few bits in, namely a coffee machine, bottles of water, cookies, and fruit. Completely unexciting.

Although I avoided the fruit.

Oh dear.

By this point, evening had fallen, and the night had begun.

I turned in early myself as the flight in the morning was at 7am, and I wanted to be gone from the hotel by 5am. Thankfully sleep came easy to me by 9pm, with me back up by 3:30. This gave me time to finalise packing. With that done, and 4:45 passing, I checked out with no further details needed.

Overall: It did the job as a crash pad for the night (and in some respects a lot better than the Ibis I had in Paris – certainly more room per pound… It was clean, but its age is showing. There are better choices near the airport, but from a value perspective – pretty hard to beat.

This being an early morning shuttle, the hotel shuttle bus back to the airport was full of airline crew, and thankfully the shuttle was on time .

With everyone aboard, there were a couple more hotel stops, and then down the freeway back to the airport.

Next: AA Lounge, American Airline 24 to New York JFK.


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
Across the Golden Gate Bridge (and back).

tr-lastpush

Contents!

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do on my trips to San Francisco is to physically cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Why? Because it’s there.

So, bright and early Saturday morning (well not THAT early – Pokemon XY was premièring on Cartoon Network), I packed a light bag, and headed off.

Looking at the public transport maps, it would be convoluted to get there. So, I did the cable car up to Van Ness Avenue, a bus up towards Lombard Street. Of course, I was out of range of internet connectivity and therefore decided to walk and try to find a bus stop on Lombard. Which I did eventually… after a 20 minute walk.

No matter. Eventually a 28 for Daly City came around, which if my maps were right would take me near enough to the Golden Gate visitors centre. And lo and behold, it did.

Closing in

Here we are!

Well, with the bridge nearby, I steeled myself and begun walking. Now whilst most people make it to the first pier and then turn around, I was hell bent on crossing the entire thing. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time..

Must stop having good ideas. Seriously.

So, I put one step infont of the other and begun walking.


Darn straight. The only way is forward – there is no turning back!


First span!

Passing the first span, the amount of people thinned out considerably. Whilst the road traffic was ever rumbling, the people traffic went down a lot.

Even Marine traffic was in full flow.


2nd Span!

Eventually, I made it to Vista Point and took a break.. and the views in


I bet they weren’t happy about the next day…

Now, I was planning to get a bus back, but it was only tourist buses back across, requiring $20 or so… and to be blunt, I wasn’t going to pay that just for 1 and 3/4 miles.

I decided to do the only thing I could do – and cross over back over by foot. Trust me, it felt more than 1 3/4 miles  on the way back. A lot more… 


Love lockets


Getting busier – back to the crowds

Crossed!

…. and done.

Trust me, I caught the 28 back towards the city, and swapped to the 30 for the journey back into the city. Put it like this… I wasn’t in the mood to walk.

Though I did that a bit later as I headed onwards. Although that’s not a story for PrimeTime GhettoIFE. Maybe an after dark story if you want to ask nicely enough ;)

Next: Crowne Plaza San Francisco Airport.


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Posted by Kevincm | 7 Comments

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
Boating around the Bay

tr-lastpush

Contents!

After walking down the Nob Hill and onto Market Street, I was a complete tourist and caught the F Line to Pier 39.

I can never escape my home city it seems (ok, ok… our trams are less reliable than there’s… and its a totally different Birmingham… :p)

Why? Because I’ve never been. And yes, it there solely to empty your wallet with various attractions and shops.

And Sea Lions. Obviously.

As I was leaving, I noticed a tourist boat was about to head off for a trip around the bay. I could had done a cheap trip to Sausalito or Larkspur, but I fancied the tourist thing. So I ponied up for a trip.

San Francisco Bay Cruise, Blue and Gold Line
$28

Ok, I’ll say this from the off – the commentary was pants. I couldn’t hear it half the time. The other half it was just about barely audible.

But that didn’t matter to be honest. The cruise was a simple one, taking a loop from Pier 39, out towards and under the Golden Gate Bridge, then towards Alcatraz Island, before looping back towards San Francisco and Pier 39.

And from here on in, I’ll let the photos do the dirty work.


Never thought I’d be spotting birds whilst on a holiday…

Overall: Let’s be honest, you’re not paying for the commentary, you’re paying for a view that someone takes you to and back. Whilst $28 is pretty on the high-end, I felt like I got some reasonable value from the trip, with a reasonably paced trip around the local Bay area.

With that done, I cheated and had dinner at somewhere I shouldn’t have.. and slowly made my way back to the IC to do…. other things.

Next – Kevin does healthy exercise…  3 and half miles across The Golden Gate Bridge… and back.


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, Nob Hill, San Francisco.

tr-lastpush

Contents!

After a ride back into San Francisco Airport, I hopped on the Air Train, and circled around the airport until I was dropped off at a stop which connected with the BART. $18 in the machine, and it unhappily spat out a ticket at me for rides to and from downtown San Francisco.

There wasn’t much of a wait, and soon a 10 car BART train (one with the futuristic slanted front) turned up for the trip.

Whilst I remember the journey wasn’t quick, it took the best part of 20-25 minutes to get from the airport and towards Powell station

Exiting the BART, I emerged at Powell station. There were two tasks to do: get a Muni Transit pass for three days, and get to the IC on top of the Nob Hill. The transit pass was easy, as at Powell is where the San Francisco Visitors centre is. Which is nice.

$23 handed over, and a three-day Muni pass in hand, I headed for the cable car on the Powell – Manson line… to encounter a legendary queue for the cable car.

Scrapping that idea off for a game of soldiers, I flagged a cab down for a ride up the Nob Hill instead. 5 minutes later (and a bit of traffic dodging and dicing), I was at my digs for the next two nights – the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco.

Intercontinental Matt Hopkins
Rate Paid: $202++ (IC Ambassador Voucher)

Ok. Hotel at night. Everyone happy now?

I arrived and headed to reception, where I was warmly greeted. The room was upgraded to a higher level room, and my Ambassador Free Weekend Voucher was accepted as payment for the 2nd night – reducing the cost of the hotel to $202+tax ($255). Which – is cheap for any hotel.

Lobby

I was explained my benefits, the Internet would be complimentary, and keys for both my room and the minibar were issued.

With that – I headed up to my room through the ornate elevators

A quick exit from the 9th floor, and I headed to 920 for the next two nights…

Lift

So lets look at the room – Not modern, but not bad in any sense of the word. The radio had been pre-set to a classical music programme adding a welcoming touch to the room

Custom Pillow

TV Welcome screen

Alarm clock

Work Area

Directory

Water, coffee machine

Whilst some might call the room “a bit old world”, I feel it suited the hotel rather well. The bed was comfortable and relaxing (and after what I did on one day – it needed to be) whilst everything was within easy access.

Looking into the bathroom, again, it’s reasonably appointed with all the things you need – including a bath tub, and the usual array of amenities you have in an Intercontinental Hotel.

Bathroom



Slightly disappointingly, there was no welcome amenity initially, but there was everything I needed for a stay.

Internet was of a reasonable speed – enough to make a Skype call without it dropping, but not fast enough to shove a load of videos onto Youtube. Still, it was usable and didn’t feel like dropping – always helps.

With me settled in, I headed out and down to Market Street… walking. That was tough ;)

Back of the hotel

When I came back later, a turn down service had been dropped off, as well as a welcome amenity had arrived. How nice!

Turn down chocolates by Tcho. I had to investigate this company in the end as this company made chocolate that tasted of chocolate. Rather than of wax like some American brands.


Welcome amenity – Fruit and Water, along with more Tcho chocolate.

My eyes casted outside. Being on the 9th floor, there were some gorgeous views.


Daytime


Dusk

Night




Dawn

Dawn (Yes, The California Street cable car goes here. Useful for avoiding climbing the Nob hill).

Everything was pretty much on the button. Whilst I didn’t use the dining services or breakfast, when I went out, the room was tidied during the day, and at evenings when I was out – the turn-down service was completed.

Room temperature was pretty good, not being too hot or cold, and easily controllable.

Check out on the Sunday was offered with a late check out of 4pm (which was welcome as I had stuff to do during the morning and afternoon), with an offer of onward transportation (which was a good idea as the 49ers vs Seahawks were playing – I opted for a cab to the BART station where there would be fewer people.

Overall: It’s a very timeless property, looked after and offers a very luxurious stay. Whilst it may not cater to everyone modern touches, its nice to step back and try a nice property with staff that look after you and want you to enjoy your stay. The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins did that in spades. Those who like workouts and love climbing hills will like this hotel too…

Next: Boating on the Bay


Want to keep up with me at GhettoIFE? Join me either by signing up for my newsletter, or follow me on Twitter @GhettoIFE for when there are posts to the blog!

Posted by Kevincm | One Comment

« previous home top