It’s Sunday again, so it must be time for some more airplane art.

This week, taxing in the evening sun is an American Eagle Bombardier CRJ-700 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport as it heads off to a runway to depart for another destination.

American Eagle CRJ-700 - Image GhettoIFE

The image is clickable if you want to see a larger version – and yes you can keep them for your desktops!

More airplane art next week!


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Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
The Wrap-up – Warming Up Slowly.

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Well… another trip done and dusted. Apart from the biting cold (as well as listening to The Girl and the Globe’s sage advice about layers), it’s time to wrap this up for another time….

  • National Express did the job as usual, getting me from A to B. Whilst the cost was eye-watering, it’s still a cheaper option that hotels in the Heathrow area

  • The British Airways and American Airlines lounges are showing signs of improvement still, with relaxing places to both dine, rest and work when needed (although those printers they have at the AA lounge are just plain odd)

  • AA87 on a Boeing 767-300ER – whilst the Main Cabin Extra seating was a nice thing, the out of date IFE soultion (combined that the cabin crew wanted a dark cabin) doesn’t mix in my book.  The sooner the replacement 787s and A350 begin arriving to replace these planes, the better.

  • The Crowne Plaza O’Hare was a good solid option, delivering a good nights rest and some nice elite benefits. All I can ask from a night-stop.

  • The Hyatt Regency O’Hare is showing signs of major improvement after the last clusterhambles.  Whilst still needing a bit of polishing in some areas… it is better by a fair whack.

  • Chicago O’Hare remains big, bad and acceptable. The American Airlines Flagship lounge is a nice example how I expect lounges to be in the US… not the cruet special that exists in most US Airline lounges .

  • American Eagle’s new Embraer E-175s are a big step up from the ERJ-145s that used to serve these routes, with comfort levels that are better than mainline planes sometimes. Shame the service on them is just a cup of drink.

  • Toronto Airport T3 remains in desperate need of being pulled down and starting again – especially for those passengers in transit

  • British Airways Galleries Toronto remains one of the best lounges in the BA system in North America, with friendly service with a smile

  • The British Airways Boeing 787 remains a good plane to fly on. They’re even better when nothing goes wrong aboard them. World Traveller Plus is very much a sweet spot cabin – especially if you can score a cheap cabin upgrade.

  • BA’s ground handing at Heathrow was abysmal. One hour to deliver bags isn’t acceptable… especially at your home base. The only saving graces was that I could change my ticket for the coach home cheaply, and access the arrivals lounge

  • And as for Chicago? A great city, with great friends in it. Do I need to say much more than that?

So some improvements… some drops. That’s why I do this route twice a year on pretty much the same airlines to see what changes there are.

Just makes the joy of travel a continual joy.

But there is more travel ahead as I move onto the next trip report… which will begin soon.

And it involves this character…


An electric mouse type
Pokémon… of course- it’s Pikachu!

Please join me for Hello DayTrip! To the Paris Pokémon Centre with British Airways in Club Europe.

There will be semi live postings next week when I’m out there, with the lots of pictures… and with me, of course, plenty of shenanigans.

Comments welcome as always :)

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
The British Airways Arrivals Lounge and finally
Homeward Bound

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After heading down the steps, it was time for a bus ride back to the T5 complex.


Big Trent! Heavy Trent!

A bit of ducking and diving through some cuttings, and the bus deposited me at the T5A – the main departures/arrivals complex.

I headed back to the elevators, and up to the arrivals area, and straight to the UK Border. A quick judgement showed that the human screening queues were pretty long, whilst the ePassport booths were moving at a reasonable pace.

I headed to the ePassport booth, and after a short wait, entered the clearance area. After a minute or so waiting for the human to intervene (hint: ePassports booth clearances are cleared with a person looking at pictures and comparing biometrics and are not automated in any way), I was cleared for entry back into the United Kingdom.

With that, I headed to the luggage carousel for a wait.

And I mean a LONG wait.


Luggage claim

Luggage delivery at T5 varies (like most airports). Alas, it took them an hour from landing to get the first bags out onto the belt (with my bags thankfully making it).


FINALLY!


Then there was one… 


Then two…

Not overly impressed there. BA promised 30 minutes or so normally, and flunked majorly.

And at this point I missed the coach home. AGAIN.

So, with a sigh and another £5 down, I changed my National Express coach ticket for another one thanks to BA’s luggage delivery incompetence.

Thankfully, the extra time at the terminal gave me an opportunity to try something – the BA arrivals lounge.

Heading up to the T5 mezzanine level (in between Arrivals level and Departures level)


That way!


For those coming out of T5, nearest esculator is at Meeting Point South. 

Lounge Stop: British Airways Arrivals Lounge

I was welcomed to the lounge, with my access granted thanks to my BA Gold (and much to the disgust of someone behind me who wanted to get – but came in on a Club Europe flight only), and headed into the lounge.


Main lounge area


Bad Daytime TV.


Spa Area


First Class area

With 30 minutes or so before the bus, I eschewed getting a shower, and rather getting some breakfast after the derisory muffin served on the flight.

Breakfast is pretty much the same as the First Class lounge.


Food area


Hot items


Random information…


Flatware and sauces


Fruits


Cold Cuts and cheeses


Snacks and nibbles


Drinks


Pastries

The food was hot and of an edible quality, giving me the chance to make sure I had everything in the right position for when I got home.

The lounge ladies commented I hung around only a short while – with a slow nod of understanding of coaches. With that, it was back downstairs and outside to the coach stand to wait for the inbound service.


It’s art. Allegedly.

The coach pulled up, and the load began.

My ticket was looked at, and the driver made a few faces – I’d discover why in a bit – but I was accepted for travel for the ride to Birmingham.

National Express 210 – Heathrow T5 to Birmingham Digbeth Coach station.

The service was pretty packed when I boarded, giving a good reason why the driver made a face (with the entire coach full by the time it left Heathrow Central).

I chose a pair of seats at the back of the coach – next to the toilet. Not the most pleasant position, but it was seating at least.


Air Canada Boeing 777 landing at Heathrow

The drive this morning took us right (skipping T4), and heading straight towards the central terminal area. There, every spare seat was taken for the ride home – including the seat next to me.


Approaching the Central Bus Station


Busy bus…

At least there seemed to be some extra leg space at the back. However, being at the back meant I was riding on top of the wheels, which was a bit bouncy for the journey home.


Crossing the M25

The coach trekked up to the Midlands, leaving the M40 to call at Warwick Parkway station, then Coventry, and Birmingham International, before arriving at Birmingham Digbeth, with the coach making good time on its journey.


Coventry… 


Birmingham Airport…


Nearing Birmingham City Centre – St Martins Church to the left, the Rotunda in the middle and the silver dotted building is Selfridges


Everyone off!

A few minutes later, I was reunited with the luggage (all undamaged), and it was time to jump a cab for the final part of this trip. Yes, I could had taken buses, but that would had involved more changes in the heart of the city.

I wasn’t prepared to deal with that quite yet.

The taxi deposited me at GhettoIFE towers after emptying my pockets of another £8 I’ll never see again. From there, it was through the gates, and back into the hallway, where another trip was done and dusted.


Home again.

Next: Warming up a bit now.

Posted by Kevincm | 3 Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
BA98 – World Traveller Plus – Toronto Pearson to London Heathrow

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BA98 Toronto Pearson T3 to London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5
British Airways, Boeing 787-8
Seat 10J World Traveller Plus (Upgraded from World Traveller)
90 Tier Points Earned, 3553 Miles Flown, 3553+3553+888 Avios Earned


Waiting to board

I was welcomed on board, and was directed to the right hand side of the cabin to seat 10J – or… my usual home on British Airways 787, the bulkhead row in World Traveller Plus.


Club World Seat


World Traveller Plus Section


My World Traveller Plus Seat

If you want a full tour of the BA 787, you might want to click on my previous report where I was stuck on one for a lot longer than I would had liked.

Boarding moved at a fast pace, with people in the mood to get to London that evening. Pre-departure beverages were given to us in World Traveller Plus, as the cabin reached full capacity.

Pre-departure beverages

Legroom in the bulkhead seat was reasonable, with the bonus of no-one needing the bassinets that night.


Legroom


Boarding

Menus were also distributed whilst on the ground – a nice touch to see in World Traveller Plus.

And for those who don’t know how to operate the World Traveller Plus seat:

IFE connectivity.

As I’m the bulkhead row, I was requested to deploy the screen for the safety announcement, which has been captured for all prosperity. Whilst I was waiting for the safety announcement I also caught up on the news.

Yup – I still default to BBC News when possible.


Outside views

htts://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhSfFLfgj0c

(Although, if we’re all honest, with new cabins rolling out – it could be time for BA to update this video).

As a luggage truck didn’t bump our plane, pushback was on-time, and the 787s Rolls Royce Trent 1000s warmed up as we begun our taxi around Pearson airport. Taxi was a quick process as we begun our take off run for this short trip across the pond.

With a quick climb, my seatmate was taking interest in the seats that we were in – both the Club World seats in the row in front, as well as the Premium Economy seats (to the point where I was plugging things in, and she was wondering about the plane). The flight attendant did a good job of filling her in… and I kind of helped too.

My bad.

Going through the IFE system – it is again Thales i5000 that BA use aboard the Dreamliners, the 777-300ER, the A3880’s and some 777-200ERs.

Interface


Map

IFE Controller


Behold… Minions… TADA!


and Flying Minions! (It’s Phil in the air… bit less comfy than the seat I was in I suspect)

…with a warning of when the IFE will be available to…


No sickbag IFE… but a sign of cost saving across the International Consolidated Airline Group…

Food and drink service was pretty quick off the mark, with 6 hours and 30 on the clock between Toronto and London. Now, if we consider that BA treats this as a sleeper service in Club World (yet a full service in WTP/WT), we have math to do.

Assuming the full 6:30 block, you get the following:

  • 00:30 minutes climb out
  • 01:30 for Dinner
  • 01:30 for Breakfast and landing

You get a about two to three hours cabin black out depending on how fast the staff are – and how fast everyone scoffs.

Drinks – yes, there’s Vodka and cola there with Pretzels. The more things change…

Dinner arrived promptly, delivered on a tray


Caesar Salad


Flatware


Beef Short Ribs – pretty good for an in-flight meal

Nanamio bar. Very rich

Catering out of Toronto is always a good affair (be it on Air Canada or BA), with good strong flavours, well-cooked beef and reasonable accompaniments – certainly a step above the slightly more basic offering in World Traveller.

Clear down was done very quickly too, allowing the cabin to fall into rest too. I put my seat into the recline position too and grabbed some rest whilst I could on this short Trans-Atlantic hop.

Waking up a few hours later… the blinds on the Dreamliner weren’t doing their job again, as this was the colour outside the window


Window control


I’m still not sure about these electronic window blinds.

Breakfast was served about an hour and a bit out of London, and as expected for this short leg, it was the usual disappointing muffin


Disappointing Muffin – with coffee. On the plus side, I got two shots of coffee.


The wing…

As we continued our journey towards London, the welcome video played

I just kept my eye out on the world as morning rose, and de-dimmed the window


Passing over “home”

Time wound its way on, and soon it was time to stow the screens as the plane begun its decent towards London Heathrow


Return to seats… time to land!



Preparing to drop through the cloud layer


Murky.


Lined up for 09L

The plane made a reasonably spiritely landing as it completed its journey. A quick peel off the runway, and it was time for the plane to track back to T5.

Sister 787 following in behind us.


A more classic British Airways bird

The taxi around Heathrow looked hopeful, as we turned towards the T5B/T5C complexes. However, it was not to be as the plane continued to taxi, and over to the hard stands where the plane powered down.

At least it wasn’t raining I suppose.

The plane parked, and everyone begun the mad scramble for exit

Scramble!

Overall: A much better flight this time compared to the previous flight (the plane not being dinged, and it leaving on time helps a lot). World Traveller Plus continues to be a strong product with some of the features of business class, integrated with a large space economy product. Catering was its usual self, being an excellent first service, and a lousy breakfast on these sub 7-hour segments. The crew whilst interactive were mostly forgettable sadly, offering a reasonable British Airways in-flight service.

Put it like this, I still think going through Toronto on the way home is still a valid choice for me.

Next: Homeward… Eventually.

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
British Airways Galleries Lounge, Toronto Airport

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Lounge stop – British Airways Galleries Lounge.


Disclosure: British Airways/Compass Handling kindly offered food at the pre-flight dining section. The following review is the author’s own opinions.

I was welcomed to the lounge, and my boarding pass scanned. I was wearing a T-Shirt, which got the lounge agent and myself chatting (I should add no one was behind me).

After a short discussion, I asked if there was any space in World Traveller Plus that night. Space was available on buy up (with a window to boot) for CAD$250. I took it as the rest of my row had checked in.

After thanking the lounge agent for the best BA lounge in North America, I was allowed in, and met the lounge manager who chatted to me for a while why I thought it was the best lounge in North America. He seemed very happy with my reasons (a relaxing atmosphere and some of the best BA staff in North America)… and also offered me Buffet voucher to “review” the facility.

How kind :)

The pre-flight dining area was shut for a while whilst they prepared it for the BA98 rush (with BA96 now gone), so I took a seat, was offered a glass of bubbles and sat down in a quiet relaxing environment… before dinner.



Seating


Bubbles.


Drinks


Coffee Machine

Very Galleries-esqe

Soon enough, the pre-flight dining was open, with the lounge manager inviting those in who had vouchers – with a very deep eye to detail that night.

So onto the food – because at GhettoIFE, we love food.


Seating


Flatware







Salads and starter items

The salad/starter items were of a good quality, fresh and no wilted leaves or anything off putting like that. Fresh and crunchy are good things here, and this was delivered in spades.

The hot items were self service too – again, a mix of chicken, fish, vegetarian to cover all tastes, with the food served hot – which in an environment like this is so important.

There was also a cook to order option – which that night was, Penang Beef Curry. Well it would have been rude of me if I didn’t have one.

And it was cooked to order… and tasted as good as it looked


From this…

To this… That’s what I call a curry

It was well spiced and had flavour – sometimes that can be a challenge.

As well as main item, there was also Apple Crumble, cheeses and a mousse dessert. Sadly, I didn’t partake of them – namely as the curry had filled me up.

The meal is what I’d describe as “satisfying”, and given its target customer base (those who are intending to sleep the moment the plane takes to the sky), this is a good thing as going to sleep on a happy stomach is important.

With dinner done and dusted, I retired back to the lounge area and got on with a bit of typing and image dumping onto the laptop.

The lounge began to fill up as the evening progressed – although the lounge never felt full. It was still a peaceful environment to relax in and work in.

WiFi was provided free of charge by Toronto Airport. Whilst the speed of the WiFi wasn’t going to break records, it did work “well enough” on both the laptop and the phones for basic uses like email, browsing.


Work area


Nibbles and such

Soon enough (and lets be honest, it felt way too soon to me), boarding was called for Flight 98 to London Heathrow.

I sadly took my leave of the lounge, and thanked the lounge team for their excellent service.

Overall : Yes, I maybe biased in my in my opinion that this is one of the best BA lounges outside the UK – but hear me out: If there a place where was great service, good food and a friendly lounge team on a trip that you have to make home or on the way to somewhere… wouldn’t you want to divert there if it wasn’t out of your way?

That’s how I view this lounge – a wonderful stop on the way home that makes allows me to spend my time in a useful way before getting on the plane for the hop to Heathrow.

Heading down to the gate, boarding was in full swing. Thankfully FastTrack was in use, and well patrolled.

A beep of my new boarding pass in World Traveller Plus and it was time to head down the jetway to my second British Airways 787 Dreamliner fight…

..lets hope a luggage loader doesn’t ram into the plane this time….

Next: British Airways 98 Toronto Pearson to London Heathrow T5

Disclosure: British Airways/Compass Handling kindly offered food at the pre-flight dining section. The review is the author’s own opinions.

Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
Toronto Airport… Oh Toronto..

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Toronto, Oh Toronto.

After getting off the E-Jet, it was time to play run the risk with Canadian Immigration. Thankfully with the new E-Jets, you actually get a proper jetbridge as opposed to going to the ground, then trying to find your way around the ground with awful signage.


Up the jetbridge – sponsored by HSBC…


The resting E-Jet, readying for the turnaround back to Chicago. 

And a new discovery – they have bouncy travellators here. Those of you who have been through Heathrow Terminal 4 will know what I mean about bouncy travellators (they’re a rubber continuous belt… which has a rather bouncy effect when you walk).


To the Travellators!


*bounce bounce bounce*

Soon enough, it was time to descend into Dante’s Inferno – or Canadian Immigration as its known by most people.


Fun times ahead…

Heading through the transfer queue, I was seen to quickly by a border agent.

My immigration form was stamped (but strangely not my passport) with my travel plans confirmed, and I was sent on my way.

Normally when that happens, it means trouble is ahead…

Next stop was to the luggage belt, where delivery of the baggage was rather prompt (compared to last time), with both bags actually making it out in a reasonable amount of time. So these E-Jets have a reasonable hold space too (or they’ve worked out how to load two bags that belong to the same person onto the same plane at American Eagle. Miracles take a little longer).

With both bags in hand (or let’s be honest, one bag on top of another), it was time to deal with Canadian Customs. This is the bit I was dreading as this could mean a very long time in customs if they don’t like the stamp and scribbles on the customs form.

I handed over my form, and was waived through.

Phew.

With that it was off to tote my bags to luggage transfer. I was quizzed what flight I was on (confirming I was on the later flight and not the earlier flight which was in the final stages of boarding and closing). With those formalities completed, I dropped my bags off and headed into Canada for a short while.

I headed up to the departures level… and found I had left my boarding pass at the baggage drop off point.

Oh well. It would be impossible for me to go back as the drop off point was in the secure area, so it was easier to queue up and get a new one issued.

I queued up at the BA check in desks for about 10 minutes to get a new boarding pass issued, and with that – it was off through airport security to get back into the secure side of the airport.


Eh? I suppose it’s not called “Buddy”…

Where I managed to set off the archway detector when going through security.

After being informed it was a random screening (how nice), I was offered the choice of a backscatter scan or a pat down.

One pat down later, I was sent on my way, and up to “The Hammerhead” (with a short break to get the cheapest possible headphones out of the Best Buy Express machine… well I need some decent headphones for the upcoming flight and the coach journey home).


Heading to the Hammerhead…


That’s a bit different.


No, these aren’t restaurant seats… these are gate seats with power and a place to work or relax. A very nice innovation there Toronto Airport.


Although some of the sign postings have room for improvement.

After entering the hammerhead, it was time to head up to one of my favourite lounges in North America… the British Airways Galleries Lounge.

Why? It’s a place that some good things have happened in the past. I wouldn’t be disappointed this time either…

Next: British Airways Galleries Lounge, Toronto Airport.

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
American Eagle E-175 Chicago O’Hare to Toronto Pearson

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AA4253 Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Toronto Pearson International Airport
American Eagle, Embraer E-175 Operated by Republic Airlines, Sold as BA6826
Seat 8A, Main Cabin Extra

The Photos

I was welcomed aboard, and headed down the plane to seat 8A, where a wonderful seat awaited me.


First Class Seat


Economy Class (Main Cabin Extra)


Passenger Service Unit


Overhead bin

The seat itself had a lot of extra leg room and stowage – as this was the first row of seats behind First Class. 7A was in front of me, whilst 8C was going to miss some under-seat storage in front of them (this is where configuration of the plane changes from 1-2 to 2-2).


Long leg room

The seat itself is a spacious 18” seat width, with a very reasonable amount of leg room (heck, I probably could do a long leg in one of these without a moan).


Towards the front office.

Loading took some time – even for an E-175 which is normally a quick turnaround. The plane packed out with a full load that evening to Toronto.

New plane, tatty safety card.

The safety demonstration as completed as an audio and visual demo, and soon enough it taxied out of the central terminal area and pretty much straight to the runway.


Disconnected


Taxing

The engines of the E-175, and we were off like a rocket down the runway.

The climbout took us over Illinois, and over Lake Michigan, tracking towards Toronto Pearson

A lot less ice and snow than before…




Whilst there were curtains to divide the cabins up, they were not deployed on this flight.


Un-deployed.

Conditions outside were still a bit chilly, even if the temperatures on the ground had start climbing above 0c.

A drinks service was carried out, which was done cup style (i.e. a cup of drink, and that’s your lot), which kept the cabin crew in main cabin busy, whilst another looked after the people in First Class.


Tray table stowed


Cup of drink


Immigration forms were distributed too as everyone would have to enter Canada to continue onto their next destination. Ah, the joy of Canadian paperwork.

Still, the whites of the snows started to turn to a city as we begun the descent towards Toronto, with the evening light giving a wonderful – if hazy display of a Canadian evening.

Touchdown was a bit sporty as we came into Pearson, but nothing that the pilot couldn’t control well (but then I find that landings in regional jets can be rather sporty partially due to how low to the ground you are… ).

Our taxi took us around Toronto Pearson airport in the gorgeous sunset, and thankfully towards a jetway as opposed to the ground disembarkation gates that you can meet up with in Toronto.

Overall: The E-Jets continue to impress me if I’m bluntly honest. From a passenger perspective, they give good shoulder width, good seating and are a comfortable ride. Whilst the crew were mainly going through the motions, the service standard is typical of a 1 and a bit regional hop in North America. There is room for improvement here (full cans of drink would be a start), but it’s not a bad service at all with this little jet.

Next: Toronto. Oh Toronto…

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
Back to O’Hare, American Airlines Flagship Lounge

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After returning to the hotel, I retrieved my luggage and completed the final bits packing. With that done, my friends were heading off for their flights on Delta. With not much else for me to, I chose to head out at the same time – and head for one of the AA lounges.

The shuttle did its job, dropping my friends off T2, and then dropping me off at T3. A tip to the driver, and I was ready to rock.

O’Hare Terminal Three

After couple minutes working out where was going, I headed off to the premium check in queue. I was seen to promptly and have a lovely chat with the ladies at the check-in counter.

My bags were accepted without any issue and boarding passes were issued for the American Eagle and BA flight from Toronto to London. I was also reminded that I would have to collect my luggage at Toronto and recheck it before connecting to my London flight.

With that I headed off to premium security.

The queues moving rather quickly with the TSA out in force. As usual I opted out of the nude-o-scope scan and was patted down. This only took a few seconds to been seen to, and the process was as reasonable as ever, taking a few minutes of the security agents time. Once cleared I was set to go and lad on my way.


Past security


Towards the gates


The Hall of Flags

After checking which gate my flight will be departing from – noting it was going from the H gates, I decided that the best course of action was to do duty-free quickly and then head straight for the Flagship Lounge.

Duty-free was disposed of very quickly with the items I wanted purchased. With that done, it was off to the Flagship Lounge.

American Airlines Flagship lounge

I was welcomed to the lounge and greeted. My boarding pass scanned, and the gate that it would be departing from. Once that was done, I was given free range of the lounge, with a note that no call would be made for the flight.

It also gave me a chance to write important post stating why I was happy to fly that day – three days after the MH370 disappeared

However, there are some advantages going to the Flagship lounge over the Admirals Club – even if its slightly further away from the gate – mainly the free flow food and drink for a minute extra walk (that and the proactive service when something goes wrong goes a long way in my book).

But there was food – mainly snack based, but enough for this time of day:


Food spread


Sushi


Cruets and filled rolls


Fruits


Why yes, I do have Grey Poupon.

It was a much quieter place than the flagship lounge is, with no silly tickets for drinks – rather more focused on getting the passenger ready for the next place they need to go to – the point of a good airline lounge.

Time ran on, and soon enough, it was time to leave the lounge, and head to the gate. After the messup I made last year due to me missing my flight, I tend to leave the lounge a bit earlier than normal. Or, I was clockwatching as normal. Take your pick.

Heading to the gate pen, it was going to be a busy flight as the waiting area was crammed tight. Still, there was time to inspect what sort of plane would carry me towards Toronto that evening – and indeed it would be one of American Eagle’s brand new Embraer E-175s

The call was made for boarding, and I took my leave of the United States, along with my duty free. With the boarding pass beeped, I headed down the jetway for the short hop over to Toronto.

Next: AA4253 Chicago O’Hare to Toronto Pearson Airport

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
A Walk Around Millennium Park

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One my friends who I met in Chicago has never actually been to Millennium Park, so we thought this be a fun morning thing to do before we headed off on our separate directions with them heading back to Minneapolis and me heading across the pond.

As we were both still in the O’Hare area, we cheated and caught a shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport.

Once back at the terminal, it was a case of dropping down to the CTA departure level and paying $5 to go from O’Hare to Downtown.

If you going to O’Hare directly to Millennium Park, you will need to be getting on at Washington station. From there it’s just a few blocks west towards Millennium Park… It’s easy to spot because you’ll see the concert stadium there.


The Jay Pritzker Pavilion


Ice Rink


The hidden Bean

Millennium Park’s history isn’t what we call a simple one – see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Park   - a story of delays corporate sponsorship and some stunning architecture.

Our little walk took us towards the Cloud Gate which is also known as the Bean. And we did all the usual tourist things go one of the being go around the Bean take lots of pictures of it before taking pictures of the other end Millennium Park.

There’s more to the park than just the bean, so we headed past the Boeing galleries and over to Crown Fountain.

As it was out of season, and the weather was what still not what I call particularly warm, the fountains were off so the faces that were being showed on were spurting water after you.


The Cloud gate with a lot of visitors


Wrigley Gate

What’s there was still signs of snow in are, the walkways were clear, with no slippery ice to worry about. On the day I was there, the sun was shining, and people were enjoying the experience of the park and space… and the snow was receding.

Of course it was still quite cold, so we kept on walking – heading up towards North Michigan Avenue and over the Chicago River – again a bit blustery but still pleasant walk.


My impression of Kai W of DigitalRev TV‘s people pushing boxes around on trolleys…  


Crossing the Chicago River


Crossing the river – The Tribune building infront.


Wrigley Building (home of the British Consulate in Chicago for those who need to know)


Receding snow.

http://pb-i4.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/6247-1401332089-21.jpg

Back across the river, the Trump building on the right.


Title card!


Marina View


Towards Lake and Clarke.

With a stop at Walgreens for final souvenirs for both of us, it was time to head back to Hyatt to pick our stuff up. Rather than run the risk with shuttles, we took the L to Rosemont station, and walked the two blocks or so back to the hotel.

Overall: Yes you can do Millennium Park in less than three hours – although you won’t get the best of it. Those of you with 5 hour or more layovers at O’Hare should consider getting out of the airport and enjoying a little of what this great city has to offer.

Next: Back to O’Hare

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Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
Hyatt Regency O’Hare

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With the luggage I had, plus the cold conditions – there was no way I was going to walk to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. I therefore got a cab for the 5 minute ride to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare.

I was greeted and recognised at the door by the bellman and directed upstairs to check-in.

Now, a few days before I had been communicating with one of the front desk managers at the hotel after the last omnishambles I had at the hotel. I therefore contacted them over the room type and location of the room; with my fingers crossed the blocking would hold

That artwork…

At Check-in, my room type was confirmed, and all was good for once. I was also able to add a guest to the check-in list too (which would allow them to get a key from reception). With that, it was up to my room, where a familiar face delivered my bags too.


Beds and work area


Work area, TV.


Lounger.


Hey – that’s new – a White noise machine…


Still rather cold outside…


Bathroom amenities … and yes, there was a bath in the room. 

After a while getting settled in and sorted where different bits needed to go, I headed downtown to complete some tasks.

I headed back to the hotel later to find my friend had checked in fine, and had made it to the room safely. It was then time to catch up with other friends and get ready for the weekend.

We did look at the main restaurant, but we decamped to the Red bar instead – mainly as we all wanted nibbly food rather than big meals. And this suited both our budgets as well as our appetites…


Fried Calamari


Wings and Calamari

Normally, my weekend is spent down here, catching up with people


The International Ball Room Area

As such, I get to know the conference staff that look after us very well – and they continue to do a sterling job, keeping people happy during the weekend.

However, back up at the room, whilst the room was made up daily and well, the lack of amenities restocking was… sparse to say the least (I counted once over the four days I was there). In the end, I had to ask another person who was making up a room for extra supplies.

I shouldn’t have to do that at this sort of hotel.

Internet remains an issue at this hotel – whilst in the lobby, it’s free. In the rooms, it’s chargeable (and as a non elite at Hyatt, I accept that). It’s at the international ballroom level where the Internet access is dire.

For once – this had consequences for me, as the MH370 incident broke on Friday evening (US time) – where I needed to be writing and bringing updates as opposed to being social. And with the stability of the network on the International Ballroom level, it wasn’t happening easily without a lot of extra faffing around with the wireless networking.

However, everything else seemed to be fine. The Hyatt Regency Bed is still one of my favourites when staying at their hotels, being reasonably firm for my tastes, with the in-room entertainment working well – and the balcony being accessible (allowing me to get a bit of cold fresh air occasionally).

Check out was handled reasonably quickly, with all charges matched appropriately.

Overall: A much bigger improvement with room and service overall, however – there are little things at the edges that need to be seen to ironed out. The requested room did help a lot (especially since I had a guest with me), with the bar service being reasonable.

As I’ve said before, it’s in the details… and sometimes these are overlooked (especially with the bathroom amenities being restocked, and the Internet issues). It was better than my previous visit to this hotel – but there is still a case of  “can do better” here.

NEXT: ONE TIME EXCEPTION – A trip to Millennium Park

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Cold Chicago, Warm Planes – To Chicago with AA and BA
US Immigration, Crowne Plaza O’Hare

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Off to US Immigration 

When I got off the plane, it would be the usual race to US Immigration.

Why? I hate the long queues that can build up at the US Border. US immigration can be unpredictable (to be polite), as the queues can be anything from a few people long to full two-hour wait – which is typical if you’re arriving non-US Resident.

Thankfully, I managed to get to the immigration counters in a reasonable time, and there were only a few people waiting it seemed.

After waiting at 10 minutes, I was directed to see an immigration agent. I wasn’t looking forward to it after the last grilling I had into the USA – however; this time it was a quick process. The passport was stamped, and I was sent on my way.

From there, it was of to the luggage belt, and as usual – luggage delivery took its sweet time to come out of the belt.

The first bag popped out after a few minutes, whilst the second bag followed 10 minutes later (showing priority luggage is one of those things very few people pay attention to)

From there it was up to customs. The agent examined my form, and thankfully sent me on my way – from plane door to the exit point in customs in 25 minutes. A lot better than usual here.

After making a few Skype calls using the local free WiFi provided by the airport, I decided that it would be a good idea to check into the hotel for the night – the Crowne Plaza O’Hare.

After exiting into the biting cold, I headed for a taxi rank. Thankfully, there was a cab waiting. And for once I had a taxi driver who was honest, didn’t take me around the houses and got me to the hotel without ripping me off. He was tipped appropriately.

Crowne Plaza O’Hare


I didn’t get an external hotel shot this time… shuttle buses are good enough… right?

I was welcomed to the hotel and seen to by receptionist quickly. The agent checked my details and confirmed that my account had been linked up to my Priority Club Account – which is nice.


Reception area

I was then asked what welcome amenity I would like. I was given the option of a welcome pack of drinks and snacks, a drink in the bar or 600 points.

As I’m not hot on the drinks in the bar, I went for the 600 points. IHG points are pretty usable.

I was issued my room card keys, given the Wi-Fi access codes and given a breakfast voucher – with me not realising that breakfast was complimentary on the rate I was on. Always a nice addition to see.

With those formalities completed and headed up to 12th floor and head to the room – and get ready for the cold of Chicago.


Taken a bit later.


To the rooms

Corridors

So let’s have a look this room


Room

Alarm clock

Tea and coffee facilities

With the one at the end of the corridor had a sort of corner room – so it had two sets of windows as opposed to one window…Which is nice

The bed was the usual Crowne Plaza bed – in other words, a pretty acceptable bed for an overnight stop. The room itself was nice and warm, which was helpful given the biting conditions outside.




Bathroom

The bathroom is a pretty normal Crowne Plaza bathroom, well stocked and had a bath with water which was a reasonable temperature. Good things in my book.

I wandered out to experience how cold Chicago was, and wandered back later on. A small welcome amenity was delivered along with a hand-written welcome note from the manager, thanking me for my custom and continued visiting of the property.

It’s the small things that count – and this matters in my book.

As I had a voucher for breakfast, I felt it would be rude not to utilise it.

The breakfast buffet was held in the restaurant with the usual help yourself offerings


Restaurant


Coffee


French toast


Home fries


Spanish Omelette and bits


Cereals


Cold things

Not bad in the least. Although I’m glad I had a breakfast voucher…


ERK. $20 for a buffet breakfast?

I tipped appropriately, and then headed back upstairs to pack and ensure my luggage was in a good state for the next part of the trip.

As I had need to be elsewhere, I checked out about 11am to switch hotel. All charges were “as billed”, and I left in a happy mood.

Overall: Another solid performance by the Crowne Plaza O’Hare. A good product, delivered simply, and at a reasonable cost. All the makings of good consistent visit. Whilst it isn’t a stellar property, it is reliable for a night’s rest, with good connectivity. These things count.

Next: The Hyatt Regency O’Hare

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