Good afternoon on this Bank Holiday evening gentle reader.

Thank you first for bearing with my bad typing, poor grammar over the past few months and years (I’m improving it one post at a time… try being dyslexic – doesn’t help, even with all the spell checkers and grammar checkers in the world… it’s even more fun when they argue amongst each other).

Now, onto the matter at hand… and that posts are going to slow down again for while. They won’t grind to a halt completely, but they may drop down to one-a-day whilst I adjust to life in my new role in the office, as I go from an Active Directory and SQL Server “fiddler” to an IT Engineer (where I fiddle with everything… or more than likely more Active Directory management than I can shake a stick at along with kicking servers).

The Olde office desk. Change happens
The olde desk. Why yes, I have far too many computers around my desk (3 in this picture alone, another 4 on the other side out of shot. In addition, GhettoIFE does not endorse Dell equipment… its the stuff I was issued with).

Or in simple terms someone who works with Servers, Data Services, Switches, Storage systems and all the gubbins that are related to it.

However, as I get into the swing into of the new job, posts to the blog  will slow down for a bit as I adjust to the new workloads.

So, please hang on whilst a new normality establishes itself, and the continuing madness that is GhettoIFE continues to deliver news, miles and such – and the ensuing madness that will be a GhettoIFE trip report that’s due to start soon.

Thank you for reading and your patience :)


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 | 5 Comments

Many moons ago, I starting making and writing about Sickbag based In-Flight Entertainment Systems – or what I called “GhettoIFE Systems”.


A 2014 GhettoIFE system aboard an Air France Airbus A319 – Image GhettoIFE.

The idea being that I could bring entertainment that I wanted to watch inflight, as opposed to IFE that 1) I didn’t want to watch or 2) didn’t exist.

When the iPad came out, I was initially dismissive of it – as one of the problems that I saw would be how to hang an iPad off seat, rather than it consuming precious leg room or table room in a seat.

Well, I was well and truly wrong on that one wasn’t I? iPad’s, Samsung Galaxy’s, Microsoft Surfaces, other no-name tablets computers – they’re everywhere. From the flight deck to the passenger seat, people are adapting to using these devices… and using them in very tight spaces, with people holding them, wedging them in position and such.

But the problem remains – How do you mount these devices if you want to maximise your space?

Recently, there have been a few moves in this sector, so I thought I would take a look:

Monarch Airways

One of the first out of the gate was Monarch Airways with this design for a holder on their short-haul aircraft:

10255289_699005480162145_5692842445843132319_n
Image – Monarch Airways

Their new non-reclining seat has the holder built into the top of the seat, allowing you to seat a device (or devices) without using any cases, nor impeding into tray space.

British Airways Short Haul Seat

batabletholder
Image British Airways

The British Airways design is much more reliant on the case, with you feeding it into the seat in front of you. Again, it’s not consuming precious space.

Meanwhile, SmartTray have been doing the rounds with three designs:

The X1 is a design that uses the tray table to use as a viewing platform.

X1-A
The X1 Tray Table – Image SmartTray

The X1 whilst simple in design has a bit of an issue in my opinion – in that you require to have the tray table deployed. Considering an economy class seat isn’t that spacious to start with, and this requires the full tray to be out, whist it does offer a full “hands free” experience you could be suffering for personal space with this design.

The X2 is a bit more hopeful, with a zero space impact design…

X2-4
X2A
The X2 SmartTray – Image SmartTray

This design is a bit better as it doesn’t require the tray table to be depolyed. Rather, the tablet is secured into the seat back, resolving the seat space issue. From what I can also see, the design should scale to different size tablets too (see the little latch at the tablet insert.  The other good thing about this design is that the tablet holder is tilt-able to view.

The third variant – the X3 is designed for airlines who choose to embed tablets into seats as their IFE systems

X3.4-001
X3 Embedded Tablet IFE Soulution – Image SmartTray

So far, the SmartTray designs are missing customers actually buying and deploying designs, which is a bit of a shame, as they are innovative, and provide a solution for customers.

Unless airlines just want you to use your tray for eating from….

Whilst these innovations are great, they’ve got to be matched with something else - USB Power at Seat. Tablets are notorious for chewing through energy like its going out of business, and after even a medium haul flight can suffer major battery consumption if you’ve had the brightness up and a video looping.

It’s a total soultion that’s got to be thought of – not just one part of it.

But it does mean for those who travel, being tied to airline in-flight entertainment system (and the tastes that airline has in entertainment) is no longer an issue.

And if you’re still stuck with an iPhone, Galaxy, HTC, or a Windows Phone of sort, you can always put in a sick bag and call it a GhettoIFE system…


Before…


After

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

And… we’re back in the room ladies and gentlemen.

With a swathe of fellow bloggers, it’s been fun and games this weekend – with some of us not being able to post.

Well the bad news is the issue has been fixed, and I’m back to write lots of things that might be of some interest to you all.

photo88

Such as this one!

Like Lucky, I actually missed blogging this weekend, sharing with you news and views (although conveniently I was at one of my friend’s wedding this weekend… So I wasn’t going to break that for writing and posting stuff).

IMG_5353

Although it did give me a chance to grab such niceties as the groom’s car….

In addition, there’s more than a few changes going on the GhettoIFE back-end (including some very big news I hope to share with you soon), so in not first out of the blocks.

The first big one is that the blog address is changing – our address is now ghettoife.boardingarea.com whilst we sort out some housekeeping.

So, I thank you for your patience whilst I’ve been off-line, and for those who have missed my writing style…. Thanks.

For those who don’t. I’m back. nice to see you all ;)

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

Sandy was a nasty heck of a storm (first hurricane and then a storm) – and its after effects will be around for a long time.

I was almost stuck because of this storm, and only got out just in time before life in the Midwest got interesting (and it was troublesome enough – trust me).

However, its left the North Eastern Corridor in one hell of a state, and be it donations of time, money, items or miles, there are a load of ways you can help. Some of them can accrue miles (and if you do it through your affiliated airline credit card, you’ll earn miles anyway), but here is a small list courtesy of MommyPoints and  Wandering Aramean – of airline and hotel related how to helps:

I’m also going to put my foot in this to help because I can (as well as some of the other Boarding Area bloggers)

Leave a comment about the storm -  either how you were affected, if your travel plans were hit, or what you’re doing to help.  

Drop your comment in the comments box below and I’ll donate $1 per comment. Deadline is 12:00 8th November 2012EST.

Together with the blogs, above, we’re aiming to donate up to US$1800, and we need your help by filling in the comments boxes please!

In addition, I’ve found a three extra “remove before flight” keyrings so there will be a draw for those for those who add a comment to the box below.

Thank you for your consideration and reading this post – Lets do some good together people and show that we care.

And a special note of thanks to MommyPoints who has organised this.

Posted by Kevincm | 63 Comments

Well last week I eluded to a prize give-away – and I apologise it’s a bit behind schedule. Call it the joy of work, the joy of typing and the fact that there has been an awful lot of news over the past few days.

So lets re-cap – the 6th October represented the first anniversary of GhettoIFE on Boarding Area and I’m running a prize draw. Because I love all of you.

And as usual, it’s something you won’t see every day. Well two things. I’ve got the following:

1st Draw winner will win: A Fluffy Boeing 787 Dreamliner!


Whilst Boeing has taken forever to knock the real aircraft out, at GhettoIFE Towers, we’ve had them in fluffy form for a few years ;). I have one of these sitting on top of a monitor with your name on it if you win!

2nd Draw Winner will win: A Fluffy United 757!

Harking back to the days when United could play Rhapsody in Blue without turning it into elevator music? When that globe wasn’t on your plane and had a lovely Blue Tulip (or a battleship tulip if you were unlucky)? Days when the phrase “Changes we think you might like” didn’t mean squat? Well, this is for you! This fluffy 757 will take you back to the good olde days of United in its Blue Tulip livery And as an added bonus, this one makes annoying noise too! The perfect thing to annoying everyone on the plane…

And digging around in my box’o’stuff – a special Prize Winner will win: A Pair of “Remove before Flight” keyrings (well sorta my box. Sorta my mail box when they arrive…)

Yes, I’ve got a few of these in the flat and a few more that are arriving soon. No, I’m hanging onto them for now. No, I haven’t been to Alibaba to try and get custom ones made… yet. These stylish keyrings will inform anyone you like your planes… and also darn handy to locate keys, wallets, or anything that needs a “remove before flight” tag.

Oh ok. They’re not the greatest prizes. It could be worse – I could be giving away American Airlines miles…. like anyone collects those things ;)

AND NOW THE DRAW IS OPEN (now I’ve found the post I’m working with)!

To be in with a chance of winning some of this stuff… all you have to do is this:

What’s the worst meal on a plane you’ve had?

The two fluffy planes are random draw prizes and will be drawn using random.org. The Remove Before Flight keychains are for the person (or people) who has amused me most with the comments subject to who can make me laugh the most or for those who submit pictorial evidence.

And if you want to submit pictorial evidence, pop it to blog at ghettoife.com where I’m sure I’ll compare to meals from other airlines and see how bad they are.

So you all know the drill by now – fill in your comment in the box below by Saturday 20th October 18:00BST to get your entry in

Boring T&C’s

  • Entries close Saturday 20th October 18:00BST . Entries received after that point won’t get included!
  • One entry per person – a valid email address is required.
  • Pictures submitted via email may be used in the results contest post for illustrative purposes – and not for any other purposes beyond the contest.
  • Two Winners will be drawn via random.org for the prizes of a Fluffy 787 or Fluffy 757.
  • Winners will be contacted before the “winners post” goes online
  • The winner will be required to submit their name, address and country so the prize can be posted to them
  • Once the prize is in the postal system… Cross your fingers.
  • Everyone else will get a giggle out of what you’ve eaten – or was presented to eat on a plane
  • I don’t want to hear of you vomiting your meal in the plane. There are some things I don’t need to know…
  • My decision is final. So there.

I’m looking forward to your stories!

Posted by Kevincm | 15 Comments

Today is the 6th October. For most of you, a completely unimportant day. For me, it’s the day that GhettoIFE completed the move from Blogger and onto Boarding Area, and my first anniversary here.

And nothing says “I love you my readers” than running a prize draw.

And as usual, it’s something you won’t see every day. Well two things. I’ve got the following:

1st Draw winner will win: A Fluffy Boeing 787 Dreamliner!


Whilst Boeing has taken forever to knock the real aircraft out, at GhettoIFE Towers, we’ve had them in fluffy form for a few years ;). I have one of these sitting on top of a monitor with your name on it if you win!

2nd Draw Winner will win: A Fluffy United 757!

Harking back to the days when United could play Rhapsody in Blue without turning it into elevator music? When that globe wasn’t on your plane and had a lovely Blue Tulip (or a battleship tulip if you were unlucky)? Days when the phrase “Changes we think you might like” didn’t mean squat? Well, this is for you! This fluffy 757 will take you back to the good olde days of United in its Blue Tulip livery And as an added bonus, this one makes annoying noise too! The perfect thing to annoying everyone on the plane…

And digging around in my box’o’stuff – a special Prize Winner will win: A Pair of “Remove before Flight” keyrings (well sorta my box. Sorta my mail box when they arrive…)

Yes, I’ve got a few of these in the flat and a few more that are arriving soon. No, I’m hanging onto them for now. No, I haven’t been to Alibaba to try and get custom ones made… yet. These stylish keyrings will inform anyone you like your planes… and also darn handy to locate keys, wallets, or anything that needs a “remove before flight” tag.

Ok, ok. They’re not the greatest prizes. It could be worse – I could be giving away American Airlines miles…. like anyone collects those things…

I was going to kick the draw off today – but I’m going to hold back a day or two until the MegaDO draw is over.

So the contest post will be up at 00:10 8th October2012 Mountain time and will run for a week and a bit.

But thank you for tuning in over the year. It is appreciated you click through to this blog and read some of the stuff that is emptied from my mind into the

Watch out for the prize draw post on the 8th. But for now, a far better prize is up for grabs….


Star MegaDO4. Lots written about it… lots of fun surprises (along with a certain Jeff Smeisk coming along too it seems for a Q&A), and GhettoIFE along with the bloggers from Boarding Area are giving away a seat with Randy Petersen!

To win a seat with Randy, head to http://ghettoife.boardingarea.com/2012/10/01/win-a-seat-with-randy-petersen-on-star-megado-4/, read the rules, and if you’re the winner from the random draw, you’ll go forward to another random draw where 2 readers from Boarding Area blogs will a seat on the US Domestic MegaDO flight! You can also enter at the other following blogs!

Good luck! :D

Posted by Kevincm | 5 Comments

In an interesting move, Cathay Pacific is considering the removal of seat-back in-flight entertainment systems from its entire fleet.

Why? To save weight and fuel

IFE Systems add between one to two tonnes of weight on-board a plane. That weight has to be carried around where the plane goes, so more fuel is required.  Multiply that over a fleet of planes, and the savings go from tiny to significant allowing for extra cargo to be carried, or lighter (and cheaper) fuel loading

John Slosar, CEO of the Hong Kong-based airline told HK Finance that:

“Given the popularity of tablet PCs, passengers no longer need some of the onboard entertainment facilities, like for example, the seat back personal TV screens”

There’s not need to panic just yet as John Slossar also stresses:

“it remains an idea at the present time. The carrier would wait for another five or six years before tablet PCs became more popular with the travelling public at large before taking action.”

Cathay Pacific’s idea is simple: Bring Your Own Device, and they’ll provide a power socket at seat so you can power it, be it a Laptop, Tablet or GhettoIFE Device.

The really clever move would be to introduce some sort of Wireless IFE device, so you use your own device, connect to a server on the plane, and stream content from it.

However, there are obstacles to overcome – not everyone has a tablet (I don’t amazingly and I’m a geek by trade – hence why I have a GhettoIFE device) and there will always be a portion of people who don’t want or need a tablet.

Certainly wattage and draw will be a big issue if everyone on the plane after the bongs go plugs in 200 electrical devices at once, as well as the monitoring of such devices at critical phases of the flight.

Then there are those of us who love inflight maps. Again – this could be delivered over a WiFi portal, but for those without the device… they’re lost. This could be mitigated with a cart of tablets available for hire on the plane.

Any precedents for this? We need only look to Malaysia where Air Asia X (the long haul subsidiary of Air Asia) abandoned IFE units from the planes for their long haul fleet, and switched to renting PlayStation Portables. Similarly, the recent Singapore Airlines upstart Scoot has no IFE installed in it’s 777 fleet, but has chosen to hire iPads out instead.

I doubt this will be the end of IFE as we know it currently, but with IFE content varying between mediocre and dull, and the march towards personal devices, in five years time, I could be spending a lot of time reviewing tablet holders for whilst you’re in the plane….

Posted by Kevincm | 5 Comments

A Smooch of Chicago and a Kiss of DC – LHR-ORD-IAD-LHR with United

Yes, it’s October. That means it’s time to decamp back to my favourite city to visit in the world – Chicago. And yes, that means I write lots about the usual things. So yes, settle dow for a mix of the the usual ramblings, iPhones in Sickbags, paint falling off planes, and general geeking. And if you thought this was any class other than Economy… you’d be wrong.

I’d like to offer a  special welcome to my new BoardingArea.com readers too – this probably isn’t the sort of trip report you’ll see on here, but a dose of realism is always good. So sit back, grab a coffee, and enjoy!

Money Money Money.. Must be funny… In a rich mans world (The Introduction)

Airfares fill me with constant wonder. Normally the wonder is replaced with madness very quickly. Locking down a “cheap” fare to Chicago was proving difficult, with the shock of the >£550 for an “Economy” return to Chicago in October at one point

Errmmm….. £550????

I’m sorry, even by my standards for a 8000 mile or less hop, that is close enough to extortion. As redemption seats were again non existent, I sighed and left the ticket engines for a couple of day.

Thankfully the madness abated slightly and the airfare dropped to £475 for a return ticket.

Pardon me, but £475 on a TATL hop in October is bordering on expensive. I suppose there’s a part of me who thinks anything more than £500 for a ticket is pushing their luck to put it blunt.

On top of this, things at home are… busy. The life of being an evil person (sometimes known as a Systems Administrator), mean the trips have been shorter each time, and this trip is no exception sadly What as going to be a nice relaxing 6 day trip was shrunk to 5 – leaving less time in Chicago. Unhappy, but life goes on.

Of course I tried to have a little fun with the trip, and as it’s a short trip (in fact, I haven’t done over a 6 day trip this year) so I priced in a trip via IAD with a 12 hour stopover on the way home, and the early flight on the way out. And this seems to be too much for United.bomb, which bomb out time after time putting in a long break in journey.

Thankfully, Continental.com priced it, and ticketed it without a second though. Hey kids, nothing like organised booking system that works.

As I’m at a conference for 3 of the 4 days, I decided to stick with what I know best, and book the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. Whilst not the cheapest property on the planet, you try heading back and forth at 2am in the morning after doing conference things. Only heading upstairs to bed is not a bad thing! However, I’m honestly not in the mood to pay a lot this time – and a bit of prodding indicated I had enough points for a 4 night stay.

With the changes that have happened at the base level of GoldPassport – good enough as Asia is off for a while – and I seem to have an abundance of ICHG points at the moment without a hope in hell of re-qualifying for Hyatt Platinum – let alone Diamond, so the hammer was put on that for the 4 nights.

So, a comparatively simple trip:


Map by the Great Circle Mapper – http://www.gcmap.com

So off we go!

 

Part I, To London, and Lounging around LHR

2am Eternal.

2am starts are never fun. Alas when you need to catch the first bird of the day to Chicago, it’s not a nicety – it’s a requirement.


Regulars will note the Salomon Bag back in service after the TSA destruction last time. There are of course, very good reasons why I’m using it – mainly because 1) I fixed the zip and 2) the replacement bag just didn’t fit the stuff I wanted to take with me. Hopefully it will last the trip. We’ll find out soon enough…

By 2:30, the cab had dropped me off at the wrong side of Digbeth Coach Station, and a walk round to the other side showed that was open.

Strangely, National Express has twigged that people like to travel, but also communicate, and throw in an hour of free Internet Access. Which if you’ve been stuck on a broken down coach would had bee a blessing. Which was useful for a final bit of blogging before getting on the coach.

Shortly after I dropped my post to the blog, boarding was called, and it was time to board.

National Express Bus 210 Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station to London Heathrow Central Bus Station
Price paid £49.40 Return

However the 2:45 was on time, and boarded early, with a pittance of people aboard… and they have the bare faced cheek to charge £50 for this… I swear it was something like 15 people if that boarded the bus.


Doors closed a minute early. Time for the off!

After pulling out, the coach made it’s way to Birmingham Airport, and after where the driver got thoroughly confused as there were roadworks on the slipway to the M42.

Now traffic jams in Birmingham City Centre aren’t uncommon any time of day are not that uncommon. Traffic Jams in Solihull are rarer (normally if there’s a sale in John Lewis… that’s enough to get a Solihull resident out of bed), but it seems that the local roads in Solihull couldn’t take the extra load at 3am in the morning of diverted traffic, and that took 30 minutes or so to clear.

This is precious lounge time we’re wasting here kids!

Eventually the bus cleared the traffic jam, and then it was a matter of hitting the M42 and M40 to our next stop – Banbury… where we picked up a grand total of ZERO passengers.

So that’s why I’m being diddled 50 notes – to fund the actual service today.

After brief stop, the coach rejoined the M42, then the M25 and finally the M4, down to the Heathrow Approach road.

Being a “through” service to Gatwick, we parked of course at the back of beyond at Heathrow Central Bus Station. Still it gave me time for some cold Heathrow air before being cooped up for the next few hours.

After hauling the stuff away from the coach, I loaded up a trolley, and headed to the lift, to begin the great push.

London Heathrow T1 Adventures.

And thus the great push to T1 begun, going through the underground maze that is below the Heathrow Central Area. Quickly enough, I made it into Zone C of Terminal 1, and headed to the *G/1K/Elite line (of which – there was no line). After a brief interrogation by ITCS, i was allowed to proceed to check in. the agent as usual didn’t bother to weigh my bags, and told me that I’d had to be escorted to overside check-in (apparently people had been getting lost getting to Zone Y – which I find completely unbelievable….).

After confirming my seat and the loads for the flight (and more importantly, confirming the seat next to me was empty!), I was escorted to Zone Y, where I dumped my bags, and then headed to main security.

It seems even at this time of day, it was amateur hour with people not knowing the top end of from a security baggie from another.

I of course just breezed through, and proceeded to Boarding Pass Check, then onto Security. Whilst it was busy, it wasn’t heaving.

Put it like this, from the queue I joined to being on the other side was a grand total of 5 minutes. As most of us who fly (semi) regularly know “Be Prepared”. Know what they want, do it and then get the hell out of there ASAP.

I took a left after security to the first lounge stop of the morning – The BMI Diamond Club Great British Lounge

LOUNGE STOP
British Midland International’s “The Great British Lounge”.

I was welcomed to the lounge, and asked if I needed a tour. I politely declined the tour and headed to my usual haunt in the lounge – “The Local”


The Local


The bar

The lounge hasn’t changed an iota from my last visit (and I remember the GBL being a very nice lounge). A new addition was the offer of hot food from the BMI Aga – the offering was Porridge. Whilst not my personal taste, it’s nice to see warm breakfast offerings.


Breakfast

With the state BMI is in – it’ll probably the last time I see it in it’s current ownership hands and I wish I could be down south more to support BMI. Alas, my reasons for not flying BMI as much as I would like to are pretty much on record (an ever shrinking network and bad timings). I just wish all the BMI staff the best of luck for the future because if anyone is going to get screwed by the change of ownership BMI is suffering – it will be them.


And since BMI is being sold to BA, can we put these in the bin please?

Exiting the lounge, it was time to walk down to through T1


T1 – Sleep Inducing

Next stop (and to be closer to the jetbridge) would be a lounge stop at the Star Alliance Common Lounge.

LOUNGE STOP
Star Alliance Common Lounge

Where as the GBL is a beacon on light, the *A lounge… isn’t. It is actually a darkly mood light multiple room. And whilst it may be dark, the food offerings are slightly better. However cutbacks seem to be hitting this lounge, with bacon and sausages still there… and if you hunted around for them – rolls too. No more pre-made rolls for you.


Bacon and Sausages


Rolls


Coldcuts

Good thing I can make bacon and sausage rolls then.

After beating the laptop around, I got the Wifi to work and did what I wanted to do for BoardingArea (what? You didn’t realise I had a blog there? Shame on you! Over to GhettoIFE.com at BoardingArea after you’re finished here! . By that point the rolls were consumed, and it was getting on for 7am, which means time to pack everything away again and head over to the gate.

If there is one thing you can be assured of at Heathrow T1, it’s the guarantee of a good hike from the central waiting area to the UA gates which today was at the far end of the Europier Extension – Gate 47A.

Again, ICTS were there asking questions, picking people at random to be screened further. I was waived through, where boarding was almost ready to begin. And then I looked closely at the paintwork of the 747-400. OOOOH DEAR.


FAO: Jeff Smisek – Pssst. This isn’t a change I like - A very poor first impression… and they do count sadly for people like me.

Eventually after 1K’s First and Business was boarded, it was time for us mere Star Golds to board. I was beeped aboard, and told to use the right land left bridge (Heathrow – using TWO jetbridges? Am I at the right airport????)

Part II – LHR-ORD

UA929 (Booked as CO4234/CO929) London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare International
United Airlines, Boeing 747-400, Seat 48K, “Premium Configuration”, Economy Class
3953 Miles flown, 3952 Miles earned
Channel 9: Off

I was sort of welcomed aboard (sadly, I had to make the first welcome, and was directed to my seat down the back in row 48 (and give up with this new Economy row numbering UA – it’s getting on my nerves already), and made myself comfortable for this flight in what I’m trademarking a GhettoPlane (we all know what GhettoIFE is, the concept of a GhettoFlatBed – row of seats to yourself).

And United 747-400′s in Economy – are Ghetto Birds. Whilst up the front they have been “Premiumised” with the excellent United C/F hard products, down the back Economy got… well lets see

  • New carpet
  • put new seat covers on the seats
  • Got shot of the old 3 colour projector for some flat screens.

And United. All I’m going to say to that is BIG WHOOP. The word I’m looking for here PATHETIC. Economy Plus is hardly worth upgrading on this bird (despite the agents claim you get 5 extra inches, it’s more like 2 on the 747-400′s) and the lack of AVOD installed in this bird in Y is beyond inexcusable. If British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific can install AVOD in their 747-400′s (and worth them like dogs too), there’s really no excuse to install a passenger amenity like that in United’s 747-400s.


Down in back!


Seating for the next 8 hours or so

As we boarded late, we pushed back a bit late, and this was the first time I’ve seen Jeff walking around with a gaggle of photogenic United workers promoting the new Mileage Plus and new MilegePlus Card (a subject I touched on in my Blog. US Chase applicants can get up to 40k on a successful app. UK MBNA Mileage Plus cards get… 1 mile per £1. No bonus. Rather pathetic really.), followed by the refreshed safety video (New “Continited Globe logos, with the old video spliced in).

After that, it was a short taxi to the runway, holding short to let another aircraft take off first, then it was our turn for the 747-400 for it’s 4 P&W Engines to roar into life, propelling us down the runway, and up into the air. Being a 27R take off, it was past Windsor Castle, and over Wales, Over Ireland, up to the tip of Greenland, and down over Goose Bay, over the wild expanses of Canada and finally over to Chicago.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs4dZX4D23E – Take off video


Past Queenieville


Climbing and turning

Of course the twit infront of me decided to recline his seat after a few hundred feet in air. Whilst I respect his privilege to recline his seat, not when we’re in initial climb please incase we have to land in an emergency and I have fight to get off the plane because of your stupidity please…

And at this point, I had minimal sleep the night before thanks to going out for a coffee with a friend (and Jenny, if you’re reading, I was quite happy to wait another hour to make sure you were ok… call it the old woman in me) I zonked out over the Irish sea, only waking up after we had crossed Ireland to see breakfast had been served. Thankfully, the flight attendant noticed, and imminently offered me a choice of Scrambled Eggs or Waffles. Knowing how ANY LHR caterer can louse up an Economy breakfast, I took the scrambled eggs. Or lets put it like this – the flight attendant “suggested” the scrambled eggs.


Breakfast


It almost was edible at this angle


Fruit


Bread


And a beverage….

And whilst the quantities were smaller than I remember, it was a hearty fill.

The eggs were reconstituted I think, whilst the non offensive sausage was indeed non offensive – and cooked well. The bread was this wonderful two types of bread in one that United enjoys giving out on these LHR trips (although it was soft – I’ll grant it that). Meanwhile the orange juice was wet, and the fruit salad… was a bit brown. Been out oxygenating itself for a bit I’d wager. Still comparatively fresh though.

Service was relatively quick, and clear-down was done quickly.

Now we’re aboard an United Boeing 747-400. Which means if you’re in Economy or Economy Plus, you’ve got a big screen for entertainment. And United’s choices of movies really don’t float my boat – at all.


And not viewable at this angle really

Thankfully as most of you are sadly aware, I have the perfect solution.

Oh yes. It’s my beloved GhettoIFE System on a GhettoPlane!


Featuring today Star Trek

For those of you who DON’T what a GhettoIFE system is, head here, or accept this explanation – the idea of putting a SmartPhone in a sick bag, mounting it on the back of the table and using it as an entertainment device that you’ve loaded all the content on. Rather simple really . I prefer Apple’s iPhone4 product (not a 4S – my contract date is still some months away), but I’m sure they’re compatible with any smartphone with a large screen

Alas, I wasn’t that awake to be blunt, so I closed my eyes and had a flitful sleep, waking up with the coast of Greenland tracking past.


Greenland

Looking at the plane, it seems the refurb has cleaned the plane a fair bit – considering the state of one of the UA747-400’s I flew a couple of years ago, with bits of the inside held together with speedtape, and the bird looked in good condition (apart from the flaking paint on the nosecone).

From what i could tell, this was a pretty senior crew aboard today – and in some cases, it showed, with some flight attendants really going through the motions – an example was the male flight attended in the pink tie who was doing the mid-flight snack service who wasn’t talking much, and just going through the motions. On the other hand, there were others who who actively engaging with the passengers. And then there are the bunch who hogged the exit row seats during the flight using it as a discussion area.


Midflight snack

We tracked over Canada, and about an hour and a half before landing, it was time to see what other delights were coming from Heathrow catering. And it seems to be return of the seeded by with questionable innards.


Pre-landing snack


Meat – Circular

The Bun was 1) small and 2) contained cream cheese, turkey in disc shapes and cheese. It wasn’t that bad, but a bit of creativity might be better sometimes here. This was served with a pack of KP crisps (cheap – we all know that Walkers Crisps are the gold standard) and a Two-Fingered Twix. Oh. And the only United napkin I’ve seen which contains no advertising apart from the logo.

Yes. I was in shock too.

Well it was better than nothing I suppose.

Eventually, a drinks round followed, and I was still in the mood for IFE.


And apparently. The Bird is indeed the Word.

Soon it was time to begin descent from the lovely blue skies of up above, and down to the murk that laid in wait of a wet Chicago morning.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-HkFWiaoiI

Arriving in Chicago near the International terminal, it was a relatively quick taxi to the terminal where upon we docked.

Of course, the entire plane got up, and was rooting around for their luggage. Earlier, I semi-cheated, and brought all my luggage down. Call it planning

As usual I said thank you to the crew as they were departing, except one of the crew was busy doing their makeup and not paying a blind bit of attention to what was going on around them. Sigh.

Eventually, I made my way to 2L, and made my way out of the queen of the skies.

Overall: I’ve had better flights with United. I’ve had worse. Very much down the middle the flight was, with middling crew and a GhettoPlane. Nothing special at all, and it seemed a lot of the crew were going though the motions – a shame really.

Now I hear improvements are on the way, and if United are running these birds to far and flung places, they must improve the hard product on these birds in all classes. The joke that is E+ in a 747, and the lack of any meaningful IFE must force an improvement in the hard product in all classes – not just First and Business.

After getting off the plane,, I knew it was a matter of rushing past all the slowcoaches to get through the queue quickly, and not be at the back of the immigration queue. And seeing that it was at area A as opposed to area B, I power-walked through and got to the 3rd switchback of the queue. Which if you’re in the visitors queue for the USA in a 10 minute wait as opposed to an hour in the 5 switchback in the queue.

I was seen to, and greeted in a friendly manner. My purposes was asked, and I made the mistake of calling the Sears Tower the Wills Tower. Ah. How to make a customs agent laugh and be friendly.

I was stamped in, and welcomed to United States of America. It was the a case of waiting for the luggage carousels to spit into life, with the rucksack arriving quickly, and the ski bag taking it’s time through oversized luggage.

All luggage assembled, I made my way to the customs point, where I was invited into the United States.

Quick, simple, and all done in about 30 minutes. Now that’s one hell of an improvement and the sort of times we need to have people.

After settling in, I made my calls home, and then headed out to a grey Chicago day and off to the Taxi rank. Being relatively early it was a short wait for a cab, but amazingly, the taxi driver didn’t seem to get lost going to the hotel – The Hyatt Regency O’Hare.

Part III – Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare… And a Pizza One-Time Exception

Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Chicago
Price paid: 32,000 points + $40 for Internet Access.
Ok, I know – not the most effective use of points when there are nicer Hyatt properties around. The fact is I need to 1) conserve some costs after the costs of this journey 2) as my plans for Asia are pretty much on ice for a long time it’s not worth hanging on to them and 3) I’ve got enough ICHG points for that sort of trip, I might as well blow some points.After arriving at the hotel I was greeted with “Are you at the right Hyatt” as opposed to “Welcome to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare”.

Uhoh.


Well you can guess which room

Still the bellman and door staff got me a King Room for 4 days without a question. Speaking of the rooms… I felt the Double-Double’s had a lot more room in them as opposed to the Kings which did feel a might pokey. Also – they don’t have a balcony to them. Which if you’re 1) a smoker (I’m not) or 2) watch to watch planes land (I did), the glass makes watching them… annoying.


Bed


TV


Sink


Good use of space

Whilst I was there, I did have trouble with my room keys, with one of the keys de-magnatising. As I was helping out downstairs with a set-up of an event, I left everything upstairs, so security had to let me in to my room. Which was a 30 minute wait. Not overly impressive with what seems one member of staff working the security detail.

The rest of the stay was as usual – staff being helpful, bed made up well each day… but the toiletries only replenished evey other day.

Overall: It’s the little things in life that are important. And it seems that this Hyatt property is forgetting about these little things – the polish if you will to a great product. And whilst the basic stay was very acceptable, a bit more polish there, a few more people on security here, and a warmer welcome wouldn’t had gone amiss.

Now whilst my time in Chicago was extremely limited (a Five day trip when 3 of them are spent at a conference leaves little time for anything), originally there was going to be no one time exception, Well I changed my mind after the conference when I was invited out to dinner….and this is worthy of a fight if you’re a Chicago resident…

One Time Exception – Giordano’s Pizzeria.
Price Paid ~ $70 for 5 people (no alcohol)

Now I’ll freely admit I’m going to start a war when it comes to “Which Deep Dish Pizza is the best in Chicago”. And I’m ducking out of this argument for one simple reason – I didn’t pay and was with my friends

The order was for a couple of Pizza’s (One New York Style, One Chicago Style, salad and a few cups of soup) and some drinks.

And it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. And I was back in shock when I saw it.


Yup. Deep.

And yes, for some people there were normal pizza too.

It was lovely. End of discussion. Deep, Cheese, well stuffed… the works. And when the bill is that cheap for a great dinner (with plenty of leftovers), it was also breakfast on flight day. Which is nice.

Overall: People can argue that it isn’t real Pizza. And I don’t honestly care. Go, Eat and Enjoy! ;)

Part IV – ORD-IAD

Right. Back to the flying malarkey.

So Monday turned around I checked out and paid the internet fees, and it time to queue up for the shuttle bus, once again it was on the shuttlebus (which was without chaos thanks to a husband boarding a bus, and the girlfriend not, and then… oh domestics). Finally, we made our way to O’Hare with the shuttle bus dropping off at premier access.

Convenient as I needed to be there.

I checked in with the machine, and saw nothing in E+ that looked valugely intresting. I therefore stuck with 40A for the evening flight, and kept the domestic leg the same.

However, it seems my luggage tags didn’t come out. A bit of tapping, and two tags spitted out, with the agent saying I needed to pay for the excess weight (except if I was a Star Gold).

BMI Gold (Or Lufthansa Sentaor) = Star Gold.

Sometimes I love to be right.

I looked at both security lines – and it was 7:40AM at O”hare on a Monday. So I headed to the non premier lines and went through.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly relaxed over security in the UK or Europe even. The only place in the world I really get het up about the entire process is the USA. Or more precisely, O’Hare (knowing the oncoming damage that can occur). Of course the TDC got her magic light that proves nothing out, and then I went to to the machine where no one knew how to follow protocol, nor seemed to be organised. And then I saw at pracilcially at every queue they have a backscatter machine.


Things the TSA might or might do

The Eric Cartman officer on duty was filtering people one way or another – and thankfully I was filtered through the scanner arch as opposed to the backscatter machine. My luggage scanned, I was able to grab my stuff in trays, move it to the shoe area, reassemble it, and take a picture that all of us need to remember as this is the only way the idiots in the TSA will EVER learn.

Looking at the clock, I knew I had bugger all time for the lounge, so I headed down the mind control tunnel between B and C Concourses and straight over to C11 for the flight.


Down the mind control tunnel


Heading down C Concourse

Thankfully, I made it to the gate where the call had gone out. Waiting for the 1K’s to board, Star Golds and Premiers Execs were called. Time to get on-board this chariot of the day

UA382 Chicago O’Hare International – Washington Dulles International
United Airlines, Boeing 757-200, Seat 40A, Economy Class
588 Miles flown, 600 Miles earned
Channel 9: On – but very quiet….

I think we can all agree that the 757 can be a very nice plane no matter how airlines try and abuse it. This United 757 whilst not in tip top condition, was looked after at least.

Making my way to the back, there was a lot of people pre-boarded already, and the gate area had was packed solid – indicating a full flight. In fact, looking around I could count one seat free during the flight

As I went through my pre takeoff sequence (passport in pocket, credit card wallet in coat, keys where I can find them after the “Korean Incident”, count rows backwards then forwards), I reached under the seat.. and found no life jacket. Slightly worried, I pulled out the safety card, and found this was a non-over water bird, and one was meant to hug the pillow if you landed in the drink – and survived the process. This is why kids it’s always an excellent idea to read the safety card.

A bit late, we pushed back and the safety video with Jeff and his darling pretty things walking around O’Hare played. Well sort of. As the tape machine broke down a few times. This happened still as we were taxing around O’Hare. By the time the plane taxied to the International Terminal, the video had finally played completely, and the cabin secured for take-off.

The one thing about 757’s is that no matter what engines you slap on those birds, it always feels like a rocket when they take off – this 757 was no different.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPLxi9t480o – Take off video

As we turned out of the O’Hare vicity I saw the Loop and Downtown Chicago from my side of the plane. Was I going to strike gold once – or was the plane going to to turn a different direction?

I struck Gold.

More over here.

And you know what that was the highlight of the flight.

Drinks service was slow as anything, but a Coffee and a Diet Cola was delivered to me (I’m easy to keep amused on a flight) and I just sat back and watched the world go by.


Coffee


Crusing

The crew again weren’t in an over communicative mood, rather just doing the service and scurrying back to the galley, but wandered out a few times for clear-down duties.


Through a side

Soon enough, it started bumping, and it was time to land, and the cabin was secured down as the plane made it’s way onto 19C at Washington Dulles


Finals

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3IWJgFbVmY

A short drive around IAD to the D Gates, and the plane docked at D8, completing it’s mission. Again, it was the mass escape from the plane, and I grabbed my stuff, and took my leave out of 2L again.

Overall: Nothing much to report really. Just your bog standard 1 hour 30 minute domestic hop. The tour over Chicago and Lake Michigan was appreciated, but the service was.. unnoticeable.

Now I’m at Washington Dulles International with a 12 hour connection… what can one do. I could 1) sit in a lounge and bore myself silly or 2) head lovely aerospace museum just down the road.

Which do you think I did?

Part V – One Time Exception Special – NASM – The Steven Udvar Hazy Center

One Time Exception – Smithsonian National Space and Air Museum -The Steven F Udvar-Hazy Centre
Cost $0 (Donations Welcome) + $1.00 Transit (50cents there – 50 cents back!)
The Udvar Hazy (named after Steven F Udvar Hazy – a quite important person industry wide and it’s very likely you’ve flown on one of if is his planes as both International Lease Finance Corporation ILFC and Air Lease International have his fingerprints all over it in terms of leased planes) is a big complex near Washington Dulles Airport, and you have to go round the beltway to get to it. Thankfully, if you’re on Shuttle Bus, it’s 50cents each way to let someone else do all the dirty work It holds over 163 aircraft and 154 large space bits and bobs. Which is nice and if you want to just walk around and explore. With free tours around the site too, it’s an interesting day out.

There’s a few important items in there….


The SR-71 that featured in Transformers.


An Air France Concorde


Turbofan


Pan Am Boeing 307


The forrunner of most modern Boeings – The Boeing 367-80


Enola Gay

and finally for now – Enterprise

 

Part VI – United Clubs, IAD-LHR and Home.

Me? I popped a $5 bill It is still without doubt and if you’re in the area the best day out in DC if you like planes :p

Taking the shuttle bus to Dulles was a quiet affair, only delayed slightly due to the traffic on the beltway. Soon enough, I was dumped back at Arrivals, and took advantage of the Dulles Diamond Lane. Which turned into a joke. Thankfully, I negated any backscatter scanner and was through in a few minutes, and took the train back to C Concourse. It was then a case of getting the Duty Free I wanted, picking up a few gifts at the “America!” shoppie, and then decamping to a lounge – and since the plane was going from C3, it made sense to head to the wood paneled hell known as The C7 United Club.

The C7 United Club (ex Red Carpet Lounge)

I won’t talk about this lounge much, for the very simple reason I’ve talked about it time and again. I was welcomed and beeped in, and WiFi card offered… alas, the WiFi within the lounge had given up for most of the evening, so I was attempting to hook onto the WiFi in the terminal with not much success. Still it gave me time to dump the photos from museum trip (so what if I shot 40GB worth… oops), and teach the bar staff how to make Vodka and colas in very large glasses… ;)


Art. Allegedly


The lounge

As a lounge, and like all olde RCC’s, the range of snacks is of course abysmal, and the nibbles weren’t much better either. Still it was quieter than hanging around the terminal area.

Boarding begun late, and a call was made from the lounge to board which was appreciated.

Heading out of the lounge, both the Frankfurt and the London flights were loading at the same time from nearby gates – so you can guess the absolute confusion going on near C3 and C4. Elite boarding of the flight I was on began, and the Elite queue seemed to go on forever. Eventually Star Gold and Premiers were called, and I took my leave of Washington Dulles, picking up my duty free, and headed down the jetbridge.

UA924 (Booked as CO4229/CO924)
United Airlines, Boeing 777-200ER, Old Configuration, Seat 48A, Economy Class
3667 Miles flown 3667 Miles Earned


It fills up. Trust me


Time to go…

Now whilst the new configuration of the UA 777-200’s is nice and shiny, there is one thing I like about the old configuration if you’re a passenger stuck in the back of the plane – the 2-5-2 seating configuration. Yes, it’s a royal pain if you’re in middle of the middle block, but if you’re on the window, it’s a one person hop out of the seat. This appeals to me being “brought up” on A330’s and their 2 x 4 x 2 layout.

Getting to the seat first, I stowed what I needed, got everything else out required (which for a night flight – not a lot), only to discover my headphones had wandered off on an adventure of their own… again.

Saying that, the PTV infront of me wasn’t exactly behaving either. Sometimes it would display the map, other times it would be in a constantly bad mood asking to select another channel. Sigh.

Eventually, my seatmate arrived, and promptly put a blindfold on for the night. I watched the still manual safety demo and we pushed back and taxied away from the gate, turning onto 19L for a rolling takeoff

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12Q-kTcB-vA

As we crossed over Virginia, the night lights twinkled away.

Soon enough, it was time time for dinner. And as I’ve stated many a time, To louse up a meal takes style. To louse it up consistently, takes Washington Dulles Catering. And they didn’t disappoint.

Chicken with pasta in a sauce. So you can guess that part of the pasta were overcooked, parts under and the chicken wasn’t in the best of states. The roll was soft and the salad – well the Dulles caterers have discovered the miracle – of grated carrot. Yes I was surprised too.


Oh dear.


Roll and Ranch Dressing


“Salad”

The derisory desert was… derisory.


Yup.

It wasn’t a bad meal to eat after walking around all day, but too many negatives and not enough positives in it. The only positive thing is that it filled a corner up for a bit of the flight.

The crew seemed to be helpful – being a London crew it was good to see them helping out, but being a night flight, once they completed service, they scarpered for the night mainly on to reappear at breakfast.

After that disappointment, I put on some semi-decent IFE, with a Doctor to help me to sleep.

Waking up, I noticed the sun was in the sky already, and that breakfast wasn’t that far away as we were closing in on the Irish coast, and sunrise happening.

Well what I could see it through dirty windows.

Soon enough as Ireland began to track past, breakfast was served. And we all know what United offer for breakfast – a Pastry and a dairy product produced by bacterial fermentation of milk.

I took the pastry which was… instantly forgettable. The Yoghurt was equally forgettable as I didn’t touch the darn stuff. Drinks followed in the sluggish way after the food service, and was cleared down with time to spare as we crossed over Wales and into the United Kingdom.

The plane made landfall over Swansea, and tracked along the coast, past the Severn Bridge and into England, beginning the decent to London Heathrow. The cabin lights came up as the cabin was prepared to land, with notice that we were going to be stacked into Heathrow. And as we begun the decent, we indeed stacked Ockingham Stack, but not for long as we entered the stack, headed to the south of Heathrow, then tracked back towards Reading, before tracking back over to Heathrow – in an S sort of way. A very odd approach, but hey, I’ll take it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mwM39akn2Q

Landing on runway 09L, it was a quick taxi to the gate. Being a quick taxi to the gate at T1 means one thing – a long hike at the other end at customs.

The plane pulled up at the gate, and the seatbelt bong went, and the entire plane got up. Looking at the time we were at the gate (9:55) there was a chance – a small one – that I could make the early coach home. I took my leave, and thanked the crew. Knowing I was at Gate 38 meant one thing: Run.

Overall: Not a bad flight, but the catering was…. awful. Once again, Dulles Catering strikes again. I wish someone would send the CEO’s in United some of the tray meals that are given out to understand how bad they are, and how they could be improved.

At Heathrow, it was a case of run – There was a choice of the 10:45 Coach or the 12:30 Coach back to Birmingham. And run I did. From the back end of EuroPier (Gate 38) to Immigration is a 15 minute walk allegedly. I was there in 10. Thankfully IRIS was live, and I was through within seconds. A scoot down to the luggage belt, and it was an impatient wait. The skibag made it out first (and intact), and after another 10 minutes (priority luggage – what is that at LHR?) the rucksack made it’s way around the belt. Looking at the clock… it was closing down on 10:25. Still time.

I made my way through customs, and then the great push down the trolley route, and a run to the coach station elevator’s.

10:35… Not good…

Not bothering to check to rebook or not, I just headed for the coach stand, to find the driver was in his own little world on the phone. I waited patiently, and after showing my ticket for the “next bus”, I was allowed to board, with my luggage stowed underneath. It is of course at this point the bag from the Smithsonian gave out.

National Express Coach 210
Heathrow Airport to Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station

Oh well – 2 hours 30 to fix everything. The coach itself was better loaded than the outbound leg, and would be going via Coventry and Birmingham Airport. And it seemed to do just that, heading up the M4, M25, and M40, and going through the Chilterns, before heading into Warwickshire, and leaving the M40 for the concrete monstrosity known as Coventry. A short wait there to pick up people, then it was over to BHX, and finally Digbeth Coach Station.

From there – it was time to deal with the wonderfully unhelpfully Birmingham Taxi Owners association (with a meter runner I should add), before being deposited back at the flat.

Closing up.

Closing up.

I was expecting some changes. All I seem to get a feeling for was a “meh”, we’re here for your safety sort of trip as opposed to some of the United crews I’ve had in the past. And that is a disappointment if I’m honest. Or it’s not the United I remember from February. Which is a shame.The 747-400 trip whilst fun, was a throwback to travel in the past. In the wrong way. Again, the little things matter… and it seems that United seem to not to care about the 747-400 on a comparatively short leg.The Domestic 757-200 leg was good, with the crew doing a reasonably fast service, with the highlight of Chicago departure control sending the plane over the Windy City. It was appreciated.The 777 service was the usual last plane of the night service. And god the food needs sorting at IAD – it’s getting worse each time I go through there. The 777 whilst not in the freshest of states was a great flight and I still prefer the 2-5-2 seating over the 3-3-3 seating arrangement.

Overall… a very forgettable trip with zero memorable things. Well. Except one memory that I got in DC…

Right, that’s your lot for this trip. But I’m still a few miles short of a party this year for re-qualification (even with the chaos going on at BMI with Diamond Club), so come back in December for one of the most nuttiest trips I’ve come with… and it’s a TATL with a Transcon.. So rejoin me in December for the end of year qualification run that I like to call “Narrow Minds and Narrow Bodies – Denver Bound”

Until then, Comments are Welcome, and I’ll see you on the flip-side!

Posted by Kevincm | 5 Comments

Well from the looks of it, we’ve migrated and have arrived at BoardingArea.com safely!

For my new readers, Welcome to GhettoIFE! This is a very different sort of Frequent Flyer blog to the norm. I’ll be focusing on UK and Europe mainly, but also I’ll be casting my eyes worldwide on the latest happenings. In addition, you’ll find out things such as:

  • My Travels
  • Airplane Photography
  • Safety Videos
  • Analysis on the days events
  • Direct and forthright comment when the need occurs
  • … and all the details in life down the back of the plane (and on the rare occasion, on the front of the plane)
  • And for those who are confused what GhettoIFE is, head here

GhettoIFE.com is updated once or twice (or even three times) a day depending on what’s going on in the world when I’m at my base, and a lot less frequently when I’m away travelling.

All the posts have a slightly twisted and humours bent, and of course comments are open. Please feel free to drop your thoughts in.

For my older readers, yes it is business as usual. Well mostly usual. As usual as it gets for me.

You can also find me on Twitter at @GhettoIFE where I’ll post the odd thing.

It’s great to be here, and it’s great to have you all aboard. Lets fly!

Posted by Kevincm | 10 Comments

Multi-Modal-Mayhem – Back to Toronto with a multi-modal bevvy of madness…
With Eurolines, Brussels Airlines, Air Canada and Lufthansa

Well I did promise I have something on the boil. Guess I’m starting to understand the mistake fares that happen. Oh well. As usual, we’re in traditional Kevincm territory here – that means it’s back of the plane, non-stolen iPhones in sickbags, but with some additional elements… as you can guess by the title… ;)

Lets call this a mini-road trip and we’ll settle at that ;)

Mistake fare: A mileage runners dream and a planners nightmare
(Yup, the Introduction – one day I’ll run out of witty titles…)

Even though I have Lufthansa Senator status sewn up for this year, there is a small matter of BMI Gold. And call me olde fashioned – but I like my BMI Gold card – least of all there is a chance to retrain BMI gold, and it will be a lot easier to hang onto than Lufthansa Senator. As putting any miles in Lufthansa’s way would be “thrown away” this year (100,000 in 4 months? I think not…), it seems to make sense to keep BMI Gold and re-qualify on that for now (even though BMI is in more of state than usual it seems)

So as usual, I was keeping an eye out on the mileage run forums, when the a fare popped up. After crunching the numbers, I could make it work.

So where would I be going? Toronto. Hang on… Wasn’t I here before in April? Correct dear reader – a repeat visit to somewhere… that isn’t Chicago. Shocking eh?

However, the clever observers will have noted the ones small little detail. As I’m based near to Birmingham (BHX), I’d have to schelp down to Brussels to start the trip.

I briefly considered flying to Brussels, but at single fares coming in at 3 figures, I threw that out of the window. Next I considered Eurostar, which came in at a reasonable £49. However, the shocker was the hotel bills. And there’s no easy way to put this: €160 for a Holiday Inn Express or €149 for a Holiday Inn near the airport.

There is such a thing I believe called “Taking the mickey” – the above prices being a classic example of this. Scrapping the hotel plan, I realised with some semi dawning horror what the only way to get to Brussels Airport on schedule without breaking the bank.

A COACH TRIP.

Whilst the trip is over 8 hours, on the plus side, there’s no accommodation fee, and it costs a grand total of £33. In addition, as it’s a late night coach, it’s a ferry service over The English Channel, and gets me to Brussels Noord for 5:45 in the morning – early enough to catch the train to Brussels Airport.

Getting back was a simple FRA-LCY trip with Lufthansa in a E-190. The fare was reasonable £88 in comparison to heading directly to Birmingham. And as I had a held return train portion for the train trip back, makes no odds to me.

So we’ve got the major modes of travel covered: Train, Plane, Coach and Ferry. Read and weep.

And that’s the plan. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men come into play later in this trip…Part I, To London, and To Brussels.


I wanted an easy start to the day, so the day off work was booked and a lazy 2pm set off was booked. A bus ride into the City Centre and a walk to Moor Street for the first train of the day.

Some of you may remember my rant on GhettoIFE.com about “The Perfect Bag”. In this trip, I’m using my new Etnies Transport backpack. I’ll let you know what I think of it at the end…


Yes, the new backpack. And yes, I’m site agnostic ;)

Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone
Chiltern Railways, Class 168
Price paid: £5 Single

The photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…to-london.html


The train to London

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with this bit, but today – I’m going to as the Chiltern lines have been through a bit of an upgrade (and I’ve been on the sharp end of the upgrade when travelling down to London and the line has been closed down due to engineering works).

The aim of this wonder-upgrade is to decrease train times from a boring 2 hours and 2 minutes to a faster 1 hour and 37 minutes from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone.

So, does it deliver? The answer is a resounding Yes. The service made it’s calls at Solihull, Warwick Parkway, Leamington Spa and Banbury, and didn’t loosen up on speed until High Wycombe, where it accelerated and basically hit the brakes just before Marylebone.

There was no service to speak of on board the train – other than the ticket check. Nothing unusual about that for an off peak train heading to London.

The trains are reasonably equipped, with power-at-seat, and air conditioned. And as the train was half empty – a pleasant – and fast way to get to London.

Overall: For a Fiver, it’s bargain of the month. Whilst the Class 168’s aren’t the last word in comfort, they’re great little trains that’ll get you to A to B.

What is more important is that there is now a viable alternative to the Virgin Trains service. For those of you who do the Birmingham
London run, some numbers:

Virgin Trains – 1 hour 24 to London Euston
Birmingham New Street
Chiltern Railways – 1 hour 37 to London Marylebone
Birmingham Moor Street
London Midland, 2 hours 20 to London Euston
Birmingham New Street
National Express Coach 2 hours 40 London Victoria Coach Station
Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station

With a few hours to kill in London (and a deadline to be at Victoria by 19:30, that gave me a few hours to head to the Bureau de Change to get my Canadian Dollars and some Euros (pin money). Afterwards, I made camp at St Martins in the Field for a bit and watched the world go by.

After some time, I wandered around the West End, doing random FourSquare Checkins to get some more hotel points (dread the thought, my HHonors balance will one day resemble more than a pittance), before getting bored and catching the Tube to Victoria Coach Station.

Being early of course never helps.. but as the queues built up, it was a good idea. Eventually, check-in begun and moved v-e-r-y slowly, to the point where they had to hold the two coaches – one heading to Frankfurt, One to Dortmound – for 20 minutes.


This was it quiet. It got a *lot* busier

Eventually, we finally pulled off with a full coach load.

Eurolines Coach 163
London to Dover (Cross Channel Crossing), Calais – Brussels via Ghent
£29+£4 booking fee.
The Photos http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…and-ferry.html

To say there was a fair mix of people on-board would be an understatement. All backgrounds and all sorts were on board as the coach trundled through London, and out onto the M2. The seat pitch as you can guess was akin to Low Cost Carriers level. On top of that, there was also minimal stowage space, so the backpack had to be at floor level for most of the trip

Originally schedule to make various stop to Dover, the coach ran down the M2, and then back onto the A2, finally reaching the classic Dover Eastern Docks. Now for those of you with a sense of nostalgia for the old days when you used to go to Calais for the day, or even took a coach for a “Booze Cruise”, one of the sights you can’t forget is the final approach down to Dover docks along the Jubilee Way.

And yes, it’s here on Youtube – and apologies this was shot in the dark…!

As we picked up our last passenger for a bit, we approached the UK/France Border, where everyone was kicked off the coach, processed and when customs were happy, let back on the bus. A drive around the docks, and we parked up where it seemed to be German Foreign Exchange Student Season as there were coachloads of them heading home.

In other words, it was loud but fun. As we had a good 15 minutes before boarding, everyone got off the coach to grab some fresh sea air. And whilst it was fresh, it was by no means “cold” – a pleasant 17c or so.

The call eventually went out for people to re-board their vehicles, and soon enough the loading of the ferry begun. We parked up, and were told to come back before docking.

Making my way upstairs, I had all sorts of nostalgia. And yes, I had been aboard The Pride of Calais when I was a lot younger, it still had that wonderful sensation of people aboard, the ferry buzzing and people looking forward to going to places. Or dread the thought “The Romance of Travel”.

As it was a late night, it was loud and raucous, but no one over drunk (even though Duty Free was doing a fair olde trade in canned beer… ). There were some places – like outside that were devoid of life and quiet though.


Night on the deck

I merely took this opportunity as I was away from any wireless network to get on resorting my Photographic Portfolio and not be disturbed. A pleasant way to spend an hour or so.


The port of Calais ahead

The ferry took it’s way across the Channel in darkness, only to see light as we approached Calais. Soon enough it was time to bid farewell to this old friend, and then back to the crammed conditions of the coach with my new friends.


Off we go again.

After docking, the mass scramble to get out of the ferry begun, and soon enough, the night travel begun, taking it’s way through France and into Belgium, initially arriving at Ghent Station. A quick pit-stop to drop more people off, and then it was off to Petrol station in the middle of nowhere on the E40 for a driver break.

Truly the middle of nowhere…

A short blast down a highway, and soon enough we entered the land of compromise and politicians – Brussels.

At 5:45, we reached Brussels North Station where I wearily got off the coach, back aching, but happy I had made it.

Overall: Coach travel is what you make of it. I found pain relief helped a long way, and the ferry a trip down nostalgia way. However if hotels are a mite cheaper next time, there’s this wonderful thing called Eurostar. Nuff said? ;) However if you’re on a tight budget, the coach has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect to sleep that much on one.

Onto Brussels Airport.

Onwards!

After stretching a bit, I made my way upstairs to the mess that is Brussels North Station. Of course, the ticket booth was closed until 6am, so for a laugh I tried to use the ticket machines.

Of course, they don’t take standard Visa or MasterCard. Annoying. 6am passed and eventually, the ticket windows opened up and I was able to waste €5.20 for a ticket to the airport (or €3 with a €2.20 Diablo surcharge. More diabolic if you ask me…)

After working out where the train was going from, I grabbed some cold morning air as trains zipped in and out until this old rickety 2 car electric unit arrived – the gateway to the airport. However, once I got on I noticed a fair amount of commotion on the platform with an irate conductor explaining in 3 different languages there was a problem. As we pulled out of the station, the conductor went person to person explaining there was a fault at Brussels airport, so we were being sent to the village of Zaventem, where a bus would take us to the airport.

And that’s what happened. At Zaventem, we were all kicked off the train, where we waited for the bus. And waited. And waited some more. 3 buses came and went, all going the wrong way until one was going the right way – and two trainloads of people boarded the bus. Never fun.


Where am I? In the Village.. of Zaventem…

To be honest, this is London Transport levels of disorganisation. Frustrating more than annoying, but eventually, the bus parked at Brussels Airport and I made my way to check-in.

Initially I was directed to the Machines, and after stating I had a “complex itinerary”, I was sent to a person, where he happily checked me in for both legs – with the aisle seat sticking sadly for the long haul segment. A window seat was assigned for the short hop to Heathrow.

After completing the check-in, the agent also offered me a fast-track sticker for whenever I was at Brussels Airport to avoid the security queues.

How very kind!

With those formalities complete, I headed for the B Pier, and made my merry way through to Passport Check, and then over to security where I beeped my fast track sticker – and it worked a treat. I was through security in 5 minutes flat (with the queue for economy snaking back as far as the eye can see) and headed straight for the lounge.

It was breakfast time after all.

Lounge Stop: Brussels Airlines Non-Schengen Lounge


Sunrise

I was welcome into the lounge, putting it on my Lufthansa SEN card (well – I have to save BMI a few pennies here and there), and parked up in a sunny spot to wake up. Obviously the pan-au-cholcate, Coffee and Croissants helped.


Breakfast


Bakery Selection

The lounge itself was very bright and light nicely as it runs along a window

It did busy up as I was there and quietened down, mainly as US bound flights were departing, but it was a very relaxed environment. The only slight downside is the toilets to the lounge were actually outside the lounge. A clever piece of thinking there.

After asking, WiFi keys were given out if needed. I took one and quickly checked my mail and posted a blog, before seeing the time. As 9:15 rolled by, it was time to head down to the bus station for the AvroJet to London.


Gate 91

By the time I had arrived at Gate 91, boarding had just begun, with no priority boarding. The queues built up and I was beeped through the gate and off onto the bus. Eventually, it filled up, and it was time to trundle to the middle of nowhere to meet our little Avro.


Two Barbie-jet engines.


A T-Tail


Boarding

SN2093 (Code Shared as BD5433) Brussels National Airport to London Heathrow
Brussels Airlines BAe 146/Avro RJ-85, Seat 12A,16/09/2011
218 Miles Flown, 0 Miles Earned (Stupid Brussels Airline Earning codes).

The Photos – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…ru-to-lhr.html

I boarded the plane in a daze, and again was taken back to my past when I flew BAe146’s every now and again. The airplane was configured in a 2 x 3, making it a relatively light feel in comparison to the possible 3 x 3 configurations. The seat pitch was a standard 31” pitch and the load seemed to be pretty good.


Seat.


Cabin.

However with a few hours sleep to my name, I promptly conked out. I awoke when the safety briefing began, and dozed off after. And woke up just as the four little barbie jet engines whirled into life down the runway….


Climbing out of BRU.

As we turned and climbed, the bongs indicated service could begin, and I took the opportunity to zonk out for the remained for the flight, only waking up in time for near enough final decent. The plane turned over Reading, and decent past Windsor Castle, with a gentle touchdown at LHR.


Windsor Castle

The plane taxied to a stand position, and the doors opened. I thanked the crew and headed up the stairs into the bowls of T1.


Parked up at LHR

Overall: Yes, I didn’t get much from the flight and the window seat, but I got a solid 1 hour’s sleep. Which after that coach journey, was not a bad thing at all. Heck. It did the job. That’s all I ever ask…

Transiting at LHR – and a nasty call….

However at LHR my phone went off with voicemails stacking up. Whilst I was walking to the UK Border and the Transit bus,, the phone rung again. When it’s displays the caller as Blocked it can normally mean only one thing – it’s the office. And stupidly, I picked up. And there was a flap on the other end about a disk that had gone in a server.

*various swear words*

After talking through how to get a new one I was asked “When are you back… because we could really do with someone installing it ASAP”

ARGH. As much as I would leave a server in a compromised state, the kind person in me won out, and I negotiated that the office pay my train fare back to Birmingham on the Monday when the disk arrived. And stupidly, I agreed to do it before the end of play on Monday so I could a bit of Tuesday to myself.

For those of you counting, that means two segments have gone up in smoke – the LHR-FRA, and the FRA to LCY segments.

So much for a pleasant little trip. Stupid HP Equipment and thanks my silly organisation for using 8 year old servers in a production environment… of course no one listens to the tech until it all goes pear shaped…

Oh well. Calm down. It’s only £88 down the pan. If it buys me 10 minutes of peace and quiet in the office, so be it.

I made it through the Transit Zone, and onto the transfer bus without any issues, and begun setting about cancelling the FRA-LCY Segment, and would deal the way back in Toronto.

I was through security in a minute with no secondary – rather the security agent was amazed that I was fully prepared. Quickly through, I made my way to HMV to get some bearable headphones (and that’s a GhettoIFE.com article in the next few weeks on *very* Cheap headphones ;)). A glance at the departures board the board had gone to boarding for the flight already. Knowing this is Heathrow and signs can mean next to nothing, I made a lounge stop to see what was going on.

Lounge Stop: Air Canada/SAS “The London Lounge”
Hot Dogs consumed: 2 (Well it was Hot Dog Friday!!!)

After being welcomed in, I was advised to rest and take my time as there was a medical emergency on the inbound, and the plane was being prepped. I took this as an excuse to grab a meat based snack for a bit and just chill after cancelling flights here and there.


It was Hotdog Friday!!!

Once again, I powered up the laptop and kicked back, not even looking at the departures board as I was informed that a call will be made when boarding was ready to be commenced.

And it seems that post breakfast catering in the London Lounge is a lot better than the breakfast catering. The range of hot items and salad was good, along with noodles and crisps – all that my heart could desire in its dazed and confused state.


Off to the gate….

Eventually, the boarding call was made, so it was time to wander around the T3 dungeon to Gate 31 where our bird was waiting. A boarding scan and security check, and I made my way directly aboard.

AC857 London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Toronto International Airport.
Air Canada Code Shared as BD4857, Seat 41G, 16/09/2011
Boeing 777-300ER
The Photos – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2011/09/16/

I made my way aboard, long before the main economy lot begun. Unfortunately, I knew what was going to greet me for the next seven and a half hours – an isle seat in the middle block. Not my first choice of seat by any part of my imagination, but by the time I got a valid PNR for the Air Canada legs, it was isle seats or middle seats.

And I don’t do middle seats. So an isle seat was the acceptable compromise.


Compromises…

Loading continued until there was a practically full load heading to Toronto. (I counted 2 seats free on the whole of Economy, with Business checking in as full). As we were late boarding, we had long missed our slot for departure. By the time we were up in the air, we were 1 hour and 5 down already.

For those of you who are sick of my YouTube takeoff videos, good news! As I was nowhere near a window, no video . During this period, I paid attention to the safety video and drifted in and out of sleep.

The flight took a northerly route over the United Kingdom, and up over Greenland, over Goose Bay ,then down to Toronto – a slightly unusual route, but one do I like as I’ll show later.

After we had levelled out, the first service begun – the main meal. Choices were as usual – chicken, or pasta. Fearful of pasta for various reasons, I chose the chicken.


Roll


Pasta Salad


Cutlery and “Desert”


Chicken

The chicken itself was Chicken in a ginger sauce with beans and carrot and potato mash. Now for those of you who only live in Business and First Class, I’m now making a concentrated effort to make economy class food look edible.

Yes, I’m a sadist at heart ;)

The Chicken itself wasn’t bad, wasn’t overcooked and was cutable quite easily. The veg mash wasn’t sloppy, and the beans weren’t completely floppy.

The pasta was a very nice take on having something that isn’t salad, and was fresh and cold. However roll was indeed a projectile, and could be used as a weapon on-board if someone put their mind to it, and the cheap person who put a cookie as a desert does need to be taken out and hung.

As usual, there was a bottle of water on the tray, and a drinks service followed – the water being pocketed for later on in the flight, and a Coke Zero and a Plastic bottle of Savingon Blanc plonk.

The meal – whilst not the worst on the planet could had done with a bit of attention in the desert department. But I don’t fly airlines for the culinary experiences… Lets put it like this: it still beats certain other airlines in the meal department.

After the clear down, another drinks service followed and another glassful of Diet coke appeared, at which point I drunk it, and zonked out for a few hours.

Being in the edge of sleep and awkake, I tried to keep awake, and browsing through the IFE, I found The Great Escape – with Chickens.

Of course that couldn’t keep me awake so again, I was out cold for bits of the flight until we reached Greenland, where my body kicked in awake for a bit. And I’m glad it did as when I wandered down to the back of the plane to stretch my legs I saw this:

Damn. I wish I had a window seat this flight. :(

Upon returning to my seat I made a GhettoIFE system (sickback + iPhone + table-back mount = IFE system) where I fancied the Boys from the Dwarf…

But that didn’t keep me awake until a snack service was literally up the isle. Either my body is good at this detecting when there’s movement, or I’m just good at guessing when food is near.


Snack – yes, the bird is the word.

Snack of course is Pretzel-bites and coke. Where I dozed off to sleep again. And woke up, with the final service commence – the Monty’s Wrap service (as most BMI Premium customers are discovering what they are). And shock and horror – no Five Spice Chicken this time – instead, it was a sort of curry chicken. Still it was hot, edible and filled a spot.


Wrap

Cleardown was relatively quick as the service had been delayed till under the 1:30 mark… where they decided this would be a good time to give out the immigration forms for Canada. And if there is one part of the Air Canada service that could be improved is this. Give out immigration forms after takeoff and not under an hour to touchdown. It’s a small thing, but would save a sense of panic when people were hunting out pens in the final part of the flight.

Anyhoo. With paperwork done, the cabin started filling with light as people opened their blinds, seats going into the upright position, and the rubbish collected.

1 hour late, we touched down at Toronto Person, and after a short taxi, the plane docked. I thanked the crew and made my way off for my date with destiny.

Overall: Again, Air Canada did an impressive service with a full load on the plane. A few things could be changed (such as the immigration form run) and the excuse of desert in Y needs to be addressed, but the hard product is good (and sleepable in), the IFE is excellent and the crew were engaging and talkative. A nice job overall.

However, I knew I was arriving in Canada, and there was possibly going to be trouble ahead. I made my way up and theExpress Escalator whisked me to the immigration points, where I followed the signed and joined a queue.
The JOY of Canadian Immigration & Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville.



Canadian Immigration STRIKES AGAIN.

Yes Canadian Immigration. You get a whole section of this report. It seems if you’re single male International traveller, visiting Canada for 3 days, it’s enough for their immigration system to go into panic mode.

Or if it isn’t Canada, prove me otherwise.

The first person who interviewed asked for my details, my return ticket and was mostly in shock that I wanted to come all this way to visit for 3 days. The agent made all over the immigration card, and I was sent to secondary immigration.

The secondary immigration person asked why I was visiting, and stamped my passport as a welcome.

However, when I arrived at the customs part of the airport, I was directed again to secondary customs. Thankfully, there was no queue, and my reasons for visiting were questioned, what I was doing (although the officer wasn’t interested where I was staying). We then proceeded to the luggage strip down and inspection.

It was noted that my camera equipment was “expensive and looked professional”. I kindly pointed out that I was getting annoyed of crap results, and I wanted equipment to deliver good results. I explained each and every thing to the agent, who took a minor interest. Which is nice.

Then it came to the hard disk examination. Thankfully this time I had control of the laptop, so the agent pointed, and I showed him all the different variations of my work (most of you know I take *all* sorts of pictures well within the legal limits of international laws). I noticed a few raised eyebrows, but complied with every instruction, and finally thanked for my time.

I was also asked if I had any questions. I asked for the reason I was pulled over, but also stated there was no chance of getting a straight answer. I at that point took my own sweet time putting my stuff together, and was thanked again, where I headed to the exit, making noises under my breath that were not entirely complimentary about Canadian Immigration .

Dear Canada, Canadian Immigration and Canada Border Service Agency.

Whilst I respect your right and privilege to defend your borders, this is second out of three visits to you great country that I have been detained without apparent good reason, and more importantly – no explanation offered WHY I was being detained.

It is enough to quite frankly enough to put a person visiting a country.

Signed Kevincm.

And CBSA – a formal complaint is winging it’s way to you. I’ll be amused by your results if you have the guts to respond.

Grumping my way out of the airport, I made a few calls, calmed down and rather than waste $40 on the Airport Express, I worked out how to use the Toronto Transit Commissions wonderfully antiquated system of paying a fare and collecting transfer slips (hello Toronto, I’d like to introduce to you the concept of a Preloaded Fare Card), and headed downtown – or Yorkville anyway. For $3 and an hour, its reasonable value

Exiting the station, it was easy to find the hotel – over the road, on the left, the ROM on the other side of the road. Convenient eh?

Hotel: Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville
Room Booked: King Room
Upgraded to: King Single Suite.

Part 5: The Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…lle-suite.html


Exterior


Interior


Reception

This is one of those occasions where I will say “Hang it”. I’ve suffered in a coach and in economy. Time to splurge. And when I checked in I was asked “Would I like to consider Ambassador Membership”.

Now I’ve been thinking about Ambassador for some time, and the check in agent promised if I signed up, I’d get a suite on the spot.

I hmmed and ahead for about 10 second and then said. Just swipe the card and be done with it. Besides, worse comes to worse, I can hand off the BOGO to someone else ;)

So is it a Suite like as an Ambassador? Lets find out.

Making my way upstairs, to the 6th Floor, I followed the sign to where it said 625 – Executive Suite


Executive you say….

I dipped the key in and was greeted with a living room. I popped my stuff down to explore. So there’s a living room, a hallway toilet, and one hell of a monster of a living room facing out onto the Royal Ontario Museum


Living Room


Bed


Drink Facilities


Hallway

Making my way left, I found a well equipped bathroom, bath and shower.

And the room was amazing. Whilst Wifi was $19 for the two nights, it’s a very nice space. The bed was comfortable, and the view great.

I won’t bore you with what else I did apart from Niagara Falls, but there was only one minor fault with the IC… and that’s the welcome amenity didn’t arrive the first night… or during the second day. It did on the 2nd night eventually

Overall: Amazing. I’ll be blunt, this is the biggest room I’ve ever stayed in, and the staff were excellent and communicative. The concierge service was excellent, as were all the front desk team. The Welcome amenity was a minor niggle, but not the end of the world.
Niagara Falls Day Trip.


One-Time Exception: Niagara Falls Tour
Operated by Shop-Dine-Toronto – http://www.sightseeingtoronto.com/niagarainfo.php
Price Paid $93 after tax.

Photos:

Part I – The Falls Phttp://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2011/09/21/niagara-falls-1.html,
Part II – More Falls http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…a-falls-2.html
Niagara Whirlpool – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…whirlpool.html
Niagara on the Lake – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…-the-lake.html
The Peller Wine Estates – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…es-winery.html

Well this is the main reason for the trip to be honest. To get out of the city and experience the power of nature. The trip was booked by the hotel concierge as quite frankly there are an amazing amount of tours down to the falls, and working out which would be best just got too confusing.

We were picked up from the hotel where payment was processed, and dropped at Dundas Square where we switched to the Coach.

Once all aboard, it was time to begin the journey, with the driver giving a history and background to the Greater Toronto region, about the places we were passing, about Tim Hortons, as well as the odd toilet break on the way.

Eventually, the bus made it’s way over to the falls, to a collective wow of everyone.

At this point, the bus parked up, and it was time to head to the Maid of the Mist

Now I missed most of my group as was getting my equipment ready (new battery in the camera, new compact flash card, raincoat on.

And let me be frank – there’s nothing like the power of nature. As one of my co-workers who is from the Toronto area put it “It’s not the Maid of the Mist, It’s the Maid of the Torrential Downpour”.

And boy, was she right!

Now there’s not many words for this bit – just take it in people ;)

The boat left the dock, and swung past the Rainbow Bridge, then onto the American Falls (Where I got soaked for the first time)

Then onto the Horseshoe Falls (Where I got epicly soaked – even with the raincoat on).

The boat swung out of the falls, and headed back downstream to the dock ponto, but not before the American falls decided to soak me one last time.


and yes, I got soaked too.

And as special for my GhettoIFE viewers, a video of the falls.

After disembarking, I spent the next 20 minutes wringing my jacket dry, and just watching the world go by. With a posted departure of 3pm, and the the boat tour finishing around 1ish (even after I wrung out my clothes), I wandered round the tourist haven of Niagara Falls, and lost count of the amount of Ghost Houses. I also indulged in a Timmies whilst I was there, and just walked around for a bit until it was time to get aboard the bus again.

The next stop was to Niagara Whirlpool (with the bus driver annoying the locals as we were taking in the sights)

And then onto Niagara on the Falls. A quaint little town, and if you use Wikipedia, I’m sure you can find out more about it.

However, for most of the FlyerTalk/MilePoint/GhettoIFE crowd, the next stop would be considered the most important of all – the Winery Tour.

This was at the Peller Estates, and there were tasting of a sparking Resling, A Rose, A red, and of course – Ice Wine. Personally, I enjoyed it – but not enough to partake of purchasing a case or two to send home ;)

It was then a non stop trip back to Toronto, with the bus dropping off along the way, and I was dropped back at the InterContinetal, where I went upstairs and flopped out of for a bit before wandering into Koeratown, and wandered back, picking up a Pizza on the way.

Overall: A good tour, with a great guide. The Maid of the Mist is definatly the highlight, with the Peller Winery tour very good as well. Whilst you could probably do it cheaper with a Rail ticket, and buying a boat ticket, it’s simpler to sign up to a tour. Recommended if you’ve never been in the region before.

The rest of the trip was filled with walking, the madness of Toronto Transit Commissions Token and different food (I’ve had more Korean and Vietnamese food than I’ve had for some time!) and doing.. stuff.

Toronto to London


Back to YYZ

But Sunday 6pm came far too quickly. With an hour to get to the airport, and factoring time to sort out some routing issues, I picked up my trash at the IC, and caught the green line back to Kipling, and the 192 to the Airport.

After being dropped off at the public levels, I made my way up to Elite Check-in, which was choc-a-block.

Once I was called up, I explained to the agent my problem, who modified my itinerary, and I went away to repack my bags. Now with two bags (the Etnies Transport going as checked and the Anter Urbanite II going as hand), I made my way back to check in, and was checked in to London Heathrow only, with my bag only going there too.

A quick visit to the small room, and I was ready to face security… which apart from 1) being directed to the disabled lane and 2) 3 wheel chairs pushing past without the occupants or the pushers saying the words “Excuse me”, seeing it as their right to push through and damn anyone else who actually was in the queue.

However, the security formalities were done in seconds, with no secondary examination, and after grumbling about people pushing in, I packed up my trash and headed down the slow travelators (the Express ones had been switched off to “save the environment”), and I headed straight to the Maple Leaf Lounge.

Lounge Stop: Maple Leaf Lounge – International.

Now if you’ve only ever flown in the lower 48 states, you won’t know what hit you when you enter this lounge. For everyone else, this is what a lounge is like. There are things like proper food, alcohol without a ba, lots of seats, power, and … a shower.


Seating


Pick your drink!


Cookie!

Considering I had been traipsing around Toronto in the sun all day, this was deemed a good idea. The shower was warm, the water hot, and the towels fresh. All good things in my view.

Food in the lounge was the usual Air Canada affair of Soup, Nibbles, and today – Ravioli’s of different sorts. Different, but again – creative. It shows with a bit of effort and money spent on the lounge you can get a pretty amazing product.

Firing up the computer, I found an invite in one of my email folders (which I’ll be disclosing about soon.. trust me… you’ll know about it when it arrives!) and I took the opportunity to update the photos, whist confirming work needed me in the next day.

As I was in no rush, I just watched the clock until 10 minutes before boarding where I thanked the safe for a great lounge experience and headed down to Duty Free to pick up some gifts, and then to the gate where boarding was about to begin.

When elite boarding was called, I made my way down the jet-bridge.


At the gate

AC858 Toronto International Airport to London Heathrow Terminal 3.
Air Canada C/S as BD4858, Seat 26K, Economy Class
Airbus A330-300

Photos Part 1 – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…-to-lhr-1.html
Photos Part 2 – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…yyz-lhr-2.html

I boarded the plane and headed down to Row 26, popping my bag in the upper bin, and the iPhone in my pocket. As boarding continued, I noticed the plane packed out without a spare seat in the house. Compared to the trip I did in March/April, this was yielding backsides on seats for Air Canada.

Whilst I prefer the A330 as an aircraft (sorry, down the back, the 2 x 4 x 2 seating appeals to me greatly), the lack of air-vents is rather annoying. Thankfully, this plane is configured with the Air Canada IFE system, as well as a generous 32” seat pitch – all things that would be useful for a night flight.

Take off was 20 minutes late, and from the looks of FlightAware, we never made up that time as we were late landing too. And yes, I’m in the window seat, so iPhone4 and Yourtube time strikes again.


One last goodbye from Toronto.

The service was pretty much out of the door quick as this was going to be a sleeper flight. Food choices again were Chicken or Pasta.


The Tray. Note the advert for the Arrivals Lounge at LHR…

So what have we got here? Well the sweetcorn was fresh, the roll uncommonly soft, and the Honey Mustard Chicken with Veggie Rice was again – very palatable. Heck, there was even a desert. A choclate fudge square. Again, a nicely rounded meal.


Sweetcorn


Roll


Chicken


Desert

And at this point dear reader, once clear-down was complete, I put the seat in half recline made a GhettoIFE system to watch Spaceballs: The Movie in, and by about halfway through, that was it for me.


When will then be now? Soon!

Waking up as the lights came on for the breakfast service, and as promised, it was a muffin breakfast service. And I do just mean that.


“Breakfast”

Ok airlines, I’m going to bash on about this, but a bit of effort wouldn’t go amiss with a breakfast service. Handing out a muffin whilst quick, isn’t a great service at all. Still at least the drinks had been delivered freely as always on Air Canada.

Making landfall over Wales, the cabin started lighting up as people opened windows, and I followed, taking in my view of the wing… but was behind the wing was more interesting.

Normally, I prefer a left-side seat as I love to watch the sun rise in the air. This time however, being stuck on the right put me in a perfect line… for Docklands, The City of London and Westminster.


The Dome


Canary Wharf & The Docklands


The South Bank, The Wheel and The City


Buckingham Palace and The London Area

The decent continued, and soon we touched the tarmac of Heathrow Airport.

And whilst the plane had landed at the right end of the tarmac for T3, we were a victim to Heathrow traffic, and had to hold for a bit until we were allowed to taxi to Gate 31. Eventually, we parked up and after a shot wait, disembarkation commenced.

Overall: Once again, a good service by Air Canada. The crew friendly, and whilst could not spend as much time as they did on an empty 777-300ER, conducted the services quickly and efficiently which is needed on a night flight.

The moment I was off the plane, I switched the phone back into voice mode to find the hard disk had been delivered. I did the math, and said I should be at the office for 15:30 subject everything running to schedule.

After picking up my bag, I did something quite unusual – even for me. I had some small change left over from Canada (a few dollars at most). Now normally, I keep everything from a trip. This time however, I put the money in a charity box and headed for the train.

Yes, I was still quite annoyed with Canadian Immigration even after a few days (and heck, near enough more than a week later).

*ABORTED – LHR-FRA, FRA-LCY Segments*.
London Heathrow T1 to Frankfurt International Airport, Frankfurt Airport – London City Airport

Heathrow Central to London Paddington,
Heathrow Connect, Class 360 Train.
£8.50 Single


Back at Heathrow Central

I exited, and headed for Heathrow Connect/Express train station, and got a single Heathrow Connect ticket to London Paddington. And whilst it’s more expensive than the tube, for £8.50, it still represents far better value than the stupidly overpriced Heathrow Express.

As usual, the train was on time, and pottered it’s way to Paddington via the Great Western Slow Lines. The loads as it was past midday were low, with the cheap travellers like me at Heathrow and some locals boarding along the way. As a result the train never felt busy or unsafe.

27 minutes later, the train arrived at Platform 12, and I was out through the barriers.

Whilst Platform 12 is out of the way to visitors to London, it has one little feature just beyond the barrier – an entrance to London Underground and a direct connection to the Bakerloo line. Considering Marylebone is a few stops down, this is very useful. For those of you visiting London, this is also very useful as it cuts across important stops in the heart of Westminster – namely Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Charring Cross and Embankment.

A hop on, and hop off, and I arrived to see a train go. No matter – I booked a ticket for the 13:37 the night before anticipating the time to transfer from Heathrow to Marylebone. The train was called a good 10 minutes before departure, and people were directed to not a Diesel Multiple Unit, but shock and horror – a proper train with a Locomotive and Carriages!

London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street.
Chiltern Railways Mainline Silver Train Service, Class 67+Mk III stock
Advance purchase single: £7.50

The Photos – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…-mainline.html

Damn. I’m going to have to trip report this properly I suppose!

For those of you who have only known the British Railway network before 2001, you can skip this bit. For everyone else, allow me to explain. In the past, there used to be trains with locomotives, and carriages. On some of the mainlines, these are being displaced with Multiple Unites (Electric or Diesel) or in some cases coaching stock remaining.


A “Class 67 Locomotive”

The Mark III coaching stock has been round the houses and operators (From BR to InterCity to West Coast Railway to Virgin Train, to Wexham and Shropshire trains). But operators are seeing logic in using this older stock as it offers some comforts over modern trains. That and they’re cheaper to hire too.


Rolling Stock

Chiltern Railways (and Wrexham and Shropshire) have been busy with these trains, practilically rebuilding and refurbishing the innards of the coaching stock till they look like they rolled out of factory.


Very lightly loaded


Power sockets


Branding


The Espresso Bar

In a five-car rake (Plus a driving van and a locomotive), it’s a standard class affair throughout – with a “business zone” (supplement payable) and “Espresso bar” near the Birmingham end of the train

In terms of comfort, the Mark III coach can’t be beaten. Through all refurbishments, it’s always been a comfortable seat you could just sink into. But these are modern times, so putting on new seat covers isn’t enough. The coaches have power at seat now, and for the connected traveller for today – Onboard WiFi that was free to use.

And like the journey down, the train just breezed through, making it’s five stops to Birmingham Moor Street – all on time and on scheduled.


At Moor Street


Head that way…

Overall: Again, perfectly delivered by Chiltern Railways. The new Mainline service is well priced and should really be used as an alternative to other services to and from London if you’re heading from Birmingham.

I bundled myself into a cab, and arrived at the office. Lo and behold in Server 7, one dead disk. A quick check to see if the maintenance company had sent a correct replacement (they did). Flick the armature open, pull the disk out. Place to one side. Flick the armature open, push new disk in, lock the armature, watch disk rebuild.

Of course, I didn’t bother to check my email. I’m on leave still thank you very much.

Happy the disk begun rebuilding, I picked up my trash, locked the Comms room door and caught the bus home. 2 buses and 30 minutes later, I was at my front door.

Closing up:

Lets be honest, crap happens. At the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my office to provide uptime for services, and if it means curtailing a trip – so be it. I’m just glad them in the office were in the mood to pay my train ticket back to Birmingham. Getting the other £88 out of the office will be another matter I suspect…

Chiltern Railways provided one of the bigger surprises of the whole trip. With the new “Mainline” service, it has really grown into a major competitor on the London Birmingham rail corridor. Comparing it’s prices and times to the Virgin Trains services, work your times carefully, and it can be one hell of a cost saver.

National Express and Eurolines… a budget travellers dream, but an acquired taste. One I do not intend to acquire again for some time. It certainly saved money, and thankfully I had the opportunity to sleep on the rest of the flights. Like most travel – it’s cost verses convenience. Take your pick. On the plus side, the Channel Crossing was a step into the nostalgic past I had of travel.

Brussels Airline has a very niche product – one I look forward to trying again sometime if my travels take me there.

Air Canada again delivered both in terms of ground product and the in-air product. Yes of course they could sort of the excuse of the breakfast service, and replace the cookie with something more substantive, but the friendliness of service cannot be beaten compared to some North American carriers

The Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville was quite frankly – amazing. The service was top notch, and the room (as well as the suite) was amazing. And as it’s slightly outside the main Toronto Central Area, it’s just that bit more peaceful than the heat of the city – a Hotel I’d recommend.

However, there is a sad note in this trip report, and it has to do with Canada and me, it’s going to be a hate/hate relationship, and unless I have any urgent business in the land to the North, I have zero intention of visiting Canada again.

And that saddens me in a lot, in respect as there are some wonderful places yet to explore in the north (from Montreal to Edmonton, to Calgary and to the far north of the great country). The people once you get past the border are friendly and warm, and the mixture of types of food you can eat is quite frankly amazing. However, the bottom line is that whilst Canadian Border Services seems to enjoy picking on me each time I go into the country, I’ll avoid the place, and take my tourist money elsewhere.

Or Canadian Border Services – to put it in the words of one your stars – That don’t impress me much (Yes, Shania Twain is Canadian).

Right. That’s enough from me for a few weeks. Hopefully no other servers will decide to go bang in the meantime, but as Summer turns into Autumn, it is time, so it’s back to return to the Windy City as I attempt not to get my luggage wrecked by the TSA again in “A Smooch of Chicago and a Kiss of DC – The Autumn Run with United”.

Till then – safe travels!
Comments are always welcome. You can find my previous trip reports here. You can also visit my YouTube Channel too!

ADDENDUM:

If you represent an organisation who has been reviewed in a Trip Report and wish for clarification over any issue , please contact me directly at blog@ghettoife.com stating your credentials and the nature of  the question requiring clarification. A response will be sent to you as soon as is possible.

Posted by Kevincm | 4 Comments

Well for those of you who haven’t lived under a rock today would had heard of Apple releasing it’s newest toy… The iPad

For Ghetto IFE users, what’s the interest in this device?

Take you standard iPod Touch. Now pimp the screen. There you go. All the usual tools (including Safari, Mail, Photos, etc etc are there).

In terms of entertainment, there is a nice large screen for music and video, with an alleged 10 hour runtime of VIDEO. In other words, LHR-BKK, LHR-SIN, LHR-SFO, SFO-TYO etc range is the name of the game.

In travel terms, it should fit in your bag nicely – least of all it’s only 1/2″ thin, 1.5lb/685gramms heavy, with 16GB storage to start with, up to 64GB (non expandable), and it’ll load all your Application you’ve got from the App Store.

One of the new features is it’s also going to be an Ebook Reader. This I’ve got a few concerns about (you try staring at a bright backlit screen for hours – doesn’t do your eyes any good). An eInk based reader might be a better option.

For those who are going try to use this for business (and good luck getting on your accounts), iWork will also make an appearance too.

For a device like this, WiFi and 3G (The WCDMA2100 standard – not EDVO or WCDMA1700) will make an appearance too. It’s SIM unlocked, so it should be able to be used in any country you like with whatever data plan.

Overall….

I’m sorry, I would had expected a bit more – but I thought overblown iPod touch would be the order of the day… and I’m not off the mark.

It’s pricing is about cheap netbook level, and a bit beyond that if you add 3G Radio. As it’s pre-pay, I don’t expect operators to subsidise this at all as a lot of operators still have to get over charging silly amounts per megabyte still.

The lack of multi-tasking is quite frankly getting to the point of unacceptability, and is a point to address in the next iPhone software – and the unwillingness of Apple to open up the platform to Java and Flash is getting downright annoying.

  • A business tool? Hardly.
  • A nice thing to have around the home? Maybe
  • An Ebook Reader? I’d strongly urge you to compare with a eInk based reader compared to an LCD screen, and tell me which one is easier on your eyes. eInk is superior and more “natural” in this respect.
  • Will this head the way of the Newton? I don’t think so – least of all there are a lot more Apple Fanbois out there these days.
  • Would it make an excellent IFE Device? I’d say yes – but you’d need to find a way of mounting the thing.
  • Will I be rushing out to get one? I’ll wait for the UK pricing and decide not to. Just like all the other slate/pad/tablet devices….

Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

« previous home top