Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
The Long and Winding Road

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Contents:

The Long and Winding Road

Well, that was long-winded wasn’t it? A lot of different experiences and lot of highs and lows.

Lets pick on things and sum up things:

  • American Airlines ground handling and services: I’m sorry, pretty abysmal left, right and centre.  Some unforgivable sins of splitting luggage, poor handling of luggage (involving the ripping of the rucksack). Sluggish service in the lounges and “premium water”.  Definitely a case of must try harder.
  • American Airlines International Economy  – Compared to last time, a very constant product. The lack of people in the forward cabin made it a very enjoyable experience, and the product was pretty much the same. A Constant product – this is something I like.
  • American Airlines Domestic First (MD-80)  – A variable service, with some highlights and some very mid-lights. The MD-80s are reasonable enough aircraft, but are showing their age… and the sooner those Airbus and Boeing short-haul aircraft turn up to replace the MD-80s, the better.
  • American Airlines Domestic First (757) – A pretty reasonable product – either the old product or the new product. A bit of refinement in delivery needed (the missing ramekins, and the late clean up come to mind), but nothing majorly bad. Nothing overly good to report too.
  • American Eagle – A bit less good than last time, with nothing special to report, but still providing a useful link. I believe the Chicago – Toronto route has also been up-scaled to a Embraer 175 – I might investigate this change in my next Chicago trip.
  • Crowne Plaza Chicago – Another good experience at this property – this time with a nice welcome gift. Again, constant product, well looked after – all good things in my book.
  • Intercontinental San Juan – An interesting property. The Club isn’t that bad, but the service at the place was very good – it got me out of an American Airlines made pickle
  • Hyatt Regency O’Hare – Still very disappointed with the apparent drop in quality of service here. So much could had been done better, yet .
  • British Airways ground handling – Toronto can really show some parts of British Airways how to do customer service from top to bottom. Heck, even luggage delivery was quick this time. A bit of an improvement from Denver last time.
  • British Airways 787 – I’m still maintaining that the 787 is a 767-300ER on steroids. That being said, when some idiot handler bangs into the plane, safety first always – and I’m glad the BA crew did this. True, we were 5 hours on the ground (and if the flight was due to depart earlier, I have a feeling they would had scrubbed the flight), but at 4:10 in the morning, I doubt they could had got anyone hotels. Heck, I doubt they could had got anything at Midnight. The crews were friendly and efficient, and did their jobs well.
  • I’m also going to be nice about National Express who got me home without me going through London… and without breaking the bank.
  • And my rucksack? The poor Survivor 100 Rucksack alas is to be recycled. One too many clips broken isn’t too much of an issue, however, with the structural integrity comprised, that’s it for that beast. It’s been a good innings, travelling with me on and of for 6 years or so, but when its time to go… its time to go.

Thanks old friend. May you be recycled in peace.

And that’s it for Tiers and Dreams. It’s been a wild ride this one (even by my standards). However – the scrounge for Tier Points will continue as I need another 680 or so.

So here’s a teaser…

Map – Great Circle Mapper www.gcmap.com

Can you even guess what chaos is up next? Look out for The Final Push sometime in the new year!

Comments Welcome as always.

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.


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Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
Homeward Bound

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Contents:

The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2013/11/16/homeward-bound.html

By the time I had got off the plane, it was 3:30pm. I was due to be home two hours ago before this time point, and I still had a journey ahead of me.

Sigh.

T5C

I boarded the transit shuttle back to T5A after a short comfort break to see what the damage was, and how bad thing were on the other side.

I’m not drunk, but this is how I felt…

As usual when exiting the plane at T5A, you don’t go up the escalators, use the elevators – it’s quicker (or do the traditional thing of “Follow the crew”). This spits you out in front of those on the escalators and to the right of the UK Border.

Inspecting the queues, I saw that the Biometric passport queue would be the quickest today, as the UK/EU lane was rammed solid. It took about 5 minutes to get to the head of the queue, and about a minute to be processed.

Once the machine did its business, I was let on my way, and I headed down to the luggage belt, which had just started spitting out the luggage from the Toronto flight. And amazingly, both bags had made it intact, with the stitching still holding on the rucksack… although one of the buckles was broken at this point.

All intact… thankfully!

With all my belongings collected, I headed to Customs, and was cleared through without any questions.

My next job would be how to get home. I did have a return ticket, but the coach had long gone. As much as I relished the joy of cutting through London on the train home, I decided to try my luck with National Express to see if I could get home on the next coach.

I queued up at the stand, and was seen to. A quick explanation, and my ticket was changed for £5 + £1.70 to handle the credit card for the next coach at 4:45.

I was grateful at that point.

With that, I went to pick up some water, and then headed outside to wait for the coach.

National Express 210 – Heathrow Airport T5 to Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station

My new ticket was ripped, bags loaded and I was allowed to board this coach. We left on-time, tracking around the Heathrow perimeter, stopping at T4 and then T123, before heading away from Heathrow

Ready to depart T5

T5B and T5C in the distance



With our airport pick-ups complete, it was time to begin the long trek, which would take the coach through M25 rush hour traffic, up the M40 to Banbury, a diversion to Coventry, Birmingham Airport and finally Birmingham Digbeth Coach station

After crawling up the M4, we crossed it and headed for the M25… which was equally crawling.

Believe me, all I wanted to at this point was get home and curl up.

Once the coach got on the M40, it was plain sailing all the way up to Banbury (where the coach picked up no passenger)

Darkness fell, and I tried to get some rest… failing miserably. There was also a sinking realisation that I was in the office the next day too… so I would be jetlagged and have not time to unpack or anything… or even head to the Supermarket to get dinner.

Time wore on, and Coventry was a blur. By the time we hit Birmingham Airport, I really was no longer with it in most senses of the word.

However, being near Birmingham Airport meant the home stretch was in sight. Rather than head down the Coventry Road and be trapped in delays, the coach headed for the M42, M6 and Aston Expressway back into Birmingham, cutting a good 10 minutes off the journey

Racing along the expressway

Finally the coach arrived in Birmingham… and it was wet.

The more things change as some say.

I collected my luggage and bundled myself into a taxi for the short ride back to the flat. With the rucksack on my back, the ski bag on one shoulder my day bag on the other and duty free in my hands, I headed through the security gates, and into my block of flats, arriving at my front door.

And… home!

After loading the stuff in and turning on the power in the flat, I headed off the local chippy, got dinner, ate it and collapsed on the sofa.

8am came… and it was time to go to work – the cycle of life had resumed again.

Coming up: The Long and Winding Road


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Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
BA96 Toronto Pearson – London Heathrow T5

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Contents:

BA096 Toronto Pearson T1 – London Heathrow T5
British Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, World Traveller Plus 10J
90 Tier Points Earned, 3553 Miles Flown, 3553+3553+888 Avios Earned

The Pictures:

I was welcomed aboard this brand new Boeing 787, and headed past Club World, into World Traveller Plus, and into the first row of WT+, which would be my home for the evening.

Club World is in a new formation for this aircraft – a 2-3-2 formation, and looks rather fresh – if still the same as the 777s, A380s and other aircraft carry the Club World product. It’s a reasonable product, but apart from some tidying up, no real innovations here.

World Traveller and World Traveller Plus has the refreshed products that have featured on Boeing 777-300ER and A380 aircraft – these being Slimline seats… although with a reasonable amount of padding in the posterior cushion this time. A bit of an improvement to say the least.

World Traveller Plus – my seats

Window controls

World Traveller

Saying that, this is first time I’ve been aboard a Boeing 787 in an 9 across configuration… and it looks as tight as hell down the back.

Saying that, there was one space on the plane there was lots of room – and that’s the galley.

That’s one large galley!

Wandering back through the plane, the crew seemed very happy with their new plane – or new toy as I called it, with a lot of the crew very proud of the new plane in their fleet.

I settled into the seat, and as I’ve said earlier… it’s an improvement on the 777-300ER seats. It felt a lot less like metal to bottom, and instead a fair bit of padding.

Overhead Pivot bin


IFE controls home


USB Charging points – not one… but two.




Seat manual


Table out – taken a LOT later in flight.

As boarding went on, it seemed to be a full flight in Club World up front, with a quietish evening both in World Traveller and in World Traveller Plus. Sometimes, it’s worth not upgrading to have a quieter cabin, and this is one of those times.

In terms of legroom, it was ample. And that’s meant nicely.

Legroom – plenty in the bulkhead

Now, as time ticked on, it was closing in on 22:15 – time to push back. And there was a distinct lack of communication from the cockpit. At 22:15 on the nose, the captain came on the announcement system that had been an incident on the ground involving a luggage-loading machine… and our plane.

Uh oh.

We were told that inspections were going to occur, with an update in 30 minutes. Straight after, the cabin crew came on the line, permitting the use of electronic devices until such time we were ready for take off.

I took this as an opportunity to fire up the In Flight Entertainment system. This system – like the one fitted to the BA Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ERs are based on the Thales i5000 system. And very pretty it is too.

Welcome screen

Comedy Selection

Film selection

Games selection

Map

IFE Reverse controller

Navigation was a bit sluggish, but pacey enough to be useful. Whilst the movie tastes weren’t too my liking, the comedy loaded was plenty.

Little did I know HOW plenty it would be.

I therefore went for one my favourite series… no, not Pokémon (I watched that enough of that amazingly), and I switched to… Red Dwarf.

Headphones that were supplied were the noise cancelling variety, and rather comfortable to wear for extended periods.

Taken a lot later in flight…

That killed 25 minutes nicely, and I lined up another episode of the show ready to roll. 5 minutes in, the captain was on the blower saying that there were discussions with the engineers on the ground and BA HQ to see if the damage was too extensive to fly or not… with an update in 30.

Uh-oh.

At this point the crew came around with non-alcoholic refreshments to start the evening off.

As time wound on, the captain came out and talked with passengers who had concerns, which was an excellent thing to see – a captain actively engaging with people besides the ground crew and cabin crew.

Similarly, shortly after, the Cabin Supervisor Manger came by and introduced himself, apologised for the delay and gave options should the flight be cancelled – either re-routing on Air Canada back to London during the day, or taking the evening flights the next day.

So with three Red Episodes of Red Dwarf out of the way, I headed off to the IFE system to hunt for something else to watch that wouldn’t demand masses of thought whilst the delay was in progress. Thankfully BA had loaded the entire 30 Rock 6th season on the plane.

With time ticking on the 30 minute delays were stacking up. During this period, the crew decided to serve dinner on the ground. Main choice was a choice of Thai Chicken or Beef Short Ribs.

I went for the Thai Chicken

Tray


Salad unveiled


Caesar Salad

Thai Chicken Curry with Pak Choi and Rice.


Water


Chocolate desert

Dinner was pretty darn goo. Reasonably nice, fresh, with the curry of a reasonable potency with the rice not tasting like it was glued together on a bad day. The salad was crisp and fresh too, and the desert was of a reasonable size to be enjoyable.

No drinks were served other than water in case the plane given to push back in a hurry. This… didn’t happen, so the crew served coffee.

Coffee and yes – still on the ground

The clear down of the trays was done and the lights were brought down. Even the EVA Air 777-300ER that was parked next to us got bored and headed off

No, no Hello Kitty Paintwork on this 777-300ER.

After this, I settled down to 30 Rock Season Six. The captain made a few announcements, hopeful that the repair would be effective, as they now had run out of options with what Toronto ground staff were allowed to do, and that it was a four way conference call between the Captain, Boeing Seattle, British Airways Operations London and Ground Engineering in Toronto. It was identified that a Titanium strip would have to be removed to continue the inspection of the carbon fibre.

And trust me, I heard it through the noise cancelling headphones.

A new quicker flight plan was filed for London in the meantime, cutting our time in the air as the ground engineers worked away to inspect the plane.

At about 3:40… all was silent, as the captain came on the PA to announce that we were finally preparing for departure, and that both Boeing and BA had approved the repairs. With this the lights came up as the crew begun their pre-take off checks.

Finally, the doors went to closed, and our heavily delayed 787 begun pushback from Toronto Pearson – a good 5 hours down

Pushing back


Clearing

The safety video was played through the cabin, and final checks were complete.

At about 4:09 Toronto time, our 787 finally headed into the sky.

Yes, I still have a BMI Airbus A330-200 as my lock screen wallpaper. And that’s when we got in the air…

Climb out was quick into the night sky, with the rain providing no trouble to the pair of Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines. Soon we were cutting through the cloud layer and into the night

Dark

The crew attempted a full bar service, but by this point, everyone was mostly out cold or not with it. I took some cola and decided to rest

The next thing I knew, light was starting to stream into the cabin – not clear, but diffused by the window.

Remember people – the 787 doesn’t have blinds. This is kind of important as the windows are meant to reduce the amount of light that comes in. Is the following a reduction in light?

It is green. It is a fair reduction in light… but not a total blackout. Heck, the other side wasn’t looking too great

The mood lighting had come on too, indicating breakfast was soon to be served.

Reducing the green to a blue. a bit more palatable.


Maybe a bit too bright.


That’s a bit better


The deep 787 wing


Contrasting window shades.

So, I was expecting a box breakfast. Instead I got. Well. Something Air Canada would have been proud to serve.

And I don’t mean that nicely.

A muffin, orange juice and water.

Seriously – is the best you can do in WT+/WT BA? It is a comparatively short segment, but some fruit wouldn’t had gone amiss. Not particularly satisfying, and well… a bit of effort could had gone in. At least the orange juice was cold, and the coffee was hot and wet.

Our flight path was a bit less great-circlish than normal, but we were making good progress as it continued to London, with breakfast all done and dusted before an hour and ten to go to Heathrow

Daylight at last

During this time, comment cards were given out to everyone aboard to fill in their details to arrange appropriate compensation (I’ll talk about what I got in my comments)

In addition, the crew made an announcement for Flying Start, as well as anyone who had a connection – and it now being borked to go to Flight Connection Centre for re-routing, along with the crews full apologies

Forms were collected, and final requests for Duty Free were taken. With those done, it was a matter of the plane being prepared for landing

Over England’s Green and Pleasant Land


Crossing over the pleasant land, closing in on Heathrow.

With the cabin secured for landing, we begun entering the Heathrow traffic system – and as well as passing some impressive clouds… we entered a stack as well.

Spot the different on the other side

Eventually after a couple of loops around a stack, we were given a river approach into London Heathrow

London is underneath. Trust me.


Battersea Power Station in the corner.

Soon, the plane descended beneath the cloud level and we were soon vectoring in for a landing on 7L.

With that, our long journey was coming to an end, with the time at 15:30 British Summer Time. Or… we had been going for the best part of 11 hours.

The plane continued a taxi, heading over to the T5 Complex, and between the T5B/T5C gates, with the captain thanking everyone for their patience, and apologies for ruining people’s day with the delays.

Waiting for the “go” signal (seatbelt sign off)

Soon, the bong a lot of people had been waiting for went off, and everyone gathered their items.

Movement in Club World.

Disembarkation was via 2L, with the Cabin Supervisor thanking people for their patience, and him apologising to me for not seeing me before landing. A nice touch.

With that – I thanked the crew for their safe transportation over the pond, and headed off into T5C… and home.

Overall: Whilst the delay wasn’t BA’s finest hour, put simply – it wasn’t the airlines fault. Instead, it was ground handling that loused up big time, adding 5+ hours onto a very long trip. The captain and cabin crew did a good job of keeping people informed, letting them rest, provide service on the ground as needed, whilst letting people rest in the air after the long delay. The IFE system looks extremely good, and was full of choices, whilst the food was pretty reasonable for once in World Traveller Plus. The Breakfast however – was a joke. The 787 is still a darn good plane, but to say I was jetlagged when I got off it would be… an understatement. The World Traveller Plus seat I think is a better implementation than installed on the 777-300ER… although that could just be me.

I still think 787 itself for all its wonders is a plastic 767-300ER on steroids, and as demonstrated – although tough – is fragile still as airlines get used to this class of plane.

A day later, I was proactively contacted by BA Customer Services in Newcastle, who reviewed the situation with me and apologised again for the delay to the journey. As a goodwill gesture 30,000 Avios were deposited in my BA Executive Club account, which I accepted.

Put it like this: I Was still more angry at American Airlines who did nothing, other than the feeblest of apologies, rather than BA who made a bit of effort.

Oh, and as to how many episodes of 30 Rock I had left to watch? Put it like this: I was well in the low single digits by the time I was on the ground…

Next: Homeward Bound


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Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
More Toronto Airport Omnishambles  The Long Wait, BA Toronto Lounge-

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Contents:

A Toronto Airport Omnishambles

The Photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2013/11/07/transiting-toronto-airport-ba-galleries-lounge-toronto.html

With a quick-step, I made my way towards immigration… when I could find it. Apparently, the lights were out and so were the directions, so everyone was getting lost round a secure part of an airport. Wonderful.

This way…

Eventually, I reached the upper levels, and headed towards immigration and transit zone (which in T1 as it was designed by a drunk monkey) requires you to follow signs, drop luggage off and enter the Canada, then exit the country. MAD.

Pay attention to this sign. Collect all Items before exiting the secure zone. This is important in a moment.

I entered immigration and head to transit immigration. After short questioning, my passport and immigration form was stamped, and i was sent on my way to baggage claim.

Thankfully my rucksack came out quickly.

Then I waited for the ski bag. And waited… and waited. Baggage delivery was completed, and it seems my bag didn’t make it.

Impolite curses were left out.

Baggage tracing was conducted, with the last scan of it in Chicago… with the conclusion that American Airlines in their infinite wisdom decided to split my bags up, and send the ski bag on the next flight.

WONDERFUL.

This meant I was stuck in the arrivals zone, unable to clear drop off area, as all bags have to be claimed before leaving the secure zone. And an hour of my life that I wanted to spend in the lounge would be spent instead in the luggage pickup zone.

I took the opportunity to track the next flight, and wait.

And wait. And wait.

Eventually, the latter flight landed, and the baggage agent went behind to see it had arrived – and it did.

Reunited at last.

The bag had rush tags on it, and those were cleared off so the normal travel tags were visible and could be scanned again. With that, I was on my way again.

I cleared baggage drop off – and to my horror… the DSLR had decided to spout legs. A random check of my bags indicated it wasn’t there.

New swear words used.

I was advised to head to the information desk as they might be able to help… so that’s what I did. Lo and behold the camera was there, and I was asked to describe the contents of the memory card. With that done and some administration complete, the 6D was released to me… and I was on my way again.

Landside transit. Nothing like a joined up system here.


Up, up and away!

Thankfully, my knowledge of T1 was enough that I knew which way to go – and where to head. So I headed to the security lane, and was cleared quickly… and it was a quick march to the International Departures section.

Safely in the International section, I made a bee-line for the BA lounge.

British Airways Galleries Lounge

There was short wait to enter the lounge, and I let a few people through as they had simpler needs than me – as the lounge attendant had spotted my AA boarding passes.

Also plugging the 787…

The agent exemplifies what I find best about BA – she was concerning where my luggage was and if it was re-checked, ensured I had the best possible seat (an offer was made to move from my seat of 12A to 10J, with the pair of seats to myself – I accepted), and a full reprint of boarding passes on BA Stock .

Charming, and understanding – this agent was representing British Airways at its best. I was also offered a food voucher to enjoy the buffet dinner too.

Simple things, a caring attitude. I put myself through the Toronto pain for this reason.

I grabbed a glass of bubbles, and headed for food.

Bubbles!


Menu





Lounge ambiance


Sprits and such

The food in the lounge was nice and flavoursome, with help yourself stations. Always helpful. In addition, there were bottles of water on hand (which would be more useful than I could think later).

Meanwhile, our 787 was outside… waiting.

This was a relaxing environment after the joy of transiting the airport, and it showed with the staff being attentive and helping passengers as need be.

The lounge receptionist was engaging to those who were going on BA98 and BA96, making boarding and final boarding calls as needed, treating passengers as people.

When the call was made for flight BA96, I packed up my bags and headed for the plane home, thinking I’d be home soon.

I thanked the lounge attendant for her excellent service, and headed for the gate

Dare I say it? Yes. I’m going to say it. Is this the best British Airways outstation in North America? Quite probably.

Heading to the gate, boarding was in full swing. I headed through FastTrack, with my boarding pass scanned, and being directed aboard.

I was looking forward to some quality time aboard this plane. Little did I know HOW long I’d be aboard this plane…


Next: BA096… Umm. Who banged this luggage-loading machine against the plane?


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Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
AA3360 Chicago O’Hare to Toronto Pearson, with a Nighttime Approach
Special

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Contents:

AA 3630 Chicago O’Hare to Toronto Pearson International
American Eagle Embraer ERJ-145, Main Cabin (sold as World Traveller Plus)
20 Tier Points Earned, 500 Avios Earned + 500 Avios Gold Bonus

The photos:

I was welcomed aboard as I entered the little ERJ-145, and headed down to my usual seat of 12A. Whilst on a connection, 1A and further up the front is more preferred, 12A is the emergency exit row – and thus more legroom.

My kind of seat.

Taken in-flight

In case of emergency…

I also noticed a new kind of safety belt too. Very odd, considering the rest of the plane had normal safety belt clips.

Loading took time as the ERJ filled up with a mixture of O&D passengers as well as a lot of transit passengers – mostly British passport holders. An interesting mix.

There was a ground hold before we were allowed to push back, so the plane settled down in quiet until it was time for the safety demonstration.

Eventually, the pushback began, and the safety demonstration was performed. With that out of the way, our little Embraer 145 begun its taxi out

New planes – a 737-800 and an Embraer 170

Soon, it was our turn to line up for take off, and those little Rolls Royce Allison Engines spooled up for a rocketing take-off.

The take off took us past Chicago, across the lakes, and tracking towards Toronto, with a few extra loops thrown in.

The city of Chicago in the distance – See you soon!


Clearing the cloud layer


No smoking… seatbelts on… as it was pretty bumpy…


As we begun our short hop over to Toronto, the colours changed as the evening sunset begun to fall.

Meanwhile, cabin service had begun, with a drinks only service offered.

Diet Cola. I’m so original in my drinks… and don’t judge my music tastes either… believe me, this is not the worst I can unleash!

Meanwhile, the colours changed into a fiery sunset

As the Sun set, our plane begun its decent, with new colours,

The cloud also misted a lot… with more rain than cloud, indicating a bumpy landing ahead.

However, when the layer cleared I was rewarded with a lovely view of Greater Toronto and Toronto itself at night. I’ll let the picture do the talking.

City of Toronto in the distance.


The plane completed its final decent, touching down in the Toronto night

With a bit of reverser we made it to Toronto, with a long taxi over to the American Eagle Gates.

Wet. Toronto. This is vaguely familiar.


Turning for the Gate.

Our ERJ parked at its stand, and soon enough we were all released.

Overall: The staff weren’t as good as the staff I had last time on a Chicago-Toronto leg, but it provided the service needed for a one and a bit hour flight. The cherry on top was of course the sights of Toronto at night – worth it.

Next up: A final “gift” from American Airlines, A panic, A Delay, and the BA Lounge.


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Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
Back to O’Hare, Regional Admirals Club

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Contents:

The Photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2013/11/03/ord-take-3.html

With everything done in Chicago, a quick return to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare was needed to re-pack and ensure everything was set for the journey home. With that all done, I was back in another Hyatt shuttle bus back to terminal 3 of O’Hare… for the 3rd time in a week.

I traipsed over to Executive Check In, and presented my credentials. And I had the agent who had to check everything was “by the book” (for example – not sure on luggage allowances for a World Traveller Plus passenger with a BA Golf Card and having to phone for help for most thing, to sticking to the 23kg a bag or a US$150 fee).

Heck, I had to tutor him about lounges and priority tags.

*Head… Wall… Bang*

Every now and again… you wonder why. All you can do breath, smile and move on.

With the bags taken off me after a bit of negotiation (and the removal of a 3 1/2lb bag of candy), it was off to security. As usual, I opted for a pat down. All done with the matter of minutes as security was quiet.

With that, I was air-side once again at Chicago O’Hare T3.

A quick visit to Duty Free to pick up some supplies, and it was time for a lounge near a gate. Except my flight would be going from the distant H gates. Thankfully there was an American Airlines lounge over there, so with plenty of time to spare, I headed over in that direction.

Admirals Club.

I was welcomed and allowed in… to a very refreshed lounge. Bright and breezy, with the big dark browns long gone.

Bar Area


Coffee and Fountain Drinks


COOKIE!



Lounge space

Compared to the last time I was here, this lounge has gone through a radical makeover, and it shows. Power sockets were easy to find, and the Internet worked a charm. Heck, I even converted my AA drinks voucher into a vodka and cola this time as opposed to a bottle of water (in full knowledge that I would have to re-clear immigration and security at Toronto… no point in wasting a bottle of water).

It gave me the time I needed to relax and complete the final sort out, ready for the onward trip home.

I checked if our plane was on time – and surprise – it wasn’t. So I hung around the lounge until the plane arrived. The agent at the ticketing desk gave the nod when the plane pulled in.

With that, it was time to head out of the lounge and off to the gate

Arriving at the gate area, I could see the plane had pulled in, and was unloading passengers. A reasonably good sign

Although if you weren’t careful, you could end up going to the wrong destination.

Thankfully the delay was pretty slight, and soon Priority AAcess passengers were invited aboard. I took my leave of Chicago and headed down the jetbridge.

Next: AA3360 – Chicago O’Hare – Toronto Pearson


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Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
A Photographic Interlude

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Contents:

Right. I’ll be honest. With the limited time I had in Chicago (as well as requests of Root beer, Reese’s, Colgate toothpaste that’s cinnamon flavour, etc) I actually had little time to do anything for myself – or organise a one-time exception. Therefore it’s a photographic special. 

I swear one trip, I will actually have some time for myself rather than just blitz from place to place, rushing to do things.

That was funny thought, wasn’t it? :p

The photos are at:

Don’t ask me why… I have a curiosity of these alleys.

My 2nd home in Chicago – Central Camera. I just love it for the geek factor stuff they have in there.

Of course, being in Chicago, the Elevated Railways was making its usual sounds.

Of course, no visit to Chicago is complete without a visit to Cloud Gate…

I must have timed my trip right as well… as the fountains in Millennium Park were working too.

Walking up the Loop, heading to North Michigan, and also catching some sights

And finally back to the loop and towards the train back to O’Hare

Of course, when I was there it was near enough Hallowen too

from the districts

to the Loop

Put it like this: I doubt this will be the last time I’m in Chicago somehow or other. There will be a new one time exception.. when I actually have time for one! ;)

Next: Back to O’Hare, AA Regional Admiral’s Club


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Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
The Hyatt Regency O’Hare with a Rucksack gate update

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Contents:

After exiting the plane and heading to the luggage belt, I was in half dread – had the stitching held up? Or would I be buying a new bag when I had 5 minutes in Chicago?

Both bags spat out of the luggage belt… and the rucksack had… survived. Whilst some of the stitching was loose, it had taken the full weight for 3 flights and 4 sets of luggage handlers.

With that relief I headed out to the terminal… and straight into the taxi queue from hell. Rather than do that, I headed for the bus terminal and caught a shuttle bus to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare.

With 9pm approaching, I was finally in the foyer of the hotel.

Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare

The photos http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2013/11/02/hyatt-regency-ohare.html

I got off the bus, and no welcome staff were to be found. Rather annoying, but not the end of the world. I decided to head down and drop off the kit I would be using for the next few days rather than check in immediately.

As such, I spend time setting up, and chatting to my friends who were working away in the International Level. I helped out too, and with all my initial setup complete, it was 10pm. It was late, but time to check in.

Reception

And check in a bit long… well a 15 minute wait.

Then the killer was dropped when I checked in – I would be in the International Wing. Those of you know who the Hyatt Regency O’Hare will know it’s a bit of a hike to the International Wing (to put it blunt) from the main block – where I needed to be over the weekend.

I had put a request in my booking for a high floor, in the main atrium (as I always do) with a Double-Double bed.

So the request for the main block was ignored in my booking with a Double Double.

Wonderful.

Eventually, I was found a room in the main block as I was on my own now (and no second guest with me), so I was issued my keys.  I enquired about internet and informed it was charged for… except I’m a Platinum. A quick check of my profile, and the agent said the Internet would be free.

Finally I was sent on my way to the 10th floor.

Except as I was going around the hotel, I looked up and saw the number I was in… and saw I was in one of the turret rooms in a King Room.

The words I had were not too polite at this moment in time.

Allow me to explain: The Turret rooms are small in comparison to the double doubles, no balcony access and on top of that.. no bath in the bathroom, only a shower.

I was too exhausted to argue, but lets say I wasn’t exactly happy with the room… to the point I was considering of cutting my losses by a day and retreating back to the Crowne Plaza on the Sunday (I didn’t in the end.. but it was very close)

Bed

TV and work area

Earplugs, remote and phone

At that point, I gave up and went downstairs to get some food at the bar – where my friends were. I hung around, had some expensive fried calamari with some cola and caught up with people.

With that, I headed upstairs to collapse in peace and quiet. Thankfully, Hyatt hasn’t changed the beds here – which was important, as the beds are actually very comfortable at this hotel.

What I needed was a bath after a long day of travel… and a shower doesn’t cut it here people as you can’t lie down in one and soak your back.

The morning came, and it was time to be sociable for the weekend. I gave up on getting a room change because the hotel was packed out for the weekend.  That would had involved serious shifting around… and by this point, I had unpacked and didn’t want any heartache.

I had to head up to the room every now and again, during the Friday (as I needed to head to BestBuy to get another CD Drive), and I popped up to my room to get my wallet. To find the room hadn’t been serviced.

So, wrong room, wrong type of room assigned, poorly timed housekeeping. I’m running out of positive things to say here Hyatt… (and I caught a few poor comments about the hotels from other friends too… with mold found in one room too. Not good at all)

On later visits during the weekend, they had spruced their ideas up, and were cleaning before midday (always a bonus).

The only positive I could find was that the conference staff – which were as good as usual. Which helps during a weekend event when you need to concentrate on things.

The weekend itself was a positive one, with lots of friends made, connections caught up with and skills learned. A sort of weekend I like.

By 4pm Sunday it was all over, and I was in my room collapsed, and really needing to chill. With the evening coming – and the joy of repacking, it was time to survey the bag.

Not bad, but not brilliant. Thankfully I had some sewing kits left over front the Intercontinental San Juan, so it was time to sew again.

With the sewing done, I begun to pack and checked the bar downstairs for food. The bar was loud and packed… and that wasn’t doing it for me – I needed some quiet. I therefore raided the shop on the lower lobby (as I really didn’t fancy a walk over to McDonald’s or a Pizza delivered), and headed up to watch bad television and back up the hard disk.

Oh and pack… testing the stitching was would hold…

Morning came, and I wanted to spend some time downtown. I therefore checked out, and expressed my concerns to the front desk staff – which knocked of the food bill of $17.

Hmm. Not making it up to me… much

I dumped my luggage at the held luggage area, and headed off to Paulina to get some things and then to head downtown.

Overall: What a let down. It seems Hyatt were more interested in the electronic sign by the hotel than actually delivering good service. Everything seemed way too abrupt, service was slow and not a good reflection on previous stays at this hotel. I think you can tell how annoyed I was when I was planning to cancel the final night at the hotel and head back over the road to the Crowne Plaza.

Yes, I was that annoyed

I did the feedback on the stay and got an email from the front desk manager with an apology… and I’ll probably be back at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. Put it like this: There had better be an improvement when I’m back next.

Next: A Chicago Photographic Special


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Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
American Airlines AA1618 Dallas Fort Worth to St Louis International, A quick STL Stop, American Airlines AA1186 St Louis to Chicago

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AA flight 1618 Dallas Fort Worth International to Lambert–St. Louis International Airport
American Airlines, McDonnell Douglas MD-80, First Class, 3F
550 miles flown, 60TP 550 Base Avios, 550 Gold Bonus, 275 Cabin Bonus Avios Earned

The pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2013/10/29/american-airlines-dallas-fort-worth-to-st-louis.html

I was welcomed aboard, and headed to my now familiar seat of 3F. Boarding continued a brisk as there seemed to be a delay on departure as the ground crew were still trying for volunteers.

Legroom.

Eventually, the pushback was completed, and it was time to go. The safety demo was performed by hand, and with that done, there was a short taxi around Dallas Fort Worth, before the two engines powered up for take off.

Lining up

With a quick climb, the MD-80 headed in the sky and we begun the short trip to St Louis

With the climb in progress, I settled down and caught up on some more Pokémon. Well. I had other content loaded… but Pokémon seemed more interesting than most

Who’s that Pokémon? (It’s Eevee! From Pokémon Origins…)

The flight attendant was pretty quick off the mark, offering snacks for the short hop.

Snacks

Meanwhile, nature and the outside world were continuing their display.

Yes. I hog the window.

Drinks were forthcoming, so I went for my normal in-flight beverage of vodka and diet cola.

Oh yes – my passport is within sight. I’m not having a repeat of last time.

After clearing a couple of episodes of Pokemon Origins I kept my eyes on the changing colours, with sunset soon coming. The crew were friendly enough without being overbearing or intrusive, doing the required service

The cabin was cleared as decent begun back into St Louis.

Our flight path took us over Central St Louis, taking in a view of the Arch too – an unexpected bonus.

With the city past us, the plane begun its final turns for St Louis Airport

The plane landed with a reasonably spirited touch down, and soon enough, we were taxing off the runway to the terminal

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With a spritely taxi, we were at the gate at no time at all, and soon enough I was disembarking the plane.

Overall: Nothing special at all here – a pretty regular flight with the same service as the STL-DFW segment. At least the crew were nice – always a good thing to see.

With a very short connection at St Louis, there was time to visit the small room, and queue up for the next flight. And that was my plan… except that a delay was posted of 20 minutes.

Waiting

That was acceptable, so I hung around the gate area. Except the delay kept stacking, and there was a call volunteers. I was almost tempted, but I actually wanted to be in Chicago for 8pm. A 10pm arrival would had blown what remaining I had plans out of the water, so I hung around for that flight that would probably get in about 8:30, and to the hotel for 9pm.

Eventually, the arriving plane pulled in, and was turned around quickly. With a 100% load, plus 1 extra in the jump seat, there was a lot of pre-bag tagging, as well as a lot of working out if connections were going to be made that night.

Where the call for boarding came, I headed aboard the waiting plane.

AA flight 1186 Lambert–St. Louis International Airport to Chicago O’Hare International
American Airlines, McDonnell Douglas MD-80, First Class, 5F
550 miles flown, 60TP 550 Base Avios, 550 Gold Bonus, 275 Cabin Bonus Avios Earned

With everyone on tight deadlines, the plane was loaded in double-quick time, and soon enough the MD-80 was packed and ready to go.

Seating

Legroom

I wonder if anyone has actually pulled the cable to drop the cone off an MD-80?

Luggage loading

With the loads complete, our plane pushed back and with 40 minutes down begun a quick taxi to the runway

As there was no traffic, our plane line up with the runway, and headed off into the evening sky.

With a quick climb into the air, the night skies were giving off visual feasts.

Before service began, the flight attendant made announcements that were a lot of people on the flight on very tight connections – and 16 of those had sub 30 minute connections at Chicago. Those who had longer connections were asked to hang fire before leaving the plane.

Service begun. I went for cola as I needed to be awake for the next part of the trip

Snack mix was also served too

The 46-minute flight did its job, with the crew cleaning down the plane quickly, and announcements for connections with gates at Chicago.

Soon enough, the big grid of Chicago came into view

Approaching the Lake, and beginning our turn, note the Sears tower in the bottom right corner 




The North Shore



The Kennedy Expressway.

With the Kennedy expressway in-sight, the plane completed its descent into Chicago O’Hare airport

Down and beginning taxi

As the plane touched down, the purser was on the PA quickly, welcoming us all to Chicago, and to ask for those with time-critical connections to get ready to get up to the front door once the seatbelts sign was off. Those with non-critical connections were asked to wait until the critical passengers had cleared, and those who were ending their trips in Chicago asked to stay in their seats.

And when we docked, I was actually surprised with the compliance. The 16 with critical connection were up and out, ready to go, with another 30 people up behind them.

I took my time as I was a terminating customer, and thanked the purser, and the captain for the great approach over Chicago. That was met with a get back to the cockpit please sir!

I followed the command and thanked the captain and first officer again. The Captain also noticed that I had a camera around my neck – and so I ticked off another achievement: Sitting in the cockpit of an MD-80.

And Well.

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Yours truly in an MD-80 captains chair.

The crew were talkative, and loved their MD-80 – and it showed. Again, I thanked the captain and first officer as the plane had emptied and it was time to go.

Overall: Probably the best AA Crew I ran into this trip, friendly and customer oriented, and going that extra mile for those who wanted to get home. That and the invite up front is never a bad thing.

Next up: Hyatt Regency O’Hare … or how Hyatt went down more than a few notches in my book.

Posted by Kevincm | 4 Comments

Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
More Messing Around DFW

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Contents:

More messing around DFW

The photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2013/10/28/trundling-around-dfw.html

Ah. Back in the international terminal again. Nice and bright, big spaces. I like this.

I also like these…

Distant international guests too.

However, my next flight would be from the Domestic C gates, so it was up into the air for the SkyLink, and for an eye in the sky tour of DFW

Soon enough, the train had completed the loop to the C Gates, and it was off on a new adventure.

Going down…

And we’re in the C Gates. Where the D gates were full of light, the C Gates… aren’t. Dark is how I’d best describe it.

Still there were some interesting things… like this vending machine:

Well.. it’s different for those who had their stuff taken by Security…


And various overnights kits

The design of the terminal makes it a short walk from the gate to the pavement, but it does mean you’ve got a walk to go anywhere within the terminal. Annoying, but passable.

Thankfully, there was some nice neon art on the way.

A Neon Eagle..

With this bit of art, there was also an Admiral’s Club right behind it. Very useful.

There was a bit of queue to get into the club, but I was processed quickly enough

Once that was done, it was up in the elevator into the club itself.

Umm. What do they define as proper? *panic*

The lounge whilst lacking in natural light had an evening glow in the place that was relaxing

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Art.

Cafe




Bar Drinks

I found a spot to relax in, as well as cashing in my drinks voucher for another bottle of American Airlines premium water bottle

Your experience may differ.

Whilst the club was busy per-say, it seemed relaxing enough, and there was accessible – power always a good thing.

With the WiFi reasonably fast, time sped by, and soon it was time to haul myself to the gate. Which was right opposite the club. Convenient to say the least.

During the build up to boarding, there was a call for volunteers with a $300 travel credit and a First Class Re-routing direct to Chicago – I didn’t take advantage as I wanted the tier points from this leg, so I skipped and waited for the boarding call.

And when it was made, I headed down to the waiting MD-80…

Next: Dallas Fort Worth – Saint Louis, Another STL stop, St Louis to Chicago – Nightime Special

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams
AA1591 – San Juan – Dallas Fort Worth

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AA1591 – San Juan – Dallas Fort Worth
American Airlines Boeing 757-200, Seat 5A, First Class
140 Tier Points Earned, 2,165 Base Avios, 541 Avios Cabin Bonus 2,165 Tier Bonus

Upon boarding, I was welcomed aboard… by the same crew who served me on the outbound leg… and who I ran into in the hotel.

Oh well, we’re all friends now I think the term is )

I turned left as we boarded at 2L, I met my seat… being an American Airlines Classic Leather Recliner – or “Eisenhower” seat

Again, with FEBO rules, sitting near the back would get me served first. Which as a good ideas as I hadn’t had reserved a meal for this flight yet.

Whilst some compare these to leather clad slabs, I found them comfortable for a day flight. With a projected 5 hour flight, this was going to be important.

Pushback was on time, and soon enough, we were under way, with the safety demonstration played out the classic style Cathode Ray Tube TV’s

Classic (taken in flight)

Yup. Boeing 757

Pushed back and ready to go.

The taxi was a short one, and very quickly, the plane begun its long run for the five hour flight

I found pictures look better than video for a take off like this…

Climbout was a bit rough with quite a bit of bumps, so service was delayed before it could begin.

Service started off again with a hot towel (which was nice and hot)

And hot nuts – this time in a ramekin.

Well – at least they loaded the ramekins this time…

I also went for a coke as well to keep me happy

Meanwhile outside, nature was giving wonderful views

Ramekins also make good GhettoIFE stands.

Meals were chicken or something else. I went for the Barbecue Chicken … and forgot it had macaroni cheese with it.

Oh well.

The chicken itself was pretty well flavoured without being drowned out. The broccoli wasn’t that bad (even though it had been cooked to heck)… and the Macaroni Cheese… yes… I skipped it.

The salad was fresh, as well as the choice of pretzel bread which wasn’t hard to break into. The crew also offered sparkling wine too – which was a nice touch.

Not a bad meal at all. I just wish I remember the chicken came with Macaroni Cheese (What an odd combo – BBQ Chicken with Macaroni Cheese…)

With a clear down complete, it was time to watch the IFE. No, not the stuff on the tablet – the stuff outside

Additional drink runs were done, with me sticking to the cola

Still trying to catch them all…

Time meandered on, and I closed my eyes for a bit and relaxed as the flight took its time, crossing the sea and over land as the flight continued.

I was keeping an eye on the clock as I wasn’t sure what time we were landing, but I did notice when we broke through the cloud layer… and there was no announcement from the cockpit, or crew cleaning up.

Soon, we were passing a big airport. And yes, it was Dallas Fort Worth. And yes, it seemed the crew were unaware too.

Yes, that’s DFW.

There was annoumcenet from the cockpit we were preparing to land, and I’ve never seen a crew jump out of their seats so fast as they raced to get the plane buttoned down in 5 minutes flat.

Company traffic below

Beginning the final turns

With a quick service clear-down, the plane lined up to land at Dallas Fort Worth, with a reasonably fast landing on the tarmac.

There was a long taxi to the gate, with control allowing other planes to take off. Eventually, our plane arrived at the D Gates, bringing and an end to this segment.

I thanked the crew and complimented them on tidying the plane in 5 minutes flat. They weren’t expecting that landing I suspect…

Overall: Not a bad performance. The seat was suitable for the daytime flight (although I could imagine not that comfortable for a night flight), whilst the food was ok. The cabin crew seemed to have got too much San Juan time, as they conducted their service… but failed to keep an eye on the clock….

Next: More Messing around DFW


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Posted by Kevincm | One Comment

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