And no prizes for guessing which lounge I’m in at Hong Kong Airport…

I’ll report from the Thai lounge in a bit… after another class of Piper.

Maybe two. ;)

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Saying Goodbye to a friend – Travelling for the wrong reasons.
A United Experience – LHR-ORD-PHL-IAD-LHR

For DW – Have fun up there!

Previously…

LHR-BRU-LHR… or “How do you burn a £50 BMI voucher without too much pain?”
MAN-ORD (29/10 … or Did Kevin Make it to ORDChicago, IL – O’Hare?)
Kevin goes for a little mileage run on UA – ORD/CMH/IAD/EWR/ORD
ORD-MAN in BMI Premium Economy (with Pictures)
Kevin’s American Adventure – MAN-ORD-SEA-ORD-MAN (4 flights, 2 weeks) in Y..
ORD-MAN in BMI Premium Economy: How hard can a PE product drop? (also random moans)
LHR-PHL-SEA, SEA-PHX-ORD, ORD-PHL-LHR- In Y, Come and be scared with US!
LHR-SFO-LHR – If you’re going to San Francisco – SFO MegaDO Trip report
Gold Run – Mr Kevincm goes to Washington with EI and US
Long Haul Commuter Run – LHR-IAD-ORD and back with UA


What’s a matter dear reader? You’ve forgotten how I write my trip reports? Well I’m going to be cruel this time – no rambling intro on how they are written, the bad humour, and random things in them.

Heck. I just mentioned it. Oh clams – Well the usual rules in effect .

As usual, the bulk of the photos can be found at http://kevincm.photoblog.com and this trip will be simulacast (ooh new word) at http://www.gettoife.com (my blog)

On a more serious note – you’ve probably guessed by now that there’s slightly different tone in this report…



Introduction

Most of my travels – lets face it – have been for fun or business. Unfortunately, a series of events has lead me to travel for the first time for reasons I didn’t want to travel. One of my friends passed from this world to the next, and as a result, I was asked to accompany another friend to the USA to help out and provide support to them.

Naturally of course – I agreed.

However to get there – I would have to go to the nemesis of an airport I have come to dislike – Philadelphia International Airport!

Why do I have a passionate dislike of Philadelphia? Primarily it seems one has to hike a mile from one gate to another… and the INS people REALLY don’t like me when I pass through there (an hour and 15 minutes to get through immigration isn’t my exact idea of “fun”).

But needs must… and travel must be done.

Booking

Of course, as a Star Alliance flyer it boils down to two choices at such short notice – UA or US. The term I’m looking for here is… “A rock and a hard place”.

For US – To be honest, there was one attractive thing about PHL- the Envoy lounge. The rest of the US Airways experience is… umm… I’ve documented that enough I think
For UA – E+ Seating, IFE, and some okiesh lounges at ORD, IAD and PHL.

Well that’s a hard choice!

There was also the small matter of mileage for my friend (who needs a few thousand or so to get to *S, and I need every single mile I can lay my mutts on to retain Gold), so getting a few extra segments in isn’t a bad thing.

As this was comparatively short notice, fares were at what I’d call “summer” levels. Thankfully, UA were offering reasonable priced flights and after a bit of confudilation with the United.bomb, I had an itinerary worked out for the two of us that didn’t feel like I was being completely taken down the back alley and asked to to enter my PIN number by two burly men.


Your map. (Powered of course by http://gc.kls2.com/) I’ll do some detailed ones later on the trip report – but for now, ORD (Chicago, IL – O’Hare) on the far left, IAD (Washington DC – Dulles) the bottom left marker, PHL (Philadelphia, PA – International) the crossover point in the middle and of course LHR (London, United Kingdom – Heathrow) at the far right. Simples! (You might wish to ask this meerkat about things that are… Simples)

So there it is – no emergency fare, just get there where can and do the support we have to do.

Anyhoo. Forward motion. Lets boogie.

Part I – Off to Kevincm’s 3rd favourite airport in the world

Once again, my journey begins the day before. Unlike normal where I have a rucksack that seems to contain a kitchen sink, I’ve gone with a much more sober looking luggage (dread the thought – almost serious looking)


Be shocked – it’s a suitcase! -My travel trash at work

However At 4:50pm, after kicking a user off the network (a pleasure that Systems Administrators take pride in), I decided I had enough of my work and caught the shuttle bus from work and then onto a train at peak time to High Wycombe – my staging post for the night.

Of course, much Chinese food, red wine, merriment and trying to work out what was being discussed on ensued, before both of us crashing for the night.

All too soon 04:00 rolled round again and by 04:30 it was time to wander to Heathrow.

Heathrow


T1 at 5am in the morning. Fast becoming too much of a regular sight…

After making sure the friend I was travelling had made it to the airport (as we were travelling together), the usual Heathrow organisation (or lack of thereafter) ensued, and by 5:45 we were through security. Then it was a matter of hurdling through WHSmith and making sure we stocked up on ciggies for my friend, it was straight into the Star Alliance lounge for breakfast.

Star Alliance Lounge, Heathrow

Plenty has been written about this good lounge, so of course – I’ll write more .

After being welcomed, being allowed to guest my friend and reminded that no boarding calls were made, I made my way in.

Food was it’s usual wonderful self, and a pair of sofas made for a nice comfortable home before heading off.


Breakfast time!

On asking, a WiFi code was given, and the performance of the link was reasonable (not fast, but not exactly a slug – certainly better than my performance than USB 3G Modem).

I noticed that although paper supplies were plentiful, the magazines supplies had dropped considerably (in particular, no Top Gear Magazine – little things like this are noted!) – a sign of the times and cuts (unless some so-and-so nabbed it before me!)

Eventually at 07:00, I could see the flight was being boarded, so we bided goodbye to the lounge

Expecting a hike to the high 50’s, it was a pleasant surprise to be boarding at gate 36 – which for once was not at the back of beyond. Zone 1 had just boarded, so we slipped into the queue and made our way aboard.

Part II – London Heathrow Airport – Chicago O’Hare International
United Airlines UA929, 30/05/09
Boeing 767-300 New International Configuration, Seat 27K – Upsold to E+ ($89)
3953 miles flown, 3942 earned.
Channel 9: Not Enabled

The Pictures


Your map. Powered by http://gc.kls2.com

We were greeted aboard and directly to the back cabin of the 767, and slowly but surely, every seat on the plane filled up – in comparison to the 777, it didn’t feel full even when loaded.


Probably the best thing you’ll see on a Y class flight…

The purser made his way around, and after a polite enquiry, Channel 9 was confirmed as off. A minor point, but if you’re feeling horrendously geeky it does kill a good portion of the flight.

The purser then did something quite odd… he wheeled a trolley of newspapers around the plane… … and I managed to nab a copy of Business Traveller before he scooted back to the galley (in an effort to look after the E+ customers). Interesting, and definitely, the first time that happen, so thumbs up there.


At the gate – ready for pushback.

Soon enough, it was pushback, and a trundle around to T5 , turning and then after a VS A340 landed, we took to the skies.


Obligatory A380 photo – QF again.

After taking off, we turned oblique to Heathrow, and climbed to 34,000 feet.


Probably the best way to see LHR… defiantly not IN it

Soon enough, the dreaded breakfast service commenced, with a choice of Waffle or an Omelet. Now knowing how rubbery a UA Omelet could be, I went with the Waffle – What wonders would await me….?


Brekkie.

Well… this is.. umm… Interesting! The fruit was okie (fresh as usual with apple, grape, 1 piece of melon and some orange segments if you dug hard enough). The projectiles was this wonderful mixed brown and white bread that LHR and MANm insist on supplying with meals… the yogurt was passed on, and the waffle – well I’m going be nice here – it wasn’t burnt, it was warm, the mango topping complimented the sweetness quite nicely.

So what about the Bacon. Oh dear. Even I can cook bacon better than this. Extra Rubbery and Extra Crisp sums it up (how they can do that is beyond me…).

Drinks were distributed and after a while, the cabin was cleared down, the lights switched off, and the long schlep over the pond begun.

Of course, there was near enough nothing of interest on provided IFE (except the map), so you know what happens next…


Blue Harvest … of course

The thing is, if you have a friend with an iPod Touch, who is equally dissatisfied with the crap on the IFE… they sorta get you to build a unit for them…


They’re spreading

A couple of water runs were made during the flight – with the flight itself pretty smooth until outskirts of Greenland when it went choppy for a short while, before smoothing out to sheet cloud until well over Canada and almost over US Territory.


Somewhere..
The crew was talking, and most defiantly up for a joke, which made for pleasant interaction. The seats themselves as E+ seats were fine – the legroom wasn’t as spacious as a 777, but still a lot better than down the back of the plane.


Pretty clouds..

About 2 hours before landing, it was time for that wonderful United tradition – the lovely chewable Swiss Cheese and turkey ham roll… which was a chewy as ever. The cost cutting is still in place with KP crisps still, but was acceptable.


It’s that chewy roll. BMI Regulars will notice the double finger Twix

Which brings me on to the small matter of coffee. I don’t know how warm it was meant to be, but the term “tepid” seems to fit the description here. Lets just say I could drink a cup in a gulp. Not so good.

Again, the cabin was cleared down, and at that point forms were distributed (1 hour before landing). A bit late IMO as time to fill in the 2 miles of paperwork that the US demands when you enter the country does take time to fill out.

Slowly, the plane begin its decent, as was buffeted as it flew over Lake Michigan, before finally touching down. The plane begun its trundle to the “wonderful” International terminal, where we pulled into gate M12 on schedule.

Overall: Defiantly a reasonable flight – if for the customers service by the Purser. If I was really to pick at something – it’s the paperwork issue. For people like me who make enough mistakes on an I-94(W) form, having it delivered early on in the flight would had been far more helpful than leaving it until the last minute. The food was … interesting, however UA/Alpha/Gate Gourmet … someone needs to introduce you in how to cook bacon…

Part III – A Chicago Interlude – Back at the Bunny.

After deplaning, it was a short walk to the joy that is US Immigration – which was half closed as only one half of the immigration hall was open.

And I’ve got to say – it was the quickest entrance into the US that I’ve had (mentioning certain words seem to make an INS agent whack the passport faster than normal it seems!)

After being stamped into the USA, the belt started spewing out luggage – mine was 6th out (amazingly – the tags worked ) – and my friend’s came out about 5 minutes later.

A quick stroll to Customs, and after rechecking the luggage, we were in the USA. My friend celebrated with 3 cigarettes – I celebrated with a trip to McDonald’s to get another diet coke and some fresh air.


Over to T1

After a while, we headed to T1 on the fun ATS, and after going though the joy that is the TSA (with only 3 lanes open…. Clever ) – and managing to split my boarding pass . A quick chat with a Mr Chicken and I had a new one in my grubby mitts. Now that was done, it was off to B18’s Red Carpet Club – the “Incomparable RCC”

Just how incomparable is it though?

United Red Carpet Club (B18)

After descending the escalator into the Incomparable RCC, I smiled, handed over my reprinted boarding card, my friend’s boarding card, and thoroughly confused the RCC member of staff with my BMIBloomington, IL Gold card

Staff member A) “Is BMI a Star Alliance member?”
Me: :Rolleyes:
Staff member B) “BMI British Midland – Yes it’s a member and his card has Star Alliance Gold on it”
Me: Or to be called Lufthansa UK in the future

After a lot more typing were both allowed in.

The lounge itself is very light and airy – certainly better than some of the ones at IAD – but the food options… oh dear. Sunchips, cookies, fruit, cruets and shortbread do NOT maketh food in a lounge (as demonstrated by the Star Alliance Lounge this morning)!


The comfort zone…

However, apart from one TV with CNN blaring out, it was a very quiet and restful lounge, with power plugs at practically every chair – it’s not a bad place to spend time – better than the RCC’s at IAD and certainly a better option that sating in the main terminal

Soon enough 13:45 rolled around, it was time to head to B12 for the next flight.

Part IV Chicago O’Hare International – Philadelphia International Airport

United Airlines UA376, 30/05/09
Airbus A320, Seat 24F – Upsell to $29, Declined.
687 miles flown, 676 earned.
Channel 9 – No


The Pictures

With the Red Carpet lice clear, we boarded the plane and headed down to the back of it. Was greeted aboard, and then made ourselves comfortable. With 2 people on a 3 seater, it was going to be interesting – would we have a middle seat filler or not?

And as the door closed, and mobile phones we told to be switched off (not that the girl in 25F gave any attention to the announcements) the middle seat was left alone.


A UA 777 on the taxiway waiting for us to clear…

A taxi was done, but we were held in the penalty box for 30 minutes to allow some weight calculations completed.


Off we go again!

After that it was a quick turn onto a runway, turning to Chicago, the up to cloud skip and climb to a higher flight level than the previous flight did.


The Windy City in the distance


Cloud Skipping

Eventually a drinks run was done, with a coke going to me – and a cranapple and vodka for my friend (who forgot the same lesson I made in regards to pouring enough vodka to sink a ship – then pour in the cranapple).


Drinks!

I set up an updated version of a ghetto IFE for her iPod Touch, and all was good in the world (I on the other hand actually found something of interest – an episode of 30 Rock)


GettoIFE for iPod touch

However as the last cleanup was completed, it started getting bumpy for the approach to PHL. Crew were ordered to return to seats and for the passengers to self regulate using the “honour” system. It’s nice to see the safety professionals doing the role

Eventually, the turn for PHL was made and we landed, and taxied into the D gates.


Coming in over Philadelphia

Luggage delivery finally after a wait – with no attention paid to priority tags. At this point, I tried to pull the luggage handle… which jammed . And of course – UA baggage denied any responsibility

A few new curse words later out of earshot, and it was off across the bridge and into the murky depths of New Jersey

Overall: Not a bad flight, but post flight support was very poor. Not what I accept from United or any carrier. The “shrug your shoulders and don’t fill out any paperwork” quite frankly doesn’t wash with me, and really at least some documentation should had been taken.

Part V – Hotel
Red Roof Inn
Somewhere in NJ, off NJ Turnpike (Why can’t they say “Toll road”… but I digress)

Yes – it’s that “Premium” ()brand, the Red Roof Inn. This one is more of a fancy motel (room opens out onto the car park), but it’s clean and at $65/++ a night, I’ve paid more for less. Overall… like any hotel – if it does the job then so be it.

(and yes – it was piddling it down)

Part VI – One week later – Homeward bound… to PHL

Part VI – One week later – Homeward bound… to PHL

After being stung by a cabbie who refused to take the express routes (thus a $40 became near enough $70), and stuck to local routes from the back end of NJ to PHL, we made it to check-in. In not uncertain terms, no assisted check-in was available, and only Mr Chicken was possible (even in the Elite land)


Elite queues my….

Sigh. Cost cutting.

After a couple last smokes for my friend, we made our way to the wonderful friends that are the TSA. For a Friday, it was very quiet, and the request for manual inspection of film was made without complaint. The only thing that did raise a smile was the “Sharing Caring TSA and here’s a video to prove we are” that was going on – with various excuses for what screening was used and why.

But enough of that. With an early arrival at an airport it was time to play lounges… and again – the RCC was chosen at PHL.

United Red Carpet Club, Terminal D

Whilst not the largest of lounges (least of all the plain looking door at the lounge), we were welcomed and after a bit of key clicking, was invited in, where we sat near the bar.


Empty seats…


The bar

Pretty much immediately, there was a lovely hostess, who offered drinks, snacks and served with an a smile – where nothing was too much (I blame the accents my friend and me have). But it wasn’t just us – she was busying herself, preparing snacks and getting other snacks out.

Whilst not as roomy as the ORD lounge, it is defiantly more intimate, and apart from being in the interconnect corridors as opposed to the D terminal itself, it’s a place I would happily spend a few hours in.

However the clocks rolled around and it was time again to pick up our trash and head to the next fight.


Today’s ERJ

A comparatively short walk, and the ERJ was pulling into the gate area – perfect timing. After the previous passengers disembarked and a crew change, we were invited aboard

United Express (Trans-States Airlines)
UA7988 – Philadelphia International – Washington Dulles International Airport
Embraer ERJ-145LR
135 miles flown, 600 earned.
Channel 9: Come on – It’s a regional jet!

It’s been some *serious* time since I’ve been aboard a ERJ-145 (although my “home” airline seems to run them out of LHR with no consideration for the rest of the users), but I’m one of these odd people that actually LIKE this series of ERJ… if for a simple reason – the 1 – 2 seating.

Boarding was completed in zones – and of course bags were too big as usual so some victims had there’s gate checked. My bag was pushed under the seat as boarding continued.

I saw my luggage being loaded again – a good sign. Little I was to know what the heck was going to happen next…

Pushback was delayed slightly as the tanker didn’t have enough fuel. Eventually another tanker came around to pump another 500lb of fuel – at which point we were informed due to the short length of flight there would be no drinks service , and soon enough, the standard Republic Airways pre-recorded safety announcement was made.

After a bit of taxiing, it was was quick climb into the air.


Upwards

With such a low cruise altitude of 12,000ft and heavy cloud, it wasn’t the greatest of flights. Parts of it were rollercosteresque, which made for fun.


Grey cloud. That was the view for most of the flight.

But 40 minutes later, we passed the Steven Udvar-Hazy Centre, and shortly thereafter, touched and and after a short taxi, we arrived at the A gates at IAD


Steven Udvar-Hazy Centre – I can recommend the tower.

We disembarked and headed straight into… the rain. Welcome to Washington Dulles….4


Welcome to Dulles…

Part VII – A Dulles Interlude and home

An IAD interlude.

After getting soaked, we entered the bus shelters that are the A gates and after a little comfort break it was off to the fun that is… the Dulles Moonbuggies over to C concourse. Yes, it’s a fun way of getting from concourse to concourse but really… isn’t it time to put these things out to pasture completely and replace them with something modern… (and I’m including the C/D Concourse of IAD in that)

After raiding duty free (again) and the most patriotic shop in West Virginia , it was off to the C7 RCC.


Patriotic!

C7 Red Carpet Lounge

I was greeted with a semi scowl as I fished for my BD*G card, which was presented, and swiped… without drink chits.

Oh dear. Not a wise move. As most of us who use RCC’s know, at a Trans-Oceanic Gateway you get your chits! I then got the line “Only United First/Business” get them… to which the term “Load the rules up was said”.

I was granted my “one time exception” and 3 chits were handed over. Kevincm 1, RCC Dragon, 0

But as soon as I got the drinks from those “wonderfully efficient” bar-people at C7, the gate was called. Rather than waste a drink, both vodkas were drunk in “due time” (i.e. on my schedule not United’s),


Sigh. Comfort. For a few minutes at least.

After smiling nicely at the dragon as I left the lounge, the gate lounge had mostly cleared, so it was a matter of handing over the BP and the green bit of card that says I’ve left the USA, and it was off down the jetway.

United Airlines UA920, 30/05/09
Boeing 767-300 New International Configuration, Seat 27K – Upsold to E+ ($69)
3667 miles flown, 3667 earned.
Channel 9: Not Enabled

The Pictures

As opposed to being welcomed, I made first contact, and then wheeled down the isle to the last row of E+.


Yup. It was still chucking it down.

As the plane was still loading, there was some overhead space available, which was taken advantage of. Pretty soon another full load was ready to travel to London. A short taxi, and it was back up into the cloud.


See you later USA!

However, it did take time but eventually, we punched through the cloud and into the blue sky.


Grey…


Blue!

A drinks service began to be carried out – however, I had my jobs to do…


Yup. It’s back. On the PiePhone – Weebl and Bob do “Portal” I’m making note here. “Huge Success” (but is the Cake a lie?)

and after a smile from my friend…


They’re both back again

Pretty soon, dinner came around. Chicken or Pasta… with the chicken being chicken curry. How could UA mess this up I wondered? Plenty is the answer!


Dinner. Ooooh Dear.

The rice was soggy AND burnt () the carrots… umm… mush. The Chicken – edible when you could find it. At least the salad was fresh, the projectile was soft and the brownie thing… was something I had a few of at the ORD RCC a few days earlier. I hate to bang on about food – but catering out of the USA has GOT to improve – it’s getting unfunny now.

After food was cleared down, the duty free cart came around, and the lights were switched off until breakfast time.


Sunset

2 rounds of water were done, with me leading to a discover on a 767 – the water fountains at the back of the plane… How long have they been hiding there?


The last daylight – the cloud had finally cleared

Eventually, light turned to dark…. and then light came again.


Dawn in the sky – why I pay for a window seat

Breakfast was not served until an hour or so out from LHR- Heathrow… which was.. umm. Yeah. I’ll let the picture talk.


A Danish and a Yoghurt.

Oh well… at least the coffee was hot this time as opposed to tepid.

Clear down was done quickly, and the cabin was prepared for landing. After going through the cloud levels, land was visible, with Reading Train station visible, indicating an approach over Windsor -soon enough Windsor Castle was visible.

Shortly the wheels touched down on one of LHR – Heathrow’s runways, before a short taxi to the back end of beyond of T1 – Gate 55 (the furthest possible gate from Immigration).


The bird at LHR

Disembarkation occurred quickly, and we arrived at the border. IRIS was of course.. shut, so it was another quick shuffle to immigration – and welcomed back into the United Kingdom.

A slow shuffle down to luggage claim, and already, luggage was having a fun trip around the carousel. My friends turned up. And I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Eventually, I got bored and checked that delivery had been complete – and it dawned on me that my luggage didn’t make it.

A quick bit of research indicated it was last scanned in PHL, and therefore it was lost in the maze that was IAD. After checking it wasn’t on the next flight, I signed off the customs form and the other pile of paperwork – and I was on my way to the Heathrow Connect, the Bakerloo line to Marylebone and a number 82 to the flat on a wet Saturday Morning.

One day and a half days later, a delivery turned up – and my luggage had finally joined me at home. At least everything made it back.

Eventually.

Epilouge: So with everything over and done with…
There are times when travel is unavoidable – be it for work, love or caring for one another. I certainly have no regrets making this trip. Certainly if I didn’t make the trip – I would had regretted it.

However, United Airlines have left a tiny bit of a sour taste in my mouth (and i’m not referring to the curry). Quite frankly, the luggage handling issues are appalling. At least the team in Heathrow said the magic S word. PHL couldn’t even handle that.

It’s times like this I miss the old BMI Manchester – Chicago flights due to the quality of service on them (which whooped United and co across the pond) – however those days I suspect are gone for now.

In the end, I’ll prefer using UA to US. However – I am a bit excited that CO are coming to the party. Hopefully it’ll force the rest of its fellow North Americas based Star Alliance members to buck their ideas up and maybe improve their service.

And Flying Pig Airlines might take off first.

And so – to leave you on a picture…


To those who have passed from this world – may any rest you find be peaceful… and may those who look after those who are left behind have the strength to go on to remember those who have gone but to look after those who live in their memories.

—-

That’s it for this Trip report. No doubt I’ll be back in October with another Chicago run (I’m original in my city choice – I have to admit)… but I might have something on the boil in the meantime.

Comments and feedback welcome as normal

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Long Haul Commuter Run with UA (LHR-IAD-ORD and back again)
(Redux and Revisited)

This trip report was originally posted on Flyertalk.  However as it’s now come over to GhettoIFE.com there have been some major changes – so even if you’ve visited this report before, have a read again.  This version of the report contains new images and a bit more commentary.



By now, you should know the drill on how I write my trip reports. If not, expect thrills, random moans, links to things that make no sense whatsoever and of course – very bad humour.

The emergency escapes are towards the front of the report, over the wings and at the rear of the report. You can also use the X button on the top right of the report

To use the emergency photo link, being sure it opens in a new window, and making sure your life jacket is inflated after using leaving this page. Your seat cushion is not a floatation device, so please don’t take use it like that – if anything it’s for SITTING on .

I’m still refining my trip report writing style alas – so I will be writing it “trip like”, but with emphasis on ground services as well as air services. This includes the lounges That’s right kids – LOUNGES!.

————————————————————-

To fly, to moan (yes, it’s that intro bit that no one pays attention to)

As I might have to eluded to in few previous reports, I was a bit of a BMI fanboy, due to some very simple reasons:

  • I could avoid LHR completely (miles vs dealing with LHR – believe it or not, that’s an easy decision – I’d sacrifice a few miles to avoid the hell of LHR)
  • I was a sucker for the expedited check in at MAN (wave card, go to the top of the queue or straight to an agent)
  • The escort from the lounge, past the gate lice and onto the plane was always appreciated (It was like going to school – except we didn’t turn up our noses at people who had already got in line as we bypassed them)
  • BMI – how to fly across the pond in some style and feel like I haven’t been overly ripped off.

As a result, twice a year to Chicago – it’s turning pretty much into a commuter trip to see friends and do some photography – and it was very nice flying BMI, being treated like a human being, etc.

Alas, all this has drifted into the past with BMI abandoning the USA routes (at the time of rewriting, all the USA routes are axed in favour of midhaul routes), leaving its Star Alliance partners LH, UA and US pick up the remaining pieces. (SQ is excluded – whilst handy – it’s not exactly easy to get to first thing in the morning from most of Europe)

So, looking forward to the future, it’s a choice of a UA 777/UA767 or a US A330/B767 across the pond. As I’ve had my fill of US Airways for some time (I don’t know, maybe my previous mileage run killed it off for me – that and the possibility of a US 767 really doesn’t bear thinking about if you’re in Y – that and US Airways seriously wrecking my flight stats recently), it’s time to fly… United!

The big question is after experiencing the wonder of United’s 747 product , would their 767/777 products fair better?

One slight important note: There is now a little game changer – After the pain that was my last mileage run (one of the tendons in my foot continues to tell me this), I’m now a *G… so lets see if this makes a dot of difference.. or not

Booking

Booking was done entirely through the UA website, with seats assigned. No upsell to E+ was offered at this point – however I have been targeting the empty rows to make sure the flight is a bit pleasant. I am thinking about E+ as I go along, but will see how that pans out.

Journey booked initially priced into T bucket for £288. About right for this time of year, however I held off for a few days and got that magic balance between a lower ticket price, another segment by routing via IAD to £272 (the next available ticket jumped to £365 in V bucket!). Considering LHR-ORD non-stop both ways was £268 (going up the £284), I felt I had a bit of a bargain for the extra miles. Equally, I found out my friend who was on the direct flights was paying £288. Just shows what a tiny bit of creative routing and risk taking can do…

In a vain attempt to make things slightly interesting, I’ve routed the entire trip through IAD to rack up a few more miles in the vain attempt to hit Gold for next year… and to make some time to pop towards Washington DC too (wha.. again? There is an ulterior motive this time… ).


Your map. From left to right, ORD – IAD -  LHR. Powered of course by http://gc.kls2.com

 To LHR

Do I need to explain this bit? Oh very well then .

Normally at this point, I’d be moaning like hell about National Express and the joy of coaches and going to a coach station at 3am in the morning. However, there is one thing I do have in the world – and that’s friends (shock and horror I know!).

The day before I had done the packing as a friend had offered a lift from near down south to LHR. This meant of course, negotiating the Chiltern railway lines from Birmingham down to High Wycombe and then another train to my final destination for the night (for which there was wine and much merriment )

An early start however ensured as we’re both insomniacs, and before I knew it, I was seeing the Heathrow approach road

After bidding farewell to my friend (who was passing through T5 later on that day), I unloaded and begun the slow morning slow to UA check zone C in Terminal 1.


LHR – yes it’s the dead of the morning

London Heathrow Airport – Terminal 1
Initally I arrived at 5am in the morning. Of course, check in was being set up, with no action for a full 30 minutes.

As I’m on a full cargo load this time (unlike the last trip where I had a little rucksack), this time it’s full battle dress – 100ltr Rucksack, 1.38mtr ski bag with tripods). I played my *G card for the first time this trip, and got access onto the Gold queue (the Y queue was looking.. umm.. yeah).


Travelling light: One day…

Check in was done quickly, with no offer to buy up to E+ for any segments made.

After clearing T1 Security via the FastTrack, it was off to a couple of places – mainly to stock up on some chocolate (I WILL educate some of the USA about chocolate if it’s the last thing I do), and for my friend a trip to Duty Free. It was the off to the wonder that is the Star Alliance Lounge.

Star Alliance Lounge

After being swiped in (and NOT wanting to ” borrow” the model A380 they had on display), i made my in, and settled down.

As my lounge experience is limited, I am liking this lounge. BBC News on the plasma screens, and there were Bacon and or Sausage Rolls. Knowing the possible plastic ahead, I took full advantage of this.


Hot food

Drink!


Breakfast


Comfy seats


Comfier seats

The food selection, whilst basic, was warm and very edible. Although too early for alcohol, the drinks that were out looked reasonable. Personally I was more interested in the coffee and the orange juice (as well a bottle of water for later).

It was a pleasant way to spend a good hour or so. After I checked that the plane was boarding, I made the hike to Gate 40 where the plane had mostly boarded, so there were no queues at all when I arrived. After being beeped successfully, I boarded the aircraft.
United Airlines 923, 05/03/09
Boeing 767-300 New International Configuration, Seat 35K
3677 miles flown, 3677 earned.
Channel 9 enabled.

The pictures

Time for a new aircraft subtype to wreck my flight memory statistics – this time Mr Boeing’s 767-300ER series. The plane itself had had a refurb in Business Class, with First looking its usual suite self. However, these things are not for me – passing the rows of E+ and finally in the back to E-.

Although nearer the back – I had been playing the seat maps carefully and took a gamble that this flight wouldn’t be loaded to the brim.


Preparing for pushback

It paid off with a 2 seater relaxayvous option when doors went to close. However, as we were taxiing someone decided that regulations were to be dammed… and they were going to the toilet .

The warning were given over the announcement system, but these were ignored. It took the purser finally coming down the plane and banging the door… with the toilet victim going back to his seat with most of the economy cabin tutting at him.

Captain made his greeting, and was very open – and also is Channel 9 positive… so some entertainment for take off and landing.


T5B – Everyone humming Larkme’s Flower Duet yet?

After a bit more taxing past T5 the plane turned right, and took up to the sky, turning right, swinging 180 degrees past itself and off up into the blue


Heathrow from the air

Now I know people have different opinions of when to recline your seat – mine is that 1) after the seatbelt release bong has gone and 2) keep upright when having food.

Guess what I had in front of me Recline after about 5000 ft. … and not upright for food service.

Sigh. My knees had a busy flight reminding the person in-front of me. At least I could stretch sideways which was one thing.

A form run was done, followed by a Breakfast service was carried out, with omelette, potato, tomatoes and a chicken sausage – with fruit, bread, yogurt and fruit salad.


Breakfast

The chicken sausage was a bit odd – but edible, the omelette was a bit plastic, with the potatoes pretty nicely done. The fruit salad was cold, and a reasonable mix. Going back to my GateGorment trip, I could see how a tray meal like this was built to a price – but for a breakfast flight – this was not a bad meal IMO. Certainly I’ve had worse (yes I’m looking at you US Airways)

Alas the seat in front me wasn’t getting the message, so after making sure the seat behind me reclined, I completed the seat domino effect (wha… Seat Domino? Delta even knows about Seat Domino) and crashed for a bit. Every hour or so, the crew were doing water runs, so it was good to see the crew being pro-active.

IFE was… yeah. Moving on. I booted up the iPhone… and… oh you know what happens next:


Getto IFE installed: UA Edition – Notice the SickBag Max Visualtairum Jumbotron style thing (considering how close that other seat was in front of me it was like a cinema experience )

More importantly – what is a manamana?

Alas, the only thing of value was the map.. .which was offline

Moving onto the plane itself, whilst the overhead bins look like something out of the late 80’s – however the plane had been cleaned and tided in a pretty reasonable condition even in Y. That and PTV’s instead of overhead screens and a centre TFT.

Alas the weather failed to play its part today, with clouds over Greenland and a fair amount of chop and cloud cover. Guess some days you can’t win them all. However over the Labrador coast, the cloud lifted once again, with a apart from a few bumps here and there lead to a clear flight to Dulles.


Somewhere near the Labrador coast


Over Canada

A snack service was handed out with the usual Swiss cheese and turkey ham roll (more chewy than normal), chocolate and crisps. However, it defiantly must be recession time. Gone are the Walkers crisps, and now KP crisps are served instead… is nothing sacred any more?


Snack


Nearing Dulles

The plane made its landing successfully at Dulles and after a comparatively short taxi, it docked at C24, and after a short wait, I successfully disembarked.


Taxiing around Dulles

Impressions

I’m slowly warming to the 767 as a nice aircraft – if it’s maintained well and doesn’t look like it’s been in the wars (Yes, I’m still looking at you US Airways). The 2-3-2 seating arrangement is a interesting balance of capacity vs service, and if configured well (which UA has done) it works.- even though I’m not used to a plane without winglets. Guess that’s Pam Ann doing here brainwashing at her best

The crew did a good job – whilst not outstanding, they were delivering the service – about all you can ask for in the back of the cabin.

How it will compare with the 777 on the way home – we’ll see.

At IAD

Transit Immigration was surprisingly quick (2 in the queue even though I was near enough at the back of the plane), without much discussion – actually one of the quickest entries I’ve had into the USA. I then walked over to luggage claim, with the priority tags WORKING for once – with my bags coming out first and third. Now I don’t care what anyone says – that’s quick.

After passing through agriculture, and the beloved TSA (full foot and shoe fetish in progress) I made my way up to the C gates.

Of course. My flight was at the D gates. After making sure my sherpa hiking gear was set, I made my way over to D7 for the next flight – with a good 15 minutes to spare before boarding.

Of course… the D8 club was right behind me. So sad .

But before I head off to my plane to The Bunny, I’m thirsty… where’s is that dratted Red Carpet Club?

Lounge stop: United Red Carpet Club, D8 Club, D Concourse
Drinks drunk: 2 Coke Zeros, 1 Coke Cherry taken just in case
Rats found: Zero

After the race to D7, I made my way down, presented my BP and my BMI *G Card, and was admitted without any discussion. Enough time to sit down, drink a coke in the lounge and get comfy for a few seconds, visit the clean toilets and sit in a comfy chair and reorganise myself.

Overall – not a bad place to stay, but to be honest, the LHR *G lounge whoops the lounge without trying….

However pretty soon, it was time to leave the delights of IAD behind and head to the bunny.

Went upstairs to find 1K red carpet boarding had commenced – with Premiers and *G boarding called – at which point, I made myself present and boarded the jet.

United Airlines 151
Airbus A319-100
588 flown, 600 Earned
Channel 9: Disabled

The pictures, Over Chicago Picture Special

It’s getting to the point that the A319 is turning into an old friend every time I get aboard one – it’s one aircraft that is almost impossible to mess up.

I was greeted aboard – with a choice of my luggage lockers and sat down. When booked, this row was clear – the seat next door remained clear, ok not totally brilliant, but it’s still a spare seat on a 2 hour hop.

Alas, the captain didn’t want to share his thoughts today, so channel 9 was off (although he made the bare minimum announcements)


According to the purser on my previous flight, the most ridiculous form of transport – the Dulles Moon Buggies

Push back was early, and we were up in the air after a short taxi, taxiing past the C dock, and then left, then onto the runway


TED… RARRarotonga, Cook Islands… but not for much longer


Upwards!

Service commenced shortly thereafter, which of course means drinking more diet coke and coffee than is good for me.


Service in progess


Drinks

Crew were friendly and talkative, with a good service being carried out, and cleanups done reasonably.

Seat pitch was typical 31” seat, and didn’t feel too tight.

The plane approached Chicago with the city to the right of the approach, before swinging around it, and then out across Lake Michigan before looping back into ORD.


You can see the rest of this set on my photoblog

Back at The Bunny

Landing was pretty swift, and after a short taxi, we docked into the B gates and disembarked. Alas, luggage was at belt 12, where we had come in the equivalent of belt 1.

Once at the belt, again my luggage was amongst the first out, and I was off to the hotel.

Overall
Not a bad domestic flight – the crew did their job and ATC did a great job of sending the plane around the windy city. A bit of Channel 9 would had been perfect though…
 
__________________

Hotel: Hyatt Regency Chicago O’Hare (Rosemont)
The Photos

As I’m working an event, it’s time to one day to unpack, 3 hours downtown to stock up on junk needed for the next few days (with tapes made with added ducks, Squids with extra power, Oreos with… double stuffing), to be honest, the most I saw of the hotel was when I went in (with luggage delivered to my room), the room itself (the balcony was nice – even if the hotel was on finals or the climbout point for ORD)

The staff were friendly, and the service that was given was good. Although I’m still of the opinion that $139/night ++ is far too overpriced for my blood for a double hotel room…

Hotel: Comfort Suites O’Hare (Shiller Park)

However, as indicated above, staying at the Hyatt O’Hare wasn’t good for the long term option. Therefore I had made a booking with HotelClub (with a $20 coupon) for the Comfort Suites – as it’s where I’ve stayed a few times before when working events, and after discounts, it worked out to a much more wallet friendly $70 a night.

Even though it’s slightly further away from ORD, it’s a very nice hotel for which I have no objections to staying at.

Back to The Bunny (O’Heck, O’Riley, O’B***ger, O’Scare, O’Hare)


O’Hare L Station

After making sure that I was making my credit… crunch in the states, and many photographs later, it was time to head homewards.

Of course O’Hare is its usual self, but I have the joy of a BM, so at least I could access the priority security lanes.

After being forced to use a chicken, my luggage was tagged all the way back to London (so no pickup was needed at IAD), so I could relax on that front.

The TSA in Chicago seem to have had a kick up the backside as they were a LOT friendlier than they have been in some time.


A dinosaur in the UA terminal – friendly bedfellows maybe?


Down the interconnect to C Gates. The motion effect is really how I felt…



Alas I had left it a bit late for the RCC’s so it was straight to the C gates and to the gate for my flight to await boarding


Quiet C Gates

United Airlines 382, 10/03/09
Airbus A319-100
588 flown, 600 Earned
Channel 9: Enabled

After being on of the first aboard, judging by the amount of other preboarders, this was going to be a very quiet flight. Eventually the plane started to fill, but once again, my luck held and I had the half row next to me clear. . Channel 9 was available from the moment I sat at my seat

After a taxi past the International Terminal, and a turn, the plane took to the air, crossing over the big CN train yard, then over Lake Michigan and off to IAD At least I presume and then off took due to the amount of cloud


See what I mean?

Due to the cloud, it was quite turbulent, with the flight deck trying different levels of flight until we finally got some clear air, at which point, the flight attendants were released to do the usual drinks run (with me partaking in the usual drinks – Coffee and a diet coke to wake up.


The usual

As the flight continued, an extra water run was carried out – quite good for such a short run.


More clouds

Eventually, we made our approach to IAD, with the flight attendants returned to seats early due to the upcoming turbulence – which was a bit buffering, but not the worse I’ve sat through, with a nice landing at IAD, followed by a taxi to D dock.


Back at  Dulles

I took my time getting off and thanked the flight attendants and flight deck crew for Channel 9 – and I cheekily asked if I could take a picture of the cockpit.

Instead what happened was that I had MY picture taken in the left hand chair (this picture has been removed for all the sensitivity of Flyertalk, Photoblog and GhettoIFE.com )

I thanked the crew again, and disembarked, with my luggage hopefully staying in transit to LHR….

Impressions

Well, when United want to shine, they can do. An excellent crew, attentive and proactive with an extra water run – and a friendly Captain and first officer afterwards. The trip to the cockpit was the icing on the cake. MAJOR thumbs up to United!

Dulles … for a reason…

Now why the long layover in DC? In fact… why DC at all? I was here a couple of months ago no?

Well there is one museum I missed out on my last trip that I had to go and visit.

The National Air and Space Museum has two big branches in the DC area – one down the National Mall, and a branch at Washington Dulles Airport.

Oh. How convenient! I’m at Dulles Not planned at all!

The Steven Ughar Hazey Centre – National Museum of Space and Flight.

Now expanded with more content!

From Dulles there are two simple choices – cab or pay 50 cents for a cheap bus each way.

Well you should had guessed that one coming a mile off!

The UHC has a few star attractions – some of which go into photographic depth, but here we go…

SR-71 “BlackBird”

http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2009/03/26/nasm-the-sr-71a-blackbird.html

Hurricane

http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2009/03/29/nasm-wwii-era.html

B-29 “Enola Gay”

http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2009/03/30/nasm-enola-gay.html

It’s an easy way to kill a few hours.

Boeing 367-80 and Concorde

Concorde

http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2009/04/01/nasm-boeing-707-and-le-concorde.html

Shuttle Enterprise

http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2009/04/04/nasm-enterprise-the-space-shuttle.html

On the way back I overheard two AA members of staff say “probably the best dollar I’ve spent in ages”.

I’d agree with that sentiment.

Back to Dulles.

After taking some architecture pictures of IAD, I got bored and headed for the Diamond lane. After getting a snooty look for having Star G, I had the audacity to ask to have my film hand scanned.

I know. Asking a worker to conduct a manual scan! I’m actually making the Friends of Kip Hawley Society (tm pending) to do some work. Eventually I finally had someone get the magic paper and wipe the film, putting the magic paper in the magic scanner to say the film is clean.

The joy of the TSA . Peak time, Frequent Travellers lane, and 1 station open. Express screening my cute back side.

As I was in no rush to get to my gate, I took the travelators over to A/B dock and had a nice walk around the terminal. What struck me was how nice and organised it looked – in comparison that quite frankly that’s an embarrassment known as the C/D Concourse.

But eventually I got bored, and went back to the main terminal before taking another moonbuggy to the D gates, then walking the length of D and C to C7 (it’s called exercise – something I’m lacking in sometimes)

C7 Red Carpet Club

After presenting myself, I went into the RCC (no drink chits offered) and had a walk round.

Well how can I put this politely? This is a MAJOR comedown from the Star Alliance Gold Lounge at LHR!


My home for a few hours at the RCC

Apart from the paid for bar, the lack of fresh options (amazingly, carrot sticks, celery and baby tomatoes with pots of ranch salad dressing counts as a snack, with prepacked cheese and crackers – and shortbread to sink a small ship), lets put it like this – I wouldn’t pay for this lounge if I had to. The club itself was clean, and looked fine, but compared with the ambience of the LHR lounge or even the PHL Envoy lounge, there is defiantly a LOT of room for improvement here.


Food


the best I could find in the end

If I was to compare it to a lounge, it would be the Gate 14 Diamond Club lounge at LHRLondon, United Kingdom – Heathrow – without the fancy coffee machine, alcohol on tap and cold drink selection. Heck – even the D8 lounge is a LOT better with the self select soft drinks.

Just… disappointing.

I then made a classic class 1 mistake. Instead of it being C dock – it had changed to D dock.

Sigh. After a global announcement that the bar was closing at 21:00 ( ), I decided not to move until 21:40 because despite the disappointment, I was rather comfortable here.

Eventually, I made my way over to the gate area, and watched the Red Carpet lice fill up quickly. Me? I was stuck in the economy land waiting for Zone 1 to be called.


Gate area – full of Red Carpet lice

Eventually, duty free was picked up and boarding for mere Star Gold’s called, and I was on my plane for the ride home.

United Airlines 924, 10/03/09
Boeing 777-200 Seat 18A (was 40J)
3677 miles flown, 3677 earned.
E+ Buyup made ($79), Channel 9 Enabled

The pictures

Another flight, another new class of aircraft (and I’m amazed I’ve avoided them for so long) it’s time to try the United’s 777 product.

A walk through the business section gave a hint for what was to come – the seats were the old recliners, which meant as soon as I passed through to economy plus, the lovely chevron red/blue/orange/grey seats were in full evidence. Thankfully with the E+ configuration of 36”, this was going to be a pleasant flight.


Waiting for pushback


E+ Space

Boarding was completed on scheduled, and loaded with a London based crew, after a short taxi, once again we were up in the skies, tracking across the east coast, up to the Labrador coast, and the long way round to the united kingdom.


Takeoff

Today, as I had another London based crew, there was a bit of humour going on and banter with the customers


Up and flying over the East Coast

An initial drink run commenced shorly after take off.


Drink!

followed by A dinner run with a choice of chicken or pasta. Or to quote “It could be teryaki chicken – Well I think it is…”


Dinner

Lets tear this down: The rice, Soggy. The Chicken, not that bad. The projectile (roll), soft. The lettuce, firm, The oat thing – I still have that to eat…

Not a bad meal per say, but I am getting annoyed with UA for not putting a proper desert on in Y, and instead resorting to a snack/biscuit thing. It just smacks of cheapness.

But pretty soon after this, I sucummed to sleep. After a while I woke up, and saw one of my favourite views of the world – dawn in the air.


Dawn

Pretty soon it was time for breakfast – I was excepting the swiss cheesse and turkey ham roll… but shock and horror.. it was something different.. Yoghurt and Banana bread


Breakfast

Oh dear. As I’m not a yoghurt lover, this was pretty much a disappointment. However an organe juice and coffee helped me perk up before landing.

As we got closer to London, it was possible to see the world contrailling above us, and we slowly begun our decent.


High Contrails

Eventually we entered a stack, lowering ourselves over London,


London Baby YEAH! – well the south of London anyway.

Eventually, after 1 loop, we made a gentle decent into Heathrow on the opposite of the runway where this adventure begun, and started the long taxi to T1.


Obligatory A380 shot – its the QF one – there was also a SQ A380 on stand on T3.

Eventually, we docked at T1, and everyone disembarked.


My ride at T1

After the usual hike from the UA dock, I made immigration to find IRIS operational, and after one attempt, made it through successfully. Eventually, my luggage was spat out, and then it was a Heathrow Connect, a taxi ride, and a run for a Chiltern Railways service to Birmingham, another taxi, and finally – my front door.


Home

Red face So to sum up…

So in summing up, UA’s 767 and 777 based services in comparison to the 747 service from a Y Class passengers viewpoint, and I’d say defiantly better than the US Airways equivalent services via PHL.

Whilst Y bucket travel may be mostly the same across the pond (there’s your bucket, here’s some fake food, be happy), things like good customer service, the patience to do water runs, and good communication with the customer really help.

That and a lot of humour goes one heck of a long way.

If we are holding the Star Gold Lounge at LHR  as a standard, then I really do fear for UA’s Red Carpet Clubs. I found the food options to be laughable, with the lack of some drink options from a fridge (I’m thinking of the C7 bar) to be near enough silly – I’d say it’s worth it if you carry your *G card, but if you’re ponying up for an RCC membership, I’d certainly think twice. If there is a lounge that sort of gets near the standard of the LHR, it has to be the PHL International Envoy lounge.

Which is fine if you want to fly US Airways

A big thank you to the crew of UA382 for the excellent short haul service – and the visit up to the cockpit… it was very much appreciated.

Overall, in comparison to the US experiences, I’d take UA any day of the week providing the cost was near enough the same (and this time, the US option was a good £30 more expensive.. so UA wins hands down)

Right – that’s it for another fun packed Y class adventure! I don’t know what’s next but I could be in for a little Seoul… or maybe a trip to Minneapolis.

Who knows? Who cares? Dear reader… thank you for spending time reading

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