A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

So… No more Star Alliance flying for me?

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


So… The end of Star Alliance flying for me?

Lets wrap this up and go to the conclusions… and try and answer the question above.

United Airlines proved… the more things change the more they stay the same. Wonderfully mediocre sums it up best, and in desperate need to kicking the caterers they have at some of the outstations up the backside.  The crews were good, but seemed to be there for the purpose of being there rather than delighting the customer. Still… that’s our same old United – merger or otherwise. The ground shenanigans are still unforgiveable as is the mess that is O’Hare at any time. Hopefully, things have improved, but I’m not sure I’ll be there to try United again to find out.

The InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile is a impressive historic property. The room upgrade to a suite was great, and it was in good condition. The room amenities were good, and it was a just a nice property. The Ambassador welcome amenity could had been better, and I did feel like I was being shooed out at the last minute even though I had a 4pm check out on the account.

The Hyatt Regency O’Hare showed signs of improvement… and is seemingly getting their act together after a slightly disappointing trip in October 2011 (and is maintaining this when I was back at this property again in October 2012. The room was great, as were the facilities and the conference staff. Again, it’s the staff that make or break a property, and I’ve got to say the staff at this hotel are a bunch of wonderful people.

Air Canada is still the benchmark of North American airlines showing how it’s done compared to some of the United States based airlines. A great hard product, an acceptable soft product and the crew to back up what they have on board. Yes, I’d wish there’s a better breakfast across the pond, but a hot breakfast on a TATL run seems to be the purview of Business Class and above.

So… The end of Star Alliance flying for me?  For me, for now, yes. My loyalty was sold to another airline and alliance who welcomed me with opening arms (and a British Airways Gold card to boot), and I seem to be happy at my new home for now – even if it means I’m now lumbered with American Airlines as British Airways bedfellow across the pond (and trust me – United can teach American how to fit out a 767-300ER). I do have a gold card hidden away on a Star Alliance carrier… just in case.

However one of my rules of travel state “I never rule anything out.” Be that in travel methods, airlines or hotels… I’m normally open to any sort of madness (heck, I’ll consider SkyTeam airlines if the price is right). Hence if you see me on a Star Alliance airline, knowing my luck it’ll be sooner rather than later – especially if it’s a tasty fare to somewhere in the world I’ve never been to at all.

Coming next… I’m not sure to be honest. Whilst this report was started in April 2012, I’m still waiting to find out if I have a job from April 2013 and beyond (yes, I’m still waiting. For those who regularly read GhettoIFE, I’ve been lamenting about this since early December . Hopefully I will, and in which case, Untitled Chicago Trip XIV will probably end up on the publishing list sooner rather than later.

Comments welcome

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

Homeward Bound.

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


After getting off the plane at the far end of T3, it was time to hike to Immigration. Thankfully, they have travelators to help you along for these long slogs – it’s appreciated.  Soon enough, I went through the UK border (I selected a person), and was cleared to enter the United Kingdom after a minute or so.  It was then down to luggage claim, where the belt decided to take its time, before roaring into life – with my bags for once seemingly in the first container as they were within the first 10 bags.

During the wait, I checked the coach departures to Birmingham, and found there was an earlier coach (which I’d try to get on if the bags came). It was then the race from T3 arrivals to the Central Bus Station, and straight to the coach.

Seemingly, I had a “By the book” coach driver, who wanted to limit my bags. I quick repack, and I had shrunk the bags down to something that the drive was happy to accept.

There are some drivers who don’t care… there are others who do things by the book. The fact the coach was ½ empty for the entire trip is besides the point.

National Express Coach 210 London Heathrow Central Bus Station – Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station

After getting on board it seemed like I was the last person… as usual. Soon the beep beep beep of a reversing signal was playing and the coach was pushing back

The coach took its time clearing the Heathrow complex (which was still in pre-Olympics ramp up stage at this time… so long ago.

I did shoot this is March/April 2012.. ;)

After clearing the Heathrow complex, the bus made its usual route to Banbury up the M40, taking in the then spring countryside.

Whilst leg room isn’t good, it certainly isn’t bad with the modern coaches that ply the Gatwick to Birmingham/Wolverhampton route

Continuing on the M40, the coach trundled to Coventry (where there was an extended layover for a driver change), then Birmingham Airport and finally Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station.

At Coventry.

From Digbeth, it was back into a black cab for the final leg home, depositing me back at the entrance of the flat.

A few more minutes after hauling the stuff through the gates, and indoors, I was back at my front door – ending another trip.

Next: No more Star Alliance?

Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

Air Canada AC856 Toronto Pearson International – London Heathrow T3  (Including the joy of Canadian Immigration and the Air Canada  O’Hare and United Club B7)

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


Upon exiting the plane, I headed down the long walk that is Toronto Pearson Airport, and headed for the transit point.

This way it seems.

Canadian Immigration and I… don’t get along if I’m exceedingly nice. So I was expecting yet another 1 hour grilling why I had dared to transit the Canada border on the flight home. For transit purposes, I had my immigration form filled. The form was examined, and was asked which flight I came in on. Answering that to the agents satisfaction and another grimace on the agents face, he stamped both the immigration form and (more importantly) my passport – allowing me to continue.

From this, I was directed past the agent and back into the International Secure Area.

Well – that could had been worse I suppose.

It was then on the express travelators and straight to one of my favourite lounges in North America – the Air Canada International Maple Leaf Lounge

To the Trottoir Rapide!  C’est Tres Rapide!

Lounge Stop: Air Canada International Maple Leaf Lounge

I was welcomed into the lounge, and my credentials were accepted.  I then enquired about the load for the flight to London, and was informed that the seat next to me was clear – and the plane wasn’t looking busy. Whilst bad for Air Canada’s balance sheet, it’s not bad at all for me.

It was then off to my usual spot near the separating glass on the comfy chairs to relax before what was looking like a comfortable flight home.

Now, why is this lounge one of my favourites? There are little things – like for example proper food in the lounge (not just cruets and packet crackers), self pour alcohol, and a general “nice” atmosphere that you don’t get in some United Clubs or US Airways Clubs.



Hot Food


After having enough vodka and nibbles, it was time to head to the gate, where I thanked the staff politely, and headed down to the main waiting areas.

Terminal Art

After a quick diversion through duty free, boarding had still not commenced for the flight. A quick nose out of the window, and I recognised the bird that would take me home – An Air Canada Airbus A330 Star Alliance logojet. Now, this bird and me have a little history, as this bird took me to Vancouver before in Gold Run 2: Blame Canada – It’s only a mileage run anyway!

Well hello stranger!

A short time passed, and boarding was called. I took my opportunity, and was beeped through the elite boarding lane and headed down the jetway.
Air Canada United Airlines Toronto Pearson International – London Heathrow Airport T3
AC856, Seat 40A, Airbus A330-300,
3547 Miles Flown, 3547 miles earned

I board the plane and was welcomed aboard warmly by the cabin crew. Again, boarding early in Economy means one thing normally – overhead bin space… which lets be honest – wouldn’t be a problem on this flight.

Even though the plane was lightly loaded, everyone seemed to take their sweet time boarding the plane.

Empty as boarding begins…

My pair of seats.

Boarding continued slowly, with the plane not filling up completely, but it filled up reasonably enough. Still with two seats for me – and I’ll take a two-seat GhettoCouch* any day of the week on a long haul flight.

*New terms pending as GhettoFlatBed is 3 or more seats across –  It’s too small to be a GhettoBed, so GhettoCouch seems more appropriate for two seat configurations…

Legroom whilst the usual 32” seemed ok to sit in, and be comfortable in – but then as this flight was going out lightly loaded, the lack of no-one next door added to the room.

Pushback was on time, and the safety video played in its usual calming tone. That set, the plane begun its taxi around Toronto airport, and after a suitable runway was allocated, we were off into the sky.

Take off video:


Climbout was its usual impressive A330 self, with cruise altitude reached relatively quickly as always.

Lets look at one thing that Air Canada seems to get right, which is In Flight Entertainment. There’s a nice screen in-front of you to start with, normally with some decent content on it

One Alliance to Bind them…  (Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring)

IFE Seatback system.

For those of you who don’t like the IFE selection (which can be quite elceptic), there’s always the option of USB Charging and In-seat power too – something Air Canada installed when it did its Project XM (eXtreme Makeover). These features are great as it adds to the inflight experience (and allows you to work or play as you need too). USB plugs are at every seatback, whilst power is 2 seats to one plug in Economy.

Or if you’ve got two seats to yourself, 1 screen with your IFE, 1 screen with the map and a USB charging your phone/tablet/otherwise ;)

Lets move onto food and drink Meals were served in the flight and here’s dinner



A water bottle

Chicken with rice



The sweetcorn was cold, and seemed nice, whilst the chicken wasn’t overly memorable. It wasn’t tough as boots, which when in the air and only eating with plastic utensils helps a fair olde bit. The cake was sweet and sugary, but still far better than what you’d get on United or American (I’m sorry United and American, I don’t count the prepacked Love and Quiches things deserts… Air Canada has the right idea here).

This being Air Canada, there was also a drinks selection, with wine offered with dinner. I took the white wine, and whilst not the greatest – it was drinkable in teh right direction. Whilst not the greatest meal, it did fill a corner.

Meanwhile outside, the sun was doing its amazing light show turning from daytime to evening and night.

Yes, there’s a reason why I sit on the this side of the plane… and this is it. I always miss out on Central London if I sit on this side of the plane though. Call it force of habit – I like to see the sun set and rise…

As day turned into night and as I watched the Fellowship of the ring begin their journey, I wrapped myself up in a blanket and settled in to a comfortable night’s sleep in a GhettoCouch.

Night time Cruising

As the lights came on, it was time for what Air Canada calls a breakfast service. I call this a joke, but that’s besides the point.

Oranage Juice and Blueberry Muffin

Coffee… I still like the Air Canada swizzle sticks

Well, I suppose this is an improvement on the Banana bread I’ve had before. But only a small improvement. What was I saying that Ex-Continental routes seem to have the breakfast across the pond in Economy?

Yes, still it hurts to type that.

Still looking to my left, morning was breaking across the sky, indicating we were closing in on Ireland and the United Kingdom, tracking in over the North West (Liverpool, Birmingham, and south to London)

The cabin crew were in great spirits even during this early night flight, and they were helpful to all the passengers during the flight – even suggesting reseating for those who wanted 4 seats of economy to lie on for the night. It’s those little touches that make a forgettable crew into a memorable crew.

Cleardown was completed and the plane begun its decent into the London area

Landing was a gentle affair with us landing on 27R, bringing an end to the flying part of this trip.


After landing, it was time to peel off the runway and head for the T3 Complex

Soon enough, the plane had docked at the far end of T3, and it was time to bid farewell to Air Canada. After negotiating the queues the queues, I thanked the crew and headed into the bowels of Terminal 3

Everyone out!

Overall: I rate Air Canada highly as a carrier – not just highly as a North American carrier (which has some very low benchmarks to start with if we’re all honest). The service is friendly, well executed and combined with an excellent hard product – even in economy. These are good things in my book. The only two minor blots are the size of the main meal – which could do with being a bit larger, and the embarrassment that is the breakfast service. I should be glad they don’t serve yoghurt I suppose..

Next: Homeward bound.

Posted by Kevincm | 3 Comments

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

United First -  Chicago O’Hare to Toronto Pearson  (Including fun at O’Hare and United Club B7)

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


Back to O’Hare

Soon enough, it was time to start the journey home. This time, my flights were in the afternoon, so I could sleep in for once – as opposed to the 6am rush to the airport that I seem get stuck with most of the time.

However once I got into the terminal, there seemed to be the almighty mess from hell. Allow me to explain – this is was when United was switching entirely to the Continental booking system. And we all know what an omnishambles that turned into.

Well I got into the omnishambles as my booking wasn’t exactly how it turned out as United had me going as far as Toronto.


I played with Mr Chicken for a bit before going over to an employee for a prodding, before my reservation in its completeness was found, and both of my boarding passes were spat out for London. The agents then tried the “Are you going to pay extra for your luggage” game. And I gave them a choice of Star Alliance Gold Cards to choose from.  More mumbling my bags were tagged, and I was sent to the next omnishambles: the security lines, which seemed to stretch around the terminal.


Heading to the joy of TSA.

I managed to clear security without going through a nude-o-scope, and hunted for a lounge. For a change, my flight would be departing from the B terminal block, so I decided to try out the “other” B lounge at ORD at B7.

Lounge Stop: United Club B7

There was a queue to get into the lounge, but I was seen to after my BMI Gold Card was swiped, and my passport checked so I met age requirements.

I headed upstairs to a very nice lounge environment  - whilst it was busy, there was plenty of space to relax in.

As usual there was the bar, the usual pitiful snack selection that exists in United Clubs. I just took it as somewhere to relax for a bit before the next leg home.

Well I had to have one drink at least…


You wonder why I say “pitiful”. Wait till you get to the next lounge stop on this trip. Makes United Clubs look a joke… and not a funny one at that…

Boarding time came around soon enough, so I packed up my stuff and headed for the gate.

Into the melee

Thankfully, whilst the queues were long, the United First queue was short, and I was quickly allowed through.

UA474  Chicago O’Hare International – Toronto Pearson International
United Airline, A319, Seat 1A, Domestic First Class
437 miles flown, 600 miles earned

The Photos

I boarded a bit late, so luggage space was already at a premium. Thankfully, I found a small space in an overhead locker that fitted my rucksack, and I sat down in 1A.

1A isn’t that bad a seat – it’s a very tradition US style Domestic First Class – 2 by 2 across with a bit more leg room than economy, with a bit of a cut-out for the feet in Row 1. Oh yes, the seat has a recline button.

Press to annoy the person behind you.

Pre-take off beverages were offered - I just went with a coke to start with.

Soon enough, Jeff and his safety video played and the plane begun a long taxi around O’Hare, finally lining up for a runway with a queue of 5 aircraft – not a long queue, but still a queue.

Turning to the active.

And here’s the take off video:



Crossing Lake Michigan

Shortly after 10,000ft passed, the crew began the service. As this leg was short – very short this was a drink and snack service.

Another Vodka and Coke. Yes. I like Vodka… destroyed by Cola. Don’t look at me like that. I like the new glassware though.

Though it was darn good.

With a snack – Mini Toblerones and Pop Chips are the order of the day.

Ok, I’m not expecting haut cuisine, but how much effort would be to load sandwiches or wraps for a sub 600 miles sector? Still, it’s better than nothing, and refills were happily offered.

IFE was the usual small screens with audio delivered. Sadly, the pilot didn’t switch on Channel 9 (That’s 3 for 3 this trip :() so I resorted to watching Terra Nova on the small screen instead.

IFE console

To be honest, the best IFE came from the outside views – which were nice and clear on the day of flight.

The crew were friendly and talkative – as was my seatmate. As this is a daytime flight, I enjoy that. You never know whom you’re going to run into, their stories and how small a world the place is when you really look at it.

Clear down was done as the plane begun its decent into the Greater Toronto Area, with the cabin cleared and tidy


Soon enough, we had lined up for Toronto Airport, with a nice thump on the ground and the thrust reversers having a party at the same time.

Landing Video:


A short taxi back to the Toronto T1 complex, and soon enough the airbridge was docked. I thanked the crew and made my way off the plane.

Overall: The flight itself was fine. Nothing outstandingly bad (except the omnishambles on the ground), but there is some serious room to improve some of the soft product on Domestic flights. Whilst I appreciate catering for a 1 hour flight isn’t easy, for 8 passengers it should be ok – other airlines seem to manage something more than a nibbles service for this length of flights – heck Hot nuts would be an upgrade in my book.

Would I intentionally buy United Domestic F Tickets? Hell no – I can’t see the value proposition any more for shorter segments. At $75 for an upgrade… did I get value? I’m still ambivalent about that. On the ground, it just didn’t work with long queues, lost data and long security queues. In the air, I see it as an upgrade to get on the plane early and off the plane very early. The fact I’m in a bigger seat with glassware is really here or there.

Next: Canada. Still A Real Country, Air Canada’s Toronto International Lounge and AC856 to London.

Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

The Hyatt Regency O’Hare.

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


After checking out of the Intercontinental and grabbing a cab (which was one of the most bizarre journeys I’ve ever had in a taxi – The Kennedy Expressway was shut going into the City of Chicago as Vice President Joe Biden was coming into town… so imagine a solid highway on the right, and an empty highway on the left…).

After being relieved of another $50, I the cab pulled up at my usual haunt in Chicago – The Hyatt Regency O’Hare.

Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare

I forgot to shoot an exterior shot for the hotel. This one is from another trip – It’s not like I have no pictures of this hotel anyway… ;)

The Photos:

I was welcomed with a “Welcome to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare” when I got out of the cab (hang on – there’s an improvement there already!), and my luggage again was taken off me as I wandered upstairs to check in. I was seen to immediately and my request for a room in the main block on a high level with a balcony (with a city view) was accepted without any question.

Downstairs – Perks Coffee and nibbles



After that, it was a case of heading to the high floor, and waiting for a short while for luggage delivery. As the porter had seen me come through the Hyatt many times before he offered the usual amenities.

One little upgrade to the all rooms are the key-cards. Last time, I had some trouble with the keys demagnetizing on me (and thus locking me out of the room). Well it seems this Hyatt is having none of that now as all the rooms have been upgraded to RFID locks (where you wave an electronic key at the door).

The room itself is the typical “nice Hyatt” room. Double-Double beds (as I tend to like the space of the second bed to sort stuff out on). It’s also a sure-fire way to get a bathroom with… a bath in it (the Kings alas only had showers… and I like my baths to soak in;))



Work Area

And yes, this is typical Hyatt toiletry land –  that means of course White Ginger. Some of you like it, other of you hate it. Me? I love the stuff (especially the bath bars). The room itself was spotless and as clean as it normally is.

The view from the room, was spectacular. It was even more spectacular the next day when a Thunderstorm rolled through the city of Chicago.

After settling in and doing a partial unpack, it was time to take the majority of the stuff I had brought downstairs for the weekend… where it would not emerge till Sunday evening.

During these weekends, I spend a lot of time talking to the conference team at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, and there are some Diamonds in there who do go above and beyond when I do weekend events there (least of all when I’m hunting for tables, chairs or other things that don’t exactly fit in the bag) – and they are a great team who run the conferences there.

For me, the convenience of having a room 9 or 10 floors above where I’m working is well worth the premium when I hang up my camera at 1am in the morning. The 24 hour coffee shop helps for that extra jolt on a poor morning when the last thing I have time for is to make a coffee and snack.

The on site restaurant served food in a timely manner and of good quality, and whilst not cheap, wasn’t that expensive (to be honest, I was having dinner with a friend, and whipping out a camera in those circumstances just isn’t right).

After a busy weekend and for once not leaving at the crack of dawn, I took my time repacking my stuff, as well as watching out of the balcony

Well, there seemed to be a little aviation action…

Check out was without any problem as usual, however (something that is common with this Hyatt), my points were not added to the Gold Passport account

Overall: This is more like it. Warm greetings, good staff and a lot more focus than last time. All things I like. I just wish this hotel could get crediting points right in the first place…

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

One Time Exception: Chicago Water Taxi

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


One Time Exception: Chicago Water Taxi
Cost $3 (Returns and Day passes available).

The photos:

Chicago offers many ways to get around the city. From the iconic L, to the bus network that is understandable to some… to the madcap taxis.  During some months of the year when the Chicago River isn’t frozen over, there is another option – the Chicago Water Taxi. This takes a route from Madison Street, over to La Salle, and finally to a stop near North Michigan Avenue. As I was near the Boeing store near Madison Street, this was more than convenient, as I wanted to get back to the Intercontinental on North Michigan. Yes, I could have caught the L, then walked, but this seemed more fun.

Ticket buying was a case of using a Credit Card machine, and soon enough, I had a ticket to ride. Boarding the board was by a gangplank, and soon enough the water taxi was on its way.

For those of you who have done the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s boat tour, this follows part of the route the tour takes, up the Chicago River.

So, yes – you could use this to replace part of the boat tour, but you’ll have no commentary ;)

Pictures are better than words in this case, so lets do some pictures.

The boat docked near North Michigan Avenue, and soon enough I was at the top of the elevator, and heading back to the Intercontinental.

The North Michigan Avenue Dock

Overall: For $3, it’s a steal if you want to see the architecture of the Loop on a budget.  But choose a nice day to do it, otherwise, you’ll 1) freeze or 2) get wet…

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

The InterContinental North Michigan Avenue, Chicago

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


After exiting the plane, I wandered aimlessly for the exit and picked up my luggage that had just about to be delivered to the belt normal luggage belt and the oversized. I then headed for a cab (without considering a Shuttle. Next time), to be fleeced the $50 to catch a metered cab downtown (so yes, defiantly a shuttle next time).

If I was travelling lighter, yes – I would had taken the L – but you try travelling with some of the stuff I travel with…

Anyhoo, the cab made its way down the I-94, and into the heart of Chicago to North Michigan Avenue – and my hotel for two nights – The Intercontinental

Hotel: InterContinental Chicago – Magnificent Mile – North Michigan Avenue.
Room booked: Double, Upgraded to a Suite (Ambassador Upgrade)

Yes, A shot of the Hotel in the daytime. Happy now?

The Photos:

My luggage was taken off me and I was given tickets for it as I went to check-in. All the lines were of a length, so I picked the smallest one and got seen to after a few minutes. I was welcomed as an Ambassador, and my room was upgraded to a Suite in the main tower.

Now, that’s a nice upgrade.

I was also reminded of the benefits I had on the rate I was booked on (always helpful) and directed to the right elevators. It was then off to the 14th floor of the main tower.

Elevators on 14th


After finding my way to the room (a challenge I sometimes have), I found a very nicely appointed suite waiting, split into a living area, bedroom and bathroom – not as large as the IC Toronto Yorkville, but then who needs 2 toilets in a suite?

My luggage arrived after a few minutes and I made myself comfortable

Minibar area – The Intercontinental “Intimacy” kit is out of sight for the protection of my dear readers ;)

Comfortable seating

Seating with extra towels out…

Living room TV

Bedroom and Web-console

The living room and bedroom were reasonably well appointed – whilst not new, it was comfortable and suitable – better than just a room.

Moving on to the bathroom, it was a proper bathroom, shower and toilet combo.

Coffee machine and water in the bathroom



Art in a bathroom

The bathroom delivered hot water when I needed it (although it has those wonderfully annoying showers they have in the hotels, where you have to turn water on, pull a plunger and hope the shower works – annoying, but is life)

Meanwhile, there was a welcome amenity. Those who enjoy comedy will like this:

Yes it is exactly:

  • Three Satsuma’s/Tangerines
  • 1 Bottle of relaxing water
  • 1 voucher for the Starbucks shop in the lobby, valued at $1.65

Do I even need to go further?

Still, it was a great hotel to relax in, and base myself before the ongoing madness that is the stuff I do when I get to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare.

Admittedly, I utilised the late check-out at the InterContinental (as I had to repack some stuff), to the dismay of the house staff. Well if you give me a 4pm checkout, I’ll use it sometimes! I made my way out of the room just before 4pm, and checked out at the front desk… and sat and waited for a shuttle van.

Which I realised I accidentally had booked for the next day.

Oops. Reluctantly, I grabbed a cab for another ride up to O’Hare.

Overall: It was a nice hotel, with great service and a nice environment. The location on North Michigan Avenue just can’t be beaten at all – two buildings from the Wrigley Building, John Hancock to the north, and the Loop to the south. Just the two little things of the house staff wanting to know when I was going to go (even though a 4pm checkout had been posted on the account), and the woeful excuse of a welcome amenity are the standout points here…

Next: One Time Exception: Chicago Water Taxi!

Posted by Kevincm | 4 Comments

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

Touchy Feely fun with the TSA, IAD to ORD with United

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


Once off the plane, it was off to the Midfield immigration area as I was due to transit onto another United flight. Midfield immigration (like any US immigration) is a matter of getting off the plane as fast as possible and heading to the immigration area.

Thankfully the queue was moving rather quickly that morning for visitors to the United States of America

After arriving at DC and making my way to the midfield terminal immigration there was a 20 minute wait to be seen. The agent was in a chatty mood, asking about my plans and such. After satisfying those requirements, my passport and blue form were stamped, and I was sent on my way.

With a 20 minute wait, I had timed it perfectly for luggage which by this point was making its way around the carousel like happy things. After hefting the bags onto a trolley, I approached US Customs, who welcomed me with “Straight Ahead – Welcome to the United States”

Definitely not an Eric Cartman style customs officer today.

However, after dropping off my checked luggage, it was time to deal with the TSA – who had their Eric Cartman clones on duty today at the checkpoint. As usual, I placed my stuff on the belt, and was directed to the Nude-O-Scope. In keeping with my beliefs about them, I opted out.

Then the waiting game begun… until the officer who i stated I was opting out too decided to inspect me himself (it seems midfield TSA as usual were understaffed). As usual, we’re talking about a usual 2nd base inspection, which came out clean. I thanked the officer and grabbed my trash, and headed into the terminal. Seeing the my flight was going from the D Gates, I hiked down C Concourse, directly to the D7 United Club

Lounge Stop
United Club (D7)

I wandered downstairs and was welcomed, and politely invited into the club. Now, I have a soft spot for this club as it’s self service, and its nice and quiet normally. This club lived up to those expectations today with just a few people in. I just settled down and relaxed for a bit – and resorted my trash after the TSA fondling.

After relaxing for a bit and grabbing a few drinks, I left the lounge and headed for the gate. When i got to the gate, I saw the seat map, and looked at it very carefully. There were some pairs of seats open still, so I went to the gate and got a window with a clear middle seat.

It’s not being selfish, it’s being proactive.

Boarding begun on time, and I made my way down once Star Golds were called.

UA221 United Airlines Washington Dulles International – Chicago O’Hare International
United Airlines Seat 35F,  Airbus A320 Economy Class (Blue Tulip Scheme)
588 flown, 600 Earned

The Photos:

I was welcomed aboard, and headed straight to almost the back of the plane – as I’m arriving into Chicago, I’m not exactly doing anything bar settling down – so I’m not fussed getting off the plane late.

Meanwhile, nearby…

As suspected, there was an isle seat person, but no middle seat person – this is what we call a relaxing environment.

Cabin during boarding

Pushback was a little late, and I was greeted with Jeff again doing his spiel, and then the elevator music version of Rhapsody in Blue with something resembling a safety video.

Soon enough, we lined up for take off… and I realised where my phone was – in my bag. So, no Youtube videos for this segment. Aren’t you glad? ;)

Take off as was its usual sporty self in an A320, with the plane reaching for the skies in no time at all. The crew were released to do a drinks service, and I just sat back and watched the world go by.

Legroom was reasonable, even if its near the back of the plane

I’ve sat in worse.

Between seats.

Soon enough, the excitement of a drinks service arrived. Still needing liquid, I just went for another diet coke… delivered Continental style.

Why I don’t I believe this?

Hmm. A change I don’t like – a cup of coke – no can :(

The flight continued on its way, crossing Lake Michigan, and the plane twisted and turned for Chicago.

Crossing into IL


Tocuhdown was its usual sporty self for an A320, and soon we were off the runway, taxing to the B Concourse at O’Hare

With the usual traffic at ORD

Soon enough, the plane pulled in, and the bongs went. As I was near the back of the plane, it took time to disembark, but I eventually made it off the plane.

Overall: Nothing special for a sub 600 mile flight to be honest, but you can see cuts just in this service alone – whilst I like a full can of cola, I don’t like asking for it. Guess its a change… oh you all know the rest.

Next: Intercontinental Chicago – North Michigan Avenue.

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

UA923 London Heathrow – Washington Dulles

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


UA923 London Heathrow Airport – Washington Dulles International
United Airlines, Boeing 767-300ER in Classic Blue Tulilp, Seat 36k, Economy Class
3667 miles flown, 3667 earned.

The Photos

I was welcomed aboard and headed past business class and to my home near the back of the plane. Carefully stowing the luggage I noted at the gate it looked pretty full and that United were going to get a full load today to Washington Dulles. The beauty of course with a Priority Boarding option is simple: you get first pick of the luggage bins – and on a North American carrier that is key if you want 1) somewhere to stow it and 2) not wanting to check it at the gate later when the bins are solid.

Retrieving what I needed for the flight (camera, iPhone, other random bits), I settled down, and I got a seatmate. Thankfully whilst he was a talker – he was an “interesting talker”.

Which is nice.

Soon enough loading was complete, and whilst the back of the plane wasn’t solid, it was a very good show, with a fair few families aboard too.

It was then time for the “Safety Video” which I’m sorry to say still does not impress me in the least with its “easy listening” version of Rhapsody in Blue, the lovely CGI renders of the plane and cuts from various Continental safety videos.  I suppose the video does the job, but surely someone could had come up with a slightly better video?  Ho hum. I’ll file that in the Jeff Semisek excuse bucket (“Changes that we think you might like”)

A short taxi to 9R past the terminal 5 complex and the engines spooled up, ready to take the 767 into the sky

Possibly my new home after I leave Star? A line up of BA Tailfins at T5B


Take off was swift with the plane turning after take off tracking north, then across the Irish sea, then the Atlantic.

Leaving the Heathrow complex

Thorpe Park

Clearing the coast

It was a nice and gentle climb into the sky, with the usual breaking the cloud layer, and then setting a course across the pond.

Of course, I had quick flick through the IFE (which if you’re in the back of the plane of a 767 is awful), and with Channel 9 off, there was only one thing to do.

You may find my lack of faith in United’s IFE disturbing (Family Guy presents Blue Harvest installed in a GhettoIFE system)…

Soon enough as we cleared the coast, and begun tracking towards Ireland, food was served. And… oh dear. It seems United’s caterers have been at it again.

I find it amazing that food caterers can’t get it right, and those who use the ovens sometimes have so much trouble.

So lets examine the savoury breakfast

Yoghart, Orange Juice and breads.

Sealed Cutlery with Chinese Diet Coke in the background

Ok, I know its near impossibility for decent food for Economy class… but seriously… burnt food in this state? Sorry… not impressed here at all. I know catering budgets are squeezed, but a little more effort could have resulted in a better meal.  Not impressed.

Once that disaster of a meal was cleared down, I did what I normally do for these runs after breakfast and being up half of the night – I crashed out for a bit.

As I didn’t seem to wake up until near the Labrador coast, the flight itself. Which is nice for these TATL runs.

The crew were out every now and again to do drinks and water runs – always a good thing to see on these long flights.

Mid flight drink

Meanwhile, I was honestly feeling like a number sitting in the back today.

Patrick McGoogan is The Prisoner. Shame I’m not sat in row Number 6… (Installed in a GhettoIFE system)

As the plane tracked over Canada, and closing in on Washington Dulles, the crew came around to do a 2nd service run.  As usual for United, it was the usual snack in a bag thing

Sandwich with 3 circular slices of meat. How… yes. Well.

Hmm. This is getting more cost cutting by the day. The sandwich was a lot smaller than the pretzel bread in the past, and we’re down to a single finger of Twix (and still using KP crisps… sigh…)

Still, it filled a hole after what starting to drag on for the flight to Dulles. Speaking of Dulles, soon it was time to clear the plane down and prepare for landing.

The crew seemed to be a reasonably friendly bunch that weren’t there just for your safety – a good sign in my book.

Soon enough, the seatbelt signs dinged, and the plane begun its descent. On our descent we took the weirdest path into Dulles, literally flying past the airport, then looping around to land at a lowish altitude.

Errm. We’re meant to be landing there…

Deep turn.


Thankfully the pilot made a skilful landing as we landed in a sunny Dulles morning in Virginia.


It was a quick taxi over to the C/D Concourses, where the plane docked reasonably quickly and we were allowed to disembark.

Overall: The flight itself was a good effort… however, the catering seems to swing one way or another (from good to bad). This time it swung to the bad side, and I’m honestly not impressed in the least at all United on that front. The crew made up for it a bit, but there was definitely something missing compared to previous flights I’ve had with UA.

Posted by Kevincm | 6 Comments

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

To London and Lounges

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


2am. On a Birmingham Morning… with me not awake.

The more things change, the more they stay the same some say. For me, it is a fact of life. Early flights mean the early coach to London from Digbeth Coach Station.

My trash at outside the flat…

I called the taxi and lugged my stuff outside, thinking I had everything. The taxi came quickly, and soon enough the taxi was making its way through the heart of Birmingham when I suddenly realised not everything was right. A frantic paw around revealed an epic problem – the lack of a passport. A quick turn around, and it was back to the flat to grab the passport (still in its usual hiding place) and back in the cab.

All I’m going to say is this: I’m glad I found out in my home city, and not on the M40… or at Heathrow Airport itself…

I paid the cabbie off a substantial amount for the 3 trips as he was driving to the coach station, and the cab pulled up outside the coach station… where the coach was preparing to depart (with a minute to spare).

The coach driver looked at me and said “Leaving a bit late aren’t we?”

I showed my tickets and the cause of the trouble, and I was let aboard with a smile – something difficult to do sometimes at 2:46 in the morning.

National Express Route 210
Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station to London Heathrow Central Bus Station.

Pretty much after I got aboard and found a seat, the doors were closed, and the coach set off to Birmingham International, Banbury and finally London Heathrow Central Bus Station.

Pulling out of Digbeth.

Normally, this coach service to the London Airports is a quiet sleeper service for those who want to get to Heathrow or Gatwick early. Sadly, there were loud chatterboxes sitting a few rows back from me. Thankfully, my cheapie £1 Noise Isolation headphones drowned them out.

The coach made its way in the dark to Birmingham Airport, where it seemed there a fault developed with the overhead light above my seat where it dimmed and darkened of its own accord. Wonderful. All I could do was angle it away, which seemed to do the trick.

The other issue was the aircon or heating – or both units fighting each other, along with some of the passengers who wanted it warmer whilst others wanting it a bit chillier. Guess there’s no pleasing anyone really..

Still the coach pottered its merry way to Banbury and then onto Heathrow, arriving pretty much on scheduled.

I thanked the driver profusely, and loaded up the bags, off into the wonder that is the underground mess of the Central Terminal Area.

Heathrow T1

After making my way along the travelators and lifts to T1, I headed to the United Premium Check area where the lovely ITCS people were waiting. My Passport swiped by the security company, and I was let on my way.

It was then a case of heading to the desk where my bags were tagged, my addresses taken, and an escort to the Zone Y bag drop so that I proved that wasn’t modifying my bags after check-in (the excuse has changed from “they’re doing work” to “security purposes”).

T1 Security was its usual fast self, and I was in the air-side area quickly.  This being this is one of the last times I’ll be at LHR before the sale is complete of BMI to IAG (BA), it was appropriate to head to The Great British Lounge final time (before they rebrand it. Again).

Lounge Stop: The Great British Lounge – British Midland International

Of course, this is our BMI. That meant a short wait whilst they sorted out a couple of issues in the kitchen before I was let in.

After the agent got off the phone, I was welcomed warmly, and directed inwards to the lounge.  I’ve written about this lounge a fair few times, and my view of it have not changed in the least – it’s a wonderful space, but the food options early in the morning aren’t exactly stellar by any stretch of the imagination.

Pancakes are always good though.

At the bar…

Coffee machines

Still, it being 5:40 in the morning, it was quiet. And that was appreciated. I headed to the window to watch the world go by as the inky black of the night turned in a waking dawn and watching the early arrivals being to taxi around Heathrow.

The lounge staff that was there – were attentive, and did a great job making sure food and beverages were well stocked. And it was peaceful – something that is sometimes missing from a lounge.

Peace and Quiet.

And yet there is one sign that someone else owns BMI still… although that is to change…

Gone now…

However, there is a minor problem. As the BMI lounge is near gate 5, and my flight will be departing in the extended Europier (Gate 38… or rather 238), I decided to head off early and switch to the Star Alliance lounge.

I thanked the staff, and for once – filled in the guest book to say thankyou to the BMI Staff.

Overall: The BMI Great British Lounge remains one of the highlights of T1 for the international traveller, and if you have a BMI Ticket (or a BA Gold/Silver Card), it should be on your stopping list. Hopefully even as the lounge metamorphoses back into a British Airways lounge, it keeps some of its distinct character.

Of course heading to the Star Alliance lounge means crossing the shopping mall that is Heathrow T1. Sadly, this also means a quick top up of Duty Free for my American friends  before heading to the Star Alliance Lounge. Such is life.

Star Alliance Common Lounge

Where the BMI lounge is well lit, and wonderful, the murk that is the Star Alliance lounge awaits. But it’s not exactly a bad lounge… it could just do with a few more lights installed in places.

Don’t get me wrong, whilst it makes it atmospheric, it can mean you’re hunting for stuff if it falls out of a bag.

A touch more light would be lovely…

The one thing that the Star Alliance lounge has over the BMI lounge has is catering – which is substantially better than the BMI lounge. As this is the final stopping point before flying, it was a case of charging the phone, and tucking into breakfast whilst creating mad blog entries.

Well, it’s my tradition. I’m allowed a few mad entries. That and the Vodka and Orange probably helped me to wake up.  Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows really.  All I knew was that I had Sausage and Bacon rolls with far too much mustard. And that’s not a bad thing per say at 6:30 in the morning.

Hot Items

Drinks in a corner


Seeing 7am had passed, it was time to bag up my trash, and head to back end of beyond – commonly known as the Europier extension.

Overall: How much do a few lights cost to install? For Star Alliance travellers, from the 31st May – this is your home. Remove the moody lighting and who knows… the lounge might improve…

Heading to Gate 38, it’s a case of looking at the work of T2 that are in progress, and cursing BAA for not installing enough travelators in this place. Or to put it bluntly, BAA have a shuttle bus service that runs from near the Star Alliance lounge to the far 30’s gates – I think they’ve recognised it’s getting a bit silly now.

Morning Dawn over T1.

Sunrise in the terminal – I like this image for some reason.

Upon entering the gate lounge, there was another security check, and after a short wait – boarding commenced for this morning slog across the pond.

Next: UA923 to Washington Dulles

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

The Introduction – and An Apology

Chicago from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (c) Muggins


Firstly: An Apology.

Lets try writing this trip report again. Due to a big problem when I started to write this (work was just bananas), this got put to the wayside, and then left… and left… and left.

I rediscovered this as I was going through Google Docs a few days ago, and realised this actually was an interesting Trip Report as this was shortly after SHARES went live at United, and there were a couple of stand-out points. So this report is … a good 9 months late, but it should have some value (and amusement) to you all I hope.

Thankfully, I found I had written a majority of it, with just a few pertinent bits missing. Hopefully I should be able to assemble this over the next week or so and convert it into something resembling a trip report.

Once again, it’s my classic spring Chicago run where I turn my eyes onto the airlines to see if they’re still delivering – or not – down the back of the plane. And of course – this trip is economy class. But regular readers should have guessed this. This was probably my last Star Alliance run for quiet a bit unless something good comes up.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I’m grounded on the bit due to Her Majesty’s Government and the Department of Health not knowing how to fund projects (thus jobs), so this could be the last one for a while.

As a reminder to some of my grammar conscious/grammar sensitive readers, please head to http://ghettoife.boardingarea.com/2012/03/18/blog-admin-a-message-to-the-grammar-checkers-out-there/ for an explanation of why my grammar may not be up to others high standards.

A Rock and a Hard Place (The Introduction)

Frequent flyer memberships and elite memberships can be a blessing or a curse – something a lot of us can agree on.

For me, it’s a mixed blessing. The upside is I can control my costs on certain trips (and lets make no bones, with the amount of luggage I tote on some trips, it is not a nicety having an extended baggage allowance, it’s a requirement). The down side is to get that baggage allowance, I need to fly a lot down the back of the plane lot of back of the plane a I don’t have expense accounts to charge our flying habit – hence why I spend a lot of my life in Economy Class

It also provides some of you with entertainment. Or is it car crash reading?  It’s the same difference to me… ;)

Anyway, I got the call that I was wanted in Chicago again to do pretty pictures, and it’s impolite to say no when there is a trip to one of my favourite cities in the world.  But when booking the usual London-Chicago trip, the question turns from how do you make it as interesting as possible?

Sure, I could do the basic back-to-back LHR-ORD-LHR trip, but that is just boring. Besides, I find it is nice to break up a trip occasionally.

That and the direct flights were to be overpriced… again (pretty common with United).

Eventually, I settled the following:

  • Outbound via Washington Dulles on the way out as the times were agreeable – 923 to IAD, 221 onto ORD
  • Inbound via Toronto on a UA151 flight to YYZ and homeward on Air Canada’s Boeing 777-300ER

Now whilst I’m not on speaking terms with Canadian Immigration still (especially after last time I went through Toronto), but an option for Air Canada is always welcome in my book… and it’s not exactly if I’m going into the country to corrupt the nation (although I swear that’s what Canadian Immigration think…)

So I opened my wallet and cried at the £411.93 (it seems the march of the upward airfare continues… and this is pre-APD rise), and booked the ticket to The Windy City.

Idly I checked the booking, and found that United had changed the return flight from ORD to YYZ, and the YYZ to LHR leg was re-timed and re-equipped to an A330.

Wonderful. A phone call later, and that was sorted and I was able to play with the booking again.

Checking the options, I saw something – an F upgrade for one of the legs. For $69 (The ORD-YYZ leg). Compared to the cost of the IAD-ORD upgrade cost (add a 1 in front to get the upgrade price), this seemed palatable. I therefore shoved the extra change towards United. If the extra miles didn’t turn up, who cares? In this case it would keep the agents quiet about my luggage if they asked. And that’s not a bad thing.

Map by the Great Circle Mapper: www.gcmap.com

So the big question – Where to credit to? Well to my own stupidity I credited them to BMI Diamond Club. So much for a head start on whatever airline I want to go for Star Gold with next time. Oh well.

For accommodation, I would be heading to my usual haunt of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare later in the trip. But I also wanted to enjoy life in downtown Chicago for once – and whilst commuting back and forth on the CTA Blue line is fun, it does damage to your back if you’re carrying the amount of stuff I carry or pick up for others downroute.

I therefore plonked for the Intercontinental Chicago on North Michigan Avenue.

Now that’s an eye opener for some of you I’d wager. Let’s just say I got a reasonable rate that day that made the Hyatt look expensive (and I don’t pay full rate at the Hyatt!)

So hotels, planes… am I missing something? Oh yes. Getting back n forth to London Heathrow Airport. Back to National Express with me with a £49.40 return coach ticket. This is due to National Express only selling full price tickets on Airport trips and no FunFares.

Forty Nine Notes to sit on a coach for 2 and a half hours there and back. I ask you…

Anyway, on with the show!

Coming up: I prove I can be a dolt some days, a farewell to BMI and of course… lounges!

Posted by Kevincm | 3 Comments

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