My goodness it seems that we are being spoiled with reports from the west coast of America over the Easter break, thank you to Spymon and Lighting for your TR's, I wonder if our paths crossed during the trips?
Working title for this report 'Johnny Blue in the CCR, breakfast of Champions!'
But as the trip involved so much more than wallowing in the luxury of the CCR I've decided to post under something a lot more long winded!
(please feel free to skip my self indulgent rambling thoughts!)
So many times I've made that long, long walk towards whY with my head bowed, glancing enviously at those in J, already seated, sipping a glass of champagne and preparing their personal space for the 10 hours of flight time ahead, “jaysus I'd swap ya big lad” I'd mumble to myself as I continued the walk of envy.
I have been lucky enough to experience business class on a number of carriers in the past, some paid for, others on points or an odd op-up and even blagged a few! Though turning up at check in dressed in a shirt and tie when booked whY and flashing your BA Blue card and a cheeky smile aimed at the check-in lady whilst uttering the words “I normally fly British Airways but have been thinking of changing airlines, by the way do you happen to have anything in business available today?” hasn't worked since 1991!
But this time I wanted to fly First, I wanted to lie up in my seat drinking champagne in my pyjamas, I wanted Johnny Blue available on tap for 10 hours, I wanted to experience the food the wine, the seat.... it was a passion and desire burning inside me!..... and as I don't fly for work purposes and there is no way I could afford to pay for it I had to start being a little bit more proactive in earning points for my BA miles account.
With great advice gained from the BAEC forum here on FlyerTalk my miles balance was soon brimming and armed with enough points and an Amex 2-4-1, it was time to start planning a trip!
One lazy Sunday morning (read hungover in my case!) in September Mrs Noniron and I started checking availability to anywhere, yes anywhere! You have to be flexible I'd learned on the BA board! But for us it did need to be over the Easter school break as les enfants Noniron would be on a visit to France to see Mamie and Papi.
First class availability was patchy around our dates, it was Easter after all, but one flight that did work out perfectly was LHR-SFO-LHR and that suited us just fine as it would be a long enough to experience all the delights of First and allow us to create a holiday that neither of us had done before....the California Road Trip!
I am going to include approximate costings in this TR if it helps others plan.
So after hitting my BA Amex for £960 in charges, cashing in 150,000 BA miles as they were then known and redeeming a 2-4-1 my first First was booked and it felt great!
Now we had the challenge of getting Mrs Noniron and the girls to France with both of us meeting up in the CCR on the 4th of April (I've always wanted to say to Mrs Noniron I'll see you in Concorde room darling!) in time for BA287 and everyone back to BFS on the 17th April at the same time!
We got Mrs Noniron and les enfants booked on EI DUB-CDG on the 31st March with Mrs Noniron CDG-LHR on BA 4th April and myself on EI BFS-LHR with us both returning on the 17th LHR-BFS and Mamie and Papi with the girls on EZ CDG-BFS, so far so good!
Now what is the first thing you have to do when planning a road trip?.... Yes that's right! Go on amazon and buy a big map, open a bottle of 'château delirious' pour a big glass and then realise just how big America actually is!
Over many nights of route planning the vin rouge quickly gave way to Bushmills and in a moment of clarity a road trip that would take us from San Francisco to Los Angeles down the Pacific Coast Highway, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon to Yosemite via Death Valley and back to San Francisco in just 12 days was born!
4th April BFS-LHR-SFO
5th April SFO
6th April SFO-PCH to San Simeon
7th April San Simeon to LAX
8th April LAX
9th April LAX-LAS
10th April LAS
11th April LAS-Grand Canyon
12th April Grand Canyon
13th April Grand Canyon to Pahrump
14th April Pahrump to Yosemite via Death Valley
15th April Yosemite
16th April Yosemite to SFO-LHR
17th April LHR-BFS
Of course to do this I was going to need a car and the only car I wanted was a Mustang, might be a bit clichéd I know but I didn't want a compact or an SUV it had to be a Mustang! With a visit to avisba.com a convertible Mustang (or similar) was booked for £330 inc all insurance excesses and Mrs Noniron as an additional driver. This was by far the best rate I could get and I could have used BA miles to pay for the 'tang but the conversion rate really undervalued the points in my opinion.
I hate early morning flights, period. There is nothing natural about getting up in the dark to catch an early flight no matter what luxuries await later in the day.....
My mood that morning however was good though and my parents kindly shared my early morning awakening and offered to make the short 30 mins drive to BFS and drop me off for the Aer Lingus flight to LHR and it was at that moment I decided NOT to do a TR, shock horror, I know! I had been planning a TR for ages then bottled it right there and then, standing outside Belfast International Airport having a quick fag before going through security. I couldn't bring myself to take all those pictures, wouldn't have time to put it all together, just want to enjoy the journey, couldn't write anything of value for fellow travellers etc., that's right I talked myself out of it.
So if you want to know what a BFS-LHR domestic hop on Aer Lingus is like I'll tell you....
It's a 1hour flight on a green and white A320 with blue leather seats and buy on board catering and as far as LCC's go they are quite good!
How easy is it to transit T1 to T5 at Heathrow? Very, go outside and have a quick smoke, go back inside, go down a level, get on the HEX, go up a level, go outside and have another smoke, go back inside and onwards to the BA First check-in area, easy!
I found the First check-in very well organised and professional, everyone I came in contact with were both polite and charming, so with boarding card in hand for 2K and knowing that Mrs Noniron had just checked in 2A at CDG it was off through Fast Track to the delights of the CCR.
Note to my fellow passengers in regard to Fast Track T5. If you are smart enough to have earned sufficient funds to pay for a premium seat on BA or you have proven yourself in your career that your company or client will pay for a premium seat or you've had the knowledge and intelligence to collect enough Avios then please please please prove to me that you have the brains to prepare for going through a standard airport security check. Fast Track was not a word that came into my head while people watching in the queue and it was nothing to do with the staff.
I knew to look out for the white door on the right and with a flash of my boarding card and deep breath I entered into to the serenity of the Concorde Lounge....
Breakfast fry up in the dining area
The jockeys view of that horse!
The terrace while waiting for Mrs Noniron
The CCR was simply fabulous and I could have easily enjoyed another few hours there, but with Mrs Nonirons massage ending and an empty champagne flute in front of me it was time to head to the C gates for boarding and I still didn't know if it would be NF or Old and didn't care because it would be new to me!
Boarding was well under way by the time we arrived at the gate and as we slipped down the priority lane passed the throng of people who in 5 mins would be making that long, long walk into whY I caught a glimpse of the tell tale blacked out windows on our 747, so my first First was going to be in NF and that suited me just fine!
Honestly, I was like a wee kid for the first few minutes as I absorbed the atmosphere of the cabin! In my seat, out of my seat, in my buddy seat, in Mrs Nonirons buddy seat and no I wouldn't have lunch in it and I'm only a 40 chest and 32 waist, window blind down, window blind up, seat down, seat up! Not joking! Couldn't help myself! But we were the first to enter the cabin and none of our fellow pax had joined us yet!
With amenity kit and pyjamas handed out it was time to relax with a wee glass of fizz as our cabin mates slowly joined us and I was genuinely curious to see the mix in BA F especially the glamorous gold card couple who had kept me locked out of 1A and K! But they turned out to be two rather plain male solo travellers who didn't speak to each other and strenuously avoided eye contact for 10 hours in two of the most intimate seats in the house, why a solo passenger would choose row 1 over row 2 I'll never understand but that's your privilege when you earn the status with the airline, an ego thing I guess.
My purser had introduced himself as 'R' during our pre departure champagne and get to know you chat and he mixed me a fabulously stiff G&T after take off as an aperitif while I perused the lunch menu and wine list.
Now I did warn you that I wasn't doing a TR so please excuse my lunch pics, they were intended for my eyes only......
Seared Scottish king scallop with broad bean puree and crispy porchetta with a glass of 2010 Sancerre
Wagyu beef burger with Monterey Jack cheese, gherkin and onion enjoyed with Landmark pinot noir from California
Raspberry and peach choux with caramelised peaches and peach syrup and fab Coteaux du Layon
Coffee and chocolates
Now I know that a hamburger while flying in First as a main course wouldn't be the most obvious of choices but it was selected purely for the novelty value and was actually very good but the star of the show was without a doubt was the pudding with a glass of the dessert wine.
Then things as regards to the service cabin deteriorated as 'R' left to go on his break and the crew looking after the cabin became invisible, this is my apperitif glass along with an empty wine glass and now near empty box of chocs an hour after the meal service had finished and no-one had been in the cabin since not even a cursory walk through.
Get this debris away it's blocking my view of Mrs Thatchers ankles!
If there is one thing I hate doing on any flight it is using the call bell, but the debris from lunch was becoming irksome and there was burning thirst building somewhere deep in my liver for a Johnny Blue and so the 'ding dong' was pressed, the offending items removed and a large whisky duly delivered.
A number of whiskies later and with a blister forming on my finger I'd worked out that this crew were re-active rather than pro-active but surely one of them would have noticed that they had a lush in 2K! Curled up in a first class cabin watching a movie with a glass of your favourite tipple in hand must be a true luxury and it was a moment that I was thoroughly enjoying!
Headset holder, knew that light had another purpose!
With 'R' back on duty things picked up again and a delicious 'afternoon tea' tea service was rounded off with a glass of Grand Siecle and that was that, my first First was coming to an end all too soon and with 'top of descent' looming it was time to get out of the jammies and back into the jeans while watching the amazing views on the approach into SFO.
Stay tuned as we journey around the American West and a return with a fantastic crew in 'old First'
The next part I'll post for you mostly pictorial as I'm sure you are ready for a break from my rambling thoughts and poor story telling and with Mrs Noniron now on photographic duties the quality of the images increases dramatically!