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Old Nov 20, 12, 5:58 pm   #1
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Different Airlines – Same Routes – To Chicago with AA, BA and Hurricane Sandy

Different Airlines – Same Routes – To Chicago with American Airlines and British Airways

Or “Oh Sandy. You came and you gave without thinking....”

Enough of premium class shenanigans that I’ve written about a few times this year. It’s back to my traditional place - the back of the plane - as I see if this BA Gold is actually worth anything in the air or on the ground.

I also get to play with a new airlines - American Airlines who I seemly avoided for quite some years being a Star Gold.

However, this trip would be interrupted rudely. By a hurricane... but I’m getting ahead of myself...


Cheap Flight? In the autumn? Which planet are you on? (The Introduction)

Yes, I’m heading back to Chicago. It’s not surprisingly really – two trips a year to see friends and do some photography – there is never a reason not to go to the Windy City.

But with a trip like this on the horizon, it was time to head to the olde booking engines to see what I can find. And at the beginning of August, this was a case of > £500 fares (with £550 being the average fare).

And that’s just too expensive for what is essentially an 8 hour flight there and back down the back of the plane.

Now we know that most fares are primarily made up of tax and fuel surcharge, so anything to reduce the costs aid the cause would help at this point.

Thankfully, as the flames of the Paralympic cauldron were extinguished in London, British Airways kicked off a fare sale - and all the other airlines responded in turn, bringing down fares back into the sub £500 territory. What was £550 was now £475. And that’s an improvement no matter what way you cut it.

Looking at the fare - It was £124.99 return. Then we add the taxes and fuel surcharge - and well...



See http://boardingarea.com/blogs/ghetto...tax-on-flying/ for my take on taxes and flying

I don’t really need to go further that is the madness of aviation do I? Tax and fuel surcharges. They’ll get you every time…

Anyway looking to the route. Now I’ve doing the Chicago hop (or variations thereafter) a fair few times - and one of the constant challenges is to keep the route “fresh” from being boring (dread to think - direct flights there and back!!!), so it was off to the fare engines to find something interesting. Heading out to Chicago, I like to arrive 1) early and 2) direct where possible so I can get the hell that is US Immigration done and dusted, whilst having the majority of the day to myself when I arrive. This pointed me to AA99 - the 07:45 flight from Heathrow (which is practically the same time that flight UA923 pushes back from T1)

The going home part was the tough bit as 1) wanted something indirect for an extra few Tier Points and 2) wanted a BA flight on the final leg. Looking around at the thinning options (which included a transfer from LGA to JFK... err. no, AA to AA at JFK, to BOS), I found a set of flights that would connect in Philadelphia.

Whilst I’ve been through PHL before with US Airways... I haven’t with AA and BA. Considering this was also £5 more expensive than going direct on the way home, the ticket was booked and that was that.

Next is the issue of hotels. And this is where I went splat big-time. For these trips, I tend to base myself out of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare - mainly because the conference I attend is there - so I tend to book 4 or 5 days at one hotel for convenience's sake.

Alas that idea went out of the window when I found the reduced rate I normally use was only available for 3 of the 5 nights. I booked those nights (as the by the time the conference winds down, it’s 2am in the morning and I have to be up by 9am bright and bushy-tailed), and considered my next options.

Thankfully, Rosemont in Chicago has a “few” hotels in the area (mainly because Chicago O’Hare is around the corner), so there are multiple options depending which chain I want to be loyal to... and being myself, I plumped with ICHG.

For the first night I decided that The Crown Plaza was pricing out attractively, so that was a no-brainer and was booked instantly. For the Sunday Night/Monday morning, I decided to flex my AMB status and go for the Intercontinental O’Hare... because I could really. That and a 4pm checkout would dovetail nicely towards my flight home.

See - planning at work!

[img]http://www.gcmap.com/map?P=LHR-ORD-PHL-LHR&MS=bm&MR=540&MX=720x360&PM=*[/img]

To get to London, it’s the usual 2:45 coach from Birmingham to Heathrow, and on the way home - I had a spare train return portion for the Chiltern Railways service. Which is nice.

So Three hotels, Three Flights, 1 coach journeys a train ride and maybe a One-Time Exception.

Alas, not everything went to plan as a hurricane would throw some of this trip into disarray.. Hunker down, get some drinks as I go the AAmerican way...
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Old Nov 20, 12, 5:58 pm   #2
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To Heathrow!

The picturesYes, yes. I may have changed airlines, but I have kept my usual coach schedule - Coach 210 at 02:45 from Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station to Heathrow Central Bus station. Why? Because Heathrow hotels during the weekdays are near enough extortion levels of pricing, and it was £21 for a single on the coach.

Now normally, for a Chicago trip, packing starts a week in advance due to the sheer amount of stuff I need on a trip like this. However, I could only start packing Sunday evening as a lot of my kit was in use elsewhere. So lets just say sleep was low on priority list, and getting everything in the bag was higher. Thankfully, nearly all the stuff was loaded (including a pile of chocolate for my American friends)



UK People - Please don’t give me that look. I’m trying to educate the America’s one step at a time when it comes to Chocolate. This is an improvement to the stuff they call “Hersheys”. In fact.. anything is an improvement over “Hersheys”. Give me time, and I’ll get them onto Belgian or Swiss Chocolate, but for now this is a start...

Thankfully, I made my deadline of 2am to pack and was out of the door at 2:15am, and a taxi rocked up 5 minutes later to take me to the coach station.


My trash at the coach station

There was a short wait as the bus had pulled in from another location, but I was allowed on and my luggage taken from me.

The bus has a very simple stopping pattern - Birmingham Airport, Banbury, Heathrow Central, Heathrow T5, Gatwick South and Gatwick North - forming a connection between the Midlands and the airports of the south.

I boarded the bus, and went for row 2 - the “wheelchair” row which has the most legroom of the bus - something that friends of the bus driver didn’t like (they took the front row - I took the row behind). As a result, I could stretch out for the 2 hour and 30 minute ride to Heathrow. Whilst it’s not great legroom, it’s better than the standard 31” pitch that you have on a plane.



Believe me, this leg room was luxury compared to what was to come....

The coach made its way to BHX, then onto Banbury and Heathrow. I took advantage of the downtime, put some tunes on the phone and slept for most of the journey, only waking up at Banbury and on the approach to Heathrow.

At Heathrow, I bailed out of the coach and collected my items (and seemingly, the last trolley at the Central Bus Station) and begun the great push towards T3. Now considering I’m used to heading to Terminal 1 for United - it’s quite hard changing direction for Terminal 3. The fact is simple however - its a longer push to T3 than T1.

Noticing the changes in lighting from boring white to purple - indicating I was closing in on T3.

To the land of Terminal 3

T3 has been through a major transformation in recent years and has become a bit more “nicer” from the outside. The fact it looks exactly the same as it did in the inside is besides the point.



T3 - External, 5:20 in the morning.



T3 Interior - Nothing has changed really...

I headed for check in, and was interrogated on the way by the security agents. After answering questions I was let through and I checked in. Both of my bags were tagged, and I was given my boarding pass. I was also informed of the lounges I had open to me.

My bags were weighed and taken off me - and I was free to clear security. Thankfully I had Priority AAcess, which granted me access to the fast lane. And fast it was - I was through in 3 minutes flat - and more importantly the Fast Lane exited me beyond the maze that is the Duty Free shop.



Beyond Duty Free.

This is a good thing.

At is was 5:30 in the morning, nothing bar duty free was open. I took that as the opportunity to do a couple of lounge visits.

And having a BA Gold card meant some serious lounge surfing

British Airways Galleries - First Class Lounge

I was welcomed to the lounge, and after my boarding pass and BA Gold Card were accepted. Heading straight into the lounge was the classic Champagne bar.



Now when I get to a lounge, there are priorities - finding somewhere to sit, and food. The first priority was easy as I was the first person in the F lounge that morning.



The empty lounge



Food was a different issue. Now, I should explain here before we go much further that whilst I would love pastry and stuff like that, there is the minor issue of milk inside those items as I’m slowly becoming more intolerant to lactose. This put the pastry items out of touch, and the only items that were around were cold cuts or cereals. No other hot items were around on display. Dissapointing really.





Hmm.



I scared one of my regular readers with this pic

Whilst there was a menu, at 5:40 in the morning there was no-one around to cook it. Because quite frankly a bacon roll was what the doctor could had ordered by that point.



F lounge menu - not that anyone was around to take an order....
After using the net for a bit, there seemed to be more people appearing by 6:15, but I was still hungry - cold cuts do not make a meal (not matter what Lufthansa tries to tell you). I therefore packed my trash and headed to the next lounge

Overall: I’m probably going to get shouted at by BA Frequent Fliers but whilst Champagne may be a necessity to some, decent quality food that is accessible a bigger priority in my book....

After exiting the lounge, I headed back to the main “lounge” corridor in T3 and rocked up to the American Airlines lounges.

Again, I was welcomed, my card taken from me and typed, then I was pointed to the FlAAgship lounge

American Airlines FlAAgship Lounge

This facility is a fair bit smaller than that BA F lounge, but everything was 1) to hand and 2) convenient. I took a seat at a table, and after I had 5 minutes to myself, I was asked if I would like something from the menu. I went for the Eggs Benedict.


Menu and double espresso.

Already out were alcoholic beverages, as well as hot and cold items. It was in a compact format, but that made it ok as things were easy reach.


The width and lenght of the lounge - not large, but not ontop of each other.

After a short while, something very nice smelling appeared.



Eggs Benedict. Yes, I realise that hollandaise sauce has milk in it now. Thankfully I brought some Lactacid whilst out in the states to control the lactose. Didn't suffer that much thankfully from it, so there must had been only a tiny bit of milk in it.

The wireless access speed was very acceptable as I managed to get a few more things done before the flight. The staff in the lounge were friendly, but knew how to keep their distance so you could work in peace.

Just after 7am, the call was made, where the lounge began to empty for the Chicago bound flight. I took my leave at that point too.

The exit


Overall: A much better and proactive service that the BA F lounge. And they had hot food on my table in 5 minutes after waitng for a few minutes. There’s a little hint there BA. Whilst not a large lounge, the service was top notch.

After exiting the lounge, it was a matter of the long hike down to the 30 gates at T3 - which is a fair olde walk/travellator ride.


It's a fair old walk at any speed...

Eventually, I found the gate pen, with what was looking like a solid flight. By the time I had got to the gate, initial boarding had commenced, with families boarding first, then First, then Business and OneWorld Emerald. I took this as my cue to board the plane...


Next: Talk about squeezing them in...

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:04 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:00 pm   #3
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AA099 (Sold as BA1540) – London Heathrow Airport - Chicago O’Hare International
American Airlines, Boeing 777-200ER, Seat 26J, Economy Class
35 Tier Points Earned, 7906 Avios Earned (3,953 Base + 3,953 Bonus)

The Photos: After a short wait on the airbridge, I made my way onto the 777 where I was greeted and directed down the correct isle of the plane.



777’s are odd beasts when it comes to airlines as no one airline has found what it thinks is the “right” configuration. For some it’s the classic 3-3-3. For certain nut-job airlines (including AA when they get their 777-300ER’s), it’s the pain of 3-4-3. There’s ANA who have their 3-4-2 layout... and then there is old United and American who run 2-5-2 in their seating configurations.

I happen to like 2-5-2 as a fan of the 2-4-2 layouts. What I was not expecting however was how tight the legroom would be.




Cabin during boarding.



Home for 8 and half hours.


Legroom.

Now I’m the best part of 5ft 9"/5 ft 10", so economy class is normally not burden for me. This however was a burden and there’s no way to describe this as “tight as hell”.

This didn’t get any better when my seatmate arrived, who wasn’t a passenger of size, but did tend to spread everywhere - from seat to the armrest (over the AVOD remote... thanks), to leg room.

Sigh. Personal space. He’s heard of it.

This 8 hours and 30 minutes upcoming was looking to be a very long flight...

Boarding took its own merry time with a view of a 747-400 being serviced outside.

Eventually the plane was buttoned up and was pushed back near enough on-scheduled. The safety video played and the flight attendants went through the plane, in preparation for departure.

Our departure off runway 9R meant a taxi past Heathrow T5, with the rows of British Airways jets lining up proudly at their hub. As we taxied past T5, FireFly was sat awaiting her next duty.


(The plane that looks like someone threw custard over it - that’s FireFly).

With a small queue for departures, it was about a 3 minute wait to line up for 9R.... and then the power of those engines came online.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t15S-KxQHI4

The plane took to the skies quickly, and begin a quick climb into the air, clearing the low cloud and breaking through to the blue sky and suns rays.



At about 10,000ft the welcoming announcements were made, as well as the service levels on this flight.

Anyway, I had a quick fumble around the IFE system. And whilst its a step up on the United old 777 system (for starter’s there’s this odd thing called AVOD - Audio/Video On Demand), the content was … lacking.

Therefore, we all know what happens next don’t we?

http://pb-i4.s3.amazonaws.com/photos...1737471-17.jpg
AA’s AVOD system at the top - Kevincm’s GhettoIFE solution (featuring iPhone5) in its usual place. And those iPhone5’s are getting a bit wide for those sick bags now. Ho hum... maybe that iPad IFE is coming one day (meanwhile on the screen, it’s Red Dwarf Series 1. Those of you who are old enough will know the theme tune off by heart... )

However, there appeared to be rustling and sounds coming from the galley, and soon enough two trolleys drifted by with the promise of breakfast.

And the offer came of pancakes or omelette. Knowing omelettes have cheese in them, I reluctantly went for the pancakes.







I’ll listen to myself next time to the part of me that says “order a lacto free meal, and drat the possible opup”. Saying that, the Pancakes were pure sugar - but edible sugar. The scrambled eggs were light and fluffyish - not bad by airline standards. The fruit was fresh too.

The addition of a little snack pack is a great idea so you don’t get peckish mid-flight - and most of it was edible. With the scrambled egg, I took the risk... and during the flight, I didn’t suffer. Call it mild-lacto for sake of argument - I’ll live with that.

There were two drink runs - one just before food and one after the food service was complete.

On the 2nd run, I experimented with the table which had a wonderful feature - you could split it in half and half a half table for drinks whilst giving you some room.



Not bad at all here people. If the seat wasn’t so tight, it would be acceptable.

Now by this point, I was exhausted. After the empties were collected, I closed my eyes. The next thing I knew the plane had almost cleared the Atlantic. Now, considering food was cleared down after Ireland, this represents the best part of 5 hours out cold.

I think I’ve got this West-bound travel thing worked out at last!

Looking at the cabin, the 777 cabin is still... a 777 cabin. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with the 777 cabin with the curves giving you space, air vents to keep you cool and the space you get in a widebody jet (unless some idiot installs 3-4-3 seating in them).



The toilets seemed to be clean even 6 hours into the flight (which isn’t a bad thing) and the crew seemed to be a chatty mood - it’s a darn good thing when you’re flying as it seems to lift their moods. Requests for drinks from the galley were met with happily - as was a pen (where I learned where there are safety bins when you don’t think there are in a 777).

The route took us north, following the great circle route, with the usual dips and turns before Chicago.



Sadly, outside it wasn’t what I would call a great day for flying, as cloud seemed to be the order of the day - no matter where i was in the world.



Still as the time closed in on landing, it was time for a snack service - and it was a hot snack service. Coming from United’s “sandwich with mystery meat”, this was going to be different.







The bread thing was tomato and bready - and warm. No cheese of any sort I could detect (although knowing my luck...). The pasta was cold and inoffensive, and the cookie... yep - that had milk, so that went in the bag.

Whilst the United catered meal out of London felt like a picnic, this felt like a warm snack, and that adds extra bonus marks in my book. Again, two rounds of drinks were offered.


We’re onto Red Dwarf X now...

Clear down happened quickly enough and after watching the map for so long, Lake Michigan came into view as decent begun. The Welcome to America video was run (the same one run in Customs and Border Patrol area), and arrival information was posted




Clearing the East side of Lake Michigan and over the blue.

A final clear down was made, and soon enough, decent began, crossing over the West side of Lake Michigan, and down over the Chicago suburbs



The plane lined up and soon enough the plane touched down.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqtWsUSsbF0

As we pulled into O’Hare it was obvious we had arrived to the far side of the T1, so it was a slow taxi past T1, over the bridge past T3 and finally coming into to T5 at Chicago O’Hare. The plane took its time, but we arrived 30 minutes early as the bongs to release the seatbelts were made.

Mr lack of personal space finally got up and I managed to recover my bag, and made my way off the 777 thanking the crew and captain

Overall: I’m fast concluding that going over the pond, flying in economy is fast turning into a glorified bus with a bit of food if you’ve been good. Saying that the service offered by American was of good quality and reasonable enough service… if missing some little things (like walking up and down the isle with water). But those seats are just a touch tight for my liking…

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:15 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:02 pm   #4
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After getting off the plane, I know the one rule for any flight arriving into the USA - and it’s such a simple one. High tail it to immigration.

With this arrival time, the early morning bank from the far east would be now cleared, leaving the early morning European arrivals - and if I wanted to be seen before 11am, it was a case of run to immigration

Set-up in the immigration hall (the one that’s on the side of gates M1-M10) has changed, with The US queue, The Foreign Nationals and Foreign nationals with connecting flights queue. Dread the thought, CBP is finally getting the hint that people change planes at O’Hare and that they need to be speeded along.

This had a slightly negative impact as there were 2 officers handling final destination passengers into Chicago. This was expanded into 3 officers eventually - although a glance behind me when I got to the head of the queue showed that the switchbacks were starting to fill up badly - showing once again that the CBP have trouble getting a grasp of the situation

And that’s why I ran to the to the CBP Zone.

I was called forward, and handed over my passport. The usual pleasantries of right hand, right thumb, and the questioning was done. A check on what duty free I brought was made (none), a scribble one the customs form was made, and I was allowed to go on my way.

I reassembled my stuff (as my rucksack had already made it out and in the priority luggage section, with the ski-bag deciding to come out when it chose. It was then time to run the gauntlet with customs, whom let me through.

Well that wasn’t too bad.



At 10:30, I exited the secure area, 25 minutes after touching down. And that proves that running early for immigration if you’re not a US Resident can speed life up.

After making a few calls to see if the office was intact, and that I had arrived safe, it was time to deal with the bit I never enjoy dealing with at Chicago O’Hare - Dealing with the taxis at the airport. The amount of fun I have with them normally is enough to make my head spin when it comes to dealing with Airport hotels.

After one decided to turn up, it was a case of directing the driver where to go.... as usual.

Thankfully, it was south on North River Road, past the Hyatt where I normally am, and to the Crowne Plaza O’Hare.

Hotel: Crowne Plaza O’Hare



I'm trying this new idea out: taking pictures of hotel exteriors in daylight. I doubt this will continue for many more trip reports...

The pictures:

I was here many years ago before shifting to the Hyatt Regency O'Hare, and this hotel if I’m blunt... hasn’t changed a bit in 4 years - which isn’t’ a bad thing in many respects. It’s a nice enough property compared to some.


Reception

I was welcomed at check in and my rate confirmed. I was asked how long I was staying in the area and asked if I wanted to extend my stay (and try and steal my business from the Hyatt). My wallet wanted to say yes, but my brain said no as I was looking at 2am finishes on Friday and Saturday nights.

I was issued my keycards, a voucher for a drink at the bar, and that was it. No upgrade or anything. On the rate I’m on - I’m not arguing.

I toted my bags to the room to be greeted with this for a room


Bed


Desk


Tea and coffee facilities


Shower and Bath


Washbasin

The bed was acceptable – i.e. I could lie in it and feel like I’m not being consumed by the mattress - that and I got a reasonable nights sleep on it when the time came. The air conditioning appeared to work ok, and it had BBC America – which had a distinct lack of political adverts. The tea/coffee facilities worked well, and the shower seemed to as well too.

All these things work for me.

However, the point of an early flight is to check into the hotel, get sorted, test stuff works and then go into town to sort stuff out… and that’s what I did.

Whilst the hotel isn’t that far from Rosemont CTA station, a shuttle back to the airport was about to depart when I reached reception. I took it.

The shuttle worked well again on the return from downtown, with the shuttle keeping to scheduling (picking up at the bus terminal at O'Hare), and dropping me back at the hotel in relative comfort.

Check-out the next was handled swiftly, with confirmation of rates and no extras. I then toted my luggage to the nearest taxi to go ½ a mile to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare (and got conned in the process).

Overall: It’s not a bad hotel, but its not a memorable hotel - however for the price paid, I’m not arguing.

The room was clean, functional and allowed me to have a good nights rest - all I can ask for really. An upgrade would had been nice, but as we all know Priority Club Platium means nothing at all really - apart from major point earning.

And no, you really don’t want to know how much I paid. I have some secrets after all...
[/b]

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:15 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:05 pm   #5
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Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare
Rate paid: $120++

Taken on the L heading into town. Like you can miss it anyway… (and yes, taken in daylight)

After being conned $10 for a 3 minute ride (Rosemont Cabs… bunch of…), I was at the front door of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. After being greeted a bit roughly, I was met by the one of the usual doorman who greeted me warmly as he seemed to remember me.

Well, this is my usual haunt in Chicago…

My bags were taken off me, and it was up to the reception level where my perks were confirmed, and a 2pm checkout on the Sunday was offered (and taken), and 3 keys were cut for the room as I would have someone staying with me during the time I was at the Hyatt.

Initially, I was due to placed in the Executive Wing. Whilst this is a nice idea in principle, it’s a fair olde hike last thing at night when you’ve been busy. I requested (and got) a change to the main atrium, with a downtown view offered.

It also means I get access to a Double-Double room, on the 10th floor, with a balcony. This is equally important, because when you’ve got planes on approach and landing, it kind of helps with no glass and a camera with a zoom lens.

Again, I was greeted by the usual doorman who carted my luggage for me, and checked everything was ok.

Lets look at the room then. And if you’ve missed my previous mumblings about the basic Double-Double Room at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare… well, here it is again!

Going to the room on the 10th Floor, City View it was pleasant enough. Key access was via a RFID card (swish), and this has a lovely feature in that they don’t de-magnetise as often as the old magnetic keycards.



The room itself had two double beds in it (hence the name: a double double) and as usual, the beds darn comfortable – just the right balance of firmness and softness. Well the beds must had been good – I had trouble rousing my friend more often than not…



The work area was appointed as usual, and also on the work area was a card saying who prepared the room, and what facilities the hotel had to offer in case I’ve forgotten things (thankfully I didn’t, but still – a very nice touch)







Wall art - it's a United Express Avro/BAe146 Regional jet. Bless.

The Bathroom is your typical Hyatt Bathroom. And haters will hate when I say the following words.

White Ginger.

Me? I love the stuff. I know that a lot of my brethren however would rather head to Walgreens and pick up… well… anything other than that stuff. Still, the shower was plenty powerful, and it did the job waking me up.

Housekeeping were efficient, with rooms tidied and put back in a good condition each day, and all toiletries restocked (a little bugbear of mine).

And there’s one good reason to get a room with a city view on a high floor.



Internet connectivity was provided by the hotel – and was free for the basic package, with a paid for option. I went for the free package which was great… except in the International Level Convention Centre in the basement.

Which is where I tend to spend a lot of time during that weekend. Yes, I could pay for internet access, but I’ve paid once already through the hotel room already.

Speaking of the convention services team – once again the team did an amazing job. The staff at this level are professional to the point of being great, with humour and understanding of how to get things done.

Their assistance and knowledge was called on a couple of times – once when my CD Writer decided that the USB port that was soldered on it wanted to fall off… and once when… well. I’ll get to that bit soon enough.

Other hotels services like the hotel shuttle worked great when needed (with appropriate pick-ups and drop-offs being done as needed) , with the staff being friendly and courteous.

Check out was done quickly, with the hotel room paid part cash/part plastic with no unexpected items on the bill.

Overall: After a little dip a year or so ago, things are improving at this hotel. The staff remain its greatest asset, and the rooms still have the great Hyatt quality. Internet access remains an issue at this property – least of all I object paying $25 a day for something that’s in my room rate.

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:19 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:09 pm   #6
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Time for a One Time Exception. For those of you new to these trip reports, a One-Time Exception is something that has nothing to with flying, but things to do on the ground, focusing on cheapish activities or tall buildings. This section got its name from a trip to Seoul I did some time ago... and it changed my writing for the better as it introduced a proper travel dynamic as opposed to just a flying blog.

Or something like that.

One-Time Exception - From Addison to Downtown on the L... the scenic way.
Price $2.25


During my trip, I had need to head to Addison to pick up some bits and bobs for my friends. On the way out, I took the Blue and Red Line – which is one hell of a boring way to do things. On the way back however, I decided to go a slower – and much more scenic way (and also end up in a part of town I needed to be in).

Picking up a Red Line Train at Addison, you’re greeted with Wrigley Field in the background.







Passenger information screen carrying information as opposed to adverts.

Wait long enough and eventually a train might arrive.

[youtube width=560" height=315]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NokuebrkVDA[/youtube]

With only a couple of stops between this and my change point, I stood up, watching the world go by


I love how they still build exterior stairs out of wood…

As the train pulled into Fullerton, I took my leave of the Red Line service as I needed to be elsewhere on around the Loop (and avoid the State Street Subway). This is where I made the switch to the Brown Line


Brown line to the Loop…

Going this way, you are running a lot slower than the Red Line, but you do get some great views on the way, whilst seeing the differences between the downtown core and parts of the city that are just a mile or less away.




on a curve








Of course, to get to the Loop, this route also gives a great view of the Chicago River and the downtown core.









As I needed get out at Washington and Wells (as I needed to get to the Boeing store to pick up a few things for people), I left the train here.

Overall: For the price of a CTA fare ($2.25), there are some great views to be had from a tourist's perspective and if read around the stops and the areas, local history too.

The fact I got to where I needed to be is the point of public transit... and a system that almost works.

Now you'll notice that the weather was overcast in these photos. Later, it turned into cold rain. And headed west to meet a hot heat of a Superstorm... or what the press on Saturday were calling a Frankenstorm.

Its name - one that a lot of people would rue - Sandy.

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:22 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:12 pm   #7
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I have this nasty habit when aboard to stick either to CNN or when in Chicago watch NBC a lot - for me, its part of “being connected to the world”. And the news reports of Sandy and the devastation that storm was bringing.

I watched with interested with the path, and took no notice in the beginning. On Friday, the path began to change and headed for the East Coast.

There was a nagging thought in the back of my mind, but I dismissed it...

Saturday, 27th October

I was watching the box and was slowly aware of Hurricane Sandy’s path. Looking at it, it looked like it would be rough, but I would make it out ok on the Monday with the proposed route via Philadelphia.

That thought changed quickly when my friends who live in Jersey City (who were also in Chicago at the same time) they were told to evacuate from their residence as soon as possible

Putting 2 and 2 together in my brain, I realised that getting out on the itinerary I had (ORD-PHL-LHR) could become very troublesome without pro-actively doing something about it.

It was a quick shift to the British Airways site, and I noted an advisory was in progress already which would allow me to change flights.

Reluctantly, I picked up my US phone (I was glad I got that little cheap flipphone a this point), and dialled the 1-800 number. Within 6 minutes, my call was answered and I explained the situation to the operator. I was offered flights a day earlier - departing the Sunday as opposed to the Monday - and was offered a choice of the 09:00, 18:00 or 21:30 flight out of ORD to LHR directly. As I had cause to remain in the ORD until the evening, I plumped for the 21:30 flight, and hope the flight wouldn’t be too bumpy.

No charges were made for the change and I put the phone down, thinking I had beaten the storm.

At this point, I also gave a call to the InterContinental Hotel O’Hare as there was no point in keeping the room at this point, and release it to someone who might actually need it.

The changes were reflected in my booking (as I was monitoring the changes through MyFlights), and all looked good.

OLCI came and went and I plumped for a seat in the back of the plane. Closing the seat map, I thought that would be the end of it.

Boy was I wrong.

Sunday 28th October 15:33.

I had finished packing up from a good weekend and catching a lot of friends when a text message hit my phone. My fun mood that I had dropped at that moment when I saw this:



The words that came out of my mouth were none too polite at this point.

It was a case of pulling out the laptop and dialing the 1-800 number again. This time the hold time was long. Very long as everyone else was racing to rebook.

Lets put it like this: I had time to:
  • Have a coffee
  • Go to Walgreens in Shiller Park and back
  • Discover the joy of LactAcid! (that stuff has improved life a tiny bit)
  • Have another coffee
  • Check my mail and flight stats multiple times
Whilst on hold I got another message from British Airways – one that made me glad I picked up the phone when I did…


Now delayed to 10:00+1 - that’s 10:00am Monday…

A quick check using the BA App confirmed the bad news:



My motivation to hold suddenly increased at that point. The BA site was jammed at that moment, so all I could do was wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Finally, 1 hours and 20 minutes later my call was answered.

After a discussion of what had gone wrong, the agent pulled up my file, and saw what he could do - he could put me on an AA flight out of ORD THAT NIGHT at 22:45. I checked if it was the only option. The agent’s advice was simple “Hang around - you’ll get stuck”.

I took that as a sign to take the flight.

The agent offloaded from BA296 and switched me to AA98, and reissued my ticket, so I could check in at the airport. The changes reflected within seconds in my booking as MyFlights alerted me to the changes



1 hour 30, I pressed the hang up button, with only a $9 charge hitting my little AT&T flipphone.

Best $9 I’ve ever spent.

Breathing a bit more of a sigh of relief, I thanked my friends who were looking after me, thanked the conference manager (who was preparing another room for me on the conference rate I was on), and I headed up to the hotel reception, so I could high-tail it to O’Hare.

There I saw a shuttle was heading for the airport. I took it. Being only person aboard - it was straight to T3.

Overall: This is where customer service comes into its own with exceptional circumstances at play. Whilst the waits were long, British Airways did one of the most important things they could – that was to get me home in a timely and safe manner – even if it meant sending me via a oneworld partner.

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:25 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:16 pm   #8
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The photos:

The shuttle driver drove directly to T3, and as I was the only person aboard, it was a painless thing. After exiting the shuttle, it was time to find out where in this terminal I could check in.

T3: Pre-Security



After wandering around T3 with my bags a bit, I headed over to a set of international check in desks where I was received. My bags were accepted, with the rucksack being a fair few lbs over (the exact same amount as the ski bag was under).

And I had to pay the $60 to get it on the plane. Grr. Oh well. I’ve got a seat on the flight home. Mustn’t grumble.

Reluctantly, I paid up.

I was assigned in Row 20 in the middle block and sent on my way (as the agent didn’t bother to ask me if I’d like an isle or a window seat).

So yes, poor first impression there of AA at one of their hubs

I headed over to security to deal with the joy of that wonderfully organised force – the Transportation Security Administration - and headed to a queue without a nude-o-scope in it.

Meanwhile in front of me was a family who failed to get to grips with what to carry in their bags and what size liquids they couldn’t carry. People eh?

Still, I was cleared quickly enough, and after taking my time putting my shoes on and my laptop in the bag (that’s a challenge with the amount of crap that was in that bag too), I went on my way.

The next challenges were simple: Duty Free, and a lounge. It was time to go into the hallowed atrium bit, which has had the world flags removed and replaced by Breast Cancer Awareness flags



Obviously, I had a small amount of duty free to get, which was purchased without any problem (including my favourite tipple of the moment – Smirnoff Vodka with Cinnamon and gold flakes… don’t look at me in that tone of voice. I happen to like it…), which would be delivered at the gate.



With that all done, it was time to head off to the FlAAgship lounge and rest for a bit after the madness of the past few hours trying to get a flight home.



Lounge Stop: American Airlines FlAAgship Lounge

I was welcomed into a very quiet lounge, and presented my boarding pass and Gold card. After being granted access, I asked about my seat assignment, and if there was an open window seat.

A bit of fiddling, and I was placed in Row 20G – the bulkhead row.

Now, I had 3 hours to check Seatguru out. Did I? No. I’d pay for that for the flight home…

However what I did instead was enjoy the lounge. Now, its not exactly “large” compared to some lounges, but it’s 1) functional, 2) quiet and 3) Has food in it.

Because, we all know that TATL food in economy can be… lacking (there – a nice term rather than saying the catering can be awful).

Lets have a look around…



Food section



Fruits and cakes



Cheese and crackers



Cruets, Salad, Hot Items (Sausage, potato bits, meat skewers)





Cajun Chicken Gumbo

Meanwhile on the drinks side...







Californian Fizzy Bubbles. They were passable.

The food and beverage selection were a lot better than a lot of lounges I've been in the USA. But as this lounge had so few people in it (as FlAAgship lounges are targeted at First Class passengers), it's not difficult to see why.

Saying that, the lounge was quiet. And I mean very quiet.





WiFi was operated by AT&T and was of a good strength and speed.



And the lounge itself… was very very quiet. For a Sunday, I would had thought there would had been more people flying out – but I was wrong. In total, I counted 10 people go through the lounge.

There were the usual features of a lounge - a business area (sponsored by HP), Food, washrooms and plenty of seating, with TV screens for those who wanted them... and areas without them for people who didn't need them.

Speaking of the mens...



The Mens was also a severe weather shelter...



and lots of soap.

The washroom was clean and well maintained and, the lounge offered quiet environment before having to go out to the real world.

And eventually at 22:05, a call was made to the lounge that Flight 98 to London was boarding. I took that as my cue to leave.

I thanked the staff and went on my way.

Overall: A peaceful lounge in a hive of activity. Just what you need sometimes. Whilst a bit small, it is well formed for its needs and is one of the better lounges. Shame they can't deliver this to the basic lounges in the USA...

I headed back to the gate slowly, taking my time.

On approach to the gate, the call was made for Oneworld elites to board - that was my cue to head to the line. I got to the line, and handed over my boarding pass where a red light came on.

Had I been upgraded? Had I been denied boarding?

Another agent came over and told me I had simply been moved to the other side of the plane, in the same row - still in a window seat.

One thing I suppose.

I collected my duty free.. and headed to the plane for the last flight of this journey.

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:33 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:22 pm   #9
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AA098 (Sold as BA1547) – London Heathrow Airport - Chicago O’Hare International
American Airlines, Boeing 767-300, Seat 20A, Economy Class
35 Tier Points Earned, 7906 Avios Earned (3,953 Base + 3,953 Bonus)


The pictures:

I boarded the plane to be greeted with a 2 class 767. The crew was friendly as I headed down past business class to be greeted with Economy Class.


And I thought I stepped back into the early 90’s


The state of the plane was not what I’d call premium down the back.... and Row 20 was a bulkhead. That was the good news. The plane however itself had seen better days.


I got to the seat and settled down to inspect the state of play... and lets say it wasn’t what I’d call excellent.


Even though there was an exit row at a bulkhead, whilst there was a little more room than a normal Y seat, it was tightish (a lot of the bulkhead people had feet on them in flight - something I wouldn’t do).
legroom


The seat controls were something from the last ice age, with dials and such. Obviously, IFE was limited to Big Screen IFE - another throwback to the past.



Well.. big screen may be a lie.



IFE “controls”



IFE Screen - a Quick journey allegedly.


The seat however wasn’t in great condition, with bits of it falling off... quite literally.



During boarding, someone who was too tall for their seat requested to be moved forward... and he did pre-takeoff to the middle of the bulkhead row. We’ll come back to him in a bit.


Soon enough the plane was buttoned down, and begun pushback for the hop back over to London. I noted where the staff sat, which was a new one on a 767 - the flight attendant seats were in the isle. Now whilst there are adequate exits on a 767 (I was next to one of them), I’ve got to say “huh?” I always thought keeping isles clear was a key safety thing.


Take off was its usual 767 self.

]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ddjw1G2K8s

Now the gentleman in the middle seat in the bulkhead row started reaching for his waste bag as we begun our climb. When I reach for one, i’m building a GhettoIFE system. When someone else reaches for one... its 9/10 times to use it as a biological hazard cleanup tool.

Thankfully, the gentleman failed to expel what was in his body with AA staff reaching for plastic bags and other things , and the plane continued to climb out of Chicago.





Milwaukee I think…

By this point, my seatmate was fast asleep, and Mr Tall who was sat in the middle row had gone to the bathroom, and then to the exit row behind my seatmate.

Even though this is a last flight of the night service, there was a meal service to come. Lets look if Chicago catering by AA is any good... or not.


Tray out in preparation

As usual, it’s a chicken or pasta choice.


Tray




Roll


Out of focus salad. Note the tomato - at least AA are trying...


Cola and cake - yes, I ran out of room. Again.

The chicken was edible if forgettable - it was easy to cut and filled a small hole. The salad was fresh at least, and the addition of cheese and crackers (whilst I didn’t touch them) was a nice touch. The cookie for dessert... well you all know my opinion of that anyway.

Not a bad meal, but nothing exciting.

Still the tray was cleared away another drinks run was done, and the cabin went into darkness for the flight. I took advantage of the darkness and watched a bit of my own non iPhone IFE (as there was no way the headphone I had would had reached the bulkhead.)


I know all about not being a number... however that’s how airlines see me as... (Patrick McGoghan is The Prisoner)

Even that didn’t keep me awake, and I descended into sleep for a bit - even after fumbling around for a lack of recline button on my seat.

Daybreak came soon enough as it always does on a Transatlantic hop and soon enough I woke up to a dark cabin and a complete lack of guessing where I was (there was some silly reality TV programme on that made me want to ponder the meaning of existence when I woke up).

Soon enough, a breakfast service rocked up.





Well. Hmm. Yoghurt. That’s instant pain in a pot (and all of you know of my love of fermented milk - especially with the lacto now). The croissant was a bit.. chewy but warm. At least the orange juice tasted of orange juice (believe me, some airlines make that a challenge).

I picked away at it for a bit, before giving up on breakfast as a bad idea... well - on any Transatlantic flight. Sadly, old Continental Routes seem to have the best breakfast going.

And you don’t know how painful it is to type that.

Breakfast was cleared down, and our route took us over the north of England.





Eventually we were placed in a stack and after a few loops, we were brought in on a river approach.


Stacking


River approach


Finally, the wheels were extended and we made it down onto 09R, ending the flying part of this adventure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqR5XpEx_B4

It was then a reasonably long taxi over to T3 and we were gated nearer to the terminal and passenger processing. Soon enough the doors were opened, and after a minor stumble on the way out as people were taking their own sweet time getting of the plane as usual.

I thanked the crew, and left the plane for the final schlep of this journey – back to my home.

Overall: What was I saying about glorified buses across the pond in the first half of this? Feels like this again, except the equipment needs work – serious work – to bring it up to its competitors. This is a case of “can do better” here AA. Whilst the service was solid and the food products was good, the state of the plane really can’t be excused when other operators (lets say United) tidy up their plane in all classes.

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:44 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:25 pm   #10
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The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/11/07/


Towards the border

As I was heading to the UK Border, I wasn’t in that much of a rush - so it was a gentle walk to T3 processing.

I noticed for once IRIS was open, and I went through the tensa-barriers to it. I looked into IRIS... where it promptly crashed when I tried to get through.

After pressing the exit plunger, I was called over to a manual desk where I confirmed I was registered for IRIS, and told to use e-passport gate next time.

I was then let on my way into the United Kingdom and onto baggage claim downstairs.

By the time I arrived downstairs, luggage delivery had commenced, with my bags on the belt. I hefted them off, popped them on a trolley and cleared UK Customs.


Never gets lighter....

After exiting to the joy of T3, there comes another joy - and that’s the joy of getting out of Heathrow. As I had a held return train ticket (and I didn’t want to pay another penny to National Express), I headed down to Heathrow Central Train station, and missed a Heathrow Connect service by a minute. Grumbling, I paid up for a Heathrow Express ticket - the full £19.

Heathrow Express - Heathrow Central - London Paddington
Class 332 - Express Class
£19

Yes, I know only a fool pays full price for Heathrow Express, but by this point, I just wanted to be heading in the direction of home.

I managed to get onboard the service, and relaxed for the 15 minute ride on the Great Western Mainline Fast lines to Paddington Station.


Speeding down the GWML.

The train itself was in good condition, with all the amenities you’d expect.


Including the small room.

There was a full ticket inspection too, so no one got away without paying.

Soon enough, Old Oak Common reared up on one side, and North Pole Depot on the other - indicating we were closing in on Paddington.


Old Oak Common TMD, with a Great Western Intercity 125 waiting

By the time the train was passing the Western Approach, I was up and ready to go.

Overall: Still one of the most expensive train journeys... bar none really. Still, it did the job getting me to Paddington. But £19 still....

From Platform 6, it was a slow drag towards Platform 12 and the taxi queue. There was no wait for a cab for the £6 ride to Marylebone, and soon enough, I was outside Marylebone station putting my luggage back on on back.

After entering a station, a train to Birmingham been called. Perfect timing as always, I headed to barrier with a rather crumpled ticket (which was still valid much to the ticket inspectors disgust), and I boarded the train.

Chiltern Railways London Marylebone - Birmingham Snow Hill
Class 168
Return portion held.

Today I boarded the first train heading out of Marylebone - a “slow” service that would take 1 hours and 50 minutes to get Birmingham. Ordinarily, I’d prefer a faster service, but this service helped as it dropped me off at Snow Hill station, which would be an easier place to navigate to a taxi, rather than Moor Street Station and the revised Birmingham Road network.

The train did its thing, and sped me along England’s Green and Pleasant land to Snow Hill station (with more stops than I’m used to, but I’ll live with it as it will make my journey easier).



AS it was off peak (and half term), the train remained relatively empty.





Soon enough, the train begun the approach to Birmingham Moor Street, then its final stop - Birmingham Snow Hill (the business district of Birmingham)



From there it was a final drag of all my stuff from the bottom of Snow Hill station, up the escalator, through the barrier with another look disgust having a dog-eared ticket and into another cab to take me the final couple of miles home to my front door.


Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:47 pm
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Old Nov 20, 12, 6:42 pm   #11
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Oh Sandy.

Let it never be said that my travels aren't without incident - either with me loosing something, getting something stolen, or a hurricane deciding to cause havoc.

As I got home, I saw the devastation the storm did, and it was heartbreaking to see what was happening.

I contacted my friends, who were ok at least - and had managed to get their cat out safely. For others, its a long rebuild and clean up - one I'm sure the New York/New Jersey recover from. The damage will be repaired, but it was sad to see what had happened in Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Virginia, DC, New York and New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New England, and parts of Canada.

So I'd urge to to donate to one of the charities who are supporting efforts in these areas - long after the cameras have gone.

I considered myself lucky to be where I was, and had the chance to get out whilst I could.

Lets do some summing up then.
  • British Airways: Ok, the F Lounge whilst comfortable was a bit crap in terms of service. However, the BA Reservations team came into their own when I needed to change the flights to avoid Sandy - managing to put me on a flight home (twice), and they get top marks for that - even for the 1 hour and 15 minute wait.
  • American Airlines: Well, that was a bit different compared to the United runs. Certainly the food and beverage product is a lot strong than United, but the seating was universally awful in economy - from the tight thing they call 32" on those 777's to the very tight bulkhead seats on those 767's. Not perfect, but a way to get from A to B... I suppose.
  • Crown Plaza O'Hare: Did the job for the night. That's all I ask... and considering how much I paid (and got in Priority Club Reward points), I'm not exactly complaining.
  • Hyatt Regency O'Hare: They did a great job as usual - and it seems that hotel is improving in terms of getting things right in terms of customer service. There are little kinks, but a good job by them as usual. The conference team there again did a marvellous job supporting me during my event.

And that's that for this trip. Comments and Feedback are always welcome.

But I can't leave you dangling on a string about my next adventure. Surely there is something more? Well look at the map below:


Map - Great Circle Mapper - GCmap.com

Join me in To Hong Kong: For the LOVE of Avios with Swiss and British Airways - coming very soon

Last edited by Kevincm; Nov 20, 12 at 6:54 pm
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Old Nov 21, 12, 6:08 am   #12
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevincm View Post
[/url]

I scared one of my regular readers with this pic
Yes you did. Unfortunately by the look of the rest of your TR karma more than rebalanced things by giving you a less than stellar journey on either leg. Sorry about that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevincm View Post
[/url]
That's an unfortunate label to leave in the gents. It was MSP they caught Larry Craig in anyway, so I'm unconvinced it was necessary.

Good to see BA saw you right in the end. Do you feel being a GCH helped? I didn't get that sense from your report. At least you were unaffected by Sandy, travel plans aside. I spent that week at a conference in Okinawa (787 TR coming soon!) with someone who spent most of her time charting Sandy's progress via facebook as it slowly blew away parts of New Jersey (where she'd left her dog with her uncle) and as the waterline raised itself towards her apartment in the East Village of NYC.
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Old Nov 21, 12, 1:38 pm   #13
  
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Great report... and I'm glad my little App could play a useful part in it
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Old Nov 21, 12, 3:41 pm   #14
  
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great report my fellow brummie. always enjoy trip report with photos. sometimes I do wonder if we are the only brummie on FT.

can't wait till the next one.
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Old Nov 21, 12, 3:52 pm   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Weean View Post
Yes you did. Unfortunately by the look of the rest of your TR karma more than rebalanced things by giving you a less than stellar journey on either leg. Sorry about that.
I'll get you next time

Quote:
Originally Posted by Weean View Post
That's an unfortunate label to leave in the gents. It was MSP they caught Larry Craig in anyway, so I'm unconvinced it was necessary.
Well it is a FlAAgship lounge. It's meant to be the best stuff

Quote:
Originally Posted by Weean View Post
Good to see BA saw you right in the end. Do you feel being a GCH helped? I didn't get that sense from your report. At least you were unaffected by Sandy, travel plans aside. I spent that week at a conference in Okinawa (787 TR coming soon!) with someone who spent most of her time charting Sandy's progress via facebook as it slowly blew away parts of New Jersey (where she'd left her dog with her uncle) and as the waterline raised itself towards her apartment in the East Village of NYC.
To be honest, I didn't ring the gold lines - I just rung the number that was in the txt message/email. If I had thought to ring the gold line... who knows. Maybe I would had gained 30 minutes or so... or be able to fly out on the Monday direct from ORD.

I think the Gold card helped to put me on the top of the queue to be rebooked though - I imagine if I had no cards, I'd be waiting.

I hope your friend is ok and managing to get back to normal after the floods.

Thanks Weean

Quote:
Originally Posted by schofs View Post
Great report... and I'm glad my little App could play a useful part in it
Ahh. It's a bloody useful App - as well as seat monitoring, ticket and segment monitoring too!

Thanks schofs

Quote:
Originally Posted by luxury_travel View Post
great report my fellow brummie. always enjoy trip report with photos. sometimes I do wonder if we are the only brummie on FT.

can't wait till the next one.
Ah.. There are a few of us luxury_travel, but they all like to keep in hiding I suspect.

I've just started another trip today, and my first comments are
  • Servisair has done up the BHX lounge AGAIN?
  • Swiss Cannabis Ice Tea. That ends all arguments.

Glad you enjoyed luxury_travel
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