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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:05 pm   #1
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The Last Push! 700TP to BA Gold with AA and Openskies in C!

The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
Featuring American Airlines, OpenSkies, Air France and Eurostar

Hello Flyertalk friends. It's been a while. No, I haven't forgotten you - I'm here less often since the BMI Board has been locked and bolted... That and doing more in my life sometimes allow for accidents like not posting trip reports. I'll try and post a few more this year (especially since there's a 100 image/post rule). However, I will cut some bits that are pure and utter faff... because there are some things that just aren't good to write... or belong here. I'll write lots... because it still keeps me sane and you questioning what sanity I have.

No, I haven't changed much. Long may it continue


Why do I do this to myself? (The introduction)

The Shiny Gold Card of course is the sole reason why I am putting myself through this pain once more it seems. Its benefits are both quantifiable and tangible to me (in terms of lounge and luggage, but in also when I've been a scrape or two), so I face a tier point run to get this in Gold Card in the bag for 2014 and be done with it.

For those outside the BA scheme, BA uses Tier Points and Avios in their programme. Avios is the miles you earn for flying on a plane, shopping, etc. whilst Tier Points are used as the qualification method to get the shiny oneworld cards of Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. The longer you fly and the better class you fly, the more Tier Points you earn.

I had been toying with tier point runs, which involved the Club World London City Route (with varying degrees of success on pricing it - only to face massive fuel surcharges). At one point I was considering a cheap trip on any airline to the USA, for a positioning run to San Juan and back (and probably back again).

Then Iberia dropped a fare - €999 Return to the USA in Business Class from France, with most West Coast destinations available with a change in New York, Miami, Chicago or stopoff points.

This is very important for me, as West Coast destinations are past the 2000 mile magical point marker if changing in New York or Miami, meaning provided the fare was booked in the right ticketing bucket, I would net a total of 700 Tier Points.

So, with trepidation, and a bit of good luck, I decided to attack the Iberia website.

And whichever person designed this rubbish excuse of a website needs to be taken away and hung, drawn and quartered. Repeatedly.

User friendliness is all well and good, but it was bailing left right and centre, telling me no matches were found, and any other excuse under the sun.

In the first few attempts to book the ticket, I tried to use Google Chrome with Auto-translate to help me out. This, whilst a good idea in principle, and got me part way through (without Google screwing up the translations... much), but it did like to collapse when you blew at it the wrong way, or tried to actually make the booking engine do anything.

In the end, I decided to see how much of Secondary School French I could use (studied until I was 14 - I preferred German to French as a foreign language to study), and crossed my fingers with the flights. This was equally important, as I needed to force I/A/A/I ticket earnings buckets as opposed to I/I/I/I earning.

What's the difference?
  • I/A/A/I=140 + 210 + 210 + 140=700 Tier Points
  • I/I/I/I=140 + 140 + 140 + 140=560 Tier Points
As I need 685 tier points to wrap up my renewal, this means I needed to target 2-class flights whilst in the USA (operated with First and Coach), and praying aiming for AA marketed and operated flights as opposed to Iberia code-shared flights (as they would had pushed the fare into I).

I also wanted some spice with the trip, so I decided the last segment had to be something interesting - and I got it in the form of British Airways... but not in the form that most of us know it as.

BA has a unit called OpenSkies - set up in 2008 as an open access airline to utilise the open-skies pact between the USA and the EU. Whilst its been through multiple changes (from merging with L'Avion, Going from a 3 class product to a Business only product, back to a 3 class product), it's another one of those airlines that use a 757 over the pond in an odd configuration.

And I like odd. Heck, you've seen some of the routings I've had to do things in the past .

Of course, I was silly enough to book the OpenSkies flight from NEWARK. Which means a Four-hour and Fifty Minute transit through JFK, Manhattan to New York. This can only go one way.

And I'm not referring to the words "good" or "well".

Anyway. That's the core of the flights done (although the pain of the ticket was bigger than I'm letting on - I'll explain later what Iberia did...). Now the positioning in and positioning back bit.

For positioning in, I've got a choice: either go in via Eurostar or catch a plane from Birmingham to CDG. With me working the day before, there's only one choice on the cards - fly in.

However, this brings up one of the conundrums of pricing engines. I first queried the Air France booking engine, which gave me a wonderful £260 Premium Economy class fare.

Umm. No.

However, the flight is code-shared with FlyBe... who offered the fare at £50 on an Essentials fare.

So. Do I spend £50 or £260? What do you think? (although in fairness, FlyBe was pricing the premium economy ticket at a stonking £270. I honestly give up with fare engines these days).

Getting back would be an interesting dilemma - mainly as I would be arriving back at Paris-Orly, which leaves 3 options on the table:
  1. Wait for a flight from Orly, and trek back to Birmingham via Heathrow
  2. Head back to Charles De Gaulle, and either catch a direct flight to Birmingham or to Heathrow, trekking back to Birmingham
  3. Catch a Eurostar to St Pancras, and home via the train.
Not all bad options, but there was a simple fact emerging that in terms of time, I would end up in Birmingham about 5pm no matter which route I selected.

Therefore I chose comfort over airports, and selected Eurostar as my choice of transport back to the UK. This would provide a reasonable connection back St Pancras, and onto Marylebone for the onward train journey home. At an all-in cost of £40 for the train €10 to transfer from Orly to Paris-Nord (and a spare return ticket for onward travel to Birmingham), it works out favourably in terms of time and cost.

And besides, I wouldn't be hamstrung with any silly restrictions on luggage and stuff...

Hotels were a much more difficult matter - I can't remember the last time I've spent a solid 5 days at one location.

The overnight in Paris was originally going to be a Holiday Inn (especially when they launched a cheap UK+EU sale for £25/£35 a night)... except that the hotel I wanted had conveniently "opted out" of the offer. Which was rather annoying.

Thankfully, the Accor Group came to the rescue with a 40% off sale and a night in the Ibis CDG (which is on the CDG property) for £51 all in.

For the first night in San Francisco, it would be wasted if I head downtown (as lets face it - after 17 hours of travel, I'll be cream crackered and only fit for the bed in the hotel). I've therefore gone and splurged on a Hyatt - the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport... on points. Mainly as I've cooled dramatically on Hyatt brand since my last experience at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare, and that prices were $200 a night. 8000 points is near enough reasonable value for that - that and after my last Hyatt stay - it would be a chance for the brand to "redeem" itself (even though my expectations have been set reasonably low).

For the main stay in San Francisco, I wanted a property close to Union Square - as it's a reasonable base for the city I find, but I was open to ideas.

Thankfully, I have an IC Ambassadors Voucher to hand - which made life a lot more simpler, opening up the Mark Hopkins at a very good price of $202++ for two nights vs the $522 that they wanted (sadly the IC San Francisco SOMA was coming in at $400… a night)

For the final night, I'm falling back to the Crowne Plaza at San Francisco Airport. Whilst not the shiniest of choices, it is reasonably cheap - which counts on this trip. It also puts me closer to the airport so I can roll out of bed at 4:30am, be on a shuttle at 5am, and be on the plane for the 7:05am departure

Well it could be worse. I could had gone with the hotel I went with when I was here for San Francisco MegaDO 08. That makes even a Travelodge look like a four star luxury hotel.

So, with that all done, here's your map for this session of chaos:



Image - Great Circle Mapper - www.gcmap.com

So, how could this possibly go wrong? Oh wait... this is a Kevincm trip report. Things going wrong is "par for the course"....


... and they go wrong... SPECTACULARLY!
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:05 pm   #2
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Off to Birmingham Airport, and to Paris


With a 19:55 pushback from Birmingham Airport, I was not in my usual office - but I was in deepest darkest Kings Norton (a suburb of Birmingham)- where we pick up this adventure (I was on a training course...). Whilst Kings Norton is in the South West part of Birmingham, I need to in the South Eastern part of Birmingham.

Of course, this being Birmingham, the quickest way around this issue is to go back into the city centre and out again on the railways.

Yes. A joined up city - wonderful concept and as usual, bad execution.



Believe it or not - I do enjoy travelling light sometimes. With all of that in a small 30ltr rucksack, it makes it easy to carry, whilst not acting like a burden (which, if we're all honest wheel cases can be a right royal pain when they encounter their natural enemy: STAIRS).

With the course finishing about 4:30pm, I headed out of the venue, and off to Kings Norton station to pick up a local train to Birmingham New Street. This put me early into Birmingham New Street - enough time to get some dinner before setting off to the airport.



A local train for local people!

Thankfully, for £3.30, it’s a 10 minute to Birmingham Airport.



Switched to a Virgin Trains service for the 10 minute hop to the airport.

After clearing the train station and the play-trams, it was time to find the check in counters… and that’s a bit more difficult than usual for me as Air France check-in area is in what was the old BA EuroHub area of the terminal.



Ryanair, Flybe and Air France check-in area.

Check-in itself was a bit of a faff as the machine refused to check me in for the flight as a FlyBe, the Air France flight refused to check in initially using my passport. Finally, after a bit of bullying, and entering alternative details, I was presented with a screen to select seats and such.

Unhappily, the machine spat out a boarding pass indicating I had checked in successfully. With that done, I headed up to security.



This way up!

Security was a quick affair - even with a baggage check - where I cleared it within minutes (Birmingham Airport seems to always clear this in minutes as opposed to tens of minutes).

With that done, it was off to run the risk via Duty Free, and into the main terminal area.



Run the risk!

As I had no access to lounges, I took up residency near Dixons Travel (who’s music could be heard from a comfortable distance, and did some admin.

I also checked into the Birmingham Airport “free” wifi… that they’ve now limited to 30 minutes a session.



Oh well. It was a good freebie whilst it lasted. Still, this gave me time to do what I needed to do, and kill some time before boarding.

After grabbing a copy of The Telegraph (which comes with a free large bottle of water - so buy the paper, throw the paper away, grab a large bottle of water for £1.20 vs £1.99 for a bottle), a boarding gate had been confirmed for my flight. With that, I carried my stuff over to Gate 48.

My boarding pass was scanned, and I was accepted into the gate pen. Waiting outside was the Air France A319 that was to take me to Paris.



Boarding commenced, with SkyPriority and Business passengers first. Of course - everyone went to board, with the gate agent actually doing a good job of batting away those who didn’t have the right credentials or boarding pass. After few minutes, general boarding was announced, and I took my leave of Birmingham for a few days.





AF1565 Birmingham Airport to Paris Charles De Gaulle 2E
Air France Airbus A319, sold as Flybe BE3011
Seat 21F ,Economy Class
288 miles flown 0 earned.


I was welcomed aboard with a Bonjour, and headed to my seat down the back of the plane. As I had no connections, the back suited me.



Seat



The loading cabin



Still wet.

Boarding was a sedatory affair, and the plane begun to fill up. Thankfully, on the row I was in I had a spare seat next to me… with the passenger next to me claiming the seat space, and me claiming the floorspace.

For a 1 hour flight, I'm not concerned, even in economy.

However, the lack of a safety card is slightly worrying. Good thing there was a spare in the next seat.



Legroom - Note the missing safety card. Pour votre securite indeed.

Once boarding was complete, the A319 pushed back on scheduled. The safety demo (like everything) was done bi-lingual, with the safety demo rushed through as we begun our taxi out to the runway.

Eventually, everything was buttoned down, and soon enough, the A319 roared into life and barrelled down to runway, lifting us into the sky.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCGa0CbfZWQ[/youtube]

The plane climbed out, fighting through the rain clouds and into clearer air as the flight to Paris begun.

Looking at the plane, it's nothing special - your average A319 with old style seats (not the hellish slimline seats that have zero padding and back support. This is not a bad thing as it means the seat is comfortable. Legroom isn't that bad either - your typical Euro 31" Seat pitch throughout.



And it even had an ashtray in the seat. How quaint.



During climb (it was black outside...)



Seat content. Lack of a safety card here too...

As the flight continued, I needed to prepare something I was writing for my friends RunwayGirl, so this necessitated the building of something I haven't done for some time.



Can you guess what it is yet?

Yes, It's a GhettoIFE system (Patent Not Pending. Compatible with most phones, though not tablets… have you tried sticking a 7" tablet in a sickbag? Doesn't work)



As there was no map or anything, I could only guess where we were. In addition, it was dark and the clouds were abound. So at some point the drinks service finally made it to my row - with service both from the front of the plane and the back.

Service today was drinks and a bagged snack. I went for a Coke and the prescribed snack.



Well, the coke was coke…. served in a diddy can (My favourite sort in the world… not). The snack was… well.. different.. Olive Oil/Pesto sticks. Not bad, but certainly… different.

Still, there wasn't much time to drink, as the flight deck had notified we were about the commence our descent into Paris CDG. So there was a quick drink up as the crew begun cleaning up and checking the cabin was secure.



With that done, the plane descended through the heavy cloud layer, with the plane buffeted as it begun to land.





[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r483sht7HWA[/youtube]

After landing, there was a protracted taxi as the plane had to cross an active runway.



Air Austral Boeing 777 commencing take-off

Once the traffic had passed, the plane was allowed to taxi over to CDG 2E, where our plane docked.



Taxing to the gate

The plane docked at the terminal, and a jetbridge was attached to allow us to disembark. A quick Merci to the crew, and it was off for a new adventure.

Overall: Nothing special at all. It's better than a LCC service, but not by a lot. A competent service, delivered fine, although the crew could do with NOT rushing the safety demonstration, and ensuring there were safety cards at each seat…
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:06 pm   #3
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I disembarked the plane and headed off into the terminal, passing through the transit area and a shuttle train, before approaching French Immigration.





Nowhere - or the transit area



Smoking booth



C'est le WhaleJet.

The formality was carried out with a glance of the passport, and handling it back. From there, it was through to baggage claim, and finally French Customs and Excise.



Finally - towards the exit!

Once through there, I was in the public terminal, where I play "Hunt the CDGVAL"- which is easier said than done as Terminal 2 is a vast place (Although looking back, it was good training for the days ahead).

Once I found the SNCF station, the access way to CDGVAL was visible. The CDGVAL is the ground side automated shuttle, connecting the three terminals of CDG together, as well as access to the RER, and my base for tonight - the Ibis CDG.



Exiting at T1, it was a quick walk from the CDGVAL to the Hotel, with a quick walk outside (and getting a fresh drizzle of Eau d'Paris).



Hotel: Ibis Paris CDG.
Rate: Prepaid Sale Rate (€60 or so)




Reception area

Even coming in at the best part of 23:00, there was still a big line to be checked in. Thankfully check-in was swift, with no card imprint taken, and a keycard issued. With the formalities completed, I headed up to my room.



Hotel Vending Machine: Overpriced...



Lift



Without any hunting, my room was easy to find - and I popped the keycard in.

… And I swear that this hotel has taken more than its fair share of lessons on design from capsule hotels, as the room was large enough to swing maybe 2 cats. Squeezed together.



The bathroom is in the right hand side.



The bed isn't far away from the door.



TV and storage unit



Electric and Temperture control



Bedside lamp



Working Area

As for the bathroom… this was a sideways navigation room only.







Toliet ontrols



Toilet and sink



Does everything and anything - Generic shared soap stuff

On the plus side, the bed was actually quite comfortable (which considering this was a crash pad for the night), and the Wifi was of a reasonable enough usable speed (and more importantly - Free). Power outlets were reasonably located allowing me to use the laptop either on the desk… or more accurately - on the bed.

This allowed me to get some admin done before going to bed (as well as preparing the laptop for the weekend ahead).

With those things done, I did what I do best - crashed out for a while.

8:00am rolled around way too quickly (with my body on UK time.. more like 7:00am), so it was time to pack my trash up, and leave the hotel and begin the hike back to CDG2 to commence the real part of the trip and tier point run.

I went to reception and checked out. No money changed hands and I was thanked for my business.

Overall: Whilst "functional" the rooms are verging on the tight side (to put it bluntly), whilst the bathroom is hard enough to move around - let alone use. However, the bed was comfortable and allowed me to get some rest - which is the main thing.
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:07 pm   #4
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Exiting the hotel, it was back into the Terminal 3 station and off to the CDGVAL





After another trip on the CDGVAL (I swear those little trains are as narrow as anything), I was back into Paris Charles De Gaulle T2, with my destination the T2C segment of this mega-terminal.




T2C.. this way..

Thankfully the hike was a short one, and I made my way into the cavernous T2C area.



This was near the AA check-in area. Hmmm... are Aeroports d'Paris trying to say something?

The AA check in section was at Area 10, however it seemed way too quiet. That's because the queue for security check was in the next section with no delimitation for Elites and Premium passengers.



Wonderful.



Almost at the head of the queue

Time was moving on rather rapidly, and JFK Passengers were plucked from the queue as the check-in deadline was closing in. After clearing the initial security check by ICTS, it was time to check in.

And this is where things went pop badly. A bit of pre-flight checking that four PNR's had been issued for this flight, with tickets issued on each:
  • The master Amadeus PNR (issued by Iberia)
  • A PNR for the CDG-JFK segment on IB codeshare on an AA segment held by AA
  • A PNR for JFK-SFO, SFO-JFK, EWR-ORY held by AA
  • A PNR issued by BA for the SFO-JFK, EWR-ORY segments
So the poor check-in agents face fell looking at this ticket, and had to manually issue the boarding passes and join bookings together after getting two agents to issue the passes for my flights for today.



New luggage tags. Something to do whilst they were sorting out tickets

After checking I had no luggage to declare, I was given a fast lane access and sent on my way.



No stopping now - lets rock!

Security thankfully wasn't that far away, and after descending into the bowels of the terminal, I cleared French Immigration, and then through to security. This exited into the duty free shop....



Oh. Tres Jolly.

With that done and dusted, and all my stuff gathered together, I headed back upstairs and into the departure lounge - and straight to the lounge.



Art

AA Lounge Paris CDG

With limited time in the lounge, I was welcomed and informed that a boarding call would be made when it was time go - giving me about 20 minutes to relax.

20 minutes is better than nothing in my book - and enough time to grab a light breakfast.



Drinks area



Breakfast selection



Fruits and Yogurt



Kitchen and Bar area

The lounge itself was a single room - but a large environment, allowing you to relax or take a stool up as needed. I went for window stool area, as it had a reasonable view of the action

Breakfast was on offer, offering a Western style breakfast







Breakfast with a view

With that done (and a little bit of spotting… well when presented with a window, it's rude not to look out of it), I settled in for a bit. The lounge itself was reasonably quiet - with the children where there in control and no disturbing the peace of the place.

The lounge whilst having no stand-out features did the job it needed to do.

Soon after, the boarding call was made for the flight to New York.

I made my way out, and headed for Gate 37. This gate was in a satellite of the terminal, so it was a bit of a hike to get to.







Off to the Satellite

Thankfully upon arrival into the satellite, the AA boarding area and queue were pretty visible. As such, I queued up… and was pulled out of the queue by a worker who spotted I had a business class boarding pass.



My boarding pass was scanned, and I was allowed to head down the jetway to the waiting 767-300ER...

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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:09 pm   #5
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AA45 Paris Charles De Gaulle 2A to New York JFK T8
American Airlines Boeing 767-300ER, sold as Iberia IB4165
Seat 4J, Business Class
140 Tier Points Earned, 3,635 miles flown, 3,635+1,1,818+3,635 Avios Earned (Base+ Class of Service + Tier Bonus)


I was welcomed aboard the 767, which in Business class had been modernised at least to the Boeing signature interior (namely, it has the pivot bins that have more room in them).

I was dreading the 767s for a simple reason - last time I was aboard one, I was on a twice-rebooked flight escaping from a hurricane, and it wasn't that great a ride (not in terms of weather, but in terms of seat that had limited recline and limited space - and that was in the bulkhead).

So, you can imagine I had some trepidation even in business class.



My home.

Thankfully, the seat was in a good condition with everything working (that makes a change) and for a previous generation seat (a lie-angle seat… or a Wedgie seat) it wasn't that bad - at least for a day flight.



I settled into my seat as boarding begun its merry way, with the plane filling out (it looked like it was a full load - something common with all the AA flights this trip)


Boarding in progress

Crew weren't exactly fast off the mark, with pre-departure beverages served about 10 minutes before the doors went to close, however, they seemed to brighten up as the flight progressed.


Pre-departure beverages


As departure time came, the doors went to close, and our 767-300ER pushed back.


Cabin





Il pleut (Still)




Seat controls

The safety demo was completed, and after a short trundle around Paris CDG (Trust me, it was short - I've been on a 40 minute trundle around CDG before on-board an Air India 747), passing Concorde (Nope Air France - still don’t forgive you for that debacle).



and soon enough we lined up for take off.


Climbout

Conditions were similar to the day before - i.e. lots of Eau d'Paris falling, so it was a bumpy ride upwards (and I'd get a load more chop on the way on this ride), but after a while, the plane found some clear air so that service could commence.






A hint of blue sky



Finally

Orders were taken, with my order for the chicken was met without a question. Meanwhile, already installed in the seat was a tablet computer and some Bose headphones (they were at seat upon arrival) .



Apologies for the ugly person taking the photo reflected back from the screen




Attempted seat back mounting on the ground… didn’t exactly work (it slipped a LOT)




DC Power Outlet



Bose QC15’s.

The 767s that American has are not the first plane in the world you'd select for an IFE experience - especially if you're in the main cabin, as the only IFE you get is from the main screens (thus necessitating your own tablet or own GhettoIFE system). This is something AA recognised, and for those of us in Business Class customised Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1" Tablets are the ordered of the day.

Customised? Heavily. It almost demands a mains presence via the DC Adaptor (so good luck getting any work done if you want to use the DC adaptor to do any of your own work and use the IFE system). Power sockets routed to the front of the tablet, as are the headphones (as opposed to the sides Whilst it looks a bit uglier than the normal ones you get, this is theft prevention in action - last thing you want is to use a tablet like this in this condition out in the open.





As we all know, whilst a shiny device is great, what makes or breaks and IFE system is a mixture of the user interface and the content that resides on it.

The User Interface experience was pretty flowing - those who use Apple iPads or Android devices should be able to get used to these devices with ease. Playback of videos was smooth, not too choppy (and minimal MPG artefacts... always a bonus) - however, precision time controls on playback was lacking in video mode (so jumping forward back a scene was pretty much a move and pray job).

Onto the content - and there was a fair mix of content with a mixture of new release movies, a lot of older movies, a smattering of TV shows and audio programming, some ebooks. The mix itself wasn't bad, and catered well to general needs of passengers. For me, I found where The Big Bang Theory was…





... and then... Despicable Me 2.


Hehehe. Bottom. (Hilarious according to Sylas Ramsbottom - and funny in 19 different languages too).




Towel

Although I will give American this: I like the glass they use for Champagne (No they're not proper, it is quantity before quality, and I was happy with for a glass of bubbles.



That’s MY kind of glass.


Served with Nuts. Not warm. Sadly mostly tepid (They’re not GhettoNuts. This would involve 0pening a bag of nuts and placing them in a sick bag created bowl…. and my origami skills aren’t THAT hot... like the nuts).

Lunch was served shortly thereafter.



Tray




Salmon Starter with an odd base




Bread




Salad with fetta cheese balls




Condiments

The Salmon was reasonable, although the base tasted a bit odd - not unpleasant - but odd. The salad was fresh and the bread was of reasonable enough quality that couldn’t use it to assault your seat mate (not that I condone violence).

The main course was served which was Chicken and Mushrooms served with rice.



Chicken with mushrooms and rice

Not bad at all - the chicken was cooked very well, with the sauce giving a nice offset. The rice wasn’t soggy or overdone - something that is way too common on planes.

Meanwhile nature gave her impressive display outside



Now. You’re probably wondering where the picture of the Ice Cream Sundae is. Well there were two little issues. Issue 1) I hadn’t any lactase tablets on my actual person as they were in my bag in the overhead bin and 2) my seatmate was fast asleep.

Therefore… no sundae Even if the flight attendant asked “Are you sure you don’t want a sundae? It’s the of part of the meal)

Still, I could watch the calories. I suppose.

After lunch was cleared down, a lot of the blinds came down and people rested as the flight continued its long slog across the Atlantic.



Cabin during cruise



Personal work light




Seating area during cruise.

As the flight went on I put the seat into recline mode and relaxed. I did try the bed mode - and boy, it was super-slopy to me - so it was deep recline mode for me.

I did try to do some other things - a bit of tidy, a bit of image sorting and the like, but I was noticing battery power was draining at a high rate - with no way to charge as they had DC sockets only (and I have no empower connector in my collection of cables). So I did what I did… and dozed for a bit.

But there was a lump of pretty rough air. How rough? Put it like this: I glad my glass of coke was pretty low…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz_tqGTgOg4[/youtube]

A nasty bit of chop indeed.

Soon enough we were making reasonable enough time for the second service to commence. This would be for me a Tandoori Chicken Salad or a Pizza. I went for the Chicken.





Again, the chicken wasn’t cooked to death, with the spices coming through nicely. The Potatoes were cooked to a reasonable state (where they didn’t fall apart, but they didn’t feel like they were going to break your teeth.

Clear-down was done quickly, and the sparkling water service followed.



Yup. ‘nuff said?

The Tablets and Bose headphones were collected with an hour to go. This required me to make my own entertainment, repack my bag as needed



And look out of the window too.



Commencing Descent





Clearing conditions



Landing was a bumpy affair as we descended through the cloud layers, approaching via Rockerway Beach, before kissing the ground safely




Some aggressive waves down there….



With that, the welcome announcements were made as the plane taxied around JFK, and finally towards Terminal 8. There was quite a wait whilst a gate was prepared for us, but we eventually turned into the T8 satellite, and finally to our parking position where the engines spooled down, and the seatbelt signs were switched off.



JFK

At this point, everyone got up (as did I), and I retrieved my bag (watching the minutes on my connection). With the door opening, I thanked the crew and headed out of the plane to deal with JFK…

Overall: Nothing bad to report in the least. The crew did a good job, and the food was of a reasonable quality. I love that the flight attendant chose to use a wine glass for my “large” serving of champagne (small little pleasures), but the seat they have… it wouldn’t be my first choice for long haul travel…

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:14 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:10 pm   #6
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At JFK

At the gate, a Oneword member of staff was on-hand with connections, stating that my connection to San Francisco was safe. This was semi-reassuring as US Immigration can be a real dice throw some days.

To be honest, I was expecting the worst when I arrived at JFK. However, only the Manchester flight had arrived before our flight, with the London flight behind us - so it was a chance to get through the queue quickly.

I was seen to quickly by the US Border agent, and was stamped through without an interrogation (with a bit of a smile when I said I was here for my end of year mileage points). With no luggage to pick up, it was straight to the customs point, where I was let through without a problem.

Much easier than last time.

With those formalities out of the way, it was time to re-clear security. This involved heading upstairs and into the main security queue (with a rather well hidden fast track section).





Fast-track found!

Once through that, it was through a classic metal detector. All formalities done, I re-assembled my stuff again, and headed for a departure gate screen - with a note that the onward flight was delayed by 30 minutes.



Past security




A decorated AA jet

With nothing else to do, I headed up to the Flagship lounge.



Lounge Stop: American Airlines FlAAgship Lounge

I was welcomed to the lounge complex, and invited into the FlAAgship lounge area of the lounge. The lounge itself was reasonable large - larger than the Chicago O’Hare FlAAgship lounge, but not expansive.





Lounge seating

I found a place to charge up the laptop and phone (both of which were suffering a bit from only being DC power aboard the plane… and me having no empower socket adaptor. For once, I was happy with a delay as it would give me extra time to charge up.

The delay crept from 30 minutes to 45 minutes, giving me a couple of hours in the lounge, to contact those who I needed to contact, and inspect the changing food section.

Meanwhile, I had a look around the food options - which was set for a lunch/dinner menu







Free-pour spirits




Cookies




Meats and Cheeses




Filled Rolls/Subs

The food in the lounge was a better spread (than say, an Admirals Club), but still not near what I’d call an International standard (compared to some Asian or European lounges). Still, better than nothing.

The view wasn’t exactly stellar, but gave some nice views of passing AA traffic.



With 16:00 passing, I decided to head to the gate. I thanked the staff and headed down to Gate 5.



Nothingness




Towards the gate

The queues there were quite substantial with people queuing up left, right and centre, with some seat swapping going on. Eventually, boarding began, with a massive rush even for Priority AAccess. My boarding pass was scanned, and I was allowed to board the plane for the next part of the trip

AA85 New York T8 JFK - San Francisco International
American Airlines Boeing 767-200ER (Swapped from a 767-300ER)
Seat 2A, First Class
210 Tier Points Earned, 2,572 miles flown, 2,572 +1,286+2,572 Avios Earned


My instant reaction to this bird when I saw it was “Eww”. It looked dark, the cabin looked liked it had seen better days, and the cabin was pretty much solidly filled already. I took my seat and sat back as the rest of the plane boarded.

It was only when I started writing this trip report that I had stumbled aboard a 767-200ER rather than a 767-300ER.

And I can see why AA is dumping these birds in favour of A321s. Dark, and not in the greatest of conditions. Even though I was in the “First” class section of the plane, the words “could do with a lot of improvement” came to mind.

Offers to hang up coats were made as the crew hurried around trying to get the plane out as soon as possible.



My home





Legroom



Seat Controls

There were a fair few pre-boarding announcement, with the most important being that the IFE system was out of action, and would require a 2 hour fix if we wanted it fixed (the captain decided to fly instead to get to our destination). Not so bad for me in Business Class (as Samsung tablets would be available after take off, but not so great for those in economy. The announcement was a quick route had been negotiated, but it would be quite bumpy on the way up - so service would be delayed.

Eventually, boarding was completed and the safety demonstration was conducted manually. After a while, the plane got pushback permission, and our 767 left the corner of JFK T8, beginning a long taxi to the runway.



Taxi




Delta 737 barrelling down the runway.

After passing terminal 1 and terminal 3, our plane took a right, before lining up for the runway

The Captain took the plane into the sky, and it was a pretty bumpy climb to say the least until the captain found some clean air - and then continuing the climb.

It gave for some stunning photos though:
















Cabin during cruise - IFE dead as can be seen. .


As the skies darkened, first service began. Samsung Tablets and Bose headphones were distributed. These had the same content as loaded for the previous transatlantic flight. However, I did run into a problem with these ones as the power kept slipping out of socket in the laptop, shutting the tablet down - almost as if the devices were crippled to run off the mains



The packed bundle


Booting up.


I also briefly considered buying some GoGo Credit… and then turned off the WiFi function, as there was a charge of up to $30 for the trans-con flight.


Umm. No. Love Interweb connectivity, but not at that price.

Drinks came round, with hot nuts



This time they’re hot. And there was a refill too.

Dinner quickly followed, with Beef selected for the main. First up is the starter tray:



So we have an onion and leaf salad, with crumbled feta cheese on it, and the chicken with pineapple and melon.






Righhhhhtt.

Believe it or not - it’s not as offensive as it sounds. All items were fresh and tasted reasonable, with the salad easy work, and the chicken not tough.

Wine was also offered too.



Now, I’m not a great eater of Beef in the air like most people. Least of all, I’m odd in that I like my beef cooked, killed, and killed again, and zapping it to ensure it’s close enough a cinder. Or for the non-initated - “well done”.





Well, it’s not completely dead, but dead enough for the sake of this discussion. It was a bit of work getting into the steak, but wasn’t that chewy (a good thing). The very was killed quite successfully (although fruitarians may debate if it was alive in the first place, or killed when plucked unwillingly from the ground), whilst the potato thing was quite enjoyable.

Meanwhile, outside, night had fallen.



The trays were cleared as I settled in for a long trans-con flight.

Hot drinks were offered - coffee was the order of the day still for me.



Soon enough the clanking of trolleys was heard again as the lights have gone down. Yes, it’s the famous Sundae service. And this time as I had some Lactase tablets to hand, I had one.

I do learn. Honest.





(and as a side note, I didn’t suffer. In fact, this was the first Ice Cream I’ve had in a couple of years…)


*burp*.

With that cleared down, there wasn’t much more to do that check out the tablet IFE, and look out of the window to see if anything interesting turned up

And that’s how I spent the time to landing really. I declined the cookie (not wanting to dice with lactase any more that day), and just sat back.

The seat itself - is a reasonable business class seat. I wouldn’t pay for this as a first class seat though. Quite an old generation seat, loud motors and those console displays look like something from many years ago. And not overly comfortable if I'm honest.



The journey otherwise was in the black, with blue bits along the way with settlements showing up in the night.



Eventually, the lights came up as were closing in on San Francisco, to allow the cabin crew time to clear down the plane.

With that, the lights went down again as we closed in on Bay Area

















Our approach was quick and sporty, with a lot of reverse thrust needed to slow us down

As we turned off the active, we headed for Terminal 3 - our destination of the night



With a bit of speed (trying to make up for the late pushback), we taxied to the gate, where the jetbridge was waiting for us.



With that done and the engines powered down, the seatbelt sign was released, and everyone raced to get out of the plane (and me too - I wanted some “fresh” air)

I retrieved my stuff, and thanked the crew, and headed off the plane



Plane at the gate

Overall: I’ll give the staff their due - they had a tough service to carry out due to a late plane, a plane swap and on top of that delays. They pulled it off successfully. Food was of a good quality (if better than the Trans-Atlantic flight I came off of), but there is one unforgivable thing… and that’s the state of that 767-200ER. The only time I flew one of these planes before was in the “capable” hands of US Airways… and that plane had seen better days too. I look forward to seeing the new A321s on these routes. Whilst they will have less seats and less reward seats… they can’t be any worse than this bird…

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:16 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:12 pm   #7
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With no luggage to claim, it was a reasonably quick exit of the plane, and to the kerb, where the smell of Jet1A was in the air… as were some very warm temperatures.

I headed over to a shuttle bus stop - and within 10 minutes, a bus turned up for the Marriot and the Hyatt Regency. Good stuff as they say.



Passing the wonderful international terminal



It was 49ers vs Seahawks weekend. We all know how that ended up. Or, in the words of Leonard Hoffman "Go Sports!"

The ride was around 15 minutes - dropping and picking up people at the Marriot, and then off to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco.



Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport
Rate Paid: 8000 Hyatt GoldPoints


I was welcomed to the hotel, and after checking my details; I was asked if I would like to walk, as they had a very nice Bay view window view available. I accepted. My room keys were issued. I was informed my Internet access would be free too. I was also offered a welcome amenity - a bottle of water. It’s not a lot, but it’s a very nice first impression.



Towards Reception




Check-in.

With that I hiked over to the elevators and then a short walk up and around the hotel. Whilst not a long walk, these atrium hotels do make you earn your rooms some days.



Choose your elevator - but choose wisely…




Corridors, Corridors...




Atrium at an angle.

Soon enough, I was at my room - and it was a pretty much standard Hyatt Regency Double-Double room - and that’s no bad thing in the least.







Seat



Work area



$4 a bottle. Umm. No.



Desk

This means there’s lots of room, and as I wanted to re-pack before heading downtown, this seemed as good place as any (also, time to shed the winter coat!)

The room itself was spacious, and was at a comfortable temperature. Lighting was sufficient… and the Hyatt bed was its usual glorious self - by which I mean it is extremely comfortable.

And I’ve got to admit, I’m happy so many of Hyatts are dropping the million of occasional cushions, and focusing on the basics.



You are here.

Looking at the bathroom - there was a proper bath! This was essential, after all the travel, my bones ached. The bathroom had the typical amenities (especially the new soaps and such that are exceedingly neutral and non offensive in any way).







I’m liking the modern lines here…




A Bath! Joy!

The WiFi seemed to be reasonably fast enough on the “Platinum members free” option, which was fast enough to do what I wanted to do.

TV was the usual selection - which suited me. In the past I used to watch CNN when I was in the states. These days, I’ve grown younger - and started to watch a lot of Cartoon Network - mainly as I don’t have to think when I watch it.

But eventually 17 hours of travel hit, and my body succumbed to the inevitable sleep.


Nighttime over The Bay

Waking up, I had a perfect view of the bay… and a sunrise over the Bay area. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.









As a mere plat, I didn’t have breakfast privileges or the such, and that didn’t bother me in the least to be honest. I took the time to wake up slowly and to admin that I needed to do, as well as repack the bag (as the winter coat that I travelled with now would be packed away until Monday Morning), and thus I split my bags at this point, with a 3rd bag that had been hiding in the small rucksack coming out and into play - allowing a decent place to dump clothes and such for the trip to downtown San Francisco.



All done!
With everything ready, I prepared to switch hotel. After a short hike (past a well lit atrium), I found the elevators






I headed to reception and after seeing that a certain Japanese airline crew (not that one, the other one) were finishing checking in, I checked out.



Crew checking in.

As there were no further charges on the account, I was thanked for my custom, and wished a pleasant onward journey






Loading up the van...


Overall: If there a hotel that's given me a bit more confidence in the Hyatt brand, this hotel is it. All requests were handled quickly and politely, with the room type met (something the Hyatt Regency O'Hare failed in quite badly), with a bath and friendly customer service. All these things are good. I just wish the Hyatt Regency O’Hare team could take a look at this hotel as an example and see what good to copy from it.

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:18 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:15 pm   #8
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After a ride back into San Francisco Airport, I hopped on the Air Train, and circled around the airport until I was dropped off at a stop which connected with the BART. $18 in the machine, and it unhappily spat out a ticket at me for rides to and from downtown San Francisco.

There wasn’t much of a wait, and soon a 10 car BART train (one with the futuristic slanted front) turned up for the trip.



Whilst I remember the journey wasn’t quick, it took the best part of 20-25 minutes to get from the airport and towards Powell station



Exiting the BART, I emerged at Powell station. There were two tasks to do: get a Muni Transit pass for three days, and get to the IC on top of the Nob Hill. The transit pass was easy, as at Powell is where the San Francisco Visitors centre is. Which is nice.

$23 handed over, and a three-day Muni pass in hand, I headed for the cable car on the Powell - Manson line... to encounter a legendary queue for the cable car.

Scrapping that idea off for a game of soldiers, I flagged a cab down for a ride up the Nob Hill instead. 5 minutes later (and a bit of traffic dodging and dicing), I was at my digs for the next two nights - the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco.



Intercontinental Matt Hopkins
Rate Paid: $202++ (IC Ambassador Voucher)





Ok. Hotel at night. Everyone happy now?

I arrived and headed to reception, where I was warmly greeted. The room was upgraded to a higher level room, and my Ambassador Free Weekend Voucher was accepted as payment for the 2nd night - reducing the cost of the hotel to $202+tax ($255). Which - is cheap for any hotel.









Lobby

I was explained my benefits, the Internet would be complimentary, and keys for both my room and the minibar were issued.

With that - I headed up to my room through the ornate elevators





A quick exit from the 9th floor, and I headed to 920 for the next two nights…



Lift

So lets look at the room - Not modern, but not bad in any sense of the word. The radio had been pre-set to a classical music programme adding a welcoming touch to the room









Custom Pillow



TV Welcome screen



Alarm clock



Work Area



Directory



Water, coffee machine

Whilst some might call the room “a bit old world”, I feel it suited the hotel rather well. The bed was comfortable and relaxing (and after what I did on one day - it needed to be) whilst everything was within easy access.

Looking into the bathroom, again, it’s reasonably appointed with all the things you need - including a bath tub, and the usual array of amenities you have in an Intercontinental Hotel.



Bathroom











Slightly disappointingly, there was no welcome amenity initially, but there was everything I needed for a stay.

Internet was of a reasonable speed - enough to make a Skype call without it dropping, but not fast enough to shove a load of videos onto Youtube. Still, it was usable and didn’t feel like dropping - always helps.

With me settled in, I headed out and down to Market Street… walking. That was tough



Back of the hotel

When I came back later, a turn down service had been dropped off, as well as a welcome amenity had arrived. How nice!



Turn down chocolates by Tcho. I had to investigate this company in the end as this company made chocolate that tasted of chocolate. Rather than of wax like some American brands.




Welcome amenity - Fruit and Water, along with more Tcho chocolate.

My eyes casted outside. Being on the 9th floor, there were some gorgeous views.






Daytime






Dusk



Night










Dawn



Dawn (Yes, The California Street cable car goes here. Useful for avoiding climbing the Nob hill).

Everything was pretty much on the button. Whilst I didn’t use the dining services or breakfast, when I went out, the room was tidied during the day, and at evenings when I was out - the turn-down service was completed.

Room temperature was pretty good, not being too hot or cold, and easily controllable.

Check out on the Sunday was offered with a late check out of 4pm (which was welcome as I had stuff to do during the morning and afternoon), with an offer of onward transportation (which was a good idea as the 49ers vs Seahawks were playing - I opted for a cab to the BART station where there would be fewer people.

Overall: It’s a very timeless property, looked after and offers a very luxurious stay. Whilst it may not cater to everyone modern touches, its nice to step back and try a nice property with staff that look after you and want you to enjoy your stay. The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins did that in spades. Those who like workouts and love climbing hills will like this hotel too…
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:16 pm   #9
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A note from your trip writer. I'm not going to hit you with a double-whamy like I did over on GhettoIFE.com. Instead, I've chosen to control myself - yes it is entirely possible

One of the things I've been meaning to do on my trips to San Francisco is to physically cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Why? Because it's there.

So, bright and early Saturday morning (well not THAT early - Pokemon XY was premièring on Cartoon Network), I packed a light bag, and headed off.

Looking at the public transport maps, it would be convoluted to get there. So, I did the cable car up to Van Ness Avenue, a bus up towards Lombard Street. Of course, I was out of range of internet connectivity and therefore decided to walk and try to find a bus stop on Lombard. Which I did eventually... after a 20 minute walk.

No matter. Eventually a 28 for Daly City came around, which if my maps were right would take me near enough to the Golden Gate visitors centre. And lo and behold, it did.



Closing in

Here we are!





Well, with the bridge nearby, I steeled myself and begun walking. Now whilst most people make it to the first pier and then turn around, I was hell bent on crossing the entire thing. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time..

Must stop having good ideas. Seriously.

So, I put one step infont of the other and begun walking.












Darn straight. The only way is forward - there is no turning back!














First span!



Passing the first span, the amount of people thinned out considerably. Whilst the road traffic was ever rumbling, the people traffic went down a lot.



Even Marine traffic was in full flow.










2nd Span!







Eventually, I made it to Vista Point and took a break.. and the views in




I bet they weren't happy about the next day...




Now, I was planning to get a bus back, but it was only tourist buses back across, requiring $20 or so... and to be blunt, I wasn't going to pay that just for 1 and 3/4 miles.

I decided to do the only thing I could do - and cross over back over by foot. Trust me, it felt more than 1 3/4 miles on the way back. A lot more...


Love lockets














Getting busier - back to the crowds





Crossed!



.... and done.

Trust me, I caught the 28 back towards the city, and swapped to the 30 for the journey back into the city. Put it like this... I wasn't in the mood to walk...

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:22 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:18 pm   #10
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After a cab ride down the Nob Hill to Embarcadero station, it was back onto the BART to head out of the city (whilst most of it was watching the Seahawks showing why they were going to be NFL Champions in the end).



Heading into the station

As I got to the platform, I saw that a train to SFO was about to arrive. Convenient timing indeed!





The BART made its way through downtown San Francisco, loosing a lot of passengers on the way. Soon it was out in into the open, where the California sun was giving a wonderful display



Another 25 minutes, and the BART service pulled into San Francisco Airport, with me leaving the train here





Non-Futuristic C type train.

Exiting the BART, my next stop would be the hotel shuttle to the Crowne Plaza. But not without passing through the stunning International Terminal






Again, sheer luck was on my side with a shuttle bus arriving about 10 minutes after I exited the international terminal. This is important as the shuttle to the Crowne Plaza is every 30 minutes as opposed to every 15 or so to the Hyatt

A short ride later, the shuttle bus passed the Mariott and the Hyatt, and finally reached the Crowne Plaza.

Crowne Plaza San Francisco Airport
Rate Paid: $89++





Entrance

After a short wait to check in, I was seen to. My rate was confirmed and keycards issued. Helpfully, there were shuttle bus timetables photocopied and waiting for collection. During check-in, I was offered a choice of three amenities:
  • A Drink in the Bar
  • A bottle of water
  • 600 IHG points
I was dissuaded away from the bottle of waters as I was given Club access (where there was water), and I didn’t value a drink in the bar… so I went for 600 points (which posted the next day). Considering I earned only 1,227 points on this stay, that was basically 50% extra points for nothing.





Public areas

With that, I headed for my room on the 9th floor.






Retro.

The room itself is a pretty standard Crowne Plaza room… and that’s no bad thing in this case, as it provided the facilities I needed for the night - a bed, a bath, somewhere to wash and relax.





Bed area and TV







Bathroom

The view… well… it wouldn’t win any awards…



Since I had Club access, I decided to use it (if just to get a bottle of water). And I’m glad I set my expectations low in this case…

What it was - well it seems like two rooms were knocked together to create a lounge area



Meanwhile, loosing a game…




Seating




Kitchen Area



Fruit and cookies.

The kitchen area had a few bits in, namely a coffee machine, bottles of water, cookies, and fruit. Completely unexciting.

Although I avoided the fruit.



Oh dear.

By this point, evening had fallen, and the night had begun.



I turned in early myself as the flight in the morning was at 7am, and I wanted to be gone from the hotel by 5am. Thankfully sleep came easy to me by 9pm, with me back up by 3:30. This gave me time to finalise packing. With that done, and 4:45 passing, I checked out with no further details needed.

Overall: It did the job as a crash pad for the night (and in some respects a lot better than the Ibis I had in Paris - certainly more room per pound... It was clean, but its age is showing. There are better choices near the airport, but from a value perspective - pretty hard to beat.

This being an early morning shuttle, the hotel shuttle bus back to the airport was full of airline crew, and thankfully the shuttle was on time .



With everyone aboard, there were a couple more hotel stops, and then down the freeway back to the airport.

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:24 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:20 pm   #11
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Arriving back at the airport, it was straight to check-in, where I checked my bag. The agent took one look at my ticket and queried if I really wanted to go via Newark. A few taps later, and she had found space on the JFK to Paris flight… Paris CDG - meaning it would be the AA flight. I declined (even though it would had been easier…) as I wanted that flat bed across the pond, and stuck with my OpenSkies itinerary.

A boarding pass was issued and a nice comment about the Pan American bag was made… and off I went to clear security. Even at 5amish in the morning, it was busy with the Team SFO opening extra lanes when needed. I was cleared quickly and headed to the lounge to wait the flight



Admirals Club

A beep of my boarding pass (with the BA Gold Credentials on it), and I was let into the lounge. There was only one priority at this time of the morning



Coffee! - Well espresso and lots of it!

I found a corner to work in and sat back whilst waiting for the flight. The lounge whilst not heaving, was quite busy as it was Monday morning and people were commuting all over from San Francisco to where they needed to be in the US that day



Meanwhile outside, a Virgin America Airbus A320 was photobombing the AA Lounge



Look at meee! I’m not American Airlines!


Food and beverage station

It was quite and relaxing enough - heck I Lost track of time. Thankfully, there was a call for Flight 24 to New York, at which point, the lounge emptied - me with it.


Through the terminal

Boarding was almost ready to commence when I got to the gate so there was time to grab a picture of the plane before getting down to the flying part of the day.



And also a first - my first AA plane with the new livery I’ve flown on.




Busy moments at the gate before boarding begins

A priority boarding and first class boarding call was made, and I headed down the jet bridge

AA24 San Francisco International to New York T8 JFK -
American Airlines Boeing 767-300ER with Winglets, New Colours
Seat 2A, First Class
210 Tier Points Earned, 2,572 miles flown, 2,572 +1,286+2,572 Avios Earned


I boarded the plane and was welcomed aboard. I took my seat at in the first row of business class - this time this 767-300ER featured the International cabin with wedige beds that I had on the way out from Paris. This time, the cabin was sold as a "First" Class cabin. Funny how American Airlines can re-designate a cabin type purely on the route...



Business/First Class Cabin loading




Seat controls







Bulkhead view

An interesting service happened whilst on the ground - pre-flight drinks. A nice touch.



The cabin again was full load in First - and judging by how many rollaboard were heading to the front of the plane - a full load in the back of the plane too.

On-time, our Boeing 767 pushed back, and the safety video played (Its starting to get to the point where I can memorise the faces and words that come out of each person's mouth in that video. Bad sign methinks... although I used to be able to do the first minute of the old United 767 IPTE video off by heart)



AirBridge away!

As the airport was clear of any fog and such, with a clear ride up into the air forecasted, the pilot didn't hang around. There was a wait whilst other traffic cleared allowing me to watch take off wars







After a short wait, the plane cleared the queue, turning onto the runway for a powerful take-offf out of San Francisco

With the colours so amazing, it was time to use the camera for what it was for:















With the flight scheduled for 6 hours, it seems the winds were with us, with 4 hours and 50 from pushback to landing



Menus were handed out for the service.





Whilst Mother Nature did her thing.

Food orders were taken, and Samsung Galaxy Tablets were handed out with Bose Headphones









Hot towels followed too



And yes, I was still watching Despicable Me 2



With Minion Phil at the front door.

Breakfast arrived with me going for the Omelette.











The breakfast offering wasn’t bad (compared to some economy class meals I’ve had Westbound or Eastbound), with the fruit fresh, and the omelette tasting of egg and its filling (and not burned). The chicken sausage was very much of a muchness and the biscuit… a very American thing (although I prefer my biscuits as chocolate digestives personally…)

The service was cleared down as the flight made its way across the United States of America, crossing off states quickly.

Time passed quickly on this flight as the cookies came around







And lots of clouds

As this flight was operated by an International 767-300ER, there was a downside of no GoGo internet connectivity - which annoyed a few people who were trying to connect in the air. The crew was proactive, checking for top ups as needed .

As I said, the flight was quick, as the plane begun its decent into the New York area. Our plane tracked past the cloud and past JFK, heading out for the Atlantic, for an approach over Rockerway Beach.



Cloud breaking - New York underneath




JFK near the cloud




Beginning final descent




That’s a cute plane in the clouds….







Gotta admit - I like this one.




Crossing Rockaway Beach




Landing was a typically a rather gentle affair, with our 767-300ER landing safely on the tarmac at JFK.

There was a bit of a delay of a taxi as the clock passed 3pm, but we were a full hour ahead of the nominated landing time, so I was feeling rather relaxed about the connection to Newark at that moment in time.





Overall: A reasonably competent service delivered well with a quick flight time. These things are good to me. The wedgie seat that AA have - I suppose I’ll never get on with it as finding a comfortable position in it for me was pretty hard. But for a daylight flight - not a bad choice at all.

Next: From JFK to EWR… Umm... Luggage belt... come on...

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:26 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:23 pm   #12
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After exiting the plane there were two priorities: a toilet and picking up my luggage. The former was an easy task (as the toilet block was next door to the gate). It was then a matter of exiting the terminal and heading to baggage claim to complete the latter.



Some art to help ease the soul.

When I got to the luggage belt, delivery had not even started. Once it did, it took 30 minutes from docking to my bag finally being spat out onto the carasol. Not a very timely delivery at all, and had decreased the comfort time zone that the early arrival had given me.

With the bag finally spat out of the luggage delivery machine, my next task overall task was to get to Newark Airport. There's two main ways of doing this:
  1. Use the Airport Porter bus service
  2. Take the train, changing at Jamaica, New York Pennsylvania Station and Newark Airport.
I decided on the train (there's also the minor issue of the last time I took the Airporter from JFK to Grand Central, the driver was more interested in eating potatoe chips from a bag rather than driving... with some wild driving around the back-end of JFK). There was also the matter that rush hour was going to be starting soon, and I didn’t fancy an evening fighting traffic all the way to Newark.

My timing was pretty much perfect for the AirTrain to Jamaica station, with a shuttle departing within a few minutes of arriving. Whilst it was standing room only to Jamaica it did the job getting me from JFK T8 to the Long Island Rail Road station.

After paying the $6 fine for using the AirTrain ($5 for the gate exit fee, $1 for the fare media... bit cheeky to charge for a fare card...), it was across the bridge to the Long Island Rail Road ticket office to get a ticket to Penn Station. Another $5.50, and another stroke of good timing indicated that a direct service to Penn station was about to arrive.

Sometimes, things do fall in the right places for me.

The ride from Jamaica to Penn Station was a quick one as the train passed through suburban Queens and under the East River, eventually pulling into Penn Station.

The train was pretty empty going into the city.











Amtrak yard, readying for the evening rush

Eventually after crossing Queens, the train dipped into the dark to cross under the East River and to Penn Station





The train pulled into Penn Station, and in reasonable time too, with the door I was at also a reasonable exit into Penn Station.



Not bad at all, and reasonably priced. However, my next challenge was in front of me: navigating New York Penn Station. And I'm going to be very impolite about this place - it's a dark rabbits warren when trying to find the NJ Transit section of the station.





Eventually, I found the ticket machines for NJ transit and a waiting area. Another $11.25 and the machine spat out a ticket which inculded the Newark Airport Monorail gateway pass.



Trains also to Newark Airport were not what I'd call plentiful, with a 30-minute wait for a service. During this time I struck up a conversation with a person about travel… to find they were learning Korean by using a children’s book to learn. Interesting way round to learn….

The time now clicking toward 5pm - there's no nice way to say this - the train were packed. Even these double-decker trains were having fun carrying everyone this evening.



I picked a carriage at random, and thankfully found some space in the top deck. This suited me for the 30 minute ride to Newark Airport, leaving the tunnels of New York and the Hudson, surfacing in New Jersey, crossing through New Jersey Penn Station and finally Newark Airport station.

The double decker train was pretty packed, this being the start of the rush hour, but I managed to find a seat for the journey.



Watching the evieng go past





Yup. Right direction




On the top deck.

One of the things I've been working on when travelling the Underground in the UK is "Which carriage to be on so I get off first".

Well the instinct and training in me is paying off as I popped out right next door to the stairs to the transfer deck.









After fighting with the ticket machine to be let through (better markings on the machines next time please NJ Transit), it was off to the Monorail.

And we all know what that means. Cue "The Simpsons" Monorail" song



Gliding around like a cloud...





Monorail… Monorail… Monorail! Mono…D’OH!

Once the Monorail glided as softly as a cloud to Terminal B, I took my leave and headed for the BA Check in area... which was on the bottom deck. Oh heck... one of these "well designed" airport terminals here?

Indeed it seems as check in was in a segment in level 0, with security at level 2.



Sigh. Here we go....

On the plus side, the transit was one of the easiest going - a case of following the signs, paying the tickets as you go - without dealing with bus drivers that seemingly want to eat rather than drive. The longest wait was the 30 minutes at New York Penn station, and an interesting trip.

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:28 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:25 pm   #13
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I checked in the podium (with no queues), and my bag was tagged for the trip to Paris-Orly. A boarding pass was issued for the EWR-ORY segment. I was given directions to the boarding and security area too.



Check in area


More 787 advertising


With those formalities done, it was time to go and relax for a bit. Firstly to pick up some duty free… and then to the lounge.

I headed back up the escalators and through security (where the TSA were their usual selves sadly...), and went to inspect the airside area. Which - and I'll be honest - looked like a building site.



A quick visit to duty free (where for once, I could actually take my duty free with me, rather than have it delivered at a gate), and I trekked back to towards the security area - and upstairs to the BA Lounge.


Proper sized bottles of Jack Daniels



This way to the lounge!


Lounge Stop: British Airways Galleries Lounge

I was welcomed warmly to the lounge, and offered a meal voucher for the evening. I was also offered the usual of a storage cabinet to stow my items before flight.

That’s a nice thing!

With that, I headed off to the food area. Well I have to investigate food section.









The food selection was quite nice, covering a load of tastes from salads to hot items - a rather good mix timed well for the day. The staff seemed quite proud of the lounge of the food as the presentation was rather good (as a member of staff pipe up and asked if it looked good - I said (and honestly… it did look good!)

After dining, it was back into the main lounge, where the staff were friendly and talkative,



… and proactive in bringing bubbles.

Looking around the lounge, this lounge is based on BA’s “Galleries” concept - and it shows as it’s a nice looking lounge, providing a very quiet environment for a before flight













BA Brand water…

And to me, time to recuperate in peace and quiet is important in a lounge. That and the WiFi that was in the lounge was pretty reasonable.

The lounge cleared a bit after a London flight went, leaving the OpenSkies and the late London flight passengers left.



Classic BOAC poster art (British Overseas Airways Corperation - the for-runner of British Airways)




Oh yes, the 787 for tonight was cancelled. Some things never change.

Sooner than I would have liked, the call for the OpenSkies flight to Paris Orly was made. I took my leave of the lounge and thanked the kind lounge host, and headed down to the gate.

Boarding was in full progress at the gate - with priority boarding thrown to the wind it seemed. Considering the load at the front, this wasn’t exactly a big thing as the flight looked lightly loaded towards the back.

My boarding pass was beeped, and I headed down the jetway to the waiting Boeing 757-200 to take me across the pond.



EC8004 Newark International Airport - Paris Orly West
Operated by Openskies (British Airways), Codeshared as IB7514
Seat 1F, BizBed Class, 2oth January
140 Tier Points Earned, 3,648 miles flown, 3,648+1,824+3,648 Avios Earned


After being welcomed aboard, I turned left (now That's a change I like!) and headed to my seat at row 1, right hand side.

At the seat already was a bottle of water, amenity kit, pillow and a light blanket. Buried in the Ottoman was a pair of slippers too.



BizBed Cabin


The Front office


Home.

Seat controls... not many compared to the AA Seat -
but it does go flat!



Folded privacy fan


The BizBed Cabin from 1F- note the white stuff in plastic bags - these are important in a bit .


Day blanket at seat


Water and Amenity kit at seat (Amenity kit is the BA Club World Kit)


Legroom - note the slippers. Don't get these in Club World

The crew welcomed everyone aboard warmly, lead by an American CSD with a mixture of American and French cabin crew.

Lets talk about the seat before we go any further - and yes, it's the old generation Club World flat seat, in a 2-2 formation. In terms of seat controls... well it's one control that goes to flat-bed or upright. And that's it. The layout is a Ying/Yang layout with a dividing fan between the seats.

At seat, there were electrical charging points, a bracket for IFE devices. Noise cancelling headsets were also there as well.

Pre-departure beverages were offered... and since this is French airline (even if it's a form of BA), there can be only one drink....



Le Bubbles.

The load at the front of the plane was busy, with every seat taken.

Pushback seemed to be delayed, but eventually our Boeing 757 pushed away from Newark Terminal B, and headed off for a runway to take off from.

The safety demo was carried out manually as the plane had no IFE installed. In the Club World style seats, my line of sight was down to the 2L entrances, and it was odd-looking backwards.

I guess I can’t get used to this flying backwards malarkey.







The two RB-211s spooled up and like any 757, we rocketed off into the night sky, with a few nice views of Manhattan Area.












Dusk in the cabin

After a while, lights came up to commence the service. Food orders were taken for those who wanted food, and for those who wanted rest. At this point, Mattress Pads, Duvet style blankets were distributed, with beds made for those who wanted it. I made mine in an Upright position, so it could be transformed into a bed after dinner.

Mattress pads, proper duvets… this is not Club World by any stretch of the imagination!



Mattress pad installed




Privacy fan in-situ

IFE devices were handed out - and its another tablet to behold. This time, they were Apple iPads. Mine was 57% charged (seemingly used from the last flight). This would matter as the iPad was down to its last 1% of power by the time I handed it back in!


Holder flipped out


With Apple iPad Installed







Another hint this wasn't Club world is the provision of PAJAMAS on this flight. The only time I've had pyjamas before is aboard Asiana... in First Class.

Service was quick and efficient, with a trayed meal appearing rather quickly. Of course, more champers was offered (and accepted... well it would had been rude not to.)


Table


More bubbles


Salmon Light meal


Pay Attention BA Mainline: PROPER SALT AND PEPPER POTS.



With chocolates.


Baked Cheesecake

After this, the lights went down for the rather quick journey across the pond. I put the blanket on, put the bed into a flattish state, and got comfortable.






The minions sent me to sleep. TADA!

And I must had got some good sleep as I was woken 1 and half hours to go to Paris, with the offer of a breakfast service that I requested.


Breakfast tray



Bloody heck. An Airline that can make REAL COFFEE in the air. Look. It even has a bit of a Crema on it!!!


Fruit


We don't like to think about this stuff at GhettoIFE towers.


Muffin



Coffee top up… again with a crema on it. An airline that can make reasonable strength coffee in the morning. This - I approve of.

Meanwhile outside, light was beginning to flow in. A few windows were open, so I cracked mine open a bit too.







Nearing that 1%... keep going Shelly!





And then nature did her thing with sunrise







During this time, the crew came around to collect service items, and the iPad (by now, on its last legs). However the crew were so friendly and understanding, and as well as delivering a great service - there was only one thing I could do - and give out a BA Golden Ticket for great customer service.

I think the crew-member was quite shocked and didn’t know what to do with it until told by the CSD (who was very appreciative of one of her crew getting a Golden Ticket).


Packed away.






It isn't just me that likes to look out of the window.


Closing in on Orly, it was announced we would be stacked for 30 minutes. This suited me, as we were still 30 minutes early. After 10 minutes, we were cleared to land.





Turning


Sunrise in the cabin.




Preparing to dive into the murk.

The landing was very typical 757… quick, powerful and bumpy. But we had made it to Orly in the murk of a Paris morning… with plenty of Eau d’Paris around.

Our plane taxied for a short while, before parking up at a hard stand. Buses were sent to meet us, as well as air-stairs. I gathered my things together and chatted to the CSD before leaving the plane.



The plane on the tarmac.

Overall: Impressive. VERY IMPRESSIVE if I’m honest. Whilst the seat was the old product, the things they did to improve it puts it beyond Club World and Club World London City (which in itself is a very good service - probably the only one I could match this against).

Food was passable and enjoyable, again served with touches that put it ahead of Club World.

Don’t confuse BizBed with Club World - different products from start to end in terms of delivery. And that includes both in terms of hard product and the softer product as the crew were all-outstanding. This is a product I have very little hesitation in recommending… except it ends at Paris Orly. This… has its disadvantages compared to CDG in terms of connections onward… and other things if you’re not careful…

Last edited by Kevincm; Feb 21, 14 at 1:30 pm
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:27 pm   #14
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After a short bus ride around Orly, the bus deposited us at Orly West Immigration.



Still unloading passengers - first bus has its benefits.


The plane, resting after its journey



Into France…

This was seen to in the same French fashion as before (look at passport, glance upward, hand back). From there, luggage claim is in front of you. Whilst we on the ground at 9:40CET, it seems that luggage delivery would be taking its own sweet time - with the first bags delivered at 10:00 and my bag spitting out 10 minutes later.


To get to Paris…

With that, it was a quick walk through French customs, and I was in France again. My next challenge was to find the OrlyVAL station. An escultator and some blind luck lead me to the train station.


To the OrlyVAL!


Now, there was a ticket kiosk at the station - and it’s an important one because the OrlyVAL is chargeable if you want to exit the system and enter the RER station. So, I ponied up the €11.25 for a single to Paris-Nord, and headed for the OrlyVAL station. I must have been bumped on the way as I got into the narrow train to Athony.


Ticket Kiosk.



Ticket Machines



VAlwards.


The OrlyVAL (much like the CDG VAL) is useful in getting from point A to point B, in a very narrow train. With a 6 minute ride, there’s not much room to go wrong.

Although I wish they built these trains a bit wider...



I managed to get out of the OrlyVAL and fed my ticket into the barrier. It spat out the ticket unhappily and open up the barrier allowing me to enter Antony station - and like any suburban station it looks like a place for not hanging around.







Next train indicator



Single decker special coming in.

Thankfully with a train due to central Paris in 3 minutes, I didn't have to hang around.

The RER Line B service arrived (heading up to CDG) arrived promptly, and I found some seats near the entrance.


Seating.


As I tend to do, I checked my pockets for everything. Passport… yes... wallet.... wallet... wallet... OH F**K.

A full empty of the coat indicated that my wallet had gone. You know that feeling when everything goes white? This is one I had. I attempted to find it a few more times, but each time getting more frustrated.

My next concern was how the hell was I to get home - as my train ticket home was in there. Thankfully - I had put a spare wallet with a spare credit card and £10 in the back of in the bottom of my black rucksack.... and more importantly - my passport was safe.

Things were now not looking so black. Heck when I finally got to Gare du Nord, I hade time to share my experiance

With the RER arriving at Gare Du Nord, I bundled out of it, and headed straight for the Eurostar Check-in area.


Crossing the RER station to the main line station



Art. I think.



The grand departures list.



Old vs New - The newer Thalys PKA on the left, and a classic broken nose SNCF train with Corail coaches on the right



A Waiting Eurostar



The Gare Du Nord Train shed from The London Hall

Not to check in, but to make calls to my bank and credit card issuer. My debit card issuer noted no transactions had been made, whilst my credit card issuer noted a transaction had been made at McDonnalds at Orly airport (two transactions I found out later for a grand total of £10).

That would have to be dealt with when I got home.

For now, I needed to get home... and with some minor trepidation I headed to the Eurostar Check in. With the card stolen that I checked in with, I was expecting to buy a new ticket to get home.

But no, the agent understood my problem, and asked for my passport. With the details verified, a boarding pass was issued to London St Pancras.

Phew.

With that done, it was time to clear immigration and enter the Eurostar waiting area. This is a three stage process - firstly "Exiting" France, then "Entering" the United Kingdom (as the UK border is in Paris for Eurostar), and finally clearing security and customs.

And surprise - Customs too an interest in me asking if I had anything to declare to French Customs. I presented my duty free (which was cleared without an issue), and they did a full baggage strip down.

Wonderful.

Eventually, I was let on my way, with another 10 minutes of my life taken.

Entering the main departure hall, there's a lounge at the bottom of it - which I can't use as I'm not on a business ticket. And unsurprisingly, there were no power outlets too.




Waiting areas...


Waiting trains...


Thankfully, the laptop had a good charge left in it, and combined with the phone, I tethered my phone to the laptop for a bit of internet and admin. A good hour later, boarding was called for the 13:13 to London St Pancras. Boarding would be split by two zones - Zone A for one set of coaches at the "Paris" end of the train, and Zone B for Business and the "London" end of the service.



And yes, Eurostar has gate lice too.

A final ticket inspection was carried out once boarding was classed , and I headed down to the train
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Old Feb 21, 14, 1:29 pm   #15
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Eurostar 9013 Paris Gare Du Nord - London St Pancras International
Price paid: £50/$60 (Booked via Voyages SNCF)
Class 373 Trans-Mache Super Train, Coach 5, Seat 11, Standard Class.
282 miles travelled, 0 Miles Earned.


Heading down the ramp, it was a simple matter of locating the coach I was in.





The outer part of the Gare du Nord Trainshed

Eurostar trains are configured as such where they have a standard class section, a buffet/bistro car, the Premier and Plus section, then another buffet and standard class section. To help, the carriages are numbers 1 to 18, (Car 1 at the London end, Car 18 at the Paris/Brussels end), so it was a matter of finding my coach - not impossible to find as the cards have LCD displays telling you which coach you're at.


Just in case I need to reminded where I’m escaping.



Car number 5 (Could do with a wash)


When I reached coach 5, I headed in, and found my seat... with the luggage rack behind me. Ho hum. Could be worse.





Legroom



Seating taken later on in journey


Overhead controls


In case of emergency…


I popped the bags in the luggage storage above my head, and retrieved my laptop and charger (as well as an iPhone charging cable) and settled in.



The train seemed to be filled up to a reasonable load, but it wasn't full - which helps, as the seat next to me was free for the 2 hour and 30 run to London.


The view from the top of car 5

On time, the Trans-Marche Super Train pulled out of Gare Du Nord, beginning its trek to London. With only a stop at Ebbsfleet International booked, this was due to a quick journey.


Pulling out - another Eurostar train awaiting duties .


The train begun its journey, building speed as it passed suburban Paris - and then unleashing the 180mph when the it left the conventional lines and onto the LGV Nord - on a track for the Channel Tunnel.


Suburban Paris







At Line Speed- LGV Nord.

Part of the reason why I selected this coach is simple - only certain cars in Standard class have power installed in them, and thus this pair of seats had a UK style power socket (three pin BS1353 style). Other seats had the French style socket too, alternating between rows.


Power socket - BS1353 style (or as most of us know it as, the British Plug).


Power was not what I'd calls stable - with at one point me pushing the plug in so it made contact with my leg, and during points where power dropped or a changeover of power was done, the lack of mains power was noticeable. Still, it gave me enough time to write, sort and upload photos onto the laptop and relax.

Car 5 is also next to the Cafe/Buffet car - so in the name of research - I had a look (primarily as I needed a coffee to keep going after the days fun and games so far).

The Eurostar Cafe/Buffet is atypical of the TGV style - ie a counter and lots of standing space. I partook of a large Americano coffee to keep me sane (for €3. Not overpriced, but definitely taking advantage of the market).


Drinks menu



Buffet selection


For those who wanted hot meals, Eurostar also offers meals... from of all people - Waitrose (a high-end British Supermarket). Prices were about £2 over the store price (which considering the captive market - not surprising), but the food smelled fresh and edible. Or to put it another way, that Chicken Tikka Masalla did smell VERY tempting!!!


Waitrose selections


Deals


Our speed only let up for Lille (which went past in a blur), as we accelerated back to line speed on the LGV Nord - and also the grey skies that had been tracking me since Paris started to lift into blue skies at last.


Closing in on Lille Europe – Many Train à Grande Vitesse awaiting next services in the yard



Blue sky at last – lifting the clouds of the day.

Our speed then began to fall again as we prepared to dip under the channel as we passed Calais, and finally into the Channel Tunnel.


Passing Calais-Fréthun at line speed


Preparing to dive…



Last view of France.


25 minutes of darkness followed, as the train pushed through the artificial night. In the past there used to be a warning that the train was entering the channel tunnel. Now, nothing. It’s just part of the journey - maybe how it should be.



At speed in the tunnel

The train accelerated out of the tunnel at Cheriton, passing the Dollands Moor Freight yard - now firmly back in the United Kingdom… and straight into Vodafone’s awful mobile phone signal area. Wonderful.





For me, there was brand new experience to be had - and that was to travel on the United Kingdom’s sole High Speed Rail Line. The line which is built to TGV standards allowed the train to accelerate back up to the 180 mph, and the Kent countryside whizzed past cutting through Ashford and continuing a high speed run until we slowed finally for Ebsfleet International.




Passing Ashford at speed – Note the suburban commuter train in white, and the express services in dark blue.



Crossing the Medway River


There was a minor exodus of passengers here, before the train began to accelerate again.


A Javelin High speed train heading into London (interesting side-note, The Class 395 Hitachi A-Train is a derivative of the 400 series Shinkansen... so we have Bullet Trains in the UK... of sorts).


This time, acceleration was at a slower pace as it had to negotiate the River Thames, and then a complex mix of high and low rails as it dived under the East of London, around Stratford International, and finally our destination - London St Pancras.


On final approach – The Kings Cross Great Northern complex coming into view


The train pulled in on time, and the doors were released, with a mass exodus from the train.







The Grand and Restored St Pancras station

Overall: Eurostar delivered a high quality service, end to end through every interaction, along with a well-timed service. It’s no wonder that they dominate the London-Paris/Brussels route – whilst the plane beats Eurostar on the actual travel part, it fails on the getting to the airport, security and getting into town bit. 2 hours 20, centre to centre cannot be beaten. End of matter. Combine that with the high quality service, there’s only one winner.

Diving down the ramp, UK Customs were awaiting passengers. Thankfully, they took little interest in me as I headed for the exit. Within minutes, I was through to the public area of St Pancras International, and on my way to the King Cross St Pancras Tube station complex.



Now, when I got here, I was crossing everything – hoping the bank didn't cancel the wrong credit card as I would need to it buy a new Oyster card



Thankfully, £5 for an Oyster card and £5 of credit was processed successfully, allowing me to use the tube to get to my next stop: Marylebone station. To make matter a lot simpler, a Metropolitan line train arrived (which makes the transfer at Baker Street a doddle as opposed to the circle line which invokes lots of stairs)


Inbound Metropolitan line



Quiet on the ‘Met



Winding my way down Baker Street…


A quick transfer and £2.80 of Oyster credit gone, I was at the old Great Central terminus of London Marylebone.

Another trip to a ticket machine, and I had a ticket for Birmingham (and at the super off-peak price of £28.90 return). With a train going in 10 minutes, I wasted no time heading up to platform 5 - where a waiting (and refurbished) train was waiting to go.


The Grand Central Railway shed – Or Marylebone Station



A Refurbished Chiltern Clubman waiting for the 1 hour 40 trip.


Chiltern Railways London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill
Class 168/2 Chiltern Clubman (4 car unit)
£28.90 return


Boarding the train, I realised I had got in at the quiet coach. To be honest - at this point, I hardly cared as I was going home.

After nearly totalling a businessman’s laptop, and myself, I settled down for the final leg home.

The route was a "fast mainline" route, only stopping at Banbury, Leamington spa, Warwick parkway, Solihull, Birmingham Moor Street and Birmingham Snow hill. I was happy for a terminus at snow hill as taxis are bit easier to use from there.



Ssssssh!!




Route map

Let's look at the train as it's been to be refurbished. The first thing to note is the outside which has some gray go faster stripes

Inside, the dark blue these trains had before have turned... You guessed it - grey.







Still have power at seat.

Notice a theme?

Still, the seats whilst re-upholstered were quite comfortable for a train seat.

The train pulled out Marylebone on time, and accelerated out of London, crisis crossing lines and onto the Chiltern Main line.

There was a trolley service of drinks and snacks that passed through the train (and had a very low uptake) as the train sped through High Wycombe.

However, a call if nature needed to be answered… and Chiltern railways seemed to have gone mad with the refurbishment here too.

Well judge for yourself.


Congratulations Chiltern railways. You win.

There was a swap around of passengers at Leamington Spa, with a lot of people getting off, and a fair amount of people getting on the train. I was still in my post holiday bubble, watching the world go by.

Soon enough Warwickshire melted away and the train entered into the urban area of Birmingham... Where I decided to play "hunt the keys to the flag"... And promptly lost in the time allowed.

I exited Snow hill station, I decided the best thing was to look for my keys in comfort - and do it in a Starbucks as the rain had begun falling again in Birmingham.


Snow Hill station


Thankfully, there's a small branch on Colmore Row, and for the cost of a tall Americano, I had a warm place to find my keys (which were not in any of the usual places - it was in the laptop storage area. I'm still working out how.)



Coffee.. with keys




And me taking over Starbucks.

With the keys back in their usual pocket and the bags replaced, there was only one place I wanted to go... And that was in a taxi back to my flat.

Thankfully there were some parked up, that took me the mile or so to the gateway of my block of flats. With the keys working, I was in the complex of flats...

... And finally at my front door.


There's no place like home.
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