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Old Feb 22, 08, 7:09 pm   #1
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Kevin’s American Adventure – MAN-ORD-SEA-ORD-MAN (4 flights, 2 weeks) in Y..

Photoblog entry: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2008/02/21/


… and now the Prologue (with apologies to Frankie Howard)


Twice a year, I get invited to visit the states to do some photographic work for a group of friends. (a bit of community work is good for the soul, plus I keep my photographic skills within date).

This trip's planning started out as a simple trip back n forth to Chicago to catch up with friends. Of course, by one day, I missed the fare sale. So after watching the flight jump up to £410, to £389, to £320, to £420 and finally £289, I finally secured my flights down to Chicago at least.

At this point, my traveling companion said we had an invite to Seattle. Who am I to refuse that?

For this trip report, I’ve decided to compare and contrast previous flights where possible, checking for continuities, changes and other happenings, asking questions like “Has service degraded? How hard is it to get E+? How many cans of coke can you sink in a flight? And did I leave the hot water heater on at home? (yes… oh heck)

Originally I had a mileage run that I was about to book – but my friend need to get to PHL to see a friend who was having a mini panic attack more than me needing to get another 2400 miles. So therefore I canned my run, and would rather see my friend. So I gave up my $50 for her – it’s a better use for a better reason than mileage running.

So settle in, grab a coffee, tea or other beverage suitable for consumption. This is going to be a long report


Chapter 1 – Manchester Airport – Does having a shiny bit of card make a difference even if you’re in Y?


So after arriving at 7am and making my way round the maze of the airport (and when T1 is redeveloped along with parts of T3, I’ll be a lot happier, I reached the BMI long distance check in. A quick glance, and I calculated a good hour queue there.

After going up to the podium to pull my e-ticket, and my reasons for visiting the states, I pulled my Silver card out… and it worked – I got diverted to the business/PE queue: D. Five minutes later, my bags were priority tagged, lounge invite offered, and I was directed to use the Fast Track lane, and then head to the lounge.

Security was a mixture of the usual (laptop out, shoe shuffle not needed as I had little metal in my shoes, wave at the attendant as you go through the bleeping machine, collect stuff and curse as it all falls out).

After getting thoroughly ripped off at Duty Free (£12 for 1kg of Cadburys Dairy milk?!!?!?! I could had got it cheaper at Cadbury’s world….) , I headed to the lounge (which in T3 is a tiny bit of a maze) and was successfully swiped in. At this point, I found a lovely sofa, a telly and enough coffee to sink a ship (I noted the differences between the business and the Diamond Club lounge – in particular the DC lounge had a far better selection of alcohol than the business lounge, better breakfast options and lots of Lidt Chocolates). As I found somewhere to sit and get comfy, I sought out a power point, and got equally comfy whilst changing my laptop for the long journey ahead.

After the go to gate sign had been announced on the screen, we were given another 10 minutes before being escorted from the lounge and straight to the gate, and being let through pretty first (much to the disgust of some of the gate lice)

BMI BD705, 21/02/08, Depart 10:55
Seat 35K, G-WWBB
Load factor Y = 95%


After being boarded first, the rest of the plane slowly bored (and my luck didn’t hold – a seatmate arrived with a book about dental implants – oh the lovely things people talk about on a flight. 15 minutes late, we pushed back, did a tour of Manchester airport, and took off. The Captain had enabled all 3 spy channels, with NoseCam, BottomCam and “The Map” (with NoseCam being the default)


Lined up on the Piano keys, ready off the off.


After a sharpish turn, we took off taking a route over Scotland, and near Finland, then Greenland, and the ice wastes of Canada, finally dropping us in Chicago

Voyager commenced, with its 29 channels of fun (and the Top Gear Polar Special - I still think Clarkson should just present a show about how many Toyota Hyluxes he can try and wreck in a week)

After a short while, drinks service commenced… and it seems the BMI has looked at TED for a business model for its drink and snack service. Cups of Pepsi/Whatever soft drink and no cans any longer ☹ (but the pretzels remain). So it’s working out cheaper to carry bigger cans of brown stuff, but serving only half of it. Defiantly degradation in service and pretty disappointing.

After this was cleared away, and a short break, the lunch service commenced. By some odd means, I had the same food rotation as I had before, but… they provided a menu


See.. A BMI economy menu!

I of course went for the BMI Curry menu. The rice was slightly soggy, the veggies were best forgotten about, but the curry itself was nice and potent. The salad was good, as was the bread, and the ice cream that followed was actually quite ice-creamy – not a moose.


The meal

There was some printing on the food, and I took a look, leading to one question on the expiry date. …, I have to ask a simple question… WHAT THE HECK IS IN THEM TO LAST THAT LONG?


WTH?!?!!?!?

The service complete, the lights went down and the flight continued its slow plod over ice and sea. A single water service was completed mid-flight, as was a duty free service. As usual, I did my acid test... and they failed (again). How hard is it to stock an A330 Model? 7/7 fails there.

Of course, flying over Iceland and the great Ice packs of Canada lead to pictures.


Over Iceland


Over Canada


Somewhere entering the states
Pics – Suffer

During this flight, I drifted in and out of sleep until the snack service commenced 1½ hour. The usual Chicken or Egg sandwich service occurred, with TED style soft drinks service and Hot Steaming Coffee (Coffee Sir? I F’coffee )



Food service.

30 minutes from touchdown, the cabin was secured, and everyone prepared for landing. Voyager was shut down, but the captain again switch on the NoseCam, BottomCam and “The Map” , and we made touchdown at O’Hare, with a long taxi to the international terminal.


And we're down. Notice the snow...

After clearing immigration (Successfully!) and the luggage came out (I waited till the hole lot had to be delivered – no one warned me it one item was delivered at oversized section, but my main bag came out in the first tranch of bags, I cleared CPB and entered the wonders of the states (before being ripped off on a taxi – but that’s another discussion complexly…)


Summary Scorecard:
Ground Handling – Silver Make a BIG difference at Check in.
Snack Services. First the Japanese crackers, now TED style drinks. Come on… bring the service level back up!
Dinner Service – reasonable, but not excellent.

Thoughts
As my first flight with a shiny bit of plastic, I was extremely impressed with the soft ground product and the attention that was given to me (the offer of Fast Track, the escort from lounge to plane was defiantly appreciated.

However, there seems to be a very slow degradation of the Y product, and it’s showing. The first snack option is important IMO as it shows how you’ll be treated for the rest of the flight. The shared can of coke is a definite cost cutting measure, and boy does it show. Food was acceptable, and it seems everyone got first choice.

Arrivals product worked ok, and seemed to be successful in delivering luggage quickly (if not telling you were it ended up – I had a bag the same time last time, which was delivered by the normal carrousel.)

I’m still impressed with the general BMI Y product, but I am concerned. There appears to be cost cutting, and its becoming more and more visible.

A shame, as the crew were excellent and up for banter and discussions. Still pay for economy, get economy!

Next Up – UA331 to SEA… After I get a nights sleep…

Last edited by Kevincm; May 7, 10 at 6:49 pm
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Old Feb 23, 08, 11:41 am   #2
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Part II - UA331...

After recovering from the pain that is known as a transatlantic flight, it was time to grab a transcontinental flight.

In the morning, I was watching Chicken Noodle Network, watching the snow in New York. I didn’t realise how this might impact until we arrived at T1 at O’Hare International.

After a short hop to the hotel, it was time to check in. As I’m a non-existent person on UA’s Mileage Plus scheme, it was join the back on a medium sized economy queue. After looking at the Mr Chicken. I managed to secure two E+ seats at $44 a pop. After thinking about it for all of 5 seconds, I slid my credit card in and watched the boarding passes spit out. Of course... even as a mere Star Alliance Silver, I wasn’t afforded the luxury of a Priority tag

Chicago T1 security is slowly improving. After having my passport UA scanned, and doing the shoe shuffle, I was asked if I had camera film, and they offered to check it manually.

After my friend caught up, we went through to concourse C with the light show in full progress as usual


Oooh... pretty lights!

We got to the gate with far too much time to spare, and looked at the departure time starting to increase. I then looked where the plane was coming from.

That’s right. Newark, land of snowstorms. Oh Biscuits!

After suffering some of the worst coffee I’m encountered, and taking pictures of planes, and insulting TED (well, it’s a pastime… we all have to go RAR at TED), a UA 757 finally pulled up at the gate.


It’s a 757 in old company colours…

After the godly 1K’s/Global Services pax boarded, by some bizarre means we were entered into Boarding area 1, and boarded quickly as the load factors were… 176 out of 182 were boarding. Pretty much a full house. It also seems they were one attendant down from normal, so it was a quick board and a prayer.

The captain came on, and told us about times, flight length and that Channel 9 was enabled. (To which I yay’d, giving rise to an amused look from the flight attendant)

After sitting around, we finally pushed back, and after a short taxi, we took off into the great blue stuff.

UA331 – ORD to SEA
Boeing 757-200
Seat 10D (was 30A)
Channel 9: - Enabled


And who says size doesn't matter in terms of seat pitch?

38” seat pitch.. A touch of sanity for my legs, but no spare windows a bit of a shame as I had to sneak to the portals for pictures every now and again (then again, the captain had the seatbelt sign on for the first hour of the flight due about 10 minutes of turbulence

The film of the day was “Mr Magoos Magic Emporium.” Of course, even though it has the delightful Angelina Jolie, Channel 9 was enabled, allowing me a complete and utter geek.

Interior… defiantly 80’s/90’s although clean, the orange red and blueish seats (with the Verizon phone intact) do show their age. Defiantly could do with a little refit. The seat pitch was good, but the extra width of the Airbuses wins out here IMO. Unfortunately, due to timings, it seems I’m on another 757 on the way back…


Up front


... and down the back


A Beverage and snack box service commenced (I did not partake of the snack box – there’s only so much pain I’ll put myself through for writing trip reports). I took a coke, but there seemed to be a run on Cranapple during the flight.


Caffine

Even though there were less crew than normal, they seemed to be working through the cabin pretty quickly. They pretty much rushed through clean up (I think they all wanted to get back to their sudoku puzzles personally… one and during the flight of the first class FA’s was happily enjoying them through take off… )

Even though the seatbelt sign was off, the flight was still pretty bumpy. The crew went about their business doing a coffee service (HEY... they’ve been to the Pam Ann School O’Flight Attendants. When its bumpy, its time for a Hot Steaming coffee service!)

Again the seat belt sign pinged, and the captain made the announce to buckle up.

This really continued for the remainder of the flight. This was ok, except I wanted to try and fake taking a few pictures for the blog.

We made good progress over Minneapolis, bumping along quiet happily. After an hour the crew went into hiding, to pop out when the safety light blipped on and off, and the flight continued its progress slowly, handing over to Salt Lake City (where upon the cabin crew took the remaining business meals to have their break). Pretty soon they reappeared, with mallet in hand to break apart the dry ice (and shut an overhead locker – with an awful lot of effort). Some of the crew were still doing their sodoku puzzles until about 1 hour out.

The crew seemed to respond quickly to pings and performed a second drinks service 1 hour before landing.

My friend who was stuck in the centre of the E+ seats kindly review the Quick Pick Buy on Board box. Quote “The Beef Jerky looked like plastic dog’s *** and the only edible thing in it was the Shortbread.”

(Sounds like I didn’t waste $5 there)

We passed a mountain range, continued the approach to SEA



Who says you can’t get pictures from an aisle seat then? Hmm?

Pretty soon we started the decent into SEA, and touched down about an hour late.

Luggage delivery was… slow. Very slow. Weather or not Priority tags were would had helped, I severely doubt it.

And off to explore Seattle...



To be continued in my Photoblog and next up on the Air trip report... "UA200 - How much caffine can I sink?"

Last edited by Kevincm; May 7, 10 at 6:50 pm
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Old Feb 23, 08, 6:02 pm   #3
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Great read and pics Kevincm - good to get reports of flying down the back with BMI.
Looking forward to the return and some pics of Seattle.
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Old Feb 28, 08, 7:27 am   #4
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Part III - UA200 "The Ice Queen Express"

Trip Report SEA-ORD part III - "The ice queen express"
Pictures at http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2008/02/27/

Alas my time at space needle central was over, and it was time to head back to Chicago. Checking Chicken Noodle Network lead to one conclusion... Snow. And lots of it!

After making it to SeaTac, and checking in the rucksack of doom (all 49.5lbs of it), we managed again to secure E+ seats, and after a quick browse of the load factors, it was going to be a quiet flight.

The SeaTac little trains they have that go between the terminals is a nice bit of fun, and make an interesting dimension to connecting between terminals.
Cue boring airplane pictures


Flying fish!


An Alaska Airlines hub? Never!


Inbound UA 757 (I don't collect numbers )

After arriving at the N concourse, I resisted buying a 787 model (as opposed to buying the plushy 777's the day before), an found an empty gate to watch planes take off and land. This was novel for about an hour or so, and by this point, it was time to board with the first boarding group.

Flight UA200, 25/02, D14:14, A20:25 - Seattle-Tacoma International - Chicago O'Hare International
Boeing 757-200
Seat 14F, E+
Channel 9 enabled
Load Y = 60%

Boarding was quick and easy, without the crush of the outbound flight. I managed to secure a window seat for myself a aisle seat for my friend and as boarding went on, the middle seat was assigned to no one (which became a handbag and camera seat)

A seat pounce tried to nick an E+ seat, but was politely pushed back by a FA. for the FA protecting E+

The plane pushed back on schedule, and we taxied to cargo, where we waited for a short while before we turned onto the runway for a powerful take off.

After 10 minutes, we reached an ok for electronics altitude, but the belts sign was lit up for another extra 20 minutes due to turbulence.





At this point, the first service was begun (with BOTH of us avoiding the snack boxes).

Where as last time, we had a lovely and warm flight attendant, this time, we had the ice queen of they skies. Either she had been exposed to Chicago weather or I had offended her when I asked for something very stressful..


A vodka and diet coke!

(call the national guard, the battle groups, and everyone.. I'm having and alcoholic beverage!)

This was met with a total look for nigh disgust. My friend had (shock n horror) a Chardonnay! This was met with equal disgust, as was the fact I was paying with 1K drink vouchers (which fell into my hands - another story entirely). She pushed off, and was nicknamed "Ice Queen of the sky's"

After settling into a nice voddy and coke (HINT: don't poor all the vodka in at once... That or learn to swig the diluted vodka and coke), the move began "Martian kid". All well and good... Except the soundtrack was a bit dodgy (so much so, my friend went back to channel 9)


Arty shot as a cup of coffee looks like a cup of coffee

A coffee service was made, with me being forgotten about until ice queen returning for the milk .

The flight continued, plodding from Seattle to Salt lake city to Minneapolis.

More arty shots..






After we passed Mini, things started to look odd from outside... And it got worse as we were approaching ORD. ... we went closer into the heart of the fresh snowstorms, the snow was literally vertical all the way down from 29500 feet to the bottom.

http://i2.photoblog.com/photos2/6247-1204207187-12.jpg
Hmm...


Its going to be snowy!

Needless to say, with 25 minutes to go the seatbelt signs were lit up, with the ground not really visible until nearly touchdown. As we landed, the runway had not been recently cleared as there was fresh snow over it.


Snow!


After we moved off, we did a slow wander around ORD until we reached the gate, seeing planes covered with snow all the way.


Lots of the white stuff!

After a short break where our plane would be going off to Kansas city next, we got off into the chaos that was ORD, and made luggage pickup, with both bags out within the first 20 items..


Our UA757 parked up at ORD

Then it was off to explore the winter wonderland of Chicago...


Thoughts:

On these ORD-SEA/SEA-ORD legs I’ve seen two very different sides to the flight attendant crews. I've seen the best side where nothing wasn't enough (even when a crew member down with a full load) to the lazy side (a half empty plane, full crew and one FA spoiling it all.)

A big thumbs up for both captains having channel 9 active.

The 757 in E+ configuration is quite nice, with the seat width, however, we both found the seats a bit narrow. This is where the A320 series wins out with the ever so slightly wider seats. The interiors do need a refresh, (as I’ve said before about UA, a paint job does NOT equal a new aircraft, nor a new interior) just to spruce them up. The formal dark blues would suit nicely.

I suppose the biggest issue that's out bar the variability of service is the Buy-on-Board snack boxes.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. Even Ryanair has more selection as a BOB service, and the quality of the food is normally ok. Granted, $5 isn't a lot (i reckon you could swap the $ for a £ to get to the same.

I was due to take a Mileage run, but once I saw what the possible weather was, I abandoned it, so instead, no flying for a few days.

Random Chicago photos will follow in my , but next up on this trip report, the homeward legs - BD706 on the bmi A330's.

Will it actually fly? Will I get PE seating? Or am I condemned to seat 33A with a seatmate I don't really want?

All to be revealed soon!

Last edited by Kevincm; May 7, 10 at 6:51 pm
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