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Old Sep 18, 08, 7:55 pm   #1
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Be Scared with US! LHR-PHL-SEA-PHX-ORD-PHL-LHR

Previous Reports:

LHR-BRU-LHR ... or "How do you burn a £50 BMI voucher without too much pain?"
MAN-ORD on BMI (29/10 ... or Did Kevin Make it to ORD?)
Kevin goes for a little mileage run on UA - ORD/CMH/IAD/EWR/ORD
ORD-MAN in BMI Premium Economy (with Pictures)
Kevin’s American Adventure – MAN-ORD-SEA-ORD-MAN (4 flights, 2 weeks) in Y..
BMI ORD - MAN in Premium Economy: How hard can a PE product drop? (also random moans)
LHR-PHL-SEA, SEA-PHX-ORD, ORD-PHL-LHR - In Y, Be scared with US! (This Report!)

As per usual, this trip report is filled with photos, insightful (and not so insightful), witty (and completely sarcastic) comment, and of course, the little details that as travellers, we come to know, notice and laugh/cry/go ballistic at. I'm travelling in Y... I'm allowed one luxury at least!


I'll be updating this as the trip progresses, and of course will happily natter on about things that are completely irrelevant . Standard Photos rules apply (ie, the best of will be featured here - everything else on my Photoblog - which of course, I encourage you to visit ).


Preamble:

Well its time for me to travel again, and alas, I'm being completely original in my destinations (have a look at my flight memory... yes the same cities again). With a standing invite in Seattle, and a bit of catching up to do in Chicago just after, this seemed like the perfect late summer break I need after doing my normal work for "mother service".

This time, as well as the flights, I'll be doing more "trip" aspects of the report (as opposed to a flight report)- so public transport, hotels, what I didn't do, etc will be factored in to round off the report). Well I can try at least can't I people?

Booking

Normally I'm a loyal BMI supporter. I'll happily pay a bit more to fly with them and abuse lounge facilities etc etc. At £100 more to fly them, however much I love BMI, its not worth £100 ($200) more (or is it? I'll work that question out by the end of this report).

So off to Kayak and co, and route research was done. At one point I considers BA/AA (nice direct flights, but £620, UA (with routing's to SFO) for £580 and even Northwest for £580 (Tempting, but still in the 25% mileage land) Of course CO's BHX-EWR hop was tempting, but the thought of crossing the pond in a 757 still doesn't exactly make me happy.

However, a little digging on Kayak, followed by a bit of delving into the US Airways website gave an attractive price of £484 at peak season (not too wallet crunching), with a nice 12+k of status mileage too (and we mustn't moan at status miles)

After using the Amadeus-like booking engine that's available to the UK users of US Airways website, the following convoluted routing was booked:

London Heathrow > Philadelphia > Seattle Tacoma > Phoenix Sky-Harbour > Chicago O'Hare International > Philadelphia > London Heathrow


Map provided by the most wonderful Great Circle Mapper - http://gc.kls2.com

For those of you who aren't map readers:
Far Right - LHR (London Hellhole)
Where everything comes together - PHL (Philly)
Top Left - SEA (Seattle)
Bottom Left - PHX (Phoenix)
The chink in the link back to PHL from PHX - ORD (Chicago O'Hell).

A lot of new firsts for me, including 2 new airports, NOT going through Chicago T5 International (- Those who know know why are invited to look back at my constant blathering about ORD T5 in previous reports and its complete and utter uselessness) and risking US Airways.

And an Open Skies flight (and no I'm not talking about the BA mini-me airline ), this is one of the new routes that have appeared since Open Skies finally opened up LHR a bit more. So as NW, AF, DL and US moved into Heathrow thinking of easy pickings and to "lower fares", so I'll be looking at if they provide value in comparison to my normal routing's.

A check in June proved to be interesting as US decided to schedule change a few things - thankfully just times (with a few more precious minutes at PHX)

So there's the planning done. I mean to say - How bad could it be? (apart from the little gun incident, the lack of pretzels, lack of IFE on the domestic legs, charges for everything - do I now have to tip even??? - maybe I should had spent that extra £100...)

So onwards!

Off to LHR!

National Express
Birmingham Digbeth (Oxford Road) - Heathrow Central Bus Station


Being based in heart of the country (Birmingham) of course, its a choice of rail or coach to get to London (as London is the centre of the UK and there is no other life beyond London so some say, and to send an aircraft 100 miles to LHR is considered a bit silly by others). So once again like most of my adventures I booked a coach journey. £29 later for a 06:15 departure from Birmingham, to arrive at LHR for 8:55. The next departure might had got in for 10:30... but knowing Heathrow traffic, that would had left the times dangerously close for my liking (and yes - I'm one of these people who insist on arriving 3 hours at least before a flight).

As i had been up packing and repacking (you try lugging a studio around - it gets on your nerves very quickly) a 2hour doze was the best I was going to get. I called my local cab company which after they relived me of £5, I was at Digbeth station.

The coach arrived as I did thus, not a lot of time was wasted, and u was quickly aboard and then let the coach and weave its way down to LHR via BHX, Banbury and finally Heathrow 3 ours later. Enough time for a few z's, but not enough for a full kip.

The coach finally pulled into Heathrow Central bus station, where I was disgorged out of the coach and I collected the ski bag and rucksack.

Tradition states that I go inside and wait for a bit with check in not due to open for a while. This was the perfect time to grab a coffee to attempt to stay awake until my friend arrived

Heathrow T1


After I caught up with my friend who would be my travel companion for this little jaunt, we proceeded to check in , which was thankfully uneventful, with of course the fun of negotiating luggage prices.

There are some little blessings for being a *A Silver (and these are little ones). As most of you are aware, a lot of the US Airlines are doing impressions of RyanAir (sans Michel O'Leary's charm and wit) and charging for every little thing. Thankfully they 1) haven't tried it on Long Haul international routes and 2) my silver spared me the indignity of extra luggage charges, as well as my friend as we're on international legs.

After a quick cigarette break for my friend (the last one for a good 12 hours for her), it was time to pass through security and the rat run known as Terminal 1.

As per normal, it was the standard LHR shoe shuffle, but the laptop remaining "in bag" (thanks for the introduction of 3D scanners), and we were clear into the Heathrow Mall... I mean Terminal 1, but not before registering for IRIS

IRIS seemed to be busy with use today, and with building contractors coming to take a peek at the office, they closed it after I had re-enrolled into IRIS.


LHR sends people to sleep - FACT!

Alas being a Silver, no free hopping into the BMI lounge to get a hit of coffee, so it was stuck in the public zones awaiting the departure call. This being BAA of course and to maximise your time shopping at their shops, no calls are made until about 45 minutes of your flight (with the lights changing from Boarding to Last Call as fast as you can blink).

After the long hike to gate 40, and another APIS check, I was finally through, with boarding commencing by class then two grouped zones.



Obligatorily A380 photo


My A330 in the distance.

US Airways US729 LHR -> PHL,
Airbus A330-300, Seat 16H, Economy
Booked Departure time: 13:05 BST, Booked Arrival Time: 16:10 EST, 12th Sept.


Boarding was completed in zones, with Envoy, then economy seating in groups. We were seated later as we were "closer to the front" in row 16. A good thing really as these seats have an inch or so extra room so it didn't feel like a total sardine can.

Boarding was through 1L, stampeding the exclusivity of Envoy and through to Economy.

Safety demo was done manually – surprising as the unit had AVOD screens.

Lets see how cheap we are then. Headphones. $5, alcoholic drinks $7 . Since I hadn't brought my United ones, it was back to the cheap over the ear jobs that get sore after 10 minutes. I really need to invest in a pair of noise canceling ones one year.

The aircraft pushed back on time, and after a chug around Heathrow, we turned onto the runway, and strgiht up in the the big blue.


Off again!

After takeoff, it was a a it turbulent and cloudy – a nice start. What didn’t help was the seat wasn’t exactly behaving. If I lent back too much the seat started leaning back of it’s own accord.

After a while, the IFE started (AVOD), however, where is the airshow function? Didn’t seem to be one . The addition of an old edition of Click, Fast Track, and How I met your mother


IFE Boots!

Service began after 30 minutes , with a sales pitch for the headphones (Guilty), and then lunch and drink service (alcohol declined) and a “meal” service.


Lunch – of sorts.

Hmm. Ok, taking this apart – it was Chargrilled chicken with mash with peas in a Spanish sauce (main – although to be honest, I’m not sure if the sauce would have been anywhere near spain), Bean Salad (side), Chibatta bread (Rock level). The portions were a bit small, but as far as TATL Y food goes, it was edible. That’s’ all you can ask for in Y I suppose.

The seat itself. A bit worn, and a bit narrow I think, and with a few cables here and there… this A330 has seen better days.



Even Envoy looked a bit tired – think BMI Premium Economy for those who have seen my previous reports. Personally, I’m not sure if I would pay for the extra – especially for a 7 hour 39 minute hop. I’ll think about that on the return leg.


Why in the blue...

Drink runs were reasonable, with FULL cans of Diet Coke served *hint hint*, with softs remaining free for me, not a bad thing as that what I mostly drink

AVOD selection was reasonable ie – not great, but I’ve had worse selections in the past

The flight itself started soothing out after crossing into the Atlantic, but it was sill heavily cloud covered. After 3 hours – the llghts finally went down.

The flight itself was quite choppy with cloud cover from end to end for all practical purposes – a shame as I was looking forward to Greenland as usual.

Mid-route, there was a pretzel and orange juice water run. Standard Pretzel fare, small, nibbable and overdone with salt, where as the orange juice came from a can. Oh the fun.


Midflight.

Towards the end of the flight, there was a snack run with turkey ham and cheese herb bread warm snack.


Yes, it was completely artificial. But at this point of the game, it tasted *good*.

Little did I know that this snack would have fuel me...

Next up: PHL-SEA. Or "Run like the wind!"

Last edited by Kevincm; Oct 2, 08 at 9:47 am
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Old Sep 18, 08, 8:04 pm   #2
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Part II - PHL-SEA (or almost not)

At PHL

The A330 pulled into PHL on scheduled… but then the chaos commenced. It seemed that every other long haul flight had pulled in at the same time, thus the queues were horrendous. As the time ticked on, we moved forward slowly. 60 minutes later we finally got seen to.

The INS agent was firm but friendly, digging deeper with each probe. Amazingly, they can’t fathom the concept of people visiting the USA for fun. Oh well.

A quick run to the belt, and the luggage was already offloaded. Rather than pay PHL a cent more, we headed to Customs where they were practicing their Eric Cartman impressions today (You WILL respect my authoritah!). This didn’t help, as it was 17:20 and our bird was pushing back in 25 minutes. We made it through, and through to recheck the luggage.

It was then a straight run for the plane, after clearing TSA. Of course the queue I was pushed into had the scanner break down. So after going into another queue, I was screened, and my friend and I rushed to the gate, where boarding had been pretty much completed, and the door pretty much closed behind me.

US Airways US753 PHL -> SEA
Boeing 757-200WL, Seat 14F
Booked Departure Time: 17:55 EDT, Booked Arrival Time: 20:53 WDT


In June, the first equipment change came out from a A321 to a B757 (with a slightly more advantageous arrival time)

The last time I was aboard on of these was an ORD-SEA-ORD leg on UA in E+. This of course being US Airways, no E+ seating, thus it was time to be squished all the way for the next 6 hours (and it didn’t help that the person in front of me reclined her seat after take off)

Of course, now everything is chargeable, it makes that journey slightly more hellish. And with no time to get anything, I was held captive to US Airways random demands for drinks and snacks.

Sigh.

The equipment that we were booked on today was a complete surprise of a Wingletted Boeing 757. Pam Ann would had been happy.

Although boarding was probably done in zones, by the time I got to the gate with my friend, boarding was mostly compete.

After boarding completed, the aircraft did a taxi around PHL as the runways reversed, and it was back off into the cloud.


Safety demo was done on the overhead CRT monitors.



The adverts played, then some movie was also put on. As I couldn’t be bothered to get the headphones out, I just typed for a bit.

Food run was done and we both went for the turkey sandwich option. At $7, overpriced, but I wasn’t in a position to argue. To be fair, it wasn’t that bad – the bread was drying slowly and the turkey lacked some moisture, but I’ve made worse at home. The crisps and cookie were passable and the coffee… at a buck a cup, it wasn’t that bad, but did lack some umph.



The flight itself wasn’t that bad, but deeply could covered, so for the first 4 hours, it was seatbelts on at all time. Quite a choppy ride for a lot of the journey.


Clear at last...


757 Cablin

The crew seemed to be pretty good for the first 3 hours, before disappearing off to hide fir a bite but they made regular walkthroughs the cabin.

Warning - beauty shots ahead





Obligatory winglet shot


Landing in Seattle was quick, and after a short taxi, the plane pulled into the gate. After the aircraft shut down (and the lights went off too), we deplaned.

On approch to SEA




Luggage delivery – was slow to put it blunt. The CLT service had arrived before us , so was occupying the belt for some time. I was half expecting the luggage still be in PHL, but then 2 suitcases and a very familiar rucksack spat out of the belt, and an almighty rumble from oversized luggage.

Everything arrived

A short trolly push to the link bridge, a queue for a taxi and about an hour after we touched down and got luggage and at the hotel – we had arrived.

Thanks fudge for that.

I was expecting worse, but at the end of the day, it was a pair of good flights, but with US immigration being more useless than normal. Nothing outstanding, yet nothing that was completely below the belt. The US Domestic leg was actually pretty good with the amount of walkthroughs the crew were doing.

Next up PHL-PHX, PHX-ORD or "$%!$?!$ TSA!!!"
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Old Sep 18, 08, 9:36 pm   #3
  
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good stuff!

--Russ
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Old Sep 18, 08, 10:13 pm   #4
  
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Thanks for the report so far. The flights hardly sound like stellar stuff.
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Old Sep 18, 08, 11:10 pm   #5
  
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Really enjoying the read so far look forward to the rest, thanks
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Old Sep 19, 08, 12:19 am   #6
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Thanks for the trip report !!
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Old Sep 20, 08, 7:21 am   #7
  
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Have to tell you, i flew through ORD t5 yesterday on my way to Phoenix and it couldnt have been more pleasant. No queues to speak of at immigration, a friendly agent, my hand was recognised by the scanner, no wait and no grief at customs either. In fact i was round at T3 40 minutes after stepping off the plane and i had allowed a 2 and a half hour connection.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your report as i'm considering burning some U.S miles this winter and you might well decide it for me !!
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Old Sep 20, 08, 8:45 am   #8
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Continued...

Hotel: Ramada Hotel, 5th Avenue, Downtown Seattle

The Ramada Inn in Seattle is in one of those nice positions where it’s 6 blocks to the needle, 5 blocks to the centre and 6 blocks to the waterfront. Of course having lazy people with me meant we were taxi’ing it most of the way.

The room itself wasn’t bad – telly, bath, two doubles. Booked on a expedia special rate so comparatively cheap. The staff were very friendly and good, except for the final night where the power went out in the room except for one plug. This was a pain. Alas no compensation offered. Overall, it’s a comparatively cheap hotel with reasonable rates and normally good service. Recommended mostly, if cheap for the heart of Seattle.

Part II - The American Odyssey (Or will my luggage make it???)


For this leg, its pure internal flights, so we get see US Airways in all its wonderful glory. But first – the check-in.

After pootling back to SeaTac, the joy of check-in was carried out. This was interesting as 1) the agent confused Las Vegas, NV for Phoneix AZ. Then it got better. A bag was overweight. This would be fine, except the tar weight on the scale was pre-set at 5.5lb. Grumble.

After convincing an agent to reset and reweigh it (which amazingly then met the luggage regs), it was time to head over to security.

Now the grand Pooh-Bah of the TSA, His Kipness Kip Hawley the first (as some might call him – the idiot) deemed that the should be 3 sorts of lanes for different passengers – Family, Casual and Expert. Fine in theory. Except when they’re NOT Implemented and everyone just ignores them anyway!

As per usual, a metal detector lane was shut, followed by and kid running around and annoying the X-ray agents. Ah the joy of the TSA carnival. Then of course, it was unpack and give the TSA Shoe fetishists their fix of smelly shoes. Polite enough, but I suspect there could had been a lot better organization of the security lanes and the management of the lanes.



With about 40 minutes to go, we made it past security and after a short walk to gate A2 for our A320 that would take us to Phoenix.

Boarding was conducted in zones, and seemed to be managed well.


US Airways US143 SEA -> PHX, 5F
11:20WDT, ETA, 2:12 Mountain Daylight time
Airbus A320-200.


Boarding was the usual chaos even though it was zoned as there was a full flight, so the usual carnival of “where do I stick my bag in the overhead” was in full swing. I just went for under the seat option.

As this was an ex America West aircraft, it was of course tight as possible seat pitch.

Once loaded, the fight deck were feeling a bit chatty and gave us what to expect, before the safety demo was done (video on drop down screens). The aircraft itself had signs of age, but was clean and seemed to be in a reasonable state. Take off was quick, and we were up in the air in no time.



After a while, it was possible to use electronics as the adverts rolled. A drink and snack trolley then ran, with a low take-up rate on drinks and an even lower rate on snackboxes. After the service, the crew again went into hiding, apart to do a few rubbish runs.



Landing at Phoenix was bumpy, but after a couple of minutes we were taxiing to the gate, and the exit scrum began



At PHX




Welcome to Phoenix Skyharbour International in Tempe. Arizona. Home of US Scareways. Land of the lost

For an “international” (and I’m using that in the lowest possible sense – ONE international a flight a day to London), it .. errm… an odd airport. For a fortress hub, it was very busy, people rushing from point to point - well at the A gates where the flight we took landed . Immediately, the priority was lunch, as to be honest, neither of us were looking forward to a US Airways snackbox. Thankfully from the gate exit, there was an ASAP California Pizza shop. This was used to the full effect, although I doubt the pizza has been to as many times to California as I have.

Pretty soon (a 52 minute gate to gate connection), it was time to board. Only a short stop today as we were due to jump on the next plane to Chicago.



US Airways US007 PHX- ORD 5F
EDT 15:04, ETA 20:22
Airbus A320-200


Another flight, another Airbus A320. Again, when looked after they're nice aircraft. This being US Airways of course "looking after the cabin" seems not to be in dictionary (this is another ex American West aircraft), with the fabric seats seeing better days (and looking like they’re falling apart). Again another solid flight for this 3 hour hop. During boarding, the advertisements were at full volume so another minor annoyance.


Cabin Shot

Push back was on schedule, and after a taxi around the airport, the plane took off up into the ski again.

Take off was a bit choppy and pockety, but once up high enough the flight smoothed out nicely.

Once a safe altitude was declared, pizza with everything was consumed. And then the world was right again.



Again the drink and snackbox service did the rounds, with a few people taking part in it – the majority not. And at this point Miss 4F decided this would be as gooder time to invade my personal space as any, and recline fully back into my laptop.

Sigh. For those of us with Macbooks, we all know there is a limited amount of openness and tilt. After aiming the hinge correctly, I finally had a comfortable typing position.

More Beauty shots




Again, the staff did a couple of rubbish runs, but hid in the galley mainly. The flight turned mainly from day to night and the bright grid of Chicago was visible. After looping over the lake we made our approach and landed.

Of course – we pulled into the “wrong” gate and had to wait for a ground crew to drive the bridge over. Normally not concerning – except I took a look at my luggage and saw my tripod bag wrapped in TSA tape.

At this point, I went into minor panic mode – what had those goons done now?

My worst fears were confirmed when I made it to the belt and saw that the TSA had indeed opened up the bag, and failed to repack it correctly – with damage to the contents inside. Which is nice as I needed the contents for some photographic work.


GRRRRR :MAD:

I wonder if I can sue the TSA $800 for damages to equipment and projected income? It’s worth a thought I think.

Thank you agents of Kip Hawley at Seattle – next time LEARN to repack luggage. Of course I emailed a complaint which I suspect will be completely ignored.

Overall: A pair of normal flights within the USA. Service was neither stellar or lazy, however, the TSA need a firm kick up the sensitive bits over handling of luggage.

Last edited by Kevincm; Oct 5, 08 at 10:36 am Reason: Adjust Kippy's name. (Polietley)
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Old Sep 20, 08, 7:45 pm   #9
  
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Interesting report Thanks.
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Old Sep 20, 08, 9:58 pm   #10
  
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Very nice report so far KevinCM. Nice detail, beautiful photos. Thanks!

-C
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Old Sep 20, 08, 11:44 pm   #11
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Great pictures and excellent commentary. Thanks for the report!
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Old Sep 21, 08, 8:31 am   #12
  
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Good report with typical brit humor. Just a couple of minor points,

PHX has "international" flights to Canada and Mexico in addition to the aforementioned BA flight.

Being a person of a "wrong" color, I prefer to go through US immigration anyday over "snobbish" British immigration.
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Old Sep 21, 08, 9:11 am   #13
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by n125kl View Post
Good report with typical brit humor. Just a couple of minor points,

PHX has "international" flights to Canada and Mexico in addition to the aforementioned BA flight.
And Costa Rica! And we can only hope the rumored, or at least FT-speculated 2009 return of LH becomes a reality.
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Old Sep 21, 08, 11:58 am   #14
  
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enjoyed your report!
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Old Sep 27, 08, 1:19 am   #15
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Food, Hotels and the trip home

Hotel: Travelodge, Chicago.

For the first part of the stay, a downtown location was picked, thanks to a special offer care of Formula 1 and Expedia.

On East Harrison, its not a bad hotel. The Green/Orange line is a bit annoying, but the rooms are clean comfortable and reasonably sized . I’m not arguing much there. In addition there is a little Thai restaurant downstairs and a Dunkin donuts over the road.

My planning may suck sometimes, but this is one of those few times where it came all together.

Internet access was quite frankly so up and down it resembled me having one too many hot curries.

Not bad for par for course. Put in some double glazing into the room, and I’d be REALLY be happy to cut the noise down a bit.

Hotel: Crown Plaza, O'Hare (well Rosemont - close enough the same difference)

You'll forgive me if i don't write too much about this hotel as I was stuck in a corner shooting pictures all weekend of people. Ah the joy of being a jobbing portrait photographer (and holding a special Sunday Sale entitled “The Kip Hawley Fire Sale” – I have nothing if a sense of irony)

As a Priority club member, I had my free internet access, although I was annoyed at the jammers in the ballroom areas which prevented access to the room WiFi networks. This was a royal pain up the backside.

The room itself was fine, but like all the rooms, the aircon were handling cold, but not the humidity. Sunday dinner was at the hotel bar, and oh dear. They forgot our food order totally, and after profuse apolgies with provision for desert and extra drinks, a Rack of Ribs and Salad appeared. Nicely cooked, but the service was lousy. However, they 1) apolgised and 2) Made up for the error. This scored some extra brownie points.

Hotel: Red Roof Inn, E Ontario Ave, Downtown Chicago

My friend insisted we spend an extra day shopping in Chicago, and I wasn’t prepared to pay the extortionate rates that the Crown plaza wanted. Nor was happy stuck in Rosemont (it’s a conference and hotel dump – with as many things to do as I have Gold memberships on all my programmes – none), so it as back downtown – this time into the heart of the city. My friend was very happy with me as this was one of the few smoking rooms I found in Chicago. The room itself was a bit pokey, but again was clean, plenty of power sockets, and the bed was comfy for the job, Good enough for me!

Now for a couple of special reviews – FOOD!


Cheesecake Factory, under the John Hancock building (My Evil Empire HQ) .

It’s dark, with odd accents, but the service was reasonably quick. I went for a “tons of fun burger with fries”.

Lets put it like this – its one of the few burgers I’ve ever used a knife and fork to dissect. Very tasty and filling – and a steal at $10.95.

Pizzeria Due, East Ontario

It is said by that ask 10 Chicago people what their favourite pizza joint is, you’ll get 10 different answers. Here’s my answer to that question

This is one pizzeria I do use as it really feels like a bit of Chicago hidden away, with real people who enjoy their city. We went for a Medium Sized Numbero Uno Pizza with pepperoni, sausage, tomato and cheese – DEEP.


The term “mmmm” applies here. And for two people with drinks and ice cream for under $35, defiantly worth it (with two slices left over – enough for breakfast for both of us the next day.

Ok enough of food and hotels – Back to flying


Part III - The Voyage Home

Parting Chicago is sometimes a sad affair alas. Good friends and good times had by all... as well as some business. But now the serious business of getting home now comes to the fore.

Trips via Chicago have one important diversion. The ORD Shop. Yes, I am sad and I collect aircraft models of what I've flown or been on. However, shock and horror, it’s closed. Not good. How the heck am I meant to geek with someone about model planes before I go home any more?


Check-in

After popping back upstairs check in completed, with bags tagged to London and one bag marks “Heavy – 52Lb” and both baths tagged with priority tags (for the first time this journey). After making sure the TSA didn’t wreck the bag again at the baggage screening point, it was time for my friend to have one last smoke, and through to the TSA shoe fetish carnival. Again, priority lanes were completely ignored.

After a short wait (well for Chicago), we were through and at the gate 50 minutes before flying. With the luggage carnival, that’s not bad going at all.


US Airways US1571 , ORD-PHL, 6C, 16:25CST Departure, 19:20EST Arrival
Boeing 737-400




And boy this little tin can showing its age. Normally I'm one to loosen my seat-belt once the plane seat-belt sign goes off. Not on this old tin can. (I would had actually pushed for a nice EMB-195 or another 'bus... but instead, we get this pile of plane).

The plane was painted up in US airways white, and looking all pristine on the outside. However, if first impressions ever counted, this plane would defiantly be left at the bar all evening. The seats were worn, and the plane had definite throwbacks to when it was last refurbished, and the old onboard phones plated up . Load factor was 100% (something that was pretty common with all the internal flights), and boarding was quick.

Safety demonstration was done by hand as there were no monitors.


Hey - Aren't I meant to be aboard the BMI plane back home???

After a short taxi past the international terminal, we were dumped into the Penalty box for 15 minutes, with the captain being quite chatty, explaining what had happened . It was then a nice roll down the runway and up for the journey to PHL.


Up and away!

Service was reasonable, with no adverts, and just a drinks service that I did not partake in, after which the crew disappeared, with the first class attendant working her herself well through the curtain.


See you Chicago!

After passing into Michigan, I zonked out until 30 minutes to PHL. At this point, the sun was setting, and the work was looking wonderful.



As dusk fell, we landed in PHL to be put into the penalty taxiway, with again the captain giving updates from the flight deck. After a 10 minute wait and with flights stacking behind us, we pulled into out gate on the C concourse for the long hike to A West concourse.



An Unexpected Club visit to the Envoy Lounge.

I had resigned myself to hanging around in the public terminal for the next hour and 15 minutes by the time I had dropped my friend off at the club. Then my mobile phone went off with an invite.

So here’s a quick Envoy club review!

Located in the back of beyond (or near gate A16), the envoy club is on a mezzanine level above this. Initially an offer was made for Envoy Sleeper for both of us if I upgraded, but I declined.


The lounge

The club itself had a selection of pasta based snacks and salads, a very good coffee machine and of course, a bar, where I partook of my usual flight/pre-flight tipple – Double Voddy and Diet Coke. With Absoult vodka. Urp.


Urp

A very relaxed lounge with big comfortable seats, and quiet work areas. The lounge itself was very quiet as the LHR flight is one of the last out of the evening. At just before 10pm, the flight was called from the lounge, and my friend and I slowly meandered to gate A23 for our connection. Boarding again was zoned, with pre-boarding, then zone 1 and Envoy, then zone 2 and 3 (where I entered the plane).

US Airways US728 PHL-LHR , 34A : 22:45EST Departure, 10:15 arrival BST
Airbus A330-300




At this point, my friend and I parted ways - after a bit of chatting to US, I secured her a GoEnovy upgrade. I wasn't really prepared to waste $500 (£280) to jump up to a business product for a short flight, and decided to be happy by myself down the back.

Now why all the way back in Row 34 you might ask? Before I checked in at ORD, I made the effort to check the seat map… and half of the plane was empty at the back. So after a bit a cajoling the agent at ORD, I shifted towards the back of the plane with the option of a spare seat next to me (and that’s how it remained for the flight – bonus! )


The Two Seater Relaxyvous option

I did a little bag check, and low and behold, I discovered the TSA made a mistake – I had left a OPENED BOTTLE of WATER over 100ml/3fl ounces in my bag! Great screening TSA ORD T2 !


Oh agents of Kip!

After a short pushback we were guided to the runways which was quiet, lights were dimmed and it was up into the big black sky.


This wasn't alcohol induced. Honest.


PHL at night.

Service was sluggish but was done by hand at the back of the cabin which was a nice personal touch.

Food:


Food

Ok – From what I could work out, it was softish bread (throwing it would had only caused minor injuries to people), a green salad (it was fresh), Carrot cake (A square of cake) and from what I could taste, it tasted like beef in a black bean sauce with rice. Diet coke was served at the same time.

Although the portions were smallish, they were sized ok for a late night snack. The Beef was edible, but was the poor cow was defiantly hung, and quartered and sliced into lots of little quarters.

A coffee and drink service was done, with another shot of coffee to help get over the earlier double voddy, followed again 30 minutes later with another coffee (with one getting the joke that when turbulence hits – it is of course time for the HOT STEAMING COFFEE service ) .

After an hour of flight, it got quite choppy, and the Captain switched on the fasten seatbelt light, where it remained on for the majority of the flight. As Night turned into day if anything the chop got a lot worse, leading for the crew to remind people more than once that the seatbelt light was on, and that return to your seat was the order of the day.


Dawn

If anything, both TATL legs have been the choppiest I’ve been on – normally there’s only a little bit of chop each way – these two have had fairly solid chop both ways.

The crew was responsive to requests for drinks and the like – although no walkthroughs, they were amenable

Over the southern tip of Ireland, Breakfast was a single Apple Danish Pastry, served after with a drink. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Definitely a reheat job (granted it was hot) but not that large and to be honest – not that filling! In addition the drink cart was running a bit slow as people were waking up.

As we passed Southern Ireland, the plane begun it’s descent. Considering that we were due to stand at 11:05am, there was a very high chance that we would be in UK land/airspace by 9:35 and down by 10:15 (depending on LHR). Again, the ride of the Irish sea was very choppy.


Windsor Castle

After looping twice in one of the stacks, we passed over Windsor Castle, and touched down on the same runway this adventure begun on, and near enough the same gate we departed from. It was then a long hike through to immigration. At this point IRIS was closed, but the UK/EU citizen queue was… empty bar 1 person. Within seconds, I was through border control.


Over the M25 - Almost down.

After a quick break, it was off to luggage claim, where the LHR luggage handlers are as good as most of them ignoring any priority tags.

Once past Her Majesties Custom and Excise agents, I was “free” and back in the United Kingdom.

After bidding my friend farewell, it was time to me to make the long slog back to BHX. Normally at this point, I would be heading to a coach. But with an 10:15am arrival, plus I *really* wanted to stretch my legs, it would be better to catch a train....

Heathrow Connect (HEC)
Heathrow Central -> London Paddington
Class 334 EMU


HEC's are cheap in comparison to the Heathrow express (£6.90 vs £15 for an extra 10 minutes on a train – it’s a saving I’m happy to bear. As I have enough luggage to sink a small ship, I decided HEC over my normal mode of transport – the underground. Purchasing a ticket is relatively easy enough from a machine, and the journey itself wasn’t a problem. What I hadn’t realised is that I needed a ticket to exit Paddington. After playing hunt the ticket, it was found and after making odd faces, I was let through.

After getting off the HEC, it was a quick hop into a Cab to Marlyebone for the final leg of the journey

Chiltern Railways
London Marlyebone -> Birmingham Snow Hill
Class 168 DMU (£5 E-fare)


I normally use this route out of London on the grounds 1) its a cheap route and 2) although it takes slightly longer, its a pleasant enough journey. That tied with a £5 ($10) fare really sums it up. I had arrived an hour early for the train, and rather risk penalty fares or change fees, I just sat it out for an hour waiting for the train.

After nearly twisting my ankle and amazing people with how much its possible to carry, I secured a table which was shared with another person, plugged the laptop in and promptly closed my eyes until about half an hour from home.


Almost there


Home!

Closing comments

Well I made it home. Intact with everything.

Was I right to be scared with US Airways with all the nickel and diming that’s been going on? I think to a point I was, especially with the contents on the Buy on Board and $2 here and there for diet cokes to keep me going. The fact that we were buying food at airports (with equal variability) says a lot and US needs to improve its BOB product. With Star Silver recognised once, I think agents need to reminded that *S’s are people too.

Little things like amenity kits always help in Y, but again, nothing offered. Granted a cheap cutback, but anything to save the pennies – like the headphones it seems.

Another and geeky kind of moan is the distinct lack of Airshow. They have the Rockwell system and no AirShow? That is again, a bit cheap, but as I like track progress, very annoying when I’m try to work out where the hell I am…

The A330 LHR-PHL/PHL-LHR legs – I don’t honestly know if this service works really. The timings of it quite frankly are odd. Whilst they may work as a last minute East Coast > EU connection, I don’t think it works the other way, and maybe they should reconsider retiming the service so it runs slightly earlier and returns as such to give more of a day for people, and more. As US seems to be reducing Gatwicks role (ie closure of the club, some services going 757), US must work on a better plan for Heathrow and either introduce a Charlotte service or introduce more fortress hub links, otherwise the Heathrow plan will be left in disarray, and with almost nothing to fall back on in Gatwick.

The domestic legs – again, like any flight it was crew dependent – get a good crew or a good captain makes up for the odd nickel here and there. Get a crew that hides behind the curtain at every possible time and it goes sour and quiet quickly.

The biggest let down and annoyance was the TSA. Unsurprisingly, the TSA never got back to me with the complaint about what they trashed at Seattle, without so much as apology for the inconvenience caused. Disappointing so say the least and a right total annoyance.

The TSA needs to learn again how to 1) treat people with respect, 2) stick to the own regulations they make up, 3) enforce the priority lanes and management of them, 4) stick to their own silly rules and 5) RESEPCT PEOPLE’S LUGGAGE AND PUT IT BACK AS THEY FIND IT (and if Chicago TSA can do it right, so can the Seattle lot!) .

Right. One day at work, and the flying doesn't stop here. Its off to San Francisco with me!

TO BE CONTINUED! (in another report)

Last edited by Kevincm; Oct 5, 08 at 10:37 am Reason: pictures added.
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