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Old Aug 1, 11, 2:07 pm   #1
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New York & Chicago - 30th Birthday Celebration


It was June 2010 and my fiancé and I had been discussing our holiday plans for later in 2010 when she asked me what I wanted to do for my 30th in February 2011. For her 30th just 6 months earlier we had gone to NYC for 5 nights so the options were wide open!

We worked out that we could realistically take a week off work but felt that Asia was just a bit far away and South America we wanted to visit, but with more time. In the end it came down to Europe or North America.

We’ve been to the West Coast and visited NYC a number of times but we had always fancied Chicago so that was identified as an early runner. However, as my favourite sport is ice hockey my 30th seemed a good excuse to head back to The Garden and so the trip was now beginning to take shape that involved splitting a week between New York and Chicago.

Hope you enjoy the trip report.

Last edited by Euan; Aug 4, 11 at 4:48 am Reason: All parts of report added.
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Old Aug 2, 11, 2:24 am   #2
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Making The Booking

The intention was to make use of an Amex 2-4-1 voucher and fly business class to New York or Chicago and back from the other.

We had flown every class with BA (albeit not down back for 5 years) but had never flown the London City to New York route, something I was keen to try out and one of my main reasons for including New York in the trip. It was also an opportunity to get boarding pass with BA1.

We were able to get two seats on BA1 on the day we wanted and as we couldn’t get Club World seats coming back from Chicago we would have to slum it in First. Oh the hardship! Actually I’d have preferred CW (25,000 miles less!) but such is life. As we were returning from a different airport I had to call and make the booking, all of which was done with ease and seats selected thanks to my fiancés Silver status.

The next job was to get us from New York to Chicago. There were ample flights throughout the day to Chicago with a variety of airlines. The alternative was to travel with Amtrak on the overnight train which departs New York at 4pm and arrives into Chicago at 10am the following morning.

Whilst the fight would have been quicker, it meant going back to the airport, etc and would only give us a small amount of time more in Chicago or New York given the timing of the trains. The train also worked out considerably cheaper than flying by the time you take into account air fares, transport to/from airport, additional nights hotel and meals. Travelling by train would also be a more relaxed experience and would let us see other parts of the country.

We booked our train tickets 8 months in advance and got the cheapest fare, $86 each for our coach ticket and $188 for the accommodation upgrade which was a Viewliner Roomette that included a toilet and sink but no private shower. The cost of the accommodation also included our meals (dinner and breakfast) and drinks, with the exception of alcohol.

As for hotels we decided to try something a bit different in New York and opted for the small Library Hotel. My fiancé wanted a view over the lake in Chicago so we went for the W Lakeshore.

Last edited by Euan; Aug 3, 11 at 2:54 am
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Old Aug 3, 11, 3:03 am   #3
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BA1 - London City to New York JFK [Part 1]

So the day had finally arrived and in less than 5 hours we would be walking up the steps to enter the A318 that would be taking us to the Big Apple on BA1.

We woke up relatively early and my fiancé cooked a lovely breakfast before doing some last minute packing prior to starting our journey to London City Airport.

From my fiance's flat in London it would take us around an hour to get from Clapham Junction to LCY by public transport (which was our preferred option for this trip). First up was the train to Waterloo where we would take the Jubilee Line to Canning Town and finally the DLR on the London City. We would have gone via Bank had there not be major works taking place rendering the escalators and lifts out of order.

The DLR train which we joined at Canning Town was very full with passengers heading towards City Airport, many sporting top tier frequent flyer cards and/or business class luggage tags.

We arrived at City Airport and made our way down the escalator towards the main entrance.

Upon reaching the front door to the airport we approached BA's dedicated New York check-in desk where the check-in staff printed our boarding passes, tagged our bags to JFK and wheeled our cases away. Overall we found this an extremely efficient and friendly service.

We strolled into the airport terminal and walked past the BA check-in desks where we could see our bags being taken away.

Next stop was the London City security area which is notoriously famous for being slow (although better than it was). I had read/heard that they provided a dedicated security line for the New York service to enable the late check-in of 15 minutes for the trans-atlantic service. As we were there 90 minutes before departure I wasn’t sure if the dedicated line would apply.

Approaching the security entrance we handed over our boarding passes which the man took one look at, scanned and at the same time said "So you're my New York passengers" very clearly and quite loudly for all to hear! We were then directed to an empty security line and staff manning that area we told we were for New York. Needless to say security was quick!

With the time now approaching 11.30 my fiance wished to do a little magazine shopping for the flight before we proceeded to Gate 24 which was now showing as open.

At the bottom of the stairs our boarding passes were checked and we were given US Customs Forms which we had to complete prior to our arrival in Shannon.

At this point there were 11 other passengers in the lounge, some of whom knew each other, and so we found two empty seats with a table beside them and sat down.

There was a selection of drinks, fruit and crisps available in the lounge. Whilst it in no way compares to the offer at LHR it is a different product and I don’t believe it merits a bigger selection. I doubt many turn up 2 hours in advance at LCY to make use of the lounge facilities and to relax!

I got us each a nice brew each and helped myself to some fruit whilst we completed the customs forms.

Boarding was announced at 12.30 and everyone was invited to board their leisure. A couple of passengers crossed the tarmac straight away whilst others finished up phone calls or packed away their papers before heading out to the aircraft. We finished our cuppa and then strolled out to the plane when I could see no queue on the steps.

This was the final BA cabin (other than the new First product) that we had to experience and I was very much looking forward to stepping on to such a small plane with only 32 seats.

Wow - what a fantastic plane!

We were welcomed on board by the Gatwick based, Mixed Fleet crew who were very friendly crew and directed to our seats, 2A and 2B. Pillows and blankets were on our seats which we put in the overhead lockers together with our bags. Coat hangers were waiting for our jackets which were promptly placed in the cabinet at the front of the plane.

All 15 passengers were on board by 12.40pm and we left the stand at 12.50pm making our way to the runway. Take off was surreal – very short and powerful and before we knew it we were up and through the clouds that were covering London.

The flight time to Shannon was 1 hour and 10 minutes during which time we would be served a starter, a drink and our orders taken from lunch en-route to New York.

Crew were quickly into service and during the flight to Shannon we managed several glasses of champagne and the duck salad on the short hop to Shannon. The internet sign went off at 10,000 sq ft people began reading emails, etc.

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Old Aug 3, 11, 3:06 am   #4
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BA1 - London City to New York JFK [Part 2]

We landed in Shannon shortly after 2pm and were led through the terminal where we arrived at the entrance to immigration. For those of us with checked bags, 6 out of 15 passengers, there was a holding area where we had to wait until they had carried out the necessary work before we could proceed.

Once we were given the all-clear to proceed there was a quick security check and while laptops and liquids could remain in our bags, shoes had to be removed. We then made our way to Customs and Immigration where there were 3 counters open for 6 passengers and it didn’t take long!

We had to identify our bags and then our passports were stamped and we were back at the gate area waiting for final on-board preparations to take place before we could re-board.

The entire process was carried out very effectively and we were back on board within 30 minutes ready for take off at 2.40pm.

While lunch was being prepared the media players were provided and set-up. Whilst it is not the full selection of films that you would get from LHR it was more than enough to keep me occupied for a few hours!

A nice salad to start with followed by the fillet which was fantastic and very well cooked. No complaints with that or the chocolate pudding. All washed down with some beer.

Following lunch the other half watched a film whilst dozing whilst I had another beer and continued to watch more movies whilst having the odd chat here and there with the very friendly cabin crew.

Afternoon tea was served before we arrived in NYC and I opted for the pork belly salad with some scones and cream cakes.

After landing we had a short wait before arriving on our stand as we had to wait for other aircraft to leave the area.

A lovely flight with some great views.

We arrived on stand just after 4.30pm, 45 minutes ahead of schedule and beside my favourite aircraft, the mighty 747. I would have been nice to get a picture of the A318 beside the 747 but it wasn’t to be.

The next part interested me, how long would it take us to get into a taxi?

I started the timer as we left the plane and kept it running whilst we walking through the terminal, collected our bags and got into a yellow cab for Manhattan. It took us just under 9 minutes!

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Old Aug 3, 11, 8:39 am   #5
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Thanks for the first part of the TR, it sounds as though the aircraft was only half full, which must have been nice, have never been to JFK via LCY, obviously a difference experience than going through T5, and could be more personal, look forward to the rest of the TR in due course
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Old Aug 3, 11, 9:11 am   #6
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Originally Posted by BA5E View Post
Thanks for the first part of the TR, it sounds as though the aircraft was only half full, which must have been nice, have never been to JFK via LCY, obviously a difference experience than going through T5, and could be more personal, look forward to the rest of the TR in due course
Yes just under half full which was indeed a nice experience. Service was excellent. If you get the opportunity to do it I would highly recommend it.
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Old Aug 3, 11, 9:12 am   #7
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Library Hotel, New York

For this trip we opted to stay at the Library Hotel in New York which is a boutique hotel (60 rooms) located on Madison Avenue.

The hotel uses the Dewey Decimal System to allocate over 6,000 books throughout the hotel, a quirky feature that we liked. It’s well located, 5 minutes from the Grand Central Terminal which is handy for accessing the subway.

We opted for a deluxe room queen which was compact (as most hotels are in NYC) but provided us with enough space for our 4 night stay in New York. Breakfast was inclusive which consisted of cereals, breads, pastries, fruit as well as tea/coffee which made use of 2 mornings out of the 4, the other two we ate out at some local restaurants. In addition, free tea and coffee was available throughout the day.

Whilst many would opt for a big chain hotel that will reward them with air miles or hotel points, in many instances I would as well, we quite like using smaller boutique hotels.

Would we go back? Possibly depending on the deal. There was nothing wrong with the hotel but we’re always open to trying new hotels and there a lots in New York.
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Old Aug 4, 11, 4:08 am   #8
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Amtrak #49 – New York to Chicago

The last time I took an overnight train journey was in 2008 when flights to the South East were cancelled due to air traffic computer issues. As a result I ended up taking the Caledonian Sleeper from Glasgow to London… an interesting experience which hopefully this would not be like.

Our train was due to depart at 3.45pm and so we checked out of our hotel at 1pm and made our way to Union Station. The confirmation from Amtrak contained a bar-code which we had to scan at a self-service machine to obtain our tickets.

Union Station is most definitely not the most glamorous of stations - all underground, no natural light and certainly nothing like some of the stations you see in the UK, Glasgow Central as an example.

We quickly found a self check-in counter and were able, after several attempts, to print out our tickets. From there we proceeded to the checked luggage counter and dropped our large suitcases leaving us just with our carry-ons bags. Service at the counter was without a smile but efficient. A group of college girls had checked bags in and then had to get them back to retrieve personal belongings much to the displeasure of staff.

We made our way to the lounge. I wouldn’t go as far as to say much more than that. It was a windowless room with chairs and there were soft drinks and nuts available. It was really just somewhere quieter to sit and had a clean toilet. At 3.40pm there was an announcement that our train was delayed, but no time was given for departure.

During our time in the lounge we watched many businessmen come and go, largely for the Acela Express trains, which run to Boston in the East and Washington in the West, together with a number of ladies clearly in NYC to ‘shop’.

At 4.30pm out train was ready for boarding and so we proceeded to make our way outside to the queue. It reminded me largely of the BA queues you frequently see. No order to anything and you certainly didn’t get any priority boarding if you had accommodation booked.

We were soon down on the platform and whilst the masses went forward to coach we eventually discovered where we had to go to find out accommodation. The attendant told us which was our carriage but we initially ended up in the wrong room until our attendant showed us to our correct room - the tickets were not particularly clear.

The room was compact to say the least. It had two large seats and a desk we were able to pull out. There was storage up above for small bags and hangers for our jackets. Within the room was a sink and toilet. In the evening, the top bunk bed dropped down whilst the two seats slid down and converted into the lower bunk bed.

Shortly after we left New York the restaurant attendant and asked what time we would like to eat dinner at. It was now 5pm and we chose to eat at 7.30pm which would give us time to enjoy the rest of the daylight as we made our way up the side of the Hudson River.

Dinner was pleasant and given it was included in the price of our ticket we had no complaints. The steak was cooked as we had requested and we had a cold beer to wash it all down.

We returned to our room after dinner and at around 10pm the attendant came by to convert our seats into our beds for the night.

The beds were fairly comfy and we both had decent nights sleep. The big benefit in comparison to the UK Sleepers is that you are not side on which means you don't roll forward and back when the train slows down!

We rose in the morning to find that we were 3 hours behind schedule which for us wasn't an issue as it meant we would get to enjoy more of the midwest. The reason for the delay resulted in the original delay - as we were travelling along the main lines, we had to give way to trains who were running on time.

Anyway, I got up and had a shower at the end of the carriage which was perfectly adequate whilst my fiance got ready in the room.

We then went to the restaurant car for breakfast which when we got there were advised they had made last call 20 minutes ago. The staff took pity on us when we explained we thought they were open for another 20 minutes and offered us breakfast... french toast it was!

And it wasn't bad either! It certainly set us up for the day along with a couple of cups of strong tea... just the way I like it.

We eventually arrived in to Chicago and after a short wait our checked bags which soon arrived.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience although I'm not sure how much my other half did (I like to think she did!). If it was a longer trip, say 2 days (San Fran - Chicago,, etc) I would go for the bigger room which gives you more space as well as a separate toilet and shower in your room

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Old Aug 4, 11, 4:39 am   #9
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W Lakeside – Chicago

We chose this hotel as my other half wanted a hotel overlooking Lake Michigan and this fitted the bill. When we booked we were able to get a good deal on a corner suite which gave us amazing views over the lake.
The hotel itself was nice, the lobby appeared far fresher than the rooms which were good but you could tell it was an older property which had been refurbished.

Our room was large - plenty of space for the two of us, possibly to big, but both the bed and the bath products were excellent - I should know given the other half came away with more than a dozen bars of soap!

Location wise it was ok, a 10 minute walk to the Magnificant Mile and we used the buses regularly.

The breakfasts in the restaurant were good, a wide selection and good value for money when compared to the cost of eating elsewhere. Free wifi was available in the lobby it’s just a shame that they want to charge you for using it in your room.

I don’t think we would stay here again if we visited, nothing against it, would prefer to try a different area.
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Old Aug 4, 11, 4:42 am   #10
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BA296 – Chicago to London Heathrow (Part 1)

We took a taxi to airport and on arrival found the check in area which was very quiet. I managed to get my bag checked through to Glasgow and boarding pass printed out. From past experience with US airports we asked and were advised there was essentially nothing beyond security - and to be honest there was barely anything before security either!

RJ check in was due to open as there was a large queue forming for the economy check in.

We got a quick milkshake/smoothie pre-security more to pass the time than anything - duty free was poor as were all the other shops. Rather pathetic for an ‘ International’ terminal.

The flight would be boarding from gate M11 and was late arriving and when we arrived at the gate there was a USA 300 sitting getting de-iced.

We made our way to the First lounge which is small, very small but given there was only one other person it was nice and peaceful for a quiet drink prior to some dinner pre-flight.

We stayed in the First lounge until 7pm when we moved across to the Terraces lounge and into the dining room for dinner. As I was planning on eating on board I opted for a stir-fry wrap whilst the better half opted for the clam chowder to start with followed by salmon, both of which she advised were very good

From research online I was well aware that whilst both ORD flights are operated by 777s, the earlier flight, BA294 is the one that is most likely to get BA’s new First product. I therefore did not expect to get to sample NF so you can imagine my surprise when upon re-entering the First lounge I saw the 777 parked at the gate with 3 blocked windows in the First cabin!

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Old Aug 4, 11, 4:43 am   #11
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Boarding was announced just after 8.30pm and we proceeded to the gate where we were met by the usual scrum and carnage that BA appears to manage to create whenever they board an aircraft. As I’ve said before, other airlines are able to board all First and Business class passengers BEFORE economy, why can’t BA? This is a large area where BA let themselves down when it comes to their premium product, particularly First class.

We eventually got to door 2 and whilst at first no-one was available to show us forward a crew member did quickly appear to show my other half to her seat whilst I went to the far away aisle and found my seat.

This was our first flight on the 777 in First and so I had chosen 2E and 2F (on a 747 we opt for 2A and 2K). There were 11 of 14 seats taken in the cabin with only 1F, 1K and 4K free which the crew thought was unusual to be such a busy flight for a Saturday night.

Service began as soon as I found my seat and I was asked if I would like something to drink so whilst a glass of champagne was brought to me I hung my jacket in my personal wardrobe.

Once passengers were settled and drinks had been provided the crew handed out amenity kits together with First pyjamas which I wear once during the flight and then pass to my other half who uses them at home. The safety video was played on the nice new F screens and crew then cleared away the empties whilst we taxied and it wasn’t long before we were up in the sky.

So what was I most looking forward to? Well the new seat of course and here are my general thoughts:
  • Wider - I felt it was considerably wider than old F, even more so when used as a bed.
  • More comfortable - felt more padded and supportive.
  • Controls - I liked the new seat controller which I found easy to use and responsive. I would have liked the option to raise the leg support without lowering the rest of the seat.
  • The TV in my opinion it’s a perfect size for its location.
  • Lighting good
  • Cabinet good for coat but quite cramped after that.
  • The middle seats are filled in giving more space for placing items
  • Excellent sleep!

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Old Aug 4, 11, 4:45 am   #12
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Last part...

Whilst my other half had cookies and hot chocolate and then went to sleep I opted to watch a film and have a bit of a meal. The majority of the cabin went to sleep so service was quick and efficient - also very friendly.

I then asked the crew to make up my bed whilst I got changed in the toilet and hung my clothes in my wardrobe, a little bit of a squeeze to fit in boots, jeans, etc as well as my jacket. However, a handy location.

After a 4 hour sleep I awoke and was asked if I would like breakfast... how could I refuse!

After breakfast the crew began preparing the cabin for landing which didn't take long. We didn't have to circle around Heathrow for long and before we knew it we were touching down at Heathrow and making our way towards T5.

The cabin crew, as I later found out, were American based and very pro-active.

As we came up to stand the airbridge began it’s move to door 1 but then suddenly changed direction and ended at door 2. As the doors opened I saw the Club World crew holding back the passengers whilst passengers in First gathered their belongings and deplaned.

By this point we were chatting to all the cabin crew from First, discussing our trip, our LCY flight which they were most interested in, and our travel with BA over recent years. We’d been talking for well over a minute since the other First passengers had left and I turned around to see the CW passengers still being held back waiting for us to finish our conversation with the crew.

We left some minutes later after some of the CW cabin had departed but the crew still held them back as we approached the door to leave and thanked us for travelling. All in all a fantastic crew!
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Old Aug 4, 11, 2:09 pm   #13
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Thank you for a very enjoyable and comprehensive trip report! I'm glad you enjoyed Amtrak and weren't put off by either New York's Penn Station (which is a national embarrassment) or your delay. I do agree that the Roomette is a bit tight for two people and if you ever do take a long trip, the Bedroom is a worthy upgrade. However, you will have to sleep sideways!
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Old Aug 4, 11, 3:09 pm   #14
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@CMK10 - Yeah Amtrak was good but if it was a 2 night trip I would definitely pay for the Bedroom, one night I can manage in the Roomette

Not the nicest of stations... shame they don't depart from Grand Central Terminal!

Last edited by Euan; Aug 5, 11 at 2:42 am
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Old Aug 4, 11, 8:16 pm   #15
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Thanks for the great report. The new BA first really looks like a great product.

Penn Station really is an embarrassment. It was at one time a beautiful station before they tore it down to build a new arena and office building. The flipside was that it jump started the modern preservation movement.

There is some talk of moving the Amtrak trains to a new station across the street in a building that used to be a post office. We will see if that ever happens.

As to Terminal 5 at ORD, they just awarded a new concessions contract and they are planning on moving more amenities inside the sterile area. So hopefully that will improve too!
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