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From New York to London (via New Zealand): AA, QF, CX, BA (F/J)

From New York to London (via New Zealand): AA, QF, CX, BA (F/J)

Old Aug 8, 11, 1:09 am
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Join Date: May 2010
Posts: 1,357
From New York to London (via New Zealand): AA, QF, CX, BA (F/J)

Like many of you Iíve read a few fair trip reports on this forum. Iíve read about airlines I will probably never fly on, and about places which I will probably never even fly over, let alone fly to. Iíve marvelled at the routings, laughed at the irreverent story telling of some of the stories and most of all, loved losing myself in a vicarious journey which helps while away the time on a slow day.

And now Iíve decided that itís time for me to write my own trip report. Covering my journey home, and onwards, from a yearís postgraduate study in New York. 16 segments, plus, on an AONE4 round the world ticket.

I must be crazy.

Most people when learning how to do something start off small. You donít drive a ten tonne truck without first learning how to drive a car. You donít cook a six course meal without first learning how to boil water. You donít become a Jetstar A320 co-pilot without first clocking up some significant flying time... well, at least thereís precedence.

But for better or worse, Iíve decided itís going to happen. I canít promise you wittiness. I canít even promise you coherence.

It canít be that hard, right?
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Old Aug 8, 11, 1:10 am
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Join Date: May 2010
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You might have laughed if I told you: How it all came together

The objectives were pretty straightforward. I was currently in New York. I needed to get to London. I wanted to go back home for a couple of weeks. All very simple, until you factored in that home for me was New Zealand.

When I relocated to New York one year earlier I went on a one way ticket. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be flying back to New Zealand within the year. And as the ticket was being paid for by someone else I had to deal with their designated travel agent. She was worse than useless. I’ve met more competent stuffed animals.

So when I decided I wanted to take the long way home I had a couple of options. I could cash in my remaining portion of the grant by purchasing another one way ticket – which would have involved another long string of emails with Ms. Absolutely Useless – and then book another one way AKL-LHR to get me to London. Alternatively, a round the world ticket for about the same price all up could get me to everywhere I needed to go, with the added bonus of some extra segments to places I didn’t really need to go, and the prospect of getting decent status.

I really didn’t need much convincing.

The first thing I had to decide was how to get home. The most direct route would have been to fly JFK-LAX-AKL. Qantas operate a two-class A330-200 on JFK-LAX-AKL. In fact it would have been the same A330-200 all the way through; even though the flight number changes the equipment stays the same.

I’m a FlyerTalker. On an AONE4. With more time than I knew what to do with. There was no way in all that was holy that I was going to take the most direct route.

Qantas fly a four-class A380 between LAX and SYD or MEL, as well as a four-class 744 between LAX and SYD. The First product on the 744 has been around for a while. In fact, I travelled on the exact same product eleven years ago, when QF still operated the 744 trans-Tasman and sold the First Class cabin as Business. So, given the choice between an ageing First seat on a 747-400 (as much as I love the nose of the 747) and a new First product with all the bells and whistles on the A380, the A380 won by, well, the length of an A380.

Deciding whether to fly through Sydney or Melbourne was a little harder. Sydney offered much better connections to Auckland, whereas I’d have a minimum 7 hour layover through Melbourne. On the other hand, the distance between LAX and MEL was slightly longer, and spending 7 hours in the QF Melbourne First lounge wasn’t exactly going to be a hardship. I’ve also been through Sydney a million times before, and even though I’d never been to the SYD First Lounge, the airport itself bores me. I chose Melbourne.

The next question was whether to take AA’s transcon F product for the JFK-LAX leg or QF J. Now, if Qantas had still been flying a four-class 744 on their JFK-LAX route I would have gone for Qantas. But about a year ago they switched to a two-class A330-200. There was pretty much no benefit taking Qantas J over a less risky connection on AA F. Not only is the Qantas flight out of JFK renowned for being late (so renowned that its callsign QF108 is known as “QF one-oh-late”), I’d also pick up more points and status credits, not to mention get to try out AA’s transcon product. I wasn’t expecting much, but the novelty factor – I’m from New Zealand remember – tickled me. Plus, in my whole year in New York, every time I went to JFK I ended up going through Terminal 7. I was sick to death of Terminal 7. If I never see it again it will be too soon.

When I first told the guy at CX I was dealing with that I wanted to book a AONE4 touching on AKL, HKG and LHR he probably thought it was going to be a relatively simple ticket. I think it took maybe two emails before he realised that he had a lunatic on his hands. The first indicator might have been when I politely rejected his suggestion to route via SYD with its better connections, because I actually liked the idea of a long layover in MEL. Or when I said I wanted to add two CX F turnaround trips within the space of 48 hours when I was stopping over in Hong Kong. Though I think what finally flipped him was when I asked him to reroute my LHR-JFK final segment to LHR-DFW-LGA, just to make maximum use of the 16 segments. Of course, by then, every email I was sending him was prefaced with the line “You probably think I’m crazy but...” It took over a week to get the ticket out because CX’s (admittedly old) system couldn’t figure out how to put all the taxes on the ticket.

I decided to credit to QFF for my status. It had a couple of advantages. Well actually, it only had one advantage: status. Assuming everything I’d read about it was true, QFF would give me oneworld emerald status three-quarters of the way through my AONE4, which would be good through to July 2013, and then soft-land me to sapphire and then ruby, meaning that I could lock in oneworld status through to July 2015. The only small problem was that I needed four segments on a QF flight number to trigger status, and as it stood my AONE4 currently only had 3 with no prospects for more. I decided that wasn’t an insurmountable problem. Plus, the other oneworld programmes (with the possible exception of AAdvantage) sucked. And by that I mean that they wouldn’t give me any status worth writing home about. Which, being someone easily entranced by pretty shiny cards, was all I cared about.

So, the ticket was out. My QFF number was in the system. All I had to do now was say goodbye to New York. And pack. As it turned out, both tasks were much, much harder than I thought they would be.

Next up: the first flight.
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Old Aug 9, 11, 3:00 am
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Subscribed! Loved the Jibe at JQ. Can't wait for more :-D
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Old Aug 10, 11, 12:31 am
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Great report (and it hasn't even started yet!). Love your writing style!
ung1 is offline  
Old Aug 10, 11, 12:46 am
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Yes, most excellent. And well done for making a start on what I am sure will be a great report...

Looking forward to hearing the rest...
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Old Aug 10, 11, 12:56 am
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Wirelessly posted (BlackBerry9700/ Profile/MIDP-2.1 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 VendorID/102)

Oh boy, I can already tell this is going to be good
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Old Aug 10, 11, 1:55 am
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Yep. Looking forward to reading more
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Old Aug 10, 11, 6:57 am
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Yikes. It seems like people are actually reading this report. Now I guess I really will have to finish it.

Seriously though, thanks for the comments. Even though I realise I didn't give you very much to comment on. Knowing that even one person out there is enjoying my ramblings is worth every bit of time I spend writing it. And - gulp - even a comment from one of the undisputed kings of trip report writers! Swoon.

OK. Here comes the first flying bit...
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Old Aug 10, 11, 6:57 am
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1/16: AA F

AA133 JFK-LAX B762 N321AA
When I moved to the States from New Zealand a year ago I flew Air New Zealand, which had a reasonably generous 3 x 23 kg allowance for Business Class. I pretty much maxed it out. It was mostly clothes. I was convinced that to outlast the New York winter I was going to need every piece of winter clothing I owned, and so I packed to survive. As it turned out, although I learnt that snow was very much overrated, I didn’t die. My parents took back a whole suitcase plus of winter clothes when they came to visit for graduation. With the naivety of youth, and the foolish optimism created by the presence of a Y chromosome, I was quietly confident that I would be able to fit the remnants of my wardrobe and everything else I’d accumulated throughout the year into my one remaining suitcase and bag.

Up until this trip, I’d thought that the only people who ever reached the 32 kg upper limit per bag imposed by most airlines were rock smugglers. I couldn’t even see why anyone would be foolish enough to pack a 32 kg suitcase. In fact I don’t think I’ve even managed to lift anything coming near 32 kgs. Well, nothing that didn’t breathe anyway. And even that didn’t end well.

My suitcase ended up topping the scales at an eye-watering 35 kgs. That’s 76 lbs in imperial, and way overweight by any unit of measurement. The skycap who was shepherding my bags for me at T8 told me some of it had to come out. Thankfully, my other bag was well under in the mid-fifties, and so it was just a matter of transferring enough stuff from one bag to the other, though it was slightly embarrassing being one of those people who hold everyone else up in the line because when they get to the front they are pinged for packing the entire contents of their life into a suitcase. My one consolation was that because I had decided to tip the skycap $5 to carry my bags for me instead of paying the evil SmarteCarte trolley vending bay $5 to carry my bags myself, I was using the AA curbside check-in/bag drop, meaning that the only witnesses to my embarrassment were AA employees.

While I was fumbling with the locks on my now 70lb-compliant suitcase and rescuing a pair of socks which had tried to escape during the Great Transfer, the skycap came back with my passport, bag checks and boarding passes... to Melbourne. I pointed out I was transiting to Auckland. Oh, says the skycap, let me go back to the agent.

The check-in agent was a bleached blonde lady smacking on some gum. She was not pleased when she was informed that, after all her hard work getting the computer to spit out bag tags to Melbourne, that I actually wanted my suitcases to end up in Auckland. In fact, the look she gave me suggested that she had a lot of personal problems in her life and I’d caused every one of them. (Though to be fair, I think CX’s creaking old system has to take its share of the blame here for delinking the MEL-AKL segment and plonking it somewhere else in the ticket; the QF agents in LAX had the same problem when they tried to issue me my MEL-AKL boarding pass in LAX).

Dramas with the overweight bag and bag labelling aside, I was quite impressed with the curbside check-in service. Plenty of skycaps to help with bags, and there was no wait at all. I had to go past the premium check in area on my way to security and the queue there was about five deep with only two or three counters open. It seemed like quite a slick operation.

Because I was travelling in First I was entitled to Priority AAccess, which basically means fast track security. Is it just me or does anyone else find AA’s habit of doubling the vowel every time it appears incredibly naff? I mean, I’m all for branding, but AA just seem to take it a little too far. Still, I suppose we should be grateful they don’t call themselves AAmericAAn AAirlines, though who knows, maybe it’s coming. As an enhAAncement.

The Priority AAccess line was long, but nowhere near as long as the regular line which had spilled out of the tensalined area into the main check-in corridor. There were two TSA agents handling the priority line, though they did seem to be inspecting documents and taking more time with each passenger than has been my experience. A team leader opened up a third checkpoint where I was near the front of the queue and I was through pretty quickly, thankfully managing to avoid the millimetre wave detector along the way.

My flight today was leaving from gate 41 over on the midfield concourse. I knew there was an Admirals’ Club (or is that AAdmirals’ Club?) both in the main terminal and in the concourse, but I thought that because I was connecting to an international First flight that I got Flagship Lounge access. The Flagship Lounge shares space with the main terminal Admirals’ Club so it was there where I headed.

Transcon First passengers with no non-AA oneworld status don’t normally get lounge access unless they are either in a full fare bucket (F or Z) or connecting to an international flight. I showed my onward boarding pass at the desk, and the agent reminded me that my flight left from the midfield concourse and that I could choose to stay here and head over a bit earlier or head to the midfield Club now. Seeing as I was already there, and I was going to have to get up and leave no matter which club I went to now, I chose to stay put.

I was a bit puzzled when I walked right past a keycoded door marked Flagship Lounge, as the agent hadn’t indicated that I needed anything to get in. I doubled back with the intention of checking whether I had AC or FL access, but all the agents were busy and after hovering for a bit decided just to pull up the access policy on my phone to check before potentially making a fool of myself. The AA site was a bit vague with respect to oneworld international First flights but did note that passengers travelling on AA First or Business had access to the AC on their domestic connections. I didn’t have that long at the airport, maybe about an hour, so I decided not to bother going back to the desk.

As domestic lounges go the AC was nice enough. It wasn’t too heaving, and pretty spacious with comfortable windowside seating overlooking the approach to runway 13L and the midfield concourse. I knew that I was going to be fed pretty well over the next day and a half by Qantas, so food and beverage wasn’t a huge deal for me. Which was probably a good thing, since like all US (country, not airline) lounges, the F&B offerings were pretty abysmal. Chocolate chip cookies. Apples. Pretzel mix. And, in a move I found incredibly tacky, food for purchase. I suppose it stops people from bringing in outside food (or going outside to get food) but I still found it incredibly downmarket for an airline lounge. Then again, I come from a part of the world where the domestic club lounge has a fridge containing something like thirty types of beer. For free. So put it down to culture shock.

However, seeing as AA went to the effort of catering pretzel mix, I felt it would be rude not to partake.

Getting to the midfield concourse at T8 is painless. It involves going down a very long escalator, walking a short distance in an underground passageway featuring some cool mood lighting, and then going up another very long escalator which ejected me right by gate 41. From the looks of things boarding had just commenced, as the priority AAccess line was still quite long.

AA’s 767-200 First cabin is made up of two rows of 2-1-2. The first row is row 2 and the second row is row 3. Why, I have no idea. While 2D (the middle seat in the first row) came highly recommended – the so-called Captain Kirk seat – I like my windows, so went for a right hand window in the second row. I originally chose this based on the FEBO method that AA uses for meal service, but on a quick visual comparison after boarding I thought it had been a wise choice. The way the seats are configured row 3 actually gets four windows, because row 2’s third window is behind the seat in the upright position (just as the sixth window in the cabin is sandwiched in between the row 3 seat and the J bulkhead). For those of you who do better with pictures than words, see fig. 1:

The only difference is that on the plane I was on, the windows were actually all the same size, as you can kind of see in this boarding shot. Actually you probably can't see it at all, because there's only one window in view, but it shows General Cabin Ambiance and I understand that is important to get across when writing a trip report:

The cabin and flight went out full. My seatmate was a very well put together Asian American lady who spent the duration of the flight reading her James Patterson novel and watching The Lincoln Lawyer on her personal entertainment unit. She didn’t eat, she didn’t drink, she didn’t talk. In other words, given I wasn’t feeling terribly sociable, she was the perfect seatmate.

The purser came by to take our orders for preflight drinks: water, juice or sparkling wine. The usual things followed: boarding was completed, someone’s carry on wouldn’t fit into the overhead locker, the door closed, the plane pushed back. The safety video played. And then they played it again. In Spanish. Since I don’t speak any Spanish other than “por favor mantengase alejado de las puertas” – the result of a family holiday to Disney World in a bygone time when joy and cheer was spread throughout domestic flights by way of free food in coach – it left me free to tune out and soak in the last glimpses of New York outside my window.

After takeoff the purser came by to welcome us individually, take drinks orders and delivered personal entertainment units. This was followed by the obligatory hot towel service. I took a photo of the hot towel. I have a vague recollection that the reason why I did this was because I thought it might be interesting to compare the various sizes and quality of the hot towels across the different OW airlines I’d be flying on. In the light of day, I agree it was a fairly stupid idea, but since I took the photo and this is the only place where I’d actually be able to post it without getting strange looks, I might as well share.

The purser was a pleasant enough guy though I found him a bit abrupt at first – for example, when I told him that my PEU was acting up (the screen would go white while the audio kept playing) he simply beckoned for me to hand over the unit without saying a word. I thought maybe he had a bet on with the other flight attendant (who I think spoke once, to describe the bread basket) as to who could get through the flight saying the least. Or maybe he could tell that I was the sort of person who might ask him strange questions about the registration number or the ratio of meal choices loaded on board. Or perhaps he just couldn’t understand a word I was saying, which was also possible given that every time I said something to him during the flight the inevitable response was a cupped ear and a “say again?”

He gave the unit a few good whacks with a mallet in the galley (or the technological equivalent), but whatever he did with it made it work again, which was all I – and probably he - really cared about. The various plugs and sockets on the AA seat weren’t in the most intuitive place – at least not to me - but this is where some surreptitious spying over at the seatmate’s unit and trailing wires came in handy. There was a fairly decent list of movies on the unit, and by decent I mean long, because half of them I hadn’t ever heard of before. I settled on No Strings Attached, which had the twofold advantage of (a) being something mindless about which I wouldn’t have to do any thinking about the plot; and (b) Natalie Portman.

Menus followed shortly after. Today our meal would be a “Dining Service”:

To Start
Warm mixed nuts
Marinated cheese antipasto

Bread Basket
Assorted gourmet breads

Prosciutto garnished with Parmesan cheese,
served with cantaloupe puree

The Salad Cart
Fresh seasonal greens offered with sour cream
and herb dressing or premium extra virgin olive oil
and balsamic vinegar

Mozzarella, cherry tomato and fresh basil salad

Sliced rosemary thyme chicken breast

Main Course
Chateaubriand with Demi-Glace
Salt and pepper fillet of beef enhanced by
a shallot and caper demi-glace, served with
mashed potatoes, carrots squash and red onion
An American Classics item

Lemon Caper Salmon
Salmon topped with a light lemon caper sauce,
served with orzo pasta and grilled zucchini

Four Cheese Ravioli
Ravioli pasta filled with four cheeses,
accented by herbed wild mushroom cream sauce

Dine Upon Request
You may choose one of the featured entrees
for your Dine Upon Request selection, presented
all at once, at any time you wish during the flight.

Ice Cream Sundae
Vanilla ice cream with a choice of hot fudge,
butterscotch or seasonal berry toppings,
whipped cream and pecans

Grand Marnier Fruit Salad
Fruit and berries with a light Grand Marnier syrup

Light Refreshment
Freshly baked on board cookies

Drinks were delivered with the warmed nuts for which American carriers are renowned all trip report forums over, and even though the menu presented a choice between nibbles the purser was happy to offer a choice of both. The cheese looked more like marinated vegetables, and since I’m not a fan of either I opted only for the nuts to go with my ginger ale.

The purser’s helper came out with the trays and then the bread basket, which was more a bread tray, but had white, wheat or cheese on offer with a choice of butter or olive oil. I’m sure you’ve all seen a cheese roll before, yet I still feel strangely compelled to include a photo.

Because such things matter, I noted that the bread was warm. Next up was the appetizer. Since I hadn’t read the menu all that carefully, I was a bit puzzled to see that it came with what looked like a dish of mashed up carrots on the side, but it all turned out to be very tasty.

I hate tomatoes. Actually, I hate a lot of things, but tomatoes are at the top of the list. I hate the way that sandwich makers seem to regard the tomato as some sort of finishing ingredient required in every sandwich. I hate how they make their presence known in every meal. And I hate how you can boil them, roast them, cook them or nuke them, and yet they just won’t die.

Some people fail to understand my hatred of tomatoes. They ask why I can’t just pick out the tomato and continue with my life.

The reason is because tomatoes are evil.

I mention this not only to recruit new members for the fight against this horrible red fruit, but also to explain why the following photograph of my salad has no sight, no glimpse, no godforsaken trace of the tomato mentioned on the menu. The purser asked whether I wanted the tomato topping. I think I might have clocked my seatmate waving my arms about in protest.

While I was smugly celebrating my win against the fruit of evil, the purser’s helper offered another round of bread and spreads. I went for the white roll this time, just because I could.

The salad was very nice. So far I was quite impressed with AA’s catering. I’ve had worse food on some Asian carriers. And it was blowing the socks off the United p.s. meal I’d had on the way to New York (which was admittedly in Business, but I had the impression, correct me if I’m wrong, that there wasn’t much difference in catering between p.s. J and p.s. F).

The purser came by to take orders for the entrees next. Remember I said earlier that I chose my seat based in part on FEBO? Well, this was where the advantage was supposed to kick in, because orders started with 3D, then to us in 3HJ. The only problem was that all of the choices on the menu sounded fine. Equally fine, in fact. And I couldn’t make up my mind about what to have. I actually agonised over my choice for five minutes when the menus were first handed out. And managed to change my mind between all three options at least twice for each choice.

Seeing as I was completely incapable of making a decision, I did the only sensible thing I could. I threw it into the hands of fate.

Me to purser: ”I’m happy to take the least popular choice, so if you want to go around and take everyone else’s orders first and come back to me, that’s fine with me.”
Purser: “Say again?”

I repeated myself, and he seemed slightly bemused that I would want to relinquish my hard fought for FEBO seat choice in this manner, but after double checking (“are you sure?”) he said thank you and went about the rest of the cabin. Of course, it all came to nought in the end since he came back to tell me that he had all three choices available, forcing me to make a decision on the spot.

I’d had chateaubriand the last time I flew AA First. It was on that same holiday to Disney World I’d mentioned earlier. I wasn’t a very good flyer back then. Turbulent weather upset me. And I don’t mean upset me in that I got scared, or started crying, but that air pockets and my stomach didn’t really get along. Or put another way, air pockets and my stomach and the barf bag in the seat pocket did get along. Too well.

The flight was Chicago to Seattle. Chicago was under an ATC slowdown due to bad weather. I realise that is normal operations for Chicago, but I vaguely recall some sort of snowstorm. It might even have been a blizzard. I really don’t know, because where I come from it doesn’t snow. At least not in Auckland. For those of you who aren’t sure of New Zealand’s geography, that’s in the north bit of the North Island. When I made the same comment to the graduate affairs advisor at the university where I was doing my LLM, she couldn’t understand this, because “in the US the further north you go the colder it gets, so it seems so strange that it’s the other way round where you come from.”

Needless to say I didn’t get a whole lot of useful guidance from my office of graduate affairs.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with my meal choice. Just that the last time I’d had chateaubriand on AA it didn’t exactly stay down. In fact I think I became reacquainted with it – not in a pleasant way - somewhere over Boise. A place which the world only now knows about because it was where Sarah Palin got her higher education.

So, of course, I elected for the beef. This seemed to be a cue for the purser to start a round of Twenty Questions.

Purser: “How would you like it cooked?”
Me (thinking: what, another decision? I just had to make a bloody decision and now you want me to make another one?): “Medium.”
Purser: “Medium on the side of rare, or medium on the side of well done?”
Me (wondering why I couldn’t just get it medium on the side of medium): “Er, medium well, thanks”.

To the crew’s credit, they did a pretty good job:

Sadly as neighbour 3H wasn’t eating, I didn’t get to spy on any of the other mains. On the upside, that meant no risk of food envy.

After the entree plates were cleared out rolled the dessert cart. An ice cream sundae might not show much imagination as a dessert option, but you can pretty much never go wrong with it. I’m not sure where the seasonal berry toppings were that were promised on the menu – they might have escaped over to the other glass being offered with Grand Marnier – but the hot fudge and nuts suited me fine. Just so you know, in addition to hating tomatoes I also hate whipped cream. At least as a dessert ingredient.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher had the inevitable happy ending, and seeing as I had a rather long wait ahead of me at LAX decided to try and catch a quick catnap. AA provide a very nice pillow and light quilt at every seat, and although I found the seat recline a bit odd in that it seemed to dip very low to the floor with a flat non-tilting seat pan, I still managed to catch about an hour’s sleep.

The crew began tidying up the cabin about an hour out of LA, collecting unused entertainment units and then serving the pre-arrival beverage.

Pre-Arrival Beverage
For Your Enjoyment Chilled sparkling or still water with a fresh citrus garnish

Read: fizzy water with lemon.

It wasn’t long after that before desert gave way to suburbia, and then to more built up areas as we crept closer to Los Angeles. Our approach was from the east, so I had a good view of downtown Los Angeles all the way to touchdown, including over a couple of highways which I love swooping over on a descending aircraft. We landed about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, although about 10 minutes of our early arrival was eaten into as we first waited to cross runway 25R (we had landed on the outer runway) and then to power down and wait for a tug into our gate 42B. Not that it bothered me, since an early arrival still equated to the same amount of waiting time for me; the only difference was whether I would be doing that waiting on board the plane or in the lounge.

I was actually quite impressed with AA’s transcon product. The meal was much better than I had expected, both in terms of quantity and quality, and the electronic recliner was a more than adequate product for a five hour daytime flight. The service, although not sparkling, was polished and efficient. As a plane geek I left the flight happy (although the prospect of an upcoming A380 ride might have had a bit to do with that). As a normal human being I wanted to get back on the first flight to New York, which I was missing already.

Next: the AA Flagship Lounge and the LAX transit experience.

Last edited by Top of climb; Aug 10, 11 at 7:03 am
Top of climb is online now  
Old Aug 10, 11, 9:44 am
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: OSL
Posts: 4,430
That part about asking the registration number and ratio of meals loaded - good to know I'm not the only crazy person who does that (though to be honest the only time they thought I was asking about the meals was miscommunication - I was actually asking about frequent flyers onboard).

Did they get the impression that you were crew? I suppose on AA one needs to be 'accomplished in years' for that question to crop up.
ung1 is offline  
Old Aug 10, 11, 2:06 pm
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Hey Alex,
Loving the report so far, even if you found AA's double lettering to add to your puzzlement of Flyertalkers having numbers in their handles.

Looking forward to the rest. Don't forget to talk about Biscoff!
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Old Aug 11, 11, 1:32 pm
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Great stuff!

I'm enjoying your whimsical style. And your impressively nonsensical itinerary.

So there's one less kiwi in NYC now. It's not like there were many of us to start with. Couldn't you have talked one of the all-too-plentiful Aussies into leaving instead? :P
mad_atta is offline  
Old Aug 16, 11, 10:13 am
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Even before the TR starts was riveted to my seat, so am definately looking forward to reading all the sectors will start the 1st now as see it is already up and running
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Old Aug 17, 11, 1:21 am
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Posts: 1,357
Originally Posted by ung1 View Post
Did they get the impression that you were crew? I suppose on AA one needs to be 'accomplished in years' for that question to crop up.
I've never had that, though plenty of crew have been surprised at how much I know about their airline's operations. Probably because I look nothing like a flight attendant

Originally Posted by mad_atta
So there's one less kiwi in NYC now. It's not like there were many of us to start with. Couldn't you have talked one of the all-too-plentiful Aussies into leaving instead? :P
What would I do with one if I had?
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Old Aug 17, 11, 1:21 am
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Join Date: May 2010
Posts: 1,357
"xLAX? Sounds nasty": Transiting through Los Angeles

There isn’t really a lot of exciting stuff to report in this instalment. It’ll be mostly pictures of chairs. I’ll try to keep it brief, though you might be able to tell from the previous post that I have a problem with conciseness.

Yesterday Qantas announced plans for a new First lounge at LAX. On the day that I flew, my options were a bit less luxurious: a choice between either the Flagship Lounge in T4, or the oneworld shared lounge at TBIT. Qantas is unusual in that it has flights which leave from both T4 and TBIT, so even though my flight left from Bradley, the fact that my flight came into T4 meant that I was welcome at both.

I’ve departed from TBIT once. My memory of it was that it was a long, dark, overcrowded and miserable corridor. A quick perusal of the oneworld and QF forums on FlyerTalk suggested that nothing had changed in the eleven years since I had last visited. Everyone who had been in the same position I had, transiting to QF from AA, recommended the FL.

The FL at LAX, like in JFK, is secreted inside the wider AC and is accessible by separate keycard. The very nice agent checked to make sure I knew where to go – I didn’t – and gave me instructions akin to something like “take the elevator, turn left, turn right, turn left at the flower arrangement and then swipe your keycard in the mouth of the stuffed zebra”.

OK, maybe I made up the bit about the stuffed zebra.

I was a bit worried that I would end up wandering the hallways searching for the flower arrangement, but despite sounding incredibly complicated the directions were actually rather intuitive to follow. Once upstairs there was a nice wide entry lobby, and there were only two ways which you could go, with a flower arrangement prominently featured at one end.

One of the things I love most about flying is the boarding pass. To me, nothing beats a good boarding pass printed on proper card stock. Even though many airlines are moving to plain white stock nowadays to comply with IATA’s common use kiosk requirements, a lot of airlines still have their own individual stock for agent printing, and even if they don’t it’s still interesting to compare the different designs. Needless to say, I don’t do this A4 print your own boarding pass thing. Unless it’s to use it to get on board the flight, thus ensuring that I have a pristine copy of the card stock version for my collection.

Yes, collection. I collect boarding passes. I have a whole drawerful of my boarding passes at home. I even tuck them away in ticket jackets, hoarded from the days gone by when paper tickets were still issued. They’re not arranged in chronological order cross-referenced by flight number, but the thought has crossed my mind once or twice. Nothing’s ever come of it though. Usually because I decide I have better things to do.

One thing which is an instant dealbreaker for me when choosing an airline is if they don’t do boarding passes. And by boarding pass I mean a proper boarding pass, on proper stock. If I want a supermarket docket I’ll go to Woolworths.

Anyway, I tell you this because when I saw a Qantas staffed desk in the lobby area, I made a beeline straight for it. Not only to get my MEL-AKL boarding pass, which JFK couldn’t be bothered issuing, but to swap my rather ugly AA boarding pass for a proper QF one. AA’s boarding passes look like ticket coupons gone wrong. In fact, I rather suspect they are.

I readily admit it. I’m a boarding pass snob.

The Qantas agents didn’t blink an eyelid at my request to swap boarding pass stock. Which made me wonder whether they’d had crazy people like me before, or whether they were just really well trained at taking odd questions and running with them. It took them a while to find my MEL-AKL booking though. Apparently it had been delinked in the system from the LAX-MEL sector. After some frowns and repeated swiping of my passport they managed it. In the meantime, the young girl standing next to me was busy being entranced by the giant glass bowl of candy sitting on the QF desk. Her father allowed her one, but with so many varieties to choose from it took her almost as long to get her lolly as it took the QF agents to reprint my boarding pass. Not because the young lady was indecisive – in fact she was pretty adamant which one she wanted – but because she was too short to reach the counter, she had to resort to pointing and having her father fish it out. After many failed attempts (“no, THAT one!”) the problem was easily resolved by the father taking the entire glass bowl off the desk, presenting it to his daughter to pick out the one she wanted and then replacing it.

I scanned my keycard at the stuffed zebra and was granted entry into the inner sanctum. The lounge wasn’t terribly full – a call ten minutes later for a LHR flight emptied it out even further – and there were great views over the eastern part of T4 and T5, as well as a glimpse of the northern runways.

First order of business was a shower. The key I got from reception had a giant plastic keytag dangling from it. And I mean giant. The thing was bigger than my hand. Presumably AA don’t want you making off with a shower key, because then you might be able to... sneak into the FL and take showers every time you come through LAX?

I wasn’t particularly hungry; the transcon sector had dished up a more than adequate feed, but in the interests of research I went looking to see what food was on offer.

Soup du Jour
Grapefruit and Walnut Spinach Salad
Mini Croissant Sandwiches

Rosemary Pork Loin With a Green peppercorn Reduction Sided
With Marinated Red Peppers and Buttered Wild Rice

Sliced Fruit
Gourmet Cheese Tray
Gourmet Crackers
Gourmet Cookies
Assorted Chips
Whole Fruit
Granola Bars
Assorted Desserts

I took a bit of pork (complete with the randomly capitalised reduction sided) and rice to tide me over until the Qantas flight, and some fruit to nibble on afterwards. Meanwhile, planes left. Planes arrived. Night fell. People came and went. And dogs barked and camels passed.

The next couple of paragraphs come to you by request of CMK10. It has very little to do with trip reporting. Or planes. If you are reading this solely for photographs of sandwiches then you will want to skip the next few lines. But for those of you who have ever wondered whether FT is more than a faceless online forum, stick with me for a bit.

I first met CMK10 at a midwinter dinner DO in New York. We got chatting about planes. As you do, at a DO. He mentioned Delta. And Biscoff. I innocently asked what Biscoff was, and CMK10 pulled one out of his bag to show me. In fact, he ended up letting me keep it, such were the forged bonds of FT friendship. I ended up eating it on a US Airways mileage run the next day. (For those of you who, like me six months ago, had no clue what Biscoff is, it’s a biscuit. Not just any biscuit. A lovely cinnamony biscuit. The one that CMK10 gave me had DELTA stamped right across the top of it. And yes, I ate it on US Airways.)

Just before I left New York CMK10, knowing my newfound love for Biscoff, and also knowing that I would also never voluntarily step foot on a Delta plane because Skyteam ranks somewhere beyond last when it comes to my airline loyalty programmes, sent me an envelope stuffed full of Biscoff appropriated from the Nashville lounge. I still have some of them left. And I decided I’d continue my tradition of eating Delta’s Biscoff when flying other airlines. God knows I’m going to be on enough of them this trip.

Which is why the next photo is of a Biscoff sitting on an AA FL phone.

We now resume normal programming.

My flight left at 11.30 over from Bradley. Qantas run a complimentary half hour shuttle between T4 and TBIT, from 4 pm to last flight departure. After about four hours in the FL I was getting bored. I decided to try for the 10 pm shuttle, which would hopefully get me to TBIT in time to give me a brief glance into the oneworld shared lounge, before I headed down to the gate.

The complimentary shuttle leaves from the same bus gate as the American Eagle shuttle, which runs every five minutes. I came off the bottom of the escalator to find a rather lengthy queue leading up to a counter with a Qantas placard on it. I wasn’t sure what the queue was for, so I joined it. When in doubt, join the queue. Plus, it wasn’t like anyone was going anywhere; there was no bus.

Turns out the queue was for people swapping AA boarding passes for QF stock. Looks like I wasn’t the only one who thought the AA stuff was ugly. (Jesting aside, I suspect the real reason was for QF to make sure everyone had the appropriate authority to enter Australia, just how Air New Zealand wants everyone on NZ stock when departing LAX or SFO).

While we’d been waiting in line I’d been chatting with the chap behind me in the queue, a university student travelling with three of his mates to Melbourne. When he got to the front he asked whether there was any chance of a bump. Naturally, I immediately asked whether he was a FlyerTalker. (Come on, who else asks about bumps?) As it turned out, he did. He’d never heard of us. He was quite amused when I started snapping photos of the AA 737-800 on our walk out to the shuttle bus though. Clearly not a FlyerTalker.

TBIT is being expanded. Well, it only took them thirty years. But one consequence of this means that the bus goes halfway to the beach before looping back round to the far side of TBIT. I didn’t mind; there were good views of the airfield (including of our A380) and the runway as we trundled along. What I didn’t realise was that the bus portal had been relocated at TBIT from the middle of the building to the far end. The southern end. By gate 123.

My flight was leaving from gate 101. The furthest gate in the northern wing. The walk took forever. A good 10-15 minutes. About half a mile, I found out later when I posted in this thread about spotty QF bus service.

Somewhere along the way to my gate, I passed the entrance to the oneworld shared lounge. Or, to be more accurate, I passed a sign pointing to the oneworld shared lounge. However following the sign in the most logical interpretation took me to a lift, which took me to the Star Alliance lounge. And the Skyteam lounge. Following the sign in the most literal interpretation wasn’t possible. I would have walked into a wall.

With 45 minutes to go until flight departure I decided not to bother trying to find it, and trekked the remaining distance of the northern wing. Remember how I said earlier that my memory of TBIT was a long, dark, overcrowded and miserable corridor? Well, it still is. The only thing that seems to have changed in the intervening eleven years is that there’s better lighting. Maybe Los Angeles World Airports are using CFLs now too.

If you ever become jaded about flying up front, I highly recommend a half mile plus hike through TBIT. There’s nothing like it to make you look forward to getting on board the plane and leaving TBIT and its hordes of people behind. I arrived at the gate even more excited about trying out the Qantas First suite than I was at any other point preceding this trip. Knowing that an oasis of calm and serenity awaits you after what seems like a never-ending trek through a vortex of hospital industrial beige. It was slightly unfortunate that Qantas’ First colour scheme on their A380 is also predominantly beige, but believe me when I say that Qantas beige is infinitely preferable to TBIT beige.

It wasn’t long after I arrived at the gate before boarding was announced. Predictably, even before boarding for babies was called, people started lining up in the priority line anyway. And of course as one person starts lining up everyone else starts as well. The lemming effect. From which I’m not immune. The lady who joined the line behind me asked if Business Class boarding had started yet and we had a bit of a laugh over the way that queues seem to develop of their own accord.

One of the things I’ve found about travelling alone is the tendency to be a bit more willing to strike up conversation with other travellers when the opportunity arises. It’s fascinating. Not only the conversations themselves, but also the way they can come about. We’re all headed to the same place, on the same plane. That’s really all we have in common. Yet, funnily enough, they’re the encounters I remember the most as the years roll by. The person I rolled eyes with in the security queue at LaGuardia. The person who was trying to get standby on the same flight that I was. There’s nothing like airports for watching the world – quite literally – go by.

Then again, there’s something to be said for solitude as well, and I was looking forward to some of it on board. Next up: the Qantas First suite on the A380.

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