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5 x MD80 within LHR-BCN-PMI-BCN-LHR and LHR-EWR-ORD-DFW-SAT/AUS-ORD-LHR (Y, W, F)

5 x MD80 within LHR-BCN-PMI-BCN-LHR and LHR-EWR-ORD-DFW-SAT/AUS-ORD-LHR (Y, W, F)

Old Mar 16, 07, 11:15 am
  #1  
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Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: between LHR, DUS and BUF
Programs: BA silver, BD, CO, M/M
Posts: 103
5 x MD80 within LHR-BCN-PMI-BCN-LHR and LHR-EWR-ORD-DFW-SAT/AUS-ORD-LHR (Y, W, F)

Flying these days can still be fun. I hardly get to fly MD80s since they are getting quite rare over European skies. However, for some reason I happened to have booked 5 MD80 flights within 3 weeks. I also flew on 2 757s, 1 767, 1 777 and a token Airbus A320. I checked-out a number of premium class lounges that I have access to with my BA silver card (oneworld sapphire). I'll post it in two different parts and include the non-MD80 portions as well:

part 1: BCN-PMI-BCN on IB (+ LHR-BCN-LHR)

part 2: ORD-DFW-SAT/AUS-ORD on AA (+ LHR-EWR-ORD-LHR)

This report contains my first flights in US domestic First Class, my first hand written boarding passes, 6 business class lounges I have never visited before and my second empty transatlantic flight. Enjoy reading it.
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Old Mar 16, 07, 11:15 am
  #2  
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Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: between LHR, DUS and BUF
Programs: BA silver, BD, CO, M/M
Posts: 103
part 1: LHR-BCN-PMI-BCN-LHR on IB

Why flying IB via BCN when you can fly this route nonstop on BD, as well as from LGW, LTN and STN on EZY? Well, it was quite a bit cheaper and the timings were much better. I need 2 hours by car to get to LGW or LTN and a 7AMish departure isn't really appealing to me--at least not when travelling for pleasure. We were 2 adults and an 18 month old frequently flying baby.

1. IB4185 LHR-BCN on 757-200 in Economy, 20F
No queue at the business class check in desk at Heathrow T2, but the longest queue I have ever seen at security. Saturday, 10:00AM at the start of half-term seems to be a popular time to get a way. We were very lucky and were asked by BAA staff to bypass the whole queue because of the baby! The sala vip lounge is quite small but pleasant and has a decents selection of breakfast bits. The sofas are arranged around glass tables with sharp corners, not the greatest environment for a free-running toddler. The flight was almost full and we were lucky again to get a free middle seat between us. The itinerary stated that the flight was operated by "Audeli" but without knowing this it wasn't apparent at all on the plane. The 757 had generous legroom, perhaps 34" or 35" seat pitch. Iberia charges for food and drinks now. We paid 8 ($10) for a sandwich, really pricey, though it was admittedly very yummy. The problem was that service commenced from the front as well as from the back and we were in the middle. It was almost an hour and a half after take-off when we got our food. Apparently a two and a bit hour flight at lunch time makes people buy food and 3 flight attendants for 160 passengers or so is a very low ratio. We arrived on time, got our stroller back, and tried to find the business class lounge in Barcelona. On the way to the lounge the baby fell asleep which was great.

2. IB1724 BCN-PMI on MD88 in Economy, 10F
The sala vip (sala Gaudi) is the main lounge and has a lot of very comfy sofas, a decent selection of soft drinks, coffee, a fridge full of small cava bottles but foodwise only biscuits. I went out back into the main terminal and bought us a few cheese baguettes. The guy at the lounge reception was really friendly--overall it is a pleasant place to spend an hour or so between flights. When the flight was called we went to the gate and were bussed, baby still asleep, to the gates. We left the bus and woke the baby up at the steps of the gangway. At first he wasn't happy to be woken up but then realised that he was ingstand directly next to a massive and loud airplane which brought a lot of excitement.

The first of the MD80-flights. only 30% full, lots of legroom and only 35 minutes in the air. We sat pretty much in the front after the curtain with only 1 passenger in the first 6 business class rows. This meant we were far away from the engines and the flight was quite quiet. There was no service at all on this short flight. We taxied for about 30 minutes to the start of the runway which seemed like an eternity. It was cloudy and rainy leaving BCN but the clouds opened up over the med and we got some nice views of the west coast of Mallorca on approach to PMI. We got in half an hour late, but the airport wasn't busy at 5:30PM and the luggage re-claim was quick.

3. IB1729 PMI-BCN on MD88 in Economy, 6F

No queue at the business class check-in in PMI, BUT: the computers weren't working at check-in and everyone had to be checked-in manually. This took about 15 minutes including handwriting 3 boarding passes. We didn't have plenty of time, but went straight to the sala formentor lounge. I wasn't quite sure if we would have access to it since it is not operated by IB and not listed as a oneworld lounge on their website. They still let us in and we enjoyed some spanish tortilla and nice pastries in a really elegant environment. It was also quite empty, just 3 other people in the lounge. We then had to track back to the gate in time for pre-boarding. The flight was full, and operated with "asiento libro"--free seating. The baby got us on board first and he actually got one of the few free seats since we boldy occupied a whole block of 3 seats. Somebody next to us, who must have gotten his boarding pass elsewhere, with a seat assignment got a bit in range when he was told that there were no assignements today. No service again, but a pleasant 40 minutes and nice views of Barcelona on approach to BCN.

4. IB4180 BCN-LHR on A320 in Economy, 21F

We knew the sala vip gaudi already and were greeted by the same person who checked us into the lounge a week ago. The great thing was that he even remembered this, smiled widely and asked if we had a good week in Majorca even before we handed over the boarding passes. The hour went by quickly and we went to the gate. Passports were checked by 2 guys in uniform just after the gate which was slightly weird. The flight was full, uneventful and we finally made it back to LHR.
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Old Mar 16, 07, 11:16 am
  #3  
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part 2: LHR-EWR-ORD-DFW-SAT/AUS-ORD-LHR on AA, BA, UA

1. BA187 LHR-EWR on 767-300 in World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy), 13A
I can't believe it. This is my 39th transatlantic flight and it is the first one that is virtually empty. Today there are 54 of us, 32 in Y, 7 in World Traveller Plus (W) and 14 in J. BA187 leaves Heathrow at 18:30 and I was on a Saturday night flight. The Cabin Service director said that this flight was particularly empty, though Saturday nights are never really busy--in contrast to the returning BA186 leaving Newark on Sunday morning which would be packed. I was the first to check-in online and got seat 10A, a bulkhead. However, when I boarded there was somebody sitting in 10B and the Purser suggested I should feel free to take any of the remaining 16 seats. I choose 13A, the last row in W because there was no one in front of me. I thought about upgrading this flight to Club (J) but am glad that I didn't because the flight was quite comfy anyhow. If noone is sitting in front of you and next to it, W is really good. Even on the narrow 767 I was able to stretch out my legs straight between the window and the seat in front of me. I actually thought about going back to Y and stretch out on of the free blocks of three seats in the middle but decided against it.

But let's start at the beginning: there was no line at the Club check-in desk at Heathrow T4 and I got rid of my baggage in minutes. I also got a fast track sticker on my boarding pass, perhaps the agent forgot that I wasn't in Club. I got through security in 2 minutes and went straight to the BA lounge pavillion to take a shower in the Molton Brown travel spa--a very relaxing thing before a longhaul flight. After that I went on to the terrace lounge in the pavillion but then moved to the Gate 1 lounge since my flight was leaving from gate 1c. I haven't been there for about 2 years since I generally liked the terrace in the lounge pavillion better but found to my surprise that the lounge had a major overhaul and changed its ambience from the terrace concept, which is usually quite pleasant, to a much more elegant schema which is a bit cooler than your first class lounge. They also have a "Chef's theatre" with extra food that is prepared in front of you. I had asian noodles which was really good with a French white whine looking down at the 767 I was about to board sitting at the gate just below me. When boarding was announced I walked to the gate which was adjacent to the lounge and was surprised that there was no queue. We took off about 45 minutes late since there was an earlier issue with a broken down vehicle on a taxi way.

I had a sparkling whine to start with (BA has no fancy Champagne in Economy, but sparkling German riesling "sekt" which actually is not too shabby. It took perhaps an our before dinner was offered and I chose chicken cassarole which was quite good. Luckily there was Apple Pie for desert and not the dreadful Banoffee Pie. I usually like BA economy food, it's better than what you get compared to most airlines. I watched James Bond, Casino Royale which I hadn't seen and parts of Dreamgirls before I figured it would be good to rest for a couple of hours. The snack before landing was a beef, horseradish and mascarpone sandwich which was a bit dry. We landed on the southbound runway with very nice views of the the illuminated Manhattan on the lefthand side. We made up some of the delay and got to the gate only about 10 minutes after the scheduled arrival time. There were no queues at immigration, a very short wait at baggage claim and I was in my Hotel (Hilton airport via Airtrain adn to P4 and shuttle bus) 50 minutes after we landed.

I choose this Saturday night flight because I was able to spend most of the Saturday at home but still getting a cheaper fare since the trip included a Saturday night; but it was a long day, 21 hours after I got up in the morning in southern England, I went to sleep.

2. UA637 EWR-ORD on 757-200 in Economy, 23F
I am currently on this flight writing this. Everything on time. No queues at Newark, Sunday morning seems to be a good time to travel. Nice views of snow covered Pennsylvania and Ohio. I have been on United Express a number of times but never on United mainline. The flighth was about 85% full--I got a window seat in the back but there was noone in the middle seat which made the 2 hour flight to O'Hare quite comfortable. It would have been more convenient to do this flight on AA to avoid changing terminals in ORD but UA was incredibly cheap.

3. AA2321 ORD-DFW on MD80 in First Class, 6A
I discovered Y-ups on flyertalk and wanted to check them out. An extra $90 for the ORD-DFW-SAT flight in comparison to the cheapest flexible L fare seemed to be a good deal to stack up on BA tier points (60 for each flight) and a more miles. I didn't have a very high

I was a bit conservative about delayed flights at this time of the year and planned a 4.5 hour connection in ORD. AA does EWR-ORD every hour and I asked about standby at check-in which I have never done before. I probably made a beginner's mistake since my baggage got tagged for the 12:00PM flight (instead of the 3:00PM I originally booked), but and the original 7PM to SAT. It was only in DFW that I discovered that my baggage couldn't go onto an earlier flight and I had to spend 4 hours in DFW.

Back to ORD: I went to the gate (L2A) because I wasn't quite sure how the standby worked. I found out that the check-in lady had put in a Y standby and not an F one. That got changed and I had about half an hour to walk to the K concourse to check out the Admirals Club. Big place, quite comfy, but not really special. Got a drink voucher and got myself a pre-flight champagne. Back to L2A. My name was first on the standby list, I waited and was called a few minutes before boarding commenced. I got 6A. I didn't expect that much of First class, perhaps a bit less than business class in Europe.

But it was a great flight. It really was. The seats looked quite worn but were still comfy, quite similar to BA's World Traveller Plus with about 39" seat pitch. The warm nuts were nice while I enjoyed to look down over snow glaces Illinois and took perhaps 50 photos. I was glad to get on this flight since they also served lunch, which was good. A simple salad, salmon in a teriyaki sauce and a kind of vermicelli bake plus crackers and cheese. I wasn't sure if they would charge for wine but obviously they didn't. I felt quite awkward pulling out my 1995 Aiwa casette player while the lady next to me was watching a movie on her laptop with an iPod stuck in the seat pocket in front of her. But it's content what counts and Keith Jarret's Koeln concert pushed me completely towards zero gravity.

4. AA427 DFW-SAT on MD80 in First Class, 4F
I went straight to the Admirals Club at gate A23. What a nice surprise after the one in ORD. Elegant, airy and light + 2 free drink vouchers. I wrote the last few paragraphs from here thinking that 4 hours in this environment isn't too bad. After a while I moved to another Admiral's Club at C20 since we were boarding from C21. The airport itself seems to have a good and efficient layout, though the non-premium lounge areas seem to be quite basic.

Ok, now I understand why First Class isn't considered that great. On this hour long flight the only difference was a more comfy seat and the fact that your coke gets topped-up a number of flights, though I shouldn't forget that the FA was actually quite friendly and I think she took jackets from other people as well. No nuts--pretty much economy service on this short flight (BA does better with the 45 minute domestic LHR-MAN run where you get your warm brekky in the morning). By the time we got to SAT I was quite tired and was glad that I could hop off the plane and have a 4 day break without flying.

5. BA5086 AUS-ORD (op by AA: AA1060) on MD80 in Economy, 21F

SSSS. Why do they pick me that often? I got the extra security check and made my way to the small Admirals Club in AUS. Newish, modern airport--not unpleasant; lounge is pleasant as well. I got a sandwich at the bar which was OK but it may have been a better option to buy something outside the Admirals Club. Check-in agent wasn't willing to try to change my seat, but the lounge personell changed it to 8B and then to 21F, the exit row with lots of legroom and also put the BA card onto the boarding pass, which now has SAPPHIRE in large letters written over it. Is it so difficult for a check-in agent to put that number onto the boarding card if you actually hand them the card? The seat was great. About the same legroom as in first class, but obviously 5 people across a row. The flight was completely full. I also felt it slightly cool sitting next to the emergency exit and being above the wing means that you can't look down and take photos. Since I had taken a lot on the way out, this didn't matter that much and it became thickly cloudy. This MD80 felt being much older than the ones before, like both IB planes, it had window shades with "McDonnel Douglas" signaged embossed. Pleasant flight, a can of Ginger Ale and a new book about Andreas Humboldt and Carl Gauss surveying the earth. It takes about 15 minutes to get out of AA's terminal 3, into the skytrain to the BA check-in at T5.

6. BA298 ORD-LHR on 777-200 in World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy), 21K

2 minute wait to be checked-in. I am sitting in the very small lounge writing this--all the usual amenities (a bit short on food, though), no windows and, unfortunately no pre-flight dining for me since I am not in Club. As on the LHR-EWR leg, I was the first to check-in 24 hours before and got 21K, a bulkhead by the window, the last open bulkhead seat. For some reason I wasn't able to pre-select the seat despite being BA silver.

Full plane, great seat--I was able to stretch out my legs completely with the feet against the bulkhead. Dinner was a bit bland (chicken on rice), but OK. I watched "the devil wears prada", got out a Club amenity kit from a previous flight, earplugs, socks, eyeshade and then, I really slept for an hour or so. I usually claim that I can't sleep in economy. I usually drift away a bit but I would figure that I am completely concious the whole time. But this time I am sure I was really gone. I wasn't really up for breakfast when they got around about 100 minutes before landing, but still got a breakfast bag. Muffin, yoghurt and juice, not really exciting, but I was rather tired than disappointed. I kept dozing until 35 minutes before landing and was surprisingly refreshed when I got off the plane. Immigration was quick, but then I waited about 40 minutes for my bags. And waited and waited with about 10 others (who all transferred through ORD). Then somebody went off to baggage services and we all joined the queue. My bag was delivered about 36 hours later, which wasn't too brilliant, but I still got it in the end .
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Old Mar 16, 07, 11:17 am
  #4  
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Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: between LHR, DUS and BUF
Programs: BA silver, BD, CO, M/M
Posts: 103
Verdict

Overall, I enjoyed excellent and friendly service, tasty onboard-food and nice views on the world down below on these 2 great trips. BA, IB and AA (well, despite the check-in agents) were really good in terms of service and also UA wasn't much behind. On all flights the seat next to me was free, or I was in premium economy or US domestic First which, together with the use of 9 business class lounges, made for a comfortable experience.

I also lost my bags, failed my first attempt to fly standby and am now battling with BA executive club to get a missing 40 tier points for the ORD-DFW flight. AA credited it as Y/Y despite the ticket being booked in code P. But that didn't ruin the fun.

On my 10 flights described in this report I only encountered one queue at security. That was in LHR T2 going to BCN on a busy Saturday at the start of half term--it was horrendous, but we bypassed it because of a VIP, my baby son.

Best flight out of the 10: ORD-DFW in First, followed by ORD-LHR because of the bulkhead seat in WTP and the fact that I slept for the first time on an overnight in economy.
Best lounge: gate1 lounge at LHR T4 closely followed by Sala Formentor in PMI and A23 lounge in DFW
Best thing looking back: being back at home again to see my little son.

And the MD-80s? They feel like old airplanes compared to the NG737 and A32S that mostly plough Europe's skies these days, but all flights were actually quite comfortable with a bit more legroom than you get in Y on most of the newer planes.

Flying can still be fun. I'll be off again to YYZ in a couple of weeks. Yipee!
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