|767 at CLT|
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Saturday, July 28, 2012
A friend from high school called me up late last month wondering if we could do a trip overseas in July. My schedule had some flexibility to it so I started finding trips we could do on United MileagePlus miles. We were able to settle on Barcelona, Vienna, and a half day in London for 60,000 miles; a very good deal.
|Air Canada A319 at Denver|
The first leg of the journey was from Denver to Toronto to Barcelona. My friend was originating in Chicago and we planned to meet at the international Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto. I was flying an A319 to Toronto connecting to a Boeing 767 to Barcelona.
The Airbus part of my flight was great. There was plenty of leg room and a FREE video on demand entertainment system. The system has a great collection of new and classic movies, along with games, a map, and music. I watched The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly. It happened to finish just as we were landing and made the flight go very quickly.
|Air Canada's Free Video On Demand|
The service was friendly too. The lead flight attendant looked like a jovial lumber jack that could be in tourism commercials. I also got a kick out of the bilingual announcements, as required by law, not the makeup of the passengers.
After landing it was a quick walk to the transfers desk, stamp in the passport, and a quick walk to the lounge. To speed the trip, Toronto Pearson Airport has moving walkways that go faster in the middle than at the ends. It was my first time using them and it was fun to see the clever solution to an engineering puzzle.
|Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge YYZ Bar|
The Maple Leaf Lounge is on the second level (my friend walked right by it and spent a while looking for me on the departures level) of the international terminal. This is their flagship lounge and it has plenty of seating broken up into different areas so noise doesn’t travel and to give a more private feel. It also has free wifi, conference rooms, showers, a business center, and of course self-serve bar and hearty snacks. The drink spread was very good, but the food was superb. Air Canada’s lounges have some very good soup offerings and this was no different. There was also some very tasty pasta available that reminded me of grandma's.
I left briefly to find my friend and check out the duty free prices. We were able to locate each other and went to the lounge for a pre-departure toast to our trip. Our flight had a maintenance delay, so we were able to make a few more toasts before departure. The aircraft for the trip to BCN was a 767 that Air Canada had not converted to the new business class and video on demand in coach. The seats also were not very comfortable, so before we pushed back, I knew I was in for a long trip.
|Leg Room in Coach on 767, Where's the TV?|
The meal service started soon after takeoff and I enjoyed a very tasty chicken dish. The brownie was also very good. Soon after dinner, I tried to sleep. It didn’t go well. I went to the back of the plane to see if any sets of 3 seats were open to lay down on, but enough people already had that idea and I was out of luck. I wound up taking a set of two free seats, built a pillow fort, and tried to fall asleep. I don’t know why, but nothing worked. I might have been out for 30 minutes tops. After a seemingly endless struggle, I spotted land (Spain looks like the American southwest from the air) and we started our approach. Landing took us over a few sights and we quickly taxied to the gate, so fast that the crew hadn’t finished the French version of the announcement. I was soon off the plane, not rested at all, but excited to experience Barcelona.
|Tasty Chicken Dinner on Air Canada 767|
Friday, February 17, 2012
I’d like to think that I frequently fly foreign carries to far away destinations, but over 95% of my flights are domestic hops. Also, thanks to the glut of elite flyers trying for upgrades, I’ve sat in coach on over 90% of my flights this year. This is routine flying. The basic Denver to Chicago for work type flights that generate the miles needed for grand adventures.
|US Airways Jets at Boston Logan|
So how do I do I fly 22,000 miles in coach in two months? Business trips are the foundation. Denver to Chicago, White Plains, Newark, and White Planes again help build miles at no cost to me. Also I booked two weekend trips just for the miles. I found some cheap fares (about 2c a redeemable mile) and booked the flights to build my mileage balance, for a little vacation, and get a head start on elite status.
|United 757 Night Landing at EWR|
The United and Continental merger has also made upgrades much more difficult to obtain. There is the same number of first class seats on each plane, but now an entire extra airline worth of customers trying to grab the seats. It used to be easy to clear upgrades a few days out on bigger planes like 767s and 757s, but now they are clearing at the gate if at all. It is also taking some of the fun out of flying; airline food is quite decent these days. At least the lounges have plenty of space (thank you JP Morgan Palladium card).
|US Airways Lounge in Charlotte|
So how do you make the best of a suboptimal situation? Relax. That is the most important key to traveling. Calm down and go with the flow. My next key is to grab a window seat. I feel like they have more space and as long as I think that; they will (I also believe in the power of extra strength placebos). Some good reading material helps, so does a pillow, blanket, and eye mask for overnight flights. Stay hydrated; the air in planes is very dry and you should be actively counteracting that. Lastly, try to enjoy the magic of flight. 100 years ago, a nonstop flight from coast to coast was just a dream.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
- Easter Island
Lucky for me, LAN helped shorten the layover because my flight from Montevideo was delayed an hour. I arrived at the airport about 75 minutes before departure to check my bag. Check in was very leisurely and the agents were exceptionally friendly and talkative. They seemed sincerely interested in my experience in Uruguay and my travels that day. Once my boarding passes were printed, I asked how long customs would take; they said not to worry, there was no need to rush because the flight would be a little delayed.
|Montevideo Airport, MVD|
Montevideo airport has an entertaining display about the history of aviation in Uruguay that includes photos, tickets, and a small plane (not as large as MKE's museum, but still a welcome enhancement). I also picked up some souvenirs (the tea cup and straw things that everyone has in town) and enjoyed the grand vistas the terminal provides. For an airport with four gates, it presents an impressive figure and has quite a few amenities like an observation level and indoor garden.
I love airports that give large sweeping views and Montevideo is the best example I have found. Airports should inspire and build excitement about flight. Large windows that lift your view to the sky are a great way to convey those strong feelings and emotions. Seattle's food court area does a similar job too, though on a smaller scale. Too many airports in the US, like LGA, IAD, and BOS, have low ceilings with limited windows and views blocked by jetways. Airports should be inspirational, not a utilitarian exercise in moving people and things. Montevideo does a great job at this and new terminals should aspire to be like it.
Customs and security took
maybe 5 minutes. The duty free store had
a very good wine and liquor selection, but no cigars (US$17 for a carton of
Camels though). There was a very wide
selection products and decent prices. The terminal has free wifi and little else to do but look out the window. Regional carrier Pluna has some really cool looking paint designs, take a look at their planes.
|Montevideo Airport, MVD|
|Montevideo Airport Aviation Display, MVD|
|Montevideo Airport, MVD, Gate Area|
|Montevideo Airport, MVD|
|LAN Chile 318 in Montevideo|
My flight boarded 30 minutes late and departed about 90 minutes late. This was my first flight on an Airbus 318 and I was excited to try out an new airplane model; turns out it is just like a 319 or 320, just not as long (the nerd in me was still happy to check off a new aircraft type). The in-flight entertainment was a news program (looked recently updated with a long sports section) and a light snack served in coach. The plane did have 6 flight attendants; double what a US airline would staff. It turns out two of them are dedicated to duty free sales. The flight was enjoyable with some great views of Argentina and the Andes.
|LAN Chile 318 Business Class|
|LAN Chile 318 Coach Class|
|Snack in coach on LAN Chile 318|
|LAN Chile 318 Leg Room in Coach|
Once on the ground, I went to the connecting passenger area and entered the departures area. Once there I found the first LAN VIP Salon and took a seat with a view. I had wifi, two magazines to read, and endless plates of sushi and finger sandwiches. After a few hours, I was bored and went for a walk to see what each end of the terminal looks like. There are quite a few stores in the airport, but they all seem to carry the same items. Still, it is a good way to kill time and stretch.
|LAN boarding area, makes Denver look orderly|
Next I decided to check out the other LAN VIP Salon in Santiago. It was like the first one but slightly larger and with many more people. I found a nice quiet corner to do some work, but after an hour or two, a family tried to take it over for their exclusive use. They knew that being loud and letting their children run around and scream was a great way to get their own space. A short while after I moved (and refilled my plate and glass) a lounge attendant told them to keep it down and start parenting (or so I thought, her tone sounded like she was threatening to kick them out). There was also a couple that rearranged the chairs to make a bed; again detracting from the lofty feel of the place. I was able to keep occupied with work emails, Google voice calls home, and Netflix for the next couple hours while trying to tune out the increasingly louder lounge (the smaller more peaceful lounge closes at 6pm).
After filling up on sushi, beer, and reading material, it was time to go home. Boarding was delayed again though after 12 hours, what's another 20 minutes? Business class was about 40% full, so I had no seat mate and spread out. I was really tired and ready to pass out asleep, buy stayed up to have dinner. It was a similar dish to my previous meals on LAN, but just tasted a little off, maybe the soy sauce and wasabi effected my palate. The cheese plate was welcome as always and I wish United would add it to their in-flight service. I also never got my ice cream for desert; a problem with the crew's attention to customers, not limited catering supplies.
|LAN Chile 767 Business Class Meal from Santiago (SCL)|
After my tray was cleared, I reclined the seat flat and was out like a light. The crew woke me 30 minutes before landing for the light breakfast option, a croissant and fruit. I nibbled for a few minutes, trying to shake my groggy feeling. Before I knew it, the cabin was being prepared for landing. The customs line at Miami was short and slow, but I wasn’t in a rush because I checked my bag.
I made it through customs (polite and friendly agents, just very slow and methodical), grabbed my bag and went to check in for my United Airlines flight 3.5 hours away. The United agent said it was too early to check in, but I could get on an earlier flight. I was inside the checked bag window, but she said it would most likely make the flight. I jumped on the offer to go home early even though if my bag didn't make it, I would have to wait 4 hours for it in Denver.
The flight to Dulles was a little delayed, good news for my bag, but I couldn't see the loading operation to make sure it was there. I didn’t clear an upgrade, but had the first row in coach with miles of legroom. My flight seemed to be a regular commuter flight for United employees. Everyone knew everyone and there was a lot of shop talk. The segment was uneventful and before long I was in Dulles and off to the final part of my trip. I had a 40 minute connection, not enough time to visit the Lufthansa lounge, but fine for a leisurely stroll to the gate.
|First row in coach on United E170|
The flight to Denver was 99% full and my upgrade didn’t clear again. I slept most of the flight so it was the best of the day. The landing was smooth and the taxi quick. I made it to the baggage claim area in time to see my bag pop up on the belt. My trip was over and my bag made it with me, if a few minutes later.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
- Easter Island
|Santiago Airport Mass of Coach Passengers|
|LAN Business Class Check In, SCL - Santiago Chile|
There is nothing really to do on the ground side, so I went into the customs line and then to security. The customs line looks long, but moves fast. There were a few Asian passengers that blatantly cut the line, but they didn’t respond to people’s comments in Spanish or English, so they got away with it. After customs and security there is the duty free shop. It’s large, but doesn’t have anything special. Most amusingly, the walk in humidor’s door was broken in the open position, so all the cigars were ruined (but still for sale). I wasn’t interested in shopping because I would be back in a day and have a long layover. I did grab some prices off the Scotch to compare with Montevideo. Both airports price items in USD making shopping simple unless you, like me, were in a habit of dividing by 500 to convert into dollars. 3000 pesos ($6) for dry Cuban cigars isn’t bad, $30 for the same broken cigars is a rip off.
Looming over this trip was my 13 hour layover the next day. I didn’t want to see or do anything so I can have something new to see the next day. I quickly found the LAN VIP Salon lounge and grabbed a seat. The free wifi was lightning fast and there was a decent food and drink spread for mid-morning. The lounge was comfortable and quiet; I was the only tourist in the place. I enjoyed some surprisingly tasty finger sandwiches and a few Cokes while I caught up on email.
|LAN VIP Salon, SCL - Santiago Chile|
I went to the gate a few minutes before boarding; SCL is a small airport so you are never more than 5 minutes from your gate. When I arrived, I saw the crew still in the gate area and settled in for another delayed LAN experience. When the boarding announcement was made, the gate agent started with families, but it was a tad messy because they had to fight their way, strollers and all, through all the other passengers lined up for boarding. When general boarding began, business class went first. The agent stopped me to put a gate check on my roller bag. I knew it would fit no problem, even in the crazy small 767 bins. Luckily he put the tag on the top of my bag, so I just placed my backpack on top of my bag to hide the tag. I boarded, tossed my bag in the bin and it was a non-issue.
|LAN Chile Business Class Preflight Snack|
I was settled with a Coke and some nuts while the rest of the plane boarded. Late in boarding an American family of four sat down in business class and one of their grade school age children said “What is this Mom? I thought we were sitting in first class.” Wow. Really, it was said as obnoxiously as you think. After my initial shock, I started laughing. The parents noticed and then explained to their son that not all planes have first and they were in the best seats on the plane. The explanation also made me laugh (I would have preferred a “be polite or sit in the back” style reprimand).
|LAN Chile 767 Business Class Cabin Panorama|
A few minutes after takeoff we were flying over the Andes. There was an announcement made to stay buckled up even though it was smooth sailing. There are some great views too and 15 minutes later, it was over and then came the plains of Argentina. After the Andes, a simple, but flavorful, turkey salad was served for lunch. The cheese plate was great as always, but there was mold on the fruit (gross, but noticed before I ate any). I substituted wine for fruit and vegetable serving.
|Business Class Meal on LAN Chile 767 to Montevideo|
A gentle landing was followed by a quick taxi. I was first off the plane and first in line for customs. The customs agent was friendly and worked quickly. I grabbed a Champaign sample on my way through the duty free store after customs and found the taxi desk. I had less than 24 hours in Montevideo and I needed to make the most of them.