My 3rd trip of 2007 to Cedar Rapids from Manchester was going to be slightly different this time influenced by higher prices for a direct MAN - ORD flight I took the cheaper option (cheaper by about £200) which was to fly through LHR an airport I've never flown to or from before so I was actually quite interested to fly this route!
British Airways 757-200
MAN - LHR
An early start at Terminal 3 for me on Boxing Day morning still full from all the Turkey and Christmas pudding from the day before, I preceded to join a very long queue at for the BA check-in desks (which have been moved down at the bottom with the AA desks) which was now queuing past Boots the chemist at the other end of the check-in hall.
The line wasn't moving particularly fast so I began to nosy at other peoples baggage tags and such and noted there were quite a few internationals connecting through LHR the two girls in front of me were going to HK on Cathay Pacific, looking over to the BA desk I see a number of passengers emptying the contents of their hand luggage onto the check-in counter holding up the queue even more, I don't understand why people don't prepare all their documents before they check-in!
I finally reached the check-in machine where I could print off my boarding cards for each flight today and a BA CSA was there to help people check-in, even though I've used these types of machines before she proceeded to do everything for me asking questions as we went through each page, I commented on the long queue and she said it was like that every morning usually, it seemed odd to to me because this terminal must get backed up real easy even with normal loads for their flights. Once finished my boarding cards were printed out I dropped my bags off at the desk.
The first flight is Domestic so I was sent down to the UK domestic security line, I assume this place is new because I've never noticed it before and the Manchester airport website notes the installation of a new domestic security area, I don't quite know why its separate because we went through exactly the same checks as you would with the international security check area, you even end up in the same departure lounge!
Once in the departure lounge I did the usual walk around the shops and laughed at the prices for a full cooked breakfast and proceeded to just have a mocha at costa coffee while I read some of the magazines I'd picked up in WH Smith.
The flight today was to depart on time and it was a swift boarding on to our BA 757 this morning, surprisingly this is the first time I've ever flown BA in my life and I've flown with quite a few airlines in my life (mostly American these days) so I was interested to see the BA staff in action if only on this short flight to London.
I was actually very surprised by how friendly and welcoming they were as we boarded, their uniforms were tidy and they looked well groomed (don't forget I'm used to flying American). The 757 cabin was showing its age but everything looked in good order, I thought the leg room for a tall person like me was very comfortable although its been a while since I've been on a 757 and I had to wrench my neck to look out of the window, it reminded me of being on a CRJ!
The taxi and take off were uneventful but I loved the engine noises coming from those RR's it was wonderful!
Shortly after take off the crew sprang into action to offer drinks and a snack and for such a short flight I was surprised they did this and its something I hope they don't change! Although I thought the Cheese, ham and mushroom hot panni was a little odd, a breakfast roll of bacon and sausage would have been much more welcome!
No sooner had I finished with my drink and panni it was time for decent into LHR, the pilot told us that it would be a straight in approach today with no holding and that we would be also coming in over London for good sight seeing!
I had sat on the left side of the cabin so the landmarks weren't very good, most of the city of London was on the other side, strangely someone kept us updated to what we could see out of each window and I couldn't make out if this was from the flight deck or it was a male steward.
The landing was smooth and short and we exited the runway in front of the domestic gates but we had to wait for 15 minutes because the gate we were due to be in wasn't empty yet, I wasn't concerned as I had a good 3 hour layover before my next flight.
After de-boarding I followed the signs for the T1 connection centre to catch a bus to T3, I waked for what must have been an age and this was my first experience on being inside Heathrow, you probably know its not very impressive and all over the place with a lot of places looking patched up probably just waiting to be knocked down and the new Terminal east to be built!
The connections centre was very straight forward, because I cleared security in Manchester I didn't need to go through again I only had to show ID and my boarding card for my ORD flight, to the right there was the international arrivals security check point and I'd have to pass through that on my return flight home and it was quite busy! but for me it was through the airline desk area and down the stairs to the waiting terminal transfer buses.
You don't really get to see much on the buses just the underworld of Heathrow and from here you can see where all your bags go missing it was a fairly short drive to the connections centre at T3.
Once into Terminal 3 you feel like you've entered a shopping mall to which there is no escape or windows!! and it was very very crowed, to the point where I was having difficulty in finding a place to sit, instead I decided to buy my girl friend a hamleys teddy bear and some English chocolate for the rest of her family, I guess I was suckered in by all the shops!
I could write a page of criticism about why Heathrow is a mess but we've heard it all before and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt because a lot of the problems have been acknowledged and a lot of money is now being spent on updating current terminals and replacing others which is the most positive thing to do when one of the busiest airports in the world is also the most underwhelming for passenger accommodation.
American Airlines 777-200
LHR - ORD
Now I know I said that part of my interest in this trip was for the Heathrow experience but also it was for the AA 777 experience because even though the 767 is one of my favourite a/c I've also been on it more times than I care to mention so a change from the normal MAN - ORD equipment was most welcome!
I bumbled my way down to the holding area for my flight as soon as the screens said so because I was feeling a little claustrophobic with the lack of windows in the shopping mall. I've never seen this type of gate set up before where passengers are verified at desk at the gate and then go into a holding room and sit and wait for the gate to open, I assume this serves a purpose and possibly speeds up boarding time but it was at this point that my BA type boarding cards where taken off me and generic boarding passes where given to me, not quite sure why they did that as the information on the cards was exactly the same even seat numbers.
I took a seat near the door to the gate and waited a short while before boarding began, I was in the back of the plane so I would have to wait until my section was called so I just sat and waited and watched all the people who didn't understand "wait until your group is called" quite funny really. There was an old couple who thought because they had an American Express gold credit card that this entitled them to Advantage gold boarding! he proceeded to become grumpy when the gate agent said know and burst out with this line "I spend a lot of money with your airline!" he was booked in economy like me so he must spend the same as the rest of us in the back!
Once boarded I noted the seats where more or less the same as the economy seats on the 767 expect for the personal video screens of course! its strange that AA haven't made them VOD in the back as that would be a welcome feature but I found that the intervals between showings where good enough, I'd also brought my trusty Archos personal video player so I was never short of entertainment.
I've only been on a 777 once before with CO and I much prefer the seat layout of the AA cabin as I always like a window seat and only having one person to get over to the aisle is nicer for me.
The pilot wished us "happy boxing day" which a thought was a nice touch coming from an American and told us there would be no delay in getting out this morning and gave us a basic run down of what would have happen in the flight.
The usual in flight safety video showed with the usual music (don't ask me why I quite like that music and humm it often!) and soon enough we were at the holding point for the runway and we appeared to jump the queue as some a/c were already holding and our taxi way took us past parallel to them and we jumped in front which was nice!
Once air born the usual hive of activity ensued and today we would be getting numerous beverage services plus lunch and a snack before landing.
It was a good level of service on todays flight even on a plane the size of a 777 I felt well looked after and the drink runs were more than enough to keep me watered, the stewards kept them selves visible and available throughout the flight.
The dinner today was the usual chicken or beef, I opted for the beef this time as last time I had the chicken it tasted a bit chemically and you can't really screw up stewed beef. The snack was another story, now I've had the AA pizza before a couple of years back and it was cheese and tomato and was perfectly fine and tasty but for some reason they have changed it to a vegetable pizza! and I'll be blunt it wasn't very nice as the taste combination was the strangest for a pizza I've ever had, they should keep it to cheese and tomato then everyone is catered for.
The approach into Chicago was straight forward with no delays today and we seemed to use quite a lot of the runway today but I think it was on one of the shorter runways that runs behind the back of the terminals.
We taxied into T5 and it was one of the gates in the middle of the building so I knew we wouldn't have too far to walk, the MAN flight usually parks at the far end!
The immigration hall today was very busy and the boarder guards opened up the US citizens line to foreigners to relieve the lines, it was the longest I've ever spent in that hall after six trips through ORD.
The luggage hall would hold more tails of woe when I manage to pickup one case but the other never comes and I stood there watching everything go round several times, there were a few other passengers too who were in the same boat.
The only blessing is that it was the case with all the Christmas presents in so I wouldn't be going with out a change of underwear! I spoke to the CSA in the hall and she told me just to put a claim in at my finial destination.
From this point I dropped my one bag off with the check in outside customs in T5 and made my way over to T3 on the airport transit train thingy.
American Eagle EMB-132
ORD - CID
I've talked about ORD before in previous trip reports so I won't go over old ground here T3 is looking a bit better on the front now I will say that most of the updates have nearly finished it would seem, perhaps this terminal will last them now until they build another in the future?
The TSA checkpoint wasn't too busy today and I made my way through with no problems, I was quite early for my flight so I just found a quiet area and watched the Mad Dog's of AA do their thing!
My flight got a gate number so I preceded to wait outside there and there was no EMB at the gate yet so I assumed it would be here soon enough as is often the case with the quick turn arounds of the Eagle fleet.
Closer to boarding time our flight got a delay which creeped up in increments of 5mins every 5mins so I guess they didn't really know when my flight was to arrive, people were going upto the gate agent at this point asking questions, I just stayed seated and listened in on the conversations, mostly just "your not going to cancel this flight are you? you always cancel my fights!" this kind of enquiry I find doesn't make the plane suddenly appear at the gate.
After about 20mins our gate number was now changed to one further down the concourse as ours was probably going to be used by what ever flight was next at that gate, then another 10mins past and the gate changed again! down to the 'dungeon gate's' on the lower floor, I figured that this would be a good place to tell us that our flight was cancelled! but the pessimist in me was silenced when our flight arrived!
The flight to CID was uneventful, no drinks service this time just water, it seems to be quite hit and miss to if you get a proper drink on this flight, sometimes you do sometimes you don't but the flight time always stays the same
Landing in CID left me speech less to the amount of snow on the ground (I've never been in mid winter before) because we never get this kind of snow in Manchester (not since the 1980's) I thought about how a regional airport deals with the harsh midwest winter to keep its runways open.
Once in the terminal it was a smoochy meeting with my girl friend then I made my way to pick up my bag and request that they find my other bag that went missing, unfortunately I was stuck in front of a young man who also had his bag lost but wanted every compensation under the sun, even inventing ones in his own head for a free hotel stay. Once I got to the desk I gave an exact baggage description with colour and my baggage check, I figured I'd be one of the nicer passengers that particular CSA had to deal with that day!
My bags arrived two days later as they were lost in LHR and must have traveled with BA as they were covered in BA tags and slips, still at least it was found and brought straight to the door!
Thanks for reading I know its a bit long! and comments are most welcome!
[Edited 2008-02-08 04:35:29]