As some of you may know, I'm a British airline pilot flying for a United Express partner airline in the USA on the Embraer ERJ-145. I run a blog call In A Foreign Sky which you can view at http://http://inaforeignsky.wordpress.com/.
The following trip report is available with photos at http://http://inaforeignsky.wordpres...-ams-man-united-businessfirst-klm/
I hope you enjoy it!
A few weeks ago, upon landing home from my deadhead to Chicago (having just operated Washington Dulles to Montreal and back. See trip report at: http://inaforeignsky.wordpress.com/2...-trip-report-ord-iad-yul-iad-ord/) I received an unexpected voicemail on my phone from my mother back home in England. My 92 year old Grandmother had fallen in her home in Manchester. She was dazed and confused and had been taken to hospital.
24 hours later my mother rang again to tell me that my grandmother had taken a turn for the worst. I had been planning to fly to Germany the next day to visit family on my days off, however, now it seemed that I would have to race back to the UK to try and say farewell to my wonderful Grandma instead. I immediately checked the loads to MAN on the company intranet. I had missed the direct flight out of EWR and we don’t have any ZED agreements in place with airlines based in the UK, so flying to LHR and connecting wasn’t really an option. The loads to Heathrow were awful anyway, with everything overbooked for Spring Break. However, after an hour of searching for flights with seats, I decided to non-rev to Amsterdam on United and then buy a ZED on KLM to Manchester. There was only one problem. The flight to Amsterdam left in an hour and a half, and I was sitting in my bedroom at home!
Chicago O’hare (ORD) to Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS)
Departure Time: 06:00PM
Actual Departure Time: 06:07PM
Flight Time: 8 hours 4 minutes
Aircraft Type: 767-300ER
Departure Gate: C19
My wife rushed home from work and drove me to O’hare. I wouldn’t have had time to drive myself, park in the employee lot and take the shuttle over to Terminal One, even though we only live 20 minutes from the airport. I checked in on my phone in the car and as soon as I got to ORD I kissed my wife goodbye and ran to the front of the staff security line. As I wasn’t operating today, and not in uniform, I wouldn’t be allowed to use the ‘Known Crewmember’ facility.
Gate C19 is about a 12 minute walk from security, but as I discovered, it’s only a 3 minute sprint! I got to the counter just in time to hear my name being called on the standby list. I was assigned seat 8A, a BusinessFirst seat. What a relief, I needed some time to sleep and wind down. 8A is a rearward facing seat, normally I’m not a fan of these, but today I was just glad to be on the aircraft and in Business. The flight had already started boarding and I made my way down to jetway and onto the awaiting 767. As I settled into my seat I took a look at my watch. 33 minutes from bedroom to aircraft….not too bad! The purser came around and introduced herself, offering a menu and boarding drink. I needed something to quench my thirst after that run, so I took two orange juices.
As I’m a vegetarian there is only ever one option available to me in Business and it’s nearly always pasta or curry. Tonight was no exception, this evening’s offering was Rainbow Ravioli in a tomato sauce. I placed my order and got comfortable by plugging in my headphones and starting to watch season 2 of ‘Episodes’ on the IFE. This was of course interrupted by numerous PAs and the safety demo as we began to pushback.
As we taxied out to runway 32L I began to realise how exhausted I actually was. I’d been working for six days non stop previously and I’d not had much down time. All of my trips in March had been day trips, and while I love them because I can be at home with my wife every night, it’s also very tiring to fly with a completely new crew every day and to drive backwards and forwards to the airport on a constant basis. Therefore, I was dozing before we even got to the runway.
I was awoken by the roar of the engines as we began to roll down 32L. We were heavy and the take off roll was long. As we accelerated away I saw a BA 777-200 waiting in the penalty box for it’s ATC release to Heathrow. It’s still my dream to fly for BA or BA Cityflyer back in my homeland. As we rotated the aircraft pulled to the left and then the right. Chicago is the Windy City, but for the past few days we’d been having a bit too much of it, and this flight was no exception. We climbed away and made a right turn, out over the North West suburbs, with my home visible in the distance and then out over Lake Michigan.
We were soon in our cruise and I was already on my third episode of Episodes. By the time I was half way through the fourth episode, the inflight service still hadn’t started. Then, finally about an hour into the flight the crew started taking drinks orders and passing out warm nuts. I opted for the Shiraz as my first choice of the Cabernet Sauvignon hadn’t been loaded on to the flight. It was nice to be a passenger and actually be able to have a drink. On deadheads we are considered additional crew members, and quite rightly, we’re banned from consuming any alcohol, even at the end of a duty. I must say that in my experience, United cabin crew are always very generous with the wine in BusinessFirst and GlobalFirst. Never have I had a flight where my glass has ever been less than two thirds full. Tonight was no exception, and it was going to my head! I’d already been dozy when we had taken off, but now I was starting to feel pleasantly snoozy! I wasn’t going to be able to keep my eyes open throughout the dinner service!
When the appetiser and salad arrived I opted for the balsamic dressing and garlic bread. I was ready to sleep, and so I told the flight attendant that I’d pass on the main, but to wake me up for the sundae! The food was of adequate quality. It’s always hard to offer top class meals on a flight, but United do quite well, particularly in their premium cabins. Neither the food, nor the wines are anything spectacular, but they still hit the right spot. The aforementioned sundaes are always a highlight though! I dozed and watched the rest of ‘Episodes’ until the cheese trolley came round and I had some crackers and cheese along with a Baileys (just to make 100% sure I’d sleep!). I then had a sundae with caramel sauce and whipped cream, a United classic.
The next thing I knew I was being woken to put my lie flat seat back into the upright position. We had already passed over England and were well on our way down into Schiphol. Shortly after the coastline came into view and we touched down with a rather large thud onto runway 36R. Our taxi in took about 10 minutes, passing numerous KLM, Transavia and other European airliners aircraft. My connection time was short at only 1 hour and 10 minutes, so I thanked the crew and made my way up the jet bridge and off to seek out my flight to Manchester.
Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) to Manchester (MAN)
Departure Time: 09:05AM
Actual Departure Time: 09:02AM
Flight Time: 1 hour 20 mins
Aircraft Type: 737-800
Departure Gate: D55
I made my way straight from the United gate to the KLM transfer desk. This was my first time using a ZED fare on KLM, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do. However, when I got to the KLM desk they immediately assigned me a seat in economy for my flight and I made my way to the gate as usual. Security was brief and I was surprised that since arriving in Amsterdam, no one had checked my passport or bags. I figured that would come later when I got to Manchester.
My flight was about half full, although the gate lounge barely had enough seats for a third of the average load on a 737-800. Shortly after 8:30 we started to board and I was one of the first in line. As I came up to have my boarding pass checked, I was asked to move over to one side and told someone would assist me in a few minutes. After a couple of minutes of standing around, a gate agent approached me and replaced my boarding pass for a seat in Economy Comfort. I was delighted by this. It’s always very generous, yet unexpected, when airlines other than your own take care of you. I made my way down the jetway and found myself sitting in seat 8F, with the rest of the row to myself.
We were fully boarded and ready to go very soon after I had taken my seat. The Captain came on over the PA to tell us that we were expecting a relatively short flight at just 1 hour this morning and that unfortunately we had been assigned runway 36L for departure, the dreaded Polderbaan, over a mile away from the terminal. The taxi ended up being long, as to be expected. But eventually we made it to the runway and we were number 3 for departure behind two KLM Embraer E190s, my favourite aircraft!
The take off roll was short with the light load for this mornings flight, and soon we were piercing the beautiful royal Dutch blue sky that was so vibrant on this late March morning. The climb up to our cruise of FL280 was quick, and soon the IFE monitors were lowered from the overhead bins and we were able to track our progress on the maps.
As soon as we were in the cruise the cabin crew started their service, offering a choice of sweet cookies or a savoury cracker pack. This came as a nice surprise to me. Since moving away from Europe around three years ago I’ve got very used the the North American airlines and their rather poor inflight offerings. To be offered a snack and a drink on such a short flight was a nice touch. I went with the crackers and an orange juice.
Soon we were reaching East Anglia. We entered UK airspace just north of Great Yarmouth, before heading north west over Sheffield, Leeds and then starting our descent for our approach. The UK had recently had quite a bit of snow, and this was still evident on the hills. We made a few turns over the North Manchester suburbs before beginning our approach for runway 05L. The weather was clear, with just a few scattered clouds and the winds seemed to be relatively calm. As we crossed over the threshold for 05L, the aircraft pitched up slightly and we landed very softly and without drama.
The taxi in was quick, and we parked up at Terminal 3. I thanked the crew and made my way off the aircraft and through passport control, before getting the train to Piccadilly and then the Metrolink on to Crumpsall to visit my Grandma in the hospital.
I was very grateful to the crews who managed to get me back to the UK so safely, comfortably and quickly. I made it to the hospital in time to say goodbye to my Grandmother, and even managed to have the briefest of two way communications with her. She died four days later. That was two weeks ago. I’m now back in the UK for something totally unrelated, and I’ll post the trip reports associated with this trip soon.
[Edited 2013-04-07 16:15:46]