For those of you who read "SFO-JFK-AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA-OTP" this is part II.
May 26, 2004
LOT Polish Airlines 602
C-class (redeemed UA Mileage Plus miles)
After one week's time in Romania, departure time was upon me. We left downtown Bucharest at 1130 in order to make our 1430 departure on LOT Polish airlines. We arrived at Otopeni (eventually to be renamed Bucharest-Henri Coanda Aeroportul) went into the international area and got in line to pass through the first security check. We rolled our luggage over to the LOT counter where we were first questioned if we were in fact business-class pax and then told that all of us at the counter had to relocate to another counter adjacent to the TAROM check-in counter. It seemed that the LOT computers were down so everything was done by hand which made me somewhat nervous since our luggage was going to transfer 2x before we got home to SFO. We were given handwritten boarding passes and instructed to go through passport control.
(On a side note, despite the fact that the sign at the first security check read "Ticketed Passengers Only Beyond This Point" while we were checking in for LOT, my mother-in-law walks up to make sure "everything is going all right." So much for homeland security).
Passing through passport control was easy as was going through security (again). We entered the international departure area for OTP which my wife commented was remarkably new (to me it looked like any modern airport, not unlike a smaller domestic US airport like ONT or SNA). She told me that the previous terminal was frighteningly socialist-era in architecture and climate.
Although we were travelling in business, it seemed that there was not a lounge for us (turns out that we could have used the TAROM lounge since TAROM code-shares with LOT on the WAW route). But airports are airports. We watched the crowd assemble for the Alitalia flight with my wife asking the cute questions typical of those among us who regard flying as "getting from here to there" such as "what kind of plane is that Italian airline flying?" "That's some form of MD-80" or "What's that Lufthansa plane?" "That's a Scarebus 321" which of course led to "What kind of plane are we taking."
This leads us to boarding (like many airports, especially when flying on an RJ, we had to cram 50 pax onto a short bus to get to the aircraft). "Remember when you asked what kind of plane we were taking?" I pointed to the RJ. My wife's eyes widened. "Isn't that kind of small?" She paused, "And we still get business class seats?" Being that we were on a bus, there was only a cattle call to the aircraft. We took our seats 1 B&C and strapped in. Being used to American carriers I was surprised that LOT's 145 had a full galley and that it had a 2-class config (really this only means a curtain between the cabins and a nice lunch and beverage service / more attention). Too bad that LOT does not operate the 170 on this route as I would have preferred flying on the Jr. airbus 318.
Doors were closed on-time and the RJ started up. We were running a full ship today with three pilots up front (one in the jumpseat which looked very, very small) and two FAs. We taxied for a short distance, feeling bumps with more pronouncement than on larger aircraft. We reached the active and off we went. Rotation was smooth but the climbout was noticeably shallow. We reached our enroute altitude of FL290.
The beverage and meal service was remarkable for an RJ (and I suppose this is more common on foreign airlines as compared to US carriers). We were served a full lunch with some kind of entrée that I can only suggest might have been chicken but despite the mystery it was relatively tasty. We were offered a choice of three different wines and a small selection of cocktails. Service was attentive and professional. We were offered a second beverage service about 45 minutes outside of WAW.
The only thing that is inconvenient about flying on this ERJ-145 was that the lavatory is located at the rear of the aircraft and the aisle is quite small.
We descended into WAW and true to form like most regional jets the descent profile was shallow, slightly nose-down. Touchdown was smooth and deceleration was quickly achieved with minimal breaking.
At WAW, the regional jets park at remote stands and we were again bussed to the terminal. We had only a 55 minute connection window at Frederic Chopin WAW to make the transfer to LOT 03 to ORD (according to United the 55 minutes was a legal connection time since we arrived and departed from the international terminal). We needed the 55 minutes . . .
Leg 2, May 26, 2004
We arrived at the terminal and entered the transfer area which was slightly disorganized. People queue up, it seems, according to their preference on quickly they want to be served. You queue up, present your passport and ticket, and you are issued your connecting boarding pass. Luckily we were also issued our UA boarding passes for the ORD-SFO leg.
You then exit the transfer area and then you are in the terminal where you then have to go through security to get to the gate area. This took more time. Making matters longer was the overly cautious security agent who went through our carryon items with thoroughness (but she was incredibly polite and professional) To make this connection story short, we entered the gate area just as the announcement was made to board LOT 03 to ORD.
I was hoping for a 767-300ER but we were stuck with the 762. LOT does not offer an F-class service so they have a Business-first cabin. On the 200 there are only 12 seats in the sharp end. I was again heartened to see that even with my legs stretched out I could not touch the seat in front of me (needless to say, I am not short, nor that tall, I’m 5.10). The seat was pretty much a standard business class product with about 35 degrees on the recline pitch (not unlike a domestic business class seat on a major US carrier). Unfortunately LOT only offers audio channels and movies are on the main screen so pretty slim pickings on the IFE. The airmap only shows when there is no movie playing.
This was a full flight and originally there were a few very small children seated with their parents in the sharp end. My wife complained to me, “They shouldn’t allow children in business.” If I were a paying customer, I would not prefer crying kids up front. But somehow they were moved back behind the curtain.
Of course, we were offered our pre-departure drinks while the coach passengers passed through eyeing with envy or interest. . . At this time we were handed our amenity kits which were well-stocked with eye shades, ear plugs, toothbrush and paste, socks, a shoe horn, and a hair brush. While I wanted to keep mine intact, of course I had to use the eye shades and the ear plugs (more later on this).
Doors were shut and we pushed back at the scheduled departure time. We were told to expect a total flight time of 9 hours, 40 minutes to Chicago. The taxi time was short and we took the active. The roll was smooth and we rotated about midway down the runway. Our climbout took us toward Copenhagen and our routing was to take us over the north of Scotland, toward Greenland, toward eastern Canada, entering the US near Detroit and then turning over Lake Michigan for our final into ORD.
Service on this flight was professional and timely. With only 12 of us in the cabin and two FAs, things moved quite quickly during the first beverage service and through the two meal services.
Dinner was three courses all served simultaneously. I chose the beef steak with potatoes and carrots. My wife had some kind of pasta. In my experience flying first or business on various airlines (US majors and recently LH) I must say that this was the best airline food I’ve had. The steak was decent, the potatoes and carrots cooked through but not mushy, steamed but not steam vent, and the salad was crisp (sometimes you get the still-frozen through salad with ice-cold dressing). The bread was fresh and warm. You get the picture. Desert was an ice-cream sundae and there were even second offerings.
Once dinner was cleared the after dinner beverage selection was offered and the first of two in-flight movies was started (I think it was the “Haunted Mansion” with Eddie Murphy). Duty free was offered in a non-intrusive way. By this point, about two hours into the flight, most people were settling in the long-haul, except for the two blokes in seats 1A&B who insisted that they should keep their window shades up. So it was necessary to break into the amenity kit to use the eye shades and ear plugs.
But sleep was not easy. So sleep did not come as I might have hoped. My wife, on the other hand, had no trouble going to sleep (drinking wine seemed to help her, but I don’t drink alcohol in flight). I woke up from my semi-sleep to watch the second movie but I don’t even remember what it was.
As an example of attentive service, the FA, seeing that I was awake, came by to offer beverages (you don’t see this very often).
The rest of the enroute was the same routine long-haul flight drama. Smooth air, watching time move slowly at 620 MPH, wondering what exactly people do in Goose Bay, and dreading the fact that after arrival in ORD, it was still four more hours enroute to SFO. A second meal service of a sandwich and salad and desert helped matters but even for the most enthusiastic aviation fan, a long flight is a long flight.
Arriving into the ORD terminal area was all about turn left, turn right, expect hold, expect further in 10 minutes, sequence, sequence, sequence over Lake Michigan, finally lining up for an arrival onto RWY 09(I believe it was 09R). We touched down and it was not a long taxi to the international terminal. We deplaned and joined the huddled masses at the immigration area. (Two suggestions to the US BCIS: read the arrival schedule so that you can see that six hundred people are going to show up all at the same time and then staff accordingly). Immigration took about twenty-five minutes, not bad, but it helped we were in the Citizen / Resident Visa line. The visitor line was long and it moved slowly.
It was a little confusing how the immigration / customs / agriculture lines worked when you are transferring your luggage to another domestic flight and not all of the employees were helpful. In fact, the USDA people were pretty down-right impatient and brusque demanding that I hoist two pieces of luggage and carry-on items quickly as they could see that I was struggling to get the first piece on the conveyer. But I also knew that it was probably not a good idea to say something smart to them.
But eventually we made it into the 7th circle of hell, the United Terminal at O’Hare. Would our flight leave on-time making us endure only a 90 minute layover, or would it be like the Chicago I’ve always known: delay, delay, delay.
Leg 3, May 26, 2004
Seats 8A&B Economy Plus
Flight 161 was going to be a late departure. At least 30 minutes the departure board displayed. Soon it was 45 minutes and then one hour. “Weather delay on the aircraft leaving LGA” I was told when I approached the gate agent trying to arrange for better seats than we were assigned. She flatly refused reseating us. Later, another gate agent moved us from seats in row 22 up to row 8 in economy plus. But that was no consolation for a near three-hour delay. The vendors were closing, the Red Carpet lounge closed at 9 PM. We had already gone through nearly thirteen hours of flight time. Our original arrival time in SFO was midnight. Now it was going to be 0100 PDT and it was a full flight. Or as they say in airline lingo, “extremely full.”
Now here is where the trip report really falls flat. All I can recall is buckling in, putting on my earphones to channel 9, which luckily had the ATC line on, and the next thing I am aware of is that we are 30 miles from SFO on the descent and it is 0104 PDT. I believe that I fell asleep again until we were on ½ mile final.
We arrived to an empty terminal, empty baggage claim, and we still had to get to the long-term lot to get the car to drive home for forty minutes. But, alas, that is what happens.
Total transit time: 23 hours