Below is my report for my last trip from Belgium to the US. I tried to include as much details as possible, so it might be a long read. Feel free to ask questions if you want more details.
From : BRU - Brussels, Belgium
To : LHR - London (Heathrow), UK
Date : August 20th, 2004
Flight : BA389
Aircraft : Airbus A319-131 G-EUPL (MSN 1239)
Seat : 20F
Photo © Guy Daems - Brussels Aviation Photography
Photo © Ivan Coninx - Brussels Aviation Photography
After a 35 min ride to Brussels Airport (the highway between Charleroi and Brussels was empty given the time : 05:30 AM), we went to the check-in counters for One World in the rather crowded departures hall. A VERY friendly check-in agent gave us our boarding passes to Chicago via Heathrow, asking us if we prefered a window or aisle seat for the BRU-LHR leg (for LHR-ORD, I had already booked seats 38A/B, which the agent confirmed).
Passing through security and passport control was really hassle-free, our aircraft (G-EUPL) was already docked on the B-pier North (in fact, it stayed there overnight). We made a walk down the B pier to have a coffee and also to watch planes (among others, LOT ERJ-170, Lofleitur Icelandic B767-300, Royal Air Maroc B747-400, VLM Fokker 50 and the usual amount of SN Brussels Avros, Virgin Express 737s, Iberia A320 and B757, Alitalia MD-80s, ...).
Boarding was on time, we could pick a complimentary newspaper among a choice of 4 (French, Dutch and English). The aircraft itself was comfortable, with leather seats and friendly flight attendants. During the taxi, we saw the Antonov 124 that was seized by Belgian police some days before (because of a strange story of a Swedish court ordering Belgium to seize the a/c because of unpaid bills to a Cyprus company by Ukrainian government... The Ukrainian crew decided to lock himself into the plane, parked on the Melsbroek military apron). After taxi, we had to wait 20 min for take-off because the usual departure runway (25R) was closed for maintenance. Landings were on 25L (as usual) but departures were on 20 that day, meaning we had to wait for numerous landings as 20 crosses 25L (the captain explained that on the PA). Anyway taking off from Rwy 20 gives very good overviews of the main aprons and soon enough we went through the clouds (overcast at BRU that day).
Immediately after t-o, the LCD screens dropped to show the flight progress (in 3 languages, English, Dutch and French) and the FAs began serving the breakfast (in Y class this consisted in a small croissant, orange juice, vanilla cream with fruits, plus the usual choice of the drinks cart). Crossing the Channel is fast, but we had to make some holding patterns in northeast London due to traffic at LHR. Once cleared for approach, we enjoyed breathtaking views of central London (LCY airport, Millenium Dome, Tower Bridge, London Eye, Houses of Parliament and others) on an unusually clear day. Unfortunately, the card of my digital camera was wrongly formatted, which I discovered at LHR, loosing all the pictures I had taken inflight... We made a bumpy landing on runway 27L and docked on Terminal 4, being almost the only narrow-body in the jungle of 747s and 777s.
Opinion : A nice flight in a comfortable aircraft with friendly crew, including breakfast and refills of coffee although the duration was less than one hour.
From : LHR - London (Heathrow), UK
To : ORD - Chicago (O'Hare), USA
Date : August 20th, 2004
Flight : AA87
Aircraft : Boeing 777-223ER N750AN (CN 30259 / LN 332)
Seat : 38A
Photo © Ryan C. Umphrey
Photo © Jorgos Tsambikakis
We had more than 2 hours to connect to our flight to Chicago, enough to take the bus from Heathrow terminal 4 to terminal 3 (plus passport control and handbags screening at T3 entrance) and to watch some planes (LHR is the heaven for plane spotters, there's such a variety of wide-bodies there, impressive...). We bought some travel items in the shopping mall... errr... terminal 3 before proceeding to gate 13. For US-bound flights, you must first pass through a special passport control before entering a special isolated waiting room (again, complimentary newspapers and magazines). Boarding started on time, with F and C class first, then Y class divided into 3 groups (we belonged to the last one...). I found the aircraft very comfortable in Y-class, with a generous legroom (More Room Throughout Coach program), individual PTVs with choice of at least ten video channels, ten radio channels and flight progress tracking (which is diplayed continuously during the flight on a large screen in front of each cabin).
We took of half an hour late on runway 27R. Our routing led us above Birmingham, Prestwick, south of Iceland, above southern Greenland then Northeastern Canada (above Ungava Bay) and finally down Lake Michigan to Chicago. I enjoyed stunning views of Scotland and icebergs, along with Greenland ice mountains and lonely northern Canada. A very tasty hot lunch was served around noon (choice of lamb or chicken with rice and spicy sauce, plus chocolate cake and bread). Later over Canada, with received a warm pizza with fresh grape. During approach to O'Hare, I managed to take good pictures of the Chicago skyscrapers, an overview of O'Hare and Schaumburg airports. We landed on 09R (I think) on time and docked on the International Arrivals Terminal (T5). There was a small queue at the immigration (usual questions : Where will you stay in the USA ? Why ?), but it did not take too long to get to the baggage reclaim hall, then into an automated train (ATS) to Terminal 2 and finally to the CTA blue line (= subway) to Chicago downtown.
Opinion : Very good flight, more than what I usually expect in Economy. On time, and good and friendly service.
From : ORD - Chicago (O'Hare), USA
To : LHR - London (Heathrow), UK
Date : August 23rd, 2004
Flight : AA98
Aircraft : Boeing 777-223ER N761AJ (CN 31478 / LN 393)
Seat : 38J
Photo © Dickson Ching
Photo © Joe Pries - A.T. TEAM
After an interesting stay in Chicago (including a stunning aerobatics show by the Blue Angels above Lake Michigan, during the annual Air and Water Show), we took the CTA blue line again to get to O'Hare, in the end of the afternoon. The train arrives under terminal 2, not so far from terminal 3 from where our flight to London was leaving. The terminal was a bit of a mess, but the check-in was reasonably fast and efficient. Instead of dedicated check-in desks for a particular flight, there is a set of counters for all American Airlines international flights, which is better in my opinion. After check-in, the agent asked me if my case was locked (you can't lock your case anymore) then instructed me to bring it to the scanning machine (where another agent once again asked if it was locked). All the bags are scanned inside the check-in area at what seems to be a temporary location (this is part of the reason why the terminal looks messy : screening machines in the public area of the terminal, near the check-in desks).
We passed passport and security control without any problem, then entered concourse K (our flight was due to leave from gate K13). The view from concourse K is somewhat boring as the terminal is dedicated to American Airlines (once I had seen their Super 80s, Fokker 100s and B737/757/767/777s, I went to the end of the concourse where I could enjoy views of the active landind runways, meaning more diversity (Lufthansa A340, United old and new colors, Regional Jets, Northwest Airlines, ...), while passengers were boarding a 777 bound to LHR, just before ours. We boarded our 777, N761AJ, just after sunset, and took off from runway 32R (or was it 27R ?) after a short taxi above a highway.
A dinner was served immediately after take-off (choice of beef or chicken with rice, bread, chocolate cake). I had spectacular night views of Chicago, Toronto and Montreal, along with less spectacular overflies of Michigan (South Bend, Flint, Lansing) and Newfoundland (so, a more southern flight than the previous one). Even with the complimentary pillow and blanket, I couldn't sleep much (as always when travelling) so I watched the movies and followed the flight progress on the tracker. Less than one our before landing, we were served a breakfast, then we started to descend (as we were coming from the West for landing on 27R, we had to circle over central London, unfortunately it was overcast this time). Although the approach was a little bumpy, the landing was smooth (and on time) and the taxi to terminal 3 didn't take long.
Opinion : Same as for AA87. What can I say, efficient, on time, comfortable, friendly. I definitely would fly AA again on transatlantic routes (can't say for domestic flights).
From : LHR - London (Heathrow), UK
To : BRU - Brussels, Belgium
Date : August 24th, 2004
Flight : BA400
Aircraft : Airbus A319-131 G-EUPJ (MSN 1232)
Seat : 17F
Photo © Ben Pritchard
Photo © Paul Dopson - AirTeamImages
That's where the problems begin ! We took the transfer bus to terminal 4, where we found that the gate for our flight (BA396) to Brussels was not assigned yet (we had more than 2 hours to connect). We sat in a quiet area, watching the amazing show of Heathrow's runways, then went to a screen to see... our flight cancelled ! Due to staff shortage, some BA flights had just been cancelled (this is discussed in airliners.net civil aviation forum), including ours... I went to the BA customer service desk where a very friendly (although novice) lady found me two seats on BA400 in the late afternoon. I made a particular point for my luggage, showing their ID, and the lady told me that it would be alright, they would be on board BA400 to Brussels. BA gave us one GBP 5.00 voucher each for drinks in any terminal, any caterer in LHR. So we ate a sandwich with a drink at Costa Coffee (with good views on runway 27L and T4 apron). The wait for the evening flight was quite long, and after a while it even became boring (I was somewhat tired after the transatlantic flight).
Fortunately our flight to Brussels departed more or less on time (we lost much time during taxi because a severe storm was hitting the airport, preventing take offs for some time... The waiting line for 27R quickly became impressive...). Again a nice A319 with leather seats, friendly FAs, drop-down screens to see the flight progress, complimentary newspapers (one with the Heathrow BA mess on cover !). During the short (and low, never above FL200) cruise, we received a tuna sandwich with orange juice and the same vanilla-fruit cream as on board BA389. We landed on 25L in Brussels after a rather bumpy approach (bad weather), and parked on pier B North, near a SN Brussels Airlines A319, at the same gate from where we departed 4 days ago. Passing through passport control was a real mess (long, noisy queues with lots of running children), because of the simultaneous arrival of a Royal Air Maroc B747-400 and Biman Bangladesh DC-10. Watching the baggage reclaim carrousel, we soon understood that our case hadn't followed us to Brussels ! Obviously, there was quite a lot of problems with the BA luggage today, it seems that almost none of the luggage from cancelled BA396 had made its way to Brussels... A (once again friendly, and fluently speaking 3 or 4 languages) lady quickly confirmed that our case had been found at LHR, and told us that they would deliver it at home the next day. And last but not least, the automatic machine in the car park asked me 70 euros for 4.5 days of parking (Front Park 2)...
Opinion : The flight itself was good, once again. Although one shouldn't judge an airline on one flight, it's still difficult to accept that an airline of the BA class had to cancel many flights due to staff shortage. Combined with the luggage not being correctly reallocated (although I specifically asked for that), what a lack of professionnalism ! I think I would fly BA again (because I liked the flights), but I definitely had a bad experience with this flight cancellation.