about one year ago a Professor at my University in Germany told me about the partnership our department of Mechanical Engineering has with Texas A&M’s. He advised me to apply for a scholarship which I immediately did as you can imagine: It was a success. After completing all the nasty bureaucracy necessary for a foreigner to get a visa and university access the time came up to care about the travel to Texas itself. Of course, as an aviation enthusiast, I looked up several different itineraries for trip. I wanted to ride some new airplanes which weren’t on my list before. As I am quite young (23) this was not too difficult.
However, the best thing was that my father who is an LH Senator offered me a frequent flyer award in Business Class. As you can certainly imagine I was quite excited about that opportunity, but I was unsure if award seats were still available as it was already late November and the trip should start at the beginning of January 2005. So we called the LH Miles&More Hotline right after my visa appointment at the US Embassy. And exactly like I thought all suggestions I made to the woman on the weren’t possible. I was already getting desperate when she suddenly offered me the following last opportunity: DUS-FRA-IAD-IAH.
“Sounds good”, I thought to myself and took it and believe it or not. It was even more difficult to get the return flight in May although being five months later. Afterwards I booked the last leg IAH-CLL on the Continental Website. I don’t want to bore you about the details anymore now and focus on the trip itself.
Leg one: DUS-FRA
Flight#: LH 805
Aircraft: BOEING 737-300
Actual: On time departure, even earlier arrival as scheduled
Photo © Joerg Wilms
This years New Year’s Eve has certainly not been the best of my whole life. Knowing that you cannot celebrate with your friends because you have to get up early is not very motivating. However, I couldn’t change it and arrived a little bit worried at Düsseldorf International Rhein-Ruhr Airport. Well, it is my home airport and I like it very much. The Terminals are comfortable, clean and very bright. I proceeded to the LH counters in order to check my baggage in. This wasn’t any problem because there was very few traffic this morning. The friendly woman was luckily able to prepare the boarding passes for all my flights. She could even assign me a good seat in the upper deck on the UA 744 from FRA to IAD. I was excited. I headed to the gate and noticed that very few pax were waiting there. And my impression was correct. I had only six other pax in the Business Class section which was capable for 30 pax. The Economy class wasn’t very full either. We departed on time and soon a small breakfast was served. It was quite tasty and it was definitely a good start into the day. We landed at about 10:50.
Leg two: FRA-IAD
Airline: United Airlines
Flight#: UA 917
Aircraft: BOEING 747-400
Photo © I. Gunawan
I had some drinks at the LH Business Lounge before proceeding to the boarding gate for my second leg. I was disappointed that I didn’t find any Red Carpet Club in the near because I just wanted to try it. The LH Lounge was really fine. Boarding began at about 11:40 and there were already some queues in front of the gate. When it was my turn an American immigration employee asked some questions about the purpose of my trip, but it wasn’t very extensive. Now I could take my seat in the upper deck of the 744. I was surprised about the legroom which seemed to be at least the same as in the Qantas 744 upper deck I have been on last year. Very good. On the other hand the seats seem to be old-fashioned and not so comfortable. I hope UA will begin major cabin refurbishments when (or if ever) being out of Chapter 11. The IFE couldn’t convince me. The display in the armrest was tiny and the selection of movies poor. For example, they offered “Ocean’s Eleven” while “Ocean’s Twelve” can be seem at the cinemas in Germany. Games were also not available, Channel 9, the flight deck channel, seemed to be shut off.
There were actually quite positive aspects during this flight, too. The flight itself was convenient and the cabin service as I experienced it was as good as Qantas’ last year I flew them. This is not what I had expected after reading all the negative remarks about American carriers on A.net. The F/A’s were very attentive and tried to do everything to make your flight as pleasant as possible. The meals were excellent. First I had salad then cannelloni as the main course and Häagen-Dazs ice cream as the dessert. Before landing I had a further snack which was a delicious bruschetta. So the food certainly did not disappoint me.
During the flight I noticed strong head winds of more than 100mph. The captain also announced this and told us that we will be delayed for about half an hour. Damn, this didn’t fit into my plans.
Between leg two and leg three: Immigration and connection at IAD
As I was deboarding the plane I hoped that the other foreign carriers serving IAH hadn’t come in yet. I walked to the passport control and there was already a queue which took me about 40 mins to get to the immigration officer. She was friendly and asked only a few questions. The next stop was the customs officer. As I didn’t have any goods to declare this took about 10 mins because of the queue. It was about 16:40 now and my connecting flight should leave at 17:20. After customs I gave my baggage to the re-check counter and went to the security screening. I had to undress my shoes, belt and light jacket because of the zip. I became angry because they handled my laptop computer very roughly. But I hadn’t the time and I didn’t dare to complain and just looked to get to my gate as fast as possible. Now I was really thankful that I had received all my boarding passes in Düsseldorf. I had to take the shuttle to the terminal G concourse where already many people were waiting. The shuttled arrived at 17:05 at took us to the G gates. I just made it to board my plane on time.
Leg one: IAD-IAH
Airline: United Express operated by Chautauqua Airlines
Flight#: UA 7677
Aircraft: EMBRAER RJ 170
Photo © Phil Hyde
I was sweating because of all the mess described above when boarding the Embraer. I took place in seat 2A. It was spacy enough and felt very comfortable. I sat there and waited for the take off and nothing happened. It lasted until 18:00 when the pushback occurred. Now I began to feel a little bit mad. We departed and I was surprised how powerful the takeoff seemed to be. When we reached our cruising altitude a snack was served. I chose a banana and a chocolate bar. I asked the friendly F/A for a bottle of water as I was very thirsty. He gave it to me and soon I tried to sleep a bit. It worked more or less. We had strong rearwinds and we arrived even earlier as expected although our departure had been delayed. We had some stronger turbulence, but the flight in general was good.
End of day one: Getting bags and proceed to the Marriott
When I went to the baggage claim I noticed that IAH is a really ugly airport. I didn’t like it. They had three United flights and just on carousel which led to a crowded situation at the baggage claim. “What a lucky guy I am having priority baggage”, I thought to myself. One hour later I recognized how wrong I was. MY BAGGAGE DIDN’T ARRIVE. I had been travelling for about 20 hours or so and this was certainly the last thing I needed. Now I was really fed up. I went to a UA service agent who was friendly and said that the bags must still be in Washington and they will send it to my address in College Station the next day. I agreed as I had no other choice and wanted to go to bed. I took the train to the Marriott Hotel at the airport and went to bed.
Leg four: IAH-CLL
Airline: Continental Connection operated by Skywest Airlines
Flight#: CO 9556
Aircraft: EMBRAER 120
Photo © Norman Walesch
After having had a good breakfast at the hotel I went to terminal B in order to check in for the flight. Terminal B was even uglier than A. It was quite chaotic as one zillion CO flights were checking in at the same time. It took at least 30 mins. I chose the self check in desk as I had no more bags to declare and it worked fine. The security screening was a mess again although I have to admit that the officers were very friendly. I went to the gate where boarding began on time.
The flight itself was Okay. Fortunately it didn’t last to long because I (195cm) felt cramped in this small airplane. The F/A didn’t let me seat on my assigned seat (3A) although my boarding pass showed this, but I didn’t need any discussion at that time.
Well, I was finally there, but without my bags. I really hoped the would deliver it on the same day. THEY DIDN’T. I was quite disappointed.
Happy End: 03.01.05
Howdy, I just got my bags one day after my arrival. However I have to say the UA baggage hotline isn’t a great help. UA: Please have more human agents available to help instead of this stupid SIMON computer voice. I spend about 20 Bucks on the hotline without reaching an agent.