Buenos Aires for the weekend
At the beginning of February I began looking for a break from the cold-weather monotony of Minnesota. I decided that I needed a short trip to someplace warm, someplace cheap, and someplace that I would be able to BP10 roundtrip as a United employee. The normal places like the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Florida were ruled out because they were too expensive, too touristy, or the flights were too full. Buenos Aires soon jumped to the front of the pack due to extremely low costs, beautiful women, cheap food, excellent weather, and not too full flights. I was not disappointed in any way. Here is my report about the trip down.
Thursday 23 February 2006
Minneapolis/Saint Paul (MSP) to Washington Dulles (IAD)
United Airlines UA 7678 (operated by S5/Shuttle America)
17.00 ¡V 20.32
Flying time: 1 hr 40 minutes
N645RW (c/n 064)
Seat: 11A, economy
Check-in & Security
Due to the fact that non-revenue travel on United Express is first-come, first served, I actually checked in at 5:01 PM the day before using one of the Easy-Checkin units at the MSP airport. As MSP does not have the latest generation of self-service machines with the passport scanners, I had to manually type in all of my passport information but this only took a few minutes and at 5:04 pm I was added to the departure management (DM) list (United-speak for Standby list) for both of my flights.
The next day, after frantically washing all of my winter clothes, I arrived at MSP via light-rail at 4:05 PM. I stopped by my credit union to get some cash and attempted to use Security Checkpoint 10 (Skyway). Unfortunately, the TSA agents there are completely unfamiliar with United boarding documents and initially denied my entry with a DM card. After some intervention by Beth, the extremely competent and professional checkpoint supervisor, I was allowed through without further incident.
Boarding & In-flight
After security I made my way to Gate E6, took a seat and waited. At 4:30 PM boarding began with the call for Global Services customers and United First. At 4:35 the agent began clearing the DM list starting with me. I immediately boarded and was greeted at the door by a pleasant older FA. I slowly made my way through United First to Economy. All the overhead bin space over my row was taken by the time I boarded so I had to go the last row to find space, where I was assisted by the other (also pleasant) FA. My seat, 11A, like all seats on the Embraer 170, is a wide leather upholstered seat with plenty of legroom.
The flight pushed back early at 4:55PM. As we meandered our way to Runway 30R for take off the FA's did the safety demo and the pilots welcomed us aboard and informed us that we should be getting in about 40 minutes early. Take of roll began at 5:06PM and rotation was 23 seconds later. After we passed 10,000 feet the FA's began the usual domestic US airline beverage and snack mix service. How it works on S5 is that the front FA takes care of First Class and then helps the back FA with economy after F has been served.
The IFE consisted of listening to the loud, talkative people in the two rows behind me. The guy in 12B was trying to pick up the girl in 13C. The girl was telling the whole plane her business -- from her experiences in Law School to what colour Victoria's secret panties she likes (For the record: he got her number and her preferred panty colour is sea foam). The path of the flight was over EAU, MKE, SBN, CMH, MGW, then onto IAD. Descent began around 7:20PM and we touched down on runway 19R at 7:45 and docked with gate D18 at 7:52PM
Transit at Washington Dulles (IAD)
I was one of the last to leave the plane as I had to go backwards to get my bag. Upon exiting the jet way I was reminded of how antiquated UA¡¦s facilities at IAD are. Concourse C/D is very long, yet there are no moving walkways or carts to transport passengers. There have been very few improvements made to the terminal since it opened in the 1980¡¦s, as it is a 20 year old temporary terminal. Of course, it could be worse (see IAD - Concourse G)There are few good restaurants between D18 and C7, so I stopped off at a very busy Wendy¡¦s for dinner, as I was not sure If I would get United Business for the next flight. I then headed to the arrivals monitors, like a good non-rev, to see which flights were going to misconnect ¡V it looks like Boston, Denver, Richmond, and Newark are were going to misconnect to my flight.
Thursday 23 February 2006
Washington Dulles (IAD) to Buenos Aires - Ezeiza (EZE)
United Airlines UA 847
21.37 ¡V 10.15 (next day)
Flying time: 10 hrs 13 minutes
N654UA (c/n 462)
Seat: 29E, economy
I returned to gate C7 around about 5 minutes before boarding began. Boarding began right on time at 8:52 PM. All boarding announcements were made in English only, which slowed the boarding process greatly as Spanish speaking passengers boarded whenever they wanted. This flight was overbooked by 9 in economy as well as having 15 non-revs listed, so there were quite a few passengers waiting for a seat. At around 9:05, the agent started to work the DM list starting with the revenue passengers confirmed on the flight without a seat and then continuing down the list. At 9:15 she ran out of seats with four of us remaining. She made a call to operations to make sure that the flight was going to leave on-time, then dropped the misconnecting passengers from Boston and Denver and cleared the rest of us onto the flight. The agent¡¦s printer was broken so she just wrote the seat onto the DM card. I proceeded down the jetway and was greeted by a perky FA who instructed me to cross the aisle for seat 29E. I made my way to my seat, stored my bag, threw my pillow and blanket underneath the seat, and sat down. We pushed back two minutes early at 9:35 PM and as with all UA aircraft with PTV¡¦s the safety demonstration was manually done. We took off at 9:46 PM. After we reached 10000 feet, the purser came on the PA and welcomed us aboard and told us all about the service for today¡¦s flight.
This flight offered an assortment of 9 channels that rewound and replayed throughout the flight. Channels 1-8 were movies that were also dubbed in Portuguese and Spanish, while channel 9 was short subject programming from TeleMundo in Spanish only. I watched Walk the Line and The Cat in the Hat between my naps on this flight. All the passengers seemed to be satisfied with the offerings and its compares very favourably to competing carriers to EZE of which only CO from EZE and AA's 777 flight from MIA offer PTV¡¦s. The full selection of audio channels was available as well although this captain chose not to turn on the Channel 9 ATC communications. ƒ¼
Dinner was served about 1 hour into the flight. It began with a beverage and snack service, the main course, and then another beverage service. The choice for the main course was between beef or lasagne. I chose the beef and was not disappointed ¡V it was quite tasty. The tray consisted of: beef, potatoes, carrot slices, spinach, a garden salad, bread, butter, a cup of water, and chocolate cake. Alcohol was not free on this flight although all soft drinks were.
The FA's made several water runs during the flight.
Breakfast was served 90 minutes before landing. It consisted of a box with a cup of fresh fruit, a cup of orange juice, yoghurt, and cutlery. This was followed up by a beverage service. This meal was again very good quality and adequate for this stage length.
The flight path had us taking off to the northwest, turning around to the southeast, following the coast of Virginia and North Carolina until we got to Cape Fear where we headed out over the Atlantic. We then proceeded due south over the Bahamas, Santiago de Cuba, and Kingston, Jamaica. We made landfall over Cartagena, Colombia, over Bogota we made a slight eastward turn then flew over NW Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, before entering Argentina. We began our descent over Rosario into a rainy Buenos Aires.
Landing and Disembarkation
We had a very bumpy descent due to the weather but UA 847 landed to great applause a few minutes late at 10:20 AM. We docked with gate 7 at 10:23 AM. Disembarkation was uneventful. It took about 1 hour to clear immigration due to the volume of flights arriving at this time of day (BA 247, a chock full 747-400 from LHR had just landed before us). After that, I hopped into my pre-booked remis and headed off to my hotel.