Well here we go with my first trip report. I love to write, so forgive me if this gets a bit lengthy and wordy. Also, any pictures I've included were taken with my cellphone, so the quality isn't great.
First, a bit of background behind the trip. I'm originally from Oxford, England, now living and working in Orange County, California. I try and fly back once a year but I'm a cheapskate and don't like paying $1400 for a high season flight. The last time I was back in England was, funnily enough, exactly a year ago. I flew on the same dates and flights as this year. And the reason for my trip is purely for pleasure; to see family and friends and old school mates who I've not seen in 5 years or so. Also, my wife is in Seattle for a week at a conference with her job, and quite frankly, "All work and no wife makes IFEMaster a dull boy", so I figured why not use some vacation time?
I purchased the ticket on priceline.com, and got an absolute steal - $175 + tax roundtrip. Now we all know that there are risks that accompany priceline - you might get an airline you don't like, you might get a gazillion layovers, and you might be flying at silly times of the day. But for the right price, I really don't mind at all. I love flying, plain and simple.
As it happens, I got incredibly lucky, and scored a direct LAX
on British Airways at friendly times of the day. So, with that said...
I woke up incredibly early - 3:30am. I'm normally up at 5:00am on a normal work day anyway, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to get a jump on adjusting timezones. Last night I took my wife to LAX
for her flight to Seattle, and then I played a gig that went quite late (I'm a musician in my spare time), so I only had about four and a half hours sleep. I never have problems sleeping on planes, so I planned to sleep all the way to London.
I had a light breakfast and then went to the gym and worked out for an hour, got home and got ready for work. After I finished packing a few final things, I loaded my stuff in to my car, said goodbye to the cats, and made some final security checks around the house, and got on my way to work.
I arrived at work at 8:00am and spent the morning tidying up some loose ends, sending "I'm out of the office until next week" emails, and making sure things are good before I leave. I left the office at about noon, grabbed a coffee at Starbucks, then made my way to LAX
I arrived at LAX
at about 1:30pm. I parked the car in the long-stay parking lot B, in a memorable and easily-found place, and I took a few pics of the locations. Why? Because my wife will land on Friday, and she will need to find the car based on me directing her over the phone!
I hopped on the bus to the Tom Bradley Terminal and was there within 15 minutes. Check-In was not quite open, but I had checked in online, so I stood in the Easy Bag-Drop line. A young lady came and joined me and we got chatting. She was a BA
F/A and was non-revving back to London. I told her she had really pretty eyes and then asked if she could pull some strings and get me upgraded. No dice. What's a guy to do, eh?
Soon enough check-in opened and I got my proper boarding pass and my bag was tagged. I had to take it to the TSA
X-Ray machine, but that didn't take long at all. I bid my farewell to the pretty non-revver and wished her a pleasant journey.
I had a couple of hours to kill, and I didn't feel like clearing security yet because there's not much to do airside at LAX
. I went to the upper level of the terminal and bought lunch at the Daily Grill, and chatted with the barmaid and another traveller who was on his way to Sydney. After finishing my beer, I browsed the shops, purchased a US to UK power adapter/converter (lost mine on my last trip) and then decided to clear security, so at about 3:45 I grabbed my roll-on and laptop and made my way towards security. It took no time at all to get through security, but the sunglasses in my bag looked like scissors apparently, so the TSA
girl searched my bag. She was very nice and upbeat about it, and after giving me the all clear, wished me safe travels.
I wondered to my gate and there she was in all her pristine glory - the big bird that was taking me home. I couldn't see the registrations unfortunately. Also, as you can see from these pics, the weather had taken a turn for the worse!
I chilled out for a while by the window, listening to my iPod and watching planes outside. This A330 pushed back while I was in line for boarding.
An EVA 747 arrived in the rain for a very misty splashdown. Aircraft were landing from the West today, which is unusual for LAX
I went and had a couple of beers in the bar by Gate 21 and chatted with a guy who was on my flight, heading to Frankfurt. Finally they called boarding at 4:45pm. After pre-boarding had been called and all classes higher than WT
, they began baording economy, from the back forwards. I was one of the last on the plane. I was greeted by the lovely Allison, and she made room for me to stow my bags and jacket. I took my seat at the window in 32A. I was praying and praying for no row-mates, but I was sadly and bitterly disappointed. Two rather large people that looked like Augustus Gloop and his mum squeezed themselves in to 32B and 32C. I could almost feel the seats straining...
We pushed back about 15 minutes behind schedule, and I watched the ground activity as we taxied out to the runway. The second BA
flight of the day had arrived 30 minutes early and landed while we were taxiing, and the first VS
flight of the day to London had pushed back early and was already on the taxiway. With the safety demonstration done, the Captain greeted us with a little information about the flight (9 hours, 45 minutes flying time, bumpy takeoff conditions, taking of to the East unusually, but a smooth ride anticipated once above the cloud cover, he'll speak to us again when we've reach cruising altitude etc.).
Finally it was our turn, so we taxied on to the runway and lined up. It seemed like forever until we began the roll, but then finally that deep, satisfying roar and rumble came. There's something satisfying about that sound, especially when you're sat pretty much over the wing and you can feel the power. We must have had a light load this evening; we accelerated very quickly and rotated much sooner than I had anticipated or experienced before. The ground disappeared quickly below us, and before I knew it, we were above the clouds. On the horizon there was a small remnant of sunset, and I felt good that the next time I would see daylight would be on the other side of the Atlantic.
The climb was smooth and insignficant in movement. We levelled off at FL210 for a few minutes, and then climed to FL380.
Allison, the friendly BA FA
who had greeted me when I took my seat, arrived shortly with her drinks trolley and served me a minibottle of Smirnoff and a can of Sprite. I also got a packet of 'Spicy Tomato Breadsticks', and a bottle of red wine for dinner. I estimate that economy was about half full, and Allison and her crew were done with drinks in record time. The InFlight Entertainment began as I was sipping my Smirnoff and Sprite, and flicked through the channels, watched some movie previews, and then settled on the jazz audio channel for a while.
After a while, Allison came back and cleared away my empty drink can/bottle/cup, and soon after that dinner was served.
And this is where life got difficult for me...
After dinner, I put on my eyeshades, pulled down my window shade, put in my earplugs, adjusted my headrest, asked the lady behind me if she minded if I reclined my seat, and she didn't, so I reclined my seat, and tried to sleep.
Unfortunately, Augustus Gloop's mum had different ideas. I was just about dozing of when WHAM! I got a rib full of Gloop elbow. WHAM! WHAM! I pulled of my eye shades to see what the deal was. Mrs. Gloop was dipping her large hand in to her large handbag for a few large bars of chocolate for her and Augustus. I politely but sternly pointed out that she's elbowing me in my ribs, and casually mentioned that I broke them a few years ago and they are quite painful. She threw me a half-arsed apology and went about gnawing on her chocolate slab.
I tried again to get some sleep. No more than 30 seconds passed and I got another hard WHAM! in my ribs. This time it actually hurt, and I made it clear by letting out an over-exaggerated yelp. I looked to see what the problem was this time. Mrs. Gloop needed the bathroom, and in her desperate attemps to haul her vast frame out of the strained seat, she had cast aside her handbag and whacked me full on in the ribs. I was a bit more aggressive in my approach this time, pointing out to her that she had aggrevated the injured ribs further, and I'm trying to sleep, so if she could not commit GBH for the rest of the flight, I would be most appreciative.
Of course I also realised that if she was getting up for the bathroom, she would unfortunately have to return. So I waited in my row with Augustus, who looked highly amused that his mum was beating on the skinny guy. I threw him a slight scowl and got no acknowledgement. Eventually his mum returned and I stared at her every move while she manouvered herself back in to her seat. The whole time, I had my finger hovering over the Attendant Call button to demonstrate my seriousness. One more whack in the ribs and I would've spoken to Allison about being moved.
It was only after she had taken her seat that I began to smell a strong odour of gin. I mean it was really strong. S T R O N G. Clearly she'd had some swigs from a personal supply while in the bathroom, but I had to wonder if maybe she'd cleaned her teeth with it, washed her hands with it, and applied some as a perfume. It was pungent!
Eventually I nodded off, only to wake up again every 30 minutes or so as the plane hit some strong turbulence. In all, I probably had three hours of regularly interrupted sleep. Not great, but better than nothing.
My only saving grace was that when I did sleep, I dreamed of the scene in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory where Augustus Gloop gets sucked up the drain pipe. I wished his mum went with him too.
I slept for maybe four hours on and off. Eventually, I woke up to the sound of children laughing, removed my eyeshades, and was greeted with a bright, daytime cabin. I let my eyes adjust to the light, and then opened my window shade. We were crossing the coast of somewhere, so I flicked on the inflight map and saw that we were just crossing the coast of Scotland. I checked my watch and estimated that we were about one hour and a half from landing. I turned around and saw that Allison was just about done handing out breakfast. I flicked on my attendant-call light, and Allison appeared as bright and breezy as she had when we first took off (sidenote, how do these people always looks impecable, even after 9 hours in the air?). She greeted me with a "good morning", and I asked if I was too late for breakfast. "Not at all" she said, and disappeared down the aisle. After a few seconds, she returned with a breakfast tray for me, which I gratefully accepted - I was hungry!
After breakfast, I got up out of my seat for the first time and stretched my legs while I waited for the bathroom. To quote a famous Rick Moranis movie - I had to pee so bad I could taste it! Eventually, having utilized the bathroom, I walked a couple of circuits around the cabin and took my seat just as the captain announced we were beginning our descent, and there was about 15 minutes hold time so we would be circling south of London before the final descent in to Heathrow.
I looked out my window; the sky was quite clear and I could see the ground. Life always looks so peaceful from up here! We continued our decent and on the map I could see we were holding south west of London at about FL180. After ten minutes or so, we began the final descent. The captain advised us that we would be at the gate a few minutes early, and the flight attendants needed to prepare the cabin for landing.
Eventually we descended towards London and I was greeted by the heartwarming sight of a cold and frosty day in London. That may sound like an odd thing to say, but after living with English weather for 24 years, and then moving to a perfect climate, there is a part of me that misses real seasons. It looked thoroughly miserable out there - cold and frosty, despite the sun - and I couldn't wait to get out in it.
Final approach was smooth and as always the BA
flight crew put her down on the ground with great expertise, giving us a smooth touchdown and stern but smooth deceleration. Before we knew it, we were at Terminal 1, deplaning. I grabbed my bags, put on my jacket, and smiled as the cold, brisk air hit me on the jetway.
Terminal 1, in my opinion, is a very poor choice for arriving long-hauls. It's too small and the infrastructure is inadequate to deal with the number of passengers.
One of my pet peeves is the inexperienced traveller holding up the lines at passport control and customs; they don't quite know what's going on, and while I sympathize with the inexperience, there's no excuse for stupidity in filling out the wrong forms or filling out the right form incorrectly. For that reason, I literally ran to passport control. I was third person in line for EU residents, breezed through passport control and took up prime position at the inadequate baggage carousel. While I was waiting, I switched on my phone and called my parents - they were in Arrivals waiting for me. Before long, my single checked bag arrived, I grabbed it, threw it on a trolley, and strolled through the green channel and out in to the arrivals lounge. My parents found me, and after the hugs and greetings, we were on our way out of there.
My parents had taken the bus from Oxford rather than drive - my dad hates the M25 with a vengeance - and that was actually very pleasant, because it meant I could talk with them both on the bus back to Oxford. We chatted as we crawled along the M25 and then sped along the M40, and before we knew it, we were heading down Crawley Road and then over Magdalene Bridge towards Gloucester Green. Familiar territory; past the university I graduated from, past the place I played my first 'real' gig when I was 17, past the cinema were I went on my first date - these memories come back every time I return to Oxford, and they never get old.
We get off the bus, and in to my parent's car, and drive the 7 miles to my hometown of Witney (Witney, without an 'H'!). Nothing has changed since I was here last. I'm sure I'll go to the pub tonight and see someone I know and all they will say is "I haven't see you in a little while".
It's great to be "home".
Coming soon: The return leg, LHR
, completed with drunk Glaswegians, Orlando Bloom, and an angry Indian guy. I bet you can't wait.