US 197 Heavy
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Depart Manchester, United Kingdom 11.20AM
Arrive Philadelphia, PA 2.00PM
I was not sure what to expect at security today, given the heightened measures in place for flights to the United States originating in the UK. Restrictions on hand luggage had been thankfully relaxed: where a few days prior only clear plastic bags were permitted, bags the size of a small laptop case, without liquids, are now allowed.
I arrived at check-in in good time and was greeted by an organized process. Passports were checked by staff while in the line to the desks, and security questions were also asked. This has been general check-in procedure on many flights from Britain to the US for a while now. I find it works because it expedites the time spent at the actual desk claiming boarding cards and relinquishing checked luggage.
Predictably, the security screening phase took longer than normal. Beverages and lighters had to be surrendered, while shoes had to be removed for x-ray. All passengers seemed compliant, though.
Today’s flight commenced boarding an hour before scheduled departure, ladies first. When I reached the airbridge, there was a line for women on the left and for men on the right. Security officers then searched random passengers prior to stepping onto the airplane. I wasn’t searched.
Finally aboard, I settled into my economy seat and patiently awaited departure. And waited. The captain eventually announced that he was not allowed to take off until the passenger manifest was approved in the States. This could take up to an hour, he said.
Fortunately it didn’t. We pushed back minutes after his announcement. The seat pitch on the A330 was not as tight as on many planes, and the flight attendants seemed quite senior and professional. We soon departed from Runway 6L and began our hop across the pond.
Drinks and lunch were served fairly quickly after takeoff. I had a pasta dish with a soft drink. Wine or beer was not offered with the meal, which I found odd for an international flight, as alcohol is complimentary on many long-haul airlines. However, water and sodas were always readily available. The in-flight entertainment (“P@ssport”) is one of the best, with on-demand movies, news, documentaries, comedies, etc. and a jukebox containing many albums of the moment.
It was a fine afternoon in the Philadelphia area with warm temperatures and calm, clear skies. The captain treated us to a silky-smooth, barely perceptible touchdown on Runway 27R at PHL, and I was back in the USA. I find this airport very speedy for entering the States, compared to Washington Dulles, for example. The lines at immigration snake quickly and the security officer was very courteous and amicable.
The flight was good overall. It arrived on time, which was good given the chaotic preceding week in the industry.
US 196 Heavy
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Depart Philadelphia, PA 8.35PM
Arrive Manchester, United Kingdom 8.35AM
This evening’s boarding process at Philadelphia was similar to that of Manchester’s, except everyone’s hand luggage was searched in the airbridge. This meant that boarding once again commenced an hour before scheduled departure.
We pushed from stand on time and made our way slowly to Runway 9L. Then came the bad news: earlier bad weather had delayed many arriving flights and, consequently, the volume of outbound traffic awaiting takeoff was massive. We were at the back of the line, number 32(!). The pilot invited us to recline our seats, switch on the reading lamps, and use cell phones as necessary. He would tell us in good time when takeoff was imminent.
We crawled intermittently past the cargo and maintenance facilities, where a company A330 was being serviced. At least our estimated flight time was short: 5 hours, 55 minutes. Traffic moved along nicely, and we eventually departed forty-five minutes later behind an Air France A340, which likewise had been delayed.
One complaint: while I accept an air traffic control delay is out of US Airways’s hands, no drinks were provided for passengers until dinner. This was quite inconvenient because many passengers (me included) had been on the airplane nearly two hours before it took off. And security regulations prevented us from taking bottled water aboard. Dinner was also served before the drinks cart had reached many people. Otherwise the service was fine, if a little robotic.
The overnight crossing passed quickly and the sun rose as we neared the west coast of Ireland. Light rain showers were forecast in Manchester this morning, thus generating moderate turbulence during our descent. The surface temperature was running at 14C/57F. Breakfast and coffees were hastily cleared away as we reached 10,000ft and the cabin prepared for arrival.
Traffic was landing to the west which yielded a series of steep right-hand turns as we established ourselves on the 24R localizer. It all looked very gloomy as we passed by the landmark Manchester Airport Hotel beer garden on short finals. Another remarkably smooth landing ensued and I was back in England.