The reason for my trip was for a study tour through Seattle University, where I'm currently pursuing a Masters in Int'l. Business. A requirement of the degree is to participate in a study tour, and since I had heard from so many people that Italy is amazing, I jumped at the opportunity to go on this one.
I bought the ticket in January. I avoided NW and AZ due to labor issues. I didn't really look at DL, CO, or AA but I recall now that DL was pretty high. I seriously considered BA, meaning SEA-LHR-FCO. I had no idea about the whole gel thing back then, but it ended being a good idea not going via LHR this time. UA doesn't fly to FCO or MXP anymore, and they're my first choice of airline. I checked the UA website, and they showed the flights on US, for a total of fare of approx. $1,600. Steep!
I went to the US Airways website, checked the exact same flights that UA showed...$1,150 base fare, and $1,250 with taxes, etc.. What a difference! So, it was set: SEA-PHL-FCO-PHL-SEA. First time on US, first time in Pennsylvania/PHL, and first time flying on the A330.
A321. Reg. unknown...sorry.
Seat 11A. W Class
The plot to blow up airliners leaving LHR/LGW was uncovered about a week earlier, so all hell had broken loose with that. It meant worst of all that I would have to check my bag, which to me is worse than not having Ch. 9. So, I put all that kind of crap in a plastic bag and had it visible in case I was checked. At least I'd be prepared. I had made arrangements with our local shuttle van company to pick me up in Mill Creek for a 3am pickup, but with all this going on, I changed it to 2am to allow for extra time. This meant there was no sense going to bed that night, so I didn't.
To keep awake, I listened to my new stereo that I bought about 3 weeks earlier (NAD Integrated amp and CD Player, with PSB Image 25 speakers) and played ELO (All Over the World), The Cars (Self-titled from '78), and Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1. I then decided to watch "The Big Lebowski". I had made 2 homemade margaritas earlier, and now it was time to graduate to white russians....dude! Throw in some popcorn with cajun seasoning, and I'm wide awake. 1am rolled around, and it was time to shower and get ready, and secure the place for three weeks. I had just moved into my place a month earlier.
2am: Dispatcher for the shuttle van called, saying the driver was lost. 15 minutes later, same deal. My place isn't hard to find, really. I told the guy to have the driver call me directly, and I'd get him to my place, but that wasn't possible. I told the dispatcher I'd walk out to the middle of the intersection if it came to that. 5 minutes later, the van showed up, and the driver said he didn't have a cell phone because they're too expensive? WTF? Anyway, one more stop to pick up one more person, and we arrived at Sea-Tac (SEA) at 3am PDT.
Flight was at 6:30am, I arrived at 3am. I got in line, as did a few others. And we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally...at 4am, agents arrived, but they were for the America West flights to PHX and LAS! They couldn't help us at all...not their department. There was some excitement though to ease the pain of standing around. Some Hispanic-American was pulled out of the AW line by TSA, Port of Seattle, and some other agency, and they sat him down and questioned him. About what, I don't know. Eventually they carted him away, I wondered what happened. I hear Gitmo is nice this time of year, though. It was probably something minor, like drugs or a warrant or something.
US agents finally showed up at 4:30am, a full hour-and-a-half AFTER I arrived in order to meet the TSA recommended time for checking in. I wasn't too happy at this point. I showed my passport, ticket, and said goodbye to my bag. Given the horror stories of rampers at PHL, I was hoping it wouldn't be the last time. The tag had "782" to PHL, and "2" to FCO, so there was hope. I had those plastic green lock thingys to dissuade the good folks in the PHL bagwell from looking through my stuff.
The line for security at this hour was growing. I was in line for maybe 10-15 minutes, which itself wasn't that bad, but after standing in line earlier, it was getting old. Add to that this guy who was complaining to his mom about something...this idiot wouldn't shut up and whined the whole 10 mins. Luckily, they were going on some AA flight. Got through with no problems, and A3 was right across.
We were called to board by zone, and I settled in to 11A. We waited a while for pushback, when an agent informed us there was a security administration issue, and that we would have to exit the aircraft. Back to the lounge, which meant another 10 minute wait, and then we were cleared to reboard. All settled in, and about 5-10 mins. after that, were pushed back. The inflight crew and flight crew thanked us for our patience, which was cool. We taxied out for 34R, for the 4h, 30m flight to PHL.
We took off to the north, with a great view of Vashon Island, Bainbridge Island, downtown Seattle, Green Lake, and Lake Washington as we turned to the east.
Approximate routing (No channel 9, so I'll never really know...
Over eastern Washington (EAT and GEG) and then across Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan...then Ohio, towards PIT, and then into PHL. I didn't see PIT, but I wondered if we flew near Shanksville, PA, where UA 93 went down on 9/11. We came in over the Delaware River, and landed on 9L, I think, then taxied to our gate at C22.
Grade: Well, the long wait for luggage checkin didn't help matters, but my expecatations for this flight were low to begin with, and US met those exactly. Ah, hell....I'll give them a B.
At PHL during the layover
I walked into the C concourse for the first time, and wow...what a hole! Damn, we're talking United's concourse at O'Hare, pre-Terminal 1 & 2!!! I didn't eat anything on the plane, so I was hungry. I figured I'd find a place to get a Philly cheeseteak sandwich, but I never found it. All I saw was what resembled a typical suburban strip mall food court. TGI Fridays didn't appeal to me at that point, and I kept walking towards the A gates. The terminal started looking a lot nicer, and figured I'd find something towards this end. Again, another suburbia food court area, and kept walking. I saw this bar, think it was the Independence Club or something? I went in and figured I'd try a local beer. I forget the name of it now, and for good reason. They had the nerve to call it a Pilsener! It was swill...it had NO taste AT ALL. Place didn't even have Rolling Rock for crying out loud, which I like. I bought some batteries for my digital camera, since I realized my charger stopped working. Anyway, I walked down the A-East concourse to see what was there, and saw the BA 772 that would be headed for LHR later on. From there, I saw where the LH and AF flights were parked, and eventually saw the LH A343 arrive, the AF A343 was already there.
The A gates at PHL are actually quite nice...one of the nicer international terminals I've seen. So far, this was the only highlight of my US/PHL experience thus far. I headed over to the A-west gates, and found A21. My A332 wasn't there yet, but it soon arrived from CDG I learned. I saw flights to VCE, BCN, MAD, and one other I can't recall. This was at approximately 5pm if I recall.
Departure: 5:55pm EDT
A330. Exact registration: I think the nosewheel had '678' on it.
Seat 24A. W Class
Passengers started gathering in the spacious lounge. An announcement was made that upgrades to Envoy class were available for $500. I thought about it, but then I was at the start of my 3-week vacation, so I wanted to be careful with money, so I decided against it. I snapped a pic or two of the aircraft. I personally don't like the black/red livery of US...too bleak.
My zone was called, and it was time to walk on board the A330 for the very first time. I'm a Boeing guy all the way, but I think it's a nice plane. I found 24A, and stuffed my bag under the seat, which also had the entertainment thing as well, which seatguru warned me about. Shortly after I settled in, I took some pictures of the left wing and winglet, and then this Italian girl in skimpy clothing sat down next to me. Definitely a "brown-bagger"....she and her friend were on their way from CUN, based on the Corona bag she had. Parla non Inglese...oh well.
Takeoff and routing
As far as I know, we pushed back on time. Flight was probably 85-90% full, just guessing. Engines started up, and we taxied out for takeoff from 9L I believe. We taxied. And Taxied. Then, we waited another 30 minutes. PHL sure gets backed up at this hour...planes everywhere with no real sense anything was happening.
Finally, we taxied into position, engines spooled up, and we rotated off 9L after using about 6,000 of runway. It was a little cloudy, but I could see the three stadiums (for the Eagles, 76ers, and Philles) down below.
Based on the announcement that was made, we took off over southern NJ, and headed NE towards Long Island, NY, then past Cape Cod, Bangor Maine, and towards the Canadian Maritimes. Then, we headed east and followed the 55th parallel to Ireland, then south over UK, France, and then met up with the Italian coast, near the Island of Elba, and towards FCO. Total flight time was announced as 7h 18m.
Ok, BITCH time now. Once the AVOD system was FINALLY working after two restarts, I quickly learned there was no moving map. I have to have the map. I'm an airplane geek, I accept that. But, I have to have the map in front of me so I know the exact position and details about the flight. But, despite what other a-netters said about this dumb system, there was no map. F--K!!!!!! And of course no ATC like I probably would have had on UA. Why didn't I fly BA I kept asking myself. Well, my stomach started acting up by this time, and lasted almost the entire flight. I had some sparkling water, then had the BBQ dinner, which consisted of a scoop of chemical mashed potatoes, a small scoop of chicken parts in colored grease, some vegetable, and I forget about the desert. Obviously, not a very memorable meal.
I suffered through the flight, making my Italian seatmate wake up several times so I could hit the can. I felt bad for her, I really did. I didn't know "I'm sorry" and hope she wasn't too mad with me.
Landing & Arrival in FCO
After seeing the Big Dipper right outside my window coming across, I saw a nice sunrise, and we eventually came up on the Italian coastline. Immediately I knew Italy was a beautiful country...seeing the hills and the colors and the houses, wow.
We had a smooth descent, and then....the 2nd PERFECT LANDING I'VE EXPERIENCED!!!!! WOW!!!! That captain just barely touched the runway at FCO...I'm pretty sure there was no reverser applied. I knew it was perfect...WOW! This was the highlight of the entire journey from SEA, by far. Only other landing like that was on SpanAir, at MAD in 2001, in a 763 from IAD.
Disembarked the aircraft and got my first look at the C terminal at FCO, which seemed cool and unique. I then got on the train for the main terminal, and baggage claim. My bag did finally show up with no problems, and I cleared customs with no issues whatsoever. I had arrived in Italy, for what would become one of my best vacations ever...and Italy is my new favorite country, with Germany right up there of course. Still...Italy is a special place...if you haven't gone, you MUST!!!!! Two words: CINQUE TERRE
Grade for PHL-FCO: Inservice wasn't that great, AVOD/Passport needs to be thrown out...it sucks! The food was subpar at best. Flight was smooth coming across, and well...that landing. Did I say it was perfect? Captain saved it for US...I'm giving US an A- for this flight. Otherwise, probably a C-.