I posted a link to the return portion of my Portugal trip report last month. If you haven't read it already, please click here:
Here is my trip report about the outbound flights. Unfortunately, the batteries in my digital camera died after I'd boarded my MSP-ORD flight, so there won't be any pictures.
18 years ago, when I decided to fly from Detroit to London to spend a semester abroad, I had to choose between flying a Pan Am A310 nonstop to London, or a British Airways L-1011 via Montreal Mirabel. I’d already logged both PA and BA, so my choice came down to which type of aircraft I wanted to fly. At the time, I thought the L-1011 would be retired from front line service well before the A310, so I chose BA. The choice was a wise one, because my flights wound up being my only flights on L-1011s, as well as my only flights through YMX.
18 years later, I still hadn’t flown on an A310. When it came time to plan my 2006 vacation, one of my main criteria in choosing where to go was finding a way to fly on an A310, since I think the A310 will probably be in front line service for only a couple of years more. My other main criteria was based on my workload; I knew months in advance that late September would probably be the best time to take my vacation. I wanted to go somewhere where the weather would be warm in late September, without a risk of hurricanes. These two criteria made Portugal the logical place to go, because I would be able to fly on one of TAP Air Portugal’s A310s, and I would be able to enjoy pleasant weather while on vacation.
Tuesday, 26 September
I would be heading to MSP during the height of morning rush hour, so I requested Super Shuttle pick me up three hours before departure. Sure enough, the driver got stuck in a traffic jam, and arrived at my house a full half hour later than he was supposed to. I thought the route the driver wanted to take to MSP would be gridlocked, too, so I suggested an alternate route, which took only 35 minutes. I was able to get to UA’s ticket counter 1 ¾ hours before departure – I’m glad I’d allowed plenty of time.
With more than an hour before UA 565 was due to board, I stopped off at the Red Carpet Club; a friend had given me a one time pass to the club. UA’s club at MSP isn’t much bigger than a fast food restaurant, and the food selection (pre packaged muffins of questionable nutritional value) was about as healthy, but waiting for my flight there was still nicer than waiting in the gate area. I grabbed the last yogurt out of the refrigerator, then spent a pleasant hour reading the newspapers from the club’s (generous) rack, before heading to gate E8.
26 Sep 2006 UA 565 MSP-ORD 737-322 N369UA Seat 16A
UA 565 was almost completely full, but boarding went quickly, and we were ready to push back more than 5 minutes before 10:30, our scheduled departure. Channel 9 was on during the boarding process; as we were about to push back, I heard the dreaded news that the flight would be delayed because the pilots were working on a problem with the navigational system. Another aircraft needed our gate, so we were asked to push back, and taxi to the penalty box near the control tower, where the crew could consult with maintenance control. After about 20 minutes in the penalty box, I heard the pilots tell ATC the good news that they had fixed the problem, and we would be ready to take off within five minutes. We had only a brief taxi to runway 12L; after takeoff, we generally followed the extended centerline of the runway southeast past downtown St Paul airport and Hastings. I’ve flown MSP-ORD many times before, so I chose to read for most of the flight, rather than look out the window. Approaching ORD, we took a long eastward downwind leg almost to Lake Michigan, then turned to the southwest near Evanston. Unfortunately, it was hazy in Chicago, so I didn’t get as nice a view of downtown as normal once we lined up with the extended centerline of runway 22R. After landing, we had only a brief taxi to our gate at the north end of the C concourse. Despite the delay at MSP, we were at the gate at ORD only about 15 minutes later than the scheduled 11:43. My connecting flight to EWR would leave from gate B2, so I had a very long walk through the terminal and the “disco tunnel”.
26 Sep 2006 UA 646 ORD-EWR A319 N811UA Seat 20A
As with my earlier flight, UA 646 was almost full, but boarding went just as fast, so we were ready for pushback about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time, 1:15 PM. Fortunately, one of the few empty seats on the flight was the middle seat next to me, giving me some extra room to spread out. Gate B2’s location meant we were able to leave UA’s terminal complex as soon as we pushed back, without having to wait for other aircraft to maneuver in or out of their gates. We taxiied quickly to Runway 22L, and had to wait for only one or two other aircraft before it was our turn to depart.
After takeoff, we turned due east, then northeast toward Lake Michigan; unfortunately, downtown Chicago was on the other side of the aircraft. We came back onshore near the Michigan / Indiana state line, then flew due east across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula about halfway between I-94 and the state line. It was very clear over Michigan, so I was able to get a great view of Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Albion, Jackson, and Ann Arbor. We flew well south of the Detroit area; I was able to clearly see DTW, and the highrises of Detroit’s Renaissance Center, but although I was able to identify the Detroit suburb I grew up in, we were too far south for me to find my old house.
We crossed briefly into Canadian airspace past Detroit, as we flew along the north shore of Lake Erie for awhile, before crossing the lake and re-entering US airspace near Erie. We were scheduled to arrive in Newark during the height of the afternoon peak, so we were slowed down for sequencing over northern Pennsylvania, about 200 miles out. Our descent began near the Pennsylvania / New Jersey border. Winds were out of the south, but due to traffic we were sent on a very long downwind leg, almost to the New Jersey / New York border, before we were turned around. As we headed southward, I was able to get a wonderful view of Manhattan, bathed in late afternoon sunshine. Our landing was on Runway 22L; after a brief taxi, we pulled into the gate an incredible 40 minutes before the scheduled 4:50 PM thanks to our much faster than normal departure out of ORD.
After deplaning, I rode the elevated monorail from UA’s gates in EWR’s A terminal to TAP’s facilities in the B terminal. When I got to the ticket counter, the agent asked me if I wanted to fly on TAP’s earlier 6:00 PM departure. I politely declined the offer, not just because I wanted to fly on an A310 (the earlier flight now uses an A330), but because the earlier flight arrives into LIS at 6:05 AM, so I would get to my hotel several hours before my room was ready. After getting my boarding pass, I went through security, and spent the next four hours spotting at EWR’s B3 rotunda. When I first arrived at the B3, it was fairly busy, but it emptied quickly as three early evening flights to Europe (SAS A330s for ARN and CPH, and a LH 747 for FRA) departed. The B3 is a nice place to spot, because it overlooks the threshold of EWR’s main runways, with lower Manhattan in the background. Around 7:00, the B3 began to get busy again as passengers started arriving for a BA 767 to LHR and an AI 744 to CDG and BOM that were due to depart around the same time as my flight. I started to grow concerned around 7:30, because there was still no mention of my flight on the gate B61 podium, or the monitors in the terminal, so I asked a Port Authority employee to check with TAP, to see if my flight had been cancelled without my knowledge. He assured me my aircraft was on the ground (I couldn’t see gate B61 from the terminal windows, because the gate B62 jetway blocks any view of B61), and TAP would be arriving soon. About fifteen minutes later, TAP’s ground staff arrived, and the PA employee smiled knowingly and said “I told you so!”
26/27 Sep 2006 TP 106 EWR-LIS A310 CS-TEH Seat 26J
TAP 106 had only been booked to about 50, and many of the passengers booked on the flight had chosen to take the earlier flight, so only about 30 passengers actually boarded our A310. The light load meant I had an aisle/window pair of seats to myself, giving me lots of room to spread out. Pushback was right on time, at 8:50 PM. After pushback, we had to wait for a long line of aircraft ahead of us to take off; it was finally our turn about 30 minutes after pushback. After rotation, we turned west, then north, staying on the New Jersey side of the Hudson to avoid airspace conflicts with LGA and JFK. After we turned north, I had an unbelievable view of Manhattan at night. We began our turn to the northeast just past Yankee Stadium. I found out later that Airliners.net photographer Ron Peel's wife was in labor directly below my aircraft as it passed over the Bronx. About 30 minutes after my flight passed overhead, she gave birth to their first child. After passing the Bronx, we stayed on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound for ATC reasons. It was so clear that when we were over the Bronx, I could easily see the lights of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, at the far south end of New York Harbor. Closer to us, I could see the lights of Europe-bound aircraft turning east after departing JFK, and aircraft on approach to LGA’s runway 22. It began to get cloudy once we passed over southern Connecticut, around the time the flight attendants began the inflight service.
Despite the late hour of our departure, the flight attendants came through the cabin twice, first with cocktails, then with a full dinner service. Dinner consisted of a salad, a choice of Chicken with Rice or Hoki with potatoes and broccoli, and chocolate cake. I had the chicken, which was quite good; I had two glasses of Portuguese red wine with the meal. When the flight attendant filled my wine glass the second time, I told her how much I enjoyed the wine; she seemed touched by my compliment. The light load meant the flight attendants were able to complete both the beverage and meal service within 45 minutes of departure. After I’d finished my meal, I took two Tylenol PM, and put on my eye shade and noise canceling headphones to try to get some sleep.
Wednesday, 27 September
Even with the noise canceling headphones, I wasn’t able to settle into a sound sleep (I never sleep well on airplanes), but I was able to doze for 4 or 5 hours. About an hour before landing, as the first rays of sunrise were coming over the horizon, I put away my eyeshade and lifted up the window shade, to watch the sunrise. A few minutes later, the flight attendants came through the cabin with a turkey sandwich and yogurt for breakfast. We began our descent when we were well out over the Atlantic. It was clear over the Atlantic, but there were low clouds over the mainland. We broke through the clouds over the Taugus River, giving me a very nice view of Castelo do Sao Jorge and downtown Lisbon. Our landing was on LIS’s runway 3; after landing we had only a brief taxi to stand J2, in the middle of LIS’s ramp. We came to a stop at the stand around 8:15, 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Stairs were pulled up to our A310 almost as soon as we were stopped, and a bus was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs to take us to the terminal. A CO 757 and several intra-European flights had arrived ahead of our flight, so there was a long line at passport control; it took about 20 minutes to get through. Because I hadn’t checked any bags, I was able to walk right through Customs, and head for the taxi stand. The same long line of passengers I’d seen earlier at passport control had apparently moved to the taxi line; it took me fifteen minutes before it was my turn for a cab.
Lisbon Airport is located only a few miles from downtown, so within fifteen minutes, my driver brought me to the front door of my home in Lisbon, the Albergaria Senhora do Monte Hotel in Lisbon’s Graca neighborhood.
I really enjoyed my stay in Portugal. The highlight of my trip was a day in Sintra, about 20 miles west of Lisbon. Sintra has two royal palaces that are as nice as any palaces I've seen in Europe, along with a 1,500 year old fort. I also enjoyed Belem (Portuguese for Bethlehem), which is on the Taugus about 5 miles west of Lisbon, with its church (Monasterio dos Jeronimos) that reminded me of King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England, and a full size metal sculpture of a Fairey 400, the first aircraft to fly from Portugal to Brazil; a plaque next to the airplane commemorates the flight by aviators Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho.