I have been reading the various reports on this site for a few years and have finally decided to sit down and share one myself. Unfortunately this will be more of a descriptive report than a pictorial one, but I have good reason for this. My camera, along with laptop, Zen player, USB memory stick etc. were all stolen four days after I got back from the States. I had taken lots of photos and videos in preparation for this, but everything was lost when my case was taken. I was over in Brussels for an Arcade Fire concert and it was taken from the trunk of our car... c'est la vie!
In late August, I decided it was time for another quick trip to the US to see my sister living in Maine and clock up a few more air-miles/points. I try to visit towards the end of October each year, as my nephews both have their birthdays in the same week and it falls in line with a public holiday here in Ireland. Always a good excuse for a week away from the office.
To cut a long story short, I ended up with a pretty crazy itinerary, but one that would give me a good number of flights for one week, with three airlines (one new) and even an inaugural Aer Lingus flight to top it off.
20th October 2007
DUB - BOS with Aer Lingus
26th October 2007
PWM - JFK with JetBlue
JFK - SFO with Virgin America
28th October 2007
SFO - DUB with Aer Lingus (Inaugural)
Dublin - Boston
Date:- 20th October 2007
Sch Dep:- 14.30
Act Dep:- 14.31
Sch Arr:- 16.15
Act Arr:- 16.19
Aircraft Type:- A330-300
Registration:- EI-JFK ("St. Colmcille") - 11th flight on this aircraft
Photo © John Farrington - FlightLineImages
I decided to check in online the night before the flight and managed to change my seat to 10K from the originally selected 36K. I wanted a window seat on the right side of the aircraft, but unfortunately row 36 was the only one available when booking the flight.
Rows 9 through 11 on the -300s are in a "mini-cabin" located between Premier Class and the Door 2 galley area. As these seats are a bit quieter than the main cabin, it can be difficult to get one, but they are only opened up for selection during check-in.
As I was leaving my apartment on the south side at around noon, (DUB is situated to the north of the city centre), I was sent an automated SMS message from Aer Lingus advising me to proceed to US Immigration 90 minutes prior to departure and this may prevent me from missing my flight. This is a nice little reminder for people as although pre-clearance in Dublin or Shannon is a nice benefit, the queues can be quite bad during peak times.
After a longer than normal drive across the city, I arrived at the airport and collected my boarding pass for seat 10K at the one of the Fast Pass self service kiosks on the departures level. The terminal was busy, but nothing like the number of people that can be found there every weekday morning at 5am. Security was quick and painless and I was though within five minutes. As it was already after 13.00 and boarding was scheduled for 13.45, I had a quick look around the shops for a few gifts and then made my way to Pier B and US Immigration.
The Immigration area is located below the main departure lounge in Pier B and has several gates located behind the counters for the direct services to the US. Unfortunately when I got there, the queue was backed up along the stairs and in to the departure lounge. I just took a seat at one of the other gates and filled out my forms while waiting for the queue to shorten.
Aside from a faulty fingerprint scanner and an interesting look from the officer/official upon seeing the Arabic entry stamps on my passport from two visits to Dubai, I was through and took a seat to wait for the boarding call. There are no windows in the downstairs area, so there really isn't much to do there aside from throw on some music and just wait.
We boarded on time and by row number starting from the back of the aircraft. I always wait to the end anyway, so I was not too bothered. Shortly before 14.30 the doors were closed and we were underway soon after.
During the taxi out, the safety demonstration was shown on the various video screens and drop down monitors in the cabin. For those that require PTVs, be aware that EI only has PTVs installed in three aircraft - (two A332s EI-DAA, EI-DUO* and the A333 EI-DUZ*).
* delivered Summer '07 and feature AVOD
We taxied out to Runway 10 for departure and I had a good view of the taxiway and apron works underway to the west of Runway 16/34. Although I don't think I have ever been to an airport that was not undergoing some form of construction work, DUB is a real work-in-progress at this point and these additional parking stands and taxiways are most welcome.
Take-off and initial climb was fantastic - I did record a video, but that is gone now. We flew straight out over Portmarnock before making the left turn out towards Mulingar and out over County Mayo. After leaving the coast, the cabin crew started the bar service and our F/O came over the PA to give us some information on our routing and the weather. We were up at our initial cruise altitude of 38,000ft at that point.
Bar service for EI is now buy on board, but as I don't really drink alcohol, it doesn't bother me and I make do with the complimentary soft drinks.
Lunch was served soon after the bar service was completed. The choice (as always) was Chicken or Beef. I (again as always) opted for the Beef Lasagna. Lots of people complain about EI meals, but I have always found the food ex-Dublin/Shannon to be pretty good. It is the dinner service on the Eastbound flights that is really lacking in quality.
In terms of IFE on the old -300s like EI-JFK, there are several audio channels playing a good variety of music, certainly enough to keep me entertained for a couple of hours. On the video monitors, a selection of TV shows were played through the flight, along with the single movie which was the latest Harry Potter film. On longer routes to Chicago, Orlando and Dubai there are two movies, while on LA and San Francisco there are three (when not operated by the AVOD aircraft).
For the most part the flight was uneventful with a pleasant crew and a comfortable seat. The only turbulence was on the descent into Boston and that was not too bad at all. A small snack was served an hour before landing into Boston and this was a scone with jam and some tea. It is a simple snack, but it always hits the spot after 6 hours in the air.
We touched down on Runway 27 at Logan airport at 16.13 local time and were on stand at Terminal E at 16.19.
Radar Track of Arrival:-
Enter date as 20th October 2007 and select 15:52 as time. Select "Start" on the top-right to start the replay. On a range of 90 miles, you can see my aircraft arriving from the north-east.
Baggage reclaim and customs was quite quick this time. I have had long delays with baggage in BOS before, so this was a nice surprise. I caught my coach up to Portland from the set down area outside Terminal E and spent the next five full days with my sister and her kids.
Portland, ME - New York, JFK
Date:- 26th October 2007
Sch Dep:- 11.25
Act Dep:- 11.25
Sch Arr:- 12.34
Act Arr:- 12.44
Aircraft Type:- A320-200
Registration:- N607JB ("Beantown Blue") - 1st flight on this aircraft
Photo © Nicholas A Vollaro
After several enjoyable days with family, it was time to get on with the flying part of my holiday.
For this flight I decided to check in at the airport as I already had my seat assigned and was in no rush. I arrived at the airport around 9.40. At PWM, JetBlue has several check-in counters, with four self service kiosks in front. The check-in procedure is very easy with JetBlue and I printed my receipt-type boarding pass and collected my bag tag for my single case at the counter. I must say the B6 staff were very helpful to passengers checking in.
After dropping off the case with the TSA, I went upstairs to the departures area for an apple juice and a danish. I was quite surprised at how slow the queue was for the security checks. PWM is a really small airport, but the security line took about 20 minutes!
This was my first time flying out of PWM, so I had a quick look around the airport airside. In the gate area there is a nice bar, a Starbucks and a souvenir shop, (plenty of lobsters and lighthouses). The gate area looks out on the main runway and at around 10.35 I saw B6 flight 600 arrive from JFK. The aircraft, N607JB taxied in to Gate 10 where we waited to board.
Pre-boarding actually started at 10.50 for passengers with small children. Soon after, they started boarding by seat row. Again, I was towards the front of the aircraft but was quite happy to wait in the terminal until the end. General boarding was announced at 11am. One thing I did notice at Gate 10 was on the flight board it said "Let's go Red Sox!" as they were in the middle of the World Series with Colorado... a nice touch!
We taxied out to Runway 11 for departure out of Portland and climbed away to the south after a quick and easy take-off. We had some very nice views on the route down over the Boston area and out to Long Island but hit the cloud on our descent towards the New York area.
We flew an approach out over the water before finally turning back in to land on 04R. It was nice to be able to follow the route on the PTV, but that map B6 uses is not the greatest. The position updates are pretty weak too. I guess we are all just getting used to much better systems. B6 are still a great airline and I'm not complaining!
After a quick taxi in, we were on stand at 12.44.
The B6 terminal (T6) in JFK is really getting quite uncomfortable these days. I can't wait for the new facility to open up at T5. Anyway, after a trip around to Terminal 4 on the Airtrain (great system), I was ready for the next hop...
Radar Track of Arrival:-
Enter date as 26th October 2007 and select 12:16 as time. Select "Start" on the top-right to start the replay. On a range of 80 miles, you can see my aircraft arriving from the north-east near Shirley on Long Island.
New York, JFK - San Francisco
Date:- 26th October 2007
Sch Dep:- 18.35
Act Dep:- 18.40
Sch Arr:- 22.20
Act Arr:- 23.10
Aircraft Type:- A320-200
Registration:- N625VA ("Jefferson Airplane") - 1st flight on this aircraft
Photo © Nicholas A Vollaro
My original booking with Virgin America was on the 16.30 VX230 on the same day, in First Class. However, late in the afternoon on the day before the flight I received an email from Delta confirming my booking in J class from JFK to SFO for a similar departure time as the VX230. I thought this was very strange and called up Virgin America to get more information.
I was told that my flight was being cancelled and that as I was in First, they had to re-accommodate me on a flight with another carrier. I explained to them that the only reason I was flying to SFO was really to try out the VX product and that I had no interest in flying J class with Delta. Instead I wanted to be put on the next available VX departure out of JFK and would just put up with an extra few hours in the lay-over. I was re-booked on the VX234, but there were no First Class seats available, so I took a bulkhead seat in Economy instead along with a refund of the price difference.
I must say I was a little bit disappointed with the customer service in terms of letting me know my flight was canceled. VX told me that my contact telephone number did not work so they just made the booking and sent an email. I was lucky to have checked email that evening. By the way, the number I had given them was in the format +35386... my Irish cellular phone. I guess either they didn't try, or they didn't know how to dial an international prefix from the US.
Anyway, check-in was very straightforward and was thankfully open when I reached Terminal 4 over five hours prior to departure. The agents at the desk were very friendly and apologised again for my situation. They actually even commented on how calm I was about the whole thing - I think I was just tired! First was indeed full for this flight, so I was stuck with my 3F seat.
I went and got lunch in the main shopping area in T4 and after making a few calls, decided to head through security to airside and maybe do some spotting to kill a few hours. Security was simple and I was though in a matter of minutes. I think our flight left from gate B20, (to the right after going through the B Pier security). In any case, there was a JetBlue A320 on our stand for now and I decided to walk to the end of the pier to find a seat with a window. I pulled up a seat at around 15.00 beside a large number of Virgin Atlantic passengers heading to London on G-VAIR. There were nice views to be had of the departing and arriving aircraft over on 04L/R and with some music playing on my creative zen, it was a good way to spend the lay-over. JFK really has a nice variety of operators, but once I saw my aircraft taxi in to the gate I decided it was time to make my way back up to B20.
We had a short wait at the rather crowded gate area as our aircraft was serviced. Soon after our aircraft arrived, the flight from LA touched down and would later follow us to California.
Boarding was a little awkward due to the volume of people at the gate, but as I was in Group A, I was one of the first to be boarded and did not feel like waiting at the gate this time. I walked down the jetway into the cabin filled with purple light (very nice) and took my seat, 3F. I had a quick chat with my seat buddies and learned that the passenger in 3E had been booked on the earlier flight also and got a call the day before to confirm the switch to the later flight. The passenger in 3D had a similar experience on her outbound flight from SFO several days before and was told that it was down to delays in receiving aircraft. Maybe a VX employee can confirm, but perhaps the guys performing the work in Lake Charles are having problems.
Our captain came out to Door 1 to introduce himself and give a quick update on our flight. Unfortunately as the weather was bad and there were numerous departures ahead of us, he was expecting a "good solid 45 minute taxi". This was greeted by a few groans, but I understood that this is normal for JFK and just sat back and waited.
We pushed back at 18.40, but instead of the expected 45 minute taxi, we were not airborne until 20.26. Our taxi route was out from B20 via K, right on to A, then Q, PE, back down Runway 13R, right on to K again and then off Runway 04L. I was very tired at this point and was frankly just glad to be underway.
Radar Track of Departure:-
Enter date as 26th October 2007 and select 20:27 as time. Select "Start" on the top-right to start the replay. On a range of 10 miles, you can see my aircraft departing from Runway 04L and making the turn to the south west.
The cabin attendant looking after First Class came down to my seat early into the flight and was aware that I had been bumped back to Economy. She told me that they had added an extra First Class meal for me and that if I wanted to I could watch a complimentary movie during the flight. This was a nice surprise, but as I had built up a nice music play-list during the taxi, I was expecting to just sit back and listen to music and try to get some rest. I offered my complimentary movie to my seat buddy in 3E, as she really wanted to see "Hot Fuzz". She was delighted and I was happy enough with getting the meal.
The meal was very well presented and consisted of a main course of chicken with fried rice and vegetables. There was also a basic starter and a nice desert.
The flight was perfectly smooth and once we got out over the Chicago area I think I fell asleep. I woke as we were descending through 25,000ft on the way into SFO... note... I NEVER sleep on aircraft unless I am in J class, so that shows how comfortable the bulkhead seat was.
Landing was standard and we touched down on Runway 28R before taxiing in to the International Terminal.
Baggage reclaim was a challenge to find actually, and it is a little "out of the way" for B6 and VX. The room was very crowded with three arrivals (B6 and VX from JFK, VX from IAD) and the belt was jammed. I finally managed to get my case and made my way to the courtesy buses to the hotels. I was on a bus at midnight and checked in at the Westin in Burlingame within minutes.
I had a great day in San Francisco on Saturday, (the BART is excellent for getting in from SFO). Sunday morning involved getting some rest for the long flight ahead and also got in a little spotting from the hotel room which looked out on the airport.
San Francisco - Dublin (Aer Lingus Inaugural)
Date:- 28th October 2007
Sch Dep:- 15.15
Act Dep:- 15.52
Sch Arr:- 08.15
Act Arr:- 08.20
Aircraft Type:- A330-200
Registration:- EI-DUO ("St. Colum") - 1st flight on this aircraft
Photo © Daniel Nicholson
I checked out of the Westin at 12.45 and got the next shuttle to the International Terminal. I was there by 13.00 and joined the long check-in queue. The staff checking in passengers and also those assisting with any questions from those in the queue were all very polite and helpful. They were all wearing Aer Lingus lanyards, ties, pins and flowers. One member of staff was handing out cards, the size of a business card, showing that it was the inaugural Aer Lingus flight from San Francisco. Attached to the card was a badge/pin of a shamrock shaped American flag. This is a nice little memento, but nothing special. Despite the long queue, the atmosphere was light hearted with lots of humour and nice conversations.
I was finally checked in at 13.40 and decided to grab a quick lunch in the food court before heading to security. I went to "Lori's Diner" in the north food court and had a surprisingly tasty cheeseburger!
The security queue was non-existant, with only three people ahead of me. Despite the usual shoes off, laptop out routine, I was though in under five minutes and made my way to Gate A9. On the way through the terminal I spotted the nice green tail parked at the end of the pier. I made my way to the window near A7 to check which aircraft was operating the service today and was very relieved to see that it was EI-DUO, the newest A330-200 in the fleet. I had hoped it would be this aircraft so I could try out the new seats with AVOD.
It turned out that the aircraft was late arriving and there were a few teething problems with the servicing, so boarding was delayed. Pre-bording finally started at 15.25, but the agents were very quick and most of the passengers were though by 15.35. There was of course the usual wait in the jetway as the passengers ahead took their seats, but I was in 33A by 15.45.
Captain Declan Hayden had the pleasure of operating the inaugural eastbound service and during his passenger address he mentioned that the delay was due to strong headwinds for the inbound aircraft and the issues with servicing. Thankfully the weather en-route would be favourable and we were expecting a flying time of 9hrs 15mins to Dublin.
Pushback (15.52), start-up and taxi (15.59) were standard and I had a great view of the airport as we lined up and started the roll down 01R at 16.08 for a practically straight out departure towards Sacramento.
After 30 minutes, the F/O came over the PA system to say that we were now near Reno at 35,000ft. The routing would take us over Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, south of Winnipeg, over the Hudson Bay, across southern Greenland and towards Iceland. The seat-belt sign was then turned off.
Some 45 minutes after take-off, the bar service commenced. As with the Boston flight a week before, alcohol must be purchased, but soft drinks are complimentary. I took two mini-cokes as I knew there would not be another service with dinner and the minis are very small compared to the full size cans provided by B6. I was also given a small packet of pretzels with the drinks.
The sun had essentially set some 90 minutes into the flight and we would not see daylight again until we were nearly home. The view was quite special from 37,000ft. I don't think I will ever tire of how beautiful our planet can be from above.
Dinner was served about an hour after the bar service and this again consisted of Chicken or Beef. I chose the beef but it was very disappointing. There was a small salad served with the main, along with a bread roll, cheese, crackers, cheesecake and a mint chocolate. The tea was nice though...
Throughout the flight, there were drinks available at the Door 2 galley area and on several occasions the crew came through the cabin offering water or orange juice to those of us that were unlucky enough to still be awake. I have seen reports on other EI flights where people have said that the crew essentially disappear for most of the flight but this time I can't fault them. The whole crew were very friendly and attentive, a pleasure to fly with.
We had a final step climb up to 39,000ft over Hudson Bay and the PTV showed a time remaining of 4hrs 45mins.
In terms of entertainment, the new system available on EI-DUO and EI-DUZ is great. There is a huge selection of music along with plenty of movies of all tastes and lots of TV episodes of everything from Father Ted to The Sopranos. The PTV is touchscreen and very easy to operate. Unfortunately no other passengers were playing the trivia games, so I just played a few rounds to keep my mind active. I reached $1 million in my first attempt at the Who Wants to be a Millionaire game - so the mind should be alright for now!
I had recorded a simple video showing the various features on the PTV, but sadly that has also been lost with the camera. I will do this again the next time I fly on one of the newer aircraft.
After a little over 8 hours in the air and approximately one hour before landing, breakfast was served. This time I was pleasantly surprised, as normal EI breakfasts on the East Coast flights are a joke... a tub of orange juice! This time we were given a portion of fresh fruit, a danish, a bread roll, yoghurt and the infamous tub of orange juice. This was again accompanied by a nice cup of tea. Gone may be the old days of a nice warm breakfast with brown bread, but this was not bad at all!
Our arrival took us in over County Donegal and out over the Irish Sea north of Dublin, before making the welcome turn back home to land on Runway 28. We touched down on time at 08.14, despite the delay in getting away from San Francisco. We were on stand at 08.20 and after a short delay in getting the air-bridge to the aircraft, I was back on terra firma after a great trip.
Aer Lingus - Same as always, a reliable service across the pond, but now with additional entertainment on the new aircraft. The crew on both flights were very friendly and I have no complaints.
JetBlue - Again the usual JetBlue standard with Live TV and a moving map. The flight was too short to assess the service, but the staff from check in to touchdown were all very good.
Virgin America - Nice new experience and if I had not been so tired I may have enjoyed it more. I will definitely fly them again and can only hope their network expands to include Boston in the near future. The flight cancellation was disappointing, but these things happen.
Dublin - Getting there. Not much more to be said. It is always busy and there is not enough space, but they are working on it.
Boston - Same as always, but quite quick with baggage this time. The regional coach services from Logan are great.
Portland - Nice "little" airport. Plenty of commuter/feeder flights, but very clean and spacious.
JFK - T6 is a mess, roll on T5. T4 is nice, I like it, no complaints. The Airtrain is excellent.
SFO - The International Terminal is the only one I saw and it is fantastic. Wide open spaces, good rail links, shuttle buses, a few shops and two food courts. What more does anyone need for a few hours.
For what it's worth, the Westin at SFO was pretty nice. I really only needed a place to sleep, but the regular shuttles and friendly staff were a bonus.
Well if you have made it this far, let me just say thanks for reading. I know this is not up to the high standards of many of the reports here, but hopefully it was an interesting read.
Feel free to leave comments or ask questions, thanks again.