July 4th, 2006, 5:33pm
United Airlines 946
It is of course a slightly-odd feeling to be flying abroad on our Independence Day, but from a passenger-perspective one would have no idea it was a holiday. I took the convenient Washington Flyer bus from West Falls Church metro station to Dulles where one of their more surly staff-members dumped my hard-bottomed duffel bag upside-down unceremoniously on the pavement (she had to go out of her way to do so) outside the arrivals level. I took the escalator up to the departure level and went around to the wrong side as United has very poor signage and there were no service staff in sight; international/domestic first have the same check-in for all flights it seems. After walking back around I checked in at the First Class/Global Services counter, which had only a 1-2min wait. The cheery agent gave me my boarding passes for the IAD-AMS-CPH flights as I was going to retrieve my bag in CPH and continue on to AAL the day following my arrival (the 6th).
I went on to security, where I was ordered to take off my shoes. I initially refused as at that time the TSA was not allowed to force anyone to take them off initially and it was merely a suggestion, a fact which featured prominently on their website. After reminding the churlish agent of this, and getting him to admit grudgingly that he was wrong to pretend it was a requirement and not a suggestion (and having him accuse me of not showing common courtesy by preemptively being a lemming), I gladly took them off. It is always good to remind officers of the law what the bounds of their power is, lest they wield it with impunity. I then boarded one of the mobile lounges for the mid-field terminal.
After arriving in the D-gates terminal, I proceeded to the nearly empty international first lounge, where a super-nice matron invited me inside. There was a huge spread of food and drink inside the lounge, including the signature warm nuts (salty of course . Not wanting to totally spoil my appetite, I ended up doing so anyway as there were way too many goodies. The lounge was clean and quite classy, with understated furniture and dim lighting. I watched some Futurama episodes on my laptop and washed down the food with Corona. I was there about 1.5hrs, and while some more people came in, it was never more than 1/3 full. The only negative aspect of this awesome lounge was the fact that the flight monitors did not work; they showed arriving flights only and were from several weeks prior. I kept an eye on the time, so it was no problem. The pictures show some of the food although some of it was covered-up; I apologize for the poor quality as I was reluctant to use the flash in an essentially dark room. I preceded to Gate D7 at the time shown on the boarding card. Boarding commenced in order of class of travel and Star Alliance priority, roughly on time.
I excitedly walked down the jetway and made that joyous turn left to the delicious smell of Jet-A. It turns out that F was mostly empty for my flight, with just two other couples and myself. We all took pictures of ourselves, which was quite funny, as we had all used miles for the trip as it turns out. I took a glass of orange juice and some more nuts while I waited. I also chose a movie for the flight from the selection of DAT tapes that one manually puts in the seats, in this case choosing to watch Transamerica (which was great). I arranged my stuff in the various pockets in the seats and put on the socks from the lovely amenity kit which featured H20 products (lotions, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, eyecover). I nabbed an extra pillow and settled in expectantly... I did notice several signs of United’s poor financial situation including my light being held together with fraying duct-tape (see picture), a rather tatty seat, and the space between the seat and the wall being absolutely filthy. Clearly this was one of the early-delivery 777s.
Pushback and takeoff were roughly on time and we must have been doing a FLEX takeoff as it wasn’t that impressive. After reaching cruising altitude, the evening meal service commenced. In the meantime I discovered the my seat’s audio and noise cancellation didn’t work properly unless I held the headphone plug in with my leg; I was too lazy to move seats so I put up with it.
The Menu was in English and Dutch, and is pictured (again sorry for the poor quality) below and here is the full text:
Please inform the flight attendant of your choice.
Join us in a sampling of appetizers:
Hot walnut and blue cheese souffle with berry compote
Crab and mango timbale with spicy mango cream
Mushroom and brie bisque
Fresh seasonal greens
Hot pan-seared lemon grass shrimp
Parmesan pepper or Asian sesame ginger dressing
Filet mignon with balsamic rosemary sauce
Glazed chicken with red currant sauce
The above entrees include your choice of:
Lemon thyme potato pie or savory wild mushroom stuffing Steamed asparagus or roasted root vegetables
Grilled lamb chops with lemon scented lamb jus Flame roasted potatoes and sauteed haricot vert with shallots
Spinach and egg filled ravioli with Mediterranean vegetables Marinara sauce
Please advise the flight attendant if you prefer to have sauce served on the side
Today's Express Dine features your choice of any of the above entrees and appetizers, fresh seasonal greens with Asian sesame ginger dressing and Eli's Caramel Apple Cobbler for dessert.
To complete your dining experience:
Ice cream with sundae toppings
Cheese selection: Manchego, Rosenberg Noble Blue, Montrachet Fresh strawberries with brown sugar sour cream dip
Prior to arrival:
Baked Tuscan frittata with red pepper sauce or
Canadian bacon and sauteed turkey sausage or
Breakfast deli plate: Black Forest ham, turkey, Genoa salami, Swiss and Brie cheese>>>>>>
with Doug Frost, columnist and author (On Wine, 2001; Uncorking Wine, 1996). Mr. Frost has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award and is one of only three people in the world to hold both the title of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. Mr. Frost and United Airlines have taken a truly global perspective in selecting wines for your appreciation and enjoyment. A votre sante!
Your flight attendant will inform you of today's selections. Some of these wines may only be available on selected flights.
Laurent Perrier 1996 Champagne
The best Champagnes exhibit remarkable balance between fruitiness
and earthiness: nutty, rich, and juicy with toast, cherry and lemon flavors at the end.
Heidsieck Diamant Bleu Brut 1996 Champagne
Diamant Bleu is one of the greatest of great Champagnes. The 1996 is marvelously earthy but the power and richness overwhelms the nutty earthiness in the remarkably long finish.
Schlumberger Pinot Gris Grand Cru Spiegel 2002
Pinot Gris is known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, but in Alsace in a Grand Cru vineyard it's twenty times richer with lots of honey and apple flavors.
Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett 2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel
Riesling is a hot property in America's restaurants today, and America's chefs are embracing the grape for its ability to match up with a wealth of foods.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2002 Columbia Valley
Washington's best Chardonnays have even better balance between richness and crispness, combining spiced pears and buttered toast.
Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Marlborough
Grove Mill makes first rate New Zealand Sauvignon: herbal, crisp, laden with melon, orange, apple and more tart citrus flavors in the flashy finish.
Castello Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 Sangiovese This Tuscan red exhibits plums, black cherries, as well as sour cherries and a slightly spicy finish.
Clos St. Anne 2003 Pomerol
The Merlots of Saint Emilion and especially Pomerol have become the most expensive and sought-after in Bordeaux, with soft plum, tea and spice flavors.
Rockbare Shiraz 2003 McLaren Vale
The best Aussie reds are bombastic, intense and as friendly as a bear hug. Rockbare's Shiraz is not only juicy and jammy, it's layered, complex and nutty.
Beringer Bancroft Ranch Merlot 2000 Howell Mountain
Bancroft Ranch is one of the greatest Merlot vineyards in America. Young, it can be powerful, with a couple of years of age, as with this wine, it's utterly charming.
Aperitifs, cocktails, spirits, liqueurs and beer
Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto will be offered during the main meal's dessert. STARBUCKS coffee will be available throughout the flight.>>>>>>
Needless to say it was all delicious! I chose the Mushroom and Brie Bisque, the shrimp salad, and the filet mignon as the main course. I had the ice ream sundae for dessert, and was so full I barely touched the cheese plate. I had white Pinot Gris which was a bit metallic tasting, but probably from all the sweets I had eaten, so no real complaints. I really wanted to eat more, but actually couldn’t I was so full! The flight attendants on this trip were awesome, funny and attentive, and unobtrusive once the meal was over and the lights dimmed. It seems there was a lot of extra food as they kept trying to get me to eat more, but I really couldn’t! After the meal service was finished and the (elegant) plates collected, the lights were dimmed and bottles of water passed out.
The United First Suite, while getting on in years, is quite comfortable once laid-out flat. I didn’t find the shelving unit at the end to be confining as some have mentioned, but the PTV screen is ridiculously small. I was annoyed that my headphones never worked right, but I was more annoyed that I was too excited about my trip to sleep! I ended up dozing for maybe 1hr at most and watched Transamerica and a lot of the TV-ish programming that was playing on loop. I also recharged my laptop as I have an iGo plug compatible with United’s power systems. Mainly I just vainly tried to clear my head and fall asleep! Oh well, before I knew it, breakfast was being served and I got a decent cup of coffee and the Canadian Bacon / Turkey sausage. I am surprised I didn’t die of a coronary right then and there. The LAV in first (by the galley) was clean and had some decent personal-care products, but was of the same design as every other economy one I have been in.
The descent into Amsterdam was smooth, but I got one of the worst ear-pressure attacks I have ever had. I have no idea why as I didn’t have a cold, but I had ear splitting pain that even traveled down through the nerves connecting my jaw. We set down firmly on the Polderbaan at AMS and taxied for roughly 10 minutes (giving the ear pain time to subside). Our arrival at the gate was on time at about 7:00am, and First disembarked, well, first. I had a rather confusing time finding out which way to go for transit passengers, but was helped by a very cheerful AMS employee. Immigration, customs, and transfer were all a breeze. As I had a few hours to kill, I went in search of one of the Servisair lounges, finding all of them except one to be closed, including the Star Alliance carrier lounges I might have used.
Why oh Why does AMS not have air conditioning!? I realize that it was unusually hot in northern Europe that week in July, but I was literally sweating buckets in the airport in general and in the lounge. The lounge is also dim and not very inviting; feeling more like a utility room gussied-up with a coffee machine and free potato chips. As I was starting to feel the effects of jet-lag, but with a looong day ahead of me, I settled in with my chips and got some orange juice and coffee.
July 5th, 2006, 9:50am
Scandinavian Airline Systems 946
About one hour before my flight, I made my way down to the B gates, where it was insufferably hot. After about 45 minutes, there was still no aircraft and no SAS personnel present; though the monitors continued to show the flight as on-time (something they would continue to do even when it eventually took-off an hour late). After another half-hour a Snowflake-painted plane showed-up and finally so did some SAS personnel. Several people were confused as the Snowflake livery really doesn’t make immediately clear that it was operated by SAS. I was also worried that I wouldn’t get a business-class seat due to an equipment swap with this former LCC aircraft. In any case, the agents, after making NO announcements at all, simply opened the gate door and silently motioned for everyone to line-up. Obviously, no priority was given to premium passengers or Star Alliance priorities. While all nice for egalitarianism, if they prominently claim to have these services they should actually offer them.
Once on board, my fears were allayed, and I took my business seat (I had the row to myself), which was quite comfy and had good seat pitch. I was also comforted by the solidness of this aging beauty. You gotta love the oversized mechanical buttons and heavy metal presence of the Mad Dog! A pre-departure water was given-out and announcements were performed in English, Dutch, and Danish. Taxi-time was mercifully short, and even with a 2/3 load we rocketed off the runway in classic fashion. The meal-service started promptly and I have to say I have literally no idea what anything pictured in the meal is or is called aside from the meatballs and cold pasta. Maybe some Danes on the forum can help, especially in WTF that thing is on top of the cheese (it tasted like dates)? Some of it was tasty, and some was just too much for me after having had so little sleep and feeling a bit cracked-out. In any case, the coffee was good and we made-up some time inflight. The service was attentive, but as this was a short flight, nothing amazing. We landed and after a short taxi disembarked into the terminal.
As I was staying overnight in Copenhagen, I collected my luggage there and took a short taxi-ride to the Quality Dan Airport Hotel, which was nice, but also had no air conditioning. They also advertise a shuttle bus, which it turns out is not free, and only runs in the very early morning and early evening, so useless for my mid-day arrival. They also charge $20 USD for breakfast and while it says this in the fine print in retrospect, they don’t ask you if you ate it until you check-out. However, bizarrely, a decent buffet dinner is free. I spent the day in Copenhagen walking around, but after a few hours in the blazing sun, I retreated to the beach in Kastrup near the hotel, which is a beautiful area. I did avail myself of the shuttle-bus in the morning for the trip to the airport, but I think in the end they didn’t ask for payment. I was the only one who was dropped off at the quite-small domestic terminal. I checked-in without a problem as there was no line.
July 6th, 2006, 10:45am
Scandinavian Airline Systems 1211
DeHavilland Dash-8-Q400 (now retired)
The domestic part of CPH is quite cute and has a nice little convenience store and central buffet/café. I was a bit amused to see the amount of Danish businessmen who were drinking beer or liquor at 8:00 in the morning; it is something that would make me feel ill at that hour. I was still fairly jet-lagged, but some strong coffee certainly helped! So, I walked around a bit and read some of my aviation magazines I had brought, eventually walking down the loooooong corridor to my gate. The flight appeared to be full, and when boarding was called, everyone had the opportunity to get a cup for water/coffee and take a breakfast roll in a bag. Danish and English newspapers were also available. The self-serve concept is certainly novel! We walked out to the plane (a hot day again) and the whole boarding/prep phase went quite quickly and before I knew it we were taxiing-out for takeoff.
Take-off was typically short and since we never climbed very high for the short flight, and it was a sunny clear day, the ride was very pleasant. Landing at Aalborg I noted a Polish-registered AN-26 and a Russian Open-Skies compliance Tu-154 in addition to some SAS craft and Danish Air Force CRJ/CL600s. Aalborg Airport kind of looks like Ikea and is beautiful. It is kind of like if Dulles were made of wood. The airport had a nice little café and a large play area for kids, which was well-stocked.
Stay tuned for the next half when I get to it!