Adventures in Non-Revenue Travel:
A multi-carrier voyage from HOU
via 2 days in VCE
I must say that from the standpoint of most airline employees, having the flight benefits of 1 airline can be quite lucrative. Fortunately for my wife and I, we have 2 airlines through which to utilize flight privileges. For this trip, we decided the most efficient transport to our first stop at Venice, Italy, would be traveling with American Airlines/American Eagle from HOU
and then with British Airways from LGW
As with most airline staff-travel, we completed online listings for the airlines and sectors we intended to fly approximately 1 week ahead of time. We chose to travel from Houston's Hobby airport aboard AE3974 to DFW
at 1345 which gave us ample time to connect onto AA0050 to LGW
(London Gatwick), and then finally connecting at LGW
with British Airways flight BA2584 to Venice's Marco Polo airport(VCE
). After enjoying the ambient scenery and magnificent cuisine of Venice for 2 days, we chose to travel with Swiss International Airlines LX1663, operated by Flightline, to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH
Upon arrival at Houston's small and convenient Hobby airport, our bags were checked, security was cleared and we were at American Eagle's only gate at HOU
, gate 28, within 10 minutes. Boarding began at 1330 and was complete by 1442. The door was closed and the Embrear 145 pushed from gate 28 right on time. We taxied out to the only runway open and utilized by commercial airlines at HOU
at the present time, 32, and were airborne within 5 minutes. We climbed out and banked to the left for a northerly departure over downtown Houston and over passing IAH
. The cabin service onboard was pleasantly provided by the usual 1 FA
onboard the EMB145 for AE
. After just 40 minutes in the air, we began our descent into DFW
, finally landing on runway 23 to the west. Shortly after landing we waited just 5 minutes for ramp personnel to marshall our plane into gate B12 about 4 minutes ahead of schedule.
After utilizing DFW
relatively efficient new tram system, we arrived at the new international D concourse and proceeded to gate D23, which was assigned for AA
flight 50 to Londons Gatwick airport. We checked in with the gate agents and assured we were on the standby list for a hopeful upgrade to first class. Understanding that non-revenue upgrades would not be processed until just before boarding time, we proceeded to browse the array of duty-free and compliment of other airport shops throughout the D concourse. This was the first time I had flown and international sector from the new D concourse at DFW
and I was really curious to see what was on offer. AA
's new concourse appears to be open, modern and very convenient, although it doesn't possess the style of other new and modern terminals throughout the world.
At approximately 1620, the gate agents announced that there would be a short delay in boarding because AA
's maintenance technicians were late in delivering the aircraft from the hangar. Just after the delayed boarding announcement, I was anxious and delighted to hear our names called to receive our boarding passes, and as our luck would prevail, we received boarding passes for seats 3D & G in the 777-200ER's first class cabin! After the plane arrived at the gate, I also realized that this 777(7AH) was one of AA
's newly refurbished types with a new compliment of Flagship SuitesÃ‚Â and new Recarro business class seats.
My wife and I were excited over the novel concept of dinning restaurant style, looking at each other and with what most would consider a large dinning table, and all while flying on my absolute favorite aircraft, the 777!
Boarding for AA
flight 50 began about 30 minutes late after all at about 1655. Once onboard, the usual compliment of very senior but professional and courteous AA
flight attendants offered the usual premium cabin pre-departure drink of orange juice and champagne. Maintenance technicians finally brought the logbook onboard at about 1730, at which time the doors were immediately closed and the cabin crew prepared for departure. By the time we were cleared for gate pushback, it was 1744, now 39 minutes behind schedule. At this point, we were only concerned that our departure wouldn't jeopardize our connection to British Airways in London.
The Boeing 777-200 commenced its takeoff roll from DFW
's runway 32R at 1804, minding a short line for takeoff. After a westerly departure, we banked to the south and circled back, finally heading northeast in the right direction towards the east coast. About 25 minutes after departure, the in-flight meal service began. We consumed the standard pre-dinner appetizer for premium cabin passengers traveling on US flag carriers of warm mixed nuts and smoked salmon accompanied by garnishes and toast points. Both my wife and I opted for the expedited meal service, which would allow us plenty of time to sleep in order to be well rested with enough energy to explore Venice at night by the time we arrived. I opted for the lamb shank served with fresh steamed green beans, accompanied by a salad and of course a selection of warm dinner rolls.
Once the main meals were finished, we both also opted for the ice cream Sunday's with hot fudge and butterscotch topping with whipped topping, always a nice ending to a good meal. Approximately 1 and a half hours into the flight, our meal service came to an end and we converted our face-to-face dinning table into our beds for our overnight sleep.
About 1 our before our arrival into London, we were awakened by the purser for breakfast. When offered the chance, I'll always indulge in a full hot breakfast to include a fluffy omelet with saut'ed potatoes and onions, complimented by warm breakfast breads and fresh OJ. Upon reaching Ireland and completing a little more than 8 hours of flying time, we began our initial descent into LGW
. Landing in London was uneventful and smooth, with disregard to the overcast skies and at times light rain. At about 0830, about 55 minutes late, we pulled into a remote parking stand adjacent to the main terminal.
After boarding a bus for a short jaunt over to the terminal, we proceeded to the transfer area where AA
share a transfer desk and we were checked in for our continuing and final segment of the day.
0365 from LGW
was to be operated by a Boeing 737-432 and was scheduled to depart at 1105. Since we had nearly 2 and a half hours before our flight to VCE
, we joined the apparent masses in the LGW
transfer area, which resembled the likes of the common US shopping mall. We were delightfully pleased with the convenience and amenities offered at LGW
as we hadn't used it to transfer before and had mainly used LHR
for our past London transfer needs. We found a small area with a few lounge chairs and relaxed for about 45 minutes until the gate for BA2584 was posted.
would operate the mid-day flight to VCE
from gate 39, a fair walk from the transfer lounge. This walk would prove to be scenic for me as we traversed the skybridge, which LGW
is slightly known for. When we arrived at the gate, the BA
ground crew had the 734 surrounded as they were trying to ensure the aircraft would be ready for an on-time departure.
Boarding for BA365 began at about 1050 and was rather efficient. This flight too, had quite a low booking factor and we were able to have our own row of 3 seats near the rear of the aircraft. The BA
gate agent was kind enough to block the middle seat in row 20 so we would have room to stretch out.
Doors were closed at 1112 and pushback occurred almost immediately. For this departure, we would utilize the same runway as we did for the arrival into LGW
. Although the weather had deteriorated from overcast skies and occasional light rain to heavy rain, our departure was not delayed beyond the control of British Airways. The 734 was airborne at about 1120 and began its 2 hour and 45 minute flight to Venice.
Shortly after takeoff, the very pleasant British cabin crew came through the cabin to offer beverages along with a rather satisfying sandwich of ham & cheese or nicely seasoned tuna fish. This is something reminisint of a past time for US carriers that we always enjoy when flying international flag carriers. At approximately 1420, we began our initial descent for VCE
. After descending for quite some time, we realized that the weather in Venice was not going to be ideal for touring this day. We finally reached the low ceiling on the approach to Marco Polo airport and continued our landing at 1442. BA
2584 arrived at the main terminal at the exact scheduled arrival time of 1445. Although the Italian immigration procedures proved to be simple and swift, I can't say the same for the company providing ground handling for BA
flights at VCE
, as our luggage didn't arrive in the claim area until 40 minutes after arrival.
After 2 nights of Venetian bliss, it was time for our comparably short travel day from VCE
. We checked out of our hotel at 1100 local time in order to take the nice bus service offered from downtown Venice to Marco Polo airport. As most airline staff does when traveling, we allowed ample time for check-in procedures, however, these efforts proved to be useless once inside the airport. We arrived at the check-in area at1210 and noticed that the check-in counter for LX1663 was not yet posted. We could only pass the time by having a seat near the entrance to the airport, as the majority of the airport restaurants and duty free shops were past the security checkpoint. Since Swiss international is ground handled in Venice by Lufthansa, it would seem that they don't concern themselves with Swiss business until their flights have either departed or are fully checked in. Maybe a shortage in ground staff might also explain the late check-in process for the LX
flight, although, an LH
flight to Frankfurt, which was scheduled to depart 15 minutes after our flight was posted for check-in about 20 minutes before our flight. The counter was finally posted at 1315 for a scheduled 1440 departure. After waiting just 5 minutes for check-in, the staff was nice enough to process our seats at the counter and we quickly proceeded thru the security checkpoint. Still having almost an hour to spare before boarding, we indulged in a small sandwich and a Bellini before heading to the gate. At gate 21, the agent took our boarding passes and directed us to a bus which take us to the remote stand where the Flightline operated BAE 146 awaited all passengers. Considering this flight wasn't so full, we lagged behind most of the passengers in order to get a few pics of the aircraft that would take us to Zurich.
Upon boarding, the flight attendant in the front offered us the bulkhead with the middle seat open so we might have some extra space to stretch out. Unfortunately for me, I didn't realize that a mother and 2 kids would soon board and sit in the row behind us. As time would tell, the physical stamina of a 4 year old Italian girl to kick a seat back would be quite high and my ability to refrain from confronting her mother about her such activity would prove not to be as resilient! Aside from my ability to witness this girls onboard exercise regiment, the situation was compounded after the captain announced a 1 hour and 40 minute delay because we lost our take-off slot due to the fact we waited for late boarding passengers. We eventually departed a once again overcast Venice and headed north over the Italian Alps on our way to ZRH
During frequent breaks in the cloud cover, I was able to experience some absolutely amazing views of the snow-covered Alps. Our arrival into ZRH
was also met by a very low 1000-foot ceiling. After completing the approach and landing using runway 28 at ZRH
, we taxied to a remote stand where we once again were met by an awaiting bus, which drove us to the main terminal. Although my relaxation was hindered by the hyper-activity of a 4 year old and a parent who didn't believe in discipline of any kind, the Flightline flight attendants were very gracious, efficient and did their best to support the reputation of Switzerland's national airline.
In conclusion, although the travel day in itself was long, the 3-leg journey proved to be rather effortless and progressed smoothly. As non-revenue passengers and having a non-priority viewpoint of the OneWorld operation as an alliance, I can only imagine how smooth and easy the route might be for confirmed passengers, as it SHOULD be. I am of course somewhat biased to the company my wife works for, however, I'll continue waving my proverbial OneWorld flag. As for Venice as a destination, it's a quaint that everyone should see once in a lifetime. Just as with any major tourist destination, try to steer clear of the standard tourist gimmicks and traps as they're in abundance even in the off-season, I can't imagine the volume during the summer. I'll follow this report soon with an addition to include our journey from Zurich, Switzerland back to Houston, Texas. I hope all enjoy.
[Edited 2007-12-12 15:17:12]
[Edited 2007-12-12 15:18:49]