Well, time for another TR. I'll do a bit of a brief preface and say that it's always been a bit of a dream of mine to visit Moscow, and more specifically Red Square. I've always had a fascination with Russia, mostly because they were our old nemesis during the years of the Cold War. So anyhow, when AA finally announced ORD-DME several months ago, I've been hellbent to get over to Russia. So, with relatively light loads over the Halloween weekend, I finally decided to make a try for it.
28 October 2008
Block Time: 09 hours, 30 minutes
Seat: 3J, First Class
First Class: 40%
NextGen Business: 40%
Photo © Carl Hendriks - MST-Aviation
To my extreme surprise, the DEN-ORD flights on the morning of Tuesday the 28th were wide-open.... a huge plus since I'd be nonrevving the whole trip, like almost every other trip I take. Anyhow, I took the earliest AA DEN-ORD flight I could just to ensure I'd get to ORD and avoid any typical O'Hare Three Mile Island-esque operational meltdowns.
My 777 to DME, N778AN
After I killed a few hours, I was given my boarding pass pretty early before departure given the unusual extreme light load. Also to my huge surprise, the supervising gate agent let me pre-board with the cabin crew, approx 2.5 hours before departure. I sure did appreciate that.... got to take a ton of pics all over the inside of our plane.
First Class cabin, facing forward
First Class cabin, facing aft
NextGen Business cabin, facing forward
NextGen Business cabin, facing aft
Coach cabin at door 3L, facing forward
Coach cabin at door 3R, facing aft
Looking out over the wing from door 2R, cabin catering still in progress
Cockpit. Sorry about terrible glare, we had the sun right at our face.
The huge RR Trent 892. I'm personally more a fan of the PW4090, but the Trent 892 is still a slick engine.... despite spinning the wrong way
Once the pilots showed up I introduced myself and said I'd be flying along for the whole trip, including the 2-day layover in Moscow. All three pilots were very nice and we were able to talk very easily. The captain, Captain Mike, was a real cool guy, showing me our entire route of flight, dispatch release, and all sorts of other cool info. He explained to me what the whole issue is between AA 763's and 777's with flying to Russia, why the 763's are having to be reconfigured and modified to be able to fly into Moscow, while the 777's do it with little to no problem.
One of the FO's entering all the route of flight and fuel data into the FMC.
So, eventually, I had to take my seat. I was hoping to get row 3 or 4 in first class so I'd have a good view over the wing. I decided on row 3, which is a bit further away from the business class galley (less noise), but still had a decent overwing view.
View out the window, just prior to pushback
Champagne, menu, and the USA Today
Takeoff was quite strong... I've always loved 777 takeoffs. In my time in the cockpit prior to doors-closing, I was surprised to see that V1 was only 1 knot less than VR.... I guess we were light enough on our 9.5 hour flight that we didn't have a real low V1 speed.
View of First Class cabin just after takeoff
This was actually my first ever time on an AA 777, the 777-223/ER. I was really impressed with AA's first class product, all the positions the seat can swivel to or recline into. I particularly LOVED how the seat can be swiveled to 90 degrees to look directly out the windows. I had never flown facing "sideways" before, so it was quite the gee-whiz experience for me, haha.
Seat facing 90 degrees off, towards the windows. Pretty cool!!
Climbing to cruise altitude, over Michigan.
Dinner service began fairly quickly after takeoff. I've been able to travel in premium cabins on NW, UA, and AA.... out of the three, AA's food service wins by a long shot, in both quality and quantity. Starter, appetizer, salad, entree, dessert, finishers. Quite the lineup.
Dinner starter. On the moving map you can see our route of flight.
Sunset. Happened fairly quickly after takeoff, only 45 minutes to an hour.
Appetizer. The small shot glass is Russian vodka.... that stuff is powerful!!
Salad. In first class, AA prepares your salad in front of you with your choice of toppings. I went for "the works".... cucumbers, onions, olives, chicken, and peppers.
Entree. I selected the chicken option..... very good!!
Dessert. AA's eternally good ice-cream sundaes, made to your choosing. Again, I got "the works".... butterscotch, fudge, mixed berries, warm nuts, and whipped cream.
After dinner, I tried to finish watching the movie "Minority Report", but fell asleep halfway through. My only complaint with AA's first class is the seat position in the full-flat bed, as it is literally just that: flat. AA's business class shapes to provide a bit of back contour, so you don't have any pressure points on your spine and back. It's really quite comfortable. AA's first class though, can be somewhat uncomfortable in the full-flat position, as I actually raised the seat 2-3 inches off of the bed position, to provide a bit more back support and comfort.
Moving map, in Russian, en route to Moscow.
After about a relatively decent 6 hours of sleep, the FA's were preparing the pre-arrival breakfast. I was planning on just getting the cereal, fruit, and yogurt plate, but the omelets smelled too good and I had to get one.
Approach into an overcast and cold Moscow.
After landing, I was immediately hit with quite a bit of a "culture" shock, seeing all sorts of Russian planes everywhere. Tu-134, Tu-154, and IL-62, among others.
S7 Airlines. Good brand-recognition but terrible colors!! It looks like zinc-chromate.
This I was surprised to see.... is there a boneyard at DME?? Most of those planes looked stored / abandoned. I was quite surprised to see a 757 in the bunch.
After a decently long taxi, we finally pulled into the gate. I was pretty nervous before going through Russian customs as I've heard several horror stories from other nonrevs and crew, but the process went rather fast and was almost totally painless. Much ado over nothing, it would seem!!
N778AN after arrival in Moscow. Thanks for a great ride.
So, after the flight, so began my first (and most likely only) trip to Russia. I had most of Wednesday and all day Thursday to get around, so my days were relatively busy given my limited time there on layover.
View from the hotel room. Pretty dull/boring looking city, especially given the high number of the Stalin-esque apartment buildings.
One of the nice things about Moscow is the HUGE and rather extensive underground Metro system. Very cheap.... about 60 cents per ride, according to my rough mental math in conversion rates.
Huge escalator down into the Metro tunnels. I was told the Metro Tunnels were to be used as bomb shelters back in the Cold War days of the Soviet Union. Considering the depth of those tunnels, they might have served that purpose pretty well.
Quite the nice Metro station. Most of them weren't like this, but there are a few that were quite extravagant.
Anyhow, the whole first day I spent with four of the FA's from my crew on AA158, visiting this giant outdoor market, the Vodka Museum, the Gum Mall (pronounced "Goom") and of course Red Square. I was in awe the whole time..... very very cool place, Russia is.
Me and three of the AA158 FA's at the Vodka Museum. We all bought those Russian fur hats at the market, but I was too embarrassed to wear mine around and look like a huge tourist (as if I didn't anyway, I'm sure).
Some hot dog stand near Red Square. The resemblance of the name to "Crap Dogs" gave me a good chuckle.
McDonalds. That place is pretty popular in Russia, it seems. Considering, people were getting road rage in the drive thru line - honking and flipping the bird to everyone.
Red Square. A very surreal moment for me, to be able to walk through there. The place of all the old May Day weapons parades, which Secretary Kruchev used to watch over.
Guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Them Ruskies really do know how to look professional!!
31 October 2008
Block Time: 10 hours, 35 minutes
Seat: 3J, First Class
First Class: 40%
NextGen Business: 85%
Photo © Matthew Wallman
Despite a short stay, I am really glad I was able to visit Moscow. Such a cool city, I would LOVE to see it again!!! Though, most likely I will not... at least for awhile. Visiting the most expensive city in the world takes a major toll on my already-thin wallet.
Anyhow, the DME airport is not as nice or as fancy as other major European airports. I mean, it's nice just somewhat dull and boring, so to speak. The exterior of the terminal is definitely an eye-catcher, but the interior is not much to look at.
DME terminal building
Domodedovo sign atop the terminal building
Check-in lobby.... pretty crowded, it was hard to get around in there with two bags.
View outside from a Duty Free store. the LH A319 was arriving from MUC
At the gate I was selected for some secondary screening procedure, which was actually quite extensive and time-consuming.... almost even more so than the TSA, which I thought would be an unbeatable record!! No problem though, I finally got to the gate counters and was given a seat assignment almost right away. I was looking forward to getting on the plane and going up to the cockpit as Captain Mike said I'd be welcome to listen in on the pilot's briefing about the departure procedures from DME, given the bizarre ATC clearances and use of altitudes and flight levels.
View of our plane, N792AN, back to Chicago. Sorry about bad glare.
To my huge displeasure at finding after boarding, there was an FAA inspector on board the plane. Of course they claim they're doing their job (and making people's lives miserable) but it seemed the jerk-ass was really just trying to hitch a free ride. After giving the pilots a rather thorough inspection, he goes and sits down in first class....for FREE!! No nonrev charges, no fees, no dep/arr taxes, no nothing. Man... and people thought nonrevs were blood-sucking vampires?? Not even close.... I think the FAA guys set a new low. Like I said, under the guise of "doing their job", they go and help themselves to premium seats for 10.5 hours. Totally out of line.
Well anyhow, I got the same exact seat again, 3J. Good view of the wing, and AA First Class, so I was happy as a clam.
Me in 3J, just prior to pushback
Pushback, right in front of a Tu-154. I loved seeing those Russian planes!!
Once we taxied out to the Runway, Captain Mike got on the PA and said we'd have to back-taxi on the runway, as an An-124 was parked on and blocking the taxiway leading to the runway. So, we got on the runway and taxied all the way to the end, then made a rather tight 180 degree turn. I was impressed - those 777's can turn on a dime.
Takeoff, again, was quite strong and pretty quick. Unfortunately because of the FAA inspector, I was unable to visit the cockpit the entire time on the ground in DME, so I didn't see any of our numbers for fuel load, ATOG, V1/VR speeds, etc.
Climbout from DME
Lunch service began rather quickly after takeoff again. The FA's came around and asked for orders, and I again opted for the chicken entree.
Appetizer. Almost the same as was on the ORD-DME flight
Salad. I got "the works" again - chicken, peppers, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and bleu cheese dressing
Entree. Very good, very good!!
Dessert. Ice cream, with the works for toppings.
After the lunch service, I hit the sack again, for quite a few hours, 6 or 7 straight. I woke up a couple times though to some rather strong turbulence. I usually don't get nervous at all during turbulence, but some of the bumps were getting pretty strong to the point where some loose items in the cabin began to jump around quite a bit.
Our flight path to Chicago. We flew really far north, as far north as the 79th parallel.
About 1.5 hours before arrival, the FA's began the pre-arrival snack service. In First the choice was a hot turkey sandwich or a hot vegetarian wrap. Feeling a bit adventurous I decided to try the veggie wrap, and that thing was GOOODD. I would have asked for another but I didn't want to push my luck as a nonrev, haha. The accompanying tomatoes and salad also had this really good cajun-esque dressing.
Pre-arrival snack: hot vegetable wrap.
Anyhow, just before top of descent Captain Mike came out to say a bit of a final "goodbye" since I was going to jump off the plane ASAP to get first in line at the rather notorious Chicago customs.
Myself and Captain Mike, by door 1L. I have some weird-ass grin.... I suppose exhaustion was a contributing factor.
Approach into ORD is always pretty sporty, getting vectored around quite a bit. Too bad AA doesn't have channel 9!!
Approach into ORD
Customs went relatively smoothly, despite the long lines. It was actually the first time I've ever been "pulled over" for a customs inspection, having to put all my bags on the xray. They didn't hand-search my bags though, so I was off without a hitch. My final flight, ORD-DEN, went pretty easily.... almost got my own row in coach on UA253, a 772A.
Final Impressions- Despite A.net's ranting on AA's premium products, they really are quite nice. AA's food service is leagues ahead of UA's. While I have personally not yet flown on the new First and Business Class at United, I have played around with them on the ground in DEN when we occasionally get a few new-config 763's in. While AA's NextGenBiz seats are not technically lie-flat, they definitely give United a run for their money, it's a tight competition. As far as First Class goes, AA's suite is easily better. Offering the full flat bed, privacy walls, and the ability to swivel your seat 90 degrees off for direct viewing out the window and use of a "desk".... it's quite the product.
Thanks for reading, and all comments appreciated!!