As I had one more week of holiday I had to take up before the end of the year, I decided to go on a short holiday or city trip. I was looking for…
1) a nice city with lots of culture
2) sunny & warm weather
3) a cheap ticket to get there!
And the winner turned out to be: Mexico City! I found a very cheap ticket on www.connections.be
I paid 475 euro ($ 620) return, including all taxes. Here you can see the print screen of the itinerary:
And this is what the itinerary looks like on united.com
FLIGHT 1: BRU – IAD
Airplane: Boeing 777-200 (new CS
Departure Gate : B11
Departure time: 12.10 pm (on time)
Load factor (Y): 95%
Before check-in, there was the usual USA entry interview. Following questions were asked:
- Why are you going to the USA?
- How long will you stay there?
- Where are you transiting to?
- Why are you visiting Mexico?
- Did you prepare your bags yourself?
- Did you have your bags unattended since you packed them?
- Do you have weapons in your luggage or objects that might look like weapons?
- Do you have liquids in your carry-on luggage?
- And so on…
After this interview I could continue to the check-in where I received my boarding passes BRU
I was also given the green form (visa waiver) needed to transit through the USA and a customs declaration form.
Approximately 1 hour before departure the UA
777 was brought to the gate. It had been standing on a remote parking for quite some time. I guess this is due to the gate shortage for heavies. There are a lot of heavies arriving and departing at BRU
in the morning. I remember seeing about 5 Jet Airways aircraft (A330/B777) departing or getting prepared for departure.
I boarded the airplane around 11.30 am. And it turned out the plane would be quite full. I immediately checked channel 9 and yes… it was working! I didn’t watch any movie on this flight. Now, I don’t want to sound snobby but those PVT’s look old and small… so I just enjoyed channel 9 all the way from BRU
. Very interesting! Once over the Atlantic, I tried to sleep a bit but that didn’t work out so good.
Food on this flight was more than ok! Lunch was served after 1h in flight. I chose chicken. I don’t remember what the other option was. About 1h before landing, everyone received a kind of snack box. It had a package of Doritos crackers and a Kit Kat. I found out that the “best before” date had almost expired for 3 months. But I guess products can be served for a certain amount of days/months after this date? Well, at least I didn’t get sick.
We arrived in IAD
on time despite the headwinds, sometimes up to 150 km/h. (I watched the map function of the IFE most of the time, it also gives information on speed, distance traveled, flying time left, outside temperature,...). We only encountered some turbulence between Gander and Halifax.
US Immigration and customs
I already received my IAD
boarding card in BRU
so I just had to go to the other gate. This turned out to be very easy as the flight would leave from the same terminal. However, I had to go through immigration and customs first. Not a nice experience…
I queued the row and after 5 minutes it was my turn. I handed over my (Belgian) passport to the immigration officer. He asked some basic questions and I answered them. Then he wanted to make a scan of my fingerprints. This is done electronically and you have to put your finger on a plate. The immigration officer said “gauche”. I got confused. I do speak French but I’m not used to speak it that much, as Dutch is my first language. So I mumbled something like “I speak Dutch, sir”. I had the impression the guy got a bit pissed. He said “left” and after a few more seconds “right one”. My passport got stamped… for some reason the immigration officer put the stamp on a page that was already quite full. My question is: why? I had like 20 more empty pages ready to be stamped… I realize that I might have offended him in some way though.
I think it’s actually very nice to have an immigration officer that has knowledge of some foreign languages. For non-English speakers this might be a great help. But then again, the immigration officer should have known (and I actually think that many Americans don't know) that people in Belgium are not all French speaking. We have a very large Dutch and a small German speaking community as well.
I had another bad experience at customs. While waiting for my turn… I had one foot over the yellow line… and this time I had the customs officer shouting at me. Well, I guess that was my own mistake.
But you can imagine my first entry to the US wasn’t really a nice experience. However, on the return leg, everything went just fine!
FLIGHT 2: IAD – MEX
Airplane: Airbus A319 (new CS
Departure Gate: C20
Departure time: 05.40 pm (on time)
Load factor (Y): 90%
Here seen in old CS
! (No pictures with new CS
available on airliners.net)
Some quick facts about this flight: It was already dark when we departed. The captain was female. Channel 9 was on all the time! Once we passed the Mexican border, you could hear ATC speak Spanish to the Mexicana and Aeromexico airplanes. There was no food served on this flight. (Food For Purchase) I knew this in advance but I don’t get UA
’s philosophy here… As UA
is no low cost carrier, I would suggest they serve food on a 4h+ international flight, but then again, who am I?
FLIGHT 3: MEX - IAD
Airplane: Airbus A319 (old CS
Departure Gate : C36
Departure time: 10.05 am (on time)
Load factor (Y): 100%
The flight was 100% full. This was announced before boarding. I had the impression that the flight attendants were a bit stressed as many passengers had problems stowing their stuff in the overhead lockers. However, we were able to leave on time. Channel 9 wasn’t operating at this time but this was probably due to some major problem with the IFE system. A system reset didn’t help and some passengers had no IFE at all. As there was no food served (they serve free drinks though) I spent my 4 hours watching the landscape (and ocean) outside. I guess we had some good winds that day cause we arrived 45 minutes early!
FLIGHT 4: IAD - BRU
Airplane: Boeing 777-200 (old CS
Departure Gate: C1
Seat: 39A (good seat!)
Departure time: 05.57 pm (on time)
Load factor (Y): 95-100%
Lots of people in the waiting area: one B777 bound for Brussels, Belgium at C1 and one B777 bound for Amsterdam, The Netherlands at the opposite gate. The funny thing is that a lot of Dutch people boarded the flight to Brussels, probably avoiding the Dutch aviation tax!
I was seated in seat 39A and this turned out to be an excellent choice! This seat is located in the back section of the plane and has a pitch that is comparable with UA
’s Economy Plus! I guess this is mainly because the angle of this row is different from row 38.
Dinner was served after 1 hour of flight. I chose the meat dish. This was again a typical airline meal! So nothing to complain about! One hour before touchdown in Brussels (flying somewhere between Dublin and London) a small breakfast was served. The “best before” date had already expired for about 3 months again, but as said before, I guess we just have different regulations about this in Belgium.
Channel 9 was on and I enjoyed this very much! We had a 9W
flight in front of us for a long time. I could hear them once we were over the Atlantic and he landed just ahead of us in Brussels. We had good winds on this flight as well, sometimes up to 250 km/h (IFE)! This resulted in ground speeds greater than 1100 km/h! Unnecessary to explain we landed early (just about 30 minutes though). Too bad we had to wait for our luggage so long… about… 30 minutes!
My personal opinion
This was a lot of flying for the money I paid! I And UA
did a good job. I think improvements are possible (better IFE on the B777, getting rid of the Food For Purchase on the IAD
flights) but overall the service was very good. I also want to mention that Mexico city is a very nice (also cultural!) place to visit! But that’s another story.
Aside: this is my first trip report. I took a lot of pictures but have problems processing them on my computer right now.