My booking was simple. CMH to DEN to LAX to SYD. And my equipment got progressively larger as I headed west: 737 to 757 to 747. Now I love that kind of math! I am so familiar with flying out of Columbus, Ohio, the pre-flight routine there is always breezy and easy. It's nice to be able to park in a $6 dollar a day long-term lot, and have non-stop access to all to most of the countries major aviation hubs. CMH is a solid if unspectacular airport, and does the job for me well every time. It always deserves a healthy nod for its steadfast representation of this countries mid-western practicality. It is like a reliable old Ford. It always gets you where you want to go.
There was no one at the Premier check-in line, although about 15 travelers waited in the economy line to my left. I was waved toward an agent and requested my boarding passes (I had checked in on-line earlier) and checked one bag through to Sydney. My agent was very professional and placed an orange Priority label on my checked bag, attached to the bar-coded sticker. First time I had ever seen this, must be the norm for Premier Exec's? I waved good bye to my new suitcase, and headed for the B Concourse. As usual with TSA security at CMH, they got me through with efficiency and kindness. They know their job and perform it well. Less than a couple minutes clearing security, and I was passing the old Skybus gate (now Midwest Connect) and off to my gate.
September 26, 2009
Seat: 3A. Economy Plus
Board: 3:47 p.m. On time.
Wheels-Up: 4.17 p.m., about 10 minutes late.
Touchdown:5:01, about 30 minutes early.
Load factors: First class 50%, Coach roughly 50% full.
Notables? My last ride on a United 737, although I didn't know it at the time. All UA 737's due to be retired soon, from what I've read on A-Net.
We watched the rain fall as we waited for our ride to arrive at gate B-29 at CMH. She cruised in as the gate agent gave us prompt updates about its arrival and our scheduled departure, saying the plane was a tad late but we should still be in for an on-time departure. I like CMH because you have a great look at the runways and gate areas, and I always appreciate the chance to see the ground operations in full swing. Here is our soon to be retired 733,
|N335UA 737 Arriving in the rain.|
|Our pilot doing his rainy walk-around.|
We boarded quickly and were pushing back before you had time to buckle up (almost). Our Denver-based flight crew made the announcement, "Thank you for joining us for our service into Denver. Yay, we're going home!" That is about as much intercom personality as I have ever heard from a UA F/A. The cabin was from the old-school, and if you are familiar with United, then you will be familiar with this dated, but clean cabin interior.
|Older version interior on my final ride on a United 737.|
We lifted off in the rain and were on our way, with Channel 9 as pleasant background noise to my daydreaming mind. I love Channel 9, and never find it boring. I wish other airlines would allow something that many of aviation enthusiasts enjoy so much. The service was beverage only for us in Economy, and it was efficient and done with little fanfare, just how I like it. I was in Economy Plus, but I'm only 5' 7", so perhaps I enjoy the extra legroom a bit less than a taller individual. I declined a second offer of drinks later in the flight, and enjoyed reading and gazing at the heartland 36,000 feet below us.
|Irrigation at work.|
|Flying over the interior of the U.S.|
The flight was a shade under 3 hours, and nary a bump was felt. We landed smoothly in Denver, and had an extremely long taxi to our gate B33. I counted about 7 minutes on the taxi in. We exited the 737 as the F/A's said their goodbyes. I told the attendant, "Welcome home!' as I exited, and she responded with a genuine smile. Hello Denver!
|Hello Denver, Hello Sunshine!|
|Always good to be back in the Mile High City.|
This being my first trip as a Premier Exec, I decided to spend some time in the available lounges during my connections. The Red Carpet Club East was my first venture into an airport lounge, and I checked in at the desk with my international ticket and Star Alliance Gold card. The RCC desk staff was very cheery and waved me through and wished me a pleasant stay.
|En route to my first visit to the Denver RCC|
|The bar in Denver's RCC.|
|Pleasant atmosphere, quiet views from the windows.|
The lounge was fairly empty, although it steadily filled during my hour-long stay. Most travelers had their heads buried in their computers, but I loved seeing the action from the B gates 41-46 out the windows below. The televisions had football and racing on the various flat-screens throughout the lounge, and I got to satisfy my football fix for time being. The food was a mix of snacks, veggies, coffee and espresso. I was pretty famished, so I made myself a nice snack to tide me over.
|Since I was very hungry, this snack was much appreciated.|
The lounge atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant, and I enjoyed the chance to prepare for my next leg of my journey to Sydney. The only complaint with the RCC was a rather dirty bathroom. But that is usually my experience at most airports, so no big deal (ha). I headed back down the escalators to catch my flight at Gate B38 and took a few pics of my next ride, a Boeing 757.
|My ride to LA, 757!|
|N521UA, my 757 to LAX. Love those lines.|
Seat: 11J. Economy Plus
Board: 6:05 p.m. On time.
Wheels-Up: 6:45 p.m., about 10 minutes late.
Touchdown:7:31 p.m., about 30 minutes early.
Load factors: First class and coach, 100% full.
Notables? The gate agent came on-board just before liftoff to return someone's passport. Doh!
We taxied to runway 25R and I once again felt the thunderously powerful takeoff of the incredible 757. So many aviation nuts love this plane, and I can understand why. It is sleek and shaped like a bullet and performs like one. Channel 9 was once again available, and the cabin service offered snack packs for $6 or $7. The cabin crew was chatty, friendly and seemed to enjoy serving the passengers. Most were in their 40's and carried a relaxed vibe with them. My experience with UA F/A's has been the older the crew, the more pleasant the service. When I am on a segment with younger F/A's, they seem to be much more impersonal and robotic. Just my observations from a decade of flying UA about 80% of the time. But on this flight, our crew was great. And the captain was amicable with his announcements and demeanor. The cabin was clean, crisp and fresh, and our flight to LA was smooth as glass. It is always amazing seeing the traffic shake along the highways below on our decent into LAX. With the sun setting, LAX was shrouded in fog as we touched down hard, and used some serious reverse thrust to brake ourselves.
|For an aviation lover, a picture that need no caption.|
|Sunset upon arrival into LAX|
|Nigh-time looking down on LAX|
We had to wait about 10 minutes for out gate at Terminal 7 to open up, and I watched the foggy ground operations. "Jumbos in the Mist" was the thought running through my mind, as countless cargo 747's passed within view. Hello Los Angeles!
Once again, I found the RCC in LAX (thankfully near our my departure gate 77) and looked forward to spending my 90 minute layover in rarefied air. But the LAX RCC left a lot to be desired. The agents at the entrance were great though, as my gal checked my documents and stamped my boarding pass with "OK to Board", which was a really nice surprise! And it saved me a trip to the gate, so that was a real treat. But her co-worker at the desk was bitching to a supervisor about his precious break, in front of half a dozen passengers. This was very unprofessional, to the point of being shocking behavior out in public. There is no need for anyone to have to put up with this representative's loud complaining about his job, and I was embarrassed for everyone involved. But my gal was impervious, and she saved the experience for me with her professionalism. "Your flight boards at 10:10 p.m., and we'll make an announcement alerting you. Enjoy your stay in our lounge." The other guy was still bitching as I entered the lounge. It was about 25% full, but was filling up rapidly. But the selection of food was meager, just some nuts and apples, to go with the coffee. The bar was a cash bar, and college football was playing on the television. The lounge has minimalist decor, and has plenty of spaces for the business traveler. But for an aviation lover like, me the view was a disappointment, as the view was of well, not much.
|Touchdown in Los Angeles, looking for the RCC|
|Red Carpet Club, rather empty upon arrival.|
|Pleasant, quiet, and I liked the curved interior.|
Still, it was nice to be able to read and relax in relative peace, and I headed out to gate 77 for my long-awaited first journey to Australia. The gate area was packed, and I breezed past the others and boarded my big, beautiful 747, my favorite thing in the world.
|Now waiting for my ride to Australia.|
|There's my big, beautiful 747, ready for us to board.|
Registration: I couldn't view the tail, Gate 77 at LAX has no view.
Seat: 21D. Economy Plus
Board: 9:50 p.m. On time.
Wheels-Up: 10:55 p.m., about 20 minutes late, due to a maintenance issue (3 mechanics on board prior to push-back.
Touchdown: 6:08 a.m. September 28, Sydney local time, 5 minutes early.
Load factors: First, Business and Coach were completely, jam-packed full. I couldn't find one empty seat in the coach cabin.
Notables? Our take-off run counted up to 45 seconds before we groaned our way into the air. With a roughly 14 hour flight time, I wonder how much our 747 weighed. 850,000 pounds? And I wonder how much of that weight was fuel?
Ahhhhh!! 747!! The thing I love more than anything, and every time I am fortunate to fly in this gorgeous piece of art, my life seems complete (hee)! Well, it is my happy place, and this flight was a thing of beauty. Our flight time to Sydney was 13 hours and 55 minutes, roughly, and our destination was 7494 miles away, according to the on-board map. Whew! big numbers, and for ultra-long haul lovers, music to our ears. This 744 carried the new premium interior, and the plane was exceptionally clean. I like the muted blue and white tones throughout the interior. The new screens are much sharper than the old displays, and although the Y cabin didn't get the extensive upgrade as First and Business, the new look makes this older 747 seem nearly new.
|Peering into Business Class from my Economy Plus seat.|
|My blurry destination. The island continent of Australia.|
|Happiness is being inside a 747.|
After our 45 second take-off run, we crawled into the air sluggishly, the familiar soft flutter jostling the plane. The plane clearly does not wish to lift-off, but does so because the principals of flight demand it. After about 500 feet though, we experienced the smoothest of climb-outs, and were on our way to the Land of Oz. I've flown seven 744 segments the past year and a half, and I don't remember a quieter flight! Maybe it was just my perception, but this was the quietest ride I have ever had on a jumbo. I know those say the A380 is ultra-quiet, but this was a nice surprise for me.
I didn't sleep on the flight (too difficult for me, sitting upright to doze off), so I read and enjoyed the movies (I paid particular attention to the Russel Crowe flick "State of Play"). I am always jealous of those who can doze away across the Pacific. No AVOD of course, but that is the reality of flying UA. As usual while flying a UA 744, the early portion of the flight was FREEZING! The plane warmed up slowly, but I was regretting not wearing a long-sleeve shirt there for a while. I was loving my blankie let me assure ya. The service was typical long-haul, broken up into 3 main operations (dinner, snack and breakfast). 45 minutes after leaving LAX, the smells of the special meals being delivered alerted us that our dinner was on the way. The offering of chicken or beef (I picked chicken) was the usual bland United Y meal, but it was hot and warmed me up a bit (haa). And since I hadn't eaten since the RCC in Denver many hours earlier, I scarfed down the entire meal. The crew was experienced and seasoned, and did their job with smiles and friendly banter. They really seemed to enjoy interacting with us. One F/A noticed my Regal Air (Alaskan float-plane operation) t-shirt and asked me if I was a pilot. I said alas, no, my inability to master math make being a pilot a tall order, but I embrace traveling and told her about Alaska. She asked me about other places I have been and we had a nice 5 minute chat. Those little moments aboard a plane make the trip a pleasant affair and every F/A has the ability to make make each passenger feel special.
The crew made many drink runs of water, coffee or juice, and the free booze aboard transpacific flights was available to us. There wasn't 20 minutes gone by where F/A's didn't make an appearance and offer whatever service they could. This was easily the most attentive cabin crew I have ever had the pleasure to fly with, and their chipper attitude made the time fly by. And on a plane the size of a 747, it is nice to be able to get up in-between services, walk around to the back of the plane and stretch out. The snack about 7 hours later was a ham and cheese sandwich, and breakfast about 90 minutes before landing consisted of 2 sausage links, an omelet and potatoes. Quite good actually. But by 5:30 Sydney time I had endured 20 hours of straight darkness, dating back to my approach into LAX. So to see the sunrise peek over the horizon as we descended into Sydney was a welcome, beautiful sight! And wow, holy cow! Hello Sydney!!! Let me say first about our landing at Kingsford-Smith International Airport. The landing was so smooth I missed it. I could not feel us touching down, it was that smooth. Amazing. I love 747s.
|Why, thank you!!|
The process of arrival in Australia couldn't have gone better, and the speed and efficiency were most dazzling, frankly. There were no lines at Immigration, and they stamped my passport with nary a question. Down the stairs we waited for our bags to arrive, and a couple customs agents were there asking random passengers if they were bringing in any food, etc. They asked me if I had any questionable items, and they complimented me on being so upbeat and smiley. I replied, "Hey, I'm in Australia, what's not to like?" I told them I had been awake for about 32 straight hours; they got a good laugh out of that. She gave me a stamp so I could breeze past customs after I retrieved my bag. Our bags appeared, and hello priority! my bag was one of the very first off. Who knew? I excited into the arrivals hall, and felt the brisk spring air of Eastern Australia for the first time.
|A dream come true! Me and the Opera House.|
|Of course, right after my 6 a.m. arrival, I took the Sydney Harbor Bridge tour. A must do!|
|Beautiful Sydney Harbor, 9,800 miles from home.|
I had a great time in Sydney, and was blessed with good weather and warm, seasonal temperatures (this was 5 days after the incredible dust storm blanketed the city). Headed out to the Blue Mountains, trekked up to Port Stephens, and explored every nook and cranny that Sydney had to offer. And soaked up the amazingly beautiful harbor on every type of watercraft available. Ferry, sailboat, powerboat, they were all sweet. And I did the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb 6 hours after landing at Kingsford-Smith. What a view, what an experience! I had forgotten I had been awake for nearly 40 hours. So 11 days later, I headed back to America, and my great Aussie adventure was over. But a last bit of good fortune awaited me at the airport. An awesome observation deck (Yayy!!) and a beautiful lounge to await my flight back to LAX. The Air New Zealand lounge surpassed the domestic RCC's by leaps and bounds! Free food, free booze and the view of the tarmac, gates and turnaround area were perfect! For plane lovers, what a beautiful place to spot, both the observation deck, seeing half a dozen Qantas tails (747's) at a time, as well as the lounge (hello Singapore A380). I'm glad I planned arriving at the airport 4 hours ahead of my departure, to give me an hour at the observation deck and a couple hours enjoying the food, great German beer and spectacular views from Air New Zealand's sweet lounge. The Aussies on my trip couldn't have been more charming and more friendly, and the staff at the New Zealand lounge couldn't have been more helpful. Thank you Sydney, thank you Australia for a perfect, dream-like vacation. It did happen, right?
|Thank goodness for observation decks!|
|Gorgeous 747-400, my favorite thing in the world.|
|I don't get to see many 747's at CMH!|
|Qantas A380, after being towed into the gate.|
|I could have stayed here all day.|
|Lovely Air New Zealand lounge. Thank heavens for the Star Alliance!|
|Free booze, free food, free views of the runway. Perfect!|
|Beautiful day for spotting.|
|I had such a wonderful time in Sydney, and perfectly capped off by a lovely view of the Whale Jet.|
|This was my ride home, what a beautiful sight.|
|The Air New Zealand lounge filling up in the early afternoon.|
|Always good to see a Virgin Atlantic 346 too.|
|2 United 744's, one loading up, one dropping off.|
|Neat collage outside the Air New Zealand Lounge.|
|Classic lines, so familiar, so beautiful.|
A trip is about expectations, and I realize the international service with United is not up to the standards of other carriers (insert your favorite carrier here). But that is not the question to ask. The question is does United deliver what they promise, in terms of service? My trip was one where United lived up to my expectations, and exceeded them in areas of personal service, and delivering me to my destination with nary a hiccup. Thank you United, thank you for your Mileage Plus program, thank you for your award ticket, thank you for letting a middle-class shlub like me to experience a trip of a lifetime. Thank you for reading my report. Feel free to offer any observations.
And finally, back home to LAX. Well, almost. Still 2,300 miles to fly...
|Passing through LAX on my way back to CMH.|