Well here goes, this will be long
I had a conference is Boston for work and from Melbourne, Australia, you can’t get much further away so when my boss told me I had been selected to present at the conference I had to work out a flight path there that was both economical and good. Typically our int’l travel for the business is in Economy Class but the advent of Premium Economy meant I could go to my boss and say that for not much more money I could fly half way around the world and not arrive as a zombie! I was also helped that the arrival of V Australia and Delta and driven down fares that QF had traditionally gouged for years.
When I started looking, VA was planning to fly direct from MEL to LAX but unfortunately that got put back to December 09 so a direct flight with VA was out of the question. I would have like to go on QF’s new A380 but the days I needed to travel was 744 only from MEL and frankly they are getting old!
I started to plan my itinerary which was somewhat complicated when it was decided that as well as the conference in Boston I should visit one of our partner companies in Houston on the way home. This changed my initial plans which was DJ MEL-SYD, VA SYD-LAX and VX LAX-BOS and then reverse home. VX doesn’t yet serve IAH so I needed to change my plans and get another US domestic airline and unfortunately the traditional US domestics don’t have a great reputation and mixing airlines produced some very high fare totals. Picking VA over QF was a no-brainer. Even with the increased competition QF quoted AUD3600 from MEL-LAX-MEL. VA was AUD1900. QF had the advantage on Lounge access everywhere as I am a QF Club Life Member but that wasn’t worth $1900 and no one I came across had anything good to say about AA Domestic.
In the end I booked my MEL-LAX-MEL flights and held off on the domestic sectors whilst I firmed up some dates (at one stage it looked like I had to have a day in SFO as well). VA was a bit of unknown quantity and my travel agent had never booked them before despite doing heaps on DJ flights. This will probably change once they start direct services from MEL to LA, Phuket and Jo’burg, all routes crying out for competition. My routing ended up being MEL-BNE-LAX-SYD-MEL because if I wanted a same day (non red-eye) connection from LAX to BOS I needed a flight that arrived in the morning and the SYD-LAX flight did not. This involved a domestic DJ flight from MEL-BNE in DJ Premium Economy and meeting the new 777 in BNE. The way home was LAX-SYD and picking up a milk run DJ 737 for the SYD-MEL sector.
I continued to shop around for the domestic sectors and was holding out for the DJ-VA-DL alliance to be approved so I could earn Velocity points on the US domestic sectors but unfortunately it was not to be. I was almost about to book my domestic sectors on the dreaded AA but connections from BOS – IAH made me consider CO who seemed to be the only airline who had an early morning departure from BOS that was direct to IAH without connections in places like ORD, DFW or JFK. In the end I took CO for LAX-BOS-IAH-LAX. I didn’t take the same day connection for LAX-BOS and booked an overnight stay at the Courtyard LAX. My domestic routing ended up being LAX-EWR-BOS-IAH-LAX. I couldn’t get BOS-IAH in Y so I took non-changeable F class and given I had to do BOS-IAH-LAX on the same day including a meeting in Houston I made IAH-LAX F as well. All up the CO domestic fares were AUD1500 (Thanks CO for offering AUD pricing on their website).
Eventually the day of travel arrived and I booked a limo transfer from home at 5:30AM so I could easily make the 7AM MEL-BNE DJ flight.
Check-in in MEL was fine though there is a bit on confusion about the transfer from domestic to international BNE transfers. MEL check-in said go straight to the Skytrain and get the int’l boarding pass at the int’l terminal whereas signs in BNE domestic say go to Gate 39 and check-in there. I ended up doing the latter but I don’t know that it was quicker than the alternative. Strangely the check-in agent also required me to produce a hardcopy of my e-Ticket to show I was booked to leave the US. This seemed strange given she could undoubtedly see my entire booking on her screen.
Since I was flying Y+ with DJ, I got access to The Lounge in MEL which is always very good with good coffee and a well renovated lounge. It was once the Ansett Golden Wing. I had coffee and toast and headed to join my 7AM flight to BNE
DJ309 MEL-BNE 0700/0805 737-700 VH-VBZ Seat 2A
This flight was completely uneventful. Service was good and everything was on time. Y+ pax get free access to the inflight menu which is limited particularly on a breakfast flight so I restricted myself to a couple of cups of tea and a muffin. You also get free access to Live2Air which is basically the Foxtel pay TV channels. For some reason there were no papers offered to us however.
Flight arrived into BNE on time and I transferred via Gate 39 and caught the bus over to the int’l terminal. The schedules left a ridiculous amount of transfer time and given the LAX flight left at 11AM I can’t see why I was on the 7AM flight rather than the 8AM MEL-BNE service. BNE Int’l isn’t that exciting. The 777 was already waiting for me at the int’l terminal.
VA7 VH-VPD 1100-0700 777-300ER VH-VPD Seat 11K
After clearing customs and killing way too much time on the pretty boring BNE Int’l airside including a number of calls to my wife who I was already missing I eventually walked all the way to Gate 75 just in time for boarding to commence.
The VA 77W is very impressive and still looks new. I headed to my seat and met my seat partner but the load in Y+ was only 19 out of 40 so she moved to the centre seats shortly after take-off though we chatted throughout the flight. She was from IAH and was in Aust with her husband visiting friends on the Gold Coast whilst he had business in BNE.
The Y+ seat is very comfortable though there could be more storage places.
Flight departed on time but the captain had warned of turbulence near Samoa so we headed due east rather than in the typical NE direction. We had minor turbulence about 40 mins out just as the drinks service began but it only lasted 5 mins. Due to the turbulence we headed east towards the Cook Islands rather than passing over Vanuatu etc and didn’t head NE until we were south of Fiji.
Meal orders were taken and I chose the vegetarian pasta. Meal was OK but flavor was pretty bland. The sauvignon blanc was excellent.
I settled down and watched a movie and some TV shows on the excellent AVOD system which has an amazing range and is very easy to use. At one point a request popped up on the screen for all pax to lower their blinds and the cabin was dimmed. The famed starlit ceiling came on but it is only in J class and above the Y+ bar.
I tried to sleep and probably dozed a bit but I am not a great sleeper on planes unfortunately and my body clock didn’t think it was really sleep time just yet. Like lots of Boeings, the 77W isn’t particularly silent with lots of wind noise through the air conditioning etc. It is something Airbus do so much better than Boeing.
Cabin crew moved through the cabin occasionally offering salad rolls etc but I just stuck to some lemonade I grabbed from the walk-up bar.
About 2 hours out of LAX, the interior lights commenced their dawn sequence and the lighting gradually increased over about 20 minutes. Cabin crew came through and took breakfast orders. I chose the mushroom frittata which would have been good had it not been so salty.
After breakfast, arrival forms were distributed and completion instructions were broadcast through Red.
The cabin was cleared up and departure commenced. Shortly before landing we were placed in a holding pattern over Catalina because of fog at LAX. We were delayed about 20 minutes but somehow got in because the fog we landed in was amazingly thick and we had to wait on the ground for about 20 minutes before a tug came and pulled us into the alley.
TBIT at LAX remains a zoo. Customs was a shambles though I actually got a “hello” from the immigration agent.
My luggage was waiting for me when I got through Immigration and I quickly found the transfer bus and headed to my hotel for the night, the Courtyard LAX which is very average.
CO LAX-EWR 737-900 Rego unknown Seat 2A
Because of a bad night’s sleep I chose to pay for an upgrade to F class on my LAX-EWR-BOS sectors which was probably an incorrect decision as it turned out given Y class down the back wasn’t very full anyway.
I cannot believe how bad the CO terminal at LAX was. It reminded me of something out of the ‘70s. It was dark and dirty. Obviously only those terminals that belong to the airline hubbing at a particular airport are maintained because I remember thinking the same about UA at LGA 10 years ago.
I was at the airport about 90 minutes before departure because I was uncertain about security. Security ended up being very quick and I was through in 5 minutes. Nothing was open airside apart from Starbucks so I had another ordinary cappuccino from there.
The flight out of LAX was delayed by about 20 minutes due to a weight balance issue that meant a number of Y pax had to be moved to the rear of the plane for takeoff.
It was a fairly short taxi and we took off to the west before turning and heading across the US.
Drinks were served after about 20 minutes and breakfast about 40 minutes later. I had French toast with pineapple and pork loin which was way too sweet for me. Continuing to avidly avoid airline coffee I kept myself to tea on the flight.
The flight progressed quite quickly with me watching the Live2Air product on CO which is very similar to DJ’s except your get a lot more channels and the screens are widescreen.
We had some brief turbulence over the Rockies but otherwise nothing until we approached the East Coast and bad weather there made it a very rough last 45 minutes as well as the plane arriving into EWR about 40 minutes late.
This delay had the inevitable consequence of me missing my connection to BOS which was pulling back from the terminal as I got to the gate. I then joined the long queue at Customer Service (bad weather had meant lots of missed connections). I could have got a Q400 flight to BOS at 5:50 but as this plane was already 3 hours delayed I had no faith that this flight was ever going to happen so I chose the 6:45 service. This seemed a good idea as that was what the system had defaulted me onto so I thought there might be a chance my luggage would also somehow manage to accompany me to BOS. I then bought a coffee , found a seat and waited for the 3 hours until my plane was due to depart.
CO1190 EWR-BOS 737-800 Reg N-17245 Seat 3F
This flight was a disaster. Scheduled to depart at 6:45, a thunderstorm rolled in over New York at around 6PM and this had the inevitable consequence of closing the ramp. We were still boarded at around 7PM but no luggage was loaded until 7:45 so we basically just sat at the gate. Loading the luggage was a very slow affair with only loader at each hold. I guess this was because the ground-staff was stretched given the amount of planes that needed servicing following the storm. Despite the thunderstorm clearing the rain kept coming down and I saw on the Weather Channel the next day that Newark had received 60mm (2.25in) in a 2 hour period.
Eventually we were buttoned up and pushed back from the gate shortly before 8PM but even then our dramas were not over. Whilst taxiing out the captain made an announcement that ATC had closed all airspace to the northeast due to the progress of the storm so we were lined up on a taxiway and there we sat for over 90 minutes. Fortunately being in First Class we were supplied with drinks and nuts. Y class pax were stuck with nothing until the F/As distributed water to everyone after about 40 minutes. Finally the captain announced that one aircraft was being cleared for takeoff and if it negotiated a tolerable path through the weather we would also be cleared and after another 10 minutes the seatbelt sign came on and engines were restarted and we headed for the runway.
The flight to BOS was incredibly rough as we never cleared the rain for the entire journey. After 30 minutes we landed into BOS at around 10:25pm and I headed through an almost deserted terminal to baggage claim. I checked with Baggage enquiries as to what flight my luggage was on and they confirmed it was on the flight I had travelled on but when it didn’t arrive onto the turnstile I went back to Baggage Claim who discovered my baggage had made my originally scheduled flight even though I hadn’t.
All up it had taken me 13 hours to fly from LAX to BOS, about the same time it took me to fly from BNE to LAX the day before!
CO683 BOS-IAH 737-800 N-17354 Seat 3A
After the sagas of my LAX-BOS flights, this was incredibly dull. I left my hotel early unsure on security etc but I flew through security and was waiting at the gate at 6:05AM even though the flight wasn’t scheduled to depart until 7:45AM.
The flight departed on time and after brief turbulence, breakfast was served and the inflight movie Up commenced. Breakfast was a choice of scrambled eggs with pork loin or Corn Flakes. I took the latter, feeling I’d eaten way too much over the 4 days I’d been in Boston.
Despite poor weather in IAH, the flight arrived on time and proceeded to the gate.
CO47 IAH-LAX 757-300 Seat 5A
After 7 hours in Houston I was dropped back at the airport with a couple of hours to kill. I wandered around and sat down and read. As it had rained most of the day delays were quite common on outbound services.
About an hour before our scheduled 7:10 departure an announcement was made that our flight was delayed due to the late arrival of inbound aircraft. The delay was announced as only being 30 minutes which wasn’t too bad but the sight of lightning on the horizon told me there was worse to come.
The flight departed the gate in pouring rain at 7:45 but we only backed away from the gate and there we sat. Due to lightning there was a ground close situation and we couldn’t move. The pilot advised us there were 25 aircraft queued in front of us. After about 20 minutes the engines were started and we began our taxi but we only moved about 400 metres before a vicious thunderstorm arrived and once again the airport was closed. Just like the week before in EWR we were forced to sit for 70 minutes whilst the storm passed. A few aircraft seemed to get away but unfortunately we remained stuck. Passengers were free to move about the cabin and use their mobile phones during this time.
Eventually an announcement was made and we began to taxi but the back up meant we were in a lengthy queue and we waited 20 minutes before we eventually took off into a bumpy and stormy sky.
Food service was delayed about an hour and I’d have to say the cheeseburger I chose looked awful with disgusting jack cheese melted over it. I left it and stuck to the salad.
Turbulence was common throughout the flight with bad turbulence for the last hour into LAX. We had managed to pick up some time during the flight and finally landed into LAX at 11:05PM, 2.25 hours late. Unfortunately any passengers who had planned to make same-day international connections out of LAX were in for bad news as most had missed their flights to Australia and Asia and would have to spend 24 hours in LA.
LAX-SYD VA2 777-300ER Seat 13K (13H) VH-VPF
Our flight out of LAX was slightly delayed because a shortened flight time meant that we would arrive in SYD in advance of the curfew being lifted so the captain probably rightly figured it better to wait in the lounge rather than circling off the NSW coast.
When I boarded I found another man sitting in my seat but since he was travelling with the person in the aisle seat I agreed to swap and sit in the aisle seat 13H. I thought I was going to get lucky and have the only empty seat in Y+ next to me but it was occupied just before take-off. I t seems someone in Y was a friend of the cabin crew and got an unofficial upgrade.
The flight was buttoned up at about 10:15 and we taxied a long way around from Terminal 3 past TBIT and AA and UA and eventually took off from just near the Westin Hotel where I had spent the night before.
Despite only being 30/10 the IFE had changed to November programming which meant a new range of movies and TV shows to watch. I managed to watch Harry Potter 6 and 2 episodes of CSI and 1 episode of Summer Heights High. . Once again Red IFE was brilliant.
For dinner I had a quite good Beef Stir Fry and for breakfast a cheese omelette.
Despite being a long flight I managed to sleep quite well and arrived in Sydney feeling remarkably refreshed.
We only had to circle off Sydney for a short time before the 6AM curfew was lifted and we arrived into Terminal 1 as the first flight of the morning.
SYD-MEL DJ818 73H
After clearing customs, I rechecked my luggage and used the DJ transfer service over to T2 and headed to The Lounge where I immediately got a great cappuccino and some raisin toast. After catching up with the local news I headed to the gate and boarded my final flight of the trip.
The 73H was nearly full as a lot of people were heading to Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup horse racing but the seat beside me in Y+ was empty.
The plane was delayed slightly due to fog in Melbourne but I was glad to be home.
The US remains a great country to visit but there airline system isn’t great. I was surprised at the standard of their domestic service and their airports.
Virgin has a great product in VA. It deserves to be successful. They have the same fresh attitude that you get with DJ with friendly cabin crew and a can-do attitude. The IFE on their 777s is amongst the best.
CO was just OK. No wonder people are raving about VX. They are a breath of fresh air compared with US legacy carriers.
US airports vary from good to terrible. The best was undoubtedly Terminal C at BOS which is new and clean. CO’s hub at IAH isn’t bad though it is so big it is sort of hard to get around. I got lost arriving and ended up at Terminal C departures even though the signs said I was heading for Terminal E arrivals. EWR is pretty ordinary until you compare it with the truly dreadful mess that is LAX. I used three different terminals at LAX during the trip and they were all terrible relics of the ‘70s. California is broke so there probably isn’t going to be much change unless the airport is privatized and bought by one of the major int’l operations such as BAA who would probably tear down some of the terminals and start again.
Hope you enjoyed the read.