CO25: Shannon Airport (SNN) – Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
CO1185: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) – O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
It was time again to go back to my “second home” – Chicago – to visit all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. I do this every year and I don’t think there’s any better time to visit the Windy City than in July/August; just before going back to college. I would spend 3 weeks here and this would be my second year travelling with CO.
The flights were booked back in May and I surveyed all available airlines that could get me to Chicago (O’Hare) from Shannon with one-stop max. – Aer Lingus/JetBlue Airways (via Dublin/New York); Air Transat/Air Canada (via Toronto); American Airlines/Aer Lingus (via Dublin/London); British Airways (via London); Continental Airlines (via Newark); Delta Air Lines (via New York); United Airlines (via Boston/Newark) and Virgin Atlantic/Aer Lingus (via London). CO ended up being the winner based on fares and connection times. My return Economy ticket cost around €500 which wasn’t the worst. However the next day a friend was looking up flights around the same dates and pointed out that I could have booked my exact flights on Gohop.ie for about €100 less than what I paid. Sure enough this turned out to be true and so I proceeded to call CO to take advantage of their “Lowest Fare Guarantee” – a promise that states if you find a lower fare for the same flights on a travel agency website, they’ll refund double the difference provided you contact them within 24 hours.
Their Dublin office put me through to Houston where I was told that I could not receive any compensation because that offer was only valid in the US and that it was “highly unlikely” that CO’s website fares could be beaten. The agent on the line would not even check Gohop.ie to see the evidence for himself! This was quite frustrating but he was kind enough to give me 500 bonus Onepass miles for my trouble. At least it was something.
Now on booking the flights I discovered that the closest outbound flight to Chicago to my flight landing from Shannon was only 50 minutes. Flight CO2399 (operated by Continental Express/ExpressJet Airlines) would depart from Terminal A whereas I would land at Terminal C. I said I’d chance it anyway after seeing that a shuttle bus operates between the two terminals every few minutes bypassing the need to reclear security at EWR.
Soon enough it was time to fly; after having checked in the day before on Continental.com I hit the road for Shannon Airport, which is about an hour’s drive from my house. This was the day before the Limerick Tunnel opened which will now cut journey time to the airport for me by about 20 minutes. On arriving at the airport I noticed how quiet the place had become. The once packed long-term carparks were now barely half full. Quite eerie.
Check-in the day before. You cannot print boarding passes online for inbound USA flights with CO
Being dropped off at SNN by my dad
I was checking-in two cases which would set me back around €30 in fees for the second one. I paid online the day before which saved me a few euro. Hard to escape the baggage fees now!
I was in the terminal at 06:30 (IST) and joined the queue for bag-drop at desks 37-40 after nipping down to arrivals to check the status of the inbound CO24 from EWR which was delayed 50 minutes due to storms in New York the night before. Not looking so great for my connecting flight! In joining the queue a woman approached me with a laptop on wheels asking me the usual security questions and scanning my passport. Then she looked at the screen and smiled and informed me that she was the same girl that processed me 12 months previous when I last flew CO to ORD. Small world! We got to talking about her job and she told me it was really annoying when people answer “yes yes yes” before she can ask all the questions. She also said the amount of passengers that give these agents abuse is shocking. She made a point (and it’s true for her) that she doesn’t get up at 3am every morning to be verbally attacked when she’s only doing her job. With that she sent me into the much shorter BusinessFirst line saying “it pays to be nice” with a smile
CO appear to do a good business at Shannon. They are the only transatlantic carrier to remain committed to year-round service since they first started flying here in 1996. They’ve also added 4 weekly flights to their existing 7 this summer. Needless to say, this flight was 100% full in both cabins and probably overbooked as well like on my similar flights with them last year.
Because SNN is now equipped with full US Customs and Border Protection preclearance, all bags that are checked-in are photographed by cameras above the weighing carousels. All passengers would be asked to identify their bags on these photos later. And because all formalities are dealt with here at SNN, my bags were checked straight through to ORD.
EI’s check-in desks 1-10 empty
After dropping my bags I went upstairs to the deserted Estuary Café where I had breakfast.
Then I went through security – I was the only one going through and there was about 10 security personnel overseeing matters. I was asked not to take off my shoes for screening. Right past security is The Loop Duty Free shop – the world’s first – which is kind of sneaky the way it seems you have no other choice but to go though it to get to your gate. However there is a small door to the left that takes you straight to the departure lounge…I doubt many people notice this though!
Soon after looking around (at about 08:00) an announcement came: “the US Customs and Border Protection facility is now open to all passengers travelling on Continental Airlines flight 25 to New York/Newark”, so I decided to head down straight away to avoid potential queues. This would be my first time using the facility – exciting.
My boarding pass
Empty departure lounge
Corridor down to US CBP – this section of SNN all the way the way through to the gates has recently been renovated
Through the doors marked “US Preclearance”, I was met by an Irish airport police agent who greeted me by name after looking at my passport and boarding pass. He then asked if I was carrying any prohibited items such as meat or dairy products into the US, to which I replied “no just sweets”. He laughed and said that’s okay. All phones and cameras had to be switched off from here until you got to the gate. I then had to be re-screened by security agents which involved putting my carryon and shoes through the conveyer. It didn’t take very long and then I joined the nonexistent queue for immigration. There were 14 booths in total but only 4 were open. Quite ironic how there’s 14 US immigration booths at SNN but there’s only 5 Irish equivalents in arrivals!
I got to the booth and the friendly US Department of Homeland Security agent greeted me with a “hello, how are you?”. The name on her badge was Tucson; I didn’t know if this was her first or second name. She asked for my passport and where I was off to, she then she asked me to identify my 2 bags on the screen in front of me while asking if I had any prohibited items in them. While she was stamping my US passport I commented on how nice and airy the new facility was. She agreed but she said they were waiting for something to not make the place look as boring like “some windows and a mural” in her words. I said goodbye, she wished me a pleasant journey and I proceeded through the door to the boarding gates, passing the mini Statue of Liberty surrounded by the Irish and US flags that were on display at the previous facility.
The boarding gate assigned was Gate 108 which Continental always uses here at SNN. All gates beginning with “1” followed by 6-14 mean the flight using this gate is US CBP-processed. If it was an inter-European flight for example it would be simply “Gate 8”. This particular gate happens to be just outside the CBP hall.
Notice all of SNN’s orange airbridges have been replaced by DUB’s former Pier C grey airbridges. On the inside of this one there was an old sign that said “Aer Rianta Dublin Airport”.
Passengers who’ve cleared CBP are segregated from all other passengers which meant being “locked” in the Gate 108 waiting area.
The inbound aircraft was an hour late arriving into SNN, which would mean a knock-on delay to my flight, scheduled to depart at 09:00 IST
The renovated gate area; looking good
Vacant Gate 7/107 next-door
Much roomier than previous visits to this area
To the left: US CBP which I’d just come out of (no entry from here); to the right: a mini gate-side Duty Free shop; straight ahead: Gates 8/108-14/114; behind: gates 1-5 and 6/106 & 7/107
The gate-side Loop shop. SNN has become very Americanised in this respect – there was also a movable cart selling food items and smoothies closer to the gate
Of course, because we were now treated as US domestic passengers, Duty Free items cannot be bought however there were still some attractive offers.
Mini lounge area reserved for BA Club World passengers who use this gate also as part of the 2 daily London City Airport-John F. Kennedy International Airport flights that stop here to clear CBP and refuel. On this occasion, our flight crew took up residence here while waiting for clearance to board the aircraft
Nice gate setup – complete with plant on the desk!
Taken from the mini Duty Free shop
EI A330-300 tail creeping out – this would later operate to JFK as flight EI111 from Gate 111
Our Boeing 757-224 (N18112) being refuelled. This would be my second time flying a 757.
Food cart called “D’lish”
Boarding was called for passengers needing assistance at 08:37 followed by BusinessFirst passengers at 08:50. Then Economy seats were filled according to row, beginning with the rear of the aircraft.
I was onboard the aircraft at 09:07. The sticker on the side of the door (2L) said “You’re about to get the Star Treatment” instead of last year’s “Your Door to the World is Open” – a reference to CO’s new membership of Star Alliance. Once I stepped inside the aircraft, it was very hot.
Seatback Audio/Video on Demand monitor
We were welcomed aboard by cabin crew at 09:11. They told us they had a full flight and were trying to get the aircraft out as soon as possible so they needed passengers not to block the aisle when stowing hand baggage. The cabin manager projected a flight time of 6 hours, 52 minutes.
Date Monday, 26th July 2010
Aircraft Boeing 757-224
Tail No. N18112
Aircraft Name -
Scheduled Departure 09:00 IST
Actual Departure 09:30 IST
Departure Terminal & Gate Gate 108
Departure Taxi Route A, D1, D2, RWY24
Weather at Departure Overcast, light drizzle, winds WSW
Scheduled Arrival 11:15 EDT
Actual Arrival 11:31 EDT
Arrival Terminal & Gate Terminal C, Gate C75
Arrival Taxi Route RWY4R, L, Y, M, S, Gate C75
Weather at Arrival Mostly sunny, winds NE
Seat No. 29F
Captain Capt. Minina
First Officer (N/A)
Cabin Manager (N/A)
Actual Flight Time 7 hours, 1 minute
Delta Air Lines flight DL122 arriving from New York (JFK). The 757 waited here on Taxiway A until we pushed back and then took our gate.
The door was closed at 09:25 (at the same time the DL aircraft landed from JFK). Pushback was at 09:30, followed by engine start-up and safety information video on the seatback monitors. We were pushed back all the way into that taxiway where the Omni Air International aircraft usually park away from the gates – this was to let the DL plane taxi to the gate.
Taxi began at 09:35 and 5 minutes later we were rolling on Runway 24.
Captain Minina introduced himself at 10:08 IST and gave 11:32 EDT as his estimated arrival time. He said we’d be travelling at 33,000 feet and he anticipated a smooth and comfortable flight.
Vapour trail from another aircraft
I was very tired so I fell asleep (which is unusual for me on westbound flights) and missed dinner. I woke up with only a few hours to go until landing at EWR so I played around with the games on the AVOD system. There wasn’t a great selection of TV and movies for the younger generations I thought…
The “seat occupied” sign doubled over as a sick bag!
We climbed to 38,000 feet at approximately 08:30 EDT. The Flight Map was now showing an estimated arrival of 11:26 EDT.
About 1 hour before landing, a hot turkey and cheese roll along with crisps and a chocolate bar and a drink were served. That roll was the same kind I was served on this flight last year and it is undoubtedly the best “meal” on an airplane I have ever tasted.
Descent into Newark began at 10:47 EDT and at 10:56 we got our final briefing from the flightdeck. Final approach was declared at 11:12. Now I don’t know how this works in the US, but here at home final approach is when the aircraft is actually lined up to land in position with the runway at about 1,000 feet. In this situation we were still a good ways up with many turns to do before being lined up for landing about 15 minutes later.
We hit the pavement of 4R with a bang at 11:31 EDT, 16 minutes behind schedule. We reached the gate at 11:40 at which time one of the flight attendants announced “ladies and gentlemen we know there are some of you with close connections so we ask all other passengers to please allow them to deplane as soon as possible” – that applied to me but I still didn’t disembark until about 7 minutes later.
So now it’s almost 11:50 and my connecting flight departs at 12:05 to Chicago – but all Continental Express flights depart from Terminal A so I had to run from Gate C75 to C71 (which is a longer distance on foot than it sounds!) where the shuttle bus to Terminal A departs from. I got there and joined the short queue for the bus just as one bus was leaving. I had to wait about 5 minutes for the next one. By the time the next had come the queue had built behind me and I noticed a few from my SNN flight waiting too. Luckily I was the first on board bound for Terminal A.
I got to Gate A23A in Terminal A at about 12:07 – my aircraft was at the gate but the gate had now closed and was displaying another flight to Rochester, New York. I asked the agent what to do and I was directed to the Customer Service desk. The concourse XE uses reminds me of nothing but Pier A at DUB but a smaller and more cramped version – it was very dark and dreary here too, a far cry from Terminal C.
I was standing at the Customer Service for no less than 25 minutes as the agent tapped away on her computer silently before informing me that all CO and UA flights to ORD were full until 19:15 that evening. She said she would put me on standby for all flights in the meantime and that I was confirmed on the CO1187 flight at 19:15 EDT to arrive in ORD at 20:58 CDT, some 7 hours later than originally planned. Another option was put to me – go with US Airways and arrive at 19:08 CDT. I asked her if that was via Philadelphia and she looked at me in puzzlement and said “…no?”. I said “I think it is”, so she tapped away at her computer for another few minutes and eventually said “oh…there is a stop”.
As much as I would love to travel on US and see another airport I was in no mood for another connection and tired. She gave me $8 in food vouchers so I thanked her and walked away knowing that at least I was confirmed on the 19:15 flight…or so I thought.
I got the bus back to Terminal C where the next flight to ORD would depart and waited at the gate.
The aircraft I arrived from SNN on was being prepared for a departure to Hamburg later that evening.
The Guinness Irish Pub across from the gate the next Chicago flight was boarding from
Interesting markings showing where the future 787-8s and 787-9s will park
Manhattan and Jersey City skylines visible from Terminal C
Lufthansa flight LH408 – an Airbus A330-300 arriving from Düsseldorf[/u]
Scandinavian Airlines System flight SK903 – an Airbus A330-300 arriving from Stockholm
TAP Portugal flight TP115 – an Airbus A330-200 arriving from Porto
Sure enough the gate agent informed me that flight 1183 was full to capacity so I’d have to go to the next Chicago-bound gate to see if I could get on. I made the trek to Gate C97 where the next flight would leave only an hour later. Long story short, there were a few no-shows and I got on – and with a window seat!
The aircraft was a Boeing 737-824 (a fairly new one judging by the DirecTV screens at the seatbacks). This would be my third time on a Next Generation 737/737-800.
Date Monday, 26th July 2010
Aircraft Boeing 737-824
Tail No. N73251
Aircraft Name -
Scheduled Departure 16:45 EDT
Actual Departure 16:50 EDT
Departure Terminal & Gate Terminal C, Gate C97
Departure Taxi Route A, RG, B, D, PD, RWY4L
Weather at Departure Mostly sunny, winds NW
Scheduled Arrival 18:17 CDT
Actual Arrival 18:05 CDT
Arrival Terminal & Gate Terminal 1, Gate B2
Arrival Taxi Route RWY27L, H1, Gate B2
Weather at Arrival Scattered cloud, winds NW
Seat No. 35A
First Officer (N/A)
Cabin Manager (N/A)
Actual Flight Time 2 hours, 15 minutes
DirecTV service which would cost $6 to activate
Load factor for this flight was 99% (both First and Coach) with only 2 free seats in Coach. Pushback was at 16:50 followed by the short taxi at 16:54. We waited for a Continental Connection Q400 to land before we departed on Runway 4L at 17:09.
The takeoff was very swervy and bumpy on climbout.
At 17:34 the captain informed us that we’d just reached our cruising altitude of 34,000 feet. A complimentary snack similar to the one at the end of the SNN-EWR leg was served soon after.
The flight went relatively quick and at 18:43 CDT the captain informed us that our estimated time of arrival was 18:04 “depending on what vectors they give us”. We soon flew over Lake Michigan: