Dear Fellow A.Netters,
Welcome to my twentieth trip report, which covers my recent travels from Bozeman, Montana, USA to Brussels, Belgium. This trip involved an unusual itinerary via Denver, Oklahoma City, Washington, DC and Geneva, Switzerland—more information about that later. I hope you enjoy the report. As always, comments and questions are greatly appreciated!
I am living in Belgium currently, but am from the U.S. and made the trip back to Montana for a friend’s wedding at the end of September. You may recall my recent report covering my outbound itinerary from Brussels to Bozeman on Delta Airlines. That report can be found here:
Trans-Atlantic Part 1: BRU-ATL-SLC-BZN On DL (by BZNPilot Nov 15 2010 in Trip Reports)
For my westbound travels from Brussels to Bozeman on Delta, I used the return portion of a roundtrip ticket I had purchased earlier in the year when I moved from the U.S. to Belgium. Thus, for my trip from Bozeman back to Brussels after the wedding, I required a separate, one-way ticket. Eager to save money, I investigated my options for a reward fare; I had a sizeable stash of miles on both United and Delta, so I hit the websites in search of a good ticket.
At the time of my search in late July, Delta’s website did not offer anything that fit my schedule. At first glance, United did not have much availability, either. While both Delta and United now offer one-way reward tickets, including to international destinations, neither had availability to Brussels around the days I required. After exploring my options to other European cities, however, I found a United “Saver” ticket from Bozeman to Geneva, via a strange itinerary through DEN
; this ticket was available for just 27,500 miles, plus a small $5.00 service fee. I found this option to be quite acceptable, as it gave me the chance to experience two new airports, OKC
. Moreover, by flying United on the way back to Europe I would have the opportunity to compare the trans-Atlantic products of Delta and United within a short time span.
After finding my ticket from Bozeman to Geneva, I searched for one-way tickets for the final leg from Geneva to Brussels. The cheapest option was a mere €29 ($38) on easyJet, but this would have involved a 13-hour layover in Geneva. Instead, I settled on a €76 ($107) ticket on Brussels Airlines (SN) that offered a more reasonable layover in Geneva. And, as SN
is in the Star Alliance, this option allowed me to add a few paltry miles back to my United Mileage Plus account.
After booking both the United and Brussels Airlines tickets, my final bill came to $112 ($107+$5), plus 27,500 Mileage Plus miles. In my opinion, this was a great deal considering the price I would have otherwise paid for a BZN
ticket. And again, I would have the chance to visit a couple of new airports.
My time in Montana went far too quickly and, as usual, I was not eager to leave. Unfortunately, I also came down with an awful case of stomach flu the day before my friend’s wedding. I managed to hold it together during the ceremony, for which I was the officiant, meaning I was standing at the front conducting the actual ceremony for the bride and groom. It was a great honor to be the head of the ceremony, but it was also without a doubt one of the most miserable and challenging 20 minutes I have ever experienced. I did my absolute best to put on a “happy face” and few of the guests actually knew I was violently ill.
By the time I had to return to Brussels two days later, I was still in very bad shape. I had not eaten in three days, I could not even stand the thought of eating, and I was barely able to stand upright for more than a few minutes. This was not a good condition for embarking on a 24 hour-long airline journey. However, changing my United Saver ticket would have been difficult at best, and I would have had to buy a new ticket on Brussels Airlines. When my alarm rang at 03:30 on the morning of my flight, I knew I had to bite the bullet, endure the agony, and get on with my trip back to Europe.
FLIGHT 1 OF
Date: September 28, 2010
Flight #: United 6604 (Operated by SkyWest Airlines)
Aircraft Type: CRJ-700
Aircraft Registration: N750SK / Serial Number 10207 / Manufactured 2005
Scheduled Departure: 06:00 MDT
Actual Takeoff: 06:04 MDT
Scheduled Arrival: 07:41 MDT
Actual Landing: 07:21 MDT
Flight Time: 1:17
Distance: 524 miles (845 km) direct / 613 miles (987 km) actual
Seat: 11D (Window)
Load: Economy = 80% / Business = Unknown
My Logbook: 26th flight on United Express / 12th flight on the CRJ-700 / 268th airline flight overall
My mother and I left the house at 04:15 and arrived at the airport 20 minutes later—plenty of time for my 06:00 departure to Denver. Fortunately, my mom had stopped by the store the previous day and purchased every type of stomach-settling, anti-nausea, sleep-inducing drug available without a prescription. I popped a couple of Pepto Bismal tablets and proceeded toward the terminal. Below is a shot of the building’s current façade.
Construction is underway at BZN
to dramatically increase the size of the terminal and bring the airport’s capacity up to 1.5 million airline passengers per year. It is interesting that, despite the overall economic downturn and its tremendous hit to the air transport industry in particular, BZN
has increasingly added new airlines, destinations and frequencies. The region’s status as a tourist destination obviously contributes to this trend, and the situation for airline service at BZN
seems to be getting better and better. Here is a photo of the construction site on the west side of the terminal.
Upon entering the terminal, I noticed a dozen people already queued at the United check-in kiosks. Because of my international itinerary, I went directly to the desk for “Premier and/or International” passengers. However, there was no agent anywhere in sight. Several passengers who had checked in at the kiosks were waiting to have their checked baggage tagged, but no one was there to help them.
After a solid five minutes of standing at the counter, a SkyWest agent emerged from the back room and appeared surprised to see me waiting and to see the queues forming at the kiosks. While the wait at the counter did not make a good impression initially, the agent approached me and apologized for the delay while summoning her colleagues to attend to the passengers at the kiosks. She was very friendly, gracious and helpful, and even went so far as to apologize for my circuitous route to Geneva. I replied that, for a Saver ticket, I was glad to get to Europe any way I could; she laughed and mentioned that I was probably setting some sort of record as the only United passenger ever to travel from Montana to Switzerland by way of Oklahoma. Despite the initial wait, my check-in experience was acceptable because of the efforts of this particular agent. With my four boarding passes in hand, I bade farewell to my mother and proceeded through security.
Boarding began at 05:30 sharp, and I made my way onto the CRJ-700. For this flight, I had used the United website to pre-select my seat at 11D, a right-side window. The seat and legroom were standard for a regional jet—not great but wholly adequate for a 1.5-hour flight.
We pushed back a few minutes ahead of schedule and taxied out to RWY 30. At 06:04, we accelerated down the runway and smoothly rotated into the pre-dawn darkness. After a left turn to the southeast, we assumed a course for Denver while climbing into the flight levels above the peaks of Hyalite range. Meanwhile, my stomach discomfort started to catch up with me but I fought it off by closing my eyes and thinking about other things. Soon the beverage service began and the only thing that sounded palatable was a Coke; I asked for one with no ice, and, although I rarely drink soda, it seemed to help my stomach. About a half-hour after takeoff, it grew light enough outside for me to take some photos of dawn breaking over Wyoming.
After the flight attendants collected my empty cup, I reclined my seat and managed to enter a light sleep. When I awoke, I noticed we had begun our descent; the Colorado Rockies northwest of Denver appeared outside my window.
As we descended, the mountains tapered into gentler terrain, which in turn merged into the cityscape of Denver and its suburbs. The photo below shows the foothills near Boulder, Colorado.
We made a smooth landing on Denver’s RWY16R at 07:21. After exiting the runway to the left, we taxied to the United Express gates at the far eastern end of Concourse B. De-boarding was quick and, with that, another BZN
run was complete—my 8th flight on this route. Our flight path from Bozeman to Denver looked like this.
Once inside the terminal, I snapped a photo of the sleek CRJ-700 that had just flown me from Bozeman to Denver.
FLIGHT 2 OF
Date: September 28, 2010
Flight #: United 7397 (Operated by GoJet Airlines)
Aircraft Type: CRJ-700
Aircraft Registration: N174GJ / Serial Number 10296 / Manufactured 2009
Scheduled Departure: 08:40 MDT
Actual Takeoff: 08:46 MDT
Scheduled Arrival: 11:16 CDT
Actual Landing: 10:54 CDT
Flight Time: 1:08
Distance: 495 miles (797 km) direct / 558 miles (898 km) actual
Seat: 10A (Window)
Load: Economy = 30% / Business = Unknown
My Logbook: 27th flight on United Express / 13th flight on the CRJ-700 / 269th airline flight overall
My next flight to Oklahoma City departed from the gate just across the hall from where I arrived. Given my short layover and the fact that I still felt miserable, I just took a seat and waited for boarding to begin. Of course, I still mustered the strength for a photo of my next CRJ-700 awaiting its mission to Oklahoma. This aircraft, operated by GoJet Airlines, was almost factory-fresh, having been manufactured just a year ago.
Boarding began on time around 08:15. Upon entering the aircraft I immediately noticed how clean and fresh the cabin appeared. The leather seats were very comfortable and the legroom was average.
Lucky for me, the windows were spotlessly clean. Below is a shot of the wing and ramp prior to departure.
During the boarding process one of the pilots gave a welcome announcement, indicated that our flight time would be about 1:05, and that we would be “going all the way up to 41,000 feet” for this flight. Very cool, indeed! As far as I know, this would only be my second time above the 40,000 foot mark (the other being a Northwest 757 flight from MSP
The passenger load was very light and fortunately I had two seats to myself. I was relieved given that I was still concerned about getting airsick; now I had more room to stretch out and be comfortable. The door closed a few minutes ahead of schedule and we pushed back shortly thereafter at 08:40. After a quick taxi to nearby RWY17R, we lined up on the centerline at 08:46 and accelerated down the runway.
As we climbed out above the brown countryside, I spied Interstate 70 stretching to the eastern horizon. The thought of endless hours creeping through the flatlands by car made me glad to be in a jet streaking high above it all. Flying is such a remarkable way to travel.
We then made a slight left turn to the southeast.
I soon spotted Front Range Airport, a general aviation field just three miles (five kilometers) from DEN
About twenty minutes into the flight, the two flight attendants began the beverage service. My stomach had taken a turn for the worse, so I only asked for water. In the end, I could not stand more than a couple sips even though I felt dehydrated. Instead, I distracted myself by watching the farmland pass below.
I also managed to fall asleep, but woke up just a few minutes prior to starting our descent. Perhaps it was just psychological, but from FL410 the fields below really did look smaller and the sensation really was that we were noticeably higher than usual.
During the descent, the flightcrew made another announcement with the weather information for Oklahoma City—clear skies, temperature around 70*F (21*C) and calm winds. Meanwhile, the fields below grew larger and larger.
Soon I caught a glimpse of our destination, Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport, in my ten o’clock position.
After a left turn we lined up for an approach to the north. Compared to Denver, the surrounding countryside was green and looked quite pretty.
As we glided downward, we began chasing our shadow—always a cool thing to see, in my opinion.
We touched down gently on RWY35L at 10:54, more than 20 minutes ahead of schedule. This convoluted itinerary was working out—so far, so good!
Below is our route from Denver to Oklahoma City.
We exited the runway to the right and taxied toward the modern-looking terminal building, which was glistening in the bright morning sun.
We parked at the gate and, due to the light load, I was off the aircraft in no time. Below is a shot of the aircraft from the terminal.
I glanced at the gate where I had just arrived and, as expected, the information for my next flight to Washington Dulles was already listed. While the OKC
flight carried a totally different flight number, the same aircraft I had boarded in Denver was scheduled to take me all the way to Dulles. I had about twenty minutes until boarding, so despite still feeling miserably sick, I decided to explore the small but nice terminal at OKC
. I walked a couple of laps up and down the corridor, then bought a couple of postcards and some more stomach medicine. In light of my illness, I found the following sign on the bathroom mirror to be ironic and mildly amusing. Yes, I was indeed an annoyed traveler.
When I arrived back at the gate, boarding had just begun. I waited a minute or two until my boarding zone was called and proceeded down the jet-bridge.
FLIGHT 3 OF
Date: September 28, 2010
Flight #: United 7391 (Operated by GoJet Airlines)
Aircraft Type: CRJ-700
Aircraft Registration: N174GJ / Serial Number 10296 / Manufactured 2009
Scheduled Departure: 11:54 CDT
Actual Takeoff: 11:56 CDT
Scheduled Arrival: 15:40 EDT
Actual Landing: 15:16 EDT
Flight Time: 2:20
Distance: 1134 miles (1825 km) direct / 1208 miles (1944 km) actual
Seat: 14D (Window)
Load: Economy = 90% / Business = Unknown
My Logbook: 28th flight on United Express / 14th flight on the CRJ-700 / 270th airline flight overall
The same cockpit crew and flight attendants were working this leg as well, though neither of the FAs seemed to recognize me from the flight before (I suppose all passengers look alike after awhile). Not surprisingly, I did not see any passengers from the earlier DEN
flight, so I assume I was the only one with this strange connection. This time I took my seat at 14D, a few rows aft and on the opposite side from where I had been sitting before. The seat next to mine was occupied, unfortunately.
We pushed back ahead of schedule, shortly before 11:50, and taxied to RWY35L, the same runway on which I had landed an hour earlier. Following another smooth takeoff roll, we climbed into the blue Oklahoma sky.
A couple of minutes after departure, I had a nice view of downtown Oklahoma City.
Eventually we turned right and picked up a course to the east. The North Canadian River (known as the Oklahoma River within the city limits of Oklahoma City) came into view just in front of the wing.
We leveled off at FL390 over eastern Oklahoma and the flight attendants began the beverage service. I still did not feel well enough to drink anything, so I again fell asleep. My sleep was restless at best and several times I woke up on the verge of getting sick. Instead, I diverted my attention by snapping a few photos while telling myself to enjoy the beauty of flight.
The flight really seemed to drag as I lapsed in and out of sleep; thankfully, about two hours after takeoff, we finally started our descent. As we neared the northern Virginia area, we descended through a layer of bright-white afternoon clouds and the ride became unpleasantly bumpy. Again, I focused on the scene outside the window in order to divert my attention.
Soon the Potomac River came into view northwest of Dulles Airport; from here, the river continues its march to the southeast toward Washington.
We then made a right-hand turn to set up for a southbound approach into Dulles. The turbulence continued all the way down to the runway.
At 15:16 EDT we touched the pavement of RWY19R; this was my first time on Dulles’ newest runway at the far-western edge of the airport.
We exited the runway to the left and began the taxi to the south side of the C/D Terminal. On the way I saw one of the government’s charter 767s parked on the ramp.
Once at the gate, I hurried off the airplane and into the terminal to have a little more breathing room. I managed to grab a shot of the CRJ-700 that had carried me all the way from Denver. By this time it was only mid-afternoon and I had already logged three flights—not bad!
Below is the route we took from OKC
I had a little less than two hours until my flight to Geneva so I stocked up on more stomach medicine. I also bought some crackers and was actually able to eat them! That was my first food in several days. I then decided to fire up my laptop and pay for an hour’s worth of internet to pass the time. I also wanted to check in online for my Brussels Airlines flight the next day from GVA
. Unfortunately, any slight progress I had made in terms of my health and my mood was crushed when I saw this message on the Brussels Airlines website:
Because of an ATC strike in Belgium, my flight had been cancelled and I could not check in. With visions of being stranded and ill in Geneva, not knowing when I would make it to Brussels, I hit the mental and emotional “low point” of the trip. No matter, I had no choice but to board my flight for Geneva and hope the situation would work itself out.
FLIGHT 4 OF
Date: September 28-29, 2010
Flight #: United 974
Aircraft Type: Boeing 767-322
Aircraft Registration: N658UA / Serial Number 27113 / Manufactured 1993
Scheduled Departure: 17:48 EDT
Actual Takeoff: 18:04 EDT
Scheduled Arrival: 07:55 CEDT
Actual Landing: 07:42 CEDT
Flight Time: 7:38
Distance: 4084 miles (6573 km) direct / 4425 miles (7121 km) actual
Seat: 29K (Window)
Load: Economy = 50% / Business = Unknown / First = Unknown
My Logbook: 50th flight on United (Mainline) / 15th flight on the 767-300 / 271st airline flight overall
A few minutes before boarding, the gate agents made an announcement offering to gate-check any luggage passengers did not wish to carry onboard. I had decided in Bozeman not to check my roller bag because of my complicated itinerary and my fear that it would not arrive in Geneva. However, given that this was the last flight of my itinerary (on this ticket anyway) I decided to check my bag to avoid having to deal with it onboard. I approached the gate agent and asked to do so; she applied a tag to my suitcase and instructed me to leave it on the jet-bridge next to the aircraft’s door.
Boarding began and my zone was called a few minutes later. Upon reaching the door of the plane, I left my bag and proceeded inside. As I was welcomed aboard by the purser, I pointed to my bag asked her to confirm that had left my bag in the correct spot to be taken to the cargo hold. She seemed surprised that the gate agent had told me to leave the bag at the aircraft door, instead of at the gate itself, and said that the agent did not understand the proper procedure. As a solution, the purser told me to bring my bag aboard and tell the flight attendants in economy class that she had given them special permission to put my bag with those of the crew near the galley. I thanked her for her kindness and proceeded to the economy cabin with my bag.
I approached the flight attendant in coach and asked her if I could put my bag in the crew’s locker and mentioned the name of the friendly purser who had told me to do so. Amazingly, the attendant replied by saying “I don’t know, I guess if you can get it to fit…you’re not going to though.” Slightly annoyed by her “it’s not my problem” type of attitude, I asked her where I should go and she pointed to a locker immediately behind her. I opened the door and managed to squeeze my bag in amongst the crew bags. It was a tight fit, so I struggled a bit in the process, but was able to close the door. Meanwhile, the unhelpful flight attendant had stood silently by and watched; once the locker was closed, she sighed and mumbled something under her breath about me not having done it correctly. I was very unimpressed at her attitude in dealing with this simple task. First of all, I didn’t expect any special treatment; I had only wanted to gate-check my bag, which is something airlines seem to encourage these days in order to free up overhead space. But based on the fact that the purser was kind enough to offer me a bit more convenience, I was expecting this flight attendant to follow suit—and certainly not to show a bad attitude about the whole thing. Two thumbs up for the purser, but two thumbs way down for the other flight attendant. So far, my experience on United Express operated by SkyWest and GoJet had been mostly easy and pleasant; however, within one minute of stepping aboard a mainline United flight, and despite the best efforts of the purser, I had already had a negative experience. I just walked away and headed toward my seat, leaving her to rearrange the bags as she saw fit.
I took my seat at 29K, a right-side window in the main economy-class cabin. The legroom was similar to that of Delta’s 767 the week before—standard, but a little on the tight side for an 8-hour flight.
I was glad to have a personal screen, unlike the Delta 767. However the image quality was appallingly poor—somehow even worse than it looks in the photo below. I give credit to United for having individual screens, it was just a shame my eyes hurt after five minutes of looking at one!
Fortunately, the view out the window was more interesting than the pre-departure ads that flashed across the screen. The beautiful wing of this 767-300 was basking in the evening light as the ramp action carried on in the background.
The coach cabin filled to about 50% capacity and, fortunately, the seat next to mine remained one of the empty ones. The doors were sealed and we pushed back on-time around 17:45. We taxied to the west and eventually made our way to the queue waiting for departure from RWY30. Meanwhile, the evening sun and scattered clouds provided for a beautiful, soft light outside the window.
At 18:04 we lined up on RWY30 and started our takeoff roll. The liftoff felt powerful as we rocketed away from the pavement. The clouds looked dark and ominous, but the evening light continued to cast a series of nice textures in the world outside my window.
A couple of minutes after takeoff, we began a broad right-hand turn to the north.
As we continued to the north and then northeast, Dulles Airport again came into view, amidst the scattered clouds, off the right wing.
North of Dulles, we turned due east and continued our climb into the flight levels. Meanwhile, we left the area of scattered clouds behind and continued through clearer skies toward the District of Columbia. The Potomac reflected a beautiful golden light behind the wing.
Soon the District of Columbia itself came into view. My girl and I had lived here for the last four years prior to moving to Brussels. Although I had been very happy to leave Washington several months ago, my views of DC out the window brought back many memories. I recalled attending many performances at the Kennedy Center, which is the rectangle-shaped building next to the river, and the countless times I drove across the bridges of the Potomac between the District and Virginia.
As we gained altitude and continued over Maryland just east of the District, the larger course of the Potomac came into view as it flowed south past Mt. Vernon.
Andrews Air Force Base also appeared below.
Soon the Chesapeake Bay became visible with its many intricately shaped islands and inlets.
Unfortunately, Channel 9 was not available at any point during the flight—it seems rarer and rarer these days and I am fully expecting that it will soon disappear altogether. So, in addition to the views out the window, my in-flight entertainment consisted of the moving-map feature, which included information about our altitude, speed, distance travelled, and so on. Again, the picture quality was very bad, but it was better than no screen at all. You can see how the numbers in the screen are fuzzy—that’s not the camera, that’s how they actually looked to the eye.
Before long, the coast of the Atlantic came into view. Good-bye, North America!
Meanwhile, the sun began to set and the world outside morphed from grey and blue into a brilliant scene of orange, pink and red. There is nothing better than a mid-air sunset.
When travelling east at 500-plus knots, the sun sets extraordinarily quickly; soon the colors turned back to grey before the light disappeared altogether.
The first cabin service began about 45 minutes into the flight. Illness-wise I was surviving, but still feeling awful. Fortunately, a Coke and a bag of pretzels were plain enough for me to tolerate. While I was certainly not in the mood for alcohol, I will point out that United charged $6 for beer and wine, unlike Delta which offers it free on transatlantic flights.
Immediately behind the drink cart was the meal cart. The usual choice of chicken or pasta was offered. My stomach was still skeptical of food at this point, but I was also getting hungry. I opted for the chicken, which came with rice, a salad, a roll and a brownie. Even had I been healthy, I doubt I would have eaten all of it; the rice was way undercooked (even crunchy in places) and the salad consisted only of soggy lettuce. I was struggling to eat anyway, but this meal made the situation even worse. I took a few bites before deciding to forego it all together. Simply put, the quality of the meals on Delta the week before was far superior to what United offered, even when taking my sick condition (and therefore general aversion to food) out of the equation.
As soon as my meal tray was collected, I stretched out across both seats and tried to fall asleep. I dozed on and off for the next few hours, coming to full consciousness periodically to reposition and check the progress of the flight on my screen. At one point I noticed lights on the ground below us; a glance at the map confirmed we were over Ireland. I drifted back into a restless sleep.
When I awoke again fully, I heard the movement of carts in the aisles. I sat up and realized that I was feeling significantly better—not anywhere near normal, but certainly improved. The cart reached me in due time and I was given a yoghurt and a small piece of banana cake. While my mind told me I wanted coffee, my stomach and my common sense insisted on a much gentler cup of tea. The yoghurt tasted fine, but the banana cake was tiny and far too sweet. Again, even had I not been ill, this pre-arrival snack would have been unsavory in my opinion.
We crossed the coast of mainland Europe and continued over France. Meanwhile, the first light of dawn began to turn the sky back to shades of grey.
The same sun that had disappeared behind us six hours before soon turned the sky once again into a beautiful shade of orange.
We began our descent and the flight deck made a brief announcement with the weather information and our projected arrival time. As we neared Geneva, the solid clouds below broke apart, revealing the foothills of the Alps with fog-shrouded valleys in between.
As the big twinjet made a right-hand turn to the south, early rays of sunlight from the east cast the under-wing canoes in a brilliant coat of gold.
We then turned left, back toward the east and northeast, before settling on a final approach to RWY05. The flaps began to extend just as I got my first glimpse the Alps bathed in an early-morning light. The sight of the beautiful wing, the mountains and the new dawn made me feel slightly rejuvenated for the first time since falling ill.
Soon we were swooping above the neighborhoods of Geneva. A few patches of pre-dawn mist lingered, but the sky was clear above and the morning was shaping up to be gorgeous.
The perimeter fence flashed by, followed by the southern end of the airport’s ramp. We flared gently over the runway before dropping the final feet and smacking the asphalt with a jolt at 07:42 CEDT.
We exited to the right and made a 180-degree turn to taxi back toward the terminal.
We docked at the gate a few minutes later, with metal from AF
resting further down the ramp.
With that, my 31st crossing of the Atlantic was complete. Below is the route we took across the pond that night.
I made my way toward the exit, collected my bag from the closet and proceeded up the jet-bridge. I then navigated a steep flight of stairs to the ground-level; this part of the airport was under construction, so the march toward immigration took me through plywood corridors decorated with pipes and wiring dangling from the ceiling. I thought back to my earlier departure from the Bozeman airport, also under construction, and had an odd realization that the world is quite small and that the same activities happen everywhere. After a quick wait in the immigration queue, I had a new Swiss stamp in my passport and was inside the main terminal.
I immediately proceeded to the Brussels Airlines check-in counter to inquire about the status of the strike and my flight to Brussels. I was eager to find out whether I had a chance of getting to Brussels, or if I should just proceed to the nearest hotel and pass out for a day or two. The friendly woman at the Brussels Airlines desk told me the strike was over and that my flight, scheduled for 12:55 that afternoon, would be the first that day to operate from Geneva. I was pleasantly surprised and asked if I could go ahead and check in, even though my flight was not departing for another five hours. The agent proceeded to check me in, managed to find me a window seat at my request, and checked my bag. Given that this was just a one-leg itinerary at this point, I was happy to trust the system from here on out and be free of the burden of carrying the bag myself. With my boarding pass in hand, and five hours until my flight, I decided to find a quiet corner of the airport to sit down and relax.
The morning was beautiful and warm, and the roof deck terrace at the south end of the terminal provided an excellent spot to get some fresh air.
Later on, I purchased a half-hour of internet access and got caught up on emails. After that, I leaned back in a half-jetlagged, still-recovering stupor and watched the birds fly from place to place on the terrace in search of a snack.
Around 10:00 I decided to head through security to see what awaited me airside. The security process was quick and efficient, and I was soon in the safe-zone. The terminal there was bright and airy, with few passengers and plenty of places to sit down.
I took a seat and waited for the inbound aircraft from Brussels. As the strike had ended just hours before, I was still skeptical about whether my flight would be on-time or even happen at all. Needless to say, when I finally spotted the little quad-jet with a Brussels Airlines livery taxing toward the terminal, I breathed a sigh of relief.
FLIGHT 5 OF
Date: September 29, 2010
Flight #: Brussels Airlines 2716
Aircraft Type: AVRO RJ100
Aircraft Registration: OO
/ Serial Number 3332 / Manufactured 1998
Scheduled Departure: 12:55 CEDT
Actual Takeoff: 13:05 CEDT
Scheduled Arrival: 14:15 CEDT
Actual Landing: 14:10 CEDT
Flight Time: 1:05
Distance: 332 miles (534 km) Direct / Actual unknown
Seat: 15F (Window)
Load: b.light economy = 100% / b.light economy = 100% / Business = Unknown
My Logbook: 3rd flight on Brussels Airlines / 1st flight on the AVRO RJ100 / 272nd airline flight overall
The aircraft docked at the gate at 12:15 and the passengers spilled out. At 12:30, boarding began and I jumped into the crowd swarming the gate and was soon on my way down the jet-bridge. I found my seat in the b.light section near the rear of the aircraft. Legroom was adequate for this short flight, but the cabin looked very used. For example, the safety sticker on the tray table in front of me was peeling off; no big deal, but I noticed many similar details in need of a little fixing.
This was to be just my second flight on a BAe146/AVRO; the other experience was a London Stansted-Frankfurt hop on a Buzz BAe146 back in 2001, and on that flight I did not have a window seat. Now I was excited to get a better feel for this little quad-jet, a type which has disappeared almost entirely in the U.S. Looking out the window and seeing the wing above me, with little jet engines dangling below, was definitely a unique view.
The aircraft filled to 100% capacity, which was not surprising given that SN
’s earlier flights had been cancelled. We pushed back right on time at 12:55 and made a quick taxi out to RWY05. After holding short for a landing Lufthansa jet, we took to the runway and smoothly lifted off at 13:05.
As we climbed out over Lake Geneva, I was impressed by the incredible beauty of the place. The lake, the city, and most of all the mountains, combined to form a stunning view out my window. I had driven through Geneva many years ago, but otherwise had never seen the area. I really must return for a visit at some point; fortunately, it is only a one-hour flight from my new home in Brussels! Below are some photos of the stunning scenery.
Several minutes after takeoff, we banked to the left and assumed a northwesterly course for Brussels.
We leveled off and the flight attendants began the beverage and snack service, serving those in the b.flex section first, before eventually reaching us lower-class passengers in the rear. Everything was buy-on-board in my section, which I was expecting. Still, in my opinion it is less than impressive that a European flag carrier can get away with offering a lower level of service than had been offered on my earlier United Express flights of similar length in the States. I understand SN
’s view that those willing to pay for a better experience can do so, but still, the absence of even a basic drink service without charge in b.light does not make a very good impression. Never mind, by this point I was again feeling a bit unsettled and was fine not having anything.
The view outside was uneventful, with clouds mostly obscuring the French countryside below. I snapped a photo of the cute little turbofan humming along a few feet away.
There was no information from the flight deck at all, so I cannot comment on our route or altitude. But before long, we began our descent toward the cloud deck.
We seemed to level off just below the cloud layer, while making a series of wide turns over the Belgian farmland in order to set up for our approach. The flaps began their downward march and the aircraft slowed noticeably.
We dove over the perimeter fence before settling gradually for a nice landing at 14:10 on RWY25R, the same runway from which my Delta 767 had departed the week before.
After exiting the runway to the left, we made a quick taxi to the gate on the north side of the terminal, where we docked exactly on time at 14:15. Given my long and complicated itinerary, with a strike thrown into the middle of it, it was actually quite remarkable that I arrived on schedule, right down to the minute! I give credit to both United and Brussels Airlines for their timeliness.
While waiting to deplane, I started feeling extremely ill and remained seated with my eyes closed until the crowd thinned out. I finally made my way into the terminal and, fortunately, just having a little more room to breathe helped me feel better. I grabbed a photo of the AVRO that had just delivered me from Geneva.
Twenty minutes later I had retrieved my bag from the carousel and was in line at the taxi stand. A half-hour after that, I was home in bed and fast asleep. It took me three more days to fully recover from my illness, but I was just glad to be home.
Now for the big question: Who wins the contest between Delta and United for the best overall economy-class experience between Europe and Montana?
RESERVATION & ONLINE SERVICES: 7/10
SEATS & CABIN CONDITION: 6/10
CABIN CREW: 4/10
FOOD & DRINK: 2/10
INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: 6/10
AVERAGE SCORE: 44/80 = 55%
Based on this experience, I would rate United’s product at 55%, which is what I would describe as “lukewarm.” With 1 being the worst possible score, 5 being average, and 10 being excellent, United scored just about in the middle. In my opinion, United delivered a basic service and got me to my destination. However, there was little about their service that was really impressive. By comparison, my experience on Delta the week before (which I had rated at 57/80, or 71%), was a clear notch above. Delta’s service was also far from perfect, but the overall quality was higher. Granted, all three of my domestic United flights were actually marketed as United Express service on regional jets, whereas my ATL
leg on Delta had been a mainline flight. In that sense, my critique is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Still, my assessment aims to evaluate and compare the entirety of my travels between Bozeman and Belgium, as offered under the banners of Delta and United. In this case, Delta emerged the clear winner.
How could United improve? In my opinion, the airline needs to improve its customer service culture. While I encountered two representatives of the airline who were very nice and genuinely eager to provide good service, both of these experiences occurred in the context of a negative experience that could have otherwise been avoided. In the case of my check-in experience, the agent was very nice, but only after I and everyone else had been waiting in line without an agent in sight. Similarly, the purser on the IAD
flight went beyond the call of duty by offering to let me stow my bag in the crew’s locker, but the situation stemmed in the first place from a lack of communication between the gate personnel and the cabin crew. Moreover, the nice gesture from the purser was countered by the utterly uncooperative behavior of the other flight attendant.
Secondly, the food and drink service should be improved on United’s trans-Atlantic economy service. My stomach illness aside, the quality and taste of the meal was poor. And although I certainly did not want alcohol at the time, the fact that beer and wine came at a cost struck me as cheap, another case of “nickel and diming” the passenger—especially when Delta no longer charges for those services on trans-Atlantic flights.
Thirdly, while United’s 767 did feature personal screens, unlike the Delta 767, the quality of the screen was very poor. While I was happy to have a personal screen for watching the in-flight map, I think for the purpose of watching a movie, Delta’s overhead screens were actually easier on the eyes. Granted, the individual screens on United do allow the user to choose what to watch, and I would have a tough time arguing that overhead screens of better quality are superior to low-quality personal screens. I will simply say that United’s in-flight entertainment on the trans-Atlantic leg, even with individual screens, did not constitute a drastic distinction from Delta’s product in my opinion.
With that said, there are well-intentioned and hard-working people at both airlines. Yes, United delivered me to the gate in Geneva on time, while my itinerary on Delta involved a missed connection and a slightly later arrival. Where there are positive things to be said about United, I offer my commendation and appreciation.
I have wavered back and forth between the two carriers throughout the last decade, at times preferring one over the other. I will continue to fly both carriers in the future. However, at the moment, Delta seems to offer a product that is on the rise. It is my sense that United must step up its game in order to compete with a rising Delta. It will be interesting to see the ongoing impact of United’s merger with Continental and how that will influence the scene.
Finally, as for my experience on Brussels Airlines, I would argue they offer the “European version” of United’s overall product. I have previously written a report on my experiences with SN
on an intra-Europe itinerary, which can be found here:
A Bee-Line To Madrid: SN’s A319 & B733 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 13 2010 in Trip Reports)
In that report, I described how I found SN
to be lacking in many ways, particularly with regard to the cabin service, and my experience on the GVA
route did not change my opinion much. However, I do have to commend SN
for dealing with the strike in Belgium and managing to resume operations in short order. When I arrived in GVA
expecting a cancelled flight to BRU
, I was greatly relieved to hear that my flight was again on schedule. There are many potential complications in the modern air transport system, and in this case, SN
did a good job mitigating the damage of the strike and delivering me safely to Brussels exactly on time.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this report! Comments, feedback and criticisms are most welcome.
My other reports on Airliners.net are:
Trans-Atlantic Part 1: BRU-ATL-SLC-BZN On DL (by BZNPilot Nov 15 2010 in Trip Reports)
A Bee-Line To Madrid: SN’s A319 & B733 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 13 2010 in Trip Reports)
YVR-PDX-BFI: Horizon + SeaPort's PC-12 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 6 2010 in Trip Reports)
Day Tripping: DCA-DTW-MKE-DCA On NW/YX (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 25 2009 in Trip Reports)
BZN-IAD On Skywest/Delta (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2009 in Trip Reports)
DCA-SEA + Boeing Field + Holiday Travel Odyssey (by BZNPilot Jan 3 2009 in Trip Reports)
CDG-FRA-IAD On AF/UA (Part 2, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
DCA-ORD-FRA-CDG On UA/LH/AF (Part 1, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 9 2008 in Trip Reports)
Planes & Trains To Montreal (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
IAD-DEN-BZN-ORD-DCA On UA Biz/Y (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 12 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC-9+A320+738s On NW/DL To MT (pics) (by BZNPilot Aug 3 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC To Montana On NW (many Pics)