After a great several days in training at the State Department, followed by some great sightseeing in and around DC, it was time to head to China for my six-week stay with a host family in Zhengzhou. First on the agenda, however, is our three-day stay in Beijing. I was excited, not exactly for seeing the same landmarks all over again, but for how we were travelling there.
This report covers my trip from Washington DC to Beijing via ORD
on American Airlines. I haven’t flown American international longhaul since 2002 with a trip to London. Furthermore not only was it the first time flying an American carrier to China but also flying with such “unusual” departure and arrival times.
Curbside at DCA
's memorial-esque interior
We arrived at Washington’s Reagan/National Airport at around 14:30 to provide ample time for group check-in. The American ticketing area was jammed with passengers already making the process somewhat of a headache. DCA
’s “new” terminal is very well designed. Although compact it lets in a great amount of natural light and the openness of the interior gives a feeling of more space then there actually is. If they ever renovate New York’s La Guardia I hope they look to DCA
After a quick pick-me-up at Starbucks we made our way to Security. I braced myself for the zoo that usually is American airport security but, to my surprise, the process went rather smoothly. My one bone to pick with TSA
is that they are not consistent between airports on how passengers should arrange/organize their carry-ons, shoes, etc. for the conveyer belt screening process. It has been different for me almost every time and it can be quite a headache in the already schizophrenic albeit precautionary environment that is TSA
security. Either way security moved relatively fast.
Starbucks very convenient to AA
Views from AA
We proceeded into the terminal to gate 32 where our flight, AA1521, would be departing. I had an hour to kill so I wandered around and snapped some photos of the endlessly busy Reagan Airport. Watching the traffic one really appreciates just how many flights a day there are out of DCA
in comparison with the limited number of gates.
gate area at DCA
United seems out of place at DCA
with such a huge hub at DC's other airport
A look over to the US Airways Concourse
ready to depart. You can see a forest of widgets behind it.
New United colors......not quite used to them yet.
also ready to depart
All the way from SEA
Our plane to ORD
waiting for a gate to open up.
16:55 we boarded our MD
-80 for ORD
. It was of course a full flight. Furthermore the back of economy was nuts. It magically transformed into a kennel/daycare center. Crying babies, screaming toddlers, restless Chihuahuas, etc. After an extended period of boarding and adjusting the FAs ran through the safety demonstration. There was a good period of waiting for traffic on the tarmac to clear up. Once all was clear we began push-back out of the gate.
We were among the first to board into the dark, cool (for now) MD
As we waited on the ground I took advantage of the photo op.
FINALLY we began our taxi
Frontier Animals please don't ever change
Making our turn onto the runway
We had a quick, bumpy taxi to the end of the runway where we turned and rolled down. We took off to the southeast followed by a steep turn to get in line with our route to ORD
. It was a steep take off followed by a large amount of turbulence as we crossed over Virginia.
rolling down the runway
steep rotation off of the runway as we crossed the Patomac River.
Some farewell views of the American capital.
Climbed above the clouds to a bright afternoon sun
The flight for the most part was very turbulent. The woman in the seat next to me was becoming very anxious which had me worried. Fortunately she relaxed a little as the flight progressed. Drinks were served as usual by the FAs. It wasn’t long before we were passing over Indianapolis and beginning our descent into the Chicago area.
Virginia is somewhere down there....
Had to use Facebook one last time before my month in China
just before our descent into Chicago
We began our approach from over Indiana and descended as we crossed over Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago. It was a usual overcast day in Chicago.
Chicago's iconic downtown
Just before our turn to line up with the runway
Our arrival was uninhibited by holding patterns or any other events. We had a steady landing on the runway at ORD
and began taxiing to the gate. United’s Terminal 1 was extremely busy and the International terminal was fully stacked with International carriers including Royal Jordanian, Etihad, and Pakistan International. Very exotic. We were forced to wait for our gate to free up after landing early. Finally we taxied to our gate and deplaned into the busy Terminal 3.
The "livery time-capsule" that is any given United hub
Concourse M packed with evening departures from Chicago to the world
Concourse L on our way to our gate in the adjacent Concourse
My plane to Beijing
Etihad being readied for its flight back to AUH
We had a 1.5 hr layover in ORD
before boarding our flight to PEK
. Perfect time to explore and take a few pictures.
Checking out my plane before it got dark.
PIA pushing back for its ORD
Just seems sooo out of place.
The famous hall
777 to LHR
777 to LHR
-bound 777 ready to be boarded.
Our 777 was parked at gate L8
at O’hare. I had occasionally seen the 777 parked there before but was still surprised such a large plane was utilizing the L Concourse. When I arrived at the gate however it made more sense due to the fact that, in comparison with much of the K concourse, L seems to have much more passenger space at each gate. Although I wish someday that AA
can have a better terminal set-up at ORD
I am impressed with how well they seem to be utilizing their gate space.
Our gate L8
Boarding began in a very timely manner with announcements to the noisy crowd of passengers in both English and Chinese. Once the gate agent had swiped my boarding pass I was on my way down the jet way. I remember my first international flight to London on the 777 and being in awe as I boarded the seemingly massive fuselage. The 777 still today is impressive to me and has to be one of my favorite aircraft. The AA
cabin was well equipped with new seating in First and Business, as well as a relatively comfortable economy cabin. I was able to snap a couple photos as I walked to my seat in the back of the plane without looking too creepy :p.
In line to board the flight
The economy cabin
Standard IFE in a 777.
View out the window just before it go dark. ORD
beginning to light up.
One of the big differences that came to my attention which helped set this flight apart from my last two flights to China flying CA
(apart from the red, white, and blue, and eagle logos) was the flight crew. Flying CA
the flight crew was entirely female and all quite young. Flying AA
however I noticed all of these FAs seemed to be high in seniority after years of service and was a mixed gender crew. I am ashamed to admit I was a bit surprised that the FAs on board seemed just as hospitable and friendly as their Chinese flag carrier counterparts.
After about 40 minutes of boarding the safety video rang through the cabin on the PTVs and our massive plane pushed back out of the relatively small gate area.
We taxied to the runway with no traffic in front of us and sped off into the night.
I had a wonderful conversation in Chinese with the passenger in the seat next to mine who worked for a Public Health agency in Beijing. He was very curious as to what the differences were between Chinese and American commercial aviation.
Before long the flight attendants served dinner to the economy cabin. The choice was between Beef or Chicken. I chose beef and received a beef/rice entrée with a side salad consisting of lettuce, tomato, and mozzarella……weird combo. Interesting to note that while AA
’s “Chinese meals” come with soy sauce CA
’s do not.
Dinner was quite delicious despite the odd pairing of foods and I spent the following couple hours watching movies on my laptop until the FAs turned off the cabin lights. I dozed off for about two hours and awoke to look out the window at the dimly lit wilderness below. As the flight progressed and as I woke intermittently I could see the landscape become brighter until we passed north of Alaska at around 1:50 am in broad daylight.
After Dinner the lights were dimmed
Simply gorgeous views over Northern Canada and Alaska.
Clear over the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.
Mid-flight snack: Croissant Ham/Cheese sandwich. eh...
The next sighting of land was the Siberian Tundra and the light began to fade away as we flew south across Russia. Sunlight finally disappeared as we flew over Khabarovsk and the FAs came about the dim cabin serving the second meal. The choice was between noodles (Chinese) or pizza. They were out of noodles by the time the FAs came around to my seat so I went with the pizza. The pizza was very good and conveniently came with another soy sauce packet.
Russian Siberia below
Gradually the sky grew darker as we flew south
Passing near Khabarovsk
Ginger ale after the second in-flight meal. Unfortunately I did not get a pic of the second meal.