Hey there. I haven’t written a trip report in a long time (2005?) so I figured it was time to write about some of my recent travels, especially since I love reading other people's reports.
My girlfriend got a temporary position in Madrid and decided to help her settle in as well as have a bit of a holiday. For logistics reasons she was traveling PHX
, but I needed to leave from SFO
, so I had the “dangerous” task of selecting my own route to MAD
. As many aviation nuts can sympathize with, I wanted to make it as interesting of a trip as possible and I finally settled on the routing SFO
on SkyWest (United Express), United, and Aer Lingus respectively (all booked through Continental's website oddly enough). I’m a bit partial to Star Alliance, and I was also very interested in trying out the controversial EI
/UA partnership on the IAD
leg. Unfortunately, I wasn’t originally planning to do a trip report so I don’t have as many photos as I would have liked.
Ready to fly at 3am
Date: Sunday 20 Nov 2011
Flight number: OO
6:00am - PHX
Aircraft type: CRJ-200
It is a two hour bus ride to SFO
from my house, so catching a 6am flight is was not ideal, but there is something fun about taking an early morning flight. It was a typically wet morning in SFO
and I arrived at the airport around 4:30am. I am Star Silver on US Airways, so UA
let me check-in at their elite counter and use their elite security lines. Last time I was at SFO
for an early morning flight it was on a Monday and the airport was very busy. This Sunday morning, however, was quite the contrast with the airport being nearly empty. Total time from the curb to through security was 10 minutes.
To kill some time I headed to the United Club where they reciprocate my US Airways Club membership. SFO
’s United Club is not very good to be perfectly honest. It is clean, but the staff are rarely smile or are welcoming. Food offerings this morning were some pastries and terrible quality juices. After checking some emails and catching up on the morning’s headlines, I headed to the gate.
The gate agents were friendly enough, as was the lone flight attendant. The aircraft was in the new paint scheme, although the interior was a bit worn. Even though the terminal was empty, the plane was completely full. Almost all over the passengers on the flight were 60 years or older, and many of them were quite surprised with the size of the aircraft. In fact I heard a husband tell his wife he would never fly United again, which seemed a bit dramatic to me personally.
Slick ramp to the aircraft
Sorry for the blur
Freshly painted CRJ
Typical CRJ interior...
We left the gate right on time and headed to runway 10R (a first for me) for a stunning departure south across the bay. The plane seemed to climb slowly and we flew low and fast across the water down toward San Jose. Before I knew it, I was asleep only to wake up over the Arizona desert. The pilot brought us in for a smooth landing on runway 7R. CRJ-200 landings are always fun for me because the proximity to the ground makes it feel very fast.
Sunny morning at PHX
The same passengers that were upset about the size of the aircraft earlier in the flight proceeded to literally drop their trash on the ground when leaving. If I wasn’t still a bit tired from sleeping I would have said something - it was disgusting. Before disembarking, I saw a ground handler grab my bag from the hold and carry it to the A320 next to us. It was nice to know it made the connection to IAD
What the pigs left behind
There goes my bag!
Date: Sunday 20 Nov 2011
Flight number: UA
9:47am - IAD
Aircraft type: A320-200
Even though I only had a 45 minute connection, I decided to grab some water in the United Club before boarding. It actually reminds me on a smaller version of the SFO
club, bland in style with minimal amenities, but at least they have a club.
After spending 10 minutes in the club, my flight to IAD
started to boarding. Terminal 2 at PHX
can get a bit crowded, especially in this case since the flight was full, but it’s neat to see from a historical perspective. This was my first A320 in the new paint scheme. On the aircraft, it was the first flight of the day for both the plane and crew. The plane was very clean and the seatbelts were folded - a very nice touch! Like the flight before, many of the passengers were older, but the crew did a great job keeping everyone moving. We pushed back for an on time departure.
A little tight
I was still exhausted from my lack of sleep, so once in the air I almost immediately fell asleep. When I woke up a couple of hours later, it was hazy and not worth taking pictures. The crew were nice and came around often with trash bags. A nice couple next to me were part of a tour group continuing on to Frankfurt under the same flight number.
I didn’t realize how much variety I would see at Dulles. Air France, South African Airways, KLM and of course the EI
A332 that would be my ride to MAD
. One curiosity was the DL
738 that had obviously been in an accident. Somehow I missed hearing about that incident. Overall you can tell that UA
is boss at IAD
Delta 737 covered by a tarp
I had decided to use my 1.5 hour connection to explore IAD
instead of visiting the UA
Club. Concourse C and D (where both my UA
flight arrived and my EI
flight would depart) were a dump. I also hated getting around by the mobile lounges, it just wasted so much time. Honestly, the train between the terminals is a much needed improvement in my opinion. Concourse B is much nicer with lots of spotting opportunities. I wished I could have spent more time looking around, but the mobile lounges wasted so much time that I had to cut my spotting short.
Concourse C was very crowded (sorry for the blur, I was trying to be quick)
First time I've seen an AF A380
Wasteful mobile lounges
AF A380 about to push back
Date: Sunday 20 Nov 2011 - Monday 21 Nov 2011
Flight number: EI
5:40pm - MAD
Aircraft type: A330-200
Notes: Sold as UA
I arrived at the gate to find UA
gate agents working the flight, of course not a surprise. What was surprising was the agents never checked my passport before boarding. Other times I have flown UA
, they always check my passport before boarding an international flight. Lucky for them, I was perfectly legal to travel on the flight.
Nice looking A330
Upon boarding a friendly, young flight attendant greeted me and directed me to my seat. There was literally no one around and the load factor ended up being somewhere around 30%. The cabin had pleasant colors, surprisingly comfortable seats, and was very clean. The Panasonic IFE system was modern, but I have a pet peeve about PTV systems that stretch 4:3 content to fit the 16:9 screen. Since the flight was empty I had plenty of room to stretch out.
Nice cabin to walk into
I like the green seats
Coat hooks are a nice feature
Right on time we took a bit of time taxing to the runway. After a brief queue the GE
engines spooled up, and we started our gradual climb into the dark sky. Shortly after takeoff the flight attendants started drink service. It was then I noticed how young the entire crew were, and also that except for the Irish pilots, they were all American. While it was nice to see a young crew, their service was a bit sloppy. They don’t necessarily understand service etiquette like many European carriers, or even some more senior UA
crews. Having said that they would generally pleasant. EI
charge for all alcohol and the options were lacking. I hesitantly opted for a Heineken. This made the service feel a bit tacky. Along with the drink they passed out little packets of trail mix.
Expensive can of Heineken
Dinner was served immediately after drink service. Chicken or pasta were my options and I opted for chicken. Although a bit bland, it was as satisfying as you would expect. I noticed the tray tables were a little on the small side making eating a little awkward.
A bit cramped while eating
After dinner was my biggest complaint for the entire flight. For some reason the lights were never turned off. It drove me crazy. In retrospect, I should have said something to the crew. It was very difficult for me to sleep so I just played with the PTV most of the way across the Atlantic and snacked on some chips I bought at IAD
. The breakfast snack was served just before we hit the coast. The nonfat yogurt tasted overly processed, and the egg sandwich was very bland as well. When offered, I decided to take some tea, which was decent.
Small breakfast snack
Before I knew it we circled around the south side of a still dark Madrid and came in for a smooth landing at Barajas. The winds favored us as we were close to 45 minutes early.
Madrid’s Terminal 1 is really old feeling and terribly designed. There are times you have to carry your bag down stairs and the walk seems to take forever. I’m not sure what they were thinking we building it. I passed immigration quickly and proceeded to wait an additional 45 minutes for my checked luggage. Ahh Spain!
Overall I think I would take EI
again. The hard product was really great, and the soft product was adequate. Perhaps with free beer/wine, and a little more service training for the young FAs, it would be a much better experience. Also turning the lights off between meal service should be standard. However, I arrived on time and had generally positive feelings about the experience. It was also nice to get US miles on an EI
DL delivered her in one piece, although a couple of hours late
Parque de Atracciones in Madrid, one of the few tourist things we did before heading home
I hope you enjoyed my report. I will have a few more to post in the near future.