I really wanted to fly BA or VS, but departing from BHM made that difficult or cost prohibitive. I finally found a reasonable fare on UA that was on a pre-merger CO 777 and I set my sights on that. I've flown with CO many times from PBI - PDX and the service was good, the planes are clean and modern, and I thought out of AA, US, and UA/CO it was my best option, so taking a big leap of confidence I booked the flight. I've always travelled with my parents or to visit family so it was exciting going on my first trip that I planned and paid for on my own.
I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I checked in just fine and when I went to drop off my bags the people at check in stopped me and said there might be a problem with my flight. She took my boarding passes and typed a few things into the computer and said that I should be fine since I was on the later flight to Houston and even with a delay I'd be able to make my connection to LHR.
Security was long because BHM is being renovated. The airport is really out of date despite being a small orderly place, so the renovation is much needed. You can read more about the BHM modernization project here if you are interested: http://www.flybirmingham.com/terminal-modernization-project/
I will probably not get to see it completed since I don't plan to be living in Alabama by the time it's fully complete.
I sat down at the gate and the plane wasn't there which didn't make me worry since they said it might be late. After 20 more minutes or so I decided to go to Starbucks to grab a tea and when I came back everyone who had been waiting was in line at the desk. When I asked what was wrong they said the flight was cancelled and were rebooking people onto other flights. They didn't have any sign or announcement to say so we all had to rely on word of mouth as to what was going on.
While I was in line I realized that it wasn't my flight that was cancelled but the one before it so I sat back down next to a woman who was on my flight whose husband works for CO and we began discussing the merger and how we both preferred CO over UA. We talked for about an hour and we worried that no one had said anything about our flight's status because United's website said it was on time yet there were no UA planes to be seen.
The people at the gate were chatting casually with lollipops in their mouths and seemed disinterested in keeping people informed. Another passenger on my flight asked what the status was and one of them nonchalantly said that it was cancelled too and then I got up and told them that they never announced it and they argued me that they did and a bunch of other people waiting for my flight said they didn't announce it so the man I spoke with said "Well I'm sorry if we forgot but I'm pretty sure we did." and made an announcement that our flight in addition to the one before it was cancelled.
There was no screen or sign at the gate that could be electronically updated so most people were left clueless. This isn't really UA's fault in my opinion the airport's facilities are inadequate in this case.
Someone finally came and slid the correct times into the slots so people could see when the flight was actually departing. As you can see from this picture BHM is not in very good shape and looks like something out of a developing country sort of like the rest of the state of Alabama.
There was another passenger on the flight going to LHR to inspect the Paralympic facilities to make sure they are all properly accessible and when she got to the front of the rebooking line I asked the gate agent and the woman if I could stand by her to see what my options were since we were going to the same place. This caused major drama among the people in line and a man started yelling and said I had to go to the back of the line to which I replied that I was just trying to get information because my flight is international and it's less likely that I'd be able to make a connection compared to wherever it is he was going. Apparently the best option was with US through PHL the same flight that I decided not to book because I didn't want to fly US. The woman was rebooked on that flight and after I took into consideration the departure time of the US flight and how slow the line was moving there was no way I could get rebooked in time to make it. I told the woman doing the rebooking that there's no way I could make it if I waited in line and I asked what happens if I miss that and she said "Sir I can't let you go ahead of all these people waiting in line if you don't make that US flight then you can't go to LHR." The whole reason I wasn't in line to begin with is because they never told us our flight was cancelled at the right time for me to have been in line. The whole situation was insane. Shouldn't international connections take priority? We paid more and we have less options. So I asked if I could leave the gate area and have US do the rebooking at the check in area and she said yes but I had a feeling she didn't even listen to my question and was trying to get me out of her hair. Sure enough when I went to US check in they said that UA had to do the rebooking which just made me lose it with how disinterested the gate people were with helping us and keeping us informed.
I went to the UA check in and thought of a round about way to get them to help me. I went to the business line to check in and found someone who wasn't doing anything and asked them how long I had to make the US flight. When he checked for me he said that he would do the rebooking right now since he had it up and then some other uptight passenger started yelling at me and the UA employee helping because I was able to go ahead in line without starting at the rear. The ignored her because she was trying to get to DFW and said that I needed to get rebooked first. The staff that helped me were really nice and asked me a bunch of questions about the trip. I asked them if they could put me on LH or LX instead but the US option was fastest and ironically I would get to London 5 minutes before the UA flight would have landed anyway so I took my chances with US's potentially bad service and got booked on those flights.
I usually don't write this much in my trip reports but this is the first time I've ever had such poor service from an airline and the first time I've ever had a flight get cancelled after flying PBI - JFK, MIA - FRA, JFK - IST, and PBI - PDX for almost my entire life. I guess that's what I get for booking a flight in the South during the Spring. Apparently the cancellations were all due to weather in Texas and Oklahoma which is why they couldn't get the planes to BHM.
March 12th, 2012
BHM - IAH
Flight: UA 4127
Aircraft: ERJ 145
March 12th, 2012
BHM - PHL
Flight: US 2330
Aircraft: CRJ 200
US plane at the gate.
Once we were in the air I finally relaxed because I felt like I was going to make it to London.
The service was OK. The flight attendant was a frumpy unfriendly woman and I think I went to sleep after taking this picture so I didn't have to deal with much of it.
PHL: I barely remember the terminal we landed in because I headed straight for the shuttle to the terminal where my flight to LHR was leaving from. The entire process with the busses and the people screaming and pointing which terminal they were going to was so awful. I felt bad for international passengers that have to deal with this when they land. It doesn't give a very good first impression of the United States...
Terminal A was actually nice and a calm place to wait for the flight to depart compared to the rest of the airport.
I made sure to get some food because I knew US's catering was not going to be on the same level as other Star Alliance members like TK LX or SQ.
BA 767 from LHR.
Photo © Mark Kwiatkowski
May 12th, 2012
PHL - LHR
Flight: US 728
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 24 A + B
The flight was absolutely empty! About 100 people on board total according to one of the flight attendants.
The A330 smelled brand new.
A man sitting across from me made a random joke to the flight attendant about the plane being too full and they should kick me off to make more room. I said "Please don't even joke about that after what I've been through today I am lucky to be on this flight after being rebooked after UA cancelled their flight". Then the flight attendant started talking to me about the A330 and how they enjoyed the new ones very much and asked me about my trip. I told her it was my first time to London and she said it was her favorite city to visit and said I'd love it too. She was very friendly and nice and went above and beyond what I was expecting US's service to be like on a long haul flight.
Now with the doors closed I could finally feel confident that I was going to make it to LHR.
The FA told everyone in the cabin to take a whole middle row to themselves if it's empty since the flight was not anywhere close to full. A few minutes later I hear yelling towards the back of the cabin and I decide to turn around and see what's the matter. Apparently, one woman who had a window decided to take an entire middle row of four and refused to give it up when another woman who was actually supposed to sit in the row came to take her seat. The woman kept yelling THIS IS MY ROW I CLAIMED THESE SEATS GO FIND YOUR OWN! Another flight attendant came over to see what the problem was and asked the woman for her boarding pass and said, "Ma'am you're ticketed for a window seat and this isn't your row, this woman has this seat reserved so really you're in her place. Would you rather have the flight be full so you can't sit anywhere? You can either go find your own seat or move to an empty seat or I can have you removed from the flight." - A good response if you ask me. Some people are just
US had a nice touch screen PTV, but it wasn't loaded with very good options in terms of movies. I stuck to watching Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm until trying to get some sleep after dinner.
Maybe I'm spoiled by flying TK and LH, but for a meal on a trans atlantic flight this offering is really pathetic. The excellent service can't really make up for a portion that small. If you look at the salad in the top left that's not an olive or anything that's the plastic container, to give you an idea of how small the portion was. The pasta tasted good until I realized my mouth was burning. I know we lose a lot of the function of our taste buds at high altitudes so in flight caterers try to up the flavor to compensate, but there are more humane ways to do so. Thank god there was a lot of ranch left over because of the tiny salad so I used it to cut the burn later.
I thought that pastry was going to be filled with something like cheese or apple cinnamon, but no it was just bread with powdered sugar on top that they called a Danish. That's probably the most pathetic breakfast I've ever seen on a long haul flight and trust me I read a lot of the trip reports on here. SQ offers way more even MAN - MUC.
I'm not asking US to serve scrambled eggs with toast, fresh fruit, bread, yogurt, cheese etc like TK or something, but if they're going to just serve a Danish on a napkin they might as well serve a good one.
Post landing @ LHR.
I must commend the pilots on the smoothest landing I have ever experienced. There was literally no noticeable difference between when we were in air and when we hit the runway. No shaking or shuddering in the cabin, no sound of reverse thrusters. It was the smoothest landing I was honestly in shock I had no idea it was possible to land a huge A330 so gracefully.
After landing I also got to watch my original UA flight land...
One of my favorite liveries.
First civilised airport in awhile.
London was absolutely fantastic and I will be forever thankful to my friend who showed me around and let me stay with him. This was one of my most memorable trips and will always hold a special place in my heart because it was so amazing.
Back to reality and my boring life in Alabama...
EK ad in the tube
Flight info at Paddington Station. Meanwhile in Alabama there are no busses, trains, etc I can take to and from the airport. My only option from where I live is to get a car service for $120 every time I need to fly.
Heathrow Express. I booked my ticket in advance while I was still in Alabama and they sent me a barcode via e-mail.
I have no pictures of the Heathrow Terminal since it wasn't particularly nice in the gate area and I didn't have much time was I was on a wild goose chase trying to get that global blue tax refund.
I would love to try MH.
My plane at the gate on time √
I'll miss the sandwiches they were good and cheap. Everyone said London was such an expensive city but I didn't find it to be that bad. I went and got a sandwich like this at Waitrose or Marks & Spencer for lunch and a bag of crisps / chips and a drink for 1£ and managed to save a lot of money. I went out to dinners which were expensive compared to food in an American city, but the quality and service was better.
WE'RE GOIN' 2 TEXA$ Y'ALL
Photo © GuoQi
Photo © Ismael Jorda
March 19th, 2012
LHR - IAH
Flight: UA 5
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Finally got seated on my first 777. Screens weren't updated to reflected the new United name so I guess they're not that United haha.
On our taxi we passed a KQ 777 and an SQ A380 among others. Those are just a few I remember because those aren't something that I'd ever see at BHM, PBI, or even MIA.
After a very powerful 777 take off we passed over Reading, UK and headed back towards the good ole U S of A.
Although I felt like I was going to NRT.
I really liked how spacious the 777 cabin felt. It was clean and well maintained and once we were in the air it wasn't nearly as loud as I expected it to be with those huge engines.
The flight was full and I had two people next to me, a student studying something to do with petroleum engineering and an older woman. I didn't talk to either of them but they were nice enough. I thought it was strange that the guy my age refused to drink anything for the entire flight not even water.
Lunch was served and consisted of grilled chicken with mushroom risotto and steamed carrots. The salad was was way bigger than on US and the food was tastier. The dessert was a brownie which I didn't eat because I don't like chocolate. I'd rather have something that isn't prepackaged like the desserts seen in my TK trip report I posted last week.
This crew was not nearly as friendly as the US crew, but they were professional and came around many times for drinks. I felt like they were an American version of an LH crew, not overly friendly but they got the job done well and worked efficiently.
UA's IFE was really great. I've now flown on VX, B6, TK, US, and UA in terms of airlines with PTVs and UA had the best IFE by a long shot. There was a huge selection of movies to choose from and there were many good options. I'm not one to go to the movie theater so I decided to catch up on some movies I've heard people talk about in order to stop being so clueless when it comes to pop culture. I watched The Help, Drive, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Inception. All films were very good and I'm glad I forced myself to watch them all back to back instead of sleeping.
Prior to landing we were served another snack with a really good spicy chicken panini and chips and a chocolate. I usually don't like the snack box type meals but everything in this one was really good quality and tasted good.
Descending into IAH
Immigration took an eternity. Everyone was complaining about how long the line took and they were justified. JFK T1 at rush hour wasn't even that bad. I didn't mind though because my connection was a long time from then so I didn't have to worry.
TAKE ME BACK TO LONDON!!!!
The strangest thing was that we had to take our bags out at IAH and then go through security again. I was so surprised that there was no secure transit process and I guess there isn't at any US airport to my knowledge, but it's really stupid. I wonder if the reason for this is security, but regardless it's a huge inconvenience to get off a long haul flight and then have to take your bags and go through security screening and check them back in. It stressed me out at a time when I was too tired to deal with the whole process.
I rode around on the train between terminals to pass the time. I saw a Qatar Airways 777 and I think an EK 777 but it was hard to see.
March 19th, 2012
IAH - BHM
Flight: UA 4131
Aircraft: Boeing ERJ145
I was so tired for the last leg of the trip I didn't take any pictures. It was too dark anyway. Once I got on board the ERJ to BHM I fell asleep and honestly have no memory of the flight at all nor do I remember arriving in BHM. All I know is driving back to Tuscaloosa from BHM after the flight was delayed two hours in IAH I was pretty much a zombie on the highway and shouldn't have been driving to begin with but I made it home safe and sound.
Conclusion US: US saved the day and were really surprisingly friendly and provided good service in the air. I am not sure that what I experienced was the norm on all PHL - Europe flights, but the flight attendants on that flight went above and beyond to make everyone happy. The hard product was also good, the seats were comfortable and the PTV was nice despite not having the best choices.
Conclusion UA: The 777 was amazing and the crew did a good job with the service. I wish I would have made my initial flight from IAH - LHR so I could have formed a better opinion on what UA / CO is like on a transatlantic flight, but I'll just have to go off this flight. The IFE was good and the food was much better than US's offering, but is still not nearly as good as the food I had on TK. I used to avoid taking American carriers to Europe, but after flying UA and seeing that their service is no different from LH I wouldn't hesitate to fly them again if the price is right.
The people at the gate at BHM I can't blame United for because I don't know if they are UA employees or airport employees but regardless they were for the most part awful and should all be fired. They simply did not care about any of the passengers and were unhelpful in keeping us informed and were a hinderance in getting us rebooked properly. I may have sounded whiney about the situation early, but it is very scary to have a short international trip on the line because of a few unhelpful employees who wouldn't give a straight answer. Hopefully when the new BHM opens there will be screens and proper speakers at every gate that will allow the airlines to inform passengers about delays. The staff however is out of their control. Since I've been living in Alabama most everyone has been rude, lazy, unhelpful and not representative of their reputation for Southern Hospitality. If they are going to get people with good customer service skills hired at that airport they're going to have to hire people from somewhere else because I don't really see the problem being fixed with a new group of people. Since the people at check in were super helpful both times, I'm sure our flight just happened to get three bad apples placed at the gate that day, but still they were pretty bad. I fly a lot for someone my age and I think this goes down as worst customer service experience ever.
Now that I'm done complaining, I hope you enjoyed this trip report. I originally wasn't going to post it but after writing the one for TK I didn't have anything else better to do so I decided the random flight cancellation and my first time on a US carrier for a transatlantic flight, and first time on a 777 would be worth posting about.