to the fourth part of my reports covering my adventure studying abroad in the US for the 2018-19 academic year.
part 1 covering my trip there,
part 2 covering my return home over winter break and a few days in New York, and
part 3 about how I returned to class just in time after that break,
this part is going to be about my little spring break adventure.
For this one-week break I decided I wanted to venture out to the opposite coast of the United States, an area that I’d never been to before and probably wouldn’t get a chance like that in the near future again. I ended up making it a solo trip because my international friends all traveled to different places alone too, most of them met up with their families in Florida or New York and my American roommates both had to work. I don’t mind traveling alone for a few days and especially for a city trip like this one it would be ideal.
The only problem with that was that it took me forever to settle on dates and flights and so I ended up booking the trip only 2.5 weeks before departure. Still, I made a pretty sweet deal, paying just over $300 for the roundtrip in main cabin. I would be flying out on American Airlines via Chicago and returning nonstop on Alaska Airlines, both entirely new carriers for me.
The only drawback was that all flights were on planes I had already been on (738, 320, 321) and I didn’t get the chance to fly a 757 as I had hoped. OH, and another drawback was the departure time on the outbound – 6am out of RDU!!
I thought however I had found a pretty good solution as two of my friends who spent their break in Seattle and LA respectively also had 6/6:30am departures, so we figured we’d split an uber and at least get there cheaply.
There were just 2 problems with this plan:
#1 Basketball – the night before my departure, UNC played the second game of the season against all-time rivals Duke. At that point I had gotten infected with the fascination for college basketball and therefore spent the night watching the game and, after winning, rushing Franklin Street for a huge celebration. I got back way later than expected and tried, unsuccessfully, to find some rest.
Which was when problem #2 – Daylight Saving’s – kicked in: We had agreed to meet on campus at 4am to call our uber, so I wanted to get up around 3:30 to walk over (I lived off-campus). As I lay restlessly, the clock approached 2am and suddenly skipped ahead to 3am – by now I had 30 minutes left, so I just gave up on sleep, got dressed and walked over to our meeting point.
Celebrating the basketball victory
Walking across a deserted campus before 4am
Once there it took us some time to find a driver, but at 4:30 we eventually got successful and were dropped off curbside at RDU at around 4:50am.
I walked inside and printed a boarding pass – but the terminal was a madhouse, at these hours of the day! The beginning of spring break was clearly felt and I spent 25 minutes in a TSA line that wrapped around half the interior perimeter of Terminal 2. By the time I had cleared security, it was just 5 minutes before boarding so I headed straight over to my gate C25, where the process began bang on time.
An unexpectedly busy RDU Terminal 2
Finally at the boarding gate
10/03/2019 – American Airlines flight AA140
RDU – ORD
Scheduled flight time
- 06:03 – 07:34 (2hr 31mins)
- 06:19 – 07:08 (1hr 49mins)
- Boeing 737-823 (N951NN), 4.8 years at time of flight
- 26A, Window, Economy
I was delighted to find out the 737 had the sky interior which is, in my opinion, the best cabin on a narrow body and not only that, but also personal entertainment screens, a very good first impression during boarding. That process was completed just 20 minutes later and we pushed back slightly after scheduled departure at 6:07am, followed by a short taxi and finally taking off at 6:19am EDT from runway 23R.
Boarding this awfully early flight
Cabin view upon boarding and from my seat, including the nice seatback TVs
View from seat 26A and the decent legroom
Our route first took us on a straight westbound heading until we turned for a more northwestern course over the NC foothills, from where we continued straight on towards Chicago, crossing mainly over Kentucky and Indiana at a rather low cruise altitude of 28000 feet.
Still in total darkness the cabin crew performed their service which consisted of the usual Biscoff cookie and a much needed serving of coffee.
Somewhere over Kentucky
A little later it started getting light on the right-hand (east) side of the aircraft
Those lights shining through the clouds belong to Indianapolis
Slightly under 90 minutes into the flight, we already began to descend into Chicago again. During the approach we were greeted by some amazing pastel colored skies owing to the just rising sun, but the cloud ceiling was rather low so even though the approach happened over Lake Michigan again, unlike my flight from Frankfurt in January I couldn’t spot the skyline. Nonetheless, almost half an hour ahead of schedule, we touched down on runway 27L at 7:08am local time. What followed was an unnecessarily long taxi that had us pretty much loop around the entire ORD terminal complex once, so we only made it to the stand 20 minutes later.
An unusual perspective - I've never been able to capture the horizontal stabilizer from my seat
Magical colors outside as the sun rises further
Final approach into Chicago
Good morning O'Hare!
That wasn’t a problem though as I still had a bunch of time until my next flight which, after getting some breakfast, I found out was delayed anyway. In the gate area, H12, we were told that boarding was being delayed because of arrival flow control at SFO. We ended up boarding about 25 minutes past the scheduled boarding time.
A last view back to N951NN
The famous flag alley at ORD
A busy apron - I'm a fan of the new AA livery
10/03/2019 – American Airlines flight AA2634
ORD – SFO
Scheduled flight time
- 10:23 – 13:16 (4hr 53mins)
- 11:26 – 13:57 (4hr 31mins)
- Airbus A321-231(SL) (N931AM), 2.1 years at time of flight
- 32F, Window, Economy
Boarding N931AM for the flight to SFO
Once aboard this very new A321 I was delighted to find out it was still one of those delivered with PTV screens, which on this flight were even more welcomed than on the barely two hours up from RDU. After boarding concluded within 25 minutes, we pushed back at 10:42 and taxied out at 10:49am. However, after leaving the immediate apron we “pulled over” at a parallel-running taxiway section, because we were still not cleared to leave because of the arrival flows at SFO, therefore we waited another half hour before we were finally allowed to proceed to takeoff and departed ORD from 28R at 11:26am CDT.
Pulling over across from Terminal 1's midfield satellite
Finally our turn to take off
The course was a pretty straight shot, as we had taken off in westerly direction we only made a slight left correction and were pretty much on track for San Francisco, cruising at FL340. The weather along the route was largely very good and so I made a lot of use of my window seat. The cabin crew did one snack service, again providing biscoffs, but several drink runs during the flight.
Cabin view mid-flight. This A321 has a mid-cabin lav
The snow-covered plains of the upper Midwest
Overflying Cedar Rapids, Iowa
A bit later these very interesting looking crop fields (?) came into sight, marking the point at which the snow began to recede for a while as we passed into Colorado and Utah
From here onward, snow was mainly visible on higher elevations
A little later, the clouds cleared up entirely for a while revealing this beautiful scenery around the Nevada-California state line and by Lake Mono
Shortly before leaving the cruise altitude these valleys came into sight, according to the inflight map part of Yosemite NP
Even though the total airborne time was over 4.5 hours, the flight felt like it progressed fast and just over 4 hours after takeoff, we left our cruise altitude. Immediately after, still some 130 miles out from SFO the captain came on and urged the cabin crew to make the landing preparations now, as he was expecting some turbulence on the way down. Indeed, the clouds looked impressive, however there was no actual turbulence to be felt aside from a few bumps and half an hour later we came in across the Bay from the southeast, touching down on runway 28R at 1:57pm PDT, or about 40 minutes behind schedule.
The snow-covered mountains had now given way to the greenery of the Central Valley
Descending further into the clouds south of Modesto, CA
Emerging toward the Bay without any serious turbulence
Touchdown at SFO
I was off the plane rather quickly and, since I was only traveling with hand luggage, ready to take the AirTrain and BART into the city just about half an hour after landing.
The only cloudy day of my entire trip
A few planes as seen from the AirTrain featuring some heavies at the International Terminal
This concludes the outbound, I'll post the return trip as a response to this thread right below here.