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lugie
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Study Abroad Trip pt.4 - RDU-ORD-SFO-RDU on AA/AS for Spring Break

Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:29 pm

Hey everyone and welcome back

to the fourth part of my reports covering my adventure studying abroad in the US for the 2018-19 academic year.
After
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
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Walking across a deserted campus before 4am
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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
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Finally at the boarding gate
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10/03/2019 – American Airlines flight AA140
RDU – ORD
Scheduled flight time
    06:03 – 07:34 (2hr 31mins)
Actual flight time
    06:19 – 07:08 (1hr 49mins)
Aircraft and age
    Boeing 737-823 (N951NN), 4.8 years at time of flight
Seat
    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
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Cabin view upon boarding and from my seat, including the nice seatback TVs
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View from seat 26A and the decent legroom
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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.

Cabin service
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Somewhere over Kentucky
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A little later it started getting light on the right-hand (east) side of the aircraft
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Those lights shining through the clouds belong to Indianapolis
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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
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Magical colors outside as the sun rises further
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Final approach into Chicago
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Good morning O'Hare!
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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
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The famous flag alley at ORD
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A busy apron - I'm a fan of the new AA livery
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10/03/2019 – American Airlines flight AA2634
ORD – SFO
Scheduled flight time
    10:23 – 13:16 (4hr 53mins)
Actual flight time
    11:26 – 13:57 (4hr 31mins)
Aircraft and age
    Airbus A321-231(SL) (N931AM), 2.1 years at time of flight
Seat
    32F, Window, Economy

Boarding N931AM for the flight to SFO
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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
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Finally our turn to take off
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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
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The snow-covered plains of the upper Midwest
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Overflying Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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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
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From here onward, snow was mainly visible on higher elevations
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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
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Shortly before leaving the cruise altitude these valleys came into sight, according to the inflight map part of Yosemite NP
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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
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Descending further into the clouds south of Modesto, CA
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Emerging toward the Bay without any serious turbulence
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Touchdown at SFO
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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
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A few planes as seen from the AirTrain featuring some heavies at the International Terminal
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This concludes the outbound, I'll post the return trip as a response to this thread right below here.
DH4 E75 E90 CR9 CRK M88 319 320 321 332 333 359 733 73G 738 739 748 764 772 788
X3 LH 4U TP US SN EI FR IB LX LA CM UA DL AA AS WN
FRA STR HAM TXL MUC ZRH ACE BRU BLL DUB MAN ARN MAD OPO LIS FNC AMS PHL RDU LGA CLT EWR ORD ATL SFO MDW SJO PTY
 
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lugie
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Joined: Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:11 pm

Re: Study Abroad Trip pt.4 - RDU-ORD-SFO-RDU on AA/AS for Spring Break

Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:41 pm

Continued from above:

I spent some great days in San Francisco and even though the city’s social inequality problems were quite visible sometimes I understood the hype around it and why to so many people it’s this dream destination. I’ll let some pictures speak below.

Twin Peaks
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The Golden Gate Bridge from two angles - I was told I got incredibly lucky to see it on two separate days without any fog.
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San Francisco as seen from the Marin Headlands
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The Alamo Square "Painted Ladies" and downtown SF
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Nonetheless, on March 13th, it was time for me to head back. Being booked on a redeye for the flight home I had gotten to spend a solid 3 and a half days there. Therefore, after having explored the Sunset District in the afternoon, I headed back to my hostel, picked up my backpack and took the BART from Civic Center station (just two blocks away) back to SFO airport at around 6:30pm. I got to the airport station 45 minutes later and, after boarding the airtrain into the wrong direction and backtracking from the parking lot, arrived at Terminal 2 around 7:35.

Changing trains at Daly City allowed me to capture this stunning sunset featuring a heavy climbing out on the long way back to Europe
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And even the small lapse with boarding the wrong AirTrain turned out to be a scenic tour:
A lot of international heavies...
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...the imposing front of the International Terminal...
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...and the control tower
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Finally inside Terminal 2 - a view of AS' check-in counters
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I asked the super friendly lady at the check-in counter, where there was no line, if she could reprint my boarding pass because my phone was running very low, which she did with a smile.
The staff at SFO generally seemed exceptionally friendly: After waiting about 15 minutes in the TSA line, the cheerful agent at the body scanner told me that I had a “beautiful smile” – my response that it was me smiling through the pain because I really, really had to use a bathroom asap elicited loud laughter with him and his colleague.

Another perk of this airport: Its beautiful architecture and artworks like this one after the T2 security check
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Tonight's departure board - a lot of redeyes
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After taking care of that business I grabbed some dinner before brushing my teeth and settling down in the boarding gate area. Boarding was called a bit behind schedule at 9:10pm and after groups “A for amazing” and “B for beautiful” it was time for me in group “C for charming” (all direct quotes by the gate agent).

Giving my phone a much needed charge before boarding flight 1106 back home
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13/03/2019 – Alaska Airlines flight AS1106
SFO – RDU
Scheduled flight time
    21:35 – 05:45+1 (5hr 10mins)
Actual flight time
    22:06 – 05:41+1 (4hr 35mins)
Aircraft and age
    Airbus A320-214 (N641VA), 10.4 years at time of flight
Seat
    25A, Window, Economy


Upon boarding, the Virgin America past of this plane was still very apparent, with the intense mood lighting and the comfortable seats with seatback entertainment screens. Knowing that these were on the way out and legacy-AS planes don’t feature them, I was quite happy to have scored that configuration on a flight of this length.

The disco-style moodlighting and the IFE screen
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Boarding was completed 5 minutes after the scheduled departure time and we pushed back another 10 minutes later. However, the flight deck crew already announced that winds would be in our favor so we should make it to RDU by the scheduled arrival time anyway. Indeed, after a brief taxi time of 10 minutes, we lifted off from SFO’s runway 1R into the dark skies over the Bay at 10:06pm PDT.

View from 25A
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Taxiing out
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Downtown SF shortly after takeoff
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The departure route was stunning as we circled by San Francisco’s downtown business district and then over the East Bay and further inland south past Sacramento and then across NV, UT, CO, KS, MO and KY into southwestern Virginia. The cruise altitude was initially 35000 feet but we descended to FL310 somewhere close to Saint Louis as it got rather bumpy higher up. Service consisted of the obligatory cookie and drinks, there was however just one drink run as opposed to several on the AA flight out west.

The cabin in the middle of the night - took me a while to realize that the mood lighting can't be "turned off" as the light fixtures are permanently tinted in blue/pink/purple
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A bit over 4 hours into the flight we began descending from the final cruise altitude of 31000, at that point already over Virginia, before crossing into NC, passing Durham and turning right for a 5:41am landing on runway 23R at RDU. We arrived at the gate at 5:45 sharp, the scheduled arrival time.

Back in North Carolina
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I decided to take my time getting off the flight, then bought a coffee inside the terminal and, having killed enough time that way, finally grabbed the goTriangle 100 bus to the Regional Transit Center, from where I connected onto the 805 to Chapel Hill. This took a bit over an hour to get back vs about 20-25 minutes by uber, however it also cost me $2.25 instead of $25+ - a good deal in my opinion. Granted, the buses only run every 30 minutes and this one, arriving at RDU 6:40am, is the first departure of the day from downtown Raleigh. Still, for flights at more sane times of the day, the bus is a good alternative.

Caught the bus with the special livery for the airport service
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Walking home from the bus stop, again across a deserted campus (before 8am on a Spring Break day)
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After getting breakfast on the walk home, I caught up on some sleep in the morning before spending the rest of the day – and the remaining days of spring break – with my amazing roommates.
DH4 E75 E90 CR9 CRK M88 319 320 321 332 333 359 733 73G 738 739 748 764 772 788
X3 LH 4U TP US SN EI FR IB LX LA CM UA DL AA AS WN
FRA STR HAM TXL MUC ZRH ACE BRU BLL DUB MAN ARN MAD OPO LIS FNC AMS PHL RDU LGA CLT EWR ORD ATL SFO MDW SJO PTY
 
767747
Posts: 2201
Joined: Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:08 am

Re: Study Abroad Trip pt.4 - RDU-ORD-SFO-RDU on AA/AS for Spring Break

Sun Jul 14, 2019 11:54 pm

Nice report. I used to fly out of RDU a lot when visiting my sister who lived in Durham. She lives now in Florida, so haven't flown through that airport in a few years, but I always enjoyed my travels there.

Thanks for sharing.
I love to fly!
 
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lugie
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Joined: Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:11 pm

Re: Study Abroad Trip pt.4 - RDU-ORD-SFO-RDU on AA/AS for Spring Break

Mon Jul 15, 2019 2:17 pm

767747 wrote:
Nice report. I used to fly out of RDU a lot when visiting my sister who lived in Durham. She lives now in Florida, so haven't flown through that airport in a few years, but I always enjoyed my travels there.

Thanks for sharing.


Thank you for the nice reply! RDU is indeed a very enjoyable little airport, now that they are done with the Terminal 1 renovations both terminals are pleasant areas.
Durham is a very underrated city in my opinion, it has a lot of interesting cultural offerings and - as I've been told by locals - has improved a lot in recent years
DH4 E75 E90 CR9 CRK M88 319 320 321 332 333 359 733 73G 738 739 748 764 772 788
X3 LH 4U TP US SN EI FR IB LX LA CM UA DL AA AS WN
FRA STR HAM TXL MUC ZRH ACE BRU BLL DUB MAN ARN MAD OPO LIS FNC AMS PHL RDU LGA CLT EWR ORD ATL SFO MDW SJO PTY
 
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electrichyena
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Joined: Sat Sep 10, 2016 10:33 pm

Re: Study Abroad Trip pt.4 - RDU-ORD-SFO-RDU on AA/AS for Spring Break

Sun Aug 11, 2019 1:11 am

This is very late, but I just wanted to say I loved your trip reports in this series. RDU is my home airport and I don't see many trip reports to/from there. Your posting style was great and informative and I loved all the pictures. I'm glad you enjoy North Carolina -- I actually work at UNC so it's cool to read about someone doing a study abroad year there.
 
VapourTrails
Posts: 3604
Joined: Fri Aug 17, 2001 9:30 pm

Re: Study Abroad Trip pt.4 - RDU-ORD-SFO-RDU on AA/AS for Spring Break

Sun Aug 11, 2019 6:47 am

electrichyena wrote:
This is very late, but I just wanted to say I loved your trip reports in this series. Your posting style was great and informative and I loved all the pictures.


Yes, I second that! I love the lighting and perspective you have used in your photography too, it is beautiful. :profile:
 
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lugie
Topic Author
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Joined: Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:11 pm

Re: Study Abroad Trip pt.4 - RDU-ORD-SFO-RDU on AA/AS for Spring Break

Sun Aug 11, 2019 6:55 pm

electrichyena wrote:
This is very late, but I just wanted to say I loved your trip reports in this series. RDU is my home airport and I don't see many trip reports to/from there. Your posting style was great and informative and I loved all the pictures. I'm glad you enjoy North Carolina -- I actually work at UNC so it's cool to read about someone doing a study abroad year there.


It's never too late, especially not for such a nice response! Thank you so much! :smile:
I loved every day at UNC, it was in so many ways different from what I'm used to at my university back home so even though I took classes and did graded work just like everyone else I never felt stressed or failed to acknowledge how exceptionally lucky I was to get the opportunity to experience all that. Just walking across campus made me happy - it's so much prettier than mine here which is also why I included the campus picture from my walk home after the flight from SFO.
And finally, I found the people there to be incredibly friendly and accommodating so despite only having been there for one academic year I definitely felt like I found a true home away from home. :goodvibes:


VapourTrails wrote:

Yes, I second that! I love the lighting and perspective you have used in your photography too, it is beautiful. :profile:


Same goes to you - a friendly reply can never come too late.
I might have to slightly disappoint you though: Pretty much all of the pictures were taken on a 2016 Samsung Galaxy :mrgreen: so no huge photographic genius hidden here - maybe I just got lucky with perspectives sometimes lol
DH4 E75 E90 CR9 CRK M88 319 320 321 332 333 359 733 73G 738 739 748 764 772 788
X3 LH 4U TP US SN EI FR IB LX LA CM UA DL AA AS WN
FRA STR HAM TXL MUC ZRH ACE BRU BLL DUB MAN ARN MAD OPO LIS FNC AMS PHL RDU LGA CLT EWR ORD ATL SFO MDW SJO PTY

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