Although prices during the break were too high, I found a package for just over $1,000, within the first two weeks of my Spring Term. It was spanning the April Bank Holiday weekend (arriving Friday morning, departing Wednesday afternoon), and included five nights in a hostel, and the following flights:
American Airlines MD-83, PDX-DFW - American Airlines 777-200, DFW-LHR
British Airways 747-400, LHR-SEA - Alaska/Horizon Q400, SEA-PDX
This trip would include my first-ever time on board a 747! Oh, so excited I was. I was looking forward to wandering around in all the places that I had frequented almost a decade ago. Also, I may have mentioned how I am a real transport nerd – so I was also excited see all of the cool new vehicles and updated train stations that had appeared since since I’d been gone.
It was tough getting through that month, but I finally made it! It was two days from departure. And then, came a surprise.
On April 3rd, 2012, a huge storm cell moved through the Dallas/Fort Worth region. 22 tornadoes were confirmed to have touched down in the area, and DFW airport was pounded with golfball-sized hail. I watched with a sinking heart as the news came in that a good-sized portion of American’s fleet was now out of service until the aircraft could be inspected for hail damage. The airport was closed, passengers were stranded, and it was a bad-luck event all around.
I didn’t have any news about my flight until I arrived at school the next evening (the day before departing). I attempted to check in for my flight from a school computer, only to be told that my noon flight from Portland to Dallas Fort-Worth had been cancelled. No other information was given. So I got on the phone to see what could be done, hoping to be finished in time for the first night of my accounting class.
It took only about eight minutes on hold to reach someone (not bad, especially considering they must have been getting a lot of calls). I explained the problem and the pleasant rep on the end brought up my flight, and began looking for an alternative.
She found it pretty quickly; I was switched to travel out on AA’s 8am departure to DFW. Excellent! I had to leave pretty early in the morning, but at least I was on a plane now! I even got a window seat. She then started to look for earlier flights on to London, but I said that she didn’t need to – I had the perfect window seat picked already, and I didn’t mind extra time in Dallas…I thought I might head downtown and have a wander if I had a six-hour layover. However, just the act of starting to look for alternative flights somehow disconnected the veg meal request I had made on my already-booked flight. She said that she would put the request back in, but since it was a little less than 24 hours until the flight, it might not go through. I said that I would check at the airport and eat in advance if I needed to. I told her thank you, hung up, and ran off to my class much relieved.
Admittedly, I got barely any sleep that night, two and a half hours at best. I had to be at the airport earlier than the buses ran, so I took a cab up to the Lloyd Center MAX station, and caught the red line train all the way to the airport.
I chose to check my rolling suitcase so I didn’t have to lug it around Dallas. Security was crowded, as is usual in the mornings, but I was through fairly quick. I didn’t wander too much as I was still tired, but I found my gate and listened to music while waiting for boarding.
Flight 1 of 4
- Thursday, April 5th, 2012
- Portland International Airport (KPDX) – Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport (KDFW)
- American Airlines, McDonnell Douglas MD-83
Photo © Manas Barooah
The flight boarded on time. I took a seat, and was happy to find that an empty middle seat separated me from my neighbor. Shortly before departure though, a woman arrived and took the window seat directly in front of me. She was one of those people who just makes you roll your eyes – she talked with an annoying nasally accent, and spoke waaaay too loud, in a tone that's impossible to ignore. And she immediately started yapping to her neighbors. “Aah, I didn’t think I’d make it on this flight! My cab was 10 minutes late and I thought I was a goner!” Oh lord help me, a 10-minute cab delay meant that you made it to your flight with a scant two minutes to spare??? Please, let her neighbors not encourage her by talking much.
We pushed back, and the engines roared to life. By the time we reached the runway, the woman had pretty much given up talking and it looked like she was now trying for some sleep. We launched into the air, and turned towards the southeast towards Texas.
She ended up not sleeping. She started talking to her neighbors again, but they weren’t that talkative. Awesome! But then the guy in front of them turned around and got in on the conversation. He seemed the ‘beefcake’ type. And the conversation they had reminded me of the moronic interviews they do on those horrific reality shows - where they talk about only themselves, but try to work it up to sound all meaningful, as if they can link any possible life lesson to themselves in some way. And just as on reality shows, they sounded pretty much like jackasses no matter what they say.
I might as well tell you what I heard, since the volume of her voice wouldn't let me ignore her. Apparently she was on her way to New York to have an interview for a writing position at some big news outlet, and the person who was interviewing her may or may not have wanted to have a relationship with her. She’s not married but has a kid, and she also talked endlessly about her trip to Thailand. Oh, and she purchased alcohol twice – on this 8am flight.
You may have noticed I’ve talked more about her than the flight. But I just couldn't ignore the volume of her voice (the guy wasn't so bad). The conversation was annoying the crap out of me…and it lasted THE WHOLE FLIGHT. No breaks. So I put on music, as loud as I could and delved into my book.
And so we made our way across the mountains and deserts towards Dallas. We landed on time, and had a lengthy taxi to the gate.
We pulled up next to a gleaming 777 and I got to listen to the heartfelt goodbyes from the people in front of me. “If I get this job, the first thing I’ll be writing about is this flight!!!” And if you write that article, the first thing I’ll be doing is trolling in the comments section.
Ugh. Just...ugh. But ah! I was here. Dallas was cloudless and warm that day (in marked contrast to the stormy images I had been seeing from two days ago), and I proceeded out to the roadway to find a bus that would take me to CenterPort, where I could catch a TRE commuter train into Dallas. I found it pretty quick, and got on the air-conditioned shuttle. I had to change buses halfway there due to their routings, but I finally made it, and waited just ten minutes for the next eastbound train.
It was a pretty dull side trip overall, the weather turned hotter than I’m comfortable with, so my walk was pretty short. I did get to take some shots of a few nice-looking buildings, and some trains.
The 3:50pm train back to CenterPort was much busier than coming into the city, since we were starting to catch the evening exodus from downtown. But I still had a nice seat, and I enjoyed the ride. There was a shuttle waiting for me at the station, and within 20 minutes I was back at the airport.
I went to the closest security check I could find at Terminal D, and was surprised to find it was extremely crowded, and extremely slow. I thought that since DFW was less into the O&D market, it wouldn't be so bad...but wow. After fifteen minutes of not getting very far in that line, a TSA agent called from the line entrance that there was another checkpoint a two minute walk from there, where there was barely a line at all. I hesitated, since I knew many people behind me would get there first, but decided to head there. Sure enough, by the time I got there the line was almost as long as the one I left. I sighed, and just waited it out. The entire process (both lines) took about 50 minutes.
The first place I went was to find AA customer service to ask if my vegetarian meal would be aboard the aircraft. I needed to know if I should be eating first. I asked an agent at a service desk, she looked up my ticket, and smiled – “yes, I do see it here on your ticket!” Excellent! I thanked her with a big smile. Now I could just go explore with my last hour before boarding.
I did the ‘grand tour’ of DFW, as I’ve always thought the SkyTrain is. If you ride the train around counter-clockwise, you get to look out over the airfield as the train makes its way through all five terminals. It’s quite the exciting experience for the av buff!
All over the airport, I could see aircraft sitting idle on the ramp, no doubt waiting for their damage inspections. I seem to recall that there were about 60 mainline aircraft taken out of service after the storm, and it seemed to the untrained eye that more than half of them were still sitting out waiting for inspections. One good thing that I knew was that only a single 777 was out of service, so I had known ahead of time that my flight to London (on a 777) would not be delayed because of it.
I had noticed that there were no photo opportunities of my aircraft from the gate, so I tried my best to get a photo of it from the SkyTrain.
After doing the full circuit, I headed back to the gate. Boarding began fifteen minutes later, and I waited until most everyone else had boarded before boarding myself.
Flight 2 of 4
- Thursday, April 5th, 2012
- Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport (KDFW) – London Heathrow International Airport (EGLL)
- American Airlines, Boeing 777-200
Photo © James Mellon
I had a window seat close to the back of the aircraft. It looked like all of the window and aisle seats in the rear economy section were occupied, but a good number of the center seats remained free. My seatmate was an older woman traveling to England to visit her son and his family. She was very friendly but a bit on the large side, so I felt a bit squished for the bulk of the flight. We talked for a bit, and as we taxied out, she showed me photo albums of all of her kids and grandkids (she travels prepared!). The sun was setting at the time, but we were talking away so I missed any photos of departure. The taxi was fairly quick, and we took off to the north. We both watched out the window as we climbed out over Texas while dusk fell over (I think) Lewisville Lake. It was quite a beautiful sight!
After we reached cruise, the crew did their drink run. AA had just recently begun serving free beer and wine in trans-Atlantic economy, so myself and my seatmate each were given two bottles of red wine (one for now, one for the meal) and we toasted the start of a great trip for both of us. I noticed that the regular meal service had begun, and I thought I would have received my special meal already. I asked the flight attendant when she got to our row, and she said that if I hadn’t received it yet, then it wasn’t on board. Oh brother, really? I had that meal reserved for a month, and because of a moment’s checking by a reservations agent it was gone. I guess the agent who checked had seen the request, not the actual meal being on the plane. However, the day was saved – one of the meal options was vegetarian! It was a cheese-filled tortellini with tomato sauce, served with salad, bread, and a brownie for dessert. And I have to say, it was pretty darned good! It was actually the first time I had been served a meal on an aircraft in almost a decade (haven’t done any travel outside of North America in that time, and it’s been all buy-on-board). They did a second drink run, and we got some more wine and enjoyed our meals.
After a third drink run and a clearing away of the cutlery, the whole cabin sunk into a nice calm. The lights were dimmed, some people lay down in the center section to sleep, and I decided to watch some of the PTV programming…I think I watched an episode of Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons. I then got a bit of a kick when I went exploring in the entertainment system and found that I could play Tetris. My seatmate watched and asked “what’s that game?” WHAT! You’ve never seen Tetris??? However, it was nearly impossible to play because of the laggy and unresponsive hand controller, so it didn’t last too long. Oh well.
After that, I felt pretty tired so I tried to get some sleep. It didn’t work too well though. So I watched an episode of BBC’s Sherlock (it was a second-season episode that I hadn’t seen yet), and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Again I tried to sleep. Still nothing. I watched a movie but spaced through half of it, I don’t even remember what it was.
Out over the Atlantic, we went through a period of rough turbulence. I won’t lie – I got pretty freaked out – images of AF447 kept popping into my head. Luckily, it didn’t last too long. Finally, I managed to fall asleep.
I woke up only about two hours later, when we were approaching the British Isles. The sun started to rise, and we got a breakfast consisting of a warm croissant, yogurt, and I don’t remember what else.
I was starting to feel a bit stir crazy and overly excited to get on the ground, but when we arrived into London airspace, we were directed to hold south of the airport for about half an hour.
Finally, we were directed into the approach. I was on the perfect side of the aircraft, on the perfect approach, with the perfect weather, and was able to get those awesome photos of central London that we all love to see.
Isle of Dogs
We touched down on the south runway, and I excitedly snapped photos of all the cool aircraft out the window. We taxied around to Terminal three.
When we docked, an arrivals rep came on board and gave all passengers a warning that due to labor issues, there was a longer-than-usual wait at customs and immigration. I left the aircraft, and as with everyone else, started really hustling to customs, expecting pandemonium. I figure that all arriving passengers had received the same warning, because there was an Air Canada 773 and a Thai 747 which arrived at the same time as we did - and all passengers coming off of those flights seemed to be rushing as well. I arrived in the customs hall, and lined up at international arrivals. The line wasn’t *too* bad, I think it took about 45 minutes to get through – but the line had easily doubled in size when I reached the front as when I joined. But, my passport was stamped, and here I was! I had a Zones 1-4 Travelcard for the week, and I opted to take the bus to a rail station in Zone 4 to save the extension fare. So I bused it to Southall Station and caught a Heathrow Connect train into Paddington.