15,000 Mile - US Summer Break

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by LostEthics, Aug 19, 2011.

  1. Considering I’ve just hit my 6 month anniversary here I thought I should post something more substantive than a quick post in the count back from [X] thread…I apologise if it’s excessively wordy in parts, I tend to find it cathartic.

    I would like to make a small confession; it is actually only 14,888 flown miles to and around the US, but I did do around 600 miles by car and bus to and from Mexico, so that still counts, right..? Anyway, I digress, this is my second trip report, my last was, elsewhere, and lacking in photos so this time I tried to take some more that might (or might not) be of interest/relevance also this time around and will endeavour to upload them. There are a few more flights thrown into the mix this time around so I’m planning on splitting the report up and writing it up in parts instead of one large chunk (Fingers crossed). So here goes…

    EWR- IAH - TYR
    TYR-DFW and Dallas
    San Francisco
    SFO- TUS

    Planning and Booking

    Another year, another summer trip to stay with a friend in Texas (last year there was a 12-hour delay, night stop in Newark, and a $200 e-voucher). This time with my $200 ready I search and price up the best itinerary (read: cheapest) in my time frame. Much to my annoyance the voucher doesn’t seem to be working on my plan to go via FRA and EWR and MUC on the return, and a call to Continental confirms that the vouchers good for Continental flights only, plans scuppered. The friendly guy on the phone offers up the same BHX-EWR-IAH-TYR and back route that I did last year (Hopefully without the delays, there’s much nicer places to be delayed than Birmingham), but as it prices higher. He offers some alternative dates that come in cheaper than I can see on CO.com (£630), so I book over the phone with my voucher, shame I miss out on the online booking miles, at least there was no over-the-phone booking fee, so small victories and all that…

    Whilst I’m in the US this time, I have friends from home (that I hadn’t been able to catch up with in too long) doing tours of the East and West coast so made plans to catch up with them in San Francisco. I was also planning on a month on the beach in Mexico for a little sun, sea and sand. Having a quick look, my cheapest option was to fly US Airways (Urgh…) out of DFW to San Francisco at 6am, then to Tucson (to travel down to Mexico) and back to DFW, still I got a dollar off for flying back via Phoenix and Las Vegas. With AA having a special (of some sort) for flights from TYR to DFW at £35 and a hotel for the night thrown into the mix, it still priced as cheaper than a single ticket from TYR. So my flights are booked TYR-DFW on AA and DFW-PHX-SFO-PHX-TUS-PHX-LAS-DFW on US, then we could catch a lift back to TYR with family. Not bad for a shade under £350.

    With a 1:45hr connection at Newark again (and determined to make it) I play an exciting game of Continental musical chairs. (My seating preference is a window, so I can fit my laptop under the seat, as far forward as possible, to get ahead of the others at immigration, with an empty middle seat…) My long list of preferences cuts seat choice way back so the most promising seat on the entire aircraft was 32F, so I keep my eye on the seating charts a couple of weeks and move around seat hopping further forward. When online check-in opens, the Elite seating can be selected by us statusless, so I look and spot a few empty spaces that I like the look of so wait for online check-in to open so I can swoop in and snag them.

    Unfortunately I happened to be out and about at the time, and using my new phone’s mobile internet, so a seat change was slightly haphazard. As the better seats had already gone, I plumped for the non-reclining 14A, on refresh to make sure I’d moved, 9AB became available with C taken so I liked my chances and grabbed A as quickly as my thumbs and 3G would let me. Hurrah.
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  2. Birmingham – Newark
    CO 27 – 19th June – 9am

    Due to being on student sleep patterns (You know the, “There’s a 9 in the morning now? Since when?” type) the 4am alarm clock didn’t fill me with joy, but needs must. At least this time when I woke up there wasn’t rolling delays on CO27, which is always nice, it seems that the flight’s even getting in a little early. Check-in at BHX is all much of a muchness. Questions answered, bag handed over and tickets given (and repeat). The new security set-up is interesting, there seems to be more checkpoints, less passengers, but similar queues, I’m not sure how they’ve managed that but it’s nice to know that those who pass the rigmaroll can walk freely into the shopping centre… I mean departure gates…

    Departure Gates at BHX

    The aircraft was painted in the “New United” colours, yet the Birmingham representative who thanked us all for using Birmingham Airport said quietly to a FA that she refused to call them United until she absolutely had to. Other than that oddity the boarding had been reasonably swift and painless, business/first, elites then back to front, although the seat-back IFE was broken and I was brushed off with a rather stern “Well, It’s not turned on yet” when I pointed out the screen was constantly rebooting, so, not awfully helpful. The pilot introduction I thought was rather interesting, “Your flight’s under the command of Captain [Captain’s Name] and… ur… urm… Urm… Derek..?” Push back was by 8:50 and we were up in the air by 9am. The first drink round I asked for a coffee with no milk and no sugar to be handed a milky coffee with two sugar sachets… I chalk it up to not hearing either “no” over the engine noise, but boy does this ‘coffee’ taste awful, to give you an idea of how awful, it tasted like old, damp, pasted wallpaper as you strip it off during redecorating. (I have crazy weekends, as you can tell).

    The meal choices were wheeled out, Beef Brisket or Chicken Marinara, the same as last year… Ever the creature of habit, and by this point feeling rather peckish, I went for the Chicken as I knew it was quite tasty last time. I can’t help but notice that the portion size seems significantly smaller than last time, I’m not sure why, perhaps last time it was ‘dinner’ and a larger portion due to it being an evening flight. Nonetheless it was mediocre, chicken was moist and reasonably tasty, pasta somewhat overdone and the asparagus soggy and limp. Again the side salad failed to impress, a bucket full of iceberg lettuce with a single sprig of red leaf lettuce and 1/8th of a tomato, delicious… The apple custard crumble biscuit thing though, was delicious, to the point I was eyeing up lady in 9C’s one considering poaching it or some sort of distraction sleight of hand snatch and grab.

    Chicken Marinara and apple custard crumble thing.

    After the meal service had finished and another drinks round was finished (I got my coffee without sugar/milk this time), and began twiddling my thumbs, flicking through hemisphere and waited to see if I could catch a different flight attendant in passing to see if there was a fix for the PTV, alas none passed. So like last year (Similar situation on the same aircraft type), I mulled over how to go about asking if I could sidle up to the attractive lady in the aisle seat, deciding on a happy medium I asked if she’d mind me stretching over to use the centre console, permission granted I got to flicking through the show selection, which from last year seems to have seriously depleted. The TV shows seemed lacking in variety and number, if you like CSI or old versions of House, you’ll be fine. The person who chooses the films seems to have some odd love of Matt Damon as every couple of films seemed to include him, settling on ‘The Informant’ (A comedy, apparently) I gave up watching after 45 minutes, and moved onto the music selection, which seems much improved on last year, setting up a Juke box I settled back into my seat and read a book and later tried to nap away the hours, to no avail, fortunately the monotony was broken by the snack box, which again was the same fare as last year a warm cheese roll bag of crisps and a chocolate thing.


    The flight landed at 11:09 and we were at the gate by 11:20, unfortunately the service fell a bit below what I’d come to expect on Contintenal, I suppose they’d set their bar high with previous levels. Thankfully landing an hour early, I hadn’t a need to prepare for a dash through security, customs and to my gate. Apparently, the people getting off the plane in front didn’t need to either, as the pair clogged up the jetway, walking at a snail’s pace, side-by-side, preventing anyone from getting past (even after a request to allow others to pass), so as soon as we broke free into a small atrium before immigration, a now large number of people charged past, caught up with the masses, we’re up the stairs and into immigration in no time. In my sheer brilliance, I pick the line with the fewest people in, the first gent regailing the agent with his itinerary, place by place, stopping to remember the exact dates, where he was going and what he was doing on his 2 week stay, stamped and let in the next came, you couldn’t have heard from a different guy, coming in with friends, who aren’t here, doesn’t know what he’s doing, where he’s going, when he’s leaving, so off to secondary screening with him, and the agent, the shortest queue now becoming the most time consuming the agent comes back questions asked, checks done and stamp given, a 30-ish minute wait for the bags, cleared customs, re-dropped bags, changed terminal, dodged the TSA nude-o-scope line and off to sit at the gate.
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  3. EWR-IAH
    CO61 – 19th June – 1:40pm

    Nodding off in the chair, I realise I probably should have tried to get some more sleep at some point in the week, and go for a walk and a browse of the stores, picking up a drink at the counter I’m greeting with a “Hola” followed by some rapid Spanish rambling, wondering what it is with Newark and people thinking I speak Spanish, I shuffle back to my seat and try to get 5 minutes, before boarding.

    It’s a packed out flight and the gate lice are out in force today, it seems they’ve doubled in numbers too with the UA/CO premier/silver flyers crowding around the elite line. I board with the first call for the mere mortals, second inline and get stuck behind a family of five with teenagers, who seem to think the best time to slowly hand out all the boarding cards to those named exactly on the ticket, is after they’ve blocked up the queue, stopping people being able to get past them to the empty ticket agent, boarding the aircraft stuck behind them again, edging ever so slowly down the back of the 767, they stop five seats from the back, then deciding who should sit where and why etc, after they edged a little further forward and took their bags off my seat, I squeezed passed and sat down, they’re still at it a few minutes later and after 5 minutes they all finally get in their seats. The 767-400 seems to have more legroom than the 757(only an inch) but seemed awfully more dated and shabby.

    My seat mate was kind of a big guy, who had already acquired some of my leg space, so it was lucky
    he’d got the wrong seat and there was some shuffling about and I had a distinctly smaller unaccompanied minor sitting next to me for the flight. We pushed back at 1:45 and we in the air just after 2, the IFE on this flight was also broken, but for the entire cabin, so it was 3hrs of fuzzy maps for the flight. The 767 seemed an awful lot more noisy than the 757 and it was bumpy all the way down to near Nashville so there wasn’t much chance of getting any shut-eye, although I was starting to get hungry so decided to ‘splash-out’ and get myself something to eat when the meals came around. The food service was wheeled down and a little hectic, flight attendants running out of items and running off, having to trade with the cart in the opposite aisle, also for some bizarre reason, it seems people like the new menus so much, that they steal them out of hemisphere, don’t ask me why. I plump for the Cheeseburger, which required a dash out to the back galley, after handing my card back the flight attendant said ‘Thank you, enjoy your meal Mr. Ethics’ not being the famous sort, or having a name you’d remember, I was quite perplexed at how she knew my name, until I realised it was on the card, still, it was a nice touch. The burger wasn’t a looker, I have to say, although the salad it came with looked like a real salad, unlike the rubbish you get on the transatlantic, which was a surprise. Now, although it wasn’t something to look at first, I inhaled (not chewed politely) that burger something horrid, without any shame whatsoever. It was one of the best airline food sorts I think I’ve ever had, it may have been that I was over hungry, sleep deprived or just having the taste buds of a sloth, but smothered in mustard and ketchup with the salad all loaded in, it was delicious, a massive improvement on the floor sweeping enchilada of last year.

    As you can see, it's lacking in the looks department

    The remainder of the flight was pretty routine; although coming into land was a little bumpy and on landing the aircraft seemed to swerve all the way down the runway and we were parked up at the gate by around 4pm.

    CO9551 – 19th June – 5:50pm

    Connections at Houston are now pretty easy, jump on the air train and get off at the right terminal, piece of cake, off to Terminal A for my regional flight (it’s much better on the air train as opposed to getting off at Terminal B and catching a bus to A) I have about a 90 minute wait until boarding, I think to myself naively. On getting to terminal A and down to the new A3 extension my flight reads as delayed an hour, bugger it. To keep awake I have a bit of a walk around Terminal A, see if anything’s changed since last year, not a lot and I park up and get cracking on some more of this trip report, after a few minutes the words start becoming nothing more than a mass of black so abandoning the idea I have a crack at playing angry birds, on my phone. 6pm rolls on by and the flight’s delayed another 30 minutes. At least I’ve done a little better than some others waiting for College Station since 1, with constant rolling delays. Most of the little Saabs suddenly went into maintenance, apparently. More pacing around to keep myself awake so I wouldn’t miss the flight as 7:10 rolls on by and we get the call to board, walking past the college station delayees, we step out on to the windy apron and board the tiny steps and onto the little, vibraty, noisy, rickety, Saab.

    Semi-Mandatory legroom photo

    No seatmate for the short 40 minute hop so I get to stretch out a bit, perfect, very short taxi out to the runway and we’re off by about 7:30. Wishing I could get some sleep on this noisy hunk of metal, I wake up about 30 minutes later… With the knowing smiles and grins of the people around me, and it might just be paranoia but I think the FA was trying not to laugh as she passed clearing away the drinks service, we were less than 10 minutes out of TYR, and we touched down and a quick walk through the small airport to pick up my bags.
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  4. sobore
    Original Member

    sobore Gold Member

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    The next big thing to hit eBay? :p
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  5. I've been keeping my eye out, still not found any menu pages from the Hemisphere magazine on eBay... Perhaps it's a change they think we'll like, a new exciting aisle game of "Guess the Food Choices"..?


    Two weeks into my trip I get the news I’ve been wanting to hear, I’ve completed university and come out with a decent degree (hurrah). So to treat myself, I decide to stay in the US longer. Unfortunately, some other last minute changes mean that my time in Mexico is being cut back so I have to move my flights back to Texas forward as well. With continental I pay up £130 and fly home routing IAH-FRA-BHX (More miles, better flight times, faster door-to-door and I’ve never been to Germany). US on the other hand wanted $210 to move my flights, flights that only cost $154. Desperate not to have to fly US I fire up the ITA Matrix (I feel I need to thank people for the various excellent threads on using this wonder tool) finding flights into Tyler for $212, which would mean no night stop in Dallas, or an AA regional flight, but best of all I wouldn’t have to fly US… Bargain at twice the price. Did I mention the routing, Tucson – Denver – Amarillo – Houston – Tyler..? Informing my folks back home of the flight changes, failing to understand my excitement of not flying US and how I pulled off booking that routing, they started looking into disowning me as their child.

    AA3291 – 6th July – 6:35pm

    Due to an early flight out of DFW and some very cheap regional flights up to DFW I take the evening Jet flight out of TYR to DFW and overnight at a hotel in the area. My first time on a regional jet and my shortest flight estimated at somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes, starts off with a delay and me arriving at the airport overly early, 3 hours later we start boarding at about 6:45.

    Tyler Airport

    The little Embraer Jets are pretty neat and tidy inside, doesn’t seem like any bits are falling off and that’s a pretty big service differentiation from the Colgan Saabs. Something that’s majorly noticeable on the rear engine aircraft, is they’re so quiet in comparison to under wing engines, and it doesn’t vibrate like a Saab, although it does sound about as powerful as a hairdryer... There’s no inflight service, at all, as it’s such a short flight so I start on a bag of Famous Amos I ‘smuggled’ aboard and we touch down and pull up to the gate just before 7:15, less than 30 minute flight. I Decide on grabbing a quick dinner at the airport as the ‘hotel’ (Country Inn and Suites) wasn’t going to have any decent pickings and I needed to be in bed and up to make a 6am flight, so switched over to the D Terminal to get myself something which resembled foodstuff, which it did, just about.

    The hotel bus needed to be called for and a pick-up arranged, so a phone call and 20 minutes later the mini-van wheels up to whisk me away. The drive from the airport was relatively quick 15-20 minutes and much like any other trip to a just off airport hotel. Check-in explains that the 5am shuttle bus will be perfect for the 6am flight, too tired to do the maths I nod in agreement, thank the staff and head to my room. The best way to describe the room would be clean, large and ‘serviceable’… There was no sleek lined, ergonomic, mahogany desks etc. just the basics, a chair at a desk, TV, bed and an arm chair. Carrying on my work until stupid-o-clock, I finally get around to realising that the 5am shuttle was too late and would require some miracle feat to get there on time, thanks front desk. Alarm set for 3:30 with a taxi booked for just after 4, falling asleep in the chair, I wake up a couple of hours later on the bed (Perhaps I sleep walk, would explain the odd looks on the Saab).
    7th July – US641 – 6:00am/US403 – 7:45am

    Check-out is easy and it’s a quick ride in the taxi to the airport. “Remember, it was cheap”, I repeat to myself as I select US Airways on the multi-airline self-check-in terminal. There’s a bit of a line for the statusless at security and I join the back taking off as much metal as I can. Fortunately I decided on coming earlier as the line was growing somewhat exponentially. Handing over my ticket and passport the relatively grumpy agent scribbled something on my ticket and off to the metal detectors. Forgetting my belt I set off the alarms, quickly taking it off and go back for a hand swabbing due to being suspicious. A sleepy wander off towards the gate and it’s still an hour before departure. I go to grab a bagel (was quite a nice salmon one for those interested). The flight’s showing as delayed slightly the excuse was something to the tune of the crew got lost, slept in or something similar I couldn’t quite make it out from the rapid mumbling, and we began boarding 10 minutes late. The 737 on the inside was the old America West style overly padded seats which offered little padding or comfort. Boarding was a bit haphazard; people seemingly not sure what was going on and running out of overhead space pretty quickly, which delayed us a little longer. Only 30 minutes late we push back and head out towards Phoenix, there’s no inflight entertainment at all on the 2hr flight. Drinks are handed around 45 minutes in then the crew disappear for quite a while then a quick collection of the left overs and the wheels are down and in Phoenix just before 6:30, wait a minute, didn’t we leave just after 6:30..?

    Phoenix to San Francisco flight is 90-minutes away but just next door so a quick lap of the airport to have a look around and a leg stretch before another arduous couple of hours on US, at least they were cheap, at least they were cheap, unfortunately there were no upgrades available at check-in. Boarding the A320 is much of a muchness, fortunately the seats are more comfortable leather types and there’s an empty aisle seat, so I slide on over and spread out. Looking at the aircraft I just got off of, the amount of patched metalwork looked awful and I couldn’t help but think that it couldn’t have been airworthy. Another 10 minute delay as people wonder why they can’t fit their oversized cases into the overhead bins and we’re off. The monotony of flying sets in, and the ‘friendly’ US service is repeated (Read: drink, hide, collect), so 2 hours later we fly on into SFO and lose over 30 degrees in temperature, positively chilly. I’ve become fond of carry-on only as I stagger sleepily to the shuttle pick-up. After 20 minutes or so the bus pulls up with the friendliest, cheeriest driver in the Bay-Area and off we shuttle to the Fairfield Inn & Suites at Milbrae.
  7. San Francisco
    Fairfield Inn and Suites - SFO / Milbrae

    It’s not even 11, so early check-in isn’t early enough and told to come back after 2 when the room might be ready, so a quick walk to the BART station to catch the 30-ish minute train into central San Francisco and finally get to catch up with my friends who’ve been travelling elsewhere in the US. I’m pretty happy that I’m staying out of the city as the budget was slim and central San Francisco was either over budget, or in ‘questionable’ areas (My friends’ complaints of their hostel included those scavenging in the bins were too loud in the morning and the fights were too loud at night). The evening BART train adds another 5 minutes to the journey as it travels via SFO. Finally checking-in late that evening, the room has a lounge, my bedroom has a lounge (Some of you folk may get this every hotel room, but it’s my first and am oddly excited by the prospect), past the lounge is the standard ‘L’ shaped room with a bed, TV etc. all very comfortable and quiet. Deciding on room service I find that it’s actually a reasonably(-ish) priced, pizza delivery place and get myself a pizza (It’s nothing special) and head to bed to catch up on some sleep.


    The following couple of days in San Fran are similar, commute in in the morning spend the day sightseeing (Muni passes are worth it if you’re using Muni transport more than a few times a day) and head home after dinner. We tried to hit as many of the interesting touristy hot-spots that we could, as well as getting lost relatively frequently, (NB: Alcatraz has a wait list, so worthwhile booking your tour in advance) the golden gate bridge, Japanese tea garden, Japan Town, Twin peaks, Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf.


    Two of my friends are heading off for Vegas the day before I head down to Mexico with the third, and as it’s one of their birthday’s we head to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate. An hour wait later we’re seated out on the balcony just as the sun’s beginning to set, I’m still regretting not getting a picture. The food was pretty good yet the service wasn’t quite good, but a great night was had by all and before I knew it I was packing a pair of slightly tipsy friends into a Taxi with promises to catch up when I finally got home. The final day in San Fran was pretty uneventful checking that the shuttle bus was able to get us to the airport in time for another 6am flight.

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