MIA Mileage Run

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by hulagrrl210, May 7, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. hulagrrl210
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    When I booked my trip to South Florida, I figured the last place I would find myself was in the middle of the worst snow storm in a decade.

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    NOAA Satellite Photo

    This one started, like most of them do, on the deals page over at flyertalk. I hadn't really thought much about doing a mileage run seeing as how it was only January at the time but when I stumbled across this LAX/SFO-MIA thread my interest peaked.

    Usually when I book a trip somewhere and I need the miles, I go visit a friend, a national park, or find some other reason to somehow justify what I am about to do. That, or I hit up the family business for a trip to Hawaii, to work/surf over there for a week. Either way, I hadn't done a legitimate run since maybe 1996.

    At the time, I figured if I was going to pull this trip off, at least I should come up with a good reason to go to Miami. I do like warm weather and with the unbearably cold winters here in Northern California, that's a good reason, right? I don't know. That sounds kind of lame and there are lots of places that are warm, like, say, Hawaii. I knew I needed to try harder.

    My husband and I had passed through Miami on our first cruise about a year ago, and while I wasn't so thrilled about being on a boat with a couple other thousand people for a week, I was pretty excited about some of the food I discovered once I got back on shore, namely, the Cuban sandwich. I couldn't get enough of them while I was there, right up to the hour we left when I got my final fix from an airport bar. I'd also wanted to get one of those, "I'm in Miami b*tch" t-shirts to wear around at home (you know, like from the song). Well, that didn't happen, and I was really, really sad about it right up until the moment I saw something better, way better. As we walked through security at the airport on the way home, I spotted a guy wearing a "I was in Miami b*tch" shirt. If you think about it, that is a far more accurate statement, because once you leave, you're not actually in Miami anymore, b*tch. That was it, I had to have one.

    So now with two reasons to go back to sunny Florida- to get a Cuban sandwich and a profanity laced t-shirt, I looked into booking my ticket. The fares out of SFO were good, about $190 roundtrip. One problem, I don't live in San Francisco. I live in Sacramento, and fares out of there were, well, not good. The deal I found was for an ungodly early flight, via Denver, same day turn, and back to SFO the same way by about midnight, plus at least 2 hours driving each direction, and this was all beginning to sound like a bad idea and a bad day. The miles weren't spectacular either, as Denver is actually kind of on the way to Florida. I began having second thoughts. However, I don't like giving up easily so I tried asking my husband if he would be interested in coming along, mostly so that he could drive me down to the city. In an effort to make my motives seem a little less transparent, I tried to temp him with lunch, my treat, in South Beach. He was, as I would assume most loving spouses to mileage-runners are, not that interested. It looked like I was doing this one on my own.

    The searching continued, and eventually I found something I liked- SFO-LAX-IAD-MIA-ORD-SFO, red-eye eastbound, returning at a reasonable time the next day, with a SFO-LAX leg thrown in for good luck and the chance to ride a 767 on the transcontinental, vs. a fall less comfortable A319 with fewer first class seats. All this for $264.50 - a $200 e-certificate I had for being a 1P complaining about something to United, and I was looking at 6752 miles for less than $65.

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    So with my first official mileage run in over a decade successfully booked, things were looking up...right up until about two days before my trip when United issued a travel waiver for Chicago. A storm was brewing...
     
  2. hulagrrl210
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    I left my house about 1pm in order to catch something like a 7pm flight out of San Francisco. I realize now that was probably a bit excessive. The drive to the airport only took an hour and 45 minutes, parking was a breeze, and check-in and security maybe took another 5 minutes. I checked in with Customer service to see if I needed to change flights because of the weather situation in Chicago, but they said everything appeared to on time and advised me to just keep an eye on it. With plenty more time to kill, I got some food, wondered around and took a few pictures of the airplanes outside. If you've never been, SFO is a great place to plane spot.
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    Crossing the Bay Bridge on my way to San Francisco
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    The Oprah Final Season Plane at SFO
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    Current weather at San Francisco ;)
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    A very quiet Terminal 3
     
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  3. hulagrrl210
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    The short flight to LA was rather uneventful, and I don't even remember what type of aircraft it was on, probably an Airbus. I sat on the right, as I usually do flying into LAX so that I could get a glimpse of my alma mater, USC and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was dark when we landed, but I could still pick out my old apartment as the plane turned to final.

    Nothing too exciting to report about LAX, other than it is not my favorite airport. There is a fun interactive sign board between terminals 7 and 8 that I went to play with. The gist of the game is that you go stand in front of it, wave your hands like a crazy person and it somehow reacts. Sometimes you can play matching games on it and sometimes it is just a blur of colors that responds to motion with a ripple effect mimicking water. I've noticed this is a gathering place for TSA agents and other airport employees on their breaks who like to watch people like me make asses of themselves.
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    Easily entertained in Los Angeles
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    The super-fun interactive sign board at LAX
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    LAX
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    Miles!
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    Keeping an eye on the weather

    After that, I cruised around, checked up on the weather in Chicago and took some pictures to post for the totally awsome 10 or so people who follow @hulagrrl210 on twitter. My next flight was on United 44, and I only remember that flight number because I had been on it about a month before, OGG-LAX. It wasn't a coincidence that I ended up in the same seat either- 6J, last row of first, cozily tucked next to the closet. It's kind of a long story how this ended up being my favorite seat on the 767, but it goes back to a long time ago when a senile old man stole the seemingly more desirable 4H from me.

    My dad and I had boarded our mainland-bound flight in Maui and here was this guy just sitting there, in one of our seats. As far as I knew United hadn't adopted the practice of open seating like Hawaiian and Aloha so we figured maybe the elderly gentleman was a bit confused and we nicely asked if there had been a mistake. For someone so decrepit and harmless looking it turns out he was quite the fighter. "No, this is my seat! I'm sitting here!" Obviously, it wouldn't have been a problem if this guy had just asked us to move, but he of course hadn't. We always make it a point not to be like so many other first class a-holes on Hawaii flights, and are usually more than happy to switch with honeymooners, people with kids, old people, etc.. My dad, however, didn't appreciate the nasty tone the guy had set, and calmly smiled before letting the old man have it. "Well, sir, you see, that's funny. I have a boarding pass right here that says it's actually my seat, so I'm afraid you're going to have to MOVE!" he shouted. The ensuing argument between the two quickly gathered the undivided attention of the entire first class cabin. The flight attendants quickly intervened and pulled us aside. "Sir, ma'am, we really would appreciate if you could just sit in row 6. This guy has been incredibly difficult. He's said he's afraid to sit next to the closet." In the meantime 2 rows ahead of us, the old man is still shouting at the other flight attendant. I thought who am I to argue with a mentally challenged person but my dad wanted to push the issue. "Well, maybe I don't want to sit by the closet either," he argued. The flight attendant then used a word I've never heard a United employee speak before. "Please." She was desperate.

    After that, 6J became my seat of choice. It's private, you get to watch the rest of the first class, and every time I look over at the closet I laugh to myself, imagining jumping out of it and scaring that horrible old guy into cardiac arrest. I also figured if it meant I never had to sit next to someone so nasty as the senile seat thief, then that was the place to be. Only cool people sit in row 6, and luckily my seat mate on this flight did not disappoint. He was a nice middle-aged man who was traveling home to the DC area from a business trip. We quickly started up a conversation, and I soon learned we grew up in the same area. Small world.

    So I am yet to take a picture of a meal served to me on the airplane for the purpose of trip reporting, but I can assure you the food was good. It was a bowl of chili-like soup and a very light sandwich made with fresh mozzarella and basil, really the perfect meal before a good night's rest on board the airplane.
     
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  4. hulagrrl210
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    I woke up, as I usually do, right as the engines throttled back as we began our descent. As we got closer to the ground, I could see a little but of snow, but the roads looked clear. "I guess, the storm hasn't hit yet." my neighbor commented as he peeked over my shoulder. He seemed relieved by the conditions, which is understandable because he had to drive home in them. I on the other hand was completely unaware of how massive this storm was going to be. It turned out Chicago wasn't the only airport that was getting shut down that day.

    My layover at IAD went by very quickly. I think I was only there for about an hour. I took some more pictures, this time by the neon-lit glass cubes in the United terminal and posted them for the now 15 or so people following me on twitter. The airport seemed eerily quiet for a major hub this early in the morning, and I quickly learned why; most of the airports on the east coast, including all of the ones in New York, were closed. Not a lot of people were flying that day.

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    Welcome to IAD
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    Weather update
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    On time to Miami
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    Early morning at IAD
     
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  5. hulagrrl210
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    The flight to Miami was about 3 hours on an Embraer jet. I didn't clear the upgrade, but was perfectly happy with my window seat in coach. Nothing too remarkable to report here, except that we flew over Cape Canaveral where I took a few photos to post on my photoblog.

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    Cape Canaveral
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    www.thirtysixthousand.com

    After we landed in Miami a rush of warm tropical air greeted me as I walked up the jet bridge, in stark contrast to the weather I'd left behind up north. The first thing I did was to check in with the gate agents to see if there was going to be a flight to Chicago. Still on time. I figured that was probably going to change, but I wasn't too worried about it. I knew I had options like flight 5pm flight 485 that went to Denver, oddly enough with continuing service to Sacramento. I remember, because a few months before I had been on it. It's weird out of all the flight in the world, and all the flights on United Airlines, I keep ending up on the same ones.

    Since I only had 35 minutes to spend in Miami, I knew I had to be efficient with my time. Mission 1 was to acquire a Cuban sandwich and Mission 2 was to track down on of those "I was in Miami b*itch t-shirts." Surely no airport store would carry anything so horribly tacky (except maybe that Hudson News in LAX that sells Ed Hardy crap) but if they did, I was going to find it on my way to get food.

    Don't take this the wrong way, but there is something I noticed about the types of people who live in places with warm tropical climates; they lack any sense of urgency. I'm kind of used to it after spending so much time growing up in Hawaii, and I have come to appreciate and even respect it, that is, as long as I'm not in a hurry. The bartender at the kitschy Cuban-themed bar in MIA was no exception to this. She was casually chatting away with a customer, frustratingly unaware that I standing right in front of her ready to order. I didn't want to be completely rude and interrupt them, but I was on a mission. "Excuse me, how long does it take to get a Cuban sandwich?" 15 minutes. So it had taken 10 minutes to walk there. I figured it would take 10 minutes to get back, 10 +10 +15+2 that I wasted talking to the gate agents...you see where this is going, and by the looks of this woman, 15 minutes in her little world could mean anywhere between that and an hour and 15 minutes. I didn't get the sandwich.

    I didn't get the t-shirt either. I hurried back to the gate, and actually made good time, or so I thought. When I got there the boarding area was complete empty. The departure screen had an ominous looking and very-pink radar weather map showing the current conditions in Chicago. I checked in again with the agents to make sure the flight wasn't cancelled and they handed me a new boarding pass. I didn't even get a chance to look at what it said. Chicago? Denver? Washington Dulles? "Wait, did you just get here?" the gate agent asked me. It was the same guy I'd talked to a just a few minutes before. I don't know why he was asking me. "Yeah, I went to get a sandwi..." but before I could finish..."No, I mean didn't you just get here, to Miami?" So, I explained about the $65 ticket, how I needed the miles, I might of mentioned that I like to fly...he didn't seem to care. "See, I told you so," he jeered at his friend. He then looked back at me. "That's cool!" He smiled. I had won his approval. I looked down at my boarding pass. First Class to Chicago.

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  6. hulagrrl210
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    I boarded the plane and took my seat in row 1. The flight attendant quickly greeted me, offered me some water, and then paused. "Didn't you just get here?" Oh, no, not this question again. Turns out it was the same flight crew IAD-MIA as it was MIA-ORD. I had just been caught. She seemed very curious why someone would come all the way to Miami for less than an hour. I can only imagine what was going through her head, seeing as how I was by myself and Miami is also the drug trafficking gateway to North America. I felt the need to explain. $65 ticket, almost 7,000 miles, the cert was about the expire anyway..."You're crazy," is what I got.

    You think someone who chose to fly for a living wouldn't be so judgmental of someone who does it for fun, but she was. Don't get me wrong, she was completely professional, but she was just not nice. I kept getting these strange looks from her, like those that a disapproving parent gives to a child. Seat 1A on the regional jet was starting to feel more like timeout than first class.

    At one point, my flight attendant pointed me out to the other fight attendant in the back who had served me during the previous flight. The two shared a point-and-laugh moment followed by some rolling of the eyes. I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, and with no one next to me to talk to, the time passed by very slowly.

    Luckily, the flight to Chicago was in reality pretty short. Our pilots tried to make it there as fast as they could because of the huge storm on the way. It was a matter of hours before that airport was getting shut down, and at this point, I had no idea whether or not my connecting flight back to San Francisco was ever going to leave that day.

    When we landed everyone clapped. It had been a rough descent, but nothing too bad, nothing to warrant clapping. I felt like such celebration should be saved for when we actually got out of Chicago, not for when we arrived. Surely, I wasn't the only one on that plane with a connecting flight.

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    Well, as it turns out I probably was the only one with a connecting flight that day, because everything else was cancelled. The weather didn't even seem that bad. It was high overcast, a little bit windy when we landed, but for the most part, conditions were still pretty clear- good visibility down the runways, no accumulation of snow on the ground. What was this? A joke?

    I quickly headed to B16, where my flight was getting ready to leave. The scene I encountered could only be described as something resembling rats trying to jump off a burning ship; everyone wanted out of Chicago. There was pushing, there was shoving, there was even some crying. It was a stark contrast to the rest of the airport that was quickly emptying out as people gave up and went home.

    There was no way I was going to make this upgrade. I mean I feel a little bad that that was the only thing I was thinking of at the time, you know, while so many other people would just be grateful be on the flight, but even if I did clear there was no way the gate agents were even going to deal with me. They had their hands full.

    I took the first opportunity that came to board the plane. As soon as they called "First Class, Global Service, 1K." I jumped in line right behind them. There is no doubt that I was the first Premier Executive. While we were standing in the jet way ready to get on the plane, I heard this terrible noise, and then felt this jolt like there was an earthquake, except that it wasn't an earthquake. It was the wind.

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    As I took my seat, I looked out the window and noticed the conditions had deteriorated significantly just in the few minutes it took to get on board and they continued to deteriorate into full white-out condition in just a matter of seconds. The twenty minutes that followed seemed like an eternity as they continued to board the plane. Then, they finally closed the door. We were finally going to get out of there, or so I thought.

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  7. hulagrrl210
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    The next few minutes seemed even more like an eternity as we watched the ground crew scurry around outside trying to load the very last of the bags. I felt really bad for them. It looked really nasty out there. It looked like it was hard to even walk. It seemed for every one step they took forward, the wind would blow them back about three steps. My attention was then diverted to the nearly 2 inches that had accumulated on the fins sticking out of the engine and on top of the wings.

    As a pilot I know that ice and snow are not things you want piling up on critical control surfaces of an aircraft. Even a thin layer can make the aerodynamics of a jumbo jet mimic those of a brick. With not a de-ice truck in sight, I began to get worried.

    I'm typically not a nervous flyer, but I was starting to get really scared. Obviously the weather wasn't getting any better. We were already delayed, and I was getting increasingly frustrated on how long it was taking to get out of there. I felt the longer we waited, the higher my chances of spending the night in an airport motel were going to be.

    A passing flight attendant must have picked up on my uneasiness and stopped to console me. "Don't worry ma'am, everything is going to be fine. You're sitting next to a pilot." Well one thing about pilots is that they will seek out and make friends with other pilots, and I'm no exception. But then again, I like to make friends with everyone. I quickly started up a conversation with the man sitting directly in front of me. It might have seemed like a stupid question, but I asked it anyway, "They're going to de-ice us right?" He told me that the de-icing trucks would be closer out to the runways, not at the gate today, and then went on to cover the eccentricities of why at some airports on some days it is done like that and sometimes it isn't. He then continued to cover the finer points of propylene glycol, its different colors, and its uses. I'm sure most people would probably be bored by the conversation, but I actually found it quite fascinating and I learned a lot.

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    After a short taxi and quick stop at the de-icing trucks, we took off. You know the weather is bad when you're getting tossed around in a plane that big. I wouldn't have wanted to be leaving Chicago on anything smaller or less powerful that a 777.

    Once we were in the air, my conversation with the pilot continued and we started to cover more normal topics, like where are you from and where do you live. It turns out the United A319/A320 captain sitting in front of me on the flight from Chicago was one of my neighbors in Sacramento. We were both headed home.
     
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  8. hulagrrl210
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    [​IMG]
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    Somewhere just east of Denver was where the clouds finally started to break and I could see the ground for the first time. Everything was white. It was a beautiful scene. I quickly whipped out my camera and started taking pictures. I think I got more shots for my photoblog on half of this flight than I have on other entire trips. It was exhilarating.

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    www.thirtysixthousand.com

    By the time we were over Nevada, the snow started to disappear, but I could tell the weather was still bad; even though it was sunny, there were huge dust clouds reaching thousands of feet into the air. It was breathtaking. The final minutes of the flight over the Sierras was gorgeous, and we started our descent into very sunny California. The entire trip- the $65 dollars, the day away from home, the hassle of driving to the city was worth it just for that last flight.

    It was just about sunset when we reached San Francisco, and the weather was unseasonably mild. I still couldn't believe I had escaped the worst storm of the decade. The news coverage of the storm made it even more surreal and the fact that I was only there for an hour made it almost like it never even happened. By this time, everyone in my family had tried to call me to see if I was alright. A few of the now 20 or so @hulagrrl210 twitter followers were now tweeting me and congratulating me on my arrival at SFO.

    The pilot I met on the flight, who was also driving home, asked me if I wanted to get some coffee and wait for rush hour traffic to subside. I graciously declined. I didn't want any more delays. He was a really nice guy, and I turned him down only because I was sure, that somewhere, someday, we would meet again.

    THE END
     
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  9. Jubileesmom
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    I waited until Feb. to do MIA this year. Hawaii in Jan. and avoided all of the mess back east this time around. And what is that thing at SFO that is looking like a man made little tornado in the terminal? I've never seen that and I've been through SFO six times this past month. Curious as to exactly what and where it is located. It's cool. :D The snow, rain, thunderboomers, wind and all that at O'Hare- gee does it do anything else there? ( I had better be quiet, I have to fly through there again early Thursday morning:rolleyes:) I'm from the Northeast originally and have given up on attempting to go "home" for Christmas these past few years as the weather has been unstable either here or there at that time. February has been a pretty safe time for me to visit a friend in Miami. For some reason, I've never really been caught up in weather (yet) towards the end of Feb. But, I could have just lucked out.

    Anyway, great story and pics. But ummm, I'd rather not "be there, do that" just now:p (especially the snow and ice) And now, on to thunderstorm season-----------:D
     
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  10. hulagrrl210
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    The tornado is part of an inter-active weather display for kids near gates 87, 88 at the end of the United terminal at SFO. It's probably been there since I was a kid. In addition to the tornado machine there are two big plastic balls filled with soap and water that I think are supposed to demonstrate the Coriolis effect when you spin them. It's fun.

    I actually spent a year in the upper Midwest going to school at the University of Michigan. I transferred.

    Wishing you safe travels and nice weather during your trip through Chicago!
     
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  11. cvsara
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    Love to find a good millage run, similar to yours out of ORD, but not in Jan/Feb, which are the worst ever times to be in Illinois. As a 'down-stater, I watched the storm too, From Maui. BTW it was a great time to be on a nice warm beach. But I certainly did enjoy your adventure.
     
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  12. Jubileesmom
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    Lol, I have to have passed by there one time or another, probably in a rush. Will look for them maybe this Wednesday evening while I am there, before I head to the RCC? hehe. Thanks for the info:D
     
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  13. NYBanker
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    Funny report. Nice.
     
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  14. Noland

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    Good read, hulagrrl210

    thanks for sharing
     
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