Sunday, July 7, 2013

Trip Report: Dedicated to Grandpa - Sacramento Yet Again, This Time on JetBlue Airways

This was a trip I really didn't want to take. I think I had been up to Sacramento 3 times in the last 2 months because of my sick grandfather. I had to return to Sacramento this weekend so that I could give the eulogy at his memorial service. This post is dedicated to my grandfather from whom I inherited my love of planes and aviation.

After work on Friday afternoon I made my way to LGB (Long Beach). The airport has been renovated and is really nice now. There was a heatwave throughout the Southwest and California this weekend, so when I arrived at the check-in for JetBlue Airways it was very warm inside. I used the kiosk to check-in and since I had booked my ticket so late, there wasn't a seat assignment for me yet. The kiosk said that I would have to wait to get a seat at the gate. Then I needed to give my bag to the desk. Here is a picture of the cool retro terminal at Long Beach.

The security checkpoint at Long Beach is really nice and there were several lines open, so it didn't take very long to get through. One of the neat things about LGB is that it is an indoor/outdoor airport. From the security area to the gate area there is a really pretty desert-scape garden and restaurants with outdoor seating. It was so hot that I didn't bother to wait outside and went right into the terminal. My flight was leaving out of gate 10 and my plane was called "Can't Get Enough of Blue." One thing I really like about JetBlue is that they name all of their planes. There is something really neat about that. Many airlines in Europe and Asia do this. It gives something personal and special to these future aluminum cans.

I was given a middle seat which I knew would happen. I was toward the back of the plane in row 21. Another thing I love about Long Beach and JetBlue is that you have to walk out to the plane and can use the front or back of the plane.

Since I was in row 21, I was directed to use the stairs at the back of the plane. If a passenger were to have mobility issues they would use the ramp at the front of the plane.

It was such a beautiful day even though it was close to 100F and this was at 5:00p. I just love walking up to the plane. It has such a Golden era of flying feel to it.

When I settled into my seat, I had to take a picture of the legroom. They offer a lot of space and with the direct TV and Sirius XM radio, there is a lot to occupy your mind. Once we took off, the flight attendants took drink orders. After they brought the drinks, they gave out snacks. The choices for this flight were mixed nuts or chocolate chip cookies. The flight time was a little more than an hour and I was watching MSNBC most of the time while also trying to read my book. This was the first day that the state of California was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the male plaintiff couples in the Supreme Court case were getting married by Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles live on MSNBC. It was pretty neat.

I had never flown into the new midfield terminal at SMF (Sacramento) before, so this was new for me. It's a really nice terminal with lots of space and an airy design that many new airports use around the world now. You have to take a tram to the main terminal which is really overkill because it's not like it is that far away. An underground walkway would have been fine.

"Can't get enough of Blue" parked right next to the tram station so I was able to get one last shot of her. I really like the polka-dot tail on this one.

In the gigantic main terminal building airside there is this massive red rabbit sculpture. I guess it's in honor of the bunny rabbits that are indigenous to the airfield area. I have no idea. The neat thing about this sculpture is that it is made of triangular pieces of different sizes. It reminded me of those tangram things in grade school or even the geodesic dome at Epcot Center but obviously not a dome.

This is a profile shot of the rabbit that I took when I was waiting for the JetBlue counter to open on my return flight. My flight was at 7:05p but the counter didn't open until 5:00p. The massiveness of both the terminal and the rabbit are evident in this picture.

Since I had time to kill in the airport, I decided to look around. I found this pocket California Museum on the tram level. It's pretty neat and has some artifacts and profiles in the Hall of Fame. They had Amelia Earhart, Ceasar Chavez, Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Sally Ride, Walt Disney, John Muir and some others. It's very nicely done and worth a visit while it is still there.

After a visit to the exhibit, I decided to go to the midfield terminal. Security is not done in the main terminal which is interesting. There is just a sign that says only ticket passengers may take the tram but there is no one enforcing it. I imagine that if one were to take the tram and then arrive at the terminal without a boarding pass, the security there would turn you right around.

I ate dinner at one of the many restaurants in the terminal while waiting for my flight. After eating I walked the length of the terminal which isn't all that big, but it's big enough. I think there are about 14 or so gates there. I caught the A320 that would take me back to Southern California and she was named "Unforgettably Blue."

We left slightly after our scheduled departure time and I was seated in the same row as last time but in a window seat. I was lucky enough to have the middle seat next to me empty. That made for a very comfortable flight. About an hour later we were landing in LGB (Long Beach) and the sun had set. Once again I took the opportunity to take the stairs at the back of the plane, but I took a really blurry picture of the tail.

The sun had set and just a hint of orange and red was visible behind the plane. They sky was so gorgeous behind the A320 that I had to take one last picture. I just wish all the junk around it wasn't in the shot.

Article: 9 ways to save on travel in 2013

9 ways to save on travel in 2013

Here's the summary of all of the really good tips for saving money. I've mentioned many of these in previous posts:


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Trip Report-Leg 4: KEF-BOS-PHX-SNA on Icelandair and US Airways

Leg 4 of the Northern European trip: KEF(Reykjavik)-BOS(Boston)-PHX(Phoenix)-SNA(Orange County) on FI (Icelandair) and US (US Airways)

This was the return leg of a 3-country tour of Northern Europe. The other legs were:

Our flight from Keflavik was scheduled for 10:30am, so after a very early breakfast we were picked up the Flybus shuttle to the BSI bus terminal in Reykjavik at 7:30am. A few minutes and other passengers later we were at the BSI terminal changing to a large bus to go to the airport. We were at the airport by 8:20am and ready to check-in for the flight. The line was quite long because there were two Icelandair flights leaving at the same time. One was to New York JFK and the other was our flight to Boston. 

The 757-200(WL) that would take us to Boston was called SkjaldbreiĆ°ur. It was parked all the way at 
end of terminal right next to the 757 going to JFK. The setup of the terminal was very interesting. 
Since flights within Europe are treated like "domestic" flights all of the passport control stuff is not 
necessary. At the very end of the terminal is passport control where overseas passengers are sent
downstairs. So they have 2 different levels operating for the same gates. Everything was set up like a normal 
terminal except we were on ground level. Then there was an escalator to take us up to the gate level.

The seats on the Icelandair 757 were comfortable. The legroom was pretty good too. Each seat has a TV with lots of entertainment options. I watched an episode of Glee and The Hobbit. 

The only thing I did not like about Icelandair is that you have to buy the food. Beverages were free, but any food items had to be purchased and they weren't cheap. I think this is the only airline I know of that flies internationally that has buy-on-board meals. I bought the hamburger sliders and they were tiny. Each one is about a bite and a half big. Other than that, the service and overall flight experience was great.

This is a legroom shot. They handed out bottles of water, but they serviced the flight many times.

We landed at Boston around noon, which was just over 5 hours from the time we took off. We arrived at the international terminal, Terminal E. We were the only flight arriving and getting through was a breeze. The only snafu was that the baggage claim system had broken down and there were guys trying to fix it. It took about 45 minutes for the bags to finally come out. Our 4.5 hour layover in BOS became more like 3.5 hours when all was said and done. We had to take a shuttle bus to Terminal B where US Airways flies out of. Since our bags were checked all the way home we checked in without bags. We were in desperate need of a real meal since we had eaten breakfast about 9 hours prior. We found a seafood restaurant called Legal Seafood. It was good but the prices were really expensive just like we were back in Europe. After lunch we spent the rest of the layover at the US Airways Club. Our flight to Phoenix on an A320 boarded around 4:00p. We had exit row seats again and this is a blurry shot of the legroom.

There was no entertainment on this flight. And the flight time seemed really long. It was just as long as our flight from Reykjavik, but not even close to the same distance. Well it turns out that our flight path was quite convoluted as we took a tour of the northern part of the states. 

By the time we made it to PHX, I was beyond tired. We stopped in a US Airways Club to be comfortable and have some snacks. We only had about an hour until the next flight to SNA. Our A321 was brand new and even had that new plane smell. The A321 is the longest version of the A320 family and we had exit row seats toward the back. There wasn't much of a window to look out of because we were right next to a door. But there were just 2 seats together with tons of legroom. I barely remember this flight because I slept through most of it. Having been awake for such a long period of time, I could not keep my eyes open. We arrived to a pretty empty terminal at SNA around 9:45p. It was a very long day and I was happy to be home and actually in the darkness of night for the first time in a week.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Trip Report-Leg 3: HEL-OSL-KEF on Blue1 and SAS (Scandinavian Airlines)

Leg 3 of the Northern European trip: HEL(Helsinki)-OSL(Oslo)-KEF(Reykjavik) on SK (Blue1 and Scandinavian Airlines)

This was the third leg of a 3-country tour of Northern Europe. The other legs were:

This next leg of the journey had us up around 4:45am. In Helsinki the sun was up and bright already so it wasn't too difficult to get up and moving that early. We were in a taxi to the Helsinki Vantaa airport by 5:30am and it couldn't have taken more than 15 minutes to get there. At checkin we needed to use a kiosk and it didn't print both luggage tags. It is strange to me that the the kiosk prints both boarding passes and luggage tags because there is so much that can go wrong by tagging your own luggage. I guess in Finland they know what they are doing. So we had to go to the counter anyway and get the tags. At the security checkpoint it was quite a different scene than at US airports. They had all the trays for the liquids and computers at a central location like at a cafeteria. Then once you have your act together you choose which one of the 3 or 4 lines you join to go through the scanners. That setup is much more efficient and you won't get stuck behind someone who is trying to figure it out while holding everyone else up. I loved it. Once we got through security we headed to the SAS Business lounge which was located right next to the security checkpoint. We waited there until about 7:00am until it was time to go to the gate for the 7:30am flight. 

This was the gate area, Gate 13, at HEL. Right behind me is the SAS Business Lounge, which is also right outside the security checkpoint. Our flight ended up getting delayed about 30 minutes. As can be seen in the photo, this early morning sunlight was so incredibly strong and warm. It was actually uncomfortable to stand in the sunlight.

This was our Blue1 717-200 called Forest Pond. I've only ever been on Hawaiian Airlines' 717s before so this was a treat for me. I absolutely love 717s and wish they had never been discontinued. Blue1 is the Finland airline in the SAS (Scandinavian Airline Group).

We were seated in the very first row of the economy section, row 5. The legroom was pretty good. They didn't serve any food on this flight, just beverages. The flight was about 1.5 hours long and in no time at all we were landing in Oslo, Norway for our layover.

This is the only divider between the economy class section and the slightly upgraded SAS Plus cabin, which includes lounge access and free food. There is no qualitative difference in the seats however.

Once at OSL I was able to take some pictures of the 717. The Blue1livery is quite nice. Blue is my favorite color so this was a memorable flight for me.

Our layover in OSL was scheduled to be about 2 hours long, but with the delay of the first flight, the layover ended up being around 1.5 hours. We went to the SAS lounge which was really nicely appointed in a truly Scandinavian design. An interesting thing I noticed about both the lounge in Helsinki and Oslo, is that the restrooms were individual use ones and there were no large public ones. We made our way to the gate and the OSL terminal was quite a zoo. They are doing some construction on the terminal and they need the extra gate space because the international terminal is quite busy. Our flight to Iceland was also delayed about 20 minutes and boarding was sort of chaotic. I had booked us exit row seats so I knew we would have extra room, but when they scanned my boarding pass at the gate, new seat assignments popped out for us.

We were now in 3D and 3E. It wasn't until we got to our seats that we saw that we had been "upgraded" to SAS Plus seats. I think the legroom might have been slightly more than the other seats, but this flight was 100% full.

The service on this flight was very good and since we were in the upgraded seats, we were able to order anything off of the buy-on-board menu for free. I ordered a salad because it looked like it was a caesar salad on the menu but it turns out that it was a roast beef and potato salad. It was slightly odd, but maybe it's a European thing. I don't know. It was tasty if not a bit salty.

The flight to Keflavik Airport in Iceland was about 2.5 hours long. We actually arrived on time even though we departed about 30 minutes late. When we arrived at KEF, we were the only plane there. We landed at about 10:45am. 

Getting through the airport was a breeze. It was quite chilly when we landed at about 12C and windy. We walked out to the Flybus area where we caught the bus directly to the Blue Lagoon.

These are the strange art sculptures just outside the airport.