Saturday, December 31, 2016

Review 2016, Didn't use my passport much

This is the map of my travels in 2016. I only took 6 trips.

I took 21 flights this year for a total of 24,057 miles. This was a low flying year for me and included only one international trip to Italy.

I flew 17 flights on United Airlines and 4 on Lufthansa.

My longest flight was Los Angeles (LAX) to Munich (MUC) for 5,982 miles.
My shortest flight was San Francisco (SFO) to Sacramento (SMF) for 86 miles.

I hope to travel a little more next year. I will post more in the next few days of my last trips of 2016.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Meet Me in St. Louis

Over the weekend I took a short trip to St. Louis (STL) to meet up with some college friends. I flew on United from Orange County (SNA) through San Francisco (SFO). It was a very long journey to the midwest because SFO isn't exactly on the way and I had a 2.5 hour layover. It was rough. My flight left SNA at 3:00p. I arrived about 1.5 hours early and waited in the small United Club. It was really warm there as it is near the ceiling of the open air terminal. It was not comfortable at all. These first 2 flights were on the EMB-175 regional jets, which are my new favorite of the small planes. The seating is 1x2 in first class, and 2x2 in coach. The windows are huge and United Express even has wifi and streaming entertainment. 

I think this was the first time I had flown the E175 out of John Wayne airport, which is known for its powerful takeoffs due to the noise ordinance in effect. It was a strong takeoff and we ended up with a flight time of just under an hour. It was a very fast flight up the coast.

Before I knew it, we were landing at SFO. It was a nice cool and clear day with the usual summer fog trying to creep over the hills in the late afternoon.

At Terminal 3 at SFO many of the United Express flights land at the high 70s gates. I walked directly to the Centurion Lounge adjacent to the International Terminal. It is always packed and I feel weird taking pictures of it. I found a little chaise lounge to recline on and had a cup of coffee. They have a lot of food, but it's never something I'm dying to eat. I stayed there for about 30 minutes or so.

After that I walked through the G gates of the International Terminal just to pass the time. I found a very busy terminal with flights for Air Lingus, Turkish, SWISS, and SAS (Scandinavian). Also Fiji Airlines, COPA, and Air New Zealand were parked away from the terminal. Once I had my look around the G gates, I headed to the United Club in the middle of the terminal. I found a place to sit in the very large lounge and had some soup and cheese and crackers while I streamed the speeches from the DNC. I was there for about 30 minutes and time just flies in that lounge for me because it has unobstructed views of the runways and you get to see just about every plane coming in to land and the occasional jumbos taking off toward the ocean.

On the next flight to St. Louis (STL) I had a window seat in the first row of coach. There is a ton of legroom and actually more legroom than first class has. The seat comfort is ok for a short flight, but I found the seat to be quite hard after a few hours. This flight was just under 4 hours. I was able to get onto the wifi and listen to the rest of the speeches from the DNC while also checking email and texting friends. Had it not been nighttime, I probably would've snapchatted too. My flight was supposed to land around 1:15am, but we made up time and landed around 12:30am. I quickly made my way out the terminal and found the rental car vans. I was at the Hilton Garden Inn STL airport by 1:15am which was nice since I was thinking it would be much later. My friend that I was meeting already checked us in to the room and I fell asleep soon after.

The next day after spending time with our other friend who actually lives in St. Louis, we made our way to the Marriott Grand downtown where we would stay for the next 2 nights. It is a very nice hotel and with my gold elite status we were given a room on the concierge floor with access to the concierge lounge for happy hour and breakfast.

The room was nice enough complete with a small lounging couch near the window. The room was on the 18th floor and had a view south where you can sort of see the St. Louis Arch.

On Saturday morning we found that Washington Avenue right outside the hotel was closed off because of this wedding. There was a ton of music and dancing in the procession. It looked really fun and many passers-by were taking pictures. Later that evening we had appetizers and drinks in the lounge and there was enough food that we didn't even have to eat dinner. They even had dessert items once they removed the appetizers.

On my last morning in St. Louis, I had breakfast at the window of the lounge. They had several hot items and pastries too. I think they also served Starbucks coffee. There's also a Starbucks in the lobby of the hotel.

Downtown is about a 15 minute drive to the airport without traffic. One thing that I noticed from my time in St. Louis is that signage is terrible. If you don't know where you are going and what you are doing, chances are you will miss an exit or get lost. I have a really good sense of direction, but I still got turned around trying to return my rental car. I followed the signs exactly and still ended up getting back onto the freeway and going down one more exit and then eventually I found the rental car place. I caught the shuttle to Terminal 1, which is the original part of the airport. This old TWA terminal is so cool but also kind of sad.

Unfortunately there was no lounge at this airport, so I found a quiet place to sit and read until my flight was leaving. I saw many United flights and every single one was on a regional jet. My own flight was on another E175, my third one for this trip. This time I was flying through Houston (IAH).

This National Airlines 757 was parked near the terminal and I had never seen this airline before. I looked up their website and it looks like they have a limited schedule and do charters.

My flight to Houston was a little over 1.5 hours long. The weird thing about this flight was that small pieces of ice were falling from the overhead panel. They would melt almost immediately, but it was so annoying. When we were about to land at IAH I noticed this A320 landing parallel to us.

Since this flight arrived about 20 minutes early I had over 2 hours for my layover. I arrived at terminal B and my connection was at terminal E. I had a lot of time to kill so I decided to visit some of the lounges at IAH. I saw a sign/ad for a brand new Centurion lounge in terminal D, so that is where I went first. The lounge is not that easy to find. You have to take an elevator near Gate 6 in Terminal D to the mezzanine level. Then it's down a random hallway. The lounge itself is obviously new with modern decor. It looks similar to the one at SFO. It was fairly crowded with most seating occupied. I found a small bistro table in the bar area to sit and have some water and a snack. Once again the food wasn't really interesting to me so I opted for a scone. I logged on to the internet for a bit and then left after about 20 minutes.

After I left the Centurion lounge and headed back up to the departures level, I found the KLM Crown Lounge. It wasn't busy because there wasn't a KLM flight there. Their flight left earlier in the afternoon, so I am not sure why they stay open. I guess it is to accommodate Priority Pass members like me. This lounge was quite small with a view overlooking the check-in area. There was free booze and some snacks. I had a cup of broccoli cheese soup and crackers. After about 15 minutes, I left.

Since my flight was out of Terminal E, I made my way to the very large United Club in the middle of the terminal. I always go up to the top floor because it is usually less crowded. Today it wasn't. It was packed. It was Sunday evening after all which is a busier day than most to travel. None of the food looked good, so I had a small cup of coffee. I waited there until about 35 minutes before my flight and then found my gate.

They were already boarding by the time I got there so I walked right on to the plane since I was in boarding group 1. This flight was on an A320.

I had an aisle seat in the last row of first class. The guy next to me slept almost the entire flight probably because for his pre-departure drink he asked for a double vodka, no ice. He downed his drink in one gulp and didn't wake up until our hard landing in Orange County.

With the wireless streaming there are tons of movie and TV options. I watched Zootopia, which was excellent. I was able to prop my ipad mini in the seat pocket and watch the movie comfortably.

Dinner was jambalaya and considering that I hadn't had lunch and only a bunch of snacks from the lounges, I was pretty hungry.

The flight was a little under 3 hours long and about 45 minutes before we landed, they served these brownie cookies, which were so good. We ended up landing slightly early and after a very long journey to and from the midwest for a short weekend getaway, I was happy to be home.

Friday, June 17, 2016

That time I didn't end up flying to Sacramento

A few days ago I was flying from Orange County (SNA) to Sacramento (SMF) through San Francisco (SFO) on United Airlines. My flight was scheduled for 8:00a. I arrived at the airport around 6:45a only to find out that my flight to SFO was delayed about 50 minutes. This would mean that I would miss my connection to SMF. The delay was due to air traffic control issues and probably fog or weather in San Francisco, so it was possible that my connection would be delayed too. So I just went with the flow. When I got to the United Club, the agent told me that the delay was worse and that I would miss my connection as it wasn't delayed yet. She said that the 7:00a flight to SFO was delayed and she could try to get me on that one. There weren't any seats, but she would continue to monitor it. At about 7:30a she called my name and I went up to the counter. I had a seat and the flight was scheduled to leave at 8:00a. So I left the club and went to the gate. That flight was United Express and so the gate was all the way at the end at Gate 1. When I got to the gate there was no indication that they were boarding the plane any time soon despite the 8:00a departure time. I sat around for a few minutes until about 8:00a and they said that we weren't going to leave until 9:00a. I still would've been fine because by this point my connecting flight was delayed. I was getting flight status updates from United and Tripit.

I remained in the gate area because I didn't want to walk all the way back to the United Club. Besides the gate area was not crowded and it was nice and relaxing. About 10 minutes later, I received a status update and my connecting flight to Sacramento was flat out cancelled. I already knew from when I checked in that the next connecting flight left San Francisco at 4:30p. So I end up walking back to the United Club to see what my options were. The agent told me that indeed the next connecting flight was at 4:30p, which would mean I would spend half the morning at the Orange County airport and then almost the rest of the day at SFO. No thanks. It got worse. There were no seats on that connecting flight and the next flight she could get me on didn't leave SFO until 7:30p, which would mean I would arrive in Sacramento around 12 hours from that point. Hell no. I could drive myself and get there well before dinner. So I asked them to cancel my ticket and refund my money so I could go home and drive myself. They issued a refund and I went home. I got a LYFT home and put my luggage in my car, cancelled my rental car in Sacramento, and got on the road. It was such a mess and such a stupid situation, I'm glad I didn't stick around and try to make it work. I could've flown to Tokyo in the time period they were quoting me. Ridiculous. I was only flying 400 miles away.

I ended up tweeting this experience to @United and they responded to me. Actually they almost always respond to my tweets. They said to submit a customer care issue through the website. So I did that once I got to Sacramento and over the weekend they sent me an airline credit for $75. I guess that covers my LYFT home and my gas money one way. It's better than nothing. I only ended up buying the United ticket in the first place with the connecting flight because it was a lot cheaper than the non-stop Southwest flight. So I guess there is a lesson to be learned somewhere in all of this.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Firenze, Italy to USA

My flight home was going through Frankfurt (FRA) and Washington Dulles (IAD). It was leaving around 10:00am and I was at the airport about 2.5 hours early. The Florence airport is very close to the city center and I arrived quicker than I thought I would. The lounge at the very small Florence airport was airside, which is before security, so you have to make sure to leave enough time to clear security and get to the gate. The airport is very small and there seems to be flights only on small regional aircraft. I think the largest aircraft that is able to land there is the A319.

I spent some time at the lounge and had some breakfast before I went to the gate. It was a very small lounge and it wasn't specific to any one airline. I think all the airlines use it and I was the only person there for a while.

I took a walk around the small terminal before I went through security. There wasn't really much to see and there was not any shopping at all.

These are the aircraft stands. There are no jet bridges here.
This is the check-in area.

There were a few little shops once you get through security and one large waiting area for several gates. You take buses out to the planes even though they are clearly within walking distance of the terminal. My plane couldn't have been more than 200 feet from the terminal, yet they still made us get on a bus.

My plane to Frankfurt was an ERJ 190. It's one of the largest regional jets out there and I love them because the seating is only 2x2 and the windows are gigantic.

The buses leaving from the terminal are pictured here. The plane was ridiculously close.

A Swiss Avro Jet is pictured here.

The seat next to me had this on it and no one sat there. Actually about the first 6 or 7 rows had this so that there were only 2 people in each row instead of 4. I think it was to enforce weight restrictions because the runway is so short.

The take off from Florence was very similar to leaving from Orange County because they held the brakes and revved the engines and then the plane rocketed down the runway. They served a small snack on this flight that only lasted about 1.5 hours if that.

I was excited to fly through Frankfurt because it is a huge international hub. Our plane parked at least a mile away. It seemed like an area where many regional jets park. Once again we boarded a bus and weaved through various planes along the way to the terminal.

Here is a Qatar 787 and a China Airlines 777.
This is Lufthansa 747-8i.

Here is a Lufthansa A340-300.
A retro livery on a Turkish A330.
This is my 747-8i that would take me to Dulles.

The terminal in Frankfurt was huge and packed. I found a lounge and it was packed. I think only got some water and used the internet. The terminal was so hot and uncomfortable. The flight to Dulles was actually not great at all. It was jam packed and I sat in the second to last row. The seats recline a lot which is nice, but that means the person in front of you is merely inches from your face. The saving grace was that the flight was only about 8 hours.

We parked next to an Austrian 767-300
One of my favorite airport terminals.
This was from the mobile satellite from the international terminal to the main terminal.