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.