AA/BA | B738/A380 | LAS-LAX-LHR | First/WTP

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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

So picking up from the last part. I’d just arrived in Las Vegas and was keen to explore, and see what had changed since my last visit in 2002.

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Pool area in the Tropicana

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Inside the Luxor:

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Taking a not too long, but very hot (the temperature was 40 degrees+, but thankfully not too humid) walk out to the famous sign.

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Checking out the Paris – I’d not been inside this one before.

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One of the new additions to the strip:

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The Venetian. I preferred this to the real Venice, as it was far easier to leave…

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One of the older blocks:

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But the most fun (and the best pictures) to be had in Vegas is when the sun goes down.

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This one had only opened a few day previously – it was formerly The Sahara – A hotel that I’d stayed in many times.

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Great dinner at The Outback

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The famous Fremont Street

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After a pretty late night out (or technically, early morning) it was a late start the following day.

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Taking one last look at probably my favourite hotel on the strip – the NYNY:

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Complete with lunch from a NY style pizzeria

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When the time came to return to the airport it was a little frustrating to say the least. I’d arranged to be picked up from the hotel at 12:50 – their recommendation, not mine. So I made it there by 12:40. By 13:00, no bus. By 13:15, still no bus, so I called them. Their answer was “they’re ruining a little late…” Finally at 13:35, some 45 minutes late and I was finally on my way.

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Terrible service. And to make matters worse, the driver just dumped everybody in the middle of the road hen we arrived at the airport!

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I made my way over to check in where I was seen to in just a minute or two.

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After this I took the slow walk up to security, stopping for a brief look around the museum along the way, although it wasn’t all that interesting.

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Of course, plenty of slots here:

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As I passed through security, the following message appeared on my phone.

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Although the local FID’s were saying otherwise.

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As there weren’t any lounges I could use here in LAS – either via OneWorld status or Airport Angel, I grabbed a drink from a stand and sat next to a window to watch what was going on outside.

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Pretty busy out

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I then made my way down to my assigned gateUpon reaching there, an AA 737 was just pulling in to stand. Hmm.

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A bit of searching online said this was the inbound flight from LAX and was also due to operate back there, so maybe there wasn’t a delay after all? I asked the ground agent and she said that it was all on time… And that I was about the fifth person to say it was due to depart at 5pm! I’ve since had the complete opposite issue in Madrid where the staff were saying the flight was delayed, but online was convinced we were on time. On that occasion, we departed around fifteen minutes late and ended up arriving more or less on time.

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Boarding was announced a few minutes later and I was the first on board

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September 2014
Boeing 737-800 / N957AN
Seat: 6A / First Class
Scheduled: 15:45/17:00
Off Stand: 15:39
On Stand: 16:45

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Initially I did have a seatmate, however as soon as it became apparent the cabin wouldn’t be full, they moved to the row in front.

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During boarding, the now standard beaker of water was handed out

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We pushed back more than a couple of minutes early and made a long but speedy taxi over to the active.

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We departed and spun around to cross the desert over to LA

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The crew started the drinks run. I was expecting the service to be identical to the one I received on my TPA-MIA sector as the flight was under an hour, however the snack basket that was present on my PHL-TPA sector appeared and I chose some biscuits.

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Once I had finished, the mass urban spread of LA had come into view, and the captain had given the instruction for the crew to prepare for landing.

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On approach we had some company – which meant we would be landing on 24R.

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We did indeed land on this runway and then made a pretty long journey over to the AA terminal.

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Upon arrival on to stand, it was only a couple of minutes or two until everybody was released, and it was off through to baggage reclaim.

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There was a wait of around fifteen minutes until the belt fired into life – and then a further ten minute wait for my bag to appear. Despite my bag having a priority tag, I’ve noticed on this trip that they don’t seem to mean much – as mine was one of the first priority tagged bags to appear on this occasion, whilst many more regular bags came and went. It was then outside for the shuttle over to the Hilton at LAX, which arrived after around ten minutes.

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Passing an iconic building on the shuttle

Once more, I was given an upgraded room – and once more, I had more than enough room to spread out.

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The view of the arrivals was decent enough too.

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As transportation options in LA aren’t brilliant, the rest of the evening consisted of venturing out to Denny’s for some dinner and watching rubbish on the TV. I didn’t feel like I’d missed out too much though. Much like Miami, earlier on this trip, I’d visited Los Angeles at least a dozen times previously so wasn’t really missing anything I hadn’t seen already.

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Luckily, local a.netter The777Man was available the following day so was able to take me around the area. First off we visited Imperial Hill which gives a great view over LAX:

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After this we made the drive to Hollywood:

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Before heading in the direction of Griffith Park

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We then headed back towards the airport for an In-N-Out burger:

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Lady Penelope – my most flown aircraft.

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We then headed back up to Imperial Hill for my final hour or so in the USA.

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Unusual to catch one of these in working order. The previous days flight was operated by a Euro Atlantic 777

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After watching this one, it was time to head off to the airport. Thanks for the great day out Lars – very much appreciated!

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After arriving at LAX, I headed over to a pretty quiet check in area where I was seen to pretty much straight away, and without so much as a word said.

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When I noticed once again that the agent failed to put a priority tag on I queried it. The response was “it doesn’t need one, but I suppose I can put one on anyway”. Gee, thanks. Although I’ve since learned that OneWorld Sapphire card holders aren’t entitled to priority baggage, and it turns the MH check in staff I’d encountered on a previous trip were obviously just being very kind.

I headed through security and up to the new OneWorld lounge.

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Interesting how the only newspapers on offer were UK ones.

The hot food selection was good enough.

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The cake selection was where I got my monies worth however.

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Around forty five minutes before departure, I headed downstairs, to find G-XLEE on stand.

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As the boarding process was being announced, pretty much everybody decided it was their time to board, despite the ground crew being quite insistent that boarding would be done by row number.

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All this succeeded in was making everybody crowd the gate area. Boarding was held up slightly, by the guy in front if me complaining to the ground staff that he was entitled to an upgrade due to the fact he was a frequent flyer. I caught a glimpse of his card, and he was a OneWorld Ruby… Hmm. He then got completely lost due to the fact there were two jetbridges downstairs and one upstairs. Maybe not quite that frequent then, at least on this route.

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September 2014
Airbus A380 / G-XLEE
Seat: 66A / World Traveller Plus
Scheduled: 21:45/16:00
Off Stand: 21:44
On Stand: 15:48

Once I did get on board I found the usual pillow, blanket, headphones and amenity kit waiting.

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Once most were aboard, menus and pre boarding drinks were distributed.

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The captain welcomed everybody and announced a flying time of nine hours and thirty minutes.

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We pushed back a minute ahead of schedule, although we then sat and waited for a good fifteen minutes to get going. Once we did, it was a short journey out to the active. The only other aircraft ahead of us to depart was a VS A346 – so pretty much a head to head race to LHR! I’m pretty sure we won, as it was one of only two VS A346’s in the new livery, and I didn’t see any around when we arrived.

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We ambled into the air at 22:10 local and made the standard two left turns over the ocean to set us on course for London.

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Around twenty minutes after departure, the drinks service started.

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Followed around thirty minutes later by dinner. I chose the beef.

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Along with bad neighbours on the IFE.

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Followed by Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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Before it had even ended, and before my meal tray had been collected, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until an hour and a half before landing.

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More or less as the breakfast service started in fact.

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Catching up with the BA Highlife magazine until descent started.

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Around forty minutes before arrival, the captain gave the usual speech informing everybody about our arrival. A few moments later descent started.

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Familiar area….

It was a but of a hazy descent and approach, therefore not much to be seen in the way down.

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We made a very smooth touchdown, the sort where you’re not quite sure if you’ve actually landed or not, and made the slow journey over to T5C.

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Upon arrival, the captain mentioned that we were ten minutes ahead of schedule. But then it took ten minutes to get the doors open so any advantage was lost. We pulled in alongside G-XLEB, which we had watched depart from LAX whilst eating our burgers just a few hours previously. I believe it was due to head out to HKG that evening.

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On my way out, I asked if it was possible to visit the flight deck – as there was no way I’d make the 16:15 coach, and it was a bit of a wait until the next one. This was granted without issue and we had a chat about the “brake to vacate” system on the A380.

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After this, it was on to a very slow and busy walk along the jet bridge through to arrivals. Despite taking my time disembarking, spending a good ten minutes on the flight deck, there were still people piling off!

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Upon heading down to the transit, I noticed that the underground walkway was slightly better advertised than previously – so I took this option instead.

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It was then the usual formalities, before heading down to Baggage claim.

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It took around fifteen minutes for my bag to show up – and I had noticed that the priority tag that I’d made a point of asking for in LAX had vanished. Hmm. Around ten minutes later, it was on to the bus heading for home. As I’m a regular on the service now, the driver recognised me and we chatted all the way home – seems as though there’s some interesting changes coming up, as the service isn’t doing as well as National Express had hoped.

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And so concludes another series.

I’d love to be able to give an in depth review of these flights, but having a forty minute or so hop on AA yielded a pretty basic service – which was to be expected really. And the fact I slept through most of the BA flight proved that their World Traveller Plus seats on the A380 are more than comfortable long haul. A special note should be given to the OneWorld lounge in LAX though – that was definitely one of the better ones I’d been in.

American | B738/B752/MD80 | SXM-MIA-DFW-LAS | First Class

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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Booking for this part was made through the AA website. The schedules meant I either had to choose an overnight stop in MIA or DFW. I chose MIA as that was my entry point to the USA, therefore any hold ups at immigration wouldn’t be an issue.

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Once more, I could pre-select my meals:

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For those of you who read the first part, you’ll remember that I arrived into SXM minus my bag. Luckily, it did eventually turn up, but it was a bit of a drawn out process – involving multiple phone calls to both the airport in SXM and the HQ in Miami. The general opinion was “we don’t know where it is”. Even the bag tracker on the AA website was if the same opinion.

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Finally, after making a visit back to SXM I was eventually reunited with my bag.

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I’ll start off with a few pics of my time on the island:

The famous beach – I wish all Monday mornings were like that!:

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The small town of Maho Beach:

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Around the Sonesta resort:

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And of course, a few shots of the arrivals into SXM:

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Something major was on approach…

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AF A343 heading back off once more:

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DL as seen from the hotel bar:

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When it was time to leave, I made the twenty minute walk back to the airport from my hotel.

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Once there,I was informed that all the computer systems were down,therefore everything would have to be processed manually.

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I was given an interesting looking boarding pass and made my way upstairs to departures.

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I headed for the lounge, but was informed that it was privately owned, therefore American passengers weren’t eligible. I still managed to access it though via my Airport Angel card.

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Around thirty minutes ahead of scheduled boarding, I made my way down to the gate, just as today’s jet was pulling on to stand.

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There was a bit of a delay to boarding, but this allowed me to watch a couple more arrivals and take a look at what was around.

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I’d missed this one land by a couple of seconds when I left my hotel.

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When boarding did begin I was the first on board.

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September 2014
Boeing 737-800 / N883NN
Seat: 5A/ First Class
Scheduled: 14:14/17:22
Off Stand: 14:30
On Stand: 17:30

I was pleased to see that this one, despite the old livery, had the Boeing Sky Interior. This makes a huge improvement to the 737 I find.

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Boarding continued, until the last few passengers made their way in board at random five to ten minute intervals… In your own time. This didn’t matter however, as the captain informed us that the earlier power outage meant that everything was being done manually, therefore it was taking a little longer than usual. Boarding drinks were handed out.

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Once we finally did pushback, it was a quick process.

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We held at the end of the runway for a minute or two so everybody on Maho Beach could get a good grip on the fence, before we pulled into position.

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The Sonesta hotel seen from the plane

Once there, it was a very powerful takeoff before making a barrel roll to the right to avoid the mountain at the end of the runway. It was then out over the sea and more or less the last of the views.

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Some ten minutes after departure, the purser came around, welcomed me by name and confirmed my dinner order. A few moments later, hot towels were given out.

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Followed by the drinks – and this time around, they’d remembered to load the warm nuts too.

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During this time, no less than four pax from economy came up and used the forward washroom, despite the curtain being drawn. The purser looked quite irritated by this, but didn’t say anything. Surely an announcement saying it’s for first class only would have solved the problem?

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The meal service continued

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Following this, I watched a video on my iPad, after which descent started.

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It was definitely an interesting descent – due to the storms around, it was a bit of a roller coaster ride. My seatmate decided to make good use of the the sick bag during this time too…

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We landed into a surprisingly dry MIA and made the long journey over to our stand at the opposite side of the airport.

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I made my way through to immigration, via the sky train. It appeared the storm we had flown through a few minutes ago was slowly rolling into town.

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After seeing that despite being in one of the shortest queues it was taking the longest, I thought that maybe the officer may be a little on the strict side. How wrong was I! He was an easy going Caribbean guy who was very well humoured. And more concerned about changing his chair than interrogating me. I was stamped into the country again, and made my way through to baggage claim, hoping I would be a little more successful this time. I was, but I still had to wait a while – the agents in SXM hadn’t placed the priority tag all that well – can you see it?! Trust me, its there…

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After this, it was a reasonably long line to clear customs before heading on to a shuttle to my hotel for the night, the Hilton at MIA.

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I arrived at the hotel, and was checked in by the manager who seemed very pleased to see that I was a HHonours member. This hotel was great value – a standard room was £72, where as a one bedroom suite with a balcony overlooking the airport came to £80. Eight pounds well spent!

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I had toyed with the idea of heading into town for the evening, however as I’d visited Miami many times before, the rain had now turned up with a vengeance, and I had a decent room to spend the evening in, I decided against it. Instead, it was some massively overpriced room service with a couple of beers that I’d “borrowed” from the minibar in SXM.

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At 4:30 the following morning, my alarm was going off and I was heading back to the airport once more.

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I was checked in by a business friendly agent and I then took the walk to the lounge.

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Once more, it was massively underwhelming.

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This mornings ride being prepared beneath us

I made my way down to the gate just a few minutes before boarding was due to begin.

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September 2014
Boeing 757-200 / N635NN
Seat: 4F / First Class
Scheduled: 07:15/09:25
Off Stand: 07:11
On Stand: 08:59

Almost immediately, my seatmate was pestering me to swap seats with his wife who was in the aisle seat in front. This is a seemingly common occurrence lately. In the days of being able to pre book your seats on line, and even check in online I take the stance that there’s really no excuse to not get your desired seat – and even if all that fails, get to the airport early and claim one there.

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We pushed back and made a very short taxi over to the runway.

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After waiting a minute or two for a company 777 to land, it was our turn or make the characteristic powerful 757 takeoff.

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Much like the previous flights, shortly after departure the breakfast orders were taken, as well as drink orders.

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A bit of turbulence here, hence the slightly odd angle of the water.

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These were dished out a while later.

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I must admit it wasn’t that great – quite stodgy and very sweet. Although I’m not a fan of American breakfasts in general really.

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I spent the rest of the flight reading through the small print of my travel insurance – wondering if I could claim anything back from the clothes I had to buy when my bag was lost. Turned out to be quite an amusing read, especially the part about dying being a valid reason for cutting your trip short!

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Descent started and the first officer announced that she would have us on stand twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The cabin crew also announced the connecting gate information as well as info on how to find the AAdmirals clubs at DFW.

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During descent, mints were handed out. We were treated to some good views of Dallas on approach – before heading out into the middle of nowhere.

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We touched down more than a few minutes ahead of schedule, after chasing our shadow for the last few miles.

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Luckily though, we didn’t have the same issues that was suffered at JFK last year – where it took us forty minutes to find a spare gate – due to the size of the AA operation here at DFW it was easy enough to find a new gate. It was then off into a very bland looking DFW.

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I made my way on to the skytrain to the C gates, where my next flight was due to depart from and headed up to the lounge. This place was pretty big, therefore not too busy, but still offered virtually nothing in the way of free food or drink.

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I made use of the free wifi and made a phonecall home (that didn’t cost a penny, thanks to Three’s feel at home plan – well worth it if you travel abroad a bit), before heading down to the gate a good hour or so before departure, for my second retro experience of the day.

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Boarding began, and for the first time in the US, there was a mass stampede towards the door. Luckily though, the boarding order was strictly enforced and I was through pretty quickly.

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September 2014
MD83 / N597AA
Seat: 6F / First Class
Scheduled: 11:30/12:20
Off Stand: 11:31
On Stand: 12:11

Almost immediately I noticed a difference in the cabin of this one. The seats seemed much bigger, but the legroom was maybe a little tighter.

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Once more the cabin was in complete darkness. I’m starting to think its SOP for AA to close all the window blinds on the ground? One thing that does fascinate me though is how uninterested the rest if the cabin is in the outside world – on nearly all my flights, I’ve been the only person to open the window shades! The purser confirmed my meal choice, and offered everybody a drink of their choice. I declined, as pushback was near.

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Once we did head backwards, the engines were started and we made our way over to the active very quietly.

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The captain announced a flying time of two hours and twenty minutes and that there was just one aircraft ahead of us. We finally did take to the skies, and at this end of the plane it was very quiet. I’d imagine it was a different story down the back however.

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Once we had reached a decent altitude, the seatbelt sign was switched off and another drink run was done. I chose a Dr Pepper this time.

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It was a great clear day outside, so the views of Texas were pretty good as we flew overhead.

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The slightly reduced space on this old lady was becoming more apparent. There was barely enough room to swing a SLR, so phone pics it had to be. And there was barely enough room in the centre console for two drinks, so I had to get a little creative.

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A short while later, the lunch service began. It wasn’t too bad – far better than this mornings effort anyway.

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After this, I reclined and read an ebook on my iPad, and continued to gaze outside as there was still no clouds or haze. With around thirty minutes to go, I could just about make out the engines spooling back. The captain announced our descent and mentioned that we would be passing the Grand Canyon in a few moments.

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Following our tour of the Grand Canyon, we were pretty close to landing.

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We made a reasonably hard touchdown and then made a long taxi over to the terminal. Upon arrival, there was no doubting I was in Vegas!

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It was then on to a shuttle. It was a bit of an odd setup, where some airlines have to collect their bags in T1 and others in the new T3. In my case, it was T1.

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Baggage claim area that was more like a casino

It was then on to the shuttle to my hotel. I had a bit of an issue when trying to choose a hotel here. Much like in Bangkok, due to the fact theres so many rooms here, they’re all very reasonably priced. Some Cheaper rooms can be found for as little at £9 a night… but rather than that, I splashed out the £30 a night for an upgraded room at The Tropicana though. The last time I’d stayed here was back in 1998. Despite this, it still looked reasonably familiar, despite getting a lick of paint.

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Out of the frying pan…

And with that, I’d reached the final destination on this ticket.

AA performed well enough once more. The crew on the SXM-MIA sector seemed a little inexperienced but other than that, I had no major complaints. The only other niggle was the fact the same meal options were offered on all flights – if you’re a real regular flyer, I’d imagine it would get a little boring eating the same over and over.


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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

My latest series will see me journey across the Atlantic once more, with a couple of days in St.Maarten thrown in for good measure. The series will be split into three parts, covering the following flights:

British Airways 787, Word Traveller Plus – LHR-PHL
US Airways A321, First Class – PHL-TPA
American Airlines 737-800, First Class – TPA-MIA
American Airlines 737-800, Business Class – MIA-SXM
American Airlines 737-800, Business Class – SXM-MIA
American Airlines 757-200, First Class – MIA-DFW
American Airlines MD83, First Class – DFW-LAS
American Airlines 737-800, First Class – LAS-LAX
British Airways A380, World Traveller Plus – LAX-LHR

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I had considered quite a few options for this time – either Asia or South America were high on the list. And after good look around the destinations travel show with fellow a.netters Gabriel and PalmJet back in February, Panama also featured highly. However various factors hindered these plans – cost and time (or lack of it) were the main two.

After much searching, the best option seemed to be to fly to the USA and go from there. This was sorted with a couple of BA flights. As there was a flight to PHL leaving at around 5PM, this meant I could travel on the Friday after work. It also happened that this flight was operated by the 787, rather than the 767 that had been used on the route previously. As I’d read nothing but bad things about this aircrafts economy cabin, I figured the best bet would be to shell out the extra and fly in the Word Traveller Plus cabin instead – which got far better reviews. The return sector was routed through Los Angeles, on one of the companies A380’s – so both flights would feature the new World Traveller Plus cabin, which I sampled on my return from Atlanta last year.

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This parts other flights were booked through the American Airlines website. Initially I found a routing which included a flight on one of the companies 757’s.

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Annoyingly though, when I came to book a few days later, this option had vanished from existence. Instead then, I had to take a pair of flights on the 737-800. As the first class fares were pretty decent, I selected this option, as it would bag me a good haul of BA Tier points.

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On the international sector with AA, there was also the option to pre order my meal.

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On to the interesting part then:

I set off to Heathrow T5 by my usual means. Despite there being quite a bit of traffic, the journey only took around twenty five minutes.

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I made my way over to dump my bag and grab a souvenir boarding pass – this was met with “I’ll see what I can do…”

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It was then through security. Despite there only being four people in the line, it still took a good ten minutes to pass through. No bother though, as I was in plenty of time. I stopped off at Dixons to grab a case for my new laptop before heading up to the South lounge for some lunch.

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I must admit, it wasn’t overly busy, which I find rare for the time of day. Although I still couldn’t get into my favourite corner, so had to make do with another cubby hole! Although annoyingly there was a very loud guy sat there inducing not only his gang to his conversation, but almost half of the lounge. Luckily he left after around thirty minutes and things got much more peaceful. By this time, the lunch service had finished and had been replaced by the afternoon tea offerings.

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Around an hour before departure, I was glad to see that my flight would be departing from T5B – meaning I’d get another lounge visit, and also I’d get to try out one that I’d not been in before.

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I must admit, I did prefer this lounge as it wasn’t as busy and there are some much better views.

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Around twenty minutes later, the board now signal was given. I then made my way down to gate B32 where boarding was already underway. There was nobody at all in the fast track lane, and I was through in just a few seconds. Although my advantage was short lived, as I was singled out for an extra security check.This only took a few moments however, and I was then on my way down one of the extra long jetways.

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Along the way, I noticed something a little unexpected at stand 532.

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I enquired about the aircraft type to one of the ground crew members at the end of the jetbridge, and he enthusiastically confirmed it was still at 787. Following which, I was ushered down the stairs and on to the ramp along side the previously mentioned 747 – great!

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I made my way on to a bus and got a pretty good tour of T5C.

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Before pulling up along side G-ZBJC, which would be another new reg for the log

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August 2014
Boeing 787-8 / G-ZBJC
Seat: 12A / World Traveller Plus
Scheduled: 16:55/19:40
Off Stand: 16:58
On Stand: 19:41

I was greeted at the door by the mixed fleet crew and made the few steps back to my seat.

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Ready and waiting for me was a cushion, blanket and a pack containing some noise cancelling headphones and an amenity kit.

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Before too many more passengers turned up, I was offered a welcome drink of OJ or water. I don’t remember this on my previous BA WTP flight.

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Another coach load of passengers turned up, and most of the comments were along the lines of, “wow, this is first class, this looks nice”. Personally if I’d shelled out for a long haul flight in F and I’d got this, I’d feel slightly hard done by…

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The captain announced a slightly longer flight time of seven hours and twenty and the current delay was caused by a passenger not turning up.

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The crew offered the remaining few passengers ( and I mean literally a few – nice quiet cabin this evening) a menu.

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We did push back just a few minutes late and made a long taxi over to 27R.

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There was a pretty quiet takeoff into some cloudy skies. Due to the WTP cabin being right over the wing, I couldn’t see too much.

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Shortly after departure, hot towels were distributed.

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Some twenty minutes after departure the crew started the drinks round. I went for what is fast becoming one of my favourite airline drinks!

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A few moments later, the purser came and personally welcomed me by name, shook my hand and asked how I was finding the Dreamliner experience so far. Must admit, this was the first, and so far only time I’ve experienced this.

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One of the features of the 787 is that it can climb high almost straight away

After this the meal service began. I went for the chicken, and it tasted great.

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The only complaint I had with the crew were that they were a little slow to collect the trays in – it took around an hour from dinner being first dished up to handing the tray back again. After the meal the lights were dimmed, and the cabin was put into night mode – despite it being daylight outside.

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I paid a visit to the washroom, before settling down in front of the second best film ever made (at least in my opinion) – The Life of Brian.

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Pretty big galley at the rear

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The next few hours were spent watching BA’s IFE, plus my own. And listening to the baby opposite repeatedly scream its lungs out…

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One of the few drinks runs

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The outside world through a dimmed window

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Flying high

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Economy cabin

With just over an hour of the flight remaining, the lights were put back into day mode and the snack service was dished out – a coronation chicken sandwich, a KitKat and some tea.

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The first officer announced our arrival details and the weather, but not much more with around forty minutes remaining.

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We descended into the sunset, touching down more or less on schedule.

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Reading the paper on descent

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As everybody was disembarking, the captain wished everybody farewell and apologised for arriving a minute or two late, explaining it was due to being put at the back of a queue of local traffic. I was one of the first off, and due to the few people ahead of me heading for the resident line, I was the one and only person at the visitor lane, despite stopping for a pic along the way.

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The whole process took the grand total of about three minutes – probably the quickest and easiest entry to the USA I’ve had. My advantage was short lived though, due to then having to wait around thirty minutes for my bag to appear.

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After this, it was through some bland looking corridors to wait for a bus to my hotel, the Hilton.

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And when in Philly, you just have to get a cheesesteak!

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The following morning, I was able to appreciate the view from my room.

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A few pics from my time in Philadelphia:

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I do like visiting local markets – and this was a great one!

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Down by the river

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After an interesting time in Philadelphia, it was time to move on. I caught a shuttle back to the airport and was greeted by the friendly US ground staff at check in.

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When it came to passport check, the agent admitted she’d never seen a European passport before and seemed to struggle finding my photo page – not being able to bear the pain of watching her struggle, I eventually showed her! As there’s next to nothing landside at PHL, I headed straight through security. Still, nobody asked to see if my battery powered devices would fire up though?

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It was then up to the US Airways club lounge, where I was swiped in without much of a word said. As it was still only just 8 AM, I pretty much had the place to myself.

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It was more or less your standard stateside lounge in regards to the food offerings.

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There was a decent view though.

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After around thirty minutes, I figured I’d be better off heading down to the lounge nearer to where my flight was departing from. Along the way, I though I’d lucked in…

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Until I was denied entry – as apparently it’s not a BA lounge until 3PM. Until then, it’s a QR lounge. I argued that QR were also part of OneWorld, but the agent was having none of it, despite the fact I could see there was just the one person in there.

So I headed up to the US Envoy club instead.

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From here, I got a glimpse of this mornings ride.

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Around ten minutes before boarding, I headed down to the gate.

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My 200th logged flight
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August 2014
Airbus A321 / N557UW
Seat: 2A / First Class
Scheduled: 09:50/12:32 (yes, :32 – thats not a typo!)
Off Stand: 09:47
On Stand: 12:09

I was the second person on board this pretty dark cabin… The first thing I did was open up the window shades!

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During boarding, the crew offered everybody in first a drink of their choice. I went with water, although the rest of the cabin seemed to go with coke – at 9:30AM – not for me thanks!

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The captain gave a very brief welcome whilst still on stand. And a few moments later, we pushed back. Once the engines were started,he gave a more thorough briefing, mentioning a flight time of two hours and five minutes, and the hold up we were currently experiencing was due to another aircraft having just pushed back and blocking us.

A few seconds later, we were on our way over to the active, with the cabin in almost complete darkness apart from my two open window shades.

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Following departure, a further drinks round was done – more coke for pretty much everybody… I elected to go with an orange juice however.

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A few moments later, the “meal” service began. Basically a select few snacks from a basket. Understandable on a flight of under an hour, but over two? Really? I grabbed a pretty small sandwich and a couple of biscuits before it was yanked away again.

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I spent the rest of the flight listening to my iPod and browsing the pretty uninteresting inflight mag.

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Towards the latter part of the flight, there were some particularly nasty cloud formations around – making for a bumpy ride, despite the flight crew doing their best to steer around them.

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The captain announced descent and we continued to weave around the clouds until at quite a low altitude.

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We touched down ahead of schedule and made quite a noisy rollout. I must admit, I never knew an A32X could make so much noise. It was a quick roll over to the terminal and within a minute or so, the door was opened and I was making my way into the terminal.

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Not often Gatwick is the second most exotic destination

I went for a brief walk around this concourse, before submitting to the US Airways Club lounge.

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There was a great view of the ramp from here

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For PalmJet

Again, there were hardly any food or drink options, although there were a few bar snacks available. I didn’t indulge though. Instead I took some very salty peanut butter bites.

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During which time, I tracked my inbound flight:

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And then watched it arrive, as the A321 that brought me here pushed back.

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More or less as the incoming flight arrived, I headed back downstairs to the gate.

Boarding began around twenty minutes later.

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August 2014
Boeing 737-800 / N860NN
Seat: 4F/ First Class
Scheduled: 14:40/15:43
Off Stand: 14:40
On Stand: 15:41

I took my seat, and almost immediately the First class cabin was full. It seemed a little more spacious than the US Airways example. Once more, virtually all the window shades were closed.

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The captain announced a flying time of 41 minutes and a cruising altitude of 25,000ft. During boarding, I saw my bag being loaded onboard below me. This would later prove to be some useful information.

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Pushback occurred exactly on schedule. Then we sat on the taxiway with the engines running for more then a few minutes. Luckily, we pulled away and made our way over to the active.

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We then got going and were more or less straight out over the water and St. Petersburg.

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After a few bumps due to some nasty looking clouds the onboard service began. It was more or less identical to the one this morning, however on a flight of this length it was more expected.

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And that was pretty much that as far as this flight was concerned. Descent began over the swamps of the Everglades, before the suburbs of Miami were upon us and we landed into Miami more or less on schedule.

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Due to a reasonably short connection time, I either had the choice of taking a long walk to the next gate, which was at the opposite end of the terminal, or making another lounge visit. I figured I didn’t really have much to gain by making another lounge visit, so I took the long walk instead.

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I arrived at the gate just a few minutes before boarding was due to begin.

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August 2014
Boeing 737-800 / N832NN
Seat: 6A / Business Class
Scheduled: 17:00/20:04
Off Stand: 16:58
On Stand: 19:53

I settled into 6A – despite this aircraft still having the old style cabin, I’m guessing it had recently got new light bulbs as the cabin seemed much brighter than the previous one. Once again, it was a full flight. And once again, both window shades were closed.

Pushback came a couple of minutes ahead of schedule.

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Once we had reached a decent enough altitude, the customs forms were given out. Not that I could fill it in, due to my pen being in the overhead and my seatmate being the type of seatmate that falls asleep the second they’re seated…

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A few moments later, the very cheerful purser came around, welcomed me by name and took the dinner orders. Or in my case, confirmed my dinner order. And a drink order of a G&T. She also apologised saying that they had forgotten to load the bread and nuts after a “crazy day”. Instead I got some “fake nuts” – more or less what I’d been surviving on all day. Urgh.

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Following this, the dinner service began – finally a proper meal! And it went down a treat. Very tasty indeed.

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Once I had finished, the ever jocular purser appeared to collect my tray, and noticed I hadn’t touched the salad. “If you don’t eat your greens, you don’t get any ice cream…” Before bursting into laughter. Luckily for me she was joking and I was treated to a great dessert.

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Once everything was cleared away, the sun had gone down, and there were only a couple of minutes until descent, which occurred in complete darkness.

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We flew over the famous beach at low altitude, touched down and hit the breaks long and hard. Upon reaching the end of the runway, we spun around and headed back in the direction of the terminal.

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Passing a dark Maho Beach

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It was then off through to a pretty quick immigration process.

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And finally on to baggage claim. One by one, it got emptier and emptier until I was one of just a few people left in the baggage hall.

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Some thirty minutes later, an announcement came out saying that the last bag had been delivered… Yet I was still without mine. A bit of furious typing by the agent later and it was determined that my bag was still in Miami. Although I had photographic evidence of that. And with that, I was sent on my way. What, no overnight kit? Eventually they did cough up.

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So I made my way into a taxi and off to the Sonesta Maho Beach. To add insult to injury, despite specifying a room that overlooked the beach and the airport, I was given a pool view room instead. However, the room wasn’t too bad – despite the extremely high price. And I did have an appropriate room number

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British Airways were good enough. The slight enhancement of the catering in the lounge was a welcome change and being welcomed personally by the purser was a nice touch. Although the crew in general needed to be a bit more polished I think. Taking an hour to clear away the meal trays was a bit much. And there was an occasion where I went to use the rear washroom and I couldn’t see a single member of the crew either in the cabin or the galley.

US Airways failed to leave an impression on me. Dishing up what was basically a BA domestic snack service on a two and a half hour flight in First class was slightly pathetic. About the only good thing was the BA Avios and Tier points.

American, once again, were really tough to judge. The onboard staff were great, as well as the service I received on the international sector. However, losing my bag put a big dent in my impression of them. Trying to get it back was a bit of a hassle too. Nobody seemed to know what was going on, or where it was. And there was no apology either – just plenty of “I don’t know”. They’re an airline I’m genuinely trying to like, but they just keep making silly little mistakes which puts a bad mark against them!

Stay tuned for Part 2 which will cover my time in St. Maarten and my journey up to Las Vegas.

American | B772/B738/B77W | LHR-ORD-BOS-JFK-LHR | Business/Economy

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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

This trip starts back in April of 2013. Some of my more diligent readers may remember that upon checking in for my American Airlines flight between DCA and ORD, things didn’t exactly go to plan. To cut a long story short, as far as AA were concerned I had missed my flight. As far as BA and I were concerned, (whom I booked the flight with) I hadn’t. For the more detailed version of events, see here:


Upon my return from the USA, I filed a complaint with AA and they issued me a $250 travel voucher as an apology, which I was amazed with, although as it only had a year’s shelf life I was unsure if it would actually get used. In early December I was thinking it would be a bit of a waste to have over a week off work during Christmas and not actually go anywhere. I looked around at European destinations, however flight prices were through the roof – averaging around £350. Then I gazed up and saw the AA voucher hanging on my notice board a little unloved, and headed to aa.com. Most destinations were pretty pricey however Boston seemed pretty reasonable – and with the discount of the voucher, it actually worked out cheaper to head stateside than some European destinations. There were a few restrictions with the voucher however. The main one being that all sectors had to be operated by AA. Fine with me as I was getting a little bored of flying BA and there’s no way I wanted to chance IB longhaul. One thing I did want to shoehorn into the deal was a flight on the AA 777-300ER, and this was achieved by having the return sector coming through JFK.

The way the voucher would be used was to prebook online, then call the reservation centre and get them to apply the discount before paying and sending off the voucher.

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At least that was the theory. As it was only a couple of weeks before departure, the reservations team confirmed the booking, however I’d still have to pay a visit to LHR before the day of departure in order to submit my voucher and make payment. Lucky I only live around thirty minutes drive from LHR and had a day off due before then.

One thing that impressed me was that I was able to reserve seats in the Main Cabin Extra section on the JFK-LHR flight for free due to my One World status. This also applied to my domestic sectors, but they weren’t so much of a big deal…

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The outward sector to Chicago was looking a little full:

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The day after I returned from Venice, I made the short drive up to Heathrow to make payment and submit my voucher to the AA sales desk. It seemed odd to be at an airport and not be flying anywhere!

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T2 coming along nicely

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I was seen to quickly and after a bit of furious typing by the agent, I was handed a confirmation of my itinerary and asked a couple of times to double check that everything was as it should be before making payment and submitting my voucher. Everything was fine and within thirty minutes I was heading home again.

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Check in was 24 hours before departure, and there was a good deal to be had.

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I took advantage of this and everything was confirmed via the AA app.

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And of course, paper boarding passes were available too.

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I set off for the airport by my now usual means…

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…arriving at terminal 3 around thirty minutes later.

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I headed off to check in to grab my souvenir boarding pass, where even the first class desk had a long queue. A few moments later, I was sent in the direction of the ticket desk, as I had no bags to check.

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It was then up to security. And I was very glad to have access to the fast track lane, as the regular line stretched the length of the terminal.

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Upon reaching the x-Ray machine, I was more than a little irritated by having to repack my liquids – because it wasn’t in one of the LHR approved plastic bags. I protested that my bag had been through over 50 security checks this year fine the way it was, but he wasn’t having any of it. Jobs worth.

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Once through, I had three lounges to choose from. First stop was the British Airways lounge as I fancied one of their bacon rolls – but I was out of luck.

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I guess this was one of the ‘enhancements’ they had made since my last visit to this lounge just over a year ago.

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The plus side of this lounge is the great views on offer.

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Around thirty minutes later, I made my way up to the second of three, the Cathay Pacific lounge. Which was absolutely deserted. The food options were slightly lacking also…

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I could have had some noodles, but it was still a little early.

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Calm away from the chaos outside.

The views from here weren’t too bad.

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After around twenty minutes here, I made my way to the third and final lounge of the day, the American Airlines lounge. The food options here was the best of the three lounges, but having gone slightly mad in the CX lounge back in September and then feeling a little full on the flight, I decided to pace myself.

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Unexpectedly, it was busier than the previous 2 lounges, however I managed to find a quiet haven hidden in the corner.

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With a semi decent view of the ramp too.

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This one flew me HKT-BKK in May 2013.

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I stayed in this lounge until around ten minutes before boarding was called.

I took the walk down to gate 31, where I was the only person in the priority line. None of the staff acknowledged me however, and continued to deal with the economy passengers. Eventually I was seen to, and no sooner had I entered the holding pen boarding was announced for business and first passengers. I made my way up, but was stopped in my tracks pretty swiftly – I couldn’t understand what the guy was saying, other than he was new and I had to wait. I replied that his colleague had just announced business class passengers could board, but it was still met with ‘I’m very new’. A few moments later he let me board.

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December 2013
777-223ER / N774AN
Seat: 9A / Business
Scheduled: 13:15/16:05
Off Stand: 13:13/13:57
On Stand: 13:35/16:18

Upon boarding I was met by an older female FA at the door and shown to my seat, 9A. It may not have been the most modern seat out there, but it was very comfortable. There was a pillow, duvet, amenity kit and slippers ready and waiting.

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Shortly afterwards, welcome drinks were brought around – I opted for the champagne.

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I did initially have a seat mate, however once boarding was complete, he took himself off to one of the free rows a bit further back. Great!

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Menu’s were handed out, shortly followed by the cabin crew coming around and taking dinner orders.

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Newspapers were then distributed

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Followed by hot towels

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The safety video was shown whilst still on stand.

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We pushed back a minute or two ahead of schedule, the engines were started and then we waited…and waited…and waited. Around fifteen minutes later, the flight deck came on, said there was a discrepancy with some of the paperwork, and that we would have to return to stand. It would appear my already tight connection, just got a little tighter.

A few moments later, we edged forwards and back to where we came from. A few guys in hi viz jackets boarded and made a beeline for the flight deck.

During the wait, the mostly Chinese crew distributed Bose noise cancelling head sets.

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After around twenty five minutes, the door slammed shut and we were on our way again.

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We arrived at 27R, waited for a couple of departures before it was our turn – lifting off at 14:15.

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During the climb, and intro video was played

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Amenity kit contents

Once we had reached our cruising altitude, the crew sprang into action distributing drinks and warm nuts, making a further pass through the cabin a few moments later offering refills of nuts from a carafe.

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During this time, I got cracking on the trip report. One of the crew saw me typing away on my iPad, and said ‘Mr White, may I extend the table for your convenience?’ Very impressive! A few moments later, he returned to set the table for lunch. First off the starter. The prawns were very good indeed, although I didn’t touch the salad.

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Followed around thirty minutes later by the main course of a very tender, melt in the mouth cut of beef. This really was good.

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After this, it was American Airlines’ signature ice cream sundae. Again, very good, and not a trolley in sight, at least on this side of the cabin. The crew member on the other side elected to use a trolley, where as the guy serving my side decided to prepare everything in the galley and hand deliver the meals on a tray.

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Once the dishes were cleared, the ever-attentive crewmember delivered a bottle of water. He was also very pro active at delivering fresh bottles once the previous bottle was getting empty. Very impressive service.

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Much less paperwork required to enter the USA now.

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Seeing what the hardware can do

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Once the meal service had finished, it was time to kick back in front of a movie – Disney’s planes. Not the best one of the bunch I’ve seen – basically the same storyline as Cars, but the main cast were planes. The seat was still proving to be comfortable, even a few hours in and the pillow and duvet had a pretty high threat count, meaning they were nice and soft.

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Following the film, I pulled out the iPod and put the seat into full recline. Despite it not being fully flat, I could no doubt get a few hours sleep on a night flight.

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I came back to life when I noticed the cabin crew bringing round cheese plates. Again, very tasty.

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Followed up with an awful lukewarm cup of tea, made with creamer instead of milk – yuck!

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Hardly premium in the washroom department. Although at least it wasn’t held together with duck tape like on BA. After all the liquid I drank, I paid a good few visits…

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Luckily, the crewmember did replace my ¾ drunk bottle of water with a new one without being prompted.

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I then decided to stick another film on – We’re the Millers. Pretty good actually – in fact I’ve recently invested in the Blu-Ray!

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Just as the end credits were rolling, the crew member who had taken care of me pretty much throughout the flight appeared next to my seat: ‘Mr White, may I offer you some pizza, or beef?’ I chose the pizza, and like every other meal I’d had in this flight, it was great.

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Once I had finished, he once again appeared to clear my tray away, asking if there was anything else he could get for me. Not for the moment thanks.

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Interesting Japanese (?) signage.

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After this there was only around an hour remaining. I went to the galley and attempted a conversation with the crew but they weren’t overly keen, as they were a little busy collecting in the premium headsets, so I returned to my seat and stuck my iPod on until descent started.

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Snacks in the galley

During descent, the crew member who had served me pretty much throughout the flight, came over and thanked me by name for flying with American. I noticed a guy a few rows back got the same treatment, but not everybody, so I’m guessing it was only reserved for status passengers. Connecting flight info was shown on the IFE – which proved to be useless as my next gate wasn’t L8 at all.

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We made our way across a frozen Lake Michigan and were pretty much straight into ORD.

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We made the taxi over to terminal 5, arriving just 12 minutes behind schedule. Pretty good going considering we eventually left the gate at Heathrow 45 behind schedule. Nicely padded. Pretty much as I exited, I found this stuck to the wall.

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It was then a mission to clear immigration, customs, change terminal and clear security in less than 2 hours.

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My bright orange pass meant I was put into a queue with just two people ahead of me at immigration. When I was processed, it wasn’t like anything I’d experienced entering the US before. The officer sat scribbling out things in a leaflet before telling me the best joke he had… which wasn’t overly funny, but I faked a laugh anyway to avoid him telling anymore and delaying me more than needed. He then stamped my passport and sent me on my way with none of the interrogation previously experienced when entering the US. Bizarre! Just when I thought my luck was in, I got to customs. The initial officer thought it was a bit odd that I was travelling alone for such a short time with just the one bag and sent me for further interrogation. It was a similar story when I reached the second officer, and he had a look through my bag to make sure everything was as it should be. He apologised, saying he knew I was in a rush but he had to do his job. Fair enough I guess, and at least he was being decent about it. He finally said he was satisfied with my intentions and I went on my way around ten minutes later and on to the shuttle to T3.

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Upon arrival there, I flashed my bright orange wallet and was directed to a line with just a couple of people ahead of me. I was through by 17:00. Impressive, considering the delay to the outbound flight and being held up at customs, I’d almost written off making my connection. As I still had twenty minutes until boarding, I made a visit to the Admirals club. It was a decent enough place to wait, but I thought it was a bit off that you had to pay for most of the food and beverages. I was given one free drink chit though.

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Price list – Yes, Price list.

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My free premium drink and token free snacks

Just before boarding was due to start, I headed down to gate H16 and found an unidentified 737-800 waiting. Nice to see a plane here this time – I was due to depart from this gate in April 2013 and the plane never actually turned up. It ended up in Milwaukee instead!

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Boarding started and I made my way on board. One person in the queue noticed I had priority AAccess and signalled for me to go forward. Makes a change from the ‘me first’ attitude which is normally found. I noticed the screens above the gate were now showing a nine minute delay.

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December 2013
Boeing 737-823 / N805NN
Seat: 9A / Main Cabin Extra
Scheduled: 17:50 / 21:05
Off Stand: 17:52
On Stand: 20:52

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Boarding was completed pretty quickly, and despite a reasonable load, the middle seat stayed free.

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There was what I thought was a young guy in the aisle seat, although after later speaking to me, I realised it was actually a girl. Oops. Managing to catch a glimpse at her name on her boarding pass a little later on confirmed this. Bit of an odd setup all round really, as she just came and plonked herself down in the seat, with no checking if it was the right seat and not having any bags – much like somebody would sit themselves down on the first free seat on a bus/train. We pushed back a minute or two behind schedule and made a quick taxi over to the runway, during which the captain informed us of a flight time of 1 hour 43 minutes and that we were second in line for take-off. We made a speedy departure, had a brief tour of the suburbs of Chicago before heading into the darkness above Lake Michigan.

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The drinks service started around thirty minutes later. Just a Dr Pepper this time. We have it in the UK, but it’s not the same as the US version!

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As I didn’t manage to catch our reg at the gate, I put a request on Facebook (the only site available on the on board Wi-Fi for some reason) for somebody to track me and find out the reg. 817Dreamliner responded pretty quickly, saying I was on board N805NN. Thanks, much appreciated and a new reg for the log.

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Much of the flight was spent nursing my drink and gazing at the various cities slowly passing beneath… And wondering why the landing lights were left on for the duration of the flight, before reading a few pages of an e-book on my iPad.

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There was a program playing on the overhead screens, much like on my flight from DCA-ORD earlier in the year. And much like on that flight, I paid it no attention whatsoever!

I was starting to feel a little tired by now, but the flight deck came on and said that out of the left hand side, we there was a great view of Buffalo, and in the distance Toronto. For once, I was on the correct side!

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Shortly before descent the flight deck updated us on our progress, saying we were due to land in around thirty minutes, and arrive on to stand fifteen ahead of schedule. We made a few twists and turns before landing at Logan.

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During decent the person in the aisle leant over and asked if I could see the beach. Um, well no as its dark? A few moments later, we were on to stand and I was out into arrivals, heading for a shuttle to the train station.

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It was at this point the cold really hit me!

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After a bus, two trains, a 500 metre walk and half an hour, I’d reached my hotel, the Hilton Back Bay. As my HHonours number wasn’t in the system, I was given a free upgrade to a ‘panoramic view room’. I would have settled for free Wi-Fi, but the room was pretty nice.

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This wasn’t in my room, but in the lounge like lobby

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As it was now getting on for 3AM in the UK, it was pretty much a shower and bed. I woke up early the following morning and was now able to appreciate my upgraded view.

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The next few days were spent seeing Boston’s sights.

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Prudential tower – Boston’s highest I’m led to believe.

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Boylston Street

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Most people took the bridge. Some decided to take a chance and walk on the ice.

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Following the freedom trail is a great way to see most of the major sights in Boston. And as it’s a walking tour, you’re able to deviate as and when you feel like.

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At the harbour.

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Quincy Market

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Back on the freedom trail

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Sheltering from some nasty weather in a mall next to the hotel

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The interesting looking building I could see from my window

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Fenway park

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Views from the Prudential tower

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My hotel from above

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JAL 787 hiding between the skyline

And Sampling the cities delicacies

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At the station heading back to BOS now

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Once at the airport train station, it was on a bus over to the terminal. I inadvertently got on a bus to terminals C and E rather than terminal B where AA depart from. No big deal though as terminals C and B are linked by a walkway, offering some decent ramp views.

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Upon arrival at the correct terminal, it was over to grab a souvenir boarding pass. Despite using the Priority AAccess check in, there were still only machines. So only flimsy receipts.

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With not much landside in terminal B, it was straight through security. There was a fast track available however I failed to really notice it until quite a few other people started using it. As I was near the front of the queue I was in, I didn’t see much point in swapping lanes. I was processed in around ten minutes and then it was up to the Admirals club, which was conveniently located right next to my assigned gate.

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The lounge itself wasn’t massive, but big enough to hold everybody. This time I wasn’t given any drinks coupons, although they could have been free here, as I didn’t see any price lists.

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Standard AA lounge food it would appear

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This did me, as I’d eaten before setting off for the airport.

A few moments later, I saw my jet pull on to stand, still in the old colours.

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And as the later 77W would be in the new colours, this would be the only time on this trip I’d fly the ‘Old American’. AA are getting their planes repainted at an impressive rate. N978AN would be doing the honours, delivered new to AA in December 2001 and having its winglets retrofitted in June 2006. And the first time on this trip I’d actually been able to see the reg.

I left the lounge around twenty minutes before boarding was due to begin and went for a walk to see what was around.

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Some five minutes ahead of schedule, boarding began.

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December 2013
Boeing 737-823/ N978AN
Seat: 12F / Main Cabin Extra
Scheduled: 14:50/16:15
Off Stand: 14:44
On Stand: 16:22

The flight seemed pretty full – so much that the dog in the row opposite had to make do with the floor!

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We pushed back six minutes ahead of schedule and made the journey over to the active.

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Departure was at a couple of minutes past 3, behind a smoky MD80. There were great views of the city of Boston on climb out.

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Prudential tower once more

We made a turn to the left and the captain informed us that we would be flying at an altitude of 20,000 ft.

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Very shortly after, the drink service started – which surprised me as on my MCO-MIA flight earlier in the year, which was of a similar duration, there was no service at all.

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Due to the relatively low altitude there were pretty good views to be had of the coastline throughout the flight.

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Passing many airfields en route, most of which looked familiar from my last flight into JFK with VS back in September 2012.

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Descent started and the coastline got closer.

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We landed at just after 15:40, some 35 minutes ahead of schedule.

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Lonely looking DY 787

Our early arrival didn’t turn out to be a blessing though. We made our way over to the terminal and came to a stop. A few moments later the captain said due to our early arrival, there wasn’t a spare gate so we would have to wait around ten minutes.

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Ten minutes later, we were informed it would now be another ten minutes. We eventually did move, but only to make way for an Air Berlin A330 that had recently arrived. We then held in the cargo/maintenance area for a further ten minutes or so before finally moving back in the direction of the terminal.

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Once again, we were in the way. This time of a company 762, and were ushered back out towards the runway. It appeared whoever was at the controls was getting a little fed up, as each time we did move a little more thrust was applied each time to get us on the move!

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We spun around and then followed our original route back in towards the terminal, finally pulling on to stand seven minutes behind schedule. The flight from Boston took 50 minutes; the taxi from the runway to the gate at JFK took over 40! Only in JFK. Luckily I had a decent time to connect.

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It was then out into the terminal, and across to the opposite concourse where my flight back to London would be departing from in a couple of hours time.

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I made my way up to the AA admirals club, where the casually dressed staff – something I noticed at all the AA lounges in the USA on this trip, said the computer had thrown up an error. They saw that everything was as it should be from my boarding pass and FF card though and I was welcomed in anyway, gaining two free drinks coupons in the process. Once more, it was an underwhelming experience.

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It’s not only crazy that they charge for pretty much everything in here, but it’s not exactly cheap either.

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I used one of my drinks coupons on a Sprite and sat with a pretty sad looking plate of cheese and crackers.

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The plus side of this lounge however was the decent view of the ramp

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Around an hour or so before departure, my aircraft pulled on to stand just below me. N721AN would be my bed for this evening, delivered fresh to AA in March 2013 – so just nine months old at the time. After a while, I was feeling bored so I used my second drinks coupon on a bottle of water for the flight and left the lounge to have a look around the terminal, although there wasn’t an awful lot to see. I sat nearby my gate and waited.

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Boarding was called at 18:40, initially for first and business class. There were no takers, so then priority access was called. I ended up being the first on board.

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December 2013
Boeing 777-323ER / N721AN
Seat: 18L / Main Cabin Extra
Scheduled: 19:25/07:35
Off Stand: 19:31
On Stand: 07:08

As I had the aircraft to myself, I went a bit snap happy in this separate main cabin extra.

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View back to the main cabin

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Boarding was completed pretty quickly, meaning we had a pretty long wait on stand.

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Excellent legroom

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Our neighbour would also be our neighbour at LHR

Just when I thought I had lucked out with two empty seats next to me, a couple of Indian/Pakistani girls with Swiss passports and accents wandered past, and then back again looking a little confused. But upon getting a glance of their boarding passes it was confirmed they would be taking the two seats next to me. Oh so close… They still seemed to be a little unsure that they were supposed to be seated here though. We exchanged hello’s then they chatted between themselves for pretty much the rest of the flight.

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These need to happen I think

During this time the crew all but disappeared. When they did reappear, they distributed the earphones. The same ones they charge $5 on domestic flights. I gave them a quick try out, but they sounded awful. We pushed back a few minutes behind schedule, during which the safety video was played. I was more interested in the great sound if the massive GE90’s firing into life though. We made our way over to the runway, giving us a great, if a little distant view of New York City.

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During which, the captain got in touch for the first time, saying there were two aircraft ahead of us to depart (a BA 777 and a DL 738 from what I could see) and that our flight time would be a pretty quick 5 hours 48 minutes. Probably my quickest Atlantic crossing?

We rumbled into the air at 19:55 local. I was amazed that this aircraft makes more noise on startup than on takeoff. This one seemed a lot quieter than the EK 77W’s I was on earlier in the year. Maybe they gain volume with age?!

There was a brief light show before a total black out and a few bumps – much like the last time I flew out of JFK actually.

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Shortly after departure, the captain was on again, saying that the turbulence we were currently experiencing should only last for another ten minutes or so and then he would turn the seatbelt sign off. It was eventually turned off around three hours into the flight, by which time most people had eaten, used the washroom and fallen asleep – myself included. He also mentioned that our expected arrival time into London was 06:35, a massive sixty minutes ahead of schedule. American really do pad their schedules. Although I figured (correctly) that ATC at LHR would likely bring that time down a touch.

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Around an hour or so into the flight, the snack service began.

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I decided to put a film on during this time, This Is the End, and for once I didn’t fall asleep before it finished. So it must have been pretty good!

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Followed almost immediately by the meal service. It was a choice of lasagne or chicken and potatoes. I went for the lasagne, although it was more a cheese ravioli. It tasted pretty similar to the meal I had in Venice a few weeks previously, so top marks to the AA caterers. Or the restaurant in Venice did a very poor job.

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I decided to see how the Wi-Fi worked once the trays had been cleared. I didn’t purchase though as I figured I’d shortly be asleep

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After dinner, there was a final drinks service before the cabin lights were dimmed. As I was at the rear of the cabin, I put my seat into full recline. It actually went back quite a way – and the bottom of the seat also slid forwards making for quite a comfortable ride. The only complaint being that the IFE screens don’t tilt, so when the mother of the child sat in front of me decided he should recline, it made for a bit of an awkward viewing angle. Luckily, due to the extra space offered in this cabin, the person in front reclining wasn’t an issue.

The IFE itself was pretty good, although I found the touchscreen wasn’t overly responsive. Using the controller worked much better though. I didn’t find much of the TV selection to my taste either – just one episode of The Simpsons was the only thing that really took my fancy. I never saw the end of it though, waking only when the crew turned the lights up, just over an hour before landing. A few moments later, breakfast was dished up. The croissants were offered from a separate basket, rather than pre packaged. They were also slightly warm too.

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With 33 minutes left to run, things got quieter outside. A few moments later, a chirpy sounding captain gave us an ‘early morning wake up call’, updating us on the weather and saying there were a few delays inbound. Which was hardly surprising. After quite a few laps, the captain got in touch saying we were having to do a few more turns than expected – but we would be landing on the hour – which was still around twenty five minutes away. Bearing in mind we had already been holding for around fifteen minutes already, it was quite a lengthy hold up. I could see quite a few more flashing lights outside as we made our way around.

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We were finally ushered on to finals and touched down into a wet Heathrow pretty much on the hour as promised. After a short taxi over to T3, we pulled on to stand 34 alongside the company 77W that had departed JFK around an hour or so before us. We also passed the last CX 744 service into LHR along the way. Had I realised I would have attempted a picture.

Disembarking was a pretty relaxed affair for once. My two seatmates had rushed off to catch their BA flight to ZRH, and everybody else was casually putting their things away, leaving when they were ready rather than the mass stampede towards the door the second the parking brake is applied. As I made my way through the business class cabin, it appeared it had been pretty empty due to all the wrapped blankets and seat belts still crossed. It looked decent enough though, apart from the windows being seemingly blocked out by the design of the seat

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It was then the usual procedure – through a maze of corridors, through to a busy border control and then out to the central bus station.

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Did American manage to win me over then? They certainly did! I’ve made no secret before that after my experience with them previously I thought they weren’t too great. But a few months after their relaunch they appear to be getting it right in the air. The business class I experienced was very good, despite being a little old. All the food I had on board was great. My only complaint about the service in the air was that on the domestic flights there aren’t any free food options – even a bag of the snacks I got on the JFK-LHR sector would keep them on a par with the other US carriers.

The downsides however continue to be on the ground. It’s only a minor thing, but I like to see an actual person at check in rather than have to deal with a machine. And I was massively unimpressed with the lounges stateside. The one in LHR was pretty good, however charging for food and so called premium drinks left me thinking what’s the point? If I wanted to pay for a meal, I’d grab something in the terminal – and it would be far cheaper too.

And that brings 2013 to a close for me. Next up will be my first two Euro Hops of 2014, seeing me fly to a sunny, but not overly exciting Faro on a combination of Norwegian and BA, and a rainy visit to Salzburg, again on BA in their Club Europe cabin on a pair of elderly 737’s.

American/British Airways | B757/E145/B777| MCO-MIA-ATL-LHR

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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

This is the fifth and final part of my USA trip from April 2013. The previous four parts have seen me travel from London Heathrow, to Paris, Back from Paris to London, across to Washington on to Chicago, then down to Florida. If you have mssed them, they can be seen here:

USA 2013 Pt 4: Heading South on a Mad Dog ORD-MCO
USA 2013 Pt 3: Almost a disaster with AA DCA-ORD
USA 2013 Pt 2: BA A320/744 WTP CDG-LHR-IAD
USA 2013 Pt 1: The Beginning BA LHR-ORY

After having some pretty big issues on the previous sector of this ticket (which can be read about in part 3), I was a little concerned about this sector – especially as I had two connections to make, and this would be the sector getting me home. On the plus side, I had a printed confirmation of my reservation from AA that I picked up in Chicago and all three airports I would be travelling through on this part of the trip were BA destinations… so if there were any issues I could see an actual person face to face, rather than have to deal with somebody over the phone.

Despite feeling confident that I wouldn’t have any issues, the online check in process didn’t go to plan.

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Pretty much the same issue that caused the trouble in part 3.

After packing my things up and saying my goodbyes to the family I headed out a little earlier than needed in case I had any issues. The traffic was a little heavy around the attractions that was a little concerning. I knew I should have gone the other way!

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Arrival at the airport was just past 12 midday and after saying goodbye to the car, I headed off to check in with my fingers crossed.

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Luckily, the machines did have the right name and all was fine today. The SSK printed my boarding passes without any issues.

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There was also this offer once more – I was offered a similar thing in ORD and if I had known about the delay I had suffered there in advance I would have been tempted. But not today.

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After declining this, my boarding passes were printed.

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Once I had my boarding passes I went for a wonder around the mall like Orlando international.

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I then headed through security. Even with my priority AAccess it was still chaos. Mainly due to the fast track sharing the same lane as the crew security, and due to them having priority it was a case of constantly being at the end of a queue. I’m not sure I’ve ever flown from MCO where security wasn’t anything but packed.

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Once through it was on to the monorail and I grabbed a burger…

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With a view.

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After I had finished, I made my way down to gate 15 to find 757 N680AN waiting for me – with winglets.

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I had a bit of a look around this area to see what else was around. Not a huge amount really, so I sat back down and waited.

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Boarding was called at 13:30 and I was one of the first to board this full flight.

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12th April 2013
757-223 / N680AN
Seat: 21A / Main Cabin
Scheduled: 14:05/15:10
Off Stand: 14:04
On Stand: 15:07

Once onboard, I was surprised at how 1990’s this jet was compared to the other AA examples I had been on in the previous week. Guess the 757’s hadn’t been refurbished.

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Legroom wasn’t too bad for this short flight.

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One guy did sit in the aisle, but then a slightly older Canadian woman came along and he moved over to the middle seat, taking up most of my space. They then got into a pretty deep chat which lasted the entire duration of the time on board. There seemed to be quite a few Brits on board this flight, heading for the connection to LHR. So was I, but I was taking the more interesting route!

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Communication from the flight deck was pretty non-existent. The cabin crew announced a flight time of just 44 minutes and a cruising altitude of 22,000ft.

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Is it time to go yet?

We pushed back pretty much on schedule and made a slow taxi out to the active.

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At 14:15 we made the characteristic 757 powerful take off into some moody looking skies.

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Not much can be said about this flight really – our apparent routing was down the coast to MIA. The crew weren’t seen throughout and the seatbelt signs were never extinguished – and for once, everybody seemed to obey this.

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The only time I knew the flight had progressed as far as it had was when we turned to the West and downtown Miami came into sight.

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Due to the heavy looking clouds around, some of the views were a bit obstructed until we cleared them. Once we had though, it was a few turns until we were on finals for runway 12. In my many visits to MIA, I had never landed on this runway.

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It was then a few turns, as the flaps were extended and the landing gear lowered before making pretty solid contact with the ground at around 15:00.

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A fifteen minute taxi followed to gate D3. Along the way I saw a VX A23X with sharklets, the Dreamlifter and John Travolta’s 707.

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There was quite a wait to disembark, however once I was off, it was through the length of terminal to my connection to ATL.

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ATL is a pretty popular destination it seems!

I took a bit of a walk before jumping on the skytrain to take me the rest of the way to my next gate.

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Turns out taking the skytrain was a good idea as it gave some pretty good views across the ramp!

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I was concentrating on the Astrojet so much, I almost missed this classic.

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After the brief ride, I arrived at the final station and took the short walk down to American Eagles facility.

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Once at gate D60, it was a case of sitting and waiting for an hour or so until boarding. There wasn’t a massive amount in this area – a small shop and that was about it really.

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I did see a couple of familiar faces though!

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And a couple that weren’t so familiar.

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This one was heading for Key West – never knew such a flight even existed!

Boarding was called at 16;45, after the ground crew announcing the flight was over sold. First they offered $300, then a few moments later $400, and a seat on a later flight. If I didn’t have a connection to make I would have been very tempted by this offer. Shortly after it was outside into the boarding area.

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Nobody seemed too sure where to go, so I asked one if the ground staff who pointed me in the right direction. However, upon reaching the right place, there was a barrier and a staff member stopping the boarding process due to the aircraft not quite being ready. It wasn’t an issue though as it was a nice enough place to wait and it was a decent temperature whilst not being uncomfortably hot. A fellow passenger followed me to the right place and we and a chat about my travels and his. He was especially interested in my camera and said it was a great idea to document every part of the trip, so I could look back on it in years to come. Eventually boarding commenced at 17:00.

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Confirmation of the reg.

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12th April 2013
ERJ145 / N656AE
Seat: 4C / Main Cabin
Scheduled: 17:10/19:10
Off Stand: 17:08
On Stand: 18:56

Once on board, it was quite tight, unsurprisingly.

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I did have a seatmate – who spent the entire flight typing on his laptop. I would have preferred one of the single seats, but I was happy to just have a window!

We pushed back a minute or two ahead of schedule and taxied out to the active. Due to the previous departure being a Cargolux 744, we held for quite a while on the runway to avoid any wake turbulence issues. Once we finally spooled up, it was quite a fast takeoff for this little jet.

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Passing the Sunny Isles

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Clouding over again.

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Shortly after departure, the lone cabin crew member, an older but quite good looking blonde with a Hispanic accent started the drinks service. Upon reaching my row, she handed me a beer, courtesy of Mr 1A – the guy who I’d chatted with at the gate – cheers!

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The rest of the flight was a little turbulent, an there was quite a bit of cloud around.

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Interesting that American Eagle have their own inflight mag.

Once we reached Northern Florida the clouds cleared.

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A little sooner than expected, descent started. Conditions were pretty good in Atlanta meaning there were some good views to be had. We followed a DL 738 pretty much all the way down.

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Landing was made quite a bit ahead of schedule and we made our way over to concourse T.

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Shortly before arriving at the gate the cabin crew announced a list of connections and what gates they would be departing from, including the flight to London – although no mention of which airline. After disembarking, I had to make my way over to the new concourse F – at the complete opposite end of the airfield to where I already was. I knew that there was a transit, but wasn’t brilliantly signposted once you came out of the jetbridge. After some wondering I found my way.

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Arrival at concourse F was a few moments later, and what a fancy terminal it was

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I headed down to the previously announced gate F5, but on the way I spotted this.

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Interestingly there wasn’t an aircraft on stand yet. I would have thought there would be if everything was running on time? Due to this, I went to see what this new concourse had to offer.

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Upon arriving back at the gate, there still wasn’t an aircraft on stand, and now a 35-minute delay was showing. Now I had no more connections to make though, this didn’t bother me.

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A few moments later G-VIIN arrived.

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I sat and waited for the next hour or so, until I was paged by the ground staff. While I was waiting, I overheard one of the other crew members trying to move people around. I figured I was either being upgraded or thrown off, much like the last time I was paged to go and see somebody. In reality it was neither – my boarding pass was checked, I was asked if I had any checked luggage and everything was handed back to me. Hmm strange.

Boarding was called at just before 21:40. As usual, everybody was either flying in first, club or had frequent flyer status. I eventually made it on board around 22:00 and was pleased to see it was one of the refurbished 777’s.

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Amazingly, this was my first flight on a 777 of any variant. I’ve even logged two 787’s, so glad I could finally get one in the books!

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12th April 2013
777-236ER / G-VIIN
Seat: 23A / World Traveller Plus
Scheduled: 21:25/10:30
Off Stand: 22:16
On Stand: 11:05

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Once onboard, I settled in, my seat mate turned up, immediately removed his shoes and socks and fell asleep. The fact he was dressed in running gear, and the fact I saw him doing various excursuses in the gate area might have explained the smell… lovely. The flight crew came over the PA announced a quick flying time of 7hours and 10minutes and apologized about the delay, blaming it on the late arrival of the aircraft from London – well yeah, I figured.

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So lets have a quick look around this new BA cabin.

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Handy iPad storage.

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Much better noise cancelling headphones

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As I was one of the last to board, it wasn’t a very long wait before the engines were started and we pushed back – yes, the engines were started on stand. As we weren’t too far from the end of the runway, there was a bit of a hold whilst the cabin was prepared. Eventually at just before 22:40, an hour and fifteen behind schedule, we took off. This was the first time I’d been in a 777 of any variant. I was quite surprised at how quiet it was. A few of the sounds also reminded me if the Dreamliner, so obviously a few shared components – but hopefully not the batteries.

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Shortly after departure, a drinks service was brought around, but no menus this time.

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Then over an hour later, dinner was served. There was a choice of beef or pasta. I chose the pasta, a spinach and mushroom ravioli. Tasted very good.

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After this, I continued to watch the latest James Bond film, and settled down.

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Annoyingly, I missed the end of the film, but I did manage a good sleep, waking up a few hours later.

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Shortly after waking up, I watched an episode of family guy.

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And then breakfast was served.

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After this, I was finally released from my seat and I went for a walk down the back – interesting to notice that BA still use the 9 abreast seating on their 777’s rather than the more popular 10.

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Pretty small economy cabin

Around forty minutes before arrival, the captain was on informing us of our progress. He also mentioned we would be in the Ockham hold for about five minutes.

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Despite the refit, theres still the awkwardly placed IFE boxes.

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It was pretty cloudy, so not much to be seen until on finals at around 3000ft.

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Touchdown was on 27R and we made the short taxi over to T5C.

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There was a bit of a wait to disembark due to a jetty driver not being found. I’ve had this problem before – surely they know the plane is coming, so why not have all the people in place ready in advance?

Once off, it was on to the transit and up to arrivals.

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Once again I used my e passport to avoid the worst of the queues but it still took around ten minutes to get through. After this, it was to the bus stop for the coach home.

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So conclusions,

British Airways were their typical selves really – especially on the European routes. The World traveller Plus cabin on the 744 felt a little tired, but was sufficient enough. I also feel that priority boarding would have been a good addition, that wouldn’t cost a thing. However the updated product on the 777 was very comfortable indeed and felt a lot more roomy and comfortable.

American Airlines are a funny airline really. Their ground staff really weren’t anything special at all – especially in my hour of need at Washington. I also feel they could have handled the delay in Chicago a little better than they did. The flight crew were the complete opposite though. Seems like there’s just niggling little things stopping them from being a good airline. Although not having travelled with the likes of Delta, United, Jetblue etc. from reading reports from them, they all appear to have the edge service wise.

American | MD80 | ORD-MCO | Main Cabin

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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

This is the fourth of a five part series covering my trip to the USA back in April of 2013. So far I’ve travelled from my home airport, London Heathrow, to Paris Orly and then from Paris deGaulle, back to London Heathrow, across the pond to Washington, and then to Chicago where part 3 left off. If you’ve missed the previous parts, they can be found here:

USA 2013 Pt 1: The Beginning BA LHR-ORY
USA 2013 Pt 2: BA A320/744 WTP CDG-LHR-IAD
USA 2013 Pt 3: Almost a disaster with AA DCA-ORD

This part will cover my flight with American Airlines down to Orlando, where I have family. Luckily this sector wasn’t anywhere near as stressful as experienced in part three, although it still wasn’t without trouble.

As the flights that BA gave me on the original booking got me into Orlando a little later than wanted, I booked this sector separately through the AA website.

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A pricey £125 later, and I was all set. The most appealing factor for me on this sector was the fact it was scheduled to be operated by the MD-80, a type that I had logged before, but not for well over 20 years. So I was long overdue getting re acquainted.

Check in via the AA app was a pretty smooth process – while waiting in line for the elevator at the Willis Tower!

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The day started more abruptly than anticipated, due to a fire alarm going off in the hotel. I know I wanted a wake up call, but something a bit subtler would have been more suited. I don’t think I’ve packed up and got dressed quicker in my life…

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I checked out of the hotel at just before 08:30, again a little earlier than I wanted, but as I was up I figured I’d grab some breakfast at the airport. I caught the shuttle over to terminal 3, arriving at a wet terminal around ten minutes later.

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Once at a wet terminal, I headed inside to grab my souvenir boarding pass.

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I then went to a ticket agent and to tried and get some sort of printed confirmation of my upcoming flights, so I can avoid the issues experienced on my previous sector. Once again, the agent confirmed that everything was as it should be, and even managed to reserve me window seats for all flights. As far as I was aware, BA had done this for me (twice) but for some reason either BA hadn’t told AA or AA just wasn’t listening. There really are some communication issues between the two…

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Once this was sorted, it was through security. Due to my BA status I was entitled to use the fast track – again, something that AA gives which BA don’t. Around five minutes later, I was through and headed off for a heart attack on a plate.

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Bit of history in the food court

Once breakfast was done, I was free to roam T3 for the next hour or so.

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Eventually, I headed down to gate H16 where my flight would now be departing from. Once I arrived, there wasn’t an aircraft on stand, so I stood watching the various movements.

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Still the MD80!

At 10:20, the ground staff announced that due to the earlier bad weather there would be a slight delay. Firstly due to not having an aircraft and secondly due to not having a crew. Luckily I wasn’t in a rush, as a few minutes later the gate agent announced a further delay due to the aircraft being in a hold above ORD. As I had a decent view, I didn’t mind too much.

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Was this our jet?
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Nope, How about this one?

Around five minutes prior to departure, the ground staff were on again, this time saying the aircraft that was planned to operate our flight had been diverted Milwaukee, due to not having enough fuel to hold above Chicago, and that they didn’t know what the plan was now – weather it was to wait for the original plane, find us a new one or cancel the flight.

A few moments later, the guy on the desk was on the PA again, saying he didn’t know what was going on and that he had ‘go do something else now’, and with that everybody was left to fend for themselves. Once more, pretty poor customer service from AA, at least from the ground staff. I sat and waited for a while before going for a wonder once more.

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A few minutes later the new gate, H8, was announced.

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The remaining time was spent getting various email, app and PA updates from AA – mostly informing me that departure time was being pushed back.

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And watching the various AA movements.

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At 12:50, the new ground agents said that the aircraft still hadn’t left Milwaukee, so a 13:15 departure wasn’t looking likely, although there wasn’t any official word saying otherwise. A couple of minutes after this, they were back on saying that the aircraft had now departed and was due onto stand at 13:15 – and that despite no official updates coming from upstairs, it’s likely to be around 30-40 minutes after the aircraft arrives before we can depart. I could see for myself what was going on though:

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At 13:20, it was finally announced that our aircraft had landed, and we were given a departure time of 14:05. Even so, it still took quite a while for an aircraft to arrive on to stand.

Finally, at just before 13:40 N433AA pulled on to stand, delivered in 1987 – so nice and retro!

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A pretty quick turn around followed and boarding was finally called at 14:00.

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Due to my priority AAccess I was one of the first to board, although due to a lot going on around it was a little hard to hear the boarding procedure.

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8th April 2013
MD83 / N433AA
Seat: 24A / Main Cabin
Scheduled: 10:55/14:30
Off Stand: 14:21
On Stand: 17:49

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Once onboard, I found the legroom pretty good. I did initially have a seatmate, but once boarding was complete a flight attendant asked if we were travelling together and then told him to ‘jump back’ as she hated seeing empty rows – suited me!

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We then pushed back, taxied about twenty feet and then came to a stop for about ten minutes.

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Once back underway again, we headed down to the active, passing a stricken friend along the way.

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This one flew me LHR-WAW back in December. Such a shame to see this.

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Shortly after, we powered down the runway. I was expecting this MD to be a little louder, especially down the back , but surprisingly it was comparable to other jets.

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Once again, I connected to the inflight wifi, and today it was free of charge. Not too sure if this was due to some sort of compensation due to the delay or a special offer. Nothing was mentioned by the crew though.

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Once we had reached our cruising altitude, the captain welcomed everybody onboard and apologised for the delay. This was due to high winds in the Chicago area and therefore putting a few runways out of use at ORD.

A few moments later the cabin service began. I would have thought that after a two and a half hour delay the least they could have done was served a meal up free of charge, but it wasn’t to be.

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Retro overhead!

I decided to head back to the rear washroom, and that’s where all the noise was generated on this jet! The cabin crew member was sat in the rear jumpseat reading, shouted to me that the washroom was free, and I still wasn’t totally sure of what was said! How she could concentrate on reading in that noise, I’ll never know! Guess she was just used to it.

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The rest of my time on board was spent surfing the net, watching the world going by and tracking the flights progress

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Initial descent started at 17:20 local, and the captain gave a brief update first off apologizing for the delay and saying that the weather is pretty good with a temperature of 85 degrees. Finally a bit of warmth after a long winter in Europe and less than impressive temperatures in Washington and Chicago.

After the seatbelt sign was switched on, one of the crew came through the cabin cheerfully and casually saying “seatbelts… seatbelts everybody”. One thing that struck me about AA over this trip was how the flight crew were generally pretty good, however the ground staff were a little indifferent.

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The power station in the distance means were nearly there!
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Pretty soon after we were finally down into Orlando international. There was a reasonable taxi over to the terminal, pulling in along side a company 757.

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Upon arrival on to stand, the crew once again apologized for the delay and wished everybody a safe onward journey. Once I had disembarked, it was on to the shuttle and through to the car rental. Thank goodness there wasn’t any immigration to deal with! MCO is probably one of my least favorite airports, as its nearly always chaos!

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As the British Airways flight had just arrived (and the fact I had booked through BA in order to get the Avios) there was quite a queue. Not helped by the fact by the girl in front wanting an upgrade to the biggest 4×4 possible but not quite sure if she actually wanted to pay for it. Around half an hour later I was out to pick the car up.

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Not exactly what I booked, but I wasn’t complaining!

It was then a 45 minute or so drive to my aunt’s house in Clermont.

I arrived at her house at around 8PM, some four hours later than expected. Luckily we had been in contact while I was stuck in Chicago and she tracked the flight online so knew that I would be late, so saved me some dinner! Went down a treat, as I hadn’t eaten since around 9AM! The beer was welcome too!

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The following day was pretty relaxed – breakfast out by the pool, before heading off to the shops.

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That afternoon, I headed up to one of Floridas original attractions – The Citrus Tower.

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Orlando in the distance
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Before heading to Wendy’s to grab a burger.

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After this it was back home for a few hours by the pool, before heading out to my favorite restaurant.

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Yes, that is roadkill on the menu…
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Deep fried alligator – yum!
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Wonder how long before this lot ends up on the menu?

The following morning, I headed down to the lake for a walk, and then went to see what the old town of Clermont had to offer – not an awful lot really. I guess the big WalMart and many other chain stores opening up a few years ago saw most of the local shops off. Still, it has a nice local feel to it.

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Town Hall

After this, I headed back for a couple of hours, watched the US version of Jeremy Kyle (you think the UK version is bad…) before heading off into Orlando and the Florida Mall.

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That evening my uncle cooked up a great BBQ by the side of the pool.

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The next day I did something I had been meaning to do on my previous three trips to the area but never actually got around to. The Kennedy Space Centre. I had been before but I was too young to remember it so I could do it on my own terms now! To be honest it was a bit of an anti climax. Whilst interesting, there didn’t seem to be an awful lot there, and I was surprised there was almost no mention of the space shuttle. Although I’m led to believe this will be changing in the coming months.

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On the way back, I did something else I had been wanting to do on my previous visits – go to the B52 park at the airport. I had initially planned to do this when I arrived, but due to my late arrival, I decided against it. Another advantage of doing this was that I would miss out a couple of tolls on the Turnpike. Around the airport they are every mile or so, and the trip to the space center ended up costing me quite a bit – which wasn’t good considering I was running low on cash as it was, and I was reluctant to draw some out of an ATM due to the fees my bank would charge. Although I would later have to do this anyway…

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Not bad views, but a little far away
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Car Vs. Plane

After around fifteen minutes, it started getting a little humid and cloudy so figured there was probably a storm on the way – so made my way back. In the end there were only a few sprinkles though.

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Definitely warming up

Once back, I had some dinner watched some TV and went to bed. The following day I would head back to the UK via MIA and ATL, but you’ll have to tune into part five to hear how that went!

American | Boeing 737-800 | DCA-ORD | Main Cabin

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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

This is the third part of my USA series from April 2013. The previous parts have seen me fly from London to Paris, and then onwards from Paris, back to London and then to Washington. They can be found here:

USA 2013 Pt 1: The Beginning BA LHR-ORY
USA 2013 Pt 2: BA A320/744 WTP CDG-LHR-IAD

This third part is a bit lacking in the picture department, although as you read on it should hopefully become clear why.

The check in process for today’s flight was a bit if a hassle. BA.com wouldn’t let me do it, which was understandable and upon being forwarded to the AA website, this was also a no go as it said it couldn’t check me in as I had no seats allocated – and no option to allocate them either.

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Hopefully this seatmap from expert flyer wasn’t too accurate:

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After a lot if backwards and forwards between BA and AA, it was determined I needed to be reticketed and therefore had to go to the airport to do this.

I set off from pretty much where part 2 left off in Arlington cemetery at around 4pm, arriving around fifteen minutes later so giving plenty of time to resolve any potential issues before my 19:20 flight.

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Once inside the terminal, I was surprised to see how airy it was compared to most terminals in the US.

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And also the fact it had landside windows!

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Unfortunately, when I got to check in a few moments later I was faced with some pretty major issues. I put my AA booking reference in to a self service kiosk and it didn’t recognize it. So I swiped my payment card and came up with somebody else completely. I got the attention of one of the check in agents and she tried too but without success. I was then sent over to see somebody else. After trying the locator and the debit card trick, this too came up with somebody else, although initially they didn’t realize and handed me a boarding pass. Upon checking it and seeing that once again it had somebody else’s name on it, I handed it back and said this wasn’t me. Then the agent did a manual search for me and it appeared, as far as AA were concerned, I was supposed to be on a flight that left at around 15:00. It was now 16:30. I said that I was supposed to be on the 19:20, but she replied that I had been moved on to the previous flight – Great thanks for telling me! She just shrugged and said I had to go to the ticketing desk to be rebooked. I then made my way over to the ticketing desk, which had a long line. Luckily the priority AAccess line was empty and I saw yet another person, explained the situation, and without really saying much she put me on standby for the flight that I was supposed to go on and that was that. I asked why I was now on standby for a flight I had a confirmed seat on but was given a rather vague answer in not the best English. I didn’t really like the fact I was being treated like I had turned up an hour late, so therefore given no sympathy, yet as far as I was concerned, I was three hours early.

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Feeling more than a little stressed, I reluctantly headed through security. I was asked for ID and handed the TSA agent my driving license. He looked at it confused and asked for my passport. He then gave that a confused look and said he had never seen one of these before and then let me proceed, but not before giving my standby ticket a strange look also. Guessing not many foreign travellers come through DCA. I also had my first experience of a nudiscope – worked well to as I’d accidently left something in my pocket, but when I showed them it was just some chapstick, they let me carry on my way without issue.

After security, I made a beeline for the first phone I could see and got on the phone to BA reservations. After being told by an automated machine I had called the wrong number and then phoning family in the UK (where it was getting late) and asking them to look online and get the right number, I explained the situation and they confirmed what I already knew and said I was on the 19:20, and that they didn’t know why AA thought otherwise. The guy on the end of the phone didn’t really know what was going on as BA had me confirmed on the 19:20, yet AA had me down on one that departed at around 14:00 and the check in staff thought I was on one at around 15:00 – what was going on?!

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My view of DCA for the best part of an hour.

After nearly an hour on the phone (and most of that being on hold while they tried to figure out what AA were playing at), it was left as – “well just try your luck and call back if you don’t get on the flight… but we close at 8 PM so you’d better hope there isn’t a delay”. I mentioned this was a pretty appalling way to treat a frequent flyer, and then he suddenly had one final idea, and I spent another good few minutes on hold- although I never found out what this bright idea was.

Now I had to contemplate what my next move would be if I didn’t get on the flight. I’d have paid for a hotel in Chicago that I wouldn’t be able to use, no doubt I’d have to shell out again for one in Washington and then make a new booking in Chicago for the Sunday night. All with barely any research as to what is best and where the best prices are.

I then headed to the gate and explained the situation once more. Slightly amusingly one guy had a look on his face as if to say, “wow, I don’t want any part of this mess” and walked off, but luckily the staff that were left generally seemed a lot more sympathetic. She seemed confident I would get on, as there were seats available and not many people on standby. And then a few moments later, just as I was once again on the phone back home updating them on the situation, I was waved over and handed something very useful:

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And all without a word being said, other than thank you from me many times – phew! It was an exit seat, however 14E meant it would be a middle seat – although to be honest a seat on the toilet would have suited me, just as long as I was on the flight.

Now that was sorted, I went for a wonder to see what was around at DCA, and grabbed a donut – I had planned to eat something more substantial, but after fighting my way on to the flight I was reluctant to let my boarding pass out of my grip or even leave the gate area.

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After this I hung around one of the adjacent gates to see my jet pull in.

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Then I went back to my own gate. After struggling to get on the flight, I now didn’t want to miss it for the sake of a couple of photos!

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So relieved my name wasn’t on this list!

Boarding was called at 18:50, and due to my BA status, I had priority access, therefore I was the first onboard in economy. Ironic how not so long ago I wasn’t even on this flight, yet ended up being one of the first to board. Interesting how AA let OneWorld ruby status passenger’s pre board, but BA don’t.

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6th April 2013
737-823 / N854NN
Seat: 14E / Main Cabin Extra
Scheduled: 19:20/20:25
Off Stand: 19:23
On Stand: 20:19

Once onboard there were no cabin attendants to be seen anywhere – unusual coming from Europe! The flight was completely full, therefore no opportunity to move. Strange how the ground staff said the flight was empty. Glad I did end up with a confirmed ticket. As mentioned though, I was just glad to be getting to Chicago this evening. Due to being in the middle seat, there weren’t too many opportunities for pictures so apologies if they’re a bit lacking from this part. Also my SLR was in the overhead, so had to make do with phone cam pics.

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Legroom, as expected was pretty good.

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Quick view out of the window before Miss 14F showed up

The seat width wasn’t overly brilliant though. During boarding near enough all the announcements were automated – were there actually any crew onboard?! Eventually some did show up to ask if everybody sat in the exit row was ok with helping out in an emergency.

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Proved to be handy

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The captain came over the PA shortly after and gave a very brief welcome. A couple of minutes behind schedule we pushed back and made our way over to the runway, during which one of the flight attendants gave a flying time of an hour and thirty nine minutes and a cruising altitude of 32,000 ft.

Once at the threshold the captain announced we were just waiting for a few final figures, then we would be off. Why not do this at the gate? Guess the airlines in the US are paranoid about on time departures, so pushback and finish up their work along the way. At just past 19:35, we made a long takeoff roll into the dusk. Shortly after the IFE was started. I didn’t pay much attention to it though – I was just happy to sit and calm down for the next hour or so.

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No idea what it was, nor did I have much interest.

Climb was pretty fast, reaching our cruising altitude in just over fifteen minutes.

To pass the time, I purchased the GoGo in flight Internet – pretty reasonable for $4.95 for the duration of the flight.

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The drinks service started shortly after and I was pretty impressed to see full sized cans distributed. I was temped to have a beer after the previous few hours I’d had, but as I’d barely eaten all day due to planning on eating at the airport, and then having those plans ruined (and the fact it was a pricey $6) decided it would be better to stick to a soft drink.

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Annoyingly, the seatmate that had the window seat spent the entire flight – pretty much right from boarding to disembarking reading her book. What a waste of a window!

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The remainder of the flight was spent following our progress on flightradar24, although it wasn’t overly accurate.

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Google was more accurate but was lacking in detail

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At around 19:45 descent started into Chicago. As it was dark and cloudy, there wasn’t a huge amount to be seen. The captain announced that it was windy and rainy in Chicago, and this definitely made for a rough ride in. Out of the other side of the aircraft, I could just about make out the city of Chicago, before turning away and seeing a great light show on our side – how I wish I had the window!

Touchdown was made at 20:12 and we made a lengthy taxi over to terminal 3. The crew thanked everybody for flying with American and mentioned that they were based out of San Francisco.

Once on stand, it was a case of following the signs over to the bus station, stopping for a McDonald’s cheeseburger along the way – and it went down a treat! It was actually a pretty long walk to the station, through car parks, corridors etc.

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Once through the exit to landside, it was baggage claim – seems so strange to see baggage claim in the arrivals hall where just anybody could walk up!

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It was still a long walk to the bus station however. At least it was well signposted which is more than can be said for other places around the world.

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Once at the bus station, I phoned the hotel for the shuttle and before I had even hung up, the driver was there. He was a friendly guy, letting me know how long the journey would take, and telling me about the hotel – the Hilton garden inn. And introducing himself at least half a dozen times!

Upon arrival, it was up to my room and settling down for the evening.

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The following morning, the first thing I wanted to do was phone both AA and BA to try and sort the problem with my booking out, ensuring that I wouldn’t have the same issue again on the next sector of my trip. Both BA and AA confirmed that the details I had matched up with theirs, so who knows what yesterday’s problem was. After this it was out to the train station via the free hotel shuttle to head off into the city.

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A train along the middle of the motorway!

Upon arrival in a chilly Chicago, the place seemed pretty deserted. Mainly due to a marathon going on. First place I headed off to was Union station to grab some breakfast.

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After this it was on to the Willis tower.

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Formely Meigs field

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And currently Midway

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Once of the favorite features of the Willis tower is the skyledge – this was new since I was last here back in 2000. I’m absolutely fine with heights, but I still had a bit of an interesting feeling in my stomach being stood on it… especially when a group of kids turned up and started jumping up and down as hard as they could!

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Seem to remember PalmJet taking a particular liking to this one when I posted it on Facebook…

Once back on solid ground, I made my way to the Navy pier via the magnificent mile and the Millennium park – also new since I was last in town.

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Once at the navy Pier, I grabbed some dinner at Bubba Gumps – pretty busy, but well worth the wait – I love shrimp!

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After which, it was back through the city to the train station. It was getting a bit chilly and for reasons unknown, I thought it would be a good idea to come out without a jacket.

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I arrived back at the hotel at around 6pm, pretty tired. I spent the evening listening to some music, chatting to a friend back at home and watching TV

That’s where this part of the report will end. Tune in next time for my trip down to a warm Florida on a Mad Dog. Once again, things don’t go overly smoothly, but not a patch on the issues encountered in this report.

And as a final comment, I filed a complaint to American Airlines upon my return to the UK about the issues encountered on this sector, and the general attitude with their ground staff. A few days later I received a pretty long winded email:

Dear Mr. White:

Thank you for contacting American Airlines Customer Relations.
Please forgive our delay in not meeting your expectations for an instant reply. We appreciate hearing our customers perspective about any issue pertaining to our business, and we thank you for taking the time to share yours.
Firstly, please accept our apologies for the lack of courtesy and inexpert behavior displayed by our Reservations personnel when you called to have your questions clarified. Our customers should always experience polite and professional service from our employees regardless of the circumstances. We are truly sorry that you have perceived a lessening of the warm, friendly and professional attitude we expect our people to project.
We provide a service in an industry largely dependent on the performance of individual employees. To each customer, the employee helping him or her is American Airlines. Our success depends upon every employee understanding the importance of making a positive impression with every customer. When hiring employees who will serve our customers, we work hard to look for those applicants who demonstrate a friendly, courteous and professional attitude. Our employees regularly attend recurrent training sessions to reinforce the importance of an individualized, caring approach even in the face of the unique difficulties that only an airline can experience. The behavior issues you described will be addressed with our Reservations Department. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to improve our service.
We understand that our apology does not change the inconveniences you endured. However, we would like to make amends in a tangible way and encourage you to give us another opportunity to prove that you can rely on American Airlines. As a gesture of goodwill, we have made arrangements to send a Transportation Voucher valued at 250.00USD under separate cover, to the address provided in your email to use toward the purchase of a ticket. Please allow six weeks for the Transportation Vouchers to arrive at your destination.
The Transportation Voucher may be used toward the purchase of your tickets for future travel on American Airlines, American Eagle or any of the airlines in our oneworld® alliance, provided American Airlines is the international carrier (international flights are defined as transatlantic, transpacific and flights to and from South America). The redemption of the voucher and subsequent ticketing must be handled by American Airlines personnel, or an authorized agent. The Transportation Voucher is valid for 12 months from the date of issue.
When you’re ready to apply your Transportation Voucher towards the purchase of a ticket, please contact our Reservations Department. You may click on the URL below to determine the Reservation center or General Sales Agent nearest you. http://www.aa.com/i18n/utility/internationalReservationsPhoneContact.jsp
You will be required to mail in the Transportation Voucher 20 days prior to departure by registered post (AA will not replace Lost Vouchers as they are treated similar to handling cash) to our Ticketing Department at the address below to be applied towards full or partial payment.
American Airlines
Mr. White, we hope this one unfortunate experience will not discourage you from travelling with us again. Thank you for the opportunity to express our apologies for what happened. Please continue to fly with us as we are eager to provide the dependable and friendly service you expect and deserve when travelling with American Airlines.

Well, I guess you cant argue with that, although I would rather things had just worked as they were supposed to, rather than causing me a great deal of stress for those couple of hours.