Contributed by my friend Bruce!
I bought the ticket with UA, so I’m putting this in the UA trip reports, even though the majority of the headache belongs with BA (British Airways) and BAA (British Airport Authority). It’s a long trip report because of that headache. I booked this ticket in October.
My typical practice is that as I get closer to the departure – even weeks or days in advance – I check the seat arrangements to try to snag a better seat. So imagine my surprise when on Monday, 48 hours prior to departure, I was unable to see my seat assignment. A call to UA determined the cause – the flight had been canceled due to weather. (Weather? It snowed the day before yesterday and hasn’t snowed since. They can’t clear the runways in two days? Apparently not and there are some inquiries going on. For starters, the chief of Heathrow isn’t getting his 2010 bonus.) The agent took about 40 minutes to rebook me on an alternative itinerary, but the soonest option she could find was two days later. Most of the 40 minutes was spent trying to reach someone at BA to get me to an airport where I could pick up an alternate UA flight. Instead of 22-Dec LHR-IAD-DEN-XNA, it’s now 24-Dec LHR-AMS-ORD-XNA, an arrival delay of around about 40 hours. And I continued trying to select better seats on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Thursday morning, I went to the UA website to check in. It referred me to BA’s site to check in for that segment. The BA site said “please call” so I did. The agent said that in order to free up possible seats to handle the backlog, a process had canceled all seats that did not have a valid ticket. Uh, what? BA428 is now fully booked with a wait list. There’s a later flight, but I would misconnect for AMS-ORD. He said he would keep trying to get me on 428. I offered Gatwick and he was able to book me on BA8111 at 06:20 and said I was all set.
After we disconnected, I went back to the website to try to check-in. The website still says “please call” so again, I did. This second agent gave me a new PNR and said I could check in with that. I tried, it accepted my passport info. And then it says again, “please call” so again I did. This time, the agent says that that they still don’t have a UA ticket number and I should call UA. Another long call and they added the ticket number to the BA record. That generated an automated email from BA with the update. I went back to BA.com, still unable to check-in. Another 45 minute phone call – “you need to check in at the airport.”
It’s now 2pm. Rather than wait until morning and risk a last minute problem, I decided the best option was to just go to the airport. Now. A 90-minute train to Gatwick, a 5-minute shuttle from the South to the North terminal, an uncooperative kiosk and finally a very nice ticket agent with the thickest Irish brogue tried to get my boarding pass. She made a quick call, hit a few buttons on her computer, checked my passport and Shazam! A BP for my flight the next day. All of that adventure and I’m not even on the plane yet! It took four calls totaling 3 or more hours plus a visit to the airport.
I spent the night at the nearby Marriott Courtyard and woke to my alarm at 3:30, catching the 4:03 shuttle (£2.50) to the airport. Security was a breeze, no “random selection” this time. A few of the screeners were decked in holiday gear, so I complimented the BP checking guy on his Santa hat and the supervisor for his battery-powered light string that he had draped over himself.
The BP says “Club Europe” and I tried to access the club, but it wasn’t open at 04:30. Instead, I got a coffee at Caffe Nero.
Gatwick, like some airports, does not offer free wi-fi. Annoying. They also don’t post gates until 20 minutes before boarding, so everyone’s waiting and wandering in the main concourse. At 5:40 (for 6:20 scheduled boarding), off we go. My BP was again compared to my ID here to enter gate area. Boarding was a general call and gate rush, but I was prepared and was therefore 2nd on board. My seat was 9F on the 737-436. About 85% of the seats were filled though only 2 of 12 in F. I saw the flight attendant collect coats there and it seemed like all the luggage made it on board.
At the time the doors were due to close, the First Officer says that we’re still waiting on four passengers who hadn’t arrived yet and they had checked luggage. We waited until 10 minutes past departure before they arrived out of breath and hustled back to one of the last rows in the plane. Push back, taxi and we were wheels up at 6:48. Beverage service with awful coffee and a ham sandwich with a small tub of orange juice. Rubbish pick up. No IFE. We landed AMS about 25 minutes late.
I’ve been to Amsterdam Schiphol a couple of times now, but only to start or end a journey and never to transfer. It seemed to me rather neatly divided up and segregated by alliance. BA and OneWorld in terminal 1, Air France and Delta in the center areas and Continental/United with the Star Alliance folks in the third terminal. Let me tell you, it’s a major long walk from one end of the terminal to the other! I walked past a Santa Claus shouting “Ho-Ho-Ho” and giving gifts to kids. Finally at the “Transfer 9” desk, the agent prints me a new boarding pass, puts it in a Gold envelope and says that I’ve been upgraded, the lounge is number 43 and have a Merry Christmas! Hoo-ah!
At the Servisair contract lounge, I learned that my President’s Club membership wouldn’t have gotten me into the club, but my Business BP did. The typical European spread (though not as much as MUC). Self service spirits and mixers, puff pastries and some sweet things. For the holidays, AMS is offering free wi-fi, for 30 minutes twice. Nice touch. This was good, because even the club doesn’t offer free wi-fi.
With all the walking back and forth, I only have a half hour in the club before I head to my flight. Security at the gate area, where my luggage was xrayed. AMS has the millimeter wave scanners, but it’s still okay to opt-out as I saw one woman do it. So I stepped up and did the same. Oddly, the screeners were not wearing latex gloves. The patdown (after passing through the regular magnetometer) was somewhat thorough but not excessive. I did not feel violated at the guy did not “meet resistance” though the rest of my body was checked. I am confident that it would have been possible to get through security with “stuff” without going to extremes.
Into the gate area, they boarded F and Business before elites. I was on board with my luggage stowed and my first glass of sparkling wine in hand while the rest of the aircraft was boarding. When the doors closed, four business seats were unfilled. I was in 9H but 9G was empty. These two on the 767 is a rear-facing seat with a full 180 degree recline. I had no problem stretching all the way out, but I simply couldn’t sleep. Instead, about 50 on-demand movies, plus TV and other entertainment. (I think they were on a loop in coach.) I watched Takers, Expendables, Killers, some 30 Rock and finally I plugged in my laptop and cleaned up some mail that would sync later. The power outlet was US-only and I had to pull down my suitcase from the overhead to get my US power plug!
Food and service were excellent. Top notch. Full can with a large lime wedge and a bowl of warm nuts that was refilled twice. Salad (I chose the balsamic vinaigrette over the peppercorn), “sliced Bresaola beef, Milano salami, bocconcini and cucumber salad” to start. For the main, I chose the filet. Extremely tender and easy to cut with the knife and fork. Lyonnaise potatoes and glazed carrots. Yummy. I cleaned my plate. For dessert, the cheese plate was okay. Throughout, the flight attendant kept refilling my wine glass – a delicious rich 2007 Côtes du Rhône. I probably had most of the bottle. When I was sufficiently stuffed and rather drunk, I stopped the wine but the flight attendants continued refilling my water glass to a rather obsessive degree.
Landing at ORD was on time, into light snow/sleet. No trouble at immigration with an officer who seemed quite bored and only asked the rote questions before stamping my passport. No checked luggage, I took the AirTrain to F and found a closet-sized RCC. I used the free wi-fi pass for my iPhone, drank half a Bud Light (ick!) and ate some veggies and cubed cheese before heading to my gate.
RJ boarding without a jetbridge, we had to cross 100 yards of apron in the driving snow. Thankfully, I hadn’t packed my coat because the boarding door and the galley service door stayed open for a good 20 minutes. Freezing! A normal ERJ-145, up, across and down for an hour or so. Brief beverage service with a half can and we landed at XNA eight minutes late with dry ground and cold wind. A brief wait for the gate checked bags and hooray, home for Christmas!
Summary: I’m extremely displeased with Heathrow airport. They handled this snow extremely poorly and someone needs to be canned. They get an F minus and I’m glad that Gatwick gets credit for transporting me properly on this trip. I’m also very unhappy with BA’s handling of my ticketing situation. They get a C-. UA also acted poorly as I did not get a notification of my cancellation and they did not handle the BA segment correctly. If I had not taken action, I might not have gotten out in time to get home for Christmas Eve. I would also give them a C, but they score some extra credit for the unexpected upgrade and therefore finish with a B+.