LHR-IAH-XNA 30 Sep to 1 Oct 2011 on Continental by Bruce

At the end of 22 months of European adventures, this is the return of a trip purchased in August. At booking, I was immediately able to choose exit row seats. I checked the seat assignments and schedule a couple of times over the last few weeks – there was no issue.

CO flight 5 is scheduled for an 11:40 departure. That morning, I received Trip Alerts from Continental at midnight, 06:00, 08:30, 09:40 and 11:25 with notifications that the flight was running late due to a delayed inbound aircraft. Rather than sit in an empty apartment, I chose to stick to my schedule and arrived Heathrow at 09:30.

Quick interview to enter the line for a counter agent (“Did you pack these bags yourself?,” etc.). Check-in was normal and the counter agent helpfully assisted with checking my first three suitcases at no charge, thanks to my Gold status. The fourth and fifth suitcases were each $200. All were well under weight but quite full (almost all of it clothing), so an attempt to compress down and leave an empty suitcase would have been fruitless.

Continental’s presence in Terminal 4 dates back to the SkyTeam days and they have an agreement with the SkyTeam lounge (operated by Etihad Airlines). It’s a large lounge on two levels with a capacity for maybe 250 people. Nicely laid out, it’s usually rather quiet. The standard European features – self-service booze, beers, wine and sodas plus coffee machines. Free wi-fi. Hot and cold breakfast items include yogurt, cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes, baked beans (yep, Brits eat these at breakfast), chicken sausages and bacon. I ate, caught up on some emails and even managed to snooze for an hour in one of the sleep rooms. At 11:30, the lunch items come out and it’s sliced ham and beef pastrami, slivers of cheese and bread rolls.

Boarding started at 13:00 with F. 50 F seats on this 777, so that took a bit. I did see two people turned away. Then elites. As the BP’s are scanned, a brief passport check. A currency interview and random screening (I was not selected) on the jet bridge. I learned that the reason for the delay was a thunderstorm in Houston the previous day – the 777 was diverted to MSY for two hours, starting a chain of lateness that would last for another day.

I took my seat, 16A on this 777-200. The first row in Y, there is a solid bulkhead and the tray tables/video monitors are in the armrests. After boarding completed, we sat in the plane for another 90 minutes while they cleared a mechanical issue: one of the Y toilets was broken. They were unable to fix it, so they sealed it off and we pushed back. Since it happened in the UK, this would be a ‘loo out of order.’

Service in the air was standard and boring – chicken or beef for dinner (served and cleared before we’d even left Ireland air space), no charge for the first drink (I had one of three Heinekens), a few water services, ice cream, pre-arrival sandwich and landing. We arrived at 19:05 (over three hours late) and so I missed my connection.

Immigration was somewhat slow. I don’t understand why people can’t wait in the roped lines and then direct just two or three people in front of each desk. Instead, they line up 8 people deep at each of the desks, which is the most inefficient method possible. The officer, however, was friendly and pleasant. Since my last arrival in the US, I’ve been to England, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands which earned a couple of extra (harmless) questions.

All five of my checked bags were waiting on the carousel with priority tags. I loaded up a trolley and was amazed to clear Customs with this massive stack of stuff and got barely an acknowledgement from the CBP officer as she glanced at my entry form.

At the counter for rebooking, I was first in the elite line where there were 10 people waiting in the economy line. I tried to ignore their evil looks as the counter agent printed out hotel (Hilton Garden Inn) and meal vouchers ($12 dinner, $6 breakfast) because there was a portion of the delay caused by the mechanical. I had missed the last flight of the day, so I was booked on the 10:00 AM and even managed to get 12A. I was thoroughly pleasant and had the agent laughing a couple of times. She said that there had been a couple of very upset people earlier. Before giving over my suitcases, I pulled an outfit for the next day and my dopp kit.

Rather than go straight to the hotel, I used the boarding pass from my missed connection to enter the secure zone (quick security) and went to the Terminal E President’s Club for a beer, some wifi and a short rest.

The hotel was not noteworthy and I was back at the airport at 08:30. At security, I took an opt-out that was professional and 85% thorough. The TSO managed to discover my cheap flip-phone I had forgotten in my pocket that the magnetometer had missed! Up to the Terminal B President’s Club which is now the United Club. All new signage had been replaced overnight. They’d even renamed the wi-fi access point. Same breakfast food items as usual (mini-yogurts, small muffins, bagels and cream cheese).

The flight to XNA was unremarkable – it boarded on time (military personnel called first, then elites). I sat in 12A on this ERJ-145, we pushed back on time, there was a full can drink service, we landed on time, and my five suitcases were almost the only stuff to come on to the carousel. It filled the trunk and back seat of my daughter’s car.

Summary: Irregular operations were handled smoothly and I have no complaints. In flight service was good with a power socket at my seat (that fit both US and UK plugs, maybe others too). The IFE was flawless (Hanna, Fast Five, Source Code and A Fish Called Wanda). It was consistently consistent and completely boring, which is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. Despite sitting in coach, Continental for this trip deserves an A+. The only thing that would have improved my experience would have been an op-up.

Total Trip Cost: $617.05
Actual Airfare: $344.50
Actual Miles Flown: 5272
Yield: $ 0.065 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $272.55, 44.17% of ticket price
Generated by the VanMetric Airfare Info Generator, version 0.11.

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UA/VS: XNA-ORD-LHR 24 June 2011 by Bruce

A sufficient amount of time has passed so that I can calmly relate the trip I booked with my Continental miles for my wife to visit me in the UK. I’ll start off with the opinion that it was a disaster so that you can accept that this is a complete rant and also understand my state of mind.

I booked the trip on continental.com using my own miles and somehow managed to get it to see my OnePass number, even though the booked passenger was my wife. This allowed me to select exit row seats for her before it timed out and caught up. Only $175 and 80,000 miles for the round trip, it was the same itinerary that I had flown a few weeks back and included 12A on the ERJ and Upper Class on the A340. I really wanted her to be comfortable and relaxed for the week-long visit.

Original outbound itinerary for Friday, 24-June:
United (UA) flight 5927 departing XNA at 10:26, arriving ORD at 12:10
Virgin Atlantic (VS) flight 40 departing ORD at 18:00, arriving LHR at 08:00

All was well until 08:00 GMT (02:00 CDT) when I got an automated call from United, informing me that the initial outbound was cancelled and a new flight had been booked. I hit the buttons to be connected to an agent and got a thick and incomprehensible Indian accent. I hung up on him and dialed back in, getting someone I could understand. The 10:26 flight was cancelled (no reason) and I was rebooked on the 06:00 flight. There were alternatives that routed through Houston or Newark, but there was no first class availability on the segments to London. If I wanted my wife to fly in first, she would now have an 11-hour layover in Chicago (instead of the six that was accepted).

By this point, it is approaching 4:00 AM in Arkansas and I’m sure that there are alarm clocks set to wake up for the 10:26 flight that is now cancelled. After an hour of urgent texts and voice mails to both my wife and my daughter, I finally got a bleary answer. My daughter was able to wake up my wife (who had only gotten to sleep two hours before) and she promised that they would make the earlier flight. Fortunately, she was already packed.

My wife was dropped off at the airport at 05:15 (for the 06:00 flight) and was able to get the UA agent to print a boarding pass for the UA flight, but she was unable to do so for the VS flight. She had also lost 12A on the ERJ-145, getting 17C.

My wife is not a travel expert, so when she got to Chicago she first went to the Virgin America (VX) desk for the boarding pass and they were of course unable to help her. She then made it to Terminal 5 and was not able to find a Virgin Atlantic desk. She called me, upset. It turns out that ORD is a seasonal destination for VS and they only share the Korean Air desk. Korean was unable to help her obtain a boarding pass and said that the VX staff would not turn up for another three hours. I tried to check her in online, but the site reported an error and said I needed to speak with an agent.

Here’s where it could have been saved but the disaster only continued. I was able to call a Virgin agent who refused to talk to me about the booking, citing UK data privacy laws. Even though I had booked the ticket and I was the one paying for it, she could only talk to the booked passenger! Argh! I got my wife on a three-way call to authorize me. (I should mention that at this point, her phone is on minimum battery.) With that formality complete, the agent apologized but said that that there was nothing she could do. She was unable to help me print the boarding pass and was also unable to create one herself. Only an airport agent could do so. They had apparently reached the limit on the number of check-ins that could be completed online. And even though my wife was booked in Upper Class (which I repeated several times), she could not help. She said that it wasn’t her fault that my wife was too early in Chicago and that the website could not be overridden to print a boarding pass. My wife was now stuck, landside without a lounge, for three hours. Not a whole lot of power or comfortable seats in Chicago, as you may know.

Three hours pass and the VX staff turned up and printed the boarding pass. They also took pity on my wife and provided her with a pass to the BA “First” lounge. Hooray, maybe things are improved? An hour later, I get an email from my wife. She got into the lounge, found a seat near an electrical outlet, got a soda and some snacks and finally got comfortable. Just as she’s about to bite into what looks like a delicious snack, the Lounge Manager comes over and says “Ma’am, you’re going to have to leave. The lounge is full and we have to give priority to BA passengers.” Embarrassed beyond belief, she leaves with everyone staring and makes her way to the Scandinavian lounge which is by now jam-packed. Eventually finding a bar stool (all the good seats are taken), there are signs posted apologizing for the catering problem but they only have paper plates and plastic cutlery. Seriously, WTF.

After spending some time perched on a stool drinking a cool (not cold) soda and some warm (not cold) snacks, she made her way to the gate and was able to board. From this point forward, everything goes as expected. VS Upper Class takes fantastic care of her, she had a very comfortable, relaxing flight and arrives in London without further issue.

Summary: Flight cancelled and replaced with one four hours early, no boarding pass or gate staff to provide one, getting tossed out of one lounge and getting crap service in the other, and an excellent flight. I’d have to rate this experience as a D-. I won’t say that I’ll never fly VS or use miles on them again, but I’ll certainly never book my wife on that carrier ever again.

LHR-ORD-XNA-ORD-LHR on United and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class 13 May to 16 May 2011 by Bruce

Fri., May 13
UA949 dep LHR 12:20 arr ORD 15:18
UA6063 dep ORD 18:00 arr XNA 19:43

Mon., May 16
UA5927 dep XNA 10:21 arr ORD 12:02
VS40 dep ORD 18:00 arr LHR 08:00 (+1 day)

This trip was outside my usual rotation (my daughter’s Master’s degree graduation ceremony), so I paid for the tickets instead of my employer. Rather than spend $1200+, I opted to use miles. CO’s super-saver was 55,000 miles for the RT in Y but they also offered some partner fares. Since Tuesday was a work day, I chose the VS seat in Upper Class for an additional 25,000 miles, totaling 80,000 miles (plus taxes and fees).

The UA 767-200 LHR-ORD (2-3-2) in Premium Economy did not have power outlets in the seats and the IFE was 8 channels on a rotation. Four-inch screens were mounted in the seat back area. Channel 9 had a loud whine that made it impossible to enjoy. I watched movies on my iPhone instead and plugged it into my laptop to recharge until that too was drained. For dinner, I chose the cheese ravioli.

The departure from ORD to XNA was delayed by a half hour due to a late inbound, but it was communicated well at the gate. The ERJ-145 XNA-ORD was completely full and 12A is still a great seat. Beverage service only. Otherwise, the three of the United flights were boring and without any memorable or noteworthy comment. The Red Carpet Clubs I visited in Chicago were also unremarkable other than being very busy.

For the return, the only itinerary that lined up with the Virgin Atlantic flight gave me a six-hour layover in Chicago. I spent it at the SAS Business Lounge in Terminal 5. ORD terminal changes are outside security, so I rescanned. All four security lines led to full body scanners (the one where you stand between two blue boxes) and I politely said “I’m not going through that!” The TSO was polite, thorough and complete – he briefly brushed up against ‘resistance’. I then spotted that there is no food in T5 and decided not to leave because I would have to be rescanned.

Terminal 5 does have lounges – Star Alliance (and Virgin Atlantic) are in the SAS Business Lounge. Self-serve alcohol and beer (Carlsberg Export, Sam Adams and Miller Lite) with sliced bread, smoked cheese and sliced turkey plus sliced red and green peppers and pickles. I made a couple of sandwiches. Free wifi worked well. Plenty of chairs and power outlets (as well as three Mac desktops), so what was left of my layover passed quickly.

And then the fun begins! Boarding for the 18:00 PM departure started at 16:45. They called Upper Class and I was prepared so I was the first passenger to board. A left turn and down to seat 3K on this A340. Upper Class is an angled seat (with personal IFE) that converts to a 180-degree lie flat bed. Three seats across with two on the left separated from the one on the right by a three-foot wall. Extremely polite (and very attractive) flight attendant offered me a pre-departure champagne that I allowed to be refilled once. On reaching altitude, I asked her to help me convert the seat (including the “mattress” and duvet from the overhead bin). I slept for about four hours (through dinner) and woke at 5AM. It was still too soon for breakfast, so I sat at the bar (yes, there’s a three-seat bar!), drinking sparkling water and chatting with the flight attendant for a bit before heading back to my seat. I chose the “Full English” breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms and tomato, served with a toasted croissant) with two cups of excellent coffee.

If I wasn’t planning on going to work immediately after arriving, I might have chosen to partake more of the champagne or tasted the “guest” vodka and mixed drinks. The amenity kit included a shoe bag, eye mask, ear plugs, flight socks, toothbrush and toothpaste. I was also offered a sleep suit (like a track suit) but declined.

Great smooth landing at Heathrow and Economy passengers were held so that the Upper Class passengers were allowed to deplane first. The usual mile-long hike to border security. The non-EU citizens queue was backed up and looked like at least an hour. The EU citizen line moved faster and only took 15 minutes. I had no checked baggage (in fact, I traveled with only my backpack) so I was on to the Heathrow Express train to Paddington moments later.

Summary: United’s flights were comfortable and unremarkable. The seat in Economy Plus was good, but there was no power outlet. Food was good and there were sufficient drink and water services during the long flight, full can on the regional jets. Grade: B. The Virgin Atlantic flight was top notch. Absolutely excellent, but possibly influenced by Upper Class service and a superior flight attendant. I can’t imagine paying three times or more than the regular fare for Upper Class but two times in miles was quite reasonable. Grade: A+ with extra credit.

Notes: Seat Guru’s review of the VS configuration is correct. You want to sit in the middle of the section, away from the bar (chatty passengers and clinking glasses) and away from the lavatories. I’d also recommend the right side seats with one across as there is less foot traffic compared to the left side which has two across.

Total Trip Cost: $ 173.20 and 80,000 miles
Actual Airfare: $ 0.00
Actual Miles Flown: 8949
Yield: $ 0.019 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 173.20, 100.00% of ticket price

London-Heathrow to Basel, Switzerland on BMI 27 April to 1 May 2011 by Bruce

A huge thank you to my frequent traveler friend, Bruce, for contributing great trip reports from abroad!

Wed., April 27
BD161 dep LHR 07:15 arr BSL 09:50

Sun., May 1
BD168 dep BSL 20:30 arr LHR 21:05

A holiday was declared for the royal wedding, so I decided to take advantage of the long weekend. When BMI sent me an email offering fare sales, Basel was a good choice because a) it was cheap, b) there was a Marriott where I could use points, c) the Swiss have a culture of speaking English, and d) there was much to see in a city and country I’d never visited.

BMI’s purchase process is simple enough and I booked for an early Wednesday departure and a late Sunday return to maximize my time in Switzerland. My alarm woke me up at 04:15 and I was on the way, arriving at Heathrow at 05:45 for the 07:15 departure. Security was simple and I did not alert on the magnetometer. I did see a full-body imager off to the side that was not being used. (In the UK, if you’re selected you can either refuse or not fly. No pat-down option.)

BMI has two lounges in Terminal 1 – “The London Room” for domestic and Ireland destinations and “The Great British Lounge” for international departures. I was in the former for Dublin in January, this time I was in the latter. It’s a very large lounge with lots of seating and power outlets at every chair and table. Not much for food, a couple of pastries and a big cauldron of porridge available with golden syrup. Coffee was good. And as at most of the European lounges I’ve visited, self-serve alcohol and fridges full of assorted mixers. A great view of 9L, right at the taxiway where the aircraft finish decelerating and head to the gates. I kept hoping for a 380, but the 330s, 340s and 747s kept me entertained. I still think BA’s livery is top notch and the planes are always bright white with no peeling paint. *cough* US *cough*

I headed over to the gate at 06:30, where passports were checked again against photos and boarding was called for special assist and elites. It was a gate rush though 47 passengers left a lot of room on this A319 with a capacity of 130. I had 6A with the row to myself. Legroom was fair-to-good and seat width was reasonable. We pushed back at 07:20 and were wheels up at 07:27.

In flight, a sandwich (mushroom and cheese ciabatta) and a small cup of soda. I was pleased to see that Voyager (the BMI flight magazine) had a full article on Basel, so I took it with me for reference. We landed ten minutes early. Swiss immigration was easy as an EU citizen and I was off to explore the city. As with most of Europe, BSL has excellent public transport and Bus 50 goes into town for CHF4.00 (about $5). Basel is wonderful and five days was sufficient, including a day trip to Zurich for lunch with a colleague.

For the return, my tired and sore feet brought me to the airport at 17:30 for the 20:30 departure. BMI does not have their own counters or kiosks at BSL, they partner with LX. Swiss has a “Gold” Star Alliance line, so I was able to skip the queue of 20 people to get my boarding pass. Security was slow and could use some efficiency. The elite line was marked for F customers only. It took about 40 minutes for me to clear the magnetometers, as the security officers were “helping” and checking BP’s/passports on the land-side, which slowed the queue.

The Swiss Lounge was near my gate. Quite possibly the best designed lounge I have visited. Panoramic 360-degree view of the entire airfield and enough space for 200+ on three levels. Showers, quiet areas, computers, telephone cubicles and I was given a voucher to access the wi-fi. The self-service food, spirits and beer were okay.

I headed to the gate at 19:45 and cleared border control without issue. Boarding was again a gate rush despite directions in German, French and English. We pushed back five minutes late but landed 15 minutes early. In flight, a veggie sandwich and a cup of soda or juice. We disembarked onto a jetbridge and then were loaded onto a bus for the 10 minute drive to UK immigration. I had not checked my rollaboard in either direction, so there was no wait for luggage.

Summary: A great yield as BMI has low prices to introduce flights to this new destination. Excellent lounges. Comfortable seating, even in Y. The flight attendants and gate agents were friendly and otherwise unremarkable. On-time departures and arrivals. I’m pleased that there is still a free snack on board. Grade: A-. The only demerits were the boarding process (carrier controllable) and the bus to the international arrivals area (not carrier controllable). BMI is an excellent Star Alliance partner and I would be happy to fly them again.

Total Trip Cost: $ 139.20
Actual Airfare: $ 56.64
Actual Miles Flown: 896
Yield: $ 0.063 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 82.56, 59.31% of ticket price

Notes
– Even though the gate agents at both airports gave instructions in English and German (and French at Basel), the flight attendant safety instruction was only in English.
– UK taxes and fees are Out. Of. Control. £12 UK air passenger duty, £9.60 UK security and noise charge, £23.60 UK passenger service charge. I don’t see how BMI can make a profit (or even break even) on £35.40 for a 900-mile roundtrip.
– BSL (Basel EuroAirport) is in France and is operated jointly by the French and Swiss with separate border control depending on which way you’re headed.

UA: LHR-IAD-DEN-XNA. Nope, it’s LGW-AMS-ORD-XNA! 24-Dec-2010

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+.