TRI-ATL-LGA on Delta 7 August 2009

DL 5091 TRI-ATL 4:15 pm-5:18 pm CRJ-200 Seat 8B exit aisle, changed to 7C on board
DL 1792 ATL-LGA 6:40 pm-9:07 pm 757-200 Seat 4B, upgraded at my three-day window

Lather, rinse, repeat.  I have no complaints at all with Delta after flying 41 flights this year, so I really have trouble understanding why they’re not more popular with frequent fliers.  The product has improved and the service is consistent, reliable, and predictable.

The first flight was very uneventful.  We did depart late due to our late inbound aircraft, but in the big picture, it was negligible.  We took off at 4:49 pm and landed at 5:36 pm.  The beverage service was by request only and the flight attendant actually received quite a few requests.  I had seat 8B exit aisle with a seatmate, but moved to 7C aisle with no seatmate shortly after takeoff.

After deplaning, I had time for about 20 minutes in the Sky Club, where I enjoyed the spread of olives, packaged cheese, and an Atlanta Sweetwater beer.

I arrived at the gate and boarding had already started.  There was a representative from Gogo Inflight Internet handing out trial passes to try out the service.  We boarded quickly and backed away from the gate close to on time.  We had a typical ATL runway wait, and took off at 7:05 pm.  This flight had Delta TV shorts via ceiling monitors and Gogo Inflight Internet.  I had a code for a free session that expired 8/16, so I used it, instead of the card I received from the representative.  The speed was great and it really made the trip pass quickly.  The in-flight meal was a choice of a sandwich platter or grilled chicken on pasta.  I chose the chicken. Below is the photo.  We arrived at LGA 8:50 pm.  Again, another uneventful and pleasant flight.

I will take the time to give kudos to TripIt Pro, http://www.tripit.com.  I have an account and I upload my trips by forwarding my booking confirmations to plans@tripit.com.  I completed a 30-day trial for the pro version and decided to keep it for an annual subscription of $49.00 per year, which includes automatic flight/trip updates and alerts.  Below are the alerts I received yesterday, in reverse order:

DL5091 arr gate C43. 56m until dep DL1792 6:40pm term S, gate B34.  19 hours ago
DL5091 PULLED IN. TRI dep 4:36pm. ATL arr 5:52pm. 48m to make conn @ ATL. 20 hours ago
DL5091 DELAYED. TRI dep 4:49pm. ATL arr 5:52pm. 48m to make conn @ ATL. 21 hours ago
DL5091 DELAYED. TRI dep 4:39pm. ATL arr 5:42pm. 58m to make conn @ ATL. 21 hours ago
DL5091 PULLED IN. TRI dep 4:24pm. ATL arr 5:27pm. 1h, 13m to make conn @ ATL. 22 hours ago
DL5091 DELAYED. TRI dep 4:34pm. ATL arr 5:37pm. 1h, 3m to make conn @ ATL. 22 hours ago
DL5091 ON TIME. TRI dep 4:15pm. ATL arr 5:18pm. 1h, 22m to make conn @ ATL. 1 day ago

I no longer have to manually enter flight alerts at websites that offer that service! To me that is a lifesaver, because I have to enter alerts for my clients and this reduces my load!

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Virgin Atlantic VS 04 JFK-LHR Upper Class April 13 by J. Augusta

After my live trip report from TPA-JFK I headed to baggage claim to grab my bag (I actually requested Delta to not check my bag through to LHR as I wanted it to get tagged as an “Upper Class” bag on VS and thus faster delivery), which took about 20 minutes. I then headed to the AirTran to T4 to check in for my VS flight.

T4 was relatively empty at 3:30pm with only a few flights leaving (including a NW flight to Amsterdam) at this time- way too early for the body to adjust to a time change if you ask me. Check-in was a breeze, and my bag was specially tagged and a lounge invitation was presented. I headed to the Virgin Clubhouse to spend the next hour or so which was relatively empty 3 hours prior to the flight. The lounge at JFK is pre-security which is a bit of a pain, but is still fairly nice. It’s in the upper section of T4 which means it has an open ceiling and also a view of the main section of T4. Since I had mostly skipped lunch (thanks to the mayo ridden sandwich served by DL) I settled down and ordered some food from the VS lounge- along with a martini (or 2). I went with the cream of chicken soup (awesome) and a tilapia dish served with basmati rice and candied carrots. The food was excellent- although was slow to arrive thanks to my server messing up my order. People around me, however, had no issues. Around 5:00 I headed down to explore duty free and kill some time before the 5:25 boarding. Nothing looked good so I just headed to the gate.

T4 has a security lane for Upper Class and Business Class passengers so I made it through in about 2 minutes with plenty of time to buy a few bottles of water and walk around checking out the gates (to see if there was anyone headed anywhere more interesting). A Swiss flight was leaving, as well a KLM flight to AMS, and a DL flight to LHR. Other than that the terminal was quite empty. Boarding was prompt at 5:25 and I headed to the plane.

The plane was placed in service in January, 2006 (Thanks to the lettering on the plane itself proclaiming its service date as well as its name- which I forget) so it’s one of Virgin’s newest A346s. Upon boarding I made my right hand turn to settle into my seat for the next 6:30. For those who have never been on a 346 these things are MASSIVE. Looking down the plane one can barely see the back of this thing. I must say I find it much more impressive (and roomy) than any 777 I’ve been on. I settled into seat 5k, on the right side of the plane and ironically the same seat I’ve had for every prior VS flight I’ve had. It’s a great seat (not that I can compare it to anything). VS seats are 1-1-1 with the middle seat facing the left side for the first 8 rows and the right side for the remaining rows. This meant I had no one to stare at me in my herringbone shaped pod for the entire flight. Since I left the lounge early I was one of the first to board. I was immediately offered a sleep suit which I accepted and changed into. On my return to my seat I was offered a glass of champagne which I sort of spilled onto my suite thanks to the poorly designed drink holders. After a quick cleanup it was as if nothing happened and, slightly embarrassed, I accepted another glass of champagne.

The plane continued to fill up and I sat around, sipped my champagne, and enjoyed the boarding process. As with many other European airlines (including BA), VS tends to, IMO, “cheat” this flight out of a proper meal. They sell it as a sleep flight (even though it’s leaving at 6:25) and thus offer only a limited menu. Today’s offerings were an express salad with Caesar dressing served with Shrimp, or a Flat Iron Steak or Vegetable “pasty” (British food!) as the hot options. There was no choice in starter, and dessert was cheese or cheesecake by request only. Orders were taken while on the ground, and I went for the steak without dessert. Keep in mind one can eat a full meal in the clubhouse so I may be a bit unfair here, but the options on the plane are a bit limited.

We pushed back on time and had a relatively short queue (for JFK at least) before heading out 31R (at least I think that’s what our pilot said). One thing about the A346s- these things take up the entire runway when fully loaded! Once in the air the captain waited about 15 minutes before turning the seat belt sign off (most European airlines tend to be more lenient with the seat belt sign than their American counterparts) at which time the FAs came around to make people’s seats into beds and begin meal service. They also fired up VPORT the entertainment system. The only complaint about VPORT is the fact that they show literally about 20 minutes of adverts before the system is accessible. I felt like I was in a movie theater being forced to watch 30 minutes of previews- which is never fun knowing what you paid for the right to be there!

My meal arrived about 10 minutes later (25 minutes in the air) with my salad (with Caesar dressing on the side), 3 rolls, and a main course all on the tray. Given the short flight I suppose I like the speed of this service (compared to the 2-3 hour Continental and Delta ordeal) so I’m a bit torn about the reduced menu. The meal was so-so, it was edible but not the best thing I’ve ever had by any means. I tried washing down the steak with a glass of their French red on offer, but the wine wasn’t drinkable so I left the wine and stuck with water. I ended the service with peppermint tea and had my bed made up. On VS the seats actually flip forward to create a flat bed. They then add a mattress cover and a duvet to create a mini-casket/bed type effect. This is the first time I actually used the bed and I was very impressed. It’s a bit firm but is REALLY nice to be able to lay down at 180 degrees. I tried finishing my movie (some Dean Cook comedy that was really bad) but ended up dozing off- I slept off and on for the next few hours which checking in on the flight progress on the interactive map from time to time. I didn’t get any real sleep (as I mentioned I have trouble with this) but at least was comfortable while dozing, and the cabin was nice and dark without much foot traffic (at least it wasn’t noticeable).

About 1:30 prior to landing breakfast was offered (one could pre-order before sleep if they liked)- options were fruit, cereal, bacon or sausage rolls, bread, and cake. I went with a croissant and some fruit which I washed down with some OJ and peppermint tea. I went to the bathroom to change out of my sleep suit and enjoyed the remainder of my flight watching the sky map.

For about the first time ever we had a very short approach and landed at LHR around 6:30- about 5 minutes early. We taxied for the next 15 minutes or so before parking at a gate at T3. The walk from the gate to customs took about 15 minutes, and I’m a fast walker. Upon arrival the general queue was madness- most likely the product of the Singapore A380 landing just shortly before us. Luckily we were given fast track and I walked to find a completely open section. I was through customs in about 2 minutes, walked down headed to the bathroom, and made my way to baggage claim which, at this point the bags were already coming off the belt (only about 20 minutes post-landing). Amazingly my bag was among the first 20 or so, so I grabbed it and headed through customs. All told this took about 20 minutes to deplane, go through immigration, grab bag, and go through customs. I headed to the trains to take the Heathrow Express into Paddington. I had to wait about 5 minutes for a train and then after the quick 15 minute ride I found myself in central London. I headed for the taxi stand and took a 20 minute taxi ride back to my place in Clapham. All said and done I was home almost exactly 1 hour after we arrived at the gate- and that includes walking to immigration, clearing immigration, waiting for baggage, exiting customs, walking to the train station, taking a train into London, waiting for a taxi, and riding to my place. That is record time in my book and a HUGE benefit to me as I was able to take a few hours nap before calling into my first meeting. They do have an arrivals lounge, but I decided to get home for sleep instead of checking out the lounge.

Overall VS has some great advantages. OK the food isn’t as good and the selection isn’t that great, but since one can eat in the clubhouse (which does have a nice menu) this isn’t a big deal. Service was much better on this flight, the flat beds were excellent, and the baggage delivery was nothing short of amazing. I go back and forth on my opinions of US and EU airlines and I think it’s down to the experience one wants. If you want a seamless flight, a quick meal, and a comfortable bed then you cannot beat Virgin. If you don’t sleep, enjoy the 3 hour meal and want constant, excellent service then you can’t beat the US carriers. It’s a personal preference, but a great experience nonetheless.

12 Days of Travel: Day 8 (Part 1)

US 250 PHX-PHL 9:05 am-4:49 pm A321 Seat 2D First Class

Pre-Departure
I went to usairways. com to get flight status information and when I entered my flight number, I got an error message. However, when I searched by city pairs, it was there.  Go figure.

US Airways Club B-Gates, PHX
The free Internet in the club in PHX was awful.  One was required to view an ad to connect, then there was this awful ad bar at the top of every page.  Most of the web pages I needed to access would not load properly or at all.  I tried both IE and Firefox.  This was very bothersome.

However, the club employees were very nice.  The agent who sold me the day pass was very welcoming.  Another guy kept coming around like a flight attendant collecting trash, making small talk, and asking guests if they needed anything.

The morning snacks were standard offerings – yogurt, fruit, and muffins.

In-Flight
The boarding process and push back were both on time, but I’m amazed that they are able to pull it off as passengers just hover/crowd around blocking the boarding area, despite the fact that there is zone number boarding.  The line to board also moved so slowly.

We took off at 9:23 am.

Once at the appropriate altitude, we were given a hot towel service, then drinks were served.

The meal choices were:

1. Tomato basil quiche, two sausage links (no thanks!), a salad with a package of dressing, and a roll with butter.

2. Deli platter – a variety of cold cuts, two kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomato, one Dijon mustard packet, a roll with butter, and a fruit plate – all the fixings for a sandwich but without substantial bread to do so.

I selected the deli platter.  This time there was real cutlery!

I overheard a man in row three ask for another roll and mustard for his deli plate, as I guess he was trying to make sandwiches out of the meats and cheeses.  The flight attendant apologized and said, “We don’t have extras, we only have one of everything.”  After she left, the man said to his seatmate next time they’d try Virgin.

In coach, the In-Flight Café options and snack boxes were available for purchase, but as usual, they announced that there were not enough meals for everyone.

An hour and a half before landing, the flight attendant brought out the snack basket:  French Onion Sun Chips, Fiesta Snack Mix, mini pretzels, Biscoffs, and granola bars. She said we could take all we wanted.

I will say the in-flight service today was much better than the outbound.  The flight attendant was more attentive.

However, the one thing that bugs me most is the removal of the power outlets.  I can live without IFE and bring my own, but not having a source of power for one’s own IFE or computing is very disappointing.

We landed early at 4:32 pm.

12 Days of Travel: Days 4-7

April 4, 2009

Not much to write about here!  Spent a lazy day in Yonkers, NY, at my fiancé’s apartment while he had to work from home!

April 5, 2009

US 4175 LGA-ROA 1:40 PM-3:58 PM  Seat 4C Exit Dash 8 -100

We boarded and departed the gate early.  Our actual takeoff was at 2:02 pm and we landed at 3:52 pm.  We had a full in flight beverage service and I bought a Bloody Mary for $7.  I tried to buy a Power Nap Sack just to see what it looked like, but when the flight attendant went to get me one, she discovered they had not given her any to sell.  Note to US Airways:  You can’t sell them if you don’t have them to sell!

I after arriving in Roanoke, I had to pick up some items at Macy’s and fill my gar with gas before heading to the Hampton Inn.  I stayed in and ordered Domino’s.  I also had an awful case of insomnia and could not sleep.

April 6, 2009

US 4465 ROA-CLT 5:35 AM-6:37 AM Seat 11 C Exit Dash 8-300
US 307 CLT-PHX 7:30 AM-9:06 AM Seat 2C First Class A321

It took me only 20 minutes to drive five miles, reprint my boarding passes at the kiosk (as my faxed ones were messed up), and pass through security!  I had plenty of computer time in Roanoke.  We boarded quickly at 5:20 am and the door was shut at 5:29 am. We pushed back at 5:35 am and took off 5:41 am.  There was no in flight service.  We landed five minutes late at 6:42 am and arrived the gate at 6:50 am.

I made my connection to PHX, but the flight was already boarding, as I had to hike from gate E32B to B5! The aircraft was a new A321 and was completely booked in both classes (volunteers were sought). Because I arrived later in the boarding process, I had to put both of my bags under the seat because no overhead space remained. There was no offer of a pre-departure drink for me. We backed away from gate on time and took a departure delay. We took off at 7:53 am.

It was very bumpy the first 15 minutes.  I had to ask the flight attendant for a free blanket stashed over 1D/F as they were not provided in each seat as the pillows were.  When I pulled out the new tray table at my seat, I noticed it was narrower and curvier than the tray tables I was used to.  The new seats were two-tone royal blue/gray, firmer, narrower, with headrests.  Before the meal, we received a hot towel service.  Our breakfast was served on a plastic, paper-lined tray that was wider but shorter than new tray table.  I chose the omelette (lactose intolerant friends–cheese inside, be warned!) with diced green/red peppers on the top, potatoes, one link sausage (it looked more like kielbasa or italian but small), a croissant, and a bowl of grapes/strawberries on real dishes.  The funniest first class moment for me was when I discovered that the cutlery was silvertone plastic, not metal.  The food was edible, but very ordinary. US Airways is still behind Delta, Continental, etc., in both presentation and food quality.  I received a second drink, but after that, the flight attendants spent most of the time chatting in the galley as I dozed for about an hour and a half.  I was not asked if I wanted anything else until my seatmate got the flight attendant’s attention by waving at her about 35 minutes before landing, nor did the she pick up my empty cup and trash until that time.  She was quite surly and matronly and did not seem to enjoy her job.  We landed at 9:10 am, only four minutes past scheduled arrival.

In the afternoon, I had lunch with five FlyerTalk forum participants at Sam’s Café, a wonderful Southwestern grill restaurant in Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix.  I had the tuna and it was incredible!  In the evening, I attended the opening session of my conference and finally got to sleep!

April 7, 2009

Today was my conference, so I was in and out of sessions all day.  I must say the food at the Doubletree Paradise Valley Resort  is wonderful, as are the hotel grounds.  Scottsdale/Phoenix are beautiful this time of year!

14 March 2009: SFO-CVG-TRI

DL 1836 SFO-CVG 11:34 am – 6:55 pm 737-800 Seats 1C and 1D

Wow, this flight was almost a mirror image of my outbound flight except for aircraft type, which is how it should be – consistent, reliable, and comfortable. We pushed back on time and were airborne by 11:45 am. Upon reaching 10,000 feet, we received our hot towel, beverage, and meal service. The meal choices were the same as the outbound, so we chose the ribs again instead of penne pasta with eggplant tomato sauce. It was just as good this time as the first time. That chocolate mousse cake is RICH. We also spent the flight watching satellite TV as we were not interested in the movies, and I worked on my trip blog (I will let you know when it’s posted nationally!) We had plentiful beverages served throughout the flight.  During the last hour, the flight attendant came around with the snack basket and more beverages.  We landed about 10 minutes early and John walked me halfway to the A concourse! Our inbound plane was his LGA outbound plane, lucky guy!

DL 6138 CVG-TRI 8:05 pm – 9:08 pm EMB 145 Seat 12A

Not sure why as it was about half full, but this flight departed about 20 minutes late. However, flight time en route was only about 35-40 minutes, so we still managed to arrive a few minutes early. The flight attendant offered a water only beverage service “due to the short duration,” but it was better than nothing! The funny part about this segment was our arrival at TRI. There was a crowd of about 75 people at baggage claim, which is a rare sight at little TRI. It seems that there was an NAIA track and field event being held locally and of course, the start of NASCAR week, which meant more inbound travelers than usual on a Saturday evening, and three flights (DL, NW, and US) had arrived around the same time. Now that was some “excitement” for sure!