Couple of days at home after Christmas to get things sorted, and it was time to head out on the more-or-less annual New Year’s Trip. I’m actually super excited for 2016-17 New Years, because I have no plans – nowhere I “have” to go, and I can actually do whatever I want. Pretty exciting after 10+ years of using the long weekends to take advantage and visit multiple countries.
Decided to be a bit economical, and take the Metro to National Airport, and no drama at all…which is much better than my usual commute where 15 minutes frequently turns to 30-45 at least once a week due to broken down trains, smoke in tunnels, you name it, it’s been a problem with Metro lately. Note that this post is going to be mostly photos, because there is only so much you can keep saying about United service.
Instead, this time, the drama was to be with United. No sooner did I arrive at the airport then I got notification my flight would be delayed an hour due to a late arriving aircraft. Of course. Nothing to do with weather in Chicago (for a change in December) it just looked like a crew rest issue turned into cascading delays for little things.
The United Club was open, however, and had this festive offering I haven’t seen before. United Club Eggnog? That just screams salmonella in a jug to me, so I decided to pass:
An hour turned into two, and I finally headed to the gate hoping to have 30 minutes left to make my connection in Chicago. But, there was drama. When I checked in, United was “unable” to assign me a seat. Gate agent confirmed the flight was “overbooked” by two in first, and based on the seat I had originally reserved (and the person eventually occupying it) it was clear I was a victim of a Federal Air Marshal. I was offered “probably” a middle seat in coach – but since the flight was overbooked she refused to even guarantee that.
I reminded her that United’s policy for overbooked first is NOT to just downgrade whoever happens to not have a seat, but to downgrade upgraders first, followed by award tickets, and then order of status/fare. Being a 1K on a paid ticket, there’s no way I should be downgraded. She refused. I asked for supervisor. She refused. I asked for her name, so I could share with corporate that she doesn’t like their policy, because it makes her life difficult when I write them for compensation.
She relented, and called up the two upgraders – both of whom happened to be Global Services. Hahaha. To their credit, they were completely understanding and took the downgrade compensation. I guess when you fly THAT much you tend not to pull DYKWIA stuff. I know it’s only a 90 minute flight, but at the same time, being on a paid first ticket it was the principle of the matter…eventually ended up sitting next to a no-status bro on an award ticket who announced pretty much right away his intention to “get totally obliterated by the time we get to Chicago because I’m going to Vegas.” Maybe the new United policy should be to downgrade in order of behaviour…
United flight 619
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 13:46, Arrive 15:05, Flight Time: 2:19
Boeing 737-700, Registration N27724, Manufactured 1999, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 123,910
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,162,877
PDB were offered, and we were treated to a nice sunset on the way to Chicago:
Other than that, pretty generic United 737 flight. Snack basket was offered, and when we pulled into the gate there were only 14 minutes to make my connection. We parked next to the United First lounge, and I decided to go there first. Having lost out on my 2.5 hour connection, I asked if instead of running for it they could just put me on the later flight to London instead, so I had some time to get work done. The same fare bucket was still available, and they were happy to make the change. I love this lounge.
Another reason I love this lounge:
Had a small mini pre-dinner while getting some work done. Another reason to like this lounge past Veuve…it satisfies my cheese obsession:
Somewhere around Veuve number three before boarding…
Flight was parked just a couple of gates away from the lounge, and got there just as they started boarding.
United flight 938
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 21:05, Arrive 11:05, Flight Time: 8:00
Boeing 767-300, Registration N658UA, Manufactured 1993, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 127,863
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,166,830
Welcome aboard glass of the ever-classy Oscar Cliquot, in fancy Maison Plastique crystal:
Hooray…we get the short rib…again!
Warm nuts, and a rather respectable malbec to start things off. I never understood the obsession with “warm nuts.” I actually prefer them at room temperature – lots of times when they’re warm they verge on hot and feel a bit mushy.
Coconut shrimp skewer and taboleh? Odd choice, but hey, it beats the two tiny shrimp shrimp cocktail they’ve been serving lately.
All was forgiven, because the garlic bread was in plentiful supply tonight…and the salad had tasty olives on it:
Baja Chicken Enchilada soup…a bit strange…and passed on it after a few bites:
Nasty overcooked short rib. I really really need to learn my lesson about ordering beef on United.
As cheese plates go, it was decent. Oddly, it came pre-plated, which was really strange for United. According to the crew, it came that way? Is this a new catering enhancement?
Tonight’s request for “caramel and cherries” netted the average three…which overall is how this United flight was. Average.
Managed a solid five hours of sleep, and woke as we were only about 20 minutes from London. Great view of the Thames this morning:
Took the insanely long walk to the United First lounge, where I was asked why I wasn’t on my flight to Brussels. Um, excuse me? My new flight arrival time left a five minute connection, so there was no way to make it. Seems the agent in Chicago didn’t change my connection when she rebooked me for the later London flight, giving me a chance to make it if my arrival into London was earlier.
The club staff said they’d work on it while I showered, and when I came back 30 minutes later I’d been rebooked on the next departure – on BA! I was pretty surprised they didn’t make me wait an additional two hours for the Brussels Airlines flight, but it was a pleasant surprise! After a bit of rehydration, they offered to drive me to terminal five. Yes, it was no Lufthansa Porsche, but you read that right…United drove me across the tarmac to the other terminal instead of making me use the inter-terminal busses. I was floored…and yet another reason I think the London station remains the finest in the United system.
Having no status with One World, I got the honour of checking out BA’s regular business lounge. It was actually quite nice, I’d say even nicer than Lufthansa’s Senator lounges (note I didn’t even dare compare it to anything United offers) and I was pleasantly surprised. Can’t wait to see the First lounge on my next trip through. This was my first time in T5, and my gate was right near two very important things: Starbucks and the lounge. Enjoyed some Starbucks, and soon, it was time to board:
British Airways flight 398
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Brussels, Belgium (BRU)
Depart 15:15, Arrive 17:30, Flight Time: 1:15
Airbus A320, Registration G-EUYE, Manufactured 2009, Seat 1F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 128,081
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,167,048
Had a glass of water as a pre-departure, and being only one of two people in business on this very short flight, service was great. She insisted I have champagne for my first BA experience, and how could I say now. Even got my own bottle.
While enjoying my second great inflight sunset in two days, she insisted on a champagne refill. Yes, that meant another bottle.
Arrived to Brussels, and was absolutely wiped out. Additionally, security in Belgium was a nightmare. Apparently the Belgian police had received “very specific and credible” evidence the city’s New Year’s celebrations were to be the subject of a terrorist attack, and everything had been canceled. Trains were also running on a severely reduced schedule. I’d planned to head out and do dinner with friends in Liège, but given the late arrival, lower train schedule, I just couldn’t do it. Managed to stay awake until about 9pm, then absolutely passed out for nearly 10 wonderful hours at the airport Sheraton.
Nice leisurely stroll to the airport in the morning, stopping along the way for some Starbucks of course. Security at Brussels has been massively renovated and upgraded in the last year, and is so much nicer now. No more underground walkway between terminals, and everything is light, airy, and much more efficient. The only downside is the exit-immigration for the G Gates was a zoo today, and I had to wait nearly an hour to clear. Seems every Africa flight was operating today – along with JFK – so there were seven full A330s leaving at the same time. No priority line either, so wait wait wait.
As coffee was kicking in, I enjoyed a few pain au chocolates in the Brussels lounge, and soon it was time to board.
Brussels Airlines flight 203
Brussels, Belgium (BRU) to Dakar, Senegal (DKR)
Depart 11:05, Arrive 16:15, Flight Time: 6:10
Airbus A330-300, Registration OO-SFO, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 2,778
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,169,826
Rather strange amenity kit, containing quite unimpressive contents:
Wait…they have a beer of the month? Belgian beer on the menu? Wow – awesome and unique!
Although the menu was a bit seafood heavy (which I try extremely hard to avoid on planes) it also looked super tasty, so I decided to go for it and inshallah all would be ok. There were only three people in business today on top of it, while economy was completely full. It was my lucky day!
Wait, there’s an entire beer menu?! Sure, the Stella and Hoegaarden aren’t impressive, but look at all those great Belgian beers. You can mark this down as the first time ever I would get rather happy in business class, and there would be absolutely no wine involved!
Mackerel starter with mixed nuts and raisins, and a Gulden Draak…delicious!
The smoked eel and radish starter, continuing with the same beer. It was 10% ABV so had to pace it a bit. Also, look at that awesome pretzel roll and butter. Mmm…
Decided to go with the scallops main (yes, even more seafood!) and switched to the Julius beer since the menu said it went well with seafood. I absolutely wasn’t disappointed! Delicious!
…and with the fantastic cheese course, the “Forbidden Fruit” beer. The nice flight attendant said “ooooh, this one I know, it has made for many not very memorable nights…I predict you will sleep after this!”
…and finally, I was looking really forward to the rum-pineapple-marscapone baba for dessert, but it was not to be. The chocolate mousse with passionfruit sauce was a pretty darn good substitute, however!
Defying the odds (I had slept 10 hours the night before, after all) I stayed awake and watched movies, and two hours later was ready to take one more for the team and try the kriek. I usually don’t like fruit beers, but this one was pretty darn tasty and went well with some nice Belgian chocolates!
…and, because I couldn’t let the last one go…
Soon we were arriving Dakar on time, and the other three in business class deplaned, giving me a private plane for the onward short flight to Banjul:
Since the flight time would be too short to enjoy a beverage, while waiting on the ground during cleaning, the purser asked which beer had been my favourite, and insisted on bringing me another to enjoy while waiting for the plane to be cleaned:
Soon we were off for the short 25 minute flight to Banjul.
Brussels Airlines flight 203
Dakar, Senegal (DKR) to Banjul, The Gambia (BJL)
Depart 17:25, Arrive 18:15, Flight Time: 0:50
Airbus A330-300, Registration OO-SFO, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 2,900
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,169,938
Flight was very short and uneventful, was the first one in line to immigration, and I didn’t ask about the visa on arrival, and they didn’t ask for one…so I was stamped in and that was that. In advance, the visa is $100 and visa on arrival is supposedly about $30-40, but perhaps since I arrived behind a large plane full of British tourists (who don’t need visas) they forgot to ask me? Either way, was nice to save the money. Waiting for Jordan in baggage claim:
Exterior of the airport, grabbing a taxi to the hotel:
With that, I’d entered my 186th country, and there were only ten more to go! Now, off to explore The Gambia!