Winner August 2013
The winning user review for the August 2013 Seatplans.com competition for a LAT_56 holdall
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AA090: Chicago to London Heathrow
I had tried to check-in for this flight online 24 hours before departure but the system would not let me. There is no charge with American to select your seat at the time of booking and I had already pre-selected 4G in the Business cabin.
I arrived at Terminal 3 at Chicago O’Hare at 06.30 ready for the 08.50 departure to London Heathrow. I much prefer daytime flights back to the UK as I find I can get back to normal very quickly! I proceeded to the First/Business check-in and took 25 minutes to be processed which I was not too impressed with. At one point a Supervisor appeared and shouted at one of the check-in ladies about how she had spoken to her on the phone earlier. All of this was in front of a queue of about 15 people. The Supervisor was then asked to help with a customer and promptly shouted at her. When I was seen to, the lady was functional but certainly not friendly. This was a very negative experience to my first ever flight with American!
I quickly made my way through security via the fastrack lane and was then airside. I made my way to the AA Admirals Lounge. The welcome here was very friendly and I was handed a voucher for a drink. I made my way up to the next floor to a very large area with plenty of choice to sit. I stopped a member of staff and asked her how it all operated. She advised that the regular orange juice, coffee and tea were available to help myself, along with muffins. Speciality coffees and food were available at a window to purchase. The bar selling alcoholic drinks opened at 10am.
I went to the window for a latte, but was told that the coffee machine was broken. The only item I could have for my voucher was a can of Red Bull! I cannot believe that people complain about the BA Lounge at T5 when this was the American equivalent in Chicago. I made do with a simple black coffee which did not cost me anything.
No boarding announcements are made in the Lounge so when the screen indicated that the flight was boarding, I made my way down to the gate. There were a lot of people gathered around but the flight was not yet boarding. It was then announced that the Business Class cabin was still being prepared so they were going to start by boarding at the back of the plane. This caused even more confusion at the Gate and seemed odd as all passengers were boarding the 767 via the front door so had to walk through the Business Class cabin anyway.
Eventually, boarding commenced and I quickly took my seat. The 767 is configured 2-2-2 and there are 5 rows of Business Class. Personally, I always prefer being able to access the aisle without stepping over anyone. The advantage of selecting one of the two middle seats is that no one has to step over you.
The seat had a blanket, pillow and amenity kit on it, and once seated a choice of champagne, orange juice and water was offered.
Although the door was closed, it was reopened a few minutes later and three more economy passengers boarded. We were thus a few minutes later departing. Once the safety briefing had taken place the Purser came around and introduced himself handing out menus.
We taxied for several minutes and once airborne, the seat belt sign was very quickly turned off. The crew came round and set up the Samsung tablets for the onboard entertainment. It was a very impressive system with plenty of choice.
I had pre-ordered my breakfast online before the flight (cheese omelette), and the Purser came round and confirmed it. The full breakfast menu was:
Starter: Smoked salmon with warm bagel, with a selection of breakfast breads
Entrees: Cheese Omelette; Ham, Egg & Swiss Cheese Crepes; Apple Cinnamon French Toast; Thai-style Soba Noodle Salad
I selected the Cheese Omelette which was served with blue crab sauce and potato boat with creamed spinach and tomatoes. It also came with bacon.
This was served a mug of either tea or coffee which was regularly topped up.
A few hours into the flight, a Gourmet Cheese Plate was served, and I had this with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It was really good that this was served in a ‘normal’ wine glass.
The full wine list was as follows:
Champagne: Gosset Brut Excellence
White Wine: Simi Sauvignon Blanc; Villa Solais Vermentino Sardegna DOC
Red Wine: Fabre Montmayou Malbec Reserva; Chateau du Seuil Graves Red
Desert Wine: Emilio Lustau Sherry; Senhora do Convento Vintage Port
The Sauvignon was very tasty and the glass along with water were regularly replenished.
Another few hours later, a further light meal was served, as follows:
Entrees: Uno’s Farmer’s Market Pizza; Chicken Soup; Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato Salad
Dessert: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
The dessert was served with a choice of liqueurs.
I selected the chicken soup which was served with warm breads and was excellent.
I managed to finish watching a movie before the Samsung tablet was collected shortly before our arrival at Heathrow. We landed about 15 minutes ahead of schedule and I was quickly through Passport control. The bags arrived promptly and I was exiting Terminal 3 with 25 minutes the plane touching down.
In summary, the experience at Chicago Terminal 3 was poor, but this was more than made up for by the superb quality of the actual flight. The level of service, quality of food and entertainment were all of a high quality. Added to this that the priority bags arrived promptly left a positive feeling on exiting the airport.
I flew BA268 from LAX to LHR on a 747-400.
I had checked in on-line the night before without any problems and printed off a boarding card and rocked up to Terminal B (Tom Bradley) at 6.15pm. The BA check in desks can be easily found in Area B, which is clearly signposted.
The area was very busy with a large group of teenagers milling about the BA section and blocking the queue area. No one asked them to move and they didn’t respond well to polite ‘excuse mes’ but I successfully shoved me way through to a check-in desk where I was immediately seen by a very friendly agent who took my bag, popped on a priority label and made sure I knew where to go for the One World Lounge before bidding me a good journey.
There’s no priority security at LAX and while I was heartened to see that the queue was fairly short progress was nevertheless slow because the TSA agents were only operating one x-ray machine and security scanner. Saying that though, the TSA agents were easily the most cheerful and friendly I’ve ever come across in a US airport. They were exchanging jokes with passengers, making regular announcements about what passengers needed to do (laptops out of bags, shoes off and belts off) and being proactive with passengers plainly unused to the whole soulless experience. In the end I cleared security after about 30 minutes and made my way to the One World Lounge, which is clearly signposted right as you leave the security area.
The lounge is on the 5th floor, accessed by a lift. The lounge is (as the name suggests) shared between all of the One World airlines but really isn’t particularly big. It’s essentially one long room that’s effectively divided into four sections – a small seating area, an eating section with tables laid out with cutlery and wine glasses, a business section and a bar area. I’d arrived early enough to have my pick of spots and after a perfunctory greeting from the lounge dragon, I took a space in the business area (which is about mid-way through the lounge).
Although no sleeper service is available from LAX (a real shame in my opinion because the 9.30pm departure means that it’s too late to be eating a big meal on the plane), a selection of hot food was available - tomato and garlic soup (which looked a little greasy to me), jasmine rice, a beef dish, macaroni cheese, stir-fried noodles and a vegetable option that looked like baked courgettes and other veg. There was also a small cold cuts section with dips, a tray of bread rolls, cheese and biscuits and a range of cookies. Note to cheese fanciers – they only brought out one cheese at a time and only replaced it when it was all eaten, so when I arrived there was a stilton but this was replaced with American cheddar. It’s therefore worthwhile keeping an eye on it if you fancy some.
I worked my way up to a carbgasm thanks to macaroni cheese and noodles and then over-indulged on the American cheddar and biscuits before trying to work it off by taking a stroll around the lounge area to stretch out my legs. There are TV screens in the bar area and a fairly good range of beers and wines (although I didn’t partake). There was also a decent range of newspapers and magazines (including UK and US titles). The toilets were clean and stocked with Molton Brown toiletries.
I used the free wi-fi to get on with some work and charged up my laptop at one of the sockets. There was a real shortage of power sockets in the lounge and as it filled up, there was a lot of competition for them. The lounge does offer 12 Macs for use by passengers, which have internet access, and I think all but one of them was in use by the time I left.
I did end up leaving early because the lounge was just getting so crowded – unsurprising given that the BA flight and two Qantus flights were all due to leave around the same time and a JAL flight was leaving 90 minutes later.
There are information screens in the lounge and I’d noticed that my flight was showing as being delayed for 30 minutes as I was going but figured it would give me more time to work off all the cheese I’d eaten. Terminal B is currently undergoing a refurb with LAX planning to introduce more eateries, shops and new airline lounges. I’d be interested in knowing if BA or Qantus will get its/their own dedicated lounges because I don’t think the current situation can continue for much longer – especially with Malaysian and Qatar joining the One World Family. The refurb is definitely overdue because the only eateries I saw were vending machines and the only shop a tiny newsagent. Apparently the works will be completed by the end of the year so here’s hoping they really improve things.
I got to Gate B33 to find a lot of passengers already there. Interestingly, I noticed that down here the information screens were still showing the flight as being on-time, making me wonder if the business lounge screens were incorrect. However, given that the crew didn’t arrive until 9.10pm, it was obvious that there was going to be a delay. Nevertheless, the gate screens didn’t register this until 9.25pm (at which point they put the departure time back to 10pm and yet farcically described this as being on time rather than a delay) and nor were there any announcements from the ground crew (who seemed to me to be bustling around doing very little of practical use). I did think it very poor show that the CW and First class passengers got more accurate than the premium economy/economy passengers – especially as there was no need for it. Fortunately there were a lot of seats around the gate (despite the large numbers) and many of them had in-seat power as well.
At 9.30pm two passengers in wheelchairs were taken through the gate and along the airbridge ready to embark. I thought that there was going to be a mini riot by several of the passengers who started having a go at the ground crew about it and demanding to know why those passengers were getting special treatment. It was only at this point that the ground crew finally made an announcement that boarding would start shortly. Ordinarily, I’d be on the ground crew’s side on this but they handled this all so badly that I felt it was self-inflicted and could have been avoided.
In the end, boarding started at 9.35pm for First, Club World, BAEC gold, silver and bronze cardholders and One World emerald, sapphire and ruby cardholders. However, I didn’t see this policed at all and the person in front of me was a WT passenger with no status, making for another farcical situation. Boarding was via two airbridges – one for First and World Traveller Plus passengers and the second for Club World and World Traveller passengers. I was greeted at the door and directed to the upper deck but whereas the 3 upper deck passengers in front of me were all welcomed by name, I was not. Small thing but it rankled a little.
I’d preselected 64A having done some research on good seats in advance. It’s a window seat but with aisle access that doesn’t involve hurdling the aisle seat passenger. It’s a little more exposed than 64K, but it does have brilliant storage space with 3 good-sized side storage units in addition to the laptop drawer and overhead locker. The seat was clean and in good condition and a quilt, pillow and headphones had been left out for me. Once I’d settled in, a member of cabin crew offered me a choice of champagne, orange juice or water and I decided to partake of the champers. Menus were then brought around afterwards, which offered the following:
- Salmon pinwheel with balsamic glazed fig and quinoa salad; or
- Piquillo pepper and gorgonzola cheese.
A fresh seasonal salad served with vinagrette.
- Parmesan rosemary fillet of beef with fingerling potatoes, white asparagus and Chianti sauce;
- Jumbo lump crab with broccolini, celery root and rustic choptle sauce;
- Provencale vegetable lasagne with basil ricotta and creamy yellow tomato sauce.
- Dulce de leche; or
- Morbier and Camembert cheese with wet walnuts;
- A selection of fruit.
White wines were:
- Sancerre 2012, Chateau de Thauvenay, Loire Valley, France; or
- Esser Chardonnay 2011, Monteray, California, USA.
Red wines were:
- Chateau Croix du Rival 2009, Lussac-Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France;
- Carmel Road Pinot Noir 2011, Monterary, California, USA.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the food was like because I’d already decided I was going to try and get to sleep after take off.
We finally got a captain’s announcement after 10pm where we were told that the delay to departure was caused by the incoming flight being delayed as a result of security concerns. He was hoping to make up time on route however with a flight time of 9 hours, 15 minutes. We eventually pushed back at 10.05pm and there was a security video and crew demonstration. We were airborne by 10.30pm.
As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, I made up my bed to get some sleep. Unfortunately the chair wouldn’t go entirely flat for some inexplicable reason, but the angle wasn’t too bad and I eventually nodded off. It was incredibly cold in the cabin though, which didn’t change at all during the flight despite asking for the heating to be turned up. It wasn’t a great sleep because I kept waking up during the night, mainly because of the sound of people thumping up and down the gangway, but it was a hell of a lot better than what I’d get in a WT+ or WT seat and a good reminder of why I pay for it.
I ended up waking up just as we were crossing the west coast of Ireland. I’d missed the breakfast service, which consisted of the following:
- Chilled fruit juice;
- Pomegranate and mixed berry smoothie;
- Fresh seasonal fruit;
- Birchermuesli with apples and coconut;
- Warm bacon roll with ketchup;
- Breakfast pastries.
However the crew had left out a tray of fruit juice and water bottles, so I was able to help myself and I did venture into the kitchen to see if there was anything to eat. The crew were very helpful and gave me a few croissants, which kept the hunger pangs at bay.
We got a warning 20 minutes before landing and there was the usual stampede to freshen up in the toilets (which were kept in a clean and orderly condition). We landed at 4.10pm UK time but there was a delay letting people off the plane. We’d disembarked at the B gates, which meant taking the transport train over to the A gates for baggage reclaim and immigration. Immigration ended up being a doddle – short queues at the desks but I decided to use the egates, which were in operation, with the result that I was at baggage reclaim by 4.35pm. There was a 15 minute wait for the baggage to come out but miraculously, my suitcase was one of the first out, meaning I was able to head out through customs and out of the airport by 4.50pm.
All in all, the only sour note of the flight was the poor performance by the LAX gate crew. However, I think that the CW fare I paid was worth it for the chance for getting some sleep and the lounge was okay although I’d be interested in knowing whether BA will eventually get improved facilities once the LAX refurb is completed.
Congratulations to our winner!