I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Let TATL commence

I am currently midway through the largest glass of champagne I've ever seen. I'd always intended to blog from 35,000 ft but this is a bit earlier than intended because I fear I'll be too pissed later in the flight.

God, I'm so predictable.

Anyway. I'm at 35,000ft. Not just typing this, but actually online. American Airlines sell inflight wifi on their transatlantic flights for $19 and while one of the things I love about flying is the isolation, I figured I had to try it out once. Thankfully none of my other flights have wifi.

But, talk of other flights can wait. Let me get back to today. So, it was 0630 when I left off. I didn't partake of alcohol, instead grabbing another diet coke and getting distressed at overly polite children and the way the lounge was filling up; I packed up and headed off.

My flight to Jersey was at 0720 from one of the bizarrely labelled gates in Gatwick north. I also thought "Wetherspoons Express" was odd. Only j├Ąger bombs?

Anyway. 55D(!). 55 seems to be some composite gate of domestic departures. At the time I thought all the suited folk stank of money and would be on the Jimmy Carr express to Jersey with me, but when boarding was announced and no one moved I learnt I was very wrong. I guess they were all just commuting somewhere. Ho hum.

I was in seat 2A by 0657. Sweet. BA's short haul business class is not a luxury seat, basically a bit more legroom than down the back and the middle seat is blocked and has a tray table on it for drinks and crap. But you're at the front. I'd paid something like £39 for this flight and the upgraded it to business for, I dunno. £49? Something like that. I wanted the avios and tier points in BA's frequent flyer scheme. Everything is a down payment...

Some other passengers were somewhat worse for wear, having changed onto this plane from a red eye from a big time in Lanzarote. Ouch. Also there was an unhappy and crying child. Oh dear. Though actually he was good as gold in the air, just didn't seem to much like the ground.

The aircon was fucking freezing. If someone had asked me "aren't you cold?", y'know what? I'd have said yes.

We left the gate exactly on time, 0720. Took off at 0742. They said flight time would be 35 minutes, so cue lightning speed service - by 0800 I'd had a small fry up, plate of cheese, croissant, and a cup of tea, and we'd started our descent. Go team! The weather had been largely clear and I'd been treated to great views of the south, the Isle of Wight, Alderney, and Jersey on the approach.

When I boarded that plane a huge wave of relaxation came over me. Let me explain why I was going to Jersey. Actually, I'll do this via a footnote as it's really tedious. It's at the bottom. Marked FOOTNOTE. But the relaxation part is because I knew I couldn't now miss my 0955 flight back. As it happens I would have been safer booking an earlier flight, which is counter-intuitive but I know for next time eh.

The 0955 from Jersey to Gatwick is the first leg of a two leg flight, to New York. I'm sure tens of thousands of people go from Jersey to New York every day, right? Though maybe not this Jersey... anyway I had, like, 90 minutes to kill. In theory I should have followed the crowd, signs, and staff's pointing fingers to the exit but instead, as soon as I was in the terminal I went about 3 feet to my right and straight into the BA lounge. Hello! Sure enough, before 9am the urge to get on the sauce took over. To be fair to myself, I had been up and active for almost 4 hours by now. No one would begrudge a lunchtime gin after getting out of bed at 9am right?

Anyway, it was local produce. I might not have strayed further than 10 yards from the BA plane stand for the whole time I was in Jersey, but this counted as tourism: Jersey Royal Gin. It was pretty nice. Artisanal. The lounge was empty as most people had got on the plane I'd just deplaned, after all. I spent most of my time chatting to Chris and Ian and Wooj about flying and wrestling. Not at the same time. Also being narcissistic on Facebook, as usual when I fly.

The flight was delayed by 20 minutes. I almost had more lounge booze, but resisted. Champers on the plane though - another majestic service, two choices of meal plus booze and softies and hot towels and bread all served in half an hour. More great views of the south, including a cracking look at the IOW and Solent. Seatbelt sign was on at 1050 though I got asked if I wanted another drink, heh.  By now I'd had 3 breakfasts. *bloat*

As we came in I realised one of the things I really dislike about Gatwick is that you don't fly over London. What's the point in a "London" airport if you don't see the place? Flying to Heathrow over the city is so much better.

Seatbelt signs were off at 1109. Less than 10 minutes later I'd bought my bag back, and walked down to get a national express coach to Heathrow. They average 5 coaches an hour but far from evenly spaced. I'd read from an official source that you can pay the driver, so I withdrew some cash and ... got pretty much told to fuck off by the driver of the 1135. Went to the counter, bought ticket, next coach: 1215. You fuckers.

Still, this gave me enough time to right Monday's wrong and get a Gatwick Guinness. The landside pub in North terminal is called The Globe. Its Guinness is fucking shit.

The coach was on time departing and early arriving at Heathrow. Neat. The driver asked that men sit down if they go for a piss, because it gets messy and sometimes the door flies open and it goes places piss shouldn't go. Very graphic request. Thanks for that.

I hadn't checked in for my next flight, though not for want of trying. The BA app had just said "nope" and directed me to ba.com, which directed me to AA.com, which said "nope". The AA app said "nope" and directed me to the the BA app which... so, at T3, I walked into the AA premium checkin shack. Though not before getting really frustrated with Heathrow signage. I've never seen such a combination of great signage and lost people, as if all the useful arrows, icons and text do more harm than good. What the fuck?

I got the third Spanish Inquisition degree at the AA desks. Where am I going? Easy. How long for? Um... And then where? What for? Um... but he let me through. At the desk I was checking my bag in because I knew it was too big, and mentioned that fact. She said, no, you can take that if you want, sure you can. I kinda half argued, stupidly, but in the end took it with me. This is a great move, as I really want to avoid queuing for bags at JFK.

Fast track security was excellent. The bloke in front of me virtually got shouted at: "the trays are here, pick them up yourself, we don't do it for you!". Marvellously British and surly.

To the lounge! Actually, multiple lounges. My flight is AA but there are 3 lounges operated by airlines in the same alliance. oneworld, in Heathrow terminal 3. Naturally I wanted to try them all.

First. the AA lounge. Here's where they'd be making boarding announcements after all. They had a brief panic that I wasn't actually cleared to travel to the USA but, well, I am. I put my holdall in the non-locker and found a perch. Grabbed a London pride and some biscuits - my apologies. cookies - and sat down.

The AA lounge was drab, boring, the cookies were rank and the people annoyed me. I understand, I really do, and they really had (and should have) no cause to care about me, but I was very put out by the loud American folk slagging off London and England so much. I know you're in the American Airlines lounge, flying American Airlines, to America, so you feel like you're at home already like I do in a BA lounge in $Foreign... but, meh. I love London. And as for moaning about "voluntary donations" at museums, from the land of the per-beer tip... ack I love most of the USA that I've visited, and like most Americans I know. This was just a bad couple I think. But it annoyed me.

At the desk to the BA lounge the lass commented that I was flying AA. "You prefer us to American?" "I don't know yet" "Oh I think you will". It was like every other BA lounge (I mean all of them, not every second one) which gave it a nice familiar feel, and the food was great. I had chilli and rice with singapore chicken. And a banana. And a London pride.

rice vermicelliThe Cathay Pacific lounge at Heathrow is where everything started. In 2006 yahoo sent me to Taiwan in business class and this was the first lounge I ever went in. Well, not this lounge - I didn't recognise it at all. But I did have a London pride and some noodles to order, which was by far the spiciest free scran I've ever had. Yowser.

Back to the AA lounge because I'd left my bag there. No more sauce, but a diet coke and some twiglets and some admiration of the shiny Pakistan International Airlines plane on the apron.

On reflection: the AA lounge was quietest/emptiest, and had the best loos. BA had the best booze selection, though my pride was warm. Cathay had the best food. Isn't that interesting?

Boarding was going to be announced but I couldn't stand the AA lounge any more, not only because it was drab but because this time I was being annoyed by a VERY LOUD MAN ON A MOBILE. He was a good 30ft away but kept shouting "HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME?" to a person who obviously fucking couldn't.

Y'know, I'm far touchier now I'm writing about it than I was at the time. Because at the time, I just upped and left, making my way to gate 36 for AA107. More of which anon; I have a new huge glass of champagne to attack...

FOOTNOTE (told you)

So, Jersey is this place that's UK but not UK, Europe but not Europe. I am making my way to New York, spending BA Avios to get there, and maths comes into play. To fly business class across the Atlantic from London costs 40k avios and an amount of taxes, fees, and surcharges. These monies are part of cash tickets too. One such tax is called airline passenger duty, which is levied according to distance and class. So long haul business class is top whack.

BA charge per flight, rather than per continent or "zone" - but you are allowed a free domestic connection in case you don't live in London. So! Combine the two and Jersey comes up: Jersey-Gatwick/Heathrow London costs the same number of avios, because it's UK, but avoids APD, because it's a tax haven. The amount I saved by "starting" from Jersey is, in the end, about the same as I spent on a hotel night, train, coach, and flight to Jersey - but I enjoyed those things and earnt miles from the flight. So in the end I saved no money, but I had more fun for the same price.

Also, I was an Amazon employee when I booked this. Dodging tax felt right.

1 comment:

MattG said...

The dollar-per-drink tip thing is total bollocks, I'll give you that.

Hope you have a good time on my old stomping ground. And if you find yourself on a 7 train to Grand Central, give a little wave to Woodside as you roll on through, will ya?