A Trip report, some ramblings, some nonsense and a critique of airline food ;)
… and now the Prologue (with apologies to Frankie Howard)
Twice a year, I get invited to visit the states to do some photographic work for a group of friends. (a bit of community work is good for the soul, plus I keep my photographic skills within date).
For this trip report, I’ve decided to compare and contrast previous flights where possible, checking for continuities, changes and other happenings, asking questions like “Has service degraded? How hard is it to get E+? How many cans of coke can you sink in a flight? And did I leave the hot water heater on at home? (yes… oh heck)
The planning of this trip
This trip's planning started out as a simple trip back n forth to Chicago to catch up with friends. Of course, by one day, I missed the fare sale. So after watching the flight jump up to £410, to £389, to £320, to £420 and finally £289, I finally secured my flights down to Chicago at least.
At this point, my traveling companion said we had an invite to Seattle. Who am I to refuse that?
In addition, I'm going to be comparing service from 4 months ago, and seeing whats changed.. or whats not.
So settle in, grab a coffee, tea or other beverage suitable for consumption. This is going to be a long report ;)
Birmingham Coach Station. The land time forgot. Or time gave up and walked away from...
Like most of my long distance trips, it start with a cab ride to the local coach station (the UK has no understanding of the term "24 hour rail network"), and then onto a National Express coach. I'll avoid making comments about coaches as we all love them so much.
Ok. Stuff it, I'll comment.
28” Pitch, 2 hours crammed up in a diesel powered thing, with people snoring and the M6 for company. The journey itself wasn't bad ..wasn't anything apart from crammed in a seat and wishing I hired a car instead (again, my aversion to spending money is coming to the fore)...
Arrival at Manchester airport was early... for my sins. The only coach that could get me to T3 on time was the 6:30 arrival.. and check in wasn't due to open for another hour yet. This then means going to the pharmacist to get breakfast (wha.. you go to the pharmacist to get drugs/plasters and other fun things? Get away with thee!). After settling back and watching the clock slowly grind to 7:15, it was time to take the 2 mile trolley push to T3 to make friends with the BMI Staff and security people.
Chapter 1 – Manchester Airport – Does having a shiny bit of card make a difference even if you’re in Y?
So after arriving at 7am and making my way round the maze of the airport (and when T1 is redeveloped along with parts of T3, I’ll be a lot happier, I reached the BMI long distance check in. A quick glance, and I calculated a good hour queue there.
After going up to the podium to pull my e-ticket, and my reasons for visiting the states, I pulled my Silver card out… and it worked – I got diverted to the business/PE queue: D. Five minutes later, my bags were priority tagged, lounge invite offered, and I was directed to use the Fast Track lane, and then head to the lounge.
Securitry was a mixture of the usual (laptop out, shoe shuffle not needed as I had little metal in my shoes, wave at the attendant as you go through the bleeping machine, collect stuff and curse as it all falls out).
After getting thoroughly ripped off at Duty Free (£12 for 1kg of Cadburys Dairy milk?!!?!?! I could had got it cheaper at Cadbury’s world….) , I headed to the lounge (which in T3 is a tiny bit of a maze) and was successfully swiped in. At this point, I found a lovely sofa, a telly and enough coffee to sink a ship (I noted the differences between the business and the Diamond Club lounge – in particular the DC lounge had a far better selection of alcohol than the business lounge, better breakfast options and lots of Lidt Chocolates). As I found somewhere to sit and get comfy, I sought out a power point, and got equally comfy whilst changing my laptop for the long journey ahead.
After the go to gate sign had been announced on the screen, we were given another 10 minutes before being escorted from the lounge and straight to the gate, and being let through pretty first (much to the disgust of some of the gate lice)
Seat 35K, G-WWBB
Load factor Y = 95%
After being boarded first, the rest of the plane slowly bored (and my luck didn’t hold – a seatmate arrived with a book about dental implants – oh the lovely things people talk about on a flight. 15 minutes late, we pushed back, did a tour of Manchester airport, and took off. The Captain had enabled all 3 spy channels, with NoseCam, BottomCam and “The Map” (with NoseCam being the default)
Lined up on the Piano keys, ready off the off.
After a sharpish turn, we took off taking a route over Scotland, and near Finland, then Greenland, and the ice wastes of Canada, finally dropping us in Chicago
Voyager commenced, with its 29 channels of fun (and the Top Gear Polar Special ^ - I still think Clarkson should just present a show about how many Toyota Hyluxes he can try and wreck in a week)
After a short while, drinks service commenced… and it seems the BMI has looked at TED for a business model for its drink and snack service. Cups of Pepsi/Whatever soft drink and no cans any longer ☹ (but the pretzels remain). So it’s working out cheaper to carry bigger cans of brown stuff, but serving only half of it. Defiantly degradation in service and pretty disappointing.
After this was cleared away, and a short break, the lunch service commenced. By some odd means, I had the same food rotation as I had before, but… they provided a menu :eek:
See.. A BMI economy menu!
I of course went for the BMI Curry menu. The rice was slightly soggy, the veggies were best forgotten about, but the curry itself was nice and potent. The salad was good, as was the bread, and the ice cream that followed was actually quite ice-creamy – not a moose.
There was some printing on the food, and I took a look, leading to one question on the expiry date. …, I have to ask a simple question… WHAT THE HECK IS IN THEM TO LAST THAT LONG?
The service complete, the lights went down and the flight continued its slow plod over ice and sea. A single water service was completed mid-flight, as was a duty free service. As usual, I did my acid test... and they failed (again). How hard is it to stock an A330 Model? 7/7 fails there.
Of course, flying over Iceland and the great Ice packs of Canada lead to pictures.
Pics – Suffer ;)
During this flight, I drifted in and out of sleep until the snack service commenced 1½ hour. The usual Chicken or Egg sandwich service occurred, with TED style soft drinks service and Hot Steaming Coffee (Coffee Sir? I F’coffee ;))
30 minutes from touchdown, the cabin was secured, and everyone prepared for landing. Voyager was shut down, but the captain again switch on the NoseCam, BottomCam and “The Map” ^, and we made touchdown at O’Hare, with a long taxi to the international terminal.
After clearing immigration (Successfully!) and the luggage came out (I waited till the hole lot had to be delivered – no one warned me it one item was delivered at oversized section, but my main bag came out in the first tranch of bags, I cleared CPB and entered the wonders of the states (before being ripped off on a taxi – but that’s another discussion complexly…)
Ground Handling – Silver Make a BIG difference at Check in.
Snack Services. First the Japanese crackers, now TED style drinks. Come on… bring the service level back up!
Dinner Service – reasonable, but not excellent.
As my first flight with a shiny bit of plastic, I was extremely impressed with the soft ground product and the attention that was given to me (the offer of Fast Track, the escort from lounge to plane was defiantly appreciated.
However, there seems to be a very slow degradation of the Y product, and it’s showing. The first snack option is important IMO as it shows how you’ll be treated for the rest of the flight. The shared can of coke is a definite cost cutting measure, and boy does it show. Food was acceptable, and it seems everyone got first choice.
Arrivals product worked ok, and seemed to be successful in delivering luggage quickly (if not telling you were it ended up – I had a bag the same time last time, which was delivered by the normal carrousel.)
I’m still impressed with the general BMI Y product, but I am concerned. There appears to be cost cutting, and its becoming more and more visible.
A shame, as the crew were excellent and up for banter and discussions. Still pay for economy, get economy!