Trip report - LHR-SFO

by Kevin Marshall September. 26, 2008 3110 views

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Yes - it's another economy report. And yes, I suppose I could had merged it into the previous report. Meh is my response to that ;)

If you're too used to sitting at the front of the plane, its an insight into how life is down the back of the bus. If life in the back is pleasant enough, you'll understand where I'm coming from. Again, I'm going to try and keep it more “trip” report as opposed to “flight” report. Moans, complaints, compliments and certifications of madness to the usual box below :)

And to begin… (Introduction, Preamble, Prologue, oh heck, if you've read one of my trip reports before, its the beginning bit with some very flimsy excuse for the journey)

Sometimes I hate FlyerTalk. It gives me WAY too many ideas! In particular was the SFO Mega DO.

On and off this year, I've been thinking of doing a mileage run to push for Star Alliance Gold, and in reality, I have been looking for the most flimsiness of feeble excuses to actually get my hind end in gear and actually fly (Singapore and Tokyo was in contention at an early point). The Mega-Do seemed like a good idea at the time (I'm blaming my coffee at work), and after a bit of math, it would go a *long* way to hitting Gold this year.

A mixture of good company and a city I've never been to seemed far too tempting…


Meanwhile, in another thread, I had worked out that in some cases, booking code shares was cheaper than actually booking on the originating carrier. In this case it was BMI vs United, with BMI charging £355.50 and United charging £450.50 for the same flights (and then there's BA charging a whopping £531. Sorry HIDDY… I'm sure you'll understand ;) !).

That's a whopping £95 price difference. And £95 is plenty of drinkies or even a hotel room in SFO (actually, 2 nights… but I'm getting ahead of myself).

Flights were booked on the BMI engine, and a PNR issued, and then the task of assigning seats begun.

This is another joy of code-sharing as BD says ring UA, UA says ring BD… Nothing like a joined up system here kids :rolleyes:. After a bit of minor hair pulling and speaking in phonetics to the UA call centre, I had a PNR in my greasy hands.

Since this journey was starting pretty much after I got home, I thought there might be a visa waiver issue. Turns out I was as usual panicking over nothing.

As it was a 4 day journey (and nothing more) I decided this time that travelling light was the order of the day. So out went the 100ltr rucksack and it was down to my little backpack with a few polo-shirts and t-shirts, a pair of trousers and enough light stuff for a few days. Even the Macbook was dumped this time for my old faithful IBM Thinkpad.

If you can't tell where SFO and LHR are… :rolleyes:
Map provided by the most wonderful Great Circle Mapper - []

So it begins… again…

National Express
Digbeth Coach Station -> London Heathrow

It doesn't seem like 3 weeks I was standing in this exact same spot. Oh wait a second. It was (well, 2 weeks, 6 days and 22 hours - but who's counting)

As most of you know, the most UK public transport infrastructure shuts down at 10pmish, and it doesn't wake up until 6am. Considering I need to be sitting in a plane at 10:05, a nice lay-in wasn't going to happen.

Yes it's Digbeth Coach station again.

Therefore it was a 04:15 coach… Again this was a trip down the M40, weaving our way through the black British countryside until we reached London hellhole Heathrow Airport.

Heathrow Terminal 1
London Heathrow Terminal 1
Ah yes, the bright spectre of hope and illusion, that jewel of the United Kingdom’s aviation creown commonly known as the hell of London Heathrow Terminal 1.

Oh who am I kidding? It’s a retail outlet with some airbridges built into it.

After getting off the coach and rolling my way around to check in, I decided some fresh air was needed, so obviously I went outside and joined the smokers who were polluting the atmosphere for a bit before dealing with the hell of check-in.

Since moving into T1, United seems to have taken an awful big chunk of the terminal for itself, with Zone C being quiet large. I had a look at the Economy queue, which was… getting long. Thankfully, the beloved Silver card was whipped out and I was diverted away from Mr Chicken to a real live agent. After location my reservation and printing me a zone 1 pass, I asked if there was any chance of an E+ seat. This was confirmed as a window seat on the exit row (35K) after parting with £56 :eek:

My brain was fried at that moment since being up from since midnight and not even adjusting back to UK time correctly, so I didn’t realise the exit slide would be next to me. I only realised this when actually boarding. Oops.
Security was a breeze, with practically no one around. It was then through to departures and the big hunt for the day – a working power plug and a semi working Internet connection. After realising one of the phones I had has the battery endurance of a firecracker, power became more urgent. Except none of the sockets I was finding were working.


As I was wandering, I saw that Skype were doing free 10-minute calls. This was abused to a small effect as I needed to contact two important persons before I disappeared out of the country, (My mother and father). Alas no working power sockets near by there.

With about an hour to go before boarding, I decided to try my luck at the BMI Diamond Club, fully expecting to refuse me entry as a BD*S on a code share ticket with UA. However, the agents took pity on me (be it my charming demeanour, my honesty, the lack of people in there or the Flyertalk tags on the top of the rollaboard) and let me in. it was then off for a double espresso and a working main socket to charge both the iPhone and the laptop for a bit, keeping very quiet and out of the way. The lounge itself was very empty with most of the long haul flights going or gone, so it was very quiet with the telly mumbling away to itself.

After getting a reasonable charge level out of the mains for both the phone and the laptop, it was time to commence boarding, so the hike over to gate 46 begun. As I was hyper on the coffee shot, I was there in no time at all, all bright and breezy. Boarding had already commenced, and so I went in the queue to be processed and boarded.

United Airlines 955/BD4495 London Heathrow – San Francisco International
Boeing 747-400 V1 Configuration
Seat 35K (exit row), Channel 9 Enabled

The Boeing 747 is one of the queens of the sky, with its distinctive body and forward humped front. However this queen’s crown is severely tarnished with United. As opposed to some airlines decking them up to the nines (AVOD, New seats in Y – BA, Qantas, Singapore Air, JAL to name a few), United has taken the decision to do nothing bar the bar basics to theirs. In honesty, this is a reminder of what an AI 747 looked like in 1989 (when I did a very long haul journey to SYD).

The cabin itself was clean, but was showing sights of wear and tear, with the old-fashioned red/blue/orange/grey seats still in position, with C not looking much better to be honest. A shame as the fundamental plane is sound.

I was greeted aboard and turned right to find the middle seat occupied, and the crammed up exit row window seat next to the slide. Oh dear. Not a total failure, but still not great. It was still better that row 59 down the back of the plane! After a bit of shifting around, I found a semi-comfortable position that would be used for the flight

I got chatting to the flight attendant who was greeting the side of the plane I was sat in, and asking about her wrist band (not a Get Tilton out one), but she was not Tilton friendly – I reminded her that a lot of frequent flyers would help push him off any cliff…

Speaking of the flight crew, it was a fairly senior crew running the ship with a smattering few young people – it looks like one of their more popular routes for seniors.

After a bit of a taxi round Heathrow, we finally took off. Take off was a bit bumpy, but after clearing the cloud, it was turning into a smoothish flight until about 2 hours in where the transatlantic turbulence hit in – AGAIN.

A combined lunch and drinks service was carried out about an hour into the flight; Lunch was Chicken with a mushroom sauce with sautéed potatoes, with a green salad, roll and chocolate cake thing.

The salad was fresh and crisp; the roll would have only done minor concussion to other people if thrown.

And the chicken?

Tough as old boots. When I was trying to slice it, the fork snapped. I promptly gave up at that point, stowing the cake for later. Clear up followed shortly after, and even through there was coffee on the trolley – it was not offered. Oh dear – little things in customer service…

However, after all the espresso, the diet cokes, the mixed diet Pepsi/coke (Diet Pitr Cola for User Friendly readers), the exhaustion finally got to me and I pretty much zonked out for the next 4-5 hours. So much for using TylenolPM :D

I came around as the “snack” service was carried out.

Yes – they’re back again, those over salted mini pretzels!

I tried to get back to sleep again, without much success, so I decided it was time to annoy people with music (or in particular, my taste in music as the IFE wasn’t exactly stellar). For fun I tried the UA supplied mini-ear bud headphones (the first pair was cracked – the second pair’s performance was less than great), but the iPhone wasn’t connecting.

And proof size does matter – the UA headphone jack is slightly smaller than the normal one. Cheap and nasty that be…

Another water run was done, but the crew mainly hide themselves in the galley unless they were required to carry out service.

I haven’t done a “quite” long haul service for some time, but sitting in the flight with darkness although conducive to sleep wasn’t practically. In the end, I was doing a few loops of the Y cabin just to keep myself active and my legs going -

The flight was a lot less turbulent than I expected – certainly better than the two recent TATL’s I’ve done in the past three weeks. There was a nasty bit over West Canada, but really, it was a pretty clear flight. As the flight neared its conclusion, there was a few more water runs (plus an addition bottle that was “obtained” from the Diamond Club

For flights as long as this, I really feel an amenity kit would be so beneficial, if anything for a pen that you can fill in the beloved INS/CBP stuff with, as not all of us carry pens these days. An eye mask would help people sleep, and socks – well its good to have more cheap socks that fall apart after wearing once.

About an hour and a half before landing, the final service of the day commences in Y with a snack pack of a Turkey and Swiss cheese roll (edible), crisps, chocolate and drinks.

About an hour later, we were lining up for SFO and touched down. However, as we were early and the return London flight hadn’t pushed back, we were penalty boxed for 20 minutes. Eventually the plane trundled into the gate, with First/Business disembarking initially, then economy. Interestingly, both 1L and 2L doors were used to disembark to speed up the process ^.

I was expecting a minor Q&A through US Immigration. but apart from the usual questions, I was away and through without too many questions.

Now the real race - how long to get to the food court? There were prizes on this… After being told get get my arse to door 1L in disebarkation, I walked briskly to immigration. There I found no queue at all and was seen to by a comparitivly friendly INS agent. He looked at me oddly when I explained the cost part of the journrey, but when I said the magic words “Mileage run” there was a nice thud and stamp sound into my passport, and within 10 minutes I was trhough. However, I took a wrong turn and endied up in the UA domestic terminal when everyone was in the Internation Food court.


After heading back again on the train, I found them all, with a time of 26 minutes and 13 seconds. If i had done it right, it would had been 15 minutes tops.

A few minutes to settle down and be snowed under with peanut butter oreos :D, it was time to go to Gate Gormet.

(More to follow!)

Birmingham Coach station. A Shed really.

Where one Concorde stode, now Emirates A380 stands…

T1 - a little more romatnci than normal.

Sleep and HEathrow… haven't I talked about this before?

Charging up at hte Diamond Club

United 747

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