Two Weeks in the USA - Mainly QF/AA J and F

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jakob

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Hi All,

I always enjoy reading trip reports; I've also gained a lot of useful information from this site over the last few years. I thought it was time I gave something back by writing about my own recent experience.


It's basically going to be a written (no pictures) report. I didn't take any on the planes, I find it not it my nature to pull out my camera on board, although I really appreciate those who do and know that many find text reports boring (feel free to move on to another thread now). I wasn't planning on uploading any from the USA itself but I'm more than happy to elaborate on any part of the trip that is found to be of interest (if there are any).

I plan to give an outline of what actually happened with a significant dose of my opinion, so all of your opinions are welcome in return….


Any trip needs some background so here it is:


This was a leisure trip and all came together due to SWMBO (but wasn’t….at least as far as travel classes go) and her family’s plans. Basically it had three separate travelling groups arriving in Orlando at the end of April for a week at Disney World and surrounds. The family would then go home and SWMBO and I would have another week, which we planned to split between Washington DC and NYC.

Due to work I could only allow two weeks of leave, which left me on a shorter trip than my partner and led to some of the interesting events to follow.

Basically we ended up with SWMBO having her own ticket (in Y) leaving 5 days before me, and I had bought a QF sale business fare (ticketed in I) with my own flights over and on the same flights together back (but in different classes, upgrade lottery in place of course).

As you can see this is already leading towards the making of a disaster, as we will see on the return legs, but you’ll have to wait for that frivolity!

So the all important routing was as follows:
PER-SYD-LAX-DFW-MCO 29th April
MCO-DCA 6th May
DC-NYC (train) 9th May
JFK-LAX-MEL-PER 12th -14th May

As a brief aside; my partners’ flights over to DTW went pretty well. JQ PER-MEL was useless as it was changed no less than three times by JQ in the weeks leading up, although she got there in the end. MEL-LAX-JFK was all on QF and the upgrade gods smiled the whole way! Business right through and suddenly it seemed like I might be doing OK in the relationship stakes….maybe it would work out just as well on the way back…. Or maybe not?! The shuttle from JFK-DTW on delta was apparently non-eventful

Anyway on to my trip………..
 

jakob

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Well, before the actual flight, the trip begins for me with, seat selection, consideration of upgrade requests and usually regular expertflyer monitoring of the upcoming situation. Yes it gets a bit sad or is that fun (I’m really not sure) in the lead up. That’s not to say I’m ignoring the other aspects of the trip but I really do love flying (any class, or no class at all), and knowing that its premium classes all the way doesn’t hurt one bit.

So here’s how it was looking for that series of four flights from PER-MCO.

PER-SYD was on a 767 (domestic) and I could only select row 4 or 5…. Really? I thought that was harsh, I mean I know I’m only SG and it’s in discount business…. But that’s the same as people in U class can see even as PS…. Maybe everyone else is happy with the new(ish) system at QF but I wasn’t loving it as far as my own seat selection was looking. So I took 4A. At T-80 or somewhere around then I could move forward to 3A so I took that (oh I’m a window person BTW).

SYD-LAX was scheduled as an A380. Once again seat selection was quite limited and I chose 17K, hoping that emerald city (11-13) would open up closer to departure. I also put in for an upgrade to first on this flight, leading to a slight loss of relationship points (I’m not really sure what they are I’ve just made them up I think, but I’ll go with it anyway), before she knew about her upgrade from Y, but it was OK after she’d been in J anyway.


LAX-DFW scheduled as a 757. Looking forward to that as can’t remember if I’ve even been on one. Qantas website shows the seat map but an error message is displayed after selection, saying no go. Luckily this has been booked through a travel agent as (AFAIK) you can’t book this kind of flight into one place and out of another easily on the web (at least not without paying higher fare classes). So this being an even numbered flight and expecting FEBO rules to apply I chose 2A.

DFW-MCO is naturally a MD-80. Also an even flight number so 4A it is (second row) not as massive bulkhead fan as I like a few things under the seat in front when such an arrangement is possible (non-shell seat designs).

Ok, on to the actual flights….

QF574 PER-SYD 29/4/11
This is the 0545hrs departure that connects (just) with QF11 on to LAX. It’s my first choice as avoids an overnighter to SYD/MEL and both of those flights are too short to get any real rest. So I think an early night and very early rise is the better option. I was up at 0340 and off to the domestic terminal just after 0400hrs. Check in was easy, all boarding passes provided and bags tagged right through with priority tags (whatever they do), with the standard explanation of bag pick up at LAX and drop off at T4. Through security (they were actually ensuring correct use of priority lane, not that either queue was long), advised no need to take ipad out of bag, and into the QP by 0430hrs.

There were no last minute surprises and it was indeed a domestic 767, VH-ZXC at that, meaning an old ex-BA one. I like 767’s but this plane was really showing its age (they all are I think) and the business class product is really borderline for what it costs. Even though I wasn’t paying full price, I was paying quite enough thank you, and I was very glad to be connecting onwards internationally and glad to have an ipad with me for entertainment.

The cabin was pretty full, which was a bit surprising as it certainly wasn’t showing as full on the expertflyer seat map the night before. So there were some ODU’s and/or staff travel that morning. Certainly the gentleman next to me was reading 747 operations information emblazoned with Qantas, so I assume there were at least a few staff filling the cabin. Service was not memorable, which to me is fine, there were no problems. The food however was AWFUL, I had the eggs which appeared to have been baked since the night before, they were rock hard and tasteless. It was so bad that the CSM came around and apologised for their quality. I was wishing I had had some toast in the QP before take-off.

We arrived on time and had an unusual approach (for me) landing into the west on runway 25. Naturally we parked up at the gates furthest from the international transfer bus, which I quickly walked down to and luckily the wait was short and we (the sardines) were off to the international terminal, with the standard tour of QF heavies in hangars.

Next up, the international terminal and SYD-LAX…..
 

Princess Fiona

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Great report so far, I too love the window seats and sometimes travel with family members in the "lower classes" ;)
Looking forward to reading more
 

jakob

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Arrival at the international terminal in Sydney was pretty much a non-event and I managed to pass reasonably easily into the main terminal/shopping area. The rules for security were different to Perth (ipad’s out), and I was wondering, is this as it was international, or are rules randomly made up at each city? Negotiated a course through the maze and to the escalator up to my haven for the brief wait for QF11. I was definitely looking forward to this interlude, however brief, as I had found out the night before I was about to be seated in 4K (rather than 17K). Yes, a near 14hr journey from Qantas’ premier city (we all know it is the only Australian city they care about, certainly not Perth) in A380 first. Surely this trip was about to go from meh to something better and to top it off, my first visit to the first lounge (since the upgrade).

So the lounge; Well it’s amazingly designed, I loved the view as the rain came in across the airfield. It was quite busy, clearly many platinum/emeralds enjoying the benefits (wish I was one). But, as a first customer I really didn’t see it as adding much it my trip. Yes, it is a bit rich as I was supposed to be in business and the lounge was definitely much better than the business one. But, (and my layover was too short to get a full opinion/spa treatment), as nice as it was, the champagne was nothing on what was to follow and I didn’t need a lunch right before the flight. That being said I sipped away at some non-vintage Taittinger and soon after the flight was called. Overall, I see the best use of the first lounge as being a platinum/emerald benefit when not flying right up the front.

QF11 SYD-LAX 29/04/11
Boarding via three gates for the A380 is an absolute breeze when one of the doors is exclusively for you and 13 of your new friends. Straight on, warmly welcomed and shown to my seat 4K. The cabin steadily filled up around me to capacity. The team in the cabin introduced themselves, and pyjamas (nicer than the previous ones in my opinion) and amenity kit provided. Champagne was offered with canapés, Taittinger comtes de champagne rose 2002 with almonds and olives. A refill was provided prior to departure. This was a truly special champagne (in my opinion) and boded well for the rest of the flight. After departure drinks were once again offered, this time I accepted the Taittinger comtes de champagne blanc de blanc 1999 (another amazing drop) with Tartlet of lobster and lemon crème fraiche and Maggie beer pheasant farm pate with caramelised onions on sourdough.

There was only one way to dine on this flight (although I think I was one of few to go this way), the tasting menu and matched wines. The table (and many glasses) were set. A slight alteration was made from the printed menu (due to prawn allergy) so what I had was; cream of cauliflower soup with parmesan and croutons; salad of wagyu bresaola, with grilled fennel; snapper poached in coconut milk and garam masala, fine egg noodles and snow peas; slow roasted cape grim beef sirloin with anchovy butter, baby carrots and potato gratin; chocolate caramel tart with crème fraiche and almond praline. The snapper and beef were by far the best meals I’ve had on planes and would have passed for service in a decent restaurant on the ground. Wines with each course were also very good and the list was as follows (I don’t recall which were served with each course); Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2008, Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2009, Leeuwin estate art series sav blanc 2010, Clonakilla shiraz viognier 2006, Yabby lake pinot noir 2008, Mount Mary quintet 2006. The best of the bunch (excluding the champagne) was the Mount Mary quintet. During the early part of the flight both the CSM and the captain (one of them anyway) made a visit to each passenger in the cabin.

I now have a new appreciation for those report writers able to type out whole menus, because that was hard enough and looking back at it already looks a bit snobby, but I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed it all. At some point my bed was made up, the underlay and duvet combo are very good, and got about 5 hours sleep. Followed with a steak sandwich (very good) with more champagne and a movie then breakfast prior to landing, where I had the scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough with schulz bacon, potato cake and relish. So the flight came to an end with an approach in LAX to the west landing slightly late.

I found the seat to be very good. I don’t however understand the whole front facing takeoff/landing position with extra seatbelt (sash). To me it would make more sense just to maintain the herringbone configuration the whole time, given you can watch the screen the whole way, you might as well be able to face it. And while I’m at it, given how far away it is, the screen could be a bit bigger. My other gripe is that being on the right side, sharing the overhead bins with the F people actually made it quite full in the lockers. I didn’t find the extra traffic on that side a concern though. Overall I thought 4K was a good seat (but not the best), well placed between the front (toilet) and back (galley).

I think that’s more than enough about that flight, as you can see it was a great experience in my opinion and I was glad to have used the points for the upgrade. I’m happy to elaborate on any aspect, or defend my take on it all if you disagree, and hear others experiences. To follow next is LAX and the onwards flights to Orlando.
 

serfty

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Nice report; good to see you took the discretion option in the Lounge. :D
 

cove

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There is not much to connect with when you do the run from Perth to get to Los Angeles without overnighting.
You are very brave putting the other half on a Y ticket and you go I class J.
Lucky that worked for the way over.
I am now waiting to read your next entry so you have done a very good report.
 

jakob

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There was a striking juxtaposition of new and old, as well as good and (really) bad on arrival in LAX. Stepping off one of the newest planes around; VH-OQI David Warren into a very shabby looking TBIT and making the run for what was about to be a long, seemingly interminable wait for immigration processing really took the shine of a great flight. It seems that those with US passports were quickly through (which is fine), but being lumped in an ever expanding queue of both visa waiver (ESTA) and visa arrivals meant I was going to be cutting it fine, even though a 2.5hr transit seemed reasonable up until the time I was in the line. It may sound snobby but having paid a significant amount (cash then points) to be up the front, it seemed like an express lane should have been available, because although I was at the front of the 400 or so on QF11, there happened to be a few jumbo loads of other flights already in the line.


AA 2440 LAX-DFW 29/04/11

Eventually I was through, and I (literally) ran to T4, after dropping my bags through on the way and hoping (but not believing) they would make it. Luckily security at T4 wasn’t too bad, but by the time I got to the Admirals Club they were just calling my onward flight to DFW. The lounge AAngel (seeing the effects of my recent exercise) advised I could grab a drink and rest for a few minutes and then I should head down for boarding. I did so, and on arrival to the gate boarding was only just commencing. Priority boarding was well handled and I was quickly on board and shown to my seat 2A. It was only at this point that I noticed that I had just boarded a 767 with AA’s version of the angled lie-flat installed. The seat is a poor cousin to the Qantas skybed, and was looking pretty shabby, BUT, it was much better than expected for only a 2.5hr flight, and definitely better seat-wise than most offerings on QF flights of such duration. I reckon this is the kind of space that should be provided on wide-body domestic premium class flights (whatever class the airline calls it) given what the cost is.

I must say my expectations were very low for the two ‘first’ class flights I was to have with AA. This may have been one of the reasons I found it actually to be quite good. Certainly more enjoyable than QF domestic J, which I think is different to many others opinion. There is one (major) caveat to the previous statement, the drinks (wines especially) were of no comparison to QF. However when coming off international F, I could handle a break from continuous wine drinking, and settled for a couple of (acceptable) scotch and cokes. The food was also good, with a generous portion followed up by warm cookies (with seconds offered and accepted). And so the flight across to DFW passed quickly and soon I was on the ground again with only one flight to go.

AA 1682 DFW-MCO 29/04/11

How could it still be the same day? By now I was starting to fatigue. Skytrain at DFW is a good service and I was soon transported from Terminal D to C and briefly visited another Admirals Club, where I used the drink chit to grab a bottle of water. But soon enough I was on to the final flight of the (marathon) day. This time the MD-80 had not been upgauged and I squeezed into 4A (second row). It felt very much like business on a QF 738. Surprisingly (to me anyway) dinner was offered on this flight of only 2hrs and I partook in a nice roast chicken dish. The only negative on this flight was the gentleman next to me who ignored every direction with regards to electronic and cellular devices. As soon as the flight attendants sat for take-off he pulled out is ipod, as well as wrote and received emails on his blackberry during the taxi and take-off roll (I know I really should have said something but I wasn’t up for the fight). Anyway rant about that over. Otherwise, this was another flight that passed quickly and I was happy to have had two good AA ‘first’ flights with associated extra status credits.

I’ve already touched on it, but I was certainly impressed with AA and would currently consider them to be just as good, and possibly better than QF domestic, even taking into account my differing expectations. We landed slightly early into MCO and by the time I made it to the luggage belt, my cases were already there (impressive). I grabbed them and a cab and headed directly to Disney’s Saratoga resort and spa, my home for the next 7 nights, and was asleep by 2330hrs, some 32hrs after I awoke in Perth that morning.

Next up; a rundown of my week in Orlando with Disney/Universal and then US air to Washington.
 

jakob

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Well it’s been way too long between updates, but I should really finish the report!
Memory has of course faded somewhat, but I’ll try and be as accurate as possible with the remainder.

Saratoga Springs:
As I mentioned previously this was our base for a week in Florida. I arrived the night before the rest and slept soundly in a standard room. It was pretty average in every way but fine given the long flights just completed. I had most of the next day free prior to everyone else trickling in and spent it at blizzard beach water park…. Not bad place for a day of sun and water.

As there were 6 of us, we had organised a tree house villa, which was in a distant part of the resort. Much newer and nicer than the original resort buildings, we all really enjoyed staying there and would do so again. I won’t give you a blow by blow account of the week but rather some tips and highlights.

Firstly, just under a week was not enough time to mix relaxation and resort hopping. I certainly did not expect this to be the case and definitely enjoyed my time around Disney and Universal much more than I thought I would prior to the trip. The resorts are very spread out and although there is an excellent (free) bus system, you must allow quite a lot of time for transits between resorts and/or theme parks. However it was worth staying in a Disney resort for the level of integration is excellent, just being able to use your room key for everything is great. But the best bonus for staying at a branded resort is Magic hours, whereby certain parks are open only to resort guests either early or late (there’s a timetable). It may sound strange but the best time I had in the whole week was between midnight and three am (less children an added bonus) in the Magic kingdom where we knocked off the same number of rides as others might get in a week if they were only there during the day.

Also, I must recommend the Disney dining plans for hassle free eating throughout a stay, it was generally cheap and cheerful American food at the parks but night-time dining options were extensive with some pretty nice places available and it provided a good chance to check out other resorts. The included wines however were pretty average, I think I’m really spoilt by Australian wines at home.

We took a day out of Disney mania to head over to Universal (although the Disney resort staff like to pretend that there is nothing outside of the Disney universe), splurged on VIP passes to skip queues all day. Was worth it I think just to get the most of the day. Had a great time in the newer section (Islands of Adventure) with Harry Potter land an exceptional bit of theme park development; however the older side was really showing its age.

US 1880 MCO-DCA 06/05/11

Already the time in Orlando was at an end and it was back to MCO for an economy (coach) flight up to Washington DC. This was an afternoon flight on an A319 which has definitely faded into averageness. MCO is a also pretty average airport which fitted the theme of the day. Without lounge access we managed to find a spot to wait with the other 4 who were about to head home, while myself and SWMBO headed up to DC. All I can say about the flight is it passed not too slowly there was quite a bit of cloud below so my window seat was to no avail, and I don’t recall any significant issues.

Next up; Washington, train to NYC and NYC.
 
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