As some of you may know, I took a trip to London the weekend before Thanksgiving. Inspired by a friend that was flying to London and back to re-qualify for his United 1K status, I found a decent fare. For $600, round trip, I got W fares on both segments, which would allow me to use my System Wide Upgrade certificates to upgrade from Economy to Business on both flights. Final routing for the trip would be MCI-ORD on United Express, ORD-LHR on the Boeing 767, and then returning to Kansas City with the same equipment from the first two flights. With my tickets booked, I was anxiously awaiting news of my upgrades. Unfortunately, there was no upgrade space confirmable at booking, so I was shown my least favorite word: (Upgrade: Waitlisted)..
The weeks went by, and united.com still showed "Waitlisted" next to my upgrade on the flight to London. As this was an overnight flight, and my previous experience with food in International Economy had not been so good, I was really hoping that the upgrade would clear. Despsite a few calls to the United 1K Desk, and a friend of mine checking the "true loads" of the Business Class cabin, I was worried that the upgrade would not clear. I did have an exit row, but who would resist a nice lie-flat seat in Business? :)
Thirty-Six hours before departure, I noticed that one of my upgrades had cleared. For a moment, I had thought that ORD-LHR had cleared. However, that was not true. LHR-ORD was the segment that cleared, allowing me to get my favorite seat on the 767, Seat 8A. This seats is rear facing, which means you have a great view of the engines during take-off..
The flight from MCI-ORD was pretty normal, with a nice announcement from the Captain. Apparently, we had a US Army soldier on board that was heading over to Iraq. After the announcement, the entire aircraft clapped for the guy. As we ascended to our crusing altitude, I grabbed a photo of the sunset over Kansas City.
With two hours at ORD, I had enough time to charge my iPhone & iPad, meet a friend and grab some decent food before the dinner on the flight. At the gate, I noticed that I was #5 on the list for an upgrade, with no seats available. I was disappointed that I would not get the upgrade, but I was seated in an exit row, so I would at least have decent legroom.
A nasty dinner, and a seven hours later, I woke up about an hour from London. Luckily I had been able to sleep for a good portion of the flight, despite being almost up-right for the entire flight. The "breakfast", which consisted of a pastry & yogurt, was served, and we landed not too long after. I was glad to be back in London!
Customs was fairly nice, and let me through without a secondary search, even though I only had a backpack with me. I had told the agent that processed me that I was there for a mileage run, which he seemed to believe. A few minutes later, I was heading towards the Heathrow Express, which would take me to Paddington Station. From there, it would be a short trip to Liverpool Street, which is where the Hyatt Andaz is located.
Upon my arrival at the Andaz, I was told that the room was not ready, which disappointed me just a bit. As I had not been flying in Business Class, I was unable to access the United Arrivals Suite and take a shower. After a Trans-Atlantic flight, especially for one that is overnight, a shower will feel amazing! Upon the suggestion of the front-desk staff, I ventured out for some lunch. After a flight with pretty bad food, I was very hungry, and looking forward to something warm. Luckily, I a Pizza Express was just down the block from the hotel. This is one of my favorite restaurants in London, and the pizza below was just outstanding.
With another hour and a half before my room would be ready, the front-desk staff took me over to the business center. This allowed me to check email, FlyerTalk, Facebook, check in for my flight back to the US on Sunday, and just relax. I was able to get Pandora going on my iPhone, so that made me feel more at home.
Once I had finished "reconnecting" with life back in the United States, I was glad to find out that my room was ready. A short elevator ride to the fifth floor, led me down some winding hallways, until I reached room 536. At almost every hotel, you would insert a keycard into a reader attached to the door. However, the Andaz was different, as you help the key up to the reader for the door to unlock. After entering your room, you must insert your keycard into a little box which will turn on the lights and air system. When you leave the room, you simply grab the card and the lights automatically shut off!
The room we were assigned had one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept on. With very comfortable pillows, I wished I could bring the entire bed back to Kansas! That would definitely be more comfortable than the bunk-bed that I have at KU. As my friends would not be arriving until well after midnight, I was able to grab a hot shower, spend some more time on FlyerTalk, watch the UK version of Harry Potter and grab some dinner at the hotel sushi bar. A great Chicken Teriyaki & Spicy Tuna roll later, I still had some time to kill.
For dinner, I decided to try Miyako, the hotel's Japanese restaurant.
Dinner was delicious, although overpriced.
Around midnight, my friends arrived, after being lost for two hours. London does track maintenance on the Underground over night, so the line that they had wanted to take from Paddington to Liverpool was shut down.They were also unfamiliar with the Underground, so it took them close to two hours to arrive at the Andaz.
The flight to Chicago was scheduled to leave at 9:00am, meaning that we would have to be back to Heathrow at 7:00am. London was also doing some major road work on the main road to Heathrow, so we settled on a 5:45am departure from the hotel. We were originally going to take a car service, but when spilt three ways, the hotel car service wasn't too expensive. We even got to choose what kind of car that we wanted to ride in!
Five hours later, we were loaded into the car, and on the way to Heathrow. The driver was very friendly, and altered his route to allow us to see the London Eye, which was bathed in blue LEDs. The ride lasted about forty-five minutes, although the three of us were hoping to spend some more time in the Jaguar.
Before passengers can check-in at the United ticket counters, they must first be "interviewed" by employees from BAA. If your answers to their questions, such as your final destination, if you have any weapons, etc, are satisfactory, the agent affixes a small sticker to the back of your passport. (I've yet to discover what happens if they don't like your answers!)
The United agent was very friendly, and printed my boarding passes for the flights back to Chicago and Kansas City, respectively. We were also given priority passes for the security lane, which weren't necessary at such an early hour. The only benefit is that the priority lane is on the far right side of the checkpoint, while the Nude-O-Scope is the on the far left side (mandatory in the U.K.)
There was enough time for a short visit to the Star Alliance lounge, although I did not take any photos.
At the gate, there were two lanes to enter the gate lounge. One for Global Service/First/Business/1K, and the second for all other passengers. There was a fairly large line in the Economy lane, which we bypassed by showing our business class boarding passes. This also allowed us to skip the secondary security screening, which all of the economy passengers were being funneled through.
View of row 8, taken from 8A (rear-facing)
Once on-board, the flight attendants came over to take my coat, and offered a menu and amenity kit. Later in the boarding process, they brought over a tray with water, OJ, or champagne.
While taking photos of the seat, my seatmate, a Premier Executive with United, started asking my questions about my photos, at which point I mentioned that I write a travel blog. She was a bit confused as to why I spent so little time in London, although she did admit to a few mileage runs during her younger years.The meal service was delicious, and I decided that it was time to get some sleep. My two friends had kept me up all night, so I had only gotten one hour of sleep at the Andaz. I was glad to press the lie-flat button, and sleep for a solid six hours. I felt great when I woke up, and noticed that we were about an hour from landing in Chicago.
After leveling off, the flight attendants came around with the first drinks service. As with most flights, I ordered a coke and a water, although I received hot water, not ice water.
The meal service took a little over an hour, at which point I reclined my seat to catch up on sleep. I had only gotten an hour or two of sleep the previous night, so I fell asleep quickly.
Ninety minutes from Chicago, I woke up during the arrival snack. I was a bit delirious, so the photo was taken with my iPhone, and not my camera.
Upon arrival in Chicago, I used the Global Entry kiosk, and was through Customs in less than two minutes. A quick train ride over to Terminal 1, and I went through the TSA checkpoint (body scanners were turned off today!)
I had two hours until my flight back to Kansas City, so I paid a visit to the Red Carpet Club. Although busy, I found a seat next to the window, and spent the next hour and a half plane spotting.
I took some nice photos of a soon to disappear livery (I'll miss the tulip after the merger is complete!), and then walked down to the gate for my Mesa flight to Kansas City.
Despite the short visit to London, I had a great time in one of my favorite cities. If the exchange rate weren't so bad, I could see myself visiting London more often.
Hope you enjoyed this short report!