A Fun Weekend.. Planned and Unplanned

I know I haven’t been posting much but life has been in the way. Busy all day with work, not much in my life to talk about other than work, work and more work. Life outside of work has been fairly routine, as per my new tshirt Eat, Sleep, Work, Run.. Repeat. But this weekend, Heidi & I had a pretty good time, some things planned, others not so much.

Saturday was the FHC Skyfair and since Heidi had to do some stuff for her Pacific North West History class, we decided Heidi’s first time at the Boeing Everett Factory was worth it. For me it was the third time this year (I think… might be more, I can’t remember) that I have been in the factory (twice on the floor, once in the roof). Heidi had never been to the factory before and I tried to not be a know it all as much as possible. Heidi had a good time, which is a great thing, because now she can’t complain when I go see planes (or drag her with me).

From Life in Seattle 2014

After the factory tour we headed over to the Windsock for some of the Warbird action as Plane of Fame in Chino had brought up their P-38 and their Corsair for the days activities. That is all I really wanted to see, so after they did their demos, we were about ready to leave when the Tigercat came out. I had mentioned to Heidi that the plane was named “Bad Kitty” which then meant that we had to stay. Heidi was determined I get a great picture of the nose art on the Tigercat. Heidi does love her kitties (apparently also the ones of the plane variety). I had given Heidi one of my cameras to use for the morning so she can get used to it when we head to Japan later in the year.

From Life in Seattle 2014

On Sunday we had absolutely no plans. Down to the fact that after waking up it was “Do we go to the gym or for a ride?” “I don’t know you decide” “I don’t know, you make a decision” (in the end we went to the gym). Funny thing was after heading to catch up with her dad at church (yes, I do go to church on occasion with Heidi, no you can’t judge me for it, no I don’t go because she drags me, I go willingly because Heidi appreciates that I do go with her) he offered to take us “Plinking”. I was so up for that! What is plinking? It is just target shooting with a small .22 Rifle. We headed way up into the State Forest up near Greenwater and it was pretty awesome!

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

The shooting was lots of fun. I didn’t hit many targets (then again none of us really did) but I did get a number of hits. We were shooting at paper cups, since they were easy to find and easy to recycle afterwards. There was a numerous amount of cups without any holes at all, which was dissapointing… kind of.

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

I would love to get out and do some more of that, but I know that will just end in a giant money hole. I already have one of those, it is called my camera. I don’t need another. So many comments about being hunted by Heidi’s dad with the gun or being taken out into the woods for a “conversation”. But nothing untoward happened and Heidi’s dad is pretty relaxed. It was a great time and something that I have wanted to do for a while.

All in all a pretty relaxed weekend. Looking forward to the upcoming week as it is Seafair and Marine Week all in the same week. I have some assignment work for Airline Reporter to finish and then I also have the MCAS Boeing Field stuff to write about. Looking to be a fun couple of weeks (I guarantee a few thousand photos to work on).

5 of 6 787-9s

Yesterday I managed to add the 4th of 5 flying 787-9s that are out and about in Seattle and around the world (only 1 has been delivered to Air New Zealand). So here they are:

#1: ZB001 – Boeing Test Flights (going to Air New Zealand Eventually)

From Seattle Spotting 2014

#2: ZB002 – Boeing Test Flights (going to Air New Zealand eventually)

From Seattle Spotting 2013

#3: ZB789 – Don’t have this one yet, but it will go to JAL (next on my hunt list)

#4: ZB197 – All Nippon Airways

From Seattle Spotting 2014

#5: ZB167 – United

From Seattle Spotting 2014

#6: ZB003 – Air New Zealand – ZK-NZE – All Blacks Livery (Already Delivered)

From Seattle Spotting 2014

Finally Completed!!!

On Friday night on the 4th of July (which that day deserves a whole other post on its own) I finally managed to finish off all photos from my trip to Anchorage at the end of May. Yes I said May… it has seriously taken over a month to get all of these done. Mind you I did move houses in that time, so the house move did have priority, however it still took a decent amount of time. I was working on photos during my lunch breaks from work remotely. I was working late into the night some nights just continuously working on photos. In the end I culled down the 7500 photos I took, down to 368 photos in the finished album. That is around a 5% ratio, which while lower than my normal, well it is better than nothing. Now that I have all of them on my site, there is the daunting task of getting them up on Aviation Photographic, so Kevin (the owner) will have a rough time going through them all once I get them uploaded. But no more talk… Avgeek Porn time!

From Anchorage Spotting

A China Southern 777F having water sucked into its engine while it waits for its turn to take off

From Anchorage Spotting

An Everts Cargo DC-6 getting ready for takeoff

From Anchorage Spotting

The Alaska Starliner, more commonly known as the Retro Livery. I have chased this thing since i caught my first glimpse in 2009!

From Anchorage Spotting

A Condor 767 taking off in front of the Anchorage Mountains

From Anchorage Spotting

A G650, what I can easily say is a stunning example of a Business Jet

From Anchorage Spotting

A Southern Air 747-400F with a Beacon flashing while it turns onto the Active.

Want more? Full folder can be found here

Anchorage Spotting

Flying Non Rev… aka Stress Class

Over the weekend on my short little trip to Legoland, I flew Non Rev (or Non Revenue) for the first time. Heidi gets the occasional Buddy Pass and I used one to head down to San Diego. This is not a “O M G how can he complain for flying extremely cheaply somewhere” kind of post, but more a reality of using Buddy Passes kind of thing.

I had never flown Non-Rev before and I don’t really know if I would again. I totally understand the purpose of it, and I am sure for those who use them all the time, they love it. But for me… not again…. maybe. I found the whole process when it works as great. On the way down there were heaps of spare seats and we were at the bottom of the list of like maybe half a dozen people. No issues! Managed to score an exit row seat too! But coming back… lordy lordy.

Coming back from San Diego after a long weekend exploring, eating, having fun and getting royally sun burnt, was a new experience for me. I had never really been in a situation where I had no confirmed seats to get home. At all. The Standby Lists were long, over 20 on the our first option, and again on our next. Our last resort, the last flight of the day was wide open, but that was something I didn’t want to contemplate.

After checking in for our first flight, the ideal option, it did not look good. 9 open seats, 20 on the list and I was number 18 on the list. Not a chance! I asked about checking to see if there were other options to get me home via another city (There was a Portland connection that might work) but unfortunately that was no good. While the San Diego to Portland was wide open, the connecting flight up to Seattle was not, so that was out. Resolution, go for the later flight and suck up the extra 90 minute wait.

The second flight was getting closer and closer. 20 on the list, I am in space 15 and there was 16 seats. Dear god it is going to be close. What I didn’t want was a couple of paying passengers to get bumped from another flight. That would not end well at all as they would take priority over any non rev (including me!) and I would lose my spot. The flight boarded and as I waited, people started to clear the waitlist. I waited, and waited. People were making the flight, as people were called they somehow appeared out of no where, making the flight. It came down to the last few seats. Boarding was about to finish, they were getting ready to close the flight and send us on our way. But then they called me, I could go home!!! I scurried onboard with my bag (which they told me I didn’t have to gate check, they would find space onboard, and they did… in first class) and took my middle seat. Happy to be homeward bound.

So in reality flying on a Buddy Pass or Non Rev has it’s ups and downs. Often in comparison to full fares, it is a huge saving and it means you can go just about anywhere you want and may even score an Exit Row or Bulkhead. But the downsides are pretty big too. You may have to play Non Rev Roulette in the hope of getting home, you may end up with the seats no one else wants… the dreaded Middle or you may not end up at home at all! In this instance it was a good last minute trip, however in comparison to a trip booked on a heavily discounted fare, the savings would not be all that much. But hey… at least it would be a confirmed seat right?

Trip Report – To the Last Frontier: Conclusion

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

My trip to Alaska was something I desperately needed on many levels. I had a big yearning to fly as so far this year up until this trip, I had flown 0 miles. For someone who flew over 60,000 miles last year, I was desperate. I just wanted to get up there again. This trip also allowed me to tick Alaska off my state list. Even though it was only a short trip, it allows me to plan on heading back there in the future.

Even though the weather was crap for most of the time, I still enjoyed myself. I stuck it out in the rain for a good portion of the day and just kept taking photos. I would have done the same back here, had I still been in the city (speaking of which I missed a test flight of the Air New Zealand 787-9 because I was playing around in the rain, I just can’t get that thing!).

The flight up was down right horrible (thanks to a crappy crew who didn’t seem to care and also the delay and the WiFi issue (All of which I have made complaints about, but nothing so far). The flight back though was the total opposite, so how United can get away with being Day & Night differences, I don’t know. But it also shows that any airline can be good or bad. United gets a bum wrap at times, and this time I can’t really fault them all that much for the return flight. Having an entire row of 6 to myself, exit row as well! Can’t be all that bad.

The hotel in Anchorage did it’s job. It wasn’t flash or luxurious, but it was close to the airport and exactly what I needed to get me through. I wouldn’t ask for anything more than a clean room, a gym, WiFi & some parking. Anything more than that is just more frosting on the cake.

All told I took over 7588 photos of just planes over the weekend. The processing of these is going to take some time, that is for sure. I don’t quite know how long but I usually budget about 10% of photos taken, make it out of the cull. What does that really mean… I am going to be working on these for quite some time!

Trip Report – To The Last Frontier: Anchorage to Seattle

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

Sunday 1st June 2014

I returned the truck to the airport, happy in that I was now going to remain dry for the rest of the afternoon and also happy in the knowledge that I had enjoyed myself immensly. After 2 days of spotting, my camera batteries needing charging, my arms needed a rest (that bigma is heavy!) and my body needed refueling…. badly.

From Anchorage

I headed from the Rental Car center over to the main terminal via the underground walkway. The walkway was pretty neat, they had aerial photos of the airport from the day it opened. Staggered every 5 years or so you could see the changes that were made over time. The airport has become so busy now that it definitely does hold the titles of “Crossroads of the North” and deserves it.

From Anchorage

After entering the small terminal, I headed up and to the left to the United check in area and dropped my bag off. Sadly no United Club here in Anchorage so my plans were to get through security and find somewhere to get some lunch. I had found out online that the airport had an “Observation Deck” above the main concourse, which had some Alaskan Native Art in there as well. I was more interested in the view than anything. With my bag dropped off and disposing of the unfinished portion of my water, off through security I went. Premium Security line was empty but as I got there up comes two ladies in Wheelchairs, shutting down my side of the check point. Joy. What it meant was that while they let everyone in the general queue go for boarding pass inspection, I had to wait. Even when they reopened it and called me forward. A lady from the general queue pushed her way in front of me. Whatever

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I made it through security easily and with my belongings in hand. I found a place that had a half decent sounding salad and headed up to the observation deck to get some last minute enjoyment while I waited for boarding. The time went by quickly and about 4pm I headed down towards the gate and just as I got there, the aircraft arrived. Love timing it like that! I headed up to the desk to try my luck at another Exit Row and with a smile and a nice kind ask, I had an exit row boarding pass.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I found somewhere to sit in the middle of the concourse, a shot distance from the gate as it seemed that every man and his dog (well no animals, but you know what I mean) were waiting at the gate. It was pretty packed but the seat map looked decidedly empty last time i checked. I rearranged a few things so that I did not have to get up to my camera bag in the middle of the flight (hate doing that, since it is really bulky and heavy). The seats where I was doing that were very unique. They felt more like pieces of art than actual seats, but it was a unique way of looking at something that is required for people to rest and wait.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As I was waiting for boarding it was time for the freighter change over as the current waive left their gates and were replaced by another set. I had packed my camera away, but had the windows not been covered in rain, I may have contemplated pulling it out again. Why not add a few more images to the count.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

The boarding area filled once they announced that boarding would begin shortly and the new United boarding area (with sign posted gate lines) certainly does make things easier. The gate area looks far less crammed and feels more controlled. The Gate lice still exist, however they are more handled and kept in line. Something for other airlines to consider maybe?

United Airlines – UA1129
Anchorage to Seattle Tacoma
1705-2130
Boeing 737-900ER (N68801)
Economy Plus – Seat 20A (Exit Row)

Boarding: 1640 (Gate B5)
Push Back: 1706
Take off Roll: 1716 (Runway 25R)
Top of Descent: 2049
Touch Down: 2114 (Runway 34L)
Shut Down: 2121 (Gate A10)

When the boarding commenced for Global Services and those who needed help, it was a while before Zone 1 was called and even then, the difference between Zone 1 & Zone 2 boarding was non existent. Everyone in that line just rushed the boarding door. I hung back in the knowledge that being in Zone 2, still gets me to my seat, still gets me overhead space for the camera bag and still gives me plenty of time to relax.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I took my seat in the first of the Exit Rows (I went up in the 2nd exit row) and tried to settle in as quick as possible. No one was sitting next to me for a while as boarding happened around me, but I wasn’t sure if that was going to remain. I saw that power was working this time, and as everyone boarded around me, I started plugging some stuff in. My camera batteries were running a bit low (for the P&S) and so I decided to give them some power in case I lost the last remaining battery while I was up in the air. Something That just would not do! I kept waiting and soon enough they announced that the doors were about to shut and could everyone take their seat. Not only did I have an empty middle seat, but an empty aisle seat as well. In fact the entire exit row apart from me was empty. SCORE!!!!!!

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

The crew warned everyone jammed down the back that they could not self upgrade to “Economy Plus” once the flight got to cruise altitude, they had to stay in their assigned seat. This got a few people unhappy but I didn’t care. All you have to do is ask and if they are open, generally you receive. The manual safety demo happened around me and all I know is that I was to busy answering a few last tweets before I had to switch off my phone. We pushed back and started taxiing for the runway. Things had changed since that morning and they were now using 15 for arrivals and 25R for some departures.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As we taxiied down towards the 25R threshold, we passed a lot of the smaller regional planes belonging to Pen Air & Era … I mean Ravn Air. Past all the small turbo props and then it was into the smaller local freight operators. This is where the interesting stuff lives. NAC and their 737-200s & DC-6s. Even a number of DC3s and one lone Convair. Alaska is always fun for this kind of thing. We turned onto the active and held in place for a minute or so. I could hear it in my head. United Eleven Twenty Nine, Runway Two Five Right, Winds 150 at 10 (at least thats what it was the last time I was listening in on the scanner a few hours ago), Cleared for Takeoff. The pilot would respond and then you could hear the engines spool up. Brakes still holding and then let the baby fly!!!

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Take off roll was spirited and before we had even passed the South Hangars of Lynden Aviation and the Alaska Air National Guard we were airborne and climbing. Wheels up, flaps up, we climbed out and away from the airport and turned towards Seattle. Not much to see out my side of the aircraft, but hey… I couldn’t complain though, I could have just moved to the other window and I would have it all. No one to blame but myself.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

My attention from that point, as we climbed up through the cloud base towards the blue sky, turned to getting my self situated in what was to become my little encampment. Out came my devices and I took over the power ports (both of them) to get my phone back on power to stay juiced and to change over the batteries as one of them had the top off it needed. I distributed all my gear as needed and settled in for a comfortable, spacious flight home.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

By the time we were a decent height, I pulled the laptop out to do some work on the trip reports and just generally sat back and relaxed for the flight. It took quite a while before they switched off the seat belt sign (not that anyone cared or paid any attention to it) and the pilot annouced a flight time of 2 hours 53 minutes home to Seattle.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Service commenced just after this and the crew were slow but methodical in getting the drinks out. Sadly I did not get more than a cup this time (how I got the whole can before I don’t know) but the smells coming back to us from the front of the plane were just not fair. At one point all I could smell was coffee and made a mental note to have one later to give me a bit of a pick me up before I got in the truck.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

While the flight cruised on, I read my book and decided it was time to finally get that coffee. I headed to the back of the plane to get the coffee & everyone looked so unhappy down there. All jammed in :( But hey, that could have been me, so no complaining, no making fun right? With coffee in hand I headed back to my seat and I had barely settled back in when they did a rubbish run through the plane. Knowing that they would collect all my stuff, I ended up downing the coffee fairly quickly (it wasn’t that hot at all) and figured that it would be good while it lasted. I “enjoyed” my coffee with a Protein bar that Heidi had made me pack (and it came in handy as a dinner replacement), although this one was far from tasty.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

We got a pre descent warning from the pilots somewhere over BC and as we started descent, we had just passed Vancouver off to the left side. I wasn’t sure if it was Vancouver to begin with, but it had to of been it. The city is fairly obvious from above and the man made island for the airport is really distinguishable. I kept an eye out the window on descent as we seemed awfully high passing Everett and that meant we were heading for a southern arrival, heading down towards Tacoma and turning north back towards SeaTac.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As we passed over downtown the sun was setting with beautiful red & orange tones and I spent a good amount of time trying to get the perfect photo. I think I did, but not quite sure. We turned as expected right over the Port of Tacoma and were vectored in for a 34L arrival. How do I know this? We were hugging the coastline from Tacoma, up over Federal Way & Des Moines. So much that we flew almost over Heidi’s parents place and over Burien where she lives at the moment.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Touching down about 15 minutes early we had a long taxi from the top of 34L and we held for the 34R runway to clear. What passes me by out the window? An Alaska 737 with Split Scimitar Winglets. Damn! Not fast enough… that and the light was fading. Yep, that’s my excuse, light wasn’t great.

From Anchorage

We pulled into the gate 9 minutes early and since I had no one else next to me (or even at the end of the row) I was quickly up and moving. Though we had to wait to get lot off, I was off the aircraft pretty quickly and by the time I had made the long trek from A10 to the baggage claim, the baggage carousel had just started moving. Thinking that I was going to get a repeat of Friday night, I was shocked to see my bag first on the belt! That has not happened in a long long time. Since my bag was first on the belt and I did not even break stride to grab it and turn around headed for the car park. I was out of the terminal in minutes rather than the usual 20-30 minutes it takes.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I was waiting for a shuttle longer than I had to wait for my bag, but pretty soon I was at Wallypark, paying off my bill and then jumping in the truck to drive home. I was looking forward to some sleeeeep!

Trip Report – To The Last Frontier: Anchorage

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

I was met at the terminal by the shuttle from the Holiday Inn Express Anchorage and the person working the desk had asked my name when picking me up. The moment I stepped into the lobby off the shuttle, he greeted me by name and had me checked in already to go. I just had to sign a couple of pieces of paper and he pointed me in the right direction towards my room. Within 10 minutes of stepping in the door, I was asleep.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Saturday 31st May 2014

I awoke this morning after only 4 hours sleep, not much but it would have to do. I looked out the window and all I saw was rain :( So I gave up on the idea of running to the airport and instead, went to the gym to wake myself up. After a morning workout that was fairly intense compared to my usual one (maybe I was just feeling great, I don’t know why it was so quick to complete today), I got myself ready quickly as they schedule the shuttles in the morning and I was about 15 minutes off a departure. After that it was another hour. So I rushed back to get changed and showered and made it in time, to be the only person on the shuttle.

From Anchorage

I had originally intended on running to the airport, and when my 5k run was over just picking up the rental truck to get back. But since it was raining, I was just shuttling back to the airport to the rental car facility. The rental car facility was fairly deserted but so was the Enterprise counter. I waited a good 5 minutes before someone decided to show up. But once they did, I was off upstairs to the booth to get my truck. When I got up to the booth she gave me a choice of either a Dodge Ram or a Ford F150. Since I drive a Ram at home, I went with the F150. At least then I can see what makes this truck so popular.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Pretty soon I was headed back to the airport to get myself sorted for the day. Some breakfast, a quick plan of where to stop to get some water and then off to get some spotting done. Free breakfast is never all that great when you don’t eat that much (like I try to) but when it is a Holiday Inn Express, the selection’s are never over the top. Something that I appreciate, makes me feel like I am not wasting it. The main thing it had was coffee, I wanted coffee, I was dreaming of coffee, I would of injected it into my veins if I had the choice. The brew was passable, but it hit the spot and with an extra cup in hand, it was off for a day of spotting.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Spotting is pretty much what I did all day. It may have been raining (fairly lightly at that point) and the wind blowing a good 15-20 knots, but hey, I am here to get photos and the planes were lining up for me. One after the other, they just kept on coming. As a bank of freighters started to leave, another set would come in. All of them heavies, all of them so so good looking. I won’t got into too much depth about the spotting, but suffice it to say, I had a REALLY good haul over the weekend.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I took a break in the morning to thaw out at the Alaska Aviation Museum and it was ok. Nothing over the top but worth the $10 donation for a true avgeek cause. I learnt a little about the history of Airlines in Alaska and there was number that I had ever even heard of. Interesting pieces that’s for sure. I also took a break in the afternoon to head downtown for some souvenir hunting. I needed to get a postcard (which I managed to forget to write) and a shot glass for the collection, and see if I could find something special for the lady. I didn’t want to get something over the top (we have rules against that) and I managed to find something that would make her giggle at least.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

The first day ended with dinner at a place that was high on the Urbanspoon and Wikitravel suggestions, and a very tasty burger it was. I never would of thought to combine BBQ sauce, Jalapeno Cheese, Onion Strings and Bacon on a burger. I might in the future though! The coleslaw that it came with was tasty as well. The dried cranberries in it, gave an interesting texture, might have to try that sometime myself.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I passed out in front of the TV at about 9pm (it was still light outside as though it was noon), watching Batman with a piece of pie and some ice cream. Can’t beat it.

From Anchorage

Sunday 1st June

This time the weather held out and I sure as hell was going to go for my run. Not only would it add to my list but, I was going to enjoy running around an airport (Lake Hood is classed as a separate airport to Anchorage International. What I forgot was that it was 5k run to get me to the airport, I still had to get back. All up…. just under 8kms. Woops!

I grabbed breakfast again and checked out. I was heading back to the airport for another day of spotting, before my flight home. Today’s plan was all weather dependent and there was forecast of rain. At least yesterday the rain abated and left me dry for the afternoon. Today I was racing the rain in the hopes that it would come after I dropped the truck off Speaking of which, I probably didn’t need the truck this weekend. I could have had a normal car thanks to the winds situation that was happening this weekend. But there was no way to tell. The F150 was a good choice. Not because I liked it, but because I now know that I am glad I never bought one. It just never gave me the impression that I was going to enjoy it. The indicators were one of the reasons I didn’t buy it in the first place. That decision was totally reasonable, as they drove me nuts the whole weekend.

From Anchorage

The rain hit about half way through my morning and went from light to moderate but I toughed it out in the name of spotting and got what I needed to get. There was plenty to watch come in and out still, but it was lighter than the day before. Not many in the way of special liveries at all.

From Anchorage

By around 230pm I was starting to get cold and tired of standing in the rain, so headed on over to the airport to drop off the truck and start heading home.

Trip Report – To the Last Frontier: Seattle to Anchorage

Introduction
Seattle to Anchorage
Anchorage
Anchorage to Seattle
Conclusion

                                                                                                                                                                      

Friday 30th May 2014

I left work on time, but thanks to traffic it was slow going on the 405 (nothing new there really) but it wasn’t to bad getting to the airport. I parked the truck at Wallypark, my usual spot, and instead of going straight to the Terminal, I met up with Heidi for dinner. We stuck close by and went to the new L&L Hawaiian BBQ for dinner and although it is not at all that classy, it sure was tasty. Just as Heidi arrived I got the first bit of bad news for the evening.

An email and a Tripit push notification, both saying that unwanted note…… Delayed. That wouldn’t have been too bad had I dropped my bag off first then gone to meet up with Heidi. Sadly it still meant I had to be there before the usual cut off time, just in case. After a quick trip to the local Safeway to pick up some protein bars for the upcoming weekend (I had planned to stash a couple in my camera bag so that I didn’t have to leave the spotting areas when it came time for food), Heidi dropped me off on the Departures deck and after a kiss goodbye (definitely a new thing for me) I was on my way to check in.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Check in for United was deserted, to be honest the entire South End of the terminal felt like a ghost town. However the few people who were checking in, just had to be in the queue that I was going to be using. So rather than wait in line for the Premier Access counters, I just used a normal counter. I tried to get a free Econ Plus row, but no deal. The boarding pass didn’t even show the delay so that was really disappointing. I got a printed boarding pass purely for the collection and after my bag was sent on its way (I didn’t notice if a priority tag was added to my bag or not) I snapped a few pictures and headed towards the security check point as instructed. Thankfully I had been told that the South Checkpoint was closed and that everyone had to pass through the Central point.

The good news was that the checkpoint was empty and I breezed through the ID check, then I was 2nd in line for the scanner and I was through within minutes. I seem to get pulled up as though there is something on my body (same spot, each and every time, I swear that there is a metal implement or something inside my stomach?) and I got a light pat down in the usual spot. Nothing too huge, and I had contemplated opting out for shits and giggles but decided against it. Once through to the other side I collected my gear and stopped by the Food Court windows for a squiz at the ramp. Nothing but normal out there today so to the United Club we go! A long long walk down to the High A gates (the club is opposite A9) and with my gate at A8 it meant for convenience later on.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Checking into the club was painless and I even managed to snag that Exit Row, thanks to a smile and asking nicely. Originally the “dragon” (not that she was one, since she was nicer than nice) thought I meant a First Upgrade, but I just wanted a bit of extra space, no First Class seat and meal required. It was sure going to be tough to leave the club without inhaling what goodies were there. But I got handed my Exit Row Window (is there a better seat than that in Economy?) Boarding pass and I did a lap of the lounge to find the best spot to sit. Plonking my butt in an empty area, I grabbed some snacks (hello Yogurt Raisins, I see you have returned to provide me with a challenge of can I stop myself from eating all of you) and by snacks i mean cookies (small ones though) and some coffee and got settled.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

I caught up on my emails, charged my phone a little and generally goofed off for like the next hour and even managed to get myself sorted. The flight was due to touch down around 915pm and we were meant to depart at 10pm. Though I doubted this from the moment I received the first delay notification. Still you expect to do the right thing and headed out of the lounge at my usual early time to find a spot by the windows for when the plane arrives. I wanted that nice empty clean plane shot either just as it pulls up or a few moments after. Makes getting the registration all that easier.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

20 minutes later (by that time 5 minutes after the plane was scheduled to arrive) it still hadn’t shown up but low and behold, people are moving about on the ramp and that meant an incoming aircraft. As the flight rolled into the gate, I got my shots and then checked the registration against the lists and turns out it was a barely year old 737-900ER! So not only was I getting a new BSI fitted aircraft, but being an ER, it meant a first on type! So had this been a new airline I could have snagged a trifecta. Guess the fact I was flying to a new Airport on a new type would have to suffice.

From Anchorage

The plane disgorged all the people and that was a good thing as the sooner they got off, the sooner we could get on. But we were not getting out on time. I got a further delay announcement, just 10 more minutes. I can deal with that, but at this rate we are approaching a 1am touch down and that would mean a painful morning, especially if I want to be up at Sparrows Fart for plane spotting. Since I had the rego and photos, I headed over towards the gate area, where sadly no seats were vacant but I could wait standing up. Wait is something I did, we waited quite some time. About 15 minutes into my wait (about 5 minutes after the crew headed on) I was playing around in the United App when it just stopped working….o dear! United’s computers had crashed and this was confirmed moments later when it was announced we would have to manually board.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

United Airlines – UA1603
Seattle Tacoma to Anchorage
2110-2347
Boeing 737-900ER (N38473)
Economy Plus – Seat 21A (Exit Row)

Boarding: 2155 (Gate A8)
Push Back: 2303
Take off Roll: 2311 (Runway 34R)
Top of Descent: 0052
Touch Down: 0115 (Runway 15)
Shut Down: 0121 (Gate B6)

When boarding was called we were fast approaching an hours delay, just as I was boarding I got another flight delay notice from Tripit and I just knew that was begging for hope that it would be accurate, but it wasn’t to be. I boarded at the appropriate time with the appropriate zone (Zone 2) and I walked onboard, happy to see the “United WiFi” sticker at the door. I was going to give the WiFi a good test and really see how it went. I got my stuff sorted and had a chuckle at the Fact the rows went 13,14,15,20,21. That confused the hell out of me but according to the FA working my area, it has to be that way so that all Exit Rows have a common number. Why I have no idea, it makes NO sense, but hey…. This is America.

From Anchorage
From Anchorage

As everyone boarded, time stretched longer and longer. The boarding process was done and then we were told we were waiting… A LONG time. We had to wait for a Houston flight to land that was late Being that we were already late, hey why not delay us further. The groans onboard were lengthy and loud, it was obvious that people were not happy about the situation. I just sucked it up and sat back, reading my book and waiting. Wait we did!

From Anchorage
From Anchorage
From Anchorage

Almost 2 hours late by this stage we finally had doors shut and a push back (albeit slow) from the terminal. It was a quick taxi from the A gates out to the Runway and we had no one in front of us, so with a short wait (seconds) we were heading into the skies. Climb out was quick and it was surprisingly comfortable even after being stuck in the seat for an hour. I wanted to get up to height as soon as possible so that I could get connected to the WiFi. I had been sent an email the day prior to let me know that I would have WiFi on this flight. Great!! As soon as I heard the dings to signify we had past 10,000ft I pulled the laptop out and got started.

From Anchorage

I started off by connecting to the WiFi with my phone to see how easily it connected and it was a breeze. Then I switched over to the laptop, took out my wallet and paid for it. I was hoping to get some travel booked while on the flight, but first things first, speed test. I ran a few speed tests, did some screen captures for a review I was going to have to write and then once that was done “Out of Coverage” ummmmmm say what Now? I just spent $4 on WiFi ($2 per hour is pretty good compared to GoGo for a short flight) and it said I had “3 hours of United WiFi” when really I had 15 minutes? I also didn’t have a working power plug at the seat so couldn’t charge my phone (and it was fairly low on power).

By this time I had been given my drink (full can!) on the service and so with that done and not possible to do work (I had been looking through the FAQs and stuff while doing my prep for the review to find that you can request a refund and I had screen captured that stuff before I lost coverage), guess it was time to relax. So I read for a while, and when I couldn’t read any longer, I shut my eyes and tried to relax.

Next thing I know we are about an hour away from Anchorage, shut my eyes again and I am looking out the window on the other side of the plane and I can see sunlight. I check my watch and its after 130am Seattle time… WTF! I fixed up my watch and knew that we would be descending fairly soon so Just sat back and enjoyed the ride with my eyes shut as much as possible. I was tired, I wanted a drink, I just wanted sleep. I sucked up the crappiness of it all and just switched my brain off.

We hit descent and I packed up my stuff, I was hoping to escape the plane quickly and get to the bag claim as quickly as possible. We circled over and around Anchorage through some clouds and lots of lumps. To be honest I had no idea where I was but the lights down below were on and I could see stuff so I can’t complain really. As we approached the airport I was trying hard to see what was on the ramp and I was not disappointed as we came into land. It was all freight, everywhere. Fed Ex, UPS, Cathay, Korean, China Airlines. All the stuff I came here to see.

It was a slow roll out to the end of Runway 15 and then we circled around to the pier that was not used by Alaska Airlines. We pulled in next to a US Airways flight and Frontier was in there somewhere as well. I was off the flight fairly quickly and without to much stress either. The walk from the gate to the baggage claim was fairly long but easy and then I had to wait. Wait a lot. That priority tag for my bag that I wasn’t sure if it got on my bag. Well it did, but it didn’t do anything at all. My bag was one of the last ones off the plane and by the time I had my bag I was just cranky. By then it was almost 2am Alaska time and I was just tired.

From Anchorage

Bag in hand I headed out to the shuttle stand to get the already ordered shuttle to my hotel, The Holiday Inn Express Anchorage. Barely a mile and a half away from the hotel. But it was close enough that at 2am.. I was head down on a pillow.

Trip Report – To the Last Frontier: Introduction

It’s currently the end of May. So far this year my mileage balanace for total travelled miles is 0. That’s right, a big giant Donut. I need to fly! I must get up in the air, now, anywhere.. please just let me fly. When I saw a fare sale on a weekend telling me that fares to Alaska were $100 each way… well.. guess where I am going!! Since I had considered going to Alaska at the end of last year during my “$100 Challenge” and instead went to Kansas, might as well tick another state off my list right?

So after finding a decent weekend that would work with the fares (sadly on United so that is going to be interesting, since I have’t flown them intentionally in a while) and work as well, I locked it in. The hotel actually cost more than the flights in this situation. Hotel prices in Anchorage just are not cheap (well it is cruise ship season I guess) but I managed to find a decent rate at the Holiday Inn Express near the airport. Considering I intend on spending most of my time taking photos around the airport I might as well stay close by right? Saves having to go that far after getting off a flight at like 1am in the morning.

The hardest part of the trip planning was arranging a car. Normally I would just book the usual National car rental in a mid size, pick up off the Executive line and all would be good. But a few friends had suggested previously that a Truck is needed for spotting. Since I wouldn’t have access to a step ladder and with fairly large fence lines in some area, I needed to get an MFAP. What’s an MFAP? A Mobile Fence Avoidance Platform… aka a Truck. Normally I would avoid driving a truck when renting. I drive one at home, why do I need another one? Well since I need it, I might as well get it. But for some reason the only company that had availability for one was Enterprise. I even had the National Car Rental Social Media team check for me. Nada. O well :(

So I booked the truck rental, the hotel and the flights and with everything fast approaching (tonight) I can finally get back up in the Air!! A Map right about now would look fairly boring and since it is just up and back on United, that is fairly boring. But the plane spotting will be good (if I am lucky I will get a lot of freighter traffic and HOPEFULLY a Everts Commando), the weather might hold out, but no matter what. I am up for whatever it brings.

Bring on the Travel!!!!!