With a public holiday approaching and one more Radisson stay required to complete my trio of points and an impending deadline for my annual *G status qualification I had the perfect opportunity to get away.
I decided to head to LAX where I would have the opportunity to get in some spotting, a night at the Radisson LAX wasn’t to bdy priced and the flights to LA were not bad with United. So I racked up some time in lieu and booked it all in. Closer to the day I was considering a car for the day to make visiting the spotting locations easier. I found a lovely credit for priceline bids and bid away. I had denied bids till I put $30 for a convertible, Bingo! A car with Hertz was obtained.
Tuesday July 3rd (see I’m adjusting to the American way)
I finished work at 1pm after a quiet morning in the office, jumped in the truck and headed onto the 405. Traffic was fairly heavy till Renton and the 167 off ramp and took about 35 mins to make SeaTac. I had been worried I would have problems as I kept getting told there would be lots of issues due to the holiday.
I had decided to use the MasterPark “Garage” over the outside lots for an extra few dollars. The costs would still be less than a shuttle or a cab in each direction. As soon as I pulled up I was greeted and helped, even the shuttle driver was itching to get me to the terminal but I just had to get a few things sorted first (paperwork, gps put away etc), but I was on the road to the terminal in less than 5 mins and in the walkway to check in, 5 minutes later.
I had expected bedlam, I shouldn’t of worried, not a single person in front of me and I was checking in moments later and pointed towards security. I cleared security after getting an explosive swab down (first over here) but no nude o scope.
As United use the North Satellite I figured might as well just go relax in the club for a while, so off I went to the train station and the train was waiting so moments later I was in the Satellite. I had noticed an unusual Alaskan aircraft on the drive in but it was already gone by the time I got up there so went back to the basement where the club was located.
This was my first time in a United Club and I had heard so many people moan about them, how basic etc. Compared to a Qantas Club or a Virgin lounge yss they are basically, but it’s quiet, there are power points and complimentary drinks. Snacks were limited but enough for a snack or nibble. I grabbed some baby carrots, some trail mix and a diet coke and was about to put my ipod on when I found out I had made a rookie mistake, I forgot to charge my ipod.
I tried to turn it on, dead. I checked my camera bag. I had an ipod connector cable, but no charger. Damn! I scoured the lounge, no usb ports or computers. Double Damn. Went to the reception desk, yeah no chance there! So I figured I would check out the cost of anther charger (not that I needed one, if it was less than $15 I would do it. Yeah $35 for the cheapest charger… um how about no. By this time I had left the lounge and there was only 10-15 minutes till scheduled departure, so I sucked it up and just stayed near the boarding gate.
United Airlines (Operated by Skywest)
Seattle to Los Angeles
Canadair CRJ-700 (N762SK)
Economy Class – Seat 12F
Boarding: 1523 (Gate N11)
Push Back: 1544
Take Off Roll: 1554 (Runway 16L)
Top of Descent: 1745
Touch Down: 1819 (Runway 24R)
Shut Down: 1829 (Gate 87)
Boarding was eventually called after the Gate Lice were queuing everywhere. Prepping for the boarding had been done every 2-3 minutes advising that people may need to gate check bags and that they needed to collect special tags etc. I was worried that being my first flight in a CRJ if my camera bag would fit in the overheads, but was advised it would be fine (it was). Eventually Boarding Group 2 was called and I strolled onboard and pretty much all the way to the back. One thing about being *G with United is that since I have no status with United im relegated to the back of the plane, but since I have status and can board early, I’m usually one of the only people AT the back of the plane.
I boarded onto the CRJ and the first thing i noticed was I am 6ft tall and i was skimming the roof. This does not bode well. I had read and been told about how the CRJs irrespective of size were the bain of many people’s existence. They are passionately despised. I wasn’t going to make that decision yet and was going to give it the benefit of the doubt, but things were not looking great so far.
I had managed to snag an exit row when I got to the club so that was ok. But the legroom didn’t look all to bad either way. One thing I did notice that was slightly peculiar about this exit row was not only did you have seat back tray tables, but you also had arm rest mounted tray tables. Very different. Also what is truly peculiar is that even though my camera bag did not fit in the overhead bin, it fit under the seat in front and I was legally allowed to leave it there. That through me big time! Back home that is a MASSIVE no no. Over here, yeah not so much. Thankfully I had the exit row so I didn’t end up sacrificing to much leg space in the end.
Boarding took up the entire alloted time, with what seemed and endless stream of people trying to fill every single overhead bin space. By the time boarding had finished, we actually pushed back pretty much spot on. Good work United. It was time for the manual demonstration since there are no facilities onboard the CRJ’s for any form of entertainment (not even audio) so I was in for a quiet time on my flight south. With offset windows it seems as well, I wasn’t even going to be able to spend my time looking out the window as much without leaning all the way forward.
We taxiied out fairly quickly to the active runway (the 16s today with L,R & C all being used). and there was no real delay in getting the clearance for take off as we barely even had turned onto the runway before the Captain was pushing those throttles to take off power. A quick trip up through the cloud layer and unfortunately as I was in a D seat, i missed the sight of Mt Ranier on the way out. But I was head down in my book by this stage, just chilling out. I had pre grabbed an apple from the United Club for the flight so that was at least a smart way to get over the wanting of a snack onboard. Thankfully drinks are free of charge.
I settled in to the book and eventually the service got around to our row, it was fairly slow but it was a 2.5 hour flight. Unfortunately no full can on this flight it was just a little cup of water and a little cup of diet coke. To tiny cups. I had enough coffee already that day so didn’t want to be adding more coffee to my system but the cold drinks were fine. A 2nd water service was offered a bit later in the flight so that at least helped out if you hadn’t brought anything with you.
A friend of mine had suggested checking out the “Bathrooms” onboard the CRJ for a bit of a laugh. I wasn’t quite sure why he said this, but I did anyway (after much waiting in line to actually get in there since it seemed like a constant stream of passengers in and out of the 1 bathroom at the rear. I almost smacked my head on the way in so it was not a good sign of things to come. The bathroom follows the curvature of the aircraft at the back and god damn is it small. You either have to lean and hunch forward, or lean all the way back like your spine will snap in half. This was a contortionists dream, now I am 6ft tall so anyone taller than I am, I pity them.
The flight just cruised on pretty well, first we were going to arrive ontime, then late, then early, then late. In the end I am pretty sure we ended up drilling holes in the Sky over LA because we ended up coming in what felt like it was late. But either way it was a pretty quiet run down the coast. We pulled into T8 and by the time we disembarked and I walked the endless way through all the corridors to the Baggage Claim it felt like it was forever. This is where United needs some help. We were told Baggage Claim 2 for our bags. WRONG. Their was 1 screen in the entire baggage claim area to find out where your bags come out, and it took me forever to find it after going to Baggage Claim 2 and seeing no bags and the belt not even moving. Turns out it was Baggage 4. Then i followed the instructions for the Radisson shuttle by using the “courtesy” phone in baggage claim, accept apparently the Radissons phone number has been disconnected. Yeah right. So I managed to find the number in my phone (with tripit dying left right and centre (something I still haven’t had a chance to resolve). I finally got through after several minutes on hold (thank you unlimited plan) and was told the shuttle would take 10-15 mins as the Radisson runs its own shuttle, they don’t use offsite companies. This was fine as I was just wanting to chill out after the scurrying back and forth but what the lady at the Radisson said threw me a little. She asked me what Terminal I was at. I said “Terminal 8 (as thats where I had landed) to which I was told “there is no terminal 8, who did you fly in with?” Eventually she told me where and how to locate the driver after I prompted her. But I am sure she would of told me?
Either way, now I was puzzled. Did i dream the Terminal 8, or was I going insane. So I tweeted my LAX experts and they both confirmed T8 is really just an extra satelite for T7. So really there isn’t technically a T8 but there is. All check in is done at T7 but you then move over to the gates at T8 post security (more on this later). So with that resolved I ended up finally at the Radisson. Check in was a few minutes wait but no big deal and I was greeted by a friendly staff member and thanked for being a Gold Member and was told I had been upgraded and that all my details were on file (the best news I like to hear when I am scamming). Nothing was mentioned during the time but i noticed a sign saying the hot water would be shut off between midnight and 4am. Thankfully I wasn’t intending on being awake during that period (nor taking a shower) so that would be fine.
When I finally got up to my room, I had a fair nice location in the building (close to the lifts which i don’t usually like but sometimes its ok) but the view was pretty damn awesome. then I noticed the interconnecting door was half open. Umm what the hell. So I pushed it. It wasn’t an interconnecting door. I had been given a suite! w00t!!! Not that I needed it as I was barely going to be in the hotel 12 or 13 hours. To be upgraded to so much space… happy as. The room itself was a bit of a mismatch. It looked old and run down but the TV’s looked new. The fridge in the suite was nice, would of been nicer if it was plugged in and turned on. The Cheese, Meat and Fruit platter was pretty awesome and provided a spectacular dinner with some vegies that I picked up at the local grocery store about a 15 minute walk away.
Either way, my night was pretty uneventful, TV (Masterchef w00t) some Vegies, a bit to much cheese and some Yoghurt eaten with a fork since they wanted a $5 delivery fee to deliver a spoon to the room… are you kidding me Radisson. The sleep number bed didn’t work but to be honest, I didn’t care, I passed out either way.
Wednesday July 4th
I woke up to lots of looming cloud… damn. But it didn’t deter me from going for a run outside. Why not run around the Perimiter of an Airport if you can? So I did. I had been in #Avgeek heaven the night before walking to and from the Grocery store with planes coming over me time after time. As I was out running, I was running when a Qantas 747-400 and a Qantas Airbus A380 both landed on 24R right next to me. Awesome++ Buzzed by a number of small ERJs etc but by the time i managed to get back to the hotel after running to find the location of Hertz on the way back, It turned out to be a 7km run. Been a while since i’ve done anything that long.
I cleaned up quickly (since the hot water failed to come back on… not happy jan) and as I was checking out I was going to complain about the lack of hot water when I was informed by the Front Office Supervisor (who checked me out) that I would be provided with a bonus 10,000 points for the hassle of a cold shower. Considering i was already getting a decent amount out of this stay.. I could deal with that. I headed off to the Hertz Depot on foot (About a 10 minute walk from the hotel), while consuming my breakfast of mini baguette and banana which all to much reminded me of my times in France last year where that was my daily breakfast while touring Normandy (though no coffee this morning).
Buzzed by many a plane as I walked my way to Hertz and upon entering the lot I saw a large amount of Mustang and Camaro convertibles… o this was good news. I managed to find the Hertz #1 gold office since the lines for the main office were HUGE, and they didnt mind that I had booked with Priceline. She offered me a Mitsubish Eclipse to which my words back where “Got something better?” I was pretty happy at this stage and in a good mood so didn’t mind forking over a little bit extra. In the end she said she could do me a high end mustang or a Volvo. The Volvo wouldn’t be covered by my insurance, no go. The mustang had GPS.. pass I had mine with me.
In the end they brought around a Camaro convertible for me. It was an additional $40 in the end because all the non crappy convertibles came automatically fitted with it and it turned out to be the Top of the Line prestige version of the Convertible. It was an Camaro Convertible SS. Nicely tuned V8 engine, fully optioned including reversing camera, reverse sensors, Heads up display, the Hertz GPS, Sirius XM radio, Onstar, flappy paddle gear box… just about everything! Did I mention it was bright red? Yellow would of been to much!
The car was super sweet. Amazing sound, but I didn’t put the top down till I got back to the hotel as I was in a bit of a rush to get back and get over to Imperial Hill to catch up with some fellow spotters. With my bags in hand and the GPS set, I sped over to Imperial Hill and rolled up to what looked like a full contingent of spotters. Awesome signs for the day! Even though the guys i were meeting couldn’t be around all that long, it was great to just spend a bit of time and get some tips from the locals.
For the morning I got some good shots of some of the heavies coming in including a Qantas A380 with the new “Spirit of Australians” titles that were only applied to one side? err wtf. Also kind of got a shot of a Cathay Pacific Cargo 747-8F (blocked by a building since he turned off short) but otherwise there was plenty of good sites. I did snap the new Southwest Airlines 737-800 (one of their newest in fleet) and also a few special liveries that came in. I did battle with the runways all morning as usually the heavies land in the morning on 25R, but not this morning. So I moved over to In n Out eventually (After a quick little detour via the beach to give the Camaro a good push) and then the runways swapped over to the otherside so all the stuff I really wanted to see, went to the other side.
At In n Out i did manage to get 2 x A380s at close quarters with Singapore Airlines and Air France and boy do they look huge from underneath. I enjoyed my lunch of a Double Double and Fries Animal Style for my once a year treat and being 4th of July, I figured it was fairly patriotic? The afternoon soon died down and tired of losing shots, I moved back to imperial hill, where low and behold the runways swapped back over to In n Out! God damn it! No luck at all.
Eventually I had to take the car back to the Hertz drop off, the staff all loved the fact that a guy was driving in with the music pumping and the top down in the sun (it eventually came out), typical tourist in California look, but I did not care. I was into the shuttle and heading back to LAX for my flight home (via San Francisco). After the driver pulled up at T6 and said “this is for United” i corrected him and said T7. So he dropped me off at T7. When i approached the door, the guard asked me what airline i was flying, i told him United and showed him my Gold Card, he then sent me back to T6… damn my feeble brain. It seems United do all premium check in regardless of destination at T6. So i trudged all the way back to T6 to check in.
During check in, again not a single person in existence I was offered a bump from San Francisco to Seattle and if it eventuated would nett me $200 in travel credits. Awesome++ but my first thoughts were, get the hell to security and get to your flight cause it says boarding at 16:35, which was wierd since I thought my flight was 1730, which it wasn,t it was 1710. The time then by the time I got through security and had to walk really fast over to T8 where my flight was departing was almost time to board! At security I was held up by the TSA not even doing anything with the premium security line, he let me wait till he had cleared everyone out of the normal line (what the hell for I have no idea) and then I got put through the Nude O Scope (Back Scatter Xray Machine) to delay things even longer. Either way I still made it through fine, if not to long of a process (about 10 mins).
Without any time to hit up the lounge, I just got over to T8 as quickly as possible and by the time I arrived at the gate I had a few minutes before boarding began.
Los Angeles to San Francisco
Airbus A320 (N469UA)
Economy Class – Seat 29F
Boarding: 1640 (Gate 83)
Push Back: 1709
Take Off Roll: 1719 (Runway 25R)
Top of Descent: 1750
Touch Down: 1808 (Runway 28L)
Shut Down: 1816 (Gate 74)
The flight to San Francisco boarded and it seemed that a lot of people were not going to make it. I was tempted to offer to bump on this flight, but could not see any later flights at all Direct to Seattle and wasn’t sure what the options were as I didn’t have time to investigate, so Just left it (if I didn’t have a bag checked through to Seattle it would be a different story).
I boarded with Group 2 after again fighting my way through the Gate Lice (some of them in the Priority line, sorry Premier Access line with Boarding Group 7) to board in the first wave of people of my group. I made it allllllllll the way to the back of the plane and stowed my bag with no hassles at all. Gotta love a mainline aircraft. With audio fitted I settled in, plugged in my headset, tuned into Channel 9 and was instantly greeted with #avgeek goodness. I could hear LAX ground giving instructions. I previously mentioned what Channel 9 was in one of my last trip reports but pretty much you can hear what the pilots have tuned on their main Air Traffic Control radio. So in this instance it was Los Angeles Ground. I could hear them giving orders to all the aircraft for pushback and taxi.
The Captain was a female but the Co Pilot was doing all the talking it seemed so that was a bit different (first time i think i’ve had a female Captain before). The Co Pilot had this really strong Southern/Texan twang to his voice and in sometimes when he was giving his requests on the ground it was as though he was singing them back as they seemed to rhyme (or at least he made them rhyme).
We had a quick taxi to the Active runway after pushing back and it was so great to know when we got clearance etc and got some fantastic photos of LAX on the climb out of the airport. It was due to be a fairly short flight (about the same as Brisbane to Sydney) but the service (same as any standard united flight) just didnt seem to happen. I don’t know if they FA’s serving economy were doing something but it was almost up till descent before they started their service (where as first class had been served immediately). What that meant was that we were pretty much thrown our drinks. Now to complicate matters as we were well into Descent by the time I got my drink and the lovely person in front had reclined all the way back, my tray table was not even remotely level, so as soon as i was handed my drink and cup of ice and placed it on the tray table, It went sliding to the floor and before I could grab the ice, it was gone. Thankfully my can of drink (yep the whole can) survived this encounter and I grabbed it before it went flying.
Other than this and the requirement to rush through drinking the can as we were almost practically on finals by the time I got my drink, it was an ok flight. Dual arrivals into SFO however we were spaced due to wake turbulence so no side by side shot 🙁 I was looking forward to that on my first landing into San Fran. Either way we pulled up to the gate about 10 minutes early and I had plenty of time for my connection which was actually going to be at the gate directly next to mine. However I had to go for a nice long long walk to the club after disembarking.
By the time I found the club (i thought the map had said there was one closer to my gate, but there wasn’t) and had a mild panic I had lost my Gold Card I had enough time for a couple of cups of coffee, about 10 minutes of charging my phone up a bit since I wasn’t sure if it was going to last it through on the power it had, then rock back up to the gate a bit early to see if I can get bumped (with a bowl full of trail mix in my hand that is). Unfortunately no bump though… they cleared ALL the standby guests… damn it!
Either way I was still going to get home tonight without a hitch so I grabbed a salad for dinner from the Takeaway outlet of Gordon Biersch (somewhere I had dinner last year when I visited Seattle) and waited for the flight to board (mear moments away).
San Francisco to Seattle
Airbus A320 (N408UA)
Economy Class – Seat 35F
Boarding: 1908 (Gate 75)
Push Back: 1939
Take Off Roll: 1949 (Runway 1L)
Top of Descent: 2055
Touch Down: 2121 (Runway 34C)
Shut Down: 2128 (Gate N10)
Boarding began, again wade my way through the Gate Lice as some other guy just trys to push his way onboard without even showing a boarding pass and almost got himself arrested by the TSA doing ID checks at the gate. I hopped on board and head to the back and was greeted with silence on channel 9 (after I managed to turn my headphones on properly). By the time we started push back and the Crew were doing their last checks I asked if we were going to get Channel 9 at all today (it is at Pilot Discretion if they turn it on or not) and was promptly told no. I asked if she could ask the Captain and was told “the captain has already made his decision and WONT be turning it on.” The way it was said just shocked me and it felt like this was going to be another flight where the famous United “service” showed its head. But It was ok.
We took off on the same runway that we used last time I was in San Francisco and the take off was quick, powerful and with an abrupt pull out away from the Airport area. Soon enough we were heading north and since I was in an F seat on the right hand side, had a fantastic view of all the mountains the whole flight home.
By the time service reached my row I could see them sporadically dishing out full cans and figured that there is a bit of a trick to it.
1. Sit at the back
2. Order something obscure that not many people are going to drink (in my case Soda Water and
3. Be nice 😀
In the end I got my full can of Club Soda/Selzer Water and a cup of coffee to keep me awake till I could get myself home safely, and the salad was pretty damn tasty with plenty of Lettuce. A beautiful approach into the airport with a wonderful sunset over the mountains including Mt Ranier. The most amazing thing on the approach though was the amount of Fireworks going off. Everywhere you looked there was thousands of them going off constantly. It was a truly amazing site as they were exploding left right and centre and I wondered if it was affecting the flight crew at all in anyway.
We eventually touched down on a direct approach from the South touching down on the Centre runway (my first time from that direction) and a quick taxi later we were at the North Satelite again. Exactly where I had left almost 30 hours ago. This time though, I had a long wait ahead of me while waiting for pretty much the entire aircraft to empty as out as i was in row 35 of 37… crap
By the time i finally got out of the aircraft, and had jumped on the train back to the main terminal, I was expecting to find my bag sitting waiting for me. But United baggage strikes again. WRONG BELT information! It was changed and no one notified… again! At least when I finally got to the right belt my bag was waiting for me. I headed over to the shuttle pick up area and the right shuttle was about to pull out from the stop so I flagged him down and jumped onboard and gave him my ticket so that they could have my truck waiting for me.
5 minutes later I was in my truck and 30 minutes after that I was driving into my parking space after witnessing fireworks explode everywhere all the way home. A Crazy way to finish a truly crazy 2 days!
|LAX Spotting Trip|