My family and friends know me as the guy who loves to fly, so I get a lot of requests for travel tips and sometimes even more. Like yesterday, where I spent my entire day between consecutive late-night transcon flights lounge hopping at Washington Dulles in order to escort a friend back to LA.
One of my longtime friends recently moved to Washington, DC, embarking on a cross-country road trip with her mother the week before Christmas and finally arriving in Washington last weekend after many stops on the way. While one-way car rentals are usually a raw deal, they managed to find a great deal and eliminated the need for a long solo drive back across the country. With most of the U.S. experiencing below freezing temperatures this week, the decision to rent one-way was a wise one.
But you see, my friend’s mother has a problem: she’s afraid to fly alone and not particularly adept at navigating large international airports like IAD. Without her daughter to fly with her and no family able to help, that left…the guy who is always traveling.
So in a very delicate and discrete way, her mother hinted at the possibility of enlisting my aid–
“Matthew, can you fly out to Washington to pick me up and accompany me back? I can’t do it without you!”
Ok, so maybe she was not so discrete.
But I agreed. She wanted to fly JetBlue because of the “little TVs and free snacks” but my only condition was that we would fly United. I am not planning on renewing my 1K status this year, but I do wish to enjoy it while I have it.
So I booked the trip. The tickets were $169 each way–hardly mileage run material–but everything turned out well. Eventually…
I departed on the 9:30p redeye on Monday night. The flight was zeroed out for days and solicitations for volunteers were made during online check-in, but the flight ended up going out with open seats in economy and even one in first class–a rarity on a transcon flight. According to the upgrade standby list, all elites were accommodated.
By happenstance, the flight was piloted by Captain Denny Flanagan. This was the third time in two years that I ended up on a random flight with Captain Denny which is just odd considering how many United pilots are out there. When he saw me, he proudly told a group of FAs standing nearby that I just made MM status and they all seemed to take extra good care of me.
The flight was uneventful, though the purser and the whole crew (all female, LA-based veterans) were wonderful. We landed early at Dulles–it was just a few minutes after 5am.
At this point in my life, I do not have the luxury of taking six hours out of my day to travel across the country with no or limited wireless internet access, so my flight home was not until the late evening. I had the whole day ahead of me to work.
Oh, it was 5ºF (-15ºC) outside and I had left my jacket in LA in the backseat of my car! I was chatting with Glenn, a former Burbank ticket agent when United mainline still flew to SFO and DEN, at LAX check-in when he remarked that it was cold back there. It was then I realized that I had left my jacket and gloves in the car. My dad had agreed to drive me to the airport and I quickly called him on my cell phone so that he could turn around and I could grab my jacket. Only he did not answer. 16 calls later, I gave up. The ringer was off and apparently he could not feel the phone vibrating in his pocket…I was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt only.
Anyway, I had my redeye kit (soft pillow, soft blanket) so when I checked into the United Club I curled up between two chairs for an hour and caught up on a little sleep. The blanket thankfully kept me warm.
Wide awake by 6:30a ET, I had some breakfast in the United Club and went right to work. After answering all my e-mail that had come in overnight, I took the Aerotrain to the B-Concourse in order to try out the British Airways Galleries Lounge, which operates as a Priority Pass lounge from 7:00a to 2:00p each day before it is shut down and re-opened again at 3:30p for the British Airways evening departures.
But when I arrived at 8:00a, the lounge appeared to be closed–the elevator was off and the stairwell locked. I called Priority Pass and they called the lounge and said that no one was answering. Good thing the Lufthansa lounge was next door.
The Lufthansa lounge is open in the morning till noon, then opens again at 1:30p till the last Lufthansa flight departs. The lounge was very quiet in the morning and I had a cup of tea and some sliced melon before returning to work. The 3.5hours quickly passed and I left just before noon and walked next door the BA lounge. It was open, but there was no attendant on duty.
I waited, and waited, but after five minutes of standing at the desk I walked into the first class side of the lounge (the only portion open during the Priority Club hours) and settled into a plush chair. The lounge amenities are quite limited–free food and drink, but only cookies and chips to nibble on. I worked some more and fell asleep in the chair for about a half hour only to be awakened at 2pm by a lounge attendant telling me the lounge was now closed. My Priority Pass card was never scanned.
The Lufthansa lounge was open again and I checked back into that and had a cup of tomato soup for lunch and went right back to work, working steadily for the next 4.5 hours. The lounge never got very crowded and is a welcome oasis from the terminal. Internet was not fast, but adequate, using either the free Washington Dulles network or the Lufthansa T-Mobile network (which apparently assigned my computer a German IP address, because suddenly all the web pages were pulling up German versions).
At 6:30p, I proceeded to the Main Terminal to meet my friend. She was coming in on Super Shuttle and I promised, even without a jacket, to be waiting by the curb when she pulled up in order to help her out with the four bags she was checking.
The timing was perfect–I arrived just as she pulled up–and swiftly grabbed her bags and ran inside. It was c–o–l–d.
Lines were light for Premier 1K check-in and she asked me if I was in the “super special invite-only club” that she had read about recently in some magazine. I explained to her what Global Services status was as our bags were tagged and placed on the conveyor belt.
Even though she rarely flies, never opted in, and I even put in an incorrect birth date for her when I booked her ticket because I did not know her real one, she got PreCheck with me. I have no idea how that worked, but was not complaining–security was a breeze.
We had three hours before scheduled takeoff and 2.5hrs before boarding, so I took her to the Lufthansa lounge and we had some dinner. I had not had anything since my tomato soup several hours early and took advantage of the nice spread Lufthansa offered included cod cakes, BBQ chicken thighs, beef sliders, more tomato soup, and a nice green salad. The food was seriously great and I even had a slice of hot peach cobbler for dessert.
My friend had never been in an airport lounge before and her first question was, “Is this food free?” After nodding, she helped herself as well and we had a nice dinner and chatted until it came time to board.
Since our flight was departing at the far end of the D-gates, rather than take the Aerotrain to C and walk all the way from C14 to the D-gates, we took the train back to the main terminal and took a mobile lounge to the D-gates, which dropped us off very close to our gate.
I noticed a FA onboard the mobile lounge that had been so gracious on the flight out and asked if she was flying back to LA. She was–turns out all the FAs were! We both laughed that we were doing same-day turns to LA and chatted for several minutes.
At the gate, my name was paged and despite being #4 and #5 on the upgrade list with only one seat unclaimed (on an A320 with a 12-seat first class cabin), we somehow scored upgrades and were handed new boarding passes for 1A and 1B! I beamed as my friend’s jaw dropped. She had never flown first class before.
We boarded and the same purser as last night welcomed me aboard and asked if I had bought a jacket. After saying no, she immediately brought me over a blanket along with the beverage of my choice.
I was so happy at this point–what a great day it had been. Nothing had gone wrong: first class upgrades, great service, a productive day of work, and even a nice meal courtesy of Lufthansa.
Then the announcement.
“Ladies and Gentleman, we are waiting on our captain and first officer. They should be on the ground shortly.”
I was not concerned–we were comfortable in our seats and I was nice and warm with a blanket wrapped around me. But 20 minutes passed and there were still no pilots.
“Ladies and Gentleman, our pilots our coming from Pittsburgh this evening and they have been delayed. Our updated departure time is now 11pm.”
That was in about an hour and the purser added that anyone who wanted to deplane was welcome to do so. A bit odd that we we boarded without the flight crew, but I later found out the gate agents dropped the ball a bit…they were not even aware the captain and first officer had not arrived yet.
I started tracking the flight and saw that it had not departed Pittsburgh yet…we would be on the ground for awhile.
Van Jones, of CNN’s Crossfire, was sitting behind me in 2B and he was starting to get restless, getting up and checking with the FAs what was going on. I did not speak to him, but found it a little strange that once the lights were dimmed he put on sunglasses for the rest of the flight. Meh.
The pilots finally showed up at about 11:30p and we pushed at midnight, now two hours late in departing. The PIT flight landed at 11:02p, but someone foolishly assigned it land at the A gates, so the pilots had to transfer all the way over to the D-gates, which took 25 minutes.
We took off and we both declined the hummus/couscous snack. The movie was “Runner Runner” but I fell asleep for most of the flight, awakening just in time for a hot cranberry scone before landing at LAX.
My friend’s bags were literally the first four off of the carousel and at least at 2:45a the airport was quiet and the roads were empty.
It was nice to sleep in this morning.