Tag Archives: travel

Part 3: CCS to San Juan to JFK with AA to London with BA

19 Apr

Part three of the Spring Break Trip Report 2012:

Part 1: KC to Minnesota with Delta to NYC with AA (+ the W Minneapolis)

Part 2: PP lounges at JFK and JFK-CCS in AA J (+ Venezuelans being Venezuelans)

Part 3: Venezuela to San Juan to JFK with AA to London with British Airways (+ Sheraton Heathrow)

Part 4: London to Brussels on BA  (+ Aloft Brussels)

Part 5: The journey to Hasselt and Sensation White Belgium! (+ Marriott Brussels)

Part 6: Brussels-London on BA business class and the NASCAR experience on air

Part 6: London. Greatest City on Earth? (+ Radisson Edwardian Heathrow)

Part 7: London-Houston-Dallas-KC (+ Park Inn DFW)

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After a few days back in the homeland it was time to head to Sensation White Belgium (!) Of course, what better way to maximize your mileage per $ than going from Venezuela to Europe via the US?

First up, a quick 40min ride from my hometown to CCS on this massive aircraft:

Trust me. Compared to what some other companies have this is a Dreamliner.

The itinerary had me going CCS-SJU-JFK-LHR-BRU, arriving the next day (Friday) in London at about 7am and in Brussels a few hours later. The concert was on Saturday so I had plenty of time. Or so I thought.

I wanted to leave late Thursday and AA’s CCS-SJU worked perfectly with an afternoon departure. The usual routing would have you going straight to JFK (with a 10am departure) or to MIA but I always try to avoid MIA, if possible. As main port of entry for Latin America countries, in MIA you will find lots of people…lots of security checks…lines too long and looks too dirty. Even for me.

But if you’re a US citizen, I hear it’s not too bad.

AA has about 4-7 daily flights from Caracas to the US, depending of the day of the week. 4 of those flights are the world famous CCS-MIA, which as a round trip ticket routinely runs over $1200. According to rumors, it’s one of the most profitable routes for American Airlines, out of ALL the AA routes worldwide.

One of the early morning CCS-MIA flights got canceled so they threw everybody on that flight on my CCS-SJU airplane. Good thing I had secured my exit row seat the day before. While at the airport in Caracas, I had about 3 hrs until my flight so I decided to use my PLT status with AA to visit the Admirals Club.  This AC is small by all standards and although it could be much worse, I’m pretty sure it’s been under renovations…for ever? There’s the usual variety of sodas + alcohol (including Venezuela’s traditional drink, Scotch) so that’s good.

With the huge amount of Venezuelans living in Miami, the conversations you hear in the AC in CCS could easily keep afloat the Twitter hashtag #FirstWorldProblems. Which is ironic, considering Venezuela is no world class super power.

“The [insert European fashion brand] store in Aventura Mall is closed? Queeeee? Nooooo. Y por que?”#FirstWorldProblems

Hours went by uneventfully and we finally got to board. If you are wondering, what happened at JFK on my last boarding, also happens here. But it’s fine because we were among friends now. I’ll admit, security is not the best, but is it necessary for this sign to be in the Kansas City airport?

US not a fan of Venezuela.

Please explain to me:

1. Why do you have to call us out like that?

2. Why the Kansas City airport when there are no direct flights to or from Venezuela?

3.  How come I haven’t seen this sign at any other US airports?

4. Whether I’m Italian, Japanese, American or Venezuelan, what am I supposed to do with this information?

Anyways, we departed on time and were landing at SJU in less than two hours. Because it was “short flight,” there was no meal service.

At SJU I had about 75 mins to catch my connecting flight to JFK. With no checked bags my chances were good.  My flight to London was to depart from JFK at 11:55pm, and with a 6pm departure from SJU I would have plenty of time to catch it. Immigration and custom lines in SJU were relatively short and after my smoothest experience ever coming into the US (SJU is now my favorite port of entry to the US) I was ready to sprint to the gate for my JFK flight!

Except…the flight to JFK was now delayed by two hours. TWO FULL HOURS. Apparently there was an issue with the crew so they had to fly one in from somewhere else.

I hung out at the AC in San Juan while the AAngels tried to find alternatives for me to get to London. After much searching, we agreed I should just hang tight. The SJU-JFK flight was slated to land at 11:40pm and there was a small chance the British Airways 11:55pm flight to London could be delayed.

6 pm finally came and after my upgrade did not clear, I got stuck in coach. 4+ hours in coach are not fun. Packed flight. No food. No entertainment. One lady even tripped and fell after hitting my foot on the aisle. Not cool. Thankfully, the people around were able to calm her and make her understand that it was her fault an accident. I even had nightmares on that flight. Like, plane crashing nightmares. Worst. Flight. Ever.

We landed at JFK around 11:30pm and it was time for me to run! I had 10 minutes to go from Terminal 8 to Terminal 7. I ran to the Airtrain and when I got there it was closed. So I had to run outside to catch one of the connecting buses. Keep in mind this is JFK International Airport. EVERYTHING is miles away.

I kept an eye on my flight using Flight Aware and by the time I got to Terminal 7 it was 11:55pm. My plane was close and ready for take off. The British Airways counter was completely desolated. I went over to the Cathay Pacific counter (Oneworld alliance, they share the terminal and to some extent, some of the same personnel) and one of the ladies checking people for the CX flight to Hong Kong (on my to-do list, by the way) was able to get the BA gate agent for me.

She already knew who I was and how I had been delayed in San Juan so after a couple of phone calls they put me on the next flight out (9am departure), checked me in for it, and gave me a night at a hotel. Through all of this I tried to call AA and they were absolutely useless. Not even kidding.

I can’t stress enough how BA went above and beyond to make it up for AA.

Airport shuttle to Federal Circle followed by ANOTHER shuttle to the hotel and I was ready to crash at 1:30am.

Who gets room 212 (area code) while in New York? This guy.

After 4 solid hours of sleep, I was back at Terminal 7 by 7:30am. Security only took a brief 30mins, leaving me about 20mins to check out the BA Terraces lounge. Didn’t get a chance to take pictures as I was desperately searching for a hotel in London, but it’s incredibly spacious and without a doubt, a major step up to anything I had seen at the time.

Plane boarded in time and after walking at least 50 yards I was finally at my seat.

Thankfully we were at about 65% occupancy, leaving me a whole middle row for my slender figure.

Speaking of slender figures, here’s breakfast:

BA "American Breakfast." I tried to also have the "English." They refused.

While roaming around 39,000ft above the Atlantic ocean. Got a chance to talk to one of the flight attendants. Interesting conversation. Lady in her mid-to-late 30s.  French born and raised. Speaks French, Spanish, English and Japanese. Best of all? She learned them all by moving to those respective countries. She told me how she had just recently worked a LHR-EZE flight and as the only Spanish-speaker in the crew she was in charge of all the talking at restaurant and bars (they go out all the time). It’s not secret Argentinians are not fans of the British because of the dispute for the Falklands Islas Malvinas. She said wherever they went as a group, as soon as she made clear she was French, she was treated completely different than her British colleagues. Crazy how things can get…

About 3 hrs into the 6+ hour flight, I started flipping through the Duty Free selection and found this gem:

London's Finest

Making a tremendous sacrifice for my readers, undoubtedly GTT:

1000 calories of chocolate and champagne? Somebody has to do it.

We finally landed at around 10pm GMT (or whatever the hour was at the time) and I immediately got the privilege to witness the zoo experience that is Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Stairs and elevators and belts and more stairs and finally, immigration. Absolutely incredible how it feels like 10 full planes arrived at the same time. Actually, that may have been true. I’m not a fan of immigration officers anywhere (except Puerto Rico), not even in my own country, but the London folks are tough. I said I was in transit to Belgium and I’m pretty sure I got a 1-night visa.

When I first went to London in 2009 with a school field trip, I was the only non-US citizen in the group…and let me just say our time spent at airports was always longer than it should have been because of me. Damn, that’s still traumatizing…but I digress.

I got lost but finally made it out (Terminal 5 literary has 5 floors). My tweeter homeboymate Dan picked me up and after dropping my bags at the hotel we were in the city before midnight.

Nighttime London

One of the things I learned from my first visit in 2009 was that while being one the greatest metropolis on earth, NOTHING is open 24 hours. Ok, almost nothing. NYC kicks London and San Francisco’s asses in this area. Which is a total shame. On the other hand, hey, no traffic!

I imbibed in a few £4.50 pints (ouch), including a Guinness or four (miraculously properly poured, but that’s another story) and called it a night. Let me tell you something, jet lag + slight alcohol intoxication + being on the other side of the road on the driver’s side with no steering wheel + not knowing where the hell you are it’s a very, very, surreal and disturbing combo. I got back to the Sheraton Heathrow around 2am, got my bags ready and set up my alarms (plural) for 6:30am so I could catch my 9am flight to Brussels. Keep in mind, it’s 2am in London. 24hours from now I would be in Belgium, in one of the greatest parties on earth. It would really suck if I missed that 9am flight.

The Sheraton Heathrow is a business hotel. No doubt about it. The lobby is nice but that’s about it.

Website picture as I was...indisposed. FREE INTERNET!

Rooms are small and be aware, a double room means two TWIN beds…but hey, that’s London for you. If you can get a night for under $130 you have done well. Nobody said London was a bargain.

 

On Part 4, I learn my lesson but manage to make it to Brussels 5 hours before Sensation starts. I drop my bags and head downtown desperately looking for something white to wear (it’s called Sensation White). Turns out European clothing it’s not particularly intended for XL dudes and on top of that, shops close at 6:30pm.

 

I told you. It’s an adventure.

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