Brian’s Travel Spot: Queen of the Skies

My British Airways Boeing 747 in One World livery on the stand at Heathrow Terminal 3, waiting to take me to Phoenix.The Boeing 747 first flew in 1969, making it two years younger than me. Nicknamed “Jumbo Jet” and “Queen of the Skies”, the massive passenger jet has been an icon ever since, while I achieved my long-standing ambition to fly in one when, on my first transatlantic flight, a British Airways 747 took me from Heathrow to Washington Dulles. Since then, I’ve been an occasional 747 passenger, mostly with British Airways, although, as time went on, I fell out of love with the plane, seduced by more modern jets with better-equipped cabins.

My romance was rekindled when I started flying business class for work. I was fortunate enough to fly in the 747’s main Club World cabin twice, first returning from Chicago, then from Phoenix. However, the best was still to come as I discovered the delights of the upper deck. Then, on what would become my final flight on a 747, I was upgraded to First Class!

I say final flight, because airlines have been retiring their 747 fleets. British Airways had been one of the holdouts, but its last two 747s had their final flights this month, prompting this post, a fond farewell to the Queen of the Skies.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Things Go Wrong When Flying

The nose of the British Airways Airbus A319 standing on the tarmac at Heathrow, waiting to take me to Manchester in March 2018.This is the second and final part of the Travel Spot which I started last week with my flight from Phoenix to London. That was all about the Boeing 747 and was prompted by the news of the final flights of British Airways’ remaining two Boeing 747s.  However, getting to Heathrow wasn’t the end of my journey: I still had to make the comparatively short hop to Manchester and from there, get to my Dad’s, something I’ve done numerous times.

As I left things at the end of Part One, I’d made it safely to Heathrow Terminal 3, but I was 1¼ hours behind schedule. At that point it was 14:40 and my connecting flight for Manchester was due to leave from Terminal 5 at 15:10, which meant I had to get from between the terminals, clear passport control, go back through security and board my flight, all in less than 30 minutes…

Did I make it? No, of course not. For the very first time in my life, I missed a flight. This is post is all about what happened next, what airlines do when you miss your flight and the lessons that I learned from the experience.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: On a Boeing 747 from Phoenix

The British Airways 747 which flew me back from Phoenix in January 2018, on the stand at Heathrow Terminal 3 at the end of the flight.As regular readers of Brian’s Travel Spot will know, while I was travelling extensively for work, I stopped trying to write up my Travel Spots as I went, leaving me with various unfinished journeys, so to speak. Today’s post is one of those, a throwback to 2018 and the very end of my five week long trip across America, which started in Boston at the end of February. I took the train from Providence, Rhode Island, down the northeast corridor to Manassas, catching the Crescent to New Orleans and then taking the Sunset Limited all the way across to Tucson, Arizona. From there, I drove to Phoenix for work, before catching my flight home, which is the subject of today’ post.

This post was prompted by last week’s news of the final flights of British Airways’ remaining two Boeing 747s. Although my return from Phoenix wasn’t the last time I flew on a 747 (that was in January 2019, when I was unexpectedly upgraded to First Class on my way out to Phoenix of all places!), it’s the last of my 747 flights that remained without a write-up, so it seemed a fitting way to mark the retirement of British Airways 747 fleet.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Chicago and Flying Home

Mademoiselle Rouge, a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300, on the stand at Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3, having flown me back from Chicago O'Hare in 2016.Welcome to the fifth and final instalment of my Travel Spot describing my first around-the-world trip in 2016. I flew from Manchester to Hong Kong, spent five days there, acclimatising and sightseeing, then moved onto Shanghai for work. From there, I flew to Chicago via Beijing, crossing the international dateline in the process. This final instalment covers my 10 days in Chicago and my flight home to the UK.

It was, in many ways, an amazing trip: my first time flying with Emirates, China Eastern and Hainan Airlines, my first time on an Airbus A380 and my first time in Shanghai. Of those firsts, I’ve gone on to repeat every experience apart from flying with Emirates. That I also flew around the world made it even more special.

It was fitting that the last leg of the trip was in Chicago, a city that I’m very familiar with. That said, although I refer to “staying in Chicago”, I was actually visiting friends who live in Chicago in the same sense that I live in London, the point being that I actually live in Guildford, which is about as far from London as my friends’ place is from Chicago.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Huế to Hanoi

The things you find in Hue... A giant statue of a cockerel on the banks of the Perfume River.Welcome to the fourth instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, covering my trip to Vietnam from exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed the posts about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages.

The first stage, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, was 18½ hour overnight journey on a no-frills sleeper leaving Ho Chi Minh City in mid-afternoon and arriving in Danang the following morning. The second stage saw me spend a couple of days in Hội An before travelling by train from Danang to Huế, the most scenic part of the route.

This, the final stage, covers my time in Huế, plus the last leg of my journey, from Huế to Hanoi. This involved another sleeper, which left Huế late in the evening and arrived in Hanoi just before midday the following morning. I then had three days to explore the Vietnamese capital before flying back late on the evening of the third day, first to Ho Chi Minh City, then back to Heathrow and home. This, incidentally, was the first time that I flew in business class!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Danang, Hội An and Huế

Multi-coloured lanterns hanging in a street in the Old Town in Hoi An and lit up at night.Welcome to the third instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, which covers the trip I made to Vietnam exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed writing about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, Danang to Huế and Huế to Hanoi.

I’ve already written about the first stage, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, 18½ hours on a no-frills sleeper which left Ho Chi Minh City in mid-afternoon and arrived in Danang the following morning. Meanwhile, the final leg, from Huế to Hanoi, involved another sleeper, and is covered in the final instalment of this series, just leaving with middle section, which is the subject of this post.

I broke my journey like this so that I could visit two contrasting cities, Hội An and Huế. I began with Hội An, a short way south of Danang (and which is bypassed by the train), then took the train from Danang to Huế, without a doubt the most scenic stretch of the whole route, before carrying on to Hanoi after a day in Huế.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Full Dining Service

The black bean and corn veggie burger, from Amtrak's lunch menu, served on the California Zephyr, April 2019, en-route to Chicago.Two months ago, Amanda and I caught Amtrak’s Crescent service from New York to Atlanta. As fans of Amtrak’s dining cars, we were keen to see what the new “upgraded” dining service was like. Suffice to say we were disappointed, prompting me to write about the demise of Amtrak’s full dining service.

The good news is that this only applies to services east of the Mississippi, including the City of New Orleans, which runs between Chicago and New Orleans. Further west, Amtrak still offers its full dining service, a major plus when travelling by train. Having recently written about my journey last year from Los Angeles to San Jose on the Coast Starlight, and the trip Amanda and I took on the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago a few weeks later, I’ve been inspired to write this as a counterpoint to the demise of Amtrak’s Full Dining Service.

For now, at least, the dining car, with its full dining service, is alive and well west of the Mississippi. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us all of the joys of communal dining for now, I look forward to when I’ll be eating in the Superliner dining car again.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 3

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to the third and final part of my bonus Travel Spot, telling the story of the journey that Amanda and I took from California to Chicago this time last year. We travelled on the California Zephyr, a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, with a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours. Along the way, it crosses roughly two-thirds of North America, over two mountain ranges and through an array of amazing, contrasting landscapes.

Our first day on the train was covered in Part 1 of this Travel Spot, when we travelled across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers. The following day, covered in Part 2, saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We then followed the Colorado River through Ruby Canyon before climbing into the heart of the Rockies, through the Moffat Tunnel and down to the other side to Denver.

In this final instalment, you can follow our progress through Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers on our way to Chicago.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 2

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to the second instalment of my bonus Travel Spot. Just over a year ago, Amanda and I left Emeryville Station onboard Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr. A daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, the California Zephyr has a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. The first part of this Travel Spot covered our first day on the train, travelling across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers.

In this instalment, we pick up our journey with our first of two nights on the train, which saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We followed the Colorado River for most of the day, crossing into Colorado along to 40 km long Ruby Canyon before climbing up through the Rockies, descending again into Denver as night fell. You can read about the third day of our journey, from Denver to Chicago, in the third and final instalment of this Travel Spot.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 1

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to today’s bonus Travel Spot. Exactly a year ago today, Amanda and I left Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, California, to catch Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr, at Emeryville Station. Roughly 60 hours and 4,000 km later, we reached our destination, Buffalo Grove, in the Chicago suburbs. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me fly to Los Angeles so that I could take the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Coast to San Jose. From Chicago, I (eventually) flew home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The California Zephyr is a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, a scheduled journey of 51½ hours that crosses the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains as well as both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. It’s the longest I’ve been on a train, beating the 47 hours I spent on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland (Oregon) in 2015.

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