Last year, somewhere in the period where summer end and autumn sort of begins i headed for a holiday, road trip week, in California.
It was not planned particularly in advance and sort of came about due to holiday needing to be used and this being the place upon which consensus between myself and the other member of this two party trip (Mitch) was quite swiftly found.
As a result flight options were not at their most abundant and those which were about where not a budget surplus pricing.
Two options kept appearing on skyscanner, one was an unfamiliar American airline whose name was something like US Airways and the other was Unites. I had heard of United, that didn’t mean good things but it did mean familiarity. I’d heard any number of times about the atrocious standards of US airline, from transatlantic commoners and holiday makers with the resounding condensed down message that flying with a US carrier should never be anything close to a first choice.
Lufthansa, British, Virgin (great on the NY trip years ago), KLM … anyone.. Singapore, Qatar, Emirates, Qantas, Swiss, Icelandair …. Hello …
It was not to be a cost effective option, I’d never personally been the beneficiary of US airline experience, perhaps we’d be lucky, perhaps it wasn’t United that were meant, maybe the rumours were just that an ill founded view forged upon a bias – plus the flight was out of the newly opened Terminal Two … so went with that .. United Flight, very early on a Saturday Morning flight out with one change via Chicago on the way to LA.
I thought I had booked the ‘Heathrow’ easyhotel for the Friday night, I thought having gone through the website that this was a somewhat generous use of the Heathrow idea and was actually located near Paddington station, on the other end of the Heathrow rail service.. it was not.
Somewhere between a lack of attention, a bit of stupidity and an awful website with woeful support levels (don’t try to email them, or at least do but by no stretch of the imagination expected any receipt confirmation let alone a reply.)
I dragged my – well packed for the week – Travel bag through the street of west central London, away from the masses of Oxford Circus, up and over toward Paddington, arriving to be informed by the reception person that I was not expected. It was here that I learned that there was actually a Heathrow specific easy hotel…a few miles more worthy of the name – it was somewhere on the way to Heathrow in the vicinity of Hays and Harlington. This was not welcome news, an evening spent around here seemed somewhat more attractive than a night in Hays, we had tickets for the train tomorrow morning and the simple matter of not having realised which ‘hotel’ I’d booked us into, a genius act and one difficult to deny when heading out in search of this unknown orange refuge to the West.
We were to meet here, Mitch an I, so I texted my error and waited.
Mitch then – The other person on this trip – is my oldest friend from secondary school who now works in Canary Warf and as such had a slightly longer journey over than my own, but basically handy enough exit route for both of us.
After meeting up and some running around at Paddington it became clear that tickets bought online were tickets over which the station people had no control and found themselves unable to transfer to today, yet informally one after the other decided to shrug a little and pass us on to the next until we were through the gates, sat on the train and recanting the whole things once more to the ticket inspector chap. A most hasslesome commencement to proceedings which sort of worked itself out.
The Hays and Harlington – Heathrow, easyHotel – its not that close to the Hays and Harlington train station especially when you have luggage and what with it (the luggage) coming in so broadly handy during other stages trips, luggage there surely was.
The easy hotel once located is not a nice place, the night trip cabins on the Cherbourg ferry are bigger and more opulent than the rooms on offer here. The room was barely bigger than the bed, it was not an unusually large bed. The bathroom such as it was, was a shower and toilet all in one thing, seldom experienced before but again smaller than the shower and toilet all in one chambers on the Cherbourg ferry, the place this unnoticed gap in the universe clearly put me most in mind off. It was though cheap by the standard of Heathrow overnight hotel options but really, the rodent traps, the close proximity walls they most certainly create a certain ambiance. Does give rise to the notion that surely, there must be a more optimal pounds sterling to standards ratio available out there than this.
A shared taxi in the morning was cheaper than the airport round robin bus, making that an easy enough decision, though I suspect the TFL standard London buses that operate around here would have been the most regular and least costly option of all, they all go the Heathrow central bus station which is at most a couple of miles away.
The Terminal Two of before was totally gone, there seems to be nothing of it left to be found in the seemingly much larger building that seems to have filled its space. The low ceiling and warren like corridors, it had such an organic, accidental way about it, now its all bright, high, a big space abundant box/rectangle divied up into zones for those who are coming, those who are going, both and the neither.
Surprisingly, least to us on that morning, the gates that are obviously about the place are not necessarily the gates you will be using, a fact we realised when our flight was called only for it transpire that it was about 10-15minute walk away.. we did some corridor running to freshen up before the journey.
United Airlines – Flight To Chicago From Heathrow
I like long flights, I wasn’t sure I would but I leared some time ago that I really rather do. The flights to Australia some years ago were brilliant, hours of films, drinks and a general sense of chilled outness that came with zipping around so detached from the world beneath. Those flights were with Emirates, just as the New York flights were with Virgin .. this flight was not with Emirates, it was not with Virgin.
The flight attendants were more friendly than I’d expected but then I think they were just so used to apologising for things that they were worn down to a simple shoulder shrug of, yeah we know, we’re sorry … nothing worked.. first the gameboy sized little TV screen of the entertainment system remained firmly black and unresponsive then the headphones, headphone after headphone…. I like airline food, im aware its not a customary view of the offerings but what came along in the form of breakfast was arguably the most unpleasant thing I have ever to encounter, it was just plane nasty, which is odd, they must have picked this up in London, not brought special nasty shit with them and there are plenty of flights out of Heathrow with perfectly decent food stuff on board and here, here there was this, it was not an enjoyable experience.
If it might appear that there is in here a deliberate effort to offer up a collection of grumbles then no such effort need be made. To be fare to both easyHotel and United they were the cheaper options available.
The stewardess apologised, told me that this ancient fleet of 777s were overdue to be retired and were now due to be coming out of use shortly, most honest, most friendly .. then they have that weird strap line about the skies they use .. the something skies .. Something about it reminded me of Hertz, a business gradually eating itself up from the inside out, in the desperate need to report the right number to the market every six month or so that investment and long terms plans to underpin the future are vigorously avoided, it will shine on the outside until its all dried out and hollow within, then it will collapse.. of course the idea is that someone will be lulled into buying it up somewhere along the line… Hertz always bleated on about its quality but there was no evidence of any such thing, they recruited cheap relying heavily on interns, they pursued short term strategies that contradicted medium term interests and relied heavily on corporate contracts, the franchised countries seemed to have more success, all the effort would go into making something look like it worked and it was hard to find any effort to actually make a thing work, like a film set. For all this, I actually quite enjoyed my brief stint there, not was if either for the incompetence of my boss (a level of incompetence that saw a mixture of responses from my colleagues, run and leaving being one, trying to informally report to someone else being another or my personal favourite just sort of not.. do what you want and take it from there) .. but for the niceness of the people, it really was quite the friendly if utterly resigned place. Even my boss was very personable, very easy to like really unless you wanted to do your job a bit .. United had something of the Hertz about it, though the stewardesses were no interns, not unless they were going for some most belated attempt at a career change.
The stewardess suggested I change seats, pointing to a seat on the back row that remained untaken, the girl who was sat on the window seat was stretched out.. I did not anticipate my arrival would be welcome and was hesitant. Normally I might more easily have dismissed such an effort and likely awkwardness but this was not to be a short stint of sitting that I had ahead and my mind had kind of set itself to the idea of watching some of these available films.
I was right, I was not welcome, I explained id been sent, that my entertainment system didn’t work but I was still just some random, showing up, spoiling her stretched out ways and who knows maybe just some general tool looking to sit down with false guises next to her unsuspecting self. I was not, I would be quite happy to not engage even moderately with this new neighbour, so long as I could watch the films and let the time float by.
The screen worked, the sound did not.
They gave me new headphones, they had the wrong type of plug, two prongs where there ought only to be one – that didn’t work despite more tireless efforts to find a way then logic would justify.
I went pocket rummaging and located another set, they didn’t work… no headset that was found could be brought to work.. not that they had more than a couple spare and many of those they did have were clearly meant for quite a different system and didn’t fit at all.
Being onboard a United flight really does great things for ones appreciation of domestic services… tempted to think we don’t know what we’re doing, Fly United the beleaguered skies.. and everything else will seem that bit better..
They were not the worst airline, not anywhere close, that title remains with whomever that Turkish Charter was that took me to Bodrum and back, it turned out they’d been banned from airspace before now due to their standards, had I known that when it was booked on my behalf it would not have been booked… anyway that was something to do with Turkey, this is United Flight to Chicago. Nowhere close to that sort of level.
Think that experience was with these guys – http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onur_Air –
In desperation I set to fiddling with the headset socket and by pure fluke struck on a particular level of incursion and angle that if achieved, meant sound found its way up through the cable, through the headphones and into my ears. The trick was not to move, not to flinch, fidget or otherwise give cause for the plug to believe it had just cause to fall silent. I was not successful.
There were the toilet breaks, mine and my neighbours and then there was just the general need for movement that comes from being, still once I knew it was there to be re-found the level of effort and persistence that could be set to rediscovering that so very particular sweat spot was increased.
Disdain for my presence waned as I sat attempting to watch the mini-screen while either furiously ferreting for sound or statuesque in the hope of retaining it and at some point for some reason moments of conversation broke out, probably instigated by that famous social lubricant the toilet break and the obstacle my person posed to such a break.
She was an actress from New York I think, memory isn’t a strength, who’d recently moved out to LA. I’ve ended up speaking to three randoms on my US trips through no fault of my own and of those two were actors or aspiring to be, the line on this is blurred more than in other professions by the ability to find work to pin against it. If this is the ratio that the US operates under no wonder it spins out so many TV shows for grossly divergent quality.. It must be the nations industry of comparative advantage, it trades these shows for Coffee, Pizza, Cars and international recognised branded sports wear from East Asian country sweetshops. They pulled us in with various higher quality TV offerings in the late nineties and two thousands and now we’re trapped, all those TV stations with hours of time to fill and nothing but Castle, a spot of healthy NCIS casual racism (fear the foreign man for he is on balance of probability, possibly a wrongen), “Pitt the younger – Bounty Hunter extraordinaire” (how are they taken by surprise by wrongens with the camera crew already set up in the room into which they are to enter and be taken by surprise .. one can but guess), Two Broke Girls and an assortment of reconstituted, unoriginal, infinitely predictable, stereotype reinforcing hogwash of interchangeable identikit faces, with as much unique texture and flavour as a subway sandwich. That said the BBC is currently set on a most peculiar mission to recreate the assorted singularly humour free comedies of the early 70s.. in which a collection of one dimensional characters are treated to a procession of entirely contrived and improbable scenarios.. Where once we had: Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Only Fools and Horses, The Office (personally not a fan but still), Extras, Coupling … now we have: Miranda, Mr Kahn, Mrs Brown’s Boys-if this was 30 years ago they would still be utter shit, unfit for domestic consumption let alone exporting. Again all of these have something of the familiar about them – take one person of limited intellect, add some sort of social disorder or two, then set them a mundane task and expose them to a similarly contorted lobotomised world and let hilarity ensue.
To think those broadcast waves are gong to head out into the wider universe, unremittingly out on onward … who knows who will see this stuff, it could be enough for hasty conclusions to be drawn about humanity and cleaning squads to be dispatched.
So, as I was saying – If it might appear that there is in here a deliberate effort to offer up a collection of grumbles then .. well yes .. so far we have amassed:
easyHotel – Hmmm
United Airlines – No thankyou kindly
Tv of the 2010s – urgggggg….
So clearly not
But really note to self, try not to fly with United again, if for no other reason than that odd cylinder thing that haunted the sort of breakfast offering .. it was not a sausage, I know not what it was but it was not a meat product nor for that matter was it vegetarian it was a cylinder of something and that something was not fine.