Thursday, January 8, 2009

Atlanta, Georgia and onward to Europe

The United States of America was not going to let us leave easily! We arrived at La Guardia after a taxi ride through Queens after crossing the Queensborough Bridge.
This is the side of the city that is so often portrayed in the cops movies.
You know – the rail on rickety overpasses high over the ve-hic-u-lar passages. Roads that go over and under and in and out, often on rusting mecanno sets of infrastructure. And traffic that is thick and sluggish.

So we get to the airport. We are becoming experts at all but stripping for the obligatory walk through security. However today was to be even more special! We had been selected by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) to be given the full works, pat down (feel up) and all our belongings – yes all – drug and explosive screened. So down to our socks, sans belts and jackets and jumpers we meekly submit to the bored machinations of this great land!

We had tried to upgrade our seats to Business without success. So, on to our gate and being herded like cattle on to the flight from New York to Atlanta on a plane that is that full it bulges. Not a single seat was free.

Even though I had well known the propensity of the airlines to overbook all flights by up to 10%, it had never impacted me personally – until yesterday. We arrived in Atlanta in plenty of time for our flight to Stuttgart and sat in the lounge with our fellow travellers. Eventually ground staff asked for volunteers who could be flexible with their travel plans to delay flying until today (Tuesday). All travellers on the flight had checked in for travel! This IS pretty rare.

At first no-one made a move until the pleading became more desperate. By this time, the airline was threatening to involuntarily off-load people and the worried looks were flying thick and fast around the lounge. We discussed it and decided that we were at least two who could be flexible – I mean, that is what this trip is all about – the chance to savour the moment and be impacted by what is going on around us. So we put our hands up for a voluntary off-load – on the condition that we are upgraded on our flight to Stuttgart! In the end, there are 17 people voluntary and involuntary who are off-loaded.

They happily agreed to upgrade us, put us up in a hotel overnight, give us meal vouchers and Delta Cash Coupons to the tune of $US600 each in compensation. Not too bad a deal. What they didn’t say at this time was that it would take almost three hours after the flight left to put it all in place! Still, what else can you do but grin and bear it? After all, it is airline policy and not the fault of the staff at the check-in counter. Not all those put off feel the same though and a couple of them give Alpha and his team a hard time. The rest of us just feel so sorry for them!

Finally at 9:30pm we leave the Hartsfield-Atlanta Airport for the Atlanta Ramada Inn for the night. We step out into the dark to discover that it is pouring rain – so cloistered were we that we had no idea. Then a hotel shuttle ride with a driver who thought he was Craig Lowndes – except that he was driving a 20 seater bus with us all having on for dear life.
The hotel room is spacious and clean. It is very obvious however that the establishment has seen better days. It is owned by the Airport Corporation and is used to accommodate airline staff and off-loadees as well as the businessman visiting this convention city and the casual traveller.

All the movies are pay to view, the TV channels are repetitive and boring and the weather too wet to go far. So after briefly checking emails and letting Stephi and Michael know where we are (our chargers and adapters are in our checked luggage now nearing Stuttgart!) we have an early night.

Breakfast this morning isn’t too bad if you can deal with a very camp cook, who when asked how we want our eggs (on the menu as 3 eggs, your way) rolls his eyes and tells me he doesn’t do poached. Yes, he can do fried – how do I want them? “Sunny side up” quickly responds Michael – he has the lingo down pat. When they arrive I think I may have preferred them over easy – at least the whites would have been fully set! The hotel agrees to extend the checkout from 11:00 am to 12 noon – many thanks guys!

And then back to the airport. And those blasted check-in procedures where, you guessed it, we are chosen for the full works again – not sure whether we look threatening or just friendly enough that we won’t object too long or loud. And so, we sit here from 12:30ish waiting for our flight out at 17:50 – BUSINESS class no less. And draft the blog! The airport web link won’t let us in to Google, so we will have to upload it tomorrow.
Happy dreams all. Stay safe in the hot or cold or wet or snowing weather wherever you are.

The flight back to Stuttgart could have been very nice thank you very much - if it had not been for the constant attentions of the cabin crew. For a total of 29 business (first) class passengers there were 6 attendants always trying to be busy, "Another drink ma'am? More nuts sir? Are you comfortable? Would you like to order your meal now? blah blah blah"

The meals are good (we hear over the intercom that steerage are again being offered pasta or chicken!). The menu consists of:
Entree (all 3)
Hummus with caramelized onion and pine nuts
Spinach salad with cipollini onion, goat cheese and tomato
Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup

Main Course (choice of 1)
Grilled Beef Tendeloin and Shrimp Scampi served with lemon risotto and a medley of sauteed zucchini and yellow squash (Maria)
Crab Cakes and chili aioli accompanied by baked spaghetti squash and a snow pea and fennel medley
Sun-dried Tomato and Mascarpone Ravioli tossed in a pomodori sauce, garnished with sauteed leeks and toasted walnuts (Michael)
Roast Beef and Grilled Shrimp with a devilled egg, grilled peppers, asparagus and tomato served chilled.

Dessert (choice of 1)
Fine Cheeses offered with fresh fruit (Maria)
All natural Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae with your choice of sauces, whipped cream and chopped nuts, garnished with apirouline cookie. (Michael)

All are complemented with carefully chose wines, but we abstain until dessert when Maria has a very nice Portugese Tawny Reserve Port with her cheese.
We eat about 1 1/2 hours out of Atlanta.

Movies are plentiful, latest releases as well as old favourites as are the TV shows.
The seats recline at about 5 spots and can lay flat for sleeping (if it weren't for the crew!)
We settle in to space glorious space with legs out stretched and raised to a comfortable height with comfortable over-the-ears acoustic headphones and I enjoy a scotch and Michael a tonic water. Michael says he slept only about an hour - luckily, I think I got 2 hours!

The night drags on - there is still too much movement (and those solicitous crew!) to sleep. As we are over northern France, with the lights of Tours spread wide below us and the sun just beginning to glow on the horizon we are given hot face washers in preparation for breakfast.
Seasonal fresh fruit, cereal, breakfast breads with butter and preserves and Breakfast Quesadilla filled with scrambled eggs and pepper jack cheese. Rounded out with Orange Juice and Coffee.

And as we came into land at Stuttgart we came in to dense cloud cover. The undercarriage wheels were lowered and yet we still could not see the land. Then we broke through the fluffy ceiling and were greeted with the most of beautiful sight of a snow covered landscape. Michael took lots of photos as we came in to land.

Yes, Business Class is the way to go! (Normal cost $2,489 each way)

1 comment:

Kamala said...

I'm so jealous. Flying business class was worth the giving up your first flight and the pat down - feel up sessions.

I'm enjoying reading your blog and you both write so very well. I look forward to each new post.