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A weekend webfare to San Francisco
by



At around 1am, I was browsing through delta.com and stumbled across an amazing $188 RT fare to San Fransisco. I immediately called Patrick to ask his plans for the weekend and he told me to just come on over. We tried to convince another friend to join us, but the AA loads were not particularly conducive to a Sunday redeye in time for class so he decided to take a pass. Wuss.

I did manage to convince my roommate Jonathan to accompany me though and we set off to the airport around 1030am for the 12noon nonstop to SFO. Alas, the Loch Ness monster is easier to find than a parking space at Hartsfield and sure enough it was 1130am before we finally boarded the shuttle at the Park N' Ride lot. I figured we would probably miss the flight so I called Special Member Services and got us listed as standby on the 1235pm flight through Cincinatti and Salt Lake City. Extra miles, even if it did add 6 hours to the travel time.

We took the train over to A4 and immediately realized that the scheduled 757 had been downgraded to a 738. This meant that our "wide open" flight had suddenly become tighter than size 32 trousers on Albert Belle. My non-rev roots held me in good standing here as I paced and stood at the appropriate angle behind the counter to fit in nicely with the others trying to standby for the flight. Finally, the "ceremonial calling of the names" was upon us and we managed to snag a window/middle together in row 13. Alas, row 13 is truly an unlucky one on the 738 since it is devoid of an actual window. To make matters even worse, we had a lap baby with mother in 13C, another lap baby in 14C and yet another one in 12D. We pushed back a few minutes late and our flying day-care center was soon airborne.

Faced with the prospect of an hour long flight without a window to look out of, I decided to find alternate avenues of amusement. Accordingly, I pulled out Sky magazine and proceeded to draw horns and buck teeth on every picture of Leo Mullin that I could find. I then repeated this with Jonathan's Sky magazine and was about to start on the lap baby's when the drink cart rolled around and interrupted my artistic flow. Damnation. I partook of a Sprite and tried to visualize what Vicki Escarra would look like with a large nose ring.

We touched down smoothly on runway 18L at CVG and taxied to gate B twenty-something which is so far out of the way that it might as well be in Kentucky. I am sure there were Comair CRJs parked everywhere, but I didn't see them since my seat didn't have a window. No, I'm not bitter..

Faced with a 2 hour layover in Cincinatti, we decided to first grab a bite to eat and then poke fun at the Fifth Third Bank. What the hell is a Fifth Third Bank anyway? Shouldn't it be the Fifteenth Bank? We ate at McDonald's and Jon won a free ice-cream cone on his "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" fries container. Whoopdie doo. We then headed out to the main terminal via the Atlanta wannabe train and spent all of the next 10 minutes exploring the rest of the airport.

We arrived back at B concourse just as the preboarding was being called on ship 1708 to Salt Lake. We had 36CDE, a center section in the middle of the rear cabin of the half full plane. Ever realized how the pessimist says the plane is half empty and the optimist says its half full? Either way, there was a 50% load factor.

We pushed back on time and I once again amused myself by doodling all over Leo's face in Sky Magazine. The announced flying time was 3:14 and I soon settled back and chatted with Jonathan as we soared high over the Midwest. The Flight Attendants came around selling headphones for 5 bucks a pop and we decided to splurge for lack of anything better to do.

The movie was "Thirteen Days", about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Around Day Four, the meal service started. Today's entree was "Leather Chicken with Rice and Mystery Veggie" and it was strictly edible, but no more. Around Day Ten, the Video system began screwing up and the picture became rather distorted. The poor Flight Attendants came around the aisles again refunding everyone's money.

When the movie was done, I wandered back to the galley and chatted with the girls back there for a while. Enquiring about the IFE, I found out that they use the same Sony system that Air India does on their 747s and I showed them a little trick to clean the video head using two pencils and a face towel. They were very grateful and plied me with some expired headset/drink coupons.

Approach into SLC was picturesque as always and Jonathan (first time in SLC) was riveted by the mountains on both sides of our approach path. We touched down smoothly and taxied to D concourse where we discharged our human cargo.

Our layover in SLC was just over an hour, so we dumped our bags in the SmarteCarte rent-a-locker by D6 and headed out to show Jon around the airport. He was quite enthralled by the beauty of it. However, it gets old real fast and 20 minutes later even he was going "thats IT?". We called Patrick and he told us that he was gonna be at the International Terminal working Swissair when we arrived, so we should go over and meet him there.

We retrieved our bags from the lockers and headed on board with about 20 mins to departure time. The flight was totally empty and we had the entire bulkhead row by 2L to ourselves. The aircraft today was N833DL which made the second time that I was flying on her this year after a LAS-ATL back in February.

The ride out to the Bay Area was typically efficient and I spend most of it watching the obligatory "Frazier" episode that seems to be the staple entertainment for every shorthaul flight on every airline. Flight time was 1:23 and we touched down on 28R and taxied to the gate past the Philippines A340 which appeared to be parked on a taxiway. Argh, Asian drivers.

The first sign I actually bothered to read in the concourse stated that "Mayor Willie Brown welcomes you to San Francisco", which was almost enough to make me turn around and get back on the plane. However, I was rather keen to visit the new international terminal since it had received rave reviews from almost everyone and we headed off in that direction. We arrived there soon enough and I must say that I was very disappointed. After all this hype, the first thing that came to mind was that this was a poor imitation of Chep Lap Kok in Hong Kong. What a waste of good taxpayer money.

Next stop was the arrivals area downstairs and the teeming masses of assorted Asian people made me think that the long escalator ride down had actually transported me to Tokyo. However, the all pervading smell of sweat and the general lack of civility convinced me that this was still North America.

We spent about 20 minutes admiring the fake bamboo trees and the floor art of outdated metal approach charts until Patrick came down to greet us and invite us over to the Swissair gate where he had to finish up the work on their flight. On the way, security decided that because the pin in my jaw kept setting off the magnetometer, it entitled them to subject me to the humiliation of a patdown in public. So much to Patrick's amusement, I was forced to passively stand with arms extended as a large man with a nametag saying "Wilbur" groped my groin area for an alleged weapon. Whatever.

The Cathay Pacific A340 arrived from HKG at the neighboring gate while we were on the way to Swissair, so Jon and I took a short detour to watch her unload as Patrick worked. We then returned to Swissair where Jon watched HB-IWI load up and push back, while I stared in unabashed fascination at the twirled moustache of the SR station manager. Once the flight left, Patrick joined us again and we set off for the curb to wait for the shuttle to the Sheraton Hotel.

The bus arrived soon enough and we boarded together with a pilot for American *cough* Trans Air. We chatted briefly with him on the ride to the hotel and Southwest somehow came up. I used that cue to whip out my Rapid Rewards card, which Patrick immediately proceeded to grab and destroy, much to the amusement of everyone else on board.

As a Starwood Gold VIP, my reservation had been upgraded to a "Preferred Room" on the 13th floor. I checked-in to find that I had 2 messages already waiting for me, one of which was from a friend who was staying at the same hotel. I proceeded to give him a call while Patrick asked the concierge to "please dispose of (this) worthless Rapid Rewards card". We headed up to the room and my friend arrived a few minutes later - but not before Patrick and I managed to litter the room by throwing packets of Snack Mix at each other. Those things hurt!

We spent about 30 mins chatting while my friend regaled us with stories of his trip to Berlin the previous weekend. Around 11pm, we realized that none of us had eaten, so down to the "Windows On The Bay" restaurant we went. The restaurant was closed, but Patrick charmed the waitress into serving us at the bar. Jon ate something healthy while Patrick and I pigged out on cholesterol burgers and Dungeness Crab dip. Jon retired to sleep at around midnight, but Patrick and stayed up till around 4am in the lobby.

I set my wakeup call for 630am since I was supposed to meet up with my friend David on his way back from LAX. However, when I awakened he had not left the promised voicemail confirming that he was on the flight, so I went back to sleep. Around 1030am, I awakened again and called him at home - he had lost my number and had actually made the flight. Ah well. C'est la vie.

After showering and dressing, I called around and set up our plans for the day. Evan was going to meet us downtown in the late afternoon, so we had a few hours to kill before that. Checked out and grabbed the shuttle back to the airport where we intended to grab a quick bite and dump our bags at the lockers. Unfortunately, the lockers are past security so I had to once again subject myself to everything short of the full body cavity search. For the first time ever, I was asked to remove my shoes, watch and belt before being patted down in full view of about 40 amused Japanese tourists who kept taking pictures. What's up with these SFO security folks anyway? Give 'em minimum wage and they think they are Barney Fife.

This episode concluded, we headed to the curb to catch the SamTrans KX route into downtown. Traffic was very light and our ride lasted barely 25 minutes. We spent a while wandering around the construction site formerly referred to as Union Square and then caught a Muni bus to Chinatown to grab a late lunch.

I am a firm believer that Chinatown in San Francisco is a clone of Hong Kong, except that less people actually speak English here. We began wandering through side streets as people muttered "Gui Lo" behind our backs and finally wound up at a rather imposing restaurant whose name we couldn't pronounce. However, they had a sign in the window touting a favorable Zagat review so we figured what the hell.

Lunch was exceptional. I ordered some kind of seafood medley and Jon got lotus leaf stir fried with duck or something similar. We stuffed our faces and then headed back to Powell/Market where Evan was meeting us at the cable car turnaround. We bought one way rides to Fisherman's Wharf and set out hanging on to the railings for dear life. We arrived at the wharf nice and white-knuckled and proceeded to wander around and watch the various freaks do their thing.

As we walked down the street, I was struck by a flash of insane inspiration. It dawned upon me that it would be cool to take a live crab back to ATL as a pet. So I called Delta's Medallion Desk and asked if it was allowed. After about 20 minutes on hold listening to corny recorded jokes about Delta's latest service enhancements, they contacted a DGS who said that live crabs qualified as "fresh food" rather than "pets", so I could carry one on board. I was elated. Visions of walking down the jetway with a crab on a leash danced in my mind. Unfortunately, EVERY store on the Wharf was out of live crabs so that put paid to that idea. Bah.

After a few hours, we caught another contraption back to Market Street and visited the Sony Metreon. I spent a while schooling the locals in the NBA Jam arcade game. Dare I say en fuego? Evan headed home around 930pm, and we headed down to SFO on BART about an hour later. This was my first time on BART and I was kinda impressed by it. The ride down to Colma was pretty quick and the SamTrans BX connection was painless.

We arrived at SFO right before 11pm and met up with Patrick who checked us in before he got off work. The DFW-ATL flight was oversold so we received only Seat Request cards for that segment. The redeye to DFW was pretty wide open though. We then chatted with David on speakerphone for a while about the 727s at the UA maintenance base with catwalks around them. Jon was now a little tired, so he proceeded to crash on the carpet while Patrick and I flipped through Air Disaster Volume I, making a plethora of tasteless jokes.

Coincidentally, the aircraft scheduled to operate this segment was the same N384DA that we had flown ATL-CVG on Saturday. Of course, she looked a lot more comfortable with barely 50 pax scheduled for the redeye. We made our tearful farewells to Patrick and clambered aboard right before the doors closed. Jon took the exit row, while I wandered to the back and appropriated the second to last row for myself.

The flight attendants came around handing out pillows and blankets and I asked for one of each. To my complete surprise, I was told that I would have to pick one or the other, despite an abundance of both. I wasn't in the mood to argue, so I chose blanket and wadded it up for use as a pillow anyway. I spread out across 3 seats and was asleep before we even pushed back. Announced flying time was 2:54 and I slept all the way until we hit some turbulence on short finals.

We emerged bleary eyed into the terminal at around 645am local time, with almost 2 hrs before our connection. Jon was fascinated by the concept of trAAin, so we went over to the AA terminals and rode it for a few minutes. He is easily amused. Stopped for a quick breakfast at McDonald's and arrived back at our departure gate around 745am.

We presented ourselves at the counter and offered to volunteer our seats for the bump. The grateful agent added us to the list and told us it would be pretty close, but to stay nearby. To our delight, there was a large group of Catholic schoolgirls on the flight, all dressed up in tartan skirts and tight white blouses. Jon found a seat near them, and I headed to the men's room to change into some clean clothes.

As the departure hour approached, we stood by the podium on tenterhooks as the agents wheeled, dealed and handed out boarding passes. Finally, the "For those of you standing by for the Atlanta flight, we are now checked in full..." announcement was made and the aircraft pushed back. Jon and I wandered up to the counter to collect our denied boarding compensation.

The redcoat handling this flight was a sleazy type and he began our interaction by trying to talk us out of accepting the compensation, offering us First Class seats ("a chance to ride in style") on the next flight instead. Style? You've obviously never ridden on the 732! I politely turned him down, telling him that if he had a problem with paying us the voluntary Denied Boarding Compensation, we would be glad to accept the invol in cash. He glared daggers at me, but printed out the vouchers along with First Class passes for the next flight as well. We wandered over to the next gate and saw that our travelling companions this time included a bunch of Air Force recruits heading down to Pensacola after completing basic training.

Now, Patrick and I have a bet that I cannot go the entire year without an upgrade, so my First Class seat assignment would cause problems on that front. Accordingly, I approached the desk and requested a downgrade to coach, much to the surprise and amusement of the agent! 

Now the proud holder of a boarding pass for seat 16C, I boarded at the appropriate time and helped myself to the delicious SkyDeli on the way down the jetway. I began chatting with the gentleman in 16B who was on his way to ATL for a job interview, when I suddenly spotted a gate agent walk down the jetway with 2 passengers and begin speaking to the Flight Attendant. I looked around and saw only one open seat. Ooooh! The chance for another bump!

Sure enough, the agent picked up the PA system and began announcing "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm afraid we are in an oversold situation today...". She didn't even get a chance to finish the announcement, as I was already on my feet dinging the call button and racing down the aisle yelling "I volunteer, I volunteer!", much to the amusement of Jon who laughed hysterically from his First Class seat. I collected my carry on luggage and left to collect my second voucher of the morning.

My Dallas layover entered its 5th hour as I plodded back down the concourse towards my fourth flight of the morning. This one was initially wide open, but had been downgraded from a 757 to a MD-88. I went up and once again volunteered for a bump, but sadly we were still running 6 seats under. Ah well, no third time lucky for me today.

My seat assignment was the much sought after 38E, the non-reclining narrow seat without a window right next to the engine. I accepted it with such a sweet artificial smile and profuse fake thanks that the poor agent cracked up laughing. She offered to upgrade me (First Class was wide open again and my rebooking had been done in Y class rather than the non-upgradeable L), but I stood firm and declined.

I boarded N975DL when they called Medallions and shoehorned myself into the uncomfortable seat. There was a SkyDeli on this flight too, but I passed on it. We were soon airborne and I fell asleep to the comforting roar and vibration of a JT8D turbofan scant inches away from my face.

We touched down at Hartsfield after a flight time of 1:46 and taxied to D concourse. We waited a few minutes and then the captain informed us that we were now going into A concourse, so we taxied back around the whole airport and finally pulled into A6 around 20 minutes behind schedule.

All in all, it was a productive weekend. A profit of $202 over and above airfare, plus triple base miles, plus a bunch of Starwood points and of course the priceless experience of a weekend with friends. What could be better?




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