A Mega itinerary for a Mega Do!

This past Friday night the itinerary for the 2010 Star Mega Do was announced at a party in Marina del Ray, California. The room was packed with veterans from the 2009 edition and other FlyerTalkers who all wanted to be involved in the event as well as folks looking for a good party out on the West coast. Some of the photos suggest there were upwards of 50 folks crowded into the room for the event; the bar tab suggests even more. Either way, this luck group was the first to hear the official news.

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And now that I’ve recovered from the rather vicious hangover (Marty, I’m gonna get even!) here’s the itinerary for everyone else to chew on:

Monday, November 1

JFK-FRA: We expect that to be on the LH A380 though the aircraft is not yet confirmed to be on that route.

Tuesday, November 2

Arrive FRA. Party with *A and LH in FRA.

*For folks starting in Europe you will be invited to join on Tuesday evening

Wednesday, November 3

FRA-IAH. Arrive IAH and dinner with CO.
*For folks who want to only do the USA part of the event you’ll be joining us in IAH for the dinner or tomorrow morning for the tours.

Thursday, November 4

CO tours in IAH.

Thursday, November 4 – Evening

The First Annual Frequent Traveler Awards!
Built on the legacy of The Freddies, the FT Awards will allow the community to honor the loyalty programs that make everything we do just a bit more fun.

Friday, November 5

Charter flight!
IAH-PHX: Meet with US Airways in PHX
PHX-PAE: Fly in to an airport that doesn’t really see traditional commercial service (cool new dot/line) and go on a special tour of the Boeing factory where the 747-8i is being built.
Party in Seattle area Friday night

Saturday, November 6

Charter flight back to either Chicago or Houston, depending on which aircraft we end up chartering.

We thought we had figured out the details of which aircraft we’d be using for the charter but we had a last minute entrant from another carrier that is interested in providing us with that service. So we are still working out the details and hope to have more specific pricing and an answer to which aircraft we’ll be using (747, MD-11 or 753/73E/738s) in the very near future.

Regarding pricing of the event, we expect that the charter price point will be at or below last year’s price. Depending on the aircraft selected there will be a mix of F, C, E+ and E- available. The TATL flights will be about the same price in Y (~$600) and will be more expensive in C (~$3000).

We’re getting a great rate with Starwood for the hotels along the way and there will likely be a Fast Track promo for status associated with it.

Moving on to Newark

First flight of the Star Mega Do is now done and it was phenomenal.  United was nice enough to up-gage the scheduled CRJ-700 to an Airbus A320 so there was plenty of room for our crowd, with a lot of empty middle seats to make everyone rather comfortable.  Plus, free snack boxes for everyone on board so that we were all able to have some lunch in the middle of a ridiculously busy day.

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Captain Bob Hart, who stopped by earlier in the day to hang out at the RCC with us and chat did a great job keeping the cabin informed on the couple small delays we had and also had some fun with contests and other bits of information shared over Channel 9.  Among other things, we learned that the plane used 4900 of the planned 8300 pounds of fuel during the first half of the flight.  I was nowhere close in my guess.

And then the seatbelt sign was off and I wandered the aisle of the plane, documenting in great detail some of the many FlyerTalk folks on the flight.  Here are the pictures to prove it:

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At one point in the flight I was called upon to perform some Flight Attendant-ish duties.  Woohooo!

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Randy Petersen, enjoying a bit of reading and some quality leg room in the exit row.

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And then there was the collection of luggage and the march over to Terminal C to meet up with the Continental folks for the afternoon tours.  Randy even pitched in on the luggage schlep.  What a guy.

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We’re now boarding the 747-400 (D-ABVR, Koln) for the flight from JFK to Frankfurt.  More posts to come once we land!

Operations and dispatch from their point of view

The idea of airport and airline operations seems simple enough.  Make sure that the planes, crews, bags and passengers all know where they need to be and that they get there as close to on time as possible.  OK, maybe it doesn’t actually seem all that simple.  Still, when you learn what is actually going on behind all those “Restricted Access” doors in the airport it introduces a whole new level of respect and appreciation for just how complex it is to run a major airline’s day-to-day operations successfully.

As part of the Star Mega Do we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to go behind those closed doors and meet with the folks that make sure everything works the way it is supposed to at United Airlines’s O’Hare facility.  And boy did we learn a lot.

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One of the elevator rides on the tour.  Yeah, the elevators are really big.

First stop for my group was up in the air.  We climbed the 59 steps up to the tower perched above the terminal to visit with the group responsible for coordinating the movement of aircraft on the ground.  These folks manage more than just the United planes and they do a top-notch job.

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Climbing up the 59 steps to the tower (l.); Freddie, Jr. in the tower, helping with dispatch

After that we headed back down into the belly of the terminal to visit the on-site operations center as well as the crew planning and rest facilities.  We got to chat with a group of 777-200 pilots who were mapping out their route to Beijing for today’s flight along with several other folks in there.

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The crew of today’s ORD-PEK flight, working on the flight plan
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Tommy takes a moment to clean up before continuing the tour

A couple of us also stopped to speak with Jerry in the operations center.  He was excited to show us how IGAPS works for assigning gates as well as how they use it to monitor flight delays and possible misconnecting passengers.  So next time they decide to not hold a connection for you, remember that it is Jerry’s fault, not that of the gate agent you’re yelling at.  It is hard to believe that he was not willing to give us his phone number, huh?

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Jerry shows us the details of our outbound flight in Ops

A warm welcome at the United Red Carpet Club

The first stop on the official Star Mega Do itinerary was a reception in the Red Carpet Club for the 40-odd folks who made the trip to Chicago.  In addition to the usual snack fare there were some additional breakfast options available.  Plus some goodies, including luggage tags and copies of the book on the history of United Airlines.  All good stuff.

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Goodies in the RCC!

We were fortunate to have a number of executives roaming the room, including the folks in charge of the Mileage Plus program and the Red Carpet Clubs.  The RCCs are expecting to see major renovations in the coming year or two, at least in the hub cities, to bring them up to the design standard of the new O’Hare B18 lounge.  That’s great news, even if it does mean that some of the lounges will be shut down at various points in time.

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Graham Atkinson addresses the group

The news from Mileage Plus is equally interesting though I suppose the actual value of the changes will depend both on what they actually are – the execs were quite tight-lipped on that aspect – but they are working diligently with the United IT group to make the necessary back-end changes happen.

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The trippy lights in the ORD B-C tunnel

We also got to meet the pilot for our trip – Bob Hart – and chat with him about the flight plan and his job in general.  Not to be outdone by one of his colleagues, Captain Denny Flanagan showed up on his day off to socialize with the FlyerTalk group, A group in which he is quite well known as an all-around great guy.

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Captain Denny Flanagan with Freddie, Jr. (l) and Captain Bob Hart signing books for the crowd (r)

SBM_0682There was much socializing, meeting of new friends and reconnecting with existing friends.  It was also the first opportunity that Randy Petersen, the founder of FlyerTalk and frequent flyer guru, had to meet with the winner of the contest he sponsored for a seat on the trip.  Mike Holovacs of New Jersey is the lucky winner and he is joining the party gratis and flying in the front of the cabin the whole way through.  Truly an amazing prize to win.

After the meet & greet we headed out into, above and beneath the terminal for tours of the operations and other behind the scenes stuff.  Look for that report coming soon!

FlyerTalk, party of 15, your table is now ready

Sure, we do a great job of calculating all the permutations of flight routings and mileage credits, but when it comes to making a reservation for dinner the math skills fall apart in a hurry.  That or the reply skills suck.  Either way we had about 20 folks show up for our dinner of 15 tonight.  Even with the oversell situation we managed to work it out pretty well.  We squeezed in extra seats and eventually overflowed into another table to accommodate that crowd.

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Delicious food, a few drinks and some great stories of travel and other fun.  Hard to go wrong with this crowd.  The real party doesn’t start until tomorrow, bright and early at 7:30am.  See y’all there!

Excited about flying the CRJ 700

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GoJet CRJ-700 N153GJ Operating as United Express, my ride to Chicago, with a Continental 737 in the background

Yeah, I’m excited to be flying on the CRJ-700 this afternoon from Newark to Chicago as the first of many flights in my StarMegaDo experience.  No, I didn’t get upgraded into ExPlus.  I didn’t even make it into the Economy Plus section.  No Channel 9 to listen to the air traffic controllers along the way.  Heck, there is barely even a window at this row.  There really is very little about this that should really make me particularly happy.

And yet, here I am, happily ensconced in seat 15C and really quite pleased.

Due to work commitments I originally had to book the 7pm departure from Newark this evening.  Fortunately, however, I was able to adjust that schedule and get to the airport around 1pm, plenty early for the 2:36pm flight to Chicago.  I was flying standby at that point and it turns out that there was a small chance that I wouldn’t make the flight – there were more folks who wanted to go standby than seats available.  But as they started boarding I heard my name called and I was handed my new boarding pass.  Not much could have made me happier.

Even better, the flight departed on time and is expected to arrive early into Chicago this afternoon.  That means plenty of time for me to hang out before heading out to meet the rest of the pre-party crowd for dinner.

So, yes, I’m happy to be on the CRJ-700.  I never really thought I’d write that.

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