May 26th 2011
This is my third consecutive Saturday doing a mileage run. This one will take me to Seattle, with enough time on the ground to leave the airport and go into town.
The routing on this run is unusual: Austin to Los Angeles to Seattle to Chicago to Austin. I’d leave Austin at 7:50 a.m. on Saturday and return at 10:40 Sunday morning. I’ve been to Seattle so many times that I feel like I know the city by heart, but this trip would be different; I planned to take the ferry to Bainbridge Island for dinner.
I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport with time to spare and was able to spend a little while at the Admirals Club. The Austin club has a wonderful staff, the club was voted the best in the country a few years back. This recognition did not come because of the facilities, it was because of the AAngels behind the counter and how warm and friendly they are. Every time I walk in I am greeted like a long lost friend and I feel truly welcome.
While I was at the club I went online and checked the weather for Seattle for that day; the forecast was not good. It called for an 80% chance of rain during the day, and a 90% chance during the evening. I wasn’t happy to see this, I hoped to get some good photos while on the ferry — rain would not help.
After my normal morning cup of coffee I went to the gate and boarded the 737-800 for the flight to Los Angeles. I had an aisle seat, a father and his young son were in the middle and window seats. His wife and daughters were in the three seats on the other side of the aisle. I had a long day ahead of me and looked forward to sleeping for an hour or two on the flight. At least that was the plan. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way.
Every time I dozed off the young boy needed to go to the bathroom. Or, his little sister across the aisle needed to go and mommy could not help so daddy had to take her. And that was the flight for me, doze off, then feel someone poking me on the shoulder to wake up. Given how long a day I was going to have I could have used the sleep, but that’s life.
We arrived in Los Angeles on time and I got off, getting quite a shock as a gust of cold air came into the jetway as I left the plane; I thought Southern California had nice weather! Normally, but not on this day
If the weather was this bad in Los Angeles, how much worse would it be in Seattle?
American Airlines flies into LAX Terminal 4, my Alaska Airlines flight would depart from Terminal 3. I’ve made this change in the past and never liked it; it’s a long walk and I would have to clear security again. Given my displeasure with that possibility I was very happy to find that they offer shuttle bus service to the other terminal and I would not need to go through screening again.
I boarded the bus and took out my camera. This was not going to be a normal bus ride on the roads at LAX. Have you ever looked out the window of an airport terminal and seen trucks and tractors driving around near the planes? That’s where my bus would go, around the terminals, past taxiways and runways. We might even have to stop to let a plan go by; this gave me the chance to get some shots that I would normally not see.
After a few moments we arrived at Terminal 3 and I went to the boarding area for my flight. I quickly found it and wished I could have been in the Admirals Club instead. I can only describe this terminal as airport hell.
This wing of the terminal was round, with 6 gates all opening into a common area. It seemed like flights were leaving from all 6 gates at once, the boarding announcements never seemed to stop. It was loud and crowded. l needed to charge my phone: I eventually found one of the 2 kiosks that Samsung had set up for people to use as a charging station, Each one had 4 outlets, so there were only 8 outlets for the entire area. I had to wait, eventually someone finished charging and I was able to plug in for a short while.
I did have one special treat though while I was there, a Qantas Airbus A-380 arrived at the terminal across from us; this was my first opportunity to see this leviathan of the air.
When I heard the boarding announcement for my flight to Seattle, I could hardly wait to board, at least the plane would be relatively quiet.
I was able to get some sleep on this flight and I needed it. My flight from Seattle wouldn’t leave until midnight local time, that’s 2 o’clock in the morning to my body and way past my bed time.
We arrived in Seattle on time, coming in to the North Terminal that I had flown out of a few weeks earlier. At least this time I knew what to do, taking the subway to the main terminal and than boarding the Light Rail to go downtown.
The weatherman had predicted an 80% chance of rain during the day. Thankfully he was completely wrong, This was the kind of day the Seattle Chamber of Commerce brags about — no rain, clear skies and mild temperatures.
I took the Light Rail to the Pioneer Square station, then had a 10 minute walk to the ferry terminal. Round trip fare to Bainbridge Island was $7.10. They have an interesting way of charging for the ferry: passengers only pay when leaving Seattle, there are no ticket windows at any of the many locations the ferry goes to.
I bought my ticket, boarded the ferry, and went outside to enjoy the glorious view.
It was a windy day, the seagulls were flying around the ferry looking for food. The wind was so strong I had a hard time standing still. We did have one treat though, the 100th anniversary of the Seattle Maritime Festival was taking place. The main event in the afternoon was the tugboat races, you can see some of the tugs in the middle of the video.
We pulled out into the harbor, the gulls followed us all the way, always looking for food.
The ferry ride was wonderful! It was a beautiful day, the views were spectacular, and it was one of those “I can’t do this at home” experiences that made the long flight to Seattle seem worthwhile.
All too soon though, the ferry started to slow down as we approached Bainbridge Island. I had the chance to see some of the homes along the shoreline.
The ferry entered Eagle Harbor, then docked at the ferry terminal. As I went ashore I was happy to find that the weatherman was still off target, it was a lovely day. I followed the crowd and made my way to the “downtown” area to see the shops and have dinner.
I had a ten minute walk to the city center. I’m sure it is a beautiful area, but major road construction on the main street took off some of the glow.
I took my time, looking in many of the shop windows while enjoying the splendid weather. Since this is the Seattle area, I stopped at a coffee house, ordered a latte, and sat outside reading and enjoying my time.
I had a recommendation to visit the Café Nola — it would not open until 5 p.m. so I took my time and walked down to the marina.
After the noise and crowds of the airline terminals, trains, and downtown Seattle, the marina was an oasis of tranquility and I sat for a several minutes, enjoying it. But then something (my stomach!) told me to get up and go to the restaurant. So, I walked the few short blocks to Café Nola, stopping along the way at Bon Bon Confections to buy some chocolate for my wife.
The restaurant opened at 5, I arrived there a few moments after they opened and was the first customer. They quickly sat me at a table by the window.
As you look at their menu, you can see the wonderful selection of food they offer. But as I looked at it and contemplated my choice of starter, all I could think of was my trip to Seattle a few weeks earlier, and how miserable I felt after I ate far too much food for dinner. I was not going to make that mistake a second time.
I decided to skip the starter and just eat an entreé. Several of them looked good, I decided on the Dungeness Crab with macaroni.
After a short wait they brought it out to me, it was still very hot from the oven. I let it cool and then took a taste; it was wonderful. The plate featured a serving of crab surrounded by macaroni and cheese that had pieces of fish in it, covered with shredded white cheese. I had never had mac-and-cheese like this before; they had taken it from a comfort food to a gourmet taste delight. I took my time eating it, savoring every bite, using slices of sourdough bread to get any sauce that I missed.
I ate as much as I could, but did not finish the serving. I enjoyed the meal, but I also enjoyed not feeling miserable when it was over. I paid the bill and left. I do want to comment on how friendly the manager was; I needed to charge my cell phone but couldn’t find an outlet in the dining area. She took the phone into the office and let it charge while I was eating. Thank you!
By now it was shortly after 6 p.m. and I decided it was time to walk back to the ferry terminal. A light rain started to fall and the temperature began to drop as I arrived at the dock. No need to get wet, I went inside and stood in the line waiting for the next ferry back to Seattle. I was talking with the people behind me; they were all going to see the Seattle Sounders, Seattle’s soccer team, play that night, and then my phone rang.
I instantly recognized the ring, it was the American Airlines flight status number. That wasn’t good, I normally get those calls 2 hours before a flight departs to tell me it is on time — my flight would not leave for another five-and-a-half-hours, something was wrong. I answered the phone and listened to the bad news as the computer told me that my flight, scheduled to depart at midnight, would not depart until 1 a.m.
I stood there and ran the numbers in my head. The plane would leave at 1 a.m. which was 3 a.m. in Texas; when the plane took off I would have been up for 23 hours! That may have been a normal Saturday night when I was in college, but those days are long past. I wasn’t happy about this news.
The ferry soon arrived, we boarded and almost everyone stayed inside, trying to avoid the rain and the wind.
When we arrived in Seattle I made my way to Pike Place Market. It was warm, it was dry, and would be a perfect place to spend the next few hours, sipping some fresh beer at a local brewpub. But then I stopped and thought for a while. If I spent a few hours at the Market and did not get back to the airport until 10:30 or later, there was no chance of getting an earlier flight home. However, if I got to the airport early enough they might be able to get me a seat on an earlier flight. The choice was obvious.
I went to the light rail station and took the train back to the airport. I went to the American Airlines ticket counter to check in and see if I could get an earlier flight. But first the agent needed to pull up my itinerary. She did that, stared at the screen for a while and then asked, “Did you start today in Austin, Texas?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Are you crazy?”
It had been a while since I had to answer that one and I wasn’t in the mood to explain mileage running to her, so I just smiled and asked if there were any other options. She didn’t even look at the screen, she simply said “no.”
I asked about the 11:30 flight to DFW that I had taken before. No luck, it doesn’t fly on Saturday during May. What about the 9 o’clock flight on Alaska Airlines to Los Angeles? Again, no luck, their last flight had already departed. The only good news she had for me was that my upgrade to First Class had gone through for the Chicago-Austin flight, and I was number one on the list to get an upgrade on the flight from Seattle. She issued my boarding passes and wished me luck.
It was 8:45, my flight would not leave for another 4+ hours. I looked at the departure board hoping I would see a flight that the agent had missed, but there weren’t any. The only remaining flights from Seattle were going to the Detroit, Minneapolis, or the East Coast. I thought for a moment that I had plenty of time to take the train from the airport and go back into town, but it was cold, it was raining, and I was tired. I decided to stay at Sea-Tac.
I cleared security and went to the food court. I bought some ice cream and sat, watching planes land and take off, and reading from my Kindle.
The time passed slowly, but eventually the plane to Chicago arrived at midnight. I was upgraded to First Class, boarded, and quickly fell asleep. First class seating was so much better than coach and the problems I had on my flight a few weeks earlier when the gentleman in the seat next to me kept tossing and turning, waking me every time he bumped into me.
We landed at O’Hare at 7 o’clock Sunday morning; as you can see in this video it was very hazy and we experienced a lot of turbulence as we made our final approach.
It was shortly after 7 by the time I got off the plane, my Austin flight would leave at 8 a.m., that meant I did not have enough time to take a shower at the Admirals Club. Disappointing. I did have enough time though to grab a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee, then make my way to the gate for my Austin flight.
I boarded the plane and, with a First Class seat, looked forward to having a good meal on the flight home. I had an omelet the last time I took this flight and it hit the spot.
We departed on time and once we reached cruising altitude the flight attendant announced that she would serve our continental breakfast. Continental breakfast? I wanted an omelet. I asked the FA why I had a full breakfast the last time I flew this flight, but she had no answer. Oh well, I was thankful for what I was getting, it was a lot better than I would have had in coach.
After I finished the meal I fell back to sleep, waking up shortly before our on-time arrival in Austin. I was home by 11:30 a.m.
It had been a very long weekend, but a fun one. I enjoyed riding the ferry, I enjoyed my visit to Bainbridge Island, I enjoyed my meal at Café Nola and strange as this may sound, I actually enjoyed the quiet time sitting in the airport Saturday night reading. I flew from Seattle to Chicago to Austin in First Class, and got home on time. I picked up 4,888 EQMs, and 6,106 total miles. I have almost 38,000 EQMs, which means I only need another 12,000 to earn Platinum status. And I have 996,000 lifetime miles in my account: the next time I fly I’ll cross the 1 million mile mark and earn life time Gold status.
All in all, it was a great weekend!
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