UA960 IAD-SJU B757 seat 9A

I haven’t been to Dulles in ages (some 25 years, in fact), but it looks just like any other older US airport: crowded and grim. I paid a rip-off price for a Nokia charger, a more reasonable price for a footlong Subway, and sequestered myself in the dark and gloomy cubicles of the business section of the Red Carpet Club until it was time to fly on.

And now a mainline UA flight, not that anything seems very different. I again lucked out with not just a Economy Plus seat, but one of the ones right in front of the door, with ludicrous legroom (but no place to stow your bags). Inflight entertainment was provided by the Flaming Latinos, a pair of, um, very intimate stewards who kept up a patter of rapidfire Spanglish with each other (“…that guy uah te digo que muy guapo and then when Juan said like oh my god voy a quitarle al mondongo un peso de encima…“) and did their best to crack each other up during any public announcements.

Drink service was the usual: OJ and pretzels. Thanks to the Great Terrorist Hunt, the seatbelt sign was kept on for 30 minutes until we were well and duly clear of the capital.

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UA1470 LAS-IAD A320 seat 10D

Despite living in the US for the better part of five years, I don’t think I really understood just how much Americans drive until I returned a rental car at LAS. I’ve seen 10-million-pax-a-year airports that are considerably smaller than the rental car depot here, complete with wings for different airlines, err, rental agencies and automated check-out machines, and the shuttle buses to the airport itself are packed despite leaving at 30-second intervals.

Once there, the agent at check-in just rolled her eyes when I asked if there was a lounge I could use. Then again, this, too, makes perfect sense when you think about it with Vegas logic — there are slot machines all the way to the gates, and not a few glassy-eyed people pumping the bandits’ arms at 7 AM in the morning.

Like my flight in, this flight was operated by Ted, and as it’s a 4.5-hour flight, he (it?) gave me two tasteless biscuits in addition to a glass of juice, and graciously allowed us the opportunity to purchase a Snack Pack. Thank you, Ted! But Ted did also give me an Economy Extra seat, and I had the foresight to stuff myself with breakfast first, so I’m not going to complain too loudly.

XM Satellite Radio’s “BPM” channel gives me the chills. I can’t believe they’re playing Detroit techno and supa-frooty trance, and OMG does it feel good after a week of solid country music, if interleaved with the occasional “Nacho Nacho” courtesy of Punjabi superstar Sarbjit Cheema. (Click the link. You know you want to.)

 

UA1540 SFO-PHX A320 seat 4A

We were in SFO almost an hour ahead of scheduled time. Immigration was painless, and the officer even managed to make me laugh by asking why I never smile. (‘Coz you aren’t allowed to in Finnish passport photos.) After its NRT adventure, my bag was unsurprisingly among the first to come out, and I embarked on a semi-circular quest to find my check-in counter — I thought I had an America West flight codeshared as UA, a double mistake at that as “America West” turned into US Airways some time ago, but no, it turned out to be the real thing. Or at least almost: this was my first encounter with the faceless, amorphous, omnipresent entity known only as Ted. There were no earlier UA flights, although I could, theoretically, have gotten onto an HP flight that left 30 minutes earlier, in exchange for spending umpty-ump minutes trying to endorse my RTW over to them — no thanks. But with grandmotherly kindness, Ted gave me an Economy Plus seat.

It was my first visit to SFO, and while it’s heads and shoulders above LAX (which is why I routed this way), seeing signs proclaim it the best airport in the US was a little depressing: surely you could do a little better? The TSA security carnival seemed positively painless compared to LHR last year (although that bit with the shoes was still ludicrous). Only one problem now: I was dog-tired and in severe danger of falling asleep, but I had no watch, my cellphone’s battery was dead and my charger doesn’t like 110V, so I couldn’t set an alarm. The Red Carpet Club was packed to the rafters, but I managed to snag a seat and, through a minor miracle, even get free wireless thanks to some bizarre T-Mobile/Vista crosspromotion thingy, valid until the end of the month to boot — just long enough to cover the US portion of my trip, and just the distraction device I needed to keep me awake. Spiffy.

Dodging somebody else’s projectile vomit all over the men’s bathroom, I eventually headed out of the lounge to find a refugee camp assembling at the gates. Both had Ted flights, and both were late, mine by 20 minutes — but the one to Vancouver, scheduled to leave half an hour before me, was still there as we pulled back.

As expected, the plane was a museum piece, but I was again a little surprised to find an Airbus in this land of Boeings. Oppressively chirpy video announcements told me that Ted wants me to do all kinds of things, including following instructions and fasten my seatbelt. As soon as we were airborne and in the impenetrable fog, I stuck in my earbuds, put on my eyeshades, closed the windowshades and drifted off into a twilight zone of fitful, unfulfilling sleep.