London Underground at Heathrow Airport

I’ve been in the UK nearly a week but it’s been a bit hectic and I haven’t had a chance to catch up. Mostly, we’ve been packing up G.’s flat or designating what’s rubbish so we haven’t done any touristy things or day trips. I did think I’d blog about the arrival process this time around because it was a bit different from my usual arrival routine.

Normally, I change terminals to connect to a domestic flight from Heathrow to Manchester. This time, when I made my travel arrangements, I though G. would be working and didn’t fancy sitting and waiting in an airport for a few hours until he got off work. I decided to take the scenic route instead. I made my flight plans and then booked a train ticket from Euston station to Manchester, to arrive about the time he’d get off work. A few weeks later, he informed me he’d be finishing work the week before so he would have been off but it was too late. Never mind, it would give him the day to continue to work on clearing things out.

So. The overnight flight  was pretty comfortable since it wasn’t full. I had the whole center set of 3 seats to myself. I sat in the middle because the passenger ahead of my original seat promptly reclined the seat which, though I understand because it’s more comfortable, I still find annoying. I enjoyed not having to change terminals, either because that’s often such a zoo, crowds and queues. Even so, though we arrived at Terminal 2  a bit early, it was a very long walk to get from the gate to the customs and immigration area, longer that it used to take when Air Canada used Terminal 3 and even that wasn’t always a short walk, though it could be depending on where the arrival gate was.

There weren’t many people in the line up, that’s always nice when you’re been awake for nearly 24 hours (I was up at 6 a.m. and didn’t sleep on the plane more than dozing once or twice) I got a bit of a third degree grilling from the border guard. I am always honest and I told him I was coming in to take my husband home to Canada. He wanted to know why I didn’t move to the UK. Cheeky. One thing I do notice, if you start to go into a lot of extra detail, they soon lose interest! I only had carryon baggage so I was off to the underground train to get into the city. I have an UK sim card and found a place to top that up on the way. I was surprised the sim card hadn’t expired because it was a little over 6 months since I last topped up or used it. Win win.

Rather than taking the Heathrow Express into Paddington Station which will cost £22 if you buy the ticket on the day though you can get better deals booking two weeks or 90 days in advance. It takes 15 minutes but there’s an alternative called the Heathrow Connect.That’s a £10 fare in to Paddington, running every 30 minutes as opposed to the Express 15 minute frequency and it takes 30 minutes to get there because it stops 4 or 5 times. I wasn’t in a rush so I got a ticket at the kiosk for the Connect. I just missed one train so I had to wait a half hour but got there eventually, and took a taxi to Euston Station. That cost a bit more than I expected but it is a bit of a distance and midday traffic in London isn’t going to make for a brisk journey, either.

Now I’ve got a couple of hours to kill but as I have a first class ticket, I thought the first class lounge would be nice, relaxing and quiet. Not expecially, it was nearly filled with people, but at least there were places to sit down and free tea, coffee, snacks and drinks.

Time to head to the platform. I waited, standing with the crowds in the main station area for about 15 minutes until the platform was shown. At the gate through, where you feed in your ticket, I am absolutely positive I spotted an actor from my favourite tv soap, Coronation Street, going through beside me. She’s Helen Worth who plays Gail Platt/McIntyre/Rodwell (and a few other last names over the years). Sadly, she didn’t get on my car. The journey was comfortable with a free light lunch and hot tea to keep my caffeine levels up. No booze for me. I’d be under the table!

It’s a dull, overcast day. It always seems to be whenever I arrive here. I’ve been here 6 days and I think we’ve only seen the sun very briefly a couple of times. Over the time here, we’ve done a lot of packing and putting stuff in bags. We did make time to visit with friends, seeing three different groups yesterday including a lovely long lunch at a pub in a town called Knutsford. Last minute packing today, checking around for smaller things and tomorrow the removal company comes and the shipping company comes. There are last minute errands to do and we’ll check into a hotel overnight, drop the keys off on Wednesday morning and head to the old city of Ipswich.

Wifi in the sky

Using the wifi on the train

Using the wifi on the train

The availability of Wifi during a flight is not new. It’s been around a good 5 – 8 years but in Canada, the two major airlines, Westjet and Air Canada, have only been offering it since 2014 and that, only on domestic flights. This was something I wasn’t aware of since I haven’t flown either of them inside Canada in that time frame. I read today that Air Canada is going to offer wifi via satellite in the fall on their international wide body aircraft. You might know I’d miss it by 6 months!

What the press release doesn’t tell you is how much it will cost because you know damn well they aren’t going to give you something for free. Air Canada has been hitting customers with fees for everything it seems, more and more and I’m sure most of the other airlines are on the same bandwagon. Even though the cost of fuel has gone down, the “fuel surcharge” hasn’t gone away. They just call it “surcharge” now which is just a vile money grab. A ticket to the UK  more than doubles from the base flight fare due to high landing costs at Heathrow and those damn surcharges. But I digress.

Since I wouldn’t expect the wifi onboard to be free, I’m curious what the charges will be. According to this CBC article, the wifi service on Air Canada uses the Gogo network service and the costs seem to be $5 an hour and $16 for a full day pass (which you can buy on their website) which is useful if you’re transferring to another flight. Westjet has their own service, Westjet Connect,  and they’re charging  a stinging $5 per HALF hour but, more reasonably, $8 for a flight pass. But Westjet Connect is also part of their inflight entertainment system, using a free Westjet app or a web browser on a laptop, and if you use it for that, it’s free, it’s only the internet part that costs you.

From where I live, aside from a few short regional hops where there’s barely time to boot up the device anyway, most flights are going to be a minimum 90 minutes. I expect AC will charge you two full hours even if the flight is less than that. Westjet’s flight pass seems like a good deal, especially if you’re going to take their new summer non-stop service from Halifax to Vancouver! That’s about a 6 hour flight, by the way. To get to Vancouver from Halifax on Air Canada there’s at least one stop, Toronto or possibly Calgary if you’re lucky, then another jump to the west coast. The day pass would be a nice thing to have.

Now they’re going to have it on international flights. I’ve waited all these years of being at the mercy of their in flight entertainment system, frustrated by headphones or the jack that doesn’t work quite right, interruptions on the screen every time there’s any announcement. Now the frequency of my international flights may be reduced just when the ways of killing time on a long flight are getting more interesting! I wonder if the fees will be higher, though, since it’s not the ground to air Gogo system but relying on satellite. There’s nothing I can find on Air Canada’s site yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s higher. Still, I’m sure people will pay it. I might not be likely to on an overnight flight unless I need to contact someone for a flight delay, that sort of thing, but I probably would for a daytime flight.

There’s no word if Westjet will follow suit. They have been venturing across the ocean to the British Isles recently offering spring to autumn service to Gatwick, Dublin and, I think, Glasgow which is their newest destination. As much as I prefer Air Canada mainly because I’m a larger person and there’s a bit more room on the wide body aircraft, a direct flight to Glasgow or Vancouver is tempting and I think Westjet is part of the same rewards system as British Airways to which I belong (OneWorld) as opposed to Air Canada’s Star Alliance membership.

Even now, you can get wifi in most airports. Some are free, some are not. There’s free wifi on a lot of transportation these days though Canadian transportation still has a little way to go. Via Rail does provide it for free on many of its trains though on one long distance service, it’s only in some areas of the train. “the cars nearest the dining car” is how they put it, according to their website. I guess that’s where the hub is!

In the UK, we’ve taken advantage of free wifi on Virgin trains albeit in the first class car. It’s available in the whole train, but it’s pay as you go in regular class. In the US, it was free on the airport bus into New York. I suppose ground transportation makes it easier but even so, it’s still offered free with the price of your ticket. Since the price of airline tickets with the associated charges are so high now, why not offer it as another optional fee when you book?

With many planes now providing USB ports as well as electrical outlets and with wifi becoming more common, I guess flying won’t be quite so dull in future.  Now if we could just have more comfortable seats and better food….

Ready to go

Air Canada's 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

Air Canada’s 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

In the past, I’d have my suitcase out and would have started throwing things into it a good 2 weeks ahead of my departure date, things like my maps and books, UK electrical gear, that sort of thing. The weekend before leaving would be laundry day and then I’d pack most of my clothes, leaving pieces I rarely wear for the few days leading up to the date to wear to work. Last minute stuff goes in my carry on bag the night before and just before zipping up. The most important things go in my handbag, including, obviously, passport, wallet, medications. I take a different wallet than my normal everyday one. It’s got fewer pockets and card slots, a bigger pocket for change and usually two separated places for bills. Foreign currency goes in one, Canadian in the other because I’ll probably need some at the airport.

Over the years, the advance time that the suitcase is on the bedroom floor seems to be shorter, often I don’t get it out until the weekend before. I’m leaving this week for the UK again but only taking my rolling carryon bag. The trip is about 10 days long but I think I can manage with what clothes I can fit plus my electronic gear and assorted cables. The number of those grows! I’m not taking my small laptop this time since it mainly isn’t a trip where we’ll be doing any other traveling or sightseeing so I won’t be writing a travelogue or probably taking too many photos that i would want to back up.

passport_leafWe will, though, be visiting Ipswich for a couple of days with a hop over to Bury St. Edmunds for a lunch/brunch. I don’t know how much of the cities we’ll get to see, though I’d like to have a look at the city centres of both even if just for an hour or so. Both are quite old and would probably have some really nice architecture. My husband will have a laptop with him so if I do take some photos, I can always load them on that for safekeeping and if we have wifi access, put them on one of the cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox or even Microsoft.

At least I will have a backup copy on the laptop. I learned that lesson well when we went to Rome. I transferred my photos to the laptop nightly. A few days after we got back, my camera died and the SD card got corrupted. I only lost a few pictures I’d taken that day and still had all my photos of Rome on the laptop.  (And you know what? The replacement camera I got, same make and model, started going the same way after another 2 years, though the first one had started dying after only a few months. But that’s another story.)

Since I’m leaving midweek, my rolling bag is nearly packed and there’s a stack of things I need to put in my handbag ready to go. All my papers and reservations are printed out, saved on Google drive or Gmail and I’ll double check that before I go, as well. Online check in a few hours before getting to the airport. Pray to the travel gods that the flight is relatively ok and that I can maybe keep an empty seat beside me. That’s a 50/50 crap shoot since the airline usually oversells but I am hoping a mid week flight will be somewhat less busy. March break is over, the tourist season has yet to really kick in. I always try to get an aisle seat in the middle section of three. The center seats are usually the last ones people pick or they try to move out of if they can once we’re airborne.

I love to travel, but I really don’t find the transport aspect of getting there all that much fun. At least after this, for future overnight flights, my husband and I will be traveling together and I don’t mind getting up close and personal, sharing a confined space with him.

1954 MG

1954 MG. Not my rental car this time but it would be pretty cool if it was!

Once I hit the ground in the morning, I have to get into London which means a hike through the underground tunnels under Heathrow to the train station and then a cab from Paddington to Euston station where I should have a few hours’ wait until the train to Manchester. I bought an advance first class ticket so I will be able to take advantage of the first class lounge! While I’ve made the journey in first class in the past, I’ve never been in the station long enough to bother with the lounge so if there’s enough time, it’ll be something new! A free cup of tea at the very least and, according to the website for the station, the possibility of free “light” snacks. There’s lunch sorted. Arrive at Manchester Piccadilly and over to pick up the rental car and then home.

It’ll be a long day.  Bring it on.