Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tokyo to Des Moines - via Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Minneapolis

I'm in Des Moines about to head to the Iowa Cubs game. Getting here was interesting: flying to Salt Lake City and then on to Chicago, where I spent Friday evening. I was too late to see the White Sox game live but watched some of it on TV to re-acclimate to western society. Saturday morning was a short flight to Minneapolis where I rented a car and then drove south to the Iowa capital. The picture below is Milwaukee Airport - unfortunately I couldn't pick out Miller Park from the air.

The Mississippi River just southeast of St. Paul

The trip itself was uneventful but there's a couple of tips that might be found useful that I want to mention.

Picking a Plane

When booking a long-haul flight, it's important to consider not only the airline but also the type of plane to be used. In most cases, you don't have much of a choice, the airline only uses one aircraft type on a given route. But if you are not flying directly to your destination, you might be able to improve the experience by knowing the difference between planes. A perfect example of this is Delta Airlines, which uses 4 different planes on its routes from Narita to the US.

For the larger destinations such as Los Angeles, Detroit, and Minneapolis, the 747 is used. These old birds were inherited from Northwest and lack newer amenities such as personal TVs (PTVs) that make long flights more enjoyable. I try to avoid these but they are the most dominant jet that Delta uses. Portland is serviced by a 767 which I have yet to fly on but which I've been told is not that comfortable. Flights to Atlanta are on the 777, which is a much nicer option with all the modern amenities. Finally, the A330 is used on less popular destinations such as Seattle and Salt Lake City.

On the flight to Chicago I took yesterday, I had several connection options, but chose to fly via SLC because it was an A330 and I had yet to be to that airport. The seat setup on the A330 (2-4-2) is much more comfortable than the other planes and it has the PTVs which allow you to watch a movie at any time with the ability to pause, rewind, fast forward, etc. (Older systems show a loop of the movies and if you miss the start, you are out of luck).

So when you fly, check all your options and use Seat Guru to check the options available on the different flights.

As an aside, one of the movies I saw was called "The Damned United". It's about Brian Clough who managed Leeds United for 44 days back in 1974. It's a great sports movie, no happy ending, just a true story with great acting. I knew nothing of the story and was transfixed. It helps if you know the basics of English football, but otherwise this movie is easily accessible for any sports fan.

Salt Lake Immigration

Salt Lake City is not an international destination for many tourists. And their airport reflects this. The flight arrived 40 minutes early but we weren't allowed to disembark because the immigration authorities weren't prepared. Another flight had just arrived and the size of the customs and immigration area isn't big enough to handle two planeloads. So we spent a further 30 minutes in our seats. Once we were allowed off, we still had to wait for about another 30 minutes as they had to clear the previous plane before they could begin doing ours. Passengers were bemused but generally good-natured, likely due to the jet lag after a 10-hour flight. Still, it's something to be aware of if you have a tight connection.

O'Hare Security

The flight from Chicago to MSP is just over an hour. That's almost the same amount of time I spent in the security line-up. They had a new machine that did full body scans but I was spared it this time around. But it slowed things down even more than usual and I was glad I got there 2 hours early. I'm not sure how much longer the silliness that masquerades as US airport security will continue but it's not getting any better. For short flights though, driving is becoming more and more the better option.

Speaking of driving, the final bit of the trip was a 3.5-hour journey from MSP to my hotel in Des Moines. It was done entirely on I-35 and I arrived in time to catch the last 30 minutes of the World Cup's 3rd place game. I much prefer to take roads other than interstates, but the World Cup takes priority. Once that's done tomorrow, I plan to take some scenic Iowa drives over the next few days and make this blog about road trips as well as sports.



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