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#930976 by mitchja
06 Jan 2017, 13:42
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After 6 fantastic days in San Francisco it was time to head home. I'd managed to do a few new things on this trip even though I've been to San Francisco several times before. Finally paid a visit to Coit Tower as well as Golden Gate Park including the California Academy of Science (there's a fantastic indoor rain forest there), the De Young Museum viewing tower and the Japanese Tea Gardens which are all worth a visit.

The weather had been nice and dry pretty much the whole time I was there, apart from my last day there.

I'd done OLCI using the app the previous day. Received a text + email from VS informing me of a 30minute delay on this evenings flight home which did set alarm bells ringing somewhat as I had an advance purchase 16:07 VTEC train to catch from King's Cross (more on this later).

I left the InterContinental on Howard Street just before 16:00, making full use of my extended checkout and headed back to SFO using the BART again. The weather in San Francisco was wet and windy and it got progressively worse as the day went on.

Soon arrived at the International terminal where I headed straight to VS check-in where I was again informed about the 30 minute departure delay. Check-in was quick and efficient.

I should have mentioned this on my out-bound flight but it looks like the red passport security stickers are no-more now, which I will miss ;-( . The old style elasticated Upper Class (and I presume Premium Economy) bag tags have now also gone. A new tag is now attached in the sticky part of the bar code bag tag (similar to how many other airlines do it). The bar code tag itself is now also printed with the words 'PRIORITY' in several places as well.

Headed up to the Clubhouse where I was warmly welcomed :) Settled in and service was great whilst I was there. It didn't seem to get very busy whilst I was there. The SFO Clubhouse do serve the best Clubhouse burgers IMHO!!

Had a quick chat with the Clubhouse manager about the new Manchester service starting at the end of March which they where all looking forward to.

Most people seemed to drift out of the Clubhouse before the flight was actually called. The priority security line wasn't too bad and I was through is a few minutes. Still no TSA-Pre for those of us that have Global Entry for International VS flights yet (though I believe this is coming sometime this year).

VS where departing from gate A3 which was a little chaos as BA where also boarding a flight at the same time from gate A1 so there where pax everywhere. Boarding was slightly delayed for some reason but finally commenced around 20:20 so there was no chance of a 20:35 departure now (original departure was 20:05).

I was again warmly welcomed onboard and directed to 6K on G-VNEW (Birthday Girl). Pre-flight drinks where too offered and the J cabin soon filled up. I think there was just 2 empty seats in the end.

Sleep suits where handed out, which I never bother with as I prefer sleeping in my own shorts + T-Shirt.

We had a total of 176 pax + crew on this evenings flight. The door was soon closed and we pushed back at 20:50. It felt like we were taxiing back to the city and finally rotated at 21:20. It was a little bumpy but this was to be expected due to the wind and rain.

Service soon started with drinks followed by dinner. As I'd eaten in the Clubhouse I just had a bowl of soup followed by the cheesecake desert. Breakfast card was filled in and handed to the crew. I did start watching a film as well.

Nipped to the washroom to change and my seat was converted to a bed and it was time to try and sleep. I must have managed a good few hours and I woke just as breakfast was being served.

I changed back to day-wear (I also always have a charge of shirt on night flights as well as I keep a clean one in my carry-on. After freshening up and having a shave (I again always carry my electric shaver in my carry on; these are perfectly OK to go through security at airports), it was time for breakfast.

My bacon butty and pancakes where very tasty. The cabin was soon secured for landing at LHR. After quite a few merry-go-rounds, we finally touched down around 15:05 (scheduled arrival time was 14:15). It was becoming more and more doubtful that I would make my 16:07 train :-O

Said my goodbyes to the crew and made my way to immigration as quick as I could, which was the usual complete and utter chaos it always is now. The 'queue' was up the ramp / steps again. I say queue but it was just a whole bunch of people really. Once you finally get to them, those new e-gates are hopeless IMHO as many people struggled to use them, you could see they where not reading passports correctly and many people where rejected and sent to the manual line. The non-UK manual passport lines where much much shorter. I'm tempted to try and use those next time. No idea what they would do?

60 seconds to get though US immigration on arrival there, 20+ minutes to get back into the UK. The system works - NOT. Welcome back to the UK!!!!

Bags started coming off pretty quickly so I sprinted down to the HEX (I'd already purchased an advance purchase ticket for this which is slightly less of a wallet shock being £16.50). 15 minute wait for the next HEX so no chance at all now I was going to make my 16:07 train from King's Cross as I still had to negotiate the tube from Paddington to King's Cross.

Gave up and headed back up to arrivals for some nicotine and to see what Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) would say. Rang them and they basically said tough; as I had an advance purchase fare for a specific train there was nothing they could or would do and I've have to pay again for another train fare. £125 later and a new anytime single standard fare was booked (I'd only paid £77 for an advance purchase First Class fare). It was suggested I get on the 18:03 VTEC service as this was direct to Skipton and it was also showing low reservation numbers so there would be plenty of seats.

Headed back down to the HEX and then the tube to King's Cross (for someone who doesn't use tube trains very often, even though it's only about 5 stops, the tube between Paddington and King's Cross is a little confusing TBH as the circle line terminates at the next stop which is Edgware Road, so you have to get off and then get back on the same tube train to carry on the King's Cross.

Once at King's Cross I collected my ticket from the self service machine. Had an hour or so to wait so hung around at King's Cross and had something to eat before getting the 18:03 train to Skipton.

Both VS and VTEC have completely washed their hands of me and have both walked away uninterested. They where both quite happy to take people's money when when things do go wrong they both walked away.

I have now claimed the £125 back on my travel insurance which was a damn site easier then trying to talk to either VS or VTEC. VS have thrown 10,000 miles at me though now (but even that took further pressing). I've still to hear from VTEC.
#930977 by deep_south
06 Jan 2017, 14:03
I do understand your annoyance, but you did book two completely seperate journeys, so VS aren't responsible for your onward connection, and VTEC simply see you as "missed the train". That;s the risk you take when you book advance / fixed tickets - that is the main reason they are cheaper then flexible tickets. And this is why you need travel insurance. I am a little suprised that they will pay out for such a (relatively|) small delay of 50 minutes on the landing time, and quitee frankly amazed that VS have given you any miles at all!

So a good end result for you if the insurance pays out. But personally I woulkd (and do) allow more time for any kind of connection that isn't all on one end to end ticket.
#930982 by Hev60
06 Jan 2017, 18:09
Hi James, enjoyed reading your trip report returning from SFO (which I shall be doing in March).

I am certainly not looking forward to the prospect of those immigration queques at Heathrow. Even makes Maimi look good and that is saying something!

Sorry to learn of your onward travel train problems but I must admit you did have a very tight window to catch that connection. I speak from someone who lives in London and experiences the London train & tube system failings on a regular basis. I cringe when I think what tourists have to put up with when visiting London. I bet your experiences of the Bart and other transport around San Francisco was far superior?

Glad you did manage to get some money back from the insurance and received the usual 10K 'shut up now' miles from VS!
#930984 by pjh
06 Jan 2017, 18:20
Hev60 wrote:
I am certainly not looking forward to the prospect of those immigration queques at Heathrow. Even makes Maimi look good and that is saying something!


Granted it was New Year's Day but we queued for all of 5 minutes to get through passport control and the e-gates. The biggest issues were with the terminally gormless who wouldn't follow instructions to use the machines at the far end (which clearly had no-one in line) and those who got upset when told that as they were in a group with children under 12 they'd have to queue at the desks.
#930985 by Hev60
06 Jan 2017, 18:26
pjh wrote:Granted it was New Year's Day but we queued for all of 5 minutes to get through passport control and the e-gates. The biggest issues were with the terminally gormless who wouldn't follow instructions to use the machines at the far end (which clearly had no-one in line) and those who got upset when told that as they were in a group with children under 12 they'd have to queue at the desks.


Oh that sounds more encouraging but I don't have one of those new 'singing and dancing' passports, so not sure I can use the e-gates and machines???? Hev
#930986 by buns
06 Jan 2017, 19:30
Hi James

Thank you for yey another super TR.

I share your view about mourning the demise of the stickers and the "Priority" is of course a Delta influence - funny how when flying Delta the Priority also give your TSA pre-clearance ;-)

Shame about the train connection and of course this will be a thing of the past when the MAN Route opens :-D

Thanks once again

buns
#930987 by pjh
06 Jan 2017, 19:50
Hev60 wrote:Oh that sounds more encouraging but I don't have one of those new 'singing and dancing' passports, so not sure I can use the e-gates and machines???? Hev


*Shocked face* I thought the circle of passport life was such that virtually all UK passports in circulation are now biometric? And aren't they mandatory for entry into the US now?
#930988 by mitchja
06 Jan 2017, 19:51
Other than the confusion with the circular line, the tube & the HEX ran just as well as the BART did and I've never experienced any problems before on the dozen or so times I've used TFL previously hence why I presumed 1hr 51mins would be adequate. HEX quote 15mins to London, TFL also quoted 13-15mins to get between Paddington and King's Cross, both of which where accurate.

What other information do people not living in London have to go off for transport times etc?

As this was the first time I'd ever used the train (probably 30 odds years ago since I'd ever set foot on a train as well) please forgive me and I'll go and sit on the naughty step for 5 mins. Next time I'll book a longer connection time!!

That was also the first time in probably 20 years that I've ever used the travel insurance I've always had.

If anything the tube was better than the BART and the circular tube carriages are clearly much newer and are brighter and cleaner than the BART carriages where. I used the Piccadilly line on the outward journey and those carriages are pretty bad I must admit.
#930993 by joeyc
06 Jan 2017, 20:41
buns wrote:I share your view about mourning the demise of the stickers and the "Priority" is of course a Delta influence - funny how when flying Delta the Priority also give your TSA pre-clearance ;-)


To avoid people getting confused on this one, the TSA pre-clearance is only readily open to those who are a member of one of the US trusted traveller programmes, such as Global Entry. Having the orange PRIORITY label clearly attached to your checked baggage is just for the benefit of the ground staff so they can more easily see which bags to load onto the reclaim belts first, in theory ;-) The elasticated luggage tags for each cabin are still around, at least they were a couple of weeks ago..

I really don't understand why either of you miss the mess that those security stickers left behind... I celebrate their 'enhancement'.

Thanks for the TR James and I am of the same opinion as deep_south. VS and VTEC don't have to give you anything for the missed connection and I'd just count my 10k 'go-away' miles with gratitude if I were you.

Overall sounds like a good flight though, aside of course for someone leaving tiny hairs from an electric razor all over the bathroom :-P
#930994 by joeyc
06 Jan 2017, 20:43
pjh wrote:
Hev60 wrote:Oh that sounds more encouraging but I don't have one of those new 'singing and dancing' passports, so not sure I can use the e-gates and machines???? Hev


*Shocked face* I thought the circle of passport life was such that virtually all UK passports in circulation are now biometric? And aren't they mandatory for entry into the US now?


They just have to be machine readable for US entry... not sure on where the cycle stands for the biometric chips though.
#930995 by Hev60
06 Jan 2017, 21:05
joeyc wrote:
They just have to be machine readable for US entry... not sure on where the cycle stands for the biometric chips though.


One day I'll be brave eough to give it a go then!

and joeyc I absolutely love your sense of humour with your latest avatar. It gives me a big laugh every time I see one of your posts :-D :-D :-D
#931000 by mitchja
06 Jan 2017, 22:02
None biometric UK passports stopped being issued towards the end of 2006, so there won't be many left now that haven't already expired.

Actually from April 2016, you have needed a biometric passport (which they call an electronic passport) to travel to the US from a VISA waiver country, otherwise you need a full VISA, details here. A machine readable passport isn't good enough now.

It was reported by several news outlets that people where being caught out by this as there were (and clearly still are) some valid none-biometric UK passports still in circulation. Here's one example

Don't forget that you can carry forward up to 9 months to a new passport from a previous one if you want to.
#931027 by pjh
07 Jan 2017, 19:22
mitchja wrote:Other than the confusion with the circular line, the tube & the HEX ran just as well as the BART did and I've never experienced any problems before on the dozen or so times I've used TFL previously hence why I presumed 1hr 51mins would be adequate. HEX quote 15mins to London, TFL also quoted 13-15mins to get between Paddington and King's Cross, both of which where accurate.

What other information do people not living in London have to go off for transport times etc?


The timing between stations is usually pretty accurate, but what the TFL website doesn't take into account is the time spent getting into / transferring within / out from the network. There are apps such as Tube Exits that will tell you which exits to use and which carriage to use / which side to stand for best access to the exit but I think even there they follow the "approved" TFL routing for passengers within the stations. This can mean several minutes added to your journey as they try to avoid clashing flows into and out of the stations and platforms. Nor can they allow for huge groups of tourists with backpacks thinking it a good idea to congregate at the foot of escalators.

I think such apps though now have real time feeds of information for the tube service which does mean you can invoke Plan B routings when there's a "failed signal / failed train / passenger under / Inspector Sands" issue.

As contingency I'd always add 10 minutes to the platform, 10 minutes at any transfer, and 10 minutes up from the platform to any journey. If you arrive early at Kings Cross there's either Granary Square to wander around and The Parcel Yard is a pretty decent pub.
#931060 by horburyflyer
08 Jan 2017, 19:12
Thanks James for a great TR. Always sad to leave the Bay Area I know. I love the SFO Clubhouse and I'm pleased to hear they are excited about the arrival of the direct MAN service. Not long now.

Sounds like a stressful end to your journey trying to get home and nothing worse than sitting around waiting for a train after a long overnight flight. Hopefully VTEC will come through on this for you but good for you in taking matters into your own hands. Had your flight been ontime, sure you would have made it with time to spare.

Thanks

Jon
#931062 by mitchja
08 Jan 2017, 19:20
Just found a photo I took of the weather as I was leaving SFO..

IMG_0664.jpg
IMG_0664.jpg (1.7 MiB) Viewed 7634 times


I cannot remember ever seeing the rain and wind that bad in San Francisco, apparently, it's even worse over there at the minute so I just got away in time!!
#931068 by honey lamb
08 Jan 2017, 20:54
James, I was in San Francisco roughly about two years ago and the wind and rain was something such as I might experience on the south west coast of Ireland - and commonly do. :-O That was the time the guy at the car rental place insisted I needed a larger car than I had booked in spite of my protests I was used to such weather. That was the car I left minus a wheel on the Golden Gate Bridge!
#931070 by Hev60
08 Jan 2017, 21:38
Yes San Francisco doesn't have the same nice weather as further south but HL must have been quite unlucky to get rain as the area has been suffering a drought for over five years. Must admit April two years ago in a Carmel we didn't have good weather either but that was apparently just a temporary blip.

The State has already had very heavy rain and flooding since October and the forcast for the next seven days is saying dangerous life threatening storms with several inches of rain in the Northern part of California. SantaCruz is already issuing sand bags to try to stop the flood water damaging homes. All roads into Yosemite were closed either by the usual snow but also because the rivers had overflowed.

Pretty dire conditions on both the east & west sides of the US :-(
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