How the other half live

Introduction

I’ve had more requests to get this report written up than any other! Possibly because nobody thought I’d actually go through with it… or possibly because people like to read about me being in pain… either way, here it is :)

It was any other day at work, and I was in a meeting discussing how the hell to get a project kicked off… and 10 minutes later I’d agreed to go to our office in Cincinnati for a week.

Great ‚Äì I haven’t travelled on business for a while, so it’ll be good get back in the seat again. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the seat I was used to… I would be flying Delta. In economy. Yes, it turns out that there is something behind that curtain in Business Class (which is sometimes quite hard to see when you’re sat in First Class!)

I had a week to plan for it… which wasn’t much. Ordinarily I would book my own ticket on miles to fly in Business/First Class, but I would be flying out with two other people on my project, so I did the sociable thing stuck with it.

I’d never flown with Delta or any of the Sky Team airlines, so I had a bit of research to do. The first thing to note was that Delta aren’t your typical American airline that will upgrade you the moment you flash a 20 dollar bill in their general direction when flying long haul.

There was one possible in-road though – Delta will match your status on another airline to their middle tier which might help. I gave them a call, but the agent had never heard of BA. So I followed standard protocol and hung up, waited 3 minutes, and rang back. This time the agent was much more helpful and said that I just needed to fax across a copy of my BA Gold card and all would be sorted in 48 hours! Result.

48 hours later… nothing. I emailed them and was told they’d process my fax in 5 working days. That would be the day before I flew… too close. I emailed back to ask if they could speed things up a little… and got a reply saying they had passed it on to their “elite‚Äù team, and I should have an answer within 10-14 days! Just to be sure I wrote back to see how the use of the elite team benefitted me, and was told 4-6 weeks. There was no way I would be moving my business to Delta! Fail.

Next up… the hotel. I would be staying in a hotel I had no status with; the Hyatt Regency. Again a little research showed that if I faxed proof of regular stays with another hotel, they would give me their top tier status; Diamond. So… I sent off the fax… and the next day I was Diamond! Result. I then read up on their website about the benefits of my new found status… and one of which was an upgrade to a suite for stays of up to 7 nights. A quick call to Hyatt and I’d been upgraded to their VIP suite! Oh yes…

London Gatwick – Cincinnati in Delta Economy


I tried checking in online before the flight, but no such luck ‚Äì maybe because I was on a British passport or maybe because it was an international flight… either way, it wasn’t having any of it. Not that I cared too much as I’d already selected my seat.

I live around 10 minutes from Gatwick, so a taxi was the obvious option. I pulled up 2 hours before the flight and checked in. There was no queue at the business desks, and although I technically wasn’t entitled to use them, I thought I’d ask if they would be “looking for people to upgrade‚Äù. Nope. But I did get a fast track sticker out of it! A Winnie the Pooh plaster would have been more use…

As I went through security it seemed I had a sticker on my forehead reading “Pick Me‚Äù because I got stopped and searched at every possible opportunity. Eventually I made it through and met my colleagues at the Sea Food Bar just inside the departure lounge.

After breakfast we went to the BA Terraces lounge (thanks to my BA Gold card) for a few glasses of champagne in a vain attempt to numb the forthcoming pain. It didn’t work, and so when the board showed “Final Call‚Äù we decided to make our way to the gate.


As I boarded the 767 from the front and walked back through the business class cabin… I was almost pleasantly surprised how poor the business cabin was ‚Äì it was almost a relief. I know I was sat in economy, but I felt more sorry for the people who’d paid to sit in business class. Their cabin offered extra leg room… and that’s about it. The seats were tatty, and only reclined ‚Äì they did not convert into beds like almost every other airline in the skies!

I found my seat on row 23, near the front of the economy cabin. My “amenity kit‚Äù was waiting for me on my seat… it consisted of ear plugs, a mask, and earphones just sat in a pile (not even in a cheap Virgin-style envelope).


For the first time in as long as I can remember I sat and worried about who might be sitting next to me! Fortunately as they announced over the PA that they were closing the doors, the seat next to me was still empty… result :)

I took off my jacket and looked for the seat-back hook on which to hang it… no hook. Not so much as a bit of plastic to prevent me having to fold up my jacket and stick it in the overhead locker.

Leg room was… limited ‚Äì my knees literally touched the seat in front! Thank God nobody was sat next to me, and that the seat rest could be raised making it one very wide seat with no leg room (sort of like the new Singapore business class :)


As the purser read out what we could expect from our flight, I was impressed by the wines on offer; there was “Red, White and Regular‚Äù. The mind boggles.

As I settled back in my seat (like I had a choice to sit any other way), the safety video displayed on the overhead screens… and I really, really, really cannot even begin to fathom what the hell was going through Delta’s heads when they thought it would be a good idea to target the safety video at the under 5-year-olds. The insane blonde crew member on the video wags her fingers to say smoking is not allowed, as the staff do over-cheesy smiles they add twinkle effects to their teeth, and I nearly choked on my regular wine when I was warned to stay seated if I experience “rough air‚Äù.

The video has to be seen… so here it is:

Speaking of videos… the 767 had no seat-back screens, so there was no choice in what we could watch. First up was Quantum Of Solace, which I decided to watch while I chewed my way through lunch. The option had been vast and wide ranging… Chicken or Beef.

I chose the Chicken, which I believe was the bit in the middle of the dish. Unfortunately there was no way of telling what the green or orange stuff was, even after tasting.


Later on in the flight we were given “Pizza in a box‚Äù. Having opened the box to reveal the pizza, I decided to eat the box instead.

I’d been to see Stephen Fry talk a few days before, and bought his book on America. I flicked through to the opening paragraph on my destination; Ohio. It read: “I wish I could tell you of great adventures enjoyed in Ohio. I am photographed at the state line and… well, that is it‚Äù.

Oh dear.


Somehow I managed to ride out the remainder of the 9 hour flight. I was lucky to have 2 seats to myself; I can’t begin to imagine what 9 bold upright hours in a single seat would have been light… I daren’t think about it too much!

As they announced our arrival in Cincinnati, the relief tingled throughout my body. We disembarked and walked through to the baggage claim area for my colleagues to collect their luggage. Once collected they had to walk a few hundred metres with it, and then put it on another conveyor belt to be scanned. Again. I was glad I was only taking hand luggage.

When they eventually collected their luggage again, we made our way to the taxi rank and we were on our way to our hotel. Oddly enough the Cincinnati airport isn’t even in the same state as Cincinnati (it’s actually in Kentucky), but there wasn’t really anything to mark the change of state as we crossed the border.

The Hyatt Regency, Cincinnati, Ohio


The taxi pulled up to the front of the hotel (well, near the front ‚Äì he missed the entrance!) and we headed to check in. First thing to note was that there was no priority check in desks for Diamond (or any other level) status. Fortunately I was next in line, because when we’d finished checking in the queue was at least 10 people deep.

The check in agent confirmed my upgrade and provided me with key cards and breakfast vouchers.

I was on the 21st floor (one from the top) so I was grateful that the key cards worked! The suite was the size of three standard rooms, and as such I had the choice of three doors to enter by.



The sitting room was impressively large, with a 3 piece sofa suite and television at one end, and a dining table with 6 chairs (and overhead lights that didn’t work!) and a kitchen/bar area at the other. The bar area was by far the biggest waste of time… as there was no mini bar. There was however a big fridge/freezer. Which was empty.


The bedroom was reasonably comfortable, with a king sized bed, television and view over of the river. There were two bathrooms – 1 in the bedroom and one in the sitting room. They were both identical, which was definitely a waste as they both crap. They both had combined bath & showers, where the bath was too shallow to be a proper bath, and the shower was too weak to be a decent shower.

The room was also quite dated and could definitely have done with a refurb ‚Äì I’m not sure it justifies the name “VIP suite‚Äù ‚Äì the reality is it’s a decent size but lacking everything a VIP might want.


On check in I’d been given the option of a few gifts because of the Diamond status, and I’d chosen local beers and home baked cookies. These came promptly and the beers went straight in the fridge. Well, what I thought was the fridge… in actual fact the fridge was set to below zero… so it was less a fridge/freezer, more a freezer/freezer.


The hotel has wireless access provided by T-mobile – my rate had wireless internet included, so I charged it to my room and by the time I checked out it had been removed from the bill.

Champs Bar

Champs is a classic American sports bar with a restaurant attached. It has everything you need after a long flight – a decent range of beers, sports on the telly, friendly staff, pool tables, and most importantly – burgers.

As we entered the bar there was a big welcome sign for our company as we were the hotel’s Company Of The Month!


We spent quite a bit of time in the bar – mainly because it was always on the way to and from our rooms!

Out and about in Cincinnati

The first morning I was up early, so decided to go for a walk to get my bearings. I found my office 5 minutes from the hotel, and then walked down to the river that marks the state border between Ohio and Kentucky. I walked across the Roebling Bridge to Kentucky where you get a great view of the Cincinnati skyline… it’s not New York, but it’s not bad either. Not the best weather for it though unfortunately.


The Reds Game

On our first day in the US office, we paid a visit to the lovely ladies on reception who very kindly sorted us out with 4 tickets to a Baseball game, seeing the Cincinnati Reds taking on the Milwaujee Brewers. As there were 3 of us, that left 1 ticket for a lucky employee of my choice… so in the interests of networking I invited the boss’s boss :)

It was raining, so while we waited for the weather to clear we went for a quick beer in the bar outside of the stadium. A few rounds later the sun was shining, so we made our way over to the stadium.


We settled into our seats, which were remarkably close to seats occupied by Brewers fans. To prevent any misunderstanding, I purchased a few discrete items of kit worn only by the true fans:


We made the most of the food and beverage offerings, sampling the wieners (which never fails to get a snigger), pizza, weird skyline chili things, peanuts and most types of beers.


As the game started… the first Reds pitcher threw the first ball and… bosh ‚Äì went for miles. In fact by the end of the first innings the Reds were 9-0 down. I have no idea what that means, but I know it’s not great because my boss was getting me to yell things at our pitcher like “Bronson you SUCK!‚Äù and “My mooom could pitch better than you, and she doesn’t even play baseball‚Äù

Bottom line was, we lost, but we didn’t hang around to watch the end ‚Äì by about half time (which I don’t think they even have) we left to head back to hotel for a few beers before bed.

Mitchell’s Fish Restaurant

Over in New Port (Kentucky) is a great fish restaurant… we ate here on our first night, and missing home I ordered Fish and Chips… but before the waitress left I asked her to describe the chips to me ‚Äì I’ve been caught out before when I’ve ordered chips and been given crisps ‚Äì I can think of few things more gutting. Anyway ‚Äì the fish and chips were excellent, and I’d definitely return…

…not that the guy behind us would want us to. I don’t know why he didn’t take a shine to us, but the ice cube down his back can’t have helped… oops!

Bootsy’s

Bootsy’s is a new restaurant in downtown Cincinnati with a great balcony bar area, which was our first port of call. Every new place I visit, I like to try the mojitos. Bootsy’s was something of a treat as it offered a variety of different flavoured mojitos, ranging from the normal mint mojito, to cranberry and mango ones (the latter looked like the barman had cut his finger while making it).

Either way, they all tasted fab, and it was a great way to chill before dinner. I asked a US colleague what food they served, and he replied “Toppers‚Äù. I had no idea what a Topper was, but after a few drinks it sounded interesting, so we went inside and took our seats.

It turns out, that Toppers is actually the American pronunciation of Tapas, and having lived in Spain for a year, I was well aware of what Tapas was :)

It was actually a Tapas and Sushi fusion… something that should never work… but was actually fantastic. The quality of the food was very good, and the staff were great too.

Leaving The ‘Nati

On the last night, I asked the front desk if I could extend my checkout the following day to around 5pm – this was no problem, and as a Diamond card holder they were happy to waive any fees. The others checked out that morning and left their bags in my room, and as it had 2 bathrooms it gave us a chance to finish work at 3:30ish and grab showers before the flight.

At about 4pm I was just finishing the packing when I heard the door at the far end of the suite being unlocked by a key card and opening, followed by “Come on in guys‚Äù… and an all-American family began to pile into my room! The staff at the front desk hadn’t bothered to check if I was checked out yet, and had given the next guests their room keys and sent them up!

Fortunately it wasn’t a Fish Called Wanda moment, but 15 minutes before I was in the shower and wouldn’t have heard them!

I rang guest services, and they said they’d “let the front desk know‚Äù… I was actually expecting some sort of apology! When I went down to check out, they did apologise, but I just didn’t get the feeling that this was unusual, and that worries me somewhat…

Cincinnati – London Gatwick on Delta Economy

There was no putting it off any more, and the taxi ride to the airport confirmed it – I was flying back on Delta Economy that evening.

The day before the flight, my Delta Gold status match had come through, but when I spoke to an agent about upgrades or the benefits, they said my status wouldn’t actually take effect on this flight as I was already half way through an itinerary! Pathetic.

Regardless, I used the elite queue when checking in at the airport ‚Äì I wasn’t going to let their rubbish IT systems force me to use the economy check queues. I think the member of staff at the business/first check-in desk had just been informed that Santa wasn’t real, because he couldn’t have been more unappreciative of people being around him at this difficult time.

There were no queues at passport control or security, and following the looooong walk to Concourse B, it was time for a beer and a burger‚Ķ there was no way I’d be eating the plane food again.

I did pop into the business/first class lounge to have a quick look (courtesy of my Priority Pass card) ‚Äì it was as large as it was grey, and is great if you’re looking for somewhere devoid of personality or warmth.

I went to a customer services desk to see if they could remove and re-add my delta number so that my status would show, but computer-says-no was the order of the day, so they manually wrote my status and boarding priority on my boarding pass.

The flight started boarding around 40 minutes before departure, and as I joined the queue with the other elites and business class passengers I wondered if there was any hope of sleep on the flight home.

I was in row 18, which was the 4th row of economy. Yet again I found myself sat in my seat wondering whether my companion for the flight would be a Kylie Minogue or a Michelle McManus. Actually it turned out to be more of an Eminem, so unless he started spitting out rhymes in my ears throughout the flight, he wasn’t going to be too intrusive.

That said… as doors closed I spotted the front row of economy was empty, so I grabbed my “amenity kit‚Äù and moved up a few rows. I “enjoyed‚Äù the extra 3 inches of leg room and was quite settled… until I realised the centre arm rests didn’t fold up. So that was it… my whole night time flight would be spent upright. Balls.

I declined all food and drink, I didn’t watch any films, I just put my eye mask on, shoved as many ear plugs as I could find in my ears, and tried to go to sleep.

In total, I reckon I managed about 30 minutes of sleep. 30 minutes on a 9 hour flight. I have never had so little sleep on a flight, with or without the aid of alcohol. I honestly don’t know how people fly regularly overnight in economy ‚Äì it just doesn’t seem worth it.

When the captain announced we were landing in 20 minutes, I hadn’t felt relief like it since Atomic Kitten announced they were splitting. While I love flying out of Heathrow because it’s a nice airport with fab lounges, I love flying into Gatwick for the green countryside that surrounds it ‚Äì it makes me realise how much I’ve missed it.

From then on, things looked up. When we left the plane it took 3 minutes to reach the taxi door (thanks to IRIS working perfectly and no hand luggage). 15 minutes later I was climbing into bed to try and get some sleep before facing the day ahead.

The Aftermath

Did it kill me? No. Would I do it again? No. Flying long haul economy, especially on a plane which doesn’t even have seat-back IFE screens, just doesn’t make sense when a few easily earned frequent flyer miles will get you there and back in business for less cost.

Why did I do it? Well… friends from work were also travelling, so it was the sociable thing to do. Oh, and so that I could give a well rounded and balanced view for reporting on schofs.com. And now that I’ve got the economy report out of the way, all the rest can be in Business and First. Thank God for that!