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Thanks to everyone for your comments. Here is the return trip report.
RETURN TRIP: DFW-PHL (AA), PHL-DUB (AA), DUB-BRS (FR)
1. DALLAS Airport
We arrived at the airport via the rental car shuttle bus. We had checked in on-line but did not print out our boarding pass. One issue I was surprised by was the fact that neither our booking form or boarding pass indicated which terminal our PHL flight was flying out of. With 6 terminals in a huge area that is a potential waste of a lot of time. My wife has experienced this before at DFW and said you can still check in in any terminal and then take the monorail to the required but still! However, as we were exiting the rental car centre for the bus, a bank of departure screens showed that our flight was leaving from terminal A.
Check in was swift and we proceeded to security via the TSA PRE line. I thought you had to register to use this but it seems as though premium passengers can use this lane. I am not clear why we were allowed to use it but it meant that you could keep shoes and belts on and not take your laptop out of your bags. We were through quickly and made our way to the AA Admirals Club lounge with about 2 hours to departure.
The AA lounge here was much bigger than CLT but again divided into areas. Some of these were quite private but they didn’t have power sockets so we sat in the large central section where we could recharge phones (I had been following the Olympics on my phone on the drive to DFW and drained the battery!). Food & drink selection was similar to CLT and we helped ourselves to snacks. Again we were given a voucher for one free alcoholic drink.
We had been aware that the flight might be delayed from 1500 to 1530 so when we saw the flight marked as Boarding on the screen at 1430 we weren’t surprised. However, the lounge agent insisted that the flight was delayed to 1600 and that the departure screen indication was an error. This created a dilemma for us, stay in the lounge and trust the agent or walk down to the gate and sit around there if she was right. In the end, we decided to head for the gate and sure enough the flight was delayed to 1600 with no-one boarding. I have to say I have never seen that mistake before.
2. DALLAS to PHILADELPHIA with AMERICAN AIRLINES
By now we were getting concerned as our connection to Dublin departed PHL at 2105 and with the delayed departure, we would arrive in PHL at 2015. We asked the agent and they assured us they could put on the DUB flight tomorrow if the connection was missed but that wasn’t something we wanted to do as we had our connecting flight to Bristol tomorrow. It occurred afterwards that perhaps we could have asked them to put us on a flight to LHR instead but I don’t know if they would have done that.
Boarding eventually started at 1530 and we were first on board but it seemed to take ages to board the plane (a B737-800) so we didn’t depart until 1624. I know the precise time because the flight had wifi on board with free access to the AA website where we could track our flight status and the PHL-DUB status. We were rather obsessed with checking this during the flight as it was showing an arrival time in PHL of 2038 at gate 12 and the DUB departure at gate 24 ontime at 2105.
We thought we could catch the DUB flight but we were concerned about whether our bags would make the transfer. This raised the question as to whether AA would forward our bags to Bath if they arrived on a later flight. I am sure they would have forwarded to an Irish address but I didn’t know if they would forward to a UK address from Ireland. I pointed out to my wife that our travel insurance would probably cover the extra costs in such a situation but it wasn’t a hassle we wanted.
Anyway, back to the flight. We were seated in First class in row 1 in standard AA F seats of 38-40″ seat pitch and generally comfortable to sit in. Again F was 2-2 seating with power sockets in between the seats which we used this time. I was surprised that British plugs could be used without an adapter which was very handy. As I mentioned there was wifi but only AA sites were free and the prices for other options were way too high to consider.
Given the late hour of departure of our DUB flight, we were not planning to eat on that flight so we were looking forward to our meal on this flight. Unlike the CLT-DFW where the meal had been very disappointing, this time we had an excellent meal. I chose a chicken salad which actually consisted of a cheese & fruit salad which was very tasty in its own right with a hot breaded fillet of chicken on the side which was delicious. My wife chose a cheese ravioli which was also substantial. I forget what the dessert was but it was very satisfying.
After the meal, I used the time to work on my laptop until we started our descent into PHL. Being in row 1 meant we could be first off to race for our connection and I think we reached the gate at 2040. With only 12 gates apparently between us, we thought it would be a short stroll but it turned out that gate 12 & 24 were on separate piers. This entailed a mad rush through the terminal but we managed to get to the gate at 2050.
3. PHILADELPHIA to DUBLIN with AMERICAN AIRLINES
By that time, AA had offloaded us from the flight and our bags were being routed to Heathrow! However, the gate agent was able to put us back on the flight and the ramp agent was there and said he would try and get our bags on the flight. We boarded at 2055 not entirely sure if our bags were going to follow.
Fortunately we were still in Business class but our seats had changed. Again it was an A330 with the new AA biz class with 5 rows of 1-2-1 seating. We were given window seats on the right hand side in rows 4 & 5. This meant we weren’t able to speak to each other whilst in the seats but given that we were mainly planning to sleep this wasn’t an issue.
Given that we were planning to sleep and have breakfast in DUB this meant we didn’t sample dinner or breakfast. We did get a pre-flight drink and another after take-off. Prior to landing I had 2 cups of tea but that was it for food and drink.
We actually departed 15 mins late which gave us hope that our bags had been transferred. After take off, we both watched a film and then settled down to sleep for about 4 hours. My wife is a good sleeper on planes but I am terrible so any sleep is a bonus for me. After putting the seat in the flat position, I lied down and tried to figure out the best position. When compared with the BA seat, I frankly couldn’t see much difference in sleepability. As I like to sleep on my side with bent knees, I usually find that you can sleep on one side but not the other. In the end I worked out that it was best to sleep facing the aisle.
The pillow was not thick enough which is one of my bugbears with airlines. I was about to ask for a second pillow when I decided to try raising the seat a little. In some ways, this converted the seat from a fully flat 180 to a lie flat 170 degree seat but with a crucial difference that the footrest was unchanged. I found that a much better way to lie down as it meant with a raised head rest I had a better pillow height. Whilst somewhat broken, I did manage to get enough sleep to feel that I was reasonably rested in the morning.
A final point about the A330 AA biz class. There appears to be only 1 toilet which up front behind the cockpit. I would suspect that people in row 1 would not be greatly disturbed by people using the toilet in the middle of the night.
We landed ontime at 0845 in Dublin and proceeded through passport control without fuss and headed to baggage reclaim. The bags started coming off and ours wasn’t there. We were working on the principle that if we were last on the plane, surely our bags were last on and therefore should be first off. Just as it seemed that everyone else had got their bags, our bags appeared to our relief so well done to AA for making the transfer at PHL!
4. DUBLIN airport
By now it was about 0930 and now came the toughest part of our itinerary. Both AA & EI have 3 flights a day between DUB & BRS but they tend to follow similar rotations with an early morning, mid-afternoon and evening flights. Our flight with Ryanair was not scheduled to depart until 1455 and whilst there was an EI flight at 1400, it had been more expensive than FR. If we could have checked our bags in there and then we could have headed to the lounge to wait it out by Ryanair but do not allow bags to be checked in until 2 hours before departure at the earliest which meant we had over 3 hours to kill.
We therefore had 2 choices. First, drop our bags off at the left luggage facility (near the central bus area) and take a bus into Dublin and find somewhere for breakfast. Second, hang about in the airport until 1255. We chose the latter and first killed a bit of time with a drink in the food court area of terminal 2. After about an hour, we headed over to terminal 1 to see if we could get our bags checked in early but no luck. We then headed to food court area which is immediately above the Ryanair check-in area.
It turned out that this food court is significantly larger than terminal 2 and there is plenty of space to sit down for some peace and quiet. Even a large hen party bound for Madrid (it said so on their t-shirts!) didn’t really disturb. Again we needed power sockets and thought we had spotted some in the pillars but they turned out to be defective. Later on, I explored the area and found that the bar is probably the best place to sit with plenty of room and partial views over the apron.
After some breakfast and a game of scrabble, we had sufficiently killed time to check in at 1255. I had clean forgot to check in online the day before but this is where the Business Plus ticket of Ryanair came to the rescue as it does allow you to check in at the airport for free. I was braced for the checkin agent to try and claim otherwise but he didn’t bat an eyelid and checked us in quickly and then informed us we could use the fast-track to go through security.
Signage to the fast-track was quite poor and we initially ended up in the normal channel but an agent told us where it was and we went through it pretty quickly. We immediately headed to the Executive lounger which is up the stairs to the left after security and can be accessed with Priority Pass. This is a sizeable lounge with good lighting and an airy feel. The selection of food was quite impressive for a PP lounge with sandwiches, scones and soup and we could have had a substantial lunch had we not just had breakfast an hour ago. Note the lounge does not have its own wifi. Instead you use the airport’s wifi which is free.
Conscious from our arrival that there is a long walk from terminal to gate, we left the lounge about 45 minutes before our departure time of 1455. By the time we arrived at the gate, boarding had commenced.
5. DUBLIN to BRISTOL with RYANAIR
It felt like everyone was on board by 1440 but there is always one late arrival so we didn’t get to benefit from an early departure. This time we were in a standard seat in row 2 on the left hand side rather than the XL seat we had on the way out (there was no availability when I made the booking). Obviously seat pitch was not brilliant but I did feel that compared to EasyJet there was slightly more room due to the fact that there is no magazine rack at knee height. In fact, this creates an issue if you want to have something with you during the flight as there is no at-seat storage at all unless you are in row 1.
With only a short flight, this wasn’t an issue for us as we mainly used the flight to catch up on our sleep and didn’t bother with any food or drink. After a smooth flight, we landed on time. Unlike our arrival into DUB from BRS, this time we didn’t go through passport control so I am still confused as to why we went through passport control in Dublin. This time our bags were among the first off and we headed to catch the bus back to Bath.
The return journey was not as smooth as the outward one due to the delay in leaving Dallas leaving a tight connection in Philadelphia. Whilst AA succeeded in making sure that both us and our bags did get to Dublin, we were never clear on what the alternative would have been in the event of problems so that created some stress for us. Also a 6 hour layover in Dublin when you are tired after a transatlantic flight was somewhat tough especially as we couldn’t check in early and rest in the lounge.
Altogether, the whole trip worked out for us and the total cost was exceptional value. We are planning another transatlantic trip in November but I suspect we will consider flights from London then rather than from Dublin. Whilst I won’t rule out doing it again, it does require an extra leg on most journeys and the return connection to Bristol was badly timed for us. So the price has to be right to make up for those issues.