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I flew to Kansas City once and to Chicago twice in the past 3 weeks, here are some of my trip notes:
More after the jump:
This was probably our last ever nonstop flight to Kansas City. Since 2008 we’ve flown this route dozens of times and this is a route we’ll miss dearly as travel times will go up from 2 to 5 hours.
In the Continental days we were always able to find $200-$300 tickets though post-merger it had skyrocketed to a $600 flight. Luckily it’s under 650 miles so it costs only 20,000 United miles round-trip.
Traditionally this route was served by 3 or 4 daily ERJ-145 all coach regional jets, though for the final month they switched it to 1 daily Q400 turboprop with 7 first class seats.
As a United 1K member with a credit card, award tickets booked from my account are upgrade eligible. That’s a holdover from Continental where people booked from your account receive the benefits of the account holder. Thus if the account holder has gold elite status the traveler can get all of their benefits including free economy plus seating, free club access (unless the club agent feels like digging deeper), confirmed change benefits, etc.
United has 2 upgrade systems, the CPU system and the “battlefield system.” As a 1K the CPU system checks 96, 72, 48, 24, and 4 hours before a flight for upgrade inventory. At 30 minutes prior to the flight the gate agent takes control of an entirely different upgrade system, known informally as the battlefield upgrade.
As a 1K with a credit card I am eligible for upgrades on domestic awards in both the CPU and battlefield system. However passengers I book are only eligible for CPU upgrades, they can’t be added to the battlefield system. Passengers needs to be on their own itinerary to be CPU eligible, so you can use the “split travelers” option to make everyone on their own itinerary if they were booked separately.
You can tell if a passenger is properly listed for a CPU upgrade by looking at the itinerary on United.com:
If you don’t see that upgrade message you can add the account holder’s United mileage number to the passenger’s itinerary by clicking “Edit traveler information.”
Now I’m not positive about this at all, but I’d advise against using online checkin for CPU eligible passengers as that may make them ineligible for any further upgrades.
At any rate the Q400 has a 2-2 configuration in coach and a 1-2 configuration in first. There are 3 single side first class seats and 2 double side first class seats.
The problem is that the first set of 2 seats in first class are actually an exit row. Exit rows in first class are extremely uncommon, but because of that we had to do some shuffling and have 2 of us sit in first class and 2 in coach. It’s not like first class on a 2 hour flight is any big deal, but it’s still better than the back of the bus.
In KC we hit up Legoland where Rafi had a blast and I found pas yisroel Rold Gold pretzels, go figure:
Rafi also became addicted to the fried chicken sold by Hen House in Overland Park. It is actually really good and the sushi is very good as well.
In which I make a fool of myself:
The drama came on the way home. All 4 of us were upgraded and coach was oversold though there were unassigned seats in economy plus. I didn’t want to have to play musical chairs at the airport, but it’s no easy task to get downgraded over the phone in that scenario. And we’d have to downgrade 2 seats as there’s just 1 row of 2 seats in first class that’s not an exit row.
Our current strategy for traveling with Rafi (2) and Talia (8 months) is:
-Talia in a Chicco Keyfit 30 pushed in an Uppa Baby Vista which is gate checked. Those are both her everyday items.
-Rafi in a lightweight Cosco Scenara convertible carseat pushed in a GoGo Babyz Travelmate. Those are only used when we fly.
We also have an UppaBaby Rumble Seat that we check under and use when needed at the destination.
We buy them all seats on the plane. For one it’s a safety issue, if it’s not safe to hold a bag, how is it safe to hold your child? Would you hold a child in a car? Secondly it’s just a better experience when the child has a seat and can fall asleep rather than being held.
The FAA strongly recommends that children under 40 pounds travel in a carseat or CARES system. Frankly if Rafi just had the regular seatbelt he would be opening it the entire flight.
After flying on over 60 flights with infants I’ve learned a lot (car seats must go in the window seat, traveling with a full size convertible carseat is a bad idea, etc) but I’ve also heard my share of cockamamie lines from flight attendants.
-A United flight attendant told us that Rafi’s rear facing only carseat had to be forward facing. (Wrong.)
-A United flight attendant told us that Rafi couldn’t sit in a bulkhead seat in a carseat (Wrong.)
-Back when we used to fly with Rafi as a lapchild a United gate agent caught that we weren’t flying in a row with an extra oxygen masks. On United ERJ-145s only rows 3, 7 ,11, 16, or 18 have an extra oxygen mask.
-A United flight attendant told us that the GoGo Babyz Travelmate couldn’t go in the overhead storage. When asked why she replied that it was dangerous because it had wheels. We couldn’t help but laugh as we pointed to every bag in the overhead with wheels. She relented but now we’ve figured out how to just attach the Travelmate and Chicco directly to the Uppa Baby Vista and gate-check them all together.
I installed Rafi’s car seat in first class after the flight attendant checked the sticker on it to confirm that it was FAA approved. But then she came to us and said we couldn’t sit in our seats as we were in the row behind the exit row.
That was a new one for me. I mean I know the exit row is off limits, but I’d never heard anything about the row behind the exit row. Indeed just 5 days earlier Rafi sat in that very seat on the same plane type without any issue being raised.
So I asked to see the rule in writing and the flight attendant refused. At which point I asked to speak to the captain. The flight attendant then went to get the gate agent who asked me if I really wanted to delay the plane over this. I explained I would like a 30 second conversation with captain or to see the rule in writing. So out came the manual and indeed it said “no infants/carseats in front of or aft of the emergency exit door.”
At which point I sheepishly turn around and asked the folks in the coach bulkhead if they would like to switch, but of course the gate agent couldn’t have that happen. She went to get her battlefield upgrade list and proceeded to have half the plane play musical chairs so that Rafi wouldn’t be sitting next to a stranger. Technically of course she’s right to have gone down the list, I just wish that as the upgraded member I could’ve quietly switched to the most convenient seats and been done with it.
Definitely my most embarrassing and humbling moment as a passenger. I’m just so used to surly flight attendants making stuff up that it didn’t even cross my mind that I could be wrong. Of course having sat in the same seat the week before didn’t do much to make me think otherwise. Oh well, lesson learned. A dose of humility is always in order.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to Cleveland Hopkins’ Concourse D. Built in 1999, it’s the most modern concourse in Cleveland and now it’s sealed off. It serves no purpose as they never connected it to the landside. It displaced the only rental car facility which is now a 10 minute drive from the airport. United will continue paying over 1.1 million dollars per month for 13 more years to pay for it.
Is this goodbye forever?
Concourse D, 1999-2014:
Remaining vestiges of a good airline:
I always liked the paper airplanes on display in the connecter tunnel to Concourse D:
I’ve been wanting to catch a game in Wrigley Field for some time now, so when better than when you’re offered free tickets in a suite! Sports auctions for points and miles are definitely the best non-travel redemption option you’ll ever find. (The stealing 2nd base experience I had last year is even making a return).
So I hopped a short flight from Cleveland to Chicago, had breakfast with my grandparents, and then met up with a whole group of mileage and point addicts who had flown in for the day from Miami, NYC, and Toronto.
We started off in Milt’s, under a mile walk from Wrigley Field, and located nowhere near the main religious Jewish community in Chicago.
It’s home to the Milt’s Burger, which post-Clubhouse Cafe is the best burger you’ll probably find anywhere. The Milt’s Burger is a heavy duty burger loaded with brisket chili, “bacon,” and crispy onions. It’s priced below cost at $15 to make it more affordable to casual passer-byes rather than just Orthodox Jews used to overpaying for kosher food.
This time though I called the day before and had the chef make us special order Rib Sandwiches, succulent and tangy chopped ribs on a sandwich. The jury is out as to if the Milt’s Burger or Rib Sandwich is better, but they’re both awesome.
We dined with Jeff Aeder, owner of Milt’s. He treated us to “Miltshakes” which was really tasty next to the spicy chicken wings and chili nachos he gave us as well. I’m pleased to report that both the nachos and fries and vastly improved over what I’ve had here in the past. The brisket chili is always amazing here, but the chips are now better and the fries are better seasoned.
Rib Sandwich is heavenly (and just as good when heated up the next day as well!):
Fries are crispy and well seasoned:
Chili Nachos which Milt’s incredible brisket chili:
Chocolate Miltshake can pass for the dairy version:
Then it was off the SPG suite in the Cubbies friendly confines. Jeff told us that his original plan was for a kosher stand in Wrigley, but the bureaucracy was so tough that the plan switched to Milt’s. Starwood catered the suite with kosher food from Sandwich Club which nobody was too hungry for. The suite experience at Wrigley is what you’d imagine from a 100 year old stadium. The seats are fine, but nothing special and there’s no en-suite bathroom, just a small space inside which is staffed by an SPG contract worker. To go to the bathroom you walk down a hallway which passes right over and in front of the fans sitting in the box seats below.
Wrigley was nice, but as far as historic stadiums are concerned I’d go to a game at Fenway, and that’s not just because you can get kosher food there 😉
Finally we shuttled over to Shallot’s where we fressed once again on their world class sushi and steaks.
I find it mind-boggling that Chicago has 2 world class eateries like Milt’s and Shallot’s while South Florida, with twice the Jewish population of Chicago, doesn’t even have 1 place that I’d call world class.
Rice crackers are a must:
As is the dynamite roll:
Asparagus Tempura was just awesome:
Patron Steak isn’t my first choice, but many love it:
I’m not sure if the Del Monico Steak could possibly live up to this description, but it is excellent (and available on days besides Mondays):
But the best steak of the night was the Wagyu Steak which isn’t even on the regular menu. It’s a relative bargain at $46:
Strawberry Shortcake dessert is other-worldly:
Banana Fritter is very good:
Jeff Aeder organized the 1st annual Chicago Kosher BBQ competition this past Sunday and he flew me out to be a judge there. Other judges included the Israel counsel general to the midwest, a corporate chef from Kraft Foods, a KCBS certified judge, and a representative from Kimberly-Clark who wanted me to feature more Huugies products and less Pampers. I told him to stop perforating their wipes and more Orthodox Jews would buy them and he said he’d make sure to tell that to the Huggies product manager 😀
I’ve judged the Kansas City Kosher BBQ competition in 2012 and in 2013. In KC they attract a competition pool that competes in weekly non-kosher competitions, so it’s much tougher for the Jewish teams. In Chicago it was primarily Jewish teams competing. Overall the meat was not quite up to the KC standards, but there were still many strong performances with the best of the bunch offering ultra-tender meat with a delicious tangy flavor that lingers on.
Teams had creative names:
There was food sold to the general public, though the smart ones went to the competing teams to try out their goodies that were smoked all night long:
An all-night project:
Jeff works the crowd:
Taking home the hardware:
The competition also featured hot dog and pickle eating contests for kids and adults as well as performances from entertainers and live music.
I took an UberX car back to the airport and was surprised that it was a Mercedes SUV. I asked the driver why he wasn’t Uber Black and he said he’s actually both, but he accepts calls from each. He said he actually wouldn’t have come if I did Uber Black as he was watching some TV in his living room when the call came in. For Uber Black he would have to put on a suit, but for UberX the polo shirt would do just fine.
Uber just got a $19 billion dollar valuation. Definitely one of those things you wonder why you didn’t come up with yourself 😀
The Avios purchased flight home was delayed several hours, but that’s when a club membership really shine. Got some work done, had some drinks, and killed the time waiting out the delay. Would have been nice for American to update the flight status earlier then 30 minutes prior when they know the inbound crew was severely delayed. Ah, the joys of air travel. I didn’t get home until 3am, but I’d still do it again 🙂