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August 25, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Rome to London

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Greetings from Southern California! So I needed to be back home in Los Angeles for an important meeting and to catch the Manhattan Beach Open. Instead of taking Alitalia’s nonstop service from Rome to LAX I went through London on two UK-based airlines, British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic. Yeah, I know, two of the airline world’s most bitter enemies. If talking about planes or beach volleyball doesn’t float your boat, then I bet Lisa McElroy’s trip to the Big Island of Hawaii will. Wanna make a bet?

I took the Leonardo da Vinci train from Rome’s Termini station (main train station). It was a long walk to Track 28, so I don’t recommend going browsing the shops thinking that you have plenty of time—it took a good seven minutes. The train is the quickest (30 minutes) and most economical way to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO); it costs 15 euros each way (you save 2 euros if you buy a round-trip ticket). If you have a Eurail pass, like I did, the trip is free. Just be sure to write in the date before getting on. The nonstop train leaves every 30 minutes (:22 and :52 past the hour) and was packed mostly with Americans and their large suitcases.

GOOD TO KNOW: For those planning early-morning flights, the first train doesn’t leave Termini until 5:52 a.m.

The train deposits passengers in a central location at the airport, and it was a short walk to T3. Earlier I’d checked in online with British Airways, and since I wasn’t checking any bags I went straight to the gate. Security was lax—I didn't take any of my liquids out and kept my shoes on and breezed right through. FYI: Laptop computers do need to come out.

What’s crazy is that when I grabbed my bag off the X-ray machine, I accidentally knocked off one of the security guy’s old-school computer monitors. He was not happy, to say the least, but when I tried to help he shooed me away.

Just 10 steps away was my next stop, passport control, where just one agent was glancing at them (he didn't even hold it) and there was no exit stamp.

I thought I was leaving plenty of time in between my two flights (over three hours), but wouldn’t you know it—the French air-traffic controllers were on strike that day (it always seems to be someone in Europe, right?). They were causing all kinds of delays in and around Europe. The good news is there are plenty of places to eat, drink, shop, and plane spot at FCO.

The worst part is that the Italian workers for BA did a terrible job of keeping passengers informed. In fact they provided no updates, as everything read “on time” but there was no one (nor a plane) at the gate. And when I asked an agent working another flight he said, “I don’t know.” I only found out about the delay in advance by getting on the Internet with my BlackBerry.

While boarding I overheard a flight attendant say to another that there were over 50 Americans transferring to the U.S. so everyone was inquiring about connections. I thought for sure I was going to miss my connection, so I’d already started making plans (hotel and dinner) in London. It’s always a good idea to have a backup just in case you miss your connection. I usually scout out places where I would stay and carry phone numbers/email addresses of hotels and friends so I can quickly and easily contact them.

A few weeks ago I flew to Italy (Naples) on British Airways from London’s Gatwick Airport, and our plane was a 737. This time I was flying into Heathrow on a 767. I prefer the latter since it’s larger with twin aisles. I scored the first row of coach—12B—which was one of the best seats out of the 221 in all of economy as there were no seats in front to recline into me. BY THE NUMBERS: The seat pitch is 32–33 inches (pitch is defined as the distance between the same position in two consecutive rows; in plain English it means the amount of legroom); the width of the seats is 17 inches.

I sat next to a pasty-white young English guy who didn’t say a word until he ordered a tea and a brandy with his sandwich. Food and beverage are free on BA, which is very cool especially on such a short flight. Sandwich choices were either ham and cheese or cucumber with soft cheese and the flight attendants passing them out were extremely pleasant. I went with the cucumber and cheese and a spot of tea and ate while staring out the window.

When I fly I always bring a sweater or jacket because you never know how cold the plane will be, even in the middle of summer. Sure enough, the a/c was kicking, so I was sorry I didn’t bring a hat and gloves.

Since the French air-traffic controllers were striking we couldn’t fly in a straight line over France but had to be re-routed over German and Dutch airspace. So the 2-hour-and-27-minute (896-mile) flight was longer than usual, but fortunately the time in England is an hour earlier than Italy, so I was doing better on time than I originally thought.

We ended up landing at 2:10 p.m., and my Virgin Atlantic flight was at 3:45 p.m. It was still a challenge since the cut-off for check-in is usually an hour before and I hadn’t checked in. On top of that, Virgin Atlantic’s T3 was a ways away from BA’s beautiful new Terminal 5 (T5). I was the first off the plane and darted to passport control/customs, as I was told by some official earlier that I had to go through them. There was a long line so luckily I double-checked with the agent patrolling the area and he told me I could go straight to the flight connections bus, which saved me big time. I quickly popped downstairs and the “T5 to T3” (Virgin’s terminal) had just pulled up so I hopped on for the 12-to-15-minute ride.

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Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip




FCO's T3


BA Check-In




Duty Free


More Duty Free


Plane Spotting


Where To Get Your VAT Refund


Good Looking Food




Soda Choices


No One At Gate


BA 767


Over London


About To Land


Getting Closer




BA Planes



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