Updated on November 16, 2016
Flight Log of American Airlines Flight 186 from Beijing Capital to Chicago O’Hare on July 11th, 2016
It was a school-sponsored month-long summer program at Cornell University.
Originally, given AsiaMiles’ double mileage promotion for students residing in China Mainland, I was more than eager to persuade the travel agency to book me on Cathay Pacific to New York or Chicago, and then on a separate ticket to Ithaca. However, school regulations demanded that I must went through extra bureaucratic procedures for them to pay for my separate tickets.
So that spelt the end of Cathay Pacific, leaving me only the choice of three major US carriers. Since AA’s itinerary has a longer layover at Chicago O’Hare, and it was a Boeing 787 which I haven’t flown on before, I picked American Airlines.
By the way, Ithaca airport was closed for runway maintenance, so we actually flown to Syracuse, where Cornell University arranged shuttle services for us.
The images in this post are hosted on Imgur. Email me should there be any display problems.
So it’s the morning of July 11th, 2016. We stayed up the whole night before, so as to accustom ourselves to the new time zone which is 12 hours apart. The good thing is that, as with most university students, usually we stayed up quite late (And I can safely blame that habit on the poor sound isolation for Tsinghua Dormitories).
So, lots of packing and one thriller later, the sun’s up and we headed for the airport. Flight AA186 departs at 10:10, however, since we didn’t have many great ideas to kill time (one thriller movie is enough for me), and to avoid any possible traffic jam on the way to the Airport (since it’s Beijing), we left Tsinghua Dormitory at 5 in the morning.
By the way, the dormitories in Tsinghua are were going through façade renovation, and I was more than pleased to leave the blinding scaffoldings and not-so-civilized Chinese construction workers behind.
Oh, I remembered that air pollution was rampant during the days leading up to my departure, another benefit of leaving Beijing.
There wasn’t much difficulty in finding a free taxi. The taxi ride was smooth, I was surprised to find the traffic on Beijing’s 4-th ring was quite considerable given it’s only 5 in the morning. The only “traffic jam” was at Beijing Airport’s toll booths, where I witnessed Chinese drivers showing off their skills at line cutting. Fortunately, that would be the last time I witness such barbarity in a month.
We arrived at Beijing Airport at 6 in the morning, which is four hours to departure time. AA’s check-in at Beijing is outsourced to Air China, which started exactly 3 hours before departure. Since passengers usually arrived early to avoid the morning traffic jam, there has been a constant queue at check-in.
And there’s more waiting in line at the Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3’s securities. Maybe Terminal 3’s securities lines are too few too slow for the many gates that it accommodates.
Then, as usual, I took a walking tour around the airport.
Apparently, the HGH based upstart has found itself a better departing slot than 5:55AM. Yet, its reputation and local government support cannot afford it a jet bridge to spend the night.
Then, I walked to the end of Terminal 3E, which faces runway 18L/36R and Terminal 2, with some spectacular take-offs and landings and some comfortable beds.
I was excited to see the British Airways Boeing 744 Arriving, as that’s my first flight out of Beijing Airport, my first international flight, my first wide-body flight, … So many firsts.
Then it’s boarding time for my flight. It seemed that the boarding groups did absolutely nothing at Beijing (and later at Chicago). It only mattered whether you have priority boarding or not, and that’s it.
Then there came the worse part of the flight. Usually, I preferred to track the whole flight with either my cell phone or my GPS recorder. The former one supports GLONASS, the latter one has better sensitivity. The bad thing is that, it seems the electronically dimmed windows of a Boeing 787 filter out all the GPS signals, even when they’re switched to full open. I guess this has something to do with the internal structure of the windows, that the proportion of radiation transmitted declines with the incidence angle. Since most GPS satellites are high up in the sky, which makes for the terrible signal strength. Or, the engineers at Boeing thought only visible radiation is important. So, I had to refer to FlightRader24 to geo-tag all my photos.
The plane made a turn here into Mongolian Airspace.
The whole meal setup looks really nice compared to what Chinese carriers would usually do on domestic routes, the only disappointment is that cheap bottled water, ruining what I would otherwise call a “delicate” lunch.
I picked beef for lunch. AA mixed those little corn in the rice, bringing flavor to an otherwise cheap and mundane staple food.
I tried to snap a few shots of the sun over the Arctic Sea. However, this is ruined by the layers of the window, leaving beautiful flares on the photos, though.
Then it’s the on-board entertainment, which is, just OK.
However, this view is literally useless unless you really have nothing to do, which is the case for the majority of travellers.
AA’s cabin crew dimmed all the windows not long after the first meal services, and they have stayed dark ever since. It’s until we entered United States Airspace that the windows were switched to the second brightest level, which means all the photos were kind of bluish.
It was a very deep descent as the spoilers were fully open, which was very rare as the plane’s still in the air.
Before the trip, I have heard of some US Air Traffic Control’s preference of flying the plane over the airport at high altitude, then descending quickly and turning around for landing, while leaving lower altitudes for departing planes. Although this sounds riskier, if properly executed, maneuvers like this would be much more efficient than their Chinese equivalence’s way of going through long detours.
At this point the windows were switched to the brightest level by the crew.
Since I preferred window seats with unhindered view of the ground, I sat relatively at the back of the plane. That plus a visit to the bathroom after landing meant windy lines before immigration. What’s worse, I ended up among groups of Chinese visitors who were excellent at utilizing the 2-person width of immigration lines as a means of cutting ahead of people. (At Beijing Airport toll booth, I thought that was the last of line-cutting I would witness in a month, no that’s not. I hope O’Hare Airport was the last.) With only a few immigration officer on the beat, I recalled why they recommended extra-long connection times at US airports.
Traveling on the same plane was a Chinese tour group. Usually, Chinese tour groups are for people that want to visit places, but don’t bother to go down to details. That trouble-free concept definitely didn’t find favor in the US immigration officer in front of me, as I had to interpret for three non-English-speaking elderlies who had little more than a printed itinerary that they knew nothing about plus 1000 CNY to prove they were really tourists. Thankfully, they got the plane tickets and they were through.
AA3627 ORD-SYR will be on another post.
Flight Log of American Airlines Flight 186 from Beijing Capital to Chicago O’Hare on July 11th, 2016 by Huang's Site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.