After an absolutely wonderful trip to Brussels it was time for the long journey home. It was just a few minutes walk to the Brussels Central station then onto the short train to the airport.
I already had my ticket so I was able to save a few minutes and just head straight to the platform (which was platform 3 for this particular train).
Upon arriving at the airport you simply follow the masses of people heading toward the departure level and work your way to your ticketing counters. Most large airports will have information screens telling you where your airline check-in counters are located. They look like the same screens you’d use for the departure gates, but contain check-in counter location numbers.
At every international airport I’ve ever visited the check-in process is virtually the same. There’s an initial airline security check by an airline personnel who reviews your passport and asks you questions about your destination and luggage. They’ll usually put a little stamp on the back of your passport (don’t remove it!) Then you proceed to the ticket counter for check-in and baggage drops. Then it’s off to passport control then airport security. Sometimes security is similar to US airports, other times it’s at the individual gates.
I was a little suprised that there was nobody at the American Airlines check-in other than employees. Afterall, I was there about an hour and forty minutes before departure. However, I quickly learned that the plane began boarding a full hour before departure! Now, I was a little stressed especially as I was told where the lounge was “if I still had time.”
It took about 15 minutes to get through passport control then onto the long security lines. And long they were. Premium status had a separate lane to the far side of security, I had been told I only needed to scan my ticket, the metal gate would open and I could breeze in. I was thrilled as there was only one person in front of me versus the hundreds in the regular security lanes. This is why they want you there a full 2 hours in advance. They mean it! Also, keep all cell phones and cameras put away, they are VERY serious about this measure.
Apparently for Belgium security, you do need to remove your iPad from your bag so it took me just an extra second to get through, but no problems and I was off to visit the British Airways lounge (it’s part of the One World airline system and there are lounge sharing privileges.)
After enjoying another cup of coffee and snagging some interestingly flavored potato chips for the journey, I headed down to the gate and had the fun of being the first person to board the plane! Ok, I get a kick sometimes out of these little things.
Now it was time to kick back, relax and enjoy the nearly 9 hour return flight to Chicago. Sometimes the business class meals are better than others. Today, I opted for the seafood appetizer, skipped the salad and chose the chicken in a thyme sauce with fava beans and mashed potatoes.
There’s a bit of a shadow on the plate, but the appetizer is quite delicious. Nicely seasoned chilled shrimp, smoked salmon, capers, red onions and creme fraiche all served with hot rolls and butter.
The chicken was surprisingly good. Tender and juicy served in a lovely herb sauce. I’ve also discovered I really like fava beans! Odd to learn to like them on an airplane but they’re downright tasty.
Instead of the ice cream, I chose the cheese plate. Delicious as always.
Yeah, yeah, I know. This is business class. Much more appetizing than what’s being served in coach.
After enjoying the meal and a couple glasses of wine, I settled in for a nice nap. Have I mentioned that the business class seats recline to 180 degrees? No? Well, they do. There’s a slight tilt to them, but they’re pretty comfortable. Would I travel this much on vacation if I had to fly coach? Who knows!
We arrived into the international terminal in Chicago and faced a long walk to immigration. Long, long walk. I think we may have landed in Wisconsin and walked into Chicago. Only a few people were ahead so it took only 5 or 10 minutes to pass through passport control.
Upon arrival in the US, you go through passport control, collect your luggage, turn in your declaration forms, recheck your luggage then go back through security and head to your gate. In Chicago the international terminal means you also have to take the train to your domestic departure terminal. Keeping in mind you’re going through all these steps, make sure you have enough time between connections (and especially as you have to go through security all over – this means you also need to regather your liquids).
After just a few minutes, I was back at the Admirals Lounge ready to take a quick shower and regroup. Okay, so here’s the deal with the airport lounges. They can cost a couple hundred to join annually, but you can purchase a day pass for yourself and a guest (I think it includes a guest) for typically around $50. This can pay for itself with showers, complimentary cocktails, coffee, sodas, and light snacks – especially if you have a long layover. Menu food costs extra but there’s usually trail type mix and fresh fruit readily available.
Not all lounges have shower facilities, but after a long flight nothing quite beats the opportunity to enjoy a refreshing shower. It also helps kill some time and wake me up!
Small toiletries are provided and the rain shower head is a fabulous way to let some of the stress and fatigue melt away.
After a couple hour layover it was time for the final leg to Los Angeles. Our aircraft had been downsized from the originally scheduled 767 to an older 757, not as nice and the seats aren’t nearly as comfortable! But it was the same crew we had going into Chicago and the flight attendant, Karen, in first class was delightful and remembered me from my outbound journey.
We had a bit of a mechanical delay, but managed to arrive home about an hour and a half late, which actually worked out well enabling me to avoid rush hour. By 8:30 pm I was home to a warm fuzzy welcome from my cats Pickles and Madison.