So after a peaceful day and night at the Marriott in Houston, it was time to get back to work.
I was taken to Galveston to check-in for the flight to the first rig.
I got to Galveston Helipad around 10:30am, which is somewhat of a "rush hour" for departures.
If you're unfamiliar with the process, the check-in is as per any airport, you give them your bag(which is hand luggage sized), they tag it, it gets put onto a little trolley, and disappears, you're given a ticket and you proceed to the departures area. Here, you await your flight, which is called to a boarding room, here you don your immersion suit and then walk out to your chopper.
There were around 10 departures between 11am and 12 noon, including mine, flight BHL12 departing at 11:25, routing MACARONI-CARDAMOM-GALVESTON.
I'd be disembarking at Macaroni.
At around 11:15 we were called to boarding room 1, they checked our tickets, we donned our immersion suits, and walked out to the await Sikorsky S-92 operated by Bristow Helicopters. There were around 15 passengers on this flight. There was also BHL12A departing 10 minutes after us which had the same routing, which was full.
As we approach the helicopter, we identify our bags and take them onboard with us. The S-92's are configured in a 2-1 config. I always like taking a single seat, so I chose the seat at the back.
Around 11:40 we were airborne, it was a beautiful clear day in Texas and so it made for nice flying conditions.
Around 45 minutes of flying time, and MACARONI came into view, and we made smooth touchdown.
6 of us got off, 4 got on, and the helicopter headed off to CARDAMOM and Galveston.
I've never been to any of the rigs in this field before, they are quite deep in the gulf, and quite a distance from Texas, the oil here is pumped into Louisiana.
These oil rigs are quite new, and very modern and technologically advanced. This particular rig was formed of 2 platforms, joined by a bridge. This bridge was not for the faint of heart, as if you looked down you'd see the Gulf of Mexico water staring back at you. The bigger platform was the drilling rig, the other smaller platform was the accommodation and leisure rig.
Now this rig had around 4-450 workers on it. Mostly British & American. The conditions were very pleasant.
Unlike the rig i'd recently visited in India, the safety procedures were all faultless, the backups were fine and the backups backups were working fine too. The living conditions were good, full supply of electricity and water, this rig even had an enormous gym and a cinema.
I spent the night on MACARONI before I had to set off to OREGANO, which was very close, you could probably throw a beer from platform to platform. However, unable to get down to sea-level, I had to wait for a helicopter to come and take me the 500 metre journey.
At around 09:00, an Airbus H135 operated by Petroleum Helicopters arrived and hopped me over to OREGANO.
I won't bore you with details, the rig was almost an identical copy of the previous, minus the fact it was merged into one giant platform instead of 2.
Another night on here, and I was heading back.
While waiting for the helicopter to arrive, a few of us were looking out to sea enjoying the view when something quite unusual happened, and bought a little national pride to the heart.
HMS Northumberland, a Royal Navy frigate, made a pass, at some speed. It was close enough for us to be able to see the name of it. This was followed closely by the USS Sioux City, which passed us at an even faster speed.
Usually we see the odd Carnival cruise or Disney cruise passing nearby trying to avoid a rough patch, never have I seen a navy ship, especially a RN one. An unusual experience, but great to see.
A few minutes later, BHL36A, another S-92, arrived from HABANERO. 4 people got off, I got on, and we departed for Galveston.
A few patches of turbulence, but the flight was generally smooth with some nice views, a happy atmosphere onboard as everybody was on their way home. Apart from me of course.
We touched down in Galveston at around 18:00, around 45 minutes after departing OREGANO.
It's nice to see, outside of the terminal families being reunited, sometimes after 6 to 7 months apart. Gives you a nice warm feeling inside, much like if you watch one of the arrivals halls at LHR or MAN, lots of reunions.
On that note, I got in a car and headed off to the Hilton-American, Houston.
I was excited for the next part of this trip, i'd find myself visiting a new part of the world, Alaska.
The travel department had expressed their concern at how difficult it was to find a suitable flight from IAH to ANC. Since I haven't expressed a preference of carrier/alliance (They allow you to choose so you can earn miles), they always find creative ways for me to get places. And that they did. Airline: XOJET
Route: Sugar Land Regional, Texas to Nuiqsut, Alaska
Actual Departure: 15:04
Actual Arrival: 19:03
Flight Duration: 5 hours 59 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Cessna Citation X (N790XJ)
Seat: N/A (Maybe 4A?)
I was buzzing, my first flight on a proper private jet. Myself and 1 other had the privilege of flying directly to NUI.
We were taken from the HQ in Houston by car, to Sugar Land Regional Airport, around 16/17 miles outside of Houston.
We were taken directly to the aircraft, which was waiting for us on the ramp, among a long line of private aircraft.
N790XJ stood waiting for us with the door open, we were greeted at the bottom of the steps by the first officer who introduced himself.
Myself and my colleague took a seat. The aircraft was configured with 4 rows, 1-1 config, 2 rear facing seats and 2 forward facing seats made up row 1 & 2, and the same with 3 & 4.
I chose the rear left hand seat, so what I can only describe as 4A
My colleague chose 4 B? K? F? But the one on the other side.
The Captain then came out and introduced himself, he talked us briefly through the safety procedures, door operation, lifejackets etc, he then told us a little about the route, flight time, weather, he then proceeded to talk us through in-flight amenities.
He took us to the front of the cabin to the "galley", cupboards of cold sweet & savoury snacks, coffee machine, cupboard full of alcohol (and I mean FULL, of every kind of alcohol you could imagine), as well as a fridge with juice, champagne, and fresh fruit and cheeseboards.
He then showed us the toilet at the back, and talked us through how to turn the seats into a bed and where to get bedding.
He must have noticed I was an enthusiast, probably by my kid-at-christmas excitement, and he gave me a quick tour of the flight deck, he also told us feel free to pay them a visit through the flight, which was estimated at around 6 hours. There was also free wi-fi, and TV's showing a moving map and 120 channels of live DirecTV.
Departure was smooth, might just have been me, but I found it noticeable the difference in speed between this and a commercial flight.
We climbed at an insane right of climb, until we got to our initial cruising altitude of FL360.
I decided to use this quiet time to watch some TV, catch up on some work, and even managed to Facetime the family back home showing off where I was. We climbed yet again up to FL440, the highest i've ever been!
To be honest, the flight passed without anything happening. I got some cheese and fruit from the fridge which was good, very fresh so i'm guessing the aircraft had been catered in Sugar Land perhaps? Or maybe it hadn't come far? No idea how this works.
Even helped myself to a few glasses of Scotch which went down a treat. It was nice having the luxury of being able to self-serve without any other passengers
Just under 6 hours later, we touched down in a dark, snowy Nuiqsut. The temperature here was a whopping -28C
Touchdown was pretty rough, the captain said the winds were incredibly strong, so I found out when the door opened and I swallowed what must have been an avalanches worth of snow.
What have I got myself into?
I got into a snow covered Ford F-150, which met me at the foot of the stairs from the aircraft.
I thanked the wonderful crew (Who were off to ANC to spend the night), and sped off to my accommodation.
No chain hotels up here, I was in what I can only describe as a former WW2 military barracks, the flat-D shaped corrugated iron buildings, which were scattered around town. They were heated though so no complaints from me.
Due to the weather, as you can imagine, helicopter operations to the rigs were cancelled indefinitely. I spent 4 days on the ground Nuiqsut. The town is very small, 1 small shop, a small post office, a fire station and a school and that is it. The residents are generally very friendly, however some are understandably be very wary of those (Me, being British, who is here for one reason and one reason only) who work in the oil industry.
Finally however, flights resumed to the rigs, the snow fell just as heavy, if not heavier than before, so I don't understand the reasoning.
I boarded a Bell 205 Helicopter operated by Soloy Helicopters at Nuiqsut airport, alongside 8 others so a full load.
The destination was the West Harrison Bay oil field.
There were no de-icing facilities and I was very conscious that the aircraft had been on the ground for days before this flight, so I was very apprehensive, however the other passenger and the 2 pilots seemed to not be bothered.
We took off at just after 8am, and flew through the snow (the visibility outside of the FD window was 0). We flew for 20 minutes and arrived at the West Harrison Oil field, however we were unable to land. We flew around for just over 30 minutes before it was decided we would return to Nuiqsut.
We were instructed to go back into the hut, referred to as "the terminal", and await further info. There are no FIDS here, just people and word of mouth.
We were informed the delay would be an hour. Most people then went to sleep. The snow fell heavier and thicker, and eventually we were informed the flight was cancelled. People had also turned up for the afternoon flight, but then were turned away. In the evening, having been invited to a locals house for dinner, I watched 4 Arctic Foxes running through the village.
Day 5 rolled around, and we were once again called to Nuiqsut airport for attempt #2.
The snow was just as heavy as yesterday, but at 8am we departed once again. This time, miraculously, we landed on VALENTINE. We were quickly off and the Bell 205 departed back to Nuiqsut with a full load of workers heading home. The same chopper returned to VALENTINE around 6 times throughout the day, despite the conditions.
I don't think I have ever been this cold in my life, I immediately found myself huddled in the canteen with the entire workforce, drinking coffee, eating whatever hot food I could get my hands on and watching TV.
Drilling had been halted temporarily due to the weather. Safety reasons of course meant this made sense, however the drilling equipment, went, and now frozen, would take a lot of work to get working again. The workforce on VALENTINE was made up of mainly U.S workers, around 80 of them.
Another thing I discovered was that the water system, comprised of 4 freshwater tanks, 2 had frozen over, meaning water was being rationed. Thankfully, the 2 tanks were full, and had working boilers.
There wasn't much to inspect here, as per the company policies, in weather like this we weren't allowed outside, unless for essential work. The equipment was in good order, albeit frozen over, the living conditions were OK, of course despite the bitter cold outside. Food was good and the heating, TV and wi-fi worked and most important the rig was is no immediate danger due to the weather, which was most important.
I spent a night on the rig, which is actually pretty nice inside, I dread to think what it would be like if the heating broke though. Thankfully there were 4 backup heating systems.
Unfortunately for me, the flights to the rig were once again cancelled, which means I was on the rig for a second night.
Day 3, flights were operating, the temperature had risen to -10C for the morning, and the snow wasn't as heavy. Flights operated as normal, and at 14:00 I was back on the same Bell 205, heading back to Nuiqsut.
I spent another night back in the same accommodation before finally, it was time to head home.Airline: Ravn Alaska
Route: Nuiqsut, Alaska to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
Scheduled Departure: 11:05
Actual Departure: 11:41
Scheduled Arrival: 11:25
Actual Arrival: 11:58
Flight Duration: 17 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Beechcraft 1900D (N972EA)
Having checked in with the Ravn agent in the village, we awaited the arrival of the aircraft from SCC.
The aircraft arrived at 11:20. By 11:41 we had all boarded, bags on and departed. The departure was quite turbulent, the weather had not changed and was still incredibly heavy snow with very strong winds. The temperature onboard the aircraft but VERY high, I guess to compensate for the outside temperature, but it was ridiculously high.
The load was 100%, every seat was occupied.
The noise of the engines is VERY loud inside the cabin.
Of course on a flight this short there was no service, the seatbelt sign remained on throughout anyway. 17 minutes later we touched down in Prudhoe Bay.
It wasn't snowing here, but the snow was set thick on the ground, and the winds were incredibly strong.
Prudhoe Bay is a very odd airport, an average sized terminal which from the outside looks like a closed hangar, with a single airbridge dedicated for the Alaska Airlines flights. We parked up on the far left of the terminal building, and walked into the terminal.
I exited the terminal, then re-entered for my connecting flight. I checked in at the self-service kiosks, and dropped my bag at the dedicated Alaska Airlines desk, and made my way through the single security lane, into the departure lounge.Airline: Alaska Airlines
Route: Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Anchorage, Alaska
Scheduled Departure: 15:05
Actual Departure: 15:21
Scheduled Arrival: 16:50
Actual Arrival: 16:48
Flight Duration: 1 hour 27 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Boeing 737-700 (N644AS)
As I expected, there is no lounge here, so I waited in the departure lounge.
The lounge was full of passengers waiting for the same flight, clearly all oil workers, no more than 70 passengers in total though.
The aircraft arrived from Fairbanks a few minutes behind schedule and docked on the sole airbridge directly in front of us.
The aircraft routes ANC-FAI-SCC-ANC. We had joined a handful of passengers who had remained aboard.
I was greeted at the door by an incredibly rude, elderly, purser-like flight attendant, who was stood next to a younger, incredibly friendly and happy flight attendant. An odd start.
At my seat was a bottle of water, and a packet of biscoff cookies on the armrest.
Boarding had finished and I was pleased the seat next to me was empty.
Pretty soon after boarding had finished the door was closed and we were spinning around on the spot for take-off. The whole process took no more than 15 minutes.
We roared out of Prudhoe Bay, into the turbulent clouds above. The crew were quick to start service, with the purser in charge of the First cabin. She distributed hot towels, before starting a drinks service.
I got a coke, of course, I hadn't had one in nearly a week!
With the Coke I was offered a packet of mini pretzels, and was asked if I would be having a light meal. There were no choices, but I accepted.
A few moments later she delivered a cold Goats Cheese Salad. It was sufficient I guess, it wasn't bad, but wouldn't write home about it.
The purser was then joined by 2 crew from the back, and the 3 of them cleared in our plates and drinks and then vanished for the remainder of the flight.
Shortly after, we landed in Anchorage, a few minutes ahead of schedule.
I had quite a wait until my next flight.Airline: Delta
Route: Anchorage, Alaska to Minneapolis, MN
Scheduled Departure: 21:45
Actual Departure: 21:52
Scheduled Arrival: 06:04+1
Actual Arrival: 05:40+1
Flight Duration: 4 hours 49 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Boeing 757-200 (N6703D)
With no access to a lounge, we few hours I was waiting were incredibly boring.
I managed to pass the time doing some work since there is quite a bit of free seating an ANC.
Boarding was called for the flight at around 21:15. The load was pretty empty for this flight, so I don't understand the need for a 752, as far as I could count at the gate there was around 50 pax.
First was nearly empty, just 3 of us. I was greeted by a friendly crew at the door, and took me seat in the first row.
The seat next to me was empty thanks to the light load.
There was a bottle of water on the arm rest, and Im guessing because of this, is the reason we weren't offered a pre-departure drink.
By this point I was starving so was looking forward to dinner.
Boarding was completed pretty quickly and we were soon pushing back and on our way to the runway.
The 757 engines made an incredible noise as we powered up on the runway and climbed into the night sky.
The crew quickly swung into service, I guess wanting to get the service out of the way before we slept, I was offered a drink, and asked if I would like a Grilled Chicken Salad or BBQ Chicken Sliders, I took the sliders which arrived around 15 minutes later.
I also got, you guessed it, a coke with ice and a slice. The food was disappointing, it was served with a tiny side salad and a cookie.
One thing that struck me, was the crew were very evidently tired, and were showing clear signs of fatigue. A question someone here might be able to answer, do they nightstop in ANC? Or is it a return trip? Do they do more than just these 2 sectors?
I fully understand it could be tiring, but crew in the UK especially on charter flights do night flights to Egypt and the Canaries at 5/6+ hours one way as there and backs, so in comparison this is quite a short day.
Despite their obvious fatigue, they were still excellent and attentive.
After the meal was cleared in, I decided to try and get some sleep.
Unfortunately I only managed around 2 hours before we were preparing for landing.
There was no second service on this flight. Approach through the night sky was pretty smooth and soon enough we were on the ground in MSP, 20 minutes early.
I thanked the crew for their great service and headed off onto the next flight. Airline: Delta Connection operated by GoJet Airlines
Route: Minneapolis, MN to Newark, NJ
Scheduled Departure: 10:00
Actual Departure: 10:47
Scheduled Arrival: 14:05
Actual Arrival: 13:52
Flight Duration: 2 hours 06 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Bombardier CRJ-700 (N690CA)
I had my bag checked through to EWR in ANC so I could head straight to the SkyClub lounge to get some breakfast.
First stop was the coffee machine, and I managed to get myself some decent food from the hot buffet.
I finished off my work, and awaited the boarding call for the flight to EWR.
Boarding started at around 9:40, the young flight attendant at the door seemed friendly enough, and I took my seat at 2A.
The cabin is configured 1-2, so I was happy to be on the single seat. A little pillow was available on the seat, but it was pretty crappy. There's a power outlet in the armrest which is very handy.
Pre-departure beverages were quickly distributed, I got a ginger ale, A bottle of water was also available in the arm rest.
Boarding finished pretty quickly, we were swiftly on our way to the runway. We seemed to be stuck in a queue for departure for quite some time.
Shortly after departure, the younger member of crew at the front started the service in First, starting with another drink service. I thought i'd mix it up and get a Sprite. This was followed quickly by lunch.
I was half expecting a basket service, so was pleasantly surprised when she delivered me a Ham & Cheddar sandwich, with crisps (or chips
), and an oatmeal & raisin cookie.
To be honest it was actually OK, and like I said I was surprised to get it anyway!
The seatbelt sign was turned on at points throughout the flight as it did get quite bumpy.
The crew cleared in, and started securing for landing. As we slowly dipped below the clouds, we made several tight turns, before the wheels came down and we made a pretty hard touchdown into Newark.
Taxi took quite a while as again we kept getting caught up in traffic, but we were soon disembarking. I said thanks to the crew and went to collect my bag. I then made my way around to check-in for my final flight.Airline: United
Route: Newark, NJ to Manchester, UK
Scheduled Departure: 19:30
Actual Departure: 20:17
Scheduled Arrival: 07:15+1
Actual Arrival: 07:08
Flight Duration: 5 hours 51 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Boeing 757-200 (N12109)
Class: Polaris Business
Having checked in on my phone I dropped my bag off, headed through security and made my way to the Polaris lounge.
The lounge was rather busy when I arrived at around 15:00, with around 10/15 flights worth of passengers waiting their boarding call.
Access to this lounge is HIGHLY restricted, and the lounge has a ridiculous amount of seating, so I don't think there will ever be a point when the lounge is full.
I thought that since i'm here, and feel a little crappy from all the travelling, I would take this opportunity to have a shower.
I had my clothes steamed whilst I was in the shower, which was a nice touch by the lounge staff.
The showers are very good, all you can ask for really.
"The dining room", where you can sit down and order appetizers and entrees was completely full, im guessing alot of people want to eat now and maximise sleep onboard their flights to Europe.
Thankfully I managed to squeeze into a table for one. I ordered a "Polaris Burger", which came with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, garlic aioli, bacon and a fried egg, along with handmade fries. It was delicious!
Since i'd finished my work, once I had eaten I decided to retire to the bar.
I was asked if I would like to try a signature cocktail, to which I accepted.
It was called a Paper Plane, it consisted of Bourbon, Aperol and Chamomile Tea. It was very strange, I couldn't tell if I loved or loathed it.
I also tried a Cloud Cover, which has gin, grapefruit liqueur and lime juice, this was quite a good one which I would recommend!
I had managed to kill a few hours enjoying myself, and soon enough it was time for boarding.
I was greeted at the door by what seemed to be a friendly crew. One had a thick Southern accent.
16 Beds in the cabin this evening, with only 9 occupied. As I got to my seat, there was a sad looking blanket and headphones placed on it.
The seat was comfortable, and I was again fortunate to get the seat next to me free yet again.
The headphones, not entirely noise-cancelling but comfortable and of average quality.
In front of me was the large TV offered in Polaris, along with United's IFE system which I generally find to have an OK selection of stuff.
Once I got settle, one of the crew promptly came and offered me a beverage, I just got a Water.
We were delayed at the gate for quite sometime due to 2 passengers being offloaded, not quite sure why, but according to the big man in the front, the baggage handlers were struggling to find their bags, which was the main reason for the late departure.
Eventually, the door closed, and we were soon making a very scenic departure over the city, sitting on the right side I got some wonderful views of NYC lighting up the night sky.
The cabin crew didn't leave their seats until we had reached cruise which I found unusual. Since I had eaten in the lounge I wasn't planning on eating anything big, and just wanted to sleep.
Around 50 minutes after departure, we were offered nuts, hot towels and a drink.
I just got a water again, and decided to get my bed made. The bedding in Polaris is very good, provided by Saks Fifth Avenue.
The food smelled pretty good, whatever they were serving, I didn't look at the menu because I know if I did then I would end up getting something
The crew were good at making sure they didn't make too much noise as I think only 1 or 2 people actually ate anything.
I managed to crash out for about 3 hours.
The crew were very attentive, and removed the bedding and offered me breakfast. The options were fresh fruit or an Omelette.
As we were only around an hour and 10 mins out of MAN I thought now is the perfect time for food, and got an Omelette. I was also bought a coffee, which was pretty good.
The Omelette was amazing, it contained Pepper Jack, Black Beans, Bell Peppers & it was served with Chicken Sausage, small Potatoes and a small bowl of fresh fruit. For a TRATL breakfast it was pretty good, better than the measly bowl of cereal you get on other airlines, and certainly better than the muffin they'd have had back in Economy.
I was given a top-up of coffee shortly before the seatbelt sign came on and the crew secured for landing.
I felt at home when the crew sat down, and I saw nothing but grey clouds and raindrops. We left the clouds and I saw the green fields and motorways of the U.K.
Flew low over the airport pub, and made a smooth landing onto the runway.
And there we have it, I am welcomed back to where the journey started, Manchester Terminal 2.
I had thoroughly enjoyed the service UA had offered, despite the bad press they get I think they offer a decent product, personally I would not hesitate to choose them over BA.
A long winded taxi to T2, and we parked up near the far end, in front of the Radisson hotel. Customs was easy enough, collected my bag and I was out of T2 arrivals to my awaiting family.
Like I said at the beginning of the trip, T2 arrivals was especially strange without the presence of ZB.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this trip, comments/questions always welcome
Anyway, that's that! Until next time!