1 September 2017 – 12 September 2017
Part 1: To France and Ouessant
Even before my recent further descent into AvGeekery, I’ve been fascinated by the little bumpy bit at the front of a 747. As a kid, I thought it’d be super neat to fly in the “plane within a plane.” The only problem is, the bump is usually reserved for first or business class, and so far my budget has not allowed for that kind of trip with cash.
In early 2017, both United and Delta announced that they were retiring their 747s by the end of the year, thus ending the plane’s American-flagged service. Since I have a ton of United miles, thanks to my credit card and living in the United-dominated Newark market, I started looking for business class fares in the bump at the Saver Awards redemption level. Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone. AvGeeks the world over had the same idea, and the Asian routes running out of the lone San Francisco 747 hub were all sold out. The London and Frankfurt runs weren’t much better. I started to think the only way to tick this one off the list was to figure out how to cash something in for the 747 fleet that would still be run by Qantas, British Airways, KLM, or Lufthansa.
Then, in early July, I decided to give United one more shot. I thought I’d check the Frankfurt run, even if flying over my house and going to the west coast seemed a bit counterproductive. And lo and behold, on 7 September, a seat was available for 57,500 miles. I jumped on it, selected myself in seat 15A, and tried to figure out how to piece together a trip to both Europe and the West Coast, taking advantage of the extra vacation day from Labor Day.
I could explore the Black Forest around Frankfurt, but somehow I didn’t feel that trip move me quite yet. Last year I did a fantastic trip to Switzerland, and it was a little too similar. My friend Gabriele, who lives in Basel and is one of my best travel companions, was also going to be out of town, so I felt like going further afield.
I’d been fascinated by Brittany and Finistère in France of late, especially the lighthouse-laden island of Ouessant/Ushant off the western tip of France. Considering that I was cashing in miles for the journey to Europe as well, and United didn’t care what airport I went to, I decided to consider a trip out there. I booked myself a ridiculous connection to Rennes, France, taking a United 757-200 from Newark to Edinburgh, followed by two Aer Lingus connections on ATR 72s to Dublin and Rennes. A night in Brest, two nights in Ushant, another night in Brest. One leg down.
To get to Frankfurt, I’d take a train from Brest to Paris Montparnasse, walk a few hours across town to Gare de l’Est, and then onward to Frankfurt. A night in Frankfurt, some wandering and geocaching, and off to the airport to San Francisco by United 747-400. Upon landing in San Francisco, grab an airport hotel on points and crash from jetlag.
For the final leg, after a morning wandering San Francisco, it would be Virgin America’s A320 to Portland, taking in that airline before its merger into Alaska Airlines ramps up later this year. Three nights in Portland with one of my friends from the Mendo_Recce Land Rover email list, then fly United’s A320 back to SFO and their 777-200 back to Newark.
A doozy of a trip, it would also incorporate a lot of my interests under one 12-day itinerary. As I considered how I’d be doing everything from exploring French lighthouses, to geocaching my way across cities, to hitting the 4×4 trails in Oregon, all tied together by the classic Jumbo Jet, the only name for this was “Jumbo Journey.”
And so, I found myself at Newark Airport, waiting for the flight to Edinburgh…
Chapter 1: EWR-EDI-DUB-RNS
1-2 September 2017