Bottled it Well that's a first

Arriving at Terminal 3 and transferring to T5 was a new experience for both of us. I knew there was an airside connection route involving a trip on a bus, and lo and behold that's what we did. I'd mentioned to Helen numerous times in the last few months that we could, if we wanted, cross the border and get the tube - getting her some valuable landside opportunity to have a vape - but she'd not been interested... until now, that is, when she decided to ask why the hell we'd stayed airside. Damn it.

In through the fast track queue at connections and up to security, getting metal detected and x-rayed and stuff for the third time today. I think we're going to end up next to the million pound door but in fact we've been dumped at security south, meaning we have to walk against the flow of other passengers to get entrance into the Concorde Room.

Oh, did I not mention this yet? We're flying in first class - just like we did last May 26th - which lets us in the shiniest of all lounges at T5. Glass of champagne, anyone?

White or pink?

Unlike last year, we'd both managed to book massages - from a real person, not the magic chair shenanigans - so I had about 40 minutes to get blogging out of the way. While Helen disappeared to the loo a waitress came round offering refills. Well... go on then. And then once I'd posted the previous entry, I wished I'd called it "Woo hah, got you all in Czech". Never mind.

At massage o'clock I headed off to the spa. It was a 15 minute "power back and neck" massage, and Katie chatted along happily during the treatment. She found a few knots lower down my back but was pretty pleased with my neck and shoulders, which I attributed to table tennis. Though, truth told, it wasn't a wonderful massage. It was good, no doubt, but not the brutal pummelling I prefer.

When I emerged, Helen was waiting for hers. I headed back to the lounge, asking the lady at the desk how she would get back in, since she doesn't have a boarding pass - I have them both on my phone. "Get her to text you?" was the advice, and that's what happens. Apparently her masseur had said, holy shit, you'e got knots EVERYWHERE and need serious deep tissue stuff once a month!

During her treatment I had grabbed a sofa facing the bar, and a glass of bubbly. By now it was 3pm, with a flight time of 4.10pm guaranteed to leave from the C satellite. Helen wanted to leave pretty soon, but while she went to the loo I approached the front desk again.

"Hi, I'm on the LA flight at 4.10pm from a C gate. What time realistically should we be leaving for that?" "I would say around 3.30pm at the very latest, sir" "OK, what I'm really asking is - do I have time for another glass of champagne?" "Oh, always! Always!"

So, one last glass, and then the dreaded monorail trip. I mean look, I like monorails, but terminal 5C is a real pain in the arse. Especially with no lounge, meaning there's no choice but to do this rigmarole of leaving the lounge late.

But I do like the big boys

As soon as we get off the monorail, I get a ton of alerts. Our 4.10pm departure is now going to depart at 4.40pm. Fucks sake. We could have stayed in the bloody lounge! Thankfully, despite an A380 holding tons of people, there was space for us to sit at the gate, and sit we did. For ages. And ages. At one point they said "We're really sorry for the delay - caused by the bridge not connecting to the doors - but can now announce pre-boarding" - kids, elderly, etc. Seemingly no-one moves, and things stay silent for ages again.

Helen keeps putting off going to the loo, but fuck all is happening so I say look, just go - with a bit of luck you might even invoke sods law. So she goes, and invokes sods law - boarding is announced for first, business, gold and silver card holders. Ha! So she returns, and we skirt round the massed crowd and into the priority bit.

Onboard, we're given a warm welcome and led to our seats. As this happens, a man is leading his two kids to the cockpit for a visit and I - unnoticed by Helen - ask "is there a maximum age for a visit? It's her birthday...". So, just after she's settled down in her seat Helen is approached by two members of crew, one saying to the other. "This lady would like to visit the cockpit, it's her birthday, will you take her?"

First officer Olney

I too get to go in, as photographer. While she's being goaded into sitting in the pilot's seat and wearing the hat and everything. This is awesome! Fucking hell! During a brief silence, I say to one of the flight crew: "looks a bit complicated, this". Yeah, it is, apparently. I'm like, I'm a software engineer! I should understand complicated stuff! And he says well maybe I can stick around and help fix some of the bugs. We laugh, and go back to our seats.

Hang on, what? Bugs? There'd best not be bugs in the software for flying this fucking plane! Especially since over the tannoy we're told this plane had been towed over from the maintenance bay a bit late too. Overrunning engineering works, eh?

Aaanyway, we're done and now it's time to enjoy the seat. I've been lucky enough to fly first class on BA's 747s and 777s in the past but this is a first time on the A380, the flagship product (I think?). Flyertalk has led me to believe that there's not a huge difference, but I'm convinced the suite is way bigger than on the other planes. There seems to be lots more space. So, obviously, I took photos of all the bits and bobs.

There's also some floor level storage space on the outside of the suite, a wardrobe deep enough to put my bag in. This is much better than side bins or overhead lockers.

The pyjamas are handed to us without even being asked for sizes, they've clearly eyed us up. There are slippers and an amenity kit and, oh, some champagne. Yes please. And a refill, why not. And the menu. I feel very pleased with myself, as usual.

Once the doors are shut and seatbelt signs on, I doze off and largely miss take-off. My eyes open just as we're a few feet off the air, ascending very slowly in this ace lumbering hunk of a plane. And, as soon as the light goes off, I'm up and talking to Helen in her seat in front of me, to which she invites me to join her. The footrest doubles up as a buddy seat and again, I'm sure there's more space than on the other models. It's certainly comfortable enough to sit in for 3 or more hours, which I promptly do as we drink and dine together.

Table is set for two.

The amuse bouche is a little pesto cornetto with cheesy goo in it.

My starter: red mullet. Sounds like a hairstyle, tastes like a fish.

Helen opts for a salad.

Her main is beef. We'd pre-ordered, and it had worked, though we could have changed our mind once on board if desired.

My guinea fowl was decent. Not outstanding, but decent.

Helen's dessert looks so nice, I'm offered one to go alongside my ice cream (unpictured). I say no thanks, I'm saving some room...

... for the cheese plate. I failed to have any port though. D'oh.

The champagne keeps flowing and the staff are great, really playing up to us because of the birthday girl. And then, a new one on me, they just hand us the bottle rather than keep serving us. Fuck yes!

Happy Darren is happy.

I get really bloody angry that someone else in the cabin - this is first class, not the back seat upstairs on a London bus - is regularly playing tinny crap music from their phone speaker and almost gear myself up to complain to the staff, but in the end I leave it. It's rude but it's not really spoiling things too much.

Check out the jim jams.

And after all that, it's time to go back to my seat. Helen wants a kip, and I want to watch some films and stuff. I take my glass and the bottle back with me, get ensconced, and put on a film. Think it was Creed. I fell asleep during the opening credits, and woke up in a fully dark cabin with only 2 hours of the flight left. Wait, what? I hadn't even put my seat in a bed position - it was reclined a bit, and I did have my feet up, but it weren't flat - and I thnk I've just had 5 hours kip. Wow.

I feel a bit ropey. As if I'm hungover a little bit. Some "eye gel" from the amenity kit makes my face feel a bit better, and I notice that the champagne bottle is still there, and half full, and so is my glass... so I get back on it. Incorrigible.

One of the cabin crew notices I've stirred, and comes to tell me that my girlfriend is fast asleep and she's left her a bottle of rose champagne in a bag as a birthday present. Holy shit! Cockpit visit and free takeaway booze? Good work, BA! Maybe I should fly on/near my birthday and see if I can get similar treatment.

Anyway, she also asks me if I want owt from the light bites menu; apparently the burger is popular so I go for that, with souffle to start.

The burger is very bloody nice indeed. I didn't eat the chips. Only just over a month to go...

I've got enough time for one film, so I opt to watch Eddie The Eagle. Throughout all the feel good bits - which is basically all of it - I'm welling up and by the end I'm in floods of tears. Always emotional on planes, innit.

I also take some photos of America. We're sat on the right hand side of the plane, and there's an announcement that if you're sat on the right hand side of the plane you should look out the window for good views of Las Vegas. Since I'm the only one with my window already open, a member of crew comes to lean over and take a glance too. She tells me Vegas is ace and she's seen Penn & Teller, a pre-mauling Siegried & Roy, and Guns 'n Roses. Do you have to be "X <and> Y" to get a gig in Vegas then?

With Helen awake, I go for another chat. She tells me to go clean my teeth pronto, because I totally reek of champagne. Ha!

Aaand then we're at LAX, just after sunset. We roll slowly past another bunch of A380s and park up. One huge benefit of being up front in first is being off the plane at the start, especially in locations with notoriously slow immigration queues.

After our experience at Dallas immigration I'm fearing the worst. There are no machines that we can use, at least not that we can see. We join a queue, which is then siphoned off into a different area, and everything moves slowly. Helen's paranoia about her ESTA has dimmed but now a bit worried about filling out days in the month box and vice versa on the customs declaration. But after, I dunno, about half hour in the queue we're at the desk and everything is fine. Let's go past the baggage reclaim since we're hand luggage only and... join another queue. Damn it.

I'm buzzing and bouncing and happy the whole time. Probably the booze has done it, but also just because I love all this shit, as we all know. Helen's the polar opposite right now, moody and wanting nicotine and not feeling very well. My enthusiasm isn't infectious, it's just fucking annoying. We'd best get to the hotel.

Instructions in advance had said we MUST phone the hotel, or use the travelers aid kiosk. I go back inside the terminal and the kiosk doesn't have our hotel on it, so I phone up instead. Nice lady tells me the bus will be along soon, go wait at the hotel and courtesy shuttle area just along the way.

We wait. And wait. And wait. After half hour I call again asking if the bus really is coming; it is, there's just lots of traffic, please wait. The soundtrack to our wait is a lot of cars, and constant shouting from a marshal saying CABS ONLY! CABS ONLY! MOVE ALONG! to all the non-cabs (or Ubers?) pulling up at the rank.

A few minutes after the second call and here's the shuttle bus. Four of us get on, and the driver makes sure we're on the right bus because there are two Travelodge LAX hotels, one called Travelodge LAX South. Apparently lots of people get on the wrong bus. As we head away, the driver chats with the guy nearest him, complaining about how someone only went and bloody phoned up moaning about waiting half an hour. Ahem.

It's a bit of a drive past numerous other hotels and parking lots before I point out the sign to the hotel; Helen thinks I'm pointing out the posh strip club advert, on the reverse of which is a "Nurses for Bernie Sanders" thing. Go on, Bern!

In the lobby, checked in, we're given room 221 and a map. The Travelodge has numerous buildings, all surrounding a swimming pool. Everyone has outside space, either patio or balcony. It feels a bit like a stereotypical American motel from a film but also more upscale than expected. Our room is pretty damn spacious and the balcony is pretty good.

Helen and I are still at polar opposites. I'm thinking, well let's drink your birthday champagne! She feels ill. I'm boiling and put the aircon on while she visits the loo; when she comes out, she turns it off because she's feeling really cold. It's about 10pm and we have nothing non-alcoholic to drink, so I take a $20 note and hope one of the vending machines will take it.

I can only find one vending machine (could've sworn I saw two on the way in) and it's out of order. By the lobby there's a shop, which says closed on the window but the light is on and there's a small man behind the counter. I try the door, it's open. Huzzah. One bottle of water and a diet coke, please.

On the way back I notice a memorial to dead (I presume) members of hotel staff, including Team GB diving star Tom Daley. This is news to me.

It's late. We've done a lot of travelling. The TV is bollocks. Let's just go to sleep.

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