Oct 232011

So, this is probably not the most commonly flown route in the world – Philippines to Zambia? It was odd enough there were several stops along the way where agents had to look up three digit airport codes to figure out where it was, lol.

Checked in in Manila at oh-dark-thirty minus an hour, and no trouble. Once again, the airport improvement tax is not included in the ticket, but you can pay in any combination of currencies you want at the ticket window. Got rid of my leftover pesos, spent a few US dollars, and we were through to the Cathay Pacific Lounge. Perhaps the most depressing lounge on the planet. But, it was quiet, and we didn’t have to wait in a gate full of hundreds of people (ok, so we did have to sit with a dozen or more self-important types, but…) but there was Diet Coke, and all was right with the world.

Boarding was right on time, and the crew was pleasant. Not too much more you can ask for on a two hour regional flight!

Manila, Philippines to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific flight 904
Depart 6:20, Arrive 8:20, Flight Time: 2 hours
Airbus A330-300, Registration B-HLH, Manufactured 1995
Seats 15H, 15K

Not much to say on this flight. Breakfast was served with two hot options, the eggs were almost edible, and before we knew it we were landing in Hong Kong. I forgot to say this flight had perhaps the best character we’ve ever seen He was walking with a “pimp cane” with a giant fake diamond on the top of it, and complaining loudly to everyone in site that he was not sitting next to his wife. Two people in a row declined to switch with them, and he only got more obnoxious, waving his cane in the air. It was something out of Las Vegas meets Bollywood meets a Trailer Park…eventually they got to sit together, and he was quiet the rest of the flight.

Immigration in Hong Kong was a bit of a nightmare, and we ended up waiting well over 30 minutes to get through. We hadn’t planned on clearing it, but there were no Lufthansa agents anywhere on the transfers side and we wanted to request the upgrade as soon as possible, so we went to the check-in desk. Quick stop for Starbucks, up to the check-in desks…and SCORE! They upgraded us on the spot. Life was good!

Back through immigration, and first stop was the Singapore lounge. It was adequate (despite there being no washroom in the lounge) but nothing great, so we headed to the Thai lounge, which had a dedicated first class side. Much better, drinks were provided by a waiter, and it was a much better (and lighter) place to wait. The Singapore lounge is in the basement of the terminal, while the Thai lounge is on the top level with a glass roof. Much better! Soon it was time to board…and pray.

See, Matt doesn’t have the best luck with Lufthansa First Class. On two different occasions, he’s had a disaster:

First, flying Dubai to Munich the aircraft went tits up with some sort of mechanical malfunction, and a 3+ hour delay…which would have meant missing connections back to the States. Now, this wasn’t all bad, since due to a bit of quick thinking we begged to be rebooked on Emirates…and did. On the A380. In first. Nonstop to London. Arriving over 30 minutes earlier! That said, Lufthansa was jinxed.

Next, flying London City to Frankfurt to connect to Frankfurt-Baku the incoming flight struck a swan. Well, they said it was a swan, but it was probably just some other sort of large fowl. Regardless, flight canceled, no way to get to Frankfurt in time, and a resulting downgrade to “business’ on Turkish via Istanbul and a nearly 18 hour delay. Fantastic. Something was SURE to go wrong again…right?

Hong Kong to Frankfurt, Germany
Lufthansa flight 739
Depart 12:45, Arrive 18:55, Flight Time: 12:10
Boeing 747-400, Registration D-ABVF, Manufactured 1990
Seats 83A, 83K

Well, everything went fine up until departure and after a couple of glasses of champagne we were airborne. Of course, this meant that we were sure to divert to Kraplakistan or something on the way. Hopefully to a country I hadn’t ticked off the list yet! 😉

Soon after we took off, the crew sprang into service, and soon it was time to set the table and deliver the amuse bouche.

Next up, it was time for appetizers. Lufthansa does a three-tier appetizer tray, plus a caviar service. You can have as much or as little as you want from the menu. Unfortunately I don’t remember everything that was on offer, but I do remember I went for one of the appetizers plus a double helping of caviar when she came around again 😉 This was followed by a salad which was good, but unremarkable, and not really photo-worthy.

As usual, the entrees all looked pretty uninteresting. I did something I never do on planes, and went with the salmon. I never trust fish on planes, but hey – this came with gnocchi, so it HAD to be good…and it was!

Next up in the feast of gluttony was the cheese course. I really was gonna skip it because I was quite full already, but they had a red wine I really wanted to try, and there had to be some cheese to wash it down!

Last but not least was a mango panna cotta which was delicious and a couple of chocolates to go with it…and the grande finale. You’ll notice the glass in the upper right that looks like milk. I had tried this wine on the Frankfurt-Baku flight the prior month and was pretty excited to see it on the menu again. Unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called (or I would try and find it at home) but it was a Milk Wine from Dresden that was absolutely amazing. Yes, it was unusual and most people probably won’t like it…but it was something like milk meets vodka, definitely “harder” than Baileys, and still tasted really like milk. Yeah, it was awesome.

After gorging, we watched movies/etc for the rest of the flight, had a quick snack before landing, and it was uneventful. No clue why we finally had a drama-free Lufthansa first segment, but was very glad we did. Landed, through security, and straight to the Lufthansa first lounge. Somehow, we were already “more than several” down the upgrade list, and it looked like we were in business for the next segment, no biggie. With a three hour layover it was great to have the first lounge to shower, have a few glasses of good champagne, and just generally relax. Car to the plane, and soon we were settled on the upper deck of the A380.

Frankfurt, Germany to Johannesburg, South Africa
Lufthansa flight 572
Depart 22:45, Arrive 9:10+1, Flight Time: 10:25
Airbus A380-800, Registration D-AIMC, Manufactured 2010
Seats 26D, 26G

The upper deck was an all-male crew, and extremely attentive. I think we were asleep before the plane even took off, waking just in time to have a quick dinner before passing out again. I think I slept a solid 7 or more hours, waking an hour out in time for a small breakfast before landing. The best redeye flight (in my opinion) is one you sleep through and don’t remember, and this one fit the bill perfectly. Even though Lufthansa has awful seats in business class that are at least ten years out of date, my ability to sleep almost anywhere paid off.

I hadn’t been through Johannesburg in nearly two years, and once again it was a totally different airport. The constant construction seems to be nearly over finally, and it was actually quite efficient. Through transit security, then transit passport control, and off to the gate with plenty of time. I wasn’t sure it had been a wise idea to book a 90 minute connection in Johannesburg (given its notorious problems) on two different tickets, but what the hell…why not! In the end, everything worked out absolutely perfectly.

Johannesburg, South Africa to Livingstone, Zambia
South African flight 48
Depart 10:40, Arrive 12:30, Flight Time 1:50
Airbus A319-100, Registration ZS-SFL, Manufactured 2005
Seats 1D, 1F

Flight was maybe 80% full, and best news of all – not only were we in the bulkhead row, but the middle seat was empty! Even better, this was an “international configuration” A319, meaning it was a 2-3 config with leather seats in the first few rows, so the seats were slightly wider to begin with. Triple score!

It was a quick flight, crew was great, and quite friendly. Plenty of diet cokes to stay awake, a choice of two cold sandwiches for a snack, and soon we were descending into Zambia. Visa was easy enough, and soon we were in the carpark waiting on our driver.

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