Johannesburg, South Africa to Washington, DC, the very very long way
I’m going to be a bit briefer on this entry than the trip down, mostly because many of the flights were relatively similar…just in reverse. That said, there were quite a few differences so I’ll go into a bit more detail about them.
Check-in at Johannesburg was a piece of cake despite the fully loaded A380, and we had our boarding passes within 10 minutes of getting off the Gautrain. Past the ticketing counters, on the way to security, we saw this interesting gem:
I’m going to guess that enough people flying out of JNB have weapons to check that not only do they need a special place for it, but they need a giant sign to let you know where to do it. I guess this makes you feel a little safer? Maybe?
No wait for security, but the wait for immigration was close to 20 minutes. With A380s of Lufthansa and Air France departing, as well as a couple long-haul South African and BA flights it was no big surprise, and can’t really complain about it too much. We did a bit of duty free shopping, and maybe a couple things worth mentioning: if you want Africa-themed souvenirs, you can find just about anything you want at JNB. There are several shops selling just about every sort of mask, statue, necklace, and trinket you could imagine. If you want to buy South African wine…not so much. There’s one shop, with a small selection, and they do NOT package or ship. Sort of disappointing, but saved me a good deal of money I guess.
Shopping done, it was time to spend a bit of time in the South African business lounge. Plentiful drinks served by bartenders, a bit of pre-packaged food that was so unappetizing I didn’t touch any of it, and internet that was about as fast as Oscar Pistorius…no wait, too soon. It was slow. Almost unusable slow. So slow I used data roaming on my iPhone slow. Oh, and if you want to plug in your device….you best forget it. I think the whole lounge had about 10-15 outlets all of which were in use. Womp womp.
Boarding for the A380 was total chaos due to it being a completely full flight.
Lufthansa flight 573
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:05, Arrive 5:45 next day, Flight Time 10:40
Airbus A380, Registration D-AIMC, Manufactured 2010, Seat 27K
This flight was nearly identical to the way down there. I’m not going to post too much, because honestly…not much is different. Pre-departure juice, water, or champagne (one glass, and one glass only), quick and efficient meal service from a very friendly crew, and I managed to sleep a solid 8 hours on the way to Frankfurt. I can’t ask for too much more. The menu:
I had the chicken thai coconut stew, and it was pretty tasty, but a pretty small portion. I did get a second helping of cheese after the desert course (hey, I’m a growing boy) and with a few glasses of wine got an incredibly solid sleep as mentioned above.
When we deplaned in Frankfurt, there were German immigration officers just outside the jetbridge checking passports. I’m not certain how this works, but I guess they want to catch people who ditched their passports in flight (hoping for asylum?) coming off the plane before they mix in with other flights so they can at least tell where they came from? Anyone know more about why they do this? I flashed mine, and we were off. Quick re-do of security, and we were in the A/Schengen-gates senator lounge where a nice shower awaited:
Showered and happy, grabbed a lite breakfast including lots of coffee, and some of the brightest and most festive easter eggs I’d ever seen. But come on Lufthansa, you’re a couple days late…easter was a couple days ago!
Boarding was from a remote stand, but the bus gate was only a two minute walk from the lounge which was nice. I believe it was the same gate as my Frankfurt-Munich flight a couple months ago, or at least it looked like the same gate!
Lufthansa Cityline flight 1006
Frankfurt, Germany to Brussels, Belgium
Depart 8:00, Arrive 8:55, FlightTime 0:55
Embraer E-195, Registration D-AECB, Manufactured 2010, Seat 8F
Economy was relatively full on this flight, but there were 8 rows of business with a total of 4 people in them. Go figure. Despite the 40 minute (scheduled) air time, Lufthansa managed to serve up quite a good breakfast:
The yogurt was actually delicious, and I admit to stealing Phil’s as well, although I don’t remember what flavour it was. Just that it was something similarly unusual and delicious. Unfortunately, We pulled into Brussels rather late at 9:20 which put our connection into serious jeopardy since we had to re-clear immigration, security, and change terminals.
We managed a pretty good sprint, no line at immigration, and less than 5 minutes at security, and we got to the gate at 9:35 for a 10:00 flight. The security agents wondered where in the world we’d been, and why we were so late…which seemed to be a red flag in their book. After that, the gate agent chastised us up and down for being late, before finally relenting and (it appeared) having to kick someone (non-revs it seemed) out of our seats to give them back to us. Seriously? You close the gate 30 minutes before departure? We made it on board, and it was time to go!
United flight 41
Brussels, Belgium (BRU) to Newark, NJ (EWR)
Depart 10:00, Arrive 12:40, Flight Time 8:40
Boeing 767-400ER, Registration N69059, Manufactured 2002, Seat 4B
Crew was friendly, and the route was plotted:
Unfortunately, we took nearly a 30 minute delay leaving the gate because, as the pilot announced, there was “something wrong with the computers” so they were going to “reboot” them to see if it fixed things. Appears it did, and we took off about 30 minutes behind schedule.
So, what’s to eat today?
As always, the meal started with the infamous warm nuts:
Best part about the warm nuts today…they were all cashews. Absolutely perfect as far as I’m concerned since it was untainted by less-delicious nuts of other varieties. I wish I could say the same about the appetizer, however:
Two shrimps on a skewer with a lime? Seriously? That passes for an appetizer?! While I guess that is “chilled prawn with chili sauce” technically, since they could have just put ONE prawn on the skewer, come on….your cost-cutting is showing Jeffrey!
At least the Europe-originating salad was (as usual) much better than the one you get leaving the US. Seriously, what is it with the fear of real greens from the US? This salad was at least as good as the first class ones from the US…and come on, how much extra does it really cost to give a good salad? This one was downright tasty.
For the main event, since it was a Continental plane and crew, I decided to chance the “beef tenderloin.” It should have been called the “grilled hockey puck a la Smisek” but alas, they weren’t so creative. Tough as leather, and well-done would be being nice. Oh well…I ate a few bites along with the veg, and skipped the rest.
Cheese? Yes please…and yeah, I did have two helpings again. Idk what it is with me and cheese lately, but I had two servings after being promised I could have an “extra special ice cream sundae” as well. The flight attendant brought it from the galley after taking my order when I’d finished the two servings of cheese, and I have to say, it was the most entertaining and delicious sundae I’ve ever had on United! Almonds, extra cherries, fudge, and a little baileys on top. She truly knew the way to my heart!
Rest of the flight was uneventful. I skipped the pre-arrival nasty, and as we went through around 10,000 feet the plane was being tossed all over the place by what felt like seriously strong winds. And then….silence. Video monitors went dark, cabin lights went dark, and at around 3,000 feet the entire plane fell silent. Not exactly what you want to see when you’re being tossed about by turbulence and you took off late due to unknown computer problems. It felt like we were gliding in with no power, but things must have been ok because we landed just fine and we pulled into the gate a solid 30 minutes early. Probably one of the scariest landings I’ve ever had.
This was my third Newark arrival in a row to arrive at the B-terminal, meaning a transfer on the airtrain to the C terminal for my connection. Immigration was a snap with Global Entry, there was Starbucks to wake me up right outside immigration, and here’s where the shit hit the fan.
In Frankfurt, I’d seen we were likely to be quite early, so I did a same day confirmed change with the 1K line to an earlier Newark to Chicago flight. No problem except she couldn’t get us seat assignments. No problem. We ended up split up, but at least we were out of Newark earlier, and no longer had a 33 minute connection in Chicago. Until…
We hit the Hell known as Newark TSA. 40 minutes to clear security. I asked one of the Smurfs nicely if he could move us up in line, and got: “only if you ask every single person in front of you. So NO.” Nice, I love New Jersey attitude. However, several people overheard this exchange, and offered us to move ahead of them…and when the Smurf saw this…he backpeddled: “it’s not my fault, my supervisor was right there, he would have fired me, I would have moved you if it was up to me” etc etc etc. Gag.
That said, the 40 minutes had one benefit. Checking my phone, I noticed two seats open in first on the earlier Chicago to DC flight as well which weren’t there when we were in Frankfurt. 1K agent rebooked us, and told us to get our ticket reissued when we arrived Chicago, and we were set. Yay! I would get home two full hours sooner!
We ran to the gate, were the last two on board 5 minutes before the flight, and away we went.
United flight 665
Newark, NJ (EWR) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 14:04, Arrive 15:40, Flight Time 2:36
Airbus A319, Registration N481UA, Manufactured 2001, Seat 1A
Snack, good crew, some margaritas, we landed. There’s seriously not much else to say…except I had a run-in with fame….I got the “pleasure” of sitting next to Richard Hatch of Survivor notoriety. You know “naked guy” who later went to prison for tax evasion. *shudder* I blame all my drinking on an attempt to not have to converse with him.
Now, here’s where things went absolutely tits up. Got to the gate to ask the agent to reticket, and there was no agent. Checked the United app and….it didn’t show me on the flight, but Phil’s app showed him. As the 1K (with Phil a gold) I was concerned, but since his app showed it I figured it was something to do with not being reticketed.
Nope. Agent arrived, confirmed the 1K agent had never ticketed me, and now there were only economy seats. There was a service director at the gate who told me, and I do quote: “there’s nothing I can do. You can take this flight in coach and stop feeling entitled to your upgrade, or take your original one in two hours.” Wow. I tried a bit longer without success, and took row 3 with the promise of the seat next to me empty.
Bzzt…after boarding, I got a nonrev next to me. LOL. Them’s the breaks. That said, after I had a long chat with 1K Customer Service upon landed I was more than adequately compensated and hopefully a certain agent’s file has been noted. Still waiting for a refund of the fare difference for that segment, but not hoping for too much.
United (operated by Shuttle America) flight 3472
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 16:05, Arrive 19:01, Flight Time 1:56
Embraer E-170, Registration N656RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 3A
That said, I had more legroom in row 3 than in first, upon telling the flight attendant the story he kept me supplied with wine the whole flight and was without a doubt the best Shuttle crew I’ve ever had. Three stars to him! In the end, I got home earlier, got my legroom and drinks, so I got what I’d paid for. The only thing that had me upset was the screwup by the 1K agent, and the nasty attitude of the service director.
Stay tuned for my next trip soon!
You forgot to mention the delay leaving BRU and how we lost power on approach into EWR!
Thanks – how could I forget that landing! Updated it.