A couple months ago, people were posting about a fare from DC to Johannesburg, mentioning that while it was a great fare in business class, it wasn’t really cheap enough to be considered a “milage run.” Well, I like to be comfortable, and with business fares earning 1.5 times the elite miles it was a no brainer for me. I tend to think if I can buy a business fare for less than 10 cents per elite mile I’m doing well, and with the limited time off I have it made this a no-brainer. The kicker was that my friend Dewon was already headed back to South Africa to renew a visa, and I could fly the outbound with him. A few days after booking, my friend Phil wanted to join me for the crazy milage run from DC, and we had the makings of an adventure!
Of course, since this was largely for the miles I devised the most insane routing I could to maximize the miles, and it went off without a hitch! All told, it would be around 33,000 elite miles earned, at the cost of only one day of leave…can’t complain too much! Soon, the day of the trip was here and it was time to go. I’m going to break this into three parts…. (1) the trip to South Africa aka this post, (2) our 1.5 days in South Africa, and (3) the trip back from South Africa. Warning, this part of the post will be extremely picture heavy!
Got to National Airport, check-in was fairly efficient, TSA was a non-event due to TSA Pre-Check, and soon we were in the United Club. I love the historic club at National Airport, not to mention the awesome bartender who makes the most amazing spicy bloody mary…perfect start to a big adventure!
United (operated by Shuttle America) flight 3523
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:35, Arrive 11:44, Flight Time 2:09
Embraer E-170, Registration N638RW, Manufactured 2004, Seat 2F
Not too much to say about this flight…it was a pretty generic express flight. One more drink, some “gourmet snack mix,” some crossword puzzles, and soon we were in Chicago.
Whenever I have time, it’s become an O’Hare ritual for me to swing by Chilis for some Tex Mex Eggrolls and a Platinum Presidente Margarita…couldn’t resist this time either. We had plenty of time, and the other option was to sit in a crowded United Club, so the choice was obvious!
United flight 686
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Newark, NJ (EWR)
Depart 13:46, Arrive 17:07, Flight Time 2:21
Airbus A319, Registration N828UA, Manufactured 1999, Seat 2E
Again a pretty generic flight, but one notable aspect: according to the United app nobody cleared the upgrade list and for once all the passengers in first were paid. That has to be a first on United. I know it used to happen on Continental, but even on a hub-to-hub flight like this one I’m not used to seeing it on United. Not too much to say about this flight – it was a really good crew, a decent “snack,” and soon we were in Newark.
Unfortunately, we had a rather long layover in Newark, but we didn’t want to risk misconnecting so it was a far better option than getting stuck there. As usual, the United Club was absolutely packed and it was nearly impossible to find a power outlet for charging the iDevices pre-flight. We managed to make the two or so hours go fairly quickly, met up with my other friend Dewon who’d be joining us for the flights to Johannesburg, and soon it was time to board the flight to Frankfurt.
United flight 50
Newark, NJ (EWR) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 20:05, Arrive 9:15 next day, Flight Time 8:10
Boeing 767-400ER, Registration N76062, Manufactured 2002, Seat 6L
Flight was completely full in business, and we had a pretty good crew. My plan was to eat, and then sleep right up until arrival so I would be at least decently rested to enjoy our 12+ hours in Frankfurt. First, the menus from the flight:
But first, and most importantly, pre-departure beverages!
…and even at 6’3, there’s plenty of legroom in these seats! Ok, I admit it, I just wanted an excuse to post a picture of my obnoxious sneakers!
We left the gate about 15 minutes late, and were in the air maybe 15 minutes after that, and the crew (thankfully) sprang into service pretty quickly and got things rolling so we could get to sleep. First up, a glass of wine and some warm nuts:
The appetizer was some sort of tiny salmon thing…it was rather embarrassing. It tasted ok though, and hey, unlike the new United it was on its own plate so I really can’t complain TOO much!
The salmon mess was followed by a salad (like I said, still thankful they’re separate courses so I’m not complaining too much) which was completely uninspired, but then….came manna. I mean, garlic bread, or, nevermind…same thing. Deliciousness.
Then, it was time for the main event. I was shocked there was no steak on this flight, since every Continental flight always seemed to have it, but decided I’d give the pork chop a go since I don’t do fish on planes. Phil had the fish and said it was pretty good, but the pork chop? Wow, it was actually delicious…one of the best main courses I think I’ve ever had on United. I was actually shocked how good it was….
I was getting quite full by this point, but hey…another glass of wine and some cheese should help with falling asleep. The cheese was bland and uninteresting as usual, but hey…it was cheese! Who doesn’t love cheese!
…and finally, the best part of the meal…the ice cream sundae. The desert United tried to get away with, and Continental brought back. The best part of flying United, the…nevermind. I love my ice cream 😉
I promptly passed the hell out, and managed to sleep nearly six straight hours until we were 15 minutes from landing in Frankfurt. I’d forgotten to tell Phil my plan, and fortunately he let me sleep through “breakfast” until the last possible moment. I had no interest in a bland plane breakfast anyways!
After landing, we headed to the Lufthansa Senator lounge for a quick shower, some catching up on e-mail and such, and then bought a daypass and took a train to Frankfurt Haupbanhoff where were grabbed a coffee and plotted strategy. Rather than wander Frankfurt, we opted to take the S-Bahn out to the town of Bad Hamburg where I’d been years ago and grab lunch. It was a chilly day, but it was a nice walk and soon we were at the Kartoffelkeuche restaurant, which unlike my previous visit was absolutely packed.
…is that not the most perfect looking beer ever? …and I mean, potatoes, ham, cheese, beer, and warmth. It was the perfect lunch surrounded by a bunch of locals out enjoying a weekend lunch. It was the perfect short “Germany experience” and very glad we did it. We strolled the town a bit, and saw a fun church in the park:
Took the train back to Frankfurt, and wandered around a bit, stopping by the Dom and a few other sites to take pictures:
By this point, we were getting cold. Very cold. And when you’re cold, nothing warms you up like beer. I mean, it is Germany, so it’s practically required, right? We stopped by a couple of different bars, the first one for apple wine, and the second for an amazing beer, or two. Or was it three. I don’t really remember, but it was in an old monastery and very atmospheric. That’s my excuse.
Suitably warm, with a little time to spare, and in the neighbourhood, we decided to head over to the ECB to bring down the Euro. I mean take a picture next to the European Central Bank. No trojan horses here, don’t worry Greece. I mean, everyone needs to go take a picture next to a giant neon euro sign!
It was getting dark by this time (duh, see pic above) so we hopped the train back to the airport. Immigration and security had absolutely no queue at all, and on the way to the Senator Lounge we ran into Dewon who’d opted to spend the day sleeping at the airport Sheraton since he’d be in cattle class on the overnight to Johannesburg. I’d been hoping the Senator Lounge still served my favourite evening snack, and I wasn’t disappointed:
I mean, come on. Who doesn’t love sausages, cookies, and beer, right?
Lufthansa flight 572
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:00, Arrive 10:00 next day, Flight Time 11:00
Airbus A380, Registration D-AIME, Manufactured 2010, Seat 27A
We snacked and showered, and soon it was time to head off to our A380. Phil was quite excited since it was his first time ever on the A380, and while economy was full business was shockingly empty, with only about 15 of 90 seats taken! A few shots below of the empty business cabin:
We managed to get the exit row with lots of legroom even though with an empty cabin it didn’t really matter. The crew was friendly and chatty, and I could already tell it was going to be a great flight. A few shots of the menu:
I still think it’s kinda tacky the way Lufthansa serves their nuts in little foil pouches, but that said I think they’re much higher quality than the ones United serves so I probably shouldn’t complain. #firstworldproblems
The appetizer, by contrast, was fun. It was served in a box, and had three unique parts that were all pretty tasty. Points to Lufthansa for the creativity on this one!
I went with the special lamb stew for a main, and while it was extremely tasty, I found the portion to be quite small, and the presentation to be, well, lacking. It honestly looked like a plate of throw-up, and I had a hard time eating it despite how tasty it was.
Finished up with the cheese course and desert, and a special gift of a chocolate bunny. Actually I lie…I had two cheese courses because the flight was so empty. But again, who doesn’t like cheese? Honestly, I don’t know what it was this trip, but I had a thing for cheese courses…go figure!
Again managed to pass out for over 7 hours after dinner, and slept most of the way until Johannesburg. I still don’t find the Lufthansa tilt-a-gurney seats to be overly comfortable, but they’re plenty good for me to sleep in. No complaints at all!
Next up, I’ll post what we did with our two days in Johannesburg!