After a rather long day at work it was off to Dulles Airport to begin the long trek to Malawi. Uneventful ride on the metro (the new silver line seriously makes the trek out to Dulles so much less painful since I live across the street from the station) and soon I was upstairs to check-in. Dulles was a ghost town for some reason, and check-in and TSA took no time at all, and soon I was “enjoying” the United Global First Lounge. Bubbles? Don’t mind if I do!
Had about an hour in the lounge where I caught up on work e-mails since I’d been out of the office all day, had a few glasses of bubbles and some shrimp cocktail, and right on time it was time to board the flight to London.
United flight 924
Washington DC, Dulles (IAD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 22:00, Arrive 10:15, Flight Time 7:15
Boeing 777, Registration N778UA, Manufactured 1996, Seat 2K
I was sort of excited for this flight, since I used to be a regular on it. For about three years I was on this flight roughly twice a month commuting back and forth to London, almost always on Thursday nights. I hadn’t been on it in three years, so was looking forward to seeing if some of the London-based crews I’d gotten to know well were still working it. Unfortunately, no, it’s crewed by DC-based crews now but still promised to be a nice flight.
Until….I found out my seat had two broken storage compartments. The purser verified there were only three passengers tonight, so told me to move from 1K back to 2K. No problem at all…until four nonrevs showed up. It started with “that’s my assigned seat.” So, I told her my seat was broken, and the purser had authorized me to move so they should take it up with her. “No, you must take your assigned seat!”
So, I paged the purser….who told them to sort it out and take whatever seats were left – they were not to disturb revenue passengers. It was two groups of two, two of whom were on buddy passes. The nasty lady who was ordering me to move then tried to pin it on the other two. Ugh. Eventually the purser paged the gate agent to scold them….the gate agent came back, and told the buddy pass riders they’d have to get off the plane for violating rules…so, I had to step in. Ugh. Majorly uncomfortable. I literally couldn’t believe how aggressively this woman was fighting to sit next to her companion. Finally, I looked right at her and said “you should be thankful you’re even in first, I can’t believe you’re arguing this.” Her response? “Our benefits are negotiated and I know I’m entitled to my assigned seat!” Sigh. Eventually, they were told to sit down, shut up for the duration of the flight, or be offloaded…and we pushed back.
Welcome aboard class of Jeff Cliquot in the always-classy plastic flute. Number one of two the awesome purser brought me to tolerate the nonsense going on around me.
Pushback….bins still open…and STAYED open during takeoff. That’s the offender in the blue shirt 😉
Due to the short flight time the crew was great about beginning meal service right away once we were in the air. Today’s menu:
Apparently things are so bad at United now we can’t even have tablecloths that cover the entire tray. Ugh.
The always-classy cashew halves and mixed nuts with a glass of 2015 Château le Jeff:
Mmmm….the garlic bread…which came with…”I told them they couldn’t have any, so have all you want honey!” The crew was absolutely awesome!
Empanada and corn. Strangest starter ever.
The tomato soup was fair, but certainly nothing special.
Salad was definitely below average. What’s with all the iceberg lettuce?!
…but the pork chop? Absolutely fantastic. Probably one of the best Untied entrees I’ve ever had. For once they absolutely hit a home run!
Cheese with sweet honey crackers. Mmmm….there may have been two servings, but I’m not admitting it!
Now, for anyone who read my 2014 Sundae Year in Review, you know there’s not a ton of variation. It’s usually fudge or caramel, sometimes both, with “cherries.” I leave it up to the flight attendant to interpret that. It usually results in two or three, but on rare occasion they go wild…like the time I got more than 10. Today was a very unusual middle ground of five…individually skewered. Points for presentation?
Passed right out, and was woken by the flight attendant literally 10 minutes off the ground. Despite a flight time of 6:20 I managed 4 solid hours of sleep which is about usual for me on this route. Hooray! Overall, despite the extremely nasty lady during boarding it was a better than average United first experience. I’m still debating if it’s worth writing United an FYI letter on this one – not asking for compensation, but this woman really needs to be disciplined because if it was someone less patient than me she fought with she could have cost United an extremely valuable customer.
First time in the newish Terminal 2!
Had an incredibly cheeky immigration officer “wow brand new passport! Have you been to the United Kingdom before?” Yes, well over a hundred times…”oh, right, well I love breaking in a virgin passport!” Hahaha, she was awesome! Soon I was stamped in and off to the arrivals lounge. Had a very nice shower, some coffee and fruit, stored my rolling bag with left luggage, and hopped on the Piccadilly Line into the city. I had an 8 hour layover, and plan was to meet up with “the reason I used to come to London all the time” for lunch and catching up.
We ended up having a fantastic sushi lunch in Holborn and wandering around a bit. In all the years I’d been going to London I’d never really spent time in this area, so was really nice to see a new area of town and catch up. Unfortunately, it starting pissing down rain, so I had to hop in the nearest tube station and start heading back to the airport.
Because I never do things the easy way, instead of taking the train one stop and transferring to the Piccadilly line I kept riding it all the way around to Hammersmith and picking up the Piccadilly line there. Of course, I didn’t know that meant leaving the station to transfer, but variety is the spice of life and such…or is that nutmeg? 😉
Was already checked in with SAA in Washington, but got new boarding passes and headed through eternity. The walk to the new United lounges and the longhaul gates in T2 is pretty much the distance from London to Scotland..or close…but once I got there I was rewarded with an empty United Global First Lounge all to myself. The last United flight was about to leave, and SAA doesn’t have first class. Not sure why they even leave this lounge open since there’s really nobody to use it at this hour, but I wasn’t complaining!
I was still pretty full, but couldn’t resist a couple of glasses of bubbles along with the Tarte Tatin.
It was pretty tasty, and a good choice. The bubbles also made the work conference calls I had to join much more tolerable…and soon it was time to head to the gate to board.
South African Airways flight 235
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 18:05, Arrive 7:40 next day, Flight Time 11:35
Airbus A330-200, Registration ZS-SXZ, Manufactured 2011, Seat 2D
The flight was almost full in business, except for two seats, one of which I was fortunate enough to have next to me…until the door closed and they loaded some VIP. He was some South African government minister, who bragged to me that he never bought business because they always upgraded him when he showed up at the last minute. Classy. Corruption is a beautiful thing. At least he was quiet and respectful once the door closed, so can’t complain. Pre-departure bubbles:
The two crew working the front business cabin were very friendly, and jokingly calling each other the best flight attendant in the company. One had been flight attendant of the year the prior year, and the other was “just” flight attendant of the month. They were a hoot to talk to, and made the flight lots of fun. Tasty, and very-nicely-presented amuse bouche:
Unfortunately I misplaced the menu, but there was a choice of two starters. A soup or a salmon starter. The salmon was fantastic, and a great choice. Look, more garlic bread!
I believe there were three choices of mains, and I went with the chicken wrapped in cured ham. It was a good choice, and pretty well cooked.
The cheese course was one of the better I’ve ever had in business, and I’ll confess to having another. The parmesan was especially good, but the olives in the plastic ramekin were kind of tacky. It’s the little things, people!
Only managed about five hours of sleep, unfortunately (I’d been hoping for 7 or more) so was awake when they did breakfast service. The seat is relatively comfortable for sleeping, but for the third time after flying SAA I noticed I woke up with friction burns/bruises on one of my elbows. Must just be how I wedge into the seat. At 6’4 there’s really no such thing as a comfortable seat, even if you do sleep on your side all scrunched up. I wasn’t really hungry, but agreed to give it a try. Ate the fruit and took little nibbles of the other parts just to try. Weird banana nut muffin with huge chunks of banana in it.
Main of scrambled eggs, ham, potatoes, and grilled cheese sandwich. Incredibly odd – and soggy, but can’t fault them too much for providing such a substantial breakfast!
Landed about 15 minutes ahead of schedule, through immigration (is South Africa the only country in the world where you actually get a transit stamp in your passport when doing an international transit?) and off to the lounge. Had a nice shower, coffee, water, caught up on e-mails and relaxed before the final leg of this long trip.
South African Airways flight 172
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Blantyre, Malawi (BLZ)
Depart 10:20, Arrive 12:30, Flight Time 2:10
Airbus A319, Registration ZS-SFN, Manufactured 2011, Seat 2D
Flight had 30 seats in business, but there were only six seats taken today. Lots of room to spread out!
Short two hour flight, and not much to say about it. Nice hot lunch was service, with two choices of main…beef or chicken. LOL. I went with the beef, which was reasonably tasty:
Uneventful flight, arrived right on time, quickly stamped into Malawi, and was time to find my driver and finally head off to Cape Maclear to RELAX!