ironmanjt

Oct 222019
 


After a lovely four+ hours of sleep at my home away from home, the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport, I was feeling rested and not wanting to waste another minute of the day. To ensure maximum performance, the first stop as always was the Starbucks located near the B Terminal of Frankfurt Airport.

Apparently, there are even Basic Beckies in Germany….purse sized ESA, pumpkin spice latte, and all.

Caffeinated and ready to go, it was a short walk to my version of nirvana…otherwise known as the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. Approximately a 7-8 minute walk from the main terminal.

They’re not exactly used to people walking to the terminal (I assume most visitors are posh Germans showing up in their fancy BMWs and Mercedes…or at the very least an Uber… but the good thing is for us AvGeeks who like such things there is a pedestrian entrance as well!

Upon entering the terminal and handing over my passport, the magic began to happen. I explained I was connecting from DC with a long connection, and mentioned I’d chosen it so that I could spend an extra-long birthday in my favourite place. The agent’s face lit up, and she actually remembered me from just a couple weeks prior, and asked if she could do anything to make it extra special.

I mentioned that item number one was to take a quick shower, and then I needed somewhere to set up so I could chair my meeting. Even better, the security staff remembered me from a few weeks prior when I joked about my German apparently not being good enough yet to go through security in German…and I got the full treatment!

Before the shower, I was shown to a work room, and asked if this would do? Absolutely it would…and when I came out from the showers I found my name had actually been written on the reservation slate outside the room and literally moments after I entered a glass of rosé champagne appeared without asking. I’m not sure if that was birthday celebratory or if they remember that’s what I always start with, but it was a super special touch.

Took a few minutes to get the laptop set up for a Skype conference, and the iPad set up with agenda and note-taking, and I was ready to chair the meeting that had almost derailed this entire trip.

…but just before the meeting started, there was a knock at the door, and a hand gesture asking if it was ok to open. It was…and then…the skies opened, a chorus of angels sang out in unison…and manna from Heaven rained down…well, not really, but the whole trip was worth it, because a chorus of Happy Birthdays from several of the lounge staff was delivered along with the whole point of the trip: the elusive Birthday Duck!

The next 90 minutes was decidedly less exciting, as chairing meetings is never all that fun…but there was a rather hysterical moment during the call. Not when they realized it was my birthday and I was out of the office, that was funny, but not that funny.

Anyone who reads my blog knows I spend a lot of time in Switzerland and Germany for work, and is also why I’ve been working on my German. The best part? Half the clients on the call were about 400km away in Switzerland and the other half? Maybe only 100km away from me in Southwestern Germany. The irony is because of this trip…I was actually closer to them than if I’d taken the call from Washington.

Right, business dispensed with, it was time to enjoy my last 45 minutes or so in the lounge. The bartender remembered me from a few weeks prior as well and suggested we do a whiskey tasting again. Who am I to say no?

I can’t tell if the duck is judging me, or secretly thrilled that Lufthansa went the extra mile and really delivered an extra special birthday on the ground! It would have been nice to have a couple extra hours in the First Class Terminal, but the fact I pulled this off at all was pretty miraculous, so I was really thankful for the time I had!

With that, it was almost time to wrap up my magical birthday in the Lufthansa Lounge and head on my way to the second amazing flight! But just to get a bit more perspective, this is the fantastic workroom in the terminal – I’m fortunate to never have needed it before, but what a great amenity to have!

Approximately 18 hours down, 68 to go! Next stop…Shanghai!

Oct 202019
 


I had been so busy running around all day after deciding I was going to not only make this work, but getting it booked, that I’d pretty much forgotten to eat all day.

I popped in to the Turkish Airlines lounge at Dulles which I know lots of people are a fan of (and which generally has better food than Lufthansa) but…it was its usual late-afternoon standing room only and the only option would be to share a small table with someone. I don’t need that kind of hassle before a hectic but fun trip, so back to Lufthansa it was!

It always bums me out that Lufthansa doesn’t have a first class lounge at Dulles, and makes me sort of giggle that they just rope off a section of the lounge for First Class and Hon Circle passengers. Looking at the lounge, which was surprisingly not crowded today.

Food was nothing overly special, but enough to hold me over until the flight. The flower was a nice touch, since I’d be away a short time (and remember how hot ANA likes to keep the cabins) I’d decided to bring my own USB fan with on the trip.

Also, apparently they “don’t have anymore” champagne glasses today, so will this be ok? Hah!

Boarding was straight from the lounge which is one of the things I love about Lufthansa at Dulles, and the agents came and got the first class passengers individually before announcing boarding for business class. Nicely done – even without a dedicated lounge!

Lufthansa flight 419
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 18:15, Arrive: 08:10 next day, flight time: 7:55
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYD, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 126,120
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,818,708

Friendly crew immediately upon boarding, and when I got to my seat…wow…wine list was brought over along with macadamia nuts and champagne right away. I could tell this was going to be an extra-good (and photogenic) flight!

Despite a snack in the lounge I was still hungry, so perfect time to explore what’s to eat today!

It was a little warm during boarding, but fortunately I had come prepared! The crew got a good laugh out of it.

…and when I say a little warm, I’m not kidding!

Slightly late departure, but a mercifully short taxi, and soon we were lined up on runway 30 ready to take off into the sunset!

This crew was absolutely fantastic. About 15 minutes after takeoff they came around to each passenger in first, introduced the crew, and asked how we would “prefer our flight paced.” I told them I probably wouldn’t sleep much, if at all, so I’d prefer the meal service to be slower and drawn out. They were more than happy to accommodate, starting with a canapé.

About 30 minutes into the flight we were treated to a gorgeous purple sunset above the clouds. Loved the way the purple hue came through the windows across the cabin.

What better way to start a fabulous, spontaneous trip around the world than with caviar service! Smallish portion today, but it seems everyone was enjoying it so this is just the “normal” portion…

Since it was a leisurely meal, I decided I would go with all the appetizers. From right to left, the halibut on vegetable ceviche was super light and tasty. The burrata and baby tomatoes and maitake mushrooms was also outstanding, and the beef tenderloin with baby beets and tartare sauce was also really good. Usually at least one of the three appetizers is a little weird or not great, but tonight they were all super. We were off to a fantastic start for the trip!

I’ve been skipping the beef on planes lately, but how could I resist “tenderloin of beef with lobster claw.” It was really tasty, a nice medium, and the lobster was really good too. I worried the beef might be overcooked like usual, or the lobster rubbery, but my fears were totally unfounded tonight.

I have to admit, I do love seeing the giant cheeseboard wheeled out on Lufthansa, and watching as the cheese is cut up and served. The lovely flight attendant asked me if I would mind, however, if she plated it in the galley as by this point the lights were out as all the other passengers were asleep.

No problem at all – and a delicious selection as always tonight!

Finally, the grand finale, passion fruit panna cotta with butter crumble. Out of this world, and with a glass of Johnny Walker Blue or two it was a perfect way to end the first decadent meal of the trip.

I did end up napping about three hours before landing, which was unexpected, but I also had a hotel room booked since I would have nine hours in transit…and only planned to spend the last three in the lounge.

Managed to get four hours of sleep on top of the three I got on the plane, which was absolutely wonderful. Then…it was time for the short walk to the First Class Terminal (with a stop at Starbucks on the way of course) and enjoy a bit of food and drink…all while chairing my meeting!

Oct 192019
 


So, a bit of background is necessary to understand this trip. No, I’m not talking about the fact that I have a few screws loose when it comes to traveling; that part is a given.

I’m talking more about Lufthansa’s gimmick of the “first class duck.” I’m not quite sure where this tradition started, but as I understand it Lufthansa many years ago started offering souvenir ducks to passengers taking a bath in their first class lounges and first class terminals.

Then, one day, someone had the novel idea to make a “special” thematic duck for spring, or summer, or some such reason. This caught on, and more and more Lufthansa started to offer other special ducks.

By this point, people had started to collect them, and they were no longer just for people taking baths. People came up with all kinds of reasons to stop by a get one. Seriously. One of the first phrases I ever learned in German was “Kann ich zwei Enten für meine Kinder haben?”

Yeah, there was a bit of embarrassment and shame and made up children involved in getting the ducks. I know I’m not the only one. (In all fairness, I’m much less shameful now and just ask for one….unless it’s a special one…and then the made-up children may come on board to justify needing two.)

Right, so over the years, I may have amassed quite a few of them. I know this is less than half of the ones that are out there, but thankfully my “problem” isn’t so bad that I’ve taken to eBay or such, but I may have engaged in a few trades. So, yes, my problem:

Yup. We have “Euro Duck” and then there’s “Dirndl Duck” and don’t forget “Corporate Wanker in the First Class Lounge with his Bluetooth Headset Duck.” Ok, maybe it’s not called that, but you get the drift.

So, you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with anything?

See, a week or so before my birthday (yes, if you’re keeping track this is about a week after being home from so much back to back travel this summer and looking forward to a solid month at home) I learned there was a special duck out there…one you could only get on your birthday…the elusive “Birthday Duck.

Of course, this led to planning out trips…maybe even going to Frankfurt just for a few hours as an excuse to get it. But see, unfortunately, my birthday was on a Thursday this year, and that makes things a bit difficult for work. It also turned out I had a big “can’t miss” meeting I had wisely scheduled on my birthday at 9am in DC, (3pm in Germany – pay attention – this is important) so given flights arrive from the US in the morning it meant it just wouldn’t work out this year. There would be no Lufthansa love for me.

Fast forward to Wednesday, the day before my birthday. I woke up with an inspiration: what if I could find a way to fly to fly to Frankfurt today, spend the day in the lounge, and fly out after 5pm? Surely there would be a way to chair my meeting from the lounge, right?

All I needed was a flight after 5pm. The meeting would last 90 minutes putting me done at 4:30pm German time, and Lufthansa generally drives you from the First Class Terminal to the plane around 30 minutes before departure, so I just needed to find a flight from Frankfurt that left after 5pm – there has to be something back to North America, right? (Oh, and I should probably check to make sure DC to Frankfurt isn’t sold out in First tonight, right? Though I suppose I could fly business into Frankfurt if needed.

After spending my entire commute into the office searching, there was nothing. I was crushed.

But wait, why turn right back around and go home? Johannesburg leaves from Frankfurt around 10pm, that would work! Ugh, completely sold out…search, search, search. Whoah, Shanghai! Leaves Germany at 5:10pm which would be perfect. Without a second thought I pulled the trigger. Sent a note I would be taking a half day and working remotely on Thursday, and two hours after getting to the office headed back home to throw things in a bag.

Ok, great, no time to plan…gotta get to airport. Packing is both harder and easier when you don’t how how long you’ll be gone. I would leave DC on Wednesday (birthday eve) and arrive in Shanghai on Friday night, so I figured I should be home on Sunday hopefully? Ok, that’s enough to plan to pack for roughly four days away.

Off to Dulles mid-afternoon (remember, this whole plan was only hatched about five hours prior) and all the way I was searching for ways to get home. Try as I might, I wasn’t finding anything interesting. If I was going to be in China, I figured I should go all out and make it a true round-the-world and come back over the Pacific, right?

After a couple hours of searching, I found it: Tokyo Haneda to Los Angeles on ANA All Nippon Airlines in first class! Score!

Now….there was the matter of getting from Shanghai to Tokyo, but I wasn’t worried about that. There are plenty of flights and not too expensive, so that was the least important piece.

A bit more searching, and I found an Air Canada 777 with proper business class from LA to Toronto (because why fly LA to DC direct when you can connect in Toronto and get a proper product?) and with a little more searching I found a perfectly-timed Shanghai to Tokyo Haneda flight with Japan Airlines.

Now, all I needed was a ticket from Toronto to DC. That would be easy…all sorted and purchased right as I was arriving at Dulles.

Amazing what I’d pulled off in under eight hours of planning, and just in time to relax and enjoy the experience a bit. The final route would be DC – Frankfurt (9 hours) – Shanghai (30 hours) – Tokyo (3.5 hours) – LA (4.5 hours) – Toronto (2 hours) – DC.

Whew. I’m tired just typing that. I couldn’t imagine how tired I’d be in 86 hours when it was all over. Oh well, I can sleep when I’m dead. Time to enjoy the adventure!!!

All this, just for a duck….

Oct 192019
 


Having had a great four hour nap, I finally left for the airport around midnight for a 02:50 flight, just in case there was traffic or other snafus. The flight appeared completely sold out in all classes, so I definitely didn’t want to risk it!

As it turned out, there were no problems at all, and I was at the airport a good 2.5 hours before the flight. Even immigration and security were unusually quick considering how full the flights all seemed tonight, so I was left to kill time in the lounges.

Now, I really don’t like the lounges at Delhi late at night. They always seem to be heaving with people, and a pain to even find a seat. Tonight I decided to try the Singapore lounge first, and it was completely empty…maybe five people total. I have to wonder if it’s because United and Air Canada both still had their flights cancelled, so having 100+ less people spread across the lounges helped?

Either way, it worked out charmingly, and I headed off to the gate about an hour before flight time. Gotta take a selfie with the giant statue!

Boarding for this full A380 was a bit nightmarish. Despite getting to the gate an hour before departure, I was at least 50th in the queue for boarding group one. Fortunately, no problem finding storage for my bags once on board.

Lufthansa flight 761
Delhi, India (DEL) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 02:50, Arrive: 07:40, flight time: 8:20
Airbus A380, Registration D-AIMJ, Manufactured 2012, Seat 22G
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 117,958
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,810,546

Something about Lufthansa’s pre-departure sparkling wine (or is it actually champagne?) is so much classier than United’s.

What’s for dinner on this very late night/early morning flight?

Snack was fairly substantial, and served all at once if you wanted to eat. I would say about 90% of the cabin opted to go straight to bed instead. It wasn’t the most appetizing looking, but was reasonably tasty.

About 90 minutes before landing all the lights were turned on, and breakfast was brought by. I imagine even if you wanted to sleep it really wouldn’t have been an option.I like the alternating colours in the melon…

With six hours between flights, I thought it was worth getting a room to get just under four hours of sleep, which turned out to be a good decision and helped me beat jetlag a bit.

I even had time to stop by the Lufthansa Senator Lounge for a snack on the way to the gate. I never tire of the cheesy pretzel with a sausage and potato salad! Yum!

Off to the gate, where in direct contrast to the flight from India, I was wondering where everyone was! The gate area felt really empty for a 747, and I hoped my looking at the seatmap was really accurate.

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 13:15, Arrive: 16:05, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYT, Manufactured 2015, Seat 82A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 122,039
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,814,627

I know lots of people love to sit upstairs on the 747, and I admit that I love to as well, however, I refuse to sit in climbover class if at all possible, so on Lufthansa I always skip it. Plus, downstairs, the seats in the middle section have much more space between them and are much roomier than the side seats.

However, today’s flight was under 50% full in business class – something I’ve never seen on Lufthansa before…and not only did I get two seats to myself upstairs, the two seats behind me both stayed empty as well.

The strange part? I saw at least three groups of seats where strangers were sitting next to each other. With this much extra room why wouldn’t you want to spread out?!

What’s to eat and drink on the way to Washington?

Today’s mixed nuts after takeoff….almonds!

Marinated black angus beef….tasty, but served almost TOO cold….

The salmon, however, was excellent. I’ve been eating a lot more fish in-flight lately, and really wonder why I was so stuck on the terrible beef courses for so many years. Healthier AND better prepared almost every time!

Even the cheese course was above average for Lufthansa…and look at those crackers…in their own cute little plate/bowl and not wrapped in a package. *MIND BLOWN*

So, I admit it: to me this was better than United’s sundaes. Yes, it’s still ice cream, yes, it’s in a package and not a bowl, but it’s nice to have adventurous flavours instead of the exact same desserts that United has served on every flight for years and years. Mango & Maracuja crème brûlée?! YES PLEASE!

We took a super northerly routing for a Frankfurt to Washington flight, and passed right over Greenland….not a Trump Casino as far as the eye can see!

Even the pre-landing meal was much better than normal! A nice salad with parma ham, crayfish soup, and a pretzel! Normally, Lufthansa business class flights are just kind of “meh” in my opinion, but this one really stood out for me.

Part of it was being upstairs in a semi-empty cabin for sure, but the food and definitely the crew really stood out. Once the flight attendant working my section found out I’m working on my German she made a point to speak only German, but also clearly and slowly so I could follow along. It was really a treat and left me with a great impression! Unfortunately, I need to fly as much United as possible the rest of the year if I want a chance at Global Services….

With that, seven weeks of crazy back to back travel with less than five total nights at home was over. Switzerland, South Africa, India…what an adventure it was. I was really looking forward to four weeks at home until I had to head to Ghana for work.

…and then I woke up on my birthday and thought “I wonder if I could go around the world in first class for my birthday on a long weekend?”

Oct 182019
 


Being a work trip, and the third of three back to back longhaul trips, I really wasn’t in a mood to spend any more time than I needed to in Delhi. Combine that with the ridiculous heat this time of year, I was pretty much in a pattern of sleep – eat – work, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hotel driver was waiting for me in the arrivals area at the airport when we arrived rather late of night, and after what felt like a 1,000 meter walk through the carpark we finally arrived at the car…just kidding…you wait here and I’ll go get the car. That was really pleasant in the stifling heat and humidity.

Right….off to the hotel where the lobby was deserted at this hour, a quick check-in, and I think I was through the shower and in bed less than 10 minutes after getting in my room.

Up in the morning, and of course….decided to test how well uber would work by heading the 1,000 meters or so to Starbucks. Yes, normally that’s totally walkable, but in 99% humidity and more than 30C temps this early in the morning…no thank you.

One of the things I do like about Starbucks is seeing the interesting “local” food options. Decided to go with the “chili cheese toast” this time, what was reasonably good. Starbucks in India is not only not cheap, it’s actually pretty pricey by international standards even. Almost $10 for this.

This would be a good place to talk about the hotel, the Le Meridien New Delhi. Supposedly this “iconic” building is a Delhi landmark, and overall, I have to say the staff was fantastic.

The building was definitely showing its age, and the rooms were a little worn around the edges, but overall it was perfectly comfortable and more importantly: had reasonably good air conditioning. There was also a portable air unit in my room to add to the chill, so overall pretty good.

The hotel was built around a large approximately 20 story high atrium, and I was a bit surprised just how low the glass walls between the corridors around the rooms and the atrium were. I could easily see someone stumbling and plunging 20 stories to their death in the lobby.

Right, that vision out of the way, have a look at the middle picture below. That’s looking up from the lobby, and that black square that looks suspended by four gold bars? Well, that’s the executive lounge suspended over the atrium 20 stories up…and those gold bars are walkways across the atrium. Don’t look down when entering the lounge if you’re afraid of heights.

Didn’t get back to the hotel the first night from work until rather late, so decided to explore the rather crowded lobby restaurant. I was quite struck how many people were eating around 9pm, and I had to wait nearly 30 minutes to get a table. If I hadn’t wanted to people watch room service could have been a much better option. Surprisingly reasonable pizza, however.

The strangest thing about this hotel? In the elevator lobby on every floor there were tvs….playing old Tom and Jerry reruns from 40 years ago. I just…don’t…get it.

Reminder from your friendly Uber driver: NO SMOOKING!

Did I mention it was a little warm in Delhi? Combine this with the humidity and pollution from all the cars, the air….was not the best to be breathing.

We did get out for a team dinner one night, and I was definitely impressed with Farzi Cafe. Seemed to be an incredibly popular place with young and hip Indians, and a bit of an international crowd as well. Plus, who doesn’t like being “that guy” at a work dinner ordering a drink that comes served on top of dry ice?

Back to the hotel on the last night, and noticed…the lounge on the 20th floor? It’s apparently known as the “Flying Saucer.”

My flight the last night wasn’t until nearly 2am, so when I got back from the office the first thing I did? Grab some kulfi in the lobby restaurant which was absolutely outstanding.

I wasn’t really sure if my strategy was the best, but after enjoying the kulfi it was up to the flying saucer aka executive lounge for a few small snacks and a couple glasses of wine. One thing I want to emphasize, the executive lounge staff was fantastic. My wine glass was never empty, they seemed to have made a point to memorize every guest, ask how their day was, and were all around super friendly, helpful, and kind.

After a bit of wine, it was time to see how my strategy would work. Up to my room and in bed at 7:30pm…we’d see if I was able to sleep. Before I knew it, it was 11:30pm and I’d pulled off the four hour nap that I was hoping for. Excellent! That should enable me to stay away the first part of the flight, get a little more adjusted time-wise, and make the trip a little less rough on the body.

Leaving the hotel via the shuttle again, I was thinking: I absolutely love India for what I often call its “delightful chaos.” It was sad I didn’t really have any time to enjoy the city or country on this trip, but there’s something about just BEING somewhere else that is really energizing…even if you’re just “living” and not sightseeing around.

But that said, I was looking VERY forward to nearly a month at home after this trip…but that…all changed for reasons you’ll see shortly. Next up: the flight home!

Oct 172019
 


After a whole 24 hours at home (which, let’s be honest, was mostly laundry and taking care of errands I could only do at home) it was time to head back to Dulles and fly to India. The good part is: I woke up at like 05:00 thanks to my body still being on Africa time, so in theory the jetlag wouldn’t be too bad and despite my flight being at 5pm I should be able to sleep on it…right?

Thanks to CLEAR security was a breeze, and soon I was in the United lounge. I find it extremely insulting that Newark, Houston, LA, Chicago all have Polaris Lounges, and at Dulles if you buy a C fare you get this. I get the construction delays are somewhat out of United’s hands, but couldn’t they at least give a few coupons for premium drinks? I know DC has a ton of government clients so maybe they take the market for granted, but come on…this just says “we don’t care.”

Off to the gate which fortunately was right next to the lounge, and boarding right on time.

United flight 106
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Munich, Germany (MUC)
Depart 17:25, Arrive: 07:40 next day, flight time: 8:15
Boeing 777-200, Registration N220UA, Manufactured 2001, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 110,475
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,803,063

I was actually looking forward to this flight, because it might be my last chance to fly in the old Global First seats. Everything else could be mediocre about this flight (and pretty much was) but having the old Global First seats made it a huge treat!

Tonight’s dinner options – a whole menu of meh.

The best thing about early evening departures? Great twilight lighting at Dulles for planespotting out the windows.

After takeoff, the usual – mixed nuts that were over-warmed and soggy and a glass of Château l’Oscar 2019:

I can’t decide if the Polaris cart covering says fancy or “corporate cafeteria” to me. I remember the first few months of Polaris when it really seemed United wanted to make an effort to step up the “class” of its offering. I do wonder what killed this: the extra (maybe?) $1,000 per flight total it cost them, or the realization that none of their customers actually choose them over competition based on food so why bother.

That said, the duck appetizer is actually decent (way better than the shrimp!) although the salad was wilted and had lots of brown spots tonight. Mostly inedible.

The salmon, on the other hand, was actually really tasty and I’d be happy to order it again. I know it’s a super minor nitpick, but could we please have reusable/nicer ramekins for sauce instead of environmentally-nasty disposable foil ones? For an airline that brags about “EcoSkies” this is pretty disappointing.

The usual cheese. We’re not on Lufthansa anymore.

Today’s sundae choice was caramel which was actually sort of watery, and four cherries. Hmmmmm.

I actually love the little mini apple pies, however. Temperature gauge in the background confirms it’s a nice and comfy temp on top of the comfy Global First seats.

Landed a bit early in Munich, and since I had a pretty long layover I decided I’d exit immigration, walk around a bit, enjoy the cool air, and stretch my legs a bit. Got a few questions from the immigration officer about why I was leaving on a five hour connection, but was proud that I managed the exchange in German without him switching back to English. Small victories!

Love this Lufthansa ad outside the arrivals area:

After enjoying a cool, brisk walk and some Starbucks (of course) it was off to the Lufthansa First Lounge to enjoy a bit of brunch and a shower. I decided to eat first since I was having a difficult time cooling off (jetlag gets my core temp up every time) so first it was brunch time. Opted for a glass of orange juice out on the outdoor terrace as I cooled down, and then some eggs benny followed by more espresso and a glass of rosé. Also stopped back with my duck after a shower for a pastry, because, hey….

Soon enough it was time to leave the lounge (and Schengen Area) which conveniently can all be done while exiting the lounge thanks to an immigration desk, and off to the gate to board my first Lufthansa A350!

Lufthansa flight 762
Munich, Germany (MUC) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 12:10, Arrive: 23:15, flight time: 7:35
Airbus A350-900 Registration D-AIXC, Manufactured 2017, Seat 3D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 114,148
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,806,736

First impressions were pretty much what I expected. I knew people weren’t happy with the A350, and it was easy to see why. Exactly like Lufthansa’s A330s, it was super crowded in business class, with the middle two seats feeling almost right on top of each other, and the two sides featuring climbover class. I need to make the case to United that since I was supposed to be on the EWR-DEL nonstop they should give me full Global Services credit for this C fare!

Cabin felt almost identical to the A330 on Lufthansa.

What’s for lunch….and pre-arrival dinner:

Today’s meal started off with a ramekin of almonds and a nice glass of wine.

I went with the chicken carpaccio for a starter which was pretty good, but could have used a bit more flavour as it was relatively bland.

The salad…felt more like something from a north american airline, as it had way too much iceberg lettuce in it!

More chicken as a main. Again, could have used a bit more flavour, but felt slightly healthier than the usual suspects? Overall, pretty forgettable.

All was forgotten, however, when dessert arrived. The blueberry and coconut cream dessert was outstanding!

Sadly, however, I was told “cheese OR dessert, you can’t have both” which was a first for me. No big deal, I’d already eaten more than enough, so I spent the rest of the flight catching up on work (I was behind on preparing for this trip since it was back-to-back with the previous one) and soon enough it was time for the arrival meal.

Dinner was a choice of “meat” or “asian vegetarian” and I asked for the meat option, which was supposed to be “andhra mutton roast” with avial (not sure what that is), coconut pulao, savory lamb stew with chili, and some other things. Pretty sure that’s not what I got, but since I also don’t know what “gobi mirch masala, dal hara moong, palak pulao” is, maybe I did? I didn’t see anything “meaty” and it was tasty, so really didn’t matter!

Overall, the flight was exactly what I expected from Lufthansa. A sadly disappointing hard product on the A350, good crew who were more or less as expected, and reasonably tasty food. Nothing special, but I can imagine if you don’t get to travel often – or fly business often – it’s a pretty nice experience!

Now, off to work in India for a few days so I’ll share just a few photos from the time there…and then it’s time to fly home and finally be done with almost seven weeks of back to back travel with less than five nights at home!

Oct 142019
 


My time in Johannesburg was over far too quickly – as it always seems to be – and soon I was at the airport preparing for my trip home. Due to work finishing a bit sooner than expected I had moved my flight forward by a day, and in the process moved from SWISS to Lufthansa up to Europe.

I immediately waitlisted both flights for upgrade, but with the flight to Frankfurt at F2 it looked pretty hopeless. The flight from Frankfurt to DC, however, was F6 so looked much more promising! I tried to stick with United over the water to build more flights towards Global Services status, but the United flight only had J class availability and was more than double the price. No thanks!

At check-in, the agent offered to immediately confirm my upgrade out of Frankfurt (didn’t know they could do this!) and called a supervisor to try and clear my upgrade to Frankfurt as well. I found this odd as the flight was down to F0 in the meantime, but wasn’t going to argue. Unfortunately, she couldn’t and told me it would have to wait for the gate.

Got to the South African Airways lounge, where my favourite bartender in the world remembered me instantly and told me to “go sit down, I will bring it to you!” No order, no anything, and he showed up immediately…with two glasses of wine. I might need to break this reputation…

Boarding was absolute chaos as it always seems to be with Lufthansa in Johannesburg (I’m not sure what’s behind this, but it’s always a madhouse with a million pre-boards and salty gate agents) and I asked about the upgrade and politely told “if you get it we will tell you.”

I wasn’t counting on it, so when boarding started I joined the mass rush to the plane…and enjoyed a glass of bubbles while everyone else tried to part the sea and get on board as quickly as possible.

Lufthansa flight 573
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:00, Arrive: 05:35 next day, flight time: 10:35
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYS, Manufactured 2015, Seat 8D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 102,131
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,794,719

We had a great crew tonight, and they worked on being quick with service so people could sleep while at the same time being professional. It’s a nice balance. Also, I think Lufthansa might be the only airline I know who puts macadamia nuts in the business class mixed nuts (but why are they always over-roasted in business but perfect in first?!) along with walnuts.

Salmon appetizer was relatively light, but tasty. A nice change from the ever-present prawns lately.

A salad was offered separately (wow, a multi-course meal in business!) which was really tasty with feta cheese and roasted vegetables. Small, but one of the best appetizer salads I’ve had in business class in quite some time!

Grilled beef with chimichurri sauce, asparagus, and polenta. I still don’t understand the recent fascination airlines seem to have with polenta, but maybe it’s trendy again?

Baked bread and butter pudding with vanilla sauce for desert was outstanding, but the cheese course, sadly, was well below-average.

After dinner, I still wasn’t tired, but after a few more hours did manage to fall asleep and get around four hours of sleep in flight. Woke up to breakfast being served, and figured I might as well try it. I went with the roasted vegetable frittata, but it was very meh and I only had a few bites. the deli plate and muesli were more than enough food, however.

After landing, I did my usual with a seven hour layover and headed straight to the Sheraton Hotel for a solid four more hours of sleep. Feeling nice and rested, I walked to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal since my upgrade had already been confirmed.

I do love what I call the “Wall of Whiskey” that greets you upon entering the terminal.

But first, a glass of rosé and the seasonal duck to kick things off.

I wasn’t terribly hungry, but also didn’t want to pass up the usual deliciousness in the lounge, so grabbed a seat and helped myself to some snacks from the buffet. Mmmm quail eggs!

I had to order it because, I couldn’t imagine Tom Kha Gai soup in a lounge in Germany could be good. I was right. It was outstanding…and amazingly spicy just as I requested!

After lunch, it was time for a quick shower (I had maximized sleeping time in the hotel room, and went straight to the lounge sans shower) and some whiskey tasting to round off another outstanding Lufthansa lounge experience. So much choice!

It never gets old being driven from the lounge to the plane, and taking a selfie below the plane that’s about to deliver you more than 4,000 miles away!

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 13:15, Arrive: 16:05, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYO, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,212
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,798,800

Boarded….and love seeing the reflection of the plane in the window!

Pre-departure mixed nuts…odd…usually first on Lufthansa is macadamia nuts only, but today included almonds and cashews. (…and the macadamia nuts were perfect as always in first…not over toasted!)

What’s for lunch today?

I may have enjoyed the champagne a little TOO much before departure…that or it was the whiskey tasting in the lounge…

….beautiful sight on pushback from the gate

Off we go!

Once airborne, I noticed there was a second champagne on offer as well (but only one bottle) and the purser was a total character “I call her Alex, because she is beautiful. Perhaps you’d like to take a picture with her?”

Lunch started with an amuse bouche of tuna tartar.

Followed by caviar service with a rather generous helping.

Alex also kept me company during the appetizers, which today were roast beef with asian glass noodles, tuna with mashed green peas, and “coconut mousse with curry bok choy, cliantro, and ginger mayonnaise.” The last was a bit odd, but they were all pretty tasty.

Palate cleanser of sorbet and champagne before the main event.

The butter gets me right in the feels every time.

I decided to go with the tomato and pine nut crusted tenderloin of beef which was delicious, and almost perfect at a nice pink medium.

Lufthansa first’s always-delicious cheese cart. It’s hard to pick a winner in this category between Emirates, SWISS, and Lufthansa. Now that would be an amazing trip….

Desert was outstanding – which has been the case on many of my flights lately (with the obvious exception of United and their sundaes which are basic, but good) – iced dome of white chocolate on curried pineapple carpaccio with crumbles.

Napped and worked for a few hours, and then it was time for some light bites before landing. I didn’t really need them, but it’s so hard to say no. Started with a “gourmet salad with water melon balls, olives, baked feta, and grape seed oil vinaigrette.”

Couldn’t resist trying the “club sandwich” which was incredibly soggy and disappointing. Not often I’m let down in Lufthansa First, but this one was a huge miss by a mile.

After years of not knowing that Lufthansa offers arriving passengers at Dulles a private car to immigration instead of having to take the shuttle I’m now much wiser, and sought out the agent outside the jetway, and got one more pic of my beautiful plane. YO! this was an awesome flight! (look at the wheel well…)

…and with that I was home…for a very short two nights before heading out on the road for the last instalment of this epic six weeks of travel. Next up: off to India!

Oct 132019
 


Those who’ve read my blog before will know I’ve posted about South Africa, and specifically Johannesburg on many occasions in the past. I’ve been to the city dozens of times, first for vacations and over the last decades many times for work.

On top of being an amazing city in its own right, it’s a regional hub for southern Africa, and in order to ensure no missed flights (or at least to minimize their likelihood) I try and spend days in each direction in the city.

This trip, arriving early morning with no work to do the first day, I decided to try out a new hotel and see what the new Marriott Bonvoy-branded properties are like.

I usually stay in Rosebank because I like the walkable neighbourhood that has everything I need, but this time I decided to stay at the African Pride in Melrose Arch which is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

At reception the staff was friendly and wonderful, but couldn’t for the life of them figure out how to merge two one-night stays together, and even worse, they had cancelled my first night as a no-show despite telling them it would be a very early morning arrival (so I’d booked the night before).

All sorted, eventually, got up to my room where I planned a 2-3 hour nap before heading out to enjoy the day. I loved the decor which I’d call “Africa modern” and the bed was super comfortable.

Super strange painting on the wall of a burglar robbing a safe. Even better? It swung to the side to reveal the in-room safe behind it. Genius!

Later in the day, I decided to take the Gautrain up to Pretoria to meet up with some friends for lunch. The Pretoria/Hatfield Gautrain Station has some problems with the local taxi mafia, and they’re not at all fond of Uber competing for their business.

I’d heard about the problem, but never expected to experience it….which I did today when a man hurled a rock at the window of my Uber, cracking it as we tried to swerve to avoid it:

Amazing and delicious lunch with a bunch of my favourite things in one bowl: bbq pulled pork over grilled halloumi cheese topped with avo and tomatoes. Absolutely delicious dish, which was surprisingly not too heavy.

The next day, I decided since it was a warm spring day to head into Maboneng to walk around the market for a bit and do some people watching.

It was a bit chillier than I expected, so I stopped at a coffee shop after a bit of walking for a perfect flat white…which may have had a bit of Amarula added to it. Delicious.

Maboneng…home of The Centre for the Less Good Idea. LOL.

Before heading to work I switched hotels to be a bit closer to things, and went back to the Hyatt where I’ve been staying for nearly 25 years now. The property is definitely showing its age these days, and there are definitely signs of cost-cutting in the property, but can’t beat it for a walkable location.

Something I’ve never noticed or had happen before…see the lamp above the picture? Well it’s solid and quite heavy metal, and when I got up from the desk at one point I accidentally bumped my head on it.

Upper left corner of the pic…that’s what happens when you bump your head into a scalding hot strip of metal. Ouch!

I’ve seen Trump’s Steakhouse in Sandton before, but who knew they had their own Biltong shop as well. Wonder if they’re any relation to the Orange Menace Trump family…

No trip to South Africa would be complete without some grilled chicken smothered in peri peri sauce!

…and a quick visit to say hi to Madiba before heading home:

Productive few days of work, and soon it was time to head back to DC to attend a wedding… decided to take the Gautrain to the airport, because, well, it’s always fun riding trains!

How long would I be home this time? Only about 30 hours actually! Then it would be time to head to India for more work. Truth be told, it was a combination of a wedding and the fact that booking the India trip separately was actually less expensive than amending and doing a multi-destination trip.

So, with that, off to the airport to fly home. I had switched my flight back to DC to Lufthansa instead of SWISS, and I was praying the upgrade gods might smile on me for a second time this trip….

Oct 122019
 


After just a few days at home, it was time to head out again and cross the Atlantic back to Switzerland. In this case, it was a total coincidence that I was connecting in Switzerland, but keeping in the spirit of maximizing time at home I left for the airport at the last possible minute.

An Uber to National Airport takes me about 12 minutes, and with CLEAR at the A Terminal only taking two to three minutes, I can easily be door to gate in under 20 minutes. So when I left home 55 minutes before the flight, and got to the gate before the incoming had even arrived, I knew I had maxed out every possible minute at home!

I stalked the gate a little bit, since the biggest problem sitting in 1A is no storage space, and you really have to be one of the first one if you want to find overhead space near you. No problem, and off we go.

Air Canada flight 7615 operated by Sky Regional
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Toronto, Ontario (YYZ)
Depart 12:45, Arrive: 14:12, flight time: 1:27
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FXJC, Manufactured 2009, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 87,495
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,780,083

Takeoff on runway 1 today, and another great view of the Pentagon as we climbed:

Air Canada was mixing up the snack today, and we were offered smoked salmon which was good. Not amazing, and certainly not filling, but good. I feel like this “meal” could have used a small sweet to go with it.

After relatively quick transit security in Toronto it was off to the Air Canada Signature lounge for a more substantial snack and some champagne. Horror of horrors they were out of rosé champagne today (something to do with LCBO being out of stock) but the smoked meat sandwiches more than made up for it!

After finishing up some work it was off to the gate, where the usual chaos of rush-hour boarding at YYZ was already well-underway.

Air Canada flight 878
Toronto, Ontario (YYZ) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 18:05, Arrive: 07:40 next day, flight time: 7:35
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration C-FRAM, Manufactured 2008, Seat 11K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 91,540
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,784,128

Having changed my departure date rather late, there was only one window seat left, so I was curious to see how sitting in the last row – 11K – would be. Turned out, it was actually nice and quiet. The folded napkins were a bit weird to me – is this supposed to be fancy or something?

Shortly after takeoff was the usual warm nuts with some wine.

Sigh. Shrimp appetizer yet again. At least there were five of them so it was a reasonably substantial amount…and they were relatively tasty.

None of the other options sounded all that good today, so decided to go with the beef which was as expected rather overdone.

The usual Air Canada cheese course. Nothing adventurous, but it was tasty enough with a bit more wine.

Ahhhh the absolutely amazing Air Canada brown sugar tart. Absolutely delicious as usual.

Managed about three hours of sleep which is pretty good for me on such a short flight, especially when I knew I’d be napping shortly after arrival.

Woke up in time to have a little bit of breakfast – which I really didn’t need, but it’s just so hard to resist the Air Canada omelet with that unusual salsa and cottage cheese concoction.

Landing was right on time, and there was no line for immigration this morning and soon I was in the train station and headed straight to my hotel where I planned a solid five hour nap before getting up to enjoy a little bit of time in Switzerland.

Had no trouble at all sleeping, and woke up early afternoon and headed out for a short walk around Zurich to enjoy the city a bit and stretch my legs. The hotel had been kind enough to agree to a 6pm checkout (this was the same hotel I’d left just four days prior and I’d arranged this with them in advance) so I also enjoyed a small snack in the executive lounge before catching the train back to the airport with plenty of time before my flight.

I had a bit of drama with my return seats (SWISS had for some reason canceled my “throne” seat and put me back in a regular seat) and spent some time at the airport trying to solve it – but was unable to as the return flight was completely full.

Admitting defeat, I headed to the gate in the satellite terminal to wait for my flight. At least I would have 4A tonight – a throne seat – so I would have an enjoyable flight to Johannesburg.

Wanting something a bit more substantial I found these unusual turkey roll-ups in the lounge that were basically deli turkey, cream cheese, and a bit of pickle all rolled up in a tortilla. What’s not to love!

I spent my time in the lounge obsessively checking the seat map to make sure they didn’t take my throne seat away again tonight, and everything seemed on the up and up, so headed off to the gate to board.

Waiting to board, I chatted a bit in line with the passenger in front of me, an older gentleman who was headed to Zimbabwe. We talked about life in Zimbabwe a bit, how hard things are with the currency situation these days, and soon enough it was time to board.

The gentleman boarded first, and the machine made all sorts of angry noises when his boarding pass was scanned. The agent informed him “I’m terribly sorry sir, but we’ve changed your seat to 1A in First Class. I hope that won’t be a problem.”

I joked with the agent that if it was I’d be happy to take that seat instead…and then scanned my boarding pass…which was also met with angry noises…and an upgrade to seat 1K!

I have no idea what process SWISS uses to do upgrades when business class is full, and maybe it was a psychic wavelength, but I wasn’t going to argue – my first operational upgrade to First Class on SWISS and I couldn’t wait!

SWISS flight 288
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:40, Arrive: 09:10 next day, flight time: 10:30
Airbus A340-300, Registration HB-JMH, Manufactured 2004, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 96,751
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,789,339

Warm grüezi on board from the super friendly crew, and was promptly welcomed with a glass of Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle and an amuse bouche which set the mood for what was sure to be a lovely flight!

Tonight’s menu:

Being quite a late departure, the table was set right after takeoff, and it was perhaps the most elegant table setting I’ve seen in quite a while. Loved the wooden salt and pepper shakers.

Decided to go with the balik salmon as a starter. Slightly disappointing that there’s no longer caviar in SWISS first class, but the salmon was absolutely delicious.

The flight attendant was a little hurt I didn’t want a second appetizer, so I decided to go with the meat platter from the Canton of Vaud. Super tasty, and just small enough it wasn’t too filling.

I decided in for a penny, in for a pound, and decided to risk the veal. OMG I’m glad I did, because it was cooked to a perfect medium rare with an absolutely delicious sauce. One of the best steaks I think I’ve ever had in flight!

I was getting pretty full by this point, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to try a cheese plate on a new first class product. I was very glad that I did, because it was an absolutely delicious sampler of Swiss cheeses – once again from the Canton of Vaud. I think that may have been tonight’s theme….

I really didn’t need desert at this point, but it sounded way too delicious to pass up. Layered chocolate cake with salted caramel, praline ice cream, and caramelized hazelnuts. I could have eaten several of these!

Hard to say no to a few pralines with a glass of Johnny Walker before heading off to dreamland.

Still six hours left in the flight, so plenty of time for some shut-eye!

Woke up and wasn’t all that hungry. so decided to have a mini pain au chocolate, some fruit, and being SWISS of course a bit of Muesli. I decided to skip the heavy caffeine in favour of a diet coke since I was hoping for one more short nap upon landing.

With that, a wonderful treat came to an end. I knew how fortunate I was to receive this upgrade, and it really is all about expectations. When you have no expectation of it happening it really is a wonderful treat, and your mood can go from zero to one hundred in an instant.

Now, if only the same could happen on the return….off to my Johannesburg hotel!

Oct 112019
 


After a bit over three weeks in Switzerland, it was finally time to head home. I would have just a bit under four days at home before heading out on the road again for a couple of back-to-back trips, but after three weeks away every day matters!

Got to the airport, and what better way to say tschüss to Switzerland than to pose for a selfie against the SWISS sign. Not really goodbye, however, since just four days later I would be connecting through Zurich again!

Strangely, my United flight would be leaving from the B Gates today (which I’ve never seen before) and while it would save me a train ride out to the E gates, I wondered if there was a respectable lounge on the other side of immigration in B.

Yes, it turns out there was, but there was no air conditioning! According to my temperature gauge, it was 81 degrees in the lounge too. Ouch! Fortunately, they had brought in a few fans, and sitting in front of one of them it was just barely tolerable.

You know what makes it tolerable, though? Swiss chocolates and Mövenpick ice cream! Mmmmm!

Off to the gate after about 30 minutes in the lounge. I’d never actually been to the B Gates before, so wasn’t sure just how long it would take to the gate…or how long and confusing the boarding process might be. Every day a new adventure!

United flight 53
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 11:55, Arrive: 14:45, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 787-8, Registration N29907, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 87,136
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,780,083

Boarding was relatively chaotic, with people not really line up well or the agents controlling things well, so it was unclear where to queue up. It’s one thing I really like about the newish boarding is that as a 1K you can pretty much stand anywhere you want, and hopefully if the agents are good you’ll still be called ahead of group one.

Worked like a charm today, but it didn’t really matter since we were at a remote stand and it would be a bus gate anyways. Off to the plane, easy boarding, and time to explore what’s to eat!

Pre-departure beverages. Trying to be positive and remember for someone that doesn’t get to do business class often this is still considered a real treat. However, unless it’s a special occasion I need to start giving the pre-departure sparking plonk a pass. It’s just not worth the calories on a regular basis. I do, however, appreciate the real glassware now.

Meal started off with some Spiderman socks from the amenity kit and mixed nuts and wine. I’ve started requesting water more regularly inflight now to survive the crazy mileage I’m flying this year, and this crew was great and proactively offered lemon or lime with a stirrer to make it easy to fish out and squeeze. Oh, and some shiraz, but that was probably a given.

I like the salads United has been serving out of Switzerland lately, and they’re relatively fresh, light, and tasty. Throw in some garlic bread and it’s delicious. In principle, the tomato, basil, and mozzarella caprese would make a nice starter, but every time I’ve had it the basil has had rotten spots and the tomatoes have been bland and underripe.

I went with the chicken breast and polenta cake as a lighter option, and with the skin off (and skipping the polenta) it did the trick without being too fancy. Kinda looks like institutional cafeteria food.

Note to self: ice cream sundaes for dessert are always worth the calories, especially with cherries and fudge. Cheese was decent without being too memorable, but I wish they would try some more memorable crackers to go along with it. Maybe something nice and savoury?

After a bit of a nap, decided to hit up the snack cart because I was craving the little pastries they always have. Goes well with a side of Ebola monkey on the iPad as well.

Was curious about the pre-landing chicken ragout option, and while it was pretty tasty and would make a great domestic dinner, it actually felt a bit heavy for a second in-flight meal on a relatively short flight.

I have to admit – I was starting to miss the relatively heavy “hamburger wellington” that’s been around for a lot of this year.

The flight passed relatively quickly, and just like that I was home after more than three weeks away. Time to see if four days is enough at home, or if I would really be craving getting back on the road sooner.

I had originally booked just one night at home, and then three days vacation at my next work stop before the work began, but I gave up that three day mini-vacation in favour of the time at home. I was very glad I had, but four days, well, I might start craving travel….