Feb 082016
 

When I found out I was headed to Bangkok for work, I had a bit of a dilemma. Ever since United stopped serving Bangkok, there are very few good options to get there with a United ticket. You can fly to Hong Kong and connect to from there, but that means the 747s or 777s, with their awful seating. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t have all-aisle access seating. Plus, this option was significantly more expensive than fares we were getting on Korean and Air China…which were non-starters since I still had lots of elite qualifying dollars to earn with just a month left in 2015.

Eventually, I remembered there were super cheap business fares to India, and found an Air Canada option via Toronto with United flight numbers, meaning United would ticket it. Combine this with a cheapish Delhi to Bangkok ticket, and I was in business. On the way back, the flights that worked best timewise out of India ended up being on Austrian to Vienna and on to Zurich, with a connection to United there. Tickets sorted, premier qualifying dollars in the bag, it was time for a few new experiences – Air Canada longhaul, on a 787 nonetheless, and Austrian longhaul.

Slept in a bit the day of the flight, then headed to DCA. The Air Canada agents at DCA are pretty terrible. I think they might be outsourced, but they really have no clue about Star Alliance benefits, there’s no lounge at all – nor is there a restaurant voucher/credit – and it’s overall a pretty miserable operation. Since I was on two separate tickets, she didn’t want to check me in without a visa for India. I showed her one on an expired passport, and she refused to accept that as valid, even though it’s just fine with India. Then, I showed her an expired visa in a current passport, and not seeing the date she was good with that. Seriously WTF.

Fortunately, the A Gates at DCA have a couple new restaurant options with iPad ordering, which is pretty slick. Had a small lunch, and soon it was time for the short flight up to Toronto.

Air Canada flight 7615, Operated by Sky Regional
Washington, National (DCA) to Toronto, Ontario (YYZ)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 14:15, Flight Time: 1:25
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FEJL, Manufactured 2005, Seat 1A

I had been incredibly busy leading up to this trip, and hadn’t had any time to give thoughts to seats. By the time I did, the only seat left in business was 1A. Decent because you don’t have anyone reclining into you, but pretty poor from a legroom perspective. Whatever, it’s a short flight, so wasn’t a big deal. No pre-departure beverages offered, but a great view of the Pentagon on a clear day right after takeoff:

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Small cheese plate and nuts were offered as a snack with wine…and refills. Not bad service for a flight that was just over an hour!

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Toronto is a bit strange when making a US to International connection. In order to get to international departures, you still need to visit an immigration agent, but a different agent than if you were intending to enter Canada. Not sure what the point of this check is, since you’re merely in transit, but they do it. Satisfied I wasn’t up to no good, they let me into the international area, and the Salon Feuille d’érable – or Maple Leaf Lounge. Quite a good spread of food was out, so I had some tasty ravioli and the obligatory ceasar. I love the little maple leaf swizzle sticks:

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A few weeks after I had booked, my friend John in Ottawa (who has guest blogged here before) found out he had to go to Tokyo for work. Being a complete dork and majorly short on miles to requalify with Air Canada, he opted to join me all the way to Bangkok, continuing on from there to Tokyo the long way. Talk about a super out of the way routing! While I enjoyed my ceasar, he indulged his obsession with the Maple Leaf Lounge cookies, and we got a bit of work done. There were several other options on the buffet, and I was pretty impressed with the amount of food that was set out. You’d never see hot options like this in a United or American club, not to mention all the fresh side dishes. You’re lucky to get hummus and some cheese cubes.

What a great coincidence, however, that we even had to leave on the same days and could end up on the same flights. Fortunately, his upgrade even cleared at the gate and on top of that, the last open seat was the one across the aisle from us. The travel gods were definitely smiling on us!

Air Canada flight 70
Toronto, Ontario (YYZ) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 20:35, Arrive 20:55 next day, Flight Time: 13:50
Boeing 787-9, Registration C-FNOH, Manufactured 2015, Seat 4A

Brand spanking new 787-9, delivered barely a month prior, which still had that new plane smell. Welcome aboard screen:

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Water AND sparkling water, along with a basic but nice amenity kit:

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The crew was super friendly, while at the same time being very professional and addressing people by name. What’s for dinner tonight? Sorry for the slightly blurry pics…must have been one too many ceasars:

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Goofy “we’re finally flying together” selfie:

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Air Canada’s super-progressive safety video. I think the translation is: “Hey honey, let’s see if that guy in Row 8 is on Grindr!” It looks like their only préoccupation is with each other… 😉

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Some horrible movie I watched. Looks like Air Canada has joined United and American in the cut-price split cashew camp:

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Mixed greens, bread on a plate, and super tasty tuna starter. Quite possibly the best starter I’ve ever had from a North American airline.

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I generally avoid fish on planes, but John had the sablefish. Based on the presentation, I’m pretty glad I skipped it:

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My chicken murgh was even less appetizing looking, but fortunately tasted much better than it looked. Note the sad, empty wine glass:

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Mini cheese and fruit plate…needed more cheese:

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Pre-packaged ice cream for dessert? Sad panda…definitely a let-down from the United sundae.

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John went with the chocolate fondant, which was definitely the better option:

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At this point, I passed out for nearly nine glorious hours. With all the work leading up to this trip I was running super short on sleep, so was great to just be able to pass out. This also marked my third 787 redeye, and third one where I slept more than nine hours. There must be something to the lower cabin altitude and higher humidity on the 787, because I sleep as well on them as I do at home, and better than on any other plane. Plus, Air Canada did a great job keeping the cabin temperature reasonable, which made sleeping much easier.

Normally transatlantics aren’t long enough that I’m hungry for breakfast, but in this case decided to give it a  go. The muffin was dry and I skipped it after one bite, as was the fruit unfortunately. However, the cottage cheese with the omelette was super tasty, especially with the red pepper relish. Not normally a big fan of eggs on planes, but it was a tasty combo!

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Landed in Delhi late evening, and transit was pretty simple. We had to wait maybe 30 minutes for the Air Canada representative to come to the transit counter, and they were confused and not expecting us because we were on different tickets into and out of Delhi. Eventually, they figured it out, and transfer security was a breeze. This was like the fifth time I had done it this year, so I’m sure knowing what to expect made the whole process a bit easier as well.

Off to the ITC Green lounge, with some tasty Indian nibbles, Diet Pepsi, and WiFi to catch up on email. A couple hours later, we headed down to the boarding gate. I had forgotten there was a Starbucks there, or I would have gone much earlier. Normally I’m the one whose name gets messed up, but when John said his name the very eager barrista said “OH! Like John Cena!” I guess he’s a wrestling fan…

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Our flight was about 30 minutes late for the ever dubious “operational reasons” but soon it was time to board. Bid John Cena a temporary farewell, as he was off to fend for himself amidst the cattle in back. Fortunately, I expected to be a bit more comfortable…

Thai Airways flight 316
Delhi, India (DEL) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 00:15, Arrive 5:40, Flight Time: 3:55
Boeing 777-200, Registration HS-TKA, Manufactured 1998, Seat 12E

Nice welcome-aboard glass of tea:

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Unfortunately, it was not to be as comfortable as planned, since I was stuck in a middle seat. Thai 777s not only do not go flat in the seats, but they have middle seats as well. Gross. I was seated next to a guy with a Chinese passport who kept hacking up phlegm the entire flight, and didn’t speak enough English to understand when I asked him to cover his mouth. Even acting it out didn’t seem to help. Fortunately, he knew the expression JOHNNY WALKER DOUBLE and after 5 or 6 of those he passed out. Doesn’t change the fact that about 36 hours after landing in Bangkok I came down with a cold. Want to guess who’s responsible?

At least there was Veuve to make things a bit better:

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Menu was simple, but looked tasty:

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The salad and shrimp were pretty meh, but hey, can’t complain when you’re flying India to Thailand and get multiple servings of garlic bread, and Veuve refills!

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The chicken red curry was ok, but nothing special:

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The raspberry marscapone cake was also pretty underwhelming, but again, the Veuve helped:

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Landed in Bangkok about 30 minutes behind schedule. I wished John good luck with his connecting flight to Tokyo. I couldn’t imagine having another flight after this as it had already been nearly 24 hours in transit and I was absolutely wiped out. Not in the mood to deal with taxis or the Skytrain today, I opted for an AOT car to take me to my hotel. Up next was a super busy week of work events before heading home. I’ll do another review of the flights back home in another post, as well as one on the hotels I stayed at.

Nov 192015
 

Took the MRT to Hong Kong airport, and went absolutely without a hitch. Tried to check in at the Kowloon station checkin desk, but the Air India counter was like 20 people deep, and no special lines for Star Gold or business class. Got to the airport, and things were a bit better. The agent was a bit confused – seems nobody flies to Delhi just to connect to a United flight to Newark. I’m…special. She didn’t give me any grief about my carryons, however, I asked her for blank luggage/nametags since I know Indian security likes to have something to stamp. She thought this was the oddest request she’d ever heard, but after checking my onward ticket to Newark she was ok with it.

Long line about 20 minutes for security, and another 20 minutes for immigration. Not sure if this is normal or not, but was rather surprised there were no business class lines or anything. Still had time for one more Starbucks before heading to the United Club for a pre-flight glass of wine and 15 minutes of relaxation. Got to the gate, where boarding was just beginning on time.

Air India flight 317
Hong Kong, SAR (HKG) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 18:05, Arrive 21:10, Flight Time: 5:35
Boeing 787-8 Registration VT-ANE, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 97,462
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,136,068

First impression of this Air India 787 which was less than two years old, RATTY! Seems they have the same-ish hard product as Turkish A330 I’d flown to Istanbul earlier in this trip, complete with the “footsy” benches for your feet. I can just see trying to sleep in this seat setup and playing footsy with your neighbour. How hard would it have been to put a little divider in the middle of the bench?

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Seats were in some of the worst repair I’ve ever seen for a two year old plane. Just look at the footrest area:

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Welcome aboard drink, choice of hot or cold towel, but only juice or water to drink:

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For a five hour flight, the menu sounded pretty tasty:

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The horrors…not only were the nuts not warm, they were served in a bag! Good thing Korean Air Princess wasn’t on this flight!

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In case you are wondering what “Dry Snax” are, this is it. Crunchy and tasty, but I pretty much just picked out the cashews:

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The meal was served all on one tray, which was extremely packed. The bread was even left in its foil to stay warm a bit longer. I have to admit, the main course was seriously tasty, and the dessert was pretty good too. Some sort of cake with cherries in it. There were two choices of main, and I believe this was a lamb curry:

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Flight was very uneventful. Crew was friendly and helpful, quick with drink refills when asked, and always pleasant. They seemed almost offended I wasn’t staying in India, despite over a dozen trips in the past, including two weeks earlier this year. This crew was from Mumbai, and told me I really did have to check it out next time as it’s “much better” than Delhi or Chennai!

Landed, and had a long walk in the hot and humid terminal to the transit desk…where things got real. Real crazy. Fortunately, I had packed my patience for India, and when I was told to “go sit down, we will find someone from United to assist you” decided not to. Standing at the desk, reminding them every five minutes, and using the words “global services” I managed to get someone from United to come to the transit desk…nearly 45 minutes after landing! Had I just gone to sit down and wait, I’m sure it would have been over an hour….

When the agent did arrive, she was super friendly and helpful. First, she had to let me know some bad news. The flight “might” be delayed because it had come in with a non-functional WiFi and entertainment system. Ugh. I tried asking really nicely since it looked like there might be three or four empty seats if she could try and put me in any set of two with an empty next to it. She promised to try her best.

This is where it got much better…she insisted on escorting me from the transit desk, through transit security, through some back “employees only” corridors, up a secret elevator, and directly into the lounge. I only had 20 minutes, but she came back to get me at the end of those 20 minutes, and escorted me to the gate! Best service ever! To top it off, she’d managed to secure seats 10A and 10B for me, with a promise of nobody next to me. It’s amazing how far patience and being nice can get you sometimes! Unfortunately, there would be no WiFi or entertainment of any sort on the flight….

United flight 83
Delhi, India (DEL) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 23:35, Arrive 05:15, Flight Time: 15:10
Boeing 777-200, Registration N27015, Manufactured 2000, Seat 10A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 104,786
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,143,392

Boarded to a crew that looked incredibly grouchy, but the menu looked…interesting…

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Warm nuts were served, but warm to the point they’d lost their crunch. I passed after just a few. There was also another packaged Indian snack, which I wasn’t overly fond of:

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Looks like the appetizer has been upgraded…two shrimps. I took it for the picture, but still refuse to eat shrimp on a plane after getting food poisoning from it on two different occasions:

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Unusual indian-style salad of missed vegetables in a dressing. It was tasty, and made for a very nice change from the rather bland salads United usual offers:

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The lamb biryani was, quite simply, the best main course I’ve ever had on United. Just spicy enough, served with tasty raita, and I admit I ate every bite of it and considered asking if they had another. I’ve never done that before!

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Even the cheese selection was better than usual, and yes, I did ask for two in this case:

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Strangely, the only choice for the ice cream was caramel, and there were no cherries. Boo! This flight might get dinged in my 2015 sundae year in review…

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Slept nearly nine straight hours, which is great for me on a plane. There is something about late night westbound redeyes that not only helps me sleep really well, but helps me arrive feeling super refreshed. I guess sleep is easier because it’s 1 or 2am local time when I try and sleep, but landing, despite it being 5/6a local time it’s after noon to the body clock. I learned this when I was doing Dakar-Washington frequently, and actually don’t mind redeyes as long as they are long enough…and westbound!

Breakfast was ok…but as usual the fruit was dry. I had the omelette, the corn croquette was also pretty tasty, and the grilled veg. I left most of the carbs aside, though:

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Immigration via Global Entry was a snap, and was to the lounge less than 15 minutes after landing. There was a 30+ minute wait for a shower, so of course I went next door to Starbucks to inhale a quad iced espresso on ice before taking one of the best showers of my life. There’s nothing like a nice warm shower after spending 20+ hours on planes! The good news, is I checked my email while waiting, and there was already a proactive email from United apologizing for the broken entertainment system, and offering a $200 travel voucher.

Unfortunately, my connection was out of the A gates, so it was out in the cool drizzle to shuttle over to the A terminal, where I got there just as we were boarding.

United flight 3522 (operated by Shuttle America)
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 06:50, Arrive 08:18, Flight Time: 2:28
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N647RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 105,505
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,145,345

Extremely unremarkable flight. The flight attendant was attentive with frequent water refills, watched some tv on the iPad. There was a breakfast offered, but I skipped it since they were somehow one short, and I wasn’t really hungry since I’d just eaten. I really would have only taken it for photography purposes anyways…

Nice view on approach to Chicago:

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Had to hop over to the F Concourse for my connection, first time I’ve ever been there at O’Hare. Am I right it’s pretty much just for the ERJ-145s? Nice new lounge there, however, even if it was extremely packed. Good view of Barbie Jet Central:

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United flight 3259 (operated by ExpressJet)
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Ottawa, Ontario (YOW)
Depart 10:47, Arrive 13:36, Flight Time: 1:49
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N13903, Manufactured 2001, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,160
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,000

Nothing at all to say about this flight. Standard E145 flight, one pass on drinks, then then we were descending. I’ve never been on one of these planes for a flight over two hours, but can see how it would be a total nightmare.

Immigration was a bit of a pain at Ottawa – first time I’d ever been through without Nexus in over five years. Questioning was pretty extensive, and given that (a) I’d lost my NEXUS card during my last visit and (b) I was only there to change planes flying back to the US because “it’s cheaper to fly international out of Canada….yup…I got sent to secondary inspection. Ugh!

Fortunately, a quick show of my printouts, an explanation, and I was in and out in under five minutes. At least as far as secondary goes it was painless. Quick trip up to the Nexus office to retrieve my lost card, and still had time to get lunch with a friend.

It was a gorgeous day in Ottawa, about 22C and sunny, and perfect for a small lunch and beers on the patio:

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Just to show again how sunny and gorgeous it was, one more sunny selfie in front of TD Place:

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Immigration back at the airport was painless, and I had 20 minutes or so before boarding, so grabbed a beer at the one restaurant inside the US Departures area. The guy sitting next to me was in a sling, and had just had rotator cuff surgery two weeks prior, so we commiserated a bit. I let him know I was up to 100% already after just four months, so hopefully left him feeling a bit hopeful!

United flight 5946 (operated by ExpressJet)
Ottawa, Ontario (YOW) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 17:15, Arrive 18:42, Flight Time: 1:27
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N12175, Manufactured 2004, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,489
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,329

Plane go up. Consume Diet Coke. Plane go down. Arrive right on time. Connecting flight was just two gates over in the A concourse, so I had time to enjoy some of Oscar’s finest hummus and cheese cubes in the packed A Concourse United Club while waiting.

United flight 4312 (operated by ExpressJet)
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 19:43, Arrive 21:04, Flight Time: 1:21
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N14573, Manufactured 2002, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,688
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,528

One last flight, another E145. Yes, you know how it goes: plane go up, consume Diet Coke, plane go down. 40 minutes start to finish…and with that the end of another epic trip! I promised myself I’d get this trip report done before leaving on my next trip…and…done with ONE HOUR to spare! Stay tuned..up next: Algeria, Cuba, and the Bahamas!

Sep 142015
 

Woke up nice and early, and grabbed some Starbucks with the friend I stayed with before heading to the airport to start the long route to India. I’d checked in the day before when I arrived at YOW, and the agent questioned “why are you going Ottawa-Chicago-Newark instead of direct to Newark?” While I appreciated her effort to put me on the nonstop, it would have shorted me qualifying miles, and I would have been in coach as opposed to two flights in “first.” Plus, my friend was working that day, so no real reason to hang around the city.

Grabbed some Tim Hortons at the airport (mmm Timbits) and soon we boarded right on time.

United Express operated by Skywest flight 6384
Ottawa, Ontario (YOW) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:24, Arrive 11:29, Flight Time: 2:05
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N117SY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2A

Pretty typical United Express flight, except that United Express now serves the delicious caramel macchiato biscotti that I love. Mmmmm! Breakfast of champions? Well, combined with Tim Hortons and Starbucks it is!

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Landing in Chicago was right on time, and I had planned to make the most of my 3+ hour layover. My friend Matt picked me up at the airport, and immediately carted me away for what he billed as an authentic Chicago experience right near the airport. We went to Paradise Pup for hotdogs, where I did a pretty good job of clogging my arteries before a long flight. At least it was super tasty!

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Since we still had time, he carted me to Shoeless Joe’s bar just down the street because they had the 10% Not Your Father’s Rootbeer on tap. Unfortunately it was a little flat, but still delicious. Was awesome catching up during the layover, and I was really feeling like I was making the most of every minute on this trip so far. This also explains why it’s taken me so long to get this trip report started! Mmmm, high alcohol root beer….

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Catching up…

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Back to O’Hare approximately 75 minutes before the flight, through TSA precheck in under five minutes, and headed straight to the gate, where there was an “emotional support animal” loudly barking at anyone who got near it. Great!

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Flight was delayed about 30 minutes due to an “unspecified maintenance issue, but we assure you it’s nothing to cause concern” and that’s when we spotted HIM. The “changes you’ll like in Chief.” Herr Smisek. At least there is some justice in the world, because he ended up (according to a source on the flight) in a middle seat in regular economy. #WhosJeffedNow 😉

United Airlines flight 1165
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 15:00, Arrive 18:20, Flight Time: 2:20
Boeing 757-200, Registration N14107, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1E

Decided to get the trip rolling by having a glass of wine…and of course more biscotti! But no, this was the afternoon snack basket, so I had to “suffer” through the brownie brittle, which was also pretty darn good:

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The funniest part of this flight was the couple seated behind me, who asked the flight attendant “I don’t know why when we are in first class you let the military thugs and someone called ‘Global Services’ board first?” Flight attendant tried to explain Global Services as “those people who fly the most number of flights with us” but was clearly wrong. I decided to help her out and tell her in general it’s people who spend $50,000 or more on United tickets in a given year, although the exact criteria are unknown. The couple’s response? “Oh, I guess stupid people should board before people who pay for first class.” *smacks head*

Layover in Newark was uneventful, grabbed a shower, water, caught up on email, and just generally relaxed before heading for the chaos that is boarding for any flight to India:

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Had switched from 8E (middle) to 8B since united.com showed that even after nonrevs there should be 6 empty seats. Confirmed with gate agent, and he was happy to leave 8A open for me. Score!

United Airlines flight 82
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 21:55, Arrive 21:30, Flight Time: 14:05
Boeing 777-22, Registration N37018, Manufactured 2002, Seat 8A

As soon as the door closed, I moved over to 8A, and a minute later someone came and plopped down in 8B. “Sorry, I didn’t like my other seat.” I might have been a bit of a jerk, but told him “the gate agent had blocked this seat” and he pushed back with “well, my other seat is no good.” Knowing he was a nonrev, I paged over the flight attendant, who was happy to ask him to move elsewhere. Maybe I was a bit of a princess, but as someone who flew nonrev for 15+ years I was always taught not to inconvenience paying customers. Anyways, I had two seats, and the flight was off to a great start.

What will Jeff feed us today? Here’s the answers:

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Pre-departure bubbles…notice I’m still in 8B for the moment!

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The half-nuts with a glass of the (now extinct) Château le Jeff. May it RIP:

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Pretzel roll, mit plate:

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As skimpy as a single chicken skewer looks for an international appetizer, at least it was relatively tasty. I don’t think any other airline would dare serve a single cold chicken kebab as a starter, however!

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Super un-exciting salad. At least it had two sundried tomatoes and two olives?

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The “rack of lamb” which was way overcooked. I don’t think I even finished half of it.

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The cheese was ever poorer quality than average, but that didn’t stop me from asking for a second serving. Unfortunately “it’s all gone.” Mmm hmmm, of course it is.

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Today “hot fudge and cherries” was met with three cherries, which seems to pretty much be average for most of my United flights 😉

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At this point, I crashed for just short of 7 hours, waking up just in time to watch a few episodes of Scandal before breakfast was trotted out. Since I was awake I agreed to try it out, and unfortunately it was a pretty big miss. The fruit had zero flavour, the eggs scared me after one bite, but at least the cheesy potatoes were tasty 😉 I can’t for the life of me figure out why they serve breakfast at 8p local, but it is what it is!

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Landed about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, immigration took nearly 45 minutes due to almost no agents on duty, but had no trouble with my ten year visa in an expired passport. When I was finally through, my driver from the ITC Maurya was waiting to whisk me off to what would hopefully be bed.

Unfortunately, the ITC Maurya seemed to have the same problem as Indian immigration tonight, and despite five people working on my reservation together it took them nearly 20 minutes to check me in for some unknown reason. I’m a huge fan of ITC hotels in India, and I’m going to chalk this one up to just having some junior people on duty this night. Once I did get to my room it was a nice upgraded junior suite with great AC, a half bottle of wine waiting for me, and an apology note for my recent experiences at the ITC Chennai during dry days. The bottle of wine was compliments and apologies for the inconvenience. It had been nearly two months since I returned from Chennai, and was impressed with the communication!

Only managed four hours of sleep, but considering I’d only been awake for three hours since the seven on the plane I considered that pretty darn good. Now, at the farthest point of the trip, it was time to start the REAL adventure! (Don’t ask why I went via Ottawa and Delhi…you already know it has to do with a great fare 😉

Sep 132015
 

Ok, so this is a pretty anti-climactic start to this trip, but I finally have reasonable internet and am able to get this thing rolling. Hopefully many more parts to follow now that I’ve cleared Africa and am in the Middle East. Headed into work for a few hours in the morning to tie up a few loose ends, and then caught the silver line metro out to Dulles. No problems at all for once, TSA PreCheck worked wonders, and soon I was at the Red Carpet Club in the D Gates. This was my first time experiencing Jeff’s new catering, and…

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Hommous and cheese. The hommous is a definite upgrade, but the cheese is a definite downgrade. I seriously miss my pepperjack Tillamook cheese. Boo! Only had about 15 minutes to grab a quick lunch, because it was time to board! I still hadn’t cleared the waitlist with two seats left (I same day changed about 20 hours before the flight) so I asked the agent when she cleared if she could put me in the second row…and she did it right there. Not sure what she was waiting for, but…

United Express operated by Mesa Airlines flight 5095
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Toronto, Ontario (YYZ)
Depart 12:30, Arrive 13:58, Flight Time: 1:28
Canadair CRJ-700, Registration N504MJ, Manufactured 2002, Seat 2C

Perhaps the most underwhelming flight in the history of aviation. First/business went out full, I had a glass of wine with my biscotti, watched a little tv on my iPad, and then it was time to land. The overhead bins on the CRJ-700 were just large enough for my rolling bag, so life was good and I was off to immigration. NEXUS lines were no problem at all, through very quickly, got a new boarding pass from the Air Canada agent in the checkin area, and was off to security and the lounge.

No line at all in security for the NEXUS lane, was through very quickly, and up to the lounge. The lounge agent said the agent in customs was wrong, and yes, it’s possible to stand by now on ALL fares in the “triangle” of Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto. She kindly put me on the waitlist for an hour earlier, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be too much of a wait. But, while I did, it was time for a make-your-own ceasar…extra spicy!

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Yes, that’s right, more hommous. Clearly Star Alliance has stocked up on it in bulk, and every single airline is feeding it in the lounge. Still hadn’t cleared the waitlist, so 40 minutes before my new flight headed down to the gate where I saw this beauty in the old Trans-Canada Airlines colours:

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Asked the agent if I’d cleared, and he was rude and said “I’ll call you when I call you” so I waited…then everyone was boarded. So I asked again: “well, you’re not on my list!” Ugh. Few seats left, however, and he managed to clear me to an economy plus middle, so life was good enough. I was an hour earlier than planned, and sandwiched in between two pilots, so can’t complain overly much…let’s see, however, if my miles ever post!

Air Canada flight 458
Toronto, Ontario (YYZ) to Ottawa, Ontario (YOW)
Depart 16:10, Arrive 17:12, Flight Time: 1:02
Airbus A319-100, Registration C-FZUH, Manufactured 1997, Seat 14B

Again, totally uneventful flight. Glass (not can) of Diet Coke and some pretzels, and before I knew it we were landing in Ottawa. Was nice to spend the evening with a group of old friends catching up, starting with beer flights at Jack Astors:

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Moved on to a group dinner at Mill Street Brewpub and more flights, followed by the Northern Lights show at Parliament. Managed to get a couple of great shots near the end of the Northern Lights show:

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By this point I was absolutely exhausted from a half day of work, travel and a long evening of catching up with old friends. Managed to crash on a friend’s couch absolutely passed out for nearly eight hours, ready to face the big day ahead! (Yes, you read that right, instead of a nice hotel I slept on a couch! That should tell you just how good of friends these are…and just how comfy the couch was!)

Mar 012013
 

Decided to try something new, and asked one of my frequent-traveling friends, John Chamberlin, to write a guest blog on one of his recent flights. I thought it would be interesting to people to read, since I’ve yet to travel Air Canada outside North America, so I thought the perspective would be interesting. Feedback welcome…and hopefully more guest blogs soon!

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Greetings from the great white north of Ottawa, Canada readers!  Having been a friend Jason’s well over 10 years now, I owe my obsession and hoarding habits of airline miles all to him pretty much.  Most of my friends will joke that I’m the real life George Clooney from the movie “Up In The Air”.  When I fly or stay somewhere, if it doesn’t involve me earning miles or points, I just don’t do it!

I’m a Youngstown, Ohio native, and have worked in IP or telecom engineering now well over 15 years now.  In 2007, I was presented the opportunity to make a large career change and go to work for a telecom OEM in Ottawa, Ontario.  Six weeks later I was settled and starting my new life in Canada.  Since telecom is pretty “wrapped up” in most of the modern developed world, my company finds itself working in emerging markets and many developing nations.  Azerbaijan, Fiji, Nigeria, Ghana, Republic of Benin, Korea, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka just to name a few.  So I am not stranger to long haul routes to say the least.

Jason scolded me early on while flying Air Canada and BMI on a YOW-LHR-GYD routing to Baku, Azerbaijan- and not even fully aware of WHAT or WHO the Star Alliance was.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Since 2008, I have banked approximately 350,000 EQM and flown well over 750,000 in combined reward travel.  In 2008 I easily tiered into Star Gold status for 2009, as AC only required 35,000 EQM to make the alliance status back then.  In 2010 and 2011 I tiered in to Air Canada “Super Elite” status, which is their 100k program.  AC’s rewards programs are administered by a spin off company called Aeroplan.  Reward miles on AC are typically worth a tad more that of your standard UA or US levels.  Fares on AC are a bit higher in Canada given the industry structure, and I’ve commonly found that my miles are worth as much as $.06 each.  In 2011, I booked two business class tickets from YOW-YVR via YYZ for 100,000 Aeroplan miles- a website booking fare of $6300.00 that same day when I checked!  The taxes and fuel are the only gotcha in Aeroplan.  You have to pay them, unlike that of programs with UA or US.  On the other hand, they also allow regional reward fares.  I fly YOW-PIT via YYZ for 15,000 miles + $173.00 in taxes etc on a very regular basis.  That fare is typically $600.00+.  So it’s a bittersweet relationship.

Now onto the good stuff!  When Jason asked me to review and guest write for his quite well known blog, I was pretty stoked.  A good bit of him has rubbed off on me, and I take note of the smallest things anymore regarding air travel.  I fly the Air Canada metallic baby blue as my mainline carrier.  Air Canada has been voted the #1 Full Service North American Airline for 3 straight years including 2012 by the Sky Traxx reader survey.  I have to admit, Air Canada goes above and beyond the call of duty many days in handling passenger issues and giving a custom touch to their Super Elite fliers.  Even Jason has been witness and first hand helped by Super Elite representatives in a pinch!  They have a one of a kind top tier system, in that Super Elite members also have access to EVERY single open seat on an AC route.

Air Canada maintains a “Super Elite Concierge Desk”, both virtually via phone and in all their main Canadian/International points of presence.  These Super Elite representatives work in private unmarked offices and function to personally handle all their top tier customers.  When I arrive at YOW, I go directly downstairs outside of CATSA security to this unmarked office.  Inside the ladies or gents happily greet you by name (they DO remember you), print your boarding passes, tag any luggage and then walk it back upstairs to the belt, while you continue into priority screening.  It’s a service that I have come to respect and love so much, that the mere thought of losing it makes me wanna cry!  These folks accomplish miracles in a pinch and they have helped me SO many times in international connection situations.  Their admin levels to the AC reservation systems seem to be at “Super Concierge” levels.  Ok ok, bad joke.

Now- on to our flight!  Today, we’re on board:

Flight: AC839, FRA-YOW

Equip: B767-300

Tail: C-FMWU, Manufactured 1995

Nose: 633

Gate to Gate:  8hrs 15mins

Distance: 3916 miles

Seat: 01F

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Jul 252012
 

What, you’ve never heard of the Diefenbunker? Well, despite many many trips to Ottawa lately, I hadn’t either until the friend I was staying with mentioned it this weekend. When I heard about it, I knew this was something I had to see.  You’d never see something like this in the United States open to the public…ever!  Way too many “secrets” that could potentially be exposed.  I think the closest I saw was the U.S.S. Pueblo which is currently moored in Pyongyang, North Korea.  Even that has been stripped of anything remotely interesting, so a chance to experience this part of Cold War history was super exciting to me!

Correction:  Appears the Greenbrier Bunker in West Virginia is now open to the public too – however, no pictures allowed!  I know my next weekend trip from D.C.!

So, what is the Diefenbunker?  Also known as Canadian Forces Station Carp, it’s a 4-level underground bunker built outside of Ottawa in order to house the Canadian government in case of imminent nuclear attack.  Named after the 13th Prime Minister of Canada John Diefenbaker, it was just far enough from Ottawa that it was thought to be safe from the main targets (Parliament Hill, Canadian Forces bases,etc) but close enough that essential members of government could be evacuated there on short notice.  Construction began in 1959, and was completed in just a few months.  It was never actually activated, but during the Cuban Missile Crisis preliminary steps were taken to make it operational.

According to Wikipedia: “The underground 4-story bunker was capable of withstanding a near-hit from a nuclear explosion. It had massive blast doors at the surface, as well as extensive air filters to prevent radiation infiltration. Underground storage was built for food, fuel, fresh water, and other supplies for the facility which was capable of supporting several hundred people for weeks. A vault was also constructed on the lowest level to hold the gold reserves of the Bank of Canada

In 1994, after the fall of the Soviet Union, CFS Carp (aka the Diefenbunker) was decommissioned, and in 1998 was re-opened as Canada’s Cold War museum.  You can tour the entire site, and many parts are just as they were left in the 60s and 70s.  After purchasing a ticket at the kiosk outside, there is a small plaque detailing what the site is:

Just past the sign, you enter the building through the massive blast doors:

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Mar 152012
 

Needless to say, the next few months is going to be incredibly busy! Starting this weekend, I have 6 big trips planned in the next three months. Short story is:

Ski and birthday weekend in Mont Tremblant, Quebec
Four days of diving in Grand Cayman, getting SCUBA certified
Then, a few days later, off to Oahu, Hawaii for a welcome home
After that, I’ll actually stay put a few days before it’s off to Nepal, Bhutan, Seychelles, Sudan, and Bulgaria
Work a few days, then off to Ottawa, Ontario to run the Ottawa marathon
…and from there, I fly straight to Longyearbyen, Norway, at 78 degrees north latitude, for the Spitsbergen Marathon 6 days later!

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