Soooo catching up. I landed from Israel (via Zurich and Newark) on Tuesday late afternoon. My productivity in the next 48 hours would be stunning. Two days of work. Several loads of laundry. Two hockey games (won both – woooo). Oh, and I had to plan the last part of this trip. Yes, this trip was so complex (five weeks in the south pacific, nearly a week in israel, then a few days in Lebanon) that I hadn’t even thought what I would do with my approximately 48 hours in Lebanon. Planning accomplished. It was exhausting 48 hours, but the end was in sight!
I had tried hard to stay on European/Middle Eastern time my 48 hours in DC, but 10pm hockey games have a way of derailing that. Especially since that means 12:30 to bed best case. However, I made a point to get up both days at 5am. My theory was better to run on less less than to be at a point where I would be groggy until early afternoon once I got to my destination. So, up at 5am, work from 6-3, and I was off to Dulles. I absolutely love the new Silver Line and how easy it makes it to do a straight shot from downtown DC to Dulles in 45 minutes plus a 15 minute bus ride.
Pre-check was a breeze, and soon I was enjoying a glass of Château le Jeff and some delicious Tillamook cheese in the United club with my favourite bartenders.
So, why Amsterdam? It’s a fair question. First, it was the only routing where an upgrade would confirm with a systemwide upgrade at the time of booking. Secondly, the 18:30 departure gave me an extra hour over the other options. Third, it also meant I wouldn’t be sitting in Frankfurt for 6+ hours between flights. Oh, and fourth, I’d never flown the IAD-AMS route in all my years with United. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
Time to board!
United flight 946
Washington DC, Dulles (IAD) to Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS)
Depart 18:30, Arrive 8:05 next morning, Flight Time 7:35
Boeing 767-300, Registration N647UA, Manufactured 1992, Seat 7H
Boarded, and had a really weird feeling….oh yeah, it’s seat 7H, the same seat I was in 48 hours prior flying from Zurich to Newark. Hahah, at least I knew what to expect in theory.
So, what’s for teh nomz tonight?
Expectations were low after the flight a couple of days ago, and hey, things couldn’t get any worse. When my flight attendant saw this:
…at least a refill was offered. Refills on PDBs are always welcome – and a pleasant surprise when they happen. My seatmate was an interesting fellow who I chatted with for about five minutes during boarding, he was impressed with the approximately 50 words of Dutch I speak, and then we minded our own business for the rest of the flight. Can’t complain there!
Once in the air, service was quick, and it was time for more Château le Jeff and some split cashew parts:
Now, I give United a hard time for this all the time, thinking how much can this really save to serve cashew pieces instead of whole cashews. Then, a few days ago, I was visiting the fam in Minnesota over Christmas, and finally found the perfect comparison:
Yes, you see that right, Cashew Halves and Pieces are $3.50 a pound and Whole Cashews are $6.65 a pound. So, United is saving at least $3.15 a pound on Cashews. In fairness, Fleet Farm is a discount farm supply store and has pretty low nut prices in general, but I imagine in bulk United saves even more. So, at a minimum of $3.15 a pound in savings, lets assume they serve only two pounds per flight ($6.30) and they have approximately 250 flights a day with nut service ($1985) and 365 days a year that’s over $724,000. Wow, that’s not peanuts!
(See what I did there? Peanuts? Cashews)
Anyways, tastes the same, savings are real, blah blah, moving on…the salad was tasty, but yet another embarrassing appetizer. Seriously United, these are terrible…it can’t be that much more expensive to notch it up just a little. One little slice of tuna. Sheesh. What does that cost United, maybe a dollar? Give me a freaking McDonalds Cheeseburger, it’s the same price and I’d like it more!
The short rib, however, was quite tasty, and worthy of finishing. I never get it…the vegetables on United are almost always pretty good, but that’s it. Who knows!
Cheese plate #1 of 2. Seconds requested, and happily provided. This crew was a huge contrast to my Zurich-Newark crew 48 hours prior. They were cheerful, helpful, kept the refills flowing and gave a genuinely nice atmosphere. It really does prove that the crew can make all the difference.
Tonight’s sundae choice was “hot fudge and cherries.” The cherry count was a less than generous two. 😉
Landed in Amsterdam about 10 minutes early on the Polderbaan and after a 20+ minute taxi we were at the terminal. I had to enter the Schengen Area to fly to Germany anyways, so I figured I’d clear immigration and get Starbucks, forgetting that there was now a Starbucks in the departures area. Oh well! Gave me a chance to pass by the excellent airline/airplane memorabilia store:
After Starbucks I went back through security, spent a little time in the lounge, and then it was finally time for my flight to Frankfurt.
Lufthansa flight 989
Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 12:00, Flight Time 1:10
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIZS, Manufactured 2013, Seat 12C
Not much to say. Beverage service (had a Coke Light) and a small sandwich offered (which I skipped – sketchy airline sandwiches after the South Pacific just scare me) and we landed about 15 minutes behind schedule in Frankfurt due to late arrival of aircraft.
Of course, I had a hike from the A to B gates in Frankfurt PLUS passport control to contend with. Most of the folks in the queue looked “non-German” so I decided to use my decidedly awful German as an excuse to go past them and telling them I was in a hurry. Figuring they wouldn’t understand…and thinking they’d think I was saying something important…worked and saved me 10 plus minutes…then I got to the gate and…30 minute delay “for operational reasons.” LOL, ugh.
So, went up to the counter, and asked about the possiblility of an upgrade with a United Global Upgrade Cert. I knew the cabin was empty based on seatmap (they had 36 seats, only 4 showing taken on seatmap 15 min before departure) and the agent confirmed this. But here’s where things got really, really weird.
“I am so sorry, this flight is one of a select few flights moved to our new computer system as a pilot and only electronic upgrades are available. We did inform United of this.” So wait, you told United a few pilot flights would be in a new system with new upgrade procedures, and you update them in advance which ones those will be so they can do electronic instead of paper upgrades? I’m not buying this bro. Supervisor please.
Supervisor arrived, shifted from foot to foot uncomfortable, but stuck to the party line that United should have known better. Um, dude, no, I’m not buying it. You really think the communication between Star Alliance computer systems is that seamless? This is the partnership that has relied on paper certificates until 2014. Not. Buying. It. He insisted. So, I went for the Hail Mary.
“Fine, if the computer won’t let you do it with the paper certificate, maybe you can give an operational upgrade for operational reasons.” Nope…”only if the flight is oversold. If I press that button without oversell I can lose my job.” Ah German logic. Ugh. Coach it is for me.
Lufthansa flight 1306
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Beirut, Lebanon (BEY)
Depart 13:05, Arrive 17:55, Flight Time 3:50
Airbus A321, Registration D-AISP, Manufactured 2009, Seat 26C
So, fortunately the middle seat next to me was empty, and I had a few extra inches of legroom thanks to the exit row. So what was worse than business? Well, business was empty so I would have had a whole row. More crew attention, and maybe a slightly better meal. Other than that, this flight wasn’t too bad. Yes, this is an economy meal:
Landed right on time, and made a beeline for immigration, where things got really strange, really fast. Waited about five minutes for an officer, and the exchange went something like this:
Him: “Why are you coming to Lebanon?”
Him: “How long are you staying?”
Me: “Four Days”
Him: “What will you see?”
Me: “Baalbek, Byblos, Beirut nightlife.”
Him: “Ok, you ever been to Palestine?” I hadn’t expected the question to be so blatant, and certainly wasn’t going to admit I was there three days ago AND came back to the US in between, lol, I don’t think the concept of mileage runs would have played well.
Me: “No I haven’t”
Him: “How about Israel?”
Me: “No, never.”
Him: (looking at me) “I don’t believe you. You have lots of stamps. Who you work for? CIA? Mossad?”
At this point, I pretty much considered soiling myself, lol. Agent left the counter, and escorted me to a side room where I waited for about 20-30 minutes. I started going through my phone deleting photo albums, removing all evidence of travel to Israel, etc. After about 20-30 minutes an agent came in and continued. Same basic questions…why was I here, what was I doing, etc.
Then, we got down to “where do you work.” I showed him business cards, showed him other evidence, offered to show him access to work e-mail on my phone….he seemed annoyed. I got the impression he was annoyed at a trigger-happy initial investigator….he called my hotel to verify I had a reservation…and that was good. He actually apologized for the inconvenience, and told me to enjoy Lebanon.
Two hours later, it was time to leave the airport and start the last leg of the adventure!