Not too many details on this part of the trip, so I’ll keep it pretty simple.
We took a late evening taxi to Skopje airport after dinner and coffee, and arrived around 7pm, in plenty of time for our 8:45pm flight to Istanbul where we were planning to overnight. Check-in was quick and efficient, as was passport control and security. The airport was small, but quite modern, and overall quite efficient. There was a shared lounge which we were allowed to use as United Star Alliance Gold members, complete with plenty of beer and wine, and some small snacks – mainly cookies and crackers. Nothing impressive, but it had wifi, drinks, and was quiet so it did the job.
Drama started (see drama cafe reference in previous post) when we got to the gate. We were paged to the podium, and informed that our seats were being changed. We had exit row aisle seats across from each other, and were moved forward a few rows to an aisle and middle. No, there was nothing they could or would do about it, nor would they tell us why. GRRRR. It worked out in the end when after lots of prodding the agent managed to find us a full row in row 21 with the middle seat empty. All’s well that ends well!
Turkish flight 1006
Skopje, FYR Macedonia (SKP) to Istanbuk, Turkey (IST)
Depart 20:45, Arrive 23:05, Flight Time 1:20
Airbus A319, Registration TC-JLV, Manufactured 2011, Seat 21C
Flight was probably 95% full, but since we were proactive we ended up with one of the few empty middle seats in between us. There was a cold snack which was mostly edible, and drinks were free even in economy with one catch – you could have beer, but could not choose what kind. We ended up with one Heineken and one Efes – go figure! Other than that, flight was perfectly on time, and no drama whatsoever.
The same cannot be said for passport control in Istanbul where we’d have a very short overnight. Visa on arrival is available for US citizens, but my friend was traveling on a South African passport which is supposed to receive a free visa on arrival. Catch is, there’s only (apparently) one immigration desk in the whole airport that can issue this, and it’s not really marked. We spent over an hour getting through passport control, complete with a planeful of very rude Ukrainians shoving and pushing in line. There’s something deeply satisfying where when you deny someone the chance to sneak in front of you, and they curse you out in Russian thinking you don’t understand, when you can curse them even stronger right back. Score Jason 1, International Relations 0. Mr Gorbachev may have, in the infamaous words of the Gipper “torn down that wall” but I did my best to put it right back up 😉
Waited another 30 minutes for the aiport hotel shuttle, and it was almost 1am by the time we got to the hotel. With a 620am flight, I was beginning to wonder why we’d even bothered for just over three hours of sleep. The Istanbul Airport Radisson Blu? Well, check-in was efficient, the room was an inferno around 25C in temp, but the beds were ok and we were exhausted so we got three good hours of sleep along with a shower. For that alone, it was worth it.
Off to the airport, check-in and immigration took all of five minutes, leaving us time for Heaven. I mean Starbucks. Same difference – good strong espresso was exactly what I needed, and combined with some turkish coffee in the Turkish Airlines lounge I was ready to go. Oh, about that lounge…in this direction it was not terribly full at all, and they had a huge breakfast spread out! This has to be one of the best business class lounges in the world, at least as far as food goes.
Boarding was right on time, and business and star gold passengers got their own bus to the plane. Can’t complain about that! The load today was only about 50%, so there was plenty of room to spread out.
Lufthansa flight 1775
Istanbuk, Turkey (IST) to Munich, Germany (MUC()
Depart 6:20, Arrive 8:05, Flight Time 2:45
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIPH, Manufactured 1989, Seat 12C
Not too much to say – light breakfast served, crew was efficient, and there was plenty of room to spread out. As far as Lufthansa economy goes, it was a pretty good day. Except…we were held on the ground in Istanbul for over an hour due to fog in Munich, which I understand is very common at this time of year. We were looking at a 15 minute connection in Munich at best…this was going to be interesting. For some reason, it seems every time I connect through Munich I run into this issue.
We made up a bit of time in flight, and we landed 22 minutes before our flight to Newark was bound to leave. Fortunately, we were already “outside Schengen” for passport control, so that was one less line to deal with. We actually managed to get a real gate too, so a quick dash through security, and we made it with just minutes to spare.
United flight 969
Munich, Germany (MUC) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 9:20, Arrive 12:45, Flight Time 9:25
Boeing 767-300, Registration N651UA, Manufactured 1992, Seat 6H
This was a former-United three class 767, with a rather surly crew. There were several empty seats in Business class, and when we moved from window seats to centre seats we got admonished, even though we’d asked one of the flight attendants if it was ok. Other than that, things were fine – meal was pretty typical for these days, crew was not very friendly and below average, but the comfortable seats allowed us to catch up on sleep so that’s good.
My friend was leaving in Newark, so it was through Global Entry quickly (we actually arrived Terminal B of Newark – is that common these days? It was a first for me) and a tram to terminal A for my connecting flight to DC.
United Express (operated by ExpressJet) flight 4372
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 14:37, Arrive 15:47, Flight Time 1:10
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N12160, Manufactured 2004, Seat 12A
Only 8 people on this flight – the lightest load I’ve seen on a DC-Newark flight ever. Not sure the reason – it was mid-afternoon on a Monday, but I wasn’t complaining. We were almost 20 minutes early on arrival.
Overall it was a great trip. Nowhere near long enough, but when I’m presented to join a friend on a trip to see new countries I’m never going to turn it down! I feel like we really maximized our time there, and I’d love to return now and see more of the smaller towns and countryside in the region. I still have to get to Macedonia, Bosnia, and Serbia in the region so I definitely have an incentive now to go back for an extended trip!