Jun 232016

4:30 in the morning came early, very early. I had set everything out the night before so I could make a very quick escape, and it all worked out well. Rolled out of bed into the bathroom, brushed teeth, put contacts in, and made a quick escape from the room. The plan was to get going as quickly as possible and shower in the lounge at the airport if I still had time in order to try and not wake Ian up. Actually woke up 5 minutes before my alarm (I love how the internal clock works like that sometimes) so think I was out the door in under 10 minutes flat. Called an Uber, and it arrived just five minutes later…and I was off.

With no traffic, ride to the airport was nearly 30 minutes, and when I was dropped at the curb this sign awaited me…it’s like they knew I was coming or something:


I already had my boarding pass from the previous night, but the line for passport control was over 30 minutes…and that was the priority line…due to a group of 100+ Turks with diplomatic passports that all looked barely 25 congesting the line. There was a large German schoolgroup in the main line, so it wouldn’t have been any better. I wondered where 100+ Turkish diplomats were headed at 5:30am, then saw one of their boarding passes: Pristina. I’m not sure what 100+ 20-something Turkish diplomats were up to in Kosovo, but I’m probably better off not knowing.

Stopped at Starbucks, where apparently Jason sounds like Corsim today. Fortunately, they let me bring it into the lounge where I enjoyed it with some cheese and olives for breakfast:


Just in case you’re a raging alcoholic, there’s plenty of wine ready at 6am as well:


Had plenty of time to grab a shower and such before the flight, before heading to the gate. Anyone who’s read my blog knows how I feel about the Istanbul airport. Great facilities, huge lounge, connections to everywhere, but the throngs of humanity make it a nightmare. Think Frankfurt or Heathrow, except instead of 90% passengers from developed countries, you have the other 90% – those who can’t get a visa to transit Europe. People being pushy, disrespecting queues, eating with their hands straight from the lounge buffet, etc. At least you don’t have the self-important scream into the mobile phone types…

The grand staircase in the split-level lounge:


Bit of a hike to our bus gate today, where I found out the planned A330 had been swapped for an A340 overnight. Ugh, the Turkish A340s are almost as old as some of the United 747s. Hey, it’s a three hour flight though, can’t really complain about even an ancient widebody with nearly lie-flat seats!

Turkish Airlines flight 1587
Istanbul, Turkey (IST) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 07:55, Arrive 10:10, Flight Time: 3:15
Airbus A340-300, Registration TC-JDN, Manufactured 1997, Seat 4K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 99,297
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,288,822

First impressions on boarding were wow, this is nice for a three hour flight!



Chose the pre-departure lemonade this morning:


The chef went around offering people drinks as they boarded. He had it down to a science. Let them board, sit down, and about a minute later come and offer them a drink. Very nice, and personalized:


He offered me a second, so I went with a fresh-squeezed OJ:


Today’s menu…looks pretty identical to the flight from Dakar the day before:


Unfortunately, departure time passed, and without a word we just sat there. And sat there. After 20 minutes I rang the call button to ask why we hadn’t left. The flight attendant had no idea but “I am sure we will be going soon.” Another 20 minutes, nothing. At the hour mark, the pilot finally came on and said “something was wrong with the plane, but I think it is ok now and we will leave soon.” Nothing inspires confidence like that! Fortunately about 10 minutes later we were off.

After takeoff, the captain announced we had good winds, so should only arrive about 40 minutes late. Shortly after, the starters for breakfast were delivered. Since the crew the previous day didn’t know what a mimosa was I didn’t want to take any chances, so I asked for an orange juice and champagne…and got one of each. Waste not want not!


Since the other option didn’t look appetizing I went with the bland cheese pancake thing. It was really bland again, but with the honeycomb I pretty much forgot…and the refills on the beverages weren’t hurting things:


We ended up actually getting a gate in the B terminal in Frankfurt, and the German border police were waiting at the top of the jetway to check documents. I’ve only ever experienced this on flights from Africa and Turkey, which apparently have a large number of people flushing their passports and trying to claim asylum. For the first time ever I got a bit of a grilling for trying to speak German with them, but was let go after a couple of questions.

Had to re-clear security in order to get back into the B terminal area, so opted to go through immigration and clear that security first as the line to get back into the B area was rather long. The agent was confused why I was going into the B gates when my flight left from the Z gates, and didn’t seem to understand the concept of wanting to using the first class lounge. I’m still completely confused why Lufthansa has a first class lounge at the A gates but not the Z one, when that’s where most longhaul flights depart from!

Once inside, grabbed a quick shower, and unfortunately they only had the generic rubber duckies this time. I’m still trying to get either the rarer silver one or the new European Cup soccer one. Hopefully next time!

Some bubbly and cheese while I waited for my flight. Unfortunately, my lounge time was cut short by a delayed arrival. One of these times I’m going to have a proper meal in this lounge and try the eggs benedict!


Today’s transfer from the lounge to the plane was in a nice Mercedes S Class, and we took the long way to the plane. I was one of four in first today, and unfortunately three of us had to share the car together. I know, I know, #FirstClassProblems…

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 13:15, Arrive 15:55, Flight Time: 8:40
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYL, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 103,454
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,292,979

Welcomed aboard with some mixed nuts and a glass of bubbles…


salmon amuse bouche…


Takeoff from Frankfurt:


Today’s menu:







The Tattinger Millésimé is a nice bottle of bubbles, but not one of my favourites. I appreciate that Lufthansa doesn’t just go easy with the Dom or Krug and tries to get creative, but while this is a very nice champagne, it’s just not one of my faves. No problem, that will just make the switch to red wine easier.

Table was set right after takeoff as I asked:


Caviar was served. I was even offered seconds, but declined today:



Appetizers came out next, and the flight attendant insisted I try all three as well as a salad. “You do not have to eat it all, but you should at least try it!” I like her attitude!


Continuing my unusual streak of fish on planes lately, I went with the turbot. I have to say, I wasn’t impressed. It was a bit dry and tasteless, and I didn’t feel the least bit bad enjoying the Flagstone shiraz with it for a bit of zing.


Now THAT is a cheese cart. I was in heaven. A little of each please…


With more shiraz, of course…


I was too full desert, but again the flight attendant insisted I at least have a couple of chocolates. With that, I asked my bed to be made and passed out for nearly 5 hours.


I had asked not to be waken for a snack, so I was allowed to sleep until 30 minutes before landing. I think that’s a first for me on a transatlantic, and shows just how little sleep I’d gotten the night before. Boarded, watching a movie, and ate until landing.

Immigration at Dulles wasn’t too bad, was through Global Entry in under five minutes, and then I saw the line for customs. It was the longest I’d ever seen, and people were saying they had to stand in line over 90 minutes for customs! Thankfully, there’s a special line for Global Entry customs at Dulles, and I was out in under five minutes.

Managed to stay awake maybe another six hours after landing, and then crashed hard despite the five hours on the plane. This was really a new experience for me choosing to sleep the daytime flight away, but to me it shows what Lufthansa really excels at. You’re in first class, and you’re in charge – whatever and however you want to use your time you are free to and the crew will see to it that you get the experience you need at that point.

One of these days I’m going to actually do the frequent flier geek thing and try and “maximize the experience” but for now, I’m extremely content just enjoying it as I think it’s meant to be – what you need, when you need it, to minimize the stresses of traveling.

With that, the trip is over, and it’s time to hit my penultimate country in just another week: Turkmenistan!

Jun 212016

Woke up at oh-dark-thirty to check out, and the front desk guy at the hotel was nowhere to be found. I eventually found him in the hotel bar asleep in a chair with his head on a table. To his credit, he woke up pretty quickly, and check-out was reasonably efficient. There was a surcharge for using a credit card, and only visa cards were accepted. As promised the night before, the hotel shuttle was waiting for us and we made the short drive to the airport in maybe 10 minutes. On the map the airport looked a long way out of town, but when I asked the shuttle driver apparently that’s the new airport being built by the Chinese…like everywhere else in Africa.

Upon entering the terminal there was an x-ray and metal detector, after which some official people with badges asked for passports and escorted is to the check-in area. Apparently there was nothing official about them at all, and they just wanted a tip for showing you where to check in. Seriously, the airport is two rooms – one for waiting and one for checking in. Did they not think we could figure it out? Eventually they went away without a tip, but they were hassling the woman in front of us pretty hard. She told them all she had was a 20 euro bill, and they took it…and eventually she realized she wasn’t getting any change. Amateur mistake!

No problems at all checking in, short wait for immigration and security, then the Angola-style “please come into this room.” I managed to get out of it, but it was the currency control room, where they tried to find money on you which you hadn’t declared…and take it. Ian got away with no issues and we got to wait in the departure haul which maybe had a couple hundred seats and was buzzing with flies and mosquitos, even at 5am. There were even a couple of stray cats to complete the wildlife scene. Eventually one of the shops opened and was selling bottles of water so we could get rid of the rest of our currency. There apparently was a Mauritania Airlines lounge, but if it’s even still in business it was very, very closed at this hour. Instead, we were treated to several people watching loud bollywood movies without headphones in the waiting area. Ugh.

Boarding eventually started about 30 minutes before departure, and was a walk across the tarmac to the plane. I tried to take my phone out to get a photo, but was quickly yelled at by one of the security guys. Ok, I get it, no photos.

Turkish Airlines flight 593
Nouakchott, Mauritania (NKC) to Dakar, Senegal (DKR)
Depart 06:00, Arrive 07:00, Flight Time: 1:00
Boeing 737-900, Registration TC-JYF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 94,894
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,284,419

The flight goes Istanbul – Nouakchott – Dakar – Istanbul, and when we boarded there were still about 50 people on the plane, headed to Dakar. Of course one of them was in my assigned seat and looked annoyed when I showed him my boarding pass. The flight attendant looked annoyed to, and just said “take any seat.” Uh, ok, score another one for Turkish Airlines.

Took off maybe 15 minutes late, but with a flight time of only about 40 minutes we arrived right on time. Nothing was offered at all to eat or drink on the short flight, and soon we arrived Dakar. It was also still mostly dark when we took off, so no real photos for this completely unremarkable sector other than a view of Dakar as we came in for landing:


The 50 people got off in Dakar, and maybe 100 more boarded, and it looked to be a nearly full flight back to Istanbul. I only saw two empty seats in business and maybe a handful that I could see back in coach. Fortunately, there was a crew change and our rather surly crew was replaced by one that only seemed mildly annoyed.

Turkish Airlines flight 593
Dakar, Senegal (DKR) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 07:55, Arrive 17:55, Flight Time: 7:00
Boeing 737-900, Registration TC-JYF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 3E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 98,200
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,287,725

True to form on Turkish we had a “chef” on board. I’m pretty sure they’re just flight attendants who wear a chef’s hat and apron, but hey, it’s amusing. I usually go with the lemonade pre-departure the offer, but this flight decided to go with the orange juice. Unfortunately, the turkish delight they normally hand out with it was missing this flight:


So what’s for breakfast this morning?


Flight attendant came around with hazelnuts, which have mercifully moved from being in a bag to a bowl. Must have been some blowback from the Korean Airlines incident. When I asked for a mimosa, they looked confused. I decided to explain “can I get a champagne and orange juice.” “Oh we have no alcohol on this flight. I think it is because of the religion.” Seriously what. the. eff. I get not serving it out of Mauritania as a dry country but what is the point on a Dakar to Istanbul flight? Is it because it was the first day of Ramadan? Doubtful, as they were serving us food during the day…I was cranky, and decided I needed coffee…and another fresh orange juice:


Usual delicious turkish appetizers…cheese, pepper slices, jam, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and fruit. Super tasty…now I’m craving peppers and cheese…


The “turkish pancake” – I wasn’t very impressed with it. Found it incredibly bland with almost no flavour at all. I spread a little of the jam on it and that helped, but overall, not impressed.


Five hours flew by. Seven hours is a seriously long flight on a 737, but at least Turkish gives generous pitch in business class with plenty of room to stretch out. I killed time watching movies on my iPad, and a small snack before landing. Yes, more cheese and sliced peppers on a roll, and the delicious berry cake that Turkish often serves. Mmmm….


Overall, for a seven hour flight it wasn’t the greatest but it could have been much worse. We landed in Istanbul right on time, and I checked at the transit desk to pick up my boarding pass for the next morning. I had decided to splurge when I was in Mauritania and changed my routing home. The Turkish flight had always been planned, but then I was going to go on to Zurich for a night in Turkish business, then take United first nonstop home. Decided since there was availability to treat myself to an Istanbul to Frankfurt routing on a Turkish A330 followed by Lufthansa first home via Newark. A few hours later, the nonstop Frankfurt to Dulles opened up so I ticketed that.

First time I’ve ever seen absolutely no immigration line at Istanbul, and since we’d done the eVisa we didn’t have to wait in line at all. Quick trip through customs and a stop at Starbucks in the arrivals hall to get some caffeine in an attempt to wake up. We tried calling Uber, but after several minutes nobody had responded, so we decided to take a regular cab.

We were staying at the Gezi Hotel Bosphorus, part of Starwood’s relatively new Design Hotels collection. Normally I choose the W in Istanbul, but it’s not walkable to all that much, and the Gezi is right on Taksim Square. It was a relatively long taxi ride since traffic was heavy, and when we arrived the room wasn’t ready – because despite requesting a room with two beds they informed us they had pushed them together and made one bed. They invited us for more coffee in the restaurant while we waited, and 15 minutes later, the room was ready. We were definitely rewarded with a great view of the city:


Quick stop in the room, and then we headed out. Unfortunately, it was already 7pm at this point and although we’d hoped to wander around a bit and at least see the Grand Bazaar and maybe the Hagia Sofia from the outside, we were absolutely wiped out. We took the Tunel metro down to the water and walked around for maybe 45 minutes before admitting defeat and heading back to grab some dinner near Taksim Square.

We decided to head to Faros Kebap on the recommendation of a coworker, and life was much better after a couple of large beers…and a cheese appetizer…holy cow that’s a lot of cheese:


I went with the pistachio kebab for a main, and it was super tasty:


At this point I was a bad influence and insisted we get some raki…and of course baclava to go with it:


Short walk back to the hotel, and time to pass out at 11. That early morning wakeup call was going to come far, far too early…

Sep 152015

When I was booking this trip, I debated for a long time the merits of getting a hotel in India. I would land in India just before 22:00 and depart the next morning at 06:00. Best case, after immigration, check-in, etc, I knew that meant I’d get four hours of sleep max in the hotel. Was it really worth it? Well, immigration ended up taking nearly an hour, and it was 11:15 by the time I got to the hotel, 11:30 by the time I checked in. I decided to push it as much as possible, and leave for the airport at 04:00, getting there just 90 minutes before an international flight. That meant…4.5 hours at the hotel. By the time you subtract showers, the half bottle of wine the hotel gave me (great sleep aid) I slept a grand total of 3:15.

It was worth every penny…and must have been the perfect long nap to reset my body clock, because I’ve been sleeping amazingly this entire trip. Not a single sign of jetlag. Money very well spent!

Hotel car took me to the airport, and check-in was pretty easy although they had a pretty hard time figuring out how to print my onward boarding pass to Cameroon. No line at immigration and security, and off to the lounge. Oh yes, the lounge. What was really strange at check-in is they had stacks of lounge invites to three different ones, and were just randomly handing them out. There were two colleagues in front of me at check-in who got invites to different lounges…and the check-in agent couldn’t figure out why this was a problem!

I ended up with an invite to the ITC Green Lounge, which was perfectly adequate at 04:30. Not crowded, plenty of power outlets, plentiful ice cold diet coke, and a variety of hot and cold snacks. I had a few samosas which were pretty tasty along with a few diet cokes, and I was ready to go. Off to the gate, and boarding was already underway.

Turkish Airlines flight 717
Delhi, India (DEL) to Istanbul Attaturk, Turkey (IST)
Depart 6:05, Arrive 10:25, Flight Time: 6:50
Airbus A330-300, Registration TC-JOB, Manufactured 2014, Seat 4D

Nice lay-flat seats on this bird, but odd that the foot rest/shelf had no separation from the seat next to it, meaning if you sleep at all angled you could be playing footsie with your seatmate. Awkward. Decided to go with the lemonade welcome aboard drink instead of my usual orange. Tasty!


What’s for breakfast this morning?


Champagne brunch. I figured since I was already disoriented timewise, and it was like 21:00 back home, it made perfect sense. Yes, this is how I rationalize things! Nice starter, and the cheeses were quite tasty.


The “turkish pastry with cheese.” It was rather odd, and I think I might have finished half off it. Just strange, but wasn’t really super hungry anyways so it sufficed.


Debated a small nap, but instead got sucked into a horrible movie. Something about people bending dimensions and traveling to other solar systems to colonize a new home for mankind. It was three plus hours of my life I’ll never get back, but it did make time go by quickly. Soon we were just an hour outside Istanbul and a small snack was served. I can’t escape the samosas!


Landed right on time just about 10:00 and headed to the lounge to grab some water and check e-mail. After a detour to Starbucks, of course, to ingest large amounts of caffeine to get me moving. Mission accomplished, around 11:00 I decided it was a waste to sit around the lounge all day and decided to head into the city. The Turkish lounge has nice lockers where you can lock bags up, so I packed a daybag and headed out. Passport, wallet and cell phone and I was good to go.

Had to find my way back downstairs to arrivals, which I finally did, purchased a visa, and found the metro to the city. Decided I would go see the Blue Mosque, which would require a short ride on metro followed by a tram. Fortunately, I remembered how this worked from previous visits and it went off without a hitch. The walking around really helped, and maybe was another secret of why I avoided jetlag this trip. I tried to walk as much as possible and see as much daylight as possible to help my body realize just what time it was. The flight to India had moved me forward 9.5 hours, now I was back 2.5 hours, and the flight to Cameroon would go back another 2 hours. Regardless, it was a gorgeous day in Istanbul:


Got back to the airport about two hours before the next flight, right after Ian’s flight from Munich had landed. Snacks in the lounge, a well-deserved shower to rinse off the sweat from a 90F sunny Istanbul day, and it was time to head to the final flight of the day…the never-ending 737 flight from hell…nearly seven hours to Yaoundé, Cameroon followed by another short hop on to Douala. Jordan’s insane flight from Houston had just landed and he met us at the gate. Hats off to him, there’s no way I could survive 20 hours in economy!

Our gate area was an interesting mix of folks, but very few from Cameroon. Lots of Ukrainian, American, and South African passports around us, many of whom we’d see the next day on our flight to CAR. Any bets what’s going on there?

Turkish Airlines flight 69
Istanbul Attaturk, Turkey (IST) to Yaoundé, Cameroon (NSI)
Depart 18:15, Arrive 23:05, Flight Time: 6:50
Airbus 737-900, Registration TC-JYE, Manufactured 2012, Seat 3F

Two pieces of good news on this flight. First, these were the longhaul 737 seats, which meant there was approximately 18 extra inches of legroom over a standard “domestic first” configration. Even better, business was only booked to 3 of 16 seats tonight, so we had tons of space to spread out. We must have been exhausted, because we were still both too exhausted to think about logically switching rows to have more space, and stayed in 3E and 3F. Switched from the lemonade to the orange juice this time for a welcome drink…and water.


Takeoff from Istanbul at sunset…


So, what’s for dinner tonight?


This is where it got ridiculous. Turkish decided that since there were only three people in business class, they would order exactly one of each main course. One fish, one beef, and one vegetarian green beans. I was second to order, and got my request of beef. Ian, unfortunately, was asked if he “would mind having the green beans.” Ugh, yes, I’m pretty sure he minded. They promised they would find something else…

As usual, a fantastic starter from Turkish:


The beef, however, was tough and pretty much inedible. They found Ian some other beef dish that looked much, much better. Was probably a crew meal…


Passed the flight trying to nap unsuccessfully, and watching episode after episode of Scandal. About an hour before landing a small snack was served, including a delicious raspberry cake of some sort.


This is what we call “avoiding Libyan airpace” and no-fly zones. It must have added at least an hour to the flight.


Then, we noticed we appeared to be circling. Turned out the airport at Yaoundé was closed due to being fogged in and below minimums for landing. Um, after nearly seven hours in flight how much fuel can be left on a 737? After about 20 minutes circling, the captain announced we were landing. He didn’t, however, announce that minimums had been met. Entirely possible there wasn’t enough fuel for an alternate?

Turkish Airlines flight 69
Yaoundé, Cameroon (NSI) to Douala, Cameroon (DLA)
Depart 00:05, Arrive 01:05, Flight Time: 1:00
Airbus 737-900, Registration TC-JYE, Manufactured 2012, Seat 3F

After about 45 minutes on the ground, we took off for the 35 minute flight to Douala and arrived about an hour late at nearly 2am. Ugh! Fortunately, immigration was a breeze and we were out to find the hotel shuttle around 2:15. Except, the hotel shuttle was nowhere to be found, and the ATMs at the airport were all broken. The taxi mafia settled on 10 euros to drop Jordan at his hotel first, and then take Ian and I to our hotel. It was a ripoff, but at 230am there wasn’t much choice.

The hotel. Ugh. I’d stayed here about two years ago when it was the Le Meridien, and it was…adequate. Now it was the Pullman, and reviews online weren’t great. First off, I’d screwed up and booked a locals-only rate, so we ended up having to pay about 50% more than expected. Then, they couldn’t understand the concept of a room with two beds. Once that was finally sorted we got to the room…which was a sauna. The second room was marginally better, but not great. I left Ian to see if it would cool down, and I went and checked out another two rooms which were even worse.

Then, there was no water in the room. I went to the front desk three times to ask water to be brought up, but it never happened. Fortunately, I’d saved a bottle from the plane to brush my teeth, and Ian (being the fancy one he is) ended up using the minibar Perrier to brush his teeth. Finally, around 4am the room cooled down just enough to consider sleep, but I was thirsty and had to settle for the only option in the minibar…beer. I threw a bit of a fit at checkout the next morning about not being able to get water, and they did kindly comp the Perrier and beer. But ugh, this property has gone from adequate to dismal…and for the price recommend avoiding it at all costs.

We got up at a semi-reasonable hour, and decided to head out exploring just a bit to get some walking in before the adventure was to really begin!

Jan 092015

Woke up nice and early, since I had a full morning or so to visit Beirut before my mid/late afternoon flight to Kuwait to catch up with the United nonstop to Washington…in order to get to work on time Monday morning! I was seriously excited about this flight, since ever since United added Dubai and Kuwait years ago, I still have yet to take either of these flights.

Rolled over in bed, kinda groggy, turned off airplane mode on my iPhone…and BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ a stream of messages came in. This isn’t unusual. I’m seven hours ahead of home, so lots can happen when I’m asleep. But, I worry when I start seeing alerts from TripIt and United…this can’t be bueno.

So…what’s about to follow. Anyone who’s read my blog for the last few years knows I very rarely have flight drama. I’m pretty lucky. Things rarely go wrong, and when they do things seem to only get better. Like my Dubai-Frankfurt-London that went mechanical so I ended up on the Emirates A380 in first nonstop to London. Like that. However, as you’ve seen in the last couple of months, my BFF Fiji Airways and I had some lovely times…and now, it’s time for Fiji Airways DBA United to join the party.

Kuwait to Washington…canceled. Wait, WHAT?!

Now, I know, why did I book Beirut-Kuwait-Washington? Main reason is I could clear an upgrade to business at the time of booking, but second reason is it’s a westbound redeye…which I love. I sleep on them fantastically, and when you land, it’s already afternoon in your departure time zone, so you’re ready to go. Oh, and a great friend of mine is currently working in Kuwait, so the five hour layover would allow us to have dinner…so what can go wrong?!

United…that’s what.

Seems the plane had gone mechanical out of Dulles five hours earlier, so they canceled the roundtrip. 2014 has been a very strange year for us that fly United. It feels like if you book a longhaul flight there’s at least a 25% chance it will cancel. I’m being mildly dramatic, but United has been almost that bad this year. That’s how I ended up with no flight home 18 hours in advance. I think I need a drink. Or coffee. Yes, definitely coffee. Off to Starbucks to get brain fuel. The view from Starbucks:


So, I drank coffee, and planned my future on ExpertFlyer. The only chance to get me home in time for work Monday was to get to Dubai, and get on the Dubai to DC nonstop. Only problem is it had one business seat left, and there was a snowball’s chance in hell of it clearing as an upgrade. There was no way I was going to fly 14 hours on that flight in coach. Not happening. Other options wouldn’t get me in to much later Monday, so I resigned myself to working remotely….

So, let’s see what the options are then. I could wait another 24 hours…either in Kuwait…and risk no upgrade, or try and get somewhere in Europe where I can take an upgraded flight on Monday. Hmmm, Kuwait has the advantage that I’d still be able to get dinner with my friend, and would likely be able to have a very relaxing day in Kuwait. It has the downside that United might not actually delivery a replacement plane as promised, and I might be stuck on some horrid routing out of Kuwait via Frankfurt or something with a long coach segment. I couldn’t take the chance of two more days out of the option, so I decided it was time to “go west young man” asap. Ok, options sorted, time to call United.

Skype…what did we do before you? Got a surprisingly solid connection AND an agent who was willing to go the extra mile to help out. She tried everything. The only upgrade space from Europe to the US was from Amsterdam, and she couldn’t get me to Amsterdam.  Things were a right solid mess. Finally, I found something…Beirut-Istanbul-Frankfurt, overnight, Frankfurt-Amsterdam-DC….only downside was leaving Frankfurt at 6am, meaning barely 5 hours of sleep. Ugh. But wait, theres a problem…

I’m checked in on Kuwait Airways already from Beirut to Kurwait, and they can’t touch the ticket until I get off that flight. Ugh. Call Kuwait Airways…on 14 different numbers. In Kuwait. In the US. In Lebanon. In the UK. Every number I can find. Nobody can help me. Ugh. Website doesn’t allow you to un-do checkin. There seemed to be no way to get off the flight. But wait…”Rajesh” at the 15th number I tried had the cell phone number of the supposed Kuwait Airways manager at Beirut Airport! Seriously?! Don’t worry…talked to the person who answered for 1 minute before she hung up on me. Ugh.

Back to the drawing board.

Now, I need to give a HUGE congrats to United here. This agent spent over two hours on the phone with me trying to get things sorted. On a Skype connection that was often not great. She waited on hold (on my computer Skype) while I used my iPhone Skype to dial various Kuwait Airways numbers. She was an angel, patient, and genuinely just wanted to see me happy. Honestly, this one (long) interaction reminded me why I used to love flying United. If anyone has any idea of anything I can do to get her recognized, I’d appreciate it. Moving on…

The agent agreed to set everything up in my record, extensively note it, and I would head to the airport to get off of the Kuwait Airways flight. Since there’s no data roaming in Lebanon I’d have to pay $2.50 per minute roaming to call United and get the ticket reissued once I was off of the Kuwait Airways flight. At this point it was under two hours to the Turkish flight to Istanbul, the last westbound flight of the day, so I had no choice.

Off to the airport I go…

That’s where the next layer of drama hits…there’s a security line just to get into the airport…that’s 30-40 minutes or more deep. Fortunately the Turkish and Kuwaiti flights leave within 30 minutes of each other…but there’s two terminals, and I have no idea which one is in which. So, I head to the Kuwaiti one to get off the flight, and pray they will have a way to then get me to the Turkish one in time…inshallah.

1:15 before flight time, I finally reached the Kuwait Airways counter and they were astounded I didn’t want to be on their flight. “If I take you off this flight, you will be on your own, and we will not be responsible for anything else. Are you sure that is what you want?” YES YES, PLEASE! Finally, they get a supervisor…”oh, did you call me on the phone?” Seriously?! Did you think I was kidding?! Eventually they get me off the flight, and say “have a nice day.” Hah!

Call United…get put on hold…ugh…and that’s where a miracle happens. The Turkish check-in counter is right next to the Kuwait Airways one. I explain to the agent I have a reservation (and she can see it) and I’m on the phone with United now getting the ticket reissued. United answers, the record is documented as promised, yes, I am no longer checked in, please wait while I reissue the ticket…which takes 20 minutes.

My Turkish flight is now leaving in 50 minutes.

Finally, United tells me the ticket is reissued, Turkish agrees, and I have boarding passes. HOORAY! It cost me nearly $70 in roaming charges, but a small price to pay for solving the drama.

Things were good…until I got to immigration, where hundreds of Iraqis were in line in front of me, and the agents were processing them at the speed of molasses. I looked around for my friends from the day before, and fortunately spotted them in line. Allah is clearly looking out for me. They were quite excited to see me. I explained my emergency. I begged them to say something to all the Iraqis I’d be cutting in line in front of to make it ok. I was down to barely 30 minutes before departure and was desperate. I moved up in line…she said something to the people in line…they all started cheering and clapping. I have no idea what it was, but I thanked her profusely. Fortunately immigration gave me no trouble, and I was into the departures hall.

Don’t worry, all y’all will be invited to my Big Fat Baghdad Wedding.  😉

There was just something comical about a group of women in full abayas taking pictures of airport christmas trees:


Small sprint to the gate where, shocker, 10 minutes prior to departure they still weren’t boarding. Go figure. We left a little late, but I managed to grab an aisle seat in the first row of coach, so life was looking grand.

Turkish Airways flight 825
Beirut, Lebanon (BEY) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 15:35, Arrive 17:35, Flight Time 2 hours
Airbus A321, Registration TC-JRS, Manufactured 2011, Seat 5D

The inflight magazine was full of healthy new year tips. Who knew I should get a hair transplant and have ivf to have a miracle baby? I better get right on that…


I’m pretty sure my seatmate was dying of Ebola. Fortunately the middle seat was empty, but he curled up in a fetal position under a blanket in the window seat and started shaking violently. Ugh. He rang the flight attendant call button and asked for a doctor. He didn’t speak Turkish, and the flight attendants barely spoke English. Quote: “do you think you will die in the next one hour?” He answers no. “Ok, well there is no doctor. You will live until Istanbul.” Uhhh….yeah, I feel fantastic about this…

But hey, at least there’s Turkish’s best-in-industry economy catering:



I ate it, mostly to distract myself from my scary seatmate, and hoped that I would live to Istanbul…which I fortunately did, using hand sanitizer every five minutes or so. I even ate the sketchy potato salad. I figured I was likely going to get Ebola anyways.

Security was a snap in Istanbul, short wait, and I headed off to the lounge for a bit of down time. Despite nearly doubling in size the lounge was still absolutely packed. I’m convinced you can get into the Turkish Airlines lounges if you have a pulse…there’s no other way to explain how constantly packed they are. Enjoyed some baklava and turkish coffee, and then it was time to continue westward.

Off to the gate for the Frankfurt flight, which was now showing completely sold out on ExpertFlyer. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if I could switch from my middle seat to a bulkhead…or an exit row…or anything. Nope, flights completely sold out. Ugh. Start talking to another guy who has his United 1K card out in the boarding area, and we talk about how packed the flight is. He’s in a middle seat in coach too, so we agree it’s going to be a pretty lousy flight. Time to board, and I’m in front of him in line…

BEEP BEEP BEEP when I scan the boarding pass. Agent punches on the computer….operational upgrade to business! SCORE! United had rebooked me on a full-Y fare, and I guess that plus Star Alliance Gold was enough to move me up on a sold out flight. Score! Unfortunately my new friend wasn’t as lucky…sorry Charlie.

Turkish Airways flight 1597
Istanbul, Turkey (IST) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:45, Arrive 21:55, Flight Time 3:10
Airbus A321, Registration TC-JSH, Manufactured 2013, Seat 3B

Typical Turkish welcome aboard orange juice:


…and some turkish delight to go along with it:


Appetizer plate, cheese, and dessert…this would be a full meal on many other airlines!


Choice was fish or pasta, so I went with the pasta since fish on places scares me. It was pretty bland in a bit of butter/cheese/etc sauce, but I managed to eat a little of it. Not one of the better meals I’ve had on Turkish.


Landed on time in Frankfurt, and Lufthansa was fully in the swing of Christmas:


On the way home from my South Pacific part of the trip I’d stopped overnight in Frankfurt, and rather enjoyed the Le Meridien so I’d booked in there again. The check-in agent recognized me, and so I said “when you said you hoped to see me soon, I had no idea it would be THIS soon!” We both had a good laugh. This time I decided to take the junior suite in the historical wing which was nice, but had no temperature control at all…I opened the windows to cool things down, which seemed to do an adequate job. 10 minutes later, fruit and cheese and a bottle of wine showed up to the room. I like this hotel!

Now, to call United, and find a way home. It’s important to note it was 11p at this point, and I was on a 7a flight to Amsterdam currently with a 4 hour connection. That just wasn’t acceptable. We try every possible combination…he thinks he has me on Geneva…with an upgrade…which is funny because there are no seats to assign. It appeared they were overbooking it in business with the intent of upgrading some people in first. Yes please!

Unfortunately, he couldn’t get it to confirm, so it was back to the 7a to Amsterdam. Ugh. At this point, the wildcard came out: “as a loyal elite member you don’t deserve to be treated like this…let me see what I can do.” He put me on hold for nearly 30 minutes, checking back every few.

Before I knew it, he had me confirmed in a J seat on the nonstop Frankfurt to DC. Yeah, it was a middle seat, but it was three hours more sleep, and nonstop. I couldn’t thank him enough. The flight was J1 on expertflyer, so he’d managed to get me rebooked into the last business class seat on the plane. On a W fare with a global upgrade. This was to be the second time in 24 hours United agents went the extra mile for me. By the time I woke up the next morning I noticed it had somehow been switched from J to upgrade space, but whatever. I was on a nonstop!

…and yes, reflecting on this…maybe I should go for 1K next year…

Slept like a baby for a full 7 hours, Starbucks at the Frankfurt Hbf in the morning, and train to the airport. Straight through security and to the Lufthansa Senator lounge. My usual salami and cheese for breakfast, and soon it was time to board.

When I got to the gate, I asked the agent…I know two seats are open in first. If you upgrade anyone, or if there are any no-shows, could you please keep an eye out for a window or aisle seat for me? She was very happy to help…and after processing upgrades to first got me a window seat. Wow, fantastic service!

United Airlines flight 998
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 12:00, Arrive 15:05, Flight Time 9:05
Boeing 777, Registration N769UA, Manufactured 1995, Seat 9A

Today was a rare treat on United…Château Mouton Jeffschild…delicious!


Wow…and TWO pieces of salmon. United must be feeling rich these days. The salad seemed higher quality than usual too…something must be up…


…and the mushy veg and meat. In fairness, the steak was only cooked medium well today instead of hockey puck, so it was definitely a good day for United!


…I’m addicted to these sweet crackers with the soft cheeses.


Caramel, and cherries today. Just two cherries.


…and that marked the end of 7 very intense weeks of traveling. Over 70,400 miles by air, 12 new countries, and a heck of a lot of exhaustion. So much that I canceled my annual New Years trip and stayed home for the first time in 12 years. Final travel map from two points of view:

map map-1

So, lessons from this trip? I had am amazing time, saw so many new places, and really got an insight into so many regions. I explored more of Australia’s big cities, tons of South Pacific islands from developed places with lots of resorts (Fiji) to smaller less populated places like Nauru and Kiribati. I dived and saw the 70% of the Earth covered by water in East Timor, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Samoa. I got an insight into perhaps the world’s biggest conflict in Israel and Palestine. I saw an amazingly vibrant place in Lebanon which seems to be the epicentre of all the regional skirmishes going on…but faces it with one giant party…and don’t forget nights in Frankfurt, Zurich, Seoul, Narita…it truly was a blessed trip.

25 countries to go…beginning VERY soon….. Lake Malawi, Lemurs, Stone Cities, Jambiyas, Qat…and Puttin’ on the RIX!

Dec 142013

Fortunately my flight out of Istanbul wasn’t all that early, but I decided to try and get an early start to “enjoy” the Turkish lounge, crowded as it usually is. It’s a good thing I did, because traffic was nightmare-ish this morning, and took well over an hour to get to the airport. Due to that, it was also going to be much more expensive than on the way in. I had 74.60 lira on me, and prayed it wouldn’t go over that. I had some dollars and euros as backup, but didn’t want to get in a negotiation.

Pull into the business class check in and the meter reads? 74.32 lira. Obviously, I’m doing something right! w00t for that!

Business class checkin was quick with zero line, as was passport check and security.  I was curb to lounge in 15 minutes max…for once Istanbul airport is redeeming itself to me.  Of course, the lounge was mildly packed, but I not only found a seat, but one with a power outlet.  This day keeps getting better and better,   Time for a snack!  Mmmm…baklava!


Soon, it was off to the gate. Boarding only started 20 minutes before departure…this was not looking good…except…upon boarding it was “new” style A321 barcalounger business class…and only 3 of the 16 seats were taken. I’m obviously living right today!

Turkish Airlines flight 415
Istanbul, Turkey (IST) to Moscow, Vnukovo, Russia (VKO)
Depart 11:45, Arrive 16:35, Flight Time 2:50
Airbus A321-200 Registration TC-JSG, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2F

I was glad to see that even though the flight was shorter, and with real seats, we had the chef again!  Hahhahaha!



…and pre-departure fresh-squeezed OJ is always welcome!



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Dec 122013

I’ll be up front here: I’m not going to do Istanbul justice. I’m not going to even pretend to. I landed at 9a, having been up since 1a Istanbul time, and I was pretty tired. My main goal was to rest up in between stops, maybe see a few things, and have some good Turkish food. I did alright all things considered!

Finally out of the hotel around 11:30 after I got checked in and re-caffeinated, and it was off to the old town. The hotel suggested I walk about 10-15 minutes to the nearest tram stop, and then take the tram all the way. Awesome call, because it allowed for seeing some of the city along the way.

Got to the old town, wandered a bit, and soon was coming up to the Blue Mosque.  Outside, is an obelisk:


The outside of the Blue Mosque:


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Dec 102013

This will be a relatively short one, since I griped a few posts back about how miserable Turkish A321 business class is.  Got to the airport approximately two hours before my flight, which was about right, as check-in took nearly 30 minutes. There was only one line, for all passengers, forget about any priority or business class. Immigration and security were completely painless, and soon we were in the departure room. I say room, because it was one big room, with a tiny snack bar, and that was it. Almost every seat was occupied.

This morning’s 5am entertainment was provided by a group of around 10 soldiers in uniform, getting completely trashed throwing back vodka shots. Fortunately, they weren’t on the flight, but makes me wonder what they were doing on that side of security. Maybe I’m better off not knowing.

Bus gate (no jetbridges in Dushanbe, which was hella fun in the pouring rain. That meant when the bus doors opened, it was a mad dash to the stairs…and of course the first people on the plane jammed the aisles so everyone else got soaking wet. It was a great way to start a long flight in Turkish’s craptastic Euro business class! 😉

Turkish Airlines flight 255
Dushanbe, Tajikistan (DYU) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 6:00, Arrive 9:00, Flight Time 6:00
Airbus A321-200 Registration TC-JRB, Manufactured 2006, Seat 2D

Once again, our friendly young man in the chef costume presented orange juice and a few other fruity drinks right before takeoff, along with some Turkish delight, and soon we were off into the rainy skies.  Flight was completely full this morning, with every seat taken.  Literally five minutes off the ground the crew sprang into action, impressive since they’d just worked the inbound from Istanbul.  Yes, they’d be pulling a 13-14 hour day…don’t think that would fly with the FAA.

Very soon it was hot towels and the meal service.  So, to start we were promised:

Fresh Fruits

Yoghurt with Honey

Chicken and Turkey Breasts

Assorted Cheese


Pretty tasty for an appetizer/starter, and I will admit that the food is one thing Turkish really manages to get right.

Then, we had a choice of:

Turkey Ham & Cheese Toast (Turkish style spinach puff pastry, chicken sausage / herbed mushrooms)


Gratined Crepe with Scrambled Eggs

I asked the “chef” which he recommended, and he said definitely the crepe, the other one is not at all good.  I’d say he was right on the crepe, but can’t really speak to the other choice.


About an hour before landing, only 2.5 hours after the main meal, we were offered a snack.  A bowl of hazelnuts, and a “cheese sandwich and sour cherry cake.”  Skipped the sandwich because I was still full, but had the nuts and the delicious cherry cake with a couple of coke zeros in an attempt to wake up.



Landed in Istanbul right on time, no line at all for visa on arrival, and I still ended up waiting nearly 30 minutes for bags to be delivered.  Not a huge deal, but I was anxious to get to my hotel and get seeing the city!  I had a 24 hour rest stop, and wanted to see as much as I could, having only been to Istanbul once briefly before.

Bags came about 45 minutes after deplaning, no line for a cab, and it was off to the city in Istanbul’s terrible traffic.  Was a surprisingly expensive taxi, over $40 due to traffic, and soon we were at the W.  I had the choice of a standard room available right away, or waiting an hour for a suite.  Easy choice.  Dropped my bags with the concierge, and headed out to refuel with some coffee.  Felt much better, and it was off to the W.

I’ll talk about my wander around Istanbul in the next post, but I’ll give a quick review of the W here.

Staff:  absolutely fantastic.  Warm greetings, genuinely seemed interested in helping, and were extremely friendly.  The only small drawback were the staff in the restaurant, who I’m sure were trying their best, but I’ve seen turtles that moved faster.

Room:  awesome upgrade to a studio suite, which had a fantastic rain shower in it.  Well, it would have been fantastic if there weren’t oddly placed pieces of furniture everywhere which caused me to break my toe when I stubbed it in the middle of the night.  Not real thrilled with that.  Oh, and since I always complain about it, the AC worked wonderfully, and kept the room nice and cool.

Restaurant and bar:  food and drink were good, but prices were absolutely outrageous.  Service was also, as I mentioned above, insanely slow.  I wanted turkish food, but not fast-food takeout, and after a day of wandering I was too tired to go far, and everyone I talked to seemed to agree there was really nothing good in the neighbourhood which met that description.  I mean, food was tasty, but an appetizer, some kebabs, and two glasses of wine should not cost $70 in Istanbul.  Highway robberly.

Location:  everything you need in walking distance, but not a great selection of restaurants.  Also, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the tram to old town, or 15 minutes uphill to the cable car to the metro.  So, it takes a while to get to sites, but I really didn’t mind.  Gave me a chance to see things along the way.

In summary, I love this hotel, well, maybe not love but really like.  This was a rest stop in between intense work stops for me, and it was relaxing and comfortable, which was just what I was looking for.

Nov 292013

After relaxing in the lounge in Frankfurt for a few hours, catching up on espresso and a shower, it was time to head to the next flight.  Nice ride to the plane in a Porsche Cayenne-S which gave the chance to drive by this fun plane:


Got up to the plane, and the driver insisted on carrying my bags up the stairs, and stowing them in the overhead bin for me.  That was definitely a first.  I mean, a ride to the plane in a Porsche is way beyond expectations, but to have the driver handing your baggage as well, well, this one really went the extra mile.  When I boarded, I was the only one on the plane for over 15 minutes with the flight attendants.  I joked with them that I was ready to go, so could we take off already?  Wait, this isn’t a private jet?  Finally at departure time, the other passengers started to arrive…30 minutes later, we were finally boarded.

Lufthansa flight 1300
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 12:45, Arrive 16:40, Flight Time 2:55
Airbus A320-200 Registration D-AIZX, Manufactured 2013, Seat 5F Continue reading »

Nov 232013

Having just returned from 5 consecutive weekends on the west coast thanks to the United $10 fare sale, I was ready to be home. Seriously I was. Especially since I had 7 visas to sort for my New Years trip to Africa coming up. Work, however, had other plans for me.

No Thanksgiving this year, but rest assured I was going to have Turkey. As in the country, not the bird.

It actually started as a week-long trip to Tajikistan…and the easiest way there was through Istanbul. Then, a week in Moscow got added on. Now, mind you, last time I was in Moscow was 1988 when it was still part of the Soviet Union, and it was my 3rd country visited after Canada and the UK. I’m going to guess Moscow is a bit different 25 years later.

I’d planned on taking a few days of vacation after that, to visit 2 of my 3 remaining countries in Europe, when fate intervened I was needed in Montenegro. Score! This would also mean an overnight in Vienna. …and business would finish on Friday, allowing me a weekend connection in Serbia at no charge. That will leave poor little Andorra as my last country to visit in Europe.

I’m going to try and keep up with this in real time. Just managed to secure 10 visas in a little over 3 weeks, which is some sort of personal record, and especially impressive giving they included DR Congo, Angola, Russia, and several other places in West Africa where I’m headed in just five weeks!  Then, it’s back home for a grand total of five days, before a few day Christmas with the family, and then off to West Africa for two+ weeks.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep up in real time. The flight routing is:



Off we go!

Jun 052013

So, got to Sarajevo airport in plenty of time.  Check-in was absolutely painless, no line, and security and passport control were also painless.  Less than 10 minutes after arriving, we were inside security and passport control and ready to see the lounge.  It’s a common use lounge where they check your boarding pass, but it had free internet and drinks, so was more than adequate to pass the time.  Nothing special, but good enough!

We didn’t spend any time in duty free, and soon it was time to board right on time.

Turkish flight 1024
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (SJJ) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 14:10, Arrive 17:05, Flight Time 1:55
Boeing 737-900 Registration TC-JYI, Manufactured 2012, Seat 3F

First shocker…unlike the flight to Sarajevo, this plane actually featured something close to international business class!  Well, it was more like US domestic first with an extra foot or more of legroom, but still…very comfortable compared to what I expected, I was super impressed…and this was off to a good start!



I know…still nothing to be super excited about, but it held promise for the next segment to Bishkek.  I was sure we wouldn’t be so lucky again, but in my experience flying Turkish has been a complete crapshoot, so who’s to say what was in store.   Pre-departure drinks were a variety of fruit juices and lemonades:

IMG_6282 Continue reading »