Oct 272016
 

When I headed to Turkmenistan back in June, I did knowing that it would likely be the last time I got to experience the delights of Lufthansa First Class for a very long time. So, I went out of my way and backtracked all the way to LA in order to fly LA-Frankfurt-Dubai, and it was an amazing flight! Only thing that was better was that I ended the trip with a flight home on Cathay First. It was an epic trip.

Also, I haven’t been on a plane in nearly six weeks, and it’s been wonderful. Except for the fact I’ve been working 70+ hour weeks for the last month to prepare for a series of conferences I have to put on before the end of the year. Unfortunately, over the last two weeks I’ve ben dealing with a pinched nerve in my back which was persistently annoying until this past Sunday – when it flared up to the point it was nearly an 8 of 10 on the pain scale. There was no way my flight today was physically possible.

On the upside, after three straight days of chiropractor visits, it’s at the point I’m pretty certain I can fly in a couple of days. Called to reticket, and unfortunately my bargain United P fare is not an option…and I had to rebook into full J.

Called United, and their wonderful IT was at work again, but eventually it worked…I managed to upgrade from J to F in both directions…going on United where (for now) I’m the only person in first and returning I’ll get to enjoy Lufthansa First. Unfortunately, only an hour connection in Frankfurt, so getting to the lounge and getting a new duck is looking remote. But, where there’s a will there’s a way! Stay tuned…

fullsizerender-1

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:

IMG_1378

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:

IMG_1379

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

IMG_1380

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:

IMG_1381

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!

IMG_1382

IMG_1383

Chose the pre-departure lemonade this morning:

IMG_1384

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:

IMG_1386

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

IMG_1387

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

IMG_1388

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!

IMG_1389

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:

IMG_1390

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!

IMG_1391

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…

IMG_1392

salmon amuse bouche…

IMG_1393

Takeoff from Frankfurt:

IMG_1397

Today’s menu:

IMG_1398

IMG_1399

IMG_1400

IMG_1401

IMG_1402

IMG_1403

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:

IMG_1404

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

IMG_1405

IMG_1406

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!

IMG_1407

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.

IMG_1409

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

IMG_1410

With more shiraz, of course…

IMG_1411

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.

IMG_1412

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!

May 262016
 

When I booked my Etihad transfer back to the airport, they sent me an email telling me they would pick me up at 8:30am. 2:15 before the flight, based on the fact I was in first and supposedly the lounge was nothing to write home about, was just right for me. Went to bed, woke up, went down to breakfast, and was reading my email when…

I saw that at 11pm the night before, they sent me another email telling me they would pick me up at 7:45am. This was at about 8:10am when I was eating breakfast…I ran over to the front desk, and yes, they’ve tried calling my room, the driver has been waiting since 7:45…and has just left. Way to change the transfer less than 12 hours before the flight Etihad, when normal people are sleeping, and to leave without me.

Fortunately I was able to get an Uber in about 10 minutes, and was to the airport for just over 45 Dirhams. But then, dropped off at the first class check-in area (the one thing that seems to be separated on the ground for first and business passengers) and was told “oh, no, we have closed the flight. You have been offloaded.” 1:58 before the flight. It seems US flights close for checkin two hours before the flight due to US Customs/Immigration pre-clearance. Why in the world had Etihad misled me with an email leading me to believe it was ok to be picked up 2:15 before my flight? UGH!

Fortunately, the agent made some phone calls, and was very clear when she told me “this is a one time exception – next time you cannot travel” – and yes, this is ground services for a first class that is trying to compete with the best in the world. So far, except for the hard product on the A380, they were falling way, WAY short in my book.

Fortunately, no wait for immigration or security, and I’d been warned I needed to head straight to US Pre-clearance, no time to spend in the general lounge. I still popped in for one minute to confirm there is still no separate first class lounge (seriously? you build apartments in the sky but can’t build a lounge for first class?) and headed to pre-clearance. There were still plenty of people in line, I was quickly processed through Global Entry, quick interview by the agent for customs purposes, and was through to the gate area.

Etihad does have a lounge after pre-clearance, and it was incredibly small and packed again since it was shared by business, first, and all their frequent flier elites. Yes, like London, it’s nice you have waiter service, but when you have 100 people in the lounge it kind of defeats the point. At least the AC was nice while we waited to board.

Like London, no priority boarding for First, just a scrum with all the elites and business class. It really seems to Etihad they think that first class just means a better seat. That’s nice and all, but it makes them far from competitive with other international first class…and this is coming from a guy whose biggest selling point at 6’4 is generally the seat!

Etihad flight 131
Abu Dhabi, UAE (AUH) to Washington, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 17:00, Flight Time: 14:15
Boeing 787-9, Registration A6-BLB, Manufactured 2015, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 86,282
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,275,807

Just as in London, once boarded, the whole experience changed. Sure, it wasn’t an apartment, but the 787 suite was still extremely nice!

IMG_0564

Being a morning flight, I thought it best to go slowly, and join the glass of champagne with a glass of orange juice. Once again, dates and arabic coffee were also offered.

IMG_0565

The menu looked surprisingly similar to the flight in from London in many ways, just a few different choices:

IMG_0566

IMG_0567

IMG_0568

Picture of Abu Dhabi after takeoff…the rear-facing seats were great for taking pics:

IMG_0569

Same mixed nuts, wasabi peas, and olives starter as out of London…but I didn’t mind. Beats the usual boring nuts!

IMG_0571

I decided to have a full lunch as I’d had a small breakfast, so the table was set:

IMG_0572

The amuse bouche…I’m honestly not sure what it was, but it tasted mildly fishy.

IMG_0574

The scallops appetizer. Rather small, but they were perfectly cooked so a nice light starter. The green apple was an interesting contrast in flavours, and I think it kind of overwhelmed the scallops. Not a fan of the pairing. Went nicely with champagne though 😉

IMG_0575

Choice of breads, and butter and oil. Not sure the point of putting the little cover on the butter, but…

IMG_0577

Palate cleanser….mint ice…did its job…

IMG_0578

The onboard chef recommended the biryani, so I had to give it a try. I have to say it was absolutely delicious…great combination of spices, just enough saffron, cashews…super tasty. Also went nicely with the Malbec.

IMG_0579

You knew I wasn’t going to pass up the cheese. The green apples and “fruit paste” made another appearance, and added a great touch.

IMG_0585

In flight, love this shot of the curved 787 wing since I was seated “backwards” against the bright blue sky with the windows just slightly tinted:

IMG_0586

Instead of passing out, I couldn’t resist dessert…chocolate and vanilla ice cream. They seemed surprised that I would want more than one flavour. It was pretty tasty though!

IMG_0587

At this point, a glass of wine, and time to pass out for a nice five hour nap:

IMG_0589

Woke up, watched a little tv, and about 90 minutes  before landing decided to give the steak sandwich one more try. I had asked them in advance to make sure they saved one, and I’m glad I did because it was much better than the flight in from London. I know some of the preparation on board is done by the chef, so there is slight variation from flight to flight. I have to say this one did an extremely nice job!

IMG_0593

I asked for another cheese plate to finish off my snack, but unfortunately there was no more left. It was suggested I try the pistachio cake, so I decided to go for it. I could only manage two bites though – it was way too incredibly sweet tasting and almost hurt my teeth:

IMG_0595

With this, the flight was over. Landed at the domestic gate, train to the main terminal, got to baggage claim and there were about two dozen drivers waiting…but not mine. Etihad had texted me his information…so I called. Despite the fact we landed 10 minutes late my driver was still 15 minutes away. Maybe I just got super unlucky with the ground experience, but I found Etihad failed on nearly every front.

On the ground, I couldn’t distinguish what I received from business class, and the wines and food served in the air were also no better than business class quality. The only thing I found “first class” about Etihad was the seats – which were some of the best first class of any airline in the world, and the service in the air (only) which was also definitely top notch international first class standard. I will give Etihad another try, but after two flights they would be way down my list for a true comprehensive first class experience.

Next up, in less than 48 hours, I’m off to countries #193 and #194 – Mali and Mauritania. After than, just two to go!!!

May 242016
 

I had decided the night before that given a 9:35 flight time, and the desire to be there 90 minutes minimum before, combined with the fact the Bakerloo Line wasn’t running all the way to Paddington Station, that I was going to take an Uber to Paddington. I figured I already had my ticket from there, so this would be the best value for time and money.

Uber showed up within just a few minutes of requesting it, it was a pretty inexpensive ride to Paddington, and I even had time to grab some Starbucks at Paddington before my train departed. Say what you will about UK trains, but the fact trains were running on a reduced schedule this Saturday due to track work was well-posted everywhere, and the train left exactly when the sign said it would. Pretty good in my book!

Had to catch the shuttle train over to Terminal 4 for Etihad, which meant about a five minute wait followed by another two minutes or so on the train. Overall not too bad. From there, it was a relatively short walk to the check-in area, where the Etihad checkin was deserted about 1:30 before flight time. Quick and efficient check-in at the dedicated first class counter, no questions asked about checked bags, and off to security.

No wait at all at the priority security line, and was through and to the lounge maybe ten minutes after check-in. Could have been even quicker if it wasn’t a slight bit of a walk to the lounge. Took the elevator down to the lounge, checked in, and went into what was an extremely crowded lounge. There were only a few seats to be had, since Etihad operates a combined lounge for both first and business class. In fairness, as soon as I sat down an attendant came over to ask what I would like to drink and delivered it quickly, but there is nothing first class about a crammed full lounge with nearly 100 people in it.

After about 15 minutes I was over it, and decided to go for a short walk up and down the terminal to stretch my legs a bit before the big event. Unfortunately, this was another area where Etihad missed the mark. After boarding those with disabilities and families with children (at which point 50+ people boarded), they offered combined boarding for first, business, and elite members all at the same time. There was a fair bit of pushing and jostling (I hadn’t lined up, expecting first to be called first) and probably should have just waited to board last. To top things off, my boarding pass beeped and I was informed my seat was inoperative. Fortunately, it would turn out I was the only person in first class and they had put me in 3A instead of 3K – the same exact seat, just a different side.

Etihad flight 12
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Abu Dhabi, UAE (AUH)
Depart 9:35, Arrive 20:10, Flight Time: 7:35
Airbus A380, Registration A6-APF, Manufactured 2015, Apartment 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 79,194
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,268,719

I was welcomed on board by the agent at the door, and shown to my apartment for the flight, first impressions were WOW – that’s a lot of space!

IMG_0522

I was told to just leave my bags, and they would stow them for me after everyone had boarded. See what I mean by a lot of space? This is the perspective of the apartment from the seat:

IMG_0523

As soon as I was seated, it was suggested I might like a glass of champagne. Apparently, word about me had gotten out. Although the Bollinger Grande Année isn’t the most expensive first class bottle out there, I give Etihad points for originality and trying something different. Served with some dates and Arabic coffee:

IMG_0525

So, what’s the menu?

IMG_0527

IMG_0528

IMG_0529

IMG_0530

Panoramic view of the suite:

IMG_0536

Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, I decided to go with a full lunch just after departure. Not just mixed nuts, but also wasabi peas and olives were offered, very nice touch!

IMG_0538

After that, the table was set for lunch:

IMG_0539

A rather unusual pea terrine as an amuse-bouche…different…

IMG_0540

The Arabic mezze as an appetizer. It was good, but a bit on the bland side overall. I was pretty surprised for such an extravagant hard product Etihad wouldn’t offer caviar as a starter.

IMG_0541

Extremely strange palate cleanser…I couldn’t quite make out what the flavours were supposed to be.

IMG_0542

The salmon main course. In fairness, most places usually overcook salmon on the ground, so it’s no surprise this was also a little overdone. However, considering it was done on a plane and served with creative sides, overall it was a pretty good main course.

IMG_0543

Now that’s better – this is what I call a cheese plate! However, the fact there were only two cheese was a bit on the stingy side, although the self-described “fruit paste” was a tasty addition.

IMG_0544

I wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet at this point, so spent the next few hours watching some movies and tv on the entertainment system. There was a very good selection of both movies and tv, and plenty to keep you entertained on the longest of flights.

Just over an hour from landing, I used the call button (something I’ve only recently become comfortable doing) and asked if I could have the famous Etihad steak sandwich and a glass of the Malbec. The sandwich was a bit underwhelming, but the Malbec definitely exceeded expectations:

IMG_0551

One last shot of the door to my apartment before landing. Maximum 3 passengers during flight:

IMG_0555

Upon landing, there was an extremely long line at passport control. Fortunately I’d been given a priority lane card, but this was shared with every other first and business class passenger arriving at the same time. All told, I had to wait over 20 minutes for passport control, which again is not very first class. Normally I wouldn’t blame the airline for lines at passport control, but given that Etihad (along with Emirates and Qatar) receive significant government support, passport lines are certainly within their control if they wanted.

Overall thoughts on the Etihad apartments? The seat was far and away the most space I’ve ever had on a plane. Granted, I wasn’t able to try it for sleeping so I’m not sure how comfortable it is as a bed, but overall the space was amazing. Plus, being the only passenger in first sure didn’t hurt either! The service was also top notch. The crew was the perfect balance of being friendly, personable, and professional. They were friendly and willing to chat if you wanted, but also were never the least bit bothered by any request.

The food service was slightly below what I would have expected. I expect international first class meals to have a bit of a wow factor, and on this flight it felt just like super fancy business class food. Nothing special to set it apart. The real disappointments were the ground service. Overcrowded lounge, poor boarding process, and poor airport experience on arrival.

Speaking of arrival…I had prebooked the airport transfer, and not knowing the process I went to the transfer desk where they confirmed that yes, I had preordered it, and should just go curbside to be taken care of. The curbside process was quite efficient, with the queue managers having scanners that would scan your boarding pass and confirm your transfer, and in just a couple minutes they had you in a car. Again, one more area Etihad fell short, first class was grouped with business class so I ended up waiting nearly 10 minutes for a car. If you’re going to offer a first class product, you need to make sure to provide more than business class on the ground as well.

That said, the car was very comfortable, equipped with water, powerful AC, and reading materials, and after a short ride I was at my hotel – the Aloft Abu Dhabi. Normally, I avoid “discount” chains like the plague, but my previous Aloft experiences in Bogota and Denver have left me with a rather positive impression of the brand. To top that off, many reviews list Abu Dhabi as the best Aloft in the world, so I was curious to give it a try given the extremely low rate for SPG redemption.

Friendly reception, confirmed an upgrade to a larger room, and then offered me free breakfast, two free drinks at any of their bars or restaurants, as well as two free gourmet coffees at any venue. Wow, not bad on a 2,000 Starpoints rate!

It was getting late at this point, and I was pretty tired, so I headed up to the rooftop bar to enjoy my two free pre-bed drinks. How can you resist something called the Absolutely Fabulous when you’re in Abu Dhabi?

IMG_0560

Overall, big points to the Aloft Abu Dhabi! I was super pleased with the experience, and it’s probably one of the best SPG value for money experiences I’ve ever had! I didn’t have a huge breakfast the next morning, but they had a huge buffet open as well. There was quite literally nothing about this hotel that could have been improved. Location-wise, I’m not sure how great it is, but it was convenient to the airport, and unless you’re a diva who needs the Ritz Carlton every time, this hotel can’t be beat. Anyone who reads my blog knows what a princess I can be when it comes to hotels, so when I say this property has it all…it really does!

Now, off to the airport for one more Etihad first flight home…

May 192016
 

Grabbed the Airport Express train to the airport, and went straight to Cathay Pacific check-in. This was to be my first experience with them, and I was looking forward to seeing if it lived up to the hype. Many people compare Cathay and Singapore as Asia’s premier airlines, so having flown Singapore a number of times I was curious to see if it was all true. I didn’t get any pictures of the check-in area, but it was very strange. Several stand-up desks that were like cocktail tables where you stand with your agent and check-in. It was kind of strange, but I assume it’s to make things feel more personal.

Security and passport control at Hong Kong are a bit of a pain, because there’s no priority line at all. I had several hours to kill so it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s still a pain to have to wait nearly 45 minutes for this when you’re in first class. So far, the ground experience wasn’t so hot – but that’s not Cathay’s fault, just a fact of life at HKG. The other fact of life I wasn’t overly looking forward to was getting to what is supposed to be the best lounge – Cathay’s recently refurbished “The Pier” lounge. The airport at HKG is shaped like a giant capital letter T, where you enter at the base of the T and the Pier is in the far upper right corner. There’s a train which runs out to the juncture of the T, but I opted to walk it to get in a slight bit of exercise before the flight.

Upon entering the agents warned me that my flight would be departing all the way from the entry of the terminal area, and that I would have to walk back because the train only runs one way. No big deal, and I appreciated the warning. I immediately sat down in the bar/lounge area which was nice and roomy, and almost felt like living room at home. Plenty of space, but the roaming bartenders/service people were nowhere to be found. If you wanted something to drink, you had to go up to the bar to get it yourself. Awkward. There was also a small room with some light snacks, but if you wanted something more substantial you had to go to the sit-down dining area. After working for about an hour, I was getting rather hungry since I skipped lunch and headed to the restaurant. Today’s menu:

IMG_0437

I opted for a glass of the rosé to get things started:

IMG_0438

First up, I went with the tuna appetizer. Very bland and flavourless…but a decent helping of protein. Nothing to get excited about.

IMG_0439

I was a bit torn on what to get for a main, but went with the Dandan Noodles because I were told they were a Cathay specialty…and like crack. Now, funny fact. I hate peanut butter…have ever since I was a kid. But, I love peanut butter sauces, peanut soup, peanut butter cookies…you get the drift. It just can’t be all gooey and stuck to bread I guess. That said…I wanted a second bowl of these noodles. They were absolutely amazing…and I almost ordered another bowl. I would have if not for the upcoming flight…

IMG_0440

The toffee pudding…also pretty bland, and very little toffee taste. I finished it, but probably shouldn’t have…

IMG_0441

After a nice dinner, I grabbed a shower. The shower rooms were nice – and quite functional – but far from the nicest I’ve seen. I think Singapore and Lufthansa do far nicer, but that said not the end of the world. They were plenty nice. I worked for a little bit longer, and then took the long slow stroll back to the gate, stopping on the way at “The Wing” lounge right next to my gate. Now, I’d been warned that all the Cathay lounges have some flaw or another. The Pier – too far and inconvenient. The Wing – open air, and loud. That said…it wasn’t my complaint with The Wing.

For a first class lounge, it felt like a zoo. A zoo with no power outlets. It was more crowded than many United Clubs I’ve been in, and there were very few spaces to sit. I get that it was peak departures hour, but this place was packed. A first class lounge should never feel packed! Since this was my first real One World first class experience, I had to wonder if the One World rule granting access to first lounges made them more like Lufthansa Senator lounges – crowded because everyone and their mother gets access.

…eventually I found a power outlet…and a bottle of rosé…and all was soon forgotten. Walked downstairs from the lounge just as we were ready to board.

Cathay Pacific flight 261
Hong Kong (HKG) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 23:55, Arrive 05:40, Flight Time: 12:45
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration B-KPF, Manufactured 2008, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,264,855

No sooner had I taken my seat and been welcomed than a glass of Krug and an amuse bouche showed up. It was some strange salmon and shaved ice thing, but hey, the Krug is what’s really important here!

IMG_0443

IMG_0444

Have Krug, am happy:

IMG_0446

Despite the midnight departure, Cathay serves a full “supper” service:

IMG_0448

The burger snack sounded tasty, but sleep sounded better…

IMG_0449

Takeoff was right on time, and service began quickly with more Krug and mixed nuts. Was glad to see a few pistachios in there…

IMG_0454

Caviar service…I’ve heard tales if there is extra caviar you can ask them to save it and do scrambled eggs and caviar in the morning…must try on my next Cathay flight!

IMG_0455

Caviar done properly, with mother-of-pearl spoon:

IMG_0457

Very boring salad, ruined with in-flight shrimp:

IMG_0458

The lamb loin main was recommended, but I have to say I didn’t find it very tasty. Normally, lamb has a lot of flavour to it, but this was pretty bland. So much so that I didn’t even bother to finish it…

IMG_0459

Fantastic choice of cheeses…fortunately I didn’t finish the lamb, because these were delicious!

IMG_0460

Despite being stuffed, it was insisted I have a few chocolates with my final glass of wine before dozing off.

IMG_0461

Slept over 7 hours, thanks to a cabin temperature which was kept just cool enough for sleep. I managed to fall asleep right away, and woke up wrapped in a warm duvet which clearly the flight attendants had done. I can’t imagine a United flight attendant caring enough to put a blanket on a sleeping passenger…woke up, and for some reason I craved tea. I never drink tea…but it was fantastic!

IMG_0462

Followed by a delicious mango smoothie and entire basket full of breakfast breads.

IMG_0464

I went with the dim sum main (when in China?) which was pretty tasty, although a little on the dry side.

IMG_0465

Thank you note from the crew. The little hearts were a cute touch:

IMG_0466

So, what’s to say about Cathay? The food was fantastic other than the lamb, but any airline can get it wrong once and a while. The crew was very attentive and helpful without being overbearing, but it lacked the personal touch – same as I often feel with Singapore. Maybe it’s the American in me that I prefer crews to be a bit warmer and chatty, but they did seem to be that way – but only with what appeared to be two Cathay employees in first and the other three passengers, all who were Chinese. Hard to say. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the flight – I did very much – just that it didn’t WOW me. I think that extra little bit depends so much on the chemistry between the crew and the passenger, and that’s something you’re just not going to have every time.

Landed at Terminal 3 at Heathrow, which meant taking the bus over to Terminal 5 and doing transfer and security theatre there. Not a big deal, took maybe 30 minutes total, and had plenty of time to enjoy in the BA first lounge.

Here’s where I’m going to be harsh – again. Just like The Wing in Hong Kong, the lounge was a zoo. Coming from Star Alliance, first lounges should be somewhat exclusive and relaxing, and this place was absolutely heaving at the seams. Plus, shower rooms were shared with the business lounge, meaning people were being told a wait of more than an hour. Thanks to smiles and stretching the truth a bit on the time of my connection, I did manage to get a shower in about 15 minutes. On the showers, I was disappointed again. Very small and sterile – felt like a cubicle and some low-end health club. Not at all appropriate for a first class lounge.

That brings me to the lounge in general. They do put on a rather nice breakfast spread with tons of options, but it felt like eating in a giant cafeteria with dozens of your closest friends. Nothing nice restaurant about it at all. Contrast this with a Lufthansa First lounge for dining, or even The Pier, and the difference was nice and day. Long way of saying, my experiences at The Wing and the BA First Lounge were far from relaxing, and far from what a first lounge should be. It’s ok if you want to let Emerald members in, but then you need something more exclusive for your first class passengers – which I understand BA does with the Concorde Room. However, without being allowed in connecting from Cathay First, the alliance fell short in that regard for me.

British Airways flight 308
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 11:10, Flight Time: 1:20
Airbus A321, Registration G-EUXM, Manufactured 2007, Seat 5F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,546
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,265,071

Quick 35 minute flight onward to Paris and BA still managed to serve a full snack. Yes, I know people complain about this snack all the time since it’s also serve on three hour routes, but for a short hop to Paris it was rather impressive! I behaved after the Cathay flight and stopped at one mini bottle of bubbly…

IMG_0467

Next up – time to celebrate making it to Tuvalu by enjoying two days in Paris!

May 172016
 

After hanging out late with friends in Sydney the night before, unfortunately I had a far too early start for the airport. I had planned to take the train back to the airport but unfortunately had also forgotten my jacket at my friend’s house. Fortunately, it was on the way to the airport, so after grabbing a quick coffee at Starbucks (the essentials, you know) I grabbed an Uber. With a quick stop en route, we were soon off to the airport. However, there’s a problem.

It seems that traffic heading in towards the international terminal is an absolute nightmare for the last two kilometers on Sunday mornings. These two kilometers alone took us nearly 30 minutes, and I arrived at the airport barely 80 minutes before my flight. Fortunately, the crew was walking into the airport at the exact some time as me so no problems at all.

Minimal waits to check in and clear security, but this also meant no time to stop by the lounge. I was pretty sure I wasn’t missing anything and if nothing else it would remove the temptation to snack in the lounge since I knew much better options were likely coming up in flight!

Thai Airways flight 476
Sydney, Australia (SYD) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 10:00, Arrive 16:20, Flight Time: 10:20
Boeing 747-400, Registration HS-TGG, Manufactured 2003, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 68,287
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,257,812

Immediately upon boarding, one of the flight attendants insisted on showing me to my seat. As soon as she saw my seat number, she addressed me by name (I was impressed they’d memorized all five passengers in first in advance) and showed me to my seat. First impression was great:

IMG_0344

I really like the purple and gold colour scheme, something about it just feels classy to me:

IMG_0345

Bright pink Rimowa amenity kit and a glass of Dom Pérignon 2004, great way to start a flight!

IMG_0347

So, what’s to eat on this flight?

IMG_0348

IMG_0349

…and to drink?

IMG_0350

IMG_0351

IMG_0352

Shortly after takeoff my champagne was refilled, and macadamia nuts were offered. I obviously ate them too quickly, because the flight attendant insisted I must have more!

IMG_0358

Amuse Bouches – points for presentation, but overall they were just average in taste:

IMG_0359

Extremely generous serving of caviar was provided. I was surprised that with all the attention to little details they missed the seed in the lemon, but at the end of the day…what’s the point of lemon with caviar anyways? The breadbasket was a nice touch as well, and had several tasty options in it:

IMG_0364

Scallop and duck liver terrine appetizer, super tasty and still relatively light:

IMG_0365

This was followed by an extra meh salad, but it did score points for the thousand island dressing. Lost a few points, however, for not asking how much dressing I wanted on it. Fortunately, it was almost the perfect amount.

IMG_0366

Barramundi with lobster sauce main. I have no idea why, but I’ve been doing fish more and more lately on flights and have had several outstanding dishes. This one was no exception…plus it paired well with the champagne!

IMG_0369

Now THIS is what I call a cheese plate. I would have ordered more if I wasn’t so full – it was a great selection – especially the one on the far right which had small pieces of fruit in it. I believe it was dried apricot, but it was super tasty. Plus, kiwifruit and pineapple – two of my absolute favourite fruits. This might be the best cheese plate I’ve ever had on a flight!

IMG_0370

Of course, I couldn’t resist the chocolate dessert, which paired nicely with a glass of red wine. I also switched to sparkling water at this point. One thing that I really noticed is that on most airlines when you ask for more water, they have to ask you still or sparkling because they can’t keep track. On Thai, that was never an issue. This crew memorized everything, and never once had to ask a second time to confirm. It’s a very little thing, but made a huge impression about how much the crew cared.

IMG_0371

At this point, I was out for a couple hours for a nap. When I woke up, and put my seat upright, it took no more than 30 seconds for the flight attendant to appear and refill my water glass and wine. If I didn’t know better, I would think they hovered behind my seat the entire flight looking for the perfect moment to provide service! It was that good!

About 90 minutes for landing, another small meal was served. The Szechuan soup was a bit on the salty side, but incredibly tasty:

IMG_0373

I went with the dim sum snack, and it was surprisingly pretty small. It was plenty, given the size of the first meal, but I was still a bit surprised at the size. Ferrero Rocher chocolates were also offered…yum.

IMG_0374

Of course, on top of the chocolates, there was desert as well!

IMG_0380

Right before landing, was probably one of the nicest moments of the flight. The purser, as well as the entire first class service team came over to my seat, did the traditional Thai wai, bowed down, and thanked me for choosing Thai. What struck me the most was not that this just seemed to be part of the job, but that they were truly proud of the service they provided and were thankful to customers. While so many Asian airlines provide outstanding service, this personal touch that really did demonstrate on some level a connection between crew and passengers really made a big impression on me.

After rolling off the plane the famous Thai golf carts/buggies were waiting to drive first class passengers to their transfers or to immigration. There was an older Thai lady in first class, who had five people with her in business class – possibly her children. She chewed out the buggy drivers royally, and eventually her and her entourage got the whole buggy and the rest of the first class passengers were “stranded” until another buggy arrived. I guess DYKWIA passengers exist in Thailand too!

Considering the length of the flight, I was in no mood to deal with a taxi that might or might not have working air conditioning so shelled out for the airport car to the hotel. Sure, it’s quite a bit more expensive, but after a long flight being able to relax in an air conditioned Mercedes is a nice treat – especially when it’s a 30+ minute ride.

I had decided to stay at the W Bangkok, which I tried last visit instead of my usual Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit. The two hotels are very different, but both very nice in their own ways. The major deciding factors for me on the W is that it’s much newer feeling and also has an amazing breakfast buffet. I’d been upgraded to a suite, which was rather roomy:

IMG_0384

Typical W bling on the pillows:

IMG_0386

“Lights Out” sequined oversized Thai boxing gloves on the bed. At least I didn’t get the hot pink version I got on my previous stay!

IMG_0387

Oversized washroom, with a double sink:

IMG_0389

Overall, it was a great room. I find the desk very comfortable for working, fast WiFi, plenty of convenient outlets, and ice cold air conditioning. Plus, the hotel is in a great location just five minutes walk from the Skytrain, and right next to a convenience store, Starbucks, and Dean and Deluca. Overall, it’s a solid choice in a city full of great hotels.

After being on a plane all day, the last thing I wanted to do was walk outside in the rather nasty heat and humidity. So, I headed to the mall to try and find the New Zealand Natural ice cream shop and more hokey pokey ice cream. Unfortunately, it was nowhere to be found, but I got in a ton of walking trying to find it.

I did, however, find an indoor ice rink. Unfortunately, it was clear the chiller and AC couldn’t keep up with the unusually hot and humid weather, and the ice was basically a puddle:

IMG_0393

By this point I was tired from a long day and all the walking, and decided to just head back to the hotel for dinner. Some tasty pork satay:

IMG_0396

Slept like a rock, and then it was time for what I consider one of the W’s strongest selling points – its breakfast buffet. The rate I booked had it included, so I didn’t have to even use my platinum amenity on it – however, I definitely would have considering how epic it is. Huge selection of fresh fruits and pastries, eggs cooked to order, full Indian and Chinese stations, meats, salmon, cheeses, bacon, you name it – if you want it for breakfast this buffet probably had it. Some fresh fruit and pain au chocolate to start:

IMG_0398

Dim sum, fresh squeezed OJ, and just a little bacon…

IMG_0399

With that, it was time to finish packing up the bags and head to the airport to continue the trip…

May 052016
 

The last six months of work had been incredibly busy, some of the longest weeks I’d ever worked. That was combined with planning the end of my plans to visit every country, which was really two parts logistically: first, how to get to the remaining countries and when, and secondly beginning to organize the final country party for family and friends.

I knew the hardest of the countries remaining would be Tuvalu, and for that reason knew that when time allowed it was the one to finish first. Flights to Tuvalu only go three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I decided it was best to do at the beginning of my trip, because if anything went wrong I would have the rest of the trip to keep trying. So, the plan was set. Fly from Fiji to Tuvalu on a Tuesday, inshallah, and return on Thursday. If something went wrong, I would try Thursday, return Saturday.

With those plans, I planned to arrive in Fiji on a Sunday (to give a cushion on the front side) and fly out on a Sunday – leaving me two real chances to get to Tuvalu. If those plans went tits up, I had a full extra week on the trip that I could start changing. However, should things go right, what should I do with Sunday to Sunday the second week? With American miles about to be devalued them, I found a way to redeem them for three of the coolest OneWorld experiences out there: Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, and the Etihad Apartments.

Of course, just over a week before the trip began Fiji Airways eliminated the Saturday flight to Tuvalu – so there was no reason to stick around until Sunday. I replanned the back-end of Tuvalu, and planned to leave Fiji on Friday – giving me two extra days. That gave me a chance to go to Sydney, and then use some miles for a Thai Airways First award from Sydney to Hong Kong. I was really hoping this time Tuvalu would go much smoother, so that I could take all these awesome flights I had planned.

The day of the trip finally dawned, and I worked a half day before a leisurely trip to DCA for the initial flight. Short stop by the Admirals Club for some water and snacks:

IMG_0094

Also had a perfect view of my plane for the first flight from the lounge:

IMG_0095

Then, it was time to fly!

American flight 1533
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Miami, Florida (MIA)
Depart 12:55, Arrive 15:34, Flight Time: 2:39
Boeing 737-800, Registration N931NN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 5E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 52,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,241,855

Pre-departure beverages were offered and I took a glass of water. Shortly before departure, the seat beside me was still empty, and someone was beckoned up from economy as a last-minute upgrade. We ended up chatting a bit, and it turned out to be someone I had chatted with online before in a frequent flier group. What are the odds!

Lunch service began with mixed nuts, featuring cashews from Smisek’s Split-Cashew farm and a passable glass of red wine:

IMG_0100

Choice for lunch was a cold bbq chicken salad or lentil chili. I don’t think lentils or chili have any plane on a plane, and I’m opposed to airlines and their desire to push “brown meals” on us where the plate has no colour at all, so I went with the chicken salad. Perfect temperature, crisp lettuce, overall not bad fora $5 domestic meal!

IMG_0101

Since this was vacation – and I left my work laptop at home to prove it, I even took the chocolate chip cookie when offered for dessert. It went perfectly with another glass of red:

IMG_0102

Other than that, perfectly boring flight and we arrived a few minutes early. I had just over an hour connection in Miami, and fortunately not only were my gates only a one minute walk apart but they were separated by the AmEx Centurion Lounge! Just enough time to stop in for a glass…or two…of Veuve…

IMG_0105

Then, it was time to board my connection to LA.

American flight 275
Miami, Florida (MIA) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Depart 17:00, Arrive 19:34, Flight Time: 5:34
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration N726AN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 54,672
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,244,197

This was my first time on American’s 777-300ER, and the business seats were pretty impressive. The flight had been showing sold out in first for weeks, so I had no hope of my upgrade clearing. Once I saw this seat, however, I didn’t feel too bad about it:

IMG_0106

Then, a full 20 minutes before departure, I noticed on the app my upgrade had supposedly cleared. This was too good to be true…I fully expected some sort of shenanigans where the app showed it but it wasn’t for real…but sure enough five minutes later the agent came on board with my new boarding pass for 1J! This trip was off to a fantastic start!

So, what’s to eat tonight?

IMG_0110

IMG_0111

IMG_0112

IMG_0113

This is where things got disappointing. Apparently, they had only loaded eight meals, and I got last choice because my name wasn’t on their original manifest. I decided not to push too hard (not knowing the formal “rules” for meal order in American first) and ended up with the chicken which was far from my first choice.

Three wine choices were on offer tonight, and I went with the Malbec which was reasonably good…and another serving of mixed nuts:

IMG_0126

The duck starter was decent, but far from memorable:

IMG_0128

I asked for the balsamic with the salad, but the flight attendant insisted on bringing me a side of the Fuji apple dressing as well. He was absolutely correct, and it was a great combo…one of the better in-flight salads I can remember:

IMG_0131

The chicken was…well…chicken, and rather unmemorable as was the completely flavourless polenta. Honestly, the broccoli was the best part of the main:

IMG_0132

The caramelized pecan and caramel sundae, however, was fantastic:

IMG_0135

At that point…I passed out for a nearly three hour in-flight nap thanks to the comfy lie flat seats. I woke up to find not one but TWO chocolate chip cookies waiting for me. Not wanting to be rude, I of course had a few nibbles:

IMG_0137

Landing in LA was right on time, and I stopped by the American First lounge for a bit since I had a long connection. A bit nicer than an Admirals Club, but far from impressive or of international airline standard. After catching up on emails I headed over to the Tom Bradley (TBIT) International Terminal to catch my Fiji Airways flight. Thank God the connector between American’s terminal and the TBIT had opened a few weeks earlier, because from the connector you can see how awful the security line was tonight. Thanks TSA!

IMG_0144

I stopped in the Fiji Airways lounge for 5 minutes just to check it out, and it was rather crowded and unremarkable. The coolest part is it had an outside balcony that you could sit on which overlooked the terminal.

Shockingly, boarding for my Fiji Airways flight to Nadi was right on time!

Fiji Airways flight 811
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Nadi, Fiji
Depart 23:30, Arrive 05:50 +2 days, Flight Time: 11:20
Airbus A330-200, Registration DQ-FJT, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,191
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,249,716

There were only two empty seats in business tonight, and I had the good fortune to have the seat next to me empty tonight. Sparkling wine, warm towels, and amenity kits were offered. The amenity kids were rather sad, and a cool towel would have been nice, but overall not bad:

IMG_0146

Tonight’s route of flight:

IMG_0151

The menu had a fun cover…it seems due to the late departure we had the “light menu” tonight:

IMG_0153

Not bad for a light meal:

IMG_0154

Tick the box breakfast orders:

IMG_0156

The starter was odd and looked and smelled like it had been sitting around a while, so I gave it a pass. Anything with seafood and cream/mayo sauces that looks suspicious gets instantly avoided on planes by me:

IMG_0157

Now THAT is a substantial piece of beef on the salad. Yes, it was way overcooked for my taste, but extremely nicely spiced with a pepper rub. Plus, a whole bowl of cheese. For a “light meal” this was pretty darn good!

IMG_0158

The cheesecake for dessert was also quite good:

IMG_0159

With that, I passed out for a relatively solid eight hours of sleep. Yes, the seat was sloped lie flat, but I managed to sleep pretty decently despite that. Plus, I always manage to sleep really well on westbound redeyes due to the fact I’m usually exhausted upon boarding. Fortunately, I woke up about 75 minutes out of Nadi with just enough time for breakfast.

Quite the impressive breakfast, and the raisin bran and omelette were exactly what sounded good to me:

IMG_0160

With that said, I was in Nadi right on time and ready to unwind for 48 hours before heading to Tuvalu. Overall, Fiji Airways did a nice job of redeeming themselves in my eyes. Sure, the product was a bit dated, but I guess it’s all about expectations. My expectations were relatively low, and thus exceeded on this flight. Food was solid and substantial, crew was the Fijian version of United’s Old Longhaul Grannies, but nice and sweet, and most importantly the cabin was kept nice and cool. I had another longhaul Fiji A330 flight coming up on this trip to Sydney, and now I was looking forward to it. Sure, they’re no Cathay Pacific or Singapore, but they’re also not priced the same. Overall, a solid performance.

Now, bring on some relaxation in Fiji!

Apr 232016
 

Had to head to Cape Town for work, and debated taking Qatar for the service (and crediting to American) but in the end decided the chance to earn some Star credit was too good to pass up. After that, if came down to who to fly: South African? Lufthansa? Maybe try something new and take SWISS? Decided to go with SWISS because, if I was going to spend the day in Europe I wanted to do it in Zürich, plus, United had upgrade space available on the flight to London, so it was a no-brainer!

Quick check-in at the first class counter at Dulles airport, no wait at TSA PreCheck, and was quickly off to the United First lounge, despite my flight leaving from the D gates. My usual glass of bubbles along with some shrimp cocktail and salmon:

IMG_6755

Caught up on work emails, and then the long trek down to the D gates. I don’t think I’ve ever departed Dulles transatlantic from the D gates before in dozens of flights, so I guess I should count myself lucky!

United Airlines flight 918
Washington, DC Dulles (IAD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 19:35, Arrive 06:50 next day, Flight Time: 7:15
Boeing 777-200, Registration N798UA, Manufactured 1998, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 34,668
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,224,193

What’s this…not just welcome aboard bubbles offered, but anything you want to drink? Wow, United, careful, someone might start to think you’re a real international carrier…wait, the plastic glasses dispel that notion!

IMG_6757

Fun new historical postcard amenity kits. This is my fave of the kits lately, because the case actually makes a fantastic toiletries bag. I have a few of them now, so hopefully they last a while!

IMG_6759

Sunset departure from Dulles:

IMG_6760

So what’s to eat tonight?

IMG_6761

IMG_6762

Takeoff was on time, and now it’s time to eat…excellent!

IMG_6769

Château le Jeff 2016 and warmed split cashews…groovy!

IMG_6771

Garlic bread…this flight is off to a good start!

IMG_6776

Shrimp tempura and corn…that sort of thing ain’t my bag, baby!

IMG_6778

I love mushrooms. I love leeks. I did NOT love this mushroom and leek soup. Two bites and gave up. Fortunately, the Château le Jeff was in plentiful supply tonight, as was the garlic bread!

IMG_6779

The salad was…unmemorable.

IMG_6780

BRING ME ZEE PORK CHOP! As usual, it was solid…the stuffing thing is pretty tasty, and broccoli pretty much is my favourite veg, sooo…

IMG_6782

Pre-plated cheese, but it was delicious with some sweet biscuits. For once I was stuffed, and didn’t ask for seconds.

IMG_6783

Ice cream “with hot fudge and cherries” only yielded two cherries tonight. Below average.

IMG_6786

I passed on the offer of more drinks as a nightcap…

IMG_6787

Slept four solid hours, which for a six hour flight is excellent for me. Was super happy with it, plus, if I needed it, I would have all day to nap. The usual super long walk to immigration at Heathrow, followed by the equally long walk back to the remote terminal for the United First lounge. Skipped the shower, and opted for breakfast since I’d slept through it on the plane. If I was going to be in London, at least I was going to order some bacon rolls and a buck’s fizz, even if it wasn’t on the menu. Not a problem at all, and the lounge was happy to prepare:

IMG_6789

Super long back to the other pier for my SWISS flight on to Zurich, but it felt good walking after being on the plane.

SWISS flight 317
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 08:50, Arrive 11:40, Flight Time: 1:50
Airbus A320, Registration HB-JLR, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 35,159
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,224,684

Flight was only about half full in “business” so I switched to the window seat and had a whole row to myself. Very solid breakfast for a short flight, complete with Coke Light. Wasn’t terribly hungry after lounge breakfast, so pretty much just nibbled at it:

IMG_6790

Got to Zurich, and was definitely ready to crash. Quick train ride, and I was at my favourite hotel, the Sheraton Zurich. Checked in, crawled in bed, and was out for a good 4+ hours of sleep. Felt much better after that, so went out for a good hour-long walk to the city centre before heading back to the hotel to do a bit of work. Headed to the hotel bar for happy hour, since a drink and snack was included for platinum members. Decided to get a little fuel for the trip back to the airport:

IMG_6793

I was already checked in, so headed straight to immigration, where I had a little bit of drama with the immigration officer, who refused to accept my documents despite the fact I’ve entered Switzerland on the same passport multiple times. Finally, he agreed to let me through, but the whole experience was odd…anyways, headed to the brand new SWISS pier lounge, and had a nice cooked to order light dinner of rosti, pork, and gummi bears!

IMG_6796

Only had a little time in the lounge to catch up on emails and such, before boarding my onward flight.

SWISS flight 288
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:45, Arrive 10:25 next day, Flight Time: 10:40
Airbus A340-300, Registration HB-JMO, Manufactured 1997, Seat 10A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 40,370
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,229,895

Tonight’s menu features cuisine from the Canton of Baselland:

IMG_6798

IMG_6799

IMG_6801

The smoked trout and char starter was interesting…first time I’ve ever had a lavender-honey sauce:

IMG_6802

Grilled John Dory for a main, which was excellent…and the pretzel roll made it even better. I’m warming to this whole fish on planes thing!

IMG_6804

Basic, but tasty dessert…I’d already had the cheese, so was pleased:

IMG_6805

One final glass of wine and a chocolate before bed:

IMG_6806

Slept nearly seven wonderful hours, and woke up just as the flight attendant was bringing breakfast. Meats, cheeses, and muesli with rhubarb? I was in heaven…I love rhubarb!

IMG_6807

Immigration was a hot mess in Johannesburg, as we had landed behind several other flights – at least an hour wait if not more. Fortunately was able to jump to the head of the queue, where I got a very strange agent who decided to look carefully at every stamp in my passport before asking where my visa was. Ugh, dude, I don’t need a visa…calls over his equally clueless supervisor. Finally, they agree, ok, you don’t need a visa, stamp stamp, welcome. The whole experience, again, was very odd.

Off to the domestic side of the terminal, quick stop in the South African lounge for a Coke Light, and just as quickly it was time to board. Unfortunately we were at a bus gate this morning, but it was on time and efficient, so really can’t complain!

South African flight 333
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Cape Town, South Africa (CPT)
Depart 12:10, Arrive 14:15, Flight Time: 2:05
Airbus A340-600, Registration ZS-SNG, Manufactured 2003, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,160
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,230,685

It was a treat being on a widebody for a short domestic flight, and we had a super friendly crew today. They were pretty much forcing drinks on people, and I decided to go with the vegetarian snack…which came “sealed in freshness” hahah:

IMG_6808

It didn’t look any more appetizing once the plastic came off. I refuse to touch anything with mayonnaise on a plane, so gave everything but the water and wine a miss. I tried the fruit, but as usual dry and flavourless, sooooo…..

IMG_6810

After a quick flight we landed in Cape Town right on time, where we actually had a jetbridge, quick domestic arrival, and it was time to get to work! My driver that I had pre-arranged from the Westin was waiting for me, so it was a nice quick and comfortable transfer to my home for the next week.

Dec 022015
 

It felt like it had only been days since my last trip, but in reality it had been nearly two months since I got back from my big Africa and Mongolia trip. I think that’s probably a commentary on how busy things were with work and life in general that it flew by without me even noticing that it had been a while since I’d traveled. That and the fact that I kept myself very busy with planning future trips and how I would finish every country in just under a year.

Fortunately I’d been able to get a good flight of of National Airport for this trip, and being right before a holiday I had the extra time to fly up to Newark to make the international connection. Dulles isn’t a bad airport, and I really appreciate the nonstop options, but when my choice is a 15 minute Uber or 45+ minutes out to Dulles, National wins. Factor in the fact that Dulles security can get pretty ugly in the mid afternoon leading up to international departures…not to mention how crowded the clubs are, well, I still prefer DCA to Newark (even with all its delays) any day.

Speaking of clubs, I’d already checked in online, so was able to sample a bit of the new fare in the United Club. I love the historic club at DCA, even more so now that they opened the back room to make it a bit roomier. I’m a big fan of the new hummus and olives, but a big BOO to the cheese cubes. I really miss the Tilamook pepperjack and wish they would bring it back:

IMG_3083

As soon I’d gotten to the airport I was hit with an hour delay, which made me glad I’d booked a 2.5 hour connection in Newark. I’ve learned that lesson before and won’t make it again. Two hours in Newark in the winter is my absolute minimum when I have an important connection to make. We eventually left just over an hour late, but with winds it was announced we would be only about 45 minutes late into Newark…not bad at all.

United flight 3304 (operated by Republic)
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 14:28, Arrive 15:39, Flight Time: 1:11
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N651RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,887
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,727

I was so incredibly excited for this flight, more than I probably should be for a DC to Newark flight. See, I remember the good old Continental days, when they used to fly 737s from DCA to Newark. Sure, they had a small first class of only six seats sometimes, but at least it was an option. I know it’s like 45 minutes in the air, but when it’s the start to a big international trip there’s something a bit exciting about having a bit of room, time for a beverage, and just relaxing. Speaking of beverage, pre-departure beverages were offered:

IMG_3087

Once in flight, beverages were again offered, along with a rather feeble snack basked. But hey, not complaining at all, when this route is its usual ERJ-145 nothing is offered at all…even a drink usually. Plus the fig bars was actually kinda tasty…although I’m sure it was loaded with sugar:

IMG_3088

Got to Newark, gate right on time, and still had a bit of time to hit the United Club since my arrival, departure, and the club were all within a three minute walk. Sometimes you luck out! I’m going to complain a bit here, however, because flying first out of Newark really should be branded Global Worst instead of Global First. Firstly, the only lounge experience is the super packed United clubs. On top of that, you still have to pay if you want anything other than the $5 a bottle swill they pour for free. It’s just a rather unpleasant experience.

I understand that first may not be around long so they don’t want to invest too much, but they should take a lesson from Lufthansa. Cordon off a small corner of the lounge for first passengers. Offer the drinks which you normally have to pay for for free (or at least two or so) and give the people who have chosen to pay for first a little something extra on the ground. But, I guess United isn’t trying to win customer experience of the year award yet, despite things having gotten better recently.

That said, I was only too happy to board as soon as announced:

United flight 70
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 07:15 next day, Flight Time: 7:15
Boeing 767-300, Registration N656UA, Manufactured 1992, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 110,551
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,148,384

Crew was rather distracted upon boarding, but did manage to offer up a menu and amenity kit within a few minutes. I like the look of the new amenity kit, although it’s a bit bulky for my tastes, especially to consider re-using it:

IMG_3091

I was excited to see what was on offer on the recently revamped United international menu, but unfortunately it was nearly identical to my last flight in United first. Disappointing:

IMG_3092

Pre-departure bubbles in the ever-classy United plastic flute were offered, no refills:

IMG_3093

Load was two of five tonight…wait I mean five of five once the nonrev party boarded. I mean party because it was three people traveling together who talked loudly the whole time, and the crew spent more time paying attention to than to the two paying passengers. Par for the course unfortunately. Before anyone asks why I continue to pay for it, the extra space more than makes up for it to me at 6’4, and I’ve never had a problem getting sleep due to the nonrevs, so, yeah. The usual Château le Oscar 2015 and warm mixed split cashews:

IMG_3096

After the mixed nuts and a glass of wine, all was forgiven, when I found out they had indeed loaded garlic bread tonight, and the flight attendant gave me a wink and promised “I’ll save you as much as you want sweetie!”

IMG_3097

Strangest appetizer ever…ONE tempura prawn and a bit of roasted corn…with BBQ sauce. Points for originality:

IMG_3098

Mushroom and leek soup. Sort of bland, but at the same time it was somewhat tasty and felt like home cooking:

IMG_3099

The salad, unfortunately, was disappointing. Couple of limp wrinky olives, and flavourless tomatoes. Usually Global First has pretty decent salads, but this one missed the mark:

IMG_3100

I’ve had the pork chop before, and remembered it being pretty good. Unfortunately, tonight, it was pretty dry…as was the stuffing…which is one of my favourite foods on earth. Even the white asparagus was overcooked and limp. United was not having a good food night, unfortunately:

IMG_3103

As disappointing as the meal was, the cheese selection was definitely way above average for United. I asked for, and did receive seconds it was that good. Unfortunately, there was a limited quantity of my preferred sweet biscuits, but minor details:

IMG_3104

Finished it off with a sundae with hot fudge. Tonight’s request of “with cherries” was met with three cherries, which is pretty much the average response based on my extensive research 😉

IMG_3105

After dinner, I passed out for four solid hours, which is pretty good considering the total flight time was just under 6.5 hours total, and the dinner service wasn’t too fast. Had to be woken up by the crew, which to their credit despite not asking if I wanted breakfast or not before takeoff, let me sleep until we were barely five minutes off the ground. My first look at the screen through blurry eyes actually showed that we were already down to 5,000 feet! I don’t wear my glasses too often, but had taken my contacts out on this flight to avoid my eyes drying out too much, so it looked like I’d be going through the airport in glasses today. Oh the horrors.

Immigration was quite a walk today, but was fast once there, and anyone who knows me well doesn’t have to ask where my first stop was. Apparently, with glasses, I look like my name should be Jordan:

IMG_3107

After coffee I had plenty of time to hit the Priority Pass lounge for a bit, which turned out to also conveniently be the Lufthansa lounge. Fortunately wasn’t too crowded, and was able to wash up a bit, put a pair of contacts in, brush teeth, and basically make myself feel presentable enough until I could make it to Frankfurt for a proper shower. Had a few bottles of water, and got to the gate just in time to board the flight to Frankfurt.

Lufthansa flight 987
Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 09:00, Arrive 10:05, Flight Time: 1:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIUE, Manufactured 2014, Seat 6F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 110,779
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,148,612

Fortunately, the flight wasn’t terribly full, and was able to change my seat on the Lufthansa app to have a whole row of glamourous EuroBusiness to myself. Again, short flight so it’s not a big deal, but it’s always nice to have the extra space when possible. Speaking of possible, it always amazes me that Lufthansa is able to serve great snacks on a 45 minute flight. Look, more cheese!

IMG_3110

Once in Frankfurt, we’d come in at the extreme outer A gates, which meant a rather long walk to the tunnel to the B gates, and eventually to immigration. Fortunately, once to immigration the line wasn’t too bad, and I was soon in the lounge enjoying a bottle of water while waiting on a shower. For some reason, the lounge was absolutely packed, which I later found out was because we were right next to the gate for the A380 to Singapore which was about to leave. Once that left the lounge cleared out, I got my shower, and it was time for a very German breakfast:

IMG_3111

But no sooner was I finished with my breakfast snack than they changed the buffet over, so had to have a lunch snack too:

IMG_3112

Soon it was time to board the incredibly full flight to Cairo. Apparently the recent bombing of a Russian aircraft over the Sinai hadn’t detoured most travelers, and the flight was absolutely packed.

Lufthansa flight 580
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
Depart 13:30, Arrive 18:35, Flight Time: 4:05
Airbus A321, Registration D-AIDM, Manufactured 2011, Seat 9E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 112,594
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,150,427

I’d managed to grab 9D for this flight, which is my favourite seat on the Lufthansa A321 since there is no 9F, which guarantees you get the whole row of two to yourself. Considering we had 14 rows of business class today (seriously!) I considered this a pretty lucky break. This was going to be my first time in what I’d consider longhaul Eurobusiness with a flight of four hours, and I was curious how the service would be. It started out with packaged nuts, which was fine considering they were cashews…my favourite!

IMG_3113

What’s this…a printed menu on a shorthaul? Impressive!

IMG_3114

The chicken was actually super tasty, and was super impressed with both the burrata cheese starter and the delicious desert. The saran-wrapped salad was a little tacky, but overall a great meal for such a short flight. No comments on the white wine…for some reason it just sounded unsually tasty to me for a change:

IMG_3115

After lunch/dinner, chocolates were passed out, which were also super tasty:

IMG_3116

IMG_3117

All in all, considering the long routing I took to get there, the whole journey passed quite quickly. It was nothing spectacular or glamourous, but an overall solid performance that went by quickly. Considering I’d taken a longer routing because I was a bit short on miles quick and painless and comfortable was all I was expecting, and United and Lufthansa definitely lived up to expectations so overall…it was a good set of flights.

Next up, time for Egyptian immigration, a short overnight, and then off to Algeria!

Oct 282015
 

Short ride to the airport, and there was no wait at the check-in area. For some reason, my seat had been changed from a window seat to an aisle seat (the configuration on Oman Air’s A330s is 1 window, 2 seats together in the middle, the 1 window), but that was quickly fixed by the friendly agent. Immigration and security also had absolutely no wait, so it was quickly through and to the lounge.

When I had originally booked this ticket, I was planning to go from Salalah to Turkmenistan (via Yemen) so had a Salalah-Muscat-Dubai ticket. I debated just throwing away the last segment when plans changed, but figured that was kind of risky. So, in a moment of foodborne-illness induced delirium a few days prior in the Ethiopian lounge in Addis Ababa, I changed it to a Salalah-Muscat one way in business (instead of economy) for about $100 more. I figured I would be happier, it could be done on line, and…less risk of something going wrong and them trying to put me on a Salalah-Dubai direct flight. Plus…it was a widebody and would have international business seats. This is me rationalizing…

…and this is the SALALAH Oman Air business lounge. Keep in mind this isn’t even their hub, but the lounge was large, spacious, and had great snacks out. This pic is from the mid point of the lounge towards the buffet. Behind me are recliner chairs.

IMG_1919

I’d already had breakfast, so settled for Coke Light and some pre-pitted dates. Delicious.

IMG_1920

After relaxing in the lounge for a bit, I took the short walk to the gate. On the way, there was a random traditional Omani tent just set up in the middle of the terminal. I wonder if napping here would be permitted…

IMG_1921

Got to the gate, and they were already boarding 40 minutes prior to departure, so straight on the plane it was.

Oman Air flight 904
Salalah, Oman (SLL) to Muscat, Oman (MCT)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 12:30, Flight Time: 1:45
Airbus A330-300, Registration A4O-DD, Manufactured 2009, Seat 14A

First impression of Oman Air’s international business class:

IMG_1923

Nice spacious seats with huge storage bins for the window seats:

IMG_1924

Centre seats…still very roomy, but not much storage:

IMG_1927

Interesting cultural aspect to the flight. Omani guy seated in the row next to me with a woman who was obviously a relative of some sort. But, every so often he would wave his hand around, and the woman across the aisle would leap up to tend to him. First time it happened during boarding…when he needed his seatbelt fastened:

IMG_1929

Welcome aboard lemon/limeade drink:

IMG_1931

Interesting cartoon safety video:

IMG_1932

She looks rather enthusiastic about that life vest…

IMG_1934

After the pre-departure lemon/limeade, and before the door closed, the also came around with delicious Arabic coffee:

IMG_1935

After takeoff, a choice of chicken patties or fish was offered. The chicken was pretty tasty, but even better was the amazing mousse with mango sauce. It was delicious! Pretty impressive meal for a short flight, but surprisingly no bread offered. I did ask (not that I really wanted any) but the flight was also dry. I didn’t think Oman Air was a dry airline, but maybe on morning or domestic routes? The crew wasn’t overly confident in English, so I didn’t push the questioning.

IMG_1937

From what this interaction appeared to be, he needed his napkin placed on his lap…and his companion hopped right up to do it:

IMG_1938

Landed on time in Muscat, and had about five hours until my next flight. We arrived at the domestic arrivals, which meant taking a bus to baggage claim, and then straight outside. There was someone asking for transfers, so I joined the group. They were confused why I didn’t have a boarding pass, and when they found out I was transfering to someone other than Oman Air they were extremely confused. Apparently in Muscat they only expect you transfering to Oman Air. Upon checking my Qatar boarding pass on my phone, they decided they would bus me over to the international terminal with everyone else, and leave it to be sorted there.

Fortunately, upon arrival at the international terminal, there was not only a transfer counter, but a special line for business class. Qatar markets its regional flights as first class, and when they saw that boarding pass they leapt up to help quickly. Only problem was, again, they only really knew how to deal with Oman Air transfers. About 20 phone calls were made, and they finally found someone who knew how to issue a Qatar Airlines boarding pass. Only problem was…it was going to take at least 30 minutes. They escorted me through security, and told me to go to the Oman Air lounge to wait.

Get to the Oman Air lounge and…no, you may not use this lounge. Uh, ok. They sent me off to the Plaza Premium lounge, which turned out to be the right lounge. I asked the agent when I get stamped out of Oman, and she was stunned I hadn’t been. She made a call to airport immigration, and seems someone had escorted me right past exit immigration without getting me stamped out. The solution? Since I was already outside immigration, and security, they send an airport employee to carry my passport to the immigration folks to get me stamped out…and hopefully come back to the lounge with it. Fortunately, this worked out just fine and all was good in the end.

Despite a good snack on the plane, I was a little hungry, and the lounge had some great hummous and mezze:

IMG_1942

Blogged for a little bit, got a little hungrier, so more snacks, including Fosters…Omani for beer!

IMG_1943

Soon it was time to walk just across the hall to our gate, where the 4 people in business class had a bus all to ourselves. The airport apparently has a huge shortage of jetbridges, as we didn’t get one in either direction. Nice thing about only four people in the front was that we each had a row all to ourselves.

Qatar Airlines flight 1127
Muscat, Oman (MCT) to Doha, Qatar (DOH)
Depart 17:45, Arrive 18:25, Flight Time: 1:40
Airbus A320, Registration A7-ADA, Manufactured 2001, Seat 3F

So, what’s to eat? Despite a short flight, we got a full menu:

IMG_1944

Plus a rather substantial snack:

IMG_1945

Beverages…today the champagne on offer was Krug…yum!

IMG_1946

Pre-departure towels were offered…warm or cold, your choice. Given the 100F temps, I went cold…

IMG_1947

Arabic coffee was offered, but no champagne on the ground in Oman “for tax reasons.” Plus the dates were packaged…kinda…cheap looking

IMG_1948

The champagne situation was quickly rectified after takeoff:

IMG_1949

The shish tahouk main…quite tasty, although rather small:

IMG_1950

Upon landing, again first class passengers got their own bus to the terminal. The luxury first class bus:

IMG_1951

It was clearly rush hour at the airport, and the lines for transfer security was enormous. Had to pass by scary interrogation bear again, and then downstairs to immigration. Fortunately, Qatar has business class lines at immigration, so I quickly got my visa (100 rials please) and was soon outside and in my taxi.

IMG_1953

Pretty short ride to my hotel for the night, the W Doha. I’ve said it before on this blog, but the W Doha in my opinion is probably the best SPG property in the world. Some time soon, I want to take a few day trip to Doha just to hang out there and be pampered. I was chatting with the manager on duty at reception, and he informed me I’d been upgraded to a “residence apartment” for the stay. This was a new one in my several stays there, and I was curious to see what it involved.

The residences are a separate tower, and accessed through what feels like a secret door from the lobby area with their own elevators. Once inside my apartment, there was a huge living area:

IMG_1958

…a very nice kitchen complete with Nespresso machine:

IMG_1959

…and even a washer and drier as well as refrigerator. Basically everything you could want for an extended stay.

IMG_1961

Not to mention, the bedroom was extremely spacious as well:

IMG_1962

I felt kind of bad I had such a short night. It was way too early to go to bed, but also had to be up super early the next morning. I decided four hours or so of sleep would have to do, and decided to go over to the mall a couple blocks away just to walk around and people watch. I’d been sitting around airports all day, so stretching the legs would feel good. Got to the mall, and decided instead of walking to rent some skates and go skating. Managed about an hour on crummy rental skates, but it was still lots of fun. Nothing says ice skating like Qatar!

Got back to the room, and still wasn’t really all that tired. At check-in the told me about a new service they were trying out which was a WhatsApp concierge. They gave me a number to message with anything I wanted, and they would take care of it. I decided to try and ask them to bring me a half bottle of one of the red wines on the room service menu, and it arrived within 15 minutes. Pretty impressive. Also needed the code for the internet, and they responded with that quickly as well.

All in all, the service was outstanding at this hotel again, and combined with the location and overall facilities it remains probably my favourite Starwood property anywhere in the world! Finally got to bed in time to get just under five hours of sleep. It’s off to Japan in the morning!