Nov 032019
 


By the time the door had opened I had less than 50 minutes to catch my flight in DC. Since I’d never arrived from the US and connected to the US before, I had no idea how much work it would be, so I assumed maximum annoyance factor.

Fortunately , just like when I’ve arrived from DC before, we were dumped into generic international arrivals, meaning I could just run for my connection – and hopefully there was a turnoff for connections to the US before having to enter Canada!

The was, and with about 45 minutes to go I was already at the security line which wasn’t too bad with a NEXUS card. I was through in not too long, and got to US immigration with 35+ minutes to go. On the off chance you might not know, for flights from Canada to the US, from major airports you clear US immigration while still on the Canadian side.

The line wasn’t too bad, but for some reason despite using the Global Entry kiosk they were making everyone line up with their receipts, and the officer was grilling every person. Seriously, wtf is with this. I’ve only seen it in Toronto and Vancouver (never the US proper) where they basically ignore Global Entry and give you the third degree regardless. You can imagine how this is going to go.

“How long were you in Toronto?” “Oh, about ten minutes, I’m just connecting.” “Where are you connecting from?” “LA” “You’re going from LA to DC via Toronto?!” (and he holds up his hand to motion me over to secondary) . me: “yes, it’s an award ticket, it was the cheapest mileage option…but after a redeye from LA I’m regretting it.” Slight pause…and he waives me through. YES!

Quick glance at my phone to see which gate to run to….and I see the flight has been delayed by an hour. Hahahah, isn’t that how it always happens?

Decided with my bounty of extra time that the first stop would be Starbucks for some caffeinated goodness, and then the Air Canada lounge for a bit to get some water and charge the phone while I waited to see if the delay would get any worse.

Turns out that my plane was originally going Montreal – Toronto – DCA that morning, and had gone mechanical in Montreal, so they’d done a plane swap, and the new plane was in the air…so the hour delay looked pretty realistic…and it was.

Air Canada flight 7608 operated by Sky Regional
Toronto, Pearson (YYZ) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 7:25, Arrive: 8:50, flight time: 1:25
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FEJB , Manufactured 2005, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 140,739
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,833,327

Absolutely packed flight – which I’m guessing had to do with the delay. No misconnnects, a few people from later flights on standby, but I had my 1A so I was happy as a clam. They even served a meal on this one instead of the snack I’m used to from the noon flight from DCA to Toronto, and it was actually substantial. Still full from In ‘n Out and the flight from LA I think I just ate the fruit and pecked at the eggs.

So, there I was….home by 11am, a full half day to do laundry and recover before going into work the next day. In the end it was a little over 87 hours, and lots of stories and adventures. But would I do it again?

I think my worries going into it were twofold: one, that I’d end up exhausted at the end and go into the workweek absolutely wrecked. I’m not 21 anymore and can’t get away with that. The other was the money and miles….would I regret spending them?

Now, almost two months later, the second question is easy: the work travel has piled on and I’ve already earned all the miles back in under two months so I’m glad I did it or I might have more than I know what to do with!

On the being exhausted…yeah, there’s no denying I was. But staying home it would have been my birthday and who’s to say I wouldn’t have stayed up late or gone out. Plus, I wasn’t THAT wrecked, and I had a half day to recover…AND I had an amazing adventure and series of stores. End of the day, what it comes down to is, that old saying is true:

“You never regret the big chances you took….but you almost always regret the ones you didn’t take.”

Live big, live epic, make great stories….they’ll be plenty of time to be worm fodder later!

(Oh, and I’m writing this two days into the next epic adventure. Stay tuned for a trip to the Arctic Circle…aka Tuktoyaktuk….via the Middle East, Southeast Asia…and Toronto…that sounds almost as crazy as LA to DC via Toronto….

Nov 022019
 


After landing at LAX, I think we were at the very last gate of the Bradley Terminal, and it felt like I walked halfway to Arizona to find my way to customs and immigration. Thanks to Global Entry no wasted time at all, and I was through quite quickly with still over four hours until departure for Toronto.

At the very last moment, I found out my friend Karl of Great Circle Mapper fame was in LA for some aviation geek event called cranky dork geekfest or something and was actually nearish the airport. Quick call of an Uber, and I was off to see just how much I could accomplish in a short layover.

Got to the restaurant where he was at, but apparently there were multiple events. I was pretty sure he wasn’t there for Alyssa’s quinceanera!

So, first thoughts, how did I not know about The Proud Bird before? Great place to watch planes landing as it’s essentially at the end of a runway, and lots of great aviation memorabilia and good beers to boot!

Was awesome having an hour or so to catch up with Karl (and yes, I admit, geek out with AvGeeks watching planes land too. Everyone was glued to FlightRadar24 and when something “cool” was coming in they’d all bolt up and run outside to get pictures – it was awesome!) but all too soon I had to head out if I wanted to ensure a stop at THE reason for an LAX layover.

You knew it was coming…a stop at In ‘n Out Burger for a double double, animal style of course, and a neapolitan shake. The place was absolutely packed, and it took nearly 20 minutes to get my order, but it was worth every delicious bite and minute of waiting.

As I was enjoying dinner Al Fresco, this email came in…pretty sure I nailed it. Planespotting, friends, and In ‘n Out…all in a four hour layover. Pretty sure that qualifies as living my best life….oh and all that going around the world for my birthday thing…

Got to LAX, and in order to be sure I could use CLEAR (and because I was desperately in need of a shower) I headed to T4 to clear security since it was the shortest airside walk to the TBIT and Star Alliance lounge where I was sure I could get a shower.

No wait at all for security, a long-ish walk to the Star Alliance Lounge where I found out the wait for a shower was…”one to two hours” – wtf is it with lack of showers this trip?

I may have offered the lounge attendant a small gift….and voila my waiting time was less than ten minutes. I felt mildly bad about skipping the queue, but after no shower in Tokyo and then running around LA for three hours, I was pretty desperate!

Showered, and much happier, I began the long trek underground from TBIT to Terminal 6 underground through terminals 4 and 5, and finally arrived at the Air Canada lounge quite a bit sweatier. Thank God I’d had that shower…

Quick glass of wine, and was off to the gate…where the minute I got there it was announced there would be a 45 minute delay due to late arriving crew. Ugh, that was going to mean I had barely an hour in Toronto, which would make clearing immigration interesting…

Air Canada flight 788
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Toronto, Pearson (YYZ)
Depart 22:15, Arrive: 05:38 next day, flight time: 4:23
Boeing 777-200LR, Registration C-FIVK, Manufactured 2008, Seat 7K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 140,380
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,832,968

Finally we boarded, where everyone promptly got themselves all ready for bed. It was clear the cabin was full of LA to Toronto regulars, some of the conversations around me were fascinating. One young woman who’d flow to LA that morning “for a commercial shoot” and was flying right back. Another younger woman in head to toe Gucci and Louis Vuitton going on and on about how she “caught her maid doing coke in the bathroom – that’s so 1980s!” and that’s just the ones I overheard….

As predicted the moment we were airborne 90% of the cabin went flat with their seats and were out cold for the flight. According to the flight attendant, I was one of three people still awake in a cabin of 35+ so I decided to see what’s to eat.

Ahhhh, the Air Canada omelet with cottage cheese and mystery pepper relish…I was hoping to see it and wasn’t disappointed. Meanwhile, let’s have some pre-departure bubbles…

After takeoff, the flight attendant was quick to bring me some nuts, cheese, and wine….and when it as gone quickly, she insisted I have a second since there was so much leftover with everyone sleeping. Just what I didn’t need after In ‘n Out, but how could I say no…

After a couple hours of watching tv, the cabin was woken up about an hour before landing (with a flight time of 3 hours and 50 minutes that meant people had about 2.5 hours to sleep max) and THE omelet. Unfortunately the fruit was quite disappointing which was sad…because that’s normally something Air Canada does really well. Maybe because it’s US-catered?

Good morning Toronto!

…and with that, I had a grand total of 50 minutes to run through immigration BACK into the US, clear security, and get to my gate. Easy, right?

Oct 282019
 


Fortunately the walk from the lounge to the gate was a short one, and there were already tons of people lined up for boarding in the gate area. Turns out the flight was booked completely full in business and economy…but I was the only person in first!

This would be my third first class flight on ANA, and as usual they were super organized, even having a special signed boarding line for first despite me being the only passenger.

Awkward moment when the agent came to get me before boarding was even announced, and did a special pre-board. Yup, it was a flight to the US, as some guy loudly said “hey, we’re in business class, what happened to priority boarding?!” The agent just smiled and ignored him…

ANA All Nippon Airlines flight 106
Tokyo, Haneda (HND) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Depart 23:30, Arrive: 17:30 same day, flight time: 10:00
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration JA733A, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 138,205
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,830,793

Upon boarding, the seat was just as I remembered. I never understand why they have this cube design that blocks the windows…do I really need/want privacy from the outside? It’s pretty poor design, but quite a nice seat.

Overview of my private jet…I mean the first cabin..

Looking across through the other seats in my row. The lead flight attendant came to introduce herself, and offered that maybe since I was alone tonight she could make up the seat next to mine as my bed after takeoff? Then she joked: “or the other seven seats if you would prefer.” I liked her already.

Before departure, the safety video was screened. I have to say, this is one of the best safety videos ever. From the strange woman in the blue beekeper outfit to the instructions that seem to say “in case of emergency evacuation, please make sure to apply full geisha makeup,” to “never wear heels down the exit slide” this video had it all for high entertainment value!

So what’s to eat and drink tonight? Being a midnight departure it wasn’t a full meal service, but looked like there were plenty of light dishes I could put something together from!

Before eating, I was brought a WiFi card which if I remember right was good for 100 MB of data. Quite little compared to US airlines, but when I asked later for a second one I had absolutely no problem getting one. Not sure if this is policy, or just because the cabin wasn’t full….

A glass of Krug and some canapés to start? Don’t mind if I do! Interesting mixture of flavours and textures. I don’t think any cuisine pays as much attention to texture as Japanese does. Black sesame and nut bread stick, foie gras with teff, duck ham and mushroom thyme, and a smoked trout roll.

I asked what would be good for a small starter along with more champagne after takeoff, and the crew recommended the scallops as they were nice and light. They were also absolutely delicious.

For something “a little bigger” she recommended the pork tsumari sandwich with black truffle flavour. When it arrived, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was supposed to approach this. Take it out of the cardboard hot pocket like wrapper first?

After the cardboard was off, it was apparent the red stuff was also a wrapper that was meant to be removed. I assume this is some traditional japanese way of steaming things? The sandwich was, however, delicious!

I was still a bit hungry since both the scallops and sandwich were quite small, and the flight attendant insisted on bringing me the chicken and mushroom curry. It was outstanding…very unique flavour, but I loved it!

Of course, when there’s a cheese plate on offer, I have to take advantage of it! As expected with asian airlines, it was fair, but certainly nothing to write home about. I wouldn’t expect a US airline to do a fantastic Japanese dish, so no reason to expect ANA would do phenomenal with the cheese…tho it was probably still better than what most US airlines offer.

Ice cream for dessert sounded wonderful with some Hibiki (only the 17 on this flight….21 only goes to “premium” routes…which for some reason LA is not) and it’s amazing how something so simple can be so good. Quality over quantity!

I still wasn’t tired at this point, and asked for some more Hibiki, and some savoury crackers came with it. I love these little Japanese nibbles!

Finally tired, I retired to the seat across the aisle, clamped my USB fan to the side of the cubicle, and dozed off to 5+ hours of wonderful deep sleep. My body had no idea what time it was (if I was actually on DC time it would have been around 5pm) but was exhausted, so I was out like a light.

The flight attendant woke me 45 minutes before landing, and insisted on bringing me something small to eat. Fruit sounded refreshing, but the table had to be set…linens and all. The small details on this flight were outstanding.

Of course, she wouldn’t let me stop there, insisting I end my flight with something sweet.

Every little detail of this flight was perfect, and honestly the fact it wasn’t a meal flight was no big deal at all. If you want to eat, there’s more than enough different items on the menu to make a meal of, and if you’re on Tokyo time and just want to sleep…well, that’s an option too.

With that, the longhauls were done, and I was almost home…just about 12 hours left to go…because flying LA to DC via Toronto is totally a normal thing to do which I’m sure will cause absolutely no problems at all…

Oct 262019
 


After arriving at the airport, it took a few minutes to figure out which terminal JAL was in, but the maglev station sits between the two terminals so at least you can’t screw up until that point.

I already had a mobile boarding pass, so I headed straight for immigration and security, which took a total of about 20 minutes between them – half of which I felt was used by the security folks with a flashlight trying to see the wattage on my battery pack to make sure it was ok to fly. China is the only (I think) country who regularly checks the capacity of battery packs, so you think the manufacturers would make it easier, but who knows…

Through security, and I was greeted with a little bit of Switzerland. Of course I stopped since it had been a whole five weeks since I had been there! I can’t wait until I’m back again in a few days to get more. Mövenpick is outrageously expensive in Switzerland (two scoops will set you back like $8) but it’s so delicious…especially if you go to the shop and get tiramisu and rum raisin. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Next up was to figure out which lounge I had access to. The signs made it quite easy…and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Air Koryo on a lounge sign before these days. I was pretty exhausted and not feeling like lounge-hopping to get the maximum experience, so I just went to the JAL Lounge.

Yup, this must be the right place…little cardboard guy was there to welcome me!

Plenty of seating in the lounge, although it was slightly warm. I saw several people eating dim sum, but couldn’t figure out for the life of me where they got them. They weren’t on the buffet, and there was a little window so I tried asking the lady through the window and…zero english.

Hmmmm, well, I guess I’ll inspect every corner of the lounge…and lo and behold there was another room that looked like a kitchen/bar area back near the bathrooms, and that’s where the dim sum was coming from. Success!

Off to the gate, which was fortunately very close to the lounge, and boarding was by some convoluted process I couldn’t figure out where they seemed to individually inspect passengers before allowing you to line up, and then they moved you around in lines. Not sure…

JAL Japan Airlines flight 86
Shanghai, China (PVG) to Tokyo, Haneda (HND)
Depart 16:05, Arrive: 20:00, flight time: 2:55
Boeing 787-8, Registration JA823J, Manufactured 2013, Seat 7D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 132,718
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,825,306

It took a little bit of work online to figure out what kind of seats would be on this 787, but my research paid off and it was exactly as expected. Good seats for a short regional flight, but I definitely wouldn’t want these on a long-haul route…plus it’s a 2-2-2 config aka “climbover class.” Sure beats what we get for short flights in the US and Europe though!

Despite it being a relatively short flight, I was expecting a full meal and wasn’t let down. Japanese or Western options, and the crew (as I often find is the case in Japan) seemed to smile a bit when I chose the Japanese option.

Takeoff was quite bumpy, and I can’t describe it, but the plane didn’t feel very “stable” and shook a lot…even an hour into the flight. I don’t think I’ve ever sat this far back on a Dreamliner and maybe it’s typical when you get near the wings, but it just felt incredibly bumpy to me…and not in the turbulence way. Can’t quite explain it.

I think I’ll have some wine before dinner to sooth the nerves. I always love it when you get the little mini bottles…although I feel a bit guilty when I asked for a second. It doesn’t feel as bad when it comes out of one big bottle to me *grin*

Wow…the presentation of the Japanese meal was incredible. I honestly don’t know what 75% of the items were, but there wasn’t anything I ate that wasn’t super tasty. Lots of different flavours and textures, and definitely enjoyable – even if some of them were flavours that weren’t exactly aligned with my palate.

Mmmmm ice cream. Yes, it’s simple and packaged, but it seems higher quality than the ice cream in United’s sundaes. Maybe I’m just imagining things?

The plane continued to do what I was describing as “shuddering” most of the flight, and it was pretty disconcerting…but nobody else seemed concerned, so maybe it was just me. As far as temperature, true to form for Japanese airlines the cabin hovered nearly 25C for most of the flight. Not exactly pleasant, but I had my fan…which I totally clipped to the seat to blow cool air on me *grin*

I’ve seen this before in Tokyo, ATC there seems to love strange loops, I’ve never seen this so regularly in other parts of the world.

Arrived at the gate, and first stop was transit security. No line at all. efficient and helpful as always in Tokyo, and soon I was in the Haneda terminal for the first time trying to figure things out. I had flown into Haneda once before, but just as an arrival, so had no idea how the departures area worked. It seemed to be one long terminal, and I followed the signs to the ANA “Suites” aka first lounge.

Got in side, surprisingly little English spoken by the agents given this is a first class lounge, and first thing I did was ask for a shower since the JAL flight had been so warm. “You are number 18 on the list – it will probably be 2-3 hours.” Um, WTF?

Other than my flight to LAX, I could only see one other ANA flight that had a first class cabin in the next six hours…and my flight appeared to have only two people in first class! Where do all these people come from? ANA Diamond members have to fly 100,000 miles, of which 50,000 on ANA metal, so I guess that’s only like a 1K on United – and those would swamp a lounge at Dulles too.

I know Lufthansa allowed HON Circle members into their first lounges, but that doesn’t seem to add many people (given the rather high requirements for this status), but this lounge was absolutely packed, with probably 75% of the seats taken.

Oh well, super helpful and pleasant staff, and I soon had a plum wine and my choice of hot or cold towels. Obviously I went with cold….

After about 90 minutes, when it became very obvious I wasn’t getting a shower (I’m sorry – but when your elite members take preference over your first class customers…you need to rethink things) I decided to have a snack. Tasty little rice-based morsels and a bit more plum wine.

With 30 minutes before I head to the gate, I decided to ask one more time if there was any chance I might get a shower. Nope, still number eight on the list. Ridiculous after more than two hours. You’d think they might have found a way to take care of a first class customer…but nope.

Off to the gate, nice and sweaty, which probably was for the best anyways since the cabin was likely to be on the tropical side anyways!

64 hours down, only 22 hours to go…next stop: Los Angeles!

Oct 242019
 


Landed right on time in Shanghai around 10am, and my first mission was to get into the country. See, while booking these things, my mind told me “just get your flights booked, the rest is easy.”

My mind also told me: “China? No problem. Visa on arrival for 72-96 hours as long as you’re in transit and headed to a third country.”

The problem? I hadn’t yet figured out how to get from Shanghai to Tokyo…and I had landed…and my phone was having trouble grabbing internet. Shit.

Fortunately, I got a connection after five to ten minutes, and quickly got a flight booked on JAL to Tokyo…whew…sorted. To the immigration area, where I easily found the line for transit visa on arrival, but unfortunately there was only one officer…and many Japanese tourists in front of me who spoke neither English or Chinese.

The agent seemed to get frustrated after a few, and waved me up from like 10 deep in the queue to be next. Piece of cake, Show my passport, onward ticket, stamp in the passport, welcome to China. Whew. Easier than expected.

Since there’s no Uber in China, next thing to figure out was how to get to my hotel. Taxi drivers speak zero English and pretty much take cash only, so off to find an ATM…which wasn’t bad. It even had the Statue of Liberty on the screen….which was kinda funny in China.

After a long 10-15 minute pantomime, finally got my taxi driver to realize where the hotel I wanted to go was, and off we went. It was torrential pouring rain and traffic was a complete clusterfu*k, but eventually almost an hour later we arrived.

Checked in a bit before noon…and….crashed hard for a nap for like four hours or so. This followed my plan of sleeping when I was tired and just enjoying the trip when I wasn’t.

What does one do when it’s 5pm in China and your body thinks it’s morning time? Head to the world’s biggest Starbucks, of course, and get a delicious syphon brew coffee and some tiramisu…at an outrageous price of over $20. But they were doing some kind of demonstration brew, so it was worth it for the entertainment value of watching all the rural tourists snapping pictures in awe.

Oh, and the coffee was awesome as well…it had better be: I literally came halfway around the world for this coffee!

Back to my hotel and the top floor executive lounge for a more substantial snack. You can’t beat sunset views like this!

Snacks in the lounge? Dumprings, sushi, cheese, and Tsingtao. When in China…

I walked around for like 30 minutes after snacks, but was kinda out of it due to the combination of jetlag, drinking a bit much in flight, and the general disorientation of which side of the planet I was on. Decided a bit of a metro ride was in order since I’m a transit geek, and then, I just walked and followed the life on the streets.

Coincidentally, of all things, I came upon Stone Brewing’s Shanghai location. I mean come on, how can I not stop in for a few craft beers? It was destiny!

“Few” craft beers indeed…and I decided I really should head back to the hotel and see about a nap. On the way…I found Jesus. He was in Shanghai all this time. Opiate of the masses indeed.

You really have to love riding the subway in Shanghai. The advertisements are just epic…and hey, “great” belongs to me! How can you not love that!

I totally admit it….I knew there was a little local craft beer place near my hotel, so I stopped by for one…and a bottle of water, because I’d already drunk the ones in my room, and wanted more. I loved this little phone charging machine. Apparently everyone in Shanghai has the same phone?

The stop was both one of the best and worst choices I made on the trip. I’d had just enough to drink I was feeling social and chatty, and just enough that my guard was down a little.

I mean, they were two nice ladies who were “students” despite being early 20s who wanted to practice their English, so it would be rude to not stay at least 20-30 minutes and chat a little…and 30 minutes was about right…because that’s when I realized they were “working” students….yes…do the maths. Yikes…out of there pronto.

Managed only about six hours of sleep (thanks jetlag, you suck) and it was still too early for breakfast, so I went for an hour walk…getting back in time for one of the better hotel breakfast buffets in the world. Fresh OJ, fantastic tea, dim sum, and bacon! Life is amazing!

After breakfast, I went for a walk in the Peoples’ Park. Came across a cute little pond that had amazingly abundant vegetation growing in it.

Then, umbrellas everywhere. Lots of pictures of young people. I couldn’t quite figure it out. My first guess was maybe something to do with Hong Kong because of the umbrellas? But surely they wouldn’t allow anything protest-related in Shanghai.

Oh, I know, lots of young people…it’s a missing persons event. Very sad, all these young people that have gone missing and their families have come to the big city looking for them. One older lady even grabbed my arm, pointed to her daughter’s pic, and was practically begging me for help. Really sad.

…except later I found out I had wandered upon the “Shanghai Weekend Marriage Market.” That’s twice in less than 12 hours that I’d almost ended up with a Chinese lady. This place is the most dangerous place, ever!

Got back to my room with about an hour before I had to head to the airport to grab my flight out…and then just realized that my friend Laurent Perrier had left the Lufthansa flight with me and didn’t have documentation to leave China. Shit. Well, when in China… (yeah, view from my room most certainly did not suck…)

Soon enough, my time in Shanghai was over, and it was time to head to the airport. I was feeling brave and adventurous on my second ever visa to Shanghai, so had the hotel call a taxi to take me to the subway/maglev station. View while waiting on my cab:

Arriving at the Maglev station. I could have taken the subway, but Shanghai subways are not made for rolling bags, and I didn’t want to get sweaty, so for less than $10 it was worth taking a cab. Plus, amazing post-Soviet art!

Buying the ticket for the airport maglev was a piece of cake, and the station was super sleek and modern in that very Chinese way:

Standing at the edge of the station, looking out on the maglev tracks:

Maglev arriving:

So, the Shanghai airport maglev has “VIP Class” which costs double the regular class…for what is like barely a 10 minute ride. But come on, how could I say no! It was less than $10 extra, so I had to try it. 301 kph (it’s capable of nearly 400 kph but for some reason is speed-limited on weekends) and I had the entire VIP car to myself!

Views of VIP class. Very disappointed in the lack of champagne.

With that, my time in Shanghai was sadly over. 57 hours down, 29 hours to go! Next stop: TOKYO!

Oct 232019
 


After all too little time in the First Class Terminal, it was off by car to the plane. I miss the days when you almost always gotta a private Porsche or Mercedes transfer…these days it almost always seems to be a small shared VW luxury van. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It’s just nostalgia. How could you complain when this is your view during boarding?!

Elevator up to the jetbridge, then walked to the door with your driver politely moving all waiting passengers to the side so you can cut to the front of the queue. The moment called for a photo for posterity’s sake!

Time to board, and enjoy the real birthday Lufthansa First flight…the previous flight just a few hours prior had only been an appetizer!

Lufthansa flight 728
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Shanghai, China (PVG)
Depart 17:10, Arrive: 09:55 next day, flight time: 10:45
Airbus A380, Registration D-AIMJ, Manufactured 2011, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 131,636
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,824,224

First thing I noticed during boarding is that we were on D-AIMJ today…funny enough this was exactly the same A380 that had brought me from Delhi to Frankfurt just 12 days before. Fortunately, today, I was in the correct end of the plane!

Second thing I noticed? The stench of fast food the minute I entered the plane. Had I accidentally gone onto the main deck and into economy class? Nope, this dude and his female companion had two large boxes of chicken McNuggets and it was stinking up the entire cabin. Are you for serious?! All the food in the first class lounge and on the plane and you need to bring on your McNasties?! It’s not like you can’t get them in China!!!

Fortunately, I was rescued by the lovely crew and a wonderful glass of Alexandra. The driver had made a point to tell the crew about the birthday, so the next 10 minutes were an endless stream of crew members stopping by to wish me a Happy Birthday. It was pretty awesome!

I had wondered if maybe this whole trip was a little too much, was I trying too hard to do something crazy and special? Nope…it was amazing every minute of the way!

Even the birthday duck agreed. Duck plus Alexandra plus macadamia nuts…it was a pretty amazing start to the flight!

…throw in a warm towel with lemon and a rose petal, and what felt like the entire crew stopping by to sing Happy Birthday…this was going to definitely be a flight to remember!

So, what’s for birthday eats and drinks?

As we pushed back from the gate the Lufthansa crane made sure to say goodbye and wish me a Happy Birthday.

“Unfortunately, there is only one bottle of Alex here today on the flight….so you will have to enjoy her while you can….but Mssr. Laurent Perrier would be happy to accompany you to Shanghai to continue your birthday celebration…with best wishes from your crew.” Little moments like this are precisely why I love Lufthansa.

Alex joined me for the smoked fish canapé to get things started. I love the lighting in this shot as well.

There’s something delightful about the Lufthansa crane on the glass, First Class stamped into the butter…and a pretzel roll.

What more could I ask for ? The caviar cart was wheeled straight to me. Lufthansa logo facing me, to present one of the most beautiful in-flight sights you could ask for on your birthday. I won’t like…I pretty much wanted to grab a mother-of-pearl spoon and just start devouring it straight from the tin…but….one must be civilized.

Fortunately, a couple passengers (not naming names) had stuffed themselves on McNasty, so an extra large birthday helping of caviar was helping today. Seriously…thats one impressive helping! There were even leftovers after the entire cabin was served and a second round was offered. I’m not going to confess either way…

Fabulous appetizer selection once again today: sous vide cooked lobster with singapore sauce (YUM!), obatzda Bavarian cheese spread with pumpernickel and pickled red radish (quite unusual for me, but I really enjoyed it), and shaved black angus beef with wild mushrooms. Three for three once again!

Next up? “delicious pearl barley soup with white cabbage and chives” – you know when they put “delicious” on the menu….it’s advertising a little too hard. It wasn’t bad, just kinda meh. I decided after a few bites to save my stomach for the upcoming courses.

None of the main courses really excited me too much, so I went with the fried turbot with potato and artichoke stew since it sounded relatively the lightest. It was relatively light and tasty.

…and this is what I’m talking about! As usual, an amazing cheese course on Lufthansa. Tonight we had kellerhocker cheese, brie de meaux, Taleggio and fourme d’ambert. Yum!

…and to finish off the birthday dessert was a chocolate tartlet with pineapple and brioche cubes with vanilla ice cream. Normally I don’t think pineapple and chocolate go all that well together, but with a glass of Johnny Walker Blue it was a tasty combo!

…ok, fine…I’ll have a couple of pralines as well with a glass of wine. In fairness, pretty sure this came before dessert since what civilized person would go back to wine after whiskey?

With that, I was getting sleepy again, and ended up sleeping the next 5-6 hours into Shanghai. I’d decided this trip was so quick that I’d sleep when the body told me to, and not worry too much about the time on the clock. Seemed to be a good strategy, since I got a good amount of sleep on this flight.

It also helped that the cabin was nice and cool, which made sleeping much easier. As I was on the way to Dulles Airport, I thought maybe this was going to be too much – too many awesome flights in too short of a time – and I really wouldn’t appreciate the whole thing.

I wasn’t all that hungry when I woke up, but the crew convinced me that a small breakfast would be nice before landing. Can’t really argue with logic like that…plus I’m a sucker for fresh orange juice!

That couldn’t be further from the truth. So far, I was having an amazing time and loving every moment of it. Next up, A whole 24+ hours to enjoy in Shanghai!!!

Oct 222019
 


After a lovely four+ hours of sleep at my home away from home, the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport, I was feeling rested and not wanting to waste another minute of the day. To ensure maximum performance, the first stop as always was the Starbucks located near the B Terminal of Frankfurt Airport.

Apparently, there are even Basic Beckies in Germany….purse sized ESA, pumpkin spice latte, and all.

Caffeinated and ready to go, it was a short walk to my version of nirvana…otherwise known as the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. Approximately a 7-8 minute walk from the main terminal.

They’re not exactly used to people walking to the terminal (I assume most visitors are posh Germans showing up in their fancy BMWs and Mercedes…or at the very least an Uber… but the good thing is for us AvGeeks who like such things there is a pedestrian entrance as well!

Upon entering the terminal and handing over my passport, the magic began to happen. I explained I was connecting from DC with a long connection, and mentioned I’d chosen it so that I could spend an extra-long birthday in my favourite place. The agent’s face lit up, and she actually remembered me from just a couple weeks prior, and asked if she could do anything to make it extra special.

I mentioned that item number one was to take a quick shower, and then I needed somewhere to set up so I could chair my meeting. Even better, the security staff remembered me from a few weeks prior when I joked about my German apparently not being good enough yet to go through security in German…and I got the full treatment!

Before the shower, I was shown to a work room, and asked if this would do? Absolutely it would…and when I came out from the showers I found my name had actually been written on the reservation slate outside the room and literally moments after I entered a glass of rosé champagne appeared without asking. I’m not sure if that was birthday celebratory or if they remember that’s what I always start with, but it was a super special touch.

Took a few minutes to get the laptop set up for a Skype conference, and the iPad set up with agenda and note-taking, and I was ready to chair the meeting that had almost derailed this entire trip.

…but just before the meeting started, there was a knock at the door, and a hand gesture asking if it was ok to open. It was…and then…the skies opened, a chorus of angels sang out in unison…and manna from Heaven rained down…well, not really, but the whole trip was worth it, because a chorus of Happy Birthdays from several of the lounge staff was delivered along with the whole point of the trip: the elusive Birthday Duck!

The next 90 minutes was decidedly less exciting, as chairing meetings is never all that fun…but there was a rather hysterical moment during the call. Not when they realized it was my birthday and I was out of the office, that was funny, but not that funny.

Anyone who reads my blog knows I spend a lot of time in Switzerland and Germany for work, and is also why I’ve been working on my German. The best part? Half the clients on the call were about 400km away in Switzerland and the other half? Maybe only 100km away from me in Southwestern Germany. The irony is because of this trip…I was actually closer to them than if I’d taken the call from Washington.

Right, business dispensed with, it was time to enjoy my last 45 minutes or so in the lounge. The bartender remembered me from a few weeks prior as well and suggested we do a whiskey tasting again. Who am I to say no?

I can’t tell if the duck is judging me, or secretly thrilled that Lufthansa went the extra mile and really delivered an extra special birthday on the ground! It would have been nice to have a couple extra hours in the First Class Terminal, but the fact I pulled this off at all was pretty miraculous, so I was really thankful for the time I had!

With that, it was almost time to wrap up my magical birthday in the Lufthansa Lounge and head on my way to the second amazing flight! But just to get a bit more perspective, this is the fantastic workroom in the terminal – I’m fortunate to never have needed it before, but what a great amenity to have!

Approximately 18 hours down, 68 to go! Next stop…Shanghai!

Oct 202019
 


I had been so busy running around all day after deciding I was going to not only make this work, but getting it booked, that I’d pretty much forgotten to eat all day.

I popped in to the Turkish Airlines lounge at Dulles which I know lots of people are a fan of (and which generally has better food than Lufthansa) but…it was its usual late-afternoon standing room only and the only option would be to share a small table with someone. I don’t need that kind of hassle before a hectic but fun trip, so back to Lufthansa it was!

It always bums me out that Lufthansa doesn’t have a first class lounge at Dulles, and makes me sort of giggle that they just rope off a section of the lounge for First Class and Hon Circle passengers. Looking at the lounge, which was surprisingly not crowded today.

Food was nothing overly special, but enough to hold me over until the flight. The flower was a nice touch, since I’d be away a short time (and remember how hot ANA likes to keep the cabins) I’d decided to bring my own USB fan with on the trip.

Also, apparently they “don’t have anymore” champagne glasses today, so will this be ok? Hah!

Boarding was straight from the lounge which is one of the things I love about Lufthansa at Dulles, and the agents came and got the first class passengers individually before announcing boarding for business class. Nicely done – even without a dedicated lounge!

Lufthansa flight 419
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 18:15, Arrive: 08:10 next day, flight time: 7:55
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYD, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 126,120
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,818,708

Friendly crew immediately upon boarding, and when I got to my seat…wow…wine list was brought over along with macadamia nuts and champagne right away. I could tell this was going to be an extra-good (and photogenic) flight!

Despite a snack in the lounge I was still hungry, so perfect time to explore what’s to eat today!

It was a little warm during boarding, but fortunately I had come prepared! The crew got a good laugh out of it.

…and when I say a little warm, I’m not kidding!

Slightly late departure, but a mercifully short taxi, and soon we were lined up on runway 30 ready to take off into the sunset!

This crew was absolutely fantastic. About 15 minutes after takeoff they came around to each passenger in first, introduced the crew, and asked how we would “prefer our flight paced.” I told them I probably wouldn’t sleep much, if at all, so I’d prefer the meal service to be slower and drawn out. They were more than happy to accommodate, starting with a canapé.

About 30 minutes into the flight we were treated to a gorgeous purple sunset above the clouds. Loved the way the purple hue came through the windows across the cabin.

What better way to start a fabulous, spontaneous trip around the world than with caviar service! Smallish portion today, but it seems everyone was enjoying it so this is just the “normal” portion…

Since it was a leisurely meal, I decided I would go with all the appetizers. From right to left, the halibut on vegetable ceviche was super light and tasty. The burrata and baby tomatoes and maitake mushrooms was also outstanding, and the beef tenderloin with baby beets and tartare sauce was also really good. Usually at least one of the three appetizers is a little weird or not great, but tonight they were all super. We were off to a fantastic start for the trip!

I’ve been skipping the beef on planes lately, but how could I resist “tenderloin of beef with lobster claw.” It was really tasty, a nice medium, and the lobster was really good too. I worried the beef might be overcooked like usual, or the lobster rubbery, but my fears were totally unfounded tonight.

I have to admit, I do love seeing the giant cheeseboard wheeled out on Lufthansa, and watching as the cheese is cut up and served. The lovely flight attendant asked me if I would mind, however, if she plated it in the galley as by this point the lights were out as all the other passengers were asleep.

No problem at all – and a delicious selection as always tonight!

Finally, the grand finale, passion fruit panna cotta with butter crumble. Out of this world, and with a glass of Johnny Walker Blue or two it was a perfect way to end the first decadent meal of the trip.

I did end up napping about three hours before landing, which was unexpected, but I also had a hotel room booked since I would have nine hours in transit…and only planned to spend the last three in the lounge.

Managed to get four hours of sleep on top of the three I got on the plane, which was absolutely wonderful. Then…it was time for the short walk to the First Class Terminal (with a stop at Starbucks on the way of course) and enjoy a bit of food and drink…all while chairing my meeting!

Oct 192019
 


So, a bit of background is necessary to understand this trip. No, I’m not talking about the fact that I have a few screws loose when it comes to traveling; that part is a given.

I’m talking more about Lufthansa’s gimmick of the “first class duck.” I’m not quite sure where this tradition started, but as I understand it Lufthansa many years ago started offering souvenir ducks to passengers taking a bath in their first class lounges and first class terminals.

Then, one day, someone had the novel idea to make a “special” thematic duck for spring, or summer, or some such reason. This caught on, and more and more Lufthansa started to offer other special ducks.

By this point, people had started to collect them, and they were no longer just for people taking baths. People came up with all kinds of reasons to stop by a get one. Seriously. One of the first phrases I ever learned in German was “Kann ich zwei Enten für meine Kinder haben?”

Yeah, there was a bit of embarrassment and shame and made up children involved in getting the ducks. I know I’m not the only one. (In all fairness, I’m much less shameful now and just ask for one….unless it’s a special one…and then the made-up children may come on board to justify needing two.)

Right, so over the years, I may have amassed quite a few of them. I know this is less than half of the ones that are out there, but thankfully my “problem” isn’t so bad that I’ve taken to eBay or such, but I may have engaged in a few trades. So, yes, my problem:

Yup. We have “Euro Duck” and then there’s “Dirndl Duck” and don’t forget “Corporate Wanker in the First Class Lounge with his Bluetooth Headset Duck.” Ok, maybe it’s not called that, but you get the drift.

So, you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with anything?

See, a week or so before my birthday (yes, if you’re keeping track this is about a week after being home from so much back to back travel this summer and looking forward to a solid month at home) I learned there was a special duck out there…one you could only get on your birthday…the elusive “Birthday Duck.

Of course, this led to planning out trips…maybe even going to Frankfurt just for a few hours as an excuse to get it. But see, unfortunately, my birthday was on a Thursday this year, and that makes things a bit difficult for work. It also turned out I had a big “can’t miss” meeting I had wisely scheduled on my birthday at 9am in DC, (3pm in Germany – pay attention – this is important) so given flights arrive from the US in the morning it meant it just wouldn’t work out this year. There would be no Lufthansa love for me.

Fast forward to Wednesday, the day before my birthday. I woke up with an inspiration: what if I could find a way to fly to fly to Frankfurt today, spend the day in the lounge, and fly out after 5pm? Surely there would be a way to chair my meeting from the lounge, right?

All I needed was a flight after 5pm. The meeting would last 90 minutes putting me done at 4:30pm German time, and Lufthansa generally drives you from the First Class Terminal to the plane around 30 minutes before departure, so I just needed to find a flight from Frankfurt that left after 5pm – there has to be something back to North America, right? (Oh, and I should probably check to make sure DC to Frankfurt isn’t sold out in First tonight, right? Though I suppose I could fly business into Frankfurt if needed.

After spending my entire commute into the office searching, there was nothing. I was crushed.

But wait, why turn right back around and go home? Johannesburg leaves from Frankfurt around 10pm, that would work! Ugh, completely sold out…search, search, search. Whoah, Shanghai! Leaves Germany at 5:10pm which would be perfect. Without a second thought I pulled the trigger. Sent a note I would be taking a half day and working remotely on Thursday, and two hours after getting to the office headed back home to throw things in a bag.

Ok, great, no time to plan…gotta get to airport. Packing is both harder and easier when you don’t how how long you’ll be gone. I would leave DC on Wednesday (birthday eve) and arrive in Shanghai on Friday night, so I figured I should be home on Sunday hopefully? Ok, that’s enough to plan to pack for roughly four days away.

Off to Dulles mid-afternoon (remember, this whole plan was only hatched about five hours prior) and all the way I was searching for ways to get home. Try as I might, I wasn’t finding anything interesting. If I was going to be in China, I figured I should go all out and make it a true round-the-world and come back over the Pacific, right?

After a couple hours of searching, I found it: Tokyo Haneda to Los Angeles on ANA All Nippon Airlines in first class! Score!

Now….there was the matter of getting from Shanghai to Tokyo, but I wasn’t worried about that. There are plenty of flights and not too expensive, so that was the least important piece.

A bit more searching, and I found an Air Canada 777 with proper business class from LA to Toronto (because why fly LA to DC direct when you can connect in Toronto and get a proper product?) and with a little more searching I found a perfectly-timed Shanghai to Tokyo Haneda flight with Japan Airlines.

Now, all I needed was a ticket from Toronto to DC. That would be easy…all sorted and purchased right as I was arriving at Dulles.

Amazing what I’d pulled off in under eight hours of planning, and just in time to relax and enjoy the experience a bit. The final route would be DC – Frankfurt (9 hours) – Shanghai (30 hours) – Tokyo (3.5 hours) – LA (4.5 hours) – Toronto (2 hours) – DC.

Whew. I’m tired just typing that. I couldn’t imagine how tired I’d be in 86 hours when it was all over. Oh well, I can sleep when I’m dead. Time to enjoy the adventure!!!

All this, just for a duck….

Sep 272019
 


Talk about a bit of an anticlimactic end to a trip. I had been all excited to fly two long segments with EVA Airways in their Hello Kitty service on the 777, but due to crew strikes the flights were canceled. At least I had an option that would get me home comfortably. No, it wasn’t exciting or new, and certainly not the way I wanted to end this really cook AvGeeking trip, but hey, make lemonade from lemons and all that jazz!

Woke up early after only about six hours of sleep, figuring I could always sleep on the super long flight and crossing 12 time zones my body wouldn’t really know the difference anyways. Grabbed an early coffee before heading to the airport, and what Hong Kong Starbucks called a “croque monsieur.” Close, but no croque…

Off to the airport by train again, and one thing I was looking forward to was checking out the American Express Lounge. The United Lounge in Hong Kong is known to be one of their nicer ones, but I’d also heard great things about the American Express Lounge.

I know everyone loves the AmEx lounges in the US, but they frustrate me a bit. I find them very crowded most of the time, and hard to find a seat. It also really bothers me that as a Centurion Card holder I can barely find a seat when some guy and his family of six with a Platinum Card are taking up seven seats. Anyways, rant over.

So, why was I looking forward to the AmEx Lounge then? Hong Kong, like Buenos Aires and Mexico City actually have Centurion Lounges within their “Centurion” Lounge. I always found it weird that “Centurion” lounges let platinum card holders in, but whatever.

The lounge in Hong Kong was pretty quiet, and had a nice menu to order from. How can I say no to eggs benedict and champagne in the lounge? That’s right…I can’t.

Service in the AmEx lounge was amazing, and it was easily one of my top AmEx Lounge experiences ever. Next time, I’m going to have to make much more time to stop by than just the 45 mintues or so I had before this flight.

Fortunately, my gate was not far from the lounge, and caught this view of my chariot as we waited to board:

The plane was named the “New Spirit of United” but beyond Polaris seats (which I do actually really like) I wasn’t expecting too much.

United Airlines flight 180
Hong Kong (HKG) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 10:25, Arrive: 14:10, flight time: 15:45
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration N2331U, Manufactured 2016, Seat 11L
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 78,376
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,770,964

Somehow I think this 8,063 mile flight is going to take a bit longer than 0:00 as the screen seems to promise:

Pre-departure sparkling plonk and water were offered. I commend United on upgrading to actual glass glasses for PDBs, but the Spider Man napkins and terrible sparkling wine were a stark reminder I wasn’t on Emirates anymore…or Qantas…or Thai…or Cathay…or, well, you get the point…

I love planespotting outside the US where I get to see lots of airlines I don’t see every day…today it was Air Mauritius:

Warm nuts were served right after takeoff, with more Spidey napkins. I honestly have always wondered what United “does” to their almonds. They always seem kinda mushy to me and stale.

The salad was a pretty below average offering today, and the appetizer was two rather sad looking shrimp with “yellow mushrooms”. Way to put the class in business class, United. *frown*

I felt like something was fishy with this meal, so I went with the “pan-fried halibut” with lemon caper butter sauce. It was pretty decent, and less heavy than the overcooked beef options, so overall it passed muster.

Cheese and deserts finished off the exactly-as-expected United meal. I would say the cheese was just average today (I never really find interesting or adventurous cheese on United) but the bonus cherries on the sundae were definitely a win!

Having only gotten about six hours the night before, I decided that after lunch was a perfect time for a good long nap….which lasted nearly six hours!

Woke up at exactly the perfect moment! I looked outside and the sun was just rising over extreme northern Alaska. Absolutely gorgeous views!

Pre-landing breakfast was served, with the usual offer of congee, “smoked salmon and spinach frittata” (aka cholesterol and sodium bomb) or “fruit with cereal and milk.”

There was nothing high-end about it, but the fruit and cereal were nice and light and did hit the spot, so overall it was the right choice for me.

Landed at the B Terminal at Newark, which seems to be where all my international Star Alliance flights have been coming into lately. I know SAS always lands there as does Lufthansa, but even my United flights seem to land there now. Is immigration and customs at Terminal C just that busy?

Caught the AirTrain over to Terminal C, and fortunately my flight to DCA would be leaving out of C today and not A so I could spend my layover enjoying the Polaris Lounge, which I hadn’t visited in Newark before.

I asked the bartender for a Paper Plane, but made with Mezcal (thanks ORD Polaris Lounge for introducing me to this) and the bartender gave me the most perfect Jersey “what’s wrong with you” look. She made it though, and it was delicious, and she was an absolute hoot to chat with, so bonus!

All too soon it was time to head to the gate for the short hop to DCA.

United Airlines flight 3434 op. by Republic Airlines
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 15:45, Arrive: 17:17, flight time: 1:32
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N642RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 78,575
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,771,163

When I booked, only economy was available on this flight for an award, but the great agent did waitlist me for first. Oddly, 24 hours before the flight, there were still five seats unsold but still no upgrade for me….it dwindled to four, then three, then two…and held at one…and finally cleared for me at the gate. That was a close call.

Nothing to say about this flight. No drinks, no snack basket “due to the short length of the flight” but I really didn’t care for barely 40 minutes of flight time.

Most notable part of this flight was the beat to hell United plane at the gate next to our arrival at DCA. Get this thing a new paint job!

…and just like that, I was home from an epic 18 day vacation….and when I say home, I meant for 68 hours…because it was already time to head out to Switzerland for work….for three whole weeks! Next segments, coming up soon!