Woke up nice and early, since I had a full morning or so to visit Beirut before my mid/late afternoon flight to Kuwait to catch up with the United nonstop to Washington…in order to get to work on time Monday morning! I was seriously excited about this flight, since ever since United added Dubai and Kuwait years ago, I still have yet to take either of these flights.
Rolled over in bed, kinda groggy, turned off airplane mode on my iPhone…and BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ a stream of messages came in. This isn’t unusual. I’m seven hours ahead of home, so lots can happen when I’m asleep. But, I worry when I start seeing alerts from TripIt and United…this can’t be bueno.
So…what’s about to follow. Anyone who’s read my blog for the last few years knows I very rarely have flight drama. I’m pretty lucky. Things rarely go wrong, and when they do things seem to only get better. Like my Dubai-Frankfurt-London that went mechanical so I ended up on the Emirates A380 in first nonstop to London. Like that. However, as you’ve seen in the last couple of months, my BFF Fiji Airways and I had some lovely times…and now, it’s time for Fiji Airways DBA United to join the party.
Kuwait to Washington…canceled. Wait, WHAT?!
Now, I know, why did I book Beirut-Kuwait-Washington? Main reason is I could clear an upgrade to business at the time of booking, but second reason is it’s a westbound redeye…which I love. I sleep on them fantastically, and when you land, it’s already afternoon in your departure time zone, so you’re ready to go. Oh, and a great friend of mine is currently working in Kuwait, so the five hour layover would allow us to have dinner…so what can go wrong?!
Seems the plane had gone mechanical out of Dulles five hours earlier, so they canceled the roundtrip. 2014 has been a very strange year for us that fly United. It feels like if you book a longhaul flight there’s at least a 25% chance it will cancel. I’m being mildly dramatic, but United has been almost that bad this year. That’s how I ended up with no flight home 18 hours in advance. I think I need a drink. Or coffee. Yes, definitely coffee. Off to Starbucks to get brain fuel. The view from Starbucks:
So, I drank coffee, and planned my future on ExpertFlyer. The only chance to get me home in time for work Monday was to get to Dubai, and get on the Dubai to DC nonstop. Only problem is it had one business seat left, and there was a snowball’s chance in hell of it clearing as an upgrade. There was no way I was going to fly 14 hours on that flight in coach. Not happening. Other options wouldn’t get me in to much later Monday, so I resigned myself to working remotely….
So, let’s see what the options are then. I could wait another 24 hours…either in Kuwait…and risk no upgrade, or try and get somewhere in Europe where I can take an upgraded flight on Monday. Hmmm, Kuwait has the advantage that I’d still be able to get dinner with my friend, and would likely be able to have a very relaxing day in Kuwait. It has the downside that United might not actually delivery a replacement plane as promised, and I might be stuck on some horrid routing out of Kuwait via Frankfurt or something with a long coach segment. I couldn’t take the chance of two more days out of the option, so I decided it was time to “go west young man” asap. Ok, options sorted, time to call United.
Skype…what did we do before you? Got a surprisingly solid connection AND an agent who was willing to go the extra mile to help out. She tried everything. The only upgrade space from Europe to the US was from Amsterdam, and she couldn’t get me to Amsterdam. Things were a right solid mess. Finally, I found something…Beirut-Istanbul-Frankfurt, overnight, Frankfurt-Amsterdam-DC….only downside was leaving Frankfurt at 6am, meaning barely 5 hours of sleep. Ugh. But wait, theres a problem…
I’m checked in on Kuwait Airways already from Beirut to Kurwait, and they can’t touch the ticket until I get off that flight. Ugh. Call Kuwait Airways…on 14 different numbers. In Kuwait. In the US. In Lebanon. In the UK. Every number I can find. Nobody can help me. Ugh. Website doesn’t allow you to un-do checkin. There seemed to be no way to get off the flight. But wait…”Rajesh” at the 15th number I tried had the cell phone number of the supposed Kuwait Airways manager at Beirut Airport! Seriously?! Don’t worry…talked to the person who answered for 1 minute before she hung up on me. Ugh.
Back to the drawing board.
Now, I need to give a HUGE congrats to United here. This agent spent over two hours on the phone with me trying to get things sorted. On a Skype connection that was often not great. She waited on hold (on my computer Skype) while I used my iPhone Skype to dial various Kuwait Airways numbers. She was an angel, patient, and genuinely just wanted to see me happy. Honestly, this one (long) interaction reminded me why I used to love flying United. If anyone has any idea of anything I can do to get her recognized, I’d appreciate it. Moving on…
The agent agreed to set everything up in my record, extensively note it, and I would head to the airport to get off of the Kuwait Airways flight. Since there’s no data roaming in Lebanon I’d have to pay $2.50 per minute roaming to call United and get the ticket reissued once I was off of the Kuwait Airways flight. At this point it was under two hours to the Turkish flight to Istanbul, the last westbound flight of the day, so I had no choice.
Off to the airport I go…
That’s where the next layer of drama hits…there’s a security line just to get into the airport…that’s 30-40 minutes or more deep. Fortunately the Turkish and Kuwaiti flights leave within 30 minutes of each other…but there’s two terminals, and I have no idea which one is in which. So, I head to the Kuwaiti one to get off the flight, and pray they will have a way to then get me to the Turkish one in time…inshallah.
1:15 before flight time, I finally reached the Kuwait Airways counter and they were astounded I didn’t want to be on their flight. “If I take you off this flight, you will be on your own, and we will not be responsible for anything else. Are you sure that is what you want?” YES YES, PLEASE! Finally, they get a supervisor…”oh, did you call me on the phone?” Seriously?! Did you think I was kidding?! Eventually they get me off the flight, and say “have a nice day.” Hah!
Call United…get put on hold…ugh…and that’s where a miracle happens. The Turkish check-in counter is right next to the Kuwait Airways one. I explain to the agent I have a reservation (and she can see it) and I’m on the phone with United now getting the ticket reissued. United answers, the record is documented as promised, yes, I am no longer checked in, please wait while I reissue the ticket…which takes 20 minutes.
My Turkish flight is now leaving in 50 minutes.
Finally, United tells me the ticket is reissued, Turkish agrees, and I have boarding passes. HOORAY! It cost me nearly $70 in roaming charges, but a small price to pay for solving the drama.
Things were good…until I got to immigration, where hundreds of Iraqis were in line in front of me, and the agents were processing them at the speed of molasses. I looked around for my friends from the day before, and fortunately spotted them in line. Allah is clearly looking out for me. They were quite excited to see me. I explained my emergency. I begged them to say something to all the Iraqis I’d be cutting in line in front of to make it ok. I was down to barely 30 minutes before departure and was desperate. I moved up in line…she said something to the people in line…they all started cheering and clapping. I have no idea what it was, but I thanked her profusely. Fortunately immigration gave me no trouble, and I was into the departures hall.
Don’t worry, all y’all will be invited to my Big Fat Baghdad Wedding. 😉
There was just something comical about a group of women in full abayas taking pictures of airport christmas trees:
Small sprint to the gate where, shocker, 10 minutes prior to departure they still weren’t boarding. Go figure. We left a little late, but I managed to grab an aisle seat in the first row of coach, so life was looking grand.
Turkish Airways flight 825
Beirut, Lebanon (BEY) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 15:35, Arrive 17:35, Flight Time 2 hours
Airbus A321, Registration TC-JRS, Manufactured 2011, Seat 5D
The inflight magazine was full of healthy new year tips. Who knew I should get a hair transplant and have ivf to have a miracle baby? I better get right on that…
I’m pretty sure my seatmate was dying of Ebola. Fortunately the middle seat was empty, but he curled up in a fetal position under a blanket in the window seat and started shaking violently. Ugh. He rang the flight attendant call button and asked for a doctor. He didn’t speak Turkish, and the flight attendants barely spoke English. Quote: “do you think you will die in the next one hour?” He answers no. “Ok, well there is no doctor. You will live until Istanbul.” Uhhh….yeah, I feel fantastic about this…
But hey, at least there’s Turkish’s best-in-industry economy catering:
I ate it, mostly to distract myself from my scary seatmate, and hoped that I would live to Istanbul…which I fortunately did, using hand sanitizer every five minutes or so. I even ate the sketchy potato salad. I figured I was likely going to get Ebola anyways.
Security was a snap in Istanbul, short wait, and I headed off to the lounge for a bit of down time. Despite nearly doubling in size the lounge was still absolutely packed. I’m convinced you can get into the Turkish Airlines lounges if you have a pulse…there’s no other way to explain how constantly packed they are. Enjoyed some baklava and turkish coffee, and then it was time to continue westward.
Off to the gate for the Frankfurt flight, which was now showing completely sold out on ExpertFlyer. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if I could switch from my middle seat to a bulkhead…or an exit row…or anything. Nope, flights completely sold out. Ugh. Start talking to another guy who has his United 1K card out in the boarding area, and we talk about how packed the flight is. He’s in a middle seat in coach too, so we agree it’s going to be a pretty lousy flight. Time to board, and I’m in front of him in line…
BEEP BEEP BEEP when I scan the boarding pass. Agent punches on the computer….operational upgrade to business! SCORE! United had rebooked me on a full-Y fare, and I guess that plus Star Alliance Gold was enough to move me up on a sold out flight. Score! Unfortunately my new friend wasn’t as lucky…sorry Charlie.
Turkish Airways flight 1597
Istanbul, Turkey (IST) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:45, Arrive 21:55, Flight Time 3:10
Airbus A321, Registration TC-JSH, Manufactured 2013, Seat 3B
Typical Turkish welcome aboard orange juice:
…and some turkish delight to go along with it:
Appetizer plate, cheese, and dessert…this would be a full meal on many other airlines!
Choice was fish or pasta, so I went with the pasta since fish on places scares me. It was pretty bland in a bit of butter/cheese/etc sauce, but I managed to eat a little of it. Not one of the better meals I’ve had on Turkish.
Landed on time in Frankfurt, and Lufthansa was fully in the swing of Christmas:
On the way home from my South Pacific part of the trip I’d stopped overnight in Frankfurt, and rather enjoyed the Le Meridien so I’d booked in there again. The check-in agent recognized me, and so I said “when you said you hoped to see me soon, I had no idea it would be THIS soon!” We both had a good laugh. This time I decided to take the junior suite in the historical wing which was nice, but had no temperature control at all…I opened the windows to cool things down, which seemed to do an adequate job. 10 minutes later, fruit and cheese and a bottle of wine showed up to the room. I like this hotel!
Now, to call United, and find a way home. It’s important to note it was 11p at this point, and I was on a 7a flight to Amsterdam currently with a 4 hour connection. That just wasn’t acceptable. We try every possible combination…he thinks he has me on Geneva…with an upgrade…which is funny because there are no seats to assign. It appeared they were overbooking it in business with the intent of upgrading some people in first. Yes please!
Unfortunately, he couldn’t get it to confirm, so it was back to the 7a to Amsterdam. Ugh. At this point, the wildcard came out: “as a loyal elite member you don’t deserve to be treated like this…let me see what I can do.” He put me on hold for nearly 30 minutes, checking back every few.
Before I knew it, he had me confirmed in a J seat on the nonstop Frankfurt to DC. Yeah, it was a middle seat, but it was three hours more sleep, and nonstop. I couldn’t thank him enough. The flight was J1 on expertflyer, so he’d managed to get me rebooked into the last business class seat on the plane. On a W fare with a global upgrade. This was to be the second time in 24 hours United agents went the extra mile for me. By the time I woke up the next morning I noticed it had somehow been switched from J to upgrade space, but whatever. I was on a nonstop!
…and yes, reflecting on this…maybe I should go for 1K next year…
Slept like a baby for a full 7 hours, Starbucks at the Frankfurt Hbf in the morning, and train to the airport. Straight through security and to the Lufthansa Senator lounge. My usual salami and cheese for breakfast, and soon it was time to board.
When I got to the gate, I asked the agent…I know two seats are open in first. If you upgrade anyone, or if there are any no-shows, could you please keep an eye out for a window or aisle seat for me? She was very happy to help…and after processing upgrades to first got me a window seat. Wow, fantastic service!
United Airlines flight 998
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 12:00, Arrive 15:05, Flight Time 9:05
Boeing 777, Registration N769UA, Manufactured 1995, Seat 9A
Today was a rare treat on United…Château Mouton Jeffschild…delicious!
Wow…and TWO pieces of salmon. United must be feeling rich these days. The salad seemed higher quality than usual too…something must be up…
…and the mushy veg and meat. In fairness, the steak was only cooked medium well today instead of hockey puck, so it was definitely a good day for United!
…I’m addicted to these sweet crackers with the soft cheeses.
Caramel, and cherries today. Just two cherries.
…and that marked the end of 7 very intense weeks of traveling. Over 70,400 miles by air, 12 new countries, and a heck of a lot of exhaustion. So much that I canceled my annual New Years trip and stayed home for the first time in 12 years. Final travel map from two points of view:
So, lessons from this trip? I had am amazing time, saw so many new places, and really got an insight into so many regions. I explored more of Australia’s big cities, tons of South Pacific islands from developed places with lots of resorts (Fiji) to smaller less populated places like Nauru and Kiribati. I dived and saw the 70% of the Earth covered by water in East Timor, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Samoa. I got an insight into perhaps the world’s biggest conflict in Israel and Palestine. I saw an amazingly vibrant place in Lebanon which seems to be the epicentre of all the regional skirmishes going on…but faces it with one giant party…and don’t forget nights in Frankfurt, Zurich, Seoul, Narita…it truly was a blessed trip.
25 countries to go…beginning VERY soon….. Lake Malawi, Lemurs, Stone Cities, Jambiyas, Qat…and Puttin’ on the RIX!