Nov 242019
 


After a night of relatively poor sleep thanks to the rather warm hotel room and the first night of jetlag, I was up earlier than I really needed to be to start getting ready to continue my journey.

Today’s flight was at a rather reasonable 11:30, and Tunis airport is actually relatively easy to navigate, so I was hoping for a bit more in the sleep department, but that wasn’t happening.

Off to the hotel gym for a short workout to try and get rid of some of the jetlag and the previous day’s food-borne excesses, but the body wasn’t terribly interested in that so I admitted defeat and decided to head up to the executive lounge and see if breakfast was any better than the not-so-happy happy hour.

Overall, the breakfast wasn’t great, but it was reasonable. Fresh orange juice, plenty of breads and pastries, hard-boiled eggs, and a bit of cheese was more than enough to make a substantial breakfast.

One odd thing I noticed in the lounge, which I’d noticed in Accra, Ghana in an executive lounge just a couple months back, was a group of military contractors making lunches to go. In Ghana it was Americans, and in Tunis it was Dutch, but the MO was the same. Absolutely jacked guys with huge biceps making several sandwiches with sliced meats/protein (I think it was smoked salmon in Ghana?) and wrapping several of them in napkins to go. The lounge staff not only tolerated it, but accommodated with bags and boxes. I guess if you’re a long-term guest on an important contract?

Checked out, where my grumble about the non-working AC was met with indifference, and took the hotel shuttle back to the airport since I didn’t want to play two hours ahead to order a taxi which is roughly what’s needed in Tunis.

Check-in was very easy, although the agent was rather bemused by my routing, and the wait for immigration and security wasn’t awful (maybe 15 minutes for immigration and 5 for security) and I even had a bit of time to stop in the TunisAir lounge for a bit before heading to the gate.

The situation was grim, and the lounge was packed, so I just had a couple of glasses of water before giving up on the barely-functional WiFi and heading to the gate.

Wish I could have gotten a better shot of the special livery that would take me to Cairo today, but this will have to do: (if you want a better look, you can check it out on JetPhotos)

EgyptAir flight 844
Tunis, Tunisia (TUN) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
Depart 11:35, Arrive: 15:35, flight time: 3:00
Boeing 737-800, Registration SU-GEN, Manufactured 2017, Seat 9H
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 178,333
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,870,635

The only downside to getting a brand new EgyptAir 737-800 is that unlike the older ones they only have four rows of business class, and the seat pitch is more similar to US domestic flights. The older ones have six rows, with miles of seat pitch, and I’ve never seen them more than 1/3 full.

In contrast, today, every seat would be taken, but I was fortunate to be next to a very quiet and polite seatmate who I think only got up one time in the entire three hours. Can’t complain about that at all!

Welcome aboard TANG! If it’s good enough for astronauts, it’s good enough for me! Seriously though, the crew called it orange juice, but as a kid who grew up in the midwest in the 1970s, trust me I know Tang when I taste it. EgyptAir is still a dry airline, although there are rumours that if you BYOB crews are happy to pour it. I’ve never needed or wanted to try, however.

Lunch was served in two parts, with the first being some cheese (wrapped in plastic wrap), a couple of salads, and some chocolate cake (which was delicious actually!)

About 15 minutes later out came the trolley, where chicken, fish, or beef were offered. You’ll probably notice I wasn’t too adventurous with the salads…but the chicken was absolutely delicious. Moist, with a nice but not heavy sauce on it…and I don’t know how they made the rice but it was delicious. Seemed like normal white rice, but almost a milky consistency to it…is it possible to cook rice in milk?

Not too much to say about this flight. It went by rather quickly between lunch and watching tv on the iPad, and soon we were descending into Cairo, where I just realized I would likely have to change from EgyptAir and the bit older Terminal Three to Oman Air which was likely in the newly (a year or so?) refurbished Terminal Two. That should be interesting.

Signs in the terminal for transit were reasonably good, and soon I found myself at an EgyptAir transit desk…although since I wasn’t connecting to EgyptAir they couldn’t help me. Oman? Oman? Lots of talking in Arabic and I was lead to the “boss” in a side office who could help me “in maybe 15, 20 minutes.”

After five minutes, I decided this was nonsense, and went back to the same guy and tried the “I’m going to miss my flight!” If only I’d have known…I pushed, and pushed, and finally he said “ok, follow me.”

I was lead down the hallway and down some stairs to what seemed to be a waiting room for shuttles. Now we’re talking. The room was filled with what appeared to be Hajjis, many of them with prayer mats unrolled and praying, and I couldn’t imagine that they were going to Oman. I was told to “wait, wait.”

Soon, a big bus pulled up, and everyone bolted for the door…so I did too. The security guard at the door clearly knew what was up, and in my very limited Arabic I got “Oman, no!” from him. Did a bit of googling on the phone, and Cairo does have a Hajj terminal, so maybe this was that transfer? Either way, now it was just me and the security guy in the waiting room.

Then…this pulled up. LOL! At least they knew who they were dealing with!

The ride to Terminal 2 took all of 30 seconds (seriously, I could have walked it in under five minutes if they’d allowed me outside) and I thought the hard part was over. Oh no. The transfer van dumped me in the immigration hall, but the guy there had clearly seen this before and directed me to the elevator up one level…where there was an actual transfer desk.

They took my boarding passes and passport…and once again: wait, wait.

After about 10 minutes, another guy arrived who actually spoke a little English, and took my boarding passes and passport and said “I take you.” What followed next was a bit surreal. He walked me through passport control in the wrong direction, through security in the wrong direction, and to the check-in hall to Oman Air’s check-in desk.

Now, if you didn’t follow that, I was now outside security, and outside passport control, and inside Egypt without having cleared passport control. The check-in area was mobbed, but being business class he forced us to the front of the line, where a helpful agent managed to check me in and even change my seat at my request.

Back we went….through security (without clearing security) and through passport control (without clearing passport control) and I hoped….I would be dumped in the area with gates. Oh no….we were going back to the transfer desk….where the guy who needed to “clear” me and log my details was…on a smoke break.

About 15 minutes later, he did show up, finally sign off on me and my friend who had escorted me to check-in escorted me again…this time only outside security. He dropped me at security and said “ok, you go. maybe you have tip for me?” Bwahahah…you have to love Egpyt.

Also, in case you get lost at security, if you’re going to Moscow, there’s arrows on the floor. Is someone trying to tell me something?

Security wasn’t bad, and I even had 15 minutes for the lounge. Over the years I’ve developed a fondness for the terrible mini pizzas in the lounge in Cairo with olives…and every trip just as I’m leaving I realize there’s a microwave and they’re not intended to be eaten cold. One of these days I’ll get it right…

Got to the gate a little early, and realized this is also the terminal with a Starbucks in it. How could I of all people forget that! It was evening now and I was fading pretty badly, so a coffee would have been nice. Oh well, no time now since we were almost boarding.

Checking ExpertFlyer I noticed someone had taken the seat next to me, and there were still six empty, so I decided to ask the agent at the desk if he could move me. No problem at all, and please wait here, we are about to begin priority boarding…which shockingly was actually enforced!

Oman Air flight 406
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Muscat, Oman (MCT)
Depart 18:45, Arrive: 00:25 next day, flight time: 3:40
Airbus A330-300, Registration A4O-DZ, Manufactured 2013, Seat 15D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 180,048
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,872,350

I knew this was coming before boarded, but why must you taunt me so 2019? This flight was originally scheduled as a 737-800, so yes, a widebody is an upgrade, but why, oh why, must I for the THIRD time in 2019 be faced with these old Singapore Airlines A330 titling flat seats?

First time was on Norwegian (operated by Evelop!) where it was a huge upgrade from premium economy, and the seat next to me was the only empty one on the plane, so it was a giant win!

Second time was on Brussels when it was a redeye back from Ghana, which was a terrible, terrible seat. So bad that when I got their survey email I was scathing…and even got a phone call. Where they admitted they knew it was terrible, but oh sorry. We’re having fleet problems.

This time? Probably a win again. Empty seat next to me, and definitely better than a 737. Will there be a fourth time? (cue the foreshadowing music…)

Pre-takeoff juice was offered and I took the lemonade with mint, hot or cold towels (nice touch!) along with menu and socks. So far, from a service perspective, I was really impressed with Oman Air!

Tonight’s menu, with what looked to be a proper dinner. No alcohol listed on the menu, although according to a google they weren’t dry, so we would see what happened after takeoff….

Pre-departure date and arabic coffee. I love this touch. It really does feel welcoming.

I went with the chicken biryani, which was outstanding. I’ve had it on a few airlines now, and every time it was excellent. Sure, the meal was served all at once, but with three forks, three knives, and champagne….so how can you not be impressed by that, lol! I struggled to figure out what I might need three different knives for…

Even a glass of red wine with dessert, which was super tasty (both the dessert and the wine!)

The crew was fantastic, and while slightly awkward they were very warm and welcoming, proactive with drink refills, and overall I was very impressed. They managed to take a plane I wasn’t thrilled with and turn it into a really nice late night flight, and I was looking forward to my transit in Muscat and finally seeing the new terminal. The last time I was there Muscat was a horrid experience involving bus gates, temporary gates, and overall a mess.

First impressions in the arrivals area were good (although it was slightly warm) and the terminal seemed modern, welcoming, and had enough greenery to feel like there was “life” in it.

Security was needed for flights from Egypt (or maybe all flights?) but it only took a few minutes and soon I was searching for the lounge. Signage wasn’t great, but clearly I was the only one because this place was absolutely packed. Welcome to the lounge…from our 787 and from Sultan Qaboos!

It was a bit difficult figuring out where to get a drink, but the buffet was huge. I wasn’t took hungry so just got some cheese, fruits, and olives and finally found some champagne. (After at first mistaking the bubbles in the self-service area which were sparkling grape juice – ack!) I considered a glass of wine, but they were individual bottles of dubious quality, so I went with the safe bet!

Off to the gate, where I was curious to find out what had happened. Two days prior the flight only had three people in business class, and now all 30 seats were showing full on the seat map.

Getting to the gate, it soon became obvious. The flight had a group of well over 100 returning Indonesia Hajjis all with matching backpacks identifying them as a group, and the flight appeared to be very full.

I chatted up the friendly desk agent who was scanning boarding passes before letting people into the gate area, and she confirmed the flight was actually overbooked and they had upgraded 25 people from economy. Argh! Hopefully the configuration would be as it seemed online with window seats actually having aisle access, so it wouldn’t be a big deal….

Oman Air flight 849
Muscat, Oman (MCT) to Jakarta, Indonesia (CGK)
Depart 02:45, Arrive: 13:30, flight time: 7:45
Boeing 787-9, Registration A4O-SI, Manufactured 2019, Seat 11K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 183,899
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,876,201

On first impression, the configuration was exactly what I expected. The window seat was set just a little forward so both the aisle and window seat have aisle access. A very nice touch!

With the partitions down, you could see all the way across the cabin. When you put them up, as long as your seatmate wasn’t tall like me, it was pretty private. I put it up right away, and the flight attendants never asked me to put it down – even during taxi, takeoff, and landing.

What’s for noms on a 3am flight? Ok, we have a refreshment and à la carte, so I assume it’s eat what you want when you want.

Pre-departure juice was offered again, but I decided to ask if I could have champagne, and the excellent flight attendant was happy to help…bringing it along with some arabic coffee and dates. So far, I was loving this!

Shortly after takeoff mixed nuts were offered (with refill!) along with a glass of wine.

Then…I never saw the crew. For over 90 minutes. They didn’t even come to collect the nuts or the wine glass. This was getting a bit silly. I debated ringing the call button, but everyone else seemed to be asleep (except the occasional people running up from coach to be jealous of their upgraded friends) so I decided to walk to the front of the cabin to see if I could find flight attendants.

I found the helpful one who had helped me earlier, and asked him if I might at least get the refreshment. He snapped back rather nastily “I asked you, and you said no. I don’t think there is anymore.” I was floored…and went back to my seat. Clearly they’d served the front cabin and run out…so didn’t bother offering to row 5 (which is the only row in the second “mini” cabin). Just wow.

Yet, 10 minutes later, he appeared at my seat with this. I asked for a wine refill, and he grumpily replied. No clue what happened in the meantime, but pleasantness went from amazing to nasty pretty quickly.

Then, things went south. Literally 15 seconds after the food came we hit some pretty tubular turbulence and things went flying. Literally. The wine glass went at least several inches in the air during one particularly bad bump and came crashing down sideways, spilling wine all over my iPad and food. I managed to mop up a good deal of it, but to this day my iPad still smells like stale wine…

Despite all the wine-soaked napkins when the flight attendant finally came back he just took the tray and left. Sigh. Wonder who pissed in his hummus.

I decided to see if I could get some sleep, and did manage four hours or so, waking up just in time for lunch service – which was a formal service despite being advertised as à la carte. Go figure. Orders were taking, and lunch was done by the same flight attendant – who was back in a good mood again. Go figure.

Amuse bouche of pistachio and parmesan scallops with pineapple relish. Much tastier than I expected.

I went with the mezze as an appetizer, and it was good, but not great.

Braised kingfish and scallops in coconut and coriander sauce. This was pretty good. It could have been a bit more flavourful, but overall I was happy with it – and it was a bit of a lighter option.

For desert, I went with the cheese plate, which overall I was impressed with…and you can’t have cheese without wine! This was definitely above average for cheese plates, so a solid choice.

Carnage from the night before. I wasn’t kidding when I said the wine went flying:

Overall, I was really happy with this trip, especially given the price paid. The seats on the Oman Air 787-9 are fantastic, and allow you to have both a window and aisle, so it’s now one of my favourite business products – only thing I like better is 1-2-1 – which United and Air Canada both do quite well!

Time to enjoy my time in Indonesia!!


Nov 232019
 


So, you already think I’m insane. I get that, and I proudly own it. So, while I’m at it, let me reinforce it. This trip had been (unusually for me lately) booked several months ahead of time. Three weeks prior, I was in Switzerland for work, and some issues arose which necessitated an urgent trip back.

I looked at changing my vacation ticket to just go DC-Geneva a few days earlier with a layover, but due to the craziness of change fees and one-way fares it was actually a better deal to book the roundtrip to Geneva and then…um…

Yeah, I got home from Geneva on Friday afternoon. Turned right around Saturday night…back to Geneva.

Ok, yeah, moving right along….every great trip begins with…well, scratch that, not DC Metrorail, but it’s always fun to document the first leg of the trip!

Nothing interesting until I got to the United Club, where the same bartender as four days prior was working. He was like “I remember! Back from Switzerland so soon? Where to now?” Probably should have said Chicago or something so I didn’t reinforce the perception I’m crazy. Or maybe it scored me pity points…because somehow my (non free United Club plonk) wine magically refilled without asking…

You need something to wash down what passes for snacks in the Dulles United Club these days. United brags about the Polaris lounges, while in DC we get the big middle finger…not even a couple of premium drink coupons. Not feeling the love.

Soon enough it was time to board, and I was glad I’d made an effort to get to the gate for the start of boarding. It was clear this was a very heavy infrequent traveller flight, and Group 1 was being swarmed by people on the “trip of a lifetime.” Given that 767s are a little short on overhead space to begin with, I was glad to not have to fight for it.

After boarding and listening to chatter, it was evident it was a large group from DC going to Europe for a package tour. Hopefully that wouldn’t mean lots of excited chatter all night long…

United flight 974
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Geneva, Switzerland (GVA)
Depart 17:30, Arrive: 06:25 next day, flight time: 7:55
Boeing 767-300, Registration N651UA , Manufactured 1992, Seat 9A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 175,829
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,868,417

After going 19 for 20 in not getting United Polaris reconfigured 767s this year so far, I finally lucked out! Given that nearly 60% of the fleet is reconfigured, I’d had some seriously bad luck up until now!

One of the best things about flying at this time of year is that transatlantic flights leave right around dusk, so you tend to get some amazing sunsets as you break through the clouds. Tonight was one of the best!

As usual on United things began with some very salty mixed nuts…and for me a glass of wine.

Tonight featured a spinach salad that was much better than the normal salads out of Dulles lately, but unfortunately it also featured the extravagant two shrimp appetizer. Ugh. But there was a pretzel roll and garlic bread, so all was not lost!

This meal has been around on and off for over a year now, but I always smile a bit when it’s on the menu. I think the spicy chicken is the best meal United has going, even if I do manage to splash the broth on my shirt every single time! (This time being no exception.)

As usual, cheese and a sundae for dessert. The cheese was much better than average, and the sundae was…well…a sundae. In my quest to be healthier this is really a course that needs to be eliminated from my indulgence entirely.

Fortunately, I managed nearly four hours of sleep, which is a transatlantic record for me lately. For years I had no trouble passing out for 5-6 hours on most flights, but that was also when I would take 10pm flights out of DC and it was a more normal time to sleep. With the 5pm flights they tend to land at around midnight or 1am DC time, so I’d much rather book another night of hotel and take a 4-5 hour nap upon landing. Unfortunately, with connections this trip, that wasn’t an option, so I was glad to get some rest!

Speaking of healthy, I just asked for a Diet Coke. The lovely crew insisted that I needed a cinnamon bun as well. This was also the best crew I’d had out of Dulles in ages, and it’s amazing what a difference it makes when the crew enjoys their jobs!

I had a few hours to kill in Geneva, and since I had to go through immigration anyways (since my next flight was “domestic” to Frankfurt) I figured I might as well leave security as well. And get coffee. For science. To prove Starbucks in Geneva tastes the same. As it did 40 hours prior. LOL.

Back through security where there was absolutely no line, and I’ve been through Geneva so much this year that I know all the little nuances that can make security more of an experience (keep your phone til the last minute, don’t put it in a bin – they’ll need to scan your boarding pass before your bags go in, etc.) and even had a little time for the lounge.

I was starting to feel the jetlag a bit (that heavy airline meal and alcohol probably didn’t help) so stocked up on lots of water in the lounge and some orange juice to keep the blood sugars happy. Then, it was off to the gate, where of course things were running a little late due to some fog as crew stuck in traffic…which is odd because you would think this crew would just be a turnaround from Frankfurt….

Lufthansa flight 1213, op. by Lufthansa Cityline
Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 08:50, Arrive: 10:05, flight time: 1:15
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration D-AECH , Manufactured 2010, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 176,115
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,868,703

Shortly before takeoff the fog in Geneva turned to an absolute torrential downpour, but that apparently didn’t have too much impact as we had little wait for takeoff and soon shot into the skies.

Despite flight time only being 55 minutes there was a meal served. Often Lufthansa serves a small plated snack even on flights this short, but today it was just a packaged half-sandwich and a small snack bar. I had a few bites, but wasn’t hungry enough that I bothered with the rest – it was unremarkable.

The best part of taking off in a downpour for a short-ish flight and a small-ish storm is that occasionally, on descent, you get amazing rainbows. Today was extra-awesome descending into Frankfurt:

Fortunately, my flight today was leaving from the B Terminal at Frankfurt, but we arrived at the very end of the A Terminal which meant a rather lengthy walk to get there.

I was rewarded, however, by a nearly empty Lufthansa First Lounge in Terminal B, which meant that I could have a shower and relax with a glass of champagne before considering lunch.

A bit after noon I decided I was hungry enough to wander over to the dining area for lunch. I still wasn’t really hungry, and definitely didn’t need much, but as one tends to do when offered the delights of the Lufthansa First Class Lounge I threw caution to the wind and ordered the wienerschnitzel. Along with the potato salad, it was delicious as always.

…and a second failure at behaving. Because: apfel struedel! Yum!

Time passed (less than I should probably admit) and while doing some work and waiting for my life to board I decided that it would be a shame to let the Lufthansa First whiskey selection go to waste, and had just one class…ok, and maybe a berry tart to go along with it…

Finally off to the gate, where it was time to board what appeared to be a very packed A320 to Tunis. Quick look at ExpertFlyer confirmed the flight was still J1, and it appeared the only empty seat in “business class” was in my row…could I be this lucky yet again?

Lufthansa flight 1324
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN)
Depart 14:55, Arrive: 17:10, flight time: 2:15
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIZY , Manufactured 2013, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 177,029
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,869,331

When the door closed on a very full flight with one empty seat (plus the middles in “business” of course) the one empty was indeed 1A in my row. I slid over after the door close and had the entire row to myself. This is living! If you have to fly EuroBusiness, having the whole row at least makes it much nicer!

Despite the short flight, a full linner service was offered, with multiple choices of main course. I obviously wasn’t very hungry, but accepted in the name of being able to take a picture for everyone…you’re welcome.

Of course, I ate way more than I needed to, but hey…that’s what happens. Side note: I’ve never liked gravy or sauces on my beef or veal, so why is it when there’s Spätzle it suddenly becomes magical? I mean, Spätzle and burrata? How can you say no!

Flight was pretty quick, and there was absolutely no queue at immigration when we arrived in Tunis, so it was a pretty painless process. Except the immigration guy who insisted on using his 10 words of English on me instead of speaking French. I couldn’t tell if he was just proud of his limited English, it was an “anti-colonialist” thing re: French, or what…but it was quite annoying, and made what could have been a 30 second transaction several minutes. Oh well.

Fortunately, I’d decided in advance I didn’t want to deal with the often-annoying Tunis taxi mafia so I’d asked the Sheraton to meet me with their shuttle. It’s probably twice the price a taxi can be negotiated for, and you have to wait for everyone on your flight to disembark so they can fill the shuttle, but…today it was definitely worth it.

If you remember my last visit to this Sheraton, it’s the home of some pretty disturbing artwork. The artwork had changed in the past few months, but not for the less-weird:

Fortunately, I’d had plenty to eat on the plane since the evening snacks in the executive lounge at the Sheraton weren’t worth the calories, but around 8pm I was hungry enough I wandered down to the lobby lounge for a small dinner snack.

My last time, the lounge had been absolutely packed with football fans watching a Tunisia game, but this night I was one of only two people there! Not sure if it was because it was a sunday night or not, but the hotel was actually sold out so there were definitely people around. Everyone must be eating room service.

They do do fairly reasonable “mini sliders” (aren’t sliders mini by definition?) at the lobby lounge, and that with a local Celtia beer to wash it down made the perfect end to a very long 24 hours of travel. I better get used to it, because the next day would be just as long!

Back to my room, where sleep was hard to come by. First reason? The room temp was 75F (23C) because the air conditioning in the hotel was turned off. Why? “The guests complain that it is too cold in the hotel.) WTF, it was 85F during the day, and if you think it’s too cold don’t turn it on in your room? (Haven’t you all missed my AC rants recently? Side note: checking out the next morning I mentioned it to the staff, and the other guy checking out was like “yeah, I have to sleep with the windows open for it to be tolerable.)

Other reason it was hard to sleep? The disorderliness of the pictures on the wall really bothered me…. only half kidding…

With that said, the first long segment of the trip was over, and it was time to sleep. Tomorrow will be another very long day!


Nov 222019
 


I have a confession. See, I have a bit of a problem. I have a hard time booking a “normal” trip, even why I try. The closest I came was booking a week long trip to Germany earlier this year…but even then I hopped around to like five different cities.

Right, back in the spring a travel friend casually says to me “hey, I got this great mistake fare into KL and out of Beijing. It’s only three nights, but feel free to join if you want.

Well, the fare was economy, so hell to the no, but then…I started playing. Nothing exciting with awards, but found a couple of very interesting fares that would get me TO Asia in the general neighbourhood of KL and back to North America not terribly far from home.

At this point…my trip was 8 days on the ground/10 nights while his was 3 and 5.

Seeing we were going to be in KL, was it really much of a detour to go to Bangkok for dinner at Gaggan before it closed? Convinced the friend, so that detour was made.

Then, I could have just bought a simple Toronto to DC ticket and been home in 8 days. But why would someone fly home on a Wednesday when for two more vacation days they could have four more days on the road? I starting thinking about side-trips from Toronto.

Somehow, my two-year desire to finally drive the new road in Arctic Canada from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk won out…because that made sense. At this point…I was up to 18 days. Oops. Remember: this was all started by a friend taking a five day trip.

I need better friends.

So, how did this thing end up looking?

Right, as I said, I have a problem.

Trip’s over, so I’m to start cranking this one out. I think I’m going to do something new and leave the actual parts a surprise until they’re ready, but always give a tease preview. Like this:

That should get you sufficiently convinced I’m insane. You say insane, I say AvGeek. Potato, Poh-tah-toe.

Sit back, grab your popcorn and a PDB, because here. we. GO!


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!