Feb 212017
 

Got to the check-in area, and the agents refused to let me stand at the counter while they checked me in. So I had to go have a seat, have some water, and wait while they do the check-in formalities. Bottled water, with a straw, on a tray, for the two minutes it takes to check you in for your flight.

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View of the check-in desk….with purple parasols in case the non-existent indoor rain or sun get to the agents…

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After being checked in, I was introduced to my personal porter. He insisted on wheeling my bags to the security counter, and from security to immigration. While completely unnecessary, it does make you feel like an ultra VIP.

Post-immigration it was to the escalator to the lounge….where he leaned over the side and said something I assumed translated as “get the buggy ready, Mr. Jason is coming!”

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My buggy to the lounge. Why a buggy if we were already in the lounge? Well, that’s because they drive you the entire length of the business class lounge so that everyone in there can see just how important you are…then out the door on the far side of the lounge, down the hall, and to the first class lounge!

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My lounge experience today, however, felt a bit off. After being checked in I was basically pointed into the lounge and that was it. No offer to take my drink order, no offer of spa services, anything. I finally found a lounge attendant, whose English skills were a bit of a struggle, and was able to confirm I would like a massage.

Eventually, it was all sorted, and there was no wait for a massage today, so a spa representative came and got me and escorted me to the lounge. They suggested I leave my bags right where they were (in the lounge? all alone?) and I agreed…figuring anyone who could be in the first class lounge wasn’t likely to steal from me.

Massage therapist was great, except for the fact she tried to hand me size medium pajamas for the massage. She insisted that was the only size they had, so who was I to question. I did manage to get them on despite being 6’4, and that’s when she realized how ridiculous I looked like a giant thai sausage. She did manage to then find a size large, which while still small was quite a bit better.

I went for the Thai massage over the oil massage, and I have to say it was quite a treat getting a full hour long massage in the lounge. She asked several times about the pressure, and although it was one of the more painful massages I’ve ever had it was amazingly therapeutic. She found some seriously nasty knots in my back and calves, and went to town stretching and working them out. It was amazing. Although it feels a bit awkward tipping on a complementary massage, as hard as she went to down she really put a lot of work into it, so I definitely felt like I should reward her with my remaining Baht.

When I got back to my little room in the Thai lounge, I was a bit hungry, so asked for some spicy pad thai and champagne. Seriously delicious.

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Unfortunately no mango and sticky rice today, but some Thai sweets were suggested instead. They were SUPER sweet.

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After eating I was told it was time to head for the plane, and I thought I would be getting another buggy ride or something. No, just an agent to walk me to the next gate while wheeling my bag for me.

Thai tries super hard with their ground service, but unless you’re the type who likes being fawned over and not having to lift a finger I feel it comes across as a bit awkward. It’s all very well-meaning, but a bit over the top. I feel like investing a bit in communication skills and understanding how to meet guest expectations would go a long way.

That said, I can’t imagine that would be easy. These are not highly-skilled workers in a knowledge economy, Thailand is still a developing country in many aspects, and I’m certain many of the lounge employees cannot fathom the world many of their customers live in with frequent international travel. No fault of the employees at all, who are all fantastic and friendly, merely an observation of what might take it to the next level.

Thai flight 606
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Thailand (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 16:00, Arrive 19:45 next day, Flight Time: 2:45
Boeing 747-400, Registration HS-TGY, Manufactured 1998, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 10,824
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,375,225

Warm welcome onboard, and a very quick offer of champagne. No mention of the brand this time, but pouring “the good stuff’ on the ground is great. I’m always puzzled by airlines too cheap to pay a few dollars of duty who pour much cheaper stuff on the ground.

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Macadamia nuts. Yum.

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Started with the same salad as the previous flight…which I didn’t mind a bit as it was once again seriously delicious.

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I let the awkward skewered prawn alone.

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“Chinese Fish Maw Soup” – it was more mushrooms than anything, and I thought a bit flavourless. Points for originality though!

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Absolutely phenomenal “braised beef shank in green curry” – although it could have used a bit more chili. Also, I don’t know what was with the roti instead of rice. Odd.

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Terrible cheese plate. Felt like the $1.99 special from WalMart.

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More super-sweet Thai deserts. I had a tiny taste of each, but wasn’t a fan. But, offered gold leaf for the second time today, I had to make sure to eat it…

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Overall, a solid product and flight. Thai is definitely a notch up from United and American, but they just lack the polish to complete with the world’s best. The flight attendants and ground service are great, but it’s the little things that are just missing. I don’t think it would take all that much for Thai to truly become world class, but it would require executives with vision who understand their customers. They don’t have to settle for “cheap luxury” – they could be truly world class if they want!

Next up, time for two nights in Hong Kong.

May 172016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So, what’s to eat on this flight?

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…and to drink?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Typical W bling on the pillows:

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

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Oversized washroom, with a double sink:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 302016
 

Holiday Inn shuttle dropped me back at the airport, and there was a rather long queue to check in, but fortunately nobody at all in the business class line. Quickly printed my boarding pass, gave me directions to the lounge, and it was off to immigration. Again, super long queue, but none in the priority line and was through to security in a couple of minutes. Immigration queue seemed to have relieved the security queue, and there was no wait. Walked through duty free, and had no trouble finding the lounge.

This is where things got weird.

Gave her my boarding pass, and was met with “Oh good evening Mr M, we have been expecting you. Right this way.” She walked me to the back corner of the lounge, there was a table already set up, and she made sure to mention “this is the coolest corner in the lounge, we have a nice table and beverages for you, and there is a power outlet right there.” Either someone in this lounge secretly reads my blog (and somehow knew I was traveling?) or some friend or colleague tipped them off. I have yet to find out who…

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Stayed right up until flight time, and the cookies were, btw, delicious.

British Airways flight 78
Accra, Ghana (ACC) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 22:40, Arrive 5:05 next day, Flight Time: 6:25
Boeing 747-400, Registration G-BNLF, Manufactured 1990, Seat 5K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 13,491
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,180,529

British Airways is funny, in that they don’t yet you choose your seat more than 24 hours in advance, even if you’re in business class, without paying for it. When I checked in at 24 hours, I noticed they were letting business class passengers choose the first class seats. A bit of research yielded that BA has just one old 747-400 left, and people get pissed if they pay for first and get these seats. So, instead, for the rest of its life BA condemned it to fly London-Accra (changed to Vancouver-Accra in February) and give away the first seats with business service.

I had to spend an hour with BA phone support to select the seat (something to do with being ticketed on an Iberia ticket), but soon was able to confirm in “first” seat 5K:

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Shot across the cabin…this actually kind of reminds me of the old 747 United first seats:

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Pre-departure champagne and really strange amenity kit:

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Power by emPower?! What is this 1998?!

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Shortly after takeoff, wine was offered with some nuts, and a very generous pour:

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Despite the late departure, a very nice dinner menu was on offer:

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To start the meal, another extremely generous pour…and who says the British aren’t drinkers…

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The salmon and salad were…acceptable. Roughly United standard in my book…but Archer made it much better…

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The chicken, unfortunately, was dry and flavourless. The jollof rice was a bit better, but…

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The pineapple tiramisu was nice, but more of a mousse with some pineapple sauce than really tiramisu.

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The cheese plate was…once again United quality…which doesn’t say much…

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Managed about four hours of sleep due to a comfortable seat. I should mention when I asked the flight attendant if she could please keep the cabin as cool as it was overnight and try and find me a second pillow, she was more than happy to do so. Also asked if she could wake me at the last possible second before landing, which she also did. The crew was really great on this flight, and really left me with a positive experience.

About 7-8 minutes before touchdown I was woken up, put on my glasses…and eventually stumbled extremely bleary-eyed out of the plane for my first T3 experience. Yes, fortunately, we hadn’t come into T5 today, and were in T3, so it made connecting to American easy. American actually has a nice transfers area when you arrive, and when I went up to the business class desk, she asked if I might like to take the earlier connection to Chicago. Originally, I had a nearly six hour connection (since that’s all that was bookable on the low fare) but this was great! She managed to get me an aisle seat, and I was off to the Admirals Club for a shower.

After a shower, I enjoyed a nice bacon sandwich for breakfast…along with a Diet Coke:

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Soon, it was time to board, a short walk from the gate. I vaguely remember T3 from the days United occupied it as well, but nothing looked at all familiar. Have things been remodeled?

American Airlines flight 87
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 8:40, Arrive 11:35, Flight Time: 8:55
Boeing 777-200, Registration N792AN, Manufactured 2000, Seat 12J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 17,444
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,184,482

Ewwww old slanty lie-flat seats, a 2-3-2 config? Even United doesn’t have slanty seats any more. Between BA and AA, so far I’m not impressed with transatlantic OneWorld business class. What I am impressed with, however, was the eight people occupying like 35 seats. Score!

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Lots of room:

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Sorry it’s blurry, but you get the idea. Transatlantic breakfast flights are always disappointing, and this one was no exception:

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Bubbles…just to see if American pulled the same plastic glass crap that United does. Answer is: yes.

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Taxi was past…Concorde!

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This was just a hot mess of a meal. I wanted something more than water, but not a cocktail, so settled on an old childhood standby: ginger ale and OJ. The flight attendant had never heard of it before, and honestly, it was the best part of this meal. The fruit was dry and flavourless, the biscuit was just plane dry, and the eggs? Yuck. The worst part, however, was the yogurt parfait slathered in whipped cream and artificial berry jam. I think I took four or five bits of the whole meal and gave it right back. Awful.

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At least the cheese plate was decent? I tried to get seconds, but were told there were “no more, that’s the last one.” Um, with only eight passengers, seriously?

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Slept another three solid hours since I hadn’t gotten much on the prior flight, watched some tv, and soon it was snack time. Diet coke and Jeff, I mean Oscar, I mean Hector’s famous split cashews:

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Nice little deli plate. Nothing outstanding, but solid. Much better than the breakfast, and a decent white wine to go with it:

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Soooo, then we land. Overall impressions: the flight was pretty good. I think had it been a full cabin I would have come away extremely unhappy. Seat wasn’t great, food was well below average, the crew was pretty average, it was just…meh for a transatlantic. That said, one flight doesn’t tell you much and I’ll certainly give American more chances to prove themselves going forward since I have Executive Platinum status for the year now.

Short walk to immigration in Chicago, and this is where the fun began. I hoped that having global entry might automate things, but one of the first questions to pop up was “Have you traveled to Guinea in the last 28 days?” Yes/No question, lying on Global Entry can get privileges revoked along with whatever other crimes they could charge you with, so I was honest and answered yes. This immediately spat out of the machine with no further questioning:

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There was a dedicated immigration agent helping Global Entry passengers, so I gave it to him and told him “I’m sure the X is because I was honest that I visited Guinea.” He said “wait, that Ebola thing? Isn’t that done? Let me check.” Tapped on his computer a bit. Called a supervisor over. Supervisor called someone on the phone, the made lots of notes, asked me how long I’d been there, what I was doing, where I’d gone, etc. I was honest that I was working on going to every country, and stayed in Guinea as short as possible to minimize risk, etc etc. He said ok, everything was documented, you’re good to go.

Walked through baggage claim, to the customs guy, gave him the receipt, and he said “oh, you’re the Ebola guy, I need you to go with these officers and speak to the CDC.” Uhhhh, ok? Got escorted to a desk near baggage claim with a bunch of CDC posters by it, and learned the Chicago was a designated Ebola quarantine station, one of a few airports in the US that had been designated to accept passengers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone at the height of the epidemic. My flights were on a different ticket so I likely would have arrived in the US undetected, but if you were coming direct from one of those countries a few months prior, you were only allowed to enter at certain points of entry, one of which (fortunately for me) was Chicago.

I was walked into a back office by CBP, who were extremely friendly and professional through the whole thing. They called the CDC agents on the phone to tell them to come in, and meanwhile, started filling out an online questionnaire. Typical things about fever, rural areas, funerals, unusual bleeding, playing with dead bodies, etc. At that point, I was given a gift from the government:

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Fortunately, my temp came in at 99.1, which was way higher than normal – probably due to the dehydration of a long flight. Fortunately, it wasn’t over their caution thresholds, and I was given the thermometer to keep “courtesy of your government.” Gee, thanks! Who says the government never gives you anything for free?!

I thought I was done at this point, but nope. Now, it was time to have a chat with the CDC people. Same exact questions about where I’d been, unusual fevers or bleeding, dead bodies, etc, and I think I got off a bit easily because they could tell I was clearly Ebola-aware as well as medically-aware, and ensured them I would immediately call county health officials and self-quarantine if I experienced any symptoms.

They seemed satisfied with that, and let me go, but not before giving me this card and insisting I carry it with me for the next 28 days. Great…now let’s just hope I don’t get knocked unconscious and start bleeding playing hockey, mkay?

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Since the great fare I’d gotten was Accra to Chicago, I had to buy a separate ticket from Chicago to DC. Decided on United, and fortunately was able to confirm an earlier flight online as well. But, this meant heading over to the B-Terminal, where there was as very joyous lady on the inter-terminal shuttle proclaiming her love for America:

Had to wait nearly 20 minutes for TSA PreCheck line, but other than that I still had plenty of time to hit Chilis for an El Presidente Platinum margarita and some Tex Mex eggrolls. Priorities, you know.

United Express flight 6469 operated by SkyWest
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 15:00, Arrive 17:55, Flight Time: 1:55
Embraer E-175, Registration N105SY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 4A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 18,056
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,185,094

United domestic first on an ERJ – nothing to write home about, but we were more or less on time, beverages were served (no snack basket today), and that was that. Another fantastic trip in the books. Thanks again to Daniel and Jordan for joining, trips like this are much more fun when you have others along to share the crazy with. I was supposed to have no more international travel until May after this trip, and really thought I didn’t when I landed in Chicago.

However, in the approximately two weeks since then, trips to Quito, Belize, and two weeks in Cape Town for work have all come on the books. Add to that a two week trip to check off Tuvalu (and burn American miles thanks to now being Exec Platinum and not having change fees), with stops along the way in Hong Kong, Fiji, Paris, London, and Abu Dhabi to try the Etihad Apartments, and this spring is suddenly quite packed!

Jul 182014
 

December 2004 – over 100 countries ago for me – was the first time I had the honour of experiencing the gracious service of Malaysian Airlines, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.  My first true premium international long-haul first class experience.  I was saddened a few months ago when MH370 disappeared, but today made me sad beyond words.  To see a company filled with such amazing and hospitable crew go through this, especially growing up with a family in the industry, has really saddened me.  Prayers with the families of all those lost today and on MH370.

It’s really been a confusing experience, because in all honesty I’ll always associate Malaysian with my entry into this world of unlimited extreme travel, and now it feels like for them….they’re about to enter a very challenging era.  Best wishes to the Malaysian Airlines family.

oz2005-031-jason new 747 oz2005-034-new mh first oz2005-038-satay oz2005-044-jason bed hippo oz2005-049-breakfast hippo oz2005-339-jason new mh first oz2005-352-satay

Dec 312013
 

Normally, I wouldn’t make too big of a deal of yet another transatlantic with Lufthansa. I’ve posted many, many reviews of it. However, see, this time I jinxed it. I kept promising another Lufthansa first report and…the upgrade didn’t clear. I was to be stuck with the commoners…in business! 😉 Anyways, scroll back to 4 in the ungodly morning when my alarm woke me from my slumber. Well, it didn’t so much wake me as it did annoy me – I’d strategically put the phone on the other side of the room so I’d get up as quickly as possible, since I’d only given myself 30 minutes to get out the door.

Check out was quick, I think there was a shower that I don’t remember, I know there was a can of Red Bull I don’t remember…and I was off. I’d booked the hotel car, figuring there was no telling what a taxi would be like at this hour. I should have stuck with the taxi. My driver insisted on doing his best Nascar impression, gunning it at 140-150 kph the entire way down the highway, all the while telling me about his side job as Serbia’s most famous iPhone repairman. I kid you not. I suspect he had a lot more Red Bull than I did.

Got to airport way early, and check-in and passport were a total non-event.  The agent harassed me about the weight of my carryon (around 12.5 kg) but eventually gave in as she wasn’t prepared to argue at this hour.

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…because EVERY airport needs a tree with Bambi!

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