May 292018
 


After a few more long and successful days of work and meetings, it was back to OR Tambo to finally head home after being away for three weeks. I had checked in online, so headed straight to security (which oddly enough had zero lines at all) and then through to passport control, which also had no lines. This means that less than 15 minutes after getting off the Gautrain, I was back in the South African Airways Lounge. Walking up to the counter to get a drink, the bartender quickly recognized me:

“My boss! Long time! Go sit down, I will bring you the usual at your usual place!” Yeah, so maybe I need to be spending less time in Johannesburg for the near future…

Apparently I looked thirsty, because I’d barely taken a sip when 10 minutes later he returned with another glass. Did I mention how I love the service in this lounge?

Off to the gate after a short bit, and my chariot was waiting for the ride to Frankfurt:

Boarding was the usual Johannesburg mess, with rather rude helpers roaming the boarding area demanding to see passports. Knowing the game, I loitered near the front of the queue, and when the boarding agent got flustered with the first few passengers another came right over and started a second line, and I think I might have been the first to board…

Lufthansa flight 573
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:00, Arrive: 05:35 next day, flight time: 10:35
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYR, Manufactured 2015, Seat 8D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 42,315
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,562,377

I rather like the 2-2-2 configuration on the Lufthansa 747-8i, and no it’s not all aisle access, but the seats in the middle section have a ton of space. Sitting in the window seats is definitely cuddle class. Yuck. 2005 called, it wants its seats back.

Pre-departures were offered, and I accepted a glass of the (warm) sparking wine. It got two sips and that was it. Ugh.

As soon as the door closed I was praising myself for my cunning stalking of the seatmap, and one of the few empty seats in business class was next to me…until the flight attendants brought up a friend from coach and sat her next to me. Ugh. Lufthansa was not doing a good job this flight of living up to their regular high performance. To top if off, “friend” immediately removed her shoes and socks and put her bare feet up in the shared foot area. Ugh. I expect better than this from Lufthansa…

At least the menu looked interesting:

Glass of wine and some nuts to start. I’m so glad Lufthansa finally got rid of the packaged nuts. As a bonus, the flight attendant working my section recognized me from the elevator at the hotel in the morning, where we traded good mornings as I was headed down to Starbucks and he was headed down to the end. Staying in the crew hotel has its benefits…and I got great service the rest of the flight 😀

The duck and pineapple starter was really tasty, but way too small… Of course, United considers two skewered prawns an appetizer, so…

The salad and the main were served together, and both were quite tasty. The beef goulash was also a nice non-traditional choice and a welcome change from the usual chicken or beef madness.

Wow, a business class salad with more than three ingredients. One of the better business class salads I’ve seen in a long time!

Above average business class cheese plate (but sadly no fig spread), and a delicious chocolate cake to finish off the meal.

I wasn’t really that tired, and stayed awake pretty much the whole flight watching tv. Around the middle of the night, I also started to lose all feeling in my right hand. Thinking I had just leaned on it weirdly I got up to walk around a bit, and it didn’t get any better. I stood up and chatted with the flight attendants a bit, and let them know…but the numbness didn’t seem to be spreading so I wasn’t too concerned. This is probably also a good place to mention I’d been dealing with a few (what I thought were) mosquito bites for a few days that had gotten progressively itchier. Fortunately, it never got any worse, but this wasn’t a good sign. (When I got home, medical geniuses decided it must be “some sort of spider or something that bit you in the middle of the night” – wonderful. Fortunately a month later, numbness is finally gone.)

Now, having not died in the middle of the night – or forced a medical emergency landing in Niger (seriously, they probably would have kept going, because, let’s be honest…), it was finally time for breakfast. Despite being dark out, nearly two hours before landing (mind you, 3:30am – no time change) they turned on all the cabin lights and brought round breakfast.

The omelette came with super tasty grilled bacon (though almost tasted more like a pork cutlet) and some cheese and fruit. Overall a rather impressive breakfast!

We landed about 15 minutes early, no line at all at at immigration, so I decided a proper sleep would help, so I headed to my semi-regular haunt the airport Sheraton to get four solid hours of sleep. I had just under six hours between flights, and that was way too long to sit in the lounge, and I figured 3.5 to 4 hours in a bed would make me feel human for the flight home.

Crashed as soon as I hit the bed, got four solid hours, and was worth every cent. Off to immigration and security which had zero line, and I actually had time for 20 minutes in the lounge on the way to the gate. Could have slept more, but had no way to know there would be no lines. Right, on to the flight.

United flight 961
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 11:20, Arrive: 14:00, flight time: 8:40
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration N2331U, Manufactured 2016, Seat 1L
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 46,185
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,566,247

I’d booked this routing largely to finally try the new United Polaris seats, and decide if this was enough to finally give United a try. Well, they weren’t doing themselves any favours with terrible pre-departure sparkling wine in plastic cups:

‘MURICA sized seatbelts, perfect for someone with a 50-60 inch waist:

We taxied past the new Lufthansa livery…I don’t hate it as much as others do, but think it was a giant waste of branding budget.

The Polaris “wine flights” had gone away two days prior, but they still had the mini glasses, and the excellent flight attendant was more than happy to pour me all three to taste:

Above average salad (I’m always a sucker for a greek salad), and extremely sad appetizer. One sad wilted basil leaf, two slices of underripe tomato , a glop of gelatinous balsamic, and some mozzarella. The mozzarella was good at least…the rest was embarrassing.

I went with the short rib, knowing it would be essentially the same short rib from the last five years. It was, although very overcooked today.

At least dessert was awesome, partly because they had butterscotch for the rock hard ice cream today, and the macarons? Well, they were incredibly stale 🙁

Rather sad cheese plate, but because I’m a sucker for all the varieties they had, I’ll give that a pass!

At this point, the internet STILL wasn’t working, so finally the purser offered me compensation and an apology. The crew was absolutely fantastic on this flight, and really apologetic, but the frequency with which United has problems even on new planes is embarrassing. Nope, I’ll continue to book away from them whenever possible. To add insult to injury, the new compensation offers are laughable and insulting. As a 1K only $75 travel voucher or 3,500 miles? Just insulting for eight hours of missed work time.

Pre-arrival “deli plate” was not bad, and a nice lighter option. There was also a heavier-sounding option of a sandwich, but honestly this wasn’t bad. Though, the silly pre-packaged polaris chocolates are a sad excuse for a dessert.

We landed at Newark slightly early, and pulled into a gate in the B Terminal. It seems like United has been using the B Gates for international arrivals lately, and I assume this is to relieve overcrowding in the C Customs Hall? Anyone have more insight into this?

This was my first entry to the US since getting my Global Entry reinstated on appeal after a rogue agent revoked it, and I was curious to see how it would go. Couldn’t have gone better, nice and quick, and I was literally plane to landside in 10 minutes. Score!

Of course, this meant waiting for the airtrain to Terminal C, and then dealing with Terminal C security, which took 40 minutes even in the TSA PreCheck line. sEWaRk indeed – what a disgrace. Shame this airport and LaGuardia represent our great nation.

United flight 1743
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 16:00, Arrive: 17:19, flight time: 1:19
Boeing 737-700, Registration N54711, Manufactured 1998, Seat 2E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 46,384
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,566,446

The Port Authority, however, appears to be making me into a national hero. Armed with my cell phone, eyes, and ears I shall protect America’s airports!

Oh wait, never mind, apparently that’s Jason’s job, and I’m just Mason.

With that, it was a super nice treat to get a 737 from Newark to Washington National. Back around 2005 this used to be the norm on this route for Continental, but ever since the merger it’s been an endless stream of ERJ-145s with the occasional ERJ-170 thrown in for good measure. So this was a pleasant treat, and a really nice way to end what was a really nice trip.!

Now, with that, I have no travel booked for 4.5 weeks…and I can’t imagine that will last so….stay tuned!!

May 182018
 


After a nice rest, and waking up with Starbucks at Geneva Airport, it was time to find the SWISS First Lounge. I’d done some online searching, and people on Flyertalk generally seemed pretty unhappy with priority security at GVA as well as the lounge. I decided to leave myself about 90 minutes of lounge time to make my own assessment.

Premium security was pretty quick, and waited maybe five minutes in line. Super efficient. The lounge wasn’t very hard to find, and when I offered my F boarding pass from Frankfurt to Johannesburg the agent directed me through the magic door on the left to the F lounge. Now, maybe it’s not the biggest most impressive lounge in the world…but I had the entire place all to myself! How can you not like that?

I liked the decor – not at all crowded, but not a big fan of the chairs. Just found them a little awkward to sit in and the cushions a little too big and firm. I know, first world problems. Did I mention I had the whole place to myself for the entire 90 minutes?

Plus, the buffet had a really nice cheese setup!

Oh, and macarons! I didn’t try any of the other sweets, but one of the downsides of an empty lounge is you know the food isn’t turning over often and isn’t really the freshest.

The macarons weren’t the freshest, but didn’t stop me from sampling a few while I waited…

After a perfectly nice stay in the lounge (only complaint? it was too warm, but that’s just my personal pet peeve almost everywhere in Europe) it was off to the gates. Boarding was delayed about 15 minutes, but we had a great few of other planes and the mountains in the background while we waited. It’s really hard not to like Switzerland…

Boarding was a complete scrum, but despite boarding 15 minutes late we pushed back only five minutes late. Not too bad at all for a completely full flight…except for the other seat in my row! One empty seat on the plane, and it’s next to me once again. Definitely having some good luck on this trip so far.

Lufthansa flight 1223
Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 17:55, Arrive 19:10, Flight Time: 1:15
Airbus A319, Registration D-AILL, Manufactured 1997, Seat 4F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 29,921
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,549,983

Did I mention it was a gorgeous day and we had an amazing view of Lake Geneva, the mountains, and the airport as we did a 180 right after takeoff?

Yes, 55 minute flight and they served a rather substantial snack. As someone who loves sour cherries, and cheese…esp cheese with fig compote…it was definitely a great snack…and I had to try really hard not to ruin my appetite for the upcoming stop at the Lufthansa First Lounge and flight.

Landed right on time and…we ended up at a remote stand. I saw the driver next to the plane, and he didn’t have any names, but I hoped…and yup, he was there for me! I’ll never complain about a remote stand when I have my own driver!

Given the driver could only take me to the main airport and not the First Class Terminal (boo!) I opted for the B terminal, knowing that would also eventually guarantee me a ride to my plane which was departing from the Z gates. It would be a semi-short visit to the lounge today, so I headed straight to the dining room for some Schnitzel and champagne! Layovers are so trying when you get served a dinner like this…

…and I think Lufthansa must seriously be stalking one of my social media accounts. As I was eating, the lounge attendant came up to me and said “Herr Mayfield, I thought you might want a duck?” Haha, I’m not sure if I find it creepy or thoughtful….who am I kidding, definitely thoughtful!

After a quick shower, I settled in to watch a little tv until the flight…given the programming, a drink was definitely in order. With over 100+ different scotches/whiskeys to try, it’s going to require many more trips through Frankfurt to make a dent in Lufthansa’s offerings!

Off to the plane we go…Porsche tonight.

Rain or not, there’s always something magical pulling up next to the plane in a Porsche and walking aboard like you’re a VIP. No matter how many times I do it, it never gets old!

Only two passengers tonight, which was a bit strange as I’ve found this in the past to be one of the hardest routes for business to first upgrades. Chatted a bit with the other passenger, as well as the flight attendant serving first, and everyone agreed it was an unusually light load. Not going to complain, though!

Lufthansa flight 572
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:05, Arrive 8:30 next day, Flight Time: 10:25
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYH, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 35,301
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,555,363

Let’s see, what’s for dinner tonight…I mean, not that I need dinner after the lounge

One thing I like about the length of the Johannesburg flight is it’s long enough to get a good sleep in…and

Like the transfer, it never gets old. Welcome aboard macadamia nuts, champagne, and a simple rose…

I’ll start off by apologizing for the dark pics…I find it much harder with the iPhone taking pictures in a dark cabin. Any tips are, of course, very welcome! Amuse bouche of salmon, creme, and some fig spread….wasn’t a huge fan.

Starters from left to right….the asian beef was super tasty, and just the right combo of flavours and textures. The goat cheese with bell pepper and olive was alright but nothing special. I generally avoid shellfish on planes (except maybe lobster!) but the scallop was surprisingly tasty, and perfectly cooked.

Sad was uninspired, and very surprisingly for Lufthansa several of the leaves were wilted and browning. Unusual for Lufthansa (and the crew) to miss something like this.

As the other passenger chose to sleep, the question wasn’t “do you want” caviar, but “how much do you want” – decided to start with a quarter of the tin, which was already a pretty generous portion!

…followed by another quarter of the tin. I may have a problem.

Very rarely do I do the fist option on planes, but when it’s monkfish I cant resist. I was cooked really well, and lighter than a beef dish would have been. Overall it was really tasty and a good choice.

Oh Lufthansa with your amazing cheese cart and sweet biscuits…there are not words enough to describe how fond of you I am!

Raspberry and yogurt cake with pistachio ice cream…not only was the presentation amazing, it tasted fantastic. Plus, I love pistachio ice cream, so it was extra amazing!

…and as is my custom with overnight Lufthansa first flights a couple of pralines and some Johnny Walker Blue to nod off.

Crew kept the cabin nice and cold at my request (after making sure the other passenger didn’t mind) and I crashed….hard. So hard that my request to not wake me up should I be sleeping had to be honoured, and I was woken up 15 minutes from landing after a solid 7+ hours of sleep. Probably one of the best in-flight sleeps I’ve every had, and a wonderful end to another great flight.

Now, time to hope the immigration line isn’t too long, and spend a couple of days resting and recovering before getting down to work!

May 182017
 

So, a lot of this post is likely going to seem a bit familiar since I did this exact same route just four weeks prior. That trip, however, wasn’t the best Lufthansa First has to offer (at least in the air) although it was still a great trip. I was curious to see how this one would compare…and would it satisfy my craving for Lufthansa First for a while.

Rather than get up early, I had a bit of a revelation the night before. Why get up, shower, dress, get sweaty walking to the First Class Terminal when you can just roll out of bed, throw on anything, and walk there and shower…thus gaining nearly 30 minutes of FCT time? That was settled, so all that was needed was to roll out of bed and across the street to Starbucks, have a quick iced coffee, check out, and walk to perhaps my favourite airport terminal in the world. 10 minute walk from the Sheraton, and I was…”home:”

IMG_4154

I don’t think anyone (except maybe me and a few frequent flier nerds) actually walks to the terminal’s lower level entrance, and most get dropped off 0n the “departures” level of the terminal/airport one level up. But, for the few of us who do, Lufthansa has the entrance well-signed:

IMG_4155

Took the lift up, quick check-in and when the agent saw my name he seemed to have a flicker of recognition. He still asked if I’d ever been to the terminal before, and when I said yes he escorted me through security, told me to make myself comfortable, and he would be right back.

I’d heard rumour that the limited edition Easter ducks were long gone at this point, and when he came back five minutes later with my boarding pass, he told me “we’ve been expecting you, and we saved you a special Easter duck knowing you would want one for your collection for sure!” Now if that isn’t service, I don’t know what is…

IMG_4156

I was pretty hungry by this point, so I joined the duck for a breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice and some eggs benedict…which was delicious. Not just “airport good” but honestly one of the best eggs benedict that I’ve had anywhere in the world.

IMG_4157

Still not quite full, I decided to be healthy with some of their more “exotic” fruits on the buffet, and had some dragonfruit, mango, and pomegranate…which I promptly offset with a couple of viennoiseries….

IMG_4158

I was offered more water, and while Voss may be good enough for Madonna, I requested some Valser still this time. Why? Because with the First Class Terminal’s water menu…that’s your prerogative!

IMG_4160

After breakfast had a nice long shower and just took some time to relax. Sitting around in lounges gets old quickly, so was nice to use up my time this morning productively before it was time to head to the plane. I was the only one in the terminal headed to Chicago today, so the Porsche to the plane was all mine:

IMG_4161

Long ride around the airport today, which ended with a nice picture of my rides:

IMG_4162

It’s always great being the only one to walk from a car to the plane, and see the looks you get from your fellow passengers when boarding 😉

Lufthansa flight 430
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 12:45, Flight Time: 9:00
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYP, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,043
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,417,020

Upon boarding champagne was quickly offered, and perfection awaited. Special treat today: 1998 Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs. Don’t get me wrong, I love airlines that pour Krug and Dom, but there’s something extra thoughtful about pouring a slightly more obscure high end champagne. The Sir Winston Churchill on Asiana was memorable, and this Henriot was also a delicious surprise.

IMG_4164

Pre-departure amuse bouche of chevre with mandarin…and if I remember right a roasted red pepper sauce.

IMG_4172

Up in the air, the table was set, and the usual stellar Lufthansa service provided. I must have smiled because upon commenting it’s always nice to see the garlic bread and caviar…

IMG_4174

…they made sure to offer an extra-generous portion of caviar today.

IMG_4175

Trio of starters: marinated tenderloin of veal with lingonberries, smoked rainbow trout with purple potato salad, and leipziger allelei vegetable salad. The salad was underwhelming, but the other two were fantastic.

IMG_4177

Spring onion soup with parmesan cheese and croutons – surprisingly flavourful and tasty!

IMG_4178/>

Time for the main event – decided to go with the fish option today, and the “monkfish in pommery mustard sauce with ginger cucumber and parsley potatoes” was absolutely amazing. I could have done without the potatoes, but the monkfish was delicious.

IMG_4179

Here comes the cheese and dessert cart. I don’t think anyone does cheese like Lufthansa.

IMG_4181

Nice selection, with some sweet biscuits. Fantastic.

IMG_4186

How could I resist finishing with an apple strudel and some Johnny Walker Blue?

IMG_4187

Ok, one more if you insist…

IMG_4189

Somehow, I wasn’t tired after all this food, so opted for a double espresso and a couple of movies.

IMG_4193

After about five hours of movies, it was time for a pre-landing snack. I was recommended the seafood soup with crawfish tails and chilis and the Spanish meat and cheese plate. Went great with another glass of the delicious Henriot and some pretzel bread.

IMG_4194

Quince jelly and my favourite – manchego cheese. Yum.

IMG_4195

A couple of scoops of cassis sorbet and another glass of Henriot to finish off an absolutely delightful flight.

IMG_4196

They wouldn’t let me finish without a couple of chocolates for the road.

IMG_4197

All in all, another fantastic flight with Lufthansa that lives up to my expectations as my favourite first class product in the world. It’s not the most private seat, it’s not the most exotic food, it’s not necessarily “big name” champagne, but what it is – to me – is solid in every respect. I know what I’m going to get, and I don’t have to wonder if the crew will be good, or what could go wrong today. So, instead of having my Lufthansa fix for a bit, you can believe that I’m looking for another opportunity soon to enjoy it. If I’m lucky, it’ll happen this week…

Immigration and customs were a non-event in Chicago with Global Entry, and I was off to Starbucks to try and wake myself up. Seriously America, I leave you alone for a week and you come up with Unicorn Frappucinos? I weep for the future.

IMG_4198

I stopped by the United Club. I don’t know why. It was depressing. Hot, crowded, and felt like a high school cafeteria. I think I might have lasted five minutes before leaving.

United flight 622
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 15:00, Arrive 17:55, Flight Time: 1:55
Airbus A320, Registration N432UA, Manufactured 1996, Seat 2E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,655
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,418,532

Not much to say here – I think I dozed on and off the whole flight. It was a United domestic flight – there’s nothing to get excited about after getting off of Lufthansa first. It’s funny how context can really impact things – I’m sure it would have been an exciting and thrilling flight (except for the lack of meal) if it was your first time in domestic first.

I was planning after this trip to stay home for a while, but life had other plans. Next absolutely crazy trip starts in under a week, and let’s just call this trip report “One doesn’t go to Marrakesh to study – one goes on the way to Western Sahara! Very Nice! I LIKE!”

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.

IMG_6029

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

IMG_6030

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!”

IMG_6032

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!

IMG_6034

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.

IMG_6036

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

IMG_6037

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.

IMG_6038

Macadamia nuts. Yum.

IMG_6042

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

IMG_6043

I let the awkward skewered prawn alone.

IMG_6044

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

IMG_6069

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.

IMG_6070

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

IMG_6071

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…

IMG_6072

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:

IMG_0344

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

IMG_0345

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

IMG_0347

So, what’s to eat on this flight?

IMG_0348

IMG_0349

…and to drink?

IMG_0350

IMG_0351

IMG_0352

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

IMG_0358

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

IMG_0359

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

IMG_0364

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

IMG_0365

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

IMG_0366

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

IMG_0369

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

IMG_0370

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

IMG_0371

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

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

IMG_0373

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

IMG_0374

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

IMG_0380

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

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

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

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

IMG_0384

Typical W bling on the pillows:

IMG_0386

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

IMG_0387

Oversized washroom, with a double sink:

IMG_0389

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

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

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

IMG_0393

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

IMG_0396

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

IMG_0398

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

IMG_0399

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

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…

IMG_6163

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:

IMG_6169

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

IMG_6170

Pre-departure champagne and really strange amenity kit:

IMG_6172

Power by emPower?! What is this 1998?!

IMG_6173

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

IMG_6174

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

IMG_6175

IMG_6176

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

IMG_6178

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

IMG_6180

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

IMG_6182

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

IMG_6183

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

IMG_6184

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:

IMG_6185

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!

IMG_6186

Lots of room:

IMG_6187

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

IMG_6188

IMG_6189

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

IMG_6190

Taxi was past…Concorde!

IMG_6191

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.

IMG_6194

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?

IMG_6195

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:

IMG_6196

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

IMG_6198

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:

IMG_6199

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:

IMG_6203

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?

IMG_6205

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.

IMG_2121

…because EVERY airport needs a tree with Bambi!

Continue reading »