Jun 102016
 

I should be up front before talking about this trip. With so many easier ways to get to Mali, why in the world was I detouring via LaGuardia, Chicago, London, Accra, and Abidjan? Well, it all started with a fare Ian found last year from Accra-Chicago roundtrip in business class for barely $800. I was happy to use it one way and throw away the second half, but hey, I might still have countries in West Africa left by Memorial Day, so let’s book the return to Accra then and see if it’s useful.

We found great one-way fares from Accra to Bamako via Abidjan with Air Cote d’Ivoire, so that settled it. I had initially booked nonstop from DCA to Chicago with American as well but a change in times meant I could either have a barely one hour connection in Chicago, or over five hours. I figured if I was going to play the waiting around in airports game, I would book the connection for some extra miles. I gave myself three hours to connect in LaGuardia which should be plenty…even if things went pear shaped.

The night before, I did a same-day change on American’s website so I could get an hour of sleep. I would leave on the 1pm shuttle instead of the noon, take a slightly later LaGuardia to Chicago, and still have well over two hours for each connection. Seemed great.

Got to DCA which was shockingly empty, and had the most delightful TSA agent I’ve ever had. She was joking with kids and putting stickers on her, so I jokingly asked her why I didn’t get one. She was more than happy to please, and I enjoyed my Chateau le Hector in the Admirals Club and pondered a career change….

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Then, It hit the fan. First a 30 minute delay on the shuttle. Then an hour, then 60 minutes. All the nonstops to O’Hare were completely sold out by this point, leaving me little alternative. Once the plane finally left LaGuardia they were estimating 1:11 to make the connection at LaGuardia which should be fine if nothing further went wrong. Which, of course it did. By the time we boarded and the door was closed, the connection was down to 42 minutes. Still doable, but, with the shuttle flights arriving in a different terminal from other American flights it would be extremely close.

American flight 2143
Washington, National (DCA) to New York, LaGuardia (LGA)
Depart 13:00, Arrive 14:24, Flight Time: 1:24
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration N952UW, Manufactured 2007, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 86,496
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,276,021

Flight was a completely uneventful 40 minutes or so, and we pulled into the gate just a bit further behind schedule with 35 minutes to make my connection. I thought I was going to have to reclear security with the terminal change, but American is now operating a shuttle between the two terminals. Unfortunately, the shuttle was “experiencing radiator problems” and took nearly 20 minutes to show up. By the time I got to the gate, the door had closed five minutes early…and although the plane was still sitting at the gate I was offloaded. The ever so friendly agent told me to “go to customer service and they’ll rebook you.” Ugh. Instead, I called the Exec Platinum line, and got a super helpful agent who was able to put me on the next flight about two hours later.

Of course, this meant I was going to miss my BA flight to London. I had heard about the OneWorld protection even if you are on different tickets, and the super wonderful agent in the Admirals Club was more than happy to help. Given my Chicago-London-Accra ticket was BA flights but on Iberia ticket stock, she took a bit of time to figure it out, but fortunately the inbound London-Chicago a few months prior had been on American so they still held control of the ticket. Eventually, she had no trouble confirming me on the American nonstop to London at 22:20, however, despite there being eight seats open in first she couldn’t process an upgrade to first with a systemwide because it was under gate control. Oh well, with eight seats it should be a piece of cake…right?

New flight left right on time, leaving me nearly an hour and 40 minutes to connect at O’Hare…maybe…

American flight 359
New York, LaGuardia (LGA) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 18:55, Arrive 20:43, Flight Time: 2:48
Boeing 737-800, Registration N948NN, Manufactured 2014, Seat 6B
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 87,229
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,276,754

Mixed nuts and drinks were served right after takeoff…I really like how AA’s mixed nuts have a few pecans and pistachios thrown in:

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I went for the chicken main (forget what the other option was – some sort of pasta I think) which was pretty good. I went for the pretzel roll instead of the bland “risotto” for my carbs, and with the chocolate chip cookie I was preparing for my overnight carb coma well:

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Then, we landed. See, it’s 20:45…tons of time to make my 22:20 flight…in theory…

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See those storms? Apparently we were the last flight in before O’Hare went on a total ground stop. Yet, we couldn’t get a gate, because there was another aircraft at our gate and nothing was moving due to the weather. Nearly an 30 minutes later at 9:15 we were still sitting on the ramp. The pilot was fantastic, updating us every five minutes on what was going on with our gate. However, his announcements got progressively more and more bizarre as he got frustrated. Eventually, around 21:40 he told us “in my 25+ years with this airline I’ve never seen such a shameful performance by this airport. The ground control is fighting with the tower now, and as a result nothing is moving.”

Finally, around 10:10pm after nearly 90 minutes on the ground (and tweets to American asking when the passenger bill of rights kicked in) we finally arrived at a gate. Flight attendants and the pilot were great the whole time, and it showed – despite such a long delay there were no angry passengers, and everyone was calm. It’s amazing what communication can do.

I had 10 minutes to make my flight which still showed on time, and I sprinted across the terminal. On the way, I popped into the Admirals Club and asked if they could call the gate. They did so, and found out boarding had just gotten underway. Yay, I would make the flight but BOO, my now 80 minute connection at Heathrow was going to be messy.

Got to the gate, and asked the agent at the counter if she could process the upgrade to first please. “Oh I’m sorry, first is completely full.” I asked here how suddenly in the last 15 minutes eight people had been added to the upgrade list and cleared. “That’s confidential – please take your assigned seat.” I smelled shenanigans and demanded politely to speak to a supervisor. I had to wait a couple of minutes to get a supervisor, and explained the whole situation. She apologized at how the agent had handled it, and with a few keystrokes punched out a new first boarding pass for me. She then went the extra mile and escorted me onto the plane…so she could boot the nonrev already sitting in that seat back to economy. Awkward!

American flight 98
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 22:20, Arrive 12:05, Flight Time: 7:45
Boeing 777-200, Registration N775NN, Manufactured 1999, Seat 4J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 91,182
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,280,707

Boarding took forever, and eventually my connection in London was showing only 20 minutes to make it. I was praying for tailwinds. Then, it got to 10 minutes, and I rang my call button to tell the FA I was getting off and asking to be rebooked since I would misconnect and would rather be stuck overnight in Chicago than London. “Oh, you can’t…we’re closing the door now. Plus, I’m sure you’re wrong about your connection time. ‘They’ never would have given you an 80 minute connection to start with.”

Then, she went back to the galley, right behind my seat, and her colleague asked her “what that was all about.” “Oh, he’s full of shit. He thinks he knows more about flight times than we do.”

I was floored.

The only upside to this whole thing…service was polite, friendly, and warm for the duration of the flight. Thank God I somehow managed to not let it linger and get threatened with arrest by a flight attendant who was clearly having a bad day. Somewhere during the whole boarding, at least I got a pre-departure champagne in a non-plastic glass. Are you listening United???

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Psst, American, the 1980s called…they want their inflight entertainment system back:

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Shortly after takeoff more mixed nuts, and a very generous pour of red wine:

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Salmon starter, which was still covered in little ice chips. Apparently it hadn’t been completely thawed out….PASS.

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It’s hard to make a memorable salad in flight, but this one was really good! Creamy dressing, spinach, blue cheese, and strawberries. I have to say, both this salad and the one I had in transcon first from Miami to LA were really good. Score one for AA in the salad department!

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I couldn’t resist trying the turkey, since I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that on a plane before. It was a breaded cutlet with an extremely sweet sour cherry sauce on it. It was edible, but a bit too weird for my tastes. Plus, notice the empty wine glass…

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Apparently, they had “forgotten” to load the cheese course, so I had a sundae with butterscotch. It was a nice change from the chocolate, caramel, and strawberry gloop choices you get on United:

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The menus:

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The agents were kind enough to let me sleep until barely 10 minutes before touchdown, so I got a solid 5+ hours and was ready for the sprint to the gate. According to the app we had made up more time en route, and I now had 35 minutes to make my connection.

The first sign of trouble was when I got off the plane and there were several agents there asking about connections. I told them Ghana, and the lady said “ohhhhhhhh…..YOU need to talk to him” and handed me over to her colleague. Apparently I had “already missed my flight” (how? I still have 35 minutes) and that had rebooked me to Ghana…on Kenya Airways via Nairobi…in economy arriving nearly 16 hours late. Um, no.

Sensing this agent had no power at all, I thanked him and headed for the transfer desk. The agents at the transfer desk were equally unhelpful, but finally agreed to ask BA if they would please put me back on the flight since the flight hadn’t even started boarding yet! Nope, completely full now according to BA, so no way to get on it. I kept pressing the issue, and no dice, BA insisted there was no way to put me back on the flight regardless if it hadn’t even started boarding. AA had offloaded me and reticketed me proactively, so they had to solve it. I would have had no trouble at all making the flight…and was texting Ian the whole time who was in the gate area. Why couldn’t AA let me take the risk of the 15 minute connection, and rebook me IF I miss it. Now, I was screwed.

The agents at the transfer desk refused to offer me anything beyond the Kenya Airlines option, even when I explained I had a connection the next day to Bamako, and finally, for the second time in 12 hours, I had to speak to a supervisor. “Why don’t you clear security and go to the Admirals Club? You’ll find a supervisor there.”

I did as suggested, security took maybe five minutes, and I explained the situation to the lady at the front desk of the Admirals Club. She was super understanding, and suggested I take a seat and she would get someone from Premium Services to come find me. The gentleman arrived about 10 minutes later, and I walked him through the whole chain of tickets and events. He asked what he could do to get a satisfactory outcome. He sat with me patiently as I got out ExpertFlyer and looked for options.

The only way to get to Mali on time now would be to fly straight there. There was no way to get to Accra in time to make my connection. I found just two seats left on Air France the next day direct from Paris to Bamako. I told him the only options would be to (1) send me straight to Bamako the next day on Air France or (2) return me home and I’ll try this trip again at another stage.

He assured me he would be happy to send me back to the US – either JFK or ORD and on to DCA…my choice…in first class either same day or the next day. That would be no problem at all. He said there was a chance he could get one of those last two seats on Air France, so why don’t I enjoy something to eat and drink while he worked on it. I finally got my cheese!

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Miracle of miracles, he came back about 30 minutes later…Air France was confirmed and ticketed! He offered a hotel and meal vouchers at Heathrow, but instead I opted to get a Heathrow Express ticket and go into the city and see friends. Not much to tell about here – it was early evening by the time I got downtown. Had a nice dinner with a friend and then met others for drinks…and ended up staying out much later than I should.

So, let’s pick this up where it gets interesting again. The flights.

Air France flight 1581
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
Depart 12:10, Arrive 14:30, Flight Time: 1:20
Airbus A320, Registration F-GKXS, Manufactured 2009, Seat 5D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 91,398
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,280,923

The irony of this flight is it was across the hall from the gate where I had flown London to Abu Dhabi in Etihad Apartments exactly two weeks prior. I never transit T4 at Heathrow, and here I was at two gates right next to each other in two weeks. Funny how it happens!

This flight was a hot mess. There was clearly a large family who had been in London on a shopping trip as a man, what looked to be his teen son – complete with Gucci embroidered velvet jacket – and 11 women boarded. The 11 women, two adults and nine teens/children were all sitting in business (which was completely full) and the two men were in economy. That’s when I felt a tapping on my shoulder. It was the adult who it turns out was in the bulkhead seat right behind me in coach…”will you take my seat please?” and handed me a 100 euro note. Uhhh…it’s a 40 minute flight, the seats are exactly the same…so, um, sure?

I moved one row back, and the flight attendant came up and asked me what was going on. I explained to him, and he laughed, and said “I’ll bring you your meal and drinks anyways.” Easiest 100 euros I’ve made! I had been on this same route with BA two weeks prior, and I have to say the two products were neck and neck. BA’s meal was maybe slightly better, but who needs a meal on a 40 minute flight. Both were very generous with the champagne.

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Despite ATC holds around Paris, I still had enough time to enjoy the lounge a bit before boarding my connecting flight to Mali:

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What could be more french than wine and cheese with some Evian in the lounge?

Air France flight 386
Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Bamako, Mali (BKO)
Depart 16:30, Arrive 20:20, Flight Time: 5:50
Airbus A340-300, Registration F-GLZK, Manufactured 1997, Seat 6E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 93,982
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,283,507

I was excited to be flying Air France again. My first experience had been five months prior and I really had enjoyed it, so I looked forward to seeing if those two flights were the rule or the exception. PDB champagne. Real champagne. None of that US airline sparkling grape nonsense:

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The menu looked super:

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Amuse bouche…smoked salmon and cream with some crackers. Maybe the crackers weren’t, en francais, “super classy” but it was nice to have a change from mixed nuts:

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Mmmmm fois gras and smoked cod on panna cotta:

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The cod with smoked salmon and parmesan crumble with chili pepper was out of this world. Maybe my favourite airline entree of all time…and I feel like I said the same thing a few months prior on Air France. Apparently, nobody can do gourmet cooking like Air France in business class. Plus, look at those cheeses!

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…and not just one, but four mini desserts! YUM!

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Overall, Air France hit another home run with me. So much so that I’m actively trying to find a way to try their first class product now. Their seats may be a bit behind the times, but the food and service on all three medium haul flights was outstanding!

Unfortunately, my first longhaul American experience was a shambles both on the ground and in flight. If not for the amazing staff at the Heathrow Admirals club I would have been left with an extremely bitter taste in my mouth. Now, to start fighting American for the 600 Euros in delay compensation I’m due and for credit on the missed Heathrow-Accra flight.

Next up…Mali!

May 262016
 

When I booked my Etihad transfer back to the airport, they sent me an email telling me they would pick me up at 8:30am. 2:15 before the flight, based on the fact I was in first and supposedly the lounge was nothing to write home about, was just right for me. Went to bed, woke up, went down to breakfast, and was reading my email when…

I saw that at 11pm the night before, they sent me another email telling me they would pick me up at 7:45am. This was at about 8:10am when I was eating breakfast…I ran over to the front desk, and yes, they’ve tried calling my room, the driver has been waiting since 7:45…and has just left. Way to change the transfer less than 12 hours before the flight Etihad, when normal people are sleeping, and to leave without me.

Fortunately I was able to get an Uber in about 10 minutes, and was to the airport for just over 45 Dirhams. But then, dropped off at the first class check-in area (the one thing that seems to be separated on the ground for first and business passengers) and was told “oh, no, we have closed the flight. You have been offloaded.” 1:58 before the flight. It seems US flights close for checkin two hours before the flight due to US Customs/Immigration pre-clearance. Why in the world had Etihad misled me with an email leading me to believe it was ok to be picked up 2:15 before my flight? UGH!

Fortunately, the agent made some phone calls, and was very clear when she told me “this is a one time exception – next time you cannot travel” – and yes, this is ground services for a first class that is trying to compete with the best in the world. So far, except for the hard product on the A380, they were falling way, WAY short in my book.

Fortunately, no wait for immigration or security, and I’d been warned I needed to head straight to US Pre-clearance, no time to spend in the general lounge. I still popped in for one minute to confirm there is still no separate first class lounge (seriously? you build apartments in the sky but can’t build a lounge for first class?) and headed to pre-clearance. There were still plenty of people in line, I was quickly processed through Global Entry, quick interview by the agent for customs purposes, and was through to the gate area.

Etihad does have a lounge after pre-clearance, and it was incredibly small and packed again since it was shared by business, first, and all their frequent flier elites. Yes, like London, it’s nice you have waiter service, but when you have 100 people in the lounge it kind of defeats the point. At least the AC was nice while we waited to board.

Like London, no priority boarding for First, just a scrum with all the elites and business class. It really seems to Etihad they think that first class just means a better seat. That’s nice and all, but it makes them far from competitive with other international first class…and this is coming from a guy whose biggest selling point at 6’4 is generally the seat!

Etihad flight 131
Abu Dhabi, UAE (AUH) to Washington, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 17:00, Flight Time: 14:15
Boeing 787-9, Registration A6-BLB, Manufactured 2015, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 86,282
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,275,807

Just as in London, once boarded, the whole experience changed. Sure, it wasn’t an apartment, but the 787 suite was still extremely nice!

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Being a morning flight, I thought it best to go slowly, and join the glass of champagne with a glass of orange juice. Once again, dates and arabic coffee were also offered.

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The menu looked surprisingly similar to the flight in from London in many ways, just a few different choices:

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Picture of Abu Dhabi after takeoff…the rear-facing seats were great for taking pics:

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Same mixed nuts, wasabi peas, and olives starter as out of London…but I didn’t mind. Beats the usual boring nuts!

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I decided to have a full lunch as I’d had a small breakfast, so the table was set:

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The amuse bouche…I’m honestly not sure what it was, but it tasted mildly fishy.

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The scallops appetizer. Rather small, but they were perfectly cooked so a nice light starter. The green apple was an interesting contrast in flavours, and I think it kind of overwhelmed the scallops. Not a fan of the pairing. Went nicely with champagne though 😉

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Choice of breads, and butter and oil. Not sure the point of putting the little cover on the butter, but…

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Palate cleanser….mint ice…did its job…

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The onboard chef recommended the biryani, so I had to give it a try. I have to say it was absolutely delicious…great combination of spices, just enough saffron, cashews…super tasty. Also went nicely with the Malbec.

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You knew I wasn’t going to pass up the cheese. The green apples and “fruit paste” made another appearance, and added a great touch.

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In flight, love this shot of the curved 787 wing since I was seated “backwards” against the bright blue sky with the windows just slightly tinted:

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Instead of passing out, I couldn’t resist dessert…chocolate and vanilla ice cream. They seemed surprised that I would want more than one flavour. It was pretty tasty though!

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At this point, a glass of wine, and time to pass out for a nice five hour nap:

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Woke up, watched a little tv, and about 90 minutes  before landing decided to give the steak sandwich one more try. I had asked them in advance to make sure they saved one, and I’m glad I did because it was much better than the flight in from London. I know some of the preparation on board is done by the chef, so there is slight variation from flight to flight. I have to say this one did an extremely nice job!

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I asked for another cheese plate to finish off my snack, but unfortunately there was no more left. It was suggested I try the pistachio cake, so I decided to go for it. I could only manage two bites though – it was way too incredibly sweet tasting and almost hurt my teeth:

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With this, the flight was over. Landed at the domestic gate, train to the main terminal, got to baggage claim and there were about two dozen drivers waiting…but not mine. Etihad had texted me his information…so I called. Despite the fact we landed 10 minutes late my driver was still 15 minutes away. Maybe I just got super unlucky with the ground experience, but I found Etihad failed on nearly every front.

On the ground, I couldn’t distinguish what I received from business class, and the wines and food served in the air were also no better than business class quality. The only thing I found “first class” about Etihad was the seats – which were some of the best first class of any airline in the world, and the service in the air (only) which was also definitely top notch international first class standard. I will give Etihad another try, but after two flights they would be way down my list for a true comprehensive first class experience.

Next up, in less than 48 hours, I’m off to countries #193 and #194 – Mali and Mauritania. After than, just two to go!!!

May 052016
 

The last six months of work had been incredibly busy, some of the longest weeks I’d ever worked. That was combined with planning the end of my plans to visit every country, which was really two parts logistically: first, how to get to the remaining countries and when, and secondly beginning to organize the final country party for family and friends.

I knew the hardest of the countries remaining would be Tuvalu, and for that reason knew that when time allowed it was the one to finish first. Flights to Tuvalu only go three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I decided it was best to do at the beginning of my trip, because if anything went wrong I would have the rest of the trip to keep trying. So, the plan was set. Fly from Fiji to Tuvalu on a Tuesday, inshallah, and return on Thursday. If something went wrong, I would try Thursday, return Saturday.

With those plans, I planned to arrive in Fiji on a Sunday (to give a cushion on the front side) and fly out on a Sunday – leaving me two real chances to get to Tuvalu. If those plans went tits up, I had a full extra week on the trip that I could start changing. However, should things go right, what should I do with Sunday to Sunday the second week? With American miles about to be devalued them, I found a way to redeem them for three of the coolest OneWorld experiences out there: Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, and the Etihad Apartments.

Of course, just over a week before the trip began Fiji Airways eliminated the Saturday flight to Tuvalu – so there was no reason to stick around until Sunday. I replanned the back-end of Tuvalu, and planned to leave Fiji on Friday – giving me two extra days. That gave me a chance to go to Sydney, and then use some miles for a Thai Airways First award from Sydney to Hong Kong. I was really hoping this time Tuvalu would go much smoother, so that I could take all these awesome flights I had planned.

The day of the trip finally dawned, and I worked a half day before a leisurely trip to DCA for the initial flight. Short stop by the Admirals Club for some water and snacks:

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Also had a perfect view of my plane for the first flight from the lounge:

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Then, it was time to fly!

American flight 1533
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Miami, Florida (MIA)
Depart 12:55, Arrive 15:34, Flight Time: 2:39
Boeing 737-800, Registration N931NN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 5E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 52,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,241,855

Pre-departure beverages were offered and I took a glass of water. Shortly before departure, the seat beside me was still empty, and someone was beckoned up from economy as a last-minute upgrade. We ended up chatting a bit, and it turned out to be someone I had chatted with online before in a frequent flier group. What are the odds!

Lunch service began with mixed nuts, featuring cashews from Smisek’s Split-Cashew farm and a passable glass of red wine:

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Choice for lunch was a cold bbq chicken salad or lentil chili. I don’t think lentils or chili have any plane on a plane, and I’m opposed to airlines and their desire to push “brown meals” on us where the plate has no colour at all, so I went with the chicken salad. Perfect temperature, crisp lettuce, overall not bad fora $5 domestic meal!

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Since this was vacation – and I left my work laptop at home to prove it, I even took the chocolate chip cookie when offered for dessert. It went perfectly with another glass of red:

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Other than that, perfectly boring flight and we arrived a few minutes early. I had just over an hour connection in Miami, and fortunately not only were my gates only a one minute walk apart but they were separated by the AmEx Centurion Lounge! Just enough time to stop in for a glass…or two…of Veuve…

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Then, it was time to board my connection to LA.

American flight 275
Miami, Florida (MIA) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Depart 17:00, Arrive 19:34, Flight Time: 5:34
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration N726AN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 54,672
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,244,197

This was my first time on American’s 777-300ER, and the business seats were pretty impressive. The flight had been showing sold out in first for weeks, so I had no hope of my upgrade clearing. Once I saw this seat, however, I didn’t feel too bad about it:

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Then, a full 20 minutes before departure, I noticed on the app my upgrade had supposedly cleared. This was too good to be true…I fully expected some sort of shenanigans where the app showed it but it wasn’t for real…but sure enough five minutes later the agent came on board with my new boarding pass for 1J! This trip was off to a fantastic start!

So, what’s to eat tonight?

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This is where things got disappointing. Apparently, they had only loaded eight meals, and I got last choice because my name wasn’t on their original manifest. I decided not to push too hard (not knowing the formal “rules” for meal order in American first) and ended up with the chicken which was far from my first choice.

Three wine choices were on offer tonight, and I went with the Malbec which was reasonably good…and another serving of mixed nuts:

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The duck starter was decent, but far from memorable:

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I asked for the balsamic with the salad, but the flight attendant insisted on bringing me a side of the Fuji apple dressing as well. He was absolutely correct, and it was a great combo…one of the better in-flight salads I can remember:

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The chicken was…well…chicken, and rather unmemorable as was the completely flavourless polenta. Honestly, the broccoli was the best part of the main:

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The caramelized pecan and caramel sundae, however, was fantastic:

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At that point…I passed out for a nearly three hour in-flight nap thanks to the comfy lie flat seats. I woke up to find not one but TWO chocolate chip cookies waiting for me. Not wanting to be rude, I of course had a few nibbles:

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Landing in LA was right on time, and I stopped by the American First lounge for a bit since I had a long connection. A bit nicer than an Admirals Club, but far from impressive or of international airline standard. After catching up on emails I headed over to the Tom Bradley (TBIT) International Terminal to catch my Fiji Airways flight. Thank God the connector between American’s terminal and the TBIT had opened a few weeks earlier, because from the connector you can see how awful the security line was tonight. Thanks TSA!

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I stopped in the Fiji Airways lounge for 5 minutes just to check it out, and it was rather crowded and unremarkable. The coolest part is it had an outside balcony that you could sit on which overlooked the terminal.

Shockingly, boarding for my Fiji Airways flight to Nadi was right on time!

Fiji Airways flight 811
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Nadi, Fiji
Depart 23:30, Arrive 05:50 +2 days, Flight Time: 11:20
Airbus A330-200, Registration DQ-FJT, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,191
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,249,716

There were only two empty seats in business tonight, and I had the good fortune to have the seat next to me empty tonight. Sparkling wine, warm towels, and amenity kits were offered. The amenity kids were rather sad, and a cool towel would have been nice, but overall not bad:

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Tonight’s route of flight:

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The menu had a fun cover…it seems due to the late departure we had the “light menu” tonight:

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Not bad for a light meal:

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Tick the box breakfast orders:

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The starter was odd and looked and smelled like it had been sitting around a while, so I gave it a pass. Anything with seafood and cream/mayo sauces that looks suspicious gets instantly avoided on planes by me:

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Now THAT is a substantial piece of beef on the salad. Yes, it was way overcooked for my taste, but extremely nicely spiced with a pepper rub. Plus, a whole bowl of cheese. For a “light meal” this was pretty darn good!

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The cheesecake for dessert was also quite good:

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With that, I passed out for a relatively solid eight hours of sleep. Yes, the seat was sloped lie flat, but I managed to sleep pretty decently despite that. Plus, I always manage to sleep really well on westbound redeyes due to the fact I’m usually exhausted upon boarding. Fortunately, I woke up about 75 minutes out of Nadi with just enough time for breakfast.

Quite the impressive breakfast, and the raisin bran and omelette were exactly what sounded good to me:

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With that said, I was in Nadi right on time and ready to unwind for 48 hours before heading to Tuvalu. Overall, Fiji Airways did a nice job of redeeming themselves in my eyes. Sure, the product was a bit dated, but I guess it’s all about expectations. My expectations were relatively low, and thus exceeded on this flight. Food was solid and substantial, crew was the Fijian version of United’s Old Longhaul Grannies, but nice and sweet, and most importantly the cabin was kept nice and cool. I had another longhaul Fiji A330 flight coming up on this trip to Sydney, and now I was looking forward to it. Sure, they’re no Cathay Pacific or Singapore, but they’re also not priced the same. Overall, a solid performance.

Now, bring on some relaxation in Fiji!

Apr 252016
 

Long time readers of my trip reports will remember the last time I tried to go to Tuvalu. I took a four week trip intended to hit all the little island countries in the South Pacific, and due to flight schedules there was little room for error.

Everything was going well, until I tried to go to Tuvalu. See, there’s only three flights a week to Tuvalu, all from Suva, Fiji. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. That means you have to spend two, sometimes three days there. Oh yeah, these flights are also very prone to cancellation since they’re at the edge of the plane’s range, and it has to carry enough extra fuel to get back to Fiji if there’s weather at FUN.

Yes, the airport code for Funafuti, Tuvalu, is FUN. Fun is what I did NOT have the last time I tried to go to Tuvalu. They canceled the flight to FUN. I tried to go again two days later, still no FUN for me. I gave up, and had to admit defeat, and carry on to Samoa.

Oh, and Fiji Airways in their wisdom delayed that flight by 16 hours. That wasn’t fun either. The only good thing I can say about Fiji Airways is that they give you a food voucher when they cancel your flight…and with it you can buy delicious chocolate cake at the one shop in Suva airport. Mmmm the cake. Looking forward to having that again, but paying for it myself.

So, I’m headed back to Fiji now, and I’m going to stay there as long as it takes to get to Tuvalu. I only have 5 countries left to visit, and Tuvalu is the hardest, so gotta get it done! It’ll be my 192nd country visited! I’m hoping it happens on my first or second try so that I can use the rest of my 2.5 week vacation to take the flights I have planned back from Fiji. See, getting to Tuvalu should be easy. I even built in a two day buffer in Fiji on the way there in case I get delayed on the way:

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Very straightforward. Hop down to Miami on an American 737, and then a new 777-300ER in business class. Then, I’ve left myself four hours in LA (just in case) and I’ll connect to the 11 hour flight on Fiji Airways to Nadi, Fiji in business class. We will assume that will be delayed…maybe by a whole day…but, hey, buffer. Then it’s off to Funafuti, Tuvalu for two days.

Getting back? Well, the quick and easy way would have been to come back the way I came, and hey, depending how long it takes me to get to Tuvalu I might just do that. But see, if all goes well, two things have conspired against that plan. First, American recently devalued miles in a major way, so I cashed some in for high-value rewards….like Hong Kong to Paris in Cathay Pacific First Class. …and like the new Etihad Apartments on the A380. Finishing it all off will be Etihad First Class on the 787 direct from Abu Dhabi to Washington. All new experiences for me! So, how did I fit this all together?

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  • So yes, after I get back to Fiji from Tuvalu I’ll be going:
  • Nadi, Fiji to Hong Kong on a Fiji Airways A330 in business class – 10+ hours
  • Hong Kong to Paris on a Cathay Pacific 777 in first class – nearly 13 hours of pampering
  • Paris to London on British Airways in EuroBusiness – aka how many mini bottles of champers can I consume in 45 minutes
  • London to Abu Dhabi, UAE on the Etihad A380 in Apartments Class – I wish this was longer than the 7.5 hours it will take. Very excited for my own apartment
  • Abu Dhabi to Washington on the Etihad 787-9 in first class for a whopping 14 hours. This should be a very interesting flight.

I’m looking for suggestions of must see/dos on this trip as I’ve never flown Cathay or Etihad before. I hear one of the more unique experiences the Etihad Spa offers in Abu Dhabi is a shave…I wonder if I can get a whole head shave from the guy….

Roughly, the parts for the trip report will be:

  1. Washington DC, National to Nadi, Fiji with American Airlines and Fiji Airways in business class
  2. Two days in Fiji
  3. Nadi to Funafuti with Fiji Airways, and two days in Tuvalu
  4. Funafuti to Nadi, and three more days in Fiji
  5. Fiji to Hong Kong with Fiji Airways, two days in Hong Kong
  6. Hong Kong to Paris in Cathay Pacific First
  7. Two days in Paris
  8. Paris to London with British Airways, overnight in London
  9. London to Abu Dhabi in Etihad A380 Apartments, overnight in Abu Dhabi
  10. Abu Dhabi to Washington, Dulles in Etihad 787-9 First Class

Sit back and fasten those seatbelts…we’re off in just over 48 hours!

Apr 212016
 

I had a very long weekend coming up, and combined with the American Exec Platinum challenge it looked like a perfect time to get away to my 190th country visited – Belize! There were some excellent business class fares available, and even though they required an overnight in Dallas in both directions it looked like the perfect time.

I had always put off visiting Belize because I wanted to go for a week or more and get some serious diving in. However, with only a little over seven months left until my goal of visiting every country I opted for a shorter relaxing trip so that I had a but more intel for the next trip!

Put in a bit of a half day of work, then headed off to the Admirals Club for the first time in a few years to see what the upgraded food options were all about. There were pepperjack cheese cubes so I was happy…combine that with some decent brownies and some mushroom and brie soup, well, overall a very tasty and substantial snack:

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Soon it was time to board the flight to Dallas for the overnight.

American flight 327
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Depart 15:40, Arrive 18:13, Flight Time: 3:33
Boeing 737-800, Registration N948NN, Manufactured 2014, Seat 5E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 19,248
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,208,763

Despite at 3:40pm departure, it was a dinner flight. Other than London-Chicago a month prior, this was my first domestic American flight in a few years and I was curious to see how they would do compared to United. Was pleasantly surprised to get a new 737-800 with sky interior, and everything felt new and clean. I was also glad to see that wine is still poured in “big boy” glasses, but boo to sourcing split cashews from Smisek’s Split Cashew Farm:

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I had pre-ordered my meal online (a nice feature American offers so you can be disappointed in advance) and I went with the pasta…which was as bland as it looks and sounds. I had a couple bites, and passed on the rest in favour of more vino.

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Mas vino and a pretty good chocolate chip cookie…but rather sad as a dessert:

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Overall verdict? Just like United, it’s a meal that you could get for under $10 in any workplace cafeteria. It’s far from fine dining, but if you’re busy and rushed it will do the job.

Spent a nice night at the Westin DFW. I felt a cold coming on, and the hotel shuttle driver was kind enough to take me a couple miles away to the nearest CVS for Sudafed…at no charge. Definitely high marks to this property on service! Woke up feeling quite a bit better, went to the airport a little early where I grabbed Starbucks (of course) then went straight to my gate.

American flight 2345
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Miami, Florida (MIA)
Depart 7:15, Arrive 11:01, Flight Time: 2:46
Boeing 737-800, Registration N809NN, Manufactured 2009, Seat 5E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 20,369
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,209,884

Unfortunately, my flight attendant was pretty much asleep as well, and dumped my seatmate’s pre-departure beverage in my lap. Ugh, fortunately it was “only” tea which wasn’t really hot…and also didn’t stain. She did apologize profusely at least.

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I decided to go with the mimosa option…I was on vacation after all!

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Another pre-ordered meal, the omelette. Fruit was dry and tasteless. I ate the eggs just for the protein, and left everything else behind…except a second and maybe third mimosa. Another blah and uneventful flight.

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Didn’t have very long in Miami, but since the American Express Centurion Lounge was on my way to the gate I stopped in for a few minutes and a celebratory glass of Veuve. The place was absolutely packed with families so I made a quick retreat on to my next flight.

American flight 2476
Miami, Florida (MIA) to Belize City, Belize (BZE)
Depart 12:35, Arrive 13:50, Flight Time: 2:15
Airbus A319, Registration N90024, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 21,136
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,210,651

Feet on the bulkhead is apparently done in a much more classy fashion on American, with fuzzy pink socks:

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Fortunately, the flight was pretty empty and not all the seats were taken in first despite some non-revs boarding at the last minute, so I was able to swap over to a window seat. We started off with warm nuts and some wine:

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The nuts were, unfortunately, burned and chewy, so I had to give them a pass:

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We were given a snack option of “cheese and fruit” or “spinach dip” – I went with the cheese which was two sad hunks of cheese and a few bruised grapes.

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There was enough for seconds, so I asked to try the hummus…I wish I hadn’t. It was rather foul. One bite and done.

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Soon, we were on approach to Belize:

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Deplaned through stairs, immigration took a bit longer than it should have since it seemed several flights all arrived at the same time.

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Once through security, you were dropped right into the domestic departures area. My hotel had arranged my onward flights for me, so all I had to do was give my name to them, and they put me on the next flight to San Pedro. Flights seemed to leave every 15-30 minutes at peak time, so it was really a piece of cake.

TropicAir flight 76
Belize City, Belize (BZE) to San Pedro, Belize (SPR)
Depart 14:10, Arrive 14:25, Flight Time: 15 minutes
Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, Registration V3-HHL, Manufactured 2011, Copilot Seat
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 21,170
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,210,685

Even better the flight was completely full, so I got to sit in the copilot seat!

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Off to San Pedro we go!

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View out the window just after takeoff:

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Plotting our course:

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About 10 short minutes later, we were on approach to La Isla Bonita:

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Deplaning at San Pedro:

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San Pedro, the only place in the world you will find go cart traffic jams:

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I spent the next three days doing absolutely nothing. Going for walks on the beach, playing in the water, reading in hammocks, basically doing nothing. Well, I did manage a few good eats…starting with rum punch:

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Some conch fritters:

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Some absolutely delicious curried lobster:

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…and to finish it off some key lime pie that Madonna supposedly called “worth every calorie”

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A few days later, I was completely sad to leave. I mean, how can you not miss views like this outside your room:

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Apparently drinking hours were ending, and I was unfortunately going to have to go back to working hours:

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The hammock I spent most of the weekend in, along with a friendly stray dog:

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Home away from home, the Blue Tang Inn…fantastic hosts and facilities, I’d definitely go back again!

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The hotel dropped me back at the airport, and it was nice checking in just 30 minutes before my flight home!

TropicAir flight 91
San Pedro, Belize (SPR) to Belize City, Belize (BZE)
Depart 15:00, Arrive 15:15, Flight Time: 15 minutes
Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, Registration V3-HHI, Manufactured 2010, Seat “3C”
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 21,204
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,210,719

No copilot seat this time, since they used the weight and balance excuse. Still had great views on takeoff:

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Deplaning in Belize City, we were about 5 minutes before the skies absolutely opened up for a torrential downpour that seemed to last forever!

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While waiting on my departing flight, I checked out Jet’s Bar in the airport. Jet is the proprietor who has been running this very small bar for years, and has all sorts of pictures of himself with famous people all over the walls. It feels like a bit of a tourist trap now, but was still cool to see while waiting on my flight.

Unfortunately, it was still pouring when we had to walk to the remote gate. At least American had a bucket of umbrellas for us to use. Didn’t matter, however, since the rain was so strong everyone still got wet. I felt worst for the people in the back of coach who had to wait on the stairway to board the flight as people screwed around trying to find their seats!

American Airlines flight 268
Belize City, Belize (BZE) to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Depart 17:09, Arrive 20:18, Flight Time: 3:09
Boeing 737-800, Registration N812NN, Manufactured 2009, Seat 4A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 22,393
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,211,908

Dinner time flight, and that meant more warm nuts…this time not burnt:

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Great sunset shortly after takeoff:

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I finally got to try the famous American Lobster Mac and Cheese with Steak, and it was actually pretty decent. One of the best domestic meals I’ve had in a long time!

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Cookie for dessert again. Ugh. I had a couple bites of the better-cooked part, and them passed on the rest.

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Good overnight, woke up a little early to make sure I had time for coffee, and when I looked at my phone it was filled with alerts from TripIt, American, etc. I knew DC had been expecting an ice storm, and due to that, American had canceled my Dallas to DC flight. They’d rebooked me via St Louis since all the nonstops were full. I didn’t have much more faith that St Louis to DCA would operate since it was a regional jet, but I decided to let go and trust.

American Airlines flight 96
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to St Louis, Missouri (STL)
Depart 10:15, Arrive 11:53, Flight Time: 1:38
McDonnell Douglas MD88, Registration N963TW, Manufactured 1999, Seat 3E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 22,943
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,212,458

No more than 30 seconds after the door closed on the flight to St Louis, did I get a message from TripIt…St Louis to DCA had just canceled.

UGH.

They booked me on a St Louis to DCA that went two hours later…but by the time we landed in St Louis that flight had canceled as well. Ugh. I got to know the staff of the Admirals Club in St Louis quite well during my nearly 9 hours there, and they were great trying to help me rebook. I think I must have asked at least a dozen times, and I did finally get them to put me on a flight via Chicago and then onto DCA the next morning.

Right before we left, the next morning’s flight to DCA canceled as well. United had seats, and I had to push pretty hard, but eventually they did end up rebooking me on United. Thank God! I even managed to check-in with United online and then do a same day change to a slightly later flight so I could sleep in.

American Airlines flight 3243 operated by Envoy Air
St Louis, Missouri (STL) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 19:05, Arrive 20:30, Flight Time: 1:25
Canadair CRJ-700, Registration N535EA, Manufactured 2010, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 23,201
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,212,716

This was a good thing, because my 7:05p departure was over two hours late, and when we landed in Chicago we had to wait another hour for a gate due to ice there. It was nearly midnight before we rolled into a gate, and I rolled over the the Airport Hilton for convenience sake.

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It was a good thing I did, because I woke up around 7a feeling like absolute death warmed over. Fever, chills, I was pretty sure I was about to meet my maker. Definitely the sickest I’ve been in years. Managed to same-day-change to an even later flight, and roll over for more sleep. By 11:30 I was able to struggle out of bed and put clothes on…and make my feverish way over to the terminal. Security was easy, and because I was dealing with a fierce headache (thanks caffeine withdrawl) I did manage to put down a venti iced americano from starbucks.

I needed food badly, and a McDonalds cheeseburger was the blandest thing I could think of, but after two bites, it wasn’t going to happen so I gave up.

United Airlines flight 616
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Washington, DC National (DCA)
Depart 13:55, Arrive 16:47, Flight Time: 1:52
Boeing 737-700, Registration N23721, Manufactured 1999, Seat 3B
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 23,813
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,213,328

I know this flight happened. I know I looked pale. I know that after the first glass of ginger ale the flight attendant kept them coming…I’m sure I looked pretty rough. But, somehow, I made it back home. I’ve never been so thankful a flight had ginger ale on board since I got nasty food poisoning returning from Iraq. Got home, found out I had a temperature of 102.5 headed straight down the street to Urgent Care where the flu test came back negative…and crawled into bed where I spent most of the next 48 hours.

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!

Mar 252014
 

First off, let me say I get nothing from posting this.

That said, there’s a fantastic offer out there for the Citi American Airlines Elite Mastercard.

In short, charge $10,000 in 3 months and get 100,000 miles.

The details:

$450 annual fee
($200) statement credit on first $200 in charges a year
($1500) 100,000 miles at 1.5 cents per mile
($150) value of 10,000 miles you’ll earn charging that $10,000 to meet minimum spend at 1.5 cents/mile

So, this is a win of $1400 in miles minus whatever it costs you to earn that $10,000 in spend. Even if you charge your taxes at a 1.92% fee with one of the payment providers that’s only $192….meaning you still come out over $1200 ahead.

Highly recommend jumping on this one!  Good luck to all, and be sure to let me know your success stories.  I know where I’m posting my Q2 taxes!

EDIT:  Forgot to mention the real values of this card beyond this deal….2 miles per dollar spend on AA purchases, AND includes AA lounge access regardless of which airline you’re flying.  Nice if you’re losing access when they cease to partner with AmEx.

Sep 182012
 

A few months back when American not only offered to match by United status by giving me American Executive Platinum status for the balance of 2012, but also offered to let me keep it for 2013 if I flew only 55,000 elite qualifying points…well, immediate I started scheming how to get 100,000 elite qualifying miles on United as well as 55,000 EQP on American. It wasn’t going to be easy (and I’m still 15-20,000 short in planning on both with just over three months to go) but I knew I could figure it out. That said, when I found out American had a pretty good business fare to Haïti (a country I hadn’t been to) and that it made an easy four day weekend trip…well, I was curious.

See, one thing the last few years have travel have taught me is it’s just possible…maybe…that I don’t get the whole story about the world from CNN, Fox News, etc. I mean, it’s possible that the horrors they tell me about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, North Korea are, well, maybe not exactly how day to day life unfolds there. Having been to all those places, and having learnt that basically what the media shows is maybe 2% of the real story, well, I was definitely interested in getting a bit more of the real story about Haïti for myself. To hear them tell it, Haïti is miles upon miles of never ending tent cities with people dying of cholera left and right. There are giant fissures in the ground from the Earthquake, and nothing resembling normality exists. Is it true? I had to see for myself. Flights booked, and I was off.

I’m going to split this report into four parts:

Part 1: The flights (this part)
Part 2: The hotel
Part 3: The sights, and what I saw
Part 4: The restaurants, food, groceries, etc

When I booked the trip, I had planned to fly all the way from DCA-DFW-MIA-FLL on the same day.  However, a change in schedules made this impossible since the later Miami to Port-au-Prince flight was eliminated.  I had two choices:  go direct DCA-Miami-Haiti and lose approximately 2,100 elite qualifying points, or overnight in Dallas and then continue in the morning.  I have a good friend I haven’t seen for a while in Dallas, so my choice was obvious!  I’d take a late DC-Dallas flight after work, and then continue in the morning.  The agent I spoke to on the phone was more than happy to make the change, and I was all set.

Got to the airport about 75 minutes before the flight, and TSA was relatively empty.  Quick stop in the AAdmirals Club, where I had the most attentive bartender ever.  He actually wandered the club with wine bottles, proactively offering refills to people where they sat.  I’ve never had this before, and I’ve also never tipped as much for free drinks.  He was absolutely fantastic!

American Airlines Flight 2021
Washington, DC National (DCA) to Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW)
Depart 18:15, Arrive 20:30, Flight Time 3:15
Boeing 737-800, Registration N930AN, Manufactured 2000, Seat 5E

There’s not too much to say about this flight.  Typical mid-con dinner, although service was pretty poor.  Crew disappeared as soon as possible, and we didn’t see them for the rest of the flight.  I seriously thought I was back on United again!  Arrived about 20 minutes late due to a detour around weather, but I was reminded how I love Dallas as an arrivals airport because I was curbside and meeting a friend for dinner in under five minutes.  Absolutely fantastic!

American Airlines Flight 1442
Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW) to Miami (MIA)
Depart 7:30, Arrive 11:15, Flight Time 2:45
Boeing 767-300, Registration N39365, Manufactured 1988, Seat 3D

TSA line in the morning was quite short, even though for the 8th of 8 times with American I was denied Pre-Check.  6 of the 8 flights have been on international itineraries (which are rumoured to be ineligible for pre-check) but the other two I got denied as well.  I think TSA hates me.  Actually, I think TSA hates everyone, but that’s beside the point.

Once through security at oh-dark-thirty, it was time to wait in line for Starbucks.  I saw a sign that a new Starbucks is being built in terminal D, which is fortunate, because the line at this tiny one inside a bookstore took nearly 30 minutes to clear the line at 6:30am.  Don’t they know that people are dying a slow death while awaiting their caffeine transfusion?  I mean seriously, people!  At least it gave me a chance to check out the local Texas literature.  I was afraid…very afraid!  Please, let me have my caffeine and move on!

Flight to Miami was on a 767, which I was very interested to see.  See, so far in all my flights with American I’d only been on domestic aircraft.  Despite the majority of my trips being international, they were all in the Caribbean/South America, so no international planes.  I knew this was a 767, but based on the United 767s known as the “ghetto birds” I didn’t have high hopes.  I was actually surprised!  It was a true international plane, although something straight out of 10-15 years ago.  Seats were recliner-style sloped seats, and while decent for a domestic flight, I’d hate to be in these internationally.  Oh well, I guess this is why international upgrades are (relatively) easy on American compared to United!

Arrived in Miami on time, and had a couple hours to kill, so was off to La Carreta for a delicious lunch.  I’m going to have to completely stop skipping meals on flights into Miami, because the food at La Carreta is so delicious.  Living in DC, I don’t get awesome Cuban food often, so La Carreta is a bit of a treat.  I highly recommend their Cuban sandwich – it’s not only delicious, but also super inexpensive.  Plus, you can get Materva!  Mmmm!

Soon it was time to board the flight to Port-au-Prince, and the gate area was definitely a fascinating people-watching experience.  It was split evenly between tall blonde Minnesotans on missionary trips, and people of Haitian decent returning home.  I definitely felt like a bit of an outsider!  The skies were looking a bit ominous as we boarded, and I was convinced the skies were about to open up.

American Airlines Flight 833
Miami (MIA) to Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP)
Depart 14:00, Arrive 15:55, Flight Time 1:55
Boeing 757-200, Registration N678AN, Manufactured 1998, Seat 5E

Shortly after boarding, Tripit pinged me with a 30 minute delay, then 60, then 90.  I’m still not sure why I’m not getting flight updates from American, and I can’t find anywhere on my online profile to set it.  I guess it doesn’t really matter – I don’t need multiples as long as Tripit is keeping me in the loop.  As usual, I had to inform the flight attendants of the delay, since they were completely unaware.  I swear, the airlines should pay me for providing this service!  Heavy rains moved in, and finally just over 1:15 late we finally pulled away from the gate, and were underway.

Nothing too much to say about the flight.  We ended up with a relatively tasty snack for such a short flight.  There was no choice, it was salad, salad, or salad!

Arrival in Port-au-Prince was relatively uneventful.  I was actually sort of surprised to see there was actually a jetway for us.  Walked up it, down the hall maybe 2-3 minutes and down an escalator where….it dropped us at a bus!  LOL!  This is definitely the first time I’ve ever been teased with a jetway and terminal, only to be dumped at a bus when you went through them.  After loading, we were driven a few minutes to what looked like a small makeshift building which appeared to only house immigration and baggage, and was covered in ads for American and cell phone companies.  I found out later American had paid for the renovation of this building (and much of the airport) after the earthquake (gee, wonder who’s making a killing on this route) and thus almost seemed to “own” parts of the airport.  A quick shot of the makeshift immigration hall:

After immigration, a welcome to Haïti from the local cellphone mafia:

Outside arrivals, where I waited for my driver:

On the way back, the driver tried to (once again) convince me I needed to be at the airport three hours before departure.  Um, no.  No way.  I told him to pick me up at 7:15am (to give me time for some coffee first) and we’d be there by  7:45 for a 9:20 flight.  Plenty of time.  As predicted, arrived at 7:45, and immediately were surrounded by porters grabbing at my bags.  I waved them all off, but they were persistent, all trying to get a hand on the bags to justify a few dollars tip.  While I felt a bit obligated to stimulate the local economy, these people were clearly not hurting too much.  With a steady stream of much more gullible visitors, I didn’t feel too obligated to let them assist me.

The whole terminal was operated by American, and it was just for their flights.  The check-in line for economy appeared to be at least 30 minutes, but for business (which I had to ask for – there were no signs) there was only one person in front of me.  The terminal was air conditioned, security and immigration were quick, and arriving at 7:45 was plenty of time.

American Airlines Flight 1608
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP) to Miami (MIA)
Depart 9:20, Arrive 11:25, Flight Time 2:05
Boeing 737-800, Registration N833NN, Manufactured 2010, Seat 4E

Extremely uneventful flight, and nothing really to add here.  Typical light morning breakfast/snack which I skipped, and before you know it, it was time to experience my first Miami arrivals.  Walked a bit, took an escalator, took a train, walked some more, and was finally in the immigration hall.  It was almost as bad as Dulles, but not entirely.  Global Entry was a breeze, and there was also a special Global Entry customs line.  Got the usual dirty looks from other passengers, and was through quickly, and ready to connect to my next flight.  Grabbed a quick shower in the AAdmirals Club to wash off the morning sweat from Haïti, and onwards!

American Airlines Flight 2307
Miami (MIA) to Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW)
Depart 13:35, Arrive 15:40, Flight Time 3:05
Boeing 757-200, Registration N638AA, Manufactured 1991, Seat 3E

Another very uneventful flight – again, the best kind!  Nothing to really say, so not going to say much.  We were about 30 minutes late due to diverting around weather, but my arrival and connection were both in terminal C at Dallas, so it was very easy to make it.

American Airlines Flight 2442
Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW) to Washington, DC National (DCA)
Depart 16:55, Arrive 20:35, Flight Time 2:40
Boeing 737-800, Registration N867NN, Manufactured 2011, Seat 4E

Again, a very uneventful flight with a good crew.  Unfortunately, about 90 minutes into the flight I started feeling a bit “off” which I’d later find out was food poisoning.  Not sure if it came from Haïti, or if it came from the grilled shrimp salad on the Miami to Dallas segment, but either way I woke up about 8 hours later at home feeling like absolute death which stuck with me for a few days.  Oh well, small price to pay for an awesome adventure!

Aug 292012
 

Originally, this trip was prompted by a sale that Delta was having to Georgetown.  Sale + country I haven’t been to = instant interest to me.  However, when I discovered the Delta flight was a redeye in both directions, combined with the fact I have little interest in accumulating more Delta miles, meant I wasn’t as interested.  However, I had the Guyana-bug now, and started looking for options.  American had a fantastic discount business fare into the country next door of Trinidad and Tobago, so after a little exploring and figuring it out, I booked it.  I would also help me towards the 55,000 elite qualifying points I would need to requalify for American Executive Platinum for 2013, so it was a no brainer.  Flights booked, I was set.

Morning came way too early (I know DCA is only 2 miles from home, but seriously, why do I keep booking these 7am flights in 2012?  I know I’m trying to conserve leave time, but really….) and I was off to DCA with plenty of time to spare.  After only three visits so far, the AAdmirals Club agent recognized me, which I was pretty impressed with.  At the new United, you’re lucky to get a grunt as they let you in, the American agents have genuinely thanked me for my business, and truly seemed appreciative.  I know I’m always saying the airlines are all the same, but honestly, American seems to be making a real effort to thank customers.  It’s not going unnoticed!

So, before you ask about the routing – yeah, the point of Dallas was to maximize miles.  Fare was only a few dollars more, and the cost of 3-4 hours of sleep, but with only 4 months left to earn elite points, I needed the extra routing.  Figured I could always sleep on the plane if needed.

American Airlines Flight 467
Washington National (DCA) to Dallas (DFW)
Depart 7:10, Arrive 9:15, Flight Time 3:05
Boeing 737-800, Registration N845NN, Manufactured 2010, Seat 5E

Great flight, decent crew, first meal choice.  Other than that, there’s not too much to say.  Flight had GoGo Wifi, but chose not to use it and slept most of the flight.  Also the first time in eons that I actually had an airline breakfast that I chose to not only eat…but almost enjoyed.  It was quite tasty!  Mmmm….biscuits!

Landing was about 15 minutes late due to ATC, no excitement, and a short walk from one end of the D-terminal to the other, and I reached my gate just as boarding had started.  I know some people think DFW is like MSP in that your walk can be FOREVER if you get unlucky, but fortunately on this occasion mine was short, and there was zero drama.

American Airlines Flight 2074
Dallas (DFW) to Miami (MIA)
Depart 10:20, Arrive 14:10, Flight Time 2:50
Boeing 757-200, Registration N635AA, Manufactured 1990, Seat 2E

Relatively short flight without too much to say.  This was a lunch flight, and it was another excellent crew.  Arrival was on time, got first meal choice, and really that’s all there is to say!

I know some folks feel the need to be “wined and dined” when they fly first, but I actually appreciate American’s relatively light lunch salads.  Just enough to fill you up without making you feel gross.

I had about four hours to kill in Miami, so I did some e-mail and work in the lounge, and then decided since I was in Miami that I needed to have a bit of Cuban…so it was off to La Carretta for lunch.  Delicious Cuban Sandwich (I can see this becoming a regular obsession in the future when I fly through MIA) and soon it was time to board the flight to Port of Spain.

American Airlines Flight 1819
Miami (MIA) to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (POS)
Depart 18:05, Arrive 21:50, Flight Time 3:45
Boeing 757-200, Registration N652AA, Manufactured 1991,  Seat 4E

I don’t remember why, but decided not to take any meal photos.  It was a generic mid-con type domestic meal, a generic chicken or pasta choice…and the chicken was actually quite tasty.  Also on offer were fresh cookies before landing.  Requested (and got) the “big boy” glass of red wine, which the excellent crew kept well-filled until landing in Trinidad.  Killed most of the flight catching up on tv on my iPad – one of the best things I ever did was get rid of cable and just start subscribing to tv series that I like on iTunes.  This way, I never waste evenings waiting for shows to come on, and I can just watch them when flying and I’d be doing nothing else anyways.

Transit airside is not possible in Port of Spain, so had to wait in a 5 minute queue for immigration, cleared with no drama, and then did the short walk to the departures area to check in for my flight with Caribbean.  Had plenty of time, absolutely no drama whatsoever, and soon was in the security line to get back into the departures hall.  A few notes:  1)  Port of Spain has two terminals/wings, each with their own security.  There was a 20 minute wait for security in the terminal I needed to go into, but zero in the other.  Go figure.  2)  Trinidad and Tobago has very strict laws against wearing camoflage clothing of all colours.  Don’t even try it or customs will nail you.  3)  Don’t count on lounge access.  One of the two wings has a Caribbean Airlines lounge you can use if you’re in their business class or an elite in their frequent flier program, the other has a Priority Pass lounge….yeah, I was in the wrong one, and wasn’t going to pay $200+ more for business class on a 1 hour flight at 1am that I would likely crash on anyways.

Caribbean Airlines Flight 525
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (POS) to Georgetown, Guyana (GEO)
Depart 00:25, Arrive 1:35, Flight Time 1:10
Boeing 737-800, Registration 9Y-JMA, Manufactured 2002, Seat 5C

That said, time went by quickly, I managed to get a bulkhead aisle seat, and all was good.  Beverage service was offered, and a beer was just what the doctor ordered.  Landed on time in Guyana, and little to say here again.  Immigration and customs were quite quick and efficient, I was one of the first through, and was out into the taxi queue in less than 10 minutes.  Had a bit of a hard time finding the driver the hotel had sent (yeah, they said he would have a sign, but he didn’t….and he had no interest in searching me out.  I was literally walking up to random people asking if they were him…and that’s how I eventually found him.)

But even then…he wasn’t going to drive me.  He was “maybe waiting for someone else” so he pawned me off on some friend of his.  Now, I’m going to be politically incorrect a second, but I was a bit nervous about the minivan he put me into.  My driver was a spitting sterotypical image of Aunt Jemima, right down to the big flowing dress and mile-high do-rag.  I was once told in DC that “do-rag” is an offensive term, but when wandering Guyana the next day I actually saw a vendor with a sign that said “DO RAGS $400” – so, I figure it’s at least the local term in Guyana!  She was driving the minivan with her mid-teens friend/son/etc, and they refused to acknowledge that they spoke English, speaking in a very rapid creole.

All was fine, however, and 30-40 minutes later I was at my hotel, the Herdmanston Lodge.  The night manager was waiting for me, quickly walked me to my room, got me bottled water, and left me alone – just what I needed at 2am!  It was time to crash, and sleep a few hours to enjoy the very early morning daytrip I had booked the next day.

Jul 102012
 

So let’s see, as I mentioned earlier, this was it. In the dark of the night, I was about to cheat. I felt dirty. I snuck around before the sun rose…I went to see a mistress who had been sending me all sorts of love notes online…and finally I gave in to her seduction. She said she’d treat me better than my long-term lover did. She would lavish me with all sorts of goodies.

Now, in fairness, I’d been here before. But that time, I was in an unhappy relationship. Northwest was abusing me, forcing me to jam my knees into seatbacks and suffer the indignities of international economy. It was awful, and I was looking for something happier. I had a fling with United when she promised me something better. No incentive, just give me a try…you’ll have fun with me. That was around six years ago, and I sure have….to the point I’ve done 950,000 miles on her since then. However, she’s gotten a bit cranky since her evil relative came into the picture and all they do is argue. In front of me. It’s not pretty. I hate spending time around her when all she can do is complain about how bad her recently re-joined siamese twin is. It’s not pretty…at all. To top it off, I hate to admit it, but she’s falling apart.

Last time we went for a romp across the ocean, she was stuck in place. Couldn’t even recline. I’d paid big money for us to enjoy this trip together, and she was stuck in place unable to recline back for hours. It wasn’t enjoyable for either of us, and when I told daddy Smisek, he gave me a pitiful increase on my weekly allowance and said “don’t worry, I think this is a change you’ll like.”

Thus is was, I found myself at DCA at 4:45am ready to cheat on her. I felt dirty, but there it was…and here we go.

4:45am isn’t pretty. Honestly, I still don’t believe it exists. Especially because it required being away at 3:30am, a few espresso shots and a monster energy, a taxi conversation about recent developments in ethiopian politics, and…yeah, I’m boring you. Normally I like hard-copy boarding passes, but at 5am there was no way I was standing in line at the ticket counter to get one. Mobile pass flashed to the TSA nitwits, through the x-ray, no need to opt out today, and I was outside the Mistress’s Lair, I mean Admirals Club, five minutes before opening.

What waited inside? A smile. Yes, at 5am, a SMILE. Whoah…and donuts. United might have slung some yogurt at me if I was lucky, but these were honest to God sugar-filled chunks of 5am happiness. Top this off with awesome smiling staff, and I was in Heaven…until I got to the gate at 6am.

There, I was met with my worst fears. See, I’ve been to 116 countries, but there’s two cities in America I’m ashamed to admit never having been to: Miami, and New Orleans. New Orleans because my already-fragile liver is afraid of it, and Miami because, well…yeah. Getting to the gate, I noticed half the flight was already wearing sunglasses. Mind you, it was 5:20 am and we were inside DCA. That didn’t seem to matter to any of them. Gucci, Prada, tell me what you like…gate 22 at DCA never mind the gate lice! Boarding passes were printed by the ambivalent gate agent, and soon we’d boarded.

Seats? Well, they seemed a bit flimsy in “first” on this 737-800, but nothing terrible. Wide enough, good enough leg room, the standard (to me) United OJ or water offered. So far, just another day up front.

American Airlines flight 2185
Washington, National (DCA) to Miami (MIA)
Depart: 6:05 Arrive: 8:35 Flight Time 2:30
Boeing 737-800, Registration N904AN, Manufactured 1999
Seat 5E, First Class

So, honestly, there’s not much to say about the flight. I know, you expected rocket science, right? It was a standard domestic U.S. flight. A few notes: “breakfast” on American in this case meant a bowl of cereal, a banana, a plate full of blueberries, and some carb bombs…aka biscuit or bagel. Skipped on the bombs, had a bloody mary and enjoyed (dry) the fruit and cereal. As someone who normally skips breakfast it was a perfectly happy start to the day.

Flight itself was completely uneventful, and unfortunately I have very little to report. It was what I’d come to expect from similar flings, and honestly, while the variety was nice my socks weren’t knocked off. I’m definitely not leaving my regular partner for her any time soon because of this. We landed on time in Miami, and culture shock was about to set in!

I think I’m in Detroit, and having a flashback to the last time I had an affair. See, back then, my partner…let’s call her Northwest, used to make me take a train up and down to all parts of town to visit her. She couldn’t sit still, and we’d go to Detroit and zip back and forth on this little red train. It was fun, but soon grew old. Now, this new mistress was going to make me do the same…except in Miami. Zip, zip, zip, from one end of the long terminal to the other, and into her den of iniquity…yes, the “Admiral’s Club.”

Now, a few thoughts on this place, that are easier in numerical form:

1) The lady up front smiled at me. She genuinely cared. She wasn’t a dragon. She was really happy to see me.
2) There was no cheese. No crackers. Some rather sad cookies, but a decent espresso machine. That works for me.
3) Everyone was habla-ing the español. J’étais confusé. What IS this place. I think I got off in Havana by accident.
4) Oh, and why pray-tell is everyone still wearing sunglasses? Indoors? Is there something going on I wasn’t aware of?  My mama’s warned me about places like this.

Never mind, it was a quick stop for espresso, iPad recharging, and agua, and off to the gate. Boarding was quick, things were once-again friendly, and I was ensconced on the 757 where thanks to my learnings of FEBO (Front-Even, Back-Odd) I was near the back of the cabin. See, this chick doesn’t believe in serving her frequent clients first….she just cares where you live. On even-numbered days, she likes the ones up front. On odd-numbered days, she likes the ones in back. Being an odd-numbered day, I’d picked a seat in back so she’d get to me first. Wise choice!

American Airlines flight 2297
Miami (MIA) to St Lucia, Hewanorra Airport (UVF)
Depart: 10:15 Arrive 13:50 Flight time 3:35
Boeing 757-200, Registration N612AA, Manufactured 1989
Seat 5E, Business Class

Once again, I can’t say much on this flight. I had some sort of a chicken dish for lunch, which was tasty enough. I have to admit though….cookies for dessert? Come on, this isn’t grade school. I don’t do dessert often, so look for something tasty when I treat. A cookie just doesn’t cut it. For quasi-domestic though, it was exactly what I’d come to expect from my current partner so I can’t complain or be happy either way.

I did feel guilty, however, that in the galley I had a chat about my current partner with the mistresses employees. They were unaware that the mistress had made such a wide offer to all the guys who’d been hanging out with my current partner, and were extra-anxious to show how fun they were. Yes, this involved beverages….and I have to say…she keeps just as cheap of wine at home as the current. Can’t win or lose here!

Overall first impressions? Same, same…but different. Only noticeable difference is the mistress is noticeably happier these days, while Ms United the partner is quite grouchy in general. That could all change, but I’ll be giving them both a chance…two-timing through at least mid-2013 until I can make my mind up. After all, what’s the point of a mistress if you can’t string both of them along while you think you can get the best of both worlds?

Deplaning was quick, and walked down the stairs into the heat and humidity of St Lucia…country #117 visited. Inside the terminal, I was met with something United has never done for me. There was an agent with my name (and two others…I assume other Exec Platinums) on a board, who personally escorted us to the front of the immigration queue, thanked us for flying American, and made sure we were through in under 5 minutes. WOW! 100+ international flights with United, and they’ve never done that!