Woke up way too early, turned on the iPhone, and as usual the messages started coming in. Emails, text messages…and the notification from TripIt that my flight with Air Namibia from Windhoek to Harare was canceled. UGH. I was already unsettled about this part of the trip given Air Zimbabwe’s recent fleet problem of being reduced to one airworthy plane, but this was a whole new wrench in the works.
It looked like I might be able to fly to Johannesburg and then to Bulawayo, but of course Air Namibia and Air Zimbabwe took no responsibility, and this would be several hundred dollars out of pocket. Too tired to really focus on the impending problem, I did what any sane person would do, and headed around the corner from the Hilton to Slowtown Coffee.
Ok, in fairness I stopped by the Hilton Exec Lounge first, but the caffeine looked unpredictable, and the lounge was filled with loud americans touting their “status” so I made a hasty retreat. Slowtown definitely seemed to be THE place to be in Windhoek this morning:
Plus, a super tasty iced coffee and a pastel de nata and I was much more prepared to figure out what I was doing with the next few days:
I debated just spending another day checking out Namibia, but after four nights I didn’t think there was that much I was going to see, plus the cost of extending the car might get crazy. I decided to head to the airport, fly back to Johannesburg, and decide from there if I could salvage the trip at all.
Back to the airport, up to the Hertz counter, and guess what? Yes, their credit card terminal was down again, so “please write on this paper what you think you should pay for” and that was it. I basically wrote down the four days of rental plus taxes, and decided to see how things went. No one way drop off fee. None of the crazy insurance they tried to push on me in Walvis Bay. I had a feeling this was going to get bad, but at the same time I was pretty confident that American Express would have my back.
Security and immigration took maybe five minutes today, and the airport was a ghost town compared to a few days prior. How much of a ghost town? This is the ENTIRE departures hall:
Short stop in the generic business lounge, which actually had a reasonable variety of snacks and beverages, and a couple bottles of Savannah Dry Cider later, and it was time to board. Our flight today had a total of 60 people, so it would be nice and relaxed.
This time, no complaints about taking pictures, and was able to grab a good shot of our plane while boarding.
British Airways flight 6274 operated by Comair
Windhoek, Namibia (WDH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 14:55, Arrive 16:45, Flight Time: 1:50
Boeing 737-800, Registration ZS-ZWJ, Manufactured 2006, Seat 1F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 36,935
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,556,997
No pre-departure drink at all, but right after take off a glass of sparkling wine and a bag of nuts:
For such a short flight, meal service was still done in two parts, with the salad, cheese, and dessert coming first:
In case you’re curious exactly what it was:
Beef, chicken, or veg, and I went with the chicken. Unusual choice for me on a plane, but not only did I go with the chicken but I opted to stick with champagne. It was good – not great – but I was plenty happy with it. Slightly dry like I expect airplane chicken to be, but who knows…maybe I was feeling just a wee bit healthy?
Landed in Johannesburg almost 20 minutes early, got a bus gate, and it was time to head back to my hotel…and figure what if anything I was going to doing with the next three nights…since my journeys to Botswana and Zimbabwe looked to be at risk…
Got to sleep in a slight bit since my flight wasn’t leaving until around noon, and I just hoped there wouldn’t be metro/RER drama this morning on my way to the airport. Stopped for a coffee then headed to the metro; quick transfer at Les Halles and caught an RER after just a few minutes. Unfortunately, the train was absolutely packed and was hotter than a sauna. Everyone was starting to drip sweat, and since I had extra time decided to get off at Gare du Nord and wait for the next train.
Next train was much cooler, and empty to the point I even got a seat, and from there it was a quick 30 or so minute ride to the airport. Quick walk back over to Terminal 2A, where there was a super long check-in queue for British Airways – even in the priority line. Seemed most passengers were connecting onwards to North America and had 1,400 suitcases each. Finally got to the front of the line, and got to have a bit of an argument with a check-in agent who insisted my rolling bag could not possibly fit in overhead bins. She insisted I check it.
I told her it does fit, agents don’t have a problem with it, and finally she gave in and said “fine, I’m working the gate too, we can ask the flight attendants!” With that, I headed off to a painless security queue and eventually made my way to the lounges…since the every-so-friendly check-in agent hadn’t told me which lounge to go to, when confronted with the choice of Cathay or American, well, I made the logical choice.
Since I’d only had coffee I was pretty hungry, so decided to see if there was anything interesting to eat….and OMG there it was…crack from Hong Kong. I was given a buzzer to await my crack dealer to arrive…
Soon it buzzed, and crack in a bowl was delivered – DanDan Noodles. The glass of champagne almost didn’t happen since I encountered some kind of stopper I couldn’t figure out how to get off the bottle. Neither could the other two people who were trying. Fortunately, we were saved by a lounge attendant, and brunch was salvaged!
Got to the gate just as they were about to begin boarding and of course nothing at all was said about my bag…which of course fit just fine in the overheads just as it had on the way in.
British Airways flight 309
Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 12:05, Arrive 12:25, Flight Time: 1:20
Airbus A319, Registration G-EUPS, Manufactured 2007, Seat 5F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,762
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,265,287
Super quick flight, but not too quick…and lived up to the challenge of managing two minis of champagne before landing. Another very impressive meal for such a short flight that hit the spot perfectly.
Took the Heathrow Express into the city, and assuming that I would have Etihad chauffeur service I’d booked in at the Le Meridien Piccadilly. Unfortunately, Etihad decided my ticket was a connection despite the overnight, and thus not eligible for chauffeur service in London. Not a big deal at the end of the day…until I found out the Bakerloo line wasn’t running from Paddington to Piccadilly, meaning a transfer. Three trains to get to the hotel wasn’t bad in the middle of the day, but the next morning that wasn’t going to happen.
There was a line of eight people waiting to check in when I arrived at the hotel, so did something I rarely do which is go to the side of the counter dedicated for SPG Platinum check-in. No problem until the next in line was called, and I walked over to the agent. I got rudely shoved by a rather rotund American gentleman who was the next in the regular line and insisted “I was next!” I told the agent I was waiting for Platinum and his comment was “well I’m gold so f*** off.” What’s that thing about the ugly American again… Not wanting to waste time, I waited the two minutes.
It was 2:15 at this point, and I was told my room wasn’t ready. They had upgraded me to a junior suite, but it would be another 30 minutes before it was ready. I was told I could either leave my bags, or go wait in the lounge. Since it was only 30 minutes, I opted to wait in the lounge and the agent said she would call up when the room was ready.
An hour went by, and still no call. So I went down to the front desk, and “oh, yeah, it’s ready – sorry I forgot.” Ugh. I know the hotel can’t be blamed for the rude guy in the check-in line, but so far I wasn’t overly impressed. On the plus side, the junior suite was quite nice, and unusual for hotels in London the temperature was actually decently on the cool side.
I was starting to drag at this point, so walked around the corner to perhaps the poshest Starbucks I’ve even been in…which didn’t stop them from spelling my name wrong yet again:
Spent the evening catching up with friends, including drinks, followed by dinner, followed by more drinks. The hotel did turn out do be in the perfect location for walking from place to place, and was definitely a good choice! Got a nice view of Piccadilly Circus at night on the walk back to the hotel:
With that, my short stopover in London had come to a close and it was time to get some rest so I could enjoy the capstone of the trip – flying Etihad in Apartments and First Class to Washington via Abu Dhabi!
Grabbed the Airport Express train to the airport, and went straight to Cathay Pacific check-in. This was to be my first experience with them, and I was looking forward to seeing if it lived up to the hype. Many people compare Cathay and Singapore as Asia’s premier airlines, so having flown Singapore a number of times I was curious to see if it was all true. I didn’t get any pictures of the check-in area, but it was very strange. Several stand-up desks that were like cocktail tables where you stand with your agent and check-in. It was kind of strange, but I assume it’s to make things feel more personal.
Security and passport control at Hong Kong are a bit of a pain, because there’s no priority line at all. I had several hours to kill so it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s still a pain to have to wait nearly 45 minutes for this when you’re in first class. So far, the ground experience wasn’t so hot – but that’s not Cathay’s fault, just a fact of life at HKG. The other fact of life I wasn’t overly looking forward to was getting to what is supposed to be the best lounge – Cathay’s recently refurbished “The Pier” lounge. The airport at HKG is shaped like a giant capital letter T, where you enter at the base of the T and the Pier is in the far upper right corner. There’s a train which runs out to the juncture of the T, but I opted to walk it to get in a slight bit of exercise before the flight.
Upon entering the agents warned me that my flight would be departing all the way from the entry of the terminal area, and that I would have to walk back because the train only runs one way. No big deal, and I appreciated the warning. I immediately sat down in the bar/lounge area which was nice and roomy, and almost felt like living room at home. Plenty of space, but the roaming bartenders/service people were nowhere to be found. If you wanted something to drink, you had to go up to the bar to get it yourself. Awkward. There was also a small room with some light snacks, but if you wanted something more substantial you had to go to the sit-down dining area. After working for about an hour, I was getting rather hungry since I skipped lunch and headed to the restaurant. Today’s menu:
I opted for a glass of the rosé to get things started:
First up, I went with the tuna appetizer. Very bland and flavourless…but a decent helping of protein. Nothing to get excited about.
I was a bit torn on what to get for a main, but went with the Dandan Noodles because I were told they were a Cathay specialty…and like crack. Now, funny fact. I hate peanut butter…have ever since I was a kid. But, I love peanut butter sauces, peanut soup, peanut butter cookies…you get the drift. It just can’t be all gooey and stuck to bread I guess. That said…I wanted a second bowl of these noodles. They were absolutely amazing…and I almost ordered another bowl. I would have if not for the upcoming flight…
The toffee pudding…also pretty bland, and very little toffee taste. I finished it, but probably shouldn’t have…
After a nice dinner, I grabbed a shower. The shower rooms were nice – and quite functional – but far from the nicest I’ve seen. I think Singapore and Lufthansa do far nicer, but that said not the end of the world. They were plenty nice. I worked for a little bit longer, and then took the long slow stroll back to the gate, stopping on the way at “The Wing” lounge right next to my gate. Now, I’d been warned that all the Cathay lounges have some flaw or another. The Pier – too far and inconvenient. The Wing – open air, and loud. That said…it wasn’t my complaint with The Wing.
For a first class lounge, it felt like a zoo. A zoo with no power outlets. It was more crowded than many United Clubs I’ve been in, and there were very few spaces to sit. I get that it was peak departures hour, but this place was packed. A first class lounge should never feel packed! Since this was my first real One World first class experience, I had to wonder if the One World rule granting access to first lounges made them more like Lufthansa Senator lounges – crowded because everyone and their mother gets access.
…eventually I found a power outlet…and a bottle of rosé…and all was soon forgotten. Walked downstairs from the lounge just as we were ready to board.
Cathay Pacific flight 261
Hong Kong (HKG) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 23:55, Arrive 05:40, Flight Time: 12:45
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration B-KPF, Manufactured 2008, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,264,855
No sooner had I taken my seat and been welcomed than a glass of Krug and an amuse bouche showed up. It was some strange salmon and shaved ice thing, but hey, the Krug is what’s really important here!
Have Krug, am happy:
Despite the midnight departure, Cathay serves a full “supper” service:
The burger snack sounded tasty, but sleep sounded better…
Takeoff was right on time, and service began quickly with more Krug and mixed nuts. Was glad to see a few pistachios in there…
Caviar service…I’ve heard tales if there is extra caviar you can ask them to save it and do scrambled eggs and caviar in the morning…must try on my next Cathay flight!
Caviar done properly, with mother-of-pearl spoon:
Very boring salad, ruined with in-flight shrimp:
The lamb loin main was recommended, but I have to say I didn’t find it very tasty. Normally, lamb has a lot of flavour to it, but this was pretty bland. So much so that I didn’t even bother to finish it…
Fantastic choice of cheeses…fortunately I didn’t finish the lamb, because these were delicious!
Despite being stuffed, it was insisted I have a few chocolates with my final glass of wine before dozing off.
Slept over 7 hours, thanks to a cabin temperature which was kept just cool enough for sleep. I managed to fall asleep right away, and woke up wrapped in a warm duvet which clearly the flight attendants had done. I can’t imagine a United flight attendant caring enough to put a blanket on a sleeping passenger…woke up, and for some reason I craved tea. I never drink tea…but it was fantastic!
Followed by a delicious mango smoothie and entire basket full of breakfast breads.
I went with the dim sum main (when in China?) which was pretty tasty, although a little on the dry side.
Thank you note from the crew. The little hearts were a cute touch:
So, what’s to say about Cathay? The food was fantastic other than the lamb, but any airline can get it wrong once and a while. The crew was very attentive and helpful without being overbearing, but it lacked the personal touch – same as I often feel with Singapore. Maybe it’s the American in me that I prefer crews to be a bit warmer and chatty, but they did seem to be that way – but only with what appeared to be two Cathay employees in first and the other three passengers, all who were Chinese. Hard to say. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the flight – I did very much – just that it didn’t WOW me. I think that extra little bit depends so much on the chemistry between the crew and the passenger, and that’s something you’re just not going to have every time.
Landed at Terminal 3 at Heathrow, which meant taking the bus over to Terminal 5 and doing transfer and security theatre there. Not a big deal, took maybe 30 minutes total, and had plenty of time to enjoy in the BA first lounge.
Here’s where I’m going to be harsh – again. Just like The Wing in Hong Kong, the lounge was a zoo. Coming from Star Alliance, first lounges should be somewhat exclusive and relaxing, and this place was absolutely heaving at the seams. Plus, shower rooms were shared with the business lounge, meaning people were being told a wait of more than an hour. Thanks to smiles and stretching the truth a bit on the time of my connection, I did manage to get a shower in about 15 minutes. On the showers, I was disappointed again. Very small and sterile – felt like a cubicle and some low-end health club. Not at all appropriate for a first class lounge.
That brings me to the lounge in general. They do put on a rather nice breakfast spread with tons of options, but it felt like eating in a giant cafeteria with dozens of your closest friends. Nothing nice restaurant about it at all. Contrast this with a Lufthansa First lounge for dining, or even The Pier, and the difference was nice and day. Long way of saying, my experiences at The Wing and the BA First Lounge were far from relaxing, and far from what a first lounge should be. It’s ok if you want to let Emerald members in, but then you need something more exclusive for your first class passengers – which I understand BA does with the Concorde Room. However, without being allowed in connecting from Cathay First, the alliance fell short in that regard for me.
British Airways flight 308
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 11:10, Flight Time: 1:20
Airbus A321, Registration G-EUXM, Manufactured 2007, Seat 5F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,546
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,265,071
Quick 35 minute flight onward to Paris and BA still managed to serve a full snack. Yes, I know people complain about this snack all the time since it’s also serve on three hour routes, but for a short hop to Paris it was rather impressive! I behaved after the Cathay flight and stopped at one mini bottle of bubbly…
Next up – time to celebrate making it to Tuvalu by enjoying two days in Paris!
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…
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:
Shot across the cabin…this actually kind of reminds me of the old 747 United first seats:
Pre-departure champagne and really strange amenity kit:
Power by emPower?! What is this 1998?!
Shortly after takeoff, wine was offered with some nuts, and a very generous pour:
Despite the late departure, a very nice dinner menu was on offer:
To start the meal, another extremely generous pour…and who says the British aren’t drinkers…
The salmon and salad were…acceptable. Roughly United standard in my book…but Archer made it much better…
The chicken, unfortunately, was dry and flavourless. The jollof rice was a bit better, but…
The pineapple tiramisu was nice, but more of a mousse with some pineapple sauce than really tiramisu.
The cheese plate was…once again United quality…which doesn’t say much…
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:
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!
Lots of room:
Sorry it’s blurry, but you get the idea. Transatlantic breakfast flights are always disappointing, and this one was no exception:
Bubbles…just to see if American pulled the same plastic glass crap that United does. Answer is: yes.
Taxi was past…Concorde!
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.
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?
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:
Nice little deli plate. Nothing outstanding, but solid. Much better than the breakfast, and a decent white wine to go with it:
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:
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:
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?
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!
Dropoff by my taxi at Havana Airport was simple, but one word of advice is to check out which terminal you depart from. I had arrived at Terminal 3 with Avianca, which is the main terminal handling international flights. According to wikipedia, Cayman Airways uses Terminal 3 like all the other international airlines, but fortunately my taxi driver thought to ask some people and turns out they use Terminal 2. Other than Cayman Airways, Terminal 2 is used primarily for the charter flights to Miami, New York, and Fort Lauderdale operated under the OFAC license. Fortunately, my driver asked. One note, Condor was also using the terminal for flights to Frankfurt, so definitely don’t trust what wikipedia says.
No security at all to get into the check-in area, and the first counter I saw brought back memories:
I could have been anywhere in the US, except all the flights were pretty much to Miami:
Check-in was simple, I changed the last of my convertible pesos back into euros (no receipts needed) and headed to immigration. Had a nice chat with the friendly immigration officer who asked how I enjoyed Cuba, and then asked me if he could stamp my passport. I’d been told they always stamp now no matter what, but I didn’t get a stamp on the way in, and was given the option on the way out.
Security was on the other side of immigration, and a pretty simple affair. Terminal 2 is just one big open waiting hall, with a few hundred chairs and no jetbridges. You either walk to your plane, or are taken on a bus. Shockingly, there was actually a VIP Lounge upstairs, which I had access to with business class. It was a pretty quiet affair, with just me and two self-important people loudly telling everyone in the world on their cell phones that they were off to Miami. The lounge had serve-yourself beer and wine, and lounge staff would (in theory) make you other drinks if asked. There were some bowls of nuts and crackers, but that was it for food. I tried to get some pictures of the lounge, but was scolded, so gave up trying.
Soon, about 30 minutes after scheduled departure time, we were allowed to board our plane:
There were only two of us in business class for the short hop, so I decided to take the window seat and enjoy the views.
Cayman Airways flight 833
Havana, Cuba (HAV) to George Town, Cayman Islands (GCM)
Depart 15:20, Arrive 16:20, Flight Time: 1:00
Boeing 737-300, Registration VP-CAY, Manufactured 1993, Seat 2F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 121,566
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,160,533
Great bulkhead art…He Hath Founded It Upon the Seas!
PDB was…a mini bottle of water. At least I was offered a second one?
Hasta Luego, Havana!
Taxiing out for takeoff, we passed this beauty. Not sure the old Eastern ever operated 737s, but was still awesome to see!
The in-flight magazine boasted they were the only airline in the world to offer complimentary rum punch to all passengers, so how could I turn that down? It even came with a mini “just in case it’s not strong enough for you.” Now that’s service! I chatted with the flight attendant a bit, and she was from Jamaica and used her benefits with Cayman Airways to fly all over the world. She’d been all over Asia, Europe, Australia, and really was interesting on top of being really service oriented. For a flight that was maybe 45 minutes in the air, she did an amazing job.
Amazing views of the setting sun in flight:
On approach to Grand Cayman:
Was first off the plane when we taxied in, which meant first to immigration as well. All transfers go through immigration in the Cayman Islands. Not sure if you can transit without a visa if you need one, but when I told them what I was doing they quickly stamped me in and directed me outside to the check-in counters. Fortunately, I was familiar with the airport and had no trouble finding them.
When I got to the BA counter, they even addressed me by name, since I was the one connecting passenger they were waiting for. I guess this isn’t a very common connection? Quickly checked in, and since there’s no lounge, I was given a $10 coupon to use at the bar in the departures area. Can’t complain about that!
Security was super quick, and I was through to the departures hall in just about five minutes. Just like Havana, the departures area in Grand Cayman is just one large room, and there wasn’t too much to do. Fortunately, I only had about 30 minutes before boarding. I really wanted a Diet Coke, but when I walked up to the bar this is where things got a bit interesting. After I ordered the Diet Coke, a, um, “rather nice English lady of the mature variety” chatted me up, and had some rather unflattering things to say about my manhood for ordering a Diet Coke. She insisted I join her in doing rum shots…and ordered four right away. Apparently her “friends” were boring and had left the day before to go back to work so she was flying back to London all alone.
Fortunately, before she could order any more drinks, they paged business class for boarding. I excused myself, thanked her for the rum, and was met with “business class? well aren’t WE fancy?!” Hahaha, one of those great random travel experiences.
Boarding tonight was walking out onto the tarmac, and to the plane. She definitely looked majestic from this angle:
British Airways flight 252
George Town, Cayman Islands (GCM) to Nassau, Bahamas (NAS)
Depart 19:15, Arrive 20:45, Flight Time: 1:30
Boeing 767-300, Registration G-BNWM, Manufactured 1991, Seat 1E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 122,033
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,161,000
Literally within a minute of boarding, I’d been brought bubbles. This flight was looking pretty good for my first BA flight in 25 years!
But seriously, this is a business class seat? Not only was it completely open (so I can look right at the dude in the next row), but that’s a footrest? I don’t think I want to try putting this into flat bed mode…
Empower?! What is this, 2002?
But hey, the upside was definitely the crew, who insisted I needed a second pre-departure bubbles, no matter what I said:
Couple of thoughts on the seat. The design of the tiny little flimsy tray below holding my water is really really bad and easy to bump. Like with your knee to the point you knock your champagne glass on the ground and break it. Not that I would do that of course….
So, yes, it’s a 90 minute flight, but snacks of a bag of M&Ms and some candied nuts? I was a bit unimpressed.
It was great to have a 767 on such a short flight, and really nice having real business class. Combine that with the fact that the crew was awesome, helpful, and friendly, and it went a long way to making this a really good experience. However, if I’d been going to London, I would be super disappointed.
I know everyone thinks United is pretty rotten, and yes, they have middle seats in business class on some planes, but lately OneWorld has really disappointed me. I think we can all agree that in both alliances Cathay, Singapore, ANA, and JAL are in a league of their own, well above most members of their respective alliances.
However, when you move down a tier, you start comparing Lufthansa to BA and United to American. Let’s assume service is roughly equal on all of them, and think about the hard product. BA flies these awful open seats where you look right at someone else on some routes, and AA is still flying 777s that don’t even have lie-flat seats! Even the hard product on United isn’t that good. Plus, from what I’ve seen, BA is nowhere near the quality of Lufthansa’s new international product. (Now that they’ve finally gotten rid of those awful sloping seats). Thoughts? I guess with both alliances it still means in the middle you really have to pay attention to which plane you’re flying.
Landed right on time in the Bahamas, maybe 10% of the plane got off with the rest continuing to London, and it was time to visit my 185th country…the Bahamas!