Dec 062019
 


Since we had a relatively early flight (well, not really that early, but when you take into account time to get to the airport, etc) we hadn’t planned much for the morning other than a lazy breakfast at the hotel to enjoy one of the better hotel buffets in the world.

No trouble getting a Grab, and since it was the weekend traffic to the airport wasn’t terrible either. We had managed to check-in online, so no need to stop by the desks, and queues for immigration and security were minimal so we had some time to try the Cathay lounge.

Just as on previous visit it was a little difficult to find, and once we did it was unfortunately absolutely packed just like the previous time. I don’t know if this is always the case for this lounge because it has flights to Singapore and Hong Kong at the same time, but it was difficult even finding a place to sit.

A couple of glasses of bubbles later, I didn’t terribly care, and decided to chat up the lounge agent and see about changing my set to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). A couple weeks prior they had swapped in an aircraft with first class seats on this route, however, they were not selling first – getting access to these seats was at the mercy of airport agents since the app wouldn’t permit it.

I totally admit that I might have been a bit flirty back to the lounge agent when they initiated it, and after much back and forth with a supervisor in some mysterious location on the phone, this exchange took place: “I would love to help you, but that seat is reserved for the bassinet.” I made a joke that “it’s ok, I’m pregnant and promise to give birth before Hong Kong” to which they laughed hysterically. First class seat was mine. Hopefully it would hold…

Cathay Pacific flight 750
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 11:40, Arrive: 15:30, flight time: 2:50
Boeing 777-300, Registration B-KQT, Manufactured 2014, Seat 12K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 186,401
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,878,703

Boarding was a bit of a scrum with everyone rushing the gate the minute they started boarding, and my first impression of the seat was pretty good. Reasonably private, lots of space, and I would be happy with this seat on a 10 hour flight, not to mention a regional flight of under three hours! Ian had the seat behind me, and off to Hong Kong we went!

Bubbles and water for a pre-departure beverage…

What’s for lunch today? Can you imagine if US airlines served nice meals like this (complete with a menu!) for mid-con flights?!

In case of evacuation, throw your baby in a rubber sleepsack…

Lunch was served right after takeoff, complete with garlic bread, more champagne, and a nice thai salad.

I went with the Thai pork which was delicious. The perfect combination of savoury and sweet.

Choice of three flavours of ice cream for dessert. Strawberry for me, please!

After lunch was over, I walked past the galley and noticed a sign saying “work quietly, speak softly” – can you imagine this in the galley on US airlines? I’m sure the flight attendant unions would throw a fit! It would interrupt terribly important gripe sessions about their jobs, passengers. On the upside, a quiet environment would improve their concentration for Candy Crush and Suduko.

Arrival in Hong Kong was right on time, and since Hong Kong doesn’t trust Thai security we had to clear again – unfortunately behind what seemed like dozens of inexperienced travellers. We barely had enough time for the connection as it was, and were determined to stop in the AmEx Lounge for at least 10 minutes.

Hong Kong (along with a few other locations like Mexico City and Buenos Aires) is one of the few AmEx Lounges that has a “lounge within a lounge” for Centurion Card holders, which actually makes it a lounge I’ll go out of my way to visit.

As usual, Hong Kong was quite warm and we were a little sweaty by the time we arrived, but the champagne was poured and all was forgotten.

Despite having a very short time we were promised they could get the meals on the menu to us in five minutes or so, so we decided to order the caviar. Definitely a wonderful choice! Caviar and champagne make everything better!

Quick gobble of the goods, and then a bit of a run to the gate…where of course boarding was delayed meaning we could have spent some more time in the lounge. Said goodbye to Ian, and I was off to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time in 15 years!

Cathay Pacific flight 799
Hong Kong (HKG) to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (SGN)
Depart 16:50, Arrive: 18:35, flight time: 2:45
Boeing 777-300, Registration B-KQM, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 187,326
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,879,628

My seat assignment had stuck, and I was shown to seat 2K by the crew. It technically would be business class today, but the crew was still acting like it was first class, apologizing that they would only be able to offer business class champagne today. Could they get me some?

A bit warm from the run to-and-from the lounge, but my kitty fan and some champagne while settling into 2K made everything better.

What’s for dinner tonight? Similar to the lunch menu from Bangkok.

The thai red chicken curry was delicious – I do love the thai dishes that seem to appear frequently in Cathay business – they’re always tasty.

Choice of ice creams once again for dessert. They were out of Tegrity, so I decided to go with cookies and cream…and more champagne…this time around.

It had been fifteen years or more since I’d been in Vietnam, and in that time tourism had taken off and getting a visa had become much easier. No need to go to the consulate or embassy anymore, you can now do a visa on arrival by paying/arranging with an agency online who sends you an approval letter.

The whole process was quite confusing, and there was a waiting area where you had to fill out a form and wait. I asked about a dozen people if I needed to wait there with my letter, and the first several indicated yes, but eventually I just went up to the windows (causing several people to get upset with me) and they told me no, go straight to the arrivals queues.

Well, that would have been great, except with 20+ queues open they were all still 50+ people deep. It was going to be quite a wait. Still better than having to wait for the visa-on-arrival counter where some people said they had been waiting more than four hours!

I eventually found a line for VIP/diplomats/SkyPriority so decided that despite flying Cathay I would stand there since I have SkyPriority through Delta. That line only took about 10 minutes, but I was then berated by the guy at the counter who insisted I show him my boarding pass with SkyPriority on it – not just my card.

Feigning a bit of not understanding him he finally gave up on me and just stamped me into the country. I’m not usually a fan of gaming the system like this, but hey, to save a few hours and be able to at least enjoy the evening? Absolutely.

The other thing that had changed since my previous visit were the hotels. 15 years ago, there was no such thing as chain hotels in Vietnam, and we stayed at the Grande Olde Dame the “Rex Hotel” which was about as good as it got back then.

Now? There’s a half dozen different Bonvoy options, not to mention Hiltons, Hyatts, and everything. Grab worked well to get me to the Le Meridien (which seemed to be the recommended hotel based on online reviews) and I was given a nice room on the executive floor.

I have to wonder, however, as someone afraid of heights, what’s with all these hotels lately with 20+ floor atriums and waist-high railings where I felt I might plunge to my untimely death:

It wasn’t too late, so I figured I would head out for a walk and try and get my bearings for the coming days. The city had changed so much a walk was in order, and there seemed to be a great craft beer place less than a mile away that looked walkable.

I immediately wasn’t a huge fan of the changes in the city, as literally dozens of younger ladies from massage parlours grabbed my arm as I walked by and tried to get me to come inside. Ugh. It reminded me of Bangkok 20 years ago and the seedier side of tourism in Southeast Asia.

I managed to keep going, and was eventually rewarded with a great selection of beers at Heart of Darkness brewing. How amazing to find a Joseph Conrad-themed pub in the middle of Vietnam. While globalization definitely has its downsides in the homogenization of culture, there are some benefits…

After a couple of beers to tire me out, it was back to the hotel to rack out. I had two days to enjoy Vietnam, and wanted to make the most of them!

Nov 242019
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to enjoy my time in Indonesia!!

Nov 232019
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 222019
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need better friends.

So, how did this thing end up looking?

Right, as I said, I have a problem.

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

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

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

Nov 032019
 


By the time the door had opened I had less than 50 minutes to catch my flight in DC. Since I’d never arrived from the US and connected to the US before, I had no idea how much work it would be, so I assumed maximum annoyance factor.

Fortunately , just like when I’ve arrived from DC before, we were dumped into generic international arrivals, meaning I could just run for my connection – and hopefully there was a turnoff for connections to the US before having to enter Canada!

The was, and with about 45 minutes to go I was already at the security line which wasn’t too bad with a NEXUS card. I was through in not too long, and got to US immigration with 35+ minutes to go. On the off chance you might not know, for flights from Canada to the US, from major airports you clear US immigration while still on the Canadian side.

The line wasn’t too bad, but for some reason despite using the Global Entry kiosk they were making everyone line up with their receipts, and the officer was grilling every person. Seriously, wtf is with this. I’ve only seen it in Toronto and Vancouver (never the US proper) where they basically ignore Global Entry and give you the third degree regardless. You can imagine how this is going to go.

“How long were you in Toronto?” “Oh, about ten minutes, I’m just connecting.” “Where are you connecting from?” “LA” “You’re going from LA to DC via Toronto?!” (and he holds up his hand to motion me over to secondary) . me: “yes, it’s an award ticket, it was the cheapest mileage option…but after a redeye from LA I’m regretting it.” Slight pause…and he waives me through. YES!

Quick glance at my phone to see which gate to run to….and I see the flight has been delayed by an hour. Hahahah, isn’t that how it always happens?

Decided with my bounty of extra time that the first stop would be Starbucks for some caffeinated goodness, and then the Air Canada lounge for a bit to get some water and charge the phone while I waited to see if the delay would get any worse.

Turns out that my plane was originally going Montreal – Toronto – DCA that morning, and had gone mechanical in Montreal, so they’d done a plane swap, and the new plane was in the air…so the hour delay looked pretty realistic…and it was.

Air Canada flight 7608 operated by Sky Regional
Toronto, Pearson (YYZ) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 7:25, Arrive: 8:50, flight time: 1:25
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FEJB , Manufactured 2005, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 140,739
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,833,327

Absolutely packed flight – which I’m guessing had to do with the delay. No misconnnects, a few people from later flights on standby, but I had my 1A so I was happy as a clam. They even served a meal on this one instead of the snack I’m used to from the noon flight from DCA to Toronto, and it was actually substantial. Still full from In ‘n Out and the flight from LA I think I just ate the fruit and pecked at the eggs.

So, there I was….home by 11am, a full half day to do laundry and recover before going into work the next day. In the end it was a little over 87 hours, and lots of stories and adventures. But would I do it again?

I think my worries going into it were twofold: one, that I’d end up exhausted at the end and go into the workweek absolutely wrecked. I’m not 21 anymore and can’t get away with that. The other was the money and miles….would I regret spending them?

Now, almost two months later, the second question is easy: the work travel has piled on and I’ve already earned all the miles back in under two months so I’m glad I did it or I might have more than I know what to do with!

On the being exhausted…yeah, there’s no denying I was. But staying home it would have been my birthday and who’s to say I wouldn’t have stayed up late or gone out. Plus, I wasn’t THAT wrecked, and I had a half day to recover…AND I had an amazing adventure and series of stores. End of the day, what it comes down to is, that old saying is true:

“You never regret the big chances you took….but you almost always regret the ones you didn’t take.”

Live big, live epic, make great stories….they’ll be plenty of time to be worm fodder later!

(Oh, and I’m writing this two days into the next epic adventure. Stay tuned for a trip to the Arctic Circle…aka Tuktoyaktuk….via the Middle East, Southeast Asia…and Toronto…that sounds almost as crazy as LA to DC via Toronto….

Nov 022019
 


After landing at LAX, I think we were at the very last gate of the Bradley Terminal, and it felt like I walked halfway to Arizona to find my way to customs and immigration. Thanks to Global Entry no wasted time at all, and I was through quite quickly with still over four hours until departure for Toronto.

At the very last moment, I found out my friend Karl of Great Circle Mapper fame was in LA for some aviation geek event called cranky dork geekfest or something and was actually nearish the airport. Quick call of an Uber, and I was off to see just how much I could accomplish in a short layover.

Got to the restaurant where he was at, but apparently there were multiple events. I was pretty sure he wasn’t there for Alyssa’s quinceanera!

So, first thoughts, how did I not know about The Proud Bird before? Great place to watch planes landing as it’s essentially at the end of a runway, and lots of great aviation memorabilia and good beers to boot!

Was awesome having an hour or so to catch up with Karl (and yes, I admit, geek out with AvGeeks watching planes land too. Everyone was glued to FlightRadar24 and when something “cool” was coming in they’d all bolt up and run outside to get pictures – it was awesome!) but all too soon I had to head out if I wanted to ensure a stop at THE reason for an LAX layover.

You knew it was coming…a stop at In ‘n Out Burger for a double double, animal style of course, and a neapolitan shake. The place was absolutely packed, and it took nearly 20 minutes to get my order, but it was worth every delicious bite and minute of waiting.

As I was enjoying dinner Al Fresco, this email came in…pretty sure I nailed it. Planespotting, friends, and In ‘n Out…all in a four hour layover. Pretty sure that qualifies as living my best life….oh and all that going around the world for my birthday thing…

Got to LAX, and in order to be sure I could use CLEAR (and because I was desperately in need of a shower) I headed to T4 to clear security since it was the shortest airside walk to the TBIT and Star Alliance lounge where I was sure I could get a shower.

No wait at all for security, a long-ish walk to the Star Alliance Lounge where I found out the wait for a shower was…”one to two hours” – wtf is it with lack of showers this trip?

I may have offered the lounge attendant a small gift….and voila my waiting time was less than ten minutes. I felt mildly bad about skipping the queue, but after no shower in Tokyo and then running around LA for three hours, I was pretty desperate!

Showered, and much happier, I began the long trek underground from TBIT to Terminal 6 underground through terminals 4 and 5, and finally arrived at the Air Canada lounge quite a bit sweatier. Thank God I’d had that shower…

Quick glass of wine, and was off to the gate…where the minute I got there it was announced there would be a 45 minute delay due to late arriving crew. Ugh, that was going to mean I had barely an hour in Toronto, which would make clearing immigration interesting…

Air Canada flight 788
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Toronto, Pearson (YYZ)
Depart 22:15, Arrive: 05:38 next day, flight time: 4:23
Boeing 777-200LR, Registration C-FIVK, Manufactured 2008, Seat 7K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 140,380
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,832,968

Finally we boarded, where everyone promptly got themselves all ready for bed. It was clear the cabin was full of LA to Toronto regulars, some of the conversations around me were fascinating. One young woman who’d flow to LA that morning “for a commercial shoot” and was flying right back. Another younger woman in head to toe Gucci and Louis Vuitton going on and on about how she “caught her maid doing coke in the bathroom – that’s so 1980s!” and that’s just the ones I overheard….

As predicted the moment we were airborne 90% of the cabin went flat with their seats and were out cold for the flight. According to the flight attendant, I was one of three people still awake in a cabin of 35+ so I decided to see what’s to eat.

Ahhhh, the Air Canada omelet with cottage cheese and mystery pepper relish…I was hoping to see it and wasn’t disappointed. Meanwhile, let’s have some pre-departure bubbles…

After takeoff, the flight attendant was quick to bring me some nuts, cheese, and wine….and when it as gone quickly, she insisted I have a second since there was so much leftover with everyone sleeping. Just what I didn’t need after In ‘n Out, but how could I say no…

After a couple hours of watching tv, the cabin was woken up about an hour before landing (with a flight time of 3 hours and 50 minutes that meant people had about 2.5 hours to sleep max) and THE omelet. Unfortunately the fruit was quite disappointing which was sad…because that’s normally something Air Canada does really well. Maybe because it’s US-catered?

Good morning Toronto!

…and with that, I had a grand total of 50 minutes to run through immigration BACK into the US, clear security, and get to my gate. Easy, right?

Oct 192019
 


So, a bit of background is necessary to understand this trip. No, I’m not talking about the fact that I have a few screws loose when it comes to traveling; that part is a given.

I’m talking more about Lufthansa’s gimmick of the “first class duck.” I’m not quite sure where this tradition started, but as I understand it Lufthansa many years ago started offering souvenir ducks to passengers taking a bath in their first class lounges and first class terminals.

Then, one day, someone had the novel idea to make a “special” thematic duck for spring, or summer, or some such reason. This caught on, and more and more Lufthansa started to offer other special ducks.

By this point, people had started to collect them, and they were no longer just for people taking baths. People came up with all kinds of reasons to stop by a get one. Seriously. One of the first phrases I ever learned in German was “Kann ich zwei Enten für meine Kinder haben?”

Yeah, there was a bit of embarrassment and shame and made up children involved in getting the ducks. I know I’m not the only one. (In all fairness, I’m much less shameful now and just ask for one….unless it’s a special one…and then the made-up children may come on board to justify needing two.)

Right, so over the years, I may have amassed quite a few of them. I know this is less than half of the ones that are out there, but thankfully my “problem” isn’t so bad that I’ve taken to eBay or such, but I may have engaged in a few trades. So, yes, my problem:

Yup. We have “Euro Duck” and then there’s “Dirndl Duck” and don’t forget “Corporate Wanker in the First Class Lounge with his Bluetooth Headset Duck.” Ok, maybe it’s not called that, but you get the drift.

So, you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with anything?

See, a week or so before my birthday (yes, if you’re keeping track this is about a week after being home from so much back to back travel this summer and looking forward to a solid month at home) I learned there was a special duck out there…one you could only get on your birthday…the elusive “Birthday Duck.

Of course, this led to planning out trips…maybe even going to Frankfurt just for a few hours as an excuse to get it. But see, unfortunately, my birthday was on a Thursday this year, and that makes things a bit difficult for work. It also turned out I had a big “can’t miss” meeting I had wisely scheduled on my birthday at 9am in DC, (3pm in Germany – pay attention – this is important) so given flights arrive from the US in the morning it meant it just wouldn’t work out this year. There would be no Lufthansa love for me.

Fast forward to Wednesday, the day before my birthday. I woke up with an inspiration: what if I could find a way to fly to fly to Frankfurt today, spend the day in the lounge, and fly out after 5pm? Surely there would be a way to chair my meeting from the lounge, right?

All I needed was a flight after 5pm. The meeting would last 90 minutes putting me done at 4:30pm German time, and Lufthansa generally drives you from the First Class Terminal to the plane around 30 minutes before departure, so I just needed to find a flight from Frankfurt that left after 5pm – there has to be something back to North America, right? (Oh, and I should probably check to make sure DC to Frankfurt isn’t sold out in First tonight, right? Though I suppose I could fly business into Frankfurt if needed.

After spending my entire commute into the office searching, there was nothing. I was crushed.

But wait, why turn right back around and go home? Johannesburg leaves from Frankfurt around 10pm, that would work! Ugh, completely sold out…search, search, search. Whoah, Shanghai! Leaves Germany at 5:10pm which would be perfect. Without a second thought I pulled the trigger. Sent a note I would be taking a half day and working remotely on Thursday, and two hours after getting to the office headed back home to throw things in a bag.

Ok, great, no time to plan…gotta get to airport. Packing is both harder and easier when you don’t how how long you’ll be gone. I would leave DC on Wednesday (birthday eve) and arrive in Shanghai on Friday night, so I figured I should be home on Sunday hopefully? Ok, that’s enough to plan to pack for roughly four days away.

Off to Dulles mid-afternoon (remember, this whole plan was only hatched about five hours prior) and all the way I was searching for ways to get home. Try as I might, I wasn’t finding anything interesting. If I was going to be in China, I figured I should go all out and make it a true round-the-world and come back over the Pacific, right?

After a couple hours of searching, I found it: Tokyo Haneda to Los Angeles on ANA All Nippon Airlines in first class! Score!

Now….there was the matter of getting from Shanghai to Tokyo, but I wasn’t worried about that. There are plenty of flights and not too expensive, so that was the least important piece.

A bit more searching, and I found an Air Canada 777 with proper business class from LA to Toronto (because why fly LA to DC direct when you can connect in Toronto and get a proper product?) and with a little more searching I found a perfectly-timed Shanghai to Tokyo Haneda flight with Japan Airlines.

Now, all I needed was a ticket from Toronto to DC. That would be easy…all sorted and purchased right as I was arriving at Dulles.

Amazing what I’d pulled off in under eight hours of planning, and just in time to relax and enjoy the experience a bit. The final route would be DC – Frankfurt (9 hours) – Shanghai (30 hours) – Tokyo (3.5 hours) – LA (4.5 hours) – Toronto (2 hours) – DC.

Whew. I’m tired just typing that. I couldn’t imagine how tired I’d be in 86 hours when it was all over. Oh well, I can sleep when I’m dead. Time to enjoy the adventure!!!

All this, just for a duck….

Oct 192019
 


Having had a great four hour nap, I finally left for the airport around midnight for a 02:50 flight, just in case there was traffic or other snafus. The flight appeared completely sold out in all classes, so I definitely didn’t want to risk it!

As it turned out, there were no problems at all, and I was at the airport a good 2.5 hours before the flight. Even immigration and security were unusually quick considering how full the flights all seemed tonight, so I was left to kill time in the lounges.

Now, I really don’t like the lounges at Delhi late at night. They always seem to be heaving with people, and a pain to even find a seat. Tonight I decided to try the Singapore lounge first, and it was completely empty…maybe five people total. I have to wonder if it’s because United and Air Canada both still had their flights cancelled, so having 100+ less people spread across the lounges helped?

Either way, it worked out charmingly, and I headed off to the gate about an hour before flight time. Gotta take a selfie with the giant statue!

Boarding for this full A380 was a bit nightmarish. Despite getting to the gate an hour before departure, I was at least 50th in the queue for boarding group one. Fortunately, no problem finding storage for my bags once on board.

Lufthansa flight 761
Delhi, India (DEL) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 02:50, Arrive: 07:40, flight time: 8:20
Airbus A380, Registration D-AIMJ, Manufactured 2012, Seat 22G
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 117,958
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,810,546

Something about Lufthansa’s pre-departure sparkling wine (or is it actually champagne?) is so much classier than United’s.

What’s for dinner on this very late night/early morning flight?

Snack was fairly substantial, and served all at once if you wanted to eat. I would say about 90% of the cabin opted to go straight to bed instead. It wasn’t the most appetizing looking, but was reasonably tasty.

About 90 minutes before landing all the lights were turned on, and breakfast was brought by. I imagine even if you wanted to sleep it really wouldn’t have been an option.I like the alternating colours in the melon…

With six hours between flights, I thought it was worth getting a room to get just under four hours of sleep, which turned out to be a good decision and helped me beat jetlag a bit.

I even had time to stop by the Lufthansa Senator Lounge for a snack on the way to the gate. I never tire of the cheesy pretzel with a sausage and potato salad! Yum!

Off to the gate, where in direct contrast to the flight from India, I was wondering where everyone was! The gate area felt really empty for a 747, and I hoped my looking at the seatmap was really accurate.

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 13:15, Arrive: 16:05, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYT, Manufactured 2015, Seat 82A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 122,039
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,814,627

I know lots of people love to sit upstairs on the 747, and I admit that I love to as well, however, I refuse to sit in climbover class if at all possible, so on Lufthansa I always skip it. Plus, downstairs, the seats in the middle section have much more space between them and are much roomier than the side seats.

However, today’s flight was under 50% full in business class – something I’ve never seen on Lufthansa before…and not only did I get two seats to myself upstairs, the two seats behind me both stayed empty as well.

The strange part? I saw at least three groups of seats where strangers were sitting next to each other. With this much extra room why wouldn’t you want to spread out?!

What’s to eat and drink on the way to Washington?

Today’s mixed nuts after takeoff….almonds!

Marinated black angus beef….tasty, but served almost TOO cold….

The salmon, however, was excellent. I’ve been eating a lot more fish in-flight lately, and really wonder why I was so stuck on the terrible beef courses for so many years. Healthier AND better prepared almost every time!

Even the cheese course was above average for Lufthansa…and look at those crackers…in their own cute little plate/bowl and not wrapped in a package. *MIND BLOWN*

So, I admit it: to me this was better than United’s sundaes. Yes, it’s still ice cream, yes, it’s in a package and not a bowl, but it’s nice to have adventurous flavours instead of the exact same desserts that United has served on every flight for years and years. Mango & Maracuja crème brûlée?! YES PLEASE!

We took a super northerly routing for a Frankfurt to Washington flight, and passed right over Greenland….not a Trump Casino as far as the eye can see!

Even the pre-landing meal was much better than normal! A nice salad with parma ham, crayfish soup, and a pretzel! Normally, Lufthansa business class flights are just kind of “meh” in my opinion, but this one really stood out for me.

Part of it was being upstairs in a semi-empty cabin for sure, but the food and definitely the crew really stood out. Once the flight attendant working my section found out I’m working on my German she made a point to speak only German, but also clearly and slowly so I could follow along. It was really a treat and left me with a great impression! Unfortunately, I need to fly as much United as possible the rest of the year if I want a chance at Global Services….

With that, seven weeks of crazy back to back travel with less than five total nights at home was over. Switzerland, South Africa, India…what an adventure it was. I was really looking forward to four weeks at home until I had to head to Ghana for work.

…and then I woke up on my birthday and thought “I wonder if I could go around the world in first class for my birthday on a long weekend?”

Oct 122019
 


After just a few days at home, it was time to head out again and cross the Atlantic back to Switzerland. In this case, it was a total coincidence that I was connecting in Switzerland, but keeping in the spirit of maximizing time at home I left for the airport at the last possible minute.

An Uber to National Airport takes me about 12 minutes, and with CLEAR at the A Terminal only taking two to three minutes, I can easily be door to gate in under 20 minutes. So when I left home 55 minutes before the flight, and got to the gate before the incoming had even arrived, I knew I had maxed out every possible minute at home!

I stalked the gate a little bit, since the biggest problem sitting in 1A is no storage space, and you really have to be one of the first one if you want to find overhead space near you. No problem, and off we go.

Air Canada flight 7615 operated by Sky Regional
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Toronto, Ontario (YYZ)
Depart 12:45, Arrive: 14:12, flight time: 1:27
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FXJC, Manufactured 2009, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 87,495
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,780,083

Takeoff on runway 1 today, and another great view of the Pentagon as we climbed:

Air Canada was mixing up the snack today, and we were offered smoked salmon which was good. Not amazing, and certainly not filling, but good. I feel like this “meal” could have used a small sweet to go with it.

After relatively quick transit security in Toronto it was off to the Air Canada Signature lounge for a more substantial snack and some champagne. Horror of horrors they were out of rosé champagne today (something to do with LCBO being out of stock) but the smoked meat sandwiches more than made up for it!

After finishing up some work it was off to the gate, where the usual chaos of rush-hour boarding at YYZ was already well-underway.

Air Canada flight 878
Toronto, Ontario (YYZ) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 18:05, Arrive: 07:40 next day, flight time: 7:35
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration C-FRAM, Manufactured 2008, Seat 11K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 91,540
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,784,128

Having changed my departure date rather late, there was only one window seat left, so I was curious to see how sitting in the last row – 11K – would be. Turned out, it was actually nice and quiet. The folded napkins were a bit weird to me – is this supposed to be fancy or something?

Shortly after takeoff was the usual warm nuts with some wine.

Sigh. Shrimp appetizer yet again. At least there were five of them so it was a reasonably substantial amount…and they were relatively tasty.

None of the other options sounded all that good today, so decided to go with the beef which was as expected rather overdone.

The usual Air Canada cheese course. Nothing adventurous, but it was tasty enough with a bit more wine.

Ahhhh the absolutely amazing Air Canada brown sugar tart. Absolutely delicious as usual.

Managed about three hours of sleep which is pretty good for me on such a short flight, especially when I knew I’d be napping shortly after arrival.

Woke up in time to have a little bit of breakfast – which I really didn’t need, but it’s just so hard to resist the Air Canada omelet with that unusual salsa and cottage cheese concoction.

Landing was right on time, and there was no line for immigration this morning and soon I was in the train station and headed straight to my hotel where I planned a solid five hour nap before getting up to enjoy a little bit of time in Switzerland.

Had no trouble at all sleeping, and woke up early afternoon and headed out for a short walk around Zurich to enjoy the city a bit and stretch my legs. The hotel had been kind enough to agree to a 6pm checkout (this was the same hotel I’d left just four days prior and I’d arranged this with them in advance) so I also enjoyed a small snack in the executive lounge before catching the train back to the airport with plenty of time before my flight.

I had a bit of drama with my return seats (SWISS had for some reason canceled my “throne” seat and put me back in a regular seat) and spent some time at the airport trying to solve it – but was unable to as the return flight was completely full.

Admitting defeat, I headed to the gate in the satellite terminal to wait for my flight. At least I would have 4A tonight – a throne seat – so I would have an enjoyable flight to Johannesburg.

Wanting something a bit more substantial I found these unusual turkey roll-ups in the lounge that were basically deli turkey, cream cheese, and a bit of pickle all rolled up in a tortilla. What’s not to love!

I spent my time in the lounge obsessively checking the seat map to make sure they didn’t take my throne seat away again tonight, and everything seemed on the up and up, so headed off to the gate to board.

Waiting to board, I chatted a bit in line with the passenger in front of me, an older gentleman who was headed to Zimbabwe. We talked about life in Zimbabwe a bit, how hard things are with the currency situation these days, and soon enough it was time to board.

The gentleman boarded first, and the machine made all sorts of angry noises when his boarding pass was scanned. The agent informed him “I’m terribly sorry sir, but we’ve changed your seat to 1A in First Class. I hope that won’t be a problem.”

I joked with the agent that if it was I’d be happy to take that seat instead…and then scanned my boarding pass…which was also met with angry noises…and an upgrade to seat 1K!

I have no idea what process SWISS uses to do upgrades when business class is full, and maybe it was a psychic wavelength, but I wasn’t going to argue – my first operational upgrade to First Class on SWISS and I couldn’t wait!

SWISS flight 288
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:40, Arrive: 09:10 next day, flight time: 10:30
Airbus A340-300, Registration HB-JMH, Manufactured 2004, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 96,751
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,789,339

Warm grüezi on board from the super friendly crew, and was promptly welcomed with a glass of Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle and an amuse bouche which set the mood for what was sure to be a lovely flight!

Tonight’s menu:

Being quite a late departure, the table was set right after takeoff, and it was perhaps the most elegant table setting I’ve seen in quite a while. Loved the wooden salt and pepper shakers.

Decided to go with the balik salmon as a starter. Slightly disappointing that there’s no longer caviar in SWISS first class, but the salmon was absolutely delicious.

The flight attendant was a little hurt I didn’t want a second appetizer, so I decided to go with the meat platter from the Canton of Vaud. Super tasty, and just small enough it wasn’t too filling.

I decided in for a penny, in for a pound, and decided to risk the veal. OMG I’m glad I did, because it was cooked to a perfect medium rare with an absolutely delicious sauce. One of the best steaks I think I’ve ever had in flight!

I was getting pretty full by this point, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to try a cheese plate on a new first class product. I was very glad that I did, because it was an absolutely delicious sampler of Swiss cheeses – once again from the Canton of Vaud. I think that may have been tonight’s theme….

I really didn’t need desert at this point, but it sounded way too delicious to pass up. Layered chocolate cake with salted caramel, praline ice cream, and caramelized hazelnuts. I could have eaten several of these!

Hard to say no to a few pralines with a glass of Johnny Walker before heading off to dreamland.

Still six hours left in the flight, so plenty of time for some shut-eye!

Woke up and wasn’t all that hungry. so decided to have a mini pain au chocolate, some fruit, and being SWISS of course a bit of Muesli. I decided to skip the heavy caffeine in favour of a diet coke since I was hoping for one more short nap upon landing.

With that, a wonderful treat came to an end. I knew how fortunate I was to receive this upgrade, and it really is all about expectations. When you have no expectation of it happening it really is a wonderful treat, and your mood can go from zero to one hundred in an instant.

Now, if only the same could happen on the return….off to my Johannesburg hotel!

Oct 112019
 


After a bit over three weeks in Switzerland, it was finally time to head home. I would have just a bit under four days at home before heading out on the road again for a couple of back-to-back trips, but after three weeks away every day matters!

Got to the airport, and what better way to say tschüss to Switzerland than to pose for a selfie against the SWISS sign. Not really goodbye, however, since just four days later I would be connecting through Zurich again!

Strangely, my United flight would be leaving from the B Gates today (which I’ve never seen before) and while it would save me a train ride out to the E gates, I wondered if there was a respectable lounge on the other side of immigration in B.

Yes, it turns out there was, but there was no air conditioning! According to my temperature gauge, it was 81 degrees in the lounge too. Ouch! Fortunately, they had brought in a few fans, and sitting in front of one of them it was just barely tolerable.

You know what makes it tolerable, though? Swiss chocolates and Mövenpick ice cream! Mmmmm!

Off to the gate after about 30 minutes in the lounge. I’d never actually been to the B Gates before, so wasn’t sure just how long it would take to the gate…or how long and confusing the boarding process might be. Every day a new adventure!

United flight 53
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 11:55, Arrive: 14:45, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 787-8, Registration N29907, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 87,136
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,780,083

Boarding was relatively chaotic, with people not really line up well or the agents controlling things well, so it was unclear where to queue up. It’s one thing I really like about the newish boarding is that as a 1K you can pretty much stand anywhere you want, and hopefully if the agents are good you’ll still be called ahead of group one.

Worked like a charm today, but it didn’t really matter since we were at a remote stand and it would be a bus gate anyways. Off to the plane, easy boarding, and time to explore what’s to eat!

Pre-departure beverages. Trying to be positive and remember for someone that doesn’t get to do business class often this is still considered a real treat. However, unless it’s a special occasion I need to start giving the pre-departure sparking plonk a pass. It’s just not worth the calories on a regular basis. I do, however, appreciate the real glassware now.

Meal started off with some Spiderman socks from the amenity kit and mixed nuts and wine. I’ve started requesting water more regularly inflight now to survive the crazy mileage I’m flying this year, and this crew was great and proactively offered lemon or lime with a stirrer to make it easy to fish out and squeeze. Oh, and some shiraz, but that was probably a given.

I like the salads United has been serving out of Switzerland lately, and they’re relatively fresh, light, and tasty. Throw in some garlic bread and it’s delicious. In principle, the tomato, basil, and mozzarella caprese would make a nice starter, but every time I’ve had it the basil has had rotten spots and the tomatoes have been bland and underripe.

I went with the chicken breast and polenta cake as a lighter option, and with the skin off (and skipping the polenta) it did the trick without being too fancy. Kinda looks like institutional cafeteria food.

Note to self: ice cream sundaes for dessert are always worth the calories, especially with cherries and fudge. Cheese was decent without being too memorable, but I wish they would try some more memorable crackers to go along with it. Maybe something nice and savoury?

After a bit of a nap, decided to hit up the snack cart because I was craving the little pastries they always have. Goes well with a side of Ebola monkey on the iPad as well.

Was curious about the pre-landing chicken ragout option, and while it was pretty tasty and would make a great domestic dinner, it actually felt a bit heavy for a second in-flight meal on a relatively short flight.

I have to admit – I was starting to miss the relatively heavy “hamburger wellington” that’s been around for a lot of this year.

The flight passed relatively quickly, and just like that I was home after more than three weeks away. Time to see if four days is enough at home, or if I would really be craving getting back on the road sooner.

I had originally booked just one night at home, and then three days vacation at my next work stop before the work began, but I gave up that three day mini-vacation in favour of the time at home. I was very glad I had, but four days, well, I might start craving travel….