Aug 142016
 

The best part about The Wing lounge was that I could watch the boarding gate while sipping champagne, and as soon as they announced boarding I could just stroll downstairs and to the front of the line. Nice view of our plane:

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There were a few agents milling around, and as soon as I told one “first class” she escorted me straight to the front of the line and the jetway.

Cathay Pacific flight 846
Hong Kong (HKG) to New York, John F Kennedy (JFK)
Depart 18:45, Arrive 22:40, Flight Time: 15:55
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration B-KPL, Manufactured 2009, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 136,159
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,325,296

I was looking forward to an amazing flight this time, having gotten some tips from frequent Cathay fliers. My previous experience was Hong Kong to London, and while I thought it was a great flight, I didn’t think it was amazing. After 195 countries, I still have things to learn…and the reason I felt the service wasn’t “amazing” before is because part of their amazing service is not disturbing you if you don’t want to. However, use the call button, and they are more than happy to help. Today’s crew provided a warm welcome, and showed me to my seat:

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Welcome about glass of Krug was poured:

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Tuna amuse bouche while boarding was taking place and Krug was being enjoyed:

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Krug with a view:

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Today’s menu:

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Shortly after takeoff the sun was already setting, and more Krug was offered with mixed nuts. This is a small area for improvement, as almonds and cashews aren’t really an inspired choice. I think Lufthansa’s macadamia nuts may win in this category:

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Table was set, Tom Cruise was pouty, and caviar was served:

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Caviar close-up, complete with the mother of pearl spoon. It’s a toss-up who does the best caviar service, but Cathay is definitely one of the best!

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The cauliflower cream soup was pretty bland, and just had a few bites:

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Breaking all my rules had the salad with prawns, and ate them. I figure if anyone can serve non lethal shellfish on a plane it’s Cathay. It was good, but as with the soup rather bland.

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The pork chop was enormous, and the veg flavourful and quite tasty:

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Cheese course was solid, but I have to give the nod to Lufthansa here…if only for the variety of crackers and a few more cheese options:

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At this point, absolutely stuffed, I declined desert and had the bed made up. I didn’t want to sleep for too long so that I could hopefully fall asleep again shortly after landing at 1030p in New York. Still slept 6-7 hours, and woke up with about five hours left in flight. Now, about that dessert I skipped…time for tea and dessert with another movie:

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About two hours prior to landing seemed like a good time for breakfast. Nice fruit plate, croissants and muffins, and some fresh squeezed orange juice to start things off:

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I had heard rumours this was possible, and the flight attendant seemed a bit confused when I asked for it…but hello scrambled eggs topped with caviar, bacon, sausages, and mushrooms:

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…of course, caviar and scrambled eggs wouldn’t be complete without a glass of krug!

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Overall, an amazing Cathay experience – I couldn’t have asked for much more! Super friendly crew, very comfortable seat, and when I mentioned the cabin was slightly warm they were happy to turn it down a bit. I would have to say with this experience Cathay is right up there with Lufthansa, Singapore, and ANA as my favourite airlines in the world to fly in first!

No drama at all with immigration thanks to Global Entry, and hailing an Uber at JFK was also really easy. Short ride to the hotel for the night.

Change of plans meant I had to head straight to DC from New York instead of going on to Toronto as originally planned. This meant an overnight in New York, or taking a 1am regional train. It was an easy choice, and I stayed at the Sheraton Hong Kong….I mean Sheraton LaGuardia East…in beautiful downtown Flushing…named for being a bit of a toilet…

Uber to LaGuardia in the morning where I had breakfast in the AmEx Centurion Lounge first. Glass of Veuve Cliquot and some eggs benedict while doing some plane watching:

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I haven’t seen a plane this yellow since Hughes Air West in the 1980s!

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Proof I was back in ‘Murica….is it wrong I was hoping it would spontaneously combust?

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Caught the shuttle bus over to the old Marine Terminal for my next flight.

Delta flight 2713, Operated by Shuttle America
New York, LaGuardia (LGA) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 12:00, Arrive 13:22, Flight Time: 1:22
Embraer E-170, Registration N872RW, Manufactured 2006, Seat 5A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 136,373
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,325,510

Can’t say too much for being in coach, but hey, 40-50 minutes max flight time in economy comfort with a free firefly and orange juice and snack can’t be beat! Only downside was no Biscoff catered today:

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On approach to DCA…welcome home!

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Overall a fantastic trip, and couldn’t have asked for a better set of flights to end my penultimate country tour with. Now there’s only one more to go with Iceland coming up just over two weeks away!

Jul 092016
 

So…I should preface this whole entry by saying that lots and lots of things on this trip didn’t go as planned. Actually, since I’m still in the middle of the trip, who knows what else will change. Originally, it was to be a trip to Turkmenistan to hit country #195 and then a stop in Crimea on the way home (because, hey, why not). Then things got weird. Really weird. But I think suffice to say I’ll just let it unfold segment by segment.

Originally, the plan was to fly DC to Dubai and then pick up a flight with FlyDubai to Ashgabad. Simple and straightforward. I had a booking DC-Zurich-Dubai on an award ticket in United First and Swiss business. Then, about 12 days before departure, Lufthansa first opened up…but not out of DC. Only out of Chicago. Ok, change of plans number one, I’m going to go DC-Chicago-Frankfurt-Dubai with the last two segments in Lufthansa First. I figure since this is my penultimate country trip, I should go big or go home and enjoy it…so Lufthansa First it was to be.

Then, three days before departure, LAX to Frankfurt opened up on the A380 in first. Sold! Of course, when I booked it, I hadn’t really thought about how I was going to get to LA. I could try flights the same morning, but that was a really risky connection. I could go the night before, but fares to LA were outrageous and there were no first class awards. Wait, what’s this…DC to Las Vegas (via Houston) for a really reasonable price? Sold! Ticketed!

Of course, I hadn’t thought about how to go Las Vegas to Los Angeles the next morning, but I figured American, United, Delta and Southwest all fly the route so something would work out.

So, off to the airport it was! It had been so long since I’d flown domestic that I forgot I couldn’t get into the United Club…but that’s what I save those Chase passes for…right? Unfortunately, turns out after handing it over that it had expired. When I asked if they might accept it this one time, her response was “does it LOOK like it’s 2015 to you?!” Uhh…thanks lounge dragon ūüôĀ You could have just said “sorry, I can’t do that even though I’d like to.” #Phrasing

Boarded right on time, and we’re off to Houston…maybe

United Express flight 6230, operated by Mesa Airlines
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Houston, Intercontinental (IAH)
Depart 15:35, Arrive 18:00, Flight Time: 3:25
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N89313, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2A

Upon boarding was offered full open bar for pre-departures, so I went with a red wine and a water. When did United get these funky blue plastic glasses? Hint to United: doesn’t help them look any classier! I set my watch to Houston time and tried to get on vacation time.

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While sipping my 2016 Ch√Ęteau l’Oscar I looked out the window and saw this:

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Regulated garbage. A very fitting description for US airline catering these days! Then…the pilot came on. We’ve been given a slot time in one hour due to weather in Houston. Ugh. Oh well, flight attendant was great and offered refills on drinks until five minutes later when the pilot came on and informed us we now had a slot time THREE HOURS later due to weather. I called the 1K line instantly and got a very unhelpful agent who told me there was “nothing at all available.” Even when I asked about Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, LA, Dulles, nope, she said no seats anywhere.

Ugh. Since it was going to be three hours we were told to get off the plane, and I made a beeline for the gate where an amazing agent got me the one and only seat via Chicago. Despite all the pressure he was under he did an amazing job and took care of me. Sure, it was the two things I hate: window seats and bulkhead, but he got me out that day!

So, I headed to the bar to get a drink. Where I wondered, wow, how do I have over an hour until my flight to Chicago yet I still get in sooner. That’s when I realized I’d already set my watch to Houston time, and I was about to miss my flight! Ran to the gate where I was pretty much the last one on board, but I made it!

United flight 565
Washington, National (DCA) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 16:45, Arrive 18:03, Flight Time: 2:18
Airbus A320, Registration N485UA, Manufactured 2001, Seat 1F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 104,066
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,293,591

Still had time for a glass of Ch√Ęteau l’Oscar while my seatmate proudly informed me he was on his third PDB beer. Good on you! You’re off to Vegas!

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Pilot announced we “have to shut the doors five minutes ago before we get hit by this line of storms and don’t get out of here!” Totally agree with him…

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After takeoff, there’s not too much to tell. The snack basket came around, and I was glad to see the caramello latte biscotti back in the rotation! Of course, my “water, no ice” wasn’t to be…

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Soon, we were on approach to Chicago. Best part of a window seat is the view:

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Landed a bit early in Chicago, and made the hike from Terminal C to Terminal B. Ran into a friend who’s a flight attendant for United, and by the time we were done chatting it was time to board the Ma and Pa Kettle Express to Vegas, where everyone thinks they’re in group one. Little hint, when they call Global Services for boarding, nobody actually bothers to check your boarding pass, so you can just waltz right on ūüėČ

United flight 599
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS)
Depart 19:35, Arrive 21:36, Flight Time: 4:01
Boeing 737-900, Registration N62889, Manufactured 2015, Seat 1F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 104,968
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,295,105

Shortly after takeoff, the warm nuts were served. I applaud the new blend which includes pistachios and some other unidentified nut:

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Of course, this ramekin should never have been used. I nicely pointed it out to the FA so she could take it out of rotation, and got a “whatever, lots of them are like that.” Ugh, way to be classy United.

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The most boring and bland looking meal ever. On the positive side, the broccoli and chicken were perfectly cooked, and when combined with the salad made a relatively healthy meal. For once United wasn’t trying to put me in a carb coma. One of the better meals I’ve had in a while domestically, although that’s not saying a whole lot.

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Somewhere after eating this and a couple glasses of wine I passed out…and woke up nearly three hours later just as we were about to land in Vegas:

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Overall, it was a relatively uninteresting set of domestic flights. United’s catering has clearly gotten slightly better, but the grumpy attitudes of a few flight attendants are still detracting from their attempts to do better. Major kudos, however, to ground staff (not club staff) who really took an unfortunate weather situation and turned it around for me. In retrospect, they did the best they could in a bad situation and got me where I needed to be. So overall, a net win for United on this one!

Next up….now….how do I get to Los Angeles? Called an Uber who took me to the Westin Las Vegas, which I’ll review in the next post…

Jun 102016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was floored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The menus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The menu looked super:

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

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Mmmmm fois gras and smoked cod on panna cotta:

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

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

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

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

Next up…Mali!

May 052016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Then, it was time to fly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what’s to eat tonight?

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

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

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The duck starter was decent, but far from memorable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tonight’s route of flight:

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

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Not bad for a light meal:

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Tick the box breakfast orders:

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

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

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The cheesecake for dessert was also quite good:

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

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

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

Now, bring on some relaxation in Fiji!

Apr 212016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Soon, we were on approach to Belize:

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

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

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

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

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Off to San Pedro we go!

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View out the window just after takeoff:

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Plotting our course:

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

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Deplaning at San Pedro:

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

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

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Some conch fritters:

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Some absolutely delicious curried lobster:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Great sunset shortly after takeoff:

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

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

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

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

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

UGH.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 082016
 

When I found out I was headed to Bangkok for work, I had a bit of a dilemma. Ever since United stopped serving Bangkok, there are very few good options to get there with a United ticket. You can fly to Hong Kong and connect to from there, but that means the 747s or 777s, with their awful seating. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t have all-aisle access seating. Plus, this option was significantly more expensive than fares we were getting on Korean and Air China…which were non-starters since I still had lots of elite qualifying dollars to earn with just a month left in 2015.

Eventually, I remembered there were super cheap business fares to India, and found an Air Canada option via Toronto with United flight numbers, meaning United would ticket it. Combine this with a cheapish Delhi to Bangkok ticket, and I was in business. On the way back, the flights that worked best timewise out of India ended up being on Austrian to Vienna and on to Zurich, with a connection to United there. Tickets sorted, premier qualifying dollars in the bag, it was time for a few new experiences – Air Canada longhaul, on a 787 nonetheless, and Austrian longhaul.

Slept in a bit the day of the flight, then headed to DCA. The Air Canada agents at DCA are pretty terrible. I think they might be outsourced, but they really have no clue about Star Alliance benefits, there’s no lounge at all – nor is there a restaurant voucher/credit – and it’s overall a pretty miserable operation. Since I was on two separate tickets, she didn’t want to check me in without a visa for India. I showed her one on an expired passport, and she refused to accept that as valid, even though it’s just fine with India. Then, I showed her an expired visa in a current passport, and not seeing the date she was good with that. Seriously WTF.

Fortunately, the A Gates at DCA have a couple new restaurant options with iPad ordering, which is pretty slick. Had a small lunch, and soon it was time for the short flight up to Toronto.

Air Canada flight 7615, Operated by Sky Regional
Washington, National (DCA) to Toronto, Ontario (YYZ)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 14:15, Flight Time: 1:25
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FEJL, Manufactured 2005, Seat 1A

I had been incredibly busy leading up to this trip, and hadn’t had any time to give thoughts to seats. By the time I did, the only seat left in business was 1A. Decent because you don’t have anyone reclining into you, but pretty poor from a legroom perspective. Whatever, it’s a short flight, so wasn’t a big deal. No pre-departure beverages offered, but a great view of the Pentagon on a clear day right after takeoff:

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Small cheese plate and nuts were offered as a snack with wine…and refills. Not bad service for a flight that was just over an hour!

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Toronto is a bit strange when making a US to International connection. In order to get to international departures, you still need to visit an immigration agent, but a different agent than if you were intending to enter Canada. Not sure what the point of this check is, since you’re merely in transit, but they do it. Satisfied I wasn’t up to no good, they let me into the international area, and the Salon Feuille d’√©rable – or Maple Leaf Lounge. Quite a good spread of food was out, so I had some tasty ravioli and the obligatory ceasar. I love the little maple leaf swizzle sticks:

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A few weeks after I had booked, my friend John in Ottawa (who has guest blogged here before) found out he had to go to Tokyo for work. Being a complete dork and majorly short on miles to requalify with Air Canada, he opted to join me all the way to Bangkok, continuing on from there to Tokyo the long way. Talk about a super out of the way routing! While I enjoyed my ceasar, he indulged his obsession with the Maple Leaf Lounge cookies, and we got a bit of work done. There were several other options on the buffet, and I was pretty impressed with the amount of food that was set out. You’d never see hot options like this in a United or American club, not to mention all the fresh side dishes. You’re lucky to get hummus and some cheese cubes.

What a great coincidence, however, that we even had to leave on the same days and could end up on the same flights. Fortunately, his upgrade even cleared at the gate and on top of that, the last open seat was the one across the aisle from us. The travel gods were definitely smiling on us!

Air Canada flight 70
Toronto, Ontario (YYZ) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 20:35, Arrive 20:55 next day, Flight Time: 13:50
Boeing 787-9, Registration C-FNOH, Manufactured 2015, Seat 4A

Brand spanking new 787-9, delivered barely a month prior, which still had that new plane smell. Welcome aboard screen:

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Water AND sparkling water, along with a basic but nice amenity kit:

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The crew was super friendly, while at the same time being very professional and addressing people by name. What’s for dinner tonight? Sorry for the slightly blurry pics…must have been one too many ceasars:

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Goofy “we’re finally flying together” selfie:

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Air Canada’s super-progressive safety video. I think the translation is: “Hey honey, let’s see if that guy in Row 8 is on Grindr!” It looks like their only pr√©occupation is with each other… ūüėČ

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Some horrible movie I watched. Looks like Air Canada has joined United and American in the cut-price split cashew camp:

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Mixed greens, bread on a plate, and super tasty tuna starter. Quite possibly the best starter I’ve ever had from a North American airline.

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I generally avoid fish on planes, but John had the sablefish. Based on the presentation, I’m pretty glad I skipped it:

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My chicken murgh was even less appetizing looking, but fortunately tasted much better than it looked. Note the sad, empty wine glass:

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Mini cheese and fruit plate…needed more cheese:

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Pre-packaged ice cream for dessert? Sad panda…definitely a let-down from the United sundae.

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John went with the chocolate fondant, which was definitely the better option:

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At this point, I passed out for nearly nine glorious hours. With all the work leading up to this trip I was running super short on sleep, so was great to just be able to pass out. This also marked my third 787 redeye, and third one where I slept more than nine hours. There must be something to the lower cabin altitude and higher humidity on the 787, because I sleep as well on them as I do at home, and better than on any other plane. Plus, Air Canada did a great job keeping the cabin temperature reasonable, which made sleeping much easier.

Normally transatlantics aren’t long enough that I’m hungry for breakfast, but in this case decided to give it a ¬†go. The muffin was dry and I skipped it after one bite, as was the fruit unfortunately. However, the cottage cheese with the omelette was super tasty, especially with the red pepper relish. Not normally a big fan of eggs on planes, but it was a tasty combo!

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Landed in Delhi late evening, and transit was pretty simple. We had to wait maybe 30 minutes for the Air Canada representative to come to the transit counter, and they were confused and not expecting us because we were on different tickets into and out of Delhi. Eventually, they figured it out, and transfer security was a breeze. This was like the fifth time I had done it this year, so I’m sure knowing what to expect made the whole process a bit easier as well.

Off to the ITC Green lounge, with some tasty Indian nibbles, Diet Pepsi, and WiFi to catch up on email. A couple hours later, we headed down to the boarding gate. I had forgotten there was a Starbucks there, or I would have gone much earlier. Normally I’m the one whose name gets messed up, but when John said his name the very eager barrista said “OH! Like John Cena!” I guess he’s a wrestling fan…

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Our flight was about 30 minutes late for the ever dubious “operational reasons” but soon it was time to board. Bid John Cena a temporary farewell, as he was off to fend for himself amidst the cattle in back. Fortunately, I expected to be a bit more comfortable…

Thai Airways flight 316
Delhi, India (DEL) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 00:15, Arrive 5:40, Flight Time: 3:55
Boeing 777-200, Registration HS-TKA, Manufactured 1998, Seat 12E

Nice welcome-aboard glass of tea:

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Unfortunately, it was not to be as comfortable as planned, since I was stuck in a middle seat. Thai 777s not only do not go flat in the seats, but they have middle seats as well. Gross. I was seated next to a guy with a Chinese passport who kept hacking up phlegm the entire flight, and didn’t speak enough English to understand when I asked him to cover his mouth. Even acting it out didn’t seem to help. Fortunately, he knew the expression JOHNNY WALKER DOUBLE and after 5 or 6 of those he passed out. Doesn’t change the fact that about 36 hours after landing in Bangkok I came down with a cold. Want to guess who’s responsible?

At least there was Veuve to make things a bit better:

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Menu was simple, but looked tasty:

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The salad and shrimp were pretty meh, but hey, can’t complain when you’re flying India to Thailand and get multiple servings of garlic bread, and Veuve refills!

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The chicken red curry was ok, but nothing special:

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The raspberry marscapone cake was also pretty underwhelming, but again, the Veuve helped:

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Landed in Bangkok about 30 minutes behind schedule. I wished John good luck with his connecting flight to Tokyo. I couldn’t imagine having another flight after this as it had already been nearly 24 hours in transit and I was absolutely wiped out. Not in the mood to deal with taxis or the Skytrain today, I opted for an AOT car to take me to my hotel. Up next was a super busy week of work events before heading home. I’ll do another review of the flights back home in another post, as well as one on the hotels I stayed at.

Jan 302016
 

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

This is where things got weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pre-departure champagne and really strange amenity kit:

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Power by emPower?! What is this 1998?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lots of room:

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

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

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Taxi was past…Concorde!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 162016
 

Couple of days at home after Christmas to get things sorted, and it was time to head out on the more-or-less annual New Year’s Trip. I’m actually super excited for 2016-17 New Years, because I have no plans – nowhere I “have” to go, and I can actually do whatever I want. Pretty exciting after 10+ years of using the long weekends to take advantage and visit multiple countries.

Decided to be a bit economical, and take the Metro to National Airport, and no drama at all…which is much better than my usual commute where 15 minutes frequently turns to 30-45 at least once a week due to broken down trains, smoke in tunnels, you name it, it’s been a problem with Metro lately. Note that this post is going to be mostly photos, because there is only so much you can keep saying about United service.

Instead, this time, the drama was to be with United. No sooner did I arrive at the airport then I got notification my flight would be delayed an hour due to a late arriving aircraft. Of course. Nothing to do with weather in Chicago (for a change in December) it just looked like a crew rest issue turned into cascading delays for little things.

The United Club was open, however, and had this festive offering I haven’t seen before. United Club Eggnog? That just screams salmonella in a jug to me, so I decided to pass:

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An hour turned into two, and I finally headed to the gate hoping to have 30 minutes left to make my connection in Chicago. But, there was drama. When I checked in, United was “unable” to assign me a seat. Gate agent confirmed the flight was “overbooked” by two in first, and based on the seat I had originally reserved (and the person eventually occupying it) it was clear I was a victim of a Federal Air Marshal. I was offered “probably” a middle seat in coach – but since the flight was overbooked she refused to even guarantee that.

I reminded her that United’s policy for overbooked first is NOT to just downgrade whoever happens to not have a seat, but to downgrade upgraders first, followed by award tickets, and then order of status/fare. Being a 1K on a paid ticket, there’s no way I should be downgraded. She refused. I asked for supervisor. She refused. I asked for her name, so I could share with corporate that she doesn’t like their policy, because it makes her life difficult when I write them for compensation.

She relented, and called up the two upgraders – both of whom happened to be Global Services. Hahaha. To their credit, they were completely understanding and took the downgrade compensation. I guess when you fly THAT much you tend not to pull DYKWIA stuff. I know it’s only a 90 minute flight, but at the same time, being on a paid first ticket it was the principle of the matter…eventually ended up sitting next to a no-status bro on an award ticket who announced pretty much right away his intention to “get totally obliterated by the time we get to Chicago because I’m going to Vegas.” Maybe the new United policy should be to downgrade in order of behaviour…

United flight 619
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 13:46, Arrive 15:05, Flight Time: 2:19
Boeing 737-700, Registration N27724, Manufactured 1999, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 123,910
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,162,877

PDB were offered, and we were treated to a nice sunset on the way to Chicago:

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Other than that, pretty generic United 737 flight. Snack basket was offered, and when we pulled into the gate there were only 14 minutes to make my connection. We parked next to the United First lounge, and I decided to go there first. Having lost out on my 2.5 hour connection, I asked if instead of running for it they could just put me on the later flight to London instead, so I had some time to get work done. The same fare bucket was still available, and they were happy to make the change. I love this lounge.

Another reason I love this lounge:

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Had a small mini pre-dinner while getting some work done. Another reason to like this lounge past Veuve…it satisfies my cheese obsession:

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Somewhere around Veuve number three before boarding…

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Flight was parked just a couple of gates away from the lounge, and got there just as they started boarding.

United flight 938
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 21:05, Arrive 11:05, Flight Time: 8:00
Boeing 767-300, Registration N658UA, Manufactured 1993, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 127,863
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,166,830

Welcome aboard glass of the ever-classy Oscar Cliquot, in fancy Maison Plastique crystal:

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Hooray…we get the short rib…again!

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Warm nuts, and a rather respectable malbec to start things off. I never understood the obsession with “warm nuts.” I actually prefer them at room temperature – lots of times when they’re warm they verge on hot and feel a bit mushy.

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Coconut shrimp skewer and taboleh? Odd choice, but hey, it beats the two tiny shrimp shrimp cocktail they’ve been serving lately.

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All was forgiven, because the garlic bread was in plentiful supply tonight…and the salad had tasty olives on it:

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Baja Chicken Enchilada soup…a bit strange…and passed on it after a few bites:

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Nasty overcooked short rib. I really really need to learn my lesson about ordering beef on United.

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As cheese plates go, it was decent. Oddly, it came pre-plated, which was really strange for United. According to the crew, it came that way? Is this a new catering enhancement?

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Tonight’s request for “caramel and cherries” netted the average three…which overall is how this United flight was. Average.

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Managed a solid five hours of sleep, and woke as we were only about 20 minutes from London. Great view of the Thames this morning:

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Took the insanely long walk to the United First lounge, where I was asked why I wasn’t on my flight to Brussels. Um, excuse me? My new flight arrival time left a five minute connection, so there was no way to make it. Seems the agent in Chicago didn’t change my connection when she rebooked me for the later London flight, giving me a chance to make it if my arrival into London was earlier.

The club staff said they’d work on it while I showered, and when I came back 30 minutes later I’d been rebooked on the next departure – on BA! I was pretty surprised they didn’t make me wait an additional two hours for the Brussels Airlines flight, but it was a pleasant surprise! After a bit of rehydration, they offered to drive me to terminal five. Yes, it was no Lufthansa Porsche, but you read that right…United drove me across the tarmac to the other terminal instead of making me use the inter-terminal busses. I was floored…and yet another reason I think the London station remains the finest in the United system.

Having no status with One World, I got the honour of checking out BA’s regular business lounge. It was actually quite nice, I’d say even nicer than Lufthansa’s Senator lounges (note I didn’t even dare compare it to anything United offers) and I was pleasantly surprised. Can’t wait to see the First lounge on my next trip through. This was my first time in T5, and my gate was right near two very important things: Starbucks and the lounge. Enjoyed some Starbucks, and soon, it was time to board:

British Airways flight 398
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Brussels, Belgium (BRU)
Depart 15:15, Arrive 17:30, Flight Time: 1:15
Airbus A320, Registration G-EUYE, Manufactured 2009, Seat 1F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 128,081
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,167,048

Had a glass of water as a pre-departure, and being only one of two people in business on this very short flight, service was great. She insisted I have champagne for my first BA experience, and how could I say now. Even got my own bottle.

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While enjoying my second great inflight sunset in two days, she insisted on a champagne refill. Yes, that meant another bottle.

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Arrived to Brussels, and was absolutely wiped out. Additionally, security in Belgium was a nightmare. Apparently the Belgian police had received “very specific and credible” evidence the city’s New Year’s celebrations were to be the subject of a terrorist attack, and everything had been canceled. Trains were also running on a severely reduced schedule. I’d planned to head out and do dinner with friends in Li√®ge, but given the late arrival, lower train schedule, I just couldn’t do it. Managed to stay awake until about 9pm, then absolutely passed out for nearly 10 wonderful hours at the airport Sheraton.

Nice leisurely stroll to the airport in the morning, stopping along the way for some Starbucks of course. Security at Brussels has been massively renovated and upgraded in the last year, and is so much nicer now. No more underground walkway between terminals, and everything is light, airy, and much more efficient. The only downside is the exit-immigration for the G Gates was a zoo today, and I had to wait nearly an hour to clear. Seems every Africa flight was operating today – along with JFK – so there were seven full A330s leaving at the same time. No priority line either, so wait wait wait.

As coffee was kicking in, I enjoyed a few pain au chocolates in the Brussels lounge, and soon it was time to board.

Brussels Airlines flight 203
Brussels, Belgium (BRU) to Dakar, Senegal (DKR)
Depart 11:05, Arrive 16:15, Flight Time: 6:10
Airbus A330-300, Registration OO-SFO, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 2,778
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,169,826

Rather strange amenity kit, containing quite unimpressive contents:

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Wait…they have a beer of the month? Belgian beer on the menu? Wow – awesome and unique!

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Although the menu was a bit seafood heavy (which I try extremely hard to avoid on planes) it also looked super tasty, so I decided to go for it and inshallah all would be ok. There were only three people in business today on top of it, while economy was completely full. It was my lucky day!

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Wait, there’s an entire beer menu?! Sure, the Stella and Hoegaarden aren’t impressive, but look at all those great Belgian beers. You can mark this down as the first time ever I would get rather happy in business class, and there would be absolutely no wine involved!

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Mackerel starter with mixed nuts and raisins, and a Gulden Draak…delicious!

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The smoked eel and radish starter, continuing with the same beer. It was 10% ABV so had to pace it a bit. Also, look at that awesome pretzel roll and butter. Mmm…

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Decided to go with the scallops main (yes, even more seafood!) and switched to the Julius beer since the menu said it went well with seafood. I absolutely wasn’t disappointed! Delicious!

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…and with the fantastic cheese course, the “Forbidden Fruit” beer. The nice flight attendant said “ooooh, this one I know, it has made for many not very memorable nights…I predict you will sleep after this!”

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…and finally, I was looking really forward to the rum-pineapple-marscapone baba for dessert, but it was not to be. The chocolate mousse with passionfruit sauce was a pretty darn good substitute, however!

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Defying the odds (I had slept 10 hours the night before, after all) I stayed awake and watched movies, and two hours later was ready to take one more for the team and try the kriek. I usually don’t like fruit beers, but this one was pretty darn tasty and went well with some nice Belgian chocolates!

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…and, because I couldn’t let the last one go…

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Soon we were arriving Dakar on time, and the other three in business class deplaned, giving me a private plane for the onward short flight to Banjul:

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Since the flight time would be too short to enjoy a beverage, while waiting on the ground during cleaning, the purser asked which beer had been my favourite, and insisted on bringing me another to enjoy while waiting for the plane to be cleaned:

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Soon we were off for the short 25 minute flight to Banjul.

Brussels Airlines flight 203
Dakar, Senegal (DKR) to Banjul, The Gambia (BJL)
Depart 17:25, Arrive 18:15, Flight Time: 0:50
Airbus A330-300, Registration OO-SFO, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 2,900
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,169,938

Flight was very short and uneventful, was the first one in line to immigration, and I didn’t ask about the visa on arrival, and they didn’t ask for one…so I was stamped in and that was that. In advance, the visa is $100 and visa on arrival is supposedly about $30-40, but perhaps since I arrived behind a large plane full of British tourists (who don’t need visas) they forgot to ask me? Either way, was nice to save the money. Waiting for Jordan in baggage claim:

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Exterior of the airport, grabbing a taxi to the hotel:

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With that, I’d entered my 186th country, and there were only ten more to go! Now, off to explore The Gambia!

Dec 022015
 

It felt like it had only been days since my last trip, but in reality it had been nearly two months since I got back from my big Africa and Mongolia trip. I think that’s probably a commentary on how busy things were with work and life in general that it flew by without me even noticing that it had been a while since I’d traveled. That and the fact that I kept myself very busy with planning future trips and how I would finish every country in just under a year.

Fortunately I’d been able to get a good flight of of National Airport for this trip, and being right before a holiday I had the extra time to fly up to Newark to make the international connection. Dulles isn’t a bad airport, and I really appreciate the nonstop options, but when my choice is a 15 minute Uber or 45+ minutes out to Dulles, National wins. Factor in the fact that Dulles security can get pretty ugly in the mid afternoon leading up to international departures…not to mention how crowded the clubs are, well, I still prefer DCA to Newark (even with all its delays) any day.

Speaking of clubs, I’d already checked in online, so was able to sample a bit of the new fare in the United Club. I love the historic club at DCA, even more so now that they opened the back room to make it a bit roomier. I’m a big fan of the new hummus and olives, but a big BOO to the cheese cubes. I really miss the Tilamook pepperjack and wish they would bring it back:

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As soon I’d gotten to the airport I was hit with an hour delay, which made me glad I’d booked a 2.5 hour connection in Newark. I’ve learned that lesson before and won’t make it again. Two hours in Newark in the winter is my absolute minimum when I have an important connection to make. We eventually left just over an hour late, but with winds it was announced we would be only about 45 minutes late into Newark…not bad at all.

United flight 3304 (operated by Republic)
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 14:28, Arrive 15:39, Flight Time: 1:11
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N651RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,887
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,727

I was so incredibly excited for this flight, more than I probably should be for a DC to Newark flight. See, I remember the good old Continental days, when they used to fly 737s from DCA to Newark. Sure, they had a small first class of only six seats sometimes, but at least it was an option. I know it’s like 45 minutes in the air, but when it’s the start to a big international trip there’s something a bit exciting about having a bit of room, time for a beverage, and just relaxing. Speaking of beverage, pre-departure beverages were offered:

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Once in flight, beverages were again offered, along with a rather feeble snack basked. But hey, not complaining at all, when this route is its usual ERJ-145 nothing is offered at all…even a drink usually. Plus the fig bars was actually kinda tasty…although I’m sure it was loaded with sugar:

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Got to Newark, gate right on time, and still had a bit of time to hit the United Club since my arrival, departure, and the club were all within a three minute walk. Sometimes you luck out! I’m going to complain a bit here, however, because flying first out of Newark really should be branded Global Worst instead of Global First. Firstly, the only lounge experience is the super packed United clubs. On top of that, you still have to pay if you want anything other than the $5 a bottle swill they pour for free. It’s just a rather unpleasant experience.

I understand that first may not be around long so they don’t want to invest too much, but they should take a lesson from Lufthansa. Cordon off a small corner of the lounge for first passengers. Offer the drinks which you normally have to pay for for free (or at least two or so) and give the people who have chosen to pay for first a little something extra on the ground. But, I guess United isn’t trying to win customer experience of the year award yet, despite things having gotten better recently.

That said, I was only too happy to board as soon as announced:

United flight 70
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 07:15 next day, Flight Time: 7:15
Boeing 767-300, Registration N656UA, Manufactured 1992, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 110,551
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,148,384

Crew was rather distracted upon boarding, but did manage to offer up a menu and amenity kit within a few minutes. I like the look of the new amenity kit, although it’s a bit bulky for my tastes, especially to consider re-using it:

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I was excited to see what was on offer on the recently revamped United international menu, but unfortunately it was nearly identical to my last flight in United first. Disappointing:

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Pre-departure bubbles in the ever-classy United plastic flute were offered, no refills:

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Load was two of five tonight…wait I mean five of five once the nonrev party boarded. I mean party because it was three people traveling together who talked loudly the whole time, and the crew spent more time paying attention to than to the two paying passengers. Par for the course unfortunately. Before anyone asks why I continue to pay for it, the extra space more than makes up for it to me at 6’4, and I’ve never had a problem getting sleep due to the nonrevs, so, yeah. The usual Ch√Ęteau le Oscar 2015 and warm mixed split cashews:

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After the mixed nuts and a glass of wine, all was forgiven, when I found out they had indeed loaded garlic bread tonight, and the flight attendant gave me a wink and promised “I’ll save you as much as you want sweetie!”

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Strangest appetizer ever…ONE tempura prawn and a bit of roasted corn…with BBQ sauce. Points for originality:

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Mushroom and leek soup. Sort of bland, but at the same time it was somewhat tasty and felt like home cooking:

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The salad, unfortunately, was disappointing. Couple of limp wrinky olives, and flavourless tomatoes. Usually Global First has pretty decent salads, but this one missed the mark:

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I’ve had the pork chop before, and remembered it being pretty good. Unfortunately, tonight, it was pretty dry…as was the stuffing…which is one of my favourite foods on earth. Even the white asparagus was overcooked and limp. United was not having a good food night, unfortunately:

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As disappointing as the meal was, the cheese selection was definitely way above average for United. I asked for, and did receive seconds it was that good. Unfortunately, there was a limited quantity of my preferred sweet biscuits, but minor details:

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Finished it off with a sundae with hot fudge. Tonight’s request of “with cherries” was met with three cherries, which is pretty much the average response based on my extensive research ūüėČ

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After dinner, I passed out for four solid hours, which is pretty good considering the total flight time was just under 6.5 hours total, and the dinner service wasn’t too fast. Had to be woken up by the crew, which to their credit despite not asking if I wanted breakfast or not before takeoff, let me sleep until we were barely five minutes off the ground. My first look at the screen through blurry eyes actually showed that we were already down to 5,000 feet! I don’t wear my glasses too often, but had taken my contacts out on this flight to avoid my eyes drying out too much, so it looked like I’d be going through the airport in glasses today. Oh the horrors.

Immigration was quite a walk today, but was fast once there, and anyone who knows me well doesn’t have to ask where my first stop was. Apparently, with glasses, I look like my name should be Jordan:

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After coffee I had plenty of time to hit the Priority Pass lounge for a bit, which turned out to also conveniently be the Lufthansa lounge. Fortunately wasn’t too crowded, and was able to wash up a bit, put a pair of contacts in, brush teeth, and basically make myself feel presentable enough until I could make it to Frankfurt for a proper shower. Had a few bottles of water, and got to the gate just in time to board the flight to Frankfurt.

Lufthansa flight 987
Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 09:00, Arrive 10:05, Flight Time: 1:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIUE, Manufactured 2014, Seat 6F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 110,779
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,148,612

Fortunately, the flight wasn’t terribly full, and was able to change my seat on the Lufthansa app to have a whole row of glamourous EuroBusiness to myself. Again, short flight so it’s not a big deal, but it’s always nice to have the extra space when possible. Speaking of possible, it always amazes me that Lufthansa is able to serve great snacks on a 45 minute flight. Look, more cheese!

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Once in Frankfurt, we’d come in at the extreme outer A gates, which meant a rather long walk to the tunnel to the B gates, and eventually to immigration. Fortunately, once to immigration the line wasn’t too bad, and I was soon in the lounge enjoying a bottle of water while waiting on a shower. For some reason, the lounge was absolutely packed, which I later found out was because we were right next to the gate for the A380 to Singapore which was about to leave. Once that left the lounge cleared out, I got my shower, and it was time for a very German breakfast:

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But no sooner was I finished with my breakfast snack than they changed the buffet over, so had to have a lunch snack too:

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Soon it was time to board the incredibly full flight to Cairo. Apparently the recent bombing of a Russian aircraft over the Sinai hadn’t detoured most travelers, and the flight was absolutely packed.

Lufthansa flight 580
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
Depart 13:30, Arrive 18:35, Flight Time: 4:05
Airbus A321, Registration D-AIDM, Manufactured 2011, Seat 9E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 112,594
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,150,427

I’d managed to grab 9D for this flight, which is my favourite seat on the Lufthansa A321 since there is no 9F, which guarantees you get the whole row of two to yourself. Considering we had 14 rows of business class today (seriously!) I considered this a pretty lucky break. This was going to be my first time in what I’d consider longhaul Eurobusiness with a flight of four hours, and I was curious how the service would be. It started out with packaged nuts, which was fine considering they were cashews…my favourite!

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What’s this…a printed menu on a shorthaul? Impressive!

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The chicken was actually super tasty, and was super impressed with both the burrata cheese starter and the delicious desert. The saran-wrapped salad was a little tacky, but overall a great meal for such a short flight. No comments on the white wine…for some reason it just sounded unsually tasty to me for a change:

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After lunch/dinner, chocolates were passed out, which were also super tasty:

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All in all, considering the long routing I took to get there, the whole journey passed quite quickly. It was nothing spectacular or glamourous, but an overall solid performance that went by quickly. Considering I’d taken a longer routing because I was a bit short on miles quick and painless and comfortable was all I was expecting, and United and Lufthansa definitely lived up to expectations so overall…it was a good set of flights.

Next up, time for Egyptian immigration, a short overnight, and then off to Algeria!

Nov 192015
 

Took the MRT to Hong Kong airport, and went absolutely without a hitch. Tried to check in at the Kowloon station checkin desk, but the Air India counter was like 20 people deep, and no special lines for Star Gold or business class. Got to the airport, and things were a bit better. The agent was a bit confused – seems nobody flies to Delhi just to connect to a United flight to Newark. I’m…special. She didn’t give me any grief about my carryons, however, I asked her for blank luggage/nametags since I know Indian security likes to have something to stamp. She thought this was the oddest request she’d ever heard, but after checking my onward ticket to Newark she was ok with it.

Long line about 20 minutes for security, and another 20 minutes for immigration. Not sure if this is normal or not, but was rather surprised there were no business class lines or anything. Still had time for one more Starbucks before heading to the United Club for a pre-flight glass of wine and 15 minutes of relaxation. Got to the gate, where boarding was just beginning on time.

Air India flight 317
Hong Kong, SAR (HKG) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 18:05, Arrive 21:10, Flight Time: 5:35
Boeing 787-8 Registration VT-ANE, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 97,462
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,136,068

First impression of this Air India 787 which was less than two years old, RATTY! Seems they have the same-ish hard product as Turkish A330 I’d flown to Istanbul earlier in this trip, complete with the “footsy” benches for your feet. I can just see trying to sleep in this seat setup and playing footsy with your neighbour. How hard would it have been to put a little divider in the middle of the bench?

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Seats were in some of the worst repair I’ve ever seen for a two year old plane. Just look at the footrest area:

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Welcome aboard drink, choice of hot or cold towel, but only juice or water to drink:

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For a five hour flight, the menu sounded pretty tasty:

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The horrors…not only were the nuts not warm, they were served in a bag! Good thing Korean Air Princess wasn’t on this flight!

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In case you are wondering what “Dry Snax” are, this is it. Crunchy and tasty, but I pretty much just picked out the cashews:

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The meal was served all on one tray, which was extremely packed. The bread was even left in its foil to stay warm a bit longer. I have to admit, the main course was seriously tasty, and the dessert was pretty good too. Some sort of cake with cherries in it. There were two choices of main, and I believe this was a lamb curry:

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Flight was very uneventful. Crew was friendly and helpful, quick with drink refills when asked, and always pleasant. They seemed almost offended I wasn’t staying in India, despite over a dozen trips in the past, including two weeks earlier this year. This crew was from Mumbai, and told me I really did have to check it out next time as it’s “much better” than Delhi or Chennai!

Landed, and had a long walk in the hot and humid terminal to the transit desk…where things got real. Real crazy. Fortunately, I had packed my patience for India, and when I was told to “go sit down, we will find someone from United to assist you” decided not to. Standing at the desk, reminding them every five minutes, and using the words “global services” I managed to get someone from United to come to the transit desk…nearly 45 minutes after landing! Had I just gone to sit down and wait, I’m sure it would have been over an hour….

When the agent did arrive, she was super friendly and helpful. First, she had to let me know some bad news. The flight “might” be delayed because it had come in with a non-functional WiFi and entertainment system. Ugh. I tried asking really nicely since it looked like there might be three or four empty seats if she could try and put me in any set of two with an empty next to it. She promised to try her best.

This is where it got much better…she insisted on escorting me from the transit desk, through transit security, through some back “employees only” corridors, up a secret elevator, and directly into the lounge. I only had 20 minutes, but she came back to get me at the end of those 20 minutes, and escorted me to the gate! Best service ever! To top it off, she’d managed to secure seats 10A and 10B for me, with a promise of nobody next to me. It’s amazing how far patience and being nice can get you sometimes! Unfortunately, there would be no WiFi or entertainment of any sort on the flight….

United flight 83
Delhi, India (DEL) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 23:35, Arrive 05:15, Flight Time: 15:10
Boeing 777-200, Registration N27015, Manufactured 2000, Seat 10A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 104,786
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,143,392

Boarded to a crew that looked incredibly grouchy, but the menu looked…interesting…

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Warm nuts were served, but warm to the point they’d lost their crunch. I passed after just a few. There was also another packaged Indian snack, which I wasn’t overly fond of:

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Looks like the appetizer has been upgraded…two shrimps. I took it for the picture, but still refuse to eat shrimp on a plane after getting food poisoning from it on two different occasions:

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Unusual indian-style salad of missed vegetables in a dressing. It was tasty, and made for a very nice change from the rather bland salads United usual offers:

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The lamb biryani was, quite simply, the best main course I’ve ever had on United. Just spicy enough, served with tasty raita, and I admit I ate every bite of it and considered asking if they had another. I’ve never done that before!

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Even the cheese selection was better than usual, and yes, I did ask for two in this case:

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Strangely, the only choice for the ice cream was caramel, and there were no cherries. Boo! This flight might get dinged in my 2015 sundae year in review…

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Slept nearly nine straight hours, which is great for me on a plane. There is something about late night westbound redeyes that not only helps me sleep really well, but helps me arrive feeling super refreshed. I guess sleep is easier because it’s 1 or 2am local time when I try and sleep, but landing, despite it being 5/6a local time it’s after noon to the body clock. I learned this when I was doing Dakar-Washington frequently, and actually don’t mind redeyes as long as they are long enough…and westbound!

Breakfast was ok…but as usual the fruit was dry. I had the omelette, the corn croquette was also pretty tasty, and the grilled veg. I left most of the carbs aside, though:

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Immigration via Global Entry was a snap, and was to the lounge less than 15 minutes after landing. There was a 30+ minute wait for a shower, so of course I went next door to Starbucks to inhale a quad iced espresso on ice before taking one of the best showers of my life. There’s nothing like a nice warm shower after spending 20+ hours on planes! The good news, is I checked my email while waiting, and there was already a proactive email from United apologizing for the broken entertainment system, and offering a $200 travel voucher.

Unfortunately, my connection was out of the A gates, so it was out in the cool drizzle to shuttle over to the A terminal, where I got there just as we were boarding.

United flight 3522 (operated by Shuttle America)
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 06:50, Arrive 08:18, Flight Time: 2:28
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N647RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 105,505
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,145,345

Extremely unremarkable flight. The flight attendant was attentive with frequent water refills, watched some tv on the iPad. There was a breakfast offered, but I skipped it since they were somehow one short, and I wasn’t really hungry since I’d just eaten. I really would have only taken it for photography purposes anyways…

Nice view on approach to Chicago:

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Had to hop over to the F Concourse for my connection, first time I’ve ever been there at O’Hare. Am I right it’s pretty much just for the ERJ-145s? Nice new lounge there, however, even if it was extremely packed. Good view of Barbie Jet Central:

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United flight 3259 (operated by ExpressJet)
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Ottawa, Ontario (YOW)
Depart 10:47, Arrive 13:36, Flight Time: 1:49
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N13903, Manufactured 2001, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,160
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,000

Nothing at all to say about this flight. Standard E145 flight, one pass on drinks, then then we were descending. I’ve never been on one of these planes for a flight over two hours, but can see how it would be a total nightmare.

Immigration was a bit of a pain at Ottawa – first time I’d ever been through without Nexus in over five years. Questioning was pretty extensive, and given that (a) I’d lost my NEXUS card during my last visit and (b) I was only there to change planes flying back to the US because “it’s cheaper to fly international out of Canada….yup…I got sent to secondary inspection. Ugh!

Fortunately, a quick show of my printouts, an explanation, and I was in and out in under five minutes. At least as far as secondary goes it was painless. Quick trip up to the Nexus office to retrieve my lost card, and still had time to get lunch with a friend.

It was a gorgeous day in Ottawa, about 22C and sunny, and perfect for a small lunch and beers on the patio:

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Just to show again how sunny and gorgeous it was, one more sunny selfie in front of TD Place:

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Immigration back at the airport was painless, and I had 20 minutes or so before boarding, so grabbed a beer at the one restaurant inside the US Departures area. The guy sitting next to me was in a sling, and had just had rotator cuff surgery two weeks prior, so we commiserated a bit. I let him know I was up to 100% already after just four months, so hopefully left him feeling a bit hopeful!

United flight 5946 (operated by ExpressJet)
Ottawa, Ontario (YOW) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 17:15, Arrive 18:42, Flight Time: 1:27
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N12175, Manufactured 2004, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,489
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,329

Plane go up. Consume Diet Coke. Plane go down. Arrive right on time. Connecting flight was just two gates over in the A concourse, so I had time to enjoy some of Oscar’s finest hummus and cheese cubes in the packed A Concourse United Club while waiting.

United flight 4312 (operated by ExpressJet)
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 19:43, Arrive 21:04, Flight Time: 1:21
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N14573, Manufactured 2002, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,688
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,528

One last flight, another E145. Yes, you know how it goes: plane go up, consume Diet Coke, plane go down. 40 minutes start to finish…and with that the end of another epic trip! I promised myself I’d get this trip report done before leaving on my next trip…and…done with ONE HOUR to spare! Stay tuned..up next: Algeria, Cuba, and the Bahamas!