Sep 282017
 



Fortunately, there was no line at all at immigration tonight, and I was through in just a few minutes. I had pre-arranged a driver with my hotel (always a great idea in Delhi given the general chaos that is the arrivals area) and soon we were on the way to the car. Hit the 1000 degrees and 1000 percent humidity outside and wilted as usual, as we fought our way through the crowds to the parked car:

Took about 15-20 minutes to get to the hotel, and went with my usual choice the ITC Maurya. I’ve stayed here probably a dozen times, and it’s always a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, upon entering the lobby the entire thing was under construction. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but the new check-in area was apparently two tables by the elevators where a couple of agents were struggling with a queue of over twenty people.

I asked the bellman nicely if they could do priority checkin for Platinum members, and was met with a negative, as they tended to more than a dozen members of an Air France crew all checking out and having to settle the cash advances the hotel had given them. I get why airline contracts are helpful to hotels, but given their significantly discounted rates, and knowing there was construction, you would think there was something they could have done for a platinum guest so I didn’t have to wait over 20 minutes to check in. Very bad first impression.

Once I was checked in, it was a huge rush, here’s your key, ok thanks bye, someone will show you to your room. Ugh. Got to the room, and it was super hot and stuffy. Turned on the air conditioning, and even after running for five minutes it sounded like a jet engine. While waiting to see if it would cool/quiet down, I decided to at least get a shower.

Apparently, this shower was made for much smaller people….

The maintenance condition of this room was appalling.

Called to the front desk to ask for a new room, and they told me “wait a bit longer, it takes time.” Um, it sounds like a jet engine no matter how cold it gets. I want a new room.” “We will see what we can do.” Decided not to wait, went to the front “desk,” to the front of the line and asked for the manager. Shockingly, there was no manager available, but a lady directing traffic in the lobby (not sure her actual job, seemed like a concierge or something) took note of the problem, asked me to have a seat while she sorted it.

In fairness, 10 minutes later I had a room that was much better, but combined with the long checkin and changing rooms I’d lost an hour of sleep. Not a huge deal, but considering I was already going to get around six hours best case, I was pretty upset to have lost an hour.

I feel bad leaving such a negative review of this property, because on all previous stays it really was rather lovely and I enjoyed the stay overall. However, this time, they really dropped the ball.

Anyways, I slept reasonably well, and the next morning, of course, my pre-arranged transfer to the airport wasn’t ready and it took nearly 30 minutes even after I confirmed it the night before AND with a call right when I woke up. Overall, a super disappointing experience.

Got to the airport, nobody in line at the Uzbekistan Airways checkin area, and the agents seemed genuinely annoyed that I cared what seat they put me in. They were even more annoyed when I cared what seat I was on on my connecting flight. Oh well, given both flights were full I was very glad I persisted and got the seats I wanted, since there seemed to be no way to assign them in advance, despite numerous calls and emails to all their global offices.

Since I was cutting it close, I opted to skip the lounge today (nothing to write home about in Delhi) and grab some Starbucks to wake me up. Best part of Delhi Airport is the Starbucks in the gate area…complete with heavily armed guard. Hands off my coffee!

Sitting in the gate area, just 20 minutes prior to departure, there were only like 15 people in the entire gate area. Worried I had missed the flight, I asked the gate agent, and she informed me there were only 22 people from Delhi, but the plane would be full from Amritsar. Wow.

Boarding was 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure, but no problem when there’s only 22 people to board!

Uzbekistan Airways flight 422
Delhi, India (DEL) to Amritsar, India (ATQ)
Depart 8:50, Arrive 10:00, Flight Time: 1:10
Boeing 767-300, Registration UK67006, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 95,942
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,472,919

First row centre bulkhead. Flight attendant saw me take this pic, and very sternly wagged her finger at me. Apparently, Uzbekistan Airways still has an incredibly strict no photos policy. How very….quaint.

Didn’t stop me from snapping a few ones on the down low. Plane was in a 2-1-2 config.

As soon as we were 10 minutes in the air, “snack” and water or juice was offered. Normally I would have steered way clear of the cheese sandwich, but couldn’t really resist it with ketchup?!

About 30 minutes prior to landing, the pilot asked the flight attendants to be seated, because we were like to encounter some turbulence. What followed was without a doubt the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced in flight – especially in a widebody – we were thrown from side to side, several sharp drops in altitude, audible screams from the few people on board, and I was honestly making headlines in my head “22 whole passengers killed on 767 jumbo jet in monsoon.”

But, just like that, we were maybe 2-3 minutes from landing, and it was all smooth again. Literally terrifying. As soon as we landed, it was a bit more clear. There was a torrential downpour in Amritsar, and the monsoon was clearly in full effect.

Boarding was via stairs, and I have to admit, it was kind of entertaining watching 200+ completely soaked people stagger aboard. Well over 90% of the passengers were Sikhs, and I’ve heard Uzbekistan Airways does quite a business connecting this flight to their flight to Manchester. If today’s load was any indicator, they do quite well. Seemed to be a lot of families with small children who had gone home to visit relatives, now returning after the end of summer break.

Even with the monsoon and full plane, we were boarded on time, and ready to go. I admit I was terrified how bad the turbulence would be on climb out.

Uzbekistan Airways flight 422
Amritsar, India (ATQ) to Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS)
Depart 10:55, Arrive 13:00, Flight Time: 2:35
Boeing 767-300, Registration UK67006, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 96,669
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,473,646

Fortunately, the turbulence, while still pretty heavy, was nowhere near as bad, and well within “ugh” limits, and we were clear of it less than 10 minutes after takeoff. That means it’s time to eat!

Dish of peanuts, “meat”, some veg, bread (on a plate), and some sort of potato or cabbage salad in heavy mayo. Wasn’t really the best meal, but I wasn’t all that hungry anyways, so picked at the parts that were interesting and that was plenty. It was a relatively short flight, so not a huge deal. Kudos to them for at least offering a hot meal on such a short flight.

After deplaning, there was an agent yelling “connections” and then repeating in Russian. She asked me (in Russian) connection? Yes? Where to? I asked her why she asked in Russian and not English, and she said “because you don’t look Indian.” Hah, I guess that’s something?



Apparently, I was the only person connecting in business class today, which seemed kind of odd. I’m not sure where all the Sikhs were going in that case, unless the plane continued straight on to Birmingham and they just went through security and then right back on. Which is entirely possible.

That meant, even with security and the time before boarding the next flight, I would have over five hours to kill in the Uzbekistan Airways lounge. At this point, my cell phone still hadn’t gotten data service, and I was worried it was going to be a very, very long five hours. This was confirmed when I found out that the wifi in the lounge was down.

There were a few power outlets around the lounge so that was good at least, and it was rather spacious and a reasonably cool temperature…especially since I found an AC unit near the wall to sit by.

Quite spacious:

Snacks. I wasn’t thrilled at first, but the small meat-stuffed pastries were kind of addicting, especially after popping them in the microwave for a bit. Yes, there was a microwave in the lounge.

Chatted with the agents a little bit, who were the same ones who had been handling transit earlier. After chatting a bit, it was clear the other reason they spoke Russian with me – they were far more comfortable in it than they were in English. She tried English once to ask about my tattoos, but got flustered quite quickly and switched back to Russian – after which point we had several nice small chats over the next five hours.

The lounge remained empty the entire time, except this fashionista who came in about an hour before I left, wearing  a dress from the 2017 Trump/Putin Prison Collection. She was also fond of the little meat pies.

With about an hour to go, I decided to ask what I might have to drink instead of Fanta. Oh, there’s wine…white or red? Both were from the “Georgian Patio” winery, and had the high endorsement of “wine for restaurants.” Hmmm, yup, tasted about as good as you’d expect. I had a second glass to make sure, however. Science.

Boarding was pretty much on time, and our plane was at a remote stand. The minute I took my phone out of my pocket to try and get a picture of it, I was met with a chorus of NYET! from the several armed police “guarding” the plane. Ugh, ok. I have to say the 787 looked supremely sexy in the green, yellow, and blue of Uzbekistan Airways at sunset, however. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Uzbekistan Airways flight 601
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS) to Moscow, Domodedevo, Russia (DME)
Depart 19:00, Arrive 21:15, Flight Time: 4:15
Boeing 787-8, Registration UK78701, Manufactured 2016, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 98,391
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,475,368

I did, during pre departure beverages, manage to snap a shot of the seats on the 787. Not bad. Not sure I would want these all the way to New York from Tashkent, but they were pretty comfortable, and the nice divider in the middle prevented them from being footsie seats.

Sneak peak across the aisle:

…and the other side.

Laminated menus!

Wow, now that’s what I call a meal. Just kidding…this is just the appetizers. Seriously! The red wine on board was marginally better. We had multiple kinds of bread on a plate. Upgrade from peanuts to cashews this flight. A nice little cucumber/tomato/cheese salad. Cheese plate. Meat plate. Fish plate. Whew.

I went with the beet stroganoff for a main, which was pretty tasty….I mean, it wasn’t gourmet cuisine, but overall I liked the regional flair to the meal, and nobody is going to go hungry on this flight. I fear how much they must serve all the way to New York!

I was pretty full, but kept the plates that could reasonably be considered desert to munch on with a bit more wine while I watched some movies:

Overall, I have to say Uzbekistan Airways exceeded my expectations. I had set them really low, but they exceeded them by leaps and bounds. I mean, the next cheapest option was $700 more…AND a redeye, but it was nonstop and avoided the six hours in Tashkent.

I chose Uzbekistan to save money, to save sleep, and for the novelty factor, and they definitely hit a home run with these flights. They have a way to go to be a serious international competitor, but for the price they were a fantastic option and I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.

Now, it’s time to take a break for a few days from flying, and take some trains!

Feb 092016
 

After a very productive week of meetings, it was time to head back to the airport for the long trek back to DC. Of all the trips I’ve made to Thailand this was the first time I’d ever gone transatlantic, and this trip I was going transatlantic in both directions. Unexpected bonus of this was an early morning arrival in Bangkok (as opposed to the usual midnight) and a late afternoon departure, as opposed to the oh-dark-thirty.

Check-in was nice and easy at Thai’s Royal Silk area, and even the toilets were friendly:

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Since I had a long way to go until sleep – still another 8+ hours, I grabbed a Starbucks at the airport before exploring Thai’s rather sad excuse for a lounge. The main lounge was extremely crowded, very few power outlets, and the snacks were also pretty dire. Overall, it was way below the quality I remembered, and I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. I actually left the lounge early to wander the airport I was so bored in there – even the internet was pretty slow.

At least there was a wat near my gate?

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Boarding was a few minutes late, and then like all flights to India it was a mad rush to the door. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding my own, definitely a trait I’ve learned from my travels in India, China, and Africa. If you don’t look out for yourself in a crowd, nobody else is going to! Once safely aboard, it was a nice empty (maybe 50% full) business class cabin tonight, unlike the flight over. Not only was I spared sitting next to Typhoid Mary again, but I had a whole row of three seats to myself in business!

Thai Airways flight 315
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 20:00, Arrive 23:00, Flight Time: 4:30
Boeing 777-200, Registration HS-TKF, Manufactured 2000, Seat 14D

All three seats…just for me and my bags!

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Side view of the two window seats…unfortunately all the window pairs were full, but for a night flight it didn’t really matter.

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Unlike the flight over, pre-departure bubbles were offer. Leads me to believe it was a customs issue that they wouldn’t open them in Delhi.

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Tonight’s dinner menu:

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a few almons and spring rolls to start – not on the menu – guess it was a change:

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Salmon and crab salad to start, along with a regular green salad and garlic bread…not bad, but not impressive either:

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The chicken penang curry…pretty good, but again nothing to write home about:

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Mini desserts and fruit…I’m not sure what’s with Thai’s fascination of serving everything (curry, desserts, fruits) in little cupcake tins:

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Stayed up this flight and caught up on a bit of work and tv, and arrival into Delhi was right on time. Immigration and transit security were a piece of cake this time, and the Austrian staff were expecting me. Austrian uses the same lounge United does, which was absolutely packed. There are something like 10+ lounges at Delhi for like 20 gates, yet they always all manage to be packed. I haven’t been able to figure out the logic behind it. I tried to go to the Lufthansa lounge, but it was too full ,and they weren’t letting Star Golds in. Finally found a seat in the United/Austrian one, and at least I found a magical snack:

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Boarding was right on time for my first longhaul flight on Austrian.

Austrian flight 34
Delhi, India (DEL) to Vienna, Austria (VIE)
Depart 02:15, Arrive 05:55, Flight Time: 8:10
Boeing 767-300ER, Registration OE-LAX, Manufactured 1992, Seat 3K

Tonight’s dinner menu. I didn’t get a picture of the breakfast menu, which was a card you filled out, along with if you wanted to be woken up for it. I decided to get as much sleep as possible, knowing there were plenty of options for food in the airport upon arrival.

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Tonight’s route of fight. I love westbound redeyes – by the time you depart you’re usually rather tired from the late hour, but when you arrive at 5-8a local time it’s usually around noon where you came from so your body feels rested and ready to go..

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Mixed nuts for a starter. I was pleased that despite being a 2am flight, a reasonably full meal was being served.

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“Potpourri of Salmon” starter…rather tasty:

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Chicken breast starter main. Extremely bland and unimaginative, but at the same time not bad. It just sort of…was. I’m more wondering how I got this picture at such an extreme angle!

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Passionfruit cheesecake and cheese. The cheese was delicious, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. You can guess what happened when I asked for a second helping…yep…of course there was no more. Seriously, why is cheese the one thing they seem to never have extra of?

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On the positive side, after this relatively small dinner I passed out for a solid six hours, waking up only on final approach to Vienna. The crew had done a great job of serving breakfast to those who wanted it without waking those of us who wanted to sleep. Generally, for me, seat comfort and ability to sleep is the most important thing on longhaul flights, and in this regard Austrian did a great job. I was worried they would keep the cabin super hot as Lufthansa and Swiss tend to do, but no such problems this flight.

Landed right on time, though there was a bit of a line at immigration and at security, which didn’t leave much if any time for the lounge. No big deal – the next flight was a short one and I figured I would doze on it anyways.

Austrian flight 561
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 07:10, Arrive 08:40, Flight Time: 1:30
Airbus A320, Registration OE-LBQ, Manufactured 1999, Seat 4A

Fantastic view of sunrise after takeoff. Although they were crummy EuroBusiness seats, at least I had the whole row again.

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Rather strange breakfast panini, yogurt, and fruit. I pecked at it, but wasn’t worth more than a few bites.

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Landed in Zurich right on time, stayed in the Schengen Area of the airport to enjoy the Swiss lounge, and had a nice shower as well as a pretzel roll and a bit of cheese. The showers were actually a bit difficult to find, as they are in the business class part of the lounge and not the Senator side. Not a problem, however, and once found they were basic but solid. One note is that while the Senator side of the lounge was very crowded, the business class side was relatively empty.

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Walking to the gate, the airport was already ready for Christmas:

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Stopped to get one last Starbucks before boarding, at what is one of the most expensive Starbucks in the world. At seven francs for a venti Americano the only countries I recall being more expensive is Denmark. Hong Kong runs a close third, however. If anyone wants to help contribute to my Starbucks Index, feel free to send me the price of a Grande Drip/Filter Coffee in your city including tax.

Despite telling them my name was François to try and make things easier, they still managed to stuff it up. Should have gone with something German, but that would have just confused them since I didn’t speak German.

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Boarding for United was the usual cattle call, and every seat in business was taken today.

United flight 53
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Washington DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 11:35, Arrive 15:15, Flight Time: 9:40
Boeing 767-400, Registration N77066, Manufactured 2002, Seat 1D

Oscar Cliquot, 2014, verre plastique:

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Today’s menu:

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Cashews from Oscar’s Split Cashew Farm:

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…but hey, garlic bread, with plentiful replenishments. Yay!

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Yes, this is an appetizer. One shrimp and small piece of salmon, hidden amongst greenery:

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What WAS I thinking ordering the beef…

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I’ve seen shoe leather that was less tough. Lesson learned today: never again with the beef on United. Never again.

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Cheese was an improvement, mainly because they had plenty of the sweet biscuits I like with it:

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Sundae, with caramel and cherries. The usual three when asked for “cherries.”

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Napped a little bit, watched lots of tv, and all in all generic United transatlantic daytime flight. The arrival snack was a very nice change, with a decent serving of fruit that was still juicy, meat, and cheeses. Probably one of the better pre-arrival United snacks I’ve had. Much better than those super sad tea sandwiches they serve out of London. I really wish they’d do something about the rather sad and cheap chocolates for a sweet, however.

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Another trip in the books, next up, I’ll write a bit about the hotels in Bangkok.

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’érable – 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 préoccupation is with each other… 😉

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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.

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!

Sep 152015
 

When I was booking this trip, I debated for a long time the merits of getting a hotel in India. I would land in India just before 22:00 and depart the next morning at 06:00. Best case, after immigration, check-in, etc, I knew that meant I’d get four hours of sleep max in the hotel. Was it really worth it? Well, immigration ended up taking nearly an hour, and it was 11:15 by the time I got to the hotel, 11:30 by the time I checked in. I decided to push it as much as possible, and leave for the airport at 04:00, getting there just 90 minutes before an international flight. That meant…4.5 hours at the hotel. By the time you subtract showers, the half bottle of wine the hotel gave me (great sleep aid) I slept a grand total of 3:15.

It was worth every penny…and must have been the perfect long nap to reset my body clock, because I’ve been sleeping amazingly this entire trip. Not a single sign of jetlag. Money very well spent!

Hotel car took me to the airport, and check-in was pretty easy although they had a pretty hard time figuring out how to print my onward boarding pass to Cameroon. No line at immigration and security, and off to the lounge. Oh yes, the lounge. What was really strange at check-in is they had stacks of lounge invites to three different ones, and were just randomly handing them out. There were two colleagues in front of me at check-in who got invites to different lounges…and the check-in agent couldn’t figure out why this was a problem!

I ended up with an invite to the ITC Green Lounge, which was perfectly adequate at 04:30. Not crowded, plenty of power outlets, plentiful ice cold diet coke, and a variety of hot and cold snacks. I had a few samosas which were pretty tasty along with a few diet cokes, and I was ready to go. Off to the gate, and boarding was already underway.

Turkish Airlines flight 717
Delhi, India (DEL) to Istanbul Attaturk, Turkey (IST)
Depart 6:05, Arrive 10:25, Flight Time: 6:50
Airbus A330-300, Registration TC-JOB, Manufactured 2014, Seat 4D

Nice lay-flat seats on this bird, but odd that the foot rest/shelf had no separation from the seat next to it, meaning if you sleep at all angled you could be playing footsie with your seatmate. Awkward. Decided to go with the lemonade welcome aboard drink instead of my usual orange. Tasty!

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What’s for breakfast this morning?

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Champagne brunch. I figured since I was already disoriented timewise, and it was like 21:00 back home, it made perfect sense. Yes, this is how I rationalize things! Nice starter, and the cheeses were quite tasty.

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The “turkish pastry with cheese.” It was rather odd, and I think I might have finished half off it. Just strange, but wasn’t really super hungry anyways so it sufficed.

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Debated a small nap, but instead got sucked into a horrible movie. Something about people bending dimensions and traveling to other solar systems to colonize a new home for mankind. It was three plus hours of my life I’ll never get back, but it did make time go by quickly. Soon we were just an hour outside Istanbul and a small snack was served. I can’t escape the samosas!

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Landed right on time just about 10:00 and headed to the lounge to grab some water and check e-mail. After a detour to Starbucks, of course, to ingest large amounts of caffeine to get me moving. Mission accomplished, around 11:00 I decided it was a waste to sit around the lounge all day and decided to head into the city. The Turkish lounge has nice lockers where you can lock bags up, so I packed a daybag and headed out. Passport, wallet and cell phone and I was good to go.

Had to find my way back downstairs to arrivals, which I finally did, purchased a visa, and found the metro to the city. Decided I would go see the Blue Mosque, which would require a short ride on metro followed by a tram. Fortunately, I remembered how this worked from previous visits and it went off without a hitch. The walking around really helped, and maybe was another secret of why I avoided jetlag this trip. I tried to walk as much as possible and see as much daylight as possible to help my body realize just what time it was. The flight to India had moved me forward 9.5 hours, now I was back 2.5 hours, and the flight to Cameroon would go back another 2 hours. Regardless, it was a gorgeous day in Istanbul:

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Got back to the airport about two hours before the next flight, right after Ian’s flight from Munich had landed. Snacks in the lounge, a well-deserved shower to rinse off the sweat from a 90F sunny Istanbul day, and it was time to head to the final flight of the day…the never-ending 737 flight from hell…nearly seven hours to Yaoundé, Cameroon followed by another short hop on to Douala. Jordan’s insane flight from Houston had just landed and he met us at the gate. Hats off to him, there’s no way I could survive 20 hours in economy!

Our gate area was an interesting mix of folks, but very few from Cameroon. Lots of Ukrainian, American, and South African passports around us, many of whom we’d see the next day on our flight to CAR. Any bets what’s going on there?

Turkish Airlines flight 69
Istanbul Attaturk, Turkey (IST) to Yaoundé, Cameroon (NSI)
Depart 18:15, Arrive 23:05, Flight Time: 6:50
Airbus 737-900, Registration TC-JYE, Manufactured 2012, Seat 3F

Two pieces of good news on this flight. First, these were the longhaul 737 seats, which meant there was approximately 18 extra inches of legroom over a standard “domestic first” configration. Even better, business was only booked to 3 of 16 seats tonight, so we had tons of space to spread out. We must have been exhausted, because we were still both too exhausted to think about logically switching rows to have more space, and stayed in 3E and 3F. Switched from the lemonade to the orange juice this time for a welcome drink…and water.

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Takeoff from Istanbul at sunset…

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So, what’s for dinner tonight?

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This is where it got ridiculous. Turkish decided that since there were only three people in business class, they would order exactly one of each main course. One fish, one beef, and one vegetarian green beans. I was second to order, and got my request of beef. Ian, unfortunately, was asked if he “would mind having the green beans.” Ugh, yes, I’m pretty sure he minded. They promised they would find something else…

As usual, a fantastic starter from Turkish:

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The beef, however, was tough and pretty much inedible. They found Ian some other beef dish that looked much, much better. Was probably a crew meal…

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Passed the flight trying to nap unsuccessfully, and watching episode after episode of Scandal. About an hour before landing a small snack was served, including a delicious raspberry cake of some sort.

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This is what we call “avoiding Libyan airpace” and no-fly zones. It must have added at least an hour to the flight.

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Then, we noticed we appeared to be circling. Turned out the airport at Yaoundé was closed due to being fogged in and below minimums for landing. Um, after nearly seven hours in flight how much fuel can be left on a 737? After about 20 minutes circling, the captain announced we were landing. He didn’t, however, announce that minimums had been met. Entirely possible there wasn’t enough fuel for an alternate?

Turkish Airlines flight 69
Yaoundé, Cameroon (NSI) to Douala, Cameroon (DLA)
Depart 00:05, Arrive 01:05, Flight Time: 1:00
Airbus 737-900, Registration TC-JYE, Manufactured 2012, Seat 3F

After about 45 minutes on the ground, we took off for the 35 minute flight to Douala and arrived about an hour late at nearly 2am. Ugh! Fortunately, immigration was a breeze and we were out to find the hotel shuttle around 2:15. Except, the hotel shuttle was nowhere to be found, and the ATMs at the airport were all broken. The taxi mafia settled on 10 euros to drop Jordan at his hotel first, and then take Ian and I to our hotel. It was a ripoff, but at 230am there wasn’t much choice.

The hotel. Ugh. I’d stayed here about two years ago when it was the Le Meridien, and it was…adequate. Now it was the Pullman, and reviews online weren’t great. First off, I’d screwed up and booked a locals-only rate, so we ended up having to pay about 50% more than expected. Then, they couldn’t understand the concept of a room with two beds. Once that was finally sorted we got to the room…which was a sauna. The second room was marginally better, but not great. I left Ian to see if it would cool down, and I went and checked out another two rooms which were even worse.

Then, there was no water in the room. I went to the front desk three times to ask water to be brought up, but it never happened. Fortunately, I’d saved a bottle from the plane to brush my teeth, and Ian (being the fancy one he is) ended up using the minibar Perrier to brush his teeth. Finally, around 4am the room cooled down just enough to consider sleep, but I was thirsty and had to settle for the only option in the minibar…beer. I threw a bit of a fit at checkout the next morning about not being able to get water, and they did kindly comp the Perrier and beer. But ugh, this property has gone from adequate to dismal…and for the price recommend avoiding it at all costs.

We got up at a semi-reasonable hour, and decided to head out exploring just a bit to get some walking in before the adventure was to really begin!

Sep 142015
 

Woke up nice and early, and grabbed some Starbucks with the friend I stayed with before heading to the airport to start the long route to India. I’d checked in the day before when I arrived at YOW, and the agent questioned “why are you going Ottawa-Chicago-Newark instead of direct to Newark?” While I appreciated her effort to put me on the nonstop, it would have shorted me qualifying miles, and I would have been in coach as opposed to two flights in “first.” Plus, my friend was working that day, so no real reason to hang around the city.

Grabbed some Tim Hortons at the airport (mmm Timbits) and soon we boarded right on time.

United Express operated by Skywest flight 6384
Ottawa, Ontario (YOW) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:24, Arrive 11:29, Flight Time: 2:05
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N117SY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2A

Pretty typical United Express flight, except that United Express now serves the delicious caramel macchiato biscotti that I love. Mmmmm! Breakfast of champions? Well, combined with Tim Hortons and Starbucks it is!

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Landing in Chicago was right on time, and I had planned to make the most of my 3+ hour layover. My friend Matt picked me up at the airport, and immediately carted me away for what he billed as an authentic Chicago experience right near the airport. We went to Paradise Pup for hotdogs, where I did a pretty good job of clogging my arteries before a long flight. At least it was super tasty!

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Since we still had time, he carted me to Shoeless Joe’s bar just down the street because they had the 10% Not Your Father’s Rootbeer on tap. Unfortunately it was a little flat, but still delicious. Was awesome catching up during the layover, and I was really feeling like I was making the most of every minute on this trip so far. This also explains why it’s taken me so long to get this trip report started! Mmmm, high alcohol root beer….

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Catching up…

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Back to O’Hare approximately 75 minutes before the flight, through TSA precheck in under five minutes, and headed straight to the gate, where there was an “emotional support animal” loudly barking at anyone who got near it. Great!

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Flight was delayed about 30 minutes due to an “unspecified maintenance issue, but we assure you it’s nothing to cause concern” and that’s when we spotted HIM. The “changes you’ll like in Chief.” Herr Smisek. At least there is some justice in the world, because he ended up (according to a source on the flight) in a middle seat in regular economy. #WhosJeffedNow 😉

United Airlines flight 1165
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 15:00, Arrive 18:20, Flight Time: 2:20
Boeing 757-200, Registration N14107, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1E

Decided to get the trip rolling by having a glass of wine…and of course more biscotti! But no, this was the afternoon snack basket, so I had to “suffer” through the brownie brittle, which was also pretty darn good:

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The funniest part of this flight was the couple seated behind me, who asked the flight attendant “I don’t know why when we are in first class you let the military thugs and someone called ‘Global Services’ board first?” Flight attendant tried to explain Global Services as “those people who fly the most number of flights with us” but was clearly wrong. I decided to help her out and tell her in general it’s people who spend $50,000 or more on United tickets in a given year, although the exact criteria are unknown. The couple’s response? “Oh, I guess stupid people should board before people who pay for first class.” *smacks head*

Layover in Newark was uneventful, grabbed a shower, water, caught up on email, and just generally relaxed before heading for the chaos that is boarding for any flight to India:

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Had switched from 8E (middle) to 8B since united.com showed that even after nonrevs there should be 6 empty seats. Confirmed with gate agent, and he was happy to leave 8A open for me. Score!

United Airlines flight 82
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 21:55, Arrive 21:30, Flight Time: 14:05
Boeing 777-22, Registration N37018, Manufactured 2002, Seat 8A

As soon as the door closed, I moved over to 8A, and a minute later someone came and plopped down in 8B. “Sorry, I didn’t like my other seat.” I might have been a bit of a jerk, but told him “the gate agent had blocked this seat” and he pushed back with “well, my other seat is no good.” Knowing he was a nonrev, I paged over the flight attendant, who was happy to ask him to move elsewhere. Maybe I was a bit of a princess, but as someone who flew nonrev for 15+ years I was always taught not to inconvenience paying customers. Anyways, I had two seats, and the flight was off to a great start.

What will Jeff feed us today? Here’s the answers:

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Pre-departure bubbles…notice I’m still in 8B for the moment!

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The half-nuts with a glass of the (now extinct) Château le Jeff. May it RIP:

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Pretzel roll, mit plate:

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As skimpy as a single chicken skewer looks for an international appetizer, at least it was relatively tasty. I don’t think any other airline would dare serve a single cold chicken kebab as a starter, however!

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Super un-exciting salad. At least it had two sundried tomatoes and two olives?

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The “rack of lamb” which was way overcooked. I don’t think I even finished half of it.

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The cheese was ever poorer quality than average, but that didn’t stop me from asking for a second serving. Unfortunately “it’s all gone.” Mmm hmmm, of course it is.

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Today “hot fudge and cherries” was met with three cherries, which seems to pretty much be average for most of my United flights 😉

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At this point, I crashed for just short of 7 hours, waking up just in time to watch a few episodes of Scandal before breakfast was trotted out. Since I was awake I agreed to try it out, and unfortunately it was a pretty big miss. The fruit had zero flavour, the eggs scared me after one bite, but at least the cheesy potatoes were tasty 😉 I can’t for the life of me figure out why they serve breakfast at 8p local, but it is what it is!

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Landed about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, immigration took nearly 45 minutes due to almost no agents on duty, but had no trouble with my ten year visa in an expired passport. When I was finally through, my driver from the ITC Maurya was waiting to whisk me off to what would hopefully be bed.

Unfortunately, the ITC Maurya seemed to have the same problem as Indian immigration tonight, and despite five people working on my reservation together it took them nearly 20 minutes to check me in for some unknown reason. I’m a huge fan of ITC hotels in India, and I’m going to chalk this one up to just having some junior people on duty this night. Once I did get to my room it was a nice upgraded junior suite with great AC, a half bottle of wine waiting for me, and an apology note for my recent experiences at the ITC Chennai during dry days. The bottle of wine was compliments and apologies for the inconvenience. It had been nearly two months since I returned from Chennai, and was impressed with the communication!

Only managed four hours of sleep, but considering I’d only been awake for three hours since the seven on the plane I considered that pretty darn good. Now, at the farthest point of the trip, it was time to start the REAL adventure! (Don’t ask why I went via Ottawa and Delhi…you already know it has to do with a great fare 😉

Jun 012012
 

This post is just plain full of travel and plane geekery – feel free to skip if you don’t want to see what to expect on some slightly less common airlines. Paro to Male is only 3,070 kilometers as the crow flies (about 1,910 miles) but that would be too easy…and expecting two relatively out of the way places to be connected by such a straight line would be way too much to ask for…so, roundabout routing it was, involving no less than three tickets and four flights. I wasn’t really thinking ahead that in this part of the world, there’s no such thing as an easy transit, and almost got myself in trouble.

Despite my early flight, the hotel insisted that breakfast would be served. Breakfast is included, and they were going to make sure I had it. They suggested 5am, and when I went to the restaurant the overnight front desk guy was working, and happy to make me anything I wanted. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so boiled eggs, coffee, toast, and a bit of fruit it was! Then off for the short ride to the airport where I arrived just before 6am…way too early for a 7am flight out of this tiny airport! After killing time waiting (check-in, immigration, and security took maybe 10 minutes total) we were waiting…and then I realised why I wasn’t able to book business class on this segment: it was operated by an ATR! I’d read so much about Druk Air carefully selecting A319s because they were about the only plane that could navigate the tricky mountain approach into Bhutan…and now I was going to try and fly out on a prop plane? Time to start hoping that karma I earned paid off!

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May 242012
 

Even before the trip began…there was to be drama.  Storms were forecast in the DC to NYC corridor late afternoon, and when that happens flights tend to get really messy really quickly.  Today was to be no exception…my flight was preemptively delayed early morning for 2 hours…pretty much ensuring my 2 hour, 16 minute connection was going to be REALLY close.  However…when it came down to it…the delay shrank to 90 minutes, then 1 hour, then just 30 minutes a couple hours out.  We boarded on time…pulled away from the gate on time…and waited.  Pilot came on 15 minutes later telling us that for flow control, and “confusion with ATC” our new slot time was 90 minutes away…but maybe we’ll get lucky!

In the end, we did get lucky, going wheels up only about 45 minutes after scheduled departure time.

ExpressJet Flight 4695, Operating as United Express
Washington, National (DCA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Departure 16:59, Arrival 18:14
ERJ-145, Registration N17196
Seat 1A

I know lots of people don’t like the BDJ-145 as it’s affectionately known (Barbie Dream Jet), but I actually don’t mind it at all for short flights.  I almost always have been getting my preferred seat 1A for my regular hops up to Ottawa lately, and it’s a pretty comfortable ride.  With nobody sitting in front of you it’s private and quiet, and all in all…can’t complain.  Crews are usually excellent, and this one was no exception.  I think I got 3-4 refills of Diet Coke, and the 50 minute or so flight was over quite quickly.  Really not much to say – parked at the A gates at Newark, took the shuttle over to the C gates, and had a good 45 minutes in the Presidents Club…er…”United Club” to recharge the iDevices before the long flight.

United Flight 82
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Departure 20:30, Arrival 20:15 Next Day, Flight Time:  14:25
Boeing 777-200, Registration N76010
Seat 2E

This was my first time on the ex-Continental 777s with flat bed, and overall I was pretty impressed.  They certainly beat business on the ex-United 777s, mainly because there are no “middle” seats.  For me, most important thing on an overnight is aisle access with nobody climbing over me.  Hence, I don’t like the window sections of two (either I have to climb over someone, or they have to climb over me) and the ex-Continental 777s with two seats in the middle are perfect.  Overall, the hard product here is excellent.  It’s too bad the ex-United planes screwed up business so badly.

Also, this was to be my longest flight ever.  At 7,323 miles it would top my previous longest flight that I had done four times (San Francisco to Hong Kong) which clocked in at “only” 6,914 miles.  With 14:25 of flight time, there would be plenty of time to eat, sleep, watch tv, etc.  One of the most amusing parts of the plane was the entertainment system still was all Continental:

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