Mar 072018

As I mentioned in the last post, the Mobile Passport app had refused to let me report in, leading me to wonder if it was just a systems error (perhaps due to the federal government shutdown that was underway?) or a sign of something more ominous.

Having never had to actually go through normal lines in over five years, thanks to Global Entry and Mobile Passport, I was completely unsure what to do when I arrived…so I followed the line for US Citizens. I know this is probably boring to a lot of people since it’s what most travels do every time they return to the country, but it was new to me.

Turns out you report in at a machine now that is very similar to Global Entry, but there’s no biometric scan. You still scan your passport, the machine takes your picture, and spits out a receipt that you then get in line to show to an agent. I guess what this does is automates some of the data entry the agent used to have to do, and makes a determination.

My receipt spit out line this, and it’s the same “X of Doom” that I’ve gotten at Global Entry before, so I knew I was in for hell. At this point I only had about forty minutes to connect to my next flight, so I was pretty sure I was screwed:

Took nearly 15 minutes to reach the front of the queue and get to an agent, and I was very fortunately to get a very pleasant and helpful agent. The usual questions. Asked what I’d been up to in Cairo, explained it was just one night on the way to Germany for vacation, which made total sense to him. But then: “unfortunately my friend, you’ve won the lottery today. Please wait here against the wall, and someone will be by shortly to escort you to secondary inspection.” Whee, the automated system had decided (most likely) that my one day in Cairo was a lil too sketchy for them, so I feared the same four hour interrogation I got last time I took this route. I was preparing for the worst…and knew my connecting flight was a lost cause.

“Shortly” turned out to be nearly 30 minutes, and finally a pleasant agent came to get me…with a train of eight other suspects behind her. Me, two teenagers who looked to be somali, a pair of women in abayas, a couple of young African men, an older Pakistani gentleman with a grey beard died orange, and what appeared to be a rastafarian. Clearly I’d gotten the “profiling” flag…..

First stop was to drop six people off for what appeared to be baggage inspection. That wasn’t to be my fate. Me, one of the Somali teens, and the older Pakistani guy were led to another area, and told to “have a seat over there.” I sat for what was probably 30-45 minutes, until what I have to admit was a very professional agent came out with all three of our passports. After a quick glance at them, he beckoned me over first. I guess the shady American was likely to be easier than the foreigners…

What seemed to be a very well rehearsed series of about a dozen questions, he took notes on the back of my receipt, then actually said sorry for the hassle…have a good day. I suspect what ever auto flag I tripped he decided “oh, just one of those crazy frequent flier kids flying weird routes for fun” and let me go.

Finally checked my phone, and yup, despite still being 10 minutes prior to departure United had rebooked on on a later flight from Boston-Newark-DCA…in coach. WTF. A quick check of ExpertFlyer confirmed F was available – although points to United for confirming me on what was the quickest routing. Quick call to United got me moved back up business what I had paid for (why they didn’t rebook me automatically was a mystery…since the same class was available) so no giant inconvenience. I would get home a bit over three hours later, via Newark instead of Chicago…and unfortunately miss my hockey game. Boo!

Boston might be one of the most awful airports to transit in, and the walk from the international terminal to United’s terminal took forever, and required a walk outside, walk through the JetBlue checkin area, then past this flying banana:

By the time I got to the United Club, I was a sweaty mess, and of course there were no showers. No worry, was able to relax, clean up, have some water, before setting off in search of what would be much-needed caffeine. One huge plus for Boston, the United terminal had not just a Starbucks, but also a Peet’s and a Dunkin‘! I love choice!

Off to the gate after a long wait, and it was time to fly to sEWaRk…

United Express flight 3622 operated by Republic Airlines
Boston, Massachusetts (BOS) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 17:29, Arrive 19:05, Flight Time: 1:36
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N733YX, Manufactured 2016, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 12,502
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,532,564

Absolutely nothing to say about this flight. It was on time, there was a snack basket, crew was friendly and efficient and offered multiple refills…about all you can ask for for a short last minute regional flight.

Quick stop by the United Club for some water and a glass of whine, before boarding the last flight of the night, which I prayed would be on time.

United Express flight 3722 operated by Republic Airlines
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 20:30, Arrive 21:50, Flight Time: 1:20
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N746YX, Manufactured 2017, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 12,701
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,532,763

On time, with wine and a refill…nothing more to say! Fortunately, considering all that had gone wrong, I really can’t complain much about getting home the same day. In the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty mild drama!

Next up, a short post on my recent work trip to Mexico City!

Feb 242015

So, after the unexpected early end of my trip and missing Yemen and Eritrea I was a little bummed out and down. But more…exhausted. Somehow, still managed to play some hockey after getting home and then crashing…hard…and sleeping for nearly 12 glorious hours.

Woke up, rubbed my eyes, and couldn’t believe who was hanging out in my condo:


Yes, the drama llama had struck again.

Barely 12 hours after I’d come home because Yemen was unsafe and I’d had to bail on Eritrea because after eight weeks my visa on arrival still wasn’t ready, there it was. Along with a note: “here’s your visa…please let us know if you will come tomorrow now.”

Tomorrow…yeah, um, about that…I’m kinda 8,000 kilometers away at the moment because it took forever. So, emailed the tour company to see how long I had to use it. 30 days from date of issue…which left 29 days to go.

Now, Eritrea is known for being suspicious of tourists, and outsiders in general. I’ve never had a visa take eight weeks to arrive before. I figure that if I didn’t use it, after all the favours that were called in to make this happen, the chances of me getting another Eritrea visa any time in the distant future were about as likely as ISIS and Elton John meeting up at the Western Wall to do a rousing rendition of Hava Nagila. That’s to say, I had 29 days to get to Eritrea or I wasn’t going…and my every country quest was going down the drain for the foreseeable future.

So, the only real questions were when to go and how.

I found the most practical time for me in the next 29 days, and then it was a question of how to get there.

I was still a bit sick and exhausted, and economy was absolutely out of the question. Lowest business class fares I was seeing were north of $4,000, so that wasn’t a very attractive option. I had enough miles to get me there on United, but that would deplete all my miles as well as costing me almost $1,900 to get home. That wasn’t attractive either. Then, I remembered I still had a large stash of US Airways miles that I could use on OneWorld, which Qatar was now a member of. Qatar and Turkish are really the only two airlines to fly into Eritrea (of any size) so just maybe…

Shockingly, DC to Doha was available on the day I needed. But there was a snag. US Airways doesn’t recognize Eritrea as existing, so can’t book flights there. Still, a roundtrip to Doha is only 100,000 miles in business, way cheaper than American or United miles, so it’s a great deal. Let’s see if I can get home from Doha. Nope, Doha-DC sold out for 2 days either side of the day I need. Doha to anywhere in the US seems sold out to. Let’s start checking other OneWorld Airlines…

Finally found a flight from Helsinki to JFK with availability, and I love Helsinki. Managed to piece together Doha-Stockholm-Helsinki with an overnight then Helsinki-JFK-DC the next day. Not idea, but it would work.

Now, how to get from Doha to Eritrea. Paid tickets were nearly $1,600 so that wasn’t exactly a great option. Turns out BA does recognize Eritrea, and will book it for just 30,000 miles/avios….which I don’t have. But you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to BA, which I did, and it was instantaneous.

So, I’m all booked. Supposedly I have a visa. Maybe second time’s a charm…. so, although there’s a short break in DC, this trip really isn’t over…. coming up:


Or, in total, this trip will be:


I’m already tired…but no rest for the wicked. Carry on my wayward son…there’ll be peace when you are done…