Dec 282015
 

The airport was absolutely deserted when we arrived, and the immigration people seemed a bit irritated to have to work. No problem signing in, and then off to arrivals. I admit I hadn’t checked the currency situation, but knew it was approximately 1 to 1 with the US dollar, so decided to take out some local currency. Over the next few days I learned that US dollars are accepted absolutely everywhere at 1 to 1, so no need for local currency at all.

I was tired and a bit cranky, so gave into the guy with the town car who accosted me in arrivals and offered me a ride to the hotel at a reasonable price. We had a nice chat, and it was a very comfy ride, and soon I was arriving at my hotel for the next couple of nights, the British Colonial Hilton, Nassau.

First impressions on check-in weren’t good. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to an agent to check in, and when I did she informed me “all rooms are full, this is the only room.” Uhhhh, ok, guess it will do. Up to the room, which looked reasonable:

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That is, until I realized the whole room was vibrating from the bass at a party. Back to the front desk, same agent tells me basically too bad, I know you’re a diamond member, so sorry, but there’s a hurricane benefit party, we’re totally sold out. Too bad.

Um, that’s not going to do. I asked for the manager on duty. She eventually arrived after about 15 minutes, and when we went to the room she saw what I was talking about. There were just a few more rooms from the BA crew that had just checked out (to turn my flight around I’m guessing) so she checked which rooms those were.

Eventually, after nearly an hour, we did find a room that was reasonably quiet. In exchange for the inconvenience of having to find a room that was reasonably quiet, she asked what I was doing for dinner…and I said I was just going to probably order room service because it was late. “Go ahead, and it will be on us.” To her credit, I ordered a sandwich, desert, and a few beers, and they were all comped. Points to them in that department. Unfortunately, I was left with a bitter taste from the surly lady at check in…and the people attending the benefit in the room across the hall who were loud until around 2am. Ugh.

Next morning, woke up, and decided to go for a bit of a walk with my one day. First stop, of course, Starbucks! On the way, I passed this monster having just arrived in port:

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Got my Starbucks (where they decided my name was Jacin) and people watched for about an hour as the cruise ships disgorged their passengers. I felt like I was in Middle America on the seaside, full of people complaining that things “aren’t like home here” and being generally…awkward about being in a foreign port.

Walked back to the hotel for a bit, and was glad to see that after the Bahamian flag the Chinese flag flies proudly at the same level:

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After getting things together, I headed out for a long walk. I decided I was going to walk through the city, and head over to Paradise Island before taking the ferry back towards my hotel. After about an hour of walking with breaks to check out the kitschy little souvenir shops, I was near the bridge to Paradise Island:

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Halfway across the bridge, the first views of Paradise Island:

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I walked around Paradise Island for a couple hours, mainly people watching. I know there are all kinds of resort activities, but since I was only there for a day I just wanted to walk around and see things and people. I don’t know what I expected from Nassau, but I felt like I was in Orlando, or somewhere people go that they think is exotic. It just didn’t feel that “different” from the US at all, and basically just like a place that tries to be as American as possible so as not to upset the cruise ship crowd. I’m sure the more remote islands are much different, but I left disappointed.

That’s not to say the views weren’t amazing:

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After a bit more walking, I was on the ferry back towards the Hilton in the late afternoon:

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On the way back, we passed all the cruise ships docked…

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Sunset view of the Nassau ferry port:

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Overall, Nassau was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. It was a nice warm day, but literally felt like I could have been anywhere in Florida. Not complaining, but I guess I feel like when I visit a foreign country, I want to feel like something is “different.” Nassau, to me, didn’t feel like that. It felt like it could have been anywhere, very generic, with the Hard Rock Cafe, Senor Frogs, Starbucks, McDonalds, and nothing that felt authentically local. Again, I’m sure there are places that are, but I didn’t find them.

Next morning I slept in a bit, grabbed a bit of Starbucks, and just walked around enjoying the nice weather. Soon, it was time to taxi to the airport and begin my trek home. Taxi prices were fixed and posted at the Hilton, so there was no drama at all.

…until I got to US Immigration. The US does pre-clearance in the Nassau airport, and my big concern was if they would care about Cuba. I know nobody has been hassled over the OFAC regulations in many years, but you still never know. Went to the Global Entry Machine, didn’t get the dreaded X, but when I turned it into the agent she started paging through my passport. The conversation was even more weird:

Her: What were you doing in the Bahamas:
Me: Vacation
Her: How long were you here
Me: Three days
Her (seeing Algeria stamps from a week ago): Why were you in Algeria? Do you know anyone in ISIS?
Me: Uh, no? I was just on holiday. Trying to visit every country eventually.
Her: Ok, how much money do you have on you?
Me: Maybe $100 or so?
Her: Ok then, have a good trip.

Now, why she didn’t ask my how I got from Algeria to the Bahamas I’ll never know, but oh well. Just left me frustrated that our immigration agents are often poorly equipped to really ask the questions that would catch people conducting some serious shade.

Speaking of serious shade, I was surprised to find there was a Priority Pass lounge. They let me in, and told me it came with a $20 credit for snacks and drinks. That’s the first lounge I’ve ever been to where you get a credit, and that’s all you can eat or drink. It was just odd! I got a couple diet cokes, some chips and was happy enough until we boarded.

United flight 1462
Nassau, Bahamas (NAS) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 13:05, Arrive 16:20, Flight Time: 3:15
Boeing 737-800, Registration N37273, Manufactured 2001, Seat 2B
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 123,129
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,162,096

Welcome aboard plastic cup of Oscar Cliquot:

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Nice short flight, and there were only two choices of meal. For once, I decided to get the pasta which I never seem to get. It was actually pretty tasty. I don’t remember the cookie, but fortunately I got the exactly same one today on a Mesa/United Express flight. Come on United, you can seriously do a bit better than this!

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Landed in the C terminal…and it was my lucky day. Despite a short connection, my connecting flight was only two gates away. Lots of people have been complaining about how Newark has less walking space now due to the concessions in the middle of the hallways, but it was nice to get a good beer from the iPad restaurant during my wait:

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Now, for the absolute highlight of my trip:

United Express flight 4786 operated by CommutAir
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Baltimore, Maryland (BWI)
Depart 17:55, Arrive 19:16, Flight Time: 1:21
DeHavilland Dash 8-200, Registration N369PH, Manufactured 1998, Seat 2B
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 123,298
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,162,265

Just kidding, lol…plane was absolutely full…and I volunteered, asking to be put on the DCA flight an hour later. I originally booked BWI because it was over $200 cheaper for the P fare, but I really wasn’t feeling it tonight. As it was, they had several no-shows, so no volunteers needed unfortunately.

Flight was super quick, and soon we were arriving at BWI…brrrrr after the Bahamas!

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I had decided it was late, I was annoyed, and there was no way I was going to deal with the train/metro/etc combos to get home, so decided to get an UberX. I felt a bit bad someone would have a long drive back to Baltimore after my trip, but got lucky and got a DC-based driver who was on his last trip of the day. Worked out super, was really affordable, so BWI ended up not being so bad after all!

That brings the trip to a close, and just three days at home before I needed to head out again to Thailand for work…no rest for the wicked!

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 Château 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 😉

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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!

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 😉

Jul 122015
 

As I mentioned in the last post, after a long day of touring around Pyongyang we were taken to the Number 1 Duck Restaurant, which was promised to be a big treat. Contemplating dinner…and North Korean beer:

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Final evening chat with the variety of interesting characters on the trip:

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After dinner, it was back to the glamourous Koryo Hotel to crash. It was honestly reasonably comfortable, completely clean, even though the mattresses seriously felt like they were filled with straw:

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The uninspired hallways…if you would knock on the walls there were clearly lots of hollow spots in them…we decided there must be secret compartments and one-way mirrors…

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Final breakfast at the Koryo Hotel. What the food made up for in quality and quantity, they certainly tried their hardest with presentation…and bowtied waiters:

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Koryo Hotel lobby…note all the marble. Like old Soviet hotels, it was everywhere. I can’t remember if the pink flowers are Kimilsungia or Kimjongilia:

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Goodbye Koryo Hotel…waiting for the bus to the airport:

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Busy city streets of downtown Pyongyang at 7am:

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One last shot of the two towers of the Koryo Hotel:

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Shot with our “tour guide” by the bus before heading to the airport:

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Unauthorized secret photography on the way to the airport. Lots more people “risking” pictures at this point because, hey, what would they do, deport us?

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Goodbye from the Eternal Leader:

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Very busy day at Pyongyang International, with four flights arriving, including the two charters to take the visiting South Koreans home;

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Waiting area, including a V.I.P. Lounge…unfortunately, they don’t accept Priority Pass…yes I asked…

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Waiting hall…all flights wait in the same room:

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Inspirational reading on the walls while you wait for your flight. I wonder if Kim Il Sung would approve of the Kindle:

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Sympathy might not be the word they wanted:

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Our plane being prepared on the tarmac:

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Walking down the stairs to the bus to take us to our plane:

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So long Pyongyang!

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Boarding…was fun to get a different plane than the first flight!

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Air Koryo flight 221
Pyongyang, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (FNJ) to Beijing, China (PEK)
Depart 9:30, Arrive 10:00, Flight Time: 90 minutes
Tupolev TU-154B, Registration P-561, Manufactured 1983, Seat 26D

The Air Koryo crew continued to photobomb my pics!

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No doors on the overhead bins this time, just put your bags up and pray!

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On the takeoff roll. You can see all the bags in the overhead, and the flight attendant standing in the aisle and bracing herself by holding onto two seats!

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The Air Koryo burger, and some kind of juice I think. The burger was actually surprisingly edible, but I have absolutely no idea what it contained!

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Final shot of our plane from the gate in Beijing:

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We had a few hours to wait for our connecting flight to Newark, and got some Starbucks in the airport and then just hung out in the lounge. Back then you needed a visa to even transit China, so might as well leave the sterile area of the airport and get some Starbucks while waiting!

Continental Airlines flight 88
Beijing, China (PEK) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 15:45, Arrive 17:25 Flight Time: 13:45
Boeing 777-200, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 9A

Was absolutely and completely exhausted by this flight, and ended up sleeping a lot of it. So tired I didn’t even think to take any pics of the meal or anything unfortunately.

Continental Airlines flight 1153
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 19:00, Arrive 20:15 Flight Time: 1:15
Boeing 737-500, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 5E

Speaking of exhaustion, this is when it hit. Flew economy on the domestic segments because buying first on those would have been hundreds extra, and it wasn’t worth it for such short flights when you could get the bulkhead. Remember the days when Continental flew 737s 10 times a day from DC to Newark?

All in all, it was an amazing trip, and a fantastic opportunity to be part of the first group of Americans to be allowed into North Korea. We got to see a slightly less-polished propaganda machine that wasn’t quite certain what to do with us. I look forward to going back for a much longer trip so I am not so severely jetlagged for most of it, and we can see more sights. Especially would love to take the aviation tour!

Jun 252015
 

As I mentioned in my previous post, booking two days before the trip I didn’t have a lot of choice on getting to Beijing. I was finding economy fares that were super high, and looked like a middle seat was the best we would do, or we could do business for about twice the price. It remains the single most expensive round-trip ticket I’ve ever purchased for personal use, but like I said I felt like this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Plus, being in North Korea for less than 72 hours I wanted to be as rested as possible to try and maximize the experience.

Unfortunately, I don’t really remember the details on the flight in great detail, but thanks to my notes I can at least reproduce some of it. Plus, this will be a bit of nostalgia for the good old days before Jeff’s cost-cutting.

Continental Airlines flight 1104
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart ??:??, Arrive ??:?? Flight Time: Approximately 1 hour
Boeing 737-500, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 2F

Unfortunately, don’t remember much about this flight. It was a morning flight, so can pretty much guarantee I enjoyed a diet coke and not much else. I remember when Continental used to run 737s from DCA to EWR…and they were always packed. What happened?!

Enjoyed the Presidents Club in Newark, and soon it was time to board our flight to Beijing. I remember at the time thinking Continental BusinessFirst was a really big deal, and remember it being something like a six or seven course experience. Those days, well, they’re long gone!

Continental Airlines flight 89
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Beijing, China (PEK)
Depart ??:??, Arrive ??:?? Flight Time: ??
Boeing 777-200, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 10A

I remember this flight being about 80% full in business, but the back mini cabin (I think there used to be five rows in the front cabin, and rows 8-10 were in a separate mini cabin) was less than half full. We had plenty of room to stretch out in our old-school barcaloungers.

For some reason, I didn’t take a pic of the soup, appetizer, salad, or any of the starters, but these were the days service in BusinessFirst was better than anything Jeff gives us in “First” on United these days.

Apparently, I had some chicken and veg for a main, and this reminds me how Continental used to plate the veg and starch from the trolly. Potatoes? Rice? They had multiple options, and you can fully customize the meal. Not sure what’s in the small bowl at the top, but I remember the Château le Gordon being much better than recent vintage Château le Jeff!

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Good to know I didn’t miss the ice cream sundae, though I’m not too sure why there’s Kahlua in the pic since I can’t remember ever going through a Kahlua phase. I’m glad to see four cherries though, I’d be disappointed if there weren’t multiples!

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Then I slept. I remember it being a pretty good amount, probably 4-6 hours. Cabin shot here with me enjoying the view out the window. You can see just how empty the back two rows of business were:

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Landed, immigration was a piece of cake, and even getting a taxi to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing, was a piece of cake. We checked in mid-afternoon, and decided to use the little time we had to do a bit of exploring since we hadn’t been to Beijing before and would only have one evening before the flight to North Korea.

Looking jetlagged in front of the Forbidden Palace:

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Changing of the guard ceremony:

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Forbidden Palace all lit up at dusk:

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For dinner, we walked to the Quanjude duck restaurant. Don’t know how we found it, but they had a counter that indicated they’d served more than 15 million ducks since they opened:

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Our duck, being hygienically carved up table-side…it was absolutely delicious with all the sides, and the waiter showed us how to plate it up and eat it all together.

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Promptly crashed for at least eight hours, and was up way too early. Found Starbucks (do you doubt my abilities to find them, even back them?) and wandered the city just a little longer. Found a countdown to the Beijing Olympics, which were still three years away at that point:

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The Grand Hyatt:

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Then, it was time to taxi to the airport and meet up with our group from Koryo Tours for the flight to Pyongyang!

Dec 232014
 

Thankfully, and this might be the only time I say this, my room at the Sheraton was nice and warm, because I woke up with a full-blown cold and it felt quite nice cuddled into the comforter. Unfortunately, that made it harder to get going in the morning. I really enjoyed this hotel, and definitely want to go back and spend a bit longer there, especially when not sick.

Walked the 10+ minutes to the train in the freezing cold, sniffling the whole way, and had an effortless trip to the airport. I remember being on the platform and thinking…I want to move here. Things just work so well in Switzerland, and every time I’m there I’m in a good mood. Random thoughts for the day…

Got to the airport, and let’s be honest, important first stop this early in the morning: Starbucks. The one thing I can do flawlessly in German in order Starbucks…but she insisted on speaking English back to me. Silly accents…especially because she clearly wasn’t a native German speaker either. So, I retaliated…in French. It’s an official language after all 😉 It was a fun exchange, I got caffeine, and all was right with the world.

Oh, speaking of, I noted down the price…The Economist always publishes their Big Mac index, so I’ve started keeping a “Starbucks Index” since it conveys something slightly difference. McDonalds want’s to be a bit of a commodity while Starbucks’ niche in the market I feel is a bit more of a snob appeal. So that said, a grande drip goes for 5,20 francs at the Zurich airport, or $5.30 at current rates, making it the most expensive place to have Starbucks in the world. If anyone would like to contribute to my research project, feel free to send me the price of a grande drip (tax included) along with location and date. Thanks!

Oh…and I had a chocolate muffin, but we don’t need to talk about that. This was my second one of the week (remember, Frankfurt last week on the way back from the South Pacific) and it’s a horrible holiday influence. Oh, that and Christmas Blend Espresso…but on with the important stuff…I don’t really mean half this blog to be about Starbucks…

Security was a complete non-event and then it was off to the SWISS Senator Lounge. I had a bit of work to do, and full of chocolate muffin and caffeine I’m afraid I can’t discuss the food. Seating was plentiful, finding an outlet was easy, and there was plenty of water to hydrate before flying. For some reason the SWISS Senator Lounge feels so much more peaceful than Lufthansa, where it feels like it’s a giant crowded mess first thing in the morning.

On to the gate…

Upon boarding with my mobile boarding pass, I got the beep beep beep, because apparently I had to re-check-in in Zurich and get asked those oh-so-helpful “did you pack your bag?” “has your bag been with you?” “are there any electronics in it?” questions. I’m sorry, but after Israeli security it felt absolutely ridiculous. These agents (not these in particular, but in European airports in general who screen the US-carrier flights to the US) seem like barely-trained rent-a-cops who couldn’t spot a security risk if it jumped up and screamed it. Anyways….by this point most of the flight had boarded, but fortunately I found space for my admittedly-large carry-ons. On with the show!

United flight 993
Zürich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 10:20, Arrive 13:55, Flight Time 9:35
Boeing 767-300, Registration N642UA, Manufactured 1991, Seat 7H

Enjoying a glass of Jeff Perignon as a pre-departure beverage, it was time to explore what was to eat:

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My seatmate was rather chatty, but fortunately he was also rather interesting to chat with and after a few minutes of chatting (and drinking…we got refills) went back to his own business. Took off right on time, and it was time to enjoy the delights of United BusinessFirst. First. Hah. Sorry, moving on…

A glass of Château Haut-Jeffrois and some high class split-nuts:

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The garlic bread, as always, made up for any shortcomings. United’s insistence on weird fruit-cream dressings continues, but this passionfruit one was actually kind of interesting. That said, give me a creamy parmesan, or peppercorn, or ranch any time. I’m classy like that.

The appetizer? A tiny piece of salmon and one shrimp? Seriously, I’ve seen better seafood selections in a developing country fish market. Just sad. Normally, I would let this go under the category of “you get what you pay for” since the majority of United business class is often upgrades, but since this was a paid business class fare I’m going to let out the full snark.

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The tenderloin of beef. The veggies were ok. The beef…well, I’ve eaten lots of business class beef on united over the years, and I’ve come to expect it medium well or so. This poor beef, however, was beyond salvageable. It literally had to be sawed through with the knife, and even that was a Herculean effort. It was so tough it felt like chewing on cardboard.  I have low expectations on airline beef, but often choose it because it sounds better than the chicken….and I refuse to touch fish on planes. I’ve seen Airplane one too many times.

I did the unthinkable on United…and rang the flight attendant call button.

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Big mistake. After around five minutes a flight attendant finally came by, and her response: “what do you want?” I tried to be as nice as possible, and said “unfortunately this beef isn’t very good…would it be possible to get one of the other meals if there are any left?” Her response? “No. Everything is gone.” and she walked away. Sensing a battle I couldn’t win I admitted defeat. Fortunately, the flight attendant in the other aisle (these are the benefits of sitting in the middle) was generously refilling wine, so I was able to keep a level head and ignore the issue.

At least there was cheese:

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I didn’t dare pull my “if there is any left after everyone has had some” question on the cheese with this crew. I appreciated what I got and left it at that.

Today’s sundae was “caramel with cherries” and the cherry count was four. Another datapoint.

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Watched a few hours of tv on the iPad, napped a little, blah blah blah, and soon it was snack time.

Seriously…a half of wrap and some rather sad fruit? The wrap looked so lonely I’m pretty sure the crew stole 1/2 of each one and ate it and only gave the passengers half of a wrap…or something like that. It just looks way too awkward on the plate like that. Throw in the same chocolates that have been sitting on the snack cart the entire flight and you have a classy meal.

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Landed about five minutes ahead of schedule, turned on my phone and…flight to DC was canceled. Ok, no biggie, I’m sure there are backup options…pull up United.com to look at my reservation…I’d been rebooked for the next day at 6pm. Over 28 hours later. It was raining lightly at Newark, and of course the reason for cancelation was “weather.” Ugh. There was, fortunately, another flight headed to DCA in 50 minutes, but it was overbooked by four people.

Fortunately no problems with Global Entry, security only had about a five minute wait for pre-check, and I made a beeline for the United Club to get added to the standby list. The agent was super efficient and helpful, but of course with my luck, the flight was departing from Terminal A. Ran for the shuttle bus, fortunately little wait, and got to the gate right as boarding was starting.

After everyone appeared to have boarded, I very nicely asked the agent how many were boarded and if there was a chance I might make it. “Just wait and you’ll find out.” Um, ok. I seriously will never understand why when it takes no extra effort to be kind and helpful to someone some people make it their mission to be rude and nasty. Ugh. I was the only one on standby, so it shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Five minutes before departure time it was obvious there were missed connections, and she cleared me into a window seat. I asked if there were other open seats. “Be happy you’re on the flight.” and that was it. The takeaway I’d give United is…top elite passenger on a paid business class fare, you cancel their flight, and then an agent tells them they should just be happy to be downgraded and be on the flight. What sort of impression do you think that leaves with your customers?

I should know better…

United flight 5677, operated by ExpressJet
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 14:55, Arrive 16:06, Flight Time 1:11
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N14570, Manufactured 2002, Seat 4D

Nothing to say about this flight. No drink service “due to the length of the flight” but at least I got to DC the same day instead of with a 24 hour delay. That shouldn’t be something to be happy for all things considered, but at this point it was.

The takeaway for me is – I’ve become the type of customer United seems to want. Paid business fares, not even using up all the upgrades I earn, requalifying on dollars basis…yet, they treat me poorly. It makes me reevaluate why I bother. The simple reason is, I live in the US, and still do a small to medium amount of domestic travel. If I joined another Star Alliance program, I’d get even fewer benefits, and zero transatlantic upgrades if I chose to use them. The service on United may be poor much of the time, but living in their hub at least I have options when things go wrong. As a non-elite I can pretty much guarantee I would have been screwed in Newark another 24 hours.

So, for now, I’ll continue to settle…and be happy in an abusive relationship.

Dec 122014
 

After a whole 72 hours in DC, it was time to head out again. After 4.5 weeks away in the South Pacific I came back, played a little hockey, did a LOT of laundry, worked three days, and soon it was time to head out. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. There was a bit of a snow/ice/sleet storm on the east coast, and DC and NJ were both affected. Four of the five evening flights from DCA to Newark were canceled mid-morning, and miraculously only mine was not. Living right after the Fiji Airways nightmare.

Of course, I was watching the plane. One of the things I like best about united.com is you can see where planes are coming from, and I noticed my plane kept falling further and further behind due to weather in Newark, yet my flight wasn’t delayed. Fortunately I’d booked a long connection, so I had high hopes I’d be fine. When I left for DCA, it was officially one hour late, although based on times online I was almost certain it would be at least two hours late…but I’d still be ok.

When I got to DCA, I was surprised that the remodeled half of the United Club was already open, and seemingly nobody else knew of it. Perfect for snapping a couple of pics:

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I love the vintage United pics on the wall. Major kudos to United for a nice remodel. After a couple of glasses of Château le Jeff and some Tilamook cheese, we finally boarded almost exactly two hours behind schedule, just as I’d predicted.

United flight 3900, operated by Republic Airlines
Washington, National, USA (DCA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 18:09, Arrive 19:42, Flight Time 1:33
DeHavilland Dash 8-400, Registration N342NG, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2A

It’s United Express. The crew used “weather” as the reason no drinks – even water – would be served, not even pre-departure. I asked if they would make an exception for first, and the answer was no. With a nearly one hour flight time, and almost no turbulence, I wasn’t impressed…but also not surprised. Sigh. At least we still made it to Newark over an hour before my connection. I was so glad I’d booked a three hour connection…and very fortunately to be the one flight that didn’t get canceled.

United flight 90
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV)
Depart 22:45, Arrive 16:20, Flight Time 10:35
Boeing 777-200, Registration N76021, Manufactured 2010, Seat 8E

Stopped briefly by the United Club for a bit of water, and then off to the gate. The Tel Aviv gate was cordoned off by some portable walls, and there was a boarding pass check to get into the gate area. After getting into the gate, your hand luggage was searched by hand. It was a bit of ridiculous security theatre, because when my rolling bag was opened up I think they spend 2-3 seconds running their hands around the bag before letting me go. No “real” security here. Hah. As soon as they finished it was time to board.

A lovely glass of Dom Jeffignon was waiting for me, along with the menu:

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I like the Continental layout on the 777, as long as I’m in the middle, because both seats have aisle access and there’s no climbing over people. To top it off my seatmate was a quite and polite person, so it seemed it would be a pleasant 10 hour flight. This was in stark contrast to the woman across the aisle from me, who was a nightmare for the crew. She was grandma, sitting with grandpa. A few rows back were her daughter and son-in-law, and somewhere around were the 6 grandkids. She made certain the flight attendant knew she’d bought 10 business class tickets, and when the kosher meal wasn’t to her liking, she demanded they get the regular meal. No matter how much the flight attendants tried to explain there were no extra meals, she went on and on about how much money she’d spent. At leas she was relatively quiet about it, so it provided a bit of free in-flight entertainment 😉

Fortunately, she was also a martyr, so eventually quieted down and sacrificed the few normal meals that were found to the grandkids while she passed out to sleep in her Coco Chanel eyeshade 😉

Meanwhile, I enjoyed some Domaine Ste. Jeff and warm nuts:

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The appetizer. Nowhere up to international business class standards, but for United shockingly good. I’ll take a few pieces of salmon any day to their one prawn appetizer.

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I don’t know what happened to my salad pic, but the rack of lamb was something I’ve never seen on any other United flight. It was slightly better than the usual beef options, and was a nice change.

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Le fromage. Pretty good. Fortunately, tonight, I didn’t want seconds, sparing me from having to battle with the crew for it.

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Tonight I went with “caramel and cherries.” I think nine cherries might be a record. The flight attendant went kinda nuts:

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I slept 4-5 hours after dinner, and as hoped woke up about three hours before landing. Since the arrival time was late afternoon I wanted to wake up a bit before landing to adjust a little bit to local time, especially since I’d likely want to sleep within eight hours of landing or so.

What’s this for the pre arrival meal…more salmon with…caviar on it? United serving caviar? Is the world coming to an end???

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The main was decidedly nasty eggs and potato thing, with the sugar and flour and cinnamon roll. I think I took about four bites of this yellow and brown meal before giving up.

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Landed right on time, and then it was off to deal with immigration. I’d heard lots of rumours over the years about Israeli security, so was quite curious to see what it was all about. Immigration was a big non-event, and I was through in probably one minute. Couple of innocent questions that would have been at home anywhere in the world, and I was off to find cash, and a taxi in the pouring rain, to head to my hotel. I think the only thing they were curious about were all the African visas in my passport, and that was only because they cared if I had Ebola.

It was already dark when we landed around 4pm, so it was if I’d lost a whole day. We took off at night, flew through the day with the blinds closed, and landed again in the dark. Hopefully I’d slept just enough to keep going, but not enough that I’d have trouble sleeping a few hours later…

Feb 072014
 

See, there’s a reason I didn’t give much more info in the title of this entry.

Initially, I had a placeholder booked, hoping that closer to the date of return, I could improve on my routing. The initial (admittedly terrible) plan was:

Praia, Cape Verde (RAI) to Lisbon, Portugal (LIS) in TAP Business
Lisbon, Portugal to Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) in TAP Business
Geneva, Switzerland to Montreal, Canada (YUL) in Air Canada Business
Montreal, Canada to Toronto, Canada (YYZ) in Air Canada Business
Toronto, Canada to Newark, New Jersey (EWR) in United Express First
Newark, New Jersey to Washington, National (DCA) in United Express First

Yeah, I’m serious. I was mentally preparing myself to fly that just in case it came down to it. Fortunately, about a week before, award space opened up, and I switched to:

Praia, Cape Verde (RAI) to Lisbon, Portugal (LIS) in TAP Business
Lisbon, Portugal to Brussels, Belgium (BRU) in TAP Business
Brussels, Belgium to Washington, Dulles (IAD) in United First

Yes, I was using miles for United First, but it got me home nearly 8 hours earlier. Plus, my connection in Lisbon would only be an hour, and about 1:20 in Brussels, so much better connection times. Life was looking up!

Little did I know, my favourite furry friend was about to pay me a visit.

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But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Got to Praia Airport approximately two hours before my flight, because TAP wouldn’t let me check in online and I wanted to try and get a decent seat for the 4 hour middle of the night redeye in economy seats. Blech. There were two check-in lines, one for business and one for economy. However, with no business passengers, all the economy people were filling up both lines. I walked to the front, told the check-in agent business class, and she said she’d help me next. Yeah, that went over really well with the others in line…they were on the verge of rioting. No way was the white guy going to pull the “I deserve service before you card.” Fortunately, the agent had my back, as did the rather rotund Lebanese gentleman who arrived for the business class line a minute later. Soon I was checked in, and ready to head to the lounge.

Only, there is no lounge. Just an immigration queue that was nearly 20 minutes long, and somewhere around 30C plus with no breeze in the room. And only two agents working, both of who were preoccupied with mothers with small children who lacked proof that daddy was ok with them taking the children out of the country. 20 minutes became 30 minutes, became 40 minutes, and finally we were through.

Security was next, which took 5 minutes. Well, it WOULD have taken five minutes if one of those small children hadn’t decided they would go for a stroll…right through the metal detectors…and mom ran after them. The entire terminal was emptied….nah, just kidding. Only TSA would pull that. These guys just shrugged and kept on processing people. Mom finally appeared over five minutes later, and they just waved her through. Uh, you know you never checked her…right? Ah, Africa…how I’ll miss you.

So now, we’d wait. The plane had left Lisbon 20 minutes late, meaning best case my connection would be down to 40 minutes.

Thus, I went to the lounge to wait.  Ooops, no lounge, just one large room filled with TAP and TACV passengers.  Nearly 500 people on delayed flights who were getting anxious.  So, I did the only thing I could do, I visited the snack shop, aka “Nice Burger.”    I used google translate to say “can I pay US dollars for a beer”  yes, I could.  It was time for a beer.  10 minutes later, it was time for another.  When the crowds started getting rowdy, I opted for a third…only there were no more.  This explained why people were getting increasingly agitated, and there was lots more yelling and pushing going on.

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Finally, our plane arrived, and if they could turn it around in 30 minutes, we’d only be 20 minutes late.  20 minutes came and went, and we still hadn’t boarded.  Then, they announced boarding would begin…but they didn’t announce if it was for the delayed TAP flight or the 3+ hour delayed TACV flight to Paris.  So naturally, all 500 people swarmed the agents at once.  Eventually, it was sorted.  BOTH flights were boarding, from two doors less than 5 feet apart.  The agents were having a hell of a time trying to sort out the passengers, but somehow…it happened.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally got on board.

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Jun 252013
 

I was dropped on the head as a child, that’s pretty clear. I do things most sane people wouldn’t dream of doing. So, when I found out I had four days free over the upcoming holiday, I started looking for new countries to visit to add to my tally of 136 so far. Problem is, most of them are now too far away to consider for a four day weekend.

Backup plan…let’s see how many miles I can earn towards million miler. As a bonus, let’s see how many 787 segments I can theoretically fly now that it’s back in the air.  A few days of planning, and insanity was born.

The final plan is:

Day 1:  Washington DC, National (DCA) to Chicago (ORD) to Houston (IAH) to San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) with ORD-IAH on the 787

Day 2:  Redeye flight LAX back to Houston on the 787, continuing on the 787 to Chicago, then to Newark (EWR) and finally Panama (PTY) and sleep in a real bed

Day 3:  Morning flight from Panama to Washington, Dulles (IAD) then on to Houston on a 767, back to LAX, and finally ending up in San Francisco for a very short 6 hour night.

Day 4:  San Francisco to LAX early morning, then on to Houston on the 787, and finally home to DCA.

Final routing, assuming nothing goes wrong, and it almost certainly will:

DCA-ORD-IAH-SFO-LAX

LAX-IAH-ORD-EWR-PTY

PTY-IAD-IAH-LAX-SFO

SFO-LAX-IAH-DCA

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I’m pretty sure I’m not going to survive this. By the numbers:

1 redeye
2 countries
3 showers…hopefully
4 flights on the 787
5 widebodies
7 United Clubs (if I can figure out a way to access on domestic days)
8 airports
8 different aircraft types
15 segments
85 hours
16,624 miles flown

So far 14 of 15 segments confirmed in first/business class, with one pending what will hopefully be an easy 1K upgrade on a 757 on July 4th. Time will tell though.

I’ll definitely make a point to pack my Bro Tank in order to offend as many “properly” dressed FlyerTalkers as possible on this most ‘Merican of all holidays.

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Stay tuned…I’m pretty sure this adventure is going to have more twists and turns than gumby at a limbo convention!