Sep 152016
 

The big day had finally arrived, and it was time to head off to Iceland to visit my 196th and final country in the world. I had a group of about 35 family and friends joining me, a couple of whom were already in Iceland. About ten of us would be on the same flight to Reykjavik, meaning I would have a good group to witness “the moment” with me.

Caught a Lyft with my friend and neighbour Garrett to Dulles Airport. Garrett deserves special mention as the person who’s kept my plants alive, collected my mail, and even mailed me pictures of visas I forgot at home for all these years of travel. I definitely couldn’t have done it without his help – not to mention he helped save me from being deported from India back in July!

Arrived at Dulles, and check-in was relatively drama-free, except for the guy in the Saga (business) Class line in front of us, who was throwing a fit that they wouldn’t let him bring his rolling back on the plane as hand baggage. After forcing him to check it we checked in, and my (much larger) rolling bag was accepted just fine. Fortunately he didn’t see that…we later saw him in a middle seat somewhere between purgatory (row 20) and the final level of hell (row 35)…so maybe that explains it.

The check-in agent was completely unaware of the rules for lounge access, and thought I probably got a guest, so was nice enough to give Garrett a lounge invite as well despite the fact he was in economy. Off to the Air France lounge it is, where an appropriately-French reception of (several glasses of) champagne and some cheese awaited:

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Shortly after we arrived my friend Greg from Philly joined us since the Air France lounge also participates in Priority Pass and a few other programs, and my friend Phil showed up a bit later fresh from finding a shower at a friend’s place after a JetBlue redeye from the West Coast. Off to the gate after a bit, where our chariot awaited:

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Unfortunately, despite kissing up to Icelandair on twitter over the past couple of weeks and dropping lots of hints, there was no priority boarding or special recognition at the gate. There was actually no priority boarding of any sort, so I just shepherded the crew to the front of the scrum and on board.

Icelandair flight 656
Washington DC, Dulles (IAD) to Keflavik, Iceland (KEF)
Depart 14:10, Arrive 23:40, Flight Time: 5:30
Boeing 757-200, Registration TF-ISD, Manufactured 1991, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 139,600
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,328,737

Upon boarding, champagne was quickly dispensed to Phil and I, and bottled waters were waiting at our seats:

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Pre-flight champagne celebration selfie:

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What’s to eat on the shortish flight to Reykjavik:

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I’m not sure a started called “ugly” sounds appetizing, but hey, when in Iceland…

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This would be a good place to say a bit about the seats. Icelandair 757s are pretty much the same seats that have plied routes in the US domestically for the last 30 years. Two by two configuration up front, with a few extra inches of legroom over coach. There was nothing special about the seats, but they were comfortable enough for a short daytime flight. I certainly wouldn’t want to try getting sleep in these seats, however. Fortunately, Icelandair has some daytime flights like ours which meant no need to try and sleep on a plane.

Shortly after take off, I asked for a red wine, but apparently I was getting white. The flight attendant was…not the most attentive…and seemed a little frazzled, so I figure it would go fine with the unusual pre-meal munchies that were essentially toffee-covered popcorn. I mean, it was nice to have something other than a ramekin of nuts, but this was…different. That said, it went decently well with white wine (better than it would have with red) so win-win…maybe?

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I had spotted on Icelandair’s website that you could pre-order from about eight different meals, and decided to go this way. It was a good call, because the three options on the main menu didn’t look that great to me, and the lamb I had was rather delicious. The ugly cheese was pretty tasty as well…and I finally got my red wine! The pre-ordered meal was also good because it meant that we were the first ones served. No plate for the bread, but it was super tasty!

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I spent part of the flight kissing up to Icelandair on twitter, but it continued to get me absolutely nowhere…beyond a congratulations. I should also point out that Icelandair’s entire fleet is WiFi equipped, and it is supposed to be complimentary in Saga Class. However, it wouldn’t recognize my confirmation number or ticket number, meaning I had to pay. AmEx was kind enough to immediately wipe off the charges when I called to dispute them.

With about 90 minutes left in flight, Phil and I were feeling a bit hungry. We had been pressing the call button every 30-40 minutes to get wine refills (the crew was definitely not proactive at all), but this time decided to ask if they had any snacks to eat. The…rather attractive gentleman working economy quickly came back with some Pringles, Icelandic “boxerchips”, and some trail mix as well as more wine:

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Gorgeous sunset as we crossed over Greenland:

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Greenland certainly looked rugged and desolate:

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The rocky east coast of Greenland:

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We landed about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and unfortunately did not get a gate. Victory selfie on the tarmac right after setting foot in my final country:

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Immigration was quick, despite the agent making a comment about all the visas in my passport. I told him Iceland was my 196th and final country visited, which was merely met with a very stoically-Scandinavian “that’s nice.” Hah!

Post-immigration I was looking for the perfect spot to take a pic, and found this. Welcome to #196!

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Overall, Icelandair was solid. I went into it expecting domestic first class, and that’s exactly what we got. Garrett unfortunately forgot his phone on the plane, and didn’t realize it until we were well past immigration. He found an Icelandair agent and told them, and much to our surprise he was reunited with his phone only 20 minutes later. Definitely scores big points for Icelandair in my book, as in the US you’d almost certainly never see it again.

A few more thoughts on Icelandair, from the friends who were in economy. There’s no food served – at all. It’s the low cost model where there’s plenty available for purchase, but nothing is complimentary. Something to keep in mind if you’re flying them in economy. They essentially function as a low cost airline, and even in Saga Class it wasn’t completely free what was complimentary and what you were expected to pay for. Turns out, everything was complimentary…and apparently whatever and as much as you wanted.

We had pre-booked the FlyBus, which runs continuously from the airport to the central bus terminal in Reykjavik about 50 minutes away. On the ride we got really lucky and saw the Northern Lights, so that was a super bonus for the drive into town. Unfortunately, they didn’t show up any of the other nights we were in Iceland. When we got to the bus terminal, however, it was a disaster. We had paid the extra for a transfer to our hotel, and after waiting over 45 minutes with no transfer in sight (remember, it’s about 2am at this point) we gave up. Fortunately, my friend Kirsten’s Air BnB host was getting impatient, and he drove the 2km to the bus terminal to pick all of us up. Her apartment was right across the street from our hotel, so it worked out super well. Supposedly this isn’t the norm with FlyBus, but next time I would think twice about paying the extra for the transfer and just grab the short cab from the bus station. Especially with multiple people you would probably break even.

Now, it was time to get some sleep and get ready to enjoy the first day in Iceland!

Jun 232016
 

4:30 in the morning came early, very early. I had set everything out the night before so I could make a very quick escape, and it all worked out well. Rolled out of bed into the bathroom, brushed teeth, put contacts in, and made a quick escape from the room. The plan was to get going as quickly as possible and shower in the lounge at the airport if I still had time in order to try and not wake Ian up. Actually woke up 5 minutes before my alarm (I love how the internal clock works like that sometimes) so think I was out the door in under 10 minutes flat. Called an Uber, and it arrived just five minutes later…and I was off.

With no traffic, ride to the airport was nearly 30 minutes, and when I was dropped at the curb this sign awaited me…it’s like they knew I was coming or something:

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I already had my boarding pass from the previous night, but the line for passport control was over 30 minutes…and that was the priority line…due to a group of 100+ Turks with diplomatic passports that all looked barely 25 congesting the line. There was a large German schoolgroup in the main line, so it wouldn’t have been any better. I wondered where 100+ Turkish diplomats were headed at 5:30am, then saw one of their boarding passes: Pristina. I’m not sure what 100+ 20-something Turkish diplomats were up to in Kosovo, but I’m probably better off not knowing.

Stopped at Starbucks, where apparently Jason sounds like Corsim today. Fortunately, they let me bring it into the lounge where I enjoyed it with some cheese and olives for breakfast:

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Just in case you’re a raging alcoholic, there’s plenty of wine ready at 6am as well:

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Had plenty of time to grab a shower and such before the flight, before heading to the gate. Anyone who’s read my blog knows how I feel about the Istanbul airport. Great facilities, huge lounge, connections to everywhere, but the throngs of humanity make it a nightmare. Think Frankfurt or Heathrow, except instead of 90% passengers from developed countries, you have the other 90% – those who can’t get a visa to transit Europe. People being pushy, disrespecting queues, eating with their hands straight from the lounge buffet, etc. At least you don’t have the self-important scream into the mobile phone types…

The grand staircase in the split-level lounge:

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Bit of a hike to our bus gate today, where I found out the planned A330 had been swapped for an A340 overnight. Ugh, the Turkish A340s are almost as old as some of the United 747s. Hey, it’s a three hour flight though, can’t really complain about even an ancient widebody with nearly lie-flat seats!

Turkish Airlines flight 1587
Istanbul, Turkey (IST) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 07:55, Arrive 10:10, Flight Time: 3:15
Airbus A340-300, Registration TC-JDN, Manufactured 1997, Seat 4K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 99,297
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,288,822

First impressions on boarding were wow, this is nice for a three hour flight!

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Chose the pre-departure lemonade this morning:

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The chef went around offering people drinks as they boarded. He had it down to a science. Let them board, sit down, and about a minute later come and offer them a drink. Very nice, and personalized:

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He offered me a second, so I went with a fresh-squeezed OJ:

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Today’s menu…looks pretty identical to the flight from Dakar the day before:

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Unfortunately, departure time passed, and without a word we just sat there. And sat there. After 20 minutes I rang the call button to ask why we hadn’t left. The flight attendant had no idea but “I am sure we will be going soon.” Another 20 minutes, nothing. At the hour mark, the pilot finally came on and said “something was wrong with the plane, but I think it is ok now and we will leave soon.” Nothing inspires confidence like that! Fortunately about 10 minutes later we were off.

After takeoff, the captain announced we had good winds, so should only arrive about 40 minutes late. Shortly after, the starters for breakfast were delivered. Since the crew the previous day didn’t know what a mimosa was I didn’t want to take any chances, so I asked for an orange juice and champagne…and got one of each. Waste not want not!

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Since the other option didn’t look appetizing I went with the bland cheese pancake thing. It was really bland again, but with the honeycomb I pretty much forgot…and the refills on the beverages weren’t hurting things:

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We ended up actually getting a gate in the B terminal in Frankfurt, and the German border police were waiting at the top of the jetway to check documents. I’ve only ever experienced this on flights from Africa and Turkey, which apparently have a large number of people flushing their passports and trying to claim asylum. For the first time ever I got a bit of a grilling for trying to speak German with them, but was let go after a couple of questions.

Had to re-clear security in order to get back into the B terminal area, so opted to go through immigration and clear that security first as the line to get back into the B area was rather long. The agent was confused why I was going into the B gates when my flight left from the Z gates, and didn’t seem to understand the concept of wanting to using the first class lounge. I’m still completely confused why Lufthansa has a first class lounge at the A gates but not the Z one, when that’s where most longhaul flights depart from!

Once inside, grabbed a quick shower, and unfortunately they only had the generic rubber duckies this time. I’m still trying to get either the rarer silver one or the new European Cup soccer one. Hopefully next time!

Some bubbly and cheese while I waited for my flight. Unfortunately, my lounge time was cut short by a delayed arrival. One of these times I’m going to have a proper meal in this lounge and try the eggs benedict!

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Today’s transfer from the lounge to the plane was in a nice Mercedes S Class, and we took the long way to the plane. I was one of four in first today, and unfortunately three of us had to share the car together. I know, I know, #FirstClassProblems…

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 13:15, Arrive 15:55, Flight Time: 8:40
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYL, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 103,454
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,292,979

Welcomed aboard with some mixed nuts and a glass of bubbles…

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salmon amuse bouche…

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Takeoff from Frankfurt:

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Today’s menu:

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The Tattinger Millésimé is a nice bottle of bubbles, but not one of my favourites. I appreciate that Lufthansa doesn’t just go easy with the Dom or Krug and tries to get creative, but while this is a very nice champagne, it’s just not one of my faves. No problem, that will just make the switch to red wine easier.

Table was set right after takeoff as I asked:

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Caviar was served. I was even offered seconds, but declined today:

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Appetizers came out next, and the flight attendant insisted I try all three as well as a salad. “You do not have to eat it all, but you should at least try it!” I like her attitude!

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Continuing my unusual streak of fish on planes lately, I went with the turbot. I have to say, I wasn’t impressed. It was a bit dry and tasteless, and I didn’t feel the least bit bad enjoying the Flagstone shiraz with it for a bit of zing.

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Now THAT is a cheese cart. I was in heaven. A little of each please…

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With more shiraz, of course…

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I was too full desert, but again the flight attendant insisted I at least have a couple of chocolates. With that, I asked my bed to be made and passed out for nearly 5 hours.

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I had asked not to be waken for a snack, so I was allowed to sleep until 30 minutes before landing. I think that’s a first for me on a transatlantic, and shows just how little sleep I’d gotten the night before. Boarded, watching a movie, and ate until landing.

Immigration at Dulles wasn’t too bad, was through Global Entry in under five minutes, and then I saw the line for customs. It was the longest I’d ever seen, and people were saying they had to stand in line over 90 minutes for customs! Thankfully, there’s a special line for Global Entry customs at Dulles, and I was out in under five minutes.

Managed to stay awake maybe another six hours after landing, and then crashed hard despite the five hours on the plane. This was really a new experience for me choosing to sleep the daytime flight away, but to me it shows what Lufthansa really excels at. You’re in first class, and you’re in charge – whatever and however you want to use your time you are free to and the crew will see to it that you get the experience you need at that point.

One of these days I’m going to actually do the frequent flier geek thing and try and “maximize the experience” but for now, I’m extremely content just enjoying it as I think it’s meant to be – what you need, when you need it, to minimize the stresses of traveling.

With that, the trip is over, and it’s time to hit my penultimate country in just another week: Turkmenistan!

May 262016
 

When I booked my Etihad transfer back to the airport, they sent me an email telling me they would pick me up at 8:30am. 2:15 before the flight, based on the fact I was in first and supposedly the lounge was nothing to write home about, was just right for me. Went to bed, woke up, went down to breakfast, and was reading my email when…

I saw that at 11pm the night before, they sent me another email telling me they would pick me up at 7:45am. This was at about 8:10am when I was eating breakfast…I ran over to the front desk, and yes, they’ve tried calling my room, the driver has been waiting since 7:45…and has just left. Way to change the transfer less than 12 hours before the flight Etihad, when normal people are sleeping, and to leave without me.

Fortunately I was able to get an Uber in about 10 minutes, and was to the airport for just over 45 Dirhams. But then, dropped off at the first class check-in area (the one thing that seems to be separated on the ground for first and business passengers) and was told “oh, no, we have closed the flight. You have been offloaded.” 1:58 before the flight. It seems US flights close for checkin two hours before the flight due to US Customs/Immigration pre-clearance. Why in the world had Etihad misled me with an email leading me to believe it was ok to be picked up 2:15 before my flight? UGH!

Fortunately, the agent made some phone calls, and was very clear when she told me “this is a one time exception – next time you cannot travel” – and yes, this is ground services for a first class that is trying to compete with the best in the world. So far, except for the hard product on the A380, they were falling way, WAY short in my book.

Fortunately, no wait for immigration or security, and I’d been warned I needed to head straight to US Pre-clearance, no time to spend in the general lounge. I still popped in for one minute to confirm there is still no separate first class lounge (seriously? you build apartments in the sky but can’t build a lounge for first class?) and headed to pre-clearance. There were still plenty of people in line, I was quickly processed through Global Entry, quick interview by the agent for customs purposes, and was through to the gate area.

Etihad does have a lounge after pre-clearance, and it was incredibly small and packed again since it was shared by business, first, and all their frequent flier elites. Yes, like London, it’s nice you have waiter service, but when you have 100 people in the lounge it kind of defeats the point. At least the AC was nice while we waited to board.

Like London, no priority boarding for First, just a scrum with all the elites and business class. It really seems to Etihad they think that first class just means a better seat. That’s nice and all, but it makes them far from competitive with other international first class…and this is coming from a guy whose biggest selling point at 6’4 is generally the seat!

Etihad flight 131
Abu Dhabi, UAE (AUH) to Washington, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 17:00, Flight Time: 14:15
Boeing 787-9, Registration A6-BLB, Manufactured 2015, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 86,282
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,275,807

Just as in London, once boarded, the whole experience changed. Sure, it wasn’t an apartment, but the 787 suite was still extremely nice!

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Being a morning flight, I thought it best to go slowly, and join the glass of champagne with a glass of orange juice. Once again, dates and arabic coffee were also offered.

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The menu looked surprisingly similar to the flight in from London in many ways, just a few different choices:

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Picture of Abu Dhabi after takeoff…the rear-facing seats were great for taking pics:

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Same mixed nuts, wasabi peas, and olives starter as out of London…but I didn’t mind. Beats the usual boring nuts!

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I decided to have a full lunch as I’d had a small breakfast, so the table was set:

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The amuse bouche…I’m honestly not sure what it was, but it tasted mildly fishy.

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The scallops appetizer. Rather small, but they were perfectly cooked so a nice light starter. The green apple was an interesting contrast in flavours, and I think it kind of overwhelmed the scallops. Not a fan of the pairing. Went nicely with champagne though 😉

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Choice of breads, and butter and oil. Not sure the point of putting the little cover on the butter, but…

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Palate cleanser….mint ice…did its job…

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The onboard chef recommended the biryani, so I had to give it a try. I have to say it was absolutely delicious…great combination of spices, just enough saffron, cashews…super tasty. Also went nicely with the Malbec.

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You knew I wasn’t going to pass up the cheese. The green apples and “fruit paste” made another appearance, and added a great touch.

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In flight, love this shot of the curved 787 wing since I was seated “backwards” against the bright blue sky with the windows just slightly tinted:

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Instead of passing out, I couldn’t resist dessert…chocolate and vanilla ice cream. They seemed surprised that I would want more than one flavour. It was pretty tasty though!

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At this point, a glass of wine, and time to pass out for a nice five hour nap:

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Woke up, watched a little tv, and about 90 minutes  before landing decided to give the steak sandwich one more try. I had asked them in advance to make sure they saved one, and I’m glad I did because it was much better than the flight in from London. I know some of the preparation on board is done by the chef, so there is slight variation from flight to flight. I have to say this one did an extremely nice job!

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I asked for another cheese plate to finish off my snack, but unfortunately there was no more left. It was suggested I try the pistachio cake, so I decided to go for it. I could only manage two bites though – it was way too incredibly sweet tasting and almost hurt my teeth:

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With this, the flight was over. Landed at the domestic gate, train to the main terminal, got to baggage claim and there were about two dozen drivers waiting…but not mine. Etihad had texted me his information…so I called. Despite the fact we landed 10 minutes late my driver was still 15 minutes away. Maybe I just got super unlucky with the ground experience, but I found Etihad failed on nearly every front.

On the ground, I couldn’t distinguish what I received from business class, and the wines and food served in the air were also no better than business class quality. The only thing I found “first class” about Etihad was the seats – which were some of the best first class of any airline in the world, and the service in the air (only) which was also definitely top notch international first class standard. I will give Etihad another try, but after two flights they would be way down my list for a true comprehensive first class experience.

Next up, in less than 48 hours, I’m off to countries #193 and #194 – Mali and Mauritania. After than, just two to go!!!

Apr 252016
 

Before heading home, only fitting to add a few shots from Cape Town. Like the sunrise view from the Westin Executive Lounge:

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View of Table Mountain from the waterfront:

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Another view, this time from the water:

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Fantastic sunset on the water:

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Looking back towards Cape Town, and a full moon:

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The Cape Wheel lit up at night on the V&A Waterfront:

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One last sunset from Camps Bay:

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Another daytime view from the Westin Exec Lounge. This hotel was absolutely fantastic in every way. Great rooms, fabulous Platinum treatment, great restaurants, and the brightest star was the staff. They went out of their way over the course of a week to accommodate every request I had and went above and beyond the fall of duty. It’s hard to fail, though, with a view like this:

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Soon enough, over a week had passed, and it was time to get back home. My hockey team had made the championship game in the meantime, and I was anxious to get back in time to play!

Check-in was easy, although they were only able to check me in as far as Johannesburg. Long line for security, and took nearly 30 minutes to clear. Once through, the walk to the South African lounge wasn’t too bad, and there was great plane spotting today. TAAG 777:

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Kulula 737 with a very awkward “this way up” paintjob. Just in case, idk, the plane gets turned upside down?

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…and my ride for today for the short hop to Joburg, a South African A340-600:

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South African flight 346
Cape Town, South Africa (CPT) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 15:20, Arrive 17:15, Flight Time: 1:55
Airbus A340-600, Registration ZS-SNG, Manufactured 2003, Seat 4D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,950
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,231,475

Once airborne, a small snack was served. The couscous, cheese, tomato, and olives were ok, but the mystery meal was…pretty nasty:

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Other than that, not too much to say about this short flight. Same wine selections as the flight down to Cape Town, friendly crew, and about 80% full in business, but the seat next to me remained empty which was a super nice surprise. The crew didn’t even say anything when I used the seatbelt to buckle in my laptop bag for landing! Nice!

Bus gate in Josie, and unfortunately we had to wait to fill up the bus – no special treatment for business class! Rather long walk to the international gates, and another 30 minute wait for passport control. Ugh! But once through, the South African lounge was absolutely packed for evening departures. Since the onboard meal wasn’t really edible, I grabbed a small snack in the lounge – I jokingly told friends back home this was crocodile stew, and most believed it. Goes to show how even South Africa is considered exotic!

…that said, it wasn’t labeled. Tasted like lamb, but there’s no guarantees…

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Long walk to the gate for the Lufthansa flight, and waited forever to board as the crew was stuck in traffic. This was to be the first time I transfered 747-8i to 747-8i and I was looking forward to a very comfortable trip!

Lufthansa flight 573
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:40, Arrive 05:25 next day, Flight Time: 10:45
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 8D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 47,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,236,855

So…what’s for dinner tonight?

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…after a couple glasses of wine in the lounge, I decided to try out my very limited German, and ordered my wine and starter. The super friendly FA continued in German, so I decided to see how long I could keep this going. I always joke that I don’t speak German – I speak Lufthansa, and the extent of my German is to tell you that Zu jedem Sitz gehört eine Schwimmweste. In der First und Business Class finden Sie die Shwimmweste unter der Armiehne!

I must have been reasonably understandable, because I got my wine and mixed nuts. I’m so glad Lufthansa has finally upgraded from the pre-packaged nuts:

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I went with the sweet chili beef for the starter, and it was reasonably tasty:

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I’m not sure why I decided on the pasta as a main, but it was pretty bland, as expected. I won’t do shrimp on a plane, and I’ve been burned by bad beef so many times that I guess the pasta was a default. Maybe I should have risked the beef after all…

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Tasty, but incredibly stingy cheese portion:

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After eating, I passed out for over seven hours of sleep, and slept right through the pre-arrival breakfast service. No matter, I wasn’t really hungry anyways.

Passport control agents were waiting at the top of the jetway as they often are in Frankfurt for Africa flights, and after a quick flash of the passport (without even opening it) they waived me on. Several others weren’t as lucky…

Through formal passport control, again managing the whole very brief exchange in German, and I was in the airport at 5:30, only 5 minutes after scheduled arrival. Very short walk to the airport Sheraton, quick check-in, and by 6am I was in bed and sleeping soundly. Clearly seven hours wasn’t nearly enough, and I managed another 4 hours of solid sleep.

Grabbed a quick shower, followed by coffee and pastry in the Sheraton exec lounge, and then headed back to the airport. Stop for the obligatory Starbucks to finish waking up, where once again my name was strangely misspelled:

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Through immigration and security. It was the day before Easter, and this group of Chinese tourists was absolutely fascinated with this random duty free person posing as the Easter Bunny:

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Quick stop in the Senator lounge for a pretzel and easter eggs, along with a glass of riesling:

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Then, very short walk to the gate and it was time to board.

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 16:55, Flight Time: 9:05
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYR, Manufactured 2014, Seat 7D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 51,411
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,240,936

Having slept 11+ hours I was pretty sure I was going to stay awake this whole flight. The flight to DC was completely full in all classes, and they were offering a 200 euro voucher to go the next day. Um, no thanks. So now, let’s eat!

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Mixed nuts and red wine again, are you sensing a pattern?

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The medium-rare roast beef as advertised. Tasty, especially with the pretzel roll:

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A rather anemic salad:

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The tandoori chicken breast was ok, but nothing special.

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Much better serving of cheese…and a dessert! Bonus!

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Plus, mark this as the flight where I learned Lufthansa has an on-board espresso machine. This was the first of four double espressos consumed in the next eight hours…

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After lunch, I spent several hours doing work and watching tv, before it was time for the pre-arrival meal. The salad was pretty sad, and the curry soup was even worse. The whole meal was pretty poor…the riesling was the star…

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So what to do? Another glass of riesling and dessert. Best part of the meal!

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Landed at Dulles right on time, immigration was a zoo but was through in two minutes thanks to Global Entry. The line for immigration stretched down the hallway and looked at least 30-60 minutes long. Fortunately, the Global Entry line was much shorter and I was through in five minutes.

Taxi ride home, quick shower and pick up the hockey gear, eat a pack of fig newtons, and it was off to the hockey rink, where I arrived just in time 30 minutes before the championship game. The picture below tells all the story…it was well worth rushing home for!

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Stay tuned…next up is my next attempt to check off country #192 visited – Tuvalu!

Apr 232016
 

Had to head to Cape Town for work, and debated taking Qatar for the service (and crediting to American) but in the end decided the chance to earn some Star credit was too good to pass up. After that, if came down to who to fly: South African? Lufthansa? Maybe try something new and take SWISS? Decided to go with SWISS because, if I was going to spend the day in Europe I wanted to do it in Zürich, plus, United had upgrade space available on the flight to London, so it was a no-brainer!

Quick check-in at the first class counter at Dulles airport, no wait at TSA PreCheck, and was quickly off to the United First lounge, despite my flight leaving from the D gates. My usual glass of bubbles along with some shrimp cocktail and salmon:

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Caught up on work emails, and then the long trek down to the D gates. I don’t think I’ve ever departed Dulles transatlantic from the D gates before in dozens of flights, so I guess I should count myself lucky!

United Airlines flight 918
Washington, DC Dulles (IAD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 19:35, Arrive 06:50 next day, Flight Time: 7:15
Boeing 777-200, Registration N798UA, Manufactured 1998, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 34,668
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,224,193

What’s this…not just welcome aboard bubbles offered, but anything you want to drink? Wow, United, careful, someone might start to think you’re a real international carrier…wait, the plastic glasses dispel that notion!

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Fun new historical postcard amenity kits. This is my fave of the kits lately, because the case actually makes a fantastic toiletries bag. I have a few of them now, so hopefully they last a while!

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Sunset departure from Dulles:

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So what’s to eat tonight?

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Takeoff was on time, and now it’s time to eat…excellent!

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Château le Jeff 2016 and warmed split cashews…groovy!

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Garlic bread…this flight is off to a good start!

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Shrimp tempura and corn…that sort of thing ain’t my bag, baby!

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I love mushrooms. I love leeks. I did NOT love this mushroom and leek soup. Two bites and gave up. Fortunately, the Château le Jeff was in plentiful supply tonight, as was the garlic bread!

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The salad was…unmemorable.

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BRING ME ZEE PORK CHOP! As usual, it was solid…the stuffing thing is pretty tasty, and broccoli pretty much is my favourite veg, sooo…

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Pre-plated cheese, but it was delicious with some sweet biscuits. For once I was stuffed, and didn’t ask for seconds.

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Ice cream “with hot fudge and cherries” only yielded two cherries tonight. Below average.

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I passed on the offer of more drinks as a nightcap…

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Slept four solid hours, which for a six hour flight is excellent for me. Was super happy with it, plus, if I needed it, I would have all day to nap. The usual super long walk to immigration at Heathrow, followed by the equally long walk back to the remote terminal for the United First lounge. Skipped the shower, and opted for breakfast since I’d slept through it on the plane. If I was going to be in London, at least I was going to order some bacon rolls and a buck’s fizz, even if it wasn’t on the menu. Not a problem at all, and the lounge was happy to prepare:

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Super long back to the other pier for my SWISS flight on to Zurich, but it felt good walking after being on the plane.

SWISS flight 317
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 08:50, Arrive 11:40, Flight Time: 1:50
Airbus A320, Registration HB-JLR, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 35,159
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,224,684

Flight was only about half full in “business” so I switched to the window seat and had a whole row to myself. Very solid breakfast for a short flight, complete with Coke Light. Wasn’t terribly hungry after lounge breakfast, so pretty much just nibbled at it:

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Got to Zurich, and was definitely ready to crash. Quick train ride, and I was at my favourite hotel, the Sheraton Zurich. Checked in, crawled in bed, and was out for a good 4+ hours of sleep. Felt much better after that, so went out for a good hour-long walk to the city centre before heading back to the hotel to do a bit of work. Headed to the hotel bar for happy hour, since a drink and snack was included for platinum members. Decided to get a little fuel for the trip back to the airport:

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I was already checked in, so headed straight to immigration, where I had a little bit of drama with the immigration officer, who refused to accept my documents despite the fact I’ve entered Switzerland on the same passport multiple times. Finally, he agreed to let me through, but the whole experience was odd…anyways, headed to the brand new SWISS pier lounge, and had a nice cooked to order light dinner of rosti, pork, and gummi bears!

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Only had a little time in the lounge to catch up on emails and such, before boarding my onward flight.

SWISS flight 288
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:45, Arrive 10:25 next day, Flight Time: 10:40
Airbus A340-300, Registration HB-JMO, Manufactured 1997, Seat 10A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 40,370
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,229,895

Tonight’s menu features cuisine from the Canton of Baselland:

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The smoked trout and char starter was interesting…first time I’ve ever had a lavender-honey sauce:

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Grilled John Dory for a main, which was excellent…and the pretzel roll made it even better. I’m warming to this whole fish on planes thing!

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Basic, but tasty dessert…I’d already had the cheese, so was pleased:

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One final glass of wine and a chocolate before bed:

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Slept nearly seven wonderful hours, and woke up just as the flight attendant was bringing breakfast. Meats, cheeses, and muesli with rhubarb? I was in heaven…I love rhubarb!

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Immigration was a hot mess in Johannesburg, as we had landed behind several other flights – at least an hour wait if not more. Fortunately was able to jump to the head of the queue, where I got a very strange agent who decided to look carefully at every stamp in my passport before asking where my visa was. Ugh, dude, I don’t need a visa…calls over his equally clueless supervisor. Finally, they agree, ok, you don’t need a visa, stamp stamp, welcome. The whole experience, again, was very odd.

Off to the domestic side of the terminal, quick stop in the South African lounge for a Coke Light, and just as quickly it was time to board. Unfortunately we were at a bus gate this morning, but it was on time and efficient, so really can’t complain!

South African flight 333
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Cape Town, South Africa (CPT)
Depart 12:10, Arrive 14:15, Flight Time: 2:05
Airbus A340-600, Registration ZS-SNG, Manufactured 2003, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,160
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,230,685

It was a treat being on a widebody for a short domestic flight, and we had a super friendly crew today. They were pretty much forcing drinks on people, and I decided to go with the vegetarian snack…which came “sealed in freshness” hahah:

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It didn’t look any more appetizing once the plastic came off. I refuse to touch anything with mayonnaise on a plane, so gave everything but the water and wine a miss. I tried the fruit, but as usual dry and flavourless, sooooo…..

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After a quick flight we landed in Cape Town right on time, where we actually had a jetbridge, quick domestic arrival, and it was time to get to work! My driver that I had pre-arranged from the Westin was waiting for me, so it was a nice quick and comfortable transfer to my home for the next week.

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.

Sep 132015
 

Ok, so this is a pretty anti-climactic start to this trip, but I finally have reasonable internet and am able to get this thing rolling. Hopefully many more parts to follow now that I’ve cleared Africa and am in the Middle East. Headed into work for a few hours in the morning to tie up a few loose ends, and then caught the silver line metro out to Dulles. No problems at all for once, TSA PreCheck worked wonders, and soon I was at the Red Carpet Club in the D Gates. This was my first time experiencing Jeff’s new catering, and…

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Hommous and cheese. The hommous is a definite upgrade, but the cheese is a definite downgrade. I seriously miss my pepperjack Tillamook cheese. Boo! Only had about 15 minutes to grab a quick lunch, because it was time to board! I still hadn’t cleared the waitlist with two seats left (I same day changed about 20 hours before the flight) so I asked the agent when she cleared if she could put me in the second row…and she did it right there. Not sure what she was waiting for, but…

United Express operated by Mesa Airlines flight 5095
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Toronto, Ontario (YYZ)
Depart 12:30, Arrive 13:58, Flight Time: 1:28
Canadair CRJ-700, Registration N504MJ, Manufactured 2002, Seat 2C

Perhaps the most underwhelming flight in the history of aviation. First/business went out full, I had a glass of wine with my biscotti, watched a little tv on my iPad, and then it was time to land. The overhead bins on the CRJ-700 were just large enough for my rolling bag, so life was good and I was off to immigration. NEXUS lines were no problem at all, through very quickly, got a new boarding pass from the Air Canada agent in the checkin area, and was off to security and the lounge.

No line at all in security for the NEXUS lane, was through very quickly, and up to the lounge. The lounge agent said the agent in customs was wrong, and yes, it’s possible to stand by now on ALL fares in the “triangle” of Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto. She kindly put me on the waitlist for an hour earlier, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be too much of a wait. But, while I did, it was time for a make-your-own ceasar…extra spicy!

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Yes, that’s right, more hommous. Clearly Star Alliance has stocked up on it in bulk, and every single airline is feeding it in the lounge. Still hadn’t cleared the waitlist, so 40 minutes before my new flight headed down to the gate where I saw this beauty in the old Trans-Canada Airlines colours:

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Asked the agent if I’d cleared, and he was rude and said “I’ll call you when I call you” so I waited…then everyone was boarded. So I asked again: “well, you’re not on my list!” Ugh. Few seats left, however, and he managed to clear me to an economy plus middle, so life was good enough. I was an hour earlier than planned, and sandwiched in between two pilots, so can’t complain overly much…let’s see, however, if my miles ever post!

Air Canada flight 458
Toronto, Ontario (YYZ) to Ottawa, Ontario (YOW)
Depart 16:10, Arrive 17:12, Flight Time: 1:02
Airbus A319-100, Registration C-FZUH, Manufactured 1997, Seat 14B

Again, totally uneventful flight. Glass (not can) of Diet Coke and some pretzels, and before I knew it we were landing in Ottawa. Was nice to spend the evening with a group of old friends catching up, starting with beer flights at Jack Astors:

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Moved on to a group dinner at Mill Street Brewpub and more flights, followed by the Northern Lights show at Parliament. Managed to get a couple of great shots near the end of the Northern Lights show:

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By this point I was absolutely exhausted from a half day of work, travel and a long evening of catching up with old friends. Managed to crash on a friend’s couch absolutely passed out for nearly eight hours, ready to face the big day ahead! (Yes, you read that right, instead of a nice hotel I slept on a couch! That should tell you just how good of friends these are…and just how comfy the couch was!)

Jul 282015
 

The flight from Chennai to Frankfurt leaves very late at night / early in the morning, so after a full day of worked headed back to the hotel to pack, have some dinner, and generally take it easy. The one thing I definitely didn’t want to do is fall asleep. Generally, I have really good luck sleeping on westbound redeyes, and I hoped this would continue. Since they leave late at night you’re tired enough to fall asleep, and then assuming the flight is long enough, when you wake up even though it might be 5-7am local time, it’s afternoon for your body clock, so you’re well-rested. I hoped to get lucky again!

Before heading to the airport around 11pm, I did one last check of the seatmaps online and discovered two cool things. There were still about six to eight seats open on my first flight, so I decided to switch to the fifth row in hopes of keeping an empty seat next to me. More importantly, on the second flight, they had substituted an aircraft with the old configuration…meaning the old first class seats upstairs were available as business class! It let me select one, and I hoped it would hold!

Check-in was remarkably easy, and the lines for immigration and security were reasonably short as well. Security wasn’t quite sure how to deal with my arm being in a sling, so decided to do the typical Indian thing and make it as much of an absolute bureaucratic nightmare as it could be. Go through metal detector, get metal detected again by hand. Have the sling swabbed for explosives. Write the details of my passport in three separate ledgers along with the time and details, etc etc, but finally I was free to try and find the lounge.

The lounge tonight was the Travel Club Lounge, which is also a Priority Pass lounge. I wondered why Lufthansa didn’t use the Air India lounge since they’re both Star Alliance, but one peek inside it looked pretty grim. The Travel Club Lounge was absolutely packed to the point it was hard to find a seat (and impossible to find an outlet) but it was cool enough. The Malaysia Airlines flight began boarding soon after I arrived, so that helped the lounge empty out just enough to be reasonable.

There was a buffet that everyone seemed to be avoiding, but the bar was quite popular. Most everyone was drinking scotch on the rocks, and going back for serving upon serving, but the strangest thing was the lounge had absolutely no wine at all – sparkling or non. I settled for a few last bottles of Kingfisher, before heading to the gate. Fifteen minutes before scheduled boarding it was already approaching chaos in the gate area, so I decided to use the sling to my advantage and fight for priority boarding. Unfortunately, I had more than a little competition tonight:

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After being told by one agent that I was “not disabled enough” another agent very kindly escorted me to the front of the boarding zone, and let me board first. Points to her! …well, not exactly first, but somewhere in the middle of the 50+ wheelchair scrum:

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The agent who had checked me in greeted me at the door to the plane, and with a big smile said “you look like you need to be comfortable, I managed to reserve the seat next to you” – wow, this was going to be a good flight…I hoped!

Lufthansa flight 759
Chennai, India (MAA) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 01:50, Arrive 8:30, Flight Time: 10:10
Airbus A340-300, Registration D-AIGY, Manufactured 2000, Seat 5D

Flight attendants were great, and hurried right over when they saw the shoulder, and were more than happy to help lift my bags into the overhead for me…and bring me a glass of wine!

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Two seats to myself, it promised to be a good flight…

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With a very late night departure I was curious what the menu would be, and as I suspected it was a snack followed by breakfast before arrival…it didn’t look too appetizing once again, and I suspected Lufthansa has contracted catering out to either IAMS or Purina lately…

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…but hey, I had two seats, and the wine and cashews arrived moments after takeoff. This crew was clearly going to let us get as much sleep as possible:

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The Fancy Feast chicken and Linguini tasted about as good as it looked, and I ate the chicken and peppers and that was all. Oh, and the dessert of course…and the poor pretzel roll which didn’t even get its own plate:

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…at least the sleep-aid was in plentiful refill:

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Fell asleep shortly after dinner, and managed to sleep almost eight straight hours. I will continue to love westbound redeyes, it was fantastic!

…which is more than I can say for the breakfast. The fruit was dry and sad, and I could only manage a couple of bites of the egg. At least the muesli was pretty tasty.

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So overall, the seat was below average, but I’ll give it above average because I had two. The crew was great and helpful, and very friendly, and the food was some of the worst I’ve ever had on Lufthansa. But, at the end of the day, on a flight like this I want somewhere comfortable to sleep and don’t expect a flying restaurant, so give me cool, quiet, and comfortable with adequate space and wine, and I’m pretty darn happy. Overall, it was a good flight.

Landed, through immigration, and off to Starbucks for my usual triple iced espresso. But, then back through immigration, to the lounge for a shower, and some breakfast. Hey, it’s afternoon somewhere!

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Wasn’t a long layover, but fortunately the gate was only two down from the lounge, so managed to linger a bit longer. The boarding area was just as chaotic as the flight from India, mainly because all of the Africa and India flights connect to this one…and I think half of Africa and India was on this plane. Again, I used the sling to push my way to the front, and was soon on board. It took me several years of travel in the developing world to get used to doing it, but I’m finally comfortable doing as everyone else does and pushing to make sure that I don’t get trampled and taken advantage of.

Lufthansa flight 758
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 13:25, Flight Time: 8:40
Boeing 747-400, Registration D-ABVM, Manufactured 1998, Seat 83H

Got upstairs, and SCORE! It was the old configuration, and I’d scored a first class seat. Even better, only four people were smart enough to move upstairs, so the cabin was only half full!

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…business class service, but hey, with one flight attendant for four people it was a pretty sweet deal!

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I wasn’t going to complain at all!

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…even the menu looked almost promising!

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More bubbles after takeoff, and the now-familiar cashews in a bag:

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The duck starter was actually pretty tasty, despite the tiny portion:

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But oh dear, the tenderloin of beef and braised beef cheek. Catering by Purina strikes again, and I ended up sending it back mostly uneaten. I think this is the last time I give Lufthansa a chance to cook beef in business class. It just doesn’t work.

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The cheese and dessert more than made up for it, however, and I might have had two servings of cheese 😉

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…and after a few glasses of wine crawled out of the seat, and onto the adjoining bed, and crashed for several very comfortable hours.

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The pre-arrival chicken stew and salad was kinda odd, but it came with pretzel and riesling, so wasn’t all bad. I have to say, on previous trips I’ve been very happy with Lufthansa catering, but this trip was one hot mess after another. To the point I’ll probably eat before flying Lufthansa business next time, and just enjoy some cheese and dessert along with a bit of wine.

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Landed just slightly behind schedule at Washington Dulles, and the trip was over. No checked baggage, so into an Uber and home barely 30 minutes after landing thanks to Global Entry. Despite the disappointing food the amount of space I had on both flights was amazing, and it was a great flight experience thanks to the crews!

Jul 222015
 

This will be largely a photo report, as Lufthansa has been pretty extensively reviewed around the internet. Main things I want to share on this trip report is the challenges of traveling shortly after surgery, while confined in a shoulder/arm sling, and perhaps impart a bit of advice about Lufthansa’s service to India as well as Starwood hotels in Chennai. Unlike my normal reports, there won’t be a lot of destination information here, as it was a work trip and that occupied the vast majority of my time. That said, hope there’s some helpful tips in her!

Got to Dulles about 2.5 hours before my flight after a short Uber ride with a driver who actually happened to be from Chennai. What are the odds! He informed me his sister still lived there, and she was single, and “perhaps I would like a tour guide since you seem a successful man.” Uhhhh, yeeeahhhhh….about that 😉

Check-in was quick, no TSA Pre-Check since I was on Lufthansa, but I have to say TSA was pretty good about the sling. Fortunately, I got directed to a line that was a regular metal detector, so no need to “opt-out” on the nude-o-scope since raising my arm above my head is an impossibility. I was given two choices: wear the sling through the metal detector and have it swabbed for explosives, or take it off and send it through the metal detector. Since removing it was pretty time consuming and challenging at this stage (about three weeks post surgery) I opted to leave it on and get swabbed. No drama, and soon I was in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.

The lounge was the most packed I’ve ever seen it. At this hour, flights from SAS, Lufthansa, Austrian, COPA, Air China, as well as Avianca were using it. It was standing room only, but fortunately I looked disabled enough that someone cleared a seat for me at the counter. Also, it was the first time I’ve seen the bar area in this lounge staffed. Usually you have to flag someone down and ask them to go get a drink for you. (Un)fortunately, that meant refills on the bubbly were quite easy:

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After a short stay in the lounge it was time to board our plane through the jetway which was directly connected to the lounge.

Lufthansa flight 419
Washington DC, Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 18:05, Arrive 8:00, Flight Time: 7:55
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 8D

This flight was completely full in business class, and I chose 8D for a couple reasons. Mainly, we only booked a week before the flight, so seat choices were pretty limited. My main concern was to get in the middle section, since the plane has a 2-2-2 configuration in business class, and I hate having to step over someone or get stepped over. Plus, with the sling, I didn’t want anyone bumping it, so I wanted a D seat so it would be on the inside. Overall, it was a great choice. The cabin view from my seat:

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Pre-flight bubbles:

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Tonight’s menu:

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When I asked for red wine, the flight attendant insisted I try both offerings. I think that’s a first in business class. I went with the Italian red, which was pretty decent, while snacking on sad packaged cashews (which were at least whole) and watching some bad movie I’ve already forgotten:

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The charcuterie appetizer, it was actually surprisingly tasty!

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The seared beef filet main, which was absolutely awful. The meat was shoe leather, and I think I ate one bite, the carrots and asparagus, and sent the rest back in exchange for more wine.

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Cheese AND ice cream for dessert along with vintage Lufthansa chocolates. I can forgive the beef for this.

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Then, I absolutely passed out, for nearly six hours, waking up just 15 minutes off the ground. I actually took the sling off to sleep, and it was the first time since surgery I’d done that. The crew was great, lifting my rather heavy rollerboard into the overhead for me, getting me extra pillows to put under my elbow to rest the shoulder in a good position, and of course providing plenty of liquid painkillers to aid with the flight.

As a side note, I was also given Lovenox injections to take before the flight. They’re a pretty hard-core blood thinner, and the idea was just in case there were any post-surgical clots hanging around we wanted to thin the blood since it would be very long flights. Unfortunately, this also makes bruising super easy, and I ended up post flight with some pretty epic bruises on my legs. I must have been a bit restless with them in flight!

We arrived in the B gates in Frankfurt a little early, and I decided to enter Germany so I could do my usual between flight routine. Quad iced espresso at Starbucks, walk around a bit in the terminal, and then make the long flight over to the C Terminal for our departing flight. Very few Lufthansa flights leave from C, and I can never determine the logic. It seems to be Johannesburg, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and India, along with a random few others. Maybe it’s longhaul eastbound flights, but I don’t know the logic behind it. Anyone want to chime in?

The lounge had nice showers, however, which despite the 15 minute or so wait felt amazing:

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More water to fight off the post-flight dehydration, another double iced espresso, and my morning lounge usual – a brown roll with tomato, cucumber, salami, and cheese. I couldn’t resist trying their new offering this time of some sort of curried pineapple spread…which was just as awful as you’d expect.

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Our flight was right next to the lounge, and boarded right on time.

Lufthansa flight 758
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Chennai, India (MAA)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 23:50, Flight Time: 9:30
Airbus A340-300, Registration D-AIGV, Manufactured 2000, Seat 3D

Despite having the “new” business class seats installed which went completely flat, this plane felt really ratty. Plus, as this pre-departure bubbles picture shows the centre armrest is tiny, and my seatmate was a bit of a  footsy player:

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The menu looked to be one of the least appetizing I’ve ever seen on Lufthansa, and generally I love Indian food!

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The same Italian red wine was offered with lunch, and the same sad bagged cashews. I know it’s not a big deal that they’re in a bag, but it takes absolutely zero cost or effort to offer them in a bowl. I’m just curious why Lufthansa which generally tries to be rather classy just doesn’t even make this little effort.

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The murgh salad / spicy poulard salad appetizer. It looked like cat vomit, and didn’t taste a whole lot better. I left it mostly untouched.

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The lamb main course, aka flag of India entree. It was ok, but again, meals that are pretty much 100% shades of brown just aren’t very appetizing to me. It just didn’t have much flavour or spice to it, and for Indian food was seriously underwhelming as a business class main.

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Even the cheese was pretty sad, but the dessert was a bit better.

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I spent the next several hours doing work and watching a little bit of tv, and soon we were about 90 minutes out and it was time for the “dinner” course. I decided to do something I never do, and enjoy it with a bit of German white wine. The riesling was pretty nice actually. I decided to go with the potato gratin main, and it was ok, but again, for business class it was a SERIOUSLY underwhelming meal.

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Now, a few more thoughts on this flight. The crew was good, the seats were well below what I expect in business class, being seriously narrow and feeing really packed in. I know this part is beyond Lufthansa’s control, but of the 30 seats in business class 12 were occupied with children aged approximately 8-15, traveling with their families. As kids do, they get antsy, and they were running up and down the aisles during the flight, talking loudly, and in generally not making it a very “business” class experience. I don’t usually work in flight, but this time I needed to, and it was the one time fellow passengers made it very difficult. I tried asking the crew to intervene, but was told “this is just how flights to India are, you need to adapt.”

Oh, and one of the kids decided to sleep on the floor in the aisle, and I accidentally stepped on it and got yelled at by the parent, hahahah…it wasn’t exactly the best of flights! But hey, there are a LOT worse ways to make a 20 hour trip than this! Despite all the little complaints here, it was still an excellent experience.

May 082015
 

Nice thing about this Qatar flight is that it’s late enough it’s still possible to more or less work a full day, and still get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Since I had the extra time I headed out to the airport with Metrorail, and when I arrived around 6pm at the Qatar Airways check-in there wasn’t another passenger in site. Still took the rather confused agents nearly 15 minutes to check me in (since I was traveling on two separate tickets), but eventually they figured it out and I was off to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse which Qatar uses in DC.

The club was empty when I arrived, and since I’d missed lunch decided to grab a bite from the menu:

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Combo of chicken and beef gyro, which was pretty tasty:

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I was the only one in the lounge when I arrived, which gradually filled up to maybe 20 people tops over the next two hours. I’d read online that the lounge can get super crowded during busy times, but didn’t really have much problem with it. Plenty of space to work, plug in laptops/etc, and lots of seating. Plus full floor to ceiling windows which made for some good plane watching.

Soon, my ride to Doha was pulled up to the gate:

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