Sep 272019
 


After a whole 68 hours at home (well, closer to 65 if you count the travel time from and to the airport as well as waiting time) it was time to get on the road again. 18 days of vacation was a nice break, and slightly under three days at home was just enough to catch up on the essentials before heading out of town for more than three more weeks.

Unfortunately I had to book this trip rather late and wasn’t able to take either the Geneva or Zurich nonstops out of Dulles, so had to “settle” for Air Canada out of DCA which meant leaving home about two hours earlier. Every hour matters when you only have three days at home in six weeks!

I always forget how convenient DCA is. I can be there by Uber in about 12 minutes if nothing goes wrong, through CLEAR in less than five minutes from the time I step out of the Uber, so in theory it would be possible to leave home about 50 minutes pre-flight and still be there before boarding starts.

I chickened out a bit (and I was packed and ready) so left about two hours before the flight which left me plenty of time to grab a real lunch at DCA. I’m a pretty big fan of the restaurant in Terminal A at DCA, so on the occasion I do fly Air Canada I try and stop by for what passes as a Cholesterol Madame…I mean Croque Madame…and a beer. I mean, even the iPad told me soda was the wrong thing to drink when flying!

I love Terminal A at DCA. It’s incredibly nostalgic for me. Back in the old days when I used to nonrev during university Northwest flew out of Terminal A and I was there multiple times most months headed home…or to other exotic locales. I even remember when Northwest did their giant expansion at DCA (whose slots did they buy again?) and suddenly they were flying to Hartford, Boston, LaGuardia, and if I remember right some places in Florida as well. Of course, I tried as often as possible to take these odd connections as opposed to the nonstops to Minneapolis!

The terminal has modernized slightly with a big restaurant in the waiting space, and has certainly changed with the introduction of Spirit and Southwest to the terminal as well.

Got to the gate right as the door was opening to let incoming passengers off, so I was right on time to be the first to board…essential when you’re in Seat 1A as you have no underseat storage space. You do have more legroom and nobody reclining into you, however, so it’s still my seat of choice whenever possible as someone who’s 6’4.

Air Canada flight 7615 op. by Sky Regional
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Toronto, Pearson (YYZ)
Depart 12:45, Arrive: 14:12, flight time: 1:27
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FUJA, Manufactured 2009, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 78,934
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,771,522

One of my favourite parts of DCA is that 90% of the time you take off to the north on runway 1 and do a sharp bank to the left right after takeoff which affords those in A seats great views of the Pentagon.

This is always a snack flight, and I definitely didn’t need it after the cholesterol bomb at the airport, but I’m a sucker for a deli plate…especially when there’s pickles!

Uneventful flight…until the last minute. So, seriously, what is it about YYZ? Today we had a go around, and from the picture below you can see why. There was still a plane on the taxiway under us! Seriously!

I ask “why YYZ” because I’ve had probably 10 go-arounds or other unusual experiences in-flight (yes, I know that’s not a lot given how many I fly) and at least half have been at YYZ. This was my third go-around at YYZ, which is half of the total go-arounds I can remember.

I also remember an incident climbing out of YYZ on a US Scareways CRJ-200 years ago when we hear a loud BANG and the plane pitched pretty violently to the right. It felt like we were at a 45 degree angle (was probably a bit less) and the captain – very professionally and calmly – as soon as he’d fixed the situation came on and told us what had happened: ATC hadn’t spaced us far enough behind a 747 on takeoff, and we hit its wake at around FL20 which is what caused the bang…who knew wake could be that strong?

Right, well, this was a pretty short go around as the map above shows, and soon we were on the ground and I was through the transit area (basically scan your passport at a kiosk and good to go back to the transit/departures international area) and time to enjoy a couple hours in the Air Canada Signature Suites.

I still really like this lounge, though I can’t help but feel it’s much more crowded these days and the food offerings from the buffet are quite a bit poorer in quality. I know there’s a dining menu, but since I planned to eat on the plane I just wanted to drink and nibble.

The staff, however, were fantastic as always and I enjoyed a couple of glasses of rosé champagne and a cocktail called the “J Class.”

Boarding was absolutely mayhem, as it always is between 5-6pm at Pearson. The departures area is simply not large enough to handle around 10 widebodies going out full all at once, and it took me a few times, but I’ve finally realized generally you should just go up to the podium and ask where they want business class to board from.

Air Canada flight 878
Toronto, Pearson (YYZ) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 18:05, Arrive: 7:40 next day, flight time: 7:35
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration C-FIVQ, Manufactured 2008, Seat 7K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 82,979
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,775,567

I do love the Air Canada business class seat. Private in that you have lots of space to yourself and nobody next to you at the window, and even more private in row 7 (my first choice after row 1) because nobody is looking at the back of your head. (Us tall people worry about such things sometimes.)

Lots of big poofy clouds on takeoff. For years, I was never much of a window person, but lately I’ve really enjoyed watching the cloud formations and sunsets.

Warm nuts (too warm, mushy a la United), and some red whine and noisy water to start things off. Short flight today, barely 6.5 hours to Zurich! I wasn’t going to be getting much sleep!

Sigh, shrimp starter. I hadn’t been paying attention, so I took it for the greens (which I dumped on the salad and enjoyed), and a bit of garlic bread. Seriously, why does everyone think a few cold shrimp are a nice starter these days? At least Air Canada serves four while United cheaply serves only two.

Decided to go with the chicken pesto main since it sounded healthier than the beef. The chicken was a really weird rubbery consistency, but seemed to be completely cooked so I risked it. Tasted ok, the texture was just odd. I haven’t ordered chicken on planes much lately…but lately feel like the fish is often the best option – beating out overcooked beef and rubbery chicken.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of Air Canada’s cheese course, because it’s just boring. Today was no exception. Tasty enough, yes, but in-flight when things lose a bit of their flavours something bolder than cheddar and mozzarella would be nice.

All was forgiven, however, when the brown sugar tart was served. OMG delicious…

I did manage about three hours of sleep before landing, but I’m not sure many others did since the windows were all thrown open and breakfast served about 90 minutes before landing. This isn’t a comment on the crew, more on the other passengers who already seemed to be up.

Not a problem, however, since I have a soft spot for the Air Canada omelet with that weird cream cheese sauce they serve it with. Plus, they always serve a really fresh and ripe fruit plate which is delicious.

I used the wifi during breakfast to book my onward train, as pre-booking in Switzerland can save you as much as 75%. Last minute to Bern is often nearly 90 francs, but I found if a took a train two hours after landing I could get it for 29.90 francs.

I decided I could enjoy some coffee at the airport even if the immigration line was long and save over $60, so it was an easy decision. Landing was nice and smooth, zero line at immigration, and it was coffee time before heading to Bern for three weeks!

Sep 122019
 


Since my last visit a couple years back, a new Bonvoy hotel option had opened in Perth, and I liked the location a bit better than the Four Points, so I opted to give the Westin a try. I’m usually a fan of Westin’s clean aesthetic (and a sucker for the white tea scent they blast throughout the property) and along with Renaissance and AC they tend to be my preferred Bonvoy brands.

This property was no exception, and I had an upgrade to what I believe was called a junior suite, but regardless it was pretty spacious with a nice sitting area as well.

After a long walk to stretch my legs I stopped by the room to clean up a bit, and enjoy the gorgeous nighttime view from the room. This will do, this will definitely do!

Some small snacks in the lounge which was nice and had a pretty reasonable spread (but as is usual at international Bonvoy properties the lounge was packed with American business travellers and their families…and yes I realize this is the pottle calling the kettle black, but hey, at least it was just me…) so I enjoyed a glass of wine before heading out for an evening walk.

You know you’re in Australia when you walk by the Kangaroo Inn….

Found a good, happening pub with several local craft beers on tap, but with all the time changing I didn’t last long and it was off to the Westin for a good night of sleep to try and catch up after all the travel from Tunisia.

…of course, what did I wake up to? Yup, my evening flight from Perth to Melbourne was canceled, and I was supposed to “call Qantas to rebook.” I can’t do that without caffeine, so off I went to find breakfast at a quirky little coffeeshop I’d found on the previous trip.

La Veen Coffee serves not just amazing coffee (I am a huge fan of their rocket fuel cold brew) but also delicious brekkie: (I mean come on, when you’re in ‘Straya you can’t really call it breakfast can you?)

While enjoying a delicious eggs benedict with bacon and fresh spinach on homemade sourdough (and a couple of delicious cold brews) I did a bunch of searching, and it turns out supposedly Qantas has a text messaging service where they will answer customer service problems.

I decided to text them despite my 50 cent/text roaming fee, and see if I could accomplish this for just a couple dollars. Based on looking online it seemed there was a flight a few hours earlier which had not been available on points when I booked, and a bit more sleuthing revealed why. It only had two seats left, and was the continuation of the “world’s longest flight” from London to Perth which continues to Melbourne.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask since there were two seats left, and my flight had been cancelled. It took them about 45 minutes to answer my text, but after they did the back and forth took only another 15 minutes or so, and about six texts later I was confirmed on the Dreamliner. Cool!

Unfortunately, this meant my nearly full day in Perth would be reduced to a morning, so fortunately I’d had a couple of very powerful coffees to power me through it. Right, off we go!

First stop was a wander down to the river, where an ice skating rink had been set up! It was chilly (maybe 10C?) or so outside, but not cold enough for this. The condition of the ice definitely showed it…plus $24 to go skating? Yikes!

That’s so punny of them….ig-loos…get it?

I totally wanted a picture as the kangaroo or snowman, but unfortunately (or fortunately) maybe, there was nobody around to assist me.

Scenic stroll along the river…it was slightly overcast, but a great day for pictures.

This reminded me of the Dragon Blood Tree from Socotra Island Yemen, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same.

Beware of giant, bronze statues of Skippy!

After walking for almost two hours it was back to the hotel for a quick shower and freshen up before heading to the airport to check in for my flight to Melbourne. I would have cut it a bit closer, but unfortunately the Qantas app wouldn’t let me check in online.

When I got to the airport, I found out why. Because this is the continuation of an international flight, all domestic passengers have to go through special procedures since passengers continuing from London to Melbourne don’t clear customs until Melbourne! I got the appropriate sticker on my boarding pass, and headed up to security and the lounge.

As usual, despite being a domestic lounge the Qantas lounge was fantastic, and had nice fresh pizza and good Aussie shiraz to enjoy while I waited. For some reason, we’d been warned to leave the lounge an hour before boarding to head to the gate. Uh, ok?

Soon it became clear why: we had to go through security again and clear immigration to “leave” Australia despite not “leaving” Australia. Spoke to the immigration officer, he saw the sticker on my boarding pass, gave it some official stamp that said “domestic passenger” and off to the gate it was. We didn’t actually clear immigration (aka they didn’t “check us out” of Australia) but we had to be cleared to go on an “international” flight as domestic passengers. Confused yet?

The gate area was quite small, and was filled with the passengers continuing from London, and there was a really nice outdoor area next to the gate where you could wait to board:

Boarding was pretty quick, and while business was completely full, economy class seemed to be nearly empty. Maybe there’s a lot of economy traffic to Perth, but business class folk tend to continue to Melbourne? Who knows.

Qantas flight 10
Perth, Australia (PER) to Melbourne, Australia (MEL)
Depart 13:25, Arrive: 18:55, flight time: 3:30
Boeing 787-9, Registration VH-ZNC, Manufactured 2018, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 62,748
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,755,336

Upon boarding the seat was similar to the seat on the A330, but I’d managed not only to get one of the last seats, not only to get a window seat, but also to get the kind next to the window instead of next to the aisle. Score!

What’s not to like about a printed menu for a barely three hour flight?!

Plus pre-departure champagne…real champagne since it was still an “international” flight, but unfortunately the cabin was quite steamy and warm according to the temp sensor cube….

Sourdough bread, artisan/craft butter, and a nice salad to start with more champagne. Jacquart Mosaique was the bubbles on offer for this short flight. Not sure if it’s the same for the longhaul segment.

Poached egg, bacon, and spinach on sourdough. No hollandaise sauce, so you can’t claim I had eggs benedict twice in one day! I decided I’d stay with the champagne as long as I was on the brunch theme.

…and a cheese course. Perfectly lovely. I should have switched to red wine maybe, but hey… Maggie Beer ice cream again, today was burnt fig, honeycomb, and caramel – I think it’s their tastiest flavour.

Sun setting on approach to Melbourne. I love how the orange bounces off the engine and wingtip!

Landed right on time, and being a few hours earlier than expected I figured if I hurried I might have time to still go out and get a bite to eat. Making lemonade from lemons, I might have lost my lunch in Perth, but I’d be gaining dinner in Melbourne!

Unexpectedly, we landed and everyone was sent to immigration – including domestic passengers. Had to show passport and boarding pass with the stamp, and still got questioned as if we were entering Australia…a bit strange. This was definitely a unique experience!

Fortunately, didn’t take more than a few minutes and I was off to my hotel by Uber and ready to enjoy Melbourne!