Jul 142017
 

After a relaxing breakfast, we still had a bit of time so walked around the city a bit before I headed to the airport. I wanted to see if on a Monday things would be a bit busier, but even at 11am the city felt like a bit of a ghost town. Several readers have commented that there’s not a huge population, it’s not well-known outside Portuguese tourists, but I think most of it was the fact that the tourists who DO come don’t spend a bunch of time in the city – except maybe mealtimes which explained why dinner reservations were needed.

Ian’s flight was a bit later in the afternoon, so he dropped me at the airport before going to wander around the city some more. How can you feel unsafe when the airport is named after Pope John Paul the Second?

Pope says: safe travels and boa viagem!

Checked in, headed to the lounge, and very quickly realized that I had gotten to the airport way, way too early. I had received a notification when I woke up my flight was delayed by 45 minutes until 4pm, so I had arrived about 1:30 hoping to enjoy the lounge. Unfortunately, lounge was rather depressing. Essentially nothing to eat save some cookies and crackers, but a decently stocked fridge full of beverages.

About an hour before my flight I was bored, and since Azores Airlines only has two A310s it was pretty easy to track them online. One, scheduled to operated my flight, was sitting coming from Lisbon and the other was sitting in Ponta Delgada. The one that was already there was scheduled to operate the later 5pm flight to Boston for some reason (it had its engines open so probably maintenance?) and mine was coming from Lisbon. The only problem was…according to every site I could track it on, it was still in Lisbon…2.5 hours away….an hour before my flight. Azores Airlines own site said it wouldn’t be Lisbon until 4:30….or 3:30 local.

I checked with the agent in the lounge, who insisted I must be wrong. The flight is on time. I asked her if she could check with someone. “No, I do not need to. It is on time.” Uhhh….I may have started stirring the pot, letting my fellow passengers know that our plane was still in Lisbon, so there was no way we were leaving at 3:15 pm…

Finally, at about 3:30pm a supervisor came to the lounge and singled out me and two other passengers. Yes, the plane was still in Lisbon (duh) and won’t be here for quite some time. He had proactively rebooked me and the other two passengers on the 5pm flight. There were only three seats left, so everyone else was left to wait and hope. How we had been chosen, I’m not quite sure. I was on a full fare paid ticket, so maybe that helped, or maybe he’d seen me inciting revolution in the lounge and wanted to get rid of me.

Then, of course, just after he left, our new flight the 5pm was hit with a 90 minute delay. Now we would be leaving at 6:30pm. That meant arrival at about 8:20pm. Fortunately, the 90 minute delay (which turned out to be due to a connection from Praia, Cape Verde with 80 connecting passengers) held, and we were underway.

Azores Airlines flight 281
Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal (PDL) to Boston, Massachusetts (BOS)
Depart 17:00, Arrive 18:50, Flight Time: 5:50
Airbus A310-300, Registration CS-TGU, Manufactured 1991, Seat 1E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 65,805
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,442,782

Fortunately we had a bus gate (as are all gates in Ponta Delgada) so I got an up close and personal shot with my first ever A310:

As soon as I boarded, I got this notice from Air Azores:

My original flight had canceled. All 150+ people booked on it would be stranded in Ponta Delgada overnight, and both flights to Boston the next day were already booked completely full. I’ve never been happier that I paid the extra to be in business class!

Unfortunately, I forgot to get a pic of the seats. Thanks to Flyertalk user Carfield this is what they look like:

Far from the best business class seats across the Atlantic – they might be the worst – but with all their flights being under five hours it really was a pretty decent product. They were nice to lounge in, and very comfortable, and the price was certainly good. I knew roughly was I was getting going into it, so was very pleased with the product.

Pre-dinner drinks and ziplock-bagged mixed nuts were served:

“Meat or fish” were the option. FAR from the most appetizing looking meal I’ve ever gotten, and it was all Saran wrapped…to seal in freshness? I did find it odd that whenever I asked for sparkling water, she would bring me a fresh bottle and glass each time.

Didn’t look much better with the shrink wrap off. The beef did, however, taste much better than it looked.

Flight passed quickly, and we circled Boston a bit before landing, due to what the pilot called “very big rain.”

With less than 40 minutes to clear customs and change terminals I had kissed my connection goodbye, but upon landing my flight had been delayed…by over three hours….to 12:40am! Blessing in disguise!

Rushed over to the other terminal and got to the gate, and in the meantime the flight was hit with a further delay, now departing at 1:55am. By that time, I would have been up almost 24 hours plus the time to get home to DC, and best case I would be in bed by 4:30am. There was absolutely no way I was going to work the next day on 2-3 hours of sleep, so decided to throw in the towel and find an agent and asked to be rebooked the next day.

Unfortunately, my experience with JetBlue agents left a lot to be desired. They were all rather surly and curt, and seemed completely disinterested in helping. I finally after trying two or three found one who agreed to rebook me the next day, given my flight was delayed by over four hours. Yes, the hotel would be at my own expense, I get it.

Left the airport to get my Uber, and found out that the Uber waiting area is about a three minute walk outside from the terminal. Only problem was, those heavy rains that the pilot told us about. It was a torrential downpour, and even the short sprint to the uber got me absolutely soaking wet.

My hotel, the Le Meridien Cambridge also left a lot to be desired. The gentleman working the front desk had the personality of a 1980s Soviet hotel worker, and when I told him the AC in my room sounded like a plane taking off “we have no other rooms. Anyways, they are all like that.” Geez. I was hungry at this point, so decided to call room service. Guess who I got on the phone? Yup, grumpy front desk guy also takes room service orders. “No, you can’t have wine. Not after 10pm.” Sigh. Fine.

I went down to the bar, in hopes I might talk the bartender into a glass to take up to my room. Let me just say, he was the warmest most helpful person I encountered, and was the only reason I didn’t demand my points back. The sandwich I got from room service was also terrible, and  sleeping with a jumbo jet going wasn’t terribly helpful. In retrospect, I should have taken the 2am delayed flight. Oh, wait, no I shouldn’t have….because after all that they ended up canceling it just before 1am. UGH!

Surely when I got back to the airport, the next day would be better. It couldn’t be much worse. Except for the world’s largest emotional support animal in the gate area.

The gate agent was wonderful, and I may have flirted a bit, but he did manage to not only get me an aisle seat, but got me one in the second row. Score.

JetBlue flight 1155
Boston, Massachusetts (BOS) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 13:25, Arrive 15:00, Flight Time: 1:35
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration N298JB, Manufactured 2009, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 66,204
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,443,181

Score…except for the fact the dog was across the aisle from me, and as soon as it lay down it rested its head on my feet. Ok, that’s cute I guess…and the owner was good looking and apologized for the dog doing that….at which point he fed it what looked like three benedryl. I didn’t think that was good for dogs…

Then, I was really excited. Seemed there was one seat empty on the plane…and it was right by me. But right before the door closed, it was not to be. A rather large lady who I’d estimate in the neighbourhood of 400 pounds came onto the plane huffing and puffing with two giant bags of fast food. Of course she was seated next to me, and tried to put the armrest up as she sat down. I very politely told her I preferred it down and was met with “well how am I supposed to sit down then!” Fortunately, the great flight attendant was right there, and told her “ma’am, the armrest must be down for takeoff. You can take a later flight if that would be more comfortable.”

I won’t go into more details, but it was an extremely unpleasant flight. Ok, one more detail…the guy across the aisle got a beer, and put some in a cup….for the dog to drink. See, all my fears of coach ARE well-founded!

Another great trip in the books, look for another one soon…

Mar 062017
 

As soon as I exited the plane, there was an escort with my name on a sign, waiting to walk me to the lounge. Nobody else in first had an escort, pretty much confirming what the purser told me about the upgrades. The escort was sort of strange, however. It was useful I guess to know where to go for transit security, but following the masses of people would be just as easy.

When we got to security, there was a long line, and she just stood in line with me. I’m not sure what the point of an escort in transit is if they can’t even get you to the front of the security queue? After security she dropped me at the lounge, and wished me a pleasant flight. It was a nice touch, but there are several little things that would have made it a much better experience.

Inside the lounge, I asked where the showers were, and I was escorted to the spa area. I had to wait 10 minutes because they were “very busy” according to the agent, and eventually they showed me to a room. I’m not sure if all the rooms are the same, but it a mini bedroom with a desk and washroom/shower all in one. The thermostat in the room showed 27C despite being set at max AC – which clearly was broken. In hindsight I probably should have asked for another room, but I just wanted a quick shower so it was fine. The idea of being able to nap if I wanted was a nice one, but for a simple shower it was overkill.

After freshening up, I headed into the dining area for a little “lite” breakfast. I asked for some eggs benedict, and was informed they would take some 10-15 minutes, so it was insisted I have some juice and a pastry. I chose a pain au chocolate, and was brought two of them.

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Eventually the Eggs Benny arrived. They were good, but far from great. The hollandaise sauce was quite bland.

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The expansive foyer in the lounge. Looked to be a good 10 meters high. Note the water feature.

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Eventually it was time to board, and I had my own bus from the lounge to the plane:

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Qatar gives nice boarding pass jackets in Doha. I switched my seat when I learned the flight was practically empty, so got a new boarding pass.

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Time to board. It was nice having my own bus and being the only one boarding the plane…

Qatar Airways flight 402
Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Amman, Jordan (AMM)
Depart 07:55, Arrive 09:55, Flight Time: 3:00
Airbus A330-300, Registration A7-AEO, Manufactured 2008, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 25,053
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,389,454

Exceptional seats for a shorthaul flight. I wouldn’t be too pleased with these on a redeye, but they were great for this flight.

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Champagne? Don’t mind if I do! Also, choice of cold OR hot towels offered. A nice touch.

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Reminder: for your safety, please stay seated while praying on board.

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After a turn, great shot of Doha on takeoff:

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Avocado and date smoothie – I was dubious on this one, but it was delicious!

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There was a choice of three appetizers. I went with “feta cheese, cucumber, tomato and green olives” – the other choices were fruit, cereal, greek yogurt and granola.

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Cheese and chive omelette with grilled lamb kofta. One of the best egg dishes I think I’ve ever had on a plane…and it came with Tabasco!

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Other than that, pretty typical flight. First was only booked to 3 of 24, so there was plenty of space. This was good, because Typhoid Mary was one of the three, and she spent the whole flight coughing and sneezing and hacking away. Despite her sitting on the other side of the plane, I was convinced I would end up sick in the next 24 hours. She CLEARLY should not have been on a plane with recycled air in the proximity of lots of people.

I hadn’t been to Amman in almost ten years, and since then the new terminal has opened – and wow, what an improvement. Transit security was rude and belittling, but after TSA they seemed positively pleasant.

On the other side of security, I was rewarded with Starbucks!

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After coffee in a vain attempt to wake up, I headed up to the Royal Jordanian lounge. This place is absolutely massive, and spans pretty much the entire balcony level overlooking the terminal. One small part:

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View into the terminal:

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I found a nice quiet corner of the lounge to camp out and do some work. The big plus of the lounge is space, and plentiful beverage offerings. There was a reasonable amount of food, but nothing that looked remotely appetizing to me. Another huge minus was a lack of power outlets. There was tons of seating, but very few places to plug in your devices. Also, the staff was rather unfriendly. I asked if I could have my boarding pass reprinted on Royal Jordanian stock, and was met with “no. why do you need that.” I explained that I would like to have it as a souvenir, and got “no. this one is fine.” Ummmm, alrighty then!

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Off to the gate. I was in the bulkhead, and wanted to move to another seat, so asked the gate agent if there were any other “A” seats left. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak good enough english to understand what I wanted. I was rather surprised. No worries, at least in 1A nobody will recline into me!

Royal Jordanian flight 503
Amman, Jordan (AMM) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
Depart 13:15, Arrive 14:45, Flight Time: 1:30
Embraer ERJ-195, Registration JY-EMB, Manufactured 2007, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 25,347
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,389,748

pre-departure water and arabic coffee were offered. This is seriously the tiniest sip of coffee ever.

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for a 75 minute flight, I was impressed that a meal was offered. Unfortunately, it featured some room temp ceasar dressing, sketchy looking shrimps, and some mystery coldcuts. I ate the cheese and desert and called it a day.

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Can’t be in de-nile any longer, we’re approaching Cairo!

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Now, upon landing, there was a small problem. This terminal is gorgeous, wtf. Pulled up google on my phone, and realized that the brand new Terminal 2 had recently opened to serve regional flights. Not only was it nice inside, but there were no huge queues for visas or immigration, and I was through in maybe five minutes. One small problem – how do I get to Terminal 3 where my hotel was connected. Of course, asking a couple people led me to find out they had “friends” who would take me in their taxi.

According to google maps it was walkable in 10 minutes, so I decided to risk walking on the roads (there were no sidewalks) and see if I could make it. It was a reasonably easy walk, I lived to tell the story, and soon was checked into the Le Meridien. The hotel was just as nice as I remembered, and I was upgraded to a reasonably big suite. The only unsettling thing is that the windows rattled – badly. It took me a while to figure out it happened when I walked around the room. That didn’t give me much faith in the construction, but at least it wouldn’t bother me when sleeping.

After showering up and changing, decided to head out a bit rather than hang at the hotel all afternoon. I didn’t have time with Cairo traffic to get to any interesting sites, so chose the mall near-ish the hotel. I decided to call Uber and pray…Mohammad showed up quickly, and it was a nice easy and cheap ride over to the mall.

You know you’re in Egypt when there’s smoking at Starbucks:

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While sitting and enjoying my coffee, this monstrosoty passed by:

Supposedly, this is actually pretty close to Jason:

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I’m gonna assume that says “Starbucks Coffee.”

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What is it with me and finding the one ice rink in a country. Inside the Sun City Mall, so I couldn’t resist getting a little exercise. Just a little, however, because these rental skates were terrible!

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After finishing up, went and got a shot of the rink from above. Not too shabby for a rink inside a mall in Egypt! Certainly much better ice than the swamp in Bangkok!

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Hailed another Uber, who had no trouble finding me at the exit of the mall despite no English at all, and made it back to the hotel around 8. Had a quick beer and appetizer in the hotel sports bar (which was not half bad) and then was asleep by nine. Next morning and the onward flights to Germany would come very early!

Aug 102016
 

Grabbed an Uber from the W Hotel to BKK in order to catch my onward flight to Kuala Lumpur. So, why Kuala Lumpur? Mainly because I had gotten an incredible fare out of Penang, Malaysia back to Toronto which meant I would need to visit KL for a night on my way to Penang to start the new ticket. Malaysian check-in at Bangkok was super efficient, and there was no line for passport control or security. Soon I was in the main terminal where I love this piece of Thai art:

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Malaysian uses a contract lounge by Louis Tavern, with several cardboard cutout agents greeting me for my visit. Yee haw VietJet!

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The lounge was…unimpressive. Plenty of things to drink, and a bare few nibbles. It’s my one complaint about the lounges in general (including the Thai lounges) at this airport and that is that it’s hard to get anything substantial to eat from them if you’re hungry. Having recently had breakfast I wasn’t interested, but if I was there wasn’t much other than a few snack foods in the lounge. The lounge was nicely cooled but also rather small with most of the seats taken. Plenty of power outlets, but after 15 minutes of listening to two obese Australian gentlemen bragging about their…conquests…in Bangkok I decided to head to the gate early.

I remember when these routes in SouthEast Asia were operated by widebodies as recently as ten years ago. Unfortunately, these days 737s do lots of the heavy lifting. Our bird for the short flight was already at the gate being catered when I arrived:

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Boarding was as orderly as possible in Bangkok, and the flight was completely full with every seat taken.

Malaysia Airways flight 789
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL)
Depart 14:15, Arrive 17:25, Flight Time: 2:10
Boeing 737-800, Registration 9M-MLM, Manufactured 2011, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 126,110
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,315,247

Pre-departure of water or juice was offered, and as soon as we were up in the air appetizers were delivered. The salad was amazing (anyone know what it is?) and garlic bread is always a winner with me. The big downside, Malaysian no longer serves alcohol on “regional” flights. Come on, how cheap can you guys get?

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Green curry chicken as a main…it was relatively tasty:

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Other than that, how much can you really say about a 90 minute flight on a 737? Reasonably tasty meal, no alcohol, but crew were happy to provide water and drink refills whenever requested. Overall, a solid experience. We landed in KL right on time, and fortunately in the main terminal so there was no need to wait for the train to take us to immigration. Unfortunately, when we arrived at immigration it was absolutely slammed. Talking to some others, they had been in the queue for over THREE HOURS. Even the business class/diplomat/CIP line was long, and I ended up waiting more than 30 minutes to clear.

After clearing, it was off to the KLIA Ekspres train for the 30 minute ride into the city. I had purchased my tickets through their iPhone app earlier, and with this got a 10% discount. The discount was even higher at 20% if you paid with a MasterCard. Scanned the QR code from the app on the turnstiles, and voila…nice and easy. Definitely recommend this method for anyone visiting KL. After a short ride we were at KL Sentral station, and it was a short walk across the street to the Le Meridien hotel. The Le Meridien and Hilton hotels share an entrance, and are essentially joined on the ground level. I had stayed at the Hilton before, but decided on the Le Meridien this trip.

Front desk checked me in, and told me I’d been upgraded to a newly renovated room on the top floor….going up…

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It was cocktail hour by the time I arrived, so I headed down to the club lounge. There was a huge buffet spread as well as complimentary drinks. More than enough food to make a dinner, and I ended up staying for a couple of hours until they closed it. I was tired from a few long days of travel, so not much in the mood to head out. Plus, it was pouring rain, so going outside really wasn’t an option. The first of several snack plates:

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View of KL from the lounge:

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View of KL from my room:

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With that I called it a rather early night. I wanted to get out and explore in the morning before going to Penang, so rested up and took it easy. It was also arctic cold in my room, and soon I settled in for a long hibernation…

May 222016
 

Got to sleep in a slight bit since my flight wasn’t leaving until around noon, and I just hoped there wouldn’t be metro/RER drama this morning on my way to the airport. Stopped for a coffee then headed to the metro; quick transfer at Les Halles and caught an RER after just a few minutes. Unfortunately, the train was absolutely packed and was hotter than a sauna. Everyone was starting to drip sweat, and since I had extra time decided to get off at Gare du Nord and wait for the next train.

Next train was much cooler, and empty to the point I even got a seat, and from there it was a quick 30 or so minute ride to the airport. Quick walk back over to Terminal 2A, where there was a super long check-in queue for British Airways – even in the priority line. Seemed most passengers were connecting onwards to North America and had 1,400 suitcases each. Finally got to the front of the line, and got to have a bit of an argument with a check-in agent who insisted my rolling bag could not possibly fit in overhead bins. She insisted I check it.

I told her it does fit, agents don’t have a problem with it, and finally she gave in and said “fine, I’m working the gate too, we can ask the flight attendants!” With that, I headed off to a painless security queue and eventually made my way to the lounges…since the every-so-friendly check-in agent hadn’t told me which lounge to go to, when confronted with the choice of Cathay or American, well, I made the logical choice.

Since I’d only had coffee I was pretty hungry, so decided to see if there was anything interesting to eat….and OMG there it was…crack from Hong Kong. I was given a buzzer to await my crack dealer to arrive…

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Soon it buzzed, and crack in a bowl was delivered – DanDan Noodles. The glass of champagne almost didn’t happen since I encountered some kind of stopper I couldn’t figure out how to get off the bottle. Neither could the other two people who were trying. Fortunately, we were saved by a lounge attendant, and brunch was salvaged!

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Got to the gate just as they were about to begin boarding and of course nothing at all was said about my bag…which of course fit just fine in the overheads just as it had on the way in.

British Airways flight 309
Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 12:05, Arrive 12:25, Flight Time: 1:20
Airbus A319, Registration G-EUPS, Manufactured 2007, Seat 5F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,762
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,265,287

Super quick flight, but not too quick…and lived up to the challenge of managing two minis of champagne before landing. Another very impressive meal for such a short flight that hit the spot perfectly.

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Took the Heathrow Express into the city, and assuming that I would have Etihad chauffeur service I’d booked in at the Le Meridien Piccadilly. Unfortunately, Etihad decided my ticket was a connection despite the overnight, and thus not eligible for chauffeur service in London. Not a big deal at the end of the day…until I found out the Bakerloo line wasn’t running from Paddington to Piccadilly, meaning a transfer. Three trains to get to the hotel wasn’t bad in the middle of the day, but the next morning that wasn’t going to happen.

There was a line of eight people waiting to check in when I arrived at the hotel, so did something I rarely do which is go to the side of the counter dedicated for SPG Platinum check-in. No problem until the next in line was called, and I walked over to the agent. I got rudely shoved by a rather rotund American gentleman who was the next in the regular line and insisted “I was next!” I told the agent I was waiting for Platinum and his comment was “well I’m gold so f*** off.” What’s that thing about the ugly American again… Not wanting to waste time, I waited the two minutes.

It was 2:15 at this point, and I was told my room wasn’t ready. They had upgraded me to a junior suite, but it would be another 30 minutes before it was ready. I was told I could either leave my bags, or go wait in the lounge. Since it was only 30 minutes, I opted to wait in the lounge and the agent said she would call up when the room was ready.

An hour went by, and still no call. So I went down to the front desk, and “oh, yeah, it’s ready – sorry I forgot.” Ugh. I know the hotel can’t be blamed for the rude guy in the check-in line, but so far I wasn’t overly impressed. On the plus side, the junior suite was quite nice, and unusual for hotels in London the temperature was actually decently on the cool side.

I was starting to drag at this point, so walked around the corner to perhaps the poshest Starbucks I’ve even been in…which didn’t stop them from spelling my name wrong yet again:

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Spent the evening catching up with friends, including drinks, followed by dinner, followed by more drinks. The hotel did turn out do be in the perfect location for walking from place to place, and was definitely a good choice! Got a nice view of Piccadilly Circus at night on the walk back to the hotel:

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With that, my short stopover in London had come to a close and it was time to get some rest so I could enjoy the capstone of the trip – flying Etihad in Apartments and First Class to Washington via Abu Dhabi!

Dec 032015
 

After landing in Cairo, it was a rather long walk through the airport to get to the arrivals area. There’s no real clear signage for what you need to do, but I remembered from previous trips that you can go to any of the bank offices in the area and pay for your visa. Once that is done, they issue you with a visa sticker. You take the sticker to the immigration officer who sticks in in your passport, and stamps it. They take all major currencies. However, just as remembered, immigration moved at a snail’s pace. I think Cairo may have one of the slowest immigration areas in the world, and even the business class line wasn’t moving any faster.

Finally stamped into the country, after the odd question of “next stop Russia?” I set off through baggage claim to customs, where the guy looked at my passport, seeming to decide if he wanted to size me up for a bribe, and eventually decided he wouldn’t, and let me through. I had booked in at the Le Meridien Airport, after reading lots of good things about it online. It was pretty easy to find with the signs online, a couple of ramps up through the airport from baggage claim, a walkway/skyway across the road, and I was in the hotel. It was mildly confusing, but pretty easy to figure out with a little patience.

Check in was…not the most efficient, with the check-in agent keen to show me he was paying lots of attention, and wanting to tell me every little detail about the hotel. Eventually I assured him I would come down if I had further questions, but would like to just get up to my room. I was told I had been upgraded to a “Panoramic Suite” but didn’t have super high expectations. I probably should have. Entryway into the dining room:

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With a kitchen:

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Dining room, looking into the living room. The only BIG downside, is the desk had absolutely zero power outlets or places to plug things in. Had I been staying longer I probably would have called down to see if I could get an extension cord, but it was a really awkward oversight:

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Half of the bedroom:

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The other half of the bedroom. As mentioned, this suite was HUGE:

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Half of the large bathroom. Couldn’t get a pic of the other half due to all the mirrors, and well, didn’t want a picture of myself:

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Welcome gift of SPG macarons, almonds, apricots, and dates. Went perfect with my duty free wine from Frankfurt:

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Albeit a bit short, had a great night of sleep, and woke up to explore a tiny bit more. That’s when I realized the room also had a balcony/sunroom:

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View of the airport from the sunroom:

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All in all, I was super impressed with this hotel. Sure, there was the awkward power issue, but I’m pretty sure that would have been solved if I’d stayed longer. I also didn’t check out the bars, restaurants, or other facilities, but the room met my expectations, which at the end of the day is really what a hotel is about especially for an airport hotel!

After checkout, I walked over to the airport. That was when it hit…a bit of food poisoning. Not sure if it was the room service quesadilla or one of the flights from the day before, but things were…less than happy. Check-in with Egypt Air was only mildly awkward (about a 15 minute line for business class check-in) but immigration and security were relatively quick and then I was off to find a lounge. EgyptAir has multiple lounges in Cairo, but they always seem to be super crowded and have a poor selection of food.

I tried one or two of the lounges (they are all close together) before remembering that the one I’d previously decided was the best was all the way to the left when you go through immigration. Walk through duty free, towards the food court, take a left, and keep going to the very last lounge. That was the one with better seating, and it was only half as crowded as the other lounges.

That’s not to say the food selection was a whole lot better for breakfast:

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Since I’d opted to sleep in a bit, soon it was time to board. According to the seatmap, business class was barely half full, but according to ExpertFlyer the flight had been zeroed out for weeks and wasn’t selling tickets.

EgyptAir flight 845
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Algiers, Algeria (ALG)
Depart 09:15, Arrive 12:25, Flight Time: 4:10
Airbus A321, Registration SU-GBW, Manufactured 1997, Seat 9A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 114,278
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,153,111

Turned out this was an absolutely ancient A321…over 18 years old! It turned out to be 7/16 in business class, despite the fact you couldn’t buy a ticket and seats weren’t reserved. Who knows what EgyptAir’s logic is!

Cabin pic of the big plushy seats:

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Mystery welcome “fruit” drink…I had a sip and it was way too sweet so passed on the rest:

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Bling bling! The seatbelts were right up there with Emirates for faux gold-plated bling:

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Service was pretty quick after takeoff, and breakfast was served in two courses. The bread was extremely dry and disappointing so I passed on it, but the cheese, as always, was super tasty:

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The omelette was billed as cheese, but I couldn’t taste any cheese in it. The giant mutant mushrooms were pretty amazing, so combined with the eggs it made for a satisfying meal overall. Can’t really complain too much, since it’s pretty hard to screw up an airline breakfast. Maybe some day someone will try something adventurous like crepes or eggs benedict, but until then this was right up there.

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After the meal service…the crew completely disappeared. In fairness, when I went to the washroom and asked they were happy to refill water, but there was nothing proactive about it. Overall, it was a solid flight, but one doesn’t fly EgyptAir expecting luxury, Krug, or caviar. It was a very solid flight that got me from Point A to Point B quickly and comfortably, and overall completely met my expectations. Now, time to explore Algeria!

Jan 092015
 

Woke up nice and early, since I had a full morning or so to visit Beirut before my mid/late afternoon flight to Kuwait to catch up with the United nonstop to Washington…in order to get to work on time Monday morning! I was seriously excited about this flight, since ever since United added Dubai and Kuwait years ago, I still have yet to take either of these flights.

Rolled over in bed, kinda groggy, turned off airplane mode on my iPhone…and BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ a stream of messages came in. This isn’t unusual. I’m seven hours ahead of home, so lots can happen when I’m asleep. But, I worry when I start seeing alerts from TripIt and United…this can’t be bueno.

So…what’s about to follow. Anyone who’s read my blog for the last few years knows I very rarely have flight drama. I’m pretty lucky. Things rarely go wrong, and when they do things seem to only get better. Like my Dubai-Frankfurt-London that went mechanical so I ended up on the Emirates A380 in first nonstop to London. Like that. However, as you’ve seen in the last couple of months, my BFF Fiji Airways and I had some lovely times…and now, it’s time for Fiji Airways DBA United to join the party.

Kuwait to Washington…canceled. Wait, WHAT?!

Now, I know, why did I book Beirut-Kuwait-Washington? Main reason is I could clear an upgrade to business at the time of booking, but second reason is it’s a westbound redeye…which I love. I sleep on them fantastically, and when you land, it’s already afternoon in your departure time zone, so you’re ready to go. Oh, and a great friend of mine is currently working in Kuwait, so the five hour layover would allow us to have dinner…so what can go wrong?!

United…that’s what.

Seems the plane had gone mechanical out of Dulles five hours earlier, so they canceled the roundtrip. 2014 has been a very strange year for us that fly United. It feels like if you book a longhaul flight there’s at least a 25% chance it will cancel. I’m being mildly dramatic, but United has been almost that bad this year. That’s how I ended up with no flight home 18 hours in advance. I think I need a drink. Or coffee. Yes, definitely coffee. Off to Starbucks to get brain fuel. The view from Starbucks:

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So, I drank coffee, and planned my future on ExpertFlyer. The only chance to get me home in time for work Monday was to get to Dubai, and get on the Dubai to DC nonstop. Only problem is it had one business seat left, and there was a snowball’s chance in hell of it clearing as an upgrade. There was no way I was going to fly 14 hours on that flight in coach. Not happening. Other options wouldn’t get me in to much later Monday, so I resigned myself to working remotely….

So, let’s see what the options are then. I could wait another 24 hours…either in Kuwait…and risk no upgrade, or try and get somewhere in Europe where I can take an upgraded flight on Monday. Hmmm, Kuwait has the advantage that I’d still be able to get dinner with my friend, and would likely be able to have a very relaxing day in Kuwait. It has the downside that United might not actually delivery a replacement plane as promised, and I might be stuck on some horrid routing out of Kuwait via Frankfurt or something with a long coach segment. I couldn’t take the chance of two more days out of the option, so I decided it was time to “go west young man” asap. Ok, options sorted, time to call United.

Skype…what did we do before you? Got a surprisingly solid connection AND an agent who was willing to go the extra mile to help out. She tried everything. The only upgrade space from Europe to the US was from Amsterdam, and she couldn’t get me to Amsterdam.  Things were a right solid mess. Finally, I found something…Beirut-Istanbul-Frankfurt, overnight, Frankfurt-Amsterdam-DC….only downside was leaving Frankfurt at 6am, meaning barely 5 hours of sleep. Ugh. But wait, theres a problem…

I’m checked in on Kuwait Airways already from Beirut to Kurwait, and they can’t touch the ticket until I get off that flight. Ugh. Call Kuwait Airways…on 14 different numbers. In Kuwait. In the US. In Lebanon. In the UK. Every number I can find. Nobody can help me. Ugh. Website doesn’t allow you to un-do checkin. There seemed to be no way to get off the flight. But wait…”Rajesh” at the 15th number I tried had the cell phone number of the supposed Kuwait Airways manager at Beirut Airport! Seriously?! Don’t worry…talked to the person who answered for 1 minute before she hung up on me. Ugh.

Back to the drawing board.

Now, I need to give a HUGE congrats to United here. This agent spent over two hours on the phone with me trying to get things sorted. On a Skype connection that was often not great. She waited on hold (on my computer Skype) while I used my iPhone Skype to dial various Kuwait Airways numbers. She was an angel, patient, and genuinely just wanted to see me happy. Honestly, this one (long) interaction reminded me why I used to love flying United. If anyone has any idea of anything I can do to get her recognized, I’d appreciate it. Moving on…

The agent agreed to set everything up in my record, extensively note it, and I would head to the airport to get off of the Kuwait Airways flight. Since there’s no data roaming in Lebanon I’d have to pay $2.50 per minute roaming to call United and get the ticket reissued once I was off of the Kuwait Airways flight. At this point it was under two hours to the Turkish flight to Istanbul, the last westbound flight of the day, so I had no choice.

Off to the airport I go…

That’s where the next layer of drama hits…there’s a security line just to get into the airport…that’s 30-40 minutes or more deep. Fortunately the Turkish and Kuwaiti flights leave within 30 minutes of each other…but there’s two terminals, and I have no idea which one is in which. So, I head to the Kuwaiti one to get off the flight, and pray they will have a way to then get me to the Turkish one in time…inshallah.

1:15 before flight time, I finally reached the Kuwait Airways counter and they were astounded I didn’t want to be on their flight. “If I take you off this flight, you will be on your own, and we will not be responsible for anything else. Are you sure that is what you want?” YES YES, PLEASE! Finally, they get a supervisor…”oh, did you call me on the phone?” Seriously?! Did you think I was kidding?! Eventually they get me off the flight, and say “have a nice day.” Hah!

Call United…get put on hold…ugh…and that’s where a miracle happens. The Turkish check-in counter is right next to the Kuwait Airways one. I explain to the agent I have a reservation (and she can see it) and I’m on the phone with United now getting the ticket reissued. United answers, the record is documented as promised, yes, I am no longer checked in, please wait while I reissue the ticket…which takes 20 minutes.

My Turkish flight is now leaving in 50 minutes.

Finally, United tells me the ticket is reissued, Turkish agrees, and I have boarding passes. HOORAY! It cost me nearly $70 in roaming charges, but a small price to pay for solving the drama.

Things were good…until I got to immigration, where hundreds of Iraqis were in line in front of me, and the agents were processing them at the speed of molasses. I looked around for my friends from the day before, and fortunately spotted them in line. Allah is clearly looking out for me. They were quite excited to see me. I explained my emergency. I begged them to say something to all the Iraqis I’d be cutting in line in front of to make it ok. I was down to barely 30 minutes before departure and was desperate. I moved up in line…she said something to the people in line…they all started cheering and clapping. I have no idea what it was, but I thanked her profusely. Fortunately immigration gave me no trouble, and I was into the departures hall.

Don’t worry, all y’all will be invited to my Big Fat Baghdad Wedding.  😉

There was just something comical about a group of women in full abayas taking pictures of airport christmas trees:

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Small sprint to the gate where, shocker, 10 minutes prior to departure they still weren’t boarding. Go figure. We left a little late, but I managed to grab an aisle seat in the first row of coach, so life was looking grand.

Turkish Airways flight 825
Beirut, Lebanon (BEY) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 15:35, Arrive 17:35, Flight Time 2 hours
Airbus A321, Registration TC-JRS, Manufactured 2011, Seat 5D

The inflight magazine was full of healthy new year tips. Who knew I should get a hair transplant and have ivf to have a miracle baby? I better get right on that…

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I’m pretty sure my seatmate was dying of Ebola. Fortunately the middle seat was empty, but he curled up in a fetal position under a blanket in the window seat and started shaking violently. Ugh. He rang the flight attendant call button and asked for a doctor. He didn’t speak Turkish, and the flight attendants barely spoke English. Quote: “do you think you will die in the next one hour?” He answers no. “Ok, well there is no doctor. You will live until Istanbul.” Uhhh….yeah, I feel fantastic about this…

But hey, at least there’s Turkish’s best-in-industry economy catering:

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I ate it, mostly to distract myself from my scary seatmate, and hoped that I would live to Istanbul…which I fortunately did, using hand sanitizer every five minutes or so. I even ate the sketchy potato salad. I figured I was likely going to get Ebola anyways.

Security was a snap in Istanbul, short wait, and I headed off to the lounge for a bit of down time. Despite nearly doubling in size the lounge was still absolutely packed. I’m convinced you can get into the Turkish Airlines lounges if you have a pulse…there’s no other way to explain how constantly packed they are. Enjoyed some baklava and turkish coffee, and then it was time to continue westward.

Off to the gate for the Frankfurt flight, which was now showing completely sold out on ExpertFlyer. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if I could switch from my middle seat to a bulkhead…or an exit row…or anything. Nope, flights completely sold out. Ugh. Start talking to another guy who has his United 1K card out in the boarding area, and we talk about how packed the flight is. He’s in a middle seat in coach too, so we agree it’s going to be a pretty lousy flight. Time to board, and I’m in front of him in line…

BEEP BEEP BEEP when I scan the boarding pass. Agent punches on the computer….operational upgrade to business! SCORE! United had rebooked me on a full-Y fare, and I guess that plus Star Alliance Gold was enough to move me up on a sold out flight. Score! Unfortunately my new friend wasn’t as lucky…sorry Charlie.

Turkish Airways flight 1597
Istanbul, Turkey (IST) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:45, Arrive 21:55, Flight Time 3:10
Airbus A321, Registration TC-JSH, Manufactured 2013, Seat 3B

Typical Turkish welcome aboard orange juice:

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…and some turkish delight to go along with it:

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Appetizer plate, cheese, and dessert…this would be a full meal on many other airlines!

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Choice was fish or pasta, so I went with the pasta since fish on places scares me. It was pretty bland in a bit of butter/cheese/etc sauce, but I managed to eat a little of it. Not one of the better meals I’ve had on Turkish.

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Landed on time in Frankfurt, and Lufthansa was fully in the swing of Christmas:

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On the way home from my South Pacific part of the trip I’d stopped overnight in Frankfurt, and rather enjoyed the Le Meridien so I’d booked in there again. The check-in agent recognized me, and so I said “when you said you hoped to see me soon, I had no idea it would be THIS soon!” We both had a good laugh. This time I decided to take the junior suite in the historical wing which was nice, but had no temperature control at all…I opened the windows to cool things down, which seemed to do an adequate job. 10 minutes later, fruit and cheese and a bottle of wine showed up to the room. I like this hotel!

Now, to call United, and find a way home. It’s important to note it was 11p at this point, and I was on a 7a flight to Amsterdam currently with a 4 hour connection. That just wasn’t acceptable. We try every possible combination…he thinks he has me on Geneva…with an upgrade…which is funny because there are no seats to assign. It appeared they were overbooking it in business with the intent of upgrading some people in first. Yes please!

Unfortunately, he couldn’t get it to confirm, so it was back to the 7a to Amsterdam. Ugh. At this point, the wildcard came out: “as a loyal elite member you don’t deserve to be treated like this…let me see what I can do.” He put me on hold for nearly 30 minutes, checking back every few.

Before I knew it, he had me confirmed in a J seat on the nonstop Frankfurt to DC. Yeah, it was a middle seat, but it was three hours more sleep, and nonstop. I couldn’t thank him enough. The flight was J1 on expertflyer, so he’d managed to get me rebooked into the last business class seat on the plane. On a W fare with a global upgrade. This was to be the second time in 24 hours United agents went the extra mile for me. By the time I woke up the next morning I noticed it had somehow been switched from J to upgrade space, but whatever. I was on a nonstop!

…and yes, reflecting on this…maybe I should go for 1K next year…

Slept like a baby for a full 7 hours, Starbucks at the Frankfurt Hbf in the morning, and train to the airport. Straight through security and to the Lufthansa Senator lounge. My usual salami and cheese for breakfast, and soon it was time to board.

When I got to the gate, I asked the agent…I know two seats are open in first. If you upgrade anyone, or if there are any no-shows, could you please keep an eye out for a window or aisle seat for me? She was very happy to help…and after processing upgrades to first got me a window seat. Wow, fantastic service!

United Airlines flight 998
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 12:00, Arrive 15:05, Flight Time 9:05
Boeing 777, Registration N769UA, Manufactured 1995, Seat 9A

Today was a rare treat on United…Château Mouton Jeffschild…delicious!

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Wow…and TWO pieces of salmon. United must be feeling rich these days. The salad seemed higher quality than usual too…something must be up…

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…and the mushy veg and meat. In fairness, the steak was only cooked medium well today instead of hockey puck, so it was definitely a good day for United!

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…I’m addicted to these sweet crackers with the soft cheeses.

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Caramel, and cherries today. Just two cherries.

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…and that marked the end of 7 very intense weeks of traveling. Over 70,400 miles by air, 12 new countries, and a heck of a lot of exhaustion. So much that I canceled my annual New Years trip and stayed home for the first time in 12 years. Final travel map from two points of view:

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So, lessons from this trip? I had am amazing time, saw so many new places, and really got an insight into so many regions. I explored more of Australia’s big cities, tons of South Pacific islands from developed places with lots of resorts (Fiji) to smaller less populated places like Nauru and Kiribati. I dived and saw the 70% of the Earth covered by water in East Timor, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Samoa. I got an insight into perhaps the world’s biggest conflict in Israel and Palestine. I saw an amazingly vibrant place in Lebanon which seems to be the epicentre of all the regional skirmishes going on…but faces it with one giant party…and don’t forget nights in Frankfurt, Zurich, Seoul, Narita…it truly was a blessed trip.

25 countries to go…beginning VERY soon….. Lake Malawi, Lemurs, Stone Cities, Jambiyas, Qat…and Puttin’ on the RIX!

Dec 092014
 

Woke up pretty early, and considered taking the hotel shuttle down to the subway station to grab some Starbucks, but it was absolutely pouring rain out, so rested around the hotel a bit before giving up and catching the KAL Limo Bus back to the airport. I was the only one on the bus until the last stop, so had my own luxury coach:

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No traffic at all, took barely an hour to get to Incheon Airport, where Heaven awaited me:

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I’ve had every name under the sun on my Starbucks glasses – Justin being the most common, but also Jadon, Trason, Mason, you name it. This was a new one, however:

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Friends had told me that after check-in, Asiana agents would escort you through security and passport control, all the way up to the lounge. Well my agents were friendly and helpful, but after they escorted me to the security line they left. No big deal at all, and I actually get kind of uncomfortable with people being overly helpful, but was just surprised based on what others had told me.

I had about two hours to kill in the lounge, which was nice, and I had a couple glasses of champagne while catching up on this blog a bit, and soon it was time to wander to the gate for the main event. Again, I’d been told there was an escort from the lounge to the gate, but no such thing was mentioned.

Asiana Flight 541
Seoul/Incheon, Korea (ICN) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 16:35, Flight Time 11:45
Boeing 747-400, Registration HL7418, Manufactured 1994, Seat 3A

Not one, but two stellar champagnes were on offer. Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 2000 and Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaire 1995. I give Asiana a lot of credit for not taking the easy way out with Krug or Dom, and offering two different stellar champagnes. I went with the Pol Roger, and wasn’t disappointed at all.

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Jan 092014
 

After a late lunch, the hotel shuttle dropped me at the airport early evening, about 3 hours in advance of my flight. The airport was absolute chaos, with lines that weren’t lines, and it was incredibly difficult to figure out where check-in was. Finally I found the South African counter, which seemed to just have a disorganized mass of people congregating in front of it. I pushed my way to the front of the scrum, saying “Classe Affaires, Classe Affaires” and that seemed to do the trick. Soon I was checked in, and off to the gate.

Or so I thought.

First I had to get past the immigration folks, who kept saying “stamp, stamp, stamp.” Seems there was a booth in the check-in area where you had to by an airport tax stamp, which got put on your boarding pass. 10 minutes and 10,000 CFA later I had my stamp, and it was off to try and find the lounge. Managed to find it without too much trouble. A few sad sandwiches and cookies on offer, but also a decent bar selection. I ended up having a couple of Castels over the two horus I was there, and found a power outlet which was nice for keeping the i-Devices charged up.

The amusement came about an hour in, when a small group of American oil workers (Louisiana based on their conversation) came in. One of them loudly announced to the whole room and the bartender “I ain’t seen women in months” followed by “throw down that whole bottle of Johnny walker!” They were refused the entire bottle, but pretty much polished it off shot by shot in the next 15 minutes. Keep it classy Amurika! Soon, it was to the gate, security, and time to board.

South African flight 87
Douala, Cameroon (DLA) to Libreville, Gabon (LBV)
Depart 21:20, Arrive 22:20, Flight Time 1 hour
Airbus A319-100, Registration ZS-SFN, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A

Boarded right on time, and South African has an odd business configuration on these birds – 2 seats on one side of the aisle, and three on the other. Seriously, middle seats in business class? There were 25 seats, but only 4 of us in business for this short hop, so didn’t make much different. Fantastically friendly crew, but then things started to go tits up. All the captain would tell us is we were waiting “for a technical reason.” This stretched on for over two hours, and I was convinced we were going to cancel. They cycled the power completely on and off at least three times, and finally around midnight announced we were ready to go. It didn’t fill me with confidence.

But, no problems.  Flight was short and uneventful, maybe an hour.  There was even a small snack:

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This is where things got fun.  I’d asked for the hotel shuttle, but of course being nearly three hours late it was nowhere to be found.  Got a cheap taxi to the hotel no problem, and arrived to find out I’d been upgraded…to the Presidential Suite!  SCORE!  In the end, my two nights here turned into four for reasons I’ll go into later, but it turned out to be the best upgrade I’ve ever received from Starwood.  Several shots of the suite:

The living room:

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Jun 062012
 

Arrived at the resort just a bit after 8pm, and mysteriously was invited to have a seat in the reception area because my room was not quite ready…odd, but ok. While I was waiting, the manager on duty came over and introduced herself, apologized, gave me all the details, so that when my keys were ready in a few minutes I wouldn’t have to wait. That was nice. About 10 minutes later they were set, luggage was loaded into a golf cart, and got a short ride to the room. It was very walkable (300m or so max?) but the ride was nice with luggage. Once inside, I forgot about the wait – the suite upgrade was amazing, and came loaded with a giant fruit basket, bottle of wine, and plate full of snacks.

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