Six Observations from My 15-day Adventure

First of all, I’m back!   After fifteen days and 38,650 miles of travel, I’ve made it back home.

My Trip

My Trip

With that said, I want to apologize for the delay in my trip reports.  Since I arrived in Tokyo, I’ve been going non-stop.  I slept most of time during my flights back to DC yesterday, so I didn’t get too much time to work on anything.  The trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming days.

To whet your appetites until then, I’ll share six observations from my trip:

1.  I thought I’d had good sushi before — that is until yesterday

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a sushi snob by any means, but I was pretty sure that I’d had some decent sushi before.  Granted, the sushi I have had up until yesterday was probably pretty good, but after my trip to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish market and subsequent breakfast at Daiwa-Zushi Thursday morning, my opinion of “what is good sushi” has drastically shifted.  After a set menu of everything sushi-related you could imagine, my mind was effectively blown.

My Thursday morning breakfast

My Thursday morning breakfast

I've never had a better piece of Tuna

I’ve never had a better piece of Tuna

More to come in my upcoming trip reports…

2.  The Park Hyatt Tokyo is simply stunning

Simply put, this is nicest hotel that I’ve ever been to — by far.  And I’ve been to many great hotels, including Park Hyatt properties in Dubai and Zurich, numerous Ritz Carltons, Conrads, and Intercontinentals.  But this place was just over the top.

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

From the incredible level of service (they did the check-in procedure in my room after being escorted by two people up there) to the beautiful hotel facilities to the amazing breakfasts at Girandole and drinks and steak at the iconic New York Bar & Grill.  The setting for the 2003 Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray film, Lost in Translation definitely lived  up to the hype.

The New York Bar, from "Lost in Translation" fame

The New York Bar, from “Lost in Translation” fame

3.  Now I now know what it’s like being a goldfish — and it’s weird

SCUBA diving.  In an aquarium.  In the middle of  a mall.  With sharks!

Yup, only in Dubai.

The Dubai Mall Aquarium offers an interesting experience where one can dive with sharks in their massive aquarium smack, dab in the middle of the Dubai Mall.

Only in Dubai... an aquarium inside a mall

Only in Dubai… an aquarium inside a mall

I’ve dived with sharks before, so the novelty of this dive was the fact that was the attraction in the aquarium.  It was quite strange having a crowd of people watching you dive and waving.

Chilin' with the fishies

Chilin’ with the fishies

4.  Two days is not enough in most cities,  but three days is fine

My short stay in Santiago was about a day short of ideal.

My short stay in Dubai was caused by a Dreamliner malfunctions on United Airlines.

Each of these stays left me wanting another day in each city.  I didn’t get to see all of Santiago, and I missed out on some events in Dubai such as tea at Burj Al Arab and dune bashing.

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

But I did have a full three days in Tokyo, and it was fine.  Tokyo is so huge, you couldn’t possibly see it all in a week or two.  It’s one of those cities that you must keep going back to and exploring.

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

But three days continues to be  my standard for adequate time to see a city.

5.  When in Tokyo, you must go to a Japanese baseball game, if possible

The game is the same, but it’s quite an experience.  Their fans are insane and out-of-control whacky.

Whacky fans...

Whacky fans…

And their beer distribution techniques are quite… interesting.

Yes, that's a mini keg... on her back.  And that's Kirin she's pouring.

Yes, that’s a mini keg… on her back. And that’s Kirin she’s pouring.

6.  When the crew is on its game, United BusinessFirst just may be better than Cathay Pacific Business Class

When a United crew is as its best, as it was on my DEN-SEA and SEA-NRT 787 flights, United BusinessFirst is hard to beat.  The hard product is phenomenal, but the food and service really shined.  My four flights on Cathay Pacific in business class were all fine.  In fact, their international business seat cannot be beat.

Cathay Pacific's New Business Class seat

Cathay Pacific’s New Business Class seat

BusinessFirst cabin on United's 787 Dreamliner

BusinessFirst cabin on United’s 787 Dreamliner

But the food and service were just not up to par with United’s.

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Seabass

United Seabass

Cathay Halibut

Cathay Halibut

There, I said it.

And I know this defies all industry perceptions and subsequent accolades.

And yes, this shocked me too, but that was my experience.

Again, I’ll be making several more posts about this trip, including detailed accounts of what to do in Dubai and Tokyo.  So stay tuned!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: United BusinessFirst – Seattle to Tokyo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


Following an unplanned night in Seattle, I slept in a bit at the Hilton SeaTac before heading to the airport about two hours prior to my flight.  TSA Pre-Check was open, so security was a breeze.  I then proceeded to the brand new United Club to check my e-mail and kill about 30 minutes before boarding.  I noticed that the flight was to be operated by another physical airplane (#3904 instead of #3906).  This was re-assuring, as I didn’t exactly have confidence in the airplane that caused all the drama the day before.

United Airlines (UA) 1749
Seattle (SEA) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) 
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 4A (BusinessFirst)
Wednesday, June 19
9:30AM – 10:41AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:01

This flight was the continuation of the previous day’s attempt at Denver to Tokyo on United flight 139.  I chose to take this flight instead of the other two options, for a number of reasons detailed in my previous post.  Upon boarding, I was welcomed back onboard by the same fantastic crew that we had the day before.  It was a very light load in the BusinessFirst cabin, as it was only booked half full.  I changed my seat to a window seat, 4A so I could play with the electrochromatic windows that are found on the 787.   For those who are unfamiliar with these windows, the dimness of the window is controlled with a button, and there is no physical window shade to pull down.

Window with no tinting

Window with no tinting

Window half tinted

Window half tinted

Window fully tinted

Window fully tinted

As a result, even at the darkest setting, one is still able to see outside — it’s pretty cool, though I wonder what will happen when this nifty feature inevitably breaks.  I imagine it would be pretty obnoxious to have a broken window dimmer during a 12 hour Transpacific flight in the daytime.

Flight Path SEA-NRT

Flight Path SEA-NRT

Row 4 is the bulkhead row in the second cabin of BusinessFirst.  Due to being a bulkhead, row 4 (as well as row 1) sports a larger foot well, and are probably the most spacious seats up front for that reason.

Bulkhead seat 4A

Bulkhead seat 4A

This aft BusinessFirst cabin was only had three of us, so it felt almost like a private jet for this flight across the Pacific Ocean.

I practically had the BusinessFirst cabin to myself!

I practically had the BusinessFirst cabin to myself!

Awaiting breakfast service

Awaiting breakfast service

I cannot say enough about this crew, led by Denny, the inflight service manager.  From start to finish of this flight, they provided exceptional service by any airline’s standard — even more so for United.  They were friendly, engaging, and really couldn’t do enough for me.  I surely hope this is where service is going onboard United, because they were simply fantastic.

After numerous apologies from the ground staff at Seattle and the flight crew, we pushed back about 45 minutes late due to a catering delay, as this was an unplanned, second departure for Tokyo that day.  There were some small hiccups, such as the catering forgetting to produce menus for the flight (bad), and the lack of BusinessFirst amenity kits that resulted in passengers receiving United GlobalFirst amenity kits (good).

Climbing out of Seattle

Climbing out of Seattle

After about 30 minutes, lunch service began featuring the same menu as the day before.  I selected the beef tenderloin again as my main course since it was excellent on the DEN-SEA flight.  This time, it wasn’t quite as good, and was a bit too well-done.  The sushi appetizer again was excellent, as was the salad.  They offered pretzel rolls (awesome) and garlic bread, which highlighted a selection of five or six breads.  Dessert, as usual was tasty with the ice cream sundae.

Sushi selection

Sushi selection

Sushi appetizer

Sushi appetizer

Salad

Salad

Beef tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Beef tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Ice Cream Sundae!

Ice Cream Sundae!

Lunch service lasted a good hour.  I finished watching a movie (“Jack Reacher“) that I started the previous day before it was so rudely interrupted by a fuel dump and emergency landing.  After the movie, I settled in to catch up on some rest, as the previous 24 hours had been relatively stressful.  

Crossing the Pacific

Crossing the Pacific

I slept a good 5 hours, and awoke about two hours outside of Narita.  I watched a documentary before breakfast was served.  It consisted of an omelet and potatoes — it was a definite step down from the lunch provided several hours earlier.

Breakfast before arrival in Tokyo

Breakfast before arrival in Tokyo

As I finished up breakfast, the flight attendants finished preparing the cabin for landing in Tokyo.

Due to the unusually early morning departure and subsequent arrival, we were the first United flight of the day to arrive at the normally very busy Narita International airport.  I thanked the crew, deplaned and quickly went through transit security.  I made my way to the inter-terminal bus, as I needed to transfer to Terminal 2 for my flight later in the day on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then Dubai.

NRT inter-terminal bus

NRT inter-terminal bus

The bus leaves from gates 28 and 59 in Terminal 1 every 30 minutes.  I would NOT recommend booking a close connection between airlines in separate terminals at Narita.  In my case, I had about 7 hours, so I was fine.

Overall, this flight was fantastic.  It really shined on every front — the service, the food, and the seat.  It was a great performance by the United crew, and was easily the best overall flight I’ve ever taken with United.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – Sao Paulo to New York JFK

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


After transiting through transfer security at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, I headed to the United Club where I had a quick drink before heading down to the gate to board a TAM Airlines B777-300 bound for JFK.

TAM Airlines (JJ) 8080
Sao Paulo (GRU) – New York (JFK) 

Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 20A (Economy Class)

Sunday, June 16
10:30PM – 7:00AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:30

As I boarded the aircraft, it was immediately apparent to me that the onboard hard product was substantially different than the somewhat dated interior of TAM’s A330-200 fleet, which I’ve flown long-haul three times before, including my outbound trip a few days earlier.

What we had here was a brand, spankin’ new B777-300ER.  The interior was sparkling, but my enthusiasm was short-lived as I realized that this particular aircraft was configured in a ten-abreast fashion (3-4-3) instead of the nine-abreast way that other 77W’s in the fleet indicated.  After the first and business cabins, there was a small, mini-cabin of about five “Space +” rows, followed by the high-density coach cabin.

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

I settled into my seat, 20A – an exit row, window seat.  I pre-booked TAM’s “Space +” seat, which gives you extra legroom for $75.  Given my height, I can easily justify this expense in the name of comfort.

My Seat - 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

My Seat – 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

Plenty of legroom

Plenty of legroom

This seat should have been the perfect economy class seat for sleeping.  I mean, since it was an exit row, it had over four feet of legroom.  The window was non-existent, so I had a flat wall on which I could lean my head to sleep.  In theory, this was a perfect setup.

However, that was not the case.  Why is that?

The new, slimline seat.  These seats are awful.  While tolerable for a shorter flight, they are almost inhumane for a ten hour flight.  It’s like sitting on a board.  Ultimately, I was more comfortable on my outbound flight – one which I had no legroom, but the seat was cushioned very well.  I sincerely struggled to sleep on this flight simply because I was so uncomfortable.  My butt hated me, and I had to continuously get up and move around because I couldn’t take sitting down another minute.

Sadly, this is the way airlines are going now.  The slimline seat saves carriers 1-2″ inches in seat pitch, allowing them to add more rows to the plane.  In the case of a B777-300ER, with a 10-abreast configuration, that translate very conservatively to an extra 2-3 rows, or 20-30 seats – that’s a lot of extra revenue we’re talking.  So you can see the business reason as to why the airlines (almost all of them) are going this way.  Unfortunately, it is at the cost of the passenger comfort.

I was able to sleep on-and-off for about three hours during the ten hour flight after watching Life of Pi on the very good Inflight Entertainment System.

Inflight Entertainment System

Inflight Entertainment System

Again, the dinner choice was beef or pasta.  As per usual in economy, I ordered the pasta.  It was decently tasty for an economy meal.  The desert was delicious – not sure what it as, but it was good.

Dinner

Dinner

Breakfast was served about 90 minutes out of New York, and as luck would have it, all the commotion for breakfast coincided with one of the few times during the night that I had actually dozed off.   The breakfast offering once again consisted of fruit, a roll, and a toasted sandwich, though this one was actually appetizing and pretty good, unlike my flight from New York to Rio.

Breakfast

Breakfast

We touched down in New York as scheduled, and arrived at the gate at 7:00am on the dot – just as scheduled.  Impressive punctuality right there, TAM.

Overall, the flight was fine.  The slimline seats that I’ve complained about are becoming an industry standard, so this isn’t so much a TAM problem as it is an industry issue for long-haul, economy flights.   Other than that, the plane truly was in great shape and was aesthetically pleasing.  The service was very good, the flight attendants were cheerful and friendly, and the food was decent.  Once again, for the price point at which I booked this flight, I really cannot complain.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: LAN Economy Class – Santiago to Sao Paulo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I was not looking forward to this segment of the trip simply because it was breaking pretty much every rule I set for myself when it comes to earning miles by flying.  Simply put:  it earned no mileage.

None.

Normally, I would not write about a short flight in economy class, but since this was my first time flying LAN, I decided to write about it.

I’d originally booked my ticket in November through Orbitz, and TAM changed the schedule a number of times.  Ultimately, for the Santiago – Sao Paulo segment, I ended up on a TAM-marketed, but LAN-operated flight.  What does that mean?  Well, based on the mileage earning rules for United, the miles get awarded based on the award chart set for the Star Alliance operating carrier.  In this case, LAN Chile is not even a Star Alliance partner, so that meant no United miles.   My backup plan was to credit these miles to my American account, but its mileage rule is that the award chart is dictated by the OneWorld partner airline who is the marketing carrier.  In this case, TAM – who is not a OneWorld carrier.  So essentially, I was in no-man’s land as far as mileage earning was concerned.

Anyway, I arrived in plenty time to deal with any potential complications that this codeshare ticket may have.  As it turns out, there were no  problems, but I did have to check in with LAN, as the TAM personnel at SCL were non-existent.   My next problem was that I was holding a ticket on LAN Chile – an airlines whose inclusion in the OneWorld alliance does absolutely nothing for my Star Alliance Gold status as far as lounge access was concerned.

Santiago is without a doubt, OneWorld country.  LAN dominates the airport along with its partner airlines.

Luckily, I recently acquired a one-day American Admirals pass from a friend, and was ultimately able to enter the Admirals Club at Santiago with my LAN ticket.

 

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

Admirals Club SCL spread

Admirals Club SCL spread

This was a nice space, and was barely even populated.  I almost had the lounge to myself.  It was a very comfortable space to pass a couple hours and get some work done.

LAN Chile Airlines (LA) 750
Santiago (SCL) to Sao Paulo (GRU)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER
Seat: 12C (Economy)
Sunday, June 16
3:25PM – 8:25PM
Duration: 4:00

My first impressions upon boarding my LAN 767 were that the interior was brand new.  I walked through the extremely spacious and sparkling business class to my bulked aisle seat in the first row of the economy section.  From here I was able to look into the business class cabin for much of the flight.

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

Plenty of legroom - not really restricted by bulkhead

Plenty of legroom – not really restricted by bulkhead

Now, I’ve seen pictures of LAN’s business class before, but in person, it really did look like a fantastic product.

 

Business class from my seat

Business class from my seat

The economy product wasn’t too shabby either, as it featured the new, slimline seats and Panasonic IFE systems similar to what United has been installing in its international fleet.  The interior of the plane was very fresh looking, and provided a very good initial impression of the airline.

Entertainment System

Entertainment System

The meal consisted of a sandwich and some bread – not the highlight of the flight, as it was pretty tasteless.

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

After a little less than four hours of flight time, we touched down in Sao Paulo, and I proceeded through transfer security.

Flight path:  SCL-GRU

Flight path: SCL-GRU

Overall, I was pretty impressed with LAN.  Though I was still upset I didn’t earn any miles for this portion of my trip, I was definitely glad for the opportunity to try LAN.  Maybe next time I fly LAN, it will be in the front cabin to somewhere really cool – Easter Island, anyone?

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Two Days in Santiago

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago was relatively uneventful.  I had a standard economy seat on a TAM Airlines A320.  The legroom was quite restricted, and it was not the most comfortable 4hr45minutes of my life.  But I dealt with it like a champ.

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

The highlight to of the flight was the meal.  While it was only a standard economy meal, it was very different from any economy meal that I’ve had.  I chose the chicken pie, and it was very good – probably one of the best tasting economy meals I’ve had on any flight, actually.

Chicken Pie... seriously... it was good!

Chicken Pie… seriously… it was good!

I also recall the catering from my flight from Rio to Orlando last March to be quite good too, so maybe I’m having luck with the catering out of the TAM Rio de Janeiro station.  It’s much better than what I’ve had from JFK.

I arrived in Santiago just around 7pm on Friday night.  Before the authorities were able to process me through immigration, I had to pay the reciprocity fee at a very clearly labeled kiosk.  This reciprocity fee sets Americans back USD$160, but is good for multiple entries for the life of your passport.  Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment for the fee.

After passing through immigration, I headed to the taxi stand inside the terminal where they advised me of a rate of 19,000 (~USD$38) Chilean Pesos for a cab to my hostel in the Bellavista neighborhood.  This was a bit high, but after traveling for the previous 24 hours, I went ahead and went with it.  For what it’s worth, most in Santiago advise not to pay more than 15,000 pesos (~USD$30) for a cab to the airport.

I pulled up to a non-descript entrance on a dimly lit street in Bellavista after about a 30 minute ride from the airport.  After buzzing the gate, I proceeded through the front door of the La Chimba hostel.  I had decided against staying at a chain hotel like the Grand Hyatt or one of the many SPG properties simply to save some money on this two-week trip.  The place was an eclectic little hostel with a main common area and several dorms that house anywhere from one to four.

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba hostel common area

La Chimba hostel common area

I pre-booked a single dorm with a shared bathroom for the princely sum of USD$30 per night (4 person dorms were available starting at USD$16 per night).  The room was small, but was all I needed.  The bed was a spring matress with plenty of bedding to keep me warm during the cold nights.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Without a doubt, the highlight of the property is its location.  It is situated on E. Pinto Lagarrigue in Barrio Bellavista, which is one block off of Pio Nono – the primary restaurant and entertainment artery in the area.  Furthermore, it was less than a ten minute walk to the heart of downtown at Bella Artes and less than fifteen minutes from Plaza de Armas.

Barrio Bellavista

Barrio Bellavista

Bellavista at Night

Bellavista at Night

The location of this place alone made the $30 per night a no-brainer.  I really cannot imagine a much better location for touring Santiago and for being in the middle of the action.

After checking in and taking a much-needed shower, I met up with an Australian friend who I’d met last March while staying in Buenos Aires.  A group of us went out for the evening to a couple bars – first, to Bar The Clinic (near Bella Artes) and then to Onaciu in Bellavista.  It was an extremely fun night out on the town where I was introduced to the national drink of Chile – the Pisco Sour.  Though it’s a little sweet for my tastes, I really didn’t have a choice but to try one (or two… or three…) of these things.

A Pisco Sour

A Pisco Sour

I awoke Saturday morning to a somewhat clear morning as the fog receeded.  The entrance to the funicular at San Cristobal hill was a whopping two blocks from my hostel, so I proceeded there and bought a 2,600 peso round-trip ticket on the funicular to the top of the hill.

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular from up top

Funicular from up top

The views from up here were awesome!  Unfortunately, the smog / fog held around a little bit too long that morning, and I was unable to see all of the the Andes mountains, but I was able to see some vistas of the mountains – the first time I’d ever seen the Andes!

Statue of Virgin Mary

Statue of Virgin Mary

Smoggy View of Santiago

Smoggy View of Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

My first view of the Andes Montains

My first view of the Andes Montains

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

After walking around for about an hour, I grabbed an empanada and a Gatorade and headed back down the hill on the funicular.

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Llama!

Llama!

My next stop was Plaza de Armas downtown, where I met up with a free walking tour.  The group consisted of about ten tourists and our guide, Felipe.  Felipe gave a wonderful 3.5-4 hour, narrated tour of the city.  I feel like this tour enabled me to see all of the important landmarks in the city during my short time there.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valaparaiso

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valparaiso

La Moneda Palace

La Moneda Palace

Universidad de Chile

Universidad de Chile

"New York Street" in Santiago

“New York Street” in Santiago

The Santiago Stock Exchange

The Santiago Stock Exchange

Parque Forestal - The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal – The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal at dusk

Parque Forestal at dusk

One of the millions of "street dogs" in Santiago.  The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

One of the millions of “street dogs” in Santiago. The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

About two-thirds of the way through the tour, we stopped at a coffeeshop in the LaStarria neighborhood for a Pisco sour.  The tour ended up in Bellavista, about three blocks from my hostel.  Felipe gave me all sorts of great recommendations for dinner and for lunch the next day.  As with most “free tours”, the tour guides operate on a tips-only basis, and in this case it was well-deserved.  This walking tour leaves daily from Plaza de Armas at 10am and 3pm.  I highly recommend it for a cheap, easy, fun, and informative way to see the sights in Santiago – it would especially be a good way to orient oneself with the city on their first day.

Per Felipe and my Aussie friends’ suggestion, I had a late dinner Saturday night at Galindo in Bellavista.  This restaurant is well known in Santiago amongst both tourists and locals for its Chilean food.  I was starving after a long day of touring, and ordered the empanada a pino to begin, and the “Pastel de Choclo” for the entrée, along with a couple of beers to wash dinner down.

Empanada a pino

Empanada a pino

Pastel de Choclo -- Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

Pastel de Choclo — Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

It was fantastic.

Dinner no doubt left me in a food coma, so I back to the hostel and called it a night.

Sunday morning, I awoke in time to shower, re-pack my things and check out of the hostel.  I stored my luggage there and had them order me a cab for noon.  Meanwhile, I trekked to the Mercado Central where I intended to have an early lunch, and oh, what a lunch I had!

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

The Mercado Central is the main fish and seafood market in Santiago.  I really enjoy going to markets when I visit varous cities, and this was no exception.

Fresh Seafood!

Fresh Seafood!

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I ended up eating at one of the many restaurants around the Mercado, and ordered the Paila Marina – a local specialty that translate literally to “seafood soup.”  It was amazing, and extremely filling.   This set me back only about 3,500 pesos.

Paila Marina for lunch

Paila Marina for lunch

According to Felipe, the many restaurants in the Mercado rotate chefs on a continual basis, so they all have basically the same food.  The restaurants on the outer ring of the Mercado are much cheaper, while the ones in the center are more expensive for essentially the same food!

After this amazing lunch, I walked 20 minutes back to the hostel, where my cab was waiting to take me back to the airport for my flight back to New York via Sao Paulo.  All in all, Santiago was a fantastic city, and my big regret was not spending another day here.  I usually like to spend three days in a new city, and this was no exception.

Simply put, I needed another day.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Emergency Landing: United 787 Dreamliner, Denver to Tokyo… I mean Seattle

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


United Airlines (UA) 139
Denver (DEN) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)  Seattle (SEA)

Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Seat: 4E(BusinessFirst)

Tuesday, June 18
12:35PM – 3:30PM (+1 day) 4:05pm
Duration: 11:55 ~4:30

Well… that was different.

So I’ve been looking forward to my Denver – Tokyo flight on United’s brand new 787 Dreamliner for quite some time, and was hoping it would be a memorable flight.

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

The intended destination

The intended destination

Well, United sure did deliver.

I’m writing this blog entry neither from Denver, nor from Tokyo.  As it turns out, I’m in Seattle.

About three hours into the flight today, just after dinner service, I noticed an unusual, hard right turn and a significant decent in altitude.  I paused the movie I was watching to check out the flight map, and sure enough — we had just made a 180-degree turn just north of Vancouver Island, BC.

Flight map moments after we turned back

Flight map moments after we turned back

I inquired to a passing flight attendant, and she responded that they had just been requested to prepare the cabin for arrival, as we may be diverting to Seattle.

Sure enough, about five minutes later, the Captain came on to inform us that we were, indeed diverting to Seattle due to a concern with the oil pump in one of the engines.  Soon after that, he advised us that we would be dumping fuel to lighten the load for landing in Seattle.  Well, this provided some awesome pictures.

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Fuel dumping

Fuel dumping

The next 45 minutes were pretty typical for a plane getting ready to land — sure, people were frustrated that they wouldn’t be making Tokyo as scheduled, but things were remarkably… normal.  Then about five minutes before landing, the Captain came back on to inform us that emergency vehicles would be meeting the plan upon landing, and that he would try to get us to the gate, but he had concerns about our brakes, which we had some overheating issues with after takeoff from Denver.

I’ve flown a lot.  I mean, a whole bunch.

I’ve never had an emergency landing until now.  I also know that when the Captain expresses concern to the cabin about the brakes, that’s not necessarily a good thing.  So I gathered my important things (passport and such) and put them in my pockets in the event that we’d have to evacuate the plane upon landing via slide.

We touched down in an extremely “normal” landing, and as we exited the runway, a flotilla of fire trucks and emergency vehicles flanked us.  I tried to get some good pictures, but sitting in the middle section of Business class limited my view.

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

Then, we proceeded to the gate like nothing happened.

After twenty minutes at the gate, we were informed that we would not be continuing on to Tokyo, and that we would need to deplane.  United officials then directed us to the check-in counters at SeaTac where they had an army of agents to assist us with figuring out how the hell we were getting to Tokyo.

I had a unique problem.

I’d planned to connect to Cathay Pacific in Tokyo about five hours after we landed.  This flight was to take me to Dubai via Hong Kong.  Well, since United and Cathay are in different alliances, and are in no way partners, I figured I was pretty screwed.  I called the United Premier Desk as I was walking to the ticketing line, and was informed three times that United could not “take over” my ticket since it was an award ticket purchased through American Airlines for travel on Cathay Pacific (complicated, I know).

After about 15 minutes, I finally got to the agent at the counter in Seattle.  He informed me that I could either take the 9:30pm Delta flight to Tokyo-Haneda, or I could take the 9:30 or 12:30 United flights the following morning to Tokyo-Narita — all in business class.  I let him know my situation, and he agreed to protect me on all those flights until I had details worked out with American and Cathay Pacific.

American was incredibly kind after I explained my situation to them, and they worked with Cathay to get me re-booked on my same flights a day later.  They were not able to accommodate me from Tokyo-Haneda without necessitating a 15 hour layover in Tokyo, so I opted out of that choice.

I informed Untied of my new flights, and they gladly booked me on the 9:30am flight for Wednesday morning to Tokyo-Narita, again on another 787 Dreamliner.  Just in case, I am also booked on the 12:30pm flight on a B777.  They then issued me a hotel voucher for the SeaTac Airport Hilton and several meal vouchers.

Given the situation, I think United handled the situation pretty well.  I will be missing a full day in Dubai, which is disappointing, but I’m sure that there will be further compensation coming from United because of this whole ordeal.

At the end of the day, it was certainly an experience.

Up until our problems, it truly was a wonderful flight.  In all seriousness, the flight up to the engine problems part was phenomenal.  The service was unbelievably good.  The BusinessFirst seat was great.

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

Plenty of room with all my goodies they gave me

Plenty of room in seat 4E.  The bulkhead rows 1 and 4 on the 787 have more room in footwell area

Dinner was fantastic.  I was very impressed:

Sushi Tray

Sushi Tray

 

Sushi appetizer

Sushi appetizer

Salad

Salad

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Cheese Plate

Cheese Plate

Ice cream sundae tray

Ice cream sundae tray

My dessert -- just before the plane decided it wasn't going to Tokyo

My dessert — just before the plane decided it wasn’t going to Tokyo

Others around me were wondering if this was actually a United flight — it was seriously going that well.

And then everything fell apart:

  • Fuel Dump.
  • Emergency landing.
  • Unplanned night in Seattle.

Here’s to making it to Tokyo in the morning!  Time to give the Dreamliner another shot!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Eight hours in Rio de Janeiro

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


 

My TAM flight arrived in Rio de Janeiro Terminal 2 a little after 6:30am, and I decided to proceed in the direction of transfer passengers despite the fact that my connecting flight to Santiago didn’t depart until 3:00pm.  I wanted to spend a bit of time in the lounge to charge my iPhone up since it would be functioning as my camera for the day.

Since I had been to the Rio airport a few months earlier, I was familiar with its layout, and knew exactly where the lounges were.  As I tried to check-in to the Smiles VIP lounge, which I used last time while traveling TAM, I was advised by the agent that there was a new lounge next door for TAM and LAN passengers, and that I could access that lounge as a Star Alliance Gold passenger.  So I popped on into the “SEA” lounge next door and was admitted quickly.

There was a small spread – almost identical to the spread in the other lounge, consisting of small appetizers, Brazilian pastries, and an assortment of drinks. The chairs were pretty uncomfortable, and the lounge had a pretty cold feeling to it.   It’s honestly not a lounge in which I’d care to spend much more than an hour.  However, the Wi-Fi worked great, and I was able to charge up my iPhone quickly.

Mission accomplished.

After about 45 minutes, it was time to trek into the city.  First thing was to find a place to store my luggage while I was gone.  I proceeded through immigration after a bit of initial confusion, and found the MALEX luggage lockers.  These are located outside on the departure levels of both Terminals 1 and 2.  You can get a locker for 12 Brazilian Real (about USD $6).  The exchange rate is approximately USD $1: 2..15 Brazilian Real at the present time.

I then looked for the blue bus with a yellow crown on it, the Real Auto Onibus.  This bus is really easy to take, and only costs 13 real each way.  It runs every 15 minutes, and normally takes about an hour to get to Ipanema or Copacabana, but since I was taking it on a Friday morning during rush hour, it ended up taking about an hour and a half to get to Ipanema.

The bus dropped me off right in the middle of Ipanema Beach after multiple stops.  The bus goes downtown, the Santos Dumont Airport, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Barra.

Ipanema!

Ipanema!

Ipanema

Ipanema

Ipanema

Ipanema

After walking to the end of Ipanema, I decided that it was time for a couple beers and an early lunch.  I settled on one of the many kiosks lining the beach.   Lunch was nothing special – a chicken sandwich (lame, I know).

Part of my lunch

Part of my lunch

It was a beautiful morning, and the beach really looked enticing.  Due to my limited time on this layover, I’d have to forgo getting in the water and save it for my next trip to Rio over Labor Day.

The water looked real nice

The water looked real nice

After lunch and a couple beers, it was approaching noon.  I figured that I had better start making my way back to the airport.  In order to get a bus on the way back, one must find the blue, “Real Onibus” bus with the destination of “Aeropuerto Internacional”.  They come by every 15 minutes, but there is no rhyme or reason as to where they actually stop.  So the best way to flag down one of these busses is to position oneself near a traffic light and wave like a crazy person when the bus is approaching. Again, it is 13 Brazilian Real (~USD$6.50) each way.

I boarded the bus, and we drove back along Copacabana.  There was much more activity along Copacabana on this day, and I briefly regretted not going there instead.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to save it for the next trip.

 

Sandcastle on Copacabana welcoming tourists.  Rio is home to the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Sandcastle on Copacabana welcoming tourists. Rio is home to the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Anyway, the trip back to the airport was a little over an hour, and I arrived about 1:30pm.  After a quick trip through security and immigration, I headed back to the “Sea lounge” for a quick snack and a Fanta (when in Rome…).  Fifteen minutes later, my flight to Santiago was ready for boarding and I headed to the gate.

Overall, this was not a bad way to spend an eight-hour layover.  Instead of staying in the rather drab and boring Rio airport, I got to hangout along one of the more famous beaches in the world.

Not a bad way to spend the morning, that’s for sure.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – New York JFK to Rio de Janeiro

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


TAM Airlines (JJ) 8079
New York (JFK) – Rio de Janeiro (GIG)

Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 29C (Economy Class)

Thursday, June 13
7:10PM – 6:05AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:55 

I arrived at JFK about three hours before my flight.  Checkin was a breeze at Terminal 8, and I headed to security.  Since the only priority line was for OneWorld elites, I had to trudge to the back of the security line — it took about 15 minutes, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

I proceeded to the American Airlines AAdmirals Club to kill some time before my flights.  This was a bit strange considering I was given a lounge invitation by TAM because of my Star Alliance Gold status.  American is in OneWorld, so it’s just strange how that all worked.  Last time I flew TAM, it was out of JFK Terminal 4, and I used the Swiss Lounge — that made way more sense.  Anyway, I entered the AAdmirals Club with no issues, sat down to get some work done and have some drinks.  The lounge was very crowded, and it took entirely too long to get a drink.

Admiral's Club, JFK Entrance

Admiral’s Club, JFK Entrance

Crowded lounge

Crowded lounge

As I was finishing up some work and a drink, I watched my A330-200 get towed to the gate — that was my queue to start gathering my things and head to the gate.

My ride to Rio:  a TAM A330-200

My ride to Rio: a TAM A330-200

Before my flight, and again at check-in, I had requested a “Space +” seat, which was essentially an exit row.  They said there were none available, and that I couldn’t sit in an exit row since I don’t speak Portuguese.  Interestingly enough, they gladly booked me in an exit row on my return, and I sat in exit rows on TAM the last time I flew them to South America — so I’m not really sure what their policy actually is.  What this did mean though was that I would be cramped in standard economy for close to ten hours.

TAM economy class

TAM economy class

How cramped?

9.5 hours of this -- my knees were not pleased

9.5 hours of this — my knees were not pleased

Yeah.  Pretty miserable.

We taxied and waited for our takeoff slot for about 45 minutes, and soon enough we were airborne.  Food and beverage service did not begin until about two hours into the flights since we were encountering moderate turbulence as we flew through the nasty front that had just passed by the east coast.  I passed time before the meal by watching “Side Effects.” 

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

I selected the pasta for dinner, as I usually do in economy — it’s pretty hard to compeltely screw up pasta.  It was surprisingly decent.

TAM Dinner Pasta

It actually tasted better than it looks

After dinner, I watched another movie, “Snitch” before going to sleep.  It was not a comfortable rest, but I somehow managed to get about 4.5 hours of decent sleep.  I awoke about the time the sun was rising and movement started again around the cabin.  The flight attendants came by for breakfast service about 90 minutes prior to landing, while we were approaching Brasilia, Brazil.  The breakfast was a sandwich and fruit.  The fruit was fine, but the sandwich was barely passable as food.

Breakfast sandwich, they say

Breakfast sandwich, they say

After breakfast, we finally began our decent into Rio de Janeiro. Everything was pretty uneventful from there.  We were about 20 minutes early, so that was fine by me.

Approaching RIo!

Approaching RIo!

Overall, this flight was decent.  It certainly was not comfortable, but then again, no economy flight is comfortable for somebody who is 6’4″.  The service was fine, and the food was edible.  The flight attendants were friendly enough, and spoke enough English to provide satisfactory service.  The inflight entertainment was on-demand, and decent, though the physical IFE unit was pretty dated.  Considering the low price of this flight, it was completely acceptable, and I was perfectly happy with it.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Planning

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


This monstrosity of a trip was actually the result of combining three different vacations.  I’ll split the planning out into three sections, outlying how I went about booking each portion, and the confluence of events that led to linking these trips together to create a 15-day, multi-continent adventure!

The original trip:  Denver to Tokyo on the 787 Dreamliner

In May 2012, on the day that United announced their first official international 787 Dreamliner route from Denver to Tokyo-Narita, they uploaded it into the schedule with an abnormally low price of ~$900 round-trip on their B-fare.  A United B-fare is a full-fare economy ticket, which would normally cost several thousands of dollars.  This sort of fare earns 1.5X Premier Qualifying Miles, which help one build United status.   Additionally, this fare was available for what was supposed to be the inaugural flight for this route, and the inaugural international 787 flight for United.  Several friends on Milepoint booked this same flight, so it was to be a “party-flight.”  A sub-$1,000 fare to Tokyo is pretty good in general, but the fact that this was a B-fare, and that this was supposed to be the inaugural flight made it a must-have.

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

I originally planned this trip to be March 31 through April 6, and planned to spend the week in Japan.  As it turns out, the 787 had its share of problems after its initial release, and was subsequently grounded in January.   By the end of February, United finally made the official announcement that the inaugural would be postponed to a later date, so this inaugural was no longer a possibility.  I was left contemplating when I wanted to change this flight to…

Another unrelated trip:  TAM airfare deal from New York to Santiago

In November 2012, an extremely low round-trip fare of ~$330 appeared for flights from New York or Miami to both Buenos Aires and Santiago on TAM Airlines (of Brazil) through Orbitz.  After a late-night call from a friend, I decided to book a couple of these flights – a trip to Buenos Aires in March 2013 and one to Santiago in June.

I ended up selecting a routing from New York-JFK to Santiago.  After a litany of schedule changes by TAM, and after dealing with a series of hour-long phone calls to Orbitz, I ultimately ended up with a trip from New York to Santiago, via Rio de Janeiro on the outbound and via Sao Paulo on the return.

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

Joining the gang in Dubai

As I pondered when I should take my DEN-NRT flight on the 787, I decided that I wanted to spend some time in Japan, but at the same time try to somehow get over to Dubai to meet a group of ten friends who would be there, and to see my old roommate who moved to Dubai last year.  They would all be in Dubai during the heat of the summer, from June 20th-23rd.  I checked award availability and found an absolute gem on the American Airlines award flight

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

This particular award allows for a trip from Asia Zone 1 (Japan, etc) to India and the Middle East for only 22.5k miles each way in economy, 30k AA miles each way in business class, or 45k in First.  Compare that to the Star Alliance options of United (45k/67.5k/87.5k) and US Airways (40k/60k/90k), as well as Delta (40k/60k), and you can see that this is an absolute steal!

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Luckily, I had a decent sized stash of American AAdvantage miles stored up after a couple of credit card signing bonuses and a few flights to Europe from a couple years back, so I decided to redeem an award in business class.

With this award in mind, I needed to find availability for one of American’s OneWorld partners on the route.  I ‘ll make no bones about it – I wanted to try Cathay Pacific.  Ideally, I would have flown in first class, but since Cathay operates its HKG-DXB route with a two-class A330-300 aircraft, this would not be possible.  So instead, I settled on business class – a pretty sweet consolation price considering that this plane features arguably the best business class seat in the world.

Cathay Pacific's new Business Class. Picture:  Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s new Business Class. Picture: Cathay Pacific

So I headed over to the Qantas website to check award availability for Tokyo to Dubai.  I wanted to arrive on June 20th and depart the night of June 23rd.  I was pleased to see that the exact flights I wanted were available, so I jotted down the flight numbers and called them into American.  After a five minute phone call, I had secured a round-trip from Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific business class for 60,000 AAdvantage miles and about $85 in taxes.

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

 Sewing it all together

So, now I had the Dubai portion booked.  Given that it was pretty close to the end of my previously planned Santiago trip, I decided to move the outbound DEN-NRT segment to arrive Tokyo the same day as my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and then Dubai.  I did want to spend about three days in Tokyo, so I added on several days in Tokyo after Dubai, and scheduled a return from NRT-DEN for June 27th.

I was able to adjust the dates of my Santiago flight due to the multitude of schedule changes to mesh nicely with the rest of my trip.  This left me getting into New York the morning of June 17th and a flight from Denver to Tokyo on June 18th.  So I looked for a flight from New York to Denver on the 17th.  I was able to find a very reasonable round-trip fare on United from NewYork-LaGuardia to Denver departing the late afternoon of the 17th and returning to Washington-Dulles the evening of June 27th.  Perfect.

After finding a very cheap Delta flight from Washington-Reagan (DCA) to JFK on the date of my outbound flight to Santiago on June 13th, I was all set.

Domestic flights -- the missing pieces to the puzzle

Domestic flights — the missing pieces to the puzzle

Adding to the sheer awesomeness of this trip, I was upgraded to United BusinessFirst on both the DEN-NRT and NRT-DEN flights on the 787!  That will equate to almost 24 hours in a lie-flat business seat, thanks to using a friend’s United Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) and a Mileage Upgrade (30,000 miles).

My ride to Tokyo:  The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

My ride to Tokyo: The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

The Final Product

About 38,000 miles of flying...

About 38,000 miles of flying…

DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL // SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN // DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB // DXB-HKG-HND // NRT-DEN-IAD

All this craziness resulted in a fifteen night trip, visiting five cities and three continents.  The final product looks something like this:

June 13:  Washington-Reagan (DCA) – New York (JFK) on a Delta CRJ-900 in economy comfort

June 13:  JFK – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (GIG) on a TAM A330-200 in economy

June 14:  9-hour layover in Rio!

June 14:  GIG – Santiago, Chile (SCL) on a TAM A320 in economy

June 14-16:  Two nights in Santiago at a hostel.

June 16:  SCL-Sao Paulo (GRU) on a LAN B767-300 in economy

June 16:  GRU – JFK on a TAM B777-300ER in economy

June 17:  New York-LaGuardia (LGA) – Denver (DEN) on a United B757-200 in economy plus

June 17:  Overnight in Denver at the Aloft Denver Airport

June 18:  DEN – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 19:  NRT – Hong Kong (HKG) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300 in Business

June 20:  HKG – Dubai (DXB) on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 20-23:  Three nights in Dubai at the Park Hyatt, Dubai

June 23:  DXB – HKG on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 24: HKG – Tokyo-Hanaeda (HND) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300ER in Business

June 24-27:  Three nights in Tokyo at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo

June 27:  NRT-DEN on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 27:  DEN – Washington-Dulles on a United B757-200 in economy plus

Whew!  That’s a lot of travel, but I actually enjoy flying on airplanes – especially in business class.  In all, this trip will consist of five nights on airplanes and ten in hotels.  It will cover 38,856 total miles.  Since TAM is a member of Star Alliance (for now), this total trip will earn me 31,789 United Premier Qualifying Miles and about 36,761 United Redeemable miles from just the TAM and United segments.

Well, let’s start this thing!  I’ll try to give some timely first impressions throughout the course of my trip, and will follow it up with a full-fledged trip report afterwards.

EDIT: Well, as it turns out, weather did not cooperate with me, so I’ve already deviated from the above plan by heading to NYC a night early.  I’ll make a separate post on that whole fiasco later on.

Well, this trip didn’t start as planned

So I was finishing up work yesterday when a co-worker mentioned to me that there was severe weather expected to roll through the DC area on Thursday.  Alarm bells immediately went off in my head as I was scheduled to fly from DCA to New York-JFK at around 12:30 on Thursday — the same time when the weather was supposed to be God-awful.  This flight was to get me to JFK in plenty of time for my flight to Rio de Janeiro – at 7pm on Thursday.  My concern was not necessarily the Rio flight; rather, it was being able to get to JFK in order to take that flight!  These were separate tickets after all, so the good folks at TAM Airlines really wouldn’t care less if Delta couldn’t get me to New York in time.

I got home and started running through my options.  I could:

  • Keep everything as it was, and just cross my fingers that there wouldn’t be a significant delay or cancellation of my flight to JFK
  • Try to fly out earlier in the morning from DCA-JFK
  • Err on the side of caution and take the Amtrak up to New York on Wednesday night to ensure I wouldn’t miss my flight to Rio.

If I kept everything as-is, I would have been a nervous wreck, and probably would not have slept very well.  The weather forecasts were extremely ominous, and I didn’t like my chances.  Many times with weather, there are many cancellations — primarily of regional jet traffic (which would include my DCA-JFK flight).  In situations of extremely bad weather, air traffic control tends to get the large planes flying internationally out, and the regionals end up with severe delays or cancellations.  After thinking about all this, I decided that I could not just stay with what I had — I needed to make a proactive change.

My first thought was to change the flight to an earlier flight to JFK on Thursday morning.  Then it dawned on me — I wasn’t flying United.  Since I have status with United, I’ve grown accustomed to being able to make same day changes to my flights — I almost take it for granted.  But no, this flight was with Delta.  An airline with which I have zero status.  Delta had not issued a weather waiver at that point, and it was unlikely I’d be able to change my flight unless they did.

The last option I had was to take the train up to New York on Wednesday, stay the night, and have a relaxing day during which I could find my way out to JFK.  I have a modest bank of Amtrak points from which I could use 4,000 of them to get to NYC, and I was able to find a very reasonable last minute rate at the Four Points Sheraton SoHo.  Perfect.

But then there was a small detail that I had to work with:  it was 6:15pm and my train left at 8:45pm.

I had not done laundry.  I had not packed.  At all.

Fast forward two hours, and I found myself scarfing down a slice of Sbarro pizza as my train was about to depart for New York’s Penn Station.  I made it!

The boarding scrum for the NE Regional Amtrak train DC-NYC.

The boarding scrum for the NE Regional Amtrak train DC-NYC.

The train ride was uneventful — a standard Northeast Regional experience.  It takes about 3:20 – 3:30 to get from Washington to New York on Amtrak, and it’s a good way to go, as it dumps you off at Penn Station — smack dab in the middle of Manhattan.

I arrived at Penn Station at about 12:10am, hailed a cab to the Four Points, and went right to bed.

I slept pretty well in the small room, and woke up at around 8am to do some work.  Again, the room was quite small, but the location is very good and is well situated in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.

My small room

My small room at the 4 Points Sheraton SoHo

After a brief walk around the SoHo neighborhood, I packed my things and headed to Brooklyn where I planned to meet a friend for lunch.  The subway ride was about 15 minutes, and eventually plopped me out right in downtown Brooklyn near the brand new Barclay’s Center.  Wow – what a cool looking arena!

Photo Jun 13, 2 13 26 PM

The new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn — home of the Nets

My friend took me for a roast beef sandwich at Brennan and Carr’s in Brooklyn… awesome!

The Gargiulo burger at Brennan & Carr's in Brooklyn

The Gargiulo burger at Brennan & Carr’s in Brooklyn

After lunch, he drove me to JFK, where I had plenty of time to check-in and make the flight to Rio!  In fact, I’m writing this from the comforts of the American Airlines AAdmirals Club at JFK in T8.  My flight is scheduled out for 7:10pm, I have a drink in hand, and things are good!

A whole bunch of AAirplanes at JFK

A whole bunch of AAirplanes at JFK

Next stop:  Rio de Janeiro!