Review: Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Singapore to Hong Kong

After a fun and delicious two nights in Singapore, it was time to turn around and head back home to the States.   We took an early cab to Changi airport and arrived in plenty of time.  Check-in was a breeze and we since security isn’t until the gate, we had a little bit of time to kill.  So we headed to the Sky View Lounge in Terminal 1 since it was the only lounge accessible to oneworld Emerald members at that hour in the morning (the Qantas and British Airways don’t open until later in the afternoon).

The lounge was quite comfortable with some decent hot and cold breakfast options.  I grabbed some noodles to go along with a Diet Coke and took a seat with my friends by the floor-to-ceiling glass windows just as the sun was coming up.  We checked e-mail and  surfed the Internet for a bit before it was time to head to the gate.

There was a very long line for security and boarding, but we were able to board with business class passengers despite being ticketed for an economy seat (59A).  After security, I went to have my boarding pass scanned by the gate agent, and it beeped a few times.  The friendly gate agent informs me, “Mr. Ryan, thank you for being a valued oneworld Emerald customer.  We have upgraded you to Premium Economy Class for this morning’s flight.”

Score!

Now, I’d heard of oneworld Emeralds being upgraded before by Cathay and other airlines like LAN, but I’d never experienced it before, so this was quite unexpected.  Sometimes, unexpected upgrades like this one are some of the best and most satisfying upgrades that there are.

She re-printed my new boarding passes, and I was on my was to board this A340-300 for Hong Kong!

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Review: United Business First Dubai to Washington

After spending an enjoyable three days in Dubai, we arrived at Dubai International Airport where we went through check-in, immigration and security without a hitch.  We had about an hour or so to kill before we needed to go to the gate for another round of security, so we headed to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge for a bit.

This lounge isn’t the largest lounge in the world, but there were a few options of cold appetizers as well as beer, wine and soft drinks.  I had a drink and a quick bite to eat as my buddy and I relaxed a bit before our impending long haul back to Washington.

Lufthansa Senator Lounge - Dubai

Lufthansa Senator Lounge – Dubai

It was finally time to get to the gate, so we made the ten minute trek through the expansive Dubai Terminal 2.   Since this was a flight back to the United States from Dubai, there was an additional security screening at the gate.  They took business class passengers first, but that only meant that we were allowed into the holding pen first at the gate, as boarding had not yet started.  Finally, after about thirty minutes of sitting around, we boarded our United B777-200.

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Review: United Business First Washington to Dubai

A good friend of mine and former roommate moved to Dubai from Washington a few years back, but I’d yet to successfully visit him out in the desert.  Two years ago, I tried to meet up with him while on a trip to Dubai, but engine problems on the Dreamliner and the resulting 24-hour delay forced me to miss meeting up in Dubai that time around.  For this trip, I planned to visit my friend with another good friend from grad school.  We booked the flights back in June with the intention to use my United Global Premier Upgrades to ride in business class of the long-haul weekend trip.

I ended up booking the trip to Dubai out of Boston.  Why?

Well, the price for an upgradeable economy class fare on United (W-fare) was substantially cheaper when departing from Boston — like $700-800 cheaper.

My itinerary would take me from Boston, back to Washington — and then non-stop from there to Dubai.  Luckily, the upgrades cleared in July and August, so we weren’t even close to sweating this one out — we were able to rest easy knowing that the long journey would be in relative comfort of United Business First.  Anyway, in order to position myself to Boston, I purchased a cheap US Airways flight from Washington-DCA up to Logan.

After a moderately lengthy layover at the recently refurbished United Club at Boston’s Logan International Airport, I took a quick hop down to Washington-Dulles where I met my friend in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Terminal B.  Since it was winter time, the lounge closed early and Lufthansa evicted us at 5:45pm.  We trudged to the United Club by gate D-5.  Though it was definite step down from the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, the United Club served as a perfectly comfortable setting to pass some time and drink some (very) cheap scotch.

The chariot awaits -- our B777-200 being prepped for the journey from Washington to Dubai

The chariot awaits — our B777-200 being prepped for the journey from Washington to Dubai

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Review: LAN Economy Class Santiago to Sao Paulo on the B787

I was scheduled to have about an hour and twenty minutes on the ground in Santiago between my incoming flight from New York-JFK and my connecting flight to Sao Paulo.  After a quick trip to freshen up in the LAN Mistral VIP Salon, I made my way to the gate, passing Dreamliner after Dreamliner.  Santiago is truly a B787 Dreamliner paradise, as LAN has taken delivery to quite a number of the new aircraft.  During the mid-morning hours, the LAN B787 fleet all seems to be back in Santiago before dispersing to other locales around the globe.

IMG_9699

My LAN B787-8 awaiting departure for Sao Paulo

I boarded my flight to Sao Paulo with the first group.  My visa was then verified and I made my way to the sparkling new Dreamliner. Continue Reading →

Review: LAN Economy Class New York – JFK to Santiago on the B787

I recently attempted a weekend trip to Iguazu Falls, Argentina and failed miserably.  So many things went wrong that ultimately led me to ditching the itinerary in Sao Paulo and returning to New York.  But what let up to that point?

A comedy of errors on this itinerary resulted in me getting pretty much no sleep, which led to exhaustion and my eventual decision to fly home before making it to my intended destination.

It all started Thursday morning as I attempted to check-in for my flight with LAN.  The problem first arose when the LAN website indicated that my confirmation number was not valid.  As such, I called LAN to see what was wrong.  The agent with LAN told me that my SCL-GRU segment of my itinerary was showing a significant delay, and I would mis-connect in Sao Paulo for my flight to Foz do Iguazu.

He offered me two options — to overnight in Sao Paulo and get to Iguazu on Saturday afternoon.  I declined this option, as it would only leave me a day in Iguazu.  The second option was to take an earlier flight from JFK to Santiago and on to Sao Paulo on the LAN 787 Dreamliner, then have a ten-hour layover in Sao Paulo before continuing on to Iguazu on the same flight.  In order to do this, I had to leave work three hours earlier and confirm standby space on an earlier flight from DCA-JFK.  After speaking to American about changing my DCA-JFK flight, I decided on this option.

I figured that I could ultimately deal with this undesirable itinerary as long as I was able to sleep on my flight to Santiago.  I didn’t think this would be much of a problem since I’d been assured a bulkhead seat by the phone agent (I had a bulkhead seat on my original flight booked for six months).

Again, when he changed my flights, the LAN agent assured me that I had confirmed a bulkhead, window seat on the 787, seat 12L.  At 6’4″, an exit row or a bulkhead seat is a necessity for me traveling long-haul in economy — I just need the extra leg room, otherwise I’m miserable. Continue Reading →

Review: Delta Business Elite Class Sao Paulo to New York-JFK

Sometimes, you reach your breaking point.

My breaking point came in T2 at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport as I stared down the barrel of a ten-hour layover with no lounge access.  This was after a schedule change and seating change on my outbound flight from JFK to Santiago the night before in an attempt to make it to Iguazu Falls.

At this point, I’d been traveling for over 24 hours.

I hadn’t slept.

And I still had over 12 hours left to go, culminating in a border crossing between Brazil and Argentina at the un-Godly hour of 3am.

That was it — I’d had enough.  So, I decided to throw in the towel, cut my losses and head home.

I scoured the Internet from the domestic terminal at GRU looking for award flight availability back home, and found some viable options.  I was reluctant to blow miles on a trip home, but was resigned to do so until I had a Facebook chat conversation with a friend who works for Delta.  He graciously offered me a buddy pass to get me back to the States that evening.  The best part about it?

It was in business class.  And there was plenty of non-rev space available open that evening.  I took my friend up on his offer, paid some nominal fees and taxes, and I appeared on the stand-by list for DL 472 to JFK — a flight that would sent me right back to the airport I’d departed less than 24 hours before.

I arrived at the gate about an hour prior to departure and let the gate agent know I was there, per instructions from my friend.  After all revenue passengers had boarded, my name was called and the gate agent handed me a boarding ticket for seat 6B, in business class!  I was going home…

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#TBT: Review: United Business First Washington to Frankfurt – 2013

Throwback Thursday Series!

This is the first in a series of “Throwback Thursday” #TBT posts that I will release.  These will feature flights and other elements of trip reports from the past.  For now, these will all be flights, hotels or cities that I’ve taken, stayed at, or been to over the last few years.   For all of these trips, I took notes and/or wrote a review, took pictures, but never published the entry on my blog… until now.


I arrived at Dulles airport with my buddy about three hours before the flight.  He’d be flying in economy on this flight, while I was in Business class.  This was our flight over to Germany for Oktoberfest 2013.  We planned to fly into Frankfurt before heading to Munich for a few days for Oktoberfest, and then on to London and Edinburgh.

After clearing security, we first headed to Terminal B to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.  As a Star Alliance Gold member, I am able to access the Lufthansa Senator Lounge prior to my flight on a Star Alliance carrier — even though it wasn’t Lufthansa!  This is great, because the Senator Lounge at Dulles easily bests the United Clubs at the airport, and is one of my favorite lounges in the United States.  We spent about an hour in the lounge where we relaxed, ate some dinner, and had several drinks.

Our United B777-200 being prepped for the flight to FRA

Our United B777-200 being prepped for the flight to FRA

As boarding time drew closer, we made the trek over to the C/D concourse at Dulles and to seek refuge in one of the United Clubs right by our gate.  After another drink, it was time to head to the gate for boarding.

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Review: United Global First Class Chicago to Munich

I started out my around the world trip with a Transatlantic flight from Chicago to Munich in United Global First Class.  After a longer than usual flight from Washington-DCA to Chicago, I arrived at O’ Hare and met up with my good friend, who would be joining me for the entire trip to Europe and Asia.  IMG_8624We spent an hour or so at the United Global First Class Lounge in O’Hare, primarily finishing up some last-minute bill paying and calling loved ones before we departed.  Finally, it was time for boarding, so we ventured to the gate where boarding had just commenced.

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First Look: Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class Shanghai to Tokyo

Earlier this week, I got to experience a relatively quick flight in Air China’s Forbidden Pavilion First Class on a flight between Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.   This 2.5 hour flight was booked as part of my around the world trip using US Airways miles.

Compared to my flight in THAI Royal First Class and ANA First Class, I was extremely underwhelmed with my experience with Air China.  I’d even prefer United’s GlobalFirst Class over this, simply because the hard product (the seat) just doesn’t compare.   Don’t get me wrong — any flight in an international first class cabin is a privilege, but I’m just comparing apples to apples here.

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

On this flight, we flew an aged B747-400 aircraft, and I was seated in seat 2A, as the only passenger in first class.
Interestingly enough, the first class cabin on this plane was not located in the nose of the 747, but instead was between the first and second sets of doors in an area typically designated for business class.  This first class cabin was incredibly dated, but it did feature a full lie-flat bed, and is very similar in design to the old first class seats on American’s international fleet.  Air China is eventually phasing these 747s out of their fleet, and that was pretty obvious, as the interior of this plane clearly hadn’t been refreshed in quite some time.

Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class - Seat 2A on a B747-400

Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class – Seat 2A on a B747-400

Though this was a short flight, I was offered a full, multi-course lunch service.  The food was actually pretty decent, and the entrée — though more of a business class-style meal — was actually quite good.  I ordered the steak and received a petite tenderloin that was cooked to a perfect medium — always a nice surprise onboard any flight.

Lunch in Air China First Class -- Beef Tenderloin, mashed potatoes and vegetables

Lunch in Air China First Class — Beef Tenderloin, mashed potatoes and vegetables

The in flight entertainment consisted of an old, flip-out screen, with very little programming.  It certainly wouldn’t be adequate for a longer flight, but on this short flight I kept the in-flight map up the whole time.  I passed time after the meal by snoozing and looking out the window as we flew parallel to the eastern coast of Japan on our approach to Narita.

I’ll post a full review of the flight later, but I did want to post my initial impressions of the flight.  Though I realize Air China is offering a newer product on its newest airplanes on routes to North America, this short sample of its Forbidden Pavilion First Class certainly did not leave me anxious to experience it on a longer, Trans-Pacific flight!

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.