Why I am Giving Up On United

Sometimes, you just have to wonder what the people in the C-suite are thinking. I know in theory the people running enormous companies like United Airlines are well educated, experienced and again in theory, competent. It’s just really hard to square that commonly held belief with the actions I have seen from United since it merged with Continental back in 2010.

I am no airline industry financial analyst, but it seems to me that the leisure travelers and those who always hop on the lowest fare come and go. The highest value customers for any airline are going to be the elites. This is for the simple reason that they are flying at a minimum 25,000 miles/year with a specific airline and or their alliance partners. Granted many are flying hundreds of thousands of miles/year, but even the lowly silver elite racking up 25,000 EQM’s/year is doing a good deal more flying than your average passenger.

It logically follows that if these elites are your core customers and the ones that bring you steady and fairly substantial streams of revenue, it would be in your best interest to keep them happy, keep them loyal and keep them from defecting to another airline/alliance.

This is where my assumption about the competence of our corporate overlords is called into question. Since the merger, Jeff Smisek and United have gone out of their way to kick sand in the eyes of their elites.

I think any heavy United flier will agree that every aspect of the flight experience from the booking process to catering to dealing with IRROPS, hell even down to the ratty blankets we now get on domestic flights (if you’re lucky enough to be in First and get a blanket at all) has gone way downhill. This is strike number one. The merger of United and Continental to form the world largest airline could have been a move towards a giant, global prestige flag carrier, the likes of which the U.S. hasn’t had since the days of Pan Am. Instead, it’s been a race to the bottom to see how close a full service carrier can come to operating like a LCC while still charging full service prices.

I could go on for pages about the problems at United, which are legion, but for the sake of brevity, I will only hit a few more of the major gripes.

TOD upgrades. UA elites know what I’m talking about here. A policy was put into place that elite members were given unlimited domestic upgrades from coach to first on domestic flights when space was available. This meant high level elites stood a pretty good chance of clearing a good % of their upgrades, a sort of thank you from the airline for flying 75,000 or 100,000 miles each year. Then United started selling day of departure tens of dollar upgrades at check-in. These are available to all travelers, and in fact are often priced lower for non-elites than for loyal elite members. Officially United claims they don’t sell TOD upgrades until all eligible elites have cleared into upgrade available seats, but in practice this isn’t the case. You can say elites should not act entitled to those seats, but United has told them they ARE entitled to those seats, and then it sells them out from under them. This lack of transparency is one of the more troubling things about the current situation at United and is a classic case of shortsighted mismanagement. Sure, you will see a modest initial bump as a few yokels throw in an extra $40 for a first class upgrade, but in the long term, you are going to have high value customers who are flying 50+ times a year on United leaving your airline for greener pastures.

PQD. United decided that just flying 100,000 a year with them wasn’t enough. Now if one wants to earn top tier status, the bifurcated qualification system is 100,000 miles flown and $10,000 spent every year. Mind you this isn’t 100,000 miles flown on United and all partner airlines (as it is now), or $10,000 flown on Star Alliance carriers, the miles flown and $’s spent only count if the flights are on UA metal, or on UA issued tickets with UA flight #’s operated by partners. This essentially removes the ability to pick and choose what airline within Star Alliance to fly with and often times forces more indirect routing if the flight have to have a UA flight # and you need to go somewhere UA doesn’t fly. This is a huge blow for a number of reasons. First, United, like most domestic carriers is garbage. If I am going to pay $3,000+ for a business class ticket, I would like to fly on a foreign carrier that remembers that service is more than a safety demonstration and a gruff grunt when wheeling the drink cart past. When Star Alliance was formed, the ideal was for cooperation between the carriers, so that it might feel like one global airline with many component members. United is clearly drawing back and trying to keep all of their fliers captive and on their planes…perhaps they don’t want us to see how the other half lives. The other dangerous part of this is that since United is keeping it’s elites captive, it can essential set prices wherever it wants. Many people will stick by United, and this will allow them to creep prices upwards until they find the exact price of loyalty, the tipping point at which jacked up rates cancel out the desire for status and instead push people away from the airline. This coupled with the already inflated fares they are able to charge business people who require close in bookings, or those whose companies have corporate contracts with the airline means two things for the average flier, and neither of them are good. Higher prices, and a lower level of service, because hey…what are you going to do about it?

The milespocalypse. The PQD announcement was a fairly large blow and started a wave of defections to other airlines, although to be fair, Delta had already implemented a revenue component into their elite structure as well. However, there was still value in United.

Redeeming airline miles for premium cabin award flights is one of the best value propositions out there. You can earn miles through credit card spending, signup bonuses, flying and a host of other ways. These miles can then be cashed in for flights that would otherwise have cost 10’s of thousands of dollars. United had one of the most favorable award charts in the business and perhaps THE most lax routing rules as well. For example one could fly roundtrip to Europe from anywhere in North America in business class for 100,000 miles. This might cost $5-$50 in taxes and the routing allowed for a stopover, a destination and two open jaws. Additionally, all international connections under 24 hours counted as connections not stopovers.

Just to explicate what that means, the following would have been a permissible business class routing. New York to Toronto on Air Canada with an overnight stop in Toronto. The next evening Toronto to Paris on Air Canada Business. A stopover of any length of time you would like in Paris followed by a flight from Paris to Munich in Lufthansa business class (overnight sub-24 hour stop optional), Munich to Istanbul on Lufthansa or Turkish (sub-24 overnight stop optional) then Istanbul to Tbilisi, Georgia on Turkish, with a stop in Tbilisi (your destination) for as long as you like. Utilizing the first open jaw, you could buy a ticket with $ from Tbilisi to anywhere in Europe, for this example, let’s say you chose to fly to Cyprus. Whenever it’s time to go home, you could get on a plane in Cyprus, connect to Athens, perhaps from there to Zurich and then get on a Swiss Air business class flight to Los Angeles and finish your trip there. The possibilities were endless. Then came the 2/1/14 announcement.

United effectively terror bombed the MileagePlus program. The new award chart slated to go into effect 2/1/14 introduces another two tiered system and a further rift between United and the Star Alliance. The new United chart has different prices for awards flown wholly on United metal, and those awards flown with partners. Across the board, the redemption rates for economy awards went up only a modest amount and on some routes remained the same. This is because redeeming miles for coach tickets isn’t as a good a return on your miles and is cheaper for United.

Rates on United only awards went up a modest 15% or so for premium cabins, but the Star Alliance chart is a bloodbath. Business class awards have gone up 20-40% across the board and first class redemptions have gone up a staggering 40-80%. Since many fliers hold on to their miles until they can redeem for first class tickets, as this is the best value proposition, their miles have effectively been halved in value. With the old award chart a roundtrip first class award from anywhere in North America to anywhere in Southern Asia was 140,000 miles + fees. Under the new award chart, such a trip will now be 120,000 miles EACH WAY. As an added bonus, they have added an ambiguous kicker that “some” roundtrips will not be eligible for stopovers, so while you will now pay MUCH more for your trip, the routing rules will be significantly tightened so that you get much less for those miles.

This final nail in United’s coffin has made their loyalty program utterly useless. The airline has slowly eroded anything that might keep elites happy. First the quality of the little things began to go, then they started messing with the upgrade system. Next United effectively removed the option to travel on partners and then finally they dismantled the award redemption program. There’s nothing left for me, or most UA elites here now. Just the emptied out husk of what could have been a great airline. They’re a few quarters from becoming Southwest with widebody aircraft, and I don’t think I need to stick around for the death rattle. Goodbye United, I have decided to (and it pains me to even type this, because I HATE this airline) to jump ship to American. They have old, dirty planes and surly crew, but at least they treat their elites well, they have a quality partner network in OneWorld, and their award chart is better even than the pre 2/1/14 UA chart, even if it won’t allow me the ridiculous and complicated routings I enjoy so much over the past few years. Such is the state of American aviation. While I am kicking United to the curb, and the airline is seemingly a case study in how to alienate your most profitable customers and hurt the bottom line, I have to thank them for the past few years. If not for UA awards and absurd routings like New York-San Francisco-Hong Kong-Bangkok-Phuket, Bangkok-Bali-Singapore-Munich-Moscow-Houston-New York, I would have seen much less of the world, and I would be a lousier person for it…so thank you, and goodbye.

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Never A Dull Moment

DJ B738 VH-YIE

DJ B738 VH-YIE

In the planning stages for this trip, we all agreed that after the long stretch of travel getting down to Australia, and a Saturday night out in Sydney it would be best to book our flight to Melbourne after noon.

When I came to in the morning, surprisingly un-hungover, I noticed that N had somehow been awake and alert enough to go out and bring back breakfast for everyone.

We piled our clothes back into our bags and began to survey the room before heading back to the airport. That’s when the problems began.

By virtue of my black status, not only had the hotel upgraded us, but they had also sent up a free bottle of wine. As I’m sure many of you know, when a hotel gives you a free bottle of wine, it’s usually total crap. You can raise the odds of the free wine being barely drinkable swill when the hotel in question is on the level of the Park Royal.

Nevertheless, N grabbed the bottle, popped the cork and told the group it would be wrong to waste alcohol. He poured himself a tall Collins glass sized helping, and poured a second for me. N2 continued to protest, and looked like he was about to vomit. I have no great love of drinking bad wine at 10 in the morning, but N did have a point…and anyways, I was still a bit drunk from the night before.

When drinking barely potable crap wine, it’s best to do it as quickly as possible. Down it went. N poured himself a second glass, and N2 finally relented and took some of the red stuff. When N attempted to refill me, I told him absolutely not. We grabbed our bags and went to hop a cab. It was going to be one of those days.

 

DJ at SYD

DJ at SYD

Going to the airport in Australia is incredibly painless. I had checked in online and gotten a mobile boarding pass on my phone. When going through security, they don’t check your boarding pass or your ID, and you don’t have to take your shoes off, or any of that junk. I don’t think they even have restrictions on liquids/gels when flying domestically.

We were flying Virgin Australia, but in Y, so there was no lounge access to be had. Once we identified the finger our flight was going to be leaving off of, we found the nearest bar and ordered ludicrously overpriced beers. The bastards who own that bar really know how to stick it to their captive audience.

We got a few rounds down before it was time to head to the gate. As we arrived at the gate, both N and I stopped, took our phones out and took pictures of the plane. We then turned to N2 and shrugged our shoulders. N is a pilot, and he flew with Netjets during college before opting to go to law school rather than sign on with an airline. He’s also a little bit gay for planes.

The flight, like every other Virgin Australia flight I’ve been on was very pleasant, and at least half empty. This Boeing 737-800 (Registration VH-YIE) hadn’t yet been fitted with DirecTV, so there was no IFE. While that was less than ideal, the flight time was just over 1-hour, and I had managed to grab 13A, an exit row. What’s more, I was the only person in my row. I am always happy when I don’t have to sit next to anyone.

DJ Cabin

DJ Cabin

I had two beers on the way there, and enjoyed the flight. On a trip back to the lav, I found N2 passed out with his mouth agape. Once N caught my eye and was focused on the scene, I smacked N2 hard across the face, waking him up in a scramble. He did not find it nearly as amusing as N and I did.

Shortly after the wheels hit the ground, we were off the plane, and on our way outside.

In Melbourne we were going to be staying with my friend Biggles. This of course is not his real name, but rather a nickname bestowed upon him by another friend. For reasons that are still not clear to me, his nickname is taken from the primary protagonist in a series of racist children’s book about a pilot/adventurer in WWI.

Before we hopped on the DJ flight in SYD, I told Biggles we had already started drinking, and to pick us up with some beers.

After some confusion as to where exactly we were, Biggles rolled up in a white 1960’s Mustang, and sure enough, when I got in the passenger side, there was a 6’er of VB on the floor. We jammed our gear in the tiny trunk, passed the beers out and set off for Chez Biggles.

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Day Drinking Rose in Sunny Sydney

Chill, fratty dog

Chill, fratty dog

It’s strange. When you don’t travel a lot, and you visit a place, you worry that you might never return. I used to feel that way. Every trip could be the last chance to see a place. Since getting into the miles game, and realizing that I basically have the freedom to travel anywhere on earth in first class for less than $300 whenever I have the time and inclination to do so, it makes it a lot easier to relax and know that if you like a place, you can always come back.

A few years ago, going to Australia would have seemed like a herculean task, requiring planning and lots of money. Not something that you would do probably more than once a decade, if there were ever a second trip at all.

This was my second trip to Australia in 2012. I had landed in Sydney in late January of ’12, and now in late December, I was back. This time I came with reinforcements.

I woke up refreshed in Sydney, since I had slept almost the entire way down from Bangkok. N2 and I found each other on the immigration queue. After being stamped into Australia, we found the luggage carousel and waited. N2 has checked a bag, like an amateur. Our other friend N, was on the United flight into SYD from SFO. He was due to land about 20 minutes after our scheduled arrival, so we figured we would just wait for him at baggage claim, then all go to the hotel together.

We found out which carousel the United flight was going to empty out on, and went to wait. Before long, he emerged from immigration, and we were all reunited. Bags in hand, we went out to the taxi stand and hopped a cab to Darling Harbor.

The traffic wasn’t bad, and the ride in only took around 20 minutes. I think the fare was 40 or 50 AUD which we split three ways. It was still before 10am so we were worried we wouldn’t be able to check in.

N2 had booked us at the Park Royal Darling Harbor. I didn’t know this in advance, but it is a member of the GHA Hotel Alliance. As a JP Morgan Palladium card holder, I am entitled to comped top tier status with GHA (black status). When I saw the GHA logo upon arrival at the Park Royal, I called the Palladium concierge and had them create a GHA account for me, and enroll me with black status.

With this done, I had N2 add my name to the booking, then I told the desk I was GHA Black and asked about an upgrade. This worked out great, and they were able to upgrade us to a decent suite, and they allowed us to check-in right away.

I was in favor of taking naps before heading out to do anything, but my vote did not carry the day. Good thing I got a lot of sleep on the flight down. We wandered around the Darling Harbor area for a bit, until it neared lunchtime. We all agreed we wanted a place with decent food and the option to drink outside.

Drinking rose in the sun is one of my favorite pastimes, bonus point if it’s done on a beach. I had never had a bad meal at North Bondi Italian before, and it ticked all of our other boxes, so I suggested we hop a cab over to Bondi Beach.

This suggestion received unanimous support, and soon we were on our way to the beach. North Bondi Italian was a little slow, since we got there on the early side, this worked out great for us. We were able to grab a table outside on the patio.

We split some small plates of starters while we got to work on the first two or three bottles of wine.

Once those were in the rear view, we figured it would be prudent to order lunch. I took the pasta with lamb ragout that I had ordered on my last visit to North Bondi Italian. N2 had the same, we both agreed that it was pretty damn good. N ordered a “house specialty” our surly waiter suggested and was very underwhelmed. It was served in a paper bag.

In the end, we bashed our way through somewhere between five and six bottles of rose before it was time to leave. Afterwards, we walked a bit up the beach to a bar I’d been to with my father in January. We had a few pints before realizing we really needed to get back to the Park Royal

Never a bad way to spend an afternoon

Never a bad way to spend an afternoon

I had arranged a dinner for us later that evening. Perhaps two years before, I met this lovely Australian girl S, when she was in New York. She was visiting one of my friends, and we all went out together to Avenue for S’ birthday. When I had been in Sydney in January and February, I had spent more time with S, and so in preparation for this trip, I told her to wrangle two of her girlfriends and have dinner with us.

N, N2 and I grabbed a cab and went back to the Park Royal to shower, change and sober up a bit before dinner.

Sydney isn’t as late starting a town as NYC, so we had agreed to meet S and her friends at The Sailors Club at a reasonable hour.

The girls were already there when we arrived. We had a few cocktails outside while waiting for our table to be ready, then once we were seated, we switched back to rose, since it was still light out and all.

The food at Sailors was absolute crap. Not only was it lousy, but it was overpriced. Typical style over substance place. The wine on the other hand was reasonably priced and continued to go down in superb fashion.

By the time we wrapped dinner, everyone was fairly drunk. The six of us required two cabs. We went next to Double Bay. The first stop was a bar called Mrs. Sippy. It wasn’t so great, so we moved to a place nearly across the street and slightly downstairs. I can’t recall the name, but it was much more fun.

As the night wore on, this bar started to get uncomfortably crowded. S and her friends could clearly not continue at this pace. N2 was also looking slightly worse for wear, as he was eating a handful of coffee beans the bartender gave him in an effort to stay awake. When S and the girls decided to call it a night and go home, the three of us set off for a rancid dive bar I’d been to before, called World Bar.

There was a huge line to get into World Bar, so we started walking up the street, but nothing seemed promising.

When I was last in town, I had written an article about The Ivy, and I knew it would be crowded on a Saturday. N was still worn out from his flight in from SFO, so he said he was going to call it a night.

N2 and I were drunk but unbowed, and we decided to soldier on. We bid adieu to N and hopped a cab to George St.

Pacha (best known as the club in Ibiza) was throwing pop-up parties at The Ivy pool bar throughout the summer on Saturdays. It was Saturday.

We got our tickets, went up in the elevator and hit the bar. N2 has been posted in Japan for about a year now, and in that time, he had developed serious yellow fever. It took a determined effort to get him to stop trying to seek out only asian girls (there were none at this party), and make a go of it with the Aussies.

I exchanged numbers with some Swedish girls who were based in Sydney and working on a cruise ship (weird), and we talked to some other randoms, but there was no luck to be had. It was a still a fun night.

N2 and I somehow got separated on the way out of The Ivy, but our cabs pulled up to the Park Royal at the same time. He sloppily explained to me that he had slipped out of the bar in order to go to Pie Face and get a steak and cheese pie, and that it had changed his life.

It was after 4am at this point, and we had a reasonably early flight the next day, so we went up to the room and passed out.

 

Park Royal Darling Harbor Report Card

 Pros: Decent location, upgrades & other amenities for GHA black.

 Cons: Outdated rooms that were no particularly nice, no gym, crappy common area, a very second rate hote.

Verdict: Even with the GHA black perks (in this case, upgrade to a suite, a complimentary bottle of wine and club floor access [accidental]) I wouldn’t stay at this property again. Not until they renovate it.

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The Long Road to Australia: Thai on The Kangaroo Route

TG Boeing 747-400 HS-TGY BKK-SYD

TG Boeing 747-400 HS-TGY BKK-SYD

The flight in from ICN had parked at an apron position. I shuffled towards the airstairs, ready to be jammed into a bus that would bring me towards the terminal. I was a connecting F passenger, but I didn’t think TG would pick me up until after I got into the terminal, I was wrong.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, there was a TG staffer holding a placard with my name on it. He pulled me off to the side, and into an air conditioned van. I was apparently the only connecting F passenger, and I got nasty looks from the other passengers waiting for the big bus.

The van dropped me off at the terminal, and more TG employees led me upstairs to a waiting golf cart. From there, I was driven to the F lounge and checked in.

No matter how many times you go through BKK, TG’s ground handling for their F passengers is always impressive, if a bit over the top.

Yea, they drive you to the lounge

Yea, they drive you to the lounge

I was in the F lounge now, but I couldn’t stay. I left my carry-ons in the lounge staff’s charge and went off to find N2.

He had landed in BKK the night before, and in the eventuality that our phones were not working, as mine was not at the moment, I told him to meet me in front of door 1 at a time we had previously agreed upon.

I was already slightly late, so I hustled to the border. Again, I had to explain to the immigration agent that I had no hotel listed, because I was only entering Thailand for a few hours (it actually turned out to be a few minutes in this case).

I went past customs, upstairs to departures and outside. I found N2 waiting in front of door 1 with his gear.

We hadn’t seen each other since I was last in Japan in March, so we caught up briefly, he started to tell me about his exploits in Bangkok the night before, and then we went back inside the much cooler confines of the airport.

I was traveling in F to SYD, and N2 was in J. We were on the same flight. I already had my boarding pass, but I ducked into the F check-in area with N2, and we decided we would try to see if there was a way for him to buy up to F.

I gleaned two things from my conversation with the agent, one good, one bad. Unfortunately for N2, F was booked full 9/9. Fortunately for me, there were 9 F seats on our 747-400, which meant I was going to be on one of the TG 74R’s that had been fitted with TG’s newest suite product.

In the time leading up to this trip, the internet had been showing that the 74R would be the equipment on my flight, but this is TG. You never know what you’re actually going to get until you arrive at the airport.

N2 got his boarding pass and arranged for a J seat on the upper deck, as he’d never flown on the upper deck of a 747 before. We went through Thai’s private security and their immigration checkpoint. They stamped me back out of Thailand and I set a new personal record for shortest visit to a country. I think I was officially “in” Thailand for maybe 15-20 minutes.

Another TG golf cart brought me and N2 back to the F lounge, I guested him in, and we settled into some seats. The Beach was playing on the lounge TV and it seemed appropriate that the iconic movie about backpacking in Thailand would be randomly playing while we were in the TG lounge.

We had a solid 4-5 hours to go until boarding, so we ordered some Dom and asked for food menus. I told N2 that the club sandwich was pretty great, and he decided to follow my lead.

TG FCL Club Sandwich

TG FCL Club Sandwich

After lunch and champagne, it started to get harder and harder to keep my eyes open. I love flying, but at some point, your body is not that happy about it. I had flown 14 hours from JFK to ICN, spent ~12 hour in a hotel, and I was now about 12 hours into this day, with six of those hours having been spent on a plane, and roughly 11 of those 12 hours spent either in the airport or on a plane.

About an hour an 20 minutes before boarding, it was time for my massage appointment. I drifted in and out of consciousness during the complimentary 1-hour massage, and when it was over, I was left feeling very relaxed. I took a hot shower, slapped myself in the face and tried to pep up a bit.

Back in the lounge, N2 and I counted down the final minutes until boarding. When the appointed hour arrived, a TG staff member called boarding for TG 475 to Sydney, and we got moving.

Boarding had already begun, and we were escorted right to the door of our 747-400, registration HS-TGY and handed off to the cabin crew.

I think the new suites on the 74R’s are fantastic. There is much more privacy than the old F product, although obviously less than you have on the wet-leased 9W 77W’s with closing suite doors. The seat was very comfortable in seat mode and while lounging, but it was truly spectacular in bed mode. Maybe it’s because these seats haven’t been through the wringer yet, but this was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in on a plane. The one down side, is due to the size and # of the suites in the nose, it feels a bit cramped in the aisles. The old 7443 configs on TG had a very open and spacious feeling cabin. I don’t mind this at all though, as I like being isolated in the little world of my suite and forgetting other passengers are on board.

TG 74R F Cabin

TG 74R F Cabin

 

 

 

 

Suite 1K

Suite 1K

 

 

 

 

TG 74R F Cabin

TG 74R F Cabin

 

 

 

 

Seat control panel

Seat control panel

 

 

 

 

TG 74R F Cabin

TG 74R F Cabin

 

 

 

 

My seat

My seat

 

 

 

 

 

TG 74R F Cabin

TG 74R F Cabin

 

 

 

 

 

I drank more Dom before takeoff, because that’s what you do on TG. This was the first TG F flight I’ve ever been on with a full F cabin. I think there were a lot of mileage redeemers, and possibly other FlyerTalk readers based on the # of pictures of the cabin, seats and food I saw being snapped. The weirdest part of boarding was when two guys came up to the F cabin, posed for a bunch of pictures, then left to go back to their seats in coach. It was weird because 1. Why? What’s the point of even doing that? And 2. That the TG cabin crew allowed them to walk into a cabin other than the one they were traveling in. TG is always laid back and friendly, but not always super professional.

Once we got up in the air, it was terrible movie time again. I had tried watching Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter once before at the end of a very long night, and I fell asleep well before the end. I knew that the movie was going to be awful, but based on the title, I had to watch it.

This kept me busy during the meal service, which in typical TG fashion, left a lot to be desired. My notes from the flight are sparse. Outside of the aircraft registration, and the name of the movie I watched, the only things written are “I am sooo tired,” and “compared to Asiana, this is amateur hour.”

Water & Dom PDB

Water & Dom PDB

 

 

 

 

Nuts & canapes

Nuts & canapes

 

 

 

 

Table setting

Table setting

 

 

 

 

Caviar

Caviar

 

 

 

 

Shredded Chicken Salad Thai Style

Shredded Chicken Salad Thai Style

 

 

 

 

Mushroom Cream Soup with snail and truffle oil

Mushroom Cream Soup with snail and truffle oil

 

 

 

 

Main Course

Main Course

 

 

 

 

Dessert

Dessert

 

 

 

 

 

The shredded chicken salad and the caviar were almost the only edible parts of the meal service. Most of the rest I just mashed around with a fork until the crew took the plates away. Given that this is an overnight flight, and most people want to sleep, the crew took an unreasonably long time in clearing courses and serving the next. Also they forgot to serve the palate cleansing sorbet. By the end of the meal service, I was nodding in and out. I think for the cheese course (which I didn’t eat anyway) and the dessert (which was pretty good) the FA had to tap me until I woke up, prior to serving me.

When the meal service ended, I forced myself to gut it out for the last few minutes of the horrible, horrible war crime of a movie. When the credits began to roll it was mercifully time for sleep.

Suite 1K in bed mode

Suite 1K in bed mode

 

 

 

 

IFE Screen

IFE Screen

 

I asked the FA to do the turndown service and went to the bathroom to change. TG have phased out of the old purple pajamas, which I rather liked. Their new ones are gray. The tops have a zip neck and the pants have pockets. They are certainly higher quality than the old ones, but they aren’t purple. Also, for those who care, the Tumi amenity kits were offered on this flight, not the popular Rimowa ones.

I asked the FA not to wake me for breakfast, and I was out like a light almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. The bed was soft and comfortable, and I slept fantastically.

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The Long Road to Australia: The Marathon Begins

TG B773 HS-TKA ICN-BKK

TG B773 HS-TKA ICN-BKK

Coming home from a long night when the sun is already up is one thing. Waking up to start the day while it’s still dark out is quite another. I could see my breath as I waited in front of the Hyatt Regency Incheon for the shuttle to bring me back to the terminal.

Once inside, I found the TG J counters and got my boarding pass (Seat 16K). While all my previous flights in or out of ICN have arrived at the main block of gates, this flight was from a satellite portion of the airport, and I had to hop a tram to get there.

In this annex to the main terminal, there was an Asiana lounge. I had arrived in OZ F less than 24 hours before, and I was now poised to depart in TG J. The rules get a little hazy about exactly what gets you FCL access at ICN. As I mentioned, last time I arrived at ICN in OZ F, I was departing the next day (sub-24 hours) in OZ J, and I managed to talk my way into FCL access. I was in a similar situation now, but with the added hurdle of departing in TG J as opposed to OZ.

In the annex portion of the airport, the lounge is divided with a business class section to the right, and first to the left, not wholly separate lounges like in the main terminal.

I tried my best to charm the girl at the desk, but she said that since I was departing in TG J, there was nothing that she could do, but had it been an OZ J departing flight, she would have bent the rules and granted me access. No great loss, it was early in the morning and I really just wanted a reasonably comfortable chair to sit in and some free wifi.

OZ J Lounge at ICN

OZ J Lounge at ICN

OZ J Lounge at ICN

OZ J Lounge at ICN

The J section of the lounge wasn’t too crowded. I set an alarm on my phone just in case I were to nod off, wouldn’t be good to miss the flight to BKK. This turned out not to be an issue, as some asshole family brought their bleating infant into the lounge and it didn’t stop screeching at max volume for the next hour.

I know that my dream of having airlines force children under let’s say the age of five to ride underneath the plane with the other animals is unlikely to come to fruition. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for airline lounges to ban children under a certain age.

The people who are using the lounges have either 1. Paid for an expensive membership, 2. Flown enough to qualify for access based on status or 3. Are traveling on expensive premium cabin tickets. They use the lounge to try to get a measure of calm and tranquility before being herded into an enclosed space with hundreds of strangers for a few hours. I don’t think it would be out of line for the airlines to keep children out of the lounge if they can’t help but scream their heads off at 6:30 in the morning. I don’t see why a family who wants to travel with a child they can’t control should be able to impose their little bundle of joy on everyone else. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…such are the horrors of commercial air travel.

I tried to reseat myself a few times, getting further and further from the wailing epicenter of crying baby, but no matter how close to the fringes of the lounge I got, the cries would echo and carry. I went to the gate early in order to escape.

Our chariot to Bangkok was a Boeing 777-300, registration HS-TKA. I had only previously been on the TG 777’s that they have wet leased from 9W. These 777’s are in a two-class configuration, with business set up 2-2-2. The seats are of the angled lie flat variety, and are the same as the ones that TG have on their most up to date A330-300’s.

Like a fool, I had been relying on seatguru, whose hugely out of date information told me that all of TG’s 777-300’s had old style recliners. I thought that seemed a bit odd for a six hour flight, but I had no choice as this TG ICN-BKK flight was the only way for me to get to BKK on time to meet my connection on to SYD. Upon boarding and finding these, newer, more comfortable shell style seats, I was a happy camper.

TG B773 J Seat

TG B773 J Seat

TG B773 J Cabin

TG B773 J Cabin

As I mentioned, my strategy for this marathon day of flying, was to stay awake for the six hours from BKK-SYD, meet my buddy N2 at BKK, guest him into the F lounge, have some lunch, get a massage then board the flight to SYD and sleep soundly until touchdown.

Luckily for me, TG had a number of movies loaded in the IFE system that I hadn’t seen, and was not totally averse to watching.

Shortly after takeoff, I started The Election. Will Ferrell has been phoning it in a lot recently, seemingly just taking any script thrown his way for the paycheck. Thus, I didn’t expect a lot from this movie. I was pleasantly surprised. It was much funnier than I had expected, and there were a few genuine laugh out loud moments.

The meal service was so-so. You never expect Thai to knock it out of the park, even in F, so for a J meal service, it was about what you would imagine.

PDB

PDB

Bag of nuts

Bag of nuts

Prawn balls

Prawn balls

Smoked salmon

Smoked salmon

Main course

Main course

Cheese

Cheese

Blueberry walnut cake

Blueberry walnut cake

After the meal and the first movie, I watched Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World. Keira Knightly…also very hot. It was a pretty good movie, and I must say (nospoiler) that I was surprised with the way it ended. Hollywood usually pulls some deus ex machina crap at the end to tie everything up in a happy, convenient bow.

After Seeking, there was still a good bit of time left in the flight, so I figured I would try to get one more movie in before arrival. I went with The Amazing Spiderman. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t they just reboot the Spiderman franchise with Toby McGuire like 5-7 years ago? Was it necessary to reboot it AGAIN already? Does no one in Hollywood have an original idea?’

Retread gripes aside, it was a reasonably entertaining way to spend 1-2 hours.

By the time Spiderman ended, we were very close to touchdown. I always like taxiing at BKK. Due to Thailand’s geographic position in the world, there are always planes from all over the place sitting at the gates at BKK. It’s not everywhere that you see Druk Air.

We pulled up to an apron position. It was time to stow my winter coat, we were back in the heat.

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Overnight At Incheon

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

It was cold when I landed in Korea…very cold. Other than this one night in Incheon and a night in Japan on the way home, I would exclusively be in warm climates, so I hadn’t packed much in the way of winter clothes.

I walked out of the terminal at ICN, zipped up my leather jacket, pulled my scarf tight around my neck and waited for the shuttle to the Hyatt Regency.

I knew that the Hyatt was close to the terminal, but I had no idea just how close. Once you get on the shuttle it’s maybe a two-minute ride.

I was seated towards the front of the bus, so I was one of the first out the door. I had no large bags to drag around, so I went right to the desk and checked in. I had hoped my Platinum status would get me an upgrade to the club floor, but I had no such luck. It was around 6pm by the time I got to the hotel, and even though I had slept a bit on the plane, I was pretty beat.

I originally planned to drop my stuff off, go to the gym, have dinner, then wake up very early and get ready for my flight. The exhaustion and jetlag changed my plans. Around 7:30pm, I decided I’d just lie down for a minute. You know how that goes.

Luckily, I had set my alarm for 5am before lying down. I slept straight through from 7:30pm-5am, woke up to the blaring klaxon on my iPhone and got out of bed.

I had confirmed the night before that the gym was open 24/7, so I tugged my shoes on, went down to the dark lobby and poked around until I found it. It was a reasonable hour in NY at 5:15am Korean time, so I didn’t feel sluggish. My strategy was to wake up very early, work out, then try to stay awake as long as possible on my ICN-BKK flight, so that once I connected to BKK-SYD, I could quickly fall asleep and wake up reasonably refreshed in Sydney.

For some reason this graphic was amusing to me at 5:15am

For some reason this graphic was amusing to me at 5:15am

I hadn’t unpacked any of my bags the night before, so after I showered up, I packed my running shoes and toiletries and went back down to the lobby to check out and wait for the shuttle.

What can I say, it was an airport hotel. It felt more like a real hotel than most airport hotels do, but let’s be honest, unless you have a short layover, or you have to be at the airport very early in the morning, no one chooses to stay at the airport.

 

 

 

Hyatt Regency Incheon Report Card

 Pros: Incredibly close to Incheon, 24/7 gym, nice lobby, decent rooms.’

Cons: It’s an airport hotel, the rooms are so-so and you’re at the airport.

Verdict: If I had a short overnight and had to be at ICN early in the AM, of course I would stay here. However, if I was only in town for one night and didn’t have to be at ICN the next day until say 11am or noon, I would deal with the ride to and from Seoul and stay in town.

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The Long Road to Australia: Asiana to Asia

OZ Boeing 777-200 HL7775 JFK-ICN

OZ Boeing 777-200 HL7775 JFK-ICN

It had been almost ten months since the drunken night in Singapore when I stumbled home to my hotel, got my laptop out and booked the flights that would form the backbone of my New Year’s trip.

I had been looking forward to this flight for a long time. I suppose most of the world was excited for Dec. 25th…I was more excited for Dec. 26th. I wanted to get to JFK, get on board that Asiana 777-200, and get hurtling towards the southern hemisphere.

If you’ve been reading this long, you may have noticed I have an affinity for planes. I won’t call it mental illness, but I definitely like flying more than the average person. While most people are trying to spend as little time on planes as possible, I am usually dismayed when tailwinds cause us to arrive early on a long haul flight. I think 12-14 hours is a pretty ideal flight time, and as we speak I’m planning a trip that incorporates the Newark-Singapore non-stop which clocks in at 18.5 hours flight time. I suppose you could say I come at these trips from a different perspective.

Keeping that in mind, I feel a sense of excitement and anticipation every time I head to the airport to kick off a new trip. It’s not just the flight of course, it’s the desire to see a new place, meet new people and have new experiences. The flight is part of the total package though.

Over the past few years, I have really ratcheted the traveling up, and have been logging close to or over 100,000 BIS (butt in seat) miles per year. Of those many long hours spent in pressurized metal tubes, I have been lucky enough to spend a significant portion of them in the pointy end.

While I have a fairly wide base of competing first class products to use for comparison, I still have to say that Asiana ranks very highly on my list.

Along with Lufthansa, I think they have the best food. Their Pajamas are probably in my top-5 favorites and while their seat isn’t the most luxurious or private, I always sleep incredibly well in it. Asiana really excels with people though. I think Asiana crews are the best of the lot. I don’t like making definitive ranking statements and declaring any one airline “the best,” but Asiana is definitely in the discussion. They are in my personal top-5.

After spending Christmas with my family, I woke up very early on the 26th. I surprised myself by following through on a threat to workout before going to the airport, as I thought it would be best to do some activity before sitting for 14 hours.

I got to JFK about 2.5 hours before our scheduled departure. As is almost always the case when flying OZ out of JFK, the F check-in counter was occupied by a business class passenger who determined that they were too important to wait on the business class line and just needed to be served right away.

OZ F Check-in JFK

OZ F Check-in JFK

I hate whining about such inconsequential things, but really. If you don’t want to wait for the business counters to free up then buy a first class ticket. Why should I have to wait to use the proper counter because you have an inflated sense of self worth. The kind of people who do this are arrogant, inconsiderate and probably molest children or small dogs.

Once the fantastically important master of the universe who needed to cut over to the first class line finished checking in and trod off into the sunset, I was finally able to approach the counter and check-in.

I asked if I would be able to use the F lounge in ICN since I was arriving in OZ F, even though I would be landing in the late afternoon and not departing until the next morning, and I would be leaving on a TG J flight. The girl at the desk said she wasn’t sure. She checked with a supervisor and then told me she didn’t think it would be possible, but to try my luck in ICN.

Last time through ICN I had managed to swing FCL entry by saying that even though it wasn’t the same day as my arrival, my F flight landed less than 24 hours before my departure and it could be construed as same day, since it was within that 24 hour window. No dice this time.

With my ticket in hand, I walked around the terminal for a bit before settling in the pitiful Swiss Business Class lounge. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This lounge is a dump. It’s basically just a barren room with white walls. At least there’s free wifi.

LX J Lounge JFK

LX J Lounge JFK

View from the lounge

View from the lounge

LX J Lounge JFK

LX J Lounge JFK

For some reason I was very cranky on that particular day, and I managed to find something about almost every other passenger in the lounge annoying. Luckily, as OZ F is laid out 1-2-1, and I was in a window seat, I knew I wouldn’t be sitting next to any of them for the next 14 hours.

The lounge at JFK is before security, which is of course a preposterous and lousy place to locate a lounge, so I left early since I remembered my amusing security experience last time I flew to Korea. That experience involved old Korean men trying to take their pants off at the metal detector and flabbergasted 80 IQ TSA mouthbreathers desperately trying to figure out how to manage the situation.

There was no geriatric burlesque this time, and I was soon at the gate. I snapped another photo of our ride and waited for the boarding call.

The old Pan Am Worldport

The old Pan Am Worldport

OZ 221 was operated by a Boeing 777-200 (registration HL7775). I was in seat 2K and the load was 4/8 in first class, with all of the windows occupied, and none of the middle seats. As such, I put one of my carry-ons in the middle seat across the aisle from me, and buckled it in, so it would be more easily accessible.

The FA’s came around with slippers, PJ’s and amenity kits. I asked for champagne. Boarding was still in progress, and the FA informed me that they couldn’t serve liquor until the doors were closed. I had a glass of water.

Water & Nuts

Water & Nuts

SWAG

SWAG

Once the doors were closed and we got ready to push, the FA swung back around with a glass of Pol Roger Winston Churchill ’99. I had forgotten I even wanted champagne at that point, but good on her. Quality Asiana service.

I sunk my champagne as we taxi’d into position. Then, you know the drill; engines spool up, down the runway, up in the air.

After takeoff, I watched The Bourne Legacy with the meal service. The movie was way too long, and absolutely terrible, however Rachel Weisz is still very hot…holding up well.

While the movie was not to my liking, the meal service was fantastic.

Menu

Menu

Ricotta stuffed mushroom & smoked salmon

Ricotta stuffed mushroom & smoked salmon

Caviar

Caviar

Marinated shrimp and salmon tartar

Marinated shrimp and salmon tartar

Chick pea soup

Chick pea soup

Mixed salad

Mixed salad

Beef tenderloin steak

Beef tenderloin steak

Pink inside

Pink inside

Fruit & Cheese

Fruit & Cheese

Cheese Cake

Cheese Cake

I had the Korean option last time I flew with Asiana, so I thought this time I would try the western menu, and see how it stacked up. Asiana really lays it on thick. I switched to Taittinger with the meal service and found it inferior to the Pol Roger. The ricotta stuffed mushroom was very good, the caviar was caviar, the soup was ok, but not on par with SQ’s soups. The salad was also very good, but I was most impressed by the steak. It was actually pink inside, not the overcooked hockey puck you expect when you eat airplane steak. Again…well done Asiana.

After the meal service and the conclusion of my crappy movie, I nodded out for a few hours.

Somewhere near the pole

Somewhere near the pole

When I woke up, we still had hours to go, so I watched The Expendables 2. Again, totally terrible, but while Bourne was long and boring, at least Expendables was terrible in the cheesy, predictable way I expected, so it wasn’t an awful experience.

I couldn’t go to sleep and had already seen two crappy movies, so I figured I’d go for the hat trick and I started the Total Recall reboot with Colin Farrell. Surprisingly, this was the best of the three movies I watched on this flight, and both Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are smoking, smoking hot.

I nodded in and out of consciousness until it was time for Asiana to feed us again. This time I went with the Korean option.

Second meal

Second meal

Fruit

Fruit

We got into Incheon slightly ahead of schedule. Last time I was through ICN the immigration queues were unbearable. With this in mind, I was quick to deplane and jet to the border, hoping to beat as many people there as possible.

Almost no one was waiting and I was stamped into Korea pretty quickly. I couldn’t get my phone to connect to the local network at all, which was disconcerting. Luckily, before departing I had checked out where to find the shuttle from ICN to the Hyatt.

The whole time I was in Korea I never got my phone to pick up a 3G network, but if I switched to CDMA, I was able to send and receive texts, but no data. Not sure what the problem was.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a un-enjoyable flight with Asiana, which I’m sure is part of the reason they rank so high in my airline pecking order. This was just leg one of the three leg monster of a journey down under. I was in Korea, and now it was time to get some rest before another day packed full of flying.

Asiana Seat & Cabin Photos

OZ F Cabin

OZ F Cabin

 

 

 

 

Holiday cheer

Holiday cheer

 

 

 

 

Bed time

Bed time

 

 

 

 

Bed

Bed

 

 

 

 

Bed

Bed

 

 

 

 

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