Category Archives: Trip Reports
Last week I took a trip on Delta to a destination in the Southeast. For those that follow my blog you may remember the last time I got on a Delta flight was at the end of 2012 and that was because I had a Delta voucher. Well this trip was for business and the organization that made the arrangements purchased the ticket for me. So, I had no say in the ticket which was fine. The ticket was fairly last minute and when booked therefore I was in the middle-seat on Phoenix-Atlanta. That wouldn’t do so I availed myself of the only option to get out of the middle-seat, I paid $60.00 for an economy comfort seat.
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I originally started planning this trip last July when I booked the “4-mile” deal with United and after they canceled the tickets I said shoot I am going anyways. Michelle and I began truly planning the trip in October when we booked the tickets. So after the jump you have a full trip report from the planning stages to the last flight home.
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It’s lent, the traditional time of Catholic self-loathing before Easter. But you don’t have to be Catholic to hate yourself and desire the most miserable travel experience on the planet. I can help with that, an around the world trip, in coach, on domestic 737s/A320s. This generally only works during the summer, but self-loathing is even worse in the summer. What would such an itinerary look like. Well here is a sample one, I came up with.
Sunday June 23rd Chicago-Toronto-St. John’s-London (Air Canada)
Air Canada 4899 ORD-YYZ CRJ-700
Air Canada 692 YYZ-YYT A319
Air Canada 822 YYT-LHR A319 +1 Day
Monday June 24h London – St. Petersburg
British Airways 860 LHR-LED A320
Overnight St. Pete
Tuesday June 25th, St. Petersburg — Vladivostok
Ural Airlines 385 LED-VVO A320 +1 Day
Wednesday June 26th, Vladivostok – Petropavlovsk
Ural Airlines 385 VVO-PKC A320
Thursday June 27th Petropavlovsk – Anchorage — Chicago
Yakuita Air 509 PKC-ANC 737-700
United 1562 ANC-ORD 737-800 +1 Day.
I have to admit that looks kind of fun.
I left the Conrad a couple of hours before my flight and again cabbed it to BKK airport. The cab driver over-charged me which just reconfirmed that cab drivers are the same everywhere. As I said earlier BKK airport sprawls and that is just the way it is. At the Singapore check-in desk the agent checked me in all the way home to Phoenix and because I was in First/Suites she put me in the first class section of the 777-200 that would be taking me to Singapore. I was excited about this trip and maybe because of that excitement I was underwhelmed by what is supposed to be the world’s most exclusive airline. Anyways I was handed passes for fast-track immigration which allowed me to quickly speed through immigration and security. After that I made a left turn for the long walk down to the Sliver Kris lounge.
The Sliver Kris lounge was nice enough. The lounge was large enough not to feel cramped. It was also bookended by the Thai first lounge and three Thai Royal Orchid lounges. Singapore has five daily departures, so there is only a limited need for a lounge, so for the purpose it served it was good. The thing that bothered me most about the BKK Silver Kris lounge was that there were no restrooms, you had to use the public restrooms just down from the lounge. I was still full from breakfast at the Conrad, so I passed on nibbles until lunch on the plane. The lounge also had free wifi as expected with decent speed, which was not expected when compared to the Thai lounges.
I headed to the aircraft and we boarded on time. This 777-200 was unconverted, there were two rows of F in a 2-2-2 configuration and business was in a 2-3-2 configuration. The first seats I gathered were given out to connecting Suites/First passengers and top tier elites. There was nothing special about the seats, they were recliner seats that had probably been in use as long as the plane had been in use. To be honest with “F” filled 11/12 it felt rather cramped, I would have preferred to be in the business cabin as it was basically empty. Lunch was tasty, I had the spicy pork which was really tasty, to help with that I had SQ’s famous Singapore Sling which was also quite tasty. The one thing I find interesting is that Singapore refuses to serve hot beverages when the seatbelt sign is on. At first that makes sense, but think of all the smooth flights you have been on where the seatbelt sign is also on.
Arrival in Singapore Airport is always interesting you fly over all of the ships waiting to get into Singapore harbor to unload their cargo. Singapore airport was spotlessly clean even in the defacto regional terminal (Terminal one) I arrived in. Singapore is divided into three connected terminals. Terminal 3 serves SQ’s long haul and other airline international flights. Terminal two serves other international flight, and Terminal one serves for lack of a better word Singapore and other airline regional flights (flights around South East Asia). Singapore does security at the gate which gives the entire airport a mall kind of feeling. I wish I had more time to explore it, but as it was I only had a 90 minute connection. I made my way to the Silver Kris lounge in terminal three. Singapore Airlines removed the star gold status from this lounge, so only business, first class, and suites passengers have access to this lounge. I was escorted through the business and first class sections to “The Private Room” the suites and PPS section of the lounge. I was almost instant underwhelmed with the lounge. It was nice, but power plugs were hard to come by, service was slow, and there were no bathroom attendants. While the food was a notch above Thai’s first class lounge offering, the atmosphere took the place down. I had some satay, which was delicious, took a shower, and wandered the terminal for a bit. I changed my remaining Baht into Singapore dollars and bought a mug from Starbucks. It was at this point I had given up all pretense of keeping to two bags. I got a large Starbucks bag and used that as a third carry-on.
I returned to the lounge to collect my stuff and walk to the gate. Walking to the gate I passed the Hard Rock Café Singapore Airport and used my remaining dollars to purchase a shot glass, I ended up twenty cents short, but the clerk gave me a break. I made it to the gate and we boarded on time. I was in suites class it is really first class, the purser was a nice guy. For the Singapore-Hong Kong segment there was only one other person besides myself in Suites, a Chinese woman wearing BA First PJs. I couldn’t decide if wearing PJs from another airline is classy or trashy. You obviously cannot wear previously acquired PJs from the airline you are on. That’s like wearing the shirt of the band you are going to go see, it’s a don’t. I think I am going to say it is ok. We taxied out to the end of the runway, and then turned on to the runway and started taxiing down it. It took me all of two seconds to realize that something was wrong. The First Officer got on the PA and announced there was something wrong in the oxygen system in the cargo hold. We taxied back to the gate. The Chinese woman started freaking out, she was yelling into her phone. As we waited out the two hour delay, she pestered the FA’s so much they hid from her. Eventually it got fixed and we took off.
Seatwise, the seat was ok. The suite concept is cool at first but the more I thought about it I didn’t like. Both the Thai and the Korean air seats had more personal space because it wasn’t taken up with all the silly suite stuff. I would have very much preferred a larger suite. Food wise Singapore to Hong Kong dinner service and Hong Kong to San Francisco has supper service. According to Singapore Dinner service is supposed to be substantial as compared to supper. Supper is more a light dinner thing. I booked the cook and had their famous lobster thermidor. It wasn’t very good. Maybe I am snob maybe I just grew up near Cape Cod and my grandfather was a lobster fisherman but I know what good lobster is supposed to taste like and this was not it. The rest of the meal was filling but unmemorable.
We arrived into Hong Kong late so my goal of jetting down to the UA club to grab a shower was out. I dragged my stuff and myself to the SQ lounge while Singapore attempted a speed turn of an A380. I didn’t eat a thing in the lounge and went to the gate when they called the flight. This time around there was only one empty suite and there were a couple of people in the cabin on the same redemption tickets as I was. I asked the flight attendants if it was possible to pass on supper and go straight to bed. It was. The FA went through the elaborate procedure to convert the seat into the bed. Let me be clear about things that are not clear from other blogs.
It’s not a bed, it’s a cot and it is not a comfortable one. The cot takes about only half the width of the suite so you can have a place to standup inside the suite. While that sounds cool, it reality it is just a waste of space. I slept as much as I could by this point in my travels, but my body clock wasn’t interested. My body clock in fact refused to answer any questions, like what time is it, what day is it, and what is your name. I was still pretty full from dinner so I only had the main course I booked, Lobster Wonton Soup and a dessert. Now that soup was amazing, far better than what came out of Singapore. I mostly just watched TV shows on my way to San Francisco. Scam City seems like a good show, I want to see more of it. Since I sucked it up and went for a third carry-on I purchased the models from the duty free catalog.
Before landing breakfast is served. This is odd as the flight arrives at 7pm, we arrived I think a little after 9pm. I had the Dim Sum offering which was quite tasty.
Finally, we arrived into SFO. I whisked through USCIS on the back of my global entry status and quickly found the bus to the Hilton SFO, which I remembered being nicer the last time I was there. Anyways this ends the report.
1) Korean F needs some work. For a primarily long haul carrier they should have a better premium experience. Asiana is kicking their butt, why anyone would fly Korean F when Asiana F is an option is beyond me.
2) I spend way too much time on a plane.
3) I like the staggered Asiana J more than I thought I would.
4) Singapore and especially their suites product are way overrated. The A380 suite they developed needs a lot of work. Right now it is just a gimmick.
5) The SkyTeam F lounge in LAX is a hole.
So, on this trip I flew LH, TG, KE, and SQ in F time for some rankings.
2) Thai and Korean Air
4) Korean (by a country mile)
Best in-flight food
4) Korean (by a country mile)
Best In-flight service
Best ground service
On a points basis, lower being better
Lufthansa has 8pts (winner)
Thai has 10pts
Singapore has 14pts
Korean has 15pts
So who would I fly? It matches up perfectly with that ranking.
1) Lufthansa, Their new product is excellent, ground service is outstanding, and above all they are consistent.
2) Thai, They have a great product on the ground and in the air, but their lack of consistency especially in regards to service holds them back. Their romantic view doesn’t overcome deficiencies in their lounge and inconsistent service.
3) Singapore, maybe this is a case of the expectations game, but SQ was overrated from start to finish with the sole exception of in-flight service, which was amazing. Also the suite is just plain bad.
4) Korean. Poor Korean, I probably slept the best on their seat and their in-flight service is ok, but everything else needs work. Their lounge would be a domestic united club except for better food selections and there not by much.
You ever have that moment when you wake up and you don’t know what day of the week it is, the time, where you are or possibly your own name? That was me Friday morning, 6 days into this trip and staring at 72 hour trans-pacific turn. The HGI I woke up was as foreign to me as Yangon was. I could have cut it short, canceled my flight on SQ and hopped a CRJ-200 to Phoenix and been home in time for lunch. But no I soldiered on. I showered and packed up my stuff, and hit the airport shuttle. TBIT I said, and TBIT we went. Yesterday you saw some pictures of the land side area of TBIT. It is the nicest part of the terminal the renovation that should be completed sometime this year. Airside there is nothing besides the lounges and the gates. It is a real disappointment, maybe I am just getting old and cynical but that is the trend for the remainder this trip.
I checked in with Korean Air, when I walked up the First Class line was empty but all of the ticket agents were occupied. The agent working the line was beside himself looking for agent to check me in. He found one and again like in Frankfurt I was questioned about a visa to Myanmar. But wait you say, there is no mention of going back to Myanmar. You are correct, my plan was to dump the last RGN segment and head home from Bangkok, which I ended up doing but I’m getting a head of the report. I showed the agent a second copy of my visa on arrival form. Again she checked with her manager who approved it. She couldn’t check me in for my BKK-RGN flight which was fine with me. I made my way through security and into to the Skyteam lounge, which is run by Korean Airlines and is on the other side of the terminal from their gates.
I should have just gone to the gate….The Skyteam F lounge is horrible. It is windowless room, no showers, no real food, no real drink and is incredibly crowded. I didn’t even bother taking any pictures. The highlight was the lounge agent moving a reserved placard around the tables as they emptied and refilled. Reserved for who? We’re first class passengers, who is more important than us? (I don’t think I am very important but in the grand scheme of first class passengers) Anyways boarding was called and I walked down the dark cramped hallway to the gate. I ducked over to check out the new section of terminal.
After checking out the new gates I bounced over to the older side and got on board my flight back to ICN. This flight was exactly the same as the flight over with a couple of exceptions. First, there were duvets despite this being a day flight. There was caviar service on the flight and I paid a visit to the inflight bars. Since the menu was essentially the same as the flight over, I thought I would try the beef, which was rather well cooked even if it tasted like it came from an institutional kitchen.
Lunch service was slimmed down from dinner, I went for the vegetarian option which was reasonably tasty.
During the flight I made my way to both the F class and J class bars. The F class bar is nothing more than a simple setup of self service options. The J class bar actually has a bar tender who will make you one of about 6 or so Absolut cocktails. Apparently, Absolut vodka is subsidizing KE’s A380 fleet so they get a bunch of signature drinks. They were all tasty, due to the dimly lit nature of bar, all of the photos I took came out blurry, so I passed on including them. I was feeling at little peckish during the flight and got the cookies as a snack. They were really tasty they also came with chocolates and saltines of all things.
Due to the extremely strong headwinds over the pacific, the same headwinds that propelled my previous day’s A380 to near supersonic speed, we got in late to ICN. My somewhat tight connection became even tighter. We arrived at the satellite concourse right after another KE a380 and an Emirates’ A380. Needless to say this where KE needs to have buggy service like Thai. It took way too long to get my connecting gate.
This would be an interesting flight. I was on a 777-300, not the ER version so popular today. There were six F seats in a 2-2-2 configuration that seemed a little cramped, even more so when I discovered the other five seats were filled with Russians. There were two couples and one single girl, they were all a mess. The gent to my right was about 55 to 60 years old and his partner was at most 25. I knew they were a couple when she started rubbing on him in a very inappropriate manner. Dear sir most people join the mile high club in the lav not in their seat. Anyways by this time I was really feeling hit over the head so no pictures of food. However, the food demands comment. I went with the ginseng chicken on this flight and that was a mistake. It was supposed to be a soup so I was thinking a nice soup like I had on LAX-ICN. HAHAHAHAHAH I got a whole bone in chicken. I did my best to eat the entire chicken but I simply failed. Well, that was that for the flight, I tried to sleep but I mostly listened to an audio book on my iphone.
I got back to Bangkok and swiftly cleared customs and immigration. Then I cabbed it to the Conrad Bangkok, my only complaint with this hotel is the beds were way too hard. I can’t stand that, but here are some pictures from the hotel.
It’s great place with a decent Breakfast Buffet. I would recommend the Pullman Bangkok for a better breakfast buffet, but I like this hotel better and I go to the US Ambassador’s house. One more post and it is the one you have been waiting for.
Tags: Korean Airlines
Sure I was on Asiana Business, but that’s not why I am here. I am here to fly to Korean Air currently one of the most dangerous carriers in the world. I arrived in ICN feeling dazed and confused. It seems to be the only way I arrive in ICN. ICN is consistently voted one of the world’s best airports, and with good reason. It’s clean, has a ton of amenities, easy to get around, and great looking. In fact the only bad thing I could say about it is, it is a huge airport. So ICN has a main concourse and a satellite concourse. The main concourse is divided right down the middle, the south side belongs to Asiana and the north side belongs to Korean Air. This is nice but it makes it impossible to transfer between the two in arrivals. Well maybe there is a way, but I had to pick up my bag anyways. Korean customs and immigration was as efficient as ever and as soon as I got there I was landside. I made my way back up to check-in and collected my boarding pass. There was no KE premium security line or immigration line, so I hustled through both with the unwashed masses on my way to the KE F lounge. Oh the KE F lounge….
KE’s F lounge was underwhelming at best.
Well maybe mediocre would be a better word. The food was ok, there was not a large selection of what they did have. There were maybe three bottles of non-premium booze if you into well-drinks in the F lounge. I went to get a shower, but there was no attendant. I hit the button to summon an attendant and nothing happened. I waited and waited and still no one. Finally some attendants walk by and discover me and get me into a shower. The shower was nice enough, maybe I was just happy to be in a place where I didn’t have to throw used toilet paper into a waste can or actually pour water over my body which hadn’t seen it in over 24hrs. The food in the lounge showed little improvement as lunch replaced breakfast. Though there was a guy would give you a quick bowl of noodles if you asked.
I got bored and decided to wander ICN before my flight. Here are some of the pictures from that adventure. I really like the fact that ICN themed their piers to look like miniature golf holes. I tried to get some shots of the more human aspects of the airport, I just felt creepy doing so.
I arrived at the gate just in time for boarding to start. There was one line for coach passengers and one line for premium passengers. There were already about 15 or so business class passengers in line and I stood at the end of the line like the good person I am. There was an agent checking boarding passes against passports and kicking coach passengers out of the premium line. He got to me, saw my first class boarding pass and dragged me to the front of the line. I felt like a heel, oh well I got on board first.
Korean Airlines decided to put their F class on the main deck of the A380. The design of their seat was basically the same as Thai with small tweaks. Dinner service would be basically the same as my other two flights in KE F. I had the chili prawns which were good, but not exceptional. If you read the menu for this flight you’ll notice the description of Korean beef on the inside front cover of the menu. Ok great, Korean Air uses organic locally sourced meat, that’s nice I like that. I turned the page to dinner selections and BAM there at the bottom of the page was “all beef comes from Australia or New Zealand.”
Yo Homer tell me.
Service was not impressive at all. It seemed like enhanced business service from start to finish. It is about what I would expect in United Global First, maybe a touch better than businessfirst but not exceptional. In one of the pictures below you see a terrine of fois gras. This the same started that was on my Thai flight to BKK. On the Thai flight it was in a pyramid shape with some lobster. Here it was just a slice dumped on a plate. These are the touches that make the difference between First and Business.
In addition to lackluster service and food, there were not any duvets and turn down service was not offered. All we got for a red-eye flight was the business class blanket. To be honest that was fine with me because KE keeps their cabins somewhere north of blisteringly hot. What was impressive about this flight was the tailwind. We had something like a 200mph tailwind. I did the math we were about 15mph off of breaking the speed of sound. Breaking the sound barrier in an A380 = awesome*.
*Due to physics while we were almost exceeding the speed of sound according to true ground speed, the tail wind would have prevented actually breaking the sound barrier.
Breakfast was an entirely unmemorable affair. We landed early in LAX and we got in behind KE 001 from Honolulu and LAN I think. There was a huge line in Customs and Immigration but thankfully due to Global Entry I was able to speed through both customs and immigration on my way to the street. I hopped the shuttle to the hotel with Robert Horry, an American Basketball player, was staying. I dumped my stuff, relaxed, and headed out. I went to my favorite spot the In-and-Out to get a double-double and snap some pictures of planes.
After in-and-out I loitered in and around LAX. I again tried to grab some people shots from inside TBIT, with limited success.
Finally, I headed out to a local restaurant with a couple of Flyertalkers for beer and burgers. The place was a little too hipsterish for me, but the food was good and the beer list was expansive. Tomorrows exciting adventure takes back to BKK and it will have Russians.
Before I get to the new stuff, let me back up for a moment. On this trip I took four different carriers in international F. LH, TG, KE, and SQ. Each carrier has its own personality that permeates not just the F cabin but all levels of service. LH is known for German efficiency, TG is known for Thai Hospitality, KE is known for being an up and coming carrier, and SQ is known for exclusivity. Of those four carriers and really any air carrier I prefer TG. TG bills flights as “Royal Orchid Service” and you’ll hear that at the start of every flight. Just those very words harken back to the days of when flying was romantic and something to look forward to. While today’s flying experience is decidedly something less than romantic, TG I get the feeling really wants you to actually enjoy the flight, even if flying is not that enjoyable.
Anyways on with the show.
This section will have limited pictures, just because there wasn’t really an opportunity to take a lot of pictures.
I arrive in RGN not knowing what to expect. I have no plans for the five hours that I am supposed to be in RGN and no idea really whether or not I am actually going to be allowed into the country. Supposedly, RGN has gone to visa on arrival for all US citizens, not just those arriving from Myanmar Air flights. I did not use a visa service, nor did I attempt to get a visa in advance from the embassy. I had my visa form, $20.00, and a dream. With great surprise and a total lack of bribery, visa on arrival worked like a charm. Within twenty minutes of arrival I was out the door, through customs, and into Myanmar. Now of all the places on my list of places that colpuck wants to go, Myanmar is pretty close to the bottom. However, in the few hours I was there the city charmed me and I kind of want to go back. But I am getting ahead of myself. Before I even left the airport I had to decide what to do with my damn luggage.
Any expedition into the untamed wilds of metro Yangon would be complicated by my inability to speak the local language, the fact that I look like a gringo tourist, and that I had a suitcase as well as a backpack containing a laptop, cannon DSLR, and an iphone. I went over to the tourism desk and began the complex negotiations to hire a car to take me around the city. We settled on a price, destination, and that the tourism desk would hold my luggage. I gave them my luggage with the knowledge that I would probably never see my suitcase again. I figured that is just the cost of doing business in a third-world country. The backpack was coming with me though, they may get my clothes but they were not getting my electronics.
My driver was a guy named Cuddy I think and we set off for Shwedagon Pagoda. He took me out to his car, which was a fairly new Toyota that even came with seatbelts. I went to put mine on and he looked at me like I was crazy. Cuddy didn’t bother with such things as seatbelts. In fact he had a metal buckle with smiley face on it stuck in driver side seat belt clip in order to disable the seatbelt alarm. I just buckled the seat belt behind me, in order to turn off the alarm and respect cultural norms.
I regretted that decision almost immediately. We passed the airport guard armed with an AK-47 again confirming that I was not in Kansas anymore and headed out. Cuddy in addition to being a cab driver was also a philosopher. I knew this because he frequently deep in thought. So deep in thought in fact that he frequently missed red lights, pedestrians, made illegal u-turns, and my personal favorite drove on the sidewalk.
Outback Steakhouse’s motto of “No Rules, just right,” (don’t lie you read that in an Australian accent.) while applicable to the situation was just a little scary. Going down the sidewalk outside of Yangon University (Where President Obama spoke) all I could think about was not dying and this quote.
Eventually, we made it to Shwedagon Pagoda. I had to lose my shoes and socks at the shrine, but it was awesome. The pagoda is the most famous shrine in Burma and the one of the cover of all of the guide books. Cuddy didn’t speak any English, so he just simply pointed and grunted at the various things I should take pictures of. Stationed around the pagoda were water coolers with communal cups. Judging by the amount of people I saw hauling 5 gallon jugs of water around this I assume is the primary method of water distribution. Cuddy offered me a swig from the cup he was using, but thoughts of cholera and mono danced through my head, so I passed.
After the Pagoda, He took me to a coffee house on the main lake in town. We sat in slience having tea and coffee. I wanted a coke but I wasn’t going to say no to his hospitality. He’s a couple views of the lake.
After that, Cuddy brought me back to the airport. RGN is a small but modern airport I think there is eight gates in total. As I was traveling in Y on this segment, there was no lounge access for me. Also, the TA demanded that I weigh my suitcase, which I got back with nothing stolen. Noticing that the bag weighed 11 kilos she demanded that I check it. She offered to check it all the way to LAX, but rather than risk an OZ-KE transfer, I short checked it to ICN. In the RGN airport the gate areas had the now ubiquitous water coolers, here they had disposable cups so I was able to drink my fill without fear of dying from various Oregon Trail diseases.
The flight to BKK was a brief as the flight to RGN, only now I was in Y and on an A330 as opposed to business on an A300. A meal was served, it was the same as the business class meal I had on the outbound, minus the main course. So, I had a fried fish appetizer and coconut dessert. We landed in BKK and I was already missing the cart service from my F flight that morning. Now, I had to walk BKK and it is no fun, no fun at all. I found my gate and the Business class lounge near there. It was packed, and the internet was atrociously slow. I think TG uses a shared 3G connection for their internet and it is terrible. I grabbed some dim sum and then left the lounge. I tried to get into the Asiana lounge aka the Louis Tavern CIP lounge, but the matron told me to take a hike. I was in OZ business, so I was a little confused about using the lounge. With no improvements to be had, I went to the gate for my flight to ICN.
BKK-ICN at this point was a red-eye. There had been an equipment swap which left me in 2A, I asked for an aisle and was told no. What I didn’t know until I got on the plane was the swap was to the new J configuration. OZ calls it the “Quadra Smartarium” seat, I just call it a derivative of the EK business seat. It’s fully lie flat and I was out like a light. I didn’t eat though I grabbed a copy of the menu on my way out the door in the morning. I was slick enough to grab a couple of shots and here they are. The menu is on the airlines menu page if you want to read it.
Sorry for the blur, I was using my iphone to grab the shots. I promise better ones in the following editions. Tune in for the next exciting adventure of KE F.
The plane landed in FRA on time. It’s dark out and I am exhausted and it is only going to get worse. You remember the gent siting behind me demanding car service? Well he started harassing the first LH rep he saw on the jet bridge. Yeah like I said, he’s not only a jerk but a jerk in multiple time zones. Money doesn’t buy class I guess. Have you been through the wonderfulness that is Fraport? If not count yourself lucky, the airport redefines airport batman show on all levels. So here is the basic rundown on Fraport terminal 1. There are three piers: A, B, C,. C pier is international flights, B pier is divided in half, domestic EU and international 1-19 domestic, 20 and higher international. A Pier is the same as B pier except they have dual use gates; Z gates are international and the A gates are domestic EU. To navigate Fraport successfully you must do three things: one, identify your gate; two, follow the signs; and three, don’t think.
I’m dead freaking serious, do not exercise independent thought when it comes to navigating Fraport.
Ving Rhames in pulp fiction says it best. (NSFW F-bomb)
You know what happens Fraport if you think, you get lost. Period.
Now, back to the story. So I get off the plane and I do the smart move, I follow the signs. But there is a problem, I don’t have a boarding pass for FRA-BKK flight. The LH transfer desk people were less than useless, so I resolved to get as close as I could to the B gates and then reassess. I should back for a second, I arrived in the Z gates and had to change piers to the B gates. I followed the signs and I found myself looking at German immigration; ok I guess I am entering the EU. That dumped me out into the new A pier and I just kept walking. I found the elevator and the underground tunnel to the B gates. I ended up the domestic side of the B-gates, I was so close. I walked to the immigration counter that blocked my way. This immigration officer had some questions for me upon looking at the entry stamp I got moments ago. I had to explain that I was on the flight to BKK and that it left from the B gates. He found that to be an acceptable answer and let me pass.
I got in. Note at no point did I clear transfer security. I cleared immigration twice, but not security. Next stop the B First Class Lounge.
I found the FCL on the second floor of B. The lounge matrons took a few moments to verify my eligibility for the lounge. Lufthansa for reasons best known to themselves has some of the world’s most complicated lounge rules. In fact they are so complicated they had to make a chart. As an arriving first class passenger on LH I was entitled to access the arrivals lounge if FRA was my destination, if I was leaving on an another LH international flight in F I could use the First Class Terminal, If I was leaving on any other flight I could use the First Class Lounges. If I had arrived on an non-LH Star Alliance flight in First I would have been limited to the Senator lounges. My head hurts just typing this.
I don’t have any pictures of the FCL. The lounge is very nice and very quiet. Well quiet except for the Russians who were letting their kids run wild. I had a shower in the First spa. The shower rooms are large and have three foot long shoe horns, clearly so you don’t have to bend over. The only thing I love about the FCL showers is rain showerhead and exfoliator. I like high pressure showers, I think that’s because I am man, maybe not as manly as this guy,
but still a man. I got my girlfriend a duck from the shower attendant who was pleased as punch to get me one. Since I had a five hour layover I signed up for a day room to have a few hours rest. I collapsed in one of the lounge chairs facing the tarmac and took these pictures.
The 744 pictured was my ride in Fraport and would later be headed for BOM. Speaking of whisky I had a JW Blue on the rocks. You know I am not a big fan of scotch whisky but JW Blue was pretty damn smooth. I got some food from the Buffet, passing on the restaurant dining. The catering for LH’s FCLs and FCT is done by Do & Co and it is masterful. I helped myself to some cold cuts and rested while waiting for my day room. At around 9:30 the attendant came and got me for my day room. The room is a bed with some personal space. You can’t turn the lights all the way off and the bed the standard European rock hard twin. That being said I was out like a light. Two hours later, I revived myself grabbed some of the lunch grub and headed for the gate to get my boarding pass.
The B pier seems to have been recently renovated because I do not remember it looking the way it did the last time I was there. I made my way to the TG gate just in time for the gate to open. At the gate I checked in not only for BKK flight but also for my RGN flight. The agent again looking through TIMATIC wanted to know where my RGN visa was. Well I didn’t have an RGN visa. A lot of people got their RGN visa in advance, me no way. I could have used a service but again I am not going to pay double for a service that will charge double the visa cost. I went hardcore straight visa on arrival. I got the form from the RGN US Embassy website and kept it in my passport. The agent looked at the form a minute, asked someone else and cleared me. I have no idea if this was going to work in RGN, but I didn’t care, I just needed the boarding pass to BKK which I got.
I had sometime before boarding, so I went to the Senator lounge close to the gate. I could have gone back to the FCL but it was a 10 minute walk and I decided it wasn’t worth it. I passed the BOM flight where I noticed D-ABVK pushing for departure. TG F passengers get to use the Senator lounge, I would have got in anyways as a star gold card holder, and arriving LH F passenger. The lounge was a zoo. There were a couple of Air Canada flights prepping for departure and the place was packed. The food was pretty good, I had a curry and bread pudding. I didn’t take any pictures because it was packed, but I took some of the ramp.
The money shot didn’t come from the photos but from a gentleman at the food counter. He was helping himself to German sausage and asked the attendant for a couple of “hot dog buns.” The poor attendant who probably was not German looked like he was hit on the head and said they didn’t have any. I don’t think the attendant knew what a hot dog bun is much less that Germans do not eat sausage in a bun.
Well when boarding came an attendant came and escorted us to the gate and onto the plane.
Thai decided to put F on the second deck. This is different from most A380 carriers I think and certainly different from KE and SQ.
You can’t see it in these pictures, but the cream colors TG chose for the seats was a bad idea I think. The white scuffs to easy and despite only being in service what three months now, the seats were already showing wear and tear. These are seats that have to last 10 years and they are already looking damaged.
Also due to the fact that they were on the upper deck they were a little narrower than the KE F seat which is very similar in design to this seat. Service was a best muddled. You know how when you go to a restaurant just after it opens and service is genuine but rough, that perfectly describes this flight. There was just no order to the service. F shared galley space with business class and I think the higher demand of business service negatively impacted F service. Both KE and SQ share a galley with economy.
So food porn time.
The food was very good, and I am sorry about lacking a picture of the salad and the main course it was the duck and it was amazing.
Appetizers, notice the nicely plated terrine of duck.
Breakfast which was ok.
What I regret most about this flight was not getting a shot of the bars in business class and the first class lav. The first class lav had a changing space a little vanity area so you could change into and out of your PJs without being near the toilet. Seriously, who hasn’t thought changing on the toilet is gross. I passed on getting the Thai aircraft model from the duty free because I wanted to save space. I ended up running out of space later in the trip so maybe I should have sucked it up. We landed on-time and went into the E gates I think. BKK is not the biggest airport, but it sprawls like nothing else. It is quite easy to find yourself a kilometer or more away from your gate or lounge. TG provides golf carts for F passengers. However, TG didn’t really think it out. My golf cart had four passengers and one driver. I guess that works if the passengers are fun sized, but we were three burly Germans and me. One of the Germans had to wait for another cart. We sped through the terminal trying not to hit anyone, but still people were jumping out in front of the car GTA style. We made it to transfer security and were escorted into the Royal First Lounge.
Royal First Lounge
People rave about how amazing this place is. I don’t see it, I guess they rave because they get access to the spa and the services there are free. I don’t do strange people rubbing on me, I just don’t. The lounge is all table service, there is a buffet but it is only for you to look at then order from the server. Here are my pictures from the lounge.
Service was slow, the servers rarely made rounds and I had to flag them down several times. I had some fruit (including one redish orange colored piece that tasted like cheese) and a bowl of Thai soup with rice which was quite spicy. I did have a shower which was ok it wasn’t anything memorable. In fact the whole lounge except for the food was meh. They had day rooms, but I didn’t know about them so I didn’t use them. Eventually after a few hours it was time to go; rather than take a golf cart to my gate, I walked. I needed the exercise.
Here is the view from the gate area including my A300 bound for RGN.
BKK-RGN, A300, C
I was inordinately excited about this flight. I would be my first flight on an A300, filling in a gap in my flight memory. The flight was full in C and this is important because the attendants did a full service on an hour long flight. In the US the flight attendants can barely be bother to get out of their jump seats on an hour long flight, these people did a full service with multiple drink runs. Lunch was boiled chicken Singapore style with rice noodles, an appetizer of fried and marinated fish, and a coconut cake dessert. It was all served on a single tray and very tasty. The plane was wired for overhead IFE, but they just kept the flight map up the entire flight. While the A300 appealed to my aviation nutter-self, at the end of the day it was just a short flight in C to Rangoon. The man sitting next to me was Thai but apparently he went to Notre Dame as was unhappy with the turnout of the national championship.
Next up RGN, and my trip to ICN.
With the trip set on Friday for a Sunday departure, it was time to go.
Sunday, January 6th, 0430
BEEP BEEP BEEP. The sound of the alarm clock woke me from dream like state and brought me back to the cold dark world that is 0430 in the morning. Why 0430, because I live just under two hours from the airport, so I need to get up and leave about three hours in advance and I had a 0750 flight to Chicago. The drive to the Phoenix airport is a simple one, I-17 South I-10 East and boom airport. I dropped my car at the parking spot, corporate discount, and trucked over to terminal two. Terminal two is currently the oldest terminal in Phoenix and houses UA, AS, and Great Lakes Aviation, though at some point US Airways had an operation there.
Check-in was a smooth as possible. I had a new passport so I had to enter all of my information into the Mr. Chick-in and have it verified by a ticket agent. When she went to verify my information TIMATIC popped up with the relevant information. TIMATIC is the service most airlines use to verify admissibility into the country of your destination. Airlines have to verify if you need a visa and if you need it if you have it. If you don’t have a visa they don’t let you on the plane. This is because airlines get fined when they transport an inadmissible person to country and that person gets denied entry. This will become important latter in the story. I was given boarding passes for the first two segments of the ticket. PHX-ORD and ORD-FRA, I would have to collect FRA-BKK and BKK-RGN down the line.
I took my roller board and backpack and made my way through security. I went through the backscatter machine without a hitch. I know people will judge me for not opting out; I just don’t have the will to care anymore about it. I collected myself and went to the United Club to wait the ten minutes before boarding. Dear lord the United Clubs have gone downhill. They took away the granola cereal, really the only healthy option, and replaced it with rice crispies. So, I had a danish. Boarding started and I made my way over to the gate and got on just as boarding started.
PHX-ORD, UA F, A320
The flight was about what one would expect a domestic flight from Phoenix to Chicago would be like. Since I booked the flight on the previous Friday, I had the choice of 3A or 3A. I went with three A. What surprised me about this flight, was one that it had working empower and two the captain had turned on Ch. 9. Empower is an older DC power system and Ch.9 allows the passenger to listen to whatever ATC radio channel the cockpit is tuned to. I didn’t take any pictures of this flight mostly because I tried to sleep as much as possible. I knew I wouldn’t be getting very much sleep over the next few days so I tried to get it where I could. Also on this flight the flight attendants apparently took meal orders by status because I was the first one asked (1K on a reward F ticket counts as full fare). I had honey nut chex cereal also in anticipation of a massive dinner. We landed in ORD on-time and after landing I made my way over to United’s Global First Lounge. For some strange reason Lufthansa and ANA both depart from United’s B gates. This is odd because they have to arrive at the international terminal on the other side of the airport and be towed over to the B gates from the international terminal. Also, Swiss and Aer Lingus both arrive and depart from terminal five even though they are also United partners.
Global First Lounge.
United’s Chicago Global First Lounge is a part of United’s C satellite lounge complex. There is a United Club and an arrivals lounge attached to it. It is also one of the few pre-merger united lounges that have access to showers. The GFL can be found just to the left of the service counter when viewed from the escalators. The lounge consists of a medium sized lounge area, buffet area, restrooms, business area, and a service counter. When I got there it was packed, then they called the Hong Kong flight and it emptied out.
Lounge space, the buffet is behind the divider.
You can see the C United Club through the window.
As you can see there is a decent selection of food and wine. I was quite happy with the lounge though it is a far cry from LH’s F lounges. I started to have problems when I went to ask for a shower. Apparently because I was on a Lufthansa flight, they didn’t want to allow me access. This is against Star Alliance rules, but I have noticed that UA lounge staff care little for rules. Eventually after some back and forth they let me because I flew UA from Phoenix to Chicago. I’ll spare you all pictures of the shower, it was pretty nice and well designed and in true United Style the hand held showerhead didn’t work. United provided a nice shower kit containing all the basic toiletries and a few extra creams that I am guessing were for the ladies or people who want to smell like summer flowers or whatever.
After a few hours in the lounge it was time to make my way over to the gate in the B gates for boarding. Lufthansa has a very strong gate queue system so everyone knows where they need to be. First Class has a special seating section roped off if I wanted to use it. I noticed that the afternoon ORD-SFO flight was departing late and I had a look at the gate departure screen. Apparently there were over 100 elites on that flight not counting the ones that got upgraded. Remind me never to take that flight. Boarding started and gent starting pushing people out of his way, when he got to me a stern glare put an end to that nonsense. On to the flight then
ORD-FRA, LH F, 83C, D-ABVK “Hannover”
Lufthansa went ultra-prestigious with their first class on the 747-400 first it is on the upper-deck, where let’s face it all the cool kids hang out. Also they cut the number of seats from 16 to 8 and with the 747 replace one seat with a bed. This isn’t a seat that converts into being a bed or a fold down cot, no it is an actual bed next to the seat. It’s awesome. It is sad that Lufthansa decided to move first class on their 747-8’s to the nose and just use a flatbed seat.
Here are some pictures of the sea and bed.
Before departure the purser came by and introduced herself to each first class passenger. This is where one of the passengers went off the rails. Lufthansa provides vehicle transfers to departing flights for first class passengers out of Frankfurt, which is nice. However, one passenger demanded to the purser that he be picked up in car. No matter how many times she said that is Frankfurt’s issue, he wouldn’t accept the answer she gave. He earned the jerk of the day award. The flight attendant in charge of first class cabin was awesome. He was Mexican and lives in Mexico City. He commutes to Frankfurt for work, and I thought I had a long commute. His is 5944 miles each way. I asked him if he worked any of the Mexico City flights (LH has one daily departure) he said “nope.” His preference was South America flights which works as apparently in addition to English, German, Spanish, and possibly French he speaks Portuguese.
Five languages? I was left wondering why this person decided against world domination as a career choice.
Anyways enough silliness I know why you are here, you want the food porn and you shall have it. Lufthansa has a slightly odd menu, they offer a trio of appetizers plus caviar. You can always tell if someone is flying LH F for the first time because they try to choose which appetizers they want. So anyways here is the menu. I forgot grab a picture of the Amuse Bouche and breakfast, sorry.
Crab and avocado in a lemon grass gazpacho.
Seared beef Sashimi with cabbage and gyoza dressing.
Soba noodles and crisp vegetables with roasted peanuts.
Salad with a mango yogurt dressing that was AMAZING.
Main Course: Stir-Fry egg noodles with eggplant, tofu, sesame seeds, and green onions.
For dessert I passed on the cheese cart and stuck with Chocolate pot de crème with vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, I asked the steward for the aircraft model from the duty free cart. What can I say I am sucker for the aircraft models, I’m a nerd. The steward informed me it wasn’t in the first class cart but he would have the other attendants shake down the aircraft. At this point I wanted some sleep, but first the lavatator pic.
Oh yah ladies back off, one at a time there is plenty of me to go around. 😉
During the flight I couldn’t really sleep so I asked another attendant to see how the model search was going, she said people were looking. In the morning, the FA dropped of the model and I paid for it. Then 10 minutes later another FA came by to tell me that it had been sold on the flight to Chicago. Think on that for a moment. The first person found it, and got it to me. The next person heard that it had been sold, rather than tell the first class passenger that it had been sold, they went with a lie. I understand why they lied, they don’t want to tell an F passenger their item had been sold to business or coach passenger but when the first instinct is to lie, that’s not good. Anyways I had the European breakfast and the passenger who demanded the card loudly remarked that he was passing on breakfast because “the breakfast in the lounge is better,” cementing his jerk of the day status on multiple continents.
Landing was smooth and as it was still dark out, there are no pictures until I get to the FCL B, which will be in tomorrow’s exciting edition.
Why do I do things like this? I think I am crazy sometimes. This trip was not to any destination but to enjoy the magic of flight, and boy did I enjoy it.
Sunday January 6th
Phoenix to Chicago, United First
Chicago to Frankfurt, Lufthansa First
Monday January 7th
Frankfurt to Bangkok, Thai First
Tuesday January 8th
Bangkok to Rangoon, Thai Business
Rangoon to Bangkok, Thai Economy
Bangkok to Seoul, Asiana Business
Wednesday January 9th
Seoul to Los Angeles, Korean Air First
HGI LAX Airport
Thursday January 10th
Los Angeles to Seoul, Korean Air First
Friday, January 11th
Seoul to Bangkok, Korean Air First
Saturday, January 11th
Bangkok to Singapore, Singapore Air Business
Singapore to Hong Kong, Singapore Air Suites (First)
Hong Kong to San Francisco, Singapore Air Suites (First)
Sunday January 12th
San Francisco to Phoenix, United First
Planning for this trip began in April 2012 when I was presented with an opportunity. You see Burma had just floated its currency so I was able like a few other to buy premium cabins for a heavily discounted rate, say 90-95% off normal prices. So the first ticket was Rangoon-LAX-Rangoon, starting with the Thai Economy segment on the 8th. As cool as this trip was, I had a serious problem. Do you see it, yeah I had to get my butt to Rangoon.
I basically sat on the ticket until July 2012 when I decided to actually fly the ticket. Well the outbound was easy; I grabbed United Airlines reward ticket on United to Frankfurt and then Thai into Bangkok and Rangoon. I didn’t really want United to Frankfurt, I wanted Lufthansa but Lufthansa generally doesn’t open reward seats until about two weeks out from departure. For the return I booked a business class reward ticket on ANA. However, after I booked the reward ticket home a gift from the gods arrived. Singapore Airlines, the prissiest airline in existence made a mistake. The mistake opened up all premium cabins for reward redemptions except for A380 space. I jumped on that faster than fat kid chasing cake. With the Singapore mistake I was able to lock down most of my ticketing. Lufthansa would have to wait for start of January.
Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2012. Singapore Air decided to give me another present. (I love you too) When I booked my tickets originally, SQ F was not available for redemption on the A380. While that policy has since been changed, it was in effect when I booked in July. However, Singapore decided to adjust their schedule for the winter season. They moved the A380 off of JFK-FRA-SIN and moved it on to SIN-HKG-SFO. That’s right I got subbed on to the A380 in first class, now suites class. For people who live for premium travel, this is the holy grail of redemptions and I have it. #winning. With the substitution of the A380 I declared that I was going, it was a sign that I was meant to go on this trip.
Hotel planning was pretty easy. I generally book the cheapest Hilton available. I have top tier status with Hilton mostly because I stayed a month in Austin Airport Hilton in 2012. My Girlfriend and I are both big fans of the Conrad Brand, so I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to stay a night at the Bangkok Conrad even though I would have to cab it into and out of Bangkok.
Finally, in the two weeks before departure all I needed to do was get a seat on Lufthansa F. I wanted the Lufthansa seat for two reasons, one it’s a better product than United Airlines international First and it grants access to the First Class Lounges in Frankfurt or Munich. Two weeks before departure I grabbed a Lufthansa F seat out of Detroit. While this solved the lounge problem it was still on an inferior product, the Lufthansa F seats on their A330s/A340s out of Frankfurt have an older product. The best seat would be on an updated 744, which actually comes with a bed. Thankfully, the day before departure I was able to grab a seat on Lufthansa’s flight out of Chicago on an updated 744.
So for a trip I started planning in April I didn’t finish planning unit the day before departure. Anyways enough about how it came together, on with the show.
Tags: First Class