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UAL 896 HKG-ORD (BusinessFirst)

When I purchased these tickets, I knew I wanted to use my friend’s GPU (Global Premium Upgrades), so I purchased some slightly higher priced coach tickets (technically 50% more expensive than the cheap, non-upgradable tickets).  Our outbound upgrade cleared almost immediately, but hours before our return flight we were still in coach.  It would have been quite a frustrating turn of events to pay extra for an upgradable seat, but not actually get upgraded.  Our upgrade cleared, but not until we got on the high speed train to the airport – cutting it a little close for comfort.

After we left the SilverKris Lounge, we headed off to our departure gate (Gate 65). Once we arrived, I looked around the boarding area and I felt like I was on a flight to Canada: everyone was neatly lined up, boarding pass and passport in hand, not at all like the traditional mayhem that a gate area in an Asian airport usually is.

We boarded through door 2L and turned right for our BusinessFirst Seats.  These weren’t the (relatively) great BusinessFirst Seats we had on the way to Hong Kong, our seats for the return were in the middle section, not only that, but the middle two seats of the middle section.  If I wanted to use the lavatory, I had to either crawl over one or two people.  No carrier can rightfully say they have a quality business class product if they don’t offer aisle access to every seat on the plane.

Flight: United Airlines 896 (BusinessFirst)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 9 D&G
Departure: 11h10 (13h10)
Arrival: 11h45 (11h31)

Luckily EAD and I were able to sit next to each other, and share our misery.  I am pretty sure I’d rather be in this middle middle BusinessFirst seat than an aisle in coach, but as I sat for 15-ish hours wondering if I should wake the guy up next to me, so I could go to the lavatory, I wasn’t sure.

As usual, I started my on-board consumption with some champagne.  This time, I asked for champagne and the stew corrected me, saying they were serving sparkling wine only – guess I can’t win, can I?  I had two glasses of their mediocre sparkling (but hell, a mediocre sparkling is better than no sparkling at all).

Sparkling Wine in a Plastic Glass is better than nothing, I guess.

Sparkling Wine in a Plastic Glass is better than nothing, I guess.

After the door closed, we had a quick taxi to the runway and a fast take-off roll.  We were airborne shortly after the door closed and we were on our way back home.  I was pretty tired at this point – I guess a 4 day trip to Hong Kong can do that to you.  I was looking forward to eating, then curling up and sleeping for a few hours.

The menu was new on this return flight, compared to our original outbound.  I opted for the dried out chicken breast, which, when coupled with the sauce it was served with along with a big drink of wine, it was perfectly acceptable.  I did have a cheese course as well as an ice cream sundae – which was paired with a United Port.

The meal service was completed within about 2.5 hours after the door closed and I was really exhausted at this point.  I decided to stay up and watch a documentary called “Rich Hill”, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  This film was really good and depressing.  After the film, I flipped on some Big Bang Theory and closed my eyes.  I then proceeded to sleep off and on for the next 8 hours.  I woke up, after missing the great mid-flight dirty dishwater soup (that I seriously enjoyed on the previous flight).  I killed the rest of the flight by watching some bad TV and debating on doing some work or studying French – neither of which I did.

It still surprises me that the 15 or so hour flights can go by so quickly.  I wouldn’t like doing this every week, but once or twice a year it is perfectly acceptable.  While I do think doing this trip in BusinessFirst is better than coach (here or here), I’ve done both and both are survivable, as long as you come prepared.  Bring lots of things to entertain yourself – movies and TV shows on your laptop/tablet, a book or two, plus hours and hours of music.  You’ll do just fine.

Have you taken this flight to Hong Kong before? How do you survive the two-thirds of a full day in the air?

Hong Kong Weekend – Trip Introduction

You may not know this, but I’m getting married in May.  It will be a formal affair, so I needed to get a new tuxedo.  I’ve got a Hong Kong tailor who comes to Chicago once a year and I buy a handful of shirts from him each visit.  I was never really happy with the one suit I got from him though – it just didn’t fit right.  I knew I couldn’t do a suit fitting from afar, so I decided that I’d fly to Hong Kong, bring my best man along and get us a couple custom tuxes.  The problem?  From Thanksgiving through mid-February, work is so hectic, I really can’t get away for very long.  There is a sweet spot each January where I can usually escape for 2-3 days.  I’ve used this golden time on the January calendar to visit Shanghai and Stockholm before.

We didn’t have much time, so we decided to leave on Wednesday and return on Sunday.  We are fortunate enough to have a couple direct flights daily between ORD and HKG (UAL and Cathay).  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cash in American miles for Business or First on Cathay, or United Miles – then my best man (EAD) mentioned that he had four Global Premier Upgrades (GPU) expiring at the end of February.  I did a quick check and found that our upgrade would clear immediately on the outbound, but we’d be wait listed for the return. I decided let’s go ahead and book a cash trip on United and apply these GPUs to move us from economy to BusinessFirst.  I figured that about 17K EQMs would be a nice way to start off the year too.

I did forget a key issue with applying GPUs — they aren’t valid on all fare types.  So the $890/person round trip in economy wouldn’t allow me to upgrade.  The cheapest upgradable fares were $1,500 each.  A total of 32 hours in the air for an additional $610/person (or $20 additional per person per hour — SOLD).   I booked the tickets and our GPU cleared immediately into BusinessFirst.  We were able to snag two seats together (United’s 777’s BusinessFirst cabin is in a 2-4-2 seating configuration) on the two seat side of the plane – unfortunately, our seats were backward facing.  This doesn’t bother me at all and while in the air, I don’t even notice that I’m flying backwards.  EAD has a mild motion sickness issue, so we were a bit concerned that this might be a rough flight for him.

Our trip was 16.5 hours to Hong Kong, 63 hours on the ground and then 15.5 hours back to Chicago.  We had to be efficient, that’s for sure.    Over the coming couple of weeks you’ll be able to read about the following aspects of our trip:

Have you been to Hong Kong?

TG 656: BKK-ICN (Royal Silk Class)

After our less than stellar departure from the St. Regis Bangkok, we headed to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.  I wanted to spend a bit of time in the lounge, try the food, do some shopping and spend a few minutes exploring the airport.  We took a cab and ended up arriving at the airport around 20h15.  The business class check-in area was nearly empty and we were quickly checked in for not only the flight that evening but our connection in Seoul as well. We were presented passes to the business class lounge as well – although the pass wasn’t needed since we were flying business (our boarding pass would let us in) and we have Star Alliance Gold Status with United (and I have it on Turkish too).

We were presented with a completely empty Security and Immigration area – so from the time we exited the cab until we were air side was approximately 10  minutes.  Pretty great.  We decided to lounge-hop, trying out the various business class lounges in the terminal.  The food was pretty dismal at each outpost though. I guess only the First Class Lounge, which we didn’t get a chance to experience, had the top notch cuisine.  We did manage to get a complimentary foot massage in one of the business class lounges though.  I think I had more massages (full body or foot) in this two week trip than I had over the past 5 years.

The plane that would take us to Incheon was parked at a remote gate – so we loaded into a bus and headed to an outstation.  There were two sets of stairs leading to the plane, one at 1L and one at 2L — Business Class boarded though 1L.

Carrier: Thai International Airways (BKK-ICN)
Flight: TG 656
Seat: 12B
Departure: March 30, 2013 – 23h30 / 23h31
Arrival: March 31, 2013 – 06h55 / 06h45
Travel Time: 5 hour 25 minutes / 5 hours and 14 minutes
Flight Miles: 2,283

MS prepped and ready for our flight to ICN

MS prepped and ready for our flight to ICN

We were one of the first people aboard the plane and were greeted by a stew who offered us each an amenity kit and a pre-departure beverage (yes, we opted for champagne, it was better than what we got on the way to Hanoi, but not as good as the 2003 Dom — even though the 2003  isn’t all that great of a vintage).  The seats on board were the old style angle flat seats, which were better than we’d flown here, here, here, here or here, but not nearly as good as here.

We didn’t even opt to have the meal on the plane since we left close to midnight and were hoping to get some shut eye.  The business class cabin was about half full.  Once we told the stew that we were going to skip out on the late night meal, she made sure we had a full glass of mediocre champagne for the first hour, but then was gone (which is when we decided to sleep).

I woke up slightly before 05h00 and decided to watch some TV shows on the IFE before breakfast.  As soon as the stew saw that I was awake, she was over very quickly asking if I needed anything and delivered a bag of cookies…although I didn’t see these anywhere else in the cabin, nor did I see any other passengers with them — maybe they were just from her purse, in any event they were tasty as I was getting hungry.

About an hour before landing, breakfast was served. I decided to have the fruit plate, which was again mediocre at best.  The worst part — no more champagne (even if it was run of the mill).

When booking this flight, I was surprised that Thai had two flights from BKK-ICN leaving within 30 minutes of each other, plus one Asiana flight leaving at the same time. Three Star Alliance flights within 30 minutes of each other seemed out of the ordinary to me — obviously there is quite the demand, eh?

This flight was perfectly acceptable. The flight itself was pretty empty (at least in Business) and the service was relatively attentive (but left us alone when  we wanted to be left alone).  The champagne was disappointing (but a near midnight departure shouldn’t have passengers up all night boozin’).  I would have preferred fully flat seats — I was spoiled on Thai’s A380.  I really find the angle seats to be tough to sleep comfortably on as well.  All in all, this was a perfectly acceptable flight.  I’d take it again if the timing and availability worked out.

Have you flown this or the other midnight flight from BKK-ICN on Thai?  What about the Asiana flight or the Korean Air flight on this route?  How do you handle the running out of Champagne on a flight???