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Tim Foolery

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Flight Planning: Argentina

We had so much planning to do for our trip to Argentina. First things first: Getting There. Our Argentina Flight Planning followed our standard logic. Do we use miles and fly Business Class? Maybe we pay for Business Class? Do we pay for Economy and just deal with it? Or do we pay for a higher fare in Economy and use our Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs) to upgrade to Business?

Our Plan

Since we both needed the Elite Qualifying Miles to keep our status with United we knew that we couldn’t cash in miles for this trip. We earn nearly 12,000 premier qualifying miles for this round trip from Chicago. We couldn’t let those miles go to waste. When we flew to Lima, we found round trip Business Class tickets for about $1,800 per person. If we could find something like that for this trip, we’d book it in an instant. Unfortunately all Business Class tickets were going for well over $5K each. The only way I’d pay that much money for a flight is to hurry home to someone’s deathbed or to flee the country with no notice to avoid a criminal indictment.

Flight Planning Argentina
No direct flight to Buenos Aires from Chicago, so we routed through Houston and Newark.

The difference between the upgradable Economy Fare and the normal Economy Fare was about $200 more per person. Basically, we’d pay $200 more for the opportunity to use our GPUs. If the upgrades didn’t clear, we’re out that money.

United 777-200 Business Class
United 777-200 Business Class

We followed this same logic as we booked our tickets to Rio in 2017. We booked airfare about eight months out and the upgrade cleared about a month later. Figuring that Argentina wasn’t a huge Thanksgiving destination, we thought this was our best bet.

The days, weeks and moths passed. No upgrade. We had some flight schedule changes, still no upgrades. We chatted up the fine folks at United and they couldn’t do anything, but tell us that they were pretty sure we’d clear.

The Results

Finally, it’s day of travel. We checked in and our upgrade still hadn’t cleared. We kept refreshing the upgrade list. The frustration set in. We’d paid extra money to sit in the same old Economy Seats for nearly three hours to Houston and 10 hours to Buenos Aires.

Fast forward to the return trip. The exact same scenario played out. We watched the list. Our names hovered towards the top of the list, but never crossed that magic threshold. Once we checked in at the airport, we were notified that our upgrades had cleared – for the leg between Newark and Chicago. Of the 26 hours of flying time with United we’d have on this trip, two of those hours would be in Business Class.

I’ll touch on a couple of the details on these flights later on, but at the end of the day, these flights were fine. We arrived safely. The United crew was a good mix of fun and surly, mostly surly. While our Argentina Flight Planning didn’t end up exactly as we wanted, we did have a pretty great trip.

Do you follow the same logic as we do when determining how to get somewhere?

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Austrian Airlines Business Class BKK-VIE

My flight home from my 68 Hours in Singapore was a bit of a round about experience.  Leaving Singapore to Bangkok, I continued on to Vienna.  I’ve flown Austrian Airlines in Business Class a few times before and was looking forward to trying it again.  I left the Thai Airways Business Class Lounge about 50 minutes before scheduled departure.  The boarding area was utterly packed with passengers.

People were getting a bit restless, as announcements were made about early boarding. People would line up, then another announcement saying we weren’t boarding. This happened two times before we actually boarded.  There were many people traveling with children too.  These false starts really got the children confused and frustrated.

Bangkok Airport Boarding Area

Very Crowded Boarding Area in Bangkok

On Board

I boarded early, as I usually like to do.  A single seat wasn’t available, I had to sit in the middle area in the two-seat section.  I could have moved to a single seat, but it would have cost me an additional €500.  It wasn’t worth it to me.

Austrian Airlines Business Class Seating Boeing 777

Business Class Seating on Austrian Airlines

Our seats already had pillows, blankets and the amenity kits waiting for us.  After I got settled, the flight attendant came up with menus.  She introduced herself to me and I attempted to speak German, as I usually do when flying Austrian.  My college level German gets me far enough on a flight, but it’s just utilitarian, not conversational.  I started off my journey with some sparkling wine and some still water.

Austrian Airlines Legroom

Business Class Legroom on Austrian Airlines

Austrian Airlines Pre Departure Beverage

Pre-departure beverage with seat controls

The flight was pretty full, but I was fortunate enough to NOT have a seat mate.  I’m so happy I didn’t pay extra for a single seat.  Even if I did have a seat mate, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.  The seats are large and while not very private, Austrian Airlines Business Class is still pretty great.

The flight time to Vienna from Bangkok is 11 hours and 30 minutes.  One of my main disappointments when I fly Austrian Airlines is that the flight from Chicago to Vienna just isn’t long enough. I want a little more time to rest, relax and enjoy the Business Class product. This flight gives me a bit more time and I was going to love it.

Meal Service

Austrian Airline’s crew includes an on board chef.  Before take off, the chef meets with every Business Class Passenger, explaining the menu and taking orders.  It is a nice additional service, although not really necessary.  It’s this aspect that I like the most I think.

After departure, drinks are served and the food service begins.  I like the antipasti trolley that wheels through the cabin.  You select the exact appetizers you want to try.  I selected all options, of course!

Antipasti Selection on Austrian

Antipasti selection, including marinated prawns, herbed chicken breast, feta cheese, Thai beef salad, maki and crab cakes.

The meal service continued for the next 90 minutes.  It was efficient and friendly.  Austrian does a good job of ensuring that your wine glasses are never dry too.

Austrian Airlines Red Lentil Soup

Red lentil soup with olive ciabatta croutons.

Main course - Stir Fried Beef on Austrian Airlines

Stir Fried Beef, ginger oyster sauce, egg fried rice.

Austrian Airlines Dessert Chocolate Cake

Dessert of Chocolate Cake

With the meal over, the we had about eight hours until we landed in Vienna.  I spent the rest of the flight watching movies, TV shows and napping. I really didn’t want to get much sleep as we’d be landing in Vienna at 19h00 and I sure didn’t want to be up all night.

Other than a little bit of excitement midway through the flight, our time in air was quiet and uneventful.  We landed 20 minutes early, but were requested to remain seated while a passenger was taken off the plane by paramedics.  More on that story in another post.

Wrap Up

Flying in Business Class on Austrian Airlines is still exciting and fun for me.  It isn’t the world’s most avant garde product, but the service is smooth and efficient.  The wine and food is good and the seats are really comfortable in both seated and bed positions.

Have you flown Austrian Airlines from Asia?  What is your favorite Business Class product out of Bangkok?

 

Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK SQ 972

I was excited about this flight. Probably the most excited flight of the trip.  It would be the only flight in this trek where I would be experiencing a new airline. I had flown EVA and Austrian before and of course have heard amazing things about Singapore from so many friends. Singapore SQ 972 is a short, 2.5 hour flight from Changi to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport but would give me a taste of the world class service offered by Singapore’s flag carrier.

My ride from Singapore to Bangkok - SQ 972 - Airbus 330-300

My ride from Singapore to Bangkok – SQ 972 – Airbus 330-300

Changi International Airport - F Concourse

The less than glamorous terminal at Changi International Airport

We boarded about 45 minutes before scheduled departure. When I arrived at the boarding area, there were already at least 200 people waiting.  Plus probably 20 children running around, Lord of the Flies style.  Like my last flight, there were a couple of people already lined up in the Business Class queue, despite near constant announcements to remain seated.

Very full boarding area at Changi International Airport

Gate F31 was packed – and this was just half of the room.

Changi is unique in that each gate area has its own separate security screenings – you don’t get screened until you enter your specific gate area. Passports and boarding passes were checked four different times from the point I got to the gate until in was seated in 14F. The Business Class of this A330-300 consists of five rows of six seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. I chose the middle section so I could have direct aisle access and not worry about someone crawling over me.

Changi Airport Security Checkpoint

Gate Specific Security – F31 Changi International Airport

Boarding

Upon boarding, I presented my boarding pass and was escorted to my seat. Daisy, the flight attendant, helped me put my bag in the overhead bin. Then properly welcomed me aboard, telling me of the flight time to Bangkok and letting me know that I wouldn’t have a seat mate. Score!

Before I sat down, I start snapping photos of the empty cabin and one of Daisy’s colleagues came up with a tray of beverages. His tray included orange juice, apple juice, sparkling and still water and champagne. He asks if I’d like a drink, “perhaps some refreshing bubbles?” How did he know? Yes please.

A330-300 Business Class Seats

Seat 12F taken from my seat. Not industry leading any more, but still wonderful.

Singapore Airlines SQ 972 Business Class to Bangkok

Singapore Airlines SQ 972 Business Class to Bangkok

Singapore AIrlines Business Class Seating

Seat 14D & 14F on Singapore Airlines A300-300

Singapore AIrlines Business Class Seating

Seat 14D & 14F on Singapore Airlines A300-300

The Flight

On board we were served the same champagne that was on offer in the KrisFlyer Business Class Lounge, which was a perfectly nice option. After champagne, he quickly returned with a warm, moist towel. I love these refreshing little treats. This flight wasn’t as empty as the EVA flight to Singapore, but it wasn’t full – 23 of the 30 seats were occupied.

This plane is an older model, but does have seats that lie fully flat. There is ample storage and several charging options including a UK/Singapore/US Outlet plus two USB ports.

The chargers on Singapore Airlines A330-300

The multiple charges on the A330-300

Boarding was quite quick as well. The last passengers boarded and we still had about 25 minutes until departure. I perused the in-flight entertainment selection, which was perfectly fine for our short hop to Thailand.

In-Flight Entertainment and In-Flight Selfie Reflection

In-Flight Entertainment and In-Flight Selfie Reflection

A short taxi and roll to take off found us airborne right on schedule. Just as we crossed 10,000 feet the flight crew sprung into action. Taking drink orders and distributing another warm moist towel. This morning flight served a selection of western and Chinese breakfast food.

Singapore Airlines Business Class Menu

Singapore Airlines Business Class Menu

Champagne and Brunch Menu

Champagne and Brunch Menu

You all know by now that I’m not big on breakfast, so I chose the Thai Pineapple Fried Rice option. It was surprisingly great.

Thai Pineapple Fried Rice with Chicken and Prawn

Thai Pineapple Fried Rice with Chicken and Prawn

The elaborate tea menu. My favorite is the Vanilla Bourbon Tea.

The elaborate tea menu. My favorite is the Vanilla Bourbon Tea.

The Vanilla Bourbon Tea. My absolute favorite flavor. Thank you TWG Tea!

The Vanilla Bourbon Tea. My absolute favorite flavor. Thank you TWG Tea!

After breakfast, I converted the seat into a bed and rested. I wasn’t ready for sleep, but I wanted to try the seat out. I watched reruns of Big Bang Theory, which always puts me to sleep on a plane.

Before I knew it, Daisy offered me another glass of champagne as the crew began final preparations for landing. A nice surprise.

We landed in Bangkok at 10h48. We deplaned through door 2L and the flight crew held the deplaning economy passengers while Business Class left. This practice is so elitist, but I do love it, don’t you?

Final Thoughts

The flight was very lovely. My biggest complaint was the length. The flight was just too short to really enjoy all the amenities. Two and a half hours isn’t enough.

Have you flown Singapore Airlines Business Class on a short regional route before? What was your favorite part? What is your favorite Asian Airline for short regional trips?

EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (Business Class) ORD-TPE

EVA Air boards Business Class passengers directly from the Air France / KLM Lounge for our flight to Taipei. I was the third person on board and quickly took my seat of 9A. As I was getting situated (you know, tablet, headphones and chargers out), Daisy, the flight attendant working my portion of the cabin approached, delivering menus and a warm moist towel to help you get refreshed before the 15 hour flight.

On the Ground

EVA doesn’t serve champagne on the ground, at least in Chicago. Cook County taxes are very high and they don’t want to pay them, so they serve an inferior sparkling wine, they wouldn’t even tell me what kind it was.

Champagne and chocolate with a view

Pre-departure champagne and chocolate

Daisy asks if I want the seat cover – not a mattress pad mind you, just a quilted cover over the seat. I took it. I’ll take any additional padding I can get on airline seats. Pajamas were delivered and I immediately hopped up and changed. The lavatory between the two business class cabins is much more roomy, making it much easier to change. The front lavatory is a standard sized room…small, very small.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

Loves these very private seats.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

Leg room and pop-out IFE

Lots of leg room on EVA Air’s Business Class Seat

New Pajamas for Me

New Pajamas!

Boarding continued and I sat back and enjoyed my drink, in my new pajamas, and thought about my trip. Was I crazy for flying so far for just a couple of days? Maybe, but I am going to enjoy the journey. The door closed at 00h20 and we were pulling away from the jet bridge at 00h23. It was fast. Then we sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes.

Amenity Kit + Champagne + Airport = Happy Tim

Business Class Amenity kit. Not the fabulous Rimowa kit, but Georg Jensen was still nice

Amenity Kit Contents

The amenity kit was a little lean

Copa Airlines

Departure – Copa Airlines off to Panama City

In the Air

Once airborne, the crew sprung into action. It was late, people wanted to sleep and the sooner they can put us to bed, the easier their flight will be.

I had preordered the duck for my entree, which was easy to do on the EVA website. EVA offers some additional entrees that aren’t normally stocked on board, but they are catered upon request.

Another glass of champagne arrived as did the amuse bouche. It was quite lovely, Turkey Ham (huh? What’s turkey ham?) with Asparagus with champagne was a great way to kick off this Business Class Meal.

Appetizer of Turkey and Onion Tart

Prelude
Turkey Ham with Green Asparagus – Brie and Gouda Cheese with Onion Chutney Tartlet

The lobster appetizer arrived fifteen minutes later. It was served with drawn butter and a quinoa salad that was just packed with flavor. I skipped the quail egg though

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Right at 01h30 my duck arrived. I asked for a glass of Bordeaux to accompany the duck, but it never arrived. The duck looked…well…strange. I’m not sure what happened to it, but about three-quarters of it looked and felt like it had been eaten by someone else then spit back onto my plate. I was disgusted. I couldn’t eat it. Daisy came by and saw that I wasn’t eating and she asked a couple of questions, then took it away. The purser came back to talk to me and she was mortified. She suggested I choose a different entree, which I did. The kung pao chicken sounded good to me and it was delivered moments later.

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

The chicken looked strange too. It was stuffed with a truffle brioche that just seemed off when paired with a kung pao truffle jus. I scraped out the stuffing and ate the chicken. Quite a disappointing entree selection.

Second Entree - Chicken

Main Course
Truffle Brioche Stuffed in Pan Friend Chicken Brease with Black Truffle Jus – Mixed Vegetables

The fruit and cake plate and was delivered. There was no cheese course. When I asked about it, the matter of fact answer was that “There was no cheese course tonight.” Hmmmrph.

The disappointing dessert

Sweets
Fruit – Blueberry Cheese Cake

At 02h00 the dinner service was over, plates and linens cleared. I was a bit disappointed.

It was time to turn in, so I laid my seat out to a bed and put on the EVA provided headphones and listened to the Big Bang Theory as I slept. It is a great plane show – as it always makes me want to sleep.

I woke up after about 5 hours of sleep and decided to watch a movie I brought (Indiana Jones) and get some work done. The internet was slow and cost $16.95 for three hours of service. It did what I needed it to do, but it was soooo slow.

At 08h00 I ordered the vermicelli with pork, which was a great choice. I should have had three of those for dinner.

Amazing Mid Flight Snack

Snack
Stir Fried Vermicelli with Pork in Taiwanese Style Sauce

I napped intermittently until breakfast, which was served promptly at 12h30. The lights popped on with a never before seen intensity! I’m not a big breakfast guy, so I skipped the cereals and I chose to have the fruit, pastry and the bread pudding. It was all pretty great. The fruit was a little under ripe, but it was still flavorful.

Croissant with Butter

Breakfast Pastry – Croissant

Simple Breakfast of Bread Pudding.

Breakfast
Butter Bread Pudding with Cherry Ragout

At this point, breakfast is done and we are still two hours from Taipei. US and European carriers don’t start serving arrival meal until 90 minutes before landing. We had lots of time left, but now I wasn’t really in the mood for sleeping.

Landing

As we come into Taipei, the flight crew sprung into action. Unlike the rest of the trip, they seemed like chickens with their heads cut off. Seemingly executing their landing procedures in a near panic mode. For example, I had five sheets of paper stored in a cubby behind my shoulder. I was told that I couldn’t stow anything there and as I was grabbing it another stew comes over, repeats the request, then the first grabs the paper, ripping it, then shoves it in another cubby (that also said No Stowage During Taxi, Take Off or Landing). Theses were just notes I had taken to prep for my trip – not a big deal, but the service sure went south fast. The crew all took their seats and we still had 30 minutes until we touched down.

We rolled into TPE at 04h05, 11 minutes early. Despite this flight being more than 15 hours, I wasn’t ready for it to end. I really do love EVA. The flight timing is great – I can work a full day, leave at 00h30 and be anywhere in Asia by noon the next day. That’s no small feat from Chicago. The seats are among my favorite in Business Class. If you are traveling with someone it is a bit difficult to chat, but for a solo traveler, you can’t beat these seats. The food is usually pretty good – the entrees on this flight were pretty abysmal, but the other courses were enjoyable.  Loved the noodles.

The Cost

I used 90,000 United Miles (Saver Award) on this Business Class flight (including the next one), the value can’t be beat. I haven’t ever checked the actual cost of the flight, because I’m not expensing these flights back to a third party. I’m not paying thousands of dollars this flight (likely) costs in Business Class.

Have you flown EVA Business Class before? Do you dig their service? What do you think was wrong with that duck entree I had? Have you ever not wanted to get off a flight after more than 15 hours of flying?

Preflight at O’Hare. Lounges and Why Does T5 Suck?

Our flight departed at 00h30. EVA doesn’t allow you to print boarding passes at home for flights out of Chicago, so that means I had no way of getting into the Polaris Lounge (usually flying Star Alliance Business Class will gain you entrance, but the lounge closed before the EVA desk even opened up). I’ve written before about how the other Star Alliance and Priority Pass Lounges are just awful at O’Hare’s International Terminal. So this trip, I didn’t leave the house until 22h00.

EVA Air Check-in Counter

EVA Air Check-in Counter

There was no traffic and I rolled into Terminal 5 at 22h25. One man was in front of me for check-in at EVA and he was finished within 90 seconds. My check-in couldn’t have been smoother. The agent was confused as to why I wasn’t flying back home with EVA. After his colleague explained in intense detail how this is indeed allowable I was on my way to security.

I never go through the full body scanners. I’ve always joked that if you want to see my junk, just ask, you don’t need to have a fancy nude-o-scope to do the dirty work. Plus it is a bit of a non-violent protest to security theater in the US. Usually It doesn’t matter because Pre-Check works fine for me. EVA does not participate in Pre-Check, so it was either the nude-o-scope or the pat down. I opted for the pat down, as always. The frustrated TSA agent started to explain how the nude-o-scope is perfectly safe and I should just deal with it.

Nope.

Frustrated more at me now, he decides to let me go through the metal detector. An interesting choice, but one I am okay with. Now if that isn’t security theater, I don’t know what is.

Empty Terminal Five at ORD

Terminal 5 at O’Hare on a Tuesday night was quite dead.

Departure Board

The departure board is quite disappointing on a Tuesday night.

Norwegian Airlines

EVA Air 777-300

EVA Air 777-300, my ride to Taipei.

EVA Air 777-300

EVA Air 777-300, my ride to Taipei.

Through security and into the duty free area by 22h35 left me 90 minutes before boarding. I walked around the terminal, checking out the restaurants – not that I would want to eat before my flight, but I sure didn’t want to sit in the dismal lounge for an hour and a half.

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

Restaurants in Terminal 5

The Food Court after security theater.

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

After a while, I decided to hit up the lounge, because now EVA boards lounge passengers directly from the lounge. Now if that isn’t a little piece of heaven, I don’t know what is. I snag an uninspiring glass of prosecco and wait for my flight.

Pre-Flight Champagne

Kicking off the long trip with a glass of sparkling wine.

EVA uses the Air France / KLM Lounge for their flights. Unlike the last time we flew EVA this lounge was pretty empty. Evidently the Friday night flight is much more full. The lounge was quiet and allowed me to get some work done.

The lounge food is abysmal

The KLM/Air France Lounge had dismal offerings.

Boarding started promptly at 23h50. We queued up in a very civilized manner (sometimes flights to China can feel a bit like Lord of the Flies when it come to boarding or deplaning).

Do you have a preferred lounge in T5 at O’Hare? How do you kill time at this disconnected terminal?