Friday, November 17, 2017

Adventures in Canyonlands Part 1: Clear, Delays, and Unicorns, oh my!

 
Canyonlands Field Airport- CNY- Adorable.
Greetings friends, are you ready to take a little journey with me?  Now, I usually don't make multi-part trip reports out of domestic travel, but this one just made it necessary.  It has everything: Line jumping, delays, cancellations, upgrades, a tiny flight on a tiny plane, and even some free range rental car antics, which is that thing of when you think you're taking a short cut off the I-70, but end up sitting on the hood of your rented Dodge Charger watching cows wade through a pond.

You see why this gets more than one entry now?

So here's the set-up- I had need to be in Green River, Utah for work.  Now, Green River is about an hour north of Moab, and that puts it 25 mins or so away from the Moab (CNY) airport.  It's also about 4 hours South of Salt Lake, give or take.  So, a bit of a drive.  However, I came to learn that there's an airline that operates a couple flights a day from Salt Lake and Moab.  It's an independent airline called Boutique Air that flies 8 seat PC-12s in the 'executive' configuration.  I was intrigued.


The screengrab I kept proudly showing people about my cute little plane I had booked
However interesting, I couldn't justify it unless it actually made more sense, work-wise.  As it turned out, the ticket prices were extremely reasonable, as was the car rental at Moab.  So, the real question was just whether I wanted to spend up to 8 hours driving to and from Green River.  Spoiler alert- I didn't.

So I booked my ticket with AA to Salt Lake, and then another round trip from Salt Lake to Moab with Boutique Air.  I figured this was either the best idea I ever had, or the worst.  As we'll see, it's a little of both. 

For accommodations, I booked the first night at the Holiday Inn Express in town, and the second night I branched out and tried an indepedant place called the "Skyfall Guestrooms."  Skyfall wasn't available for the first night, but it was worth it to make the move to save a little, it was literally across the street.  As a general FYI, everything in Green River could be said to be "just across the street" as it isn't much of a town overall. 

Plans in hand, I set out for the airport bright and early on Monday.  My flight wasn't until 11am, but this is LA, and you have a choice between going painfully early, or just spending the morning on the 405. 

Since the lounge in Terminal 4 is down for updates, I checked in at Terminal 5.  Wow.  Just wow.  It was an absolute zoo.  I'm not exaggerating here- the line for security wrapped down the stairs, across to the other side of the ticketing hall, and down the wall as far as the eye could see.

This is the morning I learned the meaning of CLEAR.  I've posted about this service before, and while it's been 'nice' to have, this was the first time it saved me some serious wait time.  Initially, I didn't know how to even find the CLEAR line, because they wouldn't let me up the stairs to where the kiosks are.  When I asked, I got told "get line and they'll find you." 

Um....

.....What, now?

At this point I was debating walking over to Terminal 4's security to try my luck there when I indeed was 'found' by a CLEAR attendant.  Well not so much found, as I saw him and started a frantic arm flailing and yelping 'clear? clear?' mantra.  In no time flat, I was rescued, and taken right to the front of the pre-check line.  I was through the chaos and into the Club and ordering my custom salmon on toast in 10 minutes or less.


Someone even left a premium drink 'chit' for me.  VERY THOUGHTFUL.

*breathe*

After that, I headed on the bus over to the Gate 52 'Eagle's Next' to catch my flight.  The wonder did not end- I boarded to find I was the only, yes only, elite on the flight.  For the next 2 hours I had 6 first class seats to myself, and when I took a walk to the back to use the restroom, found that all the exit row seats were also empty.  Unicorn.  Absolute unicorn.

This is my face when I know something's too good to be true...and then it isn't and I have 6 seats and a flight attendant to myself.

We touched down on time into Salt Lake, and since there's no lounge there (aside from the Delta SkyClub) I set up shop at a restaurant on the 2nd floor with a great view of the runways and hills behind.  I had a few hours, so I got lunch and did some work. 

Part way through the wait, as I was getting organized to call for the shuttle over to Boutique Air, which they recommend you do about an hour to 30 minutes before your flight time, I got an email from Boutique saying my flight was delayed 50 minutes.  Okay, no big deal, except that the car rental at CNY was going to close on me.  Called them, they amazingly said they'd be waiting since I wasn't the only one.  Called Boutique to check on the reason for the delay- 'rolling delay from earlier issues in Denver.'  Okay, fair enough.


I was here for a long time.  They let me run my computer cord through into the pool room to plug in after awhile.
Let me just fast forward at this point- I didn't actually board the flight until about 10pm.  It was a 6pm departure as scheduled.  More delays, more phone calls, more hours at the SLC restaurant.  This is the issue with 'flying private'- they have exactly one plane available for that flight, and if it's not there, you're not going yet.  Luckily the people were very friendly, and their lounge over at the general aviation side of the airport has very comfortable chairs.



About the flight- unfortunately I couldn't get any good pictures because it was, well, dark by this point.  Here are some things to know- They don't assign seats, so when you board you just pick one.  The 4 in the front are set up in an "executive" configuration, so row 1 faces row 2.  Rows 3 and 4 face forward behind. 


My boarding pass- note the lack of a seat assignment, but they do participate in precheck (though at SLC they're not within a TSA area.

They check your luggage for free, and there's really only room in the passenger area for one small item you're comfortable with on your lap.  They'll weigh your luggage, and ask your weight before boarding for weight and balance purposes.

This plane carries 10 people, including crew.  It is small- you have to lean over to walk to your seat, but the seats themselves are bigger than standard airline seats.

They do have a bathroom, but it was inoperable on my flight.  Go before you board.

That all said, once I actually got onboard, we had a short taxi and then a very smooth flight for a small aircraft.  It was a full moon, and so even though it was dark, it was still a beautiful flight.  These planes fly lower than you're used to flying commercial, so you can see more detail.  There's no separation between the cabin and cockpit, so you can also watch the pilots and the flight controls to see the altitude and such, which is fun if you're an avgeek.

We landed a short 45 minutes later, and waited a few minutes to have our luggage returned.  Here's the long awaited end to the car rental saga- after waiting after hours for far too long, the Enterprise staff amazingly just left everyone's keys in the unlocked rental cars in the parking lot and went home for the night.  Unorthodox, but awesome.  I signed the papers, put them in a drop box, and headed out into the-completely dark, and completely quiet- night, bound for Green River.

Adventure, thy name is Canyonlands. 

Up next- Off-roading by mistake in a Dodge Charger, more adventures with Boutique Air, road trips with perfect strangers, and dinosaurs in a deposition.  Yes, dinosaurs.

~CruisingAlitude

Monday, October 9, 2017

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 6: Birds in Doha

 

 
Preview: Yes, This Is Real Life

Part 1: Location, Location, Location

Part 2: Brits In Beantown

Part 3: Shades On, Wheels Up

Part 4: Welcome to Ghostport
 

Part 5: When You Layover During Ramadan
 
In each of these adventures, there comes a point when I wax poetic about the experience of travel.  So, buckle up, because here it comes....in a minute, once I deal with some logistical preliminaries.  

As discussed in the last post, we spent the first nighttime layover in Doha at the Grand Hyatt.  It's a beautifully sited property at the entrance to The Pearl.  The Pearl, for those who 1, haven't been to Doha, and 2, care, is a man-made land form (I guess is what you'd call it) that spirals out into the gulf.  It is still under construction, if the huge cranes are anything to go by, but is home to a ring of high rise commercial and residential buildings, followed by even more outlying 'islands' that, as far as I can surmise, look to be exclusive residences.  It's best viewed from the air, but the 'gateway' is fairly impressive from the ground.

 Thanks to hotel status, we landed a suite with a great view for the night.  

 Now, let me just back up and say that I had my reservations about trying to check into a hotel in Doha with a person of the opposite sex who I'm not married to.  It might be silly, but the blaring notice that a marriage certificate is required for Qataris gave me pause.  I'm on a mileage run, and ain't nobody got time to spend with the morality police between flights.   

As it worked out, there were no questions, and hardly any side-eye.  I was pleasantly surprised after my last major foray into this town, wherein I learned that at night most people don't walk the streets, especially single western female types.  I didn't feel unsafe really, just out of place.  



After we over indulged at Iftar, and spent a few minutes relaxing at the man-made 'beach' out front, we retired to the room, and realized it was about noon at home and there probably wasn't any sense in trying to adjust to the local time.   So, what're a couple of mileage runners to do?

Step 1- Open the bottle of wine the manager left for us to thank us for our brand loyalty. 

Step 2- Drink it & converse all night about the thrill of flying around the world. 

And on this point I need to expand (you were warned) because there's something existentially beautiful about mileage running.  When you're planning the average, or even above average trip, there is generally an accepted purpose that you try to fulfill- Wine tasting in Napa, or skiing the alps.  You start there, and build the necessary plans around it.  You have a goal, you meet it, you are victorious.  

However, a mileage run is a trip in reverse.  The plans come first.  And I don't mean the plans to go on a snorkel cruise, and then a romantic sunset dinner.  I mean the airline tickets, the layovers, and the one nights hotels- what is usually the most pedantic part of the plans.  The outcome of this is that you aren't beholden to preconceptions, or to anything at all.  If you go and come back, mission accomplished.  Everything else is gravy. 

Which means that, when you and your friend just spend the entire night's layover watching rugby, talking about nothing, drinking wine covertly, and then watching the sun come up over Doha, it's perfect.  There's no sense that you were supposed to do a single thing differently. 

So when at 4am, you start to hear bird calls as you stand looking out from the darkened balcony of your hotel, and your friend says he didn't think there were birds in Doha.....you just laugh and have another drink.  Because sunrise will come all too soon over this expensively camouflaged desert. 

Because yes, there are birds in Doha, as there are the world over.  And yes, they wake up at 4 am, as they do the world over.  And it's beautiful to realize this, when for once your only purpose in life is to know that there are still a few universal truths....and then to you yourself to fly on to your next stop along the way. 
 

And that, is what's up next...
 
Part 6- A Stop in Sri Lanka: Dealing with Dragons or, Ceylon With a Side of Naptime
 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 5: When You Layover During Ramadan....

The main lobby of the Grand Hyatt.  We've arrived.

The story so far:

Preview: Yes, This Is Real Life

Part 1: Location, Location, Location

Part 2: Brits In Beantown

Part 3: Shades On, Wheels Up

Part 4: Welcome to Ghostport


By way of disclaimer, I fully admit to knowing little to nothing about the tradition of Ramadan outside of some rudimentary comparative religion classes in college, and a couple of weeks of googling what it would be like to be a foreign traveler here during the holy month.  Any of my thoughts/observations are purely based on my outside perspective as a mileage runner spending a weekend bouncing around Middle East airports, and may be completely incorrect. 


On arrival in Doha, the flight crew made an announcement about the holiday, informing passengers against eating, drinking, or smoking in public spaces during the daylight hours.  The airport lounges also were not serving any alcohol at any time, though they did have their regular food service running during the daytime.  We didn't stop at the proper arrivals lounge though, since we had the Grand Hyatt waiting.

When in Doha- Ramadan tent.
Getting into town, the combination of the oppressive summer heat, political travel restrictions, and daytime fasting have made this city feel abandoned.  We checked at the Hyatt in before sundown, and the hotel was quiet.  What's more, almost all of the restaurants were closed.  They had one 'international' restaurant open called 'Santa Monica' which, to a Mileage Runner from LAX, just seems wrong.  However, there was another option....



Having realized about a month ago that we'd be doing our Doha layovers during Ramadan, we decided to make the best of it and take advantage of the lavish evening meals that the bigger hotels here in Doha hold nightly.  They put out huge banquet spreads- multiple salad bars, hot bars, carving stations, and especially over the top dessert bars.  Think 8 flavors of ice cream, pies 3ft across, and chocolate fountains.  They generally have two sittings- around 8pm, and a later time around 10 that goes until 1 or 2 am.  They set up special dining areas in a tent outside, complete with uplighting and music.  Needless to say, we each had several plates and made the most of the experience.





Needless to say, I was glad that the Hyatt also had an impressive gym and pools, both indoor and outside.  However, they were doing some promotional photo shoots of some kind outside, and so we were relegated indoors to swim.

Back up to the gym for a moment though.  I actually went on arrival and actually managed to make myself get a good workout.  (You may applaud here) This being Qatar, they have a separate gym and spa area reserved for women only.  Now, this isn't the norm in the west, but I will note that the other part of the gym was co-ed, so women weren't excluded.  I expected the ladies part to be small, or lacking in equipment, but OH MAN was I wrong.  It was full service, and as the rest of Doha was, empty.  There was even an expansive water spa with steam and sauna.  I could get used to this. 



After that, I felt pretty justified in enjoying my Iftar feast.  It was also fun to be out late (read all night) and to watch the city come alive (or as alive as it was going to get under the circumstances).  By the time we left the tent, the lobby area was full of people relaxing after the meal, and the hookah smoke was thick in the air.  We didn't' go that far down our 'when in Doha' path, have to leave something for the future. 

Up next- We stay up to see the sunrise, and the true meaning of mileage running is understood as we ask the existential question: Are there birds in Doha?

(With a hook like that, how can you not keep reading??)

~CruisingAltitude

Friday, September 29, 2017

Fare Deal- Los Angeles to Hong Kong for $430 !

Come on, let's go.
Here's another one that's worth checking out if you need a bunch of qualifying miles, though it won't get you many qualifying dollars.  Also, if you might happen to actually want to go to Hong Kong, that's a bonus.  I highly recommend it, even if just for a short time.  It's an accessible city that you can see a fair amount of quickly. 

Go for the miles, stay for the lounge...

The flights vary, but are either direct from LAX to HKG, or some routings will take you through Tokyo for a few hours.  If you're a Oneworld elite, this is no big hardship since the lounges at NRT are some of the best, probably closely following the embarrassingly good lounges at HKG.


Not bad.  Not bad at all.

There are some decent prices for the rest of this year, but the real 'deals' are mostly early 2017, with prices well under $500!  You can earn around 12,000 or more qualifying miles on this trip, plus it's a fun destination.  The long haul flights are on American planes, so systemwides and miles and co-pay upgrades are possible for the trans pacific segments.  Connections to and from Tokyo are on Cathay or JAL.

It probably won't last long, so get it on hold while you can if you're interested!

Fly well,

~CruisingAltitude

Monday, September 25, 2017

All CLEAR!


Baby Flyer enjoys her upgrade on the flight up.  AA has put some updated 737s on the LAX-SEA route with IFE.

After another beautiful and peaceful weekend visiting our family on Whidbey Island enjoying the big trees, tidal flats, and starry nights, I once again find myself in the SEA Centurion Lounge.  It's not a bad place to be.  The staff is friendly, food is more than adequate for a domestic lounge, and the drinks are top shelf (plus the services of a bartender who makes a killer margarita, along with just about everything else).  I'll even give them a pass on having 'sexual healing' on the lounge playlist.


Checking out the sand and shells.

I've also cleared my upgrades both up and back this weekend, and made it to the airport in decent time despite having some serious traffic on the 405 while taking the Whidbey-Sea Tac shuttle service.  On the upside, it gave me time to finish my excellent Puget Sound Kombucha I grabbed on the ferry.

Love the Earl Grey!

However, I've reviewed this place several times, so today I'm up to something different.  I think I've come far enough along to review the "CEAR" program showing up at more and more TSA checkpoints.  Note that this is an honest review, I've paid for my family's memberships the old fashioned way. 

The basic idea with Clear is that you go through some additional screening, both online, and in person to verify your identity and do some biometrics.  Then, you get two main benefits when you show up to a Clear airport- you don't have to pull out your ID at the screening checkpoint, and you get to cut the pre-check line.  So really, you cut the line that's cutting the line already.  Once you get to the actual screening, it's the same as precheck. 

How it works is that instead of going to pre-check, you walk up to the designated Clear lane, give your boarding pass to the staff member there, and put your fingers on the kiosk to read your fingerprints, or look into the scanner to have your irises scanned.  Then the staff member verifies it, stamps your boarding pass, and leads you to the front of the line. 

I grabbed it too early- the rest of the stamp is on my hand.
I had some early hiccups with the service, mainly at Houston when I was going through there a fair amount for work earlier this year. Right off, my ID didn't match up correctly with my AA account and therefore my tickets, so it had to be manually done, and then I got a chance to get it corrected and it's worked well since.  Second, it may just be a Houston thing, but the Clear lane didn't match up with the precheck lane, so you could in essence only use one or the other.  So you could use Clear, but then have regular screening (shoes off, laptop out) or vice versa.  A bit of a fail, but localized to IAH A gates as far as I can tell.

So, that's my critique, and now for the neutral part of the review.  In general, to decide if it's worth it to you (the cost is $99 with a Delta FFN, $179 without, family is an additional $50, and minors flying with you under 18 are free) you first need to note if your most common airports have Clear at all.  Now that LAX has it, as does SEA and DFW, some of our most traveled places, it weighs in favor of keeping it up.  Also, there's the simple fact of if you generally feel like precheck at your airports and times is a wait.  Honestly, LAX T4 really isn't most of the time, but other places, like today at SEA were a significant delay, so I definitely saved some time.

Now for the positives.  Because I like to think of myself as a people person, I'll start with the staff.  Every single one I've met have been fantastic, cheerful, and patient.  I don't want to paint a broad brush about TSA, some honestly are great, but having at least part of your experience with screening being consistently pleasant is a plus.  I hope they're being paid and treated as well as they seem like they are. 

Next- on average, it does save you time.  It's either as fast, or significantly faster than pre-check depending on the lines.  I also find just the act of not having to take your ID out twice a good thing, since it's been more than one occasion where I've forgotten to put it right back, and it's taken several days and going through my travel stuff to find my drivers license again. 

Another plus is that they make using the service as a family fantastic.  The fact that all minors flying with you are free and you don't have to do anything to sign them up is wonderful.  This is a stark contrast (for obvious reasons) with Global Entry where we've been stuck in the regular lines to get our kiddo through even though me and Mrs. CurisingAltitude are long time GE members.  Also, being able to tack a spouse onto a membership for $50 makes it less daunting to get everyone onboard.

Lastly, the bit of the review that's either a benefit or a drawback, depending on how you feel about it- Clear has it's own lane by pre-check, and as you're escorted through by the Clear staff member there's an air of "VIP" to it.  Like I said, you either love this, or feel a little silly.  Either's fine, just a sidenote, really.

Score!!
Overall, my personal feeling is that it's worth it for our family at the moment.  We're flying to places where we use it, and our Baby Flyer gets through with us for free.  The less fiddling around with IDs and bags with a 20 month old in tow, the better.  Plus, because we signed Mrs CruisingAltitude up at LAX, they were giving out free power sticks for new members, and gave me one too!  It's the little things. 

Clear may be right for you, or it may not.  I hope my thoughts help you make the decision.

Fly well,

~CruisingAltitude

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Basic Burn.....


After my recent post about the unfortunate introduction of Basic Economy fares by American, let's just say I was more than a little amused to scroll through Facebook today and come across this little gem of an add by Southwest:


Well played, my friends, well played.

This is a company that knows when it's about to get an influx of customers fleeing the competition.  That's not base speculation either, as United covertly stated when it rolled back Basic fares just this week. 

In all honesty, if you don't fly enough (or far enough) to need the perks of a big international network, at this point you're much better off flying Southwest, JetBlue, or Alaska domestically.  The prices are fair, and in many cases, the service is much better. 

Plus, they have a sense of humor.

~CruisingAltitude

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Buyer Beware: AA Rolls Out Basic Economy

Don't look at me like that, I'm still mad at you.  You know what you did.

Basic Economy: The product no one needs, absolutely didn't ask for, and definitely don't want.  So...thanks for that.

Overnight, AA has rolled out their new basic economy pricing across their domestic flights, and it's bad my friends.  The pricing starts for flights later this month and continues on indefinitely.  It's a plan that all of the major airlines have gone with, and AA was just the last to conform.  We knew it was coming, and had already started in some markets earlier this year.

In theory, the idea is to let the major US 3- American, Delta, and United, price match the ultra low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier by offering a ticket that removes all possible benefits and guarantees you'll hate flying just as much as if you were on Spirit.  Nice, right?

They justify it by saying it 'gives the customer the choice' to pick the benefits they want.  However, benefits like a seat assignment, or a carry on bag, are a bit necessary to the vast majority of travelers and so it's really just a way to nickel and dime people who don't understand, or don't care about the fine print.  In most cases you'll end up spending as much or more on the ticket once you have to add on everything that's necessary.



What's worse though, is the hypocrisy of how AA changed the pricing structure overnight.  Instead of actually creating some new lower fares and making those Basic Economy (which was how they advertised the upcoming change), they simply took the existing pricing and made the cheap tickets Basic, and started charging about $40 more round trip for the exact same main cabin ticket that had been there the day before.  Classy.

So, I hope anyone who had their eye on those cheap LAX-DFW fares I posted about last week managed to click purchase before today, because guess what?  Those $79 tickets are now booking into Basic Economy, and won't come with a seat assignment, a carry on bag, any flexibility, and will earn half of the qualifying miles and segments they would have 24 hours ago.  Oh, and they also aren't eligible for elite upgrades anymore either. 

Being elite does get you out of some of these restrictions, if you happen to find yourself in Basic.  You will still have your baggage privileges and priority boarding, but being off the upgrade list and earning fewer qualifying miles will hurt. 

As I said, AA isn't alone in this move, the others having done this already.  They're now set to make extra off of the up-pricing of the main cabin tickets they were already selling, as well as raking in millions in baggage and seat assignment fees from people booking into Basic.  There really is no upside for the consumer, but that's pretty well the point. 

In the end we have the big carriers' bottom lines to thank for this, but more importantly the likes of Spirit and Ryanair for showing them how to make air travel just a little less pleasant. 

From here on out, book wisely.

~CruisingAltitude

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fare Sale Alert- Los Angeles to Dallas

Sunset over DFW

It's that time again- American Airlines is having a quick (could end any time) sale on flights from LAX to DFW for this fall.  Dates are currently available for October through early December 2017.  Prices start at $79 round trip, including all fees!  This happened briefly last year & I made the most of it.

Google Flights at time of posting
 
To see what's available, the quickest way is to head over to Google Flights and search for LAX to DFW round trip and scroll through the calendar.  This year American seems to be rolling out some of these great fares throughout the year.  A month or so ago, they had round trips to Chicago for $81, so who knows what all they'll open up over the next month.
 
Even more fun, many of the cheap flights to Dallas put you on bigger planes- the 777 or 787, making upgrades a great experience since they'll be into lie-flat international style business class seats!  But these fares will disappear quickly, so grab them while you can!
 
~CruisingAltitude

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 4: Welcome to Ghost...Port?

Our a350 from the tarmac.  Yes, despite having no flights and no passengers, they somehow couldn't find us a jetbridge. Really?

You could hear a pin drop in the Doha airport today.  It's calming, bizarre, and if I'm being honest, a little creepy.....I frikkin' love it.  
 
Imagine you touched down and de-planed in JFK to find that the population of the entire airport is about 300, plus staff.  You'd pretty well assume the world was ending, right? 
 
Just about the only ones on the way to immigration.
Well, we know that hasn't happened (at least not in the Hollywood action sense) but you wouldn't know that in Doha right now.  Sure, no one is running around screaming about the end of the world with their hair on fire, but it's unsettling nonetheless. 

Completely empty customs and baggage hall.
 
There's more staff than passengers by far, and we're literally (using the term correctly) the only people at each checkpoint.  I'd say we're the only ones in line, but using he term 'line' wouldn't really be correct...since it's just us....and we're only two people.  The bathrooms have more people cleaning them than using the facilities, and we get asked if we need directions multiple times in minutes by idle staff.  The thing is, we don't need directions, we know the way from here.
 
Lots of red up there....
 
The way out since we're legitimate premium passengers this time around, is through the designated business class customs...lounge... I suppose you could call it?  On the way to baggage and customs, you have to clear immigration as per usual, but not be outdone, Qatar has made even this process luxurious.  You check in at the lounge, which is basically a large room with nice chairs, some light refreshments, coffee, tea and the like, and when you're ready to exit, you just proceed to the dedicated customs desks at the other side.
 
 
The entrance to the immigration 'lounge.'
 
As was the case with the rest of the airport, this too was basically an empty room except for us and the staff.  No fighting for seats here.  We didn't wait around too long, since we had a room at the Grand Hyatt to check into for the night.  Since you can now apply in advance for a free transit visa, I didn't have to pay the $25 entry fee, which was nice on a short layover. 
 
I learned a thing or two about this process, and the ways it works and doesn't in planning and taking this trip.  Long story short, you can have only one visa application at a time, and you have to apply at least 7 days in advance.  You can also get a free visa if you have the right length of layover to be able to participate in QR's stopover package on a premium itinerary. (More on the ins and outs of this later)
 
Yes, this is what premium immigration lines look like in Doha.  This is also not to be confused with the actual 'Arrivals Lounge' past customs, which has far more than this.
 
After a brief look around, and getting our passports stamped, we headed out through the empty customs hall, and grabbed a cab to the hotel.  It was about a 30 minute ride, and there was hardly anyone out, or any traffic.  This is probably due to the perfect storm of the travel embargo, Ramadan....and the oppressive summer heat.  In any case, the city looked to be more or less an echo of the ghost town that the airport was.  Like I said, a bit unnerving..... and I frikkin' love it. 
 
What's a mileage run, if not the search for truly unique experiences?
 

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 3: Shades On, Wheels Up

 

The trip so far:

Preview: Yes, This Is Real Life

Part 1: Location Location Location

Part 2: Brits in Beantown

I have to grudgingly admit that Airbus did a good job with the a350, there's no denying it.  Now, as I've said, I'm a Seattle native.  Not just a Seattle native, but a North of SEA, Boeing hometown, kinda native.  As such, I'm pre-conditioned to be skeptical of anything that doesn't get designed and built in Everett.  

And I'm right.  I'm absolutely right with respect to the a319...and the a320 series.  Give me an MD80 or a 737 over those any day.  The a330 also doesn't knock my socks off, I'd prefer the 777 line.  However, I'll cave and give them props for being daring enough to put the a380 into production, and the a350 is a fair answer to the Dreamliner model.  
 

Flying the DOH-BOS route, I've gotten to check it out a couple of times so far.  The a350 has some features that set it apart as a pretty boy of a plane (yes, I'm jetlagged, deal with it.  People are dealing with stuff now).  The first thing you notice is that it has its 'shades on' from the get-go- the cockpit windows are tinted and appear black from the outside.  It was probably a functional design spec, but there's no denying it's sexy as hell.  Well, if you're a confirmed avgeek, that is.  
 

In flight, the size is formidable, giving a smooth ride, and if you grab a window seat, the elegantly curved winglet will make your in-flight pictures even more snazzy.  Allegedly, they've implemented the lower pressurization and higher humidity that Boeing put in place with the 787.  Being pressurized at less than the standard 8,000 ft density altitude should make you feel better and less dried out when you get to your destination.  I will say I've felt good getting off both 787 and 350 flights, but that could be the air, or the good sleep I got in their comfy business class seats.  I'll try to pay better attention next time. 

 
So now that that larger love fest is in place, let me give you the small, nitpicking complaints.  I flew this route in reverse in February, so just a couple of feelings about it.  

First off, try as they will, Airbus has IFE issues.  On the 321 it skips, and cuts in and out in turbulence.  Seriously.  One the 350, the sound occasionally did the same. There's really no excuse for this, and I won't make any.  While we're on the topic of IFE, they could cycle through their TV offerings a little more frequently.  I'm pretty sure a lot of it was overlap from 5 months earlier. 
 
The other issues I had, and they're admittedly small...though I would argue important to an airline trying to keep up this mythical 'world's only 5 Star airline' cache, is that in just the span of a few months since I last flew this route, they've already downgraded the service. 
 
 
The two things that stand out immediately are the amenity kit, which has gone from an Armani branded one with a full size hand lotion, generous perfume or cologne, and other goodies, to their current kit, which has much smaller samples, no perfume, etc.  The container itself might be a slight improvement, but I miss the Armani. 
 
 
The other notable change is a downgrade in their Champagne from Tattinger Blanc de Blancs, to Billecart-Salmon Brut.  I fully realize that this sounds like the most petty complaint, but like I said, this airline's entire marketing scheme focuses on being superior and offering a particularly luxurious business class experience. 
 
If their motto was 'sit here and eventually we'll get you someplace else, and then you'll be in that place and so deal with it until then,' like most American carriers' business model has become, that would be different, but premium is pretty much what QR has going for them, and the first thing on every drinks menu is the bubbly.  Details matter.
 
 
That said, the service is still head and shoulders above any US based carrier, bar none.  As is the case with most all of their mid and long haul flights, business class is 'dine on demand' so you can relax and order as you like.  There are generally several options for each course, and the drinks menu has not only wine, beer, spirits and the like, but also has a 'cocktail menu' included. 
 
It's true that since the plane is carrying all the mixers and whatnot, you could technically order a cocktail on most international flights (if not by name) it's fun to have some featured drinks listed.  I started out by trying the 'pink gin' which, as I quickly learned, was pretty much just a cup of gin.  I managed.
 
 
From there, I worked my way though the dinner menu.  Everything was excellent, as airplane food goes.  Many times I don't make it all the way to dessert, but this time I did.  I had the ice cream, and it was also good, but so frozen that it took awhile to be able to eat it.  Pro tip- order it with your entrĂ©e so it will defrost enough before you actually get to it. 
 
 
By this point, I'd worked my way though a fair amount of the IFE I hadn't already seen, including some bizarre documentary-but-fiction thing about the future of space...something?  I settled in, and got some sleep for a couple hours.  Honestly, even long haul flights that are this comfortable never seem quite long enough.  Yes, I'm serious.
 
~CruisingAltitude
 
  

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Perfect Summer


It really is the little things that make travel memorable- the time you clear security in 5 minutes from entering the airport, the time you clear your upgrade unexpectedly into your favorite seat, and of course, when someone along the way takes that extra step to making your day just a little better.

It's the escape from the normal on scales small and large that keep us coming back, and make us crave getting to the next jetbridge.  Even when you dedicate a fair amount of energy to traveling well, it's easy to get stuck in the monotony, and caught in the minutia. 

I'm happy to say that my current trip defies these traps.  I'm wrapping up a lovely, if short, weekend on Whidbey Island, WA with family.  The weather was perfect- warm days, cool nights, and sunsets made for storybook covers. I grew up here, and I don't get back nearly enough, especially in the summer.

Bringing all this ennui back to topics I cover in this blog, I have to comment on the recent upgrading and expansion of the SEA airport.  In case you've been living under a rock for the last 10 years or so, Seattle has become the SFO of the north, and as the industry and money have moved, the airlines and services have followed.  What once was a 2nd tier dominated airport, nearly to capacity with Alaska Air 737s, has become a bustling hub of the major players.

Most importantly (for me) just last year American started multiple nonstop service daily from LAX, and introduced the route with some killer deals.  Since then, I've rarely flown Alaska.  What's more, the 'Battle for Seattle'- a showdown between Delta and Alaska for dominance at this up and coming hub has ripped open airline alliances, and killed interline and codeshare deals between Alaska and both Delta and American. 

It's an interesting time to be alive...

However, what I really wanted to write about, less the small diversion, is that even American Express has apparently had their eye on Seattle, and a few years ago launched the 'Centurion Studio,' a smaller version of their Centurion Lounge, in the B Gates to test the waters.  Apparently, they got their answer loud and clear, and within the year started an expansion to the space that recently opened. 

It's fast become one of our favorite stops due to the beautiful views of Mt. Rainer, the nice food options, and especially the lounge staff.  From check in, to table service, to the bartenders, everyone is friendly and attentive. 

Tonight, I wandered up to the bar trying to decide what I was in the mood for.  I was immediately cut off, and was informed he had the perfect thing.  What I was served went a little like this:

"The Perfect Summer"

1.5 oz St Germain Elderflower
1/2oz fresh lemon
1/2 oz blood orange liquor
1/2oz simple syrup
Fill with crushed ice, float Prosecco to fill hi-ball glass
Garnish with a slice of grapefruit



And that, my friends, is the way to end a summer weekend before getting back to work.

Fly well,

~CrusisingAltitude

Around The World In 80 Hours: Epilouge

Hello Boston!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I did, very eventually, make it back to Los Angeles.  I may or may not still have been wearing my Qatar pajama top.  When you fly 7 flights around the world, you can judge me for that.  Until then.....

The circle was completed by a final flight back to LAX direct from Boston.  My upgrade cleared well in advance through use of an expiring SWU (as this was 'back in the days' when we got 8, and by February some would be in jeopardy of evaporating into thin air unused), so I didn't have to go from one of the nicest seats in the Oneworld fleet, to row 15 on an aging 737.

Let's take it home!

 My layover in Boston was spent saying goodbye to my travel companion as he headed off to his much shorter flight back to DCA, showering at the Admiral's Club, and trying to do a little writing to collect my thoughts.  It was a whirlwind trip to say the least, and I'm still amused and amazed that it all worked out as well as it did.

I arrived late into LAX, and checked into the LAX Westin hotel for the night so I didn't wake up my family by blundering in half jetlagged and dragging my suitcase at 1am, and could instead get off to work in the morning with less drive time.

Looking back, this trip was easily one of my favorite, if not THE favorite, mileage run to date.  It was exhausting at times, but good company, wonderful layover cities, and the story to tell about making the complete round the Earth flightpath in a long weekend is hard to beat.  It checked all the boxes- luxury, challenge, hilarity, camaraderie, and of course, a huge haul of miles. 

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me in reading this as I got it posted, and if you want to continue following this year's insanity, be sure to read about Havana Running, and of course the companion trip to this one- Yes, This Is Real Life, where I answer the existential question of how to mileage run to Cairo, when you can't fly to Cairo. 

As it stands, I'm actually coming up on my 100,000th mile very soon, which is much earlier than past years.  I should cross that milestone (get it...get it??) on our upcoming family trip to Europe!  Irony (or considering this year's flying, perfect fit) I'll get there on a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Copenhagen.  Look for a preview post about this mileage burn (not earn- this is where all those miles go in the end) trip both here, and also on Baby Flyer Blog.

Thanks again for reading.  Fly well, fly safely,

~CruisingAltitude

This is what one looks like after going around the world in 80 hours.  Midnight at LAX, yes, those might be QR PJs.