Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 10 - Royally Jordanian

Yes, This Is Real Life- Preview

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 1- Location, Location, Location

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 2- Brits In Beantown

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 4 - Welcome to Ghost Port

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 6 - Birds In Doha

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 7 - Dealing With Dragons

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 8 - A Place Most Exceedingly Rare

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 9- I Still Can't Believe This Is Real Life

This is not a post about flying Royal Jordanian.  I have, to date, not flown Royal Jordanian.  It is, however, a post about transiting their home airport of Amman, Jordan in all of 90 minutes, and I thought it a rather snappy title. 

Even for me, this day of flying pushed the ridiculous.  Now that I'd been re-routed, my layover was shorter and I literally flew the same plane in and out of Jordan right back to Doha.  It was about a three hour flight each way.  I had the same cabin crew, and even the same seat.  You've just got to laugh sometimes.  My flight attendant sure did.

So, here's how it went-

I left the lounge, and boarded on time for AMM.  They fly a a330 between these cities, which is still definitely a widebody plane, but not as big as the 777 or the 350.  The seats are lie flat, but not nearly as spacious as the 777 seats, or the 350 seats.  It's still fantastically comfortable for this length of flight, and would be fine for an overnight as well.  The cabin is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration, so the window seats don't have aisle access.  Once again, I had no one next to me.

Instead of a pre departure beverage, since it was Ramadan and they weren't serving alcohol on any planes flying soley between middle eastern destinations, the cabin crew came around to offer coffee and dates while the rest of the flight boarded.  They did serve a meal on the flight, but also offered a boxed meal to go to passengers observing the holy month.

Regional amenity kit
I ordered the ful medames (quickly becoming my local go-to, the same way I always grab a bowl of congee in Asia) and pita as a snack, and kicked back to watch the IFE and doze a bit.  The flight went quickly, and we arrived on time to AMM.  Here's where the fun started.

Now,  I've done several transfers between itineraries like this, where you can't check in for your onward flight until you get on the ground at the destination, and so you don't have a boarding pass to clear transfer immigration.  The most hair raising example of this was definitely going through Jakarta, an experience I'd prefer not to repeat...but if I'm honest...I probably will at some point.

I had asked if I could get my AMM-DOH boarding pass on leaving DOH, but since the itinerary was technically a separate one way ticket AMM-DOH-IAH, they couldn't print it.  They did, however, print me the read out of the booking details so I had that to hand over in AMM.

Waaaaiiiittting to get my passport back
The transfer desk/area doesn't have a Qatar agent at it, and so I had to hand over my passport to an airport employee who then left to go down to the ticketing desks to procure my boarding pass.  This is simply never a good feeling, but is unfortunately how it's done many places.  I had to wait 30+ minutes for him to return, all the while staring out the window at the plane I arrived on, and was scheduled to depart on shortly.

Finally made it back upstairs- AMM Airport
The total transfer time I had available was only 90 minutes, so by the time I cleared security and was sent back to the departures level, I just headed back to the plane and boarded a few minutes later.  This was quite entertaining to my flight crew, especially as I was in the exact same seat as before. 

It went something like this:

FA: Welcome, boarding pa... Oh, it's you again!

Me: Um, yep. Again.

FA: Seat?

Me: 4F, again, apparently.

FA: (Laughs)  You missed us?

Me: It's a long story...

On arrival back at DOH, I took a few minutes to check out the arrivals lounge, simply because I hadn't been before and I'd gotten in earlier than the prior two days.  It's reserved for business and first class arriving passengers, and is located past security.  There's a made to order menu, not as extensive as the airside lounges, but plenty of options, as well as drinks, places to relax, and showers.  I didn't spend too long, just enough to get a look around.

Arrivals lounge seating

Since I also had the 'stopover package' for this night, I'd stopped and been given my hotel and meal voucher, as well as my info for the free shuttle before clearing immigration.  As seemed to be the most common set up, I'd been given a night at the Oryx Rotana hotel, which while not the Ritz, is still quite a nice hotel to have for free.  It's not in the main part of town, or up by the Pearl, but since it caters to one night stopovers that's no big issue.

After a short shuttle ride, I was checking in to my third and final hotel of the weekend.  How the last night went, is coming up.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 9- I Still Can't Believe This Is Real Life


This post will include some ramblings about the meaning and strangeness of life, as well as about 1.6 million pictures of fancy things only nitpicking travel geeks care about.  You have been warned.

Yes, This Is Real Life- Preview

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 1- Location, Location, Location

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 2- Brits In Beantown

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 4 - Welcome to Ghost Port

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 6 - Birds In Doha

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 7 - Dealing With Dragons

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 8 - A Place Most Exceedingly Rare

On arrival from my return flight from Colombo, I headed to the Ritz Carlton Doha.  For free. Yes, free.  As promised, here's where I reveal the added benefits of mileage running through Doha, especially with the blockade, especially in the summer.

On this trip I was being way more strict with myself than usual about trying to keep on my home timezone.  This basically meant staying up all night, and sleeping on the flights during the day.  This works though because Doha in the summer, with of without Ramadan, is better at night.  Plus, so far the nights have been short due to early morning onward travel.

And so what better place to be up all night in....than a nice room at the Ritz??  When planning this trip, I found the then new +Qatar offer to be very easy to use.  You just put in your travel info, apply for the visa, and pick your free hotel.  Done and done.  At the time, the Ritz was included as an option for Business and First class passengers.  I did a check again recently though, and it's no longer there.  The sadness....
The hotel, like everything else in the city, was quiet....too quiet...  I don't think I ever saw another guest.  Granted, I was only there for one short-ish night, but still.  Since things like the pool and gym were closed when I arrived late, I headed to my room to relax. 

Even better, my room was on a high floor facing the water, and as you might expect, wonderfully comfortable, from the huge bathroom, to the curved flatscreen TV, to the  balcony.  The hotel is advertised as being on a 'private island' which technically, I suppose it is.  However, we're not talking Gilligan's Island here, more a man-made chunk of land surrounded by other man-made land and a marina.  You do have to take a bridge to get there though, so I'll give it to them on a technicality.
This wouldn't fit in my suitcase...sadly.

Honestly, neither would this.
The balcony was the perfect place to watch the sun finally rise for the second time on this trip.  There are some things I'll never forget.  This was one of them.  Since it was well over 100F every day, the early dawn hours were the most comfortable of the day, and before sunrise, the strict Ramadan rules were lifted.  By 3:30 am people were out on the water.


5am....Airport time!
With the summer sun up, and the desert starting to heat up again, it was time to head back to the airport.  This was probably my most anticipated arrival at the airport of all my trips, because on certain intra-Mideast flights Qatar sells its business class as 1st class.  This means you're entitled to all the extra perks of a 'real' first class ticket, and in Doha, this means a lot!
As discussed earlier, my ticket to Cairo had unexpectedly become my ticket to Amman, Jordan.  Right, then, whatever.  I did want to at least say I'd been to Egypt, but I suppose I hadn't been to Jordan either, so fair play.
What you see when you step inside the doors to first class check in at DOH airport.  This level of service is almost intimidating.
I arrived via Uber back at the airport and was escorted to the private first class check in.  It's through the same doors as business class, but then you go to the right and are immediately met by an attendant who takes your luggage for you, and actual check in is done in private lounge areas.  There are absolutely no lines here.  After that, you get a designated first class security screening, and arrive directly to the first class lounge.  Niiiiiice.  Another life goal complete.
Have a seat, get checked in for your flight today.

This way!
I was through in a matter of minutes, and into a lounge completely unlike any I'd been in before.  It feels like a private museum of some kind, but huge, with insanely high ceilings and wide corridors.  Most airport lounges are anticipating....well...passengers.  Usually lots and lots of them throughout the day.  This place is like a sanctuary, especially on this particular weekend.  As I move through, there are definitely people there, but not many, and the architecture spreads people out, so nothing looks full.

I honestly am still not over how simply huge the floorplan for this place is.  There are entire airports who's terminals aren't this big, and remember that DOH also has a massive business class lounge, an independent Oryx lounge, and two (not great) Oneworld lounges all serving the same airline's passengers. 

Yes, that's a 20 foot water feature right in the middle of the main hallway.  What's more, it's nearly silent, with the water slipping quietly from the center....and this place is so quiet, you can hear it.  Footsteps echo, chatter is muted, I feel like I'm in airport church.

Now that I've gone off the deep end over the basics, lets talk about some of the insane amenities.  There's a spa, showers, bar, full service restaurant, the works.  I wandered around and new things just kept showing up.

Private Duty Free

Hey, I remember those from Havana.  I'm sure they cost more here.
There's a dedicated duty free shop in case, you know, you need to buy some Cuban cigars.... or a $10,000 diamond necklace, right there, before your flight, and you can't bare anyone else to be around.

"Family room"
There are also several large 'family rooms' with their own couches and TVs....several.  None were being used.

And speaking of family amenities, there's the most expansive kids' zone I've ever seen in an airport, bar none.  It's equipped with a full classroom sized play area, and a game room with multiple consoles....and an F1 car mock up & game.   Wow.

Kids' space

Lucky kids...

....Seriously, so lucky.
It was on this wandering that I stumbled upon a buffet and extra dining room that appeared to be just for.... pastries???  You do you, Qatar, but.... damn.

As for the food and drink, there are several areas with buffets, but the smart choice is to get a table in the restaurant area and order from the full menu.  Once again, I was the only one, and had about 3 wait staff looking on. 

I had some lovely strong tea, eggs benedict, and fruit.  Everything was great, as was the view, which one of my many waiters nicely procured for me by pulling back the blinds by my table.

All day.  I could stay here all day.

The one regret was that, due to Ramadan, the bar was closed.  Well not closed exactly, just serving tea and soft drinks only.  Yes, it was first thing in the morning, so not the typical time to hit the bar, but rumor has it that this lounge regularly serves free flowing Krug champagne.  At least as of last year.  Sincere regrets, people.  This lifestyle is hard.

Oh the regrets....
After breakfast, I enjoyed the ambiance a bit longer, and then headed out to catch my next flight.  Up next was a quick flight, which should have been two hours, but was made slightly longer by having to avoid Saudi airspace.  In business class though, a slightly slower flightpath is no hardship....even if you don't get any more miles for it!
Fly well,


Friday, July 13, 2018

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 8- A Place Most Exceedingly Rare

Prior adventures:

Yes, This Is Real Life- Preview

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 1- Location, Location, Location

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 2- Brits In Beantown

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 4 - Welcome to Ghost Port

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 6 - Birds In Doha

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 7 - Dealing With Dragons

I have a pet peeve about the current state of IFE on many airlines.  Actually I have plenty, but this pithy one is relevant to my life currently.  That is that each time you want to watch a program-  no matter if it's a 3 hour movie, or a 22 minute TV show, you have to watch an intro with several segments.  There's usually one about the airline, and then some adds from whatever company they currently have a contract with. 

Qatar takes this intro business seriously.  They currently have an add for a condo building/mall, and an add for the airline, as well as a full length add about Qatar itself.  The tag line is 'Qatar- A Place Most Exceedingly Rare,' which, when you watch it 20, 30, 40 times over a weekend makes you question their use of the English language.  I guess it sounds fancy, but what exactly does it mean?  Sure, this place by definition is rare-it's small, and until the currently diplomatic crisis, not many people knew where it was, but aside from that....?

They do a good job of giving it gravitas I suppose, but I personally think the prior incarnation of their propaganda video was better, and was possibly the best airline self promotion add I've ever seen.  I could watch it all day.

First course... on just a 4+ hr flight
Second course.
I landed back from Colombo safely around midnight.  It was a good flight, just over 5 hours.  I had the curry dish which, I kid you not, I have been thinking about since the last time I flew CMB-DOH.  It didn't disappoint.  After the meal, I fell asleep and woke up to the descent announcement.  I probably got around 3 hours of sleep, which was plenty to hold me over through the night.

Just finishing the flight off right.
What was notable about this trip was learning the changing visa situation for traveling to Qatar.  When I came through a year or so ago, there was just a simple paid visa on arrival that cost about $25.  This time, I had a few options, and used a different one by necessity each time.

The current visa rules and countries.
First off, Qatar now has a free multiple entry visa for US (and many other) citizens.  This visa just requires proof of onward travel, and 6 months at a minimum left on your passport.  However, at the time I went on this trip, this wasn't yet the case, and so I was encouraged to check out some of the workarounds.  These workarounds, even though the visa is no longer the issue, are worth knowing about still as they're a great way to get free night's accommodation and sometimes more.

What program you qualify for depends on the length of your stopover, with a few other rules thrown in.  You qualify for their first program, the "Stopover package" or "STPC" if you are flying on Qatar in higher economy classes (N and above), business or first, have a layover of between 8 and 24 hours, and ....this is the kicker... there is NO SHORTER connection you could have taken, even if that connection would have had a different fare.  Certain close destinations (MCT and KWI) are also excluded.

Why these rules are so strict, is that this package gets you not only a night at a good hotel (5-star in the case of business and above, 3-star for econ), but also a sizable food and beverage voucher that pretty well covers your meals, and free airport transfers.  Not a bad deal at all.  I did this package on my third and final night of this trip...so I'll be giving the details soon.

The other program to know about, which is likely more useful to most people since it has far fewer restrictions, is the "+Qatar" program.  This basically is Qatar's way of trying to get people to spend some time in the city on their way through. 

What Qatar is, at least to the limited outsider, is an oil and money drenched peninsula surrounded by desert and neighbors who currently don't like them very much.  What they have going for them, besides all that money that lets them turn this desert into architectural wonders (or eyesores, depending on your taste), is a truly world class airline and airport and they're painfully, painfully, proud of it.

Strong tea & Beautiful tails as far as the eye can see...
 In honesty, they should be.  I get that there's unfair advantage with their government throwing cash behind the investment, but everything, from the food, to the service, to the planes themselves is just a cut above most any other airline out there.  This is to say nothing of the airport, which is just beautiful start to finish.  They're so proud of it, that THIS VIDEO exists of the 'official song of Hamad International Airport.'  And yes, that fully is the big teddy bear in the background at 00:48.  Can you imagine what the symphony of... Newark airport.... would be???  I mean...

This is all to say that especially with the long running blockade in effect, Doha's tourism industry is playing to its strengths and using the constant influx of passengers to its advantage.  The +Qatar stopover program provides free one night's accommodations for passengers on layovers of more than 12 hours.  It lacks the food and transport, but is far less restrictive, and lets you pick your own hotel.  It also provides a free visa for travelers from countries not included in the new multi-entry program.

As a side note, the website appears to be asking you to build a multi-city itinerary, but each time I've done it a simple round trip that defaulted to the long layover time was fine. 

This can be an amazing deal, especially since the hotels are quite nice.  They include some high end and recognizable brand properties that I'd happily stay in even without this deal.  A second night can also be added for just $100, meaning you are getting a great hotel for $50 a night.


This deal is technically time limited, and ends December 31, 2018.  However, when I used it last year, it was time limited then, but keeps getting extended.  If the blockade continues, I expect it will keep on rolling along.  I'm crossing my fingers that they push into next year as I have a nice long layover in Doha in January.

On descent into Doha at night.
What has changed though, and what made being in Doha in that perfect storm of Ramadan, summer, and blockade, was that the list of hotels participating was more expansive and had some options that were simply insane to get for free.  Which... is how on my second stop in Doha I was up all night at the Ritz Carlton, by myself.... for abso-frikkin-lutely free.

And that, my friends, is a topic for the next entry...

Read Up Next- "I still can't believe this is real life" : A free night at the Ritz, and the most insane lounge to date.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 7: Dealing With Dragons

View from the DOH-CMB flight

It's the turn-around point!  But first, the story so far:

Yes, This Is Real Life - Preview

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 1 - Location, Location, Location

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 2 - Brits in Beantown

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 4 - Welcome To Ghostport

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

Yes, This Is Real Life Part 6 - Birds In Doha

Welcome to Columbo, for the second time.  Last time I passed through here, I dealt with the trials of getting onward tickets from Sri Lankan for Qatar, and the entirely underwhelming absorptive properties of the towels in the shower at the UL (Sri Lankan airways) lounge.

This time, I had vague plans of actually leaving the airport.  There were a few attractions nearby, and while the CMB airport falls into the 'it's fine' category, it's not an epic lounge destination like HKG.  However, as I went on about previously, mileage runs are trips where you react in the moment to what simply sounds the best.  In this case, what sounded the best....was a nap.  So, we took a nap.

CMB Airport
 As it so happens, CMB is a great place for this because there's a small transit hotel right in the airport that doesn't require clearing immigration to get to.  This was even better, because another large factor in our staying airside was that they wanted someplace around $40 a person for a visa on arrival.  While that's not really all that much in context, it starts to feel obnoxious when there's two of you, and you only really have about 5 hours on the ground to start with.

The transit hotel hallway.  Nothing fancy, but perfect for a nap.
The day rate at the hotel was less than the visa price (bless cheap SE Asia), so we split a room for a shower and a solid couple hours of downtime.  To get there, head toward the exit, past the transit desk and shrine in the center of the terminals, and follow signs to the Hotel.  The rooms aren't anything fancy, but they're clean (enough) and quiet.  The timing couldn't be better for trying to stay away from heavy jetlag, since for 'us' it was still the middle of the night. 

This way...
Feeling better, we did of course go for a little lounge time before our outbound flights.  Here's where some shenanigans started up again.  Now, here's an (exceedingly) rare moment where I'll have to admit I was in the wrong.  I know it's impossible to believe, but stick with me.

The Oneworld rules for lounge access state that a OW Emerald, such as myself, gets 1st class lounge access "when the next onward flight is on a Oneworld owned and operated flight."  The same rule applies to guests.  They don't have to be on your same Oneworld flight, just a Oneworld flight.

There are actually a couple lounges up by the transit hotel, including the Emirates and a small Sri Lankan.  The bigger, better, Sri Lankan lounge is in the main terminal though.
Unfortunately this time, my travel companion and I were preparing to go separate ways after flying together up to this point.  I was headed back to Doha on Qatar, and he was flying back to the US by way of Dubai on an Emirates award ticket.  What this resulted in was us each having good lounge access, just to different lounges, and neither of us could rightly guest the other in.  This is not to say we didn't try at both places.... but it didn't work out.  I was hoping that given that the UL lounge was empty, and he did have his Oneworld card on him, we might slide by.  However, the lounge dragons, after some chatter amongst themselves, thought otherwise. 

As I said, I knew I was in the wrong here going in, so there was no point in protesting.  We said our goodbyes, and each spent a few minutes in our respective lounges before going to our gates. 

Bar at the Sri Lankan lounge.  I like the "airplane" motif.
My time at the lounge was, I'll admit, true to form for my jetlagged-delirious self at this point.  I was nearly the only one there, and there were few staff of any kind.  In a matter of about 30 minutes I managed to spill cylon tea on myself, raid the bar fridge and open my own bottle of champagne, and on account of not reading Tamil well, blow right past the sign that said the buffet was temporarily closed while they changed from lunch to dinner dishes, and help myself to the food, distributing my own serving utensils as I went.  Not super proud, but no regrets either.  Really, they should have let my buddy in as I clearly needed adult supervision.

Yeah.... I went there.
I ate whatever this was, even though they weren't serving yet.
After all of that, I said goodbye to Colombo and got back on my next Qatar flight. As was becoming the theme of this amazing weekend, I was once again nearly alone on my flight.  The plane was a 777-200, which Qatar has business class laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration.  On this one I had the entire row of 6 seats behind the bulkhead to MYSELF.  Basically a whole mini business class cabin.  Unreal.

Miiiiiine, all mine...
So I flew out alone, right back to another sleepless night in Doha....


Up next- A Place Most Exceedingly Rare: My triumphant return to Doha (again), thoughts you didn't ask for about IFE, and a primer on Qatar transit visas.