A Long Weekend in Iguazu Falls

After much internal debate, I’ve finally decided to go through with my trip this coming long weekend to Iguazu Falls via pretty much every major airport in South America.

Am I insane?

Probably.

Back this Spring, LAN offered a very, very cheap rate from New York to Iguazu Falls on both LAN and TAM metal.  Naturally, I made a game of finding the most absurd routing possible to get to Iguazu Falls.  That seemed like a fun thing at the time.  It was also one of the cheapest routings, to boot.

And Now?

Yeah, I’m pretty much dreading the flights.  Over 32 hours of flying in coach, on FIVE flights to get from DC to freakin’ Foz do Iguazu, Brazil at 1am, only to have to taxi into Puerto Iguassu, Argentina in the wee hours of the morning.

Five flights?  Four transfers?  A late-night border crossing between Brazil and Argentina?

What possibly could go wrong?

In the end, I’ve decided that an opportunity to see one of the Natural Wonders of the World – Iguazu Falls – is just too good to miss, despite the absolute absurdity that I’m putting myself through to get there.  Oh yeah – I’ve also already put too much of a financial investment in this trip to just see it go to waste.

During my time there this weekend, I plan on seeing the Falls from both the Argentina and Brazil sides, as well as spending some time in Puerto Iguazu.  Since I’m rockin’ this trip solo, I’ll be staying at a hostel in order to keep costs down.  So I’ll for sure get to Brazil and Argentina on this trip.  If I play my cards right, I may be able to get into neighboring Paraguay for a bit, but we’ll see how that goes when I get down there.  Mix in the quality time I’ll get to spend during my layovers in Lima, Peru, and that’s possibly four countries in one weekend (though I hesitate to count Peru if I don’t leave the Lima Airport).

 The Routing

Yeah… it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 7.07.41 PM Yup.  That’s:

  • DCA-JFK on AA (my upgrade to First Class cleared!)
  • JFK-(LIM)-SCL on LAN in economy (stopover in Lima)
  • SCL-GRU on TAM in economy
  • GRU-IGU on TAM in economy

Return

  • IGU-LIM on LAN in economy
  • LIM-JFK on LAN in economy
  • JFK-DCA on AA in economy

So, over 13,000 miles of flying in a weekend.   Not bad.  Slightly insane, but not your typical weekend.  Whatever happens, it’ll be an adventure.  And for that, I’m thankful.  Now, about streaming the Auburn vs. Texas A&M game…


 Update:  This trip did NOT go as planned… the trip report is linked below:

A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere:  An Iguazu Fail

 

Six Initial Thoughts on My Trip Around the World

After two weeks and just under 22,000 miles of travel around the world, I’m finally getting acclimated to the real world after arriving back in Washington from Tokyo last week.

DCA-ORD-MUC // MUC-BKK-PVG // PVG-HKG-PVG // PVG-NRT-IAD

DCA-ORD-MUC // MUC-BKK-PVG // PVG-HKG-PVG // PVG-NRT-IAD

I’d initially planned to publish trip reports as I went on this trip, but after a pretty intense first few days of Oktoberfest in Munich, that whole idea went out the window.  On this trip, I used my time in airports and on flights to relax and sleep instead of writing.  As a result, my trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming weeks.  I’ve got all sorts of goodies in this set, in addition to my flights in United, THAI, Air China and ANA First Class, including:

  • Le Meridien, Munich
  • Park Hyatt Shanghai
  • Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui
  • Grand Hyatt Shanghai
  • Hyatt Regency Tokyo
  • Sights of Munich and Oktoberfest
  • A Day in Bangkok
  • THAI Royal First Class Lounge and Spa, BKK
  • Sights of Shanghai
  • Air China Forbidden First Class Lounge, PVG
  • Sights of Hong Kong
  • A Nights in Tokyo

Continue Reading →

24 Hours in Anchorage

I’m posting this after completing a short, weekend trip to Anchorage, Alaska as part of a mileage run to hit the American Airlines Executive Platinum Status Challenge. Anchorage is a great place to spend a day, and obviously a fantastic hopping off point to explore more of Alaska, including Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, or even an Alaskan cruise. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you actually spend some time in Alaska – certainly more than 24 hours. I’ve been fortunate enough to take two cruises to Alaska, so I’ve been able to experience the majestic scenery of the Last Frontier. I also spent a couple days in Anchorage last summer for a quick, weekend trip.

With that said, there’s no shortage of things to do if you have a short time in Anchorage – whether it’s a free day after a cruise, a hopping off point before or after a fishing trip, or if you find it amusing to fly almost 10,000 miles in a weekend, like me. Continue Reading →

Points, Planes and Passports Officially Joins Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea!

First of all, I apologize for the lack of posts the last few weeks — they’ve been quite hectic, and the blog has been in transition mode.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 8.42.46 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-03 at 8.43.04 PM

A few months ago, I joined Prior2Boarding — a collection of top travel blogs and sister-site of the uber-popular BoardingArea community of travel blogs.  This past Tuesday, the techie wizards out in Colorado at BoardingArea successfully migrated my blog to the BoardingArea servers, so you’ll see a few minor changes to my blog, including a banner header with links to the other Prior2Boarding blogs.  I encourage you to check them out, as they all feature a wealth of information on everything related to travel, points and miles.

For those who haven’t read my blog yet, here’s a brief introduction… Continue Reading →

Review: Qantas Economy and Business Class Cairns to Sydney to Melbourne

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

After disembarking the Spirit of Freedom after four insanely great days of diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea, we accompanied several of our fellow passengers to a bar in Cairns for lunch and a few drinks.  Many of the crew members of the boat met us there for a great summer afternoon.  When it was time to head to the airport, several of us split a cab for the short ride.  I’d booked my dad in business class for these two segments, while I bit the bullet and agreed to ride back in economy.  Upon check-in, the very nice Qantas check-in agent proactively changed my seat assignment to an exit-row aisle seat when she saw how tall I was – this was a very nice touch and a great way to start the trip down to Melbourne.

After passing through security, we spent some time in the Qantas Club before it was time to board for the flight.  Despite Cairns being a regional airport at best, the club was extremely well equipped and certainly much nicer than pretty much any other domestic lounge run by a carrier in the US.

Cairns to Melbourne via Sydney on Qantas

Cairns to Melbourne via Sydney on Qantas

Qantas (QF) 927
Cairns (CNS) – Sydney (SYD)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800
Seat:  14D (Economy Class)
Monday, January 6
4:15 PM – 8:15PM
Duration:  3:00

My dad took his seat in 1D in business class, and I kept going back to the second row of exit row seats.  The plane was a fairly new B737-800 with nice, leather seats and an in-seat IFE system.  Since I did have an exit row seat, I had tons of legroom — this was much appreciated, though even the standard seat pitch didn’t look all that bad.

Plenty of legroom in the Exit Row!

Plenty of legroom in the Exit Row!

Nice in-seat IFE on this Qantas B737-800

Nice in-seat IFE on this Qantas B737-800

Service on the flight was pretty fantastic.  We had a light snack on-board that consisted of a decent sandwich — the flight attendant from business class even brought me back some ice cream and a drink from business class at the request of my dad — a nice touch for sure.  I watched a movie on the IFE, and before I knew it, we were on final approach into Sydney.  This was one of the easier flights in economy that I’d experienced, and it was certainly a better experience than my flights on Virgin Australia a few days before.

We were scheduled to have a couple of hours in Sydney before our connecting flight departed for Melbourne, but it was delayed for about an hour.  No worries — we just headed to the Qantas Club in the domestic terminal to kill some time.  Once again, it was very well-appointed and provided a wonderful respite from the somewhat vacant domestic terminal at that hour.

Boarding for the short hop over to Melbourne began about 45 minutes behind schedule as the flight was awaiting a connecting crew.

Qantas (QF) 497
Sydney (SYD) – Melbourne (MEL)
Aircraft:  Boeing 767-300
Seat:  4E (Business Class)
Monday, January 6
10:05 PM – 11:40PM
Duration:  1:35

Since my dad enjoyed business class on the much longer between Cairns and Sydney, he offered  his seat in business class to me for the shorter flight to Melbourne.  I gladly accepted his offer, and was pretty thrilled to ride up front on this domestic version of the Qantas B767-300.   The domestic version of this aircraft is situated with 30 business class seats — five rows of six seats.  It’s a regional business class setup, with a larger, reclining seat.  It wasn’t up to the standards of the regional business class product I flew last year on Cathay Pacific, but the seat was certainly better than your typical domestic first class seat in the States.  Though I didn’t use it, the IFE on the B767-300 was via pre-loaded iPads.  Each of these IFE systems were loaded with a ton of entertainment — movies, TV shows, music, etc.  I do prefer in-seat IFE systems, but this system wasn’t that bad — especially considering there was a slot in the seat where you can hang the iPad, making it a de-facto seat-back IFE system.

The empty Business Class cabin on the Qantas B767-300

The empty Business Class cabin on the Qantas B767-300

The IFE system on the Qantas B767-300 -- an iPad

The IFE system on the Qantas B767-300 — an iPad

The business class cabin on this evening flight was practically empty.  In fact, there was only one other passenger in the business class cabin with me, and that person was seated up in row 1.   There were two flight attendants working the business class cabin, so it came as no surprise that the service on-board was pretty phenomenal.  The flight attendant was young and attractive, and actually sat with me for quite some time giving me some recommendations for things to do in Melbourne.

Thought the flight was listed as an hour and thirty-five minutes, in reality it was no more than a fifty-five minute flight, wheels-up to wheels-down.  Despite this short flight time, there was still a legit meal service.  The dish was a couscous salad with sliced,  chipotle pork, with lime.  It was very light, refreshing, and pretty delicious — a perfect snack for a short, late night flight.

Pork and couscous salad

Pork and couscous salad

The flight was over too quick, but after the end of a long day I was pretty good and ready to be in Melbourne.

This short little hop was a pretty ridiculously good flight, albeit a short one.  I was quite happy with the domestic business class service provided by Qantas — and the economy flight was pretty impressive too.

How I booked it…

Domestically in Australia, there are three major players:  Qantas, Virgin Australia, and JetStar.  This left me with several options.  Since Qantas is partners with both American and British Airways, I could easily redeem those miles for travel should the flight be expensive.  For short-haul flights, British Airways Avios would work best, as it features a distance-based award chart that can be very advantageous — especially on flights under 651 miles.  For the Cairns to Melbourne segment, I decided to use miles for a flight on Qantas.  At the time, I had very modest balances of both British Airways Avios and American Airlines miles.  I ultimately wanted to fly the both of us in business class, but unfortunately there was only one seat in business left on the Cairns to Sydney segment.   The cheapest way to do this flight in business was with American miles, as it only ran 17,500 miles for this one-way flight in business class.

17,500 miles for a one-way in business class "Wholly Within" Australia

17,500 miles for a one-way in business class “Wholly Within” Australia

Australia one of the "Wholly Within" listed countries

Australia one of the “Wholly Within” listed countries

I then used British Airways Avios for another ticket on the same flights, but in economy.  This came to 14,500 Avios due to the distance of Cairns – Sydney – Melbourne clocking in at two segments (10,000 + 4,500 avios).  See this post for a background in the distance-based British Airway Avios program.

Avios Redemption Chart Courtesy:  British Airways

Avios Redemption Chart
Courtesy: British Airways

 

Review: Virgin Australia Economy Class Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

We awoke after a long night out for New Year’s Eve in Sydney to finish packing for our flights to Cairns.  After checking out from the Sheraton on the Park, we took a cab through a sleepy downtown Sydney out to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport for about AUD $35.   Check-in was relatively uneventful despite the morning rush at the terminal.  The check-in agent advised that we check our bags since they were deemed to be a “borderline” size for a carry-on.  We used these bags as carry-ons for our entire trip over on United, but went ahead and followed the gate agent’s advice anyway since we were each allowed a free bag with our “saver” fare.

Virgin Australia:  SYD-BNE-CNS

Virgin Australia: SYD-BNE-CNS

We proceeded through security and grabbed a bite for breakfast in the food court of the domestic terminal T2.  I made a few phone calls to wish folks on the East Coast of the USA a Happy New Year, and by that time boarding had commenced.  Virgin Australia boards its planes from the front and rear.  Due to our seat assignments behind the wing, we boarded through the rear set of air stairs, while the front rows boarded through the front door using the jet bridge.  Our plane was in the “old” livery, as the side of the plane still read “Virgin Blue” — the former name of the Aussie incarnation of the Virgin brand.  The airline was re-branded in 2011, and it joined then “V Australia” and “Pacific Blue” to form what is now “Virgin Australia.”

Our ride from Sydney to Brisbane -- in the old Virgin Blue livery

Our ride from Sydney to Brisbane — in the old Virgin Blue livery

Boarding the SYD-BNE flight

Boarding the SYD-BNE flight

Virgin Australia (VA) 939
Sydney (SYD) – Brisbane (BNE)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800
Seat:  25A
Wednesday, January 1
12:00 PM – 12:30PM
Duration:  1:30

We settled into our seats – the window and aisle seats in row 25 (A and C), hoping that the middle seat did not fill up.  We got lucky, as the door closed shortly thereafter with a relatively light load.  The cabin was clean with hints of purple hues in the bulkhead partitions.  Unfortunately, I found the legroom to be lacking, as I had some very limited pitch to fit my 6’4″ frame.  Luckily, this would only be a short flight.

Legroom (or lack thereof) on a Virgin Australia B737-800

Legroom (or lack thereof) on a Virgin Australia B737-800

There was an in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen at each seat, but upon arriving to my seat, it indicated that the satellite was temporarily down.  I hoped that this was simply because we were still at the gate.  Unfortunately, the IFE was inoperable the entire flight with the exception of a moving map display.  That was pretty disappointing.

The IFE system was down for both flights

The IFE system was down for both flights

We taxied for quite some time before taking off from Sydney.  As we climbed out,  we were blessed with magnificent views of Sydney Harbour and downtown on a beautiful New Years Day.

Shortly after takeoff, a basic drink service commenced.  This was a very standard beverage service, similar to what you’d find on a domestic flight in the US.  I spent the majority of the time on the flight looking out the window at the foreign (to me) Australian coast.   Before I knew it, we were descending into Brisbane where we landed on-time.

We were set to have about a 70 minute connection in Brisbane, but when we went to our gate for the flight to Cairns, it was clear that things were not on-time.   This allowed for us to have a more relaxed lunch in the food court of the terminal.

The delay was extended four different times until we finally were called for boarding around 3pm – about 80 minutes behind schedule.

Virgin Australia (VA) 785
Brisbane (BNE) – Cairns (CNS)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800
Seat:  23A
Wednesday, January 1
1:40 PM – 4:00 PM
Duration:  2:20

Once again, we boarded the rear of the aircraft via air stairs.  This airplane; however, was in the new Virigin Australia livery — a much fresher look that’s constitutes the majority of the Virgin Australia fleet.

Our BNE-CNS ride -- another VA B737-800, but this time in the new livery

Our BNE-CNS ride — another VA B737-800, but this time in the new livery

This flight to Cairns was pretty much identical to the earlier flight to Brisbane – only an hour or so longer.  There were a couple of basic drink services from friendly flight attendants — again, nothing out of the ordinary.  The IFE screen was once again dysfunctional, which was again disappointing.  The pitch in the economy cabin was pretty bad — just as it was on the first flight.  Once again, the highlight of the flight was the view, as we had a great view of some portions of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest as we flew into Cairns in Northeast Australia.  We made up some time from the delay, and arrived about an hour later than scheduled despite the initial 1:20 delay.

Overall, my experience on Virgin Australia was pretty comparable to a domestic flight on a legacy airline in the states.  There was nothing really special about the experience, to be honest.  The legroom was pretty bad, but that’s the case with most airlines in economy these days.  The price was right, as were the flight times, and those were the ultimate drivers in choosing these flights.  Though there was nothing really wrong with the flights, I do think the domestic Virgin Australia experience is a notch below that of the often raved about Virgin America in the US.

How I booked it…

As previously mentioned, I booked these flights with cash from the Virgin Australia website.

United Global First Class Lounges – Washington-Dulles and Los Angeles

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

TPA-IAD

I awoke on Christmas morning anticipating one of my longest travel days of the year.   My mom dropped my dad and I off at Tampa International Airport where we boarded our first flight of the day, a two-hour flight from Tampa to Washington-Dulles.  We were seated in first class on a B737-800.  The flight was quite nice and went by pretty fast.  There was not a full breakfast service, but scones were served.  I watched some SportsCenter and took a nap, waking up just before we landed at Dulles.

Long couple days of flying!  TPA-IAD-LAX-SYD

Long couple days of flying! TPA-IAD-LAX-SYD

5 hours at Washington-Dulles (IAD)

Due to award availability, we were forced to spend a five-hour layover at Dulles.  Because of this glut of free time, we headed over to Terminal B to spend some time in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.  Since we had a same day international first class ticket, we had access to the lounge (I also have access as a Star Alliance Gold member).  This lounge is without a doubt the nicest Star Alliance lounge at Dulles Airport, and is one of the better lounges in the US.  We had a couple of drinks and lunch in the lounge,  as Lufthansa has a decent spread that features four hot items and a variety of cold sandwiches and salads.  After a couple of hours, we decided to try out the United Global First Class Lounge.

Food offering in Global First Class Lounge IAD

Food offering in Global First Class Lounge IAD

Upon checking into the Global First Class Lounge, the lounge agent informed us that we didn’t have access to the lounge since our International flight was out of LAX, and not IAD.  I questioned this logic, since that’s not what the United lounge access policy says, so the lounge agent begrudgingly allowed us access to the lounge, but really acted like she was doing us some sort of favor.   This rubbed us the wrong way since we were, after all flying in global first class out of LAX later that day, and were in first class on IAD-LAX later that afternoon.  The lounge itself was completely empty, as my dad and I were the only two people in the lounge.  There was a small food spread, which didn’t look all that appetizing.  We did help ourselves to the open bar for a drink though. The lounge agent requested us to leave the lounge at 2pm since it was the end of her shift.  We found this strange, but we did so anyway and went next door to the regular United Club.  Upon checking into this United Club, the lounge agents here were rather bewildered as to why we weren’t using the Global First Class Lounge.  We explained to them the hassle we were given upon entering the Global First Lounge, and that really upset the lounge agent who offered to escort us back to the lounge and have a word with the agent there.  Since at that point we only had twenty or so minutes until boarding time, we declined, as we just didn’t want there to be a scene since this United employee was pretty bothered that we had been given a hard time.  United just really needs to figure this out and preach more consistency on the education and/or enforcement of policies by their employees.  This whole experience really did leave a sour taste in mouth to start our long day of travel with the airline.

IAD-LAX

Finally, it was boarding time for our flight to LAX.  We were seated in seats 2A and 2C for this flight.  I enjoyed a pretty decent diner of pasta, and then watched a few Anthony Bourdain videos on Sydney and Melbourne before dozing off for a nap.  I must have been really tired since I didn’t wake up until the flight attendant was preparing the cabin for arrival into Los Angeles.  This was actually a very nice transcontinental flight — things were improving!

Dinner on IAD-LAX

Dinner on IAD-LAX

LAX Global First Class Lounge

We only had about two hours at LAX before our long flight to Sydney, so we headed straight to the Global First Class Lounge and were greeted by an extremely friendly lounge agent.   The offerings at the LAX Global First Class Lounge are far superior to that of Washington-Dulles.  Apart from a full bar, there were several warm appetizers and snacks.  We were also provided a limited menu from which we could order a small meal.  We each ordered some udon noodles, which were brought out to us after about ten minutes.  They were delicious, and proved to be a great little snack since unbeknownst to us, it would be more than a couple of hours before we ate again.

Overall, the LAX Global First Class Lounge was far superior to that of IAD.  The employees at the LAX lounge were friendly, accommodating, and provided great service — the complete opposite of our experience at Dulles.  The physical facility, while not amazing was much better than the Global First Class Lounge at Dulles.    At the end of the day, I feel that United needs to vastly improve its consistency.  While lack of consistency is a major weakness throughout the United brand at the present time, it was never more painfully obvious than it was given our two experiences at two of United’s “premier” lounges. Next:  United Global First Class Los Angeles to Sydney

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class – Dubai to Hong Kong to Tokyo-Haneda

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I arrived at Dubai International Airport about two hours before my departure.  After clearing security and immigration, I made the long walk to the T2 gates at DXB and proceeded to British Airways Galleries Lounge.  This place had decent tarmac views and small spread with a couple fried appetizers and some cold plates.  I used my time in here to catch up on e-mail and charge the laptop, but the lounge was nothing special.  After a brief stop at the duty free shop to buy some postcards, I made my way to the gate where by flight to Hong Kong awaited.

Cathay Pacific (CX) 746
Dubai (DXB) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 17A (Business Class)
Sunday, June 23
5:10PM – 5:00AM
Duration: 7:50

I once again found myself on a Cathay Pacific A330-300, just as I had on my inbound flight to Dubai.    I settled into my seat, a solo seat on the port side of the airplane.

Back to the great Cathay Business Class Seat

Back to the great Cathay Business Class Seat

Me in the seat

Me in the seat

Stretching out prior to departure with a glass of champagne

Stretching out prior to departure with a glass of champagne

The flight attendant came by immediately and offered a pre-departure glass of champagne, which I happily accepted.  Boarding concluded pretty quickly, and we were pushing back from the gate in what seemed like no time.  As we made our ascent, I was treated to some pretty awesome views of Dubai below.  Though it was hazy, this was just about as clear as it had been the entire time I was in Dubai.

Dubai below

Dubai Creek area below

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

En route to Hong Kong!

En route to Hong Kong!

Since I wanted to hit the ground running when I eventually got to Tokyo, my primary goal for this flight was to get some good sleep.  Luckily, dinner service started pretty soon after we reached cruising altitude.  I had a vodka tonic along with the mixed nuts mix to start out.

Relaxing with a V&T and some wasabi nuts

Relaxing with a V&T and some wasabi nuts

The salad and appetizer was brought out together.  I’d never had a “chicken terrine”, but it wasn’t half bad.

Green peppercorn chicken terrine with fig chutney

Green peppercorn chicken terrine with fig chutney

For my entree, I went with the Kung Po chicken, which was decent, but nothing too special.

Kung po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and pok choy

Kung po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and pok choy

A light blueberry cake, which went well with the Hong Kong style milk tea for desert.  The milk tea is a must when traveling on Cathay.

Blueberry layered cake with vanilla sauce

Blueberry layered cake with vanilla sauce

After dinner, I immediately fell asleep, as I was exhausted from a few long nights in Dubai.  I slept a good five hours and was woken up as the flight attendants were starting breakfast service, about 45 minutes outside of Hong Kong.  I had the poached eggs, and found the dish to be excellent. Usually breakfast onboard is pretty bad, but I found the breakfasts on Cathay Pacific to be much better than the dinners.

Poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce, chicken sausage, roesti potatoes and grilled tomato

Poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce, chicken sausage, roesti potatoes and grilled tomato

We landed in Hong Kong from the east in the middle of a nasty thunderstorm with torrid rain.  We were right on time, so I had about 3.5 hours to kill.  I proceeded through transit security and went right back to The Wing.  I covered this extensively in a previous post, so I won’t go into too much detail other than mentioning that I couldn’t turn down some dim sum and BBQ pork bao at the noodle bar!

Dim sum, noodles, and BBQ Pork Bao at "The Wing" Noodle Bar

Dim sum, noodles, and BBQ Pork Bao at “The Wing” Noodle Bar

As luck would have it, my flight was at gate 50 — which is pretty much the furthest gate possible from The Wing.  I allowed myself plenty of time to get to the gate, and after about a 15 minute walk, I arrived at the gate in plenty of time, as boarding was delayed while we awaited the flight crew.

Ready to go to Tokyo!

Ready to go to Tokyo!

My B777-300ER to Tokyo-Haneda

My B777-300ER to Tokyo-Haneda

Cathay Pacific (CX) 548
Hong Kong (HKG) – Tokyo Haneda (HND)
Aircraft:  Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 19A (Business Class)
Monday, June 24
8:45AM – 1:55PM
Duration: 4:10

Cathay Pacific’s B777-300ER is an internationally configured, three-class airplane.  This actually made a ton of difference.  Everything about this flight was a step above my other Cathay flights on this trip, since those were either regional or only two-class airplanes.  I didn’t think this would make such a difference, but it certainly did.  The hard product (the seat) is pretty much identical.  The cabin in situated in a 1-2-1 configuration, which is as good as it gets for business class.

Once again, the wonderful Cathay business class seat

Once again, the wonderful Cathay business class seat

Stretching out!

Stretching out!

Since this was another morning flight, I would be having another breakfast.  I was pretty stuffed from my previous two meals, but since this flight left from Hong Kong, dim sum was on the menu, and I couldn’t resist.  The most noticeable difference on this flight was the fact that every course was brought out individually instead of a tray being brought out with everything.  I guess this is what you get on a 3-class, internationally configured plane.

Fresh fruit and croissant

Fresh fruit and croissant

Yogurt

Yogurt

Dim sum

Dim sum

The service on this particular flight was spectacular.  I was sorry that it was only a four hour flight, as I would have loved to have this crew on a longer flight.  They were most certainly some of the best that Cathay has.  One particular flight attendant, Cherry, was especially attentive and friendly the entire flight…. she didn’t miss a beat.  I passed time by watching some Anthony Bourdain episodes about Tokyo, and before I knew it, we were starting our descent into the Tokyo area.

IMG_3682

Heading down into Tokyo

We landed into Tokyo’s Haneda International airport about an hour late due to our departure delay.  I transited through immigration and customs quickly and began my journey to the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  This flight was by far the best of my four flights on Cathay during this trip.  This was the Cathay Pacific that I had expected.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge – Hong Kong

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


Upon arrival in Hong Kong, I cleared transfer security and decided to trek back towards gates 1-4 to try out the newly renovated Cathay Pacific Lounge, The Wing.   There are so many options of things to do in Hong Kong’s airport, but I’d heard good things about this place, so I wanted to check it out.

Entrance to The Wing

Entrance to The Wing

The lounge is visibly brand new, and is very appealing to the eye.  It spans two levels, and the top level is by far the better of the two.  As I arrived, I asked about taking a shower, and I was whisked away to a shower attendant who arranged a nicely appointed shower room for me.  This was especially refreshing considering I’d been in transit from Seattle for well over 24 hours at that point.

Bathroom / Shower

Bathroom / Shower

I grabbed a drink from the downstairs portion of the lounge and checked by email.

Funky seating / workstations

Funky seating / workstations

Afterwards, I decided to head upstairs.  If you find yourself in The Wing, forget the downstairs altogether – the upstairs is where to be.  Up here, there is plenty of seating space, the Long Bar (one of the longest airport bars in the world) with sweeping terminal and tarmac views, a Noodle Bar that serves up a variety of delicious noodle dishes and dim sum, and a coffee bar.  I had some dim sum, noodles, and a BBQ Pork Bao from the noodle bar, and it was delicious.

The Wing

The Wing

Noodle Bar!

Noodle Bar!

BBQ Pork Bao from The Noodle Bar

BBQ Pork Bao from The Noodle Bar

The Long Bar

The Long Bar

Afterwards, I shut down the Long Bar with a couple beers, as I had one of the latest departures of the night at 1:40am.

Shutting down another bar...

Shutting down another bar…

The Wing is one of the best business class lounges I’ve seen, anywhere.  I’d probably rank it a little behind the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge in Istanbul, but it’s not far behind.  Hong Kong is probably my favorite airport in the world, and The Wing is just another awesome addition to it.

 

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Eight hours in Rio de Janeiro

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


 

My TAM flight arrived in Rio de Janeiro Terminal 2 a little after 6:30am, and I decided to proceed in the direction of transfer passengers despite the fact that my connecting flight to Santiago didn’t depart until 3:00pm.  I wanted to spend a bit of time in the lounge to charge my iPhone up since it would be functioning as my camera for the day.

Since I had been to the Rio airport a few months earlier, I was familiar with its layout, and knew exactly where the lounges were.  As I tried to check-in to the Smiles VIP lounge, which I used last time while traveling TAM, I was advised by the agent that there was a new lounge next door for TAM and LAN passengers, and that I could access that lounge as a Star Alliance Gold passenger.  So I popped on into the “SEA” lounge next door and was admitted quickly.

There was a small spread – almost identical to the spread in the other lounge, consisting of small appetizers, Brazilian pastries, and an assortment of drinks. The chairs were pretty uncomfortable, and the lounge had a pretty cold feeling to it.   It’s honestly not a lounge in which I’d care to spend much more than an hour.  However, the Wi-Fi worked great, and I was able to charge up my iPhone quickly.

Mission accomplished.

After about 45 minutes, it was time to trek into the city.  First thing was to find a place to store my luggage while I was gone.  I proceeded through immigration after a bit of initial confusion, and found the MALEX luggage lockers.  These are located outside on the departure levels of both Terminals 1 and 2.  You can get a locker for 12 Brazilian Real (about USD $6).  The exchange rate is approximately USD $1: 2..15 Brazilian Real at the present time.

I then looked for the blue bus with a yellow crown on it, the Real Auto Onibus.  This bus is really easy to take, and only costs 13 real each way.  It runs every 15 minutes, and normally takes about an hour to get to Ipanema or Copacabana, but since I was taking it on a Friday morning during rush hour, it ended up taking about an hour and a half to get to Ipanema.

The bus dropped me off right in the middle of Ipanema Beach after multiple stops.  The bus goes downtown, the Santos Dumont Airport, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Barra.

Ipanema!

Ipanema!

Ipanema

Ipanema

Ipanema

Ipanema

After walking to the end of Ipanema, I decided that it was time for a couple beers and an early lunch.  I settled on one of the many kiosks lining the beach.   Lunch was nothing special – a chicken sandwich (lame, I know).

Part of my lunch

Part of my lunch

It was a beautiful morning, and the beach really looked enticing.  Due to my limited time on this layover, I’d have to forgo getting in the water and save it for my next trip to Rio over Labor Day.

The water looked real nice

The water looked real nice

After lunch and a couple beers, it was approaching noon.  I figured that I had better start making my way back to the airport.  In order to get a bus on the way back, one must find the blue, “Real Onibus” bus with the destination of “Aeropuerto Internacional”.  They come by every 15 minutes, but there is no rhyme or reason as to where they actually stop.  So the best way to flag down one of these busses is to position oneself near a traffic light and wave like a crazy person when the bus is approaching. Again, it is 13 Brazilian Real (~USD$6.50) each way.

I boarded the bus, and we drove back along Copacabana.  There was much more activity along Copacabana on this day, and I briefly regretted not going there instead.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to save it for the next trip.

 

Sandcastle on Copacabana welcoming tourists.  Rio is home to the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Sandcastle on Copacabana welcoming tourists. Rio is home to the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Anyway, the trip back to the airport was a little over an hour, and I arrived about 1:30pm.  After a quick trip through security and immigration, I headed back to the “Sea lounge” for a quick snack and a Fanta (when in Rome…).  Fifteen minutes later, my flight to Santiago was ready for boarding and I headed to the gate.

Overall, this was not a bad way to spend an eight-hour layover.  Instead of staying in the rather drab and boring Rio airport, I got to hangout along one of the more famous beaches in the world.

Not a bad way to spend the morning, that’s for sure.