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    I originally published this four years over at FlyerTalk but for those of you who may have missed it or don't frequent FlyerTalk, I thought that perhaps you might like it added to the Jet Photos collection of Trip Reports as well.

    April 1st, 2004

    This date had been indelibly etched in my mind since a snowy night in mid-January when, in a stroke of inspiration rivaled only by my 1976 landmark decision to eschew a First Class seat on Air France to Mexico in favor of a First Class seat to Hawaii aboard a Qantas 747, I decided to combine my planned spring trip to Australia with what was to have been a September trip to South Africa. The result is that on April 1st, I began a fantastic sixteen day journey that literally circled the globe while traveling over 42,000 miles between Hobart, Tasmania and Port Elizabeth on the sunshine coast of South Africa.

    My travels this spring began with a journey from Alaska to Western Australia. Even though I took the long way via Los Angeles, London and Singapore, I’ve made this journey often enough that for me at least, it’s now become fairly routine. Conversely, traveling from Tasmania to South Africa will be a first for me. While it’s possible to fly from Hobart to Johannesburg with a single connection in Sydney, that's just far too simple for me. There’s got to be a longer way!

    Those of you who’ve read my past Trip Reports know that I value getting there every bit as much as being there. Then again, who wouldn’t if getting there involved First Class travel aboard the world’s finest airlines along with sleeper accommodations aboard some of the world’s finest, if not exotic trains? Add to this the spice of local transport via bus, boat or hitch-hiking and you’ve got a great recipe for adventure.

    As originally planned, this spring trip was to take me to Western Australia for a month followed by three weeks in Eastern Europe. The Africa trip, utilizing a Cathay Pacific First Class award, was to take place in September. However, when it became known that Cathay Pacific planned to discontinue First Class service aboard its A340-300s that were scheduled to ply the Hong Kong – Johannesburg route in September, I decided to move my travel date up to April. Certainly, I could have just flown Business Class to Johannesburg or chosen a different destination where First Class was offered year round, but I wanted to go to Africa and I wanted to go there in Cathay Pacific’s First Class. After all, I’d read so many excellent Trip Reports detailing Cathay’s superb First Class service that there simply was no way I was going to waste my hard earned mileage on mere Business Class travel.

    Combining the return portion of my British Airways Australia award with the beginning of my Cathay Pacific South Africa award was where I really got to have some fun. Oh sure, I could have just flown straight back to Alaska, then headed down to the nearest Cathay Pacific gateway city (San Francisco) and continued on across the Pacific and Indian oceans to South Africa. That just seems way too simple, however.

    I like to get the maximum possible value out of my First Class award travel. That’s why I fly British Airways rather than Qantas for my First Class award travel between America and Australia. Fifteen thousand miles and two main meals roundtrip across the Pacific aboard Qantas, or 31,000 miles and six main meals roundtrip across North America, Europe and Asia aboard British Airways? I’ll take BA, thanks.

    In the case of Cathay Pacific, while their routing between North America and South Africa via Hong Kong makes for a nice long trip, their only departures out of San Francisco and Los Angeles leave late at night and offer only a supper rather than a full dinner service for the main meal. I wanted to experience Cathay Pacific and its award winning inflight service at its finest. This meant departing out of New York, where the Hong Kong service routes through Vancouver. Not only does the New York to Vancouver flight offer a supper with caviar service, but I could also take a stopover in Vancouver and connect to the mid-afternoon departure to Hong Kong that offers a full dinner, snack and a light meal service. If you’re going to fly an airline that’s renowned for the quality of its inflight meal service, why not fly it at a time when it can really shine?

    Alright then, so after traveling from Tasmania all the way across Asia, Europe, the Atlantic Ocean and North America, I’ve got to turn around and head all the way back across North America to New York. Via Seattle and San Francisco. God, I love this stuff! After a brief layover in New York, I’ll step aboard Cathay’s distinctive green, white and gray 747 and, after a nice dinner, a couple of glasses of wine and perhaps a movie, arrive in Vancouver at the ignominious hour of 1:45am.

    During my stopover in Vancouver, I’d originally intended to head down to Seattle and catch a Seahawks game at their new stadium. That was based upon a September departure however. For this springtime stopover, I came up with an even better plan: A ride through the Canadian Rockies aboard one of the world’s finest trains, ViaRail’s crack streamliner The Canadian. This would involve flying to Edmonton, something I accomplished by booking a flight aboard Canadian low fare success story WestJet. From Edmonton I’d take The Canadian back through the mountains to Vancouver, arriving in plenty of time to connect to my mid-afternoon departure across the Pacific to Hong Kong. After a short four hour layover, I’d continue on across southern Asia and the Indian Ocean to Johannesburg, arriving on the morning of April 11th. So far, over eleven days I will have traveled over 40,000 miles across four continents and three oceans aboard six airlines and one railroad. From Johannesburg, the journey continues aboard one of Africa’s new low fare airlines, followed by two days of railroading aboard Shosholoza Meyl, otherwise known as the National Railway of South Africa.

    When I first came up with a rough draft of this itinerary, I spent a good long while just looking at it, awed by its diversity and distance. Over the past twenty years, I’ve come up with some pretty spectacular itineraries around the planet and this trip ranks right up there with the very best of them. As always however, while I, somewhat immodestly, viewed this itinerary as a masterful stroke of genius, most of my friends and acquaintances considered it sheer insanity.

    “It’s eleven days of travel!”, they cried.

    “What are you – crazy?!”

    Hah! What do they know?! Always flying nonstop everywhere, refusing to join mileage programs because they “don’t fly enough”, forever more relegated to an Economy Class seat… they just don’t get it! Oh well, to each their own. I’m going to have a great time of it regardless and they’ll just have to wait for the postcards!

    Continuing now with my City to City theme – following a less than direct routing – here is the story of my journey from Hobart, Tasmania to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Flight time is projected at over seventy five hours, and the first of many fine meals will be served shortly after we’ve reached our initial cruising altitude. We’ve got 42,000 miles to cover and this Trip Report is now cleared for takeoff.

  • #2
    April 1, 2004
    Hobart to Melbourne
    Qantas 1682 Economy Class
    717-200 VH-VQJ Seat 15F
    1105a-1215p Flight time: 0:55

    Hobart International Airport is located about 12 miles east of the city. Getting there translates into a pleasant 20 minute ride through rolling hills studded with eucalyptus trees. HBA is a humble but attractive little airport – the tower sits up on a hill adjacent to the terminal building and inside the terminal are all the amenities one would reasonably expect for an airport of this size.

    I don’t think I’ve ever waited in line to check in at Hobart and today was no different. My backpack was quickly tagged to Melbourne and I was assigned, per my request, a window seat at exit row 15. Were that all check in procedures could be so quick and efficient.

    Lots of people were heading up to Melbourne today on this 11:05am departure. Perhaps many of them, like me, were lured to this particular flight by the low $59.00 fare offered via Qantas’ web special. In any event, boarding was announced just fifteen minutes before scheduled departure. Given the Australian flying public’s impressive ability – albeit enforced – to travel without heaps of bulky carry on baggage, this was accomplished quickly and without delay.

    There are no jetways at HBA though the mobile stairway leading up into the aircraft is covered. In the event of rain, two big boxes full of umbrellas are available as you exit the building. Today was quite blustery and if the ominous gray clouds building to the west were any indication, passengers departing later this afternoon would be needing those umbrellas. I held onto my hat as I walked out to the aircraft, pausing only to take a quick photograph before climbing the stairway and heading back to my spacious exit row seat.

    Most of Qantas’ Tasmanian services are operated by Impulse Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of Qantas doing business as QantasLink. Boeing 717s are utilized on flights into Hobart and, as operated by Impulse, they are a fine and comfortable aircraft. Although no Business Class seating is offered on QantasLink 717s, the all-economy configuration is comfortable with decent pitch.

    We taxied briskly out to the head of the runway, spooled up the big BR-715 engines powering our little jet and climbed into the sky with relatively little surrounding noise. A number of different design features allow the BR715 engines to meet the current ICAO stage 3 noise requirements with substantial margins. Some of you more technically minded readers may be interested to know that, for example, a 16-lobe mixer fitted to the rear of the engine mixes the core and bypass flows to achieve a low exhaust velocity at the nacelle exhaust nozzle, thereby reducing sideline noise. The nacelle has noise attenuation throughout, and the number of blades and the spacing of the rotors and stators minimize turbo-machinery interactions. The annular combustor keeps emissions well below the levels currently required by the ICAO. It accomplishes this by providing a lean-burn primary zone followed by quick-quench dilution to reduce formations of nitrogen oxides. This also reduces the amount of other pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons. Impressive, huh?

    Combined, the BR-715s also provide up to 42000 pounds of thrust, so as you might imagine climb out is impressive on the 717. Today’s departure was particularly exciting due to the strong winds buffeting the aircraft.

    Flight time to Melbourne was announced at 59 minutes, cruising at thirty some odd thousand feet. I had hoped that this late morning departure might offer a luncheon service as I had fond memories of the tasty sandwich I’d received on my last flight down to Hobart. Alas, it was not to be as we were advised that a light snack would be served instead.

    Qantas presents its non tray meals in a stylish cardboard box, featuring artwork from promising young Australian artists. Given the contents of today’s “Light Snack”, the presentation box may well have cost more to produce than the contents! The box contained:

    • A Chocolate Chip Cookie
    • A small Apple
    • A Cup of Water
    • A plastic coffee cup

    I ate the apple and saved my cookie to have with coffee in the morning. Despite a substantial build up of clouds, my window seat rewarded me with occasional views of the dazzling blue waters of the Bass Straight, the body of water which separates Tasmania from mainland Australia. Thirty minutes later, we landed smoothly in Melbourne and taxied over to Qantas’ Domestic Terminal. Along the way, we passed by my old friend ZK-NBA, an Air New Zealand 767-200 once relegated to domestic operations within New Zealand but now apparently pressed into service on the trans-Tasman routes. Two years ago I flew this same aircraft a couple of times on the Christchurch – Auckland route. Last I’d heard, it was due to be retired. It is certainly one of the older 767-200s still operating, but, at only 20 years old, it still has a few good years of service left in it. Last year, I flew aboard a thirty seven year old DC-9 from Northwest!

    For those of you who enjoy spotting your airplanes vicariously, also in town were 747-400s from Singapore and British Airways, along with an A330 from Cathay Pacific and a 777-200 from Malaysian.

    My backpack awaited me as I arrived at baggage claim. Well done, Qantas Link! I hefted it onto my shoulders and headed off to my home for the night, the Formule 1 Hotel.


    Located just a five minute walk from Qantas’ Domestic Terminal, the Formule 1 Hotel is far and away the best bargain available for those desiring simple overnight accommodation at Melbourne’s Airport. Rooms cost just $59.00 AUD per night compared to $116.00 for the Holiday Inn and $185.00 for the Hilton.

    Upon checking in, I chatted briefly with the receptionist who let on that she’d never been down to Tasmania before. I let on that fares were occasionally so cheap now that she could well afford to fly down there for the weekend if she so chose. I then asked her if she’d done any traveling outside of Australia. Oh my God, the woman had been to Brazil, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, all over Europe and to the U.S. and Canada! Not quite what I’d expected from one working the front desk at a $59.00 a night hotel!

    There are no elevators at the Formule 1 so if you’ve a lot of baggage, you’ll want to call ahead and reserve a ground floor room. I lugged my backpack up two flights of stairs to my room on the third floor and, after punching in my six digit code on the number pad next to my door, entered one of the most ingeniously designed little rooms you could ever imagine.
    I would guestimate the room size as 10 feet wide by 16 feet long. To my left, as I entered, was a pre-molded self-contained toilet and shower unit. It was elevated about eight inches above the main floor so that you had to step up into it. Extending from the left wall was a bunk bed featuring a queen sized lower bed topped crosswise by a single bed above. The far wall facing me had a desk in one corner and a sink with a mirror in the other. Above the sink was a very efficient air-conditioner (pronounced “egg-nishnah” in Australian) while above the desk was a 13” color television. Between these was a decently sized window with a pull down blind. What more could you possibly need?!

    Over the next four hours, I showered and then put in some work on this Trip Report. Correctly stated, I began this Trip Report. For me, that’s always been the hardest part – the beginning. The title may give a decent description of what’s to come, but a good beginning sets the tone for the entire report. It usually takes me at least an hour to an hour and a half just to get through the first few paragraphs. Once I finally do get rolling, everything flows along quite nicely. But the beginning can be downright difficult.

    At 7:00pm, I headed back over to the airport to meet up with fellow FlyerTalkers, hereafter referred to as Allan and Martin, respectively. We’d arranged to meet at P.J. O’Brien’s, a surprisingly good Irish Pub located on the Virgin Blue side of the International Terminal. Allan arrived first and we spent a good couple of hours talking about everything from our travels to the difference between Australian Rules Football and Rugby. Thanks to Allan, I also discovered the pleasures of a good pint of Kilkenny’s with a plate of chicken schnitzel!

    At 9:15pm, Martin joined us. He was looking a bit frazzled after a long day that included catching an early morning flight up to Sydney, then picking up a rental car and driving 70 km. (or was it 70 miles?) out of the city and back before returning to Melbourne on the 8:00pm flight. That he managed to last through a couple of beers and another two hours of conversation is quite a testament to his stamina! We called it a night at 11:00pm and thus ended another enjoyable get together amongst FlyerTalkers. Thanks again to Allan and Martin for a memorable evening of typically exceptional Aussie hospitality!


    • #3
      April 2, 2004
      Melbourne to Singapore
      British Airways 18 First Class
      747-400 G-BNLU Seat 2A
      415p-950p Flight time: 7:14

      Pictures are located HERE

      Some friends I’d met while staying at the Albany hostel were passing through Melbourne today and so we met for lunch in the airport. The timing was perfect since check-in for my flight to London didn’t open until 1:15pm. They’d just flown in from Adelaide and were taking the ferry down to Tasmania later that evening. After they’d claimed their packs, we had lunch in the food court upstairs. It was a little bit awkward because we all had our backpacks with us.

      Quite a queue had developed at BA’s Economy Class counter by the time I arrived at 1:10pm. First Class had nobody waiting although I attracted some odd looks from a couple of Club World passengers in the next line over as I sidled up next door to them with my big ol’ backpack. Louis Vuitton luggage it ain’t!

      I arranged to have my pack checked all the way through to Seattle and, finally free of its encumbrance, tread lightly down to immigration, then on to Gate 11 to check out the aircraft for this flight. Would its tail bear one of the Colors of the World designs or would it be the now standard Flowing Union Jack colors?

      Melbourne has designed its International Concourse so that passengers have no choice but to walk through – not by – all the duty free shops. If I were a rich man, with a personal porter, I could have spent heaps of money on all the fine Australian wines available, many of which I’d never seen in the U.S.. I suppose I might have bought one of those nice Australian sweaters, too. Oh, and maybe that Akubra over there! I quickened my pace and arrived at Gate 11 to find BA’s 747-400 G-BNLU, looking quite fetching in her Flowing Union Jack livery.


      Unfortunately, the lounge pavilion at Melbourne’s International Concourse is located downstairs from the gate lounges. As a result, there are no windows in the lounges because there is nothing to see from down there but the underbellies of various aircraft along with all the ramp support vehicles.

      Though I’ve never been in the Qantas Club over in the Domestic Terminal, I’ve become quite familiar with the First Class facility in the International Terminal. It’s a top flight lounge, amongst the nicest I’ve been in. I remember on my first visit to this lounge thinking that the colors were a bit bland – lots of light earth tones. Either they’ve redecorated or I wasn’t seeing so straight that day. The furnishings are comprised of beige, black and red upholstered chairs offset by faux walnut wood barriers atop brown carpet. Along one wall are five or six work stations with phones. One of these had a computer terminal with internet connections. The lighting is soft and the overall effect is quite pleasing.

      Along the forward wall of the lounge is very nicely stocked buffet area featuring a delicious array of finger sandwiches, salad, fresh smoked salmon with lemons and cream, veggies, dips, cheeses, crackers and mixed nuts. To the side, a small hot buffet offered a variety of miniature pies and pasties. Sweets included a variety of cakes, cookies and petit fours. I made myself up a nice plate of salmon, grabbed an ice cold Hahn’s Premium Lager from the well stocked beer fridge and took a seat at one of the work stations.

      When I first arrived, the lounge wasn’t all that busy – there were maybe a half dozen people scattered about. By 2:30pm it was packed! There were lots of children as well and more than one parent could be heard admonishing the little banshees to walk, don’t run! And no screaming! I would love to have that inexhaustible supply of energy and zest that all children are endowed with. As an adult, it would do me good to run around a bit more anyway, though I don’t see myself laughing and screaming while I do so unless I’m cheering on one of the Denver Broncos as he dashes towards the end zone! (An all too uncommon occurence this season)

      Boarding was called twenty five minutes prior to departure, so I grabbed my gear and headed up to the gate. One nice change from years past is that there’s no more personal inspection of every single carry on bag at the gate. Now it’s done on a random basis and thankfully I wasn’t selected.

      Only ten passengers were booked into First Class for this flight up to Singapore and all of them appeared to already be onboard by the time I made my entrance into the cabin. After pausing briefly to sign autographs and answer questions, I was welcomed by head purser Lorraine Darvil and presented with the usual welcoming glass of champagne and plate of cashews. That Perrier Jouet’s not bad but it’s just not as crisp as the Krug.

      Sleep suits and amenity kits were presented next, followed by this month’s personal movie selections. Hmm… same as last month’s selections. I stowed the amenity kit and sleep suit in the overhead compartment and started arranging the myriad items I bring along to entertain myself on these longer flights. Let’s see – a book, a magazine, my camera, some Singapore postcards I bought but never either filled out or posted. That ought to do it for now.

      It occurred to me as I was getting organized that the cabin was rather warm – almost hot. Sure enough, an announcement was made informing us that the ground based power supply wasn’t working, so until we’d gotten the engines fired up the cabin would remain fairly warm. In the meantime, I discovered that the plastic safety briefing card made for an excellent fan.

      Menus were presented along with refills on champagne. Just half a glass, thanks. I like BA’s new menu design much more than the plain white covers of recent years. A good airline menu cover should elicit a heightened sense of anticipation for the Epicurean delights within, not to mention the journey ahead. As a longtime collector of First Class airline menus, I’ve seen everything from food to seashells to artwork on the covers. The new British Airways menus feature a selection of four vintage BOAC travel posters displayed across the top third of the menu. Near the bottom of the cover is the BA First logo, imprinted in silver. Simple, yet attractive. Alright then, what’s for lunch?


      • #4
        Melbourne to Singapore


        Smoked salmon and seared scallops with watercress crème fraiche
        Salad of vine-ripened tomato with Goat cheese

        Chilled Vichyssoise with smoked haddock

        Fresh salad leaves with your choice of Balsamic olive oil or lemon zest mayonnaise


        Roast Fillet of Veal
        Presented with wild mushrooms and roasted potatoes

        Pan-Fried Snapper
        Served with saffron mash and sautéed cabbage with chorizo

        Fresh Pasta
        Topped with your choice of lemon olive oil and cracked pepper sauce or tomato bolognaise sauce

        Confit of Duck Salad
        Duck confit, foie gras and fresh beans with bitter orange dressing


        Bacon Roll served with tomato ketchup
        Beef Satay
        Chilled Vichyssoise with smoked haddock and a side salad
        A selection of sandwiches
        A selection of cheese and fruit

        ** ***** **


        White Chocolate Mousse
        Complimented with raspberries and pistachio crème Anglaise

        Prune and Armanac Tart

        A Selection of Classic Cheeses
        Somerset Camembert, Capricorn Goat, Yarg, Hereford Red and Cashel Blue Cheese

        Selection of fresh fruit


        WINE LIST

        Perrier Jouet Belle Époque Brut 1996

        White Wines
        Saint-Aubin Premier Cru Les Cortons 2001, Roux Pere et Fils
        Pouilly-Fume Les Griottes 2002, Jean-Pierre Bailly
        Starve Dog Lane Chardonnay 2000, Adelaide Hills

        Red Wines
        Chateau Grande Pontet 1996, Saint-Emilon Grand Cru Classe
        Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2001, Central Otago
        Ebenezer Barossa Valley Shiraz 1999

        Dessert Wines
        De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 1996
        Warre’s, 1986, Reserve Tawny Port


        • #5
          Hmmm… not bad, not bad… but a far cry from the menus presented just two years ago on this route. Interestingly, BA competes directly with Singapore Airlines on both the Melbourne – Singapore and Singapore – London routes. Last year, I noticed the menus on BA’s services through Singapore were somewhat more elaborate than their menus between London and North America. I attributed this to the calibre of competition on the North American routes vis a vis Singapore Airlines, long regarded as offering one of the finest – if not The Finest – First Class service in the world. I wonder if Singapore Airlines has instituted similar cutbacks?

          As I pondered this and other scintillating issues, the jetway was retracted and we began to push back from the gate. It was a sunny if somewhat hazy afternoon in Melbourne. It should be a nice afternoon for flying, I thought as I discretely reclined my seat just a bit and watched with interest as we taxied by what appeared to be a couple of mothballed Ansett 767-200s.

          As we began our take off roll, I set my stopwatch as I’ve always done. In the U.S. at least, barring specific announcements from the cockpit, I’ve found that by knowing how long we’ve been in flight I can generally get a pretty good fix on what part of the country we’re flying over at the moment. Of course, unlike today’s 747-400, very few aircraft flying domestic services in the U.S. are equipped with AirShow maps. Oh well – old habits die hard. In any event, you Detail Freaks will be pleased to note that BA’s biggest Boeing required only a 36 second take off roll to become airborne. Off once again into the wild blue yonder! Ain’t it great!

          One of my favorite parts of the flight is right after take off and just before landing. With regard to becoming airborne, it’s certainly one of the more critical times of the flight as the aircraft works hard to gain both altitude and speed. There are all kinds of interesting noises as the engines roar at full throttle, the landing gear is retracted and flaps are adjusted and finally retracted. Add to this the initially lower elevation and you are occasionally rewarded with some spectacular views of the city and surrounding countryside from whence you’ve departed. From my window seat I took in a magnificent view of downtown Melbourne. As we made a big U-turn and pointed ourselves towards Singapore, I glanced out the windows across the cabin. The rolling hills and trees of the Victorian countryside looked most attractive indeed. As always, I’ll miss Australia.

          Canapés were presented, along with a glass of Ebenezer Barossa Valley Shiraz. I’m not quite sure what to make of the Shiraz just yet. A few years ago we had a bottle of relatively inexpensive $10.00 Rosemount Diamond Shiraz that was just wonderful. Since then, most other Shirazes I’ve tasted, including this one, have been good though not memorably so. At least by my tastes. Remember too that I’m a guy who’s never spent more than $27.00 on a bottle of wine so take my wine commentary for what it’s worth – if anything.

          Menu orders were taken and I requested the salmon and scallops appetizer, the cold vichyssoise and the veal. Rather than eat right away, I decided to put in a little time on this report whilst listening to some of the hundreds of songs I’ve downloaded into my laptop’s hard drive. Although I’ve got plenty of Jambands, and Classic Rock in my collection, it’s the last thing I want to listen to while cruising high above the earth. I listen to more than enough of that on the ground. For my tastes at least, acoustic music and jazz lend themselves quite nicely to cruising serenely high above the clouds in First Class opulence. Some of my favorites are David Grisman, Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, Montreaux, and some Windom Hill style artists like Nightnoise, not to mention light classical or chamber music. At 37,000’, some of this stuff just gets those serotonin levels soaring like it could never do at sea level! Add to this a glass of fine wine or even a cold beer whilst comfortably reclined in a big lounge chair up in the nose of a 747 and I’m half way to Heaven!

          An hour and forty minutes into the flight, Lorraine arrived with table linens and the dinner service began. My SkyMap indicated we were passing almost directly over Coober Pedy. The map then changed to reflect the same information in Chinese. That must have been a tough one for the Chinese, coming up with a way to write out a name like Coober Pedy. Obviously I know nothing about the fascinating Chinese style of calligraphy but perhaps the symbols indicate something like “The place where opals are mined in the desert and some people live underground because it’s so hot.”

          The appetizer of salmon and scallops was quite tasty. Omnivore that I am, I generally like all seafood appetizers and so tend to grade them on a pretty generous curve. I’ve had vichyssoise on a few occasions and I rather like this cold potato soup. However, with the addition of the smoked haddock, I thought it would have tasted better had it been served hot. Lorraine did a great job of keeping my bread plate filled with delicious toasted Garlic Bread.

          The veal entrée was very nicely presented, and I especially enjoyed all the mushrooms and the flavorful sauce. I washed it all down with a couple of glasses of the spectacular Chateau Grande Pontet 1996, Saint-Emilon Grand Cru Classe. Now that’s my kind of wine! Full bodied with a nice bold flavor and bouquet. In fact, I can’t remember ever having a nicer glass of wine onboard an airplane, much less on the ground. Delicious!

          About a half hour after I’d finished dinner, we were treated to a beautiful lingering sunset over the Great Sandy Desert. A satisfying dinner, a memorable glass of wine and a beautiful West Australian sunset whilst comfortably reclined 36000 feet above the Great Sandy Desert. Now this is First Class!

          3 hours and 51 minutes into the flight, we left Australia behind and headed out over the Indian Ocean. The sky glowed from orange to indigo atop the black landscape of the great continent below and behind us. We were 36000 feet above Derby, cruising at 554 mph. The outside air temperature was –58F with a 27 mph headwind, conditions substantially different from what the good citizens of Derby were experiencing just six miles below us!

          At this point, I decided to take a walk all the way to the back of the airplane. Wow! Economy looked to be almost completely full. It was just a sea of humanity back there! Then it struck me that there were as many people in a single row of Economy as there were in the entire First Class cabin for tonight’s flight. It never ceases to amaze me how insulated I become whilst sitting in First Class. Unless I were to take a walk back beyond the curtain, I really don’t even consider the fact that there are almost three hundred fellow human beings also traveling aboard this very same aircraft. But what a different environment Economy is! As I walked forward from the very back of the 747, I marveled at how much more spacious even World Traveler Plus looked compared to Economy.

          Though from a First Class perspective it looks as if the folks in Economy are having a comparatively tough go of it, I recall from the many times that I’ve sat in the back of the plane, including more than a few occasions aboard long, over water flights, that I was never really bothered by my lot in life at the moment. It simply is what it is and the beverage cart will eventually get back to you someday.

          Later, back in First Class, I plugged in the trusty laptop and put in some work on this report. I had considered watching a movie but sometimes, when writing, I get into a certain rhythm and don’t like to lose it. With a thirteen hour flight ahead of me, I had plenty of time to watch a movie. Or two.

          The time was approaching 10:30pm in Melbourne, 8:30pm in Singapore. It was pitch black outside save for the occasional flash of distant heat lightening to the northwest and I was beginning to get a bit tired. It occurred to me that twenty four hours from now I would likely be somewhere over northern Scotland, just about to leave land behind as we flew out over the North Atlantic. It would be bright and sunny, about 12:30pm locally. What a difference a day makes!

          About an hour out from Singapore, a light snack was offered. It seemed like I had just finished the latest lunch I’d ever eaten just three hours before so I limited myself to a single skewer of Beef Satay, washed down with my second bottle of water since dinner. All that wine had dehydrated me! Regardless, this was a nice ending to what is probably my all time favorite flight – BA 18 between Melbourne and Singapore. The timing is perfect – a late afternoon departure flying northwest into a setting sun – and the length of flight affords one time to have a leisurely dinner with ample time afterwards for watching a movie, writing a Trip Report, or just reclining your seat and enjoying life. Thanks again go out to the excellent BA cabin staff for making this flight a truly First Class experience.


          • #6
            April 2, 2004
            Singapore to London
            British Airways 18 First Class
            747-400 G-BNLU Seat 2A
            1135p-620a Flight time: 12:48

            Our arrival at Singapore’s Changi Airport was right on time and so transiting passengers were left with an hour and a half to disembark and stroll about this beautiful airport. Changi’s got it all, from a multitude of stores and restaurants to a fitness club. Why – there’s even an in-airport game show! For BA’s First Class clientele, there’s also a very nice lounge, operated jointly with Qantas. Singapore is basically a mini-hub for Qantas who operate flights to points all over Australia along with a few European capitols. At this hour of night, Qantas was particularly busy and as such, so too was the First Class lounge.

            I’ve described this lounge in my previous Trip Report so I won’t go into detail here except to say that the circular buffet offered a particularly tasty mushroom soup. Even though I wasn’t all that hungry, I’m a big mushroom soup fan and just had to try it out. Good stuff!

            Later, back on board the aircraft, the ambient cabin temperature still hadn’t improved. Unlike Melbourne where the announcement about this problem led us to believe that the problem lay with inoperative equipment at the airport, this time the Captain came right out and admitted that this aircraft had experienced a problem with one of its APU generators on the flight out from London and that so far ground crews had been unable to correct the problem without taking the aircraft out of service, which of course would inconvenience the passengers to a far greater degree than a little excess heat while boarding. We were assured that once the engines were started, the cabin environment would return to a more comfortable temperature. I listened to all of this with interest as I furiously fanned myself with enough vigor to create something akin to prop wash for my surrounding passengers, none of whom complained.

            A few minutes later, we were informed that the Government of Singapore had placed five individuals aboard this flight whom it did not care to have visiting Singapore. British Airways however, upon further review of these individuals’ backgrounds, elected not to be the carrier of choice for their journey back to England. This meant offloading their combined thirteen pieces of baggage, an endeavor that delayed us a further forty five minutes. Sigh… when it rains, it pours.

            During this extended delay, I pulled out my menu, waved a bit of cool air over myself, then perused the upcoming dinner and breakfast selections:

            Singapore to London


            Blue crab and mango salad with chermoula dressing
            Smoked meats with Parmesan cheese

            Roast Tomato Soup

            Fresh salad leaves with your choice of Balsamic olive oil or Caesar dressing

            MAIN COURSE

            Roast Loin of Lamb
            Presented with white beans au gratin

            Sautéed Chicken
            Served with braised peas and caramelized bacon

            Fresh Pasta
            Topped with your choice of chilli, fennel and tomato sauce or green pesto

            Peppered Smoked Salmon
            Offered with a grilled vegetable salad

            LIGHTER FARE

            Bacon Roll served with tomato ketchup
            Stuffed potato skins
            Roast tomato soup with a side salad
            A selection of finger sandwiches
            A selection of cheese and fruit

            ** ***** **


            Lemon and Raspberry Sorbet
            Presented with tuile biscuits

            Ginger Cheesecake
            Served with marmalade coulis

            A Selection of Classic Cheeses
            Somerset Camembert, Capricorn Goat, Yarg, Hereford Red and Cashel Blue Cheese

            Selection of Fresh Fruit



            • #7
              I’m a little disappointed that there weren’t any regional specialties on this menu. The catering out of Singapore is quite good – the fish and seafood dishes in particular have always been excellent. Oh well, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to check out the regional cuisine next week on Cathay Pacific.

              Unlike everyone else in the cabin, most all of whom chose to eat immediately and then sleep, I opted to sleep first, then eat. The logic behind eating first on these late night flights to London is that our departure time out of Singapore falls during the dinner hour in England. All the better to acclimate oneself by eating first, then sleep, then wake up for breakfast just before the 6:30am arrival in London. With the flight time well over twelve hours, there’s plenty of time to sleep between meals.

              That’s all well and dandy if England or Europe is your ultimate destination, but I’m going to be crisscrossing so many time zones in the next few days that acclimatization to any of them at this point is senseless. For the next few days at least, when flying I’ll just sleep when I’m tired, regardless of the local time.

              Chief Purser Michael Hillard presided over the First Class cabin for this late night jaunt across Asia to London. Clearly an intelligent and affable man, he seemed to me like one of those guys who’s affectionately regarded by friends and family as everybody’s favorite uncle. Needless to say, his personality, humor and joie de profession set the tone for the entire flight.

              Prior to calling it a night, I visited the First Class lavatory to change into a T-shirt for sleeping in. Mind you, BA still supplies its First Class guests with the fancy gray cotton sleep suit, but I thought I might save mine to pass on to needy friends or relatives. In any event, although I’ve never taken much notice of the quality – or lack thereof – of airline lavatories, I’ve seen more than a few Trip Reporters comment on this aspect of their inflight experience. So, for what its worth, I’d just like to say that British Airways have very nice toilets. They seem relatively spacious as airline lavatories go, with a real, full sized window located in the wall behind the toilet and a nice sized counter area around the sink for placing your toiletries, make up, whatever. Nice smelling products from Aroma Therapeutics such as hand soaps and creams were available and a red carnation graced one wall above the sink. Two small pictures, assumedly Houlton Getty photographs, added some welcome contrast to what would have been an otherwise barren side wall. With the possible exception of Royal Brunei Airlines who provides, amongst other things, gold plated handles and faucets aboard its lavs, it’s hard to imagine a nicer or more spacious aircraft lavatory.

              While others ate, I slept soundly as we flew past or over Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. When I awoke, just a few miles past Kabul, Afghanistan, the cabin was dark and quiet. The SkyMap indicated that London was still 2,900 miles distant and that we still had another six hours of flying ahead of us. Perfect!

              Prior to calling it a night, Purser Hillard (Uncle Mike) had stopped by to take my dinner order and suggested that when I woke, just let the crew know and dinner would be forthcoming within half an hour. No problem there. I tiptoed back to the galley, gave the word, and within half an hour was dining upon a delicious blue crab and mango appetizer, a salad with the strangest Caesar salad dressing I’ve ever tasted (I think it was a Honey Mustard dressing, though it was still quite good) and a nice plateful of roasted loin of lamb. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous as experienced by the Adequately Compensated and Potentially Infamous at 3:00am over Afghanistan. It’s a good life!

              After dinner, I watched John Grisham’s latest movie thriller, The Runaway Jury. I’ve enjoyed most of the movies that have been made from Grisham’s books and thought this one was one of the better ones. After all, how can you go wrong with Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman in the same picture, backed up by the strikingly attractive Rachel Weiss? Good movie!

              Time flies when you’re having fun and all of a sudden there was only an hour and a half left in this flight. If I was going to have a full breakfast, it would have to be now or never. While I really didn’t feel hungry enough for a full breakfast, I did opt for a fruit plate, a Danish, a couple of smoothies with lots of good, hot coffee. Here’s the menu transcript:



              Chilled fruit juice
              An energizing fruit smoothie
              A selection of fruit, plain yogurts and cereals
              Fresh seasonal fruit plate

              From The Bakery
              A wide selection of breakfast pastries and rolls

              MAIN COURSE

              The Classic British Breakfast

              Scrambled eggs, mushrooms, tomato, sausage and bacon

              Chive Omelet

              Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

              Served with your choice of:
              Espresso, cappuccino, coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea or herbal tea

              Approach into London Heathrow can get quite congested during the early morning hours due to the large number of flights arriving from North America. It’s not uncommon to have to circle two or three times over Manchester or Birmingham before finally being cleared to approach Heathrow. The Captain was pleased to inform us that today there’d not only be no circling but that we’d also be on the ground within another twenty minutes. A light smattering of applause could be heard back in Club World. Flight Attendants prepare the cabin for landing, please.

              Landing at Heathrow was exceptionally smooth and as we taxied into our gate at Terminal 4, I was surprised at the lack of exotic jetliners. Oh sure, there were 747s from Singapore and Malaysian and a few run of the mill European jetliners, but otherwise the terminals were dominated by British Airways aircraft. I chalked it up to the early hour and searched for any BA aircraft still wearing the Colors of the World tail art. I saw only one, a 767 bearing the South African Ndebele design.


              • #8
                April 3, 2004
                London to Los Angeles
                British Airways 283 First Class
                747-400 G-BNLC Seat 1A
                1150a-255p Flight time: 10:09

                Sitting in the Concorde Room sipping my morning coffee, I found it hard to believe that at this very time yesterday I was flying over Adelaide, just an hour into my Melbourne to Singapore flight. I’d only just gotten off of that flight an hour ago and was amazed by the actual amount of time spent aboard the aircraft. Total flying time for the two flights to get me from Melbourne to London totaled 20 hours and 2 minutes! As I mentioned earlier though, between the meals, movies, working on this Trip Report and sleeping, time just melted away. No doubt, sitting in First Class contributed substantially to this perception.

                So - after spending the past twenty some odd hours being wined and dined to excess whilst doing little more than sitting about in a big comfy chair, I really needed a bit of exercise. I got it upon being informed that BA’s Los Angeles flights now depart from Terminal 1.

                “Terminal 1!? Can I walk there?” I asked.

                “No”, came the reply. “You’ll either be run over by a plane or arrested by the airport police.”

                Oh yeah… I’d forgotten that Terminal 4 is completely independent from the rest of Heathrow. Ah well, even were I already in Terminal 1, Heathrow is nothing if not a morass of lengthy concourses, narrow and winding corridors and underground walkways. Between the Concorde Room in Terminal 4 and Gate 52 in Terminal 1, I reckon I logged a good couple of kilometers. Prior to engaging in all this “exercise”, I made sure to stop by the Molton Brown Spa where I took a few minutes to enjoy the unique pleasures of the Pharo-Hansgrohe Shower.

                I might add that BA operate a very nice First Class lounge at Terminal 1. Compared to the First Class Lounge at Terminal 4, I thought it was much nicer. Like the Concorde Room, it offered a full menu of ground dining options – mostly Continental Breakfast items along with a variety of sandwiches and salads – and also featured a very attractive circular bar that, by appearances at least, was even nicer than the one at the Concorde Room. I spent about a half hour in the lounge before heading out to Gate 52.

                First Class was full on this flight and by all appearances I was the last of the Fortunate Fourteen to arrive. Champagne, cashews and hot towels were all dispensed with in short order, menus and amenity kits were handed out, and shortly thereafter we were climbing through 23,000 feet enroute to our initial cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Our route of flight would take us north-northwest over Scotland before adjusting to a more westerly course that would take us just south of Iceland and over Southern Greenland. We’d enter Canadian airspace at about Iqaluit and, after banking slightly to the southwest, head straight for Los Angeles, entering US airspace somewhere over Montana. Flight time was projected at ten hours and thirteen minutes and with the exception of initially choppy air climbing out of Heathrow, we were promised a fairly smooth flight. Fantastic! Now – what’s for lunch?

                London to Los Angeles


                Lobster salad with pink grapefruit
                Gruyere cheese and red onion timbale with red pepper coulis

                Pea and mint soup

                Fresh salad leaves with your choice of roast garlic vinaigrette or Pommery mustard dressing

                MAIN COURSE

                Michel Roux’s Grilled Fillet of Beef
                Marinated in red wine and served with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans

                Vineet Bhatia’s Southern Indian Chicken
                With pureed coconut and served with spiced noodles

                Fresh Pasta
                Topped with your choice of tomato, artichoke and smoked paprika or roast mushroom and thyme cream sauce

                Poached Salmon
                Presented with cucumber and potato salad

                LIGHTER FARE

                Bacon roll served with tomato ketchup
                Pea and mint soup with a side salad
                A selection of cheese and fruit

                ** ***** **

                DESSERT AND CHEESE

                Pineapple Tarte Tatin
                Served with vanilla ice cream

                Bitter Chocolate and Orange Delice

                A Selection of Classic Cheeses
                Shropshire Blue, Unpasteurized Cooleeney, Worcester Gold, St. Nectaire and Butler’s Secret Cheese

                A Basket of Fresh Fruit


                WINE LIST

                Perrier Jouet Belle Époque Brut 1996

                White Wines
                Chablis Grand Cru Bougros 2001, Jean Marc Brocard
                Nobilo Icon Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002
                Saint Supery Meritage 2001, Napa Valley

                Red Wines
                Chateau Cantenac-Brown 1995, Grand Cru Classe, Margaux
                Piedra Feliz Pinot Noir 2002, Valle de Casablanca
                Carmenet Dynamite North Coast Merlot 1999, California

                Dessert Wines
                De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 1996
                Warre’s 1986, Reserve Tawny Port


                • #9
                  Hmm… a fairly impressive array of food. And wine. Let’s see… I think I’ll start with the lobster salad, and for sure I’ll have to try out some of that pea and mint soup – I’ve always liked pea soup. And ah, what the heck, toss in a small salad too. For my entrée… wow... tough choice there… they both look excellent. Still, let’s go with the beef. Oh, and I’ll have another glass of the Margaux too, please.

                  Is it just me or are BA’s lobster portions becoming smaller? On my first ever flight with British Airways, I received a half tail plus a claw for my appetizer. Today’s portion was definitely smaller, though no less tasty. The grapefruit was rather an odd accompaniment, though.

                  Next up: Pea and Mint soup – what an interesting combination! Actually, the soup had only a hint of mint and was served with a tasty glob of cream in the middle of the bowl. This was very good, indeed. A fairly basic salad was made memorable with the addition of the roast garlic vinaigrette. What a delicious dressing! I mean, vinaigrettes are a dime a dozen aboard the airlines but this dressing was just superb. I simply must have that recipe!

                  Alas, the steak was not so good. Had he been aboard, Michel Roux would have roundly lambasted whomever was manning the galley for having subjected the meat to such an intensive oven experience. The meat definitely defined well done and was improved only marginally with the addition of some sweet French mustard.

                  Both desserts looked excellent, but after so much food I was really quite full and decided dessert would have to wait until another day. In the meantime, since this would be my last opportunity to enjoy a glass of the Warre’s 1986 Reserve Tawny Port, I did order a small plate of cheese. This was quickly delivered and, after reclining my seat a bit, I reveled in the silky smoothness of that marvelous port whilst perusing the movie choices available in this month’s High Life magazine. High Life, indeed!

                  Although the twenty five personal video choices for First Class hadn’t changed since the month before, and indeed included several movies that I would have enjoyed watching, I must say that I was really quite impressed with the excellent selection of movies available to all passengers via the in seat PTVs. BA’s April movie choices included Mona Lisa Smile, House of Sand and Fog, Master and Commander, Mystic River, Raging Bull and Erin Brockovich. All this, along with BA’s usual fine selection of television and documentaries. So many US airlines show predominantly “family” type movies or sappy love stories so it was a refreshing change to see some good adult fare amongst the many selections. I’d been wanting to see The House of Sand and Fog for quite some time and had just missed it in the theater in Hobart. The timing was perfect as the movie began within minutes of luncheon’s conclusion. By the time it had ended, we were approaching Iceland.

                  Despite having slept only about six hours on the Singapore – London flight, and having woken up from that sleep some fourteen hours earlier, I wasn’t really all that tired and so made it a double feature with Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile. This was not a movie I’d been waiting to see, but I’d heard good reviews on it and now, having seen it, would generally agree with the reviewers. It certainly was uplifting after the somewhat depressing story line and ending of House of Sand and Fog.

                  By the time the second movie had ended, I was genuinely tired. We were over western Greenland though mostly cloudy skies prevented any worthy views. I was asleep within minutes of flattening my seat and didn’t wake up until we were almost directly over Salt Lake City, Utah. The clouds had disappeared and there were excellent views of Utah’s Sawatch Range, the Great Salt Lake and all of southern Utah. There was only and hour and a half left in this year’s British Airways First Class experience and I didn’t want to miss out on the Afternoon Tea. Here’s the menu transcript:

                  AFTERNOON TEA

                  A selection of sandwiches featuring lemon pepper chicken, smoked salmon with cucumber, roast beef with horseradish and Cheddar cheese

                  Farmhouse fruit cake, lemon meringue pie and coffee choux bun
                  Warm fruit scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve

                  I used to think that a ten and a half hour flight departing London at noon ought to offer both a lunch and a dinner regardless of arrival time at its destination. Still, I must admit that on both this and last year’s London – San Francisco flight, after the main meal I was never all that hungry and found the Afternoon Tea selections to be perfectly acceptable. Today I chose the sandwich plate followed by a scone with jam and clotted cream. Since I’d asked what a coffee choux bun was, the FA brought one of those as well.

                  As scones go, BA’s more traditional ones don’t hold a candle to what Alaska Airlines calls a scone and serves in its Seattle Boardroom. However, what really makes the whole package a superior Epicurean experience is the clotted cream, something rarely offered in America. Without the clotted cream, most scones (with the exception of those delicious things they call scones at Alaska’s SeaTac Boardroom) are little more than a fairly dry biscuit. Adding preserves helps, but clotted cream makes it sublime.

                  By the way, the coffee choux bun was a little cream filled pastry about the size of a golf ball. Quite tasty.

                  About a half hour before landing, I looked out my window and got a surprisingly clear view of an Air Tahiti Nui A340-300 flying a couple thousand feet below and to the side of us. The markings were clearly visible and as it too was headed into LAX, I got a good long look at it. Air Tahiti Nui has one of the prettier liveries in the industry and despite having just flown over 16,000 miles from Melbourne, I wouldn’t have minded one bit connecting to a Premier Classe seat aboard that A340 as it continued on an early evening departure down to the idyllic South Pacific paradise of Tahiti.

                  After landing at LAX, we taxied around half the airport before finally locating the Tom Bradley International Terminal and nosing into Gate 121. Along the way, I noticed not four but five Qantas 747-400s remotely parked! That’s more than I’ve ever seen in Melbourne or Singapore at any one time.

                  Normally, I reckon my thrill at being back on North American soil would be somewhat tempered by the fact that I wouldn’t have any more First Class flights aboard British Airways coming up anytime soon. This time however, the situation is vastly different. This journey has only just begun, and for the immediate future at least, I’m on my way back home to Alaska!


                  • #10
                    Los Angeles to Seattle
                    Alaska Airlines 521 First Class
                    737-900 N309AS Seat 1A
                    521p – 803p Flight time: 2:17

                    After clearing customs and immigration, I headed over to the Connecting Baggage area to deposit my backpack, which had been tagged through to Seattle. Imagine my surprise and dismay upon arriving there to find a scene like something out of a Steven King movie. The line of connecting passengers and their baggage extended all the way back through the doors and outside of the building! Both BA’s 747 from London and Air Tahiti Nui’s A340 from Paris had arrived at about the same time and both flights evidently carried lots of tired and bleary eyed connecting passengers. Thankfully for me, Alaska’s flights departed from Terminal 3 which is located right next door to the International Terminal. I saved myself at least a good half hour wait in line by hiking over there and rechecking in with Alaska directly.

                    Northwest operates a very nice WorldClub in Terminal 2, right next door to Alaska’s gates in Terminal 3. With two and a half more hours to burn before my Seattle flight was scheduled to depart, I decided to head over there for cold beer and an internet connection. Thankfully, a convenient airside shuttle bus operates between terminals 2, 3 and 4 so I didn’t have to go outside and deal with security all over again.

                    Also operating out of Terminal 2 are departing flights from Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada and Air New Zealand. Of particular interest to me was Air New Zealand 767-200 ZK-NBC, parked just outside where I was sat. I was surprised to see this aircraft as I didn’t think Air New Zealand operated its standard 767s beyond New Zealand and the Trans Tasman routes. Also in town was one of the gaudy looking Lord of The Rings 767-300s. While I can appreciate NZ’s promoting New Zealand via the movie, I don’t like the promotional design as manifested on either the 747 or 767. What I’d really like to see is Air New Zealand issue a retro livery on one of the 767s dating back to the original Air New Zealand/TEAL livery. It sure looked good on the old Electras and DC-8-50s!

                    Later, back at Terminal 3, Alaska’s 737-900 had boarded a full load of passengers and I arrived at the gate area just as the agents were paging my name for last call. Whew! My seatmate had just flown in from New Zealand earlier that afternoon and was surprisingly chipper after such a long journey. We had a good chat about New Zealand and South Pacific destinations in general until our equally chipper Flight Attendant appeared and presented us with our dinner choices.

                    Once upon a time, Alaska offered what was probably the finest First Class service ever seen up and down the West Coast. It was called Gold Coast Service and included a separate salad course, a choice of hot entrees and a nicely plated dessert. The 1979 inaugural flights, featuring Alaska’s brand new 727-200s, even included a complimentary one gram gold ingot for each passenger. Times have changed considerably over the past twenty five years however and unfortunately Alaska’s management has now decided that the service was just a bit too elaborate based upon revenue being generated in the First Class cabin and similar service being offered by the competition, chiefly United. As a result, this once fine service has been reduced to offering no more than a choice of sandwich or a salad at mealtimes, including dinner flights. Tonight’s choices were between a chicken and grilled vegetable sandwich with corn and rice salad or an Asian Salad topped with marinated beef slices.

                    First Class meal reductions notwithstanding, Alaska provides what just may be the finest salads in the sky. As such, I indicated my preference for the salad offering, then joined seatmate in a pre-dinner libation – white wine for her, a cold MacTarnahan’s for me. Welcome back to the good old US of A! When dinner arrived, I was presented with yet another classic Alaska salad that included snow peas, carrots, celery, radishes, cabbage, red and green peppers, green onions, two big strips marinated beef and a less than aesthetic container of reasonably tasty Asian Sesame Dressing. Well done, Alaska!

                    On a less than positive note, I waited for almost half an hour before my backpack was finally delivered on one of only two carousels shared by Alaska and Horizon in Seattle. It really is quite amazing that Alaska and Horizon, who between them must operate a couple of hundred daily flights in and out of Seattle, have only two carousels with which to deliver baggage. That situation needs to be remedied.

                    Although I have friends in the Seattle area, two straight days of travel coupled with an early start the following morning demanded sleep more than camaraderie, so I checked into the Red Lion Inn for a good night’s rest.


                    • #11
                      April 4, 2004
                      Seattle to Anchorage to Fairbanks
                      Alaska Airlines 99 Economy Class
                      DC-9-80 N974AS Seat 21B
                      1020a – 147p Flight time: 3:13/0:37

                      BA’s First Class beds are nice – by airplane standards – but a big king sized bed such as I received at the Red Lion is so much nicer. I got my rest and then some. I’d asked for and received a 6:15am wake up call, figuring that would leave me plenty of time to shuttle back to SeaTac for my 8:00am departure up to Alaska. Not only was I excited to be returning home (The best thing about leaving Alaska is having a round trip ticket) but I was also looking forward to checking out Alaska’s First Class breakfast service on the longer flight up to Anchorage. It’s got to be better than that dinky quiche and fruit plate currently being doled out on the west coast flights.

                      When I arrived at the check-in counter, I was calculating whether I’d have enough time to stop by the Boardroom for one of my favorite scones. Imagine then my surprise when I was informed that my flight had already departed! On time. As opposed to me who had forgotten that Daylight Savings Time had occurred on Saturday night and I’d forgotten to set my clock forward. Equally guilty was the front desk staff at the Red Lion who woke me up at 6:15am without having moved their clocks forward. Funny, but it was only just last week that I’d set my watch back an hour for Australian Daylight Savings Time!

                      Thankfully, there was a seat available on the 10:20am direct flight to Fairbanks. Unfortunately, it was an economy seat. In the middle. And so it was that I went from First to Worst just like that. No fancy First Class breakfast for me, but then I did have plenty of time to stop by the Boardroom for one of those magnificent scones, of which there were many.

                      I had a myriad of large and small tasks to accomplish during my originally planned twenty two hour stopover in Fairbanks and so I’d written them all down on a list in the hopes that I might better maximize what little time I had through better organization. Now, I’d have less than twenty hours. Truth be known, I was quite happy just to have a seat anywhere on what turned out to be the next flight out. It could have been much worse had I not been able to get back until later this evening.

                      After reading about all the fabulous First Class wining, dining and pampering that I’ve been receiving at the hands of British Airways’ marvelously capable cabin staff, I’m sure you don’t care for me to go into detail about Alaska’s comparatively lackluster economy class service up to Anchorage and beyond to Fairbanks. Suffice to say that I received a pretty tasty chicken sandwich and a Club Soda from one of Alaska’s prettier Flight Attendants. We landed in Fairbanks on time, I picked up my truck and set right to work on my list of Things To Do. It sure was good to be home!

                      April 5, 2004
                      Fairbanks to Anchorage to Seattle
                      Alaska Airlines 82 Economy Class
                      737-400 N768AS Seat 14F
                      1100a – 503p Flight time: :47/3:01

                      I am a lucky guy! Not only did I manage to accomplish all my chores, I got to do so over two beautiful if somewhat cool days in Fairbanks. What a great day for flying! Clear skies, lots of sunshine and the magnificent Alaska Range looming bigger than life down to the south. After a 23 second take off roll, we climbed into that clear northern sky and I reclined my seat while watching 20,320 feet of Denali compete with us for altitude during the short flight down to Anchorage.

                      MD-11 fans would have been agog this day in Anchorage while looking at freighter variations from Korean, Fed Ex, Gemini Air Cargo, EVA and China Eastern. Anchorage is one of the world’s largest cargo hubs and with so many MD-11s being converted to freighters, it’s not uncommon to see them in town. Still, even I had never seen examples from five different operators in one place!

                      Luncheon was yet another Chicken Sandwich, this time served with a chocolate chip cookie. Despite a somewhat late departure out of Anchorage, we made good time down to Seattle and actually arrived at the gate a couple of minutes early. Nice work, pilots!

                      Seattle to San Francisco
                      Alaska Airlines 521 Economy Class
                      737-400 N705AS Seat 14A
                      555p – 807p Flight time: 1:44

                      I had an hour and a half layover in Seattle and called a few friends before heading over to Gate C-17 for my connecting flight down to San Francisco. Pesto and Sundried Tomato Pita Chips provided sustenance on this relatively short flight while visual entertainment was provided by Mounts Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, Hood, Jefferson, Shasta and Lassen – volcanoes all.

                      I spent the night at the Sheraton Gateway SFO, booked through Priceline for the excellent rate of only $32.00! It must’ve been a slow night but I was thankful because the Sheratons have nice mattresses and I needed what little quality sleep I could get before responding to yet another early morning wake up call for my onward flight to New York.


                      • #12
                        April 6, 2004
                        San Francisco to New York/JFK
                        American Airlines 44 Economy Class
                        767-200 N323AA Seat 32J
                        800a – 431p Flight time: 5:06

                        Another great day for flying – totally cloudless! At the same time, on days like this in an area as pretty as the Bay Area, I’d like to stick around, visit some friends, head over to Berkeley, catch an A’s game, hit a couple of good music venues…

                        My reverie was interrupted by the gate agent’s announcement that all ticketed and confirmed passengers should now be onboard and so I headed on down the jetway to board my first ever flight aboard an American 767-200. I quite like the 767 “Classics” and was happy to finally be able to add American’s model to my collection, which includes flights aboard aircraft from United, Air New Zealand, Lan Chile and Qantas. I was also aboard the inaugural scheduled flight of the 767 on September 8th, 1982 when United inaugurated service between Chicago and Denver with ship 605, dubbed “The City of Chicago”.

                        The First Class cabin on this aircraft contained only five seats. They were the old lamb’s wool covered seats but they looked wide, deep and very comfortable. Business Class was the standard arrangement seen on the larger 767-300s but with slightly fewer seats. My seat in Economy was just fine except for one glaring absence: There was no laptop power point! I had hoped to put in a good amount of work on this report but with only two hours of battery power, that just wasn’t going to happen. As it is, I’m typing this section up whilst sitting aboard ViaRail’s crack streamliner The Canadian as we roll through the darkness of the upper Thompson River valley late at night. But more on that later…

                        After a surprisingly short 23 second take off roll, we climbed out over the Pacific and then circled around to the north, giving those of us on the right side of the airplane great views of downtown San Francisco, the bridges and the Bay. We flew right over the top of the Golden Gate Bridge and I watched with a detached sense of relief as traffic backed up on 880 and 80 between Oakland and Berkeley. Glad I’m up here right now. While those folks won’t make the Ashby or University Street exits for another twenty minutes, I was whizzing past them just thirty seconds later!

                        The Captain then welcomed us aboard and delivered all the pertinent flight details: Five hours and eight minutes of flying time, cruising at 37000 feet. We’re expecting a smooth flight all the way into New York, but even so, experienced fliers do like we do here in the cockpit and keep those belts fastened at all times while seated. Thanks for choosing American for your flight today.

                        You’re welcome.

                        As a result of American’s Double Mileage promotion in conjunction with Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan, I’ve been flying AA exclusively on this year’s Mileage Runs. In fact, my first ever Trip Report written for FlyerTalk was from my only other American Mileage Run. Based upon the thirty one flights for 33,140 miles I’ve flown domestically with AA this year, I must say I’ve been impressed. Even though I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the service I received on American’s International First Class between Los Angeles and London last month, domestically I think American offers the best product going. More Room Throughout Coach, audio and video entertainment on the 757s, 767s and 737-800s, laptop power points, and generally good Flight Attendants. Their domestic First Class looks quite nice as well. If anyone out there wants to trade a VIP 03 upgrade for an Alaska MVP Gold Guest Upgrade, I’d sure like to check out American’s domestic First Class one of these days. The last time I flew it, American was still flying 727-200s and DC-10s with dining room tables in First Class!

                        Being as this was a transcon flight serving a premium market, rather than a Bistro bag, we were offered a choice of:

                        Corn Flakes with Yogurt and Fresh Fruit

                        I chose the hot option and received three 4” pancakes dumped atop a single slice of Canadian bacon. Also on my tray were a container of blueberry yogurt and two pieces of cantaloupe. Back in the mid-Seventies, I used to be served a breakfast of this size on a one hour Albuquerque to Denver flight. By today’s domestic airline catering standards however, this is now considered quite a good feed. I was satisfied with it.

                        The movie was Lost In Translation and was shown on the big screen at the front of the cabin. I like that approach as opposed to the drop down television screens. Unfortunately I’d already seen this excellent movie and so decided get a little more sleep, waking occasionally to catch a glimpse of the lovely and talented Scarlet Johannson. It’s hard to believe she was only nineteen at the time.

                        About an hour out of New York, a red, white and blue snack box was delivered bearing one triangular pre-wrapped portion of surprisingly tasty Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Cheese product, a packet of crackers, an apple and a brownie. Although that Laughing Cow cheese would never grace a cheese plate on British Airways, I wouldn’t complain if it did. It really was good.

                        The afternoon in New York was as beautiful as our morning had been in San Francisco. We flew over Queens and continued a good five or six miles out over the Atlantic before turning back inland for our approach into JFK. Just a couple of minutes before landing, I noticed that we flew over what appeared to be a pretty nice neighborhood with lots of nice – and very large – houses. Usually, houses like these are owned by people with enough clout to affect policy on aircraft approaches. We couldn’t have been more than five or six hundred feet above them – I could clearly see a red and yellow beach ball floating in a backyard pool. The noise level down there had to be annoying. Maybe those houses were built after New York International Idlewild / JFK was opened.

                        We parked next to a big, nasty looking A300B and as I was passing through the First Class cabin, I grabbed a copy of the First Class menu, ever curious to see how the other half lives!

                        Here’s the transcript:

                        San Francisco to New York


                        Fresh Seasonal Fruit


                        Asparagus and Tomato Omelette
                        Fluffy Cheddar Omelette topped with Asparagus and Tomato
                        Offered with Home-fried potatoes

                        Smoked Salmon Plate
                        Smoked Salmon accompanied by Capers, Onions, sliced Cucumbers and Tomatoes
                        Served with a warm bagel and a spread of cream cheese and chives

                        Hearty Combination
                        Scrambled eggs topped with tomatoes and bell peppers
                        Accompanied by Silver Dollar pancakes with maple syrup
                        Offered with a basil garlic chicken sausage

                        Fruit and Cereal
                        Café Fanny Granola Cereal with almonds and Raisins
                        from Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California
                        Presented with seasonal fruit and yogurt

                        Breakfast Breads Basket

                        ** ***** **

                        AFTERNOON REFRESHMENT

                        Fine Cheese
                        Presented with French Rolls and Flatbread


                        Otis Spunkmeyer Cookies
                        Freshly baked onboard

                        I can’t say I’m overly excited by this menu. I think American’s lunch and dinner offerings on the Premium transcon flights deliver much better value. The LAX and SFO to JFK nonstops are being marketed as a Premium First Class service, much like you’d expect to receive on an international flight. As such, I think passengers would be better served if fruit, yogurt and cereal were offered as precursors to the main entrees, which would themselves be offered with a choice of accompaniments. Then again, I’ve been gone so long I forgot I’m back in America. It’s 2004. These things are unlikely to ever happen, even if the airlines return to profitability.

                        As for Terminal 9, what a madhouse! Not only was the place packed with travelers, but the heater seemed to be set a bit too high. It was good to get outside and breath in some nice cool air, even if it was tinged with car, bus and jet exhaust!

                        Had I been able to store my luggage, I would have taken the AirTrain out to Jamaica Station and connected into Manhattan for a nice dinner somewhere. Unfortunately, the fallout from September 11th is a bit wider ranging at New York’s airports than in many other parts of the country. Not only was there no luggage storage available but I couldn’t even find a mailbox to send postcards from because they’d all been sealed off or removed. As much as I’d have liked to go into the city, I’ll be darned if I was going to do so lugging my big pack around. Check in for Cathay Pacific’s flight to Vancouver didn’t begin until 7:00pm so I trudged out to the AirTrain and headed over to Terminal 4 where there are lots of restaurants and airline lounges, none of which I had a membership in or invitation to. Alas. I bought a cup of coffee, located a table nearby an electrical outlet and put in some work on this Trip Report.


                        • #13
                          April 6, 2004
                          New York to Vancouver
                          Cathay Pacific 889 First Class
                          747-400 B-HUG Seat 2A
                          1105p – 145a Flight time: 5:14

                          Pictures can be found HERE

                          Cathay Pacific shares Terminal 7 with United and British Airways. After checking in, I headed straight away to British Airways’ Terraces Lounge, which also serves Cathay Pacific’s premium class passengers. There is a separate First Class section to this lounge that differs from the main Terraces Lounge only in that it offers more conservative décor and isn’t as brightly lit. Other than that, the food and beverage offerings are identical in both lounges. Food consisted of the usual bar snack foods plus quartered tea sandwiches.

                          With so many late night departures across the Atlantic to England, British Airways also offer a Dine Before You Fly option for those who want to get as much sleep as possible during the short 6 ½ hour flight to London. A buffet was located off the main Terraces Lounge and featured the following items:

                          Your choice from three different mixed green salads

                          Roasted Pepper Bisque

                          Braised Beef with Mushrooms
                          Herb Crusted Salmon
                          Spinach Eggplant Parmesan

                          Toasted Orzo
                          Roasted Vegetable Medley – lemon squash, carrots and zucchini with red peppers

                          From The Bakery
                          A wide variety of baked breads and rolls

                          Chocolate Fudge Brownies

                          Cheese and Fruit
                          A wide selection of cheeses, fruits and crackers

                          This buffet is open to all passengers, even those who intend to also eat onboard the aircraft. Thus far today, all I’d had to eat was American’s breakfast and afternoon snack offering along with a coffee in Terminal 4. I was a bit hungry but at the same time I wanted to save room for Cathay Pacific’s First Class dinner so I tried a small portion of salmon and vegies with a glass of Chilean white wine. Good stuff! Across the room three British blokes were hootin’ and hollerin’ over the Australian Shiraz offering which was called “Dinky Do Shiraz”. They thought this was just hysterical and it remained the topic of their conversation throughout my time in the buffet area. I think perhaps they’d been drinking quite a bit of it already.

                          I used one of the many internet stations to finalize travel plans in Namibia before heading down to the gate at about 10:15pm. A good number of people were gathered there, many of them yawning and looking generally sleepy. Having started the day in California, my body clock said it was only 7:30pm so I was wide awake and raring to go, especially given the prospect of a First Class seat and meal aboard what is without a doubt the finest transcon service in North America! For sure American, Continental, United and Air Canada don’t offer salmon and caviar on the trolley to start their meal service! Boarding was announced soon after I arrived and I was amongst the first to board the aircraft.

                          At the door I was greeted by a pretty young Flight Attendant and shown to my seat in the First Class cabin. Since we’d entered from door 1L, it wasn’t much of a walk but I appreciated the escort nonetheless.

                          I liked the spaciousness of Cathay Pacific’s First Class cabin immediately. This 747-400 had just twelve seats up front – four single seats along each side and two pairs centered towards the rear of the cabin. The seats appeared to be perhaps an inch or two wider than those of British Airways and the overall suite was definitely more open than BA’s. As a result, you’ve got a more spacious seating area but a somewhat less private one as well. Adding to the diminished sense of privacy is the fact that the rows are not stunted but rather are evenly spaced throughout the cabin. As such, seat 2A is directly across from seat 2K.

                          Soon another Flight Attendant appeared, introduced herself as Vanessa, and in very short order my jacket was hung, a sleeper suit and amenity kit were presented and I was asked if I’d care for anything to drink. Although I’m not a big fan of Champagne and rarely drink it at home, it seems only proper to celebrate a First Class seat aboard a world class airline with a glass of the bubbly, all the more so when the libation of record is Krug Grande Cuvée.

                          Interestingly, rather than just bring out a glass of the Champagne, Vanessa brought out a tray bearing the glass, the bottle and a plated amuse bouche or canapé. After setting these at my seat, she then displayed the bottle of Krug with the label facing me before filling my glass.

                          The amuse bouche consisted of a nicely butterflied shrimp presented atop two small stalks of asparagus and accompanied by a fried potato cookie. On the plate, the artistic presentation of this tasty little tidbit looked almost too delicate to disturb.

                          Hot towels came next, presented on small red trays. Not only were they hot but they were also lightly scented. Very nice indeed.

                          Having read many a FlyerTalk Trip Report detailing the pleasures of flying Cathay Pacific’s First Class, I will admit to having fairly high expectations for this flight. So far at least, Cathay Pacific was not only meeting my expectations but exceeding them!

                          Since I was the first person to show up in First Class, I had plenty of time to explore my new surroundings as well as check out the various amenities. On that note, now would be a good time to detail the Amenity Kit. The kits are gender specific and are presented in a small zippered toiletries style bag about nine inches long and three inches around. Amenity Kit aficionados will undoubtedly be thrilled to know that this kit features skin care products from chic Parisian cosmetics specialist Decléor. Read on for a description of the exciting contents:

                          CATHAY PACIFIC MEN’S AMENITY KIT

                          Aromessence Baume Homme: 100% natural aromatic balm for men. Ideal for tired, dull, dried out and weakened skin. Guaranteed to give a “healthy glow” effect upon waking.

                          Aromessence Baume Levres: A delicious balm to smooth over lips any time of day for renewed shine and softness.

                          Baute Des Mains: This complete intensive hand treatment nourishes, protects and soothes irritation and chapped skin. This light cream is easy to apply and leaves no oily film. Apply a small amount to each hand and gently massage.

                          Other amenities included:

                          • Sterilizing Hand Gel
                          • Toothbrush and Colgate Toothpaste Set
                          • A Wooden Comb
                          • Colgate Plax Freshmint Mouthwash
                          • Earplugs

                          I’m sorry, but I’m really at a loss to figure out what to do with anything other than the toothbrush and mouthwash in these fancy kits. I mean, it’s not like all of us Alaskans are bearded Cro-Magnon types who can only stare at the contents of such kits whilst scratching our beards in total bewilderment. Honestly though, I don’t know of any guys – young or old – who are the least bit concerned about their skin quality unless perhaps they’ve been shot or mauled. Okay, okay it’s true that you can get snow burnt pretty badly during a bright sunny day up on a glacier so most of us will then apply a bit of sun block but come on now - concern about “tired, dull, dried out and weakened” skin? I just don’t see it. Still, it’s a very nice kit and if I don’t give it to one of my sisters then perhaps in the course of my travels I’ll stumble across a male model in need of some skin therapy and bestow it upon him.


                          • #14
                            Finally, the menu was presented. Now this is what a menu ought to be, beautiful in both presentation and content. On the cover was a stylish photograph of some thinly sliced and artistically arranged pieces of what appeared to be cucumber. It looked more like a pale green rose by the time the chefs had finished their artistry. Inside, the menu was every bit as impressive:

                            New York to Vancouver


                            Caviar and Fine Fish Delight
                            Oscietra Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon
                            with Warm New Potatoes and Crème Fraiche

                            LIGHT CHOICE
                            Seafood Chowder served with Cheese Bow Tie

                            Garlic and Herb Scented Lamb Slices on Seasonal Greens
                            with Herb Vinaigrette Dressing

                            MAIN COURSES

                            Lamb Loin with Lamb Au Jus
                            Mashed Red Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetable Parcels

                            Pan-Fried Seabass with Teriyaki Sauce
                            Steamed Rice with Black Sesame, Shiitake Mushrooms and Pak Choy

                            Penne Pasta with Cherry Tomato Sauce
                            Roasted Eggplant and Yellow Peppers

                            HONG KONG FAVORITES

                            Stir-fried Pork with Black Bean Sauce
                            Steamed Rice and Kailan

                            Noodles in Soup with Barbecued Pork


                            Bouchee with Ratatouille and Green Salad
                            Served with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinaigrette

                            ** ***** **

                            Cheese Board
                            A Selection of International Cheeses

                            New York Style Cheesecake served with Strawberry Sauce

                            Bread Basket
                            Assorted Bread and Rolls

                            Tea and Coffee
                            Pralines and Cookies

                            WINE LIST

                            Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne

                            White Wines
                            Hogue Genesis Columbia Valley Chardonnay 2001
                            Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1998

                            Red Wines
                            Gevrey Chambertin La Justice 1995
                            St. Supery Meritage Napa Valley Red 1998
                            Chateau Lynch Bages 1995

                            Ramos Pinto Quinta de Ervamoira 10 Year Old Tawny Port

                            Of course, there were more meals listed for the continuing flight to Hong Kong. While it is tempting to list those, rest assured that there’ll be plenty of food to read about on all my Cathay flights so I think I’ll save my fingers for those.


                            • #15
                              Pushback was right on time and, after a lengthy taxi, we took off to the east using up only 33 seconds for the take off roll. It was a beautiful view flying out of JFK as we climbed out over Jamaica Bay and turned back towards the coast. All of the lights and in particular the bridges out towards Manhattan looked stunningly spectacular! What a view!

                              Service started within about fifteen minutes of take off. I’d requested a glass of the Lynch Bages to start the evening off and once again, the wine wasn’t just brought to my table, it was presented. After nodding my approval, it was then carefully poured. Accompanying the wine was a small plate of de-shelled pistachio nuts. Does any other airline serve pistachio nuts?

                              One of the highlights of any long flight aboard Cathay Pacific is their caviar and salmon presentation. Very few airlines still serve caviar these days, either due to economics or the drastically reduced availability of good caviar due to environmental contamination and over harvesting of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and other regional fishing holes.

                              The caviar and salmon presentation was done in the grand old tradition via the trolley and I watched with considerable anticipation as my plate was very artistically put together with generous spoonfuls of caviar, sliced salmon, chopped red onion and eggs along with crème fraiche sprinkled with finely chopped shallots and toast points. I was also offered vodka, which I accepted a very small glass of.

                              Cathay serves Oscietra Caviar which I understand to be of a lesser quality than the Beluga or Sevruga varieties. Interestingly, the only times I’ve ever had caviar have been while flying First Class and once at the gala celebrating Braniff International’s inauguration of Concorde service between Washington DC and Dallas. I always remembered it being of fairly salty and robust flavor so I was surprised at how mild Cathay’s Oscietra caviar tasted by comparison. I tried to compliment it a couple of times with a sip of vodka but did not particularly enjoy the flavor combination. Perhaps if the caviar were saltier and more robust of flavor…

                              Meanwhile, the salmon was just heavenly and I gave serious consideration to asking the flight attendant for seconds before remembering that I’m always quite full after these big First Class feeds so I really ought to save some room for the rest of the meal.

                              Both the soup and the salad were distinguished by the addition of freshly ground pepper and my bread plate was constantly looked after. I’d selected that old Cathay favorite Garlic Bread and was quite pleased to go through two or three pieces on my way to the main course.

                              Ah – the main course. The lamb sure sounded tempting but then this was Cathay Pacific I was flying upon and so I decided to go with one of the Hong Kong favorites, the Stir-fried Pork with Black Bean Sauce. This dish was served with a side bowl of steamed rice and kailan which to me tasted very similar to pak choy. In any event, the pork was nice and tender while the sauce was subtly spiced and very flavorful. Over all, a good choice for this, the first of many meals yet to come aboard Cathay Pacific.

                              Next up was the cheese course. The menu didn’t indicate the names of any of the cheeses offered so I asked Michelle, another Flight Attendant who assisted in tending to my slightest whims and needs during the flight. Not only did she know right away which cheeses were being offered on tonight’s flight but she was only too happy to describe the flavorful nuances of each of the four or five varieties available. Very impressive.

                              Ultimately, I went with a slice of blue cheese which was nicely plated with all the usual accoutrements of a proper cheese service. Of course, I also had to try out a glass of Cathay’s port, the Ramos Pinto Quinta de Ervamoira 10 Year Old Tawny. How would it stand up to what for me is the standard bearer, BA’s Warre’s 1986 Reserve Tawny Port.


                              I still give the nod to BA’s 18 year old classic, although the Ramos Pinto is a very close second. I suspect that the extra aging probably gives the Warre’s its somewhat warmer and nuttier flavor and thus a slight edge.

                              And finally, it was time for the Piece de Resistance! New York Style Strawberry Cheesecake, elegantly presented atop a rich strawberry coulis.

                              This was a robust cheesecake if ever there were one and it was all I could do the finish off that last bite. I felt so full that I briefly considered requesting wheelchair assistance off the aircraft but decided that might make the wrong impression on Canadian Customs.

                              After clearing off my dishes, Vanessa reappeared to offer me an after dinner coffee. Oh, sure… Decaf, please. Drip or cappuccino? Huh?! A choice? On decaf? Uh, drip would be fine, thanks. Imagine that! A choice of decafs! Not only that, but my coffee was presented on a red tray complete with a pot of the coffee, three packaged sugar tubes, thick rich cream in a small pitcher, a small plate of pralines and a Kit Kat bar. Now that is just downright decadent!

                              Therein lies the difference between flying Cathay Pacific’s First Class as opposed to that of most any other airline. Attention to detail coupled with the training and discipline to follow through on the more detailed aspects of the service both properly and consistently. As much as I enjoyed my flights and the overall service provided by British Airways, Vanessa and Michelle did several little things that made tonight’s flight not just exceptionally good but truly special. The coffee presentation is a good example of this. Whereas the many cups of coffee I’ve requested aboard British Airways have always been delivered promptly, I always received just the cup and saucer with sugar on the side. I have no complaints with this whatsoever. It certainly wasn’t necessary for Cathay to pot the coffee or serve it on a special tray with pralines and candy but it did serve to elevate the overall experience from that of drinking a simple cup of coffee to making it a coffee service worthy of consideration as a separate course in the meal.

                              Later, I wandered back to the galley and chatted for a bit with the FAs. I told them how much I’d appreciated their fine service, especially the little things that just weren’t seen anymore aboard U.S. carriers. Everybody was curious about the comparative level of service on the big U.S. airlines and I told them there really was no comparison. Sure United and American offer comfortable First Class suites and after dinner chocolate chip cookies from Otis Spunkmeyer. Still, it’s not just the space or the food. It’s the training and pride reflected in flight attendants who anticipate your needs, not just come when they’re called. It’s consistently and graciously meeting the expectations and needs of an often sophisticated and seasoned clientele, many of whom have expectations commensurate with their lot in life, a lot that rarely if ever includes Economy or Business Class travel. It’s training and pride that reflect in a meal being presented, not just served. It’s a commitment by the airline to provide only the finest in food and amenities and to maintain a high standard of service that allows only the best and most dedicated flight attendants, not just the most senior to work the First Class cabin. It’s class. First Class. It all adds up to the very best service one can expect in the air. Cathay Pacific meets all of these standards.

                              We also chatted about the many places they’d traveled to and I was surprised to hear that Michelle had visited Alaska twice, most recently just last summer. Far from the robotic stereotype applied to Flight Attendants on some of the Asian airlines, Vanessa and Michelle impressed me as intelligent, worldly, outgoing and friendly people who took pride in their work and truly enjoyed working for Cathay Pacific.

                              Suddenly, it was announced that we’d be commencing our descent into Vancouver shortly. Where did the time go to? I’d chatted with the crew for what seemed the better part of an hour, something likely made possible because everybody in First Class was asleep.

                              In closing out my comments on this, my first flight in seventeen years with Cathay Pacific, I’d just like to say congratulations and thanks to the girls of CX 889 for providing a First Class service truly worthy of being called The Best In The World.

                              ** ***** **

                              I love landing aboard 747s. With carbon fiber brakes slowing us down as opposed to reverse thrust, the whole experience is quieter and smoother than most any other aircraft. We parked between two A340s – one a –300 model from Cathay’s Toronto – Hong Kong service, the other a stretched –600 from Lufthansa. Very few passengers disembarked in Vancouver so customs and immigration formalities were just that and I was free to find a deserted corner of the airport to sleep for the night.

                              Had I arrived in Vancouver prior to 9:00pm, I wouldn’t have hesitated to see what kind of a deal I could have gotten through Priceline at one of the many airport area hotels. By the time I’d cleared customs however, it was past 2:00am and it just didn’t seem worthwhile to spend money on a room I’d only have time to sleep in, then immediately check out of. I travel complete with a Thermarest brand mattress and a sleeping bag which I keep unzipped and just throw over me like a quilt. I sleep almost as comfortably on the airport floor as I would in a bed and, as those of you who’ve read my earlier Trip Reports know, I am completely shameless in this practice. I found a secluded spot behind a bank of TV monitors and didn’t wake up until 9:ish.