Ni Hao! If you are following me on Twitter (@JohnnyJet), then you know I made my way from freezing-cold Ohio to Hong Kong. How exciting is that?! What better way to spend Chinese New Year than in Asia? I have plenty of pictures, stories, and even a funny video of my flight over on Cathay Pacific Airlines. This week, for those new to Twitter I wrote a story on 11 travel tweeters to follow in 2011, and my sister Georgie Jet tells us all about her October sailing trip on a schooner in Maine. I know you probably think it’s too cold to be thinking about sailing in Maine, but this is the time when most people are planning their summer trips.
COLUMBUS TO L.A.
Last week I was in Columbus to speak at the AAA Expo, and I left off from the CMH airport. What I didn’t get to tell you is that on my return flight to Los Angeles (via Denver), United kindly upgraded me on both segments. Believe it or not the upgrades were free and had nothing to do with my job. The only reason I was able to score them was because I was flying on a weekend, so I wasn’t competing against business travelers who are much more loyal to United. Since they were all at home, my lowly Premier status (you need to fly 25,000-49,000 actual air miles on United or Star Alliance partners to get it) put me at the top of the list.
TO UPGRADE OR NOT?
A lot of my followers on Twitter thought I was crazy when I told them I declined the first segment’s first-class upgrade. I passed because the plane, an A319, was only 40 percent full, and the gate agent said I could have either the last empty seat in First Class or a whole row in Economy Plus (five extra inches of legroom). That was a no-brainer. First class on United’s domestic planes (besides their LAX/SFO to or from JFK PS service) doesn’t give you much (if any) more legroom than Economy Plus, and with a whole row I could (and did) lie down and sleep. An empty row in Economy Plus is like first class on an international airline–minus the fattening free food and drinks.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fool–on the flight from Denver to L.A. I took the upgrade, as the 757 was full 98 percent full. Shockingly, I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me, and even more astonishing, the chicken dinner they served on the two-hour flight was fantastic… as were the evil chocolate chip cookies.
RANDOM UNITED OBSERVATIONS: It was the first time I noticed United’s advertising on their tray tables (not a fan) and that they are really pushing their social network channels (like). Check out these United Facebook and Twitter napkins.
LOS ANGELES TO HONG KONG
I was only in L.A. for a few days, but boy did I pick a good week to be home. While the East Coast was getting pounded with snow, it was in the high 70s in Los Angeles. I played beach volleyball almost every day and even went for a spin on Peter Greenberg’s boat. Two days later (Thursday), I flew 15 hours and 13 minutes to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. I was given a business-class ticket on Cathay’s 777-300 aircraft, and I chose to depart on their 11:20 a.m. flight (it operates three times a week) rather than one of their two night flights. I don’t sleep real well on planes, so I prefer to fly during the day when I can be productive. I also love the idea of chasing the sun the whole flight, so when you land it’s around 7 p.m. local time and you can go to dinner, then go to sleep to get in a good sleeping pattern.
Since Cathay is getting new business-class seats in the next few months, I’ll wait until I try them out to do a real detailed story. But just in case I don’t return anytime soon, this is what my trip was like.
With a business-class seat comes access to the One World Lounge. The elevator is located just passed the security checkpoint, and the lounge is plush. They have plenty of seats, computers, free Wi-Fi, hot and cold food, drinks, and even showers. I showed up to the airport late (I made the 60-minute cut-off by just 20 minutes) so I didn’t spend much time up there–just enough to download emails.
My Cathay Pacific flight was departing out of Gate 141, which is in one of LAX’s remote satellite terminals since they are doing a lot of construction. That meant everyone had to pile into hot buses. I learned the hard way that the trick is to be one of the last to get on the bus. Not only will you not be roasting on a hot day, but you get to be the first off and not have to wait in the long line to get on the plane.
Once on the plane I got situated in my seat. I picked a winner (12A) since the first two rows (11 and 12) of business class (on this 777-300 plane) have their own little separate cabin so it feels more like first class. The seat configuration up here is 1-2-1, and the seats are in a Herringbone configuration so they are like individual pods. They are perfect for solo travelers as you don’t have to talk to or even look at your surrounding seatmates. I can’t imagine what the new seats are going to be like, because these seem to be great. The only thing I could find wrong with them was the color scheme. It was kind of depressing.
A few seconds after I took my seat a pretty young flight attendant offered a round of pre-takeoff drinks. I chugged mine in seconds and was surprised they didn’t offer more since we pushed back from the gate 35 minutes late. Taxiing also took a while, but we were airborne at 12:15 p.m. Twelve minutes later the captain turned off the seat-belt sign–this always amazes me because U.S. carriers seem to wait at least 45 minutes. FYI: The seat-belt sign didn’t go on again until we were about to land! How amazing is that?
Once we were airborne the flight attendants came around with menus, amenity kits (inside), hot towels, and then the drink cart. Drinks came with a side of roasted almonds. Yum! Then lunch was served. On the tray came seared ahi tuna and a side salad with raspberry dressing. The Feng Shui salt and pepper shakers were a nice touch. Fifteen minutes later the food cart returned with all the main dish choices sitting on top: chicken with black-bean sauce, grilled beef tenderloin, braised Kurobuta pork belly, or sautéed saffron fettuccini. I went with the chicken; it was good but I wasn’t crazy about the jasmine rice. Main entrées were followed by a selection of cheeses (cheddar, camembert, blue), fresh fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple), and/or a slice of pecan pie.
Everybody seemed to go to sleep at this point, even though it was 9 a.m. local time in Hong Kong. I napped for an hour while watching a movie, but I really wanted to stay up for the whole flight so when I arrived I would be ready for bed. It’s not an easy task, as the flight attendants ask everyone to lower their window shades to make the cabin pitch black. I kept busy working on my computer (they have a 120-volt outlet), and used their top-notch entertainment system. It’s 17 inches wide with a huge variety of 100 movies, 350 TV shows, 888 CDs (8 is a lucky number in Chinese), 22 radio channels, over 70 video games, a live camera, and a moving map. The only thing that’s annoying is that they play commercials before the movies, which I think is pretty cheesy, don’t you? I watched Eat, Pray, Love, a documentary on how the Hong Kong Airport was made, five episodes of Community, four of Modern Family, and made a music playlist.
A few hours later, when I got hungry again, I snagged some Tim Tams from the snack tray. The sandwiches weren’t looking too good, but they did offer chicken quesadillas or a smoked turkey sandwich on demand. But instead I asked for some soup. They thought I wanted their advertised Fish Ball soup (it takes 15 minutes), but I wanted the good stuff–a cup of the noodle soup that they serve in coach (I learned about it last time I flew Cathay). They brought it to me by the time I got out of the bathroom, and it was served in a fancy black bowl.
FYI: The bathroom is always clean (even in coach), and they have really nice moisturizing lotions and spritzers. See this crazy video during hour 13 when I started to lose my mind.
About seven hours from Hong Kong, they came around with another meal. The tray came with a fresh fruit plate and then the food cart, which was loaded again with the main courses: seared ling cod, Wuxi-style pork, or cannelloni jus of duck confit. I had the pork, which was tasty. I tried to pass on the cheese plate and tiramisu, but I felt I needed to at least take pictures of them, and of course, I ended up devouring them.
FYI: Before and after every meal they brought a hot towel and a mini box of chocolate.
Once we reached Japan we still had five hours left in the flight. I was thinking that next time I will stop in Japan for a couple days to break up the trip–unless it’s January, because the cold weather doesn’t interest me much.
With all the food they fed us, I was surprised there wasn’t a final meal a couple hours before landing like on most international flights. Instead I ordered one of those chicken quesadillas, which was good, but it just seemed weird they had Mexican food and not more Chinese offerings. I love Chinese food, don’t you?
I will tell you about the first stop of this multi-week/country trip–Hong Kong, China! Happy New Year!
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Marriott Hotels