And so, we're off again. This time, a mid-year trip to Europe instead of the usual Christmas-time one, due to an opportunity to visit Russia with family. Russia... a place we’ve often talked about going to, but never got round to visiting. We’d heard all sorts of horror stories about the difficulties in getting visas to enter Russia, and with the planned dates of travel being 5 weeks from decision point, it was time to get cracking.
This time, it was going to be all on points redemption for Mrs AN*G, Master AN*G and myself. Only problem was that we didn’t have enough points on the same carrier to get all 3 of us on the same flight, and besides, getting 3 J seats at school holiday time in Australia was probably nigh impossible. Further, Mrs AN*G wanted to take the opportunity to visit relatives in Germany, and I couldn’t get enough time off work. So, it was decided that we’d try to use Mrs AN*G and Master AN*G’s TG points, with their 50% platinum/gold points discount, and I’d use some of our Citibank points to transfer to CX or SQ, depending on availability.
Booking Mrs AN*G and Master AN*G’s long haul flights were quite easy. Even though the outbound BNE-BKK and BKK-FRA had to be waitlisted, this was not unusual, and we expected it to clear very quickly. And it did. Within 24 hours of the request, they had confirmed flights. A later change to their departure date to give them two extra days in Germany led to another waitlist, with Mrs AN*G clearing within hours, but Master AN*G not clearing until 3 days before the new departure date. Mind you, it was on a flight that had C0 D0 J0 Z0 for weeks beforehand, so I was glad it cleared at all.
Now, for my own. I signed up for both KrisFlyer and Asia Miles, so I could check on award availability. There was also a business partner in Kuala Lumpur I wanted to try and get the chance to visit, if possible. Using a combination of the KrisFlyer and Asia Miles sites, as well as ExpertFlyer, the Aeroplan engine and the ANA engine, I quickly determined that SQ would give me my best chance of getting the flights I wanted, and at quite a reasonable cost. So, I launched a points transfer from Citibank to KF, and within 48 hours, the points had turned up. 10 minutes later, and I had confirmed flights, but not on the days I wanted, with some additional waitlisted sectors for the days I wanted. The return was particularly problematic - the confirmed return was 2 days after I was supposed to be back at work. But, I had BNE-SIN-FRA and FRA-SIN-BNE confirmed within +/- 2 days of my preference, so that was something to be thankful for. And, a plus was getting to try the SQ 380 in J for the first time. 161,500 points (J Saver award) and $950 (mostly YQ) later, and I was ticketed.
With SQ’s online booking (works only for fully SQ itineraries), you can waitlist for a reward flight and confirm on another, for the same sector, and it gives you a ticketing time limit, by when you have to confirm and pay. Once you’ve ticketed, you cannot waitlist anymore - you have to keep checking for availability and ring up to make a change once you find something available. The TTL came, and so I had to ticket on my least preferred dates, BNE-SIN 1 day earlier than ideal, SIN-FRA 2 days later than ideal, and FRA-SIN-BNE 2 days later than I had leave for. Still, at this point, we still had 3 weeks to departure, so I figured something would come up.
This turned out to be a highly frustrating exercise. For 2 weeks, I would see something open up (SIN-DXB on SQ and DXB-FRA on LH, SIN-CAI on SQ and CAI-FRA on MS, SIN-BKK on SQ, BKK-VIE on OS and VIE-FRA on LH, and on 5 separate occasions, I’d ring up the KrisFlyer call centre, explain carefully what I wanted and reminded them not to cancel my other segments, and that I was aware of the ticket reissue fees (USD 20) and the additional collect on taxes if applicable, and the additional points cost for adding *A carriers into the mix (190,000 points vs 161,500 points), and then, sit on hold for 5 minutes while they looked up the specific flights I could see as available on Aeroplan and ANA, and they’d come back saying that they couldn’t find any availability. At that point, I’d re-run the query, still see availability on Aeroplan and ANA and ask them to double check, saying that I could see award availability on StarNet, and they’d go away for another 5 minutes with the same lack of result. So, either SQ is given less availability by TG, MS and LH, or the agents aren’t really looking.
Finally, luck struck. On attempt number 6, I found availability one day earlier than ideal, on SIN-PEK on SQ, then PEK-FRA on LH. Ok, I’d lose one of my SQ 380 flights, but then, I’d get to try an LH 380. And this time, even though it was 2am in the Singapore call centre when I rang, within 1 minute of my request, I could see the new sectors pop up as confirmed on my online booking. 3 minutes after that, the agent came back on the phone with the good news. Not sure what she was doing in those 3 minutes though. Because it involved a ticket reissue, it had to be sent away to the ticket desk, with the caution that they could take 72 hours to process. Great! I was leaving in 100 hours time.
80 hours later, at T-20 (by which time Mrs AN*G and Master AN*G were well on the way), I still had no new ticket. This was not looking good. So, I rang again, only to discover that there had been a discrepancy in the additional taxes quoted by the agent (SGD 143), and the actual taxes (SGD 147) and so, they were holding it pending my approval. Ok, I suppose they should, even for 4 dollars, but it would be nice for someone to actually contact me about it? 1 hour later, I had a new ticket in my email.
Then, just out of curiosity, I had another look. For the first time, I could see a FRA-BKK-SIN option available on Aeroplan, on my preferred day. No SIN-BNE on Aeroplan, but checking the SQ website, SIN-BNE was available via KrisFlyer. I had 18 hours to go before travel. Should I risk trying to re-ticket yet again? Why not! So, back on the phone, and I asked the question. Yes, T-18 is ok, as long as you pay an additional USD 75 urgent re-ticketing fee (not in any of the published fee schedules that I could find). Yes, we can see this is available. No, the taxes are actually lower for FRA-BKK (on TG), BKK-SIN (TG), SIN-BNE (SQ) than on FRA-SIN-BNE (all on SQ). No, you don’t get a refund for the lower taxes. No, it doesn’t offset the USD 95 (20+75) fee. Never mind. USD 95 is a small price to pay versus two extra nights accommodation and 2 more days of leave. And, I get on the same flight out of FRA to BKK as the family, and get home to BNE a couple of hours before them. Yes, I said. Go ahead. 22 minutes later (I was timing), a new e-ticket pops up in my email. Oddly enough, I can’t see the e-ticket in my bookings on the KrisFlyer website, even though I could for the 2 earlier e-tickets. Still, I have ticket numbers, and a printout.
How to get from Germany to Russia? We explored all the options as soon as we all had confirmed tickets on some day. This was going to be the last part of the trip, with us flying out of FRA immediately after Russia, so it made sense to come back to FRA. However, flying from FRA to MOW (we didn’t care if it was DME, SVO or VKO) on the day we wanted (the same day as the other family members) was prohibitively expensive, for some reason. Fortunately, we found a good fare from TXL to VKO on LH for that day, and Mrs AN*G’s family is almost as close to Berlin as to Frankfurt. Som the decision was made to travel TXL-VKO//DME-FRA on LH for under €300 per person return.
The final part of the equation - for me to get from SIN-KUL-SIN for my meeting. For a 50 minute flight, and with dozens of flights per day, I was happy to go with a LCC. Doing this on SQ or MH was pricing at around AUD 300, on Jetstar (3K) or Air Asia (AK), it was around AUD 50 return. Jetstar won out this time, for two reasons - it used the main terminal in SIN and KUL instead of the LCC terminal, and on Jetstar, I could use my Qantas Gold for lounge access.
So, I was all set, with my itinerary now BNE-(SQ)-xSIN-(3K)-KUL-(3K)-xSIN-(SQ)-xPEK-(LH)-FRA//TXL-(LH)-VKO//DME-(LH)-FRA-(TG)-xBKK-(TG)-xSIN-(SQ)-BNE.
It’s 3.30 in the morning, and I’m heading to the airport in about 90 minutes time. Knowing I had an early morning, I went to bed at 8.30 last night, instead of my usual 1am. Unfortunately, my body woke me up at 1.30 this morning, saying I’d had my usual 5 hours of sleep, and it was time to wake up. So, TR readers, I thought I’d finish this first part of the TR, instead of doing it on the plane which was my plan.
Next part: obtaining a Russian visa...when I get on the plane in a few hours time.
Jun 21, 12, 1:56 pm
sounds like the beginning of a great TR...looking forward to it!
Jun 21, 12, 3:30 pm
Preamble 2: The Russian Visa
We'd heard all sorts of horror stories about getting a Russian visa, both from friends and colleagues, as well as on the Internet. So, it was with some trepidation that we embarked on the process. For those who haven't gone through the process yet, to get a Russian visa, you firstly need to get a Letter of Invitation from an authorised Russian based agency. These can be issued by reputable hotels, once you have a booking, or can be purchased online from one of dozens of providers, with fees ranging from a low of USD18, to over USD100, from what we saw. Per person. Once you have your letter of invitation, you can then apply for your visa.
For us, the Sydney consulate was the closest one. Their fees were supposedly AUD110 for regular 7 day service, or AUD220 for express 2 day service. Only problem was that we'd heard and read that expecting to get your visa back in 7 days was being unrealistic - it often took 3 to 4 weeks. There were also many agencies that offered to manage it all for you, from getting the letter of invitation, to completing the forms, lodging the passport, collecting it and sending it back to you. From the searching we did, they typically charged the same fees again - around AUD100 for regular service and around AUD200 for the express service. We were aware of a few people though, who had used one of these agencies, still not have their passports back after 4 weeks of waiting. After some discussion, we decided to do it ourselves.
The forms were quite straight-forward, but we'd been cautioned by everyone we'd spoken to, to take extra care when completing the forms, and to type the responses straight into the PDF instead of handwriting them. Not sure if it is urban legend or not, but with the same advice coming from multiple sources, we were extra careful. With that completed, and passport photos meeting their size requirements precisely (this was a challenge, because there was conflicting information on their website, on the PDF form, and the size of the box printed on the form where the photo was to be stuck to - we ended up going with the size of the box on the form), 3 forms, 3 passports, AUD660 and a return Express Post Platinum envelope all went into another Platinum envelope and into the post. For the non-Australians, the Express Post Platinum product is the guaranteed by noon next business day delivery, signature on delivery and live on-line tracking.
It was posted on a Wednesday. We could see that it was delivered 9am Thursday. So, we figured that the 2 working days would be Friday and Monday, and that they'd post it back Tuesday for arrival Wednesday in best case. Then we figured that we'd allow 2 days and expect it Friday, and agreed not to worry until then. Of course, it didn't arrive on Wednesday. And it didn't arrive Thursday. Nor Friday. We received our passports complete with visas back on the Monday. The 1st Monday. 5 days from when we posted it. So soon that we hadn't even bothered looking at the online tracking service. So there you go. I did have a moment of a panic attack though, when I opened my passport, looked at the visa, and noticed that they'd spelt my name wrong. That quickly subsided though, when Mrs AN*G who speaks some rudimentary Russian and knows the Cyrillic alphabet, explained that what happened was that they'd converted our names exactly as pronounced into Cyrillic, and then literally translated the Cyrillic directly back into the closest A-Z character set, and printed that. I hope she's right.
Jun 21, 12, 4:33 pm
You win for most airport abbreviations in your title. Looking forward to reading more.
As you may recall from Part 1, I had woken up around 1.30am and couldn't get back to sleep. So, I ended up taking a very early Airtrain to the airport, figuring that I'd finished packing the night before and that waiting around anymore would just result in me worrying about what else I hadn't packed. So, I caught a bus to the Roma Street station, presumably to connect to the 5.45am Airtrain. These trains are generally very reliable - in the last year, I don't recall a single Airtrain being more than 2 minutes late. So, it was with great surprise that when I looked up at the display monitors, it showed the 5.45am Airtrain due to arrive at 5.59am. This slowly slipped on and on, and when it showed an estimated arrival of 6.05am, the announcement finally came on that due to an incident at a level crossing, the Airtrain would be running quite late. Finally, it arrived around 6.15am, and just before 6.30am, I was walking into the international terminal.
Being a fair time before departure, the check-in counters were reasonably deserted, and there was no wait to check in. The agent wanted to weigh my carry-on bag though, and when it came in at 7.1kg, made a great fuss about wanting to tag it with a "Business Class Cabin Bag Approved" tag so that "the security guards downstairs won't hassle you about it" (at BNE, departures is one level down from check-in). I recall Mrs AN*G's carry on getting the same treatment from TG a few days earlier too, although hers was 8.7kg. I don't recall this happening at BNE earlier though, perhaps a new procedure?
Now, I know SQ is notorious for no op-ups. But, if any set of flights were a prime candidate for op-ups, the flights leaving BNE for SIN/BKK over the next few days were. due to the start of the school holidays. This flight I was on had been zeroed out in economy for weeks, and was C4 J4 D4 Z4 in business. So were the 2 other BNE-SIN flights today, and for the next couple of days (with some slight variation in D and Z). According to the check-in agent, J had 5 open seats, including one next to me, but Y was in an oversell situation.
Descending into the departures level, I was reminded very vividly that this was the start of the school holidays. Although it was early for my flight, there were several other departures beforehand. The area was filled with wide-eyed kids, excited about their trip overseas. With teenagers, trying desperately to be cool, whilst bubbling with excitement inwardly. With harried parents, trying to keep their offspring together, and secretly wishing they'd boarded the kids and packed the dog instead. And with it, the trials of the first time traveller. You can pick the regular traveller. They have their computer out, their liquids in a bag and in a tray, and all their loose items packed in their bag or jacket, ready for scanning. And you can pick the once-a-decade traveller. Like the family two ahead of me in the security queue, who somehow, between the two adults, managed to clock up 8 trips through the WTMD before getting past. All whilst their two young daughters whom they'd sent through first were getting increasingly agitated on the other side of the WTMD. The side I wanted to be on. The security officer manning the WTMD got so frustrated at some stage, and asked them to stand to one side and check every pocket thoroughly whilst other passengers went through. Except we couldn't. The x-ray machine was clogged up with their 5 bags and 10 trays - their original 2 trays plus the 8 trays they'd needed to empty yet another thing out of their pockets before the next trip through the WTMD.
Finally, we were through. With the airside of the terminal teeming with departing passengers, it was time to escape to the Silver Kris Lounge. It is a small lounge, with a capacity of only about 40. Quite sufficient though, it was designed to cater primarily for SQ's own business class passengers, with all other *G passengers directed to (and encouraged to) use the much bigger NZ lounge. The food selection in the SQ lounge is very limited too, with the NZ lounge selection generally superior. Surprisingly, during the time I was there, there would have been no more than 10 passengers - not sure what happened to the business class passengers.
I left the lounge about 10 minutes before boarding was due to commence, and headed for the departure gate. They had 3 lanes set up, 2 for economy, and 1 for business and elite passengers - all leading to a single door as they were only using 2L for boarding. Just at the last moment before boarding commenced, I noticed the staff member who had been at the service desk during check-in (probably the supervisor) walk up to one of the agents at the economy lane and hand over three business class boarding passes. Definitely looks like op-ups in progress.
Boarding was smooth, and we were soon on-board. SQ uses a A330 for this route, with 2x2x2 in business, using regional angled, lie flat seats. Because the A330 is quite narrow, both the seats and aisles are also narrow, probably the narrowest angled lie-flats I've been on. The seat next to me was empty, until one of the op-ups arrived. We eventually closed the cabin doors full in business, and presumably full in economy as well. Wonder if anyone had to be denied boarding. My neighbour turned out to be a KF*S, travelling with her also KF*S sister who was also op-uped. Apparently both parents were PPS though. Not sure how op-ups were chosen, the sisters were op-uped at the gate. My neighbour said that when they handed their boarding passes to the gate agent, they were asked to stand aside and wait, and almost at the end of the whole boarding process, handed their new boarding passes. Perhaps they were waiting to see if everyone who had checked in actually boarded?
As expected, SQ service in the air was impeccable. Our cabin of 30 had 4 cabin crew, - the inflight supervisor (male), a leading stewardess (SQ terminology, not mine), a steward and a stewardess. Attentive, warm and friendly. Many others have said it before, and my experiences with SQ for this whole trip to date do nothing to dispel the view that SQ is excellent in the air, but leaves a lot to be desired on the ground.
The cabin was cold. Freezingly cold. I'm one who normally doesn't feel the cold, with my normal flying attire being a light shirt and business slacks. Hey, I'm one who sometimes walks around in -20C snow with a single shirt and 1 snow jacket on. But this time, as soon as the seat belt signs went off after take off, I was up and into my cabin bag, breaking out a jumper and grabbing the blanket. I was not alone in the re-dressing.
The meal service on this sector is odd, in my view. Almost right after takeoff, they serve a brunch (around 10am Brisbane time, 8am Singapore time), and then a hot snack about an hour and a half before arrival (3.30pm Brisbane time, 1.30pm Singapore time). At brunch, you're too full from breakfast to eat much, and the hot snack doesn't really keep you going till dinner.
Landing was nearly half an hour before the scheduled arrival, and although we were down by 1453, a long taxi to Terminal 2 meant that we weren't of f the plane until 1509. Just under 2 hours to get over to Terminal 1, pick up my Jetstar boarding pass from the Jetstar transfer desk, and get on my flight to KUL, or so I thought...
Next: SIN-KUL-SIN, or the flight that got away...
Jun 21, 12, 6:41 pm
Part 2: SIN-KUL-SIN ???
1 hour 45 to change terminals and Changi, pick up a new boarding pass, head into the Qantas Club for a while and fly to KUL. Should be easy.
We had landed at T2, and Jetstar departs from T1. I had checked the transfer arrangements previously, and discovered that Jetstar had a transfer desk at T1, area C. I'd also worked out the Skytrain arrangements between terminals, and started heading to the T2 Skytrain terminal, stopping off along the way to pick up a couple of free wifi coupons from one of the many Changi information counters along the way.
The walk to the Skytrain took longer than I thought, and the Skytrain took ages to arrive. By the time I got to T1 and walked to zone C, it was 1545, 15 minutes before the Jetstar check-in closes. Fronting up at the counter, I handed over my e-ticket and my Qantas gold card, and asked for my boarding pass. After some tapping, the agent asked which flight I'd arrived on, and upon hearing my response of SQ, said that unfortunately, they could only check in passengers who had arrived on QF, BA or AF , and I would need to clear immigration and customs, and check in at the landside check in counters. Hmmm, I didn't like my chances of achieving that - it would depend on how busy immigration was. When I reached the Zone C immigration, it was clear I was not going to make it. And I had no time to walk back to other immigration areas. What next? Whilst standing in the immigration line, I made a snap decision to ring the person I was going to visit in Kuala Lumpur, and explained. Not to worry, he said. He was going to be spending a week in Singapore around the time of my return, and if the dates matched, why not meet up then? A quick check of dates, and it was rescheduled. So, I just had to sort out my hotels now, and just forfeit the $60 Jetstar fares.
I cleared immigration at 1605 - Jetstar check-in already closed. A glance at the departures board confirmed this - no row number showing for the flight, with a "Closed" message instead. Fortunately my Kuala Lumpur hotel was a flexible, cancel 6pm day of arrival rate, and so, a quick check to make sure I was connected via VoIP over wireless on my phone, and I rang them to cancel. By the time I hung up, the cancellation email was in. Now for getting a Singapore hotel. Singapore hotels are pricey at the best of times, and I was not looking forward to finding an affordable one. I fired up a few booking engines on the tablet, and to my delight, found a last minute rate at a 4 star hotel (the Orchard Parade) right on Orchard Road for a very reasonable (for Singapore) SGD 210 including breakfast and wifi, and a late checkout. Quickly, I grabbed it, and started to make my way to the MRT terminal at Changi to get into town. Although the MRT can be slower than a taxi (allow about 40 minutes to get to Orchard from Changi) and involves 3 trains (2 transfers), you can't beat the SGD 3.60 fare.
And here I am now. Need to find something to do to pass the day today, whilst waiting for my flight to PEK and then FRA tonight.
Next: SIN-PEK, hopefully anyway.
Jun 23, 12, 1:09 pm
Part 3: SIN, and SIN-PEK
My short stay in SIN was uneventful. The Orchard Parade, right at the western end of the busy Orchard Road, was clean and comfortable, and with wifi and breakfast included in my (cheap for Singapore) rate, there were no extras to pay. Breakfast was not quite up to the standards you'd expect from an Asian 4 star hotel though, with a limited variety at the buffet, and what was there being lukewarm at best. They also seemed to want to hurry you along and get you out of there very quickly too, being there at a table by myself, twice when I got up to get something else from the buffet, by the time I'd come back, they'd cleared and reset the table. And that was even after I'd told one of the wait staff that I was coming back the second time around - someone else cleared the table. When I finally got up to leave, before I had even reached a fully upright position, they had already sprung into action.
Returning to the airport at around 2130, I enquired as to the possibility of getting onto the direct SIN-FRA flight, without much hope. This flight was zero in all business and economy classes, although earlier in the day Z2 C2 had briefly (for about 30 minutes) popped up. First had been steady with F4 A4 P4, but the chances of getting in one of those, given SQs reputation regarding op-ups, my redemption ticket, and my statusless SQ state, were zero. True to expectation, despite her willingness to try, there was nothing to be done.
Earlier in the day, I'd tried to check in online for my flights, and managed the SIN-PEK sector, but not the PEK-FRA sector. The error message I received was "Unable to complete. Your flight has already departed.". Assuming a system error, I ignored it, and now asked her to check me in to Frankfurt. The agent appeared to be quite inexperienced, she looked quite puzzled when she said that she couldn't check me in because the system was saying "Unable - Refer Local Station", and she "wasn't sure what a local station was". Never mind. I'd fix it up in PEK.
Going through a very speedy immigration, I was quickly airside in Terminal 3. Changi does security at the gate, with the main part of the airside area unsecured with arriving and departing passengers together. Heading up to the Silver Kris lounge, the first thing that struck me was how full and busy it was. Given the time, I had expected that with some of the 2300ish flights would already be boarding. A quick glance at the display monitors soon revealed why though - the late night flight to London was delayed until 0300 the next day due to a late in-bound. And just as soon as I observed that, an announcement came over the PA asking all SQ26 passengers to Frankfurt and New York to keep waiting in the lounge due to an issue with the aircraft. Maybe it was lucky I didn't get on the direct flight after all.
Having checked out of the hotel at noon, and having used the 'net connection a fair bit during the day, my tablet and phone were desperately low on power, but with the crowded lounge and the scarcity of power points, things were looking grim. I suppose I could always charge them during the flight, I guess. Finally, with a few more departures, and SQ26 boarding, the lounge became quieter, and I grabbed 20 minutes of charging time.
Boarding for my flight was posted on the boarding pass at 0025, for a 0055 departure. So, at 0020, I left the lounge, and upon exiting, checked the display monitor to reconfirm that we were still at gate A19. Yep - SQ800 Beijing A19 Final Call. Final Call? I double checked the time. 0020. I checked my boarding pass. 0025 boarding. Knowing that A19 was up the satellite end, and a skytrain ride away, I picked up my pace, seeing a skytrain approach the station. Into the skytrain, and we were whisked away. Reaching the gate area at 0026, the 3 security checkpoints were all empty. I had pre-packed all the things that make the WTMD beep into my bag, and so, without breaking stride, pulled out the tablet, popped everything on the belt, and walked through. Glancing up at the monitor at security, SQ800 was now flashing "Gate Closing" in red, and there was almost no one left at the gate.
Onboard, the refurbished 777-200 had a 26 seat front business cabin in a 2x2x2 layout, and a smaller 12 seat business cabin behind. Loads were low, with only 12 of the 26 seats occupied in the front cabin. I'd used Book the Cook for this sector, with the plan of going straight to sleep, and eating just before landing. Whilst take-off preparations were in progress, the cabin crew came around to enquire as to the preference as to when to dine. Pushback was delayed somewhat, as we had a failed-to-board passenger whose bags had to be off-loaded, and it wasn't until 0110 that we left the gate. Almost as soon as the seat belt signs went off, just about the entire cabin started to turn in for the night, and it wasn't long before I fell asleep. Not before plugging in the tablet and the phone though - not having a neighbour, I could charge both at once.
About 3 and a half hours later, I stirred to the flickering of lights, the sounds of trays and cutlery, and the smell of food warming up. Up, a drink of water, checked to make sure everything was fully charged, and I packed all my gear away, ready for breakfast. I'd pre-ordered the Laksa. For some reason, this dish has become very popular in Australia, and I wanted to see what the SQ version was. And breakfast was the perfect time to have it. This crew was efficient, pleasant, but the warmth of the last crew just wasn't there. Perhaps the overnight flight is to blame, everyone is tired and doesn't want to do too much.
A direct track into PEK had us on the ground at 0652, and a moderate taxi to the gate saw us disembarking at 0700, right on schedule. Now to work out the transit in PEK.
Jun 23, 12, 8:16 pm
. And you can pick the once-a-decade traveller. Like the family two ahead of me in the security queue, who somehow, between the two adults, managed to clock up 8 trips through the WTMD before getting past. All whilst their two young daughters whom they'd sent through first were getting increasingly agitated on the other side of the WTMD. The side I wanted to be on. The security officer manning the WTMD got so frustrated at some stage, and asked them to stand to one side and check every pocket thoroughly whilst other passengers went through...
Hi, we have caught that train, it is superb. We stayed at the Sofitel in Brisbane for last years origin match then flew out the next day to Paris. How easy was it, from the hotel reception to the station, then out to the airport. So far I am enjoying the trip and delighted that other FF also get stuck behind these first timers. You get around, as much as we do, just worked out that AN, more than likely means Ansett, and if so no wonder you burn those miles as fast as you earn them. Nowadays we leave fewer than 100k max all accounts, gone are the days we stockpiled for that special flight.
Jun 24, 12, 10:04 am
Great TR so far. Look forward to the rest. We must be related though, because I am currently away on a BNE-SIN-CPH-DME//LED-LHR-EDI//FRA-SIN-BNE by plane, and train and automobile covering DME-LED, EDI-London-Paris-Strasbourg-Frankfurt. And I got my passport back from the Russian embassy a couple of days before leaving.
Anyway, happy tripping. Have to dash, got a dinner appointment at 1930.
May start a separate TR for our trip, given we are booking most things as we go!
Jun 27, 12, 1:11 am
Part 4: PEK
Almost right in front of us as we exited the plane was the international transfer counter. Except that they couldn't actually issue boarding passes, just provide advice as to what to do. The advice was consistent with what I'd read. You had to clear immigration and customs, showing your e-ticket with a confirmed flight within 24 hours, you'd get a 24 hour stamp in your passport, you have to exit to landside, and check in with everyone else checking in in PEK. We landed at T3-E, and cleared immigration there. Fortunately, the line for the "Special Entry" lane (the one that the transfer counter said to use) was short (compared to the masses at the entry lanes and the speed they moved at), and probably only moved slowly because people were unprepared. There were about 10 people ahead of me, and probably 6 of them were rejected for not having the right documents. It isn't made clear anywhere, but from what I could work out, they wanted to see your passport, your incoming boarding pass, your e-ticket printout (an itinerary or your onwards boarding passes were insufficient) and a completed arrival-cum-departure card (it's the same card). Luckily, even though I knew no better, I'd decided to complete the card when they were handed out on the plane, just filling in the questions about reason for visit as "Transit", address as "Airport in Transit" and visa category as "TWOV". I didn't think I'd need it, but thought it'd be better to have than not. Most of those sent back didn't have the card, and were sent away to fill one out and get back in line. At least one had no e-ticket printout, and was sent back to the international transfer counter to get one.
Through immigration, then it was onto the people mover that took us to the central part of the terminal, T3-C. That was a long way. Almost would have had a separate postcode. Customs was a non-event, everyone went through the green channel, and no one was stopped. Entering the public area of the terminal, signs indicated that departures were upstairs, and so up the escalators I went, easily finding the LH check-in counters at Row E. Then the fun started. I handed over my passport, e-ticket printout and A3 card (to get the status recorded in case of IRROPS). After some furious typing, the agent behind the counter said that I'd missed my flight. "Flight already gone." "What do you mean, already gone." "Left already;. You miss flight." Now, I know immigration took a while, and the people mover took a while too, but I had 3 and a half hours to transit. I didn't think it took that long. Then she said, "Your flight for yesterday." Now what? I showed her the e-ticket printout, which showed the flight for today, as a transit from the incoming flight. I asked her what the date was today, and she replied, saying it was the right date. Then she said that the e-ticket didn't match the internal LH record, and said she had to go and get a supervisor. This took about 5 minutes, and I used this time to log on to the SQ website and pull up the PNR. Yes, it still showed today for this flight. Keeping it on screen, I waited, expecting a easily correctable human error somewhere. I'd never had this LH flight booked on any day other than today, and I'd checked the e-ticket and PNR carefully. It made sense now though, why I had been unable to find the flight on the LH site to pre-assign a seat (had to enter flight date), and why when I tried to check-in online, it said the flight had already departed.
When the supervisor came, she had a look at the documents, and then brought up some things on the screen. I could hear her muttering, "e-ticket today. SQ PNR today. LH record yesterday.", and then she rang someone and had a lengthy conversation, none of which I could understand. At this stage, I could hear the start of a conversation at the counter next to me. "We cannot find your booking for today, sir. Did you change your flight date?" As the supervisor's phone conversation ended, she said to me, "I cannot change SQ redemption ticket so I just manually put you on the flight and ticket office can fix later." As the supervisor was called over to the counter next to me, the agent started looking all over my A3 card. I realised that she was trying to find the airline code, so I offered the information. Typing it in, she offered that she'd never seen an Aegean one before. A boarding pass was printing. Thanking her, I walked off with the boarding pass towards departures, reading the boarding pass. Now, that was odd. Under the line "Carrier Flight No. Class", it read LH 721 D. I was sure that previous redemption boarding passes on LH actually said I as the class (for a redemption booking). There's a chance, I suppose, that I might actually get miles for this, if the supervisor had manually loaded me into a revenue class. We'll see in a few weeks.
So, it was back onto the people mover, and back to T3-E. Outbound immigration and security happened at T3-E, and was quick, painless and emotionless. I found it interesting that there was a monitor in front of you, where your scanned e-photo and bio data from the passport appeared, and you were asked to check your name and passport number. Whilst you were doing that, there was obviously a camera at that screen, for when you confirmed it, it was replaced by a live photo of you, which it then matched with your face stored on the passport chip.
The Air China Business Lounge was easily located, and after getting a couple of wifi passwords from the self-service terminal (you scan your passport, and you get issued with an account good for 5 hours), I went in. The first thing I noticed were the conspicous signs saying that breakfast was served between 0630 and 1030, and lunch and dinner between 1100 and 2300, followed by a large directional sign saying "Food Service". The food service area is tucked away right at the back right corner of the lounge, and it would be easy for people to stumble across the first two areas which serve only muffins, chips and drinks, and assume that the food service was just that.
I spent the time in the lounge catching up on emails, and checking out which sites appeared to be blocked. Facebook is definitely blocked, not that I use it, but I was just curious, and google searches that have the words "facebook" and "blocked" or "facebook" and "china" just time out. 30 minutes before boarding, I went to have a shower - this was much appreciated, though it took a while to find the shower controls as they were hidden behind a panel. 4 knobs - top one being temperature, next one down being rain shower, 3rd one being for the 6 body level jets, and bottom one for the hand held sprayer.
When I got to the gate, boarding had just commenced. I was quickly through, and then up the escalator to the top aerobridge and onto the 380. The LH 380 is set up with the First cabin at the front, and then three Business cabins in a 2x2x2 configuration. Because of loads, the rearmost cabin was blocked off, and I didn't see anyone in it. In the two front cabins, I'd estimate the load at being around 60%, the only pairs of seats with two occupants were those with couples or people travelling together in them, and there were a few totally unoccupied pairs.
Lunch was served almost immediately after takeoff, and with a truly efficient service and clean up, was complete an hour and a half after take-off - 1200 Beijing time, 0600 Frankfurt time. I decided to try and nap for an hour and a half at that stage, and set an alarm for 0800 Frankfurt time. Almost immediately, I was asleep (I'm fortunate that I can pretty much fall asleep on planes, if it is the right time, without any aids), and woke up myself around 0745. Ok, time to get up for the day, to get into the right timezone for the next few weeks.
Unfortunately, the moving skymap was not working, so we had no real way of knowing where we were. And, the lack of any updates from the flight deck meant that we were all quite surprised to discover that we were landing in Frankfurt alomst a full hour ahead of schedule. Sadly, our early arrival meant that all the 380 gates were in use, and so, we sat on the tarmac for around 20 minutes before pulling in.
Upon disembarking, we were met by a cordon of armed Bundespolizei at the exit to the upper deck. It was soon clear that they were waiting for a particular individual, as two men of a particular ethnic origin were stopped, asked for their passports, and then waved on, whilst the rest of us were waved through without a second look. I, and several others stopped for a couple of minutes to get photos of 3 A380s in a row, and when I was leaving, some Bundespolizei were escorting a handcuffed man away, not sure if it was one from our flight, but quite probably.
Immigration took all of 15 seconds, and it was off on the S8 to my home for the night, the Holiday Inn Express Hauptbahnhof.
Next: Germany, football (american), and trains
Jun 27, 12, 1:16 am
Great TR so far.
May start a separate TR for our trip, given we are booking most things as we go!