I’ve been spoiled lately. In 2011 so far, I’m averaging one long weekend to Europe per month to a major city that I’ve never been to before. First Paris about a month ago, now Budapest for February. I’ve gotten spoiled to the point where I had a chance to book another long weekend in Stockholm with a top hotel included at $400 per person for two nights courtesy of a Delta mistake fare and I didn’t book it. Was it that I was so jaded by FT that flying on Delta would feel like I was going over to the darkside (as opposed to the dAArkside), that I have no status on SkyTeam, that I felt like I’ve been taking advantage and should take a break…I honestly don’t know. But enough about how lucky I’ve been, on to the trip report.
This trip came into being when AA had a sale (read, mistake fare) a few months back. It was my first one (aside from the expedia.ca deal, which they always claimed wasn’t a mistake) and I was hungry to maximize my experience. First, I thought, let me book a long weekend in Madrid for a birthday present to myself…<$300, no problem…done. Then I decided to check out other cities. Next on my list, Budapest. Flights again came up at <$300 and I found a great Orbitz package combining my flights and 3 nights at a 4* hotel with a Continental Hungarian breakfast included for $550. “I wonder if there are any Orbitz coupons floating around out there,” I thought. Another $50 off. All in, for New York to Budapest (JFK-BRU-BUD-LHR-JFK) flight and 3 nights at a 4* hotel for just over $500 and I’m clicking the confirmation button.
AA JFK-BRU J
Getting to the actual plane was a bit of a hassle. First, I get to the Howard Beach AirTrain station and they’re waiving everyone through. “Fantastic, it’s free,” I thought. My next thought was, “wait, what’s the catch?” I soon found out that the AirTrain was broken down and that we’d have to take a shuttle bus to get to the Train’s [new] last stop.
I get to the airport and checkin went smoothly, per usual. I am happy to get my business class boarding pass courtesy of a generous FTer who had a few expiring eVips that I was happy to take off of his hands. As I approach security, I see a massive line. “Suckers,” I think, “Good thing I have Priority Access as a Platinum AAdvantage member.”
There is an AA employee standing at the end of the line asking the usual, “First/Business class?” “Yes!” “Right here sir.” Is my spoiling coming to an end? Okay, calm down…if this is the worst that happens, I think I should be fine.
The security line takes quite a while, but I finally get through and make my way to the new Admirals Lounge where the wireless internet is noticeably better. I could only stay for a short period of time as boarding commenced 30 minutes from when I arrived.
When I boarded the 757, I was surprised to see a little old lady sitting next to me as not 30 minutes earlier the seat was empty. Turns out she was a non-rev that had to be rerouted and I couldn’t be upset as an extra seat would’ve meant being spoiled again.
Pre-flight champagne was served, I enjoyed my meal and then it was off to bed for me. Many people complain about AA’s NGBC seat because of its angled sleep mode, but I was out like a baby. It should also be noted that at 6’3”, my feet were touching the ground and could very likely have been acting as supports.
After what felt like just a few minutes, I’m woken up by a flight attendant. Can it be that we’re already only ~1 hour outside of Brussels and it’s time for breakfast? Unfortunately, no. It turns out that there is a “seriously ill passenger onboard” (flight attendant’s words) and “we have to divert to Newfoundland, but it should only be about 15 minutes there and then we’ll be back on our way.” I don’t believe the 15 minutes, but it shouldn’t be too bad, maybe 1 hour to our total travel time, 2 tops. I begin to worry about my BRU-BUD flight as I checked the morning of this flight and I was on the later of 2 flights on Malev with a 2 hour layover in BRU. We should be fine.
After some commotion (apparently the passenger didn’t want to get off the plane because they “felt better”) the passenger is removed and they’re just unloading his bags and closing up the door. I fall back to sleep and in one of those dream-like awake states, I hear “folks, we’re just going to get our wings de-iced and then we should be on our way.” “Wow, it must be cold in Newfoundland if we need to get de-iced after just a few minutes here.” Back to sleep, awoken to take off, awake for what felt like < 30 seconds, fully recline the second wheels are up, back asleep.
The next time I wake up, it was for breakfast. Partially through my meal, I throw up the flight stats onto my AVOD and I see “Local time at Brussels: 11:00am” with 1 hour left to destination. I’m tired, my math must be off, weren’t we originally scheduled for 7:45am arrival? Wasn’t I supposed to arrive in Budapest at just before noon? This is not a joke and my math is right. My non-rev seat partner recounts the entire 4 hour ordeal that ensued in Newfoundland as I laid there blissfully unaware of what was going on. There was apparently an issue finding the “seriously ill passenger’s” baggage & a yelling match between crew and cabin that I had slept right through. And now it makes sense why they had to de-ice the wings…
As I disembark, there is an AA employee waiting for me with my new itinerary. Would they reroute me through LHR and then go on BA? Would they shoot me over to MAD and then go on IB? Am I going to be stuck in Brussels for a night? Turns out, none of the above were right. I was rebooked on LH from BRU-FRA and then on FRA-BUD arriving 7 hours later than originally planned.
I’m just going to pause here for a second and recount my thought process while I comprehended all this and to explain why I think FT has completely changed the way I view travelling (I say for the better, most of my family and friends say worse…until they’re flying premium cabins at a fraction of the cost). To any normal, rational human being, this would be terrible. A half day lost in Budapest on a 2.5 trip, an additional stopover, an additional flight… My thought process:
1. Wait, my *A gold status will get me into the LH Senator lounge
2. Wait, won’t I be able to get original routing credit for my flight AND credit LH to US…2x miles!?!?
3. Wait, now I bet I can try out both the SAS and IB lounges in BRU
4. Wait, I’m arriving 7 hours late and am okay with this…what’s wrong with me?
The SAS lounge wasn’t terribly busy and had a fair selection of food, while the IB lounge was completely empty when I arrived there (in fact, there was no lounge attendant and I just waltzed right in), had far better food (i.e. sandwiches), and much more comfortable seating. My time there was short lived, however, as boarding for my LH flight had started.
This flight was rather uneventful. I did manage to get a window seat in the first economy row with no one in the middle seat, allowing us to fold down the middle “business” divider piece. The one thing I do recall between my drifting in and out of sleep was a child’s guttural scream as his apathetic mother just reading her in flight magazine…great parenting that clearly started at a young age.
My next planned trip to Frankfurt was supposed to be this summer arriving on the new LH A380 JFK-FRA route in first class and this was a slightly different experience that I had envisioned. Upon landing, I see a Porsche Cayenne and a Mercedes Minivan…neither placard has my name inscribed. Since when did US *G (earned with only 20k actual miles flown via the DEQM and h/s/j promotions) LH maximizers flying on a rerouted AA ticket get treated so poorly? That poor showing of service aside, the transfer, is relatively harmless, especially after some of the horror stories I’ve read on the LH forum about FRA airport.
I get to the LH Senator lounge and it’s pretty clear they are not a fan of US *G members. Regardless, I’m granted entry and find a completely packed lounge. I literally have to wait like one hawk among many spotting the first mouse to get up out of its seat and fly before anyone else notices. I’m only able to grab a few snacks and drinks before flight #3 is ready for boarding, but I did grab a German pretzel and some German frankfurters with the mandatory mustard as the perfect condiment.
For this flight, I was able to secure the exit row and was grateful I had considering the flight didn’t have an open seat in Y. Again, this was just a short, uneventful hop and I was just glad to finally be arriving at my destination until a horrible thought came to my mind. With all these changes and transfer, I put the chances of my checked-in bag actually showing up at slim to none. I waited by the carousel and the first few bags came out…nothing…but my impatience was getting the best of me as literally about 20 bags in, there it was. I couldn’t have been happier.
I grabbed a taxi, checked into my room, finally got a shower, and then was on to my dinner at Café Bouchon. I don’t want to talk too much about the hotel, but it was a great hotel for what it was. It definitely couldn’t hold a candle to the 5*IC Paris Avenue Marceau that I stayed in last month, but it was a great 4* boutique hotel located just outside the city center.
I had looked through their menu online before arriving and was fairly certain I knew what I wanted, but I was thrown a curveball with their specials of the day and, more importantly, their “Degustation Menu.” I decided to go with that with the wine pairing as well. On the menu was fresh mixed salad with grilled poultry meat and cheese, tarragon made poultry ragout soup, beef steak stuffed with porcini mushroom served with pepper sauce and grilled potatoes, and delicacy of somlo paired with Pannonhalmi Rajnai Rizling 2009, Tiffan Cabernet Franc-Sauvignon 2008, & Vayi Cuvee 2008/2009 Tokaj-Hegyalja. Everything was incredible and I highly recommend this restaurant. It was clear that they deserved a spot in the top 10 restaurants in Budapest according to TripAdvisor.
Unfortunately, that brought an end to my very short first day in Budapest.