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6 Trains on 6 Continents ~ Connected by 44 Flights on 14 Airlines ~ PART 1

6 Trains on 6 Continents ~ Connected by 44 Flights on 14 Airlines ~ PART 1

Old May 9, 10, 5:00 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,784
6 Trains on 6 Continents ~ Connected by 44 Flights on 14 Airlines ~ PART 1

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake.
The great affair is to move.

Robert Louis Stevenson

This isn’t the first time I’ve headed up a trip report with Robert Lewis Stevenson’s timeless quote. It was appropriate last time I used it, and it’s just as appropriate this time. I like trains. I like planes. I even like some busses. I particularly enjoy going places aboard all of these conveyances, especially trains. So, that’s what this trip report is all about. Going places. Indeed, riding aboard select trains and planes is the impetus for this entire trip.

In the planning stages, I was not thinking of going to, say, Scotland because I wanted to eat haggis, explore a castle and meet lots of cool Scottish people. I’ve done that. No, my real reason for going to Scotland is to ride the Caledonian Sleeper from London up to Inverness, and then ride the local train out to Kyle of Lochalsh. This is said to be amongst the most scenic rail trips in all of Great Britain. I fully expect that in pursuit of my transportation goals, I’ll meet plenty of Scots and have a good Scottish time along the way. I may even allow myself a second helping of haggis and a wee dram of good Scottish whiskey to wash it all down.

Usually my Spring Trip Reports start right out in First or Business Class and never look back ~ behind the curtain. This one’s going to be a bit different. As originally booked, this trip would have begun with me flying from Alaska down to Miami, comfortably ensconced in the forward cabin of an Alaska Airlines 737-800. Miami was to have been a stopover as part of a round trip Business Class award to South America. During my stopover in Miami the plan was to immediately leave Miami, fly to Colorado, ride the California Zephyr to California, then fly to Europe. Once there, I’d ride a train somewhere and then return to Miami for a late night flight to Lima and on to Buenos Aires. Following a three week stay in South America, I was set to return to Alaska, do some laundry, then commence a First Class trip to South Africa aboard Cathay Pacific. All Cathay flights out of North America route via Hong Kong and I’d planned to stop over there on my way to South Africa so that I could make a quick trip down to Singapore and on to Australia with train rides along the way. Afterwards, I’d return to Hong Kong and continue on my way to South Africa before finally returning home to Alaska in early May. It seemed like a good plan and so I went ahead and ticketed the LAN and Cathay portions of the trip along with flights from Hong Kong to Singapore and on to Perth. The basic air itinerary not including train travel looked like this:

MAR 01 Fairbanks to Miami Alaska Airlines First Class
MAR 02 Miami to Denver Delta Airlines Coach Class
MAR 04 Denver to Oakland California Zephyr Bedroom
MAR 06 San Francisco to Paris American Airlines Coach Class
MAR 11 Paris to Miami American Airlines Coach Class
MAR 12 Miami to Buenos Aires LAN Chile Business Class
MAR 29 Buenos Aires to Alaska LAN Chile/Alaska Business Class
MAR 31 Fairbanks to San Francisco Alaska Airlines First Class
APR 01 San Francisco to Hong Kong Cathay Pacific First Class
APR 03 Hong Kong to Singapore Tiger Air Coach Class
APR 04 Singapore to Perth Tiger Airways Coach Class
APR 12 Perth to Kuala Lumpur Ais Asia Coach Class
APR 13 Singapore to Bangkok Jetstar Coach Class
APR 13 Bangkok to Hong Kong Royal Jordanian Coach Class
APR 14 Hong Kong to Johannesburg Cathay Pacific First Class
MAY 05 Johannesburg to Fairbanks Cathay Pacific/Alaska First Class

In late January, about one month before I was set to depart on this epic six continent adventure, I received an email from Cathay Pacific advising me that my ticketed First Class seats to South Africa had been converted to Business Class on the Hong Kong to Johannesburg legs. There’d been an equipment change from a three class 777-300 to a two class A340-300.

Two of the major attractions of this extensive itinerary have been that it encompassed six continents and it included four thirteen hour flights in First Class on Cathay Pacific, one of the world’s finest practitioners of the art of International caliber First Class service. Now suddenly, those highly anticipated luxuries of Cathay’s First Class experience were gone, replaced with the more mundane prospect of fifty-two hours in Cathay’s Business Class. If half of the travel were going to be in Business Class, then it might as well all be in Business Class. I cannot in good conscience pay out First Class mileage for only half a First Class journey to Africa.

Not wanting to abandon the idea of going to six continents so easily, I went to Cathay Pacific’s website and looked over its Business Class presentation. Maybe flying to Africa in Cathay’s Business Class wouldn’t be so bad. Alas, I was not impressed. Call me spoiled if you like, but flying First Class on airlines like Cathay Pacific represents the pinnacle of passenger flight.

Now if I were one who had always flown in Coach, I would likely be thrilled with the prospect of the superior comfort and services in Business Class. The problem however is that I haven’t always flown in Coach. Although I’ve logged over 4000 flights covering almost four million miles aboard 142 airlines, over 1500 of those flights have been in First Class. Compounding the problem is that I logged a lot of domestic First Class miles back in the seventies and eighties, when the First Class service aboard US transcons was comparable to some of today’s international First Class services. The increased comfort and space of the First Class seat have never excited me so much as the quality and quantity of the First Class service. Most domestic First Class flights today offer less service and food than we were offered in Coach back in the seventies. Those of you out there over the age of fifty know what of I speak while many of you under the age of forty could probably care less. For many of today’s younger flyers, United’s PS transcon product probably seems like really good service and by today’s standards, it is. From my experience however, the only First Class aspect of it is a much better seat. Today’s flyers get excited about being served chocolate chip cookies. We used to get excited about being served delicious Black Forest Cake or Chateaubriand carved at your seat. Ah… if you only knew, but then it’s probably just as well that you don’t. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

As one who’s always enjoyed flying for the sheer pleasure of flying, truly good First Class service is a rare and cherished treat. A long international flight aboard Cathay Pacific affords one the opportunity to experience First Class service with all the quality of yesteryear combined with modern day improvements and technology such as Cathay’s First Class suite and Studio CX.

I’ve logged over 50,000 miles on Cathay Pacific, all of them in First Class. I’ve seen Cathay Pacific’s Business Class both onboard the airplane and on the internet. Compared to other business classes, it may be pretty good, but compared to Cathay’s First Class, it’s a substantial reduction in comfort, space and service. Flying Business Class to South America aboard LAN doesn’t bother me because that’s as good as it gets with LAN. On Cathay however, knowing from past experience what their First Class service is like compared to the lesser product offered back in Business Class, I decided that if I were going to fly Cathay Pacific to South Africa, it would have to be in First Class or not at all.

I considered simply dropping South Africa and settling for a five continent journey, using Cathay Pacific’s First Class down to Australia. There was one major problem, however. As of March 29th, Cathay no longer offered First Class to any Australian cities, not even Sydney. Well dang! I’ve got to get some International caliber First Class somewhere in this trip!

Suddenly, I was hit with a stroke of inspiration: Since the last scheduled First Class flight from Johannesburg to Hong Kong was scheduled for March 28th, why not juggle things around and see if I could first go to Europe, then come back and start my next trip to South Africa and Australia and Asia. Upon returning from that, I could finish up with a trip to South America.

Over the next couple of hours, I spent a lot of time on the phone with Alaska Airlines’ Partner Desk, whose helpful agents patiently assisted me in rebooking my already ticketed LAN and Cathay Pacific awards into the following itinerary:

MAR 01 Fairbanks to San Francisco Alaska Airlines Coach Class
MAR 06 San Francisco to London American Airlines Coach Class
MAR 11 London to Fairbanks American Airlines/Alaska Coach Class
MAR 15 Fairbanks to Hong Kong to Johannesburg Cathay Pacific First Class
MAR 28 Johannesburg to Hong Kong Cathay Pacific First Class
MAR 29 Hong Kong to Singapore to Perth Tiger Airways Coach Class
APR 09 Perth to Darwin to Singapore Sky West/Jetstar Coach Class
APR 13 Singapore to Bangkok to Hong Kong Jetstar/Royal Jordanian Coach Class
APR 14 Hong Kong to Fairbanks Cathay Pacific/Alaska First Class
APR 18 Fairbanks to Buenos Aires LAN Chile Business Class
APR 27 Buenos Aires to Fairbanks LAN Chile Business Class

Blended in amidst the above referenced flights are train rides and shorter plane flights all over the world. All of the Cathay Pacific flights are in First Class and over the course of this trip I’ll also be flying aboard seven new airlines. I’d like to think that Robert Louis Stevenson would have been envious.

That said, any of you out there who just can’t stand getting there, much less reading about it, now’s your chance to make a screeching u-turn right out of this trip report. Quick! Go find yourselves a Conde-Nast Traveler or a Travel & Leisure magazine that’ll regale you with tales of fancy hotels, rich food and ten secret places that you simply must visit. Travelogues are a dime a dozen and there are plenty of new ones being written every day. As for me though, being as I like flying on planes and riding on trains, that’s what I’m going to write about. After all, so very few people actually do.

And for all of you who don’t have time for a written trip report and instead prefer to quickly peruse a simple collection of photos, hit the back button and check out some of the other trip reports. Photo reports are all the rage these days and a few of the photographers here at FlyerTalk are pretty good. As for me though, I’m all about writing. That’s not to say I’m necessarily an accomplished writer, but I do enjoy writing about the onboard experience and what the heck - I’ll even throw in an occasional picture or two as well.

So – with six train rides, forty-four flights and just over 92,000 miles of travel coming up, let’s get this report underway. Grab a bottle or two of your favorite libation, find a comfortable chair and fasten your seat belt because this trip report is ready to start scrolling down your computer screens.

All Aboard!

NOTE AS PER NOVEMBER 2014: I am slowly correcting all of the photos in this report. Hope to have it completely fixed by November 5th. Thanks!

NOTE: Due to the large amount of text and photographs, I am submitting this trip report in two separate parts. Were I to submit it as one single report, I fear the time required to load up the entire report in addition to pictures could be quite long, especially for those with slow connecting speeds.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Oct 30, 14 at 12:01 pm
Seat 2A is offline  
Old May 9, 10, 5:03 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,784
When I rebooked everything four weeks ago, I began with an American Airlines award to London, stopping over in San Francisco. Because I’d originally planned to go to South America first, with a stop in Miami, I’d booked a non-refundable ticket from Ft. Lauderdale to Denver so that I could take my North American train ride aboard the California Zephyr, perhaps the most scenic long distance train ride in the country, much less on the continent. So, from San Francisco I had to fly to Ft. Lauderdale to pick up that FLL-DTW-DEN ticket. I didn’t mind. Just think of all the extra miles I just earned!

In any event, over the first three days of this trip I flew seven domestic flights, all of them in Economy Class, and none of them particularly noteworthy. So, let’s pick up in Denver, Colorado where my nephew Nate and I are about to board Amtrak’s California Zephyr, bound for the Golden State.

March 4, 2010
Denver, CO. to Emeryville, CA.
Amtrak’s California Zephyr
First Class Car 531 Room 14

“Trains are wonderful... to travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns... and rivers, in fact, to see life” – Agatha Christie

This train ride is a 23rd birthday present for Nate. He’s never ridden on a train before and I remembered his enthusiasm and excitement when I showed the family pictures of my train trips last year. So, in celebration of the good guy that Nate is, we’re going in style with a standard bedroom that provides a bed for the night in addition to all meals in the dining car enroute. Awright!!!

It was a beautiful sunny morning as my nephew Andy dropped us off at Denver’s Union Station at 7:30am.

Union Station, Denver, Colorado

I had envisioned picking up the tickets and heading right onboard the waiting train. Alas, it was not to be. Our train was running late, with a new departure time of 10:00am. In the meantime, we were offered up to $20.00 off the cost of breakfast at the nearby and stylish Dixon’s Restaurant. Order whatever you like and Amtrak would reimburse up to $20.00 of the total cost.

Two hours later, we’re strolling down platform 1, headed for Room 14 in car 531.

Boarding the California Zephyr at Denver

Waiting to greet us at the door to our car was Mr. Tony Westfield, as friendly and engaging a car attendant as I’ve ever had the pleasure of travelling with on Amtrak. I remember Tony’s last name because much in the manner of William Shatner’s character Denny Crane in the television series Boston Legal, Tony would remind us and others of his full name at the odd stop enroute. Tony Westfield.

Tony Westfield & Nate

Although most people are excited about the prospect of a seat or bedroom high on the upper level of Amtrak’s Superliner fleet, I specifically chose a lower level room for two reasons. First, the downstairs rooms are quieter because there is much less foot traffic passing by your door. All the inter-car traffic is upstairs. As well, the train’s natural rocking motion makes for a difficult time walking and most people tend to ricochet their way down the narrow hallways, bouncing off walls and doors with equal abandon. One sleeping car passenger complained that her arms were bruised after just one afternoon on the train. Additionally, being lower in the train car results in much less tilt motion than is experienced on the upper levels. Like a fulcrum point on a seesaw, the ride is smoother the lower you are.

Opposite the stairway to the upstairs level is a shelf for baggage. We stowed our packs there and headed down the hall to our room. Each Amtrak bi-level Superliner Sleeper car offers 14 Standard bedrooms, 5 Deluxe bedrooms, 1 Family bedroom and 1 Handicapped bedroom. Four Standard bedrooms along with the Family and Handicapped bedrooms are located downstairs. The Standard bedrooms measure 3’6” by 6’6” and are accessed via a sliding glass door. During the day they offer two wide opposite facing seats that fold together to become a bed at night. Above them is a fold-down upper berth. I quickly took dibs on the lower berth. Other amenities include four separate lights, an electrical outlet, a tall mirror, a fold out table, a small open closet with hangers and even a thermostat which I immediately turned to its lowest level. Behind the center console where the table is stored were two bottles of water and a variety of pamphlets about the train. There was a route guide, a timetable, a safety card much like you’d see aboard an airliner and a brochure describing the train and its various services and attractions. Best of all, each compartment has its own huge window, approximately 2’ X 5’, through which to view the passing scenery. Compare that to your average First Class Suite on a 747. Toilet and shower facilities are down the hall.

At the top of the stairway is the service area for each car. In the morning, juice and coffee are available here. Ice is available throughout the day. We had brought a collapsible cooler already filled with ice and cans of Tecate beer. We had 24 cans between us. As things turned out, that only got us through about 10pm the first night.

For you more technically minded readers, today's California Zephyr is powered by two General Electric 4,250 HP Genesis Model P42DC locomotives. The overall consist included a baggage car, a transition sleeper (For the crew), two Superliner II Sleeper Cars, the dining car, the Sightseer Lounge Car and three Superliner coaches.

At 10:05am the all aboard call was made, the doors were shut and we were on our way, gliding slowly out of the Denver yards past Coors Field and out into the northwest Denver suburbs. Meanwhile, various announcements were being made about the train, its amenities and the services to be expected. Smokers were reminded that the California Zephyr is an entirely smoke free train, so regardless of what class one was traveling in, cigarettes could be smoked only at designated station stops.

I first rode the California Zephyr as a twelve year old on my way to a river rafting camp outside Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The Zephyr was in its final year of operation prior to the nationalization of the nation’s passenger railroads through the creation of Amtrak. From its inception, it was a train as beautiful and storied as the land it traveled through.

Not long after leaving Denver, the Zephyr began to wind its way up into the foothills northwest of Denver, heading up Boulder Creek just above Eldorado Springs and continuing to climb whilst passing through 28 tunnels enroute to The Big One – The Moffat Tunnel – 6.2 miles long at an elevation of about 9200 feet. Prior to the tunnel’s opening in 1928, trains had to climb up over Rollins Pass. You can clearly see the old rail bed up the side of the mountain above the East Portal.

As I was pointing this out to Nate and a couple of people seated nearby, another gentleman chipped in with a bit more information about the area. The top of Rollins Pass is at 11000 feet and it used to take trains about five hours to get over the pass and down to the town of Fraser on the west side. If the weather was bad, the trip over Rollins Pass could be measured in days. Now, it takes about 10 minutes to get through the Moffat Tunnel and another 10 minutes to get to Fraser.

The man’s name was Bob Mohowski and it turns out that not only had he authored a couple of books about railroading, he also knew my old 8th grade history teacher, the man most responsible for cultivating my interest in trains. I still keep in touch with my old friend from school and so we gave him a call. Unfortunately he wasn’t home but it was fun for us both to leave him a message while travelling together on the California Zephyr.

Through the rest of the Rockies, the scenery is spectacular as the route follows the Colorado River for over 200 miles through Byers, Gore, Glenwood and Ruby Canyons before leaving the Colorado and heading up to Salt Lake City. With the exception of meals, we spent most of the journey in the Lounge Car drinking beer and chatting with our fellow travelers.

Gore Canyon

Gore Canyon tunnel

Amtrak’s Bi-Level Sightseer lounge cars are magnificent creations. Windows are everywhere, starting at knee level and continuing overhead.

Amtrak’s Sightseer Lounge Car

They are perfect for this route in particular with its deep canyons and towering rock walls above.

California Zephyr in Glenwood Canyon
Photo courtesy of Railpics.net

There is seating for about 50 people upstairs. A snack bar is located downstairs. The menu there offered a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, cheese pizza, rice bowls, soup, candy, peanuts, and all manner of soft and hard drinks. While I thought the prices for the food items were quite reasonable, (Sandwiches cost $2.75-$5.00, soup $1.50) Amtrak’s beer selection is basic and expensive – a simple can of Budweiser will run you $4.75. That’s railway robbery!! Although Amtrak allows its First Class Sleeper passengers to bring aboard their own alcohol, I don’t believe this privilege is extended to the lounge car. As such, discretion was the order of the day. Our beer supply only lasted us through most of the first night so I’d guess we contributed an additional $60.00 or so to Amtrak’s revenue over the remainder of the journey.

One of the best differences between train and plane travel is the lounge and its ever-changing population of visitors over the course of a long trip. Unlike an airplane which quickly flies you from Denver to Oakland in a mere two hours, the California Zephyr makes 18 stops along the way, picking up and dropping off all manner of fresh visitors to the lounge. We met all kinds of folks, from the guy returning home from a visit with his once estranged daughter in Nebraska to the blind man and his dog who were headed for the bright lights of Las Vegas to the rabid Chicago sports fan who couldn’t fly to a business engagement in San Diego because he’d punctured a lung a couple of months earlier. He was astonished that I knew all about Steve Dahl and the infamous late 1970s Anti-Disco night that forced the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the second game of a double header because the outfield was both burned and torn up. We recalled the Bear’s 1986 Superbowl parade, shivering it out through freezing weather in late January. Really, it was like 10°F before the wind chill. I was there and I wasn’t even a fan of Da Bears. I just happened to be in town.

Meals onboard were complimentary to First Class passengers, so we ate well along the way. A delicious black bean vegetarian burger for lunch (made even better with the addition of bacon strips), steaks and baked potatoes for dinner, omelets for breakfast… and excellent service from the dining car staff.

The beds in our standard bedroom were comfortable, if somewhat narrow. Still, sleep comes easily for me aboard trains. There’s just something about the motion of the train as we speed through the night that’s conducive to a quality sleep.

Ready for bed

In the morning, a hot shower is just a few feet down the hall and coffee and orange juice await at the top of the stairs. What a great way to travel!


By the time we rolled into Emeryville at 6:15pm the next day, we were well out of beer but more than ready for another day or two of train travel. Nate had a great time and next time, we’ll have to board in Chicago where the journey to Emeryville (right next door to Oakland) takes 52 hours.

An Amtrak van took us down to nearby Jack London Square where I’d booked a room at the Jack London Inn. I last stayed at this hotel in 1988 while in town to catch a two night stand with the Grateful Dead at the old Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium. Alas, the past 22 years haven’t been so kind to the Jack London Inn and it took us a couple of tries before we were able to find a room where everything worked, like lights or air conditioning.

The next day Nate and I took the BART to SFO and parted ways, he back to Denver aboard his first 777, me on to Chicago aboard an American MD-80. We both look forward to our next ride on the California Zephyr.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Oct 30, 14 at 10:59 am
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Old May 9, 10, 5:14 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,784
March 6, 2010
San Francisco – Chicago - London
American Airlines Economy Class
McDonnell-Douglas DC-9-80 N9677W
Boeing 777-200 N783AN

Veteran readers of my reports may be wondering why I’m not traveling in Business or First Class for the “long” journey over to London and back. Believe me when I tell you that I gave it some serious thought. There are however a number of reasons that made spending the extra money or miles on premium class accommodations to London unattractive to me.

First, I’ve found that for me at least the best way to beat jetlag when traveling eastbound to Europe is to depart the US on the latest possible flight. Most flights to Europe typically depart the East Coast at about 7:00pm and arrive at their European destinations only seven or so hours later, or the equivalent of about 2:00am Eastern time. At that time, I’m feeling ready to go to bed. If my travel originated further to the west, the equivalent time is even earlier and so I’m not all that tired but I soon will be. Meanwhile at my European destination it’s 7:00am or later and the day is just starting. Because I wasn’t tired enough to sleep on the flight over to Europe, my first day or two are ruined dealing with the effects of jetlag. This is true regardless of what class I’m travelling in because even if there were a bed available on that 6:00pm departure, I’m not going to be tired enough to use it.

While some people attempt to counter the effects of jetlag by resorting to chemically enhanced sleep on the eastbound journey, I prefer to depart the US as late as possible, preferably after 10:00pm. In this way I’m that much closer to being naturally tired and thus that much more likely to get more sleep on the way over.

So, how does this apply to Premium Class travel for those short flights across the Atlantic? Like I said, the whole idea is to get as much sleep on the way over as possible. I don’t normally eat at 10:00pm or later, and I certainly don’t want to do so on a plane even if I am in First Class. Food energizes me and thus is counterproductive to immediate sleep. As much as I would enjoy partaking of a big First Class meal over to Europe, experience has taught me that a good night’s rest when traveling across five or six time zones is more important than a comfy seat and a big meal. Experience has also taught me that I can get a decent enough rest in an Economy Class seat for a lot less money or miles.

All of the above logic notwithstanding, I still looked into flying over to Europe in Business Class aboard Air France because it would allow me a chance to log my first ever flight aboard an A380 on the Paris to New York return trip. I also looked into flying over via KLM because I’d never flown on them before. So, in an attempt to get a preview of coming attractions, I went over to Skytrax and checked out numerous reviews of each carrier’s inflight service. Unfortunately, in both airlines’ cases, the reviews were for the most part tepid. On Air France in particular, many Classé d’Affaires travelers reported that the overall service was lackluster, be it food or the attentiveness and politeness of the Flight Attendants.

As one who sees food and overall cabin service as the primary benefits of a premium class ticket, I just couldn’t see handing over an additional 60,000 miles for a product that a multitude of reviews suggested I’d likely be disappointed in. As for flying the A380, I’ll be happy to wait until I redeem the miles for a First Class ticket on Qantas. Based upon Skytrax reviews as well as a few FlyerTalk trip reports, the odds appear to be much higher that I’ll enjoy a quality service on Qantas.

Per Alaska’s Mileage Plan, I was able to book round trip travel from Alaska to London for just 40,000 miles – the off-season saver award on American Airlines. Business Class redemptions ranged from 90,000 on Delta to 125,000 on British Airways. Another reason why Economy Class was an easy choice for me was because it’s hard to justify spending the additional equivalent of two domestic roundtrips from Alaska to anywhere in the US or Canada in exchange for Business Class comfort and service.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How convenient that one can now take BART trains direct to San Francisco International Airport. Doing so afforded us the opportunity to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast and then ride out to the airport about 11:00am. My nephew has only flown maybe a dozen times in his entire life, so I booked him on United’s 2:00pm 777 departure back to Denver. I couldn’t get him an upgrade, but I did finagle a window seat just behind the wing. We parted mid-terminal with a hug and the possibility of doing it all again sometime.

If you don’t like crowds, Saturdays can be great days to fly. Because there were so few travelers about, both check-in and security were well staffed with agents who might as well have been waiting just for me. Soon I was boarding my 108th unique MD-80 of American Airlines and settling in for the three and a half hour flight to Chicago. At 1850 miles in length, this flight from San Francisco to Chicago just may be the longest MD-80 flight in the world. It’s certainly the longest in North America.

With the closure of Delta’s Sky Club on Concourse L, there were no nearby lounges where I could spend my two and a half hour layover in Chicago, so I bought a sandwich at the food court and put in a couple of hours on this report. Anyone who’s actually written as opposed to photographed a lengthy trip report knows that down times like layovers are amongst the best times to catch up on writing your reports. Speaking only for myself, I will say it takes a fair degree of discipline to keep at it because once you start falling too far behind in reporting on a long trip, it’s all too easy to just bag it, as we’ve unfortunately seen from numerous unfinished incremental or installment reports posted here.

Boarding for flight 98 to London began at 9:45pm. Judging by the crowd in the gate lounge, I’d say the plane was only about 70% full. This was my first time flying aboard an American Airlines jet outfitted with the new Business Class cabin, which I walked through on my way to the rear of the airplane. The bland grayish beige Business Class seats and pods look impressive in the publicity photos, but I thought the whole cabin looked rather cramped and crowded when filled to capacity as it was for tonight’s flight.

I was seated in the first row of Economy, in seat 20A. With the bulkhead a good two and a half feet forward from the edge of my seat, I’d say the seats in row 20 offer the most space of any Economy Class seats on the entire airplane.

A prepackaged set of pillow, blanket and earphones had been placed at each economy seat. Flight attendants did a nice job of bustling about the cabin helping people get situated and soon we were closed up, belted in and headed for the runway. The captain gave us a nice welcome aboard with a thorough breakdown of our proposed route and altitudes. Flight time was estimated at seven hours and twenty-eight minutes.

Once we’d reached our initial cruising altitude of 33,000 feet, the crew wasted no time in getting the dinner service started. Chicken or lasagna were tonight’s choices and my seatmate chose the lasagna. It smelled delicious and had it been an earlier flight, I would have been happy to join him. Instead, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before – certainly not on a seven and a half hour flight. I passed on both the meal and a drink. I had a bottle of water, a good book and a tablet of melatonin which combined to have me sleeping fairly well through the last six hours of the flight. If a breakfast snack were offered, I knew nothing of it because I slept through it.

Though I hate to miss a good airline meal, I accomplished my primary goal of getting enough sleep to get me through the rest of the day. Once I cleared immigration and customs at Heathrow, all I had to do was make my way out to London’s Euston Station. The fastest and most expensive way would be to take the Heathrow Express train to King’s Cross and then take a taxi the rest of the way. Budget travelers such as myself can take the underground with a single transfer at Green Park to the Victoria Line which will deliver you right to Euston station. Let’s head out there now.

March 7, 2010
London, England to Inverness, Scotland
Scot Rail’s Caledonian Sleeper
First Class Car J Room 5
8:55pm – 8:30am

If you’re heading north out of London by train, Euston Station is where you’ll likely need to go. With only fifteen track platforms, it’s not a classically large station but it certainly is a busy place with plenty of people hustling to and from trains that leave or arrive about every 5-10 minutes.

Euston Station Departures

I arrived at 5:00pm, leaving me about a four hour wait until my 8:55pm departure to Inverness. Thanks to my First Class accommodations aboard this evening’s Caledonian Sleeper, I was allowed access to Virgin Train’s First Class Lounge. Although this lounge offered nowhere near the amenities of Virgin’s Clubhouse Lounges found in airports, it did provide peace and quiet relative to the station commons, a comfortable seat and a complimentary wi-fi connection. Coffee, juices and light snacks were also complimentary while beer and spirits were available at very reasonable prices. At the rear of the lounge were four shower suites, so I availed myself of a one before strolling out to Track 15 at about 8:30pm.

The Caledonian Sleeper is operated by Scottish Rail and, as the name implies, it is the night train offering primarily sleeping accommodations in the form of one or two bed compartments. Seats are also available, but the train is made up primarily of sleeping compartments. If you want to save a bit of money and share a compartment with someone, you’d book a standard sleeper which sleeps two. If you want private accommodations, you’d book a First Class sleeper. All of the compartments have an upper and lower berth with the only difference between Standard and First Class compartments being that the upper berth isn’t lowered.

From the outside, the Caledonian Sleeper is a very handsome train. Its aerodynamic cars are painted a deep blue offset by red and white trim.

The Caledonian Sleeper

An attendant met me at the entrance to my car and showed me to my room. After explaining the room features along with the location of the toilets and the lounge/restaurant car, he took my breakfast order. I was offered a choice between a hot bacon roll or a bowl of cold cereal. I chose the bacon roll and was told it would be delivered to my room at 7:30am, one hour before our scheduled arrival in Inverness.

Aside from a comfortable bed, my favorite feature of the Caledonian Sleeper is its lounge car. It was conveniently located one car up from my sleeper, so I wasted no time in heading up there to check it out. Red carpet, leather sofas and warm lighting invited passengers to make themselves comfortable with a light meal and a drink or two before turning in for the night.

The Caledonian Sleeper Lounge Car

Although the train was still in the station for another twenty minutes, food and beverage service was available so I took a seat at a table and ordered a cold can of McEwan’s Export while perusing the menu choices. Hmm… Haggis Neeps and Tatties with Red Currant and Whiskey Sauce. Maybe another time. I opted for a plate of Chicken Curry served with Basmati Rice and Naan Bread. The price was certainly right – just £4.50, or about $7.00 USD and the curry was decent though I would have preferred it a wee bit hotter.

Dinner in the Lounge Car

By the time my plate was cleared, we were rolling through the London suburbs at an impressive clip, about 60-70mph. The ride was surprisingly smooth so I decided to linger over another beer and watch for awhile as we flew past the bright lights of buildings, railroad crossings and automobiles. Finally though, the rigors of the day’s travels caught up with me and so it was time for bed. After brushing my teeth with the bottled water provided in the room, I managed about twenty minutes of reading before falling asleep to the gentle rhythm of the rails.

A good night’s sleep up to Scotland

Breakfast arrived at 7:20am. It was presented on a single tray bearing a warm prepackaged Bacon Panini, a small tub of yogurt, a bottle of orange juice, a couple of shortbread cookies and a pot of hot water with all the accoutrements for a hot cup of coffee or tea.

ScotRail Breakfast

Rather than eat in bed, I carried my tray up to the lounge car and enjoyed the beautiful hills and dales of Northern Scotland through the multiple picture windows. As we pulled into Inverness Station three minutes early, I was doubly thankful for the clear skies and abundant sunshine. My connecting train journey up to Kyle of Lochalsh has been described as amongst the most scenic in all of Great Britain.

March 8, 2010
Inverness, Scotland to Kyle of Lochalsh r/t
Scottish Rail Economy Class
11:00am – 5:20pm

I’d booked a room at one of Inverness’ many B&Bs for just £30.00 ($45.00) and since it was located only a ten minute walk from the train station, I decided to head up there and drop my pack off. Getting to my B&B involved a long climb up the multi-tiered Market Brae steps, but utilizing them made for a much shorter journey than I’d have encountered had I stuck to the main streets. I spent a half hour chatting with my amiable host Cherry, a luxury she could afford on this bright crisp morning since she had only just today opened for business again after a three week vacation. I was her first guest back and the only guest booked for tonight.

Back at the station, I took note of a sign indicating the name of Inverness Station as printed in Scottish-Gaelic: Stèisean-Rèile Inbhir Nis.

The track platform opened about fifteen minutes prior to our 11:00am departure. The train serving Kyle of Lochalsh consisted of just two self propelled cars. I heard the “driver” come out and start them up. It sounded just like a diesel truck and looked like one too as a small amount of black smoke shot out of the rear exhaust. Accommodations were spartan – an all Economy Class configuration with most of the non-reclining seats set facing each other with a small table between them.

At precisely 11:00am we accelerated smoothly out of the station. There were no whistles or last calls to board. The train is scheduled to depart at 11:00am. You’d better be on it!

The City of Inverness certainly enjoys a pretty setting on the banks of Loch Ness, but the scenery only got better and better as we rolled north and then west out of the city. If ever there were a time to let my photos tell the tale, it’s now:

We arrived at Kyle of Lochalsh right on time at 1:25pm.

The train sitting at Kyle of Lochalsh station

The return trip wasn’t scheduled to depart until 2:35pm so I had plenty of time to walk into town for a look around. The town itself is really quite small, maybe a block and a half worth of businesses including a hotel and a couple of restaurants. I stopped at one for a quick lunch before heading back down to the station for the return journey.

All told, this six hour journey is as pretty a train ride as I’ve ever been on. I’ll definitely have to return someday to ride the trains over to Wick and Fort William. As well, I’d like to return to Kyle of Lochalsh and spend a couple of days just hanging out in town. I like small towns.

Back in Inverness, I got plenty of exercise climbing up and down the Market Brae steps whilst heading to, then from and then back again to my B&B. Dinner was a decent burger washed down with two pints of surprisingly cold and tasty Tennant’s Lager. I slept well that night on a big bed under a warm duvet in a cold house.

March 9, 2010
Inverness - Belfast
flyBE Economy Class
DeHavilland DHC-8-400 G-JEDT
11:30am – 12:30pm

Following a fine Scottish breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, tomato, potatoes and toast, I hoisted my pack, bid adieu to my hosts and headed back down the Market Brae steps to Falcon Square. There I caught a double-decker city transit bus out to the airport for just £3.20.

The Inverness Airport is located about 7 miles outside of Inverness. Though small, it offers enough amenities to make any visit there reasonably enjoyable. Check in was swiftly accomplished, but the security check took quite a bit longer. Unfortunately, my daypack had attracted the attention of the staff and shortly two of them were swarming over its contents. Aha! There’s the problem ~ a potentially deadly eyeglass repair kit! That little screwdriver in there could make a nifty weapon. Interestingly, I was allowed to keep a sewing repair kit with a number of sharp needles.

Despite its diminutive size, Inverness International does have a Servisair Lounge located just off the gate lounge. This lounge is one of over 450 accessible via Priority Pass and although boarding was only twenty minutes away, I decided to check it out. Though small, it offered comfortable seating, complimentary wi-fi internet access and an impressive service island sporting a nice variety of beverages and packaged snacks. I had just enough time to down a quick cup of coffee and fire off a couple of emails before grabbing a bag of peanuts and heading out to board my flight.

Waiting on the ramp was one of flyBE’s attractive blue and white liveried DeHavilland Dash 8-400s. I asked one of the ramp personnel if I might pause to take a photo but was informed that no pictures were allowed on the ramp. Really? Just like Burundi.

Beyond that gang, if you’ve been on one Dash 8, you’ve been on a thousand. The aircraft was designed as a commuter plane and the seating is pretty much the same in all of them. As for the service, well, flyBE is a low cost carrier and so whatever it is you desire inflight, be it a soda or a cup of coffee, it’s going to cost you. Flight time to Belfast was predicted to be just 43 minutes so I decided to wait for lunch with my friends in Belfast who were known to keep their fridge well stocked with cans of Bass and Guinness. We landed after just 42 minutes aloft, though baggage collection took an additional thirty-five minutes.

March 11, 2010
Belfast - London
Aer Lingus Economy Class
Airbus A320-200 EI-DEH
7:20am – 8:50am

I’ve wanted to fly Aer Lingus ever since I first saw one of their beautiful green 707s parked at JFK back in the early 1970s. On my first visit to Ireland back in 1999, I looked into flying Aer Lingus from London to Belfast. Unfortunately their prices were prohibitively expensive, almost four times as much as it cost to fly Easy Jet out of Luton. This time when I checked, I was even more shocked at the price! The Aer Lingus website indicated a fare of just £0.00 between BFS and LHR! My eyes were bugging out like Marty Feldman’s as I quickly booked a space on the 7:20am departure.

Eh? Wot’s this?! Suddenly the fare had jumped to £23.00. Ah… taxes. Well, fair enough then – it’s still a very good deal. But wait! Would I be checking baggage? Yep, one piece under 20Kg. That’ll be another £11.00. And what about advance seat selection? The website indicated that it was possible to do this at the airport at no charge but then it wouldn’t let me out of the seat selection process until I’d selected a seat. Apparently, if Aer Lingus is going to give their seats away, the least you could do is select one, albeit enforced at a cost of £2.00. Then there was the £2.00 fee for using my credit card to pay for it all, as if I had a much of a choice when using their website. By the time I’d added up all these extra fees, that “free” seat on Aer Lingus ended up costing $60.78 USD. Still, not a bad price for the right to fly my 137th airline but jeez, I sure had to jump through some hoops to get it. Welcome to modern day air travel.

After two marvelous days in Belfast highlighted by good friends, good food, good beer, good fun and a 4-0 Manchester United victory over AC Milan in the UEFA Championship Tournament,

Carrickfergus Castle

Castle Stairs

Little girl meets castle soldier

I awoke at the gawd awful hour of 5:15am – made especially heinous because I’d stayed up quite late the night before to watch most of the soccer game – and was dropped off at Belfast International at 6:00am. My Aer Lingus flight to Heathrow was scheduled to depart at 7:20am and so I figured I’d have plenty of time to visit the local Servisair Lounge.

Alas, once again the folks at the security checkpoint had other ideas. Who knows what attracted them to my pack this time but I was subsequently subjected to an inspection of each and every item in my day pack, an inspection so thorough that it crossed into the realm of ridiculous. When I say “each and every” item, I mean exactly that. Everything from ear plugs to car keys to toothbrush to reading material was inspected and individually swabbed for explosive residue. This even included items as innocuous as each and every pen and pencil, mustard packet and thumb drive along with even my hair brush. Removing all of these items (and more) out of each pocket, inspecting each one and then swabbing each one for explosive residue took quite a long time and by the time I’d finally put everything back together there were just ten minutes left until boarding.

Sunrise at Belfast International

Once onboard, the bleeding of my wallet continued when I shelled out £2.20 for a cup of instant coffee. I sure wish I’d have been able to fly aboard that Aer Lingus 707 of old with its Golden Shamrock Service, because the current version of Aer Lingus is little more than a low cost carrier now. Unfortunately, I suspect that’s what they’ve had to become in order to remain competitive, much less alive against the likes of Ryanair and Easy Jet.

March 11, 2010
London - Boston
American Economy Class
Boeing 767-300 N381AN
12:15pm – 2:15pm

It’s a long walk through labyrinthine passageways from Heathrow’s Terminal 1 to Terminal 3. After checking in for American’s 12:15pm departure to Boston, I was faced with an equally long walk out to American’s gates located way down at the very end of one of Terminal 3’s concourses.

I’ve flown between London and the US to or from SEA, SFO, LAX, PHX, ORD, MIA, IAD, and EWR. Why not BOS? Not only was this a new route for me but it is also the shortest crossing of the Atlantic that American offers. At just 3,250 miles with a westbound flight time of under seven hours, it would allow me a good three hour layover in Boston before connecting to Alaska Airlines’ nonstop flight to Seattle.

After checking in, I was faced with almost two and a half hours until my flight was scheduled to depart. Thankfully my Priority Pass membership allowed me a choice of two T3 lounges – the Servisair Lounge or Kuwait Airways’ Oasis Lounge. The Servisair Lounge is the larger and better equipped of the two, but it was almost completely full when I arrived. I did an about face and headed over to the Oasis Lounge just down the hall. The amenities were quite basic for a premium class lounge – just some cookies, chips, muffins and non-alcoholic beverages. I was the only visitor for a good 40 minutes before another couple and their child arrived.

At the gate, I managed to trade my limited recline window seat for a spacious bulkhead seat in row 10 on the winglet equipped 767. As an added bonus there was no one sat next to me so I was able to spread out quite nicely. Take off was accomplished in just 32 seconds and soon afterwards we were climbing above the cloud layer into the bright sunny realm of the upper troposphere.

Luncheon was a choice of Chicken with rice or Pasta with spinach. I chose the chicken but after seeing the full dish of tasty looking pasta being eaten across the aisle, I had some misgivings. My chicken entrée was smaller than some appetizers I’ve had in International First Class. It was tasty enough though, washed down as it were with a glass of wine.

Economy Class luncheon between LHR-BOS on American

Given that I’d only managed perhaps four hours of sleep the night before, I had no problem adding to that total with an after lunch siesta. When I awoke the Sky map indicated we were 38,003’ over snowy New Brunswick, cruising along at 478 mph. With just an hour and ten minutes left in the flight, the flight attendants were getting ready to feed us again. Mmmmm… pizza. In a box. Nothing but cheese with chewy crust though. Maybe not so mmmmm…

We landed in Boston to the same conditions we’d left behind in London. Cold wind and rain. Would Seattle be any better? Unlikely this time of year. I cleared customs as if there were no customs and relocated to Continental’s Presidents Club in Terminal A.

March 11, 2010
Boston - Seattle
Alaska Airlines Economy Class
Boeing 737-800 N593AS
6:15pm – 9:25pm

Thanks to my Gold status with Alaska, I’d pre-booked an aisle seat on the bulkhead in row 6. Alaska’s 737-800s don’t have a solid bulkhead between First Class and Coach, only a small curtain that hangs down to the top of the First Class seat backs in row four. The legroom in row 6 is comparable to an exit row seat, but you get served first and don’t have to be responsible if the plane needs to be evacuated.

Dinner was one of Alaska’s excellent $6.00 hamburgers and, after a flight time of five hours and thirty minutes, we touched down on a rainy night in Seattle and taxied in to a gate on the North Satellite. I collected my pack and retired for the night in my secret spot, where I slept undisturbed until 4:45am the next morning.

March 12, 2010
Seattle – Anchorage - Fairbanks
Alaska Airlines Economy Class
Boeing 737-800 N546AS
Boeing 737-400 N713AS
6:00am – 11:07am

Although I had a confirmed seat aboard a flight departing at 8:55pm that evening, I was anxious to get back home where a myriad of tasks and chores awaited me before my upcoming trip to Africa. Unfortunately all of the saver award seats for travel this day to Fairbanks and Anchorage had long since been taken. Worse, many of the flights were showing completely full, even oversold. Something about spring break.

I figured my best chance to get out of Seattle early would be to get started early, so I presented myself at Alaska’s check-in counter at 5:00am and hoped for the best. And darned if I didn’t get lucky! I was given a confirmed seat on the 6:00am to Anchorage, with a connecting flight on to Fairbanks that would get me in at 11:00am. Perfect!

And now for a milestone update. Any of you who’ve consistently read my trip reports know that after having flown over 4000 flights almost 4 million miles, I’ve managed to pass a good number of milestones related to mileage flown or flights flown on particular aircraft or routes. What constitutes a milestone? A good even number that ends in 0 such as 100 or 250.

I am aware of my “milestones” because I’ve kept a detailed log of my flights since I was very young. My first log was a fairly simple document, listing flights by origin, destination, airline, aircraft type, mileage flown and length of flight. As the total number of flights increased, my log became more detailed. I began to calculate total flights, miles and hours flown per airline and per aircraft type as of each flight. I also started keeping track of aircraft registration numbers.

By the time I turned twenty-one I had well over 400 flights to my credit. I went down to an aircraft supply store in Denver and purchased a Senior Pilot Master Log. This log was designed for pilots rather than passengers but I was able to easily convert the various columns to my needs. With so many columns and way too much spare time on my hands, I began to calculate even more data per flight. Over the years I added such eclectic statistics as flights and miles flown per aircraft type by airline (i.e. while I may have flown upon 639 Boeing 727-200s, how many of those flights were upon Braniff 727-200s), how many flights per specific aircraft (i.e. how many flights were upon Braniff 727-200 N408BN), or how many times I’d flown a given route and the total unduplicated route mileage per airline and in total. The more I flew, the more fascinating the numbers became.

Today’s milestone is related to how many times I’ve flown the route between Seattle and Anchorage. This flight is my 250th time flying the SEA-ANC route. Out of my almost 4 million total miles flown, 362,500 of them have come on this route. To celebrate my “lofty” accomplishment, I splurged for a scrambled egg breakfast and a coffee with Baileys. As ever, my celebrations are quiet, understated affairs. I know of very few people that would have the slightest interest in some of the statistics I keep and only a hand full of them are on FlyerTalk. As a result, no announcements were made and nobody asked for my autograph after the flight.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Nov 3, 14 at 10:28 am
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Old May 9, 10, 5:32 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,784
March 15, 2010
Fairbanks – Seattle – San Francisco
Alaska Airlines First Class
Boeing 737-900 N320AS
Boeing 737-700 N609AS

I like being up at 5:30am. The day is young, innocent, quiet, peaceful... I do not, however, like getting up at 5:30am. This is especially true when I didn’t get to bed until 1:00am, just four and a half hours earlier. No – instead of sleeping, I was on the phone to South Africa trying to clear up why even though I had wired the requested amount of money to the South African passenger railroad company, why did I now owe another $85 Rand. And – since I was technically not paid in full in advance of the journey, did I still hold a reservation? This involved making a number of calls back and forth to various departments of the railroad all the while being given ambiguous and/or conflicting information. In any event, I finally managed to get things worked out satisfactorily and made the most of my limited sleep time.

The 7:15am nonstop from Fairbanks to Seattle is a popular flight with Fairbanksans, so popular in fact that it’s operated by the largest jet in Alaska’s fleet, the 172 passenger 737-900. Alaska Airlines was the launch customer for the -900 and to date, only Alaska and Continental operate the type in North America.

This morning’s light snow required that our aircraft be deiced before we could take to the air. Up in First Class, our friendly and very attractive flight attendant took the initiative to offer us hot coffee while we awaited the deicing truck. I’ve been on many an Alaska flight under similar circumstances where this didn’t happen, so her efforts were doubly appreciated.

Breakfast this morning was Alaska’s Breakfast Strudel, a lackluster combination of powdered eggs with cheese and veggies baked inside of a once flaky but now somewhat less than flaky crust. Why do I suspect the eggs are powdered? Eggs should not shine like sliced Jell-O when you slice through them. This less than inspiring dish was accompanied by two meager strips of bacon and a small portion of fruit. Next time I will request and even pay for the scrambled egg, potato and sausage breakfast offered back in economy for just $6.00. By my tastes, it’s a much better breakfast.

Alaska’s First Class Breakfast Strudel

Alaska’s Economy Class Scrambled Eggs

It was a beautiful sunny day as we made our approach into Seattle above the deep blue waters of the Puget Sound. To my right, the crystal clear Olympic Mountains sparkled in the distance. Views like this are why airplanes have windows and yet, as I looked around, only two other windows on my side of the cabin were open. What a shame that in the technologically advanced, fast paced world we live in today, the vast majority of people seem to have long since lost the thrill of flight, assuming of course that they ever had it.

Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains

Downtown Seattle flyover

I had a two hour layover in Seattle with a connecting flight out of gate C-17, so I headed over to United’s Red Carpet Club, otherwise known as “The Cave” because it’s located under the North Satellite and has no windows. Although Alaska’s Boardroom is nicer, “The Cave” is only a one minute train ride away from Alaska’s gates out at the end of the C Concourse.

Doing the honors down to San Francisco this afternoon was N609AS, a 737-700 upon which I’d flown just twice before. I’ve logged an average of over 5 flights per aircraft on the rest of Alaska’s -700 fleet, but this aircraft has effectively eluded me since way back in November of 2005. These are the kinds of thoughts and calculations that occupy my mind while shuffling at a glacial pace through a crowded jetway because once again I couldn’t be bothered to be in the gate lounge so that I could be amongst the first to board the airplane. It’s just not that important to me. But knowing how many times I’ve flown a particular aircraft is. Hmm…

Alaska competes with Virgin America on the Seattle to San Francisco route, so I was curious if that competition might result in an upgraded snack service. If the Veggies and Spinach Dip plate I was offered are any indication, I’d imagine the competition is limited to fares and frequencies.

Once again, a beautiful day along the West Coast resulted in a pretty approach into San Francisco International. After flying past the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco, we did a big U-turn down by the Dumbarton Bridge and were treated to stunning views of San Mateo and Foster City as we descended through our final approach into SFO.

After collecting my backpack, I hoofed it on over to Continental’s Presidents Club where I rendezvoused with an old friend from my high school days. He brought his two girls along and we all had dinner at a surprisingly good Vietnamese restaurant in San Mateo before heading down to his house where I slept quite comfortably in daughter #2’s bunk bed.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Oct 30, 14 at 11:08 am
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Old May 9, 10, 5:34 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,784
March 16, 2010
San Francisco – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class
Boeing 777-300 B-KPE Seat 1K
105p – 705p Flight time: 14:01

Anyone who’s ever flown International First Class and loved the experience knows the anticipation that accompanies each and every subsequent trip. After all, it’s not every day that you get to be treated like royalty, your every whim graciously attended to while you recline in a $90,000 suite that provides a large, spacious seat by day and a wide, comfortable bed at night.

Be it relaxing with a glass of Champagne in the First Class Lounge before the flight or enjoying a sumptuous seven course meal during the flight, International First Class aboard airlines like Cathay Pacific represents the epitome of inflight luxury. It is air travel at its most refined and the prospect of returning to its rarified realm has had me giddy for days.

My day started with a thirty minute ride on CalTrain from Santa Clara to Milbrae followed by a ten minute ride on the BART train to San Francisco International. The airport train station is conveniently located just outside the International Terminal, so I had only a short walk before presenting myself at Cathay’s First Class check-in counter. My pack was quickly bagged and tagged while I was handed boarding cards and lounge invitations for both San Francisco and Hong Kong.

Soon I was through security and making my way down the A Concourse towards Cathay’s First Class lounge at A4. Eh – wot’s this? Cathay’s using the British Airways Terraces Lounge! I must say that I found this a bit disappointing since BA’s Terraces facility is essentially a Business Class lounge. The attached “First Class Lounge” is no more than a very small room with couches and a big screen TV. The food and drink offerings are no different than those offered in the main Business Class lounge and frankly, in terms of overall ambience, I prefer the brighter and more cheerful Terraces lounge.

BA’s Terraces Lounge at SFO

A nice selection of beers and spirits was located at the far end of the lounge, so I grabbed an ice cold bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and then headed over to inspect the food options. Alas, there wasn’t much. Aside from the usual prepackaged portions of cheese, crackers, cookies and chips I found only a heated tray of Vienna sausages that had been wrapped in pastry. Pigs in a blanket. Also available were packaged noodle bowls. Just add hot water.

Boarding was called at 12:30pm, so I quickly gathered my gear and headed upstairs to the departure level. This was to be my first ever flight aboard a 777-300 and I was anxious to get onboard and start enjoying the pre-departure amenities, chief amongst them a welcoming glass (or two) of Krug Champagne.

I have read accounts of travel on other airlines where regardless of class flown, the boarding process is akin to a cattle drive. Thankfully, Cathay Pacific’s operation at SFO is handled properly. Not only was there a separate line for First and Business Class passengers, but we also had our own dedicated jetway. As such, boarding was accomplished without hassle, allowing me to stroll down the jetway unimpeded as if I owned the place.

At the doorway were two smiling Flight Attendants, either of whom could have modeled nicely for the cardboard cutouts of smiling FAs that Cathay likes to post outside its lounges. I was warmly welcomed aboard, my boarding card was inspected and I was then handed off to “Michelle” who led me across the galley, then left into the First Class cabin.

Cathay’s 777-300ERs offer just eight of the next generation First Class suites, arranged in two rows of 1-2-1. My suite 1K was the forward most suite on the right. Although it was located immediately aft of the First Class galley, Suite 2K was located immediately forward of the much busier Business Class galley. Regardless, I wanted a seat on the right side of the aircraft because that’s where all the best scenery is. More on that in a bit though.

Although I had read about Cathay’s new First Class suites in various trip reports and of course taken the virtual tour on Cathay’s website, there is no substitute for seeing the real thing right there in front of you. The new suites are marvelously spacious, comfortable and private. Although they don’t offer the complete privacy of sliding doors such as those found aboard airlines like Emirates and Jet Airways, Cathay’s suites nonetheless provide an outstanding level of privacy with their high, wrap around walls combined with the staggered seating arrangement.

(The following photos were taken from aboard one of Cathay’s 747s. The suites are the same as those aboard the 777 and I use these pictures here because of their superior quality.)

Entering the suite I found a large, comfortable seat that was almost three feet wide.

Cathay Pacific’s new First Class suite

Cathay Pacific’s new First Class suite

Inside the seat was a rolling massage function that I found quite pleasing throughout the flight. Although a large, firm pillow had been placed on the seat, Michelle let me know that more pillows were available should I so desire. She then provided a brief tour of the suite, starting with the spacious closet which was wide and deep enough to hang three or four jackets with plenty of room leftover for my shoes. The television screen was huge, approximately 16” diagonally. Although it appeared to be mounted in the suite wall just left of center to the seat, it was actually attached to a hinged arm allowing it to be brought out and centered closer to the seat.

Cathay Pacific’s First Class TV monitor

In the sidewall next to the seat was a table that was large enough to comfortably handle a typical Cathay Pacific feast or serve as a work desk with plenty of room for a laptop and papers. An electrical socket suitable to North American plugs was mounted just behind the table. In addition to an overhead light, two small swivel lamps were mounted at shoulder height on each side of the seat. Noise reducing headphones were located in their own compartment to the right of the seat, along with a handheld television controller that included a telephone on the back. Three windows allowed for lots of natural light. This would be my home for the next fourteen hours.

My home aboard Cathay Pacific

What better way to celebrate moving into your new home than with a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne? Michelle was only too happy to bring me a glass, presented on a tray with the bottle and poured at my seat. She returned moments later with an amenity kit. Noticeably absent was the amuse bouché that used to be offered with pre-departure drinks.

Over the next fifteen minutes, the rest of my First Class traveling companions filtered into the cabin. One nicely dressed gentleman was well acquainted with one of the Flight Attendants and from what I overheard of their conversation, it was apparent that he flew First Class on Cathay fairly often. As for me, it’s been a five year absence. As I sipped my exquisitely chilled Champagne, I offered a silent toast to Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan which made my return to Cathay’s First Class possible. With one way airfares to Hong Kong exceeding $10,000 each way, I would never be sitting here were it not for mileage awards. It sure felt good to be back.

Pushback was right on time. The Captain came on over the PA with the usual greetings and informed us that our projected flight time to Hong Kong would be thirteen hours and forty-one minutes. Based upon the scheduled departure and arrival times reflecting a journey of fifteen hours, I felt a little short changed. Hopefully we’ll run into some good, stiff headwinds!

As we taxied out to the runway, I was surprised at how little engine noise I heard. My only flights aboard 777s prior to this were aboard the shorter -200 model. On that airplane, the engines are much closer to the First Class cabin, so the engine noise, particularly on climb out, is significantly more noticeable. Looking out my window, I couldn’t even see the engine and could barely make out the wingtip. I also noted that the two aircraft taxiing out ahead of us were 777s from Asiana and Korean. What a colorful triumvirate we made as we lined up for takeoff!

It was a bright sunny day in the Bay Area and as we soared into the clear blue skies and turned slightly to the north, those of us on the right side of the aircraft were treated to pretty views of San Francisco Bay and its surrounding communities. Meanwhile, the SkyMap provided the most detailed and varied perspectives on our flight that I have ever seen aloft, starting with a view that appeared to have come from Google Earth showing the San Francisco airport in its entirety below us. Various views then showed animated renditions of our 777 from the top, the side and the rear with projected paths of flight over the immediate area up to and including the planet as a whole. Awesome!

777 Sky Map view upon departing SFO

Sky Map time and distance upon departing SFO

Fourteen minutes into the flight, as we passed through 28,000 feet, the Wine List and Luncheon Menu were presented. Unlike on some airlines where the Flight Attendant simply hands you a menu from a stack, as if she were handing out test booklets, this Flight Attendant, Christopher, presented first the wine list and later the menu by opening each to its correct page before bestowing it upon us. Doing so in this fashion is representative of the little touches that make flying on Cathay Pacific and a select few other airlines such a special and pleasurable experience.

As a collector and indeed aficionado of First Class menus, I’ve always appreciated the quality and presentation that goes into Cathay’s menus and wine lists. The covers feature photography of food or wine designed to heighten the anticipation of the epicurean delights to follow, and the wine list in particular offers excellent descriptions of the various wines offered. Today’s wine list also included an insert offering a more detailed description of this month’s featured wine, the Bouchard Pere & Fils Morgon. But enough palaver! Let’s have a look at that list…

Wine List SFO-HKG Exterior

Wine List SFO-HKG Interior



Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne

White Wines
Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2006
Henri de Villamont Meursault 2005

Red Wines
Chateau Lynch Bages 2003
Bouchard Pere & Fils Morgon 2009
Felipe Rutini Reserve Malbec 2006

Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 10 Year Old Tawny Port

Tesseron Lot 76 XO Tradition

Chivas Regal 12 Years Old, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Canadian Club, Gentleman Jack Bourbon, Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve Single Malt Whisky

Hmmm… I was tempted to start with a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, a Scotch that retails for over $230.00 per bottle back home in Fairbanks. Still, it seemed a bit early in the day – I tend to like my Scotch or Bourbon just before dinner – so I decided to go with a glass of the Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay. We were, after all, taking off from one of the preeminent wine growing regions in the world and though I’m not much of a white wine drinker, this was the only wine on the menu from California. I placed considerable faith in Cathay’s Wine Consultants that it would be a good choice. It was.

My wine was delivered with a small plate of cashews. As I sipped its golden goodness, I reached for the luncheon menu and perused the choices for this afternoon’s feast:

Menu SFO-HKG Exterior

Menu SFO-HKG Interior

San Francisco to Hong Kong

Caviar and Balik Salmon Delight
Oscietra Caviar and Balik Salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”
Served with Warm New Potatoes and Crème Fraiche

Fennel and apple soup with caramelized fennel and dill

Mesclun salad with tear drop tomatoes, cranberries and pecans
Served with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Bread Basket
Assorted Bread and Rolls

** ***** **


Grilled Prime New York Steak

With fingerling potatoes, young zucchini, carrots, beets, shallots and garlic

Lobster and Crab Ravioli
With roasted red pepper coulis and balsamic glazed asparagus



Pork with Mountain Yam and Wolfberries Soup
Cold Plate ~ Marinated gluten with cucumber

Kung Po Chicken
Stir-fried Seafood

Served with steamed rice and stir-fried mixed vegetables

** ***** **


Cambozola, Yellow Cheddar, Munster and Herb Goat Cheese

Fresh seasonal berries with cream

Bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

Black sesame dessert



One of the highlights of any long flight aboard Cathay Pacific is their caviar and salmon presentation.
In fact, I don’t believe I’ve been served caviar since the last time I flew Cathay Pacific back in May of 2005. I was very much looking forward to reacquainting myself with this tasty tradition. As to the rest of the what I ordered, well, I don’t know what fennel is but its combination with apple and dill in a soup sounded a bit extreme for my tastes so I passed on the soup and requested a salad instead. As for the main course, I generally believe in eating foods most commonly prepared and served in the region from which we just departed. That meant a New York Steak for me. As for cheese and dessert, well, we’ll cross that tasty bridge when we come to it.

As I’ve done in a couple of my past trip reports, I decided to time the delivery of each segment of the meal service. The idea here is to demonstrate how relaxed and unhurried a proper International caliber service is. Whereas back in Economy and even in many Business Classes the meals are served all at once on a tray, in the best First Class cabins the meals are served course by course with the pace dictated by the passenger, not the cabin crew. Following is the breakdown of this afternoon’s beverage and meal presentation:

0:14 Menu and Wine List Presented

0:19 Drink order taken

0:21 Drink presented

0:38 Meal order taken

0:58 Table set and drink refreshed

1:05 Caviar and salmon served

1:18 Salad served

1:35 Steak served

2:06 Cheese and port served

2:37 Dessert served

2:39 Coffee served

3:02 Table cleared

Back in the day (1981), I once enjoyed a full caviar service from the cart while flying First Class aboard a Braniff 727 between New York and Dallas. Following the caviar were salad and a roast carved from the trolley. These days very few airlines still serve caviar, either due to cost of doing so or the drastically reduced availability of good caviar due to environmental contamination and/or over harvesting of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and other regional fishing holes.

Although we did not get to enjoy the flair of a trolley service this afternoon, we were nonetheless presented with a nice plate of caviar and salmon accompanied by the full complement of proper accoutrements such as chopped egg whites, yolks and onions along with sour cream and toast points.

Salmon and Caviar SFO-HKG

To the uninitiated, caviar tastes like salty mush. The Russians like it with vodka. I tried that once and found that I prefer my vodka mixed with tomato juice and spices. With caviar, I like to first spread a layer of sour cream on the toast, then top it with a good amount of caviar topped with all the accompaniments. Mmmm…! I’ve definitely developed a taste for those little black eggs.

The salad came next – a delicious combination of mesclun leaf with tomatoes, cranberries and pecans. I like nuts in a salad, and though I’m not particularly fond of the usual fruit additions like mandarin oranges or pears, I thought those little dried cranberries augmented the overall flavor of the salad very nicely.


Anybody who’s eaten steak on an airplane knows that of all the meats, steak is the most likely to be hit or miss. Actually, I take that back. I once had a pheasant entrée aboard Aerolineas Argentinas that had all the consistency of jerky. Quail is another meat that more often than not does not fare well in airline ovens. So allow me to amend that assessment to say of all the red meats, steak is, from my experience, the most likely to suffer. (Honestly, folks… what other trip reporter gives you this kind of detail and insight!?)

The steak I was served was actually cooked medium and in terms of texture came out fairly well. Unfortunately, it just didn’t have the thickness and accompanying fat that a typical New York sirloin should have. As a result the taste, while decent as accented by the accompanying gravy, did not taste anything like a restaurant quality New York strip steak. Still, it was reasonably moist and tender and the accompanying potatoes and garlic made for an appetizing plate of food.


By the way, for those of you who say an airline can’t prepare and serve a proper steak, I’m here to tell you otherwise. I’ve eaten a lot of steaks in my time and though I grant the airlines a fair bit of leniency when it comes to serving reheated food, I will say that on two occasions – both of them on Continental many years ago – I was served steaks that tasted like restaurant quality meat. It can be done! The question is how to do so consistently. I submit that it all starts with a decent cut of meat. That, more than any other factor, is where most airlines go wrong.

Roight then, on to the cheese course. I was actually pretty full from the caviar, salmon, salad and approximately 10oz of steak plus veggies. Still, I don’t get to enjoy a nice post-meal cheese service all that often. Sigh… Oh sure, why not? Somehow Michelle talked me into a plate with a bit of everything, so I responded with a request for a glass of Port. I mean what the hey – if you’re gonna go whole hog then go for it!

Cheese and Port Service SFO-HKG

For what it’s worth, I didn’t finish all of my cheese – especially the goat cheese which I didn’t care for – but regardless by that point I was well and truly stuffed. Dessert? Maybe later. Are you surrrre???? YES! So playful, Michelle… I hated to turn her down but I was so full that by now I had a much better understanding of why the Romans had vomitoriums.

By the time the last of my plates were cleared, there were still over ten and a half hours left in the flight. According to the SkyMap, we were off the coast of Alaska flying just south of Juneau. Not that you’d know it looking out the window where solid clouds obscured all traces of land and water below. If ever there were a good time for a movie, it was now.

Judging from the reports submitted by many of FlyerTalk’s most prolific premium class travelers, Cathay Pacific’s Studio CX may not be the finest inflight entertainment system in the industry. That honor apparently goes to Singapore’s Wiseman or whatever Emirates is offering on its newest aircraft. Still, unless you require ridiculously extensive amounts of movies and music, Studio CX offers more than enough music and films to satisfy most normal people. I found a number of movies that I’d like to watch, first and foremost George Clooney’s Oscar nominated masterpiece “Up In The Air”.

What can I say? Like any frequent flyer who’s logged over 4000 flights and close to 4 million miles, I could easily relate to most everything that Clooney’s character described over the course of the movie, including how I evaluate my fellow travelers in line at the security checkpoints. Stereotyping? Sure. But so what? It is what it is and they are what they are. As for Vera Farmiga, I’ve had a crush on her ever since her role in “The Departed”. She is welcome to join me on any of my future flights…

The principal reason why I chose to sit on the right side of the airplane was to get a glimpse of home as I flew overhead. Alaska is a stunningly beautiful state, and to see it from the air only enhances that perspective. Of course, on a flight of nearly 7000 miles, there’s a lot of other beautiful scenery as well. From past experience on two Vancouver to Hong Kong flights, I knew to keep an eye out for the beautiful Aleutian archipelago as well as the spectacular mountain landscapes of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Knowing full well that I was crossing over some of Alaska’s most scenic lands while in the middle of watching “Up In The Air”, I was ever so thankful for the pause button on my controller which allowed me to raise my window shade and take in the following vista:

A nice view of Alaska

As ever, I was the only one enjoying the amazing vista outside my window. Indeed, the First Class cabin was entirely dark aside from my presumably annoying open window. Mind you, I’m generally pretty respectful of people’s preferences for the dark when the time calls for it, such as whenever people’s natural circadian rhythms would have them asleep. In this case however, we had departed San Francisco at 1:15pm and it was now the equivalent of 5:45pm. Who the heck is that sleepy, and if they are, that’s why the pajamas set includes eyeshades. Otherwise, for any of you that find yourselves getting annoyed at someone who opens their window in the middle of the day in order to enjoy the view, consider that they put all of those windows in airplanes for a reason. Take a moment to stop and check out the scenery once in a while. It’s just as fulfilling as stopping to sniff the proverbial roses.

Raise your window shade once in a while!

I hate to sleep on daytime flights, especially when sat in International First Class. As such I set up for a viewing of “The Godfather”, a movie I first watched as a 13 year old in the Bedford Playhouse in 1971. Even though I’ve seen it a couple of times since, with nearly eight more hours to go until Hong Kong, now seemed like a good time to revisit this Francis Ford Coppola classic. To accompany the movie, I requested some coffee and a plate of fresh seasonal berries with cream. Ah, the life…

Fresh seasonal berries with cream

Here’s the mid-flight snack menu:


Maryland Crab Cakes

Offered with Tartar Sauce

Smoked Chicken Panini
Served with Mesclun Salad

Wontons with Noodle in Soup

Hot Pot Rice with Minced Pork Patty
Served with chicken broth with water chestnut and mushrooms

Understandably I wasn’t all that hungry, although I did utilize parts of this menu to augment my dinner selections later in the flight. More on that at dinner time though. After The Godfather ended, I took a walk all the way to the very back of the plane. The 777-300 is a long airplane, longer even than the 747 inside. Aside from the exercise benefits, I like to take that walk to the back of the plane just so that I don’t lose touch with the fact that although I’m comfortably ensconced in a $90,000.00 First Class Suite, there are approximately 250 people sitting just behind me who are in decidedly less comfortable surroundings. Not that I feel sorry for them, mind you. I mean, if I did I’d probably bring back some cashews or whipped cream to dole out. No, they’ve made their purchase and they’ll just have to live with it. As for me, I don’t like to ever forget my roots because those same roots remain my very essence to this day. I mean hey – I still sleep in airports and live in a cabin without water. And seriously, no, I would never insult the less fortunate back in steerage by tossing them First Class crumbs although I did once bestow some First Class almonds upon a friend of mind stuck back in coach on an Alaska Airlines flight way back when Alaska still served almonds up front. We still laugh about that to this day.

It should be noted here that a walk even halfway towards the back of the plane will provide ample evidence of just how distinctive Cathay Pacific’s First Class is relative to its Business Class product. In this day and age where many airlines have improved their Business Class to such an extent that the differences between Business and First are increasingly blurred, Cathay Pacific has maintained a substantial margin between the comfort, meals and amenities offered in the two classes. Anyone who says there’s not that much difference between Business and First Class on Cathay is just plain wrong! On my walk back through Business Class, I took a moment to sit in an empty Business Class seat. Without question Cathay’s Business Class seat is a big improvement on the 3-3-3 seating found in Economy Class, but I found the seat seriously claustrophobic compared to First Class. No thank you! Call me spoiled if you like. I prefer to think of it as incredibly fortunate that in a total of twelve flights dating back to 1987, I’ve never flown in anything but First Class on Cathay Pacific. That’s one streak I hope to maintain as long as possible.

Although most of my fellow passengers chose to have their dinner served 3-4 hours out of Hong Kong, I waited until we were just two hours out. First though, I requested a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label to savor whilst perusing the menu:



Fresh seasonal fruit


Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast with Tomato and Basil Sauce

Presented with pearl couscous, asparagus and baby carrots

Rainbow Beef
Served with steamed rice, pak choy, mushrooms and carrots

Dungeness Crab Cannelloni
With roasted red pepper coulis and sautéed Swiss chard


Cambozola, Yellow Cheddar, Munster and Herb Goat Cheese

Cherry Crumble with whipped cream



For whatever reason, a fruit plate just didn’t sound all that appealing as a starter – especially after a glass of Scotch – so I raided the Snacks menu for a starter of Maryland Crab Cakes. I got a sense that Michelle may have thought I was over doing it a bit on the food but I’m like, hey – First Class service and meals like this only happen to me once in a blue moon, if that. So live it up, baby! Speaking of which, may I have a glass of Champagne to go with those crab cakes, please?

Maryland Crab Cakes SFO-HKG

After having just watched the Godfather, I almost chose the cannelloni for my main course but ultimately decided to follow the crab cakes with a Chinese dish called Rainbow Beef. This was a good choice although it was extremely mild in flavor. Cathay does provide a small dish of hot paste with its meals but it’s no substitute for the exquisite flavor resulting from cooked in heat.

Rainbow Beef SFO-HKG

Soon we were on our descent into HKG. Hong Kong is a beautiful city to fly into. Unfortunately tonight’s weather consisted of low clouds and light rain. Like a pilot on ILF, I had to entertain myself with the heads up display on the SkyMap and trust that this 777 was equipped for Category 3 landings. It was. We landed rather solidly and, after a flight of just fourteen hours and one minute, the initial leg of my journey to Africa had come to an end.

The verdict: Flying doesn’t get much better than this!

Complaints: If only the flight were a bit longer…

Next up: A five hour layover and a twelve and a half hour flight to Johannesburg.

Note for aspiring Trip Reporters: I’ve just written 4,500+ words about a single flight. And to think I could have just published a collection of photos and written perhaps 500 words. As a reader, which would you prefer? Should I shorten these reports? For that matter, how many of you are even still reading this report?! I wouldn’t be surprised if a good number of the newbies got bored stiff and nodded off pages ago… That’s alright – I imagine most of you hard core readers who always comment on my reports are still out there, enjoying whatever libation you’ve chosen to accompany the read. As you must surely know, I enjoy writing for an appreciative audience as much as I do for myself so all this effort fueled by seven beers on a rainy night in South Africa is as much for yourselves and your past support as it is for me. Cheers!

Last edited by Seat 2A; Nov 3, 14 at 10:39 am
Seat 2A is offline  
Old May 9, 10, 5:37 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,784
March 17, 2010
Hong Kong - Johannesburg
Cathay Pacific First Class
Boeing 747-400 B-HUD Seat 2K
1145p – 650a Flight time: 12:30

Cathay Pacific operates two Premium Class lounges at Hong Kong International – The Wing and The Pier. Both are excellent facilities offering full service complimentary dining and day use rooms along with all the usual amenities such as showers and work areas. It would be nice if I could have written a paragraph or two about having enjoyed these wonderful lounges but the reality is that when I arrived in Hong Kong, the local time back in California was 3:30am. I had not slept at all on the inbound flight, so I was pretty tired by the time I’d cleared transit security and made my way to The Pier. I spent the majority of my five hour layover sleeping in one of the day use rooms and did not take advantage of any of the other facilities.

Flight 749 to Johannesburg was departing from Gate 66, conveniently located just two gates down from The Pier. As I arrived at the gate lounge, I was shocked at the length of the line for Economy Class passengers. It stretched the full length of the lounge and then back on itself a ways. It would be quite a while before the folks at the end of that line finally made it to their seats.

Once again, I took advantage of both the separate line and jetway for First and Business Class passengers. Mere moments later I was accepting another glass of Krug and settling in for the 6,630 mile flight to Johannesburg. There were only two of us in First Class for this twelve and a half hour flight, resulting in a Flight Attendant to passenger ratio of one to one. The pace of pre-departure service was relaxed but efficient as pajamas, amenity kits and menus were distributed, followed by hot towels and refills on Champagne.

At precisely 11:45pm, I heard the roar of the tractor beneath us as we slowly pushed back from the gate. Following a surprisingly short taxi, we roared into the night sky and soon adopted a southwesterly heading that would take us across Southern Asia and out over the vast expanses of the Indian Ocean. With such an exotic routing, I’ve always wished that this flight were operated just twelve hours later. With an 11:45am departure, we’d be able to enjoy a daylight crossing over Asia and the Indian Ocean, taking in views of Madagascar and Mozambique before arriving in Johannesburg at sunset. That would be just perfect.

Still, there was one benefit to tonight’s late night departure. I’d only managed about three and a half hours of fitful sleep in The Pier’s day use room, so I was definitely in need of a few more hours rest. Given a projected flight time of twelve hours and thirty-six minutes, my plan was to add another four or five hours of sleep at the beginning of this flight, then have dinner. Afterwards, I’d still have another seven or so hours during which I could watch a movie or maybe even work on this trip report.

My personal Flight Attendant was a beautiful Japanese lady named Tomoko. While I changed into my olive green pajamas, she efficiently got my seat transformed into a full length bed complete with mattress, duvet and two large pillows. A bottle of water had been placed at my seat and the duvet was turned back invitingly. All that was missing was the little chocolate mint.

Bedtime in Cathay Pacific’s First Class

Almost exactly five hours later, I awoke from as comfortable a sleep as I think I’ve ever enjoyed onboard an airplane. This was the first time I’d ever had a mattress placed atop the seat and it really made a difference in overall comfort. Often, despite having a flat seat to sleep upon, I would find myself waking now and then to reposition myself more comfortably. This time I slept undisturbed for a full five hours and the obvious result was that I felt much more rested.

I also awoke with an appetite. I hadn’t eaten a thing for almost twelve hours, so I was ready to check out the extensive offerings available for tonight’s flight. Here are the wine list and menu:

Wine List HKG-JNB Exterior

Wine List HKG-JNB Interior



Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne

White Wines
Helen’s Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2006
Henri de Villamont Meursault 200

Red Wines
Chateau Lynch Bages 2003
Bouchard Pere & Fils Morgon 2009
Cloof Shiraz 2006

Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 10 Year Old Tawny Port

Menu HKG-JNB Exterior

Menu HKG-JNB Interior

Hong Kong to Johannesburg

Caviar and Balik Salmon Delight
Oscietra Caviar and Balik Salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”
Served with Warm New Potatoes and Crème Fraiche

Lobster Bisque

Mesclun salad with asparagus and sun-dried tomato
Served with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Bread Basket
Assorted Bread and Rolls

** ***** **


Grilled Beef Tenderloin

Presented with gratin potato, asparagus and carrots

Pesto Tortellini
Accented with tomato sauce and pine nuts



Pork Soup with winter melon and dried duck gizzard
Cold Plate – Deep fried sea bass with sweet vinegar dressing

Prawn Butterfly wrapped with Bean Curd Skin
Served with steamed jasmine rice and stir-fried asparagus, peppers and shimeji mushrooms

** ***** **


Forme d’Ambert, Manchego, Arenberger and French Brie

Seasonal Fresh Berries in ginger syrup

Cherry Clafoutis Cake with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis

Black Sesame Soup



The menu cover for tonight’s flight touted Cathay Pacific as offering the “Best Chinese Food In The Air”. That being the case, I gave no consideration to the International Favorites and moved right to the Chinese favorites. Although I must admit to some trepidation over the prospect of eating duck gizzard, I swallowed hard and put in my order for the full Chinese dinner, including of course another serving of salmon and caviar.

Caviar and Salmon course HKG-JNB

With only two of us in First Class, there was plenty of caviar and salmon to go around. As a result, I was handed a plate bearing twice as much caviar as I received on the flight over to Hong Kong. Well alrighty, then!

Lobster Bisque HKG-JNB


Now bring on the Duck Gizzard Soup!!

Duck Gizzard Soup & Fried Sea Bass HKG-JNB

Prawn Butterfly wrapped with Bean Curd Skin HKG-JNB

Truth be told, I liked the Duck Gizzard Soup more than I did the sea bass which was served fried but cold. As for the prawns – they were delicious! Though the bean curd skin didn’t do much for the aesthetics of the dish, it contributed nicely to the overall taste. The stir-fried vegetables were also worthy of mention in as much as they were crisp and flavorful, not oily. Well done, Cathay!

I’d never heard of a Clafoutis Cake before. It was very much like the Golden Treacle Pudding I once had on British Airways – definitely a cake but with a texture not unlike cornbread. It was good tasting though, especially accented with a zesty lemony raspberry coulis.

Cherry Clafoutis Cake HKG-JNB

By the time the last of my plates had been cleared, the Sky Map indicated that we still had another six hours to go until Johannesburg. While some of the people sat just 80 feet behind me might have viewed an update like this with dread (Sheesh! S i x m o r e h o u r s…) I viewed it with a completely different kind of dread (Oh no! I’ve only six more hours left to enjoy this wonderful existence…)

Now I suppose I could have watched another movie, but being the caring and responsible guy that I am, I knew that what I really needed to do was get some work put in on this trip report. At this particular time I had only written as far as my flight over to London, so I still had the Scottish trains, the flights on flyBE and Aer Lingus and the return flights to Alaska to write about in addition to my current travels to Hong Kong and on to Johannesburg with Cathay Pacific. As any of you who’ve ever written a long trip report know, it’s very easy to get caught up in the enjoyment of your travels to the point where your writing can fall hopelessly behind. It’s important to go out and enjoy your travels above all else, but if you’re truly going to commit to writing a journal or a trip report like this, there are times where you simply have to exercise a bit of discipline. And, for what it’s worth, I can’t think of many finer places or times to work on a trip report than when sat in the nose of a 747 while speeding across a vast ocean in the middle of the night. So - I requested a cup of coffee and got to work.

It’s worth noting here that as I write these words, it’s 10:57pm on March 24th. I’m in Upington, South Africa. It’s raining lightly outside with a bit of wind. I’ve got a fridge next to me stocked with nine more bottles of Windhoek Lager and some chicken lasagna. Life is good. With any luck, I’ll get this trip report caught up by the time I arrive in Cape Town on Saturday morning. That’ll make writing about flying aboard my 139th airline all that much more enjoyable.

On the topic of interesting personal statistics, the aircraft delivering me from Hong Kong to Johannesburg this evening is 747-467 B-HUD. Now I don’t know how many 747s Cathay Pacific currently flies, but I do find it a bit surprising that I’ve drawn this particular aircraft on each of my trips with Cathay in 2004, 2005 and now 2010. The result is four flights totaling 22,690 miles on B-HUD, a total mileage per individual aircraft exceeded only by G-BYGF, a 747-400 in the service of British Airways upon which I’ve logged 26,460 miles.

By the way, the menu indicates that snacks are available on this flight. Although I’ve no desire to partake, I will say that for my tastes, one of the best foods available on any Cathay Pacific flight are its soups. They are small meals in and of themselves and before this report is over, I will avail myself of one and let you know just how good it was. Here’s the snack menu:


Beef Skewer

Served with salad and capsicum relish

Assorted Sandwiches

Szechuanese dan dan with noodle in soup

Shrimp wontons with noodle in soup

Ice Cream

Time flies when you’re having fun. This is especially true when you’re having fun aboard a jetliner speeding along at 600 mph. Tomoko stopped by to refill my coffee and we got to talking a bit about the pictures that I’d been taking. I had already loaded tonight’s shots into my laptop and took a couple moments to show her the results. I then showed her some photos from other airlines’ First Class services, namely British Airways. Needless to say, she was fascinated and before long we were joined by the other First Class Flight Attendant whose name I don’t recall. In any event, you’ve got to consider the perspective from which these ladies viewed my pictures. They weren’t just any old Flight Attendants. They were Flight Attendants deemed skilled enough to work the First Class cabin for one of the world’s finest airlines. Of course they were interested (and impressed) by BA’s offerings, though it was noted that BA’s plates and cups seemed awfully plain. We moved on to pictures of Alaska as well as many other spots around the world that I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to. In short, we were having a great time until the lady in 1A woke up. By then there was only an hour and a half left in the flight and if either myself or the lady in 1A were going to enjoy a fine Cathay Pacific breakfast, then it was time for the girls to return to work.

I shut down my laptop and relocated to an empty suite on the left side of the airplane. This was where the sun was rising and it was a very pretty sunrise indeed. My table was set and coffee and a guava smoothie were delivered to me while I perused the breakfast offerings:


Orange, Apple or Grapefruit Juice

Pink Guava Smoothie

Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Natural or Low Fat Fruit Yogurt

Assorted Cereals

** ***** **


~ Freshly Scrambled, Fried or Boiled
Served with your choice of back bacon, pork sausage, Lyonnaise potatoes with parsley,
sautéed mushrooms or Roma tomato

Dim Sum served with Chilli Sauce
Asparagus dumpling, seafood and preserved “kung choi” vegetables dumpling, beef ball and mini-vegetable glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf

Poached Smoked Haddock

Bread Basket
Assorted Breakfast Bread and Fresh Toast
Served with Preserves, Honey and Butter

Tea and Coffee

I’ve tried Chinese breakfasts before and always found that the foods offered seemed better suited for lunch or dinner. As such, I requested two eggs fried medium with all the accompaniments. Meanwhile the beautiful vista out my window kept me busy taking lots of pictures.

Sunrise from 747-400 HKG-JNB

And of course, as each course was presented I fired off a good number of photos as well. In this regard I’d like to make a couple of suggestions to those who publish trip reports with blurry photos.

From my perspective, writing a trip report for FlyerTalk is no different than if I were writing an article for some travel publication. Even though I’m not getting paid for it and most people here tend to grade reports on a pretty generous curve, I still want to do the best possible job that I can. Given the poor lighting and occasional turbulence experienced inflight, it can be very difficult to get quality photos of food. Even so, it is still possible to get fairly decent photos if one’s willing to take the time to do it as well as they can. From my experience, doing so entails taking five or six photos of each subject to better insure that I get the best picture possible to use in my reports. As a matter of personal pride, I would rather not publish a picture at all than use a really blurry photo. I’m not talking about trying to submit professional quality photo work here, just clearer photos. There’s no excuse for submitting really blurry pictures. Just take a few pictures and use the best one.

On the topic of photographs, I decided to try a new angle with these breakfast photos. I held my little Canon SD-850 out to the side and snapped off a few shots with the aircraft windows and the morning sky in the background. I like the results.

Fruit Plate Appetizer HKG-JNB

A proper breakfast HKG-JNB

Breakfast was every bit as good as I hope it looked in the photos. By the time plates were cleared and the final round of hot towels distributed, we were descending quickly in preparation for the final approach into O.R. Tambo International Airport. We landed smoothly at 6:35am and, after pausing to allow an arriving British Airways 747 to cross in front of us (good airline manners), we taxied briskly across to our gate at the new and improved International Terminal. After having traveled thirty-two hours over 13,500 miles, my First Class experience aboard Cathay Pacific had finally come to an end. For my part, I could easily take a brief break here at Johannesburg and then climb right back aboard that 747 for another 32 hours of First Class ecstasy. Still, I’ve got some great travels ahead of me here in South Africa as well as dinner later this evening with three fellow drivers from Denali. So I’ve got a lot to look forward to, including my next flight on Cathay just ten days from now.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Nov 3, 14 at 10:49 am
Seat 2A is offline  
Old May 9, 10, 5:39 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 8,784
March 19, 2010
Johannesburg - Durban
Mango Airlines Economy Class
Boeing 737-800 ZS-JSK
11:00am – 12:20pm

I wish I could say I had a restful sleep at my hotel last night but unfortunately I got a mattress that just didn’t agree with my back. As a result, I woke up after a fitful sleep feeling rather sore. Thankfully it was nothing that a couple of ibuprofen couldn’t diminish, if only temporarily so.

Since I’ll be staying at this hotel again in just eight days, I arranged to leave my sport jacket here as well as requesting a different room for my next stay, hopefully one with a firmer mattress. A full breakfast was included in the cost of the room, so I took advantage of that before heading out to the airport via the free shuttle van.

My destination this morning is Durban and my airline of choice is Mango, South African Airways’ entry into the low cost carrier arena. The fare was right, coming in at just $63.94 after conversion to US dollars, and the choice of Mango represented yet another new airline to add my collection of airlines flown.

Check in went smoothly as I was able to access an automated kiosk for my boarding pass and then proceed to an express baggage check counter to quickly get my pack tagged and on its way. A surprising number of passengers apparently did not make their reservations in a manner that would allow them to utilize the kiosks, so they were forced to wait in a very long and slow moving line to check in. As for me, now divested of my 38 pound backpack, I was able to proceed casually through the security check point and then utilize my Priority Pass membership to access the Bid-Air Services Lounge.

You know, I get asked all the time whether it’s difficult to do all the flying that I do. After all, it’s not every day that I get to travel in International First Class. Indeed the times that I do are very few and far between. Over the past ten years I’ve averaged just over 173,000 miles flown per year. In my lifetime I’m approaching four million miles flown on well over four thousand flights. I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about air travel over the years and principal amongst my talents learned is finding ways to avoid lines and remain relaxed and refreshed in airports.

A lot of people seem to think that the primary everyday benefit enjoyed by frequent flyers is free upgrades to First Class. If we were talking free upgrades into International First Class on airlines like Cathay Pacific, I might be inclined to agree. However, as an American traveling primarily aboard US airlines, I find the primary benefits of my elite status are not having to wait in long lines as well as the ability to pre-book premium seating in the coach cabin. Upgrades into mediocre First Class cabins are okay, but the seats I book in Coach generally have better leg room and some of the reasonably priced meals I can purchase in Coach or in the airport beforehand are often better than what’s being served up in the front of the plane.

As for lounges, anyone who flies a lot knows how much the peace and quiet they provide can contribute to a more comfortable, less stressful airport experience. Consider today’s departure from the Domestic Terminal at JNB. Here I’ve checked in with almost an hour and a half to go before my flight boards. The terminal is noisy and crowded with few places available to sit down. Surprisingly, there is no gate lounge at my departure gate, just a podium at the entrance to the jetway. Passengers line up or just stand around right in the middle of the narrow concourse because they have nowhere else to go. There are no seats. Other travelers attempting to access gates further down the concourse are continually having to jostle their way through the crowd to get past. Waiting at the gate for this flight to board is not a pleasant experience.

Meanwhile, up in the Bidair Premium Services Lounge, I’m relaxing in a comfortable chair with a fresh cup of coffee, a muffin and a copy of this morning’s newspaper. The ambience is relaxed and there are no noisy airport announcements.

The Bidair Premium Services Lounge at JNB

When the time to board approaches, I head down to the gate and on to the airplane. I don’t drag a big carry-on bag around with me so I don’t get caught up in the competition for overhead storage space.

Bottom line, keep it simple, comfortable and stress free. Travel light, use the automated check-in facilities where available and get a lounge membership. Thanks to memberships in Continental’s Presidents Club, Alaska’s Boardroom and Priority Pass, I’ve got a lounge or choice of lounges waiting for me in almost every major airport in the world. Financially, I pay very little for this since I purchased the lifetime membership in the Presidents Club for just $300.00 back in 1980. A 3 year membership in Alaska’s Boardroom runs me $790.00 and a ten visit pass with Priority Pass runs just $99.00. The Presidents Club card gets me into all Star Alliance lounges in the US anytime and into many overseas member airlines’ lounges if I’m flying with them that day. Alaska’s Boardroom gets me into Delta’s Sky Clubs as well as a couple of Admiral’s Clubs. The Priority Pass is used primarily for my international travels. Given the amount of flying that I do, the average $360.00 per year that I pay for all these lounges is money well spent.

Down at Gate C11, the gate agent was struggling to maintain order. “Please – only rows 16-32 may board at this time!” she announced repeatedly. Unfortunately there is no PA system so she was forced to shout. The crowd surged forward. It included a large group of schoolboys and their coaches heading down to Durban for a field hockey tournament. As a group, they were the best behaved of the lot.

Onboard the aircraft, seating was tight. I would guestimate the seat pitch is about 30”. Thankfully the flight time down to Durban was only 53 minutes. I was seated in 2D and could see the pilots through the open cockpit door going over their preflight checks. These pilots were the most casually dressed jet airliner pilots I’d ever seen! Their uniform consisted of a pair of khaki slacks and a short sleeved orange shirt. Sweet!

The flight itself was the standard low cost carrier experience. The Flight Attendants came through the cabin with a cart selling everything from drinks and snacks to souvenirs of the flight. Nothing was free though, not even water. I spent the flight looking through Mango’s inflight magazine, Juice, which had some interesting articles about South African destinations and personalities. The cover story was about some local guy who’s managed to make quite a living for himself just by blogging his take on life. He’s done well enough that he apparently now makes his home in a suite at some swank Cape Town hotel. His advice to get out of the 9-5 working life and start texting more seemed like a modern day version of Timothy Leary’s famous “Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out” line from the 60s.

The approach into Durban International Airport took us along the coast, so my side of the aircraft enjoyed ocean views while the opposite side got the mountain views. All of the school kids applauded upon landing, and I’d have to say that Mango’s overall product was also worthy of applause. They did a good job of providing inexpensive, simple and reliable air transport.

As we exited the aircraft, I paused to take a couple of quick pictures. I don’t believe I’ve flown an aircraft this colorful since my last flight on Braniff. Wait! I take that back – Alaska’s got some pretty colorful 737s as well. Regardless, you had to appreciate the colorful line up on the Durban ramp this afternoon. Parked next to our bright orange 737-800 was a camouflaged green 737-400 of Kulula. Minutes later, a bright red DC-9-80 of 1Time arrived and parked on the other side of the Mango plane.

Disembarking Mango’s 737

Kulula’s CamoPlane

Baggage arrived in a timely fashion, allowing me to quickly collect my backpack and then head into the airport for a leisurely lunch. I was booked on a bus to Port Elizabeth later this afternoon but given that the Durban Bus Terminal is dirty and not air-conditioned, I was in no hurry to get down there any earlier than I had to.

March 19, 2010
Durban – Port Elizabeth
Trans-Lux Bus
Standard Class

The quality of bus travel in South Africa is slightly better than what we have in America. The busses in South Africa are for the most part modern and comfortable, and many of them include onboard movies and hostess service with coffee, tea and soft drinks served enroute.

Trans Lux Bus

The South African bus terminals are, however, a different story. In many larger cities such as Durban, the Railway Station also serves as the city’s main long distance bus terminal. In Durban the station is an uninspiring blend of concrete and shadowy hallways, all the better to stay in out of the oppressive heat, I suppose. Or perhaps even mug someone without being seen.

When the airport shuttle dropped me off in the parking lot facing the Durban Bus Terminal, I was immediately assaulted by the twin aromas of rotting garbage and urine. It was fairly hot and extremely humid, so I was looking forward to some air-conditioned relief inside the Trans-Lux ticket office. Unfortunately, the only air-conditioning existed behind the glass walled counter. In the dingy waiting room on my side of the glass, the atmosphere was positively stuffy.

After picking up my pre-purchased ticket, I headed outside to a nearby kiosk where I purchased two bottles of water and waited for the arrival of the bus. A slight breeze made waiting outside far preferable to hanging out in the waiting room.

The bus pulled up at 4:30pm and boarding for the 5:00pm departure began shortly thereafter. From past experience I knew that many South African bus companies like to keep their busses nice and cool inside, so I wasted exactly no time in getting my pack tagged and loaded onboard before climbing aboard myself.


Climbing aboard that bus was like stepping into a walk-in cooler. Sweet relief! I found a window seat and spent the next half hour soaking up the stream of cold air shooting from the vent above me. By the time we were rolling out of the station, I was just beginning to feel normal again. By the time we were an hour into the trip however, I was beginning to feel positively chilled.

A television set mounted at the front of the bus indicated that the temperature outside the bus was 27°C. Inside the bus it was 15°. I was beginning to get a little concerned because if it remained this cold inside, I was going to need my sleeping bag to keep warm. Hopefully my pack would be easily accessible at our first rest stop.

Thankfully it was. I purchased a sandwich to go and soon we were once again on our way. Unbeknownst to me however, one or more people must have spoken to the driver about the Arctic chill because soon after we got underway, the temperature inside the bus soared to 21°C. Well okay, I can live with that. I’ll just stow the bag up above. Later however, the temperature inside rose to a muggy 24°.


Such is life on the bus. Add to this the incessant cell phone use throughout the night and I was soon cursing myself for not having flown to Port Elizabeth. Why did I take the bus anyway? Because I wanted to see the landscape between Durban and Port Elizabeth. Although a 5:00pm departure doesn’t leave one with a lot of daylight, I enjoyed enough of it to know that I liked what I saw. I’m big on enjoying the beauty of this planet. I’ll take a good natural vista over manmade attractions like museums and monuments any time, any day. South Africa is a spectacularly beautiful country and ideally I’d like to drive all around it someday in a car. Until that day however, I got what I wanted out of this bus trip and so over all, everything’s cool.

One interesting aspect of riding the bus in South Africa is that I was one of only three white people onboard. My seatmate was black, but his English was not good so conversation between us was quite limited. Of course, white South Africans make up only a very small percentage of the overall population here and so it was interesting to become a minority for a change. Not an oppressed minority, just a minority. Everyone treated me either very politely or with the indifference that goes with being unknown and anonymous amongst a group of bus travelers.

Ultimately I managed about six hours of intermittent sleep aboard the bus – not bad considering. Our arrival in Port Elizabeth was right on time and Fraser, my host at the Riverside Guest House, was waiting for me when I arrived.

The River Road Guest House is a Bed & Breakfast establishment. Though most B&Bs in the U.S. are a bit expensive for me, given the strength of the US Dollar against the South African Rand, they’ve become a very viable option here in South Africa. I spent a nice afternoon down at Port Elizabeth’s beach front shops and restaurants. In the morning I was fed a good solid breakfast and delivered to the Port Elizabeth train station in Fraser’s BMW. Try getting that kind of service from your average Starwood hotel.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Oct 30, 14 at 11:31 am
Seat 2A is offline  
Old May 9, 10, 5:43 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
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Posts: 8,784
March 21, 2010
Port Elizabeth - Capetown
Shosholoza Meyl Premiere Classe
Car 4 Compartment D
8:45am – 9:20am +1

"Shosholoza Meyl" is the name of the division within the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) that runs all of the passenger rail services in the country. It operates scheduled passenger services between major South African cities featuring Economy Class seating as well as First and Second Class sleeper compartments.

In addition to its normally scheduled passenger operations, Shosholoza Meyl also operate another class of service known as Premier Classe. This is an all First Class train providing a higher level of comfort and amenities than one would receive aboard the everyday trains. Premier Classe is Shosholoza Meyl’s answer to South Africa’s famous Blue Train, and while it is nowhere near as luxurious or by extension expensive, the service and facilities are much, much nicer than those found on the normal trains.

Starting last year, Premier Classe service was initiated between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Having traveled by bus between these two cities, I know the land to be amongst the most picturesque to be found in all of the country. Indeed, I have often looked at maps of South Africa in years past and wished that there were rail service between these two cities. Now there is. The service departs Cape Town on Friday afternoon, arriving in Port Elizabeth the following afternoon. The return journey departs Port Elizabeth Sunday morning at 8:45am, arriving in Cape Town twenty-five hours later at 9:20am.

** ***** **

Although I was dropped off a little more than an hour before our scheduled departure time of 8:45am, I was surprised to find that a large number of passengers had already arrived and were presently enjoying complimentary coffee, juice and muffins in the “Lounge”. I use quotation marks here because the Port Elizabeth Railway Station is being refurbished and the room that was serving as a “lounge” looked more like a baggage storage room with chairs and tables than a proper First Class lounge.

Port Elizabeth Railroad Station

After checking in with a uniformed representative operating from a make shift desk, I was handed a boarding card while my back pack was tagged and taken away to be later delivered to my compartment. I headed over to the refreshment table for a cup of coffee and then wandered outside to have a look at the refurbishment effort. The front of the station was half covered in scaffolding, but the one half that wasn’t looked very nice. It’s good to see that an effort is being made to spruce up this grand old building, and hopefully with its rebirth will come improved long distance rail service to the region.

Moving back into the station and out onto the platform, I was impressed by the variety of colorful murals depicting the history and settlement of Alcoa Bay, now renamed as Nelson Mandela Bay. Our train made its first appearance at about 8:15am, backing slowly into the station along platform 4. All of the cars as well as the engine were painted a medium shade of purple, offset by flat black roofs. Painted in gold along the side of each car was the title “Premier Classe”. Once the cars had rolled to a stop along the platform, a team of window cleaners moved in, scrubbing and wiping down all of the windows for the lounge and dining cars. From my perspective, this was a very good sign. A proper railroad operation should pay attention to details like clean windows. After all, enjoying the scenery along the way is a major part of what makes rail travel such an attractive form of travel.

Once the train had been backed into the station, we were all welcome to board. I had been assigned Compartment D in Car 4 and had no problem finding my car since it had come to a stop right in front of me. Another good sign.

Boarding Premier Classe service to Cape Town

My compartment, though no larger than a similar compartment on the regular passenger train service, had undergone a number of modifications that made it substantially nicer. The walls had been re-paneled with rich brown native wood, the couch had been reupholstered in similarly attractive fabric and the window now featured curtains and a solid wooden pull down shade. Where the upper bunk used to be was now a wooden cabinet and shelf fixture. Stacked on the shelf were two thick, fluffy towels, a terry cloth robe and a pair of sandals for use when heading into the shower. Complimentary bottled water along with shampoo and body wash had also been supplied. Totally satisfied with my accommodations, I took a couple of pictures and headed out to inspect the rest of the train.

Compartment aboard Premier Classe service

At the end of my sleeper car was a toilet and a shower. Conveniently located the next car up from mine was one of three bar/lounges on this train. Continuing on toward the front of the train, I passed through a dining car, then a kitchen car, then another dining/lounge car followed by more sleeper cars. I took pictures of them all except the sleepers. It’s worth noting here that when it comes to taking pictures of the inside of railroad cars, the best time to do so is when the train isn’t moving.

Lounge Car

Lounge Car

Lounge Car

Soon enough we were moving, rolling slowly out of Port Elizabeth past the usual collection of inner city detritus – old abandoned buildings, some burnt out railroad cars and plenty of improperly disposed of garbage.

Shortly after departure a steward came through each car requesting that all passengers meet in the lounge car for welcome cocktails, snacks and information about the journey ahead. I arrived in the lounge to find each table set with a plate of mixed nuts, potato chips and biltong jerky.

Lounge attendants served Champagne or orange juice, after which a selection of sandwiches and muffins were served. Soon, the on-board train director arrived, introduced himself and his staff and then explained the meal times as well as lounge car locations and operation. Smokers must have been thrilled to hear that one of the lounge cars was a dedicated smoking car, located at the very rear of the train.

Soon we adopted a north-northwesterly heading away from the coast and the land began to change from thick coastal bushveld to broad expanses of sparsely-vegetated plains. One interesting feature of this land was the large number of big, prickly pear cactus. These were much larger than the cacti of the same name that I’d seen throughout the western U.S.. A man sitting next to me explained that the walnut sized fruit growing off the cactus paddles was edible and quite tasty. Hmm…

Luncheon was served at 12:15pm. Interestingly, rather than use a PA, the call to lunch came via car attendants and stewards making the rounds through each car. Earlier, the dining car steward had come through and assigned us tables to be used for the entire journey. I was assigned table #9 and arrived to find a table beautifully set with three forks, three knives and a spoon. Also set was a bread plate along with glasses for wine and water.

Dining Room Table Setting

Soon my seatmate arrived and we made introductions. His name was Paul, a Brit travelling through South Africa with his wife and two children. They were not with him on this train ride because they preferred to stay back in Durban. Now that may sound a bit odd but consider that Paul was a rail fan who had flown from Durban to Cape Town, ridden this train from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth two days earlier and now had turned right around and was riding it back to Cape Town. Although this made perfect sense to me (Indeed, I found myself wishing that I had had the foresight to book a round trip out of Cape Town as well), Paul’s wife and children did not share his enthusiasm for train travel, especially not when it came to riding trains for the sheer enjoyment of riding them.

As you might imagine, we got along well as table mates. Interestingly however, Paul’s passion for the rails did not extend beyond South Africa. Oh sure, he was conversant about other trains but the only ones he had any interest in travelling upon were South African along with a couple of Namibian trains.

Luncheon began with a presentation of smoked salmon and cream cheese. This is one of my favorite food combinations, be it on a bagel with red onions and capers or by itself on a train. Unfortunately there were no seconds available. I know. I asked. Next up was a veal schnitzel accented with a flavorful mustard sauce and served with potatoes and veggies. The veal was served individually from a large serving tray, after which our waitress then dished out potatoes and vegetables from separate serving trays. The veal was tasty though unremarkable, but that corn! Man! That was really good corn!!

Salmon & Cream Cheese Starter

Dessert was a delicious tiramisu cake enhanced by a berry coulis and a cup of coffee. I’ve yet to meet a tiramisu that I didn’t want to meet again someday. In all, a very nice luncheon.

Tiramisu Dessert

At about four in the afternoon, we entered the spectacular Toorwaterpoort Gorge. The name translates to “Magic Water” and it was explained by one of the train stewards that the Traka River had carved this spectacular ravine through the 3000 foot high Swartberg mountain range over many millions of years. The scenery was by far the most dramatic of the trip and as I opened the window in my compartment to get a better picture of the gorge, I noticed that the river was a lot closer than it looked – in some places only a few feet below the track. I later read that the river is prone to occasional flash-floods, some of which have been quite destructive and costly. One of them closed the rail line through this gorge for over two years. You could clearly see where the track had been newly reinforced in places with concrete bulwarks. Hopefully those will be enough to withstand the next flood.

Toorwaterpoort Gorge

Toorwaterpoort Gorge

Toorwaterpoort Gorge

About halfway through the gorge, I noticed that we had slowed considerably despite the track being fairly straight and level. An announcement was soon made over the PA advising us that mechanical problems in one of the engines had resulted in a severe reduction of power but that we’d have no problem traveling slowly into Oudtshoorn where repairs could be affected. Given the beautiful scenery, I don’t imagine anyone had any complaints.

Beautiful South African Scenery

Ultimately however, the delay turned out to be four hours, thus depriving us of a daylight passage down the Montagu Pass through the Outeniqua mountains. I had read that the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are said to be quite stunning on this portion of the trip, so I reckon I’ll have to do like Paul and come back and ride this train again. This was Paul’s fourth trip.

Dinner was called at 7:00pm. Here’s what was served:

Dinner Menu ~ Premiere Classe Service


Cream of Vegetable Soup

A rich vegetable soup served with fresh cream

Fisherman’s Catch
Deep fried line fish served with a tangy tartar sauce

Roast Leg of Lamb
Served with apricot and mint jelly
Roast potatoes and a medley of seasonal vegetables

Nougat and Chocolate Parfait
Served with either fresh cream or ice cream

Cheese Board
Selection of South African cheese and biscuits
Served with preserved figs

Tea or Coffee

One of life’s great pleasures is dining aboard a train. This is especially true at dinner as you savor fine food and drink while watching the warm glow of the sun as it sets over countryside passing slowly by the your window.

Evening Sky to Accompany Dinner

The waiters and waitresses did an excellent job throughout the meal, graciously serving each course and refilling drinks as needed. It should be noted here that the rail fare was inclusive of all meals, but did not include alcohol. Still, the price for drinks was quite reasonable. Over the course of the trip I downed a number of cold Windhoek Lagers at the U.S. Dollar equivalent of just $1.90 a bottle. An after dinner glass of port cost me just 10 Rand, or about $1.35 USD.

The Lounge Car Bar

The Lounge Car Bar List

The Lounge Car Bar Seating

The lounge car was a good place to hang out. I met two different couples from England and we enjoyed swapping travel stories and drinking beer off and on throughout the journey. Interestingly, I didn’t meet any South Africans during the trip. It’s not that they weren’t riding the train but rather that almost all of them chose to speak Afrikaans. We’re talking white South Africans here, most of them being in their 60s and 70s. The only black South Africans aboard this train were employed by the railroad.

Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of these old white men who’d spent the first forty or fifty years of their lives living as the favored few during South Africa’s period of apartheid. After having been inculcated in apartheid over so many years, how likely is it that such a mindset truly goes away? Did any of these guys actively support or enforce apartheid? Or did some of them just passively condone it through inaction? Do they truly appreciate the gross injustice of apartheid or are they simply resigned to the new South Africa as changing times? Right or wrong, I couldn’t help but be a bit leery of them, not that it mattered one way or the other since the only language they chose to speak was Afrikaans. In most cases, their interactions with the train staff, many of whom were black or of mixed race, seemed polite but with surprisingly little eye contact. Hmm…

At about 10:30pm I called it a night and returned to my compartment. The bed had already been made up with sheets and a duvet. In the classic manner, the sheet had been folded back and a chocolate mint placed on the pillow. The sheets were crisp and cool. I read for about an hour and then slept comfortably through the night .

Bedtime on South African Rails

I awoke the next morning to a knock on the door at 7:30am. Ahh, my wake up call. I put on my robe and padded down to the shower room which amazingly was unoccupied. The tracks were fairly rough through here, causing the train to rock and sway while causing me to bounce off the walls of the shower. The water pressure was good though and when I presented myself in the dining car a half hour later, I felt like a new man.

My tablemate Paul must have eaten before me, so I had a table to myself as I tucked into a full breakfast of juice, yogurt, perfectly fried eggs, sausage, potatoes, tomato, toast, coffee. Such a life!

By the time we pulled into the town of Worcester, we were running about three and a half hours late. I had no complaints but at least two passengers had airline connections out of Cape Town. The train staff were working towards having them met at an outlying station in one of Cape Town’s suburbs and then driven from there out to the airport. It did not help their cause that we had to switch engines in Worcester because the track is electrified the rest of the way into Cape Town. The switch took about half an hour. Cape Town was just three hours away at this point.

Shantytown outside Cape Town

By the time we finally did pull into Cape Town’s cavernous Central Station, it was 1:30pm. I thanked my car attendant and the lounge car staff who were waiting near the door as I disembarked. Trolleys were available for the long walk into the station proper but with my backpack and day pack I was making better time without one. A nice air-conditioned lounge was available for those awaiting pick-up. I spent a good hour there before heading over to the InterCape Bus office to check-in for my bus to Upington. As with Durban, the bus station is attached to the train station, so I didn’t have far to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip aboard Shosholoza Meyl’s Premier Classe train. The cars were comfortable and well appointed, the food quite nice and the staff unfailingly polite and attendant. Considering that I only paid about $200.00 for this trip, I would say that it is one of the best travel values in all of South Africa. If you should find yourself one day traveling to South Africa and want to experience the fun and even luxury of train travel without paying a huge price, check out Shosholoza’s Premier Class. Service is offered between on four different routes. Here’s a link to the website.


It should be noted that I’m about nine days off the pace with regard to keeping up on this report. At present I am in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. It’s a hot night here and I am sweating it out over the keyboard accompanied by a six pack, a bag of roast peanuts and an air conditioner. The problem persists that while this trip report is primarily about getting there, I’m busy enough having a good time being there that I’ve just not put in enough regular work to keep current. As a result, it’s all I can do to keep up with writing about getting there, much less being there. I get to it when I can… a slow night, a long hot afternoon… but even then it’s easy to get behind. I’d ask your forgiveness but what do you care? You’ll get to read the whole lot of it in May, when it’s done.

On the topic of reports that focus more about being there, I only wish that on some of them the title would be more specific. For example, you’ll get people who submit a trip report with a title like First Class to Africa on BA!!! and then they’ll describe their entire International First Class flight with something akin to “I loved the suite! So large and comfortable. And the food… I really enjoyed my Chicken Divan dinner and the IFE was pretty good, too. After the movie, I slept for about five hours. When we landed in Cape Town, I was feeling fresh and ready to go.” Title notwithstanding, that’s all you’ll get about the flight. The majority of their writing is about what they did, where they stayed and what they ate at their destination.

I would imagine that only a few of FlyerTalk’s 100000+ members truly care to read a detailed report about flying somewhere in First Class, much less any class. That would of course include you, who are still reading this after 20,000 words worth of writing. The Travel & Leisure crowd sign off on my reports after the first thousand words or so. The airliners.net crowd is generally too young to relate to my style of writing. Indeed, my reports might generate more interest (not that they don’t do pretty well anyway) if I were to write them in short, easy to read installments. I’ve been down that road before though, and it’s not for me. As a reader I prefer to have the entire story right there in front of me and as a writer, that’s the way I’m most comfortable doing it.

Only at FlyerTalk can I publish reports of this length to an audience that actually appreciates them. Readers of magazines like Airliners or Airways might also enjoy this stuff, but the problem is my reports are too damned long for most magazines. So – enjoy them here at FlyerTalk and if you want more, here’s a link to everything I’ve published at FlyerTalk – over six hundred and fifty thousand words and one thousand pages worth.

Alright now, getting back to catching up on this report, thankfully I have a good memory for detail aided by the occasional notes I take to later refer to when writing the report. I can easily expound off any of those notes, much like referring to queues for a speech. I’ve got all the subject matter well remembered in my head, but it’s nice to have the queues for a sense of order.

As to what I did during that week after my train journey, I took a bus 550 miles up to Upington, a small city located on the Orange River about 100 miles south of the Namibian border. I first visited Upington back in 2004 when I took a train there from Namibia. I spent one night and most of the next day in Upington while awaiting a bus to Capetown. I liked what I saw then and decided to come back now. While in Upington, I visited Augrabies Falls (The 6th largest waterfall in the world) and took a sunset boat ride on the Orange River. And, I spent a good bit of time just wandering about the town enjoying a casual lunch, a museum, watching some local kids play cricket, drinking beer and telling tall tales with fellow guests at my accommodations, etc. I probably could have done more but it’s not important to me to see and do every “must see and do” place or event. Just hanging out and living the Upington life for a few days is fine by me. The only downside to all this was when a gust of wind lifted my filmcard off a riverside table and deposited it in the river. I lost all of my shots of the Northern Cape. On the plus side, I now have a new and improved film card, but still... Here’s a couple shots of the bus ride up and my guest house:

My Upstairs Bus Seat to Upington

My Guest House Balcony

The view across the Orange River

Last edited by Seat 2A; Nov 4, 14 at 8:10 am
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Old May 9, 10, 5:45 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
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Posts: 8,784
March 27, 2010
Cape Town - Johannesburg
1Time Airlines Economy Class
McDonnell-Douglas DC-9-80 ZS-TRI
2:20pm – 4:10pm

Even though my bus from Upington was four hours late, my pre-arranged transport was still waiting for me at the big downtown bus station in Cape Town. Truth be known, I’d kept him updated with phone calls along the way about our progress (or lack of same) but I was nonetheless impressed that he hung in there despite the delay. He didn’t even charge me his usual waiting time fee. I tossed in an extra $100.00 Rand to the normal fare anyway.

In the six years since I last flew out of Cape Town, its airport has transformed from a couple of old and dingy terminals into a new and modern airport that would do any medium sized city proud. No doubt much of the impetus for this improvement is due to the upcoming FIFA Football World Cup, which has also resulted in major improvements to South Africa’s sport infrastructure as well. A number of new, large stadiums have been built across the country and everyone is excited for this opportunity to showcase South Africa to the world.

1Time Airlines got its start in February 2004, flying three round trips per day between Johannesburg and Capetown. Since then, its growth has been phenomenal. Consider the following:

• Their 10,000th passenger was carried 20 days into operation.
• Their 100,000th passenger was carried on 27 June 2004.
• Their 1,000,000th passenger was carried on 19 October 2005.
• They now carry up to 120,000 passengers a month.
• They currently operate ten aircraft in their fleet.
• The name 1time, is a reflection of the South African soul of the company. In South Africa, the phrase "one time!" is a colloquialism meaning "for real!"

1time now flies between Johannesburg and Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and George. From Cape Town they also serve Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban. They’ve got an excellent website where I had no problem booking and paying for my reservation two months ago from Alaska.

Although there were no automated kiosks available for check-in, I managed to get my backpack checked to JNB and a boarding pass issued with very little wait. As an added bonus, I asked for and received a window seat in the very first row of the airplane – seat 1E. Extra leg room, extra quiet. Security was a breeze, thanks to the fact that I only had to remove my laptop, not my shoes.

Now then – on to the lounge! The Bidair Premium Services Lounge is located just past security, around a corner, up an elevator and then down a corridor. Once I finally found the place, I was quite impressed with what I saw – a spacious two level lounge with comfortable seating, a nice selection of food and drink and large floor to ceiling windows that brightened up the place quite nicely while affording superb views of the tarmac.

Bidair Lounge at Cape Town Airport

I grabbed a cold Windhoek Lager and took a seat near the center windows. Parked to my right were 737s from Mango and British Airways (Comair) along with my colorful 1Time MD-80. To the left were a 777 and 747 from British Airways, an A340 from Lufthansa and a variety of A340s from South African.

Although 1Time’s traditional livery is a bright red fuselage with yellow 1Time titles, the airplane operating my flight had a white fuselage adorned with smiling cartoon faces. A check on this aircraft’s history revealed that it had worn a variety of liveries since its first flight in 1988. Originally purchased by Air Liberte of France, it was leased for a year to German Wings before returning to Air Liberte and being sold to Sweden’s TransJet. In 2002 it was sold to Prisoner Transportation Services of the U.S. Department of Corrections before finally being acquired by 1Time in 2006.

My 1Time DC-9-80

Once onboard, I found my leather seat to be well padded and surprisingly comfortable. I couldn’t help but wonder if 1Time, a true budget airline, had inherited these seats from Prisoner Transportation Services or if they’d had them installed after accepting the aircraft. The usual variety of prepackaged sandwiches and snacks were available for purchase on board, along with a decent selection of beers and soft drinks. Flight time was a quick one and a half hours, putting us into Johannesburg ten minutes early. Unfortunately, baggage delivery took a good while longer. My backpack finally appeared thirty-five minutes after we’d landed.

I’d pre-booked a room at the Africa Center, where a budget ensuite single room could be had for about $60.00.

Swimming Pool at Africa Center

Waiting for me as I exited the baggage hall was John, a Malawian who’d been working at Africa House for the past two years. He took my daypack and drove me ten minutes to the hotel before having to turn around and head straight back to the airport again. I asked John what his hours were and he replied that he’s essentially on duty all day. That said, the last flight of the day is usually a KLM arrival at 10:30pm and assuming it was on time, he was generally free until about 6:00am the next morning.

March 28, 2010
Johannesburg – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class
Boeing 747-400 B-HKT Seat 2K
12:35p – 7:45a Flight Time: 11:40

John must have earned a well-deserved day off because a different driver returned me to the airport this morning. I intentionally arrived three hours early, hoping to check-in with plenty of time to enjoy the First Class lounge facilities. Unfortunately, check-in for CX748 didn’t begin until about 10:30am.

By 11:00am I was well on my way down the concourse towards the Shongololo Lounge, serving the Premium Class clientele of Cathay and a number of other airlines. After handing over my invitation card to the desk personnel, I entered the lounge only to be confronted with the sight of a man’s bare legs and feet hanging over the edge of a couch while he lay down and read a book. Evidently travelling in a Premium Class is no guarantee of consistently encountering classy decorum.

Moving on, I was generally impressed with what I saw. Although this lounge was located downstairs and had no windows, the lighting and overall ambience reminded me of one of those 1960s era faux-Polynesian bars but with an African touch. All that was missing were the torches and Mai Tais.

Although it wasn’t yet noon, I helped myself to a Windhoek Lager from the well stocked beer fridge.

My Kind Of Refrigerator

This is by far my favorite African lager and since I’ve yet to see it sold anywhere off the continent (although I’ll bet it’s available in Germany) I might as well take advantage of my last opportunity to enjoy it now regardless of the hour. A nice selection of pre-prepared foods were also available – things like spicy beef over rice, chicken curry and a variety of sandwiches. Since as a good sized hot breakfast was included with my room rate, I passed on all the foodstuffs preferring to wait until luncheon was served onboard the plane.

About 40 minutes before departure, I gathered my gear and began the long trek down to gate A18, the very last gate located down at the end of the concourse. Along the way I passed an Air Mauritius A330, an Emirates 777, an Air Namibia 737-500 and a Zambesi 737-200. I want to fly them all! Another day, perhaps…

Arriving at A18, I took note of the registration number of my 747-400 before proceeding to the First and Business Class boarding lane. Even from a distance, this airplane looked in need of a new paint job. I could clearly see chipped paint around the windows and on the nose. Additionally, some of the fuselage paint looked faded as if this airplane had been parked in the desert for awhile. As I later found out, it had, but more on that in a moment.

As I approached the First and Business Class boarding lane, an airport or possibly airline representative (He wasn’t in particular uniform) inspected my boarding pass and then escorted me past all the assumedly Business Class passengers to the front of the line. Although from my perspective this was unnecessary, I reckon in some parts of the world class still has its privileges and when it comes to flying between Johannesburg and Hong Kong, you don’t get any classier than Cathay Pacific’s First Class.

Boarding through the First Class Jetway at JNB

At the aircraft door I was greeted with typical Cathay Pacific flair and escorted to my usual suite, 2K. It occurred to me that if I could manage to keep up this style of travel, I’d have to change my FlyerTalk handle to Suite 2A. Today I’m on the K side because I think it offers the best views of Mozambique and Madagascar as we fly over.

Although I am not a huge aficionado of Champagne, I do respect that it has become a traditional and proper way to celebrate the start of a voyage whilst traveling in a manner as stylish as Cathay Pacific’s First Class. As such, I gladly accepted a sparkling glass of Krug Champagne, downed it and requested a refill before we’d pushed back from the gate. I wish I could tell you Champagne lovers that Krug’s superior quality was immediately apparent, but to date my favorite Champagne remains the 1989 Louise Pommery proffered in British Airways First Class back in 2002. I know, I know, there’s just no accounting for taste, but there you have it.

As I savored the crisp effervescence of the Krug, I noted that while this aircraft may have looked old on the outside, inside the First Class cabin everything was modern and up to date. A check of its history showed that this plane entered service with Singapore Airlines back in 1993. After eight years of faithful service, it was sold to El Al for whom it toiled until it was parked in the desert (Marana, AZ) in September of 2005. In March of 2006, Cathay Pacific rescued it and today it’s doing a fine job while operating as CX 748 on the 6,870 mile flight between Johannesburg and Hong Kong. All it needs is a proper paint job.

As we taxied out to the runway, I noticed an awful lot of assumedly derelict aircraft parked a long distance from the main terminal. Amongst them were a couple of DC-8s, some mid-sized DC-9s and a fair number of 737s. Surprisingly there were no 727s that I could see. Before the advent of Next Generation 737s in 1983, the 727 was the best selling jetliner of all time.

Takeoff took a good long while, but then that’s to be expected for a stately old aircraft loaded down with enough fuel to fly all the way to Hong Kong plus reserves. Unfortunately a good sized low pressure system had moved into southeastern Africa and so heavy clouds were our only companions as we climbed away from Johannesburg and sped northeastward towards our date with Hong Kong twelve hours hence.

Actually, there was further bad news. The captain, in his welcoming comments, advised us that we’d have a good tailwind for much of our flight. The result of this would be a surprisingly quick flight of just eleven hours and forty minutes, putting us into Hong Kong almost an hour early. The Captain presented this as if it were good news, and I suppose that were I crammed into a narrow seat back in Economy Class I’d take it as such. Seated as I was however in the plutocratic confines of a First Class Suite, sipping Champagne and nibbling caviar, well, you know how it is – you just don’t want this ride to end any earlier than it has to.

Speaking of caviar, let’s have a look at today’s wine list and menu offerings:

Wine List JNB-HKG



Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne

White Wines
Helen’s Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2006
Henri de Villamont Meursault 2005

Red Wines
Chateau Lynch Bages 2003
Bouchard Pere & Fils Morgon 2009
Cloof Shiraz 2006

Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 10 Year Old Tawny Port


Johannesburg to Hong Kong

Caviar and Balik Salmon Delight
Oscietra Caviar and Balik Salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”
Served with Warm New Potatoes and Crème Fraiche

Cream of mushroom soup

Mixed lettuce with cocktail tomatoes, feta, toasted pine nuts, peppadew
and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Bread Basket
Assorted Bread and Rolls

** ***** **


Chicken Breast

Stuffed with leek, feta cheese and olives, accented with red pepper sauce
Served with parsley mash and asparagus

Lamb Rogen Josh
With basmati rice, cauliflower and pea curry



Chicken Soup with water chestnut, carrot and sweet corn
Cold Plate – Roasted duck breast with pickled ginger

Steamed Kingklip Fish with Soya Sauce
Pan-Fried Beef Fillet with Hot Chilli Bean Sauce

Served with steamed jasmine rice, choy sum, black mushrooms and capiscums

** ***** **


Chevin Herb, Zevenwacht Cheddar, Camembert, Simonzola Blue Cheese

Poached apple with raspberry compote and sweetened cream

Warm sticky toffee and ginger pudding with vanilla ice cream

Black sesame dessert




Roasted duck with noodle in soup

Onion bagel with beef pastrami

Served with mustard mayonnaise

Assorted Sandwiches
Mozzarella cheese with lettuce and tomato, roasted chicken and cucumber, air-dried ham rolled with date and cream cheese

Ice Cream

The wine list was the same as we’d had on the flight out, and since I’d already tried all the red wines I decided to accompany my caviar and salmon starter with a glass of the Helen’s Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay. Unfortunately, it only confirmed why I generally stay away from Chardonnays. I tend to like my white wines dry and crisp, a style that, from my unabashedly limited experience, I feel the Germans manage to accomplish the best.

One thing I have noticed on this trip is that in years past, we used to always get two scoops of caviar with our salmon on Cathay. On two flights now – both of them full – I’ve only been served one scoop. Were a US airline, I’d be tempted to assume that the Flight Attendants were probably saving some for themselves to eat later on but since it’s Cathay, I’ll assume that this must be the result of cost cutting.

Caviar and Salmon Service JNB-HKG

Moving on – this menu presented some tough choices for me. Everything looked good. I was tempted to go Chinese, especially because of the Pan-Fried Beef Fillet with Hot Chilli Bean Sauce. That even sounds tasty just saying it. Dang! Chinese or Chicken? Or the Lamb Rogen Josh – always a flavorful choice. Arrrgh! Indecision is hell! Meanwhile Carmen waited patiently at my seat…

Okay, I’d like the soup and salad for sure. Annnnnd, let’s go with the… stuffed chicken breast.

Finally. Something about being stuffed with leek, feta cheese and olives, then accented with red pepper sauce proved to be too much to pass up.

The Cream of Mushroom soup was superb, highlighted by large sections of mushrooms accompanied by tasty garlic bread. I particularly enjoyed the salad, accented with flavorful feta cheese, tasty toasted pine nuts and sharp Balsamic Vinaigrette. As for the chicken – an excellent choice. Moist, succulent and flavorful, it will go down as one of the nicer chicken dishes I’ve enjoyed aloft.

Cream of Mushroom Soup JNB-HKG


Stuffed Chicken Breast JNB-HKG

Meanwhile, the clouds that had obscured all of southern Africa cleared shortly after we’d passed the coast of Mozambique. Now the sun shone warmly off the Indian Ocean below. Sitting in a wide comfortable seat, a fine glass of wine at hand and delicious food at my table, I reckon this is as close as I’m ever going to heaven while I’m still alive.

Enroute Sky Map JNB-HKG

Later, I languished over a plate of fine cheese and a glass of port while watching Up In The Air for a second time. It’s rather a sad movie at the end, but it definitely captures how air travel is for those of us who do fly a lot. Toffee and ginger pudding with vanilla ice cream closed out the movie.

Great way to watch a movie inflight

Cheese and Port Service ~ JNB-HKG

Toffee & Ginger Pudding Dessert ~ JNB-HKG

and shortly thereafter I had my suite converted to a bed complete with mattress, two pillows and a folded down top sheet. Even though it was only about 5:00pm local time, the prospect of sleep has rarely been so inviting, at least visually. A tab of melatonin helped and, after a few pages from my latest John Lescroart novel, I slept fairly well until about an hour and a half out of Hong Kong. I suppose I could have slept even longer, but the delicious breakfast aromas wafting through the cabin roused me past the point of any return to sleep.

Dawn over Asia

While I freshened up in the exceedingly spacious lavatory, (Sorry, I don’t do lavatory pictures) Larina transformed my bed back into a seat. No sooner had I arrived back at my seat than she appeared with a tray bearing coffee, full cream, sugar and a wine glass filled with mango energizer. A true goddess of the morning! A few minutes later she returned to take my breakfast order:


Orange or Apple Juice

Mango Energizer

Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Natural or Low Fat Fruit Yogurt

Assorted Cereals

** ***** **


~ Freshly Scrambled, Fried or Boiled
Served with your choice of back bacon, pork sausage, cheese potato cake,
sautéed mixed mushrooms or cherry tomatoes

Seafood Congee
With ginger julienne and spring onion

Braised Udon Noodles
With beef strips and mixed vegetables

Bread Basket
Assorted Breakfast Bread and Fresh Toast
Served with Preserves, Honey and Butter

Tea and Coffee

A fruit plate starter followed by a plate of eggs with all the accompaniments has been my breakfast of choice for years in First Class. Occasionally I’ve deviated with a French Toast and even some Braised Udon Noodles once, but more often than not I find the old classic egg breakfast to be the best choice for me on the menu. One exception came a few years ago aboard British Airways between London and Singapore. I opted for the Eggs Florentine and I have been pining for them ever since.

The Full Egg Breakfast ~ JNB-HKG

Shortly after the last of my plates had been cleared away, we commenced our descent into Hong Kong. As per my usual experience with Hong Kong approaches, it was a gray and rainy day. Just once I’d like to see this area on a bright and sunny day. I’m sure it would be a beautiful sight.

We landed at 6:35am and parked way down by gate 63, meaning a long, long walk up to Immigration and Customs. As ever, I was waved through as if I were visiting royalty and soon found my way to Cathay’s arrivals lounge. On that note, I’d just like to say that the signage at Hong Kong International is as good or better than any airport I’ve ever been in. Anyone capable of reading and comprehending the English language should be able to find their way through that airport.

As to the arrivals lounge, it was surprisingly small but otherwise well stocked with breakfast items, computer terminals and showers. I availed myself of a refreshingly hot shower, then put in a little time on the internet before making my way to the Tiger Airways check-in counter, located in Terminal 2.

Part 2 can be found HERE

Last edited by Seat 2A; Nov 3, 14 at 7:45 pm
Seat 2A is offline  
Old May 9, 10, 10:56 pm
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Join Date: Nov 2003
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Great start to the report Seat 2A

Quite an eclectic mix of airlines and trains this time.
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Old May 9, 10, 11:52 pm
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Burlingame, CA
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Posts: 2,054
It's always a delight to read one of your comprehensive and eloquently written reports. A trademark of a good writer is the ability to engage the reader thoroughly and you have done this successfully through every single one of your reports.

I agree with you about your assessment of AA's new generation seats. If you are "trapped" in a window seat and your neighbor is fully extended in the sleeping position, good luck trying to go to the lavs. Even when the seat is slightly reclined, if the table is fully deployed and joined with the tray table in front, it is still a challenge to get out, unless you have the flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil performer.

The burger on AS Y is one of the best buy onboard meals that I have tried. It's not very healthy but sure it is tasty.

I have been fortunate to try AF's J class on several occasions in the past and in my humble opinion it is a decent product. Not the best but not the worst either. The FA's are not very soliciting so after the meal service they tend to disappear. They set out drinks and snacks in the galley so that you can help yourself. One time I passed by the galley in the back and I saw two flight attendants dining "properly" on a fold out table and chairs. If you are a fan of foei gras as I am you can always count on it being featured as one of the appetizers (unless that has changed recently). For a French carrier meal quality could be better. Sometimes they are hit or miss but generally they are always decent out of CDG.

KL service tends to be a bit more proactive than AF, although it is also hit or miss. One feature that I love is the "a la carte" breakfast from a menu that you turn to the FA after the dinner service on the US-AMS flights. In addition, KL offers Deft houses as a gift to J class passengers, a touch that was part of its F service.

I have a question for you if I may - given the choice to fly F between BA or CX, which one would you choose from a catering standpoint?
aw is offline  
Old May 10, 10, 12:05 am
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Portland, Oregon
Posts: 228
Thanks for posting. Great trip report, and I enjoyed all the detail.
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Old May 10, 10, 1:54 am
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Join Date: Apr 2001
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Posts: 14,878
Originally Posted by Seat 2A View Post
Note for aspiring Trip Reporters: I’ve just written 4,500+ words about a single flight. And to think I could have just published a collection of photos and written perhaps 500 words. As a reader, which would you prefer? Should I shorten these reports? For that matter, how many of you are even still reading this report?! I wouldn’t be surprised if a good number of the newbies got bored stiff and nodded off pages ago… That’s alright – I imagine most of you hard core readers who always comment on my reports are still out there, enjoying whatever libation you’ve chosen to accompany the read. As you must surely know, I enjoy writing for an appreciative audience as much as I do for myself so all this effort fueled by seven beers on a rainy night in South Africa is as much for yourselves and your past support as it is for me. Cheers!
Another great TR. Keep them long. The more detail the better (even if it crashes my pdf writer: I pdf all Seat 2A's TR and read off line)

Part 2 is waiting: 6 Trains on 6 Continents ~ Connected by 44 Flights on 14 Airlines ~ PART 2

Last edited by Mwenenzi; May 10, 10 at 2:00 am
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Old May 10, 10, 4:02 am
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Brighton England
Programs: AA Plat, various hotels
Posts: 1,214
Another astoundingly good report, i'm saving part 2 or i wont get anything done today !

Like you i enjoy a good train journey and have done the Scottish trips you refer to. The trip to Wick isnt the most exciting and there are certainly better trips in the U.K you might well prefer. Devon is good and there are some interesting options in Wales. The Settle to Carlisle line is rightfully famous and i enjoyed tacking on a trip around the Cumbrian coast.

I always look out for reports from you, a legend in my eyes.


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Old May 10, 10, 7:05 am
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Simply amazing report! I'm jealous, all the trains and planes wow!
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