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MEL-SEA via Asia on CX/DL/QF A380 ... and NH

MEL-SEA via Asia on CX/DL/QF A380 ... and NH

Old Feb 2, 11, 7:44 am
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MEL-SEA via Asia on CX/DL/QF A380 ... and NH

You see super-cheap ~$1000 fares between Australia and the USA these days, but they are limited. Around Xmas, no, it's more like $1900. To be stuck in Y the whole way, that's a bit steep, so time to try something else.

With some searching, I came up with a plan that would kill several birds with one stone: Fly in C half the way for not much more money, try an airline I'd not tried before (Cathay), and try the Qantas A380. So, I used AA miles for C reward on CX (MEL-HKG and HKG-BKK-SIN) and QF (SIN-MEL), with DL in Y for the rest.

For those who may not know, AA's agency here charges huge fees and is a toll call, so I Skype'd AA in the USA. The agent was pleasant, but had no intention of trying multiple legs, let alone multiple airlines. However, I'd looked up availability on Award Nexus and was able to guide her along.

CX178 MEL-HKG 333 16A 23/11/10 2345-0600+1 (actual 0000-0539)

My first CX experience was a really good one. I checked my bags through to SEA on DL and visited the lounge, before trying out the CX coffin seats that I'd read about. I must say I found the seat very comfortable, especially with all its velcro-attrached filler pieces when totally flat. The only downside was the video screen is a real pain for the FA's to try to reach over when serving dinner. However, these seats would be terrible if you were travelling with anyone you actually wanted to communicate with.

Food was good, service was very good, and I really enjoyed the cloud nine cocktails. I got so much sleep that I didn't have time to watch all of Inception ... but I knew DL had it too.

After landing, I tried to find the DL transfer desk. Hint: For a start, it isn't where the airport signage says it is. Given it took a ludicrous number of steps, I gave this silliness its own thread!

DL638 HKG-NRT 744 58A 24/11 0800-1305 (actual 0820-1233)

Full flight with no PTV, but I was well rested and didn't mind watching The A Team.

DL296 NRT-SEA 333 36C/D/F/G 24/11 1540-0735 (actual 1551-0721)

I guess flying on this route isn't popular on the day before Thanksgiving. When booking, I saw that almost every row from 35 back was totally empty, so sacrificed the laptop power further forwards for the space. When we boarded, there ended up being about 2 pax per row from 33 to the back. After a while, some of the Y pax in the forward cabin migrated back to the empty A/B and H/J seats.

For Y, an awesome flight. Decent food, decent service (well, you'd hope so with 2 pax/row, eh?), lots of sleep, plus the chance to finish watching Inception.

My plan worked beautifully. A vastly better experience than flying direct across the Pacific in Y. Only about 2 hours extra elapsed time, too. And it's much quicker and easier to get a lift to MEL in the evening than in semi-peak traffic in the morning for the usual flights to the US.

The astute reader might wonder what NH in the title has to do with anything. Well, you'll find out when I write about the return which, as you might now guess, didn't quite go to plan.
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Old Feb 2, 11, 8:47 pm
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For the return, timing wouldn't be so good. DL's flight into HKG arrives a bit after 11pm. I hoped to get some sleep on the flights, then just explore HKG and waste time online until the CX lounges open (about 4-5am) and then fly out via BKK. That would be on a short-hop 773, but I wanted to connect to the QF A380 SIN-MEL. The A380 isn't used every day and there were only 2 days with any C class reward space for the whole of January, so options were rather limited. I was pleased that there were options at all.

About a week before departure, I checked delta.com, only to find that my seat allocation had gone from nice (window) to awful (middle seat in group of 4). Then I realised why. My original seat didn't exist. They'd downsized us from a 333 to a 332 and there were zero other Y seats available!

I checked again the next day and there was one available Y seat. And it was a window seat with laptop power, so I grabbed it. Someone else could have 13F, but it wouldn't be me!

Given my long (9 hr) transit in HKG, I wasn't sure whether there would be any problems checking my bags, but I was able to check them all the way through to CX/QF to MEL without hassle.

DL295 SEA-NRT 332 21J 08/01/11 1300-1645+1 (actual 1359-1721+1)

Having replaced our 333 with a 332, it was totally packed. Tons of connecting pax had no seat allocations, so the gate desk had been covered with new boarding passes. The gate agents did a pretty good job, given the shambles they'd been left with from the plane change.

We were about to take off when we pulled off the main runway. The pilot informed us that a warning light had come on and that he'd need to have it checked out before we could take off. After a short while, it was dealt with and we were off.

There were some decent movies to watch and the meals were really good, especially the sliced beef and noodles for the main meal and the Monty's Thai wrap just before arrival.

With only about an hour before boarding was due for my next flight at gate 26, I sat in the area between gate 26 and 27. This meant being almost directly in front of our plane, as well as in sight of the boarding area and within range of the RCC's free wifi.

As I read email and chatted to friends online, the plane remained in darkness. More importantly, there were men standing about under the right wing. 3 or 4 or them at a time, mostly. Pointing up at the plane and then walking or driving off. Then coming back again and doing more pointing and gesturing. This did not seem like a good sign.

Delta's handling of the delay was pretty poor. I wandered over to the gate a couple of times and it consistently gave unrealistic boarding and departure times. (A 747 departure in 5 mins from now when you haven't started boarding yet?) I gave up on going over there, as delta.com was more realistic!

I must mention at this point that Japanese apparently love to queue up. Some of them got in line before boarding was originally due to start, even though it was pretty obviously being delayed. There was eventually an announcement that those who had lounge access might as well go back to the lounge to wait. I'd have thought that would have been a hint that standing in line was really futile, but some must have stood there for an hour!

DL639 NRT-HKG 744 56A 09/01 1905-2320

We boarded fairly briskly about 8pm. The pilot then announced that there was some damage spotted by the engineers to one of the engine cowlings, which was okay, except that they had spotted some more damage since we boarded that they hadn't previously noticed and nobody was sure what to do about it. The plane was packed. After a while, FAs came around with water. I got out my laptop and watched some video. At almost exactly 2 hours after we boarded, 10pm, came the announcement that we were staying overnight. Dinner, hotel, breakfast were being provided and we'd be rebooked the next day. That didn't look great for making my 9:10am CX flight out of HKG.

I hadn't previously thought of any good aspects to a curfew, but an FA informed me that it was why we had escaped. Narita has an 11pm curfew, so once they established that they couldn't fix the problem within an hour, there was no point keeping us on board after 10pm.

We disembarked in groups to deal with immigration. Locals first. Then those in transit from the USA. (yay! 2nd group for me!) There were plenty of agents in the jetway, handing out immigration forms and helping us fill them in, then guiding us to immigration.

We could just go to the hotel and Delta would send everyone's flight information there overnight, but there were agents at the desk outside customs to help us if we had specific problems. I heard one of them say that the plan was to rebook onto 8 different flights during the day, across ANA, Cathay, JAL and Delta, with the highest fare classes getting the earliest departures. That would be bad for me! So, I explained my situation to a sweet agent who, as it happened, had spent some time on the Gold Coast. The first Cathay flight of the day had already been filled, but she managed to shift me to the earliest ANA departure of the day. (The only downside was that I had been booked on JAL, which would have been another new airline for me!) She also warned me of the possible problems contacting CX: The next day was a public holiday in Japan and CX departs from the other terminal, so you can't just wander over to their agents. She suggested I just check in for ANA early and ask them to phone Cathay.

I was amazed to discover later, when I checked schedules online at the hotel, that catching up to my original schedule had become at least slightly possible! There was one Cathay flight HKG-SIN which could squeeze in between my ANA and Qantas flights, assuming that I could get on it and that every flight ran on time. (Connection time was just over an hour in both HKG and SIN.)

The Tokyo Excel was not bad: we received a snack box when we entered the hotel shuttle bus, they kept the restaurant open after midnight for dinner (very useful, given that the check-in line was still growing well after that time!), they had free wired internet in the rooms and they had a decent breakfast buffet. You could tell that they were aiming for a distinctly non-local guest, given that dinner was steak and chips with broccoli.

I thought contacting Cathay would be the right thing to do, but it was a total waste of time. Closed in Japan. Closed in the USA. (Sunday there.) Tried their international toll-free number and they told me to contact AA to change it. Why? AA would only have to contact them for same-day changes anyhow, right? They wouldn't even make a note in my PNR to say that I'd informed them that I couldn't make my scheduled flight. Pathetic failure of customer service.

Even though I'd only slept 4.5 hours, I awoke at 6am, probably because that's 1pm SEA time. The hotel gave me a wake-up call at 6:20am, as they had received my flight details from DL. So, I had breakfast (unlike dinner, this was a buffet with plenty of options, some of them local) and headed off for the airport.

My friendly ANA check-in agent spent about 20 mins waiting for CX over in terminal 2 to answer their phone! (I'm not exaggerating. 20 mins! It felt like an hour.) Once they got through, everything was fine! CX had heaps of space in C on the flight I needed and were happy to put me on it. By the time that had been dealt with, there were no window or aisle seats remaining on my ANA flight, but I was able to have a bulkhead seat with plenty of leg room.
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Old Feb 3, 11, 6:04 am
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NH909 NRT-HKG 772 11F 10/01 0950-1400 (actual 1020-1419)

The Japanese really do like queuing! By the time we started boarding, most of the locals had got up from sitting in the gate lounge and walked down to the end of the line, which ended up as much as maybe 40m away! All so that they could slowly walk back again. I'm sure I wasn't the only foreigner sitting near the jetway who was thinking "that's just pointless".

Once on board, I wondered how many Delta refugees there were. The bloke to my left was one and I recognised Mr 11K as another from last night. So, that was 3 out of 9 in my row.

The extra space was nice, the food, service and entertainment were fine, but the usual ANA habit of over-heating the cabin makes ANA the most uncomfortable airline in the world. When I asked about the temperature, the FA turned it down a degree from 25 to 24, which was at least more tolerable.

Upon arrival at the terminal in HKG, one of the first things I saw was my name among the little sea of names held by greeters. I don't think I've ever had one before! As the connection was tight-ish, Cathay wanted to make sure I got to the transfer desk and obtained my boarding passes swiftly, which we did. Then I headed off to recover from the ANA flight with a shower at The Pier lounge and a couple of curry puffs.

CX635 HKG-SIN 333 17A 10/01 1520-1905 (actual 1532-1859)

Things were really looking up. Not only did I no longer have to go via BKK, but this 333 wasn't even one of the "regional" ones, as it was supposed to be. It was the long-haul ("33B") config, the same as MEL-HKG. The onion stewed pork ribs were lovely, especially accompanied by some garlic bread and washed down with a number of cloud nines, while I watched The Expendables. Then, some sleep!

We made it in early, so I had plenty of time, despite the significant walking distance, to visit the Qantas lounge and have another shower and more curry puffs, before embarking on my last sector.
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Old Feb 4, 11, 5:16 am
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I have also had several delays with Delta. In general they don't seem to provide any useful information. The website ALWAYS seems to be the best source.
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Old Feb 4, 11, 9:45 pm
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Originally Posted by sobore View Post
I have also had several delays with Delta. In general they don't seem to provide any useful information. The website ALWAYS seems to be the best source.
You've reminded me of something I learned later from another one of the stranded mob: After making the announcement that lounge users might as well go back there, those who did so weren't checked on entry. Anyone could get in. Wish I'd known!
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Old Feb 5, 11, 7:41 pm
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Finally on an A380

QF10 SIN-MEL 388 20A 10/01 2020-0640+1 (actual 2053-0649+1)

My first impression was of a business class cabin that's futuristic, yet not very friendly. The Skybed looks a bit like something out of The Jetsons. Side storage bins are useful, though not as big as upstairs in a 747. The seat was comfortable and the view was good of the numerous SQ A380s we taxied past on our way out.

Having a little turbulence, they chose not to have the FAs up and about for a while. Once they were up, they brought us almost-cold, flimsy "hot" towels and later wandered around handing out amenities kits. (Why can't that be done on the ground?) Drink service was likewise at snail's pace. On a 10+ hour flight, I'd only find this marginally annoying, but, on a 7-hour flight, every minute they dawdle is a minute of lost sleep.

The wine list is huge and perversely lists every wine they might possibly be carrying. So, you can't decide what you'd like without asking what is actually available. (Yet another time-waster!) Not being a fan of dry wines, I asked which dessert and fortified wines were available on this flight, which the FA had to go and find out. The answer was De Bortoli Noble One and Seppelt Para Port, both lovely drops.

I'm pretty sure CX635 meal service was completed by about 1hr20 into the HKG-SIN flight, with at least 2 drink services. At the same duration into this flight, we'd had a drink and the dinner trolley hadn't even appeared yet! After my duck shepherd's pie, I had planned to visit the lounge and bar, but they are way up the front and after the excruciating slow dinner service, all I wanted to do was sleep.
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Old Feb 7, 11, 7:42 am
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CX 333 vs QF 388

I thought I'd just sum up by comparing my CX and QF J experiences, by listing who wins on various comparisons. Yes, I'll admit that HKG is CX's home, so you'd expect their lounge to have the edge over another airline's foreign lounge, but SIN is pretty major for QF.

Which is better? ...

CX airport ground service
CX lounge ambience and comfort
CX lounge showers
CX lounge curry puffs
CX lounge wifi (QF wifi was both weak and encrypted, which is just annoying)
CX seats
QF ease of access to seats
QF video screens
CX onboard quality of service (CX FAs were great; QF ones were a bit wooden)
CX onboard speed and efficiency of service
CX meals
CX cocktails
QF wines
CX on-time arrival
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