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The Earth IS Round (UA/LH/HU/CZ/TR Y; CX/BR J)

The Earth IS Round (UA/LH/HU/CZ/TR Y; CX/BR J)

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Old Sep 23, 17, 9:43 pm
  #16  
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Prague's a great city! Hope to revisit it soon. Always refreshing seeing a UA economy review out of Houston. UA Economy is as solid as it gets for American legacy carriers. I flew it MXP-EWR last November was pleasantly surprised. Plenty of food, beer, IFE, etc.
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Old Sep 23, 17, 10:19 pm
  #17  
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Our original plan with a mid-afternoon departure was to do more sightseeing before heading to the airport. But we were exhausted from our marathon of sightseeing the day before, so we took it easy before packing and heading to the airport. We ordered an Uber and arrived at the airport about three hours before departure. It’s been a long time since I’ve arrived at the airport more than 90 minutes before departure, let alone three hours. Then again, this was the first time I’ve flown on an airline without any sort of status in years. So, I wanted to leave extra time in case of long lines, etc.



The flight appeared to be wide open in both classes when I checked ExpertFlyer before I left Houston. So, I was hoping for either some empty seats in coach or a cheap buy up to Business Class. When I checked again before we left the flat, the flight was zeroed out. The long line at for the Hainan check in counter was additional confirmation that the flight was indeed full.



The line moved fairly quickly, and we were soon beckoned to approach the counter by a contracted Czech Airlines agent. So… I did something stupid before our flight and screwed up our original seat assignments. I realized my mistake the night before, but Hainan locked down online seat selection at that point. Fortunately, the very nice agent did manage to seat us together albeit in the center section of four seats with one of us in the middle seat. That’s a far cry from our original selection of a set of two seats on the starboard side of the aircraft. Since I was the one that screwed up, I offered to take middle seat. Of course, my friend didn’t have any objections.

Free of our checked bags and boarding passes in hand, we breezed through immigration and headed to the Menzies Aviation lounge after a stop for souvenirs for family back home. There were two lounges accessible by Priority Pass in Terminal 1, one being the Menzies lounge and the other being the Mastercard lounge. The two lounges are located right across from each other and are virtually identical as far as I could tell. We ended up staying the Menzies lounge, since the view of the tarmac was better. Food options were slim, but there were a couple fridges stocked with cold beers. Naturally, we made a bee line to the beer fridge. My friend enjoyed a couple of last Czech beers. I pounded more than a few Czech beers to prepare for 9 hours in the middle seat.



Over the years, I’ve gone through great lengths to avoid middle seats in economy for obvious reasons, and it’s probably a substantial driving force in my obsession with maintaining elite status. In fact, the last time I was in a middle seat on a flight longer than an hour was back in 2006. It was on a Continental Airlines flight from Houston to Orlando, an equipment downgrade from a 757-200 to a 737-500 scattered my entire family in middle seats in various corners of the cabin. I was probably had it the worst out of my family as I was assigned the middle seat on the very last no recline row of the plane. Since then, I’ve only been in the middle seat on a handful of flights between Dallas and Houston brought on by standing by for earlier flights. Well… all good things must come to an end; unfortunately, it had to come to an end on this 4,650-mile journey.

Hainan Airlines 7938
Prague (PRG) – Beijing (PEK)
Depart: 2:35PM
Arrive: 5:55 AM+1
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 59D (Economy)
March 27, 2017


Naturally, I tried finding some trip reports on Hainan in the weeks prior. I found only a handful of reports and most of those were for Business Class. In sense, it was kind of refreshing. While I’ve flown quite a few new airlines over the last couple of years, I knew exactly what to expect on those new airlines, right down to the food and drink, due to reports here on FlyerTalk and elsewhere on the interwebs. It was sort of fun not knowing what to expect in terms of the hard product and service. And hopefully, I can provide some information for y’all, in case anyone is considering Hainan economy in the future.

Though this was my first flight on Chinese flagged carrier, I had a good idea of what to expect with respect to the behavior of my fellow passengers from my visits to mainland China and the trip reports I’ve read on other Chinese airlines. My friend, however, was a bit shocked. We found some seats in what looked to be an empty corner of the gate area, but we were soon swarmed by other passengers arriving behind us. To our left was an old couple coughing up phlegm without covering their mouths. There were small children running around us screaming, while their parents were engaged in conversation at a volume that would be considered yelling in most of the world. A couple of passengers walked through the area where we sat and didn’t bat an eyelash when their carryon bags ran over my foot. In short, it was China, and we were both glad to have pre-gamed in the lounge.

Boarding began not long after we arrived at the gate. The entire mass of humanity at the gate rose in unison, grabbed their belongings, and rushed toward the boarding door. We decided to hang tight until everyone else boarded and enjoyed the serenity of the suddenly empty gate area for a few minutes.



We were among last passengers to board. My first impression was… red. Everything was red, including the carpet, the seat covers, and even the flight attendants’ uniforms. One of my biggest pet peeves with air travel is how long it takes most people to get situated on while boarding plane. It annoys me to no end watching people hold up the boarding line by camping out in the aisle seemingly packing or unpacking their entire carry-on bags. I make sure I have everything I need for the flight in my small carry-on, and I’ll only retrieve items from the overhead bin after take off, if I absolutely need something, or if I’m seated in the bulkhead. My fellow passengers on this particular flight took things to an extreme. I kid you not, pretty much every single passenger on that A330 was either standing in the aisle re-arranging their carry-ons or just standing in aisle to talk, either not caring or lacking awareness there were other people still trying to board the plane. Though we hadn’t pushed back yet, the flight attendants already looked worn out trying get everyone seated.



When we finally arrived at our seats, there was a gentleman already camped out at my friend’s seat. Thankfully, I speak passable Mandarin, so there was no need to wait for a flight attendant. The gentleman was traveling with the folks seated behind us and wanted us to swap seats so he could sit by his friends. But he wanted to swap his middle seat for my friend’s aisle seat. My rule for seat swaps is that the other passenger’s seat must be at least equal to my current seat. Or if a parent is trying sit next to their young child, I don’t mind taking a less favorable seat. In this case, neither of those criteria were met. Needless to say, the gentleman and his friends were not happy about it and loudly voiced their displeasure about my “selfishness”. I remained firm, and eventually he went back to his assigned seat. Man… we haven’t even sat down yet, and we both needed another drink.

The seats were decently comfortable. For what it’s worth, Seat Guru lists these seats as 19 inches wide compared to 17.3 inch width of the seats on the United 787. I didn’t take out my measuring tape, but this seat did feel wider than my seat on my United flight to London. And truth be told, the middle seat wasn’t as bad as I originally thought. I’m sure my friend sitting next to me helped, but at no time during the flight was I unbearably uncomfortable.

There were pillows and blankets already at each seat. The pillow was a little firm and had a nice cloth case (red of course) instead of gauze covers many airlines like to use in economy. Now, one could make the argument that the gauze cover is more sanitary as airlines would be forced to change it every flight. The cloth cases do look much classier, but it’s impossible to tell if the airline cleans the case after each flight. In case anyone is wondering, the blanket did come individually wrapped but the gentleman hoping to take my friend’s seat made himself at home and removed the wrapper.



Just after takeoff, the flight attendants came around with amenity kits which contained socks, an eye mask, a pair of socks, dental kit, and ear plugs. Other than Qatar, Hainan is the only other airline I’ve flown recently that offers amenity kits in economy class. The picture below was taken after the flight.



The entertainment system was already active at the gate. There was a pretty wide selection of Chinese movies, as you would expect from a Chinese airline. The selection of western movies was slim. There were a few recent films like Batman v. Superman, but not much else. Not a criticism, just pointing out facts. Luckily, I came prepared and downloaded Rogue One when it was released to iTunes, which incidentally was the day I left Houston. So I put up the moving map on the IFE and watched Rogue One on my laptop.



Service began with the distribution of menus, which I was pleased to see. The last time I saw a menu in economy class was on a Delta flight from Seattle to Seoul. Delta’s economy menus were printed on a flimsy cheap pamphlet type paper. However, Hainan’s were printed on nice thick card stock, which I think is nicer than American’s latest menu in their premium cabins.







I was realy needed a drink at this point. Beer was preferred, but the inflight selection was marginal at best. The liquor selection was a different story. I was pleased to see Chivas Regal 12 year on the drink menu. Though not the best scotch, it’s certainly very drinkable. And consider for a moment the “Big 3” US airlines offered Dewars as scotch until recently. I’m only flying economy class, and it was available. I ordered that and a cup of water, which were promptly served with a smile. It was very tasty.



Meals were served short time later. My friend and I both chose the noodles, which was pretty tasty. The menu didn’t specify what kind of meat the meatballs were made from, though they tasted kind of porky and were perfectly edible. I like potato salad and tuna salad. But I don’t like them together, and the slice of turkey was a bit strange too. So, I left those untouched, and I ate the cherry tomato. I mean just one tomato. It was fresh. I did appreciate the real silverware, which most airlines don’t offer anymore in economy. I can’t say I blame them for that. When my grandparents passed away a couple of years ago, I found silverware from Singapore, Korean, JAL, and, heck, even US Air in their silverware drawer.



The only problem was “bring your own device” inflight entertainment is having nowhere stash your device during meal service. I just shoved my laptop in the seatback pocket while I ate. The only problem was that I couldn’t take my laptop back out until trays were cleared awhile later. Which was fine, I found some games on the seatback entertainment system to pass time in the interim.

A drink run was made after trays was cleared. I chose the coconut juice. It was probably water, sugar, and bunch of stuff from a chemistry lab, but man was it delicious.

I’m probably one of five people on this planet who likes redeye flights. I like being able to get to my destination without wasting a day and save some cash or hotel points. However, I didn’t like the timing of this redeye flight. A redeye departing at mid-afternoon is just screwy. Despite not having any substantial sleep since I left Houston, I could not fall asleep on this flight.

Although I moaned about being stuck in the middle seat, I think I had it better than my friend in the aisle seat. People were constantly moving around in the aisle getting stuff from the overhead bins above him and dropping whatever item they were retrieving on him. Others would bump into him while walking around. To top it all off, the folks across the aisle from him and the good folks behind him were constantly coughing without covering their mouths. In short, the intrusions were constant, and my friend was more than a little annoyed.

I spent most of the flight watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother on my laptop, inspired by the aforementioned Legenda(i)ry A321. Finally, we were less than 2 hours from Beijing and the smells of breakfast cooking began wafting through the cabin.

Breakfast was a choice of an omelet or more noodles. We both chose the omelet with more of that delicious coconut juice. The morsel of chicken was a bit strange, but overall breakfast was edible.



We touched down smoothly at Beijing Capital International Airport on time. Before the pilots could deploy reverse thrust, half the cabin had their seatbelts off and were trying get their bags out of the overhead bins. Pretty much in unison, the flight attendants started yelling for everyone to sit down and buckle up. The people who got up for the most part ignored the flight attendants. The lack of respect of authority and decorum carried on after the parking brake was set. There was plenty of pushing and shoving and my friend got whacked with a couple of more bags while deplaning. He was ready cuss someone out, or worse. I didn’t blame him, but I was in no mood to deal with it either. So, we trudged on and finally got off the plane.

This was a particularly hard flight to grade. On one hand, everything within the airline’s control was above average. The food was edible. Flight attendants were attentive and well intentioned. Many aspects of the product are better than many other airlines. However, the behavior of the other passengers marred experience. In addition to everything I already written about, many other passengers were incredibly rude and demanding toward the flight attendants. The flight attendants deserve a lot of credit for remaining their composure and doing their very best to satisfy the demands of those passengers. It was painfully obvious the flight attendants were worn out and tired of said demands. I would probably would be in a gulag for punching out a passenger, if I had to walk a mile in their shoes. As I mentioned in the beginning, I expected this sort of behavior, but it was still shocking to me to witness it firsthand. This was far worse than I’ve ever experienced during my prior visits to mainland China

I’m glad I got to fly Hainan, and the flight was overall good, but Five Star good??? Meh. Anyhow, I wouldn’t actively seek to fly Hainan in the future, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid them.

Last edited by dat4life; Mar 27, 18 at 9:19 pm
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Old Sep 23, 17, 10:29 pm
  #18  
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Originally Posted by krazykanuck View Post
Prague's a great city! Hope to revisit it soon. Always refreshing seeing a UA economy review out of Houston. UA Economy is as solid as it gets for American legacy carriers. I flew it MXP-EWR last November was pleasantly surprised. Plenty of food, beer, IFE, etc.
Prague is absolutely wonderful indeed.

You're spot on about United. All of my experiences have been pretty good, and you can't beat the advantage of a non-stop flight to most destinations from IAH. With all the cuts to AAdvantage, it's harder for me to justify requalifying for EXP with more convenient options right there.

Also, as fellow Houstonian, I certainly hope you and your family stayed high and dry the last few weeks.
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Old Sep 26, 17, 10:35 am
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I'm enjoying this TR greatly in part because I like reading Y TRs, so thanks for this. Like you, I share a disdain for middle seats but they're fine for short hops occasionally if nothing's available. A middle while seated with a companion is fine, as it means I can get out of my seat without feeling like I'm disturbing a stranger.

Originally Posted by dat4life View Post
Just after takeoff, the flight attendants came around with amenity kits which contained socks, an eye mask, a pair of socks, dental kit, and ear plugs. Other than Qatar, Hainan is the only other airline Iíve flown recently that offers amenity kits in economy class. The picture below was taken after the flight.

The eyemask cracks me up... what if I just wanted to sleep but didn't want to be woken up for the meals? Also, it's interesting to see what looks like Seattle Central Library on the amenity kit. It's famous around these parts but I wouldn't expect the regular HU flier to know it, despite the airline having service to SEA.

When my grandparents passed away a couple of years ago, I found silverware from Singapore, Korean, JAL, and, heck, even US Air in their silverware drawer.
Same here but I had always just assumed it was from my grandfather's days of working at HKG. Maybe it's just an East Asian grandparents thing?
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Old Sep 27, 17, 1:05 pm
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Originally Posted by kevincrumbs View Post
I'm enjoying this TR greatly in part because I like reading Y TRs, so thanks for this. Like you, I share a disdain for middle seats but they're fine for short hops occasionally if nothing's available. A middle while seated with a companion is fine, as it means I can get out of my seat without feeling like I'm disturbing a stranger.



The eyemask cracks me up... what if I just wanted to sleep but didn't want to be woken up for the meals? Also, it's interesting to see what looks like Seattle Central Library on the amenity kit. It's famous around these parts but I wouldn't expect the regular HU flier to know it, despite the airline having service to SEA.



Same here but I had always just assumed it was from my grandfather's days of working at HKG. Maybe it's just an East Asian grandparents thing?
Thanks, Kevincrumbs! The reverse of the eye mask is do not disturb. LOL at the silverware comment. I think we agree on that!
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Old Oct 6, 17, 1:55 pm
  #21  
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Exploring Beijing

The long trek to immigration was actually somewhat enjoyable after being crammed in those seats for a solid 8 hours. We were even more thankful for our early arrival once we reached the immigration hall. The queue was fairly short at first, but hordes of passengers arriving on other flights came rushing toward the queue, which stretched a long ways down the hall just minutes later. Fortunately, we were admitted into the country in just a little over 20 minutes.

First order of business was coffee, as both us didn’t sleep much on the plane. Fortunately, there was a Starbucks in the arrivals hall, and a few cups of coffee later and I felt somewhat human again. Since we had some time before we were scheduled to meet our driver, we caught up on texts/emails/etc. with the airport’s fast and free wifi.

Normally, we’d prefer to explore on our own. But we were only in Beijing for 20 hours, so professional help was necessary to help maximize our time there. After consulting Trip Advisor and the wonderful China forum right here on FlyerTalk, I contacted the highly recommended Simon via email. Simon was not available that day, but his colleague Henry was. The price was fairly reasonable at $160 for 12 hours, including airport pick up and drop off, so I went ahead and booked it. The day before, Henry contacted me via Whatsapp, and we agreed to meet at the arrival hall at 7:30 AM. Sure enough, a well-dressed gentlemen with a chauffeur’s cap was walking around the hall with my name on it at 7:20.

We were in his brand new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (props for going green!) minutes later, whizzing toward the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China.



Nothing screams Great Wall of China like a Burger King: Home of the Whopper.



Henry escorted us to the ticket office and helped us purchase tickets for the chair lift to the wall and the tobaggen back down. Then it was off to the chairlift, which is more accurately described as left over 90s era larn furniture attached to a giant lift. The worker slammed down the safety bar for us just as we left the platform, and we were off.





A sneak peak of how we were getting down.



Our first glimpse of the Great Wall.



Now, I knew beforehand this particular section of the Great Wall was heavily restored to accommodate hordes of tourist. That said, to see the sheer size and scale of the wall firsthand and to think it was accomplished without the aid of modern technology is truly awe inspiring. It is truly a testament to the willpower, ingenuity, and ability of mankind. My dad has given me a hard time for years as I have been to quite a few places around the world but I have never gone to see one of the greatest accomplishments of my ancestral homeland. I’m glad I finally did. It is truly awe-inspiring.













We found it amusing that every single person we encountered on the wall that morning was American. Might as well have been anywhere in the U.S. Speaking of which, 20 bucks says Paisley is from the good ol’ US of A.









Eventually we tired of climbing up and down the Wall and decided to head to the toboggan station, which was just past where we got off the chair lift. I’d be lying if said I wasn’t a bit apprehensive of going down a mountain in what was basically a furniture dolly with brakes. However, it ended up being a lot of fun. Later that night when we were back at Beijing Capital Airport waiting for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City, I did a little Googling about the toboggan, and found that the recent former First Lady had gone down the toboggan during a visit to the Wall a few years ago. I suppose if the Secret Service deemed it alright for the First Lady of the United States, I suppose it’s good enough for me.



We met up with Henry at the parking lot. Our agreed upon itinerary had us having an early dumpling lunch after the Great Wall. But lunch would have been at the dumpling house next to the aforementioned Burger King, and I wasn’t too keen on a rather touristy place. Besides, we were also still sort of full at that time. So we opted to move on. While Henry seemed a little disappointed, he agreed and on we went. Somewhere in between the Great Wall and Beijing, Henry asked again if we mind stopping for lunch. We agreed, and we pulled up next to the Chinese equivalent of a roadside diner. The menu was surprisingly extensive. We eventually settled on a plate of stir-fried vegetables, pan-fried pork buns, and bowl of red bean congee. I insisted on ordering in my broken Mandarin, but I eventually swallowed my pride and deferred to pointing and Henry’s help. Lunch was delicious, and probably far better than the dumpling house near the Wall.





After lunch, it was another 90 minutes or so before we reached Tinnamen Square.








We then walked across the street, via tunnel, to the Forbidden City.



First order of business was to purchase tickets to enter Forbidden City as well as the gatehouse, which afforded a nice view of Tinnamen Square.





Unlike my last visit to the Forbidden City, there wasn’t a need to present identification or go through security prior to even approaching the famous site. But there were plenty of tough looking guys in suits with earpieces dotted around.





The abundance of broken cobblestone made getting around a pain.



The intricate paintings on the ceiling beams were absolutely beautiful.











My friend is a historian by trade, and it ticked him off to no end watching hordes of tourists have absolutely no respect for the buildings or the grounds. People were climbing all over the buildings and sculptures without a second thought, or batting an eyelash at the potential consequence for their actions. Many of the beautiful buildings subject to this sort of treatment looked very worn in the areas that were constantly touch. Another thing that annoyed both of us is most people appeared to be more interested in getting the perfect selfie than actually appreciating the Forbidden City, which for many years was closed to public. The population of China is over a 1 billion, but the number of selfie sticks felt like twice that number. I lost count of how many times we was slapped in the face by a selfie stick.











After close to four hours of exploring the Forbidden City, we headed out to meet Henry and head to our next stop, dinner. I wasn’t terribly hungry, but I was looking forward to trying what was billed as one of the best Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing.

Peking duck is one of my most favorite Chinese dishes. It involves a roast duck with crisped skin. The crisp skin is then carved with bits of meat, which is then placed in a wrap, resembling a very thing tortilla, or a steamed bun with sweet plum sauce and scallions. Nicer restaurants do the carving tableside in front of the customer, which in this case the restaurant we went to that night nailed. The waiter looked like a real pro carving up the duck. We were also given a small pamphlet with information on the farm our duck was raised in as well as the duck’s serial number. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know more about the animal they’re about to eat?

After carving, the waiter helped us make one of the wraps. Excited to have Peking duck in Beijing for the first time, I eagerly took a bite and was royally disappointed. The skin had the texture of chicharrones, and it was far too greasy to the point a copious amount of grease was actually dripping from my wrap. The sauce that was served with the duck was black bean sauce. I do like black bean sauce not with my roast duck. Its saltiness really overpowered the flavor of the duck. The other dishes we ordered were equally as disappointing. In short, this was the most disappointing meal of our trip.



After dinner, it was off to our final stop, the Olympic Village. My friend wasn’t all that excited about it, but I was pretty stoked as a big sports fan. There’s been plenty of articles floating around the interwebs about abandoned and decrepit condition of a number of Olympic parks, including Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer games. With the exception for the course used for rowing, everything appeared to be a pristine as it appeared on TV nine years ago.


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Last edited by dat4life; Mar 27, 18 at 5:43 am
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Old Oct 16, 17, 12:21 am
  #22  
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From the Olympic Park, it took well over an hour to get back to the airport thanks to the awful traffic of Beijing. I settled up with Henry for the tickets and a few bucks for tolls. After tip, the total for the day came out to be ~$200, which I thought was pretty reasonable as we had a private car and driver for over 12 hours.

To say we were exhausted was an understatement. My friend was doing better than I was. I was pretty much ready to fall asleep standing up. After all, the last time I got a full night’s sleep was the previous Thursday back home. It would be Wednesday morning in Beijing in just a couple of hours. I was more than ready to check our massive bags in, and head to the lounge for a nice hot shower.

There were two problems with that plan. I assumed that China Southern had a pretty substantial operation in Beijing; thus, their check in counters were operated continuously through out the day. WRONG. We arrived to find the counters deserted. I went across the aisle to the Korean Air counters, where they were closing up shop, to ask if they knew when China Southern was open. The answer was two hours before departure. It was about 9 PM at that point, and our flight was scheduled to depart at 1:40AM. If the Korean Air agent was correct, that meant we had a two-hour wait before we could even check in. Not exactly welcome news at this point, but we didn’t have any alternatives. So we found a quiet spot around the corner, and set up camp.

Like good millenials, we busied ourselves with BS’ing on the internet. I did get bored fairly quickly, so I started aimlessly wandering around the check in area. Of course, I passed by the China Southern counters regularly to see if they opened any earlier. Sure enough they did, as there was another flight departing before ours. There were a couple of bouncers policing the line, who didn’t want to let us in as we were “too early” for the Ho Chi Minh city flight. But a flash of my Delta Platinum Medallion card, which grants me SkyTeam Elite Plus status as well, was enough to convince the bouncers to let us through. Boarding passes were in hand and the checked bags were off our hands a few minutes later.

It was off to security where we encountered another snag. Both of us triggered something that required secondary screening. With the TSA back home, secondary screening consists of a bored clerk glancing inside your bag for a second and maybe swabbing your bag for explosives. Secondary screening is a completely different animal in China. I could hardly keep a straight face as they sniffed every single bottle in my toiletry bag. My friend fared far worse. Everything in his bag right down to the last piece of lint was removed and scrutinized. He had been away from home for almost a year, so naturally he had a lot of stuff with him. Thus, screening took quite awhile, and my friend was understandably fuming by the end of it. He was probably thirty seconds away from swinging fists. Of course, I would have to back up my boy there and jump right in with him. That would have been entertaining and all. But visions of the gulag began dancing in my head, and I thought better of it and got us out there.

And now for that shower… Oh wait. I was hoping the new SkyTeam lounge would open by the time we rolled through Beijing. SkyTeam’s website seemed to suggest the lounge was already open, but my hopes were dashed after receiving invitations to whatever contract lounge we would have access to anyway with Priority Pass at check in. The lounge wasn’t without its upside. It was directly across the hall from our departure gate, and it had plenty of seating. Everything else was… meh at best. It was poorly lit, not very clean, and both vittles and beverages were not attractive. Food offerings consisted of cup noodles, dried out dim sum, and sandwiches that might just make gas station sandwiches seem gourmet. Snow beer was the only beer on offer. It might be the world’s most popular beer, but Snow is probably one of the worst beer I have drank, maybe on par with Keystone or Natty Light. There were no showers, though given the state of the rest of the lounge that might have been a positive. All that whining aside, it was a far more comfortable place to wait than the hard benches in the terminal. We did find a couple of comfortable chairs in a quiet corner near some coveted power outlets, so we settled in there.

China Southern Airlines 6041
Beijing (PEK) – Ho Chi Minh City (SGN)
Depart: 1:40AM
Arrive: 6:30 AM
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 37D (Economy)
March 29, 2017


I was toying with the idea of paying for an upgrade for this flight since it would be the second redeye in two days for my friend and I. Heck, it was my third redeye in five days and, as I mentioned earlier, I have not slept more than a couple of hours since I left Houston. Sleep deprivation was starting to get to me, so a little bit of money to ensure comfort would be more than worth it. However, my friend talked me out of it and I’m glad he did.

The gate was practically deserted when boarding began, which is unusual in this day and age of air travel.



Our boarding passes were scanned and I made my way down the jetway in a zombie like state. It wasn’t until we sat down for ten or so minutes before it finally clicked: this flight was going to be empty. In fact, only ten more people joined us in economy class. It was a glorious sight and definitely conducive to getting some rest on this flight.

The last time I remember being on a flight this empty was back in 2000. My family and I were returning from a vacation in the Pacific Northwest, and the first leg of the return trip was a Delta flight from Seattle to Portland. The 757-200 operating our flight was late arriving from New York. We were pretty much the only the only passengers on the flight, and the door was shut as soon as we boarded. With a near empty 757 on short leg, climbout was an absolute blast. Fortunately, we pulled up next to the 727 that operated our redeye flight to Dallas. No such luck on the flight to Dallas, as we were the very last passengers to board and took the very last seats. I spent that flight crammed in the middle seat. Unable to sleep, I watched the awful movie playing on the flickering overhead CRT screens with the audio piped through the old tube headphones.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve had awfully good luck with empty middle seats while flying economy of late up until the Hainan flight to Beijing the night before. I suppose the travel gods decided reward me for my suffering on that flight, as this was like hitting the jackpot. Or the loads for this route could be just that bad. Whatever the reason, I was just thankful to actually have some space.

Whereas Hainan’s cabin color scheme was red, red, and more red, China Southern’s was very blue. The seats were fairly standard in width and pitch. Padding was a bit lacking; thus, the seats were on the firm side and very similar in comfort to the United 787 I flew to London.





I passed out even before the boarding door closed. The next thing I remember I was shaken awake by a flight attendant asking if I wanted to eat. More curious about what kind of meal would be served in economy on such a flight than actually hungry, I said yes. I figured it would a small snack; however, a tray bearing a full meal was placed on my tray table. I don’t remember the choices, but I got the stir-fried fish and black fungus with rice. It’s far tastier than it sounds. Everything was piping hot and delicious. I passed out again after eating and woke up in the middle of our decent to the unmistakable smell of cigarette smoke and the crack of dawn outside.



I couldn’t tell if it was a passenger or crewmember smoking, but the smell seemed to emanate from the front of the aircraft for what that is worth. Though it was unpleasant, it did pass. Touchdown at Ho Chi Minh City was smooth and ahead of schedule. We pulled into a remote gate next to a Vietnam Airlines A330-200. Prior to this trip, I have only used a remote gate once in my life for a mainline jet. This was the second one of the trip. While most people detest them, I actually like them quite a bit. It’s a throw back to the romance of the “golden age” of commercial aviation. Secondly, as an avgeek it is a great opportunity to get some unobstructed shots of the aircraft.





A bus was waiting for us, and the doors shut as soon as the last passenger was onboard. The driver must be practicing for an audition of the next Fast and Furious movie as we tore through the apron as if cops were hot in pursuit. A fellow passenger nearly ended up in my lap while taking a couple of fairly sharp turns. But we all made it to immigration in one piece, so that’s what counts. It seemed as if we were the first flight of the day to arrive as the immigration hall was a ghost town. Vietnam recently implemented an electronic visa program. Just submit an application online and email notification of approval will be provided. A paper copy of the visa approval is required for entry, which kind of defeats the purpose of the electronic program in my opinion. At any rate, we were both stamped into the country after a quick check of our documents.

After becoming instant millionaires after a trip to an ATM, we hailed an Uber and headed to our AirBnB in District 1. Overall, I’ve been very apprehensive about the whole AirBnB craze. I can appreciate its usefulness for large travel parties, but I still prefer the traditional hotel in most cases. So you can imagine I was a smidge apprehensive when my friend suggested we find an AirBnB for our time in Vietnam. Taking a step back, it’s funny that I have no problem staying in a room that’s used by hundreds of strangers a year, but I have an issue staying at someone’s home. My friend insisted on AirBnB, and I caved eventually. Man was I shocked when we arrived. This place was amazing.





There were two bedrooms both equipped with ensuite baths.







And a small, but fully equipped, kitchenette.



The owner even included a wifi hotspot with unlimited data for use during our stay. All of this cost us just $50 a night. To top it all off, it was fantastically located right in middle of plenty of restaurants and shops. I can’t say I’m an AirBnB convert, but this was a great first experience.

Showers and naps were the first order of the day, before heading out for some banh mi. Banh mi is one of my favorite Vietnamese foods. It is a sandwich filled with Vietnamese cold cuts, pickles, and fresh vegetables served on warm French bread. My favorite banh mi back home is from a restaurant in my hometown of New Orleans. The owners of the restaurant are a husband and wife team with a great story. They met during the Vietnam War, or War of American Aggression since I’m in Vietnam after all, while he was serving with the US military. After the war, they married and she immigrated to the United States bringing along her family recipes with her. Those recipes are the same ones used in the restaurant, and they’ve been serving up great food for a couple of decades now. Their original restaurant in outside of the city closed to make way for a Wal Mart Super Center a couple of years ago. But they reopened at a new location in Mid City after a fairly lengthy hiatus, and it’s as good as ever.

A quick Google search showed one of the most highly regarded banh mi shops in Ho Chi Minh city was about a 20 minute walk away, so that’s where we went. It was no frills assembly line type operation. There was a fairly lengthy line when we arrived, but it moved quickly. I'm pleased to say it was well worth the wait, and set me back under $1.



Both of us were exhausted from the last couple of days, so we took it easy our first day in Ho Chi Minh City. Exploring was limited to the immediate area near our AirBnB, which really wasn’t all that exciting and we were bored. There was a legitimate and highly related massage place nearby, that we hit up to kill some time. It was exactly what the doctor ordered after all those redeyes the last few days. We emerged relaxed and thoroughly refreshed.

Later that night, we headed back to the airport to pick up my friend’s wife. Her EVA Air flight departed Taipei on time, but for some reason they were put in a holding pattern just before arrival in Ho Chi Minh City. We made it to the airport before I noticed the hold on Flightradar24, so we were stuck waiting it there. Despite the relatively late hour, the entire arrivals area was buzzing with activity and made for excellent people watching through the thick haze of cigarette smoke, as it seemed everyone was chain smoking except us. There was a massive crowd of people waiting for arriving passengers. It was amusing to watch them anxiously glance as at their watches and smartphones intermittently while intensely scrutinizing the passengers emerging from the terminal. Their anxious looks turned to that of pure joy as they spotted their loved ones, and it was certainly heartwarming to watch their reunions.

A gentleman who was waiting for his daughter and grandchildren struck up a conversation with me after he saw my Texas Rangers t-shirt. His daughter and her family live in the Dallas area. You could definitely hear and feel the excitement in his voice when talked about their upcoming visit. This would be the first time he had seen them in five years as the trip is very expensive. That struck me quite a bit, and I could certainly relate to him given my own experience. Before I got into the frequent flier racket, I had not seen my family overseas in nearly a decade. Nowadays, I see them at least once a year. Jumping on these overseas trips at seemingly the drop of a hat feels like a relatively easy endeavor. Heck, I’ve even flown to Singapore over a long weekend just to make sure I re-qualified for elite status. I have done and seen so many things I only could dream of as a kid. While I have been very appreciative of being able to do these things before and I think I’m even more appreciative now.

My friend’s finally arrived about an hour late. It took another 30 minutes to find an Uber that wouldn’t cancel on us, and we were off to this late night barbeque restaurant. The food was excellent and the beer was ice cold.



During dinner, my friend’s wife asked how the AirBnB was. We exchanged knowing glances and decided to have a little fun with her. In short, we told her it was a hot mess with a lot of problems, including signs of a potential rodent problem. As you can see from the pictures above, the apartment was as clean can be. But better to set the expectations low at first, I say! Anyhow, she totally bought it and rationalized that we would only be staying there a few days. So one thing I left out before was that the apartment was located on the third floor in a colonial era building. It was accessed via steep and narrow spiral staircase were quite a bit of junk was stored, which gave further credence to our tall tail. Furthermore, the staircase is not lit at night.

When we started to go up the stairs, I’m sure she was thinking along the lines of, what the hell did these two idiots get me into again. As for my friend and I, we were laughing like a couple of idiots as we walked up the stairs. Until, we got to the second story where all heck broke loose. I was in the middle of a fit of giggles, when my friend’s wife let loose a blood curling scream and jumped back toward me. My friend turns around to see what’s going on, and his got wide and then he started really hustling up the stairs. At this point, I was still wondering what the hell is going on, and then I saw it: a giant rat just scurrying by. Though she was mollified when she actually saw the apartment, I’m not sure she has totally forgiven us yet. Well… Boys will be boys.

Last edited by dat4life; Mar 27, 18 at 6:02 am
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Old Oct 16, 17, 9:48 am
  #23  
 
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My favorite banh mi back home is from a restaurant in my hometown of New Orleans.
I spent time in Houston last year (I live in Johannesburg, so was very surprised), and had Banh Mi as good as I had in Ho Chi Min City. And the best was that it was a 3 minute walk from my condo!!

Your photo really looks good.
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Old Oct 16, 17, 1:25 pm
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Originally Posted by dat4life View Post

We were among last passengers to board. My first impression wasÖ red. Everything was red, including the carpet, the seat covers, and even the flight attendantsí uniforms. One of my biggest pet peeves with air travel is how long it takes most people to get situated on while boarding plane. It annoys me to no end watching people hold up the boarding line by camping out in the aisle seemingly packing or unpacking their entire carry-on bags. I make sure I have everything I need for the flight in my small carry-on, and Iíll only retrieve items from the overhead bin after take off, if I absolutely need something, or if Iím seated in the bulkhead. My fellow passengers on this particular flight took things to an extreme. I kid you not, pretty much every single passenger on that A330 was either standing in the aisle re-arranging their carry-ons or just standing in aisle to talk, either not caring or lacking awareness there were other people still trying to board the plane. Though we hadnít pushed back yet, the flight attendants already looked worn out trying get everyone seated.


Although I moaned about being stuck in the middle seat, I think I had it better than my friend in the aisle seat. People were constantly moving around in the aisle getting stuff from the overhead bins above him and dropping whatever item they were retrieving on him. Others would bump into him while walking around. To top it all off, the folks across the aisle from him and the good folks behind him were constantly coughing without covering their mouths. In short, the intrusions were constant, and my friend was more than a little annoyed.

I could not agree more with what you wrote here, dat4life. Wife and I flew on their A340 circa 2013 in J from YYZ to PEK and it felt like we were in a market. We were the only ... non-Chinese passengers ... in J and everyone was just yammering away loudly in Mandarin, standing or walking around all the way until we lined up for take off. I was prepared for this but I couldn't help but facepalm. The funniest was when the passengers could not understand why the flights attendants ask them to raise the blinds during take off and landing.
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Old Oct 16, 17, 2:57 pm
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Great report so far. Looking forward to your BR J review.
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Old Oct 16, 17, 5:06 pm
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Fantastic TR!!! Looking forward to the rest.
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Old Oct 17, 17, 7:01 pm
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Originally Posted by roadwarrier View Post
I spent time in Houston last year (I live in Johannesburg, so was very surprised), and had Banh Mi as good as I had in Ho Chi Min City. And the best was that it was a 3 minute walk from my condo!!

Your photo really looks good.
I hope you enjoyed your time in Houston! There is a large Vietnamese population in Houston, so there are many great Vietnamese restaurants around. Jealous you were able to walk to the restaurant though. I live in far North Houston, and it's at least an hour drive to decent Asian restaurants!

Originally Posted by injian View Post
I could not agree more with what you wrote here, dat4life. Wife and I flew on their A340 circa 2013 in J from YYZ to PEK and it felt like we were in a market. We were the only ... non-Chinese passengers ... in J and everyone was just yammering away loudly in Mandarin, standing or walking around all the way until we lined up for take off. I was prepared for this but I couldn't help but facepalm. The funniest was when the passengers could not understand why the flights attendants ask them to raise the blinds during take off and landing.
'

Haha. It is definitely a crazy experience! I felt really bad for the flight attendants since they deal with it daily.

Originally Posted by benjahman View Post
Great report so far. Looking forward to your BR J review.
Thanks, benjahman! I hope to get the rest of the report up soon.

Originally Posted by UAL250 View Post
Fantastic TR!!! Looking forward to the rest.
Thanks, UAL250!
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Old Mar 27, 18, 9:25 pm
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After a wonderfully refreshing night of sleep, we set out to explore the city. Of course, we couldn’t explore the city on empty stomachs. Not far from the apartment was a very restaurant that served a great breakfast. We started off sharing a large and amazingly fresh fruit platter, followed by fantastic eggs benedict. It was definitely one of the best breakfasts I have eaten in a long time.









Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum. When I was a kid, I preferred sitting down with a good history book than do pretty much anything else. In a somewhat ironic turnabout, my teachers actually took books away from me because I would rather read than listen to lecture. What I love, and still love, to read about is history, and more specifically US military aviation history. My favorite book was Great American Fighter Pilots of World War II by Robert Loomis. I read that book cover to cover probably close to a hundred times. Most 10-year-old kids can recite the statistics of their favorite athletes to a “T”. I knew the number of kills of the top American fighter pilots by heart. My interest eventually expanded outside of World War II, into the Vietnam War or War of American Aggression as it is known in Vietnam , and beyond. But everything I’ve ever read is from an American perspective, naturally. It would be interesting see things from the eyes of the other side.



No sooner did we purchase tickets for museum and step inside, did the heavens open up and the rains of monsoon season descended upon us.



All war is terrible and no war should ever be “popular”. Unsurprisingly, there was a large section on the anti-war movement in America.



























Afterwards, we walked to the nearby Independence Palace.





















My favorite part of the visit to the Independence Palace was the basement/bomb shelter. The basement is exactly what I imagined a Cold War bunker would look like.











It was even equipped with a kitchen…



Complete with a Mix Master.


Finishing up the Independence Palace, we cut across a beautiful park in search of dinner.



Midway across the park, we encountered a group of guys playing a game resembling hacky sack back home but with badminton net. Noticing our curious gazes, one of the guys beckoned us to come over with a big smile. We only spoke two words of Vietnamese, and they spoke two words of English. But through hand gestures and demonstrations, we had a pretty good game of whatever this is going, and it was a lot of fun.



We found this restaurant not far from the park with really good reviews on Trip Advisor. It was tucked away down a little alleyway lined some very friendly stray cats. Being more of a dog person, so I kept my distance. My friend’s wife, however, loves cats, and naturally she went gaga over the cats. Slowly but surely, we eventually reached the restaurant. Although it was deserted, our first impression was very positive, as it was clean and bright. But everything went downhill from there. Service was slow, and the food was mediocre at best. How in the world did this place warrant 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor? We soon found out. After we were finished, the waitress came to ask us if we enjoyed everything. I said yes, to be polite. The waitress got very excited, almost too excited. She asked if I could write a review on Trip Advisor for them. In hopes of ending the conversation and paying the bill so we could leave, I said of course. Big mistake. She then insisted that I do right there. I tried to make an excuse that we didn’t have internet access, but apparently the restaurant has wifi. She stood over me, until I agreed to do it there and insisted on reading it before she gave us the bill. I just slapped some dong down, and we got the hell out of there.



We picked up a cake and some fruit to celebrate my friend’s birthday, which was a little earlier in the month. Once back at the flat, we cracked open the last of our Chang beer stash we bought the day before. The cake was fluffy and delicious, the mango was fresh and ripe, and the beer was refreshing. This was certainly one of the more unique birthday celebrations I’ve been part of, and I could think of far worse celebrations.

The next day, we headed back to the same diner and enjoyed another delicious breakfast of fruit, fried eggs, and waffles. The plan was to visit the Chu Chi tunnels, located about 60 kilometers outside of the city. The Chu Chi tunnels are a part of the system of tunnels used by the North Vietnamese as a means to move troops and supplies without being interrupted by the American bombing campaign. We spent most of breakfast trying to figure out a way of getting there, as the tunnels are located in a remote area. Uber seemed like the most logical option. But there was no guarantee the driver would be willing to make it all the way out there or, more importantly, take us back. But we decided to give it a shot. Our request was promptly accepted, and a Hyundai Elantra pulled up several minutes later.

The driver got nervous when he saw our destination, but he started driving anyways. I figured he was antsy about picking up a fare back to the city just like be we were. There was a bit of a language barrier, so I thought it would be best to hash it out when we got to the tunnels. It took nearly two hours to reach the tunnels. On the way, I was trying to figure out a way to communicate with the driver. I eventually remembered we had the hotspot, so I connected to that and used Google translate to get the message across. It worked like a charm. The driver looked relieved when he saw the message, and answered back he pause the ride and wait for us as long as we needed. Which was a relief for us, because if he left I seriously doubt we could have found a ride back.

Tickets to the tunnels cost $5 a piece, which I thought was very reasonable as it was a guided tour. But first we had to get to the tunnel entrance, and it was quite a walk from the ticket booth.

On the way, there was plenty of remnants of the war on display, including a staple of US military still today: casings from 500 pound “dumb” bombs. Cluster bomb casings and rocket pods used by helicopter gun ships were also on display.







Bomb craters from the intense American bombing campaigns still remain. Judging by the number of craters in that area, the claim of the craters resulting from a B-52 bombing run appears plausible.



We met our guide at a little covered pavilion, where a movie about the war and the building of the tunnels was also shown. Our guide was a rather interesting fellow. He had a keen sense of fashion dressed in Kelly green fatigues and sandals. Judging by his serious demeanor, he seemed to be a soldier and appeared to be old enough to have actually fought in the war. But as tour progressed, he showed a quick wit and dry sense of humor. I bet he certainly has some really good stories.

The first tunnel of the tour was the one of the larger ones. And even so it was a tight squeeze. A really tight squeeze. My friend and his wife are fairly slender, but even they had trouble getting through. I am definitely not slender, and I had a ton of trouble getting through.





The entrance to the next tunnel. Yeah... No. There’s no way in hell I’m fitting in there.



One of the Australian blokes in our group decided to give it an old college try.







The infamous booby traps.



The third tunnel we entered was far larger and elaborate, and all of us could stand up straight. It was even equipped with an operating room. Regardless of what side you’re on, you have to acknowledge the ingenuity and persistence to create something like this.





Escape tunnel.







By the time we finished the last tunnel, rain was starting to come down. So we ran back to the parking lot to find our driver patiently waiting for us. We were glad to be back in air-conditioned bliss after several hours of hiking around in the tropical heat and humidity. The ride back into town was quicker the outbound since traffic was lighter. Our time with the driver spanned over 120 kilometers, nearly 7 hours, and pretty much door-to-door service. The fare was paltry 500,000 VND, and we slipped him another 1,000,000 VND for his trouble and waiting time. That translated to $65, which was a bargain.

Beat from the long day, we stuck close to the flat spending our last evening in Ho Chi Minh City just hanging out.
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Old Mar 27, 18, 9:32 pm
  #29  
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As I mentioned in the introduction, I needed to be in Hong Kong the day after I left Vietnam for my grand uncle’s funeral. There are a multitude of non-stop options between Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong, including a plethora of low cost carriers and the usual suspect, Cathay Pacific. Cathay is a fine airline, and I have been very fortunate to flown them many times. But why not check out something new? There was one particular airline that caught my eye, Vietjet. Vietjet gained a bit of notoriety a few years back for trying to become the more successful Hooters Air. With a very attractive fare of $85 including baggage and seat selection, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to see what all the fuss is about, right?

I rolled up to the airport about two hours prior to scheduled departure. Vietjet, like many other Asian low cost carriers, separates their check in lines by flight. The line for the Hong Kong line was long, but it moved rather quickly. I was beckoned to approach the counter by a smiling agent about 20 minutes after I arrived. When she furrowed her brow after a bout of furious typing, I knew something was very wrong. She then asked to see my confirmation. Once I pulled it up on my phone, I immediately figured out what the problem was. I have flown over 1,000 flights and 1,000,000 miles, and this was the first time I have ever booked a flight for the wrong day. There was nothing else the agent could do, so she shipped me off to the ticketing counter to see what they could do. The far less friendly agent at the ticketing counter informed there was exactly one seat left on the flight, that could be procured by paying an additional 11.4 million dong, or ~$500. No thanks!

The terminal didn’t have free wifi, so I headed downstairs to the Burger King in the arrivals area and purchased a drink so I could use their wifi and figure out my options. For whatever reason, all of the remaining flights that day to Hong Kong were pretty much sold out. Cathay was still selling seats on their late evening departure, but they were asking for an absurd $1,600 dollars. Of course, there wasn’t any award space available either. Flights departing the following day were far cheaper; however, it wasn’t an option as the funeral began at 10 AM. However, Cathay was offering award seats in both business and economy on their redeye from Singapore to Hong Kong. Debiting my AAdvantage account 22,500 miles secured me a Business Class seat on that flight. And $80 secured me a seat on Tiger Air’s 5PM departure to Singapore. Add checked bags and an assigned seat, the cost was a palatable $100. Of course, I wish I didn’t have to spend the extra cash and miles, in the end it was relatively small price to pay for my mistake.

Check in for my Tiger Air flight to Singapore opened two hours before departure, so I still had about an hour to kill. Say what you want about the evils of smartphones, but there is no better way to mindlessly kill time.



Check in was a breeze, as was security and immigration. And now off to find a lounge. Lounge options were scarce at Ho Chi Minh City Airport to begin with. But thanks to Priority Pass, I had access to what appeared to be the best out of the sorry bunch, the Orchid Lounge, which also happened to be near my gate. The Orchid Lounge was nothing special, but it had some free hot food, drinks, and wifi. So it did the trick. I setup shop near a window, and enjoyed the tarmac views while downing a few somewhat cold Chang beers to calm my nerves.

On the way to the airport, I noticed dark storm clouds begin building up in the distance. Rain began coming down in buckets sometime before I was able to check in to my TigerAir flight. It was still coming down at a heavy clip by the time I reached the lounge, so I figured my flight would be delayed but I still headed to the gate about 30 minutes before departure. Scheduled departure time came and went with no sign of the plane or an announcement for that matter. I decided to stick close to the gate things to be on the safe side. I wasn’t too worried about self-connecting in Singapore as I had about five hours to do so. Just in case, I bought a six pack of Chang to preemptively prepare myself for anything that might go wrong for a whopping $1.50.

TigerAir 2329
Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) – Singapore (SIN)
Depart: 5:05PM
Arrive: 7:30 PM
Aircraft: Airbus A320-100
Seat: 2F (Economy Class)
April 1, 2017


About an hour after scheduled departure, a break in the storm arrived bringing with it the Airbus A320 that would be taking me to Singapore. And immediately, the ground crew sprinted into position to turn the aircraft around. The speed with which the crew turned the A320 around was impressive, and it would have made even a crack Southwest Airlines ground crew take notice. Fifteen minutes after the chocks were set, the plane was cleaned, catered, refueled, and ready for boarding.



Quick turns are all the rage in the airline industry for good reason. Back in 2014, American Airlines began service from their hub in Dallas/Fort Worth to Hong Kong. The inbound flight arrived in Hong Kong around 6 o’clock in the evening, and the aircraft didn’t depart Hong Kong until the following afternoon. The aircraft operating the flight is a Boeing 777-300ER, which has a list price of a cool $248 million. While the actual sales price is nowhere near that list price, American didn’t invest nine-ish figures on an aircraft to have it sit for over 15 hours at an one of the most expensive airports in the world to park a plane. To improve aircraft utilization, American began a second daily flight to Hong Kong from Los Angeles in 2016.

Judging by the crowd in the gate area, the flight would be packed. Not sure how I found such a great fare at literally the last possible moment, but I’m not complaining. Since I purchased a preferred seat assignment, I was in the first boarding group. Once onboard, my first impression of TigerAir was quite positive. The black leather seats and dark gray carpet looked generic and rather boring, but everything seemed fresh and to be in good repair. I found my seat, 2F, quickly and settled in. Legroom was tight even for my average height self, which was expected. Seat padding was surprisingly decent, and downright generous compared to Lufthansa’s slimline seats.





The efficiency of the boarding process was much appreciated. Twenty minutes after boarding began, the cabin door was shut. Compared to flights back in the US, the lack of massive carry on bags was very noticeable. Tigerair is a true low cost carrier charging for everything from seat assignments to checked baggage. However, their fees are very reasonable. I can’t say for sure there’s a direct correlation, but it is certainly amazing how much more quickly the boarding process is.

The sky darkened rapidly during boarding, and by the time the cabin door was closed sheets of torrential rain was falling again.. I thought for sure we’d be delayed further because of the latest round of weather. But the wing walkers braved the rain to make an appearance, and pushback occurred in what like seconds after door closure. I was rather impressed with that the ground crew still gathered to waive good-bye to us, as is the norm at many Asian airports in my experience, given the weather.

Rain was still pelting the fuselage and the winds really picked up while taxiing. Thankfully, takeoff went without a hitch. Winds continued to buffet the plane during climb out, making for a rather rough ride. The plane did breakthrough the top layer of the storm over Ho Chi Minh City several minutes after takeoff. The ride didn’t improve, as there were lines of storms all the way to Singapore. I passed the flight watching lightning bolts illuminate towering thunderheads and pierce the inky black night sky. The light show was mesmerizing, and truly a testament to the beauty and power of nature. While it was beautiful, it was also a potentially deadly situation. Good thing our flight crew skillfully weaved us around the thunderheads allowing me to enjoy the show from a respectful distance.

I say “me” because it was apparent I was the only one in my general vicinity that actually had my window shade open. The rest of my fellow passengers seemed to be engrossed with the tablets and/or phones. I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to using electronic devices to waste time, but I also know there’s a time and place to disconnect and smell the proverbial roses. This was one of those times. As much as fly, this was the first time I’ve ever witnessed something of this magnitude. Those poor saps don’t know what they’re missing.

The flight attendants braved the rough ride to conduct in flight service, which consisted of buy on board everything. Some of the hot meals they were hawking actually looked pretty good and were reasonably priced. But the flight was only 90 minutes long, and I would have plenty of time to get a nice dinner at Singapore. So I passed.

Weather improved as we approached Singapore. The lower level cloud cover gave way to scattered clouds, and the twinkling lights of ships below became visible. As we began our descent over the Singapore Straits, those lights became more and more clustered. It looked like one could just walk from ship to ship into Singapore by the time we were making our final approach to Singapore Changi Airport. Landing was exceptionally smooth on Runway 20R. Unlike Singapore Airlines, the arrival announcement didn’t include a “warm welcome home” for Singaporeans. I’m sure they were very disappointed.

We parked at Terminal 2 in between a Scoot 787-8 and a Singapore Airlines A330-300. Because I had checked bags, I needed to clear immigration to claim them and check them back in with Cathay Pacific. Immigration was a non-event for me, and the immigration officer even encouraged me to hop the MRT into town and get dinner. While tempting, I was tired and decided to stick it out at the airport. The lady at the counter next to me didn’t have the same luck with her immigration officer. From what I overheard, she didn’t have proof of an onward ticket and the immigration officer wasn’t having it. There are “rules” and then there are RULES. I suppose immigration rules are in the latter category. That said, my immigration officer didn’t ask me for my onward ticket taking my word for it.

After grabbing my bags, I hopped on the train to Terminal 1 where Cathay Pacific’s check in counters was located. Check in was thankfully open more than four hours before my flight. Free of the burden of my massive bags, I headed back through immigration and into the cavernous terminal. An invitation to the Danata Lounge was issued at check in, which is a fine facility for a contract lounge as I found out later. But I decided head to the Qantas Lounge, which I could access by flying Cathay Business Class or my with oneworld Emerald status. My experiences with Qantas Lounges have been very positive with respect to food, liquid nutrition, and facilities. This was no exception. I was welcomed into the excellent facility after quick check of my boarding pass. The first order of business was hitting up the spacious and well appointed shower rooms for a nice hot shower, followed by delicious dinner of carrot soup and chicken curry accompanied by several glasses of a nice Australian chardonnay. My immediate needs sated, I found a quiet corner of the lounge to settle down in the comfortable seats. There were plenty of USB and universal power ports available, which I appreciated.

I left the lounge an hour before departure to take a way around. Singapore Changi Airport is considered to be one of the world’s finest airports. It spacious, airy, and one of the most attractive designs I’ve ever seen. If there were an airport I actually want to have a long layover without lounge access, it would be Changi. With the luxury shops boutiques, such as Tiffany’s, Gucci, and Fendi, dotting the terminals in between gates, Changi resembles a high end shopping mall. In fact, it’s far nicer than many of the high-end malls I’ve visited in the US. Far better food and views too. People watching is fun. But people watching while sneaking peaks out the window to see a Singapore Airlines A350 pushback and an Emirates A380 touching down on Runway 20R… That, my friends, would heaven for me. If the Houston Galleria is anything like Changi, I’d be happy to go shopping with you all weekend long, honey!

Although this was just a short redeye flight, I was very much looking forward to this very unexpected Cathay Pacific flight. I can’t say I’ve flown Cathay very much. In fact, it’s actually one of the airlines I’ve flown least, logging only 22 flights covering 51,272 miles. But Cathay Pacific is by far my favorite airline, because it’s just driving a Honda Accord. I’m sure someone in Cathay’s marketing department just had a coronary, but hear me out. I certainly don’t intend that as an insult, after all I love Accords. I learned to drive in my dad’s 1996 Accord. When I graduated high school, I was the proud owner of a new 2004 Accord, which I for over ten years and 200,000 miles before trading it in for a 2014 Accord Hybrid. Another 100,000 miles later, I still love my Hybrid. The Accord isn’t class leading in many respects, but it does everything consistently well. That’s why I love them, and that’s why I love Cathay Pacific. Cathay doesn’t have the best or flashiest product, but they do everything so consistently well resulting in a great all around product.

On the way to the gate, I decided to stop by the Danata Lounge to check it out and put my invitation to good use. I was pleasantly surprised to find a good-sized lounge, with plenty of hot and cold food options. It was a little dim in terms of lighting, but it was a perfectly acceptable contract lounge.

Security is done at individual gates at Singapore. Once clearing that, my boarding pass was scanned before I could actually enter the completely packed gate area. The flight tonight would definitely be packed to the gills, and I was more than glad to have ponied up the extra miles for Business Class. While there was plenty of people at the gate, there was no plane as the inbound flight was delayed due to the same line of storms that delayed me in Ho Chi Minh City. It finally arrived a couple of minutes before scheduled departure time. Boarding finally began 40 minutes after scheduled departure time.



Cathay Pacific Airways 714
Singapore (SIN) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart: 1:15 AM
Arrive: 5:05 AM
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 14K (Business Class)
April 2, 2017


Operating our flight this evening, or morning rather, was B-KQQ a Boeing 777-300ER equipped with Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy. As with every Cathay flight, a smiling flight attendant greeted me at the door and I was passed off to another flight attendant who showed me to my seat, 14K.







On their longhaul fleet, Cathay uses reverse herringbone seats for Business Class arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. It’s equipped with all the bells and whistles, including in seat universal and USB power ports, which is very much appreciated. Also appreciated is the overall level of comfort, space, and privacy the seat provides. This is the exact same seat American uses on their 777-300ERs, though I find Cathay’s to be far better padded.

As I settled in, I could help but grin. All of my flights up until this point of the trip were in Economy. With respect to the flights themselves, I really don’t have much to complain about. I got exactly what I paid for, point A to point B transportation, with few thrills. But by God, it is so much better up here at the pointy end of the plane. The only thing missing is a glass of champagne in my hand. Fortunately, the delightful flight attendant who escorted me to my seat made another appearance with a silver tray of orange juice, champagne, and water. She playfully suggested a glass of champagne is just what I needed to start the flight on the right foot. Great minds thing a like for sure! I slowly savored the first sip of the delicious golden liquid. Once it hits your lips, it’s so good. You best believe I enjoyed every single sip.



The purser soon came by to say hello and offer menus. I’m sure most folks back home wouldn’t dream of getting a menu on a flight covering just 1,588 miles, especially on a redeye flight. But yes, they certainly do exist and a full hot meal is still served. From what the conversations I overheard, it seemed most of my fellow passengers were Chinese speakers. So it was no surprise when the delightful flight attendant returned to ask if was interested in eating in Cantonese. Her jaw nearly hit the floor when I answered I would like to sleep in my heavily American accented Cantonese. That threw her in a loop, though she recovered admirably and carried on with an embarrassed laugh after asking which language I wanted to communicate in. I don’t have much of an opportunity to speak much Chinese anymore, so I decided to stick with Cantonese.

After the Captain came on the horn to announce a further delay due to cargo loading, she returned for a chat after checking up on the rest of the passengers on this aisle. Understandably, she was curious as to how I spoke Cantonese and proceeded to tell me she found my American accented rather… cute. We ended up chatting until pushback, which finally occurred over an hour after scheduled departure. Before she left, she asked what I wanted to drink after takeoff. I asked for my favorite non-alcoholic drink aboard Cathay, the Cathay Delight.

And then, I don’t remember a thing until waking up at the beginning of meal service. I did find a frothy chilled glass of Cathay Delight next to me along with a glass of water and a bottle of water in the water bottle holder.



Seeing that I was awake, delightful flight attendant scurried over from the cart to ask if I was sure I didn’t want to eat. Positive, ma’am. I quickly downed the drinks, and put the seat into lie flat mode. I didn’t wake up until we were 30 minutes from Hong Kong. Moments after I put my seat back upright, delightful flight attendant was back again and offered to get me something. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I definitely needed some assistance to say awake. So I ordered a cup of coffee and another Cathay Delight, which was kept topped off until we were well into our descent into Hong Kong. After tidying up the cabin, the delightful flight attendant came by once more for chat. She came armed with a duty free bag, which she gave to me with a wink and said it was just a little gift to remember this flight by at the end of our conversation. I opened the bag to find the rest of the plane’s supply of Cathay Delight along with handwritten instructions on how to make it.



Landing occurred just under an hour late, which wasn’t terrible given the delay. The parking brake was set after a short taxi, and it was off to the races for immigration. I thanked the wonderful crew on the way out, especially the delightful flight attendant, before joining the race.

What can I say about Cathay Pacific? Nothing amazing, but it was good. Actually, check that. It was very good, thanks to the wonderful crew. Again, just perfectly consistent well done.

Upon deplaning, it was familiar dance of immigration, claiming bags, and hopping onto the Airport Express. From Hong Kong Station, I got on the free bus for the Admiralty area hotels, including the JW Marriott where I would be staying. Hong Kong is the only city in the world I have never had trouble checking in early, even with an early morning arrival like this. I presented bleary-eyed self at the front desk at just past 7AM. The friendly agent didn’t have any issue checking me in at this hour, and even invited me to grab breakfast at the club lounge even though I wasn’t technically supposed to have access until the evening. Gratefully accepting the room key, I headed up to my room to freshen up.

The room was of very good size, especially for a hotel in Hong Kong, but the decor was rather plain and boring. It was obviously an older hotel, but very well kept. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the Conrad Hong Kong right next door.











After running through the shower, I went to club lounge for breakfast, which I was able to access with my Marriott Platinum status. An excellent variety of western and Chinese options were available. Having not eaten since I left Singapore, I was hungry and grabbed some lox and bagel as well as coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. And then it was off to the funeral and other family functions the rest of the day. While I love seeing my family, I was dead tired. I have no idea how I stayed awake rest of the day, but I somehow did until about 8PM when I finally returned to the hotel after a delicious roast goose dinner. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit pillow and slept soundly until early the next morning.

Last edited by dat4life; Mar 27, 18 at 9:47 pm
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Old Mar 28, 18, 11:00 am
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Your HCM-part brings back memories. Thanks
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