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Naples via American First Class and BA Club Europe

Naples via American First Class and BA Club Europe

Old May 15, 18, 10:07 pm
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Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Arizona, USA
Posts: 2,298
Naples via American First Class and BA Club Europe

Introduction
I had good reason to take some time away.
The past few months since my last trip report have not been easy. I was sacked from my job and then got diagnosed with cancer. I lost pretty much everything, and I’ve had to go through some rather powerful anxiety.

Fortunately, I am looking forward to opening my own practice (probably in July), and that will be a happier place for me and for my patients. Moreover, I seem to have stabilized health-wise, and I can look forward to sedating you with many more tedious trip reports.

I had planned this trip long before life sort of collapsed. My stepmother wisely reminded me not to cancel anything. I’d already paid for most of the trip already. The trip would be a useful reminder that life goes on.

I have a group of friends in Berlin, and we’ve known each other for decades. Three of them rented an AirBNB in Naples, and they urged me to come along. I have a stash of AAdvantage points, and it’s not like they’re earning interest.


Choice of Flights
I had my choice of flying to Rome and double connecting through Philadelphia, going to Naples on Iberia, or breaking the trip up and flying by way of London. I think the taxes were about $120 on AAmerican vs. $1200 on British Airways. I’m sure that the World’s Favourite Airline would have been pleasant, but not worth of $1100 worth of pleasant.

I had planned to visit friends in Los Angeles for a day, but that fell through. Given the dearth of well-timed flights, I opted to double connect through Phoenix. This allowed me to leave an hour later, avoid the “Eagle’s Nest,” and keep moving. It worked perfectly.

I had read the many accounts of AAmerican First Class versus Business Class. I think I chose well by spending the extra miles on First.

Tucson “International” Airport
Check in was fast, friendly, and almost instantaneous.

My bags were pulled aside at the security checkpoint. Moron that I am, I inadvertently placed fairly large quantity liquids in my hand luggage. I was wondering why my bag felt over-packed. The TSA agent was shockingly pleasant and helpful, explaining that there was plenty of time, and no need to discard anything. “Don’t throw it out! That’s a last resort!” he explained. “It will take just a minute” Indeed, I went back to the ticket counter, they pulled my bag, and it was all resolved in less than 10 minutes. Nobody admonished me, nobody accused me of being an unconvincing member of an ISIS cell. No hassle, all smiles. I thanked everyone with deep sincerity.

7 May
AA 475
Tucson to Phoenix
A319 1D

Boarding was fast with three agents all working together. The flight was a scant 25 minutes but still included full inflight drinks and pretzels, WiFi, entertainment, and (sadly) the credit card speech.

Phoenix Airport
I don’t like the Phoenix Airport, but it was a fairly painless transfer. I had two good Americanos out of the Admirals Club machine, and I joked around with the receptionists. “You’re almost there,” they teased.

7 May
AA 2023
Phoenix to LAX
A321 1D

A second uneventful and fast flight. I watched one episode of “Last Week Tonight” and we were on final descent. We arrived—unexpectedly—at Terminal 5 in Los Angeles. I still erroneously view this as the “Delta Oasis Terminal.”

Flashback
I had this flashback to late November or December of 2001. I was on the shuttle bus at LAX. The only other passenger was an American Airlines flight attendant in her 20s. She was sullen, holding her arms. I would not have ordinarily struck up conversation, but this was an exceptional time. I just said, “Hi.”

“Every time I think it is going to be okay, something else happens,” she said. She burst into tears.

We hugged in an odd, “I don’t actually know you” manner. She wiped her tears, and we split ways as we got off the bus.

LAX
The lengthy layover at LAX went by very fast. I indulged in a 20-minute massage at “Xpress Spa.” Despite lousy reviews, I thought it was great. There was no wait, the masseur was experienced, professional, and polite, and he spent far longer than the designated time. It felt terrific.

Flagship Dining
This was effortless. The staff were all obliging and friendly. And the food was delicious. It is served with lightning speed. I had two of their signature Brown Derby cocktails (complete with honey syrup). Sufficiently tipsy after two drinks, I had the cornmeal-crusted trout with baby carrots and quinoa. Dessert was berry and Meyer lemon crumble with yogurt. It was tart and tasty.

The servers seemed to be enjoying themselves, making small talk among the handful guests.

Other items on the menu included scallops, lobster pad Thai, and a burger.

There is plenty to eat and drink in the main buffet area, but the “Flagship” dining is well worth a visit.

I had a quick shower, and I was amused that the phone in the shower room rang. It was a robo call with “exciting financial opportunities!” I mentioned this to the concierge who shared my laughter. “They’ll find you anywhere,” she chuckled.

7 May
AA 136
LAX to London/Heathrow
777-300 1J

I headed down to gate 41 far too early. I was surprised that the sign said “boarding in 31 minutes.” I later figured this out: the flight was nearly empty. There were only 80 passengers in economy.

Once on board, the two cabin crew serving first class introduced themselves, handed out menus, and made certain that everyone was comfortable. They had pajamas, amenity kits, water bottles, but repeatedly reinforced that one should not hesitate to ask for anything at all.

When talking with passengers, they knelt down, listened attentively, and seemed to have all the time in the world. They also ascertained forms of address. I offered my first name, and they were pleased to oblige, but they used courtesy titles for others.

Although first class was full, one would never know it. It’s so quiet and calm that one did not hear any conversation.

The captain made a brief, casual but warm welcome. “We’ll be there before you know it.”

The seat is great. It is not Lufthansa First Class, but I was the only passenger in Lufthansa First on my last trip. There isn’t the same openness as the Lufthansa cabin, in exchange, the seat is nicely private and isolated. I tried out the business class seat as well, and I can understand remarks about how it is even more private. But seemed narrower and cocoon-like. That is not necessarily bad, but I liked the space of the first class seat.

Service was at one’s own pace. The crew offered their meal suggestions, and they paced the meal service according to each passenger.
SMALL PLATES

Shrimp Cocktail
lemongrass ginger coconut sauce, papaya slaw

Peppercorn-Crusted Chateaubriand
pumpernickel toast

Pineapple Bites
Manchego, dates

SOUP
Wild Mushroom Velouté

SALAD
Baby Kale Romaine and Spinach Salad
trumpet mushroom, watermelon radish
Your choice of plum lemon verbena vinaigrette or balsamic vinaigrette


Assorted gourmet breads will be served with your meal

MAIN PLATES
Filet Mignon
Café de Paris butter, papas bravas, haricots verts

Coconut Crab Cakes
Five-spice tomato sauce, herb couscous

Lamb Scotch Quail Eggs
mashed potatoes, mushroom demi-glace, Brussels sprouts

Miso-Glazed Tofu
vegetable soba noodles, roasted asparagus, pickled ginger

DESSERT
Traditional Ice Cream Sundae (Haagen-Dazs)
vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, butterscotch, seasonal berry toppings, whipped cream, pecans

Gourmet Cheese Board
Smoked Gouda, jalapeño Jack, aged white cheddar

Warm Fig and Brie Cobbler
caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream

Caramel Sea Salt Tart
flaky butter crust

BREAKFAST
Traditional American Breaskfast
scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon, roasted potaoes, herbed tomato

Fresh Fruit Bowl
Granola, Greek yogurt

WINE LIST
BUBBLES
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Champagne, France

WHITES
Merryvale Chardonnay Carneros, Napa Valley
Kornell Cosmas Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige, Italy
G.D. Vajra Pétracine Riesling, Langhe, Italy

REDS
CrossBarn, Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Quivira Elusive (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre), Dry Creek Valley
Oldeburg Vineyards Rhodium, Stellenbosch

I had the mushroom soup, the tofu, the caramel tart, and the “Rhodium.”
The soup was quite salty, but it’s mushroom soup on a plane. What would one expect?

The purser liked me description of the salad, which I described as “kale-infested.” He assured me that I was not alone in my aversion to raw kale. If you’re unconvinced, listen to episode “K” of “Mastication Nation” for advice pertaining to the cooked (i.e. edible) version. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/...234088168?mt=2

The tofu was quite good. It had a strong ginger flavor, which I liked. I do think it would have been much better served cold, particularly since the soba noodles and asparagus got all a bit mushy. The crew agreed that it should be a cold dish, but it’s still good. It smelled fantastic.

I felt guilty enjoying anything that shares a name with Cecil Rhodes, but the wine was exceptional. Let’s just imagine that it was named after the scholarship, not the man.

I’d eaten quite a bit, so I didn’t wander back to the “walk up bar.” Maybe on the way back?

By the time I had finished watching “The Post” dinner was over, and it was time for bed. There is a lot of bedding with which to contend, but it’s all quite nice. It made for a sort of fluffy, cushioned seat. The pajamas were soft, and I felt very much at home.

I fell asleep, waking up a few times amid turbulence. And—bingo!—I heard the happy noise of clinking glassware, indicating that it would be time for breakfast and descent.

We had a beautiful approach over the City, including a view of the Tower Bridge, Parliament, and Hyde Park.

Despite a fast approach and taxi, the jet bridge at Heathrow was broken. There was about a 30-minute wait for steps and busses. One couldn’t really complain; we were still there right on time. And this meant certainly no wait for bags to arrive. Since we disembarked from L5, I was one of the last passengers off the airplane. This was a benefit: no waiting on the bus.

Heathrow
There was a less than 10-minute wait at Fast Track immigration. The fast and not-so-fast queues had almost equalized, but the staff were particular about ensuring that Fast Track passengers were seen first. To my astonishment, the immigration officer smiled, said “good afternoon,” and she wished me a pleasant trip. They must be taking happy pills in anticipation of the royal wedding.

The trip through immigration would have been quicker had it not been for the American couple sitting near me. They completed their arrival cards, but had no idea as to where they would be staying. Seriously, folks, there is WiFi on the plane, and there was plenty of time to conduct research while we waited for stairs. I envision that they wrote down “The Louvre” as their intended accommodations in the UK.

(When Bart Simpson went on a trip without permission, his friend Milhouse advised his parents, “I have been selected to represent the school at the National Grammar Rodeo at the Sheraton Hotel in Canada.”)

National Express Bus
There was a short walk from Terminal 3 to the Central Bus Terminal. It was the hottest day in May, and the bus terminal was not air conditioned.

I arrived with just 20 minutes to spare. Although there was an earlier coach, it was delayed, and I stuck to my original bus.

They did not check any tickets. So much for the £27 I spent on the ticket. Oh well; I would have felt guilty if I had cheated them out of the fare.

The WiFi was broken, but I had an iPad and noise-cancelling headsets. Moreover, there were perhaps only a dozen passengers.

Although I’d thought of a private car, this was really quite easy, I couldn’t imagine paying so much more for an individual ride.


Hilton London/Gatwick
Although I had recollections to the contrary. The Hilton is not connected to the airport is one might expect. It involves a series of walks through a parking garage. It’s a grim reminder that one is at Gatwick: British brutalism.

The hotel seems desperate for renovation: the carpet is worn and dated; the walls and fixtures seem to be crumbling.

The staff were certainly not brutal at all. The three people who checked me in were witty, welcoming, and would have done anything to help me.

The Hilton involves a fair bit of walking, and my room was at the furthest distance from the lobby. Fortunately, this meant a new wing, a new room, and unquestionable peace.

The walk is worth it. Amid the “new wing” the building is set among grass and trees. There aren’t really nice paths, but it was pleasant to be outside and walk around. It reminded me very much of North Carolina. Maybe it was because it was hot and muggy, my mind dwelled on Duke flashbacks.

The room itself was more than pleasant. Its predominant feature was a large whirlpool tub and elaborate shower. These were the ideal remedy to my sore muscles.



Hilton London/Gatwick

The Executive Lounge was more “lounge” than “executive.” Again, nobody checked me in, but I didn’t mind. An honor system is fine. There was an open bar, crudités, cheese and crackers, soup. Nothing lavish, but not bad either. I was not terribly hungry.

The other guests made for fantastic people watching:
Several adults clearly over the age of 40 had draped themselves over the furniture. Let’s just say that it wasn’t exactly “Masterpiece Theatre.”

An American couple made their presence known. Their decibel level was at least four times that of the other guests. The first words out of the female half were a blaring, “Oh Christ!” There was an absence of power outlets for this woman’s iPad, and she was probably going to make a federal case out of it.

“Don’t you know that John made us!” she admonished in a laughably loud conversation. “Without him, we’d be nothing!”
Her husband’s phone rang; “Don’t answer it! Shush!”
They seemed like fun.
Thank goodness for John!

Other guests pounded away at their tablets and phones, oblivious to the complimentary entertainment.

Although I didn’t sleep so well at night, I woke up early, ate breakfast, and promptly enjoyed several perfect hours of sleep. Breakfast was quite nice, albeit without live entertainment. There was a nice array of croissants, pains aux raisins, yogurt, an espresso machine, etc.

Gatwick
There was once again a long walk across a tunnel and a garage to the terminal. This featured the usual suffocating cloud of cigarette smoke that characterizes the exterior of most airport terminals.

Once inside, I saw the crowds waiting for Ryanair check-in. Fortunately, I was not on Ryanair, and headed over to the British Airways check in. They have done nice work to adjust the lighting and carpet in the “premium” check in area such that it feels less Gatwickian.

The woman at check-in was both friendly and efficient, wishing me a good trip with a maternal, British charm. As I exited, another soft-spoken BA employee ensured that I knew where I was headed, and he wished me a pleasant flight.

The newer central security checkpoint requires a fairly long walk from check in, but that is perhaps psychological rather than geographic. One cannot see the entrance to security easily, so the distance is hard to establish.

The entrance to “Fast Track” was blocked by an Eastern European 20-something trying to argue his way in. Someone will have to break the news to him that it is the “Fast Track” security not the Princeton Admissions Office. Another staff member eventually arrived to take care of the crowd, and he was smiling, wishing everyone a safe flight. The argument was still afoot when I got to the entrance.

In the least British of ways, queue-cutting was popular. I felt like I was going to get trampled by about ten other passengers. At least the security agent had the decency to speak to people individually about their liquids and electronics. No screaming. No fuss.

The screening was very fast, as they reserve their whole-body imaging as a secondary search method. I was airside within five seconds once I got past the queue jumpers.

I noticed that security is quicker because there is no ID scrutiny. Americans are still under the baffling impression that shining a blue light on my Global Entry card will tell them if I am a member of Boko Haram. (The BH logo is only visible with black light and a look of suspicion and/or boredom.)

British Airways Terraces Lounge
The lounge entrance was staffed by a more experienced man and a guy who looked about 15-years-old. I know that cost cutting is important for BA, but is child labor really the way to do it? In any case, I was offered a warm welcome.

The lounge was crowded. Very crowded. It also had an average passenger age of about 127 years. Passengers who did not match the average age, had a blood alcohol content of about 127 percent. There was a selection of warm pasta that smelled awful, baked beans, a vegetable curry, and a few salads. The bar was much more elaborate and well-stocked, and there were espresso machines. I did not stay too long, as it felt more claustrophobic than anything else. There is an upper floor that was marginally quieter.

More about Gatwick
The walk to gate 11 amused me. Although the chairs were now purple vinyl, everything else looked the same as it did in the 80s: low ceilings, dark corridors with scant views of the airplanes themselves, queues stretching far outside the entrances to the gates, and nowhere to sit. Although Tegel is often heralded as a bleak example of brutalist airport architecture, Tegel seems like a Ritz Carlton compared with the South Terminal. Also, there is caramel pudding in the Senator Lounge at Tegel. There is no caramel pudding at Gatwick. I like caramel pudding.

9 May
BA 2608
London/Gatwick to Naples
A320 1C

Boarding was a challenge due to the monstrous sizes of hand luggage. Many were labelled as “cabin guaranteed,” which led to ire among passengers. The baggage problems were eventually resolved, and we were able to push back.

The crew of three were polite and helpful, especially the purser. Once again raising questions about child labor, one of the crew was on just her third flight. She looked really young. Despite her youth, she appeared confident, and I have little doubt that she was well-prepared for an emergency.

The seat was a bit of a pain since everyone seemed to be tripping on top of me. This was especially problematic for the Italian high school student in 1A. She kept tripping face forward into me, then tried to regain her balance. This provided far too many encounters with her excruciatingly tight leggings.

Lunch/dinner was served:
STARTER
Scottish smoked salmon with horseradish crème fraiche

MAIN
Massaman beef curry with khidchdi rice

Tomato and mozzarella tortellini with prawns and four cheese velouté

DESSERT
Sticky toffee cheesecake

and

British Coastal Cheddar cheese with caramelized apple jelly and crackers


The food was fine. It tasted exactly like one would expect cheese tortellini to look and taste on a plane. The broccoli, in particular, looked like it had been prepared in a washing machine. It did not taste so poorly, and I was hungry. The best part was the cheddar and apple jelly. In fact, they could have just served me two plates of that, and I would have been happy. The cheesecake bore no resemblance to sticky toffee, and “sticky toffee pudding” has always sounded like an express ticket to dental caries.

There was a choice of reds, and the Merlot was surprisingly good for airplane wine. (I did not see the bottle.) I also had a good cup of tea, and we were on descent shortly thereafter.

Although there is no WiFi nor entertainment, the flight is only 2h15 with a multi-course meal. Any reasonable adolescent or adult should be able to handle it without excess boredom.

Naples Capodichino Airport
There are no jet bridges at Naples, but we parked at a hard stand with the luxury of walking to the terminal. For the sake of labor unions, safety, etc., one usually has to take a bus even if it is a 20-foot walk inside. I was grateful to avoid that hassle.

As I was one of the first off the plane, there was no wait at immigration. There were three staff, which seems remarkably efficient for any airport. A bored agent had no questions and stamped my passport.

The wait for bags was 30 minutes. This is inexplicable given the short distance to the airplane and lack of other arriving flights. I felt a bit annoyed because I had something like 15 messages. It astonishes me that I won’t get calls or texts for several days, and then everyone calls while I am on a plane. Many called two and three times because I had not answered immediately. At least phones are permitted in the Customs hall so that I had something to do during the 30-minute wait.

The Blacklane driver was ready and waiting, and had built in the waiting time into the trip. Although taxis in Naples have a flat fee, I do not speak Italian. I figured that the “flat fee” was rather like the similar fee from JFK to Manhattan. It is quadrupled for non-English speaking tourists. The Blacklane was €10 or 15 more than a taxi, and I liked avoiding the hassle.

Due to traffic and baggage claim, it ended up being a 6h45 trip door-to-door.

Renaissance Mediterraneo
After what felt like an endless taxi ride, I made it to the Renaissance, which I liked very much.
I had been upgraded to a suite on the top floor, which was particularly pleasant. The view of the harbor was unbeatable. I liked the hardwood floors, soaking tub, and particularly large-sized room, especially by European standards.

Breakfast was included, and there was a large buffet of anything one would want. This included “rum baba” for breakfast. Nothing says “good morning” like a jarringly alcoholic cake. I once ordered “rum baba” in college. A friend said, “The rum baba… the forbeeeden dance!” That still makes me crack up, even though she made that joke in about 1995.

The Renaissance two beautiful decks overlooking the city and the sea. There is a small pool and sauna, and lounge chairs overlooking the picturesque city.



Renaissance Naples Mediterraneo



View from the rooftop pool, Renaissance Naples Mediterraneo


View from my room at the Renaissance Naples Mediterraneo


I limited my time there as another guest was in the pool while swiping around on Tinder. He might have better luck with women if he stopped vaping and discontinued consuming two bottles of beer simultaneously. It would have been hypocritical of me to play “dating coach” since I am single. Maybe the vaping and drunkenness are really “chic magnets.”

There were a lot of Americans at the Renaissance, but they were much better behaved, polite, and not having meltdowns about power outlets nor Tinder swiping with carpal tunnel-inducing speed.

At the bar, one American said to his friends, “I’m going to go do something Italian.”
I was scratching my head at this remark. This wild card statement left a lot of fascinating room for my own speculation. I admit to becoming a bit concerned but morbidly transfixed.

He meant that he was going to smoke a cigarette. That seemed anti-climactic.

More Naples
This was not the “museum tour” so to speak. It was a group of friends, and we spent the majority of our time drinking and hanging out. We watched soccer, consumed a lot of beer, coffee, and pizza. I became enamored with sfogliatelle.

Bedtime was 06h00 even though we are all in our early 40s.

We had an AirBNB that was built in the 16th century, but had been equipped with nice, modern bathrooms, and enough room for the four of us. The balcony was a bit narrow, so we sat lined up in a row. One of my friends referred to it as the “EasyJet Balcony,” as we were all in a row with little legroom and plastic cups of beer.



The EasyJet Balcony


Pompeii was our one big cultural expedition. No, we didn’t take a boat on the Amalfi Coast or visit the Blue Grotto. Those will happen some other time. Our priorities were elsewhere, and it was a short trip.

Americans at Pompeii were more hilarious than anything else. One referred to the houses of unfortunate Pompeii residents as “condos.”



Curious items for sale in Naples


Naples Capodichino Airport
Despite a timely arrival at the airport, there was a long wait to check in. It was close to 25 minutes for “priority” passengers. There was only one agent working. She was very nice, but it didn’t seem like a terribly efficient system.

To quote Jack Donaghy, “in Manhattan real estate there are no rules. It’s like check-in at an Italian airport.”

I headed upstairs, where there was no wait for security, and the staff were friendly and smiling. It took less than three or four minutes.

I then backtracked to the “Caruso – Sala VIP.” It is a small but adequate lounge. There was a gifted barista, good pastry (including sfogliatelle), and enough places for everyone to sit. It does not, however, have windows.

The BA flights depart from the opposite side of the airport, so the entire walk was a zigzag. The gate was swarming with people, baffled as to where to go. Again, only one woman was checking boarding cards, thereby making this a slow effort. She was still quite friendly and thanked everyone.

I eventually found a priority line, which got me on to the bus quickly, and I was the last passenger to board, thereby minimizing time standing on a crowded, hot bus.



A320 awaits at Naples


13 May
BA 2607
Naples to London/Gatwick
A320 2C

The cabin crew were once again inviting and attentive. They always referred to me by name, smiled, made frequent rounds through the cabin.

As for the menu…
STARTER
Antipasti plate with minted yoghurt dressing

MAIN
Butter chicken curry with coriander rice, naan bread, and spicy onion bhaji
or
Braised beef stroganoff with horseradish and parsley mashed potatoes

DESSERT
Toffee, apple, and pecan wedge
and
British Coastal Cheddar cheese with caramelized apple jelly and crackers


Again, the cheese was the best part of the meal.

Indian food usually travels well, but this was pretty bad, especially the miniature naan. It’s not the worst airplane food I have consumed, but it was not good. The tea was excellent.

The flight was smooth and fairly short thanks to a tailwind. Moreover, we had a short taxi to Gatwick/South.

The crew once again offered warm thanks, saying everyone’s name and smiling.

Gatwick
We had a very long walk to passport control. At least it is a brighter, well-lit walk. It is somehow less chilling than the 1971 flashback of the departures level.

I arranged for the “Gatwick Premium” passport control service, and I am glad I did. There were enormous lines due the recent arrival of at least one Norwegian jumbo jet from the US. The few pounds spend on priority access were well worth it.

I was escorted to the front of the queue, and the immigration inspector was smiling, courteous, and very fast.

Bags were quick: just about a five-minute wait.

I headed outside to the next National Express bus.

Gatwick to Heathrow
Once again, my ticket was never collected, redeemed, nor charged. But I did not refund it. It was a service I paid for, and their fare collection system is just a bit haphazard. We made it to Terminal 5 in just under one hour.

Walking around Heathrow
I took the opportunity to visit the landside aspects of Terminals 2, 4, and 5. Heathrow seemed busy but not messy. There were no long queues; things seemed more or less under control.

Terminal 4 was unrecognizable. I remember when it opened! The dark red counters are gone, and the black digital signs have been replaced by flat screens. It also seems lot smaller; maybe that’s because I remember when it opened, and I was about seven or eight years-old.

Sofitel London/Heathrow
One can argue the merits of the Sofitel over the Hilton at great length. Neither one is truly convenient to Terminal 3. Likewise, I could have stayed in London itself, but chose not to endure the trek.

The Sofitel seemed quite all right. The room was whisper-quiet, comfortably-furnished, and very big. Even the hallways and lobbies seemed nicely protected from noise.

Sofitel must put a great effort into scent marketing, as it is almost overpowering as one crosses the corridor from Terminal 5 into the hotel. It is a pleasant, slightly soapy scent. These are usually far subtler, but it marks a clear boundary between the airport and the hotel.



Sofitel Heathrow


Although I was too sleepy to use either, I checked out the gym and spa. The spa, in particular, would be a nice break for a weary traveler: the sauna and “hydrotherapy pool” seemed hot but pleasant. There was a long corridor of treatment rooms. All of this was empty aside from the staff.

Likewise, the tea room had a serene feel to it. If one happens to be landside at Heathrow 5, it would be a good break from the crowds.

The lounge, “Club Millésime,” is nothing to write home about, but certainly a step up from the Hilton at Gatwick. The “Club Millésime” was also too small to do its job, and seats were in short supply during cocktail hour. There was, a nice choice of bread, cheese, grapes, and a good blackcurrant cake. There was also a small open bar. As one might expect from the Sofitel, the lounge was quiet despite the overflow of guests.

Breakfast, though unspectacular, was still nice. There were viennoiserie, baguettes, pots of cereal, a little fresh fruit, and self-service tea and espresso drinks. Many guests opted for a hot breakfast (black pudding, sausages, and eggs were available.)

A Sidebar About Heathrow Security
For those of you who know me, or know my writing here, I get worked up by airport security. (Snakes and tornadoes are the only other problems, but one encounters these with less frequency.) It bugs many people. I see my patients tense up at the very thought. Most everyone has some story of abuse, power tripping, or other idiocy.

One may find me to be a hypocrite, as I am usually unfazed by security at my former home airport, Tel Aviv/Ben Gurion. There are always horror stories about it, but I zip through it. London is another story.

I was especially dreading flying American. As discussed in other threads, their security “interviews” can be elaborate and hurtful. I watched a woman cry after being asked about her dead pet in front of a crowd of passengers. American agents have asked how my sister’s cat died, they asked my father how my mother died, they have asked me about my high school headmaster (Dr. Donaldson), and my last utility company bill.

Given that I had just been fired, I did not want to talk about my “relationship with my boss” nor find his phone number.

I found myself trying to memorize the names of restaurants in Italy and what I ordered, so that I could name them when asked at Heathrow. I practiced in my head the name of the mayor of where I lived, how much my utility bill had been, the cost of my gym membership, where I bought my jacket. Of course I could have just lied, but the charade of the interview is contrary to my personality. Why have a fake interview with fake questions?

I spoke with my own doctor about it several times. His best advice was: don’t fly on American.

I finally caved and took a risk. I emailed the Five Star desk and explained that I was anxious enough already, and I was fearful of being unable to answer their questions to their satisfaction. I also added a brief explanation why this was so bothersome. I wrote diplomatically, without hyperbole, and deeply feared that I would arouse more suspicion.

An endearingly kind email arrived from an agent in Raleigh, assuring me not to worry, and that she would contact London for me.

When I checked in, I had TSA PreCheck, which I figured would bode well.

Heathrow
A cheerful voice from Flagship Check-in called to ensure that I knew where to meet her, and we set a roughly designated time.

The trip from the Sofitel to Terminal 3 seemed to take forever. Air conditioning was broken on the train, a zipper on my suitcase was being fussy, and I was almost 30 minutes behind schedule.

Despite my fears, it was fine.

I arrived at Flagship check-in, and a cheerful, witty woman was ready for me. She had me all checked in, bag tags ready, and full of jokes and stories. “I got your email,” she said, “We don’t have questions for you.”

We made small talk, which she laughingly assured me was really just small talk.

I think she wants to send her son to me as a patient, and I think she might have been serious. I got the impression that I’ll find them at my doorstep.

We walked right over to Fast Track security, where there was no wait. The woman at the entrance smiled, said hi, asked if I was leaving for holiday or coming back, and—of course—if I’d had a good time. This was not some behavior analysis; this was a soft, genuine cheeriness.

Security was painless. The woman from American was assigned to the full-body scanner, but I got the metal detector alone without incident. A genial South Indian man at the metal detector smiled, said thank you, and wished me a good trip.

Although I came close to leaving my iPad, laptop, and liquids hidden beneath a bin, I caught them at the last second.

The rest of the terminal looked quite good. Very good. It is all much more sparkly and attractive than in the past. The walks are still long, but the corridors and gate areas are much more spacious.

Flagship First Class Lounge
This is soon to be refurbished, and it needs it. The lounge is drab, the windows just face grey walls. The chairs are standard-issue airport lounge. Sure, there are dumpier lounges in the world, but this one is not suitable for international first class. I think they are to remodel it this year.

The coffee was revolting. You have been warned.
And the “freshly squeezed orange juice” was freshly-squeezed prior to being pasteurized and frozen.

The staff were a delight. They were posing for photos with a country music star, laughing with each other, and told me about their plans for a party in the lounge for the Royal Wedding. They really seem to love their jobs.

The duty manager came by and shook my hand, wishing me a pleasant trip, and that I was welcome any time.

Once the lounge gets fixed, they will have a very high-end product.

14 May
AA 81
London/Heathrow to Dallas/Fort Worth
777-300 1J

We took a cart (or “buggy” as it is called in England) to the furthest end of the terminal.

There did not seem to be much in the way of extra security at the gate. From what I saw, nobody was being frisked on the jetway, nor was there a swabbing or electronics display. Perhaps they are more discreet these days.

Once at my seat, I was “handed off” to the purser, and given a fond farewell. I was also told that one can request a specific Five Star agent any time.

The captain offered a brief and friendly greeting after pushback, and we had a short taxi.

The flight took us over Scotland, north of Ireland, south of Iceland, then Labrador, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Oklahoma. (I know I left out some key landmarks there, but you have the idea.)

Lunch was quiet, individually-paced, and gracious. I tried desperately to get the crew to use my first name instead of “Mr.,” but they wouldn’t budge.
SMALL PLATES
Poached Native Lobster
gem lettuce, crisp apple, Marie Rose sauce

Heritage Tomato Salad
gazpacho dressing, baby mozarrella

Roasted Duck
hoisin barbecue sauce, carrot, beetroot salad

SOUP
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
roasted mushrooms

SALAD
Super Food Salad
curly kale, edamame, mango, pomegranate

MAIN PLATES
Barbecue Short Rib of Angus Beef
sweet potato champ, red cabbage slaw

Slow-Cooked West Country Pork Belly
saffron-braised fennel, white bean cassoulet

Malaysian Monkfish Curry
steamed basmati rice, coriander cress

Chickpea Tagine
pan-seared halloumi, cumin yoghurt

DESSERT
Traditional Ice Cream Sundae (Ben & Jerry’s)
vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, butterscotch, seasonal berry toppings, whipped cream, pecans

Gourmet Cheese Board
Black mature cheddar, Cenarth Brie, Yorkshire blue

Caramelized Orange Cake

Warm Spiced Victoria Plum Crumble
crème anglaise, vanilla ice cream

LIGHT MEAL
SELECTIONS
The Spaniard Gourmet Hot Dog
slow-smoked pork hot dog, chorizo, onions, peppers, aioli, hand-cooked sea salted crisps, fresh seasonal fruit

Mediterranean Salad
tzatziki sauce, sautéed asparagus, roasted eggplant, roasted bell peppers, fusilli pasta
Marinated harissa-spiced lamb served on the side


DESSERT
Cookies
baked on board


The wines were the same as the outbound.

The tomato salad was noteworthy. It was a bit salty, and I did not recognize anything resembling gazpacho, but I loved it. It seemed to have quinoa, or some similar grain. It looked beautiful, and it was delicious.

The Jerusalem artichoke soup was arguably a bit salty, but still very good. It was warm with a handful of delicious dark mushrooms. Unlike United and Delta, American serves quite a large bowl of soup. I am not complaining.

The tagine was good. Again, it’s nothing like a traditional Iranian tagine, but I still ate every bit of it. It seemed rather like a garbanzo-ed version of the lentil chili from domestic first class. There were bets of Halloumi, which is one of my favorite foods (it should usually be served coated in Lipitor, but this is not a “healthy eating” lecture.)

The bread was especially good on this flight: fresh, warm, and the basket came by several times.

The caramelized orange cake was surprisingly good. It is perhaps bland, a bit of comfort food, but that was the idea.

I fell asleep effortlessly, and I surprised myself that we were already over Labrador when I awoke. I always have to remember that it is nice to make to North America, but the distance from northeast Labrador to Dallas is 3800 km (2400 miles—the same as JFK to LAX.)

Again, I did not feel hungry enough to indulge in mid-flight snacks, but I did see entire trays with sandwiches, cut and whole fruit, and I am sure they had anything one would want.

The pre-arrival service began just about 60 minutes prior to arrival.

The fruit plate looked suspiciously like the description of the “superfood” salad without the kale. It consisted of perfectly ripe mangoes, strawberries, and pomegranate seeds. I thought it was fantastic.

The salad was quite good. Although the asparagus was a bit soft, the rest was fresh, and the tzatziki was strong. I enjoyed it. I think it should have come with some warm bread, but that’s not necessarily a majority opinion.

We then enjoyed very good, warm cookies and Lily O’Brien chocolates.

We began our descent just under 30 minutes from landing.

The crew offered enthusiastic thanks, and invited us back any time.



Thank you for the ride


Dallas-Fort/Worth Airport
Global entry was closed.
I had not heard of such a thing. The kiosks were still functioning, but one proceeded through Immigration just like everyone else. It took an extra 20 minutes or so, and I had to answer where I had flown from, where I had been, if I had bought anything.

At least it meant no wait for bags. But there was no Global Entry exit.

I asked, and an airport employee said, “We’re all confused. No Globals today. They will have it next week or something.”

That’s not great.

I made my way through the snaking queue of passengers, and finally out into the terminal.

It took just under 30 minutes from seat to landside. That’s still not bad, and it was quicker than my last arrival, which took far longer with Global Entry.


Grand Hyatt DFW
Despite the mess at Customs and Immigration, I found myself right by the escalator to the Grand Hyatt.

I received an email from the manager while in flight, welcoming me, and encouraging me to use mobile check in and mobile key. I did use the app, but it just completes everything by saying, “Please go to the check in desk to obtain your key.” I think they have some kinks to work out.

The Grand Hyatt is familiar territory, and I enjoyed a spacious room, view of the apron, and beautifully firm bed.



At the Grand Hyatt DFW


I like the restaurant there, where I enjoyed a light dinner and good glass of wine. My attempts to stay awake were futile.

I grabbed breakfast at Moka, their small café, where a charming server was eager to get me very good coffee, juice, and a particularly good muffin.


Luggage
I bought swank new luggage after my last trip. I decided to go “uptown” and get a nice rolling suitcase with matching components. It was from “Bric’s,” an appropriately Italian brand, with Moleskine design. It was all the right size, and it looks beautiful.

It’s just that it was not a marvel of craftsmanship.

The first zipper broke before I even left home. The second broke in Naples. The third broke in Dallas. By the last flight, a checked bag turned into hand luggage.

I hope that I can just replace the zippers rather than having to resort to buying new bags.

I always thought that Tumi and Rimowa were too expensive to be worth it. I’m starting to rethink that.

DFW
There was no line at all for check in nor security. Everyone was polite and efficient, and I was airside within two or three minutes. The ID inspector and metal detector woman both smiled and said, “thank you.” This was in sharp contrast to my last few trips through Dallas. It’s a remarkable and welcome change.

I headed up to the Centurion Lounge, which was very crowded (the Admiral’s Club is under construction,) but I found a place to sit. It is worth noting that the Centurion Lounge has a slightly hidden dish of freshly-made chocolate chip cookies by the entrance. They are delicious.


15 May
AA1583
Dallas/Fort Worth to Tucson
737-800 3E

The two gate agents were organized, ensuring that everyone and their bags made it on board. The flight was full, and there were quite a few staff travelers. With a quiet, smiling effort, they had everything ready with time to spare.

The 737-800 was an unfamiliar setup to me: there were overhead monitors, not in-seat video. The seats were a light grey, which looked unlike other American Airlines cabins I recognize. Everything was clean and comfortable.

The crew were particularly attentive. At least one was in the aisle at every moment, offering refills, snacks, headphones, etc. Despite the short two-hour flight time, we were offered a choice of a cheese plate or—errr—I don’t know. Something white. I had the cheese, which came with crackers, grapes, and a dark chocolate. I washed it down with “Le Val 2016 Merlot,” which I quite liked.

Without further ado, we made a descent over the Sonoran Desert, and enjoyed a very short taxi to the gate. To my astonishment, bags started arriving in less than two minutes, and mine was the third to hit the belt.


“Semi-Pro” Tips
What I read on the internet versus reality.
  1. One may order any type of espresso drink at any time of day.. Cappuccino in the late afternoon? Sure. We were all downing espresso macchiatos in the late afternoon with impunity. Although we might have stood out as tourists; Naples is a city full of tourists. The stern warnings of “espresso only after 9:00 am” were unfounded.
  2. To me, there is a meaningful difference in comfort between first and business class on American Airlines. There are not many flights that offer first class, but it is worth the extra miles if the opportunity arises.
  3. Fast track immigration was enforced and quicker than the regular path at Heathrow.
  4. “Premium Gatwick” was worth the extra few pounds as a non-EU/UK citizen.
  5. Do not pay for seat allocation on BA short-haul unless there is a compelling reason to do so. That was a waste.
  6. There widespread debates and calculations about paying for hotel rooms with points and miles. All I can say is that this trip was much easier when I checked in, and everyone said, “I see that your room is already paid-for.”
  7. Resist the temptation to purchase Bric’s luggage.
  8. The cost of Five Star service has gone up, but it remains one of the best products that American has to offer. I would not hesitate to pay for it again, even with the price increase.
Conclusion
This was a great trip. The flights went well, the hotels worked out, I am fortunate to have such good friends, and I have forged a new relationship with sfogliatelle.

For those of you coming to Phoenix in August, I look forward to seeing you then.

Last edited by Mats; May 16, 18 at 8:31 am
Mats is offline  
Old May 16, 18, 2:23 am
  #2  
 
Join Date: May 2008
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Fabulous TR. I'm sorry about your job situation and hope the work life improves once you adjust to your return home. The Napoli trip sounded fabulous, esp your easy jet balcony with your Berlin friends.
The AA 5-star service sounds essential and worth the expense!!
gaobest is offline  
Old May 16, 18, 3:10 am
  #3  
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
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Great trip report. Thanks for sharing.

Did you know that on this itinerary, you would have been allowed access to the Qantas First lounge at LAX (both ways) since you were in longhaul F. It's in TBIT, and only a short 5-10 min walk from the flagship lounge, but well worth the trek.

Similarly, when departing LHR T3 you could have tried the Qantas, BA and Cathay lounges. The Cathay one has a First class section which is really nice.
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Old May 16, 18, 8:33 am
  #4  
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Posts: 2,298
Frequent Flyer 101, Thank you!

I had originally planned a lounge tour at LAX. But by the time I had a massage, dinner, and shower, it close to boarding time.
I thought about asking for one of the other lounges at Heathrow, but I was a "Flagship" guest of American, and I felt that it would somehow be gauche to ask to go to another oneworld lounge. Maybe next time around.
Mats is offline  
Old May 16, 18, 10:30 am
  #5  
 
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Thank you for the trip report, but more importantly, so glad to hear things are improving for you. I look forward to reading about more of your adventures! Stay well!
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Old May 17, 18, 7:11 am
  #6  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
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Programs: really nothing anymore
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Welcome to Tucson! A very nice report. I'm stunned about your bags in Tucson. I'm always 20-30 minutes waiting for bags - whether I'm EXP or a nobody.
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Old May 17, 18, 7:40 am
  #7  
 
Join Date: May 2016
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I have to smile a bit at the juxtaposition of getting off an AA F-class flight and on to a National Express coach, practical and sound as that choice of transportation to Gatwick is!
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Old May 17, 18, 8:12 am
  #8  
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Originally Posted by 757FO View Post
Thank you for the trip report, but more importantly, so glad to hear things are improving for you. I look forward to reading about more of your adventures! Stay well!
Thanks so much. Happy landings.

Originally Posted by catmndu View Post
Welcome to Tucson! A very nice report. I'm stunned about your bags in Tucson. I'm always 20-30 minutes waiting for bags - whether I'm EXP or a nobody.
Yeah, that was indeed a surprise! I'm not sure if this is a long-term change, but I was delighted. Glad to know that there are more of us in town.

Originally Posted by NeedstoFly View Post
I have to smile a bit at the juxtaposition of getting off an AA F-class flight and on to a National Express coach, practical and sound as that choice of transportation to Gatwick is!
I thought about this too. A car service would have been faster on the outbound; no difference on the return. I figured that the coach would have WiFi, "bring your device" entertainment, and they supposedly know how to avoid traffic. If only they had kept their helicopters flying.
It reminds me of when I was right out of college: I got to fly in business class across the Atlantic many times, but I stayed in the dumpiest of youth hostels while I was there.
Mats is offline  
Old May 17, 18, 4:01 pm
  #9  
 
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Thanks for the TR: what a time you've had.

British immigration is always fairly genial. I got Global Entry as the grillings I got in US would put me off travelling!
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Old May 17, 18, 5:03 pm
  #10  
 
Join Date: Dec 2001
Posts: 3,144
I can't really see what more one can really get in F except a larger flat seat and caviar? I went in Business and I was in heaven. The British Awardsare a freaking joke. However I did use Avios miles on Cathay Business and paid peanuts. Best of luck with your treatment. LOL I was in Phoenix in August and felt I was on fire. We stayed inside and saw nothing it was so hot. TWA was on strike and we had to fly on Bonanza from Las Vegas to New York via Phoenix. Good to know about the Renaissance Hotel. Looks nice. Would like to do the whole Amalfi Coast.
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Old Jun 10, 18, 3:48 pm
  #11  
 
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Sedation by trip report - I love it! Truth be told, your latest effort was pretty engrossing, enough to have kept me up later than I would have liked last night. Thanks for another fine report!

As an aside, I totally concur with First Class being worth the added investment. Having recently flown First on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, my strolls through their highly regarded Business Class cabins reinforced my opinion that if there's a First Class cabin on the airplane, I want to be seated there. That larger seat and caviar mean a lot - to me at least.

Here's wishing all of your future travels are so nice!
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Old Jun 10, 18, 9:33 pm
  #12  
 
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I lived near Napoli, in Bacoli, and your routing brought back some not so fond memories, LOL. Sticking with oneWorld while in Italy meant either connecting via MAD on IB (no thank you) or via LHR and LGW as you did. Back in 2009 to 2011, BA was still running the 737 on LGW to NAP, which was fantastic if only for the 2-3 configuration on the 737. After a brief flirtation with AZ, I finally settled back with *Alliance and easy connection via the 06:40 flight to MUC.

Thanks for sharing! Despite it's reputation, Napoli has some real hidden gems!
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Old Jun 11, 18, 3:36 pm
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
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Firstly, wanted to wish you a full and long lasting recovery. And your stepmother is so right!

Secondly, superb TR - loved your dry humour, concise observations and superb story-telling ability. This is the first report of yours I've read but so enamoured, I'm now going to search some of your previous ones and pour myself an accompanying glass of bordeaux!

Finally, keep up the positivity...truely the best medicine.
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Old Jun 11, 18, 4:13 pm
  #14  
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@Sealink, I had only memories of sinister immigration agents at Heathrow/Terminal 4. This trip proved that they were actually really very pleasant.

@Seat2A, the champion of trip reports! Thank you so much!

@CHOPCHOP767, indeed Naples had a lot to offer. I think it was a great place to spend a few days. I'm glad that you had the opportunity to live there. I agree that a transfer in Frankfurt or Munich would have been more efficient, but I happened to have all of the miles on oneworld.

@Escapade, thank you. Indeed travel and laughter are great cures, and I recommend them. I also wouldn't turn down a glass of Bordeaux!
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Mats is offline  
Old Jun 12, 18, 2:56 pm
  #15  
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Firstly sorry about the job situation and then a diagnosis of cancer, at least it seems that things are moving in the right direction.

Enjoyed the trip report, especially the part about the halloumi cheese being coated in Lipitor, I laughed so hard that I spit my afternoon coffee reading that, thanks for the smile.
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