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ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Autumn Travels at Home and Abroad

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Autumn Travels at Home and Abroad

Old Feb 2, 23, 4:39 pm
  #1  
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ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Autumn Travels at Home and Abroad

Hey there! Remember me? Seat 2A. I used to publish trip reports here at FlyerTalk’s Trip Report Forum. Over the past twenty years I’ve written eighty trip reports totaling over 1.4 million words. Be that as it may, the last time I submitted a trip report here was in December of 2019 - just a couple of months prior to the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of you may remember that report, a 60000+ word epic (to my way of thinking, anyway) describing a multitude of autumn rail excursions through and around New England before heading north and traveling across Canada in style aboard Via Rail’s Canadian to Vancouver. From there I boarded Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess for a three night four day cruise down the West Coast to Los Angeles. Then I relocated to Memphis, Tennessee where I boarded the considerably smaller paddle-wheeler Queen of The Mississippi for a seven night journey down the lower Mississippi River to New Orleans. What a fantastic trip that was! Should any of you be so inclined to revisit that journey at any point, you’ll find it right HERE.

To be sure, this pandemic has definitely cast a pall on a couple of the more report worthy long distance trips I had planned for 2020 and 2021, most notably a First Class extravaganza to Capetown, South Africa where I’d planned to board the luxurious Rovos Rail train for an eleven day rail cruise up through Zimbabwe and Zambia to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; thereafter to continue on to the Seychelles Islands and Mauritius for a couple more weeks of sun and fun before returning to Alaska for another exciting summer driving travelers around the wilds of Denali. Also in the works was a possible trip to the South Pacific starting with Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and finally the Marquesas Islands, returning home via Papeete, Tahiti.

I live in Alaska and as any of you who’ve read my “reports” know, I’m not a guy who gets two or three weeks off per year and takes the occasional vacation. For the past 37 years I have worked in Denali National Park where I spend four and a half months per year driving visitors on day trips into the park. The other seven and a half months are open to interpretation and reinterpretation as the year progresses. Sometimes my offseason plans include work but most of the time they involve travel. I figure it out as I go. Mostly I like to think I just take my life on the road for a while – sometimes quite a long while.

It’s worth noting for those of you who are new to my trip reports that I am an independent single traveler. Though compromise is always an eventual necessity for two or more people traveling together, as a solo traveler I get to go wherever I want and do whatever I want - whenever I want - without ever having to consult with or work it out with any travel companions. I suppose it’s a trade off, really. We humans are social creatures. Shared experience and adventure in life mean a lot to us. As for me, while there’ve been plenty of Seat 2Bs on shorter trips, the biggest issue for me traveling with others on longer trips is my impulsive nature and thus willingness to change tack on a moment’s notice. I may start out with a specific destination in mind, but it’s a small world these days and if something comes up that sounds good at the time, even if it’s on the next country or continent over, and I can pull it off, why not? For me at least, this is the stuff of which adventure is made!

But I’m wired that way. Not everybody is. A friend of mine once pointed out how many well-known travelers and travel writers tend to travel alone. Theroux, O’Hanlon, Stevenson, Danziger, Cahill, Bryson et al. Any of you who’ve had the pleasure of reading their books and reveling in their many adventures would have to acknowledge that if any of them had been required to reach a group consensus in the course of their travels, it’s likely their trips would have been more worthy of a slide show at home rather than the subject of the bestselling books they became.

Here at the Trip Report Forum for Flyertalk, I get the sense many of you like to read about the Suite Life, as experienced aboard the likes of an Emirates 777 or a Singapore A380, maybe even a Lufthansa 747-8. I can state from considerable experience that trip reports are ever so easy to write when the subject is being wined and dined like a plutocrat while cruising comfortably through the heavens. Indeed, when flying in First Class aboard the world’s finest airlines, pictures alone do a pretty good job of conveying the overall experience. Witness the magic of Flyertalk’s most popular trip reporter, the incomparable SFO777, who has regaled the Flyertalk community with countless images of a life most of us can only dream of both aloft and on terra firma. He really could have his own separate forum, such are the quality and diversity of his travels.

But I digress.

Getting back to my travels, I like a good trip, but more to the point, I like a good story. At present I am facing two problems. The first is that I haven’t written a trip report in over three years. Over the past couple of years I’ve started a couple of trip reports covering my domestic travels but they’ve both sputtered out. Can I still do it? Can I still write a halfway decent trip report to the standards I’ve previously established?

The second issue I’m facing in writing this trip report is that for the most part I won’t be traveling anywhere exotic while ensconced in a $120,000 First Class suite as I have so often had the pleasure of doing in years past. Rather, on this trip I’ll be traveling primarily in Business Class to Jordan and New Zealand and back aboard two of the genre’s finest practitioners – Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. Does anyone really want to read about Business Class travel after I’ve previously set such a high bar with so many First Class trip reports?

But wait! It gets worse! After I return to the US from overseas, I’ll be chasing the autumn colors along the Eastern seaboard from New York’s Adirondacks to Pennsylvania’s Poconos to West Virginia’s Appalachians to North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains via ten different excursion train rides. Be you a young av-geek from Asia or a well traveled road warrior from continental Europe, there’s a possibility that non-aviation related subject matter of this type could be appallingly tedious for you.

And finally, describing and/or photographing every little detail of the check-in experience, the lounge, the suite, the lav and the meal is not my strong suit. I’ve seen more than a few trip reports that do provide this level of detail and while they are indeed popular here at FlyerTalk, they’re definitely not something I have the patience to do. There won’t be any college level dissertations of the merits of this airlines’ Business Class or that airport lounge’s every little perk, and occasionally I may detour down Memory Lane as I see fit. On the whole, I’d like to think of my reports as being pretty casual, akin to taking you along for the ride.

I should note that a significant portion of this trip report “preamble” was written back in September just before I started off on this trip. A lot of travels have happened since then – some of them as originally planned, while others have evolved to be completely different - so much so that as I originally wrote this in September (I’m now on the final edit in late January) I had no idea of some of the significant travels that would eventually become part of this overall adventure.

In all, this trip report covers almost three month’s worth of travels covering over 70000 miles. Seven airlines will be flown, twelve trains will be ridden, eleven states will be driven through. Most of the flights will be in premium class accommodations, though only two will be in International First Class. And – although there are over 400 pictures in this report, there will also be a little over 72000 words – about the same as you’d find in a smallish, 250 page paperback novel. For those who prefer the quick and easy access afforded in a photo report, a report such as mine may not be right for you.

Ah… but therein lies the beauty of the Trip Report forum. You’ve got a choice – and a most impressive one at that. So if you don’t feel like reading about lowly Business Class transport or a bunch of potentially mind-numbingly dreary train rides through the colorful forests of the eastern United States, or even the style of the reporting that I employ, just hit your back button and you’ll be taken to an impressive selection of trip reports very likely to cover subjects in a style much more to your liking.

As for the rest of youse, most of you know the drill by now. Go fetch yourselves a plate of tasty vittles and a bottle (or two) of your favorite libation. Then find a comfy chair and settle in for what I’d like to think will prove to be a pretty entertaining trip report, especially given the evolution of the travels to be reported upon in their later stages. Here’s hoping you’ll enjoy tagging along.



POST INDEX

02. Qatar Airways Business Class ~ IAH-DOH ~ Part One
03. Qatar Airways Business Class ~ IAH-DOH ~ Part Two
04. Qatar Airways Economy Class ~ DOH-AMM
05. Qatar Airways AMM-DOH-AKL ~ Cancelled Trip ~ New Plans ~ Jordan Drive
06. British Airways Business Class ~ AMM-LHR
07. British Airways ~ The Concorde Room at LHR
08. British Airways First Class ~ LHR-SEA ~ Part One
09. British Airways First Class ~ LHR-SEA ~ Part Two
10. Alaska Airlines First Class ~ SEA-FAI-SEA
11. Amtrak’s Empire Builder ~ First Class Roomette ~ SEA-MSP
12. Gourmet Express Excursion Train ~ Hiawatha Sky Top Observation Parlor Car
13. Alaska Airlines MSP-SEA-SEA ~ Ferry ~ Olympic Peninsula ~ SEA-LAX-DCA
14. Adirondack Railroad ~ First Class Dome Car
15. The Stourbridge Line ~ Honesdale, PA
16. Colebrookdale Railroad ~ Garden Caf Car ~ Sunday Brunch
17. Jim Thorpe, PA ~ Caboose Motel ~ Strasburg Railroad
18. Western Maryland Scenic Railroad ~ Frostburg Flyer
19. The Potomac Eagle ~ First Class Dining Car
20. The Autumn Colors Express ~ Hollywood Beach Lounge Car
21. Cass Mountain Railroad ~ Bald Knob Excursion
22. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad ~ Nantahala Gorge Excursion
23. Alaska Airlines ATL-SEA-FAI ~ AS Mileage Runs to CLE, CVG, CMH & ORD
24. Amtrak’s California Zephyr ~ First Class Roomette ~ CHI-EMY
25. Desert Southwest Roadtrip
26. Singapore Airlines Business Class ~ EWR-SIN-DPS
27. Bali Tropic Resort & Spa
28. Singapore Airlines Business Class ~ DPS-SIN-SGN
29. Japan Airlines Economy & First Class ~ SGN-HND-ORD
30. Alaska Airlines First Class ~ ORD-SEA-ANC-FAI

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 3, 23 at 3:09 pm
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Old Feb 2, 23, 4:40 pm
  #2  
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Even though I left Alaska nine days ago and in the interim have flown down to Colorado, driven 800 miles to Las Vegas and then flown to Corpus Christi, Texas ~ Im going to start this trip report from Houston where Ill be boarding my 203rd airline flown enroute to Amman, Jordan. That airline will be Qatar Airways and I will be flying aboard its highly regarded Business Class between Houston and Doha, thence connecting to an Economy Class flight to Amman, Jordan. Ah, here comes the hotel shuttle van now. Lets head on out to the airport!


September 19th, 2022
Qatar Airways * Houston to Doha * 610p 500p * A350-1000 * Business Class


The International Terminal at Houstons George Bush Intercontinental Airport Terminal D is in the midst of a large scale make-over. As a result, much of the terminal looks like the construction zone that it is with concrete floors, brightly colored construction tape and temporary drywall passageways providing a utilitarian ambiance to the building.

Check-in went reasonably well once the family of four in front of me finally got all of their bags checked in. Rarely have I seen so much luggage piled so high onto a cart. Speaking only for myself and as a solo traveler at that the more Ive traveled over the years, the lighter I pack. I can easily fit everything I need for this excursion into my 22 roll-a-bord. That, along with my Trager daypack, is all I need be it a five day or a five week trip. I read somewhere that its now considered gauche for guys over the age of backpacker to be carrying around daypacks, and I suppose I could see that if youre walking into a board meeting at XYZ Corporation. As a traveler however, daypacks have been an indispensible part of my life and travels since my college days and I cant imagine traveling without the easily portable storage and organization they provide.

Qatar Airways contracts with KLM for lounge access at IAH. The lounge is located airside across from D-8, just a short walk from my departure gate at D-5. A sign at the lounge entrance indicated that KLM had been serving IAH for 65 years. I have one of KLMs First Class Royal Service menus from its Amsterdam Houston Mexico City route. The menu dates back to the mid-Seventies. With the current exception of Emirates, I cannot imagine an airline providing a more sumptuous feast for its passengers than KLM did on that flight of old.

The lounge is not very large and, with the ever increasing influx of passengers from both KLMs departure to Amsterdam and Qatars to Doha, space began to become fairly limited.



KLM Lounge at IAH


KLM Lounge at IAH


I found a work station complete with a very comfortable ergonomic office chair and set up camp there before heading over to the food and beverage island to peruse the offerings.



A nice variety of Salads and Chicken Quesadillas


Cheese, Hummus and Tomato Bisque


This ought to tide me over until dinner


As smaller lounges go, I thought the food offerings in this one were fairly decent. The food island was divided into three sections hot food and salads, cheese, crudits and soup and finally, beverages. In the food section there was a large serving tray loaded with generously sized portions of hot chicken quesadillas, complete with serving bowls of pico de gallo (a Mexican relish), guacamole, sour cream and salsa. Also on offer were a variety of salads including one with barley and couscous, a tri-color pasta salad and a broccoli salad. Just around the corner of the food section was a variety of cheeses, crudits, hummus, pita bread triangles and a tureen of tomato bisque soup. Alas, the drink selection was rather limited with the spirits offering being highlighted by the usual old standbys such as Jack Daniels, Stolys and Cuervos. I will say though that I quite enjoyed the beer on offer, a locally brewed pale ale from St. Arnold Brewery. I also sampled and rather enjoyed a nicely chilled glass of Australian Chardonnay.

My Priority Pass membership wouldve granted me entry into the Air France Lounge - located just four gates down the terminal at D-12 - but I was pretty comfortable at my work station with that comfy chair and so I stayed put. In years past, I probably would have checked out that Air France lounge just on principle, but after nearly 6 million miles of flying and lord only knows how many lounge visits, Im more into quality time over quantity of experiences. Theres a lot to be said for just enjoying the moment and not needing any more than that.

Flightradar24 indicated Qatars flight was due to depart at 6:25p about 15 minutes late. Accordingly, an announcement for boarding of our flight was made over the lounge PA system at about 550p. I gathered my gear together and ambled on down to the gate at a leisurely pace, fully expecting a separate Business Class boarding queue from an airline of Qatars prestige. Alas, it was not quite to be.

This was to be my first flight aboard an A350 of any variant (Qatars choice for this flight was a -1000) and even after fifty-eight hundred some odd flights aboard two hundred and three airlines, the excitement of my first flight aboard a new aircraft type is still vibrant. Ideally, prior to boarding I like to get a good look at the aircraft through the gate lounge windows especially when secure in the knowledge that Ill be comfortably sat somewhere between the fourth and sixth windows back from the cockpit. Unfortunately, tonight the aircraft was parked in such a way that only the very rear of the aircraft and tail could be seen.



Qatar Airways A350-1000


As for boarding, it was basically a zoo. Although there was a lane for Business Class, it was not marked or in any way identified. I only found out about it upon asking a uniformed Qatar Airways employee and once in the lane, I found that it only expedited your journey to the gate podium whereupon your boarding pass and passport were inspected. After that, you joined the mob and slowly made your way down a long zig-zag ramp before squeezing into a single jetway, much like cattle being herded into a chute. Along the way, two uniformed airport security officers with dogs walked amongst us checking us all out.

A phalanx of burgundy clad flight attendants was gathered at the door and in the galley just inside the door. Some were greeting passengers while others were performing various pre-flight duties in the less than spacious galley. I was directed to pass through the galley and turn left but there were three FAs in there, two of whom were engaged in conversation about some aspect of the pre-flight preparations. They took no notice of me and after another FA alerted them to my presence it still took a moment or two before they stopped talking and let me through. Once across, I then made my way down the narrow and crowded aisle to the front of the cabin where I stowed my rollabord in the spacious bin above Suite 2J and then stepped into the suite to get out of the way of a flight attendant emerging from the forward galley with a tray of beverages.



Qatar Airways A350-1000 Business Class Suite


Qatar Airways A350-1000 Business Class Suite


Ive flown aboard a lot of International caliber Business Classes from Austrian, Asiana, Thai, Lufthansa, Turkish, Air China, Singapore, South African, COPA and Avianca to name just a few, but Qatar is the first airline Ive flown that offers a sliding door on its Business Class suites.

The Business Class cabin of Qatars A350-1000 has 46 Q-Suites arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. Some of the suites face backwards and in the middle cabin groups of four could lower the partitions and easily have their own connected space. My first impression of the suite was how snug it is, much more so in real life than as seen from the many pictures Id perused in advance of the flight. The seat, sidewall paneling, seat side table and IFE screen were all tucked into a very compact space. The seat itself is listed at 20.5 wide and, like a lot of modern day Business Class seats, sports firm cushions that are seemingly designed to be more comfortable to sleep atop than to sit upon. Also, in its fully upright takeoff position the seat sits surprisingly low, much like BAs latest generation First Class seats. Sitting atop my pillow improved things somewhat and I found that after takeoff I was able to adjust the seat into a somewhat more comfortable position.

Part of the problem I think is that Ive flown a lot more International First Class than I have Business Class and so Im used to substantially more ambient space around my seat. And its not like I havent squeezed into a few snug Business Class suites in my day, but I think after reading all the good press and seeing all the well composed pictures of Qatars A350-1000 suites, I was expecting them to be a bit larger.

So lets take a few moments to check out my new home for the next fourteen and a half hours. A pillow, blanket and amenity kit were already in place at the suite when I arrived. After sitting down, I took a couple moments to ensure that the various electronic functions of the seat and suite were working. The time to discover any discrepancies is now while were on the ground while theres a better chance any problems might still be remedied. Once the plane is in the air, were unlikely to get any more than an apology.

A decently sized storage compartment was located in a nifty padded armrest that was recessed to my right. By pushing down slightly, it could be raised to provide a more comfortable armrest function. Located within the enclosed storage compartment were a set of noise cancelling headphones, the control console for my IFE and a bottle of water. I would guestimate the IFE screen was about 20 X 15, quite generous by most Business Class standards.



Qatar Airways A350-1000 Business Class Suite and IFE Screen


Finally I checked out the sliding doors and found that the overall perception of snugness was even more pronounced when the sliding doors were closed. I think Ill leave them open.

To be honest, the privacy of a totally enclosed suite is really not that important to me. I grew up flying 2-2-2 configurations (or worse in the bad old days of early Business Class models) and was just fine with it. Indeed, in terms of overall spatial ambiance and seat comfort, Id say KLMs 2017 iteration of its 777-300 World Business Class seat or South Africans A330/340 seats are nicer per my tastes and comfort than this Qatar Airways seat. That said, factors such as physique, age and health can definitely influence ones overall perception of seating comfort so take my comments here with the proverbial grain of salt as it were.

A few minutes after Id settled in, a flight attendant stopped by to present the menu and wine list. Might I be interested in a glass of Champagne before the flight? Hmm I may well be the only FlyerTalker out here whos not particularly enamored of Champagne. Ive drunk the high falutin Cristals and Krugs as well as the affordable everyday brands like Freixenet and none of them particularly excite me. But I can always choke down a glass of most anything in celebration of an upcoming quality inflight experience. So yes please, bring it on!

Tonights quaff is from a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, served in an attractive 7 tall flute. I took a moment to compose three traditional (for me, at least) Champagne glass photos before polishing it off and switching to bottled water.



Qatar Airways Champagne


Qatar Airways Champagne


Qatar Airways Champagne and Menu


Speaking of drinks, lets have a look at that Wine List

WINE LIST

Champagne

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve France
Taittinger Prestige Rose France


White Wines
J Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2019 California
Touraine Domaine de la Croix des Orbinires Sauvignon Blanc 2020 France
Mathilde Chapoutier Selection Rueda do Verdejo 2018 Spain


Red Wines
Chteau Corbin Michotte Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2015 France
McLaren Vale RockBare Shiraz 2017 Australia
Albert Bichot Moulin--Vent 2018 - Beaujolais, France


Dessert
Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest 2016 Hungary

Port
Taylors 20 Year Old Tawny Port Portugal

Spirits
The Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Chivas Regal Blended Scotch Whisky 12 Years Old
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
Grey Goose Vodka
Hendricks Gin
Barcardi Aejo Cuatro Rum
Bacardi Carta Blanca White Rum
Campari
Aperol
Martini Extra Dry Vermouth


Beers
Stella Artois
Leffe
Budweiser


Cognac & Liqueurs
Frapin XO VIP
Baileys Original Irish Cream



Oh yeah, I could definitely see a Woodford Reserve on the rocks in my not too distant future.

Interestingly, a man whom Im assuming was the Purser, stopped by the suite directly ahead of me to thank its occupant for I assume their loyalty to Qatar Airways. He spent a good five minutes or so chatting about who knows what and then turned his attention to the gentleman across the aisle and repeated the gesture but with a minimum of extraneous chitchat. I figured I would be next as pursers on airlines like Cathay and JAL have always stopped by to thank me for flying with them despite it likely being clear via the manifest that I am traveling on award points. While this welcome is a nice gesture, the individual recognition is not really important to me. Be that as it may, I couldnt help but be mildly surprised when Qatars Purser pointedly ignored me and strode past my seat with all the imperiousness of a French waiter. I gave him a little wave, anyway.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 4:44 pm
  #3  
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It was about 6:30pm when we pushed back from the gate and fired up the two huge turbofans powering this, the largest member of the A350 family. It was a warm autumn evening in Houston and the sun hung low in the sky as we made our way out to the runway. With an 8,030 mile long flight ahead and a full load of fuel and passengers, I should imagine were headed for the longest runway available at IAH, the 12,001 foot long Runway 15L/33R.

Take off is always exciting aboard a large jetliner, especially if 1.) Its your first ever flight aboard said large jetliner and 2.) youve got cocktails and a full dinner service to look forward to aboard an airline reputed to be amongst the worlds best in this regard.

As we climbed away from muggy Houston and soared into the cool blue yonder above, I set my IFE to the SkyMap and reclined my seat a bit to watch the multi-faceted entertainment unfold. Like most of the best SkyMaps, ours showed various views of the flight relative to the land below and even the planet below. Here are a couple of pictures from the first ten minutes of the flight.



Qatar Airways SkyMap ~ Doha Here We Come!


I used to think New York to Europe was a long flight!


We were about thirty minutes into the flight when a flight attendant stopped by to take drink and dinner orders. Interestingly, the flight attendants seemed to take a tag team approach to service on my side of the cabin (and I presume both sides) with no particular FA assuming the majority of the duties. Flight Attendant A would take meal orders while B might deliver your appetizer and C might refresh your drink. As for that drink, lets go with a double Woodford Reserve on the rocks please.



Woodford Reserve on the rocks a long cherished start to any great flight


My drink was accompanied by a generous portion of warmed mixed nuts and together they provided the perfect accompaniment with which to peruse this evenings dinner selections. As one whos been collecting premium class airline menus for almost 50 years, Id have to say Qatars Business Class menu was not particularly large or flashy in appearance. Ah, but its whats inside that counts, so lets open it up and see whats for dinner tonight


QATAR AIRWAYS
Houston to Doha

DINNER
Dine at any time of your choosing and in any order, from our extensive a la carte menu

Artisan Bread
Dip your bread or drizzle one of our fine olive oils on your favorite dish.
Monte Vibiano olive oils infused with balsamic vinegar, tomato chile and spicy lemon are available on request


Soup
Porcini and Chestnut Cream
Sourdough crostini and truffle oil


APPETISERS

Spanish Style Tapas

Mixed marinated olives, ratatouille, avocado and jalapeno dip

Dungeness Crab Salad
Lemon chili, red pepper coulis, mango and avocado

MAINS

Tea Smoked Chicken with Szechuan Fried Rice

Grilled pak choy, shiitake mushroom and ginger soy sauce

California Lobster Thermidore
Crusted potato with dill, saffron and mascarpone

Pulled Veal Osso Buco wrapped in Beef Bacon
Broccoli, saffron cream polenta and roasted cherry tomato

Homestyle Ratatouille
Fire roasted Pomodoro sauce and mozzarella]

CHEESE PLATE

Selection of the Finest International Cheese

Served with grainex, lavosh and an assortment of accompaniments

DESSERTS

Meringue Pavlova with Mixed Berry Crmeux

Accented with elderflower, pistachio and mango salsa

Fresh Berries
With mint syrup

Gourmet Ice Cream Selection

LIGHT OPTIONS

Super Detox Salad

Grilled chicken, quinoa, cherry tomato, blueberry, pistachio and sugar snap peas

San Francisco Clam Chowder
Sourdough Loaf and a trio of carrots

Afternoon Tea
Fresh finger sandwiches, French pastries, beef brochette and chicken chipotle skewers

Impossible Meat Burger
Toasted brioche bun, lettuce, thousand island sauce and seasoned fried red potato wedges

LIGHT SNACKS

Selection of crisps, popcorn, chocolates and biscuits


Before booking this flight, I did a lot of research (i.e. read a lot of trip reports) about Qatars intercontinental Business Class service. Almost uniformly the airline was lauded for the quality and presentation of its meals, with some comparing Qatars food favorably with meals theyd been served in First Class on other airlines. The pictures I saw certainly seemed to back that up and so it was with high expectations and a hearty appetite that I anticipated tonights dinner service.

Its also worth noting here that like many of the best International First Class services, Qatar Airways offers Dine on Demand to its Business Class clientele. Being as I had enjoyed a quesadilla and salad earlier in the lounge, I requested to delay dinner by about an hour from what otherwise could have been the start of the services.

Now then, about those menu choices. Boy, they sure do look good! What would you select?

I opted to start with the Porcini and Chestnut Cream soup, followed by a plate of the Dungeness Crab Salad. Porcini and Chestnut Cream soup just saying that name titillates my taste buds. My Flight Attendant waited patiently as I reveled in my soup borne reverie. Oh, right! Um lets go with the Pulled Veal Osso Buco wrapped in Beef Bacon. I dont believe Ive been served Osso Bucco aloft since a memorable flight aboard a United Airlines 747 between Honolulu and Los Angeles way back in 1976. And yes, I really do remember airline meals and experiences from that far back. Old dudes like me I cant remember what I had for dinner last night but those airline meals and experiences from way back when still ring crystal clear when I think on them.

Alright then, whats left? I informed my ever so patient Flight Attendant that Id consider cheese and dessert upon completion of the main meal. If I were totally full, I could always put them off until later as a mid-flight snack.

In the meantime, with a little over an hour to go until dinner, I set to work fleshing out the opening preamble to this trip report. Thats not always such an easy thing for me. I mean, how do I want to start - especially now being as its been about three years since I last submitted a trip report. Heck, these days I hardly ever visit the Trip Report Forum much less FlyerTalk in general. I dont mean that to reflect poorly on either FlyerTalk or the Trip Report Forum both are uniformly excellent. I suppose its more of my personal evolution over the years, as the older I get the less cluttered I like my life to be. Im getting rid of a lot of old books, magazines, clothing and just general stuff that I own because over the years stuff accumulates and overtime becomes a bit overbearing at least to me. Im kinda like the anti-hoarder. In general, if I havent read (re-read would be more like it), used or worn it in the past six months and seem unlikely to do so in the next six off to the thrift shop it goes.

As for the internet, while it was initially quite amazing and fantastical back in my early experiences with it, over time I find myself using it more as a resource than a source of entertainment or news. I mean, I remember once recognizing how Id wasted most of an afternoon surfing the net and accomplishing absolutely nothing in particular. I had a good time doing so but geez, Ive got better things to do or at least I should have better things to do. As for FlyerTalk, its very easy to get caught up in the community aspect of it, much like Facebook, but again, Ive got enough social and information stimulus to deal with in my life without hanging out on the internet. Additionally, I guess Im old school in that I like to physically hold the books and newspapers Im reading rather than sit and look at them on a screen. I subscribe to the local paper and a bunch of magazines including The Week, The Atlantic, Airways, Airliner World, Classic Trains and Passenger Train Journal plus an endless supply of books new and old to read. Each of those magazines has an online format with even more news and information but were I to take advantage of those I feel like itd be an information overload. I still have never bought a smart phone because every time I see practically everyone around me staring endlessly at their phones, its like watching an addict shoot up. I am repelled by it all and yet Im finding that society is increasingly geared towards us all having smart phones. As it is right now I cant call Uber or Lyft or even display my Alaska Lounge membership if I want to visit a partner airline lounge because Alaska no longer issues membership cards. Its all done via an app on your phone. Arrgh! Sometimes I wish I were born 50 years earlier and died 20 years ago.

But these are my issues alone and I do apologize for the digression here. I guess what Im saying is the times they are a changing for ol Seat 2A, and the older I get the simpler I like to keep it. Mostly I use the internet to plan and book trips, download music and keep up with my fantasy football league.

Our route of flight took us on a northeasterly heading up along the western side of the Appalachian Mountains and across northern New England before crossing into Canada over New Brunswick. Then it was out across the North Atlantic, across central Europe and on down to Doha.

We were over southeastern Tennessee when one of my three Flight Attendants the pretty dark haired one - arrived with my table settings. Qatar Airways sets a nice table starting with a large white linen table cloth. This was followed by a long white rectangular plate atop which served as a platform for a set of attractive salt and pepper grinders, two small round dishes for butter and olive oil and of course a small bottle of Monte Vibiano Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil. A bread basket came next, containing two good looking rolls. A fashionable purple water glass and Qatars stylish imitation candle box completed the ensemble.

Although it wasnt listed on the menu, the first food item delivered was an amuse bouch, comprised of a plump scallop topped with a couple kernals of corn presented amidst a light pesto coulis. The translation of amuse bouche from French is essentially to amuse the mouth. It is a small starter designed to tempt the appetite for the pleasures of the meal yet to come. This tasty little morsel was a great start to the culinary festivities to follow..



Qatars Amuse Bouch and stylish table setting


Next up was the soup. Porcini and Chestnut Cream Soup with Sourdough Crostini and Truffle Oil. Mmmmm! Just say those words to yourself and you can almost taste just how delicious and creamy this soup was. It also highlights a point Ive often made to non-believers including the Everybody gets there at the same time deniers that on occasion airline food can be every bit as good as what youd expect to be served in a good quality earthbound restaurant. And sometimes depending on your taste buds and personal experiences even better.



Porcini and Chestnut Cream Soup with Sourdough Crostini and Truffle Oil


I wasnt sure if the Dungeness Crab Salad would include lettuce or not. What was presented was more like a very nice Dungeness crab appetizer, with a generous portion of shredded crabmeat artfully presented atop a red pepper coulis, accented with lemon chili, mango, avocado and Parmesan cheese. I know Im flying Business Class, but so far at least, this meal has been totally First Class!



Dungeness Crab Salad


Perhaps because Id chosen to eat a bit later than most of the cabin, the service and in particular the interval between courses was just about perfect. As I recall, I never had to wait more than 3-5 minutes before plates were cleared and a new course delivered.

So then, how bout that Osso Bucco? Aside from my prior experience on United, Ive also had Osso Bucco in a couple of restaurants. Its typically presented as a veal shank, so I was curious to see how Qatars chefs would interpret it with the meat having been pulled. Well, see for yourself. The meat was tender and flavorful and the saffron cream polenta was the epitome of delicious. I accompanied it with a glass of the McLaren Vale Shiraz, its peppery tang pairing perfectly with the tasty meat. I can honestly say as I always do anyway that this was one of the best inflight main courses Ive ever enjoyed, regardless of class of service.



Pulled Veal Osso Buco wrapped in Beef Bacon


Wow! As good as this meal has been, theres no way I can put off dessert and cheese now. Bring em on! Please.



Meringue Pavlova with Mixed Berry Crmeux


Oh. My. God! I really had no idea what to expect when I ordered this dessert. I thought pavlova was like a creamy fruit salad, and I had no idea what mixed berry Crmeux would entail. I did however have every confidence that based upon the quality, presentation and taste of each of the previous courses of this dinner, this dessert would likely be something special. And indeed it was. I mean, look at that picture! How many of you have ever been served such an intricately prepared and presented dessert on an airplane? Some of you, Im sure, but in Business Class? Lets have one more look at this culinary masterpiece



Meringue Pavlova with Mixed Berry Crmeux


I closed out this repast with the cheese plate, attractively plated and accompanied with some different type crackers (Grainex and Lavosh) along with quince, dried apricots, walnuts and grapes. A glass of Taylors 20 Year Old Tawny Port made an admirable accompaniment.



Cheese Plate


Thoroughly sated, I emerged from my suite for an after dinner stroll to the other end of the plane and back. The A350-1000 is a lot of airplane and its quite a transition from the ambiance of the suites in the forward cabin to the nine-across seating back in the Economy Class cabin. Its not the best neighborhood back there but I did my best to avert my eyes and blend in as best I could.

Of course, I speak in jest. When I was younger I flew Economy all the time. It was so exciting to just fly somewhere, especially on a new airline to a faraway place that I never felt put out sitting back behind the curtain. Its not like I had a choice financially back then anyway but even so, I was always keenly aware of the First Class cabin and yearned to get there more often someday. Back then however, there were few if any frequent flyer programs and if you wanted to travel in First Class, you generally had to pay for it.

That said, I found my way into International the First Class cabins of Qantas, Air New Zealand and UTA by the time I was 23 thanks to a $3000.00 inheritance in college and a job in the travel industry shortly thereafter. I used to train agents on Sabre and Apollo and understood well how to find the best fares. Without the 70-90% industry discounts, the advent of frequent flyer programs in the early 1980s made getting into First Class that much easier. Technically speaking, I did my first mileage run via Uniteds 50 State Marathon in 1984. That netted me a full year of unlimited free First Class travel within the 50 United States but I really took up mileage running in earnest starting in the 1990s. Back then, in the days before the internet, none of the airline bean counters knew or cared about us what of us there were. We were just a few odd balls who took advantage of cheap fares, lenient routing rules and generous mileage promotions. I quietly earned millions of miles and never publicized or otherwise drew attention to what I was doing. Did friends and acquaintances think I was weird for doing so? Of course they did, but I could care less. I was sitting in First Class and thats all I cared about. To this day, if others think Im weird for mileage running, well, Im a big boy. I can handle it. I mean, its only mileage running after all, and theres a pot of gold awaiting me at the end of the jetway.

Mileage running became somewhat less profitable with the advent of the internet and to some extent a bunch of guys who felt a need to publicize and even teach seminars on how to mileage run. Whereas before we were just an unnoticed group of weirdos quietly racking up miles via out of the way but otherwise legal routings (Such as a Phoenix to Jacksonville ticket that allowed you to route PHX-SEA-ORD-MIA-JAX at little to no extra fare), eventually the airlines took notice of the practice and the lenient routing rules were significantly tightened up.

Even with the loss of the crazy routing allowances, there have still been plenty of good fares available for the dedicated mileage runner. Earlier this year I bought twelve one way tickets between Fairbanks, Alaska and Newark, New Jersey or vice versa because they were priced at just $154-165.00 each way.

Anyway, thanks to frequent flyer programs, I have earned and redeemed millions of miles and logged oodles of flights aboard fabulous International First Classes aboard the likes of Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa, Asiana heck, you longtime trip report aficionados may well have read most of the 80 trip reports Ive written detailing those travels.

Bottom line it is such a privilege for a guy like me whos spent the past 36 years driving a bus in a national park to now be a top tier OneWorld Emerald flyer and thus be able to regularly experience flying at its very best, especially in many of the worlds best premium cabins. While I love every minute of it, Ive never forgotten my roots. I well remember those long flights back in Economy and back then (1970s and 1980s) Economy Class seats were much better padded and comfortable than todays slimline seats. I recall we generally had better leg room as well. These days, theres no way I could do a fourteen hour flight in Economy. My backs not up for it, and even if it were

That said, although Qatar Airways Business Class is uniformly considered amongst the industrys best, I must say as one whos flown a lot more international First Class than Business Class that Business Class is markedly different from First Class - mainly in terms of space and ambience, but also in terms of service given the increased ratio of flight attendants to passengers. Walking from the back of the plane to the front, as I parted the curtains and re-entered the 46 suite Business Class cabin it still looked pretty cramped and busy compared to the spacious tranquility found in a 6-8 suite First Class cabin.

But enough dwelling on class differences. This has been a great flight so far and the dinner I was just served would have been well received aboard any First Class cabin that Ive flown. Lets check out the IFE and take advantage of its myriad offerings for an hour or two.

Movies, television, music, games, SkyMap Qatars IFE is very nice. I dont think its in quite the same league as Emirates ICE or Cathays Studio CX, but its not far behind. I had recently purchased Taylor Sheridans excellent program1883 but hadnt had time to watch more than the first couple episodes before I departed. What a pleasant surprise to find the first five episodes available on Qatars IFE.

One drop off in service was noted when I depressed the Flight Attendant Call button to order a drink and nobody responded. I could see at least two FAs up in the galley and so I waited for about five minutes and then pushed the button again. Same result. Alright then. I put my seat back into the upright position and headed up to the galley. There were two male FAs up there and they both seemed to ignore me until I spoke up. Can you imagine a similar scenario in a premium class cabin on Singapore or Cathay? It probably happens now and then, but not too often. On this flight it happened twice. From my perspective its no big deal to walk up to the galley to get what I need, but it was surprising especially given the lackadaisical response from the FAs.

When it came time for bed, I walked up to the galley and requested the turndown service. No problem. A female FA followed me back to my suite and set the bed up with a padded cover. Lying down, I found the seat/bed to be fairly comfortable. The pillow was of good size and relatively firm. My only complaint was with the table which was housed beneath the entertainment screen, along the top of the space where my lower legs and feet were to go. I sleep on my side and it was difficult to bend my legs because my knees would hit the table above. The margin was small but eventually I was able to get into a comfortable position whereupon I slept quite well.

We were over western Iran when I awoke. The wonderful aroma of breakfast floated around the cabin, accompanied by the faint clinks of plates and glasses from up in the galley. I headed up to use the lav and while passing through the galley asked to have my bed returned to daytime mode. Upon my return nothing had happened, so I took a stroll to the other end of the aircraft and back. Upon my return, still nothing had been done. So I folded up the blanket and seat covering and stashed them in the bin above my seat. A FA walking by saw me and apologized but by then Id accomplished most of the breakdown. I should add that while some might view these service lapses as major gaffes, Im more about getting what I want done and even if that means I have to do it myself, Im not one to get my knickers in a knot over it. Besides, the FAs were busy with getting breakfast ready and served so it was really no big deal. Afterwards, I padded up to the galley and requested a cup of coffee and a Danish. No problem. Might I be interested in breakfast now? Yes, please.

Shortly thereafter, a flight attendant arrived with table settings, followed by hot coffee and a basket of breakfast breads including a delicious chocolate croissant. Meanwhile I studied the breakfast menu and considered the options



The Breakfast Table


BREAKFAST

Fresh orange juice
Mixed berry smoothie


STARTERS

Platter of seasonal cut fruits

Greek Yoghurt

Mixed berry compote and toasted granola with nuts

Choice of Breakfast Cereals
Kelloggs Corn Flakes or Fruit n Fiber

Assiette of Cold Cuts with Smoked Salmon
Dill cream cheese, quail egg, caper berry and artichoke heart

MAINS

Smoked Salmon Bagel

Scrambled eggs, rocket and chives

Cheesy Omelette with Grilled Chicken Sausage
Roasted fingerling potato, creamed spinach and chives

Buttermilk Strawberry Pancakes with Mascarpone
Mixed berry coulis, blackberry and maple syrup

Quinoa and Oat Porridge with Coconut Milk
Blue agave, strawberry and blueberries

BREAD

A selection of breakfast bakery


Alright then, Ill start with a smoothie, the fruit plate and the yogurt and for the main, lets go with the Cheese Omelet. Oh and a refill on that coffee please.

About ten minutes later my fruit plate and yogurt were delivered. The fruits consisted of sliced melons, pineapple and berries. All that was missing was a squeeze of lime to drizzle over it all. The yogurt was attractively presented in a parfait dish and with the addition of the mixed berry compote and toasted granola with nuts it was spectacularly delicious!



A great start to the breakfast service


Plates were cleared in a timely manner, coffee topped off and the bread basket replenished. A couple minutes later the main course was delivered. Ah very nice. I was particularly impressed with the fingerling potatoes. In both flavor and portion size they were perfect. Here in the U.S., potatoes are generally the only plated accompaniment with egg dishes so I was also most thankful for the addition of spinach and a tomato albeit a single cherry tomato.



Cheese Omelet and accompaniments


After breakfast, I fired up my laptop and entered a few additional notes about the flight. Its extremely rare that I ever write these trip reports in the moment. Typically Ill jot down a bunch of notes and observations that Ill reference days or weeks later when Im actually writing the report. As I write this, its almost a month after the fact.

One of my favorite times of flight is the last half hour or so as we descend and the air speed diminishes. Depending upon where youre flying into, the scenery can contribute to a wonderful air tour. Alas, the flat desert landscape as you descend into Doha is not particularly exciting, though I was thankful for the opportunity to finally raise my window shade and bask in the bright sunlight of the world outside.

Touchdown was nice and smooth, barely noticeable up in the front of the airplane. The Gold Standard of landings for me came aboard a Continental DC-10 landing in Honolulu. I was seated up in First Class and never even felt the wheels kiss the concrete. As for us, wed arrived a few minutes early

As we taxied to our gate, it was cool to see some of the local regional airliners, some of which are rarely seen outside of the Middle East and West Asia. As for Dohas Hamad International Airport, it was recently named the Best Airport in the World for the second year in a row by the prestigious SKYTRAX World Airport Awards 2022 at the Passenger Terminal Expo in Paris, France. This was my first time flying into DOH and I was looking forward to having a look around during my layover.

As to the overall impressions of my first flight in Business Class aboard Qatar Airways, Im pretty impressed particularly with the meal service, which was superb. From my personal experience of close to 600,000 miles flown in International caliber First Class on twenty-one different airlines, I would rate last nights dinner as every bit the equal of a good International First Class meal with the possible exception of the omission of a caviar service. But then, a growing number of international airlines no longer have a caviar course in First Class, so thats now perhaps a moot point.

Qatars Q Suite was fairly comfortable and quite functional. Once I managed to get into a comfortable position, I slept well. The IFE system had a nice variety of movies, music and games more than enough to satisfy my needs over the course of three or four flights, not just one.

As for the service onboard, the flight attendants were friendly enough but definitely a notch or two below what Ive experienced in First Class on airlines like Cathay or Lufthansa. While the meal service and presentation were spot on, on most every other occasion during the flight my call button went unanswered for long periods of time if it was answered at all. That said, Ill temper this assessment with the acknowledgement that this is Business Class were talking about here and the ratio of FAs to passengers is indeed greater.

In closing, based solely upon this flight and in particular the superb meal service, I wouldnt hesitate to recommend Qatar Airways Business Class as a great way to get to the UAE and beyond.

Now then, lets de-board and go check out the Arrivals Lounge.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 4:49 pm
  #4  
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September 20th, 2022
Qatar Airways * Doha to Amman * 730p –1020p * 787-8 * Economy Class


You know, it occurs to me that I’ve yet to discuss how or why it is that I’m going to Amman, Jordan. Truth be known, in the initial planning stages, Amman was never in the plan. I was looking for seats to South Africa with an eye toward shelling out the big bucks for an eleven-day ride aboard the Rovos Rail train between Cape Town and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. From there, I’d eventually head out to the Seychelles Islands before returning home via Europe or Asia.

Now I could easily get sidetracked here and dedicate a thousand words or so to describing the fantastic rail experience that is a ride aboard Rovos Rail, but let’s save that for an actual trip report someday. In the meantime, if you’re at all curious, just Google “Rovos Rail” and follow the links.

Getting back to this trip, I normally prefer to redeem my miles on First Class travel but with Alaska Airlines having recently joined the OneWorld Alliance, I had an opportunity to check out some of its member airlines such as Qatar and Malaysian that have predominantly Business Class offerings.

I’d heard really good things about Qatar Airways’ Business Class – in particular it’s catering – and as I’d never flown with Qatar before, it was an easy decision to shell out the miles for a Business Class award to Amman. Besides, I’m always up for adding a new airline to my “collection” of 203 airlines flown.

Why Amman? The problem was, I couldn’t find any award space down to South Africa – with anybody. I even looked at doing it all in reverse and hitting the Seychelles first, but again, there was no space. Additionally, I noticed that some Qatar Airways Business Class awards to Africa and the Middle East region were going for as much as 140000 miles, while seats between Houston and Amman, Jordan could be had for 85000. To be sure, it was Business Class only as far as Doha, with onward travel to Amman available only in Economy, but even getting well timed and affordably priced Business Class space on Qatar between the U.S. and Doha was a small victory in and of itself.

The plan was to grab the Business Class space to Doha and, if later something were to open up to South Africa, I could then book it and switch out AMM. I had assumed – perhaps incorrectly – that the hard part would be booking affordable Business Class space between the U.S. and Doha, and that onward travel beyond Doha would be easier to get later on. Uh, no.

Alas, as the summer progressed no space to South Africa ever did open up and when one day in August I saw Business Class award space open up between Doha and Auckland, New Zealand, I jumped on it. Qatar Airways does not offer award redemption between the U.S. and Oceania, so I had to expend an additional 100000 miles to get from Amman to Auckland. I even saw a First Class seat aboard Qatar’s A380 down to Sydney but the price tag was 200000 miles and from most everything I’d read, the only real difference between Qatar’s long distance First and Business Class was a larger suite and the addition of a caviar course with a meal that was otherwise on par with what Qatar served in Business Class anyway.

Some might ask why even go to Amman in the first place – and then for only a day and a half at that - as opposed to spending three days – or longer - in Doha. Well, the mileage redemption (85000) would have been the same whether I went to/from Amman or Doha, so I’m like – why not? For no extra cost, I’ll get to log two extra flights – albeit in Economy – aboard Qatar’s 787-8 and A330-200. The avgeek in me is always excited about the possibility of flying aboard what for me would be considered a “new” aircraft. Mind you, I’ve flown plenty of 787s and A330s over the years, but not as operated by Qatar and so that’s what in this case qualifies them as a “new” aircraft to my way of thinking.

As to the minimal stay in Jordan - a country definitely worthy of a much longer stay – I had to go with the available award space to Auckland that came up and that was available out of Doha only on September 23rd. It’s weird because Qatar operates at least two or three flights per week between Doha and Auckland and yet the flexible dates feature of Alaska’s reservations matrix showed September 23rd being the only available award date regardless of class for the entire month of September. It’s also worth noting that as August rolled around and my late September departure date drew ever closer, I had expanded my search of alternatives to South Africa to include Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. There was very little available Business Class space to anywhere – space that also timed well with my late September departure from the U.S.

Right! New Zealand it is then. It had been twenty years since I’d last traveled to New Zealand and for this trip I worked out a fantastic itinerary that involved renting a car out of Christchurch and then essentially circumnavigating the entire South Island over the next nine days while staying in quality accommodations each night. No more youth hostels or hitchhiking for me – at least not on this trip. And the flight back home was equally alluring – Singapore Airlines Business Class routing CHC-SIN-FRA-JFK aboard a pair of A350-900s and an A380 for the final leg into JFK. I’d even taken advantage of Singapore’s highly regarded Book The Cook catering option to arrange for some mouth watering cuisine along the way.

But hey - let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, here. There’ll be plenty of time to write about getting to and from New Zealand later on. For now, I’ve got a two and a half hour layover and I’d love to get a shower in Qatar Airways’ Arrivals Lounge.

It’s worth noting here that since my onward flight to Amman was booked in Economy Class, I’d not have access to Qatar’s highly regarded Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge. I would however have access to the Arrivals Lounge, which was not a bad facility in its own right. As to visiting the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge, I’d be back in Doha in a couple of days on a Business Class reservation with an eight hour layover between flights, more than enough time to thoroughly bask in the myriad pleasures of the Al Mourjan Lounge.

Well, a couple more things are worthy of note here. I’ve been dealing with a progressive neuromuscular condition for some years now and it’s progressed to a point where I occasionally walk with a cane, especially after I’ve been sitting for long periods of time – like a fourteen hour flight inbound from Houston. Secondly, cane or no cane, I’ve got a pretty good limp going these days.

So then, I’d barely made it up and out of the jetway before a helpful member of the airport staff approached and inquired as to whether I’d like a ride in the electric cart. The electric cart? For me? Oh… you betcha!!

My request to go to the Arrivals Lounge was initially met with some confusion. To make a long story shorter (We’ve got a lot of travels yet to report on here), it turns out that the Arrivals Lounge was designed for people arriving rather than transiting Doha, and, after some consultation with supervisors, I was allowed access to the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge. By the time I arrived there, I had only about an hour before I needed to start heading off to board my flight to Amman. I was told that the gate was about a fifteen minute walk from the lounge. However, the exceedingly kind and helpful Qatar Airways staff had already arranged for yet another electric cart to whisk me off to the distant gate. All I had to do was be ready to go at the lounge entrance by 6:30pm.

As for the lounge, it pretty much met all my expectations – it was large and well appointed with all the usual trappings you’d expect from a five-star airline at its home base. It was certainly the largest Business Class Lounge I’d ever visited, and in terms of overall ambiance and amenities, unrivaled. I’ll give honorable mention to Cathay Pacific and South African Airways’ Business Class Lounges at Hong Kong and Johannesburg, but even then the Al Mourjan is significantly larger and nicer and includes much nicer and more comprehensive dining options. But, given the limited amount of time I spent in the lounge (mostly in the shower) and the fact that we’ve got a lot of trip report yet to write, I’m going to expedite things a bit and offer you a link to Qatar Airways’ description and photos of this lounge. You’ll find that right HERE.

At the appointed time, I was waiting at the lounge entrance and voila! So was my electric cart. Thank goodness for that cart, too, because the trip across the vast expanse of the airport terminal to my gate was indeed long. It would have taken me longer than fifteen minutes to walk there because it took about ten minutes for the cart to get there. I also might have missed my flight because unbeknownst to me our aircraft was parked remotely, necessitating earlier boarding and a bus ride out to the aircraft.

Remote gates can be a bit of a hassle to deal with, but on a positive note it never ceases to impress me how cool it is to walk up to and climb the stairs up into your waiting aircraft. I mean, at a normal airport gate, you typically see just the nose of the aircraft through the gate lounge windows and board through the long, narrow jetway. It’s all quite sterile, really.

By contrast, parking next to your aircraft on the tarmac is a much more exciting and sensory experience. As you step off the bus, the sights, sounds and smells of the tarmac wash over you. Then, as you walk up to the mobile stairway, you can really appreciate what a magnificent flying machine you’re about to travel upon. This is particularly true when walking up to and boarding a larger aircraft such as I was flying tonight – a 186 foot long, 264,000 pound Boeing 787-8.

I paused briefly at the top of the stairs to admire the expanse of the fuselage and the huge GE turbofans just below the stairway. Upon entering the aircraft, I paused further to look longingly at the comfy seats up in the forward cabin. Sigh… next time. Lowering my head in resignation, I trudged onward toward the back of the aircraft; back to row 19H where an aisle seat awaited me. Seating was the standard 787 Economy configuration, 3-3-3 with a 31” pitch. That said, these seats were well padded and reasonably comfortable – not the cheap, chintzy slim line type models you see on U.S. airlines these days.

Flight time to Amman was a quick two hours and ten minutes. Dinner would be served enroute. You know, it seems like there should have been a choice of entrees and there probably was, but alas, I see nothing in my notes about it. Fortunately, I do recall that I was served a mildly spicy curried chicken with potatoes. This was accompanied by a delicious couscous salad, a dinner roll and banana pudding. What it lacked in portion size, it more than made up for in flavor. It was really, quite tasty indeed. Here – see for yourselves!



Economy Class chicken dinner – DOH-AMM


Landing at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport, I hobbled up the jetway and made my way down the concourse towards Customs & Immigration. There were no electric carts and no offers of assistance. Then again, I didn’t request any assistance either. And, though it doesn’t always look so good to others, I can definitely make my own way through most any airport environment.

There was a long line queued up to pay a $40 Jordanian visa entry fee, followed by a much shorter line to process us through immigration. By the time I was totally cleared for entry, it was 11:30pm. I’d arranged in advance for a car to my hotel, located about 12 miles away in the town of Madaba. Imagine then my relief as I emerged into the Arrivals Hall to see a gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. It’s nice when things like this go well, especially this late at night.

It was a little after midnight when we arrived at my hotel – the Mount Nebo Hotel in Madaba. The owner himself came down to check me in, show me to my very nice air-conditioned room and offer me a light meal if I desired. Food no, but a couple of cold beers might be nice. No problem. A tray was soon delivered bearing two ice cold beers accompanied by a bowl of mixed nuts. I was bid a good night’s rest and encouraged to visit the hotel restaurant for breakfast.



Hallway at the Mount Nebo Hotel


My room at the Mount Nebo Hotel


Amman’s time zone is nine hours later than Houston’s, and to say I was a bit jet lagged would be putting it mildly. I don’t know about the rest of youse, but in terms of jet lag, I’ve always found eastbound travel to be the most difficult to adjust to. With only a one day layover in Amman (I was actually in Madaba – twelve miles west of the Amman airport) my plan was to take it easy, get lots of rest and just hang out around the hotel because the next day I’d be doing it all over again, traveling onward to Auckland – another nine time zones east of Amman.

Some have suggested that I should have gone to see the famous ancient city of Petra, but Petra’s located two hours north of Amman and once there requires a good six hours or more see it properly. Well I’m no spring chicken any more and even if I were, I’ve learned from past experience that putting too much on your plate while traveling can sometimes work against you. So, a relaxing day around the hotel is exactly what I enjoyed. Call it quality of life over quantity of life.
Chalkie, jmj9905, SFO777 and 8 others like this.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 3, 23 at 2:05 am
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Old Feb 2, 23, 4:52 pm
  #5  
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Posts: 11,847
September 22nd, 2022
Qatar Airways * Amman to Doha * 155p 430p * A330-200 * Economy Class
Qatar Airways * Doha to Auckland * 105a 610a * 777-300 * Business Class


Following a full breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I finished packing and was ready to go when my car to the airport arrived at 11:00am. It was mildly interesting to see the scenery Id missed on the drive in two nights ago. There wasnt much to it just scrub desert accented by the occasional small, drab building by building I mean a very basic one or two story square or rectangular structure. There were few if any trees.

Queen Alia International Airport is located 18 miles south of downtown Amman. It was built in 1983 and named in honor of King Husseins third wife who sadly perished in a helicopter crash in 1977. The three original terminals were replaced by a single central terminal in 2014. Compared to the airports at Dubai and Doha, AMM is a midsize terminal at best. That said, I found the building architecturally attractive inside and out with good signage and very easy to get around.



The main terminal building at AMM


After my baggage went through the compulsory x-ray screening prior to entering the main terminal, I headed for Qatars check-in counter. Even though I was traveling in Economy Class between Amman and Doha, my onward Business Class ticket to Auckland entitled me to use the smaller, more expeditious elite lane.

Id been looking forward to this portion of the trip as much as any trip Ive ever taken. The eight hour layover at Doha would allow me plenty of time to properly explore and enjoy the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge. The long flight from Doha to Auckland would make an intermediate stop in Adelaide. Three meals would be served enroute. Following a three hour layover in Auckland, Id hop an Air New Zealand A320 for the short flight down to Christchurch.

Ive traveled to New Zealand many times since my first visit in 1982. Normally a valid passport was all that was required of U.S. citizens, but in these post-pandemic times my main concern was any hoops Id have to jump through related to proof of vaccination. By then Id had both of the original main vaccinations plus three boosters, including the recent Omicron specific booster. Thankfully New Zealand like many other countries had recently relaxed its Covid entry and quarantine requirements, so I had no concerns there.

A check of travel requirements on the Qatar Airways website indicated Id need to fill out and submit a New Zealand Traveller Declaration. It provided a link to the New Zealand government sponsored site to do so, and I did so accordingly. A form indicating Id completed the declaration was emailed back to me. Right. Good to go.

At check-in, I handed my passport and NZ Traveller Declaration form to the agent who dutifully typed in the requisite information.

Where is your ETA? she asked.
Huh? Whats an ETA?
Its an Electronic Travel Authority visa. You need one to fly to New Zealand.

I was familiar with ETAs because Australia has required them for some years now. I was unaware however that New Zealand had also adopted the practice.

How can I get one?
Youll have to apply for one over the internet.
Will I have time?
I dont know. The airport does offer complementary Wi-Fi though.
Can I do this during my layover in Doha?
No. We cant board you here until you have one.

Sigh Right. I had a little less than two hours until departure time even less before check-in would close. I collected my bag and trundled off to a nearby corner of the airport to start the process.

To make a long story shorter, I didnt get my ETA. Its not that I was denied but rather that I never heard back in the hour and twenty minutes that I had to work with. The fact that it was 1:00am in New Zealand may have had something to do with it. The end result however was that just like that, I was no longer going to New Zealand. There was no alternative flight departing later in the day, week or even month at least not via award space on Qatar Airways. It was time to readjust and come up with a new plan.

In the days since, I went back to the Qatar Airways website and re-examined the entry requirements for U.S. citizens. Nowhere did it indicate that an ETA was required. Neither was anything explicitly indicated on the New Zealand Traveller Declaration. The Qatar website did however recommend verifying travel and entry requirements through independent enquiries before departing. Ultimately, I did discover under some innocuous heading like Additional Information in small print off the lower right side of the Traveller Declaration the fact that an ETA was required. It was hardly in the up front and bold print that I would have thought something so necessary to NZ entry would have benefitted from.

Ultimately though, this ones on me. As an experienced traveler, I should have been more thorough, especially in these post-pandemic times. I should have checked through a New Zealand government sponsored site, not just Qatar Airways. Well, dang! I was really looking forward to this New Zealand trip. It wouldve been so awesome

That said, a lifetime of travel has included all manner of events that led to significant alteration of my original plans. If Ive learned anything about dealing with the vicissitudes of travel over the years, its that theres nothing to be gained by getting stressed out. Your old reality has suddenly been replaced by a new reality. Adjust and deal with it.

So, the first thing I did was use the airport Wi-Fi to cancel all my hotels and the rental car in New Zealand. Only the first nights hotel in Christchurch didnt get cancelled in time enough to avoid the one night charge. I was able to cancel everything else without a hitch, including my Air New Zealand reservation. I was thankful Id opted for the full fare when I made the reservation. My thinking at the time was that the added flexibility of being able to change flights without penalty if there were any delays or other problems might come in handy. I never planned on having to cancel the reservation, but as a result of paying the full fare I did get a full refund on the ticket price.

Next, I called the Mount Nebo Hotel to see if they could put me up for another night or two. No problem. They had a couple guests arriving at AMM in an hour. I could ride back to the hotel in the car that had been arranged for them. Great!

Next, I used my hour of free time to investigate my travel options from Amman. I suddenly had eighteen free travel days available to me before I had to be in New York for the first of ten excursion train rides. Where else could I use my Alaska miles to fly to? Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, South America, Europe I checked em all, including spending a few extra days in Jordan. Its not that there wasnt any space available but rather that there wasnt in a timely fashion. For example, I could get home from Singapore on my pre-booked CHC-SIN-FRA-JFK award, but I couldnt get to Singapore or even anywhere nearby (such as KUL, BKK, CGK or DPS) in the next few days. Finally, I started looking at just flying back to the U.S. Royal Jordanian Airlines is a OneWorld member and, back when I was first planning this trip in early summer, they had plenty of Business Class options between Chicago or New York and Amman. Well, that was then. Now, they had nothing. Qatar Airways had Economy Class to LAX, but they wanted 85000 miles for it as much as Id redeemed for my Business Class ticket on the way over.

One thing Ive noticed during all this is that Premium Class award space is a lot harder to come by than it used to be. This was most notably true on short notice reservations. It used to be airlines would release some of that premium class space a few days in advance of departure dates if unsold inventories warranted it, but I found very little evidence of that in my search for flights departing out of Amman.

I was checking my options on British Airways when I found a First Class award to Seattle for a total of 80000 miles plus three hundred and some odd dollars. Further investigation revealed that I could extend the itinerary to Fairbanks for no additional mileage, though only Economy Class would be available to Fairbanks. The flight was departing in just two days. Right on!! Book it, Danno!

All things considered, this was an incredible stroke of good luck not only that rather amazingly there was award space available all the way to Fairbanks but perhaps even more amazing that there was First Class award space available on the long international leg. And heres another thing - Its not often you see a single award comprised of all three classes of service. Since the Amman to London leg was flown with a two class (J/Y) A320-200, I was booked into Business Class on that segment, then First Class on to Seattle aboard the 787-9 and finally Economy Class on Alaska onward to Fairbanks. I was however placed on the upgrade waitlist should First Class become available on the Alaska flight.

I couldnt help but reflect on the fact that had things gone right, I wouldve been relaxing in a Qatar Airways Q-Suite aboard a 777-300 enroute to Adelaide and on to Auckland about now. Instead, rather suddenly it all seems, here I am going back home to Alaska in the middle of The Big Trip. Can you imagine how well this wouldve gone over had I been traveling with others? I never wouldve heard the end of it!

Truth be told, I was sorta looking forward to my quick trip home. For me, there are no bad trips to Alaska regardless of circumstances. It has been my home for 34 years and I love living there every bit as much now as I did when I first visited as an 18 year old hitchhiker back in my college days. There is - for me at least - an intense vitality of life in Alaska that I just dont feel anywhere down in the Lower 48 (The rest of the U.S.) I know Ive posted it before in a previous trip report, but a poem by the eighth century Chinese poet Li Bai sums up my sentiments on Alaska living perfectly


QUESTION AND ANSWER

You ask me:

Why do I live
On this green mountain?

I smile
No answer

My heart serene

On flowing water
Peachblow
Quietly going
Far away

This is another earth
Another sky

No likeness
To that human world below




Alaska


Home Sweet Home


So then, arriving back in Fairbanks on September 25th, Id have about two weeks before I needed to be back on the East Coast to continue along my originally scheduled itinerary. Well now, as much as I love Alaska, I am still in the middle of a grand adventure here and while itll be cool to spend a day or three back home, Im still left with sixteen days to craft further adventure before I need to be in New York.

It didnt take long to recognize the potential value of the over 130000 points sitting in my Amtrak Guest Rewards account. Perhaps a third of those would allow me to book a roomette aboard one of Amtraks long distance trains between the West Coast and Chicago. Were talking the Seattle to Chicago Empire Builder, the Emeryville (Oakland, CA) to Chicago California Zephyr or the Los Angeles to Chicago Southwest Chief

Maybe from Chicago I could catch a ride on the South Shore Line, or continue on to Cleveland for a ride aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. What about the Friends of The 261 up in Minneapolis? Or a nice evening along the banks of the Ohio River aboard the Cincinnati Dinner Train? And hey, I wonder if that train is still running through southern Wisconsin? Out by Horicon?

Once I get going with ideas like this, I can bring incredible focus to bear on the task at hand. Its almost like this manic energy takes over. Just as water will easily flow into any and all available cracks, I am more than happy and willing to spend an hour or three (or five or more) investigating a myriad of travel options. The ideas just flow, one after the other. I mean, Ive been doing this all my life planning travels and actually traveling. And I know American geography like the back of my hand. Thank goodness for a good strong Wi-Fi signal back at the Mount Nebo Hotel. It allowed the job at hand to proceed apace.


* * * ~ X ~ * * *

Its funny how things work out sometimes. One door closes and another door opens. While Ill really miss that originally planned road trip around New Zealands South Island, Id like to think I bounced back with some pretty amazing alternative plans not just over the next two weeks but also over the next two and a half months. Like I say, a touch of that manic energy and a dash of long suspected mild or high functioning autism dating back from childhood can work wonders when combined into focus. Keep in mind though that early on, some of these plans mainly most of the excursion trains were already part of the larger plan.

Heres what I ultimately came up with ~

For starters, I booked myself a roomette aboard Amtraks Empire Builder from Seattle to Minneapolis. The impetus for getting off at Minneapolis was a chance to ride aboard an historic parlor lounge Sky Top observation car once operated by the Milwaukee Road. One of eight cars designed by industrial designer Brooks Stevens and built in 1948, this particular car features a unique glass enclosed tapered rear end unlike that of any other railroad passenger car.



Milwaukee Roads SkyTop Observation Parlor Car
Photo courtesy of Mark Hintz


Utilizing 28 panes of glass covering the top and sides at the rear of the car, these Sky Top observation lounges provided a unique panorama of the passing countryside between Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle as well as a stylish ambiance from which to enjoy it. As a longtime aficionado of the beautiful streamlined passenger trains that highlighted Americas rails following the end of World War II, Ive long been aware of the Milwaukee Road, its Hiawatha passenger trains and their beautiful Sky Top observation lounges. When the opportunity arose to book a ride aboard the very last one in operable condition, I wasted no time in making it happen.

By the way, to get from Fairbanks to Seattle and beyond, well, pardon me if I pat myself on the back here but I think what I ultimately came up with was a stroke of genius. So I started out booking FAI-SEA and seeing what I could come up with out of MSP after my train ride. The thing was, from MSP I still had twelve days before I needed to be in New York. Then I started looking at riding a couple trains down in Pennsylvania before picking up my originally planned train ride out of Utica, NY on the 14th. Yeah, but Id need a rental car to do that and I already had one booked out of Philly for later in the week to cover some excursion trains Id booked further on down the line in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.

Hmm what if instead of riding Amtrak from New York up to Utica and then back down to Philadelphia afterwards, I instead picked up the car in Philly for a longer period allowing me to drive up to Utica, then catch a couple additional Pennsylvania shortlines up in northern PA before continuing along my originally scheduled itinerary through southern PA, Maryland and West Virginia? The price was right for a twelve day instead of a seven day rental out of Philly and so we were off and running.

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis I now had ten more days before I needed to pick up my car at PHL. Perusing the myriad possibilities, I stumbled across a decently priced one way fare from Minneapolis back to Fairbanks. Well now, Im always up for an opportunity to accrue additional mileage. I wonder if therere any good fares between Seattle and Philly? Nope. How about into Washington National or Baltimore where I could catch a train up to Philly? Nope. But wait what about using a mileage award?

Cue the bells and flashing lights! Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! When it was all said and done, it cost me 30000 miles for a one way Economy Class award but heres what I came up with

Following a six day stay back home, fly on the award ticket from Fairbanks to Seattle on the 8th, take a two day stop over in Seattle, rent a car and take the Puget Sound Ferry across to the Olympic Peninsula for a night, then on the 10th pick up the rest of my award and fly from Seattle to Los Angeles and on to Washington, DC. The next day Id catch the train from Washington DC up to Philly where a connecting SEPTA train would get me out to the airport and my waiting rental car for the onward journey to New York.

Voila!


* * * ~ X ~ * * *

Alright then - you still with me so far?! Weve covered a lot of ground and yet as verbose as Ive been in describing all these changes, the fact is Im still here in Jordan with a free day with which to enjoy Amman and/or environs. Over dinner the night before Id chatted with a couple from Italy whod relayed that from their experience, the best way to visit Petra was to book into a nearby hotel for a night or two and then visit the ruins at a leisurely pace. This sounded better to me than purchasing a day tour with an early morning pick-up, four hours driving up and back and maybe six hours of trying to walk around and explore the area. This was all the more true given that I dont move as fast as I used to, especially over uneven ground. Ultimately this meant Petra would have to wait until a future visit to Jordan.

In the meantime, I chatted with the hotel owner, an amiable ex-civil engineer named Ayman whod purchased and refurbished the hotel upon his retirement. He recommended I hire a car and driver for the afternoon, which I could do with the same gentleman whod brought me in from the airport. He could show me around Madaba, take me out to Mount Nebo, check out the Dead Sea, have a bite to eat at a local restaurant

And so I did. Amongst other things, we visited the oldest Catholic Church in Jordan, went to an artisans square where beautiful tiles and other artwork were produced, drove up to Mount Nebo, checked out the Dead Sea well here, see for yourselves -



Madaba Catholic Church


Church Interior


On the road around Jordan


The Dead Sea


The Dead Sea
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Old Feb 2, 23, 4:56 pm
  #6  
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September 24th, 2022
British Airways * Amman to London * 830a 1205p * A320-NEO * Business Class
British Airways * London to Seattle * 330p-505p * 787-9 * First Class


Im not an early morning person, so the prospect of getting up at 5:00am for my 6:00am ride to the airport was not a pleasant one. Thankfully there were no issues getting to the airport or at check-in and soon I was relaxing over coffee, orange juice and a Danish in the Crown Lounge. This is the home base lounge for Royal Jordanian Airlines, so one would expect it to be pretty nice. You can read more about it right HERE

I would rate this lounge as average at best. The Chandeliers Bistro which advertised a five star bite to eat was closed, and the attached bakery offered only commercially produced and packaged Danishes. There was a manned coffee bar, so I arranged for a cup of standard drip coffee although a fancier prepared coffee would have also been available. I did like the big windows and comfy chairs though, and the Wi-Fi signal was good and strong.

It was about 7:30 when I left the lounge to commence the long walk down to the gate. As luck would have it, my flight was parked at the very last gate down the concourse. Wheelchair assistance had been offered during check-in, but I declined. I can limp around a mid-sized airport like this one just fine. It doesnt always look like it, but its true. And so off I set, arriving at the gate just a few minutes before boarding commenced.

Parked on the tarmac below was a shiny new A320NEO. NEO stands for New Engine Option, which in the case of the A320 means Pratt & Whitney's PurePower PW1100G-JM or the CFM International's LEAP-1A, both of which are geared turbofan engines. What that means for any of you more technically minded readers is that a gear system separates the engine fan from the low pressure compressor and turbine, leaving each of these parts unhampered by the others. This means that the fan can rotate slower, burning less fuel, and leaving the compressor and turbine to operate at a high speed which results in a higher bypass ratio for a better propulsive efficiency. Pratt & Whitney claims its engine is 16% more fuel efficient than the previous generation, and up to 75% quieter.

Well this is all well and good, but inside the cabin there are no additional tangible benefits other than what the operating airline may choose to employ. As FlyerTalk readers know better than most, not all aircraft or in this case A320s are the same. For example, you could fly aboard Saudias A320 between say, Jeddah and Europe and enjoy one of twenty fully reclining 180 lie-flat recliner seats arranged in five rows of 2-2. Each seat comes with power outlets, 16 IFE screens and high speed connectivity. Or you could fly between Amman and London aboard British Airways A320 where the best seats on the plane branded Business Class (Club Europe) seats that are no different than what you get in Economy Class that is to say seats arranged 3-3 with a 30 inch pitch. BA does block the middle seat, but at the end of the day youre still sitting in an Economy Class seat. There is no IFE, but power outlets and Wi-Fi are available.

Unfortunately this cheap knock off of a proper Business Class cabin is the standard for most all Western European airlines. I was seated in 7D, an aisle seat in the last row of this A320s expandable Club Europe cabin. Recline was quite limited and given the minimal seat pitch bordering on anti-social in any event. Why Europeans pay significantly more for this and continue to put up with such a poor quality hard product is a mystery to me. I can only imagine that because many of the intra-European flights are two hours or less, maybe its not that big of an imposition on them. But why then place an aircraft configured for shorter intra-European flights on a five hour, 2290 mile international flight?

That said, once this five hour and ten minute flight took to the air, BAs cabin crew provided an excellent level of service. Menus were distributed shortly after takeoff and, as coffee and beverages were being served, I took a moment to peruse the options.


BREAKFAST
Amman to London

STARTERS
A selection of warm breads and breakfast pastries
Yoghurt with honey and blueberries
Fresh seasonal fruit


MAIN COURSE

The Original Full Breakfast

Halloumi Cheese and Cherry Tomato Quiche

Charcuterie Plate

BEVERAGES


A selection of soft drinks and juices
Twinings Tea
Union Coffee
Hot Chocolate



Ive always been a fan of a hot egg breakfast with all the trimmings but, seated as I was back in row 7, I didnt like my chances of any still being available by the time my order was taken. Imagine then my surprise and delight to find out otherwise. Heres what I was served



BAs Original Full Breakfast


Service from the two flight attendants assigned to the Club Europe cabin was polite and attentive throughout the flight. I know because I put them to the test while requesting lots of refills of that tasty Union Coffee during the flight.

We landed on a pleasant, sunny afternoon at Londons Heathrow Airport and despite the sprawl of Heathrow wasted little time in taxiing to our stand down at the end of Terminal 5A. An electric cart was parked just up the concourse from my gate and since it appeared to have room I asked if I might hitch a ride. No problem. It got me most of the way to the center of the T5 terminal and the Galleries Lounge complex. My destination BAs wonderful Concorde Room was just a couple hundred yards away.


LONDON HEATHROW AIRPORT

London Heathrows Terminal 5 henceforth known as T5 - is one of the largest free standing buildings in the UK. Interestingly, the site on which the terminal sits was previously occupied by the Perry Oaks Sludge Works, a sewage processing plant. The archeological recovery project on the terminal site is the largest ever in the UK. Over 80000 artifacts have been found, including pottery, flint blades and a hand axe from about 3000BC. Recovery work continues so who knows what ancient treasures might continue to be unearthed?

As I mentioned earlier, even from my drop off point by the security checkpoint outflow, it was still a bit of a walk to the Galleries Lounge Pavilion, located on the far side of the main floor. Along the way I had plenty of opportunity to be impressed with how bright and spacious the interior of T5 is. Glass and steel have been used liberally to maximize natural light and the result is quite striking. Through all the glass are superb views of the airport and the taxiways. This is a huge improvement on the claustrophobic clutter of Terminals 1 and 3, and probably 2 as well though Im not sure if Ive ever been there.

The Galleries Lounge Pavilion was located on the far side of the central floor and walking the 150 yards or so to get there was like walking through a giant shopping mall which is essentially the second function of modern day airports. We all know the first.

And I totally get it. It can be a bit boring to sit around an airport waiting for your flight whether its on time or delayed and so shops and restaurants offer an entertaining diversion for most of the passengers as well as an important source of auxiliary income for the airport.

Mind you, the shops I passed by in Heathrow are pretty high end. Indeed, one could hardly call a Harrods, Tiffany or Prada a mere shoppe. There are over fifty retail outlets in T5 and judging from the three outlets I briefly visited, youll find few if any bargains. Youll find a listing of the current offerings RIGHT HERE

There are also plenty of restaurants available including that old T4 favorite, the Caviar House. One thing you wont find in T5 are fast food chains. Theres not a McDonalds or Burger King in sight. So, while youre likely to eat better here, youll also pay quite a bit more for that privilege. Youll find a link to all of Heathrows eateries RIGHT HERE. Just scroll down a bit to get to the T5 listings.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 4, 23 at 1:38 pm
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:01 pm
  #7  
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THE CONCORDE ROOM

BA has invested the equivalent of 120 million US dollars developing the six lounges in Terminal 5. Its since spent a further few million in repairs and refurbishments on the lounges that first opened in 2008. BA calls these Gallery lounges because a sizeable portion of the money spent on them has gone towards the purchase of commissioned art installations, from paintings to illuminated sculptures and moving wallpaper.

That said, the entrance to BAs Concorde Room is downright inauspicious compared to the home base First Class lounges of other well-regarded international carriers. The entrance is essentially a bland double door set amidst pale blueish grey panels with The Concorde Room etched in smoked glass on one waist high panel. By outside appearances you could just as easily be entering the Heathrow Employee Uniform Department.

A small podium is located at the entrance, behind which a smartly uniformed lounge receptionist was stationed. So far as I know, access to the Concorde Room is strictly limited to those fortunate few who are actually flying First Class on British Airways. You may also be granted entrance if you have flown enough to be one of BAs Super Duper Diamond Encrusted Kryptonite Level flyers. So far as I know, no OneWorld riff raff as identified by virtue of a colorful green gem are allowed in! This is good old fashioned class exclusionism and I love it especially since Im quite likely the only person in this lounge who lives in a dry cabin in Alaska. For those of you unfamiliar with the term dry, it means I have to haul in my own water. Riff Raff is my middle name.

British Airways T5 Concorde Room is very nice. In my humble opinion, its not magnificent, its not awe inspiring, its not extravagant, its just very nice. I mean that in the most positive way. I love the Concorde Room. Although Ive been to larger and more opulent facilities such as Emirates First Class Lounge at Dubai or Cathays The Wing at Hong Kong, the Concorde Room feels the most comfortable to me. Theres an understated elegance and comfort to the place that I find extremely appealing.

The seating areas are divided into small, intimate settings. The couches and chairs look very comfortable indeed. On this afternoon, I would imagine that there were fifty or sixty people milling about the lounge and yet there were plenty of quiet reasonably quiet seating areas available.



Comfortable Seating in the Concorde Room


Comfortable Seating in the Concorde Room


Wheres Elton John when you really need him?


Comfortable Seating in the Concorde Room


Outside of the main lounge area is a big airy terrace or patio. Theres a real sense of having stepped outside when you visit this terrace but of course youre merely on a large platform inside within the massive confines of the T5 terminal building. Plenty of seating is available, once again in small cozy areas.



The Concorde Room Patio


The Concorde Room Patio


The Concorde Room Patio


View of T5 from the Concorde Room patio


I found it more entertaining to take a position along the railing and look out on all the activity below me on the main departures level. The view was impressive, to say the least.



View of T5 from the Concorde Room patio


The Concorde Bar looks like a nice place to enjoy a glass of Champagne or a top shelf cocktail. The gold countertop combines with a collection of glittering modern chandeliers hanging above the bar to lend a bright cheer to the overall ambience.

On my first visit to the Concorde Room back in 2008, there were over one hundred bottles of Champagne neatly stacked on the bar back. Today, that excess of Champagne has been assumedly drunk and replaced by a more practical collection of top shelf spirits and liquors. A nice collection of wines was arrayed to one side of the bar for viewing. While this was all very impressive, for me it was still a bit early in the day to imbibe at the bar. I usually dont like to drink until later in the day alone, in the dark, while writing trip reports. Truth be told, Id love to be here at the Concorde Room bar during the evening hours say, about 8:00pm. I saw a few bottles of Woodford Reserve and I recall reading somewhere recently that Johnnie Walker Blue Label is also available. Ill bet some great stories are shared at this bar. That said, it was 130pm and I was more in the mood for lunch.



The Concorde Room Champagne Bar in 2008


The Concorde Room Champagne Bar today


The Concorde Restaurant offers cozy lamp lit booths and tableside waiter service. Since it had been about five hours since my breakfast inbound from Amman, I arrived in full anticipation of enjoying a nice lunch. And maybe even a cocktail.

A waiter greeted me at the entrance to the restaurant and showed me to a table. Another waiter appeared shortly thereafter with a stylish menu and a glass of water. Despite the late lunch time hour, there were only a few other tables occupied that I could see.

I should add here that Ive seen a few other reviews that do not give high marks to the staff in this restaurant. This is my third visit and Ive always thought the service was gracious and efficient. At the same time, Im pretty easy going on such things. Its not all that important to me if the waiters arent particularly friendly or outgoing. I mean, outright rude or lazy would be unacceptable of course, but all I really ask is reasonably attentive service. The worst thing for me is to sit down at a table and then not be acknowledged with a greeting and/or have a menu presented within 3-5 minutes. Unless its obviously super busy, any longer than that and I walk out of most restaurants. And never return.

On my first visit to this restaurant in 2008 during the initial overall difficulties encountered in getting T5 up and running disaster struck shortly after Id placed my order for a plate of Eggs Benedict. Apparently some sewage pipes had backed up, rendering first the bathrooms and then the kitchen unusable. Since the material backing up was actual sewage, the lounge staff decided it would be best if the entire Concorde Room were simply evacuated and shut down. I never smelled a thing but nonetheless dutifully gathered my gear, accepted the apologies of the lounge staff and made my way over to BAs Business Class lounge a decidedly inferior facility in my estimation.

My experience today was much nicer. Service was gracious and attentive. Lets start with the table setting



Concorde Room Table Setting


The menu offered an impressive collection of food and drink. Being as its about 1:00pm, I decided to start the festivities with a drink. Here are links to the Drinks and Cocktails menus here.

I love a good spicy Bloody Mary and so ordered accordingly that being the Maverick Mary. Per the menu, it is described as follows: Extra spicy, our Virgin Mary with vodka and a hearty slug of Longbottom & Co. hot sauce and garnished with a slice of jalapeo


Still Life Bloody Mary with Menu


Well, that Bloody Mary may look photogenic, but overall I thought it was a bit thin and not particularly spicy. I like my Bloody Marys thick and spicy as in hot and spicy and this one, while certainly drinkable, didnt rise to a level of excellence per my experience. Others may disagree per their tastes. My favorite Bloody Marys were made by Gene, the old owner/bartender of the Golden Eagle Saloon back home in Ester, Alaska. Fellow FlyerTalker jlemon also deserves mention for his delicious Cajun Bloody Marys that go down well at any time of day under the humid heat of the south Louisiana sun.

Lets have a look at the midday food offerings, shall we?



Concorde Room Menu


Oh yes! Im sure I could put together a suitable repast from this selection. Lets start with a bowl of split pea with mint soup. Ill follow that up with a plate of the John Ross Smoked Salmon Mousse.



Concorde Room Soup


Concorde Room Salmon


My waiter - a nice young fellow of Indian heritage - stopped by to ask if I might be interested in a beef appetizer that had been prepared for someone else in error. It was a special that hadnt been described on the printed menu but one that we had discussed briefly. He assured me that it wasnt very large...

Sure, bring it on!



Concorde Room Beef Appetizer


Well that was tasty! It came with a barbecue flavored sauce and some yellow stuff that looked like Dijon mustard but was in reality another sauce, and a fairly light flavored one at that. Perhaps Bearnaise?

Alright then - Bring on the burger!



Concorde Room Burger


Oh yeah! This was one delicious burger, especially accompanied by a nice peppery Shiraz (Nietschke, Julius Shiraz 2017, Barossa Valley, Australia) and a portion of steak fries next to good thick crinkle cuts my favorite.

Properly sated, I gathered my gear and headed down the corridor to the shower suites. Id stopped by there on my initial peregrinations around the lounge and was informed that there was a waiting list with a wait time of about 40 minutes. No problem! Ill just pop over to the restaurant and check back after lunch. It was only perhaps 30 minutes later, as I was about half way through my burger that the lady working the shower desk found me in the restaurant to let me know a suite had opened up. Although I indicated I was more than willing to forego the open shower and sign up again when Id finished my lunch, she exhorted me to take my time as theyd hold the suite for me. Well I must say, although Im not one who goes through life expecting special treatment, when its offered I am more than appreciative. Thanks to the staff at the BA Shower Suites for looking after me so nicely!

Now I know, I know some of you are wondering wheres the picture of the shower suite? Truth be told, I never bothered to take one. The suite was nice but otherwise not all that remarkable, and indeed I thought if anything it was a bit on the small side. Fitting my rollabord and me inside, then opening and removing a change of clothing, drying off, getting dressed and repacked was not all that easy. The shower itself was just fine though.

You know what? I do have a picture handy of what I do consider a proper First Class shower suite. Ive enjoyed a few in my day, but the one pictured taken at the Asiana First Class Lounge at Seoul ICN back in 2014 is definitely one of the best Ive visited.



Asiana First Class Shower Suite at ICN


One Concorde Room innovation that I did not check out was the cabanas ~ small, private rooms which can be booked by appointment for rest between flights. I wasnt tired, though if I had been I would have appreciated the privacy that these rooms provide. Then again, the chances of a lowly Alaska Airlines Award Traveler like myself albeit mere OneWorld Emerald Riff-Raff - ever securing one of those rooms in advance would seem to be so minimal as to be unworthy of further consideration. Ill just set up camp under a tree out on the patio, thanks. Maybe I can bum some spare change from passerby

During an earlier visit to the main service desk in search of a plug adaptor (surprisingly, there were none) the concierge had noticed my limp and asked if Id like wheelchair assistance to the gate.

How far is it? I asked.
Oh, its quite good distance she replied. Youll have to make your way down to catch the train over to the satellite terminal, and then your gate is still all the way down at the far end.
How long do you think itd take to walk?
Oh about 15 minutes or more. Please, let us get you a wheelchair.
Hmm, alright.

To be honest, Im really not used to the idea of being shuttled around in a wheelchair. If I must, I suppose Id rather a ride on the electric cart. I mean, aside from airports it seems, I walk everywhere. Every morning at work this summer, Id start the day off with a 400 yard walk to the bus yard. That was followed by another 150-200 yard stroll just to get out to my bus, which always seemed to be parked down at the far end of the lot. Then Id repeat all that at the end of the day.

I get it that any time you see someone limping along, its only natural to empathize for them a bit. Theres a natural concern and caring that the person limping may be hurt or in pain. As an employee in a large airport where occasionally the distances to be walked can be quite long, its only natural to offer assistance. Ive been gimpy for quite a few years now and I cant tell you how often Ive been asked if Id like wheelchair assistance.

I appreciate it, I really do both the offer and the concern. Up until recently however, Ive always passed on the offer. The thing is, as the one doing the limping well, Ive gotten pretty used to it over the years. As to whether Im hurt or in pain, yes, I am generally always in some degree of pain but again, Ive gotten pretty used to it. Basically, my whole attitude towards my affliction is $#%@ it! I dont have time for this sh*t. Ive got places to go and things to do and there you have it. Thats my focus. I mean, its not like I cant do all the stuff I generally want to do. Im just a bit inconvenienced is all. Either way, damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead or at least as much speed as can be generated under the circumstances.

I will admit however that this past summer was a tough one, and, according to the results of my latest MRI taken in September, things have gotten a bit worse. My right hand is getting more and more numb and lately Im beginning to lose a bit of muscle control in my toes - this in addition to the muscular atrophy thats affecting my whole right side in general. Ive never taken advantage of wheelchair assistance on to or off of the airplane (unless Ive had too much to drink ) because Im still capable of walking and feel like I could knock off a quarter mile in most any airport without concern, but in some of these really large airports like Doha and Heathrow what the heck - Ive been thankful for the helping hand. That was certainly the case today at Heathrow.

Even after quite the trip down to the lower level of T5A, the train ride to the satellite building and then the long walk down to the gate lounge at the end of the concourse, we still had to make our way down a long glass walled corridor (like, 150 yards long!) just to get out to the long angular jetway to get into our remotely parked aircraft. I didnt have any British Pounds, just a couple of tens and some twenties, so I tipped my wheelchair driver $10 USD. Given the distance and the pleasant disposition of my driver, this ride was well worth it.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:10 pm
  #8  
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September 24th, 2022
British Airways * First Class * London to Seattle * 330p-505p * 787-9


Rather surprisingly, this is my first flight in International First Class since the last time I flew aboard British Airways in February of 2019. Any of you who’ve followed my trip reports over the past twenty years know that I’m usually good for two to four flights each year in International First Class. Alas, Covid changed all that. Believe me when I tell you it is ever so good to be back!

Any of you who have had the pleasure of enjoying International standard First Class inflight service know the unique pleasures of what of I speak. We’re not talkin’ flying up front from New York to LA anymore (although those of you of a certain age will recall that once upon a time the service in First Class aboard U.S. transcons was not that far off the international standard) Flying in international First Class aboard certain international airlines is not just a flight, it’s an experience. It’s not just the space or the food. It’s the training and pride reflected in flight attendants who anticipate your needs, not just come when they’re called. It’s consistently and graciously meeting the expectations and needs of an often sophisticated and seasoned clientele, many of whom have expectations commensurate with their lot in life, a lot that rarely if ever includes Economy or Business Class travel. It’s training and pride that reflect in a meal being presented, not just served. It’s a commitment by the airline to provide only the finest in food and amenities and to maintain a high standard of service that allows only the best and most dedicated flight attendants to work the First Class cabin. It’s class. First Class. It all adds up to the very best service one can expect in the air. It’s truly wonderful to experience and almost as exciting to anticipate.

By the way, a few years ago I had someone here call me on why I refer to it as a First Class “Experience”. To that I will respond thusly – If for you flying in International First Class aboard any of the world’s finest airlines is no more than “just another flight”, you’re clearly wasting your time in the wrong trip report. Indeed, the fact that one who thinks along such lines might be perusing the Trip Reports Forum at all would be surprising to say the least. Continue on with this report at risk of your own ennui.

Now I know it’s trendy with some of the snootier amongst us to look down their noses at British Airways with regard to expecting a quality First Class experience. Many of the posters at a couple of forums here come across as so blas about it all as if they have gazillions of miles from their work related travel and have long since lost the excitement of it all. It’s almost as if they’ve come to expect forelock-tipping and are always looking for little things to criticize.

What can I say? To be sure, British Airways is not Emirates or Swissair, and, although I’ve had a couple of stinkers amongst the 41 flights and 200000+ miles I’ve logged in BA’s First Class, on the whole I feel like for the most part they’ve provided a consistently nice service with crews who understand the idea of International First Class service as opposed to a significant percentage of their modern day U.S. counterparts.

It’s a real shame how times have changed. Back in the 1960s US carriers Pan American and TWA were very worthy standard bearers for excellence in First Class service. By the time other US carriers started to enter the international arena post-deregulation (1978), times were changing in ways detrimental to the continued high quality of service. Above all, lower fares and generous award travel redemptions from fast growing frequent flyer programs resulted in a lot of people flying First Class on US airlines without paying anywhere near what it traditionally cost. Over time, the service standards began to erode, essentially reflecting the fact that you get what you pay for.

Outside of America, it’s generally a lot more difficult to earn the miles needed to redeem for a Premium Class award. Heck, right now Alaska Airlines is offering 70000 miles if you get its credit card and then spend only $3000 over the next three months. That’s enough for a one way First Class award from the U.S. to Japan on JAL. I don’t need to tell any of you well-traveled people what those seats are worth when purchased with cold hard cash (credit cards are gladly accepted though)

But hey – enough of this talk. Let’s board our 787 and commence with the festivities!

My wheelchair chauffer insisted on delivering me all the way down the jetway and right up to the door of the aircraft. There, two nicely attired ladies were stationed to meet and greet all incoming passengers. Unlike some gates, there was only one jetway for this flight, boarding at door 2L. This early in the process however, most of us were true First Class passengers and as such were greeted warmly and directed – if not outright escorted - to our suites.

British Airways operates a fleet of eighteen of the 787-9 variant. I first flew one back in 2019 between London and Newark. I was in First Class back then too, suite 2K. Imagine then my surprise – and to some extent dismay – to see that the aircraft operating today’s flight over to Seattle was none other than G-ZBKN, the exact same aircraft I’d flown aboard three years ago. I was also sat in the exact same suite, 2K. Look, you can still see where I carved my initials in the side wall!



British Airways’ 797-9


Just kidding of course! That said, I do like flying aboard new and different aircraft and because I’m one of those unrepentant weirdos who actually log my flights – including the aircraft registration number – I’m actually aware of such things as G-ZBKN whereas most other people would be blissfully unaware. That said, ZBKN’s a great gal and much as I’d like to meet and fly aboard all of her sisters, I’ve really no serious complaints in flying with her once again, especially since I get to fly her at her best – in First Class

As such, let’s have a look at what one who’s fortunate enough to fly in First Class can expect aboard BA’s 787-9s:



British Airways First Class Cabin on the 787-9
Photo courtesy of British Airways


British Airways First Class Suite on the 787-9
Photo courtesy of British Airways


British Airways First Class Suite on the 787-9 – Looking forward


Ah…. It is so nice to enter the serene sanctum of the First Class cabin on a wide bodied aircraft. This was particularly true up in the nose of the 747 – the Queen of The Skies. Upon entry, you leave the crowds in the jetway behind and can now cast off the stress and demands of the day. Soft music floats through the cabin as you hand over your jacket and carry-on luggage and settle into your comfortable and spacious First Class suite. Off with your shoes, on with your slippers. Sink back into the foam rubber leather upholstered ecstasy of your plush First Class seat and gratefully accept that offer of the traditional start to any proper International First Class experience.

That’s right – a glass of Champagne. Mind you, we’re not talkin’ Paul Masson sparkling wine or even some sub-$100/bottle swill as served on some airlines Business classes. Today’s offering was a glass of Laurent Perrier, Grand Sicle NV – from what I understand a fairly good quaff.

That said, how ironic that such quality is practically wasted on me. That’s right. I’ve said it before but I just don’t relate to what all the excitement is about good Champagnes. I mean, just last week I was trying to make sense of a glass of $350+/bottle Salon aboard a Japan Airlines flight (Don’t worry, we’ll get to that flight in due time…) Heck, per my clearly uncultured tastes, it didn’t taste all that much different from a glass of $27.00/bottle Freixenet.

That said, a quality glass of Champagne – most notably Dom Perignon – is and has long been the standard bearer for the traditional welcome aboard drink aboard most International First Class flights. Even though my preference and knowledgeable appreciation lean more toward a quality bourbon or whisky, I almost always go with the flow and start out my First Class experience with a glass of the bubbly.

Almost, but not today. Today, I requested a simple glass of the South African Chenin Blanc. I know, I know – it was my first international First Class flight in over three years, and yet a glass of nicely chilled white wine was all I really wanted. There would be plenty of time over the course of this 9 hour and 10 minute flight to check out the other various wines and spirits.

This brings back memories of the time I started out a trans-Pacific flight on Cathay Pacific with one of its non-alcoholic mocktails. I don’t remember the name of it – the something Breeze perhaps – but oh, it was ever so tasty and refreshing!

A blanket, pillow and noise cancelling headphones were already at the suite of course. Soon I was offered slippers, pajamas and an amenity kit, followed shortly thereafter by the menu and wine list for this flight. Of all the various amenities offered, the latter two are my favorites. To my way of thinking, they represent my favorite form of inflight entertainment. So then, let’s check out that Wine List, shall we?


WINE LIST

Champagne

Laurent Perrier, Grand Sicle NV – France
Lanson, Extra Age Ros Brut NV - France
Hattingley Valley, Blanc de Noirs 2018 – England


White Wine
Laroche Chablis 1er Cru L’Essence des Climats 2020 – France
Serge Dagueneau & Fils, Pouilly-Fum Tradition 2021 – France
Kleine Zalze, Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2019 – South Africa


Red Wine
Chteau Quinault l’Enclos, St Emilion Grand Cru Class 2014 – France
Martinborough Vineyard, Te Tera Pinot Noir 2020 – New Zealand
Teusner, Riebke Shiraz 2019 – Australia


Dessert Wines
Chteau Filhot, Sauternes Grand Cru Class 2019 – France
Warre’s Colheita Port 2019 – Portugal


Spirits
Tanqueray No. Ten Gin
Aviation Gin
Croc Vodka
Bacardi Carta Blanca
Zacapa 23 Rum
Bulleit Bourbon
Singleton 15 Year Old Single Malt Scottish Whisky
Johnny Walker Blue Label Scotch Whisky


Liqueurs & Digestifs
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Otard XO Cognac
Cointreau


Beers
BrewDog Jetstream
Heineken Lager
Heineken 0.0% Alcohol



Hmm… I found it surprising that BA had dropped the Woodford Reserve as its bourbon of choice and instead gone with Bulleit. Bulleit’s certainly drinkable but per my tastes at least the Woodfords has more flavor and depth. Mind you, I’ve been known to buy a bottle or two of Bulleit back home, but then that’s when it’s on sale for just $24.95 or so/750ml bottle. It normally retails for about $31 in Alaska. Meanwhile, the Woodford is rarely on sale and typically retails for about $40 per bottle. I’d hate to think economics had anything to do with the decision to switch out the Woodford...

Whilst I was perusing the Wine List, the last of the First Class passengers arrived (We departed with five of the eight suites occupied), the airplane was buttoned up and safety announcements were dispensed with. I miss the old ones with the Lakm: Flower Duet soundtrack… We then commenced a long taxi out to some distant runway from which we launched into a powerful takeoff run, after which we verily leapt into the skies above Heathrow and charged onward and upward toward the soft blue yonder of the troposphere.

Service commenced about twenty minutes into the flight. The Flight Attendant serving my side of the cabin was a lovely lass named Emily with an equally lovely lilt to her English accent. Might I care for a cocktail or a glass of wine to start off the flight?

I would love to try one of those assumedly fine British ales such as the BrewDog Jetstream, but from my past experience they’re never served cold enough. The problem is twofold, I think. One - they’ve just been sitting on top of the ice and Two – forgive my chauvinism here but I suspect that many of the female flight attendants don’t seem to know or care much about drinking beer. Add to that my preference for ice cold beer – regardless of whether it’s a lager or a stout – and some of you might counter with the possibility that maybe it’s me who doesn’t know much about drinking beer.

That said, I know my tastes and they demand ice cold beer. Even Guinness Stout. Anyway, since past experience suggests that I’d only be disappointed with a beer order, I instead opted for a glass of the exquisitely described Laroche Chablis 1er Cru L’Essence des Climats 2020. Just saying that name… it just kinda rolls off your tongue and makes ya feel a bit like a wine snob, n’est ce pas?



Traditional White Wine in the window shot


Traditional White Wine in the window shot


The wine was presented with a nicely plated tray of canaps, three in total each set in their own little bowl. The last time I flew with BA in 2019 there were no canaps, but I am pleased to report that not only have they returned, but BA would appear to have upped their game with regard to canaps. Long one of my favorite parts of a proper First Class service, I have fond memories from the eighties of large trays or trolleys of ornately prepared and presented canaps served aboard the likes of Air New Zealand, Aerolineas Argentinas, UTA, Royal Air Maroc… heck, even United used to have a nice canap offering back in the days of its Four Star and Ocean to Ocean Service.



Cocktail and Canaps


Canap Close-up


Canap Close-up


Well now, what better time to peruse and consider the upcoming culinary festivities of the meal service than while sipping fine wine and munching exquisite canaps. I can’t think of any, can you? That said, now might be a good time to top off whatever you’re drinking to accompany this report and maybe heat up a quesadilla or something to accompany your perusal of this evening’s dinner offerings.


DINNER
London to Seattle

Canaps
Proscuitto with melon, smoked salmon with cream cheese and cucumber, fire roasted red pepper roulade with goat’s cheese

STARTERS

Seared Beef Carpaccio

Black truffle, crme frache

Loch Fyne Smoked Salmon
Caviar, avocado, wasabi dressing

Double Baked Souffl
Asparagus, Morel sauce

Sweet Potato Soup

Seasonal Mixed Leaf Salad

Offered with a Dijon Vinaigrette

Warm Bakery Selection
Served with butter and olive oil


MAINS

Slow Cooked Lamb Shank

Celeriac mousseline, ratatouille, rosemary jus

Miso Grilled Poussin
Pickled cucumber, caramelized lemon

Pan Seared Turbot
Crushed herbed potatoes, lobster sauce

Ricotta Stuffed Courgettes
Caponata, courgette crme

Selection of Sides
Turned potatoes, roasted red pepper, baby carrot and baby corn with broccolini


CHEESE

Cornish Yarg

Coated with nettle leaves, this cow’s milk cheese is moist with a slight tangy flavor

Rutland Red
A flaky cheese with slightly sweet, caramelized flavor and rich golden color

Blanche Goat’s Cheese
This goat’s cheese has a wrinkly rind with a smooth texture underneath and a delicate and creamy taste

Yorkshire Blue
A blue cheese with uniform blue veining and creaminess. This cheese is buttery, sweet and mild in flavor

Savory biscuits, plum chutney, grapes and apricots


DESSERTS

Passion Fruit and Hazelnut Tart

Served with vanilla ice cream

Crpes Suzette
Served with vanilla ice cream

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream
Fresh strawberries, strawberry coulis and crunchy white chocolate pearls

Fresh Seasonal Berries

SNACKS

Enjoy a light bite at any time during your flight

Popcorn
Selection of Tyrrell’s hand cooked English crisps
Lindt truffles



Hmm…. I think I can come up with a pretty nice meal from all of this. Emily waited patiently while I hemmed and hawed over the appetizer options. Finally, at Emily’s suggestion, I opted for the Seared Beef Carpaccio. I’ll definitely have the soup and salad, and for the main… let’s go with… the Slow Cooked Lamb Shank.
Chalkie, Fliar, lamphs and 2 others like this.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:16 pm
  #9  
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I quite liked the French Chablis and so opted for a top off of that while my table was set with crisp white linens, gleaming silverware, a large bread plate and a 9” long porcelain tray bearing butter, olive oil and an attractive set of salt and pepper grinders.

Ten minutes later, my Beef Carpaccio was presented. I didn’t recognize it off the menu when I ordered, but when it was presented I remembered having had it while flying between Tel Aviv and London three years ago. It was okay then and it was okay now, though in retrospect I wish I’d ordered the Loch Fyne Smoked Salmon with the caviar, avocado and wasabi dressing.



Seared Beef Carpaccio


Next up was the soup. It too was pretty good – not memorably so but not bad, not bad. I would have liked it better with a crostini or some croutons but hey, you can’t always have it all…



Sweet Potato Soup


I have to say I was a little disappointed with the salad. All it consisted of was a bowl of field greens – no shredded carrots, onions, tomatoes, broccoli – nothing but a couple leaves of purple cabbage to visually accent it a bit. I’ve enjoyed some pretty good salads on BA over the years, but alas, this one was not up to BA’s past standards. If it were any consolation, the Dijon Vinaigrette dressing was excellent – flavorful and tangy.



Seasonal Mixed Leaf Salad


Alright then, bring on the Main Course! I’ve had mixed results with BA’s lamb dishes over the years, but I’m pleased to report that this time they got it right. The meat was tender and flavorful, the vegetables were well cooked and the mashed potatoes were of good consistency and flavor. If I had any suggestion to offer on this dish, it might be to make a bit of mint jelly or mint sauce available if so desired. But overall, nicely done, BA!



Slow Cooked Lamb Shank


I might add that a glass of Chteau Quinault l’Enclos, St Emilion Grand Cru Class 2014 made a delicious accompaniment to this lamb dinner. I know that many people feel that quality wine suffers in the high and dry environment of a pressurized airliner cabin, but this wine was a slightly spicy and full bodied Bordeaux that I thought was tasty enough to request a second glass. Cheers!

About the only time I ever partake of cheese, port and dessert after a meal is when flying in International First Class. Normally, I’m happily sated after most any meal at home or in a restaurant, but for me at least there’s just something incredibly unique and special about being served a seven course meal on a beautifully set table, accompanied by fine wines and spirits, all while comfortably sat in a state of the art $150000 First Class suite cruising serenely above the planet below.

The entire ambiance of it all, the gracious course by course service, the comfortable seating, the beauty of the world passing by below – it’s all so wonderful. For me at least, such a setting would elevate even a hot dog and a splot of potato salad to a special event. I cherish every minute of it and so, even though I’m generally satisfyingly full after the main course, I usually make an effort to check out the cheese and dessert courses anyway.

Does this transcend the boundaries of gluttony? Were it a regular approach to eating, I’d tend to agree but given the special nature of the circumstances combined with the fact that this eating to excess is limited to such special occasions, I really don’t feel any guilt over it. It’s like Thanksgiving or Superbowl Sunday – but at 38000’…

So then, yes please – I’d love to try out the cheeses and of course I’ll accompany that with a glass of the port.

Some of you long time readers of my trip reports may recall that it was aboard a British Airways flight back in 2002 that I was first exposed to the wondrous flavors of a quality port via a glass of Warre’s 1986 Reserve Tawny Port combined with the earthy deliciousness of England’s own Stilton cheese. Per my tastes at least, these two together remain one of the culinary world’s great flavor combinations.

It’s also worth noting that my initial experience with that Warre’s 1986 Reserve Tawny Port remains the standard by which I judge all other ports. Two other ports have approached that standard – a glass of KWV Classic Cape Tawny Port served aboard South African Airways’ Business Class while flying between Sao Paulo and Johannesburg in 2015 and the Taylor’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port still served to this day aboard Japan Airlines’ Intercontinental First Class flights, one of which I flew upon just two weeks ago.



Cheese & Port


This was a nicely plated and presented cheese service. The relatively youthful (2019) Warre’s Colheita Port was tasty, but not as earthy and well rounded as I remember that 1986 Tawny being. The Yorkshire Blue was of course my favorite cheese, but that goat’s cheese was also quite nice.

I would like to note here that despite all that I’ve written about my thoughts and experiences with food and port in the paragraphs above, I certainly wouldn’t presume to present myself as an authority on these things. I can only speak from my own personal experiences and as such present my thoughts and evaluations with the implicit understanding that they are mine alone and certainly don’t represent some universally qualified view on the quality or lack thereof of any food and drink discussed and assessed here.

Some might ask what the heck are my “qualifications” to be commenting about food and wine in these trip reports anyway? I prefer to think of them as “experiences” more so than qualifications, but suffice it to say that over the last sixty years I’ve logged close to six million miles with just over 600000 of those coming in International First Class. I’ve had the good fortune to have been wined and dined in delicious style aboard Qantas, Air France, Air New Zealand, UTA, Royal Air Maroc, Aerolineas Argentinas, Singapore, Thai International, Cathay Pacific, Swissair, United, British Airways, American, Emirates, Lufthansa, Asiana, Continental and Japan Airlines. We’re not even considering international Business Class which is generally of a lesser standard, though some airlines such as Qatar, Austrian and South African provide close to First Class standards in both food and presentation.

And – oh my God! Most a youse are too young to remember when U.S. airlines provided close to - if not the equal of - an international standard First Class on flights of three hours or more. Anybody who flew transcons or Hawaii flights back in the seventies knows what I’m talking about. Gardyloo – you out there? Flying Seattle to Anchorage – which I did often aboard United back in the day – was an amazing service, even aboard smaller aircraft such as a 727-200. I used to fly United’s 7:00pm departure out of Seattle all the time back in the mid-eighties. Huge 12”x9” menus were at each seat. I remember hors d’oeuvres plates that included shrimp, pate de fois gras, cheddar cheese, bread sticks, delicious appetizers, salads tossed in a big glass bowl and served seat side from a trolley, a choice of four entrees that always included a roast carved at your seat, a cheese course and a choice of two desserts. I remember hot apple strudel and ice cream being my favorite. Western Airlines’ Pacific Northerner Service flights were also a delicious way to travel to and from Alaska. I’ve been served caviar with all the usual accompaniments aboard a Braniff 727-100 between New York and Dallas and delicious slabs of Beef Wellington from the trolley aboard Continental between Newark and Denver. Any of us old enough to have flown back then were truly blessed with memorable First Class service, the likes of which we’ll never see again.

Alright then, that’s enough of a stroll down Memory Lane. Now then, how about that dessert? Well geez, I’m come this far… Let’s finish this meal off with panache! Surveying my options in the menu, I decided to go with the Passion Fruit and Hazelnut Tart, accompanied with a small side dish of supposedly homemade strawberry ice cream. Wherever it was made, it was quite good and made a fine accompaniment to the delicious decadence if the Fruit and Hazelnut Tart. And hey, check out that presentation on the plate. Again, very nicely done, BA! Two thumbs up for that one!



Passion Fruit and Hazelnut Tart


By the time the last of the plates had been cleared, we were well out over the North Atlantic, cruising serenely through twilight skies. A quick look around the cabin revealed that mine were the only windows that hadn’t been darkened (for those of you unfamiliar with the 787, its windows have no shades but rather can be electronically dimmed at the push of a button). Everyone was either sleeping or dialed in to the IFE system or their personal devices. It’s too bad they were missing such a pretty moment but there’ll be other times, I suppose… just not from 38,000’.

Eventually, I too plugged in my laptop and took a half hour or so to transcribe the Wine List and Menu. I know taking pictures of the menu contents would seem to be the preferred method here, but I prefer to actually transcribe them into the report. In the long run, I just think it comes out as easier to read.

Later, I checked out the trivia games – specifically Who Wants to be A Millionaire? I’m not bad at trivia. Indeed, maybe I’m pretty good because I managed to attain Millionaire Status twice over the next couple of hours. Eventually I filled up all eight slots on the High Scores standings. Too bad I didn’t actually win anything. Oh well...

“Emily, may I have a refill on that Johnny Walker Blue, please?”



Trivia Scoreboard


It was fairly dark as we flew over southern Greenland and then entered Canadian airspace just south of Iqaluit on the southern end of Baffin Island. As we continued west and a tad south across the Hudson Bay, the sun started rising again, allowing for this photo as we crossed over the coast.



Canadian Coast


Having started the day in Amman, Jordan where the current time was about 3:00am – and remember, I was up at 5:00am earlier this morning – or was it yesterday morning? – anyway, I needed some sleep. I was hoping just to catch a bit of a catnap because I wanted to check out the “Light Meal” service prior to landing in Seattle. Let’s check out the offerings…


LIGHT MEAL

STARTERS

Waldorf Salad

Hot smoked salmon, compressed apples, walnuts

Burrata
Grilled asparagus, pistachio rosemary pesto

Seasonal Mixed Leaf Salad

MAINS

British Beef Burger

Mature cheddar, Worcestershire sauce mayo, caramelized onions and tomato ginger chutney

Homemade Ricotta
Served with spinach rotolo

DESSERT

Chocolate Mousse



This Light Meal is a huge improvement over what BA used to offer on these London to USA flights. Some of you may recall that this second meal was once billed as an English Afternoon Tea and the offerings were pretty meager by comparison. Back between 2002 and 2010 I flew at least a dozen flights in BA’s First westbound across the pond. Here’s a transcript of what was then the standard second meal service on these flights. This one is from a London to Miami flight in April of 2008 –


ENGLISH AFTERNOON TEA

A Selection of Sandwiches featuring:


Crayfish and rocket on wholemeal
Chicken and tarragon mayonnaise
Savoury cheese and red onion
English cucumber with soft cheese and dill

~ Or ~


Chicken and tomato chutney lattice pie

PATISSERIE

Plain or Fruit Scones

Served warm with clotted cream and strawberry jam

Pastry Collection
Chocolate Florentine, chocolate clair and classic Victoria sponge


The sandwiches were these little tea sandwiches, and they were not particularly filling. I did like those scones though, especially the clotted cream. My main complaint with this second meal is that it wasn’t very filling. Some might say it shouldn’t be, since you’re arriving in the US in the mid to late afternoon, a couple hours before the dinner hour there. I’ll concede that point, but I’ve always felt that given the amount of money or miles required to travel in First Class relative to Economy, it’s better to err on the side of abundance than to offer too little.

Be that as it may, after awaking from a nice little two hour nap, you know what? I wasn’t hungry enough to order any of the main dishes. And to think I was really looking forward to the Burrata and the British Beef Burger. Instead, I ended up requesting a second tray of the canaps. That’s it.

Really, this is in retrospect quite a disappointment. Maybe I should see a doctor about this surprising absence of appetite in a situation where in the past I’d make room for that second meal. Maybe I’m just getting older and don’t require as much food as I used to. In any event, please accept my apologies since you readers – assuming you’ve read this far – have been deprived of photographic evidence of BA’s improved second meal. Hopefully no one will see fit to report me to the moderator!

It was a pretty evening as we descended through spotty clouds over the Cascades and made our approach into SeaTac from the south. Our wheels kissed the tarmac ever so gently and seemingly minimal reverse thrust was employed. It was quite a nice landing.

I didn’t really pay any attention as we taxied into our gate, but I did note that we parked next to an Aer Lingus A330-300 that looked quite fetching in the Irish carrier’s latest livery. I paused briefly to thank Emily and her cohorts for a nice flight and then made my way up the jetway and into the terminal.

Eh? Wot’s this? Halfway up the jetway was a wheelchair and a guy holding a sign with my name on it. I’d totally spaced that given my assistance to the gate in London, BA naturally would have arranged for similar assistance at Seattle. I politely declined, thinking I would be emerging into the South Satellite, from which it’s not a long walk to the train and the Customs & Immigration hall. Thankfully, the fellow manning the wheelchair took a moment to ask if I was sure I wanted to walk since it was quite a long ways to Customs.

“We’re on the South Satellite, aren’t we?” I asked.
“No Sir. We’re at the International gates”
“International gates – aren’t those in the South Satellite?”
“Some of them, yes. But not here.”
“How long would it take to walk?” I asked
“About 15 minutes…”
“Holy Sh – uh, okay, I guess I’ll go with you.”


It had been a few years since I’d last flown into Seattle from abroad – the last time being from Dubai in 2014 - and this was all new to me. From the best I can figure it, we were parked way out at the end of what seemed to be an extension of the A Concourse. I want to emphasize “Waaaay out” too. It was a heck of a long haul to the Customs area. Thankfully my membership in Global Entry expedited things nicely and when I was finally deposited at the elevators leading down to the hotel shuttle pick up area across the street from the terminal, I tipped my ride $20. Initially I was going to tip him $10 but given the time and distance involved, and my appreciation at not having had to limp along that distance after 9 hours of sitting (which makes walking a lot more difficult, initially), somehow a mere $10 seemed insufficient. Additionally, in my job I get tipped $10 and $20 all the time, so there’s also a karma factor at work.

An hour later, I was tucking under the sheets at my hotel and looking forward to a solid eight hours of sleep in advance of my 6:00am wakeup call. Next stop – Alaska!
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:20 pm
  #10  
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September 25th, 2022
Alaska Airlines * Seattle to Fairbanks * 825a – 1140a * 737-MAX9 * First Class


Normally I don’t like getting up at 5:30am, but given the residual jetlag (It was 3:30pm in Amman) I felt pretty good. For sure I knocked off a good eight and a half hours or so of sleep last night, which helped that much more. The 6:30 shuttle delivered me back to the airport, Clear and TSA Pre-check sped me through the security checkpoint and by 7:15 I was sipping good hot coffee and munching on a scone at the North Satellite Alaska Lounge.

As an added bonus, when I checked in for my boarding pass at the airport kiosks, I was pleased to find that I’d been upgraded to First Class – Seat 1D. The seats on the bulkhead are never my favorites, but in terms of comfort and attendant service they obviously beat any seat behind the curtain.

The aircraft assigned today’s flight was N977AK, one of Alaska’s new 737-MAX9s. I’m always happy to see one of the MAXs assigned to my flight because thus far I’ve only flown nine of the forty aircraft currently active in Alaska’s fleet. You know me – collect ‘em all! Over the years flying Alaska I’ve logged flights aboard all of the -400s, all but one of the -800s, and all but three of the -900s. And, unless things change from my currently booked flights, I’ll log my two millionth mile on Alaska in January.

As to the flight and service, there were three options available for breakfast. I should note here that although I present the offerings below in a menu format, Alaska no longer employs menus on most of its services. I found them over on the Alaska Airlines Forum here at FT -

BREAKFAST
Seattle to Fairbanks

Fruit & Cheese Plate
It’s an all-star cast for our Fruit & Cheese plate. Beecher’s Flagship cheese, Tillamook sharp cheddar and brie, Partners crackers, and finished with a Seattle Chocolate truffle.

Sweet Corn Pancakes with Chicken Apple Sausage
Fluffy sweet-corn pancakes, served with a cage-free poached egg, sauted baby spinach, chicken apple sausage and a red pepper relish

Chicken Sausage & Egg Ranchero Bowl
Toasted farro and garlic-marinated pinto beans, served with a cage-free poached egg and chicken sausage, topped with a Salsa Roja, Cotija cheese, and fresh scallions


I usually prefer to go with an egg breakfast, but I’m not a big fan of Alaska’s “Bowl” breakfasts. They’re tasty enough, but they’re too small. There’s only one egg and the bowls aren’t that big. So – the pancakes it is.



Sweet Corn Pancakes with Chicken Apple Sausage


This was a good choice. The flavor combination of pancakes, chicken sausage and the various veggies was delicious and the portion size was more than filling. I’d have no complaints if Alaska decided to keep this dish in the rotation for a while longer.

The flight passed quickly and after three hours and thirty some odd minutes we lined up for final and descended along the Tanana River and Chena Ridge. Rather surprisingly, there was no snow on the ground and, according to the captain, the temperature was in the forties. By this same date last year we had almost a foot of snow on the ground.

Either way, it’s good to be home! If only for a day…


September 27th, 2022
Alaska Airlines * Fairbanks to Seattle * 1220p-500p * 737-MAX9 * First Class


I got a lot done yesterday. I washed a load of laundry, collected and dealt with all my mail, refilled all my water jugs and joined friends in town for dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant. Later, I repacked my bag and printed up my boarding pass for the flight down to Seattle. Despite my travel to Seattle and eventually on to Washington DC being on an award ticket, I’d already been upgraded as of last night and was even able to snag my new favorite seat, 2D.

That said, I don’t think I’ll be changing my handle here at FlyerTalk anytime soon. Seat 2A was my favorite seat for many years, and it remains so on most International First Class configured aircraft. The reason I’ve switched to aisle seats is mainly due to ease of access both in and out of the seat, especially the latter as it’s not good – for me at least – to sit for too long. I usually like to get up about once every hour and a half or so and take a stroll to the back of the plane. This is especially true when using the lavs on the 737. The fuselage starts curving downward in the forward lav, resulting in diminished headroom for a six footer like me (Well, 5’11”) and with my spinal issues it’s hard for me to pee when I have to lean back. Sorry if that’s TMI, but that’s the way it is. The three lavs at the back of the plane can comfortably accommodate a standing person three or four inches taller.

It was a nice sunny afternoon as we took off to the southwest on runway 20R. It would have been nice to have had that window seat today as the views climbing out over Chena Ridge are always of interest to me. You can clearly see the Parks Highway running along the ridge tops down to Nenana while enjoying a pretty view of the western Tanana Basin on the other side of the plane. I drive that road every week during the summer and it’s cool to follow it from above – easy to do because it’s the only road south out of Fairbanks. The next closest north-south road is 125 miles to the east on the Richardson Highway. No east-west highways cross the Parks Highway until the Glenn – 300 miles to the south.

Service this afternoon started with a double Woodford on the rocks, served with a small ramekin of warmed mixed nuts. I don’t know about the inflight service of American, Delta and United on routes of comparable length, but all things considered in today’s travel environment, I think Alaska’s service is quite good. Once again, no menus were offered but as I had been upgraded yesterday, I was able to access the online inflight menu and order my main course in advance.


LUNCHEON
Fairbanks to Seattle

Fruit & Cheese Plate
It’s an all-star cast for our Fruit & Cheese plate. Beecher’s Flagship cheese, Tillamook sharp cheddar and brie, Partners crackers, and finished with a Seattle Chocolate truffle

Corn & Hominy Grain Bowl
Ancient grains cooked in a salsa verde, topped with a corn & hominy relish, basil-marinated grape tomatoes and cotija cheese

Tamarind Chicken
Spiced chicken thigh paired with a sweet potato mash, roasted Caribbean vegetables, and topped with a tangy tamarind glaze


Alaska’s Fruit and Cheese Plate is extremely popular with most flyers. I like it as well, though I don’t consider it a proper lunch or dinner option per my tastes. As such I went with the Tamarind Chicken.



Tamarind Chicken


Visually, I don’t think this is the most appealing entre, but overall it tasted okay. There wasn’t much to the Tamarind glaze, but I really liked the Caribbean vegetable mix. I accompanied the meal with a half glass of white wine. Alas, for you detail freaks I didn’t take note of the name or vintner of this wine but it tasted pretty good.

I really like this midday departure to Seattle. It’s nice to arrive in Seattle at a civilized hour, which in this case meant I was able to enjoy a nice dinner at the Ginger Palace, a surprisingly good Asian fusion type restaurant at the Ramada Inn on 167th and International Blvd.

I’ve stayed many a night at this Ramada Inn over the years. I can usually get a room for about $80 all-in, and having such a good restaurant downstairs is just an added bonus. It should be noted that there are two Ramada Inns off International Blvd. DO NOT stay at the one a few blocks south down in Tukwila. It is a disaster.

That said, as I currently write this some weeks after the fact (I take good notes and have a good memory) the Ramada on 167th seems to have developed a problem with its front desk phone and shuttle service, so these days I’ve been staying at the slightly more expensive Sleep Inn up on 204th. It’s got an IHOP conveniently located just across the parking lot and gets generally excellent reviews.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:21 pm
  #11  
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September 28th, 2022
Amtrak * Seattle to Minneapolis * 455p-830a * Empire Builder * First Class * Car 830 Room 11


The hotel van dropped me off at the Tukwila Light Rail Station, thus saving me the long walk from the SeaTac terminal to the Airport station, which is practically located out in Tukwila anyway. From there, it was a 35 minute ride to the International District Station, itself just a two block walk to Seattle’s King Street Station from which all Amtrak trains depart.

Today however, I was picked up by a friend who drove in from Ballard to meet me for a late lunch. We ended up driving to a nearby Chinese place called the King Noodle. We both enjoyed a couple of hearty bowls of noodle based soups and then she drove me to a nearby liquor store where I picked up a bottle of Maker’s Mark for the two night train ride ahead of me. There’s just something about riding a train with a bottle of whiskey… Unless I’ve found someone to share it with though, I can never polish off a 750ml bottle in just two nights – at least, not without unpleasant consequences – and so I generally leave it behind at the end of the trip for the train car attendant or whomever should come across it.

The Empire Builder is one of the top three most popular long-distance trains in the Amtrak system. Prior to the pandemic it carried an average of about 500000 riders per year between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest via Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho. The line splits at Spokane, Washington with half of the train continuing on across the Cascade Mountains to Seattle, Washington while the other half heads southwest down the Columbia River valley to Portland, Oregon.



Route of the Empire Builder


This is my 33rd ride aboard the Empire Builder and as of this ride I’ll surpass 50000 miles traveled aboard this train alone. It never gets old, and although I could fly between Seattle and Minneapolis in just three hours, I’d miss out on the beauty of Washington’s Cascades, Montana’s Glacier Park and the Great Plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota as well as the relaxed comfort and social ambiance of train travel. Be it marveling at the view with fellow riders in the lounge car, sharing stories over drinks and dinner in the dining car or relaxing on the comfortable bed in my roomette, I love riding the rails!

Most train names evoke a sense of speed, or glamour or the destination – to wit, the California Zephyr, the Broadway Limited or the City of New Orleans. Still others evoke the romantic ambience of travel such as the Sunset Limited or the Coast Starlight. So then, what kind of name is “Empire Builder” for a train?

The Empire Builder is named for James J. Hill, the president and founder of the Great Northern Railway. In the late 1800s Hill reorganized several failing railroads into the Great Northern and then extended the line beyond Minneapolis to the Pacific Northwest. During his westward expansion he allowed immigrants (who had arrived mainly from Norway and Sweden) to travel across the country on his railroad for just $10.00, with the stipulation that they agree to settle along the route. He even arranged for agriculture specialists to teach them farming techniques applicable to the rough plains of North Dakota and Montana.

By encouraging the creation of settlements and farms along the Great Northern's route, Hill set the stage for the region's economic development in the production of agricultural and other products that his railroad would then carry to the rest of the country. In the process he became known as "The Empire Builder". The train that honors him was inaugurated by the Great Northern in 1929 and quickly replaced the Oriental Limited as the railroad's premier train.

The same architects who created New York’s magnificent Grand Central Station also designed Seattle’s King Street Station. It was constructed of brick and granite from the quarries at Index, WA. The interior of the building was white marble, with ornate plaster decorating the ceiling. Most of the floors are terrazzo and mosaic tiling, forming borders and dramatic designs. The building's most notable feature, the clock tower, was designed to mimic the bell tower at St. Mark's Church in Venice, Italy. The King Street Station truly looked like and indeed was a place where great rail journeys began. The Empire Builder, the North Coast Limited, the Western Star – they all departed from the King Street Station.

The post WWII decline in the nation’s passenger rail traffic resulted in the station becoming dirty and neglected, looking more like a third world bus station than the glorious big city station it once was. It stayed in this condition all through the latter third of the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first. I made many a trip from the station during this time and time spent there was a bit depressing to say the least. Starting in 2003, plans were made to restore the station to its former glory, but the initial pace seemed glacial at best. The restoration was finally completed and the station officially rededicated in 2013.

The high ornate ceiling, once hidden behind dingy particleboard tiles, has now been completely restored. The beautiful white marble walls that were once covered with dry wall now provide an elegant backdrop to the attractive main hall. Even the terrazzo and mosaic tiling on the floor has been beautifully restored and polished. The end result is a station every bit as beautiful as the city it serves. Bravo, Seattle, bravo!!



Seattle’s King Street Station Exterior


Seattle’s King Street Station Interior


Seattle’s King Street Station Interior


Boarding was called about twenty minutes before departure. I was booked into car 830, the first sleeper right behind the dining car. Our car attendant was a friendly gentleman named Eugene. He met us at the entrance on the lower level of Amtrak’s bi-level Superliner car, checked our names off his manifest and provided directions to our accommodations. I was in my old favorite – room 11 – a roomette located downstairs to the left.

These Superliner cars were introduced amidst much fanfare back in 1979. The Empire Builder was the first train to get them. They replaced older single level “Heritage Fleet” cars that were built back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. That means those older cars being replaced were 25-30 years old.

Many of the first generation Superliners are still riding the rails today. That makes some of them over 40 years old! That said, Amtrak has done a nice job of refurbishing most of them in its Beech Grove, Indiana shops. It was recently announced that a further 28 million will be invested toward further improvements. Currently, the refurbished cars have larger bathrooms and a nicer shower. I don’t notice a lot of change in the roomettes, but I’ve always found them to be comfortable and functional.

The Superliner roomettes measure 3’6” by 6’6” and are accessed via a sliding glass door. There are four of them downstairs and ten more upstairs. During the day roomettes offer two wide opposite facing seats that fold together to become a bed at night. Above them is a fold-down upper berth. Other amenities include four separate lights, an electrical outlet, a tall mirror, a fold out table, a small open closet with hangers and a thermostat. Best of all, each compartment has its own huge window, approximately 2.5’ X 5’, through which to view the passing scenery. Toilet and shower facilities are down the hall. For a single traveler, I think the roomettes offer excellent comfort, space and privacy.

Although most people are excited about the prospect of a seat or bedroom high on the upper level of Amtrak’s Superliner fleet, I prefer the lower level rooms for two reasons. First, the downstairs rooms are quieter because there is much less foot traffic passing by your door. All the inter-car traffic is upstairs. Secondly, riding in the lower level of the car results in much less tilt motion than is experienced on the upper levels. Like a fulcrum point on a seesaw, the ride is smoother the lower you are.

Just prior to departure, I stepped outside to get a photo of the good looking P42DC locomotive heading up Amtrak’s Cascade on the track beside us. And what the heck – how about an alluring shot of the entrance to the sleeping car, steeped in the promise of a great journey ahead!



Amtrak’s Cascade awaits departure


Doorway to adventure


One of the nice things about riding the Empire Builder this time of year is that there’s still sufficient sunlight to enjoy the vistas along the shores of the Puget Sound as well as the climb up into the western slope of the Cascades. Additionally, there are the fall colors this time of year as we roll through the high country of Washington and Montana. Sadly, Idaho is traversed at night in both directions.



Late afternoon sun along the Puget Sound


Rolling north along the Puget Sound


We’d just departed Edmonds when Janine, the Lead Service Attendant from the dining car, stopped by to take dinner reservations. There were three different seatings available and I opted for the middle one at 6:30pm. A few minutes later I headed up to the dining car next door to fetch a cup of ice in preparation for a pre-dinner cocktail. First Class passengers are allowed to bring their own alcohol on board – on condition that it be consumed in their compartments, not in the public areas. Additionally, I paid $30 for that 750ml bottle of Maker’s Mark on the street. On board the train a 50ml airline size mini sells for $7.50. Ya gotta appreciate the cost savings that come from a little advance planning.

Prior to the pandemic, Amtrak’s dining cars were open to all passengers. Post-pandemic they are open to First Class passengers only. Those traveling back in the coaches can purchase food and drink from the caf located in the lower level of the lounge car. While this really cuts down on crowding in the diner, it also cuts down on the communal seating that was once standard practice in the diner. For my part, I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and mingle with fellow passengers over a good meal. It’s a unique and special setting that’s quite conducive to great conversation and shared experiences. Unfortunately, as a single traveler I find I’m often sat at a table by myself. Occasionally, if the train is fairly full – especially during the summer months – you’ll get a table mate or two. Now though, in early October, the load was fairly light and so I had a table to myself.

I should add here that I don’t have any issue with doing stuff on my own, including eating. Heck, look at all these trips I do on my own. Then again, with itineraries like mine – combined with the overall length of travel – I can’t imagine very many others would be willing or able to tag along. As for dining alone on Amtrak, while I miss the social ambiance of dining with fellow travelers, I find a good magazine or newspaper usually make up for the lack of companionship. This was especially true tonight since I’d brought along the latest issue of Passenger Train Journal, to which I’ve been an enthusiastic subscriber for years.

Over the past year and a half, Amtrak has really upgraded its dinner offerings. Pre-pandemic we’d be offered a very basic salad, followed by the entre and dessert. Now, we’re offered a choice of three distinctive appetizers and, from my perspective at least, the entres appear to be more nicely prepared and plated. Additionally, your first drink – be it beer, wine or spirits – is on the house. The only drop off is that dinner rolls have been discontinued. If there’s some Covid related reason for this, I don’t understand because biscuits or croissants are still served with breakfast.

Anyway, as we climb through the colorful foothills of the western Cascades, let’s have a look at that menu. Thanks to fellow FTer Maglev, you’ll find that menu RIGHT HERE


Autumn colors through the Cascade foothills


Hmm… I like the new appetizer choices. But then, I liked all the old appetizer choices as well, especially the Green Chile Tamale and the Mixed Salad with Brie. That said, if I can no longer revisit my favorite old tamale, I’ll try out that Mexican Souffl with Street Corn. As for the main course I’ve gotta go with my old favorite – Amtrak’s Signature Flatiron Steak. Medium rare, please. And, since we get a drink with dinner, I’ll go with a Maker’s Mark – on the rocks, please.

My waiter was a middle aged woman of few words. She was efficient enough, I suppose, but not exactly welcoming or gracious. Still, like I said, she was efficient and within a couple minutes I had my glass of Maker’s Mark and a very nicely plated appetizer.



Mexican Souffl Appetizer


As good looking as this appetizer is, I gotta say I like the flavor and texture of the tamale more. I mean, it’s probably a perfectly good souffl, but the texture just doesn’t work for me. The fresh jalapeo slices do, though! Qu sabroso!

You know, it’s really amazing but I can’t recall ever – and I mean ever - having a poorly cooked steak on Amtrak. I’m a big fan of medium rare. Not medium, not rare, but medium rare. Amtrak’s chefs seem to always get it right. I also like the addition of the flavorful onion crisps garnishing the steak. Very tasty! It’s gonna be hard to not order steak again tomorrow night…



Flatiron Steak Dinner


Now then, how about dessert? Well jeez, it’s my first train ride since March… What the heck. I’ll go with the Blueberry Cheesecake, please.



Blueberry Cheesecake


This was a good choice. Rich, flavorful and not too large – it was a perfect ending to this meal.

By now it was about 7:15pm, still early enough to spend a bit of time in the lounge car, if there were one to go to. It should be remembered however that the Empire Builder is a split train west of Spokane. Out of Seattle we were running with only half a train - a baggage car, a transition sleeper (for the crew), my sleeper, the dining car and two coaches. As for the lounge car, it along with an additional coach and sleeper were coming up from Portland and would be joining us later tonight in Spokane. In the meantime, coach passengers could purchase sandwiches, snacks and drinks from the rear of the dining car, but they had to consume all food and drink back at their seats.

So, with no lounge car to hang out in and darkness having obscured any view out the windows, I decided to head back to my roomette and put in some time on this trip report. And have another round of Maker’s Mark!

Many years ago, in my early days of writing these reports for FlyerTalk, I did a lot better job of keeping up on them in a timelier manner. Be that as it may, I think the initial excitement of writing these trip reports combined with the positive responses I garnered from doing so made it easier to devote the needed time sooner than later. Over time however, I’ve put a lot more time into enjoying all aspects of my travels in the present to the utmost with full understanding that there’s usually always a good amount of free time in the days (or weeks!) to come that I can devote to working on this report. In the meantime, I can always take notes as needed. One of those notes was written with my current writing in mind – that being that as of the night of October 5th aboard the eastbound Empire Builder, I was just starting to write about my quick visit to the Al Mourjan Lounge in Doha and my onward flight to Amman. It’s probably best that I don’t tell you what today’s date is.

Later, Eugene stopped by to see if I’d like my bed set up for the night. Sure, why not? I can always work on this report later and it’ll be nice to stretch out with my current book.

The lower berths in Amtrak’s Superliner roomettes measure 30” by 78” – more than sufficient for a 71 incher like me. The mattresses don’t appear to be very thick but I’ve always found them to be quite comfortable. Additionally, as part of its post-Covid improvements Amtrak has seen fit to replace those skinny little blue blankets it used to provide with much nicer and warmer gray duvets. Now if they would just trade out those light weight pillows for ones with a little more density, I’d sleep even better than I already do.



Bedtime in the Roomette


Just as there’s something special and unique to the pleasures of fine dining in a First Class suite high above the earth, there’s something equally special and unique about the comfort and sensory ambiance of sleeping in a bed on board a train speeding through the night. I’ve always slept well on trains and tonight was no different. I didn’t even wake up during the 45 minute stop in Spokane when the Portland cars are added to (some might say banged into) our Seattle train. When I finally did wake up we’d just eased out of Whitefish, Montana. Opening my curtains, I looked out on a grey, blustery day. Hmm… might as well take advantage of another aspect of these downstairs rooms – that being the shower that’s located just down the hall, about fifteen feet away.

Later, I emerged into the dining car, freshly attired and ready for breakfast. Once again, I was seated at a table by myself, armed once again with my issue of PTJ. I had a different waiter this morning, a nice young guy named Paul. As he went off to fetch me hot coffee and chilled orange juice, I took a moment to review the breakfast offerings. Once again, here’s THE MENU.



Breakfast in Montana


Whereas the luncheon and dinner menus have seen some changes over the years, the breakfast menu has remained essentially the same for years. That’s alright by me because more often than not I get the three egg veggie omelet with all the fillings accompanied by potatoes and chicken sausage. It’s a filling and tasty start to the day and today’s version was no different.



Veggie Omelet Breakfast


During breakfast, I got to chatting with the gentleman seated across the car from me. He was from the Lake Chelan area in the middle of the Cascades and had worked for the U.S. Forest Service for many years. As a result, he and I were both familiar with some of the back country in the mountains west of the lake, in particular the Entiat River Valley and Ice Lakes region of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. I’d done a couple of backpacking trips through there many years ago – the last one back in 1984. To this day however, the Ice Lake terraces below Mt. Maude remain my favorite camping spots in the Cascades. Here’re a couple of slides I digitalized from that 1984 trip…



Looking down on our campsite between Upper and Lower Ice Lakes


Looking down the Entiat River Valley from our campsite


But I digress. Movin’ on, we had rolled through the best of Glacier Park before the clouds began to clear and we emerged into the lower reaches of the eastern slope of the Rockies.



The Empire Builder rolls out of Glacier and on across the plains of Eastern Montana
Photo courtesy of Amtrak


I was in the lounge car when the last call for lunch was made over the PA system. It had been almost five hours since I’d eaten breakfast and between conversation, taking in the scenery and just enjoying the overall experience of rolling across America, time had passed surprisingly quickly. A lot of people refer to the Great Plains as “flyover country” but for some of us there’s a stark beauty to the landscape that lends itself well to slower transport across it. Witness the plains of eastern Montana as seen from my dining car table prior to lunch.



Luncheon on the Great Plains


Right, better have a look at that MENU again to see what looks good. I really miss the Black Bean and Chipotle Burger that’s been replaced by an “Impossible” meat alternative. I’ve tasted those impossible meat burgers and I have to say I’m not as impressed as people are in the commercials. As such, I ordered the regular Black Angus Burger which tasted pretty darned good.



Angus Beef Burger


Alright then, we’ve finished lunch. What to do with the rest of the afternoon? it’s usually at this stage of the trip that people find out whether they’re cut out for long distance train travel or not. For those going all the way to Chicago, there’s still another 25 hours to go. The scenery is rolling plains off set by the occasional farm or copse of trees. There are also station stops at various small towns that dot the plains every fifty miles or so, towns with names like Cut Bank, Shelby, Havre, Malta, Glasgow and Wolf Point. With the exception of Havre, none of these towns have commercial air service. I’ve gotten off twice at Shelby, where the closest airport is 120 miles away. A couple of years ago, my arrival timed well with the thrice weekly shuttle van service that connects rural towns like Shelby with the big city down in Great Falls. The time before that, I arrived on a day when there was no van scheduled. I had to hitchhike down to Great Falls. As an added bonus, a county sheriff’s deputy gave me a ride out to the I-15 on ramp – but not before first checking me out for any outstanding wants and warrants.

I guess I’d say there’s a rhythm to rail travel that I’ve always found relaxing. Even in times like now, when the scenery’s pretty plain, I just enjoy the sounds and motion of travel. I mean, we’re in a fairly large conveyance that’s moving across the country at 70 mph and yet you can get up and go downstairs to buy a beer at the caf, you can head back to your room and stretch out with a good book or you can head to the diner for some pretty good food.

That said, we live in a fast paced world these days – particularly for those born after 1980. We’re used to instant – or at least much faster – gratification than what we experienced back in the 60s and 70s – or earlier. Me – I’m not all that impressed with all the speed and most of the new technology. Like I said earlier, if I had my druthers I’d have been born fifty years earlier and checked out at about the year 2000.

I spent most of the afternoon stretched out in my roomette, reading John Grisham’s latest legal thriller. Although sleeper car attendants will happily restore your compartment to its daytime seating configuration – typically while you’re at breakfast – I prefer to leave my lower berth down for the entire journey because I find lying down to be the most comfortable way to read – or nap. Although there is a small wall mounted table that pulls up and out, over time I’ve found that the booths in the lounge car or even the airline style fold down tray tables in the coach seats work better for me if I want to do any writing on the laptop.



Big windows and big tables in the lounge car


I signed up for the 700pm seating at dinner this evening. It must have been a popular time because every table was taken and yet once again I ended up with a table to myself. In the early months of the pandemic, solo travelers having a table to themselves was pretty standard. This trip represents my eleventh night on a train this year alone, and by extension that means I’ve eaten a lot of meals on trains as well. Over the past few trips this year I’ve been seated with others about half the time. On this trip I will chalk it up to an aberration if only based upon our surprisingly light load. And, as I mentioned earlier, I can do just fine dining on my own. One potential positive for any of you thinking about riding the train with your significant other is that there’s a reasonable chance you’ll get to enjoy each other’s company exclusively in an Amtrak dining car – at least so long as pandemic protocols continue to exclude coach passengers from the dining car.

So then, last night I tried the Mexican Souffl with Street Corn. Tonight I’m going to check out the Coconut Crusted Shrimp and, just to mix it up a bit further, I’m going to order the Pan Roasted Chicken Breast dinner. (Excuse me, but how do you “roast” anything in a pan?) One thing I will stick with is that complimentary glass of Maker’s Mark to accompany the meal. You know what? Let’s make it a double. I can pay up the extra at the end of the meal.



Coconut Shrimp Appetizer


Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!


This meal was every bit as good as it looks. That was a big chicken breast and the risotto and mushroom sauce complimented it perfectly. On the downside, I was full enough after this meal that I just couldn’t bring myself to order the Ultimate Meyer Lemon Cake. I wonder if I could have it with breakfast tomorrow morning…

Tomorrow morning arrived at 7:30am Central time when I awoke after a particularly restful sleep. The downside of such a nice rest meant that I had only about an hour before we were due to arrive in Minneapolis. Truth be told, the station’s actually across the river in MSP’s twin city, St. Paul. Whatever. Would there be enough time to get breakfast and still be packed and ready to detrain in St. Paul?

As luck would have it, yes! Unbeknownst to me, while I was sleeping we’d been delayed by a slow freight ahead of us at some point during the night. As a result, we were running about 45 minutes late. Great! I threw on a clean shirt, ran a brush through what’s left of my hair and headed up to the diner where hot coffee and a nicely presented plate of French Toast awaited.



Railroad French Toast


Upon arrival in St. Paul, I thanked Eugene for a great trip and left him a nice tip. I mention the tip because I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t tip on Amtrak. Perhaps they think it’s like the airlines where you would never tip your flight attendant. Maybe people think Amtrak employees work for the government and so can’t accept tips. I’ve always understood that tipping is acceptable on Amtrak and I know it’s appreciated by its employees.

So then, the next step was to get to Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport where a rental car awaited. To get there I Google Mapped the route and found a good transit option involving a bus and a light rail train with less than seven hundred feet of walking to connect it all together. Total time – an hour and twenty minutes. The Blue Line train dropped me at Terminal 1 and from there I just followed the signs to pick up my rental.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:24 pm
  #12  
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October 01, 2022
Friends of the 261 * Gourmet Express Excursion * Chanhassan, MN to Glencoe, MN r/t * Skytop Lounge


For starters, lets answer the question that Im sure many of you are asking yourselves What is the 261? Its a class "S3" 4-8-4 "Northern" type steam locomotive built by the American Locomotive Company. The 4-8-4 refers to the wheel alignment on the locomotive. If you look at it from the side, youll see two wheels, then four large ones and then two more up front. Since there are of course two wheels on each side, just multiply by two and you get 4-8-4. For any of you desiring more detail on this locomotive, just click HERE

I was born in the age of jets and diesels, so my interest in props and steam engines is somewhat limited. Looking at a big locomotive like the 261 however, you cant help but be impressed by the sheer size of it along with those huge wheels and pistons. Combined with its tender (the smaller car directly behind the locomotive containing its fuel (coal or oil) and water) the overall length of the locomotive is 109 feet (33.22m), about the same length as a 737-300. With a fully loaded tender, its weight is over 820,000 pounds about 50,000 pounds more than the maximum takeoff weight of a fully loaded 777-300ER.

While some of the old timers are probably excited to ride behind this fine old steam engine, my primary interest in this excursion is to ride aboard one of the most distinctive railroad lounge cars ever built. That car would the ex-Milwaukee Road car Cedar Rapids, one of only four Skytop observation parlor lounges ever built and the only one of the four that is still operational today.



The Skytop Observation Parlor Lounge Cedar Rapids


Todays excursion is billed as the Gourmet Express. Unlike some excursion operations, this is not a regularly scheduled train. The Gourmet Express trips operate only during the first weekend of October. One on Saturday, one on Sunday. The name Gourmet Express is unfortunately a bit of a misnomer since food offerings while on board the train are limited to selection of hors doeuvres with beer and wine. A stop is made in a big grassy area out near Glencoe, MN where a barbecue sandwich luncheon is served from beneath a large festival tent.

In terms of locomotive power, while the 261 would take the lead powering us out to Glencoe, a beautifully restored and painted EMD E9A diesel locomotive would lead the charge back to our starting point in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassan. Now for a child of the diesel age like me, that E9 was indeed cause for excitement. Mostly though, Im into riding trains and short of a ride in the cab of the E9, a ride under the glass aboard the Cedar Rapids will be the star of the show for me.

Chanhassan is located just down the road from my hotel out by the airport. Early on, I was thinking wed be boarding from an old railroad station but as I followed the directions to the parking area and saw our train sitting along a grassy strip, it became clear that boarding would be a bit more rudimentary.



Boarding at Chanhassan


Boarding was limited to certain cars. Those of us in the high priced lounge cars boarded through ex-Milwaukee Road Super Dome 53. Built by Pullman Standard in 1952, this full length dome car it is the heaviest passenger car ever built, weighing in at 104 tons. Upstairs there is comfortable buffet style seating under the glass for up to 54 people, complete with a full service wet bar. Ive ridden aboard quite a few super domes in my day, and while this is certainly one of the nicer ones, I pressed on toward my real objective at the rear of the train.

But first I had to pass through ex-Pennsylvania Railroad lounge car named Fox River Valley.



Ex-Pennsy Lounge Car Fox River Valley


Nice, very nice. Im sure the passengers booked in this car will have a wonderful ride. But Im still holding out for the Cedar Rapids. Located at its traditional place at the end of the train, I could easily imagine a harp glissando and a chorus from the heavens as I opened the door and entered this beautiful car.



The interior of the Cedar Rapids


Located on the wall just off the entrance was a plaque providing a bit of history about this car.



Cedar Rapids Plaque


As my fellow passengers filtered onboard, I located my seat and took a moment to admire my surroundings. This observation parlor lounge car used to run on the Milwaukee Roads daylight Hiawathas between Chicago and Minneapolis. Four more Skytop lounges were built equipped with bedrooms and they saw service on the Olympian Hiawatha service across the Great Plains to Seattle. The Cedar Rapids was completely refurbished in 2014 and retains all of its original woodwork, upholstery and wool carpeting. Also worthy of note is that this car - the "Cedar Rapids" - was a favorite of singer Frank Sinatra, who would reportedly rent out the entire car when his travels took him by rail along the Milwaukee Road.



Parlor Car Seat aboard the Cedar Rapids


Soon we were underway, rolling smoothly through the western suburbs of Minneapolis before continuing on into bucolic farmland. A car attendant really more of a volunteer from our sponsors The Friends of the 261 made the rounds with a tray of tasty appetizers followed by coffee and various cold beverages.



Cucumber, Salmon & Cream Cheese


Prosciutto Wrapped Melon Ball


The lands immediately west of Minneapolis are not renowned for dramatic scenery, but thankfully we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day which highlighted the lakes and farmland alongside our route.



Autumn colors


Looks more like spring colors


Minnesota Farm Scene


We proceeded apace at about 30 mph, munching appetizers, drinking whatever and chatting it up with fellow railfans, happy and excited to be riding aboard such a beautiful and historic car. After about an hour and a half, we eased to a stop along a large grassy area where a large tent had been set up under which hot barbecued pulled pork sandwiches with potato salad and coleslaw would be served. A group of musicians regaled us with lively Dixieland Jazz tunes.



Our Meal Stop outside Glencoe, MN


You can see from the photo above that todays excursion is made up of a variety of different cars offering everything from coach seating to lounges such as the Fox River Valley pictured above to seats upstairs in the dome cars. Pricing of course varied depending upon accommodation.

One of the highlights for everyone even myself whos not a big steam fanatic was a photo op pass by with the 261 locomotive. It had been backed up a couple hundred yards away so that people could get some good shots of it as it charged forward and thundered past us in all its glory. All of the serious railroad photographers had their tripods and/or cameras set up and ready for the pass. It was actually pretty exciting because a large steam engine like the 261 makes quite a racket as it charges down the tracks, hissing steam and belching smoke. Add a few long blasts with the whistle and youve got quite a visual and auditory experience.



The 261 charges past


Later, the locomotive was separated from the train and posed for further pictures and inspection.



The 261


The 261


I got my nice drive by as the beautiful maroon and orange Milwaukee Road E9A eased up to the siding with our train in tow. The Cedar Rapids was located directly behind it, though boarding was still through the super dome three cars back.



Milwaukee Road E9 Lead Locomotive


Once everyone had re-boarded, we did it all in reverse back to Chanhassan. The sun was a bit bright and hot on the way out but much nicer on the way back, so I relocated to the solarium seats in the back under the glass. Imagine sitting back here with a nice drink and good company as your train rolled north along the banks of the Mississippi seventy years ago. Sigh travel sure seemed a lot nicer back then



Parlor Car Ambiance


Afternoon Delight


Afternoon scenery


In the past it was possible for private car owners to arrange for their cars to be towed behind Amtrak trains. I think the cost was between $1.50 and $2.00 per mile. Friends of the 261 would occasionally charter the Cedar Rapids out on a run between Minneapolis and Chicago behind the Empire Builder. Unfortunately, Ex-Delta and now ex-Amtrak President Richard Anderson put the kibosh on this practice system wide, but word is that it will once again be allowed. If it is, I would be amongst the first in line to ride the Cedar Rapids over most of its original trackage down to Chicago. Its a beautiful ride along the banks of the Mississippi, especially during the spring and summer months.

All said, though this trip didnt quite meet the culinary expectations based on its billing (Gourmet Express suggests something a bit nicer than a BBQ sandwich and a splot of potato salad in a paper container) it was otherwise an excellent excursion and a real thrill to finally ride aboard one of the most distinctive lounge cars from the golden days of railroading. Im already looking forward to my next opportunity to ride the Cedar Rapids.

Last edited by Seat 2A; Feb 10, 23 at 2:25 pm
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:26 pm
  #13  
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October 1, 2022
Alaska Airlines * Minneapolis to Seattle * 635p-850p * 737-800 * Economy Class


It’s only a short 20 minute drive from Chanhassan to the Minneapolis Airport. I had plenty of time to find a gas station, turn in my car and check in for my flight to Seattle. Surprisingly, despite being an MVP Gold 100K, on a Saturday night no less, I did not get upgraded. That’s okay. Alaska’s upgraded me more often than not and really almost goes out of their way to treat me as a valued flyer. I’m not one who needs to be fawned over given any extra attention or recognition but I do appreciate Alaska’s great service, both on the ground and in the air. And if, now and again, I have to sit behind the curtain, it’s all good.

Given our 900pm arrival and tomorrow’s 825am departure – well, in the old days I would’ve just stayed in the airport. Alas, progressive nerve damage in my right hand and arm means I can no longer roll up my Thermarest pad tightly enough to fit back in its sleeve. As well, getting up off the floor – while still doable – is a bit tougher than it used to be. It’s a real shame because I actually enjoyed crashing in the airport, particularly in Seattle where I had a great spot – nice, dark and well out of the main public traffic flow. Heck, even the some of the airport police were starting to recognize me. And, staying in the airport saved me $80 or more per night on hotel costs. While I can easily afford a hotel for the night, I still miss my camping spot in the airport.


October 2, 2022
Alaska Airlines * Seattle to Fairbanks * 825a-1120a * 737-900 * Economy Class


The cheap fare I’d booked from Minneapolis back to Fairbanks had me connecting to a 6:00am flight through Anchorage back to Fairbanks. Although I’d already been upgraded on both segments, I don’t do early mornings well. No way was I gonna get up at 330am to catch a 600am flight, so I used Alaska’s Same Day Confirmed Space benefit to get a seat on the 8:25am nonstop. Alas, no First Class was available but I did snag a Premium Coach aisle, so that’s the next best thing.

I used my Priority Pass benefits to “purchase” a breakfast burrito at the Trail Head BBQ, located in the main commons area just off the junction of the C & D concourses. As breakfast burritos go, it was pretty basic. Next time I’d be better off just paying for the much better breakfast burritos available at Qdoba.

Last year at this time we had about a foot of snow on the ground in Fairbanks. This year there was none with temperatures in the 40s and fifties. It sure was nice being home for six days, knowing how much adventure still awaited me. I took a day and drove 120 miles down the road to visit friends in Denali. Otherwise, I just hung out around home and enjoyed as close to an Indian Summer as I’ve seen in the Interior in a while.


October 8, 2022
Alaska Airlines * Fairbanks to Anchorage * 1220p-500p * 737-700 * First Class
Alaska Airlines * Anchorage to Seattle * 335p-801p * 737-MAX9 * Economy Class


I’m on an award ticket here, so I was thankful for the upgrade out of Fairbanks. As for Anchorage to Seattle, even when flying revenue at the very top of the food chain as an MVP Gold 100K, I’m often denied an upgrade – I’d say about 50% of the time. That ANC-SEA route may just be the most highly populated amongst 100Ks in the whole system. But – that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Alaska’s upgraded me more often than not, so I have no complaints – especially when traveling on an award ticket. Regardless of ticket type, I can always book premium class seats at the time of reservation, so I was more than happy with my premium class aisle seat.


October 9, 2022
Washington State Ferry * Seattle to Bremerton * Drive US 101 Around the Olympic Peninsula


The next morning I headed over to the Rental Car Center where I’d gotten a great deal on a small pick-up truck for just $39/day. Heading into downtown Seattle, I made my way to the ferry terminal and caught one the eight daily ferries that ply the Puget Sound between Seattle and Bremerton.

I like to think of the Washington State ferry as the Poor Man’s Tour of the Puget Sound. I paid about $18 for a one way ticket to Bremerton, with the crossing taking about an hour. Unfortunately it was cloudy today but even so we were still treated to good views of the nearby coastline with the best views coming during the last twenty minutes before arriving into Bremerton.



On the Ferry to Bremerton


On the Ferry to Bremerton


From Bremerton, I accelerated off the ferry and onto WA 3 and then onto US 101 for the drive around the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve done this drive many times before, and my favorite part of it is once you get out past Port Angeles and into the big forests that accompany the drive past Crescent Lake and down along the western side of the peninsula. I especially enjoy stopping in for a drink and/or a bite to eat at the Lake Quinault Lodge, located in Olympic National Park. One of these days I’m going to have to plan a visit long enough to spend a couple of nights here.


US 101 Along Crescent Lake


Lake Quinault Lodge


Lake Quinault Lodge Lobby


As it were, I spent the night at a motel down in Aberdeen, arriving just in time to watch the Ravens edge the Bengals on Sunday Night Football. The next day I slept in, checked out at noon, had a good lunch at a local Thai restaurant named “Thai Carrot” and then drove back to SeaTac.

I’d like to give a shout out to the North Satellite Alaska Lounge bar that must surely offer the finest selection of good, local craft beers of any airport lounge in the nation. Unlike AA and UA lounges that charge you big time for anything more flavorful than a Bud Lite, all of Alaska’s excellent and flavorful craft beers are complimentary and signs on the bar clearly state that tipping is not required. Pretty amazing in these days of higher costs and diminished service…


October 10 * Alaska Airlines * Seattle to Los Angeles * 630p-910p * 737-MAX9 * First Class
October 11 * Los Angeles to Washington DCA * 100p-859p * 737-800 * First Class
October 12 * Washington DC to Philadelphia * 155p-353p * Northeast Regional * Business Class


It’s a lot less expensive to get a decent hotel nearby SeaTac Airport than it is to find a respectable and affordable one anywhere near LAX. I would much prefer to have flown nonstop into Washington National tomorrow morning but all of the nonstop award flights were priced at 50000 miles. Same goes for Philly where I’d arranged for my rental car.

So, I ended up having to route through LAX, flying down there tonight and then continuing on to DCA on the 1:00pm nonstop tomorrow afternoon. There were two positives to this, the first being that I’d been upgraded on the 6:30pm flight down to LA. Oh good! I wonder what’s for dinner? The second positive was that with a 1:00pm departure tomorrow, I could sleep in. I love sleeping in!

Arriving at the gate, I was blessed with a third surprise. Our flight, originally shown to be operating with a 737-900, was now being operated with a –MAX9. Right on! Like I say – collect ‘em all! I’ve only flown nine of Alaska’s approximately thirty-nine 737-MAX9s, so the chances of me logging a flight aboard a hitherto unflown aircraft are always better anytime a MAX is involved. By comparison, I’ve flown all but three of Alaska’s ninety-one -900s. On one of them, ship 319 (N319AS msn 33679 ln 1344) I’ve logged twenty flights aboard for a total of 25,330 miles.

Despite the 6:30pm dinner hour departure, the meal offerings were more akin to a luncheon service. Because I was upgraded less than 24 hours out, I am unable to supply a menu transcript which I would normally access under the flight management option of my reservation. From what I heard, the offerings were either a salad of some sort or a pork sandwich. Well, thankfully a thread I personally started some years ago – What Will Alaska Be Serving in First Class on Your Flight – is still percolating along quite nicely (thanks to all the contributors!) and it was there that I found a picture and description of just what I was served. It was listed as a Porchetta Sandwich with a side salad. It is described on Alaska’s online menu as follows:

Porchetta Sandwich
Porchetta-style pork loin sandwich on a Boulart sandwich bread, with salsa verde, and pickled red onions, served with a side salad and balsamic dressing

And here’s a picture of what I was served –



Porchetta Sandwich Dinner SEA-LAX


Following a restful night at the La Quinta Inn off Century Blvd, I trundled off to the airport late the next morning and, upon checking in at Alaska Airlines’ kiosk, discovered that once again I’d been the beneficiary of a last minute upgrade. Alas, I was relegated to a window seat, but hey – Thanks, Alaska! I always appreciate an upgrade!

I remember flying LAX-IAD back in the eighties in First Class aboard a United DC-10. Prior to that flight I hung out over cold beer and pretzels in United’s Red Carpet Club. Prior to this flight I hung out in the Alaska Lounge, savoring a Bloody Mary and a bowl of flavorful Mexican Meatball Soup. Also available was a tasty salad. Beyond that, all similarities between these flights of yesteryear and today came to an end.

What a difference 37 years makes! Back in 1985, First Class service featured large colorful menus, hors d’oeuvres, salad tossed at your seat, a choice of four entrees usually including a roast chateaubriand carved and served from the trolley, a cheese service and a choice of desserts. I still have the menu from that flight – and many more from that era when United’s domestic First Class service was amongst the very finest in the country.

How times have changed! These days the menus are gone, as is the panache of the trolley service. As often as not you’ll now get an appetizer that’s been combined into a salad and if you’re lucky you’ll get a choice of two hot entrees and something lighter, perhaps a salad entre.

But hey, if ever there’s a classic case of you get what you pay for, it’s me on this flight. I mean, I’m traveling for “free” on an award ticket. Granted, I paid to earn those miles requisite to earning this trip but at the very least my presence on this flight is not generating any revenue for Alaska Airlines. On some airlines I wouldn’t even be eligible for an upgrade while traveling on award ticket. So, the nice stroll down memory lane above notwithstanding, I was pleased and thankful for my comfortable seat and the tasty barbecue ribs I was served - accompanied by a pile of barley and some additional vegetables. Lucky for me I was sat in 2A and so benefitted from an early pick of the choices. Had I been back in row four, I might have had to make do with a grain bowl. And, had I been back in Coach where I’d originally expected to be, I’d have bought an overpriced sandwich in the airport.



Alaska Airlines BBQ Ribs Lunch LAX-DCA


Upon landing at DCA, I hailed a taxi and sped off to my nearby hotel. The next day it was on to magnificent Washington Union Station where I caught the 155p Northeast Regional up to Philadelphia’s equally impressive 30th Street Station. From there, a SEPTA train delivered me straight to Philadelphia International Airport. An hour after that, I was headed north in a 2018 Nissan Rogue, bound for Utica, New York and the next train in this series of fall foliage rail excursions.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:30 pm
  #14  
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October 14, 2022
Adirondack Railroad * Utica to Thendara * First Class Dome Car


In my myriad peregrinations about the country over the years, I have been blessed to have driven many times through New York’s Adirondack State Park. Created in 1892, it is the largest park – national or otherwise - in the contiguous United States. At 6 million acres in size, it covers one-fifth of New York State and is nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park! Above all though, its mountains, lakes, streams and diverse hardwood forests make it one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, particularly during the fall foliage season.

So then, to say that I was really looking forward to this ride aboard the Adirondack Scenic Railroad would be a bit of an understatement. Those of you who read and remember my last trip report, published in late 2019, may remember that it covered a number of very nice fall foliage train excursions in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. I had tried to include this trip on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad at that time but was unable to procure First Class accommodations. It was disappointing at the time, because had I booked just a couple of weeks earlier when I’d first learned of the railroad, I would have had my First Class seat. I had underestimated the popularity of these fall foliage rail excursions around the northeast. I’ve since learned there are entire websites devoted to listing, rating and promoting them as well as regular seasonal articles in the Sunday Travel sections of the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, et al.

Alas, the day started off badly when, while parking the Rogue, I rolled up on a concrete parking block that was slightly higher than the front molding of my Rogue. Neither of the vehicles on either side of me were affected by it, but my Rogue was apparently just a bit lower. I scraped up on it pretty good, but the problem occurred when I tried to back off it. The molding caught somewhere along the concrete and then separated slightly from the rest of the car. The result was unsightly, but in no way diminished the safe operation of the vehicle.

Still… Sigh… I guess we’re gonna find out just how good that auxiliary insurance on my Chase Sapphire Card actually is…

Anyway, let’s head on into the station and prepare for the ride ahead.

Utica’s Union Station is a beautiful edifice, built over two and a half years between 1912 and 1914. Constructed in the Italianate style, it includes a rusticated granite first story with buff brick on the floors above. The 15,000 square foot waiting room features a 47-foot-high ceiling supported by 34 marble columns. Check it out!



Utica Union Station


The station, now known as the Boehlert Transportation Center at Union Station, also serves as the home office of the local DMV, something I inadvertently discovered after finding out that the line I’d been waiting in for five minutes was not the one for train ticket issuance but rather was for the issuance of new drivers licenses.

Ah, the line I was supposed to be in was the really long one that wrapped along the front of the station before curling most of the way to the back end. Sigh… Fortunately the wait wasn’t too long – maybe fifteen minutes – but clearly today’s excursion up to Thendara was to be aboard a full train.

Boarding was called a few minutes after I’d collected my ticket and free drink coupon from the ticket window. We had to take an elevator up to an elevated walkway and cross over a couple of tracks before descending to board our train. I paused on the walkway above to take a quick photo.



Train Time at Utica, NY


First Class tickets meant seats in the 1955 vintage dome car, built for the Union Pacific Railroad most likely as one of its famous dome diners. The most expensive seats were upstairs, under the glass where the view would be the best, but as I boarded I couldn’t help but notice that the most comfortable seats were located on the lower level of the dome where passengers relaxed in large, overstuffed lounge chairs. Hmmm… it left me to ponder – what’s more First Class? The panoramic view in the firm buffet table seats up top under the glass or the plush comfort of the big lounge chairs below…



My beautiful dome car awaits


Comfy downstairs seating


Seating upstairs under the dome


Full train notwithstanding, boarding proceeded fairly quickly – probably because people weren’t hauling gobs of carry-on baggage onboard like the airlines. I found my assigned seat located right at the very front of the dome. My fellow tablemates were a family of three from Long Island. Originally from India, they’d immigrated to the U.S. some thirty years earlier and had done quite well for themselves since. Their daughter was a math professor at a local university while the parents had retired some years earlier. They were visiting friends in the Finger Lakes region some 90 miles to the west, but had driven in to Utica this morning just to ride this train.

For my part, I was expecting scenery akin to what I’d experienced while driving the curvy, twisty roads around the mountains and lakes of the park. Alas, while our destination of Thendara is indeed within the boundaries of the Adirondack State Park, it was not in a very mountainous area of the park. In terms of scenery, we could just as easily have been rolling through Westchester County, just north of the city. New York City, that is. Also, in terms of the colors, it appeared we’d missed the peak colors by 3-5 days.

Ah well, unless you live in the region and can schedule accordingly, hitting the colors is a crap shoot at best. That said, the two and a half hour ride out to Thendara (five and a half round trip) was still pretty, rolling through forests and farmland with a few colorful trees along the way.



The view looking forward through the dome


Arrival into Thendara


Rolling through Empire State farmland


Living the good life under the dome


It was about 4:30pm as we eased back into Utica. Parked over on a siding looking grey and forlorn in its current livery was an EMD F-7A diesel locomotive numbered 1508, a locomotive I very likely once rode behind back in the 1970s when it wore the blue and gold of the Alaska Railroad.

All in all, I enjoyed my ride on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Should they ever run a train that pushes significantly farther into the state park, I’ll be sure to come back and book that ride.

For now however, I had a 110 mile drive ahead of me in order to position for tomorrow’s ride aboard the Stourbridge Railroad in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. My destination was Susquehanna, PA where a comfy room awaited at the Colonial Motor Lodge.
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Old Feb 2, 23, 5:31 pm
  #15  
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October 15th, 2022
The Stourbridge Line * Honesdale, PA


From Susquehanna, it was about a forty mile drive over to Honesdale. Prior to departing on this trip, I’d Google Mapped and printed out all the routes I’d need to drive. Well let me tell ya, Google Maps will get you there but you may be driving along some roads that would never show up on any Rand-McNally Road Map. Mind you, Google’s directions are indeed correct but you need to be extremely alert to the distances it indicates to drive.

For example, if it says to drive 4.7 miles on Mustachio Road and then turn left on Baldessa Lane, you need to turn left on whatever road shows up after 4.7 miles on Mustachio Road. As I discovered, it’s sometimes a leap of faith with Google Maps, especially when there’s no road sign indicating the Baldessa Lanes of your trip.

Bottom line, you’ve got to take a sense of adventure with you when you use Google Maps. And, you’ve gotta have faith that the directions are correct. I had a couple of times where I felt a twinge of concern with where I was heading, but I kept good tabs on my odometer and it all worked out in the end, every time. My trip to Honesdale involved one such leap of faith but I managed to arrive in town just fifteen minutes before train time.

So then, let’s talk about today’s train ride. Normally I tend to pass on the shorter excursions, as well as those that don’t offer either First Class, Parlor Car, lounge or dome accommodations. But I will make exceptions, and in today’s case my attraction to the Stourbridge Line is that it is considered to be the birthplace of railroading in America, or, as the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce put it, Honesdale is the site of "the first commercial locomotive on rails in the western hemisphere", that event having taken place in 1829.

The name Stourbridge comes the fact that the steam locomotive that first operated along what was then the Delaware & Hudson Canal was built in and imported from Stourbridge, England. The little locomotive was known as the Stourbridge Lion and a replica of it is on display in Honesdale to this day.

As I mentioned, I arrived in town just fifteen minutes before train time. Being as it was a gorgeous Saturday on a colorful autumn afternoon, this train was well patronized. As you might imagine, all of the best parking spots were long gone and I began to have real concern that I might miss this train if I couldn’t find a place to park soon. Imagine then my surprise and delight upon driving past the front of the Honesdale Depot and spotting the bright red tail lights indicating that someone was preparing to back out of a parking spot mere feet from the depot entrance! I cast my eyes skyward and said a little prayer of thanks to the powers that be and quickly pulled in to the newly available spot. There were no signs indicating limited time parking, so I headed into the depot where the lady behind the ticket window easily located my ticket envelope and bid me a good ride.



This scene at the Honesdale Station probably doesn’t look any different than it did in 1952


On board, I found a surprising number of open seats in the old 1950s era coach car. Seating was 2-2, but unlike today’s cheap, hard and skinny Slimline seats, these seats were well padded and comfortable. Shortly, I felt the first jolt as the locomotive powered up and eased us out of the depot.

The motive power for today’s train consisted of two 1950s era diesels, one of them quite unique. Leading us out of town and down the Lackawaxen River was a beautifully restored 1951 built EMD F7, one of the best-selling cab units of all time. In fact, more F7s were built than all other F-units combined. The classic “bulldog” nose has long since become iconic for railroad passenger engine imagery. Today’s locomotive, #9880, looked quite fetching in the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Pinstripes” livery.



The EMD FP-7A on the front end of the train


On the other end of our train was a rare EMD BL-2 locomotive. Designed as a crossover between road switcher and passenger engine, the BL-2 was almost universally considered to be a colossal mistake by GE’s Electro Motive Division. Only 59 were ever built. Any of you desiring more detail on this interesting locomotive can find it by clicking HERE.



The Stourbridge Line’s rare EMD BL2 diesel locomotive


For my part, I was thrilled to see my first one ever and all the more excited that it would be pulling us back into town on the return leg of this excursion.

The Lackawaxen River is not a very large river, but where our train ran along it through colorful trees and afternoon shadows, it was quite pretty.



Rollin’ on a pretty afternoon along the Lackawaxen River


Afternoon shadows along the Lackawaxen


Our turnaround point was said to be a place called Hawley. It must be those buildings off in the distance because down here along the river it’s just us and nature. I did notice that the river grew a bit larger as we proceeded downstream, and there was a pretty trail alongside it on the other bank. We passed a few people out enjoying the day and of course they waved at us – and we waved back. There’s something about waving at a train…

As we made our way back to our starting point in Honesdale, I found it surprising that I was seemingly the only person taking advantage of the open Dutch door in the vestibule between cars. I find this the best place to photograph a rail journey for two reasons. One, I get a clear unfettered view with no reflection off window glass as happens sometimes when taking pictures from your seat and two, I like to get a bit of the train car in the photo as I think it really captures the fact that we’re actually traveling on a train as opposed to just a scenery shot out the window. So then, here’s a shot of the BL-2 leading us back to Honesdale.



The BL-2 takes us back home to Honesdale


Although this wasn’t a very long ride (Only two hours and fifteen minutes out and back) the historical context of the trip combined with the beauty of our journey along the river on such a nice autumn day made it one that I’m glad I booked and one that I’d recommend to any of you should you find yourselves taking in the fall colors on a nice autumn weekend in Pennsylvania’s northern Poconos.

Before moving on to our next train 140 miles down the road in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, I’ll leave you with this photo of an old time snow removal plow. It was parked next to our train at the Honesdale Depot and looks like it was built to handle some pretty deep snowfalls.



Old time snow removal equipment
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