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The Mysterious Case of the Missing 5 - Or how I went to MEL in some style

The Mysterious Case of the Missing 5 - Or how I went to MEL in some style

Old May 18, 07, 6:08 pm
  #1  
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The Mysterious Case of the Missing 5 - Or how I went to MEL in some style

Although I'm not the first to fly UA C to Aukland thanks to this deeply discounted fare offering it seems I'm the first to write about the adventure. While it has been known that the fare would be honoured (if not all the fare rules) it is my pleasure to provide the incontrovertible evidence!

My long-standing travel plans to MEL were made much more comfortable
by a kindly data-entry person somewhere in the world who mistook 532
for 5532 one fine Thursday or Friday in May. Since I'm on two separate
tickets and four different airplanes today I will carry-on only.

The 8 emotional stages of a mistake fare are well known on FT. I
propose a 9th stage, peculiar to those mistake fares that leave from
specific locations. There is the matter of actually getting to that
location, and in my case I need to get from YYZ to LAX by 6:15pm to
make the first leg to SFO. The 9th emotional stage consists of bad
dreams the week before on the possibility of things going wrong on
flights before the lucky itinerary actually begins. I had these dreams
in spades. They are much like dreams about being naked in public
(assuming one doesn't want to actually be naked in public! Please see
the Travel Fetishists forum for that trip report.)
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Old May 18, 07, 6:08 pm
  #2  
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Part 1 - To LAX not in style.

First: get to LAX from YYZ. The cheapest available at the time of that
wonderful discount fare weekend was YYZ-ORD-LAX on UA1105 and
UA945. Since that time virtually all flights out of YYZ into the USA hubs
have zeroed out (long weekend in Canada).

There is no OLCI for UA ex-YYZ, so I decide to get to the airport
before 7 to check-in as early as possible, since IDB is not an option
today. There is an insane lineup for check-in, but not a soul at the
First/*G queue. So I'm off to pre-clear and security right away, all
of which goes smoothly (thanks to everyone still being in line to
check-in). I spend a few hours eating and working in the lovely brand
new Transborder Maple Leaf Lounge in YYZ T1.

Around this time I'm looking in my wallet and realize I have left home
without any credit card. I had used one at home to buy something
online and hadn't put it back in my wallet, and the other had been
stolen a while back and I hadn't yet activated the replacement. I take
advantage of the free Wifi to send an email to my wife asking her to
courier the not-yet-activated new credit card to my hotel in
MEL. Regrettably (milage whores please do not read this) this is the
card does not accrue any points whatsoever for anything (hangs head in
shame).

At the gate waiting for UA1105 they are asking for VDBs. The
going rate is a $500 voucher to wait until the 12:30 flight to ORD. I
take advantage of priority boarding so I don't know if there were any
IDBs in the end.

The Flight to ORD is fast and uneventful. There seems to be an
obligatory listing of available comestibles for every trip report, so
here goes:

Obligatory Menu Listing for UA1105

Nothing available

We arrive 15min early at gate B6. The RCC is right there so I'm
thinking to see if I can standby for the 11:30am flight to LAX. The
nice RCC agent (who calls me darling but she can carry it off,
and I am in fact darling) says everything is LAX is full, but I can be
waitlisted if I like, but don't get your hopes up. It turns out my *G
puts my up to 2nd on the list so there is a hope. The RCC itself is
spacious and comfortable, but it smells like a bus and there are few
amenities. So I head to B7 to see if I clear the waitlist.

At the gate there are several Guys On Blackberries who think asking
about the standby waitlist will increase their chance of clearing. So
it was with great pleasure that my name is called and I stroll past
them for a boarding pass as I was the first the clear. But only a
middle seat is offered, but I decline it in favour of an aisle seat on
UA945 that I'm already on (and maybe there are IDBs from earlier in
the day who need the seat more than I.)

The concourse itself smells like a bus, which perhaps explains the
smell in the RCC, but I grab something for lunch anyway. I head into
the RCC near B17 in the interests of airline lounge research. It is
small but still comfortable and I am pleased to sit near a very
attractive lady who was doing a wonderful impression of my seat
assignment on UA945 (32D).

At the gate boarding is delayed a little and they announce some
maintenance needs to be done to the plane. Oh no! Should I have
taken the seat at 11:30?
A few minutes later they board First
Class so I am reassured we will in fact depart. It turns out one of
the lavs at the back will be out of service. The gate agent suggests
we go pee now before we leave. Most of the Guys On Blackberries are on
this flight with me back in E-. Two of the most egregious ones are
sitting aisle and middle nearby. Rather than aisle boy getting up,
middle man simply hoists himself up on the seat backs and jumps
over. What losers. I noted at the gate that aisle boy was a lowly 2P,
so that funny feeling that I obviously outranked him turned out to be
only too true.

Obligatory Menu Listing for UA945

Choix de boite "snack" pour cinq dollars
Sac de pretzels avel beacoup de sel


I decide to go with the sac de pretzels. It was a 2007
sac, although I prefer the '06 myself, as I find the dextrose
and canola oil require some time to mature together. But I
quibble.

We land at LAX about 15 minutes early. I head to the RCC and
the agent at the desk prints off my boarding passes for LAX-SFO in 1B
and SFO-SYD in 26F. There were upper deck seats available, but my
overwhelming preference to an aisle seat led me to choose 26F which
also gets some good reviews.

Success!

Last edited by zorn; May 18, 07 at 6:17 pm
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Old May 18, 07, 6:16 pm
  #3  
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Part 2 - To SFO and SYD In Style

Well, I haven't done it yet, so there's nothing to report!

Come back Sunday morning, Sydney time.
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Old May 19, 07, 6:10 pm
  #4  
 
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Where are u? I am waiting with baited breath
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Old May 19, 07, 7:07 pm
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zorn - Looking forward to your trip report too, especially as I'll be visiting AKL in several months time. I agree with you, the YYZ Transborder MLL T1 is great. That must have hurt, having to pass on the $500 voucher. Are you saying, it was cheapest to fly YYZ-ORD-LAX-SFO, rather than just YYZ-SFO on AC?

Anxious to hear that UA in C offered you more than just sac de pretzels avec beaucoup de sel.
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Old May 19, 07, 7:19 pm
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I will have to connect to SFO for my SFO AKL but I hope I won't be offered "Sac de pretzels avel beacoup de sel". If I am, I will buy a vowel a "u" to be precise and will trade a consonant..... I'll trade l for c
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Old May 19, 07, 7:21 pm
  #7  
 
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PS: No matter if it is '06 or '07 vintage, I need the "u" and a little trade Wouldn't be tasty otherwise!
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Old May 20, 07, 1:36 am
  #8  
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Originally Posted by restlessinRNO View Post
zorn - Looking forward to your trip report too, especially as I'll be visiting AKL in several months time. I agree with you, the YYZ Transborder MLL T1 is great. That must have hurt, having to pass on the $500 voucher. Are you saying, it was cheapest to fly YYZ-ORD-LAX-SFO, rather than just YYZ-SFO on AC?
I picked LAX-SFO-SYD-AKL on my discount CNZ fare, so I had to go to LAX. Prices were sky-high for the non-stops two weeks out. So I went through ORD.
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Old May 20, 07, 1:44 am
  #9  
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Part 2 - To SFO and SYD In Style

The RCC in LAX agents offer me a drink, I suppose on account of being in F on a paid C itinerary. I decline as I want to partake on board, and at that not very much.

The UA1170 on a 319 is again packed, with a long standby list. I can hear the announcements from the councourse from inside the RCC at the business center end. One of the most common refrains of the day is "Please do not approach the gate to ask about your standby position!".

I stroll out of the RCC and to the gate just as the GS/First/1K announcement goes up, and about five or six of us high-rollers board at our leisure. There was a deadheading FA in addition to the rest of the crew, which made for some tight bin space in 1st, so the crew sensibly put their bags in the closet to clear space (although at the expense of hanging up our jackets).

There is no pre-flight drink offering, but the FA is constantly on his feet for the next 25min or so looking after the 8 of us. I had a glass of white wine which he offered to refill several times. After a short, calm flight to SFO, I'm first off and make the long trek around to the International Terminal.

The SFO International RCC is a decent lounge. Large, quite and almost empty all evening. Down at the gate the flight is again nearly full. The UGS/1K/First/Business boarding call is pretty hectic, but the second jetway for F and C makes it all smooth.

I am in 26F, which was very spacious and a good choice IMO. There were no unwelcome visitors from the back, except for one man who was visiting his pregnant wife in row 25 once or twice, which was fine with me. Jackets are taken and pre-flight drinks (champagne, OJ, water) offered. I am gently scolded for not finishing my champagne. I really didn't want to drink too much. The movies are started and I foolishly chose Children of Men. I heard it was good, but I'm not big on dystopian flicks.

Business Class Menu

Champagne

Duval Leroy Brut NV

Whites

Laboure-Roi Chablis 2005 Le Bournois
Estancia Pinnacles Chardonnay 2004 Monterey

Reds

Chateau Donissan 2004 Haut-Medoc
Delas Freres St. Esprit 2005 Cotes-du-Rhone
Warburn Premium Reserve Shiraz 2005

Port

Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto

Appetizers

Smoked Salmon, pate en croute with pistachio, Wensleydale, and vegetable cruditeFresh seasonal greens

Mains

Braised beef short ribs with port wine sauce
Pecan-crusted chicken breast with black peppercorns cream sauce
Testicle of randomly selected Economy passenger au jus
Pasta Rotollo

Dessert

Kerrygold Cheddar, Port Salut
Caramel Cheesecake

There was also an express option combining several of the above for those who wanted to skip the full service. That's a great idea, but given a 14h flight I decided to go for the full service.

Orders were taken front to back. Several around me ordered chicken but were told it was probably not available. I asked for the chicken too and was going to give a second option, but the FA said it would be no problem for me, Mr. Zorn. I suppose some combination of C booking class and *G got me that choice.

So I had the chicken with a glass of Shiraz. For dessert I had the cheese with some grapes and a glass of Port. The food was fine, good for airline food, but a little heavy-handed. I can't fault the service. Many FA's buzzing about making sure all was well.

The meal service and first film were finished two hours into the flight. I take an Imovane and sleep for 8 hours. And that's what the premium cabin is really supposed to be about.

After I awoke I watched Pursuit of Happyness, which was nice. Again, the FAs were always around with water or anything else one could have wanted. I helped myself to a leftover cheesecake as a snack, and had a cup of coffee.
Breakfast was a cheese blintz with some fruit. It was perfectly fine.

In summary: I can understand that other airlines might have a more highly sought after business cabin, but I think UA offers a very good product. Everything worked; the food was decent; the FAs were highly competent and professional. I was usually addressed by name, and they always knew what I was drinking. And the important thing was my 8h of uninterrupted sleep.

That gave me a very nice day in SYD, which will be Part 3, along with a flight in Y to AKL.

Last edited by zorn; May 28, 07 at 9:01 am
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Old May 20, 07, 1:50 am
  #10  
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Interesting mains on your flight, zorn.
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Old May 20, 07, 7:45 am
  #11  
 
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Thanks for the TR. Good to know it all worked out for ya. Clever writing style. ^
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Old May 20, 07, 9:56 am
  #12  
 
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So far so good Zorn. Keep it up.^

Looking fwd to one of the main in First
........ of randomly selected Business passenger au jus
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Old May 20, 07, 12:24 pm
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Thanks for the posts, zorn - they make for fun reading!

(Though I do feel bad for the sacrificial Y passengers... )
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Old May 20, 07, 2:04 pm
  #14  
 
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I particularly liked the 32D line.
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Old May 21, 07, 10:25 pm
  #15  
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Part 3 - 12h in Sydney
SYD-AKL not in style
18h in Auckland
AKL-MEL "side trip"


After having been scolded for not having finished the pre-flight champers on my SFO-SYD, I have resolved the following:

When Champagne is Freely Available it Shall Be Consumed

For the purposes of Champagne, sparkling wines produced outside the Champagne region of France will be considered Champagne too. Sit on that and rotate, you EU bureaucrats!

Australia has a bit of a bad reputation for customs and immigration, but I was through in 5min. Our flight was a little early; perhaps we were the first of the 747s to arrive. Besides which I was among the first off and had no bags to retreive.

I head towards the train to downtown. On the way there is a baggage storage service. I will leave my roll-a-board here for the day. The nice chap asks for my passport number, and AUD 9 later I heading to the train. I opt for a day-tripper at near AUD 30, which seems steep, so I hope I get my money's worth. I generally enjoy the train ride into a new (to me) city, although most of this trip is below ground. 30 min or so later I debark at Circular Quay station and start walking around to look at the Opera House.

I am generally opposed to taking photographs on holidays, on the premise than anything I snap will have been already photographed by actual professionals. So if you want to see pictures of Sydney Harbour, kindly Google it. But I feel a little guilty about it, so I stop at a shop and pick up a disposable camera. Fishing around my pockets I realize that I do not have my passport with me.

That is a mixture of good and bad news, really. The bad news is that I am conceivably stuck in Australia, on a Sunday, with no ability to take my flight to AKL, which would conceivably invalidate my ticket leaving me to purchase a one-way fare home (or a call to UA asking to turn the connection to a stopover for only $10000). The good news is that I will get my money's worth out of the day-tripper since I will have to go all the way back to the airport.

The nice chap at the baggage storage gives me back my passport.

I take the train back to Circular Quay and make my way over to the Opera House. There are lots of people jogging in the lovely surroundings. Across the harbour I notice a whole load of people running in a big group. How odd. I opt for the first Opera House tour of the day at 9am. There are only 5 in our group, so we get to see just about everything.

From the Opera House I decide to walk back past the train station, and head generally West and a little North, just for a walk through the downtown. The big group of runners turned out to be the Sydney Marathon. I ran a half-marathon once. Stupidest thing I ever did.

Eventually I hit Market Street and I notice that the Maritime Museum is not far away. So I head there for a visit and eat lunch at its perfectly serviceable little restaurant. From my day-tripper brochure I notice that I can take the ferry service back to Circular Quay. The boat ride back is extremely pleasant, affording wonderful views of the bridge and the Opera House. By the time I get back to Circular Quay the place is packed with tourists. Why do people visit outdoor cafes in touristy areas? It's so embarrassing.

I walk back past the Opera House and up into the Royal Botanical Gardens. The flora is jarringly odd, reminding me of San Diego (not in the actual vegetation, but in the feeling of unfamiliarity). I take the Government House Gate exit and walk down Macquarie (sp?) until I stumble upon St. James train station. From here I go back to the airport.

During all this time I am approached no fewer than three times for advice or directions. I replied that I was sorry but I didn't know. As we stopped at Green Park station, an Australian man in the seat ahead asks me, "Is this an industrial area or more residential?" I finally reply, "You know, I've been in Australia for 8 hours. I'm afraid I really don't know." That gets a chuckle. When we get to the airport we both debark. I say to him, "I think this area contains an airport." He liked that.

I get to SYD at 2:30 and head to the NZ check-in desk. No, too early. No check-in until 3:30. How irritating. I bum around until 3:25 at which time I get back to the check-in area only to encounter a mob of people hanging around the entrance to the check-in queue. Check-in is quick, so I'm off to beg the Australian government for the privilege of leaving the country, which absolutely must be done in blue or black pen. My passport actually says the Queen wants me to be able to move about without hindrance. Perhaps the republican sentiment has struck the Aussie passport control people a little more than others.

Then it's off to the highly regarded Koru Club. This is the only *A lounge I've been in that is better than the lounges offered by AC within Canada, although not that much better. This lounge has better food and drink, but the AC lounges have free wifi. I had my first shower since leaving home. The shower room was fitted with several ironic water-wasting features. I never used the toilet, but its over-sensitive flush sensor went off no fewer than three times. After my shower I went to shave, but the sink tap only operates via hand sensor, so it's off for another shower so I can shave.

Once in the lounge I head to the food and drinks and notice Champagne freely available. After my second glass I finish the open bottle, and note that fact to one of the lounge attendants. I enjoy the lounge amenities, including the computers in the business centre that I use to post my SFO-SYD report in this thread. The computer has NetNanny installed, which prevents me from getting news from home via www.globeandmail.com. Perhaps it's running some Roots ads or something. I get around that by plugging the ethernet into my laptop.

Getting nearer to flight time the hot food is put out. I help myself to some spring rolls and go to get some Champagne, but there is no open bottle. I ask a lounge attendant if she minds if I open another. She says no and gets one of the men to open it (who apologizes for not having opened it earlier). I start hoping "has anyone ever apologized for delaying your consumption of alcohol" isn't one of the alcohol-problem screening questions my doctor will ask next time.

Then it's off to the gate. I didn't get this segment in C. The plane is a 320 and I'm in a window seat (which I hate). There is a dinner service, which definitively answered why AU and NZ are so strict with food quarantine. It turns out the chickens down here are all perfectly rectangular and there is a fierce desire to maintain that genetic integrity. I discovered this when I asked for the chicken, and was served the most rectangular piece of chicken I had ever seen. Sadly it was also inedible so I didn't bother.

The drinks cart came by, and lo and behold there was Champagne freely available. What a nice touch in Y. So I had some. I watched "Because I Said So" on the drop-down screens. It wasn't a good movie, but Mandy Moore and Lauren Graham made up for it a little.

To be frank I wasn't impressed with Y service on NZ, Champagne aside. It was cramped and the food was poor. I prefer AC Y international service.

I arrive in AKL at 11:30. Auckland is called the City of Sails, but I like to call it City of Wealthy Cab Drivers, as it put me out 65 NZD to get to the Hyatt, where I had booked a room for 144 NZD. I still don't have a credit card, but this room was pre-paid so they let me in with 100 NZD cash deposit. I sleep, get up, shower, and check-out. They immediately return my deposit without even checking if I cleaned out the mini-bar and trashed the room in an all-night pay-per-view porn fest. I guess I just look like a classy guy. Some banter with the desk agent reveals my plan to walk to the Auckland Museum. Gasp! Horror! Is it humanly possible to do so?

It was a lovely walk on a warm, humid morning, through the University campus and the Auckland Domain park. The museum itself is outstanding and I thoroughly recommend it. It was built as a war memorial and features a whole floor of NZ war history, which is in many ways similar to Canada's in the way the two countries' WWI experiences have become central parts of the nation-forging mythologies.

I set a human endurance record by walking all the way back to the Hyatt to collect my other bag and prepare to sell my firstborn to pay for the taxi back to the airport. My actual destination for this trip is MEL, where I am attending a conference. This side trip to MEL will be compliments of Emirates. My Champagne consumption had obviously increased my general classiness as upon entry to the Emirates check-in queue the lady said, "Are you perhaps in Business Class sir?" What a lovely question, really. I am certainly Business Class by nature, my dear, but today, I will be travelling in solidarity with my fellow citizens in the back. So I join the line-up. I notice there is a separate and empty line-up for those who have done OLCI, as I had, so I am through in a jiffy.

I have a few hours to kill which I spend getting rid of NZ currency on a copy of Air Babylon and a few glasses of yes, Champagne, at an airport bar. Technically the Champagne wasn't freely available, but it served the purely practical service of ridding my wallet of unwanted currency.

I am seated in 38K on the 345. There is some silly, albeit attractive, young woman talking to the FA about how she is a Frequent Flyer and she always gets an aisle seat and it's in her profile etc. etc. She takes her seat in 40J. It looks like I've scored an empty seat as the last man on walks past to row 40, but it turns out he is in 40J. Silly attractive woman is beside me in 38J after all.

One thing Emirates has going for it is a wonderful, second-to-none seat-back entertainment system. Top marks to this 5-star feature. I used it extensively throughout the flight. You can use it from the time you board to just before landing when they retrieve the headsets, and even then you can turn on the nose-camera view for landing.

Otherwise, though, I found the seat uncomfortable, and no nicely printed menu even in Y can compensate for food that simply was not good. The drinks tray must have been 20 minutes after the meal service, which was too long. I noted on the menu that Champagne was available for USD 8. And what did you know but I had USD 8 in my wallet! What an eerie coincidence. This time I decided against it, since the food wasn't good, and it wasn't really freely available. Dionysus tempted me even further by intervening in the Frasier episode I was watching as the drinks trolley approached, as he had Niles say, "We must have some Champagne!" Who am I to deny the Fates, so I fork over some greenbacks for the Champagne.

Once again I would have to say I would prefer AC on a long-haul international flight in Y, for seat comfort and better food, and AVOD is making its way around the AC fleet now too.

The weather in MEL is cool and quite windy for our arrival. The ride gets bumpy and rocks back and forth quite a bit. A woman behind me starts to whine. A mile or so away from the airport the sad hairdryers they put on these 345s power up and we head back up into the clouds. The woman next to me is very uncomfortable about all this. She asks me what is going on.

What is it with people that they think I am some sort of information desk? I make up something: "Oh, I'm sure the air traffic controller just asked the pilot not to land due just yet to some shifting winds or something". She wanted to know why the pilot wasn't telling us anything. "Oh, I'm sure the pilots are just very busy right now."

A few minutes later the captain comes on, apologizes for the delay in updating us as they have been very busy, and announces that there was a last minute runway change due to shifting winds. I am the MAN!. "Ooh, do you fly planes too?" "How can you be so calm through all this?" The clunking sound of the landing gear causes her to grip my arm. "That's the landing gear," I say with extreme manliness. I ride my horse up the rocks, Marlboro hanging from my lips.

We land uneventfully. The poor dear is on to Dubai and London. Best of luck to her. Now I'm in MEL on business until early Friday morning when it's back to AKL on EK, and then AKL-SYD-LAX in C.

Last edited by zorn; May 28, 07 at 9:34 am
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