Tag Archives: travel

Things I Don’t Get: Sundaes on Airplanes

One thing (of many) that I don’t understand is why so many travel bloggers seem to like sundaes on airplanes. The sundae is particularly pervasive on US carriers (well, at least UA and AA) who serve them as the only choice of dessert in premium cabins.

The offending dessert

The offending dessert

The biggest issue that I have is that the sundaes generally aren’t very good. Maybe I’d be happier if I were a 5th grader going to an ice cream social, but I really don’t want to be eating bad quality ice cream with my choice of hot fudge, caramel, nuts, fruit syrup, and whipped cream. Especially since ice cream served on planes is often served rock hard.

I guess there’s the larger issue of food quality on US airlines, but so many bloggers seem to rave about these bad quality sundaes while simultaneously complaining about all of the other food choices. Would you seriously pay for this sundae at a restaurant? If you’re going to provide ice cream, I’d much rather get higher quality, more interesting ice cream like the Humphry Slocombe ice cream offered on Virgin America.

There’s also some odd element of the infantilization of premium class passengers. I admit that I am a total pajama-on-airplanes convert, but it’s strange how some elements of premium class travel seem to encourage reversion to younger states of life (another example: cookies and milk on AA).

Thailand 2014: Asiana Airlines First Class Lounge Seoul Incheon (ICN)

Given that my fake red-eye from Hong Kong on Asiana landed before 5am, the airport was empty when I arrived.

Empty ICN

Empty ICN

It also meant that the lounges weren’t open. The Asiana Airlines first class lounge doesn’t open until 6am, but I even had to wait for the business class lounge to open since my flight arrived a smidge early.

:(

😦

I thus spent about an hour in the business class lounge waiting for the first class lounge to open (here’s a prior review of the business class lounge, albeit in the remote terminal).

A380!

A380 model! This was more exciting when I took this trip 6 months ago since their A380 hadn’t yet been delivered.

6am soon rolled around and I made my way to the first class lounge where I rightfully belonged.  The lounge is tastefully decorated with a library theme. It’s large and open with private TV cubicles, loungers, and massage chairs. Maybe I just felt cold because I was sleep deprived from the fake red-eye that I took, but I thought the lounge was pretty chilly while I was there.

Good-sized lounge

Good-sized lounge

Seating

Seating

Massage chair

Massage chair

Private-ish lounging area

Private-ish lounging area

Since I was going to get on a long flight to JFK, I took a shower in this lounge. They have three giant shower rooms with Japanese-style toilets, which I love, and they had some of the best toiletries I’ve seen in an airport lounge with things like actual shaving cream and a razor that I would actually use at home.

Shower room

Shower room

Pretty good amenities on offer

Pretty good amenities on offer

The food options in the lounge weren’t super appealing to me, but that’s maybe because the breakfast foods on offer were things like Yorkshire pudding, abalone porridge, and sad-looking dim sum. I think I actually preferred the slightly simpler options available in the business class lounge.

Booze

Booze

Hot food

Hot food

More food

More food

More food

More food

Ice cream

Ice cream

There were a number of things that I had trouble identifying. In particular, I had a hard time understanding what all of the beverage options were since everything was in Korean. Yes, I was in Korea, but the lounge attendants that I asked also didn’t speak very good English. So I ended up just getting some cereal and some Johnny Walker Blue (I was definitely inspired by secret breakfast ice cream from Humphry Slocombe).

Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

While I understand why people don’t rave about this lounge like some other first class flagship lounges, the Asiana first class lounge at Seoul is tasteful and definitely feels premium to me. The nice amenities in the shower room are one example of something that seems pretty obvious but is often lacking in other premium lounge experiences. I also received an escort from the lounge to the aircraft, which is always a nice touch.

Thailand 2014: Asiana Business Class Hong Kong to Seoul Incheon (HKG to ICN)

OZ 746
Hong Kong (HKG) to Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Depart: 12:30am
Arrive: 4:50am
Duration: 3h 20m
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Seat: 2K -> 1G

Sometimes I do things that I know are bad for me. Like book fake red eyes. This flight is honestly not very much fun (although if you were to take it now you might get Asiana’s A380) since it departs after midnight, which is after the Thai and Singapore lounge close, and it arrives around 5am, which is before the Asiana lounges even open, and it’s only about 3 hours in the air. Heck, the Asiana first class lounge doesn’t even open until 6am.

When I originally booked this itinerary, this flight was scheduled to be operated by a Boeing 747, and even though it was sold as two classes of service, I was able to pre-select a seat in the first class section of the plane, which would have featured fully flat seats. As it turned out, the flight ended up being operated by a Boeing 777-200ER with angled-flat seats in business class. Oh yay (not).

Not a Boeing 747 :(

Not a Boeing 747 😦

The business class seat is typical for regional flights within Asia, which is to say angled flat. The business class cabin wasn’t very crowded, so I ended up moving to a group of empty seats.

Business class seats

Business class seats

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Seat back

Seat back

Kinda looks like it's falling apart a little

Kinda looks at little worn down

Seat controls

Seat controls

Angled flat

Angled flat

Not very flat

Not very flat

This is going to be a really boring flight review because all I pretty much slept from wheels up to wheels down. The limited service that I did encounter was quite good, and the flight attendants addressed me by name at every interaction, and I never heard them chatting away as is so common on US carriers even though I saw their mouths moving. The landing at ICN was also one of the softest I’ve ever had.

Anyway, I don’t recommend these fake red eyes, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I took this flight mostly so I could get to ICN in time to take Asiana’s flight to JFK in their first class suites product, so I promise that that review will be more interesting than this one.

Thailand 2014: Thai Airways Lounge Hong Kong Airport (HKG)

After the Singapore Airlines lounge, I went to the Thai lounge, which is the only Star Alliance lounge I hadn’t yet visited (the other being the United lounge).

Thai Airways lounge entrance at HKG

Thai Airways lounge entrance at HKG

This lounge is located in the same area as a lot of the other lounges, so it’s easy to lounge hop. It’s open to the terminal like the United lounge. There’s also a separate first class section, but it’s very, very similar to the business class section. The furniture is marginally nicer, and it’s of course a bit less crowded, but you’re not missing out on much if you only have access to the business class side.

Computers for use

Computers for use

Seating

Seating

This lounge features some game stations and massage chairs. I’m not a huge gamer, but I’m a pretty big fan of massage chairs, so I pretty much just camped out on a chair for most of the time that I was in the lounge. They’re definitely a little worse for the wear, but I still enjoyed my chair massage.

Massage chair!

Massage chair!

For food options, there was a pretty wide selection including various Thai foods and ice cream bars, but I wasn’t that hungry after eating some in the Singapore lounge, and it didn’t look all that appetizing to me personally.

Booze

Booze

Drinks

Drinks

Food

Food

More food

More food

Hot food

Hot food

Cold food

Cold food

The one thing that I didn’t like about this lounge was the internet access. I could not get the wifi to work, which is a basic necessity of an airport lounge. It didn’t matter a ton as I just used the Hong Kong airport free wifi, but it drives me crazy when the wifi doesn’t work in a lounge.

Of all the Star Alliance lounges at HKG, I don’t think there’s one that’s clearly superior to the others. Some people will like the food at the Thai lounge better, some will like Singapore’s food better (I don’t think anyone would choose United); some will find the lack of bathroom at the Singapore lounge to be a dealbreaker; some (like myself) will love the massage chair at the Thai lounge. You’re not missing out on much by not going to any given lounge, so I’d probably just go to the lounge that’s most convenient.

Thailand 2014: Singapore Airlines Lounge Hong Kong Airport (HKG)

My first stop on my layover at Hong Kong was the Singapore Airlines lounge. I went there first largely because the lounge closes at 11pm, which is earlier than the other Star Alliance lounges at HKG, and my flight departed at 12:30am. For reference, I’ve also reviewed the United loungethe Plaza Premium lounge, and the Pier at HKG.

Singapore Airlines lounge entrance

Singapore Airlines lounge entrance

First impressions of the lounge were that it’s very large, but it feels a little dungeon-like because there are no windows, and there’s no bathroom located within the lounge. The decor and furnishings are typical of Singapore Airlines. There was a computer area, several seating areas, a snack area, and a dining area. There was also a separate first class section, but it’s essentially identical to the rest of the lounge. There’s a small sign that says the area is reserved for first class passengers, but there was no one actually checking (unlike the current first class section of the Pier), and the lounge was so empty anyway that it didn’t matter (I think there were 2 other people in the lounge when I left around 9:30pm).

Computer workstations

Computer workstations

Seating options

Seating options

Self-serve drinks

Self-serve drinks

Soft drinks

Soft drinks

There were a number of food options available, including several different hot food options. There was also Haagen Dazs ice cream, and I tried a water chestnut drink that was pretty interesting. The best food, though, is probably the made-to-order noodles, where you can get udon, laksa, or wonton noodle soup. I tried the laksa, and it was very flavorful and a bit spicy. It was a bit seafoody for me to rave about it, but I’d definitely eat it again.

Food options

Food options

More food

More food

More food

More food

Noodle options

Noodle options

Laksa

Laksa

Dining area

Dining area

More dining area

More dining area

Overall, this is a nice lounge. Yes, there’s no bathroom inside which is inconvenient, and there are no windows, so you don’t really feel time passing, but it’s spacious with some decent food options. It’s also located pretty far away from the rest of the lounges (this lounge is near gate 15 while the Thai lounge, for example, is near gate 40).

Best Economy International Flights Ever?

I’m sitting at DFW after a week-long trip to China, and I flew AA on their newish DFW-PVG route. On the outbound, the flight was empty enough that I could get a row of five seats to myself in coach and create my own “flat” bed of sorts.

On the return, I ended up getting an op up to business class. I saw signs at check-in that they might be looking for volunteers (offer of 800 USD travel voucher and a confirmed seat the next day) to take a next-day flight. It turns out they didn’t need any volunteers, but they did end up operationally upgrading a ton of passengers. Based on seat maps from the days prior to the flight, business class went from having a load of maybe 7 or 8 passengers to being a full cabin. I myself got one of those op ups, which I was very grateful to get. They almost took it away because I had ordered a special meal and they said they wouldn’t have enough non-special meals in coach, but with some puppy dog eyes the gate agent called catering and was able to order one additional coach meal so I could sit in business.

Anyway, for those of you who are traveling in coach on DFW-PVG or DFW-HKG, very light loads on the outbound to Asia and oversold flights returning from Asia seem to be relatively par for the course for the summer according to both the gate agents that I’ve talked to and reports on Flyertalk. This could make it an interesting gamble if you don’t want to spend any SWUs as you very well might be lucky enough to get a row to yourself on the outbound and an op up on the inbound.

Musings from China (Not about China)

I’m currently in China, which has made it very challenging to do some very basic internet things like blog or check gmail (gmail blocking is a relatively recent phenomenon in China), so pardon the sporadic posts.

I think there’s a lot of mysticism around points and miles bloggers and how we accomplish the things that we do. There’s obviously a lot of variation: some people are really heavy in manufactured spending (think $40k+ per month), which combined with some recent credit card offers means that they actually don’t need to pay for anything out of pocket (lots of cash back MS) and instead pay with their time; some travel a lot for work; some make tons of money from their blogs and can pay cash for premium travel; many don’t travel much at all.

For myself, I don’t do anything special. I don’t travel for work, but I have a job that provides a flexible work schedule, and as a single twenty-something with a minimalist non-travel/non-food lifestyle (i.e. I rarely spend money on non-consumable goods; I think I’ve bought one thing from Amazon in the past year, and that was shaving soap), I choose to spend my discretionary income on travel. This means that I often travel in coach and do things like stay in capsule hotels as I don’t naturally generate enough points and miles to pay for everything that way, and I don’t mind “roughing” it. While I have had the fortune to travel pretty extensively in premium cabins, I probably do more flying in the back of the bus than not.

For this current trip to China, I flew AA coach through DFW (I was lucky enough to get a 5-seat row to myself from DFW to PVG as the flight was not very full), routing this way to get more miles and help me requalify for AA Executive Platinum. I stayed at a super crappy hotel in Shanghai, and I’m now at a hostel in Beijing. For many of my meals, I’m eating street food (super delicious in Shanghai, not quite as delicious in Beijing). The flights were a little pricier than I would have liked, but I’m spending about $25 a night for lodging (I’m traveling with a friend, which helps lower the cost), and we probably ate for less than $10 a day in Shanghai.

I’m probably not going to write a 20-part trip report about this trip because it’s not that novel. As far as I know, people don’t want to read a post about a flight in AA economy or read about a crappy hotel. But trips like this are enjoyable in their own right, and they enable the more luxurious trips that I am likely to write about.