Alaska to New Zealand and Back ~ The Long Way

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Denali Flyer, Jul 23, 2011.

  1. Denali Flyer
    Original Member

    Denali Flyer Silver Member

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    Some of you might appreciate this trip report I posted ten years ago when service levels were substantially better than they are today. BA's First Class menus were more extensive and Alaska served real meals on domestic First Class. I didn't have a camera back then, so there are no photos. Still, consider this a trip down memory lane and if it is deemed inappropriate, please let me know and I'll remove it.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Lots of people like to leave Alaska during the winter months. Given the depth of the temperatures coupled with the dearth of mid-winter sunshine, by the end of autumn most snowbirds are more than happy to pull up stakes and head for the warmer climes of Mexico, Hawaii or the Desert Southwest. We’re not talking just two week vacations here either. Often folks are gone for months at a time. A friend of mine just got back from three months in Florida, Georgia and Venezuela along with the compulsory visit to family and a Packer’s game in Wisconsin. For many however, New Zealand is becoming increasingly popular. For me, this will be my seventh visit since first setting foot on this South Pacific jewel back in 1981.

    Because of the seasonal nature of my work in Denali National Park, working from May to September, I have plenty of time for more extensive travels. As a result, I don’t take vacations, I take trips – for me that means just throwing on a backpack and taking my life on the road for a few months. The focus is not on the often extravagant but short lived relief from the daily grind that a vacation offers but rather just going down and becoming one with the country and its people. No hotels, tours or rental cars for me. I can’t afford them. I’ve got to stretch my budget over a much longer period. For this trip I’ll be gone until April 14th.

    Traveling from Alaska to New Zealand, the most logical routing would be to fly down to Los Angeles and connect to one of the many daily nonstops to Auckland. One could leave Fairbanks in the morning and arrive in New Zealand approximately 24 hours later. I however have cashed in 150,000 of my Alaska Mileage Plan account miles (Effectively bankrupting my account I might add) towards a First Class ticket to Australia aboard British Airways. This means I’ll have to travel via London and Singapore. For many people a routing like this would be unthinkable – the height of folly. For me it’s just perfect. Here’s why:

    To begin with, I’ve never flown British Airways. I always get excited about a new airline and this will be my 101st airline flown. As well, BA’s First Class enjoys a stellar reputation as one of the finest services aloft. I could have taken Qantas First Class for only 135,000 miles but there’s just not that much service aboard those late night nonstops to New Zealand or Australia. For me, the highlight of any trip in First Class is the meal service and on those late night trans-Pacific runs you get a late supper and a full breakfast. That’s it. Your international First Class experience to Australia is over after only 14 hours, much of which you slept through anyway. I wanted more. With BA, I was looking at twice the flying time and three times the food. Flying from Los Angeles to London to Singapore to Melbourne was scheduled for 36 hours and 45 minutes, including transit time in First Class lounges in London and Singapore. Over the course of the trip I’d be served three dinners and three breakfasts. Indeed, this was my kind of routing. Plus, I’d get a stopover in London on the way back which I’ll use for a side trip to Finland and Estonia.

    Following is the tale of my journey from Fairbanks, Alaska to Christchurch, New Zealand covering 20,760 miles aboard three airlines. First Class all the way!

    04 February
    FAI-ANC-SEA Alaska 88 First Class
    737-4Q8 N779AS Seat 2A
    808a – 227p Flight time: :47/3:18

    The Fairbanks airport gets my vote for quickest and easiest check-in and security screening of any airport I’ve flown out of. There is rarely a line either at the counter or at the security screening checkpoint so the whole procedure of check-in and security is more like a formality than the unpleasant trial it often is at larger airports. It’s not uncommon at FAI to find yourself checked in and past security within five minutes of walking in the door.

    I grabbed a copy of our local rag, The Fairbanks News Miner, and headed for Gate 3. Boarding was announced 20 minutes before our departure time. After the people “needing a little extra time in boarding” were aboard, the call came out for First Class, MVP and MVP Gold cardholders to board. Over half the people in the boarding area stood up and got in line! The load was 12F 96Y, so we’re talking a fair number of people here. I know that Alaska passed out MVP and MVP Gold memberships like Chiclets at the end of 2001 but this was ridiculous.

    A bottle of orange juice, a pillow and a blanket awaited me at Seat 2A. Wall Street Journals were passed out, the safety demonstration was completed, the jetway was retracted and we were on our way. We took off to the North (rare out of FAI) and climbed to 26,000 feet for the short but bumpy ride down to Anchorage. Years ago, this flight used to rate a snack in First Class, generally a small fruit plate and maybe a Danish. These days it gets what AS calls their “Pub Service” – coffee and orange, apple or cranberry juice in back, and pretty much whatever beverage you desire up front.

    Approach into Anchorage was very bumpy. Dark clouds loitered ominously around the Chugatch Mountains while the land below us was a study in black, grey and white. Certainly not the prettiest day to fly into Anchorage.

    On our way to the gate, we taxied past the Fed Ex cargo terminal. It looked especially busy today with four MD11s and three DC-10s on the tarmac. Also in town were 747-400Fs from Atlas Air and Cathay Pacific along with a 747-200 from Nippon Cargo Airlines. We parked at Gate B8 and I headed into the terminal for a Starbucks and a quick visit to Alaska’s Boardroom.

    Upon re-boarding Flight 88, I noticed the seat side orange juice had been replaced by a small bottle of water. Preflight drinks were offered and I accepted a Club Soda with lime, my old standby. As we taxied out to the runway, the Captain advised us that we’d be in for a bumpy ride climbing out of ANC. As well, we’d be battling headwinds (rare flying southbound to Seattle) and that our flight time down to Seattle would be 3 hours 18 minutes. I flew in this direction a couple of weeks ago and we did the trip in 2:30.

    When flying south out of Anchorage, I always request a seat on the “A” side of the airplane. The reason for this is the scenery. The Anchorage to Seattle run, much less flights to any points in between are amongst the most scenic in the world. On a clear day, passengers on the lefthand side can enjoy spectacular views of the Chugatch Mountains while climbing out of ANC, followed by beautiful views of the Coastal Ranges and the many glaciers that flow from them down to the sea. This section of Alaska and Canada is home to 70% of the world’s glaciers. Some of them are larger than Rhode Island. To see them from the air is much different than seeing them from ground level. From 33,000 feet, you can truly see why glaciers are called rivers of ice, some of them winding more than 40 miles out of the mountains before terminating at the sea. Although it was pretty cloudy climbing out of Anchorage, we got some partial clearing down towards Cordova so I got some partial glacier views as a result.

    Lunch today was a choice of a hot roast beef sandwich served on a hoagie roll with roasted potatoes or a cold poached salmon served with a pasta salad. Orders were taken from front to back and I got my first choice, the cold poached salmon. My seatmate ordered the roast beef sandwich, The meals were served all on one tray, consisting of the plated entrée, a roll and a little Ghirardelli’s chocolate square. My salmon looked better than it tasted, which was bland. Perhaps some kind of a soy or ginger marinade on the side might have improved it. The pasta, while tender, was not much more flavorful. It came with capers and olives. My seatmate enjoyed his sandwich but said his potatoes were cold. I think both of these meals could have benefited from a small green salad on the side.

    We had a beautiful approach into Seattle, starting our descent around Vancouver Island and flying straight south past the downtown skyscrapers and over Boeing Field before landing to the south. We parked at Gate D1, right next to Alaska’s airport club, The Boardroom.

    Check in: A
    Preflight: A
    Service: A-
    Comfort: B-
    Meal: B-

    A nice start to the trip. The meal wasn’t perfect but it was an improvement on Alaska’s past lunches which were just a sandwich and a small pasta salad or a chicken breast salad.

    04 February
    SEA-LAX Alaska 482 First Class
    737-790 N612AS Seat 2F
    543p – 821p Flight time: 1:53

    I had almost three hours to burn in Seattle so after getting a shoe shine I headed straight for Alaska’s Boardroom and ordered couple of ice cold McTarnahan’s Ales to accompany my two bags of mixed nuts from the prior flight. The Boardroom was packed as usual but the staff there do an excellent job of keeping everything well stocked and your beer topped off. In the afternoon, Alaska offers a variety of cheeses and crackers along with fruits and peanuts. Complimentary beer, wine and vodka drinks are available throughout the day.

    Twenty minutes before flight time, I sauntered up to Gate D4 where boarding of our 737-700 was in progress. I noticed the aircraft was N612AS. Again! I log all my flights, including of course the N-Numbers. This was to be the fourth time I’d been on this aircraft! When it comes to airlines and aircraft, I like to get as much variety as possible. Collect them all! First Class was full as always, coach had maybe 40 people.

    We took off to the south and I don’t think we made more than a five degree change in course heading from take off until we lined up for approach into LAX. Flight time was announced as 1:59 but no cruising altitude was given.

    I talked sports over a couple of beers with my seatmate, a Seattle engineer who flew to LA regularly. While the Mariners have to be the favorites to take the AL West pennant, I felt the A's, despite the loss of Giambi were still a strong squad and could be the darkhorse. We both agreed that the Seahawks might need a couple of years before rising to the top in the NFC West.

    Dinner orders were taken from front to back. Tonight’s offerings were:

    Portobello Mushroom Pasta
    Fillet Steak

    We both chose the fillet and I had another beer. Linens were laid and salads were delivered on a tray with silverware, a bread plate and two packets of salt and pepper. I quite like the fact that Alaska has trained their flight attendants to present a meal course by course. United FAs generally just load it all onto one tray and be done with it. I think that when you’re traveling in First Class, if there’s time, a course by course service is a nice touch.

    Our steaks were delivered piping hot. They came with potatoes au gratin and what appeared to be shredded squash. Everything was delicious and my steak was not overcooked too much. Our plates were cleared and Alaska’s ubiquitous Apple Cobbler was presented for dessert. This cobbler is always dry as cobblers go but a cup of coffee improved the situation considerably. Overall, a nice meal service for a two hour flight.

    After fifteen minutes of flying over the lights of greater metropolitan Los Angeles, we touched down nicely at LAX and taxied smartly to our gate in Terminal 3. A reservation at the Sheraton Gateway awaited me so I wasted no time in claiming my pack and heading straight over to the hotel.

    Check in: N/A Transit
    Lounge: B+
    Preflight: A
    Service: A
    Comfort: B-
    Meal: B+

    The reason I give Alaska a consistent B- for comfort is that in my opinion their First Class seats are not all that comfortable and offer less legroom than any other major airline that I’m aware of. Otherwise, a nice meal and good service from our FA.

    05 February
    LAX-LHR British Airways 268 First Class
    747-436 G-BYGC Seat 2K
    845p–300p Flight time: 9:37

    I’ve been looking forward to this flight ever since I first booked it a month and a half ago. Unlike some of you who, be it for business or pleasure, routinely fly in International First and Business Class all over the world, for me it’s a rare and cherished treat. The last time I flew in First Class on an international carrier was back in 1987. That was a wonderful journey! I bought a straight F class fare between Auckland and Tokyo for only $930.00 thanks to a generous exchange rate on the NZ dollar at the time. I also utilized the Maximum Permitted Mileage provision of the tariffs to fly the following routing:

    AKL-MEL Air New Zealand 747-219
    MEL-SYD Ansett 767-277
    SYD-BNE Ansett 767-277
    BNE-SYD Singapore 747-212
    SYD-SIN Singapore 747-212
    SIN-BKK Thai International 747-200
    BKK-HKG Cathay Pacific 747-267
    HKG-NRT Swissair 747-357

    I bracketed this itinerary with a pair of United 747SPs LAX-SYD and NRT-LAX and also flew SYD-MEL on a TAA 727-200 and then MEL-CHC on a Qantas 767-200, all in First except the QF flight which offered only Business Class. What a trip! Since then, I’ve been limited to a United and a Continental First Class trip each to Australia and one United Business Class trip down to Buenos Aires. Everything else has been either domestic First Class or coach.

    Well, needless to say, First Class has come a long way since 1987. At least in terms of seating comfort and certain aspects of the service. But more on that in a moment. Lets start at the beginning.

    Driving into LAX from along Century Boulevard is quite a treat in its own right. The boulevard is palm lined and sports all of the finest hotels. Driving west along this broad palm lined promenade seemed quite appropriate to the occasion: A long flight in First Class aboard one of the world’s premier airlines. I arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport at about 5:00pm, just as the sun was setting.

    Flying out of a major airport like LAX is always exciting, all the more so for all the tails of the world rising above the terminal buildings. We’re talking 747 and 777 tails here, displaying the illuminated logos of the world’s finest airlines. I saw the Chelsea Rose of my British Airways 747 and felt like a child looking at presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Lots of anticipation.

    The International Terminal at LAX is quite impressive in every respect. It is well lit, well organized and nicely built. I liked all the glass and the high ceilings. Nobody was in the First Class check in queue at the BA counter so check in for me was quickly accomplished. I removed the Alaska Airlines name tag from my pack and replaced it with a much nicer BA First Class tag. My backpack was then checked through to Melbourne, Australia and I was given an invitation to BA’s First Class Lounge. On to security, which was no better or worse than it’s ever been since September 11th. Which is to say it was just slow. My laptop either aroused suspicion or was randomly picked to be inspected for explosives so I had to turn it on, get it checked out, then wait until it had booted completely up before I could turn it off. Finally, I was free to go.

    British Airways shares a First Class lounge with Qantas up on the Fifth Floor of the terminal. Based upon what I’ve read of the Terraces Lounges both in Flyer Talk Trip Reviews and on BA’s web site, this lounge was quite a disappointment. I took stock of it as I walked in and asked the receptionist if indeed this was the First Class lounge. Indeed it was, she replied. She showed me to a closet for my jacket and pointed out the bar and snacks area. The bar appeared well stocked with a nice variety of top shelf liquors and a good variety of beers and juices. I helped myself to a Fosters Lager and surveyed the food offerings. Hmmmm… a variety of small finger sandwiches, some vegetables and dip, two different cheeses and crackers and a big container of mixed nuts. To be honest, I had expected a bit more but not wanting to become overly critical and ruin the mood of what should be an excellent flight, I selected a couple of sandwiches, some broccoli and dip and some of the nuts. Only three other people were in the lounge as I entered. They were having an animated conversation in French over in one corner so I looked for a quieter seat in the opposite corner of the room. The lounge was fairly small and did not offer any work areas or tables at all so I just found a couch and made some last minute calls to friends and family. This kept me busy right up until the call to board came at 8:15pm.

    Though it was great to say a few goodbyes over the phone before leaving, I wish I had taken time to head down to the gate area a bit early to check out the plane. As it was, by the time I got over to Gate 120, boarding was well under way and I was encouraged by the gate agents to board promptly. What the heck, let’s do it!

    I could make out the nose of our 747-436 through the big picture windows just before entering the jetway. Chelsea Rose was emblazoned just under the windows. Ah, certainly one of the prettier additions to BA’s short lived Tails of The World color schemes. (Even so, most BA aircraft that I saw on this trip have yet to receive the new flowing Union Jack tail colors.)

    Upon entering the aircraft, I was greeted by a male flight attendant and led to the First Class Cabin. I noticed that this aircraft had been outfitted with the new Club World beds. While certainly a vast improvement upon Coach Class seating, I thought the overall ambience appeared somewhat cramped. The seats looked to be neither as wide nor as comfortable as United’s Business Class seats. But then again, they do go flat – a nice advantage over any of the more traditional J Class seats out there. I was more than happy however to be able to continue on through the galley and into the First Class cabin where I was handed off to another Flight Attendant and shown to my seat.

    Ah… much nicer. This cabin radiated refined comfort with only 14 suites, each of them accented by wooden wrap around barriers. The picture hanging on the wall at the rear of the cabin was a nice touch and the boarding music was light and soothing. I got my jacket hung and was offered a glass of champagne. Mmmm. Louise Pommery, 1989. My favorite! Just kidding, I’ve never had this champagne before but I found it immediately appealing, full of flavor yet not too crisp. Delicious!

    At the seat was a small plate of cashews. After getting my gear stowed away, I sat down and checked out the electronic controls. There were a variety of seat functions available from lumbar support to full recline, two different push button lights in addition to the one on the cable snaking out from behind my seat. The TV and video controls were in the seat beside me and the unit used for those controls doubled as a telephone. Very nice.

    Menus were distributed along with the amenity kit. A small plate of canapes was also offered. The menu was comprised of eight pages sheathed in a plain white cover with BA’s First logo embossed on the outside. I was surprised to see that only two appetizers were offered and thought that this might not be a full dinner service but rather a late supper. It turns out that this was a full dinner but service cutbacks appear to have deleted a couple of appetizers. It’s still a lot of food but I missed the variety of appetizers, one of my favorite parts of the meal. Following is a transcript of the menu:

    Los Angeles – London


    Maine Lobster with crème fraiche and lemon
    Vegetable Risotto with shaved Parmesan cheese

    Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

    Mixed Seasonal Salad served with balsamic oil or honey mustard dressing

    ** ** **


    Grilled Fillet of Beef
    Offered with maitre d’hotel butter and roasted sea salted potatoes

    Seared Sea Bass
    Presented on rosti potato with lemon butter sauce

    Seared Breast of Chicken
    On a pancetta risotto with Swiss chard

    Thai Style Vegetables
    In lemon grass and coconut sauce with fragrant rice


    Lamb Lancashire Hotpot
    Grilled Salmon Fillet
    Served with seasonal salad leaves and spicy salsa

    Freshly Cooked Pasta
    Presented with your choice of walnut pesto or provencale with herbs sauce served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    ** ** **

    Cheeseboard Selection


    Warm Lemon Curd Pudding with Cointreau orange sauce
    Apple granolata tart
    Selection of fresh fruit


    Louise Pommery, 1989

    White Wines
    Chateau Gaudrelle, 1998, Vouvray Sec
    Puligny-Montrachet, 1998, Chartron et Trebuchet
    Meursault Les Narvaux, 1999, Vincent Girardin
    Wente Riva Ranch Reserve, 1998, Monterey Chardonnay

    Red Wines
    Chateau Lynch-Moussas, 1995, Grand Cru Classe Pauillac
    De Loach Russian River Cabernet Sauvignon, 1998
    Gevrey-Chambertin, 1999, Domaine Frederick Magnien
    Cornish Point Cornishtown Pinot Noir, 2000

    Dessert Wine
    Opitz Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese, 1998

    Warre’s, 1986, Reserve Tawny Port

    Oenophiles would be pleased to note that BA had thoughtfully left an open space to the side of its wine descriptions entitled “Wine Tasting Notes” However, under spirits and liqueurs, it states that a wide range of “the finest spirits and fortified wines” from around the world were available. Fortified wines? Where I come from that means stuff like Night Train and Mad Dog 20/20. It would be fun to ask for one of those if only to see the expression on the FA’s face...

    One of the nicer things about modern day First Class meal service as opposed to the style practiced in years past is that you can dine when you choose as opposed to when the airline chooses to serve the meal. This means that each course is brought from the galley and although I miss the panache of the trolley service, I prefer the concept of A La Carte dining as you wish. For dinner, I selected the Thai Style Vegetables along with all of the pre-main course accompaniments and elected to eat immediately.

    For you Amenity Kit afficionados, the kits, or BAgs were presented in a nice suitcase style zippered box about 5 x 8 inches in dimension and were produced by Anya Hindmarch – London. My kit was divided into three sections and included:

    For Take Off
    A tiny jar of Farmacia brand Face Moisturizer cream
    A tiny jar of Farmacia brand Eye Gel (with Aloe and Arnica!)
    A small atomizer of Aroma Therapeutics Oxygen Mist (ylang ylang water)

    For Cruising
    A tiny jar of Farmacia brand Hand Cream (with Echinacea and Vitamin E)
    A tiny jar of Carmex brand lip balm
    A small atomizer of Aroma Therapeutics Sleep Enhancer

    For Landing
    A tube of Farmacia brand Shaving Cream (with Echinacea and Lavender!)
    A Wilkinson brand disposable razor
    A tube of Elgydium toothpaste with toothbrush
    A small bottle of Farmacia brand Mouthwash (with Tea Tree!)
    A tube of Aroma Therapeutics Wake Up Gel

    Now I would imagine this is a very nice kit. Alas, uncultured lout that I am, I’d have no idea how to apply things like eye gel and no use for face moisturizer. I don’t believe I’ve actually used hand cream more than once or twice in my life. In general, I’m not too keen on smearing ointments on myself for any reason. Even so, it’s a big world out there and we all have our little peculiarities so I don’t mean to demean those who would actually use these products. I don’t use them however and will send this kit off to my sister who I’m sure will be absolutely delighted by it.

    We pushed back from the gate right on time. Just prior to doing so, our Captain welcomed us all aboard and gave us some pertinent information about tonight's flight. We’d be taking off from Runway 24L and climbing out over the Pacific Ocean before making the big turn and heading northeast over Las Vegas, central Utah, Casper, Wyoming and North Dakota. We’d be entering Canadian airspace just north of Fargo, ND and continue on across some of Canada’s more barren tracts before finally reaching the Atlantic and bee lining it on into London Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Flight time was projected to be 9hrs 35 min at a cruising altitude of 33,000 ft, later climbing up to 37,000 ft.

    The taxi out to the runway seemed quite slow and stately. Perhaps a lot of this impression comes from the sheer size of the 747 but it seemed appropriate and I was reminded of the big ocean liners that would slowly cruise out of New York Harbor before entering the Atlantic and opening up the throttles. The roar of the four big Rolls Royce engines behind me was muted to almost a mild but deep buzz and after a take off roll of about 40 seconds we were airborne.

    Flying into or out of Los Angeles at night really is a beautiful experience. The city and surrounding suburbs cover a vast area and as we made our turn out over the Pacific and headed back towards the coast, it was quite a sight seeing all those lights up and down the coast for miles and miles. My suite had three windows from which to view all this.

    A glass of Grand Cru Classe Pauillac was delivered to me and as I sat there enjoying the view and my lot in life at the moment, it occurred to me how quiet the cabin was. There really was no discernable noise from the engines any more. Granted they were quite a ways behind me but the only real sound was that of air rushing past the fuselage. It reminded me of the sound you would hear if standing nearby a rippling stream. I had another sip of wine and reclined my seat. Now this is First Class…

    Despite a lack of turbulence, it took awhile for the dinner service to begin. Still, once things got rolling, the service proceeded quite smoothly. Linens were laid and my table was set with salt and pepper shakers, a bread plate and plasticware. Now, I realize this plasticware is a sore point with a lot of First Class passengers and I couldn’t agree more that it certainly steals some of the thunder from a fine meal presentation. Still, for what it’s worth, at least BA's stock was sturdy stuff, unlikely to break off while you’re cutting through your steak.

    At this time, the Chief Purser, Mr. Trevor Peacock (If that’s not a proper British name, I don’t know what is!) stopped by to greet all of the First Class passengers by name and thank us for flying with British Airways. A nice touch.

    I must say I quite liked the size of the tables in these BA Suites. They pull up out of the sidewall and are approximately 24” X 18” affording one plenty of room for the meal or work.

    First up was the lobster appetizer. This consisted of a de-shelled claw and half of a tail with a lightly flavored dill cream sauce on the side. It was excellent, though the sauce could have used a bit more flavor in my opinion.

    Next came the soup. I’d been told that despite the menu indicating a tomato soup, they’d instead be serving a cream of mushroom soup. That’s cool – I like cream of mushroom. When the soup arrived however, it actually was the creamy roasted tomato and garlic soup which I also happen to like. This soup was very good indeed.

    The salad arrived in a medium sized bowl and contained a nice variety of veggies and greens. I removed the olives which I’ve never enjoyed and quickly polished off the rest of the salad. While I like a good strong flavored salad dressing (And balsamic vinegar will certainly spice up any oil) it seems that the balsamic vinaigrette is becoming quite commonplace on the airlines. No doubt it’s simple and quick yet I’d love to have a good and spicy Italian dressing just once. And hey, I’m easy on this matter. I mean, they could offer Wishbone or Bernsteins or Ken’s and I’d be thankful. All of those dressings are quite good per my tastes.

    I asked about my Vegetable Risotto and oops, they’d forgotten to include that amongst my choices. I was told two or three times that this would take about ten minutes to prepare. Did I really want it now? Yes! I want it all! After all, what’s ten minutes when you’ve got nine hours of flying ahead of you?

    Well, when the risotto arrived, it was well worth the wait – in my estimation the best part of this meal! The rice was buttery in flavor and was sprinkled throughout with bits of shallots, corn, peas and peppers. Four big pieces of sun dried tomato were presented symetrically atop the rice. Delicious!

    By now, I was beginning to feel quite full and was wondering if perhaps I should have skipped either the soup or salad. No doubt hind sight is 20-20 but it’s not everyday I get presented with a food service of this quality so when my entrée arrived I was determined to have a good go at it. Well, first of all, let me say that I’m a real fan of Thai food. Fairbanks, despite its northerly latitudes, enjoys not one but four Thai restaurants, two of which offer as good a fare as I’ve ever eaten anywhere including Thailand. Alas, tonight’s entrée was a disappointment. The vegetables were covered in a bland off white sauce that had the consistency of gravy rather than being a light coconut milk sauce as I’ve enjoyed in many a restaurant. Honestly, I could hardly taste the coconut flavor and ultimately ate only about half the entrée. So in one regard, this actually worked out quite well for me as I was already so full from everything else. I would suggest the caterers try a peanut sauce next time.

    Normally, I never eat dessert at home but on airplanes I generally always try it, especially on United where Eli’s endless variety of cheesecakes and other sweets are sliced on the small side and for me are just right. Tonight however, I was simply too full and opted for a small plate of cheese, crackers and grapes along with a glass of the Warre’s Tawny Port which complimented the cheese and crackers perfectly.

    In all, though the entrée didn’t turn out so well, it was a nice meal and I felt ready to take in a movie. Early in the flight there’d been considerable difficulty in getting the video system up and running. BA had recently installed new video systems in many of its long range aircraft and, as might be expected, there were some early glitches to be overcome. In this case, the system had to be shut down and then re-booted. By the time dinner was completed, the video system was up and running. There were 29 movies to select from in the video library and a further 18 channels of movies and television programs to choose from. Also, of course, was my old favorite, the Sky Map or AirShow. If all else fails, (and even if it doesn’t) this is for me always entertaining. By now, it was actually pretty late, almost 11:30pm California time. I watched a bit of Training Day with Denzel Washington, then decided to take advantage of the laptop power port and get a little work done on, amongst other things, this report. During the movie, I’d occasionally switch over to the Sky Map to check on our progress and noted that we crossed into Canadian airspace after about 2:50 of flying time. Although it wasn’t indicated that we had much in the way of a tailwind, we were making good time, cruising at over 600 mph every time I checked.

    Finally, I was ready for bed. As I wouldn’t see my luggage until Melbourne, I wanted to keep my shirt as wrinkle free as possible so I was thankful that the sleeper suit we were offered came in two parts: shirt and pants. I changed into the shirt portion and hung my button down shirt in the closet at the front of the cabin. I’d read in earlier FT Trip Reports that BA’s cabins were kept inordinately warm. This flight was no different. I went back twice during the flight to ask if the temperature could be turned down a bit and the FAs were always happy to oblige. By the time I had converted my seat into the bed, the temperature was much more acceptable.

    As for comfort, I actually found the seat not particularly soft. That is to say it was wide rather than deep. Looking around, I noticed that most passengers had simply covered themselves with the duvet provided. Myself, having the advantage of having read more than a few FT Trip Reports regarding flights equipped with these Suites placed my duvet atop the seat and then covered myself with one of BA’s fine wool blankets. This was much more comfortable and I managed to sleep fairly soundly for about five hours.

    By the time I awoke and turned my bed back into a seat we had only about an hour and fifteen minutes left in the flight. Breakfast smells filled the cabin and I was more than ready to have my table set and accept one of BA’s renowned wake up energizer drinks. This is essentially a fruit smoothie, but by my tastes a very good one. It certainly was a nice way to start the day. Following is the breakfast menu:


    Freshly squeezed fruit juice
    Our special wake up energizer drink
    Fresh seasonal fruit
    Breakfast cereal
    Natural or Fruit yogurt
    Warm breads and breakfast pastries


    Complete British Breakfast
    Your choice of freshly scrambled eggs, pork sausage, grilled bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and rosti potatoes

    Chicken and Mushroom Pastry
    Offered with grilled tomatoes

    My only disappointment so far was that more than a few passengers were still sleeping and so I couldn’t open my window shade to check out the morning sun and the dark blue Atlantic below. I had the Sky Map on as always and watched with anticipation as we approached the Irish coastline. You can bet I snuck a good long peek as Ireland glided by beneath us. It was a beautiful day, cloud free and the green Irish countryside looked most inviting. Wake up you chowder heads! Yer missin’ a real treat outside!!

    For breakfast, I ordered the Classic British Breakfast. I’d been smelling those eggs and breakfast meats for the past fifteen minutes so the more sensible choice of cereal, fruit and yogurt was out of the question. My breakfast was delivered all on one plate with a slice of toast and some surprisingly good coffee. Everything was delicious but the potatoes were pretty greasy. I’ve had hashed browns that were cooked in such a way that the grease was minimal and they ended up crispy on the outside and seemed almost steamed inside. I wonder if this can ever be accomplished on the airlines? And for those of you who like your hashed browns cooked in the manner described above, when in Seattle head over to Mae’s Phinney Ridge Café. Great cinnamon rolls, too. But I digress…

    Plates were cleared and I spent the remainder of the flight drinking more coffee and watching through my windows as the English countryside passed by beneath us. We had a beautiful approach over London into Heathrow and, after 9 hours and 37 minutes, lightly touched down thus ending my first ever flight aboard British Airways.

    Here’s how I rate this flight:
    Check in: A
    Lounge: C+
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A-
    Meal: A-

    A nice start to my British Airways Odyssey. A friendly and capable yet unobtrusive crew and some pretty good food. Spice up the Thai though and bring back some more appetizers. The lounge in LA needs improvement.

    ** ** **


    With just over four hours to burn until my next flight onwards to Singapore and Melbourne, I wasted no time in locating and heading for BA’s First Class Lounge, located nearby Gate 10. Never having flown BA before this trip, I’d never been in LHR’s Terminal 4. Walking down to Gate 10, I liked what I saw of the terminal – it was very well lit with all manner of shops and restaurants available. There were plenty of phones and large windows in the gate areas for better viewing of airplanes.

    BA’s First Class Lounge, along with the Molton-Brown Spa, are located one floor down from the departures level. I was warmly greeted as I entered the lounge and was told that my ticket also allowed me entrance into the Concorde Lounge. Oh Boy! But first, I had a look around the First Lounge and helped myself to one of the multitude of small sandwiches available in the food and beverage area. Also available were a variety of cheeses, biscuits and crackers along with fruits and all manner of juices and soft drinks.

    Certainly, I intended to check out the Concorde Lounge but with the Molton-Brown Spa and a hot shower right next door, I decided to stop in there first.

    The spa was described as “a dedicated therapy center filled with mood sensitive colours, aromas, sounds and sensations harmonized with soothing textures, lighting and state-of-the-art design.” Passengers were invited to "move from the travel environment into a sensory well-being zone. Although I desired only a shower, the spa also offered a variety of stress reducing treatments including reflex therapies such as the “Citrus Pressure Charge for Palms”. This treatment involved utilizing “the energies of the rose quartz crystal and our unique Acupressure Reflex Technique.” Also available were pre-flight or post-flight circulation therapies (massages) and a variety of facial therapies. Each of these massages had the most intriguing names! There was the “Yuan Zhi Peacemaker” which sounded more like a Chinese missile or the “Vitamin Energy Boost” which I first thought was a beverage but was actually described as “A supremely uplifting massage bursting with mind and body enhancing citrus vitamins. Sweet Florida orange and lemon oils deliver immune boosting vitamins directly onto the skin and leave you feeling clear, alert and energized for the journey.”

    I was impressed! These massages appeared to allow one to experience levels of physical existence previously unattainable without the use of illegal drugs or mastering an exotic eastern religion. Still, I desired only a shower and the closest thing I could find to one was the “Body Jet Hydrotherapy Shower” This was described as follows: “Awaken the senses with the Pharo-Hansrohe hydrotherapy shower: wash off the day and give your muscles and mind the benefits of an intense cleansing and toning aqua-massage. Adjustable body jets pummel you from all angles and combine with the aromatic lather of Molton Brown Travel Reviving Shampoo & Shower Gel to leave you fully revitalized and with a sense of total wellbeing.”

    This sounded just fine to me, though I was curious as to just how the aqua-massage might accomplish any discernible toning on me. The attendant told me that there was a waiting list of about 20 minutes for showers but wait! If I didn’t mind using unit number 4 which had a slight drainage problem, I could go in right away. The drainage problem was indeed minor – one of the two drains didn’t drain all that fast and water would slowly start to back up into the rest of the room. Towels were put down to slow the spread and unless one were to take an inordinately long shower it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, all the products from soaps to creams to shampoos were Molton-Brown. Coming from Alaska, I’m not familiar with them but I certainly enjoyed the scent of the shampoo and body wash provided in the shower and the aqua-massage did indeed feel kinda revitalizing. All of the products used in the spa were available for purchase as well but the price was a far sight more than I’d ever paid for any soap or shampoo so I passed on those.

    Emerging from the spa revitalized and with a sense of total wellbeing, I proceeded upstairs to the Concorde Lounge. After checking in with the receptionist, I was immediately descended upon by a bevy of attendants and asked if I’d like anything to eat or drink. Beverages in this lounge appeared to be about the same as the First Lounge though as I didn’t order any alcohol I can’t say for sure that some of the spirits or wines available weren’t of a higher quality than downstairs. The food however was handled entirely differently. Instead of a selection of sandwiches and cheeses, a full menu was available to order from. Everything from a full breakfast to a variety of more filling sandwiches and salads could be ordered. I ordered some veggies and dip and headed over to the business center to work on this trip report. Geez, these things take time, don’t they? Also available were three computers offering internet access and the latest Microsoft Office programs. Printers, faxes, whatever one needed to go about the business that allowed one to pay for that Concorde ticket were all available.

    Rather than wait for boarding to be called, I decided to stroll down to the gate a bit early and check out our aircraft for the long trip into Melbourne. After all, it’s a combined total (with the stop in SIN) of 10,510 miles and 19 hours 55 minutes of scheduled flying time on this aircraft so I was excited to go down for a preview.

    06 February
    LHR-SIN British Airways 17 First Class
    747-436 G-BYGF Seat 2A
    750p – 430p Flight time: 12:13

    This flight was departing out of Gate 3, the very last gate down at the far end of the terminal. Arriving at the gate, I was mildly disappointed to see that once again the aircraft, 747-436 G-BYGF, was painted in the Chelsea Rose livery. With so many different Tails Of The World color schemes still out there, I had hoped to fly on as many different ones as possible.

    Although it was still about a half hour before departure, boarding was underway and I decided to board right away. That jetway for Gate 3 had to be the longest and most winding jetway I’ve ever used. Finally, I reached the aircraft and was the first person to arrive in First Class. I managed to get a couple of nice snapshots of the interior as a result. This aircraft had not benefited from some of the new interior enhancements – at least not in First Class. Club World sleeper seats were installed as well as the new World Traveler Plus seats, arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration and outfitted with laptop power ports. Up in First Class however the seats were not equipped with the Empower ports but the rest of the cabin was pretty much the same as the one for my flight in from LAX. One of the lights over my seat did not work but with two others to work with I was satisfied I’d have enough light.

    I ordered a mineral water and some stationary from the very friendly, not to mention very pretty flight attendant.
    The mineral water was no problem. As for stationary however, there was none to be had. A small plate of cashews was delivered but no preflight canapes.

    BA competes with Singapore Airlines on this route and also on the continuation into Melbourne so I was curious to see how the service would be. So far, no laptop power, one broken light and no stationary. None of these were major downers but when you’re paying for the premium service, the little things are appreciated and cumilatively count for a lot. Still, knowing of BA’s reputation, I was confident that the rest of the service would be quite good. As things turned out, I was not to be disappointed.

    Service began very shortly after takeoff. Menus were distributed and drink orders taken. I noticed that we had an entirely new wine list for this flight and I was anxious to try out the new reds. To begin, I chose a glass of the Clos du Marquis. According to the write up on it in the menu, “The 1995 vintage is quite superb and vies with the 1996 for supremacy in the minds of connoisseurs. This wine features complex aromas of blackcurrant and toasty new oak. On the palate the ripeness of the vintage is apparent, with textured, rich black cherry and cassis fruit over a firm tannic core.”

    Hmmm…. It sounded like my kind of wine. I like a lot of tannin. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste like there was much tannin but what of it there was must’ve been firm.

    In trying to describe my preferences in wine to wine merchants, I’ve been told that my tastes tend to run towards the more “muscular” reds. The Australians often are right up my alley with two of my all time favorites being Penfolds Bins 389 or 409. I moved on to the Rosemount Syrah before discovering the one wine that turned out to be my favorite of the entire trip so far, the Beaune. It was delicious! Still, in all fairness, I must admit to never having spent more than $27.00 on a bottle of wine so you might want to take my word on quality and taste for what it’s worth – perhaps $27.00, if that…

    Enough wine talk. Let’s move right on to the menu transcript:

    London – Singapore


    Warm Gruyere cheese and tomato souffle with basil oil
    Roast breast of quail with chanterelle mushroom salad

    Shellfish bisque soup

    Mixed seasonal salad with balsamic vinaigrette, Caesar dressing or extra virgin olive oil

    ** ** **


    Pepper Crusted Fillet of Beef
    Served with Worcestershire au jus and caramelized shallots or crisp seasonal salad leaves

    Tiger Prawns
    Presented with Singapore noodles and fried chicken

    Corn-fed Chicken in Vegetable Broth
    Accompanied by crisp pancetta bacon

    Vegetable Tajin
    Offered with couscous and preserved lemon


    Freshly Cooked Pasta
    Presented with your choice of tomato basil or creamy mushroom sauce
    Served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Artichoke and Pepper Pizza

    ** ** **

    Cheeseboard Selection
    Somerset Camembert, Capricorn Goat, Yarg, Hereford Red and Cashel Blue Cheese

    Apple Brulee
    Traditional warm bread and butter pudding with custard
    Selection of fresh fruit

    ** ** **


    Louise Pommery, 1989

    White Wines
    Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, 1998, Laboure-Roi
    Sancerre Cuvee Edmond, 1998, Alphonse Mellot
    Lenswood Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, 1998
    De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardonnay, 1998

    Red Wines
    Clos du Marquis, 1995
    Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah, 1997
    Beaune Premier Cru Les Epenottes, 1998, Domaine Parent

    Dessert Wine
    Miranda Golden Botrytis, 1995

    Warre’s, 1986, Reserve Tawny Port

    The quail breast was a nice beginning, its flavor nicely accented by the mushroom salad. I would rate the seafood bisque and the salad as OK and the steak as very good. It was really quite nicely cooked as airline steaks go, moist and pink in the middle and nicely flavored by the pepper on the outside. The menu didn’t mention potatoes but I certainly enjoyed the smidgen of scalloped potatoes on the side and only wish they’d included more. I was pretty full by the time cheese and dessert were offered so I just had a glass of that delicious Port and some of the blue cheese. Then, after reading a few chapters of my book I called it a night.

    I awoke somewhere over north central India. It was bright and sunny outside but as it was still 3:00am GMT for most of the passengers, all of whom were sleeping soundly, I was unable to raise my shade and check out the view. We still had five and a half hours to go but it was still too early for a general breakfast service so I wandered back to the galley and ordered a portion of the artichoke and pepper pizza. BA doesn’t actually offer a separate mid-flight menu for First Class. Basically, you can have anything that’s on the menu at any time and I was indeed tempted to have another serving of quail breast. Still, variety is the spice of life and when the pizza arrived I was glad I’d ordered it. The crust was quite good and the cheese and artichoke bottoms definitely hit the spot.

    Before I’d gone to bed, the Chief Purser stopped by and said he’d heard that I had asked about Empower ports earlier in the trip. He explained that although this aircraft wasn’t equipped with them in First (It was in World Traveler Plus, though) he would be happy to take my computer back to his work station and charge it up there. Now that’s the kind of service that will make me one of BA’s biggest supporters! And as a result of his generosity, now, at 3:30am, I had a fully charged laptop and was able to write about yesterday’s flight.

    Every now and then, I’d sneak a peek out my window. It was a beautiful day outside and it seemed a shame to not be able to check out this foreign landscape below. We passed just south of Calcutta and Burma, then turned south and headed down along the Thai coastline. By now people were starting to stir and BA’s special energizer drink was the order of the moment. The galley could hardly make them up fast enough! Soon our tables were reset and the breakfast service commenced.


    Freshly squeezed fruit juice
    Our special wake up energizer drink of banana, raspberry and honey
    Fresh seasonal fruit
    Greek yogurt with honey
    Natural or fruit yogurt
    Warm breads and breakfast pastries


    Our Classic British Breakfast
    Your choice of freshly scrambled or boiled eggs, pork sausage, grilled bacon, sauteed mushrooms and grilled tomato

    Eggs Florentine

    French Toast
    Accompanied by a compote of berries

    I started off with the fruit bowl. It contained sections of pineapple, grapefruit and orange along with some grapes and raspberries. Very nice. For my main course I ordered the Eggs Florentine. They were presented a bit differently than I’d anticipated based upon my experience with them in restaurants – I received a single English muffin section topped with sauteed spinach, an egg patty and a dollop of some creamy off green stuff that complimented the overall flavor quite nicely but which I am still at a loss to identify. The egg patty looked pre-formed like the kind you see in plastic wrapped fast food breakfast sandwiches but overall the whole consist was quite tasty. Coffee and another energizer drink closed out the meal.

    I spent the last hour of the flight watching a couple of documentaries on the TV channel before it seemed that enough people had awakened to go ahead and open my window shades. The view was spectacular! We were flying off the coast of Thailand, near Phuket, and the numerous islands in that area passed slowly by as if floats in a grand parade. Only myself and one other person in First Class were actually checking out the view, however. Everyone else was either reading or just resting, sitting in the dark with their shades drawn, only their reading lamps providing them with light. I was tempted to shout out “Hey! Y’all check out this amazing view out here!!” but I suspect such an outburst would have been counter to the overall decorum of First Class. To me, one of the great enjoyments of flight is checking out the view from 30 some odd thousand feet above the planet. Even now, after nearly 2,900 commercial flights to my credit, I still love to have a window seat during daytime flights.

    We made a wide turn over the ocean just west and south of Singapore and those of us seated on the left side were afforded excellent views of the downtown skyline. One thing that stood out for me was the huge number of tankers and container ships sitting just off shore from the city. There were literally dozens of them.

    We landed smoothly and braked quite strongly before turning in towards the terminal and our gate. An Emirates 777 and an Aeroflot IL-96 were also parked nearby. I was surprised to see the big Russian jetliner as I had heard awhile back that Aeroflot was planning to go with an all western fleet on its long haul services. Perhaps that has yet to be implemented.

    We had an hour and a half layover in Singapore and passengers were encouraged though not ordered to disembark while the aircraft was being cleaned and restocked. I’d certainly encourage anyone with a layover in SIN to go and check out Changi Airport. It is everything an airport ought to be, truly one of the best designed airports in the world. I disembarked and headed straight for the quiet sanctuary of BA’s First Class lounge. The lounge, which BA shares with Qantas, offered showers and a nice supply of sandwiches. I had a couple of small open face salmon, cream cheese, onion and capers sandwiches along with my first Tiger Beer. I found a small area offering perhaps five work areas and managed to scrawl off seven postcards and a letter before the call came to return to Gate 13 for the continuation of our flight.

    I left the cards with the receptionist who said she’d be happy to post them later that evening. She’d even supply the stamps! Nice.

    Here’s how I rate this flight:

    Check in: N/A - Transit
    Lounges: A
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A
    Meals: A
    Really, one could hardly ask for much more in food or service. The crew were outstanding!

    07 February
    SIN-MEL British Airways 17 First Class
    747-436 G-BYGF Seat 2K
    615p – 430a Flight time: 6:38

    The gate did not have a separate boarding area for First and Club World passengers so I arrived to find a fairly good sized mob of passengers waiting to clear gateside security. This took about fifteen minutes and once again I had to turn my computer one before being allowed to proceed aboard the aircraft. We had a new crew out of Singapore. The FA working my side of the cabin came by with a tray of canapes and her views on BA’s meal service on this sector. She claimed loudly and pointedly to me and the man in front of me that she couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to eat anything out of here as they had just finished breakfast prior to arrival in Singapore. She went on to state that she always ate very sparingly on flights, perhaps just a salad and some bread. So? I should be impressed? Although I didn’t tell her so, I could care less about her eating habits or her pontifications on ours. I did tell her, with just a wee touch of iron in my tone that when one considered the cost of a First Class ticket relative to Business Class, much less any other class, it was certainly better that BA offer too much rather than not enough food. We don’t necessarily have to eat everything on the menu but it’s nice to have the enhanced variety of foods to choose from. As to the benefits of eating lightly in flight, well, I’ll be the judge of that. Now get outta here and bring me another plate of those canapes! And more beer!

    That said, lets check out that menu ~

    Singapore to Melbourne


    Seafood Market Meze
    Breaded Goat Cheese
    Presented on red cabbage and asparagus salad

    Prawn, coconut milk and coriander soup

    Mixed seasonal salad served with balsamic vinaigrette or yogurt and lime dressing

    Selection of warm breads

    ** ** **


    Roasted Loin of Veal
    Accompanied by pesto potato mash and red peppers

    Barramundi Baked in Coconut Curry Sauce
    Served with steamed rice

    Lobster Salad
    With French beans, skinned plum tomatoes and quail eggs dressed with lemon olive oil

    Savoury Crepes
    Served with morel cream sauce


    Grilled Fillet Steak Sandwich
    Offered with red onion marmalade

    Freshly Cooked Penne Pasta
    Topped with your choice of tomato and basil or creamy mushroom sauce served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Reception Sandwiches

    ** ** **

    Cheeseboard Selection
    Somerset Camembert, Capricorn Goat, Yarg, Hereford Red and Cashel Blue Cheese

    Warm brioche bread and butter pudding with double cream
    Amaretti trifle
    Selection of fresh fruit

    For an appetizer, I had the seafood meze. When I first read the menu I remember thinking that this must have been a typo and what the appetizer was really a take off on the Arabic mezze. I was wrong. It was just a plate of various seafoods, but was a nice start nonetheless.

    I decided to pass on the salad but definitely wanted to try out the soup which was described as very spicy, like a Thai Tom Yum soup. Boy, was it! Wow! I was all over that water glass after the first spoonful! Still, I like spicy food and after my taste buds had been thoroughly cauterized I managed to finish it off with gusto and a bread roll.

    My main course selection was the Barramundi, a delicious light flavored fish amenable to most any sauce you wish to serve it with. This entrée was excellent in every respect. From presentation on the plate to overall taste it was totally First Class.

    Would you believe that although I was pretty full and was more than willing to forego dessert, our aforementioned light eating Flight Attendant talked me into the bread pudding. With the double cream, of course. This was a good choice. It really was a fine ending to a superior repast, especially with a cup of BA’s coffee. I don’t know what they serve but it really is quite good. And mind you, I was drinking Decaf this time of day because I really wanted to try and get some sleep before we got into Melbourne.

    This meal gets my vote for Best Of The Trip.

    After dinner, I watched an entertaining documentary on the early days of Muhammad Ali’s career. This flight was scheduled for just under seven hours and by the time the documentary was over we only had about four and a half hours to go. We crossed into Australian airspace over Derby on the northwest coast. The remnants of Cyclone Michael were giving us a short lived but nonetheless terrific lightning display off the starboard side. I was glad I’d switched to 2K. Then I flattened my seat and caught about 3 ½ hours of sleep.

    I awoke with only an hour left in my British Airways First Class marathon. From the time I’d taken off from Los Angeles to landing in Melbourne, I’d spent 28 hours and 30 minutes inflight with maybe 6 hours total ground time connecting in London and Singapore. I suppose I should have been exhausted and anxious to get off the plane but I would have happily turned right around and done it all over again. BA offers a very nice First Class product. Though it doesn’t seem quite as opulent as Cathay’s or Singapore’s, I would say it still holds rightful sway in the upper echelons of the world’s best airlines and I’ll definitely be looking forward to April 5th when I get to do it all over again.

    Here’s how I rate this flight:

    Check in: N/A Transit
    Lounge: B+
    Preflight: B
    Comfort: A-
    Service: B+
    Meal: A

    The preflight service was a little slow in developing and the FA’s little speech about her dining habits vs. the main were uncalled for. Although she improved as the flight went on, “Gracious” would not describe her serving style. The meal was one of the best I’ve ever had aboard an airplane

    February 8
    Air New Zealand Business Class
    Melbourne – Auckland
    767-204 Flight Time: 3:18

    I had checked my backpack only to Melbourne because LAX-LHR-MEL-AKL-CHC is just asking for trouble in the mislaid baggage department. Also, I had an almost seven hour layover in Melbourne and after all of two days in the same cloths it would be nice to change into some fresh ones during the layover.

    Customs was non-eventful, as it ought to be. I’d actually declared my unopened foil packet of Alaska Airlines mixed nuts on the arrival card just to be on the safe side. The customs agent chuckled and thanked me for declaring them but said they wouldn’t be a problem so I told him I’d be sure to enjoy them with a fine Aussie lager later in the day.

    By now it was 5:00am and check in for my flight to Auckland didn’t begin until 8:15am, three hours before departure. The restrooms downstairs in the arrivals hall were basically deserted at this hour so I washed up and changed my shirt before heading over to the baggage storage facility and checking my pack. It’s a big one and I didn’t want to lug it around for the next three hours. This cost me $12.00 AUD which I thought a bit steep, but it was nice to be free of the bulk for awhile.

    I arrived at Air New Zealand’s Business Class check in counter at about 8:30am and after getting my pack tagged to Christchurch I asked the agent if today’s aircraft was still scheduled to be a 767-200. It turned out he was a bit of a fan of the 767 and, after informing me that today’s aircraft was indeed the –200 model, we spent the next few minutes trading war stories and memories. I showed him my passport case that was a gift from United for having been a passenger on the inaugural scheduled flight of the 767 almost twenty years ago on September 8th, 1982. The flight operated from Chicago to Denver aboard N606UA, named “City of Chicago”, an honor that would have been bestowed upon N605UA, the aircraft originally scheduled to operate the historic flight. Unfortunately, ship 605 developed a mechanical problem and was renamed “City of Denver” instead. I might add those were the only United jets to bear “City of” names other than the entire 737-200 fleet back in the 60s and 70s.

    After clearing security and immigration, I headed straight to the Air New Zealand Business Class lounge, located just down the concourse from immigration. It was a fairly large lounge and offered a good variety of breakfast foods such as breads, cereals, yogurt, fruits and juices. A big plate of tuna salad reception sandwiches was also available along with the usual beers and spirits. I grabbed some cereal and a cup of coffee and settled into a seat by the windows to watch the departure of a Garuda A330. Just down the concourse was a Malaysian 747-400.

    This was a bright and comfortable lounge but despite the plaque on the door saying Business Class Lounge, there was only a small “Business” room offering two partitioned desks with phones and a fax/copier machine. There were no tables out in the main lounge area. Although I’m not traveling on business, I like my laptop on a table top and I often use my time in lounges to surf the Internet and catch up on correspondence.

    The call to board came 20 minutes before departure. I polished off my tuna sandwich and headed out to the gate. Upon arrival, I was disappointed to see that our aircraft, ZK-NBJ, was painted entirely white with the only the Air New Zealand title and tail koru adorning it. I like Air New Zealand’s new colors and wish they’d finally get around to getting this ex-Britannia jet properly painted. I’ve never liked those hybrid color schemes anyway. They look cheap.

    Speaking of color schemes, in this day and age of painting up aircraft in older “Retro” color schemes, I’d love to see this 767 painted up in Air New Zealand’s old TEAL colors. For those of you who don’t know, Air New Zealand’s original name was Tasman Empire Airways, Ltd.

    Though this aircraft may have looked shoddy on the outside, the Business Class cabin was quite inviting. Twenty-four seats were upholstered in a dark blue and teal fabric and given about a 50” pitch between seats. Each seat had electronic legrests and lumbar support, not to mention a 5” TV screen stashed in the mid-seat console. When I arrived at Row 2, my seatmate didn’t even have to get up to let me in. We chatted for a bit about everything from New Zealand fishing to Alaskan winters. We did not chat about the fact that he was traveling barefoot. And not just him. I could see three other people from just my seat alone that had removed both their shoes and socks. This must be a regional affectation, as I have never seen it anywhere else.

    The Business Class cabin checked in completely full and its two Flight Attendants were both very busy offering pre-flight drinks and hanging jackets. One was older and one was younger. Both were excellent. Newspapers were distributed and I accepted a copy of the New Zealand Herald. I enjoy reading newspapers from other countries as opposed to US papers. The foreign papers give a much more thorough worldview in my opinion.

    The luncheon service began soon after takeoff. The menus were printed on a large, colorful card, about 6” X 14” in size. Meal orders were taken from the back of the cabin forward and I was happy to find my selection, the Baked Cod, still available. Here is the menu:


    Slow-roasted Roma tomatoes with marinated green bean and red onion salad


    Moroccan Chicken Salad
    Served chilled, with char grilled vegetables, garlic and thyme

    Warmed Olive Panini Bread
    Filled with beef pastrami, peppers and Parmesan cheese

    Baked Blue Cod
    Served over egg noodles with sliced courgettes

    Cheese and Fruit
    Fine regional cheese and preserved fruit

    Connoisseur ice cream

    A breakfast menu from the previous flight had been left in my seat pocket. The entrée choices looked quite nice:

    Three Egg Omelette
    Filled with spinach, Gruyere cheese and onions, accompanied by grilled mushrooms and tomato

    Mixed Breakfast Grill
    Featuring French lamb cutlet, grilled bacon, pork sausage, tomato and hash brown potato

    Lunch was served on a single tray with the appetizer coming first. I don’t know what they marinated those green beans in but they were quite good and would have very nicely complimented most any Bloody Mary.

    The entrees were delivered next. My seatmate’s choice of the Moroccan Chicken Salad was served first and after seeing it I was glad that I had ordered the cod. There wasn’t all that much chicken in the salad. My cod arrived and looked every bit as good as it ultimately was. It was actually a combination of cod and salmon. After having my meals presented on plates over the past three days, it was somewhat odd to have this meal served in a round dish. Still, the crockery did nothing to detract from the flavor, which was excellent. Dessert was an ice cream sundae cart. I would have asked for Amaretto in place of the chocolate sauce but the sundaes were already fully prepared in advance. Even so, that chocolate sauce was good and the ice cream tasted like French vanilla. A nice treat.

    I would also like to note that I was most impressed with the service provided by the two ladies working the Business Class cabin. They were unfailingly polite, efficient and gracious in their service. I wish we had more like them back home.

    I dozed off a bit after lunch and awoke about an hour out of Auckland. The Pacific Ocean looked gorgeous – a deep blue that was so calm it reflected the shadows of the puffy white clouds above it. I spent the remainder of the flight watching the Sky Map and glancing out the window watching for that first glimpse of the New Zealand coastline. Unfortunately, sunshine and puffy clouds gradually turned to light rain and gray clouds as we descended into Auckland. We landed hard and, after a short taxi, parked at what I think is the finest little International terminal in the South Pacific.

    Here’s how I rate this flight:

    Check in: A
    Lounge: B+
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A
    Meal: A-

    The two FAs working this flight were top notch. The seats were a little hard but offered otherwise impressive recline. Nice meal presentation.

    February 8
    Air New Zealand Business Class
    Auckland – Christchurch
    737-300 Flight Time: 1:03

    I took the inter-terminal bus over to Air New Zealand’s Domestic Terminal. From the ground floor at least, this building looked like it dated back to the National Airways days. I had thought that I would have a couple of hours in AKL but was surprised to discover that New Zealand is not one but rather two hours ahead of Melbourne. This means that New Zealand is only two hours earlier than Alaska, except that when it’s 4:00pm in Fairbanks, it’s 2:00pm the next day in Auckland - a 22-hour time differential.

    Air New Zealand’s lounge, The Koru Club, was located upstairs above the check-in area. This lounge was much larger than its counterpart in Melbourne but no less well appointed, staffed or stocked. The afternoon food offerings were really quite impressive and included cold cuts, salads, breads and a variety of sushi complete with ginger, soy and wasabe and a tray of little dessert cakes. The beer fridge also offered a wide selection, including my old favorite – DB Export Gold, a.k.a. Liquid Gold. I wasn’t all that hungry however so I settled for a beer and some nut mix.

    Twenty minutes before departure I still hadn’t heard the call to board so I gathered my stuff and headed out to the gate. Passing through security, I looked up at the TV monitor displaying flight departures and it showed my flight as closed. Whaaaat?!! There were still 15 minutes ‘til departure! I hurried on up the stairs and over to Gate 30 just as they gave the first call for boarding.

    I boarded right away as I’d never been on an Air New Zealand 737-300 and was anxious to check out the layout. The Business Class cabin offered eight seats with pretty decent legroom – not 50” but still pretty good considering that these seats also had leg rests, lumbar support, recline and some other button that I never did figure out. Pre-flight drinks were limited to either water or juice, neither of which interested me.

    As always, I’d selected a seat on the side of the plane where the sun would be setting, in this case the right side. Only five of us were in front and the seat beside me was empty. We pushed back from the gate on time and scarcely ten minutes later were breaking through the clouds over Auckland and into brilliant early evening sunlight.

    With only about an hour’s flight time ahead of us and a full dinner catered, our FA got to work almost immediately after takeoff. Drink orders were taken first and I asked for a DB Export. My beer was served with a rice cracker-peanut mixture that did nothing to enhance the flavor of what was room temperature beer. I took one sip and traded it in for an ice cold mineral water. While our Flight Attendant was most courteous and expeditious in serving the meal, I do fault him and any others out there who would serve lager that’s anything less than cold. Not cool. Not room temperature. Cold. It shouldn’t be all that hard to do.

    Next I was presented with a tray bearing a small plate with mixed greens topped with a slice each of papaya, honeydew melon, turkey and ham. A roll was plated on the side along with some cheese and crackers and a tiny white box marked “Specialty Chocolate” . Since the flight was only a little more than an hour long, I figured that this was dinner and started right in on it. After all, you wouldn’t get anything more than peanuts on a flight of this length in the US.

    Well, no sooner had I sliced my roll in half and made a sandwich out of it with the meats and cheese than our FA reappeared bearing a hot dish of baked salmon with little new potatoes and some kind of hot cabbage, carrot and onion slaw. What a surprise! It was a big slice of salmon, too. I’ve seen smaller portions in First Class in the US. For a one-hour flight, this meal was spectacular. Way to go Air New Zealand!

    Meanwhile, a glance out the windows showed that we’d crossed the Cook Strait and were now flying over the beautiful valleys and mountains of New Zealand’s South Island. Though the crest of the Southern Alps garner most of the attention, the area around Nelson Lakes up in the northwest part of the South Island is also quite pretty. I did an eighty mile backpacking trip through there about ten years ago and the area remains my favorite backcountry in New Zealand today.

    Soon we were gliding over the Canterbury plains and on final approach to the Christchurch airport. We touched down softly on the runway and, after four days and eight flights on three airlines covering 20,760 miles, I had finally arrived at my destination.

    Here’s how I rate this flight:

    Check in: N/A Transit
    Lounge: A
    Preflight: B+
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A-
    Meal: A

    Aside from serving a warm beer, our Flight Attendant was friendly and attentive. The meal was an unexpected surprise for such a short flight. On the ground and in the air, Air New Zealand does a great job!
  2. Denali Flyer
    Original Member

    Denali Flyer Silver Member

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    This section of the Trip Report was originally planned to begin from Queenstown but, as fate would have it, some fun things happened that totally changed the direction of my “planned” travels over the past four days.

    After spending a rainy night in a caravan (trailer) parked in a local Te Anau couple’s driveway, I awoke to a fresh mantle of snow topping the mountains surrounding Te Anau. I had a cuppa coffee with my hosts, Peter and Susan and their dog Vinnie, then strolled into Te Anau for a look around town. As well, I intended to book a seat on a bus out to Milford Sound. I’ve tried hitching out there twice, to no avail. In the middle of the week, tourists are about the only people driving the Milford road and the average tourist simply does not pick up hitchhikers.

    The weather forecast was not good for the coast. Fresh westerlies and rain would be expected over the next four days. Well, dang! I’ve been to Milford many times, most of them the result of having hiked in over the Routeburn or Milford tracks. Even on a rainy day the place has its charms but… given the inclement weather, perhaps I could instead head up to Glenorchy, my favorite little town in New Zealand, a day early. I wandered over to the local information center and inquired about schedules and availability back up to Queenstown. I also asked about air service in Te Anau as Air New Zealand had recently discontinued all services down there. I was told that aside from tourist flights over to Milford, there was a twice weekly DC-3 service up to Queenstown operating on Mondays and Fridays. Total cost: $60.00 or $27.00USD one way. Whoa! Sign me up! Even if it were sunny and 80 degrees in Milford, it’s not everyday an opportunity to fly on a DC-3 for a mere pittance lands smack in your lap!

    Calls were made and it turned out that yes, the DC-3 would be departing Te Anau the next morning but the pilot had decided to go to Mt. Cook National Park instead. Normally, the DC-3 operated charters down from Christchurch on Monday and Friday mornings, then essentially repositioned the aircraft to Queenstown for a return to Christchurch. Being as we’re approaching the end of the summer season down here (witness the fresh snow on the mountains) there was no flight out of Queenstown tomorrow afternoon but there was one out of Mt. Cook the day after. As such, the pilot decided to skip Queenstown and fly on to Mt. Cook instead. As this was not a scheduled flight, no bookings had been taken. Still, they were willing to have me tag along for a mere $80.00NZD or $35.00USD. The only possible hitch was the weather and I was given a number to call the next morning to find out whether we’d be departing on time or at all. As for getting back to Queenstown, well, I’d deal with that once I got to Mt. Cook.

    The next morning, I awoke to partly cloudy, but mostly sunny skies. No fog or rain. Fantastic! The flight was on! The taxi arrived about 8:00am and already had five other people aboard: One lady going to an address on the outskirts of town and four trampers heading off to do the Dusky Sound Track. We dropped the lady off while I chatted with the trampers about the task ahead of them. The Dusky is no cakewalk; it’s muddy at even the best of times. With the forecast calling for four straight days of rain along the West Coast, I did not envy the trampers their lot.

    Ten minutes later we arrived at the airport. Te Anau’s airport consists of a runway and a very basic terminal building that I probably could’ve built as a high school shop project. As I was unloading my pack, we could hear the distinctive drone of the two Pratt & Whitney Wasps that power the Three. The taxi driver decided to stick around for the landing and we all watched as the DC-3 lined up for its final approach, then touched down and taxied smartly to the terminal. A happy group of elderly American package tourists carefully descended the rickety stairway while the captain and the flight attendant helped them down and bade them farewell. There was no baggage to unload and after everyone had clambered aboard their waiting bus, I grabbed my pack and headed out to the airplane.

    March 18, 2002
    TEU-GTN Pionair Standard Class
    DC-3 ZK-AMY Seat 7A/F
    9:00a-1006a Flight time: 1:06

    Pionair owns four DC-3s, all of which are used for charter work during New Zealand’s busy summer tourist season. In the winter, they head over to Australia for similar work transporting tourists about the outback.

    Today’s aircraft was ZK-AMY a converted C-47 that saw service in Burma with the U.S. Air Force during WW-II. The aircraft was later transferred to Australia where it served the Australian government followed by service with a couple of airlines up in Queensland. Eventually, it relocated to New Zealand where it underwent 5000 man hours of refurbishment and other improvements before starting a new life with Pionair.

    The airplane looked to be in excellent condition. It was freshly painted on the outside, and clean and fresh smelling on the inside. It was much nicer than the last DC-3 I flew with Provincetown-Boston Airlines back in 1986. This aircraft was outfitted with 28 dark blue seats – 7 rows of four across. The seat pitch was very generous – about 35 inches. I was the only passenger. Katie, our very attractive stewardess, said I could have any seat I liked. I chose a seat in the last row as it offered the least impeded view of the countryside below. Speaking of views, the windows were huge. I would guess about 12” X 14”, much larger than anything you’d find in a modern day jetliner.

    The airplane shuddered as the right side engine fired up, followed a couple of minutes later by the left side engine. The engines initially sounded like they were running pretty rough but after about thirty seconds the began to emanate something akin to a purr. There was no safety demonstration and no announcement from the flight deck about our being first in line for take off, etc. We taxied out to the runway, revved the engines up and, upon releasing the brakes, charged down the asphalt. After about ten seconds, the rear of the aircraft came up and shortly after that we were airborne. We made a long lazy turn back towards Te Anau and flew right over the downtown area along the shores of Lake Manapouri. We continued to head west along the lakeshore as I began to wonder when we were going to make the turn north and east towards Mt. Cook. Katie came back and asked me if I’d like coffee and cookies. Coffee, please! What’s with the heading? Oh, the pilots decided to fly over Milford Sound. Hope you don’t mind! Awesome!

    Although the weather forecast from the day before had indicated four days of rain in store for this region, thankfully the forecast was wrong. There were just a few clouds that actually served to compliment the overall vistas quite nicely. This was a perfect day for flying! The views of the mountains, lakes and glaciers in the Milford region were outstanding! We took in spectacular views of Milford Sound, the Darran Mountains and the Hollyford Valley. Then, as I munched my chocolate chip cookies and drank some fairly decent coffee, we passed within scant meters of the rugged summit of Mt. Aspiring. It looked close enough to touch. After the flight I asked the Captain about it and he estimated we passed within about 130 meters of the peak. (He did this by pointing to the terminal building from where we were parked, so 130 is my guess…)

    Clouds began to build so I spent the rest of the flight perusing the 1940s style newspaper Pionair had provided whilst glancing occasionally out the window. We landed at Mt. Cook airport in a light rain and, after doing a quick U-Turn on the grass just off the side of the paved runway, taxied to another grassy strip about 130 yards from the terminal. There was no stairway this time. A step ladder was put down and I carefully descended, then thanked everyone for what was one of the most exciting flights I’ve ever been on.

    The last time I flew through here was about ten years before aboard a Mt. Cook Airlines HS-748. Alas, Mt. Cook Airlines has become part of the Air New Zealand Link system and Air New Zealand recently suspended regularly scheduled service to Mt. Cook National Park. As such, the terminal was essentially deserted when I entered. I found a girl working at a tour desk and asked about transport up to Mt. Cook Village and the Hermitage Hotel. There was none. Any taxis? Nope. Uh oh. But wait! Maybe I could get a ride with the DC-3 crew as they were staying up at the Hermitage. She ran off to check. I ran off to the bathroom. When I’d returned, my pack was just being loaded in the crew’s car and a space in the back seat beckoned. Right on!

    At the hotel, I booked a bus down to Queenstown leaving at 2:30pm. I’d spend the night there, then head up to Glenorchy the next morning. I got out my trusty hostel guide and started making calls in search of a bed for the night. The was nothing. Zilch. Nada. Except for one $94.00 room, the entire town was sold out! No reason, just end of summer and still a ton of backpackers in town. Sigh…

    Well alright then, I’ll just get a bus ticket to Twizel, a small town just 45 minutes down the road. The hostel guide indicated the town had one motel that offered a couple of rooms as backpacker dorms. The next morning I could bus or hitch into Queenstown. I tried calling the motel but it was busy all three times. Surely it couldn’t be because they were sold out!

    At 2:30pm I boarded the bus and disembarked 45 minutes later in Twizel. The bus left. I walked into the information center and inquired about the motel I’d read about. The man working the desk had a thick Scottish brogue and after a bit of initial misunderstanding, I grasped that he was telling me I’d better have already booked a reservation. Huh? What’s going on? Why, the rowing competition is this weekend. The whole town has been sold out for weeks! Whaaaaat?! Uh oh…

    The man was kind enough to call Cromwell, located about 80 miles south, to see if I might score a bunk or cabin at the holiday park there. Bingo! They had a cabin for only $25.00/night! It was explained that I’d be hitchhiking down. No problem. They’d hold me a reservation anyway. Only in New Zealand!

    It was only 3:30pm, plenty of time to catch a ride or two down to Cromwell. I grabbed a sandwich and a bottle of water before heading out to the highway. Once there, I made myself a sign for QUEENSTOWN and put out my thumb. A couple of murders that cast hitch-hiking in a rather negative light had been playing prominently in the local news, but I was confident that I’d get a ride regardless. After a wait of only 40 minutes, a van driven by two crazed German kayakers stopped to offer me a ride. Their van looked like a laundry bomb had gone off in it but I found a place for my pack and myself and squeezed in. They were going all the way to Queenstown and I had a good time chatting with these guys about everything from river rafting to the weird and wacky world of American foreign policy. It was a fun ride. I have rarely encountered two people more excited to be in New Zealand! I could go on and on about all this and more that happened over the next day like the taxi driver that pulled over because he thought I was this famous marathon runner he knew of who could get him a ticket into a big cross island triathalon. I’ve never been mistaken for a marathon runner before… Or watching Bunji jumpers leap off the Kawaurau Bridge… Or barely catching the last ride of the day out to Glenorchy and then only because the driver, he of the hurricane force hairstyle and huge earrings, didn’t have any pickups for his scheduled departure and was just goofing off in town. Thankfully his cell phone was turned on. But hey, describing the flights takes up enough space and besides, I don’t want to bore all the Starwood Gold and Hilton Honors members with descriptions of the basic accommodations at the Cromwell Holiday Park or the tramper’s bunkhouse at Glenorchy. Suffice to say that for the price of a room service lunch at a fancy hotel, I got two nights accommodations.

    March 20, 2002
    ZQN-CHC Air New Zealand 542 Business Class
    737-300 ZK-NGM Seat 1F
    415p-500p Flight time: 0:34

    It’s been ten years since I last flew out of Queenstown. Back then, Mt. Cook Airlines was the only airline in town, offering Hawker Sidley 748 turbo-prop service to a variety of South Island destinations. Today, Air New Zealand offers jet service throughout New Zealand and both Air New Zealand and Qantas offer nonstop service to Australia. The terminal is much larger and even features Air New Zealand’s Koru Club.

    Due to road construction out of Queenstown, I arrived just 35 minutes before departure and barely had time to change, check in and head off to the gate. Thankfully, the ladies working the check in counter were swift and efficient. They supplied me with a large plastic bag for my pack and appended Priority and Business Class tags before telling me I need only present my boarding pass for entry into the Koru Club in Christchurch.

    One improvement that has yet to be implemented at Queenstown is jetways. Even so, I enjoy walking out to an aircraft and climbing aboard – as long as it’s not raining. Air New Zealand’s 737-300s seat eight in the forward cabin and the seats are real 2X2 Business Class seats or what we’d call First Class in the US. At first glance, they look pretty impressive, complete with leg and foot rests and four different buttons to control 1.) Recline, 2.) Lumbar I think, though I couldn’t detect any discernable difference, 3.) Leg Rest and 4.) Foot rest, though I was able to lower this without using the button. Still, despite all these gadgets, these seats failed in the most important area. They were stiff and uncomfortable and offered only minimal recline. Seat pitch was a good 40” but still not enough to take full advantage of the leg and footrest. A 13” TV screen was mounted on each side of the Business Class cabin. Nothing was ever shown, however.

    Once I got settled in, my jacket was hung and I was offered a glass of orange juice or water with a slice of lemon. Both were served in real glass, no plastic. The door was shut and the safety demo was performed. It was mentioned that “heavy penalties” would be imposed upon anyone caught smoking in the lavatories. Heavy? That almost sounds as if there might be some physical aspect to the penalties – a beating perhaps or a week of hard labor in a Kiwi prison camp. Thankfully, I only smoke when I’m on fire so this was not a concern for me. After a mere 16 second take-off roll we were airborne.

    The climb out of Queenstown is beautiful. I was reminded a lot of the climb out of Quito, Ecuador. We banked left and flew right over Queenstown, giving those of us on the right side a spectacular view of Lake Wakatipu and the prominent mountain peaks known locally as The Remarkables.

    It’s only a 220 mile flight from Queenstown to Christchurch, and our flight time was planned for just 35 minutes. Service started almost immediately after take off as one of the Flight Attendants struggled by with a beverage cart, straining to hold it back as he walked downhill into the coach cabin. Meanwhile, in Business Class, a light snack was planned. I was presented a tray bearing:

     A fruit bowl with grapes, oranges and melons
     Cheese and crackers
     A hot burrito and a broiled tomato on a small dish
     A rolled napkin containing a little teaspoon, a normal sized teaspoon, two forks and three knives

    The burrito turned out to be more like something offered in a Greek restaurant. We’re talking filo pastry dough filled with a variety of vegetables, including beans. There was no meat that I could detect. It tasted good, though. I ordered a beer to wash it all down and once again the beer was served tepid. Yecch! Being the national airline of a country that prides itself on the quality of its beer, I should think Air New Zealand could serve up a cold one now and then. Perhaps I should call ahead and have a few beers put on ice for tomorrow’s flight to Melbourne.

    Here’s my rating for this flight:

    Check in: A
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: B-
    Service: A
    Meal: A-

    This certainly ranks as the shortest flight I’ve ever been served a hot meal on. Warm beer not withstanding, this was quite a performance by NZ and the meal was quite good as light snacks go.

    March 20, 2002
    CHC-AKL Air New Zealand 548 Business Class
    767-219 ZK-NBA Seat 2A
    700p-825p Flight time: 1:03

    Air New Zealand’s Koru Club was conveniently located right next door to Gate 18 from which my flight to Auckland was scheduled to depart. At the reception desk was a distinguished looking gentleman who could have been a double for the actor Patrick Stewart. He examined my boarding pass and welcomed me in with “Come forward!” I heard him say these words to a couple of other folks as well. I wonder what he’d say to those without proper authority? “Go back!”

    The Christchurch club appears every bit as large as its counterpart in Auckland with plenty of windows from which to view the aircraft activity out on the tarmac. Most of the club was made up of couches and low coffee tables. It was about 5:30pm and the club was packed. I was happy to see one section marked off as a “Cell Phone Free Zone”. Obnoxious things! How did society or business in general ever keep from collapsing during all those years that we didn’t have them?

    In the center of the lounge was a large island stocked with all manner of light foods. There was a nice variety of sushi including ginger and wasabe, veggies and dip, slices of ham and corned beef, breads and a selection of cookies. Along the wall was a self-serve refrigerator – four glass doors worth – stocked with wines and all the major New Zealand beers. That’s right, all the major New Zealand beers, even Monteiths. Name me one US airline club that stocks more than three or four different brands. I grabbed a Monteith’s Pilsner and found a desk at one of the two workstations. A nearby computer terminal offered Internet service and a fax and printer were also available. Interestingly, there seemed little interest in the workstations. Everyone seemed quite content to sit and chat with one another. If I were travelling with someone else, I reckon I’d be doing the same.

    The call to board came twenty minutes before scheduled departure. I had thought this flight was scheduled to operate with another 737 but was more than pleased to discover my old friend, ZK-NBA would be doing the honors up to Auckland this evening.

    Be it in Business or Economy Class, Air New Zealand’s 767 is far more comfortable than its 737. This is especially true up in Business Class where the seat pitch on the 767 is close to 50”. (As a separate side note to Mad Atta, the leg rests on ZK–NBA at least are most emphatically not electronic. When I pushed the button for them, the leg rest exploded up out of its position and whacked the back of my calves with a force that’d do Tonya Harding proud.) However, these seats were not outfitted with personal video screens and based upon what I could make of the center consoles, never had been. I think it was mentioned somewhere in the annals of FlyerTalk that ZK-NBA, Air New Zealand’s first ever 767, had been relegated to domestic only duty on the AKL-CHC run so no doubt there’d be no need for the PTVs. For my video viewing pleasure I watched either the small 13” screen on the bulkhead or the big 4’ screen on the center bulkhead. The only program shown during the flight was SkyMap.

    The load for tonight’s flight looked pretty light. Only four of the twenty-four seats in Business Class were occupied while Economy looked to be about two thirds full. I was offered a pre-flight beverage, which I declined, and the Auckland newspaper, which I accepted. As we taxied out to the runway, the captain took a moment to appraise us of the flight ahead. We’d be looking at an hour’s worth of flying time, cruising at 37,000’. I’d been looking forward to this flight in the hopes that it would be at sunset. Unfortunately, I was unaware that New Zealand went off Daylight Savings Time last Sunday. Had this not occurred I would’ve had my sunset. Ah well, the seat was very comfortable and I was looking forward to the dinner ahead.

    An hour isn’t much time to feed a 767’s worth of passengers, so as soon as we'd leveled off the crew got right after it. I started out with a glass of Montana Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, a tasty little wine that on the bottle states that it’s produced especially for Air New Zealand. Oddly, I saw the same type offered for sale all over the country. Whatever, it’s not a bad tasting wine and complimented the appetizer course quite nicely.

    Imagine that – an appetizer course on a one hour flight! Good ol’ Air New Zealand! Tonight’s selection was a plate of thinly sliced Parma ham served on a plate with slices of honeydew and cantaloupe. It was accompanied by Swiss cheese, crackers and a bread roll.

    I was just savoring my last bite of the ham when the entrée was delivered. It was almost exactly the same meal I had a month and a half ago on my southbound flight from Auckland. Twin salmon and halibut demi-fillets sat in a creamy sauce accompanied by a shredded carrot and zucchini medley and some rubbery potatoes. The salmon and veggies weren’t bad, a bit dry perhaps, but those potatoes were a disaster! Even so, for an hour’s flight, I think it’s amazing that we got anything at all so I’m not gonna winge too stridently. After all, even Air New Zealand can’t be perfect every flight.

    We were well into our descent by the time the dinner trays were cleared off. It was a real treat to walk straight from the aircraft into baggage claim and find my bag already on the carousel. Even the Garden Inn’s van was halfway to the airport by the time I called them. Days as good as this one should be longer…

    Check in: N/A Transit
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A
    Meal: B+

    With the exception of the potatoes, one-hour flights really don’t get any better than this. The service from the FAs was attentive throughout the flight and the baggage delivery was exceptional!

    March 21, 2002
    AKL-MEL Air New Zealand 125 Business Class
    767-204 ZK-NBJ Seat 2A
    230p-530p Flight time: 3:52

    The Garden Inn had a check out time of 10:00am so I was dropped off at the International Terminal at 10:30am, four hours before my scheduled departure time of 2:30pm. I was uncertain just how early I could check in for the flight and my concerns were hardly allayed when, upon entering the terminal, I saw no indication of check-in for flight 125 to Melbourne. About this time I spied a big fancy double glass doorway with a sign indicating Business and First Class check in over it. It was nicer than most lounge entrances I’d seen. I walked over and peered through the doors. All I could see was lounge furniture so I assumed it was some sort of waiting area and returned to the main check-in area.

    Finally, I spied a counter advertising Pacific or economy class check-in for a flight 127 to Melbourne. That’ll do. Perhaps they’d changed the flight number. Either way, I just wanted to be rid of my pack and head for the lounge. The counter was understaffed and an agent who appeared to be in a position to help was doing nothing. When I did finally get to the counter, I found out that the area I’d earlier thought was a waiting area was in fact the check-in area for First and Business Class passengers. To make matters worse, due to an air traffic controller’s strike in Australia, my flight was delayed by almost two hours. Anyway, I eventually got checked in and, after clearing immigration, headed upstairs to the Koru Club.

    It was a busy day at Auckland International. Flight 125 was supposed to leave from gate 3 but was instead reassigned to a remote gate that meant we all had to board busses and drive out to the aircraft. It was a warm day in Auckland – almost 80F – and the busses were crowded, hot and slow. On a positive note, I enjoyed cruising around the tarmac amongst the colorful variety of giant airliners. In town today were 747-400s from Air New Zealand (2), Qantas, Korean Air, Thai and Singapore along with an A340-300 from Aerolineas Argentinas and a 737-800 from Air Pacific. Finally, we pulled up in front of our aircraft, 767-204 ZK-NBJ, the all-white ex-Britannia machine in need of a completed paint job.

    It sure felt good to climb the stairs, enter the air-conditioned cabin and sink into the dark blue sanctuary of seat 2A. The Business Class seats on this 767 were different from yesterday’s model in that they included a PTV in the center console. Seat pitch was about the same but these seats reclined a bit farther. I would say however that as International Business Class seats go, these seats are a bit past their prime. They offer fairly decent recline but the leg rest really doesn’t come out too far. The PTV is a tiny 5” screen. I understand Qantas is offering 1-2-2 seating on its trans-Tasman 767s and United has I think the best non-flat Business Class seat going. Still, so long as NZ keeps these aircraft on trans-Tasman services they’ll probably be okay. For comparison purposes, I’d be curious what kind of seats are offered up front on the 767-300s that serve the longer international routes.

    Business Class looked to be about 80% full, and I was thankful to have an empty seat beside me. Preflight drinks and newspapers were offered, so I selected an orange juice and perused a copy of the New Zealand Herald. We were slightly delayed by four people who’d somehow missed the numerous boarding calls and had to be found in the terminal. Finally, they were located and driven out to the aircraft in a little van. They climbed the stairs and sheepishly walked down the aisle, no doubt enduring all manner of withering looks from their fellow passengers.

    It was a beautiful day for flying and as we climbed out of Auckland, the view of the harbor and surrounding countryside was stunning. Hot days like this combine with all the moisture coming off the sea to make wonderful clouds. Outside my window were multi-layered cloud formations, but not so many that I couldn’t still see the deep blue Tasman below. Once we’d reached cruising altitude, hot towels and dinner menus were distributed. Drink orders were taken and for some reason, I felt a sudden need for ice cold sugar and fizz. A Ginger Ale hit the spot nicely. It was just after 5:00pm when we finally took off and the sun, now much lower in the sky, cast a pretty orangish-pink glow upon the clouds below. For a cloud lover like me it was a beautiful view and validated what I really enjoy about flying: Just being up here. It’s a pretty world from 37,000 feet. I reclined my seat and watched the world go by.

    Here is the dinner menu:



    Marinated chicken supreme

    Presented with spiced cucumber, water chestnut and green onion salad

    Main Course

    Beef, bacon and olive lasagna

    With lemon and rosemary, green beans and tomato basil sauce

    Ginger lime glazed pork fillet
    Served with coconut and sweet potato bake and tropical fruit salsa

    Chilled sesame crusted tuna
    Served rare on soba noodles, with seaweed, wasabi caviar and Japanese seasonings

    ** ** **

    Cheese and fruit
    Fine regional cheese and preserved fruit

    Kapiti connoisseur ice cream

    Blue table linens were distributed, followed shortly by trays bearing our basic place settings and the appetizer. Service was from the back of the cabin forward. The appetizer, described as Marinated chicken supreme, was pretty good but hardly marinated. It looked and tasted to me like two big slices of roasted chicken breast atop thinly sliced cucumbers with a few onions and water chestnuts thrown in. Bread was served separately – a nice touch – and we were offered our choice between toasted garlic bread and whole grain olive herb rolls. I had the herb roll with my appetizer and the garlic bread with my entrée. Tasty.

    When the FA appeared to take my entrée selection, I was informed that the Pork Fillet didn’t make the flight and the caterers had instead substituted a toasted lamb sandwich. I’d seen one of them being served to the folks behind me. It didn’t look very substantial so I went with the lasagna. A good choice. Very tasty with a layer of bacon and not too many olives. I accompanied this with a glass of pretty decent New Zealand Shiraz. Dessert was New Zealand’s justifiably famous Kapiti ice cream. Rich and creamy, topped with tropical fruit pieces. Mmmm!

    The PTV offered six or seven movies, some reruns of popular TV shows which I’ve never seen (I’ve never even seen Seinfeld or Friends yet) and the Sky Map. Interesting how each airline seems to have their own versions of Sky Map. Air New Zealand’s is quite basic. The best I’ve seen are with UA and BA. Lots of different perspectives on the landscape and lots more information about scintillating stuff like time at destination, headwinds, etc. I pulled out the trusty laptop and worked on this report while listening to the Dead’s great show from May 8th, 1977 at Cornell University. Hey Now! The finest Scarlet/Fire ever done! [​IMG]

    Our approach into Melbourne was just after sunset and the grassy plains below were tinged a pinkish brown hue. We landed quite smoothly and taxied past what looked like most of the old Ansett fleet before parking at our gate. Business Class passengers received an Express Australian Arrivals card for Immigration but when I showed up, it was apparent that many others from our flight had also gotten the express treatment. Perhaps just being an NZ frequent flyer will get you this. Either way, I cleared immigration and customs quickly and located a room for the night at this neat little hotel called the Formule One Hotel. It was within easy walking distance of the airport and at only $59.00AUD ($34.00USD) per night was by far the most economical choice amongst airport area hotels. Everything about this hotel was pre-fabricated. I guess I’d call it a “Kit Hotel”. Some assembly required. Although the rooms were quite small, they were also exceedingly functional. Like Officer’s Quarters on a navy ship. My room included a well lit desk area, a quiet and very cool air conditioner (pronounced “egg nishna” in Strine) and a modular bathroom and shower unit that smelled like badly cooked Brussels sprouts. A full continental breakfast was available in the lobby for only $6.00 more.

    Here’s how I’d rate my trans-Tasman flight with NZ:

    Check in: D
    Preflight: A-
    Comfort: B+
    Service: A
    Meal: A-

    The check in area was so nice that it totally fooled me. The D grade is based upon my experience at the Y class counter. No doubt this would’ve been higher had I checked in at the proper area. Inflight service was excellent as always. NZ has some of the best trained FAs I’ve ever encountered aloft! The seats could use an upgrade, though.

    22 March
    MEL-HBA Qantas 585 Coach Class
    717-2K9 VH-IMP Seat 15D
    1215p-120p Flight time: 0:53

    It is perhaps a five minute walk from the Formule One Hotel to the Qantas Domestic Terminal. I arrived about 10:30am thinking perhaps I could make the earlier 11:15am departure to Hobart.

    Wrong! The Economy Class check in line was the longest I’d seen since flying out of Las Vegas on September 14th! Sigh… As much as I enjoy the larger seats, nicer meals and lounges that come with travel in Business or First Class, one of the most important perks of J or F class travel or elite level membership in a FF program is the right to check in at the First and Business Class counters. I hate waiting in line. Still, such was my lot in life for today so I took my place and whipped out a book. Twenty five minutes later, I was checked in and on my way.

    These days, in a hub airport, I guess that’s not too bad as waits go. Qantas had plenty of personnel manning the counters and an imposing woman (not only in stature but especially in facial expression) kept things orderly in line. Where I do have a complaint with Qantas is in the area of seat assignments. All seats are pre-assigned. As an economy class passenger, unless you are part of Qantas’ FF program you have no say in your initial seat selection. I tried to get a window but they were all taken. Thankfully, an exit row aisle was available.

    The Domestic Terminal has an excellent food court with huge windows overlooking the tarmac that make it a great place for plane spotting. I saw a couple of ex-BA 767s with the RR engines along with 767-238 VH-EAL, the “City of Geelong” which I flew back in 1987 from MEL-CHC. The most intriguing aircraft spotted however was a QF 737-400 with winglets! This was the first time I’d ever seen winglets on a non-NG 737. I think they look cool and if they really do result in the fuel savings as advertised I predict we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.

    It also occurred to me that Qantas has had the same color scheme for just over twenty years now. Amongst the major carriers, 20-30 years is about it for color schemes before it’s time for a new, fresher corporate image. Granted, there are exceptions (AA) but I wonder if QF might be unveiling a new corporate image with the arrival of its A380s or even A330s?

    I arrived at Gate 12 just as boarding had commenced. The aircraft was 717-200 VH-IMP, the first 717 delivered to Qantas Link operator Impulse Airlines and I believe the first 717-200 ever to operate in Australia.

    Inside, the aircraft is configured in an all economy class seating arrangement. All of the seats are dark blue and seat pitch looked to be about 31”. Not too impressive, in terms of either style or comfort. Still, the 717 offers only 5 across seating so the seats are just a bit wider and reasonably comfortable as economy class seats go.

    As we pushed back from the gate and listened to the safety demo., a flight attendant came back and asked each of us in the exit rows, one side at a time, if we were ready and willing etc. She even had the guy behind me woken up so he could hear her. While this all makes sense, I comment on it simply because I haven’t really seen this approach taken on US carriers.

    Take-off was swift and the climb-out impressive. The engines emit more of a whine than a roar. I was impressed. The last time I flew a 717 was aboard Air Trans in Business Class and of course it was even quieter up there.

    With a flight time predicted for only 54 minutes and a lunch to serve aboard an almost full aircraft, the FAs got to work pretty quickly. There were four of them aboard, an impressive number for such a small aircraft. Luncheon boxes were cheerfully distributed and drinks offered in a most efficient manner. Each lunch box contained a large ham and cheese sandwich, a coffee cup and a small container of water. The sandwich was excellent if only for the quality of the bread! It was whole grain, sliced thick and tasted delicious making this perhaps the best sandwich I’ve had inflight. Our FAs had time to make a couple of rounds with coffee and tea before getting everything cleared.

    After lunch, I perused the inflight magazine, in particular the route maps. Hmm… QF operates an Auckland – Buenos Aires service. How far is that? Alas, the magazine only supplied mileage information for domestic services. I’ll have to check it out on WebFlyer some day. Also of interest: Under fleet listings, QF is credited with operating a single 747SP. Not too many of those left these days…

    Our approach into Hobart was smooth and scenic. I wished I’d had a window seat to better see the Derwent River, Mt. Wellington and the surrounding countryside. We landed, braked quickly and taxied to the terminal where we exited via stairway as no jetways were present. It was a beautiful day, sunny and 75 degrees. It’s good to be back in Tasmania again! I’ve got two weeks here exploring new areas and revisiting old haunts. After that, I’m Helsinki bound!

    Check in: B
    Boarding: A
    Comfort: B
    Service: A
    Meal: A-

    A nice job by all concerned for such a short flight! I must get that bread recipe!
  3. Denali Flyer
    Original Member

    Denali Flyer Silver Member

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    New Zealand and Tasmania are two of my favorite places on the planet and I’ve had a wonderful time in both places during this trip. Still, it’s springtime up in North America and I want to be there for it. Alaska. Florida. Colorado. Nova Scotia. Arizona. Late evening sunshine or spring blizzards, it doesn’t matter! The days are getting longer, the snow is melting, the aspen trees are coming into leaf, the desert’s coming into bloom… it's time to head home.

    This return trip is gonna be great fun! The 150,000 mile AS/BA award I’m traveling on allows me one stopover enroute. That means I can stop in either Singapore or London or a gateway city in the US. I’ve never been on the continent of Europe. Perhaps it’s time I paid a visit.

    Truth be known, I’ve put off traveling to Europe all these years because I’ve always wanted to see the less developed world first. Growing up, it seemed like everyone I knew went off to Europe and they all came home talking about the wonderful time they had looking at old buildings or paintings and eating various foods and staying at what looked like stuffy old hotels. I wasn’t overly impressed. I wanted to climb mountains, spend some time in a jungle, enjoy a beach all to myself, hang out with colorfully clad people who played or enjoyed music I could relate to. I could care less about where I stayed or what I ate. Ecuador, Raratonga, Malaysia, Easter Island – Here I come!

    Now I’m ready to visit Europe. It’ll be a quick visit, only five days, but it’s a start. I have zero desire to go to any of the places I'm “supposed to” visit. Paris, Rome, Amsterdam – all fascinating and worthy places I’m sure, but because everyone seems to head there and assume that I should too – that’s enough to drive me off. I looked for airfares out of London to places like Budapest, Prague and Lisbon and came up with a great deal to Helsinki. Finland! That sounds cool, both literally and figuratively. It’s at about the same latitudes as Alaska and it's definitely off the beaten path as Eurpoean tourism goes. I’d found my stopover.

    So, I’ve got 20,870 miles of travel comin’ up aboard Qantas, British Airways, SAS, Air Botnia and Alaska Airlines. I’d best get going!

    04 April
    HBA-MEL Qantas 980 Coach Class
    717-2K9 VH-LAX Seat 15F
    105p-215p Flight time: 0:52

    Hobart International Airport is located about 12 miles east of the city. Getting there translates into a pleasant 20 minute ride through rolling hills studded with eucalyptus trees. HBA is a humble but attractive little airport – the tower sits up on a hill adjacent to the terminal building and inside the terminal are all the amenities one would reasonably expect for an airport of this size.

    Check in was quick and painless. Were it not for those of us who came in on the airporter van, the Qantas counter would’ve had no line at all. Qantas Link assigns everyone’s seats in advance and though I’m not overly happy with this policy, I was pleased to find that I’d been assigned an exit row aisle. I asked for and received a switch to the exit row window, then headed off to the pub for a pint of the local grog. Along the way, I checked out the ramp to see if our aircraft was in. Ah! There she was: VH-LAX, a shiny almost new 717-200 looking positively resplendent in the mid-day sun!

    There are no jetways at HBA though the mobile stairway leading up into the aircraft is covered. In the event of rain, two big boxes full of umbrellas were available as you exited the building. The flight up to Melbourne this afternoon was only about 60% full so boarding was accomplished quickly. We taxied briskly out to the head of the runway, spooled up those big BMWs powering our little jet and leapt into the air. Climbout is impressive on the 717s and the views of Hobart and the Tasmanian coastline receding behind us were beautiful on this warm and sunny day. I’ll certainly miss “Tassie”. More than any other place Down Under, it feels like a place I could call home.

    I picked this flight because I wanted a meal. I always enjoy a meal when I fly. You see, I am one of those rarest of all creatures that actually enjoys and looks forward to airline food. And, as you might imagine, I couldn’t be happier to be flying about here in the lands Down Under where most all flights still offer some form of culinary entertainment. By comparison, flights of this length in America haven’t seen anything more than peanuts and pretzels since the seventies! It's worth noting however that I just bought a New York to Las Vegas round trip ticket for only $160.00. If my recent history of using AS MVP Upgrades with Northwest is any indicator, I’ll probably be able to upgrade to First Class on most of those flights. To fly a comparable distance down here would cost many times more… As well, airlines down here seem to be far more judicious in their allocation of upgrades, free or otherwise.

    Our flight time was announced as only 45 minutes so the four flight attendants onboard began distributing Qantas’s lunch boxes as soon as we’d leveled out sufficiently. Each box contained a plastic wrapped ham, cheese and cucumber sandwich, a small container of water, a little Cadbury chocolate bar and a coffee cup. Once again, the sandwiches featured the bread I’d so enjoyed on my flight down to Hobart two weeks earlier. Delicious!

    I’ve read with interest some recent reports alleging poor food and service on some of QF’s domestic services. It’s worth noting that Qantas timetables indicate that the HBA service is operated by Impulse Airlines. Perhaps that’s why our flight attendants were friendly and attractive and the service so good?

    We landed on a quiet afternoon in Melbourne. Parked at the international terminal were a Malaysian 777, a Qantas 747-400 and a Singapore 747-400. An Emirates 777-300 was remotely parked, awaiting its late departure before approaching the gate. The Qantas domestic terminal had only our 717, two 737s and two ex-BA 767-300s. Baggage was delivered within fifteen minutes and I headed off to my hotel for the night. Only 26 hours to go …

    Check in: A
    Comfort: B+
    Service: A
    Meal: A-

    My experiences with Qantas/Impulse on these MEL-HBA legs has been nothing short of excellent. The 717s are new and relatively comfortable plus we were fed a reasonable and tasty meal for a 50 minute flight. Nice job, Qantas!

    April 5th

    I've been looking forward to this day and this flight ever since I stepped off my last British Airways 747 in Melbourne two months ago.

    Most people I know are focused upon their destination when they travel. Whether they fly there on United, Garuda, Lufthansa or Royal Air Maroc, First Class or economy, they could care less so long as they get to their destination quickly and safely. Now me on the other hand, I actually enjoy flying! It’s been a passion since I first ever saw an airplane at age 3 or thereabouts. Getting there really is half the fun! And, just as a person who loves to drive will get psyched about driving a Porsche or BMW, I get excited about flying in First Class, particularly First Class of an international standard. We’re not talkin’ domestic American style First Class, although I get reasonably excited about that too. No, we’re talkin’ International Style First Class such as that experienced aboard world class airlines like Cathay Pacific, Singapore, Emirates and British Airways. Flying First Class on these and a very few other airlines is not just a flight, it’s an experience! If you’re like me and you love to fly, you’ll know what of I speak. If on the other hand flying is just something you endure as part of your job or vacation, why are you reading Trip Reports?

    We’re talking about the very best way one can fly as a passenger. It’s great fun to read reports from our brethren who have flown First Class aboard the world’s finest airlines but it’s quite another thing to actually experience the service yourself! I’ve been fortunate to have experienced inflight service of this stature on a few occasions, most recently two months ago flying BA from Los Angeles to London to Singapore to Melbourne. I can’t wait to do it again! I sincerely hope that all of you who’ve ever drooled over a menu transcript from Cathay Pacific or imagined yourselves reclining over the Atlantic in a British Airways suite will get an opportunity to experience this level of service as well. To anyone out there who has only flown First Class aboard say, United, and raved over it, I’m happy for you! Just know that there’s much better service out there. Much better.

    Proper First Class service is 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 and it’s exciting stuff to experience, much less anticipate. I’ve been looking forward to this flight for two months and now the day is here! Let’s head on over to the International Terminal and check in!

    05 April
    MEL-SIN British Airways 18 First Class
    747-436 G-BYGG Seat 2A
    450p–1035p Flight time: 7:15

    I arrived at the airport at 1:30pm, a little more than three hours before the scheduled departure time. I wanted to have time to enjoy the airport, the airplanes and the First Class Lounge at a leisurely pace. Check in was for the most part flawless. One person was being served at the First Class counter when I showed up so an agent from the nearest Business Class counter waved me over. I got my pack checked all the way through to Helsinki and was even issued a boarding pass for my first SAS flight to Copenhagen even though SAS is a Star Alliance rather than a One World carrier like BA. The seat, 31F, was nowhere near what I’d reserved with SAS and when I brought this up with the agent she was unable to explain how she’d managed to get me the SAS seat in the first place. From her standpoint, it just happened, I guess… The computer must’ve done it, somehow. Huh? Whatever. I decided to deal with it during my layover in London. She then gave me instructions to BA’s First Class lounge (The Qantas Club) and wished me a pleasant flight. In return, I wished her an afternoon free of issuing further boarding passes for Star Alliance carriers. She laughed. A pretty smile…

    The last time I used a Qantas lounge here in Melbourne was in 1987. Back then it was called The Captain’s Club and was upstairs in the main terminal. The present day lounge is called The Qantas Club and is located downstairs at the end of the International Concourse. Before heading down the escalators to the club, I strolled over to Gate 11 to check out the aircraft operating today’s flight. In particular, I was curious as to which country’s artwork might be displayed on the tail or if we’d get the latest BA livery.

    Although BA’s most recent official livery incorporates the flowing Union Jack on the tail of the aircraft, many if not most if the 747 fleet still bear the colorful artistry that was the hallmark of the short lived “Colors of The World” liveries of the late nineties. As I approached the gate and the aircraft came into view I was disappointed to see the Chinese “Rendezvous” print adorning the tail. It consists simply of an artistic rendition of an Asian symbol, painted black against creamy white. The calligraphy signifies a rendezvous from a poem about a Chinese tea ceremony. Of all the varied artworks that BA utilized in their “Colors Of The World” series, “Rendezvous” is unequivocally the least colorful of the lot.

    While some might appreciate the simple elegance of the art, I was hoping for something a little more colorful like the Polish “Koguty Lowickie” or Indian “Paithani” artwork. I took some solace in the fact that at least this aircraft was extremely clean and shiny. Indeed, if I didn’t know better I’d swear it had just been painted, dammit! All right, on to the lounge.

    From outside in the hallway, Melbourne’s Qantas Club doesn’t look all that special. By contrast, across the hall, Singapore’s Raffles Club looked most inviting with its double glass doors and golden welcoming sign! I entered the Qantas Club, showed my boarding pass and was directed to the First Class section. As I entered it, I was reminded of a lounge scene on an early Star Trek episode. (I don’t know which one – Dammit Jim, I’m a Frequent Flyer, not a Trekkie!) Perhaps it was the lighting and the furniture – very 1960s. The bar area looked comfortable in an Aeroflot kind of way. Plastic seating (with cushions) molded into a semi-circular wall, like Indians sitting in a kiva but marginally more comfortable. Functional but hardly stylish. Subdued lighting struggled to highlight the predominantly pale beige fabrics accented by an occasional light brown (very risque) against a backdrop of large opaque floor to ceiling windows. Blah… I’m a brass and wood kind of guy, I reckon. At least throw in some potted plants… The lack of windows from which to view the tarmac was also a minus in my book.

    Otherwise, this lounge was very nice. It had a decent selection of sandwiches, meats, cheeses and vegies along with a well stocked liquor area that included one of my favorite Australian beers, Toohey’s Red Bitter. I immediately poured myself one and fixed up a plate of smoked salmon and mixed nuts. I then found a seat at one of the five or six work areas where I dashed off some last minute postcards. There were maybe a dozen people total in the lounge so seating was plentiful. I couldn’t help noticing the family across from me, however. Their teenaged son’s bright turquoise T-shirt clashed horribly with the décor! I shielded my eyes and set to writing. There was also a single Internet terminal available which I later used to book a $50.00 room via Hotwire at the Washington DC Hilton at Dulles.

    At 4:00pm, we were instructed to head up to the gate and participate in the preflight security baggage inspection. This seemed awfully early and as I wasn’t in any hurry to board the aircraft, (after all, I had 20 hours aboard it to look forward to) I took my time and wandered up to the gate area about 4:15pm. Despite this flight being nearly full, the scene didn’t look too rushed and I had time to wander over to a nearby store and find something to blow the rest of my Australian money on. I had $7.00 and found the latest issue of Australian Aviation, a magazine I’d never heard of but which nonetheless had lots of pictures of commercial jetliners and a big article about Ansett’s final days. Also included was a picture of a brightly colored Qantas 737-800 sporting a paint scheme would rival anything that airline did to it’s 747s with the aboriginal color schemes. The magazine cost $6.91. Keep the change.

    Right. On to security then. My daypack was given only a cursory inspection, as was I and just like that I was walking down the jetway to the aircraft. Didja ever notice how jetways and airplanes generally all have that same smell as you walk down the jetway? It’s that clean plane smell. It’s a pretty unique aroma. I’ve only encountered it whilst boarding airplanes and maybe once when for some reason I was sniffing some new shoes. It’s for the most part an agreeable smell lightly accented with maybe just a tiny hint of Jet A fuel. I’d like to bottle it and spray in my old truck. And maybe my old shoes. But I digress…

    We boarded through door 1L, which from my experience with 747s (Over 100 flights) is rarely used as the sole entrance. I was greeted at the door and shown to my seat. I was a bit surprised when I made that wonderful left hand turn and found myself immediately in the First Class cabin. No messy Business Class to struggle through!

    Ah… the First Class cabin. Wow! This airplane may not sport BA’s most colorful tail art but I definitely liked this cabin! It had the new style wooden dividers (Kind of a mottled pattern in the wood) wrapped around the back of each suite and the previously dark blue or grey sidewall fabric was now a warm beige. While I wasn’t too keen on the predominant beige in the lounge, inside BA’s First Class cabin it complimented the grey seat fabric, the wooden dividers and the dark bluish-grey carpet very nicely. At the back of the cabin hung a nicely framed black and white photograph of an old bicycle. Make a note to contact BA on this: I could give them nicer and more interesting pictures from my old Nikon at a fraction of the cost! A flight attendant approached and hung my jacket while I got myself moved into what would be my home for the next 23 hours. I began to check out all the whistles and bells and was pleased to find a working laptop power port. What about the lights? Right on! All three of them worked this time! Another flight attendant appeared and asked if she could bring me a drink. But of course! A glass of champagne would be wonderful, thanks. What kind is it this afternoon? Krug Brut. Grande Cuvee. Mmm…. Not bad, not bad… (I still like that Louise Pommery more, though…)

    Also at my suite were a new beige blanket, a pair of noise canceling headphones, socks, eyeshade and an attractive black and maroon pillow. The duvet was tucked under the little guest seat in front of me. In the storage bin above my seat was a full sized pillow. I was just getting my books and paperwork stowed when a plate of cashews was delivered, followed shortly thereafter by the amenities kit or “BA BAg”. This BAg was a bit different from the one I received two months ago. The actual bag was still produced by Anya Hindmarch and on the outside of this 8x6x2” suitcase style zippered bag was a picture of a lady reclining in First Class aboard a VC-10.

    The contents of each BAg vary slightly depending upon gender. Those of you who read my report detailing my Alaska to New Zealand trip back in February may recall that I personally don’t have a lot of use for most of the stuff in these amenity kits. Now mind you, I think it’s great that BA offers these kits to their First Class clientele. The kits are stylish and not inexpensive to produce I’m sure. As well, I’m certain there must be more than a few of BA’s male passengers who lead a life wherein they’d use or at least be familiar with the use of these products. I’m not one of them, however. Heck, my life hasn’t included living in a place with running water since 1994.

    Check it out! The kit is divided into three sections: Take off, Cruise and Landing. Following is a transcript from the booklet that accompanied my kit. For comparison’s sake, below each item I have described in italics what I recommend and/or do instead for each need.


    Unwind Relax with the Aroma Therapeutics’ Stress Less Spray. Hold flask 6” from face, breathing in deeply as you spray generously. Massage into temples and neck for instant re-hydration and relaxation.

    Have a drink or two. Recline your seat!

    Clean-up Gently cleanse your skin with Aesop’s Purifying Facial Cream Cleanser. Apply to face with fingertips, massaging gently and remove with cotton wool or rinse with tepid water.

    I showered this morning. My skin is fine. I'll wait for the hot towel service.

    Cool off Seal in moisture with Aesop’s Primrose Facial Hydrating Cream to protect against dehydration during the long flight. Massage gently from forehead to neck.

    Have another drink!


    Smooth lips Aesop’s Rosehip Seed Lip Treatment will soften dry lips and seal in moisture. Smooth on regularly with fingertip.

    Lick your lips once in a while if they’re dry.

    Soft body and feet Help for the driest body and feet, apply Aesop’s Rich Aromatique Body Balm generously to pamper properly.

    No thanks...

    Sweet dreams Aroma Therapeutic’s Sleep Enhancer will lull you into a deep sleep. Spray generously on your pillow and inhale as you doze

    A cup of Chamomile Tea works well for me.


    Shiny teeth Anti-plaque Elgydium toothpaste will give your teeth a professional cleaning.

    Sweet breath Santa Maria Novella’s mouthwash will perk up a dry mouth. Swish and rinse.

    Mouthwashes interfere with the flavor of that first cup of good coffee, which itself quickly negates any effects from the mouthwash. No thanks.

    Fresh feeling Aroma Therapeutics Body Bath will give you a fresh clean feeling all over. Use as a deodorant and refreshing body spray. Great for tired feet.

    I like a shower at the Molton-Brown Spa.

    We pushed back from the gate about 10 minutes late. It was a mild shock to see the tractor that pushed us back drive away from directly beneath my window. I’m not used to sitting forward of the nose wheel. Behind me I could hear the four big Rolls Royce engines start to come to life. It’s an exciting sound. The safety video was shown and a brief announcement from the flightdeck was made. Captain Buchanon welcomed us aboard and informed us we were in for a smooth flight into Singapore though there might be some rough air over Indonesia later in the evening due to thunderstorms in the area. Flight time was projected to be 7 hours and 20 minutes, putting us into Singapore about 15 minutes early.

    Although the day had started off cloudy with an occasional light shower, the sun shone brightly amidst scattered clouds as we taxied out to the runway. Take off was to the east. It lasted 32 seconds by my watch (It seems like a 90% full 747 would require a bit longer, no?) and as we climbed away from the airport and made a graceful turn to the northwest, I got a nice view of Melbourne and the Victorian countryside. Also interesting to note: The sound of takeoff from up in First Class on the 747 is more of a deep buzz than the roar you hear from the wing and back. Once the nose wheel has retracted however, the sound is nearly symphonic: A deep bass buzz as if from a covey of cellos accompanied by a nicely harmonic whine that sounds more synthesizer than violin. Add to this the sound of air rushing past the fuselage. It’s music to my ears.

    Once we’d leveled out a bit, a small plate of canapés was presented along with my drink selection, a glass of the Chassagne-Montrachet Chardonnay. It complimented the canapés quite nicely and I asked for and enjoyed another plate as the lady across from me had declined hers. A menu covering both legs of the trip into London was distributed and I perused mine with interest and anticipation as I enjoyed my wine. The menu was presented in a plain white cover embossed with BA’s “First” emblem. This may be stylish in some circles but I’d prefer a more interesting cover, one that in appearance alone might tend to heighten the anticipation of the Epicurean delights to come. Still, it’s the inside that really counts and I was generally pleased with what I saw. The first eight pages described the meal service for both the MEL-SIN and SIN-LHR portions of the journey. The last four pages described the wines and listed the sprits and liqueurs offered. As I perused the menu, the chief purser appeared and introduced himself to each of the First Class passengers, wishing us a good flight and a nice dinner. Here! Here! Refills on wine were soon offered so I decided to try the Australian selection, the 1998 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardonnay. It’s not often I’m in a position to freely sample such supposedly prestigious wines and though my simple tastes run more towards Cabs and Merlots, I quite enjoyed both of these white wines.

    Two flight attendants serviced the First Class cabin while another manned the galley. Dinner orders were taken from back to front. Following is a transcript of the menu:

    Melbourne to Singapore



    Lobster Mayonnaise
    Offered with mango dressing and watercress oil

    Liam Tomlin’s steamed asparagus
    Presented with baby artichokes with Bois Bourdin sauce

    Sweetcorn and basil broth soup

    Mixed seasonal salad served with your choice of dressing

    Selection of warm breads

    ** ** **

    Main Courses

    Liam Tomlin’s fillet of beef
    Offered with seared fois gras and potato gnocchi

    Ocean trout in basil cream sauce
    With pressed saffron rice

    Roasted free-range chicken
    Served with Mascarpone polenta and chicken jus

    Vegetables and walnuts au gratin
    In double cheese sauce

    Lighter Options

    Warm baguette of grilled chicken
    Accompanied by Buffalo Mozzarella and plum tomato

    Freshly cooked penne pasta
    Presented with your choice of porcini mushroom or tomato and basil sauce
    Served with freshly grated cheese

    ** ** **


    Liam Tomlin’s minestrone of fresh fruit
    Served with raspberry sorbet

    Traditional warm bread and butter pudding

    Cheeseboard Selection
    Australian boutique cheeses

    Selection of fresh fruit


    Krug Brut, Grande Cuvee

    White Wines
    Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, 1998, Laboure-Roi
    Chateau de Chantegrive, Cuvee Caroline, 2000, Graves Blanc
    De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardonnay, 1998

    Red Wines
    Clos du Marquis, 1995
    Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah, 1997
    Beaune Premier Cru Les Epenottes, 1998, Domaine Parent

    Dessert Wine
    Miranda Golden Botrytis, 1995

    Warre’s, 1986, Reserve Tawny Port

    BA’s menu describes its a la carte meal service as follows:

    Our a la carte dining offers you the possibility of creating your own menu choice from a snack to a complete meal and to enjoy it whenever you wish during the flight.

    I overheard Ian, the flight attendant working my side of the cabin, explain to the gentleman behind me that he’d be happy to serve him dinner up until an hour out of Singapore if he so chose. I elected to eat immediately and ordered both the Lobster Mayonnaise and the steamed asparagus to begin, followed by the soup and Liam Tomlin’s beef fillet.

    My table was set with white linen accompanied by a dark blue napkin, salt and pepper grinders (not shakers!), a little dish of butter and the now infamous plasticware. Both the lobster and the asparagus were delivered together and I opted for another half glass of the Australian Chardonnay to accompany these dishes. I’d never had a lobster mayonnaise before. It’s basically shredded lobster meat blended with mayonnaise and formed into a round patty. It made a nice presentation, centered on a small plate amidst two small pools of mango sauce and a drizzle of the watercress oil. It was tasty though I found all the mayonnaise just a bit rich for my tastes. As for the asparagus, the Bois Bourdin sauce was so subtle as to be irrelevant but otherwise, well, I’ve never met an asparagus I didn’t like. No complaints with these dishes! A nice start to the meal…

    The sweetcorn soup came next. I broke some of my toasted garlic bread into the soup and found it all quite tasty and flavorful. While awaiting my fillet, I decided to try out a glass of the Rosemount Syrah.

    The fillet was nicely presented with a tasty potato gnocchi on the side. Unfortunately, the meat turned out medium well but was nonetheless quite flavorful, accented as it was with the seared fois gras and hot English mustard. I was offered a choice of English or French mustard to accompany the fillet and decided to try out the English. I should have remembered how hot that stuff really is because with my first bite of steak I slathered on quite a liberal dose. Hoo-eee!! Ay Yi Yi!! Call in Red Adair! Hhhhhhhoooooooooooo! Man, that stuff was dangerous!! My sinuses were scorched and I must have made quite a spectacle of myself gasping and wheezing while my eyes bulged out like Marty Feldman’s! How do you get those oxygen masks to pop out? Holy Toledo, what a rush! Once I’d recovered sufficiently I finished off the meal but applied the mustard with a far more judicious hand.

    I closed out this repast with a plate of nameless Australian boutique cheeses and a glass of that fabulous Warre’s Port. Once I get back home, I really must try to find a bottle of that. What a wonderful way to finish off a fine meal.

    Although Seat 2A has been my seat of choice for years, on this flight I was particularly looking forward to it because of our departure time – late afternoon – and the potential for a nice inflight sunset. Over the years I have seen some truly spectacular sunsets while inflight! I never pass up an opportunity to enjoy another. Early in the flight, the sun was quite bright and I had to lower my shades. Then, as I was finishing my fillet, it hit just the right level. Up went all my window shades and all of us were treated to a very pretty sunset. It’s interesting how many seasoned flyers seem to care less about the view out the windows. My cabin mates on this flight were no different so I was mildly surprised but nonetheless happy when, upon opening all three of my window shades to enjoy the sunset, seats 2 and 3K stopped what they were doing to admire and comment upon the view as well. Perhaps the sun reflecting off my glass of Cabernet Sauvignon caught their attention…

    The next few hours passed by fairly quickly. I tried to watch Spy Game on the PTV but the sound was garbled so I ended up watching the Discovery Channel’s interesting documentary about mummified human remains found in caves in the Aleutian Islands followed by Will Smith’s portrayal of Muhammad Ali. I thought he did a pretty good job of it and I especially liked Jon Voight’s portrayal of Howard Cosell!

    Ian appeared and asked if I’d be interested in a refreshment. Where I come from, a “Refreshment” generally means a beverage. On BA, it means:


    Potato bonda with date and tamarind chutney
    Chicken coconut brochette with kachcumber salad
    Finger sandwich selection
    Sacher Torte

    Truth be known, I wasn’t all that hungry but service like this doesn’t come along very often for me so I opted for some of the chicken brochettes and a couple of finger sandwiches. Once again, linens were laid with all the usual accompaniments except for salt and pepper grinders. I passed on more wine having long since started working on a bottle of that good Kentucky whisky BA boarded. Just kidding! Water only for me at this point! Two bottles worth since dinner, in fact. The chicken arrived first. I had thought a brochette was like a little filled pastry. On my plate were four wooden skewers of grilled and unfortunately pretty dry chicken setting atop a tasty and thankfully moist diced cucumber-tomato-onion slaw that was not unlike a Mexican Pico de Gallo salsa. This was followed by a basket with a selection of open-faced finger sandwiches. Take your pick. I selected a salmon and cream cheese and by the time I was done had already made up my mind to pass on the dinner service out of Singapore. More on that later though.

    During this flight’s final hour we were treated to some pretty lightning displays as we crossed over Sumatra and descended into Singapore. They were far enough away however that our overall flight remained nice and smooth.

    After 7 hours and 15 minutes we touched down at Singapore’s Changi International Airport and taxied past a nice variety of Asian airliners before parking at Gate C25, the very farthest from the main terminal. Local time in Singapore was 10:30pm and we were told the layover would be only about 45 minutes. After the seven hour flight, two meals, four glasses of wine and the incident with the mustard, I was really quite tired and seriously considered staying on board the airplane. Still, I like Singapore’s airport and a late night stroll around the concourses would do me some good after all that food. Singapore lies only about 80 miles off the equator and is hot and humid even on a cool day. Even inside the concourse I could feel the humidity and decided to take advantage of the better air conditioning in BA’s First Class lounge.

    Once again, BA shared its First Class lounge with Qantas (Or maybe it’s the other way around?) Here in Singapore, the lounge I’d really like to check out would be Singapore Airline’s First Class Lounge. This lounge was pleasant enough though hardly extravagant. There were plenty of seating areas featuring couches and/or chairs around low tables. There were also a couple of bar style counters with stools. Beer and liquors were self serve on along the wall a short distance away. Also, there were two food service islands though at this time of night the fare looked minimal and unappealing. Some pre-wrapped white bread sandwiches of tuna, ham or pork were available along with some supposedly hot but dried out looking mini-quiches and dim-sums. I helped myself to a can of Tiger Beer and sat down with a copy of the Herald Tribune.

    After only a short time, our flight was announced and we were directed to return to the gate. It was 11:15pm and the flight was not scheduled to depart until 12:05am. Still, Gate C25 is quite possibly the farthest gate from the lounge mezzanine at Changi. As well, there are no expedited boarding privileges for First and Business Class passengers. I grabbed my gear and began the long trek back to the gate.

    Here’s how I rate the Melbourne-Singapore leg of BA 18:

    Check in: A-
    Lounge: B (MEL)
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A
    Meals: B

    Great service from the flight attendants. The food was good but not up to BA’s previous high standards. QF really should consider sprucing up that Melbourne lounge.

    06 April
    SIN-LHR British Airways 18 First Class
    747-436 G-BYGG Seat 2A
    1205a–645a Flight time: 12:42

    As I was leaving the lounge, I overheard the desk agent telling two people that our flight would be completely full out of Singapore. Hmm… All the more reason to get down to the gate early, I reckon. We’d have to pass through security screening at the gate and from what I’d seen at Changi, each gate had only one metal detector. When you’ve got a fully loaded 747 to process, that can take some time.

    When I arrived at the gate, it appeared that about half the economy class passengers had yet to be screened. The line was long and the air heavy with humidity. I fanned myself as best I could with my boarding pass and tried to remain patient. A couple of British guys standing behind me happened to notice the seat number on my boarding pass and asked me how it was up in First Class. Terrible! I replied. Too much service! Why won’t they just leave me alone?!! Judging by their facial expressions alone, this wasn’t quite the response they were expecting from me. I assured them I was only kidding and that I was thoroughly enjoying my First Class experience. We talked about the food and they’d claimed they were quite impressed with their meals back in Steerage. I told them what we’d been served up in First and the discussion inevitably turned to whether it was all worth it. I explained to them how I’d come across my tickets via cheap post 9/11 fares and mileage promotions and how I’d shelled out a total of $1,627.00 to earn the requisite mileage. Based upon that expense and effort, I replied, it most definitely was worth it. Were I to have simply walked up to the counter and plunked down the full fare to London, about $6000.00 one way, then no, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

    Eventually we got through security just as the boarding process was beginning. We said our good-byes and I gave them the FlyerTalk web address so they could read all about this flight and many others from the comfort of their own home! Hi, guys!

    We boarded a new crew here in Singapore as well. I remembered the older female Flight Attendant from my February flight down to Melbourne – the one who seemed to chastise us for eating anything more than her sensibilities would accept. Thankfully she wasn’t working this flight but if she had been she’d have been quite pleased with me. At the time we boarded, it was almost 2:00am back in Australia. On the previous flight I’d polished off one large dinner and one medium sized “Refreshment”. I was not only full, I was also exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep.

    I would never in my wildest dreams have ever imagined that on an international flight in First Class I would plan to totally skip a dinner service. Well, OK, I guess I didn’t totally skip it because dining was ala carte and I could’ve eaten dinner at any time during the flight. Truth be known however, once we took off and leveled out, I converted that seat into a bed and crashed hard. I slept a good seven hours and could have slept more but I didn’t want to miss too much of the flight.

    Before I go on any further, here’s the menu transcript from the dinner service out of Singapore:

    Singapore to London



    Smoked centre cut fillet of salmon
    With crème fraiche

    Twice baked goat cheese and leek soufflé
    Presented with pepper and cumin dressing

    Roasted tomato soup

    Mixed seasonal salad served with your choice of dressing

    Selection of warm breads

    ** ** **

    Main Courses

    Veal loin with morel mushroom sauce
    Served with fresh vegetables and cheese rosti potatoes

    Sliced roasted duck with orange sauce
    Lyonnaise potatoes and seasonal vegetables

    Szechuan prawns with Chinese cabbage
    Served with stir-fried rice

    Spinach and ricotta cheese cannelloni
    Accented with tomato and basil sauce

    Lighter Options

    Grilled fillet of beef
    Served with red onion marmalade in a soft white bap

    Freshly cooked pasta
    Offered with your choice of chilli, fennel and tomato or three cheese sauce
    Served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    ** ** **

    Apple crumble with vanilla ice cream
    Lemon and raspberry sorbet

    Cheeseboard Selection
    Somerset Camembert, Capricorn Goat, Yarg, Hereford Red and Cashel Blue Cheese

    Selection of fresh fruit

    Once I’d woken up and returned my bed to a seat, I went back to the galley and ordered one of BA’s delicious Wake Up Energizer Drinks along with a cup of coffee. It was 1:00am in London and according to the Sky Map we’d recently passed directly over Kabul, Afghanistan. Thankfully we did so at 38,000 feet. I figured I’d eat breakfast with everybody else about an hour out of London. In the meantime, I didn’t want to totally pass on the wonderful dinner menu so I ordered a plate of the Szechuan Prawns. I was told it would take about half an hour to prepare. No problem!

    I returned to my seat and plugged in my laptop. If I can just get these menu transcripts done before my food comes…

    Ah well, I got most of ‘em. Fresh linens were laid and my entrée delivered. Wow! It looked great! And tasted even better! Six decent sized prawns and vegies, not just cabbage, were arrayed atop some of the best tasting fried rice I’ve ever had! Prawns can be tough to prepare inflight with a tendency to dry out more easily than some meats. These prawns were moist and flavorful though. This was just an excellent entrée and I highly recommend it to anyone out there who may be so fortunate to have it on their BA menu! Best meal of the journey home so far.

    I spent the rest of the flight working on this trip report and checking out both the sunrise and Robert Redford’s 1972 movie “The Candidate”. It made for interesting viewing given the state of American politics since it was made.

    With about 2 hours to go in the flight, I could smell the beginnings of the breakfast preparations. Mmmmm! I love the smell of breakfast cooking in the morning! I ordered refills on both my Energizer drink and my coffee and turned to the BBC News. At home I always have the news on in the morning when I’m first up and putzing about the cabin. No reason why it should be any different 38000 feet over Lithuania.

    Here’s a transcript of the breakfast service:


    Freshly squeezed fruit juice

    Our special wake up energizer drink
    A delicious blend of orange juice, strawberry, banana, yogurt and honey

    Fresh seasonal fruit

    Breakfast meusli with fresh milk

    Natural or fruit yogurt

    Warm breads and breakfast pastries

    ** ** **

    Main Courses

    Classic British Breakfast
    Freshly scrambled or boiled eggs, grilled bacon, pork sausage, sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomato

    Brioche French Toast
    Topped with caramelized fruit

    Plain Omelette

    Once again, I let my nose make the choice and opted for the Classic British Breakfast but with one small change. In lieu of the bacon and sausage, might I have instead just a bit more of the scrambled eggs? But of course!

    My table was set and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice was delivered along with a refill on coffee. For some reason, I seem to remember the coffee tasting better on the way to Australia. Not that this coffee was bad, mind you. I just thought what I had on the flight from Britain tasted richer. I wonder if the Australian caterers slipped in some of that granulated Nescafe that so many Aussies seem to drink? A breadbasket bearing various breakfast breads and morning pastries made the rounds and I selected a small pastry. Then breakfast arrived: A large serving of scrambled eggs, a halved slice of toast, a roasted potato and a generous serving of mushrooms with a single broiled tomato half. I wish I’d had a camera because the entire arrangement looked downright photogenic and ultimately tasted every bit as good as it looked. Bravo, BA! And yes, I will take another refill on that coffee, thanks.

    By the time the breakfast plates were cleared we were well into our descent into Heathrow. We flew well past the airport and approached from the east. The sun peeked over the horizon just a minute or so before we began to make the big turn back to the east. A beautiful sight, indeed. It was 6:40am locally and as I watched the suburbs beneath us I was amazed at how little activity there was. There was hardly any car traffic at all. Everything was amazingly quiet and still. I was reminded of that scene in the Stephen King movie “The Langoliers” where they’re coming in to land at Bangor, Maine and everyone’s wondering why there wasn’t more activity down below. Up at our level, however, the sky was alive with aircraft lining up to land at Heathrow. I could count four different aircraft at one point in my field of view.

    We made a nice landing at Heathrow and then taxied out to a holding area where we waited until our gate cleared of a late departing aircraft. As we were taxiing about Heathrow, we saw the most wonderful variety of aircraft! Here are just a few of the more memorable sightings:

    Air Namibia 744
    Royal Brunei A340
    Kenya 767-300
    Aeroflot A310
    Qatar A300-600
    El Al 744

    I noticed that the El Al jet was parked way off in a remote area, all by itself. I wondered if this had anything to do with security precautions? I didn’t wonder for long though as I was easily distracted by the sight of the Air Namibia 747-400! I really can think of no other airport in the world that offers the veritable treasure trove of exotic airliner sightings that Heathrow does. Granted, most all the major European and Asian airports offer some great viewing opportunities but Heathrow seems to me at least to be the most comprehensive for all airlines worldwide.

    Once we’d parked at BA’s Terminal 4, I stayed on board for a bit chatting with our First Class crew. I specifically asked them about the new interior (with the beige side walls, etc) I’d flown three different BA 747s with three different interiors and this one was my favorite. I was told that this was the latest interior modification and that I wasn’t the first person to comment favorably upon it. I then asked about the improvements in Business Class relative to the First Class product and was informed that at present, most of the planned improvements in First would go towards enhancing the video system. They figured the BA Suite might last only another three or four years before industry standards would demand an upgrade there as well. I enjoyed talking with these guys - they were knowledgeable about their jobs and enjoyed doing them. I thanked them for a nice flight and headed off to an invigorating “Body Jet Hydrotherapy Shower” at the Molton-Brown Spa.

    Lounge: B (SIN)
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A
    Meal: A-

    Although I slept through a good portion of this flight, the crew was excellent: Friendly and attentive yet unobtrusive. The food was delicious and well presented. Frankly, 13 hour flights don’t get much better than this. Well done, BA!


    Faced with a four hour layover until my connecting flights on to Copenhagen and Helsinki, I headed straight for BA’s First Class Lounge. Last time I’d transited here, despite holding only a First Class ticket I was nonetheless invited to use BA’s Concorde Room. This time however, I’d completed my BA flights for the day so all I could do was hope my good looks might be worth something. They weren’t. Upon arrival at the Lounge Pavilion, I presented my MEL-LHR boarding pass and was directed downstairs to the First Class Lounge. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed but even so, I would never be so bold as to actually ask if I could use the Concorde Room. After all, I was holding a First Class ticket, not a Concorde ticket. I proceeded down to the First Class Lounge and the Molton Brown Spa next door.

    As airline arrivals facilities go, I can hardly think of a finer facility than the Molton-Brown Spa. It’s much more than just a few nice shower stalls. Granted, the pamphlet describing the many massages and therapies available does tend to drift into a lot of New Age mumbo jumbo but given the wide range of services available, I think the Molton-Brown Spa represents the finest pre or post flight experience anyone could possibly expect. For some, it might even be reason alone to fly with BA.

    Compared to the Concorde Room, the First Class Lounge is pretty basic. Don’t misunderstand, it’s a nice enough lounge but the differences between it and the Concorde Room are considerable. Materials such as limestone, marble, walnut, oak and etched glass lend a contemporary elegance to the Concorde Room. As well, it offers a menu from which one can order anything from a full breakfast to a sizeable snack or salad. By contrast, the First Class lounge offered a comfortable though less elegant ambience, much like your average domestic airline lounge. A variety of cereals, breads and pastries were available in the morning hours while sandwiches, crackers and cheeses were put out later in the day.

    SAS flights depart from Heathrow’s Terminal 3 so I started heading over there an hour and a half before my departure. It was a good thing I allowed that much time as connecting bus service between T4 and T3 is nowhere near as frequent as it is between T4 and the other terminals. As well, it was a good ten minute bus ride over to T3.

    I’m a generation removed from having any interest in the game “Dungeons and Dragons” but the title alone adequately describes the experience of trying to negotiate Terminal 3’s labyrinth of underground walkways and hoards of travelers in order to reach my gate. I used to think transiting O’Hare on December 22nd was the worst in airport experiences but I now bestow that dubious honor upon Heathrow’s Terminal 3 any day of the year! What a madhouse!

    06 April
    LHR-CPH SAS 502 Economy Class
    MD-90 LN-ROB “Isrid Viking” Seat 31F
    1120a–210p Flight time: 1:23

    Finally, I arrived at the gate, only to find a large crowd extending out of the gate lounge and into the concourse. What’s this? Ah, passport and boarding pass check. It’s done before you’re even allowed to enter the gate lounge.

    There was no jetway at this gate so we had to go downstairs and walk out onto the tarmac to our waiting MD-90, named “Isrid Viking”. Oh did it feel nice out there! Cool crisp 40 degree air with a nice breeze! Ahhh……

    The MD-90 is essentially a souped up MD-80 incorporating improved aerodynamics with more powerful and fuel efficient engines. “Isrid Viking” still wore the old 1980s SAS colors and appeared in need of a touch up from the painters.

    Upon entering the aircraft however, the interior looked and smelled clean and fresh. This aircraft was outfitted for both Business and Economy class. All the seats in both classes were dark blue. In terms of comfort, the only difference I could see between the two classes was that Business Class seats had maybe a couple of inches more seat pitch and built in foot rests. Otherwise, they were identical to Economy Class, arranged 2-3. I later read in the inflight magazine that meal service is enhanced up front as well.

    This was my first experience flying within Europe (Not including intra-UK single class services) and frankly I’m a little surprised that this Business Class seating arrangement seems acceptable to most Europeans. I mean, I’ve read of it for years and there appears not to have been any or enough hue and cry from business travelers to induce many European carriers to offer a more spacious seating arrangement on their narrow bodied aircraft. If I’m going to pay the extra expense to fly a premium service, the most important thing to me is the quieter and more productive work environment afforded through increased personal space. After that, I’ll consider the meal service.

    Only five hours ago, I was comfortably ensconced in seat 2A, second row from the front of the plane. Now I was squeezed into seat 31F, the second row from the rear. Not only that, but I was also seated right next to the engine! Still, if I had any complaint, it was only that BA in Melbourne was unable to locate any evidence of my pre-assigned seat (9A). Otherwise, I was happy and excited to be flying my first flight aboard SAS, my 102nd airline flown.

    The flight attendants for this flight were, with one exception, all young and very attractive. As to the exception, she was older and very attractive! No prison matrons here! I found it interesting that the safety briefing and pre-flight announcements from the cockpit were done first in English, then in whatever the local language was. SAS is the principal flag carrier for three Scandinavian nations, but as our destination for this flight was Copenhagen, I assumed the language spoken was Danish.

    We were delayed by late connecting baggage and sat at the gate almost half an hour past our scheduled departure time. Finally, we pushed back and began our taxi out to the runway only to be caught in a long line of noon hour departures. Our Captain came on and informed us that we were 9th in line for take off. Sigh… I had a close connection coming up in Copenhagen and if it were to depart on time, there was no way I was going to make it. Oh well, we’ll cross that concourse when we get there.

    Take off felt swift and powerful, not to mention loud and I was impressed at our angle of ascent – steep! The day was sunny and clear so I enjoyed a fine view of the English countryside as it passed beneath us and then behind us as we continued north over the North Sea.

    Meanwhile, the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread began to permeate the cabin as the flight attendants prepared to serve lunch. I’m not kidding, that bread smelled wonderful! Obviously it wasn’t baked aboard the airplane but it smelled as hot and fresh as if it had been baked at the gate and then immediately transferred to the aircraft.

    Service was the usual, from front to back, but as I was seated across from the galley I was hoping we might get served a bit quicker. Alas, it was not to be and I was near drooling from the wonderful aromas by the time I finally received my tray. On it were a long narrow dish containing a generous variety of ham and salami, some potato salad and a cucumber and tomato salad. The bread basket arrived and I was surprised to see that passengers were taking, indeed encouraged to take not one but two rolls. Well alright then! The only thing missing was some mustard. Dessert was a Toblerone chocolate bar followed by a cup of some pretty good coffee. For an hour and a half flight, I can hardly imagine a meal – hot or cold – being much better than this. Well done, SAS!

    Our descent into Copenhagen was smooth though not particularly scenic and after landing we taxied past three concourses filled with SAS aircraft before pausing at a fourth concourse where Avro RJ-85s from Air Baltic, Atlantic Airways and Air Botnia were parked. That Air Botnia jet was probably mine. Please let us park there! It was 2:45pm and my departure was at 2:55pm. Alas, it was not to be. Perhaps our pilot was only pausing to gaze upon that impressive line up of Avros because he executed a quick U-turn and parked us down at the very end of the B Concourse next door.

    By the time I exited the jetway at Gate B16 and started jogging for my departure Gate A9, it was 2:50pm. Amazingly, I made it to gate five minutes later while the jetway was still attached to the aircraft. Still, I was too late. The flight had been closed out and in any event my baggage had not moved as swiftly as I had so under the new security rules I could not go on this flight. I was told to report to the Service Center at the entrance to the B Concourse where I would be re-accommodated on the 5:30pm departure.

    Flight rating:

    Check in: Transit
    Comfort: B
    Service: A
    Meal: A

    For a one hour twenty minute flight in Economy Class, I could find no real complaints. Well OK, the seats seemed a bit hard and flimsy but the meal and service were excellent and SAS’s CPH Service Center handled my missed flight competently and graciously.

    CPH-HEL Air Botnia 636 Economy Class
    Avro RJ-85 OH-SAL Seat 12A
    530p-810p Flight time: 1:29

    I like the Copenhagen Airport. My first impression was of lots of wood and glass. Also, lots of stores and restaurants, all of which are happy to accept US money and give you change in Danish Kroners. Yes, Denmark did not go with the Euro. Still, the US Dollar exchange rate on their Kroner vs. the Euro is almost identical.

    I had an hour and a half to go before boarding my new flight to Helsinki so I took a short stroll around the airport including a walk over to the C Concourse to see off an SAS A340-300 bound for Seattle. Now there’s a flight I’d like to be on… Not for Seattle. I’ll be there in six days. I’d just like to check out SAS’s Business Class on an A340. I’ve never flown one before. That flight’ll come next month with Air Canada between Toronto and Vancouver.

    I walked back into the main departure hall and found a pleasant looking bar selling local beer. Tuborg or Carlsberg? I opted for a pint-sized glass of Carlsberg from the pretty bartender and shelled out $6.00US for the pleasure. I’ve bought 6 packs of Carlsberg in Fresno, California for less than that! At $6.00 a pop, I languished over my Carlsberg while firing off a couple of postcards back home.

    At 5:00pm, I headed down the B Concourse to my Air Botnia which was departing from the same gate I’d arrived at earlier in the day. In the gate area was a large rollaway rack containing a good variety of local newspapers along with the Herald Tribune. I selected the latter and went over to a window to check out the aircraft.

    I’ve flown a couple of BAe-146s before, but never an Avro RJ-85. Avro bought out British Aircraft Corp. a few years ago. I had once thought that at that time, the 146-200 had simply become the RJ-85, much like McDonnell-Douglas’s MD-95 became the Boeing 717 upon its acquisition by Boeing. Recently however, a Northwest pilot explained to me that the aircraft are different, at least insofar as the cockpit instrumentation is concerned. He described the Avro as having a glass cockpit whilst the old 146 had, as he called them, “steam dials”. From the outside, the two aircraft are identical. Actually, the RJ-85 is the same as the 146-200. The larger 146-300 I believe is known as the Avro RJ-100. Today’s aircraft, OH-SAL, was an RJ-85.

    What a great day! I get to fly not one but two new airlines in the same day. Last time I did that was three years ago when I knocked off both Midway Airlines and Air Tran on a day trip between Orlando and Newark. On Midway I got my first ever flights on 737-700 and Fokker 100 aircraft, and on Air Tran my first aboard a 717 and my like 289th aboard a venerable old DC-9-30. But hey! That’s another story from another day. Meanwhile back in Copenhagen…

    Boarding was called. Judging from the small crowd in the gate area, this flight would be only about half full. Good! Boarding was through the jetway and as I entered the aircraft I was immediately impressed at how spacious it was for a regional jet. My previous experiences with the BAe-146 had come aboard Aspen Airways (6 Across Seating!!) and United Express domestically, and with Air New Zealand and Ansett internationally. In each case, the seat pitch was designed with short flights in mind (except perhaps on Ansett where I flew a 146-300 Cairns-Alice Springs-Ayers Rock-Perth and remember it being pretty comfortable). Air Botnia has a close working relationship with SAS, as evidenced by the same exact color scheme. Kinda like SAS Express. Like SAS, Air Botnia’s Business Class cabin was virtually identical to Economy Class except for the footrests. Like SAS, all the seats were blue. And like SAS, the seat pitch was quite generous – I’d estimate about 33-34”. Air Botnia’s inflight magazine claimed that these new RJ-85s (They replaced a fleet of aging Fokker F-28s) were outfitted with only 74 seats. Most other airlines squeeze 10-20 more seats into the same aircraft. As I settled into my seat, the increased space and comfort were immediately apparent and appreciated. Hey… nice recline, too!

    A good number of people continued to board after I’d taken my seat. Evidently they’d come over from connecting flights although I recognized two of them from the bar. A lady and her young daughter took the seats next to me. I’m not sure what language they were speaking but neither seemed to speak English. We nodded greetings to each other and by the time we pushed back, the plane was about 90% full. We taxied for quite some time out to what must have been CPH’s most remote runway. The four little turbofan engines spooled up mightily and we were off! 37 seconds later we were airborne. A long take off roll for such a little jet.

    Announcements were made first in Finnish, then Danish, then in sharply accented but nonetheless clearly spoken English. Flight time was planned for an hour and a half with smooth conditions expected enroute. No information on cruising altitude was given on either this flight or my prior flight up to CPH earlier today. At least, not in English.

    There were three flight attendants; one up front and two in the back. The dinner service was quick and very basic. We were each given a cardboard box upon which was written the following quote: “Food is like astronomy – one feeds the mind, the other feeds the body”. Huh? Anyway, dinner consisted of a plastic plate with two slices of ham and cheese, a roll, a serving of potato salad, a small container of water and a chocolate mint. The potato salad stood out because it was basically chopped up potatoes with a marinara sauce mixed into them. It was filling if not spartan fare. I washed it all down with a tiny can of coke and then watched out my window as we crossed into Finland.

    The lakes below were still frozen. In fact, it’d be fair to say that it looked a lot like Alaska down there. Much of that perception is no doubt due to Finland’s northern latitudes. Helsinki, down at the southern end of the country, is at about the same latitudes as Anchorage. The little girl seated next to me seemed quite interested in the view and I indicated my willingness to switch seats with her but she shook her head no.

    Soon we began our descent into Helsinki. The landscape below was heavily forested land with a lot of lake, 196,000 of them according to my research. We landed quite smoothly at Helsinki’s Vantaa International Airport and taxied past every type of jet in the Finnair fleet except the MD-11. I particularly liked the contrast of an A321, 320 and 319 parked in order down one concourse. We parked on the tarmac out at a remote terminal and boarded a waiting bus to the main terminal. My backpack was amongst the first out onto the baggage carousel and I followed the signs out to the reception area. Nothing to declare. Where’s immigration? Suddenly, there I was, free and clear inside the arrivals area. Nobody had checked me into Finland. Had it been a third world country I might have been a bit more concerned but things seemed pretty easy going here so I headed for the information desk and got directions for the city bus and tram I’d have to take to get to my hostel.

    This flight rates as follows:

    Check in: A
    Comfort: A
    Service: B
    Meal: B

    Regional Jet travel could hardly be more comfortable! The ground staff at Copenhagen were competent and helpful. FAs seemed efficient though not particularly friendly. They didn’t smile.

    10 April
    HEL-CPH SAS 502 Economy Class
    DC-9-82 LN-RMD Seat 20A
    845a–915a Flight time: 1:16

    I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Helsinki and most definitely will be returning to it and the rest of Finland as well. The sooner the better! What a wonderful old city – great architecture, some beautiful parks, easy to get around, friendly people and nowhere near as expensive as I’ve heard it is down in central Europe. I particularly enjoyed visiting the National Museum and checking out the grand old railway station. I also took a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, the capitol of Estonia. This is highly recommended for Tallinn is a fascinating old city – much older than Helsinki – and I had a great day strolling around the old town. There are day tours for about $100.00 US but I just bought a r/t ferry ticket and easily walked to everywhere the tour would have taken me at about a third of the price. Overall, I quite enjoyed this, my first trip to continental Europe and eagerly look forward to my next visit!

    On to England… For 18.00 Euros, I bought an extra hour of sleep and took the taxi out to the airport. It was a half-hour ride and given the time of day, 7:00am, I was surprised but thankful that we didn’t encounter any morning rush hour traffic.

    Helsinki’s International Terminal is all metal, glass and stone. Though this doesn’t evoke feelings of warmth or comfort like the wooden floors and walls and potted plants of Copenhagen’s terminal do, I was nonetheless impressed by the efficient layout and by the SAS personnel at check-in. There were two or three customer service agents walking about in the check-in area answering questions and getting people headed in the right direction. The agents were identified by their dark blue jackets with “Customer Assistance” embossed across the back in large letters, like the kind Police and ATF agents wear. As I took my place in the Economy Class check-in queue, (about 27th in line, I figure) one of these agents approached and managed to convince about twenty passengers, assumedly holding E-tickets, that they could check in at any of a half dozen kiosks located just a few feet away. Just like that, I progressed to 7th in line.

    After getting checked in, I breezed through the security checkpoint and found a Robert’s Coffee kiosk. I purchased a latte and a pastry, effectively eliminating my supply of Euros. Robert’s Coffee is a large coffee retailer in Finland with stores all over Helsinki. While their coffee isn’t bad, for my tastes at least, Robert’s has got a ways to go before their coffee allows them to compete the same arena as Starbucks, Pete’s and Tully’s.

    As we began to board the MD-80, I scanned the complimentary gateside newspaper rack for a Herald Tribune but it must’ve been too early in the day for there were none to be had. Business Class is quite large aboard SAS MD-80s. We’re talking ten rows in a 2-3 seating arrangement, offering footrests and maybe 2 inches more legroom than economy class. I’d managed to get assigned an exit row window for this segment and was looking forward to the kind of space I’m used to aboard Alaska Airlines’ MD-80s. Alas, upon reaching row 20 I was disappointed to find the exit rows offered only about three extra inches of legroom. Ah well, better than the rest of the airplane, I reckon. I settled in and perused the SAS inflight magazine. Great maps!

    Preflight announcements were made in Finnish, Danish and English, then off we went to Copenhagen. This was listed as a breakfast flight and today’s breakfast arrived in a box. It consisted of a couple of slices each of salami and ham, some egg salad and a little container of orange juice. Once again, rolls were distributed though since they hadn’t been heated they didn’t give off nearly the aroma like those from my first SAS flight. Even so, they were crusty and delicious and the coffee was dark and plentiful.

    Upon landing in Copenhagen, I headed straight for the bookstore to purchase a couple of humorous postcards I’d come across on my way through here four days earlier. I found a table and got them written, then proceeded to my connecting flight.

    CPH-LHR SAS 502 Economy Class
    DC-9-81 OY-KHL “Knud Viking” Seat 12A
    1020a–1150a Flight time: 1:47

    Though most of the SAS fleet appears to have been repainted in the carrier’s new livery, a few of the MD-80s and MD-90s still wear the old blue and white “Viking” colors. In the case of some of the older MD-81s like our flight’s “Knud Viking”, I wondered if it might be because they were due for retirement soon as new 737s and A321s came online.

    As I wondered about this and life’s other great and not so great mysteries, luncheon was served. No box lunch, this time. It was back to tray service along with those wonderfully aromatic heated rolls! Today’s lunch was:

    Sliced salmon
    Potato salad
    Cheese and celery salad
    Chocolate mints

    The only thing missing were red onions, cream cheese and capers but as cold lunches go, I thought it was pretty good fare.

    We got caught in a holding pattern outside Heathrow so what should have been a 1:30 flight turned into a 1:50 flight. After landing, we taxied past Heathrow’s usual potpourri of exotic aircraft including a beautiful Air Jamaica A340, a BWIA L-1011-500 and six or seven Air Canada airliners. I had no idea Air Canada had so many different flights on any one day back to Canada. Let’s see, I’d guess Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary or both, Halifax and maybe Winnipeg. It was far and away the most AC metal I’d ever seen outside of Canada, eh?

    Once I’d cleared customs I purchased a ticket for a bus to Cambridge. Despite seeing lots of busses immediately outside of where I bought my ticket, I was told that my bus departed from the Central Bus Station. Where’s that? Just go around the corner, down the ramp and follow the signs. This sounded easy enough and not all that far but then again, this was Terminal 3. I went around the corner, then down the ramp and followed the signs through a dizzying collection of underground walkways that must have taken me under one or two runways and perhaps even remote parking before finally emerging at the Central Bus Station, located in a nearby suburb.

    12 April
    LHR-IAD British Airways 223 First Class
    777-236 G-VIIE Seat 2K
    150p-455p Flight time: 7:44

    After a long night spent comparing the merits of a wide variety of local ales, I awoke this morning to a fine sunny day and a cup of hot English tea. Excitement over my first ever flight aboard a BA 777 notwithstanding, I would have liked to have spent just a wee bit longer here. All around southern England the trees were aglow with the vibrant green of a new spring. Many bore beautiful white or fuschia blossoms. Incredibly, it didn’t rain or fog up even once during my entire two day stay!

    Driving to Heathrow’s Terminal 4 is no easier than wandering on foot around Terminal 3. I have never experienced a more convoluted collection of roads leading into a major airport in my life! This really needs to be addressed by the London Airport Authority or whatever governing body deals with these things. Hopefully, I won’t have to come through here again until after the construction is completed!

    I was dropped off at the First Class entrance to BA’s Terminal 4 just a few minutes before noon. For a guy like me who hates waiting in lines, flying First Class aboard British Airways is a great way to go! Over my four flights since February, I don’t believe I’ve spent even 30 seconds total time waiting to check in. Today was no different and I was “Fast Tracked” through security and on my way to the Lounge Pavilion within minutes of being dropped off.

    This time, my First Class boarding pass did gain me entrance to the Concorde Room. As I entered, I was approached by a very pretty young lady and asked if I’d like anything to drink or eat. I would. Let’s see… I’ll have a Guinness and a tuna sandwich, thanks. I found a desk in the work area and dashed off a couple of last minute postcards. My beer and sandwich were delivered soon after.

    At 1:15p I gathered my gear and headed down to Gate 2. Awaiting me was 777-236 G-VIIE, resplendent in BA’s latest colors; the stylized red and blue Union Jack on the tail gleaming in the mid-day sunshine. On each engine’s dark blue cowling was a decal indicating the engines were GE-90s. I had thought BA had selected the Rolls Royce Trent for its 777 fleet. Departure was still 25 minutes away but I was excited to be flying my first ever BA 777 and decided to board right away.

    Upon entering the aircraft, I was greeted by a pretty flight attendant with a softly lilting Irish accent. It was every bit as lovely to listen to as she was to look at and we chatted briefly as she led me to seat 2K. I could have listened to her talk for hours but unfortunately she had many more passengers to attend to so I got my belongings stowed away and accepted a welcoming glass of champagne along with BA’s traditional plate of cashews. I should note here that while I generally like to start my international First Class flights with a glass of champagne, BA does offer whatever drink you’d like. Many airlines don’t.

    As for first impressions, the First Class cabin on BA’s 777 is at once warm and spacious. There are a total of 14 suites: four each down the left and right sides and three pairs down the middle. This aircraft had also benefited from the latest interior upgrades incorporating the beige sidewalls and mottled wormword dividers I described on the Melbourne-Singapore flight. Boarding music played softly as I accepted a refill on my champagne. It sounded really good– kind of a cross between Peruvian and Irish with pan flutes and/or penny whistles carrying the melody. I’d have to check out the audio selections and see if I could find out more about it later in the flight.

    Amenity kits and menus were distributed along with a listing of selections from the personal video library. Thirty one different titles were listed though I still couldn’t find anything I wanted to watch or that I hadn’t already seen. Though I can appreciate the logic in offering the latest films, I wish airlines would offer more old classics from years past. There’s a reason why they’re called “Classics” and as such they are indeed timeless. Following is a transcript of the luncheon menu:

    London to Washington DC



    Loch Fyne Bradon Rost salmon
    Served with horseradish cream

    Warm red onion and goat cheese tarte Tatin
    Presented with rocket salad

    Richard Corrigan’s white onion and chorizo soup

    Mixed seasonal salad served with roasted garlic and herb vinaigrette, extra virgin olive oil or creamy dill crème fraiche dressing

    ** ** **

    Main Courses

    Grilled Fillet of Beef
    Served with herb crust, spaghetti potatoes and shallot jus

    Lemon Tiger Prawns
    Presented with marinated peppers and saffron rissoto

    Thai Green Chicken Curry
    Accompanied with rice noodles and nam pla

    Leek and Mushroom Crumble

    Lighter Options

    Freshly Cooked Pasta
    Accompanied with your choice of olive and herb salsa or creamy sun-dried tomato sauce served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Warm Manoucher sandwich
    With marinated chicken

    ** ** **


    Warm Lemon Pudding
    Served with bitter orange sauce and vanilla ice cream

    Rum, Date and Chocolate Brownie Torte

    Cheeseboard Selection
    Yarg, Chevre, Taurus, Fourme d’Ambert and Butler’s Secret Cheese

    Selection of fresh fruit


    Krug Brut, Grand Cuvèe

    White Wines
    Chateau Gaudrelle, 1998, Vouvray Sec
    Meursault Les Narvaux, 1999, Vincent Girardin
    Wente Riva Ranch Reserve, 1998, Monterey Chardonnay

    Red Wines
    Chateau Lynch-Moussas, 1995, Grand Cru Classe Pauillac
    De Loach Russian River Cabernet Sauvignon, 1998
    Cornish Point Cornishtown Pinot Noir, 2000

    Dessert Wine
    Opitz Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese, 1998

    Warres, 1986, Reserve Tawny Port

    Our captain came on over the PA and introduced himself. He then informed us that we’d been given a take-off time of 2:29pm. What? I’d never heard of a take off time before. Must’ve been when our window closed. The captain took particular care to encourage everyone to listen to the safety announcements, noting that this should be done out of respect not only to the flight attendants performing the demonstration but also to our fellow passengers who might be counting on us. Hmm… He then thanked us for our attention, adding as an aside “especially those who’ve been paying attention.” This guy definitely had an axe to grind with inattentive passengers and frankly I couldn’t agree more with him. We’ve all been on planes and seen people who can’t be bothered to look up from their books and papers to acknowledge the safety briefings. Why? The usual excuses. They’ve flown hundreds of times. If there’s a crash, everyone’s a goner anyway! Truth be known, a good percentage of airline accidents happen during take offs or landings. Depending upon one’s actions, survival or death are often right there for the choosing. Will you make the right choice? Where IS my nearest exit, anyway?

    We pushed back from the gate just a few minutes late. The sound of the engines spooling up was much more noticeable on this 777 than on the 747s I’d recently flown. I turned and looked behind me. Ah… I could see the engine nacelle from my seat. It was much closer than on the 747s where one couldn’t look back and see the engines until perhaps midway back through Business Class.

    By my watch, we began our take off roll at 2:25pm. I had the Sky Map on and watched with interest as our speed increased. At the time we rotated and left the runway, our speed was 280 kph or 174 mph! Nice!

    Unfortunately, the skies clouded up shortly after leaving London so I was prevented from watching as we crossed over the western coastline. Instead I turned my attention to the impressive looking wine list and decided to sample all of the reds starting with the Cornish Point Pinot Noir from New Zealand. It was delivered with a small plate of canapés and as has become my custom, I asked for and received a second plate of canapés. (Note: Before any of you start thinking of me in terms of piggishness or gluttony, consider that a plate of canapés means a 5” plate bearing three tiny 1” wide circles of toast with toppings. Today’s toppings were a pate, some cream cheese with asparagus and a small mass of tasty but indefinable protoplasm.)

    Luncheon orders were taken and I ordered the salmon appetizer, both the soup and salad and for my main choice the beef fillet, which I requested medium rare if possible. Had the chicken curry been served with rice rather than noodles I would have gone with that. Meanwhile, I’d polished off my glass of Pinot Noir (Not bad, not bad…) and moved on to the Chateau Lynch-Moussas Grand Cru Classe Pauillac. According to the description for this provided in the menu, this wine was “Rich in colour with complex aromas of blackcurrant and toasty oak. On the palate, the wine exhibits ripe berry fruit and a firm tannic structure with a lingering spicy finish.” Mmmmm. I found this wine pretty tasty but my still developing palate was once again unable to fully detect the firmness of the tannic structure so noticeable to more discerning palates.

    Luncheon was served 36000 feet over southern Ireland. According to the Sky Map, we’d crossed the eastern coastline just south of Dublin and were on a heading that would take us right over the top of Shannon before heading out over the North Atlantic towards southern Greenland. Outside, we were battling a vicious 13mph headwind while the air temperature had dropped to –74 F, the coldest I’d ever seen. Linens were set and my appetizer was delivered. The head purser, Kate, was serving my side of the cabin and I must say she may well have been the finest at her job of any of BA’s exceptional cabin staff that I’ve encountered on this trip. To refer to her as a mere Flight Attendant simply would not do the level of her joie de vivre, professionalism, product knowledge and service justice.

    The long Irish name notwithstanding, the appetizer was essentially two big pieces of what tasted like good smoked salmon. In the middle of the plate was a large dollop of horseradish cream. The salmon was excellent and was nicely complimented by the French wine. The horseradish cream had too much cream and too little horseradish. After all, isn’t the use of horseradish intended to provide at least enough of a kick to give one pause whilst enjoying its strength?

    Outside, the clouds had cleared substantially and we were treated to a beautiful sunny afternoon over the deep blue Atlantic. Sitting in a wide comfortable seat, a fine claret at hand and delicious food at my table while taking in such a beautiful day from 38,000 feet… now this was First Class!

    The soup was interesting… My only real experience with onion soup has come via the French Onion style adorned with melted cheese and large croutons. This onion soup was cream and butter based with plenty of little pieces of deep red chorizo or sausage. It was presented with little sprigs of cilantro sprinkled about the perimeter of the bowl. This soup was excellent!

    The salad was good, though nothing special. BA should really consider adding some more vegetables besides two halves of a red and yellow cherry tomato. Broccoli, garbanzos, asparagus… even sun dried tomatoes. I’ll fire off a note to their catering office upon my return.

    By now, I’d moved on to the De Loach Russian River Cabernet Sauvignon. This was my favorite wine of the three, offering a much fuller and denser flavor than the others. Here’s what the BA wine critics had to write about it:

    “We first tasted this outstanding wine at the De Loach winery last spring and were delighted when it subsequently triumphed at our blind tasting back in the UK. A single vineyard wine from the Los Amigos Ranch, it is a fine example of the very best of California Cabernet Sauvignon, featuring rich, black fruit flavors around a firm tannic core and smoky oak complexity.”

    My fillet was presented with a green herb crust and a delicious shallot jus pooled next to a nest of spaghetti potatoes. The jus was salty and delicious and although the fillet was on the medium side of medium rare, it was nonetheless a moist and flavorful entrée. The potatoes certainly looked nice but were grated so finely that even a small amount of time in the oven would render them crispy. It was difficult to enjoy that rich starchy potato flavor I love through all the crunch.

    I’d heard somewhere that these BA puddings are not to be missed, so although I was getting pretty full, I wanted to try the warm lemon pudding. Unfortunately, Kate informed me that the caterers had committed an error and only three puddings had been loaded. By the time I put in my request, they’d all been spoken for.


    Ah well, perhaps just a plate of cheese and a glass of port then. I never buy cheese at home and I’ve never bought port. If ever I should again host a small dinner gathering, I most certainly will make an effort to accrue some fine cheeses and nothing less than a bottle of that spectacular Warre’s Tawny Port. Such a civilized way to end a quality repast.

    Clouds had gathered once again so I shut my window shade and watched the Discovery Channel and the BBC Week in Sports until the movies had recycled at which point I watched Ocean’s Eleven. It was a fun movie that ate up a goodly amount of flight time. Midway through it, I opened the shade and saw Land!! Or was it ice?! A partial layer of clouds prevented me getting a totally clear view of the earth below and I quickly turned to the Sky Map to discover that we were just about to pass to the north of St. Johns, Newfoundland – the easternmost point in North America. Now normally I could have taken this bit of geographical enlightenment sitting down but it so turns out that one week from today I would be IN St. Johns so I wanted to have a preview. Unfortunately, my window faced north and I needed to get to the other side of the plane. At this point in the flight, there were still another three and a half hours to go until landing in Washington and everyone had their shades down while they slept of watched their PTVs. The doors however had a small narrow window and I quickly found one and looked southward. The cloud layer was just a little too thick to get a very clear view but from what I could see, I’d better bring a heavier jacket along next week. One more thing of interest caught my attention as I returned to my seat: the outside air temperature had dropped to a numbing –86F. Our headwinds had increased to 79 mph and our airspeed was only 498 mph. Hmm…. All the more time to enjoy my final BA flight of the trip then.

    After the movie had ended, I got a bit of work done on this report. I was halfway through describing the trial of getting to the Central Bus Station when Kate appeared with table linens for the afternoon tea. We were just southeast of Bar Harbor, Maine with only about 1hr50min left in our scheduled flight. Here’s the Afternoon Tea transcript:


    Selection of Sandwiches
    Including egg mayonnaise with chives, smoked salmon and cucumber, chicken with tomato chutney and pastrami on rye

    Selection of tea pastries

    Warm fruit of plain scones
    Served with clotted cream and strawberry jam

    Rather than choose from a selection of sandwiches, a plate bearing the entire selection of sandwiches was placed in front of me. Wow! Thankfully, they were small sandwiches and I ate all of them except for the pastrami, which I don’t care for. Next came a plate with five different tea pastries. Three of them sure tasted good with BA’s coffee which, I should mention, was far better out of London than it was out of Australia. Finally, the scones were delivered. I was stuffed but scones with clotted cream and jam is a rare and cherished treat! I’ve never seen clotted cream in America and the scones I have eaten over here are nowhere near as good as the ones in England. I only ate one but it represented a thoroughly British as well as thoroughly delicious end to my meal experience with BA on this trip. Those of you who’ve read my February report and are still awake through this one so far have seen the menu transcripts. British Airways offers a first rate meal service! No doubt there are a few other carriers out there proffering a more elaborate service but BA certainly deserves merit for not only the quality of their food but the excellence in their presentation and overall service as well. Bravo, BA!

    By the time we landed at Dulles, we’d been aloft for 7hrs44min. I was happy to be back in America again though sorry that I’d have to accrue another 150,000 miles before I’d be experiencing the likes of this service again.

    Here’s how I see it:

    Lounge: A
    Preflight: A
    Comfort: A-
    Service: A
    Meals: A-

    Why don’t I give a full A for Comfort and Meals? The BA Suite Seat makes a better bed than a seat – it’s a little stiff to sit in. As for the meal, I think Business Class got a better Afternoon Tea. Other than that, this flight was just heavenly…

    For comparison purposes, here is a transcript of the Business Class menu and wine list. Bon Apetite!



    Fois gras terrine, peppered pineapple chutney and toasted croutons


    Marinated tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese with lemon dressing

    Fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette

    Main Courses

    Grilled fillet steak with Glace de Viande butter
    Butter chicken, braised rice and dal
    Leek and mushroom crumble
    Tuna salad Nicoise

    Apple Granolata tart with vanilla sauce

    Cheese Selections
    Fourme d’Ambert, St. Nectaire and Butler’s Secret Cheese

    Fresh fruit


    Prawns with Marie Rose
    Served with Cheddar cheese with tomato


    Chicken with grain mustard
    Accompanied by roasted vegetables with cream cheese

    ** ** **

    Warm fruit scones
    Served with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve

    Orange passion fruit cake


    Charles Heidsieck Mis en Cave, 1997

    White Wines
    Bonterra Chardonnay, 2000
    Pouilly-Fume, 2000, Pascal Jolivet

    Red Wines
    Ravenswood California Zinfandel, 1999
    Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 1999, Domaine du Pere Papa

    13 April
    IAD-SEA Alaska 3 First Class
    737-790 N617AS Seat 1A
    500p-845p Flight time: 5:44

    Check out time at the Dulles Hilton was 12:00n and as I rode in the courtesy van over to the airport I hoped that Alaska Airlines would allow me to check in at 1:00pm. Alas, it was not to be. Their counter didn’t even open until 2:00pm. I found a lounge/café around the corner from the check-in counters and bought a sandwich and a beer.

    Once I did get checked in, I headed straight over to the B Concourse where either my CO President’s Club or AS Boardroom Club cards would gain me entrance to Northwest’s World Club. I like NW’s World Clubs. They are always large and well lit with plenty of windows and work areas. They offer a complimentary bar providing a nice range of liquor as well as beer. Unfortunately, none of NW’s beer offerings are to my liking. The IAD lounge offered Miller Lite and Heinekin on tap and Miller MGD, Budweiser and Coors non-Alcoholic in the bottle. Cheese and crackers, pretzels and a large tray of cookies were available for snacking. I poured myself a Ginger Ale and headed for a desk in the work area. There can be little doubt that I am the world’s 197th busiest yet unemployed person. I have to be if I’m gonna get this report done anytime soon. As I get older, the gray matter doesn’t retain recent memory nearly so well as distant memory so I can’t afford to let these trip reports get too far behind. I’ve only got four days back in Alaska before I’ve gotta be 4000 miles back across the other side of the continent. But that’s another report. Now where was I…?

    Alaska’s flight departed from gate D-23 so I hopped aboard one of those big 4 wheeled Mobile Lounges for the ride over to the D Concourse in the Mid-Field Terminal. As plane spotting goes, unless you’re in love with United the scene at IAD is none too exotic. Still, my eyes did bulge slightly at the sight of an immaculate Saudi Arabian 747-468. Also in town were an Austrian A330 and a BWIA 737-800. My Alaska jet was parked right next to a beautiful British Midland A330-200.

    The gate agent was just beginning the boarding process as I arrived. It looked like a pretty full load this evening. Lots of people, including families with children were milling about the gate area. I walked over to a nearby news stand and purchased a copy of today’s Washington Post, then sauntered back to the gate and got in line. A baby screamed somewhere ahead of me. Let’s hope that kid’s way in the back of the plane. He was. Mine was the only unoccupied seat in First Class so I stowed my gear and said hello to my seatmate. He was a fellow MVP Gold going all the way to Anchorage tonight. We found a lot to talk about as we had some mutual acquaintances and had both been to New Zealand. He had a lot of questions about Denali and was actually giving serious consideration to climbing it someday soon. It was nice to talk with a seatmate again after having had either a Suite to myself or non-English speaking seatmates over the past ten days.

    Although no preflight drinks were offered, an inflight movie guide and a menu were presented. The menu was a 6x10” card with the dinner offerings printed over a picture of an AS 737-900 climbing across Mt. Rainier. Here’s a transcript of the dinner menu:

    Washington DC to Seattle


    To Begin
    Bibb Lettuce with Fresh Tomato and Julienne of Yellow Bell Pepper.
    Garnished with “Vegetable” crisps

    A Selection of Warmed Rustic Breads

    ** ** **

    A Choice of Entrees

    Pesto Crusted Salmon with Classic Bechamel Sauce
    Accompanied by Anna Potatoes Parmesan and Sugar Snap Peas

    Breast of Chicken Baked in Puff Pastry with Bordelaise Sauce
    Presented with Wild Rice Pilaf and Buttered Baby Carrots

    ** ** **


    My first thought upon seeing this menu was where’s the appetizer? This was a trans-con flight scheduled for over 5 hours! Otherwise the entrees looked delicious!

    It had been cloudy and rainy all day in Washington but just moments before we started to push back from the gate the sun emerged. Believe me, with all that gloomy United gray on the tarmac, a rainy day at Dulles is particularly depressing so the sun was a welcome sight! Maybe Air Jamaica can schedule a few more flights into Dulles to counter those murky UA grays. As we taxied out to the runway, I watched as a venerable NW DC-9-10 took off. That plane was introduced in what – 1965? I’d sure like to fly another one before they disappear into third world obscurity. Flight time was projected at 5:39. Lots of headwinds tonight. There was no wait for take off however and we were quickly airborne and heading into the late afternoon sun. I reclined my seat and settled in for the long flight.

    Once we’d reached cruising altitude, our Flight Attendant came by, introduced herself, (Corinne) and took drink and dinner orders. She’d mentioned how convenient it was that two MVP Golds were in Row 1 since we got first pick of the entrees anyway. This was news to me. I’d never known AS to honor status before but was pleased for the change in policy. On the front page of the newspaper was an article about the correlation between eating more oily fish like salmon and a drop in sudden death heart attacks. I ordered the salmon. So did my seatmate. Unfortunately, the article didn’t allude to any connection between drinking more beer and better health. Since AS no longer stocks McTarnahan’s Ale, I had a club soda and lime and checked out the movie options.

    Since Alaska doesn’t have any video monitors installed aboard its aircraft, they’ve teamed up with InMotion Pictures, the airport DVD rental people, to offer First Class passengers a choice of 8 movies viewable via portable DVD players. No movies are offered to the hoards back in Economy. Given AS’s future expansion plans, they’d better get some video equipment installed along with an audio system if they want to remain competitive with the Big Boys.

    Dinner service began with Corinne presenting us each a blue linen draped tray bearing a beautiful large salad and a real fork and spoon! After months of endless Mesclun greens, this Bibb lettuce salad was a welcome change. It was accompanied by yellow peppers and halved cherry tomatoes along with a handful of those “Vegetable Crisps” which looked and tasted like good croutons. Alaska also scores points for serving their salad on a plate instead of a bowl. This salad tasted as good as it looked! Corinne reappeared with a basket bearing broad cut half slices of Italian and Olive bread. I had a slice of each.

    If I thought the salad looked good, I was positively agape upon presentation of my entrée. A large salmon fillet was topped with a wonderful green pesto “crust” and accompanied by a good sized serving of what looked like scalloped potatoes and a medley of sautéed red onions and snap peas. The Béchamel sauce was a delicious addition and I complimented this meal with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Mmmm!

    Although this meal was not as extravagant as those I enjoyed on BA, because of the excellent salad and superb entrée this ranks as one of the top two or three meals of this trip, indeed one of the best meals I have ever had aloft. I also watched with interest as the chicken breast in puff pastry was delivered across the aisle. Wow! The entrée description says it all. Next time I see it on the menu, that’s what I’ll be choosing. Great job, Alaska!!

    None of the movies looked all that interesting to me so I spent the rest of this flight enjoying my latest purchase, “Endeavor” by Peter Aughton. It’s a very readable history of Captain Cook’s explorations around the Pacific. Somewhere over eastern Montana we were treated to a nice sunset followed by an extended period of mild turbulence. I listened as the engines were throttled back and wondered what was up… The Captain came on and informed us that he’d taken us down to 31,000 feet and all but promised us a smooth ride the rest of the way into Seattle.

    He was right. We landed to the south on a rainy night at SeaTac. A fairly sizable Pacific storm was moving into the region with snow projected for the mountain passes. Down in Seattle, we had plenty of wind and rain. I like nights like this and was happy to have a nice warm room waiting for me at the Radisson – only $27.00 via Priceline!

    Here’s how I rate this flight:

    Preflight: C
    Comfort: B-
    Service: A
    Meal: A-

    The plated entrees from this flight would compare favorably with those of any of the world’s finest airlines. Excellent presentation and taste! An appetizer would be a nice addition, though. Great service from our FA!

    14 April
    SEA-ANC-FAI Alaska 181 First Class
    737-490 N794AS Seat 1F
    547p-1006p Flight time: 3:20/:41

    After a fun day checking out the used CD places and other shops in Seattle’s U-District, including a visit to my favorite Seattle bar, The Blue Moon Tavern, I arrived at SeaTac just an hour before my departure time. Thankfully the lines were short at check-in and I was particularly appreciative of the express line for MVP Golds at the security checkpoint. My flight was departing from Gate C1 and as my aircraft wasn’t yet at the gate, I decided to visit the Boardroom, conveniently located just around the corner at the head of the D Concourse.

    The Boardroom is undergoing some much needed renovation. The present club has been in place for at least ten years during which time Alaska Airlines has experienced considerable growth. An attendant increase in the club’s membership coupled with Alaska’s program of offering complimentary passes to its Platinum Visa cardholders has resulted in the Seattle club’s being quite literally filled to capacity during peak travel times. Plans for the new club include more space via a new upstairs addition. More work areas will also be added. In the meantime, only half of the club is presently open while construction takes place on the other half. Hopefully, the new improved club will be completely open in December.

    Twenty minutes before departure time, I collected my gear and headed over to Gate C1. Imagine my surprise and delight upon arriving at the gate to discover the aircraft operating today’s flight was none other than N794AS, the 3000th 737 ever built! I’ve had my eye on this airplane for quite some time now but short of actually spotting it and immediately buying a ticket to wherever it was going, all I could do was wait and hope that the winds of fortune would blow it my way on one of my scheduled flights. Finally, they had! How fitting that the final leg of this great trip should be flown upon this particular aircraft.

    As I entered the aircraft, I looked around for any signs or plaques commemorating this aircraft’s significance. There were none. In 1979, I remember flying United’s 727-100 N7001U, the prototype 727. At that time, the 727 was the most popular jetliner ever built in terms of numbers sold, (1832 total) and N7001U was the very first one off the production line! Even so, there was nothing onboard to commemorate this. Perhaps United didn’t want to also alert passengers to the fact that they were flying aboard what was then a 16 year old airplane. For what it's worth, Ship 7001 made its first flight from Renton on February 9,1963 and was delivered to United on Oct. 6, 1964. During its career it accumulated 64,495 hours, made 48,060 landings, and flew an estimated three million passengers. United paid $4.4 million for the airplane, which in turn generated revenues of more than $300 million during its service life. It flew its final revenue flight on January 13, 1991 and today N7001U sits at Boeing's Museum of Flight in Seattle. Sorry, I got a little off track there with the nostalgia... Now, back to N794AS...

    First Class was, as usual, completely full. So was the rest of the plane. I overheard earlier at the gate that there were 44 stand-bys and only 5 seats available. My seatmate had his nose buried in some papers when I arrived and refused to even look up as I slid past him into seat 1F. Hmmm… everything about this guy says “Leave me alone”… I’ll give him plenty of space. As it turned out, we ignored each other the entire flight. Mind you, I don’t find this all that big of a deal, just a bit odd to not at least exchange greetings. Conversation during a flight can be entertaining but it’s hardly essential for me. I’ve always got plenty to read or work on in any event.

    Once again, no pre-flight drinks were offered. That’s two flights in a row. Pre-flight drinks are not hugely important to me, though it’s nice to have the offer on those occasions when you do want one. Perhaps this is a cost cutting measure on Alaska's part?

    Meal orders were taken from front to back with no indication that MVP status was a consideration. No menu was offered, this being a mere 3hr20min flight, but we were given a full description of the salad, the dressing, and the two entrees which tonight were pork tenderloin with a mushroom gravy or mushroom tortellini with Putanesca sauce. I’ve had these choices before! I ordered the pork and a Bloody Mary.

    We took off to the south and made a big right turn to the northwest. Unfortunately it was cloudy so I was deprived of viewing the beautiful San Juan Islands and coastal British Columbia. I was hopeful that we’d get some clearing later in the flight.

    My Bloody Mary arrived and was delicious as airline Bloody Marys go! Alaska must use a pretty good mix. The honey roasted almonds made a nice accompaniment. I reclined my seat and read more of Captain Cook’s adventures. Cook explored extensively along the Alaskan coast as well as down in the South Pacific. The Cook Inlet outside of Anchorage is named for him.

    The dinner service didn’t get going until almost an hour into the flight. For an almost 6:00pm departure, this seemed a long wait. Maybe there was a problem with an oven. Either way, I was hungry. A linen covered tray bearing my salad and a roll arrived. This salad was the usual Alaska salad, more vegetables than greens, but I like that and wasted no time in devouring mine along with my roll. When my pork entrée arrived I asked for another roll and was told only one per passenger had been loaded. Whaaaat?! Could Alaska’s vaunted inflight meal service be slipping? I’ve got two more First Class Dinner flights coming up in the next month. I’ll letcha know…

    The pork tenderloin however was delicious! The entrée consisted of three decent sized chunks of pork tenderloin covered in a tasty mushroom gravy. I definitely tasted some cumin in there too though this may have come from the wild rice, which was prepared with tiny pieces of tomato and cilantro. Also accompanying this meal was a medley of braised red, yellow and green peppers. I had a glass of Canyon Road Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany my meal. It was OK. Where do they come up with these wine names though? Canyon Road? Dust and large rocks come to mind…

    Dessert once again was a slice of cheesecake. I was pretty full so I passed though I might have been tempted to eat it anyway had it been topped with a nice cherry compote or something similarly delicious. I had a cup of coffee instead but only drank a couple of sips because it wasn’t very hot.

    The clouds cleared about a half hour out of Anchorage and those of us in the F side seats were treated to stunning views of Alaska’s coastal ranges and glaciers. Any of you who’ve read the Most Scenic Flights posting in Trip Reports have noted that flights to and within Alaska get a fair bit of mention. Anyone planning a trip up to The Great Land should make sure you get your F side window seats taken care of before you arrive at the gate. Amongst flyers in the know, they’re as in demand as aisle seats on PSA were back in the mini-skirt days of the Seventies!

    We made an exceptionally smooth landing at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. I took my time getting off the plane in Anchorage and could hear many of the passengers complimenting the Captain as they disembarked. I thanked him as well but also asked him if he was aware of N794AS’s significance as the 3000th 737 off the assembly line. He wasn’t. Nor did he seem particularly enlightened by this tidbit either. Ah well, I know a couple of other airline geeks who’ll be thrilled to hear of this flight next time I see them.

    The same cockpit and cabin crew worked the Anchorage-Fairbanks leg of this trip as well. The plane was filled with musicians and concertgoers from this weekend’s Alaska Folk Festival down in Juneau. Flight time was 41 minutes. The skies were clear and we were treated to a late night sunset over the Alaska Range on our way up to Fairbanks. We were told it was snowing in Fairbanks but I never saw any clouds and when we arrived at 10:00pm darkness was still 40 minutes away and it was clear and a balmy 27 degrees. Welcome home!

    Here’s how I rate this final flight

    Preflight: C
    Comfort: B-
    Service: B
    Meal: A-

    Once again, a very nice meal. Still, I’ve had better flights on Alaska Airlines… Time will tell if the service lapses were a one time thing or the result of an insidious budget cut! The B- in the comfort category is due to the stiff seats and poor legroom.

    So, there you have it. If you’ve read this far, thanks for your patience and I hope you've enjoyed this report. I am now in Ester where it actually is snowing right now though it’s supposed to clear later this afternoon. Next week it’s on to St. John’s Newfoundland – the long way, of course!

    ** ** ** ** **

    This journey began on February 4th. Over the course of the trip, I flew 42 flights aboard 8 airlines for a total of 70,550 miles. 21 of the flights were in First or Business Class and I ate a total of 8 breakfasts, 10 lunches, 14 dinners and 7 snacks enroute. Total flight time was 139 hours 40 minutes.
    ossipago and travelinmike33 like this.
  4. kiwi
    Original Member

    kiwi Gold Member

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    Thanks for the fab report - I love flying around the lakes district & Fiordland. It's been a while since NZ had domestic business.
  5. ssedha

    ssedha Silver Member

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    what a detailed report... truly magnificent... thanks a lot :)
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  6. thrashsoundly
    Original Member

    thrashsoundly Silver Member

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    I enjoyed this trip report! Were all the other flights (besides BA) revenue flights or awards?
  7. milchap
    Original Member

    milchap Gold Member

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    You have a special talent for writing. :cool:

    I truly enjoyed your trip report. :)

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