Review: Cathay Pacific Economy

Despite common misconceptions I still fly economy sometimes, especially if I don’t have any miles to spend or availability is low. For my return trip from Australia (more posts of the actual trip later) I opted to take the same company home that I would eventually be flying in business class: Cathay Pacific. As we were in Cairns I tried to find as close to a direct flight as I could to Hong Kong, not expecting much. As it turns out there are enough people who want to fly between the cities that a large plane goes back and forth every day.

So, bright and early I got in a cab and arrived at the airport a few minutes later. I got through customs fairly quickly and was able to access the Reef Lounge nearby my gate due to my Priority Pass membership. It was a pretty full lounge for a small city, including a bunch of different breakfast options (fruit, pastries, cereals, etc.) as well as a lot of comfortable chairs, newspapers, and two very clean bathrooms. It was really nice to sit there and wait since our flight was delayed a few times. It made it easier to wait.

 

The airplane itself was large and comfortable: an Airbus A330 with plenty of seats. It only has business class and economy (I don’t remember if it was premium economy so I can’t speak to it). The seat was quite pleasant with plenty of legroom (way more than the standard US-based airline) and there was a good-sized in-flight entertainment system (IFE). It had a USB port on the bottom with which I charged my phone and what looked like an S-Video port (I wonder if anyone uses those, really). One of the newer amenities in planes like these is a cup-holder that pops down from the seat tray instead of taking down the whole thing – it was useful when I just wanted to store something small.

    

I was pleasantly surprised (although I shouldn’t have been) that on a seven hour flight we would be receiving not one – but two – meals: a light breakfast and a heftier lunch. As you can see from the menu there were not a wide variety of options but it is a lot more than US-base carriers are offering on similar routes. The food was quite tasty and the offerings were plentiful I imagine if I asked for more of something I probably would have been given it.

 

Cathay Pacific is a world-renowned airline and I’m glad I got a chance to fly it. In fact, I’ll shortly be reviewing my experience in their business class and in a few weeks I’ll get to take the first-class product on the fifth-freedom route from Vancouver to JFK!e

Review: Qantas Dreamliner (787) Business Class LAX->MEL

It certainly has been a while since my last post. I guess planning a last-minute trip to Australia while finishing up end-of-year teaching projects can be quite busy. Well, I’m back to share some anecdotes of our recent trip down unda’ and I wanted to start with our amazing experience on Qantas new Dreamliner business class seats.

Announced in December 2016, we were lucky to get the flights we got – leaving LAX on December 23, just eight days after the Dreamliner began flying on the route and in the middle of holiday travel season. We used 70k American Airlines miles each for the one-way flight, with some dollars spent on the taxes. Considering that flight should be in the thousands of dollars, I figured it was an amazing deal so we jumped on it.

We began our trip in the Oneworld Business lounge at LAX – accessible to all business class passengers flying on alliance metal. For that reason it was a truly enormous lounge – three large rooms with an extra area for kids in a more enclosed space. The buffet had many options to choose from and even a small taco stand, offering some tasty gluten-free tortillas for my wife. Finally, the showers available were also quite nice, with all provisions offered. It was nice to be able to get refreshed before our 15 hour flight. If you can ever access this lounge, I strongly recommend it.

 

About 45 minutes before our flight left we walked over to the gate where, unfortunately, they were running late. According to FlightAware.com, we were officially delayed by over an hour. Apparently this flight is regularly delayed, so potential flyers: be ready to wait at the gate (or in a lounge) for a bit longer than you expect.


The hard product itself, however, was incredible. It was an updated version of Qantas’ A330 seat, using the Vantage XL seat, commonly seen in SAS flights. It was miles above what has been in their 747 or A380 planes before, as there is significantly more privacy, space at the seat, and has all aisle-access (as opposed t0 the 2-2-2 seating on their A380).

As you can see from the photos there was plenty of room for my legs, to store my things, and to plug in any and all electronic devices. I strongly appreciate having a direct USB plug these days and I was happy that Qantas obliged. There was also the nice touch of the IFE system having my seat number listed brightly.

Once in-flight service began we were provided with a menu for our meals as well as a set of new Qantas pajamas (or a “sleep suit” as the flight attendant said) which proved quite comfortable and will be added to my rotation at home as well. The amenity kit had a lot of good provisions that we used during flight as well as coupons for in-flight purchases. I really appreciated the earplugs and socks and took good advantage of them.

Meal service began shortly after takeoff and while not as elaborate as some other airlines we’ve flown (Austrian Airlines in particular) it was quite tasty. We had any drinks we wanted and could order multiple servings of food if we wanted. I was sleeping during most of the flight, otherwise I would have taken a photo of the snacks area in the galley, which consisted of various drinks (alcoholic and non), chips, candy bars, and fruit.

When it did come time to sleep I set up my seat in lie-flat position and had plenty of room for my feet in the space allocated. This is one of the important things for me with a business class seat since I have size 12 feet. There was no squishing at all and I was able to lie completely back with my feet face up without difficulty. While there was no pad for the seat itself, the blanket was very comfortable and I was not too hot while sleeping. The pajamas were quite comfy.

One of the novelties for me in the new Dreamliner plane is how the windows tint instead of being closed physically. It was quite incredible how little light shown through during our flight once the windows were tinted. There is a little button below the window itself that provides various gradations of coverage. As you can see below it looks tinted slightly blue when it is sunny outside at the middle level but when totally “covered” barely any lights comes through.

I am incredibly glad to have had this new experience and can’t wait to fly Qantas again in the future (as long as I can get the flights!). If you have a chance to book and take it yourself I strongly recommend it, especially if it’s the new longest flight in the world!

I HAVE to tell you about my mattress tale

It was over four years ago, specifically August 28, 2013, when my wife and I made our first major >$1,000 joint purchase: a new mattress. It was a Simmons Beautyrest Comforpedic and boy was it an incredible buy. For 99% of the time we have had the mattress we just sink into it and feel like we are on a bed flying in the clouds. It was easy to sleep on, we didn’t affect each other that much while moving around, and it was a pretty good deal, to boot.

Then, all of a sudden about 3 weeks ago both our backs began to hurt. There was also a slight pain in my neck. We were seriously concerned that our 10-year investment was going to be cut short and we would have to spend so much money on a new one.

Enter: my persistence. I spent overall probably an hour on the phone with Macy’s customer service, Simmons’ customer service, and then actually visiting a Macy’s only to discover that while we did not buy the “Worry no more” insurance from Macy’s, they were indeed liable to cover a defective mattress if….

…a “Mattress Inspector” deemed our mattress “abnormal.” Did you know there was such a job? My wife was at home and saw him use a ruler, some string, and some other tools as he did, indeed, state that our mattress should be replaced. I was happily greeted by this email the next day:

The next bit was the only concerning part: they said that I would be issued a refund to my store credit card. Since I didn’t want to have that money hanging in limbo for a long time (I was not about to go on a shopping spree at Macy’s) I called and found out that I could, indeed, get the money credited directly to my bank account. Apparently, there is some policy that if the transaction is over three years old you can give them your debit card number for refunds. Amazing!

So, in the end, we had four years of an amazing mattress with about a month of super-crappy-sleeping nights. We’re going to be buying a new mattress shortly and can’t wait to try it out!

Review: President’s Hotel in Cape Town

After a fine time flying SAA to Cape Town we picked up our new luggage at baggage claim (no wait this time) and drove out to the President’s Hotel for a four-night stay in the city. The hotel was suggested by my mother and had nice access to a variety of parts of the city while being situated in Bantry Bay, a neighborhood directly northwest of Lion’s Head.

We decided to splurge on a one-bedroom suite that even had a small refrigerator, microwave, and dishes. The bed was moderately comfortable (again, not the best in the world) and this time there was no distinction between shower and bathtub (they were one piece in the bathroom). That being said, we had a nice view of the ocean and very comfortable places to put our things. The bathroom was well stocked with towels and amenities and there were side table on either side of the bed. There was easy access to the wifi in the hotel and a TV with many channels.

One of the big selling points of the hotel was its included buffet breakfast. While it was Passover during our stay we could not partake in the ample bread-related products, but there were plenty of fruits, fishes, egg-dishes, and juices to satisfy us. It was such a lovely place to dine and the servers were quite attentive. The dining area overlooked the pool that we never got a chance to use but looked enticing.

One of the items we appreciated the most about the hotel was there easy-to-access room service that was pretty inexpensive, even by South African standards. We enjoyed our in-room meals immensely – we had two over the four nights! We do recommend the hotel for future stays although we might want to stay within walking distance of other places in the city in the future.

Review: Faircity Quatermain Hotel

It’s taken a while to catch up on these posts – I hope I can do better from here on in but there are no promises! Life gets in the way. Anyway, I’ll continue with some reviews of our most recent South Africa trip!


While in Johannesburg my wife and I stayed at the Faircity Quatermain Hotel in Sandton. We chose that location because it was nearby to my family and some of the sites we wanted to see, as well as Sandton City – a mall – in case we needed to purchase anything (which we eventually did – you will find out about that in the next post on our delayed luggage).

The hotel itself was secluded behind large walls and a security entrance, as many accommodations in Johannesburg are. The grounds were beautiful, although we didn’t get a chance to use them much as we were traveling to see friends and family so much of the 2.5 days we were visiting. The room we had was comfortable with a lot of seating and amenities. It had both a shower and a bathtub – something my wife loves to partake in – with lots of lighting. The bed was moderately comfortable and there were plenty of places to put our clothing and suitcase (even though we didn’t have it).

The breakfast we ate was quite tasty – a wide array of fish, egg, bread, fruit, and cereal options, as well as various cold and hot drinks. The staff were quite considerate and tried their best to call the airport frequently for us to get our bags shipped over (which ended up not happening, anyway). There was also a lovely lounge area in the front that could be sat in for relaxation but we were moving so much we didn’t take advantage of it.

Overall, it was a lovely place to stay and a good value. We highly recommend it!

Review: EgyptAir Business Class Cairo -> Johannesburg

Once fully showered and changed (we brought an extra set of clothing according to our plan) we arrived at Cairo International Airport about 1.5 hours before our EgyptAir flight was set to depart. We had little difficulty checking in as we had a separate line (as had been the case a lot during this trip). Interestingly, there was also a designated kids check-in counter, although no one was staffing it and we had no idea what its intended purpose was. Once we dropped off our luggage we filled out customs cards and passed through border control with no difficulty. We quickly noted the new electronics restrictions on flights towards the US.

After security we headed towards the lounges we had access to as business-class passengers. There were two on our very long walk to the gate. One was a designated smoking lounge so we avoided it. The other was near-ish to our gate and we spent a majority of time there. It had comfortable seats with internationally adapted plugs for our devices. There were private bathrooms for us to use, a small business center, and plenty of food and drink (not of the highest quality, but definitely there). Since we knew we would get food on the plane, we did not gorge ourselves too much.

The gate had an interesting added security station to pass through before boarding. It took us a bit more time to get on board because of it. Also, there was a nod to the electronics travel ban to the UK at that location (I guess sometimes planes leave from that gate to London as well).

The seat was comfortable enough, with plenty of leg room for us and an in-flight entertainment system with many options. Since I wanted to maximize how much sleep I got on the flight I decided to forego whatever meal would have been given when we reached cruising altitude and just went right to sleep. This is where my major gripe comes in about this seat: it is not fully lie-flat. There is an ever-so-slight angle to the seat, causing you to slide forward over time and have your feet become somewhat weight-bearing at times. While I was still able to sleep because of my exhaustion, it was definitely not desirable in the least.

My wife put a provided sticker on my seat as I was asleep, asking for me to be woken up for breakfast, which was not the most appetizing thing in the world, but still better than economy-class food.

Overall, the flight was uneventful because we just wanted to sleep and arrived rested in Johannesburg. Getting through customs and passport control was not as big an “ordeal” as it had been in Cairo because there was a lot of organization, but the lines were so long it took us an extra 45 minutes to get through to baggage claim. Unfortunately, our bags had not arrived with us…. but that is a story for another blog post.

A whirlwind layover in Cairo, Egypt

Between arrival into Cairo and leaving for Johannesburg my wife and I had a layover of about nine hours.

While some might view this as a hindrance we preferred to think with an adventurous spirit and booked a layover tour of the city through Egypt Tailor Made tour company. We estimated we really had about six hours of time between exiting the airport and needing to return, so we made sure to explain that through email communication a few weeks in advance. As you will read at the end, the tour company definitely earned their five star rating on TripAdvisor.

Our arrival into Cairo International Airport was hectic to say the least. The customs area is one large room where the mantra “hurry up and wait” is very evident: there were lines everywhere leading in every which way. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings and we realized one of the sets of lines was to get our visa, which we purchased for $25 each. I had read to bring US cash in advance so it was an easy transaction. Afterward, we waited in line for our customs interview, lasting a minute or two. All told it took about 1.5 hours to get through this mess of logistics and people and end up in the arrivals hall where we met our tour guide who recognized me because of a photo I sent in advance.

During our brief time in the city and its surroundings we visited the pyramids at Giza, saw the Sphinx from afar, learned how papyrus is made, sailed down and up the nile for an hour, visited a local market, and ate pigeon, a delicacy in the city. Our Egyptologist tour guide, Seham, was kind, knowledgeable, and conversational throughout the journey. She made sure we were able to get past security and check-in at various sites quickly because we were running behind, she communicated with locals to make sure we knew where to go and what to do, and helped us negotiate prices for a few souvenirs. While I would love to have spent more time in the city and country, it was great to have her with us for the limited time that we had.

After our tour of the city was complete, we headed over to the airport to check in for our last leg to Johannesburg airport and this is where my idea of schemes gets a bit ridiculous.

I had read in advance that there are no showers in any lounges at Cairo International Airport. Despite the fact that this is an airport in the Middle East and so should have showers to make sure any sweat gathered en route could be washed off, it is also a stopover on the way to many other nearby countries where businesspeople would expect to get washed up.

So, in order to make sure we were washed up before our business class EgyptAir flight, we visited the nearby JW Marriott Hotel Cairo and booked a room to take a shower. We didn’t pay for the room in cash – or even points. Instead, I used a free night certificate for a tier 1-5 hotel from my previous Chase Marriott Rewards card that was expiring in August. Before using it I verified that our travel over the next few months would not have taken us to a location where any hotels within that range would have been available (most in NYC or other urban areas are tier 6 and above) and decided to use it for an hour’s luxurious shower purpose.

Our ridiculousness was rewarded with comfortable beds, free slippers, a bathtub and separate shower, fancy creams, lotions, etc and even a welcome message on the TV with my name on it! Even though we only spent one hour there it was a fantastic use of the free night certificate and I’m glad we got to end our stay in Cairo at that hotel – next time we might stay for longer!