British Airways tagged posts

Barcelona Bound:  AA Business Class DCA-PHL-BCN

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This is part two in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, visit this post.

I was scheduled to fly from DCA to JFK on a Tuesday evening, then on Wednesday evening fly JFK to Madrid on American, followed by Madrid to Barcelona on Iberia.  Not an ideal route, but not terrible for an award.  I had set an alert on Expertflyer, though, for AA’s JFK-BCN, CLT-BCN and PHL-BCN flights, and sure enough, on Monday availability opened up on all three.  DCA-PHL-BCN all on Wednesday was a no-brainer to switch to; it wouldn’t be on AA’s newest business class product, but the pre-merger US Airways Envoy A332 seating is perfectly fine, as I had flown it last summer on PHL-ATH and MUC-PHL.

Arriving at DCA was frustrating.  I was checking a bag, so appropriately went on the First Class line.  Unfortunately, it was not moving at all after 7 minutes, as there was one agent and one customer who seemed to have a complicated problem.  The for-some-reason-separate Priority line was moving at a normal pace, though, with two agents, and only 3 customers in line, so I switched to that queue.  Although she hadn’t approached anyone else, an agent came over to me and said “Can I see your record locator?”  How friendly.  I had checked in on my phone so pulled up my boarding pass, and she said “Come with me,” and then just pointed me to the self-service kiosk.

If I had wanted to use the self-service kiosk, of course, I would have.  But I didn’t.  And there’s no reason an agent should have forced me to do so (it wasn’t like it was a long line on the Priority queue).  Moreover, I was the only one she pulled out, and she was rude in doing so.  Had she said “If you’d like to save some time, you’re welcome to use the self-serve kiosk,” that would have been totally fine.  I asked “Why do I have to use the kiosk?”  “That’s the first step in the process.”  Incorrect.  It is the first step in a process, but not the only first step and one I was entitled not to use.

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2015 Index and YWW Year in Review

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It’s a bit late, but here is my 2015 travel year in review post.  It was a huge travel year for me, as I hit 5 continents and did more long-haul flying than I’d ever done before. It was a lot of mileage redemptions, and low on the mileage earning front.  I re-qualified for American Airlines Gold status. I thought about going for Platinum but it was a busy enough fall and winter that the marginal utility was not enough to outweigh the financial and other costs.

As for the blog, I have kept it as a personal travel diary rather than changing to something else, but hopefully folks find it enjoyable, useful, or both.   My philosophy is the same today as it was in my 2013 year in review post: “I will never stop loving travel, but business class and nice hotels isn’t the point of life.”

So, what were my travel patterns and accomplishments of 2015? I’ve put indices of the places, planes, and hotels I’ve reviewed at the bottom of this post, and have some statistics as well. It was a heavy year of international travel, with only one domestic purely leisure trip.
6
Total continents visited: 5
New continents: 1 (Australia)
Total countries (excluding U.S.): 10
New countries: 5 (Australia, United Arab Emirates, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil)
New states: 1 (Missouri)

New airlines: 7 (Qantas, Etihad, Asiana, TAM, Virgin Australia, Germanwings)

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Seoul (ICN) to Taipei (TPE) on Cathay Pacific Business Class

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A 9:20am flight isn’t that early, unless you are flying out of Incheon, which is basically like flying out of Baltimore if you live in DC.IMG_4414

I woke up at 5:15am, checked out of the Holiday Inn Express and headed to the Metro. My original plan had been to take a taxi to Seoul Station, and take the Airport Express train from there. But I realized that getting a taxi at the HIX would not be easy, and that the subway ride to Seoul Station wasn’t that bad.

At 5:45am, the trains aren’t super frequent, so I had a bit of waiting for both of my trains, but I was at Seoul Station by 6:10am. There are two different trains to Incheon (and Gimpo) from Seoul Station. There is the “All stops,” which takes about an hour and works basically like the rest of the metro system and costs about $4, and the “Express,” which only stops at the two airports, and costs about $8 for a 45 minute ride. Valuewise, the All Stops might be the better option, but since I was already feeling I was leaving too late, I aimed for the Express train. The downside is that the Express train runs far less frequently, about every 30 minutes, making me nervous about making the connection. (Although, I could always have taken the next All Stops train.)

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The thirst is real: US Airways/AA Munich to Philadelphia in Envoy Class

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US Airways Flt. 717 Munich to Philadelphia
A330, Envoy (Business) Class
Sched. Dep. MUC 12:15PM   Actual Dep. 12:05PM
Sched. Arr. PHL 3:20PM Actual Arr. 2:45PM

US Airways A330 in New AA livery

I retraced my trip back to the airport via train, which runs every 20 minutes. Flying out of Terminal 1 at Munich, as opposed to Terminal 2 or Frankfurt, means there are very few facilities past security. Terminal 1 has 5 “modules,” kind of like wings, connected via a central shopping area, also where the train station is.   Check-in, security, and immigration are separate for each module.

Once I got to the airport, it took a whopping 45 minutes to get from the train through immigration and security, the vast majority of time which was spent on a super-long immigration line.   There were only two customs officials processing non-EU passport holders, which was inadequate for the literally hundreds of people on line.

Huge check-in line at the US/AA counter at MUC

Flying US Airways business class, I had access to the British Airways Galleries Lounge, which was not on-par with the BA Lounges in other cities. It was filthy, with dishes not cleared and stained upholstery. Bathrooms were in the hallway outside the lounge. At 11am, they had already switched over to a lunch buffet, which had sausages, mini pizzas, salad, sandwiches, and ice cream.   Due to the acoustical layout of the lounge, I couldn’t avoid listening to a group of very loud Americans talking in detail about their time in Salzburg. It was so obnoxious and loud that I didn’t stay very long, and headed to the gate.

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Off I Go: US Airways Envoy Class Washington to Philadelphia to Athens

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US Airways is one of only two carriers with nonstop service to Greece from the U.S. (along with Delta from JFK), with a seasonal 5x/week service from Philadelphia. This means you can get into Greece in the morning rather than in the afternoon. Unfortunately, Oneworld service to the Greek Islands is terrible, with only Niki service out of Vienna and British Airways service out of both Gatwick and Heathrow. I tried to book an award that got me all the way to Mykonos, but there was no way without an overnight in Vienna or London, which would defeat any cost savings. So I booked a separate ticket from Athens to Mykonos on Olympic Airways, to be discussed later.

US Airways A330

US Airways A330

To get to Philly, I had a short hop from DCA up to Philly on US Airways Express. It’s a super-short flight that I’ve done a few times before. After I booked, there was an equipment change to a plane without First Class, which for some reason led AA to rebook me on an earlier flight . . . which also didn’t have First Class. So I had to call to be put back on my original flight, as the 2 hour connection in provided in Philly was probably long enough, and would allow me to work in the morning.

As usual, the tri...

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To Australia! Qantas JFK-LAX, LAX-SYD in Business Class, including BA Galleries Lounge JFK and Oneworld Business Lounge LAX

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Qantas Flight 18 JFK to LAX, B747 Business
Sched. Dep. 6:35PM Actual Dep. 7:39PM
Sched. Arr. 9:40PM Actual Arr. 10:55PM
Qantas Flight 18 LAX to SYD, B747 Business
Sched. Dep. 11:55PM   Actual Dep. 2:29AM
Sched. Arr. 8:43AM Actual Arr. 11:09AM

Qantas’s one flight a day from JFK is out of Terminal 7, which is now one of the oldest terminals at JFK. Its two main tenants are British Airways and United, but it’s also used by a number of Oneworld carriers, including Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and Iberia, as well as the random Aerolineas Argentinas, ANA, and Icelandair. I don’t remember ever flying out of Terminal 7 in my many years in New York, but it’s conceivable I did on United once.

JFK Terminal 7 Check-In

JFK Terminal 7 Check-In

The British Airways side of the terminal is quite retro, and there’s a dedicated check-in for Qantas business class. There was also a dedicated security checkpoint for premium cabins, and it moved pretty quickly, even without Precheck. From there, I was in the main terminal and headed up to the British Airways Galleries Lounge.IMG_3019 IMG_3017

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Heathrow T3 Galleries First Lounge and LHR-PHL-DCA on US Airways

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US Airways Flt. 729 London-Heathrow to Philadelphia
Dep. 12:05pm  Arr. 3:35pm
A330, Economy
US Airways Flt. 854 Philadelphia to Washington-Reagan National
Dep. 5:30pm Arr. 6:24pm
A319, Economy

After about 16 hours, it was time to head back on the tube to Heathrow. My train changed destinations midroute, so it took a little longer than the trip into the city. It was a long walk from the departure gates at T3 from the underground. I had printed out a boarding pass at the hotel, and it was a good thing, because there was a long line for check in at the small US Airways counter, even at the elite/business class line.

A friend and fellow traveler who lives in L.A. Happened to be in London for the long weekend as well, and we had gone out in London the night before. He happens to be an American Executive Platinum, flying on the nonstop American Heathrow to LAX flight leaving five minutes before my US Airways flight to Philadelphia. That meant that he had access to the British Airways Galleries First Lounge, as opposed to my meager access to the adjoining Galleries Club, and was able to guest me in.

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Champagne

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Champagne

20150120_103327

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Seating

LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge Seating

I met him at the lounge and it was fairly empty. The Galleries First Lounge is pretty large, with several different rooms, including a dining room with sit-down eating only for First Class passengers at dinner time. At 10:30 in the morning, the food spread wasn’t that different than I imagine the regular Galleries Club, as it just had some hot breakfast basics, including black sausage and scrambled eggs, and pastries. You could also order some breakfast from a menu, but wait staff wasn’t particularly attentive and inviting. The Bellinger champagne was delicious though!20150120_103034 20150120_103036

Breakfast buffet at LHR T3 Galleries First Lounge

Breakfast ...

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British Airways Budapest to London, or How AA, BA, and US all blamed each other for screwing up my ticket

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British Airways Flt. 869 Budapest to London-Heathrow
Dep. LHR 1:50pm
Arr. BUD 5:15pm
A320, Coach

The first leg of my return journey started off as poorly as my outbound. As a recap, I was unable to successfully check in for my outbound flights online and had to call US Airways to “sync” my ticket. I had to talk to multiple agents to get my LHR-BUD ticket sorted out after my missed connection. So I wasn’t surprised there was a ticketing problem with my return flight — but it was the most inconvenient of all. I went to checkin online for my BUD-LHR flight the afternoon before my departure, and the system kicked back that there was an error with my ticket and I had to call British Airways. Great.

So using wifi, I tried to call British Airways, and spent literally two hours trying to talk to different agents to figure out what was going on. They scolded me that the connection wasn’t good and that there was an echo, but I explained that I was calling over wifi and that’s all I could do. The first agent said there was a problem with the ticket, but I had to talk to American since it was an American ticket. So I tweeted with the American social media team, who told me they looked up the ticket and that there was nothing wrong with it. So I called BA back, and spent another 20 minutes on the phone, where they insisted that AA had to fix the ticket. More tweeting with the AA team who insisted there was nothing wrong and that I should tell BA to call AA. One final shot at dealing with a BA agent who said that she couldn’t check me in, but whatever problem I had could be dealt with at the airport if I got there early.  So all told, I spent more than two hours on my already shortened vacation dealing with two different airlines and got no resolution.

My final saviors

My final saviors

So I made sure to get to the airport nice and early. Alas, at 3 hours prior to departure, the gate wasn’t open. I found the BA ticketing agent office, where I repeated the whole shpiel. Her response? “Well we can’t do anything because its an American Airlines ticket. I’ll call the BA supervisor here, but we’re probably going to have to call the AA agent in London…” Surprisingly, when the BA supervisor came over, she was able to fix it – but said I would have to go to the check-in desk for a boarding pass. I have no idea who messed up here – my guess is either US Airways or British Airways since they were the only people who had touched the ticket. But no matter what, if the British Airways supervisor was able to fix it, one of the many British Airways agents I spoke to on the phone should have been able to help me.

From there, the rest of the trip over to London was fairly ...

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Cathay Pacific Lounge and Galleries Club at LHR T3 and Flying BA from LHR to BUD

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British Airways Flt. 866 London-Heathrow to Budapest
Dep. LHR 1:50pm Arr. BUD 5:15pm
A320, Coach

Budapest happens to be one of the few random destinations that British Airways serves out of Terminal 3, where my flight from Charlotte landed (five hours late). But connecting still was a lengthy process. It was a long walk to security, where seemingly no one had ever flown before or could read signs in English, so it took about 20 minutes to go through. From there, I headed to the British Airways transfer desk to get a boarding pass, since US Airways should have already re-ticketed me. The two agents were not sufficient to handle the large crowd, and I felt a little guilty going in the OneWorld Elite/Business Class line. I got over it though. Alas, it wasn’t as simple as printing out a boarding pass, as US Airways had screwed something up with the ticket. The agent was friendly, at least, and after about five minutes, I had a boarding pass, and headed towards the departing flights. (Spoiler alert: this was not the last time that my ticket got screwed up on this trip.)

As a OneWorld Sapphire member, I had access to three different lounges at Terminal 3: the AA Admirals Club, the Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge, and the British Airways Galleries Lounge. Reviews indicated that both the Cathay and BA lounges had pluses and minuses, so with about 90 minutes til boarding, I headed to the Cathay lounge. The lounge was pretty empty, as Cathay’s morning flight had just left and the others weren’t until the evening. I definitely wanted a shower, and I got one with no wait, in one of the nicest shower rooms I’ve been in in a lounge.20150116_070014

Cathay Pacific Business Lounge LHR Shower Room

Cathay Pacific Business Lounge LHR Shower Room

After showering, I headed into the main lounge, which is pretty small and unexciting. The highlight is the cooked to order noodle bar – a much smaller version of the Noodle Bar at the Cathay lounge in HKG. There were three options, and I ordered the wontons, and was given a little buzzer to bring 10 feet away to my table. On the buffet, there were a few heartier dishes, including a vegetarian curry, and a beef dish. All tasty, but not amazing.20150116_071537

Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge London Heathrow

Cathay Pacific Business...

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Exploring Tegel Airport, or The Time I was Detained by German Airport Police and Almost Missed My Flight

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In my experience, if I’m going to have problems with my flights or anything on a vacation, it will more likely than not be on the return home. Because why allow the relaxation or positive feelings to even stay with you until you get home. My Berlin trip did not disappoint on this front.

My routing home was from Berlin to JFK on Air Berlin, in business class, connecting on American in JFK to DCA.  I had allowed for a leisurely trip to the airport from the Hyatt, planning to take the 200 bus from Potsdamer Platz to the Zoo Station, and then the express bus from Zoo Station to Tegel. The total trip should have been 35 to 50 minutes depending on wait times.  Of course as I reached the bus stop a few blocks from the Hyatt, I saw that the 200 bus was pulling away.  I didn’t worry much, because I had taken the 200 bus 5 or 6 times over the past several days, and never had waited more than 5 minutes. Something must have been up though, as the display showed the next bus was not for another 20 minutes. I thought about waiting, but then thought I should just take the S-bahn or U-bahn from Potsdamer Platz to Zoo Station, figuring there must be a way to do so. On the way, though, I passed the taxi line outside the Ritz Carlton, and decided that would just be the easiest way to go, especially since I still had 65 Euros in cash on me and I’d read that a taxi to Tegel was about 20 Euros and 15 minutes.

But the taxi hit monstrous traffic, and the driver kept muttering one curse word over and over (the only one I know in German). He ended up making a series of questionably aggressive moves before just making a U-turn and taking us on an alternate back route. He was friendly about it, though, and even with the traffic and reroute I was at the airport in 25 minutes, and the fare was 21.80 Euros.

Berlin-Tegel was supposed to close four years ago, as Berlin was opening a new airport, Brandenburg, alongside the current, smaller airport farther outside the city, Schonefeld. Brandenburg has been plagued with delays, and almost opened in February 2012, but didn’t due to construction problems. Now, there isn’t even an estimated opening date.

That means Tegel remains open...

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