This is the room where I sat for an hour, more or less stuck while waiting to figure out if I’d get out of Yangon. No passport (the agents took it from me), no refreshments and no idea how long I was going to be there or if the agents actually understood what I was doing. Not the most relaxing hour of my life, to say the least. And just getting to that point wasn’t so easy.
I did my research before the trip regarding the transit process at RGN and I was pretty sure that I didn’t need a visa. Alas, the Thai Airways check-in agent at BKK had a different view of the situation. She started flipping through my passport, looking for my visa. I knew there wasn’t one there and told her such. At that point she was pretty much ready to send me away; I was not happy. Her version of the rules said transit without visa was only valid if remaining on the same plane passing through RGN; changing planes was not valid. I protested strongly (even though I wasn’t actually 100% certain I was correct) and she walked away from the counter, carrying my passport with her. About 15 minutes later – mostly spent by me pacing back and forth in the premium check-in area trying to figure out how I was going to save the trip – she came back to the counter and started printing boarding passes. I’m not entirely sure where she went or what she saw or why she changed her mind. But she did. I won’t look that gift-horse in the mouth.
A few hours later, following what will likely be my last flight on an Airbus A300 (yes, I booked the itinerary to get that), we arrived in Yangon and it was time for the part of the transit which I expected to be more stressful. I saw the sign for transit passengers as I walked off the plane so I headed towards that door rather than to the regular immigration queue. That freaked them out quite a bit.
Pretty soon I had three agents crowded around, trying to usher me towards the regular immigration queues. I had a printout of my onward itinerary and kept pointing out the flight details, hoping they’d figure it out. After 15 or so minutes I was escorted back towards the gates, through the gate lounge and backwards through the security check-point. The agent escorted me into a room labeled “International Transit” which is, I’m pretty sure, mostly used for storage.
The agent took my itinerary printout, my passport and my inbound boarding pass and walked away, asking me to wait in the lounge. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Having someone walk away with my passport is never something I’m happy about. Sitting in this room with no facilities other than the few chairs for an hour, waiting for the agent to come back with my passport had me rather frazzled. Turns out I’m not all that good at sitting still with no distractions.
Ultimately they returned with the boarding passes and escorted me to the Royal Jade lounge (not really all that great, but better than sitting in the other room on my own) to wait for my flight.
In the end the transit wasn’t all that bad. Not without some stress along the way and Myanmar is going to remain low on my list of desired transit countries given an option, but I eventually made my way on to Singapore and beyond.
More stories from the trip here.
It is no secret that the best conversations at larger events happen in the margins. Smaller conversations among more intimate groups naturally tend to be more interesting, more educational and more valuable than huge lectures. That’s not to say that the big sessions are bad; it is just a function of the way events like that run. This past weekend at FTU outside DC was no exception to that rule (even though I do think my presentation was pretty good). I had a great time talking with old friends in the halls and at the bar and also in meeting new friends throughout the weekend. There were three specific women I met, however, who completely blew my mind.
I was sitting in the lobby bar around 7:30 on Saturday evening, chatting with a couple guys when the three women sat down at the other end of the couch area we were in. One was holding a sign from the event they had been at earlier in the afternoon. It turns out that they were in town celebrating their 55th high school reunion and the sign was a photo of one of them from that year. Upon realizing this I insisted that she let me take a photo of her with the older photo; she obliged. And then we got to chatting. They figured out that we were talking about miles and travel and such and they were curious about the details. I’m never one to shy away from the opportunity to tell a story so we started chatting.
Explaining to someone the crazy which is mileage running, credit card churning and flying to Perth just for dinner is often an awkward situation. Most folks either don’t get it or just don’t want to. And that’s fine, but it does mean that story-time can be a bit awkward. Fortunately, being that awkward guy rarely stops me. I had only barely begun to start explaining when one of the three piped up that she was a 3MMer with American, mostly from commuting to Argentina and back for many years. Another shared that she had been a flight attendant for Pan Am at one point and still travels a ton, though she was also frustrated by challenges in redeeming her SkyMiles. The third was sitting on a pile of US Airways points and was worried about the merger and what that might mean.
It turns out they were mileage junkies, just like us.
Hearing them talk about their CC habits – Chase Sapphire Preferred for travel/dining charges and AmEx Platinum for the lounge access – was awesome. They were certainly not the most advanced users in the room, but they were also far from beginners. I invited them to join us in the morning for the Sunday sessions and one actually did. She was engaged, asking questions and truly interested in learning more about this crazy hobby we all share.
So next time someone suggests that there is a specific stereotype which makes up the frequent flyer community I’d suggest opening your eyes a bit wider. Turns out that just about anyone can be in on the game and have a lot of fun doing it. These three certainly were.
Cleveland’s Hopkins airport has a new lounge option as of today. The Airspace lounge had its grand opening this morning, bringing another option to travelers passing through the terminal. The new lounge is in Terminal B, just inside security and near the junction with Terminal A, making it convenient for passengers on every airline other than United.
The lounge is the second operated by Airspace and will have similar features and amenities to their first lounge at BWI. That includes complimentary access for American Express Platinum Card members and paid access starting at $20/visit for everyone else. Once inside lounge guests will receive a complimentary food item or alcoholic beverage and have access to the business center, complimentary wifi and the quiet, relaxed lounge atmosphere.
Next up for Airspace is a lounge at JFK’s T5. That lounge is expected to open in May 2013.
The lounges are all listed in the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools Airport Lounge Guide, too.
A couple more airport lounges opened up this week and, from the looks of things, they are two which will quickly become quite popular with passengers. American Express has opened a Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas and Avianca has a new facility in Bogota, Colombia.
The American Express Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas is one of only two the company operates in the United States; the other is in Dallas, though I ‘m not sure if it is open yet or not. The lounge is in the D gates, not far from where Delta operates. And it is full-featured, including a hot food menu curated by Scott Conant and a bar menu overseen by Jim Meehan and Anthony Giglio. The lounge also includes a business center, a kids play room and shower facilities. I have also seen some photos from friends who have passed through in the first few days it is open and I’m quite impressed. And, while I don’t recognize the big names AmEx recruited to build the menus they seem to have pretty impressive resumes.
In Bogota the new Avianca lounge is huge; it can accommodate 670 passengers in over 6,500 square feet of space. And, like most proper international lounges, it also includes a business center, hot and cold food offerings and other amenities. The Avianca lounge also includes a separate area inside for their Diamond Elite members, a step above the Gold lounge facilities available to most guests. As for the design aesthetic, I have only seen one photo and the carpet is, well, exciting.
Always nice to see more lounges opening up. And these are two which should leave their guests quite happy, indeed.
Both lounges have also been added to the collection at the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools Airport Lounge Guide.
It seems that, despite JetBlue‘s desire to not operate any airport lounges in their hub facilities there is apparently sufficient demand in their flagship JFK T5 terminal for a lounge to open. AirSpace, the company which currently operates a lounge at BWI and which is opening a lounge in Cleveland next month, will be opening a lounge inside T5; it is expected to open in May 2013.
The lounge will have many of the typical features available at airport lounges, including a bar and snacks/food. It will also have showers, quite useful for a redeye arrival or pre-flight on one of the midnight flights to the Caribbean or evening flights to Europe when Aer Lingus moves in to the terminal later this year. The lounge will be located near Gate 24, towards the end of the terminal where the international expansion construction is taking place. Not much of a surprise there, really.
The lounge lacks windows, which is unfortunate, but I suppose that can be overcome with a free drink (only 1st drink is free with the paid admission) and some food. I happen to think that T5 is one of the best terminals in the USA these days and I’m generally quite happy to sit out in the food court area rather than searching out a lounge, but it is nice to see that the option will be available for those who want it.
Check out the link to Jaunted for some renderings; I’ll see about getting in once it is open to get real world photos.
That Delta is going to be offering outdoor space at their new lounge facilities in JFK and ATL is not particularly new news. Still, the renderings of the space are new, and they are pretty darn sexy.
The Sky Deck lounges are going to offer al fresco snack/dining options and unencumbered runway views. For the aviation geek that’s an awesome upgrade. Weather can obviously be a problem for both locations, but the idea is still very cool, and the fact that they want to emphasize the runway views is a nice nod to the fact that customers aren’t necessarily looking to be isolated from travel. Some really do enjoy it.
Tim Mapes, Delta’s senior vice president – Marketing offered up this take on the new offering:
Sky Deck represents our continuing effort to offer Delta customers exclusive experiences and amenities they value. The new outdoor terraces will do just that – provide distinctive spaces with unprecedented outdoor runway views at two of the most globally significant airports in the world.
I’m very much looking forward to getting out to JFK when the new Sky Deck opens. Definitely some awesome opportunities there.
Who knew that buying a car would include access to an airport lounge? For Peugeot owners there is now a lounge available at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport’s Subang Skypark Terminal in Selangor, Malaysia with access granted by showing one’s car keys at the front desk. A guest is welcome as well, regardless of the car they drive.
From the release:
“We are committed to giving our customers the best ownership experience and we are proud to launch the world’s first ever Peugeot Lounge for our customers,” said chief operating officer Datuk Samson. “The Peugeot Lounge is a place for Peugeot owners to unwind and relax before boarding their flights.”
Oh, and they have exclusive Peugeot branded merchandise available in the lounge, too, in addition to the typical amenities such as wifi, snacks and a meeting room.
This is a small airport serving a couple dozen daily flights, mostly on FireFly. I passed through last year as part of my first trip to Singapore and didn’t really think that a lounge would be a huge business there but I suppose I was severely underestimating the value of Peugeot ownership in Malaysia. Or the demand for a lounge in a tiny airport.
United Airlines is upping the game in selling miles at a bulk rate and they’re now including a few other incentives, too. The latest email I received from them is offering the opportunity to purchase up to 1,000,000 miles in a single transaction. Yup, a million miles. And, as an added bonus, it includes a one-year United Club membership and Platinum Elite status for the 2013 program year. There are other options available, too, for smaller purchases:
These miles are meant to be used for recognition of employees or as gifts to others, not for personal consumption and not for resale. There is a max of 100,000 gifted to any account in a given year and all purchased miles must be distributed within the year or they are lost. The idea is that the sponsor buying the large block of miles gets a bit of a bonus for themselves while also getting the miles to give away. Not a bad idea, really, but the price point is still a bit steep, especially given that the Mileage Accelerator program sells points at a lower rate pretty reliably, even figuring in the 25% discount option.
At the end of the day, just another way the airlines are working to make money selling their most valuable product: points.
I don’t write in-flight reviews very often anymore because, quite frankly, I tend to bore myself writing them. Just how often can I describe the same seat on the same plane? But when I get a new experience I try to share it as they aren’t quite so boring to me. With a number of new (at least to me) experiences over the past few weeks there will be a few of these posts coming out. Hopefully they are vaguely interesting. And with that…
As part of our new years trip to Asia I had managed to score a pair of first class award seats on Singapore Air‘s San Francisco – Hong Kong service. Not living in San Francisco, however, I had to figure a way to get there. United’s p.s. service was the best candidate and given that I had already redeemed for a first class award that meant the trancon was a free add-on. Sign me up! The inventory was actually readily available for the flight we needed so I booked it and a few weeks later we were on the AirTrain at JFK, headed to Terminal 7.
United Airlines still operates their GlobalFirst lounge at JFK. It is a holdover from many years ago when they used to have a significant international presence at JFK and they still use it for their p.s. customers and international connections. It is small but sufficient for the number of guests on any given day. And it is quite a sight nicer than the United Club is it attached to. Nothing earth-shattering, to be sure, but a decent place to wait, especially considering the barren wasteland that is JFK’s Terminal 7.
We only had about 45 minutes in the lounge prior to departure so I had a quick sip of Champagne (self-pour on all the booze) and some finger food before we headed down to the gate and boarded.
For domestic service the p.s. First Class seat isn’t bad at all. That said, I cannot wait until they are replaced with the new flat beds in the coming months. I’m not going to be flying in first again and the new models are more comfortable to me, even if they are officially only a business class product. No pictures of the seats because, well, they aren’t all that inspiring. They were great last decade when they were put in service but definitely showing their age.
The p.s. meal service is rather similar between business class and first class on the p.s. flights. The only thing I noticed at all slightly amiss is that we were not asked for a first and second choice on our entrée orders; they just asked for the one. Maybe they ensure that first class always gets their first choice before doling the rest out to business class. Or maybe I was the beneficiary of GS status on this one. Either way, I ordered the steak and hoped for the best.
First course was a salmon and tuna appetizer. The salmon was just a big chunk of smoked salmon but quite flavorful. The tuna was pastrami-style or something like that. Also not too bad, though definitely a different flavor than I am used to with tuna.
The steak was, surprisingly, not particularly a mistake to order. Not the best beef I’ve ever had on a plane (ANA provided that later in the trip) but a reasonable texture, flavor and size. The green beans and potato thing served as sides were also decent.
And, finally, the ice cream sundae. I don’t know why I get so excited by them when flying but I do. I had this one the same way I always do and it tasted just like all the others. Not the absolute best ice cream but close enough.
There is a snack basket passed around a bit later during the flight and available in the galley at any time. I’m not particularly a fan of the products they have in the basket but I’ll write that off as me not liking them rather than that they aren’t good; I know I have my quirks in that regard. Unlike the breakfast flights westbound the lunch and dinner flights are, to me, well catered both in quality and quantity of food.
For in-flight entertainment on the p.s. flights there are a few options. One is the overhead CRT monitors which are invariably craptacular. They just suck. All different colors, often fuzzy/shaking picture and also, unfortunately, generally not something I’d want to watch at all. For business class and first class passengers there are also digEplayers distributed with a few movies to watch. I’ve used them before and they are OK, I guess, but the technology is a bit tired and the reliability of the systems is less than spectacular. They are being retired as part of the p.s. fleet renovations so it isn’t all that surprising that the maintenance on them is a bit lacking. And then there is gogo in-flight internet. I had a free code left over so I used that to pass the time a bit. Service was actually decent on this flight which is not my usual experience. I doubt I would have used it had it not been free.
Finally, there is the time-tested IFE system which I love the most: staring out the window as we fly across the country. I was able to pass quite a bit of the trip that way.
I also took a nap for a couple hours, further reducing my need for IFE.
The crew working this particular flight was fine. Not particularly warm and bubbly nor overly harsh. Just a typical service. They did everything just fine but nothing special. That’s not a problem in my book though they also don’t deserve special praise in any way.
Overall the trip really was "just another flight" in pretty much every way. The product is a bit tired and it is nice that United is going to be updating it, even if the "new" version isn’t exactly the newest product available.
I don’t often find myself flying on American Airlines which means I don’t often find myself in the Admirals Club lounges. A few weeks ago while headed to Chicago I flew with AA and, due to a minor SNAFU with my work scheduling I found myself at LaGuardia about 5 hours prior to my originally booked flight. Thanks to the AmEx platinum card I can use the AA lounges so that’s exactly what I did. I’m VERY impressed.
For starters, the lounge is huge, with many separate seating areas. In any of the several rooms it never felt too crowded nor loud though some were pretty close to having all the seats full. I also happen to be a fan of the décor, though I suppose that’s very much a subjective thing.
Separating the main bar area from the rest of the lounge was a decorative wall. This wall also happens to be a museum tucked in to the middle of the space. Want to relive the past 100 years in Whiskey? Check out the bottles on display in the wall. Very cool stuff there.
Like many Admirals Clubs there is also a kitchen/snack bar area available where food is sold. The selection looked decent enough and I was impressed to see waiters walking around the lounge bringing hot dishes out to guests who ordered food and then went back to their seats. That said, there were one or two wandering enough that I wonder if the food was still warm when it got to the guest.
And, scattered throughout the lounge were computer terminals available for use. Many AA lounges have the computers so that part isn’t too much of a surprise but it was nice to see them throughout the lounge, not just in the business center.
There is a TV room and conference rooms, too, making the lounge fitted to serve just about anyone’s needs.
Oh, and views of the Manhattan skyline, too.
I don’t generally expect much from domestic carrier lounges so perhaps my expectations were sufficiently low that the quality of this lounge really wowed me more than it should have. That said, I’m still reasonably convinced that it is one of the nicer options available in the NYC area, at least from the domestic carriers.
More photos, reviews and details on the Admirals Club at LaGuardia can be found in the Airport Lounge Guide section of Wandering Aramean Travel Tools.