Posts Tagged With: airports

Airport review: Dubai Al Maktoum International Airport

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Dubai Al Maktoum International Airport consists of two terminals name creatively Terminal 1 and 3. United Airlines uses terminal 1, and shares this massive terminal with airlines such as Lufthansa, Emirates, Oman Air, Fly Dubai, Go India and a whole slew of carriers you don’t normally see here in the States.

Comprised of two levels on the ground floor you have arrivals and the transportation hub for taxis, busses, hotel shuttles, foreign exchange and family meet and greet. Additionally there’s a food hall with the likes of Starbucks and a Maharba Lounge, that offers internet and seating. Although I’m not sure what the criteria is to use this lounge. Also on this level by door E is a luggage storage area where you can leave your bags for 20 Dirhams per 24 hours (about 7 USD). They did have an extra charge for larger bags, although I don’t know what it is though. It’s also open 24 hours a day and seemed like a safe spot to leave stuff if you don’t want to lug it around the city or if you have a long layover.

The main floor is where departures are. The terminal is broken out into lettered sections starting at A and going to at least E, I didn’t go further. There appears to be one security check point with customs and immigration as well. The check in facility is sort of a madhouse, with Dubai being so centrally located and offering so many worldwide one stop options plus being a jumping off point for so many contractors, military, and the like in the region there just seems to be a lot of hustle and bustle here. I was really expecting this airport to be pretty just like the city, but at least at this terminal inside and out I was not impressed. Don’t get me wrong it’s nice large and open, but I was expecting it to be on par with Singapore or Hong Kong and it was not. Again since I was in terminal 1, I didn’t get to see the other side terminal 3 which might just be better.

Also on the main level are escalators to the Dubai Metro that is very conveniently attached to both terminals. It’s a really great way to get in and out of the city and for 16 Dirhams you get a one day pass that gets you access to the metro and bus system. Not a bad deal for about 5 USD, which won’t even get me to SFO on Bart from my house one way. There are other ticket options, but for me this was the easiest one. Additionally when I needed assistance the gates at the terminals were more then glad to help me out. It was really great. Just be ready for packed trains since it appears many locals use it too.

After check in, you have to navigate the customs and immigration area, which is pretty large but also very crowded, this is a 24/7 airport and there are flights leaving and arriving at all hours so it’s just busy. There was a Fastpass option if you were a premium passenger, sadly I didn’t qualify. So that meant long lines, that took about 30-45 minutes to navigate just to have your passport inspected and to clear customs and immigration. Think Costco on a Sunday times 10, at least the people were friendly and there didn’t seem to be much cutting, which can happen in some parts of the world. Once through customs you still have to clear security, so a trip through the metal detectors are in order, again more waiting and screening. The nice part here is only metal and cell phones need to come out of your pockets, I didn’t have to worry about liquids, jells or computers. Also I imagine if I was carrying a large water bottle they might say something. On a side note, there’s secondary screening at the gate too, where you again go through a metal detector and have your bags searched pretty well, and here you needed to take shoes off, in fact they thoroughly hand inspected them too. Finally though once through customs and immigration you’re free to move about the terminal.

Inside the terminal there were two sets of the usual duty free stores with all the usual trappings, plus several spots selling local crafts and souvenirs. For me the duty free stuff didn’t seem cheaper then I can get at home, so I just moved on. Ironically since the country is supposed to be dry but many hotels and restaurants can and do sell alcohol the duty free area seemed pretty well stocked with popular brands of liquor. Otherwise there were lots of restaurants including a Nestle ice cream shop, Paul’s, McDonalds and Texas Chicken. It’s just funny seeing so many US chains outside of North America.

If you’re a lounge whore like me, you have many to choose from including Lufthansa Senator lounge, Emirates first and business class, Delta/KLM, Oman Air, Air France and several contact lounges for many other carriers including two Priority Pass ones too. Stay tuned for my photo review of the uber tiny Senators Lounge.

A couple other data points, if you are a transit passenger, once you deplane you can most likely get a copy of your ongoing boarding pass at the transit area, airside. Although if you have a long layover like me try and get it printed prior since it’s possible there may not be someone to print it depending on who you’re flying. I also found they like the real boarding passes, and my print at homes were not acceptable not sure why. With my onward boarding pass I had the option of hanging out in the terminal prior to leaving the airport, which let me get in a shower after my 13 hour flight. Otherwise I would have had to immediately go to immigration and not have been able to stay airside. Then when I was ready to leave the airport, I went back up to the transfer area and the security agents there let me back through so I could head to customs and immigration and enter the country. This process was super simple, but it was because I had a onward boarding pass, without it, I don’t think this would have worked.

Overall DXB terminal 1 is not to bad, if you have to hang out someplace for a few hours you could do worse, is it my favorite airport, no but it’ll do, and I’ll be happy to transit it again.

Categories: Airport, Dubai, Photography, Review, Travel, Travel Blog | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

The Club at SJC

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So I don’t travel that frequently through San Jose, it’s a nice airport since the massive remodel, but because of the distance from home it’s my third airport choice between Oakland and San Francisco. But that being said if the flight times, or cost works out I’ll be glad to fly out of there. The new bonus of flying through here is the newly opened Club at San Jose located near gate 15.

I think this club has been open for about a year, and seemed to open when initial international service to Japan on ANA’s 787 Dreamliner was initially to commence. Which was a nice addition to SJC, because prior to this I don’t think any airline lounges existed here. As a frequent traveller, lounge access is a great feature and especially during busy travel seasons, or on lengthy delays you’ve got a usually quite and peaceful place to hang with some free food, snacks, drinks and usually internet. This definitely is a nice bonus when you spend more time at airports or hotels then you do at home. Trust me I’d rather be home, but when you have to travel this is a nice benefit.

There are a couple of ways to get access to this lounge, fly ANA in business to Japan (not me today), have Priority Pass, or Diners Club (who has that). In my case I have Priority Pass a really nice perk of the Amex Platinum card. For the moment it gets you access to these types of lounges plus US Air, American Airlines, Delta, Alaska, Amex lounges and United lounges. It has a hefty annual fee but, with a $200 annual rebate, Global Entry reimbursement, and lounge access (most of which start at $350 per year), they’re practically paying you to get the card. Ok that’s enough free advertising for Amex.

In any event the lounge was really nice, it still had that new car feel. It was light bright and airy, and had four distinct spaces to lounge in. Plus a bar area with soda fountains, ice tea fountains a bar with a pretty decent complimentary drink list and a light snack area. There were several large tv’s, a computer area to use with printers and then a work area for you to hook up your own laptop (probably about 8 stations for this). Additionally they had two showers, I didn’t check them out, but I imagine they were just as nice as the rest of the lounge.

The particulars:

Hours 5am -10 pm daily
Access granted for ANA frequent travelers, and premium travelers plus Diners Club, Amex Platinum and Priority Pass members. Or $35 for a single entry.
Location: upstairs from gate 15 terminal 2 Airside. About a 5 minute walk from terminal 1 security.

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Categories: Airport, Lounges, Photography, Travel, Travel Blog, Travel Tools | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Oktoberfest or Bust

Oktoberfest it’s finally here!!! I’ve been anticipating this trip for almost 10 months, although I’ve had a visit there on my bucket list forever. I mean something about the celebration of beer, that brings a whole country together is just cool. I know that Oktoberfest is not only about the celebration of beer but also a celebration of a marriage King Ludwig and Princess Therese, but man when 7 million people come together to have a 16 day party they don’t mess around.

We’ll there was a little business about actually getting to Munich to celebrate, and travelling from the West Coast to Munich offers a lot of options, but on my carrier of choice United Airlines, there aren’t any non-stops to Munich. Although their partner Lufthansa has one daily flight direct, but since I was hoping to use my upgrades coupons to fly in business instead of coach who doesn’t like that. In my case I needed two tickets so that “G” and I could both travel in style, I could not let him sit back in steerage while I live it up with Kanye and Kim up in business (yes they were on our flight sans baby). Anyhow the only option that allowed immediate confirmation to business was San Francisco to Charles De Gaulle (Paris, France) and then onto Munich on Lufthansa. The configuration of this plane was a 767-400 two class with lie flat seats and a large individual personal TV, with a pretty decent selection of entertainment. I believe that this configuration was a holdover from the Continental days. Needless to say I was looking forward to the flight almost as much as the beerfest that was about to happen.

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Upon arriving at SFO we quickly checked our bags at the counter and went off to security which at noon on a Friday was a zoo. There’s a large bank of international flights between 12-4 so lines were the pits, even the premium line was out the door. Thankfully we had time and by some miracle a TSA agent walked up to us and a few people in from of ours and ushered us to the other side of the security section. Not really sure why but it easily saved us about 30 minutes in line, yes that’s really how bad the premium security line was. I’m not exactly sure how we got where we were but out wait was no more than 10 minutes, it was great.

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Now we had a dilemma get food or get a drink in the lounge. Well cooler heads prevailed and we chose the latter, and quickly headed to the Untied Club, we quickly made our way to the bar and started our journey off proper with cocktails. I was on vacation!!! We had about one hour in the lounge to imbibe in many adult beverages, and snack on “lunch”, and enjoy the cool tarmac views of a very busy International Terminal. Finally it was time to head off to the gate and ensconce myself in my chair for the next 10 hours.

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The flight itself was just great, I know I was on a euphoric high, but the crew was just top notch, and really did a great job. We were really well taken care of from the moment we took off to the moment we landed in Paris, sure the crew was all over the celebrities, but really they made everyone feel special. Besides that though the food was outstanding, I know I only took pictures of the Sunday and the entrée, but overall it was an amazing meal. All totaled it was a five course meal, and by the time it was over I was stuffed to the gills, even passed on breakfast because of it. I know the horror of it all.

Just as quickly as we boarded our flight was over. I was able to catch up on almost all of the summer blockbusters, that I had missed such as Superman, Star Trek, GI Joe, and Iron Man three. Sadly they all sucked except Star Trek which kicked ass. Not sure what made me watch GI Joe, but I just had too, I must have had one too many gin and tonics.

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Once in CDG, we had a quick layover and onto a quick 1 hour flight on Lufthansa to Munich. Although a very very tight squeeze it was a quick and enjoyable flight, with a meal and a beer. Yes they serve glass bottles, in coach. US based airlines, take note. Here’s a few picks from the flight, and stay tuned for a few postings on Oktoberfest.

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Categories: Airlines, Airport, Europe, Lounges, Lufthansa, Oktoberfest, Photography, Review, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report, United Airlines | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Run Disney Run

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Well as promised here’s part two of our trip to Disneyland . The main purpose of this trip was to support my way better half in her quest to run and complete her second 10k (6.2 miles) in case you were curious. Let’s start off by saying she did great!!! And I’m way way proud of her for this major accomplishment, it’s definitely a proud moment to see your best friend work towards and complete a challenge like this. Major Kudos wifey.

So our trip started out with a 9 am JetBlue flight from SFO, because it was the long weekend and with the Bay Bridge shut down for the final construction to connect the new Eastern Span, we had to go over the San Mateo Bridge. With this many variables, we had an early day and left the house at 6 am. Plus once we got to SFO we had a rental car to gas up and drop off at the central rental car center (this ended up being a huge stroke of luck on our return) and bags to check. Travelling with a child is so much different than travelling solo. For a three night trip, we had three suitcases, a car seat, stroller, my backpack, a diaper bag and a little backpack full of toys for “S”. Man I’m just tired thinking about it. I wanted to take a picture of our treasure trove, but in all out haste I didn’t.

We made it to the airport in an hour and a half which was not too bad, I dropped off the girls, and my wife became a Sherpa carrying all the bags except for my carryon and suitcase. Since we had three tickets she could check our other two bags, stroller and car seat for free so I sent her off with all the stuff. In our travels with our kid, we’ve found it easier to drop off one parent first, then drop off the car and meet up after security. As opposed to us attempting to lug all our stuff from some parking lot or air train station to the airport. Obviously the best option is a private car or shuttle directly to the airport, but a long weekend parking fees and the like vs. a rental car paid with on points was really a good alternative.

Breakfast the most important meal of the day

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My family

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After security I met the family at a coffee shop, we had a quick breakfast and then spent the last hour or so looking for planes. “S” loves airplanes and is always quick to point them out when we’re at home and she sees them in the air or at the airport. Whatever it takes to entertain a 2+ YO. Well we made it to Long Beach w/out a hitch, having TV on the plane and lots of new toys really helps. My only gripe was two kids channels and what are they showing Adult Swim and Family Guy, not exactly kid friendly programming, needless to say the route map seemed to work ok. We did have stuff on the iPad, but we just never pulled it out. Toys and some TV for an hour flight worked out great. Thankfully this was not our first flight with the munchkin so we at least have the airplane part mostly down pat.

Dude where’s the plane

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Handy Manny managed to stow away on our flight

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So onto Disneyland we had a day at the park before the race and spent most of the day at California Adventure. With the last two years’ worth of remodeling and renewing the park it’s really a great place to hang out. Plus there are tons of rides for little ones to do there. I think we spent most of our time at Grizzly Peak (formerly Brother Bear), so “S” could run around and climb stuff, we also did the Chew Chew Train at least 5 times, I love that ride. Besides that California Screaming single rider, and no “S” didn’t get to do that one, and then lots of time was spent at the Triton’s Merry-Go-Round. Since we had so many days at the park, and have been here so many times, we’re never in a hurry to do a specific ride, and if I miss out on something this trip there’s always the next one, so I never feel like I’ve missed out on something. This particularly holds true with a little one, there are only so many rides they can do, and there’s only so many times you want to go on a ride solo, that if you learn to reduce expectations, and attempt to take it easy, you can still have a great time. We also really tried to stay close to our kids sleep schedule and only one night did we stay out longer than an hour past bedtime. Sure that can make for a short night, but raising a kid is a marathon not a sprint, and we’ll have plenty of time to spoil and ruin her, and this was not one of those times.
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She’s never seen Cars but loves Lightning McQueen
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Her first time on Midway Mania and definitely not her last
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Race Day was finally here, and my wife was out the door by 4:45 AM, the race started at 6:15 and she had to get from the Anaheim Hilton to the race start so an early start was really necessary. Thankfully the kid and I slept in to 7 AM and were able to make it to the park to see her finish the race. Since we were not staying at the part we could, walk, drive or take a bus. We opted for option three since racers and their family got a free bus pass for the weekend, and it really was an easy way to get to the park. Sure lugging a kid, stroller and diaper bag on and off a bus plus navigating Downtown Disney which was part of the race course was a challenge, but worth it, to see my wife running. Run Disney does a pretty good job of alerting family of their racers position so we found a spot and waited. The wait was worth it and in no time flat mommy was running by. By 8 AM it was already 80 plus and humid and would hit 90 plus by mid-day, by far terrible running conditions and weather that made for a very warm weekend. According to my local friends it was the hottest weekend of the summer. I could have easily changed my shirt multiple times during the day.

Throughout the weekend we had a great time. Even though there were some 7,000 runners for the 10k and over 10,000 for the half marathon the next day, the parks were quite. We never had a stand-by line more than 45 minutes, and the longest fast pass wait I saw was 3 hours. Popular rides like Midway Mania, Indiana Jones and Radiator Springs Racers were easy waits. Unlike many other trips where by 11 am RSR fast pass was sold out, we had easy waits. This made for a really fun trip, since we could do what we wanted and at the pace we wanted too. Plus we had lots of friends visit and hangout with us every day, which always makes Disneyland that much more fun.

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Less then 2/10th of a mile to go and she’s still smiling
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I predict many long lines in my future to visit Minnie, Mickey and all of the Princesses
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Sadly Monday afternoon came quickly and it was time to go home. Again we were flying JetBlue to SFO, or so we thought. We arrived 2 hours before our flight to LGB to find that our flight was delayed. Dam it!! We were scheduled for a 5:25 PM flight and at present it was delayed to 7:30 PM, in fact every flight out of LGB was delayed from 3:30 PM on except for 2 on the board. For those of you not familiar with JetBlue, LGB, JFK and OAK are their main focus cities, so having that many flights delayed here was really a bummer. Between 3:30 and midnight there were four flights to the Bay Area and all delayed. UUGH. So at this point we had a choice sit and wait for our flight hopefully 7:30, fly to Sacramento at 6:30 also delayed or fly to Oakland delayed to 8:30. We choose door number two, even though it was to SAC it was scheduled to leave earlier and we just needed to get home, I had a 6 Am flight from OAK to Las Vegas the next morning. This is where the rental car came in handy, we didn’t have a car to get at SFO, and since we had arranged to get a rental car back home all we had to do was switch the rental car pickup. Plus that meant we didn’t have to avoid the Bay Bridge that was still closed and was scheduled to open Tuesday at 5 AM. To cut a long story short our flight to Sac left about 8 PM we arrived in Sac by 9:30 we were in our car by 10 and home by 11:15 PM. The flight to SFO left LGB at 10:30 PM so definitely a smart decision on our part. Ironically the main reason we flew JetBlue was because back in January we flew them down to Disneyland and were similarly delayed and received a $100 per person credit, that almost paid for our tickets this time, I think we paid $29 per person more out of pocket this time. On this trip, we got a credit unfortunately it was only $50 but hey that’s almost a one way ticket for next time.

Overall a very successful weekend jaunt to LA and Disneyland, we got a lot of family quality time, friend time and park time. Even with a few travel snafu’s life moves on and you just need to roll with it. We had a great time and look forward to the next trip, already planned for January, and yes the boss is running her first half marathon, and we’ll be there to root her on.

Categories: Airlines, Airport, Americana, Disney, JetBlue, Photography, Review, Run Disney, Sports, Travel, Traveling with kids, Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sometimes the journey home is half the fun

Well for my devoted blog readers you might be wondering how the heck I made it back from Australia and New Zealand back in March. Did I swim, walk, take the slow boat from China? No I flew. I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for my trip report (or at lest I hope my one devoted reader is). Well I had a pretty decent trip home, I did in fact take the long road home, but when is that unusual for me, right. My itinerary was as follows Sydney to Bangkok on Thai Airways (my first time) then All Nippon Airways from Bangkok to Tokyo Narita connecting to American Airlines to Los Angeles. As many will say the distance between to points is a straight line, but in my case that’s just not so true.

I left Sydney late in the afternoon, on one of the two 747’s that fly from and to Sydney and Bangkok on Thai every day. On this sector and the one to Japan I had used miles to score a first class seat, I was truly giddy as a school girl because I had never flown Thai let alone in first and was looking forward to the hopefully amazing experience. In a nutshell, I was not disappointed in a cabin of ten maximum passengers and four crew members you knew you were in for a treat. Even though the cabin was full, it never felt crowded and I always felt attended to when I needed anything. In fact upon arrival on the plane, I was greeted by name, taken to my seat and then all four attendants came by to introduce themselves. Even at disembarkation, they all went by each passenger, and said thank you and bowed. As I’ve found so frequently thought out Southeast Asia so many people are so friendly even on an airplane.

Below you’ll find pictures of my seat, the awesome pajamas and the even cooler Tumi amenity kit. As well as my food. Overall the seat, food and entertainment were great. I had enough time to rest, watch a few movies and just enjoy the beautiful journey home. In my almost 40 years on this planet I’ve been lucky enough to fly in first class a few times (thanks to airmiles). Although Thai didn’t unseat Singapore Airlines as my number one, they were a close second, and if I have the opportunity to fly them again, I will jump at the chance.

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If all of the food and the amazing seat and legroom we just not enough, upon landing in Thailand I had the opportunity to partake in a quick Thai Massage. Thai offers this very pretty cool free perk for all Business and First class guests regardless of whether you arrive or depart in one of these two classes. The only difference is a 1/2 hour vs. 1 hour. In my case I did get the hour option, but due to a short connection and a long wait I only was able to get a 20 or so minute neck and shoulder massage. I know why am I complaining, a FREE massage in Thailand how cool is that? Needless to say this was a very very good massage. Many thanks Thai Airways, I hope to have the opportunity to try this again.

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On my way out of Thailand I got to fly ANA one of two National carriers out of Japan. I had flown them before also in business like this flight but that was back in 2007. Although a very nice flight, after the heals of my Thai experience, it was just ho hum. I know that’s not a fair assessment, since if I had this seat and this crew on any US carrier I would be in hog heaven. The part that was so amazing about this flight was the meal I had, it was the perfect Japanese style sushi box, expertly prepared and incredibly tasty. I can’t believe how good the food was for 35,000 feet in the air.

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Stay tuned for the next installment on how I got home.

Categories: Airlines, Airport, ANA, Food, Photography, Review, Thai Airways, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Planes, (Not) Trains and Automobiles

What started out as a simple flight from San Francisco to Wyoming via Denver, ended up being three flights one aborted landing, on plane swap, a second mechanical while in the air and a 6 hour road trip with three strangers. Wow what a day yesterday. I had a trip scheduled that was 7 hours long and 2 flights, but as the travel gods giveth they taketh away too, and the trip took 17 hours instead. I was scheduled to fly from San Francisco to Jackson Hole Wyoming. SFO was a zoo Monday morning, the sequester was part of the issue, being a Monday was the other. My 5:35 AM flight was on time, but was oversold as were all flights to Denver till the late afternoon. United was looking for volunteers to travel later in the day if my travel plans were flexible. In my case they really weren’t but I was willing to change flights if I could get closer to my final destination Worland Wyoming. Central Wyoming is a little tough to fly into, even though there are several small airports there are only a few airlines that come here, so you’re not only limited on options but you can also pay an arm and a leg too. In this case Worland has an airport, but tickets were just over the moon expensive so I had booked to Jackson, 4 hours away because it was 40% cheaper, and I had a budget to keep.

So with that being said I jumped at the opportunity to change flights if I could get flown directly into Worland, which is serviced only by Great Lakes Airways two times a day, and is a partner airline of United, who was my carrier today. I knew that United may help me get there if I would give up my seat on this first flight. The agent found me an option that would get me to Worland at 8:30 PM, but it meant not leaving SFO till 1:30 PM, remember I was there for a 5:35 AM flight. They told me to hang out during bearding and would let me know if I was needed, secretly I was hoping I they would. Well I asked about 10 minutes later and they said they were good, I got on the plane sat in my seat and waited to take off. Sure enough a few minutes before departure they come on and ask me if I’ll still give up my seat, and I said yes.

At this point the agent starts to work their magic, and the whole time two other customers are yelling at the other agent because they MUST be on this flight, and don’t understand how their seat could be given to someone else. On and on they go, and my agent and I just smile at each other. If you only take one piece of advice form me never ever show up late for a flight, always check in online and be at the gate no later than 30 minutes before departure. Period. If you aren’t there you may lose your seat or just miss your flight, and some lucky SOB (read me) gets your seat. When I show up early walk up ask for standby and take your seat. It’s never malicious, but I can tell you countless times, I show up for an earlier flight ask for standby and viola I have a seat and get home hours early. While you beg and beg to get on a flight home.

So as the agent processes my new flight, she says I’ll standby you for the 7 AM, and I gladly accept. I’m now booked on a 1:30 PM to Denver and a 6:30 PM connection to Worland via Cheyenne. Whoo Hooo. I head over to the new gate an wait my turn hoping I get set up. Sure enough this flight is oversold and they need volunteers. SO it doesn’t look good, but I’m #1 on the standby list. I cross my fingers. 11 minutes before departure they have 3 seats that are still no shows and I’m still #1. They tell me to come up and line up, at 10 minutes they give me a seat number and I board. I go to my seat and it’s occupied. Crap. I go back up front and they say take any open seat, what is this Southwest I walk all the way to the back and there are none. I go back and say now what. They then move a non-rev to the jump seat and now all is set. We get to Denver on time, but…On landing about 2000 feet off the ground the plane starts to rev engines and ascent. Wait aren’t we landing. Apparently no, we circle around, and the pilot says a plane took too long to leave the runway so we had to abort landing. Just great. Ten minutes later we land and off I wait for 6 hours. At that point I go to the board to stare at other flights and what do I see the earlier Worland flight is delayed, and I may have a chance. I change terminals and hoof it to the gate, I have 20 minutes to the newly delayed departure. They tell me sure we can set you up. I’m stocked back on track. Well the 10:30 departure creeps from 11:40..12:00…12:15…12:25…12:50…1:15 plane swap due to mechanical 1:30…2 finally boarding. By now it’s snowing bad, and I just hope we get to leave. We get on do two deicing procedures, and off we go. At 3 we land in Cheyenne drop off 10 of 16 passengers deice and take off again for 1 more hour, at this time it’s 3:30. Half an hour later, the pilot comes on and says were going back, we have a mechanical issue that must be fixed in Cheyenne and can’t be fixed in Worland, no mechanics. CRAP, now what. I’m worried I may never make it to Worland, I have to work tomorrow. They have all six of us to deplane and hit the portable also known as the gate, what a Podunk airport for the capitol. 20 minutes later they give us two options, they’ll pay for a hotel and we wait till 11 AM Tuesday to continue to Worland 300 miles or 6 hours driving away, or fly back to Denver (which oh by the way was underground stop due to snow) and hope to get to Worland on the last flight or Tuesday afternoon. Three strangers and I are like can we drive, they say sure but it’s on you cost wise.

We all decide we’ll drive, two of the others were married and had travelled for 24 plus hours and just wanted to get home from vacation, the other was also from Worland and was going home to perform a few medical procedures the next day, so he had to be there. All three I had talked to during the several hour delay in Denver but they were all strangers. Sure this was not the smartest thing to do but I HAD to get here, and the other two options we’re not going to work in any way shape or form. So off we went, we got a car, our bags and off we drove. What can be a 4-5 hour drive took six because of bad weather ½ the time, that slowed us down on two lane slightly windy roads. It ended up being a fun drive, I got to see some really beautiful landscapes and parts of the US I had never seen before. Plus I got really great narrative of the scenery from locals who knew the area, it was a great tour of the South Eastern and Central parts of Wyoming. I called my wife to let her know my crazy plan, needless to say she thought I was straight up crazy. But sort of understood, what I had to do. She was worried but I texted and called her a few times to let her know I was alive.

Finally at 10:30 PM after one gas fill up, and dinner at South of the Border in Casper I got to my hotel unwound and went to sleep. What was one heck of a travel day was finally over. Sure this is not how I expected to get here, nor had I expected to meet 3 new friends, but hey it was fun and showed me again how amazing people can be in an odd situation. I made it via plane, not train and automobile. Take that John Candy.

So if you’re taking score at home. I was going to fly SFO to Jackson arriving at 11:30 AM, got rerouted to Worland via Riverton arriving at 8:30 PM, showed up in Denver and was put on the earlier Worland via Cheyenne at scheduled for arrival at 11:30, but due to the initial delay was 1:00 PM. I finally flew to Cheyenne and got off at 4:30 PM and arrived in Worland at 10:30 PM. BTW the original Worland flight landed at 11:45 PM so I was the winner right.

Categories: Airlines, Airport, Random, Travel, United Airlines | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fiji or bust

1

This crazy moth landed on my luggage cart and hung out for over an hour.

Hanger on

Hanger on

What would you do if you had a spare weekend in Auckland and didn’t have anything to do. How about Fiji. When I was on my last work trip to Auckland and Sydney, I had a weekend to kill, I’d spent enough time in Auckland and the other cities on the south island I wanted to go to would take too much time to get there before having to get to Sydney for work on Monday. I started looking at options North of New Zealand, and again there were lots of places to go, but when I started looking at flight options Fiji just kept coming up. It’s always been on the bucket list, but to go there without the wife could be a bad idea. Thankfully being it was the “Year of Rahul” and all, my wife acquiesced.
There were a few flight options to Fiji from Sydney, but only two were non-stop. One of those was on Air Pacific Limited (soon to rebrand to Fiji Airways), and because they are a partner of American Airlines, I could even use points to fly. Score. The tickets were running about $650 roundtrip and I frankly didn’t want to spend that much money so miles it is. Plus this gave me a chance to fly an airline I had not flown before and that’s always fun to do.
Once I got to the airport in Auckland, I was able to hit up a lounge and not have to sit with all the unwashed masses. Ha ha. Thank you again Amex Platinum Card, the card that just keeps on giving. It’s got many great features, but free lounge access to some 3000 lounges is my top one through Priority Pass and the American Airlines, Delta, and United networks. So that being said off I went to the Emperor Lounge it had free Wi-Fi, food, drinks and bit of peace and quiet. Since it was a contract lounge I’m not sure what airlines used it, but it was quite. For the three hours I was there, I saw the two employees working there and three more guests that’s it. That’s my kind of lounge, peace and quiet and lots of space. Below you’ll find a few shots of the lounge; even though it didn’t have any windows it was light and bright, had clean modern furniture and was pretty spacious. I’ve been in a few lounges where you’re lucky to find a spot to sit let alone clean and comfortable.

My ticket

My ticket

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

The lounge

it continues

it continues

The spread

The spread

The bar at the lounge

The bar at the lounge

As I mentioned earlier I had an opportunity to fly Air Pacific Limited. They are a small airline with 11 planes (the majority are 737’s). They fly mostly in and around Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and a few flights a week to Hong Kong, LA and Honolulu. They are in the process of changing their name to Fiji Air and have just received their first new airplane an Airbus A 330 with one to come in a few months. With the rebranding, they will also get rid of their older 747’s which will allow them to continue their aim of becoming a more profitable airline, and expand their route network. That being said, I found this flight to be pretty decent. It was not an airline full of frills, but the staff was friendly, the food or snack in this case was decent, and the drinks were plentiful.
The 737 was configured with two classes, eight seat s in Tabu (business) and 112 in Pacific Voyager (coach) configuration. I was booked in coach, and on a three hour flight that was just fine, although at check in I inquired about an upgrade to business, which could be had for $250. But when the agent told me that coach was very empty and she would block the other two seats in my row I stayed put, who needs business class when you can fly coach anyhow.
As you can see from the pics below, the cabin was in fact empty. I had a row to myself as promised, although not much legroom, I had plenty of space to spread out into and that was fine with me. They offered a light snack of cold pasta and biscuits plus drinks. And it seemed like others got as many drinks as they wanted, one was enough for me. They had overhead entertainment which consisted of a movie and a few sort films, I don’t remember what the movie was but I liked it. Before you knew it we were on descent to Nadi, Fiji and off to my hotel.

Fiji here I come

Fiji here I come

our 737

our 737

a whole row to myself

a whole row to myself

My seat

My seat

Ouch no legroom

Ouch no legroom

Very empty cabin

Very empty cabin

My seat

My seat

Auckland surroundings

Auckland surroundings

073

Auckland

Auckland

079

The meal box

The meal box

My in flight meal

My in flight meal

Once I got to Fiji, and cleared international customs, it was off to collect my bags and get to my hotel. By 7:30 PM I had my luggage and was in a cab to my hotel. For future reference be sure to get local currency before leaving the airport, the cabs only take cash and don’t take credit cards. I had to have him stop at an ATM at a bank I was familiar with so I could get cash. Probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I had all my valuables in my backpack which I took to the ATM, just in case. Anyhow there was no drama, and I arrived at the Sheraton Denaru Island Fiji in about ½ an hour. The unmetered cab was $40 Fijian about $20 US, one other thing I don’t think exists here are cab meters. So you should negotiate before getting in, I had done so and had also verified on Trip Advisor from other reviewers as to what the general charge should be. I got to the hotel close to 8:30 PM the bell staff took my bags and directed me to check in, where I waited in line. There was only one person in front of me and I was fine waiting but before I could blink a bellman came over to me and said he would take me to my room. Whoa wait a second, I didn’t even tell anyone my name say what. Anyhow the bellman grabbed my stuff we hopped in a buggy and off we went. I felt like some uber VIP that the hotel knew was coming and it was awesome. Once I got to my room, the bellman showed me around, dropped off my bags and I was set.
Wow what a great room, I had booked the cheapest room, a king size garden view standard room, and what I got was and Ocean view king room. Score!! As you can see from the pictures the room was pretty spacious. It had a large TV and sitting area with table as well as a work desk. Plus the hotel was kind enough to hook me up with a bottle of champagne, a logo coffee cup and a couple bottles of Fiji water, is there any other kind of water in Fiji. It was a nice touch to get a bottle of champagne, unfortunately since I was solo, that just meant more for me. Three cheers to Starwood, for these nice amenities as a Platinum guest, you done good.
The bathroom was also nicely laid out. A large soaking tub and large rain shower, as well as a beautiful sink area. Again, Starwood did a nice job designing the bathroom, and providing a well-designed and inspired bathroom.

A gift from the hotel, and yes it makes the coffee taste better.

A gift from the hotel, and yes it makes the coffee taste better.

The room cont.

The room cont.

The room

The room

The closet

The closet

What other water should they serve

What other water should they serve

Thank you Sheraton for the nice gift.

Thank you Sheraton for the nice gift.

Work desk and a little bubbly

Work desk and a little bubbly

TV and sitting area

TV and sitting area

My bed

My bed

Rain shower

Rain shower

Rain shower

Rain shower

Vanity

Vanity

Bathtub

Bathtub

Wedding chapel (the view from my room)

Wedding chapel (the view from my room)

The view from my hotel

The view from my hotel

The hotel grounds were nicely kept and manicured. There was lots of room to roam and a large pool to hang out in with a bar close by that served drinks to patrons in the pool, so there was no need to get out. But if you wanted to go get your drink yourself it was only 5 feet from the pool. There was plenty of benches and tables in the pool too and alcoves to hang out in.
There were three or four restaurants plus the pool bar. They also had an ice cream stand and café. I only ate at the breakfast spot, and I don’t remember the name of it. Frankly it was ok, there was a lot to choose from, eggs any way, fruit and juices, breads as well as Asian breakfast items too choose. I’m really not much of a buffet guy, so even though it was nice, I was not that into it. If you get the meal for free I’d take it otherwise I’d pass. There are also several bars, late night music and nightly entertainment, so if you’re looking for that you don’t have to stray too far. Oh yeah one other nifty feature flags at the loungers so you could just raise it when you wanted another drink or food. I love being lazy when thirsty. And I must give one last prop to the Sunset, just amazing. I just wish I had my bride with me to enjoy it with, besides I may not look so odd if I was with someone, at a holiday resort. I think I was the only person not there with a group, family or couple. As a work traveler this is something I’m use too.
Would I stay here again, maybe? The Westin, which is next door, looked nicer and a bit more upscale. Don’t get me wrong this was a nice hotel and I did like it, they have done a good job keeping it maintained, but from my brief visit to the Westin for an amazing spa treatment and the look of the grounds I’d probably stay there next time. The only other gripe was the water, it was not nice. It just looked gross and not to inviting. Most people were swimming in the pools, not the ocean. In fact again based on Trip Advisor, all the hotels at Denaru have the same issue; it apparently is the area that’s not so great. But if you go offshore even 10 minutes it’s a different story. So that being said I’d find someplace a bit further from civilization, so I can get more white beaches and blue water, as evidence of some of the shots I took, 3 minutes after takeoff. If I was here for more than 2 nights, I would have taken an excursion to uncharted waters just to see what the outskirts of Nadi are like.

Hotel grounds

Hotel grounds

Hotel Beach and grounds

Hotel Beach and grounds

Main pool

Main pool

Lazy River main pool

Lazy River main pool

136

144

148

165

167

168

169

170

171

The Pool

The Pool

122

123

172.1

172.2

172.3

172.4

172

The Westin Entrance

The Westin Entrance

173.2

Around the spa

Around the spa

around the spa

around the spa

173.5

173.6

Spa

Spa

So my return was again on Air Pacific Limited but this time to Sydney. I was lucky to fly one of their soon to be retired 747’s so I was excited for that. This is still my favorite plane of all time. It reminds me of all the trips I took as a kid flying Pan-Am and then Singapore Air in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when that mystique of the upper deck and visions of flying something other than coach ran through my head. When the seat map showed stairs and a cabin upstairs that I was not allowed to investigate. This plane is still the workhorse of the long haul and freight industry, but as economies continue to grow the 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus a380 are making their inroads. I imagine this airframe will be around for a few more decades, but the glory years of 747 air travel will slowly go away. I could go on and on, but I won’t.
Anyhow Air Pacific again does a two class configuration with business downstairs in the nose of the plane and the rest of the plane in coach, including the upper deck. When I booked my flight I was not able to assign a seat upstairs, it’s only available for their frequent fliers or on day of for anyone else. I guess it may give them an opportunity to not have to use it if the flight is light. I’m not actually sure how light the flight was booked, but upstairs there were many rows with one person or just two, but not three. It again made for a bit of extra space and comfort on this four hour flight.
I’m not sure if it’s because these are former Singapore planes, or because these planes do the long-haul flights for Air Pacific, but all seats had in seat video monitors so I could choose what I wanted to watch. This makes for a pretty enjoyable trip. In this case it was Pitch Perfect, this is not an Oscar winner by any stretch, but it has good music and is just funny. The show choirs take themselves so seriously at times that you just have to laugh. Plus it has a couple of funny actresses with a good script, so you’re in for a good treat. In any event I find it to be one of those movies when stuck on an airplane I’ll watch again and again, to date I think I’ve seen it four times, never at the movies just on planes. As for food, we had a breakfast burrito, fruit and crackers, again it was pretty good food, and I appreciated it.
The return flight was again uneventful but good. I can’t say I’d go out of my way to fly AP, but I would definitely not avoid them, and would for sure take them instead of Jetstar, Tiger or some of the other low budget carriers in the southern hemisphere.

soon to be retired 747

soon to be retired 747

174

Hi all

Hi all

Empty cabin again

Empty cabin again

Ouch

Ouch

Good Bye Fiji

Good Bye Fiji

191

Ahh Fiji

Ahh Fiji

The rest of the meal

The rest of the meal

Breakfast burrito

Breakfast burrito

When in Fiji

When in Fiji

What’s in your wallet

135

All in all this was a good trip, but yet too short. Next time I come here there are a few rules I must follow.
1- Bring the wife
2- Stay at the Westin or Sheraton or offshore
3- Visit offshore beaches
4- Have a good time

Categories: Air Pacific Limited, Airport, Hotels, Lounges, Photography, Review, Starwood Hotels, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting lost on my way to Middle Earth

026Recently I had the opportunity to head to Auckland, New Zealand for a quick work trip. Since teleportation has not been invented yet, my only realistic option was to fly there, so I figured I’d make an adventure of it. Yes there are times when the direct flight is optimal but sometimes there can be other options may offer a better experience or are just cheaper in this case it was both.

Since I was leaving from San Francisco and would need to be in Auckland for a week and then spend a week in Sydney there were a lot of decisions to make. Air New Zealand offers the only non-stop flights from the continental US to AKL either from SFO or LAX, otherwise there are a slew of options via Sydney, Hawaii or Asia. Since my itinerary would ultimately be a multi-stop journey it was going to be a bit expensive and because I like to fly I’ll be more than happy to do a detour if it saves money and doesn’t take too much extra time out of my life.

When I started shopping I found a very interesting routing via Japan then onwards to Auckland. In fact, the round trip fare was less than any one stop option via Sydney, Hawaii or even the non-stops; I know I’m not the only one that is constantly amazed at the complexity of airline pricing. I remember reading once that there can be over 25,000 pricing variables for one single flight from San Francisco to New York, how is that even possible. So it didn’t take much convincing my brain and backside that I’d be flying to Auckland via Narita Japan and off I was to book my ticket.
There was a bonus to booking this routing, the long haul flight from the US to Japan was on American Airlines and that meant the possibility of upgrading from economy to business with points. At the moment AA offers top tier members 8 EVIP coupons which translate to one class of service upgrade on flights anywhere in the world they fly on any fare class ticket. So even the cheapest ticket can be upgraded, the only caveat is space. In my case the outbound was waitlisted and the return was confirmable, yea ha. For those of you not familiar with these kinds of upgrades, most airlines let their frequent fliers upgrade their tickets, but require a certain class of ticket to do so. In the case of United you can only upgrade on certain fare classes and usually that ticket can be $500 to $1000 more than the cheapest ticket available. Then you still have to use miles or coupons to upgrade and if you can’t confirm at booking most likely you won’t get upgraded. I just can’t see any reasonable option to pay more money and hope to get upgraded, at least w/ AA you buy on the cheap, and if you don’t get bumped up at least you didn’t spend any more money then you had too. So I booked the ticket and I was set to go, now all I had to do was sweat out the outbound upgrade. My routing was the following SFO to LAX to NRT (Japan) to AKL (Auckland), with all flights on American except the AKL leg which was on Air New Zealand which I was ok settling for coach.

I know for most of you, adding that extra flight is crazy, but hey as I’ve said a million times I love to fly and these kinds of trips offer and adventure plus a lot of peace and quiet. I enjoy being home and doing the family thing, but I also enjoy time when the phone and internet are off and I just can’t be reached. With work happening at all hours of the day that ability to be unplugged if even for a few hours can be just relaxing.

Below are a few photos of the seats, meals and lounges. I must say that overall I had a great flight the staff on all sectors were amazing I really lucked out. As a one million mile flyer on United you get use to their service and seeing how the other half lives on AA was refreshing. I can’t really say anything bad about UA, but I’ve been there done that and a change of pace was just great. Different seat, different food, different amenity kit and even different entertainment options. All in all a good experience with a different carrier.

My tickets !!

AA Admirals Club LAX

AA Admirals Club LAX

Self serve bar

I want this fridge

Food spread

Breakfast in the lounge

On my way to Narita

Hello 777

My new bag

The goods

My seat for 10 hours

5.5

5.6

5

5.1

5.2

5.3

5.31

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

15

What did I like about AA

I liked the food and amenity kit. Nice products and an even better case, it’s now my power plug bag for my backpack, it’s an Eames fabric design the quintessential design team from the 50’s that even if you don’t know who they are you know their stuff. I’m not really into industrial design but these guys are amazing, so to get a bag in their fabric design is just cool, and I have a chance to use it every day, thumbs up to that.

They had nice food options see menu below, and the overall pacing was excellent, the booze selection was not too bad, were not taking Singapore Air here, but for a US product pretty darn good.

Lastly the staff was great, they made sure you had a full glass of whatever you were drinking and were just friendly. This almost over anything else can make a flight that is mediocre be great. It’s the little things that matter and personal attention and friendly people sure goes a long way.

What didn’t I like, to be honest the only turn off was the seat and entertainment. Now first off let me say that the seat is just fine over any coach seat. You have tons of room and it’s relatively comfortable. But it’s an old semi-lie flat seat. Again trust me when I say that if I had to sit in your average coach seat or this it would win 100% of the time, but when you compare this seat to what other airlines offer in business it’s just not that great. I had too much trouble getting comfortable, I could never get in a good relaxing or sleeping position. This is one spot UA has the old AA beat. My understanding is the new 777-300 AA has which they have 3 of now, has a far superior seat, but it’ll take a while for AA to catch up to UA on a premium business class seat for sleeping. Again don’t get me wrong this by no means is a bad seat, I’ll take it any day of the week, and it was just tough to find a good lounging position. As for the entertainment, it again was fine, just a little clunker then most other carriers and the screen was a bit smallish, but hey I had tons of TV and movie options so it really wasn’t that bad.

The only other gripe was the lack of power options they only offer a cigarette liter port for external power. In a 10 hour flight, that’s just ridiculous, who has a computer power plug for a cigarette lighter. Let alone a computer that can last 10 hours when in use. If you’re trying to work like I was, I only got a few hours before I had to call it a day.

As for Air New Zealand again I had a good flight. I had exit row which translated to unlimited legroom that Michael Jordan would be jealous of. The seat was fine enough, sure the AA one was hands down better, but this was just fine. The staff were super friendly made sure you had plenty to drink (read they were not shy with the booze) had ok food and the TV was full of options. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

16.0

16.1

16.2

16.3

16

18

19

So what can I say, I had a great start to a trip to NZ. Great flights, good lounges while transiting LAX and NRT and decent food, drink and entertainment.

Categories: Air New Zealand, Airlines, Airport, American Airlines, Food, Lounges, Photography, Review, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My week in Edmonton…Eah

Well another week on the road, and a few more mattress and pillows to try out. This week I’m in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, and despite colder weather then I’m use to at home for February in Edmonton, it was downright warm. Mostly in the high 20’s and low 30’s without any snowfall unless you count 1/8″ overnight as snowfall.

So with three nights here, I again continue my quest to stay at different hotels to attempt to keep my hotel status for next year. This city is quite large and sprawling, and offers the world’s largest mall West Ed Mall, and a lot of hotel options, but in the grand scheme of things most are low to mid-range choices. Sure I don’t have an unlimited budget so I typically do stay at mid-range hotels, but in some larger cities my dollars will go a lot farther. But in this case and on this trip it was not the case. That being said the majority of hotel chains up here are not familiar names to most of us in the US, or are of the Days In or Best Western variety. Sure I do stay at those too, but only in a pinch or when they are THE hotel in town, and unfortunately I’ve been to enough small cities in the middle of nowhere that they are your only option. I know it sounds like I’m complaining, and I swear I’m not but when you travel a lot, it’s the little consistencies that a specific hotel offers that are nice. With Hamptons, it’s free bottled water and snacks in your room, plus mushy pillows and comfortable beds, and good free Wi-Fi. And with the newer ones, a very modern decor, and livable feel. With Four Points, a good shot at a room upgrade, which I got this week to a two room suite, a made to order breakfast, or buffet and again free Wi-Fi. Since I don’t have a Canadian phone or Internet plan free Wi-Fi is huge, it means FaceTime with the family and the ability to just get stuff done, I have to push off till the evening, without Wi-Fi throughout the day.

I don’t have a ton to say about these hotels besides to say I’d stay at both again, they were clean comfortable felt newer and well maintained. In regards to location the Four points was on the South side of town and seemed to be in more of business area, it was close to restaurants but not in a happening part of town. The Hampton on the other hand was on the West side of town and about 1 mile from the West Ed Mall, so there was tons of stuff around it. On my next trip I’ll probably stay at the Hampton, since it offered more food and entertainment options within two miles then the Four Points. There’s tons of bars, restaurants and shops at the mall although I didn’t go inside I did have dinner at one of outlying restaurants one night, and I must say on a Tuesday night the mall was busy.

Hampton Inn—–

Hampton Inn Hotel Room

Hampton Inn Hotel Room

Workstation

Workstation

DSCF0237

Modern sink

Modern sink

DSCF0239

Thanks from the hotel

Thanks from the hotel

Four Points Sheraton—

The Four points bedroom

The Four points bedroom

TV

TV

Family room Micro and fridge

Family room Micro and fridge

Sofabed

Sofabed

Bathroom

Bathroom

Oh I also got to spend a bit of quality time at the Edmonton Airport in the NEW US Terminal. In most Canadian airports with direct service to the US you clear customs in Canada so when you hop off the plane you don’t have to see immigration officers. It saves a ton of time if you have to connect, effectively it’s like having a domestic flight. The downside most of time is crappy terminals on the Canadian side, since the terminal is only for US flights, and once you’re though customs you’re segregated from the rest of the airport. Until last year the Edmonton airports US facility was just awful, you had a bar with barley passable food, a Starbucks, duty free and gift shop. That’s it, it truly sucked. Well welcome to the new US terminal, I’m not sure how long it was under construction I would guess 2-3 years, and sometime in the past year it finally opened. There was a food court with a bar, Chilis, Quiznos, a Wing shop and the usual duty free stuff. The terminal was clean modern, had lots of open space with tons of windows. Oh and the best part a lounge, I’m a slut for lounges. Why sit with the unwashed masses, when you can sit in a quiet place with free food, Wi-Fi and booze. In this case there was The Premium Lounge, which charges a few for the general public, which I would never pay. But if you have Priority Pass or American Express Platinum you get in for free, thank you Amex. Well this lounge was pretty nice, it was clean, comfortable and had plenty of space. There was a small buffet spread of salad, sandwiches and cookies and pastries. Plus they had a few hot items, pizza, chicken wings and a few other things. There was a stocked bar, espresso machine and all kinds of juices and sodas. All in all a pretty good little lounge, and not bad if you don’t have to pay for it. In fact it almost better than most United and American Airlines lounges. Oh and since the lounge is in the US portion of the airport it probably is not too well used, the last flight out is at 6 PM, in the 1 3/4 hours I was there I was the only guest.

DSCF0241

Work area and additonal seating

Work area and additonal seating

Coffee bar and bar

Coffee bar and bar

The spread

The spread

cookies and pastries

cookies and pastries

The entrance

The entrance

Super cool artwork in the terminal

Super cool artwork in the terminal

The terminal

The terminal

food court seating

food court seating

More artwork and seating

More artwork and seating

Hotels I stayed at:

Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Edmonton/West
18304 100 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, T5S 2V2, Canada

Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton South
7230 Argyll Road Edmonton, AlbertaT6C 4A6

Categories: Airport, Food, Hilton Hotels, Hotels, Lounges, Photography, Starwood Hotels, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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