How Much Trouble Should I Endure to Fly a Specific Product?

I’ve got a trip to Southeast Asia planned for later this summer, and I was planning on flying Qatar’s and Etihad’s A380s in first class on the way back. I’d fly BKK-DOH-AUH-JFK, giving me a chance to hit up Qatar’s and Etihad’s new first class lounges as well.

But Qatar keeps changing the aircraft for my BKK-DOH leg. They fly the A380 on the route, but not for all flights, and the other aircraft they use on this route (a Boeing 777-300ER) doesn’t have a first class cabin. I already switched flights once to chase the A380 (and now have a ridiculously long layover in DOH scheduled), but today I noticed that they’re not flying an A380 on that flight that day either. I’ve already flown Qatar in business class on the 777-300ER from DOH to BKK, so that wouldn’t be a new product for me.

So now I’m contemplating what to do. I’ve got some date flexibility, so I can potentially move things around and try to get back onto the A380 (flying from Southeast Asia to the US via the Middle East is two award for American, so I can potentially have an actual layover for a couple of days in Doha), but there are also no guarantees that Qatar won’t continue to switch aircraft. These awards were also booked pre-devaluation, so I imagine that I’m limited on how many changes I can make at the old rates. And of course, there’s not currently award space on either Etihad or Qatar for the dates that would be ideal…

How much trouble should I go to to fly Qatar’s A380 in first class? Should I just wait to see if they swap aircraft again? Should I start swapping things now, even though Qatar might change aircraft again? Should I just suck it up and fly business on a product I’ve already flown?

I enjoyed reading this post about traveling as a Muslim

From a fellow Prior2Boarding blogger: http://travelsummary.com/traveling-as-a-muslim-is-the-worst/

I’ve posted in the past about my (sillier) experiences traveling as an Asian American: #1, #2, #3, #4#5#6#7#8#9, and #10. I feel fortunate that most immigration officers just let me through, even when I have crazy one-way itineraries and am flights to nowhere.

Lounge Review: First Class Lounge No. 77 Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG)

I’ve previously reviewed the No. 69 and No. 68 (Cathay Pacific) lounges in Shanghai, but on my most recent layover in Shanghai, I decided to visit No. 77 because it had been recently renovated. I accessed this lounge via Priority Pass.

Entrance to the lounge

Entrance to the lounge

My first impressions were that this lounge is really quite nice. There’s tons and tons of seating (I don’t know why there’s so much since I can’t imagine it getting even close to full), and the furniture all seems pretty nice. Lots of outlets near chairs and a variety of seating areas (e.g. if you want a table to work on, couches, lounger to rest).

Seating

Lots of seating

Dining area

Dining area

Lots of seating

So much seating

Seating

Open to the rest of the airport

Lounge chairs

Lounge chairs

Lounger

Lounger

The food options in the lounge aren’t as nice as the decor, in my opinion. While they have a decent variety of food options (some hot dishes, dim sum, salads, fruits, pastries, sandwiches), the food was not particularly appetizing. Part of this is due to the lack of turnover of the food, as the lounge was really not very busy, so it seemed like a lot of the food had been sitting out for a while.

Drinks

Drinks

Pastries

Pastries

Salads and sandwiches

Salads and sandwiches

Hot food

Hot food

Also, strangely, the desserts were in a glass case, but you couldn’t access them yourself. If you wanted a dessert, you had to ask someone behind the bar to get one for you. I’m not sure why this is.

Desserts

Desserts

Physically, this is a great renovation, and I think that this lounge is nicer than the No. 68 and No. 69 lounges. But it’s still not a particularly noteworthy lounge, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit.

Dining Review: Joia, Milan, Italy

Joia in Milan is one of the very few vegetarian restaurants in the world that has a Michelin star. There are, of course, many Michelin-starred restaurants that serve vegetarian food, but I’m talking about restaurants that serve no meat. So when I found myself in Milan recently, I knew that I had to eat at this restaurant.

I made a reservation for 7:30pm, which is late for me to eat dinner, but this is Italy, so I was the only one in the restaurant for about half an hour when I arrived. Joia offers three different tasting menus, as well as ordering a la carte. I decided to go for the most extensive tasting menu which was named “Zenith”. I also asked for everything to be made vegan (rather than just vegetarian), and they were happy to oblige.

Dining room

Dining room

Miscellaneous toys around the holidays

Miscellaneous toys around the holidays

Zenith menu

Zenith menu

The first thing brought to me looked like a painter’s palette. It had a number of raw vegetables served with various things to dip them into. This was a bit playful and whimsical, but wasn’t much more than dipping raw vegetables into vinegar and oils.

Vegetables to start

Vegetables to start

The first cooked course was a fake cactus served with parboiled potatoes in a creamy, tart, acidic goodness. There was also a carrot at the bottom of the pot, which was a nice crunchy and sweet surprise. This offered up a good potato flavor and was again quite playful.

Fake cactus

Fake cactus

The first dish that was on the written menu was called travel notes. The cup contained almond milk foam, celeriac, artichokes, and olives. On the spoons were passionfruit and 25-year old aged balsamic vinegar. This course had a deep, meaty flavor (strange to say meaty when there’s no meat), and the flavor notes reminded me a lot of Chinese food until I got to the olives and balsamic vinegar.

Travel notes

Travel notes

The bread was served in a bamboo steamer, and one of the breads also reminded me a lot of mantou, which is a Chinese roll.

Bread service

Bread service

The next official course was the shape of life. This was a fake egg made out of beets and filled with almonds and other things. This was an incredible course, both in taste and execution. I’ve never eaten anything quite like it.

The shape of life

The shape of life

Up next was a vegan take on foie gras. I have no idea how they made this because it really did taste like foie gras. It was super savory and accompanied by apple, a crazy delicious tofu that was more like a savory mochi, and a kale chip. This was course was another winner.

Oh my dear planet

Oh my dear planet

The next course was a truffled cream with artichokes and cabbage. You were meant to take the herbs on the side and rub them in your hands to release the aromas (but not eat them). This was crazy delicious, although maybe a tad salty. The charred cabbage leaf on the bottom of the dish was some of the best cabbage I’ve ever had.

Let's singing the mountain

Let’s singing the mountain

The soup course was a curry that contained more delicious cabbage. The soup and its contents provided a nice mixture of textures. I am generally not a big fan of soup courses, but I thought that this was a great soup.

Reflection about where I would like to be, here

Reflection about where I would like to be, here

Next was a miso cream on top of a rice cake with artichoke inside. The rice cake was executed perfectly with a slightly crispy outside but chewy inside. The miso cream was quite pungent, but it was worked well with the rice.

The navel of the world

The navel of the world

The next course was my least favorite of the night. This was a replacement course because I requested a vegan tasting menu, but it was a clear artichoke soup with a buckwheat disc, balls of carrot and turnip, different purees, and some balsamic vinegar. This course didn’t make much sense to me and was unwieldy to eat with just a spoon.

Serendipity in the garden of my dreams

Serendipity in the garden of my dreams

I was then brought a nut ravioli with carrot puree, a tart sauce, and carrot, celery, and avocado. The ravioli and puree were really good, but I didn’t really understand why they needed the other things on the plate.

Divertissement, thinking about winter and zen

Divertissement, thinking about winter and zen

Up next was a pea cake, tofu, mushrooms, and grapes. It was served table side from a cauldron, and the sauce was incredibly meaty and heavy. I did not realize that you could get these sorts of flavors only using vegetables.

A soothsayer told me

A soothsayer told me

The next course consisted of fried artichokes on top of cabbage. The cabbage was again delicious, but I think the batter of the artichoke was missing some salt.

Under a thin blanket

Under a thin blanket

The final savory course was similar to a cheese course with an almond cheese served with turnip, brussels sprout, and beet. This was a great course that was simultaneously simple in composition but complex in flavor.

Fallow

Fallow

The first dessert course had green tea cream, anise almond milk ice cream, orange, and hidden pomegranates. I’ll admit that this dessert was a little strange, as I didn’t think that the flavors melded that well.

Rainforest

Rainforest

Citrus fruits the Asian way contained orange, grapefruit, kumquat, and a tangerine sorbet. It was also served with a stick of incense for additional aroma. I feel like the most Asian part of this dish was the kumquat, but I’m not complaining because it was a tasty dessert.

Citrus fruits at the Asian way

Citrus fruits at the Asian way

The penultimate dessert was called “gong”. And it was served with an actual gong. When they serve you the dessert, they put a mini gong on your table and ring the gong before you eat. Part of the rationale is that the chef wants to make sure to involve all of your senses in the dining experience (hence the things like the incense stick and rubbing herbs with your hands).

Gong

Gong

The actual dessert was an almond milk foam and cream served with raspberry and chocolate. Absolutely delicious.

Gong

Gong

The final dessert was a raw chocolate and coconut mousse served with raspberry, mango, and guava. You really can’t go wrong.

Macon

Macondo

The service throughout the meal was very attentive. Everyone was on the ball, and my water glass never went empty (surprisingly hard for me since I drink a lot of water!). The service maybe wasn’t as formal as restaurants with more Michelin stars, but there were no miscues and the service was generally very competent.

This meal ended up taking about 2.5 hours and cost 110 euro (+3 euros per bottle of sparkling water). I think that this was extremely reasonable given the inventiveness and playfulness of the food, but I recognize that not everyone will be as amused as I was, and not everyone is looking for novelty in their food. But I heartily recommend this restaurant for any vegetarians or vegans looking for a fine dining experience or for those people who are looking for novelty and whimsy in their food.

 

Lounge Review: Le Anfore Lounge Rome Airport (FCO)

At Rome Fiumicino airport, the lounge options are relatively limited. Alitalia has a lounge, but most everyone else (i.e. not Skyteam) is sent to Le Anfore lounge, which is also accessible via Priority Pass. The lounges are right next to each other, and the entrance is near gate G11.

Entrance to the lounges

Entrance to the lounges

Airlines and access rules for the Anfore Lounge

Airlines and access rules for the Anfore Lounge

The lounge is a decent size with tons of seats. But there’s not a ton besides seats. There aren’t electrical outlets, and the things that look like windows are actually just illuminated wall panels to give you the impression that there’s natural light (the lounge is located below the main concourse).

Plenty of seating (note that those aren't actual windows)

Plenty of seating (note that those aren’t actual windows)

More seating

More seating

Work area

Work area

Magazines

Magazines

There’s a bar, and the bartender was super friendly. They also have a table of food, but the food was honestly pretty disgusting. I’d say that the savory food in this lounge is the worst lounge food I’ve ever encountered, which is kind of a slap in the face given how good food is in Italy. I can’t even imagine how they manage to make such bad food.

Pretty sad food options

Pretty sad food options

More sad food

More sad food

There is a shower in the lounge, although I did not use it. And the people working in the lounge were friendly, so there’s that. But otherwise, besides a place to sit and wifi, there’s not much that this lounge has to offer.

Lounge Review: Escape Lounge Manchester Airport (MAN) Terminal 3

Right next to the British Airways Terraces Lounge in Terminal 3 is the Escape Lounge. This lounge is used by Skyteam airlines, and it’s also accessible via Priority Pass, which is how I entered.

I really enjoyed this lounge, especially since it was accessible via Priority Pass. It felt super modern, there was lots of seating and natural light, and it was generally a pleasant place to spend some time. The lounge does not have showers, though, which is likely less of an issue for most passengers at MAN.

Entrance to the lounge

Entrance to the lounge

The lounge has quite a bit of seating. There’s a main room, but also more seating near the circular window that’s also part of the British Airways lounge next door. The lounge also has large windows with views out onto the apron.

Lounge views

Lounge views

Seating

Seating

Seating

Seating

Dining area

Dining area

Views of apron

Views of apron

The lounge has both a buffet and made-to-order food, although you have to pay for the latter. They start serving lunch at 11am, and they had a number of options like sausage rolls, pasties, other carry meaty things, a couple of salads, a meat plate, a cheese plate, soup, and fruit. I ate a plum that was pretty ripe and sweet!

Menu

Menu

A la carte menu

A la carte menu

Food

Food

Food options

Food options

Tower of dessert

Tower of dessert

I’m always appreciative of lounges that try to serve more real food, and this lounge definitely hits the mark. There’s also a full bar, although it’s not self service. Overall, this is a very good Priority Pass lounge and a pleasant place to spend some time before your flight.

Lounge Review: British Airways Terraces Lounge Manchester Airport (MAN)

Let me first say that transferring from an international to a domestic flight in Manchester is confusing. Possibly because it’s relatively uncommon to do so. For most airline transfers at Manchester, you don’t go through the normal immigration process, but you instead have to head to the transfer point, which in this case was a bus gate. You then wait for a bus (that doesn’t come as often as it says it does), then get dropped off at a transfer security gate, and then you get spit out somewhere in the terminal. I found myself in a deserted gate area and had no idea where I was going, so I wandered around until I found some police officers with extremely large guns who told me where there were shops and such.

Anyway, my first stop after transferring was the British Airways Terraces Lounge. This is a large nearly circular lounge with plenty of natural light and a view down to the concourse below. It wasn’t particularly crowded when I was there given the schedule of flights BA has.

Seating

Seating

Seating

Seating

Work areas

Work areas

Looking down on unwashed masses

Looking down on unwashed masses

Since I had come off a red-eye flight, my first order of business was to take a shower. The shower had both overhead, side, and nozzle sprays. The shower didn’t drain very well, but there was a depression in the floor right under the shower, so the bathroom didn’t flood, but it seemed a bit strange.

Shower room

Shower room

Shower

Shower

For food options, there were pretty typical continental breakfast type options: pastries, breads, fruit, yogurt, cereals, oatmeal, and chips. There was also a self-service full bar.

Food area

Food area

Coffee

Coffee

Pastries and crisps

Pastries and crisps

Fruit and yogurt

Fruit and yogurt

Drinks

Drinks

Overall, this was a pretty pleasant domestic business class lounge. Definitely a step up from domestic lounges in the US, so no complaints from me!

Trip Report: AA/US Business Class PHL to MAN A330-200

I normally wouldn’t review American Airlines business class, but I thought it’d be fun to review a flight in business class on one of the US Airways A330s. My first international business class flight was actually in US Airways Envoy class, so it was fun to see how the product has changed now that it’s technically American Airlines.

I got put on this flight relatively last minute, so I was seated in one of the middle seats, but the seats are pretty private, so I didn’t feel a huge difference by being in the center. I don’t have a ton of pictures because the captain made a specific announcement that taking pictures or video of the crew, passengers, or processes was not allowed, so I felt a little self-conscious. This was the first time I’ve heard such an announcement.

Cabin shot

Cabin shot

Former US Airways Envoy seat

Former US Airways Envoy seat

Foot space

Foot space

IFE and seat controls, outlet, reading light

IFE and seat controls, outlet, reading light

Here are some improvements over the old US Airways Envoy class product:
1) They now have the AA business class pillow and blanket. This is a huge upgrade over the crappy pillow and blanket US Airways used to use. The AA pillow is larger and fluffier, and the blanket is both more substantial and doesn’t make me run hot.
2) They have Bose noise-cancelling headphones. Another huge upgrade.
3) The IFE is the same as AA business class, which I also like better than the old US Envoy.
4) The food is standardized to AA’s menus. I don’t have tons of thoughts on this, although it’s probably better.

All in all, the fact that this is now American is a huge upgrade. The US Airways Envoy seat was/is a pretty good business class seat, but everything else that AA has brought is so much better.

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Since I was a late-minute addition on this flight, they didn’t have my special meal requests, so I had the salmon. I don’t eat much fish/meat on planes any more, but I thought that this meal was pretty solid. The salmon was maybe a little dry, but it was pretty decent overall, and the meal service was finished pretty quickly, which is good for sleeping on these relatively short transatlantic flights.

Salmon

Salmon

Raspberry tart

Raspberry tart

Breakfast was served a little over an hour prior to arrival. You probably don’t need to partake in both meals since it’s a relatively short flight (~6 hours).

As a bonus, here are pics of some recent VGMLs on AA on legacy US Envoy planes. This first meal was just lacking in flavor, but it was pretty inoffensive. A rice pilaf with bok choy and carrots.

VGML

VGML out of PHL

This VGML starter was cold potatoes and cucumber. I kinda liked it?

VGML

VGML out of FCO

This entree was confusing, but there were some red beans in sauce, eggplant stuff, a vaguely curry-like thing, broccoli, and rice.

VGML

VGML out of FCO

This pre-arrival meal included a chickpea salad (with no dressing), some fruit, and a “sandwich” that was just some tomato and lettuce in bread.

VGML snack

VGML snack

Overall, the fact that these flights now have things like the AA pillow and blanket and Bose headphones are huge improvements over the old US Airways product.

Lounge Review: British Airways First Class Lounge PHL

If you’re a oneworld emerald member flying internationally or flying British Airways first class, the only “true” first class oneworld lounge in the Philadelphia airport is the British Airways lounge, which has a dedicated first class side. All of the other oneworld lounges are AA Admirals Clubs, which are open to domestic passengers (the previous US Airways Envoy lounge that was reserved for international passengers is now a generic Admirals Club).

That being said, if you have AA frequent flyer status, the only time you’re supposed to have access to the BA lounge is when you’re flying internationally. There are reports of people being turned away because of overcrowding (even when it’s not very crowded), but I’ve never had any issues in the couple of times that I’ve tried.

Entrance to the lounge

Entrance to the lounge

To the left is the first class side; to the right is the business class side. The lounge itself is pretty small and has somewhat limited seating, so I can understand why they might turn people away.

Seating (the far end of the picture is the business class side)

Seating (the far end of the picture is the business class side)

Awkward heights for table and chairs

Awkward heights for table and chairs

There is a “First Dining” section of the lounge, but that’s only open when the British Airways flight with first class is departing, and I believe only people who are actually flying first class on BA are allowed in.

Closed off dining section

Closed off dining section

Beverage area

Beverage area

Wines

Wines

Liquors

Liquors

The food options at this lounge when the dining area isn’t open are okay for a U.S. lounge but really sad for an international first class lounge. There are cheeses, hummus, sandwiches, fruits, crudités, chips/crisps, and candies. I’ve definitely been in the lounge and overheard passengers berating the lounge staff for the meager options (which honestly is not helpful because the lounge staff can’t do anything about the fact that the food options aren’t great). The food selection is slightly better than the food selection in the Admirals Clubs, but that might change when they make a flagship lounge in PHL.

Vegetables

Vegetables

Miscellaneous snacks

Miscellaneous snacks

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

The wifi in the lounge works fine, but the lounge is somewhat lacking in electrical outlets. If you’re in PHL, you don’t have any better lounge options, so you might as well come here if you have access. But don’t be too disappointed if the lounge agent doesn’t let you in since you’re really not missing much.

Lounge Review: Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge (Renovated) Hong Kong Airport (HKG)

I’ve reviewed every other oneworld lounge in Hong Kong (the Wing, the Cabin, the Bridge, the Arrival, the Qantas lounge, and the Dragonair lounge), as well as many other lounges in Hong Kong (the Plaza Premium lounge, the United lounge, the Thai Airways lounge, and the Singapore Airlines lounge). I’ve even reviewed the old Pier lounge. But this is a review of the renovated Pier First Class lounge, and let me say that I think this is my new favorite airport lounge in the world. Holy moly is it great.

Entrance to the Pier

Entrance to the Pier

This lounge is beautiful. My photos do not do it nearly enough justice. It looks and feels like a cozy, luxury hotel. The lounge never felt crowded while I visited, and there’s lots of seating. The tables beside the chairs contain hidden power ports. The chairs themselves were also just super comfortable!

Hallway

Hallway

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

Bar

Bar

Work station

Work station

The lounge has shower rooms and day suites. The day suites are pretty basic, as it’s just a small area with a curtain, so there’s not much noise insulation, but no one was using any of them when I asked to take a look. The attendant said that you can use one for 1.5 hours. The shower rooms maybe aren’t as fancy as the cabanas at the Wing, but I certainly have no complaints about the shower rooms.

Hall of day beds

Hall of day suites

Day bed

Day bed

Shower

Shower

The food options in this lounge are both extensive and awesome. There’s a huge dining room with table service as well as a self-serve buffet in a separate room. For the self-serve buffet, think of the cold section of a good buffet at a luxury Asian hotel. For breakfast, there were pastries, breads, fruits, salmon, cold cuts, etc. For lunch, they had delicious-looking tarts and some savory cold dishes. Make sure to check the fridge for jars of more foods.

Service cart

Service cart

Breakfast buffet

Breakfast buffet

Breakfast spread

Breakfast spread

Well-stocked fridge

Well-stocked fridge

Coffee

Coffee

Desserts

Desserts

Lunch foods

Lunch foods

The dining room is incredible. It’s easily much better than the dining room at the Wing, and I’d say I like this dining room better than the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney or the Emirates First Class lounge in Dubai. The Wing always felt crowded to me (maybe because the tables are so close together), but the Pier’s dining room is spacious and gorgeously appointed.

Dining room

Dining room

Dining room

Dining room

Dining room

Dining room

There’s a full made-to-order menu, and they even have a separate (smaller) vegetarian menu! I had some bircher muesli and juice for breakfast, and both were good. For lunch, I had a salad, eggplant with mapo tofu, and some mango sticky rice, along with a non-alcoholic ginger forest to drink. This meal was great, and I would happily pay money for this food (to me, this is a huge compliment to airport food). This food is actually good food.

Dining menu

Dining menu

Muesli

Muesli

Salad

Salad

Eggplant and tofu

Eggplant and tofu

Mango sticky rice

Mango sticky rice

One final perk of the Pier is that they offer complimentary 10-minute massages. I chose the neck and shoulder massage, and the masseuse was very good.

Again, I think this is my new favorite lounge in the world. The lounge itself is beautiful, the amenities are awesome (incredible food options, free massages, day beds), and the service throughout the lounge was friendly and attentive. My only (incredibly minor) complaint is that the carpet in the hallway is really soft, so I found it oddly difficult to wheel my bag around. But seriously, I would go out of my way to use the Pier over the Wing, even if it meant trekking back to the low-numbered gates because the people mover only takes you in one direction.