Topic: Circumnavigation - Part 1/2 (ATL/PHX/SEA/NRT/HKG)
Posted 2012-06-05 21:11:47 and read 5328 times.
This is my first Trip Report posting, so please forgive me if I left out important details. I did my best to stay awake long enough to remember everything and type it up. I came up with this idea after my father planned our trip to Asia, and he helped me with the interline fares on EK to help make it happen (as such, this entire trip was made either using credit miles, Interline Fares/ZEDs, or non-rev flight privileges from employer airlines).
I did my best to get pictures of everything relevant that you readers might enjoy, but if I failed to it was probably because I was concerned about making sure I was still on track to make the next flight, or avoiding being harassed by officials.
All the relevant photos can be viewed in my Flickr set "Circumnavigation", seen here:
I know you guys don't like external links but there were far too many pictures I thought were important that wouldn't have fit in my storage on a.net. If any of the youtube links don't work, please let me know via PM.
Enjoy the first five legs of the trip - the other half will be up soon.
N620AW - A320
The first leg of my trip began in my hometown, Atlanta. Surprisingly, I flew this
leg on US Airways instead of the hometown favorite Delta. I really didn't know
what to expect; not having flown US in more than 10 years (last time was a
737-400 to PHL).
The line at security was not unbearable, considering it was a holiday weekend
here in the States. They opened up the employee line to the public after a log jam
formed in the main lines, which helped considerably.
My brother and I took the fabulous Plane Train to the D concourse and a quick
right turn off the escalator landed us at D23, where N620AW awaited us.
Scattered cumulus clouds brought islands of shade around the ramp as the
Republic-operated flight to PHL boarded ahead of ours.
We began boarding at about 1715, our plane carrying the UC Irvine Rowing
squad and a Quiz Bowl (school trivia) team from Phoenix. You can imagine the
sight of Crew members next to excelling junior high scholars
An early pushback (tail south) and a very quick taxi to runway 8R had us lined up
to takeoff at 1755, waiting the required 2 minutes after a heavy DL 767 departed
in front of us.
Takeoff vid: http://youtu.be/YXlYZOAIUcM
Our roll was a tad extended due to our heavy load of fuel and the high
temperature, using about 7000 feet of the runway. A departure turn to the
northeast followed by a northerly track along the east perimeter of Atlanta and
finally an on course turn heading west directly over the city. Visible was the
Atlanta Jazz festival being held in Piedmont Park. The climb out was pretty bumpy
but as soon as we passed through about FL200 it smoothed out considerably.
For dinner (redeemed miles afforded us seats in First Class) was a choice of a
beef plate or cheese tortellini. My brother and I decided to split one of each. The
beef was moderately dry, but tolerable when washed down with enough apple
juice. Both dishes came with a nice garden salad (my brother said the peppers
were great, you'll have to take his word for it) and some cabbage/slaw thing that
neither of us touched. The tortellini was underwhelming but filling. The
cheesecake was a little far on the creamy side for my liking, but not bad. A few
games of cards later and the desert of New Mexico was under us.
Our descent into Phoenix was uneventful, but a tad bumpy. The scenery was
fantastic with a setting sun as we passed over the big rocks situated east of the
metro area, then overflew KFFZ/Falcon Field in Mesa on our extended final. We
parked at gate A21, if I remember correctly, and after deplaning we made a 5
minute walk to gate A4 for our flight to Seattle.
Landing vid: http://youtu.be/mXIS95DQn_I
N831AW - A319
Leg 2 began with a quick stop in the US Airways lounge upstairs at the Phoenix
Sky Harbor. Standard complimentary snacks and beverages were available, such
as some tasty but salty sweet potato chips. Flying Magazine was also available for
the taking, but what I really loved was the view from the upper level. That
vantage point looking down on the gate areas is just so pleasing to me. From the
club you can also see the landing traffic for 25R as they cross the threshold (and
the touch down if the pilot happens to be eager to stop flying).
Now joined up with our dad, the trio of us made our way to gate A4 to
immediately board N831AW, operating US flight 77 to Seattle. We made our way
down a twisted jet bridge and onto this former America West bird. To be frank,
the interior looked like it was revamped right when the merger between the two
was announced, and left alone since. The bulkhead carpet-y decorations are quite
tired, as are the seats. Pleasantly surprising, though, was how far the seat reclined.
I failed to whip out my handy dandy plumb line but my guess would be that it was
at least 50% more recline than the A320 we had flown from Atlanta. This made
my nap later on way easier
During boarding, I looked through my window and saw a familiar sight (for a ramp
worker) - here comes the power cart. My guess is that the APU was INOP on
this Short Bus, therefore requiring an air-driven engine start at the gate. The noisy
beast was exhaling its fumes right up to my window, and engine 1 whirred to life.
Even though our flight showed 'out' on time at 1956, we didn't physically leave
the gate for about 12 more minutes. US Airways says we left on time, so I guess
we'll go with that.
We taxied for about 10 minutes, stuck in the 8pm push out of PHX. One could
tell when we were about to move up a spot; the plane would sway and bounce a
fair amount from the jetblast from the plane in front of us as they powered up to
scoot closer to 25L.
When it comes to seating location on a plane, my preference is 1-3 rows in front
of the engine. To me, this is the sweet spot in terms of view of the engine and
wing and sound of the 'buzzsaw' effect on takeoff. Unfortunately, that spot on
most planes is in First Class (except for our beloved DC-9/MD-80/90 friends, and
yes, I'm nuts and sit in the back intentionally on those planes) - which isn't to be
had very often. On this trip, because of those cashed in miles, I got my wish and
got seat 3F. The sound of these IAE burners from that seat is just something else,
a blend of power and smoothness - hear for yourself:
Takeoff vid: http://youtu.be/oPiwuuWl4gs
We followed the SILOW1 departure to the west-northwest, then on a more
direct north-northwest on course heading. The takeoff path off runway 25L gives
a fabulous view of downtown Phoenix off the right side of the aircraft, with the
uniquely lit US Airways Center on the near side of downtown. We were quickly
blasting through FL230 and into the blackness of northern Arizona.
I fell asleep shortly after the beverage service and typing up this report, and when
I woke up I would guess we were somewhere over northern Oregon. What
surprised me was that on the horizon hung a low, hazy light - our friend el Sol
had not quite gone completely to sleep up here! The twilight lingered until we
descended into the predictable Seattle cloud layer and burst through underneath,
with the Space Needle gleaming off the right wing. A little bit of a wavy approach
followed, and we touched down about 1500 feet past the threshold of 16R. Our
taxi in was delayed (the Boeing employee next to me indicated the frequency of
this at SEA) by a couple of pushbacks that clogged up the alley. All things
considered, it took a little more than 30 minutes from touchdown to the time we
walked into the hotel room at the SeaTac Marriott.
Landing vid: http://youtu.be/UeVLmdts4Wo
The hotel had a nice Pacific-Northwest feel to it, with the rustic looking
construction and ornaments of native fame. We weren't there for very long but
from what we saw, the amenities were more than adequate, with a nice sized
pool in the atrium of the building. After a good night's sleep and the Concierge
Lounge breakfast, we caught the free shuttle back to SeaTac. The Walk from the
drop off area to the terminal is a little tricky for first-timers; the shuttles drop
you off and then you have to cross that street, find the escalators or elevators
and then walk across a bridge to the ticket counters. It wasn't too tough but the
signage was a tad bit confusing.
N791UA - 777-200ER
After check-in, we made our way to security. As our luck would have it, of course
we picked the slowest lines both to complete the ID check and to actually be
screened. Good thing is that we always give ourselves way more than enough
time, so it wasn't an issue. This was, however, the first time in more than a few
trips that I didn't have to do the TSA's dance in the 'enhanced imaging device', and
just went through the standard metal detector. With dad's United Club access
we stopped by for some snacks (and free wifi). This location happens to be in the
basement of the terminal, which means no cool views. Wahh.
After being assigned our seats (I got 2A), we boarded and made our way left
down the aisle into United GlobalFirst - a new name for an old product. The seats
are very comfortable, but show their age everywhere you look. The finish is
scratched and discolored over much of the plastic and leather, the seat moves
very slowly from one position to another, and the IFE screen does not hide the
fact that it's 15 years old. None of that bothers me- it still provides a very
comfortable seat and still lies flat, so I'm happy.
I put my bags overhead (the pivot bins really make things easy) and ventured up
to the flight deck, where Captain Aikins and FO Wilson were prepping for the
flight. I asked about Channel 9 (yes!) and how we'd be departing - via 16C and
then DME vectors to an on course heading of about 310 or so.
We pushed right on time, 1256 local time. We had a lengthy taxi to 16C via Bravo,
Charlie, but the only plane in line in front of us was a Horizon Q400 so we did
little waiting. We held short of 16C while an Asiana A330 landed, then were
cleared for takeoff. The PW4090s wound up - with that great sounding whine and
roar combination - and very quickly we were airborne and making our right turns
to the northwest. After about 15 minutes of climb, the very friendly flight
attendant crew was up and serving the standard UA warm nut dish with a drink.
Of course, here I am of legal drinking age and in First Class - and I get apple juice.
I regret nothing.
Takeoff vid: http://youtu.be/Cb7R-Qrouug
For dinner, the options were plentiful (as is typical in 'GlobalFirst'). To Begin was a
choice of seared ahi tuna with wasabi; a tomato-basil soup; or fresh seasonal
greens. The main course options were a grilled filet mignon and summer squash
medley (my choice); a pan-seared salmon filet with roasted garlic mashed
potatoes; wild mushroom ravioli; or "Washoku Zen" selection, which included
appetizers of layered egg, salmon temari, shrimp with fish eggs, and somen
noodles for appetizing and a main course including pan-seared monkfish with
nanban an, simmered daikon and oyster mushrooms. The dessert choices were
either ice cream and toppings or a cheese plate.
Once at cruise, I picked out a movie tape (yes, they still use the tapes) to watch
before my nap. My choice was Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol. The movie
was decent, but the system was showing its age the whole time. Lots of missed
words and other sound skips, with some heavy 'scratches' across the reel. I'm not
complaining, just reporting. It does what it's supposed to.
Our routing took us quite a bit to the north. We basically followed the west coast
of British Columbia and passed about directly over Anchorage. I would have
pictures, but the cloud layer below our cruising altitude of 34000 feet was pretty
As we burned off fuel, we climbed up to 38000. I woke up from my nap just as we
crossed into the Sea of Okhotsk, on a southwesterly course. There were a few
bumps and wobbles across this last stretch of water before reaching Japan. One
neat thing about our route in total was that the pilots were able to leave Channel
9 on the whole flight. Khabarovsk Control was responsible for us over the
PALKY waypoint, estimating 0347z (1247 Tokyo time) over ANIMO, and
instructed to report as such. Not to encourage a stereotype, but if you've seen
the Discover card commercials featuring Peggy, that's pretty much what
Khabarovsk control sounded like - complete with ringing phones in the
background. We were handed off to Saporro Control over ANIMO two minutes
ahead of our estimated crossing time. Based on the 'Airshow' moving map,
ANIMO corresponds with the very northern tip of Japan, or about 660 miles
Over the course of the approach, we talked to 7 or so controllers with Saporro
and Tokyo Control, Tokyo Approach, Tokyo Radar and Tokyo Tower. Only one of
them was a man - make of that what you will.
Landing vid: http://youtu.be/6i3BwdyKgac
After deplaning at gate 32, we had a very short walk to NAA security. You get to
keep your shoes on! and at that point dad realized that he forgot his phone on
the plane. We got to the United Club (the largest one in the world) and within 5
minutes of notifying the attendant, his phone was hand delivered to the desk. I
doubt the same would've happened anywhere else. After resolving that issue, we
sat in a windowed area facing the gates. The family was not as enthralled as I was
to watch the agents push out a KE A330, then line up and wave to all the
passengers as the plane began to taxi.
Our initial plan was to fly on to Manila aboard JL745. We took the inter-terminal
bus over to Terminal 2 to check in with the JAL staff. Upon check-in, however, we
discovered that my brother's passport was within 6 months of expiring. This isn't
a problem for entering Japan, but the Philippines require more than 6 months
until expiration of the passport to be admitted into the country. A few phone
calls and translation barriers later, it was determined that the Manila and Boracay
portion of the trip had to be cancelled. We then went on a wild goose chase of
trying to figure out how to get back to the domestic transfers/immigration side
of the terminal in order to pass through customs properly. We found a helpful
security agent who ushered us backwards through one of the checkpoints to
customs, which went smoothly. We bought our tickets for the N'EX train into
Tokyo and caught the 1815 departure into the city. Thankfully, the Shangri-La
Hotels are very forgiving with changed reservations (especially when dad stays 50
nights a year with them), so we were able to move our Tokyo stay forward 5 days.
Our only whole day in Tokyo was spent on a 6 hour bike tour of the city. We saw
the Shrine of Fishermen, the main fish market, the Imperial Palace, and other
Tokyo landmarks. The hills were easier than I anticipated, but still left my legs
burning for the day.
On the 31st, we went out about a mile south of the hotel to Ginza looking for
some little souvenirs to take home. We ended up with a small bag of goodies, and
back at the hotel watched a stream of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals before
heading to Narita via the N'EX train. After the hour train ride, it was my only goal
to find the famed observation deck.
Being from the US, where having a camera equates you to a terrorist around an
airport, this was something special for me. Basically this was something out of my
dreams - an outdoor pavillion at a major airport, complete with holes made in
the fence for camera lenses to see clearly? Unheard of in most other parts of the
world. I only got to spend about a half hour up there, before any of the heavy
traffic really began to hurry out. There were a few ANA 777s that landed, but
they were slowed well before they came into view. I got to see a China Airlines
747 and a JAL 738 depart before I had to proceed through security and
After an exhausting jaunt to McDonald's (don't judge; the walk to and from surely
burned off as many calories as the sandwich), I made my way to meet my family at
gate 41 for our departure to Hong Kong, a last minute change to itinerary. Until
last night, we didn't know if we would be trying to go to Guam or Hong Kong,
HKG was more appealing to the family but the flight was more risky for us
N14235 - 737-800
After hovering near the podium during most of the boarding process, our names
were called and fortunately, we had drawn the exit row, seated together on a full
flight (we departed with one empty seat in the exit row in front of us). we also
lucked out with our luggage, as there was barely enough room to fit all 3 of our
rolling suitcases in the overhead bins.
After a few hurried runs up and down the aisle by the gate agent and flight
attendants, the door was closed. We waited for a few minutes while an Asiana 747
taxied, stopped, then passed behind us. We were then pushed back, tail south,
from gate 41 past the end of the terminal to allow the 747 room to taxi in to the
gate we just vacated. After engine 1 was fired up, we waited still as the Air Canada
77W parked at 43 pushed back, tail north behind the parked Asiana plane. We
taxied via taxiway W, behind the Conga line of evening departures and in front of
the AC triple seven.
I was seated on the right side of the aircraft so I couldn't tell what departed
ahead of us, but it must have been a heavy because we sat on the piano keys of
the runway for more than a minute. After our pause, the CFM-56-blahblahblahs
roared to life and we started rolling. Then we kept rolling. Next, we rolled some
more. The wings bounced under the weight of the blended winglets. Still rolling?
Yep. After a marathon 50 second ground roll, the wings flexed and we leaned
back for our four hour-plus journey to Hong Kong.
Takeoff vid: http://youtu.be/3i9hwdpGG9E
Our departure from NRT was a most scenic one; a humid atmosphere gave some
vapor off the wings, strakes and flaps, and after we smashed through the stratus
layer at about 5000 feet a beautiful evening sun treated us to some spectacular
views. The sky conditions allowed contrails to hang around long after their
sources had vanished from the area, in addition to some breathtaking natural
The meal service began very shortly after we reached cruising altitude. The
choice was chicken or pasta - and I'm glad I picked pasta. Dad got the chicken and
it was more like the size of two chicken nuggets, served with a little bit of rice.
My entire tray consisted of a small green bean salad, a bag of pretzels, a warm roll,
the pasta dish, a Custas custard-bun thing, and a small melon flavored candy. Add
my apple juice and I'm a happy camper.
The seat belt sign was on for most of the flight, with moderate turbulence
plaguing anyone's attempts to drink from their cup. While the sunset off the right
wing was quite beautiful, it was hard to take pictures without hitting my eye with
the viewfinder of the camera. Don't worry, I toughed it out to bring you only the
After those bumps the ride smoothed out considerably for the last 2 hours or so
of the flight. The cabin crew was up and back with a light drink service a few
times while i was making use of a couple flimsy pillows to brace my head against
the wall (I coerced my brother into switching his original seat at the window for
mine on the aisle, citing the stretching ability). Because we were in an exit row,
the ride was a lot more bearable - we're all about 5'8" so there was more than
enough room to lengthen the legs a little. Our approach was a lot smoother than
I was hoping for (who doesn't love those thrilling, tossing turns in the clouds?),
and we weren't in the clouds for very long at all. Our final approach to 7L was
surprisingly stable considering the pilot has told us that the wind was 20 knots
gusting to 30. We touched down and slowed down quickly and were soon at gate
Landing vid: http://youtu.be/1ggC6toFRAU
Once inside we began the hike to immigration, which is a fabulous way to
stretch out after 5 1/2 hours in a 737. After jumping through Hong Kong's hoops,
we were picked up and carted off to the Sky City Marriott. The views could be
better, considering the building's proximity to the airport, but they'll do. :P
We spent one night at that Marriott, then on Friday morning we switched to the
Renaissance Harbor View. Our room was on the 26th floor, affording an excellent
view over the HKCEC of the Hong Kong Harbor and Kowloon. It was a corner
room so we could also see to the west toward Central Hong Kong. Two days
and nights in Hong Kong included The Peak, The Escalators, the Hong Kong Zoo,
Kowloon, ChungKing Mansions, and some night markets. We weren't too
adventurous with our food, mainly sticking to recognizable fare.
N25201 - 737-800
The morning of June 3rd, I was able to meet up with one of my professors from
high school who now teaches in Hong Kong before we headed back to the
airport. This is where I split off from the family and began my attempt at
circumnavigation. I checked in (at HKG's cavernous departure hall) for UA78 to
NRT, and UA803 to BKK. The security and immigration lines were painless for
the most part, though my GoPro cameras were intriguing enough to warrant a
physical check by the agents. After following the maze-like path to gate 44, I found
one of HKG's complimentary Internet terminals and alerted the family of my
progress (made it really far, huh?). I was assigned seat 20F for the flight to NRT, an
exit row window - a seat I'd take any day. After the final sift-through of my bags
by security, I boarded and hunkered down for the considerably shorter return leg
Takeoff vid: http://youtu.be/Kir3XQ60ISk
This flight was considerably less full than the inbound to Hong Kong on which I'd
flown. I had the three seats in my row to myself, allowing for even more legroom
- not that I need it. The seat itself brought me back to earth; these old CO
interiors are pretty tired and some park benches would be more comfortable.
The meal choice this time was either a chicken and rice combo or beef and
mashed potatoes. I went with the beef, which was decent. The view from my
window was nothing short of glorious, clear skies above our altitude of 27000
feet and a few varied layers of clouds below. The IFE for this leg was once again
the back of my eyelids - the night before wasn't too restful so I was pretty
Our approach into Narita involved some cloud-smashing, but nothing too
exciting. We touched down smoothly on 16R, a textbook crosswind landing with
wind out of the southeast. We taxied to gate 27, which felt a little weird - to our
right was a UA 777 and to our left, a DL 747. Don't mind the Guppy!
Landing vid: http://youtu.be/eoq79z9ddnA
After a slight delay getting the jetbridge to a proper height (or lack thereof), we
deplaned and made our way into the terminal. I was through NRT's security in
seconds and quickly found the gate for UA803 to BKK, a 1830 departure. Two
hours, just me and my thoughts... and a few Apple products.
Stay tuned for part II - NRT - BKK - DXB - FRA - IAD - ATL!
Edited for grammar
[Edited 2012-06-05 21:52:32]