It is time once again for the annual family trip back to the US. We took the opportunity of our friend Jordan getting married in New York to time the trip.
Since I am from a broken home, the trip requires three stops: New York, Las Vegas, and Safford (actually Pima, if you are familiar with Arizona geography).
This routing would have us on the nonstop flight CX830 to New York’s JFK direct from Hong Kong. Not much prep, I tried to stay up all night, but then I was woken up by the Blackberry alarm, only to realize that I had slept six hours! Oh well, topped up the packing, we made our way by bus to the airport.
Check-in was a snap; clearing security a breeze, and exiting as a Hong Kong resident done in a second. Once clear, we went to Meiji(sp?) for some travel stuff, then back to gate 4 for departure. Thankfully, they were already boarding. When we took our seats, I noticed the flight monitor saying that the flying time would be just over 14 hours, which is 1 hour 40 minutes less than the scheduled time. I was hoping this was right, and our captain, Chris Wong (or Wang), confirmed it was true. In addition, we would be flying a bit more southerly to catch some good winds, and it would likely make for a bumpy ride. Both points turned out to be true.
After it appeared we were ready to go, the purser made the announcement that a passenger who went through the check-in process, decided not to fly with us today “according to his traveling companion who is already on board.” He added that there would be a delay while they search for his luggage and remove it. About five minutes, the purser made another announcement saying, the earlier matter which he mentioned had been resolved. I was certainly curious what happened…Did they remove the bag? Did said person decide to travel with us anyways?
Some views while we were waiting:
Either way, push back was right away, and taxiing straight behind us from gate 4, to the long end to take off towards the East. The weather was fine, and after a short takeoff roll, we were airborne. The flight was full in first, and business (at least from the view while boarding), and about 85% in economy. Maybe that is why I felt the takeoff roll was short, considering we must have been carrying a boatload of fuel.
National is a new one for me!
The takeoff can be viewed here:
We were in the last row, the seat of two by themselves on the left-hand side. The row in the middle just behind us, was empty, so my wife commandeered it. It became our rest area for the flight.
Lunch was served, and I watched some Dragon’s Den again. Soon it was my turn to take the row to sleep. Mind you, we had tail winds well over 100mph and it was pretty bumpy, so to make it work, I would have to fasten the seat belt over the blanket. That’s when I realized that the Cathay, deliberately or not, does not make it easy to do this. If you slide all three seats down in the full ‘recline’ position, you can create a fairly large surface for sleep, but the seatbelts don’t cooperate. Anyways, I had to lay on the airbag, but was able to manage an ok rest.
Also, during the flight, I noticed that our 1 hour 40 minute advantage, was shrinking to 1 hour 23 minutes. My thought was if we were too early, we most likely would have to wait for our gate anyways. After some nice vistas over Canada, across upstate NY, down the Hudson, across Coney Island, way out into the ocean, before circling back to JFK, we were on the way in with a simultaneous landing by a Delta 757.
By the time it was all said and done, we were only an hour early. We only had to wait five minutes for the gate too. Then it was through immigration, which was quite slow for US citizens. The non-citizens were zipping right out of there.
Then we were in the taxi line, on our way to the Sofitel (44th btw 5th & 6th). Highly recommended by the way.
Jordan’s Central Park wedding was a lovely affair, photos can be seen here:
All pictures of CX830 can be seen here:
Then it was off to Port Jeff for a few days, but on the last day, I had to go the city. So I agreed to meet my wife at Terminal 8 later in the day. My meeting was delayed twice, but I finally had it, then as I was backtracking to Penn Station, I changed my mind and decided to go get a taxi instead. Bad idea, but I got there with a tour of Queens Boulevard (“I am Queens Boulevard!”).
Soon, I was at the AA terminal, and we went and checked in. However, the line was only six parties long, but it was moving sooo slowly. I thought that we were in the wrong spot as maybe this line was for people who had problems only. There was a family which jumped the queue, because they missed their flight and they needed to be re-ticketed. They were from Europe somewhere, I think it was Sweden, anyways, they were berated by the staff for jumping the queue. The family thought it was urgent, but the lady yelling at them, said that flight left three hours ago so it couldn’t possibly be urgent. Watching it was a good way to kill a few minutes.
Eventually, we were up at the counter, as always happens, it only took a few minutes to check us in. I was really starting to wonder what in the good name these people were doing at the counter?!? This reminded me of Bill Bryson’s book, when he was waiting in line to buy a train ticket at the Italian rail station, wondering how this could be emotional process.
Our gold status on CX got us priority passes for security. We were in the clear in no time, having a few minutes, we got a bite (thank goodness) and went to the gate where they were boarding already, almost done actually.
This was AA257, a wingleted 757, which would take us from JFK to LAS. I would like to tell you how long, but I never received that information. The captain, Chris Disorio(sp?), was nice and told us just about everything else, except…how long it would take. To his credit, when JFK is involved, it is a crap shoot.
For example, they hurried us all on board, to close the cabin doors. Only to have Captain Disorio, tell us that we would be delayed at the gate, because of traffic. He said it would be 32 minutes, which would put our departure back by 40 minutes (we were already eight minutes past when this announcement was made). Then, like clockwork, we pushed back right when he said we would; however, Mr. Disorio made another announcement. He said that we would sit in this position (between the two concourses) for 10-15 minutes. It was more like 30. But weren’t we blocking traffic? I mean where we were sitting it was not like someone could use our gate anyways.
Soon we were off to wait in line. This was a surprise, we were number 11. Likely because we waited so much before getting there. My last two departures from JFK, our wait was over 20 in line.
Let’s take a minute to talk about the shame that is American Airlines, at least this flight. The plane was old. They ran out of buy-on-board food after 10 rows in coach (this flight was 100% full). No PTV. I booked AA to help renew gold (I was getting close) and to see the ‘new’ AA terminal. The terminal is nice, it really is. However, last year on Delta, on the JFK to PHX run (granted I was near death with a stomach bug), we had leather seats, liveTV, and a turkey sandwich in row 28 on a 738. Ironically, the Delta terminal where the PHX flight boards anyways, is a bit crappy.
Here is the takeoff:
My old neighborhood of Bay Ridge!
The Windy City!
On the plus side, Captain Disorio and his candor, and the flight attendants were very nice too. After watching “Anything Else?” and “Match Point” on the iPod, a quick nap, the announcement came that we were on our way down to Vegas. I could not really seen anything out the window, until we were over the city, and I captured a video of the landing here:
The other pictures from AA257:
A couple of days in Vegas, we went and saw the new bridge over the dam, went to the Spring Reserve (really cool), and went to Red Rocks, where my cousin was running in a relay. And we actually found her in the sea of racers! That was neat. We also took a tour of the Howard Hughes home out there too.
Pictures of Vegas:
That night it was back to the airport, to Southwest, where we did curbside check-in. Can someone help me? Do you have to tip for curbside check-in? I would do it automatically if he met us at the car and took the bags over and checked us in. But it was the same service as on the inside, just outside. Anyways, I didn’t tip, but there was a hesitation, I took extra long putting my documents away just to make sure everything was tagged for Tucson before going on the belt.
This was Southwest flight 217 nonstop service from Las Vegas to Tucson. The crew appeared to be exhausted. We were on-time, even though the plane landed from Nashville 20 minutes before our 6:55pm departure. I didn’t think so many people would be flying from Las Vegas to Tucson on a Saturday night, but it was full.
Pushback and taxi were uneventful, and we made our way to the runway which would have us taking off past The Strip. The video of the take-off is here:
This flight was a short 52 minutes. We encountered some heavy chop over Phoenix, right when we started the approach into Tucson. The landing can be viewed here:
All WN217 Pictures can be seen here:
I chose this flight since I needed to drive to Safford, the ticket was cheaper (LAS to TUS had the US$49 fare), and the rental car was cheaper too. After an unfortunate incident when my dad and I were on our way back from a Cardinal game were someone leapt in front of our truck, I avoid passing through the Apache Reservation at night. Also, I had not been to the Tucson airport in years, so I thought it would be fun to see it again. It’s really neat. It is a shame the service has been so drastically cut, but it does suit Tucson well.
After a few days catching up with Mom and Grandma, it was back on the road again. We had a 5pm flight to SFO, but we left Safford at 6am. We had some last minute shopping we wanted to do, for things we can’t easily buy in HK. Taking our time, we accomplished our tasks then made our way to the airport. I parked in the garage, then we checked-in, which was a trick. The super sweet gal at check-in had not done this before (inter-lining to CX), but she figured it out *fingers crossed* and she did not even have to ask for help. This is one area where I splurged and put us in first class. I have noticed that when we have the bright orange priority sticker, even though it is from Star Alliance, once we land in HKG our bags are first off. This time was no different.
After check-in we went and gassed up the car and returned it to the consolidated facility, to take the bus back to the Barry Goldwater Terminal. On the bus, I saw people struggling with their bags and I thought…, this is why I pay the US$4, to eliminate having to maneuver bags on the bus—it looked downright unpleasant.
Back at the airport, we bought some trinkets for our HK friends, then made our way to the gate. Where surprisingly with still 20 minutes until departure, they were almost finished with boarding. We took our seats in 2A and 2C, and while we were holding, I captured the special painted Nevada US Airways Airbus, and the BA 747 landing. I was really hoping to capture it at the gate. The auto-focus on the point-and-shoot prevented me from getting a better picture of the Speedbird landing.
But you can see it clearly on our takeoff, which is here:
The flying time today, on the 100% full A319, US409 from PHX to SFO is 1:56. It goes quickly. I got some lovely bay photos on the landing and some snowy peaks just outside the bay area.
The landing can be viewed here:
All US409 Pictures can be viewed here:
After landing, I knew we had to check-in at Cathay and I hoped they would be open. But they were not. We killed some time with drinks in the bar, supper in the food court, and even over 30 minutes just browsing in CNBC. Sadly, Sephora was closed. My wife loves Sephora, this would have entertained her over an hour. The hours are peculiar for an airport, 8am to 5pm. This is with a large bank of flights from 10pm to 1:30am.
Eventually, at 8:30pm there was some movement in the Cathay check-in area. But the gal told us she was just setting up the PCs, and that the desks would open at 9:20pm, so we went back to the bar…no alcohol this time.
Then we made our way back to check-in, and checked-in. It was so easy, and the young man at the counter was super friendly. However, we did not receive priority passes, despite our gold status. This was disappointing as it put us in the really, long line to clear security. I find it funny, that being gold on Cathay, did get us priority on AA in JFK. Oh well, something to complain about on my customer advisory board for Cathay.
I took a shower, and a nap in the BA lounge (CX uses this lounge), before boarding began a bit earlier than scheduled (at 00:40 versus, the printed 00:55). It still took just as long though, and we pushed back on time.
This was CX873, a 744, from San Francisco to Hong Kong. Captain Brian, I didn’t catch his last name, was a very friendly Canadian. This flight too was 100% full. I mean, wow, how many people want to fly from SFO to HKG leaving on early Wednesday morning?! I knew we would be safe on this flight as there were around 20 LDS missionaries on board, though one was coughing and sneezing the whole flight and I think I have his cold now.
Takeoff was low and smooth, here are two videos, which I think are my best from this trip:
Normally, the routing would take us up to Alaska, down the coast of Russia, past Japan, Korea, Taiwan, around China, into Hong Kong. This time we went straight out over the Pacific. Not near anything as close as I could tell. Imagine a straight line across the Pacific to Taiwan from San Francisco. We had small tailwinds for the bits that I was awake on, but I tried to sleep as much as I could.
The turbulence on this flight was insane. You could feel the forces pushing the plane, right, left, up, down, all in a go. 80% of the flight was shifty at best. What made me laugh though is all the people getting up and moving around. Even after the FAs were told to take their seats and suspend service for their own safety. People would get up and walk to the bathroom.
Then with about 2 hours to go, and the most violent shaking under way, Captain Brian told us that the shaking is coming from a typhoon which is in between Taiwan and Luzon. He went on to say that it will stay like this for a while, and it will get worse in about one hour. He added though, “once we are through it, it is supposed to fine and clear in Hong Kong.”
About 10 minutes later, he switches off the seatbelt sign, and tells us that we are in a pocket of calm air for the next 20-30 minutes. So the flight attendants start serving breakfast, which I thought was odd, as they’ll have to clear this almost right away based on what Captain Brian said.
Thankfully, what Captain Brian should have said is, “ladies and gentlemen, the last 1:30 of this flight will be the smoothest portion of the flight, apologies for flying into a typhoon earlier.”
Though the FAs did hurry. And it was smooth until landing, as there were some strong winds from the north bringing cold air to HKG. It was 16C on landing! We touched down right on schedule at 6:30am.
We pulled into gate 3, which meant we were out in time to catch the 7am bus. Remember our orange priority stickers. By the time we were off the plane, all three bags were already there with the first class luggage.
All CX873 Pictures here:
All-in-all a good trip. Though staying with family, makes it less of a holiday than say, a beach in Thailand. It is always fun to travel. This trip allows me to experiment with the various carriers in the US, and see things I may not have seen, like Terminal 8 at JFK.
I am curious as to why:
- the pilots in the US seem awfully itchy with the seatbelt sign when very few of the FAs actually enforce it
- why the FA on Cathay kept asking me to close the window shade, when the entire flight was designed to be completed in darkness (there was no threat of waking someone up)
And I do wonder if:
- the new CX coach class will make it easier to nap on the seats 3-across?
- AA will merge with anyone?
- there will be a US carrier to rival the Asian ones for service on board (ignore IFE for this question)?
- JFK actually trains its passport control to be unfriendly?
- a US airport can ever as efficient as HKG?
Up next, a routine flight to … Singapore! And maybe another sneaky one in between now and then.
Thank you for reading my trip report, now I’ll go fill out my journal for the CX focus group…