Round the World on Skyteam
After 40 years of dreaming, my ambition to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway was about to come true, BUT in order to do that I had to get to Moscow (not so hard) and, more importantly get back to SYD from VVO (Vladivostok) (very hard).
This is a trip report of the airline flights involved. It is a very brief and “plain” report. No pictures, no video, just words.
The only major world airline serving VVO to/from the east/south is KE, so that was that sorted, BUT there were other considerations. I was traveling with my “mad mate” Rod and he had his must see places, as did I. Also we had decided to go with a small group tour as neither of us had any language ability in Russian. We selected Sundowners Overland from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia who run small group tours along the traditional Trans-Siberian route. (We were not interested in the trips via China & Mongolia) We were all set to start booking in late January 2010 when Sundowners advised that ALL westbound departures from VVO for 2010 were canceled, BUT all eastbound departures from Moscow were running as tabled!
This meant a complete reversal of plans and re-planning the RTW trip to be eastbound. Given we had to fly KE from VVO that automatically selected Skyteam as the alliance for the RTW ticket. Given Skyteam that meant we would fly DL across the Pacific and North America, DL/AF/KL across the Atlantic and AF/KL in Europe. So a Skyteam RTW pass was duly purchased through DL’s SYD office.
Now on with the trip report:
13 July 2010
Boeing 777-232LR N705DN, Seat 33B
Departed 12:57 (22 minutes late)
Arrived 9:10 (15 minutes early)
We left Mascot(SYD) 22 minutes late at 1257. Reasonable but totally full flight had a middle seat, AGAIN! Seats in 3-3-3 abreast configuration, the seat was wider than Emirates (EK), THANK GOD, but a bit ratty and didn’t recline. In Flight Entertainment system was alright, not as good as EK with a small screen and poorer choice of programs, so I listened to the 4Seasons & some Brach and read most of the way.
Food was reasonable in quality but a bit skimpy on serving size but not too bad, the Merlot served with dinner was terrible! Stuck to water after that.
We had a pretty good tail wind most of the way, it hit 250 km/hr between Noumea & Nandi, but didn't keep it up, still we arrived LAX at 9:10 am, still Tuesday 13/7, about 15 min early, given we left 22 late we made up 37 minutes, total time 13 hours 13 minutes, which was pretty good.
LAX was its usual ZOO. Actually disembarking, Immigration and Customs was pretty good, no real delay there, but my bag was one of the last off so that took some time. The problems started when I went to the bag drop for my onward flights. The guy insisted I was to go to the Alaska Airlines terminal for the nonstop flight to Seattle (SEA), despite waving a boarding pass at him showing I was going via Salt Lake City (SLC). His supervisor come over and took one looked at the boarding pass, told the guy to be about his business and marked the correct gate number on it and said I had to change terminals to terminal 5, which was just next door, just head down to the left and go up the first escalator. OK so off I go along with about 5 or 6 other Aussies off the flight.
The problem was that ALL the escalators we saw were DOWN escalators, which made it hard to go up them! But being a resourceful bunch we found a lift behind them and went up to the departure level where we got screamed at by a BIG black bitch for using the lift! What the first women left out was that it was the first escalators INSIDE the terminal, past the outside ones, so we in fact had queue jumped the security line. So we got sent down the escalators to join, not the security line, but the line to join the security line! It took about 40 minutes to get to the actual security line, but only about 10 minutes to get through this and out into the terminal, so I arrive at my gate at 11:15.
13 July 2010
DL4580 LAX-SLC (operated by Skywest Airlines)
Gate 51A Canadair 900 Seat 6D
Departed 12:05 (15 min late)
Arrived 14:50 (15 min late)
As boarding was due to start at 11:10 I was a little anxious, but not very as departure was not until 11:50. HA HA HA. Got to the gate and was informed the aircraft hadn't turned up! So I had a chance to get some water and a loo break. Should have got some lunch, but wasn't very hungry so I didn't.
The plane finally arrived and we left 15 minutes late at 12:05. This was a nice little Canadair Regional Jet900, my first Canadair & first RJ!. A nice little plane with seats only 2-2 abreast, so NO middle seat! This one was 100% full too! An hour & half flight to SLC was quick, there is some real desert down there.
13 July 2010
Gate B03 A319 Seat 9F
Departed 15:22 (6 minutes late)
Arrived 16:15 (8 minutes early)
We landed at SLC 15 minutes late at 2:50 and arrived at gate D11. The problem with this was that boarding started for my SEA flight at 2:36 at gate B3. So I had to walk quick/run down the full length of one concourse, thru connecting corridors, passed another concourse and down another. Luckily it was only the second gate down this concourse. I rushed up to the gate desk with my "seat allocation request" form as LAX couldn't print my SLC-SEA boarding pass. He looked at and said "Good, you made it"! (As if it was my fault his plane was 15 minutes late. It was a legal connection by his company’s rules)! He gave me the boarding pass and said go straight on-board as boarding was basically finished, so I dashed down the bridge and on to the plane.
The plane was my first A319 and I had a window seat again but this plane was 3-3 seats so I thought "another two people to climb over", but the middle seat was empty and remained that way!! It a good flight with some spectacular cloud dodging over the Cascade Range and so into SEA at 4:15, 8 minutes early! A short tram ride to the main terminal and I met up with my friends at baggage claim.
After 5 great days with my friends including BFI, the Museum of Flight and the factory tour at Paine Field it was time to move on:
17 July 2010
Boeing 757-300 Seat 24B
Departed 10:36 (4 early)
Arrived 15:30 (26 early!)
I got away from SeaTac on time and had a good flight in a Boeing 757-300, another new type and a pretty rare one, too. Off to Minneapolis-St Paul (MSP) in the middle of the country, to change planes. Had about an hour & half scheduled to do so which was not excessive as it’s a BIG airport, but it actually turned out to be about two & half hours. I arrived at G concourse and left from C concourse and it was a good 20 minute walk. By the time I got there, had some lunch and a loo break it was close to boarding time.
17 July 2010
MD-88 N943DL Seat 28E
Departed 17:55 (25 minutes late)
Arrived 21:30 (2 minutes late!)
25 July 2010
A short while later I saw our aircraft approaching the gate, when suddenly it stopped about 30 m from the gate, then one hell of a thunder & lighting storm hit and the airport was ground stopped. As a result of this we were about 25 minutes late leaving. This flight was on a MD88 aircraft & I had an aisle seat on the two seat side of the aircraft, better yet the window seat stayed empty. This was the first flight since Sydney that was not 100% full in Y class.
After a specular night approach to NYC we landed at LGA. Not the most salubrious terminal I have used, but it was almost empty and I was ready to leave in about 20 minutes. Then I had a hour long game of dodgem cars thru the streets of Queens & Manhattan, arriving at our hotel about 11:00 pm.
On arrival I was surprised to find that Rod, my traveling companion for the rest of the trip had not arrived, which was a surprise as he was due into JFK, straight from SYD at 17:30, five & half hours ago! I got a SMS from him just after mid night to say he had just landed at JFK, six and half hours late. Poor bastard, his first international flight and he arrives at JFK at mid night, after 20 hours in the air and six or seven waiting at LAX! He arrived at the hotel just before 2:30 am.
It turned out that on this day DL16 left SYD about 3:30 late and only made up about 30 minutes en route, so he missed his connection, of course.
After 5 days in NYC, a train trip to Boston and 4 days there it was time to say good bye to North America and head for Eurasia.
Gate 6 Boeing 747-400 Seat 54J
Departed 22:55(On time)
Arrived 11:13 on 26 July(about 22 minutes early)
After a full day in Boston we went back to the hotel, showered, changed and packed, then took a cab to the airport, arriving about 6:30 pm for our 10:55 pm flight. Air France's Check in didn't open until about 7:00 pm which went pretty smoothly, even if the check-in chickie did not know that Australian citizens had visa waiver for the USA. This meant she had to start the government part of the process again. (As the USA does not have outwards Customs and Immigration, the airlines have to tell them that you have left, pretty important if you ever want to come back!) After that we went thru security, had some dinner and just sat and read until 10:10 when they started boarding exactly on time! Rod & I lucked out on seats. We were in the second last row on a B747, which meant the seat were only two abreast, instead of three or four, which was nice. We left the gate exactly on time at 10:55 pm, although we spent 25 minutes taking a tour of the airport before take-off.
The next day dawns with us aboard flight AF321 flying somewhere between the east coast of Canada and the south coast of Ireland. An interesting side light on this flight was that we flew directly over SYDNEY on our way to Paris (Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, that is!). Was a pretty good flight, quite short at 5:50 hours. [An English man, an Irish man and a Finn (no this is not a joke, it was a dining car on the Trans-Siberian Railway about 3 weeks later) all commented that a Trans-Atlantic flight was not short, to which Rod jumped in saying yes it was when you lived 27 hours flying time from the Atlantic! That stopped that conversation! ]
We arrived at CDG a bit ahead of time at 11:00 am. A long walk, but the line for Immigration moved pretty quickly and getting past the Immigration Officer took about 4.5 seconds! It is nice to have an Ozzie passport. We then caught the regional train into the centre of Paris, made one change at a BIG subway station, and then got out at the Arc de Triumph and after finding the correct exit, there were a dozen or so, we were about 50 m from our hotel.
After five glorious days in the “City of Light” it was back to CDG for:
30 July 2010
AF2298 (Operated by AY as AY872)
Gate 72 A321 Seat 14E
Departed 11:00(10 minutes late)
Arrived 14:43(7 minutes early)
Off to the airport. We had discovered a bus that ran from very near our hotel via one stop direct to the airport, which was very easy. Got the 7:50 am bus and got out there about 9:00, check in for our flight took about 40 minutes and then we only had about 30 minutes to wait, boarding started on time at 10:10 and push back was 10 minutes late at 11:00 am. Aircraft was a Finair A321 another new type for me and was totally full. Had a good if bumpy flight, only 2:25 hours so it was nothing really, especially after Day 1!
If you are wondering why we could use the AF code share on AY, but not the DL code share on AS, I would like to know, too.
For the next three weeks we traveled form Helsinki, on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan by train, via St Petersburg, Moscow, and Irkutsk/Lake Baikal, about 10,288km, give or take a hundred km.
Then back into the air with:
20 August 2010
Boeing 737-800H Seat 42C
Departed 14:50(on time)
Arrived 17:37(7 minutes late)
We left our hotel at 11:30 am for a terrifying drive to the airport, heavy traffic, bad roads, manic drivers and 50 km to the airport. Got there about 1:00 pm, go thru security, check in, two check in desks only for two airlines, took over 15 minutes as she couldn’t find our reservations, although she found our itinerary and printed our baggage tags thru to Melbourne. She called over a supervisor who took 10 minutes to find it and issue our boarding passes. It appears the problem was that we brought our tickets from DL, not KE. Then to outward Immigration, which was a long, long process, but eventually I was stamped out of Russia! Then thru security, again!
Then we went upstairs to a very crowded, small waiting area for an hour or so. Eventually the flight was called; back down the stairs, out the door and on to a bus which took us out to the aircraft. Push back was on time at 1450, a fairly long taxi to the active for a 1505 take off. This flight went weird immediately. Instead of turning south east or even east to give North Korea a big miss, we turned due west and crossed into China within minutes. We flew west until we were south of Jilin, then turned south west and flew over Shenyang, Dalian, Yantai and almost to Qingdao before turning due east to reach Seoul. As far as I can see we were ALWAYS in Russian, Chinese or South Korean airspace and never in international airspace and presumably under the relevant Air Defense Command surveillance the whole way. This was obviously the usual route as we landed only 7 minutes late at 1537(-2 hour time difference). I guess it’s presumed that while North Korea might do something stupid over international airspace they wouldn’t be likely to infringe Russian or Chinese airspace. Who knows!
20 August 2010
A330-300 Seat 38H
Departed 18:30(10 minutes late)
Arrived 6:20 on 21 August(5 minutes late)
Seoul Inchon International is a great, if rather large, airport. We had three hours here. It took a good 45 minutes to clear security.
Why clear security again? We went thru THREE Russian security check points to get to the aircraft and they were a lot more through than any other I’ve been thru in the whole world. The first one checked documents (one police person), the second x-rayed the bags, one police person watching the scanner and one watching you, very, very carefully. You then went thru check in and outward Immigration (in a space about as large as the lounge room at my parents place) and then thru another security checkpoint with an X-ray scanner with one police persons watching the scanner and no less than FOUR other police persons with hand wands wandering passed. You get anything thru that and God obviously intended that you should!
After Security we looked at a few shops, had a snack and a coffee, we then found our gate and sat in the gate lounge and played on the free Wi-Fi until they called the flight right on time at 1750. This aircraft was another new type an Airbus A330-300 with 2-4-2 seating; I love this configuration as at the most you have to climb over only one person. We had seats 38 G&H and I had the aisle.
Home, but we are in Melbourne??? We were unable to get seats on KEs ICN-SYD service for more than week after the date we wanted to travel, so it was ICN-MEL with DJ onwards.
21 August 2010
Gate 7 Boeing 737-700 Seat 21B
Departed 9:15(on time)
We left on time, arrived on time, on a Boeing 73G. Totally boring, 100% full, 50 minute domestic flight, we both struggled to stay awake. But then – HOME SWEET HOME!!! – With family waiting in baggage claim, that was the nicest bit of all.
Hope this is of some interest to the members. Please remember this is my first trip report on airliners.net.