I've enjoyed reading the reports on this page, and figured I would post one of my more recent trips.
On Jan. 1 I headed out of BNA bright and early on DL 543, bound for Atlanta. I had just been in Atlanta the day before doing some shopping, so it was a little surreal to drive to Nashville and check in for a 35 minute flight to Atlanta, but such are the joys of living in Nashville and flying Delta. I had checked in online but checked my pack at the Delta counter at BNA which, as I've almost always seen it, was empty. Being New Year's morning, the airport was dead, and there isn't much to see in BNA, so after a few short strolls, I waited in the gate area to board the flight. The MD-80 flight to Atlanta was predictable: short and sweet. Still, I enjoyed my window seat, and the view as we crossed the Appalachian corridor, and the North Georgia mountains. Service was good, although at that rate, you still have a half full glass in your hand when the FAs are already trying to take it away! Landing at Hartsfield was from the West, which I prefer, as sometimes you have to circle way out East before landing from that direction, which adds time to the flight.
I had 3 hours to kill before my flight to LAX, and noticed that two flights were scheduled to depart before mine. Eager to get to LA since I was meeting a friend there for my 8 hour layover, I asked an agent about a switch. I knew the answer, though, when I told them I had checked a bag (stupid me...it was too early), as I would have to wait for my original flight. No big deal, and I followed my usual ATL routine by riding the train out to Concourse E just to watch the international traffic. Having gone to college in Atlanta, I'm quite familiar with the airport, and despite its inevitable drawbacks, still find it an exciting place. There were many Korean passengers making their way to the E Concourse as a Korean Air 744 was scheduled to depart about an hour and a half later for ICN. I walked down to the gate and admired the scene for a while, before visiting the SAA 340 nearby (a service which I had myself taken last July from ATL-SAL-JNB-CPT and back). Although these are the most exciting birds for me, there was other interesting traffic to observe, such as the DL flight boarding for MEX (which I will take in March). I always like to sit awhile at the different gates if I have time to kill, as it's truly a mini-Epcot! I had "breakfast" (Pizza Hut) at the E Concourse food court, and although I think it's the best in ATL, ATL's dining and bathroom facilities leave much to be desired!
I waited as long as possible before leaving the relative comfort of the E Concourse for the T-Gates for my DL flight 242 to LAX. I was a bit surprised to fly out of the T-Gates on DL, as the only time I had used them before in ATL was for an AA flight to ORD, but there I was nonetheless. I was hoping for a nice 767-400, but none such luck. Ironically, I seem to get the 767-400 when I fly DL from ATL to MCO or FLL, but an older model when I head way out west. I was in the last row of the first economy compartment, and despite the constant flushing of the toilet, at least my seat reclined and I had a window. As I hadn't flown DL long-haul since my trip to LGW two years ago, I purchased the headphones, and considered purchasing a meal from the new pay service, before settling on two bottles of white wine and a Snicker's bar instead (yeah, classy, I know!). The FAs were great, and made me remember why I like DL. The flight to LAX was pleasant, good scenery, good visibility, and a nice descent into a chaotic airport! Since crowds had been relatively light at both BNA and ATL, I was not prepared for the drama of LAX! I made my way downstairs to the baggage claim, where bags were literally strewn all over the place! It has been a good 7 years since I have flown through LAX, but I simply do not remember such a nightmare, so I'm guessing it may have been isolated. Still, the baggage carousel was not moving 20 minutes later, and my friend was circling, so I decided to ditch my bag and go see LA (I know this is not a recommended strategy, but I figured I could afford to lose the grungy T-shirts and jeans that were in my bag if I absolutely had to!).
Although I was only in LA for 8 hours, I nonethless got a good tour of LA by a friend who lives and works there. I played the classic tourist, visiting Hollywood Blvd. and Mann's Chinese Theatre, Beverly Hills and the UCLA campus, Bel Air and Brentwood and back through Santa Monica and teh 405 to LAX. I returned to the DL carousel 2 hours before my CI flight to TPE, and with the help of a friendly DL agent located my bag in the sea of others, and walked over to the International Terminal to check in at the China Airlines desk. Although I had purchased my ticked from DL, all my international flights to KUL were on China Airlines. I quickly found the CI desk upstairs in the Tom Bradley terminal, which looked grungier than I remembered it looking 7 years prior. Since I wasn't checking my bag this time, CI let me use the business class line, and I had my boarding pass in no time. Security was crowded, mostly with Asians heading home on leisure travel I'm guessing, given that Philippine Airlines, Cathay and China Airlines all had flights leaving within a short time span. The gate area for CI was shared by the CX passengers, and it was a jovial, albeit crowded, atmosphere. Soon enough, CI began to board, and I was again in the last row of the first cabin, right in front of the lav. (I had picked better seats, but was forced to change a date at the last minute, and had to depend on airport assignments!). Still, I had a window, and although the flight was almost completely full, for some reason the middle seat in my row was open. So I was lucky. Although we boarded ontime, there was a MX delay of an hour, and the pilot apologized profusely more times than was really necessary. The FAs brought around hot towels (although paper, not like the cloth ones EVA gives out) and hot tea during the delay. We finally pushed back an hour late, and made a quick departure.
After take-off from LAX, the FAs began drink and then meal service, and I got some type of really awful pork dish that I am now pretty much sure was meant more for the Asian passengers. This was my fault, however, as I should have accepted the FA's gentle prodding that I should choose the pasta as a hint that the pork probably wouldn't be much to my liking. I should also mention that this flight was equipped with PTVs at every seat in economy, which looked nice, but remained inoperational for the entire flight! The FAs were also very apologetic about this problem, which was quite alright with me as it meant I would have an incentive to sleep instead of watch movies all night, but one of the few other non-Asian passengers on this flight came back to berate one of the FAs for a problem that was obviously out of her control! As she remained calm and even deferential throughout this encounter, I must admit that my respect for her increased. Just as I considered saying something to this jerk, he headed back to his seat.
This flight (CI 007) was scheduled for a technical stop in ANC, which was my first visit to this airport. Although it was night when we landed, I was able to observe very icy conditions on final approach, as well as the iciest runway I have ever seen! There appeared to be quite a bit of cargo traffic at ANC (Kalitta, CX Cargo, and others), during our hour on the ground. My biggest treat was to see the massive deicing operation that Swissport provided following our pushback which was very interesting for someone who has lived almost exclusively in Southern climates!
There was a crew change in ANC, and a new and friendly CI crew took charge and served midnight sandwiches and beverages following take-off from ANC. I awoke to follow our progress over Japan, crossing the northwestern shore of Taiwan, and descending over the Taiwanese countryside (yes, there still is some!) to a very hard landing in TPE. The pilot continued to apologize for our delayed departure from LAX, which was a bit funny considering we only arrived into TPE about 15 minutes late.
With about 2 hours to kill in TPE, I shopped duty free for awhile before concluding that TPE has to be the grungiest international airport I have visited in Asia. Still, there were constant reminders that CI flights to the USA and Europe would soon be arriving and departing via Terminal 2, so I am guessing that it's a bit nicer over there. Eventually, I headed to my gate (and downstairs) to wait for my CI Airbus 300 flight to KUL. Boarding and departure were on time, although I was disappointed to discover that despite my request for a window, the agent in LA had given me an aisle seat. Still, the flight wasn't even half full, and if it hadn't been for the conversation I struck up with the American girl seated next to me, I would have moved. The girl next to me turned out to also have originated in LAX, and I later concluded that the agent had likely thought he was doing me a favor by seating me next to the only other white, LAX-originating tourist on the KUL sector! This lead me to think that perhaps some type of conscious or subconscious racial profiling goes on with check-in agents for Asian airlines, as a few years back I was grouped into what appeared to be a "foreign tourist section" at the front of an Air China 737 on a flight from Xian to Beijing! Perhaps just coincidences, though.
The 5 hour flight to KUL was pleasant, although I was ready to be off the plane given the almost 25 hours of flying I had done in the previous 40. KLIA was a great surprise, with its light and sunny atrium, its efficient train service, and its great facilities. Immigration was crowded, though, although having not checked a bag in LA, it wasn't long before I boarded the KL Ekspres for the 30-minute, 55-kilometer ride to KL Sentral Station. The train was efficient, and despite the distance, I believe this to be one of the easiest journeys I've made between an international airport and city center. The ride between KLIA and KL was even interesting, passing through tropical countryside, and past the new administrative capital of Putrajaya.
After a few days exploring KL and its environs, I was headed back to KLIA on the evening of January 5 for my Malaysia Airlines shuttle flight to SIN. I checked my pack and got my boarding pass at the KL counter at the KL Sentral station, and made my way back to KLIA via the express train service. Having check-in at the downtown station was nice, as there was no line there, unlike what I saw to be the case at the airport itself. KLIA impressed me once again with its great food choices, and general accessibility. I also liked the CDG-esque security screening that takes place at each gate rather than in one big congested line once you pass the ticket counter (maybe we should consider this in the US!).
The MH flight to SIN was on an Airbus 330, which excited me since, after my ride on the CI 300, was the last plane I needed to have now flown on at least every aircraft type manufactured by both Airbus and Boeing, except for the 707 (when I say this, I mean I have now flown on a 717, 727, etc. and a 300, 310, 320, etc., not necessarily EVERY sub-type!). I was seated in the second row of the economy section, on the right side of the plane, and with a window. I had booked by KUL-SIN-KUL ticket in the US, and the seat next to me was left open on both MH legs. The flight to Singapore was, of course, short (35 minutes), although it was nice to experience it on such a great aircraft. Although all smiles, I thought the service was a little lacking...just one small cup of orange juice...no cookies, no crackers, and no beer or wine. I thought this was a bit slight...I know it was only half an hour, but this was an international flight afterall, and I've seen far better in similar periods on other airlines (mostly in South America, though).
Immigration into Singapore was quick, although baggage was delayed by a power failure on the aircraft. This irked me a bit, as I noticed that all the first class bags (which were tagged separately) came out first, and then only after a very long wait (about half an hour) did the economy bags come out. I also noticed that when we landed in SIN, the curtains between first and economy were left closed until all the first class passengers had exited, at which time the economy passengers were allowed to exit. I know that it is logical that people in the front of the plane get off first, but the fact that the curtain was left down really enhanced the "steerage effect." Nonetheless, the bags arrived eventually, and I was on my way into Central Singapore on the city's superb and user-friendly metro service.
After a few days in SIN, I was back to KUL on January 9, the details of which I'll spare you since they are similar to the sector down. Suffice it to say that we were on time, and despite its hype, I didn't find SIN's airport all that impressive. The free internet was certainly nice and it's better than NRT, and perhaps I simply had heightened expectations, but after this trip, I certainly think that KUL and HKG are much nicer.
I was back in KUL for a day, and immigration was much quicker this time. I repeated my train ride to KL Sentral and even connected to the Putra with my pack for my ride to KLCC and my one-night splurge at the Mandarin Oriental (very nice, BTW, and far cheaper than in other cities like MIA or HKG!). In the morning, it was back to the airport for my return to LAX on CI. This time, the flight to TPE made a stop in HKG, a city I had never before visited. Landing in HKG was exciting, not as exciting as at the old Hong Kong airport I'm sure, but nice as you descended over the water and didn't see the ground until you were virtually over the runway! Upon landing in HKG, I expected to be told that transit passengers were to stay on the plane, but I was delighted to learn that, to the contrary, we were ordered off. I took this opportunity to stray probably farther than the HKG CI groundstaff wanted me to, as I enjoyed looking at all the interesting traffic. Eventually, a CI employee noticed my transit sticker and, figuring I was lost I'm sure, guided me upstairs to the departure gate. HKG airport was incredible, and inspired me to want to return, even though the thick smog made visibility virtually null (which occurs almost year round I was later told!). CI allowed the few transit passengers to board first, and it wasn't long before we were on our way.
I have to say the fish meal I received on the HKG-TPE sector was really the only GOOD meal I had on CI, despite the otherwise excellent service. I did notice that it had been catered by CX, though, so I guess this speaks to that airline's excellent services. I had 2 hours in TPE, and thought I would try to change to the night-flight to LAX if at all possible to be able to visit the CKS airport museum and surrounding area, so I actually went through immigration, and eventually explained my plan to the strict Taiwanese immigration officer who was understandably confused by my transit boarding pass for a flight leaving that afternoon! I found a nice CI ticket agent who said she would let me make the change free of charge except for the fact that the evening flight was overbooked by 40! Given that I didn't want to take these bad odds and fly stand-by, I went back through immigration, and boarded my completely full, but on-time, CI flight back to LAX.
The CI flight to LAX was just like the others...all the FAs were more than friendly, but CI does seem to cut costs in the way of food and other amenities. The TPE-LAX sector didn't have PTVs, but this time the movie that was shown at least worked, and I slept for most of the flight.
Arrival back into LAX was much less chaotic than it had been 10 days earlier. Immigration was fine, the airport wasn't very crowded, and before no time, a DL agent had made the $25 same-day confirmed switch from my evening flight to an afternoon flight to BNA, via CVG. The LAX-CVG 757 flight was DL 484, and smooth, only about half-full, and done mostly in darkness. CVG is a great airport in my view, and the bus service to the transit gates was quick and comfortable...much better than the transit bussing madness that goes on in MIA with American Eagle! After so much flying, I was much happier to connect through CVG on my way home, even if it meant trading in the opportunity to watch flights departing for ICN and JNB for CRJ traffic to Milwaukee and South Bend! I know many dislike Delta Connection, but I'm always happy to fly Comair, which was, of course, operating my flight from CVG-BNA. I was in Row 2 of the CRJ, although the cheery sole flight attendant said that, with only about 20 of us, it was open seating. Having flown most of the Delta Connection carriers, Comair is by far my favorite and after a couple bottles of water and a nice peppermint, I was back in Music City (sorry if this was too lengthy!).