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Star Alliance RTW F/C Part 2

Fri Jul 21, 2006 6:25 am

Sorry for the delay in cranking this out. Yesterday I had to drive to Baltimore for a meeting, and the hateful weather has been anything but a help.

After three days in the Catania area of Sicily being the obvious tourist it was time to continue eastwards. Because of the "near-miss" with the FRA connection and the "'lazy'-faire" attitude of the Air One folks, I'd changed the schedule so that we left Sicily on the earlier flight, and also the one on LH from FCO to FRA.

The Catania airport on a Friday morning actually wasn't too bad; at least it wasn't as chaotic as when arriving. The original ticket sported a no-refund, no-exchange fare, so on Air One's website I'd booked and paid for the new earlier flight. That meant I had to pick up the tickets at their will-call site in order to be issued boarding-cards. All of that went smoothly enough, 'though I remain fascinated that a counter-agent in a service industry can be so engrossed staring at something in front of them on a desk that they do not pick up the glaring visual "clue" to look up to see a 6'2" bearded man in a red madras shirt standing all of two feet in front of them. It must be a practiced art.

The flight was called and boarding commenced. This time there were two young ladies yakking on their cell-phones and flirting with ramp-workers while they "processed" the boarding-cards (and passports; odd, I thought, for a domestic flight, unless it's that one look at me screams out that I am not Italian).

As at FCO we were once again herded onto a hot steamy odoriferous bus to be hauled out to the plane, a B737-200 that had been hush-kitted. The odd thing is that we had to go by bus but the crew walked from the gate to the plane, since it was parked about fifty feet from the gate-doorway.

The flight itself was pleasant enough. This time there was a choice of two types of crackers that tasted like sawdust, and the beverage choices were for more than warm cokes or water. For some reason the cabin-staff seemed friendlier and also more efficient. Alas, it was cloudy most of the way, but finally cleared a bit as we approached Rome which we passed on its east side, and approached FCO from the north.

I must mention here that I'd made all reservations for this trip through LH except for the Air One [AP] segments: at the time I didn't realize that AP is in marketing cahoots with LH. But somehow I doubt that it would've mattered: it turns out that AP in Catania wouldn't process passengers for post-FCO LH flights even if they were on one itinerary instead of two as was my case.

In the domestic section of FCO one can go directly into its international part without enduring security. The transfer-desk was easy to find, but there was no one staffing the LH counter. We went to the lounge LH uses there for its C-class passengers to find out what the story was .... the young lady at its desk seemed flustered when we explained that we didn't have entrance-passes to the lounge because there was no one to issue them back at the LH transfer-counter. Happily there was a family right behind us, parents and four sons, all in the same boat. After much t'do the young lady confided that an agent would be at the transfer-desk one hour before departure. We all slog our way back to the transfer-counter. BTW, FCO claims to be air-conditioned.

Departure-time comes and goes. No agent is in sight. I spotted an agent for another Star Alliance member and asked what the hell was going on. She reassured me that the LH agent would eventually come back. I was frustrated enough by then that I could not censor my reply "Yes, and so will Jesus sometime."

Now it's 45 minutes before departure time and Ms LH Transfer-Desk Agent comes sashayin' in and is appalled to see that by now there are twenty people lined up, glaring at her. (I must be precise: she was an employee of ServisAir. Perhaps that explains the non-LH-like absence of punctuality. Of course, when it Rome .... ) Best of all, 13 out of the 20 were a group of middle-school kids going to Dublin so they added to the fun. (Yes, we all did make it on the flight.)

The flight to FRA was quite nice. A lunch of a curried fish was served that was just right for that time of day. We flew due north, passed Venice to its west, overflew some Italian Alps and southern Germany, and arrived on time. Once again we parked at a stand so had to be bused to a gate. BTW, this time the plane was another B737; I forget which variant but certainly not the -200 series.

We spent some time in a business-class lounge at FRA. Like its F-class cousin in EWR I wasn't especially impressed with it. Meanwhile, of course, the World Cup games are going on and being televised so the place was up for grabs with the fans. Also, on LH flights the sweets came as miniature soccer-balls. Within the German culture those days it was hard to avoid and not get caught up in their fervor.

Now we come to the flight to Incheon in South Korea. Quite frankly, we were flying there because I wanted to be able to say that I'd flown to South Korea; we'd be there only one night and then head out the next morning for Perth by way of Hong Kong and Singapore.

The LH flight was on a A340-600, one of the longest planes I've ever seen. We were in C-class so the cabin seemed huge: the seating was 2x2x2 so everything seemed to be just more spacious and airy. We were a bit delayed in push-back but it didn't take us long to get in the air. Once again, the take-off roll seemed to go on until we might've ended up first in Belgium, but we did become air-borne eventually.

Until it became dark the landscapes and views were amazing: our path took us through northeast Germany, then out over the Baltic. We then came within view of the Baltic States, and finally Russia somewhere south of St Petersburg and then north of Moscow. Jumping ahead, I later opened the shade to get a peek of what the Air-Show said we were over, and it was the Gobi desert somewhere along the Russia-Mongolia desert; just a startling view, with no summer humidity to haze things up.

Back on the plane, the cabin-service was so-so, certainly when compared to the EWR-FRA and FCO-FRA flights. The crew didn't seem as friendly as the others had been. For my dinner I'd asked for the Korean bibimbap meal and the FA didn't seem to be comfortable with serving it to me .... I guess that's because I don't look Italian .... !

The AVOD was identical to that on the EWR-FRA flight, but that didn't mean I couldn't still watch a few movies. One of them, "Failure to Launch" had been filmed in part here in Lewes, Delaware, last summer---- all the locals were agog that Matthew McWhatshisname had been spotted jogging along our modest streets. Fortunately, when I stopped at that channel the one scene filmed here was being shown, so I got to see some hometown nostalgia (at ~39000 ft over Mongolia, no less). That was fine by me because I'm no fan whatsoever of the two "stars" of that film, and actually avoid anything either is in.

The seats in C-class were okay as long as you were sitting down, but the "bed" they became weren't for us very comfortable. You know the drill: can't get quite comfortable enough, doze off for a bit out of fatigue, then get up because you know sleeping is futile.

Alas, Incheon was enjoying a massive cloudy cover and light drizzle, so the approach was an exercise in flying through clouds. The landing was fine, and then it seemed that every single plane there was painted the robin's egg blue: Korean IS based there. ICN is shaped like a U with middle-aged spread and naturally our arrival gate was the very last one at one end of the U so once off the plane it felt we had to walk the last ten miles. Immigration and customs were a snap, and I'd say that from the plane to the sidewalk took us all of 15 minutes.

And here's the best part about ICN: it's unbelievably quiet. The people were pleasant, friendly, NOT on cell-phones and NOT engaging in loud conversations that sound like the fishmonger's wife on holiday. This was also true in the public areas of the hotel where we stayed. (I'd chosen the Great Westin at the airport since this was just a trip to be able to say I'd been there.)

I was fascinated and impressed with this one observation: at the hotel (and later in Singapore) you must use your room-key [card] to activate the electricity in your room. If you go out you take your key and there's no power to the room. Makes a great deal of environmental sense to me.

Early the nest morning we traipsed back to the airport. This time we'd be taking Asiana to Hong Kong---- yes, today's final destination was to be Perth so this was just another way to "say I'd been there" and to try out an airline I'd never flown before. When I'd booked the flight in May F-class wasn't available, but when checking in the agent upgraded us from C to F. A pleasant surprise.

That meant we had access to OZ's F-class lounge. It was probably one of the best I'd been in: calm, quiet, well-staffed, and a good assortment of cold and hot dishes and beverages. Best of all, it faced out onto the main apron of OZ's flights so we could watch a lot of activity at the airport.

Boarding for the flight was orderly and again, quiet. Obviously I remain amazed by this attribute of the South Korean culture. The plane was a B747-400 Combi. Our seats were more than comfortable. The take-off was not unusual, but once aloft I realized that I wasn't gonna be seeing much of anything: clouds everywhere.

The FAs were fantastic! I found their outfits and serving aprons rather smart. The brunch itself was outstanding, 'though I begged off on having any of the smoking tongue with the starter.

We flew due south. Air-Show disclosed that we'd overfly JeJu [?sp], the resort island off the southern-most point of the peninsula. I had been hoping we'd be flying in a straight-line a la Great Circle Mapper that would take us over mainland China, but that didn't happen. Instead, we flew over Taipei and then turned westwards. It seemed that it wasn't until the last minute that we finally entered Hong Kong air-space, approaching from the west.

We were gated at the end of an arm that extends at right-angles to the right of the main entrance---- does that description make sense? Getting from there to the transit-area was a snap, and dealing with the multi-carrier transfer desk could not have been any easier. It was no-nonsense and efficient, and the agent checked us through on our upcoming SQ flights from there to Singapore and then to Perth. They oughta go to FCO and give a workshop to ServisAir on how to manage a transfer-desk.

Well, once again, it's dinner-time. I'll try not to be so long the next time in getting this report out to you. Part 3 will start with the Raffles Lounge in Hong Kong and ideally end up with the NZ flight from PER to AKL.

Best, Greg
Posts: 408
Joined: Tue May 16, 2006 1:42 pm

RE: Star Alliance RTW F/C Part 2

Sun Jul 23, 2006 10:26 am

Note to self: do not fly Air One!
Was interesting to read about Lufthansa's long haul service... I got them short haul LHR - FRA - HEL when they marched angrily around the cabin, banging meals down on trays, hair yanked back to buns with hairpins stuck aggressively through them... They were so wonderfully nasty, it was like flying the Monty Python plane!!!
MDZWTA ~ Mobile Disaster Zone When Travelling Abroad

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