I had to go to Thailand for some business going first a couple of days to the US to finish some details regarding the things I was going to be doing at Bangkok. So I flew AA, UA and TG and my routing was MDE - MIA - IAD - PEK - BKK and back.
Here's the report, I hope you enjoy it!.
Medellín SKRG - Miami KMIA
Flight: American Airlines 910
Flight time: 3:15
I arrived at the Airport 2:20 before the scheduled departure time and checked-in without problems. After the routine interrogatory ("did you pack your baggage yourself?") I went to take a look around and like 45 minutes before the STD I went to emigration. The guy from the DAS (the Colombian entity that handles emigration and immigration among other things) asked me:
-"How long have you been here?"
and I replied:
-"I live here"
To which he in turn replied:
-"How long have you been here?"
To which I replied:
-"I live here"
And again a third time until he finally understood, I don't know what was he thinking. There was another guy going to IAD and a cop ate a chocolate bar that belonged to him, I don't know why either jo.
I was in the waiting room for 20 minutes and then they called to board. I sat in my window seat (forgot the number) and got myself comfortable. We did pushback just on time and went to Runway 36 for takeoff.
The flight kept on track normally (I had the whole row for me) and we were a cruise altitude in no time at all. We exited via Cartagena, but not over the city. I think we got to KORBA or BUTAL fixes and then UQ105 airways to KILER, and then way north.
A little bit before reaching Jamaica they served lunch, with the typical selection of beef or chicken. As usual, I went for the chicken and wasn't disappointed. It tasted good, good temperature and good quantity (at least I felt full after finishing). People whine a lot about Airline food, but eh, I like it usually. I suppose it's one of the advantages of being a simple guy.
The Cabin Crew was a combination of people from Argentina, Chile and Cubans (Miami) . There were two in particular that didn't seem to be in their day, but the rest was good. Then again, I'm a simple guy and as long as they don't punch me in the face or swear to me (and help me should I need it) I'll think the service is OK. I couldn't see much of Jamaica and Cuba, they were very cludy. Between both islands I filled in the I-94W form and the customs form and looked out of the window the rest of the time. Time went by quickly and when I less expected it I began to see the characteristic blue of Florida's sea, and suddenly lots of vessels began to appear, then little islinds and then Miami.
When disembarking I asked a F/A if I could take a picture of the cockpit to which she said "no problem!". The flight was commanded by Captain O'Neil, which was very kind with me the one or two minutes I was there taking pictures, even though the picture didn't turn out that good. I got off the Airplane and moved quickly because I had to do immigration and customs and then re-check my bagagge (a sort of bothersome procedure, and even though I've read horror stories about Miami customs and border protection officers I have to say they were all nice to me) and didn't have much time.
Miami KMIA - Washington Dulles KIAD
Flight: American Airlines 850
Flight time: 2:30
As I said, I went off the 737 running to do immigration and customs. There was a big line for both things and my particular immigration line got a little slower because there were some Asians that didn't speak English or Spanish and were having trouble (nothing happened besides the extra time though). Besides that I was sent to secondary baggage check after some woman which I don't know where was she coming from, but she had packed her whole house (maybe she was Colombian... my compatriots will understand) and then running more to re-check the baggage.
Fortunately my flight to IAD got delayed one hour because of heavy thunderstorms in the city it was coming from (couldn't take off until one hour after STD). Had that flight been on time maybe I'd have missed it!. The Airplane was N664AA, a sexy wingletted 757-200 which had been the second American Airlines Airplane I had seen in my life (the first being the retro-jet they started operations to Medellín, my city, back in 2002). I boarded and sat in my window seat 11F, I had the row for myself again. With the one hour delay (to my benefit) we did pushback from gate D49, took off quite quickly and were in cruise altitude veery fast. A 757 at night and taking off from sea level is pure performance!. The F/As began serving drinks (no food for free in this flight) and selling earphones. I had a couple of minute-maid orange juice glasses and that was it for the service. No complaints though, there were quite nice, specially this F/A called Donna. We went through a thunderstorm zone and had some turbulence, and then approached and landed at Dulles. I almost didn't find the person supposed to meet me!, but that's another thing...
Washington Dulles KIAD - Beijing-Capital ZBAA
Flight: United Airlines 897
Flight time: 13-something , almost 14 hours.
I stayed at Washington one day, and the next day I continued my journey.
I arrived at the Airport like 2:15 hours before STD and checked-in. The standard, at least for this flight, was the auto check-in with passport-reading machines and 2 or 3 employees having a look just in case somebody had trouble. I hadn't been able to choose my seat via internet (I was told it happens because of "safety" or when the flight is heavily oversold), and I didn't get a seat from the machine either, I had to talk to the gate agent to get one.
I made the whole check-in process then and got to the gate, the agent told me "sorry boy, no window seats available" and I finally ended up having seat 52G, which was an aisle far away from any window.
Waiting Room gate C3
All set, in theory...
We boarded on time and everything was set, I was getting comfortable in my seat when a guy that was in charge of some students group approached me and told me if I could swap seats with one of his students so they'd fly together. The student was in a seat closer to a window (not a window itself) so I had no problem. Besides me was a Chinese guy in the window (I think he was like 15 years old) who was going to Guangzhou, and in the aisle was a guy from the U.S in his 40s that loved Harley-Davidson, his name was Robert. All set we were for some 35 minutes when the captain said: "This is your captain speaking, we have a problem with some air compressor and the mechanic is taking care of it right now, you should lower the shade because it's too hot". So we did, but after 10 minutes they just made us get off the Airplane in a hurry.
We were back in the waiting room and the flight was showing a two hours delay, which went by quickly after all. The only thing that worried me was losing my connection in Beijing. I was cool otherwise.
RAM/A (that's me)
They began boarding again (no problem this time), and we made pushback just two hours late and began taxiing.
From the gate boarding again.
We took off and turned north.
Flight route was via Canada, Greenland, Russia, Mongolia and then China.
Like one hour after take off they served the first meal, which alike the one at AA, in my simple guy's taste wasn't bad at all, they then served some noodles (in front of me was a little kid being fed those noodles with chinese sticks, which was cool) and then a sort of sandwich. Service was ok, specially a Chinese female F/A whose name I don't know.
Somewhere over Canada
Noodles. That lemon cookie was REALLY good.
Eating noodles with chinese sticks, nice.
Somewhere over Russia (Siberia)
Close to Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and the Baikal lake. In Ulan-Ude they make a fair share of the Mil Helicopters and also Sukhoi fighters. http://www.uuaz.ru/index_e.htm
Third and last meal, half bitten jauajaua.
Between Russia and Mongolia they began giving Chinese immigration forms, but since I was only connecting I didn't have to fill them in. In fact, had I been doing anything else besides connection and I'd would have had to have a visa. Descent and approach was begun some minutes after.
We arrived into Beijing like at 4-something pm local time of the day after the one I had taken off, after almost 14 flight hours, and couldn't see a lot, I don't know if it was fog or smog. Thing is we parked at the new Terminal 3 (the Dragon shaped one). The Harley-Davidson guy besides me had had like 3 beers and was a little "happier" than usual, and he began clapping soon after touchdown like they do in Latin America (and maybe somewhere else but I haven't travelled that much!).
In the gate there was a sheet with 7 names including mine, I identified myself to the agent and after the 7 of us were ready we began walking really fast following the agent to make to connection to Bangkok (remember we had taken off late from Washington).
Reaching the gate in the new Terminal 3 of Beijing-Capital Airport
My Airplane from the gate while we waited for the rest of the people that had connection to Bangkok (like 7... and like 3 that hadn't come out of the plane at that moment).
People to Bangkok walking fast to the Airplane. The guy with the white shirt was the agent that waited for us at the gate and was guiding us.
And I that used to be so proud of MDE...
With this you qualified the officer that attended you, in my case a girl that stamped my passport.
TG615 to Bangkok boarding and I was yet running around the Airport...
The whole process was VERY agile, even though I had mis-packed my sunblock lotion and it was confiscated hhahah. I got into the Thai 747 and was ready for the next leg.
Beijing-Capital ZBAA - Bangkok Suvarnabhumi VTBS
Flight: Thai Airways 615
Flight time: 5 hours
As I said in last leg's description, the connection was VERY agile. No more than 20 minuted passed after I left United's gate until I was on board the Thai Airways 747 including pictures, walking, sunblock lotion confiscation and passport stamp.
I got into the Airplane and got myself comfortable in my seat 40A window. Middle seat was empty and in the aisle there was a nice guy from Malaysia. I left things ready and for some minutes I saw a Dragonair A330 in the next gate. We got delayed like 20 minutes and I heard the captain saying that there were visibility and Air Traffic Control problems, he said we were turn 3 for departure. I had seen lots of Airplanes so I got happy thinking being turn 3 wasn't too bad for that amount of traffic, and I thought things would go by quick. I had been awake some 20 hours, 14 of them inside another 747, so as I said I left things ready and fell asleep. I don't really have any complaint about United (maybe the legroom a little bit), but I liked Thai's 747 way more, it seemed more comfortable, I felt more legroom (don't know if that's true or was just an ilussion) and the general ambience was cooler.
Thing is I woke up and looked out the window, and it was the very same picture, the very same Dragonair A330 in the very same part... and got a little disoriented, so I asked the Malay guy beside me:
-"Hey, Did I sleep only 15 minutes or what happened here?"
-"We've been stranded here like 5 hours now"
Last thing I saw before falling asleep.
First thing I saw after waking up and getting a little disoriented.
What surprised me the most was watching everybody just calmed (I was too, having been conscient like 10 minutes and having Bangkok as final destination), nobody was saying anything, F/As just passed by giving drinks and newspapers just like that. If that 5 hours in the gate would have been happened somewhere else somebody would have died I think. By the way, whoever finds an ugly F/A in that flight wins a tasty United Airlines lemon cookie!.
And well, I had effectively slept 5 hours which I think would have been sort of boring otherwise. 15 minutes after we finally did pushback and taxied to the runway. We took off, they began serving food but I didn't want (it looked very good but physically I just couldn't eat anymore and I didn't want to throw up due to being really full in Thai's 747 jo)
Thai immigration bureau
We arrived into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. I liked it a lot, people complain because there's a lot of walking to be made, which is true, but I found the walking to be quite entertaining (and adding the problems it's had with capacity and alleged corruption and whatnot...), but in what respects to me, it passed the test (again, I'm quite simple). Immigration was brisk and this time I met with who was supposed to pick me up very fast.
We arrived to Cartagena (8) (Colombian joke, don't worry)
First thing I saw after getting out of the gate
Immigration (the silhouette of one of the lines for passport check can be seen in the background)
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi VTBS - Beijing-Capital ZBAA
Flight: Thai Airways 614
Flight Time: 5 Hours
I finished my business in Thailand and it was time for coming back home.
I arrived at BKK very early in order to get some extra pictures.
Arriving into BKK
Suvarnabhumi has the tallest control tower in the world, 132m.
Some of the Check-in counters.
Second left to right please
I checked-in as soon as I could and I was asked for my Colombian ID (not a problem, but seemed a little awkward). I went then to the 6th floor restaurant to have some breakfast and take a couple of pictures. When I thought it was prudent I did emigration and customs. Then the long walk to my gate C3 and it the way I saw like more than 20 duty free stores, even though I didn't even look at them because everything was Gucci and Dior and the like and I'm not chic.
There were some pagodas and Thai decoration as well. The walking is long, but as I said before, entertaining. I waited in the room, we boarded and did pushback just on time. There were lots of Indian people in that flight.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, they love him in Thailand.
Royal Barge (and the Gucci store as background).
Duty Free until reaches the eye
My gate C3, the "same one" that the one in Washington.
We ere ready and again I had the full row to myself. We took off and I managed to see the Bangkok's port and lots of vessels arriving. Then we turned onwards to China. We overflew Laos, Vietnam and then entered China. We seemed to be flying along a very congested airway, since I saw no less than 10 Airplanes going the other way lower than us (could just recognize like 3 though).
As I said, Thais love their King.
Traffic in the Airway
Like an hour after take off they served food, and didn't disappoint. And first Thai flight, whoever finds an ugly F/A in that flight winds a REALLY TASTY United Airlines lemon cookie. They also offered beverages, tea, hot towels and the earphones were handed out in a very nice little envelope. As I've said, I'm quite a simple guy, but given a choice in what I've flown so far I'd choose Thai hands down, even above Avianca.
This time I finally tried Thai Airways food, very good.
Nam Ngum Reservoir 60km north of Vientiane, Laos' capital. It has an hydroelectric plant that produces electricity for domestic use and also for sale to Thailand.
Ice in the window. Were were flying at 41000 feet, that was my first time above the 40000 feet mark!.
The flight kept on and we arrived into Beijing just on time. That day I couldn't see anything either. We parked just besides the 747 that would take me to Washington, but this time I had a little more time to take a look around the part of Terminal 3 I was in.
Approximation to Beijing... fog or smog?
We parked next to the UA 747 that would take me to IAD
Beijing-Capital ZBAA - Washington Dulles KIAD
Flight: United Airlines 898
Flight time: 12:30 (thanks to tailwind).
This time around we were on time for connection so I had a little more than 1:30 to take a look around. I didn't see lots of people (or maybe yes, but very well distributed along the place) . I walked around and saw some of the traffic, including Air China (A340, 737, 747, 767 and 777), Air Canada (777), Asiana (A321), Air Macau (A320), El-Al (767), Dragonair (A330), the Thai 747 I had arrived in, etc.
I also saw a lot of duty free shops but not as much as in Bangkok (or that was my impression).
Help Kiosk for international transfers, there were two Irish guys with some problems there (not pictured though).
Air China 747, ground crew having a break beneath it.
"Convenience service for fee".
El-Al 767 with Olympics sticker
Phone card vending machine
Air Canada 777
My baggage was around there somewhere
The Thai 747 in which I had arrived on, going back to Bangkok
Use less paper
I boarded the Airplane and sat in my 49A window seat. The middle seat was again empty and in the aisle some guy from the U.S in his 60s. I never seem to have very nice girls sit beside me (it's the same anyways, I'm very shy and wouldn't talk to them first jo).
We did pushback and taxied to the runway, rotation was about 7pm local time (there was some light still). The route was the same: Mongolia, Russia, Canada and then USA.
Pushback, almost at 7pm
Air China's 737-800 Olympics logojet.
Somewhere over Mongolia
I could hold until Baikal lake, and fell asleep. When I woke up we were already over Canada (I missed looking at Greenland again). Soon after that food was served, I think it was the third one now and I had lost the first one because of being sleeping (the noodles were around as well). This time there was a F/A that could have competition to the Thai ones, her name was Anne but she didn't attend my sector, shame.
First thing I saw after waking up, that was Canada already.
We approached between New York and Buffalo and landed at Washington like at 7:20pm of the very same day we had taken off. I had been inside an Airplane for 12 hours including sleeping time, but time had only advanced 20 minutes. It was bizarre hahaaj.
My eternal gate C3
I did immigration and customs along with the passengers of some Air France flight that had just arrived too. I met with who was supposed to pick me up quickly and then I went to see some of the local traffic from the roof of the parking lot building.
Washington Dulles Terminal from the parking lot building like an hour and a half after landing. It was designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen.
Washignton Dulles KIAD - Miami KMIA
Flight: American Airlines 1569
Flight Time: 2:30
I spent another day at DC (and went to the Smithsonian near the FAA and also Udvar-Hazy, excellent places) and then headed back to Medellín (via Miami). The flight was early and when I arrived at Dulles it was still dark, there was already a line for that flight though.
The flight was on time.
Watch your step