Greetings and salutations! In May I moved to New York City to begin my third year of medical school. Following my first two clinical rotations (OBGYN & Family Medicine) I had a two week break in August and I wanted to take advantage of this time to travel because aside from having two weeks off for Christmas I was going to be at it nonstop through June 2023. The first year of my program took place in Newcastle in the UK, and at the time I had booked a trip to go to Israel after one of my exams. Well, that was in 2020 and in case you’ve forgotten pretty much everything got put on the fritz that year because of COVID. I decided this was a good opportunity to go back and make it happen.
The logical choice would’ve been to fly out of JFK. The fares were a few hundred dollars cheaper, however, the flights times were not good. I would’ve arrived at TLV very early in the morning or at around 7 PM, and then my return flight would’ve been at midnight. Flying UA from EWR ended up costing me $2337 which obviously is not cheap. I was a little taken aback at how high the fares were, but that seemed to be the general theme this summer across the board. Plus, I booked the flight only a month and a half in advance so maybe that hurt me as well. I was able to use my mileage balance to take a small bite out of the sum. Interestingly, when selecting the return flight, Economy was roughly $600 MORE than Premium Economy. I’m not sure of the reason for this. Maybe Economy was way overbooked? In any event, at least I’d be more comfortable on the flight home. (August 6-12)
Currently I’m based in Bushwick which is a neighborhood in Brooklyn that borders Queens. Most of my clinical rotations are at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. Prior to this, I visited Manhattan a few years ago for a quick tourist trip but that was my only other time in New York. Coming from the suburbs in Wisconsin, it's definitely a change of pace. This was my first introduction to the concept of street noise.
I don't think I could see myself permanently staying here but residency after medical school is a definite possibility, so we'll see what happens down the road. The view from my rooftop has got to be one of the best in the city.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 10:55 PM so I set out for the airport a little after 7 PM. I looked into ordering an Uber, but the fare came back at 98$ and Lyft would've cost substantially more. Considering it was only a 17-mile drive, that seemed a little insane. With that, I was left to take the train. My journey to the airport was as follows: I took the M into Manhattan, then the F to 34th Street–Herald Square, walked one block to Penn Station, then NJ Transit to EWR, and finally the AirTrain Newark to Terminal C.
At Penn Station I stopped off at the stunning new Moynihan Train Hall to grab a bite to eat. As someone who is new to the city, it's hard to believe that prior to its opening those traveling through Penn Station were confined to the cramped, inelegant, underground corridors that have made up the station for so long. I wasn't even aware of the whole backstory of how they tore down the old building to make room for Madison Square Garden. While passing through there I even heard other groups of people remark how impressed they were by the new building.
All told the entire trek took two hours and fifteen minutes at a total cost of $18.25. In comparison, the Uber would've gotten me there in about an hour. Keep in mind I didn't check the NJ Transit schedule before I left my apartment, so I had a bit of a wait at Penn Station.
There was no line whatsoever at bag drop-off and when I was done with that, I proceeded to the security checkpoint. By that time the designated area for PreCheck was closed, but when I went through the regular line they gave me a laminated card to hold onto and I still got the benefits of the expedited screening. Once airside there was an hour to go until my flight's departure time. As I was walking to the gate, I caught a glimpse of a food menu that was displayed on a tablet at one of the restaurants and appetizers were starting at $20+.
Talk about price gouging.
Interestingly, the gate area for my flight was cordoned off and you had to undergo an additional security screening prior to entering. This involved a check of your passport and boarding pass as well as a swab test for explosive material. Undoubtedly this is some sort of policy imposed by the Israeli government. Inside this area there was no access to food or restrooms, so if you needed any of those things it would've required exiting the secured area and undergoing the screening again to get back in. At the time there were no COVID restrictions whatsoever in Israel. No mask rules, no vaccine requirements to enter, etc. I did have to fill out some entry paperwork a few days before the flight, but all I had to do was submit it on UA's website and then nobody at EWR or TLV ever asked to see it.
Before entering the gate area, I went over to get a look at the aircraft for my flight. It was still in the old colors and to me it seems like UA has been taking its time to repaint their fleet. This would be my first flight on the extended -10 variant of the 787. UA previously ran 773s on this route.
Once aboard, I glanced down at my phone to doublecheck my seat assignment and I did a double take when I saw 34E. You see, this was a middle seat in the center of the plane and back when I booked the flight I had selected 45A and I even had to pay $32 extra to do this. For some reason, they changed my seat assignment at a moment's notice without informing me in any way.
I don't know exactly when it happened but I'm pretty sure I remember still having my original seat on there as I was making my way to the gate post-security. Confused, surprised, and even angry, I found one of the flight attendants, explained the situation, and told him I wanted a window seat. He pulled the seat map up on his phone and said that no window seats were available. He then sent out a text message, which I'm assuming was directed to the gate agent outside. A few minutes later he came back over to me and according to the information he received the extra money I paid went towards more leg room and it didn't guarantee a window seat. That didn't make much sense because I was originally seated in Basic Economy. Regardless, he said the only other thing he could do is pass along that I was refusing the new seat assignment. Well, that didn't seem like it would lead anywhere and as upset as I was, I obviously wasn't about to skip the flight just because I didn't have a window seat. In an effort to try and make it up to me, he promised that he would "spoil" throughout the flight, but guess what? Absolutely nothing came of that.
The only silver lining was that the two people I was now seated in-between were together, so they said I could move over to the aisle to let them sit next to each other. At least I didn't have be squished in the middle for ten-plus hours. We pushed back from the gate on-schedule and then took off from runway 22R, or at least I think it was 22R. Yes, I'm sure regular person would've gladly moved up to Economy Plus, but to me a window seat was more important. Anyways, the dinner service commenced not long after departure. You had the choice of stir fry with either chicken or vegetables. It was fine, but the meals on American carriers are entirely predictable nowadays. It seems like it's always either chicken or a vegetarian option. I guess when you're flying in coach, you're not entitled to any variety.
I was in such a foul mood from the seat mishap that I didn't even bother with the IFE for the whole flight. Supposedly Wi-fi should've been available, but I couldn't get it to connect. The cabin lights went out about 2 1/2 hours into the flight and I tried to get some sleep. The extra legroom didn't really help in this regard because when I'm in a seated position I just can't get comfortable enough to sleep well. I would've needed to have my feet up like in a recliner. In the end I wasn't asleep much, if at all. There was a brief period of turbulence but otherwise the rest of the flight was smooth. The flight attendants made a run through the aisle overnight and distributed small sandwiches and bottles of water. It should be noted that a few of them did speak Hebrew. Much to my surprise we actually got a legit meal for breakfast. I'm used to only getting a "light snack" on TATL flights and that usually consists of something like a yogurt and a muffin. The options here were eggs or a waffle.
When I got up to use the restroom, I took a glance around the cabin for any open window seats, but they did all indeed appear to be taken. Obviously from where I was sitting, I couldn't see much during landing. I had really been looking forward to taking in this approach but clearly the powers that be had other ideas. There was a light round of applause upon landing. After deplaning the arrival process was pretty streamlined and I was able to exit the airport reasonably quickly. Sadly, I didn't get a stamp in my passport. Instead, you get a small piece of paper that you're supposed to hang onto. Apparently, having an Israeli stamp in your passport would cause problems if you ever wanted to enter certain Arab countries. There's no Uber or Lyft in Israel. A taxi would've cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 USD so I decided to take the train which is located right outside the arrivals hall. It was only one stop to HaHagana Station and from there it was a twenty-minute walk to my hostel.
My stay in Tel Aviv got off to a bit of a concerning start. Within an hour of arriving in my room sirens started going off outside. At first, I didn't take much notice of it because where I live in New York there's a regular stream of ambulance/police siren noise coming from the street outside. My roommate brought attention to the fact that it was indeed the air raid sirens that were going off and so everyone proceeded into the underground shelter. We were down there for about fifteen minutes before the all clear was given. I wasn't overly concerned because I knew that kind of stuff isn't that uncommon in Israel, but it was certainly a new experience for me.
The day before I set out from New York the Israeli military launched airstrikes against targets inside Gaza so I had a feeling there might be some sort of escalation. Fortunately, there weren't any more incidents the remainder of my trip and none of my tours got disrupted. However, two days after I returned home there was a shooting in Jerusalem that wounded eight people so if you're traveling to this part of the world it's important to remember that it can be pretty volatile.
Now, on to the fun stuff. I stayed at the Abraham Hostel. Honestly, once I hit thirty, I thought my hostel days were over, but being in school and not having any regular income made me reevaluate that position. Another thing is that Israel is expensive, with prices almost similar to New York City. There were people of all ages staying there so it ended up being fine. Plus, the hostel also ran several different tours which was convenient. On my first full day I did the West Bank tour. Our guide was a Palestinian who we picked up right after the bus crossed into the West Bank, so it was interesting to get his perspective. He didn't pull any punches when giving his take on the whole situation. It was quite a scenic drive through the Judean Desert and on this tour we hit Ramallah, Jericho, and Bethlehem.
The next day I did the Jerusalem Old City tour. This tour was a bit more rushed, but you still got to see "the greatest hits," so to speak.
I spent my last two days in Tel Aviv. On my penultimate day I walked around Jaffa (the oldest part of Tel Aviv) and then that night I went on a bar crawl that was also run by the hostel. Who knew Israel had such crazy nightlife?
I was a little the worse for wear the following day, but I still managed to drag myself out of bed and head to the beach.
It was a short trip that flew by pretty quick. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had never traveled so far for such a short stay.
Another thing to keep in mind when visiting Israel is that the Jewish Sabbath lasts from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown, and normal public transportation is not available during this time. Fortunately, I was leaving Friday morning, so I was still able to take the train back to the airport. I considered taking a bus or taxi to get to the train station, but in the end I just decided to walk. In hindsight, that probably wasn't the best idea because even though it was early in the day I still got extremely hot and sweaty. I got to the station at 9 AM just in time to catch the next train. I hopped on board and after a quick ten-minute ride I was at the airport.
Before entering the check-in queue, I had to present my passport and undergo some brief questioning. This included things like: "Why were you in Israel? Do you have any family in Israel? What other languages do you speak?" This was in contrast to when I had arrived in TLV. The guy who checked my passport then barely said a word before letting me through. Having Premium Economy came in handy because it granted me the Premier Access line at check-in. The regular line was very long and slow-moving. They only had a few positions at the counter to check everyone in. The situation was much worse when I got to the security checkpoint. It was an even longer line that was snaking back and forth and honestly it looked like it would've taken all day to get through. I was in that line for a little while, and then for some reason one of the airport staff instructed me to walk over to a much shorter line. Apparently, it was the line for disabled passengers, even though the rest of the people who were in that line didn't seem to have any sort of limitations either. I'm not sure if it's because she saw that I had an American passport or maybe there was something she noticed on boarding pass, but either way I wasn't going to complain. You know when they advise you to show up at the airport three hours beforehand for an international flight? This might be one of rare instances where you actually have to take that seriously.
After getting through security, I headed straight down to the gate to get a look at the aircraft for my flight. It had just arrived from EWR. Once again it was a 787-10, except this time it was in the new livery.
Similar to DTW, there are small dots all over the windows so that can make taking good photos a little challenging. This LY 787 was resting at the adjacent gate.
There was still quite a bit of time to go before boarding commenced so I walked around and did a little exploring. Most of the shops/restaurants are located in the rotunda that is immediately post-security, but there are some spots in the concourses as well.
During boarding there was yet another check of everyone's carry-ons during which all liquids/drinks were confiscated. The Premium Economy cabin is quite small. Its only three rows in a 2-3-2 configuration. I was in the bulkhead, so I had even more room to stretch my legs and I was able to get out without disturbing my seatmate. At each seat there was a blanket, pillow, and headphones, all of which were superior in quality to what I had gotten in Economy on the flight over.
We departed slightly behind schedule. On our way out to the runway we passed some derelict LY aircraft.
We took off from runway 26 and proceeded straight out over the Mediterranean Sea leaving Israel behind us.
There was a lavatory located at the front of the cabin which seemed more spacious than usual. There was a curtain draped across the entrance to the galley area so I'm not sure if we were technically allowed to use that one or if it was supposed to be reserved for Polaris passengers. Wi-fi was operational this time around. It cost $29 for the full flight, $13 for two hours, or $8 for one hour. The first meal service commenced as we passed over Greece. The meals were improved compared to the offerings in Economy. I chose the beef option.
Once the meal service was finished the cabin crew manually dimmed all the windows, and they weren't unlocked until we were over Massachusetts. I was pleasantly surprised to find an amenity kit tucked away in the armrest. As far as I can remember, in all my travels this was my first time receiving one of these. I actually found the eye mask to be particularly useful. I had never used one before but for someone who struggles to sleep well during flights I think it might have to be part of my travel pack from now on, at least for longer trips. I subsequently bought a better one on Amazon once I got home. I passed the rest of the time by watching a pair of movies, doing some reading on my phone, and sleeping, or at least trying to. The IFE monitor was stowed away in the armrest; however, it was not cumbersome in any way. Similar to the previous flight we were given a sandwich and a bottle of water at around the halfway point. In accordance with the trend, the portions were bigger this time around.
The pre-arrival meal was served once we reached the Northeastern US. The choices were crepes with peaches or eggs, and I went with the former. Breakfast food seemed like a strange choice considering it was going to be close to dinner time when we arrived, but nonetheless it tasted fine.
We commenced our descent into EWR shortly thereafter.
Unfortunately, flights were landing from south that day. Otherwise, I would've been treated to nice view of Manhattan. Instead, it was much farther off into the distance. We passed west of EWR and then turned back around to land on runway 4R.
After deplaning it took about thirty minutes to clear immigration. Next time my TSA PreCheck subscription comes up for renewal I think I might go for Global Entry. I hadn't really ever looked into it before, and I was surprised to find out that it only costs $22 more and includes TSA PreCheck. As far as I'm aware, there's no way to "upgrade" to Global Entry if you already have TSA PreCheck. Once I retrieved my bag I didn't even bother checking how much an Uber/Lyft would've cost. I headed straight for the train. I had a few days to recuperate and then it was back to the hospital to start my next rotation.
Thank you for checking out my trip report and hopefully it was a good read. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Israel and in hindsight I wish I would've added an extra day to the trip in order to check out the Dead Sea. Israel might not immediately come to mind as a top destination when planning a trip but there's a nice variety of things to see and do. Practically everyone I interacted with over there spoke English so that was another plus. As for the whole seat fiasco on UA, I'm pleased to say that they did at least refund the extra money I paid for the window seat. I contacted them via Facebook Messenger, and I received an email confirming the refund a few days later, so it was simple. However, EWR is pretty inconvenient to reach from Brooklyn, so in all likelihood I'll stick to LGA and JFK from now on. In terms of medical school, everything has been progressing well. I'm currently a little over halfway done with surgery and once that's finished it should be all downhill from there.