My transpacific odyssey Part 4: CX543 Business Class Tokyo Haneda to Hong Kong

Part 1: HKG-NRT CX504 (Business Class) and the Pier First Class lounge (Here)

Part 2: NRT-LAX JL62 (Business Class), JAL First Class lounge, QF LAX First Class lounge, LAX-DEN AA (Economy Class) (Here)

Part 3: DEN-ORD AA2312 (Economy Class), United Polaris Lounge, ORD-HND NH111 (First Class) (Here)

Part 4: HND-HKG CX543 (Business Class) and the Cathay Pacific Haneda Lounge revisited (You are Here)

Last we left off, I arrived into Tokyo Haneda Airport from Chicago on ANA’s First Class. It was 9 pm when I cleared immigration and picked up my luggage, and I met up with a friend of mine for a quite supper before heading to the airport hotel. I fell asleep right away but woke up at about 6:30 am – way too early the 10:45 am departure (FYI: my alarm was set for 8:45 am). I guess it was the jetlag that was keeping me awake. I did not mind much as I could just hang around in the airport.

CX543 is the first of the two flights Cathay runs to Hong Kong from Haneda – usually in regional configuration. I booked it so I could get home earlier (I arrived back to Hong Kong on Wednesday and would need to be off to Europe in Sunday!) or else I would have definitely booked on the later service – CX549 – for the 77W service. A few months prior the flight, it was changed to a three-class 777-300ER in long-haul configuration! I was elated and it was the only flight that week that has a long-haul configuration.

I ended up taking the 7:30 am shuttle back to the airport and I spotted my bird on the way!

Cathay Pacific shares Aisle J with China Southern – but as an OneWorld Emerald, I am allowed to use First Class check-in, which had no queue as per usual.

I tried to use fast track security check but only First Class passengers are allowed. I explained that I was an OneWorld Emerald and a BA Gold card holder, and they let me in regardless.

I first used the JAL First Class lounge, which was very crowded.

I needed to call someone on Skype so I migrated to the Cathay Pacific lounge

I ordered a wonton noodles which was as good as ever. Really hit the spot

And a flat white to wake me up

I arrived at the gate just a few minutes prior to boarding time

My chariot today

The First Class is as empty as ever – so I was first on the plane

Seat today is 23K

Champagne to start

Just over 5 hours flight time

Even with an on time departure from the gate, we were going to run late against a 5:15 block time.

The reason to pick a seat on the right for departure from Haneda is Mount Fuji

The meal service started soon after

My usual – Perrier and G&T

More nuts

To start:

Serrano ham, tomato mozzarella timbale, glazed fig and basil sauce

Seasonal salad and yuzu dressing

Buckwheat soba and nameko mushroom

Champagne Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Brut

Followed by: Hokkaido style seafood, miso sauce, seasonal vegetables and aona Japanese rice

It is getting cloudy outside

Cheese and fruit

Green tea ice cream, of course

The flight is progressing

The meal service concluded just after we left Kyushu – it was excellent. Japanese catering is really good and the service was quick and efficient.

I then put my seat down and snoozed until we were 30 minutes out

The flight route today

Parked next to a Qatar A350-900

I got my suitcase within 15 minutes of arriving – HK efficiency

I was tired after the flight so I headed home and snoozed until the following morning. Yet Cathay more or less delivered an excellent flight. No complaints and thus concluding my transpacific odyssey of my Christmas/New Year break.

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My transpacific odyssey Part 3: NH111 First Class ORD-HND

On my way back from the USA, I was able to snatch a First Class flight on ANA from Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo Haneda using Aegean Airlines Miles. 100,000 miles lighter and I have the e-ticket to the dream flight of the lifetime. I was finishing up work at Denver and spent the weekend there before heading on Monday. I started my day with American Airlines, a short two-hour hop, and then I had to wait around slightly for the check-in for ANA to open.

Part 1: HKG-NRT CX504 (Business Class) and the Pier First Class lounge (Here)

Part 2: NRT-LAX JL62 (Business Class), JAL First Class lounge, QF LAX First Class lounge, LAX-DEN AA (Economy Class) (Here)

Part 3: DEN-ORD AA2312 (Economy Class), United Polaris Lounge, ORD-HND NH111 (First Class) [You are here]

Part 4: HND-HKG CX543 (Business Class) and the Cathay Pacific Haneda Lounge revisited [to come]

7 am in Denver

I was at Group 2, courtesy of my BA Gold status, and seemed to be the only Group 2 passenger of the day. I think most AA homegrown elites were upgraded, leaving me the only one with elite status in coach (as I was the only one offered snacks/drinks).

View from my exit row

Free snacks – too early for drinks obviously

Approaching Chicago

I then spent two hours catching up with some work in the Flagship Lounge – so apologies for the lack of report. It had a good selection of food and drinks – and it was a rather nice space to work in.

I went to Terminal 3 at about 13:00, which was 15 minutes before check-in opened. I waited in line for First Class check-in, and I was the only one in the line. Long lines were already forming for Business Class and Economy Class.

Check-in took a while. The United agent was a bit concerned that I did not have a return flight out of Japan. I showed her my mobile boarding pass on Cathay Pacific out of Haneda the following morning but she was not too convinced. I had to show her the e-ticket and let her copy it before she would issue my boarding passes and tagged my bags. She advised me that I could use the Polaris Lounge (of which I knew already) and that I could use the Fast Track security check (of which I also knew, but I wonder whether it was worth the walk all the way to the other end of the terminal!) She was courtesy but lacked the Japanese professionalism I would say.

I was told to turn left upon seeing the fossil

I like the tunnel!

There was a staff checking credentials outside the lounge making sure you are eligible. It’s been a while since I qualified for a lounge by virtue of class travel. (I am an OneWorld Emerald that flies in Economy and Business Class… and before that I was Star Alliance Gold that only flies in Economy Class)

I went straight to lunch – I know that a feast awaits me on board, but I heard that food in Polaris is pretty nice and I was not disappointed!

A gin and tonic to start – you should know by now

Starter

Champagne to follow

Steak and fries

Bread and butter pudding

It was very good – the service was top notch but by the time the lunch was over, it was about time to leave. I managed to sneak in a shower but that was about it!

I arrived at the gate, which was a short walk from the lounge, about 10 minutes prior to the flight.

And a dedicated bridge for First Class

Boarding began promptly at 15:45

My seat 2K

Pre-departure beverage: not the Krug, just normal Champagne, I was told

Long flight ahead

Sunset at Chicago

Hot towel to start

Menu was presented to me

Sparkling water and Krug to start

These canapes were out of this world

Table was laid

Bread

Smoked salmon and lobster starter – it was very good

Caviar

More champagne? Yes, please!

Salad

Japanese soup

The flight is still young!

Fish for main. It was not the best presented course but it is one of the best fish courses I have ever had. The seabass was cooked to perfection – flaky and piping hot

White wine to accompany the fish

Fruits for dessert

Switching to tea now

Do I have room for more?

Bed was set up in 2G for me

I woke up over Alaska – it is morning in Tokyo, so I had to start forcing myself to stay awake, which was proving quite difficult

So coffee to start

More caffeine? Yes, please!

Fairbanks

Why not stuff more food? White wine to start

Corn soup – it was out of this world!

Ramen – it was too flavourful for my liking, but oh well!

More white wine!

Dessert was excellent

Latte to finish. I tried to teach them flat white, but the language barrier failed me.

I fell asleep in the lounge position watching TV in my seat. When I woke up, the TV was turned off and a blanket was pulled over me. Speaking of personal service! I was so so impressed.

I woke up again over Russia

Some more tea

The lounge position

The final meal service started about 2 hours out

Some bar snacks

Smoked duck to start

The Japanese set

Sake was a must!

More fruits

Apple crumble was a hit and miss

A final tea break with just under an hour to go

Arrived into Tokyo just a bit behind schedule due to strong head winds.

I enjoyed my flight a lot, at least up to the point I left the aircraft. The food and beverage on offer were excellent and the service was extremely polished. The flight attendants were warm, witty and quick to serve. As I left the plane in Tokyo, I was met with these intolerable queues for immigration. It ended up taking 2 hours to clear immigration, and that was not the expected ending for such a lovely flight.

A380 Club World from Hong Kong to London Heathrow

Exactly one year ago, I flew this exact same flight; and as my schedule would have it, I am flying BA32 again on the same day. I have since attained OneWorld Emerald status through BA Executive Club so have been afforded more privileges, including First Class check-in, First Class lounge access (in Hong Kong, it would be the two Cathay lounges: the Wing and the Pier, as BA’s dedicated Qantas lounge is a shared Business and First Class lounge).

There was absolutely no wait at the First Class check-in where my bags were tagged promptly and my boarding pass issued without much human interaction. No ‘welcome back’ but at least it was an efficient process and I was off in no time.

As BA32 regularly (and this time it was no different) departs from gate 15, which is really close to security, there was really no point to visit the Pier, which is far at gate 65. I settled for the Wing instead of my usual favourite of Qantas lounge this time.

The Champagne bar, serving three champagnes

The view is good

I was able to fit in a visit to the cabana, which was majestic

And a cold champagne to toast for this trip

I left for Gate 15 when my flight started to board

Boarding through the First Class line attracts no queue nor wait. BA at Hong Kong does a far better job at enforcing priority boarding, with clearly defined queues for different boarding priorities, although lumping Business Class (Club World) together with Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus) together may attract some criticisms. Equally, by granting all OneWorld elites priority boarding at least at the level of Business Class has the effect of lengthening the priority queues to be somewhat as long as the Economy queues on this A380 service. Yet, First Class line remains a sanctuary for those who have ‘earned’ it. (Yours truly is reminded of the scene in the movie Up in the Air)

A glass of champagne is offered upon arrival

View from my seat

BA utilises something called ‘Theoretical Seating’ to allocate seats. As BA charges for seat assignments even for Business Class passengers without status, BA is able to optimise its seat assignments by way of starting to block seats next to its most loyal customers (Gold Card holders, equivalent to Emerald) 55 hours prior to departure. This is evident on this flight as out of the 1 only seat that is not taken, it was the seat next to me. Over the next few flights I have taken with BA, this has been of some successes, including a blocked seat next to me on the upper deck of 747.

Bulkhead seats have slightly more legroom

Menu for the day

One of the major issues I took with the menu this time last year was the lack of Chinese option despite flying out of Hong Kong (ex-Heathrow flights have one Asian option for both meals). I was glad to see the issue addressed in part. For the first meal service, BA now replaces its (in)famous fish course (served with ‘wild rice’) with an Asian selection (for this month, sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice), which I took and would be reporting below.

BA28 on the 777-300ER

The new safety video was featured.

Take off was more or less on time

Hot towel (if you can call it that!) was offered after take off

Rose champagne, sparkling water and cashew nuts – a familiar start to my BA Club flights. BA is one of the very few airlines that offer more than 1 champagne selections on their flight.

With just 11 hours to go

Starter with a New Zealand ‘Tiki’ Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (NZ SB is now my beverage of choice and this was one of the more enjoyable BA white selection!)

A somewhat lacklustre attempt at a Chinese main course. Tastes good but looks just like an economy meal (except on Chinaware). The other complaint is the same for Cathay: customers now expect some sort of plating when serving food in Business Class, rather than just a heated meal from the oven.

Dessert was definitely the highlight of the meal – it was simply divine

Pralines

Dinner was done about 1.5 hours after take-off. Against such a full Business Class cabin, this was commendable

I woke up about 2 hours out of London

Began my day with a cup of tea. Despite the lack of fancy tea/coffee selection, I generally find BA tea very comforting and well made, even in Economy Class. This time was no different: I was just glad this was offered

First course

Nearly there!

I asked and was given the fruit plate

Second Course: Salmon and spinach wrap – not the best food I have eaten on the plane…

By the time the plates were cleared, we are approaching English coast

London in the very early morning. As one of the first flights arriving, there is no holding pattern (!) and we were cleared to approach straightaway, though the approach was lengthened as we landed on the west

To end, a hearty English breakfast in the Arrivals Lounge, accessible through travelling in Business Class

In sum, it was a solid flight – nothing that wows me though. This is one of those flights that my BA gold status went unnoticed, not that I wanted any special treatment, but as Ryan Bingham would say: “Loyalty is earned and rewarded with these small touches. It’s these kinds of systemized friendly touches that keep my world in orbit.” In terms of service, I think there is definitely room for improvements, not least was I told off for failing to pronounce a French wine-related word properly by a crew (fault is my own, but still, it can be dealt with in a much more friendly way). The food was better than last year, snack offerings remained subpar (Club Kitchen contained nibbles, only), but beverage offering is solid as usual. It did the trick, though: I was not jetlagged and got a very good night’s sleep.

Tier Points running to Jakarta – Part 2

Just a brief recap: I flew to Jakarta on the morning CX777 departure to Jakarta and I was doing a back-to-back for BA Executive Club Tier Points. Jakarta is 2,000 miles away from Hong Kong, which qualifies as a long-haul flight. A round-trip bags 280 TPs – which is nearly 20% of my TPs for Emerald this year!

I was picked up by a Cathay staff at the gate and was guided through transfer, which consisted of him walking me up to the departure concourse via an elevator. He had my boarding pass in hand and settled me down in the lounge while he dealt with my passport and stuff. Within 5 minutes he came back to me and told me to head to the boarding gate. I happily obliged. I was very impressed by the service I got at Jakarta – no confusion and I was able to transfer without entering Indonesia!

The FIDS

There was a queue at the security check before the gate, but it digested quite quickly.

Priority lane for boarding pass check

I am liking the gate area design

The gate area was quite full of people. It was rather difficult to find a seat. But I happily stood. Once boarding was announced, Business Class was invited to board first, followed by Emerald and Sapphire.

When I boarded the aircraft, the ISM and SP were in shock to see me back. I then explained to them I was doing a back-to-back. They asked me where I would be sitting. I originally chose 21A at the rear of the Business Class cabin. The ISM was very insistent that I moved to 11A – so that I would be served first on this sector, and that the air conditioning system was not working at the rear cabin. I was too happy to oblige. More importantly, everyone now knows who I am – I was feeling more like a VIP on the return!

The inflight map

Boarding finished rather quickly, due to the light load on the return sector. Business Class was half full, PEY was similar and EY was a bit fuller.

Plane spotting while taxing to the active runway

Onwards and upwards

I quickly started watching another movie

For pre-refreshment drinks I had Gin and Tonic

Even though it was a 2 pm departure, and the menu was branded as a refreshment – the meal was really a glorified version of lunch / dinner. The full servings, perhaps given the 5-hour block time

To Start: Balik Salmon, cucumber, creme fraiche, salmon roe and lemon

Seasonal mixed salad and balsamic vinaigrette

Garlic bread was excellent as ever

A menu shot

Loving the view

As per protocol, all the options of main courses would be rolled out on a cart. I still have mixed feelings for this way of doing things – the main courses would be cooled, and even if a main looks good, there is still the chance for it to taste bad. In all honesty, I am looking forward to dine on demand: especially the extended menu choices.

Followed by

Pan fried beef fillet, tomato onion sauce, asparagus, lotus root, mushroom and steamed jasmine rice

Pan fried sea beam, savoy cabbage, kipfler potatoes, black pepper and garlic butter

Thai red chicken curry, garlic vegetables and steamed jasmine rice

I had the Chinese beef option. It was excellent.

Evidence. My wine was topped up throughout the service – I must have a few glasses during the main!

Fruits and cheese soon followed

The sun begins to set at this point

The dessert was simply divine. Peanut butter macadamia cake

It was so good that I asked for a second helping! I also asked for a comment form so I can praise the crew for the lovely service I received.

The meal service took about 3 hours, which I took to be a good pace, though I am very sure my neighbour did not agree (he got his laptop out for work after main!) This was due to the turbulence during the flight, but I think it was an afternoon flight – people would have had lunch earlier

The SP came by to thank me for choosing CX on my TP run and asked me whether she could offer me a cup of hot chocolate. I happily obliged.

Before landing, I also asked for a cup of green tea

Catching up on some work prior to landing! We were put in a holding pattern due to congestion

Putting my seat back to take off position prior to landing

A bottle of water was available upon request

When the gate information finally appeared, I knew my day was coming to an end

Back at home after a long day!

Verdict? Overall an excellent flight. The catering was very good. While not too fancy, it was completely edible and I enjoyed the service. I particularly loved the Yealands Land Estate Sauvignon Blanc – not a pricey wine, but definitely very drinkable on the plane. I hope to continue to see this wine on board, as I have for the last 5 months. The service was commendable – perhaps because I have flown the outbound sector, the crew was warmer and more proactive this sector. But either way, very good service. The delivery was excellent. Hard product and inflight entertainment excellent as ever.

BA Dreamliner to Kuala Lumpur

Picking off from where we left off, I looked at the departure FIDS just to make sure that my flight would depart from Terminal 5.

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Heading to the transit bus

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The bus affords some good plane spotting

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Arriving into Terminal 5

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My flight would depart from gate B48 so I left for the B gates

The irony of seeing this advertisement in a predominantly BA terminal

The B gates lounge

The food offering was… meh… there were only sandwiches and cakes on offer – no real hot item despite nearing dinner hours

My selection

I flagged down an attendant for some champagne. I asked for a glass and he insisted on bringing two – saying that I needed that!

The saving grace of the lounge was that it was rather quiet

At about the boarding time, I headed to the gate

To my surprise, there was no queue at the gate, which was unusual – passengers seemed to really love the idea of queuing up to board the flight. I would later discover a rather light flight awaiting me: full in First, about 70% in Club, about 20% in World Traveller Plus and another 20% for World Traveller.

My plane was the further one

The boarding sequence

My plane

I was the first to board the airplane

My seat for the flight – 6A

An empty Club cabin (for now). For its 787, BA retained the yin-yang design from 2006 and opted for a 2-3-2 configuration. 7 seats a row is rather bad given that airlines like JAL opted for 8 seats per row for their economy cabin.

My view

The usual pre-departure beverages were offered

The IFE was available gate to gate

The menu for tonight

The legroom

We left 20 minutes behind schedule as some passengers did not make the flight and their bags were offloaed

Safety demonstration soon after

We took off about 40 minutes behind schedule

The privacy screen was up once the safety demonstration was over

Last view of England

My first movie…

The amenity kit (washbag) was offered

Its content

Hot towel

Pre-dinner drinks

More nuts as I was very hungry

The starter plate: it was really not bad but would love a plate for the bread.

The main: Satay Chicken rice. Overcooked and poorly seasoned. I do hope the new Club World investment meant better main choices

By this time, we are well into our flight

https://flic.kr/p/SZRBq9

The cheesecake was divine… but I hate the fact that I could only choose between dessert, cheese and fruits, when I could have all three on Cathay

Tea to end

I then made my bed for the night. I had about 4 hours of sleep and woke up with the sun high up in the sky

I was hungry and got some snacks – I must say I was rather taken aback by the lack of food in Club Kitchen despite it only being halfway through the flight

Club Kitchen

And seriously – serving tea in Club with paper cups?

Time for another movie

2 hours left!

With 1.5 hours to go, breakfast was served

I asked for a Buck’s Fizz to go with, especially given it would be early afternoon already in KL

cheers!

The main was exactly the one I had on BA27 last June – quite interesting how the menu for breakfast was almost nearly the same!

Approaching Malaysia

In descent

The full route for the day

The KL airport

My chariot of the day

I arrived into KL a bit over 30 minutes late, hoping to just go to the gate of my next flight on Cathay Dragon to Hong Kong only to find that that flight was delayed for nearly an hour! Well at least there is a lounge!

Verdict? The 787 was surely quiet and quite pleasant. The Club World cabin was a bit dense and could feel claustrophobic at times. The lack of storage space and lack of space to manoeuvre were also problematic on such a long flight if one wanted to work or to stretch out. The service was okay if a bit slow – which was really not understandable given the light load across the flight. The catering was a passable attempt for most part. It was a pleasant ride no less, but there are surely better ways to fly.

See my flight with Singapore Airlines on a flight: LHR–SIN

 

BA Euro Traveller & Club Europe to/from Vienna

This is a short report featuring a return trip to and from Vienna that begins my ex-EU trip to Hong Kong. I flew out in Euro Traveller (which is BA’s regional Economy Class – though more akin to LCC now as they charge for food and drinks on board). BA operates some of their flights out of Terminal 3 and Vienna is one of these ‘special’ flights. I do like the idea of flying out of Terminal 3 as it means I can access to Cathay lounge, which was indeed very nice.

I arrived about three hours prior to the flight at Terminal 3 via National Express on quite a gloomy day.

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BA’s Check-in area

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Priority lane was quite empty

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Soon enough I got my boarding pass and my bags were all tagged priority. I was then told I should use the Fast Track for security.

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Fast Track security was a breeze. It took a mere 5 minute, which was a record for me in Terminal 3. I do thank my OneWorld Sapphire card! In no time, I was in the Cathay lounge enjoying the Cathay-branded brew – the Betsy Beer.

As part of the ‘Life Well Travelled’ campaign, Cathay introduces the ‘Betsy beer’ which is ‘a high-quality craft ale that has travel in its DNA’. Uniquely the beer has three ingredients: dragon eye, Hong Kong honey and fuggle. It was very unique in taste and rather sweet – not a fan, but good to try.

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The sun breaks through

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One hour prior to boarding, I moved over to the dining area to get some food. I asked for some sparkling water and white wine to go with my dinner.

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My selection: I must say that the food quality has improved appreciably since I was last here in December. Very enjoyable, indeed.

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My gate today

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The flight was to be very full and I got a text message that I could check my cabin luggage in as well.

The gate agents did not have much success in getting people to check their bags, in part because if they are travelling on hand-baggage-only fare, they would not want to wait for the bags at Vienna. Given that I had two other bags in the hold, I was happy enough to offer to check my hand baggage, which was met with appreciation by the gate agent!

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Boarding began soon after

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I bagged an exit row window seat, which in my opinion, had a much better legroom than some of the Club Europe (Business Class) seats!

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The flight left on time and arrived pretty much on time

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This is my first flight featuring the M&S Buy On Board program, although I did not partake

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I do like the idea of being able to pay with avios!

The flight was short – just under two hours – and soon enough, we began our descent into Vienna.

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Vienna was very picturesque and I was blessed with very good weather. I had a nice long stroll in the loop and it was rather refreshing.

Belvedere Palace

Burggarten

Somewhere medieval

Somewhere old

It was a satisfying stroll

I began my travel to Asia the following day after a whole day stay in Vienna. I took the train from the City to the airport

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And this is the arrivals hall

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Like the other ports I have visited, BA only has three counters for check-in

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The FIDS

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The lounge was alright – not much food and beverage. I just used the free wifi and did some emails

The flight was calling at gate D29, which was a bus gate

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View from my seat

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Legroom from row 1

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Take-off

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Hot towel was offered

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The view makes up for the lack of inflight entertainment

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Club Europe was half full today and service was fast, efficient and personal… exemplified by having two scones! (This would be my last flight was the old Club Europe catering – will miss the scones!)

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Toasting to a good trip

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After afternoon tea, we were nearing London

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The descent into Heathrow made for great sightseeing

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The Concorde!

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Landed

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We were parked next to the JAL flight to Haneda

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Next time I will pick up on my connection to Terminal 5 and my flight to Kuala Lumpur on BA’s Dreamliner in Club World Business Class.

Verdict? BA’s new Economy concept seems to be working well – there were plenty of orders for food and drinks. I like the idea of being able to pay with avios and I think the avios/cash conversion is very reasonable. Of course, paying at all is undesirable and I will continue to eat up in the lounge and fill up my water bottle before flying with BA on Economy; but I will be open to the idea of purchasing on board when I have to.

BA’s old Club Europe catering suits me well, but perhaps not for the gentleman across the row from me who did not appreciate the lack of choice for afternoon tea. I like the bulkhead seat which has good legroom – but this is nothing compared to the regional seats in Asia or even in the USA.

 

 

Sightseeing in Toronto

  • Introduction
  • Slave Class to Toronto
  • Sightseeing in Toronto [here]
  • One of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Niagara Falls
  • WestJet Take One: Toronto to Yellowknife via Edmonton
  • Spirits Dancing on the Lonely Planet: Aurora Hunting
  • Subarctic hiking and fishing
  • WestJet Take Two: Yellowknife to Calgary
  • A First in Delta: First Class to Seattle
  • Alaska with Delta’s Comfort Plus
  • Spencer Glacier Sea Kayak and Hike via the Alaska Rail Road
  • Anchorage in the rain
  • Redeye in Domestic First: Anchorage to Vancouver via Seattle
  • Home with Air Canada: not dead yet!

We had two days in Toronto for general sightseeing before we were off to a road trip to see the Niagara Falls. We did not rent a car for our two days around the city but the city was easy enough to navigate. There were quite a few spots that one should go to when in town, and their tickets could be covered in a CityPass (CAD$72 + tax for an adult). We did not go to the Zoo nor the Science Center, but we did use the Pass for the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum and the aquarium. A little trick to remember is not to purchase the pass online because it will attract processing fees (a mistake that we made!) and you can easily pick up one at one of the above-mentioned attractions (you will still need to pick up an online-purchased Pass, so the time you saved by purchasing it online is next to nil).

Our route was a simple one. We started from the north of the city and worked our way south over the course of two days. We started with Casa Loma and ended with the CN Tower. In addition, we went to the Toronto Islands on our second day.

 

Casa Loma (Spanish for Hill House) was the residence built for Sir Henry Pellatt in the years 1911-14. The architect was E. J. Lennox and it follows a Gothic Revival style – owing to its unique building style, Casa Loma is a popular filming location (like the Vow in 2012) and venue for weddings and receptions. Of course, it has been one of the most popular attractions in Toronto – so my advice for you is to get there as early as possible.

It opens at 9:30 am and at that time the queue should be minimal (as we encountered). Aim to get there by 11 am as the queue will mount then. Getting there should be easy enough via the TTC (the subway): go to Dunpont Station and walk two blocks north on Spadina and you can climb the Baldwin stairs – where you should get a very good view of the city.

Casa Loma 01

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While most of the furniture had been sold in the auction when Sir Pellatt went bankrupt in 1923, the house’s design remained as it was in the 1910s and similar furniture had been put in place.

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Although most of the house was really grand and in their historic style, my favourite would be the conservatory – it was bright and was filled with exotic plants… It was no wonder that a couple decided that they would like their wedding photos to be taken here:

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Casa Loma 10

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The bedrooms were interesting too – Lady Pellatt had a much bigger room than Sir Pellatt for reasons passing understanding.

The Lady’s room:

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One of the guest rooms: (Cannot seem to find Sir’s room on picture)

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The servant’s room:

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You can also climb up the Towers for a view of Toronto (and exercise, perhaps?!)

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On a dry day (not the day we visited), the garden would make a good destination for a nice stroll:

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Queue as we were leaving (lesson: go early!)

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Views from the Baldwin steps (110 steps)

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It was about lunch time, so we took the TTC to Dundas, and there was a wealth of Asian restaurants for us to pick from – and we chose a Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant and it was excellent.

Past lunch time, we had a stroll to the Civic Center to see the “Toronto” sign (what a tourist thing to do!)

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Next up for us is the Royal Ontario Museum. It is conveniently located at “Museum” Station on the TTC. The CityPass voucher is good for the permanent exhibitions – so you would need to pay for the feature exhibitions if you would like to see them. (Some feature exhibitions do not cause any money – and the exhibition on “a third gender” was particularly thought-provoking)

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The ground floor of the museum features exhibits of an Asian character: mainly from ancient China and Japan; whereas the first floor features exhibits on science (mainly biology – and the nature around Ontario). The third floor features exhibits of a more ancient past – from ancient Egypt to the Byzantium Empire.

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I particularly enjoyed the exhibition “A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints”. It explores the “complex system of sexual desire and social expectation from 1603 to 1868 in Edo Japan.” What is particularly interesting is how the discussion of sexuality and gender ambiguity is manifested in paintings and arts. In addition, the fact that Japan was the background was further intriguing given the conservative attitudes most Japanese now have regarding sexuality.

The exhibition introduces “a third gender” – known as wakashu – male youths, were sexually desired by both men and women, meaning that wakashu is not characterised as either man or female. As such, wakashu had a different standing in the social hierarchy and played a different role in the society. The exhibition fundamentally challenges the dichotomy of men and female, and is a constant reminder of the fluidity of human identity and how gender, like race, is more a social construct than natural.

I am pleasantly surprised and very impressed by the depth of the exhibitions put on – the Royal Ontario Museum is a place where I would gladly spend the whole day.

We left the Museum to have a stroll in the University of Toronto:

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We called it a day then, as we were pretty tired from the jetlag. We were to go to the CN Tower but the weather was not too good.

We started our second day in Toronto with a morning outing to the Toronto Islands. We got off the TTC at Union Station and headed to the ferry pier. I would recommend getting the tickets online to avoid a queue at the ticketing desk.

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The Toronto Islands is a haven from the city’s hustle and bustle (though it has an airport of its own towards its western tip). It is a giant park in its own right, and has plenty to offer to fill your day. You can walk around and enjoy the fresh air and the concrete trails that it offers. For the more active ones, you can go on a bike (can be rented near the beach towards the south of the island) or even go swimming in the Lake! Or simply, a picnic will do!

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My sister and I completed at the maze!

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Such tranquillity:

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And my attempt at climbing this thing:

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Our lunch spot: at a smoke joint:

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We left after lunch to complete our last two attractions in Toronto:

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Located near the Union Station are the Aquarium and the CN Tower. Both were packed with people as summer was the peak season for the city. The Aquarium is slightly more bearable in terms of queues with the CityPass – only a short one as you get to skip ticketing, but expect a 1.5-hour wait for the CN Tower lifts even with the CityPass.

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The Aquarium was interesting enough, though the crowd made it somewhat unbearable as the air became really stuffy.

The CN Tower was up next:

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The Toronto City Airport as seen from the lift

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The glass floor

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And thus ended our two-day short sightseeing in Toronto before we left for the Niagara Falls. Toronto is an exciting and vibrant city, and is not short of queues everywhere. True, it was no New York but it was a city of a personality of its own. Casa Loma showcases the history (albeit recent), the Museum with it the openness and acceptance to diversity, and the Toronto Islands a piece of quiet haven in a busy city.

A short hop with Lufthansa

This is my first morning flight out of Heathrow or any European airports for that matter. I have always flown the evening flights to Asia so getting up at 4 am felt a bit surreal. For most, though, it was not that unusual, for the coach to Heathrow (via Stansted) was fully booked and some people couldn’t get on.

I slept the whole way from Cambridge to Heathrow and got up around 7:30 am when we were still battling traffic on M25, but with my flight leaving at 11 am, I wasn’t too fussed. (I got on an earlier coach so I would beat the traffic, though!)

Arriving at the check-in desk almost an hour later, after dealing with some chores and other things, the Star Gold desks were as customary quite empty. Lufthansa is probably the only airline within the Star Alliance to give Star Alliance Gold members the privilege to check in in their First Class desks. Occupied, though, I chose to check in in the Business Class desk.

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With no luggage to check in, the agent and I did not talk much. She merely asked where I was headed to and I said Munich. Since I have done my online check in, she issued my boarding pass and told me where the Fast Track security was.

Note for Lufthansa: you will always want to do online check-in. For the past three years, I have successfully secured exit row seats through online check-in at no extra cost. I don’t know whether this is a perk afforded to because I am a Star Alliance Gold member, but it is worth bearing in mind of.

In Terminal 2, there is a Star Alliance Gold Track for security. Basically, it is a fast track security lane for passengers with Star Alliance Gold status or travelling First or Business Class. I have only previously utilised it during the quiet hours of late afternoon where it was no different to the normal security lane.

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But, in the morning, the Fast Track does it job. Even though the automatic machine checking your boarding pass was done, the agent was quick in identifying Gold members and the passengers on First and Business Classes, and with three X-ray machines being in use, I was in and out of security in 5 minutes. Not bad!

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There is always uncertainty surrounding where regional flights are going to depart. I have been on a Swiss flight that would depart in satellite B, but no point of going to the lounges there unless I know for certain that the flight would go there. So I settled for the Lufthansa lounges.

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Again, unlike other airlines, Lufthansa treats their elite flyers a bit better than their fare-paying Business Class flyers with the dedicated Senator Lounge. In Heathrow, the Senator lounge is inside the Business Class lounge. Usually, the door between the two remains open, or is guarded by an agent. Today, I was issue a ticket with a barcode that would allow me to access the lounge:

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Just normal breakfast offerings in the Senator lounge. The offerings in the Senator lounge is not too different to those in the Business lounge, except the better spirits collections and wine selections, I believe.

Haven’t had breakfast myself, I chose to go for most of the hot items, but they were quite disappointing. You know something’s wrong when even the baked beans tasted a bit off… Though, the smoothie, the tea and the sparkling water were alright:

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Tea was nothing special, too, though – just Twinnings’ Every Day tea. One could definitely agree that Lufthansa could have done better in a lounge in Britain.

I spent the rest of my stay in the lounge just catching up on work on my iPad. The lounge has really good wifi and I was able to do my emails in peace. I left the lounge at boarding time (10:30), and to my delight, the gate was just 2 minutes away.

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The flight was pretty full and when I arrived, boarding was well underway. The economy queue was…

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And I chose to use my privilege as Star Alliance Gold to go for the Business Class lane:

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I quickly settled down in my seat after placing my backpack up in the overhead compartment – no storage under the seat in exit row – which works to my favour anyways – more legroom.

Outside of my window today is quite a gloomy British day and a Turkish Airlines A330 (and I feel sad now with the recent incident in the Istanbul Airport).

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My legroom was not too bad for an intra-Europe flight!

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And some plane spotting after an on time push back.

I think this is an AC 767

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An AC 77W – which I dread of flying on in coach, but will do so in August!

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Taking off from running 09R

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The BA terminal

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The Queen’s Terminal

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I then feel asleep for 20 or so minutes despite not being able to recline my seat. When I woke up, the weather turned for the better!

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And I was offered drinks – I chose tea with milk (not very good by British standards) and sparkling water (decent)

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We were offered a sandwich for lunch – it was okay but I did not see the point of the red pepper in it! I guess it is just me – who despises red pepper!

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Soon enough we were approaching Munich.

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The Captain warned us that Munich was very windy and sure enough the approach was a bit bumpy – but during the final approach, everything quieted down slightly and we were treated to a smooth landing!

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We arrived well ahead of schedule, due to the on time departure and short flight time (1h 20m).

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LH A346

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A SQ 77W departing Munich after arriving from Manchester

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We parked next to a Swiss aircraft with this Zurich Airport paint

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Deplaning was efficient. And in a few minutes I was off to check out the Senator lounge!

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Bonus: Lufthansa Senator Lounge Munich

I have read elsewhere on the internet that if you arrive on a Star Alliance ticket into Munich and you would have access to the lounges too. So I went and tried it out – and I was not disappointed (in terms of gaining access) – I was asked to show my Gold card and I was allowed in.

The lounge was reasonably big, but not too big.

The limited food option – there aren’t even sausages!

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Typical drink selections – nothing special

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But there’s a very good bar – on par with the bars found in Cathay’s lounges in Hong Kong. The bartender could make a lot of different cocktails – so for those fans of cocktails – this is the place to be. I did recall a very good champagne but I did not take a picture of the bottle!

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I just utilised the wifi for a bit and then I headed off!

In sum, Lufthansa had a decent offering. It was not the best with the lack of entertainment, limited food and horrible tea. But it was on time, the seats were comfortable and everything else was okay compared to other intra-European flights.

If the price is right – I wouldn’t hesitate to take Lufthansa again.

Singapore to London on SQ Next Generation Economy

This is a short continuation of my review of SQ’s next generation economy product from Hong Kong to Singapore. After touring around Terminal 3 of Singapore’s Changi Airport, I dragged my tired body back to gate B10 – the last gate of concourse B, far away from the Krisflyer Gold Lounge (which you can use if you are a Star Gold member, but if you hold a Business ticket, you can use the fancier lounge).

To be honest, nothing to write home about with the lounge and apologises for the lack of pictures. I had some fish congee for supper in the lounge and stuck with my favourite pineapple juice.

One of Singapore Airport’s unique characteristics is that security checks are conducted at gate, rather than at a centralised checkpoint. So, after you are checked, you enter a confined holding area to wait until your flight calls for boarding. No priority lanes at security checks nor at boarding pass checks – but the lines were short as I arrived rather late (half past midnight for a flight departing 10 past 1, late because the gate has been opened for long enough to digest the lines!)

For the first time in a lounge like this (unlike the gate areas of A1-5 for instance, where boarding passes are checked before boarding), the gate agent actually rather religiously enforce priority. Star Alliance Gold members are once again forced to board with Premium Economy passengers.

Short fiasco: the passenger in front of me pulled off a drunk trick so he got a three-seater to himself, and sent his neighbours to the two seats next to me, which would have been blocked otherwise. But I still got a good window seat, hence no complaints! And the crew dealt with it really well, and the flight departed more or less on time.

I skipped supper, but the menu:

Cajun Spiced Chicken Salad to start

Choose from Braised Beef Brisket or Oriental Barbecued Pork or Indian prawn curry

Mango Mousse Cake to end

I had outstanding sleep until 3 hours prior to landing, which was decent. The seat was very, very comfortable as I mentioned in my previous post, but one can only sleep so much.

We were soon served breakfast:I chose to go for the Singapore Nasi Lemak

It was excellent. It was my first time having this dish, but there were lots to commend on this dish: the fish was crispy and the egg was not overcooked. Similarly, the rice was not cooked to burn – which was a hallmark of skillful cooking on the FA’s part.

At this time, the sun rose above Eastern Europe

We reached Western Europe when breakfast was taken away from us.

The Alps in the morning

Approaching London…

Still some morning mist on Kent and Essex

Sorry for a short report. But in sum, SQ once again delivers. A very comfortable product with decent width (19 inches) and legroom (32 inches). Sure, there have been cost cuts to the Economy service (e.g. only two choices for breakfast, no more cheese), but SQ remains superior in my opinion. Sad that this would be the last time I fly with SQ in a very long time.

Hong Kong to Singapore on SQ Next Generation Economy Class

Just a quick trip report from Hong Kong to Singapore on SQ’s next generation Economy product, which I have not reviewed yet, though I have been on it for quite a few times.

It is, to date, my favourite product, and I don’t think my opinions of it will change anytime soon, though I am jumping ship to chase the OneWorld Emerald status.

I have been a loyal Star Alliance Gold member for the past three years and that afforded me Business Class check-in in Hong Kong’s airport. I was through with check-in in no time, at all, seeing that I was the only one using the Business Class check-in counters. Three bags in the hold and 46 kg (50kg Star Gold allowance in Economy) lighter, I am off to London.

I opted to use the Singapore Airlines lounge, which is the best Star Alliance lounge in Hong Kong without the shadow of a doubt.

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When I got to the lounge, the flight was 20 minutes to boarding, and the flight would be boarding at gate 28, meaning a 10-minute walk. So, I did not explore the food options, though there was the customary made-to-order noodles, hot food selections, cold plate selections, and ice cream. I opted for Champagne instead, which was the good old Piper Heidsieck – not bad, not bad.

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Soon enough I joined the masses of passengers marching to the boarding gate. I departed on a Wednesday but the airport, like a weekend or during holidays, was jampacked with people, for no particular reason.

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View of the Boeing 777-300ER that would take me to Singapore (and later to London). Connecting to SQ306, I could always take the later SQ871 service (departing 1 hour 5 minutes later), but I am not a fan with the old cabin in the Boeing 777-200, so I always took the SQ865 service.

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As ever, with Singapore Airlines, boarding starts way too early, but fine for me.

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One of the reasons why I am going to ditch Singapore Airlines and its Star Alliance partners is the lack of recognition of elite status, evident especially during boarding. Hong Kong is probably the only port that has Star Gold members boarding with Business Class passengers. Even so, it was because the lane was shared with Premium Economy passengers.

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I get it, from the point of view of a Business Class passenger, it is a nuisance if one has to queue up for boarding because of elite members, but equally, elite members like myself (I score at least 50,000 miles a year with Star Alliance), would feel left out. Results? I am giving up on you, Singapore Airlines!

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More queuing…

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View from my seat:

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The TV is now 11.1-inch, and is among the largest one in the industry for economy class. Very intuitive in design and I really like the touch screen (I think touch screen should be available in Business Class as well)

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A screen on the remote, as well: unlike CX where such a remote only features in Business, SQ is more generous!

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To be honest, I prefer the old inflight map, but this new one does not hurt!

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Quite a stuffed pillow and a big one, too, as big as the table. Very comfortable. Thumbs up to Singapore Airlines for providing both pillows and blankets on a short flight, unlike Cathay, where these items are only available upon request

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Singapore Airlines must be among the few airlines around the world that still offer hot towels before take off for its Economy Class passengers

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The same applies for the menu…

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I cannot remember how many times I have watched this video… Not the most frequent flyer myself, but I am fairly loyal when it comes to flying

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Once we have taken off, I watched a British dark comedy: The Lady in the Van. The SQ’s inflight entertainment offers more than 1,000 entertainment options, and it is fair to say that you will find it quite hard to be bored

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Sunset over the South China Sea

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Post take-off nuts

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And rum with coke…

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My dinner option: Braised Beef with Roasted Garlic Thyme Sauce

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Slight complaint is that they have now cut the cheese option from economy class (though I have seen it in some flights from London)

Ice cream was excellent, though!

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The rest of the flight was rather uneventful. I asked for a can of pineapple juice to keep myself hydrated during the flight. This pineapple juice is among one of my favourite drinks on a plane (I am easily satisfied!)

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We landed into Singapore 20 minutes ahead of schedule and I proceeded to do some shopping in Terminal 3 with my SG$20 voucher.

In sum, Singapore Airlines is the best airline I have ever flown with, in economy and in business. It delivers: excellent catering, excellent service and wonderful hardware. The seat is very comfortable and the 4 hours easily lapse. Although the real test is the next 13-hour sector which I will report on very soon, this was a good start, as usual from my past experiences (and they have been plenty).