American Airlines, First Class – Airbus A 321: New York JFK to Los Angeles

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Date: 14. August 2016.
Departure: 10:00.
Arrival: 13:15.
Flight time: 5 hours 25 minutes.
Seat: 2A.

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Introduction

I spend the night in New York at the Crowne Plaza near JFK airport. Today I am travelling on to the West Coast.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Hotel shuttle.
Journey time: 15 minutes.
Departs from: Outside the hotel lobby.
Arrives: Departures concourse of Terminal 8.
Cost: Complimentary.

The shuttle will drop you off right outside your terminal on the departures level. Just tell the driver where you are going as you get aboard. There are nine passengers on the shuttle this morning, seven of which are Delta crew on their way to Terminal 4.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 8, which is the American Airlines terminal and also home to some of the other OneWorld carriers like Royal Jordanian.
Facilities: Web check-in and App check-in.
Counters: The American Airlines Priority counters are located on row 5 of the terminal.

The American Airlines Terminal has a modern, bright and airy feel to it. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Of course it helps that the place is not so busy, presumably because it is Sunday morning.

The Lounge

Location: C concourse in the satellite terminal.
Type of Lounge:
American Airlines Admiral’s Lounge.
Facilities:
Computer workstations, toilets, showers.
Catering: A small selection of breakfast items – things like bagels with Philadelphia cheese, müslis, oatmeal. Coffee, orange juice and ice water are complimentary. Other beverages are available at a charge.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge.

Only passengers who have status in American Airlines’ frequent flyer programme are entitled to use the lounge, even if they are travelling in Domestic First Class. The transcontinental services from JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco are exceptions. If you are travelling in First Class on one of these services, you are entitled to use the lounge and may even avail yourself of the international lounge on the main concourse.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: There is a separate queue for Priority passengers and First Class passengers are invited to board first, followed by Business Class and then Economy Class passengers.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 1.
Seat: American Airlines operates the Airbus A 321 in three different configurations. The aircraft that operate the transcontinental flights has four cabins: First, Business, Main Cabin Extra and Economy. The total capacity is for 102, which is very low for the Airbus A 321. The seat is a flat bed with 180 degree recline. There are 10 seats in the First Class cabin.
Pitch: 62 inches.
Length: 82.5 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities:

  1. AC power port and USB port.
  2. Wifi is provided by AirCell gogo.

Audio and Video:

  1. 4 inch HD capable monitor with touchscreen.
  2. Bose noise cancelling earphones.
  3. 15 games.
  4. 350 audio programmes on demand.
  5. 75 films and 150 television programmes on demand.

The seat is comfortable and feels intimate and private. The only complaint I have is that the cabin looks rather drab, given that everything from the bulkhead to the seats is dark grey.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com
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Amenities

A pillow and blanket as well as the menu have already been placed at the seat as I enter the aircraft. There is also a bottle of still water and an amenity kit with eye shades, socks, dental kit and some other travel goodies.

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Other than that, the crew a friendly and chatty and make a lot of effort to make sure passengers are comfortable.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: A selection of orange juice, still water or champagne.
Towel before the meal: Hot but not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Coke Zero served with a ramekin of warm mixed nuts (plus refill on the nuts…).
Choice:
Two choices for the starter, three choices for the main course and two choices for dessert.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Early lunch.
Meal:

  1. Tomato and goat cheese strata with pickled ginger vinaigrette.
  2. Salad with fresh strawberries and hearts of palm with a choice of dressing.
  3. Selection form the breadbasket.
  4. Pan seared crab cakes with jicama slaw and tomatillo poblano cream sauce.
  5. Vanilla ice cream with a choice of topping.

The meal hits the spot nicely, but it is way too much food. Perhaps I should not have had that second ramekin of nuts. Especially the sundae with hot fudge and nuts for dessert is divine – probably the best dessert I have ever had on a plane.

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I spend the rest of the flight reading and, well, basically eating. First the crew brings me two packets of sea slated crisps, then the smell of warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookies starts wafting through the cabin and I figure it would be a shame not to try one. Oh okay, maybe two so I have something to go with the coffee…

Arrival

Eventually we touch down on the northernmost runway at Los Angeles airport. The view out the window is quite spectacular. There are already four A 380s standing there and just behind us, Air France arrives to make it five.

Transfer in Los Angeles

American Airlines uses Terminal 4 in Los Angeles. From here I need to transfer to Terminal 3 for my onward connection. Apparently, there is a shuttle bus that links all of the airport’s terminals but I am unable to locate the stop. Eventually I figure it is a nice enough day here in Los Angeles, not too hot. And so I walk to Terminal 3 instead. It only takes about seven minutes to walk across.

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Zürich to Singapore

Introduction

It’s been quite a while since my last post. I’ve been doing quite a bit of flying, mostly on airlines that have already been covered extensively in some of my other trip reports.

But this one ought to be interesting. Today I’m on my way to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam. Brunei is actually not that easy to get to, particularly from Switzerland. Of course my first choice would have been to fly Royal Air Brunei. They have a direct service from Heathrow. But alas, that flight stops in Dubai in the middle of the night on both the outbound and the inbound flight, which is inconvenient for two reasons: first of all, the interruption of the flight in Dubai means that you don’t really get a full night’s sleep. Secondly, the sector length for both the LHR to DXB and the subsequent DXB to BWN is about six hours each, which isn’t really enough for sleep either. I’m travelling on business, so I decide against this option. I don’t want to arrive feeling like a vegetable. So instead I shall be travelling with Singapore Airlines from Zürich via Singapore. This report covers the outbound leg from Zürich to Singapore.

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On the outbound I have a connecting time in Singapore of eight hours. The return is worse still, with a whopping twelve hours layover in Singapore. But still, there are certainly worse airports to have to do a stopover in than Singapore.

On a positive note, the flights between Zürich and Singapore are operated by the A380. She may be ugly as sin, but she’s still quite an amazing bird.

The last time I flew Singapore Airlines was back in 2008. Back then I flew in First Class on the B777-300 from Zürich to Singapore and then onwards in regional First Class, I think it was on a B777-200, to Taipei. I was on a round the world itinerary which eventually also saw me take the Singapore Airlines B747-400 from JFK to Frankfurt, also in First. So I’m rather curious to see how time has treated one of the world’s most prestigious airlines in the intervening years.

Getting to the Airport

My first stop after I leave my flat is the Confiserie Bachmann on the square outside the station. They make the best pain au chocolat ever, with nice big chunky pieces of chocolate oozing out of everywhere. I think I may have already mentioned the fact in a previous post and so, simply for the sake of completeness, I am including in this post a picture of the delectable item.

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And then from there I head across the square, into the station and down to platform seven, from where my train will be leaving. Being a Sunday morning, the train that normally runs on this route has been substituted by what is in fact a short regional train. And to be fair, the load is pretty light.

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My only grippe is that the seat is rather hard. By the time we pull into Zürich Airport station 80 minutes later, my backside is feeling seriously worse for ware.

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To look outside you’d hardly think we’re already approaching the end of May. We’ve had a few scattered days of sunshine here and there but other than that it’s been quite miserable. At least the low-hanging clouds do look kind of poetic, I guess.

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Date: 19. May 2013
From: Zürich
To: Singapore
Aircraft: A 380
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 18K, later on moved forward to 17K
Departure: 11:45
Arrival: 05:45, the next day

Check-in

The airport is surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning when I arrive, with a mix of travellers and Sunday shoppers wandering, seemingly aimlessly, through the terminal.

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The Singapore Airlines check-in counters are currently located on the mezzanine level between arrivals and departures of what used to be Terminal B and is now, if I’m not mistaken, Check-in 2. This is only a temporary location for Singapore Airlines while the check-in area one floor up is redesigned and renovated.

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I am greeted at the check-in counter by one of my former students, who happens to be working for Swissport until he starts a new job in engineering in a few weeks. While he checks me in we have a little natter and I inquire about how he’s been and what he’s been up to. I figure I must have done a few things right in my job, because the next thing I notice is that he’s actually tagged my check-in luggage with a Suite First Class tag. Thanks for that!

We bid each other farewell and I make my way to security. After that it’s the passport control and then the underground shuttle that runs underneath the apron and runway 28 to the E dock.

Airside.
Airside.
Going down into the bowels of the terminal for immigration.
Going down into the bowels of the terminal for immigration.
Waiting for the next shuttle.
Waiting for the next shuttle.
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Inside the shuttle I.
Inside the shuttle I.
Inside the shuttle II.
Inside the shuttle II.
Arriving at the E dock.
Arriving at the E dock.

The Lounge

I decide to give the Swiss Senator lounge a miss and try out the Panorama lounge at the E dock instead. This is a common purpose lounge which appears to be used by all airlines operating out of the E dock, with the exception of Emirates, who have their own lounge. Subsequently, the place is rather full when I arrive. Figuring it might be a while until I finally get some food on the plane, I help myself to a small plate of pasta and shortly after that it’s already time to head downstairs to the gate where boarding is about to begin.

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By now you’re probably wondering why there aren’t any pictures of my ride to Singapore. So here we go (taken from different locations, including the lounge).

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Boarding

The boarding process is a very well organised affair, which is a good thing, seeing as Singapore Airlines recently stopped using the only gate at Zürich equipped with three airbridges.

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This means that all Business Class passengers on the upper deck will have to board through the front door on ‘ground level’ and then from there take the stairs one floor up.

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One of the male attendants sees me trying to take a picture of the stairs and offers to strike a pose. But before I can actually take the picture, he thinks better of it. Pity.

The Cabin

To be honest, my first impression of the cabin is somewhat underwhelming. It looks slightly worn around the edges. Other than that though, the seat certainly offers a lot of personal space, it’s very wide.

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In Business Class there are only overhead bin over the central aisle. The window seats however, have some additional storage space as there are storage bins located by the side of the seat facing the window.

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Every seat back is equipped with a set of USB ports as well as a universal electric plug socket that can take the British style plugs as well as the standard Swiss and European ones. Located immediately above that is a small compartment where you can place your glasses.

The general impression of the seat is that obviously a lot of thought was put into the design, it’s more functional than it is elegant. For example: the compartment where you place your glasses is lined with some velvety material to prevent the lenses from scratching.

Other than that, there are two cushions at every seat. I think I’d feel quite lost without them!

Our neighbour.
Our neighbour.

The Crew

The Singapore Airlines crews hardly need an introduction and this flight is no exception. The crew is made up of a racial mix of young men and women, all of them eager to please. It has often been said of the Singapore Airlines crews that they lack warmth or personality. Some have even called them robotic in their mannerisms. On this flight however, this could hardly be farther from the truth. The entire crew are very attentive, service-oriented and very approachable, without however being intrusive. And that kebaya simply complements the female form beautifully…!

Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. I have something that is apparently a mix of bitter lemon and seven up, and very refreshing it is too. And then after that I receive the first in a whole series of nicely scented, warm refreshing towels.

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The menu has already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
The menu has already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
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Push back is on time. With all the rain everything is looking lush and green outside.

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On our way to the active runway.
On our way to the active runway.
With all the rain everything is really looking lush.
With all the rain everything is really looking lush.

Departure is to the south from runway 16, the usual. As we do a final left turn to line up with the runway, I spot this here. It’s used for fire training nowadays.

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Seriously, they really don’t build them like they used to in the good old days. I know, perhaps I’m a bit weird that way. Probably if I weren’t I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But: for me an airplane has to have the sound and feel of an airplane. And that’s where the A 380 is a bit of a let down. First of all, it is really quite amazing just how quiet the cabin is. Even when we power up and go hurtling down the runway for take off, the noise in the cabin is at a pleasant level. And there’s not much of a sensation of acceleration either.

Airborne.
Airborne.
Veeeery gently climbing.
Veeeery gently climbing.
Blue sky. I have a vague recollection of the last time I saw that...
Blue sky. I have a vague recollection of the last time I saw that…

Quite surprisingly, Singapore Airlines no longer provide vanity kits on board. Instead, after take-off the crew distribute a pair of eye-shades and slippers. Everything else is available in the toilets, ear plugs need to be requested separately.

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The Meal

Amuse Bouche

The meal service starts with the traditional chicken and beef satay, which really are tasty, even though I think I end up overdosing on the raw onion.

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To drink with that I have one of Singapore Airlines’ signature non-alcoholic cocktails, ‘Awaiting the dawn’ I think it’s called. It’s a somewhat unusual combination of tomato juice and pineapple that works surprisingly well.

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For the rest of the meal I stick with sparkling water.

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The satay are quite tasty, but without a fork or a spoon it’s quite impossible to lop up all of the lovely peanut sauce. After the satay there is a short break while the crew prepare the main service. In the meantime, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view.

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The First Course

First the table is set. Every seat is done individually. The starter today is dried beef with pasta salad, lettuce and antipasti, more specifically a spicy pepper filled with cream cheese and an olive filled with an almond.

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With that I have a few slices of garlic bread and a Silserli, a typical Swiss type of bread that gets its name from the town of Sils.

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The Main Course

The service is well-timed and efficient, without however being hurried or rushed. For the main dish I’m having the Indian spicy chicken with vegetable curry and pilaf rice. It’s quite a spicy dish, with plenty of flavour.

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Dessert

After the meal there is a choice of either vanilla ice cream with a fruit sauce or a passion fruit cheesecake, which I have. The dessert is nothing special really, its only saving grace being that it is made with Agar Agar and not gelatine.

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The Cheese

The meal concludes with a selection of cheese, served with crackers, walnuts, dried apricots and grapes. With that I have a glass of port.

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Once the meal is over, the crew come to take orders for tea or coffee. I have a peppermint tea, which the flight attendant brings me with a praline. In the meantime I look out the window some more. I never seem to tire of this view!

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After the meal I try out the wifi connection. For USD10 you can download up to 10MB of data. You can select for the connection to stop once you have reached you allowance or to just continue billing you in 10 cent steps per 100KB. So I do a bit of surfing, answer some e-mails and What’s App my mum before eventually I decide to take a nap.

A few hours later I awake. It’s still about four hours to go to Singapore, so I switch on the inflight entertainment system. Singapore Airlines has quite an extensive selection of films. I start to watch Skyfall – again. Not so much because I thought the film was that good – twice is enough – but because I just love the opening titles with that song by Adele. I then switch to watching ‘Hotel Transylvania’, which is okay but seriously lacks a decent story line.

The Second Service

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By the time that’s over, it’s already time for the second meal service, which begins of course, with the distribution of yet another hot towel, followed by a glass of fresh orange juice.

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The meal consists of:

  1. a plate of fresh fruit
  2. Birchermüsli
  3. a selection from the breadbasket
  4. a selection of hot dishes: I go for the omelette with veal sausages and potatoes
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Like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines will automatically give you a glass of still water to drink with the main dish. In addition, there is more orange juice and a cup of the most god awful coffee I have ever had the misfortune to taste.

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Again the service is unhurried and pleasant. Throughout the meal service the mood lighting is set to what I presume to be dawn.

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Once the meal service is over and yet another hot towel has been distributed and collected, the lights go out again. It’s now just 68 minutes to arrival in Changi at 05h45 am.

Arrival

Our arrival into Changi is very atmospheric, really nice. With the engines in idle to slow us down, it’s gone quiet in the cabin. The passengers aren’t saying much either. The dark cabin adds to the mood. Eventually we touch down and within seconds the outer window pane starts to fog up with the humidity.

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We arrive at one of the B gates at T3 which is equipped with three airbridges. I thank the crew, bid them farewell and disembark. From here I make my way to T2, from where my connection to Brunei will be leaving.

Conclusion

So what’s the verdict? It’s hard to put into words. Singapore Airlines is certainly up there in the top league of international airlines. Their Business Class cabin is very innovative and comfortable. Combined with the outstanding level of service provided by the cabin crew, the entire experience really is more like what many other airlines offer in First Class nowadays. However, from my recent experiences the same could also be said for Cathay Pacific and ANA – All Nippon Airways. Perhaps it’s just me and all the flying I do has made me blazé. Either that or Singapore Airlines have created an image that in actual fact even they themselves are unable to live up to.

Hawaiian Air, First Class – A 330-200: San Francisco to Kahului via Honolulu

Introduction

Yesterday I arrived in San Francisco on a United Airlines flight from Las Vegas. I spent the night at the Hyatt Regency close to the airport and today I am finally on my way Hawaii.

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Date: 29 January 2013
From: San Francisco
To: Honolulu
Airline: Hawaiian Air
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-200
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 1A

Getting to the Airport

It’s gone six and I am standing outside the entrance to the Hyatt, waiting for my shuttle to arrive to take me back to San Francisco airport.

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The shuttle makes a stop at the Marriott on its way to the Hyatt and is already quite full when it arrives. Most of the passengers are flight crews about to start another working day. There’s one guy who looks like the caricature of a pilot, complete with leather jacket and Frisbee cap.

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All of the passengers descend at the domestic terminal, except for me. Although the flight to Honolulu is a domestic service, it departs from the international terminal.

San Francisco International.
San Francisco International.

Check-in

The facility is fairly deserted when I arrive. There is already a small queue forming for the Hawaiian Air counters. Apparently they’re having trouble of sorts with their check-in system. The ground crew apologise for the inconvenience and tell us they shan’t be long. And indeed, a few minutes later the ATB printer is happily printing a test boarding pass.

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There is a separate line and counter for passengers in First Class and passengers with status in Hawaiian’s frequent flyer programme. When it’s my turn the check-in agent welcomes me to the flight and thanks me for flying Hawaiian. She then proceeds to print my boarding passes for the flight to Honolulu as well as the onward connection to Kahului on Maui. She also directs me to the priority lane for security, not that it makes a difference with so few passengers around this morning.

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Airside

The terminal is only just opening and most of the shops are still closed. Which is a bit unfortunate as Hawaiian doesn’t have a lounge in San Francisco and I’m dying for a coffee. Eventually I find a place towards the end of the concourse that is already open and is very close to A8, my departure gate for this flight.

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A cappuccino, fresh orange juice and a toasted bagel later and I’m feeling much more alive than I did when I first reached the airport. I switch on the complimentary wifi and give my mum a quick call on Facetime to report on my progress thus far – it’s cold and rainy in Switzerland, the usual. In contrast, the view from where I’m sitting is just fine.

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After I ring off I cross to the other side of the facility to take a closer look at my bird for today. And I am truly smitten. She’s simply gorgeous and I can barely take my eyes off her!

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Boarding

Boarding starts right on time with a call for passengers with reduced mobility and special needs. Once the passengers with kids and wheelchairs have passed the gate, the ground crew halt the boarding process to give the special needs passengers enough time to settle in. I like that, very sensible. Next it’s the boarding call for the premium passengers. There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, premium passengers should use the left one.

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The Crew

I am the first to board the aircraft. I am greeted by a friendly ‘aloha’ and I am struck by how much better looking and, well…happy…the cabin crew look than those I encountered on United. They’re smiles all round and give the impression of actually looking forward to having you on board as their guest! I am mesmerized; thank God I didn’t choose United for this flight!

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is either very new or very well kept. The First Class seat is not state of the art and only offers limited recline. The seat controls are mechanical rather than electrical. Still, the seat is comfortable enough for the journey of five hours across the Pacific to Hawaii. The First Class cabin comprises three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration, making for a total of 18 seats. Twelve seats will be occupied on today’s flight.

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A blanket and pillow are already at my set when I arrive.

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I stow away my things and take my seat on 1A. Immediately a flight attendant appears, places a napkin on the armrest and asks me if I’d like a glass of champagne, guava juice or a combination of both. I ask for the guava juice and have to make an effort to stop my jaw from dropping as the flight attendant actually brings me just what I’d asked for: a glass of juice, not a plastic cup!

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A short while later the same flight attendant brings me the menu for today’s flight. She points out that all the items on the menu will be served.

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And shortly after that we’re ready for departure. The ground crew make an announcement wishing all the passengers a pleasant journey and officially hand us over to the cabin crew. Then the doors are closed, the airbridges are removed and we push back. The journey begins!

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Take-off is surprisingly sluggish, considering it’s an A 330. I’m sitting on the left side, so I’m hoping to get a view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. But as my luck will have it, we begin a left turn towards the open Pacific before we reach the bridge.

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Amenities

After take-off service begins with the distribution of earphones. I haven’t tried them yet, but I think they’re rather cool to look at. After that the crew come to ask what we’d like to drink and I have another guava juice, which is brought to me with a small dish of mixed nuts and berries.

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The Meal

From my seat I have a good view of what’s going on in the galley, the curtains have not been drawn. I am particularly impressed and quite surprised to find that the plates with the hot meal have not been prepared beforehand. Instead, the flight attendant doing the galley is preparing and decorating every plate individually. The meal consists of:

  1. a warm muffin with orange zest
  2. a selection of fresh fruit – pineapple, melon, grapes, strawberries and mint
  3. a lomi lomi salmon omelette
  4. steamed rice with chicken, taro and shitake mushrooms
  5. a slice of carrot cake for dessert
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And very tasty the meal is too, in particular the omelette is nice and fluffy and full of flavour.

Once I finish the meal, the tray is removed. I take out my Kindle and read until we start our descent into Honolulu. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin a number of times, asking passengers if there’s anything they need or if they’d like to have a drink.

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Just before we leave our flight level, the crew distribute hot towels. They’re not scented, but that’s okay.

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Arrival

After a flying time of five hours our flight draws to an end and we make a lovely approach into Honolulu. Honolulu is a nice airport, a lot of the terminal is open air and it feels good to be able to walk around without a jacket.

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Last turn onto finals.
Last turn onto finals.
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Transit area.
Transit area.

Transfer in Honolulu

From Honolulu I have an onward connection with Hawaiian Air to Kahului. So I find a nice place to sit outside, take some pictures and wait for my flight to board. There is First Class lounge for the intra-island flights, but to be honest it’s not really that nice.

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There isn’t really anything much to say about the onward connection to Kahului, after all it’s only a 20 minute hop. About thirty minutes before departure I head for the gate and take a seat to whatch all sorts of birds flying around.

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A short while later I see my aircraft pulling onto stand.

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Date: 29 January 2013
From: Honolulu
To: Kahului
Airline: Hawaiian Air
Aircraft: B 717
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 1C

Boarding

My plane arrives at the gate 20 minutes before departure and I start to think that we’re probably not going to make an on time departure. Little do I know how hard they work those little B 717s.

My plane.
My plane.
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The Cabin

Boarding starts on time.

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Waiting by the entrance.
Waiting by the entrance.
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Even on these short hops Hawaiian have a dedicated First Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this is quite an amazing little airline. Little of course only by American standards.

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The bulkhead.
The bulkhead.
Don't forget your manners just because you on holiday, so don't put your feet up against the bulkhead.
Don’t forget your manners just because you on holiday, so don’t put your feet up against the bulkhead.
The front office.
The front office.

The Crew

Despite the short flying time, in Business Class Hawaiian still serve a pre-departure drink and another drink with a packet of nuts inflight. But they’re expecting quite some chop on today’s flight so the flight attendant distributes the nuts on the ground.

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I didn’t take any further pictures of the flight. It was quite turbulent and with the shaking it was impossible to take any decent pictures.

Conclusion

Hawaiian Air really impressed me. Their service is truly excellent and the crew are just so nice and friendly. I don’t think I’d want to do the direct flight from JFK to Honolulu in that seat – it’s a ten hours flight – but for the journey from San Francisco it was certainly more than adequate.

Epilogue

On Maui I call the Makena Beach Resort home. As I sit here on the balcony of my room writing this up and occasionally looking out to sea, I can actually see and even hear whales breaching in the distance – beautiful!

This concludes the series of reports on my American vacation. America is such a vast country, full of contrast and with so much to see and do. It has been a memorable trip and I certainly hope to return to Hawaii some day. I leave you with some pictures of Hawaii.

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British Airways, Business Class – B 747-400: New York JFK to London Heathrow

Date: 8 April 2012, Easter Sunday
Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Boeing B 747-400
From: New York JFK
To: London Heathrow
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 63K, Upper deck

It’s Easter Monday and the weather outside is simply stunning. So I decide to go for a long walk around Central Park. My hotel is right on 5th Avenue, between 42nd and 41st street. So on my way back I am able to watch the Easter Parade and some of the most outrageous hats I’ve ever seen!

Getting to JFK

I check out of the hotel at around 14h30 and walk with my carry-on suitcase ten blocks south to 32nd street and then from there across to Penn Station.

From Penn Station there are regular and frequent trains to Jamaica. The journey takes about 30 minutes or so, depending on the train your travelling on.

From Jamaica I catch the JFK Air Train, a fully automated thing that stops at every terminal at JFK. The first stop coming from Jamaica is Terminal 1. I am departing from Terminal 7, which means I get the grand tour of the airport and some exceptional vistas.

I even manage to get a close-up view of the legendary TWA terminal that is now part of the JetBlue operation in JFK.

Check-in

At Terminal 7 none of the British Airways self-service check-in devices appear to be working, so I queue for check-in with a human factor. And why not, the queue moves quickly and the check-in agent is nice enough and checks me in all the way through to Amsterdam. And yes, I have a seat on the upper deck. From check-in it’s a short walk over to security. The screening takes place in a narrow corridor with quite an inclination. Which is inconvenient to say the least.

The British Airways Terraces Lounge

The British Airways Terraces lounge is enormous and rather full, which is also why I decide not to take any pictures.

Boarding

The time passes quickly in the lounge and very soon I am heading down the gangway towards my aircraft. I’m greeted at the door and instructed to pass through the Business Cabin to the next galley and then from there up the stairs. When I reach the top, I am only the second person on the upper deck. The crew gives me a very warm welcome. And when they see me taking pictures, they ask me if I’d like to take one of ‘The BA girls’. Of course I do.

The Cabin

British Airways have an innovative seating concept in their wide-body Business Class in that the seats are grouped in pairs in opposing directions. On the main deck this means that they have as much as eight seats abreast. Nonetheless, there is enough personal space and there are privacy screens that can be raised to make sure you don’t have to sit through the whole flight looking at your neighbour’s ugly mug.

On the upper deck things are far more intimate, with only four seats abreast, two on either side. Due to the curvature of the jumbo’s hump, storage space on the upper deck is in abundance.

Amenities

Service on the ground begins with the distribution of the menus, welcome drinks and amenity kits. They’re the same kind I got on the outbound flight (see my other British Airways post).

Take-off is obviously much louder and generally takes much longer than on The Speedbird One. Once we’re airborne though and settle into the cruise, the benefits of sitting on the upper deck become apparent and it’s quite amazing how silent it is up here.

The Meal

After take-off orders are taken for dinner. Then refreshment towels are served, followed by the drinks service with nuts.

The First Course

Service seems again very professional and efficient. There are no table cloths, as is the case with Swiss or Lufthansa for example. Also, in contrast to the Speedbird One, on this flight there is no choice for a starter. All passengers get the grilled bell peppers with asparagus and gorgonzola cheese on a bed of frisée salad. Simple but tasty.

The Main Course

For the main course there are three choices. The fish is already gone by the time the attendant reaches me, but the steak and the pasta are both still available and so I take the pasta.

Warm bread is served throughout the meal.

Dessert

Dessert is a rather tasty lemongrass cheesecake.

And finally there is also a plate of cheese with grapes and Walker’s biscuits.

After the meal I start to watch a film, but very quickly my eyes start closing. So I extend the seat into the sleep position and doze off to beddiebye land. The mighty Jumbo gently rocks me to sleep to the comforting hum of the four Rolls-Royce engines pushing us across the Atlantic.

The Second Service

I awake as the bright cabin lights are switched on again ahead of the second service. There are no refreshing towels before this service. But the offerings are adequate and sufficient, it’s a continental breakfast served with coffee and a smoothie. My only complaint is that the presentation of the fruit in a plastic cup is not particularly attractive.

Arrival

The meal is perfectly timed and just as the trays are removed, Jumbo starts to slow down and shortly after dips his nose into the murky skies above London. Arrival is some twenty minutes ahead of schedule.

We park at satellite B, from where it’s a long trek up and down various escalators. There is a fast track through security for Business Class passengers, which is surprisingly efficient, especially seeing as we are, after all, in England. And very soon I find myself in the southern Terraces Lounge waiting for my onward connection to Amsterdam.

Conclusion

I like British Airways, I like the brand: from the livery of the aircraft to the cabin design and the very distinctly British touch of their service. I am also quite impressed with their operation. With my aircraft there were another three B 747-400s parked at JFK’s Terminal 7 and all of them would be leaving for Heathrow that evening, some of them was as little as thirty minutes between them. Heathrow may be pretty bad for congestion but Terminal 5, which British Airways calls home, is very pleasant. It has an open, spacious feel about it and distances are manageable. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high density of B 747-400s lined up next to each other – it’s quite a sight to behold.

Epilogue

I was rather tired by the time I boarded my flight to Amsterdam. So the last segment is not covered. But my spirits lifted after take-off when the smell of an English breakfast started wafting through the cabin…

As for The Speedbird One, I think British Airways has done an outstanding job and put a lot of effort into resurrecting something of what was special about travelling on Concorde. And indeed, the service is special. The seat, although housed in the much smaller A 318, is much more spacious than that in standard Club World as I experienced it on Jumbo. The brief stop in Shannon is much shorter than I expected. And that is a good thing, because Shannon airport is a drab, smelly old place.

And then I also visited the Intrepid and was finally able to step aboard Concorde to stifle, at long last, that curiosity that has been nagging at me ever since my childhood, about what Concorde looked like inside in the real world. I know now and I am content. At the same time though, having now spent a lot more time with Concorde and researching about her biography, it saddens me that she no longer flies and probably never again will. In all likelihood it will be another twenty years before the technology is available to make supersonic flights a viable option for the airlines once more.

A few weeks back I chanced to make the acquaintance of a man who was on the development team of Concorde, and I consider myself privileged for that. What this man and his colleagues achieved is an outstanding feat of engineering. This trip is a salute to all those people who were involved in the development of this excellent machine – an aircraft called Concorde.