Tag Archives: oneworld

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


At the risk of flogging a dead horse, SQ really, really, really needs an arrivals lounge*.

*(I know that Solitaire PPS members can use the First Class area of the Silver Kris lounge in SIN as an arrivals lounge, but that’s about it. Everyone else, be they First Class, Business Class or PPS members get nothing)

I get that they’ve probably looked at this before and some beancounter has come to the conclusion that it doesn’t make financial sense for them. And perhaps they’re right- SQ’s onboard product is so head and shoulders above the competition that people are willing to accept a relatively inferior ground experience. In any case, no other airline is operating an arrivals lounge in SIN. Also, I can’t imagine any businessman saying “you know what, I’m going to take United from SFO to SIN instead of SQ because SQ has no arrivals lounge”

Image result for united airlines dreamliner business class
UA’s non-stop SFO-SIN J product
Image result for sq a350 business class
SQ’s non-stop SFO-SIN J product

But an arrivals lounge is such a valuable amenity to business travelers for so many reasons

  • It allows them to maximize rest on the plane by taking breakfast on the ground instead of onboard
  • It allows them to freshen up and shower before heading directly for meetings
  • It provides a nice place to wait for colleagues who may be joining from separate flights
  • It allows people to sync their emails and sort out their admin matters before leaving the airport, rather than huddling in a coffee shop in the public area trying to find a signal

Case in point: the American Airlines arrivals lounge in LHR, which I made a beeline for after clearing immigration and customs.

The lounge isn’t difficult to find. Once you claim your bag and leave the secure area, just look out for the signs for lounges.

The AA lounge is located one floor above the arrivals area. You can take the lift or stairs up.

The pleasant agent checked my boarding pass and welcomed me to the lounge. The AA arrivals lounge isn’t just for AA flyers of course. You can access the lounge if you’re flying into LHR on BA, Qantas or Cathay Pacific long haul first or business class flights, as the access rules below show.

click to enlarge

The first order of business was to get a shower. I was a bit kancheong about this because morning is peak arrival time for transatlantic flights and I imagined there’d be a long queue if I tarried.

My concerns were unfounded, however. The showers area was deserted. I didn’t see a single other soul in the carnivorous corridors

And showers are in plentiful supply, 29 of them in total (sounds like a lot, but BA has an incredible 94 shower suites in its arrivals lounge!)

I should also note that there were no staff on hand to assign cubicles, but given that it was so empty it wasn’t really needed (I did, on the way out, bump into a rather surly staff member who saw me taking photos and asked if I was lost)

I settled on cubicle 27, just because there was no 42 (need to start inserting more Hitchhiker references in these posts…)

The suites are tastefully finished with marble (or marble looking) fixtures. There’s a thoughtfully-provided luggage rack (you’d be surprised how many lounges don’t have these in their showers), wall-mounted hairdryer and large, well lit mirror.

Compare the decor here to that which you’d find in BA’s arrivals lounge and you can see the difference immediately. BA’s showers remind one of a hospital ward

Image result for british airways lounge shower arrivals lhr hospital
photo credit: airportbliss.com

There was plenty of counter space to put your barang barang.

By default, toothbrushes and shaving kits aren’t provided. You have to request for them. I find that an annoyance, although minor. But at least they come in atas packaging

Amenities like cotton buds, mouthwash, shower cap and cotton balls come standard, however.

The coolest feature of the suite by far was the double door that allows you to send your clothes for ironing. Again, this makes so much sense. Business travellers coming off a long haul flight with crumpled clothes can send them off for complimentary pressing and hit the road running.

The double door is behind the entrance door.

Simply open the outer compartment and look! An escape room esque interior.

Hang your clothes there, lock the compartment again and press the button below for service.

Your clothes will be magically picked up, pressed and returned by the time you step out of the shower. And all without the need for human interaction. What a time to be alive.

I was pleased that AA was using the same brand of toiletries here as they were in the Flagship lounge at JFK. 

The shower itself is excellent with good water pressure.

After showering I went to explore the main lounge. It’s not a huge facility to be frank, but there were still plenty of empty seats to be had.

  

But you’re not here for the seats, you’re here for the food!

There are two components to the food options- a buffet, an an ala carte menu.

The buffet has all you need to assemble your own English breakfast

No one breakfasts like the English. Could have used hashbrowns though.

Lighter options like fruit, cereal and pastries are also available.

Where drinks are concerned, you have juices, soft drinks as well as a mini Moet champagne fridge.

Making your own mimosas was never this fun.

The ala carte menu is equally attractive, with freshly cooked items available.

I got the protein pancakes, which were presented very nicely.

Breakfast was had at a leisurely pace- I stayed in the lounge for a total of an hour, yet it never got very crowded (this was approximately 9am)

Finally, there’s a business centre in a corner of the lounge with printing facilities- useful if you need to print any last minute confirmations.

I found the AA arrivals lounge to be a very pleasant place to freshen up and grab a bite before heading out. There’s also a very serious value proposition for business travelers, and if you’re coming to London on CX anytime soon you should definitely check out this lounge.

How I’m dealing with the Qatar travel blockade

Everyone by now should be aware of what’s going on in Qatar and the broader region. I’m going to stay far, far away from any political commentary and talk about what this blog vertically integrated e-commerce media conglomerate is focused on- the travel implications.

As you may remember, I need to get from DAR to DOH for my RTW trip. I had identified that it was cheaper to fly DAR-DOH-DXB instead of directly from DAR-DOH.

DAR-DOH direct- $2.6K
DAR-DOH-DXB, $811!

At first I was thinking of throwing away my DOH-DXB ticket, but then realised that DOH-DXB was booked as First Class, as that’s the level above Economy on inter-gulf flights. That was fantastic, as it meant I would get a chance to review the Al Safwa First Class lounge in Doha. It also meant that I got to spend my weekend in Dubai instead of Doha.

Image result for qatar airways first class lounge

As you can guess, the current flight restrictions have wrecked that plan, with Qatar Airways banned from flying over or landing in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt.

I quickly worked out an alternate routing from DOH-DXB that involved transiting in Muscat and taking MCT-DXB via Oman Air. My understanding is that Qatar is working to rebook affected flyers to DXB/AUH via KWI or MCT. With this in mind I called up QR to see if they’d rebook my proposed routing for me.

Now, Qatar Airways’ official policy regarding the current situation is that rebookings for flights affected by this disruption can be done within 72 hours of flight departure. I say “official”, because it seems from what I’m reading online that this is a classic case of YMMV. But this is also a classic case of the benefits of HUCA (hang up, call again).

Case in point- I called up the Doha office at the 72 hour mark and got a CSO who insisted on rebooking me on DAR-MCT-DXB, entirely on Oman Air. This made no sense at all to me- wouldn’t QR rather keep the revenue they were earning on my DAR-DOH-MCT legs at least? Why would they want to do the whole flight on a different carrier? But she insisted there was nothing else she could do, and to top it all off the flight she proposed left from DAR one day later than I originally intended. I hung up.

I called again and got a CSO who was perfectly ok with the routing I proposed, but said that they were not able to book this for me until 24 hours before departure. 72 hours is already cutting it way close but 24? I asked about the 72 hour policy and he said that where rebooking was happening via other Middle East airlines, the policy was 24 hours as they’d seen airlines like Etihad/Emirates cancelling bookings that were done by Qatar.

I called again (a day later) and got an extremely cheerful CSO who listened to my proposed flights, said “no problem sir” and after a 5 minute hold told me it was done. I got the e-ticket shortly after hanging up. The whole call took less than my wait time.

My revised itinerary looks like this:

DAR-DOH Depart 1630 Arrive 2345
DOH-MCT Depart 0730 Arrive 1010
MCT-DXB Depart 1425 Arrive 1540

Why would I do such a long layover in Doha? Counter-intuitive as it sounds, it’s so I can get a better rest. I could easily have connected to a QR flight that departed DOH just after midnight, done a 5 hour layover in MCT (at 330am no less) and reached Dubai around 9am, but that would leave me knackered (plus, a 5 hour layover in MCT is no joke).

My new arrangement allows me to spend the night not in a transit hotel, but in the QR First Class lounge. That’s right, one of the cool features of the Al Safwa lounge is that it has sleeping rooms. Not darkened areas with recliner seats, but proper, hotel-style private rooms with beds and an attached bathroom.

Image result for qatar airways first class lounge bed

My reading of this FT thread tells me that –

  • No reservations for the rooms are allowed, they’re allocated on a first come first serve basis
  • Rooms are only available if you have >4 hours till your flight leaves
  • A maximum of 6 hours use is allowed, beyond which QAR 450 is payable for another 6 hours
  • Only bottled water is allowed in the sleeping rooms.

All of which suits me just fine. The only beverage I’d take to bed is champagne, and now that it’s Ramadan the QR lounges in Doha are dry anyway…

So assuming I make it to the lounge around midnight, I can do a 6 hour stay and wake up to grab breakfast, take photos and then head on over to catch my flight to MCT. And I save one night of hotel expenses.

The other interesting development, aviation-wise, is that QR is now operating a different kind of A320 on the DAR-DOH route. Qatar used to operate the version that had your standard regional business class recliner seats, which aren’t great for a flight that’s decidedly medium-haul.

Image result for a320 qatar airways business class
photo credit: airlines and me

But because of the blockade, QR1348 now needs to take a longer route from DAR-DOH, adding about 90 minutes to a flight blocked at 5h 50 mins. You can see the diverted route here:

I don’t know if it’s an aircraft range issue or just QR wanting to redeploy narrowbody aircraft it can’t use on intra-gulf routes anymore, but the A320 on this route has been switched to the version that has full flat seats in business class.

Image result for a320 qatar airways first class
photo credit: one mile at a time
photo credit: bangalore aviation

This is the same aircraft that normally plys intra-gulf roots and which premium cabin is sold as first class, but because of the current restrictions is getting redeployed elsewhere (sidenote: it does seem like such a waste of resources that QR would normally deploy a flat-bed seat aircraft on routes that are 2 hours or less)

Image result for oman air b737 business class
oman air business class

I’m not thrilled about a 4 hour layover in Muscat, but at least I’ll get to review the Oman Air lounge in Muscat and try their 737 regional business class. Hopefully their lounge is decent enough to get some solid work done.

It’s amazing if you sit back and think about our supposedly connected world. By denying Qatar air links and passage with its neighbours, what should have been a no-nonsense 1h flight between DOH and DXB stretches to almost 5 hours including transit. And involves flying in the “wrong” direction between each destination.

No one has any idea how long this will last, but it’s sure to have an impact on your travels if you’re heading to the region anytime soon. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we’ll see a restoration of something approaching normality soon.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a QR itinerary that’s been affected by what’s going on, it’s good to call up customer service with alternative routes already in mind. And if the first CSO tells you no, don’t take that for a final answer. Keep trying until you find a CSO who can accommodate you.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: American Airlines 777-200 Business Class JFK-LHR

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


Given the bad press that a lot of American carriers get, it’s understandable if you don’t have high expectations going in. I mean, you half expect to get beaten up and dragged off, shouted at by some union-protected crew member or suffer permanent circulatory damage after being compressed by a seatmate of size. It’s grim, I know.

But US carriers are investing heavily in their hard products.

Image result for united polaris
United Polaris

We’ve seen United’s new Polaris seat, which unfortunately won’t be mainstream for a very, very long time, and we’ve seen Delta’s new BusinessFirst suites, which beat everyone else to the title of “first business class seat with a door”

Image result for delta suite
Delta BusinessFirst

Whether or not that leads to a commensurate improvement in the quality of the soft product is up for debate, but if nothing else you’ll at least be able to get a good night’s sleep after the cabin crew make the pagro announcement that “we’re here primarily for your safety”.

American Airlines hasn’t been slacking off either, installing new full flat seats across their long-haul fleet. It can be a bit confusing knowing what you’ll get when you fly long haul AA because they offer several different types of seats in business class. But this article will hopefully set you straight.

Today I was going with the Zodiac business class seats, found aboard select 777-200 aircraft and all 787-8s. As you can see from the Seatguru map above, they’re a bit odd in that you have one seat facing forward alternating with one seat facing backwards. I’m not clear on what benefits this design has- it’s presumably not to optimize privacy, since you will occasionally make eye contact with the person facing backwards especially during takeoff and landing when your seat isn’t reclined. Perhaps it’s then to maiximize the number of seats they can squeeze into the cabin? Again, that doesn’t sound right to me, given that each seat’s footprint is roughly the size of your standard reverse herringbone.

Whatever the case my first impressions of the seat were favorable. Occasional eye contact with the opposite-facing passenger aside, the ears around the seat gave it good privacy from the aisle. The seat is on the narrow side, but that’s not a problem for fun-sized Asians like us.

Here’s my seat, 3L

Note the potential for awkwardness with the person in the seat infront of you when you stand up.

Where seat controls are concerned, you can either adjust your seat from the side digital panel

Or from the side panel (see those two small buttons in the right hand corner with full upright and full flat icons on them)

On the side panel was also where you’d find the entertainment system controller and a reading light. I’m not the biggest fan of this type of control system because I normally find it prone to hanging, but it worked ok for me this time.

Each seat had a little storage nook with 2 USB ports and 2 power outlets.

American Airlines offers Cole Haan amenities kits in business class. These bags have a nicely woven texture to them at the base, which reminded me (slightly) of Bottega.

The contents- headphone covers, socks, CO Bigelow hand cream, a single-serve of (sadly non-alcohol free) mouthwash, facial tissues, a sleep mask, a dental kit and a $75 off a $250 or more purchase at Cole Haan. I can’t decide if that’s a good deal or not.

American also offers Bose QC-15 headphones in business class. That’s much better than what a lot of other airlines offer in first. I do hope airlines switch to QC-35s soon because wireless headphones would be a nice innovation for most carriers. No more wires to get tangled up in or knock over your drinks. And you could always hardwire them so they’d only work with IFE systems to dissuade theft. Or you could even collect them before landing. I normally get annoyed when that happens, but if it means wireless headphones…

Pre-departure drink orders were taken, and thankfully, served in proper glasses. I could be wrong, but I think American Airlines serves the same stuff on the ground (Nicolas Feuillatte) and in the air. If so, kudos for them for not going cheap (although that said, Nicolas Feuillatte isn’t what I’d call top tier)

Menus were distributed by the crew. I’ve come to notice that it’s Asian airlines that give out really thick, multi-page menus (where most of the length is contributed by the drinks list) in premium cabins. Western airlines, on the other hand, tend to give out slimmer, thinner menus. Gotta save fuel everywhere, I suppose.

I honestly wasn’t feeling any of the meal selections for dinner. It was only one week into my RTW trip and I was already missing Chinese food. It was going to be a long 5 more weeks…

A short breakfast would be served before landing, but I decided against it because of the American Airlines arrival lounge in LHR, which I was keen to explore.

Champagne on offer was Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve, nothing special. It’s a bit of a let down, considering AA offers Bollinger in the Flagship lounge.

(Side note: has anyone ever done a hierarchy of champagne? I tried searching online for one but can’t find anything. I know that within a champagne house you can have cheap and expensive offerings, but I’m curious if there’s a generalized ranking in the way you could potentially rank luxury watch houses. If there were, I think houses like Cattier, Nicolas Feuillatte, Duval Leroy,  Canard-Duchene would be near the base of the pyramid. I say this purely based on their airline associations- you don’t see any of the 4.5/5 Star airlines serving these brands…)

I think this is where a lot of padding happens in SQ’s menu. I remember SQ having a few pages for teas, coffees, spirits, juices etc. American crams them on one page.

Straight after takeoff, the crew came around to take dinner orders and check if we wanted to be awoken for breakfast. They didn’t address any of the passengers by name, but it wasn’t because they were surly or anything. It was more of a folksy service, with plenty of “y’all”s to be heard.

While awaiting the festivities, I pawed through the IFE. There was a good selection of recent movies. Airplane time is my catch up with movie time.

The IFE system also lets you order food and drinks

Keep in mind that I was on a red-eye JFK-LHR flight. On these business-heavy routes, sleep is everything. I was very interested to see how fast the crew would finish meal service, and I wasn’t disappointed…

Within 20 minute after the seatbelt sign had been turned off, the crew came around with table cloths. American’s table cloths are a bit undersized, if you see what I mean.

After 30 minutes, drinks were served along with warmed nuts

At the 40 minute mark, dinner was served. I opted for the prawns for dinner. The entire meal, starter, salad and main, came on one tray.

At first I thought “ah, lazy American service”. And then paused and thought about it a bit. On SQ’s supper flights, they’d serve drinks and nuts first, then the starter, then the main, then desert, then bring around the fruits and cheese. By the time you’re done with eating and waiting between courses, that’s easily 90+ min of rest gone. And on a red-eye, barely 7 hour flight, that’s not insignificant.

So the one tray concept makes sense. Serving everything on one tray just makes sense for late night flights. People get everything at once, the crew can focus on quickly clearing trays and getting desert out to those who want it.

Here’s the prawns- they’re breaded in something or other and came with a sweet sauce. I discarded the exterior and went for the goodness within.

The salad was a mixture of kalette (that’s a real thing now?) and saffron orzo. It had Kalamata olives, pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta. I did not partake.

The “small plate” was melon manchego carpaccio with lime.

I ate quickly, and the crew patrolled the aisles regularly to clear away anyone who finished quickly so that they could get to bed. I was done with my meal by the 50 minute mark but that’s because I didn’t really fancy it.

After my main plate was cleared, I was asked if I wanted desert. I said yes, and B&J’s strawberry cheesecake ice cream materialized.

Finished ice cream. Plate cleared. Barely 60 minutes on the clock since seatbelt sign switched off. I was impressed.

Last thing to do before lights out- check out the loo.

I quite like the sink that AA has installed on their aircraft. I wish SQ could have nice sinks too.

I think I’ve figured it out. Outie sinks- classy. Innie sinks- not classy. Look at SQ’s suites sink. Innie. Pffffttt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The loo had nice wood finishings, but it looked like someone forgot to put the amenities inside. 

I mean, there were facial tissues. But where’s the aftershave etc?

Keeping in line with what’s on the ground, CO Bigelow hand soap is the order of the day in the loo.

I turned my own bed down and got ready to rest.

And here’s my main problem with the seat- it rocks. Let me explain. AA’s new seats are paired, in the sense that seats are physically connected to each other. So 2A and 3A are paired, 1L and 2L are paired etc. It’s been documented elsewhere that the paired design of AA’s new business class seats mean that if your seat partner is the rocking sort, you’re going to feel it in your seat. And my seat partner in 4L was indeed a rocker. It boggles the mind that this problem wasn’t spotted in the testing phase. Won’t call it a deal breaker, but still…

Rocking aside, I slept very well and woke up just 30 minutes before landing. What I like about AA (as opposed to SQ) is that they’re serious about maximising rest. Those who wanted a light breakfast could get up really close to landing, unlike SQ which insists on turning on the cabin lights full blast at the 2 hour mark. Why, I don’t understand. Those who didn’t, weren’t disturbed until absolutely the last minute.

Before landing, immigration cards, an ad for the arrivals lounge and most importantly, a fast track immigration pass, were distributed (LHR immigration had crazy long lines when I landed).

Overall, AA’s new business class seat is a great product- not in the league of an SQ/ANA/EVA Air but definitely more than what I was expecting of a US airline. The seat rocking thing is really annoying, but it is what it is. And it could be a good way to meet chiobu.

I’m sorry you don’t get to see what breakfast offerings there were on the plane, but when you see what the arrivals lounge has to offer you might also decide against eating onboard…