Sino Trip


Flight Data

 FLIGHT INFORMATION

  • Altitude 31000 feet
  • Ground Speed 576 mph
  • Outside Air Temperature -45.4 F

FLIGHT STATUS

  • Distance Traveled 1685 miles
  • Distance to Destination 4748 miles
  • Estimated Arrival Time 5:13 pm

By the looks of that data, we’re going somewhere in a big hurry, with quite a ways to go. My reckoning puts us 30 miles east of Bethel, Alaska with Nome well to the north as we proceed on a great circle track towards our destination. It’s 8:32 AM, where we’re headed out on the other side of the international dateline, and it’s already tomorrow there.

Magic.

Well, enough of the aviator techno-babble. We’re headed to Hong Kong (HKG) on Air Canada Flight 7 (and a bit further), out of Vancouver (YVR),  on one of their Boeing 777-300’s.

 First and Second Leg – DEN-YVR-HKG

Air Canada 777-300

Yesterday started out like most nonrev trips. Promising load data the night before, turned into goose eggs by the time we made it to the airport. We were bumped on the first flight (though we were boarded in our seats, then unceremoniously “unboarded”). The second and third flights looked no better. With a prepaid room up in YVR, for the evening, it was time to be a bit more profligate with our travel budget. Dad wandered back to the other side of security, and arranged for ZED tickets on another carrier that had openings direct. Contingency planning, is the only planning, when you non-rev.

Two hours later we were enroute to Vancouver. They were even nice enough to put us into the front row of coach, with some legroom. Airline employees really do like retirees. God bless ’em.

We RON’d at the Days Inn YVR Airport, where there was a sleepy, black and white cat curled up on the couch in the lobby. He’s a rather famous cat it seems, and accustomed to his niche in the organization. My son was quite concerned about it, and pointed to the sign. It said, “No Pets”.  I guess there are pets, and then there are “lobby service animals”. I just kept ’em walking towards the elevator.

We grabbed some food at the Burger King across the street, and slept in late the next day. Not so late that we missed the free food off the lobby though. The bus to the airport put us onto the concourse at about 11:00 AM, but not before the folks in security told me I didn’t have to take my shoes off. “Only Americans do that stuff”.

Hunkered down at the gate, with the kids plugged into “ground power” for their electronics, a free WIFI link, and they had entered Nirvana. There was certainly no danger of them wandering off without a long cord. It was time for a walkabout.

I asked the boarding agent if I needed to do anything to please my host carrier prior to boarding. Nope, nothing to do on my side, but I was told they’d be weight limited. Weight limited? I hardly thought that possible with 70 empty seats, but nonrevs keep that sort of insubordination to themselves. We know our place.

I noted a three striper, with his crew, in the next bay over. Being discreet, but curious at the same time, I introduced myself and  had a nice conversation about rest, and weight limits on the 77. Yes, they were weight limited that day, and it is not at all unusual for long flights. It’s even to the point that they figure fuel used getting to the end of the runway.  It’s a ground “burndown” to max TO weight. Tight planning, but every pound lifted is safety or revenue.

Different planes, different problems. I learn something new everyday. It didn’t alleviate my angst as to whether WE were going to get on the plane though.

They started boarding the folks in the front, then they boarded the rabble !WAY! In the back. We made it, as we were issued a boarding pass. I do believe we were legit, as a CSR asked us if we were non-revs, and left us in our seats. Pushback came, and we were still in those seats.

This time we were still going to be getting off the plane, but with lots of jet lag.

The program indicates that we’ll be well fed on this flight. Two meals and a pre-landing snack, and the first installment is already being digested. Not too bad really. Pork with coos coos, or chicken with rice and a small salad.

The brownie was tempting, but my son and I resisted, and let it pass to the daughter. I see that they are both gone, no doubt resting with the rest of her first meal.

Yesterday In The Rear View Mirror

Four hours thirty minutes into the flight, over the Bering Sea, and now it really is tomorrow. And this without the sun setting. Cool.

The aircraft is just to the east of the Kamchatka Peninsula. We’ll be in Russian airspace quite soon. It does rather give me a crawly feeling. Lots of old memories here, but I’m an old guy.  Twenty five years ago, WE wouldn’t have been here. The route would have taken us well clear of their domain. Now we can navigate directly over what was off-limits.

 

Kamchatka Deja Vu

 

There was another Flight 007, that didn’t turn out so well right about here. That was a long time ago, but it’s still remembered by some of us.

 The Tempest

Posted at 02:46 PM ET, 07/23/2012 TheWashingtonPost

Intense typhoon Vicente slamming Hong Kong

 Radar image of typhoon Vicente passing just southwest of Hong Kong at 2:24 a.m. local time (July 24) or 2:24 p.m. EDT (July 23). (Hong Kong Observatory) After rapidly intensifying earlier today, typhoon Vicente is battering Hong Kong and locations in Southern China.

Maximum sustained winds have reached almost 140 mph (120 knots), the equivalent of a category 4 hurricane.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center predicts the storm, moving over very warm waters (30-32 degrees C or 86-90 F) and beneath favorable upper level winds, will maintain intensity until coming ashore in Southern China at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning (Hong Kong time), the equivalent of 8 p.m. tonight in the eastern United States.

Live radarplainly shows Vicente’s intense outer bands lashing Hong

Typhoon Vicente’s Radar Image

 

Kong with a well-defined eye just to its southwest. The storm’s strongest winds and most severe tidal surge are likely to occur southwest of the city in southern mainland China, but squally, hurricane-type conditions are possible in the city itself. Accuweather reports an 83 mph wind gust was recorded.

Typhoon Vicente’s Sat Image

The government of Hong Kong has issued its highest level typhoon warning for the city – known as the number 10 signal. Such a designation is reserved for storms expected to produce hurricane-force winds.

Reuters provided the following information about actions that go into effect when a typhoon of this severity moves into the city:

Financial markets, schools, businesses and non-essential government services close when any No. 8 or above signal is hoisted, posing a disruption to business in the capitalist hub and former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The Hong Kong Observatory said it expected the No. 10 signal to remain in force overnight, meaning markets could be shut down in the morning.

Activation of the No. 10 signal is a rare occurrence according to the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO).

“From 1946 onwards, only 13 typhoons succeeded in issuing the No. 10 signal,” HKO said on its website.

Link: Tracks of Hong Kong No. 10 signal typhoons

The most recent No. 10 signal to be issued in Hong Kong was for Typhoon York in 1999.

By   |  02:46 PM ET, 07/23/2012

Hong Kong’s Lap Kok Terminal

How is it that we are able to arrive at Hong Kong during their worst typhoon in 10 years? Granted, I’ve a bit of bad karma, but I suppose when you amortize it over the 7,000,000 residents of HK, their balance has not changed much. We were able to achieve what we wanted to accomplish, but that included nothing in the tourist category. Though we’ve no pictures, it was interesting to see how few people were out on the streets. Hong Kong sidewalk traffic defines “bustling” for the world, but it was relatively deserted during the typhoon. When storms get this bad, folks are asked to stay home, and they did. We were able to move about with little interference, and all we encountered was what amounted to a warm shower ….. from a fire hose. It felt a little odd with our clothes on, but the worst was yet to come during the night. Hundreds of folks in the hospitals, and many subways flooded out.

The next day dawned with rain, rain, and more rain. I hadn’t had a chance to get the kids out to a real chinese restaurant, so I was left with taking them to the hotel buffet. They’d been pretty good on the trip, very….transportable, so I felt something of an obligation to reward them for sticking with me during the downpours. It was ruinously expensive, but an excellent selection of oriental food done well. Off we went to the restaurant, where we loaded up our plates, and started to gorge ourselves till we were cross-eyed. An hour and thirty minutes into this gastronomic abomination, the roof of the hotel restaurant began to cave in, and the restaurant started to flood.

We immediately jumped up, and started filling more plates in the event the restaurant was evacuated. Fortunately, only part of it was affected, and we retreated to a dry corner while continuing to ingest. Within ten minutes, the hotel manager collared us, and after presenting her card, informed us that she was very sorry for the flooding and was immediately comping our meals. Between bites, I again thanked THE Judeo-Christian God, with a nod to Athena, Demeter and Poseidon. Oddly, there really wasn’t a Greek god of food. There were only those three that might have come close, and I’m sure they have retired long ago. There’s a chance they might still be listening though. There are no accidents in this world. Only divine providence could have accounted for our windfall.

Between swings in my blood glucose, I realized I had saved a fortune. And that’s a good thing.

By the time we headed back to Lap Kok, for our departure to Singapore (SIN), the subways were back up and so was the Airport Express.

HKG-SIN And The Wages Of John Barleycorn

Everything was still chaotic at the airport. Two hundred delayed flights made it a nightmare for non-revs. Though congested, the only threat to civil order were the Aussies, which is hardly surprising. A large crowd of them were delayed at a security checkpoint, and they tried to rush it collectively. Australian males have never been noted for an ability to hold their liquor, and these….travelers, were drunk as Lords. They were repulsed by Hong Kong’s Finest and, regrettably, there were no casualties on the side of those from Down Under.

We were supposed to depart at 8:30 PM, but that was continually delayed till 3:00 AM the next morning. We boarded a United 737 (Air Mike crewed) at a remote pad by bus. Once again we were warmly soaked. Four hours later we were in Singapore, with the sunrise. Hopping on their immaculate subway, we arrived in the basement of our hotel within 25 minutes.

Our !small! hotel room

Singapore – The Cleanest City In The World

Singapore Subway Station

We spent about a day resting up and then set about meeting with a few folks. This left an agenda of eating and sight-seeing for the next day and a half. It’s a nice city, and there is no way it could be mistaken for third world. I’ll offer that it is first world or better on many counts.

Singapore Skyline

 

Downtown Singapore

There is wealth displayed here, to a conspicuous degree. I must say it was the first Lamborghini I’d seen in a shopping center parking lot. Our daughter had her eye on a lovely purse, but when she was quoted a price of $6,200 US, she hurriedly retreated.  She is learning her limitations.

A Reckoning With Finances

The last morning was spent at the hotel, with an 11:00 AM checkout. There are still plenty of fast food joints around, but my children’s favorite was a food court that specialized in noodles. It was delicious and reasonably priced (less than $4.00). This was followed by fried octopus on a stick. There were six of the little “suckers” per stick at $.60 SN per stick. Half of my offspring considered it delicious, and the other is getting over his aversion to “squiggly” asian food.

The only gastronomical faux pas was desert at a nearby Wendy’s. Shakes are not the same. This was, perhaps, the most over-sweetened desert they had ever encountered. Our gentle daughter commented that it tasted like, “….the Easter Bunny crapped in a cup, and put a cherry on top of it”. I tended to agree with her, but am generally not permitted to laugh at such “originality”, lest I encourage her.

The “Easter Bunny” Drink

Back to Changi Airport on the subway, and a ten hour wait for Lufthansa to Frankfurt (FRA). It remains to be seen whether we’ll get on that one, or substitute a flight to Munich, then onwards to PHL and DEN. Might even get the FRA-DEN nonstop, but it is foolish to wish for so much.

Enroute Changi Airport Via Subway

 

Nice To See Someone Excited About Going To The Airport

Changi is said to have the best passenger facilities of anywhere in the world. These include free movie theaters, swimming pools, foot massaging machines, free wifi, and a host of other amenities. Just  the thing for those stuck for 10 hours at the airport.

Singapore Changi Departure Board

You couldn’t prove it by us though. As non-revs, we are precluded from entering that hallowed departure facility till 50 minutes before departure. Being devious, we are camping out at the Aviation Museum next door and snagging the free WIFI till our Purgatory standby status is determined.

Changi even does McDonald’s better than we do.

There is at least one dissenting opinion to the preceding caption. Why a country that does so many things right, can do coffee so wrong, is beyond my limited comprehension. It seems like the beans are barely roasted. Their brew is simply……wretched. Dare I say it is a crime against nature? It is that bad.

Seven hours to go.

SIN-FRA – 12 Hours Across The Dark Side Of The Moon

Lufthansa Airbus 380

We made it onto the SIN-FRA flight. With 45 minutes to go before departure, they assigned seats 53 D, E, and F. Again, the benevolence of airline personnel, towards their retirees, favors us. We’re left in a front row with LOTS of legroom (under the stairway). The fact that we got on the FRA flight is a good deal (Munich was our backup). This will fit in nicely with our intention of connecting to the FRA-DEN nonstop.

Now I’m no expert on the A380. I’ve heard it hauls a bit north of 500 paxs when configured in mixed service, like the Lufthansa flight we’re riding on tonight. Naturally, being oriented to smaller aircraft, and everything is smaller than this aircraft, I got on the plane using the aft jetway (they used two in boarding this flight). With row 53 on my ticket stub, I started to herd the kids back to the rear of the aircraft. I was immediately corrected and sent forward!?!? Sure enough, row 53 is the third one from the front of the aircraft. Why that would be, was not immediately apparent to me. Were the rows numbered from the back to the front? Nope.

So why is row 53 in the front of the aircraft? It is because they start counting on the passenger cabin above us. I hadn’t taken the two story passenger configuration into account. It’s a whole different animal, with different rules for the passengers (at least).

Though in the center of the aircraft, you don’t miss the view, as this is a twelve-hour night flight. If you want a low resolution view of some lights below, there are four cameras mounted on the outside of the aircraft, with one at the top of the vertical stabilizer facing forward. After clearing Indian airspace, there won’t be many lights at all given the desolate regions of the globe we’ll be transiting.  We are again, left with an electronic representation of our position in space.

After departure we took up a north-westerly heading out across the Andaman Sea, and the Bay of Bengal. As I type, we’ve just made landfall south-west of Brahmapur, India. If our great circle track continues, we will be passing over my brother-in-law up by the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, while paralleling the great wall of the Himalayas to our north-east. He’s got a sweet little nine month gig, working for the DOD (Army Branch), driving spook King Airs in the low to mid 20’s.

Army King Air, ODIN Config

We’ll be going over at FL360, so even if we waved, he wouldn’t wave back. I suspect it’s quite likely that particular CW5 will be working this evening, as he’s rumored to favor the night shift.  (Note: CW5’s are magical beasts akin to unicorns, and high on the Army’s “cool scale”). Certainly his task is more interesting (and useful) than mine of late. Arranging things vs. life preservation, always leaves organizing a distant second.

It still seems odd that we might be sharing the same airspace, albeit at different purposes and flight levels. I’ll see him in seven months, but we’ll be overhead tonight.

The kids are wrapped in the arms of Morpheus beside me, and I better get a few winks as well. Let’s see how they’re holding up in FRA.

We’ll land in Germany before the sun comes up, racing the moon tonight.

I grabbed a few hours sleep in the seat, and woke to a breakfast served two hours out of FRA. There was nothing very exceptional about the flight, except it was 12 hours of smooth ride. That was odd, but nice. Arriving FRA we listed and checked in for our flight to DEN. It’s rumored to have space, but you never really know. Boarding time is 12:45 PM so it provides six hours of opportunity to get into trouble on the International Concourse.

FRA-DEN – Last Leg & Really Cool Bathrooms

The next aircraft will be an A340, with a ten-hour nonstop. It should put us into DEN at, or about, 4:00 PM. Glancing out the window of the boarding lounge shows an ANA 787 on a remote pad.

ANA 787 “Dreamliner”

Kinda’ small comparatively, but it is going to open up a lot of markets that weren’t previously available in the industry. UA has announced non-stops DEN-NRT (Denver-Tokyo) when they get their first next spring.

Lufthansa Airbus 340

The gods continue to smile upon us, and we are cleared in the last five minutes onto the flight. I asked the Lufthansa boarding agent why we were so lucky, with so few empty seats. She smiled sweetly, and replied, “Because of your last name, of course”.

Whatever works.

I would be remiss if I did not tell you about the most unique characteristic of the A340, and that would be their “Basement Bathrooms”. Do not laugh at this. I have never seen its like before over my career (and it has been a very weird career at that). Nestled aft of the wing is a wide stairway, leading from the pax deck to the lower section where one finds four spacious bathrooms, and a wet bar.

A340 Lavatory Stairs

A340 Stairs

You are warned that there may be no more than ten pax in that area, or upon the stairs, due to there only being ten oxygen masks installed. Still, it is a very cool feature, and lots quieter than the lavs on the upper deck.

In fact, it is so secluded that a Gulf Air passenger delivered a child in one of those lavs, then tossed the kid in a waste bin. Fortunately, the newborn was rescued by the cleaners at the destination, but it does give you an idea of how much privacy you have in that enclave.

Ten hours later we arrived in DEN.

Summary

So that’s the trip. It really wasn’t a vacation. It was closer to a working death march, and it really wasn’t for the lazy or unmotivated. But it did get things done, when it had to be accomplished on short notice. Frankly, the itinerary couldn’t have been more conducive to hitting a lot of points in short order. Some day we’ll go back on a more “relaxed” schedule.

I’d have to say that Singapore was our favorite. Cleanliness, street safety, great food and excellent mass transportation makes it an exceptional city for the traveler. Hong Kong is probably a close competitor, but the typhoon makes it difficult to draw a fair comparison. Lufthansa has great connections to nearly anywhere, and traveling with my kids makes it a personal treat.

The mileage score (if you’re keeping score), was the following.

  • Distance               20,523 miles
  • Hours Enroute   39:50

Oh yes! If you haven’t noticed, it was a bona fide round-the-world flight. Not that we should get any credit for it. It really isn’t hard to sit in an aircraft seat. We are simply the beneficiaries of a technological society, fueled by capitalism. Without this, we’d still be whipping horses to get where we need to go.

Sino Trip Map

Slideshow available by clicking screen below

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