Flight 5/15: Bangkok to Singapore

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I took during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling in the late spring of 2016.

Airline: Tigerair

Date: May 13, 2016

Type of plane: Airbus A320

Duration of the flight: 2 h and 25 mins

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General info: Tiger Airways, operating as Tigerair, is a no-frills airline and a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. It operates flights to 40 destinations across Asia. Our flight was an evening flight from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport to Singapore’s Changi, a.k.a. the best airport in the world. Above other things, Changi has some fish ponds, three movie theaters, a sunflower garden and even a butterfly garden (that we sadly didn’t get to visit).

What was special about this plane: It was your standard Airbus A320, but the layout was a bit different than what legacy carriers have. There were 180 economy seats instead of the usual 150, and no business class at all. The plane was new and clean, with comfy blue leather seats.

Highlight: There were a couple of Buddhist monks boarding the flight with us! I was surprised to see them flying, as I thought monks had to live a more modest earthly existence… then again, flying with low-fares airlines is pretty much the most modest way to travel nowadays anyway, as it’s often even cheaper than taking the bus.

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Bangkok’s main airport has some nice decorations.

What I would do differently next time: Tigerair doesn’t provide any entertainment on board – not even big shared screens. So I would make sure that my laptop battery was well charged instead of practically empty…

Food served: None was given for free (not even water), as is typical 0f no-frills carriers. Luckily we were not hungry at all, as we had just visited the Louis’ Tavern CIP First Class Lounge at Bangkok airport’s Concourse A that served pasta, puff pastries and cookies.

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Thanks for yet another lounge visit, Priority Pass!

Turbulence: None. Yay! I’m not a fan…

Price: We bought a one-way ticket from Bangkok to Perth through the Tigerair website, which included a 12-hour layover in Singapore. The price of this entire ticket was around $180 per person so about $90 per flight. This whole ticket could have maybe been been cheaper since we had to pay $20 extra for checked-in luggage that we didn’t even have. For some reason Tigerair’s website didn’t allow me to book the flight without luggage – maybe because our second flight was with Scoot Airlines and not Tiger? Who knows…

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Some parts of the Singapore airport are so pretty!

Miles earned: None, though I could have earned some Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer miles from this flight: Tigerair awards KrisFlyer miles to people who buy their Flexicombo fare. However, I didn’t think it was worth paying an extra 50 Singapore dollars (around $37) just so I could earn a measly 60 miles. Even if you get the Flexicombo fare and the miles, these Tigerair flights won’t count towards elite qualification. This means you can’t get silver or gold status with Singapore Airlines by flying one of these low-fares subsidiaries. As is mentioned in the terms and conditions, “Only KrisFlyer Elite miles earned on Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Star Alliance partner airlines, Virgin Australia*, and Virgin Atlantic^ will count towards KrisFlyer Elite Silver and KrisFlyer Elite Gold membership.”

Overall experience: OK.

 

Flight 4/15: Tokyo to Bangkok

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I take during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling.

Airline: ANA, which stands for All Nippon Airways

Date: May 13, 2016

Type of plane: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

Duration of the flight: 6 hours

Delays: Nope

General info: ANA is the largest Japanese air carrier. When you enter or exit any of their aircrafts, they play this soothing boarding music that aviation blogger Ben Schlappig calls “the second classiest thing in the world.” The tune is really catchy and peaceful at the same time. You can listen to it here, but start from 01:50 as that’s where the music seemed to start onboard. Our flight was from Tokyo’s Haneda to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport (I know – that’s probably the most difficult airport name in the world!).

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The business class was the usual size – not gigantic as in our earlier flight from NYC to Tokyo.

What was special about this plane: It was a fairly new-seeming Boeing Dreamliner. This was my first time flying a Dreamliner, as far as I can remember. It was definitely a pleasant experience. Dreamliners apparently have all sorts of extra benefits, such as having more cabin humidity which helps you avoid getting dry eyes or headaches.

Highlight: I managed to sleep for almost the entire flight! We were pretty exhausted after sleeping for just a few hours at a capsule hotel in Tokyo. Not that there was anything wrong with Kiba Hotel – that place was great and it was nice and cool inside the capsule. Instead it was the darn jet lag that awoke us after just a few hours of shut-eye. Well, at least it meant that I could visit the hotel jacuzzi early in the morning. And sleeping through a flight is always nice as it makes the time pass quicker.

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What I would do differently next time: As with the earlier ANA flight, the TV shows offered on the personal screen were pretty basic. It would be good to bring alternative entertainment options like books or downloaded TV shows (though I was happy to sleep).

Food served: We were only served one meal during the flight, which was lunch. Again we got a menu from which to choose: The Asian option was simmered freshwater eel with eggs, served over steamed rice,IMG_7710 and the Western fare was roasted chicken with basil flavor. I chose the chicken, though I had a bite of my boyfriend’s eel meal and that was clearly the better choice.

Turbulence: Just a tad.

Price: This flight was part of a super cheap flight deal to Thailand that I scored a while back through Secret Flying (my favorite website!). We basically got roundtrips from New York to Bangkok for $375, with stops in Tokyo both ways and Chicago on the way back. Strangely, this “roundtrip” finishes in Montreal instead of New York, so it’s actually a multi-destination ticket. Either way, it works well for us since Montreal has direct flights back to Guadeloupe.

Miles earned: This second section of the trip, Tokyo to Bangkok, netted us 1,425 airline miles with Air Canada’s AeroPlan program. I chose to bank the points to Air Canada as our tickets were in booking class K, which earns no airline miles at all on Singapore Airlines (my usual Star Alliance program of choice). Also, it would earn very few miles on United because United gives airline miles based on the price you paid instead of the distance flown. These types of revenue-based programs are no good when you fly long distances on discounted tickets (thus I don’t credit my flights to the programs of Delta, United and soon American Airlines).

Overall experience: Solid great ANA quality.

 

 

 

 

 

Flight 3/15: New York to Tokyo

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I take during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling.

Airline: ANA, which stands for All Nippon Airways

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It was a beautiful day at JFK –  it was almost a shame to fly out!

Date: May 11, 2016

Type of plane: Boeing 777-300ER

Duration of the flight: 13 hours, making it our single longest flight of this Ultimate Flight Marathon

Delays: We took off around 45 minutes later than planned, but were able to make up for it during the flight. So we landed only about 15 minutes behind schedule.

General info: ANA is the largest Japanese air carrier, which calls itself “The Inspiration of Japan.” When you enter the aircraft, they play this soothing boarding music that aviation blogger Ben Schlappig calls “the second classiest thing in the world.” The tune is really catchy and peaceful at the same time. You can listen to it here, but start from 01:50 as that’s where the music seemed to start onboard. Our flight was from New York’s JFK airport to Tokyo’s Narita.

What was special about this plane: The first and business class sections were huge compared to the economy! I guess there are a lot of business people traveling between New York and Tokyo, and less leisure travelers. Non-Asians were definitely a minority on this plane – there were only a few of us in economy. Most passengers seemed to be Japanese, and the announcements were always made in Japanese first.

Highlight: There was free wifi for 15 minutes! It’s available on all flights operated with B777-300ER or B767-300ER (202 seat configuration). You can buy access for about $20 for the duration of the whole flight.

Also, upon trying to recline my seat, I noticed something strange –the seat cushion that I was sitting on started moving forward while the seatback stayed put. This was monumental! It meant that reclining my seat didn’t bother the person behind me at all, and there was no risk of me breaking her laptop by reclining my seat too fast (nor of anyone doing that to my laptop, which is a constant concern for me on planes). The forward-moving cushion created a nice recline. The only thing was that I had a bit less space for my legs but it wasn’t a big change. I wish all airlines did this!

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Another highlight was flying over these snowy mountains of Northern Canada.

What I would do differently next time: Downloading some new episodes of TV shows onto my laptop could have been a good thing to do, as the in-flight TV entertainment options were pretty old. We had personal screens as is typical for long distance planes, but the pickings were slim: There was only one episode of Modern Family, which is my favorite show to watch while flying (in fact I’ve never seen it outside of a plane) and also only one of New Girl. And those episodes were from the first seasons of those shows! That’s pretty lame. There was also one ancient Friends episode. But at least the movies were more up to date – I watched Zoolander 2, which was crazy and hilarious.

Food served: Our plane left around noon, and soon after departure we were served rice crackers and drinks (including wine). About an hour later we were given a menu with two lunch options to choose from: grilled Spanish mackerel with miso paste, and beef and pork meatball with onion sauce.

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I ate my meal with chopsticks, and only realized later on that the fork and knife were hiding under all the other stuff on my tray.

As you can see, I chose the latter option and it was pretty yummy for airplane food. It was branded the “Western meal” and was served with bread unlike the other meal. But randomly the Western meal is the only one that came with a wasabi sauce pack. Everyone got a cup of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Right before landing we were served breakfast. The options were shrimp and baby scallop pasta with marinara sauce, and sautéed chicken with Chinese-style barbeque sauce. I took the chicken, which came with bread – indicating that this was the Western meal again. Well, I guess Chinese food is pretty standard in the West nowadays so that works. Haha. The taste was just okay.

Turbulence: Only minor. Already forgotten.

Price: This flight was part of a super cheap flight deal to Thailand that I scored a while back through Secret Flying (my favorite website!). We basically got a roundtrip from New York to Bangkok for $375, with stops in Tokyo both ways and Chicago on the way back. Strangely, this “roundtrip” finishes in Montreal instead of New York, so it’s actually an open jaw multi-destination ticket. Either way, it works well for us since Montreal has direct flights back to Guadeloupe.

Miles earned: This first section of the trip, New York to Tokyo, netted us 3,366 airline miles with Air Canada’s Aeroplan program. I chose to bank the points to Air Canada as our tickets were in booking class K, which earns no airline miles at all on Singapore Airlines’ Krisflyer (my usual Star Alliance program of choice). Also, it would earn very few miles on United’s MileagePlus because United gives airline miles based on the price you paid instead of the distance flown. These types of revenue-based programs are no good when you fly long distances on discounted tickets (thus I don’t credit my flights to the programs of Delta, United and soon American Airlines).

Overall experience: Awesome! I would happily fly ANA any time. The 13 hours went by in a relative breeze and off we went to enjoy our 20-hour layover in Tokyo.

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The Sensoji Temple area was our main sightseeing destination in Tokyo.

 

 

Flight 2/15: San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I take during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling.

Airline: American Airlines

Date: May 7, 2016

Type of plane: Boeing 737-823

Duration of the flight: 4 hours

Delays: None

General info: As everyone knows, American Airlines is one of the three major legacy carriers of the United States. From my experience, many of their planes tend to be on the older side so things like personal screens are a luxury you shouldn’t expect to get. This flight landed at New York’s JFK. Being a thrifty traveler, I usually get to the city by taking the B15 bus to New Lots Avenue and by hopping on the 3 train from there. This way the airport trip costs just $2.75! The savings from the AirTrain might be just $5 at a time, but given how many times I do this airport trip every year, it all adds up. Also, taking the bus directly to the 3 train often ends up being the fastest option for me anyway.

What was special about this plane: Nothing really. It’s the basic Boeing that is used on tons of American Airlines flights around the United States. However, what was special before this flight was that I was all alone while clearing US immigration in Puerto Rico as I was the first to exit my plane from Guadeloupe and I guess no other planes had landed the same time. It was amazing not to have to stand in line for an hour, as is usual when entering the US via bigger airports (here’s looking at you, Miami!). However, I did encounter a slight delay after the customs guy asked me if I had any checked bags. When I answered no, he said I had been selected for a “random inspection” and had to step aside for a thorough bag check-up and questioning. How random can it be when I was the only person around? Haha. But somehow it seems unfair that I constantly get singled out because of traveling with only hand luggage. 😦 So this inspection took another 5-10 minutes, but overall it was a very smooth airport transfer, and flight as well.

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It was such a pretty day to be flying over the Caribbean.

Highlight: It was a really beautiful day and the clouds were floating super high in the sky. This meant that we flew below them instead of above, and I had an unobstructed view of the flat-looking blue sea under us. It looked really pretty. It also made me feel a little weak in the knees to see how incredibly high we were. This is a sensation that I don’t get a lot, as I’m usually not afraid of heights.

What I would do differently next time: I would have earplugs handy. The TV screens in the middle of the plane started blasting at full volume at one point, and I was worried we would be subjected to this noise for the duration of the trip. Luckily the TV went back to silent after the annoying ads ended.

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There’s the communal TV, blasting as loud as ever during commercials.

Food served: We got a bag of the savory snack mix and a choice of a non-alcoholic beverage. Luckily I wasn’t hungry at all, as I had just visited the Global Lounge at the San Juan airport. I’m happy to report that Global Lounge’s food offerings have improved since my last visit in November! Instead of just cereal and crackers, this time they had actual ham and cheese sandwiches, veggies and dip, and even a yummy-looking fruit salad. Sadly looks can be deceiving: the fruits tasted old already, so I decided it was best not to finish the bowl I took.

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It looked good… but didn’t taste so fresh at all.

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The Global Lounge is one of my favorite lounges due to its simple but trendy decor.

 

Turbulence: At first the flight was super smooth, but then there was intense turbulence for 10 minutes. It made me think twice about undertaking this Ultimate Flight Project. :/ No matter how much I fly, I have yet to feel comfortable during turbulence.

Price: As I explained during my first flight review, this was the second flight of the two that made up my one-way ticket from Guadeloupe to NYC. The total price of this ticket was $220, which I covered by using Thank You points from Citibank.

Miles earned: 1,597 miles, deposited into the American Airlines AAdvantage program. These are the final days for me to utilize the American Airlines program though: I’m switching my miles-accruing over to the Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan soon. This is because in mid-June AA is changing their award program to be revenue-based (following in the footsteps of Delta and United). That doesn’t work well for people like myself who tend to fly long distances for fairly cheap fares. Under the new system I would only get 1,100 AA points for this trip that currently gives me 1,900 miles. On longer trips this difference in earned miles is even more striking. Boohoo!

Overall experience: It was OK.

Happy 90th birthday, Finnair!

Finnair, the trusty airline of my home country, is celebrating a big birthday this year. Only 10 years to go until the BIG 100! Woohoo! 🙂 In January Finnair was named the world’s safest airline in 2012.

While just five years ago I didn’t have any particular ties to Finnair,  nowadays I have quite a lot: in 2011, I was selected as one of the seven Quality Hunters bloggers traveling on Finnair for seven weeks. That gig saw me zoom from New York to Europe, Japan and India in my own personal record speed. I also now have a couple of friends who work at Finnair as flight attendants.

In addition, I’m a frequent contributor to Blue Wings, Finnair’s in-flight magazine, where I’m currently in charge of compiling the monthly calendar of events. So if you are flying with blue and white wings anytime soon, check out my event recommendations under the “This Month Around the World” pages. My favorite event for this month is the breakfast buffet festival for monkeys in Lopburi, Thailand. Would love to check it out one day. 🙂

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With all these Finnair connections I’ve got going on, it was only suitable that Blue Wings asked me to write an article about Finnair’s 90th birthday – but to do it from the perspective of the passengers. Without the passengers, there would be no Finnair. So back in July I spent a day at the Helsinki Airport interviewing families and individuals for the story (and visiting the Book Swap that I helped create!). The point of the article was to show who flies with Finland’s national airline, and what they think about it.

Though I had to get up super early to get to the airport by the time the 6 a.m. rush starts, it was a really fun day of reporting. I was roaming around the airport together with photographer Tuomas Kolehmainen and our Finnair liason Markku Remes. Markku and I worked together during the Quality Hunters project too, so it was nice to catch up again. We met tons of interesting people, from international business men to Croatia’s official athletic team and Finland-loving Japanese tourists.

And here’s the result! The article is a pretty cool-looking three-page spread in the November issue of Blue Wings that is just now hitting the seat-back pockets of every Finnair flight from Hong Kong to New York. So if you are flying with the airline this month, keep an eye out for my story and my calendar. You can also read the latest issue online here (scroll to pages 24-25 for the birthday story that is pasted below, and to pages 64-65 for the start of my events listings. Just so you know – “sivu” means page in Finnish.). Hope you like reading the story as much as I liked reporting it!

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Have you flown with Finnair? What was your experience like?

The Helsinki Airport Book Swap: From a random idea to reality

Back in the fall of 2011 I was on a 10-hour plane ride with Finnair, flying from Japan back to Helsinki, when I finished a book I had been reading for a few weeks. It may have been Pico Iyer’s colorful Video Night in Kathmandu, or Rusty Young’s Marching Powder, a novel set in the infamous Bolivian prison of San Pedro that I visited in 2008. I can’t remember for sure.

But I do remember thinking, “I wish there was a book swap at Helsinki Airport so that I could switch this book for another one before my next flight.” And thus I posted this suggestion on the Quality Hunters blog (at the time I was working as one of eight QH travel bloggers hired by Finnair and Finavia):

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Much to my surprise, the blog readers liked the idea, as did Finnair and Finavia. The book swap became reality in the spring of 2012! Hurray! It’s located next to departure gate 27, up the stairs toward the Fly Inn Restaurant & Deli.

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Even though the stylish Airport Book Swap has been around for more than a year, I only witnessed it with my own eyes two weeks ago. That’s because over the past year I’ve merely flown into HEL, not out of there. Luckily now I was at the airport working on a story for Finnair’s in-flight magazine Blue Wings, and I finally got the chance to see my little pet project in real life. Finnair’s own Markku Remes, a familiar face from my Quality Hunting days, showed me the place and I even left a book there. The space was really cute and cozy, it was great to see that it turned out so well! I will definitely go hang out there next time I’m flying somewhere. I hope you’ll do the same if you are ever stopping by HEL!

Have you visited the Helsinki Airport Book Swap? What do you think about the idea?

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