Tuesday, December 17, 2013

14 Hours in Singapore

My flight landed in Singapore after midnight and my connecting flight to Penang left the next afternoon. So I had about 14 hours or so in Singapore. Changi airport terminal 2 was very busy with people everywhere. The taxi queue was huge so I went to the opposite side of the terminal that wasn't busy and walked right to a taxi to the Hilton Singapore. The ride at that time of day was very short and no more than 20 minutes. When I arrived at the hotel the place was empty because it was about 1:30am. They gave me a room on the top floor which I think was the 22nd floor. I had a balcony and a great view of Orchard Road. After a good night's sleep, I woke up to this view from my balcony.

I had breakfast in the restaurant and decided to walk around the hotel. I only had a few hours left before checking out and heading back to the airport. I found the pool deck on the 6th or 7th floor and it is pretty nice.

I took a little walk around Orchard Road and into a couple of shopping malls. If you have never been to Singapore, you should know that Orchard Road is nothing but shopping mall after shopping mall. I didn't buy anything because I just wanted to walk around. It was very warm and humid that morning and there was a light rain, but it soon stopped. Actually every time I have been to Singapore, it has rained off and on most days.

This is a view of my hotel from across and down the street. The Hilton is an older hotel and does not have an atrium design like so many large hotels in Singapore have.

When I needed to leave the hotel for the airport, I caught a taxi and didn't hit any traffic at all. I was flying out of Terminal 2 again and checked in for my flight in a matter of minutes. I was about 3 hours early for my flight so I completely explored all of the terminal. Before I went through passport control, I had to take a picture of the flight information display because I love these. I love looking at these almost as much as I like looking at maps.

Changi airport has a ton to offer. It is regularly on top airports in the world lists because there is so much to do. Besides amazing shopping, of course it's Singapore, Terminal 2 has several areas to watch TV in big comfy chairs. There is free wifi everywhere. There is a movie theater. There are tons of restaurants and cafes. There is a spa and gym. There are gardens indoors and outdoors. You almost forget that you are in an airport. Orchids are my favorite flower and there is a beautiful orchid garden in one area of the terminal.

On the upper level near the gaming computers and movie theater, there is a sunflower garden out on the observation deck. With the heat and humidity, I'm sure it's very easy to grow anything in Singapore. I didn't spend too much time in the sunflower garden because it was so hot and the direct sun is so strong.

There are great views of planes and the runway from the sunflower garden. I could've spent forever there had it been about 20 degrees cooler.

This is the Silkair A319 that would take me to Penang, Malaysia. A Cathay 777 just landed behind it.

Once my flight took off we made a hard turn back around over the airport and this was my last view of Singapore Changi airport.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Journey on ANA "firsts" - LAX to Tokyo Narita to Singapore

I flew ANA (All Nippon Airways) from LAX to SIN (Singapore) via ANA's hub at NRT (Tokyo Narita). After walking around the new LAX international terminal (TBIT) I found the gate for my flight NH005 to Tokyo. My gate was the very last corner gate on the north end of the old part of the terminal. Unfortunately I could not get a good picture of my plane, but when I disembarked in Tokyo I realized that I was on a special ANA jet. It was painted in the Star Alliance livery and it was the very first 777-300ER that ANA took delivery of many years ago. I did not take this photo, but this is the exact plane I flew the very next day in San Francisco.

Boarding was very quick and efficient in true Japanese form. The seating on the ANA 777-300ER is 2x4x3. I was on the aisle in the middle group of 4 and thankfully no one was sitting next to me. So I had a lot of room to stretch my legs and I was never bothered by anyone trying to get out of their seat. Soon after takeoff the flight attendants came around with a drink and snack service. Their rice crackers are really good. 

Soon after the snacks came around the meal service started. They had a choice of a Japanese meal or an International meal, which looked very western. They hand each passenger this laminated menu card so you can just point to the one you want.

Of course I ordered the Japanese meal with some red wine. The miso soup and the soba noodles were so good.

The flight was about 11.5 hours long and I didn't sleep at all. I watched 3 movies, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim, and The Lone Ranger. I also watched a documentary on the late Senator Daniel Inoyue and some other TV shows. About 2 hours before we landed they came around with another meal service. I had the breakfast even though we landed around 5:00pm. Many flights to Tokyo serve breakfast before you land even though you always land in the afternoon or evening. I've never understood it. Under the pineapple jam is a soggy waffle. It was ok.

This is a picture of our route on the very large personal TV with about 1.5 - 2 hours left until we reach Tokyo.

Once the plane got to the gate and I got off the plane I had only about 50 minutes to connect to my flight to Singapore. In the jetway I saw this board with my name at the top. I guess since the connection was short ANA wanted to make sure we all got to where we needed to be. As is customary in Narita if you are making a connection, you have to clear security again and then you are let back into the terminal. I would guess that 90% or more of the plane was not connecting. They kept us there until all 5 of us showed up and then we were escorted to security. There was absolutely nothing special about this, so I have no idea what purpose this served, but it was a nice gesture I guess.

Since the connection was so short, I did not go to the ANA lounge, which is one of my favorite places ever. I will have a chance again on the way back through Narita when I go back home. When I found my gate on the flight information screens I realized that my gate was on the lower level, which meant that the plane was parked remotely and we had to take a bus to the plane. The only good thing about doing that is that you get to walk right up to the plane. I knew I was on a 787, but I didn't know which one. ANA has a bunch of 787s now and this is a picture of the one I flew on. This is ANA's very first 787 and they were also the launch customer for the new 787, hence the special paint scheme. Only their first two 787s look like this.

When I got off the bus and saw the tail number I realized that I was on the very first 787, which was certainly a treat for me. I took a bunch of pictures as I walked up to the plane, but none of them were that great.

I wanted to take a picture of the wing but unfortunately the lighting inside the plane made it tough to get a nice picture. My seat was a bulkhead aisle seat at the third door back. There was someone sitting next to me this time but I had a lot of legroom, which was nice. The tail of the plane next to us looks like the winglet of my plane.

Flight NH901 to Singapore was just shy of 7 hours long. By this time I was really tired and had a difficult time keeping my eyes open since it was the equivalent of 1:00am for me. They had a dinner service and I was set to get the Japanese meal again, but it was conger eel and I am not a fan of the little bones. So I had the western choice which was ok. The entertainment system on ANA is really good but they edit some of the language which sucked. I don't remember if I watched any movies but I do remember watching some short shows on Japanese food and culture.

One of the times I got up to use the bathroom right by me at door 3, I realized that this toilet had the little washer things that many Japanese places have. I have never seen this on an airplane, so I took a picture of it. The bathroom at the back of the plane didn't have this feature.

The flight arrived after midnight and the Singapore Changi airport was surprisingly busy. ANA is a very good airline I would gladly fly them internationally any day of the week. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal

I recently took a trip to Southeast Asia for a conference and flew out of the new Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX. I've seen pictures online and saw the news coverage when it opened, but somewhere in me either I didn't believe the hype or something. Boy was I pleasantly surprised. The old TBIT structure still exists and you still go through the horrible security, then through the old halls and into greatness once you enter the new building. I have access to the Star Alliance Lounge so I went there first. It is a few levels up and this was the view before entering.

This is the view of the lounge just outside its entrance. It is a really nice facility that has a really open feeling. This is the "outdoor" part, but there really is an outside patio too. I don't really like taking photos of airline lounges because I feel weird especially when it is packed with people, and this time it was pretty full. So I don't have any pictures of the inside of the lounge, but it is quite nice and rivals some of the nicer ones I've been to in Asia.

This is the view from the actual outdoor patio. They have music playing and it really has the feeling of a rooftop bar or restaurant except that I was the only person out there. The old TBIT building is visible here and eventually will be removed because there are already gates built right behind it that connect to the new part.

After some breakfast pastries and coffee I wanted to walk around and see the rest of the terminal since I was about to embark on a 20+ hour journey. The atmosphere is so nice and airy. There are a bunch of restaurants and shops, it's like being in a real international airport.

These columns are so cool and they change patterns and pictures every few seconds. They are located on either side of the main hall with food and shops on the way to the gates.

Here's an Asiana 747-400 getting ready to go back to Seoul. This gate is located at the very south end of the terminal.

This Korean Air A380-800 is also getting ready to go back to Seoul. It was parked at a gate that was more near the center of the terminal. Just about every gate on that side can hold an A380.

I can't wait to fly out of this terminal again, and I think I would now go out of my way to choose an airline that flies out of this terminal at LAX.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hack your airport transportation

One of the worst parts about traveling happens before you even arrive at the airport. It's how you get to the airport. If you aren't lucky enough to have someone take you or pick you up from the airport, then you need to find an option that is going to cost you. Most of the time those shared van shuttles are really inconvenient because they want to pick you up like 4 hours before your flight. Who wants to do that? They aren't cheap either especially when you have more than one person. From where I live to LAX would cost over $50+tip for one person and over $75 for 2 people. I have found that the cheapest option to LAX is also the most convenient, but it takes some planning and patience.

So for my transportation to LAX I always do a one-way car rental from a non-airport Avis location. The rate is regularly around $40. I have to pick up the car the day before but some neighborhood locations will pick you up if you call them and ask. The one near me is close so I can usually find someone to drop me off. Once I have my car I can leave my house when I need to and then return the car to the LAX Avis location. Then I take their shuttle to the terminal. Super simple. 

Getting home from the airport can be a little more tricky, but it is still cheaper than the shuttles. The problem is that if you rent a car from LAX you will have to pay a ton of airport taxes. I found that Budget is usually the cheapest, but still can be around $50. My newest find is an Avis location that is not the official LAX branch, but is next door to Dollar. So you take the Dollar rental bus from the terminal and then when you arrive at Dollar you walk about 100 yards to a "neighborhood" Avis location. Because it is considered a neighborhood location, you don't pay the ridiculous airport fees. I recently paid $41(the LAX Avis would've been $80) for a much more convenient and inexpensive ride home from LAX.

Monday, September 2, 2013

United Debacle to our Nation's Capital

On August 8, 2013, we had a flight from LAX to Washington DC National Airport through Chicago O'hare on United Airlines. When I fly out of LAX I usually rent a car one way from a local Avis location, which is cheaper than paying for a shuttle for even one person to LAX. Our flight was scheduled to leave LAX at 12:15pm. I had returned the rental by 11:00am which I thought was plenty of time to get the shuttle to the terminal, check in, and make our flight. United is the last shuttle stop at the airport and this made us a little late. We were able to check in at the Premier desk at Terminal 7. The kiosk would not allow us to check our luggage because we were within 45 minutes of departure time. They would not budge and they had to rebook us on the next flight. They could not find 2 seats to DCA for the rest of the day so we suggested they try to get us to Washington Dulles. They actually had nonstop flights to Dulles but considering our hotel and rental car were at Washington National, getting us to the wrong airport in the right city wasn't all that helpful. They gave us confirmed seats on a flight that left at 5:00p over 5 hours later. We were able to try to standby on a flight that left at 1:15p. So the entire rebooking process took over 40 minutes because the agent didn't know how to do it. She had to get help from 2 other people. I don't see how that is a better alternative to just letting us go on the original. We didn't end up making the standby flight because we were too low on the standby list. So we spent about 2 hours at the United Club in Terminal 7 while I cancelled and rebooked hotels and rental car from National to Dulles. Around 3:00p we grabbed a bite to eat at B Grill. Our flight was scheduled to leave out of Terminal 6 so we made our way over there and waited at the United Club, which was right next to our gate. 

The United Club in Terminal 6 is the old Continental President's Club. 

Our flight was supposed to leave at 5:10p but was delayed. It came in late from Denver and set us back almost an hour. 

This is the 757-200 that would take us to Washington Dulles.

It parked right outside the window where I was sitting.

I was able to sit in the exit row bulkhead seat with tons of room, but no window. 

We arrived at Dulles around 1:30am to a terminal that had not a single person in it. The inter-terminal train wasn't even running and it took forever for it to come get us to and take us to the main terminal to get our bags. This is a look at the really modern undercarriage of the main terminal and above the train station.

After arriving incredibly early in the morning, we finally got to sleep at the Embassy Suites Dulles around 3:00am.

Our last night in DC was spent at the Capital Hilton that is about 3 blocks from the White House. This is the plaque as you enter the building. 

The hotel lobby is quite nice and bright. The hotel feels old, but the rooms are nice and modern.

This is the valet area right along the street. 

The next morning we got an early start before we had to get our flight out of DCA. We walked from the Hilton past the White House and the Washington Mounument, which is being refurbished. We walked across the Mall past the WWII memorial and made our way to the MLK memorial, which is also being refurbished. I really like this monument and it is right along the water of the Tidal Basin. 

There are a bunch of MLK quotes lining the walls of the monument.

After seeing the MLK memorial we walked along the Tidal Basin to the FDR memorial, which I had never seen before. It's also a really great one to see and you can't see any of it from the street. Perhaps it's a metaphor for FDR's presidency since many people didn't know about his health condition, yet he was president for 4 terms. It's a really impressive memorial with some wonderful quotes. 

From there we walked to the Jefferson Memorial that is also along the Tidal Basin. The view from the Jefferson is my favorite and at nighttime it is even better. It's my favorite because it was the very first monument I visited the very first time I went to DC when my dad first took me when I was in high school. 

It took about 3 hours or so to walk around to those monuments and back to the Hilton. Our flight didn't leave until 5:45p so we requested a late checkout. They gave us until 2:00p. Even then we would have a long wait at the airport until the flight left. We returned the car and found our terminal eventually. The United Club at DCA is not easy to find and it's not located on any terminal map. It's right at the very end of the B terminal and up a level. It's not a very large lounge but it's totally retro and awesome. It's right out of a scene of the movie "The Aviator." The views are awesome and I enjoyed watching TV and planes come and go for about 3 hours. This was the A320 that would take us to Chicago O'hare. 

This was the view from my seat. 

Here's a shot of a retro US Airways plane in the Piedmont livery.

The bulkhead seats are great because the wall doesn't go all the way down and you can put your bag down there and not up in overhead bin.

The flight to O'hare was about 2 hours long and this is the 777 that was parked next to my window at the United Club.

The connecting flight back to Orange County was on a 757 and once again I had a seat in the front bulkhead exit row with no view. I only had a view of the first class cabin and the wall in front of me with my Jim Abbott book. The inflight movie was Iron Man 3. This was a late evening flight and we arrived at almost 10:00p.

Then it was back to work the very next morning.