Category Archives: Travel

Flight Review: Etihad Airways First Class Apartment A380 AUH to JFK

A couple of notes about this flight. First, there’s pre-clearance at Abu Dhabi, which means that you essentially clear immigration in Abu Dhabi and land as a “domestic” flight in the US. This unfortunately means that you have to leave the wonderful first class lounge much earlier than you normally would. Past pre-clearance, there’s a pretty basic lounge that’s too crowded (since all premium class passengers have access), so don’t leave too early.

Second, the flight leaves in the middle of the night (posted departure time for my flight was 3:20, and it was delayed). I was really struggling to stay awake, so I found this flight a little rough to take.

Third, I had really high expectations for this flight, given that this is supposed to be a revolutionary first class product. While the hard product is pretty great, I was pretty disappointed by the flight overall.

Etihad A380

Boarding was a zoo. There were not nearly enough seats at the gate, and the gate agents had a hard time wrangling people. They also didn’t really do any sort of announcements regarding the fact that the flight was delayed, so they didn’t seem to be managing the situation very well.

This flight was completely full in first class, and the Residence was occupied. This could have contributed to my service issues on this flight, as I don’t think there are enough flight attendants for a completely full cabin. There’s a lot to get done in terms of welcoming people, explaining the features of the “apartment”, giving out pre-departure beverages and dates and coffee, etc, so I felt forgotten most of the time.

That being said, the hard product is pretty cool. There’s a full seat, as well as a couch of sorts that becomes the bed. So there’s tons of space dedicated to each passenger.

Seat

Seat

First class apartment

First class apartment

Arm rest

Seat controls

Lighting

Sofa

In terms of amenities, the pajamas were light, but they didn’t seem to be very high quality, and they didn’t fit very well (I wasn’t given a choice of size). The pants also didn’t have pockets. My favorite airline pajamas are still Cathay Pacific’s PYE pajamas.

First class amenities

Seat

First class cabin

In terms of amenity kit, they provide you with a bag, and they had already taken out all of the amenities and put them into the mirror vanity at each seat. The bag itself did not seem to be all that special.

Vanity and amenity kit

Prior to departure, I received some water, a letter, a wet towel, and dates.

Pre-departure beverage, wet towel, dates

Letter

I’ll also note that we had a delay of an hour and 20 minutes on the plane, but we couldn’t use the in flight entertainment. I also couldn’t use the call button to get anyone’s attention, since the call button is in the IFE remote, which appeared to be disabled on the ground.

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

The tray table is pretty heavy and a bit unwieldy. In terms of storage, there are a couple of drawers, as well as a mini bar with chilled drinks (as opposed to the room temperature drinks you find on Qatar and Emirates). There’s also storage under the couch for bags and larger items.

Tray table

Storage

Storage

First class bed

Underseat storage

Headphones have a magnetic connection

Given how exhausted I was, I went to bed essentially immediately after takeoff. The bed is the couch, so the TV swivels out so you can watch TV in bed if you so wish. The bed is actually not that wide, it’s pretty hard, and you’re tilted slightly sideways because of the tilt of the plane. I felt like there could have been more pillows as well.

Bed

In-flight entertainment screen

Enclosed suite

I woke up much earlier than I wanted because of turbulence and because the cabin was super hot. I asked the flight attendants if they could do anything about the cabin temperature about 5 times, and each time they said they would do something, but nothing ever changed.

At that point, I had breakfast. One thing that’s nice about the separate bed and seat is that you don’t have to eat in bed. Now, the menu says that you can have “eggs made to order”, so I ordered some eggs fried over medium. And then I was told they didn’t have any whole eggs left, but they did have carton eggs, which means I could get eggs either scrambled or in an omelet. Another flight attendant then told me they don’t actually cater whole eggs on US-bound flights, so I don’t know what to believe.

I started off with a pastry basket, which included a croissant, pain au chocolat, and cinnamon snail. The pastries were overheated, so the texture was a bit off.

PastriesMy scrambled eggs came with some hash browns on the side, which were super soggy and oily. At this point, I rang the call button, which just went unanswered (the only other time this has happened to me was on a Qantas first class flight where I essentially had to bus my own dishes because the flight attendants kept ignoring me).

Scrambled eggs

Fruit plate

I ended up taking a shower about two hours prior to landing. Make sure to tell the flight attendant early during boarding when you’d like to shower if it’s a full flight! The shower was easily the best part of the flight, as it makes me feel super refreshed.

Although the bathroom is pretty small, the shower itself was pretty spacious. It’s not as nice or palatial as the Emirates shower, but it’s still amazing, and you get 5 minutes of water.

Bathroom

Shower time

After my shower, I had another meal. Although I had pre-ordered a VGML, the onboard chef told me that the special meal was pretty shitty, so he offered to whip up something better. I started off with some lima beans and dried tomato. Pretty flavorless by itself, but I added some olive oil to give it some taste.

Lima beans and dried tomatoes

I was then brought the green pea and mint soup, which I didn’t order. I don’t think this was intentional, as they later brought me the correct soup. This was fine.

Green pea and mint soup

Next came the soup that I did order, which was the spinach and lentil soup. It was more like a liquidy puree. Originally, I was served this course without a soon, and then the flight attendant gave me some lemon about 10 minutes after they gave me the soup, so I’m not sure if they were supposed to have been served together.

Spinach and green lentil soup

Next up was a grapefruit granita as a palate cleanser. This was super icy and pretty much inedible.

Grapefruit granita

My main was a rice pilaf with ratatouille, garnished with truffle oil. This was pretty tasty, if basic.

Rice pilaf with ratatouille

Finally, I had the “textures” dessert, which was chocolate four ways. This was easily the best thing I ate on the plane.

Chocolate four ways

Honestly, I felt like the service was pretty bad on this flight. I think it’s largely because there weren’t enough flight attendants for the number of passengers and the amount of service that each passenger needed. Like my requests would just go unfulfilled, call buttons would go unanswered, and the flight attendants seemed constantly harried. This seemed like such a stark contrast compared to my wonderful service experience in the First Class lounge. A flight attendant asked me as we were preparing for landing how my flight was, and when she sensed that I wasn’t super impressed with the service, she tried to ply me with sweets.

Tea and sweets

Overall, the hard product is pretty fun. It’s nice to have an “apartment” (even if it’s gimmicky), and it’s great to have a shower on board. That being said, I find Cathay Pacific’s bed to be more comfortable (and Lufthansa’s old separate seat and bed in first class on the 747 to be the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in on a plane), and Emirates has a better shower. The biggest let down on this flight was the service, but I think that was a function more of the completely full first class cabin (including the Residence), rather than the flight attendants themselves. So not a stellar flight due to the bad service, but it’s fun to try.

Lounge Review: Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport (AUH)

My next stop during my layover at AUH was the Etihad Airways First Class Lounge and Spa. This visit happened just a couple of weeks after this lounge opened.

Entrance to the Etihad First Class Lounge and Spa

The lounge isn’t enormous like the Qatar Airways Al Safwa lounge or the Emirates First Class lounge in Dubai, but it’s tastefully appointed and has plenty of awesome amenities.

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

Lounging areas

Lounge area

Lounge seating

They’ll serve you food just about anywhere, and they specifically have a bar/lounge food menu. There’s also a limited self-service food station, but there are people roaming around the lounge who are ready to take your order and bring you food wherever you are.

Bar

Self-service food

Self-service food

Self-service drinks

There’s also a cigar room, a workout area, and a spa. During my layover, I had a shave at the spa.

Cigars

Cigar room

Cigar menu

Spa area

Workout room

Workout room

Shower room

The most impressive part of my visit was the dining room. Mostly because the service was impeccable. I was told that during the first couple of months that the lounge was open, they actually had flight crew serve as staff in the lounge to ensure a high level of service.

Dining area

Dining area

Dining area

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

First, I had a snack before I sat in the dining room proper. I asked for the spring rolls vegetarian and some sweet potato fries. Both were pretty good.

Vegetarian spring rolls and sweet potato fries

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

I then had a proper meal in the dining room. I didn’t see much on the main food menu that appealed to me, and the server essentially asked me what I wanted to eat and she’d tell the chef to whip me up something catered to my liking.

First, I was served a confit of asparagus and roasted baby beets. It could have used some salt and acid, but I was impressed by the effort.

Confit of asparagus and roasted baby beets

Prior to the next course, I was served an intermezzo of a mango sorbet palate cleanser. Not really necessary after my first course, but that’s the level of formality of the lounge dining room.

My entree was a vegetable curry with rice and bread. It was pretty tasty! Probably the best savory thing I ate all day.

Vegetable curry with rice and bread

For dessert, I had the chocolate sponge cake with salted caramel ice cream and a fruit plate. Both were presented beautifully.

Chocolate sponge cake with salted caramel ice cream

Fruit plate

And since I’m gluttonous, I also helped myself to a number of the self-serve dessert options. These were all fine and considerably better than the self-serve dessert options at the Qatar Airways Al Safwa lounge.

Dessert

Overall, it’s not the most outwardly fancy lounge, but the dining options are terrific, the service was incredible, and there are cool amenities like a spa, workout room, and cigar room.

Lounge Review: Etihad Airways Premium Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport (AUH)

My first stop during my transit of Abu Dhabi airport was the Etihad Premium Lounge. This lounge is open to business class passengers flying on Etihad.

Entrance to Etihad Premium Lounge

The lounge has all of the typical amenities of a business class lounge: plenty of seating, a business center, dining area, and bar. In addition, there are also some more novel amenities like a spa (that you have to pay for). The lounge is quite large, so there are plenty of places to sit.

Business area

Six Senses Spa

Sofa seating

Lounge seating

Dining area

Although the lounge isn’t the fanciest business class lounge I’ve been in (that would probably be Cathay Pacific’s Pier or maybe Emirates’ Business Class lounge), I was pretty impressed by the extensive food options in this lounge. The food options just seemed to go on and on. There’s everything from sushi to pandan jelly, so you’re bound to find something that appeals to you.

Sushi

Olives and pickles

Hot food

Hot food

Salads and mezze

Bakery items

Butter

Cheese, yogurt

Salads

Hot food

Bar

Dessert

Dessert

Dessert

Fruit

Dessert

Dessert

Sandwiches

Overall, it’s a solid business class lounge with quite extensive food options.

Flight Review: Qatar Airways First Class A320 DOH to AUH

For remote gates (C20 to C29), you can take an elevator from the first class lounge directly to a premium bus transfer. But you do have to wait for all of the first class passengers before the bus will leave.

Elevator in the lounge

Premium bus transfer

Qatar A320

On the flight, most of the first class cabin was occupied by a woman, her four kids, and her two nannies. I guess that’s why there’s a nanny room in the first class lounge.

First class seat on A320

Menus were distributed along with cold towels and pre-departure beverages. There was also a round of Arabic coffee and dates.

Menu

Drink menu

I’m always impressed by how much service happens on short flights on non-American carriers. On this ~40 minute flight, there was a full meal service, while you might not even get a drink service on an American carrier. There were 2-3 flight attendants working furiously in a tight space to get everything done, and some of the passengers were very demanding.

I had pre-ordered a special meal (VGML), which was some cold chickpeas, cauliflower, peas, tomatoes, and cauliflower puree with some fruit for dessert. It wasn’t great, but it’s pretty impressive for such a short flight.

Special meal VGML

Overall, first class on Qatar within the Middle East is pretty awesome. You get access to the Al Safwa lounge, and it’s an impressive amount of service for such a short flight.

Lounge Review: Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha Airport (DOH)

I’ve reviewed Qatar’s business class Al Mourjan airport lounge before at Doha, but this was my first visit to Qatar’s first class Al Safwa lounge.

As I stepped off my previous flight from Guangzhou, I was met by a person with my name on my sign. This person escorted me through transit security (and let me cut in front of everyone) and took me to the Al Safwa First Class lounge.

Escalator up to the lounge

The lounge is absolutely stunning. It’s an incredible space, and it feels like a museum. In fact, they even had pieces on loan from the Museum of Islamic Art on display!

Al Safwa first class lounge

The lounge is very large, and it has a lot of different seating areas. When I was there, almost everyone was sitting in the semi-private seats near the (very large) dining room, but there’s a lot more space to the lounge.

First class lounge seating

First class lounge seating

These seemed to be popular seats.

First class lounge seating

First class lounge fountain

Pieces on loan from Museum of Islamic Art

Art

First, there’s an outdoor terrace (by outdoor, I mean open to the rest of the terminal). It wasn’t as well air-conditioned out there, which is perhaps why no one was sitting there, but there’s a lot more seating out on this terrace.

Seating

Terrace space

Drinks

Seating

Seating

Seating

Within the lounge, they have private rooms similar to the ones they have in the business class lounge. These rooms have a sofa and seat and TV. This is perhaps somewhere to nap if all of the hotel-style private rooms are taken.

Private room

Private room

There are also rooms for children and nannies. I did not see anyone utilizing these rooms while I was in the lounge, but they are there.

Nanny room

Nanny room

Rooms for children

Rooms for children

It’s not obvious to me that any of these consoles actually worked…

Rooms for children

Rooms for children

In terms of dining, there are a couple of options. First, there’s a very large dining area that has some self-serve options as well as table service.

Bar

Dining table

Dining area

Baklava tower

Arabic coffee

Meat and cheese

Desserts

Fruit

Breakfast menu

I was there for breakfast and lunch. The breakfast options seemed pretty basic for a first class lounge.

Fruit plate and bread

After getting some food, I was able to check out one of the true private rooms. Essentially, these are like hotel rooms in the lounge available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Reception

The private rooms are pretty awesome. It’s like having a transit hotel in the middle of the lounge. One of the best perks to any lounge I’ve visited.

Private room

Private room

Bathroom

Hallway of private rooms

There’s also a business center, which was just as beautiful as the rest of the lounge.

Business area

Work station

A bit later, I grabbed some lunch in the dining room. I started off with some cream of pumpkin soup. This was just okay, as the pumpkin flavor wasn’t very strong.

Pumpkin soup

Next, I tried the spinach fattaya. This was probably the best thing I ate in the lounge!

Spinach fattaya

For an entree, I had some paneer makhni. I thought that this was also lacking flavor.

Paneer makhni

Finally, I had some dessert that the server recommended. This was essentially old pastry in a sweet cream. Not my favorite.

Dessert

If there’s one thing I can fault this lounge on, it’s the food. The food was all very average.

Beyond the main dining area, there’s also more of a “deli” kind of area if you head straight past the luggage room. This area did not seem very frequently visited (the staff member in this area seemed really excited when I wandered over). This area had sushi, salads, and a sandwich bar. This isn’t any sushi bar like the one they have in the JAL first class lounges, but it’s there.

More dining

Sushi

Tea

Salads

Deli area

Bar seating

There’s also a dessert room if you head toward the family rooms. There are cakes, macarons, etc. I sampled a macaron, and it was honestly pretty bad, even for lounge food. The texture was wrong, it was quite irregular, and the filling wasn’t good.

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Chocolate art

Movie theater

Overall, this is an incredible lounge for many reasons. The space is beautiful, there are tons of great amenities (including what are essentially private hotel rooms), and there’s lots of food. In terms of the space, it’s probably my favorite lounge I’ve ever visited. But the food seriously needs improvement.

Flight Review: Qatar Airways First Class A380 Guangzhou to Doha (CAN to DOH)

My flight from Guangzhou to Doha was delayed due to traffic at Guangzhou. There were some bad thunderstorms that day, which also delayed the incoming flight. At the gate, there was a large antsy crowd of passengers ready to board.

Crowd waiting to board


Qatar’s A380

Qatar puts their first class cabin on the upper deck, so I climbed the stairs at the front of the plane.

Up to the first class cabin on the upper deck

Apologies for the bad photos, but this flight took off in the middle of the night (and landed at ~4am), so the lighting was a bit hard. But the cabin itself was gorgeous. It’s a 1-2-1 seating configuration. There’s not a ton of privacy at each seat, but each seat has tons of space, and it’s beautiful. I was also the only first class passenger on this flight, so the privacy aspect didn’t matter much.

First class seat

View across the cabin

The in-flight entertainment was started on the ground. The selection was extensive (including ALL three high school musicals–what else do you really need??). Ads played before movies, but you can fast forward through them.

IFE screen and ottoman

In terms of storage, there aren’t any overhead bins in the cabin, which gives the cabin a more spacious feel. But that means that there’s a closet next to the lavatories at the front of the cabin to store bags. There are also small closets at each seat, as well as some other miscellaneous storage compartments.

Storage space at front of cabin


Seat closet


Storage space


Headphones and seat controls


Snacks at  front of cabin

The bathrooms are large, as they typically are on the upper decks of A380s. No showers though 🙁 But I thought the orchids were a nice touch.

Bathroom


Bathroom


Bathroom amenities

I was the only passenger in first class, and business class was also very sparse. Economy at the rear of the upper deck was full, as was the lower deck of economy. A flight attendant told me that the upper deck was very full on the way to Guangzhou.

The flight time from Guangzhou to Doha was only 7 hours and 25 minutes, which wasn’t really enough time to eat, sleep, and explore the plane, so I ended up sacrificing sleep.

Prior to departure, I was offered a wet towel, a lemon mint drink, and a snack, as well as the more typical Arabic coffee and date. One thing that I also appreciated was that a flight attendant asked if I wanted the cabin temperature lowered. I said yes, although I still overheated during the flight.

Lemon mint drink and snack prior to departure


Menu


Menu


Menu


Menu


Menu


Menu


Menu


Menu


Menu


Arabic coffee and date

After takeoff, I started off with some rose and warm nuts, and then I had the caviar service. The caviar was served with two mother of pearl spoons, egg, sour cream, onion, blinis, toast, and lemon. I strongly prefer blinis to toast.

Warm nuts and rose


Caviar service

The dining table is nice and large, and it slides back and forth, which is super useful (you don’t have to contort yourself or put away the tray to get up from your seat).

The bread service was served with unsalted Beurre d’Isigny. The bread itself was too soft, but the butter was good.

Bread and butter

Next, I had the Arabic mezze, which was served with warm pita. Quite tasty.

Arabic mezze

For my entree, I had a pre-ordered special meal (AVML or Asian Vegetarian meal). This consisted of rice, kidney beans, green beans, and lotus root. Not the most attractive dish  to look at, but it was actually pretty good.

AVML

After dinner, I made my way to the bar/lounge area behind business class and chatted with a couple of flight attendants. I was the only one there for about an hour, until one other passenger joined. I imagine the lounge gets more use on busier flights.

Tea and chocolates


Alcohol selection


Bar snacks


Bar snacks


Bar snacks


Bar


Champagnes at the bar


Snack basket

I then went back to my seat to sleep for a couple of hours. Perfectly standard and comfortable. A small thing is that the bed did not seem to be flat relative to the plane floor, but rather was flat relative to the ground, so I didn’t have that backwards tilting feeling that I sometimes get on planes.

Pillows


Bed

For my pre-arrival meal service, I started with some bread and the apple and rocket energizer. I then had the bircher muesli and some fruit. All pretty tasty.

Bread and apple and rocket (arugula) energizer


Muesli


Fruit

The service on the flight wasn’t as meticulous as I’ve experienced on other airlines, but it was gracious, well-intentioned, and full of personality. The first class cabin is gorgeous, and the hard product is great. It’s not as blingy as Emirates or Etihad (and there’s no shower), but it’s a fun product to fly, and the lounge at the back of the plane is a great place to hang out.

Lounge Review: Premium Lounge Guangzhou Airport (CAN)

This lounge was extremely crowded when I visited because a lot of airlines use this lounge for their premium passengers at Guangzhou. It’s also accessible via Priority Pass, which probably adds to the crowding.

Entrance to the Premium Lounge

Some of the airlines that use this lounge

The lounge is actually deceptively large. It’s pretty long, and there are a fair number of seating areas. In addition, there’s a large dining area all the way at the end of the lounge, so if you keep walking, you’re likely to find a place to sit.

Lounge seating

More seating

Seating

Seating

For drinks, there were sodas, beer, and wine (and soy milk).

Drink fridge

Wine

There were a couple of snack stations throughout the lounge with drinks, fruit, packaged goods, and snack foods.

Fruit

Snacks

Packaged goods

At the end of the lounge was a pretty decent dining room. There weren’t as many people in this area, so there was more space to sit, and the food options were more extensive than expected.

Dining area

Dining area

Dining area

There were quite a few hot food options, but they were mostly variants of fried foods. So not the best if you’re looking for something healthy.

Fried food

One thing that I found strange was the bakery case. It was full of desserts, but you couldn’t access it yourself. There were staff standing near the bakery case, but none of them offered to help me even as I looked wistfully at the desserts.

Bakery case

Hot food trays

Soups

More fried food

Starchy food

Overall, this lounge has better food options than the Baiyun First Class lounge, but it’s a lot busier (which I guess makes the food more trustworthy since there’s higher turnover), but it’s also much more crowded.

Lounge Review: Baiyun Airport First Class Lounge Guangzhou Airport (CAN)

Transferring at Guangzhou was an… interesting experience. Probably because I was transferring from Royal Jordanian to Qatar at neither of their hubs. When I got off my Royal Jordanian flight, I asked the ground crew how to transfer flights, and they had no idea what to do with me. I ended up finding a friendly woman who called an airport staff member who works for Qatar to come to the transfer desk, and he took my passport and bag tag and then left me alone. But half an hour later, he reappeared with my boarding passes and passport!

My first stop was the Baiyun Airport First Class Lounge. At the time, this was the lounge that Qatar used for their premium class passengers at CAN (this lounge is also accessible via Priority Pass). I’ll note that this lounge is essentially just some make-shift walls carving out a space in the terminal. The lounge is completely open to the rest of the terminal, and the walls aren’t very high.

Entrance to the Baiyun Airport First Class Lounge

The lounge was quite empty when I arrived. And there were never more than a couple of other passengers while I was there. The lounge has large windows overlooking the apron, but I was there at night, and there were massive thunderstorms, so I couldn’t see much out the windows. But there was plenty of seating for the number of passengers who were there.

Lounge seating

Work stations

Another view of the lounge

In terms of beverages, there were sodas and beer. I did not see other alcoholic beverages besides beer.

Drink fridge

Other beverage options

For food, I was simultaneously impressed and a bit scared. There were some packaged foods like sandwiches, muffins, and instant noodles, and there were also some trays of hot food. However, I had no idea how long the hot food had been sitting out, and given the lack of passengers in the lounge, I can’t imagine that there’s much turnover of the hot food. So I would say eat at your own risk.

Packaged baked goods and sandwiches

Bok choy

Some sort of stir fry

Fried rice

Fruit and instant noodles

Overall, it’s a place to sit, and there’s food to eat (if you dare). Not a great lounge by any means, but it’s significantly less crowded than the Premium Lounge, which is where I headed next. So if you just want some peace and quiet, you might want to come here.

How to Survive Long-Haul Flights (Advice from a Management Consultant)

Editor’s Note: This post was not written by me, but was instead written by a friend who travels a lot for his job. I am posting his note with his permission, and I have to agree that wearing a medical face mask is a life changer on airplanes (I tried it for the first time on an ANA flight a number of years ago, and now I don’t fly long-haul without one). The only thing I’d add is that a neck pillow is required if you’re flying coach (I use this one: http://amzn.to/2xVPHGP).

So, I fly a lot. And, false humility aside, I’ve gotten pretty good at it — particularly long hauls. After giving one-off advice to friends too many times, I’ve decided to codify what I’ve learned. For best results, do all of the following. Just trust me. Do everything. I’ll explain why at the end.

Two+ weeks before you travel, go online and buy:
1) Medical face masks — regular face masks that doctors or nurses use to cover up their faces. Buy the cheap ones — they’re fine for what you need them for. E.g. http://amzn.to/2xV3qgR
2) Low dose, extended release melatonin pills (5). Extended release means that they should last about ~6 hours. This is critical because melatonin passes out of your system relatively quickly (~30 minutes), so you need a constant dosage. Also, buy a low dose — 300 mcg (that’s micrograms) is plenty. Most commercial melatonin products are way, way too strong. Here’s the one I buy: http://amzn.to/2xUY0Tc
3) Regular strength NyQuil pills (yes, the regular over-the-counter cold medicine): 3 full doses (6 pills) — see full description below
4) If your flight doesn’t provide (though most long hauls do): buy eyeshades and earplugs (Editor’s note: here are the eyeshade (http://amzn.to/2flBFX6) and earplugs (http://amzn.to/2yvoGaa) that I personally use); consider also getting noise-cancelling headphones like the Bose QuietComfort25

Before you head to the airport:
* Take a shower and wash your face well
* Put on a very thin layer of facial cream
* Wear loose fitting layered clothes. It’s a good idea to being extra socks or a light jacket in your carry-on, particularly if you’re in an exit row
* Wear glasses, not contacts

At the airport, after security:
* Buy a Gatorade and a water bottle. If it’s available, Vitamin Water Revive (purple) flavor (only) is even better than Gatorade
* I’d also recommend buying a deli sandwich as these flights frequently don’t feed you enough
* If you forgot to buy NyQuil pills earlier, you can often find them in the gift shop

As you board:
* Look in the overhead bins for extra stacks of blankets. If you see them, grab them. Use them to pad your seat and provide lumbar support for your back
* Most important of all: put on your medical face mask soon after getting on board, and keep it on for basically the entire flight, pulling it down only to eat/drink
* Drink small sips of the Gatorade / Vitamin Water Revive frequently, and “finish” it with your water (so you don’t rot your teeth over the very long flight)
* No alcohol or coffee under any circumstances

When you are ready to sleep:
* First, consider your sleeping time carefully. Some people adjust better to “big bang” adjustments (trying to switch to the new time zone completely, immediately) — I’m like this. Some people try to adjust a few hours per day. Either way, have a considered strategy. Once you’ve decided that you need to get your 8 hours…
* Take 2 of your NyQuil pills (1 full dose = 2 pills) and your 1 melatonin pill. Make sure you have at least 7 hours to sleep as the medications will leave you disoriented and sick if you try to get up and do too much. Remember that flight attendants will wake you up about an hour before the flight lands, so make sure you’re doing this at least 8 hours before landing!
* Use the bathroom, and while there, grab some tissues and jam them in your pocket — just in case you need them
* About 20-30 minutes after taking the medication, you’ll start to feel sleepy. When you feel it coming, put the earplugs in and then put on the eyeshade. Take your glasses off and put them in the seatback in front of you. If you have noise-cancelling headphones, now is the time to put them on. Your medical face mask should already be on. Try to make sure that it’s relatively sealed around your mouth. It’s better if there’s some slack in the mask as you’re trying to create space for moisture to accumulate inside the mask.

Then sleep!

So, what on earth is this strategy all about? It’s based on two key ideas:
1) Hydration levels are critical. Airplanes are dryer than the desert. They are kept artificially dry so that the aluminum alloy the planes are made from don’t rust. The impact of this choice is that you will constantly dehydrate over the course of your flight, and you will be very dehydrated by the time you land, which is one of the main sources of discomfort. Wearing a mask will help dramatically at counteracting this effect. The mask will trap in your own moisture and help keep you much more hydrated. This is also why you are buying a Gatorade or Vitamin Water Revive — they are loaded with potassium, which helps your body absorb water more effectively. It goes without saying, then, that you should not drink alcohol or coffee on your flight — this will just dehydrate you further. Also, the alcohol may help put you to sleep, but it won’t keep you asleep. In fact, it makes you more likely to wake up!

2) Do whatever it takes to sleep. Sleeping on an airplane is hard. This is why you should A) have no shame in taking drugs to sleep on the plane, and B) use all the sensory deprivation you can. For A), look, these drugs are harmless if you take them infrequently. So do it. Melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical in your brain that triggers your body’s nighttime readiness. Use it shamelessly to counteract jetlag. (Obviously, don’t take it more than a few days, but it is very safe to take over the short term.) Speaking of safe, NyQuil is fantastic for flights. When you look at the active ingredients of NyQuil, the container will note that it has an antihistamine. Funny — that “antihistamine” is also the active ingredient of Unisom, an over-the-counter sleeping drug. Look, again, don’t abuse it, but the combination is very useful. Literally the only time I ever take sleeping drugs is for flights. Use them. For B), you have the eyeshades to block your sight, and the earplugs (and ideally noise-cancelling headphones) for sound. I particularly like the Bose headset because it goes over and around your ears, making them comfortable to wear for hours at a time. Plus, you can wear both earplugs and the headset at the same time for double noise cancellation. The medical mask is also critical here, because without it, you will take up every hour gasping for water because the air has dried out your throat. Wear the mask and you’ll be able to sleep 6-7 hours without waking up and gasping for water because your throat is dried out.

Again, the single most important piece of advice in this entire note is the medical face mask. It really does make a huge, huge difference. If you feel weird about wearing a face mask in public, what I often do is bring a bunch of extras with me (they’re cheap!), explain what I’m doing to the passengers around me to reduce their concern that I’m sick in some way, and then offer them the extra face masks. They often take one!

If you use this strategy, when you land, you will be 1) rested, and 2) not dehydrated. You’ll arrive feeling 85% instead of 30-40%. And, the grogginess from the NyQuil will pass in a couple hours.

Also, once I land, I tend to keep using the drugs to help with the jetlag:
* Nights 1+2: Melatonin pill + half dose NyQuil (1 pill)
* Night 3: Melatonin pill only
* Nights 4+: Nothing (What to do with the last NyQuil dose and Melatonin pill? They’re for the flight back!)

Flight Review: Royal Jordanian Crown Class (Business) A330 from BKK to CAN

Royal Jordanian has interesting fifth freedom flights out of Bangkok to HKG, CAN, and KUL. This time, I was flying their route from BKK to CAN in Crown Class (what they call their business class product).

Royal Jordanian A330 at BKK

My first impressions of the cabin were not great. The cabin looked old and tired, and the seats were quite worn down. I was originally assigned seat 2K, but there was something wrong with the arm rest of the seat, so a flight attendant asked me to switch to seat 1K.

Business class cabin

Seat 1K

View across the cabin

Things were not holding together…

Seat controls

In flight entertainment screen

In business class, there ended up being 5 passengers. The cabin had 4 rows of seating in a 2-2-2 configuration.

I was offered a pre-departure beverage of water, orange juice, or apple juice, and then I was given a menu and wine list, headphones (noise-canceling), and offered some Arabic coffee (although no dates). Just based on the way the female flight attendant offered me the menu, I knew that she’d be great.

Wine list

Food menu

There was a pillow and blanket at every seat. The pillow was large and fluffy, and the blanket was light. The seat was actually pretty comfortable for lounging, and there was plenty of legroom, but it just looked a bit old and worn. No real complaints for a short hop to Guangzhou.

The flight time to Guangzhou was 2 hours and 45 minutes. I had pre-ordered a special meal, and the flight attendants noted that it was on the manifest (and on my boarding pass), but for whatever reason, my special meal wasn’t catered. When the flight attendants found out about this mistake, they were super apologetic and tried their best to figure out something that would work. They even offered me things from their crew meals, but I told them it really wasn’t necessary (I was pretty full from grazing in three different lounges at BKK).

I ended up receiving the noodles and stir-fried vegetables that came on the side of the fish entree. The food wasn’t great (the salad appeared to be served without dressing, the bread was bad, the noodles were quite salty, dessert was fine), but I wasn’t very hungry.

Appetizer, dessert, salad, bread

Make-shift entree

After a few bites of the meal, I ended up reclining my seat and taking a short nap. The bed is angled flat, and it was actually pretty comfortable. It reminded me of American Airline’s old “next generation business class” seat, which I’ve slept in just fine. Obviously, there are much better business class seats out there, but this wasn’t bad for a short flight.

Seat fully reclined

Seat fully reclined

Overall, Royal Jordanian wouldn’t be my first choice, but I’d be happy to fly them again. The best part of the flight was the service from the female flight attendants.