Bay Area Chronicles: The Trip to the Other Side of the World

As the New Year arrived I told myself that it was time to get things around.  One of the things I committed to myself was to get back into travelling which took a back seat these past few years.  But I never expected that I’d be going out of the country this early, and definitely not with a long haul!

My first intercontinental flight in years

This is part of a series

California is the destination of my first international travel of the year.  It was definitely a great way to welcome the year because I’ve never been to the west coast, but slightly sad because this trip would be the shortest one I’ll have on this continent.  The very long travel time across the Pacific Ocean (practically an entire day, one way) and the relatively limited time in the west coast is at least compensated by flying in style.  For the first time I’ll get to enjoy flying in business class!

I was supposed to fly via Philippine Airlines (PAL) as they offer straight flights from Manila to San Francisco but strangely enough, Cathay Pacific (CX) offered better rates at the time I was booking my flight.  The “downside” of flying via CX is that it’s longer because I have a three-hour layover in Hong Kong where I’d change planes.  But who are we kidding?  I’d pick CX over PAL anytime.  Not that I won’t patronize our own local carrier (I always prefer PAL flying domestically), but for a long haul flight which would take practically an entire day, you’d just want the best service you can get.  I guess I was just lucky that CX also offered the best rate at that time.

Side note: Another reason I’m glad I didn’t take PAL for this trip was the really awful service I had when I asked for assistance about my Mabuhay Miles.  It takes them at least three days just to answer an email, and the response you get was very far from satisfactory, just enough for them to say that they’ve responded.  I won’t go into details, but I hope that PAL has already addressed some serious security flaw with their process (which was serious enough that I requested purging of my Mabuhay Miles data).

As with all non-PAL flights from Manila to the USA, I have to go to what topped traveler survey for the “Worst Airports of 2013,” Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 (MNL).  I was reserving my opinion about this aged terminal thinking it may be exaggerated, but when I arrived and the air conditioning wasn’t functioning (it felt like more than 30°c inside!) and my sweat was literally dripping and the queues to the immigration were really long, I saw their point.  It’s very difficult to brag about the beauty of the country when the first and last thing you’d encounter is this vexatious place.  Oh well, at least the rest rooms now are at the very least, decent.

A sign at Cathay Pacific Business Lounge in NAIA Terminal 1

As the air conditioning problem at the time was airport-wide, even the business lounge of Cathay Pacific was not spared.  You just have to wonder how awful these businessmen from milder countries were feeling as we roast slowly inside the warm airport.  I’m in the business class lounge of one of the best airlines in the world and I’m “disturbed,” I can’t imagine how the “regular” travelers must have been feeling.

Side note: The business lounge of Cathay Pacific in NAIA Terminal 1 boasts some decent selection of food and drinks and free Wi-Fi, but the seats are quite limited so there may be a time when the seats are all occupied especially when multiple CX flights are due.

My flight to San Francisco started on a Saturday night, Philippine Standard Time (PHT).  It’s pretty amusing that despite the almost an entire day total flight hours, I’d still be arriving in San Francisco on the same day, and roughly the same time!  I was already feeling sleepy before my flight but I didn’t have the luxury of calling it a day yet as I still have to change planes in Hong Kong.

This is the legroom of a business class in CX flight 902 MNL-HKG: my right foot stretched and there is still room for a big laptop bag placed lengthwise
Saying goodbye to Manila for now
My in-flight meal (comes with a ton of other food items)

It only takes around two hours to reach Hong Kong from Manila.  While I’ve been to Hong Kong before, it was my first time to be inside its international airport.  “Airport-envy.”  Their airport was just beautiful.  Sure it’s not the newest or most sophisticated, but it was clean, modern, spacious, and they have a lot of food options and lots of seats if you prefer to doze off while waiting for your flight.  It’s like a huge luxury mall!  But since I arrived around 10PM many of these stores were already closed.  I have three hours until my flight to San Francisco, and in airport time that isn’t a lot.  Especially if you’re in Hong Kong as you have to pass through security again and traverse their huge airport.

Arrived in Hong Kong
This airport is just huge!

After passing through security, I went straight to Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong business lounge, “The Wing.”  Hong Kong being Cathay Pacific’s “home,” you’d expect it to be very good—but I didn’t expect it to be that good!  The first time I saw it, it just blew way past my expectations!  The selection of food and drinks are just amazing!  It’s big enough to be a restaurant of its own, and the offerings are good enough that even I would pay for it.  It was just unfortunate that I was still stuffed with the food I got in-flight from Manila.  During this initial encounter I didn’t really explore much of The Wing as I settled for “the boss” chair while waiting for my flight.

The Wing
I can’t even fit in this picture the length of the buffet area…and this is just one of the sections of the lounge!
This is the one I fondly call “the boss” chair

Finally, it was time for the longest segment of my trip.  Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is a 12-hour non-stop flight.  This was the most exciting part of my trip so far as the seat orientation for the business class is 1-2-1 per row.  The seats lie fully flat and I think even a six footer person can straighten his legs with the seat.  The seats are oriented a bit diagonally to accommodate the length, and as expected you have your usual amenities like personal video services, head set, magazines, etc.  The pluses are having your own power outlets for gadgets, lots of storage spaces (above and around the seats), menus for the meals, and the flight attendants address you by your last name.  Is the price for the business class worth it?  With Cathay Pacific, it’s a definite yes!

This is my window-side seat
A closer view of my terminal with the video, lights, and seat controls, and the power outlets
This is how the center aisle looks like

Travel Tip: If you’re going in a long haul flight you really should consider going on a business class with an airline that you know offers great in-flight amenities.  It’s quite significantly expensive than travelling in coach, but you don’t have to book business class round trip!  Book it for the part you think you’d need it most and think of it as part of your travel agenda!  Beware though as you might enjoy yourself too much that you’d want to fly business class all the time!

What do you do in a 12-hour flight?  Well, aside from the obvious sleeping and eating a lot, I was able to watch movies I haven’t seen before.  With CX’s video on demand I was able to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Thor: The Dark World, and About Time (which I wasn’t able to finish in this flight).  I’m not sure if this service is available in coach but the movies are only available for long haul flights.

Let’s start the long trip with some champagne…
My first in-flight meal in this segment is dinner.

What’s interesting about flying this long over the middle of nowhere is that the sense of time is trivial.  Sure you know what time it is from where you were and in your destination, but where you currently are is a bliss.  We left our time zone in the middle of the night and sometime during the flight, the sun shines offering some view of whatever lies outside, and then goes out again.  In a way it’s like travelling in space, only way lower, that you get to appreciate how big and precious our world is.

Can you see where the line dividing night and day is?
Last meal of the flight: breakfast

Eventually, I arrived in SFO.  My flight from MNL was at 7:55PM on February 08, 2014 (PHT) and I arrived in SFO 9:19PM on February 08, 2014 (PST).  Seemed like an hour and a half flight, but it was actually 17 hours, more if you add the time spent at the airport before the flight.  Despite having some decent sleep in-flight, I still can’t get wait to get out of the airport and settle in my hotel for some real rest.  Without really thinking hard about it, I found myself at the exit.  There my chauffer awaits, ready to pick me up with a limo (I’m not kidding!).

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Bay Area Chronicles

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