Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Trip that Wasn't - Part 1

The Trip that Wasn’t – Outbound
The Trip that Wasn’t – Return

Around 8 months ago I was able to find a first class award ticket from LAX to Singapore via Frankfurt.  This award was a fairly rare one given that Lufthansa does not release award inventory very far out so I seized upon the opportunity when it arose.  I planned a great, but quick, vacation around this award ticket which would have allowed me to do a true around the world trip.  I booked a follow up award ticket from SIN to Perth for more Australian wine tasting and then a revenue ticket from SIN to LAX.  Unfortunately, that plan didn’t happen.   

The trip started out well enough.  I arrived very early for my Tuesday evening flight thank to light traffic on the 405 and a fast Super Shuttle driver and was able to enjoy the food and beverage options in the first class lounge at LAX.  The lounge has seen some minor renovations since I was last there with new paint along a wall but the drinks and food items were comparable.  I enjoyed a snack on some goat cheese and crackers along with a few tasty sweets while drinking a Napa Sauvignon Blanc.  There was a very annoying high school girl in the lounge that would be on the same flight to Germany with me – ugh. 
Snack Options

The Lufthansa flight from LAX to Frankfurt is operated on a 747-400.  The first class cabin on this aircraft is on the upper deck creating a nice quiet and secluded atmosphere.  Lufthansa is currently in the process of updating the first class cabin on their 747-400s to 8 seats with a bed adjacent.  The old configuration which I was on has 16 seats on the upper deck although each passenger has two seats – one for sitting and one for sleeping.  When I boarded the aircraft I was directed upstairs and warmly greeted by the flight attendant.  My roll aboard bag was too large for the overhead bin but they have a closet area in the back for luggage storage.  Even my backpack was a tight fit in the bin.  Shortly I was settled in my seat, the attendant came over and gave me an amenity kit and set of pajamas for the flight.  I changed into the pajamas right away to get as comfortable as possible for the flight.  I wish the bathrooms were as nice as the A380 or 747-8i but they were fairly standard facilities.  As the rest of the cabin filled in, each seat was taken, and champagne was offered with macadamia nuts. 
Pre-Departure Champagne and Nuts

The airplane pushed back on time and I felt a little bit detached from the ground as I am not used to being on the upper deck of an aircraft.  The difference in height out the window can be a bit disconcerting at first and then again at landing.  We didn’t have to wait long for takeoff and soon we were heading north and then a turn northwest on our way to Germany.  The dinner and wine menu were handed out by the purser shortly after takeoff and I was excited for the offerings. 

I started off with the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc which had a great balance of citrus and acid.  The amuse bouche followed which included slices of mango with a piece of orange and piece of grapefruit with some white chocolate shavings on top. 

The place settings were set next with the bread basket.  I couldn’t turn down several slices of the garlic bread.  However they cook it, their combination of bread, butter, oil, and garlic is amazing.  One of the downsides of this older first class cabin is that the screen is in the center armrest and is rather small.  The first movie I decided to watch was “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  I very much enjoyed the movie.  All of the big name British cast (Judie Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Former Prime Minister Harriet Jones ;-), Maggie Smith) did a superb job.   I definitely recommend the movie.

The appetizers were rolled out all together on a cart and we were offered a selection to choose from.  Just like before I started with the caviar (I’m still surprised I like it).

The on to the teriyaki glazed beef brochette with sesame seeds.  I think I would’ve preferred this dish more if it was warmed rather than cold.  It was still tasty though. 

Then it was a bit of a palate cleanser of tomatoes and Burrata cheese and arugula.  The cheese was very similar to a light mozzarella. 

The salad course followed with fresh greens and a very tasty tomato dressing.  Thankfully, the salad was light on the arugula and spicy greens.  The parmesan cheese on top was great.

I switched wines with dinner and went with the Spanish Astrales which had a hint of fruit and a nice smooth finish.  I opted for the tenderloin of pork with sweet potato, leek, and ginger-plum chutney sauce.  The pork was cooked well and the sauce definitely was a great addition to the meat.  It carried the right amount of sweetness to match the pork and was reminiscent of pork chops and applesauce.  The vegetables were perfectly done and the pop of savory sweetness with the sweet potato was delicious. 

I passed on the cheese course (Alex will hate me for that) and went straight to dessert.  As I was in the first row of seats, I didn’t have my choice of dessert and all that remained was the green tea layer cake with mango.  I was really looking forward to the banana bread pudding and ice cream, but I was pleasantly surprised that the green tea cake was delicious.  It touched upon a bit of the savory yet sweet quality that green tea has and was quite filling in the end despite the lightness of the dessert.  This option may have been the better choice after all.  I declined the offer of port and asked for a sweet white wine which they happily provided.  I do find it odd that the dessert cart only carries the port as if that is the only wine they wish to offer for the course.  This dessert wine wasn’t as good as the wine I had on my Frankfurt to Tokyo flight but it was still tasty. 

Just before dessert started my first movie ended and I went onto the next, Battleship.  I only made it about halfway through before I was ready for bed, but I’m glad I watched the movie on the plane rather than paying to see it in the theater.  Each of the seats in the cabin can convert into a lie flat bed which a light mattress pad, pillow, and blanket is placed.  The padding on the seat was not as comfortable as the flights I had on the A340, A380, or 747-8i and I managed about 5 hours of sleep on the flight before the flight attendant woke me up for breakfast.

Breakfast service commenced with freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit, and hot croissants.  The fruit could’ve been a bit fresher but the orange juice hit the spot. 

For the “main course” I opted for freshly prepared scrambled eggs with bacon and a bit of chives on top.  This is the best egg dish in the skies.  So often eggs on planes are greasy, reheated, and rubbery.  These eggs were fluffy and fresh.

I finished breakfast with about 40 minutes of the flight remaining so I changed out of my pajamas and got my belongings in order.  The plane had a smooth approach into Frankfurt and soon we were on the ground and taxing to a gate a long ways off.  The airport was fairly empty at 3pm when we landed and I was only the second person in line to go through passport control.  As before I headed outside of the airport to the First Class Terminal to wait out the next 6 hours before my Singapore flight in relative ease, which unfortunately is where things started to go wrong. 

Looking back the trouble may have started when I arrived at the FCT as I felt a little bit off.  I had shrugged it off as just being tired from the flight.  I was able to shower and change into fresh clothes at the terminal and then grab some snacks and water.  I found a quite couch to relax on and eventually napped for about an hour.  When I woke up my sinuses and ears were starting to feel painful.  My recurring issue with those passages was returning.  To compound the issue, there is a cigar lounge in the terminal and the smell of that was not helping.  The pain continued to get worse as my flight time neared and before I even left for the plane I was so nauseous from the pain that I threw up.  I was even getting car sick as we were driven to the plane for Singapore.  By the time I was on the jet bridge I had decided there was no way I could fly 12 hours and then another 5 to Perth.  I talked with the gate agent and let them know that I couldn’t get on the plane as I was feeling ill.  It felt like my ears were going to explode.  I have to give props to the Lufthansa staff who wanted to make sure I was ok and offered to take me to the hospital, arrange transportation to a hotel, or just ferry my to the outside of the airport.  I just needed to walk a bit at that point and get some air.  I was able to do a quick hotel search and found out that there were rooms available at the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport which was a great option since I knew where it was and could get some perks with my Hilton status. 

I checked in for a two night stay figuring that would be enough to help me feel better by sleeping it off as best I could.  It also worked out with the timing for a direct return award flight to LAX.  I had to make quite a few calls to cancel my travel plans, some of which were non-refundable.  Thankfully I was able to redeposit my flight award flight miles to Perth with a small fee, get my Perth hotel refunded, and switch out my revenue flight from SIN-LAX to a flight to LHR next year over Memorial Day.  I had to use the Chase miles I accrued from my credit card to purchase the award flight home which wasn’t ideal but it was necessary.

Once all of those issues were taken care of I passed out.  I didn’t even leave the hotel until it was time to fly home.  The breakfast buffet was complimentary both mornings and I had dinner there at the hotel as well.  I had the largest gnocchi I have ever seen – they were the size of eggs.  Tasty though.