I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Darren. F.

I appear to be in a hotel room in Hong Kong, 72 hours on from being in Jersey. It's 5pm on Friday evening but concepts like am and pm, days of the week and evenings are starting to feel alien. I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman who just left New York.

I say "just left", but that's a bit of a stretch. It was a while ago I was there.

When I woke, earlier than either of my "wake the fuck up" alarms, I naturally lazed around until the first one went off. My flight was at 1000 and on time, and the journey from JFK to the hotel had been so smooth I was pretty confident about the return. A bill for my 3 Guinesses had appeared on the floor by my door and I asked at reception if I needed to sign or pay or something and the bloke didn't seem to understand my question, so I just gave him my key and left.

Having angrily enjoyed NYC on my day on terra firma, I obviously followed that up by not getting remotely lost or confused by any part of the trip to the airport. Well, Penn Station was a bit horrible at half six and it was slightly difficult to find the right platform but I jumped on the 0636 Jamaica train with 10 seconds to spare and trundled. Missed my connection by literally half a second so sat and played Threes for a bit, before staring at the "we stop at all terminals" thing noticing JFK doesn't like threes - "all" is 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Hmm. The journey was quite nice as the sun rose and we went past a lot of beautiful 747s, and as I had to hold on til T7 an ensuing fight through the crowd was unpleasant.

T7 is BA's not-quite-private terminal. They do have a lot of flights there, but Cathay Pacific also use it as well as the BA lounges. They have their own premium checkin area though, which was well enough signposted. I could have used it regardless of what my flight was doing as I have a Cathay gold card courtesy of a no-longer-available benefit on a charge card I don't have. But this time I could use it straight off the back of my booking...because I was flying in F. F is for First.

There's one checkin desk for F. A family was there, seemingly being awkward. I waltzed up to a business class desk and was checked in super quickly, being referred to by name the whole time and my gold card kept getting mentioned too. He asked if I was familiar with the lounges - well, in 2007 I spent 9 hours in the business class lounge... also, would I like an invitation to the arrivals lounge at Hong Kong? Why yes, yes I would, thank you.

He then left the desk to escort me as far as he could, all the while explaining the terminal layout, the two lounges I could go in and their different atmospheres and so on. He said the First lounge would be quiet, a place to work or relax, and the business lounge a bit more fun and maybe the place to go if I wanted some booze. I said to him, with a straight face, "it's a bit early for that!". "Oh, you'd be surprised, Mr Foreman"

No. I wouldn't.

He left me at fast track security, which was indeed fast. The lounge entrances are right next door, up a tiny escalator, lo and behold I reached the first class lounge at 0747. Such a pleasing time of day.

I had it to myself. Wow. It isn't huge, but it is a nice relaxing place. I filled a plate with cold meats and cheeses and grabbed a diet coke. Then a large fruit salad with yoghurt. And then a champagne. Nom.

Wrote yesterday's blog post in total peace and quiet. Loved it. The staff appeared here and then, and after an hour or so a few more people arrived. There only seemed to be the Cathay flight leaving, no BA scheduled until after midday. Boarding pass had said gate 6 by 0935, but at 0930 a very loud THE FLIGHT IS NOT BOARDING YET announcement came over the tannoy. A few minutes later, another one, the woman sounding exasperated as if people kept going to the desk asking what was going on.

I just stayed in my seat until boarding was finally announced. Apparently the crew had got stuck in a traffic jam.

So, to gate 6, boarding pass for seat 1A in my sky rocket. A huge queue for priority boarding slimmed down very quickly as group after group of 4+ people reached the front only to be directed to the regular queue. I strolled through and was greeted at the door, directed left, and saw my seat.

Oh. My. God. That's not an aeroplane seat, that's a fucking sofa.

About Cathay Pacific first class. On their longest haul planes, they have what is widely regarded as one of the best first class cabins and experiences in the world, not including the mad fully-enclosed-suite things you can get on some middle eastern airlines. The JFK to Hong Kong flight is one of the longest non-stop flights in the world by both distance and time, and therefore one of the longest first class trips possible. What's more, this route is an anomaly in the BA spend-your-Avios chart. By rights it should cost way more than the 105,000 it does given the distance. Finally, the taxes, fees and surcharges component is on,y about £75. There are only 6 first class seats on the plane, not all available for miles. It's cheap, exclusive and astonishing.

So, the sofa. I'm not joking. There's enough space for two people to sit side by side, or for me to sit in a variety of positions with my feet not on the floor. I can't reach the footrest, and my bag isn't stored under it because Fiona has put it in my personal wardrobe.

Oh, hello Fiona. Nice to meet you. She was pretty much my personal member of cabin crew for this flight, setting me up with a pre-flight amuse bouche of lobster and a glass of Krug champagne. I might try another one of those. She also handed me my sleeper suit in a bag, as the captain told us about the flight. Apparently a flight time of 15h20m, to a Hong Kong with "unusually good visibility" and 30°c. We'd fly north then south, crossing the North Pole to our right. Over the top like a bad Stallone movie.

We took off a bit behind schedule and the crew changed into their airborne uniforms, different from their land-based ones. I played with the staggeringly good entertainment system, more responsive than any other I've ever used (or my smart TV for that matter) and I added 2 films and 5 TV shows to my playlist. For TV shows they have full seasons, not just a few episodes. Having seen a single episode of Brooklyn  Nine Nine on the AA flight I quite fancied a few more. Andy Samberg FTW.

"You had me at 'no paperwork'"
"That was the very end of the sentence"

Some nuts arrived, and more champagne. And then some bread, caviar, egg, pancakes, and creme fraiche. I suppose I have some space for that. After the caviar, a gorgeous Caesar salad. After the salad, a bowl of clam chowder and then my chosen main course: lobster. Was I ok with chopsticks? Of course I was ok with chopsticks.

Christ, everything was so bloody nice. The champagne didn't stop coming, even the table water was particularly lovely. After my main was cleared away I opted for a cheese plate - having been shown a slate full of cheeses from which to choose. I chose all of them. It came with grapes and crackers and quince and the most astonishingly nice port I've ever tasted.

Not a bad start to the journey, this. By now I'm about 4 episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine in and we're somewhere over some really extreme points of Canada. There's an outdoor camera which was quite interesting, though not as interesting as the window views. We were about 2.5 hours in now. so only 13 to go.

With the food service over - I actually turned down dessert - the champagne still kept coming, and I watched the film Railway Man. As usual, in the air I am more emotional than on the ground and so at the end of it I was in floods of tears. Loved the film. Romance, revenge and redemption all in one.

Next, I tried to watch an interesting looking Chinese film but kept nodding off, so I went to the loo to get changed into my sleeper suit while Fiona made my bed. On Cathay it isn't just a seat that turns into a end and you are given a blanket - they also fit a mattress with special holes for the seat belt to go through. I returned and climbed into it, getting comfortable and... couldn't really drop off. The noise cancelling headphones are too cumbersome to wear lying down and I don't get on with ear plugs. So, I just kinda laid there, doing a few mindfulness techniques which didn't work... so I rearranged the seat into a recliner, pulled the TV back out, and put on Labor Day.

Odd film. Some really heartening bits during which I of course welled up, but then a really terrible few segments and awful plot twist. And then the awfulness is kinda glossed over and a regular ending takes place. Quite unsatisfactory. Browsed the movies some more but opted just to go back to Brooklyn Nine Nine. There are 22 episodes after all.

A couple of hours later, with still 7 or so to go of the flight, I hit the service button. Almost before I'd lifted my finger, Fiona appeared. Could I get a burger, please? And a glass of champagne? Of course, Mr Foreman. It took a while to arrive since they had to cook the bastard, and when it did she asked me to let her know if the fizz was flat; if so, she'd open a new bottle for me. Which she had to anyway as I wanted refill. And another one.

Back to movies! Anchorman, and finally I slept a bit, Dozed and slept well, but off and on, through Anchorman and The Informant! after which I woke up feeling quite ropey, like super dehydrated as if the air quality had rather suddenly changed. But that went away when I got changed, used loads of posh toiletries to moisturise and cleaned me teeth and swigged mouthwash. Turned my bed back into a very comfortable seat and we are just over an hour from landing.

Would I like some breakfast? Oh, go on then. Something to drink? Is champagne OK? Of course. So here's a bowl of fruit, then some sea bass with rice and vegetables. And yet more Brooklyn Nine Nine. I think I watched 15 episodes I total. This whole flight was about bingeing in one way or another.

The views of the seas and islands around Hong Kong were spectacular. When I was here in 2007 for 4 days I barely saw the sun, but now we were circling HK in light cloud and it looked amazing. The outdoor camera came into its own during landing and, oh, hello. I'm in Hong Kong. It was a 16 hour flight to literally go half way round the world, as NYC and HK are exactly 12 hours apart in time. Did I have a very long Thursday, or very short? I don't really know or care, I only know it was very awesome.

(Final champagne tally: 11 or 12 glasses; 2 on the ground and the rest on the plane)

1 comment:

auswomble said...

I also cried at while watching the Railway Man. DNA. I blame the parents. Well ours.