Returning Home

Wednesday, June 15

10:25 am Departure Melbourne (MEL)
Qantas Flight 93, MEL-LAX
First Class Seats 2E, 2F

We arrived without further incident about 8:20am and walked right up to the 2 dedicated Qantas checkin counters for First Class on MEL-LAX. No wait. Bags were tagged to Seattle and boarding passes were issued all the way there – even though LAX-SEA was on a separate e-ticket purchased from Alaska directly. I simply showed my itinerary to the CSR and she didn’t have any difficulties.

There was a short line for passport control, and then we walked through duty free. Would they let me bring in Aussie beef jerky into the states? It was on sale at duty free, but when I arrived at SYD there was a sign specifically saying that beef jerky was prohibited. I guess that must be a common item? :confused: I skip the duty free, even though there were the largest liquor bottles I’d ever seen on offer.

We went through security with no line and then over to the QF club downstairs. We checked in at the desk and were sent down the hall on the left to the F side, which had showers, 4 computers with internet (a tad slow) and printers. I found the club lihht and airy for a downstairs lounge with no views. The food selection wasn’t impressive, just some pastries and pretzel-type snacks, perhaps it was because of the early hour. The coffee machine made a decent cappuccino, though.

We boarded 20 minutes late due to late arriving aircraft and were in the air at 11am. Captain said we’d make up the time.

Once at our seats, FA came around for drink orders and brought nuts and olives (the latter distributed with a separate plate for pits). Amenity kits and PJs were distributed on the ground. I changed in the lavatory, which is nice as it’s larger than the standard lav not to mention having a window!

After takeoff, menus were presented…

LUNCH
Our extensive Rockpool designed menu allows you to enjoy a completely personalized dining experience. To complement your choice of main meal, select your own side dishes as accompaniments. Alternatively, your Flight Attendant will be pleased to assist you with your selection. As your flight continues, feel free to snack from a variety of lighter sweet or savoury refreshments at your convenience.

Canapes

Entrees
Cauliflower and Gruyete Soup with Herb Crème Fraiche
King Prawn and Celery Salad with Celeriac Remoulade

Salad
Our signature salad of Baby Cos, Radicchio and Frisee is available to accompany your main course or can be enjoyed as an entrée, dressed with your choice of Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette, Palm Sugar Vinaigrette or Blue Cheese Dressing

Main Courses
Szechuan Pepper Crusted Spatchcock with Star Anise Dressing
Slow Roasted Rib Eye of Beef with Mustard Seed Jus
Seared Blue Eye with Herb Salsa
Pumpkin Kofta Curry with Rice Pilaf, Spinach and Dhal

Side Dishes
Egg Noodles
Enoki Mushroom Salad
Sweet Potato Puree
Steamed Broccolini
New Potatoes
Green Beans, Semi Dried Tomato and Pine Nuts

A choice of mustards and condiments is available

A Lighter Main Course Choice*
Seared Blue Eye with New Potatoes, Steamed Broccolini, Fresh Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
* For your health and well-being this dish is Heart Foundation Tick approved

Cheese
Blue, soft and hard cheese, hand selected by Will Studd, Maitre Fromager Calendar Cheese Company, served with accompaniments

Dessert
Yoghurt Bavaros with Red Wine Poached Pear
Mediterranean Almond, Walnut and Hazelnut Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Sliced Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Petits Fours
A selection of Kennedy & Wilson chocolates and petits fours

Refreshment
Available throughout your flight

Seafood and Coriander Wonton Soup
Winter Vegetable and Cheddar Pot Pie
Steak Sandwich with Tomato and Chilli Relish
Raspberry Friand
Manna from Heaven Organic Chocolate Biscuit
Fresh Whole Fruit
Maggie Bear Ice Cream Tubs

Breakfast
Create your favourite breakfast from our full range of dishes. You may also wish to pre-order your meal with your flight attendant to allow maximum rest time.

Orange juice
Apple juice
Sunraysia cranberry juice
Sunraysia mango liquid fruit
Sunraysia pear liquid fruit
Mango and Lime Energiser drink

Fresh fruit salad
Bircher Muesli
Toasted Muesli
Cereal selection
Yoghurt and honey
Pain au Chocolat
Croissant
Toast

Selection of conserves
Strawberry jam, Orange marmalade, honey, vegemite

Scrambled Eggs
Bacon
Sausages
Roast Vine Ripened Tomatoes
Sauteed Field Mushrooms
Potato Cakes
Toasted bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

Hot beverages

Coffee
Espresso, Long Black, Café Latte, Flat White, Cappuccino, Mocha, Decaffeinated, Individual Bodum

Black Leaf Teas
Assam – a fine, neat leaf exhibiting a tannic-fruity aroma and flavour
Darjeeling – a fruity tea, with uplifted aromas and flavours of muscatels

Herbal Teas
Peppermint Blend – a mixture of peppermint, menthol mint, lemon myrtle, elderflower, rosella & roseship
Lemon Citrus Blend – a mixture of lemon myrtle, liquorice, lemongrass, & rosella

Other teas are available on request

Hot chocolate

Wines
Champagne
Moet & Chandon Millesime Blance 1999

White Wine
Penfolds Reserve Eden Valley Riesling 2003
Pierro Semillon Sauvignon Blance LTC 2004
Henschke Lenswood Croft Chardonnay 2002

Red Wine
Farr Rising Geelong Pinot Noir 2003
Castagna Genesis Syrah 2001
Wirra Wirra The Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Dessert Wine
Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2004

There was heavy turbulence about 1h 30m into the flight and the FAs had to suspend meal service for a bit, just as it was starting.

Service on this flight made me appreciate TN even more. The Qantas seat is better, but there’s something nice about TN’s small F cabin of only 6 seats, generally excellent service (outstanding on the LAX-PPT segment), and proper cutlery presentation and clearing between courses in contrast to QF tossing down flatware with plastic knives wrapped in a napkin.

We both had the ice cream and tart for dessert, and the ice cream was rock hard. In fact, it was still hard after 15 minutes but I chipped away at it anyway.

The FA made my bed, I watched Hitch, and then ordered a steak sandwich while watching a tape of Zissou, then went to sleep until breakfast.

At breakfast I learned a fairly basic lesson: it’s really hard to cut a stale bagel with a plastic knife. Breakfast choices were bountiful, but as with lunch the food quality was average at best. I had a smoked salmon bagel (salmon was really bland, they could try to ratchet it up a notch maybe with some belly lox), bacon, potatos, and a chocolate croissant (hot and rubbery, like it had just come from the microwave).

Shortly after breakfast service was through, and I had changed back out of my PJs, we landed – right on time at 7:25am. However, upon approaching the terminal we had to wait for a LanChile flight to get towed into its gate before we could move. That took about ten minutes. We pull up to the gate and everyone gets up. We’re set to disembark from the door between J and Y – so J and some of Y gets off the plane before F. 🙁 While waiting for the door to open, an announcement comes on that immigration was crowded and we weren’t being permitted off the plane until things cleared up a bit. That’s another 10 minutes.

I was starting to get a bit nervous. My AS connection to SEA had moved from an original flight time of 10:30am (3 hour connection) to a 10am flight to a 9:30am flight and new flight number with change of seats (2 hour connection). The 20-25 minute delay was further eating into our international to domestic connection.

Fortunately, we had arrived at Terminal 4 rather than the Tom Bradley terminal. I can see how immigration would back up, there isn’t much space in there to begin with. Walking up there’s something vaguely disturbing at the smiling portraits of President Bush and Vice President Cheney staring at you in an otherwise colorless long hall.

The line for US citizens was short. F and J bags were on a separate carousel and were all out when we got through to pick them up (no bags were up from Y yet). There was no hassle at customs, but a bit of bedlam with the TSA rechecking bags. I waited until our bags were properly in queue for screening rather than haphazardly dropping them as some other folks were doing.

Then we walked outside and around to terminal 3. There was a backlog at the first security checkpoint at the bottom of the escalator up to security screening. In fact, the line to show IDs there was outside the terminal. I’ll admit that we just cut in line somewhat inside the terminal, and in the confusion that abounded no one noticed. The woman checking IDs was slow, stopping passengers while she people watched. At the top of the escalator we had to show our IDs again, I have no idea why. Then the whole checkpoint stopped for a drill, we all had to stand in place for a few minutes. Oh well, at least there was no requirement to take off our shoes.

We made it to the Alaska boardroom by 8:30am, it’s pretty close to the Alaska gates and boarding was set for 9:03am. I was pretty full from breakfast, and I had already had two cappuccinos on the flight, so I just had a glass of water.

9:33 am Depart Los Angeles (LAX)
Alaska Airlines Flight 281, LAX-SEA
First Class Seats 1D, 1F

We came down from the Boardroom just as boarding commenced. Everyone crowded in and Alaska was taking the opportunity to train a new gate agent to take boarding passes. This caused quite a backup as each passenger took about maybe 15 extra seconds to process.

Some people even boarded the flight who were supposed to be on the 3pm departure, the gate agent didn’t catch it and no one figured it out until there were multiple pax looking at the same seat. It was doubly confusing because the 3pm pax didn’t speak English and the FAs didn’t speak Spanish, another passenger had to translate.

The flight was completely full with every seat taken.

I didn’t eat the breakfast snack of fruit and a muffin, still too full from Qantas.

Coach passengers kept coming up to use the F lav despite the lead FA making a ‘security announcement’ not to at the beginning of the trip. The FA didn’t say anything at all to these passengers, in fact when asked if it was alright she told them to go ahead. Security, indeed. Why not just say ‘we don’t permit it’ (even though we really do) instead of lying about security?

As with most domestic flights, this one was short and uneventful. The only difficulty came after we disembarked and headed down to baggage claim.

Passengers from several flights arrived at the two AS baggage carousels, but no bags were coming. Nothing came out of either shute for at least 40 minutes, and the hordes were growing.

Finally some bags started coming down, but they were pieces that had just been checked to fly SEA-DCA! The staff at the baggage office tried mightily to collect them and send them back, but there was no way these bags were making their flight.

After 65 minutes of waiting, bags for our flight started coming out — split between the two carousels, seemingly at random. Three of our four bags arrived, we waited awhile but no more for our flight were on their way. I filed a missing baggage claim and we went off to the Westin.

Westin Seattle

We arrived by cab and no one was available to greet us or help with luggage. We drag our bags upstairs to check in and I’m told that it would be awhile for assistance and I’m best off taking the bags up myself.

As with my last stay here in September, the person checking me in seemed to view the process as a pain and me as an obstacle to something far more important that she could be doing.

While, I was happy to receive a room with a nice view of the Sound, I’m left wondering if I’d have done just as well to Priceline a 3* room at the airport for $35 since I’m just heading back there the next day anyway.

A call to the AS baggage office at about 7pm determined that our errant bag had been sent to RNO instead of SEA, and that it would be arriving on a flight ~ 10pm that evening. They sent it over to the hotel, and in the morning I called down to the desk and it was sent up to the room promptly.

On checkout my folio listed a room rate in spite of the fact that I was using points, presumably it was the SPG internal reimbursement rate. As always, the lines at the front desk were long and I almost took off to the airport resolving to correct things later, about 2 more minutes of waiting and I would have. The clerk at the desk fixed this quickly, however, it seems I was dealing with someone pretty senior who knew what they were doing.

I hadn’t been feeling too well since the night before, it turned out to be salmonella and I can only imagine it was either from the QF lunch or the smoked salmon at breakfast.
That made the final few hours of our trip pretty miserable.

Thursday, June 16

1:05 pm Depart Seattle (SEA)
Alaska Airlines Flight 2, SEA-DCA
First Class Seats 2A, 2C

Since I wasn’t feeling too well, my memory of our last flight is pretty sketchy at best.

We arrived at the airport and checked in. Despite being on the same record and having booked the flight months earlier, my seat assignment had been changed. We were no longer seated together, for the very last flight of our honeymoon trip. I had been in 2B, and it was pretty clear what happened (or as the CSR at SEA said, “it looks like it was changed for a reason that can’t be discussed” Ahem.) … Air Marshall.

F was already checked in full, so no chance to move around, but I asked again in the boardroom anyway. No luck. Then I asked at the gate. The CSR there tried to switch us, going so far as to call up a couple other pax to the podium to ask if they’d switch, but she got too confused over the fact that she couldn’t sit us together in the bulkhead since we had our 8lb dog in the cabin with us. She handed us back our original boarding passes and onto the plane we went.

The FA was quite helpful. She asked a couple of pax to switch and they obliged, so now we were back in row 2, just on the other side (the passenger who took my seat seemed mighty pleased to talk non-stop with Jennifer Dunn the whole flight, the former Congresswoman who had been seated next to me).

This really did turn out to feel like more or less the longest flight of my life. Feeling miserable, I wasn’t able to watch anything on the DigE Player and I couldn’t even read a sentence out of my book. I just sat and sat the whole time, counting down the minutes until I could get off the flight.

One good thing about this flight was that Y pax weren’t permitted to use the F lav, I say it’s a good thing because I was the lav’s primary consumer this time. How did they accomplish it? By drawing a screen between F and Y. Not one of the old fashioned screens, but a new see-through screen that didn’t cloud vision between the cabins but that gave the clear signal that the line between them wasn’t to be crossed.

We made it to baggage claim, caught a cab home, and I fell into bed. Didn’t make it to work the next day, either, though by the afternoon the sickness had passed for both of us.

It wasn’t the best way to end a truly amazing trip, but we both figured that it was good that we waited until the very end of the trip to get sick, and we had the whole weekend to slowly recover. I spent much of the weekend alternating between catching up on an enormous amount of email, and laying out by the pool.

It was sure nice to log into MileTracker though and see all the points that had posted in my absence. 🙂 I’ll never understand, though, why it takes Alaska ~ 4 days for flight miles to post…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Just one question: How much of your honeymoon did you actually pay for? Just curious because you refer to MileTracker, but I thought you were using points and miles for your whole honeymoon.

  2. I paid for:

    * Alaska domestic flights (buying one upgradeable-at-booking Q fare using MVP Gold status and using a Bank of America companion certificate for the 2nd ticket)

    * Interisland flights on Air Tahiti (the domestic carrier, as opposed to Air Tahiti Nui, no points)

    * The one-way Qantas flight from Sydney to Melbourne (~ US$70)

    However, I got miles for all meals, etc. Then there was catering from the wedding which earned points. And just being away awhile means lots of miles post while I’m gone:

    * credit card mileage

    * mileage for online shopping that I did a month earlier

    That sort of thing.

  3. Thanks for the clarification–what a great trip and what a great use of points and miles!

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