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24 hours in Transit: Part 2 – Crossing the Pond in Envoy Class (CLT-FRA)

This is the second post in a three part trip report of my big move to Doha, Qatar.  If you’re new to trip reports you may find these boring as I did at first, but now I quite enjoy them.  In other words, I’m going to keep writing them, so get used to it.  If you find yourself falling asleep reading them, just scroll through them really fast to look at the pretty pictures.   

24 Hours in Transit:  Part 1 – Adios Snow (MCI-CLT)
24 Hours in Transit:  Part 2 – Crossing the Pond in Envoy Class (CLT-FRA)
24 Hours in Transit:  Part 3 – World’s 5-Star Airline (FRA-DOH)

I planned on doing a bit of lounge hopping on this trip to take full advantage of flying business class and compare what the different lounges had to offer.  Of course, I was mostly planning on doing this in Frankfurt, but I’ll get to that later.  Yes, most people would find lounge hopping quite boring, but this is what entertains me.

After I got off the plane, I made a quick stop at the smaller US Airways Club in concourse B to compare it to their main club.  It had the standard chips, cookies, cheeses, etc. and coffee machine that main club had when we stopped through there on our way to Ireland last May.  This club was larger than I expected it to be.  There were 2 main rooms with seating for maybe 20-30 in each, plus a separate small business center with maybe 5 or so desks down the hall from one of the seating areas.  Nothing special, but a much nicer place to sit and wait on a flight than in the terminal.

CLT Concourse B Lounge

Concourse B Loungin’ Options

CLT Concourse B Lounge

Concourse B Loungin’ Options

CLT Concourse B Hot Drinks

Concourse B US Airways Club Hot Drinks

CLT Concourse B Food Options

Concourse B US Airways Club Snack Options

I then headed towards my gate and the main US Airways club in between concourse C and D.  Charlotte is really a nice airport with a decent size food court that has floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the tarmac.  They also have quite a few white wooden rocking chairs where you can sit and people watch or enjoy the views of the planes taxing into the gates.  I would have enjoyed wasting time there, but I had another lounge to check out.

From my limited experience and knowledge, the US Airways Club in Charlotte seems to be one of the better US airline lounges (note: not US Airways lounges, but all US airline lounges).  I don’t have much experience with international lounges, but the ones I have been in blow away the US competition.  The main club had the same food options as the smaller lounge (which was expected, but still a little disappointing), but they do offer you a single complimentary alcoholic drink from the bar.  I chose to hang out in a spot in the small rotunda at the far end of the club that has nice views of the planes.  It was a good way to spend about an hour or so.

CLT Main US Airways Club

Main US Airways Club

Main US Airways Club

Main US Airways Club

Main US Airways Club Snack Options

Main US Airways Club Snack Options

Main US Airways Club Snack Options

Main US Airways Club Snack Options

Great View

Great View

By the time I got to the gate, the economy passengers were  boarding and business class passengers were already on the plane.  As this was the city of international departure I had to head to the gate agent to have my passport checked again.  As I mentioned earlier the gate agent here in CLT  also had to check the computer to confirm I didn’t need a visa prior to arrival in Doha before letting me on the plane.  That took a couple of minutes, and I was already a bit disappointed how late I was boarding.

As I boarded the plane, the Envoy section (US Airways business class) was pretty full.  There was a couple sitting across from me who was celebrating their 30 year wedding anniversary by spending 10 days somewhere in Europe (yeah, quite specific I know, but I can’t remember – Greece, Germany, maybe Switzerland….?).  My immediate thought was, wow, that’s sad their trip is only 10 days.  I soon realized that I have such a distorted point of view when it comes to travel.  Ten days may be a super long trip for them, and there are plenty of people out there who don’t want to be gone for longer than 10 days.  However, I was excited that they were able to celebrate such an incredible accomplishment with a big trip.  So few people get the chance (or rather make it a priority) to do something like that, and even fewer get to do it sitting up front.

Packed House

Packed House Up Front

When booking the trip I was really hoping to experience the Qatar Airways nonstop flight from either DC or Houston.  I had even found a great itinerary that would allow me about 8 hours in DC to get out and doing a little sight seeing in capital of the nation I was bailing on for a while.  Turns out the prices on those tickets were quite a bit higher than the US Airways MCI-CLT-FRA-DOH routing.  I was surprised at how much higher, and there was no way to justify the extra expense.  I wasn’t too disappointed with US Airways being the cheapest option out of the bunch as I was familiar with their Envoy seat, and knew it to be one of the better business class options from the States.

As expected, the seat didn’t disappoint.  It’s full lay flat, has electrical/usb ports, and a great in flight entertainment (IFE) system.  As seems to be standard in business and first class they give you noise cancelling headphones for the flight.  Now, if I could only take those home with me…

Home Sweet Home for the next 8 hrs

Home Sweet Home for the next 8 hrs

The amenity kit provided was the same one we had received on our way to Ireland last year (in US Airways old style business class on the 757).  Nothing too special, but I do like collecting amenity kits for some reason.  It came with Gilchrist & Soames lotion and lip balm, an eye mask, ear plugs, a tooth brush, and a pen.

Useless bag of junk to add to the collection

Useless bag of junk to add to the collection

Really, what am I going to do with this stuff?

Really, what am I going to do with this stuff?

Prior to dinner, the standard warm mixed nuts and drink was served.  You wouldn’t think so, but warming the mixed nuts makes all the difference.  I like regular mixed nuts just fine, but warming them really makes them great.   

Mmm... warm nuts...

Mmm… warm nuts…

For dinner they served an appetizer of Sliced Pesto Chicken Breast with tomato-caper relish which was decent (that’s about as descriptive as I’m going to get with food, because I’ll pretty much eat anything), along with a salad.  For the main course, there were four options, and I went with the Citrus Mahi Mahi.  A few people around me ordered it too, but had some reservations about doing so.  The flight attendant assured them both that it was a solid option.  I quite enjoyed it, so that was a win in my book.  It seems like a lot of people complain about airplane food, but I’m always quite happy with it – including what they serve in coach on international flights.  Each time it comes out I always think it’s not going to be enough food.  And by the end of the meal, I was completely full.

Pictures of menus are what you're here for right?

Pictures of menus are what you’re here for right?

Overall I give it a B-

Overall I give the chicken a B-

Pictures mean I don't have to type...

Pictures mean I don’t have to type…

Fish on a plane, not bad

Fish on a plane, not too bad

For dessert I couldn’t turn down the ice cream.  I really should have asked for the Raspberry Mousse too as it looked great.

I should have ordered 2 of each

I should have ordered 2 of each

I scream

I scream

While dinner was served I took advantage of the IFE, and watched Argo.  I’m headed to the Middle East, so why shouldn’t I see what I’m in for, right?  Actually I had wanted to see it for quite some time, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Really good movie.  On flights where I should be sleeping I tend to catch up on movies instead.  I think I didn’t sleep at all on my flight back from Brazil in 2010 just so I could stay up and watch four different movies.  I didn’t quite keep up with that trend, but I did watch Skyfall before crashing for a few hours in the lay flat seat.

Ah movies, how I've missed you

Ah movies, how I’ve missed you

I woke up early as I tend to do on overnight flights (and no other time), and enjoyed the views.  

The only time I'm up early enough to watch a sunrise

The only time I’m up early enough to watch a sunrise

Breakfast was served, and while I usually tend to go with the heavier option on all meals, I chose the fresh fruit bowl this time which I feel completely confident was the right decision.  

Quiche? No thanks.

Quiche? No thanks.

A healthy breakfast? Who am I?

A healthy breakfast? Who am I?

Soon we were landing in Frankfurt…

I prefer Munich, but, hey I'm going going to be here for a few hours anyway.

I prefer Munich, but, hey I’m only going to be here for a few hours anyway.

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24 Hours in Transit: Part 1 – Adios Snow (MCI-CLT)

This is the first post in a three part trip report of my big move to Doha, Qatar.  If you’re new to trip reports you may find these boring as I did at first, but now I quite enjoy them.  In other words, I’m going to keep writing them, so get used to it.  If you find yourself falling asleep reading them, just scroll through them really fast to look at the pretty pictures.   

24 Hours in Transit:  Part 1 – Adios Snow (MCI-CLT)
24 Hours in Transit:  Part 2 – Crossing the Pond in Envoy Class (CLT-FRA)
24 Hours in Transit:  Part 3 – World’s 5-Star Airline (FRA-DOH)

Let me preface what I’m about to say by telling you that I love to fly.  Sure, everyone loves to travel, but for most people the flying part of traveling is just a means to an end.  I would guess for most people the actual flight experience is either a somewhat neutral experience or a small pain they’re willing to put up with in order to visit some new and exotic location.  But there are those people who downright hate flying.  They hate packing their liquids in 3 ounce containers, being asked to remove their belt and shoes just to get on a plane, being subjected to pat downs or nudoscope scans, their ears popping during takeoffs and landings, or the fact that it’s such a long process just to get on a plane these days.

Not this guy.  All those things combined is such a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the magic that is hopping on a metal tube and blasting through the air at 600 mph.  Traveling halfway across the world in hours when it used to take months is nothing short of amazing.  It really is pure magic to me, and I typically enjoy every minute of it (ok, well maybe not the TSA part).  From people watching in the airport to feeling the G’s pulling me back in my seat as I take off I find it to be an incredible experience no matter how often I do it.

All that being said, after spending 24 hours in airports and on airplanes, I thought, man am I glad I’m not doing that again anytime soon.  I think what did me in was the 5 hour layover in Frankfurt.  Not enough time to leave the airport, but a bit too much time in the airport, even with lounge access. [Full disclosure: That’s how I felt immediately upon arriving.  Now that it’s been a few weeks I’m getting a bit antsy to hop back on a plane.]

Well, enough trying to convince you that long flights aren’t worth the trip, because they most certainly are (especially if you’re planning to come visit us – we’re totally worth it).

Dawn took the day off to take me to the airport and see me off.  I was flying  MCI-CLT-FRA-DOH (Kansas City to Charlotte to Frankfurt to Doha) and the first flight was scheduled to leave at 3:35 PM KC time.  We left a little after noon, and grabbed Jimmy John’s on the way.  I had Chipotle the night before as my last supper in the States, and Jimmy John’s is another favorite of mine so it was good to enjoy that before hopping on a plane to a place with who knows what kind of fast food options.

Map from gcmap.com

Map from gcmap.com

Checking in took a while as the service agent was concerned that I had no visa for Qatar (you buy it when you get there) or a return ticket from DOH.  She had to look something up, and make a call to confirm that all was good.  She didn’t want me to not be let on the plane in CLT or be immediately put on a plane back to the States once I hit DOH.  I’m all for her doing her job and checking into things, but I wasn’t concerned there would be any issues.  Granted, I just assumed my company had informed me correctly that I’d just buy a 30 day visa once I arrived, and there’d be no problems.  I didn’t spend any time checking up on those types of requirements.  That’s typically how I roll, and there’s a good chance it’ll come back to bite me eventually.  At least I’ll have a story though.  And that’s what life is all about, right?  The stories?

After she finished doing her due diligence and found out I’d be fine without a visa or a return ticket, we proceeded with the checking in.  As much as I like to preach the no checked baggage rule I let myself off the hook since I was moving for 1-2 years.  To reduce what we’re shipping over, I tried to pack as much in my luggage as possible.  Airlines vary on their rules a little depending on where you’re flying and what class you’re flying in.  As I was flying transatlantic business class with US Airways I was allowed 2 checked bags with up to 70 lbs each (the economy limit is 1 bag at 50 lbs – with no fees).  One of my bags was around the 50 lb mark.  The scale read the 2nd bag as 70 lbs, but I’m pretty sure it was a few pounds over the limit.  I’m pretty convinced I brought way too many clothes, but my wife decided that I wasn’t allowed to wear the same two pairs of jeans and 10 shirts for two years straight.  After being here for a month, I think my 10 shirts would have been just fine.

As my bags were checked, it was time to play the waiting game.  While living in Orlando, I had arriving at the airport at just the right time down to an art form.  I knew exactly how long it took for me to get from my office to the place I parked my car, how long the the shuttle ride to the airport was, and how to speed through security by using the old Clear security line (it was sort of hidden) that had become the expert flyer line.  As I was typically flying out on a Friday after lunch I always worked in enough time to grab my standard airport dinner from McDonald’s.  It was a routine that I had perfected and quite enjoyed.  After moving to Kansas City I found myself getting to the airport way earlier than necessary.  I had moved to a city with an airport that serves about 10 million passengers a year from one that serves about 35 million, and I’m getting there twice as early.  Not to mention that every 10 gates or so  in Kansas City has their own dedicated security line.  It makes absolutely no sense, yet I continued to do it time and time again.

So, with time to spare before the flight, I set about knocking off tasks from my ever growing ‘Before I Move To Do List’.  I still don’t think I’ve completed everything on that list, and I’ve already been here a month.  That’s about how my to-do lists go.  Eventually it was time to head to the gate, and get on the plane.

It was the end of March, yet there was still snow on the ground.  I think it was God’s little going away present.  “Hey, you’re headed to a place with no precipitation of any kind and the kind of heat where it’s illegal to make people work outside from 12-3 in the summer, so I’ll go ahead and dump about 24″ of snow on you a few weeks before you leave, and then give you a little more of it just before you leave the country.”  Well, I was glad to be leaving all that mess behind.  If I can’t ski on it, I don’t want to see it.  I won’t have to worry about that for a while at least.

Adios snow

Adios snow

The flight to Charlotte was in domestic first class on an Airbus A320.  I believe some of those US Airways flights to CLT during the day are served by regional jets , so I was happy to be on a bit bigger plane for the 2 hr flight.  I had a coupon for a free 24 hr pass of in flight internet that I received from my Milepoint  premium membership.  It was only a 2 hr flight, and US Airways doesn’t have wifi available on international yet, so it wasn’t the best use of a 24 hr pass.  But if I didn’t use it on that flight then I figured it’d probably expire before I did have the chance to use it.  I killed the time reading blogs and taking advantage of the snacks they offered the first class passengers.  I really should learn to bring my own snacks when flying economy.  It really does make the flight better.  Food makes everything better.  After a fairly uneventful two hour flight I was in Charlotte.

Arriving in Charlotte

Arriving in Charlotte

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