After doing more American Airlines mileage runs earlier this year than I care to count, I had built up enough miles for my wife and I to take a special trip. I put my miles and hotel points to good use, booking a two-week vacation to Bali, Indonesia. The trip report follows:
- Austin to Bali, Cathay Pacific Business Class
- The Bali Hyatt Hotel
- Walking around Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
We had reservations on American Airlines, First Class, from Austin to Los Angeles (LAX), then Cathay Pacific Business Class to Hong Kong (HKG) and then on to Bali (DPS).
We arrived at Austin Bergstrom-Inernational Airport and checked in with plenty of time to spare for our 7:05 p.m. non-stop flight to Los Angeles. We spent some time in the Admirals Club then went to our gate. We’d fly an MD-80 to LAX, with seats in First Class.
The flight was uneventful, other than leaving 10 minutes late due to the extra time needed to seat an elderly passenger who was in a wheelchair. This was not a problem for us since we had a 5½ hour layover at LAX — 10 to 15 minutes would not make much of a difference to us.
We arrived at LAX and had to leave the secure area to walk to from Terminal 4 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal for our flight to Hong Kong. We went to the Cathay Pacific counter to check in as we had done when we made our last trip to HKG; four years ago Cathay issued us new boarding passes and a ticket to get into their premium lounge, but that did not happen this time. The agent told us we could use the boarding passes that American Airlines gave us in Austin, and those passes would also get us into the oneworld First Class Lounge located on the terminal’s fifth floor.
I expected the oneworld lounge to be as nice as the Cathay premium lounge was a few years ago: spacious, quiet, with a wide selection of food from which we could choose, I could not have been more disappointed.
The oneworld First Class Lounge was long, narrow, crowded, and very loud. It was so crowded that I didn’t think my wife and I would be able to find a place to sit together, but we walked the length of the club and were fortunate to find two seats together. We were not impressed. But ten minutes later an announcement was made that a Qantas flight to Australia was leaving and with that the club quickly emptied.
We spent a few hours in the lounge then made the very long walk across the terminal to get our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.
Our flight was scheduled to depart at 1:30 a.m. Shortly before 1:00 they began the boarding process, taking the passengers in wheelchairs to the jetway. My wife and I were among the first people on the line for Business Class seating. At 1:15 I noticed the wheelchair passengers were still at the end of the jetway, and no one else had been called to board. Could they load the plane in just 15 minutes?
No, they could not. At 1:20, ten minutes before departure, they announced the flight would be delayed because it did not have a Second Officer: new departure time was 3:30. An audible groan went up from the hundreds of people waiting to board the plane. I found it to be odd: was it 10 minutes before departure when they finally realized they had no Second Officer?
My wife and I talked about returning to the oneworld lounge, but it was such a long walk back that we decided to stay in the gate area. Cathay did the best it could to make the situation better. There were frequent announcements updating the situation. They offered free refreshments: cookies, chips, water, warm soda. The passengers greeted those refreshments as if they were part of an emergency food mission to a country full of starving people — they made such a commotion trying to get at the refreshments that we decided to pass on them.
At 2:15 I suggested to the gate agent that he allow First Class and Business passengers to board so that we could at least get some sleep at our seats. He did not think that was as good an idea as I did. He did announce that a Second Officer was coming in from San Diego, and as soon as he called and said he was 45 minutes away from the airport, they would begin the boarding process. Just a few moments later that call came through, we started to board, and took off at 3:00 a.m., 1½ hours late.
Cathay Pacific Business Class is wonderful! We each had our own individual mini-compartment with a seat that would lie-flat to give us a chance to sleep. The flight attendants are personable, always smiling, anxious to help, and always addressed me by name.
There are two Business Class sections on the 777-300ER. One section is near the center of the aircraft, 12 rows with 4 seats in each row for a total of 48 passengers. The other section is directly behind First Class and has only two rows of seats, for a total of eight passengers. This is where my wife and I were seated, almost in our own private world, with only six other passengers in our area.
My wife fell asleep shortly after we took off, but I stayed up to eat dinner, then took advantage of the lie-flat seat, pillow, and down comforter, to sleep for 4-5 hours. When I woke up I had time to read from my Kindle, listen to some podcasts and music on my iPhone, and then eat breakfast.
We landed at Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific has a camera beneath the fuselage of their aircraft, passengers can watch it at their seat. This is our landing at Hong Kong.
I had hoped to spend some time at the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge in HKG, but we were so late on our arrival that we could only go to our departure gate. We came in at gate 21, I looked at the departure screen — it said we were leaving from gate 33, so we started to walk towards that gate. I soon noticed something odd: we were the ONLY people walking in that direction and the two moving sidewalks were both going in the opposite direction from us. I figured out the problem when I read a sign under the departure screen; we were in the arrival terminal and had to get to the departure terminal.
Now the only flights that HKG has are international flights, no local ones. But no difference. We still had to take a train to the other side of the airport and then clear security again. By the time we got to our gate we had barely 10 minutes to spare before our departure.
We boarded our flight and saw how much less upscale our flight was. We had gone from international business class, 4 seats across, to regional business class with 7 seats across. Seats reclined but did not go flat, and instead of sharing a cabin with 6 others, we had more than 60 people in the cabin with us.
The flight went smoothly except for the air conditioning. When we were an hour out of HKG many people in our area were using their magazines to fan themselves. We complained to the flight attendant who said she would do what she could to lower the temperature. She was able to get it a little bit cooler, but it never become comfortable.
We landed at the Ngurah Rai International Airport at Denpasar, Bali, and immediately realized we had arrived in a third-world nation. The arrivals area is old, run down, with no air conditioning.
The fist thing we had to do was wait on a very long line to buy our entrance visa, $25 per person. Then we went to the immigration line which was even longer than the line for the visa. All this in a crowded terminal without air conditioning.
The Shakedown, Part I
As we were waiting on this intolerably long line for immigration, an airport security person, in uniform, came up to me and said he could take us to the front of the line. Great, what a friendly gesture! But then he added we would have to pay him an extra $40 per person for him to do this. Again, this was a government official in uniform asking me for the bribe! I told him no. Can you imagine what would happen if a TSA agent asked for a bribe like that? Interestingly, a friend flew in the following day and agreed to pay the bribe, but he was only charged $20. I might have said yes at that price.
We eventually got through the immigration line then had to get our bags and go through the customs line. Several attendants grabbed our bags from the luggage carousel and headed off with them. They get us through security (yes, we had to have our bags scanned and go through a metal-detector to get INTO the country.) When we were done, I had to tip the guys to get our bags back.
When we finally left the terminal, the ride to the hotel was waiting for us: they met us with cold bottles of water, and drove us to the hotel. We may have been tired after the long flight, but the ride to the hotel certainly woke us up! I could never drive here. They drive on what we Americans would call the wrong side of the road (like I did without trouble in Ireland a few years ago) but it seems that almost everyone here rides motorcycles. They pass on the left. They pass on the right. I saw them go on the sidewalk to get past traffic congestion! They cut us off countless times, I had no idea how we were not in an accident. The driver of our van put it very well when he said the motorcycle drivers did not follow the traffic laws, which meant it took “great instinct and imagination to drive here.”
Watch this video: we’re on a two lane street, and our van is in one of the lanes — look at how many other lanes the cars and motorcycles create, and note that the motorcycles go on the sidewalk to get past the congestion,.
After a 25-minute ride we arrived at our hotel, the beautiful Bali Hyatt in Sanur. More about that in the next post.
Finally, some positive news for American Airlines! It was announced yesterday that Qatar Airways will be joining the oneworld® alliance — it will take 12 to 18 months for the process to be completed. You can get the full details here.
I’m excited by this because it will give me, as an AAdvantage member, access to one of the top airlines in the world. Qatar was named Airline of the Year for the past two years by the Skytrax independent airline quality rating agency. Its premium service ranks it as one of the top three or four airlines in the world. It also has a very modern fleet.
According to their press release, “Fifteen of its destinations and three countries – Iran, Rwanda and the Seychelles – will be new to the oneworld map.” Three new countries for me!
- Iran – let’s go visit their nuclear plants! Actually, let’s not.
- Rwanda – no, not on my bucket list
- Seychelles – Starwood and Hilton have some beautiful properties on these islands located north of Madagascar, east of Kenya and Somalia. I ignored them in the past since none of the oneworld airlines served the Seychelles. Now, I may look at it as a future vacation destination.
Qatar Airway’s home base is Doha: I had a short 36-hour layover in Doha a few years ago and would not mind going back for a longer stay. My wife has suggested many times that it might be a good mileage run for me, particularly if I can bring back some more jewelry for her, the prices were that good!
I welcome Qatar Airways to oneworld, and look forward to flying with them in the future.
Here is more information from the press release.
About Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways was launched in 1997 and quickly established itself as one of the world’s fastest growing and highest quality airlines.
Besides being named Skytrax’s Airline of the Year for the past two years, it is also the organisation’s Best Middle East Airline for the seventh year running and has retained Skytrax’s Five Star ranking since 2004. Other recent awards won include Business Traveler USA’s Best Airline for International Travel and Aviation Business’ Airline of the Year 2011.
It boarded 15 million passengers in 2011, generating group revenues of US$ 6.4 billion.
Qatar Airways, which uses the two-letter code QR, has one of the world’s youngest fleets. It currently operates 111 aircraft, with an average age of four years, including 26 Boeing 777s, four Airbus A340-600s, 29 Airbus A330s and 44 Airbus A320 family types. It has orders and options for more than 250 more aircraft, worth more than US$ 50 billion, for delivery over the next few years. These include 13 Airbus A380-800s, 80 Airbus A350s, 60 Boeing 787s and 80 Airbus A320neos.
Qatar Airways is 50 per cent owned by the State of Qatar and 50 per cent by private shareholders.
Earlier this week the members of the Allied Pilots Association (APA) overwhelmingly rejected American Airlines last best contract offer, throwing their situation and the reorganization of AMR Corpopration into uncharted areas where no one quite knows what to expect next.
American’s initial offer to the APA several months ago called for layoffs, reduction of benefits, cutbacks in pay for the pilots. AA later made their last best offer which said there would be no layoffs, a 13% pay increase over the next 5 years, and the union would get an equity stake in the newly reorganized AMR Corporation. APA leadership immediately rejected it. However, the next day they asked the bankruptcy court for time to review it and, a few days later, narrowly approved it. When the time came for members to vote 61% of those voting said no to the offer. The main reasons given for the rejection were that it was too long a contract (6 years), pilots brought in to fly the new narrow-body aircraft (A-319) would be paid less than other pilots, and finally, years of bad will between the union and the corporation also played a major role. As a result of the vote, Union President David Bates said in a letter to the pilots on Thursday that he agreed to step down late on Wednesday at the request of the board of the Allied Pilots Association.
So what happens now? As we used to say, that is the $64,000 question.
Without a contract with the pilots union, it becomes more difficult for AMR to tell the bankruptcy judge that they have a solid plan in place for reorganization. How will the judge react to that? We’ll know when he makes his ruling on August 15. He could grant the airline additional time to reach an agreement with the union, or he could say they have had enough time and it did not work. At this point he could ask for others (such as other airlines or creditors) to present their proposals on how to reorganize the company.
He also has the power to negate the current pilots contract and put American’s original proposal into place. No bankruptcy judge has ever negated a pilots contract, but it is an option for him.
The flight attendants union is voting on AA’s final offer to them, we should know the results in approximately 10 days. All of the other major unions, except the pilots, have voted to accept AA’s proposals. Three unions (Allied Pilots Association, the Transport Workers Union and Association of Professional Flight Attendants) have also voted to accept a proposal from US Airways for a merger between the two airlines.
By rejecting AMR’s last best offer, the APA has taken a tremendous gamble.
They are gambling that the bankruptcy judge does not negate their contract and force them to accept a more onerous offer from AA.
They are gambling that American Airlines will not survive as a stand-alone airline.
They are gambling that AA will be forced to merge with another as yet un-named airline. While US Air has been most vocal in expressing its desire to merge with AA, it has not, as of this date, signed the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that AA sent to it and all other airlines last week. I received a letter from a member of the APA stating that they had been told that AA planned to merge with Jet Blue.
They are gambling that this new -un-named airline will give them a better deal than they would get from AA. Can they get a better deal from a combined US Air / American Airlines? It’s worth pointing out that the flight attendants and US Airways pilots have not had new contracts since the 2005 merger of US Airways and America West. The dispute centers on integrating the seniority lists. So, US Airways has had seven years to combine the pilots from US Air and American West into one union group, and has still not succeeded. IF I were a member of the APA, I don’t believe that would fill me with confidence or make me anxious to join the fray.
Some may say that I am not an APA member and do not have access to all the information that they had prior to the vote. That would be a correct statement. But I’d reply that union management did have access to that information and did vote to accept AA’s offer.
We’re now going into a grey area where no one can yet say for sure what will happen. The APA took a huge gamble by rejecting the contract. Were they incredibly bold or absurdly stupid? Time will tell if they made the right move or not.
Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR Corporation, American Airlines’ parent company. Total value of my holdings is less than $80.
We’ve know for almost a year that American Airlines had placed a massive order with both Airbus and Boeing, their goal being to give AA the youngest fleet of any of the five major American carriers. Some of those aircraft have already made their way into the fleet, the 737-800s with the Sky Interior are joining at the rate of three per month.
We also know that the first 777-ERs will start to arrive this year, while the first Airbus product will appear in 2013. We know all that . What we did not know was what the aircraft interiors would look like, what features they would offer. With the release of this video, we now know.
I have to admit I am excited by this and am looking forward to flying on these aircraft. Passengers in coach will have their own TV screen with hundreds of hours of content, a 110 volt AC socket to plug things in, a USB connector, iPhone compatibility,. That is great stuff and should make a trip much more pleasant.
The front of areas of the plane will feature luxury accommodations not currently available, I believe, among domestic US carriers.
As these new aircraft join the fleet, American will not only get a younger fleet, they will get aircraft that offer more features, comfort, and luxury to their passenger than their current aircraft do. I look forward to my first flight on one of them.!
Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR corporation, American Airlines’ parent company. Total value of my holdings is less than $90.
I woke up this morning to find the following text message on my phone: (from @AmericanAir) “It will be business as usual at American Airlines throughout our Chapter 11 reorganization.”
Those 14 words showed that American Airlines’ parent corporation, AMR Corporation, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that many say should have happened long ago. United, Continental, Northwest, Delta had all filed for Chapter 11 in the past few years, enabling them to get out from under massive dept burdens while lowering their labor costs. AMR CEO Gerard Arpey was adamant that AMR would not do the same and maintained that stance as the corporation lost more and more money as the only legacy carrier to not have any profitable quarters over the past two years. At a time when fuel costs were skyrocketing, American had the highest labor costs in the industry.
As AMR lost money its stock price plummeted.
- Down 41% in the last month
- Down 50% in the last three months
- Down 74% in the last six months
- Down 79% since January 1, 2011
- Down 81% in the last year
- Down 95% in the last five years
The major goal of a publicly traded corporation is to make money for its shareholders; AMR had not done that in a very long time.
Today’s announcement adds “As announced separately today, the Board of Directors of AMR Corporation appointed (Thomas W.) Horton Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Company, succeeding Gerard Arpey, who informed the Board of his decision to retire. Horton will also succeed Arpey as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Airlines and will retain the title of President.” (Here is the complete announcement)
I can’t help but think that Arpey wanted to stay on the job but the board did not give him that option, and so he “retired.” The Dallas Morning News however reports that “We’re told that the AMR board urged Arpey to stay and help the company through the reorganization. However, after long and careful thought, he decided he would leave.” (Here is the complete article.)
What does this mean for people like me who fly on American Airlines? The announcement addresses that question (with emphasis added).
“American Airlines and American Eagle are operating normal flight schedules today, and their reservations, customer service, AAdvantage® program, Admirals Clubs and all other operations are conducting business as usual. Likewise, throughout the Chapter 11 process, American and American Eagle expect to continue to:
- Provide safe and reliable service;
- Fly normal schedules;
- Honor tickets and reservations, and make exchanges and refunds as usual;
- Fully maintain AAdvantage frequent flyer and other customer service programs, and ensure all AAdvantage miles and elites status earned by members remain secure and intact;
- Provide Admirals Club access and similar amenities to members and eligible customers;
- Remain an integral member of the oneworld® alliance, of which American is a founding member, and continue its codeshare partnerships;
- Provide employee wages, healthcare coverage, vacation, and other benefits, without interruption; and
- Pay suppliers for goods and services received during the reorganization process.”
The most important parts of that message for me are that the airline will keep flying, and that frequent flyier miles and elite status will remain “secure and intact.”
The situation for American employees is not as positive.
“”But as we have made clear with increasing urgency in recent weeks, we must address our cost structure, including labor costs, to enable us to capitalize on these foundational strengths and secure our future. Our very substantial cost disadvantage compared to our larger competitors, all of which restructured their costs and debt through Chapter 11, has become increasingly untenable given the accelerating impact of global economic uncertainty and resulting revenue instability, volatile and rising fuel prices, and intensifying competitive challenges.”
AMR could not continue with the highest labor costs in the industry; its employees can expect a reduction in their salary and a reduction in their benefits as the airline goes forward. I feel sorry for them: while the board can say the labor costs were too high, the flight attendants, pilots, luggage handlers, and other employees themselves did not cause the bankruptcy, but they will now pay the cost for it.
AMR placed the one of the largest commercial aircraft orders in history earlier this year with both Boeing and Airbus. As part of the deal, the two manufacturers are financing the purchase. What will happen now that AMR hs filed for Chapter 11 protection? Will AMR negotiate for a better deal? Will it cancel part of the order? It will be interesting to see what happens.
I have three mileage runs in January and February, and hope to use my AAdvantage miles to take my wife on another overseas vacation later in the year. It looks like my miles and elite status will remain intact — this is what happened at the other carriers when they filed for bankruptcy.
As a consumer and a loyal AAdvantage member, I can only look at this as a positive move. As one who flies almost exclusively with American Airlines, I want it to be financially stable, able to make a profit, and competitive with other airlines. Chapter 11 reorganization should help AMR to achieve those goals which will enable it continue to not only provide service to but also grow in the future. I look forward to that happening.
We live in a time when almost all airfares are far lower than they were ten or twenty years ago. Commercial airliners routinely fly halfway around the world non-stop. And so many people have access to air travel that we tend to take it for granted.
For some of us though, flying is special. Even though I have made so many flights over the last few years, I still get excited when I have the chance to fly again.
British Airways’ latest commercial shows us beautifully that flying was, and can still be, special.
If you do not see the video, you can view on YouTube by clicking this link: British Airways’s Latest Commercial