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:

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.

OneWorld Lounge

A very empty oneworld first class lounge at Los Angeles International Airport. The lounge was packed when we arrived, but when the announcement was made to board a Qantas flight to Australia, the club emptied.

Part of the food selection at the lounge, Fruits and snacks were also available.

I avoided the free liquor selection: I did not want to drink before the flight.

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.

I saw an Air China 747 as we walked across the terminal. It saddens me to see so many airlines are grounding this magnificent aircraft, one of the most iconic planes of the last 50 years. But business is business, and the 747 has become too expensive for most airlines to operate.

Our Cathay Pacific 777-300 ER.

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 seat for the 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. The seat can lie flat providing a comfortable chance to sleep.

The controls for my seat and the audio-visual system. I had to play with them for a several minutes to figure out what they all did.

Where are we? The LED screen provided our exact location, in addition to hundreds of movies and TV shows.

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.

Breakfast began with fresh fruit and a croissant.

I chose the Oriental option for breakfast, dim sum.

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.

Our 777-200 at the gate, with a Cathay 747 in the background at Hong Kong International Airport.

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.