SFO777 The First Class Travel Blog

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A380 First Class Marathon

A380 First Class Marathon
48 hours of Qatar, Emirates and Etihad
August 2017
After last year's memorable 72 hour RTW First Class trip on Lufthansa, Garuda, Korean and Cathay Pacific, fellow Flyertalker batmandds and I are off today for another round of wine, food and First Class decadence.  Or as Mrs. SFO777 calls it "more flying to nowhere".   While I've flown QR, EY and EK First Class, I've never flown the QR A380 or Etihad's A380 Apartments.  Our goal on this trip was to package more aspirational flights.
 
So we booked CDG-DOH-AUH in QR First and then back on AUH-JFK in Etihad Apartments, both using AAdvantage miles.  Nice and easy.  Or so we thought.  Enter the current Gulf States dispute with Qatar which cancelled our DOH-AUH flight.  We tried a number of intermediate DOH-AUH options including KWI and MCT, but connections were ugly, unavailable or just too tight.  After looking at the limited number of routes where QR flies First Class east of Qatar (SYD, MEL, CAN or seasonally BKK) we decided on Guangzhou (CAN) which both QR and EK serve with their A380s.
 
• Paris-Doha    Qatar A380 First Class
• Doha-Guangzhou    Qatar A380 First Class
• Guangzhou-Dubai    Emirates A380 First Class
• Abu Dhabi-JFK    Etihad A380 First Class Apartments
• JFK- Los Angeles LAX    American First Class
 
Now to get to Paris.  Decisions, decisions.  Air France La Premiere or United Polaris Business Class.  LOL, no contest.  So I'm on my way to SFO and United.  Ha. I know, I know.  But it was only 52,500 miles vs. 200,000 miles and I wanted to try it out as it's an option for Mrs. SFO777 and me to Tel Aviv in January.  Indeed, I was double booked on AF and UA and it wasn't until this morning that I decided after AF posted a delay on the LAX-CDG flight.  So I'm off to LAX for my DL flight to SFO.  
 

Since I'm coming home via AA, I parking in the T4 garage and then walk over to the third world dump that is Terminal 3.

Delta took over the old Virgin America lounge and brought in new furniture while the new SkyClub is supposedly under construction. .  Not sure it was really an improvement though. 

Before I left home, my 10:00am DL flight was delayed until 10:42am due to low ceiling at SFO.  While at the lounge, there was a further delay until 11am and then a gate change... to another terminal... Terminal 3.  Seriously?

Fortunately, there is shuttle bus between terminals.

Terminal 2 was recently renovated and while it's nice than Terminal 3, it's still crap, suffering from overcrowding and poor design. 

Los Angeles LAX-San Francisco SFO
Delta DL 5743
E75
10:00am-11:32a (sked)
11:07am push back
11:52a-12:55a (actual)
Seat 3A

Low ceiling at SFO means ATC delays and we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes before our release.   

And so we wait, until 10:45am and then get in line for take-off.

Once we finally took off, excellent service by our pleasant LAX-based FA Pamela.

Browsing the DL inflight magazine, I found one of the most dishonest, disgraceful perpetuation of lies by this POS airline.  What a crock.  Total hypocracy from one of the biggest recipients of corporate subsidies.  Gag me with a spoon. 

Where do I throw up?

And finally, our approach to SFO.

Delta operates from Gates 40-49 of Terminal 1 at SFO.   Sure, let's encourage even more phony service animals.

I decided not to exit with the masses and tried to new T1-T2 airside connector which was pretty cool.

No T2-T3 connector, yet... so I headed streetside for the short walk to Terminal 3.

My first stop was the Amex Centurion Lounge.

And lunch... pork in coconut cream sauce with a glass of lovely Seghesio Zinfandel.

After lunch, the short walk from T3 to the International Terminal.

Off to try the SQ and BR lounges.

Or so I thought... as they were both closed.

So I head to settle for the United Club.

Which was exaclty what I had expected. 

Mediocre.

Nothing says United better than this...

Nice wine bottles although I doubt these are complimentary.

At around T-40 I headed down to nearby Gate 92.

San Francisco SFO to Paris CDG
United 990
787-9
2:55pm-10:35am +1
August 20, 2017
Polaris Business Class Seat 6D
 

I arrived at the gate just before boarding started. 

I selected on inside bulkhead seat 6D in the 2nd mini-cabin, which is regarded by UA Flyertalks as the best seat on the plane.  The bulkhead seats had larger cut out cubby holes for your feet when sleeping.  OK, it may be the best on this plane but it's a far cry from anyone's First Class.

This is a nice touch and indeed the Saks Fifth Avenue pillow and duvet were very nice.

Friendly and pleasant FAs made the rounds hanging up jackets and serving PDBs and chocolates.  But no one is going to confuse this with First Class.  With 48 Business Class, it was pretty hectic as the entire Economy cabin of 200+ boarded at 2L and walked thru the Business mini-cabin.

United's wine list, mostly 86, 87 and 88 rated wines, although the Tempranillo had a sticker on the bottle claiming Robert Parker gave it a 94.  We'll see about that.

The Polaris amenity kit.  Nice packaging with the Saks logo.

But a grab bag of mostly meh.

The IFE system had a hand controller which was mostly useless as it could only scroll up, down, left or right and not enter anything.  So I just used the touch screen controls.

The forward Business Class cabin.

After take-off our crew was quick to start service.

My usual G&T.

Then inexplicably, just as I started sipping on my G&T, another FA brought out the dinner tray.  Seriously??  Ever heard of pacing?  It's a 3pm departure and a 10 hour for effsake.   I asked him to go away, LOL and serve me at the end, which he obliged.

Fifteen minutes later, my meal tray.  

The smoked duck was OK to be kind.

While the salad was just gross and inedible.

Apparently catering is rationing the garlic butter on the garlic bread.

 

 

After those two starters, I was dreading the worst with my pork chop.  But lo and behold, I was served a large and beautiful pork chop. 

Perfectly prepared, moist and delicious!   After a 2nd G&T, I tried a glass of the Tempranillo which was actually pretty good.

And the dessert cart.

My made to order sundae was excellent, with chocolate sauce and extra M&Ms.   Love the cardboard bowl which United is using since their old glass apparently were chipping.

I slept pretty well for nearly 4 hours and then did a little work.  Wifi worked reasonably well but sporadically.  It was a little pricey at $28 for the flight.

Breakfast options were the omelet or fruit plate.

It was pretty good.

And so was the cinnamon bun.

We touched down at CDG 15 minutes early and were at the gate a few minutes later.  All in all, a reasonably pleasant flight for the price.  But it's a far cry from Air France or even Lufthansa First Class and I don't want to make a habit of it.   

From the mini cabin near 2L, I was one of the first off the plane.

And headed down the marvel of French architecture known as Terminal 1.  LOL.

I had assumed that I would go thru customs and check-in with Qatar as a departing passenger... until I spotted the Salons/Lounges sign.

And the Qatar Lounge.  Really?  Wow, wouldn't that be cool if I could just go and check in there.

Unfortunately, the Qatar Lounge didn't open for another 2 hours, so I decided to try to get into the Star Alliance Lounge.

I was at first denied as the lounge was apparently only for departing passengers.  But the friendly lounge dragon mentioned that they were a Priority Pass lounge.  Et voila, I was in.

The lounge has a First Class area, upstairs behind the check-in desk and the small Business Centre.

The larger Business Class Lounge was downstairs.

Which was pretty crowded when I arrived.

 

But eventually thinned out an hour later.

Just after 12:30pm, I headed down the hall to the Qatar Lounge, which was just opening.   Pleasant QR rep indicated that while they were unable to issue boarding passes, they could check me in, and my boarding pass would be waiting for me at the gate.  And that my e-ticket confirmation was all that I needed to get thru security and to the gate.  Not as clean as I would have liked, but it sure beats the alternative.  The Qatar Lounge is only about 6 months old and is quite lovely, reminiscent of the LHR lounge. And with the same wonderful service.

I freshened up with a shower before we headed to lunch. 

A glass of Billecart Salmon to start our lunch, and an meze amuse bouche.

My cream of asparagus soup.

And the delicious lamb birhyani.

Our fabulous server Vasanthi who insisted that we try a glass of the Chateau Peymouton St-Emilion Grand Cru.   Just like in a government subsized Delta Club. LOL.

One of the lounge staff came around and announced that boarding had commenced, and we headed out to Gates 35 and 36.

Paris-Doha
Qatar QR 40
A380-800
4:00p-11:30p
August 21, 2017
Suite 2A

 

After a minor gong show at security due to my lack of a boarding pass with seemingly everyone being consulted, I was finally permitted to pass.  My boarding passes were indeed waiting for me at the Gate 35 podium.

 

No doors, but what a gorgeous cabin, as Qatar passed on the doors and bling and opted for classy luxury.   Despite no doors, the private screen afforded a good amount of privacy from other passengers.  We opted for 2A and 2E and it was perfect for two people with only 2 other passengers today, in 1A and 1E.

No showers but still quite nice.

No champagne for a PDB as apparently QR is reluctant to pay the French government any more taxes. 

My non-alcoholic mint drink was refreshing.

QR's cool Brics amenity kit.

With some usable take home goodies... what a concept.

My pre-departure Arabic coffee. 

Noise cancelleing headsets...

But not Bose.  Come on Qatar, just pay a little more.

Today's menu.

And respectable wine list.

 

Shortly after take-off, we both started with a glass of Krug.

And then headed to the Business and First Class lounge behind the Business Class cabin towards the rear of the upper deck.

Our new friend.

batmandds and friend.

And the two of us.

On our way back to the pointy end, wow the Business Class cabin looks really nice.

Meanwhile back in First, showtime!

batmandds started with caviar...

My amuse bouche, chicken with creme fraiche.

Then my lovely cream of asparagus soup.

My Grilled prawns with mango salsa and soba noodles were delicious.

My beef was tasty but unfortunately, well done.

For dessert, the Cherry and almond tart was sensational.

Our interesting less direct flght path over Iran, since the Gulf States have restricted fly over rights in the current dispute.

From Gate A3, it was a short walk thru an empty concourse to the main central terminal complex of shops, restaurants and lounges.

HIA's huge showpiece signature teddy bear.

Stunning architecture as we wander around trying to locate the Al Safwa Lounge.

The relatively new terminal is a pleasure to visit but signage leaves a lot to be desired.   Major directional signs show directions to First Class Lounge which just turned us in circles.  The only explanation I can think of is that there is a generic First Class Lounge for all but Qatar.

The gorgeous Al Mourjan Lounge is still where is was three years ago.

Even with directions from the Al Mourjan sentry, it still took another 5 minutes to find the promised land. 

Talk about an impressive entrance.

The Lounge is huge, indeed mind-blowingly large with numerous wide corridors.  It's not particularly warm lounge though.  It kind of reminded me of a modern museum but without the art.

There is also a convenient and secure check-room behind the inside First customer service counter, where we left our carry-ons during our visit.

I set up shop in what is arguably the nicest Business Centre of any airline lounge, anywhere.

And one of the most gorgeous restrooms in any lounge.
 

The bar and dining area is huge, sleek and modern but not very personable or intimate.

With a selection of serve yourself and/or serve for you counters.  You can also order off the menu.
 

We headed for the bar.

Are you serious?  The house champagne is the La Grande Dame.  Wow.

And Showtime, Al Safwa style.   The menu was lovely but I forgot to take a pic.  My bad.

Our starter was excellent.

And the pasta dishes simply out of this world.

And you everyday bottle of wine that you will not find served at your government subsidized Sky Club.

OMG, I don't think I need to eat on our Doha-Guangzhou flight.

Our flight was delayed for a half an hour and we headed out to our Gate B3 just a little after 2am.

Doha-Guangzhou
Qatar QR 974
A380-800
2:20a-3:30p (sked)
2:55a-3:40p
August 22, 2017
Suite 2A

We arrived at B3 to find a long queue for the main cabin.

Once we identified ourselves as First Class, we were immediately welcome to go upstairs to the First and Business boarding area, and then immediately on board.

Nice night-time cabin lighting of the elegant First Class cabin which we had all to ourselves.  

And yet another glass of champagne, tonight served by our personable Flight Attendant Rita.

The wine list was the same as CDG-DOH.  Tonight's menu.

Rita had an easy flight tonight as we both slept most of the way to Guangzhou.  

My bed in 2E.  Sorry I forgot to take a pic when it was nicely made.

For breakfast, I chose Chicken congee...

...which was delicious.

Our approach to Guangzhou.

From our arrival gate, it was a 5 minute walk to customs and immigration.

Where we were for a good half hour if not more.   We took advantage of the 24/72 hour visa-free transit which is available in many Chinese cities including Guangzhou.  And just as FlyetTalk's Short hair Francis predicted, our short stay prompted a few questions.  We were first told that we didn't have enough time (less the 8 hours) to qualify.  Then shuttled off to a secondary area where we waited for 30 minutes while our request was processed.  We chatted with another westerner who had lived in Guangzhou and was back visiting friends, and reassured us that this was just part of the bureaucratic paper-pushing Chinese dog and pony show.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, we were approved to enter the country.

We had pre-arranged for a local private guide (highly rated on Trip Advisor) to meet us, show us Guangzhou and drop us back at the airport later that night.   Xaq was waiting for us with a name sign and we exited the terminal and our driver "Peter" pulled up a short time later.  

By this time, it was nearly 5:30pm and we're headed off for the city center of Guangzhou.

In rush hour, it took more than an hour.  Given our later arrival and visa issues, we were at least 90 minutes behind schedule.  So we decided to skip the previously planned Six Banyan Temple, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and Pearl River cruise and go right to dinner at a local Cantonese restaurant that Xaq has suggested.

Xaq ordered for the table and we thoroughly enjoyed his selections.

Rain from the approaching typhoon had picked up during dinner as we found Peter and headed for a nightime tour of new Guangzhou. 

Despite the off and on rain, we got out at the new Guangzhou Library for our walking tour of impressive new Guangzhou. 

In the distance, iconic Canton Tower. 

We took the subway for the 1 stop ride under the Pearl River to Canton Tower.

And a look back across the Pearl River.

At the base of the Canton Tower, we met Peter for the 70 minute drive back to the airport.

With a population of 13 milliion, Guangzhou is the 3rd largest city China.  Five hours is way too short to really do it justice.

 

The approaching typhoon brought more rain as we headed to the airport, hoping to get out before the things got crazy.

We arrived at the terminal at 10pm, just over 2 hours prior to departure.

At the K counters is Emirates.

After check-in, a 5 minute walk to security and passport control.  No Priority lanes but there weren't a lot of pax in line, so we were thru in short order.

If you are not flying China Southern or other Chinese airlines, your choices are the Premium Lounge... or nothing.   After a walk thru this depressing place, we decided on nothing.

At this hour of the night, way too many people for this depressing place.