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Round The World in First

Round The World in First
New York, Paris and Singapore
via Singapore Airlines First Class
September 2010
Ever since I took my dad on our Singapore RTW First trip a couple of years ago, I've plotted to do the same trip with Mrs. SFO. I know I'm probably upping the ante on our future TATL/TPAC travel but somethings in life are worth it, and flying SQ First is near the top of my list. For my significant and somewhat traumatic round number birthday, there was never any doubt that I would choose Paris, the only question was how. As it was my birthday, Mrs. SFO consented to flying the long way home, on the condition that we actually leave the airports (she knows me well enough to add that stipulation) and spend at least a couple of days in both Singapore and Hong Kong.
 
-American Admirals Club SFO
-American Business Class SFO-JFK
-New York City
-Singapore Airlines Check-in JFK
-Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse JFK
-Swiss Business Class Lounge JFK
-Singapore First Class JFK-Frankfurt
-Lufthansa First Class Lounge FRA Terminal A
-Le Meurice
-Paris
-Eurostar Premium Class Gare du Nord-London St. Pancras
-Silver Kris First Class Lounge LHR
-Singapore Airlines First Class London-Singapore
-Raffles Hotel Singapore
-Singapore
-Singapore First Class Check-in
-Singapore Silver Kris First Class Lounge "The Private Room"
-Singapore First Class Singapore-Hong Kong
-Silver Kris Lounge HKG
-Singapore First Class Hong Kong-SFO

 

To get to NY to start our SQ RTW, I decided to go the day before because the RTW was on a different PNR, and to avoid any possibility of same day connection delays. And since the Princess does not happily do early morning flights, an early afternoon SFO-JFK flight seemed much more civilized.

As I'm still short of my annual 100K EXP goal with no DBEQM for the west coast, I chose AA as upgrades are relatively easy for EXPs and the $139 OW fare on the 1:40pm SFO-JFK was hard to beat. Our upgrades cleared at T-79 or a day later than the official T-100 window (par for the course these days on AA). Unfortunately, eight EXP upgrades were processed at the same time and AA.com apparently doesn't understand that two pax on the same PNR would like to sit together. Even though there were four pairs unassigned prior to the upgrades, we were assigned 11A and 10D. The only remaining pair was the bulkhead 7HJ.

We left our house in the City around 11:50a and were dropped off at Terminal 3 at 12:20p. Check in at SFO was at lot easier mid-day than early morning. The First/Business/Elite line was short (at least when we got there before the masses in the pic arrived) as was Priority security and we were in the Admirals Club by 12:30p. The Club was quite crowded when we arrived with DFW, ORD and JFK flights leaving around the same time. For those not familiar, the SFO Admirals Club is rather small but conveniently located close to all AA gates. I don't think many will miss it when the new Club opens next year in renovated AA/VX Terminal 2.

SFO Terminal 3 American Airlines check-in counters
SFO Terminal 3 First/Business/Elite check-in

We left the club at 1:10p and a minute later we were at Gate 67 where they had just announced J boarding. Navigating the gate lice is no easy task at Gate 67 which essentially shares with boarding area with three other gates. Photo was taken about a half hour before boarding and the arrival of gate lice.

AA178
SFO-JFK
1:40pm-10:20pm
September 13, 2010
767-200
Business Class
Seats 7HJ

I had never been in anything but First on the 762 so was unaware that the J seats were the old J seats, not nearly as spacious as 763 J. The bulkhead is a little confining, although there was plenty of overhead nearby and spilling into First.

Unfortunately, AA uses only one door (1L) for the entire plane so everyone boards and lugs their carry-ons by, occasionally bumping you if you forget to lean towards the window. After all the Y pax boarded, our FA brought a tray with choice of water, OJ or "champagne".

Cocktails and warm nuts in a ramekin...

Menu were presented after cocktail service...

Salad with vinaigrette (or caesar) was very good...

The "American Classic" Beef Pot Pie was also good...

Mrs. SFO had the Chicken Achiote, grilled chicken marinated in achiote sauce, accompanied by a quinoa salad with tomato and feta, grilled squash and zucchini, served chilled. She liked it but, just like last time, not as much as my beef pot pie. Hey sweetheart, next time order your own pot pie.

Cookies and Cream ice cream was delicious...

Caramel and coconut cookies, my new AA favorite.

With the exception of an appetizer and the customized ice cream sundae, the meal service was not much different from 3 class First, where I had the same pot pie a few months ago. All in all, a pleasant flight especially since we arrived at the gate 35 minutes early. Priority bag service worked tonight as our bags were among the first to come out.

SQ 25 JFK-FRA

The JFK Ground Experience, aka... How can a such a great in flight airline be so horse crap on the ground?
SQ needs to do some serious reflection on the entire JFK ground experience, which dismayed me and brought Mrs. SFO to question my sanity and why the hell we aren't flying LH? I believe her words were "we left a day early and stopped in NY for this crap, when we could have flown LH nonstop?"

Our Dial 7 driver dropped us off at T-4 at approximately 6:15p after a 75 minute rush hour trek. The need for all pax to schlep bags from check-in to baggage screening caused a line that one needed to "cut" to get to the First Class counter. After tagging, a porter took our checked bags and hauled them away presumably to security, although I did ask the check-in agent whether he was supposed to take them.

Then it was off to the VS Clubhouse, where I hoped to relive my great experience of a couple years ago. The Clubhouse dragon has a list of SQ First pax and we were welcomed to the lounge. Unfortunately, there were so many people in the lounge, that we couldn't find any open seating pairs other than in the closet alcove at the back of the lounge, where the AC was working overtime and CNN was a loud annoyance.

After a quick scouting trip, we moved to the relative tranquility of the LX Lounge... much more relaxing but minus the service of the Clubhouse with clearly lesser business class offerings.

Can LX find any cheaper booze??

I checked back twice at the VS Clubhouse but nothing had changed... overcrowded with no acceptable pair seats available.

 

Night and day in NY

Since The Lowell wanted $1,600 for the same room we got for $500 in March, I decided to look at other Upper East side options. Thanks to tripadvisor, I found The Surrey, a lovely, elegant and reasonably priced boutique hotel on East 76th catty corner from The Carlisle. A call to the hotel netted breakfast for two and a 5PM checkout for "only $699". Welcome to fashion week and sky high hotel prices. The Surrey Hotel (E 76th at Madison)...

A beautiful sunny 75 degree day on the Upper East side...

A couple of hours at the Metropolitan Musuem...

Followed by a late lunch in the hotel's in house restaurant, Cafe Boulud from Daniel Boulud of Daniel fame (East 65th), where we dined back in March.

For lunch, I had the amazing Thai Lobster salad...

followed by the fabulous Jersey Corn Agnilotti: Green zucchini, chanterelle mushrooms, pecorino romano and carmelized onion broth.

And wonderful Madeleines to finish...

SQ25
JFK-FRA
9:25pm-11:05am +1
September 14, 2010
747-400
First Class
Seats 3CD

At around T-70 minutes, we decided to head for security and A6. The A2-7 security and gate situation was the same third world experience if not worse than last time. Although there was priority security, the economy security line moved faster than F/J especially with numerous flight crews cutting the line.

Gate A6 was utter chaos. A sea of gate lice everywhere with no announcements from the SQ (presumably contract) employees. The GA finally announced boarding for First and Business pax. Naturally 50-60 people tried get around, over or through dozens of economy pax blocking the way. What an absolute disgrace. With only 7 pax in First, is it too much to announce and board First pax first??

On board and up in the pointy end, it was calm and serene but Mrs. SFO was in a bad mood, not at enamored by the cramped seat and closed-in feeling compared to her favorite SFO-MUC LH 346. "We left a day early for this?'" From SFO-Europe, clearly LH and now LX are the only refined options. Not many people would put up with the crap on the ground at JFK. Indeed I doubt I would do another one from JFK until it figures out how to leave the third world, but rather start from IAH or just go west from civilized SFO.

Mr. and Mrs. SFO, would you like some Dom? OK, I'm starting to feel a little better.

Tonight's menu presented at the gate and while we were enjoying our Dom...

Pages of tonight's menu. For all the options, the one thing that struck me was, other than exceptional champagnes, the wines were pretty pedestrian and disappointing. The 2006 Buena Vista Chardonnay and the 2007 Robert Mondavi Cab. You cannot be serious? These selections are something I would expect on American or United, but Singapore? Wow. Hopefully the six wine Burgundy 1er cru tasting flight I read about in the Wall Street Journal last week will be featured on our LHR-SIN and HKG-SFO flights. And I thought our FA took glasses a little early, at the end of push back, compared to LH where they will remove just prior to take-off roll or not at all.

Dinner
Desserts and Cheeses
Champagnes and White Wines
Red Wines and Ports
Cocktails
All-Time Favorites
Spirits
Coffees
Coffees
Teas

Taking dinner orders...

Chilled malossol caviar, with crackers instead of the palate killing Melba Toast...

Chilled Belvedere vodka, much better than the Smirnoff swill served on LH...

Gotham chilled melon mint salad with lime vinaigrette, radish, duck proscuitto and smoked paprika (from Alan Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill)...

Roasted tomato soup with herb and parmesan croutons and sour cream...

In between my many glasses of Dom (I heard at least three corks popped tonight and I had clearly lapped the field in the cabin consumption stakes), I opted for the pleasant Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot Grand Cru..

Salad of assorted heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, rucola and basil served with Balsamic and virgin olive oil dressing...

Our excellent BTC Lobster thermidor...

Warm apple-rhubarb pie served with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis...

California vella dry jack and comte cheeses served with fruit paste, grapes, walnuts and Taylor's 20 Year Tawnny Port.

After an hour and a half of sleep, and an hour prior to landing, our crew offered continental breakfast, which I declined.

Exceptional SQ service by a cabin crew of three for the seven of us in First. I've said it before and will say it again, how an airline can provide such amazing in flight service yet be so horrendous on the ground at some stations is mystifying. And given LH's amazing ground facilities, FCL/FCTs, I can't imagine why anyone would fly SQ point to point JFK-FRA-JFK unless it was part of a much longer journey.

Lufthansa Terminal A First Class Lounge

Like divjan, some may be wondering how the heck did we get into the LH FCL on an SQ ticket. Well, when you help make flight arrangements for your friends, good things sometimes happen. Since they were traveling on 100K AC Aeroplan award tickets, I made sure they switched to the SFO-FRA nonstop when LH repleased four award seats at T-7, and then made sure that they followed the drill for guesting us into the FCL when we arrived an hour later. We've been in the FCL many times but it is always so great to return to an airline that knows how to treat its First Class pax on the ground.

After a refreshing shower, and meeting another SFO-FRA pax, we had a delicious lunch of medium rare tenderloin and pasta.

Our SQ 744 taxied past the FCL on the FRA-SIN leg of the trip...

Le Meurice
Deluxe Junior Suite with Eiffel Tower View

Virtuoso amenities including full American Breakfast, late check-out but no upgrade offered.

Paris Gallery
Rather than a lot of touristy pics, I'm only posting some quintessential Paris photos, ones that make the city so endearing to us.

Lunch on Ile Saint-Louis...

Oui, it is indeed, providing much entertainment watching pedestrians come close...

And the obligatory birthday cake photo from Jules Verne...

Paris (Gare du Nord) to London (St. Pancras) via Eurostar
The next part of our trip was quick 2:15 trip from Gare du Nord to St. Pancras, on the way to LHR. A far cry from newer St. Pancras, Gare du Nord is pretty old and run down, with a 20 minute queue passport control, UK immigration, and security. Boarding with a few hundred new friends was a little crowded and chaotic as the GA opened the doors and the masses crowded the door from multiple directions. I think the secret here is to simply board later.

The seats are still the same reasonably comfortable ones that I recall from two years ago. And fortunately, our car was the least full of the cars I saw. But what's the deal with no wifi?
Thalys has had wifi for at least a couple of years now.

As others have noted, a noticeable decline in premium service. Although friendly and hard working, cabin staff was hard pressed to serve 5 or 6 cars in the allotted time. In car 10, service began about 90 minutes after departure, or as we entered the tunnel. Prior to that, I found the bar car and bought some snacks.

Gone is a full meal, replaced by a "light snack". Stuffed conchiglie pasta with parmesan cream, marinated green and black olives with olive oil oil and herbs, Lyon salami with rushed walnuts... all reasonably tasty.

In contrast to Gare du Nord, St. Pancras is bright, clean and nice way to arrive in London.

Seems like Eurostar's strategy is to cut back on service in Standard Premier (the old Leisure Select), making more of a distinction between Business and Standard with the goal of up-selling the Business cabin.

LHR Silver Kris First Class Lounge

Our driver met us just outside the St. Pancras Eurostar check-in area at 13:50 and after a "very clean" pub pit stop for Mrs. SFO and a time saving accident detour, dropped us off at T-3 at approximately 15:10. The impressive large scale Emirates 380 is always fun to see.

The SQ check-in counter was an oasis of calm at the left end of the A wing (next to Virgin), and we were the only First pax checking in, efficiently processed, inquired whether I was familiar with the location of the SKL. Took these pics after we had checked in and a family of Business pax were processed by the First Class agent.

We zipped thru Fast Track security, efficient and friendly, then the VAT tax counter, made our way to SKL lounge where we were welcomed in a friendly agent, who showed us to the First Class side of the SKL.

Not particularly luxurious seating but Mrs. SFO found some comfortable leather seats near the TV at the far end of the lounge.

Most friendly and accommodating staff who explained the various food settings and options, happily obliged with photo ops, and then made rounds every few minutes to see if we needed anything. A much happier Mrs. SFO gave her seal of approval and finally succumbed to the post 16:00 meal spread and enjoyed the Roast Pork Noodles.

The great SKL staff made the rounds every few minutes to see if there was anything we wanted. What an enjoyable few hours in tranquility.
A quick peak upstairs at the Business Class section.

Although the SKL agent announced that she would call the flight at T-30, I mentioned that I would like to board when boarding opened in order to take pics without disturbing other pax. At T-40, she came over to us and advised us that boarding had indeed commenced. Pleasant good-byes and see you again soon, we hope.