Sunday, June 11, 2017

Highways and Byways: Traversing Utah's backroads and scenery Pt. 1

I'm going to come right out and admit it.  Utah is a topic I'm better off NOT talking about.  I've lived here for the majority of my life, but I've never had ANY interest in ANYTHING about this state.  That being said, I put it upon myself to get past that stigma and find something to write about, as even I have to admit, the scenery here is breathtakingly gorgeous, unknowingly inspired by one of my favorite classic disaster movies of the 1970's.  Any who, I digress, moving on to the blog itself.

Utah is home to some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in the United States.  Now that I think back on several road trips myself and other coworkers have taken, they really aren't that bad, despite road-tripping not being my preferred way to vacation.  For years, the thought of being stuck in a car for hours on end with others just NEVER appealed to me (yet I have no problem being on a plane with others for hours on end).

The first drive I have to write about that's blown me away for years now, is the drive from Logan up through the winding Cache National Forest to Garden City, Utah; on the shores of Bear Lake.  Just hang a right on 4th North and follow Highway 89 past Utah State University and on into the forest.  The winding road makes for some amazing scenery in the daytime, especially at high noon on a late Spring day, when EVERYTHING is visible.  After about 33 miles of uphill, winding country highway, you get to the Bear Lake Overlook and Visitors Center, and I promise, the view is simply to die for.

The descent from the overlook is beyond belief and shows the majority of Bear Lake, also known as the "Caribbean of the Rockies" due to how clear the water is.  Welcome to Garden City, Utah.  This quaint little village boasts some the West's best raspberry harvests, and some of the absolute best over-the-top Milk Shakes around.  There are several places in town and around the lake to try, but in my opinion, the every best is La Beau's, on the southwest corner of Highway 89 and 75 North.  Many local notables even credit with La Beau's as having made the original raspberry shake.

Head on up Highway 89 a few miles, there's the KOA campground on the East side for those outdoorsy types that haul their trailers and toys up here every summer.  The state also has it's own campgrounds on several parts of the shoreline as well.  Further North you have several timeshare resorts that have popped up, and more in various phases of construction, much to a lot of citizens dismay.  All of these are right across from the entrance to the Bear Lake Marina, with it's sheltered harbor, providing slips for 305 boats, not to mention the 80 foot-wide, 5 lane launching ramp, and beach side campgrounds.

Continuing on Highway 89 North a few miles is Camp Hunt, the Boy Scouts of America's summer encampment.  I've spent a few summers here, and sometimes I miss it.  Then again, my idea of camping out now involves room service and valet parking.  That's it for this drive northbound before you hit the border of Utah and Idaho, and the sleepy little village of Fish Haven lie.

Heading down the South side of the lake, you cover the rest of Garden City, and turning East along the shoreline you'll come across several rentals and resorts with shore side access.  Now, I do recommend driving the entirety of the loop around the lake, it's a gorgeous drive, especially in sunrise or twilight hours.  But be mindful of the wildlife.  They are everywhere, it is their home after all.  You'll see everything from raccoons, to deer and elk, and everything in between.  It is one of the more spectacular areas of the state, if I do say so myself.

I hope you enjoyed this first look at Utah's Highways and Byways, there's a few more to come this summer, stick around.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hollywood Hospitality revisited: The Langham Huntington Pasadena

Have you ever checked into a hotel and felt like you were entering your own home?  I felt that way from the instant we stepped out of our ride from the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.  The Valet AND bellman were expecting us and greeted us by NAME, and guided us to the front desk while the luggage was carted away.  How'd they know?  Ohh...they had our luggage out and read the tags before the passenger door even opened.  Fabulous!

The Langham Huntington Pasadena was built as the Hotel Wentworth in 1907, but construction setbacks, the Great San Francisco Earthquake, and torrential weather delayed the opening, and the venture shut down after its first season.  Enter railroad tycoon Henry Huntington.  Huntington purchased the property in 1911, and after renovations and extensions, plus the addition of the now-iconic central tower, opened for business.

Having been sold to the Sheraton Hotel Corporation in 1954, it remained flagged as a Sheraton for years until being closed in 1988 for major renovations and repairs.  The lanai and cottages that were a part of the property remained open while construction began and was reflagged as the Ritz-Carlton Huntington until it was sold in 2007 to the Langham Hotels for $170 Million.

Enough history, onto the property herself!

We had arrived there on a Sunday, thinking it'll be a slower than normal day.  Boy were we wrong.  As stated above, the bellhops helped us out of our ride and hauled our luggage inside.  Check-in was a breeze, and I was again greeted by name as I stepped up to the counter.  Having stayed at Langhams before, especially this one in particular, I have become accustomed to this.  If you are fortunate enough to have Colleen take care of you, you will have nothing to worry about, she is one of the finest people the Langham employs, always going above and beyond for the guests,  Once I got my keys, up to the room we went, that first stay was in a Club King room on the 8th floor, with access to the renown Langham Club.

Once in our room, we started unpacking and checking out our digs.  It was a very nice room, classically furnished with an amazing bathroom, needless to say there was space to stretch out.  Susie's favorite part was the free wi-fi that comes with the room.  While we were unpacking there was a knock on the door.  One of the concierges came up and brought a plate of fresh fruit and a huge bottle of Evian...along with a tray of K-cups of tea for our in-room Keurig machine, bottles of honey and fresh lemon wedges.  "We heard you coughing at check-in and just wanted to help you out in getting better".  I was amazed.  I went though that entire tray in 8 hours.

We had arrived at the hotel a bit early, so me and Susie decided to check out the pool.  Because there was an event sponsored by Netflix there that first visit, there were plenty of celebrities to be seen getting sun by the pool and hot tub areas.  The pool is heated year round, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the poolside bar is open for business.  We stayed and relaxed with the stars for about an hour.  It was amazing, never in a hundred years did I ever think I'd be sipping bubbly in a hot tub with John Stamos and Andrea Barber.

Back in the room, I sat down and took stock.  It was very nicely appointed and a good size (550 Square feet for the Club King Room, other stays ranged from the 415 Square foot Deluxe Patio Room on the first floor, to the slightly larger 450 square foot Deluxe Premier Room on the 6th floor during my last two trips), with killer views of the gorgeous courtyard on one side, or the pool and tennis areas on another side, to the horseshoe gardens facing the west.  As usual when I travel with Susie, a rollaway is already placed in the room and turned down for the night, which she loves (and strangely enough, thinks they are more comfortable than the regular beds).  The bathrooms are completely covered in Italian marble and stock with Chuan Spa amenities (which are some of the greatest bath products I've ever used).  This hotel really goes out of the way to make their guests not feel like they are staying in closet sized accommodations.


Twice I've had the luxury of using the Langham Club.  That first trip we had walked in right as the Club Concierge was setting up for the Club's dinner presentation, so we got in right in time for the last of that day's afternoon tea service.  I love this tradition, and Susie and I have made it a twice every winter ritual (the first was at the Langham Huntington, the most recent was at the iconic Langham London, the first day they rolled out the Holiday Tea Service for 2016-2017).  The Club is actually in a quiet little nook of the 8th floor, with plush seating arrangements and plenty of options to quench one's thirst, or grab a quick stomach settler before dinner downstairs in the Royce Steakhouse.  Some of the perks include computer work stations, complimentary pressing of 3 garments, and the above average higher than all else concierge services the Langham properties are known worldwide for.

During my most recent stay, Cherilyn, the Service Stylist, took myself and a co-worker on a tour of the hotel, telling us more about the history of the property, and showing us all OVER the resort.  From the acclaimed Chuan Spa (#1 Spa in Los Angeles, according to LA Magazine), to the award winning and incredibly mouth-watering menu at the Royce, to the outdoor and laid back vibes of the Terrace Cafe, or to the mellow and dark Tap Room, there's something for every sort of guest that stays within these hallowed walls.  My coworker was so blown away with the property, she has begun selling it at a MUCH faster pace than I have, even though it IS my go to resort for anything North of LAX or in the Burbank/Pasadena area.

So as far as this Travel Agent is concerned, the Langham Huntington Pasadena is THE resort hotel to stay at in the North Los Angeles/Burbank/Pasadena area.  The attention to detail and care received are worth FAR more than the great nightly rates and package deals available.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mind-blowing Mountain Hideaway: Spending a pet-friendly weekend at the Waldorf Astoria Park City

I very rarely take a vacation INSIDE the State of Utah, where I live.  Usually, I'm on the first flight of the morning out of Salt Lake City to anywhere.  This was however, Mother's Day weekend, and I had just returned from the Los Angeles basin just two days prior.  Plus, I didn't want to subject my family to TSA screening this weekend.  So, as a shocker, I took Mom and the rest of us to the Waldorf Astoria in Park City for Mother's Day weekend.

The resort itself is nestled at the foot of the Canyons Ski Resort Area, just a few miles North of Park City itself.  Park City is a year-round destination, with world class skiing/snowboarding in winter (it held the most mountain-based events during the 2002 Winter Olympics), and amazing camping, hiking, and outdoors activities during the Summer.  The shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall offer slightly chillier temperatures, but with the changing colors during Fall, this area is an amazing display of Nature at her best.

So we arrived there on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, just before the 4:00PM check-in time (the drive from our home took just under an hour), but that was no problem.  The valet quickly and efficiently offloaded us and sent us on our way in while he parked the Volvo.  The front desk is not your standard front desk setup.  It is quite simply, two executive office desks set off to one side of the grand and picturesque main lobby.  My Dad looked around asking "What are we doing here?".  I had to suppress a smile as I got us checked in and on our way, with expert and extremely courteous and friendly assistance from the front desk agent.

Up to the 7th floor we went, and into a spacious 1-Bedroom Bi-Level Suite.  Clocking in around 740 square feet, this suite is perfect for a family of 4.  Upstairs is completely private with a master bedroom/master bathroom setup (and what a bathroom it is!).  On the main floor you have the half bathroom downstairs, incredibly spacious living room (even with the sofabed pulled out and made), high vaulted ceiling, incredibly set out kitchen stocked with Viking appliances, dining area, gas fireplace, and a full size washer/dryer combo in the entry.  There was even a pair of dog bowls laid out for Buddy, filled with fresh water and food, with treats for him on the counter as well.  Oh, and you can't forget the balcony with the AMAZING views of either the mountains around you, or if you are on the other side, the resort spread out and valley view below.

Once we got our luggage delivered and settled in, we let the housekeeping staff do their thing with the nightly turndown service while we headed into Park City for dinner.  Upon our return (after gawking at the vintage Ferrari's that had pulled up to the Valet and taking Buddy, our Cocker Spaniel, for his evening constitutional) the room was dressed down for the evening and we unwound on the balcony (some of us later than others) and in the living room.

After my folks went upstairs, Susie and I took Buddy for another adventure, exploring the hotel and what it has to offer.  Off to one side of the Grand Lobby you have the Palette Gift Shop for last minute wearables, a few select Waldorf branded items, and often forgotten sundries.  Crossing to the other side of the expansive lobby and its massive fireplace, you have the Powder Restaurant.  We didn't get a chance to eat here during our stay, but I will go up and try it out here soon with some buddies on a day trip up the mountain.  Heading out the doors to the balcony that wraps around the double sided fireplace you get a breathtaking view of the resort and the valley behind,  NOT a bad view to wake up to.  Going down the stairs you are greeted by the warm flames from the firepit (wheres s'mores are constructed, toasted, and devoured nightly from 7:30PM to 9:30PM).  The heated pool and whirlpool are on the other side of the gate, and there was quite a crowd there that evening, despite the chill in the air.

There is also a range of spa options and fitness studios and the well equipped gym to keep your mind and body in shape during a stay there, as well.  There are weekly classes at the resort featuring yoga, kickboxing (yay!), Pilates, and other circuits and trainings.

Checkout the next morning was a snap and we were on our way in 5 minutes, with fresh cut roses for my Mom, and bottles of water for the ride home, and another treat for Buddy.

I book the Waldorf Astoria resorts quite a bit, especially this one, and now that I've stayed here, I can honestly say I will do a MUCH better job at selling it, as I do recommend this one, as I did the original Waldorf Astoria in New York City.  The price is not bad for the service and room you get, and the staff there are absolutely amazing, and really go out of their way to make you feel like you are home.

Photos by the author or by the Waldorf Astoria Park City Resort.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fighting the good fight, warding off jet lag

Anyone whose flown from coast to coast or across the oceans, or for that matter, ANY red eye or long distance flight knows ALL about jet lag.  It might only be 9AM where ever you land, but back home, according to your body, it's the middle of the night.  You're walking through customs feeling like you're underwater.  I've gone through it quite a but myself, but I have my own ways of fighting it.

1. Do NOT fall asleep for long periods.

If you really have to, take a quick cat nap to clear the cobwebs.  At the same token, listen to your body, if it's telling you to sleep, do it.  Set an alarm if you have to, but I promise, you'll never get to sleep at night and reset your body clock if you sack out for 8 hours right from the get go.  If you cant do catnaps, you might as well just power through the day, get out and get some fresh air and sunlight.
Another thing that might help you out.  Pick a time zone.  I've found in my transcontinental travel from one coast to another that it is better to either pick keeping your body on either your home time zone or the one you'll be visiting.  More often than not, I find myself adjusting to the time zone I'm in, unless I'm in transit.

2. Stay Healthy

As a rule, flying tends to leave one seriously dehydrated.  One thing I've started doing is bringing a bottle of water with me onboard.  No, you can't take it through security, BUT, you can buy one at the shops or restaurants by the gates.  On longer flights this becomes crucial.  I've narrowed my own drinking onboard to just water and Ginger Ale.  No alcohol for me, though.  Not only because of my own internal battles, but drinking inflight tends to dry you out faster.

Once on the ground, try to find some time to work out.  Most every hotel has a fitness center or a pool, so keeping up with your at home exercise regimen shouldn't be too difficult.  In my own experience, I use the hotel pool and swim.  It's not my full workout, but hey, its something, and usually it does the trick to keep me from becoming a zombie during my travels.

3. Vitamins and Supplements

I'm a tad iffy on this one.  The only thing I really use is those Airborne tablets that dissolve in water.  A glass in the morning and at night for 2 days straight works, especially after a long haul from the US to the Middle East or the Eastern Mediterranean.  I know others use a plethora of other tablets or pills, but unless its prescribed, I tend to stay away.  Airborne though has a bunch of vitamins and minerals that replenish your immune system, thus making you feel better, but also keeping you from catching a cold or other inflight ailment (the recycled air on most older planes is truly horrendous).

I also stay away from sleeping pills, especially Ambien.  I'll tell you why.  When I first started out in my airline career some 20 years ago,  every day off I had I was flying to someplace new.  Just hop on the first plane with an open seat and fly around the route map for 2 days.  Back then it was easier, with larger planes like the L-1011 and 767's (or in my case 747's domestically), airline employees knew which flights were almost empty, thus becoming non-rev specials (as we called them because the majority of passengers were airline employees, therefor, non-revenue generating passengers).  It was not a challenge for me to do a Salt Lake City to St. Louis to New York/JFK to Barcelona (or any other European destination we served) flight on my 1st Day off, then fly back the same routing the next and still be home before midnight to be up and at the airport for work by 5AM the next morning.

In those days, I'd pop an Ambien and try to get 4-5 hours sleep.  It didn't take long for me to realize I was a zombie for more than half my early morning shift.  So I tried almost every other sleeping aid out there, and nothing worked.  My doctor finally told me to stop using those drugs and try a natural remedy, such as a capsule of Melatonin and a cup of Chamomile Tea and call it a night.  He was right.  Melatonin worked great for me, until I was required to start sleeping with a CPAP machine to help with my Sleep Apnea.  The light noise from the machine worked fine and to this day still puts me to sleep within minutes.

That's about it on my end, all of the above tend to get me recharged and on the ground in whatever time zone I'm in within a short time frame.  Also, I know there are about a thousand other remedies out there, so let me know your favorites!  Everyone is different, and it truly is interesting to see what works for others.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Welcome to the Friendly Skies...or are they?

It takes a lot for me to post about any sort of "social justice" uprisings.  Most millennials (I unfortunately fall in this age range), hipsters, and uneducated persons have recently taken up in arms over the supposed bad treatment of a passenger on board a United Express flight, resulting in his being dragged off the plane and any passengers with a phone to catch the proceedings from damn near every angle.


So every uneducated passenger on Earth thinks just because you buy a ticket means you are ENTITLED to that seat.  In all but a few instances you are, but in this case, the passenger was not.   Once past the jetway doors, passengers fall under the responsibility of the flight crew as per US Aviation and Maritime law statutes.  There is little doubt that United could have avoided the entire situation by recognizing the overbooking prior to beginning the boarding process, but the fact is that the passenger's decision to act like a petulant child made it necessary to remove him.  Those of you who act like he is some sort of social justice hero are little better than the passenger himself and, as usual, fail to see the bigger picture.  When you are on board an aircraft your life, and the lives of everyone else fall under the flights crew's care and responsibility.  They have a required duty to comply with and enforce the laws that govern aviation operations (especially under FAR part 121), and passengers have a legal obligation to NOT interfere with the crews performance of said duties.  This passenger took it upon himself to unilaterally dictate to United, the flight crew, and basically, the Federal government that his authority over the flight was superior to their own.  At that point, the Captain made the right decision in calling for security to forcibly remove him.

I know a lot of my readers might think I'm biased towards protecting the airline because of my airline background.  I assure you, I'm not.  I have my own issues with United, which have no place being aired out in this post.  What I take offense to, is the people who have zero knowledge of what passengers are entitled to and what laws govern being on a commercial airliner once on board.  

These millennials who were quick to get to social media and "boycott United" can sit down now.  The last few days I've booked nothing but United from all corners of the globe.  How's that boycott working for ya?  

One more thing, a lot of "social justice warriors" compare this passenger to Rosa Parks.  I'm sorry, but that offends me to my core.  Rosa Parks stood up for a law that was fundamentally wrong on so many levels.  This passenger decided to make a spectacle of himself in hopes of a big payday at the end.  I'm glad he got his teeth knocked in.  

Thanks for flying the friendly skies, see ya aboard soon.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Brave New World: Decyphering the International Airline Electronics Ban

In the last 48 hours or so, I have been bombarded (excuse the pun) with emails, Instant Messages, and Texts asking about this new International Airline Electronics Ban.  I have to admit, when the first messages came in, I had no idea what had been handed down, as this was around 4:30 in the morning when my phone started dinging.

Here's what I know so far and what I understand about it (thanks to several cohorts of mine as well):

On March 21, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a ban on all electronic devices (aside from medical devices and cell phones) on flights originating in the Middle East and terminating in the United States.  Now, I know a lot of my acquaintances are crying foul and think this is the current administration's way of banning all Muslims.  I'm here to tell you it is not, this affects all flights originating or terminating at Middle East points with direct non-stop service to the United States and the UK.  In fact, in hindsight, we should've had these restrictions in place for the last decade and a half.

So, the types of electronics that are no longer allowed on board are (but not limited to):

Laptops, tablets, E-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, any electronic game bigger than a smartphone, travel printers/scanners (who travels with these anyways?) and anything else electronic that is larger than a common smartphone.  This ban does not include any necessary medical devices, those are allowed to remain in the passenger's possession after security screening and boarding.

From the United States, the airports that are under the ban include:

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (with nonstop flights to Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, New York/JFK, San Francisco, and Washington/Dulles on Etihad Airways.  No US Carrier has served Abu Dhabi since the 1970's)

Amman, Jordan (with nonstop flights to Chicago/O'Hare, Detroit, and New York/JFK on Royal Jordanian, no US Carrier has served since 1994)

Cairo, Egypt (with nonstop flights to New York/JFK on EgyptAir, every now and then Delta or United Airlines will do summer seasonal service, but have not resumed this since the Arab Spring uprising)

Casablanca, Morocco (with nonstop flights to New York/JFK and Washington/Dulles on Royal Air Maroc, no US Carrier has served Casablanca since the 1970's)

Doha, Qatar (with nonstop flights to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston/Intercontinental, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/JFK, Philadelphia, Washington/Dulles, and beginning in January 2017, Las Vegas)

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (with nonstop flights to Boston, Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston/Intercontinental, Los Angeles, New York/JFK, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington/Dulles by Emirates.  Newark, New Jersey is also served by Emirates, but it is a direct service through Athens, Greece.  No US Carrier has served Dubai since Delta discontinued its Atlanta service in February 2016)

Istanbul/Ataturk International Airport, Turkey (with nonstop flights to Atlanta, Chicago/O'Hare, Houston/Intercontinental, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/JFK, San Francisco, and Washington/Dulles on Turkish Airlines, Delta discontinued it's JFK and Atlanta flights back in May 2016)

Jeddah/King Abdul-Aziz Airport, Saudi Arabia  (with nonstop flights to Los Angeles, New York/JFK, and Washington/Dulles on Saudi Arabian Airlines, no US Carrier has served Jeddah since 1989)

Kuwait International Airport, Kuwait (with nonstop flights to New York/JFK on Kuwait Airways, United Airlines discontinued service from Washington/Dulles in January 2016)

Riyadh/King Khalid International Airport, Saudi Arabia (with nonstop flights to Los Angeles, New York/JFK, and Washington/Dulles on Saudi Arabian Airlines, no US Carrier has served Riyadh since 2001)

The United Kingdom has also announced the same ban of flights to and from the UK, but the list includes airports in Lebanon and Tunisia, as well.  These are not on the list of airports in the US due to the fact there are no direct flights between them (much to my chagrin).

The Department of Homeland Security has stated the current directive runs until October 14, 2017, and might be extended another year.  Currently, there is no impact on domestic flights within the United States, or with flights departing from the United States to the above listed destinations.  Electronic devices will continue to be allowed on all flights originating within the United States.

May I take the time to suggest travelers to visit the Dept. of Homeland Security website for more information on this.  Also, and probably most importantly, government officials are NOT advising US or British Nationals to avoid travel to these countries or these airports (Dubai, Istanbul, and Doha are the three biggest connection points in the Middle East, so it's hard to avoid them anyways).  Also, consider booking with a Travel Agent to secure the best flights that meet your needs to and from these countries (I can definitely find you a way in and out of all of these affected cities).  In my opinion, the decision to travel is a very personal one that must be made by the individual.  Everyone should always stay informed and remain vigilant and alert during their journeys.

If you have any more questions, don't hesitate to ask me.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Добро пожаловать на борт Аэрофлот! Welcome Aboard Aeroflot!

Have you ever had someone come back after flying on an airline simply ranting and raving about their experience, making you salivate at the thought of trying it out yourself?  Well, that happened to me, my parents having flown Aeroflot on several roundtrips between the United States and Greece.  I asked them to compare to flying on fellow SkyTeam member MEA, and they said it was better, by several levels of magnitude.  Well, I am very protective of MEA, so I had to put Aeroflot down on the list as another airline to fly, and quick.  So here it is, I finally made it on Aeroflot, from Athens, Greece, to Los Angeles, CA via Moscow, Russia.

So here I am, back at my home office just North of Salt Lake City, a few weeks after my grand trip that took me and the family from Utah to New York City for a night, a 7-day Trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, a few days in London, an overnight stay in Athens, Greece; Moscow, Russia; and Los Angeles, CA.  Our flights back from Athens were originally supposed to be just an overnight stay in Istanbul, flying on Turkish Airlines, but with the recent attempted coup d'etat and the ban of all flights to and from the United States and Turkey, we had the chance to cancel our tickets and fly another way home, and that's where this begins.  We had found a reasonable alternative out of Athens on the same date as originally planned, this time via Aeroflot through Moscow and Los Angeles, both overnight stays.  Granted, the hotel stays ended up being more than the next lowest fare, but, this was something I had to do, I had to try Aeroflot.

We woke up that morning at the Sofitel Athens Airport, across the street from the main terminal entrance.  Mom and I were running on maybe 3 hours of sleep, but that was OK, we spent the night at the hotel bar with the family from the village, and it was epic.  So there we were, after breakfast, bleary eyed, but hyped up.  Ground services for Aeroflot in Athens is handled by Goldair, and they did a fantastic job of checking us in, even gave us a few extra allotments for carryons due to my parents needing wheelchair assistance.  We were directed to a sitting area to wait for our wheelchair pushers to meet us.  Well, the waiting took forever, and they never showed up, and boarding time was getting close, so we hoofed it to the security queue and went to the gate.  Well, we made it to the gate and the staff there was wondering where we were as the wheelchair pushers had called about 30 seconds prior to say we were not where we were supposed to be, so we simply told them they were late, and it was no big deal, the gate was close by anyways.  That being said, they scanned our boarding passes and let us board first.

Boarding went by fairly quickly, despite more than three quarters of the passengers having oversize carryons and a LOT of fur coats and wraps.  Where we were going, they would need them anyways.  Luckily, for me, there was only one other person sitting in my block of three seats, and she was in the aisle seat whilst I had the window (yay me!).  With everyone seated and the more gorgeous than normal Russian flight attendants doing their safety demo, we were pushed back out onto Athens' not so busy ramp.  The only other planes in our portion of the terminal were a Turkish Airlines 737-800 that just pulled in, an Emirates Boeing 777-300 and an unmarked Airbus A319.

Our aircraft was a brand new one in the Aeroflot fleet, a Boeing 737-800 (registered VQ-BWC, named after Russian historian Sergey Soloviev) new build delivered to Aeroflot in June 2015, the 41,210th Boeing 737 off the line in Renton, WA.  She still had that new plane smell to her and a very new cabin.  Normally, I loathe Boeing 737 flights of longer than an hour or two, as I just cant get comfortable on them due to my height and size, always requiring a seat belt extension, but this ride to Moscow was shaping up and promising to be a good one, seat belt extender notwithstanding.  We rolled out to the departure runway and with hardly a second to wait were at full power and blasted off out of the Cradle of Civilization for the high Russian plains that Moscow is situated on.

I have to admit, I was amazed at how attentive the inflight crew was and the level of service for a 4 hour flight.  In the United States, on a 4 hour flight, there is no meal service, hell you're lucky you can get a small cup of soda thrown at ya with a $7 mini can of Pringles.  On Aeroflot, we had a full beverage service 3 times, and a full dinner service as well about a quarter of the way into the flight.  In Coach Class, of all things!  I spent most of the flight writing in my travel journal and listening to music on my phone, while the flight attendants kept me stocked with Coca Cola and water.  I had left my window shade up and caught a few glimpses outside during the flight and snapped pictures of the winglet and sunset before it got dark the further north we got.

The flight went by pretty quickly, and before I knew it, we were starting our descent into Moscow, slowly, but surely, and took a winding pattern into Sheremetyevo Airport.  Despite the winding down and anticipation of getting off in a new airport that I have never been to before, we managed to arrive a few minutes early, but had to park on a remote stand away from the terminal due to no gate space.  Looking out on the ramp, I could tell it was a busy night.  Sukhoi Super Jet 100's, 737's, A320's, A330's, and 777's were in various stages of arrival or departure and we took a spot away from the terminal in between another 737 and the Skyteam Alliance branded Boeing 777-300 for Aeroflot.  She was on her way to Tokyo that night, and I thought to myself, it'd be nice to be on her, but...the prize bird for this journey was 14 hours away from boarding time.

Deboarding was via airstairs for the upwardly mobile passengers, not us.  We waited until everyone was off, then we were guided to the R1 forward entry door on the starboard side, usually where caterers do their thing.  We were guided onto the lift, then down to the ramp where we were loaded into a van that took us directly to the transit connections desk for our connecting flight to Los Angeles.  Amazingly, there were not that many people connecting off of our flight, and we were the only ones at the transit desk and therefor were processed and on our way in less than 5 minutes.  The wheelchair folks were fantastic as well, taking my parents to the V Express capsule hotel located within the sterile area of the terminal for our 12 hours of rest and relaxation, then those same folks meeting us again in the morning and taking us to our departure gate.  Amazing service, and they were tipped heavily.

After lounging around and grabbing an early morning breakfast at TGI Fridays (in Moscow of all places, who would of thought?), we picked up a few trinkets and then were gathered up for boarding.  Again, we were the first onboard, and were helped to our seats by the ever attentive, gorgeous, and capable flight attendants, who also helped us stow our carryons (even my duffel bag full of books).  Our stay in Moscow was pleasant, inviting, and downright incredible.  It's now on my list of places I must return to, but for now, time to get settled in for the long haul to sunny Los Angeles.

Our plane was the 7 year old Airbus A330-200 (registered VQ-BBF, named after Russian diplomat and poet Alexander Griboyedov) leased to Aeroflot.  In pristine condition after its flight that morning from St. Petersburg, we settled in and got comfortable for the 14 hour jaunt over the Arctic and down through central Canada.  I have to interject here, the A330-200 was specifically built for flights like these, during its design phase in the mid 1990's it was specified to have a range capable of doing Los Angeles-Moscow or Vancouver-Athens with ease.  Airbus also designed it in conjuction with the four engined Airbus A340, with a wider cabin than the Boeing widebodies, and let me tell you, on a 14 hour flight, that extra six inches of shoulder space per seat makes a world of difference. In fact, it was so comfortable, me and Dad sat through the entire flight, not getting up for any single reason, not even to stretch, as we normally do on shorter flights in the cramped Boeings.  My Mom on the other hand, due to her bad knees, had to get up and stretch every so often.  Susie, in her diminutive size, curled up on her seat like a cat and either watched movies, played games or passed out in total comfort.

Even on a plane as large as the A330, boarding did not take long at all, and before we knew it, we were being pushed back and on our way out.  Sheremetyevo is a big airport, and it took a few minutes to get out to the departure runway, luckily we were one of a few planes taking at that time, lining up between an Air Astana A320 and another Aeroflot Boeing 777.  Lined up on runway 24L, we throttled up to full power and the Rolls Royce Trent engines rocketed us up and out of Moscow, and with a few slight turns we were pointed north and on our way up to the Arctic crossings.  Plugging my phone into the seatback power unit and turning on the tunes while leaving the IFE pegged on the inflight moving map was my idea of a good ride, as well as catching up in my journal.

Leveling off to cruise at 31,000 feet (FL310), the flights attendants got down to the service.  As with the flight from Athens the day before, the crew made their round up and down the aisles looking after us passengers and there were hourly drink services.  Eventually, I did wonder why I didnt have to get up and relieve myself, but, I didnt so I stayed put and enjoyed the ride.  The first meal service was a lunch service, served about 2 hours into the flight, somewhere around Murmansk, Russia.  Since it was lunchtime, I was thinking it would be a sandwich and salad kind of serving, but no.  On the tray was a starter of mussels with celery and grilled sweet peppers on a salad, A bread plate (yes, a bread plate in Coach) with a roll and rye bread with Butter and a wedge of Brie, a berry cheesecake, and for the main we had a choice of either Chicken breast with oyster sauce, or lamb with buckwheat and broccoli.  Being low on my gout medication, I passed on the lamb and went with the chicken.  To my shock and surprise, it was tasty.  I haven't had a meal service like this or attention to detail from the flight attendants since the days of TWA.  In fact, my parents and friends were absolutely spot on right about Aeroflot.  They really are that amazing.  They are now in my top 3 airlines for North America to Europe.

Up past the coast of Northern Russia and over the Barents Sea, we turned to the West and the Norwegian Sea we crossed into the part of the Northern Hemisphere of perpetual twilight, with a thin band of sunlight that never faded the entire trip over Greenland and the earliest part of our turn down into Canada.  During most of this stage of the flight, the flight attendants still roamed the cabin every hour or so, but the cabin lights dimmed, allowing folks to sleep or watch the IFE in comfort.  I had my window shade up and kept the TV pegged on the inflight map while reading my new book or writing in my journal.  After my hand had cramped up, I stowed the journal and unfolded my laptop to watch some movies (the IFE had a huge selection to watch from, just nothing much that interested me enough to watch, or stuff that I have already seen).  My dad on the other hand, cranked his way through 5 movies (asleep through one of them), and was just chilling in his little cocoon of comfort.

We made landfall in Canada over Rankin Inlet, on the West coast of Hudson Bay, and continued our path down to the lower parts of the hemisphere.  The second meal service began while overflying Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and this service was just as large as the first, this time with mains consisting of either Chicken in carrot and tomato sauce with bulgur wheat and broccoli, or beef in black pepper sauce.  Seriously good stuff, and again, I was stuffed.  45 minutes later the trays were cleared and almost as soon as they were, we hit some rough air on the US/Canadian border into Montana, as if to welcome us to the United States.  Taking a glance on the geography below, it looked like there was a massive snowstorm that covered Montana, Idaho and Northern Nevada just a day or so before we flew over.  Gorgeous landscape, going from snow covered plateaus to desert over the West portion of the Great Basin National Park, then to the fertile coastline of Southern California and its palm trees, suntans, and gridlock traffic.

Once over Death Valley we turned West over the coast at Pismo Beach, and then another turn to the East  over the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga State Park, Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Alhambra (I can see our hotel for the night, the Langham Huntington Pasadena, on its hillside in the distance),  and our last turn onto final approach to the North runways at LAX.  We glided onto runway 24R and taxied around to our gate at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.  We have arrived, and in style!

In my opinion:  Aeroflot is a damn good airline, with service levels that eclipse most other airlines plying the skies between North America and Europe.  It is on par with the likes of MEA, Royal Jordanian, and British Airways.  The fares are also something else, right on par with Turkish Airlines as being the lowest fares across the pond, plus having the SkyTeam benefits we all know and recommend.  Definitely give them a try!