Welcome to the third and final instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, covering my first trip of the year. This started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way, and ended with my return from Chicago on 1st February, when I had to slum it in business class. Along the way I spent two weeks in the warm, winter sun of Arizona and New Mexico and then flew from Phoenix to Chicago, arriving in time for the polar vortex and the second coldest spell in Chicago’s history.
In all, I spent four days in the suburbs, hanging out with my friends, before catching the commuter train into Chicago proper, which was when it got really, really cold. Perhaps fortunately, I was there for work and, knowing the reputation of Chicago winters, had already booked the hotel in the same building as my office, so I didn’t actually have to go out… The downside was that I only had a single day to explore, but, given the weather, that’s probably just as well. Then, as soon as my meeting was over, I was off to O’Hare for my flight home.
Welcome to the second instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, which started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way and experiencing not one, but two sunsets. I spent a week in Phoenix for work, visiting what coffee shops I could, before taking week-long road-trip east through the mountains of Arizona and southern New Mexico, returning through the desert to Tucson, where I spent a long weekend hiking and visiting coffee shops. Finally, I drove back to Phoenix on Tuesday, 22nd January and caught a flight to Chicago. Well, tried to.
Flying internally in the USA is one of my least favourite travel activities. I’ve had mixed experiences, ranging from okay to downright awful. My last internal flight was this time last year, going from Miami to Phoenix with American Airlines, a 4½ hour flight which I decided was best done in First Class. This year’s flight was slightly shorter, a mere three hours, but even so, I decided that First Class was still the best option, once again flying with American Airlines. Unfortunately, my flight coincided with a major snowstorm in the Midwest, which had some predictable consequences…
Welcome to the first Travel Spot of the new year, on my first trip of 2019. I’m heading to Phoenix, spending a couple of weeks enjoying the winter sun, then flying to Chicago (which will be an interesting contrast) before returning at the end of the month. As usual, I’m flying with British Airways (American Airlines for the Phoenix-Chicago leg).
I’ll say up front that this was not meant to be about me flying First Class to Phoenix. Right up until I reached the check-in desk, I thought I was flying Club World and was quite surprised to be told that I’d be moving up to First Class, just the second time that I’ve been upgraded in my life (the other was 10 years ago, an upgrade to Club Europe when returning from Madrid).
It’s also just the second time that I’ve flown First Class, the other being on my return from Chicago last year. That was a night-time flight, and while I enjoyed it, I spent most of the flight asleep, whereas this is a daytime flight, giving me much more opportunity to get the full First Class experience, which started with the rather swanky lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 3…
Welcome to the second part of this Travel Spot about my recent trip to Chicago, which included my 2,500 mile road-trip around Lakes Michigan and Superior. Unfortunately, I doubt that I’ll ever have the opportunity to write up that trip, but if you want to know a little more, the trip has its own Travel Spot Page, including links to some Instagram stories and a list of all the Coffee Spots I wrote about.
In all I was away for exactly four weeks. Having flown direct from Manchester to Chicago with American Airlines, the route was promptly discontinued, so I was left to fly back to Heathrow (which suited my plans anyway). I had the choice of several flights, three operated by American Airlines and two by British Airways. Last year I flew Chicago to Heathrow in Club World with British Airways on a Boeing 747, really enjoying the experience. This year, I noticed that British Airways was using my favourite aircraft, the Airbus A380, on one of its flights, so that pretty much made my choice for me. Then, when I came to book, First Class was no different in price to Club World, so I thought, why not?
This time last year I was preparing for the second of three flights to Chicago, which I took using a different combinations of airlines/routes, writing each up in its own Travel Spot. I’d originally thought that I’d be making the trip quite regularly, maybe four or five time a year, so part of my research was to work out the best airline/route. Assuming that I was starting from my Dad’s, I decided that by far the best option was flying direct from Manchester with American Airlines.
However, circumstances change and this year, I’ve just got the one trip, departing on August 24th and returning four weeks later. So, while my research wasn’t completely wasted, it wasn’t as useful as I’d hoped. As suspected, I found myself flying from Manchester, so I booked my flight out on American, but, to my dismay, discovered that there weren’t any direct flights back, American discontinuing the route in early September. Instead I decided to cut my losses and, rather than returning to Manchester, I’ll be flying direct to Heathrow with British Airways. That, however, is another story, to be covered in its own Travel Spot. Today, I’m focusing on the flight out with American.
Airline coffee has a pretty bad (and, frankly, often well-deserved) reputation, but around the industry, steps are being taken to rectify this, with British Airways and Union Hand-roasted leading the way. The two have teamed up to provide Union coffee at British Airways’ UK lounges and, on long-haul flights, in the First Class and Club World cabins. Last month, I flew to Tokyo and back in Club World, giving me a chance to sample the coffee both on the ground and in the air.
I wrote up my experiences of the coffee on my way out to Tokyo and, on the back of that article, got an invitation from Geoff Cliff, the man at Union responsible for the day-to-day management of the British Airways account. A week after I returned, I popped over to Union’s East London roastery, where Geoff and I talked about the considerable undertaking of providing not just coffee, but also the training that goes with it, across the entire British Airways long-haul fleet.
Today’s Saturday Supplement is a follow-up to my original piece, where you can discover what I made of the coffee on the way back from Tokyo and what I learnt from meeting Geoff.
Last week I wrote about my flight from Manchester to Tokyo’s Haneda airport via Heathrow. This week it’s the turn of my flight back, on Friday, 27th July, two weeks to the day after I flew out. As I mentioned in the previous Travel Spot, Tokyo has two international airports, Haneda and Narita, with British Airways having one flight per day to each. It’s perfectly possible, by the way, to fly into one airport and out of the other, but, as with my flights over, price dictated that I flew both into and out of Haneda.
This left me on the 08:50 flight from Haneda, an entirely unreasonable time to be at an airport, let alone to be taking off from one. Since we were heading west, this was a daytime flight, scheduled to arrive at Heathrow at 13:10 local time on the same day, 12 hours and 20 minutes later. From there I had a connecting flight to Manchester at 16:00, touching down in at 17:05, a mere 16 hours after I set off.
However, before any of that could happen, I had to get to the airport from my hotel in Nishi Azabu.
This is my second trip to Tokyo, the first one being in April last year when I made a rather hastily cobbled together visit. This year, despite having had less notice (I only found out I was going at the start of June and only had confirmation four weeks before I flew on July 13th), I managed to do a little bit more planning, although the end result was a much less ambitious trip, where I stayed in Tokyo for the two weeks I was there.
Both times I flew with British Airways, last time in economy (World Traveller) and this time, since I had the money in the travel budget, in business class (Club World). As I’ve been doing the last few times I’ve travelled, I flew to and from Manchester so that I could visit my 85 year old Dad before/after the trip. This meant taking the short hop down to Heathrow and catching a direct flight to Tokyo from there.
It was also the first time I’d flown with British Airways since it started serving Union Hand-roasted coffee in its lounges and in Club World and First Class cabins, giving me the chance to try it out.
Regular readers of my Brian’s Travel Spot posts will know that I have a poor opinion of airline coffee, and, as a result, I’ve taken to making my own coffee on long-haul flights over the last few years. However, to its credit, British Airways has also recognised this short-coming and has recently partnered with Union Hand-roasted to up its coffee game. Union is supplying coffee to the British Airways lounges and, in the first instance, to the First Class add Club World cabins on long-haul flights, although there are no immediate plans to roll it out to World Traveller cabins or to serve it on short-haul flights (I had originally thought that this would be the case, but I since learnt that I was wrong!).
As luck would have it, on Friday I flew with British Airways from Manchester to Tokyo, via Heathrow, not long after Union’s coffee was introduced, giving me the chance to experience it first-hand. Normally I would write this up as part of my longer Travel Spot covering the flight. However, these take me absolutely ages to write and, since there’s quite a bit of interest in this, I thought I would put it on its own, self-contained post, rather than burying it in a longer post.
If you’ve been following the latest series on Brian’s Travel Spot, you’ll know that I spent the last two weeks of April in Thailand, departing on the Sunday of the London Coffee Festival. The first instalment of this Travel Spot covered my flight over with British Airways. I spent a week in Bangkok, before catching the sleeper to Chiang Mai, where I spent another week exploring its awesome speciality coffee scene. I returned on the sleeper to spend three days in Bangkok, with the two train trips forming the second and third instalments (written and published while I was out in Thailand). Meanwhile, today’s Travel Spot, the fourth and final instalment in the series, covers my return flight on Tuesday 1st May.
What I’ve underplayed in all the posts so far is the state of my back. When I flew out, my back was cranky, but basically okay. It got worse during my time in Bangkok, but was still basically okay. However, while I was in Chiang Mai, it got really bad, forcing me to take the sleeper back. By the time I was due to fly home, I could hardly sit down, leaving me dreading the 13 hour flight…