Friday, January 19, 2018

Trip Report: Air Cote d'Ivoire - Lagos to Abidjan (December 2017)

Trip Report: Air Cote d'Ivoire - Lagos to Abidjan
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)


I was planning on spending New Year’s Eve in Abidjan so was looking at options to go from Lagos to Abidjan.  Most of my searches came back with ASKY Airlines which had a stopover in Lomé.  I was not looking forward to stopping, I wanted a direct flight, and I had previously flown with ASKY; so I decided to try Air Cote d’Ivoire.  Recently, the airline has taken possession of new aircraft from Airbus so I was looking forward to trying their product.

I had initially tried to purchase my ticket directly from the airline’s website, however a couple of things prevented me from doing so: 1) for a little while the booking function on the website was not functioning so this made booking a flight impossible; and 2) I was not sure if my credit card would be charged in USD or the local currency.  Given all this, I decided to book my flight through a travel website.  Once I had booked my flight, I tried to go directly to the airline’s website to manage my booking but there was no such function available.  I then contacted the airline directly via email to confirm my booking with them as well as to receive a copy of my itinerary, and the airline was very responsive as within 24 hours they had responded with my confirmed ticket. 

There was a check-in function on the website so I thought I could select my seat assignment through the check-in process.  Each time I tried, I was not able to check into my flight so I had to check-in and receive my boarding pass at the airport and this is where I also requested an aisle seat.  The flight was scheduled to depart at 9:40a and when I arrived at the gate at 9am, the operating aircraft was already there (the plane overnights in Lagos).  The operating aircraft is a Dash Q-400 propeller plane with an estimated flight time of 1hr35min.  It is not a big plane, but the airline flies mostly to regional destinations so these light aircraft are good for their route network.  Boarding started around 9:30am and we walked to the plane and boarded by the plane’s stairs.  Once onboard, the cabin looked new with new seats and updated interiors.  The plane had a small business class with a 2-1 seat layout followed by economy class with a 2-2 seat layout.  I was in economy class and the seats were slimline seats that were comfortable enough for the flight.  The seat pitch was very good; I am about 6’0 and I had plenty of room.  The seatback contained a tray table and a pocket, which contained the safety manual.  As the flight was not full, we boarded rather quickly and the boarding doors were shut for an on-time departure.  Manual safety demonstrations were conducted in both French and English, and then we taxied to the runway and took off.

Air Cote d’Ivoire is a full service airline which means each ticket includes 30kg
complimentary luggage, and they provide complimentary meals and drinks on board.  As soon as we had passed 10,000ft, the attendants came around to start their service.  They passed out boxes which, since it was morning time, contained a chocolate croissant, cookies, and juice.  While it was not a big meal, it was a nice snack that was provided given the short flight time.  Juices and tea/coffee were also served at the same time.  After the meals were cleared, the rest of the flight was left up to you.  There were no PTVs, no drop down screens, and no entertainment.  Some seatback pockets contained the airline magazine, while others didn’t; so it was up to you to pass the time.  After a bit of time, we landed in Abidjan, deplaned via stairs, and were bussed to the arrivals hall.

I was returning to Lagos with Air Cote d’Ivoire, and again I tried to check in online but again the website would not let me know.  At the airport, I requested an aisle seat in the front of the plane, checked in and received my boarding pass.  The plane was scheduled to depart Abidjan at 7:10p and arrive into Lagos at 10:10p.  I went through security and proceeded to the gate, and around 6:30p we were called for boarding.  Boarding was done through gate 1, which meant we walked downstairs to the awaiting bus which would bus us to the airplane.  

Again, it was a Dash Q-400 that was operating this flight but this
time the interior of the aircraft looked older.  The seats were still laid out in the same fashion – with 1-2 in business and 2-2 in economy – but both the seat style and comfort indicated it was an older plane.  The plane was full but it was small so the boarding doors closed on time and we taxied to the runway; this is where the trouble began.  The pilot started accelerating to take off, but then decelerating and taxied to a remote parking stand near the other planes.  No communication was given until we were waiting for a parking stand, at which time the pilot came on and said there was a ‘minor technical fault and it should be a 10 minute fix’.  We finally got to park the plane and 45 minutes later, with 4 technicians coming in and out of the plane, the boarding door closed again.  Instead of heading to the runway, we just went along the taxiway for a bit and returned back to the parking area.  The pilot came out and again, technicians went in.  And again, no communication from the staff at all.  About 15 minutes later, we were told the plane could not fly and we had to deplane; no other information was given.  As passengers were leaving, we asked what was going on and we were told that ‘passengers are being bused to another plane’.  That is the assumption we had when we got onto the bus, but that assumption was wrong.  By this time, we had been on the plane for over 2 hours without going anywhere.

What followed was a series of bad communication, mismanagement, horrendous customer service, and lack of coordination in the Abidjan airport and with the Air Cote d’Ivoire staff.  We were dropped off at arrivals and were told to stand to the side, check-in and wait; at this time we were told that the next flight would be the next morning.  After waiting there for 40 minutes with no information, we were then given ‘yellow transit cards’ and told to go upstairs back to the departure gates.  We were not told that we had to clear security again, and so many of the liquids that passengers had bought post-security had to be thrown away; it was again a series of miscommunication and mismanagement at every level.  When we had cleared security, we had no information so passengers were just told to wait.  Another 20 minutes later, we were told to go and stand in line for dinner.  There is only one restaurant that serves the airport so it was a small restaurant trying to serve us as well as the regular customers; again, it was not well managed nor well communicated.  Additionally, we were not told what food we were receiving and no dietary restrictions nor medical preferences were taken into consideration.

While passengers were standing in line, we were informed that the airline had decided to add our destination to an existing flight taking off.  Instead of the plane travelling from Abidjan to Liberville, the plane would now fly from Abidjan to Lagos to Liberville.  At first we were told the plane would be leaving at 11p – it took most passengers one hour to wait in the line and receive their dinner, so by 11p most passengers still had not eaten.  We were then informed the plane would take off at 11:30, but that time came and went and there was no announcement so we went to the screens.  The screens had three different timings for the flight; 11:30p, 11:55p, and 12:30a.  There was no communication from the airline nor the airport as to which time was correct, so most passengers just went to the gate area around 11:45p and just waited there until the boarding announcement; the boarding announcement came at 12:45a.

Boarding was extremely chaotic and mismanaged, especially since the airline did not change our boarding passes so we were still boarding with our original boarding passes.  Again, we boarded busses to take us to our aircraft.  Because of the combination, the airline was using a larger aircraft so they were using one of their new Airbus A320.  These are the newest planes in the airline’s fleet and they are only a couple of months old.  Boarding took a while because while business class were sitting in their assigned seats, we were told once we got on board that economy class was open seating; you could sit anywhere you want.  This confused many passengers who were not expecting this and having this information prior would have been helpful.  We finally boarded and the boarding door closed around 1:30am.

The Airbus A320 is laid out in a 2-2 in business class and 3-3 seats in economy.  The seats have slimline seats so they are a bit narrow, but have really good seat pitch.  There are no PTV’s on the seatback, instead there is a space where the safety card and airline magazine are held.  Beneath that is the tray table, and beneath that is another pocket to hold your personal belongings.  One nice amenity was that there were universal plugs and USB ports on the bottom of the seats in front of you, and these were on and available for charging from boarding.  After manual safety demonstrations were conducted, we pushed back and finally took off for Lagos.

The flight time to Lagos was 1 hour, so immediately after reaching cruising altitude the flight attendants came by to start their inflight service.  Given it was so late, many passengers were sleeping so I was surprised that the airline would have a full service on this flight.  The in-flight service consisted of a small meal plus complimentary drinks, juice, or water.  The meal was extremely small and not that tasty, but it was a nice addition and something that was not expected.  Once meal trays were cleared, most passengers continued to sleep for the remaining flight.  We finally landed in Lagos around 3:30am, so 5hrs behind schedule.


Overall, it was an interesting experience with Air Cote d’Ivoire.  I judge airlines on how they handle the situation when something goes wrong, not when everything goes right.  By this standard, the airline failed miserably.  While everything is going right, they are a nice airline with a nice on-board product.  When something goes wrong though, they are an airline that do not seem to have the policy, management, nor communication on how to handle these situations.  You can definitely feel the growing pains this airline is experiencing as they grow.    

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stay Report: Novotel Abidjan (Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire - December 2017)

Stay Report: Novotel Abidjan
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)


When you ask or search for ‘the best place to stay in Abidjan’, most people respond with either the Sofitel or the Novotel hotels.  I was travelling on a budget so the Sofitel was out of my price range; however, the Novotel was having a sale so I booked the hotel for part of my stay.  It was very easy to book through either Accorhotels phone app or website.

Novotels are part of Accorhotels and they are described as more upscale than ibis but less upscale than Sofitel.  I have stayed in Novotel before in Dubai and for that hotel, the only major difference I saw was that it was a more upgraded version of the ibis.  Based on that, and based on the feedback I had heard from others, I was curious to experience the Novotel Abidjan.  The hotel is located in the Plateau region of Abidjan, and I was already staying at the ibis Abidjan so I was familiar with the neighborhood.  Both hotels share a shuttle to and from the airport, so I accessed that shuttle to transport me from the ibis to the Novotel.  The hotel overlooks the river and has a very nice view of the other side of Abidjan, and is centrally located so within walking distance to many restaurants, banks, and other amenities.

When you arrive at the hotel, there is a mini-driveway that has been blocked off so you have to walk to the entrance.  As with all hotels in the area, you have to pass through a metal detector on the outside and an x-ray scanner inside before proceeding to the hotel.  Once inside the hotel, you enter into a large lobby.  In the first part of the lobby, on left hand side are the elevators and two check-in desks while in the middle is a large sitting area and on the right is the ‘business center’ with two computers.  The second part of the lobby contains the bar and the restaurant.  There is both indoor and outdoor seating for the restaurant, as the outdoor seating overlooks the pool.  The pool is a decent size and the hotel cleans it regularly.  On the other side of the pool is the fitness center, which is a decent size and has a decent selection of various types of exercise equipment.      

I walked to the check-in desks to check in and receive my key.  The check-in service was alright, but there was a lack of customer service (which continued throughout my stay).  Since I am a member of the hotels guest program, some of the benefits I received were a complimentary drink at the bar as well as an extended check-out time.  I took advantage of both benefits, received my key and the wifi code, and proceeded to elevators to my room.

As you open the door, you enter into a hallway.  On the left-side of the hallway are closets that run along the hallway.  The closest consists both of a standard closet next to another closet with shelves; the closets provided a lot of storage places.  On the other side of the hallway was the bathroom.  The bathroom was laid out in an odd position.  As you entered into the hallway, on the right was the toilet and just the toilet.  To access the other aspects of the bathroom, you had to come out of the toilet, go into the hallway, and then enter the second door to enter into the other bathroom section.  This bathroom section contained the sink and the shower.  I had many issues with the bathroom which included the lack of water pressure (for both the shower and the handheld); the lack of hot water (it was inconsistent and it took a long time for the water to be heated); and finally the bathroom and the room shared a wall and in that wall there was a transparent window so from the bedroom you could see directly into both the bathroom and directly into the shower.  I am not sure why this was constructed this way, and it’s an odd and unpleasant design.  As part of being a full-service hotel, the bathroom did have nice amenities including fair-trade products such as soap, shower gel, shampoo, and other products.  Additional bathroom amenities included very big and nice towels, which were good quality and very large towels. 

At the end of the hallway, there was a door that separated the hallway section from the bedroom section.  Once you entered into the bedroom section, on the right was the double-size bed with nighstands on either side as well as reading lights on either side.  The bed was a good size and provided a comfortable sleep.  The duvet on top was also comfortable as well.  Across from the bed, along the wall, was long, extended desk.  The desk provided a good working place as well as another storage place.  Above the desk was the TV mounted on the wall; however, the TV only worked sometime so I could not access the channels all the time.  Below the TV, next the desk, was a pedestal tool which could be used to hold your luggage or for someone to sit on.  The large desk was a nice amenity.  Other amenities in the room included a lounge chair/mini couch near the window which provided some more seating facilities as well as some additional storage area.  As the seating area was next to the window, it was nice to sit there and look outside the window onto the pool, to the river, and see the sights.  There was also a coffee maker, a fridge, and a safe in the room.  These were located in the wall behind the door that led to the hallway.  The mini-fridge was another nice touch. 

As a full-service hotel, there were many amenities that were provided. The hotel contains a bar, a restaurant, a pool, a fitness center, free wifi, two complimentary bottles of water daily, laundry services, room service, and an airport shuttle.  The amenities I used were the free wifi, which was slow and spotty; the complimentary bottles of water, which was a nice touch; the laundry service, which was quick but a bit expensive; the room service, which was also quick and did not charge excess delivery charges; and the airport shuttle, which needed to be booked ahead of time and had a timing schedule. 


In the end, the full service amenities provided by the hotel were
nice, the location of the hotel was also very good (as I was there for New Years’, I could see the fireworks directly from the room), and the shuttle were nice touches; however, this did not compensate for the poor customer service.  The hotel provided poor to minimal customer service and were not helpful in suggesting or coordinating with local transport.  My friend was staying at another hotel close-by and that hotel provided excellent customer service and worked with the guest to ensure they had access to the services they needed.  The Novotel did not do this and that was unfortunate.  I had previously stayed at the ibis in Abidjan and they provided better customer service, stronger wifi, better water pressure, and complimentary breakfast; but they are not a full-service hotel.  I got the full service amenities, but not the full service customer service.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Stay Report: ibis Lagos Airport (Lagos, Nigeria - December 2017)

Stay Report: ibis Lagos Airport
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was connecting from an international to a domestic flight in Lagos, Nigeria but that is not convenient so I had to overnight in the city.  The closest Western-brand hotel to the airport is the Ibis Lagos Airport so a lot of passengers use this as a transit hotel.  Ibis hotels are a part of Accorhotels and they are a mid to lower-priced brand.  The hotels generally provide basic amenities including a decent room, fast wifi, a restaurant (with complimentary breakfast, depending on which rate you book), and sometimes a gym and/or pool.  The ibis does not provide complimentary airport transportation, but can arrange for airport transfer through their taxi partners.   

My company had booked the hotel but it is very easy to book the hotel through the
Accorhotels website or phone app.  Check-in is usually around 4pm and we arrived at the hotel around 5pm but our rooms were not ready.  It took over one hour for our rooms to be ready, and that only after pleading with the receptionist to get our rooms ready faster (as I was coming off of an international flight).  During the waiting period I got a good look at the lobby – as you enter into the lobby, on the right is the seating area while on the left is the ‘business center’ which are two computers next to the check-in desk.  The check-in desk is connected to the bar which leads into the restaurant; complimentary breakfast is served here along with buffet lunch and dinner.  There is a large seating area for the dining area which looks onto the pool and outside garden.  The elevators are located in front of the check-in counters, and I took the elevators to my room when I finally received my key.

The hotel is shaped like a V with the elevators located at the point; once you get off the elevators you can either go left or right to access your room.  My room was to the left.  As I opened the door, I realized it was a standard ibis room – basic and compact (although it did have some room to maneuver).  As you opened the door, there was a wall on the left and a little entryway that led into the room.  As you go into the room, on the left was the door to the tiny bathroom.  The bathroom contained a shower, a toilet and a sink but it was compact and tiny – there was not a lot of room to move (also, ibis provides minimal amenities; this hotel only provided soap, shampoo, and a towel). 

The bed was in the middle of the room and on either side of the bed were small night stands.  The bed itself was a decent in both size and comfort.  The bed had a nice douvet and was generally comfortable; again not a great sleep but a decent sleep.  In front of the bed was the TV nook which had a TV on top and ibis menu and tv guide on the bottom.  Next to that was some space and then there was the open closet.  Ibis has open closets which basically amount to a line of shelves connected to an open area where you can hang your clothes.  It was a small space but decent enough to house your clothes.  The closet was connected to the desk which ran along the wall and looked out onto the window to the city.  At the end of the desk, underneath, was a sitting bench with plugs on the wall.  At the end of the desk was also where the small coffee pot and tea pot was located.  Overall, it was a small and compact room with a decent size bed that provided a comfortable night sleep.

The best amenity ibis provides is the free and fast wifi.  Their wifi speeds are very good and they generally do not limit the number of devices that can be logged on.  In addition to the wifi, other amenities included a restaurant that provided complimentary breakfast (based on which rate you booked) as well as lunch and dinner; a gym with basic equipment; a pool; and meeting rooms.  My rate included complimentary breakfast so I did try that – there was a decent selection of fruit as well as hot items so it was a good and decent meal.

Overall, it was a decent stay at the Ibis Lagos Airport.  The rooms were decent, if not small, but they provided a nice and comfortable sleep.  The wifi was free and fast and the complimentary breakfast, if applicable, was decent.  The major thing the ibis lacked was transportation to and from the airport – if it was complimentary it would’ve been better, but even paid transportation would have been useful given the amount of traffic to and from the airport.  There is also a general ‘musky’ scent that comes with the AC; this is something the hotel should look into.   

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stay Report: ibis Abidjan Plateau (Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire - December 2017)

Stay Report: ibis Abidjan Plateau
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)


In looking for a place to stay in Abidjan, there are many local hotels available but few Western-brand hotels.  Accorhotels was one of the few Western-brands in the country, and since I have stayed with them before I booked the ibis hotels.  Ibis hotels are a part of Accorhotels and they are a mid to lower-priced brand.  The hotels generally provide basic amenities including a decent room, fast wifi, a restaurant (with complimentary breakfast, depending on which rate you book), and sometimes a gym and/or pool.  It was very easy to book the hotel through the Accorhotels website or phone app, and when I had booked Accorhotels was having a sale so I got a really good deal.    

In partnership with other Accorhotel properties, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle to and from the airport.  I had emailed the hotel about this and they said as soon as I got out of the arrival halls, the desk should be there; and it was.  There are specific timings for the bus, but these were not mentioned before so I waited for about 15-20 minutes for the driver to come.  The bus is a big (20 people) passenger bus but it does not have any hotel branding on it; it’s just a plain bus.  I got on the bus and 45 minutes later I was at the ibis Abidjan Plateau.

There are two ibis hotels in the city, one outside the city and one inside; I choose the ibis inside the city.  From the outside, there is not much curb appeal to the hotel.  The hotel from the outside looks dated and there is not really an entry way to the hotel.  From the sidewalk, you walk into a patio with outdoor seating and go through a metal detector to go inside the hotel.  Once inside the hotel, you have to put your stuff through an x-ray machine.  Opposite of the x-ray machine is a sitting area, the elevators to go up to the rooms, stairway to the parking garage, as well as access to the meeting rooms.  Right behind the x-ray machine, on your right hand side, is the check-in desks.  Straight ahead was the bar, a lounge/sitting area/ as well as the kitchen and dining area where the complimentary breakfast was served.  Behind the check-in desks was the ‘business center’, which consisted of two computers you could access and print your boarding pass. The lobby had a lot of seating area so it was a decent lobby.  I went to the check-in desks, received my key and took the elevator to the 4th floor to my room.

Exiting the elevator it looked like a standard ibis hotel, and as I opened the door to the room it also looked like a standard ibis room – basic and compact (although it did have some room to maneuver).  As you opened the door, you entered into an entryway with a wall on the left and on the right was the entrance to the bathroom.  The bathroom contained a shower, a toilet and a sink but it was compact and tiny – there was not a lot of room to move.  In terms of bathroom amenities, ibis provides minimal amenities so this hotel had towels a pump next to the sink as well as one in the shower – this all-encompassing pump was the soap, bath gel, and shampoo all in one. 

As you went further into the room, on the right side was the bed set against the right side of the wall.  The bed was a standard ibis bed with two small night stands on either side.  The bed itself was a decent in both size and comfort.  The bed had a nice duvet and was generally comfortable; again not a great sleep but a decent sleep.  In front of the bed was the TV nook which had a TV on top and ibis menu and tv guide on the bottom.  Next to that was some space and then there was the open closet.  Ibis has open closets which basically amount to a line of shelves connected to an open area where you can hang your clothes.  It was a small space but decent enough to house your clothes.  The closet was connected to the desk which ran along the wall and looked out onto the window to the city.  At the end of the desk, underneath, was a sitting bench with plugs on the wall.  At the end of the desk was also where the small coffee pot and tea pot was located.  Overall, it was a small and compact room with a decent size bed that provided a comfortable night sleep.

The best amenity ibis provides is the free and fast wifi.  Their wifi speeds are very good and they generally do not limit the number of devices that can be logged on.  In addition to the wifi, other amenities included a restaurant that provided complimentary breakfast (based on which rate you booked), complimentary parking, and meeting rooms.  My rate included complimentary breakfast so I did try that – there was a decent selection of mostly cold items including cheese and salads with some hot items (included eggs) and a large selection of bread and croissants.  Juices, coffee and tea were also available.  With ibis, it was a decent and good breakfast; not great, but good. 


Overall, it was a decent stay at the ibis Abidjan Plateau.  The rooms were decent, if not small, but they provided a nice and comfortable sleep.  The wifi was free and fast and the complimentary breakfast, if applicable, was good.  The complimentary airport transportation was a bonus, and the location was good as it provided easy walking access to many sights with the Plateau neighborhood.  The service was also very good at the ibis, so overall it a typical ibis room with good service and nice amenities. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Trip Report: United Airlines - New Orleans to Hawaii (November 2017)

Trip Report: United Airlines - New Orleans to Hawaii
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)


American-based airlines are not known for their long-haul service.  As compared to other international carriers, American-based carriers fall below in terms of service, product, on-board amenities, and generally customer service.  For these reasons, I generally prefer to take international carriers when possible; however, sometimes that is not possible such as when I was flying to Hawaii.  While Hawaii is considered a domestic service, the flight times to Hawaii are generally long.  We were looking for fly from New Orleans to Honolulu, and return from Maui to New Orleans.  There were a couple of options available and I really wanted to try Virgin America/Alaska, but it involved overnight layovers which was not convenient, so in the end I choose United Airlines as it was most convenient in terms of price and flights.  The path was New Orleans – Denver – Honolulu; Maui – San Francisco – New Orleans.  Given my previous experience with United (https://0504traveller.blogspot.com/2017/01/a-trip-report-united-airlines.html), I was not looking forward to the flight.

Booking the flight was very easy and straightforward through United’s website, and it was very easy to manage the booking and select seats through United’s app.  That is one positive aspect about United, the app is very user-friendly and is very useful and convenient in managing your booking, accessing boarding passes, selecting seats, purchasing lounge passes, etc.    

The first flight was from New Orleans to Denver, departing New Orleans at 7:45a and
arriving into Denver at 9:40a for a scheduled flight time of 2h55m.  The flight was
operated by an Airbus A321 in a 3-3 seat layout.  Boarding was done by group numbers and all the passengers were boarded and seated for an on-time departure.  The seats on the A321 were a bit narrow, but the legroom was decent.  The seat comfort itself was fine for the flight time; however, after a longer flight period you may start feeling the effects of the seat.  There were no PTV’s, instead in that area was a pocket which contained the inflight magazine, the safety card, air sickness bag, and a description of the inflight entertainment.  The inflight entertainment was accessible through United’s wifi and through their app.  The free entertainment included a variety of TV shows, some movies, and other programs.  The selection is limited and not great, but it provides some entertainment on the flight.  Just after reaching cruising altitude, the attendants began their inflight service.  Complimentary soft drinks, water, tea, coffee, and juices were available as well as snack boxes for purchase.  The complimentary drinks were served with United’s new waffle snack, which personally I do not like.  The remaining flight was uneventful and we landed on time at Denver International, taxied to the gate, and deplaned.

We had approximately 1h30 minutes in Denver before our next flight so we took the opportunity to have breakfast prior to our next flight.  Our next flight was from Denver to Honolulu, with a scheduled flight time of 7h45min.  The flight was operated by a Boeing 777-200 and was scheduled to depart Denver at 11:30am and arrive into Honolulu at 3:45pm.  We got to the gate around 10:30a and the plane was already there.  The gate agent made several announcements which encouraged passengers to purchase food in Denver as well as to download the United app to access the entertainment.  Again, boarding was done by group numbers and all passengers were boarded and seated for the on-time departure.  The plane had a 3-4-3 seat layout, which was high density, and had a small business and two mid-size economy sections.  Given the long flight time, we had purchased ‘Economy Plus’ seating to get more legroom so the legroom was decent.  The seat itself was average, but it was not comfortable for the long flight period.  Blankets were provided on the seat when you entered the plane.  The seatback on this plane was exactly the same as on the A321 – there were no PTVs but instead a seatback pocket which contained the inflight magazine, the safety card, the air sickness bag, and a promotion for United Wifi.  There was one difference – this plane had a device on the seatback that would hold your smartphone or device in place.

We took off and there was a long waiting period from the time we reached cruising
altitude until the inflight service commenced.  The inflight service was very slow and very basic – complimentary soft drinks, tea, juices, and coffee were provided along with pretzels (which were basically thrown at you).  You could also purchase snack boxes – I purchased the ‘cheese snack box’ which contained cheese and crackers, but they were the smallest cheese and low quality crackers and definitely not worth the price.  The attendants came back an hour prior to landing to do another drink service, and passed water sometimes through the cabin in flight, but that was it in terms of service.  I understand this is considered a domestic flight, but given the length of the flight I expected United to provide something a little more.  Also, there was basically no difference between an economy seat or an economy plus seat – there were no extra perks besides extra legroom.  Why would I pay the higher price (and it is a drastic difference) just for additional legroom and that’s it – in my opinion, economy plus seats should come with some additional perks that incentivize you to pay the higher price.  Overall, it was extremely disappointing and a very uncomfortable 7 hours on the plane.  Even the attendants were not nice – they had water in the galley, so instead of wasting glasses I brought my water bottle to refill.  I asked where the full bottles were so I could use that instead of wasting 6 glasses, and the attendant just looked at me, pointed to a storage up top, and walked away.  It was extremely rude service. 

Given our experience on the outbound, I was not looking forward to our return flight.  The first return flight was from Maui to San Francisco and was operated by a Boeing 737-800.  The flight was scheduled to depart Maui at 10:25p and arrive into San Francisco at 5:22am for a scheduled flight time of 4h55m.  We arrived to the airport, checked in our bag, and proceeded to the gate.  The plane was already at the gate when we arrived (it had come in earlier in the day) and boarding commenced on time.  We had again paid for economy plus seats and we selected the first seats in the economy section, right behind business class.  The plane was laid out with 2-2 seats in business and 3-3 seats in economy.  Each seat had a PTV in front of it with controls on the armrest.  Controls on the armrest are a bad idea because inadvertently either you or your seatmate hit the button and change the channel.  In order to make more money, on planes with PTV’s, United does not offer free personal entertainment.  For planes with PTVs, they do offer free live TV but only on the continental U.S.  If you are outside this area, then you have to pay to access movies and TV programs; the flight map is free to watch.  Once boarding was completed, the safety video was shown and we pushed back and took off to San Francisco.  Once we reached cruising altitude, the attendants came by with their drink service but as it was an overnight flight, most passengers were sleeping.  The remaining flight was uneventful and we landed on time in San Francisco.
 
We had about 2 hours in San Francisco before our next flight, so this was just enough time to go and enjoy a nice breakfast.  The next flight was San Francisco to New Orleans,
which was also operated by a Boeing 737-800.  The flight was scheduled to depart at 8:15am and arrive into New Orleans at 2:27p for flight time of 4hr5min.  The plane arrived at the gate from another destination, those passengers deplaned, and we boarded for an on-time pushback.  We had not paid for economy plus seats so were sitting in regular economy seats.  The plane was laid out similarly to the previous plane, with 2-2 seats in business and 3-3 seats in economy.  The legroom was decent, the seat comfort average, but the seat width was a bit narrow.  The difference was this plane looked newer and there were no PTVs, instead you had access to United’s free entertainment through your own personal device.  The service on board was similar, in that after takeoff the attendants came by to offer complimentary drinks and you could purchase a snackbox.  The difference for this flight was that, about an hour prior to landing, a second drink service was done.  We landed on time and deplaned.


Overall, it was a disappointing flight with United.  I understand it was a domestic flight, but given the length of the flight and the fact that competitors are beginning to offer additional amenities on longer flight times, I expected something more for our flights.  I also expected something more to be included in the economy plus section; just having additional legroom was not worth the high price United charged.  I tend to avoid American-based airlines for international travel and had primarily used them for domestic travel.  After this experience, I will try and avoid them for longer domestic travel and only use them for short domestic hops.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Trip Report: ASKY Airlines - Lome to Lagos (December 2017)

Trip Report: ASKY Airlines - Lome to Lagos
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)


I was travelling to Western African on Ethiopian Airlines.   Normally, to fly to West Africa you must first connect in East Africa which adds to your travel times.  Recently, Ethiopian has been investing in regional African airlines including Togo-based ASKY Airlines; this assists in making ASKY Airlines and Lomé their West African hub.  ASKY Airlines is an initiatives of West African governments to provide air service in the region.  Based in Lomé, the airline operates a combination of Boeing 737 and Dash Q-400 planes.

I connected to ASKY from Ethiopian in Lomé, as I flew from Newark to Lomé on Ethiopian and then from Lomé to Lagos on ASKY.  My flight was operated by a Boeing 737 with a scheduled flight time of 1 hour.   The Ethiopian flight was scheduled to land in Lomé at 12p and the ASKY flight was scheduled to depart at 1:15p.  This was a very tight connection, both for myself and my luggage. 

We landed in Lomé a bit behind schedule at 12:15p, and there were a lot of passengers
who were connecting to ASKY flights and had tight connections.  Even though everything was booked as one ticket, most passengers were not able to access their ASKY boarding passes until we got to Lomé.  As soon as we deplaned, we were met by ASKY representatives who had boarding passes already printed out.  They were also there to direct us to the transfer side where we would have to go through security and then proceed upstairs to our boarding gates.  Even though the airport is small and connections can be made easily, it was not a lot of time to the entire process was hectic and rushed, especially with flight delays.  Luckily, ASKY’s idea of ‘on-time departure’ is a bit flexible.


We were supposed to start boarding at 12:30p for the 1:15p departure, but boarding did not start until about 1pm.  There was no real process for boarding, the airline just announced it was boarding and people lined up to board the plane.  The plane is setup in a 3-3 seat layout in economy and a 2-2 seat layout in business.  There were approximately 12 business class seats and approximately 130-150 economy class seats.  While the plane’s exterior looked freshly painted, the inside was definitely an older plane.  The overhead bins were older, the signs above the seats looked dated and overall the cabin looked worn and dated.  I was seated in the aisle row right behind business class to the legroom was very good, although I could have sat anywhere.  Apparently many African airlines have an ‘open seating’ policy in which you just sit at any open seat, regardless of what your boarding pass says.  It was very interesting and caused some confusion and some passengers followed the ‘open seating’ policy while others followed what was stated on their boarding pass.  The seat itself was decently comfortable but it was definitely not a new seat.  The color scheme of the seats also added to the worn factor and made the plane look even older.

Even though the scheduled departure time was 1:15pm, the boarding doors did not close
until 2:00p.  We pushed back, manual safety demonstrations, in both English and French were conducted, and then we took off for our flight time of 30 minutes.  The flight was making several stops in West Africa so the flight path from was from Lomé to Lagos, to Douala, and then another city before heading back to Lomé.  Those whose final stop was Lagos disembarked in Lagos and those who were continuing on remained on board.  Given the short flight time, there was no in-flight service.  Our scheduled arrival was for 3pm, and given it was only a 30 minute flight we landed generally on time. 


Overall, it was an interesting flight experience with ASKY.  Given their partnership with Ethiopian, their ground staff were very good in greeting the aircraft with printed boarding passes, printed bag tags, and directing passengers where to go.  The on-board staff were not as friendly but provided a basic service.  The older look and feel of the plane made it a negative, but in the end it did not make that much of a difference given the short flight time.  As a side note - in the end, I made the connection but my luggage did not, as with several other passengers who made the connection with me.  There was very little follow-up or numbers to call, and we were just told that the luggage would come on the next day's flight so check back then; luckily that is what happened.  ASKY is trying to build itself as a West African hub and are promoting themselves and connections to Lomé with lower fares to get across West Africa.  I would choose to fly them again if the flight time was short and the fares were low, but they would not be my first choice in air travel.     

Stay Report: Grand Waikikian Suites by Hilton Grand Vacations (Honolulu - November 2017)

Stay Report: Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

When looking for a hotel in Honolulu, the biggest resort in the area is the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort.  It is one of the oldest and most well-known resorts in the area.  The resort is also centrally located and is walking distance to many shops, restaurants, and other activities.  The Resort is made up of a couple of different hotels including the Hilton Hawaiian, the Grand Waikikian, and others.  The Grand Waikikian is part of Hilton Grand Vacations so they are mostly suites – and that is what we were looking for.  Each suite came with a room with 2 double beds, one bathroom, a full kitchen, washer/dryer, and a dining table.  As they are part of the resort, each room comes with a resort fee which includes Fitness/yoga classes, Internet access, in-room bottled water, and other resources for $35/day.  Booking the hotel was easy and convenient through Hilton’s website.

There are many entrances to the resort depending on which hotel you are staying at –
each hotel has their own separate entrance.  The entrance to the Grand Waikikian was off to the side and it was at the far side of the resort, so you have both marina and beach views but you are not on the beach.  The hotel lobby is located on the main level and it is an open air lobby to allow for the breeze from the ocean.  The lobby contained the check-in desks, the valet, the concierge, and a couple of benches.  It is not a traditional lobby but it serves its purposes.  Check-in was easy and we received our keys, a map to the resort, as well as a packet which included amenities included in the resort fee.  This included towel passes for the beach, passes for two free bottles of a water a day, a dvd rental, as well as shopping discounts.  The elevators to access the rooms were not located near the lobby – to access them you had to walk out of the lobby, through the concierge room to another hallway and walk down that hallway to get to the elevators.  It was a bit confusing at first and not well planned out. 

There are 4 elevators and each time we did not have to wait a long time for the elevators.  The elevators came and we went to our room on the 17th floor.  When you enter the room, you enter into the open kitchen on right hand side and a door to the left which leads to the bathroom.  The open kitchen is spacious and includes a full fridge, a stove, a microwave, an oven, plates, glasses, cutlery, a toaster, a coffee maker, and a full sink.  It was a nice full kitchen.  On the other side of the counter to the kitchen were chairs were you could sit and eat.  There was also a half table that pulled onto a bench so that was another option to eat there.  Beyond the kitchen was the sitting area with a couch and chair against one wall and the TV on top of a chest against the other wall.  The chest had the TV on top and a drawers on the bottom.  The sitting area looked out onto the balcony which was a bit small but was nice to go outside and see the sights and enjoy the breeze. 

Next to the TV was a door that led into the bedroom.  Given how spacious the other
rooms were, the bedroom was a bit narrow.  The bedroom contained two double beds with a nightstand in the middle against one wall, and another chest with a TV on top and the drawers on the bottom.  The beds were comfortable and provided a good night’s sleep, there just was not a lot of room between the two beds.  Next to the beds, with minimal separation between the two, was an area that contained a tub on one wall and the closet on the other.  It was an odd layout to have a tub in the middle of the room.  The closet contained a safe, an iron, ironing board, and luggage rack; however, considering the narrowness of the room it was not a lot of space to place your luggage.  In between the tub and the closet was a door that led to the bathroom.  The bathroom contained a sink a standup shower, and a Japanese-style toilet.  The Japanese-style toilet was a nice and welcome touch.  The bathroom itself was a decent size.  The bathroom also contained a second door which led out to the main room next to the kitchen and the main door.  As you existed the bathroom, and before you got to the main door, on left hand side was a closet which contained the washer and dryer.  Overall, the room had many amenities that were very nice and the sitting area was spacious; the only negative was the lack of space in the bedroom area.

There are many amenities that can be accessed as part of the resort.  As the hotel is part
of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, you can walk around and access any part of the resort.  Each hotel had their own pool, so you could choose which pool you wanted to access.  To access the beach you had to walk to the Rainbow Tower near the main entrance to the resort as that was the only beach access. Other amenities included free classes in the morning, fireworks on Friday night, many restaurants to choose from, an entire whole shopping village which included other restaurants, desserts, souvenirs, a convenience store, and other amenities.  If you wanted, you could access everything in the resort and never have to leave.  The hotel did provide free wifi, but our wifi was only applicable in our tower. 

Other amenities we took advantage of was the discounted taxi rate and the lounge.  The resort does not provide transportation to and from the airport, rather they have
negotiated a special discounted rate with a local taxi company that provides a flat fee to passengers to and from the airport and the hotel.  We used this service on both sectors and it was very convenient and easy to use.  Another amenity we utilized was the lounge.  Check-out of the hotel is very early, at 11am, and given the high volume they generally do not allow for late check-out.  To compensate for those guests who have later flights, guests can access the lounge throughout their stay and after checkout.  The lounge is like a standard business lounge with lots of couches and tables for people to relax and rest.  There are many outlets so you can charge your electronics as well.  No food is provided and only water, tea, and some juices are provided.  There is a small kids play area as well as a small business center as well.  There are bathrooms as well as showers available, as well as hotel amenities included soap, shampoo, and lotion.  The hotel will hold your luggage so this lounge is a nice place to go and relax and recover prior to your late night flight.

Overall, it was a pleasant stay at the Grand Waikikian.  The hotel provided a lot of amenities for their guests.  The rooms themselves were nice and had lots of amenities, with the only downside being the lack of space in the bedroom.  While the costs for the Hawaiian Village are a bit higher, you do get a lot of amenities as well as a convenient access to many shops and restaurants within walking distance to the resort.