A quick look back at travels thus far in 2016... through the lens of my camera.
After checking out of the Park Tower hotel the latest that I could for free, which is 4pm for SPG Gold members if I remember correctly, as taxi was soon outside of the hotel to take me to the airport. This was well ahead of my flight, but I’d rather hang around the American Airlines Admirals Club than hang around the city that I didn’t particularly like that much.
Pulling up to Terminal A and jumping out of the taxi straight out of Grand Theft Auto, I made my way into the airport check in area. Unfortunately the American Airlines counter wouldn’t be set up for another 15 minutes… in Argentinian time, that’s 30-45 min. So I attempted to check in through an automated kiosk at the end of the check in area. Placing all of my documentation on the scanner and filling out the questions, the system then told me I need to see a gate agent. This is not an unknown problem to me, a similar issue happened in South Korea because I was attempting to check in too early. Figuring that was the case, I made one more attempt, after which I hung around and checked out a few shops here and there.
While walking around the check in area, a notice came through my phone that I no longer had a seat on my flight to Miami. What? This was a bit disconcerting, why was this happening? Logging into the app, my seat did in fact disappear, but a bit of searching and quickly I discovered why. Now American Airlines has two types of 777 aircraft. The 777-300ER flagship aircraft with a first class, business class, and economy. My flight was on the older 777-200 version of the plane. Thing with the 777-200 fleet is that American is in the middle of updating the interiors of the aircraft, which means removing the first class cabin and just putting a business class and economy cabin in place. Recently American halted this update due to slow manufacturing by the seat vendors for the business class, so the 777-200 updates had been stopped leaving the majority of the fleet with the old product that had a first class, I was supposed to be on this first class.
At some point, an old 777-200 with the first class was swapped out for the 777-200 with the new interior, since I was in first class, the new plane lacked a first class, so I was bumped down to business. A little disappointing to say the least, but I did end up getting my points refunded for the difference in class that I was flying.
After getting booked into a new seat, off to the terminal I went. A quick trip through security and I was into the Admirals club. A few hours later it was time to board the plane. Argentina is weird, they send you through security, and then before you board, they make everyone open their bags and check the interiors of the bags. This check is not thorough, and only serves to slow down the boarding process. Really I’m not sure what the point of these checks are, but they require them, so we obliged.
Boarding into the business class cabin, I was in love with the seats here. The setup is a reverse herringbone design where every seat has aisle access. This isn’t a true reverse herringbone design as every other seat is backwards here, so the 777-300ER reverse herringbone is slightly different. If you do fly one of these, the backwards facing seats have better window views, so if you like the window, check out those seats. These business class seats are probably some of the best in the airline world. Each seat is private… well except that my seat was broken and the arm rest was in its lowered position and wouldn’t come up… oh well. Of all my flights on this trip, this was the best seat.
Amenity kits were waiting for us at our seats, as well as a menu for the meals on the flight. Once again, I had requested the vegetarian/vegan meal, so none of it applied to me, but take a look at what was on offer.
Bose headphones were handed out to the cabin while we waited to push back from the gate. This is something that America deserves a lot of credit for, while many airlines hand out so called “noise cancelling” headphones, they are in most cases, not actually noise cancelling. Bose are definitely noise cancelling and so very much more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
Now let's cover the flight attendants, the word terrible comes to mind. While I give them credit for proactively confirming that I had a vegetarian meal, that's about the only positive that this crew had going for it. They were detached, clearly just there to do the bare minimum and unhappy to do it. This is business class and it was treated like we should be in the cargo hold.
Flight attendants addressed everyone in Spanish first… weird for an American carrier, every other flight overseas with American addresses passengers in English first. When I fly Air France, they address everyone in French first, as I would expect from a French carrier, this was just plain weird. When it came to meal time, everything was served on one platter… this is pretty rare in business class and just spoke to laziness of the crew. It was thrown down in front of me and then they just walked away. When I asked for some balsamic dressing, they rolled their eyes and begrudgingly grabbed the dressing for me, handing it to me without a word, even when I thanked them.
After waking up, I realized I had slept much longer than I had expected, Breakfast was just ready to be served, so as I was bringing my seat to the upright position, the flight attendant asked if I was eating breakfast, to which i said yes. I didn’t even have my seat fully upright when she was back with the try of food, reached across me and pulled out my tray table and threw down the tray. The meal looked like eggs, so in my sleepy haze I asked her if it was eggs, she told me she didn’t know. Alright… not a great interaction here either.
One other incident happened on takeoff. The flight attendants were futzing about with a woman up at the front of business class, now I don’t know what the issue was, but they would help her and then wander off, then come back for a moment and wander off, all while taxiing. Then we pulled onto the runway, and the captain had long ago called for them to take their seats. Then we started our takeoff roll and a flight attendant still was at the front of the cabin. As the big engines kicked in, she tried to walk back to her seat and basically ended up running as she was thrown backwards. This was beyond unprofessional, this was dangerous.
Now back to the other parts of the flight. The seat was fitted with all of the updated electronics. There are multiple USB and power outlets at every seat, a big screen that pops out once in the air. The controller for the monitor has a second screen which i used to display the air show, showing our position, while the main screen played movies for me to watch. I loved this setup, but the controls for the volume were very difficult to access. It required something like 4-5 menu changes just to get to the volume control, that really needs to be corrected. Volume is a basic function that people want quick access to, this is some pretty bad UI design.
Seat controls were easy to use, the fully flat bed was comfortable to lay in and gave plenty of privacy while sleeping. The aisle access at every seat is great so that you can get up and use the bathroom without interfering with anyone else and no one is interfering with you when you are trying to sleep.
The hard product (seat, entertainment, ect) was great on this flight, the soft product (service, food, ect) was terrible. While I was initially very disappointed that I was bumped down a class, after the flight I was grateful. If I had been in first class and received that level of service, and food that was that bad, I would have been even more unhappy about that being my first experience in international first class. First class will need to wait until my British Airways and Emirates flights later this year.
After deplaning, I questioned whether or not I was being too hard on the crew. As chance would have it, later that week I ran across an article with a passing mention of American Airlines crew out of Buenos Aires and how universally terrible they were. Guess it wasn’t just me, as I would have been unhappy with that service in economy, let alone business class.
Time to look back on my trip to Buenos Aires a few weeks ago and what I thought of the city, the title may spoil my overall thoughts on the trip, but let’s jump into the details.
From the moment I stepped off the Turkish Airlines flight, I’d have to say that this trip ranks somewhere in the bottom of all the destinations I’ve visited to date. After clearing customs, you walk through an area with a bunch of taxi companies who immediately badger you to come make use of their company over the guy next to them. This was a hint to how I would be treated for much of the trip. After passing through into the main part of the arrivals area, I quickly located my taxi company.
Hitting up the ATM, I took out some money to pay for the taxi. The taxi is all pre-paid and can only be done in cash. Right after this, I was led out to the taxi and jumped into a really crappy car, Taxi Ezezia, and the man stood with his hand out waiting for me to tip him… I’ve never experienced this any other place. It’s this odd situation of trying to make you feel awkward enough to pay him for his service of grabbing my luggage out of my hands and walking me 50ft to the taxi stand. The entire interchange was uncomfortable, but at least my driver was good. The same cannot be said about the insane driver I had on the return to the airport.
After and evening in the hotel, the next day was rainy and I limited my walking around for some time. When I did go out, it immediately struck me that sidewalks were poorly maintained, buildings were old and run down. The entire city had a feeling or uncomfort for me. I can’t place it since Seoul was similary run down in certain areas but I never felt uncomfortable in Seoul. The only conclusion I could come to was the difference in how people treat you.
As an example, while walking through a downtown shopping area, I stopped in a store to look at some post cards. As you may recall, I get a postcard in every city I visit for my niece. As I was looking, a woman approached me and said something to me in Spanish. I removed my headphones and she repeated it. At that time I tried to explain that I don’t speak Spanish. At the point she was really annoyed and repeated it again. At that point I just turned around and walked out feeling like I was no longer welcome there.
This exchange in a little shop, this exemplified how I felt the entire trip, just like people were not happy, they weren’t willing to work with me, and were just generally rude. I can’t say everyone is that way, hotel staff were fantastic, but outside of that I felt like everyone was annoyed with me everywhere I went. An odd feeling to have, and one that ruins the entire experience.
There are some nice areas of Buenos Aires, but I really must say that the city attempting to tout itself as the Paris of South America is roughly equivalent to me calling my apartment the Taj Mahal of North America, it’s a huge stretch. Buenos Aires does have the European feel, if you focus on really small sections of the city, a block or two here, but turn onto the huge main road through the center of the city and you run into 90% of the buildings being run down. Roads are lined by little convenience store, not the shopping you see in France. As much time as I spend in France, I can definitively say that Buenos Aires does not feel like France.
On my way back to the airport I was with a crazy driver in start of rush hour traffic and he was not a good driver. Fast driving, shoving into small spaces, and going really really fast. Once I arrived at the airport, that was a relief and finally it was time to leave the city. I’ve never before wanted to leave a place like I did with Buenos Aires. My suggestion to avoid the city, while I did find some minor gems, the overall experience was unappealing. Avoid if you can.
After landing in Buenos Aires, I made my way to passport control and customs, through winding hallways and a terminal that looked like it was straight out of the 1970’s… not sure it had actually been cleaned since then. Don’t despair though, terminal A is actually quite nice on the way back to the US. After clearing customs, my taxi was called for me by some of the most rude people I’ve interacted with, and this really started a trend in Buenos Aires. More on my thoughts about the city later thought.
Arriving at the Park Tower is a little bit of an odd experience. When booking the hotel, I came across the discription from many people that the Sheraton and Park Tower were attached. Hearing this description I had expected a mutual lobby, or connecting hallway on the ground floor, but this wasn’t the case. Park Tower and the Sheraton Convention Center hotel are literally the same building. Separated by a door on every level, the only difference is the decor in each of the hotels.
Once I got out of the taxi, someone offered to help me immediately, there was a good level of service here for the most part. I declined and made my way to the front desk. Design for the hotel is meant to be upscale, this is an SPG Luxury Collection hotel after all. Finding the front desk is almost a confusing thing, I am used to a counter and a few employees checking in guests. Park Tower uses desks like you might find in a CEO/Executives office, these are lined along the left side of the lobby. While the aesthetic is well executed, there really isn’t any waiting area, I can see this causing a lot of confusion during a busy check in time...though the building is fairly small as are the number of rooms, so the influx a check in may be fairly tame.
Decorations all around the lobby do remind you of a lavish style, with marble tile floors, gold accents everywhere and employees in full business suits. The upscale feel is pulled off fairly well. Staff was pleasant, clearly described how to use the internet and how my status would allow me certain perks… so on and so forth, normal check in speech.
After a few moments, I was on my way up the elevators to my room. Stepping off the lavish elevator on the 16th floor, I stepped into my room which was the first one on the left. Stepping through the door it was a beautiful room to see. On the right was a gorgeous display of wine, glassed, and then a really awkward snack selection… why would I need an entire jar of dulce de leche?
The room was beautiful, the desk was set up in the far corner, and everything was fantastic to walk into. Really it hits you as a great room right off the bat. Turning around and walking into the bathroom, the beautiful marble with gold trimming around the room is carried into the bathroom as well. Here the setup is interesting, but something I liked. Dual sinks and a bathtub are present walking into the main part of the bathroom. Two doors with frosted glass are on the left, one for the toilet, and one for the shower. The separated rooms for each was nice. Had my girlfriend been traveling with me, having the separated spaces would have been nice. Getting ready would not mean someone else didn’t have privacy in the bathroom should they need to use it.
Overall the room was beautiful, but live in the room for a few days and the negatives start to show. This place was obviously old, and everything in the room showed that age. Lamps were plugged in with old wiring that I wasn’t entirely convinced wouldn’t flame up at any moment. Also, there was no convenient place to plug in electronics at night. Shorts of unplugging everything, the next closest outlet was at the foot of my bed. Outlets were, however, well set up by the desk.
Moving into the bathroom, things became obvious that they needed a better maintenance crew. The shower leaked into the main bathroom, a lot! At the bottom of the door was a bad seal and if no one was in the shower while it warmed it, there was no issue. As soon as someone gets under the water and some splashed toward the door, it held nothing back. Stepping out of the shower looked like Lake Erie had let loose on the floor, and I had to start keeping multiple towels on the floor to contain the flood.
Amenities in the bathroom was another point where things were well intentioned, but poorly executed. On the first night when I walked in, I thought the idea to base a soap line on wine was a great idea. Shampoos, conditioner, lotions and shower gels were all named after different wines. One was Pinot Grigio for example, and the grape smell was appealing. Give that one shower and the fake grape smell starts to remind you of all the bad, fake gum flavors and medicine like flavors you’ve ever tasted. The smell quickly went from pleasant to near cringe inducing. Even the hand soap was this way, shaped like a bunch of grapes, it had the same smell to it.
This hotel touts itself as having a butler on every floor. As described earlier, there aren’t many rooms here, I’d estimate 8 -10 per floor, which seems like having a butler on every floor would be impractical. Well I’d have to say that the hotel thinks the same thing, as there was no butler that I ever saw. Service was great when I ordered room service, and a chocolate + bottled water were brought by the room every night, so I can’t complain about the service I did receive.
Breakfast was included every morning, and this is probably the only place I can say the service was terrible in the hotel. No one came by to seat you except on random days, don’t know how those days were determined. Half the time, no one ever checked that I was supposed to have free breakfast or not. Getting a refill on juice or water was basically a fools errand, and the buffet was terrible for a vegan. There was some fruit available, but half was canned and super sweet. Really the food was unimpressive for a place that is supposed to be so upscale.
Really, the take away here was to just stay at the Sheraton Convention Center which was on the other side of the wall. While the Park Tower wasn’t overly expensive, the extra money it did cost was not worth it in my opinion. While I did not actually stay at the Sheraton, it did share the same building, and from what I did see of the Sheraton, seemed to be a fine hotel. At the end of the day, opulence isn’t really my thing, but it was fun to check out the hotel.
Shortly after takeoff in the spacious business class cabin aboard the Turkish Airlines 777-300ER, all of the flight attendants began to round through the cabin. Flying this leg of the journey is a short hop of only about 2.5 hours in the air. Since this leg is so short, the cabin crew must work quickly to get service completed, and they did.
Flight attendants were kind of purgatory in attitude, not bad but not good either. The attendant serving me seemed detached and just going about her business, not really friendly, just on a mission to do her job. This is fine, but does lack the personal touch that I felt from the United flight to Sao Paulo.
Right after takeoff, flight attendants came by with hot towels for each passenger. I’ve heard there are some airlines that offer hot and cold towels, though I haven’t yet experienced it. Personally I dislike being hot, so I’d much appreciate a cold towel being offered as well, but hot towels are what we get, and I’ll make it work all the same.
After collecting the towels, flight crew pass through the cabin with a Turkish delight for every passenger. While I’ve had Turkish delight brought back from Turkey, the offer from the airline was out of this world good. Sweet, and chewy as one would expect, but with a pecan in the center, overall this was probably the highlight of the entire meal.
Menu’s had been distributed on the ground, and I found the way things were set up to be a little odd with Turkish Airlines. They didn’t take your order at any point, just delivered everything until it was time for the main course then showed 2 dishes and you picked one.
First up was pretty much the entire meal, minus the main. Serving the food in this way was really weird. The appetizer, salad, cheese and dessert were all served at the same time. Why the dessert was placed down before the main is really confusing to me. Really wasn’t sure what to make of the meal. Also, I ordered the champagne that was offered aboard and it was terrible, don’t order it, not good at all.
As you can see, the appetizer was not vegetarian. It was some sort of beef circles. I just passed on the app and worked on the sides. Starting off with the hearts of palm salad, things were not off to a great start. While the hearts of palm were supposedly marinated, there was very little flavor to them or the salad in general. Really this seemed like a bunch of flavorless leaves placed in a dish, not really all that appealing.
Included on the tray was a cheese plate as well. While I normally don’t eat milk products, I did try some of the cheese here and it was middle of the line. It is pretty hard to screw up cheese as long as it is purchased from a decent vendor, and this was no different, the cheese was fine, just not my idea of an app or starter.
Since I wasn’t eating the beef, I just kind of mixed it up on the plate and made it look like I was done so the flight attendants would clear it. Soon they stopped by to clear the app and then came around with the main course. As the menu stated, the options were a mushroom crepe with cream sauce, or the pasta. I had already argued internally with myself and came to the conclusion that the pasta would be the way to go. I was hoping the cheese in the pasta would be less milk product than the cream sauce in the crepe… I was probably wrong.
After the flight attendants delivered the pasta, I looked everything over. Offered was three types of pasta. One the left was normal pasta and tomato sauce. To the right of that was the cheese gnocchi. Lastly, to the far right was the ravioli.
Taking a bite of the pasta and tomato sauce, well it was underwhelming to say the least. For the past 9 hours, I had spent time in the Star Alliance lounge where the main thing that I could eat was pasta and tomato sauce. I would have taken 30 orders of that pasta over this stuff. Really the in air version ranks as one of the worst pasta/tomato sauce dishes I’ve had anywhere. The only saving grace here was the inclusion of kalamata olives which I adore, these were the only tasty part of the dish.
Next up was the gnocchi. As described by the menu, this was a gorgonzola gnocchi. I’m a huge fan of well done gnocchi and was sold on this dish because of this. Biting into the dish just left you with the taste of the cheese used to make it. A good gnocchi needs very little additional flavoring, but this was nothing but cheese flavor… disappointing to say the least, but the highlight of the main course.
Last up was the ravioli. At this point I was not looking forward to more cheese. Luckily there didn’t seem to be any cheese inside. Disappointingly that was because there was nothing inside, at least nothing I could taste. Eating this dish was incredibly disappointing, as it reminded me of what I imagine cheap freezer ravioli would taste like… minus any hint of flavor that might possibly exists. The pasta wasn’t well cooked, no flavor, and unappealing visual wise. The whole main course was an unmitigated disaster on a plate. This alone made me not want to fly Turkish Airlines again.
The last item to cover here is the dessert. Some sort of almond cake with chocolate covering on it. Like the rest of the meal, this was disspointing. The chocolate was hard and likely was put on the cake in Turkey from the taste of it. Cake was quite bland and very dry. Not really good at all and not surprising based on the rest of the meal.
Overall the meal was not a highlight of my trip to put it mildly. I wish there was a chance to review their vegetarian dish, but this was what I had to work with and I’m not sure the vegetarian dish would have faired better.