Day 23: Traveling home
All good things must come to an end. We got up very early today because my mom had a 7am flight out to London. Since she will be returning to Vancouver, we will be parting ways here in Vienna. After she left, I packed my things, saw a beautiful last sunrise in Vienna, then headed down the hall to the Hilton Executive Lounge for one last breakfast.
I checked out and took the 7:10am train to the airport from Wein Mitte Station, which was right across the hotel. I arrived about 3 hours before my 10:45am departure out to New York. After passing all the hoards of people checking in, I found the separate, much quieter, check-in area for business class. The attendant, however, was confused about my visa status in the US. I insisted I was on a H1B (which I am), but there was no official stamp besides the entry stamp from my last visit. Canadians do not require the actual visa stamp for H1B - a very specific omission that at the time even I didn’t know. Regardless, he let me through but said I was “randomly” selected for extra screening – yeah right. He told me the location of the secondary screening which was quite a bit away from where I was boarding. Traveling to the US has become more difficult in recent years and airports around the world often require extra scrutiny for these flights. I breezed through the priority security lane, then headed up to the departure gates to do the secondary screening. I was still early, so they hadn’t opened yet. All the Austrian Airlines’ departures to the US happen around the same time in the morning, so it is only open for that time window. In the meantime, I browsed the shops for some local chocolates and snacks to bring back to my coworkers. It has become somewhat of a tradition to bring sweets back from wherever we are vacationing.
After purchasing some local chocolate wafer snacks, the secondary security was open and I was escorted to that area. It looked very similar to the regular security area except you have to open all your luggage and take everything apart. Luckily, I was able to keep my suitcase in tact since it only had clothes, but I had to empty my backpack and even take the case off my phone. After being cleared, I got my things and headed back out to the gates. Despite this extra delay, I still had over an hour left before boarding so I went to look for the Austrian Business Class Lounge. As I mentioned, all the US departures were leaving around the same time, which meant the lounge was packed. The attendant let me in but wasn’t sure if there was any space. I took a quick look but didn’t see any empty seats, so I left. I headed next door to SkyLounge Vienna, which is accessible by Priority Pass. The main area was also pretty crowded, but I found a separate business work area behind glass doors with lots of empty desks and chairs. The food was basic European continental breakfast, so I just had some orange juice and went on my iPad. I was looking forward to the famous Do&Co catering on the flight instead.
Once it was around time, I headed back to the gate as they prepared for boarding. At around 10am, I boarded OS87, the Austrian Boeing 767-300ER taking me to JFK. This aircraft was pretty old, but the cabin was maintained well. This is the backbone of the relatively small Austrian fleet, flying all of the east coast US destinations. I was seated in 3K, on the right side window seat.
This cabin is laid out in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, similar to the Thai business class cabin. Some say the seat is narrow, but I found it perfectly fine. There was a blanket and pillow waiting at my seat, but curiously no amenity kit. There was a large console on the left, which also contained the seat controls. This was not the best placement as it is easy to accidentally touch, but I didn’t have any issues with it. There was great legroom and a pretty wide footwell by the ottoman. The pouch below the IFE screen was very handy to put my camera and phone.
As we neared the end of boarding, an old Chinese couple arrived, sitting the in the center seats slightly behind me. I heard them complaining about how this was a terrible airline. Then a flight attendant starting talking with them about the situation. Apparently, they too were selected for extra screening, but the gate agent didn’t tell them where it was so they assumed it would be done during boarding. That meant they had to go all the way back to the secondary security area after boarding started, unpack all their things, go through security, then come back. The lady, half joking about her age, mentioned they might as well ship her back in a coffin after that ordeal. She was understandably very upset but the crew maintained a professional attitude and didn’t have any further issues for the rest of the flight. In this midst of this, I was offered the inflight menu and a welcome drink. I picked the local cocktail, which was very tasty but also turned my tongue blue.
The flight attendant also offered various newspapers and magazines; I took a copy of the Economist since it had an interesting cover.
After take-off, lunch service began. Austrian Airlines is catered by Do&Co, the most famous airline catering company. I've heard nothing but great things about their food so I was excited. They have an onboard chef in business class, complete with the white hat. Appetizers are rolled out on a trolley and you can pick whatever you want from it. Everything was really tasty.
Next was a curry cauliflower soup, which was absolutely delicious.
For the main course, I had Viennese Zwiebelrostbraten, which was similar to a steak and potatoes dish. It was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious. I paired this with an excellent red wine.
Service concluded with a traditional Viennese curd cheese dumpling wrapped in breadcrumbs and served with a plum sauce. It came with a medley of fruits as well. Like everything from Do&Co, it was tasty and a refreshing way to end the meal.
I settled into my seat, turning it into recliner mode, and watched a movie. With the blankets on top, it felt very cozy. Since I did get up early, I also took a short nap and tried out the bed. It was comfortable and I didn’t have any issues with space or moving around. When I woke up, I ordered a Viennese Coffee (Franziskaner) off the coffee menu. Vienna coffee culture is a big deal and that is reflected on this flight. This was the first time I’ve seen such an extensive coffee menu on any plane. One of the hallmarks of Viennese Coffee is the huge dollop of whipped cream. They also gave me a small chocolate rabbit since it was Easter.
About 90 mins before landing, we had our second meal. I chose the Viennese sausage with goulash. Simple, but hearty and delicious. It was served with a caramel flan, which was really nice and smooth.
It was a rainy day in New York as we came in to land. I haven't been to New York before at that time, so I was eagerly looking out the window. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the famous skyline from my side. All in all, this was a fantastic flight. The seat was comfortable, the food was amazing, and the service was good. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Austrian in the future, and recommend it over its parent airline, Lufthansa.
Once at JFK, I had to clear US customs and immigration. The line took about 20 mins, which was better than I expected. After that, I left Terminal 1 and took the AirTrain out to JetBlue's Terminal 5. Along the way, I saw the new TWA hotel under construction, which is a renovation of the old TWA terminal built in the 60s – the golden age of flying. Back then JFK was probably the best airport in the world – oh how times have changed.
JetBlue’s Terminal 5 actually looked pretty nice. Unfortunately, there is no lounge and you can't access the lounges in other terminals after security. Before long, I was able to board the brand new A320 that was taking me back home to Seattle. JetBlue is a favorite amongst US travelers that are fed up with the Big 3 mainline carriers. Their economy class is better, but their business class (Mint) is way better. JetBlue changed the game when they introduced their Mint Suites on US domestic flights. Premium cabins on domestic flights, especially with smaller aircraft, typically have seats that are only slightly larger than economy class and minimal food and beverage service. Mint Suites have sliding doors and lie flat beds, with a ton of space on both sides. The Mint cabin is laid out in a 2-2 and 1-1 (suites) configuration, depending on the row. There were only 4 Mint Suites on this plane. The rest of the Mint Cabin still have lie flat seats, but less space and no doors. This is good for couples, but the suites are far better for the solo traveler.
When I arrived at my seat, I found a large pillow, blanket, amenity kit, and welcome letter from the crew. The flight attendant then introduced me to the features of my suite and offered me their signature refreshMint (their pun, not mine), which was a vodka mixer with mint.
The suite is brilliantly designed, with tons of storage options and all the charging ports you could ever need. There were 3 power outlets by my seat. After we took off, dinner service started with a drink served with some taro chips and an eggplant dip – a unique and welcome take on the traditional mixed nuts.
For dinner, there were five dishes on the menu and each passenger can pick three. I chose the Pineapple Chicken Curry, the Seared Filet Mignon, and the Ricotta Truffle Ravioli, paired with a red wine. Every dish was delicious – especially the filet, which was cooked beautifully.
For dessert, I had ice cream and pineapples. This is one of my favorite fruits so I was very pleasantly surprised that their fresh fruits only consisted of pineapple.
JetBlue has an interesting IFE system which offers live TV. It also has free WiFi and the ability to stream Amazon Prime Video; however, the traditional movie and TV selection is limited. After a long day of flying, I was ready for bed. The blanket is quite hefty, similar to the EVA Air one, so it was very comfortable to sleep. I slept for most of the flight, right up to 30 mins before landing. Despite the fact that we were almost landing, the flight attendant saw me wake up and offered me some coffee and a Milk Bar cookie.
We landed at Sea-Tac at around 9pm, but due to all the time zones I’ve crossed, it had been over 24 hours since I woke up in Vienna. I felt pretty good after the sleep on this flight and I was able to get my luggage right away due to the Mint priority tag. JetBlue Mint was fantastic, with a stellar hard and soft product that rivals even the best of the international carriers. Not only would I not hesitate to fly them again, I would even route my trans-continental flights through Boston or New York-JFK (their 2 hubs) to fly Mint in the future. JetBlue is not part of Star Alliance, so this flight was not free from my miles, but was extremely affordable. I booked a one-way economy ticket, which costed $149. I then upgraded to Mint by paying only $299 extra, which I charged to my Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa that has a $300 annual credit on flight upgrades and incidentals. Even if I had paid everything in cash, $450 for a 6-hour flight in this product is a steal. Since I have this $300 credit every year, you can be sure I’ll be back.
Even writing this now, I still can’t believe I pulled this off. A trip around the world in business class – for free, after just one year of credit cards! The craziest thing is, I am going to do this again next year, this time with my fiancée. It’s going to be even more amazing and I can’t wait. Happy travels 🙂