My 6 favorite flights from the past decade
I am very lucky that I am able to travel extensively. It used to be just a hobby and passion of mine, but since TPG arrived in the U.K. last year, it's also now my work.
There are some trips that will always be memorable: My first upgrade using Avios (UUA) from World Traveller Plus to Club World on British Airways in 2004 or my first BA First flight to Barbados in 2006. Following Nicky's look at some of his best flights over the past decade, here are some of my favorite ones that stand out.
My first Tier Point run: ATH-LHR/LCY-JFK-MIA-LAX-SFO
Back in 2013, I did my first Tier Point Run with a friend. It was a memorable trip for a number of reasons, as it included another exciting first for me: Flying on the British Airways business-class-only flight from London City (LCY) to New York (JFK), which is like no other flight. The flight stops in Shannon, Ireland, and seats a maximum of 32 passengers in eight rows of fully-flat seats aboard a specially modified A318 — both the plane and the service is sometimes called the "baby bus."
Aside from that special sector though, the whole trip was exciting, scary and memorable. The ticket we bought was from Athens to San Francisco — the Tier Point-maximizing way. We flew to Athens on a Friday night to make a weekend of it in Athens and then flew back to London Heathrow on the Sunday before heading to London City on Monday morning for the BA001 service to JFK.
From there, we connected down to Miami and onward to Los Angeles before the final sector to San Francisco. Back in those days, the LCY-JFK service earned 210 Tier Points, which is the equivalent of the Tier Points earned for flying first class, though this has been dropped to the standard 140 Tier Points for business. Similarly, back then, flying domestic first class on American Airlines also earned 210 Tier Points for flights over 2,000 miles, so the return trip earned us 1,160 Tier Points (80 for ATH-LHR; 210 for LCY-JFK; 40 for JFK-MIA; 210 for MIA-LAX; 40 for LAX-SFO — and the same on the way back).
I had been apprehensive about this trip — excited but also scared. But I loved every minute of it. In fact so much so, that it's also the first year I earned my Concorde Room Card, which requires 5,000 Tier Points in a year.
Chicken or pasta?
Here at TPG, we pay for all flights and hotels that we review. Occasionally though, we do join special flights, and last year, when Virgin Atlantic operated a celebration flight to mark the launch of its first Airbus A350 and the rollout of its new Upper Class Suite product, I jumped at the opportunity to join this flight.
All passengers on board were either from media, travel agents or current or past Virgin Atlantic employees. The atmosphere on board was great and relaxed. As it turns out, a friend of mine was working the flight as crew and so with his help, I managed to fulfill two childhood dreams: I did the onboard announcement as we were approaching into JFK and I also did a full meal service in the economy cabin. And to boast, I even won kudos from the head crew trainer who was on board and said that what I lacked in training and experience, I made up for with charm.
That experience, coupled with spending time under the wing, watching the plane get fuel before the flight as well as in the cockpit, made it a very memorable flight.
Related: See how a Virgin Atlantic aircraft is readied for flight at JFK
Being the only passenger in first class with Thai Airways
In 2013, I used all my accumulated United Airlines miles to book a first-class ticket with Thai Airways from Europe to Sydney. I chose Brussels as the departure point, as there was better availability for my dates than from London and because at the time, Thai was flying leased Boeing 777s from Jet Airways on the route, which had a first-class cabin with eight fully-enclosed seats.
Thai was great in the air and on the ground, and the airline drives first-class passengers on buggies to the first-class lounge in Bangkok between connecting flights. On the way back, a member of the lounge team invited me to walk with her to the nearby gate. Having done my homework online on available seats, I was expecting a half-full cabin.
Related: Flight review: Thai (747-400) first class from Sydney to Bangkok
Walking to the gate, I asked her if the flight was busy and she replied, "Mr. Kramer, you are the only passenger tonight." At the gate, she channeled me past crowds of economy and business-class passengers and down the first-class jetty where the cabin manager and another crew member bowed and welcomed me on board. I had one suite for eating, one for sleeping and one for relaxing — and it was a truly amazing flight experience. The crew spoiled me rotten and made me try more food than I have ever eaten on a plane, including my first lobster on board an aircraft.
An A320 full of AvGeeks hopping around Europe
Last year, a lucky TPG competition winner and I had our AvGeek dreams come true when we joined the Star Alliance MegaDo 2019. The event, which took place over a couple of days in Germany and Croatia, saw 100+ aviation geeks flying on a chartered Croatia Airlines A320 from Frankfurt to Hamburg to Dubrovnik and finally onto Zagreb, where the next day, we got to visit the local aircraft maintenance facility. I had the chance to get closer to parts of a jet than I had ever been before — and my first time sitting in an engine.
Related: From (A)irbus to (Z)agreb: AvGeek heaven at Star Alliance MegaDo 2019
A chopper above the NYC skyline
Believe it or not, I'm not great in small planes and can easily get a bit sick on anything with less than two engines. That — and lack of opportunity — meant that until last year, I had never actually flown in a helicopter.
On yet another — and quite crazy — Tier Point run last year, a friend and I had the best layover in JFK, having arrived overnight from LAX before flying onto Madrid later that evening. So we decided to meet a friend in Manhattan for lunch and take our first helicopter ride back to JFK with Blade. It was a glorious day, and though I was a tad nervous about flying on such a small flying object, I loved every minute of it — all eight minutes!
Equipment swap in my favor
In 2011, I made another bucket-list flight come true — first class from London to Sydney. I had saved enough miles and managed to find availability out to Sydney with Qantas and returning with British Airways.
Related: 11 bucket-list flights for aviation geeks
On the return flight, I had managed to secure seat 1A in the nose of the Queen of the Skies, and needless to say, flying first class makes a 24-hour flight rather bearable and enjoyable.
Outbound, I really wanted to try Qantas first class on the A380 but had no luck finding any seats with miles — so settled on also flying the Boeing 747 with the Australian carrier. To get these seats, I had booked them months in advance. Between booking and flying though, one of Qantas' A380 had a major engine failure upon departure from Singapore for Sydney in November 2010, which resulted in the entire Qantas A380 fleet being temporarily grounded.
Once QF's A380 took back to the skies again, their schedules and routes were reset, which resulted in my particular flight swapping from a Boeing 747 to an A380 and me getting to experience Qantas' fantastic first-class product. Oftentimes, an equipment swap is bad news for us flight geeks but in this case, luck was on my side.
There's no shortage of great memories from some amazing flights from the past decade. Sometimes, it's the airline, the product or the crew that make a flight special. Sometimes it's a special flight. Sometimes it's the occasion for the trip that can make a flight and trip memorable. Most often for me, it's a combination of those and the friends that I travel with that make a trip special and memorable.