I often drop these in after a trip, so before my most recent treks fades too far from my memory, here goes.
It has actually been quite a bit of travel within the last two weeks starting with the run to Vegas, then onward to D.C. before going back to SFO (via LAX) and then the big trip back to Turkmenistan. Flying domestically, I was reminded how terrible the legacy carriers are in the States. It seems I will be flying with United when possible for the sake of miles and flyer status, but my cross-country trek with them to D.C. made me realize how awful they are. No personal entertainment system, no included meal, $25 for the first checked bag, older planes and at least one awful employee working in Washington-Dulles. (In the interest of providing customer feedback, I did indeed lodge a complaint with them about their check-in counter service in IAD.) At least the checked bag fee will go away once I get my Premier Status with them, which I will have as soon as they recognize my first trip to Turkmenistan. That trip recognition is another thorn in my side as I mistakenly flew under Lufthansa's program instead of United's program. In order to get the miles moved over, United is asking for me to get a written letter from Lufthansa certifying that they have removed the miles from their program (so they are not double-counted) and then mail that letter along with my original boarding passes, ticket receipt, and my account number (which they already have) to a PO box in Rapid City, SD where they can then proceed to handle it like a valued guitar. One more thing. The only reason I rented from Hertz while I was in D.C. was to get miles with United, but Hertz is now giving me some garbage about getting the rental to count for United's program. Based on this, I will never rent from Hertz again unless I am forced. It will be all Enterprise, all the time which always has very good customer service.
Whatever. Once I get status with them, they will treat me like a real person. Until then, it's crap, crap, and more crap from them. Or I can try to fly with Delta and keep my status I have with them so it doesn't expire. I flew so much with Delta and their partners while living in Hungary and Congo/Gabon that I hit status with them very quickly. But United keeps a hub in SFO so I'll at least get something out of them.
Lufthansa operates a new Airbus A380 on their daily San Francisco to Frankfurt route. It is a nice plane, but don't end up in a middle seat on a 10-11 hour long flight. Flying international reminds me of all the things I like about flying. There is something about the strange mini-versions of everything that I really like. Overseas flights allow me to catch-up on all the movies I have missed living in bustling metropolises like Port Gentil, Gabon and Balkanabat, Turkmenistan. Fast Five? A tour de force of cinematic excellence if I may say so. Those tiny little meals? You can think whatever you wish of me, but I like airline food. I find it so amusingly novel, perhaps in the same way that people like little kittens and puppies. It is by no means the fine dining of In-N-Out, but the food as this single-serving-ness (a la Fight Club) that I like. I also enjoy most of my single serving seat mates. It gives me a chance to practice having banal conversations and acting normal.
Frankfurt airport is huge. It is the hub for Lufthansa. It's the kind of airport where there are not enough gates so the less glamorous flights (like the one to Ashgabat via Baku) is reached by taking a bus from the gate. And it is a long bus ride. We definitely went more than a full mile from the gate off into the Lufthansa Cargo area as we passed some windowless MD-11s with their no-longer-current trijet engine layout. Speaking of trijets, a Boeing 727 used to be the plane from Ashgabat to Balkanabat, but this time it was a very new 737-700. Before I left Frankfurt, I had a chance to buy cigarettes for the first time in my life during my layover in Frankfurt. Of course, they were not for me, but rather for a co-worker who told me that due to customs problems in Turkmenistan, prices here had tripled and quality had gone down. Apparently, I am not knowledgeable about which Marlboro brand (classic red, silver, gold, menthol, etc) is their "light" version. I consider this a good thing.
The Frankfurt to Ashgabat flight does a one hour layover in Baku where about 90% of the passengers get off. Does this mean no one goes to Turkmenistan? Not really. I imagine most people who enter from Europe fly on Turkish airlines to Istanbul or with Turkmenistan Airlines which flies directly to Frankfurt with no stopover. Though It is strange to be on a plane that is almost empty and where there are probably 2-3 passengers for every crew member. And then all of a sudden, I'm in Ashgabat, this time with a visa so not having to wait in that line and getting to breeze (in a relative sense) through immigration. Home sweet home.