Images of Beirut March 2011

I will add to this post some pictures of Beirut each day.

Building shelled in the civil war

towards the Mediterranean

I assume new tower because of war damage


Display in shop made out of soap


I have no idea why these boys were dancing on the Corniche
In downtown Beirut


fountain where i was told not to take more pics

Woman feeding cats on the Corniche

costumed waiter
Roman ruins near Martyr Square

Trip Report: Royal Jordanian

25th March, 2011: Bangkok- Amman-Beirut
Royal Jordanian are the Flag Carrier for the Kingdom of Jordan, a country between Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Founded by the Jordanian king in 1963, it is now a privatized company. Royal Jordanian is the first (and only) Arab airline to join a major airline alliance being part of One World. I have now flown 8 of the 12 airlines in One World (although one of them, Mexicana Airlines  has suspended its operations and I wonder how long One World can keep saying they are a One World member).  Finnair, JAL and S7 remain for me to fly.

Buying a Ticket
The Royal Jordanian website ( is reasonably straight forward. Getting human help for an e-ticket was more interesting. There is an Australian sales office in Sydney but they referred me to a number in Jordan, who fixed up the ticket and then sent me back to the Sydney sales office! Both the Amman and Sydney offices were very friendly. I found the Sydney office a little chaotic throughout. 

Check-in: 8/10
I love airlines with online check in but found Royal Jordanian's a little more complex than I think it needs to be. Seat selection  was easy-ish and I got my coveted emergency exit seat. Then I thought I had lost the seat because of the confusing way, RJ displayed the seat selection so I re-chose the seat, to find that I still had it. Royal Jordanian has a very good system of emailing you confirmations of regarding seats, though. 

Boarding pass collection at Bangkok airport was easy.  I was invited to use the Thai Airways Silk Lounge. I had used this last year when I had flown with Thai. What seems strange to me that Royal Jordanian a member of One World uses a Star Alliance airline's lounge and not the Qantas/Britsh Airways lounge. Wonder what that is about? Cost? The fact they are both connected to Royalty?

Boarding: 10/10
 I boarded late so I missed seeing if the boarding process was  smooth or chaotic! I am not sure whether the announcement in the Thai lounge was at the end of the boarding process or if it was a very rapid efficient process.

The welcome from plane entrance to my seat by all of the on-board crew was very warm. It was done in English and or Arabic depending on the guesses over the passenger's language. The crew was a diverse mix with all the males being Jordanian and all but one of the females not being Jordanian. There were two Thai flight attendants, one from Ecuador and one from somewhere in Eastern Europe. The crew were all very friendly, very attentive and very welcoming and worked well. They were definitely proud of their airline but I did not get an impression of them being an overly cohesive crew today.

On Board: 7/10
I was traveling on an Airbus A330, a 300 seat twin engined plane. I am not a huge Airbus 330 fan, The cabin looked great: clean and airy. The colour scheme is very nice. Blanket and a pillow were provided at every place it seemed. Economy aisles are quite narrow.

On reaching my coveted exit aisle seat, I found it occupied. The occupant laughed and shrugged and offered me the bulkhead seats across the aisle. I took it figuring the leg room was almost as much as the seat I had reserved. Having already been travelling for 14 hours, I was not really ready for a discussion!  The leg room difference was enough that next flight, I will demand my seat.

They have a combined Business First section which I think leans toward the business end. Looked very comfortable and spacious with lie-flat seats.

Immediately, after takeoff, cabin crew brought round refreshing towelettes (yes, yes, yes). Amenity kits which consisted of the head sets came next. No little tooth paste and brushes were provided here.

Safety:  6/10
Safety demo good and clear with crew checking belts etc very well -with one major exception. In my row at the other end was an "interesting passenger".  He moved himself from his assigned seat to an empty bulkhead seat. He carried out shouted conversations to his friends all over the plane.  He refused to put his seat belt on for take off and landing. He refused to switch his mobile off and was texting as the plane came into land in Amman. He ordered the stewardesses around in a way that I thought was rude. Interestingly, the female attendants seemed quite unassertive with him. They did make him put his luggage out of the passage way into the luggage compartment (“but I need it close” he said). The flight attendants pretended they could not see he was not wearing his set belt and I watched them gaze at him texting and look away. If there are genuine safety issues here then, this needs to be dealt with.

My problem "friend" decided soon after dinner, that he would sleep on the floor of the bulkhead. A male Jordanian steward spent some time remonstrating with him to take his seat and he finally moved. A hour he returned to the floor and another guy curled up on the floor at the emergency exit and they stayed there for most of the flight. Qantas would have a fit!! The ride was very smooth for the whole flight which is of course, always luck! I wonder what they would have done with the floor sleepers if it had been rough?


We were delayed out of Bangkok because of "traffic" and the captain clearly advised us over the PA system about this delay- twice. Finally, we pushed back -over 40 minutes late.

Our nose wheel left the ground and we seemed to move down the runway for a long time with the plane's nose in the air and rear wheels on the runway before lifting off into the Bangkok post midnight sky.

Meals: 8/10
There was  no written menu provided for the trip. 
Dinner was promptly and efficiently served with 3 main courses offered:
  1. beef and rice
  2. chicken and vegetables
  3. shrimp (prawns) and rice
I chose the beef dish which was delicious but the staff did no mention to me that it was spicy hot. This did not bother me but for some fliers, it may be a shock! Also on the meal tray were a bread roll, excellent fresh salad, crackers, a camberbert spread, water and a chocolate dessert (which I did not eat).

After such a nice dinner, breakfast the next morning,  was a little disappointing but perfect adequate. The roll was a little stale and the croissant was cold. I assumed they would have heated it. I was also surprised at how western,  the breakfast was. No Fetta or Olives, for example. The cheese spread and jam were excellent and the fruit was very fresh and very refreshing. Fascinatingly, the provision of Australian Berri Orange juice.

Royal Jordanian had water available in the galley but no food/snacks through the flight.   They did give me a nice cup of assorted nuts  without me asking for them) as I attempted to watch the Narnia Dawn Treader movie. They made it clear as they gave me the snack, that I was very welcome to order any drinks at any time. I did not observe them passing through the cabin offering water through the night (something Qantas do well on long haul flights).

On my short connecting flight from Amman to Beirut, I was stunned to be served a very delicious sandwich and drink. There were no choices with the drinks and no coffee served but I was impressed (as always) with the hospitality.

Entertainment: 8/10
The reason for not appreciating the Narnia movie (mentioned above) was nothing to with the brilliant Royal Jordanian entertainment system. I just hated this movie adaption of my favourite Narnia book).  The system itself works very well. The interface is excellent and works smoothly with good menus.

I thought selection was limited. Not enough for a nine hour flight. Only one 30 minute Arab music video, for example?Likewise, only  3.5 hours of comedy in total (including 4 eprisodes of the offce and one of Molly and Max- iw atched them all). I tend not to like watching movies on planes. Here is where I catch up on TV!

The headphones provided were okay.

Arrival: 6/10
Every passenger was given a survey form and envelope to send back to Royal Jordanian. The survey asked about aspects of Royal Jordanian service. I documented my concerns re the safety over My Seatbelt man. I was interested they asked no questions about their food.

Landing was pretty well right on time at 516am (scheduled 515am). Not bad after a 40 minute delay. It was one of the smoothest landings I have ever had in my life.  

We were warmly farewelled from the plane by the crew. That part of the arrival would have given RJ 10/10. The next part of the experience let them down.

On arrival in Amman, I attempted to switch to the earlier flight (6am) to Beirut which I had been told might be possible by the Royal Jordanian booking office in Sydney. "Flight departed sir". I was told. "I see it still on the screens". "No sir". 
As I walked away from the counter, I heard them calling the flight!   I popped into the Royal Jordanian Crown lounge for my five hour wait for my connecting flight to Beirut. It is the biggest lounge in the whole of the Middle East.

Lounge Staff: “sorry sir , you are too early . You can only use the lounge 3 hours before your flight”.

He then explained there was a transit bus that would take me too a neaby transit hotel for a rest. I followed his directions and ended up unable to find the counter he was referring me to. I asked someone else who pointed me in the opposite direction and alas still no transit counter was there either! So I sat in an airport cafe using the wifi from the Crown Lounge. I will do an Amman airport report soon! I found the 3 hour rule interesting -anyone else encountered this with a lounge?

Overall Assessment: 76% (53/70)
For me, Royal Jordanian is way better than any American Carrier but not quite as good as Cathay, Singapore, Qantas or Air New Zealand and not near Emirates levels. I found them about the same or a little better than British Airways which would put them in my Top Ten airlines- so far. I have three more flights with them!  The difference being that BA seem to be declining and Royal Jordanian give an impression of improving. Their major selling points are their warm hospitality,  new aircaft and membership of One World (Frequent flyer points/status credits, Lounge access and World wide connections).
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Dawn in the air
In the film: Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a guy with the goal of earning one million miles with the one airline.

Today, I reached the milestone of one million miles in the air (1.6 million kilometres).  My life does not completely rsemble Clooney's movie character, however. I actually love being home and I like people but I do like my elite statuses: 
  • United Airlines Gold
  • Virgin Blue Gold
  • Qantas Platinum 

I measure my air life at a great flight tracking tool called FlightMemory.  My friend Tony, who passed away two years ago entered almost 500 flights into the Flight Memory system for me  as a Birthday present. RIP Tony, I miss you. So here is the summary:

You will note, that one million miles represents 40 times around the earth. It is the same distance to the moon and back - twice.

On Board Singapore Airlines A380- my first ever A380
To get to one million miles, I have flown 719 times between 1968 and 2011 on 73 airlines.  One third of my flights have been with Qantas and one tenth with United/Continental.
Some of the airlines I have flown are now:
  •  now broke and gone eg Ansett, Independence 
  •  morphed eg BOAC into British Airways
  •  taken over eg Northwest, Impulse
  • much better eg Virgin Blue
  • much worse eg United
Most loved airlines are:  EmiratesVirgin America, Air New Zealand and Jetblue

Most hated airlines include:  Ryanair, Delta and United (the irony of having Gold Status with them)

I took this while on a 3 mile run from my LAX airport hotel

I have been transported to 177 airports in 34 countries on five continents. Interestingly, I have been to 46 countries in total in my life with some places visited by train or bus only. Not surprisingly,  two Australian  airports Sydney and Melbourne account for about 40% of all my airports visited. I have been to 54 airports only once. Airport highlights:

  • Most northern airport: GRY, Grimsey, Iceland 
  • Most southern airport: IVC, Invercargill, New Zealand 
  • Most eastern airport: NAN, Nadi, Fiji 
  • Most western airport:  APW, Apia, Samoa
  • Most visited airport: MEL, Melbourne, Australia
  • Favourite airport: SIN, Singapore, Singapore
  • Most despised airport: LAX, Los Angeles, USA

I have used 48 different types of planes:-
All the boeings: 707, 717, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777
Airbus: 300, 310, 319, 320, 330, 340, 380
DC 8, 9, 10
Canadairs, Embraers, Fokkers, Saabs. I even been on a Zepplin.
NB Two of those planes, the 737 and 767 represent almost half of all the planes I have flown on!
The only planes not flown are Russian planes eg Tupolovs etc
I love the 777 and A380. I have loved my flights with six exceptions eg having flown through a thunderstorm in a Beechcraft- never again.

I am so fortunate to have seen the sights that I have seen:
Europe : Bruges, Mont St Michel, Taize, Venice, Tour Eiffel, Paris, WW1 Belgian war-fields, Krakow Market Square, Koln Dom, Bilbao, Reykjavik, Auschwitz
USA: Mt Rushmore, Devil's Tower, Cape Canaveral, climbing statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon,Yosemite, New York, Chicago, Boston, Portland ME, Portland, OR
Middle East: Bethlehem, Nazereth and Jerusalem,
Australia: Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo, Uluru, kangaroo Island, Coober Pedy, Brokjen Hill, Lake Pedder, The Pinnacles, Uluru, kakadu, Wave Rock,
Canada: CN Tower, Toronto Islands,
New Zealand: Milford Track, Queen Charlotte Sound
Tropical Islands: , Fiji, Hawaii, New Caledonia and Samoa.
Waterfalls: Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls, Russell Falls, Gullfoss
Musuems; Anne Frank House, British Museum, Frick Collection, Guggenheim, Holocaust Museum DC, In Flanders Fields Museum, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musee d Orsay, NGA Canberra, Powerhouse Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, SFMOMA, Smithsonian, Vatican, Yad Vashem

The best part of the travel. Making and staying friends with people who live from the USA to Argentina, from New Zealand to New York, to South Africa Thanks for sharing the journey with me!

Finally, for the last ten years, I have been offsetting my travel buying trees to absorb carbon pollution. Not the best solution but a start. I now offset 110% of my carbon output.

So whats my goal? Another million miles? Not sure yet!


Yesterday, I flew my 717th plane flight from Houston, Texas to Columbus, Ohio. I had hoped for a 717 but I got a beautiful 737. I am such a geek!

Continental upgraded me to First Class which included amazing service and a very edible meal.


I dont check my luggage in for a number of reasons- one of which is avoiding having it damaged by the airlines.
Yesterday, a gentleman was trying to get what was a very heavy and large bag into the aeroplane locker near me.
It went in with a very loud bang.
When I was getting off the plane, I discovered that he must have been shoving his bag in top of mine. It was so heavy it distorted my bag and broke the handle off.

Thank you fellow passenger!

Bag handle without bag

Airports and Wireless

In today's modern world, it is infuriating the inconsistency in wireless internet access in airports. There are four types of airports in my experience:
  1. Airports with no wireless internet (mostly regional)
  2. Airports with free wireless internet (these are airports I like)
  3. Airports with one internet wireless carrier that you have to purchase airtime from (these are airports I dislike a lot)
  4. Airports with multiple internet carriers that allow you to choose a carrier you may have a monthly plan with
The third option is frustrating because you have to sign up a new carrier for that airport. In some cases, the carrier charges extortionate rate (sorry $10 an hour is extortionate). Sometimes you can roam with your own home carrier but I find roaming charges are extraordinary.

Heres a fantastic list of airports with wireless!  NB It is US focused.

I would like:
1. free wireless in all airports
2. enough power outlets to plug my laptop into.


I had to book air travel to a client's city for a presentation I am making. I found an airfare five weeks ago of around $250 but was told not to book it because the client's corporate travel department would book it at a corporate rate thus saving money.
Fair enough", I thought. Anyway, corporate travel department finally got back to me today to book it myself. Only the fare is now $700-$800. So much for saving money. I hate seeing money wasted!

Indian Fake Pilots

Last month, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation revoked the licence of a pilot,  flying for IndiGo, after she caused damage to an Airbus A320 by landing the plane on the nose wheel instead of the rear wheels. She was found to have forged papers to get her airline transport pilot licence.

The DGCA then found two more pilots with forged qualifications flying passenger planes. 

Another reason, why I am nervous to fly in India. Give me Indian Railways every time!

Just flew flight 711!

America's Best Airline to Dallas

The Virgin love in continues with my Virgin America flight from LAX to Dallas Fort Worth. I currently rate this airline as the best in the USA, slightly ahead of JetBlue. I wish Australia's Virgin Blue was as good as Virgin America. The Aussie version started as a discount carrier and is evolving into Australias' second mainline carrier so its history is very different.

The star difference hits you right from the start with Virgin American. For example, how many other airlines have "We are Family" playing at Check in?

Was fascinated that the Check in machines would not or could not recognise my Virgin Blue Velocity card

Made it from Check in to gate in under 8 minutes which is a miracle at LAX and that included a few seconds to enjoy the check in atmosphere. I got Priority entry to the express clearance line and the few people ahead of me were very efficient. Was a little concerned that the woman in front of me placed a bottle of water and a bottle of perfume on her tray and they both went through unchallenged (the USA is supposed to have a very strict no liquids rule and I have seen other people lose their precious water bottles at security). 
The name of our plane today was: "My Other Ride is a Spaceship"    There are not many domestic airlines in the world that have mood lighting in their cabins. Its such a great look coming aboard. I was in Main Cabin Select (Virgin America's Premium economy section). Last time I flew them there was a bottle of water waiting in my seat. Not this time. Inconsistency? Lucky last time? Phased out? One of life's mysteries.

Internet access was provided for a fee by Gogo and I signed up for a month pass. Hope i get to use it at least twice more- out of my next ten US domestic flights- so I have got my money's worth! The trouble is with most of the other airlines, access to on board wireless is very hit and miss.  It was fun skyping and emailing from the plane.

Plane left right on time and arrived into Dallas almost half an hour early. Lots of bumps into Dallas which had the woman behind me hyperventilating a little. 

Brilliant flight- Thanks Virgin!

Virgin across the Pacific

I was very excited about today's flight:
  • my very first time flying Virgin Blue's International off shoot V Australia 
  • my first flight across the Pacific in one of my favourite aeroplanes the Boeing 777, the world's largest twin-jet. 
  • my first International flight for 2011 
  • my tenth flight for 2011
  • my 707th flight ever
  • Plus I was in Premium Economy! 
For a plane geek lots of virginal experiences!

Check-in at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport was brilliant- very smooth and pleasant. From taxi to lounge via security, customs and duty free,  in a little less than half an hour! Check-in was initially hindered by an inexplicable experience for me of being not able to find V Australia's Check-in desks! The airport now has a weirdly ordered numbering system for check in counters and V Australia is located right at the back of the check in area. It was aided by the access to priority Check-in and security lines for Gold status passengers. Thanks Virgin!

One major disappointment with check in was that my requested seat had been given to someone else. I know V Australia do not guarantee seat requests but I like it when an airline gives you what you request/choose prior to flying. The new seat I was given didn't excite me so Check-in staff shifted me to the bulkhead row. I like not having people in front of me and I like aisle access. When you sit on 90 planes a year, you become fussy! Keep watching the seat thing though, because it became weird later on.

My bag (which i normally carry on) weighed in at 10.5kg (22lbs) because of 3kg of gifts I am carrying -so I checked it in which I dont often do!

Lounge: V Australia use the fabulous Air New Zealand lounge for Business and Gold passengers. Showers, food and champagne! Heaven! (I do like my lounges!) My only complaint was that I could not log onto the Internet at all until the Air NZ flight to Auckland emptied the lounge. Suddenly Internet access was available to me but was very slow.

Boarding call came late. At Gate 14, Virgin again had a priority line for business and Gold. But first everyone had to have their passport and boarding pass sighted by security (just in case you have got to this point with false ID?). Then the staff scanned the boarding  passes. When my turn came, the boarding pass machine gave a beep. This beep usually means one of three things:
  1. seat change
  2. two people in same seat
  3. or the magic upgrade
The gate attendant took my pass to the supervisor's desk and came back saying: "you need to go and see the supervisor". So back I went, out of the immediate gate area to see the supervisor. When I got there, she brusquely handed me a new Boarding card; "you have been reallocated, as we needed to accommodate a family".  While I totally understand and respect that situation, l would have appreciated a "sorry" or a "thank you" - or that always hoped for upgrade to Business Class!

To add insult to injury, I then had to line up again to have my boarding pass and passport scanned by a security officer before going past the same check in gate (no beep this time).

Boarding the plane was slow. The on board crew were very friendly and welcoming- something they kept up all night- not easy to do on a 13+ hour shift. The plane for the flight over to the USA was V Australia's very first plane  Didgeree Blue (this was actually the runner up name in the competition to name the airline). I love the 777 and V Australia have decorated it brilliantly although the Economy seats look a little out of character.

This was where things got a little weird. The gentleman occupying the seat in the Bulkhead row aisle seat that I had just been bumped out of was clearly sans family. He boarded by himself, sat by himself and yes I watched him deplane by himself. So if i was bumped out of my seat for a family, where were the family? If the other gentleman was moved out of his seat for a family, why was he moved into mine for which I had a boarding pass and not the one I eventually ended up in? Weird. Effectively this means I was shifted around the cabin four times.

With Qantas, Air NZ and United, the seat that I request beforehand is always the seat I get at Check-in unless they upgrade me. Likewise the seat I get at Check-in with Air NZ, Qantas and United has always been the seat I have sat in unless I have been upgraded. I have no trust in V Australia that the nice aisle seat that is allocated to me in the exit or bulkhead row, might be traded for a middle seat at the rear of the craft at the last second. And on a journey this long, this could be a disaster for long-legged me! 

Having said, that the Premium Economy seats were comfortable and spacious. The bottle of water and impressive amenities kits were  a delight. V also have a groovy feature in this cabin: a self service bar at the front of the cabin (Qantas have them too on the A380). I felt overall, V Australia's Premium economy beat Qantas (and easily beat United) Premium Economy offerings on the same sector.

Cabin Crew: Ashley, our very friendly and helpful cabin attendant welcomed each passenger personally with a drink. I chose the sparkling wine as did the passenger seated next to me, a Peruvian woman living in Hobart, Australia.  Ashley and David were assigned to the Premium Economy cabin and looked after the passengers in their cabin very very well. Thanks guys. Nice wine too!

Safety demonstration was thorough which always gives me confidence in a crew. 

Takeoff was brilliant. Boy, those engines are huge!  We rolled slowly down the runway, gathered speed and climbed up over Melbourne's western suburbs heading toward Port Phillip Bay. We had been warned of a few bumps on climb - and had none. We soared through a bank of fluffy white cloud over a sparkling Bay. Melbourne at its best.

The very second the seat belt sign went off, the woman in front of the woman sitting next to me, reclined her seat to full recline bringing the TV screen centimetres from my new Peruvian friend's nose! I was glad she was not sitting in front of me until she reclined her child's seat too. What was funny was that the child was then too far back from the TV screen so the 5 or 6 or 7 year old had to lean forward. In other words the whole recline thing was wasted. I spent the flight wondering whether to ask the mother to un-recline her kid's seat. Even fully reclined, it wasn't too squashy for my long legs and I even slept for six hours which is really rare for me on a plane flight.

I noted that passengers were not instructed to bring their seats up for meals which is common practice on  other airlines I have flown on.

Beverage/Meal Service: a full ten out of ten for all of the food served on the flight (except for the banana cake dessert -I hate banana cake so that's my problem). Take note United Airlines with your appalling food on this sector (see previous blog post on my worst Pacific crossing experience.

Entertainment: I loved the V Australia system: - user friendly with  great selection. Is it the same as Virgin America system? Either way, its got to be my favourite airline entertainment system. I watched 9 episodes of Modern Family (so much for not being a T V watcher!). I noticed the child in front of me was watching the Simpsons and Family Guy. The woman next to me enjoyed movies. 

The flight was smooth the whole way across the Pacific. This is more luck than anything else as it depends on the oceanic weather patterns. I have had some very rough crossings over the Pacific. Two women in the on-board Bar were convinced that it was the 777 that made the trip so smooth. Another reason to love the 777?

Dawn broke not far out of LAX and we landed beautifully into a clear cool Los Angeles day. The greatest disadvantage of V Australia appeared at this point. With Qantas, United and Air New Zealand, their planes roll to a gate in their respective terminals.

Not so with V Australia. We kept rolling on the ground for ages before pulling up at aerobridge in the back blocks of LAX next to an Air Tahiti Nui and El Al plane. The air-bridge also took a long time to connect (so long in fact, that we were invited to sit again). We then climbed down stairs down to the airport tarmac.

Waiting there were buses which completely disinterested LAX employees were hanging around. There was not one of them interested in directing people  to the buses- dreadful welcome (what one expects from LAX). Our very full bus went for a very long drive back to the International terminal. With no directions from ground crew, we got off the  bus and entered a series of corridors. It was then a long walk through horrible LAX to get to immigration. The bright spot was that getting through immigration didn't take me long as I was near the front of the group. When I was through immigration, I was pleased to find my luggage was waiting. From touchdown to street was about 50 minutes. I have been timing my treks through immigration and have been getting them under 30 minutes so V Australia was much slower for me here and believe me every minute in the LAX terminal after a 13 hour flight is excruciating.

I caught my shuttle bus to the hotel and had a nice 2.5 mile run, shop, and sleep overnight before flying the next day to Dallas (see next blog post).

Now the scoring for the Trans-Pacific route compared to my ratings with the other airlines I have flown that route with:

#1 Air New Zealand   98%
#2 V America            94%
#3 Qantas                  93%
                                                    #4 United                   69%

Overall, I thought V were brilliant with almost everything. Where V mega-failed was the run around with the bizarre seating allocation and the equally frustrating runaround with the bus to the LAX terminal. These were not disasters and I look forward to my next V Australia trip in April.