Emirates Business Class DXB-PER

Huh. What a clusterfuck.

I wonder when the standard of service tanked on Emirates? Or is it just bad on specific routes? I had poor service on the flights on my way to Africa, and not much better on the way home.

Priority boarding in Dubai was effectively non-existent, and I got on board to find economy class passengers stashing their bags in business class. When I asked the cabin crew to please do something so that I could put my own bags up, they just shrugged at me. Not impressed.

Despite boarding quite early, I wasn’t offered a pre-departure drink. The guy in the seat next to me was though. I was sitting there at the time the guy came around, and he simply totally ignored me…Could tell this flight was going to be good!

We then get an announcement that we are going to have to sit at the gate for another 40 minutes before our take-off slot. Why the hell didn’t they just delay boarding rather than making us stay seated on the plane? Ugh.

Eventually they came and took drink orders and breakfast orders. Though the cabin attendant was trying to get me to order off the menu even after I said I had a VGML ordered, since none of the breakfast options were vegan. Repeated requests from me to get him to confirm my special meal was loaded went unanswered, and his attitude was very poor for someone who is working in a premium customer service role. Rolling you eyes and saying “seriously?” to someone when they ask if their VGML is loaded in business class is not what I consider an appropriate attitude. I eventually spoke to another cabin attendant to make my breakfast order.

Breakfast itself was a bit hit and miss. There was some sliced fruit, but also bread and a croissant. I’m not sure what the main VGML breakfast dish was because I got them to clear my tray after eating the fruit. It was the middle of the night and I just wasn’t hungry.

20140208-140544.jpgThe first part of my VGML breakfast…A croissant – again. 

I then did some work, but started to nod off after about an hour. So tired. I didn’t actually sleep as such, but got some rest for a while before they woke us up for lunch about 2 hours out from landing. Again they first came to take drink and food orders. I got my diet coke.

Then the food…First major stuff up I have had on Emirates. First came a salad and some vegetables with an olive oil dressing. Plain, but ok. I bypassed the breadroll also placed on the tray.

IMG_5060The VGML lunch entree…

This was followed by the main. Potato cake, mushrooms and a tomato sauce. About a minute after taking my first mouthful…Throat starts to close up. Yep, dairy. I figure there was milk or butter in the potato cake. So…I get my epipen out and then spend the remainder of the flight near the bathroom. Broke down crying at one point in the bathroom. The cabin crew were really apologetic, and are going to lodge a report and put something in my profile (although it already clearly specifies VGML, so I don’t know what else they can do). I know it isn’t their fault. All they do is plate up what catering gives them. It’s an issue with the catering. Something went wrong somewhere and I got given a vegetarian meal (VOML) rather than a vegan (VGML) meal, the cabin crew even confirmed to me after the fact that they’d given me an ovo-lacto vegetarian meal. Will wait and see what response I get from the Emirates customer service people.

IMG_5061The meal that caused me so many problems…

As I’m sure you can imagine, all I wanted to do was get the hell off the plane. But immigration and customs when you’ve been in Africa? Long. Yellow fever certificates. 11ty billion questions about whether you have wood. “Are you sure? No, really, are you sure?“…Presumably they get a lot of idiots in Perth.

I am starting to think it’d just be a better idea to not eat the onboard catering at all and only eat food that I myself have cooked or purchased. At least that way I can be confident I won’t have an adverse reaction to it. It just annoys me that when I’m paying around $8000 for an airfare, that the airlines can’t get something simple right. Makes you wonder where else they might be trying to cut costs. This happened on a world leading premium airline, so imagine what the others are like.

Anyway, this was more or less the end of the trip. I was so glad to be home. This whole trip to Africa has been a nightmare. Problems with the food on the flights over, although nothing serious. Major problems in Zambia with the food and the attitude. Problems with the food on the flights from Zambia to South Africa. Problems with work stuff in South Africa. And serious problems with the flights back to Australia in terms of the flights themselves, and also the catering.

I hate flying. I want my teddy bear. I wish I was dead.


Emirates Business Class JNB-DXB

So I missed the initial connection to this flight because my flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was cancelled. I got on the next one easily enough.

Anyway, upon boarding I was offered the obligatory glass of champagne or juice. Normally I would request water instead, but I just didn’t want a drink, so I declined.

After take-off, drink orders were taken and delivered with some warm nuts. I figured that I had to get back to my regular diet the following day, so I allowed myself to eat a few high carb and high calorie things on the way home, like the nuts. I’d put on a scary amount of weight while in Zambia because I was eating so much high carb food. Well, scary is relative I guess. It’s enough that my triathlon coach will tear me a new one over it, but it’s really not that bad. It’ll take a month or so to drop it off again, but my next serious race isn’t until late April, so I don’t really care that much. I was seriously looking forward to going for a run when I got home again though. Three weeks without training sucked. It wasn’t safe to go running outside, and my hotels didn’t have gyms.

Meal orders were then taken. And the cabin attendant confirmed I had a VGML on board and then proceeded to ask if I’d actually ordered it and if I wanted it…WTF?!?! I don’t order a VGML for laughs. It’s not something you can order by accident. You have to either explicitly enter it into your frequent flyer profile, or explicitly request it for each individual itinerary. Anyway, despite the stupid comment, I said that I had in fact ordered it and that I was in fact vegan.

Not long after the food was brought out. Yet again, I got some salad to go with my salad as an entree. It wasn’t bad, just uninspiring. One salad is fine. Two just indicates a lack of imagination. The salad came with bread rolls, margarine and some balsamic and olive oil dressing. I ate the two salads with some of the dressing.

Salad…And salad!

The main was some steamed vegetables, vegetables in a tomato sauce, and some white rice. A bit bland, but otherwise ok.

The VGML main

Then spent most of the flight watching inflight entertainment. To Kill A Mockingbird is unquestionably one of the best movies ever made. I am a poor imitation of Atticus Finch. So yeah, watched that again. Also watched the start of a tv series called Broadchurch. British cop show. Really good, and planning to watch the rest of it when I get home. I think I know who did it, but I need to be sure (turns out I was right about who did it, but not why).

About 2 hours out from arrival in Dubai we got served a snack. I got given sandwiches with some kind of vegetable filling. They also had margarine or butter on (if I can’t tell, I obviously err on the side of caution). I couldn’t eat them due to the gluten regardless, so I tucked into my stash of dried fruit.

Landed a little early. I was exhausted (didn’t get any sleep on the plane) and grateful that the layover wasn’t too long so that I could just get home.

Emirates Lounge – Johannesburg

Finally on my way home, and I was infinitely glad for the lounge access in Johannesburg. I have been through Jo’burg international terminal a number of times and haven’t always had lounge access. Once I got stuck on a 12 hour layover with no lounge. Horrible. And I’ve been in the South African Airways lounges a number of times – they’re nice enough. But this was my first time in the Jo’burg Emirates lounge.

Because of my previous flight cancellation, I ended up with a really long layover before I could get the next flight out to Dubai. So I more or less holed up in the airport hotel for most of it. I rocked up for the flight pretty late and only really gave myself enough time to poke my head into the lounge, take a look around, get a drink, and then go buy some snacks from the shops for the flight (just in case) before heading to the gate.

The lounge is a decent size, but suffers from the same problem as many other lounges – a lack of powerpoints. The wi-fi was decent though.

Food in the lounge was varied. There were vegan and gluten free Arabic mezze options like hommus and carrot sticks. Other vegan and gluten free options included rice, a cauliflour and chickpea curry, grilled vegetables, pickled vegetables and fresh fruit.

There were plenty of non-vegan options like salmon cakes, meat curries, pasta, seafood salads and desserts such as cakes and muffins, as well as a varity of non-gluten free breads.

It’s actually a pretty good lounge except for the lack of powerpoints!

Hopefully my next trip to Africa will be a little less problematic with regards to the flights and I will be able to spend more time in the lounge and write a more detailed review.

South African Airways Economy Class CPT-JNB

Off to a fantastic start.

South African Airways strikes yet again.

Flight cancelled.

Which meant not only would I miss my connecting flight in Johannesburg (the replacement flight that they put me on landed too late to make it), which was annoying enough, but also meant that my VGML wasn’t loaded on the replacement flight. I can’t really blame them for not having my special meal loaded under the circumstances. But I can totally blame them for the flight cancellation in the first place.

However…After checking in and being put on a different flight, I figured that this was going to be the likely outcome. So I went to one of the shops inside the Cape Town domestic terminal and bought some peanuts and dried fruit. Ate that instead of the “vegan” croissant with cheese I got offered on board. Yes, seriously, this is what they offered me when I asked if by some miracle my VGML was on board…As the flight was full, there was no chance of a spare fruit platter or anything being loaded. But that was ok. I had my stash.

More annoyed about the missed connection in Johannesburg to be honest. I just wanted to go home. Not get stuck in Jo’burg airport.

I hate flying.

On the road in…South Africa (again)!

I love Cape Town.

I’d just leave it at that, but I’m sure you want details!

I was in Cape Town for a conference and some meetings. After the trouble I had with the food in Zambia, I had been looking forward to my time in South Africa. From a couple of previous trips to the country, I knew that finding vegan food wasn’t impossible. Sometimes it meant hunting around a bit, but I had never had too much trouble finding something to eat. This trip was no exception.

Breakfasts were great. Cape Town is relatively big on fruit, so there was always fruit salad at the breakfast buffet. And soy milk if you asked nicely! Another awesome thing about South Africa in general is that they sell dried fruit everywhere. So there was also always dried apricot, peach, apple and prunes at breakfast as well. Gluten free bread was also available. It was nice to have options!

For lunch, I had the combination of dining out and eating at the conference. With regards to eating out, I had no problems. Pretty much everywhere has vegetarian things on the menu (yes, plural!) that can be modified to vegan. I mostly ate lunch down at the waterfront, because it was close to the convention centre where the conference was being held. As I was dining with non-veg colleagues, we mostly went to seafood places (being Cape Town), and some African restaurants. All understood what vegan meant without me having to explain, so I think it may be becoming a more common dietary choice in South Africa.

A meal I ordered for lunch at a South African cuisine restaurant called Karibu: roast sweet potato with sweet onion sauce, with a side of putu and chakalaka. Awesome!

With regards to the conference catering, I had informed the conference organisers of my dietary requirements in advance and they had informed the catering people…Or so they said. Got to the catering room at the conference and asked where the special catering table was, and they had no idea what I even meant. So I asked what on the tables was vegan. Nobody had a clue what vegan meant. I asked to speak to the chef, who eventually came out. He knew what vegan meant, but they had nothing. Not even fruit. As I’d figured this might happen, I had a stash of fruit and nuts in my bag. Not the point though. The organisers had confirmed that there would be vegan catering. Same thing happened every day, despite them saying they’d make sure I had something to eat the following day. Given the amount paid for the conference registration, I was massively unimpressed. I had no problem finding vegan food anywhere else on no notice, yet I couldn’t get any when they had over a month’s notice? I call shenanigans.

For dinner, that was mostly with colleagues. We pretty much stuck to places near our hotel, because at the end of the day we were too tired to wander too far. Wasn’t a problem for me though. One night we even went for Italian because someone wanted pizza, and I still managed to find something on the menu that I could modify. And Italian is notorious for being non-vegan or full of gluten. However, I did ultimately find an awesome African restaurant on Long Street called Timbuktu. Well, restaurant might be stretching it. Small balcony cafe is probably more accurate. But at any rate, about half the menu was vegetarian, and all of the vegetarian options could be made vegan! The cuisine was more northern African in style. A few Ethiopian dishes too. Ended up eating there a few times, because the food was amazing, and it was relatively cheap. Seriously, it looks a bit questionable from the outside, but looks are deceiving in this case. The vegan food really is excellent. Highly recommend eating there at least once, even if you aren’t veg*n. My colleagues who are all very much meat eaters even got the vegetarian food there (they do have meat on the menu too), and said they enjoyed it. Also went out for Thai food and various other cuisines. But the African place kind of won out for me. It’s rare to find a restaurant that has anything explicitly gluten free and vegan on the menu, let alone somewhere with options!

A dinner at Timbuktu: Injera (the pancake looking stuff), veggies, salad, split pea curry, lentils, something with beetroot, and some vegetable/cabbage stew.
A “surprise me” dinner – the restaurant had nothing vegan on the menu, so the chef said if I was prepared to be surprised, she’d throw something together for me…The result was salad, fried potato and a tomato and coconut milk vegetable curry! Pretty decent given no notice!

As an aside, there are plenty of supermarkets and small convenience stores around. Everywhere sells dried fruit and nuts – and Coke Zero. However all the supermarkets I went to also sold a good variety of fresh fruit, gluten free snack food, dairy free sweets, etc. I kept some snack food on me all the time just in case, since conference caterers are notorious for messing up. And I stocked up for the flights home. Lest Emirates one again think that full cream yogurt and a croissant are suitable breakfast options for a VGML…

At the end of the day, I got on the plane with a happy belly! Didn’t make up for the mess in Zambia, but it helped! Was still glad to be going home though. I wanted my own bed, to be able to go for a run, normal food, decent internet…

The things I do when I get a day off! Great white shark diving just off Gansbaai, about 2 hours drive outside of Cape Town.

South African Airways Economy Class JNB-CPT

After a pretty terrible flight from Lusaka to Johannesburg and having to get them to hold the plane for me in Johannesburg because the flight from Lusaka was late, all I wanted to do was flop into my seat and relax before hitting the ground running in Cape Town. I had to land, get to my hotel, then head out for a dinner meeting almost straight away.

But no, I got on board and someone was in my seat. Presubably they figured I wasn’t boarding because I was late, but then an argument ensued when I asked them to move. Cabin crew had to intervene. Also, because I was late, yet another issue with overhead bin space. Airlines who don’t enforce their own baggage policies annoy the crap out of me. It’s why I hate flying in the US.

Anyway, eventually took off and the drinks cart came around and dinner was served. A bit early for real dinner though. It was a mild improvement over the previous flight. The VGML tray came with a cheese salad with an egg-based dressing in a satchet, a main that looked like some kind of vegetable stew with rice, and some dried fruit. No bread or butter on this meal tray. I couldn’t eat the stew because of gluten, but ate the rice and dried fruit. That’s one extra thing I could eat over the previous flight!

My VGML on the JNB-CPT flight. Not really vegan. I know, you’re shocked by that revelation, right?

Was a more than a little annoyed at that point about my previous flight being late, because I had hoped to have time to briefly visit one of the snack shops at the airport to pick up some food for this flight. Clearly someone hates me. I suspect someone who works for SAA?

Everything else was pretty average. Landed on time. And lo and behold, I land in Cape Town to find that they had lost my fucking luggage. Yes, South African Airways strikes again! Useless.

South African Airways Economy Class LUN-JNB

Check-in was easy enough. No real queue to speak of. Got my luggage wrapped first though. Because – Johannesburg. Don’t really need to say anything more than that.

After clearing immigration, I went and begged for access to the South African Airways lounge. Technically I wasn’t meant to have access, but the lovely lady at the front desk let me in, because I said I just needed a quiet place to work, and outside was really busy and noisy. I was eternally grateful for her discretion!

The lounge left calling for the flight boarding quite late though, and by the time I got on board, there was no overhead bin space left. Seriously, it’s as bad as the US – people carrying 4 pieces of carry-on each. Next time they tell me I can only fly economy on short haul sectors for a consulting job in Africa, I’m paying out of my own pocket to upgrade to business.

The flight left half an hour late, and with an already tight connection in Johannesburg, I wasn’t hopeful about making the flight to Cape Town. Was hoping we’d make up some time during the flight, and that if we were pushing it, I might be able to get them to hold the plane for me.

Anyway, after take-off, the drinks trolley came around and lunch was served. I got Diet Coke, and my VGML…My VGML that contained butter, a cheese salad, and a Kit Kat. Oh yeah, SAA does it again!!! The meal tray also contained a bread roll that I couldn’t eat and a main of rice and some kind of vegetable mush. Except nobody could tell me what the sauce was on the vegetables, so it potentially contained gluten. Meaning the only thing on the tray that I could eat was the rice that hadn’t touched the sauce.

VGML fail!

This has happened to me to some degree on every single flight I have ever taken on South African Airways. Every single one. Before I was forced to go vegan, they stuffed up my lactose free meals every time. If it had just happened at certain airports I would simply put it down to an issue with the specific catering company. But this is systemic. It happens on flights departing Australia, Europe, and within Africa. I’d say “it’s a joke“, but it’s not a joke when it comes to food allergies. I can obviously forgive the gluten on a VGML tray, that’s just bad luck. But the constant use of dairy products is unacceptable. South African Airways needs to get their act together, and if I had any other option, I wouldn’t fly with them again. This was the last straw for me.

I wish I’d had the time to get to the shops in Lusaka before having to fly so I could buy some snacks. But no such luck. I know it was only a 2 hour flight, but it was lunch time, and I was hungry. Say all you want about starving kids in Africa – believe it or not, I do get it. But when I’m paying that much money for a flight, I have certain expectations.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, was seated next to a bunch of Christian missionaries who spent the flight praying and trying to convert a South African woman in the row behind me. It made my head hurt.

We landed late. And I almost missed my flight to Cape Town. Baggage re-check for my connecting flight had technically closed when I got to the domestic transfer counter, but they managed it somehow. I had to run after that, because they were holding the plane for me, but I made it in the end.