This is the fourth report in a series covering my trip to Europe and Africa around New Year's. The trip involved three nested itineraries (which turned into four). A OneWorld roundtrip itinerary from the US to Milan, a Tunisair roundtrip itinerary from Milan to Tunis, Tunisia, and a Star Alliance roundtrip itinerary from Tunis to Windhoek, Namibia. The return portion of the Star Alliance itinerary would turn into a one-way itinerary on Qatar Airways due to South African Airways delays (hot weather), horrible customer service by South African Airways and United Airlines, and a cancellation of the remainder of the Star Alliance itinerary. I submitted a claim to World Nomads travel insurance for the Qatar Airways ticket I had to buy because I had faced a 24 hour delay by Star Alliance. World Nomads rejected the claim (as well as my appeal). According to them, they're off the hook unless the "common carrier" is completely shut down for 24 hours due to weather or a labor strike. The verbiage in the policy doesn't include "common carrier" though. It's ridiculous to think that if your airline operated any flight anywhere in the world during your 24 hour delay, World Nomads wouldn't have to honor the contract. The California Department of Insurance is currently reviewing the case because I complained that they narrowed the scope of my policy after making a claim. I can't recommend using World Nomads travel insurance. I've bought five travel insurance policies through them; this is the first time I had to make a claim and it's not a good process.
The OneWorld itinerary was an open jaw from Chicago to Milan in Economy, and Milan to San Diego in Business. The total cost was 63,000 AAdvantage miles and $84.10. Normal cost would be 70,000 miles (20,000 for the outbound in Economy and 50,000 for the inbound in Business). However, I was able to get 10% back thanks to my Citi AAdvantage MasterCard.
The roundtrip cost for the Tunisair ticket was $182.48, bought through Vayama.
The roundtrip cost for the business class Star Alliance ticket was 70,000 United MileagePlus miles and $135.00. On the surface, this is an incredible value. However, as I'll explain later, my faith in Star Alliance has been completely shattered and I don't think I'll ever take advantage of this intra-Africa MileagePlus fare again.
————— Tunis to Istanbul (Turkish Airlines Business): You Are Here ————— Istanbul to Kinshasa (Turkish Airlines Business) ————— Kinshasa to Johannesburg (South African Airways Business) ————— Johannesburg to Windhoek (South African Airways Business) ————— Windhoek to Johannesburg (South African Airways Business) ————— Johannesburg to Lagos (South African Airways Business): Cancelled Flight ————— Lagos to Istanbul (South African Airways Business): Cancelled Flight ————— Istanbul to Tunis (Turkish Airlines Business): Cancelled Flight
———- Tunis to Milan Malpensa (Tunisair Economy): No Show
——————– Johannesburg to Doha (Qatar Airways Business) ——————– Doha to Milan Malpensa (Qatar Airways Business)
—– Milan Malpensa to Miami (American Airlines Business) —– Miami to Chicago O'Hare (American Airlines First) —– Chicago O'Hare to San Diego (American Airlines First)
I grabbed a taxi after leaving my AirBnB and walking down to a busier street. The guy was friendly, ran the meter, and even got out change to give me after I paid him, though I let him keep most of it. He asked me if I had seen a certain neighborhood in Tunis and wanted to take me there if I had time, but I told him my flight was leaving in about 45 minutes (it wasn't). Not sure if he genuinely wanted to show me something interesting or just wanted to take me to his cousin's souvenir shop, probably the latter. We pulled up outside the airport gates and I just walked through the parking lot to get to the terminal. Not sure if this is standard operating procedure but it worked out fine, didn't have to wait in any sort of traffic.
Like most African airports there's security at the very front entrance of the building. The line I went in was only about a third of the length of the others, but got me in the building just the same.
The departures area has a couple big square areas with check-in desks and another big area with seating, a cafe, and a few airline and bank counters. This big area is where you head through to get to passport control and security. When I checked in they gave me a slip of paper allowing me to get into a faster passport control line, but security was all the same. Both were relatively painless.
I'd like to note that allowing multiple banks in the airport dramatically cuts down on the fees associated with changing money. Cairo is the same way. In Tunis and Cairo, you can change money into local currency for a total fee of approximately 1%. When I changed Tunisian Dinar into Euros at the Milan airport at the end of my trip I paid about 40% due to the cartel system in place.
After security I headed straight for the lounge that seems to be shared by just about all the airlines at TUN.
The lounge was comfortable, quiet, had WiFi, and was not crowded at all. However, the snacks they had were terrible. I didn't ask for anything at the bar, but the only self serve drinks they had out were a few different types of juice. Each gender had a single bathroom with a locking door and often developed a wait.
I set up camp on a couch in a corner of the lounge that had a pretty good view of the tarmac.
I went for a walk through the terminal to check out the gate my flight would be using, then came back to the lounge.
The monitors in the lounge were pretty useless. They didn't update at all and only showed flights in the very near future, so they were basically just a list of the schedule. The agent at the front of the lounge was very helpful though and confirmed my flight was delayed by about two hours and said she'd make an announcement when it was ready for boarding. The delay resulted from a massive snowstorm that had hit Istanbul and delayed our inbound aircraft.
The airport was almost empty by the time my flight was ready for boarding and I walked over to the gate.
Boarding went pretty smoothly as business class passengers were allowed to walk up to the left side of the desk and skip the general boarding line.
I was looking forward to experiencing this fantastic short haul business cabin and wasn't disappointed.
Very nice fold out IFE.
It was nice to have a menu and a decent amount of food, but it didn't taste great.
The drop down monitors had a nice breadcrumb style flight map.
One last shot as we deplaned.
I paid for an e-Visa a couple weeks prior to my trip to make immigration a little smoother and it didn't take long to get through. The AirServ-type guy checking boarding passes at the front of the line for business class passengers told me at first that I wasn't a business class passenger because I wasn't dressed like one, but eventually said he was joking and showed me where I was supposed to go. Kind of funny, but also a little annoying. I made my way to the Hotel Desk to get my free room for the night (my flight to Kinshasa was leaving the following afternoon). I soon encountered the longest line I've ever seen in an airport. Not longest based on pure length, but longest when you take into account that the line was not moving at all. This was a result of the snowstorm that upended operations for several days. I decided not to wait and went back into the terminal and over to the business class lounge to see if they'd help me there.
The front desk of the lounge was a mess. I was standing front and center at the desk and it took at least 20 minutes before someone would listen to me. Law and order was breaking down as people would just push their way to the front and start yelling out their problem. There were plenty of people there who had no business occupying the time of the agents. For example, a guy trying to get access based on his credit card even though he wasn't flying Turkish, a guy from Algeria who was upset they couldn't process an e-Visa at the lounge, a lady who wanted Aspirin (a manager had to go get some out of her purse), etc. The worst was this American girl who was playing dumb trying to get access because she flew business class inbound, but did not have an outbound business class ticket. She claimed that 'they' told her she'd get access when her inbound ticket was upgraded. The agent was holding firm explaining that this was just a departure lounge and she didn't have access. She finally left after exclaiming, "I'm never flying Turkish Airlines again!" As if anyone cared in the midst of this chaotic situation.
When someone who seemed like they were in charge finally spoke with me she explained that all the hotels were full and I wasn't eligible for the day rooms inside the lounge. To be eligible, either your inbound or outbound flight has to be more than 8 hours in duration. So I settled in for my 15 hour stay inside the lounge. I'll include the lounge photos in the next report in this series.
Tunis - TUN
Istanbul - ISL
The onboard experience was great except for the food. There were only four or five people in the entire business class section and the flight attendants were very nice. The seats were new and made for a comfortable experience while enjoying the fantastic IFE.
The frustrating part of this flight was the lack of information regarding the delay. I understand it was related to a snowstorm in Istanbul, but I wish the monitors in the lounge or at the gate would have give some sort of realistic expectation about when the flight would leave. It was frustrating to constantly check FlightAware or walk over to the gate to check for any activity. When I got to Istanbul, the airport was a zoo. I know snow is rare in Istanbul, but not that rare. Turkish Airlines can't control the weather, but they can certainly do a much better job preparing for it.
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