US Embassy Passport Services and Extra Pages

The Line for US Citizen services was much shorter when I was leaving

With the next trip less than three weeks away, I could no longer delay on getting new visa pages in my Passport.

The US Embassy’s website indicates that one can obtain new pages with a two week turnaround  by sending one’s passport by mail, which wasn’t going to work for me because getting my visa to go to China will take four days.

I rang Passport Services and learned that one may have Visa pages added same day if one shows up between 830-11 am and if one can evidence that the expedited service is necessary by providing a ticketed itinerary and evidence of a visa appointment at a Foreign consulate.

Today, I went for the new pages. Here’s how it all played out

New Pages!

0840: Arrival, place mobile phone collection into Embassy-provided plastic bag
0841: Commence queuing 
0945: Queuing Ends. Security Check.
0950: I am assigned number P36  by the security desk
0953: P36 is called to Window #1. I hand in my passport and am advised to take the bill for services over to Window #9. When I point out that there is no payment receivable, I learn that the receipt has to get to Window #9 somehow, and that way just happens to be yours truly.
0958: I make payment of 0 USD at Window #9 and receive my receipt. I feel wonderfully frugal.
0959: Waiting commences 
1020: Embassy-wide announcement of the discovery of a suspicious package in the mail room. The waiting masses are undaunted. No one leaves in fear of their lives. It seems that they all have concluded that the odds of death (minute) are better risked than the odds of needing to queue up again to get back in the room (highly likely).
1050: Waiting ends. P36 is called to Window #5. Passport returned, complete with snazzy new pages, which don’t match my Passport, strategically replaced right before the introduction of biometric requirements in 2005.

Now to get my travel visas…


Cathay Pacific

As I sit down to write this, I can’t help but wish I were writing about flying first or business. How my seat makes a bed, potential for backrubs, or how my seat is a bit like a glorified barca-lounger and that the flight attendants keep over-feeding me.

Would I like more cheese? Yes. As previously established, I am quite fond of it.

Still, I can’t help but think that while my experiences in the roomier bit of the plane, and I don’t mean the hold, may have been more pleasant to experience, they’re less key to take note of. Economy service is increasingly uncomfortable, more often than not, but it’s not all bad.

Given that I like going places, and I am unwilling to pay for anything but economy tickets, it just seems sensible to take note of which airlines provide a pleasant Economy experience.

I usually fly Virgin, BA, or American, and my recent adventure on Cathay Pactific is a first. This means that my upgrade potential is zero, even if I am on especially charming behavior and try to wow them with my recently acquired Mandarin.

And so begins my rant about Cathay Pacific, Airline of the Year 2009.

I rang Cathay’s UK Customer Service line shortly after booking my flight, at which time I sat on hold for 20 minutes and I eventualy learned that I would need to call 48h before takeoff to select my seats.

When that mighty day came, I still couldn’t find a general, 24 hour service number for Cathay, so I rang the UK number again from this page at 2115GMT, it was closed. Closed?!

I called the US number, confirmed my reservation code, and was advised to select my seats online.

I logged in to find that all along I could have selected my seats earlier if I had opted to sign up for the Marco Polo Club at 50USD a person, but having that information earlier likely would have made no difference, as I’m unwilling to pay for that, either. (Yes, I may be turning into my dad.) I also learned that my paranoia over bad seat potential led me to login 72 hours before launch, rather than 48.

That takes us to t-48h. I login to Cathay’s Website, I enter in my flight confirmation code, and much to my joy, I get my aisle seat. I feel fortunate.

Still, I will be there bright and early to fanagle an exit row. I’m a big girl, and I’m sure I can open that big door in the event of an emergency.

United Economy

Emarking on our Californian adventure was going to involve one of my longer flights. It’s eleven hours of fun filled cabin time from London to San Francisco.

I arrived prepared, dressed like I was going to gym class, and armed with hours of entertainment.

  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (I heart Gladwell)
  • What Color is Your Parachute (Yes, I am having a midlife crisis. I also lotteried for 2 marathons.)
  • My Laptop with 8 hours of battery, Civilization, and Mad Men episodes.
  • Kit to charge the laptop in flight, if needed
  • Cozy shawl
  • Bottle of Water
  • Big bag of wine gums (suitable for sharing, but I had little intention of that)
  • Nytol (that’s right, to help me get my z’s)
  • Anti-inflammatory Pills for my hamstring

I got on the plane, took the Nytol, and well, it was lights out for most of the flight. I haven’t flown United in a long, long time; however, I think I’d be very inclined to do it again. I had a lot more legroom in economy than I’ve become used to, and it was excellent. That’s not to say it was spacious, but at no point did my knees make contact with the seat on front of me, and that’s pretty nice. I usually empty the seat pocket immediately, and this time, there was no need at all.

Even the flight back was fine, and this was further improved by the assignment of exit row seats.

I also discovered that SFO has an Aviation Museum, which is full of all sorts of random commerical airline stuffs, including this set of Pan Am emergency instruction cards.