2019 in Review: Looking Back at My Highlights of Last Year

It’s hard to believe its January 2020 already – meaning its time for the fourth annual review of my avgeek activities. You can read the previous reports here: 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Before continuing with the report itself, I’d like to thank you wish you all the best in 2020 and thank you for reading this blog. I’d also like to thank my girlfriend, family & friends for supporting me (not only) in this hobby and building KN Aviation.

Now, let’s travel back into 2019!

KN Aviation in Review 2019
While I photographed the 747 a number of times, unfortunately, I didn’t fly on one in 2019.

Miles, Types, Airlines

In 2019, I took a total of 45 commercial flights and 1 special flight that I’ll talk about in more detail below. The flights added up to a total of just over 102,000 miles.  While I flew a bit less than in 2018 (64 flights for a total of almost 115,000 miles), it was still an excellent year.

With eight flights in total, ANA was the airline I flew the most. Tied for the second place were Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, JAL, Jetstar Japan, and Turkish Airlines – each with four flights.

The aircraft type I flew the most was Airbus A320-200 (11 times) followed by Boeing 787, 737-800, and 777-200ER (5 times each).

ANA and JAL
In 2018, JAL was the airline I flew the most. In 2019, it was ANA. In both cases, I flew with the respective airline eight times.

Even though each year its getting more and more difficult to log new airlines and – especially – aircraft types, I managed to get some that I hadn’t flown on before in 2019 as well:

Hong Kong Airlines
One of the airlines I flew with for the first time in 2019 was the currently-troubled Hong Kong Airlines.

The Highlight of the Year: Flying on NASA’s DC-8

When I wrote about flying on NASA’s 747SP in this section last year, I thought the highlight would be impossible to match or beat in the future. Luckily, I was wrong. In April 2019, I was honored to have the chance to see the NASA team in action once again.

This time, I flew on a nine-hour-long research mission onboard the agency’s DC-8.

Once again, I was amazed by the work being done onboard. I was also incredibly excited to fly on an aircraft that doesn’t operate commercial flights anymore – an aircraft that I thought I would never have the chance to fly on.

If you have some time to spare, make sure to read the full report about the flight!

NASA DC-8 at Palmdale Airport
The NASA DC-8 resting at Palmdale airport after the flight.
NASA DC-8 Instrument - Dropsonde
Launching drop sondes was one of the most memorable parts of the DC-8 flight.
NASA DC-8 Cockpit
Spending a lot of time in the cockpit in-flight was a great experience as well.

Cathay Pacific First Class and Other Commercial Flights

In terms of commercial flights, I had a chance to fly long-haul first class for the first time in my life. More specifically, I flew with Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to New York and back thanks to an insane $850 error fare.

Even though it started with a bit of drama, I especially enjoyed the flight from Hong Kong to New York which made a brief stop in Vancouver. It’s worth noting that the Vancouver – New York fifth freedom flight will be discontinued later this year.

Cathay Pacific First Class Bed
While fairly outdated, the Cathay Pacific first class seat makes for an excellent bed.

I was also able to fly a number of business class products for the first time. I flew with LOT from Warsaw to Singapore on their 787-8, KLM from Singapore to Bali on their 777-200ER, and Garuda Indonesia from Bali to Osaka among others.

My favorite business class flight of the year was, however, ANA’s evening flight from Tokyo Narita to Singapore. I had a chance to take the flight twice and both times it was a great experience. Even though its an intra-Asian route, with the flight being about seven hours long, it offers enough time to enjoy a full course dinner followed by a nap in the fully flat staggered seat padded with a mattress.

ANA Medium-Haul Business Class Dinner
Watching First Man while enjoying a steak onboard ANA’s Narita – Singapore flight.

As for economy class flights, I especially enjoyed flying with Hong Kong Airlines on the soon-to-be-discontinued Hong Kong – Los Angeles route, with Bangkok Airways – a Thai boutique airline, and with Brussels Airlines on their now-retired Sukhoi Superjet.

Brussels Airlines Sukhoi Superjet Operated by CityJet
Unfortunately, Brussels Airlines decided to retire its Sukhoi Superjets.

TWA Hotel, Cathay Pacific First Class Lounges, and More

Taking the above flights also gave me the opportunity to stay at a number of different hotels and visit a few dozen airport lounges. While I’ll talk more about the lounges I visited later on, I want to start with a hotel.

During my September trip to New York, I decided to stay for a night at the recently opened TWA Hotel.

As an aviation enthusiast, I have to say that it was an extremely enjoyable stay – the facility truly managed to convey the “glamour” of flying decades ago and the rooftop observation deck offered nice views of “present day airport action.” At the same time, as a hotel, it was nothing to write home about.

In fact, since most of the interesting parts of the hotel are public areas, you might want to skip staying at the hotel as it’s quite pricey, and just visit for a couple of hours instead.

The Connie at Night
One of the highlights at the TWA Hotel – the Connie.
TWA Hotel Pool
The best pool for plane spotting in the world?

While on the same trip, I also had a chance to revisit Cathay Pacific’s excellent The Wing and The Pier first class lounges in Hong Kong. I also had a nice breakfast at American Airlines’ Flagship First Dining in New York.

Two other lounges that I was glad to have the chance to review were The Qantas Hong Kong Lounge and the Cathay Pacific Lounge at Tokyo Haneda airport. In terms of Priority Pass lounges, IGA Lounge at Istanbul’s new airport was worth a visit – I will be publishing a review of it over the coming days.

American Airlines Flagship First Dining at JFK Fruits
The very filling fruits plate in the American Flagship First Dining facility.

(Not Enough) Plane Spotting

One area where I failed to follow my plans (again…) was plane spotting. In fact, I haven’t done much of it besides a couple of sessions at Tokyo Haneda and a few hours at Nagoya Centrair and Komaki airports.

Fuji Dream
If you want to catch Fuji Dream aircraft, Nagoya Komaki is the place to be.

Besides that, I also got a couple of decent photos while taking flights.

I was particularly glad to get Air Calin’s new Airbus A330neo when taxiing at Narita airport after arriving from Seoul and one of ANA’s new A380s after arriving back in Japan from my trip to Europe in December.

ANA A380
Flying Honu.

I also had the chance to photograph some aircraft – including the rare Super Guppy – inside NASA’s hangar in Palmdale prior to taking the DC-8 flight.

NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703 Super Guppy
Super Guppy.

Finally, I also visited a couple of aviation museums including the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History where a Sabena Caravelle is displayed among others, the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw which includes a Polish Air Force Yak-40, and both of the National Air and Space Museum locations in (and near) Washington D.C.

Sabena Sud Caravelle (OO-SRA) in the Royal Museum of the Armed F
Sabena Sud Caravelle.

What Are the Plans for 2020?

The highlight of this year were supposed to be flights from Beijing to Singapore to Hong Kong in Singapore Airlines’ old and new Suites class. Unfortunately, both of the flights were changed to 777-300ERs. I am still looking forward to reviewing the airline’s first class as well as its lounges, though.

If there are no equipment changes, I should also be trying business class on the airline’s 777-300ER, 787-10, and A380. I have flights on ANA’s regional 787, Eva Air’s A321 and 787-10, and Asiana Airlines A330-300 and A350-900 booked as well.

Separately, I plan to fly on an ANA 737-500 before the type is retired later in the year – and will likely visit Europe once or twice.

Last but not least, I plan to do considerably more spotting in 2020 than I did in 2019.

ANA 737-500
ANA plans to retire its 737-500s later this year.

Summary

At the beginning of 2019, in my 2018 report, I wrote: “While 2018 will be tough to beat thanks to the SOFIA flight and Qatar Airways business class flight, I should be able to bring you plenty of (hopefully) interesting content in 2019 as well.”

I am happy to report that I actually managed to match – or even beat – that thanks to the unforgettable NASA DC-8 and Cathay Pacific first class flights.

Even outside of that, the year was good flying-wise. However, I didn’t get to do anywhere near as much plane spotting as I hoped to. I certainly hope to change that this year!

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