Our adventures started the night before, with United changing our seat assignments without notification, then disabling Amy’s online check-in. Then, some excitement on departure: a transformer blew up at the corner as we left in our taxi.

Dulles Airport: horrible as always, a mess of cordons and barriers and other obstacles built to try and adapt a 1960s airport to 21st Century needs, and failing at it with added misery. The check-in agent at least got us seats sort of back together for the flight — across an aisle from each other.

Dulles Terminal B

Security was the usual hurried, harried dance of laptop-out-of-bag, shoes-off-feet, liquids-in-ziploc; then get it all back on and together while being hustled along by passenger momentum without chairs or tables for those trying to put belts and shoes back on while hauling bags separated from their laptops. Security, of course, missed (or ignored) my more-than-three-ounce bottle of cough syrup. At least this time we avoided the radiation scanners.

At Potbelly in Terminal B, I stood in line for breakfast sandwiches behind a high-maintenance customer who demanded her bacon be thoroughly patted down with a paper towel and couldn’t decide whether to get coffee or not. There was no milk. When someone finally brought milk, the pitcher had a sheet of foil for a lid.

This way to plane

After we had boarded, our 777 was delayed at the gate for nearly an hour, first by late passengers, then a faulty anti-ice valve and the ensuing paperwork. The flight itself went smoothly, at least, and our coach seats included personal touch screens. I whiled away the time watching X-Men First Class, while Amy watched Tree of Life. I didn’t have a window seat, but stood up to peer out the exit hatch window over Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado.

Somewhere over Iowa (IAD-SFO) Somewhere over Colorado (IAD-SFO)

Most of the delay was made up inflight and we landed at SFO with more than an hour to make our connection to the B747 to HKG — enough time to sit down for paninis at Caffe del Mondo near our gate before boarding.

We were in seats 58H and 58J on the 747 — first of the three rows at the back of coach where the tapering fuselage cuts the window seats to two rather than three, so no third passenger between us and the aisle, plus we had an extra pocket in front of us. This made the flight no less miserable, with obnoxious recliners in front of us immediately pushing their seats all the way back into our faces (indeed, trying to force the seats even farther back at times) and leaving them that way for the entire 14 hours (then, for large swaths of the trip, not even using the reclined seat backs but instead resting heads on tray tables).

This being an older 747, we didn’t have the personal touch screens from the last flight. Instead I had the iPad and a bottle of codeine for my cough, and spent most of the trip in an awkwardly splayed limbo between sleep and half-hearted self-entertainment, reflecting on how international air travel had entirely lost the luster with which it had shone in my childhood. On the up side, the SFO-HKG Great Circle Route afforded lovely views of Siberia in polar twilight.

Self-Portrait, Row 58 (N180UA, SFO-HKG) Siberia (SFO-HKG)

Food on board was bad, even for United coach: oversauced yunan beef shortly after takeoff, a tasteless danish midway, and chewy fried noodles before landing.

Inflight Snack (SFO-HKG) Dumplings, Noodles, Chips (SFO-HKG)

After our landing at HKG, the transfer to Cathay Pacific went smoothly. (I had booked the transfer separately since United doesn’t fly to MNL.) We overheard a humorous conversation. Security was no problem at all, and we had enough time for dumplings and milk tea before boarding our 777 to MNL — which my cousin Kara also happened to be riding, just a few rows behind us in coach.

Streaky approach to MNL (HKG-MNL)

HKG-MNL was short and painless, and we marveled at how nice coach seats on the Cathay 777 were compared to a United 747 or 777. A slight delay at the gate pushed our arrival time back about 20 minutes, from late night of the 22nd to early morning of the 23rd, but otherwise arrival at MNL (old Terminal 1) went well, and we soon joined my brother and his wife at the arrivals annex to pile into a car going home.

Full photoset of the trip here.