The 3:30am alarm, even though expected, still sucked. We had everything ready, so we were out the door at 3:45. It was a 15 minute drive north to the airport. Check-in was easy since we could use the Star Alliance Gold line. Having "status" in the US doesn't mean much, as half the people have status. But overseas it is really a nice perk. There were no issues at immigration or customs. Once through security, we saw Crystal had SSSS on her IST-LAX boarding pass, so Justin told her she'd likely have a thorough search at the Istanbul boarding gate. There was no apparent Star Alliance lounge in Almaty, so we were just sitting in the waiting area forever. We could have definitely done with another hour of sleep and one hour less of waiting. We were just listening to podcasts, trying to stay awake so as to minimize any jet lag. We were supposed to board at 6, but it was more like 6:15. There was no organized boarding - they just said "Istanbul" and then a bumrush of people went for the door.

There was a 3-3 arrangement on plane, and we once again had D and F, with someone in E. She moved after an hour or so, however, because her seat wouldn't recline. That was the good. The bad was the guy behind us, who was talking loudly to himself and anyone else that made eye contact or engaged him in any way. We aren't experts in any way, but he definitely seemed high on something (cocaine, speed?). The fact that he kept taking his carry-on bag down from the overhead bin, and taking it to the bathroom every 45-60 minutes, only strengthened our belief. He got into a couple of arguments, although we aren't sure what about, since we don't know any Russian. We just passed the time watching movies and reading. For those traveling any time soon, don't watch "Life" on a plane (great movie, but creeps you out); Baby Driver and Daddy's Home are much better choices.

The last hour was fairly nerve wracking, as the guy was getting more beligerent. Just from looking around and making eye contact with some of the other passengers, it was clear that everyone was doing the math. If the flight was 6 hours more, we might have stopped somewhere to get him off the plane. But landing somewhere just before Istanbul would have been a giant headache in terms of missed connections and whatnot, so we hoped there wouldn't be a major incident in the time we had left. He got up twice in the last 5 minutes before landing, including once only about 45 seconds before we touched down. He was in the back of the plane when we landed, maybe in the restroom. We didn't know and didn't care, and were happy when everyone stood up, as there was no way he was getting back towards us before we de-planed. We were at the front of the economy section, happy to get off the plane and be the first to the security area for transfer passengers.

Once through security, it was a fairly long walk to get to the Lounge. In the lounge, we found a comfy place and parked, then got wi-fi passwords. Breakfast food was out, as it was before 10, since we'd gotten 3 of our 13 timezone hours back. But, since it was 11pm back in California, we enjoyed some "Saturday evening" beverages on a Sunday morning. At around 10:30, we could see they were starting to change out to lunch food. At 11, we got some Pide and some Lentil Soup. On the flight board we saw we were supposed to go to the gate, which was odd because there were literally dozens of flights before ours, none of which were stating to go to the gate. Crystal asked one of the agents, and she said there was no need to get up yet. We did leave a little earlier than we originally planned, though, since Crystal had SSSS on her boarding pass.

At the gate, they saw her SSSS, but she didn't have to do anything extra. Instead, everyone was getting a little extra security, presumably whatever the US wanted such that we could bring our laptops in the carry-on bags. [They were banned for several months earlier in 2017 from Istanbul and a handful of other airports in and around the Middle East.] The whole thing was dumb, and everyone (security and passengers) treated it as such. On the plane, like the flight out from the US, we had the two seats in row 51, this time on the opposite side of plane. Justin took a sleeping pill and nodded off, and Crystal read and slept. The flight was long, but thankfully uneventful - no drug addicts on this flight. Live (American) football made flight a bit shorter, as Justin would have just spent the Sunday watching football anyway. Crystal slept much of second half of flight. We were trying to stay hydrated, but it is tough on such a long flight.

We landed in Los Angeles around 4:30. Since we were at the back, it took a long time to de-plane, and on the way out we got to see pretty much the whole plane. It was a complete mess - we have no clue how they turn that around in two hours to leave around 6:45pm. Thank goodness for Global Entry - that really makes immigration and customs a breeze. The bags came off about 2 minutes after we got there. There was no stop at customs. Once outside, the van to the parking garage got there about 30 seconds after we showed up. They called ahead with our ticket, and our car was pulling up just as we were pulling into garage. We paid and got on our way, driving out of the garage at 5:11. Being in our own car 41 minutes from landing, and probably less than 30 after de-planing, must be a new record for us as it relates to International flights. Since it was a Sunday afternoon/evening, we were already in south Orange County an hour later, which also must be a new record. We stopped for Popeyes near home, then got to the house right at 7. Everything was more or less how we left it, and the puppies happy to see us, particularly Pig, who seemed surprised at first, then really happy.

Another year, another great trip. Hopefully things will continue in 2018.

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