Mixed Classes, Infinite fun and/or Madness: The Autumn Run with United Airlines
LHR-ORD, ORD-LAS, LAS-LAX-SFO-DEN-LHR
For those of you who have forgotten, this is my semi-regular audit to see how things are with United – if the service has improved, deteriorated or other. Whilst not perfect, it provides entertainment, amusement and of course, iPhones in sick bags (but then you already knew that. For regulars, it’s “business as usual”.
Continuing a tradition I started in the last trip, I’ll be adding a segment to the trip report on one thing I did during the trip – this falls into a section I like to call “One Time Exception”
What was originally a simple Y class run-around has degenerated into C, Y, F, F, F, Y run. Confused? Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be as confused as me you… more-so by the end of this run.
Direct routes are for kids… (Yes, the long winded introduction… )
Chicago comes at least twice a year for me, and it’s always good to get back to The Windy City (least of all I have no Oreos in the flat and no Ranch Dressing- which is good considering I’m one heck of a diet at the moment) .
But again, the need for miles is apparent and the need to re-qualify for Gold (with the oncoming storm that is Diamond Club merging to Miles and More, I want Gold secured and in-situ). So it’s time to see how and if I can milk this run. And rather than take the long way home on the East coast, it’s time to head West. Why? Because I can.
Considering a standard revenue return jumped in a day from £364 with Air Canada to £440 for the same dates, I factored AC out of this trip. This leave the UA, CO and US behind.
Well after binning US Airways (and the joys that airline has, as well as the joy of PHL), I popped in a few random routes into the CO engine – to be met with all UA aircraft and routes. So once again, it’s back to the flying tulip to see what they’ve got.
Initially, I priced out a LHR-ORD-LAX-SFO-LHR which priced out at a not outrageous £501 for 11665 miles. Not bad, but could do better . Considering the base fare to Chicago was £425, the extra miles 3000 miles would come in handy for an extra £76. I was all set to book that when I had one of my dreaded 3am in the morning thoughts – could I route this via Vegas to increase the miles?
A bit more prodding of the United Fare engine gave this beauty: LHR-ORD-LAS-LAX-SFO-DEN-LHR for £503 (yes, a grand total of £2 extra in taxes) and 12290ish miles (as well as a night in Sin City). An extra segment worth of miles could become critical at the end of the year, so the hammer went down and my credit card went crunch.
So here’s the map and route:
Map of course, Great Circle Mapper – www.gcmap.com.
Segment 1: LHR-ORD (in pink)
Segment 2: ORD-LAS (in green)
Segment 3: LAS-LAX-SFO-DEN-LHR (in blue)
So, around 12990ish status miles there (by the time the odd BMI Great Circle calculations all balance up) and a fair whack of bonus miles too.
Now, some time ago, I scored a couple of bump/recovery certs, and after a bit looking around, someone was in need of vouchers more than me, so I swapped them for an SWU (Single Way Upgrade) and some Domestic upgrades, with the SWU applied to LHR-ORD, and my internal legs from LAS-DEN (with all stops in between) upgraded to F. Well it’s cheaper than paying United I suppose.
And on the plus side, it makes me feel like the £503 I spent on the fare hasn’t been in vain.
Denver to London would also be interesting as a few weeks after the booking, the seatmap switched from a 2-5-2 layout to a new 3-3-3 layout – indicating new configuration 777-200. An additional sprinkle to the run….
Well that’s the intro. How hard will the come down be from the wonderfulness that was Asiana F/C and Thai C to United C…. and dread the thought – United Y-….
Read on and find out!
Part 1: Coaches LHR T1 and Lounges.
Off to LHR!
So of course, a 7:45 pushback from T1 means of course the 2:45am from Birmingham Digbeth bus station. Joy. I could ask myself why I put myself through this pain, but that would be futile as trying to get a semi cheap room near Heathrow when I want to travel is akin to finding hens teeth. So once again – relegated to the coaches.
My trash at Digbeth.
National Express 210 Birmingham Digbeth Coach Station to London Heathrow.
Price paid: £41.50, Cashback £2.11.
What was a simple coach journey however started with the coach stalling… in the middle of the bus station. Oops. After sitting like a dodo for 10 minutes a fix was tried, and in the end, a replacement bus was sent out.
45 minutes late – the clock had started ticking. That’s quality lounge time at LHR down the pan.
One word. Blegh. And it still feels like I’ve been taken into an alley and asked politely to open my wallet and hand over everything.
However we did get a move on, and the driver was in the mood to “go”, and thus madeup 10 minutes on the way, getting us in for just before 6am. On the plus side, it is a direct coach to the airport, and it does the job.
Heathrow Terminal 1
It was then time to run like the wind, and the great push to T1.
Thankfully, my sponsored upgrade held, and I was confirmed in Business Class. Bags were tagged, and it was off to Zone Y to drop everything off.
Security was quick as I utilised the fast track and was though within 5 minutes. Not bad going.
Like a shining beacon of a shopping centre complete with airbridges attached the edges – this is the joy of T1. Again, I wasn’t interested in the shops, I was only interested in the lounge. And since National Express had chewed through most of the spare time, I made a bee-line for the Star Alliance Lounge as combining this and the BMI lounge wasn’t going to happen – least of all for the long hike between them (and to the back end of the Gate 38 complex).
Star Alliance Common Lounge
I was welcomed in, and reminded no boarding calls were being made. I wandered around and took up my usual position near the food station and treated myself to the first bacon and sausage rolls I’ve had in months
There was a fair mix of people in the lounge, but this lounge… is starting to get busier. And there needs to be a lot more light – it’s far too dark for it’s own good.
A quite section of the lounge
Soon enough, 7am came around, and I packed up my trash and headed for the back end of Heathrow T1 – Gate 41.
To the back end of nowhere…
Upon arriving, the boarding pass was inspected and I was waved through as Zone 3 boarding had already commenced. A quick march to the red carpet line, and I was allowed on board.
Part 2: Business Class Across The Pond
UA929 London Heathrow – Chicago O’Hare International
United Airlines, Boeing 767-300ER, Seat 6K, Business Class (Upgraded fro Y to NC)
3953 Miles flown, 3942 Miles Earned
Channel 9: Off
I was welcomed aboard, and turned right to the first row of business class, where there was a surprise of a seat mate there already. No biggy – but this is what you get for relying on a seat map.
Drink offers were made – of course, this being about 7:15 in the morning, there’s only one drink to have – Champers of course (Pol Roger Blue Top amazingly).
Boarding was completed very quickly, and we pushed back early… and we were all greeted to Jeff Smisek’s face.
Like a god smiling down to his followers…
Just the sort of thing you want to see first thing in the morning.
All the plastic was tided away, and we begun one of the shortest taxi’s I’ve done recently – push back, turn, and taxi over to the near runway, and off we went.
Soon enough, we had climbed out, and the breakfast service commenced. I decided to risk my neck again with a UA Omelet.
Set table, Fruit Starter and Croissant
Again, it was hearty fair, with the fruit very nice and fresh. The Omelet, whilst a bit stringy was edible, the chicken sausage was completely inoffensive. God knows what Alpha Catering did to the Hash though – I’m still trying to work out what was in it….
Soon enough, the service was cleared away quickly, and popped the seat into recline and checked the IFE out. And now I can do a proper review of it as the headphones worked (as opposed to last year).
The content of the IFE as pretty reasonable – whilst not mostly to my taste, it wasn’t exactly bad. Which is a good thing. It has the important bit of IFE on it though – keeping up my traditions of being sad:
Herb has the time of his life with Chris – Family Guy presents Blue Harvest
And to be honest, I kept to the comedy selections when I was awake. When I wasn’t, I popped the seat into full flat mode and snored by way from somewhere over the Atlantic to just over St Johns. Where I caught up with 30 Rock.
About 1 and a half hours before landing the second service commenced – and boy this felt rushed since service commenced the best part of 1:15 before landing. At least they were quick getting to me..
To start with…
Duck Starter with a salad (Asian Sesame Seed dressing)
I decided to risk the fillet Mignon – and it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t exactly tough but it required effort to get into it. But it was edible as were the potato wedges and beans.
Of course by this point there was 35 minutes left on the flight – and desert was rushed. I went for the chocolate moose thing and whilst nice, it was a time pressure to finish it in 5 minutes before they started to clear down the cabin for the approach into O’Hare.
Closing in to Chicago over Loyola
Soon enough, that was cleared away, and the cabin prepared for landing.
After a nice landing at ORD, the plane taxied it’s way to the International Terminal and parked up at one of the best gates in the place – M9 – which drops you off right at the Immigration hall. Which is important when Chicago immigration is getting worse by the trip…
Crossing the bridge over to the terminal
Overall: Compared to recent experiences (and even last year’s trip in Business), I’m sad to say this was distinctly average. United does have win’s in the hard product of the seat – but the soft product needs urgent attention in terms of speed of delivery. Catering, whilst OK, wasn’t stellar, and I feel there could be a little effort spent here that wouldn’t go a miss.
Oh and stick on Channel 9 please…
Welcome to the USA. Again, queues galore as the Korean Air and JAL flights had made it in (and it’s easy to tell with the amount of Shilla/Lotte Duty Free bags lurking around). However, I was seen to in 10 minutes, and after very light questioning, I was let into the country. However I did look behind me as I went though to see the mass of people queuing, and this leads me to a nasty comment about US Immigration.
WHY CAN’T YOU HAVE MORE AGENTS DOING US IMMIGRATION FOR FOREIGN NATIONALS? There was about 2 plane-loads of people there and all the switchbacks were jam packed solid.
Or if any DHS person is reading this: You’re charging $14 for per head for an ESTA into the United States of America. Kindly put that money to good use and GET MORE IMMIGRATION AGENTS!!!!
Or in simpler language – SORT IT!
With that rant over, it was time to head to the luggage belt where my main rucksack was just completing it’s first or second trip on the belt, so it was picked up, and after a few minutes the buzzer sounded on belt 9A indicating that the ski bag was on the way.
After another grilling at Customs (as I dare to continue my education to the America’s about why chocolate doesn’t have to taste like wax), I was free to enter the United States.
20 minutes from door to door. For the USA – that’s nigh on amazing going by recent experiences. I was banking on a full hour or so.
Alas, I needed to get to the Hyatt Regency, and of course – I didn’t have a Taxi driver who didn’t know where he was going, so I had to guide him in. And pay for the privilege of course.
Part III – Hyatt Regency O’Hare
Hotel: Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Rosemont.
Rate paid: $119++
Yes, I walk outside. I don’t take cabs everywhere…
Yes, I have my reasons for being here. The fact this hotel is one of my preferred ones in the USA is besides the point really. But for those who haven’t been here, I’ll recycle through the points again.
My luggage was taken from me and I was invited to check in. Initially I couldn’t at the Kiosk, but a lovely agent released one of my preferred rooms, and reminded me of my benefits (Free Internet and late checkout) and I went upstairs to crash and decompress for a bit with my luggage following behind me.
A reason why I love this hotel is that you can request balcony rooms. For smokers, this is great. But I don’t smoke… so why would I want a room like this? The Hyatt is on the approach to O’Hare, and gives a very nice spotting area to watch planes in the comfort of your own hotel room…
The hotel itself very nicely appointed with a large atrium area a reasonable bar and restaurant, and just lots of nice artistic touches.
Moving onto the room, it’s a classic Hyatt room, which is spacious, full of Portcullo smellies (I think I can go on record to say I actually like the white ginger stuff they have), and the bed… Oh if I had the money to have a Hyatt bed…
The staff as usual were excellent during the stay – and some of the ones who I had seen before welcoming me, and their convention services staff were their excellent selves.
Additionally, staying 5 nights here does have a very useful purpose – it qualifies me for an extra 10,000 Hyatt points. Which could be a useful later trip (but that’s besides the point for now)…
Right – enough of this flying malarkey for a bit. Time for something completely different – and it involves water.
One Time Exception – The Chicago Architecture Foundation Boat Tour.
Price paid: $32
- Set 1 – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…ur-1-of-3.html
- Set 2 – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…ur-2-of-3.html
- Set 3 – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/201…ur-3-of-3.html
Call me a romanticist, but I’ve always loved the skyline and buildings of Chicago, with the great amounts of variation of design. And I thought it was high time I actually went on the water.
It’ll also be the first time I’ve actually managed to get on the water in Chicago too. Not bad after… what? 9th visit to the place? (11 if I included the “Just Passing” trips).
Chicago’s First Lady
I made my way down from O’Hare on the L, and walked from Clark and Lake to the boarding area, and directly to the boat after paying the $32, and being a photography geek that I am – I took the top deck in the centre, sat down and just spent the time watching, listening and clicking.
See for yourself
Trump and Wrigley Buildings
United shareholders should know this building…
Those bridges are *low*
Towards the river mouth
The Wills Building
The commentary was excellent with explanations of the designs of the buildings, the architecture styles and the history of Chicago, with the 90 minutes flying by.
Overall: You don’t have to be an architecture buff to enjoy this cruise, and if you’ve ever been to Chicago and looked at the Skyscrapers and buildings in the city/Loop area in wonder, for $32, this cruise comes highly recommended. Just make sure you go when the Chicago river isn’t iced over….
We now return you to your usual programming of inane babble of sitting in seats and moaning.
Back to the Bunny
Yes, I got out of bed late – it had been one hell of a busy weekend (and disastrous in other ways too – with printers dieing and cameras following right behind them – but that’s besides the point).
Once again, all my trash was packed and I went to check out. After given my receipt, I found there was a shuttle bus about to leave (which was jumped on).
After going to the other Hyatt in the O’Hare area to drop off a passenger, we drove to O’Hare were my luggage was unloaded and I made my way in and to Premium Check in to have a discussion with Mr Chicken (The Check in Machine). A quick look and my original assignment of 22F had been blown out of the water… but instead upgraded with one of the best exit rows in the United fleet – Row 16, Seat F.
Now that’s what you call an upgrade! Heck, whilst service may be crap, it’s practically infinite legroom.
After dumping and tagging my luggage it it was off to security and it was straight through. Alas, my flight was going to leave from back end of nowhere – C25.
Through the brainwashing tunnel in B-C concourses
Heading to C25
As time was running short – I couldn’t be bothered to head to the lounge, so it was straight to the gate with about 10 minutes left before boarding.
Judging by the queues, I thought I stood a chance of a bump, but alas, no one was biting. Oh well. 16F is pretty hard to turn down, so I joined the line with the gate lice when boarding was called, watching all the Zone 4’s getting turned away from boarding
Soon enough, Star Golds were called to board, and after a missy wanted to try and take two mini rollaboards on a plane, I negotiated around her and made my way aboard.
UA547 Chicago O’Hare International – Las Vegas McCarran International
United Airlines, Boeing 757-200, Seat 16F, Economy Plus
1514 Miles flown, 1514 Miles Earned
Channel 9: On.
I was one of the first Y class victims to arrive, and found to my delight that I had the perfect exit row seat with an acre of space in it. Which is very nice. As the plane loaded up slowly, seats started filling until push back where the seat in the middle was taken.
A good sign on a 757…
… and legroom to boot.
The fight attendants did their check that everyone was ok to do the safety tasks in an emergency, and everyone was nodding away (and very few verbal yes’s sadly). However, I really don’t think the family in-front didn’t actually understand what the flight attendants were saying (or pointing at come to that).
The Merger video appeared with Jeff again (without Rhapsody playing in the background) and then the usual video played. A slow taxi around O’Hare due to the weight of traffic (15 minutes or so), but soon enough the plane turned onto runway 28 and the P&W; engines roared into life, taking a full load into the sky.
The flight was pretty much light chop all the way, with a drinks service arriving 50 minutes into the air. But that’s not the worst part as some idiot decided it would be fun to self upgrade himself into E+ about 20 minutes into the air
Of course, did the flight attendants protect E+ at all? Surprisingly no. Very disappointing. Naturally I made sure I had to step out a fair bit on him and land my size 10’s on his feet. Oh… and his sales pitch for Sear’s Mytag/Whirlpool Black Friday plan didn’t make any sense to me… But what do I know about selling stuff? I’m just a simple Systems Administrator/Alternative Photographer…
But I’m not a bitter vindictive person at all . Beside, I had a few umm… Alternative Picture sets to process up. So what if they’re of an… alternative nature
Anyhoo… almost an hour in the flight attendants finally got around to serving drinks – and I’m sorry, that is horrendously slow to get to Row 16 on a daytime flight even with chop. I partook in a coffee which was lukewarm. Not good, but drinkable – which helps I suppose. There was also a snackbox/fresh breakfast snacks service that I also failed to partake in.
Funny how “Coffee and Coke” turns into just a coffee…
As we went over the various ATC centres, the turbulence was all over the shop, with a few airpockets to boot (causing a few interesting drops making the crowd go woo, and me grabbing the side of a seat) – which made the flight interesting -if not smooth at all – in-fact more of a moderate turbulence than anything.
Eventually the flight begun to smooth out – but by the time cloud cleared there was nothing but red desert with an hour to go… before it went choppy again and clear.
In fact chop and clear seemed to be the message of the day. With Channel 9 on, at least I could guess which times were reasonable to go to the little room when needed.
Over Las Vegas bay…
The Strip not too far away
Soon enough we begun our decent, and landed at Las Vegas, and taxing to the D gates where we were released
Overall – Whilst the service was sluggish and incomplete, it was better than nothing. The E+ gift was a nice present from United was very welcome, however I’d wish they would protect the product better…
Viva Las Vegas!
Arriving into Vegas means hiking across from the D gates, catching the little train, finally getting to the luggage, and then deciding to get the cab. As I was going to deprive myself of internet for a bit, I took the opportunity to load up my email and any extras I need for the next few days, and then went to queue and get fleeced for a taxi to the hotel
The Flamingo, Las Vegas (Harrahs)
Price paid: $39++ ($43 or so ~ £28.80 – Prepaid rate).
So I’ve gone slightly down market from last time, but I’m being cheap (hey, a voucher her or there never hurts to help things along), so it’s off to the Flamingo this time (it was a choice of the class that is “Hooters”, and The Excalibur was shoved aside mainly due to the exuberant “Resort Fees” that Vegas Hotels love to charge (and would had worked out the same prices as The Flamingo – rather sad really).
And boy… talk about going downhill. No bellhops to tote the luggage around for me meant that I had to drag the lot everywhere with me. Considering I tote a not inconsiderable 52kg in checked luggage and god knows how much in carry on, you can tell I was getting a little fraught. Especially with the mile long queue to check in.
Thankfully, I was seen to relatively quickly, and given a hotel room near a lift – so when I checked out I wouldn’t have to hike far. No card imprint was taken as payment was already taken.
The Flamingo’s main industry…
After getting to my room – a very nice size, comfy sofa and soft bed – I decompressed and relaxed for a bit before heading off into the bright lights and sun of Vegas.
Do we do a One Time Exception here? Oh why not.
Las Vegas One Time Exception – The Freemont Street Experience
Free (+$7 for a 24 hour bus ticket to get there from the Strip and what ever you want to tip the locals)
Some people know how to make an entrance…
Whilst we can all marvel at the wonders that is the Strip, I’ve decided to head north for this one (as I ran out of time to go up the Stratosphere on this trip… or as the bus driver said, the one place where you can eat dinner and then throw it up in the same place…) so instead I’ve headed to the older part of Vegas – Freemont street.
Redeveloped from the days of “Diamonds are Forever”, It’s a pedestrian area with the older Las Vegas
Austin and his Vegas Friends
Again, it’s nice to walk around during the day as it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of the Strip, and there are bargains to be had like the $1.99 Shrimp Cocktails at The Golden Gate Casino.
What else is there to say about Vegas.
Ah yes, it can can be summed up in one image which you’ll find at the D Gates at LAS…
Guess you’ll have to head over to my Photoblog to find out what I did
Now, onto the the “creative routings” section of this trip to help with the re-qualification run. Ready? Lets get back to LAS first.
Part VI- The Mileage Run – The creative way to Denver.
After checking out using the TV (what a novel experience), I made my way with my trash downstairs and headed for the taxi queue, and was offered a shuttle just was about to depart for the airport. Rather than pay $20 again, this was a more palatable $6.50 (+$2 tip… and a very interesting half-dollar coin). After a short wait we left and took the slow way to the airport via the back roads.
After lugging the stuff over to check in, I was checked in for all my flights, with upgrades holding. I cheekily asked if there anything that could be done with the DEN-LHR leg, and a bit of tapping later, I got 33K assigned – which is an exit row seat. It never hurts to ask does it?
After clearing the laughable thing that is premium security, I was randomly selected by the scanner for a hand wipe-down. Without a new pad. And I continually asked for a new pad that the TSA agent wasn’t listening to.
Oh dear. NOT GOOD. If you are selected for one of these scans, it is a requirement for an agent to use a new pad if requested. Only halfway after did the agent listen.
And the major she said Oops.
And you wonder why I have near enough ZERO confidence in America’s finest screeners. Eventually she sheepishly apologised after declaring I was clean, and promised to listen more closely to people in the future. Sadly however, I doubt this will happen.
After that disappointment, it was time to head back to the D Gate annex, and to the Continental Presidents Club Lounge. After going up in the scary creaking lift I was welcomed in and as I was still in Vegas, made my way to the bar for the first Vodka and Orange of the day.
Continental Presidents Club
Vodka’s sunk: 1
Nutella: Tastes the same as it does anywhere round the world…
With some pre-packed bagels too. And Nutella. Breakfast of Champions (or as good as it will get in CO Lounges)!
It was useful just to relax there, update my mail and check everything before the madness that is a West Coast Mileage Run begins. It’s a reasonable little club, with nice views over the tarmac, and a seemingly endless supplies of bloody mary’s being made.
However time was moving on, and so I thanked the lounge dragon, and proceeded to the 50’s, passing row after row of slot machines, and to Gate 54 where the flight was being prepped for departure.
My boarding pass was scanned, and I was allowed aboard.
UA0289 Las Vegas International – Los Angeles International
United Airlines, Airbus A320, Seat 1D, Domestic First Class (NF)
236 Miles flown, 600 Miles Earned
Channel 9: Off
I was welcomed aboard and after a few minutes, drinks were offered. Having a little bit of a cold gave me an excuse for an orange juice.
Legroom was a bit tight in seat 1D, but wide at least.
The plane unexpectedly filled out, and we pushed back on schedule, and took off into the Nevada skies, climbing above the strip with it sprawled out to the right hand side.
Once we started climbing, the crew informed people to have their drinks choice ready when the crew came to them “to expedite service on this short flight”
Well at least they could be bothered to do a drinks service.
After a few minutes, and the plane settled down – it was time for 1D to have his drink. Keeping in the theme of the day, it was of course an other Vodka and Orange.
And later on during the flight, another
There were snacks from a snack basket – Sun chips, peanuts, etc – I went for the premium Sun Chips as a snack.
Final approach into LA
However, it was a short flight, so service was cleared down and the cabin secured, and we begun the slow descend into LA.
After a landing and a short taxi, we were at the gate – and in time for my connecting flight. I bidded the crew thanks, and left the plane.
Overall: There’s not a lot that can be done in 45 minutes. Courteous and prompt service is the name of the game – at it was delivered. Not bad at all.
By the time I was off the plane, there was near enough 10 minutes left till boarding begun of the next flight – hardly worth wandering to the RCC. Instead, I camped near the gate and beeped my boarding pass through when invited to board, boarding my second A320 of the day
Waiting to board…
UA808 Los Angeles International – San Francisco International
United Airlines, Airbus A320, Seat 1A, Domestic First Class (NF)
337 Miles flown, 600 Miles Earned,
Channel 9: On
Again, I was welcomed aboard, and took my place on this differently configured A320 with a cut out for feet. It’s amazing what a little cutout can do to leg room…
F was full again, and being in 1A I was offered drinks first. At this time I examined a few pictures and realised that there was another minor fault in the camera, so a bit of air and we were ready to rock again
Shortly after Jeff’s smiling face gazed down upon us, and the plane taxied and rocketed away.
We were advised that the service would be an hour long and that Channel 9 was on.
Service commenced, and again, I’m clocking up the Vodka’s here
Again, the snack basket came around, and I had some reasonable chocolates and Sunchips
For most of the journey, we hugged the west coast, with the cabin cleared down and soon enough the plane landing at San Francisco
Hugging the coast
Coming into SFO
Soon enough, we docked at San Francisco where I thanked the crew, and disembarked… off to hunt down an RCC…
Overall: Again, a 1 hour service, but a few local touches were nice. Again, good work United…
Part VII – An RCC, And a SFO-DEN Adventure.
As I had more than 10 minutes between connections, I decided to take advantage of the Domestic RCC
United Red Carpet Club,
Waiting to get in…
After getting in, I found a nice window seat, and powered on the laptop still to find paid Wifi. Small matter. I just charged my laptop for a bit and did a few bits of picture sorting.
It was typical RCC food… mixed snacks and cruets with ranch dressing.
Again, I only partook of a coke to keep myself going and just sat back in comfort for a bit. Soon enough, it was time to head off back to the gate, and after stopping off at the Ghirardelli chocolate shop, I saw we were about to board. Therefore for the final time this trip, I stepped up to the red carpet and boarded the plane
UA318 San Francisco International – Denver International
United Airlines, Airbus A319, Seat 1A, Domestic First Class (NF)
967 Miles flown, 967 Miles Earned
Channel 9: On
First on the plane and I was pretty much on a good start with the crew as the purser was making coffee and touching trolley… Very Pam Ann. To which I got a laugh. Instantly I knew this had the makings of a good flight.
Waiting for boarding to complete
Again F was full, as was the rest of the plane as it took its time loading. Eventually Jeff’s smiling face beamed down from us on high, and we begun our taxi. With Channel 9 on, I was listening for our flight number, and the words “Flow control to Denver Area… 1 hour stop”
Gulp. Although I would had loved the overnight stop, I really didn’t fancy working through the madness of what would had happened.
Soon after the engines spooled down, and the flight attendants were picking up the phone, and finally the captain explained what was going on.
He also said he was going to open the cockpit door for those who want to ask questions. How could I refuse a look out of the window next to a main runway? Doesn’t happen every day y’know.
So I went and paid my respects to the captain, and thanked him.
And ended up in the left hand seat. With a picture that has been hidden from the world in case I smash any more lenses.
After thanking the captain, I was asked if I wanted a drink. Knowing that I was on the ground I asked for a Orange Juice, and idly said maybe a bit stronger. The flight attendant knew what I was thinking and asked what spirit to mix with it.
So yes, yet another vodka and orange. I’m making one heck of a collection of them at the moment…
As the drinks service was completed on the ground we were given clearance to proceed – so what was a possible 1 hour stop turned into 20 minutes. Another 5 minutes to re-secure the cabin, and the A320 turned to the runway, and off we went into evening Pacific sun, climbing out, with the City of San Francisco to the left of me.
San Francisco, the Bay area. Look for the bridges!
Soon enough the purser came around again, asking if we would be joining in for a Turkey sandwich. In the interests of research – and knowing the possible pain to come on the next flight, I accepted.
So here’s the tray – served with a salad and another pack of SunChips.
It looked ok, but there was something up the bread that made it hard to cut through. The salad was fresh, and the purser pre-punched a hole in the dressing to “prevent it exploding”.
Punched for your safety
Some simple steps, but again – appreciated.
The service was cleared down, and more drinks were offered, and during this period a cart was put across the forward galley entrance to allow a service to be carried out for the front office.
However, there was also a milk and Cookie service. Which was a very nice touch.
United made me booking… and I ated it.
Eventually, dusk fell and the plane begun the descent into Denver.
Denver International from above
Of course I was listening into Channel 9 and was listening as we descended. Then the magic words were uttered – “UA318, Go-Around, Go-Around, 9000ft”.
And boy those engines roared as we climbed back up. Once we claimed a bit, the captain came on the tannoy and told us what happened, and that we were to land on a different runway.
The second time, we made it on the ground safely and taxied to the B concourse at Denver, only 20 minutes late.
I thanked the purser, and asked her to thank the captain for me as I wasn’t sure what state the London flight would be in and the cockpit door was shut still.
Overall: A stellar performance in terms of customer service, safety and communication. When United wants to shine, it really does. But please… sort out those Turkey sandwiches…
But now the premium experience is over, and it’s time to go back to my normal roots, and to economy. Will I survive?
Part VIII Denver, and New UA777 and Home.
Landing at Denver B Concourse it was a matter of finding where the next flight was going from – which was basically a gate and a bit over to the right. Whilst good in theory, with a 10 minute before boarding call, I couldn’t be bothered to go to the RCC – it was easier to queue for the flight.
Waiting for the long journey
Premium boarding commenced with F and C, then Star Golds were invited to board. I took this opportunity to board the aircraft.
UA948 Denver International Airport – London Heathrow Airport Terminal 1
United Airlines, Boeing 777-200, New Configuration, Seat 33K, Economy Class
4670 Miles flown, 4670 Miles Earned
So news international configuration eh? What the heck is this all about? It seems United is finally getting around to updating some of the 777’s (and lets face it – some of them are getting very ratty – the joy of being the first delivered customer), so United have been beavering away and updating the configuration of the aircraft.
As we’re down the back, we’ll review the back. Most importantly, gone is the 2 x 5 x 2, and we welcome a more “standard” configuration of 3 x 3 x 3 across (well, we should be grateful they didn’t decide to implement 3 x 4 x 3 like some airlines).
It also seems United is trying to cram more people in with slimline seating, and a new AVOD system.
And the first impressions of the seat… are awful. Ok – I have an emergency slide for a friend, but the padding on the seat is very minimal. And on a long flight with a dicky back, this could prove… difficult.
Anyway, the plane boarded and I was questioned on my willingness to perform emergency exit duties – which of course I agreed to. After a while, the plane had filled, and we weren’t moving. It turns out we had a maintenance issue which needed to be addressed and filled with paperwork. Which was enough to keep us on the ground for another hour or so. And be even more uncomfortable in the seat.
The View into Economy Plus
Eventually we pushed back and were under way, with a manual safety demo and no Jeff smiling upon us. A short taxi, and the engines spooled up for the long 8 hour trip to Heathrow.
Service took quite a while to kick off – again, slow and sluggish due to the conditions above Denver, but it seems to be that this were an inbound crew who really didn’t want to be aboard this evening.
However, before we go onto the joke that is an economy class meal, lets look at the New IFE system!
Well it’s shiny. Almost like the 767-300ER’s (so we’ll say for sake of argument it’s a Pansonic EX2 system).
And errm. What’s this? PAID FOR IFE??? ON A LONG HAUL FLIGHT?
You are joking me aren’t you?
The content itself is split into the two sections – paid and unpaid – the unpaid section being the same content as in United Economy, where as the Paid section is akin to what is shown in United International Business/United International First Class.
And considering I’ve watched what I wanted to watch, there is only one real soultion isn’t there?
Well it’s not family guy for once, It’s Dilbert! -the GhettoIFE unit here is resting on top of the IFE unit
Lets now talk about the food service which was… late. As usual, it was a tray meal, with a choice of chicken or pasta. The chicken was a odd affair, with a chicken breast, carrots, peas and something else that was hard to identify.
Whilst not inedible, it did strain the fork a bit. The salad was fresh as usual, and shock and horror – had something other than lettuce on it. That’s a first for United. However, they do insist on a cookie sort of thing for desert. Still disappointing…
Service was cleared down relatively quickly whilst the cabin was kept in darkness, and that was the last I saw of the flight attendants most of the night – other than them heading down to the crew rest. Myself, I just drifted in and out of sleep.
As morning broke and the day grew older, the crew started wandering around again (without glasses of water, but still wandering), and about an hour fifteen from London it would be good to do a breakfast service. This being United, I knew exactly what to expect and wasn’t disappointed.
The pastry wasn’t great, and if I was blunt, I went nowhere near the yoghurt. The diet coke perked me up a bit and cured a bit of the dehydration.
Again the crew suddenly found they were beginning the decent, and rushed to clear down the plane and secure it for landing. Of course, being late meant being stacked, so we joined the Ockham stack for a few turns, and then Channel 9 suddenly came on.
Stuck in the stack
We proceeded to fly over Central London, before turning and lining up for Heathrow and touching down after the 8 hour journey, pealing off near T3, and taking our time back to the T1 dock where the jetbridge was attached, and we were allowed to disembark.
Nearing the ground
Overall: Disappointing, with a few minor highlights to the end. The term “could had done better” applies to the crew here. The new cabin configuration isn’t that hot, and if I was bluntly honest, I think there are some poor decisions with the new seats – least of all the padding in them is near enough nothing. Suffice to say I preferred the old configuration 777’s – even in Row 42.
Of course, we docked at the back end of T1, so it was a long hike to Europier and then to UK immigration where for once IRIS was open! A gaze into the mirrors, and I was let back into the United Kingdom. Admittedly walking at this point wasn’t that bad as my back was hurting from that UA seat…
Going down to luggage reclaim, bags had started going around the belt, and of course the Heathrow un-loaders weren’t paying attention to any baggage tags, so my bags came out midway of the unload process. Loading everything up, it was through customs, pass the Heathrow Express ticket seller, and finally into T1 arrivals, for the long push back to the Central Bus Station.
Back to the flat
National Express 210 London Heathrow – Birmingham Coach Station
Thankfully I selected the right time for the bus and only had a 20 minute wait for it. Whilst there’s not much to talk about the bus journey (a quick zip along the M40, a divert into Birmingham Airport and finally Digbeth), sitting in the disabled seats I sadly found more legroom than there was in United Domestic First in Row 1….
Eventually, the coach arrived at Digbeth, and I caught a cab, and let myself into the flat, bringing the end of this adventure.
Once again, the end of a journey, and back at the flat
In Closing Up….
I said earlier that United were “Distinctly Average” in business class. And whilst there were flashes of good service (especially in the first class), there appears to be the usual lack of caring down the back.
The staff were mostly friendly along the way, and have improved a fair notch – maybe Jeff’s smiling face is working on them day by day. I’ve got to say that people have been a lot friendlier this trip than any other United run I’ve done before.
But some little things just made this trip bearable. The Vodkas helped, but I’m seriously unsure about the refurbishment of the 777’s. The seating isn’t great and there is next to no padding on them. The A320 First seats were acceptable as recliners, and the International Business seat is an excellent seat.
So, apart from the glaring 777-200, the hard product was fine. However, the soft product needs to be tightened up quickly – as well dare I say the timings of the product need to be improved too. Starting a service at T – 1:15 to landing is quick to get everyone fed, and tided down again ready for landing. And that’s probably the most disappointing thing – the timing of the service.
US Security and Immigration also need a shakeup. The queues are getting longer, the questioning is taking longer and it takes forever to do anything. A case of more people needed, and people who actually listen.
Oh bother. 12277 miles down, and 9000 miles short. I guess I should had focused on earning miles rather than spending them earlier this year.
No matter. Coming early next year and just time time for *G re-qualification is what promises to be a pain filled epic (and trust me, from the amount I’ve fun I’ve had with misconnecting flights with it already, it’s promising to be a corker): Blame Canada! It’s only a mileage run anyway! (with a motley collection of Star Alliance carriers)
Until then – safe travels!
Comments and Thoughts welcome