We arrived on a rainy day in MEX and after exiting Customs, a private driver drove us to the Hampton Inn Centro Historico - a great property that I always enjoy returning to. What's not to like when you have a central location, free buffet breakfast daily and washing/drying without the need for coins or tokens?
The following days were packed with sightseeing to the Pyramids and around the city. On one of those days I stayed behind exploring by myself while the rest of the party went to Taxco and Cuernavaca. MEX is such a huge city that merits time in order to uncover its charms. Yes, there's pollution, crowds, noise and crime, but at the same time there is beauty and kindness underneath all that. After all, there are two sides to every coin. We need to see the negative along with the positive in order to appreciate something as a whole.
The bonus will be posted at the end for those who are interested and I will start with the inflight experience which is the main pièce de résistance for all FR's.
I was looking forward to try the new Premium North American catering that UA promised and on their website it is stated that flights that last between 4-5:19 hrs between 0500-2000 receive a full meal service with 3 choices for main meal. The sample menu listed a salad with oranges, strawberries and feta cheese along with an update main dish like lobster macaroni and cheese (yes, I had to read that again - LOBSTER) and some type of fruit sorbet as dessert which sounded promising. In reality the catering on my flight turned out to be a completely different story. :(
On my last day our driver dropped us at the airport on a quiet and uncongested Sunday morning. It's rare to see the freeways empty in this city so it felt almost surreal. UA along with most other airlines with the exception of AM and partners, uses the old T1, which is really showing its age with its low ceilings and dark interior. At the UA check-in counters, there was already a line but we passed by it on our way to the empty Premium area. An agent with her full name displayed on her tag greeted us and issued our boarding passes. She also requested a wheelchair for a person in our party and we made our way to security. Upon our arrival, I noticed an AMEX Centurion lounge next to security and at the priority line, we were told that only 1 companion was allowed per wheelchair, so I moved to the regular line which was short anyways. I was required to empty my pockets and take off my belt, but not my shoes. I was relieved to see that the body scanners were not the x-ray type so popular in the U.S., which seem invasive and I worry about the cumulative effects of radiation in the body.
Once on the other side we passed through the Duty Free mall and took the elevator to the UA Club. My mom and sister stayed there until the wheelchair assistant returned at 1250. The UA Club had two areas on either side of the reception counter. We chose the left one which is a bit more intimate and had sort of view of the tarmac.
WC's on the right side of the desk through a small hall.
The left side lounge which was smaller and more intimate. Upon entering, there is a storage area to the right side.
Then a corridor with seats.
View of the tarmac (or what little of it you can see) with an IB A340 bound to MAD later on.
And a seating area with TV at the end.
I decided to explore the other side to see what I have missed.
The right side was more spacious with some individual desks and a large open seating area, a bar towards the back and a dining area at the end.
I then returned to the left lounge and a few more people arrived by then.
These guys were getting really comfortable and obviously did not pay attention to the sign asking people not to put their feet up on the furniture.
An attendant started to retire the breakfast options and eventually brought the lunch items (not all at once).
At 1245, I decided to leave the lounge and go to the AV one located by gate 30. There was a good 10-15 min. walk to the gates in the 30's, which is all the way at the other end of the terminal after you pass through the Duty Free mall and a corridor.
This lounge is operated by Global Lounge Network and as such, I have read that the staff can not assist with any ticketing issues related to AV. I presented my UA boarding pass and the agent welcomed me to take the small elevator to the lower floor. The reception area is really small and when I arrived downstairs, I thought that I have ended up in a doctor's office on a busy day. The room is minimalist consisting of white walls and furniture, with a few red seats to break the antiseptic ambiance. I don't know how to describe my impression, but it felt that I walked into a set from the movie Clockwork Orange. It was certainly modern and contemporary compared to most other lounges that I have visited.
Right after you exit the elevator, you will find the WC's on the left and two desks with computers. The men's WC had paper on the floor and the waste bin for hand towels was full. In the lounge there is a communal table in an open room with seats and coaches. A buffet area is set against the wall and there are attendants available to clean and replenish items constantly.
There were two hot dishes along with salad, garnishes, and sweet baked goods. An attendant offered to prepare me a coffee or hot drink which was a nice gesture.
I did not stay long because I was getting claustrophobic and accomplished what I came here to see. Upon leaving and getting into the elevator, another attendant wished me a good trip with a smile. This lounge might not be big in size, but it certainly was in hospitality and service.
I made it to the gate at about 1320 and there was a 10 min. delay due to late inbound aircraft. The gate agents did a good job in keeping the boarding process orderly. I thought it was interesting that agents did not have access to the doors and had to call through an intercom in order to have the jetbridge opened.
We boarded a few minutes after the crew went onboard. The purser was checking the carts when we started boarding and pulled himself together to greet customers as they boarded.
After I took my seat and looked outside, I was surprised to see an AV 787 next to us. Unfortunately it was raining so I couldn't take good shots.
There was no pre-departure beverages offered on this flight due to the late arrival and the rush to get this plane on its way out. The purser took our meal orders and advised that there were only 2 choices - a chicken curry with green beans and mashed potatoes OR beef short ribs with sweet plantains and a starch items that I don't remember. He made sure to ask for a second choice in case the first one was not available. The passenger in 1E complained about a lack of a third choice and the purser advised him to contact UA and let Customer Service know about his disappointment. I believe he was expecting a vegetarian meal but on the MEX flights you can not even order special meals. The purser offered to bring him two salads and maybe check in the back for something suitable.
A few minutes later we taxied to the runway and I took a few more shots.
An AM Connect landing.
Interjet ready to take off.
It was finally our turn to lift off. AV was still parked at the gate.
Hasta luego DF.
During our ascend, the purser informed us that the FA's might have to be seated for the first hour due to expected turbulence. That never happened and he went into action as soon as we leveled off. He greeted me and my neighbor with a hi and asked for our drink choices and then when he went to my sister and mom across he addressed them by name - a bit inconsistent if you ask me.
I requested an orange juice with a splash of cranberry and he brought my drink with a small container of warm nuts with half cashews (whole ones would be better). He never asked whether I wanted ice or not with the drink and refill was never offered either.
Later he passed around with the hot towels. These were thick and more like what the old CO used to serve. An improvement for sure.
I chose the curry chicken for lunch and it was presented with a salad, dessert and hot pretzel roll already on the tray. No choice of dressings for the salad. I guess Mexico City is not part of the improved catering campaign, yet this is one of the largest cities in the world and a major financial hub in Latin America, not exactly a leisure destination. A quick visit to the suburb of Santa Fe will convince you.
The napkin had a hole to button it with your shirt. Another point in UA's favor.
Chocolate mousse cake.
Condiments and roll.
The meal tasted OK. The presentation was not exactly top notch and the purser made an effort to refill glasses with water but what about the other drinks?
I finished my meal with a cup of hot tea and read some magazines.
Later during the flight the purser asked passengers if they wanted something else to drink. I asked for water and after waiting for 5 min. I rang the call button to inquire about my water and when I told him that he forgot to bring it to me, he apologized and then asked if I wanted it with ice or not.
There were not that many announcements from the cockpit which is a recent trend that I have noticed flying with U.S. carriers. Perhaps it's me but I used to remember American pilots being more chatty. Personally I prefer less talk so this suited me very well.
Freshly baked Otis Spunkmeyer's chocolate chip cookies were offered from a tray righ before arrival. They would have been more presentable if they were served on individual small plates and offered with beverages.
Pretty soon we were getting ready to land in SFO and the views were great as always.
The Tres Amigos.
Looks like the Swiss have arrived.
A little guy next to us at the gate.
I consider MEX one of the most fascinating cities in the world full of extremes and contradictions. Despite the corruption and crime, which seems hard to overcome at times, I have always admired the resilience of its people to move ahead despite the obstacles. This is a place with major disparities and injustices, specially since its colonization. Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking things that one can see are the children asking for handout or performing tricks to get a few cents. I wish more places would follow the Nordic model of social welfare. Of course, those who make the most are prone to lose the most, but in the end that is a small price to pay for the benefit of society as a whole.
Vestiges from an indigenous past - Museo del Templo Mayor.
This was one of the main Aztec temples in the once magnificent Tenochtitlan. According to tradition, this is the spot where the vision of the eagle resting on top of a nopal cactus with a snake in its mouth took place.
Inside the museum.
The Eagle Warrior. AM's original inspiration for its logo.
Influences from the Old World.
Paris? Mais non!
A heavenly sight - Solar halo over the city.
Lunch at El Cardenal, one of my favorite restaurants in the D.F.
Molcajete - this refers to the Mexican version of the mortar and pestle, but at the restaurant it is an appetizer consisting of fresh slices of cheese and avocado in salsa verde and cilantro.
Heart of palm salad.
Cordero en estofado de Hoja Santa (ragoût of lamb) accompanied by rice.
The bread basket is always a delight with rolls that are crusty on the outside and soft inside. If I didn't know that I was in MEX, I could have sworn that I was in France.
Lunch at Hosteria Sto. Domingo.
Caldo de pollo with melted creamy cheese.
Chiles en Nogada (stuffed pepper with a picadillo - a mixture of ground meat with spices and fruits and served with a cream sauce made with walnuts and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds). It was served at room temperature.
Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso which contains works by the great muralists like Rivera, Orozco and others.
Franciscanos by Orozco.
Las aristócratas by Orozco.
La ley y la justicia by Orozco.
La libertad by Orozco.
Signs of the times.
United Airlines Red Carpet Club
Mexico City - MEX
San Francisco - SFO
In general this was a disappointing flight that was felt in different areas, not only catering. There was the flight delay to start with. We were supposed to leave at 1340 but the flight actually left at 1418, even though we made some time and arrived in SFO at 1633 instead of 1618 with only 15 min. behind schedule.
The catering was a big letdown. There was no updated menu and only two choices for main dish instead of the three promised on UA's website. In addition, the dessert consisted of a piece of chocolate mousse cake that was plainly served, without any adornments like whipped cream or pieces of fruit, which could have worked wonders with the presentation. The curry chicken tasted fine, but not having a choice of dressings for the salad and different types of bread is not very premium.
Service was inconsistent and the absence of pre-dept. drinks could be forgiven due to the time constraint, but forgetting to bring my beverage was a blunder that left a bad final impression.
In the end, United should not promise things that it can not deliver.
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