Hi and welcome to my first around the world report. This will mark the first time that I will fly an Europe-Asia trip segment and I look forward to the experience with TK. The aviation geek in me is happy, but my body will not appreciate all these time zone changes and jet lag.
Before I begin this report, I have to say that this trip started in an untimely manner. I flew one day after the horrible Paris attacks and there were uncertainties about traveling to Europe. I join the rest of the world in support of the people in Paris with my thoughts and prayers, and sincerely hope that all members of this community who reside there are all right. Some people have expressed concerns about me taking a trip to Europe right after this event but I have replied that I will be more vigilant and exercise caution, but not afraid to go. I personally think that if we start to live in fear and avoid doing the things that we normally do, we give terrorists the upper hand and they have already won.
I was prepared for longer checks at the airports and arrived 3 hrs. before my flight. Surprisingly, security went smoothly at both SFO and LHR. In addition, I did not notice any signficant difference in the presence of security staff when I connected through LHR.
My journey began when I was dropped off at the UA Premier counter for check-in. I was matched to Star Alliance Gold (Platinum) through CM's ConnectMiles only a few weeks ago so this elite perk came in very handy. I also brought a free pass to the UA club courtesy of my credit card just in case but in the end this was not needed.
I noticed that there was a small room dedicated to Global Service members next to the TSA Pre-Clear line. I guess UA is trying to catch up to AA in that regards by offering a dedicated area for its top customers. The Premier check-in area was almost empty and I was helped by a smiling UA team leader. When I handed her my documents she asked for my visa to Portugal. I advised her that U.S. citizen staying for less than x amount of time do not need a visa and she acknowledged her oversight. She then issued my boarding passes and informed me about the UA club locations.
UA Premier check-in area.
I went through the Premier line at security but eventually the line merged with the other passengers so that was not so premium after all. Thankfully a new check point opened and things were speedier. After security, I was in an area of disarray with construction going on all around. I guess this part of T3 is going through a make over.
Since I had plenty of time, I decided to go to both UA Clubs. I started with the closest to me which is the domestic one.
It's an American football display this time. Unfortunately I don't share the excitement of this latest exhibition but I am sure others would find it exciting. One man's garbage is another one's treasure I suppose.
UA Club T3
I have always found this lounge to have more personality than the sterile one at the International site. Perhaps it is the nautical theme from a bygone time or the openness to the tarmac, but I enjoy this lounge better than the one at the Intl. terminal.
I've read about the enhancements in catering at the UA lounges, and I am happy to report that although this is by no means exemplary, it constitutes a step in the right direction. The rabbit diet consisting of carrot sticks is a thing of the past now, replaced by healthy salads, a hot soup, and better selection of appetizers and sweets. The famous salami that I keep hearing about is still elusive, but I was satisfied with the new selections.
One thing that I like about this UA Club is that there are bowls and metal cutlery, unlike the Admirals Club which uses plastic utensils with a silver finish and disposable bowls.
Leaving the lounge on my way to the intl. terminal.
UA Club Intl. terminal.
There was a line outside the door by the way I arrived at this lounge and the two agents working at the entrance were busy. As I expected, it was crowded but not to full capacity. Same offerings as the domestic club but I still preferred the domestic one as it felt more relaxing.
Interior of the lounge. Personally I feel that UA should get rid of these tacky big flowers at the entrance. It kind of makes me of like Alice in Wonderland.
Not a lot of great reading materials. At least I find that UA's Rhapsody magazine is somewhat more engaging than AA's version of its premium cabin.
View is not the best.
After spending sufficient time here I went to the gate. It was very crowded as expected but the agent working there had a very professional attitude and even smiled when I inquired about the possibility of getting a better seat. Unfortunately the flight was horribly full.
Boarding started with the protocol for the different priority passengers. I was glad that I had Star Alliance Gold printed on my boarding pass and was one of the first to seat all the way in the back. It sounds like such a big privilege to sit all the way in the back. :P
The crew today was LHR based and service was very good for the most part. Two FA's positioned at the door welcomed me onboard with a smile which was reassuring.
My seat. Yes, the aisle one on the row before the last one.
The power charger was located under the seat, contrary to AA's which is in front by the screen. Needless to say, the location of it was a pain in the rear. Imagine if you are in the middle seat and wanted to charge your electronics.
IFE was fine with an assortment of movies, but I think AA had a bit more selections. The reading light and FA call buttons were located under the screen only.
Once everyone boarded and after take off, the meal service started with drinks and a package of cheese with crackers.
Dinner followed with another round of drinks. Here is my Hindu meal which was tasty. The salad and dessert were disappointing, but in the end I was offered the regular ice cream along with the other passengers.
Since I ordered a special meal I was served first before the cart with the regular meals. I was finished before the cart made it to the second cabin so I took my tray to the galley and a smiling FA took it from me. By the time the meal cart reached my row, I was offered a choice between chicken or pasta. Since I was curious about the regular meal, I chose the chicken and it had a much better updated salad with some sort of grains which kind of reminds me of AF meals in Y on long hauls. The chicken was served with couscous which was good.
After the trays were cleared, a FA went around distributing individual bottles of water.
Dessert followed and it was salted caramel gelato. Wonderful dessert for Y cabin.
After the meal service I randomly saw some movies and surfed through the different programs. Back in the galley bottles of water, juice and crackers with cheese were set up for passengers to take.
By the time the second meal service started, I was once again offered a hot Hindu meal which this time was a bit spicy.
I did not finish the meal and took the tray to the galley on my way to the WC. This time another FA was there and when I inquired if I can leave the tray, she said that it would be nice if I could hold on to it since they were still serving other passengers. She was putting the last touches to the meal cart that was going to be taken to the other side so I guess she was busy, but her tone was a bit dismissive which was a stark contrast from returning the tray on the first meal service. Up until now, the FA's were all very professional and even smiling in their interactions with customers, but I guess there is a rotten apple in the basket from time to time. She could have just told me to place the tray in the galley counter to take care of it later if she didn't want to deal with it.
Once again, I asked one of the FA's if it was possible to try a regular meal if there were any extras. She gladly brought me a tray with pancakes since that was the only option left. I was surprised that UA served a hot meal for breakfast and was just expecting a croissant with a yogurt or fruit. A nice improvement indeed.
We landed in LHR earlier at 1331 which gave me a couple of extra minutes to visit the UA and SQ lounges.
United Club - International
San Francisco - SFO
London - LHR
Even thought it was not trend setting, I was very satisfied with the improvements that UA has implemented for its lounges and particularly onboard long haul Y flights. Compared to what they used to serve the difference was drastic, although there is always room for improvements. I think it seems stingy to announce all these improvements and then try to charge passengers with Buy on Board after the meal service.
I applaud UA for not going to the 3-4-3 cabin configuration in Y on the 777's. The seats were well padded and did their job. The location of the power charger is really a pain to reach and this should be modified to be more user friendly. Also, I think that some controls by the arm rest would be more familiar to some passengers.
With the exception of one crew member, the rest were top notch and very professional. It's amazing how a negative experience can have a more lasting effect than the positive ones.
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