I flew into Puerto Rico for business arriving on UA 1996 at around midday from O'hare Airport on September 17. A colleague and I were to hold several recruitment events at the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras campus throughout the week. I vaguely remember hearing about Hurricane Maria via a work alert email warning about travel in the region. I really didn't think anything of it since I grew up in Hawaii (been through two hurricanes) and there were many false alarms.
As soon as I arrived, I got bad news from the faculty member we had been working. He told us that all classes were about to be cancelled which would effectively cancel our reason for being there. A co-worker and I started to look for flights out that Monday or Tuesday. One by one, seating on any flight out of SJU disappeared and soon, airlines started to cancel their flights after September 19. We started to get a little fearful thinking that we'd have to ride out the hurricane in Puerto Rico. However, after about three hours on the phone with a very talented company travel agent we managed to secure a seat out for my colleague on Monday September 18 and myself a seat out on September 19. One of the last United flights out of the region bound for the mainland US. It was a business class ticket and it cost roughly $2k which is crazy. It was going to be on 767-400 which has 2-1-2 lie flat seating.
Sunset from the Sheraton San Juan Hotel and Casino on September 18.
When Tuesday morning broke, it looked like another beautiful day in San Juan except that towards the east you could see these ominous dark gray clouds in the distance. The hotel staff has also started to secure the pool deck by removing objects that could become airborne.
I headed down to the lobby and asked the hotel what their plans were and they mentioned they were well prepared and would bring guests into the basement if it got bad. It helped also that the US National Guard were already there from the previous hurricane that grazed PR a few months ago. He also mentioned that they were fully booked for the night. As I was leaving a woman who I assumed was someone from the mainland was pleading with the hotel to give her a room and how she was willing to pay anything. I left and got into my Uber.
There was very little traffic in San Juan which was good since that meant people were getting off the streets. I saw many windows boarded up with plywood. I thought to myself, "PR will be fine they have concrete homes, in Hawaii all of our homes were wood".
I got dropped off at the airport expecting a zoo but it seemed pretty normal to me.
Inside the departure terminal things also seemed pretty calm.
I checked the United app to see where the inbound flight was and it was arriving 16 minutes late - check out Hurricane Maria!
It was then that I also noticed that the plane had been swapped out for a brand new 777-300ER with the new Polaris hard product! Fantastic! I think the reason for the swap was to get as many people out as possible. I quickly picked a new seat and was lucky to get 9A which had a larger foot well and more privacy. I was pretty excited as well since this would be my first time on the Polaris hard product.
Here is a view looking eastward from the terminal where the hurricane was coming from.
Here is my beautiful bird pulling up to the gate.
Boarding was a bit hectic, I think there was general anxiousness to get on the plane coupled with it was Puerto Rico so people didn't know when to board. Next to me were a couple that was supposed to leave Friday but rebooked onto this flight. On the other side was a first responder from DC who was anxious to get home after being in PR for a few weeks assisting with recovery efforts from the previous hurricane.
Entrance of the new 777-300ER
My seat for the next 3.5 hours.
Some people have commented it's a bit of a squeeze to get into the seats and I can see if you're a little bit bigger the difficulty in this. However, thankfully I was ok (at least for now). I really loved how private the seat felt when you were in the seat that was away from the aisle.
It was VERY blue as you can tell by these pictures. Although towards the sidewalls it was white which threw off the mood IMO. The first pic is a "couple's seat" with the partition raised.
Settling into my seat there was a storage area for headphones and a nice mirror.
Seat controls which I found easy to operate. (I also didn't see how you could nudge the recline wheel with your elbow as reported by other flyers.)
IFE and the tray table slid out from under it. It was a very nice sturdy tray table but it already appeared to be broken as it wouldn't lock when stored. On takeoff the whole tray table came sliding out at me.
A lovely view of the beautiful GE90-115B engine.
The walk up snack/bar area right in the entrance. For a short flight like this it was not stocked during the flight.
I hopped onto the United app again and took this screenshot.
We lined up and would soon be airborne, SJU looked like a ghost town with only 2-3 planes where there would normally be 2 or 3x as many.
Here is a video I took of our take off and climb out from SJU.
A few snaps of the lavatory, nothing special but I did noticed the Cowshed products.
Shortly after take off I got my beverage of choice and some warm nuts. I love the lamps and marble counter top on the Polaris hard product. I think it added some class to the seat.
My meal was up next, I opted for the salmon. It was surprisingly not too dry and hit the spot.
I put the seat into lie flat mode and was able to get a good 45 minutes of nap time before it was time to land. I found the seat comfortable and a big improvement over the previous seat. My only comment was the side of the seat closest to the window (where the controls were) were very hard and straight, it would be great if they could have maybe molded it more but I guess that where it would attach to another seat if you were in the middle of the aircraft. (#firstworldproblem)
A view of the new inflight map which I found to be a big improvement over the previous iteration. I was sad United didn't install any cameras on the plane though.
San Juan - SJU
Newark - EWR
Nice surprise to see the new 777-300ER instead of the 767-400 and get the new Polaris seat. Flight crew was fine, nothing overbearing, I think they were working hard because they didn't expect to be on this aircraft they told me. My heart goes out to the people of PR. I hope to be back soon!
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