It is said that "time flies when you are having fun". In my case I am subject to its relentless march without fun at all. Do I sound like a fatalist?
Hard to believe that it is November already. The cool autumnal air permeates the air and a tingling of excitement starts to build. You see, for yours truly the 11th month of the year usually heralds the anticipation of a trip after several months of careful planning. In this instance I will be making a journey to visit relatives in Hong Kong and get reacquainted with Singapore - a destination that I last visited more than two decades ago.
As an aviation geek, this journey also represents another milestone. I will be flying BR for the first time and for most of us the addition of a new airline to our inflight experience repertoire is always an exciting discovery. In addition I will be flying on SQ's A350 and BR's 787 which are recent additions to each respective fleet.
SFO - TPE on BR PEY - Boeing 777ER - YOU ARE HERE TPE - HKG on BR Y - Boeing 787 -CLICK HERE HKG - SIN on SQ Y - Airbus 350 - CLICK HERE SIN - HKG on SQ Y - Boeing 777-200 - coming up HKG - TPE on BR Y - Airbus 321 - coming up TPE - SFO on BR PEY - Boeing 777ER - coming up
Sometimes I'm surprised at myself to find out how frugal I can be when it comes to airport transportation. I don't mind spending on other things but when it comes to arriving at the airport I pay an extraordinary amount of time fussing over it. I live less than 10 min. from SFO and I have several choices to get there. On this trip I was traveling with family and I requested a wheelchair, so I decided to drop them off at the airport first and then I would take the public bus. Since California has been experiencing devastating fires lately and that has affected the air quality in the Bay area dramatically, the Samtrans bus system decided to make Friday a "free ride" day so I ended up riding the bus for free.
I checked the schedule carefully and with almost military precision I accomplished all this in less than 1 hour. I have Uber and Lyft apps but since I had plenty of time I decided to take this course of action for free. If I had taken either of these ride option it would have probably cost me USD 15-18.
Check in at the BR counter was surprisingly swift and efficient. More so considering that there were two flights departing to TPE with less than 30 min. apart. Then again, I was at the airport more than 4 hrs before the flight. The agent who helped me was pleasant but very strict with the carry on. My luggage was around 2 lbs over the limit and he insisted in checking my bag. I was told that I could rearrange the contents to meet the criteria but I didn't want to go through the trouble so I relented.
BR ticket counter
Flight on time
The agent checked the bags under my name and they were tagged with "PRIORITY" That did not help much because later on the locks were broken and my bags were not the first ones to arrive at HKG baggage claim. :(
Thankfully BR's boarding passes are not the generic white ones printed on supermarket receipts.
I mentioned to the BR agent that we have requested a wheelchair and he directed me to a desk by row 2. Apparently the wheelchair requests are handled by an outside party and we were advised to take a seat while the agent with the wheelchair was on his way. I mentioned to the coordinator that we wanted to arrive at the UA Club to "relax" a bit and he assured me that there was no problem. Our wait turned out to be 30-40 min. which was really unacceptable. During this time the coordinator was calling on the radio trying to locate his "missing" agent. I politely asked him for a number or name to file a complain and he provided me with a number to the manager.
So for those who might need to order this special service at SFO on an intl flight - beware!
UA CLUB @ INTL TERMINAL
One word - CATASTROPHIC!
At security our party was separated. It seems that they no longer allowed wheelchair companions under the same record to go through security together. For some reason TSA PRE was not printed on my boarding pass. it took me about 20 min. to go through the Priority line and would hate to think how long the normal line would take.
Upon arriving at the UA Club the agent advised us that the lounge was very full. This used to be the UA First Class lounge until the new POLARIS opened and became a UA Club and the default one for *A Gold members traveling in the back on intl flights.
We took the elevator downstairs to Dante's Inferno and it was indeed a madhouse. People everywhere with some standing in the hopes of finding a vacant seat and garbage here and there that seemed like part of the decor.
Garbage as decoration
Reading materials - Has anyone heard of a book titled "Scarcity"?
Buffet - a rabbit would be in paradise
The "soup du jour" was tomato bisque. I did not take any since I lost my appetite upon entering the lounge and decided to wait for my onboard meal instead. Eventually I was able to find seats and claimed them like someone who found a treasure. It's too bad that humans cannot mark their territories like some animals do.
I left the lounge momentarily and saw the crew for my flight going through security.
The wheelchair that we requested with the agent at the reception arrived on time and we were whisked to gate 101 for our flight. Five minutes before boarding one of the agents escorted us inside the jetbridge where we waited for a few minutes until we were able to board.
Waiting inside the jetbridge
Plane at the gate - almost impossible to get a shot o the plane when it is parked at the end of the terminal
There were several FA's around the door and one of them escorted my mother directly to her seat which was a nice touch. My first impression of the crew was that they were polite and efficient, but not overly friendly or engaging like SQ or CX. As a matter of fact I get the feeling that BR FA's tend to be more "direct with a no nonsense" disposition.
BR is one of the first carriers to pioneer the PEY concept and through the years they have been "fine tuning" it. This particular cabin holds 56 recliner seats with a 38" (96.52 cm) pitch and 19.5" (49.53 cm) width which is fairly standard. It's too bad that they do not feature leg rests except for the bulkhead seats but there are foot rests from the second row on. What sets BR apart is that there are 2 dedicated WC's in the back of the cabin separated with a curtain which saves the aggravation of going all the way back to Y to use their WC's. Given the large size of PEY it is not unreasonable to expect this benefit.
The cabin is pleasant and the colors are subdued which contribute to relaxation
Seat had a pillow, soft blanket, and a bottle of water. The tight pocket in front had slippers. noise cancelling headphones, a new amenity kit by Sport b, and reading materials. One complaint that I have is that there is not enough storage space in your seat, only the seat pocket which can get overwhelmingly full at the end of the flight.
Welcoming drinks consisting of water, orange and apple juice were distributed right after take off.
Menu distributed by FA
Followed by pre-packaged towels - a bit cheap for a Premium Economy cabin. I much prefer a hot towel, especially when I'm flying during winter time. If SQ can give out hot thick towels why can't BR which is also a 5* carrier?
There was no beverage service with packaged nuts/crunchy snack before the meal service, perhaps due to the late departure of the flight. The FA;s distributed special meals first and then followed up with a cart with both menu choices. Additionally you could request beverages at this time but if the FA did not have it on the cart she will return with your drink later.
Meals were given with the covers on and you had to take them off yourself. The bread was warm but there was no choice. Drinks were also offered along with the meal. I requested a cold tea and the FA did not have it on the cart so she asked for my patience and returned with my drink as promised a few minutes later.
After the meal service ice cream and hot drinks were offered
The ice cream was hard as a rock, so I used my hands to warm it a bit and then placed it on an empty dish.
I elevated the experience by asking for Bailey's to pour on it in order to give it a richer taste. ;)
When it comes to serving hot drinks I really appreciate how BR does it by asking pax to place the cup on a tray and then having the drinker customize it by taking as much sugar and creamer (or none) as desired.
Mood lighting at the end of the meal
For those in J, you could stare at a starry ceiling.
After the meal service I visited the WC. BR does a great job of stocking all WC's (not only PEY ones) with amenities and they are cleaned frequently.
BR's IFE system had an OK selection of movies and shows. Not as extensive as SQ or CX but fair enough. I browsed through a couple of films and then decided to walk to the back to stretch my legs.
Midflight snacks - you could help yourself at the galley or a FA would pass with the basket and offer drinks from a tray.
Time for the second meal service. The cabin lit up in soft colors to wake up the pax gently about 2 hrs before arrival. I opted for the Chinese meal with fish floss.
Before arrival a FA distributed candies from a tray
We are in Taiwan
Below is the bonus of the hotel in HKG. I decided to do it here instead of the TPE-HKG segment because otherwise I'm afraid that it would take too much bonus space on the next segment. I will include a culinary bonus in the following report.
Bonus : Click here to displayhide
Intercontinental Grand Stanford
I love returning to this property in TST and its location across the harbour facing Central pretty much guarantees a spectacular view if you get a full view room. I stayed in a Club Suite that came with a separate living room and 2 WC's.
The amazing views - I requested a roll away bed to be placed directly in front of the window so that this view is the last thing that I see before I go to bed and the first thing that greets me when I wake up in the morning.
My rate allowed full access to the Club lounge that featured breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails. The first couple of days I stayed put at the hotel in order to recuperate from the jet lag.
I crashed for a quick nap and woke up for evening cocktails
A few samples of the cold canapes
A few samples of hot canapes
For breakfast I could either take it at the Club or Cafe M. I chose the restaurant and the choices were endless - Western, Chinese, Japanese or Indian.
One of the advantages of jet lag is that you wake up very early in the morning. I took advantage of that I went to the pool at 6:00A for some therapy. I had the whole place for myself.
United Airlines Red Carpet Club (International Terminal)
San Francisco - SFO
Taipei - TPE
I was always intrigued by EVA's Premium Economy product since this carrier is one of the first ones to pioneer this concept a long time ago. Back then it was known as "Evergreen Deluxe". The experience out of SFO was not a smooth one and to be fair the bulk of the negative impressions - wheelchair wait and UA Club are not BR's fault.
As a *A Gold member flying in PEY or Y cabins I don't have access to the prestigious UA Polaris lounge and have to settle for the UA Club at the Intl Terminal. This club had a former life as a more exclusive UA First lounge, but ever since the UA Polaris opened it became the "de facto" *A Gold lounge. It was uncomfortably crowded when I visited it since a large number of Asian bound flights departs out of SFO in the evening. I'm sure a lot of pax opted out and roamed around the terminal instead. There was garbage everywhere and it seemed that staff was overwhelmed by the crowd which was a challenge. I don't think that this situation is acceptable and SFO is in desperate need of a larger *A Gold lounge. The problem is that there is no space to expand so we have to see what will happen next. I think that access to PEY pax at the Polaris lounge can alleviate this a little. Wishful thinking on my part.
The check in process at BR in SFO was quick and efficient.with the exception of the wheelchair wait which was handled by another party. I found the staff professional but strict when it comes to luggage rules. The fact that my flight was full probably did not give them much flexibility. I usually do not check bags but since I was traveling with family I had to check in 3 pieces. Bags were tagged properly and arrived quickly.
BR's PEY hard product is great for the most part. It has a large cabin that ranges from 56 - 64 seats with good recline and pitch. There are footrests but no leg rests except for the bulkhead seats and these are usually held for their highest elite members in its program. The blanket is very comfortable and the pillow is firm. I wonder why BR decided to take the leg rest feature away from its new PEY cabin since they used to have these on the previous ones. I think they greatly enhance one's comfort and I enjoyed using it when I flew SQ PEY cabin. Another problem is the lack of storage space around the seat. There is only the tight seat pocket and that's it. AT the end of the flight these can overflow with garbage and belongings.
Due to its large PEY cabin BR has set two WC's in the back on each side for the use of pax. They are separated by a curtain from the other WC's in Y which makes a big difference. However, if you are seated in the last row, you might hear the constant flushing of the toilets and might be annoyed by the people lining up to use these facilities. The WC's are well stocked with a variety of toiletries ranging from soap to face mist and there is a stand with amenities like eye masks, toothbrushes and ear plugs. These are available in all WC's in PEY and Y. I also saw FA's tidying up the WC's which is quite reassuring.
The IFE screen is big and the movie features are OK, although not as extensive as SQ or CX. The headphones are well cushioned and feel comfy when used, although the socket to connect it is kind of hidden under the front armrest where the little drink table is. The table is stored in the armrest and is sturdy. There are also sockets to charge your electronics under the armrest.
The amenity kit is one of the highlights and can be compared to the ones they give in J cabin on other airlines. It has everything including cosmetics (hand cream and lip balm) which a lot of competitors do not include in their PEY kits. BR takes this a step further and recently introduced new kits featuring brand names like "Sport b" for inbound flights into TPE and "Furla" for outbound ones. Cosmetics are by "Scaramouche+Fandango" for inbound and "Payot" for outbound.
Catering is well balanced and offers different courses presented all at once on the tray. I appreciate the little dish of fresh fruit and sizeable salad. There is always a choice of an Asian or Western meal. There is metal cutlery but everything else is plastic including serving dishes and glasses. A small glass for drinks or ceramic cups can add a touch of luxury to differentiate the cabin.
FA's are polite and efficient, although not very engaging. They seem to have a "no nonsense" approach but are quick to respond. I rang the bell button and sometimes 2 FA's will come to me in less than a minute. A big A+ for being responsive.
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