Everyone makes mistakes, humans are fallible beings. When humans make mistakes the response is the differentiator. Common reactions are to hide, lie, or place blame elsewhere. This series of Flight Reports exists because a mistake was made and the organizational response was as stellar and forthright as one could hope for.
I've read about mistake fares but have always been too late to the party. That trend reversed as I sat in my den with my laptop on 12/31/18 and, as I often do, surfed over to one of my favorite miles and points blogs to see a post about some rather incredible airfares ex. Vietnam, in first class too. For fun I pivoted to an OTA website and sure enough, these fares were still live. The city pairs were rather specific, if I recall it was DAD/HAN-YVR/JFK and back via HKG. I was moving rather frantically as these things have a way of disappearing very quickly, especially in my time zone (PST), we’re the last to know. I booked the fist two combinations I could find and figured I would cancel one or both after discussing with my lovely wife.
“Honey, how would you fancy a couple of trips to Vietnam next year, and in first class?” Jennifer, “Sure, let’s go to the moon too.” I’ll spare you the totality of the conversation but in the end the allure of returning to one of our favorite places won the day and we kept one of the itineraries that I booked, logistics like child care and positioning flights be dammed.
I now had a task that I relish. Get two people on flights to Hanoi and back on points. My goal was to make the TPAC segments in F and try for J points redemptions on the regional flights but pay cash for Y where it’s smarter. I had been saving points especially for us to take a trip to Japan together via ANA F and VS miles so I knew immediately that would be our bridge to bookend the HAN-JKF-HAN tickets.
We had enough time before our HAN outbound that availability wasn’t a huge problem. Initially the best I could secure was Jennifer on ORD-NRT and me later on ORD-HND with the hopes of a second seat opening on either flight. The seat did open about 30 days before departure and we were set with seats together on ORD-HND;NRT-LAX. The biggest “challenge” was accomplished.
My random date choosing came back to haunt me. Our arrival at HND on 4/27/19 coincided with the first day of Golden Week. Every flight out of Japan was either booked out or was very expensive. Points were not an option. This is how we ended up on Peach to ICN as fares ex. Korea remained normal. The return via Japan didn’t fall on a major travel holiday so it was very straight forward. The second trip hasn’t been flown yet so let’s get through this one first.
Our beautiful little boys were prepped, and dare I say excited, to spend the first week of their lives without their parents in the care of our dearest of family friends. In the early morning hours Mom and Dad hopped in an Uber for the 8 minute ride to John Wayne Airport (SNA) for our positioning flight to ORD. The virtues of OLCI, Pre-Check, and only hand carry luggage meant that we were in the United Club in about 8 more minutes. I really like this little airport for the 16 minute door to lounge transit.
It's a United Club so our welcome was surly and the offerings inside were sparse but nothing short of grave physical injury was going to dampen our excitement for the experiences awaiting us on this journey.
It's a compact space but serves the guest well enough.
We made the 2 minute walk down to the gate right at the published boarding time and boarded towards the end of group 1. The 737-800 operating the flight was in the vintage Continental configuration with the small PTVs and live DirecTV programming. These seats, while dates, are really quite plush and comfortable. I would say more so than the modern equivalent.
It was evident that the crew was varied from cheerful and sincere to angry and indifferent. No worries, we're owning our happiness this week and no service event will have any bearing on it. It's a good laugh, in a sad way, when someone is so apparently bad/miserable at their job.
Another feature of this 737 is that it was rather dirty. I understand, short turn around times and high utilization of aircraft make a deep cleaning rare. This ship however, like all aircraft departing SNA in the first bank of departures, is a RON aircraft and had been sitting for at least 7 hours. Crumbs and various debris all over the table and in the storage cubby.
My legs here.
SNA is has an amusing dance to start the day. The airport starts take offs at 0700 so jets typically push at 0645 and start to line up. I wish I knew more about the ramp tower ops. with regards to the sequence. Is it just whomever requests clearance to push goes first or is it scheduled? I would have to guess it first ready, first in line but I don't know.
There's already a queue when we push.
As we start to taxi we cross the main runway. This isn't unusual as the stack both taxi ways and alternate launching one from each queue. What was different this time is that we were taxing down to the wrong end of the runway for a 2L departure where the traffic flow was departing on 20R. At first I assumed we had a maintenance issue and they were going to park and run through the scenario and determine a delay. But we just kept moving in the opposite direction of everyone else.
Past the Sherriff.
Past the Lyon Air Museum and a photo shoot of some sort. Cool old Ferrari 328. Is that an MG or Jag or Aston or?
We reached the 2L end of the active, paused for a moment, entered the runway and began the takeoff roll contra to traffic. This was a first for me. My only theory is that during boarding there were several announcements about checking luggage for weight and balance issues. I can only assume that luggage in the hold vs. the cabin does something for the COG? Anyhow, the takeoff requirement and noise abatement procedures departing SNA were probably not within the capability of this jet on this day at this weight. So rather than force the operator to reduce the weight the airport ops stopped the flow and allowed a takeoff in the other direction where there is no noise abatement issue (read: over houses and business that don't belong to millionaires and billionaires). The wind speed must have been almost zero for this to have been an option as technically we were going down the 5,700' runway with a tailwind and over weight to legally take off in the other direction. Kudos to SNA ops for allowing this maneuver and not forcing United to leave pax, bags, and/or cargo behind.
Vintage flight map.
Nice, thick, warm towel to start.
Quickly over the desert still climbing to cruise.
First cocktail of the trip! A poor Bloody Mary that I was unable to finish.
The crew had the good sense to put the affable male flight attendant in the aisle and keep the churlish female FA in the galley. Meal orders were taken and the choices were protein plate or strata. Jennifer opted for the former and I the latter. The male FA returned after meal requisitioning the cabin and informed Jennifer that he didn’t have enough protein plates and suggested the strata. She agreed. Then he returned with the protein plate.
The United “protein plate” is a sad dish of food. Think something an elementary child might eat for snack time.
The strata was much better. With a day of decadent food before us we both just took a few bites to prevent being really hungry and bided our time until we were in the Polaris Lounge for a higher quality meal.
We both dozed off leaving Colorado and slept until arrival announcements were made.
Sunny day in the Great Lakes region.
On time arrival to ORD.
Crossed in front of big brother to park.
The Ground Service: N/A
The Lounge: Standard United Club in a compact space. The contract staff in the lounge are all pleasant and keep food restocked and pick up used service items. The United staff is gruff and unpolished, at best.
The Cabin: Comfortable seats and IFE...from 1998.
The Crew: Even slit there with 50/50 good to rude.
The Food and Beverage: The strata was quite nice even considering it was loaded with salt and little nutritional value. The Bloody Mary was yucky and the protein plate was depressing.
Overall: I would say my expectations were met on this flight. It's unfortunate that my expectations are so low for USA domestic F service. We're ecstatic to be embarking on this journey so there was little thought or mention given to the experience. We were both happy to be on time.
Thank you for reading and happy flying.