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Hi everybody, and welcome to my next trip report. I had hoped I could stay in the US for a bit longer, and had more exiting journeys in store… unfortunately, as all of you certainly know, the current situation in the world didn't allow this - so I made the difficult decision to fly home early. That being said, the rebooking process was quite smooth (even though I still had to pay a 130€ rebooking fee), and for some strange reason Premium Plus wasn't much more expensive. Considering the fact that I had two pieces of baggages and would have had to pay 100$ for that, Premium Plus was even cheaper than regular Eco. I would have liked to try LH again, but that flight for some reason wasn't available except in Business Class. So, it was settled.
Disclaimer: I don't endorse flying right now except if you must. For example, I was flying to get back home. Also, cancellations and new immigration restrictions are occurring all the time, making international air travel pretty risky at the moment.
Arriving way early by NJ Transit, I found myself in the AirTrain next to a gentleman in a full plague outfit. Really weird times we're living in right now.. The airport itself was very empty, and almost everyone was wearing some kind of face mask or other protection.
The check-in process wasn't really that good. They replaced almost all staffed counters with computerized kiosks which didn't even work that well, even for the premium check-in. It took me three tries to scan my passport, and an employee had to help me with the rest. It was all pretty complicated. Compensation money was offered if I would have been ready to take a different flight, but as this worked with a bid system and nobody could tell me which flight I would end up on, I declined; under normal circumstances, I maybe would have accepted this.
On the plus side, nobody weighed my baggage (I was pretty sure one was at least on the borderline of being overweight…). After rolling my suitcases a few meters to the right to the bag "drop", I was good to go with what must have been the flimsiest boarding pass of all times, except maybe the one Peach gave me once.
The security line next to the premium check-in was closed, and I was directed through the Economy check-in area to the next security check-point. Waiting times were short, and another line was even opened while I was waiting. The newly-opened line featured multiple stations where passengers can load their baskets at the same time and then push them unto the conveyor. I prefer that system over the ones where only one person at the time is able to load their baskets.
…and Pre-Check/Global Entry didn't really pay out that day.
Finally airside, with only about three hours to kill :D
I took the time to take a leisurly stroll through the Terminal. However, there wasn't much to see. Pretty much all airplanes were United ones, and even though most gates were occupied with aircraft, many of them just stood there without a flight to operate. Restaurant and many shops were closed, of course. The same goes for the dine-in areas of the places still open. Most areas in the terminal were rather empty, but where international long-haul flights (Frankfurt, Brussels…) still departed, there were pretty large crowds, even so long before the departure. After grabbing some coffee and a wrap at what must be the last Starbucks operating, I settled at one of the practical tables (with free Wi-fi and charging points) opposite to my gate and spent some time reading and surfing.
The fourth photo in the gallery shows my ride for today, N16008, a Boeing 787-10 delivered to United in March 2019 fresh from Charleston, South Carolina. I'm not exactly a large fan of the 787s, but they do look elegant, and the United livery fits that elegant design well.
Random impressions from the terminal and a few planespotting shots… and I finally found some water bottle refillers near gate C90. Since I bought a horribly expensive bottle of water in EWR, I prefer to bring an empty bottle to the airport and just refill it there.
How I'd like to visit Tokyo (or Japan in general) again…
United clearly is too rich. ;)
Closed Polaris lounge, view of the entry…
Interesting way to name a prayer room/chapel. (And a Veteran's Wall - something very American, I guess)
Interesting choice to sell guitar strings in an airport souvenir shop. And they weren't even that expensive.
I covered the same hard-product in my report from January. Click here for more details.
About fifteen minutes before boarding it was announced that non-German passport holders would have their documents checked to ensure they would be legally eligible to go on this flight. This led to some confusion, as some German passport holders misunderstood that and thought they were the ones going to be checked. Whatever, the boarding process started on time, and even though it looked somewhat chaotic at times, boarding groups were respected. I lined up for group 2 with my Premium Plus ticket. For some reason, the people before me didn't realize they would have to show their passports for boarding, which is why I ended up boarding as the first of group 2.
About to board…
Upon entering, I found enough space for my hand luggage in the overhead bins. Waiting at my seat were Saks Fifth Avenue branded blanket and pillow (both quite comfortable), headphones (didn't use them as they were pretty uncomfortable to wear with my glasses on), an amenity kit, and my seat neighbor for the next seven hours ;)
Legroom was really good, as was to be expected, and the seats feel pretty spacious, even though there isn't exactly a lot of privacy. Waiting in the seat pocket were only a safety card and the sick bag; they probably got rid of the board magazine because of the virus situation. The seat itself turned out to be quite comfortable with plenty of recline and a nice legrest, even though I'm not really a fan of leather upholstery on long-haul flights - they can get quite sweaty. This wasn't an issue on this flight, though, as the cabin was rather cold, so the nice blanket was very much appreciated.
Before boarding closed, menu cards were distributed. For dinner, there would be a choice between cider-glazed chicken or four-cheese ravioli, with a choice between a warm breakfast or fruit and cereal for the second meal before arrival.
Different from the last flight in Premium Plus in January, the amenity kits were the regular non-Star Wars ones. Though the latter ones are without a doubt cooler, the regular one is more practical, as it features a zipper. The contents were (functionally) the same: ear plugs, a dental kit, hand cream, lip balm, socks, and an eye mask. All in all, a very nice package. Additionally, the captain came to the Premium Plus (and probably also Polaris) cabin and offered some Hershey's Kisses, with the words: "Would you like a kiss from the captain?" Well, how often do you get a chance? ;) The purser also paid us a visit and introduced himself personally by name, another thing not very common in Premium Economy. A cup of water was handed out as a welcome drink.
The screen was big, bright, and reactive. I actually hadn't planned to watch anything, but I just couldn't resist catching up on good old Star Wars. Which turned out to be fun, even though a) I had totally forgotten what happened in parts VII and VIII, and b) it wasn't the best or most innovative movie of all times.
The doors were closed pretty much in time, and a flight time of seven hours was announced. Of course, it was dark outside already, which totally destroyed my photos taken from the aisle seat, even though the big windows granted me pretty good views. The cabin was darkened, and after a rather short taxi, we were airborne.
The inflight service started quickly after take-off. For dinner, I chose the pasta option this time. As expected, it was served on one tray, even though the snack service was missing - maybe because this was a late departure on a rather short long-haul flight, leaving passengers more time to sleep? However, the glass on the tray was also missing, making me think that these are service cuts due to the virus. On the tray were the entrée; a fresh spinach, feta, and watermelon salad with dressing; a cookie; a (pretty dry) bread roll wrapped in plastic; and a pretty nice cloth napkin with proper metal cutlery. As the entrée was steaming hot, I decided to eat the salad first. While the pasta didn't look too appetizing, it was actually quite nice, flavor-wise. The broccolini (thankfully not tasting a lot like broccoli), added a nice contrasting touch to the meal. If there was one thing to improve, I would say that the sauce could do with a bit more punch. Also, I don't really understand what the cabbage leaf (?) is doing there, but I didn't mind it. The cookie was a white cholocate and blueberry one. It was also very sweet, but quite delectable overall.
To go with the meal I got myself an "Elysian Space Dust IPA." They don't seem to serve this very often, though the FA said she heard it was quite good. I for my part was intrigued by the name, I have to admit. The IPA turned out to be very hoppy and pretty dry. It also did a nice job of getting me sedated just right for the night with its 8,2% ABV! Dinner service was concluded with a tea/coffee round (I chose tea, which was alright) and vanilla ice cream that arrived already half-molten. Everyone also was offered a small bottle of Dasani water. My seat neighbor had already dozed off at that point, but the FA working the portside aisle was kind enough to leave a bottle there for her.
I enjoyed the service on board in general. It was quick and efficient, and the FAs were always correct and friendly. Due to the flight being overnight, there wasn't a lot of interaction, though.
I visited the bathroom a few times, and they were just okay. It is unfortunate that Premium Plus passengers have to walk back all the way to the Eco bathrooms, but there never was a queue on this flight. The bathrooms were alright, even though I have to say that the cleanliness declined somewhat towards the end of the flight. I would avoid the aft lavatories, as they are especially cramped.
I got around 2,5 hours of interrupted shut-eye, during which a cabin attendant came around once with a snack basket. Before I knew it, the cabin light was slowly turned on again and it was time for breakfast!
Still feeling pretty full, I went with the fruit and cereal option for breakfast. The "cereal" turned out to be just cornflakes, for which, however, a nice porcelain bowl was provided. A yoghurt, a biscotti, butter, jam, and metal cutlery with another nice cloth napkin were also on the tray. The main act though was a fruit plate, consisting of water melon, orange, pineapple, melon, and blueberries. The fruit was pretty fresh and certainly not of the usual Economy-canned-fruit quality. Later came a croissant (not pictured), which was the same as in Economy Class, but still appreciated. It was kind of difficult to eat all this food, considering that I still wasn't this hungry and this meal was served just about one hour before the arrival. But all in all, it was a nice start into the day.
Nice and interactive flight map, some time before breakfast was served.
A random view out of the window…
As I could already see that we were facing a headwind blowing towards us from the East, it was pretty clear that it would be a nice and quick approach from the West. Before we really knew it, it was already time for the landing. A short taxi later we were docked at our arrival gate. There, the captain announced a special disembarkation procedure due to the current situation: after the jetbridge was attached to the aircraft, we would have to wait fifteen minutes. Then, forty people would be let out of the plane every five minutes. As he also announced that there were some people sitting in the back with tight connections, I waited a bit to get out. I ended up deplaning somewhere in the second group after waiting some time in Polaris - a really nice looking product.
The first photo in the gallery below shows some parked LH planes on the Northern runway. The last photo shows a Polaris seat. If you're flying Polaris on the 787-10 and you want to get a window view, don't get this seat (row 8).
The airport was unusually empty, except for the immigration area… Social Distancing, anyone? However, very soon an airport employee came and directed some of us with German passports to another checkpoint, where we could pass automatic checkpoints pretty quickly.
Random note: another creative way to name an airport chapel/prayer room, right next to the room people worship the "god" nicotine.
When I finally arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage delivery was already in full swing. In fact, an airport employee was busy taking suitcases off the carousel and lining them up in front of it. One of my suitcases was already there, and it didn't take long until I discovered the other. Right next to the carousel was a United baggage service office, reminding everyone that United usually operate several flights a day to or out of Frankfurt to a pretty large variety of American cities.
For some reason, this sticker placed on the ground was the only thing after the weird deboarding procedure (I mean, hey, the 300+ of us spent the last 7 hours in our tight metal tube. If someone had the virus, the infection should have pretty much taken place already during that time) the airport did to react to the situation. But maybe this was only there because many people are too stupid to keep some distance from the carousel, blocking it for other people who need to fetch their stuff…
So, there weren't any temperature checks, any health questions, not even a reminder that we should self-quarantine for the next 14 days. Even though this flight was coming from New York, one of the most affected regions in the world. But let's not ramble about this topic any longer, everything is depressing enough as it is…
And with these not very uplifting words I would like to thank you for reading this report of what was actually a pretty nice flight. I appreciate that United are keeping up some international flights and their inflight service in general. If you have any questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to drop me a comment. In March, I was on another flight I would like to write a report of, so chances are you'll be seeing another report popping up here soon. Until then, thanks again for coming round and have a great day, everyone!
UA: Another great flight in Premium Plus. Nice and comfortable seats, pretty clean cabin, great IFE, and good meals, albeit not as nice as on the outbound flight. I noticed that some aspects of the service were missing (glass, snack service, refreshing towels(???)), but I would attribute this to the ongoing situation, so I won't deduct any points for that.
EWR: An alright airport to get to from the central Jersey area, and pretty accessible from New York City. The confusion with the check-in process and the security lanes wasn't appreciated, though. There are some pretty nice seating spaces throughout Terminal C.
FRA: My home airport, but otherwise nothing special. Due to passenger numbers dropping rapidly, it was quick and easy to navigate. I can't give more "Efficiency" points due to the weird and pointless deboarding procedure and the hold-ups at the immigration.