The airline with the best average rating is Lufthansa with 7.3/10.
The average flight time is 8 hours and 35 minutes.More information
My family rarely ever celebrates Thanksgiving, so often I take the opportunity to travel abroad. This time, I managed to snag a very nice Star Alliance business-class sale to Madrid. This is the second segment of the return journey. I opted to route through EWR instead of directly to IAD so I can arrive at DCA instead. I also figured that moving around the airport instead of an earlier arrival home would help me adjust to the time zone better. I can also review the EWR Polaris Lounge (below).
This main have been one of the worst transit experience I've ever had at FRA. When I got to what appeared to be the passport check area in Terminal A, this was the sight that greeted me. Even the premium passenger line was snaked around a corner.
Here is the view of the queue from the premium cabin line after I rounded the display. Overall, it took over 45 minutes to get through the line. It was utter chaos. Occasionally, an agent would ask those with EU passports to jump the line (as the EU lines had separate stations up front, but it was impossible to separate yourself before then). Naturally, there would be the occasional American tourist trying to skip the line entirely saying their flight boarded in an hour. There was a check before the final bit of queuing in front of the passport control. This was were the bottleneck appeared to be as it just seemed completely stalled at times. At one point, the agents just let everyone through en masse for a bit because too many passengers were screaming or yelling at them. Overall, it was just a complete disaster of a situation.
I went on my way to Terminal Z where I found another document check line before me: this time with United. There was a saving grace about this line: an agent was asking for all Newark-bound passengers and having us skip to the front. That saved a lot of time, though not enough for the gentleman next to me as he kept agitatedly asking if there was a separate Global Services line.
Unfortunately, the document-checking agent's computer was having issues, so she put a little sticker on my boarding pass and told me to see the gate agent. Here we go again.
When I finally made it to the gate, that was luckily a very quick confirmation of what the document checker did previously–the gate agent just needed to enter everything into the computer. The plane had arrived late, so boarding was going to be delayed about 20 minutes. The agent suggested I could rest in the Lufthansa Senator's lounge in Z. As I started walking in the direction of the lounge, I remembered how big Frankfurt was and decided I didn't need another 10 minutes-rushed picture taking lounge experience and decided to just wait at the gate.
Naturally, boarding ended up even more delayed. At some point, an agent asked all the GSs and 1Ks to stand in a group in the front of the line and everyone else to remain seated. Eventually, we began boarding around 10:45am.
My flight back to the US was on N91007, a 4-years old 787-10.
This would be a full cabin in Polaris today. Checking the seat map, Premium Economy was also full and economy had 31 empty seats.
United has 11 rows of 1-2-1 Zodiac Optima seats on the 787-10. The odd numbered seats are the "true" window seats as well as the "honeymoon" seats in the middle.
For this flight, I was seated in 9A, a portside "true" window seat.
Because I was departing during daylight hours, the pictures of the seat were better than my IAD-BRU flight.
United's Polaris seats has a crisp, touchscreen monitor, small storage space underneath it, and a USB charging port. A coat hanger is next to the screen for temporary hanging of your coat (or other clothing inflight). The footwell is fairly spacious. Windows are managed through the 787's unique dimmers and the seat controls are right below that, with both pre-set positions and a wheel for incremental adjustments. As is normal for US airlines, there are overhead air nozzles to help control the temperature.
One thing I didn't note previously is that there is a little step built into the outer shell of the seats–I've always assumed these were to help the more vertically challenged reach the overhead bins.
There is a faux marble counter separating your seat from the aisle, with a lamp. A decent-sized storage space and mirror can be found above the counter. Right below the storage is your remote control and outlet. A reading light is available next to the storage space. Your right armrest is adjustable and can be lowered to give you more space in lie-flat mode. Otherwise, it serves as the literature holder. Your headphones and a bottle of water are waiting for you at your seat–as was the amenity kit.
Polaris's great bedding is found waiting at your seat and includes a pillow, a gel pillow, and blanket–all by Sak's Fifth Avenue.
United's headphones aren't particularly competitive compared with some airlines that use Bose. But at least United doesn't pick these up before landing because they're afraid of passengers stealing them and they're comfortable enough (I'm often too lazy to get my own pair of headphones out for long-haul flights).
I asked for a pair of slippers shortly after boarding and was promptly brought one.
The amenity kit remained unchanged from my previous flight–I won't go into details about it–it's a fairly standard kid.
Boarding was complete at 11:22am and we pushed back at 11:30am. Overall, not bad boarding speed for a US airline.
During boarding, Karen, the purser took our meal orders for after takeoff. I'll provide more details on that later. One thing I did not notice was pre-departure beverages being offered despite it being reinstated earlier this week. Still working out the kinks most likely.
The cabin lighting switched during our taxi.
Some plane spotting as we taxi: a Lufthansa A330-300.
Another Queen, this time in retro livery.
Oh how I wished I managed to find award space on LH F for my return flight.
Here's an SQ 777-300ER about to make its long journey to Singapore.
A few airlines in the distance: Condor, Sri Lankan, British Airways. A few things: I didn't even realized Sri Lankan flew to Frankfurt and didn't realize BA was using its A380s on its FRA route.
After taxing for a while we took off at 11:49am.
As I mentioned before, the IFE was fairly crisp and had the usual in-flight map. Here are the details for my flight.
Separately, the wifi pricing was as follows:
$11.99 or 2,400 miles for 1 hour
$15.99 or 3,200 miles for 2 hours
$25.99 or 5,200 miles for the full flight
As someone who never purchases wifi, I have no idea if this is a competitive price.
The nice things about sitting further back are:
1) You can observe the service flow easier.
2) You can take pictures of the engine and wing.
I dimmed my shades all the way quickly to avoid a glare on my screen. As you can see, on the -10 variant, Boeing had worked out all the issues with the previous generation not being dim enough.
The tray table slides out from underneath the IFE and is a good size and easy to maneuver.
As I mentioned earlier, Karen took our orders before takeoff. When she did, each passenger was addressed by name and welcomed onboard. However, there was no recognition of status. Interestingly, when she took orders, she only asked some passengers what their second choice would be. I was not asked for a second choice. I assume this is because on United you are supposed to be receive your order preference by order of status (Global Services > 1Ks > everyone else from front to back). I imagine they were not going to run out of my first option before it gets to me. Note that my understanding of this policy is that it is not about when your order is taken nor when you receive your order.
We had a choice of beef shortrib, a chicken dish, and pasta. I opted for the beef shortrib again.
22 minutes after takeoff, Ada, one of the flight attendants, came by to ask me what I wanted to drink. For the reds, we had a choice of a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinot Noir–all from California. I went with the cab and it was served along my meal a few minutes later.
Unfortunately, the meal was still fairly premium economy-like and served all together on one tray. As for the meal itself, the shortrib was a little tougher than my IAD-BRU flight, but the vegetables tasted better. The salad was about the same, but the bread was actually heated up this time and we had real ice cream instead of sorbet–a noticeable improvement.
After my meal, I visited the forward lavatory. Like most Boeing lavatories, it is fairly compact. United provides Sunday Riley hand cream and facial spray as well as a garment spray.
The rear lavatory seemed identical as far as I could tell.
After returning to my seat, I asked for a mattress pad.
Unfortunately, my own turndown service doesn't look nearly as nice as when FAs on airlines such as Singapore or ANA do it. That said, it was actually quite a comfortable bed. My goal was to get about 4 hours of sleep before waking up so that I would be up before Noon ET.
To my surprise, except for waking up once and quickly falling back asleep, I just about the exact amount of sleep I wanted (a little more actually). I woke up with 1:50 remaining. It wasn't time for breakfast yet, but I made my way back to the rear galley to see the snacks display. Nothing particularly desirable. I should have asked if they were still able to do the grilled cheese and tomato soup off the anytime menu (pre-pandemic). That was my go-to mid-flight snack on United and always hit the spot. To be fair though, I didn't actually need any more calories.
Switching back to the flight map, we were over the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the time.
A beautiful day (in Canada):
Getting the engine in:
At roughly 1hour 20 minutes before landing, lights came back on and Ada stopped by to ask for my breakfast order a few minutes later. The choices were a burger or grilled veggies on couscous. I opted for the burger and had milk and orange juice to go along with it.
The breakfast burger was pretty decent, the fruit decently fresh, and the muffin was nice and warm. Overall, not a bad breakfast. Or should this be considered a light lunch given the time?
We began our descent at around 1:11pm ET. The views flying into Newark weren't that great today–it was hard to make out the Manhattan skyline.
Just a bit dreary from some morning showers.
We landed at 1:36pm ET. Here is an El Al 787-9.
We arrived at our gate at 1:45pm and disembarked shortly afterwards. Onto Global Entry!
The Global Entry process at Newark was surprisingly smooth despite 6 out of 14(?) kiosks being out of service. It meant a bit more of a wait than usual, but otherwise went fairly quickly. I took the sky train to Terminal C (from B) afterwards and re-entered security there. It was a smooth trip thanks to CLEAR and Precheck.
The United Polaris Lounge (which had recently re-opened) can be found a very short walk to your left after security.
I was quickly welcomed in by friendly agents and thanked for being a 1K.
Newark's lounge was fairly empty when I arrived. There is an initial long seating area that stretches from directly in front of you all the way to your right. A variety of seating can be found in this area, but I suspect this is where people sit once the more prime locations have been taken up.
At the end of this long section is the area for the showers, which was first order business for me–pictures can come later.
The attendant quickly helped me to one of the shower rooms (no wait).
The shower rooms are well-apportioned and has all of your needs: slippers, towels, changing bench, hooks for coats, etc . . . The only thing you should grab is a dental kit from the front desk (to the shower area). Both a waterfall and standard shower head is available and controls and temperature settings are easy to understand.
United provides Sunday Riley shampoo, conditioner, and conditioner.
After a much-needed shower, I was revitalized and ready to explore the rest of the lounge. The next "layer" of the lounge had lots of table of seats. One set of bathrooms can be found at the end of this room. Finally, you can find the individual table pods and more lounge seating in the "layer" with windows.
Throughout the lounge were various drink and snack stations. You can tell things aren't back to normal given how small some of the snack displays are.
At the other end of the table seating section is the buffet. I'll let pictures speak for themselves, but it was fairly similar to the situation at IAD and not at all the pre-pandemic Polaris buffet spread we're used to seeing. However, for that day, most people had no choice but to use the buffet (I'll explain why shortly).
I tried to go to the dining room next, but after a few minutes of waiting to be seated, Tyrique, the dining room manager/host came up and informed me that unfortunately they currently had no staff for the dining room and that he was in the process of getting additional staff. He took my phone number and added me to a list promising to text me when the room could accommodate me.
I turned to the lovely bar instead.
As this picture indicates, while the bar was severely understocked. There was no champagne anywhere in the lounge and not enough supply for just about any of the signature cocktails. The defeated-sounding bartender gestured at the bar and said that what I see is what she had to work with. Apparently, the staff had been begging United for supplies for a week since they re-opened and thus far they just haven't gotten what they need to do their job. She was very friendly to chat with and just wished she had more to work with.
I asked for a shot of espresso. Thankfully there was plenty of coffee. Then I had a glass of whiskey (I forgot the label, sorry!).
At 3:21pm (a 20-30 minutes wait), I received a text from Tyrique informing me my table was ready. Off to the dining room I went.
At EWR, the dining room is just a cordoned off area and not the separate room you saw at IAD. That said, you can have great views of the tarmac from some seats.
Here is the menu from the host's stand. It is the same as the small menu given to each party.
After I was seated, Karen came by and took my order approximately 5 minutes later.
At least we had silverware.
Since there was no champagne, I opted for a glass of Merlot. There was no wine menu, but Karen told me that all of the wines were from California. She offered to go back and check the labels, but that's too much of a hassle.
For my first course, I had the curried lentil soup, which was decent.
For my main, I had the lamb koffa, which was excellent. I would recommend this to anyone going through the EWR lounge.
For dessert, as anyone can probably guess, I opted for the skillet cookie.
Halfway through my meal, they lowered all of the shades. Why though? It was still light out.
During my meal, Karen's service was prompt and she checked back quickly (even though there were only two waiters for the entire room). However, the courses came out fairly slowly–I suspect a kitchen staffing issue. Throughout the meal, I kept hearing Tyrique having to turn away guests from the host podium and letting them he can add them to a wait list, but it would be quite a wait. The tables never filled up, but I also never saw more staff arrive to help. It seems that unlike IAD, EWR was not prepared to re-open its Polaris Lounge. A shame because it is normally a great lounge.
Before I left, I stopped by one of the individual, gender-neutral bathrooms. It is more or less the same as at IAD. The green vs. red light at the door indicates whether a particular room is occupied.
I left the lounge at 4:30pm (fairly early for my 6pm flight) because I wasn't sure what the transfer shuttle situation was going to be like. I stopped by the customer service desk on my way out and they informed me that the shuttles were still running. From then, it was off to my last segment home.
Lounge: This is not a review of a lounge at FRA, but of the EWR Polaris Lounge. It is normally a great lounge, with all the fundamentals: good food, a la carte dining, great shower rooms, plenty of varied seating, a great bar, etc . . . However, it is clear that today they were not ready for re-opening and hadn't been since it officially re-opened on November 15. I don't understand how it was still inadequately supplied and staffed two full weeks later. In fairness to United, it may be a contractor situation, but they should still be doing all they can to resolve the situation. I felt bad for the wonderful staff at the lounge who were not given what they needed to match their service.
Cabin & Seat: Not much to add from my IAD-BRU trip about United's Polaris seats. Aside from being a little narrow, I find them to be great seats with plenty of privacy. They're quite comfortable in lie-flat mode and United's business class bedding is arguably the best in business class.
Service: The flight attendants on this flight were less cheery than my IAD-BRU flight, but still efficient and friendly. Requests were taken care of promptly and I was addressed by name.
Meal & Catering: Nothing great to say about United's Covid-theater on-board dining. It's time to stop pretending that serving everything on a single tray is anything but a cost-cutting measure. Admittedly, the food itself wasn't terrible, it's just definitely below what you would expect in business class.
Bottom Line: UA961 is one of the busier trans-Atlantic flights as it serves two important Star Alliance hubs. The overall flight was good, with comfortable seats, a friendly crew, and efficient service. The biggest detriment was and still is the meal service.