During the summer of 2011, I wanted to revisit Paris but the fares were prohibitively expensive. What isn't during the middle of summer? so I almost resigned myself to sitting around and be content with the idea of exploring some ethnic restaurants in the hopes of transporting myself to faraway places for a few seconds while savoring some dishes. Then a light bulb went off. One of my best friends worked for UA and I could always ask him for a pair of buddy passes. 99% of my travels are paid with my money or miles, so I rarely used the benefits of non revenue travel. Being myself a former airline employee, I am no stranger to the rules of traveling non-rev, but do I want to subject myself to the anxiety and torture of the unknown? What if a flight suddenly gets overbooked or worse, canceled at the last minute leaving me stranded? Do I have enough back up alternatives to rely on to get me out? In the end, I diligently checked the loads of all intl. flights out of SFO and Osaka was the most promising with plenty of availability for the dates that I wanted to fly. Up until this time I've never been to Japan (connected in NRT and KIX but that doesn't count) so that was a tempting proposition. Considering that last minute fares from SFO to KIX were hovering at around $2,000 more or less, and that a buddy ticket came to a little less than 1/4 the amount incl. taxes, the decision was made.
I arrived at the airport by 9:45A and was directed to the regular economy line. As a CO Platinum and UA Premier Executive then, it was hard passing by the empty elite line and not being able to check in there. I went from somebody to nobody, the bottom of the food chain, even below regular employees (a small price to pay given the cost of the ticket). In addition I couldn't access the lounge on this type of ticket so I resigned to my status. Once I got to the front of the line I was directed to the kiosk for check-in. I noticed that this applied to all passengers there, not just non-revs. Why couldn't UA install more self check-in kiosks in order to expedite the process?
I received my boarding pass in less than a minute and proceeded to the gate. There was already a long line by the time I arrived and with more than an hour to spare I waited patiently. Going through security seemed painfully slow and by the time I was inside the gate I heard my name being called. The flight was not overbooked and I thought that I had a fighting chance to get J with still 8 open seats and 2 people listed for that cabin as of two days before my flight. Then the night before an equipment change happened and the seat inventory in J went from 49 to 40 hurting my chances to sit in business class. Oh well, c'est la vie. The agent was actually pretty nice and since she called me so early I knew that I was assigned a Y seat. She gave me the boarding card apologizing that no J seats were available but she put me in an aisle Economy + seat which had more room. I was in 23D - an aisle in the middle row. I couldn't really complain, especially when later on the seat next to me remained vacant giving me more room to stretch. Truth be told during all my years working for UA I have never flown in Y on an international flight. I guess I was either extremely lucky or planned my flights very well. There is a first for everything so this was a great opportunity to try E+. At the same time, flying in Y keeps my perspective in check and make me appreciate F or J even more.
Plane at the gate
The seat was standard economy with decent pitch (34 or 86.36 cm.), but I did not think that it was so vast a difference as advertised. Still, relatively better than regular Y. FA's were robotic except for one Japanese speaker who was the epitome of professionalism throughout the flight. The rest did not smile and just went through the motions mechanically. I was glad to see that UA provides on demand TV and decent earphones in the seats. About 45 min. into the flight the serviced commenced with the drink cart followed by lunch.
Today's choices were beef OR vegetable sukiyaki. In the spirit of my destination, I opted for the latter and it was nearly inedible and tasteless. UA used to have decent meals in Y but to my disappointment there were no appetizers, cheese/crackers or real dessert.
The tray had a salad, roll, entree and packaged brownie. Cost cutting at its best.
End of meal with a cup of green tea.
I went to the back galley and found some bags of pretzels and water cups. Eventually we were midflight and the snack service started with the rolling of carts and each passenger receiving a bag of chips, kit kat, lemon cookie and pretzel stick.
Later on the leftovers were placed in the galley for passengers to help themselves.
Before arriving into KIX, the second meal started with a choice between hot turkey sandwich or Asian noodles. I had the noodles and the guy at the other end of my row was slurping them with gusto. Sadly I couldn't partake in his enthusiasm for this meal. The tray set up included a bag of chips and a package of Knott's shortbread cookies. Do chips go well with noodles?
Arrival into KIX was on time and immigration was a bit involved since every foreigner had to be fingerprinted and photographed.
San Francisco - SFO
Osaka - KIX
I was thankful that I was able to save money on this last minute trip to Osaka and visit a new city. Despite the robotic attitude of some flight attendants, the service was adequate and polite. As I mentioned before, the Japanese speaker FA working in the back was outstanding and she left a great positive impression. Too bad she was the exception rather than the standard.
Food was another story and it was poor with a significant lack of quality and taste. Presentation leaves a lot to be desired as you can see from the pictures above. That midflight snack was just packaged junk food. The second snack service was just as disappointing as the first meal. I didn't know which was worse - the turkey sandwich in a thick roll which was disproportionally more bread than filling or the soggy noodles with a few pieces of bamboo and carrots. The potato chips as appetizer does not bode well with the main dish but the 75 cents cookies from a vending machine were reliably decent.
In the end, I can't complain given the price that I paid. Beggars can't be choosy.
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