In our travel series, The Brit and I are trying to highlight the different standards of airline classes and what you get for your money when you travel First Class and Business Class. I again flew United Airlines, but this time booked a First Class flight.
*Note: I waited to post this as United Airlines has had two major customer relations disasters in the past few weeks and I didn’t want to capitalize on those. However, seeing how unorganized the airline has become, I can see these things happening. Passengers are no longer a priority and they are no longer treating even their business and first class passengers with respect or care. I think that it has to do with getting rid of the seasoned staff and replacing them with part-time staff with no experience. How utterly sad.
I have to tell you that for many years I was just too cheap to fly Business. I always figured “What’s 12 hours out of my life? Do I really need to spend all of that extra money?” It is not just a little more expensive, it is many times more expensive than an economy ticket. Even if you use an airline ticket consolidator and get a cheaper price it still it way over the odds in comparison.
I did get an air miles deal on this specific flight through United Airlines but I had to have a quick connection through Los Angeles. When booking it, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Boy, was I wrong!
When I arrived at the San Francisco airport, the entire fiasco started. The United Airlines ground agent was confused by my ticket. Apparently, she couldn’t understand why I was flying premium economy to Los Angeles, and then First Class from there to London Heathrow. This combined with her questionable command of the English language made check in a long and frustrating experience. After she was completed checking me in, I asked her where I could find the lounge. She not only sent me to the wrong lounge but because of her slow check in I didn’t have much time to enjoy it or photograph it properly. Since I was there to write about it, it wasn’t a good start at all.
When I got to the lounge more mishaps occurred. From what I could understand the staff that day had just gone online with a brand new computer system and they couldn’t check me into the lounge. After they scratched their heads and had furious discussions between them, I finally asked them to sort it out amongst themselves so I could grab some photographs.
There wasn’t much food in the Domestic lounge. (I was supposed to be in the International Lounge.) I grabbed a small bowl of soup and a roll to eat and went over to the bar to grab a beverage. The soup was pretty tasteless and the champagne wasn’t great either. However, the lounge space was beautifully done and plenty comfortable for the business traveler to work and rest.
I got to my gate ready to board and there were more issues. As we were getting ready to leave we were told that we were being held back due to air traffic controllers at SFO having new software. What was up with everyone and the new software? We were held on the runway for well over an hour waiting to leave. Oh well, that is part of travel and I still had plenty of time to catch my connecting flight.
We got to Los Angeles and because our flight was late an hour, we were then delayed on the tarmac for another forty minutes. This meant that I was going to miss my next flight. I got off the plane and asked the closest UA employee what to do and he told me to run for the flight. I had all of my camera and computer equipment with me and had to run to the next terminal for my gate. About halfway there, I heard my name being called over the tannoy and that the gate was closing. By now, I am panicked and out of breath, but still running carrying a ton of stuff.
Finally, I arrived at my gate just as they were closing it on me. I whip on board to take my seat which was the very last available in business/first. *Note, this was an air miles trip and I had paid 6,000 extra to travel FIRST CLASS as I was going to write about the first class experience. On this flight, they had combined First and Business class, so it was a total waste of the extra mileage.*
Now, remember I didn’t really get the lounge in San Francisco, I didn’t get it at all in Los Angeles, I had been delayed three times already and I had to run about 3/4 of a mile to my gate (From Terminal 8 to Terminal 6). Well if that wasn’t enough, I didn’t even get my glass of champagne before takeoff because they were ready to leave…. EXCEPT! Yes, you got it, we were delayed yet again, right after pushback, but before we hit the tarmac. By this time I was not a happy camper. Still, I took a deep breath and thought to myself that it would sort itself out. Sadly, I was wrong again.
So here I sit, out of breath, nothing to drink and completely hot, sweaty and disheveled on board as we went nowhere. It is then I figured, well I have articles to write, so let’s get to it. I pull out my laptop and realize the power point for my seat (pod) doesn’t work. Neither does the work light. Several of the other controls don’t work either, and the cubby hole to place my stuff in sticks and you have to use a pen to open and close it. What a mess! All of my photos were really difficult because I didn’t have enough light throughout my entire trip. I tried using my cell phone’s light to help out, but *sigh*.
The one good part of this flight was my assigned air hostess. She felt sorry for me and was super sweet and attentive. Of course, all of this was out of her control. When I asked her about the First Class thing, she explained to me that United are eliminating First Class and combining it with business class. So basically they knew that this was the case and charged me the extra for the ticket.
So as far as the food and wine on board here was my menu:
I was finally given a glass of 2002 Ayala Brut Millesime Champagne and warm nuts to start me off. The nuts also had a skewered olive and a piece of cubed cheese. The champagne was a nice sip; dry, yeasty, with subtle fruits and medium bubbles. This wasn’t my favorite drink but it was wet and I was thirsty.
The entire menu for this flight had an Asian theme to it. Some of it was good, some of it was meh. I was a bit disappointed with the food compared to the last United Airlines food I ate. It was far less appealing and well presented.
I was so disappointed in the quality of the wines on this flight. I had fantastic, really easy to drink wines on my last Business Class flight from London to Houston, surely the wines should have been better on this flight?
My meal service started with raw ahi tuna with an edamame salad. I thought this was a particularly strange choice as there are many people who won’t eat raw fish. Also, I was worried about the fish being kept properly aboard the aircraft. Still, I tucked into it and gave it a try. The fish was so cold that there were ice chips in the flesh. I let it thaw for a few minutes and it tasted fine.
I was then served some Thai style butternut squash soup. It was nothing special and I only ate a couple of bites of it. I thought it was lacking a bit in flavor and I was uninspired, though the presentation was nice.
My next course was the best. It was so tasty and unusual. A cold soba noodle salad with butter lettuce, red and yellow peppers dressed with a wonderful Asian dressing. It was such a unique and interesting combination. At first, I wasn’t enthusiastic but loved it more as I took each bite.
The main course was beef in an Asian sauce served with white rice and steamed carrots and beans. The beef was ok but overcooked, nearly to the point of death; the saving grace was the nicely flavored sauce which saved it from being inedible. The vegetables were cooked beautifully. The rice was plain white rice.
I had a glass of merlot with my dinner and it wasn’t even good enough to talk about, nor did it stink. It was bland and boring like the meal.
I was then brought a selection of cheeses and crackers. It was a nice touch and I enjoyed them.
But it was the desserts that stole the show this time. They brought a selection of mini desserts for me to enjoy. I was a little hesitant as I didn’t really think the food had been that good up to that point, but the desserts were all tasty. They had mini apple pie, tiramisu, raspberry topped cheesecake mousse and lemon chiffon mousse. There was also a piece of millionaire shortbread, but it was lacking a bit in flavor.
For breakfast, I was served a western omelet along with sweet potato hash and sausages. It was all accompanied by fresh orange juice, fruit, and a cinnamon roll. This again was very mixed in the flavors and the skill with which it was cooked. The omelet was cooked beautifully, although I was trying to decide if the flavors worked. It had a cheese sauce in the middle and on top was a corn salsa. The flavor of the sausage was good, but the diced sweet potatoes were just undercooked and had little flavor. Honestly, they tasted a bit cold too. Even the cinnamon roll tasted bland, stale, and just not good. The fruit was dry and unappealing. The coffee, in contrast, was great.
I’d like to note here another detail of this flight. The “pod” that I was sitting in was obviously not right. I couldn’t move many of the options so I had a fairly miserable flight. (The air hostess tried too without luck, and there were no other seats to move to.) I didn’t get to sleep, so I arrived at Heathrow beat up and worse for wear. With all of the errors of the day, I felt it par for the course. I would have been absolutely steaming mad though if I had paid $7,641 for the one-way trip. In fact, I felt that I was ripped off for all of the air miles I had used. Had I wanted to travel coach, it would have cost me only 30,000 miles and I would have been feeling about the same.
In total, I was delayed about four hours. That meant that the arrivals lounge at Heathrow was closed so I didn’t get to use that either.
*Second Note: On my return flight, United Airlines managed to incorrectly book my ticket several times before finally getting it right. (I only found this out as I had to call and make a change to my itinerary, and not because they called or emailed me any kind of notice.) This made me have to call them long distance on international cell phone rates trying to get it sorted out. The customer service was appalling and after six conversations I finally got to someone who could help me. I was on the phone for over two hours trying to fix the problem with many of their outsourced customer service agents.