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Transatlantic Longhaul: FRA-SFO-BZN On UA  
User currently offlineBZNPilot From Belgium, joined Feb 2006, 264 posts, RR: 1
Posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 4 days 2 hours ago) and read 11767 times:



Fellow A.Netters,

Hello and welcome to my 27th trip report, which features my journey in March of 2012 on United Airlines from Frankfurt, Germany to San Francisco, California and onward to Bozeman, Montana.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

As some readers of the forum might know, I am an American living in Belgium and I try to get home to my native Montana as often as I can to see my family and friends, and to enjoy the natural beauty of “Big Sky Country.” In March of 2012, I took the opportunity to make a special trip home.

My father, a geologist and a true lover of mountains, was about to embark on a scientific expedition involving an attempt to climb Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world at 29,035 feet (8,850 meters)—or FL290, for us aviation fans. At 61 years old, my father is very fit, but an expedition such as this comes with a lot of risk, and it was important to me to see him before his trip. Moreover, my stepmother was planning a big surprise party, and many family and friends were planning to gather in order to wish him well before his departure to the Himalaya.

Unfortunately, by the time I realized I may be able to make the trip, it was just several weeks prior to departure. And by that point, the flight options from Brussels to Bozeman were very expensive, starting at around $1,300 for the roundtrip. After a lot of searching, however, I came across an $850 fare on United’s website from Frankfurt to Bozeman via San Francisco, with a return to Frankfurt via Denver. This was an acceptable alternative for me, as Frankfurt is only three hours by train from Brussels, and the $450 savings in airfare more than justified the cost of the train ticket. And even though the routing through San Francisco entailed an 18-hour, overnight layover, this too was acceptable given that I have a close friend in the Bay Area whom I had not seen in a while and who agreed to host me overnight. The return from Bozeman to Frankfurt would also entail a long layover of over eight hours, but I never mind spending time in airports, plus it would give me a chance to fly the Denver-Frankfurt route on Lufthansa, a leg I had wanted to fly for a long time (the return from Bozeman to Denver and on to Frankfurt will be covered in a separate trip report which I will post soon).

I decided to go for it, and easily booked the reservation on United’s website. With less than two weeks before departure, I informed my employer that I would be gone for a few days for family reasons, and began counting the days until my trip.

TIME TO FLY

On the day of departure, I woke up very early at 04:00. After a shower and some final packing, I set out from my apartment in Brussels and caught the first metro train of the morning. I arrived at the Brussels-South train station around 06:10 in order to catch the 06:25 departure on the German ICE train to Cologne and onward to Frankfurt. One of the nice things about this train is that it actually stops at the Frankfurt airport, so I did not have to change trains. After a pleasant ride of two hours and 45 minutes, I arrived at FRA at 09:10, about three hours before my 12:15 departure to San Francisco.

Here is a photo of the ICE train at the Frankfurt airport station. Thanks for the ride.



Although three hours may seem like ample time to arrive before a flight, I ended up needing most of it. I first waited in line for thirty minutes before I made it to the check-in counter. The agents handling the check in were moving as fast as possible, but there were hundreds upon hundreds of passengers in line for multiple United flights to the US. When I finally reached the counter, the check-in process was straightforward, although given my long, overnight layover in San Francisco, the agent was only able to check my bag to SFO and could only issue my boarding pass for the FRA-SFO leg. She informed me that I would have to check in at the counter and recheck my bag the next morning for the SFO-BZN flight. No big deal. I thanked the agent and proceeded towards passport control.

The line to go through passport control—and thereby leave the Schengen Area—was long and slow-moving. On this day, there were mostly non-EU passport holders in the line, with just one border officer to process them. In contrast, there were three officers designated to the queue for EU passport holders. As such, the airport staff organizing the process instructed a line of us non-EU passport holders to move to the line destined for the EU-only counters. Even so, the process was agonizingly slow.

After forty minutes, I finally made it to the counter, where I greeted the officer in German. He immediately saw my US passport and started to say that I had no right to be in this line, which is for EU passport holders only, and that “normally” I should have to go back and go through the proper queue. Never mind the airport staff had instructed me and many other non-EU passport holders to go to this line. At any rate, while the officer had begun to lecture me, I was in the process of pulling out my Belgian ID, which is not a passport, but which I am also required to show in order to prove that I am living in the EU legally. Once he saw the Belgian ID, he got an annoyed look on his face, scanned the ID and further lectured me that because I had been able to show EU identification, I had been “lucky” this time. I took my card and passport from him, contained my frustration and, without saying a word, simply continued on my way. After many, many encounters with border guards in many countries over the years, I have rarely had any bad experiences other than in Germany—which has happened many times now. Unfortunately, I have come to expect a bad attitude or some kind of problem every time I enter or exit the country. Germany is a country I have spent a lot of time in and otherwise appreciate very much—I just do not seem to get along with the border personnel, who always seem to be on a mission to make a point.

Following passport control, the wait to go through security was another thirty minutes. There were a number of passengers who were worried about missing their flights and asked others in line if they could jump ahead; some people reacted positively, others negatively. I had another 45 minutes until boarding—not all that much time, but not so little that I was stressed and did not let a few folks go ahead of me.

The long wait times to check in, go through passport control and through security—plus the walk between all of these places—combined to eat up a lot of time. Frankfurt certainly seems to require a lot of time to work one’s way through the system. I finally made it to the departure gate, Z23, at 11:10, about 15 minutes before the scheduled boarding time. In anticipation of a long flight in a sitting position, I decided to make a few quick laps up and down the concourse to move my legs and do a bit of spotting. This was Lufthansa territory for sure, as the Airbus A319, A321 and A340-300 frames in the next photo suggest.



There were also a few examples of United metal, including this 777-200.



After my short stroll, I headed back to the gate and joined the long boarding queue.

Outbound Itinerary: Flight 1 of 2
Date: March 9, 2012
Route: FRA-SFO
Flight #: UA901
Aircraft Type: Boeing 747-451
Aircraft Registration: N105UA / Manufactured 1994
Scheduled Departure: 12:15 CEST
Actual Takeoff: 12:38 CEST
Scheduled Arrival: 14:38 PST
Actual Landing: 14:56 PST
Flight Time: 11:18
Distance: 5,699 miles (9,172 km)
Altitude: FL340 / FL360
Seat: 51K (Window)
Load: F Unknown / J Unknown / Y 70%
Personal Stats: 5th flight on the 747-400 / 51st flight on United Airlines (mainline) / 292nd airline flight



At the gate, my big 747-400 was being prepped for the long flight to the west coast.



The first, business and elite passengers boarded first, and around 11:45 it was my turn to climb aboard. I made my way to the back of the jumbo and found my seat at 51K, a window on the right side. I love this type of wing-view; close enough to the trailing edge of the wing to see its workings, but with an unobstructed view of the scenery below. Perfection!



The legroom was tight in this non-Economy Plus seat, with just 31 inches of pitch. While I find that adequate for short- and medium-haul flights, the 747s in United’s fleet are by nature long-haul aircraft, in many cases flying 13 or 14 hours at a time. In that sense, I cannot say that I found the 31 inches of pitch to be acceptable, even if it is supposedly within industry norms.



The safety card was a bit grubby and drab. Obviously the purpose of these is to describe the safety features of the aircraft, but these cards also seem to serve as one more opportunity for promoting the look and feel of the airline. Would it not be better if the airline put a nice photo of an aircraft on the cover (as I have seen on other safety cards)? Or, at least use a design with a bit more appeal than the drab green scheme seen below?



While still at the gate, I spied this big, beautiful Lufthansa aircraft beginning its taxi for departure to some far-flung destination.



A few minutes after 12:00 noon, the captain made an announcement welcoming us aboard and informing us of a flight time of 11 hours and 12 minutes to San Francisco. We pushed back from the gate close to on-time at 12:20. The engines spooled up, the flaps dropped to takeoff position and we began our taxi to RWY25C (until recently known as RWY25R, prior to the construction of the new northern runway, which now has the 25R title).



At 12:38 we took the centerline of the runway, the engines revved to takeoff power and we accelerated slowly into a gentle liftoff. The departure in this lumbering machine was not dramatic, but it was smooth and impressive nonetheless; after all, there was a lot of heavy metal to get into the air.


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Soon after takeoff, we banked to the right on a northerly course away from the Frankfurt airport. The new RWY25R on the northern side of the field came into view; this runway began handling operations in the autumn of 2011.



We continued our climb to the northwest of the airport as we passed through the one layer of broken clouds on an otherwise clear day.



The flaps eventually retracted as we weaved our way out of the Frankfurt area. We were not setting any time-to-climb records, though. According to the overhead screen displaying the flight information, eight minutes after lifting off, we had only reached 11,000 feet.



About 20 minutes after takeoff we passed over Düsseldorf, with the Rhine river serving as my point of reference out the window.



As we reached our cruising altitude over northwestern Germany, clouds rolled in below and obscured my view of the ground. My main point of reference became the number four engine and the slanted winglet of this giant 747.


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Once over the North Sea, the clouds broke apart again, just enough to see the blue water below.



Approximately one hour and 20 minutes after departure, the flight attendants reached my seat with the lunch offering. Officially, there was to be a choice of either chicken or cannelloni, but by the time the cart reached me, cannelloni was the only option. It was served with a small salad of mostly just lettuce, a dry bread roll and a piece of cake. The quality and quantity was about what I have experienced before with United—certainly a notch below its Star Alliance partner Lufthansa, and maybe a half-notch below what I’ve experienced on westbound transatlantic flights on Delta (in my opinion, there is a difference in quality between westbound and eastbound transatlantic flights—the meals catered in Europe seem to be a little better, on average). Unfortunately, even though I had my meal, the beverage cart had yet to reach me. I would have much preferred if drinks were offered just prior to the meal, or at least at about the same time. In this regard, the crew on this United flight did not quite have their timing right.



About ten minutes after I finished eating, the beverage cart finally did reach me. I asked for a cup of coffee with cream. Strangely, instead of being given a small container of milk or creamer, I was handed a carton of milk about the size of my actual coffee. At first I thought that perhaps I was supposed to pour a splash in my coffee and return the rest of the milk to the flight attendant; however, by the time I had opened it, she had already moved down the aisle. I like milk, so I ended up drinking it, but it was unusual to be given a carton just for a small cup of coffee.



Unfortunately, there were no individual screens on this 18-year old 747-400. So, I kept track of our progress through glimpses of the map and flight information on the overhead monitors in between segments of the movie and TV programing. It was not ideal, but at least I had semi-regular updates of our progress to inform my view out the window.

Approximately two hours into the flight, the map showed us passing over the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. Our groundspeed at the time was 552 mph (888 km/h), the headwind was 54 mph (87 km/h) and our remaining distance to San Francisco was 4,782 miles (7,696 km). The projected flight path ahead of us showed a routing over northern Iceland and central Greenland. The view below was mostly cloudy with the blue of the North Atlantic showing through in places.



Three and a half hours into the flight, the clouds below gave way to the unmistakable grandeur of Greenland’s coastal mountains. Although I have flown over Greenland many times eastbound and westbound, this was just the fifth time I had a clear-weather, daytime view of this magnificent terrain.



This particular routing was by far the northernmost of my Greenland crossings. We made landfall at approximately 71 degrees north latitude on the eastern coast, continued over central Greenland and reached the western coast of the island, topping out at the high point of our great circle route at 73 degrees north latitude. This was the furthest north I had ever been, just 1,180 miles (1,900 km) from the North Pole. And for a Europe-North America flight, this is one of the northernmost routes one can get. I will let the photos of stunning Greenland speak for themselves.


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Midway across the island, the map feature came on the overhead screens and confirmed to me what I already knew—that we were over Greenland.  

Of course, not everyone is an aviation fanatic like you and I, and I understand that. Still, it seems that all too often, passengers and cabin crew alike do not show much appreciation for the beauty of flight and the wonder of seeing the world from the air. So it was refreshing when a seasoned United flight attendant, a woman probably in her fifties, passed through the cabin mentioning to those passengers who were not asleep or watching the movie that gorgeous views of Greenland were just outside the window. A few passengers seemed to appreciate the heads-up and retrieved their cameras for a few shots of the snowy landscape. I continued snapping photos as well.


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All too soon, we reached the mountains of the western coast and the clouds rolled in, obscuring part of the view.



We left picturesque Greenland behind and headed out across the mostly frozen expanse of Baffin Bay. The grey sea ice was cut every so often by giant, jagged fractures, some extending to the horizon.


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Five hours and 17 minutes after lifting off from Frankfurt, we went “feet dry” over Baffin Island. The view out my window showed an endless expanse of inlets and mountains, all coated in a thick frosting of ice and snow. Simply beautiful.


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Just after crossing the coastline, the flight tracking information returned to the overhead monitors and confirmed our position over Baffin Island. At that point, some five and a half hours after liftoff, we had travelled 2,925 miles from Frankfurt (4,708 km) and had another 2,812 miles (4,525 km) to go for San Francisco—in other words, just a little over half-way there. Our groundspeed was 582 mph (937 km/h), we enjoyed an ever so slight tailwind of 5 miles per hour (8 km/h), and our altitude was 34,000 feet (10,363 meters).

Meanwhile, the flight attendants came through the aisle offering a small snack of nuts and raisins, as well as a full beverage service. I took a Coke, which was offered as a full can.


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The view outside was far too spectacular to miss, so my eyes were glued to the window as I sipped my Coke.


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The glacial activity was particularly impressive.



As we moved inland and away from the coastal fjords, the landscape took on different, no less interesting patterns.


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Before long, we were “feet wet” again, crossing over the Gulf of Boothia, which separates Baffin Island from the mainland of Canada’s Nunavut province. The sea ice was mostly frozen, but some liquid was visible in places.


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Suddenly, one of the worst things that could happen to photo-taking flyer happened to me. My camera broke. It had been turned off for the past three or four minutes when, as I pushed the power button to turn it on—nothing happened. Usually the lens would have extended and the view-finder screen on the back would have illuminated. The battery was not drained, as I had fully charged it the night before and it had still been showing about 75% capacity before the malfunction (and later on, I tried a fully-charged replacement battery, to no avail). The camera had not taken a tumble of any kind and there had been no indication of a problem immediately prior. I tried a number of novice measures like removing and reinserting the battery. Nothing worked.

It was unfortunate, but I decided to use the demise of my camera as an opportunity to catch some sleep myself. After all, I had been up for many hours and my eyes were heavy. I settled into one of those restless sleeps that occurs when crammed into an upright position in a coach-class seat on a long-haul flight—the kind of sleep that leaves one somehow anxious and with a pain in the neck. Still, it is a part of flying, and therefore what I would consider a “good” pain.

When I awoke fully sometime later, the flight map was visible on the overhead monitor and showed our position over the far northwestern corner of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Our altitude was still 34,000 feet (10,363 meters); we had been in the air for seven hours and 37 minutes and still had another three hours and 40 minutes to go until landing. Our ground speed had slowed to just 466 mph (750 km/h) thanks to a headwind of 71 mph (114 km/h).

I passed the time reading and watching parts of the programing that soon returned to the overhead screens. Finally, it occurred to me that my picture-taking was perhaps not over, after all. I fished around inside my carry-on and found my iPhone 4, which has a camera that can get the job done in most situations. It was not ideal, but better than nothing. As we continued southwest over Alberta, the rectangular lines of farm fields began to appear with more regularity, and I snapped a shot with the simple iPhone camera. After seeing so much beautiful desolation in the far northern latitudes, it was a little anticlimactic to see signs of civilization once again.



Having been seated for over eight hours, I decided to stretch my legs and use the bathroom. It was nothing fancy, of course, but was in decent enough shape.



Soon we reached the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains northwest of Calgary and entered into some light chop as we continued over the peaks.


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At one point while crossing the high spine of the Rockies, a sudden swat of energy hit even our huge 747 with such force that it felt like being on an amusement park ride. The aircraft instantly rolled left, as if going into a steep turn, only to be hit by another blow shortly thereafter which returned the wings to level. It felt as though the jumbo was a small Cessna as several more jolts followed in quick succession. Watching out the window, the amount of wingflex was incredible. A flight attendant immediately came on the loudspeaker admonishing in a stern tone one coach-class flyer a few rows ahead of me who decided it would be a good idea at that moment to retrieve something from the overhead compartment. The man returned to his seat. Meanwhile, we climbed up to 38,000 feet (11,600 meters) in search of better air.

The ride grew smoother as we continued over southeastern British Columbia before entering US airspace over the Idaho panhandle. Meanwhile, I noticed the pair of giant contrails billowing like grey clouds behind the two engines on our right wing. I always like seeing this while inflight.



We passed west of Spokane, Washington, just off the left side of the aircraft. I noticed this distinctive bend in a river out my right-hand window, which I later identified as Long Lake and the town of Tumtum, Washington.



As we continued south into the busier airspace over the US, the air traffic around us picked up noticeably in the form of frequent contrails crossing our flight path.



Over eastern Oregon, the flight attendants emerged with the final drink and meal service. I chose a tomato juice and was given a snack box containing a sandwich, chips and candy bar. This was the same product I was used to from United’s eight hour flights from Europe to the east coast of the US; so I found it a bit disappointing not to be given a second hot meal on a Europe-West Coast flight of nearly 11 and a half hours. Nonetheless, it was decent enough and I finished it all.


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Soon I began to pick out the Cascade volcanoes in the distance. I later identified the next photo as showing Upper Klamath Lake with Mount McLoughlin visible as the white peak just beyond.



Next, the unmistakable mass of Mount Shasta, in northern California, came into view.


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At about 14:25 local time, some 10 hours and 45 minutes into the flight, a brief message from the flight deck informed us that we were beginning our descent into San Francisco. The first officer indicated that we would be on the ground in around 20 minutes and that the current weather in San Francisco was sunny with a temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius). Soon I spotted the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and I knew we were getting close. I had just crossed an ocean, an entire continent, and now was seeing yet another ocean, all in a day—amazing!


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Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the aircraft to see the spectacular views of downtown San Francisco. We proceeded down the coastline just west of the city before making a sweeping left turn to the east on the downwind leg for an eventual approach to RWY28L. I spied Moffett Federal Airfield at the southern end of San Francisco Bay.



We turned back to the north and northwest towards San Francisco as the giant flap assembly began its incremental drop from the wing.


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As we stabilized on approach, the distinctive wingleted shadow of our big 747 grew larger in the waters of San Francisco Bay.



As we neared the runway, the approach lighting of the parallel RWY28R came into view.



And finally, we began to flare just over the threshold. Only a few more seconds to go.


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We landed smoothly on RWY28L at 14:56 local time after 11 hours and 18 minutes on the wing from Frankfurt. What a great and spectacular flight it had been!



After a short taxi, we arrived at Gate 96 and the four big turbofans wound down for some well-deserved rest.



The big aircraft slowly emptied out and I found my way to immigration control where I was welcomed home by a friendly officer. Next I grabbed my suitcase from the belt and continued past the customs officer and into the arrivals hall at SFO, where my friend was already waiting to pick me up. I met her and we headed towards the BART train for the ride to her place in Oakland. Of course—not before I snapped one final shot of the ramp action at SFO.



I spent only about 18 hours in the Bay area during my overnight layover, but I still had time to see Berkeley, close to where my friend lives, and spend some nice time with her. Also, as she is a graduate student in photography, she was kind enough to take me to her local camera store where I picked up a new Canon point-and-shoot camera to replace my broken Nikon point and shoot—nothing fancy, just a compact little camera for taking pictures out of airplane windows!

The next morning I awoke at 05:30, showered, and my friend and I departed her place in Oakland for the drive across the Bay to the San Francisco airport to catch my onward flight to Bozeman. Traffic was light at that early hour and the drive took about 25 minutes. Just as the rising sun began to cast the eastern sky in a pink hue, we pulled up in front of the terminal building around 06:30. It was shaping up to be a lovely morning to fly.



I said farewell to my friend and headed inside the terminal. The lines at the United counters were almost nonexistent and I quickly rechecked my suitcase and was issued my boarding pass to Bozeman.

I was through security within five minutes and with plenty of time to check out the early morning ramp activity. There was no question which was the dominant carrier at SFO, whether in terms of large aircraft…



…medium-sized ones…


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…or small ones.


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Having walked the length of all accessible concourses, I decided to have some breakfast at the small café next to Gate 79, from which my Bozeman flight would be departing. While eating, I noticed my ride arriving in the form of a little CRJ pulling into the gate to prepare for our flight to Montana. I am always thrilled to be going home, but this time I was especially excited to be on this SFO-BZN nonstop flight—my first time on this route.


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Outbound Itinerary: Flight 2 of 2
Date: March 10, 2012
Route: SFO-BZN
Aircraft Type: CRJ-200LR
Aircraft Registration: N978SW / Manufactured 2004
Scheduled Departure: 08:09 PST
Actual Takeoff: 08:23 PST
Scheduled Arrival: 11:27 MST
Actual Landing: 11:04 MST
Flight Time: 1:41
Distance: 807 miles (1,299 km)
Altitude: FL330
Seat: 9A (Window)
Load: 90% (Y only)
Personal Stats: 27th flight on the CRJ-100/200 / 29th flight on United Express / 293rd airline flight overall



Boarding began a few minutes later than scheduled at 07:45, but the process was quick and smooth. I made my way aboard the little jet and took my seat at 9A, a window on the left side.


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A lot of passengers dislike these little CRJs for being too cramped, and indeed space is tight, as the legroom photo shows above. My biggest complaint, however, is the low position of the window and the need to lower my head to see out the window (I am not a particularly tall guy, either). Still, I must admit I like these CRJs. They look good and are fun to fly in, as they really give the sensation of—flying!

As I settled in, the lone flight attendant, a middle-aged man who introduced himself as Peter, came on the intercom and welcomed us aboard. Despite the early hour, he had a nice, cheery personality and even made a few jokes which caused the otherwise dreary passengers to chuckle. He announced our flight time to Bozeman at one hour and 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the ramp agents loaded the rest of the luggage and prepared us for pushback.



At 08:14, the aircraft pushed back from the gate. The engines were ignited and we quickly taxied to the departure runway, 01R. At 08:23, the high-pitched whine of those CRJ engines increased in volume and we began rocketing down the runway. This was a particularly interesting takeoff for me, as it was performed nearly in sync with a Virgin America A320 departing on the parallel RWY01L. Here are a few shots of the tandem takeoff sequence.


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Once stable in our respective climbs, the two departing aircraft diverged—we banked to the right, while the Virgin America aircraft banked to the left. So long!



We passed through scattered clouds as we climbed to the northeast over the Bay.



Fortunately, the clouds let up in just the right place and afforded me a nice view of the skyscrapers of San Francisco bathed in the morning light.


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The former Naval Air Station Alameda then came into view with the Bay Bridge and Yerba Buena Island in the background.



Next up was downtown Oakland, with the inner harbor in the foreground and Lake Merritt just to the right of the city’s core.



As we climbed higher, the Bay area slipped behind the winglet towards our six-o’clock position. Farewell, San Francisco.



We rose through more clouds before eventually cresting the uppermost layer and emerging into a world with nothing but blue above.



As we continued northeast, the clouds broke apart again, revealing the snowy landscape of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Although the high spine of the Sierra was visible only from the right side of the aircraft, I had a nice view of the terrain from my vantage point as well.



About 30 minutes after departure, the flight attendant reached my seat with the beverage cart. At this still-early hour, I was in need of a cup of coffee. I asked for cream and was given a powdered version, which is not my preferred type. The bigger problem was that there were no stir sticks, which is quite necessary to mix powered creamer into a cup of slightly less-than-hot coffee. After I dumped the powdered creamer into the coffee, I got creative and fashioned the packaging from the creamer into a stir stick, which did the trick nicely. The flight attendant was friendly and I have no real complaints. I just suppose the beverage product on this flight could be considered very basic.



As I sipped my coffee, one of the pilots came on the intercom with an update on our progress. He mentioned we were level at 33,000 feet (10,060 meters) and had another one hour and two minutes to go until landing in Bozeman, which would put us at the gate about 20 minutes early.

We continued northeast over the arid landscape of northern Nevada and southern Idaho.



Soon the Sawtooth Range of central Idaho came into view, which provided more spectacular scenery.


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Over the Beaverhead Mountains of southwestern Montana, the engines spooled back and we began our descent into Bozeman. One of the pilots gave a brief weather update from the flight deck, indicating clear skies, good visibility, light winds and a warm temperature of 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius). It was shaping up to be a beautiful homecoming on this March morning.


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This was the first time I had flown into Bozeman from the southwest, and as such I was not as used to the visual cues I have come to expect on flights from Salt Lake, Denver and Minneapolis or Chicago. So it was with some surprise when, quite suddenly, the brown terrain of the Gallatin Valley, and the Bridger Mountains above it, filled my window.


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I was thrilled to see the familiar peaks through the window, but at the same time, was shocked by the lack of snow in the valley and in the mountains. For early to mid-March, everything was bone dry. It was certainly not normal, and in the opinion of many including myself, not healthy for the local environment. As it turned out, Montana’s light winter in the first part of 2012 went on to contribute to a terrible fire season in the late summer and fall of 2012. But I digress. I was elated to be just moments away from touching down in Bozeman!


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We made some final, gentle corrections as we glided the last distance towards RWY12.



At 11:04, we landed with a thud after one hour and 41 minutes on the wing from San Francisco.



We taxied the short distance to the terminal and, after pausing briefly on the ramp to wait for a United Express jet pushing back for Denver, docked at the gate.


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Within a few minutes, I was inside the terminal and paused briefly to grab a shot of the CRJ which had just delivered me home.


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CONCLUDING REMARKS

What were my impressions of United’s product? Based on my experience on these flights, I have ranked the carrier in eight different categories on a scale of one to ten.

Reservation & Online Services: Score 9/10
The United website was easy to use while searching for different flights and itinerary options. Once I identified my itinerary, the booking was quick and easy. Seat selection was available for all United-marketed flights at the time of booking, and changes could be made to the seating assignments at any point thereafter. Online check in was available, but given the international nature of my itinerary, boarding passes could only be printed by an agent at the airport, which was no problem since I was checking luggage anyway. Overall, I was satisfied with the reservation and online services offered by United.

Check-in: Score 7/10
At Frankfurt, it took 30 minutes from the time I arrived at the back of the queue until I reached the check-in counter. This amount of time was not outrageous, but it was not fast either, and I would say that given the number of flights it operates out of Frankfurt, United should look for ways to more quickly process its long lines of Frankfurt customers at check-in, particularly at this time of the day. The agents themselves did a nice job with the process and genuinely seemed to be working as fast as possible given the swarms of people. The process of re-checking in at San Francisco the next day was very quick and easy. Overall, the experience was acceptable.

Seats and Cabin Condition: Score 5/10
The 747-400 on the FRA-SFO leg was 18 years old, and it looked like a veteran workhorse. Still, I would say the cabin was mostly clean and well maintained. The non-Economy Plus seat I occupied for more than 12 hours (including time on the ground) was cramped, however. It is nice that United offers Economy Plus to those with status or who pay for it, but in my opinion the prices for Economy Plus upgrades are disproportionately expensive, and I have never considered doing so. In any case, for the average traveler at the back of a 747, there is little comfort on such a long flight. As for the Skywest CRJ, the cabin was clean and the seat more than adequate for a trip of less than two hours. The window is way too low on those CRJs, but that’s not really the fault of the airline. All things considered, I will give United a score right in the middle.

Cabin Crew: Score 7/10
The cabin crew on the FRA-SFO leg were adequate, though they did not have their timing down with regard to the beverage service coinciding with the meal service. However, one senior flight attendant did do something which I appreciated, namely pointing out to any interested passengers the fact that we were crossing over Greenland. Those are the types of things I think are often missing from the everyday routine of airline operations, and it was nice to see a bit of appreciation for the flight put back into the experience. As for the Skywest flight from SFO-BZN, the lone flight attendant was enthusiastic, warm and showed a bit of personality, which is always nice in comparison to the robotic employees often found in airliner cabins. Overall, there was room for improvement, but my experience was mostly positive.

Food and Drink: Score 3/10
The first meal on the FRA-SFO leg was pretty standard as far as coach-class offerings are concerned. The cannelloni was not bad, but it was the only choice by the time the cart reached me. And as I mentioned before, the first beverage was not served until after I had finished my meal, which was annoying. Also, a second hot meal would have been nice on a nearly 12-hour flight, as opposed to a small, cold sandwich. On the Skywest flight from SFO-BZN, the coffee was more warm than hot, the creamer was a powder, and I had to improvise a stir stick out of the wrapper. When considering mostly the transatlantic flight for the purposes of this score, United continues to serve a food and drink product that is just below the industry average, in my opinion. I have had better meals on Delta more consistently than on United on transatlantic flights, and this experience fit that pattern. And of course, as far as European carriers such as Lufthansa are concerned, the food is a solid notch above what I experienced on United. However, when compared with my experiences on Icelandair, which charged approximately $15 for a basic economy-class meal on a seven hour flight, I cannot judge United too harshly. Therefore, I’ll score this category towards the lower end, but not at the bottom by any means.

Inflight Entertainment: Score 2/10
Some of United’s older long-haul fleet lags significantly behind when it comes to inflight entertainment. For example, the 747-400s, which operate some of United’s very longest intercontinental routes, do not have personal screens in economy class. Instead, small, old-fashioned monitors hang from the ceiling, and even from the best vantage points, watching them can be a strain on the eyes. To United’s credit, they did show the flight information and moving map fairly frequently between the TV and movie programing throughout the flight, which was more than welcome for an aviation enthusiast like me. However, the current offerings vary significantly by aircraft type, especially given the integration of the Continental fleet. Based on this experience, I cannot give United a particularly high score in this category, but I hope the carrier continues to invest in its inflight entertainment product, especially for economy passengers on long-haul routes.

Baggage: Score 8/10
I would definitely prefer if United and other US airlines allowed two checked bags free of charge on transatlantic routes, instead of just one. With that said, my checked baggage arrived on time and in good shape in both San Francisco and Bozeman. Due to the long layover in San Francisco, my bag was not checked from Frankfurt all the way through to Bozeman; however, I preferred to collect it in San Francisco in any case, so it was not a problem. Overall, I was largely satisfied in this category.

Punctuality: Score 8/10
The FRA-SFO flight arrived at the gate about 25 minutes late, despite a pushback in Frankfurt that was close to on time. This was due in part to strong headwinds, and for me it posed no problem given that I was in no rush and had a long layover. This was compensated by the fact that my Skywest flight arrived in Bozeman almost 25 minutes early, which was most welcome after such a long trip. Overall, I cannot complain too much with regard to this category.

RESERVATION & ONLINE SERVICES: 9/10
CHECK-IN: 7/10
SEATS & CABIN CONDITION: 5/10
CABIN CREW: 7/10
FOOD & DRINK: 3/10
INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: 2/10
BAGGAGE: 8/10
PUNCTUALITY: 8/10
-------------------------------------------------------------
AVERAGE SCORE: 49/80 = 61%

How does this score of 61% compare to my other transatlantic experiences? It is a little on the lower end of the scale, but by no means the worst. By comparison, in my previous trip reports, I ranked Icelandair slightly higher at 66% overall, even despite the poor service and buy-onboard meals—a ranking largely compensated by Icelandair’s excellent entertainment product. In my other previous reports, and according to the above criteria, I ranked pre-merger Continental at 66%, Delta at 71% and Lufthansa at 83%. However, I did rank one experience on United at an even more dismal 55%, so by comparison, this experience was significantly better.

While I still prefer European carriers, or Delta, on transatlantic routes, United offered a generally acceptable product, and I have no major complaints. The criticisms that I have pointed out in this report are my impressions of things the carrier could improve, but overall the product is in the realm of acceptability. I would not hesitate to give United my business, especially when the prices and times are right.

BOZEMAN

As a quick capstone to this report, here are a few impressions of my time at home. This was my first time back in almost eight months and the first time seeing my family in just as long. It was wonderful to be with them again. My sister and I both surprised our father at his front door. He had no idea we were even in town (he thought I was in Brussels, of course)! It was wonderful to surprise him like that as a send-off before he left for Everest. We had a great time at the party that evening and during the next days. Here are a few photos from my time at home.

The city of Bozeman is seen here with the Spanish Peaks looming in the distance.



This is the view from the front of my mother’s house, looking towards the Bridger Mountains.



One day, my mother, aunt and uncle, and our dog drove about 30 miles (48 km) west of Bozeman to go for a hike near the town of Three Forks. Out there it can be a very dry and harsh, but also beautiful, environment.



I also spent a day on the ski slopes with my aunt and uncle. Bridger Bowl is our community ski area 15 minutes north of town, and we happened to hit it on a day with fresh snow. Even though I knew every last part of the ski area from my childhood, it had been several years since I had skied at Bridger, and returning there for a day of skiing was a trip down memory lane.


*


Finally, I helped my father pack his gear for Everest. Luckily, as his expedition was sponsored by the North Face and several other outdoor companies, he did not have to pay for any of this nice, expensive year! However, it took a lot of ingenuity to pack it all in the right way.



My return to Europe, as well as the outcome of my father’s attempt of Mount Everest, will be covered in a separate trip report soon. Thanks for reading and stay tuned. Until then, questions, comments and feedback are always welcome!

BZNPilot

My other reports on Airliners.net can be seen at:

Iceland Unexpectedly: SEA-KEF-BRU On FI (by BZNPilot Aug 22 2012 in Trip Reports)
A Prop Hop To The Pacific: Horizon Air Q400 (by BZNPilot Aug 19 2012 in Trip Reports)
Big Apple To Big Sky Country On Delta/Skywest (by BZNPilot Apr 30 2012 in Trip Reports)
Farewell CO - A Transatlantic First And Last (by BZNPilot Apr 23 2012 in Trip Reports)
Short & Long On LH: BRU-MUC-IAD, DCA-BOS-FRA-BRU (by BZNPilot Oct 30 2011 in Trip Reports)
Day Tripping: 3 Flights, 3 Countries, Many Pics (by BZNPilot Jun 13 2011 in Trip Reports)
Trans-Atlantic Part 2: BZN-DEN-OKC-IAD-GVA-BRU (by BZNPilot Dec 3 2010 in Trip Reports)
Trans-Atlantic Part 1: BRU-ATL-SLC-BZN On DL (by BZNPilot Nov 15 2010 in Trip Reports)
A Bee-Line To Madrid: SN’s A319 & B733 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 13 2010 in Trip Reports)
YVR-PDX-BFI: Horizon + SeaPort's PC-12 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 6 2010 in Trip Reports)
Day Tripping: DCA-DTW-MKE-DCA On NW/YX (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 25 2009 in Trip Reports)
BZN-IAD On Skywest/Delta (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2009 in Trip Reports)
DCA-SEA + Boeing Field + Holiday Travel Odyssey (by BZNPilot Jan 3 2009 in Trip Reports)
CDG-FRA-IAD On AF/UA (Part 2, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
DCA-ORD-FRA-CDG On UA/LH/AF (Part 1, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 9 2008 in Trip Reports)
Planes & Trains To Montreal (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
IAD-DEN-BZN-ORD-DCA On UA Biz/Y (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 12 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC-9+A320+738s On NW/DL To MT (pics) (by BZNPilot Aug 3 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC To Montana On NW (many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jun 15 2008 in Trip Reports)
HKG-ORD-DCA On UA In Coach (pics) (by BZNPilot Jun 14 2008 in Trip Reports)
HKG-MNL-HKG On CX (Business) W Pics (by BZNPilot Feb 25 2008 in Trip Reports)
Manila-Caticlan-Manila For New Years (Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2008 in Trip Reports)
MRY-SFO-HKG On UA (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Feb 2 2008 in Trip Reports)
DCA-PHL-SFO (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 29 2008 in Trip Reports)
Northwest Tri-Jets To Germany In 1999 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Feb 5 2010 in Trip Reports)
Lama Chopper In The Montana Mountains (w Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 21 2008 in T

19 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlinelychemsa From United States of America, joined Oct 2009, 1221 posts, RR: 3
Reply 1, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 4 days 1 hour ago) and read 11598 times:

I agree with everything you say.

I feel; that 31" legroom is too tight. Fortunately Aer Lingus and Iberia still offer 32." I just flew with them to / from Europe. AA just reduced the legroom from 32" to 31."

Meals on UA suck in my opinion. Same on AA.


User currently offlinePlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 6824 posts, RR: 77
Reply 2, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 3 days 19 hours ago) and read 10976 times:

Hi BZNPilot,

great report with countless stunning pictures, well done! Just as expected, UA's 747 Y Class product cannot impress me. No individual IFE, cramped seating, average catering - I wouldn't want to take such a flight to the West Coast.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
The line to go through passport control—and thereby leave the Schengen Area—was long and slow-moving. On this day, there were mostly non-EU passport holders in the line, with just one border officer to process them. In contrast, there were three officers designated to the queue for EU passport holders. As such, the airport staff organizing the process instructed a line of us non-EU passport holders to move to the line destined for the EU-only counters. Even so, the process was agonizingly slow.

After forty minutes, I finally made it to the counter, where I greeted the officer in German. He immediately saw my US passport and started to say that I had no right to be in this line, which is for EU passport holders only, and that “normally” I should have to go back and go through the proper queue. Never mind the airport staff had instructed me and many other non-EU passport holders to go to this line. At any rate, while the officer had begun to lecture me, I was in the process of pulling out my Belgian ID, which is not a passport, but which I am also required to show in order to prove that I am living in the EU legally. Once he saw the Belgian ID, he got an annoyed look on his face, scanned the ID and further lectured me that because I had been able to show EU identification, I had been “lucky” this time. I took my card and passport from him, contained my frustration and, without saying a word, simply continued on my way. After many, many encounters with border guards in many countries over the years, I have rarely had any bad experiences other than in Germany—which has happened many times now. Unfortunately, I have come to expect a bad attitude or some kind of problem every time I enter or exit the country. Germany is a country I have spent a lot of time in and otherwise appreciate very much—I just do not seem to get along with the border personnel, who always seem to be on a mission to make a point.

That's really bad. The lack of officers is certainly a big problem, not just at FRA. One can blame the government for these cuts. However, there's no excuse for the bad attitude.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Following passport control, the wait to go through security was another thirty minutes. There were a number of passengers who were worried about missing their flights and asked others in line if they could jump ahead; some people reacted positively, others negatively. I had another 45 minutes until boarding—not all that much time, but not so little that I was stressed and did not let a few folks go ahead of me.

Ah, horrible. Will it ever get better at FRA?

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
The legroom was tight in this non-Economy Plus seat, with just 31 inches of pitch. While I find that adequate for short- and medium-haul flights, the 747s in United’s fleet are by nature long-haul aircraft, in many cases flying 13 or 14 hours at a time. In that sense, I cannot say that I found the 31 inches of pitch to be acceptable, even if it is supposedly within industry norms.

Definitely not enough.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
The safety card was a bit grubby and drab. Obviously the purpose of these is to describe the safety features of the aircraft, but these cards also seem to serve as one more opportunity for promoting the look and feel of the airline. Would it not be better if the airline put a nice photo of an aircraft on the cover (as I have seen on other safety cards)? Or, at least use a design with a bit more appeal than the drab green scheme seen below?

I'm wondering what the "premium" remark means...

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Approximately one hour and 20 minutes after departure, the flight attendants reached my seat with the lunch offering. Officially, there was to be a choice of either chicken or cannelloni, but by the time the cart reached me, cannelloni was the only option. It was served with a small salad of mostly just lettuce, a dry bread roll and a piece of cake. The quality and quantity was about what I have experienced before with United—certainly a notch below its Star Alliance partner Lufthansa, and maybe a half-notch below what I’ve experienced on westbound transatlantic flights on Delta (in my opinion, there is a difference in quality between westbound and eastbound transatlantic flights—the meals catered in Europe seem to be a little better, on average).

Very disappointing indeed.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Unfortunately, even though I had my meal, the beverage cart had yet to reach me. I would have much preferred if drinks were offered just prior to the meal, or at least at about the same time. In this regard, the crew on this United flight did not quite have their timing right.

That regularly happens on Emirates - and I have even experienced that in its Business Class once.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
About ten minutes after I finished eating, the beverage cart finally did reach me. I asked for a cup of coffee with cream. Strangely, instead of being given a small container of milk or creamer, I was handed a carton of milk about the size of my actual coffee. At first I thought that perhaps I was supposed to pour a splash in my coffee and return the rest of the milk to the flight attendant; however, by the time I had opened it, she had already moved down the aisle. I like milk, so I ended up drinking it, but it was unusual to be given a carton just for a small cup of coffee.

Very odd.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Unfortunately, there were no individual screens on this 18-year old 747-400.

Lufthansa has finally completed installing PTVs on all long-haul aircraft - now the question is if and when UA will follow.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
I will let the photos of stunning Greenland speak for themselves.

Wow, stunning!

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Suddenly, one of the worst things that could happen to photo-taking flyer happened to me. My camera broke. It had been turned off for the past three or four minutes when, as I pushed the power button to turn it on—nothing happened. Usually the lens would have extended and the view-finder screen on the back would have illuminated. The battery was not drained, as I had fully charged it the night before and it had still been showing about 75% capacity before the malfunction (and later on, I tried a fully-charged replacement battery, to no avail). The camera had not taken a tumble of any kind and there had been no indication of a problem immediately prior. I tried a number of novice measures like removing and reinserting the battery. Nothing worked.

That's too bad. The trip reporter's nightmare. Was it an old camera?

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Over eastern Oregon, the flight attendants emerged with the final drink and meal service. I chose a tomato juice and was given a snack box containing a sandwich, chips and candy bar. This was the same product I was used to from United’s eight hour flights from Europe to the east coast of the US; so I found it a bit disappointing not to be given a second hot meal on a Europe-West Coast flight of nearly 11 and a half hours.

Another disappointment...


PH



Nothing's worse than flying the same reg twice!
User currently offlinegemuser From Australia, joined Nov 2003, 5714 posts, RR: 6
Reply 3, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 3 days 13 hours ago) and read 10467 times:

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Also, a second hot meal would have been nice on a nearly 12-hour flight, as opposed to a small, cold sandwich

They do the same on the 14-15 hour SFO/LAX-SYD sectors.

Gemuser



DC23468910;B72172273373G73873H74374475275376377L77W;A319 320321332333343;BAe146;C402;DHC6;F27;L188;MD80MD85
User currently online9V-SPJ From United States of America, joined Dec 2000, 752 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 3 days 7 hours ago) and read 10085 times:

Very nice report! The pictures of Greenland are captivating... and I always love flying out of SFO around sunrise, the Golden Gate Bridge looks spectacular.

9V-SPJ


User currently offlineflykev From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2006, 1385 posts, RR: 1
Reply 5, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 3 days 5 hours ago) and read 9725 times:
AIRLINERS.NET CREW
FORUM MODERATOR

Interesting report. I particularly enjoyed your photos of Bozeman which is certainly a place you don't see or hear much of.
UA looks to have a pretty disappointing product on the 747 in Y, and I agree with PH above that I would not want to go to the west coast on it. The safety card did amuse me, it is so dated looking - and it looks like someone wrote the word "poo" on it? Very random.
I sincerely hope UA work to improve their product on what is one of my favorite aircraft types.

Thanks for sharing, and I will look forward to reading about your return trip.

Kev.



The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only
User currently offline767747 From United States of America, joined Jan 2005, 1951 posts, RR: 24
Reply 6, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 9484 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

Great report, BZNPilot! Good to hear from you again.

Looks like you had some scenic flights - the views over northern Canada and Greenland are amazing!

United really needs to improve their Economy Class catering - food looks very average for a 11 hour flight. 3 pieces of canneloni, a handful of lettuce, a roll, and a little desert? Come on! Even Delta serves more substantial meals.

Thanks for sharing. I'll be flying out to San Francisco in a few weeks - looking forward to heading back to that cool city.

Best,

Matthew


User currently offlineklkla From United States of America, joined Jul 2004, 937 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 3 days 1 hour ago) and read 9292 times:

Awesome pictures and great report. I always have respect for people that take the time do do these detailed reports (Something I always tell myself I will do but it's much harder than it sounds).

United coach is what it is. Looks like it's not much better or worse than AA or DL (Except DL offers a better IFE system on most Intl aircraft). It would be nice if any of the US airlines would take the effort to at least do a good meal presentation.


User currently offlineAirAfreak From United States of America, joined Apr 2012, 730 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 8956 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!! I don't know how you suffered on such a long flight with United!!! First-World problems, I know. =]

Hello there!

I really enjoyed your photos of the very nice view from above!!! I once had a view like this on a Pan Am flight many years ago, but I dropped my camera and it broke. Also on a 747. So, it's needless to say, I was unsuccessful with photo taking.

As far as the meal service, I wouldn't even serve that salad to a rabbit! The pasta looked somewhat yummy!!! I love pasta!!! It's nice to know at the very least, the meal was included in your airfare as this is not always the case. And I also agree, DL does serve a decent meal on transatlantic flights.

I'm glad to hear overall, your experience was uplifted with a few nice cabin crew on both of your segments. This really counts for me. Take that $450 you saved and spend it on a nice bottle of champagne to reward yourself for enduring the dreaded UA Econ Seat! lol!!!!!!!!

Enjoy Bozeman and safe travels to Brussels when you return!!!

Bon Voyage,

AirAfreak =]



Do you lead an Intercontinental life?
User currently offlineBZNPilot From Belgium, joined Feb 2006, 264 posts, RR: 1
Reply 9, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 8377 times:

Hi lychemsa,

Thanks for reading.

Quoting lychemsa (Reply 1):
I agree with everything you say.

 
Quoting lychemsa (Reply 1):

I feel; that 31" legroom is too tight. Fortunately Aer Lingus and Iberia still offer 32." I just flew with them to / from Europe. AA just reduced the legroom from 32" to 31."

Unfortunately, it seems the 31 is becoming the industry standard, if it isn't already...  

Hi PH,

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 2):
great report with countless stunning pictures, well done!

Thanks a lot, nice to hear from you!

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 2):
UA's 747 Y Class product cannot impress me. No individual IFE, cramped seating, average catering - I wouldn't want to take such a flight to the West Coast.

Indeed. But at least the scenery was amazing (looking on the bright side).

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 2):
Ah, horrible. Will it ever get better at FRA?

FRA has been a go-to airport for me over the years, given it's location and of course excellent connections and frequencies across the pond, but it is one of my least favourite airports to "deal with". I hope it will improve over the coming years.

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 2):
I'm wondering what the "premium" remark means...

I don't know, good question. I'm pretty sure the "premium" remarks doesn't refer to the design of the safety card itself, though.   Perhaps it is signifying that this particular 744 had also been fitted with premium economy (Economy plus) at a time when not all of the fleet had been?

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 2):
That regularly happens on Emirates - and I have even experienced that in its Business Class once.

There's really no excuse for that in business class, IMHO!

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 2):
Lufthansa has finally completed installing PTVs on all long-haul aircraft - now the question is if and when UA will follow.

Oh, great, I didn't realize that LH had finished. Unfortunately, my return flight on this itinerary DEN-FRA on LH (744) did not have PTVs. That trip report is coming soon.

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 2):
Was it an old camera?

I forget the exact model, but it was mid-level Nikon point and shoot, purchased in 2010, so it was only a couple years old.

Thanks again for reading and commenting, PH.

Hi gemuser,

Quoting gemuser (Reply 3):
They do the same on the 14-15 hour SFO/LAX-SYD sectors.

Yikes! that's even worse. When I flew UA in 2008 on the HKG-ORD leg, there was a second hot meal. I guess they have cut back since then...

Hi 9V-SPJ,

Quoting 9V-SPJ (Reply 4):
Very nice report!

Thanks!

Quoting 9V-SPJ (Reply 4):
I always love flying out of SFO around sunrise, the Golden Gate Bridge looks spectacular.

Indeed, SFO is a beautiful place to fly into and out of (weather permitting)!

Hi Kev,

Quoting flykev (Reply 5):
Interesting report.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Quoting flykev (Reply 5):
The safety card did amuse me, it is so dated looking - and it looks like someone wrote the word "poo" on it? Very random.

The safety card does look a bit crappy...   Actually, I noticed those scribbles, too, but thought it was "1000". Who knows...

Quoting flykev (Reply 5):
Thanks for sharing, and I will look forward to reading about your return trip.

Thanks, will post part two in the next week or so.

Hi Matthew,

Quoting 767747 (Reply 6):
Great report, BZNPilot! Good to hear from you again.

Thanks, good to hear from you again, as well.

Quoting 767747 (Reply 6):
Even Delta serves more substantial meals.

Indeed...and a bit better quality, in my opinion.

Quoting 767747 (Reply 6):
I'll be flying out to San Francisco in a few weeks - looking forward to heading back to that cool city.

Enjoy! It's a great place.

Hi klkla,

Quoting klkla (Reply 7):
Awesome pictures and great report.

Thanks, glad you enjoyed!

Quoting klkla (Reply 7):
I always have respect for people that take the time do do these detailed reports

Well, in this case it took me only 11 months to get it online...it's a lot of work, but I'm also a procrastinator.  
Quoting klkla (Reply 7):
United coach is what it is.

Very well put.

Quoting klkla (Reply 7):
Looks like it's not much better or worse than AA or DL (Except DL offers a better IFE system on most Intl aircraft).

Haven't experienced AA on longhaul before, but certainly agree with you about DL.

Hi AirAfreak,
Thanks for commenting!

Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 8):
I don't know how you suffered on such a long flight with United!!! First-World problems, I know. =]

Haha, true...definitely first world problems.  
Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 8):
I once had a view like this on a Pan Am flight many years ago, but I dropped my camera and it broke. Also on a 747.

Bummer. How cool would it be now to ride on a Pan Am 747!?

Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 8):
And I also agree, DL does serve a decent meal on transatlantic flights.

  

Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 8):
I'm glad to hear overall, your experience was uplifted with a few nice cabin crew on both of your segments. This really counts for me.

For me, too. People can make a big difference.

Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 8):
Take that $450 you saved and spend it on a nice bottle of champagne to reward yourself for enduring the dreaded UA Econ Seat! lol!!!!!!!!

Hahaha...I wish! That would be a nice bottle of bubbly, for sure.

Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 8):
Enjoy Bozeman and safe travels to Brussels when you return!!!

Thanks, will post the return trip soon...nearing completion on that report.

Thanks again to everyone for reading and commenting! Happy flying...

BZNPilot


User currently offlinePlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 6824 posts, RR: 77
Reply 10, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 8341 times:

Quoting BZNPilot (Reply 9):
Thanks a lot, nice to hear from you!

You're welcome!

Quoting BZNPilot (Reply 9):
But at least the scenery was amazing (looking on the bright side).

Absolutely!

Quoting BZNPilot (Reply 9):
There's really no excuse for that in business class, IMHO!

  

Quoting BZNPilot (Reply 9):
Unfortunately, my return flight on this itinerary DEN-FRA on LH (744) did not have PTVs.

That's bad. Interestingly, in the last few weeks, DEN and BOM were almost exclusively served by the last two remaining 744s with old F Class, and one of these planes didn't have PTVs in Y Class either. That wasn't a coincidence.

Quoting BZNPilot (Reply 9):
That trip report is coming soon.

Good!


PH



Nothing's worse than flying the same reg twice!
User currently offlineadamspotter From Netherlands, joined Feb 2011, 1168 posts, RR: 12
Reply 11, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 8192 times:
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Hi BZNPilot,

Nice report with many great pictures, thanks for sharing.
UA doesn't look impressive at all here. Cramped seating, no PTVs and that meal doesn't look good at all. Definetely agree with you that a second hot meal would be nice on such a long flight.
Luckily enough you were treated with many many nice views, everytime I fly over Greenland it is always covered with clouds unfortunately. Shame about your camera breaking, luckily enough the Iphone came to the rescue!
You had quite a poor experience at FRAs passport control, what a rude officer! Such a shame really

Thanks once again for putting this together, really enjoyed it. Looking forward to your return report!

cheers,

Brendan


User currently offlinegjunnar From Germany, joined Sep 2001, 155 posts, RR: 0
Reply 12, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 1 day 17 hours ago) and read 7771 times:

A BZNPilot report always triggers the "must read" with me. And as always I wouldn't be disappointed with your appreciation for the great sights only a plane window can offer and your great and sophisticated writing style.
Customs officers all over the world seem to have bad attitudes at times, at least with the experiences I made.
Looking forward to read about your return trip.


User currently offlineLazialeMKD From French Polynesia, joined Oct 2009, 151 posts, RR: 0
Reply 13, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 7283 times:

Thanks for sharing -
Great report and a lot of details.


User currently offlinebrilondon From Canada, joined Aug 2005, 4304 posts, RR: 1
Reply 14, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 1 day ago) and read 7122 times:

What a wonderful TR! Thanks for sharing. Too bad your camera decided to crap out. Your I-phone though did the trick in a pinch. UA is certainly a little behind in their offerings in terms of Entertainment, the food and I was wondering why you did not check in online the day before? Just to let you in on a little secret; the meal you had was the better of the choices IMO. If I was flying on a *A, I would have perhaps chosen to fly on LH or AC. They are much better than UA.

Great report as always.



Rush for ever; Yankees all the way!!
User currently offlinetriple7man From Thailand, joined May 2005, 746 posts, RR: 0
Reply 15, posted (1 year 8 months 2 weeks 15 hours ago) and read 6895 times:
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Your pictures of the scenery were great and they make you appreciate flying. It sounds like UA was ok, but nothing spectacular. I often find the service on the foreign carriers (especially the Asian ones) to be far more superior.
UA has weathered storms and while it has been several years since I have flown them, they were my choice airline for several years (as a Mileage Plus member) until I went to work for AA. My best moments on UA were being upgrades on 2 trans Pacific flights (SEL-SFO, HKG-LAX). My outbound flights were in economy class, so I can empathize with your experiences.
UA's 747-400's have served them well. My first 2 flights on 747-400's were on UA as were my first (and only) 2 flights on 747SP's. But like you said they are showing their age. Hopefully the 787 will be back in service soon. I will look forward to seeing your trip report on the return flights. I loved the pictures and sorry your camera broke down.



Have you kissed a 777 today?
User currently offlineMSS658 From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 2474 posts, RR: 16
Reply 16, posted (1 year 8 months 1 week 4 days 16 hours ago) and read 6077 times:

Hi BZNPilot

Great report from your side, thanks for sharing it with us. Great scenery pics along the way.
However I'm not impressed by United at all. Having no legroom and no IFE on an 11hour flight isn't that appealing at all.
Same actually goes for the 2 hour CRJ flight! Really brave on surviving that one  
Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
On the day of departure, I woke up very early at 04:00. After a shower and some final packing, I set out from my apartment in Brussels and caught the first metro train of the morning. I arrived at the Brussels-South train station around 06:10 in order to catch the 06:25 departure on the German ICE train to Cologne and onward to Frankfurt. One of the nice things about this train is that it actually stops at the Frankfurt airport, so I did not have to change trains. After a pleasant ride of two hours and 45 minutes, I arrived at FRA at 09:10, about three hours before my 12:15 departure to San Francisco.

Same train I took between BRU and CGN this week.

Greetings
Marc



Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
User currently offlineSultanils From Belgium, joined Mar 2010, 1746 posts, RR: 30
Reply 17, posted (1 year 8 months 1 week 4 days 12 hours ago) and read 5938 times:
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Hello BZNPilot,

You managed once more to deliver a stunning piece of writing an picture taking.While the flights itself were certainly nothing out of the ordinary I'm sure the views outside made for a great journey. As for UA not impressed...

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
I took my card and passport from him, contained my frustration and, without saying a word, simply continued on my way.

Oh man, what a disgraceful experience. At least you kept your dignity in this poor show. Friendliness doesn't cost any money.

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
I love this type of wing-view; close enough to the trailing edge of the wing to see its workings, but with an unobstructed view of the scenery below.

That really is the perfect place to be seated indeed and you made good use of it  

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Or, at least use a design with a bit more appeal than the drab green scheme seen below?

That is such an odd safety card. It looks as old as your aircraft lol!?

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
but it was unusual to be given a carton just for a small cup of coffee.

What a waste. That's something I cannot comprehend, airlines try to cut costs in every possible way yet they give out an oversized amount of - luckily real - milk?

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
I took a Coke, which was offered as a full can.

At least this is done right  

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
the distinctive wingleted shadow of our big 747 grew larger in the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Now that is a shot that I'm dying to get for years and you nailed it, good job!

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
Once stable in our respective climbs, the two departing aircraft diverged—we banked to the right, while the Virgin America aircraft banked to the left.

And that's an interesting capture as well!

Quoting BZNPilot (Thread starter):
My return to Europe, as well as the outcome of my father’s attempt of Mount Everest, will be covered in a separate trip report soon.

I'm quite curious about both.

Sultanils



In thrust we trust.
User currently offlineBZNPilot From Belgium, joined Feb 2006, 264 posts, RR: 1
Reply 18, posted (1 year 8 months 1 week 4 days 6 hours ago) and read 5708 times:

Hello and thanks again to everyone who commented!

Hi PH,

Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 10):

That's bad. Interestingly, in the last few weeks, DEN and BOM were almost exclusively served by the last two remaining 744s with old F Class, and one of these planes didn't have PTVs in Y Class either. That wasn't a coincidence.

Interesting about DEN and BOM, thanks for the info!

Hi Brendan,

Quoting adamspotter (Reply 11):
Nice report with many great pictures, thanks for sharing.

Many thanks, glad you enjoyed.

Quoting adamspotter (Reply 11):
Luckily enough you were treated with many many nice views, everytime I fly over Greenland it is always covered with clouds unfortunately.

Too bad about the cloud cover. It's hit or miss with Greenland, and the weather can definitely be rough in that part of the world. But when the views are there, they're incredible. Hope the clouds will part for you sometime.

Quoting adamspotter (Reply 11):
Shame about your camera breaking, luckily enough the Iphone came to the rescue!

Indeed, it came to the rescue. It's not a great camera, but it got the job done pretty well, actually.

Quoting adamspotter (Reply 11):
Looking forward to your return report!

Thanks! Will post it soon. Best regards, take care.

Hello gjunnar,

Quoting gjunnar (Reply 12):
A BZNPilot report always triggers the "must read" with me.

What a nice compliment, thanks! Good to hear from you again.

Quoting gjunnar (Reply 12):
And as always I wouldn't be disappointed with your appreciation for the great sights only a plane window can offer and your great and sophisticated writing style.

Thanks again!  
Quoting gjunnar (Reply 12):
Customs officers all over the world seem to have bad attitudes at times, at least with the experiences I made.

Indeed. They have an important job, for sure, but it's a shame when problems arise when they shouldn't.

Quoting gjunnar (Reply 12):
Looking forward to read about your return trip.

Will post soon...I'm aiming to finish it this weekend. Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting. All the best to you.

Hi LazialeMKD,

Quoting LazialeMKD (Reply 13):
Thanks for sharing -
Great report and a lot of details.

Thanks, glad you enjoyed!

Hi brilondon,

Quoting brilondon (Reply 14):
What a wonderful TR! Thanks for sharing.

Many thanks, much appreciated.

Quoting brilondon (Reply 14):
Your I-phone though did the trick in a pinch.

It sure did. The funny thing is that after my camera broke, it didn't occur to me that I had the iPhone camera until some time later. When I realized that was an option, I was greatly relieved...otherwise this TR would be missing a lot of photos.

Quoting brilondon (Reply 14):
UA is certainly a little behind in their offerings in terms of Entertainment, the food

I hope they catch up. I will still fly United when the price and timing is right, but they really should up their game.

Quoting brilondon (Reply 14):
I was wondering why you did not check in online the day before?

I tried, actually, but I received a message saying that check-in could not be fully processed online and that I had to do it at the airport. It didn't make much of a difference, though, as I still had to check a bag (and thus wait in the line).

Quoting brilondon (Reply 14):
If I was flying on a *A, I would have perhaps chosen to fly on LH or AC. They are much better than UA.

Definitely agree with you about LH. I haven't tried AC yet across the Atlantic, but have a trip booked with AC BRU-YUL in June, so it will be good to try that option as well. Thanks again for reading and for your comments!

Hi triple7man,

Quoting triple7man (Reply 15):
Your pictures of the scenery were great and they make you appreciate flying.

Thanks a lot, glad you enjoyed.

Quoting triple7man (Reply 15):
It sounds like UA was ok, but nothing spectacular. I often find the service on the foreign carriers (especially the Asian ones) to be far more superior.

Exactly. UA got the job done, but without a lot of perks. Fortunately the views were great. I absolutely agree about the Asian carriers. The difference is huge, at least based on what I've seen on other trip reports (my only real Asian airline experience is CX in business class between HKG and MNL). But, it is what it is, as they say...

Quoting triple7man (Reply 15):
My best moments on UA were being upgrades on 2 trans Pacific flights (SEL-SFO, HKG-LAX).

Nice! Good to have upgrades on those long transpacific flights.

Quoting triple7man (Reply 15):
UA's 747-400's have served them well.

They are certainly workhorses. It's always fun to track a UA744 tail number on flightaware.com...Frankfurt one day, San Fran that evening, Hong Kong the next day, Chicago after that...truly incredible.

Quoting triple7man (Reply 15):
Hopefully the 787 will be back in service soon.

Hope so too.

Quoting triple7man (Reply 15):
I will look forward to seeing your trip report on the return flights.

Thanks a lot! Really appreciate your comments, take care.

Hi Marc!

Quoting MSS658 (Reply 16):
Great report from your side, thanks for sharing it with us.

Thank you, good to hear from you also!

Quoting MSS658 (Reply 16):
However I'm not impressed by United at all. Having no legroom and no IFE on an 11hour flight isn't that appealing at all.

It's a good thing I love flying and could keep myself happy with the aviation aspect, because you're right, the amenities were pretty poor.

Quoting MSS658 (Reply 16):
Same actually goes for the 2 hour CRJ flight! Really brave on surviving that one

Yeah, but somehow I do like those little CRJs, despite the cramped cabin and the low windows. I don't know why, but they're always fun to me.  
Quoting MSS658 (Reply 16):
Same train I took between BRU and CGN this week.

How was your trip? In general, the Deutsche Bahn is pretty good, in my opinion (though I have had a few bad experiences). Brussels-Frankfurt in less than 3 hours is quite impressive, and it certainly makes Frankfurt another airport option for folks in Belgium, if the airfare difference makes up for it, as it did in my case.
Looking forward to your next reports, also, Marc, take care and all the best!

Hi Sultanils!

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
You managed once more to deliver a stunning piece of writing an picture taking.

Thanks a lot, much appreciated! Good to hear from you.

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
While the flights itself were certainly nothing out of the ordinary I'm sure the views outside made for a great journey.

Indeed, the views provided great entertainment, plus the fact that this was a very northern route over a very remote part of the globe is something I found really cool!

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
Oh man, what a disgraceful experience. At least you kept your dignity in this poor show. Friendliness doesn't cost any money.

Thanks, yeah, you're right about friendliness. It's not always easy to stay mellow, but of course with customs and immigration officials, that's always the best approach.   

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
That really is the perfect place to be seated indeed and you made good use of it

My favourite spot in the plane (well, the upper deck would be pretty cool, too...not to mention the flight deck   )

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
That is such an odd safety card. It looks as old as your aircraft lol!?

Indeed, an 18 year old aircraft, probably an 18 year old safety card, too.

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
What a waste. That's something I cannot comprehend, airlines try to cut costs in every possible way yet they give out an oversized amount of - luckily real - milk?

Yeah, it was strange. I haven't experienced that before, so I suppose it was probably an odd exception...maybe their catering was different than usual that day? In any case, I drank it so it didn't totally go to waste.  
Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
Now that is a shot that I'm dying to get for years and you nailed it, good job!

Well, sort of, the iPhone camera didn't really do it justice! But it was still cool!

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
And that's an interesting capture as well!

Interestingly, I departed from the same runway at SFO a month ago and experienced an almost identical scenario. I guess they like to launch two aircraft at once at SFO.

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 17):
I'm quite curious about both.

I'm finalising the next report, hope to post soon. Thanks for reading and commenting! All the best!


User currently offlineplaniac787 From India, joined May 2012, 240 posts, RR: 0
Reply 19, posted (1 year 8 months 1 week 4 days 4 hours ago) and read 5561 times:

Not at all impressed with the united economy product here..
No PTV's..that sucks..I took united last may from ewr all the way to delhi in Y..
The flight was actually pretty good.. there IFE is pretty darn good and not having one in such a long flight must have been a bummer.. they really need to do something about there catering...Food looks disappointing..
Lovely photos though..looks like you had a scenic flight...
Gr8 TR..

My tr can be found here have a look...

Atl To Delhi Via Newark On United Airlines (by planiac787 Jun 15 2012 in Trip Reports)

Cheers!

Pradat



Be the change you want to see in the world- M.K.Gandhi
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