Hey all, I've been on here for quite a while, but was always too lazy to write a trip report until now. Anyhow, here's my first try at it -- be gentle Pictures will be posted later as well once I get home.
This was the first leg of a three week trip to Asia that takes me to China, Mongolia, and Korea to visit friends as well as explore some potential career opportunities in that part of the world.
Aircraft registration: N117UA
Seat: 11K (upper deck, front bulkhead)
Sched pushback: 1415, Gate G98
Actual pushback: 1406
Takeoff: 1420, Rw 28R, GAPP3 departure
Landing: 1700, Rw 35
At gate: 1703
Before the flight
After running some last minute errands, I get to SFO with about 2 hours left to spare before departure. Normally for international flights, I arrive earlier, but I figure that the normal crowds would be significantly less on this date. Boy, I was certainly right. Normally, at this time of day, SFO's International Terminal is bustling with passengers during the morning wave of Asia departures. However, it seemed nearly deserted today. There were no lengthy queues anwhere, and at the UA desk, there was none at all to speak of.
Upon checkin, I ask the CSR if I had any chance of an mileage upgrade, and he advised me that while J class was "empty", my fare didn't allow me to upgrade using miles. But, he explained, since the flight was so empty, they might be doing operational upgrades due to weight and balance needs. In due time, he checks me in for a Economy Plus seat.
Other than the deserted terminal, and most of the UA employees wearing red, white, and blue ribbons, there was little visible reminder of the significance of this day. Security seemed to be the same -- perhaps there was extra scrutiny on the part of the screeners, but due to the significantly less number of people travelling, there didn't seem to be undue delays. My carryon bag was pulled aside for random screening, but then again, with all the gadgetry that I pack, it often arouses extra suspicion all the time.
I get to gate G98 with 100-odd minutes before departure, and having nothing to do, I decide to try to score an upgrade using the advice of the guy who checked me in: "Any chance of an operational upgrade?", I ask. Immediately, the gate agent went on a tirade, angrily asking me why should we be doing operationals when the plane was half-empty, giving me a rude stare. I said: "Perhaps to balance the plane?" "No!!!" Oh well, it was worth a try. But I wonder, was the CSR full of it when he told me to try that?
Once she was done, I ask her if I could upgrade my fare to the lowest Y fare that allowed mileage upgrades, and after checking, advised me that it'd be about $600 or so. Fine with me... I wanted to rest up for my meetings in Shanghai that night, and use the laptop power to get work done.
While waiting for my upgrade to go through, I strike up a conversation with the commander of the flight, the very jovial captain Kelly, an ex-PanAm guy. Interestingly, it turned out that he commanded my HKG-SIN flight last August, and I remembered him because he was quite an outgoing man, walking around the cabin, and striking up conversations with the passengers -- something which seems to be largely lost these days. It's a practice that's very nice in my opinion, and I wish more pilots did this. Anyhow, Captain Kelly more than made up for the treatment I got from the girl at the gate.
I got upgraded eventually, and proceeded to check email one last time, before the boarding call started.
I settle in to my seat -- upper deck, front bulkhead. Great... always my favorite seat in a 747 (other than first class, which I've yet to experience.) And if the unthinkable were to happen again, I'd be the last line of defense before they reach the cockpit door -- but I didn't dwell on that thought much longer.
Cabin load in the upper deck was actually decent... and hardly "empty" despite the words of the CSR, perhaps 3/4rd full, as was the first class cabin. The main deck business cabin was about half full. The economy cabin was ridiculously empty -- between 1/4 and 1/3 full. Many people had entire rows to themselves. I guess it's safe to assume that the more frequent flyers in C and F are less paranoid about flying on 9/11.
Pre-takeoff drinks were served very quickly while boarding commenced; I had the orange juice, followed by a second. We got done with boarding, and pushed back a few minutes early, but hold on the ramp for several minutes, thus negating a possible early takeoff. We then taxi to 28R, and the SFO flight line certainly seemed less than before. UA had about 1/2 of the gates empty, which was quite unusual.
We had a smooth takeoff roll lasting about 50 seconds. The sensory experience of takeoff is definitely different from the upper deck than the lower one -- the feeling of power and finally lifting off is much less pronounced. Sitting on the right side, I was treated to the usual spectacular view of the SF area, the bridges, and Alcatraz that accompanies a Runway 28 takeoff. The day was beautiful with clear skies, complemented with low fog gently and beautifully creeping in from the sea into the city.
As with the ground, there was nothing on the flight to remind passengers of what had happened a year before, other than the ribbons worn by the FAs, and the SF Chronicles with "9/11" boldly emblazoned across the front page in what seemed like 300-point text against a background of a tattered flag. The one unusual thing about this particular flight was there were no PAs from the flight crew at all, except the cabin crew prepare for departure/arrival and fasten seat beats. Is this somehow due to security?!
Fortunately, Channel 9 was still on -- always my favorite feature of UA. What was cool was that I actually got to hear EVERYTHING this time, not just ATC: phone conversations with FAs, the pushback driver, and clearance delivery as well. However, as usual, the FA's lengthy after-takeoff service announcement, and its repeat in Mandarin, pre-empted much of the interesting ATC chatter during the departure phase of the flight, and also, once we switched over to HF some 200 miles from the coastline, there was nothing to be heard until we contacted Tokyo control again hours later. Is it because planes use text messaging these days to communicate with ATC over the oceans?
Today's C menu was as follows:
Smoked Salmon with leek slaw
Dill creme fariche
Garden Fresh Salad
Balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Beef Tenderloin with Hollandiase sauce
Home-friend potatoes and haricots verts with tomato
Stir-fried shrimp with chili plum sauce and spring onions
Chinese egg noodles and sugar snap peas
Chicken stir-fry with shiitake mushroom and asparagus
Egg fried rice with spring onion
International cheese selection
Brie and New England Cheddar cheese
Eli's Caramel Brownie Fudge tart
Please help yourself to assorted treats between the two main meals.
Hot sandwiches or noodles are available upon request.
PRIOR TO ARRIVAL
Old fashioned chicken and mashed potato pie
Fresh fruit appetizer
Fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt
Menu selections were taken the first thing after takeoff -- after a less-than-pleasant experience with the lemon chicken on my last UA transpac flight, SFO-HKG-SIN a year ago, I opted for the beef.
The bowl of cold nuts came afterwards, followed by drink service, and then a hot towel which was not that hot, and pretty small as well.