Down Under - 18APR-23APR
Warning: The following trip report contains disturbing scenes of non-revenue passengers in premium cabins. Reader discretion is advised.
April 18, 2003
United Airlines UA863
From: San Francisco (International - SFO/KSFO)
To: Sydney (Kingsford Smith - SYD/YSSY)
United First - 5J
Flight Time: 13h 35m
After a shortened shift at work, I grabbed my trusty Travelpro and backpack combo and proceeded to the International Terminal G, Gate G94 for my flight to Sydney. I had been activated on the list earlier. After exchanging some US dollars into the Australian type, a thorough inspection of the duty-free shop and a self-guided tour of the other International Terminal gates, my traveling companion and I headed to the departure lounge at Gate 94.
Our names were called soon after, even before the boarding process began. Upon arriving at the podium, imagine my shock when seeing that we had both been assigned seats in United’s International First cabin. Joy! When boarding did commence, we of course joined the First Class line, and expected receipt of our duty-free articles, but none were to be found.
We took our seats on board, although my friend shuffled seats with other occupants in First so everybody could sit next to each other, etc. He ended up with 4J directly in front of me. J is the single First seat side on the right hand side of the cabin, and with a wonderful stowage bin between your seat and the wall to store little things. Pre-departure beverages were served, of which I chose my normal orange juice. As a strict non-alcoholic beverage consumer, I turned down offers of Dom Perignon (shock, I know).
Roughly 30 minutes after boarding, we pushed back for an on-time departure and taxied out to 28R for takeoff. The engines spooled up as soon as we lined up for takeoff and after a average length takeoff roll, we were in the air at 10:53pm and on our way to the South Pacific.
I would be remiss if I didn’t commend the crew working this flight for their friendly attitude and attentive service. It made the flight one of the best I have ever experienced. The purser was a distinguished older gentleman with a very soothing voice, and did an excellent job. Shortly after takeoff, beverage orders were taken and I opted for my usual, a ginger ale with lime. It arrived about a minute later. Meal orders were taken soon after.
T O B E G I N
Smoked salmon timbale
Capers and lemon aïoli
M A I N C O U R S E
Filet mignon with bèarnaise sauce and sautèed shrimp with garlic
Baked stuffed potato topped with cheddar cheese
Grilled lamb chops with cranberry orange demi-glace
Oven-roasted three potato hash and asparagus
Ricotta and artichoke filled ravioli
Roasted zucchini, yellow squash and Parmesan cheese
Your choice of Pomodoro or creamy pesto sauce
T H E E A R L Y S E A T I N G M E A L
Prosciutto with mozzarella cheese, cantaloupe and balsamic vinaigrette
Marinated shrimp with Asian vinaigrette and tropical fruit
Eli’s Chocolate Truffle cheesecake
D E S S E R T
International Cheese Selection
Brie, Gruyère, Gorgonzola and New England Cheddar cheese
Ice cream with sundae toppings
Fresh seasonal fruit
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I selected the lamb entree, and it was indeed delicious. A little less cooked than I usually prefer, but it was still delicious. The potatoes and asparagus provided a lovely compliment. For dessert I selected the ice cream, and had some fresh strawberries to accompany it as well. I was apparently slower than the rest of the First Class cabin in eating my entree, so the purser asked me what I would like out of the fruit basket, and that he would save it for me until I was ready. Very nice touch.
After the meal, I returned my full attention to my personal television, which had been playing Airshow since takeoff, and started the movie Spy Kids 2. It was a delightful movie. The flight attendants came around constantly, refilling my ginger ale and water glasses. After finishing the movie, I reclined my seat and turned it into a fully flat 6' 6" bed, pulled the covers over me, buckled my seat belt over it and proceeded to sleep for the next nine and a half hours.
Upon rising, I found a bottle of water to greet me. I went back to the galley and asked if I could get another personal video tape. The flight attendant pulled out the tape basket, and I selected one. Back to my seat, I started to watch the movie Sweet Home Alabama. Shortly after, breakfast was served.
P R I O R T O A R R I V A L
Your selected entree will be served with fresh seasonal fruit and breakfast breads.
Scrambled eggs with chives and smoked Gouda cream sauce
Sautèed potatoes with onions, pork sausage and crispy bacon
Banana nut French toast with creamy maple syrup
Pork sausage and Canadian bacon
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I selected the scrambled eggs, which were very delicious. The Gouda cream sauce added a nice bit of tang to usually bland eggs. The bacon wasn’t as good as it is on the ground... but you can’t win them all. The pork sausage (note not plural) was nothing to write home about. It was, however, accompanied by some fresh ripe cantaloupe and honeydew pieces, which cleansed the palate and finished off the meal on a very nice note. I finished Sweet Home Alabama just as the purser made the announcement that we were beginning our final descent into Sydney. I rewound the tape and switched over to AirShow to finish out the trip. The sun was starting to rise, so I peeked out the window and saw beautiful clouds and the very tip of Australia. Land ho! We came in over the suburbs of Coogee, Kingsford and finally the airport suburb of Mascot. We landed at 6:03am local time, two days later. After a short taxi, we parked at Gate 57, right next to a Singapore Airlines “Megatop” 747-400.
After thanking the flight attendants for the fantastic trip and giving them a box of chocolates I had purchased in the Duty Free shop prior to boarding, I was off the plane with my colleague and on my way to Customs & Immigration. As required, my Australian ETA was issued long prior to my departure, and verified by United personnel at the airport in San Francisco. Passport and arrivals card duly filled out, after a fair walk to the Immigration lines, I was processed quickly and efficiently by a handsome Immigration official who welcomed me to Australia, and gave me a yellow card detailing SARS. From a US-originated flight? Intriguing. Down the stairs, we passed the luggage carousels as we both took carry-on luggage only. Our bags were scanned by Customs, and we were free to go. Exchanged money, used the restrooms, then proceeded to the AirportLink train station for our trip to our accomodation.
April 23, 2003
United Airlines UA862
From: Sydney (Kingsford Smith - SYD/YSSY)
To: San Francisco (International - SFO/KSFO)
United First - 4E
Flight Time: 12h 58m
After a wonderful couple of days in Sydney, it was time to return home. A friend from back in San Francisco who had arrived that morning on UA863 was kind enough to drive us to the airport. We stopped by The Rocks area of Sydney, where we had breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks. Great stuff. We then sped off to the airport, and arrived there at 12 noon sharp. We checked in with a very nice agent who pulled our flight coupons immediately (odd, I thought), and put us on the Departure Management list. After that, I filled out my departing passenger card, found a post box to mail postcards, and did a little bit of shopping at the duty-free shop. I stopped to take a few pictures of my aircraft as well as other aircraft at the SYD International Terminal (a few QANTAS aircraft, two UA 747's, and a Malaysian Airlines aircraft was all).
I then proceeded through departure formalities and security screening, and waited patiently for my duty-free goods at the Collection Point. It took them quite a while to get my items out there, even though I had first asked for them long past the 20 minute minimum time to transfer goods from landside to airside. I finally got my goods a bit after the first main cabin announcement was made for UA862. Luckily, I passed by the secondary screening at the gate entrance and was through to the departure lounge. I turned in my card at the service desk and sat down with my friend and waited. I took some more pictures to finish off my roll of film.
Soon, they called our names. I got seat 4E, and my friend 4F. We boarded and got ourselves settled. After everyone had boarded, there was still one F seat open, 3J. My friend wanted a window, so he moved over to that seat, leaving the seat next to me the only one open in F class. How nice I had a pre-departure orange juice as per usual, but this orange juice seemed quite tangy, almost burning-the-throat tang. The purser came around with the choice of personal video tapes. I selected The Bourne Identity, but never actually ended up watching it.
The crew on this flight was a stark contrast to our outbound flight. The flight attendants were efficient, yet cold and somewhat reclusive. The smiles I saw were fake at best. It was very much a letdown. After taxiing past a Air Calin aircraft, Cathay Pacific A340-600, and a pair of British Airways 747-400's, we lined up on the runway and takeoff commenced immediately upon lining up with the runway. The takeoff was smooth and pleasant. After takeoff, beverage orders were taken, and so were meal orders. Customs paperwork was then passed out. Then the meal was served.
T O B E G I N
Warm grilled shrimp with chervil sauce
Risotto with Parmesan cheese
Smoked ham, salami and Swiss cheese antipasto
Grilled zucchini, tomato and lemon aïoli
Garden fresh salad
Tomato vinaigrette or Caesar dressing
M A I N C O U R S E
Filet mignon with a mustard demi-glace
Sauteed vegetable in puff pastry and green beans
Roasted Barramundi with bacon and portobello mushroom ragoût
Rice pilaf with onions and sauteed spinach with garlic
Country-style roasted breast of chicken with jus lie
Green peas and garlic mashed potatoes
Cheese tortellini with Parmesan cheese
Roasted artichoke hearts and Gorgonzola sauce
D E S S E R T
International cheese selection
True Blue, Heritage Brie, St. Clair and Kapiti Cheddar cheese
Ice Cream with sundae toppings
Fresh seasonal fruit
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I chose the chicken, which was very delicious. I was worried that I would be unable to finish it, having just eaten breakfast two hours earlier. But I did, and enjoyed ice cream with all the toppings to finish it off.
I then proceeded to listen to the European Beat channel (my favorite) while I calculated and filled out my Customs paperwork. Then I watched The Princess Diaries (one of my favorite movies) at least twice I tried to sleep, but unfortunately it was fitful sleep, for it was roasty toasty in the cabin, and I sleep best in slightly cooler temperatures. I got an hour of sleep here and an hour of sleep there. The seat belt sign went on and off, on and off as we hit periods of turbulence.
At one point during the flight, I got up to walk around. I checked with the flight attendants to make sure it was all right, and one told me “you can only go as far back as business for security reasons.” There it goes again So I walked back to the end of the Business cabin, and saw a cart out with some potato crisps, little sandwiches, fruit, and Dove chocolate. I took some chocolate back with me When I got back to my seat, the flight attendants were serving the midflight snack. I was given a cucumber and bell pepper sandwich, and a cold cut sandwich. Both were cut in cute little triangles. I also got some more Dove chocolate
The flight progressed along, and about an hour and a half out of San Francisco, breakfast was served.
P R I O R T O A R R I V A L
Your selected entree will be served with breakfast breads, butter and fruit preserves.
Scrambled eggs Florentine with Hollandaise sauce
Canadian bacon, home-fried potatoes and fresh fruit appetizer
Fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt
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Feeling more along the lines of fruit, I chose the fruit plate. Slices of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, grapes, and passion fruit were accompanied by vanilla yogurt. Very refreshing.
We got closer to San Francisco, and eventually the announcement was made to prepare for landing. Landing was accomplished at 9:47am local time, Thursday. We pulled into Gate G97. Again, I was one of the first off the aircraft, and strolled down the long hall to Immigration. Passed through relatively quickly, no stamp in my passport though But I was welcomed home by the INS official. That was a nice touch.
Customs was painless as well, and I was soon out back into the United States.
Hope you enjoyed! Comments, as always, are welcome!