As promised, and sorry it’s so late, here’s my report of my “next” long-haul trip, to Dubai (although I’ve done 3 more since then, and even wrote a trip report about one of those!). This one may not have as much detail about the flights since it’s been so long, but I’ll try to make up for it with extra pictures, since everyone likes pictures.
Drove the SFO for a change, didn’t have time to take the train. Parked in official airport long-term parking, and whilst waiting for the shuttle bus to pick me up, nibbled on a very lovely egg-salad sandwich, with some delightful local cress, that Mrs. 3201 made before my departure, and I present to you a photo fit for my upcoming new website, waitingforthebustocomemeals.com. Since I know you have all been dying for cabin shots of the shuttle busses, I took some of those too, both of the main deck and the upper deck.
Went to the UA international check-in, and they have kiosks now. Since I was going to Dubai, I got an extra coupon to give to a human to check my, uh, I don’t know what they were checking, something regarding my legality to go there. Maybe they were ensuring I didn’t have any ‘Israel’ stamps in my passport or something. Soon enough I had one bag checked and boarding passes in hand and was on to security.
I went to the RCC as usual and all sorts of people were trying to get drinks without their chits, which turned into the older female Asian bartender scolding them for not having the chits, then trying to give the drinks for free anyway as the people countered by trying to insist on paying $$$ for them. A typical example was the guy who asked for a beer having no chits. The guy claimed to be semantically challenged – when entering the RCC they had asked him if he wanted a “cocktail,” and he didn’t want a cocktail, he wanted a beer, so he said no, and thus they didn’t give him drink coupons. The only reason this had any impact on me, other than mild amusement value, is that the delay to sort it all out and continue scolding the man for being practically challenged delayed my being served, which infinitely reduced her tip. And what did I drink? Having decided that all the wine and spirits there are fatally sub-par, I had a beer. A relative in Florida had mentioned an article in their paper about the Anchor brewery earlier in the week, and I realized I hadn’t had an Anchor Steam in about 10 years, so I had one, and can now happily go another 10 years before my next. It did make me anxious to get to the Senators lounge in FRA though.
I took a brief moment to chronicle the selection of aircraft visible from the RCC. It was especially nice to see a new friend of mine, N308UA, which I’d been on three times in Jan-Mar of this year after never being on before.
Soon enough it was off to G91 for:
6 May 2006
Seat: 11H (bulkhead upper-deck window)
Dep 1:45am local, Arr 6:30am local
Seatguru warns on the bulkhead, saying some find it to be less room, and the side-bins (huge upside of upper-deck windows) are smaller. The other UA upper-deck windows I’ve been in generally have two of the bins, sometimes more, to claim. This seat did have two but the front one was much narrower than normal (my shoulder bag wouldn’t fit in it, but my laptop bag would) and I think maybe shorter as well, but I still had no trouble getting all my stuff stowed, so no problem there. The room seemed fine too.
Pre-departure drinks were the usual – Champagne, water, and what airlines try to pass off as orange juice. Time for a rant here. I read in so many trip reports about people drinking the orange juice on airplanes. Sometimes I try it, just to see if it’s really OJ. Maybe it’s just because I grew up in Florida, but I can’t stand that pulp-free concentrate stuff they have. I call it faux-J. I’d rather drink the water from the potable tank. Does anyone have real OJ in any class? Maybe SQ or EK in first? (Now I see that in the weeks since I originally wrote this, it was brought up as a topic on the MP forum on Flyertalk. But feel free to answer here instead!) Anyway, this being a US carrier under FAA rules, the pre-departure bevs are in plastic cups, and I’m not gonna drink the Champagne from a plastic cup, and I’m never drinking faux-J, but I did go ahead and have some water.
Menus were soon passed out and Christao was right about the menu change date – here we were in May and it was a new menu, including a different beef than the standard filet mignon:
We pushed right on time from G91. As we taxied, I took a few photos of aircraft, and I think the people behind me were having a debate about whether I should be allowed to use the camera – I heard one say to the other something like, “well it has batteries in it, doesn’t it? Seems electronic to me.” This, and an unexpected low battery warning, and my lack of having any spares with me (uh oh!), made me just turn it off and stow it, which made me miss a great opportunity just after takeoff (foreshadowing). But not before I got a photo of N120UA (more foreshadowing) with one of those fancy new tugs that doesn’t use a bar, the SQ 777 bound for ICN, and our traveling companion to FRA.
We taxied to the 28’s – 1L was closed and under maintenance, 1R seemed not to be in use. As we neared the end of the 28’s Channel 9 suddenly came on, and it became clear why 1R might not be in use even if it was physically available – winds were out of 260 at 20. We were cleared to cross 28L and hold in position on 28R with a Brasilia on a 12 mile final. At 2:20 we were cleared for takeoff and our roll was about 45 seconds. An immediate right turn gave us a great view of the UAL maintenance area with several aircraft on the ramp, but my camera was in my pocket turned off. On initial contact, departure gave us direct SAC. We passed west of OAK, and I wasted some battery on a quick photo.
There were only 2 German-speaking FA’s on board, both in Y, which seems a bit weak, but I guess most Germans who travel internationally speak plenty of English. Upper deck was completely full, as usual. At 2:30 the FA started taking dinner orders in the upper deck, front-to-back. I politely requested the beef. IMO short ribs are a great beef dish for an airplane – for those of us who like our steaks cooked just barely enough to keep them from crawling off the plate trying to steal our salad, those coveted filet mignons are 100% to be overcooked, so a beef dish that’s actually supposed to be slow-cooked to death is a lot more appealing.
Although our filed route, which I later found to be:
SFO8 SFO SAC J32 FMG BOI J7 GTF J530 YYN J539 YPA J539 YYL J540 YEK LAT4 6930N 07000W NCAA ADSAM 7100N 05000W 7100N 04000W 7000N 03000W 6900N 02000W 6600N 01000W GUNPA UP619 VES UP992 LBE UL619 AMLUH UM852 ULSEN T155 ALOSI T157 RANIN T152 GED GED1W
included overflying Reno (FMG), it became clear that we were headed north of there, and I assume we were given direct Boise (BOI) somewhere near SAC while there was a PA announcement or something and I missed it. The route we took gave great views – for example, Donner Lake in the foreground with Lake Tahoe in the background and several of the ski resorts visible, and then Pyramid Lake as we clipped its north end, before flying just NW of “King Lear Peak” (N 41°12.2' W 118°33.3').
Nuts and drinks started coming around at 2:45. The FA’s were ordered to their seats in the middle due to a little chop, but were up and resuming service soon thereafter (with, of course, no public announcement clearing them to leave their seats). Nuts were refilled from the silver bowl (not warm) at 2:58 while IFE was re-setting to start video. Movies actually started at 3:00. Hot towels came at 3:15. I’ve decided now they seem more like hospital towels, not so much like motel washcloths. I’ve also decided they are the same as on LH and other airlines I’ve flown, so I’ll stop trying to describe them.
For a change, I decided to watch a movie on this flight. Some of the reason I normally don’t watch movies on planes is that Mrs. 3201 likes movies more than I do, and it’s silly for me to watch them without her. But once when we were flying together I watched The Bourne Identity while she watched something else, and she’s still never seen it, so I figured I was cleared to watch The Bourne Supremacy without her too. Great movies for the 5” screen, I really can’t imagine watching them on anything any smaller.
I watched the movie through the well-known UA C-class dinner service – tablecloth, then starter (lovely Wensleydale, Gromit!) and salad in one service, with which I drank the Pouilly-Fume, that cleared, then main, with which I drank whichever French red they had (by this time in these meals I’ve usually become apathetic in my note-taking and can never remember afterwards). As usual, the FA’s were always very quick to keep the wine glasses refilled, but not logistically placed to support the switch to a different wine when passing out main courses (I think they don’t have any new glasses with them). Maybe they should take wine orders with dinner orders – which LAN does, but does not have any way to record one wine for first course and another for main, which pretty much defeats the purpose. Anyway the beef was OK, nothing I’d be too excited about on the ground but plenty good in the air. My neighbor had the pasta, which was a ton of food – I think she ate less than half of it.
Dessert came around at 4:30, and I had cheese (which came with a few red grapes and two packs of multigrain crackers) and port, and finished it all up just as the movie was ending, perfect timing. As usual, the cabin was nice and dark. Off to sleeeeeeeeeeeeep…
I woke up in the middle of the flight and found an advantage to 11H – leaning with a hand on the bulkhead, it’s a piece of cake to step over the sleeping person in the aisle, which is completely impossible in the other non-exit upper deck windows with the seat in front reclined. This let me walk around a bit (down and back up the stairs 2 or 3 times as usual) and use the lav mid-flight while my neighbor slept soundly. As usual, there were carts set up for self-serve snacks at the starboard exit doors of both main and upper decks, and flight attendants were manning the galleys for drinks. Also as usual, the magic water glasses were continuously refilled.
I woke up in the still dark cabin and saw we were just West of Norway but shooting far north of FRA. As it turns out, the filed route above looks like this:
and as you can see, we overflew Hamburg and down from the north, approaching FRA from the east. Channel 9 was on, and as we descended through the middle altitudes ATC advised us to slow to minimum possible speed to avoid holding. And wouldn’t you know it – the first time I’ve ever flown from the US to FRA when they were landing on the 7’s, and it’s the time we approach from the east. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, just a few scattered clouds, and I figured the spotters would be out in force. We turned right for a left downwind leg north of the airport, and on final to 7L, with my window on the right side, I could see lots of cars parked east of runway 18, and figured someone was taking my picture. Alas, no shots of our landing in the DB. We took one of the high-speeds, I think A8, and for a change, straight in to B25 with no waiting.
Despite an on-time departure, our arrival was about half an hour late due to light tailwinds or something like that, and several people were being helped with miscons. My originally scheduled connecting time was 3:40, so no problem for me.
I think I took this picture just after deplaning, can’t remember but nothing else makes sense:
Usually I would head straight for the nearest Senator Lounge, but being ticketed in C, decided to go try the business class lounge for a change. I signed up for a shower, was a bit confused by the lack of real food (i.e. the usual meats, hot dishes, etc, not just bread and packages of stuff) but thought it was a time-of-day thing, and got straight to my email, downloading our route of flight from flightaware, etc. After an hour, I went back to check on the shower situation, and the list had hardly moved at all. Still no real food either. At this point it dawned on me that the business class lounge was actually a lower level lounge than the Senator one. Back then I was having fun with this newbie-elite travel thing, screwed something like this up each trip. It wasn’t a total loss, this lounge had great views of aircraft, better than the Senator lounge, and since it was much emptier and had so many more work areas, it was easy to charge up my laptop batteries. But I really needed that shower, so I headed back up to the Senator lounge. There I got on the shower list, letting them know I was now a bit tight on time, got some real food and beer, and looked at airplanes out the window. After 20 minutes they came and got me for that shower, ahhhhhhhhhhhh, much better. But now I had to hurry off to my gate.
The gate was A52, first time I’ve left from the top level of A. The A concourse is like Munich – two levels of gates, connecting to the same sets of jetways, with the bottom level for Schengen departures (and thus beyond incoming international passport control) and the top for non-Schengen. So unlike connecting to somewhere in Europe, no access to skytrain, but a direct walk with no passport control, through a dark corrider with lots of big chairs and sleeping people (designated as “rest area” or something like that) and straight out into the top floor, down the corridor, to the gate and straight on board.
07 May 2006
LH634 (ticketed as UA8904)
D-AIGL (A340-313X – old business class, but FlyNet!)
Seat: 15K (starboard window)
Dep 1:25pm local, Arr 9:30pm local
As I looked at the aircraft from the glass jetways, I was surprised and elated to see the satellite dish on the top of the fuselage, indicating Connexion by Boeing, aka FlyNet, was on this aircraft! This route is not advertised as having FlyNet, and I think it normally doesn’t. Sure enough, it was there and it was working.
The downer is that, as advertised, this aircraft had the old LH business class seats. I see people trash UA all the time for their C seats, but they are soooooo much better than the old LH ones. The pitch is allegedly 48”, but they’re really uncomfortable, and with people reclining, the room seems no better than domestic-F in the US, and with the large cabin (42 seats), there’s an overall feeling of the service being more big-group, almost like just a souped-up economy service, not as personal or attentive.
There were some amenities, nothing any better than what UA has, except for the eyeshades, which aren’t great (but UA’s are terrible). The menus are more complicated and I guess “nicer” than the UA ones, although I think it just makes them bigger, harder to find information, and doesn’t really add any value. They seem a bit wasteful, with lots of blank pages and whitespace. This one was a special “star chefs” edition, with a football-nose cover:
and inside there was a description of the chef who had planned the menu, his restaurant, the fact that he was cooking for the German national football (soccer) team, etc. There was also an insert with a recipe, in German on one side, English on the other:
The menu had separate pages for each language (English, German, and Arabic), then another one describing the sommelier, then two pages of detailed descriptions of the wines (in English and German), then a list of the other beverages. I went ahead and scanned in most of them:
Right before getting on the plane, I stopped to buy batteries for my camera, but apparently they didn’t have enough juice – the camera wouldn’t take pictures with them, would just shut down when I tried! So as we rolled down runway 18, I missed the chance to take a picture of about 100 spotters on a platform off to the side of the runway, most with cameras pointing at us. And yet, still no pictures of my flight in the database.
With the old batteries, though, I got some pictures during the taxi-out, which I like for personal reasons.
My first-even a.net post was a TR SFO-MUC-AMS-SFO, and it included my first A340-600 (D-AIHK) and my first CRJ-700 (D-ACPR). Oddly enough, taxiing out, I passed both those aircraft:
Of less interest but still fun for me, the RJ85 boarding next to D-ACPR is the same flight I’d been on (departing from the same remote stand) less than 3 months earlier on my SFO-FRA-CDG-FRA-SFO trip. There were also the usual assortment of cargo aircraft, especially LH MD-11’s
I had the marlin and the perch and the cheese, and all the food was very good, although the service, off the tray, was very assembly-line, not at all personal. They took all my silverware when they took away my first course, and didn’t give me any more when they brought the main course, and it was actually hard to get their attention to get some more as they continued down the row serving from the cart, which was annoying. The main dish was especially good – the fish was not overcooked, the spinach and potatoes very good, and the saffron jus very nice flavor and very well-matched with the fish, spinach, and potatoes, the whole combination really worked very well together. The dinner service was slowwwwwwwwwww, but somehow in the cramped space I managed to keep my computer open, playing online games with friends, giving them a play-by-play of my food (quite a few comments of “what airline are you flying!?” from the domestic-economy crowd) and the geography.
The route took us over Turkey, out over the Mediterranean clipping the NE peninsula of Cyprus, then a left turn at BALMA to route over Lebanon, and out over Syria (this portion is VESAR UB15 BALMA R655 CAK J222 BASEM) then a right turn to avoid Iraq: UR785 TRF – then left turn back on course UP559 across Saudia Arabia and out into the gulf north of Bahrain and Qatar, to RATUN, then A791 all the way until north of DXB, a right turn for a right downwind to 30R (30L being closed). (If you’re looking for these points and airways on current charts or navigation software, be aware that RATUN doesn’t exist there anymore -- the intersection between UP559 and A791 is now at LOTIT, close but not the exact came place.) Here’s a skymap shot, with typically poor skymap-shot quality, sorry!
We landed on 30R, taxied to gate 26, and out through the jetway was the insanity of DXB airport. If you’ve never been there, it’s… well, darker that I expected, and somehow louder and more crowded. It was a long walk down the terminal, past the grocery store and all the tax-free shopping, to escalators that led down to an interminable tunnel with moving sidewalks, which takes you to the landside building. A train might be a good investment. Anyway, I got stamped in no problems, and spent a few days in Dubai. It was OK, a place I’m glad to have visited, but not quite in my top-5 for the year. As has become my tradition, here is a picture of my room service breakfast:
And a few random Dubai photos, even though no contrails, I’m going to declare them aviation-related just because of how big Emirates and DXB have become:
After 3 days in Dubai, I got dropped at DXB airport at around 12:10 for our 1:45 departure. A first security check (x-rays and metal detectors) precedes the check-in counters. At check-in I got LH boarding passes for both flights, one bag checked through to SFO, but no coupon for the arrivals lounge in SFO, which isn’t too surprising since I was checking in with LH. I have no idea whether they could have produced one had I asked (probably not) but at the time I didn’t really think about it.
Next came another round of security, essentially identical to the previous one (but in a longer line to wait), then the long underground trek on the conveyer belts (errr, moving sidewalks) under the ramp to the airside building.
Once there I priced a few duty-free items, finding them to be essentially identical to SFO and the UA in-flight magazine, but did go into the little duty-free grocery store, and picked up some dates, a package of Turkish coffee, and some Cadbury fruit/nut bars.
Moseyed down towards gate 26, and on my way saw this vehicle, which I can only assume is one of the high-profile luxury vehicle raffles for which Dubai is famous:
Popped into the STAR lounge, which was small and crowded but somehow didn’t really feel cramped. They had a nice nut and dried fruit mix with pistachios, which made me realize that I should have looked for Iranian pistachios at the grocery, ooops, oh well (my Iranian friends in the bay area say they can’t get real Iranian pistachios here, even at the Iranian grocers). Soon enough it was time to board. As I approached the aircraft I saw that I didn’t get lucky with Flynet this time – no dish on top.
11 May 2006
Seat: 16D (left of center two seats)
Dep 1:45am local, Arr 6:30am local
Pre-departure drinks were as usual water, faux-J, or champagne, in real glasses, and I had a glass of champagne. The menus showed that we would get a small snack, then a more substantial breakfast before departure. These menus were not the “Star Chefs” series, but a more generic looking one in the cover and the explanations.
We pushed on-time or close, short taxi, then takeoff from 30R (30L was closed at this time, lots of construction at DXB, mostly to ready it for A380 I think, plus general expansion). Kept flying basically straight after takeoff, across the gulf and over Iran, heading for SHZ – a much more northerly path overall than our outbound flight from FRA.
There were three kinds of very small open-faced sandwiches (toppings on one piece of bread, without another piece of bread on top). I didn’t write them down and honestly don’t remember, I think one was cheese, one meat, and one all veg. They were OK in a pretentious and unfilling sort of way. Soon the lights were off, and almost everyone seemed to be asleep. I woke up briefly when we were over the black sea, and took a walk to the galley looking for food. The flight attendants didn’t really know what to do with that request, apparently there really isn’t any provision for food outside of the meals, and weren’t any sandwiches left from the snack. Whatever – I headed back to my seat and fell into a pretty deep sleep.
So here’s where my huge complaint comes in. The next thing I know, I’m awakened by a combination of a rather loud meal service and full cabin lights. Check the time, and there’s still well over 2 hours until arrival. What are they thinking? Couldn’t get immediately back to sleep, so figured I’d eat. Started with the cold plate, and the peppered filet of beef was good, but the cheeses were bland and boring, and having eaten (and really enjoyed) breakfast in Germany before, I have to say I was disappointed with both the quality and quantity of this course.
My neighbor had the omelet, and it looked awful, but every hot breakfast I’ve seen or eaten on LH was poor quality so it wasn’t too surprising. I don’t know what they’re thinking throwing a plain-looking piece of chicken breast meat with an egg dish as if it were a breakfast meat. I understand they don’t want to do pork, but there are options. The hotel in Dubai had veal bacon (along with pork bacon actually for non-Muslims), but if that’s a bit too out there, how about some smoked chicken, which can wind up tasting almost exactly like ham? (more foreshadowing) Anyway, I misread skymap in my awakened stupor and thought we were somewhere in the general vicinity of the Alps, so I figured it was appropriate to risk the Bircher Musli, and it was actually surprisingly good, even though we were, in fact, nowhere near Switzerland, but instead near the Austria/Hungary border. I downed it pretty quickly and tried to get some more sleep, but with the level of activity in the cabin now and the bright lights, even with my eyeshades I just couldn’t do it. So began a pretty boring stretch of flight, too tired to do anything with my brain but in the wrong environment to sleep. I really think LH has this horribly wrong. I vividly remembered a red-eye in C on LAN, where the lights never came on, it was completely quiet in the cabin despite a few people eating breakfast, and I slept until about 30 mins before landing – much better.
Anyway, we landed on 7L, again following Murphy’s Law that you land on the 7’s at FRA if and only if you are approaching from the East. We taxied directly to some gate on B-concourse.
Next was a 3-hour meeting at one of the hotels adjacent to the airport. Passport control was ridiculously slow, all the people in the non-EU lines were giving the immigration officers all sorts of trouble, and it took about 15 minutes to get through 2 or 3 people. No questions for me at all, just a grunt and a stamp, but (and this happens almost every time) a pause in the middle to look at something the neighboring officer had in a passport, talk in German, shake heads in disbelief, chuckle, etc.
After a few hours meeting, several cups of coffee, and some light snacks, I headed back to the airport, and went to the UA check-in counter. I had two reasons to go there. On my previous trip through FRA, all passengers who had connected from LH and not visited the UA counter had to wait in a long line at the gate for security questions and passport verification. Also I wanted to get a coupon for Arrivals by United in SFO – I figured I could probably talk my way in without one, but it would be better to have one. I got to where the business class lines were, and there were two agents standing with no customers at all, but the woman who stands out at the entrance to the lines and verifies that you are indeed fit to approach the counter was busy talking to two people who were not even flying United. When I tried to ignore her and go past, she stopped me, told me I had to wait, and continued her conversation, while the two agents just kept standing at the counter doing nothing. Love it. When she finally dismissed the other two people, she looked at my boarding pass and told me I didn’t need to get anything done at the counter, but not really trusting her, I used the Arrivals thing as an excuse to go talk to an agent anyway. She didn’t understand what I was talking about (and that so completely shocked me, of course) but finally agreed to let me pass.
The agent was friendly and told me they no longer have whatever problem it was that slowed me down at the gate in February when I flew back from Paris, but she cheerfully printed me a UA boarding pass anyway to make sure it was all good. She then went to talk to a supervisor to try to get the Arrivals by United coupon for me. She came back and told me that for some reason (I can’t remember) they couldn’t print one for me there at the time, but to go to the RCC and they would give me one.
Off I went, through security, and on to the RCC in C, which is far inferior to the Senators’ Lounges in both B and A, but does have some good views of the aircraft parked at C and the east side of B. N220UA is departing as UA941 to ORD.
The RCC attendant dismissed my explanation and request for the Arrivals by United coupon with an immediate “we don’t do that.” No “sorry,” or “here’s what you might be able to do,” not even continued eye contact, as if she was horribly offended that I had bothered to ask her for something, and there wasn’t even anyone else to help behind me, she went back to an idle state. Went and took the above photos, had some kind of processed meat in a sealed plastic container (oh yum) and compared all three of the bottled beers they had, and soon enough it was time to move on.
I hate the walk from the RCC to C8, it’s so dirty and dreary, and I always seem to be in some kind of condition that makes it seem about 10 times as long as it is (sleep deprivation, beer, whatever). Soon enough, though, I reached the gate, right before they called first/business to board.
11 May 2006
N120UA (B747-400, PW)
Seat: 12H (upper deck window)
Dep 1:45pm local, Arr 4:12pm local
Nice to see N120UA, which I’d never been on but had seen (and photographed) on my taxi-out at SFO to start the trip. Got straight into my seat, had some water as a pre-flight beverage, packed everything away into the side bins, ready to go. Channel 9 was on. It was good to be back on United. Menus were distributed…
… and orders were taken the “right way,” front to back asking everyone for their second choice. The woman across the aisle in 12B felt the need to go into a 30 second explanation that her second choice was pasta because she has access to good salmon at home because she knows fishermen, blah blah blah, yeah whatever. The flight attendant was very friendly, discussing it with her as if she genuinely cared, I have to give her points for that, unless she really did, in which case… My neighbor had special meals on order, discretely called “special meals,” and I requested first choice salmon, second choice pasta, no more gambling with that filet after my SFO-NRT disappointment.
And here my notes end, which is bad since this was 7 months ago and I remember very little! The meal the guy next to me had was really odd looking, and I still don’t know what it was, didn’t feel comfortable asking him about it. I do have one note that we crossed paths with an Alaska MD80 near Redding, “he was almost certainly on J189.” I know we landed on the 28's and I had no problems coming back through customs & immigration (this time).
All in all, no real complaints, but it was clear to me that UA C is a lot better than LH "old" C, both in the seat and in just about everything else (although the dinner FRA-DXB was probably better food, but offset by worse service). UA always takes a bad rap, and everyone assumes all European and Asian carriers are automatically better than all US ones, but I'm not sure that's always a safe assumption.
Sorry for the abrupt ending, and hope you guys like this one!