From Down Under to Up Over...
This is the continuation of my other trip report. It is also my third 'suite' experience by way of United... the other two are referenced in previous reports. In case you hadn't noticed or are one of the many posterchildren of incompetence, 'suite' is a clever pun for the positive adjetive 'sweet', which itself is interchangeable with and a synonym of, but not limited to, the word 'cool'. Bear in mind I'm trying to keep my promise to crank this report out while steadily getting sleepier for the morning shift at my local major airport tomorrow, so please forgive me if it's a bit short and less decriptive than my other report. Weather conditions were uneventful with nothing worthy of mention as we cruised at 39000 feet across the Pacific...
Wednesday evening, May 22 Kiwi Standard Time
744 AKL -to- LAX United First Suite
So I'm sitting in 3A, in the most wonderful and quietest part of the cabin [well, most of the time it is with some exceptions as I'll describe] -the nose section- of N120UA, the 35th 747-400 out of 44 total in United's grand fleet... and as I'm getting my drink on, feeling like I'm acting too old sipping on my Dom Perignon champagne... I realize that this will probably be my last taste of the lap of luxury in the skies for a while, at least until I'm an ODB [old dirty bastard] and can afford the filthy amounts of money and/or miles to fly up there at market price.
Photo © Glenn Alderton
Photo © Matthew Lee
DISCLAIMER: Heavenly georgeous departure scene pictured does not represent the conditions in which I departed [dark and rainy], and, please do not be alarmed, headrest covers may come off in-flight... seat 3A (front right) seems to have a problem as mine came off as well...
To be sure, the cabin was filled with -undoubtedly- some of New Zealand's finest dignitaries. As an NRSA, I jumped at the opportunity to fly in First Class on this supra long-haul international route for a nominal charge. I believe I was the only bennie user up front... the person directly in front of me was definitely some sort of full-fare paying VIP, a premier doctor as I would later find out, as there seemed to be a line of FAs to shower attention on him at all times.
Getting to the airplane was fairly easy. We returned or tiny, but nimble, Ford Ka without a hitch, checked in at the ticket counters with a slap on the wrist for running a little late, and proceeded through two sets of security screenings, the last one being right before the gate. All the security screeners were good time charlies who always wished us 'mates' a 'g'day'. We went up immediately to grab our boarding passes, and as the friendly Kiwi gate agent gave me my gold one, he told me to "enjoy it while I could", referring to the soon-to-come downgauge of equipment to a 777 with 30% less F class seating. When I entered the cabin and saw the creature comforts of UF in the nose, I had no regrets and 'no worries mate' about paying the extra moneys and skipping sitting next to my coworker buddy, who ended up on the upper deck again.
I had prepared to actually sleep during the 11h flight, wearing some comfortable khakis and a soft, striped polo shirt. I stowed by black North Face backpack [any other backpack would look downright unnacceptable for F] in my side stowage bin, and plopped up my study materials on the little shelf as I settled into my cubicle. The way the suite is designed, it really should be called the 'First Cubicle' or 'First Office', as the main cubby seems to function as your extended office. The fold out shelf -unique to the united suite- is very handy, though. Pre-flight, I whipped out my full-size, dark blue trable [tray-table] and tried to get my study on as much as I could, which would prove to be a futile effort as I would end up savoring the sweet taste of the suite life the whole time...
We took off in near complete darkness in a heavy drizzle... the same way we came in. I mentioned that the nose of the 747 is a very quite haven... well, not during takeoff or especially landing. The sound and movement of the nosewheel retracting and extending is super loud, and kind of jolts you. Other than this, the flight was very smooth. Smooth sailing all the way up the Pacific through the night. Our airshow actually showed a different flight path than what is pictured as the most efficient routing - we deviated a little and it looked like we had kind of been attracted to Hawaii in a magnet-like attraction as we passed it from less than 2000 miles away. I guess the pilot avoided bad weather this way.
Our cabin was attended to mainly by three senior flight attendants. All were very nice. It was the same crew that we had on the way... we basically performed a crew layover on our visit, except at the 'magnificent' digs of the YHA hehe... The lead purser looked like my high school principal, Ms. Jenoff. Her announcements were slick and warm. I was tempted to say, "Ms. Jenoff, you have HUGE boobs!!!" because, well, she did. Sorry for the explicitness I don't know how else to describe her. The other one was a short, blond-haired in flight maven who really took care of me, never letting any drink or champagne glass go optimistic or pessimistic.... you get what I'm saying? The third was a very cordial german lady... her accent actually gave the service a touch of class, although the pronunciation of her Vs kind of made her sound like a bram stoker creation... "Vhat vould you like? Very vell."
Before, during, and after dinner I chose to watch Behind Enemy Lines. I'm always a sucker for a good action movie, and everything else in the selection wasn't my cup of tea. It was just what the doctor ordered. I kid you not with my double meaning. 2A was watching it almost in unison with me! About the food. Considering it was United's premier in flight product, the catering was very BLAAA. The entree was even kind of BLECCHHH. Maybe it was the AKL gategourmet or something that left stuff to be desired.
From the leaflet:
We are proud to introduce our Pacific menu selections developed and designed to incorporate the expectations expressed by many of our customers who have flown in the Pacific market.
> Yep, they're certainly catering to the me, your typical high-yield pax.
The four key elements of the menu design are: uncomplicated dishes with distinctive characteristics and flavors; the freshest seasonal products available; authentic American and Asian regional dishes and accompaniments; and light and substantial options appropriate to the time of day.
> The fabulous writers neglect to mention that this same exact menu format is used for Latin America and Atlantic F, with 'Latin America' and 'Atlantic' subsited for 'Pacific'. Also, uncomplicated dishes doesn't mean a COMPLICATED MENU with excessive use of QUOTE UNQUOTE exotic ingredients and big fancy artsy fartsy words.
> Perhaps they should include: We apologize if sometimes your selection makes you barf. Yes, this happenes even to the best.
Grilled shrimp with chervil sauce
Risotto with Parmesan cheese
Garden fresh salad
Balsamic sea salt vinaigrette and creamy dill dressing
Sauteed snapper with citrus Hollandaise sauce
Saffron rice and a vegetable medley
Ice cream with sundae toppings
> The presentation of the meals was what you'd expect from first class... a nice silver tray cart covered in serving cloth was rolled out [well actually, kind of zig-zagged out with the way the suites are laid out] with each course. The FA would present the choices, serve your selection, offer you grated pepper and a bread roll, and carry on with her business. Glasses were the larger UF variety, and I had a heaping glass of Baileys to go with my meal... much better than the sparsely filled, mostly glass UB drink I usually receive! The awesome one took care of me.
> You can't really mess up jumbo cocktail shrimp or a simple salad... so nothing to complain about in that department. However, I'm never having fish on a plane again. The snapper was THE definition of bland. Some day, when I have my own edition of Webster or the American Heritage, look up 'bland' 'tasteless' or any other of the synonyms and lo and behold, you'll see the picture of my entree right there. The hollandaise added insult to injury and tasted like almost pure mayo. Why fancify it? Just call it mayonnaise if it's gonna be crap, you damn dirty ape caterers!
> The center console was stocked with fruits and bottles of water for our convenience, but I only availed of a bottle of water the one time I got up from my sleep. I did not request a hot sandwich like you could, so I can't report on what that's like.
Your selected entree will be served
with breakfast breads, butter, and fruit preserve.
Scrambled eggs florentine with Hollandaise sauce
Baked potato home-fries and a fresh fruit appetizer
> Oh no! The horror sauce strikes again, more mayo-ey than ever this time. Eggs florentine are basically Eggs Benedict, but with the eggs all deviled and cottage cheese like in consistency.
Maybe it was the previous exposure to the ill-prepared hollandaise sauce, but it tasted both rotten AND fishy. That's wrong. Plus, the ptoato wedges that came with it... no comment except how nasty, dry, and shriveled they were. I could have bought some better potato wedges at Safeway!
The food was certainly a let down from my one and only previous intl F experience, as well as transcon F experience and varied domestic C experience - a step down in stead of a step up, it seemed - but the seat was by far the best part.
People started turning their seats into beds haste post haste. There seemed to be a race for sleep. I waited a little bit after supper, until the movie was over. Then I very deliberately, and as discreetly and delicately as possible, laid the duvet down to cover the seat cracks, lowered my side armrest for more girth, set up my 5 way adjustable headrest to tilt up, and laid my huge pillow down before I settled in. I almost immediately fell asleep if not for one minor complication. Sleepy 2A's wayward arm had invaded my territory and rested itself upon my feet! I couldn't
sleep with the possiblity of his hand playing footsies. Not wanting to jar him from sleep, I kept my legs as still as possible. Eventually, his arm made its way back into his own bed. The doctor was in, finally he was gone.
Now this only happened because the way the First Suite is designed, there is not much privacy about the head area, compared to most suites. Most the privacy is in the cubicle section in front of you... this is what I never particularly understood about the design: do your feet need that much shelter? I mean, it's nice to have that shelf there, but shouldn't most of the privacy be around your face and such? You don't want to be seen drooling like the dog that you are if you First class, anyhow. I'm guessing it was done this way to not infringe on the copyrights of the British/Qantas first class seats. Being that the same firm, Rumboldt of the UK, did their seats, they alone knew best what could pass muster without being too much of a copycat.
Flash forward to landing.
We approached LA on a very clear and bright day. Most window shades in the nose were opened as the Captain announcement our starting descent at Catalina, with the island on our port side view. Our co-pilot seemed to like being a tour guide, as he chimed in several times on our approach about certain sights. Next, he would point out Huntington Beach and downtown L.A. It was a nice touch, but shouldn't he big singularly focused on helping to fly the plane?
As promised, The Story of the Mechanic Clown Circus
Though we arrived significantly early at LAX, all that time was lost, and then some, by a ground handling fiasco at Gate 76. As you may or many not know, LAX gate space is very restricted. On the United side of operations, many gates are "tow-in". The first try that we were towed in seemed fine enough. Something strange happened when we stopped though. It had been a minute, and seatbelt light still had not switched off. Looking right outside me, I could see two CSRs and one Concierge agent at the entrace of the jetway that was waiting to connect to door 1L. The pilot announced that the ground personnel [what normal people don't know is that the ones at United to do ALL the towing at major stations are MECHANICS] were having some trouble pulling us in and that we would need to reverse taxi and try it again. We did this twice, and the plane rocked fore and aft like a parallel parking job. I have never been inside a plane that was handled so casually, it seemed. Finally, after two more tries, the seatbelt sign went off.
And yet, when we got up, still no jetway had attached. When all was said and done, the mechanic that had been operating the tug was surrounded by other mechanics scratching their heads. I had seen a lot of them come via bicycle, probably from other gates to see the commotion. The way they rode made them look like circus clowns. The responsible mechanic shrugged and retreated back into the buidling somewhere. The jetway that was supposed to connect to 1L [I beleive this is 76A] was still positioned right outside my window. The purser announcemed, after phoning the cockpit, that the plane would now be boarding out of one jetway only, and that it was moving from its current position at 2L to 1L. While we were waiting, the doctor dignitary got around to discussing about what the 777 to AKL will be like. The german FA assured him "there vill be the same amount of suite seats." Yeah. Right. Come on, you're an FA. I did not bother to correct her. While spouting off about the 777 [lots of FAs are very prideful of the flagship] she made other errors too. Well, ignorance is bliss!
Finally, we deplaned, but not without me looking back outside the window to see just how SWELL a job the mechanic did in pulling the whale in. She was a good 5 feet to the right of the line, and this is after three tries! Unbelievable! Now you know why I talked about a mechanic clown circus. Just a shrug? If he was clowning around he deserves to be clowned ON.
Clearing customs was simple. The flight back to LA was easy. Everyone at United seemed intensely happy that day. I heard two gate agents accidentally laugh while on the P.A., and my 737 captain on the LAX -to- SFO segment managed to say "Flight Attendants...Prepare for Takeoff" as we were on final approach, at which he immediately chuckled. It's also where I started hearing that "Thanks for sharing the sky with us." tagline here...
In any case, there is no more comfortable experience on United other than the suite. Bar none. Sure, the C class seat is ultra comfy, but it don't turn into a friggin bed!
Hope you enjoyed reading. Feel free to make any comments again!
P.S. For those of you that care, the curtains were closed and remained closed between UB and UF.
Upcoming Trip Reports
> How AA made me love the Super 80... flying AA revenue!
> 777s to MIA and Back
> A non-conjugal visit to PHL to visit a lady-fiend... Ladies' Man says, "Itsth a laday!"