Topic Author
Posts: 1549
Joined: Tue Aug 06, 2002 8:18 am

My First TR: SFO-PVG On 9/11 In UA C

Tue Oct 01, 2002 9:09 am

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  Smile 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.

The basics:

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.  Smile

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.

The flight

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.

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.

We eventually leveled out at 32000 feet. About an hour after takeoff, lunch was served: the usual smoked salmon and salad as appetizer, followed by wine.

About 15 minutes later, the main course was served. The beef course was actually quite good, albeit unappealing visually -- tender, juicy, although the flavor of the sauce was a bit too imperceptable.

I had the Eli's chocolate cake for dessert whihch was as usual, a delight -- definitely the best part of UA's inflight meal service that I wish other airlines would have!

After lunch, I caught some snippets of Spiderman on my PTV, before reclining my seat all the way back, and deciding to get some sleep, which happened on and off, in periods of about 1/2 to 1 hour each. We had some moderate chop along the way, but it wasn't too bad.

Soon after crossing the date line, at about 2000 PDT, snacks were served... the usual instant noodles and sandwiches. As I was busy writing this trip report (sort of meta, don't you think?), I told them that I'd get it myself from the galley later, but I couldn't resist the temptation. Another round of water came, with refills.

After that, I alternated between catching more brief bursts of sleep, snippets of the inflight movies, and doing some reading for the next couple of hours, with occassional refills of water from the FAs who had nothing else to do.

2345 PDT, we cross the coast of Japan and reached our final flight level of 39000 feet -- I got a good, albeit hazy view of the urban sprawl of Tokyo and later, Mount Fuji. We flew over Nagoya and Osaka, before crossing the East China Sea, and landing in Shanghai.

An hour out of Shanghai, the cabin lights came back on, and the second meal service commenced. I had the chicken pie, and I really wasn't hungry at that point, but I still managed to finish it off. Finally, custom forms were passed out, and we soon landed in Shanghai's sparkling new airport on a hazy Thursday evening. Unusual planes I saw included a Turkish A340 and the usual complement of Chinese airliners.

Misc points:

Overall service was quite good with smiling and friendly FAs that were somewhat attentive, and I didn't get the somewhat surly service I experienced on my last UA transpacific trip. Other than the gate agent's attitude and the lack of communications from the pilots, it was quite a good trip. UA is of course no match for the Asian carriers, but they performed well and professionally today, meeting my expectations.

I've not flown any other US carrier internationally, so I don't have anything to compare it to, and comparing UA to SQ, CX, BR, etc is like comparing apples and oranges, but overall, for me, I was satisfied, meeting my expectations solidly.

As this is my first trip report, any comments, suggestions for improvement, etc are greatly appreciated! I will post pictures and the return trip soon, and maybe the internal flights if anyone is really interested.
Posts: 1826
Joined: Sat Feb 28, 2004 10:56 am

RE: My First TR: SFO-PVG On 9/11 In UA C

Tue Oct 01, 2002 10:55 am

Excellent report. Id love to hear about any flights you take in Asia as well as the return flights. Was the second meal before landing a breakfast flight?
DC-10's Forever
"Traveling light is the only way to fly" - Eric Clapton
Posts: 1747
Joined: Wed Aug 29, 2001 3:54 pm

RE: My First TR: SFO-PVG On 9/11 In UA C

Thu Oct 03, 2002 4:02 pm

How was Pudong like? I've only been to Hongqiao, and that was last year(SIA refuses to move to Pudong due to the convienience of Hongqiao, 16km from town).

Hongqiao was a total dump. It is a very small airport. Wonder it can handle Boeing 777-300 aircraft.

9V-SVA | B772ER
Topic Author
Posts: 1549
Joined: Tue Aug 06, 2002 8:18 am

RE: My First TR: SFO-PVG On 9/11 In UA C

Sat Oct 05, 2002 12:16 am

Pudong is really nice and spacious in the inside, sort of like HKG. But it's pretty lifeless and deserted inside -- not that many stores. It's pretty far from the city, that's true, but there are buses for about 10-20 RMB, and they're building the new maglev system which will be the world's first in commercial service.

Hopefully, Pudong will expand a bit in a few years.
Posts: 3201
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:35 pm

RE: My First TR: SFO-PVG On 9/11 In UA C

Sat Oct 05, 2002 10:56 am

Excellent report Ryu2! Great job for being your first trip report. I wouldn't change a thing. Looking forward to your next one!  Big thumbs up
Its better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than be in the air wishing you were on the ground. Fly safe!
Topic Author
Posts: 1549
Joined: Tue Aug 06, 2002 8:18 am

Pictures Of Meals Uploaded

Sat Oct 19, 2002 3:02 pm

Hey all -- finally had a chance to upload some pics from the trip -- the pictures of the inflight meals are what you guys'll be interested in the most...

Posts: 1318
Joined: Thu Jun 01, 2000 7:00 am

RE: My First TR: SFO-PVG On 9/11 In UA C

Sun Oct 20, 2002 12:39 am

i enjoyed your report and the pics. excellent work. keep up with it.
They loved to fly and it showed..

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