United Airlines Flight 827
Honolulu - Tokyo
B744 “Spirit of Seattle II”, reg unknown (wrong angle, unable to see)
Business Class, Seat 12B (Upper Deck)
This is my first trip back to SIN since 1999, and the purpose of this trip was to visit my family for the holidays. I paid for a Y class ticket (booking class H) and used my miles to upgrade to Business. United must be suffering - my upgrades on three of the four sectors were confirmed weeks before travel (unheard of) and they only deducted 20,000 miles each way for the upgrades after telling me that they would deduct 25, 000 each way.
Arrived at Honolulu Airport almost three hours before my flight (my partner had to work at 8am). The checked baggage screener said I was her first customer of the day (how do people get so chirpy this early in the morning?). There was only one check-in agent on duty at UA’s International desks, and she was at the Business Class desk. I, too, was her first customer of the day. She checked me in courteously and efficiently, and I was on my way through security and to the Red Carpet Lounge, located above Gate 9, which was where my flight was departing from. Along the way, my ears were assaulted by cheesy ukelele Christmas carols.
The Red Carpet Lounge had a few people in it, mostly passengers heading to the US mainland. I helped myself to coffee (lots of it) and a Danish. The lounge was pretty basic, not much to shout about. The aircraft I was going to take had already arrived, and I watched the ramp activity and thought about my previous career with SQ, all the things that have happened since I left in 1998, and what I have gained and lost since then. After that period of introspection, I unfurled my Wall Street Journal and paused every once in a while to look at aircraft.
Mornings are a good time to look at planes at HNL (I should know; I can see the runway from my downtown office). Many flights arrive from Asia at this time, and I saw a JAL 744, a JALways 743 and DC10 (both in the “Resocha” livery), two ANA 763s (one in the new livery), three NW 742s, and a CI 744. Also saw plenty of cargo planes, including an Evergreen 742, two Atlas 744s, and a FedEx MD11. HNL always has unusual aircraft at the hangar. There were three that day, but unfortunately they were too far for me to discern anything.
Boarding started about 40 minutes before STD. Upon reaching the gate, a vigilant gate agent spotted my yellow boarding pass and pulled me to the front of the queue. Boarded the aircraft, and took my seat at the first row of the upper deck. At the door, a Japanese flight attendant greeted me, and on the upper deck two American flight attendants said their hellos. As soon as I was settled, one of them came to me with drinks. When the door closed, I saw that the upper deck was only about half full.
Pushback began five minutes ahead of schedule. We taxied to runway 08R (the one built on the coral reef) and takeoff was quick and smooth. Immediately after takeoff, drinks were served. I opted for a mimosa (champagne and OJ), and it was served with peanuts that hadn’t been warmed up. The captain also came on to say that flight time would be 8 hours 22 minutes, and that we were looking at an on time arrival. All messages were repeated in Japanese, and most announcements were also repeated in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Not long after, meal service began. The starters were a garden salad and shrimp and parma ham. The salad was pretty basic, and the appetizer was good, with three plump shrimp. For the entrée, we had a choice of beefsteak, sesame chicken and a Japanese bento meal. I opted for the chicken and had a glass of shiraz with it. It came with egg fried rice and steamed vegetables. The chicken, mercifully, wasn’t over tenderized. Decent fare, not great, but not bad either. Next course was cheese (camembert and cheddar) and apple pie. I skipped the apple pie and had the cheese with port. At that juncture, the F/A made a silly remark about me accompanying her on her next Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and we both had a laugh. United’s menus generally do not come with a wine list, and the F/A did not volunteer any info on the vintage. Some alcoholic she is!
After the meal, I settled in for the inflight entertainment. UA’s Business Class seats in their 744s have good recline and legroom, and I was comfortable. UA’s entertainment is pretty basic - nine video channels, and on their 744s about 12 audio channels, no interactive games, and no AVOD. Watched Men in Black II, then Ocean’s Eleven, and then Blood Work (a mediocre Clint Eastwood film). Dozed on and off throughout the last two films. Along the way, we went through three patches of mild turbulence. During that time, I did not see the F/As except when they came to check that we were buckled during turbulence.
About 90 minutes before arrival into Narita, a light snack was served. We had a choice of roast duck chow mein with a fresh fruit appetizer, or a fruit platter with yogurt. I opted for the chow mein. The fruit appetizer, consisting of honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and watermelon, was good, but the melons were already starting to look translucent. The chow mein was good. Drinks were limited to coffee, tea, and fruit juice.
Our descent into NRT began about 20 minutes after the meal service finished. NRT was very cloudy, and our descent was a little on the bumpy side. According to the Captain, we were landing from the south. Landing was very smooth, marred only by an unsecured collapsible trolley that came crashing down the aisle. After a short taxi, we docked at Gate 25. Disembarkation was swift, and I made my way to the Red Carpet Lounge near Gate 22. As I entered the lounge, the automatic shades were being lowered to block off the sun (doh!) so I couldn’t see the aircraft out there. Sigh.
Settled into the (rather warm and crowded) lounge for my almost four hour wait for my next flight. The Red Carpet Lounge at NRT was larger and nicer than the one at HNL. They had a full bar, including beer from cute little vending machines, but the food selection was pretty dismal overall with rice cakes, peanuts, crackers, etc. No sushi! Got myself a beer (wish they would label the machines so that I know the brand) and started reading.
I have flown United International Business across the Atlantic before, and also their domestic first class (numerous times). Overall, this was a pleasant flight. The crew was friendly and professional (if they were demoralized or anxious about their future it didn’t show) and I’ve always liked UA’s seats in International Business. What could be improved, though, was the entertainment and food quality.
United Airlines Flight 881
Tokyo - Singapore
B744 Reg Unknown (too dark to see)
Business Class, Seat 24B (Upper Deck)
The Red Carpet Lounge staff called for boarding about 45 minutes before departure. Walked to Gate 24, which was crowded, but I still managed to board with ease. Took my seat at 24B. Eventually the cabin filled up completely.
The flight attendants on UA’s intra-Asian flights are mostly Asian, and this time was no exception – the crew were from NRT, TPE and HKG (I think UA closed down their SIN base). The cockpit crew were LAX-based. It may be my imagination, but there were a lot of F/As serving the main deck Business Class cabin (at least six). An F/A came by and offered juice or champagne, and I had an OJ. Before I got the menu, an F/A came and asked for my meal choice. That was annoying to me because I prefer to get my menu first and have a few minutes to make my decision. Anyway, the choices were veal tenderloin, Thai-style chicken, and salmon. I opted for the chicken. After this F/A took her choice, another F/A came by with socks and eye shades, and another came by with the menus.
Pushback was on time, and takeoff roll was long but smooth. Right after we were airborne, the captain came on the PA system and said that flight time would be 6 hours 50 minutes and that we would land a few minutes early in SIN. Drinks service began, and the crew offered peanuts in a packet (and not in the usual little bowl) and drinks. We hit some turbulence during the drinks service and I hold to hold my glass up most of the time. Meal service followed soon after. The appetizer was three pieces of sushi (shrimp, salmon and tuna) and salad. Then came the main courses. First time round, the F/A came by with salmon for both my neighbor and myself (we both wanted chicken). When we brought this to her attention, she apologized and took the items away. A minute later, she came by with the right meal for the guy next to me, but with veal for me. She apologized, said she had served the chicken to someone else, and that she had run out of meals. I wondered why they chose to offend me rather than the other guy! Anyway, the veal was juicy but a little too fatty for my liking, and it came with a slightly bland sauce. Other items in the dish included potatoes and asparagus. After this course, we were served chocolate cake and coffee. The cake was pretty standard, and I ate about half of it.
After the service items were cleared I continued watching K-19. It wasn’t a great film despite having a good cast, and I fell asleep halfway, and slept on and off throughout the remainder of the flight. About an hour out of SIN, I woke up and got ready for arrival. The F/A who served me the wrong meal saw that I was up and she came to me with a bottle of wine as an apology. I was a bit surprised she spoke to me in Mandarin, though, because throughout the flight I had been speaking to her in English. The wine was a nice touch, though - the same thing happened once on a Domestic First flight and I got a bottle of wine then as well.
The aircraft went over the east coast of SIN, made a turn, and came in to land on runway 02L. Landing was very smooth. I was among the first passengers off the aircraft, and I cleared immigration in no time (why are SIN immigration counter staff always so unfriendly?). Went to Belt 18 to get my bags. Although I’ve flown UA a lot, I seldom have checked bags, but on those occasions when I did have checked bags, I noticed that the orange “priority” tags meant little. This time was no exception, I waited 20 minutes before my bags, along with a few other priority tagged bags, arrived on the belt. Probably well over 100 non-priority bags arrived before mine. After collecting my bags, I went out and greeted my parents.
Overall impression of this flight: friendly and efficient. UA’s Asian-based crew are very different from their US-based crew. They are younger, they smile more, but they are less chatty.
I return to the US on Jan 8th, so watch out for my next reports!