LHR - LAX
Depatue time : 11:40
Gate : K17
Terminal 3 was the usual chaos when the Airport hoppa-bus from the Le Meridian dropped us off where we stayed overnight. Incidentally I saw AA and Kuwaiti crew waiting for their transfer to the airport at the Meridian. When we got to the United check-in area in zone G, there were only 2 other passengers in front of us as it was a good three hours before departure time. All of us got pulled over to have a baggage search. After all the three teams there had to keep themselves occupied . The woman who checked our bag was very through. She took everything out of the suitcase before putting them back in (thankfully we only had one checked baggage). Its good in a way, that they have screens all around the tables, thereby giving some privacy. I didn’t have any complaints as I do appreciate the need for tight security. Anyway, once the security label was affixed we were asked to proceed to the check-in desk, where an agent welcomed us with a nice smile (Hope the BA staff in T4 can learn about customer care from these). The usual questions were asked and she asked us to identify our bag, which was in the security area for her to affix the baggage tag. We then proceeded upstairs to security clearance. They only had two machines working and there was a long queue for both of them. After a wait of about 15 minutes we were clear. No taking off shoes/belt this time around. Did a spot of shopping in the duty free area and then had brunch at Chez Gerard. Unlike T4, T3 does not have anywhere one could watch the planes once past security. Soon it was our boarding time of 10.55am and we proceeded to the gate where our 777 was waiting (N792UA).
On the way to the gate I spotted UA’s N771UA, N662UA, N781UA, AA’s N771AN, N790AN, MAS 9M-MPB being pushed back & VS G-VHOT.
Photo © Jason Taperell
Boarding began 50 minutes before scheduled departure and First, 1K & premier members were asked to board first, followed by rows 30-42, followed by rows 17-26, which incidentally were the Economy plus seats. So no preference to Economy plus travellers there then!.
On entering the aircraft, it was nice to be welcomed by two smiling FA’s and took our seats. Headsets were already on the seats and I wasted no time in tuning on to channel 9, which was switched on. I kept myself amused for the next few minutes listening to all the clearances being given to quite a few aircrafts at that time. We were assigned squawk 5226.
Push back commenced exactly at 11.35 am. As we were pushing back the safety demo began. What surprised me was the fact we were asked to take out the safety card from the seat pockets and follow along with the announcements. On all other international flights I have been on aircrafts with PTV’s it’s been safety videos.
The captain came on once the safety demo was complete and told us that the flight time was going to be 10 hrs 25 min and with good weather and favourable winds we should arrive at LAX earlier than the scheduled time of 15:00. We were asked to follow behind SQ317 (9V-SPL). On the way to 09R we passed a few Virgin planes (G-VAEL, TF-ATW – I was pleasantly surprised to see this Air Atlanta leased aircraft in virgin colours, as I was under the impression that all the 747-200’s were in storage).
The SQ took off and was followed by BA067 (G-BNLV) and then it was our turn. It was a typical powerful take off roll, lasting 31 seconds. This was a super short take-off roll compared to the “use all the runway length ” take-off’s I had experienced on my last few flights all on the A340’s. (Mind you I do love the A340’s ) . It was a glorious March morning in London for a change, with clear skies and after a left turn towards Pole Hill we were initially cleared to FL140 and then FL230 and 20 minutes from take-off we were getting up to FL320.
The Seatbelt signs were turned off about this time and there was the usual rush to the toilets. The drinks service started soon after. There were only two trolleys serving the whole of Economy plus and economy class cabins. So the person sitting on the last row of Economy did not get his/her drink till another 20 minutes. I think this is unacceptable as there were enough FA’s on duty and a couple of trolley’s starting from the back would have been good. Anyway, I opted for my usual OJ and was accompanied with some pretzels. Hot towels were then distributed. (Well they were not cloth towels and were not “hot” either, but Ok I suppose). I must say, I thought this was odd, as most of the carries hand these out at the beginning of the flight ( UL hands them out while taxing from the gate to the runway, and so do SQ, MH & BA). Maybe it was forgotten at the beginning? But it seems to be standard practice, as the same sequence was followed on my return flight too.
The IFE system was turned on and I decided to stick to the moving map display together with Channel 9 as I had already seen most of the films on offer. The choice was The Transporter, As Good as it Gets, Analyze That and a few others.
No menu cards were handed out, but the Purser did announce the choice today was Chicken or Pasta and that another light snack will be served 1 ½ hours before arrival into LAX. I opted for the Chicken, which was tender but nothing special and was accompanied with
salad, COLD roll, Cheese & Crackers & three grapes. For dessert we were offered Cadbury’s Caramel Ice Cream ( Movenpick / Haagen Dazz would have been nice!),
but all the same, it was quite good and helped me in taking that awful after taste that the chicken had left in my mouth! Again the service started from the front of the economy plus cabin working its way down. Wine was also offered to those who wanted it. Tea & Coffee were also served soon afterwards and refills were offered too.
By this time we were approaching our Atlantic crossing and was greeted by a very jolly Scottish controller, who gave the clearance and the crossing altitude of FL340.
Since I was listening to ATC all the way, I thought I will give you the different ATC’s centres we were passed over to on the way for those of you who might be interested, starting with London – Scottish – Reykjavik – Winnipeg – Minneapolis – Denver – Salt Lake City – Los Angeles.
The flight was quite smooth and thanks to UA961 who was ahead of us, upon hearing of light chop near Rock Springs were allowed to climb to FL370 to avoid it. It was interesting to note how many times the pilots were asking about chop / turbulence ahead from ATC along the way, which translated into a smooth ride for us passengers. About 6 hours into the flight, we were offered a Coffee / Tea service and I opted for the coffee which was served in a “Starbucks” cup with the slogan “We are proud to brew Starbucks Coffee”. I wonder if this was an advertising link-up of some sorts?
About 1 ½ hours before arrival we were served a snack consisting of
one small cold roll with a slice of Chicken (at least that’s what I thought it was)
Packet of crisps ("chips" for my American friends ) and
Kit Kat bar.
Tea and Coffee was also served (The Starbucks cup again making an appearance). By this time the skies around us were getting a bit busy, with a BA275, AA286, Delta 176 to name just a few.
We made our approach over land into Rwy 25L. There was some strong winds (25 knots), which caused a few sudden dips on decent (and the few squeals and gasps from those around us), and despite that we made a smooth landing (I am sure the pilots had their hands full with the strong winds), 38 minutes ahead of schedule. It was a fairly short taxi to our gate. Immigration and customs was a breeze, thanks to the fact there were no other overseas UAL flights into UAL’s Terminal 6 and we were out of the terminal heading for Hertz within 35-40 minutes from dis-embarking.
UA 934 B777-2222ER N207UA
LAX – LHR
Departure time: 17:40
Gate : 76
After 5 busy and enjoyable days in LA, it was time to return back to the UK. After dropping off our hire car, we were dropped off at Terminal 7. Got a chance to see some parked aircraft on the way as there were passengers getting off at each of the terminals (1-7), ANZ 744 ZK-SUH, Asiana 747 (HL7417) & a Lufthansa 747, Air France 777 & a Korean Air 747.
Check in was easy again as there were only two in front of us, but in stark contrast to the Heathrow check in, there was no smiles from the agent, asked the usual questions and gave us the boarding pass (which had seat numbers 13 rows apart, even though we booked together – when I pointed this out to her, was quite abruptly told to ask at the gate! (She did not even try and see if anything was available), and directed us to the TSA baggage screening area. The TSA guys were quite friendly and efficient and took the bag from us and scanned it, and asked for the keys of the bag to open it. Here we go again I said to myself, but he put his hand straight into the middle of the bag and pulled out a bottle of body lotion ?!) and squirted some of it on to a sheet of paper, then put it back and closed the bag. Now that is what I call efficiency! No messing about, got straight to the cause of suspect bit straight away. Anyway how did a bottle of lotion (wasn’t even in a pressurised container) tiger something on the scanner I do not know! Anyway we were then directed to proceed to the security screening area where I did have to remove my boots, but no problem there and were soon making our way to the shopping area. I spent a bit of time trying to find a place near a window to do a bit of spotting, and found a spot near Starbucks & La Salsa , although looking across Terminal 6 with mostly UA’s 737’s and regional jets, right besides us at gate 72 was N777UA (B777-200) (I couldn’t believe my luck on seeing this bird – United’s first 777-222, with the 777number too! – how I wished this could have been our plane, but wrong gate!! – so no chance of that happeningL) being prepared for the flight to Denver, watched the pilot do a walk around etc while having a very enjoyable meal at La Salsa.
An hour before departure, made our way to the gate (76), and got the change of seat I had requested. Boarding started soon afterwards with First & Business passengers invited to board through door and Premier’s & 1K’s to board through Door2. Finally it was our turn and made our way into the Aircraft. The flight was about 85% full in Economy & Economy plus.
Eagerly I put my headsets on to listen to channel 9, but alas, it wasn’t switched on yet . I asked the FA nearby and she obligingly phoned through to the flight deck and informed me that the crew told her they would be switching in on soon. Incidentally this particular FA stood out with exemplary service throughout the flight. It was apparent she enjoyed her job. If only the ground crew had the same enthusiasm! The captain came on the PA and welcomed us abroad and informed us that we were all set except for some last minute baggage being loaded up and that anyone interested can tune to Channel 9 for the ATC and that our call sign will be United 934. So I put my headsets back on again but the system was still not switched on. I am sure that it was the responsibility of the Purser to switch on the system and she did not switch it on till we were in the middle of the take-off roll!!. Her accent sounded French and made a lot of unnecessary repetitive announcement, which I found quite annoying (OK, somewhat compounded by the un availability of Channel 9 ).
Push back commenced at 17:40 (scheduled departure time) and at 17:50 we were starting our take-off roll on Rwy 25R, and this time it lasted 46 seconds. Then it was straight over to the ocean and did a 180 and came back over LAX. At 18:03 we were at FL230 over flying the San Antonio Mountains and cleared to FL330, which was attained at 18:11. The IFE system was switched on and a special message by Glenn Tilton was screened. It was of around 5 minutes duration and he was congratulating the staff on meeting some of the demanding targets set, and the progress united were making despite the recent setbacks.
Drinks service started soon afterwards, again only two carts starting at the front of Economy plus cabin. Warm towels were then distributed followed by dinner.
The choice was Beef or Chicken . This time passengers at the back of the economy cabin were served by individual trays being brought over from the galley at the back. I opted for the beef and I can honestly say that this was THE worst meal on any flight.
Again this was accompanied with
salad, Cheese & crackers and the cold roll/bun.
a slice of cheesecake for Dessert, which was ok.
I was quite tired by the time the trays were cleared and after we passed Minneapolis I drifted off to sleep. Incidentally, the captain was inquiring about the results of a game being played that day, but no one at Minneapolis knew the results! Water & Juice was served every hour and a half. It was a pretty uneventful and smooth flight. Clearance for the Atlantic crossing was given at FL350 , .84 mach There was a lot of traffic around us thought, BA218, BA282, BA48, AF06, UA954, VS008 to name a few.
An hour and a half out of London, we were served breakfast, which was a choice of
Chive n’ Egg and cheddar cheese wrap or
Ham & Cheese Croissant both warm
Tea & Coffee
I opted for the Chive & Egg, which was ok, but the Ham & Cheese croissant my wife had was extremely soggy and the melted cheese was sticking to the wrapper!
Landing cards were distributed to those who need them and also asked if anyone would like to fill in a US Government survey, which no one in the economy cabin took up despite the purser walking down the aisle twice and virtually imploring us to fill one in! ( Had she given up her sour face and had a smile, I would have taken one off her ).
We began our decent just south of Liverpool and were holding at Bovingdon for around 10 minutes. The headsets were collected at this point L (We were asked to leave them in our seats on the outward leg at LAX, thereby I was able to listen to ATC till we got to the gate). Another clear sunny morning in London, and we had fantastic views of Tower bridge, the Millennium wheel and Buckingham palace. Seems like the no fly zone over central London has been lifted? Landed on Rwy 27R at 11.25am (35 minutes ahead of schedule, but had to wait for a gate for 13 minutes (Wonder how much extra fuel we burnt during that time!), anyway that gave me the opportunity to see quite a few aircrafts passing by us, EK A6-EMU, BA’s G-BNLY, G-VIIC, VS G-VSKY and G-VOGE (my first sighting of this 340-600).
We were one of the last few to leave the aircraft and the flight deck crew were at the door on our way out and I took this opportunity to thank them for the smooth ride and asked the skipper for the reg no of our aircraft as I could not get it while boarding at LAX. He told me it was N207UA, with a twinkle in his eyes and wishing us a good day, while the purser again was sporting her glum face!! Smile, the last of the passengers are off the plane, and you could relax!! – I wouldn’t like to work as a FA under her!!
Photo © Tamsin Zvereva
(All marks given out of 10)
Heathrow - 9/10 - Was very efficient and the agent was smiling and friendly.
LAX - 4/10 - No smiles and was quite stroppy and unhelpful, despite there being virtually no queues therefore no pressure to check-in quickly.
Heathrow - 8/10 – despite having my bags rummaged through, the agent was quite nice and was a bit apologetic too. (After all she was only doing her job).
LAX - 9/10 – The TSA were friendly and good-natured and they even lifted the bags on the machine for us. Two words - Professional and Efficient.
In-flight Service :
LHR – LAX - 6/10. The Service was marginally above average. Was welcomed abroad with a smile. No eye contact was made while asking for preference on drinks or meals.
LAX – LHR - 8/10. The FA who served our side stood out head & shoulders above the rest. Full of smiles and helpful (particularly showing a lot of care to a lady travelling on her own with an infant). The senior purser had a bit of an attitude and the three times I saw her walking down the aisle, had a permanent frown on her face. Otherwise I would have given it a 9+.
Overall - 4/10 - I gave it a 4 because of the Ice-Cream (the saving grace!), and as for the cold roll, in my view , a hot/warm roll is a must, especially when BA, AF and not to mention the SE Asian carries do it, this was poor show by UAL on an international flight. How much money can you save by this?
Overall – 8/10. Although the PTV screen was smaller than some of the other carriers out there, the choice was good. UA gets the aviation enthusiasts award for IFE for providing Channel 9. If only other carriers would follow suite. And of course, on-board cameras would have been nice. Who knows, maybe in the near future…..?
Thanks for you patience....... .