Trip Report – SFO
September 11, 2003
Here is my first posting on the Trip Reports board. I apologize for its length, and format, but there are 4 flights to cover. Many of you may know that I am an ardent supporter of United Airlines, and hope for its successful emergence from bankruptcy. You may be surprised at some of my observations from these flights, and if there is anyone in management at United who sees this post, I hope you will communicate both the good and bad to the appropriate parties in your organization. I appreciate the feedback, but please be kind
There are no photos, but all of the planes flown are in the database, as well as pictures of the United First Suite.
Flight #132 Aircraft # N210UA B-777
Scheduled Departure Time: 06:30
Takeoff from Runway 1L
Check-in was good. I arrived at the airport at 05:00. The CSA was surprised at my itinerary, but didn’t miss a beat in getting me checked in for all 4 segments and tagging the check-in luggage properly, including the “United First” priority tags. When she found out that I was doing this to show my support for United and its employees, she got a big smile told me that I had made her day, and thanked me.
I went over to security screening to find a huge line, and that that the First Class screening would not open until 05:30! I debated whether or not to wait until 05:30 or endure this line. After about 5 minutes, several more screeners were brought in and the line moved pretty fast. I was through in about 10 minutes and made my way to the Red Carpet Club at 05:20.
Of the 5 airports I would be visiting today, the new San Francisco Red Carpet Club is the best. I just hope they can keep it up and don’t let it get dirty and worn like the others.
Seat Assignment – 1H, first class in 2-cabin 777. Water and juice were offered before takeoff, coffee was not ready. This was probably the worst United flight I have ever been on in terms of expectations. The Purser and most of the in-flight service staff were SFO
based. Everything seemed to be done by the book – no extra attention offered to first class customers. The Purser was brusque, inattentive, and seemed more concerned about getting the meal served quickly so that she could have her own breakfast. I had also asked for Channel 9, but that request was not honored.
First, I was so looking forward to having a mimosa. This was the first of my 4 flights through UA
hubs on 9/11, and wanted to toast to the memories of that awful day now behind us. Guess what – no champagne!
Seat 1H was among the 4 recommended by seatguru.com for this 2-cabin 777, and it wasn’t bad. The only problem with this seat is that it is close the galley. Now that they cannot close the curtains, you get to witness the gathering of flight attendants after they’ve completed the minimum service required. This is where they talk and complain about their new schedules, pay cuts, and the early hour of the flight, and eat what meals are leftover. It was not pretty watching this brusque (and zaftig) purser who could stand some Emily Post training scarf down a mushroom omelet. Other things I witnessed that I wish I hadn’t included the placing of dirty glasses in with clean, and then the use of clean glasses that have been mixed with dirt, and the placing of used meal trays with unused meal trays in the same cart.
The breakfast wasn’t bad. The choices were a mushroom omelet topped with salsa served with chicken sausage, Canadian bacon and fresh fruit, or a fresh fruit plate with cold cereal. They also offered croissants, bagels and Danish. I had the omelet, with a bloody mary (I wanted that mimosa), and coffee. Meal orders were taken by row, rather than the now required ordering determined by 1K status, fare paid, or premier status. I later snuck a look at the manifest, and I should have been the second to be asked. The purser did address us by name, as required, and took orders for all 24 passengers in first. About an hour before landing, the passenger in 4A woke up and rang her call button asking for the breakfast she ordered. One of the attendants working the cabin went to the galley to get her omelet breakfast, found that it was gone, and the purser exclaiming that she ate it without checking the manifest. I’m not sure what the attendant said to 4A, but he had to go back to explain that her that the only choice was the fruit plate. He took the “fresh” tray with the fruit and place setting out of the same cart that the dirty trays were placed in.
They cleared my tray, refilled my coffee, and brought out some water. The meal and all of this service was done within an hour of takeoff. For the rest of the flight (2 hours, 30 minutes), the attention we got was cursory passing through the cabin, without any inquiry if we wanted anything else. I either had to get up and go to the galley, or get their attention to come to me to refill my water glass. On this flight they do offer a second beverage service to the economy cabin. They did the same in first, but it just seemed odd. I expect, and get on other United first flights, continuous, uninterrupted, unscheduled attention.
Both first class lavatories were in bad shape. I had a chance to check both of them out before takeoff. The mirrors were dirty, paper towels not stocked properly and there was hair on the seats in both of them.
Touchdown was at 12:13, ahead of our scheduled arrival of 12:33, on Runway 32L. We parked at gate B16 with dual jetway bridges.
What a terrible disappointment this flight was. If United is going to survive bankruptcy and call itself a truly international carrier, they need to get rid of this purser.
– United Flight #382 Aircraft # N776UA B-777
Scheduled Departure Time: 13:15
Pushback Time: 13:22 IN
THE AIR at 13:45.
Takeoff from Runway 22L
Like last year on 9/11, the terminal at ORD
was filled with patriotic music. The mood was different though. A lot more people on the concourse, and it seemed more like a normal flying day, not as somber as last year. I was disappointed to find out that the Red Carpet Club near gates B19-B22 does not have restrooms.
We boarded at gate B17. They used dual jetway bridges. My seat assignment was 2A, a United First suite in this 3-cabin aircraft. I love this plane! I would like to know; however, when they service a plane between flights, do they use a vacuum cleaner? There was pretzel dust all over my seat, in the armrest, and all over the console to operate the seat and video system. Additionally, the armrest was sticky from a spilled drink. Yet another detail that it going to keep United from winning back customers. Beverages were offered before takeoff. This plane had just come in from Frankfurt, and I was amused to find German language magazines among the selections.
Channel 9 was available, and what a treat. It seemed to be rush hour, and listening to how they guy at ground control moved those planes was amazing. Our first officer even complimented him on what a fantastic job he was doing. We had to go all around the airport and terminals to Runway 22L, but it moved fast. I looked out the window and there must have been nearly 15 planes lined up behind us.
The purser and in-flight service crew were ORD
based, and were fantastic. It was a relatively short flight with a lunch service. The purser and flight attendant working first never missed a beat, and were right on in terms of service. We started with a beverage. Then the purser then came out to ask if we wanted lunch. I was the first in the cabin to be asked. Lunch was served, a roast beef sandwich, with fresh fruit on the side. I had red wine to drink. As soon as I was finished, my tray was cleared, and they came right out to offer me coffee and a warm Mrs. Fields cookie. When that service was finished, they were right back offering everyone water or another beverage before we landed.
Despite the ground delay in ORD
, we touched down at IAD
at 16:14, about 8 minutes behind schedule, Runway 1L. We parked at Gate D3
, dual jetways available, but they only used one. I love landing and taking off at Dulles with the green hills. This was also my first spotting of a Saudian Arabian Airlines plane, a 747-400.
– United Flight #963 Aircraft #N774UA B-777.
Scheduled Departure Time: 17:20
Pushback Time: 17:34 this was blamed on the flight plan getting lost in the system
Takeoff from Runway 30
The Dulles airport was bustling. I now am reminded of what StevenUhl777 means by the narrow corridors, especially the C concourse. If United wants to use this airport as their east coast international gateway, it needs work.
It was a long walk between gates, D3
. I stopped at the Red Carpet Club at the far end of C to freshen up. We boarded using only a single jetway. I was looking forward to this flight, as I had taken it back in May and thoroughly enjoyed it. My seat assignment this time was 2J
(United First suite), and again, where was the vacuum cleaner? I brushed the crumbs off my seat, and ordered water to drink before takeoff. Before takeoff, we were also offered a choice of movie to play in the PVS (I chose “Laurel Canyon”, it was pretty good). They also came through to offer us a newspaper, including Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the International Herald Tribune. When taxiing to Runway 30 for takeoff, I noticed the flags flying at half-staff because of 9/11. Channel 9 was available.
The purser and most of the in-flight crew were DEN
based, and were fantastic. Unlike LAX
and some SFO
pursers (see above), they really are classy and seem to enjoy their job. About 30 minutes into flight, they came out to offer a cocktail service. I ordered a Jack Daniels and 7. After that service, the purser came out to take our dinner orders. I was third, after 2, 1K passengers, and ordered the Chicken Caesar Salad. The other choice was a deli plate. Another note, to become a world renowned carrier, United needs to reinstate hot dinner service. After asking if I was ready, the dinner was brought out. The tray was set down, and then the purser came right back to offer me a choice of red or white wine. I chose the white. I’ve had better, and when they offer in-flight sommeliers, I will complain. We were allowed to eat our dinner at a leisurely pace, and my wine glass was never empty.
The dinner tray was cleared, and someone came right back with coffee and water. When all dinner trays were cleared, they brought out the warm cookies. After those were served, the purser came back to offer me an after dinner drink. I had a Bailey’s, on the rocks. They also brought water and the glass was never empty. The only thing missing from this flight, that they used to offer, was linens on the tray tables, and hot towels to clean up. I cannot believe those cost that much that they cannot bring them back. Come on United, it is about the details if you want to win customers back.
Flight attendants had to prepare for landing in Denver early because of turbulence. We came around to the west side of the airport for approach to Runway 7. Touch down was at 18:47, a few minutes behind schedule. As there were no headwinds, we were able to make up the time lost on the ground at IAD
. We parked at Gates 30 and 32 using 2 jetways.
– United Flight #583 Aircraft #N206UA B-777.
Scheduled Departure Time: 19:55
Pushback Time: 19:55
I love the Denver airport. The West Red Carpet Club was by both my arrival and departure gates. I went in to freshen up and make a telephone call. The airport was busy, and was filled with the never ending refrain, “Caution, moving walkway is nearing its end, please watch your step.” Those of you who have spent any time in DEN
, will know what I mean.
The flight to LAX
was boarding at Gates 34/36, and they used both jetways. I love these gates at DEN
. They were obviously designed for jumbos with a lot of seating in the waiting area, and the dual jetways. I again sat in United First Suite Seat 2A. We were offered a drink before takeoff. I was still feeling dehydrated from the long day of flying and ordered water. I was disappointed to find out that the Purser and in-flight crew were LAX
based. As there was only a beverage service, I wasn’t expecting much from the flight, and boy I didn’t get it. Don’t LAX
based pursers and fight attendants get the same training as the DEN
based? I was told that the DEN
based attendants are among the most senior in the system. They seem to be more classy and appreciate their jobs.
We pushed back on schedule and taxied to Runway 25. It was strange to be landing and taking off from the same runway (different direction, we landed on 7). I cannot believe the winds were that calm that they could use both. The other thing I Iike about DEN
, and other high altitude airports, are the long rolls for takeoff. This one was nearly 45 seconds before we rotated and started climbing. My request to have Channel 9 was once again denied.
The beverage service was started, I had another Bailey’s. As I had not finished the movie from the IAD
, flight, I had asked to watch it again. They are not supposed to offer private videos on flights less than 2 hours, but they at least honored this request. When the attendants finished their service, in all cabins, 3 of them gathered in front to sit, talk, and review the schedules to get their bids in for October. I had to get up to ask for water, and after about 45 minutes without anyone coming through the cabin, I got up to ask for another Bailey’s. Again, it is about the details. If I am someone who is required to fly frequently, I think knowing that I will be pampered on every United flight in a consistent manner would keep me loyal. However, if superior in-flight service is hit or miss, I am going to be inclined to try the competition.
Finally, we started our approach into LAX
. The purser and attendant made sure everyone got their coats back, but there was no thorough check to make sure the United First suite seats were locked, nor all in-flight service items cleared. My water glass was still at my seat at landing, and the person sitting across from me had not reset his seat. None of this was checked before landing. Even safety was not the first priority for this crew.
Touchdown was at 20:55, on Runway 25L. It was a short taxi to Gate 68, and they used both jetways. First time I’ve ever arrived in Terminal 6, and have baggage claim in Terminal 6. I used to have to go to 7. I was at baggage claim at 21:08, my bags, the last 2 to be off-loaded, arrived 50 minutes later at 21:58. They were clearly marked with the “United First” tags. I asked to speak to a Service Director, who offered no apology or expressed concern about the delay. As I was leaving, one of the agents working baggage service came up to me to offer an apology and was embarrassed by the Service Directors attitude.
After the poor service on the SFO
flights, and the poor attitude of the service director at LAX
, I was thoroughly disappointed in this trip I had been looking forward to. Of course, when I think of the money I spent, I am ashamed. I think the “F” in “F fares” means “Fool.” There seemed to be no real appreciation by many of the United employees that I came across that I was there to support their airline. They use the words that they appreciate that we have chosen United Airlines, but for the most part there is no sincerity behind what they are required to say. If anyone wants to know what the majors need to do to survive, it is really reconsider their hiring practices and who is representing them, and establish a program to instill consistent high-quality service SYSTEMWIDE.