Trip Report – LAX-SFO-ANC-SFO-LAX June 17 and 21, 2004
Ah – my second posting on the Trip Reports board. Many of you may know that I am struggling to remain an ardent supporter of United Airlines, and hope for its successful emergence from bankruptcy. If anyone at WHQ finds my observations helpful please let me know. I appreciate the feedback, but please, be kind
LAX-SFO - UA Flight #954 Aircraft # N913UA B-737-500 (still in UNITED SHUTTLE colors)
Scheduled Departure Time: 15:00
Takeoff from Runway 25R
I was originally booked and ticketed on UA 822, an A-319, scheduled to leave at 16:00. At 11:30 (while in the shower), I received a recorded message from United’s Easy Update service that the flight had been cancelled (aircraft was stuck in Guatemala), and to call UA customer service to make other arrangements. Oh brother! – I called, waited 15 minutes on hold, and then was told that since I had paid the “F” fare, I was “protected” on the 15:00 flight. Well that meant rushing to leave for the airport early, but I was able to make it.
I arrived at LAX at 13:30 and proceeded to the First Class check-in. The agent pulled up the record, printed out the Boarding Passes and luggage tags. I was surprised to see the “Blue” Boarding Pass for this trip, and she explained that there were no First Class seats she could assign at the time, but I was first on the wait list. She even called the gate agent to inform her that I would be waiting in the Red Carpet Club. Yes! – some measure of service I had not witnessed before. The only change I had to make was to get an aisle seat rather than the window seat that was originally assigned. I asked about compensation as I had paid the “F” fare. She explained that if I did not get the First Class seat, to check with a customer service agent in SFO or ANC for compensation. I let her know that I was disappointed that I would have to take the time to do so. She apologized, but it was the only thing she could offer now.
I headed for Security Screening and was surprised to find a line for “Premier and 1K, but none for First Class.” Uh Oh – I thought, this is not looking good again for UA. Were “F” fare paying passengers being considered below the others? I did go to the Priority entrance and was let through.
Got to the gate, 70B, and the Agent knew who I was and told me she would have me paged in the Red Carpet Club if a First seat become available. I went to the Red Carpet Club, had a club soda and relaxed before boarding. About 30 minutes before departure, I went down to the gate, and I was paged by an Agent. “Yes,” I thought, a First seat is available! I was wrong – she asked to see my identification, and then called someone to give them my Drivers License number, and date of birth. I had never had this happen before, even after 9/11. She explained that this information would be stored with my Mileage Plus file and they would not have to ask for it again on future trips. Has anyone ever had this happen to them?
Sadly, United First checked in full, and I had to wait for my Boarding Area to be called. I wasn’t even given Priority Boarding. I was assigned Seat 7D, in Economy Plus, which was not bad, but I still had to pay for my drink in flight. We landed at SFO on-time on Runway 28L. We taxied to Gate 73.
At the SFO Red Carpet Club, I spoke with the Agent about the compensation I was due for having been bumped to Coach. She looked up the record, and explained that the fare I paid did not warrant an adjustment. I still had the First Class seat on the Anchorage segment, and due to some other technicalities built into the “FUAS” fare that I paid for the LAX to ANC city pair, no adjustment was warranted. I asked her if the fare was refundable, particularly the return. She said, “Yes, it is fully refundable.” I asked, “so, if I were to book my return on Alaska Air, or another carrier, I would get a refund?”. “Yes,” she said, rather coldly. Not another word was said.
Saddened at her lack of courtesy, and that I continued to be made a “F”ool by United, I went into the club, ordered a Cosmo, grabbed a plate full of crudités, and sat by the window to spot before my flight to Anchorage. I was able to watch the landings of Air France and British Airways 744’s, but that was about it.
SFO to ANC – United Flight #822 Aircraft # N567UA B-757-200
Scheduled Departure Time: 18.25
Pushback Time: 18:45
Takeoff from Runway 28R
At around 17:45, I left the Red Carpet Club and headed down to Gate 84 to wait to board the flight to Anchorage. Nothing unusual, boarding started around 17:55, First Class cabin first, and I headed down the jetway to my seat 5B. This 757 must be one of the older ones in the fleet. Exterior paint was flaking, the inside cabin was dirty. Fabric on the First Class seats was fraying. Some panels in the cabin ceiling looked like they were warping. Oh well, not much choice on UA to Anchorage. The pushback was a little delayed. Channel 9 was available and I listened to the Tower direct us to 28R for takeoff.
The Purser and flight attendants were friendly and attentive. About 20 minutes after takeoff, the Purser came out with the manifest to take our meal orders. I was the third person asked, and the choices were Filet Mignon or Pecan Crusted Chicken Breast. I chose the Filet. Drink orders were taken, I ordered Jack Daniels and 7, and then they came out with the cocktail and warm nuts. After all 24 in the cabin had been served drinks, the Purser and Flight Attendants began meal service. I was glad to see some amenities restored, like the warm nuts, and the linen table cloths placed before the trays were brought out. Yes! – customers are getting something back at UA, instead of niceties taken away. After the dinner trays were brought out, one flight attendant brought out a selection of breads, and another followed with red or white wine. Red wine for me please! The steak was a little dry and tough, but I wasn’t going to complain. It has been so long since I’ve seen United serve a steak again.
While eating dinner, the movie was started - “Calendar Girls.” It was enjoyable, but with the poor sound quality of the headsets, the noise of the aircraft, and the heavy British accents, I had to keep adjusting the volume to catch everything. My dinner tray was cleared, except for the wine I had yet to finish. They then came out with coffee service, and when that was complete, they came out with the ice cream sundae cart. “Chocolate sauce and nuts please, no whipped cream,” and I sat back, continued with the movie and enjoyed dessert. After they finished with the dessert service, the flight attendants came out with water. My dishes were cleared, and I then asked for a double Baileys on the Rocks to finish the meal off. All of this was done within 2 hours of takeoff.
I finished the movie, got up to stretch my legs, and then read during the remainder of the flight. After cabin service was finished, the Purser and Flight Attendants were not so attentive, and I ended up getting up myself to ask for more water. No big deal though I guess. They need a break too.
The flight to Anchorage took us over the Inland Passage giving us spectacular views. The sun was still up and bright as ever for this time of night. At about 21:30 we began our descent into Anchorage. I put on the headset to listen to Channel 9, and at 14,000 feet we were offered a spectacular view as we flew over the Chugach mountains on the east side of Anchorage. The approach took us over Anchorage to an on-time landing on Runway 14. We taxied to Gate B9. I was just amazed how much light was still out for this late in the evening, but this is the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”
June 21, 2004 – time to go home
ANC to SFO – United Flight #823 Aircraft #N577UA B-757-200
Scheduled Departure Time: 15:00
Pushback Time: 14:55
Takeoff from Runway 32
While in Anchorage, I went on-line to check availability on Alaska Air for the return. There were “F” seats available on the 17:00 non-stop to LAX, for the same fare I paid United. I thought about it for 24 hours, and just decided to stick with my return on United. I didn’t want the hassle of waiting for a refund, and the Alaska Air flight was on a 737, not my favorite. I wanted a movie for the long flight.
I arrived at the Anchorage airport at 12:30, a little early, as I was going to hook up with a friend who was returning on a 13:00 Alaska Air flight via PDX. I walked up to the First Class line where there was no wait. The Agent, Barry Mercado, was friendly and professional and got me checked in. Before I left the counter, I decided to inquire about the “compensation” I was told I was due by being bumped to coach from LAX. I recounted what happened in Los Angeles, and my conversation with the Red Carpet Club Agent at SFO, and how disappointed I was. He pulled up the record, checked the history. He then asked me for my Mileage Plus number, and then he printed out two (2) confirmed one-way, one-class upgrade certificates. Why couldn’t the agent in SFO do that? Attention WHQ – service quality needs to be consistent to minimize your loss of return business.
My flight was leaving from Gate B9; my friend was leaving from Gate B6 where I caught up with him. He was on the wait list to be upgraded, but was not optimistic. He was also tired, having just run the “Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon” on Saturday. He told me that Alaska Air has a program where you could get same day, if space is available, upgrades for $50. There was nothing available to PDX, but he did get a First seat from PDX to LAX. We said our goodbyes with the promise of catching up later in the week.
I headed down to B9 and spotted the bar at that end of the concourse. The bartender, Sylvia, was really friendly and having a good time with the customers there. She seemed to really enjoy the job. I had a margarita and some chips and relaxed. If anyone gets to the Anchorage airport, look for Sylvia, she is a delight. While at the airport I enjoyed watching all the 747 freighters coming into and leaving Anchorage.
Boarding started at 14:25, First Class cabin First, I headed down the jetway and took Seat 5B again. We pushed back at 14:55, I put on the headset to listen to Channel 9, and we were directed for takeoff on Runway 32. We took off to the North, and then were turned to head East over Anchorage. The day was clear and the views were spectacular. You could see Mt. McKinley in the distance, and as we headed South East, we followed the Turnagain, flew over some glaciers, including the Bryson glacier where my friend and I had hiked the day before. At the end of Kenai we were turned south over the Gulf of Alaska and headed down to the Pacific.
Meal service for this flight was lunch. The choices were Chef Salad or Deli Sandwich. I chose the sandwich. The Purser took the meal orders by row this time. We had a cocktail and snack mix service (no warm nuts), and then the meal trays were brought out. The movie for this flight was “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton,” which I had seen before, enjoyed, and didn’t mind seeing again. Josh Duhamel is some decent eye candy. The cabin crew for this flight had just come in on this same plane from ORD, and didn’t seem as attentive as the crew from SFO last Thursday, but they were friendly and did their job. I wished they had warmed the cookies though – that is always a nice touch, and we had time.
The flight was smooth and uneventful, but fog at SFO was delaying traffic (only one runway could be used). We were directed south to San Jose, and then turned around to get into the approach for landing. We landed at 20:45 (9 minutes behind schedule), on Runway 28R. We taxied to Gate 83.
SFO to LAX – United Flight #999 It was too dark to get the registration number. It was a 737-500 still in “Shuttle by United” colors.
Scheduled Departure Time: 22:10
Revised Departure Time: 22:40
Actual Pushback Time: 23:00 (mechanical delay at LAX)
I waited at the Red Carpet Club at SFO, was tired, and disappointed by the delay. At about 22:10 I headed down to Gate 73B to wait to board. The flight was not very full and everyone in the waiting area looked tired. Finally at 22:45 they started Boarding. It was Open Boarding, not by zone. I headed down the Jetway and took my assigned seat 2B.
We pushed back, I put on the headset to listen to Channel 9. The Tower had us start taxiing for takeoff on Runway 1L; however, on the way, the First Officer radioed back and asked to use Runway 28R. Something about the prevailing winds that the computer said to use 28R. That delayed the takeoff some more as we were almost to 1L, when plans were changed.
We took off. In about 20 minutes, the Purser got up to serve drinks. Just water for me as the hour was late. The flight was quick, quiet and uneventful. After about 40 minutes we started our descent into Los Angeles. We came in from the west over Santa Monica and then turned inland to begin the approach to Runway 25L. While on final, the Tower asked if we could make Runway 25R instead of 25L, which was no problem. We touched down at 00:03, about 35 minutes behind schedule. We taxied to Gate 83 and parked next to a “Ted” A-320.
I headed down to Baggage Claim and was directed to Carousel 4. Here, I experienced another additional level of service I have never seen at LAX, and it was very refreshing. While waiting, the Baggage Agents kept everyone updated as to the status of when we could expect our bags. They also paged passengers whose bags had arrived on earlier flights so they would not have to wait. No such luck for me, but what was new, and for the first time in my many experiences as a First Class Passenger on United, my bags actually received Priority Handling at LAX. This had never happened before, and was always the biggest disappointment for me when ending my United trips, to have paid the higher fare for Priority Handling and not have it happen.
Overall grade for United for this trip 65%. It is better than the 40-50% grades I have given recently. While it was nice to see some niceties restored in First Class, CONSISTENCY, SYSTEMWIDE, of quality service is still lacking. “Miss Thing with Attitude” at the SFO Red Carpet Club was the biggest disappointment. Now that United has an even bigger hurdle to jump to emerge from BK without the loan guarantees, I’ll wait and see what changes are made before I make my decision to fly on United again.