The journey started as a gift of many United Airlines frequent flyer miles. I used a travel agent to book a week long trip to Europe. I had never been to Northern Italy or Spain before, so I thought it would be a great time to do it since there would be no tourists or crowds since it is the middle of the winter. The tickets were booked way in advance by the travel agent who searched for a good way to get to Milan, Florence and Barcelona using business class award tickets.
As we both are college students at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute Indiana, we had our tickets start from IND. The travel agent found us an itinerary that used both Lufthansa and United. We were going to get to try the new Lufthansa Business Class on our way over to Europe and come back on the upper deck of a UA 744.
We got up around 8am to finish our packing. We left campus at around 10am for our 1:30pm flight. It was a 90 minute drive to the airport parking lot, which went smoothly. We made it to the discounted extended parking lot at IND and walked over to the departures area. We showed up to the airport at 11:30, so we had lots of time. We got there early so we could drop off a fellow student on his way to IAD on Independence Air.
Check in at the UA desk took longer than it should have. There were no crowds as usual in the UA/US check in lobby at the far end of the departures area. We immediately went up to an agent to check us in. We handed over our luggage and passports. He took a while searching through his computer to try to find out what was going on. He was confused the whole time. It wasn’t due to inexperience though since he was actually the manager on duty at the time. At one point while holding my US passport he asked if I was a permanent resident and if he could see my Green Card. I was a little taken back. Finally he printed out our boarding passes to take us as far as ORD. Since we were transferring to LH in ORD, he said that we would have to re check in. Fortunately our baggage was checked all the way to MXP.
After killings some time in Starbucks, we then headed to the D gates security area. There was a decent line, but it only took about 15 minutes. Security at IND is far better now then it was 2 years ago. The B/C line would stretch all the way to the ticket lobby and beyond. But UA has since moved to D, which might not be as new as the C gates, but is still pretty nice. There isn’t much food selection other than a small restaurant. There is a bookstore too. There were decent crowds today. D really has picked up since UA moved over. They have taken over 3 of the gates at the far end of the concourse leaving only D8 as controlled by the Airport Authority (which happened to be in use today by an ATA charter flight).
United Express Operated by Mesa
February 24, 2005
Depart: 1:34pm Arrival: 1:52pm
Flight Time: 37 Minutes
Equip: CR7 Seats 1 D/F
Load Factor: 100%
Photo © Paul Robbins
It was February 24th and the weather wasn’t very good on the east coast. A number of flights were being delayed, and while we were there a US Airways flight to BOS along with a DL flight to ATL got cancelled. About 15 minutes prior to boarding time for the Mesa Flight the UAX flight to IAD was announced that it was delayed by two hours due to snow. This resulted in a huge line accumulating for the ORD flight by business travelers and others who were trying to connect through ORD and reroute their schedules.
Boarding finally commenced for the CRJ-700 flight to ORD. We were the first two to board as they announced first class. There were six seats on board the plane in first class in a 1 by 2 configuration. The seats were made of a nice leather but were not well supporting. They were kind of hard and they did not conform to my body at all. The seats were fine for the short flight to ORD, but I wouldn’t want them on a longer flight. The cloth on US domestic seats are better for longer flights, but the UAX seats in first used by Mesa on the CR7 and Chautauqua on the E170 are only comfortable for short haul.
The first class flight attendant named Anastasia on this flight was serving drinks. She was a nice lady that was being friendly and was a new hire. She wasn’t anywhere near as professional as a mainline flight attendant, but served adequately. We then asked for the registration number of the plane. She was confused as to what we wanted, so Zone1 asked for her to go ask the captain. She then came back saying N514Monkey Jet. Zone1 found this hilarious. Overall I don’t think she has ever had that request in her life before.
Boarding took a little longer than usual as the gate agent worked on filling the plane. The original load factor was only about 70%, but it suddenly was completely filled with passengers from the delayed E170 flight to IAD. Once all the passengers boarded we were waiting for a little while. The captain had to redo all of his paperwork and ops were having trouble as well. The weight and balance of the plane was suddenly all thrown off, so it took about 10 minutes for the plane door to be closed and for us to depart.
The flight attendants began the safety demonstration. Anastasia did the gestures and the other flight attendant read the script. Once her voice came over, everyone was shocked with the weird voice and noises coming over the PA. She had a high pitched voice with a very heavy South Asian accent. It was very hard to understand her as she butchered the script. People were laughing and Anastasia was having trouble not breaking down in the aisle way as the flight attendant destroyed the safety demonstration. Zone1 and I were joking about whether Mesa had outsourced its flight attendants to India or not.
We departed about 10 minutes late. We then taxied extremely quickly to the crosswind runway for a take off to the South East. The Mesa captain taxied the plane faster than I have ever seen. He was probably trying to make up for the delay.
Take off was quick and smooth on the CR7. I was surprised by the take off performance since usually stretched planes don’t have the performance of the standard models. Once we launched off the runway, Anastasia came by offering drinks again. The Indian flight attendant came by and Anastasia told her off for saying her name wrong and for giving a bad safety demonstration and said to the Indian flight attendant that on the next flight that she would be doing the gestures since she couldn’t talk.
The flight was overall rather short and just an afternoon flight. Before much else happened, we descended into ORD. The seat belt light did not go off for the entire flight even though there was no turbulence. Most flights turn off the light for about 10 minutes on ORD-IND, but not so on this flight.
Landing was smooth as we landed adjacent to the international terminal. We then saw our LH A333 that had just arrived and was beginning to be prepared for its flight to FRA, but it had not been towed to the B gates yet.
Overall the Mesa flight was pretty good. The seats were nice, and first class makes RJ flying completely bearable. I almost prefer the E170 and CR7 on short flights over the 737 because they are less crowded, but still offer everything that a mainline flight has. The only problem with Mesa were the unprofessional flight attendants.
February 24th 2005
Departs: 3:25pm Arrives: 6:50am
Equip: A333 seat 4A and C
Reg: DAIAP (not sure on that)
Flight time: 8hrs
Load Factor: 100% first, 90% business
Photo © French Frogs AirSlides
We disembarked in the C concourse and made our way to check in for the LH flight. We had to go to the LH gate since we didn’t have boarding passes. There was a line set up for Business Class/ First Class and Economy. There were decent lines for each. Unfortunately for us the business class line did not move at all as the economy passengers all got through. It frustrated me since there was one agent for each. Two different people took forever at the counter. Finally the economy line emptied and the LH gentleman for the economy desk signaled for me and Zone1 to go over. We then handed our passports and luggage tags. Unfortunately he had problems checking us in. We had switched from the late flight to the early flight about a month earlier partly so we could get the new business class. The agent had to make phone calls and took about 15 minutes to get checked in. Overall I don’t have a favorable opinion towards LH check in. I don’t know what the problems were, but they were taking forever and aggravating many passengers. The problem probably occurred because we had switched flights and because it was a reward ticket, but still we didn’t like waiting.
We only had about 30 minutes for boarding, but we decided to go to the Red Carpet Club anyway since this was Zone1’s first transatlantic business class flight. The agent told us to go to the small RCC in the wing of concourse B. It was insanely crowded though. It was small and there wasn’t a single seat available. It wasn’t pleasant at all and it was probably louder then the terminal. Since the other B concourse RCC was closed, we walked all the way to the C concourse. We went in with no problem to the nice large club. We then both made a last minute phone call and had some water and then headed back to the gate.
Boarding had already commenced for the flight and many of the passengers had already boarded. We went in through the economy jetbridge and then made our way up to the mini cabin of 12 business seats just behind the 8 person first class sectoin. We were in 4 A/C. The seat was quite nice looking. We stored our bags in the closet ahead of the cabin and made ourselves comfortable. Since the forward section of business class on the A333 doesn’t have center overhead compartments, there wasn’t much space for some of the bags and with no under seat storage with the new business class, things were a little tight. Anyways a flight attendant helped us with our bags and took our coat. She was a nice woman of about 40 that spoke impeccable English (like the whole LH crew) that was better then the English of the Mesa flight attendant.
We then found our amenity kit, which was horrible. It consisted of a blind fold, socks and some moisturizer. It was the worst amenity kit I have ever seen. I had heard that they usually have ear plugs and tooth brushes and other features, so I didn’t bring that stuff on board. It was a little frustrating since I am used to more offered by the likes of UA and Asian carriers.
I then tried to figure out the entertainment system. It was like using a computer with a mouse and icons. It was pretty user friendly, or at least I as an engineering student thought so. The door was then closed. We were some of the last two to board. We pushed back on time. The safety demonstration was played on the PTVs in German and English. The flight attendants then made their uneventful preparations for take off and then we taxied to the runway. I was busy playing with the IFE, but noticed we took off from 32R.
Take off was fast and smooth. The A333 is very quiet and nice. It was especially nice to be on this rather new airplane. The seats were a little worn though, which surprised me. There was evidence of what looked like abuse. Overall they are rather comfortable. The seat cushion is thin, but still nice. The seat went into a flat position that reclines at 9 degrees. It was a noticeable slope, but still comfortable. My absolutely favorite feature of the seat though is that the bottom seat cushion and leg rest is one complete piece. You don’t get any joints or discontinuities in it. It makes the seat far more comfortable in the flat position compared to seats that have a setup of leg rest, seat cushion and back rest all folding and bending. These seats are good for lie flat seats, but first class, of course, is much better. I liked them a lot and better then some of the other business class seats that I have tried like UA, NZ, OS, but I can’t compare them to BA or VS since I always fly STAR. An annoying part of the seats is that they are very loud. The motors are loud when adjusting the seat and the massage feature is loud as well as the noise radiates in and out to the point where it is better to keep the feature off. This really counteracted the super quiet new A333.
The IFE system was really good. It had a fairly large screen and was user friendly for most. My biggest gripe about the IFE though was that it was not on demand and how the headset jack kept falling out and was hard to put back in. The movies started at halfway through so you missed the first half of the movie. I would have appreciated watching one movie during the meal rather then two halves of two movies. Overall the selection was very good though, so I will not complain. I believe there were around 15 movies.
The A333 was nice and had lavatory windows. They were pretty cool and the flight attendants kept them spotless during the flight. The flight attendants were also on the guard to make sure that NO one entered a different cabin. At one point a woman in front of me tried to use the first class lavatory and was immediately escorted back to the business class lavatory. The curtains were fastened shut as well. It was rather nice and relaxing. Also the 12 passenger 2 row cabin is very nice. Service was good and it was pleasant and quiet.
Dinner was soon served for this flight, which was good since I was starving. Menus were presented.
Smoked Salmon with Wasabi Mustard Sauce
Sliced breast of duck offered with palm hearts and artichoke salad
Mesclun mix presented with dressing
Bread, Rolls, and Butter
Grilled Lamb Chops provencale complemented by fennel carrots and potatoes
File of Sole and Shrimp on Lobster Sauxe presented with vegetables and rice pilaf
Penne Pasta with tomato sauce sauted mushrooms and asparagus spears
Cheese and Dessert
Camembert, Edam and Goat Cheese
My choices were duck and pasta. I liked both of them with the pasta being good but not overly spicy. I also had champagne with dinner. Zone1 had the duck and lamb chops. He really liked his and since he had the camera took the following pictures of the meal service.
The dinner was served nicely and efficiently by the crew. They did a good job, but did take a while. I was absolutely starving by the time the entrée came around. They did their best though and it was well presented. Overall it was probably the best business class meal that I have had to date, but nothing compared to first class especially on Air New Zealand, but I am digressing.
After dinner and after dinner drinks were served, Zone1 and I put the seats in fully reclined positions in order to get a few hours of sleep. There were only 5 hours left in the flight since dinner had been long and spread out. But something annoying began to happen. There was an older woman in the seat in front of me. By this time she had already crashed her IFE system twice and had the purser fussing over her. Also the head set jack is located way in the center consol and is bound to accidentally become detached in flight. It is quite annoying because only a small hand can put it back in place. This is one of the biggest engineering flaws with the seat. Well this woman kept pulling hers out and having flight attendants reach down and try to fix it. Also she was playing with her seat which was loud and causing a racket throughout the flight. Very annoying. But fortunately the flight attendant had a perfect attitude and was helpful all the time and never showed any frustration like the rest of the business class cabin had for this woman.
I slept ok and was decently comfortable, but wasn’t tired enough. Since the flight left in the mid afternoon, it was hard to convince myself that I was tired, and I wasn’t the most comfortable at a 9 degree angle. But I did get a few hours of sleep.
Zone1 woke up for breakfast, but I slept through all the way until landing.
Cold gourmet plate of breast of chicken and turkey
Hot specialty cheese omelet with mushrooms bacon and potatoes.
He liked the breakfast, but I was trying to sleep as much as possible. We descended very smoothly into FRA. The A333 was probably the quietest of any plane I have ever been on with the exception of the 747 nose section. I really liked it and felt calm and somewhat refreshed upon landing in FRA. The food had been good and the seat was about as good as it gets for business class, but I still prefer first class service (which I have experienced and loved on two separate occasions with LH traveling India-US).
We disembarked with some kind words from the crew into an empty FRA. There was no one at all in the airport since we had one of the earliest arrivals into FRA from the Atlantic crossings. Zone1 and I then headed to the senators lounge. I showed my STAR gold card and we were in. I had a shower and enjoyed the lounge as we waited for our flight to MXP. We made sure to use the international lounge before going into the EU gate areas since it is larger. It wasn’t very crowded at this early hour and had a few people headed to exotic destinations.
Equip 733 Seats 5D and F
Flight time: 50 minutes
Load Factor: 40%
Photo © Kevin Murphy
Eventually we headed through immigration to the lower level of FRA. It was a lot more crowded compared to the international area. We headed to the assigned gate for MXP, but it said Leipzig. Fortunately after a few minutes they announced that the Leipzig flight was moved. FRA is a nice ultra modern airport with everything being Silver Blue or Yellow. A nice facility.
We then boarded with the heard of people. The flight wasn’t all that crowded and the business class section was rather empty. The business class seats are nothing more then pitch challenged economy seats with a vacant middle seats. They aren’t comfortable at all, and rather annoying to sit in after a long international flight.
We were greeted in English by a young purser who spoke only English and German. There weren’t many Italians on the flight though. The safety demonstration was smooth and again given in English and German followed with an Italian recording.
Take off was quick as taxi was short. I was tired though so not really paying much attention. I dozed in and out as we climbed quickly up and over the alps. Breakfast was served, which I ate this time. It was simple and consisted of an overly small tray with cheese some meat and a roll. Not a bad breakfast and food is appreciated since I skipped the first meal. I am glad LH serves meals in business class because even though US domestic first has far far better seats on every airline, they would never even think of serving a meal on a 50 minute flight. Overall the service was good on this short and uneventful flight.
We made it to MXP without problem. Disembarking was short and smooth. We then walked a rather long way and made it to baggage claim. Happily our two bags were some of the first off after waiting for 15 minutes (a far cry compared to the return journey, but you can read about that later). We then went through a door with a customs sign over it, but there were no customs. Apparently it was a relic from before the more integrated EU travel regulations came about.
We met our chauffer to take us to the Hotel Excelsior in Milan and we were off while rather tired from a long journey.
I really liked the LH service. They finally have a good competitive business class seat to go with their strong service. The flight attendants were nice and professional (although one was kind of scary and witch like). They did their best and food was good. I also got some sleep which is happy. For lie flats, the LH seat is great. Connexion wasn’t working yet, but the IFE was still amazing as it felt like you were surfing through a PC. They are good and I would be happy to fly them again. And if you don’t like lie flat, you can always still sit at an angle if you must.
Thanks for reading, and keep alert for part 2 and 3 coming out soon.