It was time to go to Germany for some training again and this time I decided to make it a little more interesting. I have to fly ORD
at least 8 times a year for work and so I’ve already tried most of the non-stops from Chicago (LH 433, 431, 435, 437 and UA
944 & 940). To make this trip a little more exciting I decided I would fly through SFO
. I chose to travel via SFO
for a couple of reasons: 1) I really like longer flights on the way over as it give me a chance to get some really sleep on the plane before arriving in Germany and going straight to work; 2) It would be a great opportunity to try out the upper deck of a 747 –something I’ve wanted to do since I was in 5th grade.
Since I would be backtracking on the first leg, my company wouldn’t pay for the ORD
segment so I would have to non-rev out to San Francisco the day before and visit with a friend. Just to be safe, I got several backup tickets on AA
. Ultimately, my first choice to non-rev is UA
, since it’s the cheapest and I have the best boarding priority of any domestic airline. They also offered mostly wide-bodies to SFO
, which is always my first consideration when flying as non-rev because of my chances of getting up front.
My original itinerary looked like this:
It ended up being…
(UA A319) Economy
(LH A340-600) Business
(LH A300-600) Economy
(UA 747-400) Business, Upper Deck
(UA 767-300) Business
The day of my trip finally came and I arrived at ORD
about 1:45 for the 3pm flight to SFO
. The airport wasn’t crazy busy, but was definitely more hectic than I usually experience. The check-in line had about 10 people in front of me and the line was moving very slowly. I could see that there was only 1 check-in agent working over 8 of the easy check-in machines. See looked extremely stressed out and I couldn’t blame her. Finally made my way up to the front, but since I was flying stand-by I couldn’t use the Easy Check-In machines and had to wait for the frazzled agent to check me in with my paper tickets. Being a non-rev I wanted to be as accommodating and invisible as possible so when the agent looked at me I just quickly flashed my airline ID
and said “I know you’re busy, take your time.” That put a smile on her face and a minute later she came back to check me in for UA149 ORD
. She was very friendly and admitted how stressed out she was. Thus, I didn’t bother asking her about my chances of making the flight - besides I already knew my chances of getting on the 777 were horrible because I had called just before arriving at the airport and economy was oversold by 20, First and Business were full and there were 6 other stand-by passengers ahead of me. Also, I really didn’t care if I made this flight or not and was prepared to spend 7 hours at ORD
, which has happened to me more times than I like to admit.
The security line was huge but was moving pretty quickly. I noticed the standard “SSSS” on my boarding management card, which I expected but this time it turned out for the better. I was brought to the secondary check area and was the only one waiting. I was done with security more quickly than I would have been had I not gotten the secondary search. I then made my way to gate B16, saw the LH
flights leaving for Frankfurt and Duesseldorf (BBJ
), and checked with the agents at the gate to see if any stand-bys had been cleared. They hadn’t, and after about five minutes of waiting, I heard the dreaded announcement asking for volunteers to take the 8pm flight to SFO
. I didn’t even bother waiting at the gate any longer because I knew I had no chance in hell to make that flight. I knew there was a non-stop to SJC
leaving at 2:50. So I hustled over to C26 and got the gate with 12 mins left before departure. I asked the gate agent if there was any room on the flight, he checked and told me to wait right by the door and that it did actually look good. He was so nice - I could tell that was sympathetic to the stresses of nov-reving. He told the agent working the door “This is Kevin, here’s his info. If these people don’t show up in 2 mins put him on.” The two passengers didn’t show and I was assigned seat 9A in economy plus. First class was full but I couldn’t have cared less because I was just happy to have a seat. Because I boarded so late all of the bins were full and I had to check my bag - no biggy since I would have to wait at SJC
for my ride anyway.
May 1, 2005
Load Factor: 99% (1 open seat)
Just after I took my seat the door was closed and we began our push back. We had a very quick taxi to the runway and only had maybe 1 aircraft ahead of us - something I'm really not used to at ORD
. We soon started our take off roll and I was shocked by how quiet the engines were on the A319. I’ve flown them many times but for some reason on this flight they seemed to be very quiet.
This flight had the buy-on-board option which at first I scoffed at, but then realized how hungry I was. They flight attendants handed out menus which listed the four snack-box options. I chose the “QuickPick” option for $5 and was pleasantly surprised. It contained trail mix, chips and salsa, a cookie, beef jerky, and pretzels with cheese. I felt it was definitely worth the five bucks and I have no problem paying for food if it’s going to help my favorite airline with reducing its costs and get out of bankruptcy. Also, I would rather have the option to buy food on board then to go 4-hours with nothing to eat.
The service on-board was very friendly and attentive. The two flight attendants in the economy cabin served drinks twice and made an effort to chat with the passengers. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed about 20 minutes early in SJC
My original intention was to take UA900 SFO
, however about a week before the trip I decided to book myself on LH459 SFO
as well, and would decide later what flight I would take. The day came and I decided that I would rather try the A346 from SFO
because having the flat bed would allow me to sleep better during the flight. Before this trip, I had flown LH
’s new business seat 3 times and absolutely loved it – so I knew what I would be in for. Also, I had booked a back up ticket through IAD
on a 747 which would still give me the opportunity to try out the upper deck.
May 2, 2005
Load Factor: 85%
I arrived at SFO
about three hours before my flight, which I actually hate because I'm always so anxious just to get on board. Although, it is much less stressful when you actually have a confirmed ticket rather than flying standy-by. Nevertheless, I am an airline employee and even though I was flying for business (which means a confirmed seat), there's always the possibility of an oversold flight and being among the first bumped from the plane. This time I was comforted however, because I had called ahead and was informed that there were approximately 50 open seats between the two cabins.
The international check-in area was very empty and I made my way to the LH
check in area. I was surprised that that were already about 20 people checking in for the flight, but only 1 in the business class line - meaning I had a very short wait before being helped by the check-in agent. Checked in for the flight, was assigned seat 4K and was off to security which also was quite empty as well. Once through, I couldn't get over how empty the international terminal was. It was really nice having all a nice and quite area to wait in - definitely not the typical airport atmosphere I was used to.
Boarding began about 45 mins before departure and I was the third person in line - first one to settle in the business class section. I made a point to look down the aircraft to get an idea of its enormous length. I couldn't believe it! I could see all the way to the back and the realized that it looked longer from the inside than it did from the exterior - if that's even possible. Boarding took place very slowly as I was one of the only passengers in business class for a good 15 mins. Slowly but surely the plane started to fill and we actually pushed back from the gate 12 mins early. Business class ended up being about 70% full. No one was seated next to me, which I was very excited about. A very wealthy Italian family sat in the four seats in front of me. Judging by their bags, the mother and three teenagers seemed to come to the States for a shopping spree. The youngest, who was sitting right in front of me, was having problems with his seat and the mother was furious. Since there was a light load it wasn’t a problem finding him a new seat.
This would be my fourth trip in LH
's new business class seat. I have to say that I love how modern and open the new cabin looks. Definitely a positive change from their older business class product. This was the first time however that the video entertainment was actually on demand. It worked really well and there were actually more movie choices offered than listed in the entertainment guide. Before the flight I was really excited to try out FlyNet (on board internet access) as I’ve heard so many positive reviews of it, but unfortunately it wasn’t working on this flight. I really didn’t mind however because I was really tired and planned on sleeping most of the flight anyway. ( I managed to get 7 full hours of sleep.)
During the times that I was actually awake, the service was impeccable and performed by the HOTTEST crew I have ever seen. They all looked like models and were among the most friendly flight crews that I have ever had. We landed right on time and I saw something pretty interesting outside my window. It was a photographer who had jumped the fence along the taxiway and was taking pictures of our aircraft as we were taxing to the gate. I’ve searched on A.net for the photos but haven’t found anything yet.
Connecting in MUC
This would be my first time flying LH
domestically, as I have always opted for the non-stops from the states to FRA
. I was really excited to see what MUC
was all like after hearing so many positive reviews about the airport.
Connecting in MUC
was really easy. As soon as I got off of my flight from SFO
there was a crew of LH
employees waiting to direct the disembarking passengers to their connecting flights - something I’ve only experienced when a flight comes in late and the passengers are in danger of missing their connections. I thought it was a great touch.
After passing through security I was the gate for my FRA
flight within 10 mins of de-boarding. I checked in at the transfer desk and was informed that there was a slight chance that I wouldn’t make the flight because it was severely overbooked. Nevertheless, I was handed a boarding card with seat 37F and went back to the gate. I knew it wasn’t an aisle or window seat, but I really didn’t care since it would be a very short… or so I thought.
May 3, 2005
Load Factor: 100%
Boarding began right on time and I was one of the first on board. I took my center seat and was pretty disappointed with the seat pitch. I guess anything would look bad though after flying 11 hours in a new business class seat with no one next to you. Anyway, the plane filled up very slowly and we pushed back within 5 mins of our scheduled departure. Then the problems began.
Just after we pushed back the pilot informed us that because of thunder storms in both FRA
that we would be delayed by about 20 mins. After about three more updates and an hour later we were just about to take off when a thunderstorm cell with winds up to 90 kmh was approaching MUC
head on. We waited til it passed and finally took off about an hour and 20 minutes behind schedule. Then, just before we were to start our decent into FRA
, the airport had closed due to weather and we ended up circling the airport for about 45 mins. I really didn’t care because the flight was pretty entertaining with all of the turbulence, despite being crushed in my seat.
It was definitely an interesting flight. Despite landing about 2 hours late, no one on the plane seemed to mind. Usually when you have delays, you hear the other passengers openly complaining about the inconvenience. On this flight, however, the pilot and flight attendants were keeping everyone entertained with their hilarious updates and announcements. Every time they spoke the cabin would erupt with laughter. Our landing was really rough – when we touched down we skipped on the runway about 5 times and the plane shuttered from the hard landing. As soon as we exited the runway, the pilot comes begins his announcement – “Well…. We’ve actually made it to Munich, believe it or not.” Okay, so it doesn’t sound that funny written here, but coming from the pilot everyone found it pretty amusing. I thought the announcements in German were much funnier, but he definitely tried to be humorous with his English as well. Nevertheless, the attitude of the all the passengers was calm and relaxed despite the delay and nasty weather.
Due to the rough weather I wasn’t able to experience the onboard service of a domestic LH
flight because the flight attendants were forced to be seated for the entire flight. But judging by experience that I did have with the crew, it would have been great service.
May 7, 2005
Seat: 17A (Upper Deck)
Load Factor: 97%
My training class ended early on Friday, meaning I still had a chance to catch LH432 to ORD
which doesn't leave FRA
until 5:00pm and would allow me to get home an entire day early. I was determined however to finally catch a ride on the upper deck of a 747, so I decided to wait the extra day and stick to my original itinerary. On Saturday, I arrived at FRA
about two hours before my flight and checked in at United's counter designated for Business Class passengers. After a little confusion with my ticket, I was confirmed in seat 17A, which I had selected a month ago when making my booking, and headed through security to the gate. I noticed in my little paper ticket booklet that I was listed on the First Class upgrade list and was actually perplexed by this discovery. I have flown UA
's international first suite before and love it, but I was also so eager to experience the UD. I decided that I would take myself off of the waiting list for first. The gate agent definitely thought I was crazy. She's probably right.
I was the last one to board on the upper deck, which was 100% full. My first impression was that it was a lot more spacious than I had anticipated and I was more exicted than ever for the flight. Since I boarded relatively late, the man seated in 17B had assumed the seat would be empty for the flight and had placed all of his belongings on my seat. Needless to say, he wasn't too thrilled when I arrived. After being offered the standard pre-departure drink, an announcement was made that the luggage delivery system throughout Frankfurt Airport had broken down and that we would be delayed about 15 mins. We ended up pushing back about a half hour late and made our way quickly to the runway.
The service up top wasn’t the most attentive that I’ve experienced with UA
, but after the flight I would find out there was good reason for it. As I was about to leave the cabin I started talking with the FA
and she explained that it was a very difficult flight to service because the elevator had broken down, making the meal services quite stressful. She explained that that’s why she had been running up and down the aisle several time throughout the flight. However, I still found the service to be very friendly and enjoyable. The food was delicious (Filet Mignon) and my glass was always full.
Despite having flown in a flat bed several times, I still find UA
’s current seat very comfortable. It’s more cushy than any of the flat beds that I have experienced and I find it’s full recline position to be quite conducive for sleeping.
May 7, 2005
Load Factor: 45%
I was a little nervous about connecting at IAD
from the international arrivals area because I’m not very familiar with the airport, but it could not have been easier. Once I cleared customs I only have to walk about 2 mins before I was at my connecting flight to ORD
. On the way to the gate I notice that there was a TED flight leaving to MDW
in less than an hour, but I decided that it was worth waiting a little longer so I could sit in business class on the 767 leaving at 5:40pm.
I checked in for the flight, was assigned 7F
and then waited for the flight to be called. Boarding began and I was the first one on board. The crew obviously wasn’t expecting passengers yet, because when I stepped into the aircraft most of them were resting fully reclined in the business class section. They looked shocked when they saw us boarding and got up right away to start greeting the passengers.
The flight was really nice because it was very lightly booked. I would say overall the seat load factor was bout 45%. First was completely full, business maybe 40% and the back had a ton of open seats. The seat next to me was open, which is always nice.
We pushed back about 10 mins late and were soon airborne. The service on this flight was wonderful. The entire crew had a very friendly and casual attitude. Most of them were taking to time to make conversation with each of the passengers – at least from what I could see in business and first class. One of the passengers in first was a regular flyer and 3 of the crew actually knew him by name and made a point to go so hi to him.
We were served chicken salads for dinner and this time I decided to have some red wine with my meal. Halfway through the service one of the flight attendants came up to me and asked if I was even old enough to be drinking alcohol. It was actually really funny the way she approached me and not condescending at all. I joked with her that people ask me this question all the time but that I was actually nearly 24. It’s funny because I do look really young for my age, so when people ask it doesn’t bother me one bit.
We landed at ORD
about 25 mins early and our gate was actually open – a rarity for early arrivals at O’Hare. All in all, it was a lot of flying in 5 or so days and I was as excited to get home as I was exhausted. All five flights were very enjoyable it their own ways and I can’t wait until I have to go back across the pond in July.
[Edited 2005-05-12 00:33:02]