In mid August, I spotted an ad in the paper for return flights to Hong Kong for JPY25000 so jumped on the phone and booked a weekend trip to Hong Kong for a bit of shopping and dining. These cheap flights in Japan are very common from big travel agencies (outside of peak travel times). The only drawback is that the airline is unspecified at the time of booking. It's a game of roullette. I've ended up on Cathay, Dragonair and Asiana before for cheap flights within Asia, this was the first time that it was a US airline. Having read some critical reports here, I was expecting the worst. Here's what I got.
Date: 10 Sep 05
Flight: UA 853 NRT-HKG
ATD: 6:40 ish
Rego: Missed it.
I took the bus from Yokohama to Narita T1. Traffic was light and the driver had a lead foot so we got to the airport in 75 mins - it usually takes 90.
We found the checkin area we needed (zone E). It was chaotic. Because it was a cheap ticket, we had to checkin at the agent's counter, which was next to counters for US carriers. Queued for the security check for Zone F which was mch shorter. No dramas from the polite Narita security staff. Once we got through however, a rude Northwest security dude, dressed like a bouncer demanded to see our tickets. When told we were going to the UA counter to pick up tickets there, he was actually much more polite!!! (So, they're rude to their own paz but polite to others??)
There were people everywhere, and not enough counters open. Finally got to the front of the queue only to find that on the email my partner sent, he'd spelt his name wrong and they had to run around and cut hundreds of bits of red tape to issue a new ticket.
That sorted, we went to the food court for a bite to eat and an excellent outdoor seat overlooking the active runway. Saw 2 SQ 747s land - one very smooth and quiet, the other landed a bit long and gunned reverse thrust.
Immigration took forever. We finally got to the gate at 6:23! I got pulled aside for a random security check - again polite Narita staff carried it out. That was the last polite person i was to meet until buying my airport express ticket at Hong Kong airport.
Upon entering the aircraft, there was a youngish male FA, chewing gum(!!!) looking at boarding passes without saying hello. I showed him mine and he just barked "that way!!!" when I inadvertantly headed to the wrong aisle.
As I was walking to the back of the plane, the captain was making an announcement, but all we could hear was ear-piercing feedback. He tried again a few minutes later and said they were still loadong some lugage, so pushback would be a few minutes late. Still no FAs had said hello to me. I must have passed 3 or 4 on my way to the 2nd last row of the plane.
I didn't think much of the look of Greyound bus style grey seats but they were pretty comfortable for Y class. Slimline seats with PTV on other airlines are often too hard.
During the saftey demo, I got my first bit of recognition from cabin crew in the form of a wry smile from a very cute male FA.
After a quick taxi to the runway (sorry, don't know the number or which direction we took off - shoot me down in flames and revoke my a.net membership NOW) we waited for a couple of JAL heavies, a CX 744 and a NW 330 to take off. Our takeoff roll was powerful and pretty quick - despite being an almost full flight.
Captain came on the say the flight would be bumpy - especially around taiwan as there's a taiphoon in the area. He also said he was switching ch9 on. That was my inflight entertainment decided!!
Lots of flights were asking control for highr altituded or deviations left or right due to weather. The CX plane was 5 - 10 mins ahead of us and going up and down and left and right trying to find clear air. We, with our gung-ho texan pilot were just going straight through the weather and having a bumpy time of it. Meanwhile, unsmiling crew were doing a bar service. I had a 7-UP. American 7-up tasted soooo different to Japanese. Too sweet for me (I'm Australian, don't know what it tastes like back home)
Dinner was a choice of Chicken with rice noodles or Pasta marinara - according to an announcement made by the pursor early in the flight in English and Cantonese. There was only ONE Japanese announcement made through out the whole flight - that was "please return to your seats" during a particularly bumpy bit. That was obviously read off a card, as all the Japanese were giggling how bad the pronunciation was. For a flight with about 40% Japanese pax, origniating in Tokyo, it's pretty shocking that there were no announcements in Japanese, or apparently no Japanese speaking cabin crew.
Anyway, I chose the chicken which was fair to middling. I asked for a norange juice to go with it. My request was met with "Are you sure honey???" As the cute FA shook an obviously empty carton. It's all good and well for one gay man to be casual and familiar with another - but still, I wouldn't have minded "We've just run out. Sorry. Would you like something else, or you can wait a moment and I get you some Orange Juice (honey)" Didn't like the really cheap looking plastic trays - kind of like baby food meal trays, foam cups and very bendy plastic fork to eat noodles. Noodles were made to be eaten with chopsticks! but there were none available. After struggling for a while with a slipery plastic fork, I gave up.
After the worst of the bumpy weather was past, coffee and tea was brought around. The rude gum-chewing guy offered coffee. I declined, but my partner had a cup. After pouring his cup, he held the tray right in front of my face and barked "cream! Sugar!" My partner said no thank you. He then continued to hold the tray there barking "stirrer!!! stirrer!!!" My Bf can speak pretty good English, but he had no idea what the guy was offering, so said again that he didn't need milk or sugar. I answered he obviously therefore didn't need a stirrer either. He just stomped off chewing gum like a cow.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. There was one water run done. I presses the call button to ask for another cup. I didn't have to wait too long which was nice.
Captain came on again as we were starting our descent to advise we'd be touching down almost on time and dis-embarking a little later than scheduled. And thank you for choosing United blaadiblaah.
Landed very smoothly and taxied to gate sixty-something - a long way out. Grumpy gum-chewing man was at the door not saying goodbye to passengers. We sneered at each other as I got off. He must be THE rudest FA I've ever encountered (and I've flown on domestic flights in China - there are some sneery FAs there!!)
The queue at immigration was short, and as we had no checked luggage were able to go straight to the train and into town.
The return flight was pretty similar.
Overall, UA wasn't quite as bad as I expected it to be. But you know what they say about one rotton apple....
I wouldn't choose to fly UA again given the choice, but I've booked another cheap flight to HK in December, chances are it will be United.