I just realized how appealing the title of this trip report is. For people others than the A.net geeks, it is probably as meaningful as the green computer screen one can see in Matrix. For this sole reason, I really want to thank you for clicking on this link to read this report.
Today's trip report will take us from Tokyo Narita airport to Houston and back for a 4 days leisure trip. A lot of first time today; first time in Texas, first time on UA for an international flight, first time to listen to channel 9c so many reasons to be overwhelmingly excited to take the bus to Narita Airport on November 30th 2005. My excitation was also due to the dream I had the night before leaving, a dream where I was upgraded to first class and were the beautiful lady next to me was begging me to introduce her to the mile high club. But the face of Mrs. JumboForever before leaving was clear enough to make me understand that I should politely declined any offer I might receive while on board.
Let's start then with the first leg of this report.
Flight UA852 NRT-SFO
Seat 37H (Economy +)
Departure time: 17:00
Arrival time: 08:50
Photo © Matthew Wallman
The ride on the bus was rather smooth and quick, no traffic jam outside and few people inside. I had some small talks with a couple going back to Phoenix via LAX on SQ who came to Japan to visit their son. The husband must have asked me and checked a dozen of times the terminal SQ was leaving from, making me wonder why I decided to fly on UA while I could have at least made the transpac leg on SQ, enjoying the youngness and attractiveness of the legendary SQ girls, who are very good marrying material according to fellow member SINGAPORE_AIR.
Once arrived in Narita, I proceeded directly to the United counter. I was a bit shocked at first to see the length of the queue, only to discover that those people were waiting for the check in of RG's flight to LAX. After having found the entrance of the UA check in area, I was relived to find a very acceptable amount of pax waiting. Four counters were open and I only waited 10 to 15 minutes before my turn. Having only one carry-on luggage, the check in took only 5 minutes. I received my boarding passes through Houston, and I was pleased to see that the dream I had the night before was coming true as I would be seating in Economy Plus today. Well this is not first class but thanks to my elite status on ANA, I could reserve seat on a much more rewarding seat than the cattle class where ordinary people seats. I felt proud to be such a valuable customer for UA and to be rewarded with 4 inches of extra vital space for the next hours, 4 inches that might help me to achieve the other part of the dream.
Having nothing to do for more than an hour and a half, I went to the observation deck to watch the plane departing and arriving at NRT. This place is really wonderful and even if they tend to disappear little by little, it's still possible to spot a lot of 747, my favorite plane as my username suggests
Photo © Stuart Prince
Photo © Stuart Prince
Photo © Sam Chui
Photo © Air_blue626
I then left for security and immigration and walk all the way to the end of terminal one to reach gate 11, where today's plane (N118UA) was waiting.
The boarding started and once again I felt important to be in the first boarding group. I took my seat and while other people were boarding, I start to discovered the unlimited option offered by my economy plus seat, including among others a very useful tablet which allowed me later to enjoy fine delicacies prepared by Sky Gourmet (or equivalent), or to occupy myself with the remarkable PEI (personal entertainment item) called HEMISPHERE. I also located in the seat in front of me the generous pocket which, thanks to the extra inches allowed to Economy Plus guest, allowed me to comfortably put my wallet and the bottle of EVIAN I bought to protect myself from Deep Vein Thrombosis.
Then my seat mate took place next to me. He was seating in 37K but being in economy plus, the seat in the middle was going to be empty today so he would be the other piece or personal entertainment I would enjoy. A rather good looking 20+ men from San Francisco, wearing some very fashionable clothes and, I discovered it later, a very nice piercing going through his tongue. This nice fellow was very enjoyable to talk with. However, I was starting to wish that the other part of my dream won't become true when he told me how happy he was to meet again his boy friend in SF after one month of separation. I reassure myself by believing his fidelity to his boyfriend would be stronger than his desire to join the mile high club with me.
The plane was maybe 85% full so the boarding was rather quick. We left the gate on time and after a quick taxi we took off from runway 34L on our way to SFO. Drink service started quickly and I opted for a delicate beer brewed from one of the finest Japanese brewery, accompanied by a non less delicate snack which I don't exactly remember the taste.
This complementary drink was soon to be followed by the main event of the day, with a selection of exotic meals which could be roughly translated into English by 'beef or chicken'. I choose the first one and it turned out to be rather good. It was accompanied by mashed potatoes, a salad, a piece a grilled salmon (the best part of the tray actually) and a cake I didnft try.
In between the flat screen in front of the cabin has been installed. It was from a technology unknown to me being neither plasma nor LCD. It looks more like a vinyl rectangle on which an image processing box called projector (I find this on Google later) displays some moving images using three Red Green and Bleu electric bulbs. Unfortunately, it didn't work for the first half of the movie, but well, we all know how that new technologies are prone to unexpected failures...
One coffee later I pushed the button located in the armrest to turn my seat into a very comfortable 'economy plus sleeper suit'. Help by my Ipod, I could rest for a while and woke up about three hours before the end of the flight. Then followed the breakfast, which was a rather good omelet with hash browns and fresh fruits.
Then began our descent to SFO airport, where the weather for good enough to enjoy the view of the bay. Landing was uneventful.
To summarize this first leg, and without being sarcastic, I have to say that the service was good. Cabin attendant were polite and professional. Some of them could have been a little bit friendlier but I have absolutely no complaints. Still there is something missing when comparing with the service provided on Asian airlines.
After leaving the plane I went through immigration. I made myself ridiculous during the fingerprint things when I put my right finger on the sensor while asked to put the left one, but the immigration officer smiled and told me it happens all the time. I then walked through the airport to reach the gate of my next flight.
Flight UA378 SFO-IAH
Seat 08A (Economy +)
Departure time: 10:45
Arrival time: 16:35
I found the seating of UA's Airbus very nice, much more comfortable than the 744 I had before. The seats are ageing a little bit but still acceptable. As I slept almost the way to Houston, I won't have that much things to say about this flight. One of the FA really looked like Pam Grier in the movie 'Jacky Brown'. Unfortunately, she was working in F. I was also happy to get a whole can of soda (don't remember if it was a Coke or a Pepsi) and not only a glass. Then as I was a bit hungry, I decided to treat myself to a 5$ snack. I eventually gave up when I asked what kind of food they got on purchase. Her only answer was 'the blue box'. I realized later that the content of the 'blue box' is detailed in the magazine but still; I don't think it would be too difficult to memorize the content of the blue box, especially as it was the only one on sale! I then slept to wake up only minutes before landing in Houston.
My stay in Texas was really nice. The weather was great, I met friends from University over there and even if Houston might not be as interesting as other cities in the US for tourism, there are some nice museums, good restaurants and the malls are rather impressive. Besides collecting some miles to keep my status on ANA, the other purpose of this trip was to go to see the Rolling Stones at the Toyota Center. Always a great show and to quote one guy walking next to us on our way back: "what a great fcing concert" (he was a little bit over enthusiastic).
On Sunday morning, my trip was over and it was time to go back to Japan on board:
Flight UA377 IAH- SFO
Seat 07C (Economy +)
Departure time: 07:45 (that's early)
Arrival time: 09:53
The check in took a lot of time. There was only one counter open and I don't know why, but it took ages to handle the two people just in front of me. I was surprised that it's not possible to check-in online on United when you transfer for an international flight. I know CO is doing it, and as I didn't have any luggage to check in, it would have save me a lot of time. The flight was half empty, and it was funny to see people at the gate asking for an upgrade. There are 8 F seats on an A320, but I counted at least 15 people asking for an upgrade. Anyway we boarded the plane and here we went to SFO.
I mentioned Channel 9 at the beginning of this report, and I must say I was kind of disappointed with my first two flights because it was turned off. I was then happy to discover it was turned on for this flight. I really enjoyed it. Well of course, departure and approach are the best part of it, as there are few interesting conversations to listen at en route. It is actually the only flight were I enjoyed it. On the last leg from SFO to NRT, channel 9 was only on in the middle of the flight but was turned off for departure and landing. Too bad.
During the flight I got two cans of soda thanks to the friendly FA I chatted a bit with when I went to the toilets. After my disappointing experience with the blue box on my way in, I didn't even dare asking for the break-fast, which looked unimpressive anyway. To kill time I wrote a bunch of postcard. I bought some nice ones with 'TEXAS IS BIGGER THAN FRANCE' written. I was kind of surprised to learn they all arrived at destination. I was afraid that some simple minded French postmen would burn them in anger, but they probably don't speak English anyway so no harm was done.
And here we are in SFO. I took the shuttle to the international terminal so I didn't have to go though TSA again. As I was in SFO I bought a bottle of California wine at the duty free shop. It was a nice Pinot Noir I enjoyed with friends back in Japan. I was just surprised that even if California wine are very good and don't have anything to envy to their French counterpart, they are extremely expensive. I could probably have had about the same quality in France for half the price, but anyway this is not the purpose of this trip report.
The timing for the transfer in SFO was only one and a half hour so I didn't wait that much to board on:
Flight UA837 SFO-NRT
Seat 40C (Economy +)
Departure time: 11:20
Arrival time: 15:35
The boarding was rather chaotic. The flight was 100% full. Three or four times, the agent in charge of the gate made announcement that C and F were full and upgrade was not possible anymore, after which you could see a lot of people with disappointed faces. Group boarding was hardly respected and even if the agent were refusing to let the pax from the wrong group go in, it ended up being worse than anything as those pax were waiting next to the gate blocking the access for other pax waiting. After having freed-up my way to the gate from two Japanese grandmas and their dozen of hand luggage using my bottle of water as an axe, I could finally go in, feeling shocked that I had to compromise my EVIAN in order to benefit of the reward to be on group 1.
I picked up my bottle of wine at the duty free pickup counter (hopefully, this sacred beverage had been protected from the chaos) and I quickly walked to my seat to secure a place for my (FAA certified) hand luggage in the overhead bins. This proved to be a wise move as most of the bins were quickly filled by oversized items like backpacks, bags or even flowers (true!). Now aware of the functionalities of my seat, I could only kill time by looking at the pax coming in wondering who's going to be the lucky winner to sit next to me for the next 11 hours and 15 minutes. He (and not she unfortunately) ended up to be a 50 years old Japanese guy back from business in the US.
When the entire luggage had been compressed in the overhead bins or under the seats it was time to leave for Narita. The take-off roll was very long. Some might argue that the A340 is a joke with its four hairdryers, but a fully load 744 on its way for a trans-pacific flight doesn't really perform like a rocket on take-off. After a while drink were offered. I had an interesting tomato juice accompanied by the now traditional crackers (or were they pretzels I can't remember). I had a hard time to choose between the two mouth watering dishes prepared by some of the finest chefs of the San Francisco area, which were a selection of 'chicken or beef'. I choose the first one, which was cooked in a kind of Asian style sauce with rice (probably a famous recipe from a renowned chef of China Town).
It turned out to be rather good but a bit dry, but apparently better than the beef chosen by my seat mate, who left most of it untouched. This was served with a turkey salad (I like poultry a lot, but serving chicken and turkey on the same tray is somewhat boring if you ask me), some fresh fruits (I'm still not sure if the orange one was mango or melon), a bread roll and a cake I didn't eat. After having been aroused by the numerous bottle of wine at the duty free shop in SFO, I succumbed to the temptation of a bottle of red wine. It was a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, nothing great but still drinkable. The bottle intrigued me anyway because of the sentence written on it. It was written in Latin and even if I learned it in high-school (learning is not the appropriate word, let's say I took the class), I couldn't get the meaning. Here is the sentence:
Vitam Exolvere per artes.
The first a.net member who will be able to translate it will be promptly added on my RU list.
The video projector worked fine this time, but being sited farther from the screen than the first time, it was kind of painful to stretch my neck in order to see the screen. Add that there are very few monitors above the aisles and that they were located even further than the screen, I quickly gave up and opened my book to get me asleep.
In the middle of the flight, I let my neighbors go and use the toilets and on the way back, my neighbor pick-up his laptop before sitting back. I started to feel sorry for him, this poor Japanese salary man who had to write a report to be handled to his boss on the very next morning. I was disappointed when I saw he was just planning to use it as an audio-player. I was about to suggest that for a few thousands yens he could get a smaller and much more convenient MP3 player, but It would have been a mistake as the MP3 player would not have allowed him to play Solitaire, a game he seemed to enjoy a lot as he played until the battery passed out.
I couldn't sleep that well anyway and with my book as my only friend I killed time until the second food service, some lasagna (probably a famous recipe from a renowned chef of Little Italy).
As we started our descent, I began to enjoy channel 9 and the delicious English accent of the pilots from Asia, but bitterly realized that it had been turned of after 5 minutes without any conversation on the radio. Landing was OK; here I am back in Japan.
Well all overall the experience was rather positive. I had what I paid for, i.e. a professional and polite service, flights were on time and food and drinks were free. For sure Economy Plus is better than economy, but I wouldn't pay for it if offered. It's ok because I could get it for free thanks to my status, but rather than a better pitch I would prefer a wider seat like some premiums economy seats (like on BA or NH for example).
If you read until here I can only thank you for your kind attention. If you want to support my contribution I kindly accept Star Alliance FFP or addition to your RU list. If I'm not too lazy this week-end I have on the pipes another trip report NRT-CDG and back in C I did last Christmas with Mrs. JumboForever (and also with more pictures).
JumboForever, a proud member of airliners.net thanks for flying with him and hope to see you again soon.