Matthewonlive and let's fly

A Rundown of My Whirlwind Week of Travel on United/Continental

Re-qualification for 1K status on United is a daunting task while living in Germany. While I do a fair amount of travel within Europe, it is primarily for leisure and on cheap Lufthansa tickets that do not earn miles.

When I postponed my trip to Japan, I thought about scrapping my whole trip back to the U.S. because I was so busy at work, but ultimately decided to take three days off plus a weekend to do a bit of mileage running and spend time with family and friends.

I actually traveled on seven different tickets during my trip home on the following routing: FRA-ORD-BOS-IAD-LAX-SFO-ORD-LAX;BUR-SFO-IAD-BOS-IAH-IAD-FRA for a total of 22,373 elite qualifying miles.

Below is just a brief run-down of the flights. I did take pictures of the meals, but they are on my better camera which I left in California, so words will have to suffice for now.

Flight 1 - Frankfurt to Chicago

As I already explained, I scored an upgrade that should have gone to someone else.

Since I received the last business class seat on the aircraft,  I was in one of the center seats downstairs (UA's 747s have a 2-4-2 layout in bruises class), but that turned out to be a good thing. The service was tremendous. All the FAs were more senior females, but they loved their jobs were in a great mood.

Meal service on this morning departure is a full breakfast followed by a full lunch prior to landing in Chicago. I had an omelet for breakfast (omelets are better ex-Frankfurt) with potatoes, sausage, fruit, yogurt, and a croissant--the typical UA breakfast.

After breakfast, I watched Hereafter (highly recommended) before napping for a few hours. I awoke just in time for lunch, enjoying hot nuts, a capacious appetizer, salad, and a filet cooked medium with potatoes (same potatoes as breakfast) and root vegetables. A small peice of cake followed for dessert.

The flight arrived 40 minutes early and immigration was smooth for me, though not for the poor Filipino couple in front of me who the DHS agent was extremely hostile to.

Flight 2 - Chicago to Boston

After making some phone calls and checking e-mail in the Red Carpet Club, I boarded my flight to Boston. My connection in BOS was about 45 minutes, so I was pleased to see no delays on the departure board. But moments after the door closed the captain announced that maintenance was changing the brakes in one of the tires and we'd be departing about 20 minutes late.

Meanwhile, the purser (who happened to eerily resemble my cousin Becky) sprang up and offered beverages to the 757 first class cabin. 25 minutes later, the captain came on and sheepishly stated that maintenance had decided to change all the brakes and we'd be leaving in an hour.

Had I known we would have been delayed, I probably could have taken a non-stop flight into San Francisco from Chicago, but it was too late now--the door was closed. We eventually left an hour and a half late, but not before the purser had served hot huts and made several drink runs, using real glasses, during the ground delay. She helped to diffuse the situation nicely--usually when delays occurs passengers are quite irritated but there were no loud sighs or expressions of anger on this flight.

Once airborne, lunch was served that included a delicious and spicy southwestern chicken soup and a salad served with a cold chicken breast on top with sesame dressing. A standard UA lunch, but a good one.

Flight 3 - Boston to Washington Dulles

We made up some time in the air and landed in Boston ten minutes before scheduled departure of my connecting flight to San Francisco. The gate was close and the aircraft was still parked, but the door had closed and my seat was given away. My friend Mr. Mills, a Global Services rep at BOS, was working the flight and offered to rebook me through Washington Dulles, meaning I would get into San Francisco close to 1am. I thought about it for a moment and accepted, even though the 757 from IAD to SFO was booked full in first and he was clever enough to book me in my original W booking class rather than full Y.

Sadly, I had already missed my dinner with Captain Flanagan and a gang of Flyertalkers in San Francisco, so I had no pressing need to get there that night. Inside the Red Carpet Club, I pulled up loads of the IAD-LAX flight and saw that though it was only an A320 with 12 seats in first class, the flight was still F2. I also liked the thought of sleeping in my own bed that night after a long day of travel. I called the 1K desk and was rebooked from BOS-IAD-LAX-SFO, with an overnight in LAX and early flight up to SFO. This change in flights happened 20 minutes before the scheduled departure of the BOS-IAD flight, so I missed the upgrade on that flight, but was added to the upgrade waitlist for the next two flights.

Although I missed the upgrade, I had row 9 to myself and sat across from a FA on my ORD-BOS flight who was now deadheading home to Washington. We chatted for a bit and I also chatted with the FA seated in the jump seat across from my seat. The flight was only an hour and went quickly.

Flight 4- Washington Dulles to Los Angeles

My connection was only 40 minutes in Washington and I had to walk from the D gates to the C gates, leaving me only about five minute to stop by the Red Carpet Club and check my e-mail. I reached my gate, all the way down at C1, still unaware if my upgrade had cleared. It did, though I was assigned seat 1A (less legroom than Economy Plus).

I settled in and was greeted my very talkative seatmate. After a long day of flying, I had no desire to chat, especially with someone who started the conversation by loudly stating (I kid you not), "Good thing we're sitting up here and not back with the commoners." I smiled and listened as he went on about job and his home in Southern California. Honestly, there must be something in the water in Valencia...

I was hungry and enjoyed a hot turkey sandwich and bowl of creamy potato soup--a perfect late evening snack and a far superior choice to the old fruit and cheese plate that used to be on this route.

After dinner, I quickly fell asleep and was out for the next four hours. It was nice to go home after landing at LAX and sleep in my own bed again.

Flight 5 - Los Angeles to San Francisco

After five hours of sleep, I arose for my 7:55 flight to San Francisco. I happened to go through security with Robert Redford, who has aged quite a bit over the last few years and was not in a talkative mood.

Foolishly, I left my British Midland gold card at home so I knew I would have trouble accessing the Red Carpet Club. The agent at the desk, though, was clever, pulling out my UA number and inserting my BD number, thereby verifying that I was Star Gold with them, before putting back my UA number.

Say what you will about the Red Carpet Clubs, but I enjoy having breakfast in them--yogurt, banana, granola, and toast is perfectly adequate for a U.S. airline club.

My upgrade cleared and I enjoyed a very routine flight up to SFO. Service was good and I enjoyed one of UA's new cinnamon scones for the first time--a nice treat.

Due to heavy fog and rain at SFO, we landed a few minutes late in SFO, making me a little late for my tour.

Flight 6 - San Francisco to Chicago

After a wonderful tour in the baggage claim and operations area as well as a walk around the tarmac (the subject of a future post), I boarded my flight to Chicago along with about 20 FTers including Ben and Mike for our flight with Captain Denny Flanagan.

The flight had a purser named Michael who was tremendous. He usually flies UA900/901 between SFO and Frankfurt so ask for him if you ever find yourself on those flights. Great service makes a flight more enjoyable and he went out of his way to make everyone comfortable. Unlike our last "party flight" with Captain Denny, the crew had been warned in advance that we'd be onboard. This managed their expectations, and did not stir up concern when half of us were up and chatting with others in the cabin as soon as the seatbelt light was off.

Lunch was identical to what I had the previous day, with the exception of ranch instead of sesame dressing and beef chili instead of southwest chicken.

"Party" flights are always a lot of fun--if you have never been on one, make it a point to attend the next one that comes around.

Flight 7 - Chicago to Los Angeles

I just wanted to get home--well, actually I would have liked to have dinner with a group from the flight that were heading over to the InterContinental, but there just wasn't enough hours in the day to do that and still be back home that night. The last flight of the night was delayed for about one hour, but I stayed busy chatting with Mike and blogging in the Red Carpet Club.

Fatigue quickly set in, but not before I polished off UA's delicious pasta salad. Served with a cold sliced chicken breast, sundried tomatoes, shaved basil, and parmesan flakes, the meal hit the spot, though it would have been even better served warm with a vodka sauce on it. The spicy Southwest chicken soup was also on the tray, along with a hot chocolate chip cookie and packaged bread sticks.

I tried to get through True Grit but I soon fell asleep and was out for the rest of the flight. I should add that the purser was extremely friendly and gladly allowed me to bring back a gin&tonic for a FTer whose upgrade did not clear.

Flight 8 - Burbank to San Francisco

Mainline is still missed out of Burbank, but I now know a good number of the SkyWest staff there and they know me--that always makes the experience nicer.

The flight was on a CRJ-200, on-time, and cramped as usual. While I could have flown in first class out of LAX, I always prefer close and convenient Burbank for short trips up north.

Flight 9 - San Francisco to Washington Dulles

I blogged about this flight a few days--my first flight in my life that I slept through the meal service. I have trained myself well to sleep on redeyes and slept the entire flight.

Skipping the meal service meant that I was hungry upon landing at Dulles--I asked the purser if I could take my Nan and plain yogurt with me, which made for a nice supplement to my usual Red Carpet Club breakfast.

Flight 10 - Washington Dulles to Boston

Another great crew, another fast flight. Another delicious cinnamon scone as well.

Flight 11 - Boston to Houston

My first of two Continental flights on the trip, I experienced (once again) what will soon be coming to United: the front cabin going to upgraders with no status willing to fork over $100 for a seat in first class.

If Continental still fed passengers in economy, I wouldn't have minded as much, but I was hungry and looking forward to hopefully scoring this delicious burrito, or at least a hot cup of soup with salad. Sadly, cheese and crackers from the President's Club (very nice, BTW) sufficed.

I did have a bulkhead row to myself that had plenty of legroom. Service was standard--nothing great, but what you consistently get on any Continental flight behind the curtain--a couple of drink runs.

Thankfully we landed in Houston early, giving me a little more breathing room to make my 35 minute connection.

Flight 12 - Houston to Washington Dulles

With my layover now an hour thanks to our early arrival, I checked into the President's Club and read some e-mail. Since I moved to Germany, I turned off my data plan on my mobile phone so until I return for good, I won't be able to check my e-mail outside of Germany.

My upgrade cleared on this flight and the 20-seat 737-800 forward cabin actually went out with three open seats--something I have never seen before on a Continental flight.

It was nice having DirecTV and rather than watching a movie or the news, I just watched All in the Family on TV Land, one of my all-time favorite sitcoms.

Dinner was a choice of beef shortribs or cheese ravioli. The ravioli was great and was served with bread, minestrone soup, and a side salad with ranch dressing. Sadly, packaged almonds were the only appetizer. It is still unclear whether hot nuts will one day be available on Continental domestic flights, like on United. A raspberry sponge cake was served for dessert.

Flight 13 - Washington Dulles to Frankfurt

Again, I had a very tight layover and stopped by the Red Carpet Club only to check my e-mail one last time before departure. As I shared about in another post, the flight was great and my personal row in economy was better than any business class seat on the plane.

The crew, just like the crew on the nine other UA flights on this trip, was excellent. The purser was (or at least appeared to be) no more than 30 years old and spoke both English and German (albeit with a very American accent--but the effort was appreciated).

Dinner was chicken or pasta and the chicken certainly brought back memories of my elementary school cafeteria (those aren't good memories), but the red sauce and potatoes helped to drown out the taste of rubber. The green salad wasn't bad, nor was the packaged oatmeal square, but I didn't bother to open the bread. Who wants to eat cold dough?

After sleeping soundly for five hours (and again falling asleep before I could finish True Grit) I awoke just outside of Frankfurt. I had missed the breakfast snack, but found one breakfast next to my head and another next to my feet. A piece of banana pound cake and blueberry yogurt was not great, but when you're hungry, everything tastes good.

We landed at a remote gate outside the new terminal (still under construction) and were bussed over to the B gates where I quickly cleared passport control and went right to work, eventually putting in a nine hour day at the office.

--

The flights were great, service was great, food was acceptable, and I'm now up to 38K EQMs for the year. Not bad for only missing three days of work.

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