Day 12: CPH-IAD on SAS, IAD-PHX-BUR on US Airways - 08 Jan 2010
I was up at 0600 to check my e-mail and have some breakfast in the SAS Lounge before venturing into the city. The Lounge is segregated into a Business Class and Star Gold area and I was impressed with its sleek design, size, and amenities. The breakfast buffet featured only cold items, but there was much to choose from. Touches like a fireplace, easy chairs, and iMacs gave the lounge a very comfortable feel.
The weather was a frighteningly cold for this California native at -15F, but I purchased a train ticket and ventured into the city and, as is par for the course for me, I meandered around for an hour and a half. Like most major European airports, a metro/train easily connected the airport to the city.
I returned to the airport and where I was directed to SAS' premium security line--completely segregated from the main security checkpoint--where three screeners were sitting patiently. I was there only customer and unfortunately I got "picked" for a German/Swiss style "pat down" complete with groping. The security line spits out at the lounge entrance and I stopped in only long enough to pick up my bags.
Passport control took less than 30 seconds, but it was quite a hike to my gate. I figured I would be subjected to at least one more and possibly two additional security screenings, but I wasn't. The boarding area was much too small to handle the number of passengers there, but I wedged in and waited patiently for boarding to begin.
Boarding began ten minutes behind schedule but dual jet bridges helped to quickly move the crowd onto the plane. I was greeted by a very nice young lady who directed me to my seat and offered me a pre-departure beverage. My seatmate was already in her seat and trying to figure out SK's AVOD system. Although SK's seats are only angled lie-flat, they are perfectly adequate for an 11-hour day flight.
De-icing took 20 minutes and we lifted off forty minutes late, but the captain announced we would still be arriving on time in Washington. With a 65-minute connection to my US Air flight to PHX, I was thankful to hear that.
Service began shortly after takeoff. I must commend SK's crew on the level of polish of their service. I immediately noticed that even their movements of beverage and food carts were choreographed: they moved the carts in unison. If you're scratching your head wondering what I'm talking about, well...you had to had to be there.
Menus were distributed and two canapes (in the broad sense of the word) were offered: bagged cashews and a very tasty slice of chorizo with sun-dried tomatoes. It pains me to even think about what chorizo actually is, but it's like hot dogs: too good to pass up.
Next came hot bread, salad, and the token salmon appetizer that you just can't avoid in international business class. Everything was good, though I was disappointed that the FAs, otherwise extremely polished as I mentioned above, failed to remove the plastic wrappings from the food.
I should add that the two male FA's donned "chef" outfits and performed the meal service, one FA per aisle. It wasn't like Austrian Airlines where there is an actual chef onboard, but I appreciate SK's effort.
I chose poached halibut for lunch. The polenta, peppers, and tomato sauce were all cooked to perfection.
I skipped the cheese, but the fresh fruit and lemon tart were a fitting completion to a great meal. Ice cream too from Economy!
In-flight "kitchen" between meals
After lunch, I finished up my Torts reading and then began to play with the AVOD system. The choice of movies was limited, but a more pressing matter was that there was no sound coming out from audio jack! This always means a $250 Skykit on United, so I flagged down an FA and explained the problem. They brought me a fresh headset but that didn't solve the problem so I was given the choice to move up to row one where a seat was available.
If you listened to this podcast, you already know that didn't turn out so well. The IFE worked without issue and I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Informant--a hilarious movie. But my seatmate apparently didn't enjoy my presence. The cabin was arranged in a 2-2-2 setting and there was a console large enough for four drinks between each seat. There were two water bottles on the console already and I ordered a club soda, which I set down on my half of the console. The guy turned to me and angrily asked me to remove the drink from "his console." I asked him to repeat himself, which made him even angrier, and he again demanded I remove my drink from the console. I shook my head, picked up my drink, and walked away. Not worth messing with an idiot like that.
I was mad now, but I saw no possible constructive outcome in seeking revenge against a petty imbecile. I asked the FA if there another seat available (an off-duty FA now occupied my original seat) and she asked what the problem was. I told her what happened and she stated that the guy had been rude to her earlier. There was one other seat, in the back of the cabin, so I settled in seat number three.
I watched Minority Report--yeah, they had a few classic movies avaiable--before the snack service began. The meal itself was smaller than I would have liked, but the sandwiches and berries with creme were tasty.
SK's product is solid. While there food, seat, IFE, and service would not win the top prize in each category, overall I was glad I chose to fly out of my way to sample SAS.
Surprisingly, the immigration line was non-existent at IAD. It took longer to wait for the mobile lounge to get over to the midfield immigration concourse than it did to actually go through immigration and re-clear security.
It's a good thing too. I made it back to the Z-gates for my US Airways flight to PHX just 30 minutes before scheduled departure. I had not checked in yet, so I feared my First Class seat may have been given away, but the gate agent checked me in without problems.
The A320 featured three rows of Business Class and we were taken care of by a very friendly pruser. Dinner choices were salmon or pasta with chicken and despite already having multiple fish dishes that day, I chose salmon. Unlike my last meal on US Airways, this was very tasty. US outperforms United on desserts and I also enjoyed the apple pie slice. Much better than the carrot cake or chocolate cake on United.
I tried to do some reading, but passed out and did not awaken until we began our final descent into PHX.
I had an hour before my connecting flight to Burbank, so I checked into the US Airways lounge for a few minutes. Very underwhelming, though I do give US credit for offering free wine and beer and free wi-fi to all guests.
The flight to Burbank was on an old America West 737-500 (retro bulkhead design) and again US demonstrated strength. Like Delta, US offers a snack basket on all flights in First Class. It was nice to see my favorite biscoff cookies again. The woman next to me was very talkative and after a long political
discussion sililoquy about how much she hated the Bush Administration, I guided the conversation toward frequent flyer benefits. She was a Chairman (top tier) on US Airways, yet had no idea that she could earn and burn points on United, Lufthansa and other Star Alliance carriers. Now she knows.
Both flights on US Airways exceeded my expectations. Friendly service and good food marked a 180˚ turn from last US Airways First Class trip in 2005. I won't go out of my way to fly US Airways, especially with unlimited complimentary upgrades on Continental and United, but US may not be as bad as we often make it out to be.
Another great trip in the books. Canada, Britain, Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, Germany, and Denmark in a week and a half--and yet unlike most trips, I never felt rushed, accomplished a great deal of school work, and still got a feel for the places I visited.
I'll be honest: I won't be rushing back to any of the cities I visited, but if you haven't been to Vancouver, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Tangiers, Marrakech, Madrid, and Copenhagen--they're all worth a visit.
SAS, US Airways, Lufthansa, and TAP all earn high marks for my flights on the trip, but Air Canada especially impressed me with their comfortable herringbone lie-flat seats. If you are redeeming your Star Alliance miles for a Business Class ticket, Air Canada is a great choice.