Los Angeles to Kansas City on United

We cashed in some United Mileage Plus miles for one leg of our domestic travel. Thankfully there were “saver” fares – discounted – for first class so we routed through Houston on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to try their BusinessFirst product. 

  

The Dreamliner is the newest plane in United’s fleet, a fuel-efficient composite construction wide body jet. 

  
The plane’s lines are beautiful, and the wing flexes gracefully during flight. 

  
The BusinessFirst cabin features pairs of seats, angled to provide some privacy but close enough for couples who are flying together. 

  
Seats recline fully flat so you can sleep. 

  
I dozed for an hour or so fairly comfortably, although the narrow end for your feet is a tight fit. Not all the seats have the same amount of foot space, I discovered. 

  
While it was a domestic flight, nuts and sparkling wine were served shortly after reaching cruising altitude. 

  
There was a choice of two entrees: a beef chili with melon and feta salad. 

  
Option 2 was enchilada soup and chicken salad. Both were fine for a three-hour flight. 

  
Warm chocolate chip cookies for dessert. 

  
Large touch screen monitors provide a ton of on-demand entertainment options. 

  
Two happy travelers!

  
With nearly three hours to kill in Houston, we made use of two United Club passes a friend gave me. The club in the E terminal has sweeping views of the gates. 

  
After sunset, we made our way to the gate for our connecting flight to Kansas City aboard an Airbus A319. 

Overall, the flights were positive. The service was friendly and the experience was with the miles (25,000 each) that we redeemed. 
 

Winner of the United Retro Jet Contest

This year marks the 85th anniversary of United Airlines.  In a post last November, I mentioned that they were holding a contest for employees to vote for their favorite previous livery.  The winning livery would then be painted onto a “retro jet” to commemorate the anniversary.  Five previous color schemes were presented, voted on, and I recently saw that the Airbus A320 painted in the winning colors recently took to the sky:

Retro A320

Sigh…

I’m quite excited because of the five liveries, this was my favorite.  It is the one I associate with my early childhood in the 1970s.  I remember drawing airplanes when I must have been in my early elementary years and this was the color scheme I could recreate from memory.

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The other four liveries that represent the different eras of United Airlines.

While I’ve had my rough patches with United over the years, it is the company that my father, my husband, and I (not to mention countless friends) all worked for at various points in our lives.  Happy 85th anniversary to the Friendly Skies.  May the merger with Continental make the skies friendly once again!

 

Heading Home: Honolulu to Guam to Hong Kong

After six days in Hawai’i, I had attended my cousin’s beautiful beach wedding, I had tasted the holy grail of desserts – macadamia nut cream pie, I had eaten poke and ordered loco moco, and I had bumped along an unpaved road to reach the place where Hawaiians believe the spirits of their dead depart for the next world.  After accomplishing all that, it was time to begin the journey back home.

While the trip was quite similar to the one into Hawai’i, I though I would share some more pictures of the trip for those of you who enjoy them.  Check out the video of our takeoff from Honolulu – the reef just off the runway is gorgeous.

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The check-in area of Honolulu International Airport reminds me a bit of LAX.  In fact, it looks more “LA” than LA does.

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The interior, though, is still in that 1970s time warp that seems to be pervasive in Honolulu.  It seems that an expansion and remodel is planned so we’ll see if that brings the airport into the 21st century.

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Oddly, this video monitor shows the date as November 30.  Only off by a few months.

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Another beautiful outdoor garden you can access from the gate area.  While the airport is in need of a remodel, I give it high marks for having lots of open air spaces and also for offering a lot of visibility of the airplanes.  A lot of airports make it hard for you to appreciate the view of the planes, which I think is a part of the romance of air travel.  Here is a selection of the planes I saw while waiting for our flight:

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A Delta Boeing 767-300 heading to Los Angeles.

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Two Continental jets.  The nearer one is a Boeing 737-700 headed to John Wayne International in Santa Ana, CA.  The further one is a Boeing 737-800 in the new United livery, headed to Los Angeles.

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This Boeing 757-200ER belongs to Omni Air International, a charter operation based in Tulsa, OK.

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An American Airlines Boeing 757-200 with winglets, bound to Los Angeles.  (Lots of flights to LAX, no?)

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Alaska Airlines also flies to Honolulu.  This flight is going to Portland, OR.  This Boeing 737-800 is part of their Hawaiian subfleet – notice the lei of flowers around the Eskimo’s neck.

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Hawaiian B767-300 without winglets

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Hawaiian Boeing 767-300 with winglets.  These winglets help reduce drag, resulting in an improved fuel economy of about 3-4%.  One of Hawaiian’s new Airbus A330s is in the background.

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Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300 in “Oneworld” alliance colors.  This plane is bound for Osaka.

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Another Japan Airlines plane, this one a Boeing 777-200, destined for Tokyo.

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The other major Japanese carrier, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Boeing 767-300.  This is operated by ANA subsidiary Air Japan, which operates charter flights to popular vacation destinations.

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A United Airlines B777-200 scheduled for Chicago O’Hare.  A Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717 departs for another island in the background.

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Our ride to Guam: A Continental (but in the new United livery) Boeing 767-400.

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The gate area was particularly crowded.  In fact, the flight was oversold and they were asking for volunteers but $300 in travel vouchers was incentive enough, since I’d have to use the vouchers on another Continental flight!

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The interior of our plane during the boarding process.

A video of our takeoff from the Reef Runway in Honolulu and landing in Guam.

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The lunch service was a choice between cheese tortellini and some chicken dish.  I overheard the flight attendant tell another passenger that the pasta was the better of the two options, so that’s what I went with.  It was actually pretty tasty, better than the food we had been served on the inbound flight.

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Mid-flight the flight attendants served ice cream – cups instead of sandwiches – and then about an hour before landing in Guam, they served these turkey ham sandwiches.  All in all, I think the flight from Honolulu to Guam and onto Hawaii was better than when we had traveled to Hawaii, probably because it was a daytime flight and we weren’t utterly exhausted.

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We didn’t have that much connection time in Guam.  Here’s a picture of a Chinese tour group taking a picture moments before boarding.  While they were seated further back in the plane and thus were to board earlier, we sneaked ahead and the gate agent, seeing the unruly crowd coming towards the boarding gate, let us board ahead of them.

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Our flight to Hong Kong, a Boeing 737-800.

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Once again, we had the option of buying extra leg room by sitting in the exit row.  It was worth it and just like on the flight from Hong Kong to Guam, we had an empty middle seat between us.  Interestingly, this flight was operated exactly a week after we had left Hong Kong and one of the flight attendants from the flight out of Hong Kong was working our flight back to Hong Kong.  I don’t think he recognized us.

Some thirteen hours after leaving Honolulu we arrived in Hong Kong, at about 8:00 pm.  We headed into Ho Man Tin, a portion of Kowloon where friends of ours live.  More about our two days in Hong Kong – and two Xangans we ran into – tomorrow.

Delta BKK-IAH and MCI-BKK

The past week’s business trip to the United States was brutal.  Some helpful wag calculated that of the total trip time, 29.4% of it was spent in transit to/from the US.  The formula, for those of you looking for it, was (60 hrs / (60+(6*24))).  I’ll share a little bit about the trip over the next few posts, starting with some information about the flights themselves.

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Above, a reflection of a Delta 747 at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.

My trip was on Delta Airlines, which offered the cheapest economy class prices by far for the dates I needed to travel.  While my company’s policy is business class on flights over 8 hours, I did not qualify for this as technically my agreement with the company is that they will not pay to fly me to the US for meetings at all, since I chose to relocate outside the country.  That’s okay – I appreciate simply having a job!

I worked very hard to avoid being routed on one of the planes shown above because the economy class experience on them is very out-of-date.  (This holds true for United Airlines’ 747, too.)  Instead, I routed myself through Seattle so I would be able to fly on the more up-to-date A330, which features power ports in the front half of economy class and individual seat-back screens and on-demand audio and video throughout the cabin.

My experience on Delta was mixed.  The hard product itself – seats, food, entertainment, etc. – was fine although not amazing.  For the Bangkok to Tokyo and Tokyo to Seattle segments I was able to get an aisle seat in the front half of the economy cabin, so had about an extra inch of leg room and access to the power ports so I could work on my computer without draining the battery.  Additionally, I had an empty seat next to me on both flights.  The seats are actually pretty comfortable and the adjustable headrest does a decent job of cradling your head if you try to doze.

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Breakfast out of Bangkok – omelet, potatoes, and sausage with fruit and yogurt.

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Pre-landing snack – chicken and cheese croissant – before arriving in Tokyo.

On the flight out of Bangkok (6 hours), I traveled with one of the three guests from Kansas City who had been in town the previous two weeks.  Since he slept most of the flight, it was okay that we were a few rows apart.  While in Tokyo we had a few hours transit time so we ate some ramen at an okay snack shop.  The Narita Airport has nice facilities but the food selection within the secure area of the terminal is only okay.  There are better restaurants in the public area of the main terminal.

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Out of Tokyo for the eight-hour flight to Seattle, I purchased the above box from the noodle shop to supplement the meal served on the flight.  What was inside?

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This lovely katsu (fried pork cutlet) sandwich!  Oddly enough, the bread doesn’t get greasy or soggy at all, even though it sits in the box for a few hours.  It was really, really satisfying to eat mid-flight.

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This was the meal served out of Tokyo, beef and (reconstituted) mashed potatoes with a shrimp appetizer and mixed green salad.  The best thing about the meal was the coconut sponge cake.  Portion size is fine and the quality was decent.

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Mid-flight they served a slice of banana bread as a snack.  Pre-arrival to Seattle (which was early morning) there was a breakfast sandwich which was quite greasy.

Arriving in Seattle for immigration and customs worked very nicely.  Ours was the first flight of the day, arriving shortly after 7:30 am.  There was no line at immigration and within about twenty-five minutes of landing I had my bags, was through customs, and had dropped the bags on the through-checked belt to continue to Houston.

With about three hours between flights, I had time for a friend to meet me for breakfast at a nearby restaurant, which was a nice opportunity for a brief catch-up.  While there, she gave me a gift she had been holding for me for many months: a pair of banneton, wicker bread proofing baskets that I had talked to her about at some point in the past.  This was a funny and much-appreciated gift I will have to blog about soon.

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After a busy week in Houston, I flew Southwest Airlines up to Kansas City.  In order to construct the least-expensive ticket I could, I routed myself on an “open jaw” ticket on Delta, flying from Bangkok to Houston and then returning from Kansas City to Bangkok.  A $100 ticket on Southwest connected the open part of the jaw, resulting in about $350 savings for my employer.  This also gave me the opportunity to fly out of Houston Hobby Airport, the smaller airport on the south side of downtown that is nearly monopolized by Southwest.

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As part of a promotion with Microsoft Windows, Southwest was offering free pictures of Santa (that came with a brief demonstration of some new photo editing feature from Microsoft).  These came with a coupon for $20 off your next Southwest flight (before the end of March).  Of course, who could resist getting their picture taken with Santa?

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In fact, this picture provided useful evidence the next day when I explained to my nieces how I had managed to make it to Kansas City from Thailand.  More on that tomorrow.

After just 30 hours in Kansas City and an overnight inch of snow, I headed for my return trip to Bangkok.  The 6:00 am flight out of KC to Salt Lake City was delayed for more than a half-hour thanks to a string of mishaps by Delta.  First there was the fact that the potable water in the water trucks was frozen – no coffee or tea and no water for washing hands in the lavatory.  (Thankfully they had sanitizing hand gel.)  It had been below freezing all of Saturday so why they didn’t leave the heaters on overnight is a mystery to me.

On top of it, the tow bar froze to the aircraft so it took them several minutes of dousing with antifreeze to get it unstuck.  You would think Delta has never conducted winter operations out of Kansas City!

The long and short of it is that I missed my connecting flight from Salt Lake City to Seattle.  Thankfully I was rebooked on a later flight (and upgraded to first class) that got me into Seattle in time for my connection to Tokyo.  However, my layover was no longer long enough to meet with my aunt and uncle for breakfast in Seattle, something I had intentionally scheduled.

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Above, the A330 for my flight at a drizzly Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The flight from Seattle to Tokyo was ten hours long, delayed for more than a half-hour because of electrical problems at the check-in podium.  In fact, the Seattle operations were a disorganized mess.  On the flight itself, I was able to get a bulkhead aisle seat, ensuring that nobody would recline into my personal space, which made the flight reasonable comfortable.  I slept for about five hours, waking every so often then dozing off again.

The service was spotty with a crew that was generally unfriendly.  One flight attendant, Jamie, had a sour lemon expression the entire flight.  During the flight she handed me things (food, water, etc.) a dozen times and each time I made the effort to give her a cheery “thank you”.  You see, I think it is my responsibility as a customer to initiate the friendly service I would like to receive.  Not once did she say ‘thank you” or acknowledge me in any way, verbal or nonverbal.  Terrible, unfriendly service.

Now another flight attendant, Ann, was the complete opposite.  She was cheerful and friendly, patting me on the shoulder when I declined a mid-flight treat of an ice cream sandwich (“They taste mighty good in the middle of the flight!” she advised) and laughing with other passengers throughout the service.  I am going to write a letter to Delta and offer praise for Ann and a note of concern about Jamie.  If even half of Delta flight attendants were as friendly as Ann, I would probably fly them regularly.

The final segment, Tokyo to Bangkok, was delayed by more than an hour.  I had time in Tokyo to use the public showers ($10 for thirty minutes) which makes for a nice mid-trip refresh, and also had a chance to get a bite to eat.  Comparing the two adjacent concourses, United’s operation out of Tokyo is much more organized and professional than Delta’s, using better signage to explain the boarding process and has a generally more updated look to the gate areas.

I landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport at 12:10 Tuesday morning.  Here’s a tip to help you deal with immigration lines: there are two immigration areas at the Bangkok airport and there are monitors outside each showing what the lines at the other area look like.  It is worth the walk of about 150 meters to go to the other immigration area if the queues are shorter.  I ended up clearing immigration and customs in less than forty minutes, which for late night at Suvarnabhumi is quite good.

Tawn picked me up and I was home and in bed by 2:30, exhausted and glad to be back.  More in the next few days about the Kansas City portion of the trip. 

 

Mileage Run on United’s PS Service

Yesterday I returned from a 22-hour mileage run on United Airlines’ P.S. service from SFO-JFK.  The trip report is here.  Lots of pictures of planes, especially some of jetBlue just for Michael, Patrick, and Bill.

 

It was a good trip, getting to experience some of United’s best service.  It also was an inexpensive way for me to maintain my 1K Mileage Plus status.

 

Back in San Francisco today, I’m going to try to catch up on some of my movies.  I watched Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 after arriving back in SFO.  It was a visually beautiful film, DP’d by Christopher Doyle.  I’ll also try to meet up with Anita and with Paul, so it should be a busy day.