Friday, February 17, 2012

Flying to Europe to Get to Asia Part 2

  1. United First Orange County to San Francisco andUnited International Lounge
  2. United Business San Francisco to Frankfurt
  3. Lufthansa First Class Lounge
  4. Lufthansa First Frankfurt to Tokyo
  5. Tokyo for a Day
  6. ANA Business Tokyo to Frankfurt
  7. Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport
  8. United Flight Frankfurt to San Francisco
  9. United First San Francisco to Orange County
  10. Trip Summary

United #900:  San Francisco, CA (SFO) to Frankfurt (FRA)

United Boeing 747-400
Seat:  16K 16B
Cabin:  Business
Date:  02/16/12
Scheduled Departure:  1:54pm
Actual Departure:  2:05pm
Scheduled Arrival:  9:45am +1 day
Actual Arrival:  9:40am +1 day

The United Club makes some announcements when flights commence boarding, but I always try to get to the gate before that, just in case.  As I was heading to my gate about 45 minutes before departure when I heard someone mention Air Force One landing.  I had noticed a C-5 Galaxy parked on the far side of SFO when landing which I thought was odd, but now I know that it was carrying all of the vehicles for Obama and his entourage.  I could make out Air Force One parked across the runway as I was walking to my gate.  Boarding had already started and I had missed the window of first class and business class exclusive boarding and was stuck in line with the first group of economy passengers. 

The 747 has to be one of my favorite planes to look at, although my enjoyment of flying in it varies on cabin.  Luckily my upgrade came through at the time of booking (I’m still on standby for the return flight).  The upper deck is one of the best sections on the plane, it’s quieter, fewer people, and you typically receive more attentive service.  I managed to book a window seat on the upper deck and headed up the small staircase in the plane towards my seat.  One main downside of this part of the plane is that storage space is much, much less.  The overhead bins are significantly smaller than usual and my backpack would not fit in one until I took a bunch of stuff out.  As I was getting settled into my window seat, I noticed a couple split by the aisle and offered to switch so they could sit together.  I’d much rather have the window seat than an aisle, but I will take all the airplane karma I can get. 
747 Upper Deck

United’s business class cabin on the 747s features fully-flat seats with alternating orientations.  One row of seats will face forward with a panel housing the TV screen while the next row is rear facing with their screen sharing the same panel.  I like the aesthetics of this layout, but you also have full view of the other passengers facing you while you fly.  I’ve flown in a rear facing seat before and it is also a little weird and takes time to adjust to, particularly with take offs and landings. 
Rear Facing Seats

Once seated, my jacket was taken and I was offered some sparkling wine to enjoy before we took off.  These drinks always come in plastic glassware which seems a bit tacky at times.  The AVOD on the plane is very intuitive and carried a decent selection of movies and TV programs.  I managed to find a couple of Top Gear episodes to watch as we were pushing back from the gate and getting ready to take off.  Menus for the flight were handed up just before taxiing to the runway.  Taxiing took some time as we were behind several other departing flights, probably due to traffic built up as everyone held their positions as Air Force One landed, but once we hit the main runway the engines throttled up and we were airborne.  We flew out over the Pacific a bit before turning north and heading over Canada, Greenland, England, and then to Germany. 

We leveled off and the flight attendants began the drink and meal service.  Warm nuts, mostly almonds rather than cashews to my dismay, were handed out with the first round of drinks.  I opted to try a French Sauvignon Blanc from La Petite Perriere in the Loire Valley.  The wine was fairly mild but enjoyable.  I’m more accustomed to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which is much more assertive and grassy. 
Wine, Nuts, and Top Gear?  Why Not.

The appetizer and salad followed after we were offered a second round of nuts and drinks.  The cold appetizer was a vegetable spring roll with a ginger soy sauce and it was disgusting.  The only item that had any flavor was the sauce and the texture of the roll and wrapper was more like paper with styrofoam.  This is an item should be removed from the menu.  The salad was fairly standard but the balsamic vinaigrette was good.  Too often airlines will only serve ranch dressing with salads which I am not a fan of.  The bread was good, although barely warm which didn’t help melt the nearly frozen pads of butter provided.  Both should have been heated up a bit longer in the oven. 
Spring Roll Appetizer, Salad, and a Roll

The salad and appetizer plates were removed and dinner was served, along with more wine of course.  I opted for the braised short rib and switched over to red wine with a Matiz Roble.  The wine was a very good balance of fruit and spice and went well with the meat.  I’ve learned to avoid American wines when I fly, particularly reds, as I may have a sinus reaction to the sulfites and preservatives in the wine.  When that is combined with my ongoing sinus issues from flying, it is a very painful experience.  The short rib was tasty with the provided sauce.  The meat itself was a little dry but very flaky and could easily be pulled apart with a fork.  The roasted vegetables were a nice counterbalance to the meat and the two potato pancakes were the best item on the dish.  Airplane potatoes always seem to be the best food item served on a plane and I don’t know why. 
Beef Short Rib with Roasted Veggies and Potato Cakes

Cheese and dessert soon followed and I passed on the cheese and just enjoyed the strawberry ice cream in a chocolate shell.  Of course I had to have a glass of Port to go with it.  I will admit, the ice cream was devoured pretty quickly and I finished watching Julie & Julia as I felt slumber starting to kick-in.  One thing I will recommend to all is to carry something to change into on long haul flights like pajamas so you can be more comfortable and not feel like you have been in the same clothes for 10 hours.  After I changed into my sleep clothes I reclined the seat all the way and pulled out the pillow and blanket United provided.  I started to watch The Fifth Element but didn’t even make it past the first scene before I was falling asleep. 
Ice Cream for Dessert and Two Wines

United’s business seat is fairly comfortable.  I managed to get a good 6 hours of sleep before waking up over England.  The seat is a tad hard, but is a fully lie-flat bed.  No additional bedding is provided beyond the blanket and pillow.  When laying down the screen was a little too high for the best viewing angle and the area for your feet is confined and triangular in shape.  I was able to lay down with only a small bend in my knees and be comfortable, even at 6’2”.  Compared to the Continental BusinessFirst seat, the United seat feels less claustrophobic and more comfortable.  The problem I found with the United seat is that the headrest is not flush with the back of the seat so it would often stick out and dig into my shoulders while I was laying down.  There is also less of a shell surrounding the seat and I was able to drop the aisle armrest to get a couple more inches of room. 

I woke up just as breakfast service was starting.  My last hot breakfast meal on Continental was not that good so I stayed away from eggs this time.  The continental breakfast was a fruit plate, croissant, and yogurt.  I wasn’t very hungry yet so the meal was the perfect amount. 
The Continental Breakfast

The approach and landing was quick with air traffic control routing us in and shaving a few minutes off our time.  Once on the ground we took a while before actually reaching our gate and deplaning.  Of the three flight attendants that were serving the upper deck, one was outstanding.  She addressed each passenger by name, was polite in asking questions, and very friendly.  The other two were standard United FA’s who were dispassionate about their job or at least interacting with passengers.

Frankfurt’s concourse was dead as I walked off the jetbridge.  Perhaps it was related to the strike going on and 50% of Lufthansa flights being cancelled but I didn’t encounter anyone as I walked off the plane and went through passport control.  Normally, I would simply have stayed within the secure zone of the airport since I would catch my connecting flight a few hours later, but Lufthansa has a first class terminal that I had to try out.  This meant going through baggage claim and exiting the airport.  But it was worth it!

1 comment:

  1. Reading your blog makes me die a little inside... I'm so jealous!!! So happy you're doing this though!