Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Zealand December 2011 - United Airlines 274 First Class (SFO-LAX)

***This post is part 2 of a full trip report. The index can be found here*** 

I arrived at San Francisco International Airport a full two hours ahead of my departure time, a lesson well-learned from my previous departure debacle while leaving for Tokyo last year. I entered Terminal 3 and found my way to the premium check-in area. Unfortunately, this was the start of several slightly unpleasant situations I found myself in throughout the day.

Being that this was my first time flying out of the United terminal in first class, I was a little confused by the setup. All the way to the left was premium check-in for 1K and international first/business class, and next to that was premium check-in for domestic first/business along with Premier Executive, Premier, and Star Alliance Gold/Silver. Further to the right was Premier Access check-in.

I suppose logically, I should have just started at the international first/business class line since I was planning on checking in all the way to Auckland, but I made my way over to the domestic first/business line (reasoning that I was flying to LAX), only to find that there was nobody working the counters. Then I made my way over to Premier Access line and waited a few minutes, only to find that this was a self-service line with just one baggage handler working the counters. Finally, I walked over to the international first/business line and was checked-in by an actual United agent. While this was completely my own idiotic mistake, I was somewhat surprised that there was not a single agent working the domestic first/business or Premier Access check-in lines. I noticed several other people who had issues to resolve besides checking in luggage also playing musical chairs with the three lines until they finally headed over to the international first/business line as well.

Once at the counter, I was able to get myself and my large backpack checked-in all the way to Auckland. The friendly agent handed me the boarding pass and told me that I could enjoy access to the United Club a little ways past security. I was a little surprised, and I even asked her again because I was pretty sure I shouldn't have access to the lounge at SFO since this wasn't my international departure point. She assured me that I did.

Security was quick and painless, and afterwards, I headed directly to the United Club entrance. Unfortunately, that was about as far as I got. In a slightly embarrassing episode, I walked up to the counter and handed my boarding pass to the lounge dragon, who immediately and loudly rejected it and said I could not enter the club. An older couple at the counter next to me turned and gave me a long stare, as if I was some riffraff off the streets trying to crash their elegant party. Feeling like my earlier apprehensions had been totally validated, I gave one halfhearted protest that the check-in agent had assured me I would have access, then turned around for my walk of shame out the long hallway.

Entrance to the United Club I had no access to

Walk of shame hallway

United Airlines 274
Boeing 757-200
San Francisco (SFO) - Los Angeles (LAX)
Saturday December 17, 2011
Departure: 2:05 PM (scheduled) / 2:03 PM (actual)
Arrival: 3:28 PM (scheduled) / 4:09 PM (actual)
Duration: 1h 23m (scheduled) / 2h 6m (actual) 
Seat: 1A (First)

Embarrassed but not defeated, I wait the next hour at the gate until first class boarding started. I had chosen seat 1A on our 757-200 based on the SeatGuru review, and by all accounts it was perfectly fine. Bulkhead seating can be iffy sometimes since legroom is either better or worse than normal. In this case, while the bulkhead was fairly close to the front of the seat, there was actually a cutout at the bottom so you could extend your legs.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. The flight attendant was friendly, continuously topping off my water. He came around with a basket of snacks and I had a banana and some Pop Chips. Once the plane landed at LAX, however, things got very interesting.

SFO from the air

We taxied towards Terminal 7, but stopped well short of it, and proceeded to wait. The captain came on the speaker soon after and told us that our gate was currently occupied and we would have a 10-minute wait until the other plane leaves. 10 minutes passed, then 20, then 30. Usually I would have no problem with this, but unfortunately, I drank so much water on the plane that my bladder was literally about to explode, and the flight attendants had explicitly forbade anyone to stand up. In fact they loudly admonished two people who had the audacity to do just that. I squirmed and fidgeted in my seat, mentally cursing just about anyone even remotely associated with United at that point.

The passengers on board were quickly becoming agitated since many of them had to make connections and several were in real danger of missing theirs. The surly gentleman sitting next to me began to make some nasty remarks about United under his breath, then as the time wore on, he started making them directly to the flight attendant, who tried to take it in stride. I took note of one thing the flight attendant said... he remarked that there were two delays that passengers hate the most, the first of which was waiting on the tarmac after landing for an occupied gate to be vacated, but even worse was waiting at the gate after parking for a crew to connect the jet bridge. Little did he know those words would come back to haunt him in a few minutes.

Finally, the aircraft started moving just past the half-hour mark, making its way to the gate. Once the seat belt lights came off, literally everyone jumped out of their seats and grabbed their carry-ons. Then things took a turn for the worse. The plane just sat there for 5 minutes, then 10, then 15. I kept looking out the window, but the jet bridge just stood there frozen, with no one in sight. At this point, the gentleman next to me had begun a full-out argument with the flight attendant, telling him that out of all his years of flying, United was the worst airline he's ever experienced. Another passenger shouted a demand that someone contact the jet bridge crew, to which the flight attendant said they'd already done that. At first I believed him, but after what happened next, I began to doubt it.

Staring out the window, I finally saw a cleaning lady poke her head out of the open jet bridge. Apparently many other passengers inside the plane got her attention too, as she gave us a shrug and looked around to see if there was a crew member available. She went back inside and, after another five minutes or so, reappeared with a jet bridge operator who finally moved it in place and allowed the doors to be opened. I'm not sure how much longer it would have taken if the cleaning lady hadn't noticed us!

Nearly 45 minutes after we landed, we finally deplaned and I made a beeline for the men's restroom. This was definitely not a pleasant experience on United, though I did feel bad for the flight attendants, who were literally being verbally assaulted by the passengers. And this was just after 45 minutes of waiting... imagine the horror stories you read about passengers being stranded on planes for 7 hours! In any case, I was ready for my six-hour layover at LAX. Fortunately, this time around, I would have access to the Air New Zealand Koru Club Lounge.

I took this picture despite having a bladder that was about to explode

No comments:

Post a Comment