Jun 092011

One of my favourite things about the “New United” is the ability to book one-way awards. Beyond the obvious benefit of being able to book one-way segments, it’s also nice for round-trips. I’d rather book two one-ways than an open jaw…it’s just so much easier to maintain.

Originally, I had booked my outbound as IAD-MUC in Lufthansa First connecting MUC-HAM-OSL on an A321 and CRJ in business. However, when space opened up I did what many milage nerds would consider unthinkable: I chose United First over Lufthansa First. For three reasons: One, the 10pm departure instead of 7pm departure made for a full day at the office as well as more shrimp time in the United First lounge. Two, the single connection in Europe instead of the double connection would get me in about the same time. Most importantly to me was reason three: the aircraft temperature. I don’t know why, but Lufthansa and Swiss have this annoying habit on eastbound transatlantic flights of cranking the heat up to the point where I spend the whole flight sweaty and unable to sleep. This was a no-brainer.  The final route was to be:

After stopping off at the Sheraton Herndon for a Mattress Run (can’t beat their $60 rates with the summer resort promo) I made it to IAD just over two hours before the flight. The Dulles Diamond security was closed, but regular security had no queue at all, so I was right through and in the IFL within 15 minutes of arriving at IAD. Even a blind squirrel gets a nut once and a while! This left plenty of time for the IFL shrimp cocktails and a bottle of Veuve before heading to the flight. This feat is less impressive now that they have the 375ml bottles instead.

The flight had been showing F8 C0 Y0 all week and true to form after boarding there were only three people in first until the door was about to close at which point the nickname of “Employee Class” for United’s First cabin was demonstrated in a most obnoxious way. All eight of the seats were taken by employees – two gay couples and their four mothers. I don’t begrudge it at all – awesome on them for taking the moms on vacation, but eventually I had to ask the flight attendants to talk to them because they were loudly talking to each other across the cabins and generally being obnoxious. “Mom, you have to HOLD DOWN the green button” and “Quick, grab a movie before they’re all gone” and such. Indoor voices people!

Left the gate on time, and taxied out to the runway, where Channel 9 suddenly went quiet. A few minutes later the first officer announced that they were “working on a small issue” and we should be set to go soon. Thirty minutes passed and then we got the news that was dreaded: “Um, folks, I don’t know how to tell you this, but there was some dangerous cargo loaded, and in such a quantity that it really shouldn’t be sitting next to each other, so out of caution we’re going to have to return to the gate to unload it.” Um, yeah…. Ten minutes later back at the gate, and the baggage crews are seen removing what appears to be a small duffel bag from the hold, and we’re off. Takeoff is just under 90 minutes past scheduled departure. So much for my daring 50 minute connection in Frankfurt!

I admit I had to swipe the menu from another thread to even remember what it was. The shocking part was, it was the first time on United I can actually remember having a meal I would have paid for in a restaurant. Maybe things ARE getting at least a little bit better!

The appetizer was a jumbo shirmp cocktail with wasabi-infused cocktail sauce. I have to admit I tasted no wasabi in it, but it was still good. Even after the IFL, there’s no such thing as too much shrimp cocktail!
Second course was a mushroom brie soup that was far and away the best soup I’ve ever had on United.

Even the salad course seemed upgraded: Seasonal greens with raspberries, pecans, feta cheese and croutons. Choice of Ceasar or Asian Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette dressing. Have to admit it was pretty tasty.

There were four choices of Main Course:

Grilled filet mignon with port wine demi-glace
Zucchini, yellow squash, and roasted garlic lasagna
Grill mahi mahi with mushroom and sherry wine sauce
Pomegranate glazed duck breast

Despite being tempted by the duck, I went with the big bloody hunk of cow which was miraculously perfectly cooked. A nice medium rare and restaurant quality. Sometimes miracles never cease!

Desert was the usual ice cream sundaes, which I asked for with a bottle of Bailey’s over the top. Flight attendant was nice enough to warn me it was strawberry ice cream, but why not! Strawberry works with a little fudge and Bailey’s too.

After dinner managed to lay down and pass out for a solid five hours, only to wake up 30 minutes from landing. Still plenty of time to brush the teeth, have a diet coke before landing. We’d made up quite a bit of time in the air, but would still be landing nearly 40 minutes late – 10 minutes to bus into the terminal, clear immigration, and make my connection. Um, yeah, that’s going to happen, right!

Overall, the flight was great. I do fault United for the misloading of cargo and subsequent delay, but the inflight service was miles above what it normally is. Hopefully this segment wasn’t an outlier. Off the plane, pile onto the bus, when an agent gets on and starts asking people to shout out their connections – destination and time – so she can determine who still has a chance. After a few, I shoult “Oslo, 10 minutes” and her comment: “you are hopeless, you have been rebooked tomorrow” Not exactly what you want to hear when you know there are several more flights.

Pull up to the terminal, and she says “go to the transfer desk, they will take care of it.” At the transfer desk, I met perhaps the rudest United agent in the entire system. She confirmed there was another flight in just over four hours, but “I cannot book people on a free ticket on that since it is Lufthansa and not SAS” I asked for a supervisor. “No. I just told you I cannot do it.”

After beating my head against a wall with her for 10 minutes I decided to leave the transfer area and try my luck at United’s check-in counters. There another agent managed to put me on the flight, but with no seat assignment since “only gate-assigned seats remain.” Definitely three thumbs down to the Frankfurt Customer Service team. In the end, the misloaded “dangerous cargo” would cause me to get into Oslo nearly five hours late. Never once heard an apology from United.

Next up: Part II. Frankfurt (FRA) to Oslo (OSL) in SAS Lufthansa “Business” and the Hotel Continental, Oslo

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