This is not going to be a photo-heavy post, mainly because there are so many reviews of United’s business/first class products out that that I think people are pretty tired of them. One thing I found lacking when planning this trip, however, were the ins and outs of Lagos airport. So, that’s where the focus will be.
First, a small note on the routing. When booking, Houston to DCA was not available for upgrade. Naturally, I started looking for options. That’s when I found out that (at least at the time) Lagos to San Francisco was LESS expensive than Lagos to DCA. Even when I added a one-way San Francisco to DC ticket onto it, it was only $100 more. I’m very close to Million Miler status with United, so the chance to add nearly 3,000 miles for only $100 sealed the day. Oh, and wait, Houston to San Francisco would be on an international 767 and San Francisco to Chicago would be on the 777 AND all upgrades will clear at time of booking. The $100 was a no brainer. Sure, it would mean an extra 12 hours en route home, but it was worth it!
Plan was to get to the airport around 7pm for a 10:35pm flight, knowing the reputation Lagos has for being chaotic and things going wrong. Well, that was the plan anyways. We got a late start from the hotel, and then traffic was absolute hell. One lesson learnt: leaving Victoria Island during rush hour is a mess. An absolute mess. Took nearly two hours to get to the airport, and finally arrived around 8:30pm. No big deal. Said goodbye to John, and then it was into the madness that passed for check-in.
Found the queue for United Business/Star Gold, and the whole check-in area looked like a hurricane had hit it. Masses of people and bags everywhere, lines that weren’t really lines, and convincing the drone manning the area to let me into the business class line was work in and of itself. Finally up to the counter, and ready to check in. Agent was cold and unfriendly, but efficient, and check-in took maybe five minutes total. Then, it was back through the masses of people to immigration and security.
There was a separate immigration line for business/priority, and it took maybe 10-15 minutes to get to the front of the queue. Give the documents to one agent, he hands them to another agent, who directs you to a third agent, who finally wields the magical exit stamp. Slow, incredibly inefficient, but stamped out of Nigeria without a single question. Wow, that wasn’t bad at all.
Then, it was security. No line at all (immigration seems to have done the job sorting people) and put everything through the scanner. Walk through, and try and retrieve my bags. Would have been easy, if the guy manning the other end of the x-ray machine hadn’t decided to pick up my iPad and start looking at it. I asked him to give it back, to which his reply was “of course! perhaps you can help me have a happy weekend?” I was tired, hot, sweaty, and a bit cranky at this point, and just spat back at him “It’s MONDAY NIGHT. It’s FAR TOO EARLY to be thinking about the weekend!” and snatched the iPad out of his hands and put it back in my bag. It could have ended really badly, but fortunately he just gave a big laugh and said something like have a good trip.
Now, how to find the lounge. There were no signs at all, but asked a friendly airport staff member walking by, and she pointed me up a staircase. Finally found what passes for the United lounge, and…the air conditioning was broken. Seriously?! Next up, went down the hall to what I seem to remember was another Star Alliance labeled lounge, and they said no, no United flight allowed. Um, ok.
Pull up the priority pass app, and find the lounge that is handling the Delta flight (sorry, forget the name) is a Priority Pass lounge. Get there, and she tells me “no, no Priority Pass after 4pm.” Ug, Seriously? I must have made a really pathetic sweaty, tired, and cranky face at her, because she said “I will make an exception.” and let me in. Hooray! Finally things are looking up! Freshen up at the sink, enjoy the AC, few bottles of water and one last Star beer, and it was time to head to the gate to board.
The gate…well it was security theatre that would put even TSA to shame. Six or seven folks standing around checking boarding passes, checking bags by hand, and after I’d talked to three of them I’d had enough, and just sat down. It was pretty clear I was supposed to talk to others, but nobody said anything. It was a complete joke as far as security goes, since they had no orderly way of checking who’d they’d checked and who they hadn’t. It would concern me if everyone hadn’t gone through a security check earlier.
Boarded right on time, and the flight was booked full in all classes. Somehow, however, it seemed the ONE seat that would remain open was the one next to me. This has happened to me more times than I can count recently, and clearly I’ve banked some major travel karma. Several employees were also cleared into business at the last minute, so I’m guessing that lots of folks got stuck in the Victoria Island traffic mess and missed the flight. We ended up leaving about 30-40 minutes late due to some sort of maintenance issue, but it wasn’t a big deal. I had a long connection.
Across the aisle in row one, there were two women traveling together who were giving the purser an earful. Seems they had booked an award ticket with United, and the only routing available was Johannesburg to Lagos on South African, connecting to this United flight to the States. They were clearly not experienced international travelers, and transiting in Lagos was a recipe for disaster. I wouldn’t recommend it to even a moderately experienced traveler based on my experience. Anyways, seems they had been rounded up by some official types at the airport, told their transit without a visa was illegal, and there were going to be some very serious fines. One of the ladies was walking with a cane, and said that airport security had demanded her gold watch as payment of the fine, and she was going to sue United for doing this to her. She did eventually settle down after the purser brought her several glasses of Sprite (she was complaining she was going to go into a diabetic coma – maybe true, but she was being seriously dramatic) and was quiet the rest of the flight. Lesson here: don’t transit Lagos unless you have balls of steel!
United flight 143
Lagos, Nigeria (LOS) to Houston, George Bush (IAH)
Depart 22:35, Arrive 05:00 next day, Flight Time 12:25
Boeing 787-8, Registration N26906, Manufactured 2012, Seat 1D (aisle)
Not the friendliest crew I’ve ever had, but it was a solid flight. Once again, I managed nine full hours of uninterrupted sleep after the meal. I’m convinced now that there’s something about the 787 that makes sleeping so much easier. I’ll definitely go out of my way to fly it on redeyes again! One highlight from the crew, when I asked for hot fudge and “a couple cherries” on my sundae, this is what I ended up with:
Can’t complain too much about that! Just like the flight to Lagos, I managed to eat, get nine hours of sleep, and still wake up in plenty of time for a small bite of breakfast. Some cereal, fruit, and a cinnamon bun, and soon we had arrived in Houston.
Carrying my wooden carving back, I was unsure if it was something I had to declare. Wood and things made out of wood are a bit of a grey area, so I decided to play it safe. Last thing I wanted was to screw something up, get caught, and lose my Global Entry. I went through the questions at the automated kiosk, and there was nothing to indicate I had to declare it. Got a clean receipt from the machine, which meant I could walk right out, but when I handed it to the agent at the exit, I made sure to ask him “I have a carving made from wood wrapped up in this bag, do I need to declare that?” He looked at me like I was from another planet, and just waved me through.
Off to the Terminal E United Club for a shower and several more glasses of water, and immediately felt great again. Amazing what nine hours of solid sleep will do for you. Off to Starbucks for some coffee, and soon it was time to board the connecting flight to San Francisco.
United flight 570
Houston, George Bush (IAH) to San Francisco, California (SFO)
Depart 9:35, Arrive 11:45, Flight Time 4:10
Boeing 767-300, Registration N669UA, Manufactured 1999, Seat 1D (aisle)
Two words: GATE LICE. I’ve never seen so many people crowding the priority boarding line looking to pounce the minute the agent opened the door. I had what I consider to be the best seat on the plane, so I was in no great rush. Boarded relatively early, and the lead flight attendant helped me find somewhere to store the carving safely after everyone had boarded.
One strange thing about this flight, the moving map on the monitor was clearly having issues: I don’t think we were moving around THAT badly!
Great and helpful crew, decent breakfast on the flight, and after a few episodes of Breaking Bad it was time to land already. Arrival into San Francisco was almost 30 minutes early! We parked at the domestic gates, and I walked around the terminal for nearly an hour before settling into the United Club for some more water and snacks before the flight.
Yes, I admit it, I have a mild addition to the Tillamook cheese they serve in the United Club. Especially the pepperjack which they were out of today, boo hiss! Don’t judge!
United flight 207
San Francisco, California (SFO) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 13:30, Arrive 19:39, Flight Time 4:09
Boeing 777-200, Registration N219UA, Manufactured 2000, Seat 7B (backward-facing aisle)
Turned out most of the crew on this flight was the same as my Houston to San Francisco flight. I had to explain to several of them why I was taking such a bizarre routing, but as soon as they understood it was for more miles in addition to being nearly the same fare they understood. Seems crazies who do such things are becoming common enough that the crews know about them.
No clue why I decided this was picture-worthy, but decided to snap a picture of the new 777 seating just for those who might not have seen it. That goes to show just how interesting the little details of this flight weren’t! Note the alternating frontwards/backwards seats.
Decent little lunch/snack that isn’t worth writing about, although the cookie was pretty tasty…to the point I asked for a second one. Almost thirty minutes early into O’Hare, which gave me nearly an hour to kill in the United Club staying hydrated and trying to stay awake by this point.
United flight 1717
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 21:05, Arrive 23:51, Flight Time 1:46
Boeing 737-800, Registration N11206, Manufactured 2000, Seat 2E (aisle)
The last of several un-noteworthy flights. The most noteworthy aspect of this flight is that I discovered BBQ Pop Chips in the snack basket. I’ve never had them before, but I have to admit, they go rather well with the pre-mixed margaritas United serves on board. I admit I had at least three bags, at which point I lost count.
Landed at DCA about 10 minutes late, and was home about 15 minutes later. In the end, it was well worth doing it for the extra miles, especially since it was all in business class and almost all on widebodies which meant significantly more comfort.
I was home for just three days, before heading up to Provincetown, Mass. for my birthday and the long weekend, then home for two weeks before heading back to West Africa again….until the next post!