SFO - NRT (UA) / HND - BKK (TG)

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  1. fromagie

    fromagie Active Member

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    (Note: First Trip Report. Please forgive my transgressions of TR etiquette.)

    Booking

    The last time I had the fortune to fly first class was back in the late 80s after we'd moved from the UK to the US. My dad was doing a lot of international travel for work, so well before the days of FlyerTalk he had some sort of status in BA's frequent flyer program. We were seated in the nose section of a BA 747-300. At 8 years of age I thought myself rather sophisticated, what with my copy of the Financial Times and a glass of tonic water with lemon (do hold the ice, please). It's one of those moments that I'm slightly embarrassed of to this day. Still, I sat in first class. And I liked it.

    Fast-forward almost thirty years and I'm no frequent flyer but I do make decent (and improving) use of mileage credit cards. I am generally still excited about flying, especially internationally, but my 6'4" frame is snug in Economy. So, on a trip to South East Asia (Thailand, Burma, Indonesia) wherein I would be flying solo on the trip out, I decided I would redeem some miles for an Economy seat and then upgrade myself to Economy Plus because I'm baller like that.

    Upon seeing that a Saver Business seat was less than double the number of miles as an Economy seat, I thought "Why the hell not?" I found several options but most of them were mixed cabin bookings with one of the legs in Economy. There was one flight however, SFO => PKG => BKK, all business with the first leg on a UA 744 and the second on a CA 747 Combi. Air China. Not known for its luxury but hey the upper deck is cool right? Booked in Business.

    Now, at this point, I had signed up for FlyerTalk and become relatively familiar with the United award booking site. And so now I'm digging into the United booking site to see if another option presents itself on a more desirable *A carrier, maybe NH, OZ, or TG. In the middle of this, due to the schedule shufflings of my friends who I'd be meeting in BKK, my dates changed and the number of options available blossomed.

    This time there were a number of Saver First awards. The most interesting being SFO => NRT / HND => BKK, the first leg on a UA 777-200, the second, purportedly on one of TG's 777-300ERs leased from Jet Airways. According to all you nerdy plane folk, this is one of the better FC hard products out there, and it's only 10k more miles than Biz. Yes sir. Ring a ding ding. Booked in First.

    SFO - NRT

    After a day of doing all 8 billion things I'd left till the last minute, I made it to the airport with plenty of time. Short check-in line. Security takes 10 minutes. Head to the United International First Lounge. I think this is my first time in an airport lounge. It's pleasant enough. The free alcohol and caffeine is a nice touch for those wanting to take the edge off... or put it back on. The food, while free, was worse than the number of restaurants just outside the lounge door. It didn't really matter. I knew that on board that fine plane they'd be shoving all manner of foods down my welcoming gullet to keep that lizard brain at bay. With that in mind I made some final calls to the family and drank a couple beers.

    777.jpg
    My UA 772 at SFO

    The configuration of this particular 777-200 included a first class in a 1-2-1 config with 2 rows. I was tucked away in 2A. These seats are referred to as suites but they're really just hyper-cocoons. The seat isn't terribly wide but I found it to be very comfortable with a good range of motion. I slept for a couple of hours soundly in the lie-flat position.

    The service was better than I expected. FTers seem to feel that your average United F/A has the grace and skill of a mid-70s Vladivostok Air attendant. These attendants were attentive and professional and quite "experienced".

    On flights to Japan, UA offers what they call a Washoku Zen Selection in addition to their usual entrees. Some soba, pickles, a seaweed salad, and one piece each of squid, roast beef, tamago, followed by a grilled chicken entree. All tasty and lighter than, say, the short rib.

    ua-dinner.jpg
    Washoku Zen dinner

    HND - BKK

    The reason, I'm guessing, that this Saver Award was still available a month from departure was the transit portion of this trip. I ended up taking a ¥3000 bus from NRT to HND. It took about 100 minutes with traffic. I slept most of the way. Initially, I'd given thought to dropping my bags at Haneda and swooping into Tokyo to explore and eat some food, but I was exhausted and since I couldn't check-in for another few hours I opted to hang out in the food/shopping area.

    japan.jpg
    Japan. So Orderly.

    I'm always surprised at the lack of English spoken in Japan, even in the aeroports. This isn't a bad thing. No spoken English means you're either somewhere interesting or you're going to be eating some good food. In this case it was the latter. There are a large variety of Japanese restaurants on the 3rd and 4th floors of the International Terminal. Not only that, but you can go *outside* to the observation deck to check out planes if you're into that sort of thing, which you undoubtedly are.

    Anyway, I had a combination platter that was called, actually I have no idea what was it called. I just pointed. It cost ¥1300 and consisted of a large bowl of rice with fried pork and fried egg, some pickles, a delicious soup and some soba noodles. I should have taken a picture but it looked so good I just ate the damn thing.

    By the time 2130 rolled around, the Thai check-in gate was open. As I rolled up to the Royal First line with my two backpacks in tow, they eyed me suspiciously, ready to tell me that perhaps I was in the wrong line. Well, sorry ladies, this sloppy looking sonofabitch is riding up front.

    Once I presented my passport, it was all Land of Smiles. A slightly nervous young lady escorted me through security. She waltzed me up to the ANA Suites Lounge which was significantly more pimpatronic than the quaint United International First lounge back in SFO.

    I drank more beer. I ate desserts. I had a couple smokes in the smoking room. Curiously, the smoking room in the ANA lounge has two offset doors that act both as an air lock and, one would assume, to prevent its patrons from feeling like they're being made an example of. I took a shower and my emotional net worth doubled to $2 million.

    tg-first.jpg
    Laptop, beer, passport, boarding pass. Life is good.

    At 1130 I rolled down to the gate. I declined the offer for an escort because, I'll be honest, it makes me slightly uncomfortable. Haneda is a small aeroport with a limited number of gates so this was a bus-to-the-apron situation.

    empty-first.jpg
    Empty First Class

    So anyway, it turns out they hadn't pulled the supposedly classic TG maneuver of switching equipment last minute, and so yes this was the Jet 777-300ER with the 8 suites. I'd read that the suites were a bit rough around the edges these days but the "situation" was worse than I'd anticipated, especially coming from the United 777 whose fittings were relatively new. The seat was a bit rickety, the dining table (which was huge) got stuck each time it was pulled out, the AVOD device pretty much didn't work, the suite doors didn't close flush.

    And if I may, the design of the suite was pretty terrible. The fancy touch screen device was far from intuitive and required me to go through a couple of screens just to recline the back of my chair. There's a lovely compartment to the right of the seat in which to stow your magazines, laptop, and whatever else you have with you but it's essentially *behind* the seat so you have do this twist maneuver. And when the bed was in lie-flat position it took me multiple tries to get the lumbar support to return to its recessed position.

    work.jpg
    A bit of work since the IFE was pretty useless

    Since I was the only one in first class, the service was attentive to say the least. The food was good not great. Having a bed, though? Behind closed doors with a big comfortable quilt? While you're flying through the air like a bird? Priceless.

    breakfast-1.jpg
    Breakfast

    We landed in BKK at 0420. I was met by a Thai Airways rep who plopped me into a golf cart and whisked me through security and then to baggage claim. Where we waited. Until everyone else got there. My bag was first. Win!
     
  2. guberif

    guberif Silver Member

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    Just FYI, UA doesn't have any 773's. Assume you mean 772.
     
  3. fromagie

    fromagie Active Member

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    Noted and fixed. Thanks :)
     
    Traveling Momma and guberif like this.
  4. guberif

    guberif Silver Member

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    Missed a spot under the pic of the UA bird. Good first-time TR though! :)
     

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