The Best-Laid Plans

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  1. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    The Best Laid Plans: An Introduction

    In retrospect, I misnamed my trip to Thailand and Japan via Europe this past March. Business class to Asia via Europe is a cakewalk compared to flying coach to Asia via the Pacific. Back in November, I convinced myself to book a trip to the Philippines, in coach, via the middle of the Pacific (to take advantage of United's generous routing rules).

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    While I was originally planning on writing a brief post on only my hotel stay in Manila, I picked up a lucky bump in SFO on my outbound, giving me a reroute via Tokyo in United's First Class (and then a less luxurious coach experience on ANA). With the bump and a same-day confirmed flight change, my trip came out to be:

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    While I had tried to convince myself on my return from Frankfurt to Dulles in January to "not cross oceans in coach," I finished the weekend having flown 9689 miles in coach and 10255 miles in first class.
     
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  2. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    United First Class Newark to San Francisco

    As far as flights go, my trip in first class from Newark to San Francisco was uneventful. Having been rather sleep deprived from the night before, I slept for most of the flight. I must have missed an announcement, but these flights are now offering menus that I'm continuing to find fascinating (on an non-p.s., domestic route):

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  3. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    United First Class San Francisco to Tokyo

    As I was checking up on flight loads the day before my trip, I noticed that the day's UA915 (HNL-SFO) flight had been canceled and my flight to Honolulu showing no seats for sale in either cabin. Since SHARES' (apparent) inadequacies prevent adding one's name to the volunteer list anywhere but at the airport for the segment in question (unlike United's Apollo system, which let me volunteer at La Guardia for my connection in Chicago to Portland in February), I waited at my gate at Newark hoping for an on-time departure (and a subsequent on-time arrival) so I could volunteer before they found enough people willing (or not) to take another flight.

    We arrived on-time from Newark and quite fortunately, my next gate was only a hundred feet away. The gate lice had already swarmed the boarding area, but I was able to make it up to the podium.

    "Do you need volunteers?"

    "Yes, we're oversold by 11. We're offering $400 in travel credit, a hotel, meal vouchers, and a first class seat on tomorrow's flight."

    "I'm not actually going to Honolulu. I'm going to Manila today. Do you think you can make that work?"

    While it's not a 777-worth of people, being oversold by 11 passengers at T-45 minutes certainly left the gate agents pressed to take any volunteer they could find. With a US passport and no checked bags, they were able to reroute me, even on a moderately complex international itinerary. When I was standing at the podium with my netbook, I did a few searches with ITA for United inventory, coming up with the flight to Tokyo, reaching Manila via Guam about 24 hours later than I had planned.

    They came up with something better (allowing me to avoid ditching a night at my hotel in Manila): United GlobalFirst to Tokyo followed by the ANA nonstop to Manila. Why ITA failed to show this itinerary to me baffles me.

    As I was leaving the podium, I asked--having not looked at my boarding passes yet--whether they were able to find a way of sticking me in business or first class. "Oh, we managed to keep you where you were."

    Having only 50 minutes prior to departure, I took off for the international terminal (which thankfully is connected airside). With Gate 100 in sight, I found myself next to the United Global First Lounge and with a few moments. I looked at my boarding pass for my seat number: 4A. A thought crossed my mind: "Huh, I think that's first class."

    I took a moment to pop into the lounge, but only had a few minutes to check my email before the announced that boarding was starting.

    Our Tulip-bearing 747:

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    United's Business product comes with a single pillow; Global First (as well as p.s. First Class) gives you two.

    United 837
    San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo (NRT)
    Thursday, May 24th
    Depart: 11:48PM
    Arrive: 2:11PM
    Duration: 10 hours, 23 minutes
    Aircraft: Boeing 747-222
    Seat: 4A (First Class)

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    (For reasons that are not fully clear to me, the first class "suites" on United have shoulder harnesses but the business class seats do not.)

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  4. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    The amenity kit was consistent with the new (Tulip-less) branding of Continental d/b/a United Airlines. (The plastic-wrapped slippers, however, still had Tulips.)

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    When I flew to Sydney, I was on the right side of the aircraft, giving a terrific view shortly after take off of the Golden Gate Bridge (at night). Between being on the left side of the aircraft and a bit of cloud cover, the views after take off weren't as good.

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    With 5061 miles to go, I was fully prepared to relish every moment of it.

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  5. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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  6. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    As a legacy United flier, I'm supposed to cheer that Continental's management kept the warm nuts served in a ramekin, so here-here! (Economy Plus seems to be the other vestige of United Airlines.)

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    First came the bread (I skipped the tuna appetizer):

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    Rather than the on-menu tomato-basil soup, they were serving a wild mushroom soup that turned out to be quite good (and I'm not much of a mushroom fan).

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    Prior to takeoff, I was able to secure the pasta for myself on account of being a "vegetarian who got put on this flight less than 30 minutes ago." While United no longer prioritizes meals by status (except for Global Services members), a combination of my sob story, being in full-fare F, and having 1K status worked (or perhaps no one else wanted the pasta).

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  7. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    I took the ice cream. One of these days, I'll be adventurous and try the cheese selection on an international United flight.

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    Our five course meal got me most of the way through my movie, so I finished it up and then tried to get a bit of sleep. Rather fortunately, I had lucked out by having a minimal amount of sleep the night before, so I was able to actually fall asleep.

    I woke up at the western tip of the Aleutians and chose the fruit and yogurt for breakfast.

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    For all of the moaning that occurs on the Internet about how "US-based airlines suck," I was impressed by the United Global First product. As far as hard-products go, the seat was quite comfortable (aided, of course, by the two pillows provided) and offered substantial storage space in the compartments next to the seat. While the legacy United Business class product doesn't provide aisle access to every seat (and even has, gasp, middle seats, as I complained earlier), the suites are well arranged. As far as the soft-product goes, the crew was excellent (I had a vegetarian meal to eat!) and the food decent (I wasn't on Swiss).

    That said, if not for award tickets or VDB reroutes, the next time I need to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo, am I going to pull out my American Express Premier Rewards Gold card (3 points per dollar on airfare, of course) to buy a $8538 walk-up, one-way fare? I'll be realistic: Of course not.
     
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  8. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    United Global First Lounge Tokyo Narita

    Since I was an arriving passenger from a Global First flight, I had access to the first class lounge in Tokyo for my three hour layover. If nothing else, it made for a change of scenery from March.

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    Upon entering, I presented my boarding pass to the check-in podium. I'm not sure why it's necessary, but I was escorted to the elevator bank up to the first class level. Would armed guards have tackled me if I tried to press the elevator call button on my own?

    The lounge had a slightly different food selection than the main lounge.

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    The views and decor are the essentially the same (the first class lounge sits one level above the main lounge).

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    After about two hours in the United lounge, I left for the ANA lounge closer to my departure gate to get my seat changed (from the second to last row middle seat on a 763 to an aisle) and to flee the deteriorating wifi quality. While I did get my seat changed, the ANA lounge was packed and the wifi was somehow even worse than the one I had left.
     
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  9. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    For the sake of completeness, I did take a few photos on my (comparatively) short hop to Manila. Coach just doesn't merit quite as many words (or photos) as first class.

    ANA 949
    Tokyo (NRT) – Manila (MNL)
    Friday, May 25th
    Depart: 6:17PM
    Arrive: 9:34PM
    Duration: 4 hours, 17 minutes
    Aircraft: Boeing 767-381ER (JA603A)
    Seat: 26B (Economy Class)

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  10. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    Hyatt Manila Hotel and Casino

    For my stay in Manila, I chose the Hyatt Manila and used one of my Diamond member suite upgrades to confirm a better room for myself. I received a Regency Suite King room. At 74 square meters (per their website description), the suite was bigger than my Manhattan studio.

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  11. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    The bedroom:

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    The room had excellent views of the city from the 26th floor.

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  12. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    United Economy Guam to Honolulu

    Since my upgrade did not clear for the island hopper, I was not looking forward to flying in coach for 24 hours on a 737. After a few calls to United (namely, to convince the agents that, yes, despite their location in North America, I was within 24 hours of the departure time of my flights), I moved to the nonstop, UA200.

    Notably, my connection in Guam was the first time I've looked forward to encountering TSA. When I fly in the United States, the worst hassles I suffer are the lines and the opt-out pat down.

    In contrast, the security situation at Manila is a bit more, ahem, involved. To enter the airport building, passengers had to have their bags X-rayed and pass through a metal detector. (I can live with that; I had to in Istanbul.) After picking up my boarding pass, paying the Terminal Fee, and passing through passport control, we had another security checkpoint, this one in a normal-looking, walk-through metal detector setup. Upon reaching the gate, my carry-on bags were opened and the contents throughly inspected (including the individual, blank sheets of paper in a folio I travel with), I was patted down, and then two guys needed to spend a minute looking at my shoes. To be clear, this wasn't because I was randomly selected for enhanced screening: Everyone at the gate had to pass through this rigmarole.

    United 200
    Guam (GUM) - Honolulu (HNL)
    Monday, May 28th
    Depart: 6:35AM
    Arrive: 5:56PM
    Duration: 7 hours, 21 minutes
    Aircraft: Boeing 777-222
    Seat: 17G (Economy Class)

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  13. FlyerChrisK

    FlyerChrisK Silver Member

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    Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Honolulu

    Switching to the nonstop to Honolulu meant I had an overnight to find myself accommodations for. At about $100/nt (plus the resort fee and taxes), I chose the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani again (I had last stayed here for a night last September).

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    This time around, I actually had a city view room (rather than parking lot view) with a small balcony.

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    My stay served its purpose: To get a few hours of sleep before my flight. My only complaint? The front desk doesn't sell stamps. Combined with the early departure from Honolulu, I had to wait to San Francisco to mail a postcard.
     
  14. Espan

    Espan Silver Member

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    well done and detailed, thanks
     
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  15. jrp2

    jrp2 Gold Member

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    nice report. Thanks so much.
     
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