United First v LAN Business - SFO/EZE

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  1. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Part I

    United First v LAN Business - SFO/EZE

    This is designed to be a somewhat comprehensive comparison between United’s first class service from SFO to/from EZE with LAN’s Premium Business class service on the same end point routing. For a bit of background, I usually fly LAN on average three times a year from SFO to deep South America. Until recently, I had flown UA only once in the past several years from South America - a one-way business class trip EZE/SFO approximately 2 years ago. I’ve flown UA F many times in the post-Pan Am glory days of its international service, and watched the slow decline, but haven’t flown F during the precipitous drop off the cliff.

    My early flights on LAN (starting late 2001) were in their old F cabin. What a great way to fly. I have several trip reports on these trips. LAN eliminated their F cabin a few years ago, and upgraded the business hard product substantially. Right now, absent perhaps a TAM flight here or there (and I’m not even sure about that), the only way between North and South America in a true F cabin is to fly UA or AA. UA recently offered a super super discounted F fare on the SFO/EZE routing (booked in A) - it was basically the price of their most discounted business ticket, but in the F cabin. As they offered it for weeks, I don’t think it was a mistake fare. So, I figured I’d like to try out the new F cabin at almost the exact price I’d have paid LAN for a ticket, and unlike the LAN fare, the UA fare didn’t have a 7 day minimum stay. This report is going to have detail about the specifics of the UA trip (that I’m in the middle of, as I start composing this), likely with some pics, and generalizations of my LAN travels over the past couple of years, since the SFO service commenced.

    UA routing to EZE is SFO/IAD/EZE, LAN is SFO/LIM/EZE.

    The SFO Experience.

    Check in:
    LAN uses the beautiful International Terminal, and UA domestic uses Terminal 3. I think T-3 is a pretty decent place as far as domestic terminals go. It also has a walkway to the G pier of the International Terminal. This was the first time I’ve used the special check-in line for Int’l F and GS on the domestic side. 2 smiling agents awaited, I chose the one to the right, who was a very pleasant agent, check-in was prompt and friendly, and then you have use of the seemingly-exclusive GS security line. It doesn’t meet up with any other line - rather, it goes to its own screener. I was the only one there. The check-in and security experience took well under 10 minutes, and I was airside. LAN’s Business check-in can take a while as there are usually a lot of issues with people, from extra baggage, connections, interline, and all kinds of other things that seem to make the transactions take quite awhile. All that said, other than one particular day where there were almost no flights going from SFO to the east coast, and LAN was handling a lot of the AA rebookings/reroutings, I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than 15 minutes to check in, nor more than 15 minutes for the premium security line.

    Lounges:
    With UA onward international F, I went over to the International First Lounge (IFL). It is a lovely space. The lounge had a decent brand of bubbles, JW Blue (I was shocked about that one),
    20octJWB.jpg
    decent quality sake, and a nice array of fresh sushi,
    20octSFOIFL.jpg
    various breakfast-time-appropriate food items. It is worth the extra walk, especially because the security line lets you out right at where the airside walkway between the 2 terminals starts. If you don’t have time or desire to walk over there, you get the RCC (now UC), and it is a crowded domestic lounge, albeit a pleasant physical space. LAN uses the BA lounge. It is also a nice space, but not as nice as the UA IFL. The UA food/drink selections are far superior. I don’t know what “extras” are in the F part of the BA lounge (which is quite small), but UA wins this part of the trip ... sort of.

    LAN sometimes boards directly from inside the lounge. A big plus. But even if not, it is a short walk to the gate, and the SFO international gate areas are quite large, and sunken down from the main traffic circulation of the terminal. With UA, it is back to T-3. In my case, the rolling delays were just beginning about the time I left the IFL. I could have spent another hour there. But who knew? By the time I got to my gate, the delay was only about 15 minutes. It ended up being in excess of an hour. Some of the same gate lice hadn’t even budged during that time period.
    20octgatelice.jpg
    I went to the domestic UC for a few minutes, took a walk around the terminal, returned to the gate, and the inbonud plane still wasn’t there. The odds of an SFO domestic delay is always high. The odds of LAN having a delay based upon a late inbound is very low. The aircraft is blocked at no less than 3 hours’ ground time, and it isn’t awaiting a crew from anywhere.

    Finally, the 5 hours of domestic UA F bliss is how the airborne portion of the trip starts. Had I not built in a longer connection time, I’d have already been getting nervous. A UA transcon in a 2 cabin domestic plane is not the heights of luxury, either in seating or in meal. Pathetic is a polite way to describe the choice of a turkey sandwich with Sunchips, or a bowl of soup and a salad.
    20octSFOIADbev.jpg

    20octsfoiadlunch.jpg
    I asked for wine when the juice or water predeparture beverage tray came out, and was denied. About 3 hours into the flight, I couldn’t help but think that if I was on LAN, I’d have just recently finished my multi-course meal and be lying back listening to music or watching another movie. While LAN doesn’t have a liquor license to serve a full PDB at SFO, your water or juice comes in a proper glass, often served with nuts. The first 5 hours of your UA trip comes with the domestic swill in a bottle. The first 9 hours of your LAN trip comes with 5 nice wines, and a champagne at least of the price point as the current UA F offering. All of LAN’s longhaul have the same wine list, and absent some occasional catering error, all the wines are on all the flights. UA’s new propaganda on its napkins say Planes Change. Values Don’t. Your priorities will always be ours.”
    20octsfoiadnap.jpg
    What a crock. My priority is not to be hungry after a transcon first class flight. Your priority is apparently not to feed us very much. Along with a barely damp “hot towel” that is rough enough to sand something with.
    20octsfoiadrag.jpg
    The only thing that was plentiful was the salad dressing - two cups of the packaged stuff. Nothing makes a “norteamericano” happy like copious amounts of salad dressing. I just used a few dabs from one of the cups.

    I know some might be saying it is unfair to compare any domestic F to any international C/J - but this report is about the entire experience.

    End of Part I
     
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  2. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Part II

    The Connection Experience

    LAN @ LIM - everyone with an int’l to int’l connection goes through transit security, which generally takes about 15 minutes total from off the plane, to back up in the departures area. The LIM airport is a modern decent place. LAN uses the shared SUMAQ lounge which is extremely overcrowded at the “midnight” connection hour. The snack selection is ok, but perhaps after so many visits of things never changing, it seems stale. Also, LAN serves a pre-arrival snack, so you might not be hungry in any event. There is tended bar in the lounge. It is an ok place to pass an hour, especially because there are ample computer terminals. The gate areas aren’t great at LIM, but compared to IAD?

    UA @ IAD. At least the connection is easy - no security, and everything is down a straight line and is going to be from a C or D gate. The IFL lounge here is a sad shadow of its SFO cousin. The food and drink was inferior, and in fact, for the last handful of international flights, was just downright sad and tired looking. The hummus was getting a crust. The sushi (kept in the fridge) had rice that was getting crunchy. The fresh fruit was turning color. Finally, the flight was called. The gate area was a complete cluster&%$* When I got there, it looked like they hadn’t even started boarding F. Instead, they were already on Zone 2, and it was hard to get through the masses to get to the F carpet. These gates barely have room for the passengers of an A319, yet they board 747s out of them.

    IAD/EZE. The new F seat is really nice. It is a really really nice seat. Spacious, many spaces to store things, nice large TV monitor. It took just under 10 minutes for a crew person to acknowledge my existence after I was seated. The galleys were boarded a bit late, but finally, a FA came around to offer us water in plastic cups. Mind you, this F cabin holds 5 passengers. (6 seats - 1 is crew rest.) There was an apology with “late galley, we’ll be around with more offerings soon.” That never occurred. LAN will make sure that even the latest boarding passenger has a pre-departure beverage. Sometimes, there’s even time for a second round. Depending on the departure city, there’s water, juice, champagne, pisco sour, etc, served in proper glassware. Yes, in the business cabin. UA F gave me water in a plastic cup.

    The UA menu was shocking. The appetizer is a little cup of soup.
    20octiadezesoup.jpg
    It is the same soup that was served for lunch SFO/IAD. It follows with a salad course. One can get grilled shrimp on the salad.
    20octiadezesalad.jpg
    This was probably the tastiest portion of the meal - the shrimp on top of the salad. I asked for just a touch of dressing on the salad. It was gooped all over the top. The hot towel was as sorry as the domestic one. The first beverage service was offered well over 30 minutes after departure.
    20octiadezebev.jpg
    Remember, only 5 passengers. There was a choice of 4 main courses. I chose the mushroom ravioli, which wasn’t bad.
    20octiadezedin.jpg
    I chose the Bordeaux from the wine list for my main course. Of course, that was the one that was not boarded. The $10 Spanish wine was available, however. I passed on the cheese. I had the ice cream and a banana, and passed on the breakfast.
    20octiadezedessert.jpg
    Other odd service touches included items such as everyone was provided a bottle of water prior to any other service, i.e., post-departure beverage, and warm rolls were put out during the initial table set-up (along with butter, and the utensils) but the rolls were cold and hard before any food was actually served to eat the rolls with. The food quality was ok. The quantity could be more than enough if you had the soup, salad with shrimp, a heartier main course, the cheese course with a few pieces of fruit, and then the ice cream. Breakfast might have also been as hearty as you want, but I’m not sure as I didn’t have it, nor saw anyone eat the full breakfast.

    Overall, on UA SFO/IAD/EZE you will eat (as described above):
    (1) A paltry lunch during the first 5 airborne hours, with a lacking wine selection.
    (2) A dinner with enough substance but lacking, as you can see from above, and it is served long into the travel day.
    (3) A breakfast prior to arrival

    Overall, on LAN SFO/LIM/EZE you will eat:
    (1) A fairly decent lunch - a main tray served with a small salad and an appetizer plate, and a small pre-plated cheese course. After finishing the salad and appetizer, the main course will be presented. (I usually save my cheese until after the main course.) Afterward, a choice of 3 desserts is offered - usually a flan or other sweet, an ice cream, and a fruit bowl. Any after dinner drinks will generally be offered with chocolates.
    (2) A substantial snack prior to LIM arrival. 2 half-sandwiches, with a dessert, and perhaps fruit. (3) A snack similar to the prior snack after LIM takeoff. All flights will have decent wines to drink. Every time you are offered a wine you haven’t yet sampled, the bottle will be presented to you properly, and you will be given a taste from a fresh glass.

    The Seats and other aircraft issues - The UA F seat is really nice. The LAN seat is narrow. It is similar in style to the UA Business seat. However, you get the LAN lie flat seat on your entire trip. You get the UA domestic F seat for the first five hours of the trip. A big negative for UA is the blanket. As nice as the seat was, there was no way to have the seams from bothering me. LAN has nice puffy duvets - if there are extra, I use one or two as a mattress pad. The UA blanket is fairly insubstantial. The UA pillows are nice, however. UA also has personal air vents. LAN does not. LAN tends to keep its planes warm, and this is a big negative for me. The galley light on UA was inescapable from seat 1A. If they could only place a curtain that went a foot down from the ceiling only, it would have helped so much. The LAN cabin gets nice and dark.

    The IFE - The LAN system has 50+ movies, 500+ CDs, and I really like the system. The UA system has the same potential, but a fraction of the programming. Channel 9 was available on my first two segments, so I appreciated that.

    Elapsed travel time - Similar SFO departure times (depending on the season, and how much risk one might want to take leaving SFO with the minimum possible IAD connection time). LAN will get you to EZE a couple hours earlier in the AM. This cuts both ways, depending on who you are. UA - your last 10 travel hours are in a lie-flat sleep, and if you sleep at all on a plane, you will sleep well in the UA F seat. Also, if you are going to a hotel and don’t want to pay for a prior night, and want a room ready shortly after you get there, the later UA arrival might work better for you. EZE, however, at the hour of the UA arrival, is much more congested for immigration. Then, the customs line on this recent trip was the worst I’ve ever seen. Although LAN gives you a flat seat the whole way, you’ll only get about 4 lie flat hours in the last segment, after possibly having been awoken before you landed @ LIM. So, it is hard to get a full night’s sleep. (This cuts in the entirely opposite manner on the return trip.) I’d rather get to EZE earlier, and take a short nap.

    That is the rundown for the first direction of the trip. The verdict so far? I really enjoyed the new UA F seat. I loved having all that personal space, and having no one right next to me in the narrow LAN seats. But the only truly first class part of the experience was arguably the SFO check-in and security, and the SFO IFL. For the same price (which is what I’m talking about here), I am not so sure that UA F is worth anything more than LAN J, especially because of the long domestic segment just to get to that UA F seat.
     
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  3. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    This is an excellent travel report. That you very much. I, too, remember Lan F fondly, but I also am impressed with Lan Business service but not the seats! I have not flown UA for many years.

    BTW, TAM has a number of NA flights with F. GRU to JFK, MIA, MCO and DFW. GIG to MIA and JFK. Quite a few to Europe too. JJ F is sybaritic. I have a handful of photos somewhere. They offer an amenity kit that is constructed from you choice of numerous items, all high quality, that are delivered on a cart. There is very good wine and beverage service with everything served in nice glassware and china. The FA's seem to judge when and where fo offer with sensitivity. There is a fairly extensive menu available at any time you choose. The seats are large and very comfortable with nice fluffy duvet. All of these flights are on A330 and there are four FC seats, one on each window and two together in the center. One big benefit of TAM F is that an escort meets you at the arrival gate and escorts you through immigration and baggage claim and on through customs. Baggage claim is the marvel. When you arrive you bags will be on a luggage cart waiting for you and your escort. No waiting, no looking, no loading. Maybe you must wait sometimes, but I never have. The escorts are delightful and usually know a fair amount about their passengers, if TAM knows anything. Out of Brazil TAM F is always my first choice. leagues ahead of anybody else.

    My experiences of TAM and LAN are quite similar, adjusted for class of service.
     
  4. Navysuby3

    Navysuby3 Silver Member

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    This is a great report, the details and photos are right on point. Makes it easy for a newbie to follow. The type of travel one aspires to.
     
  5. Gaucho
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    Gaucho Gold Member

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    United First.... where the heck is the Dom...?
     
  6. EZEIZA
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    EZEIZA Silver Member

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    Thanks for the report and the heads up.
    Overall the UA F product is a joke as I found out on my recent ORD-GRU flight. Granted the seat is good but they just don't have a clue about what the F experience should be. None of the niceties that other airlines F products offer are in evidence not even a welcome when arriving on board. The crew were a disgrace to be honest and shouldn't be allowed to serve in Y never mind F.
    The ground experience is also years behind the competition....the F lounge at ORD is nothing more than a small waiting room with some nibbles and drinks.
    Overall I was not impressed.
     
  7. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Once service started (on both flights), the crews were actually nice. This means my experience was better than many, which is sad. What is also sad is that the older crews know exactly what the F experience should be, because they used to provide it. Some of these same people probably served me once upon a time. And they probably served me Dom and caviar and frozen vodka shots in crystal stems. Along with a choice of other appetizers. Then a salad cart with various toppings. Also a soup course. Then a nice main course. Then a cheese cart. Then a dessert cart with choices. One of the FAs (not in my cabin) reminded me of Mr. Grainger. Another might have been Iris Peterson's older sister (not in my cabin). The worst service flaw of all was when the FA was asking us if we wanted to be awoken for breakfast. The man across the aisle apparently spoke limited English, but did speak and understand some English. So, instead of the FA getting a language qualified FA, when it was clear that he didn't understand her question, she performed the classic "he must be deaf" routine, by repeating herself quite loudly, but still in English. :mad:
     
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  8. Bay Pisco Shark
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    You have apparently hoarded all the Dom that has been scheduled to go to and from Argentina. This must be why UA doesn't serve it anymore.
     
  9. ande777emt
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    Great comparison between the two. It's sad to think how many other scenarios a C product is better than UA F as well.

    Is JJ to DFW something in the works?

    JJ does F on all their European routes except GRU-MXP, since that's done with a 2 class 345; however, the route is due to switch to a 332 with F when more 332's arrive.
     
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  10. jbcarioca
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    :eek: I confirmed those with tam.com.br but somehow included GRU-DFW, and AA F for sure, but not even a flight from JJ. Thanks for catching my mistake.
     
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  11. Gaucho
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    No Dom... ok, well then, were the nuts served at least warmed up...?
     
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  12. Gaucho
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    Speaking of hoarding... yes, I started stocking up on Veuve, Dom, Moet and Krug in July because I knew that the K regime was going to continue blocking the entry of many imported goods... silly season is starting here for the Corporate Gifts Season and Im very lucky to have the stuff in my cellar... :cool:
     
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  13. EZEIZA
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    Yes we had a super crew on the SEA-ORD flight which probably raised my expectations for the ORD-GRU sector. Certainly no negatives on the domestic sector....very impressed with that.

    Champagne on offer for the GRU sector was Nicolas Feuillatte 2004....never heard of it myself.
     
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  14. Gaucho
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    NF.... dont like the stuff but its better than the plonk most US carriers serve.....
     
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  15. sfo1
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    I have tons of UA miles to burn and am planning to use them in Business class and perhaps 1st, but none will be used on UA when much more superior products are available.
     
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  16. dhammer53
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    UA stopped serving DOM years ago. I remember enjoying most of a bottle on the JFK/LHR redeye. Remember that?

    Great report. If my plans work out, I'll be experiencing LAN layflat in spring 2012.
     
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  17. Bay Pisco Shark
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  18. Its really an excellent report! Thanks a lot for having the time to write this. After reading your post I can tell you are excited about your writing. Keep sharing, excellent job!:)
     
  19. dhammer53
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    Anyone know what champagne LAN serves JFK/LIM?

    Yana, welcome to Milepoint.
     
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  20. Bay Pisco Shark
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    I believe it is currently Louis Roederer Brut Premier. This has been the run for the past couple of years, after several years of Henriot.
     
  21. dhammer53
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    Vintage or NV?
     
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  22. Bay Pisco Shark
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    NV - the $60 swill
     
  23. dhammer53
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    I just picked up a 375 for $20.
    I checked wine-searcher, and see multiple retailers selling a full bottle for $30. <gasp>
     
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