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The week of June 30th was insanely busy. I was traveling from Austin to New York for work, then back to Austin to start our move/drive to Portland and, to top it of, the end of the week was the Fourth of July. My trip started smoothly and it was a relatively standard week at work until Wednesday. The northeast was hammered by a large storm on Wednesday night and those same storms were predicted to flare up again on Thursday.

Knowing that I had to be home on Thursday night, I decided to look for seats on earlier flights out of New York but found nothing, probably due to the storms the previous night. I made my way to LaGuardia a little early, hoping to get on any flight that would get me out of the New York metro area earlier. Different agents did their best, but every single option was full.

My routing to Austin was LaGuardia-Chicago O’Hare-Austin and we actually boarded the LaGuardia-Chicago segment right on time. Then we sat at the gate. And sat some more. Then kept sitting. In all, we spent about 45 minutes parked at the gate with the door closed. When we started our taxi out to the runway the captain announced that it would be a while and we were free to use our cellphones. I started looking at the later Chicago-Austin flight on United, deciding that was a good backup in case things did not improve in New York and booked myself on it.

After another hour and 45 minutes the captain announced that we were ready for takeoff but that we were really close to the FAA three-hour tarmac rule and he was not sure if we would make it to the runway in time to be in compliance so we would be returning to the gate. By this point, I was in danger of missing my newly rebooked later flight from Chicago to Austin and was really worried that the beginning of our move was in serious jeopardy. I used different websites and the United iPhone app to look at different options to Austin, Lubbock, Albuquerque, Dallas, and Houston to see if there was any way to get to that region either late at night or early the next morning. In my experience, holiday travel, or travel on an actual holiday, is usually pretty light but from my searches, July 4 was the complete opposite. There were barely any seats out of New York at all.

When the crew opened the door to the plane to allow people to buy food, go to the restroom, and talk to the agents, I searched even more frantically for a seat on any airline from NY to the general Austin region. I was in luck, JetBlue had a non-stop flight from JFK leaving at 9:30pm and arriving in Austin at 11:45pm and there were two seats for sale. I spoke to the lead flight attendant and he said there was no way we were going to make it to Chicago in time for my connection. My options were JetBlue, be stuck in Chicago with very few seats available, or be stuck in New York with a few more options the next day. A few of the passengers around me asked what I was worried about and I told them. I also expressed my concern about beating the Van Wyck at 7pm. They understood and helped me weigh my options.

Just before the door was going to be closed to attempt another go at getting out of NY I grabbed my suitcase and told the gate agent my intentions. She was fine with it and walked back into the now chaotic terminal with me. Other flights were being cancelled left and right and I told her that there was a JetBlue flight I was going to catch. She told me that United could not move my ticket over to JetBlue and let her know that I was fine with that and to just uncheck-me in, which she did.

Before heading to JFK I made one last attempt to see if there was anything out of Newark or that evening but had no luck. The agent at the United Club “protected” me on the July 4th evening flight non-stop from Newark to Austin. I knew I was not going to use that but it at least gave me options. I then headed straight for the taxi stand at LaGuardia. The one in front of the central terminal was very crowded but the one at the end, near the American Airlines gates was completely empty and I was quickly on my way to JFK. While changing airports, I tried to book the JetBlue ticket online but it kept failing. When it finally looked like it was going to work, I was within the 1.5 hour before flight time cut-off for online bookings. I would have to try my luck in the airport.

The cab driver knew I was in a hurry and was more than willing to speed, arriving at JFK only twenty minutes after leaving LaGuardia. Yes, you read that right, twenty minutes from LaGuardia to JFK. I have never departed JFK, only arrived, and I had definitely never been to JetBlue’s Terminal 5, but I quickly found one of the ticketing/check-in lines.

The line was long, but not nearly as long as the line for cancellations and rebookings. I was also on the phone calling JetBlue, just in case I could get through and book the ticket that way. Luckily, the line moved relatively quickly and thirty minutes later I was being called to the counter. I asked the agent, Neomi, if I could buy a seat on the non-stop to Austin, to which she replied, “I am not sure we have any seats left, but I will check”… A few tense seconds go by, she raises her eyebrows and says, “Look at that, we have two seats, let me get one secured for you”. This all took place about forty five minutes before the scheduled departure time. She took my credit card, ID, and my Known Traveler Number and printed out a boarding pass, with PreCheck! I told the agent how much it meant to be getting home that night and told her “I could hug you” and surprisingly, she obliged, coming from around the check-in counter and giving me a huge hug.

Through security in no time, I decided to charge my now dead phone and give my wife a call to let her know I would be getting to Austin that evening. As I watched the flight status boards, I noticed my newly booked flight become delayed. This wasn’t a surprise, there was a large storm cell passing nearby and there was a lot of lightning.

After giving my phone a little more life, I went to the gate and learned the delay would extend until 11:30pm ET, with a scheduled arrival into Austin at 2:30am CT. Hey, at least I am getting there. I checked the status of my original flight and it too was delayed until 11:30pm, so I made the correct decision. Being really late into Austin is much better than being really late into Chicago in need of a hotel room.

The delay gave me a little time to explore Terminal 5. I walked around a bit and found that there were a number of seating areas with a decent number of places to charge devices, though I would prefer a few more. The food options are good and I was able to buy some fruit, a granola bar, and some water without much of a wait. I did not visit a bar but there appeared to be a number of options there as well, including the little kiosks near some of the gates that allow you to order food and have it delivered to where you are sitting.

Eventually, boarding was called for our flight and being in an Even More Space seat, we were called to board near the beginning. Unfortunately, everyone else was tired of the delay and decided to make boarding very chaotic. No big deal, there was plenty of space in the overhead bins for my rollaboard and the seats were so spacious I had no problem putting my backpack under the seat in front of me with room to spare.

The seats were comfortable and spacious, my only complaint being the lack of “wings” on the headrests. If they had the adjustable headrest the product would be unbeatable, even if it is a little older. Without the wings, it was very hard to rest my head in a manner that was comfortable. I didn’t watch the free DirecTV but the picture looked fine before I turned it off.

Our flight landed in Austin at 2:30am and I was quickly on my way home. The next morning we started our drive to Portland delayed just over an hour due to me needing a tad bit more sleep. We kept our schedule pretty well and arrived in Portland just about exactly when we had planned, all thanks to a speedy cab driver and JetBlue.

My first experience on JetBlue, even with taking a delay, was extremely positive. The staff were friendly and helpful, the plane had nice seats, and, most importantly, the flight got me to Austin. Given all of the weather that had moved through the northeast, it was very likely I would not have reached Austin before 6:30pm the next day had it not been for JetBlue.

If you missed the news, United is lowering the value of their mileage currency on February 1, 2014. The main area of impact is international premium cabin rewards, with those flights on United metal going up in price slightly, but flights on partners going up significantly.

Be sure and book your rewards soon if you want the lower prices. After February 1, 2014, any change to an award that requires the ticket to be reissued has the potential to be repriced at the new reward levels. I do have a prediction: the implementation/roll-out of this new price reward chart is not going to go off without a hitch.

If you want more information on the devaluation and what different flights will cost, Seth has a great breakdown here.

I won’t go into the details of the changes to the MileagePlus reward charts, Seth has done a good job of that. The quick summary is this: United raised reward rates and in the case of rewards on partners, the numbers are really, really ugly. One example, a business class reward Mainland U.S. to Europe on United becomes 57.5k miles one way, which is not a bad increase, but a business class reward on a partner is now 70k miles one way. That’s a 40% premium over the original 50k mile one-way reward that has been the norm for a while.

There is a lot of speculation as to why United made these changes. Some point to the 3rd quarter 10Q and the liability mentioned for outstanding miles. While I am sure this is part of the reason, United also likely wanted to offset some of the costs that they are obligated for when a passenger redeems a partner reward.

United's Jeff Smisek Talking about the 787

Is the sky falling?

While the changes are definitely not great from a customer perspective, it is not the end of the world. You can still redeem reward trips for reasonable rates on United and Copa operated flights. I think the biggest negative is that for those of us in Houston or Denver (or even Los Angeles) our options to Europe are somewhat limited. People will be looking for the more affordable mileage option to their destination, meaning United metal. Without a lot of non-stop flights out of certain hubs to Asia and Europe you end up with a lot of people competing. So while the prices may not be restrictive, the availability may become very scarce. Some travelers will give up and pay the higher rate for a partner flight while others will look for different dates for their trip. I doubt there will be a mass exodus from United, but I am sure there are those, like me, who have started looking at other airline options.

One of the caveats of the rewards is that you can redeem partner flights at the United rate if the partner flight is in a lower cabin. So if you flying Houston-Frankfurt in United BusinessFirst, you can connect on Lufthansa in coach for the United redemption rate. While this is great for places like intra-Europe where business class is a coach seat with a nicer meal, it stinks for places you cannot get without a partner or where partner availability is scarce. I am thinking of Africa where you can get as far as Lagos in BusinessFirst but then what do you do? Or southern South America (Chile, etc.) where your options are really Copa or Avianca, the latter of which you will pay a premium for.

What to Do

I have received a couple of e-mails from Houston based flyers asking what they should do in the wake of the changes announced by United. I will be quite honest, I do not know what I am going to do. If you are a leisure traveler who was mileage running on United for miles and you are willing to hunt down United operated rewards, then I would say nothing should change for you. The 57.5k mile business class reward to Europe is still a good deal.

My travel revolves mostly around work and rewards were the bright spot of being on the road. I could redeem for a very nice trip for my wife and I and be happy. Keeping that same focus is probably my best course of action, even though I am tempted to jump ship to American Airlines. One thing holding me back is the impending merger of US Airways and American. We have no idea of what the results of that union are going to be, leaving me uncomfortable devoting a lot of my flying to either of those carriers. Once that becomes more clear, I will start thinking about my options again.

These changes certainly are not the end of the world and like Seth points out, there is an even more impactful devaluation in Northern South America upgrades, but United’s changes to the partner reward chart are certainly a kick in the gut. Sure, other Star Alliance airlines have different reward prices for flights on partners, but MileagePlus was United’s shining star. I have flown them weekly for the nearly the past three years and the product has suffered but I stayed loyal because I do like redeeming my MileagePlus miles and hardly had any problems doing so. I will have to see if that continues.

United has a pre-flight video that talks about reward travel with MileagePlus and how United has a vast network of destinations. They should leave that video but add a disclaimer at the beginning or end that lets people know they will be charged a premium to get to some of those destinations on partners.

Last night as I boarded my flight home from a week of work in New York City, I noticed that the seats on my United Airbus A320 looked a little different. Turns out I was experiencing the newly converted A320 with the Recaro slimline seats with the “comfort” upgrade. These seats are very similar to the Lufthansa NEK seats that have caused a bit of stir in their frequent flyer ranks, the difference being that United’s install has more padding and are supposed to be a more comfortable experience. From my three hour and fifteen minute flight last night, my conclusion are that the seats are a downgrade for passengers.

Recaro Slimline Seat 1

My immediate reaction to the flight last night was a little bit of the knee-jerk, “I hate change!” type but after gathering my thoughts and reading through my notes, my summary is this – the seats are not a one for one swap with regards to passenger comfort when compared to the previous United A320 seats and the new seats are certainly not an improvement. United’s reasoning for these seats was clear from the get-go, they wanted to fit an extra row of seats on the plane and these seats allowed them to do that by moving the rows closer together.

I was seated in row 21, seat A, an exit row window seat, for my flight last night. The first thing I noticed was that the legroom in this particular row had been severly reduced. The previous seat configuration here gave so much legroom that a passenger could barely touch their bag if there was one under the seat in front of them. The exit rows were clearly the losers when it came to where rows were squeezed closer together. The second thing I noticed was the somewhat cheap feeling of the seat. It is flimsy, just like the Lufthansa seat. When you or others in your row move, the lightweight metal frame of the seat is not very forgiving, allowing that movement to be felt by everyone else in the row.

Recaro Slimline Seat 2

The magazine storage has changed so that the magazine and safety briefing card are now in a small plastic divider behind the tray table. I was not surprised by this, I have seen the setup before on Lufthansa and it is actually a smart way to store the magazines. Where the negatives are for the passengers is the standard storage sleeve. What used to be a pocket in the seatback in front of you is now a shortened mesh pocket that is not good for storing much. I typically carry a small bag with my headphones and electrical accessories and between it and an iPad mini, the storage area could barely hold them. The seatback pocket is great for holding things and allowing a passenger to stay in their seat and avoid moving things around in the overhead bin.

Recaro Slimline Seat 3

The tray table on these new seats is noticeably smaller. In the exit rows the tray table used to be held in the armrest, that is no longer the case. I did not see what the setup was for the bulkhead rows but in the exit row, the tray table is now on the seat in front of you. The width has been reduced but I would say the depth is about the same as what the tray tables were when stored in the armrests. Again, the metal connections feel a little flimsy here. I rested my hands holding a book on the table and without really pushing I could feel a significant give in the table.

Lastly, the seat itself and a number of aspects that I find contribute to the overall uncomfortable feel of these seats. A lot of people think it’s the padding alone but with the things I list below, I think it is a group of things that really make these seats a downgrade for passengers.

  1. The comfort package does not add a significant amount of padding. There is definitely more than what Lufthansa offers but it is certainly not a huge improvement. It slightly removes the wood feel of the Lufthansa seats.
  2. The bottom cushion of the seat is a standard width but does not extend as far forward under the passenger’s legs as the previous seats. I would say the bottom seat cushion reminded me more of an exit row seat on a regional jet where they had to reduce its length to comply with safety standards. Thinking about this now I wonder if it is the same case on the A320s, the exit row required the seat cushion to be shorter. If you’ve flown in a regular row (rather than an exit row) on this converted plane I’d love to know if you felt the same way about the bottom cushion.
  3. There is very little lumbar support. In United’s announcement about these seats it was stated that there would be more lumbar support than the seats installed on Lufthansa but if it was there, it definitely was not noticeable. I thought reclining would help a little but it did not.
  4. The armrest width and length has been significantly reduced. The armrest is no longer as long as the seat is deep, ending up around four to five inches shorter. The width suffers greatly as well. I used to be able to share the armrest with a neighbor, each of us taking a little bit of it, but that is no longer possible. My seatmate and I were being polite and trying to do just that on the flight but we both commented that it wasn’t really possible.
  5. Tapering of the back of the seat. Halfway down the seatback, the seat tapers inward, leaving larger gaps between the seats. I have not noticed this before on Lufthansa flights but doing a quick Google Images search shows that it is there as well. My only comment on this is that it leaves you feeling a little more exposed. The armrest used to fill this void now there is nothing there. It is not a huge deal, just really different.
  6. The multidirectional headrest is small but slightly padded. I do not see any real benefit.

All of the above, especially items 1-4, combine to make the seat uncomfortable. Let me explain. Since there is less support under the forward portion of your legs your butt slides forward some so that your back takes on more of a support role, but there is no longer significant lumbar support so you continue to slide forward. To counteract this you have to use your feet to push yourself back into place. This process repeats until finally you leave your feet firmly planted on the floor to keep from sliding forward. In the exit row window seat there is no armrest attached to the seat on the window side leaving you with the middle seat’s outer armrest to try and keep your balance. This leaves you kind of squirming in the seat trying to find a comfortable position. I tried leaning back against the headrest but to keep from sliding into a slouched position I had to plant my feet and push myself into the seat to use the headrest.

Recaro Slimline Seat 4

If you can’t tell from the short novella I have written, I do not find the seat very comfortable. I think it is a downgrade for customers and a poor choice for United to make, no matter the extra revenue United squeezes out of those six extra seats. And I was not the only one making negative remarks, I heard plenty of people comment that they could not find a comfortable position in the seat. My co-worker leaned over and asked me “why have they not removed these old harder seats for those nicer padded ones”. I am serious, that is what I was asked. When I replied that these were new seats and were coming to the Airbus fleet he simply shook his head.

One last item. In the United announcement a comment was made about the entertainment options on these planes. There are none. While it was stated that Wi-Fi would be available, it definitely was not on during my flight last night and I also noticed there are no power ports to charge devices when they do get Wi-Fi on these planes. If they are going to be streaming entertainment via the Wi-Fi then they are going to need a power source of some kind. Also, the pilot announced Channel 9 was available but there is no audio on the plane and thus, no way to listen to air traffic control.

Recaro Slimline Seat 5

All in all the seat is a disappointment and I hope decision makers at United are flying on these planes and noting the issues that customers are having. I cannot imagine sitting in one of these seats for a transcon or even a red-eye, which are bad enough without uncomfortable seats thrown into the mix. The revenue of those six extra seats may look good on an accountant’s business case but it is being earned on passenger’s lower backs and rear ends.

I know this was a lot of words to describe a seat but when you are in one of these things twice a week, every week, it kind of matters.

My Monday mornings are rather mundane. I am up at 4:15am to make sure I get to the airport with plenty of time. Usually, I arrive too early (this has become more common with PreCheck) so I usually buy a cup of coffee and hang out at the gate. Today was just like any other Monday except for two things.

The first, was four women and a baby traveling together. It was, I’m guessing, the grandmother, the daughter, and the two granddaughters along with a great-grandchild. The grandmother had a walker and had trouble moving on her own. When they called for people with disabilities to board first, the grandmother stayed seated. The made the same announcement again, this time with the gate agent looking right at the older woman. Nothing. She sat there and waited. Near the end of boarding I see all four women walking down the jetway. They had waited until the end of boarding so not to hold anyone up. Very thoughtful of them, though I wish an agent would have approached them before boarding to ask if they’d like to get settled before they started regular boarding. Maybe an insignificant observation but I thought it was interesting.

The more random incident occurred about halfway through boarding. A woman walked on-board and stood at the front of the plane, looked at the first class cabin, then exclaimed, “this must be the man’s club”. Sure, every seat in the cabin was occupied by a man, but that had to be the most random thing I have experienced on an airplane in a while. I am not sure if she was joking or what, but the whole thing was odd. I have been seated next to plenty of women in first class so I don’t get the “man’s club” reference. Maybe she missed her upgrade, I don’t know. In any case, it made for an interesting Monday.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to be on the tarmac at IAH for the delivery of United’s new Boeing 787. I took a bunch of photos and have just really started going through them. As I edit them, I’ll add them to this post.

The United Boeing 787 Arrives in Houston

United Boeing 787

Update

A United spokesperson has now confirmed that the remaining 787 deliveries have been delayed and they will be adjusting the schedules as a result. In a bit of good news, they will allow free changes/refunds for these special flights. If you have a 787 flight booked and are affected by the schedule changes you should receive a communication from United. If you do not, give their reservations number a call.

The current status of United’s 787 is that it is still undergoing FAA certification. A few domestic flights were to start in early November but there have been reports and rumors of issues. A few tweets from the AirlineRoute account seem to suggest that some of the November schedule is going to change. United is to receive their second 787 some time next week. If that schedule holds, then some domestic routes will still be operated by the 787. If you’ve booked one of these flights just to fly the 787, check the your reservations after this weekend’s schedule changes take place.

The United Boeing 787 Arrives in Houston

 

 

 

Wow, well it has been a while since I wrote part one of this trip report. I apologize for the long wait, my work schedule has been very hectic the last five months and the updates to this site have suffered as a result.

After a great time in Prague, a beautiful train ride, and a relaxing stay in Berlin, it was time to head back to the real world of work, bills, and a lot less Czech and German in our day to day conversations. But first, we had to get to Stuttgart.

Berlin-Tegel to Stuttgart

When I originally booked the trip, the only upgradeable space from Europe back to the U.S. was out of Stuttgart. This worked out nicely since I had never flown out of Stuttgart and had only been through the city once. Since we had taken the train from Prague to Berlin, I needed a way to get from Berlin to Stuttgart. The intercity express trains were well over EUR 200 per person but Lufthansa had a fare that actually beat their low cost competitor, Air Berlin, out of Tegel. I was hopeful that by the time of our trip, Berlin Brandenburg, the new airport in Berlin, would actually be open. Due to a number of technical problems, that opening has been delayed until next year.

Flying out of Tegel airport has its ups and downs. The major pluses are its distance from the center of Berlin and the cheap, efficient public buses that service it from many points around the city. The negatives are that it is an older airport starting to show its age. Most of the original terminal check-in counters are very crowded and this has only been compounded because of the Brandenburg Airport delay.

Nevertheless, I love flying out of Tegel because it is a step back in time. Check-in and security is done just outside of the gate area. You check-in, walk around the counter, and go through the security checkpoint. The gate area is usually shared between two or three gates and there is a small sandwich, coffee, etc. vendor inside.

Our aircraft from Berlin to Stuttgart

Our aircraft from Berlin to Stuttgart

On the morning of our flight there was some weather around Berlin and it caused a bit of a delay and confusion when checking-in. The lines for check-in were not marked and there were no Lufthansa staff directing passengers on where they should check-in. We stood around for about an hour before they finally opened the check-in desks. My original plan was to check-in, drop our bags at the Lufthansa lounge, and head upstairs to the tarmac observation deck. Due to the delays, I scratched that plan and and just focused on not missing the flight.

Eventually we boarded the Airbus 319 and were off to Stuttgart. I am not sure what it is, but I have found that on just about every flight I take in Europe, I have no problems getting an exit row seat. It seems that Europeans have a certain aversion to sitting in these rows and quite frankly, I have no problem with that. More legroom for me.

So I’ll cut to the chase, this was a rather uneventful flight that lasted just over an hour. Individually wrapped cinnamon and raisin danishes were handed out along with a drink of your choice. The flight attendants even came through offering seconds of the danishes if anyone was interested (are you listening U.S. based carriers?).

Breakfast form Berlin to Stuttgart

Lufthansa Breakfast – Berlin to Stuttgart

Stuttgart

We arrived in Stuttgart around 1pm and took the regional train into town, which takes about 45 minutes. We were staying at Le Meridien, which after figuring out how to get out of the train station, was only a ten minute walk away. It is a functional hotel, that’s all I can really say about it. The nicest thing in the room was the bathroom. One note, do not expect an upgrade at Le Meridien Stuttgart. As a Starwood Platinum I was given what had to be one the least impressive rooms on the property and there were a large number of rooms available, per the Starwood website.

Church in Stuttgart

After dropping off our bags we decided to walk around Stuttgart. The first thing you will notice is that there is not a whole lot to do in Stuttgart. There are a few churches and historical sights around the center but other than that, there is a large outdoor shopping area and not much else. We wandered around the back streets, found a nice restaurant and had dinner before calling it a night.

Stuttgart to Newark Liberty International

The day we left started way too early. The Stuttgart-Newark flight leaves at 9:30am and not knowing what security would be like, we left the hotel at 6:30am. The train pulled into Stuttgart airport at 7:15am and we searched for the United check-in counters. The signage is not clear, so if you are flying United out of Stuttgart just head to the far side of the terminal away from the train station.

Only two check-in agents were working so the process took a while, even though we were in BusinessFirst. After twenty minutes in line, we were checked-in and headed to the security checkpoint, which was much faster than check-in. Like Berlin-Tegel, Stuttgart has an observation deck, this one complete with seven or eight aircraft sitting there. Due to the crappy weather, we had to skip visiting the deck (I may make a trip back to Stuttgart airport just to check it out) but we grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for the gate.

Immigration control is done just before the gate area and after you are stamped out of the country you undergo another security screening, mostly consisting of questions about whether or not you checked your own luggage.

Only a few minutes of sitting in the gate area and the United contract staff called for boarding. Onboard we were offered a beverage before our departure and I went with the sparkling wine. Not United’s best, that’s for sure. Not too long after and we were up in the air and on our way to Newark.

United Boeing 757-200 BusinessFirst

Our home for the 9 hour flight from Stuttgart to Newark

The crew was expeditious in their lunch service. The starter was a cold piece of cured meat, pickle, and mandarin orange. Definitely too much sweetness, which would be a theme of the meal. My main course choice was the steak served with potatoes and vegetables and a sweet sauce. The steak was tender and the potatoes were well flavored but it was overpowered by the sweet sauce. The cheese course was next and was a bit better than our flight from Chicago to Brussels. The flight attendants portioned our cheese selections from the large portions on their cart and gave us our choice in crackers and other sides. My understanding as to why the cheese is pre-proportioned on the United aircraft that have Global First is a function of galley size. They simply do not have the space for the cheese course. Last up was the sundae. I went with my normal toppings of chocolate and a cherry.

After lunch and dessert it was time for a five hour nap and a movie before the pre-arrival service. The crew left out baskets of snacks and gave each BusinessFirst a bottle of water. They also made occasional passes through the cabin making sure that everyone was taken care of.

Main Course from Stuttgart to Newark

Steak, potatoes, vegetables, and a sweet sauce.

The pre-arrival service was described as a chicken “bouquet”. It was essentially chicken, cheese, and dough. The best part of it was the fact that it was served with a nice selection of fruit (watermelon, strawberries, etc.) and a vegetable salad with a dressing that had great flavor.

Not long after the pre-arrival service was served we started our descent into the New York area and 45 minutes later we landed at Newark-Liberty International Airport. Service wise, this flight was great. The crew did not spend large amounts at the front of the cabin chit-chatting, instead they did their service and took short breaks but still made sure to check on passengers. The food was a bit of a disappointment. I am not sure if it is the catering service used in Stuttgart but the food was entirely too sweet. The food itself is a little of a let down. United should really look at refining the BusinessFirst food options.

Pre-Arrival Snack - Stuttgart to Newark

Pre-Arrival Snack – “Chicken Bouquet”, fruit, and vegetable salad on United BusinessFirst.

Newark to Austin

There is not a lot to say about this segment, a standard coach flight. It was clear a few days before this flight that we were not going to be upgraded but we at least had exit row seats. Customs and immigration was very fast and we made it through Newark security rather quickly. The Boeing 737-500s that United uses on this route are a disappointment; No in-flight entertainment, rather uncomfortable seats, and very small overhead bins make it an unpleasant experience. United is retiring these jets though, slowly but surely.

Conclusion

This was a much needed vacation and I enjoyed most of United’s hard product (the seat, the new amenity kits, etc.) but pieces of it could use some work. The seats on the 3-class 767-300s do not have a lot of storage space and the cubby where your feet go is too small. Specific items of the soft product need work. The food offerings across the different aircraft types needs to be more standardized and in general, the food items need to be improved. With the other legacy U.S. carriers making sweeping changes to their international and domestic products, United is quickly falling to the rear of the pack.

I appreciate the United route network, the availability of reward seats, and plenty of lie-flat seats to longhaul destinations so I will continue to fly them when I can. I do want to see them work to continue making their inflight product much more attractive to business and leisure travelers.

I was lucky enough to be upgraded on Monday morning between Houston and New York-La Guardia. Breakfast options were cereal (Honey Nut Cheerios) and an omelet, broccoli cheese potato, and sausage. Both options came with strawberry yogurt and fruit.

United First Domestic Breakfast

I would love to see United spend a little more money to provide a better fruit selection. Right now it’s mostly pineapple and melon, with a few grapes and a single (or in this case a half) strawberry. Give me some raspberries, bananas, etc. It is a little change, but would definitely make the breakfast more interesting.

On my recent flight between Washington-Dulles and Tokyo’s Narita airport I encountered something that I do not completely understand. The flight arrives into Tokyo at 3:25pm, 13 hours after leaving Washington. About an hour and a half before arrival a meal is served. In business class it looks like this:

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It’s a not so appetizing breakfast (more on the not so appetizing part at a later date).

What I don’t get is why United is serving breakfast for a middle of the day arrival. Sure, most people sleep for part of the flight, but I find breakfast when I’m arriving a few hours before dinner to be a bit odd. Even more strange is that Seth, who was on the same flight, said they received a noodle lunch dish in coach.

Any ideas on why United does this? Do other airlines serve breakfast on USA-Asia flights that arrive in the middle of the day?