I was travelling back to Dublin on Sunday, from San Francisco to LA, on to Washington Dulles and thence to Dublin. Or so I thought; United had other plans for me.
The day before when I checked-in the flight was leaving from a 92 gate (read more in the other United post)
A totally uneventful leg with the exception that I noticed that United seems to print a time on their boarding passes for boarding and then to board five minutes after this. It happened on every flight I realised and find this a little odd. When I worked out that the time they actually board is when old-United used to board for the specific aircraft time it seemed to explain things.
We arrived a little early and parked at Terminal 8 at LAX which used to be for commuter planes only.
This flight was slightly delayed out of Houston and was showing a 20 minute delay when I got to LA. So, after a coffee in a packed United Club in Terminal 6, I went to the gate. Boarding started with plenty of time to get us away on time but seemed to take forever. The 737-900 had the new Boeing interior I had seen during the MegaDO in Seattle and the overheads were very roomy. Easily taking 4 rolleraboards side by side.
However, boarding, as I say took longer and longer. Towards the end, approaching an hour after planned departure time, a customer boarded explained he was flying to Dublin, and promptly got off when they could not guarantee his connection. I spoke up and it became clear we would be touch and go for all the 10pm from Dulles connections – London, Manchester, Dublin, Sao Paulo, Rio etc. I had already looked at the direct LAX-LHR flight (for I was supposed to be connecting in Dublin to get home), and saw only one or two open seats so I stayed where I was.
AS I sat in my nice comfy seat, I realised that the plane had no entertainment. And I mean none – no seat back videos, no TV, no drop down screens for shared viewing. Nothing. How, I wonder can a brand new plane, flying over 2,000 miles had no entertainment? Welcome to the New United.
The service was impeccable with the crew making a real effort on service and they were kind, jokey and friendly. Odd, I noticed that my two best flights were old CO crews with the grumpy ones being from old United!
We landed at a little after 22:10 and my connection was at 22:02 so by right United need only have held the plane for 20 minutes to get me (and the other passengers) on. Of course arrival at the gate was faced by two agents chatting and so I knew the plane had gone. Whilst on the ground I check the UA mobile app and found that I had been rebooked the next day, via Newark, in Coach with a seat in row 35. OK, lovely option United but not mine! There were business seats available on that flight I confirmed with the app and had no idea of why the downgrade happened.
The Gate Agents suggested I join the 100 strong queue at Customer Service for rebooking. ‘No thanks – is United Club still open?’ I asked. Try the one at C8, the Sao Paulo is delayed and they are staying open!
Off I ran to C8 and encountered the best United employee I could have asked to meet.
I explained the problem, she looked at the computer, we cursed SHARES (United’s reservation system – imported from CO and very out of date) together. She agreed that the booking they had made didn’t work and when I asked whether I could go to London the next day on the daytime, she found space and rebooked me. In fact she did more than that – she had to call the SHARES helpline when it wouldn’t work – the question from the helpline agent ‘How far is Dublin from London?’ seemed odd but I guessed there was some rule about being able to book to nearby airports so I replied ‘150 miles’, ignoring the issue of the Irish Sea. Eventually I left with a booking for UA922 for yesterday to London, two meal vouchers and having used one of my ‘Outperform Recognition’ certs on the UA mobile app. I have to say this agent was just superb, efficient, kind and helpful.
Whilst all of the code tying in to Shares was going on I check the Hyatt app and found that they had a room for $169 and so I called and booked it. Review to follow.
As she finished up my booking she also told me she was going off shift in 5 minutes and that she was walking to the main terminal so if i waited she would show me where to get the shuttle bus. Is that great service or what!
Well of course, having got to the hotel around midnight I was pretty tired but checked in and printed my boarding pass in the lobby of the Hyatt Dulles.
Up early the next morning I negotiated the minefield that is the TSA at Dulles – 40 minutes from joining the queue to getting out of security is just not acceptable. Coupled with a minute examination of my watch – someone had been watching too many Mission Impossible movies me thinks.
I’ll skip the interesting moment in the C8 lounge when I noticed three large gentlemen standing around – who stands in a lounge ?- and then I realised they were some form of protection detail as they escorted their ward out of the club for his flight – very 24 – all in formation and thoroughly professional.
Got to the gate at Boarding Time – only to be told the plane was late in so they would need a little extra time. This wasn’t true as it had been sitting there since the previous afternoon so I don’t know why they make this stuff up. The pilot was a replacement as our original had called in sick.
On board, the London based crew, was what I expect from United internationally. More friendly than domestic.
All was well until we pushed back and they wanted to use the engines to go forward. 90 minutes later we were back at the end of the runway having done a jaunt back to the gate, a repair, and all we needed was final weight and balance numbers. United had allowed 4 passengers to board whilst we were back at the gate for the repair. Ironic they would do this but not hold my previous nights Dublin flight.
Off we left 90 mins late with an arrival time of 23:00 at LHR, so making up a little time. Crew were helpful and efficent. The videos worked and the food was tasty with a choice of a hot brunch or lunch service. This is new from the last time I did the daytime trip and very welcome with the other passengers choosing one or the other. The lunch choice was 4 different entrees plus the brunch – well done United. A cheese burger was served a hour prior to landing.
Of course we came in to gate 249 which is the furthest possible from immigration at LHR Terminal 1. 15 minutes later I was through passport control (no queue), out of the baggage hall and in to waiting taxi. Home a little after midnight. Sleepy.
Pretty much the same as my first day with United – some good, some bad but I suppose I am home and that has to be a blessing. The next trip across the Atlantic is with Air New Zealand for which I hold high hopes!