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San Francisco to Paris BusinessFirst and UnitedFirst, featuring medical drama

San Francisco to Paris BusinessFirst and UnitedFirst, featuring medical drama

Old Apr 16, 10, 12:32 am
  #1  
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San Francisco to Paris BusinessFirst and UnitedFirst, featuring medical drama

It’s a mixed blessing to have my family in so many remote locations. My sister and her family live in Paris, and I do not get to see them often. It so happened that my parents were going for a week, and I decided that it was worth the trip---albeit for just a weekend.

As is typical of BusinessFirst mileage upgrades, it’s hard to get a seat on the domestic portion. I was waitlisted on the San Francisco-Houston flight for several months. A few days out, first class was listed as “full.”

I was already going through the five stages of grief about my forthcoming flight in economy class, when I received a “we weren’t able to upgrade you” email. Rub it in, why don’t you? A second email arrived just a few hours later saying that I’d been upgraded as a platinum. I think this was all a ploy to make me appreciate the upgrade even more.

SFO
The ride to the airport was only 20 minutes. There was no line to check in , and everyone was in a cheery mood. There was perhaps a 15 minute wait at security (Elite line.) The TSA was too busy barking orders to get anything done. Fortunately, I was not subjected to any additional screening.

Boarding was punctual and reasonably orderly for a full 737-800. They were offering VDBs, particularly for the five passengers headed to Paris: $300, and a ticket on the Air France nonstop. For me, that would mean flying in Tempo and losing Continental miles. No thank you.

San Francisco-Houston/Intercontinental
Continental 1444
2 April 2010
Seat 3A
737-800

Once on board, I settled into 3A. There was no DirectTV nor in-seat power, so I spent much of the time reading and made a few futile attempts to do work.

Main choices were eggs (not otherwise specified) or cereal.
The set-up (no surprise) included berry yogurt and a fruit plate.

The Continental breakfast is a bit on the sweet side: cinnamon roll, pineapple, juice, sugary yogurt, and sugared cereal. Can I pay for insulin with Continental Currency?

Perhaps for health reasons, there were no cookies.

Houston
I hid in the President’s Club. I was quite productive there: I was on PubMed the whole time.

The food remains a sad feature of the “Best Lounge in the USA.” No complaints about the Jack cheese and crackers, but I think they could do better.

Houston/Intercontinental-Paris/Charles de Gaulle
Continental 32
2 April 2010
Seat 1A
767-400

Due to a very light load, boarding was quick and friendly. I was astonished to have the entire first row of the aircraft to myself!
After a very long taxi, we pushed off and made our way up the Midwest. I finished dinner somewhere over Dayton.

The food was excellent: the same meal I’d eaten in December. Poblano soup, coconut shrimp, vegetable egg roll, the good salad with terra strips, and tamale chicken. I inhaled that meal. I’m still convinced that the soup and the sauce on the chicken are one in the same.

The crew were great: laid-back, friendly, smiling, and they seemed to enjoy working with each other.

Despite two Camparis and a huge dinner, I didn’t sleep all that well. I’d had my hopes up, considering I hadn’t slept well the night before. Oh well.

The Emergency
During one of my moments of “twilight” sleep, I heard the crew ask if there are “any medical personnel on board.” I’ve never had this call before.

I hoped that someone else would respond. But I heard no “ding.” And I wasn’t wearing my scrubs, so I’d need to change clothes first.

I took a deep breath, tried to remember the advanced cardiac life support algorithms, and rang my call button. Two flight attendants materialized out of nowhere. I explained that I am a nurse practitioner, and they scurried me to the back of the plane. “I’ll need a copay and her Anthem/Blue Cross card,” I explained (I’m kidding.)

The ill passenger was a 24-year-old woman with active multidrug resistant tuberculosis, about 8.5 month’s pregnant, with severe gestational diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and a recent rabid coyote bite. I established IV access using a swizzle stick, and started pumping Bloody Mary Mix.

“I need soda water, stat!” I exclaimed. Everyone rallied, and we delivered a healthy 9-pound infant.

I may have exaggerated slightly.

The emergency resolved, and I went back to sleep. The purser and I agreed that she could come wake me up if things deteriorated again.

My colleagues and family have all asked if I “got” anything from Continental in exchange for medical services. The answer is no, but I also didn’t ask for anything. I was already in business class, the sick passenger thanked me, several crew individually thanked me… I don’t think there was any need to do more.

The remainder of the nine-hour flight passed quickly, except for the very end. The initial descent started 60 minutes out, and there was a seemingly endless final approach. Once on the ground, we made a prolonged taxi to
CDG-1.

Fortunately, immigration was perhaps only a five to ten minute wait, and bags came less than five minutes later. Mine was the first off.

CDG Arrival Lounge
Continental’s arrival lounge facility is at the Sheraton in Terminal 2. I had to go that way anyway to catch the RER, so it was a reasonable detour.

I was assigned to a conference room(!) There was a large round table, marker board, and so on. Behind the conference room was a small bathroom and shower (hand towels only.)

Maybe I could have used the conference room for a grand rounds presentation about the inflight medical emergency.
It was an odd experience, but I really did feel better after showering and changing clothes.

Paris
It was just what I hoped for: going to the park, a long walk down the Champs Elysee, a walk through the 16th. But—above-all, I got to watch cartoons with my niece and nephew, drink too much with my sister and brother-in-law, and lounge around.

CDG Departure
My last flight out of Europe was the first day after the Underwear Bomber, so I was prepared for draconian security.

There was no line at the United Check-In, and the ICTS woman asked the same questions they’ve been asking my entire life.

After some computer problems, a friendly agent printed up boarding passes, bag tags, and invited me to use the lounge.

Passport control was backed-up for ten minutes, but this was just due to one very confused Thai woman.

I elected to use the Star Alliance Lounge, which was dark, but otherwise okay. It gave me a chance to check my email, have a cup of coffee, and get ready.

There was no line at all for security, and it was completely painless. The staff were cheery and polite: no frisking, no weird rules.

There were massive queues and tables set up for secondary screening. Way over in the corner, there was a special entrance for United First.

All of the staff were just sitting around. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “I like it when they’re busy bothering others.”

To my surprise, a friendly woman asked me the usual questions, and that was it. No bag inspection, no frisk, nothing. I walked right on the plane.

Paris/Charles de Gaulle - Washington
United 915
5 April 2010
Seat 3J
777-200


I was prepared to be underwhelmed, and this was an appropriate expectation.

The airplane was run-down, dirty in parts. The seats didn’t seem to match the cabin.

I think I was the only revenue passenger in the cabin; two guys were very obviously sky marshalls (they made no effort to disguise themselves.) And another passenger was clearly an employee.

The crew were not mean or hostile, but they very obviously didn’t want to be there. Service was a matter of “going through the motions,” perhaps praying that everyone would be asleep.

The seat was okay. I’m sure that the new United First seat is better. This was a somewhat hard seat, easy to slide off. I managed to hoard a bunch of blankets and pillows, which helped.

The food was the biggest sore point. It was sad at best. It was indifferently-prepared, lukewarm, and looked grim on the tray.

Continental’s BusinessFirst features gleaming carts with stainless steel trays of hot hors d’ouevres, lively and interesting mains, two separate carts with cheese, fruit, and ice cream (or pastries.)

The pre-arrival service was especially sad: a “pesto risotto” that looked a lot like cat food. It came with a cold roll and some unexciting fruit. I missed the Drei Meister chocolates from Continental!

To be fair, I slept well.

Dulles
What a mess! The immigration line took close to 30 minutes, featuring a variety of screaming immigration officers and bewildered passengers. As a consequence, I’ve applied for Global Entry and have an interview next week.

The immigration officer acted like I was Osama Bin Laden on an expired Bahamian passport. He spent at least three minutes typing away. I assume he was on Facebook, changing his status to, “I hate everybody.”
My bag was sent to the wrong FIS facility. After one hour and forty minutes (thereby missing a rendez-vous with another FlyerTalker,) United located my bag.

The United agent was actually sympathetic and thoughtful. He re-accommodated me on a later flight, ensuring that I would be in first class.

Customs was even more disturbing, featuring a major power trip by a Customs agent. He made a huge fuss in the middle of the arrivals hall, after discovering some fruit in the hands of an elderly couple. “How long has THIS been in your bag?” he shouted. “Do you have anything illegal, like narcotics?” These people were clearly in their 70s/80s, and it was the middle of the baggage claim area. I hope that couple is in jail by now; thank goodness that Customs officer is protecting all of us.

The TSA was lots more fun. I had to undergo hand explosive testing before entering the line. Note that I had just disembarked from a plane that had not exploded.

Washington – San Francisco
United 975
5 April 2010
Seat 9E
777-200

When I arrived at the gate, I approached the counter to obtain a boarding card. The agent had also joined the Facebook group, I hate everyone. “Ugh!” she said, “You don’t belong in first class. I’m putting you back in business.”

It was too late to argue, and I really didn’t care that much. But I was sort of shocked by her judgmental tone. Did I not belong in first class for moral reasons?

Once on board, I found a much cheerier cabin crew. In fact, they were really all quite nice and attentive (and the women, very obviously San Francisco, were particularly attractive.)

Dinner consisted of a packet of warmed nuts, decent salad, undetermined meat, very good spinach, very good potatoes, and a choice of warm rolls. A really good warm cookie followed later in the flight (considerably better than Continental’s cookies.)

The IFE unit at my seat did not work, so I didn’t bother. I assume that I didn’t deserve to watch movies at the request of the gate agent.
We arrived on time at SFO, and my bag was the first off the belt.


Conclusions

Continental BusinessFirst beats United First
Although both were the older generation seats (767-400 and 777 respectively), Continental just has a better experience. The concierges, the flight attendants, the food, and the entertainment are significantly better. The planes are cleaner, and the airport staff are astoundingly better. Please don’t merge!

Dulles is to be Avoided
It was a mess. Customs and immigration were both nightmares, my bag went missing, and there was a prevailing angry attitude.

My next few trips are some transcons, and I’ll be sticking to Continental.
Mats is offline  
Old Apr 16, 10, 4:11 am
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Very well written. Thank you - really enjoyed your writing style.

Question:

1. Did you really deliver a baby during the flight? (I couldn't quite tell if you were joking about that part of it)...

2. Was the IV part for real re: Bloody Mary mix?...

I had to laugh out loud re: insulin and CO currency -

I am diabetic, and just started on insulin this week....(yes - it does suck)...

The UA agent re: IAD-SFO just sounds horrible...

Thanks again - really enjoyed your report.
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Old Apr 16, 10, 6:32 am
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Amusing report.

I assume he was on Facebook, changing his status to, I hate everybody.
That sums up most of the TSA.
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Old Apr 16, 10, 7:36 am
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Originally Posted by Mats View Post
Paris/Charles de Gaulle - Washington
United 915
5 April 2010
Seat 3J
777-200


I was prepared to be underwhelmed, and this was an appropriate expectation. The airplane was run-down, dirty in parts. The seats didn’t seem to match the cabin. I think I was the only revenue passenger in the cabin...
Thanks for the excellent and entertaining trip report Mats.
But unless you got a great deal on your UA First ticket, why on earth did you choose UA? You have to connect to get home anyway unless you do AF. Why not a great airline like LH through FRA or MUC?

Last edited by SFO777; Apr 16, 10 at 8:27 am
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Old Apr 16, 10, 8:10 am
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Excellent Love your style!
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Old Apr 16, 10, 9:16 am
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Great report.. I also have had to respond to a medical emergency on a recent ZRH-ORD flight where an elderly passenger was having shortness of breath and chest pains.. All ended well as she was transported to a local facility once we landed at OHARE....
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Old Apr 16, 10, 9:33 am
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No, I didn't really deliver a baby. I was just being sarcastic. It's been a long time since my labor and delivery rotation, and I'd rather not revisit that experience.

I was on United because I was supposed to fly with some family members. They ended up changing their tickets, but I was stuck at that point.
Mats is offline  
Old Apr 16, 10, 3:57 pm
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Mats, that was a fun one to read -- but regarding the ill passenger's condition, am I missing something? Okay the baby delivery part was in jest -- but what about all her other conditions? Wouldn't that combo actually prevent her from flying? I mean, the active TB part -- jest too, right? (I hope...)
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Old Apr 16, 10, 8:40 pm
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Sorry... medical sarcasm there. The emergency was relatively minor. She didn't have TB or anything nearly that dramatic, as far as I could know.
Mats is offline  
Old Apr 16, 10, 9:54 pm
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Whew -- glad that's cleared up then. Otherwise I could imagine some poor PAX on that flight breaking out in a cold sweat on reading your report about someting contagious like that; may we also assume for the poor lady's sake that the rabies part was also a little, shall we say, literary license on your part hopefully; hey, maybe she only really had -- well, maybe you should clarify for once and for all so we won't worry...
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Old Apr 16, 10, 10:22 pm
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Originally Posted by Mats View Post
He spent at least three minutes typing away. I assume he was on Facebook, changing his status to, I hate everybody.
Is that what they're doing? The same thing often happens to me... a quick passport swipe, a double-take glance at the screen, and then lots of frowning and periodic typing. I figured the agent was IMing with a child or spouse.

David

PS: Bravura report! Many thanks.
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Old Apr 17, 10, 9:36 am
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Sh!ts and giggles all round - love your style. Didn't put me to sleep which was a bonus
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Old Apr 20, 10, 9:50 am
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I think it can be safely assumed that everybody working at Dulles belongs in "I hate everybody" facebook group!

Nice TR, thanks for sharing.
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