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The world is round! To HKT and SIN via PVG, ZRH and FRA on UA,LH,LX F TG,SQ C & 3K Y

The world is round! To HKT and SIN via PVG, ZRH and FRA on UA,LH,LX F TG,SQ C & 3K Y

Old Feb 19, 12, 12:17 pm
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Location: USA
Programs: Alaska MVP, Marriott Lifetime Titanium (United Silver), Hilton Gold
Posts: 766
Thumbs up The world is round! To HKT and SIN via PVG, ZRH and FRA on UA,LH,LX F TG,SQ C & 3K Y

I’d been slowly moving credit card points into Aeroplan whenever promos were announced with the hopes of saving up for a big trip, so when the devaluation was announced last April I felt like it was time to book. I already had about 60,000 miles so to get up to the 240,000 needed for two tickets I transferred in some SPG and Amex points and redeemed a Marriott travel package (a week in a hotel and 120,000 miles for 270,000 Marriott points, one of the best deals out there, especially if you’re earning 25+ points per dollar spent at Marriotts). I’ll confess that it took a round of change fees (and pesky fuel surcharges), more time on KVS than I care to admit, and more time on hold with Aeroplan than I care to remember, but the final routing got me where I wanted to go, and when, and in style.

If you’re interested, my prior reports are:

I’m sure I’ve probably provided more detail than any normal person could care about, so skim the text, look at the pictures, and enjoy the report!

December 23, 2011
United 675, SEA-SFO
757-200, N561UA
Seat: 4F

The 7am flight from Seattle to San Francisco was part of my Monday morning routine earlier in the year but I don’t think I’d ever looked forward to it as much as I was today. My fiancée and I arrived at SeaTac a few minutes after 5 to ensure we had enough time to address any issues related to visa-free transit through Shanghai. Other than the agent’s insisting on tagging the bag all the way through to Phuket (despite an overnight in Shanghai, and the fact that all bags from United go through customs in Shanghai), check-in was fairly smooth. Although the Friday before Christmas is usually a peak travel day, not many people had got themselves out of bed at o’dark early and so the trip through security in SEA was pretty smooth and after a short train ride we settled into a light breakfast in United’s “dungeon lounge” in the basement of SeaTac’s North Satellite

Self-service food and beverage area in the “dungeon lounge”

Cereal and OJ in the United Club

Despite the nickname “dungeon lounge” I don’t think the Seattle United Club is that much worse than your average ex-RCC. Sure, windows would be nice, and the amenities aren’t up to international lounge standards, but the space is comfortable and rarely crowded, the staff is friendly, and a Raisin Bran Crunch and an OJ a good way to warm up my stomach for a long day of United’s finest catering.

About 45 minutes before departure we made our way up to the departure level, where the delayed 6am flight to Houston was boarding from the same gate the to-be delayed 7am ex-CO flight to Houston was leaving from and chuckled to the numerous announcements of “If you’re on the 7am flight, do not board this aircraft” until our 757 down the coast was ready to load up.

As domestic aircraft go, the 757 is near the top of my list. The simple pleasure of turning left on boarding puts it above the smaller single-aisle planes in my book and the large first class cabins mean I haven’t missed an upgrade on the aircraft since I made 1K. I’d flown this particular aircraft twice before, from LGA to ORD in 2008 and ORD to SEA in 2010.

As we settled in to 4D and 4F, jackets were collected, pre-departure OJ was offered, and we pushed back from the gate on time. After a short taxi to the north end of the airfield, we made a U-turn and the 757 rocketed off of 16L bound straight for San Francisco. When I’d been on this flight previously, the sun would be up well before takeoff but on this shortest day of the year it was still pitch black and it wasn’t until we’d leveled off and were enjoying a warm scone and hot coffee that the first rays of the sun began to peak through the windows on the left side of the aircraft.

What’s that trying to escape from the paper bag? A yummy United scone

This flight is blocked at slightly longer than the other SEA-SFO flights as it’s due in during the SFO morning rush hour and is often delayed during foggy season, but this is a beautiful winter morning and we made a nice near-simultaneous landing on 28L as a company A320 landed to our right, and pulled into the gate about 15 minutes early.
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:18 pm
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United International First Class SFO-PVG

December 23, 2011
United 857, SFO-PVG
777-200, N229UA
Seat: 1H

The early arrival into San Francisco meant we had nearly four hours before our connection was due to leave (in fact, our outbound aircraft was still a couple hours out of SFO on its way in from KIX). Oh well, better to have too much time at the airport than not enough. And better still when you have access to a pleasant lounge.

And yes, the United First Class Lounge in SFO is quite respectable. We were promptly welcomed into the lounge and descended to the departure level where great views of the nose of an Asia-bound 747 awaited us. Although this is one of the busiest times of day for United at SFO, perhaps the holiday had scared away most of the travelers who would usually be in the lounge as there were never more than a dozen or so people in the lounge. I used the long layover to take a shower (interestingly, United provides shower amenity kits which look like the first class onboard kits but have more shower-oriented items…I’m surprised these weren’t victims of a budget cut and subsequent replacement with a single dispenser of combined shampoo/body wash during the bankruptcy), clear out some emails, book my next trip, and snack from the ample selection of light snacks. While a somewhat picked over selection of breakfast items was out when we arrived, by 11am the buffet had been fully restocked with lunch-oriented nibbles:

Mini-sandwiches, cold cuts, fruit, and yummy pasta salad

Shaky view of sushi rolls, chicken skewers, and poached salmon

It’s not the FCT, but the IFL is a comfortable place to have a drink and light snack before a long flight. Well done United, I didn’t know you had it in you!

Boarding was called about 45 minutes before departure and by the time we’d gone upstairs, walked over to the gate, and gone back downstairs, was well underway (it would be cool if United could sneak people onto planes directly from the IFL by escorting people through the “arrivals” hallways). Fortunately, there was no wait at the premium boarding door and soon we were walking through 1L and onto the 777 that would be our home for the next 13 hours. After weeks of anxiety about an aircraft substitution, the online seat map held up and we’d lucked out with the new first class cabin:

United’s new First Class Suite

First class seat backs – note the holes for the shoulder belt

I feel short

Two real (not airplane) pillows and a decent blanket were on the seats when we arrived, along with headphones and amenity kits. The kits were nice looking but not quality feeling, although they did have some useful items inside including scope and Purell, which puts them well above United’s business class kits. As we settled in coats were taken, PDBs offered, and menus were distributed. We had a bit of a wait at the gate before departure so lunch orders were taken while we were still at the gate. Let’s see what we’ve got:



Jumbo lump crab cakes served warm with béarnaise sauce

Red Rock Seafood Bisque

Fresh seasonal greens with dried cranberries,
blue cheese, walnuts and croutons

Served with your choice of dressing:
Lite Ranch
Roasted Garlic Red Wine Vinaigrette

main course

Roasted garlic and herb compound butter,
mashed red skin potatoes with green beans
and carrot bâtonnets

Red pepper sauce, cheese polenta
with shiitake mushroom and ratatouille

Red pepper rice pilaf and asparagus
with sun-dried tomatoes

Crab roe sauce, cilantro rice
and Asian-style vegetable medley

Steamed rice is available upon request

to finish

With your choice of sundae toppings

Served with seedless grapes and crackers

BelGioioso Creamy Gorgonzola – a soft, blue-green veined
cheese that has a full earthy flavor and creamy texture. It was
awarded a Gold medal at the 2008 World Cheese Awards

Sartori Bellavitano – an original artisan cheese crafted
in Wisconsin. It has a unique flavor profile reminiscent
of an aged Cheddar balanced by a full-flavored Parmesan.

Montchevré Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Chévre – made
from hormone and preservative free goat’s milk. It has a clean
and tangy flavor melded with the light sweetness
of sun-dried tomato and basil.

Graham’s is one of the top names in Port
and its Late Bottled Vintage Port is intense, powerful,
chocolate-rich and delicious with our cheese selection.

alternatives and snacks


After about a 20 minute delay, we pushed back and were quickly airborne and out over the Pacific. Hot nuts were offered, along with glasses of water, and orders for a beverage of your choice. Soon thereafter, the flight attendants presented hot towels on a steamy, dry-ice enhanced tray and I started watching some trashy movie on United’s rather decent IFE (the screen is great, the entertainment selection is pretty average) as tables were set for lunch.

Now we’re flying!

Crab cake appetizer

Seafood bisque


Chicken with polenta

Ice cream sundae

United’s food is by no means fancy, but the meal was fine. My girlfriend is a somewhat selective eater but loves crab cakes, so it was nice to start off with one of her favorite items. The soup that followed had the odd paper napkin presentation, but was tasty. The salad was generous, and definitely a cut above United’s sad domestic first class salads, but a tad overdressed for my taste. The main was a bit more disappointing and a bit more typical airplane food as it was slightly dry and could’ve used another ramekin or two of sauce. My girlfriends fish was definitely the better option. For dessert, I always enjoy an ice cream sundae, and even airplane air can’t ruin them, but I would open that the “new” United realizes that in a proper international first class the service would be cheese and ice cream rather than cheese or ice cream. Although I can’t really complain, I was stuffed.

As my first film ended I reclined the seat to the fully flat position and tried to get some rest. The suite is by no means the largest or most private seat in the sky but I believe it’s got a lot going for it. There’s a good amount of space, a sizeable bed, and a large screen. The addition of a duvet or mattress pad for sleeping would certainly help, but I was able to get two hours of rest without much effort. When I awoke, I made my way into the galley where a variety of snacks were laid out. In addition to the usual United snacks (I think that United Airlines is single-handedly keeping the Pop Chip people in business as they seem to appear on every flight I’m on) the flight attendants had put out the leftover cheese course as I think the entire cabin had opted for the sundae. I assembled a plate for myself and made my way back to the seat to dig further into the IFE selection.

Mid-flight cheese course

After relaxing and dozing on and off for a few more hours, I finally realized how long this flight actually was. Sure, I’d done 14+ hour flights before, but those were almost always red-eyes with the assumption that you leave in the afternoon/evening, sleep, and arrive at your destination in the morning. I’d never done a flight this long where the sun never really went down. In fact, while our route took us way far north (just south of Anchorage, across Siberia, and North of Harbin, China) during the darkest days of northern winter, the sun never settled completely below the horizon, it just sort of settled down and let off a light glow for much of the flight giving those on the left side of the aircraft a 6+ hour sunset until it set completely just as we got near Shanghai.


The Russian east coast

About an hour and a half out of Shanghai the second service began with another round of hot towels. While the lunch service in first class was definitely a cut above what you’d get in business class, the choices for the second service were the same as I was offered on SFO-PEK in C six months earlier.


With egg noodles

With yogurt

Stir-fry snack

The presentation (on one tray, served all at once) and the quality (unimpressive) were the same as business class also. You’d think that two hot options wouldn’t be too much to ask for in First. You’d also think that if you’re serving lunch food, you wouldn’t serve it with a croissant. Obviously I don’t think like United on this one.

Trays were cleared about an hour before landing and preparations for arrival began with a final hot towel service. While United crews tend to have a bad reputation, the service on this flight was very professional and courteous with drinks regularly refilled. Although there were certainly some non-revs in “employee class” they in no way distracted from my enjoyment of the flight. In fact, I’d say I enjoyed the palpable excitement the cabin and crew had for the upcoming holiday over the general monotony of business travel.

A relatively short flight time made up for our slow start out of SFO. We flew past the airport, made a big left turn, landed from the south, and after a long taxi made it to the gate just about on-time. My girlfriend was able to obtain entry to China for 24 hours without a visa with minimal hassle (just showing our onward tickets) and after a brief wait for baggage we were in a taxi speeding towards the city center.

Last edited by gba; Feb 19, 12 at 2:23 pm
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:19 pm
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In Shanghai

We only had 23 hours in Shanghai (so it wasn’t technically a stopover…) and I was able to find a reasonable rate at the Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden hotel. The price was reasonable and for a one night stay it did the job quite nicely (although if I were going back for longer I’d try and stay at the JW). Since it was a short stay, I’ll just list what I liked and disliked:

View of Shanghai from the lounge at 5am on Christmas morning

- Location (~10 minute walk from bund, in Chinese area)
- Nice Lounge with a very good view
- Friendly, helpful staff

- Food in platinum amenity was unidentifiable
- Air conditioning didn’t work upon arrival (but quickly fixed at 10pm)

My girlfriend had never been to Asia before so we spent our brief day in Shanghai walking around so she’d have a tour of “real Asia” before going to Singapore (aka “fake Asia”). Then, we returned from the hotel to get our belongings and caught a taxi to the maglev back to the airport.

Walking through Shanghai

<insert pig pun here>

Here’s one for all the Hyatt fans

Last edited by gba; Feb 19, 12 at 2:27 pm
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:21 pm
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Thai Business Class PVG-BKK-HKT

December 25, 2011
Thai 665, PVG-BKK
A330-300, HS-TES
Seat: 16A

Despite the fanfare that heralded the opening of the new Air China terminal (3) in Beijing, I have to say that I find Shanghai Terminal 2 a better mix of modern, pleasant, and practical. It was an easy 5 minute walk from the Maglev station to Thai check-in where we handed over our bags (which were re-tagged with Thai tags) and given our boarding passes through to Phuket along with lounge invitations.

I believe that all Star Alliance airlines operating out of Shanghai use the Shanghai Airlines lounge although that the airline ditched the Star Alliance in 2010. The lounges in this terminal are all located above the shops and restaurants but open to the general terminal area so you get some stray noise but have a view out through the glass windows at the ramp areas.

PVG Shanghai Airlines lounge

That said, the lounge wasn’t particularly noteworthy but provided a comfortable place to sit and a cold drink during our short wait. There was a modest selection of dim sum type items and other light nibbles but nothing looked particularly appetizing and I knew we’d be served a decent meal on board.

We made our way to the gate just in time for the start of boarding, entered through 2L and made a left turn to our seats near the back of the business class cabin. Once again, in the war of old vs. new configurations we’d lucked out as this A330 was equipped with Thai’s new regional seats which I’d described as “angled not quite flat” but certainly better than the older recliner style seats (but no less purple!)

Once seated refreshing towels were offered along with a choice of iced tea, oj, or water followed by the distribution of newspapers, landing cards, menus, and amenity kits. The amenity kit was surprisingly decent and included a handy brush/comb combo, eye mask, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, lotion, and a much-needed tube of lip balm.

Thai PDB: OJ and Tea

We pushed back from the gate 15 minutes early and after a lengthy taxi were airborne in the smoggy Shanghai skies. Quickly, the flight attendants were pushing the bar cart through the aisles offering a choice of drinks along with a packet of nuts. Not too long thereafter, appetizer trays were distributed.
Here’s the dinner menu for the flight:

Shanghai – Bangkok

First Course
Smoked Turkey, Crab Meat Salad, Potato Salad

Mixed salad with Italian Dressing

Main Course
Pan-fried Swordfish with Wood Ear Mushroom and Lily Bud Sauce
Fried Race with Mushroom, Carrot and Green Pea


Roast Cutlet of Lamb with Rosemary Demi-glace
Cajun Potatoes
Tri-color Bell Pepper, Sauteed Mushroom


Three Cup Chicken
Steamed Thai Hom Mali Rice, Vegetables


Braised Pork with Beancurd, Soya Sauce
Steamed Thai Hom Mali Rice, Vegetables

Assorted Bread, Crackers, Butter
Assorted Cheese and Fresh Fruits


Black Forest Cake with Black Cherry
Tea, Coffee
Espresso, Cappuccino

Drinks and nuts

Appetizer tray with yummy garlic bread

Chinese fish entrée

Fruit and cheese

Coffee and chocolate cake

The highlight of this meal was definitely the garlic bread which was warm and flavorful and generously replenished. Again on this flight my girlfriend picked the superior entrée as her three cup chicken was more tasty and interesting than my swordfish. The cheese and dessert courses were both well-presented from their own separate carts (something United doesn’t do on flights three times as long as this one) so no need for tough decisions

Once the service was finished hot towels were again distributed and the cabin lights were dimmed approximately an hour and a half after takeoff. Having woken up way too early, I quickly drifted off to sleep although the sleep wouldn’t have been great for an overnight flight my exhaustion more than made up for any faults. Actually, my first criticism of the seat would be that the PTV screens weren’t HD. While they were quite large, the lack of high resolution made the image appear fairly low quality, especially compared to United’s fancy HD displays.

Unfavorable winds made for a somewhat longer flight time, although I slept through most of it. One of my disappointments from a trip planning perspective was that I wasn’t able to manage to arrange a visit to the Thai First Class Spa in Bangkok. I certainly look forward to paying it a visit on a future trip as I thoroughly enjoyed my trip on Thai. For a flight of comparable length to say, IAD-SFO the service on Thai’s regional business class product on this route was quite impressive (and would even compare favorably to SQ in many respects…stay tuned).

We landed in Bangkok from the south and pulled into the gate about 15-20 minutes behind schedule. We quickly made our way through immigration (but not customs!) and security into the domestic area of the airport. The Thai domestic lounge was a bit out of our way but we made a quick pop-in to check it out. Alas, at this time of night it was rather deserted and depressing with only the last few food items that hadn’t been eaten earlier in the evening still remaining and a small handful of weary looking travelers (ourselves included!) hanging out before the last flights of the evening to domestic destinations.

December 25, 2011
Thai 225, BKK-HKT
A300-600, HS-TAX
Seat: 15E

So it’s probably at this point in the trip report that I should mention that my girlfriend has some temporary mobility issues and has been traveling in a wheelchair. So far, this has meant that we’d wheel down the jetway, gate check the wheelchair, and then she could use crutches to walk to her seat on the plane. This hadn’t been much of an issue on earlier flights and may have even saved us some time in line at various points along the way.

But now we were leaving from a bus gate. Which meant climbing stairs. Of course, if Thai had asked we would have said that she could easily ride the bus and slowly climbed up the stairs to the aircraft. But they didn’t ask, they told us to just wait as boarding began, they were bringing a special vehicle for us. Now, I know that plenty of people on this forum have been driven to aircraft in various vans, porches, and Mercedes Benzes. But how many of you have been transported in a catering truck?

Yep, Thai’s handicap transport to remote stands in Bangkok is a reconfigured catering truck with an additional lift attached to the back that lifts the passenger into the main holding. We sped across the tarmac to our waiting A300, pulled up to 2R (regular boarding was through 2L), rose up to aircraft height, and knocked on the door until somebody answered. I’m surprised Lufthansa hasn’t thought of something like this for transport from the FCT, that would save passengers the trouble of having to get out of the car and ride up to aircraft level, they could just transfer directly from luxury catering cart to plane…

Waiting for the crew to open 2R

Once onboard, we found that we were the last passengers to arrive in the business class cabin as everyone else had taken the first bus out to the aircraft and already settled in. As we sat down we were quickly offered orange juice and newspapers, as well as a hot towel, and after a short wait for coach boarding to finish up we were off the stand and quickly airborne.

View of the front of our A300

Domestic business class legroom

One of my favorite things about flying in front cabins outside the US is that no matter how short the flight they still manage to find time for some sort of food service. On this flight, we were quickly given an order of roast duck with white rice and cake along with a small variety of pre-poured beverages which the flight attendants distributed from trays.

Duck (note that no flight is too short for a proper tablecloth)

After a short, otherwise uneventful flight we landed at Phuket from the West about 15 minutes after midnight and, after collecting our baggage, hopped in our pre-arranged van to the JW Marriott Khao Lak nearly an hour and a half north of the airport.

Last edited by gba; Feb 19, 12 at 2:27 pm
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:22 pm
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Posts: 766
JW Marriott Khao Lak

JW Marriott Khao Lak

In addition to 120,000 Air Canada Miles, my 270,000 point Marriott travel package included 7 nights in a category 1-5 Marriott. While the JW Phuket has long been recognized as one of the top properties in the Marriott program, the JW Khao Lak has gotten great reviews on these forums and presented several advantages:
- It was a category 5, not 6
- Platinum recognition was reportedly good and we’d likely be upgraded to a pool access room
- The beach area nearby had several local restaurants making it easy to get off-property to eat
- Reward availability was easier to find for the dates we wanted

We had a fabulous stay at this property and wouldn’t hesitate to return (although I’d like to try the JW Phuket also…). The facility is beautiful and the location on the beach perfect for a week of relaxation. Other than the center most pool-area by the beach the swimming areas were often deserted, even Christmas week. Breakfast had an enormous selection and an amazing made-to-order smoothie bar. The staff was always welcoming and helpful. In addition to direct pool access from the back deck, the well-appointed room was good size with a large sitting area, good size bathroom, and supremely comfortable bed.

A few small complaints: first, while ice water was occasionally refilled when you were sitting by the beach or pool lounge-side refills and drink orders could’ve been taken more consistently; second, nightly turndown snacks were provided but were often covered in ants by the time we went to nibble on them; lastly, based on rumors I’d read here I knew there was a Marriott Rewards Platinum Happy Hour each day but I wasn’t told about it at check-in and it wasn’t until the last day of our stay that we got accurate information about where and when it was (or maybe it wasn’t supposed to be daily…).
But to be clear, I’d return in a heartbeat.

Arrival fruit, snack, and truffles

Looking towards the beach

The pool winds through the entire hotel

The pool near the lobby had some nice secluded seating areas

The main pool and pool bar

The beach

Beach-side dinning/massages/tour bookings

Off-property lounges on the beach
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:23 pm
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To Singapore

December 31, 2011
JetStar Asia 534, HKT-SIN
A320, 9V-JSB
Seat: 9B

A wonderful week in Khao Lak flew by and it was time to make the short hop down to Singapore for the next stage of our trip. Unfortunately this meant doing something many of us hate to do: buying a ticket. In coach. That didn’t earn miles. That said, I’m not sure when I’ll get to fly internationally again for under $100 a ticket (including a checked bag!). Other than check-in at Phuket, which was a bit of a cluster, the flight wasn’t noteworthy but got us to Singapore with a minimum of fuss.

JetStar Asia seating

I feel tall

Conrad Centennial Singapore

In Singapore I redeemed a Cash and Points award (so 20,000 HHonors points and SGD 88/night, plus a 30% rebate on points due to Hilton’s recent promo) for the Conrad Centennial Singapore. Even as a lowly Hilton Gold member I was upgraded to an executive room and had access to the fabulous executive lounge. In fact, this stay alone will probably motivate me to go for Hilton Diamond this year, if I can. The hotel was stellar.

Welcome amenity: fruit, chocolates, and bear

A birthday cake for my fiancée, courtesy of Conrad

View from the executive lounge

In Singapore

I’d read before this trip that people either love or hate Singapore. For our part, we certainly enjoyed Singapore. Although it certainly lacks the distinctiveness (especially to a Westerner) of some other Asian cities, any city with as much good, cheap food to enjoy as Singapore is ok in my book. I’m sure that anyone planning a trip could find more information about the city online or in a decent guidebook than I could ever provide here so rather than report a blow-by-blow of our time in Singapore, I’ll just share a few pictures with you.

Hawker Stalls!

Mustafa Center…your source for everything


View from a river cruise

I think this is why people call it “fake Asia”

Night safari
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:26 pm
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Singapore Air Business Class SIN-PVG

January 5, 2012
Singapore 826, SIN-PVG
777-200, 9V-SQJ
Seat: 9B

Our time in Singapore had come to an end, but the fun part of our trip, from a flight perspective, was just beginning. We arrived at Singapore’s Changi International airport a bit before 10pm, more than three hours early for our 1am red-eye up to Shanghai. I’d heard of the accolades the airport had received and wanted to see if the hype was deserved. Check-in was certainly efficient and within minutes we were in the Silver Kris lounge.

View towards the food area of the Silver Kris lounge

When we first entered the lounge, I thought it was huge and impressive but as more people trickled in awaiting departures for the late-night bank of flights it started to feel a bit crowded. The food selection was certainly ample with a variety of Western, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese-style items and the showers were a welcome refreshment after a long day in muggy Singapore. After hanging out in the lounge for a couple of hours we went for a brief stroll before our flight to check-out the unique in-airport butterfly garden and free movie theater.

Boarding began on schedule and we were the first passengers through 1L and into the business class cabin. Unlike Thai, Singapore’s regional business class product is a true angled lie-flat seat (which singaporeair.com describes as having a “gentle 8-degree incline”…not exactly what you’d look for when it comes to sleeping, but better than a 10 degree incline I suppose) Despite being numbered as row 9 our seats were in the first row on the left hand side of the cabin which provided a bit of extra legroom which could come in handy if you were trying to get out from the window seat when the person in the aisle seat was fully reclined.

Awaiting us at our seats was a nice pillow but a disappointingly “airplane style” blanket. Menus were in the seat-back pockets in front of us and clearly not intended to be taken as souvenirs as they contained both the outbound and return menu listings. Prior to departure we were offered a variety of newspapers and our choice of beverages, as well as a hot scented towel. As we taxied out, meal orders were taken and I elected to save my meal for prior to landing as I intended to get as much sleep as possible on this flight. I did manage to get a photo of the menu, just for y’all:

You can eat now, or you can eat later

After takeoff, the flight attendants were quickly up and about distributing slippers and eye masks. While I later discovered that additional amenities were available in the lavs, it woud’ve been nice to have a full amenity kit (or at least ear plugs) like Thai provided. Orders for beverages were taken as well, and my girlfriend told me they were served with nuts, but by that time I’d reclined the seat completely, turned on some ambient music, and fallen asleep.

The next thing that I remember was the chime of the seatbelt sign and an announcement over the PA that we’d begun our descent into Shanghai but that due to turbulence the flight attendants could not serve hot beverages. At this point the in-flight map showed that we were only 40 minutes from landing. Despite our imminent arrival, as soon as I stirred the flight attendants were ready to serve breakfast which started with a hot towel and then quickly followed with the full hot breakfast I’d requested before departure although at this point I was more tired than hungry.

American breakfast? Looks more English to me

So is Singapore the world’s best airline? I’m not sure a short red-eye flight is the best way to make that judgment. The business class lounge at Changi was certainly well provisioned, the flight attendants as responsive and crisp as their reputation would indicate, and the seat did the job for sleeping as well as I could hope, and I didn’t even look at their legendary IFE. On the flip side, there were still signs that Singapore had not been immune to the cost control pressures that have become so common in the industry such as the lack of amenity kits, and either/or choice between a late night snack and pre-arrival breakfast.

We landed straight in from the south and after another long taxi to the other side of Shanghai airport pulled into the gate more or less on schedule. While the lack of automatic baggage transfer in Shanghai was a positive for us on the outbound when our bags were tagged all the way to Phuket when we’d checked-in in Singapore the agent, knowing that all bags would need to go through customs in Shanghai (except for select connections off of Air New Zealand) had only tagged our luggage to PVG so, as expected, we had to go through immigration, collect our bags, clear customs, and head up to the departure area to wait for Swiss check-in to open.

Shanghai check-in areas, 630am
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:26 pm
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January 5, 2012
Swiss 189, PVG-ZRH
A340-300, HB-JMH
Seat: 2D

Swiss check-in opened at 7am about a half hour after we got to the counter. Once open, we were promptly checked-in and our bags were tagged for FRA with HON priority tags. We were then rapidly escorted through exit immigration and security to the First Class side of the Shanghai Airlines lounge we’d been in before our flight to Thailand. The First Class side is pretty similar to the business class area except the seating areas are larger and then number of guests fewer.

Shanghai Airlines First Class Lounge breakfast

At 8:55, right before boarding for our flight was supposed to begin, a different escort retrieved us from the lounge and took us to the gate. We ended up having to wait a few minutes before boarding but were soon settling in to the middle seats in the second row of Swiss’s comfortable First Class cabin. As boarding proceeded we noticed something quite exciting…on this flight we were going to be the only two people up front and would have the entire eight seat cabin to ourselves!

This was going to be a fun flight! While we waited at the gate, slippers, headphones, and the best amenity kits we’d encounter—including socks, eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, toothpicks, eye cream, moisturizer, lip balm, and hand cream along with a note that shaving kits, nail files, combs, shoehorns, and sewing kits were available upon request—were provided shortly followed by what Swiss would call a pre-departure amuse bouche but what in the real world would be considered a continental breakfast:

Pre-departure “snack”

After the snacks were cleared we were presented with the full menu for the flight along with a piping hot towel. Finally, just as we were starting to push back, pajamas were distributed. We had a long taxi to the runway on the other side of the airport and after a slow, lumbering 55 second roll we did what Airbus calls “taking off” as our A340 gently crept into the skies. Although individual screens had to be retracted for departure, we were able to watch our progress into the air on the nose camera which was displayed on the monitors at the front of the cabin.

Since we’d both gotten a minimal amount of rather unsatisfying airplane sleep on the flight up from Singapore, we asked if we could reverse the order of the meals and have the lighter pre-arrival lunch at the beginning of the flight and the multi-course mega dinner prior to arrival. Seeing as how there were no other pesky passengers to make things difficult, the crew was more than happy to oblige. Since that was the order we ate in, I’ll share the options with you in the reverse order from the printed menus:



Chicken Caesar salad
Parma ham in olive focaccia, Parmesan and rocket
Tomato and mushroom quiche
Sliced chicken, mushroom cream sauce
Rösti potatoes, buttered green beans, carrot batons
Fresh seasonal fruit
Apple tart with vanilla sauce

The A340 isn’t a rocket, but the salad is

Even a light meal still deserves a dessert

Even for the light meal, the food was quite well presented with the largest salt and pepper shakers I’d ever seen in the sky as well as a personal bread basket with yummy olive oil for dipping. The sandwich itself was quite respectable however I probably would’ve chosen something with less bread had I known about the bread basket.

After dinning, our seats were magically transformed into fairly comfortable beds with the assistance with thick duvets and blankets and pillows that would’ve been at home in a land-bound hotel. While certainly the Swiss product on the A330 offers more privacy, which I guess would be nice if there were (the horror!) other people in the cabin with you. The A340 bed offered sufficient length and width for me to sleep comfortably for several hours.

Upon awaking I was offered a light snack and began to play with the IFE. Our route took us due east over China before turning north over Russia and then south over Riga, Latvia towards Switzerland.

Mid-flight snack


The crew had taken our main meal orders earlier in the flight and told us they would be happy to begin the service whenever we wanted. Roughly two and a half hours before landing we were both awake and hungry. Although we had the room to spread out in the cabin, we decided to eat facing each other with me sitting on my girlfriend’s buddy seat. The tray tables on Swiss were huge and the buddy seat reasonably comfortable so it was certainly a pleasant and civil way to enjoy a terrific in-flight meal (and we still got personal bread baskets, so no conflict there). Here’s what we had to choose from:

F-189-C1 12/11 – 02/12



First Courses

Fillet of Balik salmon
Lobster and avocado cocktail
Selection of air-dried meat specialties
Roasted vegetable and goat’s cheese terrine
Cream of porcini mushroom soup
Seasonal salad with marinated mozzarella bocconcini
and cherry tomatoes

Main Courses

Grilled beef tenderloin with herb butter and red wine jus
Roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables
Sliced chicken with black pepper sauce
Udon noodles with spinach and white sesame
Carrots and pak choi
Herb marinated pan-fried prawns, Pernod sauce
Butter rice, broccoli and chili julienne
Risotto with asparagus and fresh herbs


Selection of Swiss artisan cheese


Mango ice cream, passion fruit sauce, florentine biscuits
Chocolate fondant, marinated dark cherries

Vanilla sauce
Sprüngli pralines
Espresso and a selection of coffees and teas

Table for two

Salmon starter with dried meats



Shrimp in the foreground, beef behind

Say Cheese!

The grand finale

This was far and away the best meal I’ve had on an airplane, especially considering that it was likely prepared 12 hours earlier in a catering kitchen thousands of miles away. The salmon and soup were both dishes I’d happily eat on the ground. The salad was the best I’ve had in-flight, and the entrée had no glaring flaws. Swiss clearly takes pride in their cheese selection (it gets more space in the menu than the entire second service) and I thoroughly enjoyed each of the selections. The desserts were both good as well, although perhaps less impressive relative to the rest of the meal. The meal concluded with a Nespresso espresso which was served with a box of chocolates “take as many as you want” the flight attendant said, and I knew she wasn’t kidding but was completely and totally stuffed by this point.

It would be hard for me to find fault with this flight. From the seat, to the amenities, to the food, to the service, everything was top notch. If I had to complain about anything it would be that the appetizer, salad, and cheese service was done from the galley rather than from a cart. But I’d only complain about this from having read previous trip reports, so I blame the rest of you for spoiling my expectations. In all honesty, that type of service would be wasted on two passengers so I certainly don’t blame the crew for simplifying the presentation.

Alas, all good flights must come to a landing and about 45 minutes before arrival the pilot came on the PA to announce our progress and warn of a bumpy approach. Now, I feel like every other flight I take in the US includes the lines “I’ve asked the flight attendants to prepare the cabin for landing early” but this was no exaggeration. Especially the last 10-15 minutes before landing we watched on the nose camera as our A340 bounced up and down and from side to side as we came in for what must have been a difficult landing in Zurich. Given the size of our aircraft, and how much we bounced around, I was certainly glad that we weren’t in anything smaller and lighter (but starting to worry about our connection…)

January 5, 2012
Swiss 1076, ZRH-FRA
A320, HB-IJR
Seat: 3A

Upon arrival, we were met at the gate and led down to a waiting van on the tarmac which transported us to the main terminal where we went through a dedicated immigration booth and were led up an elevator directly into the first class lounge. What I don’t know about this experience is how much of it was due to the fact that we were flying first class and how much was because my fiancée was in a wheelchair. While the van was marked for handicapped transportation, it was parked right next to a Mercedes which I assume is used for first class passengers.

In any event, within about 10 minutes after arrival we were settling into Swiss’s pleasant first class lounge. While the lounge lacked some of the flash of the Lufthansa FCT it did have some nice touches, including Swiss chocolate on every table, and a self-serve food buffet in addition to a full restaurant. Personally, I like the option of picking out your own food in a casual setting, especially if you just want a light snack, in addition to the option to order off a menu in a restaurant. As we waited in the lounge for the outbound flight, a thunderstorm of hail moved through the airport which made me glad that we’d landed when we did.

Swiss FCL buffet

Our outbound flight was at 7pm with a 6:30 boarding time so we made our way over to the restaurant around 5:30 but were told that it didn’t open until 6. As none of the buffet entrée options looked particularly appealing we elected to go for a rushed meal in the restaurant. I wasn’t able to transcribe a menu but there were a small number of fancy-sounding options. While in the air I’ve found that fancy descriptions inevitably lead to disappointing meals, the food items we had were well executed and I’d certainly recommend the restaurant over the buffet to others.

First course: oyster and razor clams in the foreground and soup in the background

Main course: black tagliatelle in the foreground and fish in the background

As we were finishing up our meal, an escort appeared to take us to our flight up to Frankfurt. Amazingly, despite the storms and numerous delays our flight was able to leave on time. The rough air, however, meant that the flight attendants remained seated throughout the short flight so the extent of the service was pre-departure newspapers, water bottles, and handi-wipes, and a bar of Swiss chocolate once airborne.

By this point in the day, we’d been travelling for over 24 hours and were happy to simply arrive at our destination on time. Foreseeing our tiredness, I’d booked us into the brand new Hilton Garden Inn at Frankfurt Airport (adjacent to the long distance train station) for our two night stay in Germany so that we could quickly retire upon arrival. It’s certainly nice to have an alternative to the Sheraton at Frankfurt airport.

Last edited by gba; Feb 19, 12 at 2:48 pm
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Old Feb 19, 12, 12:28 pm
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Lh/ua f fra-ord-sea

January 7, 2012
Lufthansa 430, FRA-ORD
747-400, D-ABTB
Seat: 82H

I don’t think any Star Alliance first class award is complete without a trip to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. Now the terminal has been discussed extensively on this forum and the only thing that I would add is that I don’t see how traveling through it would ever get old.

We arrived at the FCT about two and a half hours before departure and let ourselves into the now unlocked lower level entrance before taking the elevator up to the reception. Within minutes we were through security and seated in the restaurant enjoying a leisurely breakfast. After eating and a quick shower (and a new addition to my rubber ducky collection) we had about an hour to relax before departure.

As the scheduled departure time for flight for our time approached, the PA who checked us in informed us that our flight was ready for boarding. We descended to the lower level, collected our passports from the immigration agent who stamped us out of the EU, and got into a Mercedes, along with another Chicago-bound passenger before speeding along the tarmac towards our 747.

We took the elevator up to the jetway level of the aircraft and joined the stream of boarding business class passengers before quickly separating ourselves from the stream of people and climbing the steps to the second level. Unfortunately, our aircraft configuration good luck came to an end with this flight as D-ABTB still had the old-style Lufthansa first-class seats. Fortunately, our luck with quite cabins continue as it was only the two of us, along with the third gentleman who’d joined us on the ride over from the FCT on the 16 seat upper deck. Now, it’s not quite the “private jet” experience we had on Swiss, but there was more than enough space for everyone. Since Lufthansa now sells only 8 of the 16 seats on the old configuration aircraft, my girlfriend and I were able to use two seats for dining and relaxing and have two more made up into beds for sleeping (actually, we could’ve had four seats each given the load for the day, but that would’ve been unnecessary, even by the standards of first class travel).

Lufthansa’s old first class seats

Once we were seated our choice of beverages was served with a small dish of macadamia nuts and gendered amenity kits were distributed. Lufthansa seems to have downgraded their amenity kits since my trip last year as the contents were somewhat minimal (better to be a woman than a man, at least when it comes to LH amenity kits) although the eye mask was a cut above others I’ve received (although a cut below the ones BA gives out up front). We were also given slippers and what Lufthansa calls a “sweater” but what I’d call “a pajama polo without a bottom.” I’m not sure why Lufthansa doesn’t give out full pajamas on daylight flights to the US, most passengers try to sleep at least a little despite the flight time and, for those who are better dressed than I, I would assume the preference would be to hang pants during the flight rather than wear them the entire time. Furthermore, I can’t imagine the cost savings from having just the shirt are that significant given the trouble of designing, ordering, tracking, and catering the sweaters separately from the pajamas used on night flights.

In any event, as we prepared for departure the captain came on the PA to welcome everyone aboard and announce a longer than expected flight time of 9 hours which I was quite happy about given that this would be our last true first class flight for the trip. We pushed back from the gate about 10 minutes late and slowly taxied to Runway 25 before taking off and flying due west towards London.

As we climbed the friendly purser came through the cabin to welcome us aboard and distribute the menus for the first service while another flight attendant passed out hot, rose-scented towels and took drink orders. Beverages were served with a tomato jelly amuse bouche

And we’re off!

As we nibbled, the flight attendants came back through the cabin to take meal orders. What should we go with?

LH 400, 402, 404, 408, 410, 412, 414, 418, 422, 424, 426, 428, 430, 434, 436, 442, 444,
484 01/12-2/12

Choice of Hors d’oeuvres

Caviar with the traditional Garnished

King Prawn Confit with Palm Hearts, Mint, Lemon and Vanilla

Thai Salad with fried Breast of Quail and Tamarind Sauce

Pomelo Salad with Cashew Nuts and mild Chili

Salad and Soup

Leaf Lettuce with Fennel and Carrot Juliennes, Brown Mushrooms and Cocktail Tomatoes
presented with your Choice of Ginger and Lime Vinaigrette or Ranch Dressing

Soup of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese with toasted Croutons

Choice of Main Courses

Sautéed Tenderloin of Beef in Oyster Sauce with fresh Vegetables and Jasmine Rice

Medium rare Breast of Duck, Bok Choy and Cauliflower Risotto

Pecorino Romano Ravioli with Tomato and Parsley

In January: Fried Filet of Salmon with Sauce Hollandaise, Almond Broccoli
and Parsley Potatoes

In February: Haddock served with Mustard Sauce, Leaf Spinach and mashed Potatoes

Selection of Cheese and Dessert

Bleu d’Auvergne, Le Coutances, Banon Goat Cheese wrapped in Chestnut Leaf,
Reblochon, Rahmberg Cheese, a savory Cream Cheese, Grapes, toasted Pecan Nuts
and Fig Mustard Sauce

“Schwarzwälder Kirsch” Mezzaluna Interpretation 2012
Chocolate Cake with Cherry Brandy Parfait and aged Balsamic Vinegar

Coconut and Sago Soup with Mango and green Tea Biscuit

Even though there were just the three of us onboard the appetizer service was done from a cart catered for everyone to have something of everyone. As a result, I couldn’t resist going for the caviar as well as the tower of starters which was served with our choice of a variety of breads.

Caviar and appetizers

The caviar and shrimp appetizer were both very good, but the quail was just ok and the pomelo I can only describe as interesting. Perhaps my taste buds aren’t sufficiently evolved. I went with a salad next and then opted for the duck main which was a bit overcooked but served with a tasty risotto.

The healthy course


The highlight of the meal was the cheese and dessert course, again served from a dedicated cart which I enjoyed with an excellent German ice wine

To finish

After the meal was finished, the flight attendant made up our “bed” seats while we enjoyed the IFE. More than the seat improvements, where Lufthansa First Class really lags behind the times is in the IFE department. The screens are small and non-HD the headphones are small and apparently welded to the seat and the selection of films not nearly as extensive as the other airlines we’d been on previously.

“Bed” seats

We took a fairly northerly route passing just south of Greenland and over Canada for quite a distance before flying almost due south down the state of Michigan before turning west over Lake Michigan towards O’Hare. Ninety minutes out of Chicago snack menus were distributed:

Snack Time

Cold and Hot Specialties

Bagels with Turkey Pastrami and pickled Gherkins,
Canapés with savory Camembert Cream

Sandwiches with Cream Cheese, smoked Salmon, Bell Pepper and Cucumber

Pichelsteiner Eintopf
Beef Stew with Savoy Cabbage, Carrots, Celery
and Potatoes


Fig and Date Cake, Mocha Tart, Fruit Fours
with Bavarian Cream and Rhubarb Cake

Fresh Fruit

The snack service began with a selection of tea sandwiches served from a cart, followed by the beef stew main and a final cart service with fruit and cakes. I thought this was a fairly pleasant snack although I can’t say I was particularly hungry after the large lunch not too many hours earlier. My one small suggestion would be to provide a somewhat lighter “main course” for those who want something hot but not as heavy as beef stew.

Tea sandwiches

Beef stew

Fruit and cakes

The seat belt sign was turned on 45 minutes before landing in Chicago and preparations for landing began. We were given a survey to comment on the lovely Lufthansa service and a final hot towel was offered. We landed from the east and quickly pulled into the gate at O’Hare’s international terminal 5 and made our way easily through immigration and customs before catching the airport train over to the United terminal.

January 7, 2012
United 466, ORD-SEA
A320, N455UA
Seat: 2F

Our lengthy flight over from Frankfurt combined with the hassle of clearing immigration and changing terminals meant we only had a little bit of time in the low B United Club before boarding began for the last leg of our trip. That was more than enough, however. While great international lounges are inviting places to spend time, the United Club’s are more of a pleasant alternative to the terminal than a destination in their own right.

United Club

Boarding for United 466 began on schedule but walking into the A320, even the front cabin, after the flights we’d had in the past couple days still felt like a letdown. While the disappointment was somewhat inevitable what made this flight especially rough was the crying toddler in the row directly behind us who made sure that the entire front cabin knew he was there the entire way west.

For the parts of the flight within United’s control, everything went as well as could be hoped. Despite the 3pm departure time this flight had recently changed from being a snack flight to serving United’s mid-con dinner which began with hot nuts, with a choice of beverage followed by a choice of a chicken or pasta entrée served on a tray with a salad and roll.

Back in the ol’ US of A

After trays were cleared, warm oatmeal raisin cookies were offered. While the cookies on United have gown downhill from where they started, I do prefer the warm cookie to a tepid or over-refrigerated piece of cake.

Despite the screaming baby, I managed to dose off and on for a couple hours (my girlfriend suffered more from the lack of tranquility) and soon enough we were flying over Lake Washington before turning right towards SeaTac and landing on 16R. After flying off to the west, ten flights, and more than 50 hours in the air we’d returned home from the east…the world is round!

Last edited by gba; Feb 19, 12 at 2:30 pm
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Old Feb 19, 12, 1:47 pm
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Nice report there. Great pictures.

Got to say though that the UA International F menu is really not very good; I've seen better choices and more interesting menus on many a J trip.

To put that in perspective - I am allergic to shellfish and don't enjoy seafood. So with no choice of starters (very poor for F) I would be limited to a salad, followed by a choice of Chicken or Beef (how EXCITING). No choice of desserts and having to pick between a sundae OR cheese is pretty mean Second meal looks fairly desperate too.

The seating doesn't look much better that CX and AA are installing in J on some of their aircraft. I don't think I'll be rushing to UA any day soon.

I'm glad you were able to enjoy 2 other airlines that know how to do International F properly. I really rate the food on LX; on LH it can be a bit strange but at least they make the effort. You didn't mention any wines, but you can betcha that the wines on LX/LH outshone UA.

Thanks again ^
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Old Feb 19, 12, 3:08 pm
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Originally Posted by Betteronacamel View Post
Nice report there. Great pictures.
Thanks for the feedback

Got to say though that the UA International F menu is really not very good; I've seen better choices and more interesting menus on many a J trip.

To put that in perspective - I am allergic to shellfish and don't enjoy seafood. So with no choice of starters (very poor for F) I would be limited to a salad, followed by a choice of Chicken or Beef (how EXCITING). No choice of desserts and having to pick between a sundae OR cheese is pretty mean Second meal looks fairly desperate too.

The seating doesn't look much better that CX and AA are installing in J on some of their aircraft. I don't think I'll be rushing to UA any day soon.

I'm glad you were able to enjoy 2 other airlines that know how to do International F properly. I really rate the food on LX; on LH it can be a bit strange but at least they make the effort.
All fair points. I guess I did a good job sufficiently lowering my expectations beforehand that I wasn't disappointed. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time, struggled to find the availability, and would've had to pay more Aeroplan fuel surcharges to route via Europe on thee outbound. At the end of the day, United got the job done.

You didn't mention any wines, but you can betcha that the wines on LX/LH outshone UA.

Thanks again ^
They definitely did. I'm not a big wine person so didn't talk about it in the report. And I've found that it takes a long time to type up drink menus. If there's a particular list you'd like to see, however, I'm happy to post.
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Old Feb 19, 12, 4:02 pm
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Very nice report. UA is not capable of being embarrassed by what they offer. Surprised they haven't just unwrapped Subway sandwiches in First yet. The airline either does not competitive analysis or intentional positions their product to be at the low end of the spectrum. c meals on LH, LX, TG, OS, OZ and AC look better. Maybe they still have some edge over CA but that might be it. I'm flying the other rte from PVG to LAX in a few months and wish I was more psyched. Sure wish some of those routes with 10% F capacity would loosen inventory for award tickets. LX looks particularly great.
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Old Feb 20, 12, 10:29 pm
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Wow. Very nicely done, indeed.
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Old Feb 25, 12, 11:30 am
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Originally Posted by mlasser View Post
Very nice report. UA is not capable of being embarrassed by what they offer. Surprised they haven't just unwrapped Subway sandwiches in First yet. The airline either does not competitive analysis or intentional positions their product to be at the low end of the spectrum. c meals on LH, LX, TG, OS, OZ and AC look better. Maybe they still have some edge over CA but that might be it. I'm flying the other rte from PVG to LAX in a few months and wish I was more psyched. Sure wish some of those routes with 10% F capacity would loosen inventory for award tickets. LX looks particularly great.
I'm sure United did some sort of analysis which said passengers care most about having a flat bed suite in first class so they built that and the same survey probably says that nobody cares about food, they just want to be able to sleep.

I'm more surprised that they didn't match AAs announcement of a duvet and PJs, that'd be a nice enhancement and one that isn't as subject to the variable quality of crews and catering kitchens.
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Old Feb 26, 12, 2:43 pm
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Originally Posted by gba View Post

What camera do you use?
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