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PDX->SFO->JFK on United 07/27/2000 (Long)

PDX->SFO->JFK on United 07/27/2000 (Long)

Old Aug 3, 00, 9:06 am
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Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Lake Oswego, OR
Programs: UA 1K 2MM, SPG Platinum-Bonvoyage, Hilton Diamond
Posts: 3,167
PDX->SFO->JFK on United 07/27/2000 (Long)

I had arranged for a 5:45AM pickup to take me to PDX for my 7:15 shuttle flight to SFO; although the 8:30 flight would have afforded me more time to sleep after a very late spent getting my act together, I know better than to trust that flight. My ride was on time and we pulled up to the departures level in front of Delta/United at about 6:10. This is one of several “rush hours” at PDX and the inbound vehicle traffic was as dense as usual but inside the terminal, lines at the check-in counters or at security did not seem especially long.

I checked in the RCC, gathered up some reading material and was all settled in by 6:20. At 6:55, I packed up, bid adieu to the three concierges and journeyed over to gate E5. As I departed the club, I glanced at the departure monitor and noticed that the 8:30 shuttle to SFO was CANCELED – no surprise there; this seems to be the norm. My subjective impression is that this flight is canceled or significantly delayed more than half the time. After pre-boarding one wheel chair and two unaccompanied minors, general boarding commenced a couple minutes later and I settled into seat 2D, one of the newer style first class sh*ttle seats. As I settled in, I took note of the fact that there were actually pillows placed on each of the first class seats ahead of time. This is of marked contrast to a recent SFO sh*ttle flight in which my request for a pillow was met with the response, “we don’t have pillows on the shuttle.”

By about 7:06, nine minutes before scheduled departure, the doors were closed and we sat by the jetway until exactly 7:15, whereupon we pulled back. The flight was quiet, calm and subdued. I consumed a couple of rounds of my usual coffee with Baileys and finished reading Willamette Week and most of the Oregroanian during the trip. During the initial beverage service, the usual cookies were dispensed. This is in marked contrast to another SFO sh*ttle flight in late May in which I was told, “we only dispense snacks on the longer shuttle flights”. Huh?

The weather in SFO was sunny and bright, landing was a few minutes early (before 9:00AM) and we promptly pulled into gate 70. As we taxied over to the gate, I could see the general outline of the new RCC, scheduled to open in early 2001, taking shape. This is a much needed improvement over the existing tiny RCC. They should have done this YEARS ago. Also unusual for a sh*ttle flight, the FA actually returned everyone’s jacket BEFORE we exited the plane. This is a reasonable gesture that does wonders to avoid bottlenecks. This has happened before, albeit rarely. The FA was really top notch. Perhaps she’s new.

As I worked my way over to the terminal 8 RCC, I noticed a VERY long line of people waiting to be placated at the customer service counter. Something BIG must have been canceled. Inside the RCC, it was literally standing room only and I abandoned my plan to grab a cup of coffee and a pastry before heading over to the 1K room. Actually, the pastries, which are often quite good, seem to be replaced more and more by biscottis and today was no different.

While walking over to the 1K room, I studied the departures monitor for a couple of minutes. Of the flights listed, five out of nine LAX sh*ttles were canceled, as were one of two Seattle flights and the next PDX flight. There were also many other sh*ttle cancellations to various points along the west coast. A very typical day in SFO, i.e. classic sh*ttle reliability. Flight 853, a 747 to Tokyo, Singapore et al was also canceled, which probably explains the state of the customer service line and the crowds at the RCC.

The 1K room was relatively empty and I chatted for a while with the two concierges who seemed to be in very good spirits. So I‘ll hang out for an hour or so, listen to MP3s and catch up on a little work. Next stop, JFK on flight 844, scheduled to depart from gate 84 at 11:35.

The flight to NY boarded nearly on time. Employee class boarded first, followed shortly thereafter by business class. I settled into seat 7A, stuck my pepper mill into the seat back in front of me and retrieved the headset. I was not overly surprised that it was NOT a noise cancellation headset. Although they seemed to have been doing a better job of consistently boarding the correct headset of late, during much of last year, United repeatedly boarded the non-NCH headsets on the NY transcons. That’s why I always travel with two extra pairs of headsets pilfered from previous flights.

Coats were retrieved quickly and then the usual Champagne/OJ was proffered. I asked for a G&T, which the flight attendant kindly brought to me without complaint. Actually, she recognized me from previous flights (and did not hold any of it against me ). As we waited by the gate, the young woman sitting in 6A, turned to me and non-aggressively asked me something about kicking her seat. Given that the seat pitch on this plane is 48”, that would be quite a “feet”. I thought about her question for a few seconds and then pointed out that the seats have back-massage built in and perhaps that was what she felt. Yup, that’s it.

Pull back was more or less on time, and after waiting our turn in the usual long line of departures, we took off to the west and circled around on our way to NY. I didn’t spend much time studying the terrain because Row 7 is not the most optimal place to sit if you want a view. It lacks a window close to where your head would be and the fuselage seems to intrude into the cabin somewhat.

Service was great and my flight attendant was very pleasant and efficient. I have experienced disinterested and inattentive service quite often on these flights during the last couple of months and this was a most welcome change. Immediately after takeoff, I popped up the video and was disappointed to see to the UAL equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death™ *. This was a very common sight last year, while AirShow was disabled fleetwide. I asked a passing FA about it and about 10 minutes later, just after the pilot completed his welcoming announcements, it was activated.

Shortly before the commencement of drink service, an FA walked through the cabin taking meal orders first from the 1K passengers (and their seat companions). This has always been a nice perk that also seems to have been lacking in my transcon flights over the last few months. Today, the meal offerings included the following:

1. Veal chop with mushroom cognac sauce, yellow squash mixed with green beans and corn scallion bread.
2. Grilled chicken breast served with stuffed zucchini and gnocchi Florentine.
3. Vegetable bouquet served on fettuccine pasta

After serving a couple of rounds of drinks, meal service began. It started with an appetizer of Parma ham and cantaloupe and was followed by a small salad with a choice of balsamic vinaigrette or green goddess dressing. I had ordered the veal (sauce on the side), washed down with some Chilean red wine. I shared my pepper mill (and my spare noise cancellation headphones) with my seat mate who was delighted at the prospect of fresh ground pepper. The meal was finished off with cheesecake, coffee and a couple of Godiva chocolates. Service was wonderful and friendly throughout the flight. I entertained myself mostly by reading, watching bits and pieces of “Mission to Mars” and snoozing. I then watched a Seinfeld rerun, followed by various short Discovery channel topics, which I always find very interesting.

With about two hours of the flight remaining, I engaged the FA in conversation and asked her for her first name so that I could include it in the trip report. I promptly forgot it, mainly because I was districted by what happened next. When I asked her for the name of the FA working the other side of business class, it turned out that I knew him, or rather knew of him. A very close friend of mine who lives in PDX is originally from Kenya and told me last year that his cousin “Jimmy” used to work for BA in Africa but he thinks that he now works for United in Denver. Whilst connecting in Denver a couple of times this year, I tried to track him down and was told that he is now based in SFO (but still lives in Denver) and is in FA training. Turns out that was him! He had never done this route before but wound up on it at the last minute. I spent the remainder of the flight chatting with him in the galley, trading amusing stories while sipping Grande Marnier.

Much too soon it was time to land, so I trundled back to my seat, a fresh bottle of wine in hand. Jimmy was a very interesting fellow, and I wanted to talk with him some more, so I invited him to the little FT Party in Parsippany being held on August 3 but he wasn’t planning to be in NY on that day .

While landing was in progress, I chatted with my seatmate for a while. She told me that she was on vacation heading to LHR and had a fairly tight connection at JFK. She would have no problem this evening but it probably was not the wisest choice of connections, given what could happen at SFO. I am not sure why she didn’t fly directly from SFO to LHR in the first place. I felt a little bad for her and invited her to await her flight at the RCC, where I would be making a pit stop. She seemed eager (at first).

During touch down, I glanced outside and discovered that JFK was ensconced in very thick fog, quite atypical for this area. Not able to resist, I exclaimed to all passengers within immediate earshot, “Oh my, we came back to SFO!” It was a simple but surprisingly effective comment and it created a near mini-panic. While disembarking, my seat mate decided that she’d rather go shopping (which is kind of a joke at terminal 7) than accompany me to the RCC. Do you think it was something I said?

So, in summary, a very nice set of flights with exceptionally friendly and efficient crew. I popped into the RCC to say hello to my pals, called for my ride and then went to say hi to the bartender, who usually helps me stoke up with diet coke in preparation for the long ride to upper Westchester. Surprisingly, there was no one at the bar. There were a few bottles of self-serve liquor and a couple of buckets of beer on ice, not at all typical for this RCC.

I walked outside to DEPARTUES to look for my ride but had difficulty hooking up at first because the driver didn’t realize that it would be more effective for her to display the sign with my name on it so that it faces OUTSIDE the car rather than towards herself.

I will be in NJ for one week, culminating in a FT get-together and then winding up with a drive up to Burlington, Vermont for a few days. I am scheduled to return to PDX on Wednesday, August 9.

* Blue Screen of Death™ is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
LarryU is offline  
Old Aug 3, 00, 3:40 pm
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: SEA
Posts: 3,178
Nice report Larry...thanks
shadow is offline  
Old Aug 3, 00, 4:08 pm
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Location: CH-3823 Wengen Switzerland
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Great report - I did read it from A-Z - thank you.

Quietlion: please don't read the footnotes
Rudi is offline  
Old Aug 3, 00, 4:23 pm
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Great report. Rudi, I finally figured out how to keep my computer from crashing while reading FlyerTalk.
QuietLion is offline  
Old Aug 4, 00, 2:40 am
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: New York
Posts: 6,560
Thanks for a great trip report!

It seems to me that the most reliable flight to take within the United Shuttle system is the first flight out. I know some executives in LA take the 6am flight to SFO for important meetings (even thought the meeting may be later in am) because they know those planes are in LAX for the night and most likely to be on time.

It is sad to see that United Shuttle still can't fix the on time problem.

Concerning the cancellation of United flight to NRT, the pilot shortage seems to affect United's Asian network now. One of my aunt supposedly to fly back to LA on UA 2 on July 31, 2000. Her flight was cancelled due to lack of crew. She left a day later. Fortunately, United called her in advance !

Also, JFK routes seems to be where the best UA service locate.

Carfield is offline  

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