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Go West Young Man: Back to China with UA J/CA F/LH F

Go West Young Man: Back to China with UA J/CA F/LH F

Old Jan 2, 17, 8:21 am
  #1  
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Go West Young Man: Back to China with UA J/CA F/LH F

Welcome to another TR; this time as I go back to China to visit my extended family! Living in the states it's not particularly easy to coordinate my family's trips back to China between all of our work schedules, but we were able to make time for us to go back during the calendar new year. Currently I'm about half-way through the trip but there is a little bit of free time to get this started.

This will be a little different than most other TRs of China and give a glimpse into life away from the city (and will feature exactly nothing from big cities and common tourist attractions), as my folks tend to be a lot more rural (and a lot of them still are involved in agriculture). As I am generally spending most of my trip in China with family, pictures will be a little sparse as I don't particularly like going around and creeping on my extended family (and my parents would ask me weird questions if I took pictures of everything while traveling with them...) though I will do my best to discreetly get something to satisfy your curiosity. Naturally certain details will be a little ambiguous to maintain a little bit of privacy Unfortunately since I'm doing this 10-day trip with one carry-on I'm only shooting with my phone.


SEA-SFO UA F
SFO-PEK UA J
PEK-CSX CA F
CSX-HGH MF Y
HGH-PEK CA F
PEK-FRA CA F
FRA-IAH LH F
IAH-SEA UA Y

The main flights were booked using United miles, with a J award to China and an F award to return home. A cheap Y ticket was bought to go between my relatives' places. The itinerary is subject to change since the return journey hasn't been flown yet. This will be a little different than my previous TRs featuring AC's 10-across 777s and flying to Australia in Y.

As usual, this is not going to be completely politically correct or perfect, so if that rustles your jimmies then too bad.

Last edited by steveman518; Jan 2, 17 at 8:46 am
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Old Jan 2, 17, 8:50 am
  #2  
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(I promise the trip gets better after this post)

In order to make the 6am departure while taking public transit, I had to take the light rail train down to SEA the night before. After a long day in lab I took the bus to the light rail station at the University of Washington. Taking public transit at night can always be a bit of an adventure and this time was no exception. As soon as the doors opened for one of the cars the stench of urine hit like a strong wave, and immediately I entered the other car, only to see vomit in the middle of the car. Otherwise the journey to SEA was uneventful.

Brown patch near the middle where vomit used to be


Someone's Chex had a rough night


I arrived at the airport at around 1AM and ended up surfing the net until the check-in desk opened around 3:45AM

SEA at night, with a few others camping out for the early flights


As soon as the AMEX Centurion Studio opened at 5AM, I stopped in for a quick bite. This was the first time I'd been to SEA in the morning in a long time, and the first time I'd been at the Studio during breakfast hours. I was very happy to see Ellenos greek yogurt, as IMHO it's basically the best yogurt in the existence of humankind. Naturally I grabbed a big bowl of it and accompanied it with some other things that were tasty but not as good (though to be fair most breakfast items pale in comparison to Ellenos).



UA468
SEA-SFO
Boeing 737-900ER
Seat 2A

I headed over to board the flight down to SFO at the far end of concourse A, where boarding was already underway. After I boarded, I had a pre-departure beverage of Illy's cappuccino iced coffee drink with lowfat milt & cocoa (should a drink have that many words in it?) that has arrived with United's new(ish) partnership with Illy. The drink was pretty good, and much better than brewed airplane coffee, though it didn't prevent me from passing out immediately afterwards after not sleeping the previous night.

obligatory leg-room shot


I wake up right before descent to a very nice sunrise from the left of the plane, and drink a second bottle of the cappuccino drink to help me make it through my layover at SFO. Overall not a particularly exciting flight, since I spent about 90% of it asleep.

My layover at SFO was spent primarily trying to stay awake, so a quick stop at the AMEX Centurion was made to freshen up and grab a second breakfast. The breakfast, while certainly above edible, wasn't very impressive and I ended up not going for seconds before heading over to the gate to people-watch and try not to fall asleep.

Second breakfast
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Old Jan 2, 17, 9:31 am
  #3  
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Of course, it wouldn't be a United flight without gate lice and a lot of folks standing in the wrong line



The queen


UA888
SFO-PEK
Boeing 747-400
Seat 15A

I had not ridden a 747 since I came back from the 2008 Beijing Olympics (with the Argentine soccer team and the US baseball and softball teams), and this would the first time I had ridden a 747 in the upper deck (the first of many firsts this trip). Needless to say I was pretty excited for this flight, even if it was on United. My expectations were a little higher since the Polaris soft product had already been rolled out as well.

Boarding was performed with two jet bridges, both on the lower deck, giving me the opportunity to climb stairs inside a plane for the first time. While I knew that the upper deck is a much smaller cabin, nothing really prepares you for the first time you arrive in the upper deck.

United 747 upper deck


United still uses the same seats that everyone's come to know and love/hate, though with the new Polaris product the whole seat was covered with blankets and the like which took up an entire side storage bin (1 pillow, 1 sleeping pad, 1 comforter, 1 lighter blanket).

seat


obligatory legroom shot


I'm so short I don't reach the footwell


so many blankets


seat controls, IFE remote, and tray table storage


view from my first backward-facing seat


Immediately upon being seated the FA offered a pre-departure beverage. It almost seems as if the setup was designed so that if you were too drunk you wouldn't be able to pick up and consume the beverage.

Seat-mate's PDB


Menus were also quickly passed out and read as follows




After a 45-minute mechanical delay we departed. The sensation of facing backwards and taking off was a great thrill for me, though given my short legs they were dangling from the seat during the initial climb.

climbing


Soon afterwards the lunch service began, and it was very clear that one of the FAs in the upper deck was doing a very good job at executing the new Polaris product and was very approachable while the other was just going through the motions. My seat mate sampled a wine flights and seemed to be pretty happy with it.

random knife in the tray table holder


showtime with nuts


wine flight


The appetizer and salad came on a tray, and I was decently impressed by both. I was a little disappointed with the garlic bread, as there was very little in the way of anything more than the bread itself.

appetizer and salad


For the main I ordered the asian fusion chicken soup, which tasted pretty good, and would be something I would consider eating on the ground if it was thicker like a curry (and a larger portion)

main


The cheese course was stronger than I expected, but the desserts were absolutely fantastic. I had a sundae with everything and the three small desserts. Unfortunately a sundae with everything only meant one cherry. Overall I was pretty impressed with the Polaris dining experience, though I don't have a means of comparison to pre-Polaris UA J dining.



desserts


After lunch I requested a gel pillow and PJs in preparation for sleeping. However the lavs are really tiny so I only changed into the long-sleeve top. I ended up with a S/M set of PJs and they were a little large on me (5' 7" 145 lbs for reference).

747 upper deck lav


After changing and laying down the sleeping pad I proceeded to nap on and off for half the flight before requesting a hot snack. Unfortunately the chicken with rice was very dry and the sauce had also dried a bit as well.

lying flat


mid-flight snack


After being bored and watching The Roast of Rob Lowe, the pre-arrival breakfast (during the local lunch time) was served. I ordered the porridge/congee with seafood and was very impressed by its execution. Usually I had only seen it decently executed by Asian airlines (and completely screwed up by western airlines), so the the bar wasn't set particularly high for United. I cleared the plate very quickly and prepared for landing.

breakfast...during lunch


before descent


during descent


The plane somehow landed despite not being able to see anything. The AQI (air quality index) for Beijing upon arrival was 440, which is considered very hazardous. Good times!



Overall I was pleased with this flight, and I remain hopeful for the time being about the potential of Polaris once all the elements are working together (including the new Polaris seat) and crews have more experience with the product.
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Old Jan 2, 17, 9:50 am
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lmao at "it wouldn't be a UA flight without gate lice and pax in the wrong line". leaving from SFO on a 744 you would think they would have signs/lines for all 5 boarding groups. not that it matters because there's prob 150 pax in group 1.

this is the first polaris asia tr i have seen, and the asian food seems to actually somewhat resemble asian food for once. kudos to the legacy of SMI/J

hope your CA/LH F flights go well!
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Old Jan 3, 17, 2:55 am
  #5  
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Sadly at this point I have to report that I left that my trusty Nalgene in the side compartment and didn't realize it until I had already cleared immigration. May it travel the skies in its continued life.

After passing through immigration and security, I made the dumb move of re-entering terminal 3C and waiting for the shuttle bus to the T3D domestic satellite for my flight to Changsha. Instead I should have taken the train landside to T3D and cleared security at T3D

shuttle bus for those of us who don't know better


Upon arriving I headed for the CA lounge. Overall it's pretty similar to the T3C CA lounge that everyone gripes about, but since it's in the satellite it's much quieter. Food selection is pretty similar, with a few hot dishes, a couple of steamers, and a noodle station. The food was decent enough to tide me over until the flight to Changsha. The lounge also contained outlets for US and EU plugs as well, which was a pleasant surprise.

All the bathrooms are single rooms (instead of stalls), and showers are available as well.

more or less what the whole lounge looked like, with some food


hot food area


Metric of the trip-toilet level: western


CA1349
PEK-CSX
Airbus 321
Seat 3A

FYI since I am Chinese there is no language barrier, so naturally YMMV if there is a language barrier.

I headed over to the far end of the terminal to board, and almost everyone had already boarded and the remaining few economy passengers were having their carry-ons gate checked (because CA actually only lets F passengers use F bins) when I arrived at the assigned boarding time. After putting my bags away and sitting down, an FA immediately arrives and opens a pack of slippers and lays them down in front of me. A pre-poured PDB of water (with the other option being "orange juice") and hot towel appear very quickly thereafter. There was a decent amount of promotions for CA's 787-9, which it has introduced mid-2016, including the coasters and tray liner in addition to the in-flight magazine.

The domestic F seat on the CA A321 is slimlined, but not uncomfortable, especially when using the pillow at the seat for lumbar support. The seat itself looks fairly new as well. Both armrests lift up, with storage space under the center armrest where the blanket is placed and the tray table under the other armest. The plane itself has overhead entertainment, with volume and language controls.

PDB + hot towel + seat recline button


obligatory legroom shot


with the leg rest down


center armrest with blanket, with IFE controls displayed (universal power outlet + usb and headphone back behind blanket)


slimlined


The load in F was only 6/12, so after boarding we all shuffled around until everyone got their own row, and I moved from 2A to 3A. Meal orders were taken on the ground, with the options being a chicken with shitake mushrooms, a beef dish, and a fish dish (the FAs were a little more descriptive, but I don't quite remember what she said). I ordered the chicken dish and I wasn't even asked for a second choice despite ordering at the end. The safety video played during the taxi, with the FAs performing their bows at the end of the video before being seated for take-off.

so much smog


After taxiing and somehow taking off, the FAs got up out of their seats within 30 seconds and closed all of the curtains in the cabin. Soon after drinks and another hot towel appeared before the meals were delivered out of the galley about 20 minutes later. The meal was served with rice, fruit, and cold appetizers (a dried tofu + veggies and a fish). The chicken and mushrooms turned out to be chicken and vegetables with some mushrooms.

CA domestic F meal


I realize that some of those dishes might not appeal to some of you (especially the cold fish), but I found it all to be quite tasty and I cleared the tray very quickly. I could see in the reflection of the window at the bulkhead that passengers in economy also had small meals as well. I drank a bottle of water before sleeping for the rest of the flight until arrival at CSX, where my relatives picked me up.

Overall I was very happy with the flight, with service being top-notch and the food being quite good. While I didn't interact with the crew too much, everything was done with a smile and it definitely didn't feel like they were just going through the motions. Hopefully this does bode well for when I do fly CA F PEK-FRA.

Last edited by steveman518; Jan 18, 17 at 2:25 pm
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Old Jan 3, 17, 2:58 am
  #6  
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Originally Posted by psychoandy View Post
lmao at "it wouldn't be a UA flight without gate lice and pax in the wrong line". leaving from SFO on a 744 you would think they would have signs/lines for all 5 boarding groups. not that it matters because there's prob 150 pax in group 1.

this is the first polaris asia tr i have seen, and the asian food seems to actually somewhat resemble asian food for once. kudos to the legacy of SMI/J

hope your CA/LH F flights go well!
Thanks for reading! There were lines for 3-5, though those were off to the side and weren't prominently displayed like 1 and 2 were. Polaris has left a good first impression with me and I'm hoping that if I do fly it again it'll continue to improve.

I forgot about the amenity kit, which is a soft-sided case with cowshed products.
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Old Jan 3, 17, 3:26 pm
  #7  
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Nice start - I'm really looking forward to the rest, especially the CA F segment. We don't get to see much CA, and I've considered booking them several times.
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Old Jan 3, 17, 3:31 pm
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Originally Posted by steveman518 View Post
Menus were also quickly passed out and read as follows

I know what the dish is and that there's a description underneath but I'm surprised that UA is using the term "Lion's Head" instead of just calling the dish "Chinese style meatball" or something. I'm sure there have been a few puzzled looks onboard.

As a former UA loyalist, it's nice to see a Polaris TR. Looking forward to the rest of the report.
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Old Jan 3, 17, 8:02 pm
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Nice TR - I've been really curious about how different the Polaris soft product is from the old product. The food looks much better.

That random knife in the tray table holder is hilarious.
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Old Jan 4, 17, 3:32 am
  #10  
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Originally Posted by steveman518 View Post
I realize that some of those dishes might not appeal to some of you (especially the cold fish), but I found it all to be quite tasty and I cleared the tray very quickly.
Looks OK to me...

The satellite lounge looks better than the International lounge...
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Old Jan 4, 17, 9:48 am
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After arriving in Changsha I was picked up and driven to Zhuzhou, where some of my family live. While there is one Hilton and Marriott hotel in town, they are pretty far away from my relatives so we ended up staying at the "Yintian International Business Hotel" (株洲国际商务酒店). The hotel itself is a nice hotel by Chinese standards with large fresh rooms.

room


toilet level: western


walk-in shower


Breakfast was included in our rate as well, and served the typical chinese breakfast. Breakfast food in China isn't really a thing and is treated just like another meal, though there are some foods that are more prevalent at breakfast such as porridges. This hotel did have a couple of western options like cereal, sausage, and some type of hash browns.

different porridges


hot food selection


part of a complete breakfast. PS apple juice in China contains vinegar...


The smog in Zhuzhou was better than Beijing, but that's a pretty low standard. Upon arrival the AQI was about 250, and approached 300 by the time we left. This is sort of expected since Zhuzhou is a highly industrial city.

smog on the first day


I suppose that's correct


Most of the time spent in Zhuzhou was hanging out with family and, most importantly, eating.

kids these days stuck on their phones at the dinner table


Grandma's toilet level: hole in the ground


all you can eat hot pot


some of the food at Xiang Nong Zhai (湘侬寨) before my hands got too oily, which serves classic/traditional Hunanese food (and puts together cultural shows)


There isn't particularly much to do in Zhuzhou, and excitement is primarily limited to walking along the Xiang river (湘江) and visiting the Shennong area (神农城) named for the "agriculture god".

looking through the smog across the river


selling their wares along the riverside


bins of fires across the street to keep warm in front of snake restaurants (their marketing tactics)


That giant statue of the agriculture god in front of the TV tower. Unfortunately the fountain show behind the tower wasn't playing that night due to all the smog...
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Old Jan 4, 17, 10:01 am
  #12  
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Originally Posted by Madone59 View Post
Nice start - I'm really looking forward to the rest, especially the CA F segment. We don't get to see much CA, and I've considered booking them several times.
Thanks for reading! I'm definitely hopeful given what I've seen so far personally, but my expectations naturally aren't as high as they are for LH F

Originally Posted by kevincrumbs View Post
I know what the dish is and that there's a description underneath but I'm surprised that UA is using the term "Lion's Head" instead of just calling the dish "Chinese style meatball" or something. I'm sure there have been a few puzzled looks onboard.

As a former UA loyalist, it's nice to see a Polaris TR. Looking forward to the rest of the report.
Thanks for following along! I suppose it's a direct translation since the Chinese side of the menu did read 《狮子头》. My seat mate was definitely surprised to read the dish's name on the menu.

Originally Posted by vsvxva View Post
Nice TR - I've been really curious about how different the Polaris soft product is from the old product. The food looks much better.

That random knife in the tray table holder is hilarious.
Welcome to FT! I suppose the UA forum would be a little more useful for a baseline for the old product since there have been a fair number of comparisons written (unless you have experience with it). I would say it's a good start for sure.

Originally Posted by TPJ View Post
Looks OK to me...

The satellite lounge looks better than the International lounge...
I'm not entirely sure if most western palates would enjoy cold cooked fish (aside from certain smoked fish) or a cold tofu salad, but I suppose that's up to them

I haven't had the chance to use the international lounge (though I suppose I'll get there towards the end of the TR), but I liked the satellite lounge much better than the domestic lounge in T3C since it's a lot quieter, a lot less crowded, and most of the amenities are the same. The one thing about the satellite lounge is that the chairs are placed a lot closer together than in the T3C lounge, but that's the only thing I can think of.
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Old Jan 4, 17, 2:10 pm
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Really interesting report, very interesting to see what it's like away from the big hotels and tourist spots in China. Looking forward to more.
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Old Jan 4, 17, 10:03 pm
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Many thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the rest of your report.

The Beijing T3 satellite lounge looks a lot nicer than the ones in the main part of T3.
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Old Jan 4, 17, 10:12 pm
  #15  
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Lightbulb

I just wonder why you book CA instead of LH for PEK-FRA sector, what you get with LH? LPGS or Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, caviar and 747-8i.

Anyway, I'm glad to see a United Polaris, 747-400 (especially upper deck) and non tourist attraction of China TR.

Last edited by mel737; Jan 5, 17 at 4:58 am
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