I just returned from a business trip in Belgium. Brussels isn’t well served by AA, and I still have several Global Premier Upgrades from my time as a United 1K last year, so I figured I’d take the nonstop United flight from O’Hare. Better yet, my upgrade to Business class cleared 2 weeks before the flight, which was the earliest I can remember in recent years on United, other than my flights to Lagos, which cleared at booking.
Flying over Chicago, shortly after departure
It had been a while since I had flown United BusinessFirst, and as I was walking through the tunnel between B and C concourse at O’Hare, I started to feel nostalgic for the United I used to love. Rhapsody in Blue wasn’t playing, so it didn’t talk long for me to snap out of that mindset.
Since I had no connecting flights in Brussels, and I was hoping to do some exploring upon arrival, I wanted to take a shower before heading into the city. United offers arrival services at several airports (link), and in Brussels, this means a day room at Sheraton Brussels Airport. I tried to get this arranged ahead of time, first by tweeting United to confirm the process I should follow. I didn’t get very far, but was told to ask someone at the airport. Once in Chicago, I asked an agent at the United Club in Chicago, and after some tapping her computer, the agent there started to fill out a form. I was a little confused, and when she asked me to get my belongings, even more so. After I clarified what was going on, she told me she was trying to “surprise and delight” me. As we walked through the C16 United Club towards the arrivals facility, I clarified that I was asking about a shower in Brussels, not in the club, and she said yes. Then I knew that I was going to the Global First Lounge. What a pleasant surprise!
United Global First Lounge in Chicago. This older photo shows a previous decor
Once inside, I briefly worked with the Global Services agents to inquire about arrival services in Brussels. I was told to be seated, as they would take care of it. I was truly “Surprised and Delighted” to be invited to this lounge. I hadn’t been to this lounge in a while, and it was a bit unusual in that I was on an Economy ticket upgraded into Business Class. I was hoping my Surprise and Delight would include an upgrade into Global First, but no such luck. Once I settled into the lounge, I returned to the desk to confirm the process for utilizing arrivals services in Brussels. Unfortunately the agent didn’t seem to know the process well. She first told me to go to the Star Alliance lounge there. Of course, as an arriving passenger, I need to clear customs into the European Union, and I can’t access any lounges since I don’t have an onward flight. Eventually she realized this and she told me she would call ahead and someone would meet me in the jet bridge upon arrival. This offer impressed me I remained surprised and delighted.
Side note, the United Global First Lounge in Chicago is nothing all that special. it is much better than United Clubs, but on this visit it was pretty crowded, and actually more so than the adjacent Club.
The Legacy United BusinessFirst seat (this from James on a 747, but the seat is the same)
The flight itself was not particularly notable. I was able to sleep for a decent part of the flight which was my intent. I still enjoy the rear facing seats in legacy United Business Class. Meal options haven’t changed in years. Upon arrival, I was disappointed, but not surprised there was no one to meet me. Once I cleared passport control, I headed to the United check-in desks to ask about arrival access. After waiting a few minutes to reach the security agent, he sent me to the ticketing area. After another wait to get to the one agent working there, she made a few calls. She was wearing a Global Services tag on her jacket, so I hoped she could work some magic. Unfortunately, I was informed that they were not aware of my arrival, and even though she also called the Sheraton, there were no day rooms available. I could likely have pushed this harder, but by this time I was rather annoyed, and just figured I’d leave the airport and enjoy my free day before a busy week of work. This is the United I remember. Even when they do something good, there are often multiple steps backwards.
The United Airlines of 2015 which I have mostly stopped flying seems to be just as disappointing as the United of 2014 and 2013 from which I have many painful memories. Poor operations (yes, our flight departed late, and we got to the gate a few minutes after schedule). I have several more international business trips this year, and I expect at least some of them to be on United. While I was grateful to be in business class, even years past the merger, United continues to underwhelm. I can’t imagine the miserable experience for the average traveler in a cramped economy cabin.
I know United is very profitable right now, so I doubt anything will change, but there are so many basic improvements that could be made. I’m not holding my breath.
I’m curious if anyone else has had a similar experience with United Arrivals access (or the lack thereof) in Brussels or anywhere else that offers this service.