The customer experience with United is truly improving, and I am on my way back to becoming a full-time believer in the brand.
Last week, I flew United in BusinessFirst from Chicago to Vancouver, flying on an award ticket for my cousin’s wedding and family reunion in Canada. Some of you may have remembered how I was delighted to find the award space to fly nonstop to Vancouver on United miles, as opposed to flying to Seattle on Delta SkyMiles for an even greater amount with terrible timings, and subjecting myself to the horrendous drive between SeaTac and YVR (which, reportedly, was terrible for all wedding guests who endured it, including my parents). MileagePlus seriously is the best program out there in the U.S.
The experience with United was very pleasant, and I’m satisfied by the end results, despite a few minor speed bumps along the way. My outbound flight was on a discounted Business class fare and inbound was a red-eye, but in Y (although I was CPU-eligible). Ultimately, however, I was able to same-day change on my Wednesday departure and leave on the 8 AM to YVR. Total cost for the ticket was 37,000 RDMs plus $52 in taxes and fees. Not bad for summer!
On the outbound sector, the journey was pretty uneventful. The FA serving F on UA 539 was a bit strange. I tried making small-talk with her while I waited for the lavatory (she wasn’t doing much in the galley at that point) and her answers were a bit curt, but I let it go. Meal service was a slight disappointment as I was the last one to be served (since I was on an award ticket) but I thought that waiting 45 minutes until AFTER the first customer was served, in a 12 person cabin, was a bit ridiculous.
The hot option was also unavailable by the time my seatmate and I were served, which appeared to be a more complete scrambled eggs dish that Rocky was served a few weeks ago flying from SAN to IAH, rather than the unimaginative Egg McMuffin breakfast provided on shorter flights. I can understand why it was so popular, as it looked sumptuous from my stolen glances across the aisle to see it being devoured by other PAX.
Alas, beggars cannot be choosers, and understandably, first choices aren’t guaranteed. However, my seatmate and I did have a good chuckle about the “superior” presentation style to receive two unopened boxes of Cheerios placed in a fine china bowl when we received our trays. The cinnamon roll and croissant basket did also made its way around, freshly baked on-board.
On both the outbound and inbound flights, I noticed that UA served glasses in F that still featured the old Continental engravings frosted into the mug!
I suppose my biggest gripe with the United meal service system in F is that its inconsistent: I know the pre-merger UA style was to serve customers in order of Elite status, which is perfectly justified. However, I have seen a 50-50 split between this, and following the FEBO (First Even, Back Odd) process which simply goes First Row down on Even-numbered flights, Back Row up on Odd-numbered flights. American also uses this system in Domestic First.
I spent the rest of the flight working, which was thankfully facilitated by the extra space in F. It would have been nice to have Wi-Fi working, so I am hoping that process ramps up soon. In spite of her awkwardness, the FA in First did a good job serving drinks consistently throughout and checking up on customers.
YVR is a pretty smooth, easy-going airport to transit through. The walk to immigration isn’t too torturous (far superior to my previous experiences in Calgary and Toronto, by far!) and I sailed through Canadian Border Patrol without breaking a sweat. Without question, Canadian BP agents are notorious for grilling foreigners at immigration checkpoints, and I’ve routinely experienced some dreadful encounters in past situations. I’ve become more seasoned since then, realizing that the trick is to respond with brief, concise answers and not flinch nor show emotional outburst when they try to ramp up the interrogation.
On the return flight, I was cleared for my upgrade on the red-eye home with 48 hour notice, but I ultimately decided to same-day chance (SDC) within the 24 hour window, just simply because I’ve done my fair share of red-eyes this year, and really just wanted to get home sooner.
The SDC option I ultimately selected was bizarre: I opted for a transcontinental Vancouver – Washington Dulles – Chicago flight. It was partly on accident, but I was happy to see that I would arrive in Chicago around 11 pm, and I was excited to fly on my first transcontinental flight. Plus, I was 1st on the upgrade list from YVR to IAD and was confirmed IAD to ORD.
I was actually surprised that UA operates a nonstop flight from Vancouver to Washington, which I had not expected. It is a seasonal Saturday/Sunday situation that runs during the summer months, alternating between a Airbus and a 737. Today, I was flying on an A320.
Arriving at YVR, I used global entry for the first time and was happy to have access to the Maple Leaf lounge from Air Canada in Vancouver, where I received phenomenal service. The United app (which I was able to access thanks to the free WiFi at YVR) continued to show that F was booked full from YVR to IAD, but only 6 people had checked in, and I was still #1 on the upgrade list. So, an hour before boarding, I decided to leave the MLL and proceed to the gate area and investigate why upgrades were not clearing.
After waiting about 10 minutes at the gate (UA is seriously understaffed at Vancouver) the agent said there were two open seats, and then asked for my name, and manually cleared me. I was assigned to 1F, not the best seat in the house, but still, F! I questioned, however, whether or not I would have cleared had I not asked the agent personally. A few weeks ago, while boarding in Minneapolis, similar situation – first on the list, one open seat, and I had to ask the agent at the podium while boarding, who took care of it on the spot?
Truthfully, the steak was a bit tough and the meat was fatty, but the sauce was tasty and the side items were great. I lamented not ordering the pasta, but next time, i will know better.
Again, however, I noticed inconsistencies in the catering process. Seated in 1F, our row was served first, and then the FA moved her way towards the rear. Just strange, I guess.
I spent most of the flight watching episodes of Modern Family as sleep was somehow evading me despite being exhausted from the wedding. The ride was extremely smooth with some gorgeous views along the way. We flew directly over Minneapolis and Milwaukee, south of Michigan passing Toledo, Ohio, and right over West Virginia before landing into the Dulles area. We had a nice tailwind that scored us around 30 minutes or so of savings in flight time, and clocked in at around 4.5 hours. It had actually just barely exceeded my outbound ORD to YVR flight in duration, despite being 700+ miles longer!
Landing at IAD, we taxied to the run-down C terminal, where I deplaned and headed towards the Lufthansa Senator Lounge at Washington Dulles, which I’ve written about in a separate post. My flight from IAD to ORD was delayed an hour due to mechanical issues, which eventually turned into a 2-hour delay.
Despite ending on a less-than-desirable note and getting back to Chicago past mid-night, the experience on United continued on an upward trend. There are still some kinks to smooth out from an end-to-end perspective, such as the upgrade clearance system and the need to maintain consistency in service standards, but otherwise, United did a great job on this trip!