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Tim Foolery

United Airlines’ New Boarding Process

United Airlines just announced changes to their passenger boarding process. Every couple of years it seems like the airlines (not just United, of course) try a new method for boarding their planes. For a while, it seemed like every airline had an elaborate queueing process, with half a dozen or more boarding zones. These zones caused people to line up long before boarding actually began. Sometimes the passengers getting off the arriving plane were met with a wall of people eagerly lined up to board. It was a mess.

United is trying to fix that issue. How many of you have been to O’hare, SFO, or EWR recently and had your path obstructed by dozens of people in the boarding line, snaking into the main concourse? Well, United’s plan to fix this is simple. Passengers should only line up if they are in Boarding Groups 1 or 2. Groups 3-5 remain seated and then they’ll be called once the first two Groups are on board. That part of the plan seems fine, although I really don’t think it will work. See, if you are in Groups 3-5, you’ll end up boarding through Lane 2…which means you’ll likely still be fighting for your spot in that line.

United Airlines' New Boarding Process

United Airlines’ New Boarding Process

Reorganization

My biggest issue is how the new Boarding Groups are organized. I’m a Premier Platinum flyer with United, meaning I fly 75K+ miles each year and spend $9K with them. Currently, I board in Group 1. Group 1 consists of Premier 1K (100K mile flyers), Premier Platinum and First Class Passengers. We are the first to board the plane after the pre-boarding folks (Uniformed Military, Families with small children, Global Services and people with mobility issues). This is great for me. I board and get situated; I never have a problem finding overhead bin space near my seat for my roller bag. Group 2 included Premier Gold (50K mile flyers), Star Alliance Gold, and certain credit card holders. When I use to board with Group 2, I had a hard time finding space for my bag near my seat – often times I’d need to go back 4-5 rows to properly stow the bag. Now I don’t usually need my bag while in flight, it is just problematic when we deplane. Swimming upstream to get my back is always a pain the neck.

The New Process

The new process adjusts who is in Group 1. Now Premier 1K is part of pre-boarding. Group 1 consists of Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and Premium Cabins (First and Business Class passengers).
Now I know that on the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue. The most important part of flying is arriving safely and close to the schedule. One of the benefits for hitting 75K miles each year was to board a bit earlier. If I’m not traveling with my roller bag, I don’t board early.  I wait until the bitter end as I don’t want to sit on the plane any longer than I have to.

The best part of this change is that it keeps the credit card passengers a Group behind us. Once I get a couple more trips under my belt, it may all work out just fine and I’ll actually enjoy this new structure. I’m not sold on it now though.

If I were designing the boarding Groups (purely for selfish reasons of course), I’d have Global Services continue to pre-board. Then Group 1 would be First Class, Premier 1K and Premier Platinum. Group 2 would be Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and credit card people (I believe that United makes decent money off these folks). Group 3 would be Premier Silver, Star Alliance Silver and people who purchased Priority Access. The rest of the Groups would remain unchanged.

How will this change at United Airlines impact your travels? Are you boarding sooner or later? Do you not care at all because you just check your bag and don’t have to worry about it?

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EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (Business Class) TPE-SIN

Walking down the gate, I take the first left turn and board our Boeing 777-300 through door 1L. Like my last flight, from Chicago, I was seated in a window seat in the second cabin on EVA Air Business Class. This time I was on the right (starboard) side of the plane – I like to mix it up from, time to time, ya know.

The Flight

I neared my seat, a stew approached me, welcoming me on board.  As I got settled she immediately took my drink order. She returned with my drink and took my briefcase from me to stow in the overhead. Such different service than United, huh? I sit down and was handed a warm, moist towel and a glass of champagne. This shorter, non-flagship service, served Delamotte Blanc de Blanc 2007, and not Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame. It was good, but you could definitely tell the difference in their long-haul vs medium/short routes.

Champagne in EVA Air Business Class

Pre-departure champagne

EVA Air Welcome Message

Welcome Aboard

This flight was also quite empty, with only 12 of 38 seats occupied. The four and a half hour schlep to Singapore was pretty damn efficient. I really am not a breakfast guy in general and don’t like congee.  When I saw the beef noodle soup as a breakfast option, I knew that was my selection! It had been 20 hours since I left home, I wasn’t in the breakfast mood.

Beef Noodle Soup

Beef Noodle Soup with all the Accouterments

Beef Noodle Soup

Beef Noodle Soup for Breakfast

A simple fruit dessert

A simple fruit dessert

The beef noodle soup was amazing. I did pull out the 4 inch piece of giggly beef fat immediately though. The soup was a bit bland at first, but after mixing in the condiments (or as the menu says traditional delicatessens), it was great. I usually steer clear of soups on a plane, the turbulence and spilling or burn issues, but I am so happy I didn’t here.

Pajamas are not provided on such a short flight( which is really a no brainer, why would you need them?) We were not provided an amenity kit, which was disappointing. Since I didn’t get the Rimowa kit out of Chicago, I was hoping I’d get one on this leg. A bit disappointing.

After the meal was cleared, I ordered another glass of champagne and a water. Dropping the seat into a bed I decided to get some more rest.  I knew I’d have a long day ahead of me (landing at noon meant I had at least 10 hours of activity ahead of me).

I snoozed off and on over the remaining three hours of flight time. We approached Changi Airport and unlike the last leg, the stews were calm and gracious, closing out their pre-arrival duties about eight minutes before the wheels touched down.

Since we deplaned from door 2L I was the third person off the plane and quickly made my way through immigration, customs and to the airport’s train station.

Changi Airport

Changi Airport

In Conclusion

I was really looking forward to experiencing and comparing EVA 777-300 service on both long and short haul flights. The hard product was the same, which I love. The service and food was really top notch as well. The real differences were the PJs, amenity kits and the really awful entrees on the long-haul.

The only other time I’ve flown a regional Business Class product in Asia before was between Bangkok and Hanoi, Taipei and Bangkok, Bangkok and Rangoon and Bangkok to Soeul all on Thai Airways. Those Thai products differed greatly and of them all, I’d prefer to stick with EVA. I’m flying Singapore to Bangkok later this trip and can’t wait to compare that product.

What do you think about EVA’s Regional service? Does it seem crazy to you that an airline would fly an internationally configured long-haul aircraft in a short 4.5 hour hop? I wish United would fly Polaris Business Class flights from Chicago to the west coast!

EVA Air Infinity Lounge

After hurrying off the flight from Chicago, I quickly made my way to the EVA Air Infinity Lounge.  EVA Air has several lounges available in Taipei, but I decided to visit just one.  As I made my way to the lounge, I was struck by how absolutely dead this major airport was at 04h15.  Empty hallways as far as the eye could see!

The Airport

The Departure Board

The departure board – no flight departures for hours.

Empty hallways at TPE

Early morning and empty terminal

Empty hallways at TPE

Soon these halls would be filled with excited travelers, not so much at 04h30.

Entering the EVA Air Infinity Lounge you are greeted by several staffers, plus an inquisitive robot.  The robot seemed mostly to distract people entering the lounge.

EVA Air Infinity Lounge

EVA Air Infinity Lounge

The Lounge

My first order of business was to grab a shower.  It had been nearly 20 hours since I had last showered.  While I wasn’t working out, I did feel quite gross.  Maybe the gallons of champagne I drank had something to do with that.  I immediately swapped my boarding pass for a shower key.  Every time I take a shower at TPE, I struggle to figure out how to actually enter the shower area.  I can’t offer guidance either, as I try a dozen different ways to get in and then it finally clicks.  Just ask for help. I’m too stubborn to do that though.

The shower room isn’t anything fancy, but it is clean and has hot water.

Accessories in the shower room

The private shower room is stocked with fresh toiletries and towels.

Bulk Products in the Shower

Bulk shampoo, conditioner and body wash were waiting in the shower.

Private Shower Rooms must have a toilet, right?

Not too fancy of a toilet, but it did have several bells and whistles, that I didn’t try out.

After the shower, I felt like a new man.  I wasn’t very hungry, but I did force myself to grab some water, more champagne and some ice cream.  The lounge was relatively quiet this early in the morning, which allowed me to get a little work done and relax before my next flight.

Video Arcade or Lounge?

EVA Air Infinity Lounge looks like an arcade from the 1980s.

Video Arcade or Lounge?

The EVA Air Infinity Lounge has ample room for guests.

I had spent the last 15.5 hours eating and drinking, so I wasn’t too keen on the idea of breakfast food.  Plus, I had another 5 hour flight in Business Class in just a couple of hours.  I’ll skip this meal.

Self-serve beverage station.

Self-serve beverage station.

Breakfast Pastries

The breakfast pastries weren’t all that appetizing

Chilled Breakfast Case

Yogurt, butter and other chilled breakfast items

En Route to the Gate

I got a little tired of just sitting around the EVA Air Infinity Lounge, so I headed off to explore TPE and make my way towards the gate.

Pilot Hello Kitty

I don’t understand the infatuation with Hello Kitty, but I do dig the aviation themed kitty.

Boeing 777-300

My flight from TPE to SIN. Love this Boeing 777-300.

Sanrio Planes Crack Me Up

While not exactly THE Hello Kitty Plane, this Sanrio livery was hot.

I’ve never had much time to spend exploring TPE, but I’ve been pretty pleased with my time there.  Unfortunately, EVA Air doesn’t offer any stellar ground services like Thai Airways, Singapore or Lufthansa does, so there really isn’t any reason to push for a longer layover.

Have you spent much time in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport?  What should I be on the look out for next time I transit?

EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (Business Class) ORD-TPE

EVA Air boards Business Class passengers directly from the Air France / KLM Lounge for our flight to Taipei. I was the third person on board and quickly took my seat of 9A. As I was getting situated (you know, tablet, headphones and chargers out), Daisy, the flight attendant working my portion of the cabin approached, delivering menus and a warm moist towel to help you get refreshed before the 15 hour flight.

On the Ground

EVA doesn’t serve champagne on the ground, at least in Chicago. Cook County taxes are very high and they don’t want to pay them, so they serve an inferior sparkling wine, they wouldn’t even tell me what kind it was.

Champagne and chocolate with a view

Pre-departure champagne and chocolate

Daisy asks if I want the seat cover – not a mattress pad mind you, just a quilted cover over the seat. I took it. I’ll take any additional padding I can get on airline seats. Pajamas were delivered and I immediately hopped up and changed. The lavatory between the two business class cabins is much more roomy, making it much easier to change. The front lavatory is a standard sized room…small, very small.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

Loves these very private seats.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

Leg room and pop-out IFE

Lots of leg room on EVA Air’s Business Class Seat

New Pajamas for Me

New Pajamas!

Boarding continued and I sat back and enjoyed my drink, in my new pajamas, and thought about my trip. Was I crazy for flying so far for just a couple of days? Maybe, but I am going to enjoy the journey. The door closed at 00h20 and we were pulling away from the jet bridge at 00h23. It was fast. Then we sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes.

Amenity Kit + Champagne + Airport = Happy Tim

Business Class Amenity kit. Not the fabulous Rimowa kit, but Georg Jensen was still nice

Amenity Kit Contents

The amenity kit was a little lean

Copa Airlines

Departure – Copa Airlines off to Panama City

In the Air

Once airborne, the crew sprung into action. It was late, people wanted to sleep and the sooner they can put us to bed, the easier their flight will be.

I had preordered the duck for my entree, which was easy to do on the EVA website. EVA offers some additional entrees that aren’t normally stocked on board, but they are catered upon request.

Another glass of champagne arrived as did the amuse bouche. It was quite lovely, Turkey Ham (huh? What’s turkey ham?) with Asparagus with champagne was a great way to kick off this Business Class Meal.

Appetizer of Turkey and Onion Tart

Prelude
Turkey Ham with Green Asparagus – Brie and Gouda Cheese with Onion Chutney Tartlet

The lobster appetizer arrived fifteen minutes later. It was served with drawn butter and a quinoa salad that was just packed with flavor. I skipped the quail egg though

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Right at 01h30 my duck arrived. I asked for a glass of Bordeaux to accompany the duck, but it never arrived. The duck looked…well…strange. I’m not sure what happened to it, but about three-quarters of it looked and felt like it had been eaten by someone else then spit back onto my plate. I was disgusted. I couldn’t eat it. Daisy came by and saw that I wasn’t eating and she asked a couple of questions, then took it away. The purser came back to talk to me and she was mortified. She suggested I choose a different entree, which I did. The kung pao chicken sounded good to me and it was delivered moments later.

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

The chicken looked strange too. It was stuffed with a truffle brioche that just seemed off when paired with a kung pao truffle jus. I scraped out the stuffing and ate the chicken. Quite a disappointing entree selection.

Second Entree - Chicken

Main Course
Truffle Brioche Stuffed in Pan Friend Chicken Brease with Black Truffle Jus – Mixed Vegetables

The fruit and cake plate and was delivered. There was no cheese course. When I asked about it, the matter of fact answer was that “There was no cheese course tonight.” Hmmmrph.

The disappointing dessert

Sweets
Fruit – Blueberry Cheese Cake

At 02h00 the dinner service was over, plates and linens cleared. I was a bit disappointed.

It was time to turn in, so I laid my seat out to a bed and put on the EVA provided headphones and listened to the Big Bang Theory as I slept. It is a great plane show – as it always makes me want to sleep.

I woke up after about 5 hours of sleep and decided to watch a movie I brought (Indiana Jones) and get some work done. The internet was slow and cost $16.95 for three hours of service. It did what I needed it to do, but it was soooo slow.

At 08h00 I ordered the vermicelli with pork, which was a great choice. I should have had three of those for dinner.

Amazing Mid Flight Snack

Snack
Stir Fried Vermicelli with Pork in Taiwanese Style Sauce

I napped intermittently until breakfast, which was served promptly at 12h30. The lights popped on with a never before seen intensity! I’m not a big breakfast guy, so I skipped the cereals and I chose to have the fruit, pastry and the bread pudding. It was all pretty great. The fruit was a little under ripe, but it was still flavorful.

Croissant with Butter

Breakfast Pastry – Croissant

Simple Breakfast of Bread Pudding.

Breakfast
Butter Bread Pudding with Cherry Ragout

At this point, breakfast is done and we are still two hours from Taipei. US and European carriers don’t start serving arrival meal until 90 minutes before landing. We had lots of time left, but now I wasn’t really in the mood for sleeping.

Landing

As we come into Taipei, the flight crew sprung into action. Unlike the rest of the trip, they seemed like chickens with their heads cut off. Seemingly executing their landing procedures in a near panic mode. For example, I had five sheets of paper stored in a cubby behind my shoulder. I was told that I couldn’t stow anything there and as I was grabbing it another stew comes over, repeats the request, then the first grabs the paper, ripping it, then shoves it in another cubby (that also said No Stowage During Taxi, Take Off or Landing). Theses were just notes I had taken to prep for my trip – not a big deal, but the service sure went south fast. The crew all took their seats and we still had 30 minutes until we touched down.

We rolled into TPE at 04h05, 11 minutes early. Despite this flight being more than 15 hours, I wasn’t ready for it to end. I really do love EVA. The flight timing is great – I can work a full day, leave at 00h30 and be anywhere in Asia by noon the next day. That’s no small feat from Chicago. The seats are among my favorite in Business Class. If you are traveling with someone it is a bit difficult to chat, but for a solo traveler, you can’t beat these seats. The food is usually pretty good – the entrees on this flight were pretty abysmal, but the other courses were enjoyable.  Loved the noodles.

The Cost

I used 90,000 United Miles (Saver Award) on this Business Class flight (including the next one), the value can’t be beat. I haven’t ever checked the actual cost of the flight, because I’m not expensing these flights back to a third party. I’m not paying thousands of dollars this flight (likely) costs in Business Class.

Have you flown EVA Business Class before? Do you dig their service? What do you think was wrong with that duck entree I had? Have you ever not wanted to get off a flight after more than 15 hours of flying?

Global Entry Renewal

Global Entry is a godsend for frequent international travelers.  This government program can save you hours each and every time your return from foreign travels.  The program last for five years, then you need to renew.

The Program

Global Entry and the Trusted Traveler Program is managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  This program allows you to bypass the sometimes enormously long lines at Customs and Border Patrol at US Border Crossings.  You must apply for and be approved for this program and generally, it’s a pretty painless process.

Basically, you complete an online application, including your name, previous addresses, employers and foreign countries you’ve recently visited.  DHS reviews your application and if approved, they clear you for an interview.  The interview is quick and painless, unless you lied on your application!  My original interview lasted about 10 minutes and the Officer just asked a couple questions about my travels, like:

  • Why would you travel to Trinidad?
  • What was your favorite part of Luanda?
  • Why do you visit London so frequently?

Once approved, you can bypass the long lines at Customs and Border Patrol and enter the US by using simple kiosks.  You also don’t have to fill out that little blue slip of paper either – all those questions are answers via kiosk.

The Cost

The program isn’t free, of course.  The program costs $100 for the five-year membership.  $20 a year!?  It’s totally worth it.  What’s even better, many luxury credit cards will reimburse you for this expense.  Just another reason to love the American Express Platinum Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige cards, as if we needed another reason!

The Renewal

Department of Homeland Security changed the website a few months ago, so for your renewal you’ll need to create a new login.  Grab your Trusted Traveler ID Number (found on your Global Entry ID Card) and it’ll take you about five minutes to recreate your account.  After confirming your name, address, employer(s) and countries you’ve visited, you just pay your fee and wait.  This was the toughest part.  Once you submit your application, you can’t do anything until you’ve been fully vetted.  At that point you can schedule your renewal interview.  Surprisingly, I didn’t need to have a second interview!  My renewal application was approved – the review took DHS nearly six weeks.  Three of my colleagues all had to go in for renewal interviews though, so don’t count of getting off without an interview.

Global Entry Status

Global Entry – APPROVED

Do you have Global Entry?  How much time does it save you?  It has saved me over two hours sometimes on arrival – to me it is totally worth it.