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UAL 987: ORD – CDG

The flight to Paris-Charles de Gaulle is a quick one – it takes just about 8 hours from Chicago. This post will not include elaborate photos of the caviar courses offered in some premium cabins nor will I be opining about the fully flat enclosed seats. Why? We flew economy. I struggle spending the miles on a premium cabin flights to Europe from Chicago – the flight is so short and the offerings aren’t worth the points, in my opinion. Plus, the airfare itself was just about $900, while not free by any means, it’s still a couple hundred dollars cheaper than really good priced tickets during peak season.

Flight: United Airlines 987
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 20 A&B
Departure: 18h25 (19h30)
Arrival: 09h30 (10h00)

Since we left on a Saturday (we usually maximize our vacation time by leaving after work on a Friday, but the airfare was about 25% more to do that), we had all day to finish packing and to get the house ready for the house sitter (#PoorMissLillly needed a caretaker since we were going to be gone for a week). We called an UberX and left the house around 15h50 and arrived at ORD right at 16h20, with plenty of time to check a bag (god forbid, I know) and make our way to the lounge for a couple of mediocre wines and some Tilamook Cheese (which reminds me dearly of growing up in Oregon).

Our flight was delayed about 40 minutes, which allowed us more time in the lounge. Since we didn’t need to fight for space in the bins for our larger roller bags we waited to board until Group 3 had already started – this allowed us to walk through the Group 2 line and bypass everyone already queued. I hate queuing.

We took our regular seats (20A&B – which are the second row of Economy and exit rows – so full recline and extra leg room, but the only downside is that they are very cold in flight) and waited. And Waited. And Waited. The flight was full with just a seat or two empty.

The flight was delayed waiting for cabin crew – and we left with the minimally staffed cabin, full of ‘On-Callers” who were given notice of their trip to Paris shortly before they actually boarded the plane. Since the cabin crew was short, drink and meal service took quite a while and the lovely gentlemen in the row in front of us would have no part of it. He demanded First Class Service (on Cathay or Singapore, not even United First) on an Economy ticket price. He didn’t like the food (who does?), his entertainment system didn’t work and he demanded the purser fix it, while she was trying to serve meals in Economy. When he was finished with his meal, he rang the call button asking the tray to be taken away – mind you, the Stews were still serving the back of the plane. This guy was a dick. No he wasn’t French, he was American. The Stew working our aisle was great and was able to shrug it off like a true professional.

We landed about 30 minutes late and made it through customs and immigration to baggage claim in just a few minutes. We picked up our rental car (more on that later) and headed directly to the hotel. Sunday traffic in Paris was non-existent and we were pulling into the Prince de Galles hotel around 11h10.

For the price and the length of the trip, I couldn’t complain. I know what to expect on ORD to Europe. I come prepare with water, entertainment and the realization that while I’d like First Class service on Thai (refresh your memory on that here), I know I’m not going to get it, nor will I pay for it on these routes. Go in with realistic expectations and it’ll be great.

Do you find value in buying up or upgrading to Business or First on an 8 hour Trans-Atlantic Flight?

UA 3471/68 ORD-EWR-ARN (Economy Plus)

One of the things I love about Chicago is that I can get almost anywhere in the world in just two flights.  Most of my travels allow me to get anywhere without connecting at all.  The nonstop option doesn’t really work when I’m trying to get to South Africa or Vietnam, but to Europe it works great.  That is unless of course, you are going to Stockholm (ARN) from Chicago (ORD) – to stay with United the whole way you need to stop in Newark (EWR), or on SAS a stop in Copenhagen is required, or on Lufthansa you need to stop either in Munich of Frankfurt.  The cheapest option for me on the dates I needed to travel was on United.

When I’m required to have a stop, I prefer to have that stop as close to my destination as possible. Get me to Europe and I’ll connect there. That way if there is mechanical issues or other delays, at least I am there and there are more options to my destination.  I don’t want to have a connection in the US and my gateway City (the airport I connect in immediately before I leave the US) have only a single flight a day to my destination.  That’s how my Stockholm flight was set. There were at least half a dozen flights between ORD and EWR on departure day, but only one to ARN.  If my ORD-EWR flight was delayed, I could be stuck in Newark all night after missing the one daily flight to Stockholm.

The week of my departure Chicago had horrendous weather.  I left on a Thursday morning, but the week started out with most offices closing because of “life threatening wind chill” of -42C (or -45F).  It snowed. It was windy. It was miserable.  The morning of my departure it started to snow.  I was afraid that my Regional Jet flight might get scrapped and only the bigger (or as I call them “real planes” would make the hub-hub flights).  I debated on putting myself on the earlier flight just to get to EWR (where the weather was perfect, by the way), but I decided to risk it on my original itinerary – and if it didn’t work, I’d just come back home.  I’m glad I didn’t put myself on a different flight, because my flight was the only one that morning that left on time.  I was actually in Newark before the flight that was scheduled to leave an hour before mine left.  The travel gods were smiling.

Carrier: United Airlines (ORD-EWR-ARN)
Flight: UA 3471 / 68
Seat: 10A / 21C
Departure: January 9, 2014 – 11h55
Arrival: January 10, 2014 – 07h35
Travel Time: 12 hours 35 minutes
Flight Miles: 4,649

I won’t waste anyone’s time with the details on the Regional Jet service between ORD and EWR.  It was a small plane, it was full, service was what you’d expect on a Regional Jet servicing United Hubs. Once we landed I had about 2 hours in Newark, so of course, I decided to hit the lounge.  It was extremely full and since it was my first time in Newark (period), I didn’t know my way around and I didn’t know which lounge would be best.  I picked one right near my departing gate and wandered aimlessly around the lounge, feebly attempting to find a place to drop anchor and work for a few minutes and enjoy cheap lounge booze.

The flight was oversold, so I made sure I was at the gate ready to board when my group was called: Not because I would be denied boarding (didn’t have that much booze and I am confident a Mileage Plus Gold member wouldn’t get forcibly bumped if other options were available), but I wanted to make sure my roller board would be with me. Gate checking for such a short trip always concerns me.

While I don’t necessarily like flying B757s transatlantic (TATL), at least the plane that would carry me to Stockholm had updated interiors including a semi-modern (for United standards) In-Flight-Entertainment System – with both video and audio on demand.  Since it was a TATL, we were served a meal, which I chose the pasta (a gummy flavorless mistake).  The flight attendant consistently working my seat was very nice and very attentive, but she did struggle a bit walking down the aisle (her hips > the aisle width).

I watched the new James Bond film, but as with the other 4 times I’ve watched it on a plane, I am asleep before the film has crossed the 25 minute mark (I blame airplanes, not Daniel Craig).  The woman sitting next to me was Swedish. She was traveling with her husband and 3 daughters (yes, three 17-21 year old blond, tall, thin, Swedish daughters — it did nothing for me, but I was thinking of all my friends who would have been in heaven).  She (the mom) was very nice, but one of those people who wanted to spend the flight chit-chatting.  I told her my plans for seeing Stockholm and disconnecting for a bit.  She thought it a better idea that I go to her town with her family and explore semi-rural Sweden.  It was a lovely thought, but I’ve seen Hostel and I’m not following a beautiful group of people to an unknown land.

We landed early into Stockholm and customs was amazingly fast and efficient.  The border patrol officer thought my quick trip was a great idea and even asked what I planned on doing (perhaps that was part of his profiling, but he did give me some recommendations for food and booze, which I took him up on).

Despite the Chicago weather and the quick layover in Newark, the flight over was perfectly fine. I don’t like the idea of flying a narrow-bodied plane across the Atlantic, but it fit my needs (and I got MY seat — aisle seat in the second row of over-wing exits).  I’d probably take this flight again, mostly because the other options (in coach) have much more limited leg room and the idea of sitting for 8 hours (TATL) with only 30″-31″ of pitch just makes my skin crawl.

Where do you prefer to have your layover – closer to home or closer to your destination?  Do you mind single-aisle, narrow-bodied planes for trips across the pond or do you prefer a wide-bodied jet?  If you had to fly to Stockholm from Chicago, how would you go?

TG 656: BKK-ICN (Royal Silk Class)

After our less than stellar departure from the St. Regis Bangkok, we headed to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.  I wanted to spend a bit of time in the lounge, try the food, do some shopping and spend a few minutes exploring the airport.  We took a cab and ended up arriving at the airport around 20h15.  The business class check-in area was nearly empty and we were quickly checked in for not only the flight that evening but our connection in Seoul as well. We were presented passes to the business class lounge as well – although the pass wasn’t needed since we were flying business (our boarding pass would let us in) and we have Star Alliance Gold Status with United (and I have it on Turkish too).

We were presented with a completely empty Security and Immigration area – so from the time we exited the cab until we were air side was approximately 10  minutes.  Pretty great.  We decided to lounge-hop, trying out the various business class lounges in the terminal.  The food was pretty dismal at each outpost though. I guess only the First Class Lounge, which we didn’t get a chance to experience, had the top notch cuisine.  We did manage to get a complimentary foot massage in one of the business class lounges though.  I think I had more massages (full body or foot) in this two week trip than I had over the past 5 years.

The plane that would take us to Incheon was parked at a remote gate – so we loaded into a bus and headed to an outstation.  There were two sets of stairs leading to the plane, one at 1L and one at 2L — Business Class boarded though 1L.

Carrier: Thai International Airways (BKK-ICN)
Flight: TG 656
Seat: 12B
Departure: March 30, 2013 – 23h30 / 23h31
Arrival: March 31, 2013 – 06h55 / 06h45
Travel Time: 5 hour 25 minutes / 5 hours and 14 minutes
Flight Miles: 2,283

MS prepped and ready for our flight to ICN

MS prepped and ready for our flight to ICN

We were one of the first people aboard the plane and were greeted by a stew who offered us each an amenity kit and a pre-departure beverage (yes, we opted for champagne, it was better than what we got on the way to Hanoi, but not as good as the 2003 Dom — even though the 2003  isn’t all that great of a vintage).  The seats on board were the old style angle flat seats, which were better than we’d flown here, here, here, here or here, but not nearly as good as here.

We didn’t even opt to have the meal on the plane since we left close to midnight and were hoping to get some shut eye.  The business class cabin was about half full.  Once we told the stew that we were going to skip out on the late night meal, she made sure we had a full glass of mediocre champagne for the first hour, but then was gone (which is when we decided to sleep).

I woke up slightly before 05h00 and decided to watch some TV shows on the IFE before breakfast.  As soon as the stew saw that I was awake, she was over very quickly asking if I needed anything and delivered a bag of cookies…although I didn’t see these anywhere else in the cabin, nor did I see any other passengers with them — maybe they were just from her purse, in any event they were tasty as I was getting hungry.

About an hour before landing, breakfast was served. I decided to have the fruit plate, which was again mediocre at best.  The worst part — no more champagne (even if it was run of the mill).

When booking this flight, I was surprised that Thai had two flights from BKK-ICN leaving within 30 minutes of each other, plus one Asiana flight leaving at the same time. Three Star Alliance flights within 30 minutes of each other seemed out of the ordinary to me — obviously there is quite the demand, eh?

This flight was perfectly acceptable. The flight itself was pretty empty (at least in Business) and the service was relatively attentive (but left us alone when  we wanted to be left alone).  The champagne was disappointing (but a near midnight departure shouldn’t have passengers up all night boozin’).  I would have preferred fully flat seats — I was spoiled on Thai’s A380.  I really find the angle seats to be tough to sleep comfortably on as well.  All in all, this was a perfectly acceptable flight.  I’d take it again if the timing and availability worked out.

Have you flown this or the other midnight flight from BKK-ICN on Thai?  What about the Asiana flight or the Korean Air flight on this route?  How do you handle the running out of Champagne on a flight???