Tag Archives: united

Miami, no vice: United Economy IAH-MIA

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei
EVA Air Business Class TPE-IAH
Red Roof Inn IAH Airport
United Economy IAH-MIA
Renting with Sixt Miami
Element Miami International Airport
Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween
Orlando: Disneyworld and other distractions
Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK
EVA Air Business Class JFK-TPE
EVA Air Business Class TPE-SIN


Ah, the US domestic flight experience. The thing that reminds you how flying has gone from dress up event to Greyhound bus.

I survived the night at the Red Roof Inn and after checking my bag for cockroaches checked out and caught the shuttle bus to IAH. I surveyed my fellow shuttle bus passengers, wondering which ones had bed bugs and which ones just had fleas.

Most airlines in the States by and large have made check-in into a completely automated process. I checked in and printed my baggage tag all without human interference. The only time I had to make eye contact with someone was when I handed my bag over to the bag thrower handler behind the counter.

It was my first opportunity to test my TSA Precheck, which came along with my Global Entry registration. I found the experience entirely pleasant- you don’t need to remove your shoes, or your belt, or your coat, or your laptop from your bag. You still can’t bring water in, unfortunately, but the line moves a lot faster. You don’t do the full body scan, instead you walk through a single metal detector. Obviously if you only visit the States once a year it’s not worth getting, but otherwise you should really consider it.

I grabbed a quick breakfast in the United Club at IAH Terminal C. I’ve reviewed United Clubs before in other airports suffice to say they’re nothing special. I know the revamped United Clubs are going to offer hot food options but evidently I had one of the older ones because this was just bread, fruit and cereals.

Boarding started promptly 25 minutes before departure. Although I’m a Star Gold member, I was part of boarding group 2 because I was travelling in coach.

UA 1614 was operated today by an A320 aircraft with 3-3 seating in economy.

I had a middle seat near the rear because I booked this flight relatively last minute.

Zooming in on the seat didn’t improve things.

These seats are United’s new slimline models. Apparently, adopting the new slimline seating in economy allows United to operate the equivalent of 14 additional planes each year. And only at the expense of personal comfort! Who needs that, right.

I personally didn’t find the seats unduly punishing, but I can imagine on longer flights the lack of back support will get to you. I also need to note that everyone around me was impeccably polite on this flight and didn’t recline their seat (it’s a 2.5 hour morning flight, who needs full recline?)

Each seatback had built-in inflight entertainment. Unfortunately, I had already seen “Safety Card” before and I knew all the plot twists (spoiler alert: the nearest exit may be behind you!), so I didn’t think it was worth viewing again.

Takeoff was uneventful and the crew came around to start drinks service. Yes, you read that right. There were complimentary non-alcoholic drinks served on this flight. And contrary to popular belief, US airlines still offer free snacks. United Airlines even built a whole marketing campaign around their Stroopwafel offering

Because apparently people need instructions on how to Stroopwafel (and on turning nouns into verbs), United produced a commercial.

And got said Stroopwafel a spot on a daytime talk show. Seriously. I mean, nothing says slow news day…

This probably sums it up best.

Because I am not inclined to Stroopwafel, I amused myself by browsing the menu card to see what the finest in pre-packaged meals and shelf-stable snacks had to offer.

The hot skillet plates didn’t look half bad, actually.

But i’m pretty sure you can’t get french fries looking like that on an aircraft.

The loos at the back of the plane are spartan but clean. I’ve always wondered how people can stand to join the mile-high club in airplane loos. I mean, hygiene people.

 

I’m struggling to find anything else of note to write about. Ultimately it’s domestic economy. It doesn’t get more basic than this. You’re probably better off thinking of domestic flights in the US like a bus, only it flies. Like the magic schoolbus.

We landed on time in MIA and it was time for the vacation to well and truly begin.

How to get from Singapore to Miami, or why March can’t come soon enough

I finally had time to sit down and plan my leave for 2017. Although the vast, unexplored spaces of South America and Africa beckoned, I consider myself to be pathologically boring and decided to visit the USA (again). But just so no one could call me predictable, I decided to explore the great state of Florida this time round.

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Florida, aka America’s wang

Miami would be my first port of call. My virgin US open experience had whet my appetite for more high quality tennis and the Miami Masters were scheduled to take place at the end of March/start of April.

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But Miami is also known for great beaches, beautiful art deco buildings, Cuban and Argentine influenced cuisine and much more.

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And since I’m in Florida, it only made sense to visit Orlando too. I do love theme parks and the idea of visiting the theme park capital of the world, excites me to no end. Orlando boasts Disney World, the Epcot Centre, Discovery Cove, Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Legoland. Seaworld…the list goes on and on.

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I’ll definitely do a separate writeup on Orlando and Miami with things to do ala my DC trip report, but let’s first look at the higlight of the trip- getting there!

Getting to the States

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It’s not that straightforward to get from Singapore to Miami on miles (if you’re wiling to pay revenue prices you could fly SIN-LHR-MIA, with the LHR-MIA leg operated by Virgin Atlantic). The closest major international airports to Miami were Houston and New York, both of which were about 2.5 hour connecting flights away from Miami. SQ25/26 is one of the hardest routes to clear award flights on, so I decided to look at Houston instead.

SQ recently announced that it would start routing its IAH flight through Manchester instead of Moscow, presumably due to the downturn in the global oil sector leading to less oil-related travel between Houston and Moscow. The flight is currently operated in a 3-class 77W (with the 2006 premium cabin products) but eagle eyed observers noted that from 1 Jan 2017 First Class space was no longer available for redemption or revenue bookings. The most logical conclusion was that SQ has identified this route for deploying the A350.

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I’m going to fly Thai’s A350 in December from Bangkok to Singapore, but this will be my first long haul A350 experience and I’m really excited.

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SQ’s A350 has its newest (2013) business class seat, and although there are some complaints out there about how narrow the cabin is, I think it’ll still be a great trip report to write. The cost of a one-way redemption was 72,250 miles + S$412 of taxes.

Once I land in Houston I have 90 minutes to make my connection to a domestic flight to Miami. It’s a short connection for international-domestic and some might say I’m playing with fire, but I’ve recently been approved for Global Entry which gives me a good feeling about this. What could possibly go wrong!

Here’s where I took advantage of one of the great sweet spots on the Krisflyer partner award chart– the ability to redeem domestic US tickets for only 12,500 in economy.

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I did so because the one-way ticket prices from Houston to Miami that matched my schedule were in excess of S$400. 12,500 miles and S$8 of taxes got me my United economy ticket. It’s a 2.5 hour flight and since Netflix now lets you download movies to watch offline, I figured I’d be just fine.

Getting back to Singapore

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The next problem I faced was how to get back from the States. I had two options.

I could fly back to IAH and take EVA back to Singapore. The problem was that flights between Orlando and Houston were expensive and didn’t suit my timings. The most workable option was to fly with United, but that would get me into Houston at 5.55pm for a flight that took off after midnight.

And that would be an awkward kind of layover, because it’s too long to stay in the airport and too short to go out and explore. Plus, I didn’t really fancy paying US$70 for an Uber roundtrip to downtown Houston for just a couple of hours, with my bags in tow.

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So I looked at option 2 instead, which was to fly to JFK and take EVA’s 1.25am flight home. And that solved it- Jetblue was offering S$219 tickets one way from Orlando to JFK (with a bag included- any FYI, Jetblue flights now earn Krisflyer miles) that got me into JFK at 11pm. That was plenty of time to make the connection.

Despite hearing so many great things about Jetblue, this is actually going to be my first time flying with them, It’s unfortunate I couldn’t take advantage of their great points matching promotion not too long ago, but I’m nonetheless excited to see why this LCC is so much more loved than the legacy carriers in the states.

The only downside of this arrangement is that EVA operates its Hello Kitty service to Houston but not New York.

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High on my to-do list is try one of the EVA Air Hello Kitty flights at some point in the future. But I guess that’ll have to wait until I travel one of the follow routes…

Sidenote: I cannot access the EVA Air Hello Kitty website from my office. why? Well…

The flight cost me 78,000 Lifemiles +$30 of taxes for a total outlay of about US$1,100 (I bought my Lifemiles at 1.375 cents during the last sale)

My only regret is that I really wanted to try a new cabin product this time round. I suppose SQ’s A350 sort of counts, but I was secretly hoping there’d be award space on Asiana’s Business/First class or something available with one of the European carriers.

Has anyone been to Miami/Orlando? Any highlights/must dos?

The Long Way to New York: United Airlines ORD-EWR

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, BKK
Thai Airways First Class BKK-HND
Getting from HND to NRT
ANA First Class Lounge, NRT
ANA First Class NRT-ORD
United Club ORD
United Economy ORD-EWR
Visiting the US Open
Sheraton New York Times Square
Hilton New York Midtown
Wingtips Lounge JFK & Delta to DC
Exploring Washington DC
Element New York Times Square West
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, JFK
Singapore Airlines Suites JFK-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge FRA
Singapore Airlines Suites FRA-SIN


Ah, United. The little airline that could. And then couldn’t. And then really couldn’t. And then really really couldn’t.

United Airlines is perhaps the only airline that is capable of generating such a strong emotional response in people. And with publicity like this, who needs Madison Avenue?

Bloomberg Businessweek Jan. 18 Cover

What is there to be said about an airline that has been called, with varying degrees of hyperbole, the worst airline ever, whose CEO has come out and said in so many words sorry we’re so terrible, which is edged out only by ultra low cost carriers Frontier and Spirit at the bottom of customer satisfaction scores? Does an domestic economy flight that takes roughly 90 minutes even warrant a trip report?

Of course it does!

United operates a wide body 767 on this domestic route, which, if you’re a frequent domestic flyer in the States, is a rare sight. Almost all domestic routes, even supposedly high traffic ones like LAX/SFO-JFK/EWR are operated by A320/321s or 737s. But ORD-EWR seems to be operated by a 767-300 more often than not

These aircraft are some of United’s oldest. As per Airways News

There are 35 767-300ERs in United’s fleet.  The 21 three-cabin 767-300ERs were slated to be retired soon, but United announced that it will keep them and reconfigure them into its two-class configuration. At the moment, it is not known when the conversion process will begin.

So we basically have an aircraft that United at first intended to mothball, then changed their mind because even a dead horse can move if you push it hard enough.

Here’s the shot of economy- a 2-3-2 configuration. The flight was completely full in economy.

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Note the seatback TV screens and tell me that doesn’t awaken nostalgia in you.

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No? Look at the seatrest arm controls and tell me that doesn’t awaken nostalgia (and hypochondria) in you.

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Now, today’s aircraft was being used on a short haul flight, but United still deploys 767s on long haul routes like IAH to GRU. The thought of doing a long haul economy flight with this is not exactly appealing.

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At just shy of 1.8m, I’m not exactly towering over the average American. So if this is my legroom situation, pity the six foot guy who doesn’t buy up to Economy Plus.

The flight itself was a non event. The most amusing part was probably the pre-flight safety video that was played once, stopped halfway through because the audio cut out, then played again with the Spanish soundtrack instead, then eventually given up on altogether, the flight crew presumably assuming we’d gotten the gist of it. United’s safety videos are still miles better than SQ’s though.

We took off. The captain turned off the seat belt sign. Some people got up to use the loo. Others got up to stretch. Still others tried to medicate themselves into a peaceful oblivion.

The flight attendants came by with pretzel snacks. They were free of charge. They made me thirsty. Complimentary water and juice were available.

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The flight landed safely. The crew mumbled something along the lines of “we know you have a choice in air travel and we thank you for choosing us”. Everyone in the cabin tried to avoid eye contact when disembarking, knowing very well that we had no choice in air travel. My bag arrived on time.

Of course when you’ve just stepped off a flight as amazing as ANA’s First Class, everything else is going to be a massive step down.  And the flight wasn’t bad by any means, it was just a timely reminder of why we go into the miles and points game in the first place (yes I wouldn’t have redeemed business class on a short haul flight like this but can you imagine the poor s.o.bs who have to do this aircraft in long haul economy?)

When you fly US domestic, your loyalty is really to price more than anything else. As poor as the product may be, you can’t really argue with the fares (at least on routes where there’s a good amount of competition). Especially if you’re flying in economy, there really is no good point of differentiation among carriers. Heck, if not for my Star Gold status I’d even consider flying with Spirit seeing how I need to pay for a bag anyway.

In any case, I was in New York City now, and that meant heading on over to the US open…