My first encounter with United was for my second trip to the United States, and it brought me to the ‘happiest destination on Earth’ – Disneyworld in Orlando, so they were always somewhat memorable even when I was in Economy last time. Today this journal post is on the Domestic First Class which will position me for my First Class flight across the Pacific. It might sound weird for some to travel East from the West Coast for a flight to Asia, but for the Asiana Suites I believe it was all worth it and it gave me a free night in Chicago – the city of skyscrapers (or the city that built America according to the magazine in the SAS lounge).
UA1732 Vancouver International YVR – Chicago O’Hare ORD
Sunday 2 Dec 2012
Boeing 737-800 N33294
When it is my day to depart for the intensely awaited trip, the sky in Vancouver turned a beautiful blue, which is a rare yet nice occurence on a Winter day. Somehow the beautiful drive to the airport courtesy of my brother made me want to stay in Vancouver. But off it is to a quiet street on a Sunday morning for the drive to the airport. Blue skies greeted me at Vancouver’s International Airport and also my favourite in North America. The check-in with just me travelling alone was fast and the agent did point out to not being able to print out the Asiana boarding pass which I have to collect at the airport. I had originally not planned to extract my luggage in Chicago and prepared some clothes for the one-night layover but turns out I could not check my luggage all the way through even on the same itinerary. That was a disappointment really. And the US air transport rules also meant I had to bring the luggage myself to the carousel for security reasons. One thing I noticed was how the agent never mentioned the lounge access or showed me the location of the lounges in Vancouver.
Next stop after dropping off my luggage is always the dreaded security check. Travelling to the US from Canada meant that customs and immigration were processed in Vancouver so that when arriving at Chicago, I am treated like any other domestic passenger. Both queues for security and immigration was thankfully short and I passed through in about 15 minutes. That must have been a record, but it just means I have more than enough time to spare before boarding. I went straight to the gate as I didn’t think much of accessing the lounge since YVR is such a nice terminal in its own right already with free internet access in the public areas as well. But after say waiting at the gate for 15 minutes, I decided to just find the lounge myself or at least take a walk around. I did find the entrance to the Maple Leaf lounge managed by Air Canada. This would be my first time accessing an Air Canada lounge and it was a fair exchange too, since I headed to United’s Red Carpet Lounge in SF while taking Air Canada’s business class to Vancouver, now I am gaining access to an Air Canada lounge while taking United First.
The Maple Leaf lounge in Vancouver while travelling between Canada and the United States is located between gates 84 and 85 on the transborder side of the terminal while my flight is departing from gate 78. With the lounge located on the second floor, there was an elevator which led to a nice sunlit reception area. It was a nice welcoming area, and much better than United’s Red Carpet Lounge in SF. Since it was early in the morning, the lounge was serving breakfast and there was muffins, cereals and fruits. Since I had a heavy breakfast of the chocolate croissant I got from Seattle the day before, I skipped on the food choices, but I did go for a healthy banana and some grapefruit juice. There was an espresso machine with a good selection of teas but I skipped on that as well. Reading choices were alright with a good range of magazines covering topics like gadgets, golf, fashion, business and travel.
The lounge is actually a nice place to spend the morning just to lounge and look at planes. There was also a separate dining area overlooking the terminal for those wishing to eat. It is also a fascinating morning as throughout the time I was in the lounge the weather in Vancouver changed from very sunny to cloudy then to rain. How quintessentially Vancouver!
Thus by the time I went to the gate for boarding, the weather was cloudy. There was a separate boarding for passengers by classes and boarding a plane early always have its advantages in being able to settle down and relax for the flight. Once seated in the seat, it was comfortable and wide, and the seats even had enough space to hold my DSLR on the side. Definitely more comfortable than Air Canada’s short-haul Business Class on the Embraer jets. The large seat back pockets also held enough space for my Bose headphones and new iPad Mini.
The completion of boarding indicated a full flight on Business with just one seat left unoccupied. A welcome drink order was taken and a welcome video with Jeff Smisek on the new United was shown. It was quite a nice video actually. The captain indicated through the infocomm system that we will depart from runway 08R with a flight time of 3 hour and 20 minutes.
Though it was a cloudy day, there was still nice views on take-off. This is another reason to sit upfront since views are nicer and unobstructed. As we gained altitude I browsed through the United inflight magazine and once we attained cruising altitude, the attendant came over and took meal orders from passengers. There was a choice of beef wrap or shrimp salad for the mains. I decided for a lighter lunch and went with a shrimp salad while my seat neighbour took the beef wrap.
The meal was served as we flew past the BC section of the Rockies, and maybe because it has yet to snowed when I left Vancouver, the clear skies showed just little scattered areas of snow over the mountains. Anyway the meal consisted of a cream of asparagus soup and a fruit bowl. The salad was also accompanied by a packet of croutons. A small packet of cookies came with the meal but it was weird since United does serve hot cookies later in the meal service. I got some ginger ale for my drink of choice since I don’t expect to get the Canada Dry ginger ale after leaving Canada. Both the salad and soup was actually outstanding and much better than I expected. Definitely the best meal I had in any North American airline.
Warm cookies was served after the meal and it was definitely the highlight. I mean, who doesn’t like warm cookies? The attendant also asked for an order of coffee or tea. Sticking to my routine of trying to just have one cup of coffee I took tea instead, and it was served with a morsel of lemon.
There was also a nice selection of movies onboard the entertainment choices and I managed to watch both Ice Age and the Dark Knight Rises, though having watched the latter on the cinema previously, i skipped some of the more boring portions. The best entertainment came from the windows during the flight as the flight descended in the sunset into Chicago.
It was a nice landing and the skies have turned dark by the time we landed in Chicago and it is definitely a treat to sea a stream of planes queueing for landing. I took someshots of the bulkhead seats and my own seat as we waited for the door to open. There was a long wait for luggage upon disembarkation which really negated the fact I was one of the first to reach the baggage claim area. Priority baggage handling was observed though my snowboard arrived at the other side of the baggage claim on a conveyor for odd-sized baggage.
On the overall it was one of the nicest flight within North America and the whole trip was comfortable enough. The meal has definitely got to be the highlight here though!