Quickie Trip Report - A Dream Dashed

United (ex-Continental) 777-200, Tokyo-Narita (NRT) to Los Angeles (LAX) in BusinessFirst.


Enjoying Tokyo Haneda's awesome observation deck after I got my ticket reissued.  Photo:  Naya

Most of my readers probably know by now that my All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 787 Dreamliner trip was not exactly a complete success.  While I got to partake in ANA’s inaugural flight from San Jose to Tokyo on the Dreamliner, four days before I was scheduled to return home, the 787 fleet got grounded.  This came after an ANA 787 made an emergency landing at Takamatsu after experiencing smoke in the cockpit and cabin due to a battery fire.  Nine days prior, battery on board a Japan Airlines (JAL) 787 caught on fire while parked at the gate in Boston.


Despite the safety issues, I was disappointed that I would not be able to fly home on the 787.  Actually, I dreaded more that I will end up flying home on United, due to the fact that they do not exactly have a reputation for good service like their Asian counterparts and their Business Class have middle seats (what’s the deal with that?).  Let’s just say I did not pay all that money to sit in a middle seat for ten hours!

With my San Jose flight cancelled for sure, one day prior to my departure, my Japanese friend Jun and I went to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to change my ticket.  ANA had a special ticket counter set up to serve all the customers impacted by cancelled 787 flights.  Luckily, the morning rush had passed and no one was in line.


This is not a sign I wanted to see.


The special ticket counter was designed for domestic flight changes and the agents were not equipped to change my international ticket. Nevertheless, an eager ticket agent instructor made a direct call to the reservations center to reissue my ticket.  Having Jun communicate with the agent in the local language really helped as well.  With me flying back home on a Sunday (a busy travel day), Business Class on ANA flights to both San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) were full.  Since United and ANA have a joint venture across the Pacific, naturally, United was given to me as the alterative. Unfortunately, United to SFO was also full.  I ended up had to fly to LAX and then connect back home.  I was in full disappointment mode.

Ironically, the United flight I was rebooked on to LAX was also a flight impacted by the 787 grounding; United was also operating the 787 on that route.  In fact, I saw one of United’s aircraft parked along with the grounded JAL and ANA Dreamliners at Narita.

Even before I had my reissued paperwork in hand, I saw my new reservation on the United app on my iPhone.  To my relief, the aircraft is to be operated by an ex-Continental 777-200 with 2-2-2 seating in Business Class.  That meant no middle seats!  There were still a good number of open seats, I quickly chose a window.  Thanks goodness for the United app and free airport wifi!

30 hours later…at Narita

My flight, UA 33 from Tokyo-Narita to LAX was operated by Boeing 777-224ER N78017, an ex-Continental aircraft, painted in the Star Alliance special colors (score!).


Legacy Continental Business Class (called BusinessFirst, a carryover parlance from Continental) is laid out in a 2-2-2 diagonal pattern.  Legacy United 777 Business Class are in a “straight” (not diagonal) 2-4-2 pattern facing forward and aft (see my trip report on that aircraft type in Business Class).


I was in the last row, seat 11L.  Each seat was stocked with a pillow, blanket, headphones, and slippers.


View forward while seated.


Over my shoulder was a cupholder, AC and USB outlets, and a headphone jack.


Pre-departure drinks of Champagne and orange juice were offered. Menus and amenity kits were then distributed.  Note motorized seat controls, TV monitor remote control, and slide out table.  Remember my rant about ANA not having amenity kits?


View of the legroom and the small space under the TV monitor for your feet while in the flat configuration.


Flight attendant Kathy came up to each passenger and introduced herself and her partner serving our cabin and told everyone to call on them if we needed anything.  I did not expect this personal level of service, I was impressed thus far!

Dinner choices were taken.  I chose the Japanese meal, wanting to compare that with the excellent meal I had on the outbound ANA flight.  Kathy warned me that meal will most likely run out.  Sure enough, minutes later, I had to make my alternate choice of grilled sea bass (the other choices were beef tenderloin or chicken breast).  LOL, how stereotypical – beef, chicken, or fish!

Warmed nuts and beverage were served shortly after takeoff.  The beverage cart had a nice selection of wine to choose from.


Kathy individually assembled and rolled up each silverware-napkin bundle from a cart in front of you.  Impressive!

Warmed bread was served from a basket.  There was good selection of breads to choose from.  Garlic parmesan bread?  Yes, please!


When I was a kid, I used to see airline advertisements of flight attendants serving food from a buffet cart and I thought all flights served meals that way.  Imagine my disappointment when I found out that meals (for most of us travelling in coach) were served on a tray.  Fast forward 30 years, Kathy pushing a cart down the aisle full of appetizers.  Prosciutto or sushi, she asks, prior to plating your appetizer for you.  I was blown away!


Next came salad, with creamy wasabi dressing.


The main course: grill sea bass with lemon-herb sauce, herbed basmati rice, and vegetables.  The fish was just that, a big fish steak.  It was not as memorable as the sablefish on the ANA outbound flight.


After dishes were picked up, I was asked whether I would like cheese or dessert this evening.  I went with the dessert (ice cream).  Once again, a cart came out with a selection of cheeses follow by the ice cream cart.  It was a test of memory after Kathy listed a list of topping choices for the ice cream.  Based upon the photo, looks like I chose caramel, chopped almonds, and cherry.  :)


With that, dinner service ended 90 minutes after the warmed nuts.  It was 30 minutes faster than ANA, which I thought ran long.  One point of interest, ANA’s table slid out from under the TV monitor, allowing you to push your table/meal out of the way so you can step out of your seat to use the facilities during meal service (which I had to do).  The United table folds out from under the armrest, effectively trapping you in your seat for the entire meal service.

I read a bit prior to reclining my seat to the flat position for sleep.  For some reason, I could not get comfortable.  I was hot, then I was cold, then there was the roar of the GE90 engine next to me.  I was on the cusp of light and deep sleep.  While I was lying there, I thought, I paid how much for this nice seat and I still cannot sleep?

I managed a three-hour half sleep before waking to daylight and sound of coffee and juice being served.  Here is my seat in the “I am still being lazy” position.


Fruit and yogurt, served on a tray…


Followed by choice of warmed croissant or cinnamon roll served from a basket.


Breakfast choices were omelet with sausage, cereal, or Japanese meal.  Same story as dinner, my first choice of Japanese meal was not available, had to go with the omelet.  It was not very exciting…quality was on par with domestic first class meal.  I was surprised ketchup was offered…something I always ask for and is never available during breakfast in domestic first class.


View out my window.  Given I was over the wing, I didn’t exactly have a “view” seat.


Prior to landing, Kathy came up to each passenger and thanked everyone individually for flying on United.  I thought that was a nice touch.

Total flying time was 8 hours 54 minutes, a relatively quick transpacific flight, to be sure.

Final Thoughts

At LAX.  Star Alliance getting ready to go back to Narita.

I was impressed at the excellent service on United.  I loved the personalized service.  Though I think the service standard was former Continental given I was on a flight operated by the Continental subsidiary.  Let’s hope legacy United brings their standards of service to match their Continental merger partner. 

Despite the great service and wonderful presentation, I thought food quality was mediocre. 

The 2-2-2 seating is good if you are flying with a partner, because each passenger is not isolated in a pod.  Unlike the pod, it is not claustrophobic.  I felt spacious and had a wide field of vision of the cabin.  However, I (in the window seat) did not have direct aisle access, which forced me to step over my seatmate when stepping out. This would have been more challenging if my seatmate was sleeping in the flat configuration.  Fortunately, I did not have to find out.

Given the fact that my seatmate coughed the entire flight annoying me, plus I was flying solo and I like window seats, I prefer the pod.

Copyright © 2013, Ben Wang, All Rights Reserved.



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