Category Archives: Travel

United Airlines Update

I’ve talked about my experiences on United Airlines before. Most notably what it is like to fly Business Class on United.  With Jeff Smisek finally out, I decided to write a United Airlines update. I must say the food on United has recently gotten better.  Usually Jeff Smisek CEO puts on some B.S. intro video on how United has really focused on bettering something and we are forced to watch some cheesy video about how United cares so damn much. In reality though they managed to spin some lame idea that obviously is lowering their expenses to make more money and have us suffer but it is all with Gershwin playing in the background so it’s ok!  While I write this, which started off to be a positive post, I realized there are a few things I have to rant about.

At SFO, an extremely busy hub and arguably one of the most expensive cities in the world, the airport had only recently been redone.  They added on some new gates that are a bit further away and this area rocks.  It has a bunch of great food, cool local shops, bars that I would genuinely want to drink at and purified water fountains where they encourage being green and recycling. All of these are obviously positive.  Unfortunately, other than the United terminal and the International terminal, I haven’t been to some of the other terminals in years.

A United Airlines Update “improvement”  was at the check in area at SFO.

It used to be self-explanatory.  You were lumped into your class, economy, premier, silver, gold, platinum, first business, global and each one consisted of waiting in a line to eventually see a United representative.  The United representative would then proceed to check-you-in after you printed your boarding pass. The United representative would tag your bag and then put it on the belt where it would be violently whisked away onto the plane where about 97% of the time we would reunite at our final destination.  Recently, at least for several months now, they changed that “system” at SFO.  Now, they made it seem like everything is “high tech” by creating a series of computers that block you before you get to see the United poser.  Yes, they switched them up and now they are dressed like United representatives but they don’t actually help you nor do they want too.  Before you reach the United Poser you get to access these white computers that are not macs, but made to look like a mac since we all know macs rock and they are the cutest computers out there hands down.  Now instead of a United person printing that long baggage tag that they put on our bags for us before they sail off on their abusive journey, we now get to do that ourselves.  We have all seen this done plenty of times but it takes a few tries to get it perfect.  So at SFO, we are now graced with getting to learn how to tag our own bags after printing our boarding pass.

So you walk in, some United person yells at you to go to the screen first to do everything yourself.

Everything that comes out of their mouth is just delegating their previous jobs to us now and they boss us around instead in a condescending and unfriendly tone.  Following the rudeness, everyone around walks in a confused manner over to these screens where no one helps and we take care of our baggage.  Then with everything in tote, we get to wait in line to see a United poser (dressed in United attire) but alas, they can only take your bag from you after you have properly labeled it and put the sticker on correctly.  If everything is smooth then you are done here.  However, if you have one question to ask regarding flying United, your reservation, upgrades, etc you get to walk over to the right where there are the real United representatives alone with no one around.  So here is another line and everyone is busy not helping customers so you have to get one of their attention to see if they can “help” you.  I happened to get to the airport early since I am anal about being on time so I wanted to see if I could jump on an earlier flight.  After asking this question, she said “Well, did you try it on the computer”?  Um, no, I didn’t, can you check? She doesn’t really respond, just takes my ticket without saying anything to me but filled with a bunch of attitude since I disrupted her and then says, “You ARE on the next flight”.  I said ok, thanks for checking…. Again…. Crickets.  She did take my luggage tag and check my bag for me.

So yeah, that’s cool.  Now instead of having reps assist, we have a do it yourself check in area.

That is probably my second  biggest beef with them at the moment.  I did find the last video with Jeff (I am on a first name basis with him now since I have probably spent at least 100 hours hearing his voice, looking at his pictures and thinking about his visions to make United better but alas he stepped down!  Good news!   We shall see about the next guy, Oscar Munoz.

In the last few years, literally EVERYTHING on United has gotten worse.

I don’t really know Oscar yet but I hope he can do a better job.    If you are a sucker to stick with one of the worst rated airlines ever and finally make some status, they actually took most of the perks away.  Oscar, can you bring it back?

Instead of making our hard earned miles worthless, can you make them worth something? 

Can you make it beneficial to stick to United? 

Can you take away the exorbitant PQD Premeir Qualifying Dollars? 

I mean give us a break, if we manage to fly 100,000 miles with you, can you just please give us the status?  Really?  What do you lose, other than customers and loyal rewards members.  Start it this year, I promise you, none of us would mind.  We might actually stay and fly more with you if you do it this year.

Adopt the snickers slogan, Hungry – why wait?  Like why wait to start a new program to get customers all over again when you can start with keeping the ones you have?

Also, let us extend our status when flying maybe just one person on our miles.

That was taken away.  I actually only use my miles to fly my boyfriend so I can spend enough and fly enough to keep my status, but let me extend it to him.  I understand not being able to do this with anyone, but perhaps we can pick one “fly buddy” that can use our miles as us.

I know you guys are working on the food, thank you for that.

I really notice a difference and greatly appreciate it!  The food tastes a lot better and there are more options for people, so please keep it up.

United Business Class Shrimp
United Business Class Shrimp
United Airlines Update Business Class Breakfast
United Airlines Update Business Class Breakfast

The seats are newer but we have less room now and they are less comfortable. 

Also if you are going to take away the screens everywhere, please give us power to charge our devices.

Otherwise it seems like we are moving back in time, not forwards.

Oscar, from a loyal 1k member, please take my opinion into consideration.  I promise a lot of people stand with me.

A Lovely Trip to Vietnam

Our trip to Vietnam had to be one of the best vacations I have taken.  I loved the people, the food, and the nature.  We spent about a week vacationing in Hoi An after an intense work trip in Hong Kong. Traveling around Vietnam was easy. We flew into Saigon and played tourist for about 2 days.  We then took Vietjet which was such a great little airline over to Da Nang and then a cab to Hoi An.

Saigon

Saigon is where most travelers start their journey in Vietnam. It is a hustling and bustling South East Asian City filled with motorbikes, temples, great food, fun night life, and lots of other travelers. We spent a few days here visiting temples, getting massages, drinking, and exploring the city.

Vietnam Temple Gate
At a Vietnamese Temple in Saigon
Fresh Coconut Water in Vietnam
Drinking Fresh Coconut Water in Hoi An

The Lunch Lady of Saigon

We read about a lady in Saigon over at Gastronomy Blog that makes a different soup everyday that people rave about.  Anthony Bourdain had visited her before and supposedly returns back every time he is in Vietnam. You find this small outdoor restaurant near a street corner, sit on child like plastic chairs, and eat some of the most flavorful soup you’ll ever have. The soup cost only $2.50 and it rocked my world.  I still think about it. I will make a pilgrimage here on every trip I take to Vietnam.

 

Lunch Lady Vietnam Soup
Incredible Lunch Lady Vietnam Soup
Lunch Lady Vietnam Spring Rolls
Lunch Lady Vietnam Spring Rolls
Lunch Lady Vietnam Shop
Lunch Lady Vietnam Shop
Lunch Lady Vietnam with Us
Lunch Lady Vietnam Took a Picture with Us

Hoi An

When we arrived at Hoi An we stayed at Hoi An Trails Resort & Spa. They had a lovely breakfast buffet every morning, a pool, spa stuff and it was easy to find random strangers and hop on the back of their mopeds to get around.  It was reasonable and really quite nice.  The staff was very helpful, the beds were comfortable, they had nice showers and it felt like a vacation.

Hoi An Trails Breakfast Buffet
Hoi An Trails Breakfast Buffet

Lantern Town Restaurant in Hoi An

Lantern Town Restaurant in the center of Hoi An was great.  We just laid there and ate and drank for hours.  We got 2 bottles of Chilean wine and a ton of food and the total came to about $45.  There is a lot of food that is really cheap but this was really nice splurge in Hoi An.

Lantern Town Restaurant Cocktail Menu
Lantern Town Restaurant Cocktail Menu
Lantern Town Restaurant Appetizers
Lantern Town Restaurant Appetizers
Lantern Town Restaurant Beef Dish
Lantern Town Restaurant Beef Dish
Lantern Town Restaurant Relaxing
Lantern Town Restaurant Relaxing

Custom Clothes in Hoi An

Having clothes custom made for you is the big industry in Hoi An. We visited several different shops but ultimately decided on Yaly Couture.  Everything will be about $50 – $100 for girls stuff and they can do anything.  I would go on a designer website and pick out any outfit that I wanted  and have them make it for me. They are super friendly and everyone should have this fantastic experience. We would go to Yaly’s in the morning for a fitting and to pick out different garments and fabrics.   After that we would head to the beach, swim, tan, eat and drink until about 4pm or so. We then went back to Yaly’s for our next fitting nice and buzzed.  They would have water ready for us and we got to try on a bunch of clothes buzzed. This was heaven! After our second fitting of the day we would go eat somewhere amazing and probably also tie in a spa treatment of some kind.

I would go back in a heartbeat – loved it all!

Enjoying a Cocktail at the Beach in Hoi An
Enjoying a Cocktail at the Beach in Hoi An

Flying Business Class on United

Flying business class on United Airlines is something I look forward to.

I hope my worst decision today was not eating breakfast before flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong via Narita.  I woke up at 6:30am in San Francisco and did not have time to eat.   I had errands to run and since I am anal about getting to the airport early, I was stressed that I was not leaving much room for error since I had an 11am flight.  For some reason, even with my global entry and flying business class on United, I still feel the need to get to the airport at least 2 hours early.

Flying around the world makes for a long day without the perfect concoction of sleeping aids and alcohol.

I have decided after doing this many times;however, that the best bet is sleeping well the night before, not drinking much several days beforehand, and then just enjoy the flight.  By enjoy the flight I mean drink and watch movies while contemplating life.  I am on the flight to Narita, Japan in business class at the moment and loving it. It is a very liberating feeling, just being so alone yet surrounded by people who know nothing about each other in such close quarters.

Everyone is quiet, the flight attendants are attentive until the lights go out and then everyone sleeps.  I am obviously not sleeping because I truly love this time.  I am buzzed, decently fed, with an open bar,  sleeping pills if necessary, my lap top and endless movies.  Even though I am flying business I still do not feel like spending the $12 or $17 for wifi that is mediocre and intermittent in order to keep me tethered to the world.  I like taking this time to connect with myself.

A flight attendant once told me that it was worth paying the difference of economy to business class but not business to first class.

Honestly, flying to Hong Kong from SFO in coach is about $1100-1500 on United in Economy or $8000-10,000 in business.  In what world is that a negligible difference?  If someone said, you could spend $110 on a lovely dinner or drop $800 but the $800 dinner is better would you just say ok?  It is such a huge difference, I don’t even understand it.  I always wonder who in business class paid for it and who uses upgrades?  I have been a loyal United customer for years now and pay more, fly inconvenient routes, fly stupid times (sometimes),  and do whatever it takes to remain a 1K customer.  I have my own company so everything is 100% out of pocket but I make it work for these moments, and the moments where you can call your own line and get an American person who wants to help you with travel – these things make it all worthwhile.
For those of you, like myself, who would probably not pay full fare for a business class ticket, I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate my time up here.  The differences are great but are they worth the price of a vacation? A new wardrobe?  Paying off your credit card?  Saving a family in Ethiopia or some other developing nation?  Getting Sarah McLaughlin to not sing that sad animal song and saving like 100 puppies or kittens?  No way….  I would so rather get letters from a family I donated money too, or seeing 100 videos or pictures of happy animals I saved, or flying myself to DaNang Vietnam and making myself a custom made wardrobe or pretty much whatever for $7-$9000.

That all being said, if you feel like sticking with an airline, really getting in bed with them, letting them take advantage of you sometimes and getting perks in return, this is the fun part and I have earned it.

I normally try to fly business class on United airlines direct to Hong Kong but this trip, like last, was full so I am flying with a stopover in Tokyo, Japan.  Last time to get an upgrade to business class I flew through Beijing which may be my least favorite airport in the world at this point. I have visited 26 countries, 34 states and about 200 airports so I feel like that is saying a lot.  I would rather fly coach direct to Hong Kong than fly business if I have to go through Beijing. Going through customs just to get to your next flight was a nightmare!  No one would help me, there were no signs, and I think they were too cheap to turn on the heat and it was 30 degree Fahrenheit so I was freezing!  I thought I did not have time to hit the lounge because of the lines and how big the airport was, but what Air China didn’t tell me ever, not once, was my flight was 30 minutes delayed.  There was no communication whatsoever, everyone was rude, and this was after flying around the world.  But alas, what I do for an upgrade! Anyway, this time for an upgrade I am flying through Japan which is actually nice.  The food is better on this flight than when flying to Hong Kong or Beijing.  I love the wine selection, sake selection, and even the menu is pretty great.
When I first sit down on the plane, I get a beverage. I love that because I am always drinking.  I don’t mean alcohol, mostly water, but I love tea, sparkling water, coffee, wine, sake – pretty much anything I can consume.  I like not having to wait to quench my thirst.  Also, once you are at that 10,000 feet mark, the three beeps that let you know we are finally ready to turn those electronics back on and the lovely flight attendants can come back with more drinks, that sound makes me very happy.  We now get to switch to glass and for some reason, this makes me feel awesome… I don’t know why but having glass instead of plastic is just nice.  Last night I went on a walk with my mom to take the dogs out and after a somewhat stupid day, I wanted a drink.  Instead of taking my Sangiovese in a coffee cup, I decided to take it in a wine glass and it felt great!  Why?  I guess because normally that is not what we do.  I think its the same with flights.

After the 3 dings, we get hot towels shortly followed by warmed nuts.

Business Class on United Sake and Warm Nuts
Warm Nuts and Sake
My question is why aren’t all nuts warmed?  I mean it’s not that hard, but warmed nuts are so much better than cold ones.  And thanks to all those peanut allergies out there, its only cashews and almonds which are the tasty nuts.  I am going to Hong Kong to work pretty much straight for 6 weeks so I am enjoying my vacation while it lasts, away from earth so it seems, with my open bar, personal server and my interesting meal and snacks to come.  Normally, for some reason, I usually make friends on the plane.  I think I have about 10 Facebook friends now that I met on planes, a few customers and stack of business cards.  This time my partner or plane buddy is very quiet.  He is very polite, very sober and very asleep.  I on the other hand am awake and chilling.

I always cry more in planes.

I just watched “This is Where I Leave You” and “The Good Lie” and both were pretty awesome. I always cry more in planes during movies than normal and I am not sure why. Maybe I pick sadder movies, or maybe its the elevation, alcohol and contemplating the meaning of life while I fly. Two weeks ago on my way back from Hong Kong to San Francisco I watched “The Fault in our Stars.”  Oh my god, I cried so hard i choked.  Fortunately, the guy next to me was also watching it and we just looked at each other with an unspoken understanding of what was going on and there was no explanation needed.  He and I sat together, drinking for almost 15 hours together, shared 3 meals, some snacks, tears, a nap and never said anything to each other.  I love this weird relationship I can have with people yet never talk or know their name.  “The Fault in our Stars” was such a sad movie, even the guys in Honest Trailer cried in it – by the way, I love these guys.  Seriously, if you need a laugh, go to their site and watch 20 of them back to back, it will make your night. You’re welcome.

Whenever someone asks me what a good book is, I don’t have to think.

It is “This is Where I leave you”.  The book was awesome and the movie was pretty damn good as well.  The book was funnier and less sad than the movie. I recommend both though.  “The Good Lie” now that is a tearjerker but it makes me appreciate life.   I really don’t know what to watch next after those two. I mean what compares?  I would totally watch “The Guardians of the Galaxy” again if I hadn’t already watched it twice… I love that movie.  The night/ day is young, I could watch it again?

I am drinking a wine from the Medoc right now.

I finished my sake bottle earlier but I could have another.  The wine and sake is picked out by some amazing Sommelier who writes the list for United. After the warm nuts, I got a pretty decent salad with cheese and both dried and fresh tomatoes.  There was also another appetizer served with a California roll, prosciutto and cantaloupe with some olives. We also had for our main course, a bunch of choices and I opted for the Pork chop with broccolini, white asparagus and some bread thing I didn’t eat.  The Pork chop was actually good, a little dry but pretty decent.  My only problem with it was eating it with a butter knife; I really had to saw at it for a while, but I had nothing but time so no big deal.  Either way, I was happy with my red wine from the Medoc and my little personal sake bottles.
Business Class on United Salad and California Roll
Salad, California Roll, and Prosciutto
Business Class on United Pork Chop with Broccolini
Pork Chop with Broccolini

After dinner we get a cheese course, a few grapes and some crackers with port which I always enjoy.

I like to sit and snack on these cheeses during my movie.  I opted not to have the port this time, but did go for Grand Marnier mainly because of how cute the bottles are.  After about 15 minutes with the cheese, they come around with an ice-cream sunday cart which I think is always fun and good idea.  You can choose from other dessert drinks like port, Grand Marnier or any other spirit but I figured I had my fill now.

This is a Long Flight

This  flight is about 11 hours and 45 minutes but they fed us a few times so i didn’t need to eat everything.  There were some sandwiches I skipped, I did take a few of the Toblerone chocolates and the potato chips, I always enjoy these fattening items.  For some reason by the time breakfast comes I am so over the flight and breakfast never tastes good on the plane.  I had not slept so I didn’t want coffee, especially since I had a 5 hour layover in Japan and then another 5 hour flight, but I also didn’t want alcohol.  What a predicament, so I chose water and tea.  They gave us another warm towel to rinse our hands and then we chose 1 of 3 breakfast options.  I always chose the eggs because I usually don’t want some interesting eastern breakfast nor do I want cereal and milk.  I had my over salted eggs and the flight was over.
And that was my flight!  I am a 1k member on United so I have lounge access when I fly internationally which does make a huge difference.  I immediately went into the United lounge and took a shower.  Seriously, a shower goes a long way between layovers and long flights.  The showers in the lounges are pretty decent and they give you all the toiletries you need.  This lounge has like 10 or 12 showers and a full staff constantly cleaning so I feel pretty good about this one.  There is a seriously full open bar at this lounge but the food choices are pretty weak!  I am not really hungry but still feel like eating; it just seems like the right thing to do and I am tired and kind of starting my hangover.  I had some sushi and edamame. But after about an hour and half I got bored and this lounge is super crowded so I figured I would try the other lounge.  This only worked because my next leg was actually on ANA airlines and I had never been in their lounge.

Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge Shower

Showers at Tokyo United Lounge

Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge Toiletries
United Lounge Tokyo Toiletries
Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge
United Tokyo Lounge Food Setup
Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge
United Tokyo Lounge
It was far away from where I was but really close to my gate so it worked out well.  I took a bunch of pictures of this lounge because its so awesome!  It was pretty much empty, huge and so clean!  I had more sushi choices, fresh salad, tons of Sake’s, weird looking potato and pasta salads that I avoided, sushi triangles with mystery surprises inside and some chocolates 🙂  They also had a few kinds of soup so i went for some miso soup which was pretty decent.
I did not get upgraded on my next flight which is a bummer since I am star alliance gold on this airline but that does’t do much for you.  I asked if I could get an upgrade and the really nice ANA representative told me I could for “many many money” so I decided that did not sound like a good idea.  This next flight was crowded, but it was 5 hours and they still fed us twice!  Neither meal was worth mentioning but it is nice we still got meals.  Overall, I like ANA airlines and would love to try business class with them.  Unfortunately due to my exclusive relationship with United, I probably won’t get this chance.
Was this leg worth about $4k?  I am pretty sure it was not but I always enjoy the experience and I am thankful for the benefits of United 1K membership.