I have been having a hard time posting more than one review a month the last few months, even though I have traveled enough to post several. So I thought I would review something that is not as time consuming, but can also be very helpful at the same time. LAX has many parking options and most are a reasonable distance from the airport. The last two times I drove my car to LAX for a flight and needed to park my car I chose Park Air Express. The first time, which was back in June, was only because they were offering a Groupon (http://www.groupon.com/occasions?utm_source=rvs&utm_medium=afl&utm_campaign=6121935) and then again two weeks ago because they had a coupon through their site (http://www.parkairexpress.com/lax/).
Park Air Express is located less than a mile from LAX at 5757 W Century Blvd. under the Airport Spectrum Building. The entrance is small and can be easily missed (just past Hilton).The first time I parked there I was happy I gave myself a little extra time (more for the uncertainty of traffic) because it was slightly confusing where to park. I just kept driving down until I saw an attendant and asked him where I could park. It turned out that is where the airport parking started. I believe it was the third level. The airport parking is also shared with the building parking so in both cases I left my keys with the attendant because I was parked behind someone that worked in the building (double and triple spots). This past time the attendant told me to park in an empty space and that because a good portion of people who park there are working in the building that I could keep my keys and just leave when I returned (was returning in evening). I was afraid I would be boxed in and did not want to wait for them to move cars when I returned and opted to have them keep my keys. He was right. There were far less cars parked when I returned than when I dropped my car off. I also believe there is more parking below level three. I would imagine arriving around the time the work day starts would be a little more hectic. Both times I arrived around 10am and I was the only person trying to park. The attendants are friendly and helpful.
After you park your car. Take the elevator to the lobby into the building. Both times I parked very close to the elevator. Once in the lobby follow the signs to Park Air Express. It is a short walk and around the corner you will arrive into their lobby. The pick-up location is just beyond their counter, but if confused just ask where the shuttle pick-up is located (it is in the alley and can be hard to find). I waited maybe five minutes for the shuttle to arrive and after he loaded all the passengers we promptly departed to the airport. The driver offered me a USA Today which was a nice touch. Because they are located so close to the airport it is literally a two minute drive to Terminal 1. I was leaving out of Terminal 4 so it is several minutes longer. The drop off is upstairs on the departure level. It took exactly 25 minutes from the time I pulled into the garage until I was checking in for my flight.
The return was even more efficient. You pick the shuttle up in front of each terminal on the lower/arrivals level under the red sign for hotel and parking shuttles. I arrived on United into Terminal 7 and was lucky enough to arrive at shuttle stop as the green Park Air Express shuttle was pulling up. As this is the last stop we were back to the garage in less than 5 minutes. Once you arrive back at Park Air Express you can pay for your parking at the counter or return to your car and drive up to counter area and pay for your parking. This is also the time to present any coupon you have. I went down to retrieve my keys and car before I drove up to present my free day coupon and pay for my parking. With the coupon for the two days it was only $13.95. The first time with the Groupon I paid around $18 for three days parking (but I was only there for two). So not only is the parking close to the airport and covered, but also reasonably priced. But what made me happiest is that I was in my car on Century Blvd. heading home in only 20 minutes from the time I stepped off my flight.
Park Air Express rates are; $13.95/day (valet $17.50), AAA discount $12.95/day (2 day min.), $11.00/day corporate ($13.95 valet), $69.75/weekly ($87.50 valet). They also have a FREEquent parking program where you get a free car wash or free parking after six visits. Unfortunately, I have to drive up to LAX again next week to catch a flight and will again be parking my car at Park Air Express.
I was in Moscow visiting a friend and my In-laws and had two extra days left on my trip (I was departing back home from Prague). So I was determined to finally be able to use some Delta miles. Without getting too sidetracked. Delta’s FF Program is certainly not as generous as other Airline’s FF Programs and I have been unable to redeem miles from the USA to Europe or Asia. However, I have used miles in the past with Delta (is relatively easy) to book Business Class seats within Europe on Sky Team Members. Aeroflot had availability on a non-stop flight to Budapest that left at the perfect time. In addition, I was able to redeem an award ticket to Prague as well. So it was off to Budapest. I have flown Aeroflot’s Business Class (now called Premier Class) within Europe several times in the last six or seven years and with a few exceptions their service between Moscow SVO and Budapest BUD is fairly typical of what I experienced. As a side note, Aeroflot’s long-haul Business Class on their A330′s and 767′s is called “President Class” and is more in line with International Business Class.
Even though I was flying on a Sunday you can never be sure with traffic driving to Sheremetyevo. As this was the first time I was going to depart from SVO’s new Terminal D (last time I flew Aeroflot, they still had some of their flights out of the old terminal), I allowed for plenty of time to get to the airport and explore the new terminal. There was no traffic to the airport and I arrived more than two hours before my departure time (you also need to leave time for passport control and customs which can take some time). Aeroflot’s check-in desks are to the right as you enter the terminal. I tried to check-in at a self-serve kiosk but it would not let me complete the check in. So I went to the Priority Line. I was a little frustrated with the kiosk, but the line was very short and I was assisted by a very friendly, smiling agent (yes, I said smiling and friendly). She changed my seat to a bulkhead aisle and gave me a pass to the Business Class lounge. I then got into a long line for passport. I remembered that Domodedovo Airport has expedited lanes for business class passengers and looked around to see if there was such a lane at SVO. Much to my surprise, SVO does have such lanes. The sign was sort of hidden and just placed in the middle of the floor, and I am sure many of the people in line were not eligible for Sky Priority, but it did save several minutes in line at passport. Security was very quick and the Blues Business Lounge was immediately after security on the fourth floor (take elevator up one floor). There is also a Jazz Business Lounge in Terminal D for Aeroflot Business Class and Sky Team Elite Plus members.
The lounge was very crowded when I arrived (actually no place to sit), but thinned out considerably within a few minutes. I left for the gate early to explore some of the new terminal and noticed the Duty Free prices aren’t as overpriced as they used to be (still high, though). Despite having a new terminal, Aerfoflot still has some bus gates and I saw that the Budapest flight departed from such a gate. Therefore, I took my time to the gate and was one of the last to board the bus. Our plane was at the very end of the airport near the beginning of the runway. For a while I thought we were driving to Budapest.
Aeroflot’s A320′s have five rows in Premier Class in a 2×2 configuration. I was seated in 1C, a bulkhead aisle. As I was getting situated another passenger took 1A. The bulkhead seats have decent leg room, but probabley not more than the other seats, plus these seats do not have a little foot rest where the seats in rows 2 thru 5 do. After every one boarded the plane I noticed that row five was empty and asked the flight attendant if I could move. He nodded his head, so I moved to 5C. A pre-flight drink of either water or orange juice was offered. You could also order any other drink you wanted and I saw one passenger with a glass of champagne (Billecart-Salmon Brut). A menu was also distributed while we were on the ground (in English & Russian). We pushed ten minutes late, but since we were parked near the end of the runway we had a very short taxi and were in the air in no time. One funny anecdote, as we were barreling down the runway for take-off an automated announcement came on to turn off all electronic equipment and make sure your seat belts were fastened (better late than never).
The flight time to Budapest was only 2hrs. and 25min. Because of the short flight time there were a few things missing from this flight that I have experienced on longer SU flights within Europe in the past. Blankets and pillows were not on the seats nor were they distributed during the flight (I would imagine if you asked they probably had them on board), neither were the small amenity kits (socks, eye-shades, and ear plugs) that are usually handed out after take-off. But what I missed most was the digEplayers. On longer flights to and from SVO (CDG, LHR, MAD, etc.), Aeroflot provides digEplayers for Premier Class passengers that have hours of movies and TV shows in both English and Russian. Because I have taken this length flight (to Prague) with Aeroflot in the past I was not surprised that these amenities were not on board.
Business Class was only half full with 11 passengers. The seat next to me was free, so the cabin had a very open and relaxed feel. Unlike most European Carriers that use the same seats in Economy Class as Business Class (they usually just block the middle seat – but can adjust rows based on loads), Aeroflot’s Business Class actually have wider seats (19″ – felt wider) with more leg room (seat pitch of 38″) than Economy. Aeroflot’s Premier Class seats and configuration is about the same as what you would find on a US Carrier’s First Class Domestic cabin. The seats are leather and have adjustable headrests, and a footrest is attached to the seat in front of you (except bulkhead seats). There are three buttons to adjust your seat. One to recline the seat, the other moves the bottom of the seat forward a little and I could not figure out what the third did (maybe adjusts lumbar). But with such wide leather seats and the leg rest, other than the British Airways 747-400 service to and from DME and Aeroflots A330 service to and from LHR, these are maybe the most comfortable Business Class seats within Europe (BMI used to have great Business Class seats to Moscow). Their A319′s and A321′s also use the exact same seats. I saw something on board about Wi-Fi. I know Aeroflot has Wi-Fi on some of their A330′s and 777′s but am not sure if it was available on our flight. I also did not see any signs of a power port
About 20 minutes after take off the flight attendant distributed hot towels on a small dish (nice touch). There were two flight attendants in Business Class. One stayed behind the scenes prepping the meals while the other took orders and delivered food and drinks. They both spoke English, but the English announcements were automated (the pilots English was excellent) and I do not remember any announcements in Hungarian.The girl who interacted with the passengers was very friendly (even made a point to thank me for flying Aeroflot again, she seemed a little uncomfortable doing this but it was nice anyway), while the gentleman who was preparing the orders was not quite as chipper. So their method worked out fine. Before the meal she took the drink orders and returned with a small bowl of warm cashews and almonds (unfortunately, unsalted). I think Aeroflot caters all Inter-Europe flights with the same menu (at least the shorter flights), because the menu was generic for flight times before 10am (breakfast) and flights after 10am (lunch). They might have a separate menu for dinner flights and on longer Premier Class flights or flights within Russia. There were three options for the main dish. Braised Lamb Shank, Baked Murmansk Halibut, or Duck Comfit (celebrity chef dish). I am not a huge fan of any of these dishes but opted for Braise Lamb Shank.
After the nuts, an appetizer of marinated tuna with vegetables and balsamic dressing was served. This was accompanied with the bread basket (came by twice). A choice of Russian Rye bread, French roll, Multigrain roll, or Oat Bran roll was available. I tried the French and Oat Bran rolls and they were very good and fresh. As I do not like seafood I did not eat much of the tuna, but I did see that other passengers seemed to be enjoying this dish.
The Lamb Shank was surprisingly good. The sauce (not sure what kind it was) that came in the aluminum tin made it even better. It was served with carrots & snow peas that were also good and fresh along with a honey-apple sauce. Four different wines was offered during lunch (two Italian, and one Spanish and French).
The service was very efficient. A few minutes after I finished my dinner the flight attendant removed my setting and asked if I wanted dessert and tea (eight varieties) or coffee. The dessert was Vanilla ice cream with pineapple confiture and the tea was accompanied with a piece of dark chocolate. The ice cream was a great way to end the meal. Cacao (hot chocolate) was also available and I wish I chose that over the tea.
After finishing my dessert there was only a little more than 30 minutes left in the flight. I tried to sleep, but we were starting our descent a few minutes after I closed my eyes. The seat was comfortable and I would have had no problem sleeping. Just prior to landing the flight attendant passed around a basket of hard candy. We arrived on time and as you will hear on many flights with Russians aboard a loud applause erupted as we hit the ground. Personally, I wait for my applause until I am actually off the plane and past passport control. Despite parking at a bus gate from the time we touched down to when I cleared passport was less than 15 minutes. Now that is worth applause!!
Aeroflot has come a long way in the past ten years. While their service can still be inconsistent, my experiences with them are mostly positive, and this flight was very positive. Additionally, I recently read that Aeroflot is sending their flight attendants through special training classes to help improve their service. Aeroflot’s seats in Premier Class are much more comfortable than other European Carriers intra-european Business Class and their meal service is more in line with a long-haul flight as opposed to the one tray with all courses served on it, which would be typical for a 2.5hr. flight within Europe. I still think they have a way’s to go on long-haul flights compared with the big European Airlines, but on flights within Europe, Aeroflot’s Business Class is as good, if not better than those airlines.
Recently American Airlines sent me an offer to obtain AAdvantage Platinum status for a few months (fly enough in a three month period you can re-qualify for 2014). I have always flown United and Delta (Northwest and Continental too, before their mergers) and have not flown American in years. So I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity to try out the “new” American. I flew United to Honolulu (review to follow) and American had a great fare on the return.
Since I am not an Admiral’s Club member I used the Delta Sky Club in HNL. I arrived at Gate 18 forty minutes before departure and after a fifteen minute wait, boarding started. American boards by zone’s and when flying First Class you board with Zone 1 (along with Elite members and active military). The First Class cabin quickly filled up, but there was plenty of overhead space for both my suitcase and briefcase. This Boeing 757 had the new configuration in First Class and the new seats. Seating was 2×2 with 6 rows. The original seat map for this flight was 2×2 with six rows on one side and five on the other (capacity of 22). What immediately struck me was the nice larger TV over the aisle and the two large TV’s on the wall in front of the cabin. I have never seen this on a 757 before. But more impressive, was the bottle of water at each seat along with a large pillow and blanket wrapped together. The same size and quality you would receive on an international flight. In addition, there was also ear-plug headphones at the seat. As excited as I was with this, I was equally disappointed with my seat. I was seated in 1E (aisle seat on right side) and I know this seat on some 757′s have no leg room. However, I flew American from DFW to SAN the week prior (review to follow) and was very impressed with the seat pitch (was a 737-800). I mistakenly thought all of American’s First Class seats had that much leg room. Not the case. There is very little leg room in the bulkhead on the 757. I enjoy the bulkhead because there is not a seat in front of you reclining into your space. However, I would have gladly switched to a non-bulkhead seat to get a little more leg room. Oddly enough 2E was not occupied and I could have switched, but decided not to, as I realized this 30 minutes after take-off.
During boarding, soothing music was playing overhead and the television screens displayed photo’s of nice flowers. Providing a pleasant mood in the cabin. However, it would have been more appropriate to play Hawaiian music. There were two flight attendants assigned to First Class. Both seasoned veterans. I was warmly greeted and given a menu (nice touch). They also came by offering a pre-departure drink of either orange juice or Champagne (actually Gloria Ferrer Sonoma sparkling wine). Boarding was quick and we pushed on-time. Only to have a frantic passenger run to the front of the plane and tell the flight attendant she forgot her iPad at the gate. I was impressed that even though we just had pushed they were able to retrieve her iPad (only took a few minutes). Even with that small delay we had a short taxi to the reef runway and were in the air in no time.
The flight attendants remained seated for a while as there was the typical light chop leaving Honolulu. Once they started their service they came by with the cart offering drinks and a tropical nut mix. It has the same cashews and almonds that American typically serves before the meal in First, but the Hawaii version also includes dried pineapple. I was surprised to see that both Coke and Pepsi was offered. I was also impressed that one of the flight attendants came back by to ask if you wanted a refill on your drink and nuts. As she did that the other flight attendant was taking the meal orders. Since I have not flown American for a while I did some research on their meal service. I discovered that on even flight #’s they take the orders starting from the front of the cabin and on odd flight #’s they start from the back (FEBO – Front even back odd). As I was sitting in the first row and this flight had an even number I would be given the first choice of meals. But I also read that American now has a great new program where you can pre-order your first class meal. You can choose your entree from the menu at least 24 hours prior to departure (up to 30 days prior). The choices are the same as what is catered for the flight, however, this way you will not be left without a choice of meals. For someone who may not like meal options this is a great way not to be disappointed. What wasn’t great was the selections for this flight. Either Sam Choy’s Wasabi Salmon or Stuffed Shells in a Pomodoro Sauce. I am sure the salmon was very good, but, unfortunately, I do not like seafood. Luckily I do love pasta, but, outside of Alitalia, I have never really enjoyed a pasta dish in the air. So I was not overly excited about the stuffed shells. The flight attendant did confirm that I had ordered the pasta (actually was not sure if it was me or my seat mate). After the nuts and prior to the meal service starting, hot towels were distributed (ok quality). This was followed by a salad served separately with a choice of Italian Herb Vinaigrette or Miso Cilantro Dressing. It was served in a generous bowl along with a choice of a white roll or a King’s Hawaiian roll. The King’s Hawaiian rolls were the one item that made you feel you were on a flight to or from Hawaii as opposed to flying within the Continental US. The smell of the rolls permeated throughout the First Class Cabin. Both white and red wine were offered as the meals were served.
The salmon dish with asparagus and orzo pasta looked more like a meal you would be served on a five hour flight as opposed to the shells, which is something you would expect to receive flying from say – DFW to SFO. However, I guess it is hard making a pasta dish look as appealing, and all three major airlines serve pasta as a vegetarian option. That said, I was happy with the pasta entree. The shells were better than I thought they would be. The sauce was decent and the three shells had plenty of ricotta cheese inside (actually I would prefer more shells and less cheese).
Unlike most domestic flights there was actually two desserts to choose from. Either a cheese plate or an Ice Cream Sundae with a choice of hot fudge, strawberry, or mango toppings. I am always up for ice cream and enjoyed my sundae very much. I am not sure if there was any other service (snack basket) after dessert as I fell asleep for an hour. I think the flight attendants did come thru the cabin asking if anyone wanted anything to drink, but I did not see them ask after I woke (about an hour and a half remaining in the flight).
As I said, this 757 had the newer First Class seats. They are not leather nor as plush as their old seats, but they do have a nice headrest and not only does the back recline but the seat also comes forward a little. Despite the lack of legroom, I found them to be very comfortable and had a good one hour nap (the blanket and pillow helped). I looked at the seat pitch for rows 2 thru 6 and I guess they have around 38 inches of pitch. Much less than their 737-800′s. The seat back pocket in the bulkhead is a little sparse and you need to share that space with your neighbor. But one of the interesting features with American’s new First Class seats is under the outer armrest is a space to store newspapers or magazines. Not sure if this is designed for storage (I think there may even be a sign “no stowage”), but it is a great way to eliminate clutter in the seat back pocket. In the center armrest is a tray for drinks as well as a power port.
Unfortunately the movie (After Earth) was the same one I watched on my flight to Honolulu. It was tough to watch the first time so I decided not to watch again. Plus, like most airplane TV screens, it is very hard seeing what is going on when the background of the scene is dark. Besides the two screens on the walls in front of the bulkhead seats there is also a screen over the aisle in front of row 4. After the movie, NBC shorts and programs aired. The entertainment stopped an hour before landing, only to come back on when the automated announcement was made that there was 15 minutes left in the flight and we would be landing shortly. In addition to the video, there are eleven channels of audio to listen to. A big enough selection to satisfy almost every genre of music. I am sorry but I do not remember if there was wifi on this flight. I assume there wasn’t (or it doesn’t work over the water), otherwise I would have remembered it.
Our flight time was 4hrs. & 55 min. and we arrived into LAX right on-time. After a short taxi we were at our gate. Despite not having much leg room, nor being overly thrilled with the entree, I was still very happy with American Airlines First Class service from Honolulu. It may be because I usually fly United to Hawaii and American’s service was a just a change from what I am used to, or the simple niceties like the menu, bottle of water, and big pillow and blanket, but I enjoyed American’s service on the HNL route (and I am sure their other Hawaiian routes). From the moment I boarded the plane (first impressions are important) I felt American’s Hawaiian product is elevated. Not just from other airlines (haven’t flown Delta to Hawaii in a long time), but even from their regular Domestic service. It shows how small details make a difference.
It has been a few months since I took this flight from Los Angeles LAX to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and I see Delta has changed the aircraft on this route to a B767 with their new flat bed seats. However, this service would be very typical for any of their Japanese routes from the USA (including Hawaii) and the seat is the same for all of Delta’s flights on the A330-200 (that has not had their new seats installed).
I was actually scheduled to fly United to Narita, but do to fog in Southern California and the pilots decision to return to the gate in San Diego, I missed my connection. After getting nowhere with the United Club Resv. Agent I decided to speak with a Customer Service Rep who was able to book me on the Delta flight.
I still had plenty of time until my flight left as the Haneda flight left LAX around 6pm and the Narita flight on United around 11:30 am (but was around 2pm before I was booked on Delta flight). I walked from Terminal 7 to Terminal 5 and checked-in for the flight at the Delta Sky Club.
I had a hard time waiting the three hours in the Sky Club. Going from the worry of maybe missing my flight, to trying to get on another flight, to then having almost four hours to wait until the flight departed, all left me a little restless. Plus, I am not the biggest fan of LAX’s Sky Club (even after renovation). Some of the seats are uncomfortable and I don’t particularly like their snack selection. But they do have shower facilities and the wifi connection was very good. After taking a shower I relaxed a little and the announcement to board came almost an hour before flight time. I took my time to the gate, but once there realized I was one of the last to board. There was no line to enter the jet-way and I walked straight onto the plane.
Once I boarded the A330-200 I quickly realized why there were no lines and I was one of the last to board. The flight was less than a quarter full. In both Business Elite and Economy. I have not been on a flight that empty in over twenty years (this may also explain why Delta has switched to a 767 on this route). There was plenty of overhead space for my bag and briefcase. I took my bulkhead aisle seat (1H) and confidently put my pillow and blanket that were placed on my seat on the seat next to me, as I knew no one would be sitting there. Already, I felt this would be a good flight. Shortly after getting seated a very friendly flight attendant came by and introduced herself, giving me a menu, slippers, and amenity kit (with Korres moisturizer, lip balm and the usual contents), while offering me a welcome drink. Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne was offered as well as any other drink you wished. I ordered my typical orange juice, and unlike Delta’s domestic flights where they serve Minute Maid from a can (pet peeve of mine), this was from the carton, which is much better. I got situated, and started to make a few last minute phone calls when the announcement was made that the boarding doors were closing. We pushed 20 minutes early. The safety announcements were in English only with Japanese subtitles on the overhead TV monitors.
Delta inherited the A330 from their purchase of Northwest Airlines a few years ago. In fact, this was my first experience flying on the Delta BusinessElite version of the A330-200. It has been a few years sine I flew on this aircraft when it was operated by NWA, but from what I remember, the cabin layout and the BusinessElite seats are essentially the same as NWA’s (Delta is slowly reconfiguring their A330 fleet to herringbone flat-bed seats). There are two cabins on this A330 with 32 BusinessElite seats. Both with 2x2x2 seating. There are four rows on the A&B side in the forward cabin and three rows on the C&G and H&I sides.The other cabin is behind the galley and in front of Economy. With only two rows it has a slightly more intimate feeling. The seats are 21″ wide with a seat pitch of 60″. With the exception of 1A&B the bulkhead seats have a few more inches of pitch. My seat had plenty of leg room. Delta calls the seats in this layout, Sleeper Seats, and they have 176 degrees of recline (so sort of at an angle, not really good for sleeping). Their new Flat-Bed Seats on the A330 in BusinessElite have 180 degrees of recline (so they lie-flat) and have 80″ of pitch and are also 21″ wide.
After a short taxi we were quickly in the air. The pilot informed us our flying time would be 11 hrs. and 30 min. The flight attendants came around and distributed a hot towel (more like a hot rag – not the best quality) that was followed by a small bowl of cashews and almonds. At the same time taking drink and dinner orders. Like all airlines flying to Japan, Delta has both a Western and Japanese selection for the main meal. On the menu it states that there is a limited number of Japanese meals and to guarantee receiving a Japanese meal you should order 48 hr. in advance. The Japanese meal consisted of Sakizuke, Zensai, Kobachi, Aemono and Shusai. I am sorry but there were so few on board that I did not see anyone take this meal and therefore, do not know how it was presented. The Western selection was comprised of four courses. The first course was a curried Crab Salad with Cantaloupe and/or a Cream of Vegetable Soup. A nice selection of bread was also offered at this time. I opted for a pretzel roll and crusty dinner roll. This was followed by a Mixed Green Salad. The Main Course selection feature was Roasted Chicken Breast from Delta Chef Michelle Bernstein. The other options were Seared Beef Tenderloin, Panko-Crusted Halibut, or Pork Stir-Fry. I chose the Beef Tenderloin in bearnaise sauce with risotto and broccolini. I was pleased with my selection. The beef and risotto were very good (I am not a fan of broccoli, so I can’t comment there) and the portions were generous. The soup was also very good. Flavorful and hot. The salad, while not memorable, was edible. The leafs and tomatoes were fresh. There were three white wines and three red wines available with your meal. A Tupun Torrontes from Argentina, Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay from California, and from Bordeaux, Le Charme de Marjosse. The reds were; Albert Bichot Mercurey from Burgundy, Burgess Merlot from Napa, and from Chile, Antu Ninquen Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere.
The final course consisted of a selection of Cheese with Fruit, Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae, or Creme Brulee Cheesecake. All three options were on a cart and I thought it would be a bit gluttonous to have both the sundae and cheesecake so I settled for just the sundae (I really wanted both ). The only topping option was either strawberry or chocolate with whipped cream and nuts. The sundae was refreshing and a nice way to finish my meal. A 10 year-old port and dessert wine (Chevalier Du Pastel Sauternes) was served with dessert.
After dinner I continued watching the Inflight Entertainment System (IFE) for about an hour before I tried to sleep. Delta’s A330 IFE in BusinessElite is on-demand (AVOD). The screen size is certainly better than I remembered from their 767′s, but not as large as some of the newer Business Class products (including Delta’s). I would guess the size of the screen at 12″. There are 100′s of movies and TV shows to choose from. The latest Hollywood hits, classic movies, and International films (including a few Japanese movies), as well as popular sitcom’s, and HBO & Showtime programs. In addition, there are plenty (over 4500 songs) of audio options. Albums from every genre to listen to. Plus games and a moving map (the overhead screen had the map on continuously). One of the nice things about Delta’s IFE in BusinessElite was the TV was touch screen. So besides the hand held controls you could also manipulate the programming directly on the screen. This came in handy as my seat’s hand held device did not work very good. Headphones were provided, but I used my own. They did look to be of decent quality (not sure if noise canceling). The one thing I was disappointed with in Delta’s IFE was that some movies were edited. You could see from the films description whether the movie was edited or not. Wifi was not available on this plane, but there was a 110 watt power plug if needed between the seats.
I was able to sleep for a few hours, but not nearly as long as I would have liked. As I said, the seat is not completely lie flat. This is never an issue for me as I prefer to sleep in a cradle position (like a reclining chair). However, these seats were one of the first to have the angled flat seat. So the seat is flat, but at an angle. You get the feeling you are sliding down so not the most comfortable for sleeping. The seats are in a shell and move a little forward and down as well reclining back. This is also one of the reasons I like the bulkhead. As the shell does recline and it infringes into the seat area behind it. In those rows you slide a little under the seat in front of you, not as bad as some of the newer Business Class seats, but enough to make me feel slightly claustrophobic. But that was only a small reason I did not sleep that long. I also felt the cushion did not have a lot of padding. I felt this while I was seated and continued when I was sleeping. I just couldn’t get into a 100% comfortable seat position while sleeping (maybe I was just a little antsy from missing my original flight). I also felt the seat was a little narrow, but certainly wider than Delta’s 767 BusinessElite seats. On the positive side, the blanket and pillows were very nice and did help aid in my falling asleep. There was also a massage function in the seat that was a little loud, but did feel good on my back. Besides the overhead light, the seat also had a snake light that worked great and is less obtrusive.
After I gave up on sleeping more (I did sleep 3 hours). I walked back to the galley and had a look to see what mid-flight snacks were available. Most of the snacks they had were they same as what Delta provides in their snack basket on Domestic First Class flights.Twix, Biscoff Cookies, whole fruit, Sun Chips, pretzels, nuts and Dasani Water. In addition to those staples, Walker Shortbread Cookies, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, and Noodle Soup were also available. A flight attendant saw me looking around and asked if I wanted anything. She made me a soup and so I ate a little and watched another movie.
About an hour and a half before we landed a second hot towel was distributed and a pre-arrival meal was served. There were three choices available. A Sweet Onion Quiche with sausage, Muesli Cereal, or Roasted Chicken. I liked that all the choices were not breakfast oriented and since we were landing in the late evening, I opted for the chicken and ginger sauce with sauteed spinach and steamed rice. All the dishes came with fruit and bread and the chicken came with a nice piece of chocolate cake. As much as I liked the beef at dinner. I enjoyed this chicken more. It was one of the better meals I have ever eaten on Delta. I wish they would serve this on their Domestic First Class flights.
Prior to arrival the head flight attendant personally thanked each passenger for flying Delta’s Business Elite and for their business (nice touch). There were very few if any announcements made during the flight other than the one after take-off and before landing. However, the one prior to landing also included a pitch for Delta’s SkyMiles Amex Card. This was a little annoying as the announcement was in both Japanese and English and I was trying to watch the end to a sitcom. The flight was very smooth with little turbulence.
Now the best part of this flight. We landed on runway 34R an hour early!!! Since I was not in Tokyo for long and was scheduled to arrive into Narita that afternoon I really appreciated making up this time. Despite parking at a bus gate I was thru passport and customs in no time (no line). With Haneda’s proximity to Tokyo, after a short taxi ride(expensive, I took train back), I was actually checking into my hotel (Conrad) at our scheduled arrival time. Enough time to unwind and get a good night sleep for the next day.
Like I have written about United’s BusinessFirst, Delta’s BusinessElite product does not have all the nicities as some Asian or Middle East carries. But the food was very good, the flight attendants friendly and available throughout the flight, and I was entertained for an 11.5 hour flight. The seat could certainly be more comfortable to both sit and sleep, but as I said, Delta is upgrading their seats. So I was very happy with how my day turned out and flying Delta. Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is a great alternative to Narita. Much closer to town. The only issue is that International flights are only able to operate between 10pm and 7am at Haneda. But flying Delta from LAX (or SEA) to HND you arrive in the evening and can go straight to bed and get a good night sleep when you arrive and on the return have a full day to work or visit before your flight leaves. The neat thing is you actually arrive a day before you depart. Sort of like a time traveler!
It has been a while (Oct. 2012) since I visited British Airway’s Navigator Club Lounge at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, but I keep seeing people doing searches for British Airways Business Class Lounge at DME (they end up at my review of BA’s First to LHR from DME. See review here; http://patstravelreviews.com/british-airways-first-class-review-moscow-dme-to-lhr/). So I figured it was a good idea to do a review for the lounge. Luckily, I took plenty of photo’s and honestly there are not that many details about the lounge that need to remembered.
The lounge has a very convenient location if you are flying First or Club World. It is located immediately after Passport and Security for Premium Passengers (Fast Track). This line is located to the left in Sector A on the second floor (I was not told about this lane when checking in, fortunately, I knew about it from previous trips). It can be a huge time saver and was for me on this day. The Navigator Club Lounge is the first lounge after you clear security and is in the beginning of the International Departure Terminal.
British Airways shares the Navigator Club Lounge at DME with Iberia and actually considers it as a Third Party Lounge. Meaning it is not run by British Airways. This is not surprising in Russia and further gives you an idea of what to expect (or what not to expect) from this lounge. Lounge access is for passengers traveling in First, Club World, or Club Europe, as well as Silver and Gold Executive Club members and Emerald and Sapphire Oneworld members traveling on BA.
There is no separate lounge or area for passengers traveling in First. This was slightly disappointing as one of the best benefits flying British Airways First Class is their First Lounges. However, since BA had just recently started flying the 747 to DME from LHR and from previous visits to this lounge I kind of figured there wasn’t any extra service for travelers in First. I just hoped that with the elevated service British Airways is trying to establish on this route that maybe it would include the Navigator’s Club Lounge at DME. If flying from LHR to DME then First passengers have full access to the First lounges at Heathrow.
Upon entering the lounge I was greeted by two women at the reception area. I have been a frequent visitor to Moscow for over a decade and have gotten somewhat used to Russian culture as it applies to customer service. It is better to expect to have indifferent service and be pleasantly surprised when you get good service. So, as far as Russian greetings go, this was a warm greeting. But anywhere else in the world, then not so warm (Russians treat strangers very different than their friends – where they are very warm and excepting). I must also say that the overall customer service level at DME is light years better than SVO. After I gave the attendants my boarding pass they welcomed me and told me I did not need a password for the Wifi.
The lounge is more than big enough with plenty of chairs to sit. It is very open with large windows looking out over the tarmac. Opposite the windows, the wall has large photo’s of London depicted on it. Outside of those photo’s, the lounge has more of a Russian feel than an English feel. The chairs, while plentiful, are not the most comfortable to sit and relax. Also, from the photo’s and what I remember, the chairs were made of wicker, which I do remember thinking was an odd choice. I was in the lounge almost two hours and I don’t think there was more than 15 people in there at any time. So it certainly has a spacious feel (maybe too spacious – almost felt like being in a hall). I also remember the temperature in the lounge was quite warm. It was a sunny day, but also October, so it wasn’t that warm outside.
There is a kitchen like area that offered a few choices of hot dishes (more warm than hot). I had the beef stew and a creamy pasta as well as a Russian Piroshki. All were ok, but nothing to get excited about. Also available are salads, nuts, fruit, cold sandwiches, and a few desserts as well. The refrigerator is stocked with water, juice, soft drinks and beer. There is also a small selection of spirits and wine. I think there is another station with a coffee/espresso machine and a selection of tea’s.
Outside of the free Wifi from Beeline (which is slow), there are also a few computer stations. These computers seemed to run slightly faster than the Beeline connection and it is far more comfortable sitting at the desk using a computer than sitting in one of the wicker chairs using your laptop. The chairs sit low to the ground. In addition to the computer area, there is also a smoking room, toilet, but unfortunately, no shower room. There are a few TV’s towards the front of the lounge, but no separate room or area to watch TV. Most, if not all the TV’s had Russian programing airing. Magazines and newspapers were available, but the selection was small and mostly in Russian. There were one or two English newspapers and maybe one Spanish newspaper.
Announcements were made to signify boarding. This was good because there is only one small monitor with flight information. The gate (13) was at the end of the terminal so it was at least a five minute walk from the lounge. The boarding was a little chaotic, but once on the plane you immediately feel this calm that you are now in England (strange feeling I always have leaving Moscow. As much as I love to visit, I always feel a sense of calm when I board the plane back).
As I said the Navigator Club Lounge is not operated by BA, so the experience is similar to other lounges in Eastern Europe and Russia. Nothing close to the British Airways lounges that BA operates themselves and certainly not the First experience for First Class passengers. While the staff was pleasant enough, I can imagine that in certain situations they could be more than unhelpful (example – if you had Emerald or Sapphire status with American Airlines and were flying BA to LHR you may have some difficulty entering the lounge. Just a hunch). That said, it is one of the better lounges I have been in Moscow, either DME or SVO. It is also better spending your time in the lounge than in the Terminal. There is not much to do and the Duty Free prices at the Moscow Airports are amongst the highest in the world.
I was bound and determined to fly on one of United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s while they are still flying them on Domestic routes. I was scheduled to fly on the 787 from ORD to IAH back in December before the plane was grounded by the FAA, but there was a problem with that 787 and flew on a 767 instead. This time I saw United had three flights a day from LAX to IAH using the 787 and I had to take a trip to New Orleans. So I decided to make the drive from San Diego to LA (a drive I hate). Further, to make sure I would actually get to fly on the 787, I scheduled myself to fly it on both legs between LAX & IAH. This way if something happened and they changed aircraft at least I had the other direction to fall back on.
Despite a scare leaving LAX, when we immediately returned to the gate after we pushed (I was convinced that this flight was going to be canceled. The pilots tone was very serious. But it ended up being a false alarm. Some mix up with their headquarters in Chicago. We re-boarded within 15 minutes of de-planing. (then unfortunately, sat for an hour and a half because they let people re-board without looking at their boarding passes)). I was finally able to fly on the Dreamliner (and in both directions).
Because I had read about United’s plans for their BusinessFirst cabin I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect. But that did not lessen the excitement boarding this aircraft for the first time (I remember having the same feeling flying on the 777 for the first time). So my first impression was not as negative as it may have been if I didn’t know United kept the same lay-out and design as Continetal’s BusinessFirst cabins on their 777′s and 767′s. Not that that is bad (I like those seats) and not to get off the point, I just thought they could have upgraded their Business Class/First Class product as these planes are new. The problem with US Carriers premium products are when they upgrade them they are just matching what Asian, Middle Eastern, and some European Airlines already have. Then those airlines roll out new seats or cabins and the US Airlines are quickly behind again. Anyway, despite this, it still was very exciting to finally be flying on Boeing’s 787.
The first thing I noticed was that the Flight Attendants were very excited and you could tell had a sense of pride (nice to see). Most of them are International crews that will be working the 787 once it starts flying internationally – this week DEN - NRT), but I heard one tell another passenger that others are domestic FA’s picking up routes just to get a chance to fly and work on the Dreamliner. This enthusiasm showed in the service. On both flights the service was much better and friendlier than what you would expect on a three hour domestic flight.
The BusinessFirst cabin is made up of two sections. Both have three rows in a 2x2x2 configuration for a total of 36 seats. I was seated in 2K, an aisle seat in the forward section on the outbound and 5K on the return. I was originally seated in 1D then 4D on the return but my seat was changed twice (don’t know why). This normally would have bothered me as both these seats are bulkheads. But because the seats are pods there is no difference in a bulkhead seat vs. a non-bulkhead seat. As I said, the seats are the same as United’s two class BusinessFirst seats that were Continetal’s First Class/Business Class hybrid (for complete review of United’s BusinessFirst seat visit; http://patstravelreviews.com/united-777-businessfirst-review-lhr-iah/ ). The aisle/window seats in row 4 (A&B and K&L) are close to the galley and the lavatory’s are behind row 3 (A&B and K&L) and in front of 1K&L. But they are not as close as with other United aircraft, so should not be too bothersome. The 787 has better spacing and three lavratory’s for 36 passengers is a good ratio.
The IFE system is the same as well. Same 15.4″ screen and same AVOD programming (can start watching once you board – which was nice with delay). One can access the system using 13 languages. There are plenty of movies (new releases, classics, and International), documentaries, sitcoms, and other TV shows to watch. In addition, there is a moving map, hundreds of CD’s on the audio option, and a library of games to play. You can also plug your iPod into the system. The programing on this flight is the same as an international flight. Not the Directv you may get on a 737 from LAX to IAH. That also means no channel 9 to listen to air-traffic control. The seat pitch (leg room) is 60″ and the width is 22″. The seat is 180 degree lie-flat and can be adjusted to a cradle position as well. I only slept 30 minutes on one flight, but slept very comfortably. The only issue I have with United’s Business Class seats (here is review for their three class Business seats; http://patstravelreviews.com/united-business-class-review-ewr-to-bru/ ) and BusinessFirst seats is there is no room to store personal items. The magazine storage is very small and is along side the armrest so it rubs up against your arm. There is some room near the power outlets, USB port, and headphone plug (2 pronged) over your shoulder, and a tray under the TV (but contents will fall out on take off) but other than that, not much. There is no Wifi on United’s 787′s yet, but I was told there will be in the future.
On both flights the International blankets and pillows were placed on your seat (again, I did not sleep long, so did not take advantage of), but the headphones provided were the domestic version. Orange juice or water was offered before take-off just like a domestic flight.
While the seat and service are the same as if flying the old Continental 767 or 777 there are many differences the 787 has over it’s predecessors. The overhead bins are very roomy. Maybe a touch smaller than the 777 (a much larger aircraft), but much larger than the 767. One bin can fit up to three carry on bags. They did seem to come down on an angle and I felt it is easy for a bag to slide down after you open the bin. But I am sure that has been tested, and is not the case. The windows are also very different and may be the biggest improvement that passengers can see. They not only are bigger, they can be adjusted to prevent sunlight from entering the cabin. Whether by the crew when the jet is parked at the gate – keeping the plane cooler or a passenger. There is no shade to slide down, rather a button to press that allows several variations of light. At it’s darkest you can still see outside. So if someone wants to look outside they can still lessen the amount of sunlight coming into their seat. The 787 also has the Sky Interior Lighting featuring LED lighting. On the flight to Houston it was not that prevalent, but on the return it was and even the head flight attendant put on a light show with all the different light settings. Looked like a dance club for a while. But with the shaded windows and LED lighting with soft blue colors (or whatever color an airline displays) it is certainly a more relaxed cabin experience.
Strangely enough maybe the biggest difference I saw with the interior of the 787 is the lavatories. Starting from the image in the center of each cabin indicating if the fasten seat belt sign is on and if the lavatory is in use. Also there is a red or green light over the door indicating if toilet is free. The door opens in, as opposed to folding (it is hard to explain how it opens). The lavatory’s are a little bigger than on United’s 777 & 767, but the biggest change is how the toilets flush (strange thing to get excited about). It actually is a little confusing (and hopefully this will not mean the prior passenger will leave a surprise for you). You can wave your hand over the flush button and the cover closes and flushes automatically, but other times this did not work and I had to press the button. However, this would only get the toilet to flush once I closed the toilet seat cover. It kind of felt like trying to get water out of the automated sink spouts. You can stand there and wave your hand for a long time before anything happens.
There are many other differences or improvements that the Boeing 787 provides. The cruise altitude was 41,000 feet as opposed to the typical 35,000 feet. This may provide a smoother ride. We did hit turbulence on one flight and the announcement (as were other announcements) was automated. On one flight it was in both English and Spanish. Thus interrupting the entertainment for a minute or so longer. Having automated announcements can also be good as some flights attendants like the sound of their own voice and can ramble on. This may shorten announcements. The engines are definitely quieter and has a slightly different hum to it. I can not say I felt a difference with the cabin pressure or air quality, but I have never felt any difference being in the air or on the ground. So maybe I am not a good person to judge that. Another big improvement, is the overhead light is very bright and there are four air vents per row that are very strong.
Economy is in a 3x3x3 layout and all seats have AVOD with the screen in the seat in front of you. The screen size is larger than on other United planes and in the bulkhead the screen raises from the arm-rest. Economy Plus seating is from rows 16 to 22, the center section of row 23, and row 27 (exit row). All seats are 17.3″ wide and Economy Plus has a seat pitch of 35″ while regular Economy 32″. You can click the link on the bottom of the page to access United’s site on their 787 Dreamliner.
The meal service was not elevated to BusinessFirst standards. Both meals were typical of meals served on those routes and at that time of day. A hot towel was distributed after take-off. Then a small cup of warm cashews and almonds were given with drink orders prior to the meal service. Lunch was served on the flight to Houston and dinner on the return. For lunch there was a choice of a Chicken and Cheese Calzone or a cold Shrimp Salad. Both served with Red Pepper Bisque. Dinner was either a Beef Tip or Pasta with a side salad and shrimp appetizer. They did bring around a basket twice with rolls (something you will not see on a domestic flight) on the dinner flight. The dessert was the same for both flights. A cookie in a bag. Chocolate chip on return and cranberry (I think) on outbound. Unlike if flying on a smaller plane between LAX and IAH in First when they would bring the basket full of snacks after the meal service. On both flights the basket was placed on an area in front of 1D&E and 4D&E to take as one pleased. The Calzone was surprisingly tasty. I have had this same meal on other flights to and from IAH and DEN and for the second meal on United International flights in Business or BusinessFirst. I have had this same beef dish the last three months on the last six dinner flights (from IAD, EWR, ORD and IAH to SAN) I have flown on United in First . It is good (it must be if I keep ordering it), but not great. The meat always seems to have a strange texture to it.
All flights had very smooth take-offs and landings. I actually flew on the 787 again this week from ORD to IAH (I am not the most prolific writer) and of my three flights, two had long delays with a lot of confusion. The ORD – IAH flight had a servicing issue leaving IAH, then we sat for over an hour in Chicago because of a valve in the cargo hold. In both those cases I missed my connecting flights. However, when I arrived I received an e-mail from United apologizing for the delay and offering a token of miles or an e-cert. The flight from IAH left on-time and arrived into LAX a few minutes early. Interestingly when we left IAH there was another 787 parked next to us and a third coming into our gate. So it seems United has several in their fleet now.
The 787 Dreamliner is definitely a big improvement with both the passenger flying experience and at some point from an airline operating standpoint. But it certainly is having trouble attaining that now. I am sure it will sooner than later. I also think some of the delays are from United being overly cautious. I heard the LAX – IAH flight was canceled the day after I took it. I know of other flight delay’s and cancellations with United’s 787 and on the first week they flew from DEN to NRT the flight was diverted to SEA because of an oil leak. But that said, if it is not critical you be somewhere on time, it is definitely worth flying the 787. If you can not afford delay’s or misconnects than I would avoid flying United’s 787 (maybe all airlines 787′s) for now. Hopefully it will get over it’s growing pains and be the game changer that it is forecast to be.
We were originally scheduled to take a United Airline flight from Montreal P. E. Trudeau Airport to Newark to connect to our flight to San Diego. However, the weather in the New York area was windy and rainy so our flight was delayed and the inbound aircraft had not even left EWR yet. The United agent at YUL was nice enough to switch us to the Air Canada flight. This flight was also delayed, but not nearly as long, and had the certainty of it’s arrival in Montreal.
So we headed over to the Air Canada check-in area for US Departures. There was no wait to see an agent as there was only a few passengers checking in at this time. The agent was pleasant and helpful and we received our boarding passes in no time. Dropped our checked bag off and headed to security and US Passport Control (you clear US Passport at all Canadian Airports). I am not sure other security areas at YUL are like the US Departure area, but it took a very long time to go thru security for only a handful of people in line. One of the most frustrating security lines I have been in for a long time. It took over 25 minutes to clear security and there may have been at most 20 people in line for 3 or 4 x-ray machines. We showed our boarding passes four times and agents would send people that were behind you in line to another x-ray machine, were there was no wait. As frustrating as an ordeal as security was, clearing US Passport was just as easy. In less than five minutes we were in the terminal.
One of the benefits of now flying Air Canada instead of United was not only did we not need to worry about our connecting flight, but we could also use Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge (review to follow) with our Star Alliance Gold status. Gates 72-87 make up the US Transborder Terminal at YUL. The lounge is located between gates 73 and 74, just right of where you entered the terminal from passport and security. We departed from Gate 85. About a five minute walk.
We boarded a few minutes before the departure time, utilizing priority boarding (again because of Star Alliance Gold status). However, it was not really necessary as the plane was less than half full (something rarely seen anymore on US Carriers) and boarding was very quick.
This flight was actually operated by Air Canada Express – Jazz on a CRJ 100/200. This aircraft seats 50 passengers in a 2×2 configuration. One side has 13 rows the other 12. All the seats were leather and the overhead was more than big enough to fit my briefcase. However, not large enough for a carry-on suitcase. Those need to be left while boarding and picked-up in the jet-way upon de-planing. We were seated in 1A&C. I was happy we were seated in the bulkhead at the time we were given our seats (not knowing flight was not so full), but when seated wished we asked for the exit row. The leg room was ok (about the same as rest of the plane), but the armrest is immovable. So I always find that a little cramped. Row 1 and the exit row (row 8) are considered Preferred seats and available for an extra fee. They are complimentary for Air Canada Altitude Prestige 25K, Elite 35K, and Elite 50K but only with Latitude fares or higher. Elite 75K’s with Flex fares or higher and Elite 100K can get Preferred seats with all fares. I am not sure what category Star Alliance Gold falls in, but we were given these seats without requesting them. So I imagine maybe they are available day of departure. Here is a link from Air Canada that explains the Preferred seating fee structure;(http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/traveller/seatselection/preferredseats.html) Between the two Preferred seats, I would say the Exit row is better. It looked to provided the same amount of leg room, but the armrests raise making it slightly roomier. The advantage of being in the first row is also lessened if you left your carry-on when you boarded, because you will have to wait for those bags to be brought up to the jet-way. From walking down the aisle to use the toilet I could not see much difference in leg room between the bulkhead and exit row to the rest of the plane. So I am not sure Preferred seating has that big of an advantage on the CRJ 100/200.
Our flight time was a quick 55 minutes and the seat belt sign was off within three minutes of take-off. The lone flight attendant started the service shortly thereafter. She was friendly and actually came back to ask my wife if she wanted anything to drink as she was asleep when she first came by. Soft drinks, juice, coffee, or tea and a small bag of pretzels are complimentary. Beer and alcohol are available for purchase, as is food on longer Air Canada Express/Jazz flights. The landing in EWR was very bumpy, but despite the weather we did not have any ATC delays outside the initial delay. So we landed in plenty of time to make our connection to San Diego on United. Unfortunately we needed that time as Air Canada uses Terminal A and our flight departed from Terminal C and the AirTrain is outside security, thus forcing us to go thru security again (I later realized United has a shuttle bus from Terminal A to C which would have eliminated security).
Really on a flight this short it is hard to to judge an airline’s service. The main advantage flying Air Canada and not United to EWR was we were able to use the Maple Leaf lounge in YUL (plus we received a small bag of pretzels on board – something United no longer provides) and the flight was less than half full. It was as pleasant a flight one could have on a Regional Jet in Economy.