United Airlines LAX-JFK p.s. First Class Review
If you follow me on Twitter, you would know that I recently cheated on Delta and flew United from LAX-JFK. Hey, it's good to know who's competing on such a popular route! Here is my experience...
As I've moaned about before, I've seen airfares skyrocket this summer. On my frequent JFK-LAX hops, I've seen my trusty old $220 roundtrips turn into $900 affairs. Ouch! Last week I had to be in LA for a couple days, so my midweek trip was pricing at over $900 - no matter what carrier I tried. To add insult to injury, business class was sold out in advance on the Delta flights I wanted to take, so I knew an upgrade probably wasn't going to happen.
As much as I value elite status, paying $900 for a domestic round-trip (even transcontinental) in coach, just isn't my cup of tea. I decided to book the outbound in coach on Delta because my favorite coach seat 36C was available and as a Diamond on a Q fare, I knew I'd be at the top of the list for an upgrade. I had a little bit of flexibility, so if the other flights were to have business class availability on day of departure, a Wednesday, I could Same Day Confirm for free (see my post on tips for using same day changes to your advantage).
I was returning on a Friday, and LAX-JFK upgrades are nearly impossible, plus I had no flexibility, so I decided to burn points for a one-way award. Delta doesn't do one-way awards, so I looked to American and United. I would have used 25,000/37,500 British Airways miles for the American business/first class award or 25,000/35,000 Continental/United miles for business/first.
I preferred business class, but United only had First class availability on my preferred flight, so I splurged the extra 10k points - what the heck! Fees were only $2.50, however since I was booking a week out and I don't have elite status with United/Continental, I got dinged with the $75 late booking fee. Big sigh. It was still better than paying $400 for coach though, and I'd get to try a new product. I've flown Delta coach/business many times on the route, and I've experienced American business and first - but never United p.s. (Premium Service).
I wasn't checking a bag and got an e-boarding pass, so I got to the Premium Services terminal around an hour and 20 minutes before my flight. While I had my e-boarding pass, I personally hate them and prefer traditional boarding passes (call me old-school), so I went to the First Class/United 1k check-in line to get a printed pass. The other lines were pretty empty, but I wanted to check-out how they treated their first class passengers. They had two agents working, but when it was my turn, the one agent seemed busy and gave me the, "I'm not ready for you yet look" and she proceeded to work on something else while the other agent helped a man check-in.
I looked down at the other lanes and they were empty, so I ended up waiting longer as a first class passenger than I would have in coach. In the end, it was only 8 or so minutes, but it was still worth noting that the wait in the premium line was longer than any other (something that happens often to me). Does this annoy anyone else?
On a bright note, I enjoyed the unique flower arrangement - there were purple flowers in a Voss water bottle and several other arrangements around the desk. Interesting. The agent let me know that as a p.s. First customer, I was entitled to use the International First Class lounge above gate 75. Score!
Security was also a bit of a mess as well. There was an elite/premium line, but it was a little bit longer than the regular line, so there were no real time savings there. The only upside was that I didn't have to go through a full body scanner, which was nice.
United LAX International First Lounge
Once in the terminal, I headed straight for the lounge, since I'd only have a short amount of time before boarding. The lounge was almost empty (1 other passenger there), so it was a nice overall experience. I chose a big comfortable leather chair in the far right corner and once I sat down, I realized that you needed a card for WiFi. I trekked back to the front to get it - I really wish agents would automatically ask if you need a card or at least put a big sign-up at check-in. Anyone else with me here? Maybe I'm spoiled with SkyClubs where you don't need a scratch-off card and can just log on once you are in the club.
There was a decent self-serve bar and some small plates of veggies and wraps, wrapped in plastic. Nothing that looked too appealing so I saved my hunger for the flight. A friendly lounge attendant did approach me and offer me sliders and other things she had in the kitchen, but I politely declined.
I boarded the 757 and turned left towards first and to my delight, the seat next to me was empty. I had selected window seat 3A because I really like the scenery out west and I was on the 4:30pm flight on a beautiful sunny day. The flight attendant asked if I wanted a pre-departure beverage and I chose champagne since it was basically happy hour. Along with my beverage I got ear plugs and an eye mask, which was a nice touch and something all carriers should do in premium cabins on flights longer than 4 hours.
Nothing else was too notable, except the pillows were small. I think this is an area where Delta beats almost every other carrier in the world - the full-size pillow and substantial duvet blanket in BusinessElite is unmatched. I haven't flown every carrier in the world, but I've flown international business/first recently on British Airways, Cathay, Singapore, United, American and US Airways and all of their pillows and blankets pale in comparison to Delta. (Check out my recent Delta JFK-LAX trip report)
We pushed back from the gate right on time and before I knew it we were airborne and headed out over the Pacific before making our eastward turn towards JFK.
Once airborne, flight attendants were in the aisle handing out portable in-flight entertainment consoles, which I didn't even end up using. For some reason, handheld in-flight entertainment consoles bother me.
I asked the flight attendant who handed me my in-flight entertainment device where the outlets were located and she responded: "Sorry, I have to no idea - I'm LA-based and normally don't fly these planes," and she went on her way and never came back (she was actually working coach).
As a veteran flight attendant, even if she didn't know the plane, you'd think she'd ask a colleague and come back. It was a minor thing, but a noteworthy service failure nonetheless (I ended up finding the plug on my own 5 minutes later - FYI they are located in the middle of the two seats behind the seat).
Service otherwise was pretty good. Cocktails and warm nuts were served and menus passed out. Appetizer was a grilled shrimp brochette and field greens.
Entree choices were: 1) Grilled Filet Mignon with Green Pepper Corn Sauce 2) Herb Marinated Salmon 3) Wild Mushroom Ravioli. Naturally I went for the filet and hope it wouldn't be rubberized.
The first course was actually really good. I went with the creamy garlic dressing on the salad and the shrimp skewers were good - not too salty.
The steak was presented nicely and was cooked to a healthy medium. Overall, the meal was enjoyable and the red wine, a 2007 Pedroncelli Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, while not the most expensive wine, was a perfectly fine accompaniment.
The rest of the flight was smooth - I skipped dessert, but they did tempt me with a a hand-made ice cream sundae, which I'm sure would have delivered.
I laid down for a while and the seat turned into an angled lie-flat bed. It was comfortable, but certainly not the most cutting edge product. In fact, there were many signs of wear, like the duct tape holding some sort of panel in place. After I was done resting, I tried to get my seat back into the recliner position and it got stuck in a fully reclined position. I spent a good 5 minutes trying to get it to work, but finally gave up and switched to the empty seat next to me for the duration of the flight.
Overall, my experience with domestic United first class p.s. was positive, but I wasn't blown away. However, at 35,000 American Express points (one-way), I think it is a good value. 35,000 points can be purchased for $875, so a roundtrip first class JFK-LAX-JFK would only cost $1,750. For anyone who buys premium transcontinental tickets, that's a pretty good deal - usually business class is around $3,000 roundtrip. Now, if United would install their new international first class seats (like I flew recently to Rio de Janeiro), I'd fly them every time I go to Los Angeles!
What are your thoughts on the p.s. product?