Until a few months ago, Aeroplan permitted its members to book into United’s (domestic) first class cabin on two-cabin aircraft while traveling on business class awards. When it came time to piece together this award in early December, I had few options to get across the United States around Christmas. Economy seats were scarce because of the holiday and first class awards were practically unbookable due to the mileage penalty. While better than economy, United’s domestic first class isn’t exactly that thrilling, especially at a price of 45k additional Aeroplan miles. This left me originally booking a flight on Continental, which codes its “first class” as business class for ticketing purposes.
Two weeks later, United opened up several business class seats on its p.s. service from New York Kennedy to San Francisco. Then, a week ago, United opened up several business class seats from Los Angeles to New York for my return leg. With p.s. availability for both domestic legs available, I splurged by ponying up the $90 Aeroplan change fee to switch. p.s.’ business class is on par with United’s old international (non-lie-flat) business class seats and, in my experience, been a far better experience than Continental’s domestic first class. The flight change left me departing New York on Friday, December 23rd, rather than Saturday, December 24th. I left work and caught the train to the airport.
Frequently flying has caused me to pick up a few quirks exhibited while traveling. The first of these is something of a fetish for boarding passes. A proper boarding pass is on crisp, clean paper stock. The boarding passes printed on 8.5 by 11 inch paper, or worse, stored entirely on a cell phone, are fare to ephemeral for me. The premium side to United’s check-in desks had two agents. One was assisting another party; another was happily tapping away at his computer, leaving me to use the kiosks that offered printed boarding passes on thin, flimsy sheets of paper.
For this trip, TSA did not disappoint. I offered my boarding pass and NEXUS card to the name checker. She proceeded to look at the picture, look at me, waive the card under her UV light, mark off my boarding pass, finally handing the two back to me. As I approached the plastic bins, she summoned me back, demanding to see my ID once more. I handed my NEXUS card back to her. This time, she looked at it for a while, took a look at the back, and concluded that because she “had never seen one of these,” it was an unacceptable form of ID. I tried to explain that it was a trusted traveler card, but was rebuffed by it being for “my safety” that I show proper ID if I wanted to fly that day. If it weren’t interfering with my traveling experience, I would call the JFK Terminal 7 TSA staff’s urge to cite “my safety” as their reason for doing anything amusing, but sadly, it isn’t.
Once past the name checker, I headed off to the United Club since business (and first) class passengers have access to it.
There are a few works of art just outside of the entrance to the club. The first of these is an obvious p.s. destination; the second leaves me wondering if this is a secret symbol of San Francisco.
There’s a longish hallway from the entrance desk out to the edge of the terminal, overlooking the tarmac.
The JFK Club’s bar area:
The club has nice views of the tarmac:
After spending a few minutes in the club, I realized I hadn’t checked how full the flight was, mostly on an assumption that if it was oversold, United wouldn’t have released a Star Alliance award seat on it. I checked with the front desk agent who told me that they would be fine. On a hunch, I left the club 50 minutes before departure and checked with the gate agent. He recognized me from all of my ex-JFK p.s. segments (and VDB voucher bookings) and told me that while they’d be “full,” they wouldn’t be so full as to need to bump anyone. As I was wandering back to the door to take a picture of the departure screen, he waived me back over: “Would you mind sitting in first class this evening?” As it turned out, the four people in my row in first class were op’ups. Ordinarily, I’m an aisle seat person, but I chose a window seat so I wouldn’t disturb my seatmate so much if I decided to play with my seat during flight.
New York (JFK) – San Francisco (SFO)
Friday, December 23rd
Duration: 5 hours, 38 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 3D (First Class)
Ever since United announced that p.s. would shift to a two-class, lie-flat configuration, I’ve been considering possible itineraries that would book me into the first class cabin. Christmas came a bit early for me.
Earlier this year, I was on an oversold JFK-LAX flight that led to me being rebooked from coach into business class on this very airplane (N512UA). It was my first trip in a premium cabin and I concluded at once that I was overwhelmed by the few levers that the business class seats had to offer. I’ve since learned how to manipulate all the levers and knobs for the p.s. business class seats, but this seat offered even more options:
I know. I have terrible first world problems.
The seat has respectable legroom. Besides having so much as to make it possible to lie down on the floor in front of you, it’s hard to ask for more.
Our purser came by before departure to offer predeparture beverages and dinner menus.
I had previously requested a vegetarian meal, so my first and second courses came from United’s Asian vegetarian offerings. (Oddly, they don’t offer an ovo-lacto vegetarian option on request for p.s. flights, even though their menu was provided for one.)
In between the first and second course, the purser came by to offer white and whole grain rolls (not pictured here). One thing that is in the picture, however, is a can of Coca-Cola. The purser provided the passengers in the cabin with poured glasses as well as the accompanying cans (for those beverages which came out of cans). While some would argue that it’s not as stylish, it’s far more practical when one wants a refill.
The food was far tastier than the dim lighting would make it appear to be. Dessert was an ice cream sundae, which I took with hot chocolate syrup and whipped cream.
I swear there’s some ice cream under there. As a follow-up to all of this food came the traditional United cookie:
The Tulip lives! We touched down nearly an hour early to the smoothest landing I’ve had all year (absent hearing the thrust reversers or looking out the window, it was not apparent we had landed). As fun as it would have been to head to Sydney a day early since the flight was still boarding, I left the airport for my hotel, the Radisson San Francisco Airport Bay Front for the night.