Heading west, and oh what an experience it has been…

After a nearly three week hiatus of not flying I’m back in the air again. I booked Tampa to Denver to San Diego to San Francisco, obviously to add on a few miles. Most of the time I would much rather route through Washington Dulles or Chicago for even more miles, but today I had a Flight Attendant friend (also a FlyerTalker) working the Tampa to Denver flight, meaning the four hours would fly right by. The plan was to have dinner with FlyerTalkers Saturday and Sunday night, and spend the rest of the day finishing up some loose ends. I’ll be taking the redeye to Newark tonight, routing back through Dulles and then finally to Tampa.

I was booked from Tampa to Denver at 6AM, but since my friend was on the flight 90 minutes later I stood by for it instead. As a 1K I can do confirmed standby for free four hours in advance, so I woke up at the delightful hour of 3:30AM to call United, fully intending to go back to sleep. While I had gone to bed early I simply couldn’t sleep, and after making the call at 3:30AM I had a million things on my mind, so decided to just get up.

I purposely left for the airport early since I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss my flight (the opportunity to fly with a friend that’s working the flight doesn’t arise everyday). After parking my car I took the shuttle to the terminal, and the crowd on there never ceases to amaze me, a hybrid between the stereotypical Ted and Southwest passenger. In today’s case we had one lady who was “carrying the remains of a friend,” laughing about it, while pointing to a gift bag by her feet. Wow, well thanks for sharing…

Nothing drives me more nuts than security at TPA! Usually there’s basically no wait on a Saturday morning, but for some reason today was an exception, which seems to happen about 20% of the time lately. The security line was well over 30 minutes long, and watching the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the TSA made me cringe. Another favorite pastime of mine is watching people in security lines. I saw a man with his wife and two young sons carrying six 20oz. bottles of water and four large yogurts. I guess not everyone is familiar with TSA regulations…

Eventually I got through security and to the gate a few minutes after boarding started. I really had a blast. I’m best off not going into details, but I haven’t laughed as hard as I did during those four hours for a while, and heard some great stories too. Thanks to the crew (especially my FlyerTalk FA friend) that made the flight very enjoyable! It’s also worth mentioning that Channel 9 was on, despite no announcements from the cockpit.

We then hung out in Denver for a little in the Red Carpet Club before I left to catch my connection to San Diego, discussing a lot of FA stuff I wasn’t all too familiar with, including details on crews going illegal as well as the new uniforms, which apparently two FA’s in each domicile are carrying. The lady admitting people into the Red Carpet Club was wearing an “Obama ‘08” pin on her blouse… I’m counting the days till a supervisor asks her to remove it, although it was mild compared to some of the stuff I have seen employees wear in the past, including an FA offering legal services, but that’s a different story.

My crew Denver to San Diego was equally good. As the FA was taking meal orders (choice being between a turkey wrap and shrimp salad), she asked what my first choice was, and I responded “Whatever makes your life easier,” with a smile on my face She didn’t really respond at first, but when I went to use the restroom she said “Is this your last name?” while pointing to my name on the manifest. I confirmed it was, used the restroom, came back out, and she said “Which did you say you preferred?” since she had marked mine as a question mark on the manifest. I told her to give me whatever makes her life easier, since a lot of people seemed particularly passionate about getting their choice, which she seemed thankful for, although she insisted I choose what I want. Then I got the typical “Wow, you look young for being a 1K,” with an ensuing couple of minutes of chit chat. They asked all kinds of questions and I eventually gave them a link to this blog and FlyerTalk, so we’ll see, right?;)

Another thing that’s worth mentioning is that the meals were enhanced quite a bit over what I have seen in the past. The wrap was actually very good for once, and it came with a potato salad on the side, something I haven’t seen before on United. Also, it came with a chocolate chip cookie, which I knew had returned to ORD-West Coast flights, but didn’t know was on shorter flights again too. Before landing one of the FA’s came up to me and asked if I liked her new uniform, which was really funny since we had been discussing exactly that on the layover in DEN, so what are the chances of me flying with one of the two FA’s of the DEN domicile wearing it?!?!

I got into SAN on time, and immediately went to the Red Carpet Club to see if I could standby for the earlier flight to SFO, knowing the weather was looking AWFUL. The ladies in the RCC, that were VERY friendly, said it looked like I might get on, and that I should go to the gate and play “Deal or no Deal,” because they loved the show. I did that and within a few seconds my name got called and I got a First Class boarding pass. The Purser was all smiles, and as I walked in I saw that there was a kid in the Captain’s seat having his picture taken, so all around great service. I went to the flight deck to ask the Captain about Channel 9, and he confirmed it would be on!

To my surprise we pushed back on-time and started taxiing! I pinched myself because I knew we couldn’t get this lucky with the awful weather at SFO. Not surprisingly around 30 seconds after we start taxiing the Captain comes on the PA and says “Ladies and gentlemen, a ground hold has just been issued for SFO so we’re not quite ready for takeoff yet. We’ll get an update in around 45 minutes.” It ended up being nearly two hours sitting on the tarmac, but the Purser just did an amazing job handling the situation, which is all that counts in my book. She provided drink service for the whole plane nonstop, including wine to passengers in coach. There were only three of us in First, one non-rev, me, and a guy across from me, so we had it relatively comfortable too.

After we took off the service began, and this is where it gets sad. The 737 only has two restrooms, and with three passengers in first and around 90 in coach on a one hour flight which suffered a two hour delay, it was no surprise that the rear restroom had a long line, so people started using the First Class restroom. Since First wasn’t full I had no problem with this since it was an unfortunate case for everyone involved with such a long ground hold, but Mr. 2B apparently felt differently. He loudly belittled the Purser, basically saying that he can’t believe she had the audacity to let people from coach use his lavatory. The Purser explained the problem in a very professional manner, and he continued on his rant. As the FA walked away I winked at her and she was back to her state of smiling. For the rest of the flight he didn’t say another word to her but did push his call button several times for more drinks and just pointed to the glass when he wanted more. When she offered him snack mix (and she was just such a nice lady) he just grabbed it from her. I then loudly complimented her since she was doing an incredible job and gave her a Going the Extra Mile certificate for her hard work, because she truly was a gem.

The approach into SFO had quite a few bumps and after the landing gear went down, about three minutes before touchdown, Mr. 2B pushed the call button, and the FA leans to the side from her jumpseat and asks if he needs anything. The FA and I exchange weird looks about this moron, and I start waving my hands at him since he has his headphones on to ask him what he needs, since she obviously needs to know whether or not it’s an emergency (not that it is, of course). He totally ignores both of us and keeps looking forward. After the roughest landing I’ve had in a long time (which I can’t blame the pilots for, there were less than pleasant conditions), I wished Mr. 2B a great day on our way out. The other non-rev loudly tells me “Wow, what a jerk,” obviously making sure the guy hears it. We exchange a few more words in front of the guy, and of course he pretends not to hear it.

I then got a ride over to Kincaid’s where we had dinner, and I had a great time. Tonight we’re having dinner at Hola in Burlingame before taking a redeye to EWR, which is sold out at the moment, so here’s to hoping for a bump.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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