Four Continents and 37,000 Miles in Two Weeks: United First Class Tampa to Washington to Los Angeles, United Red Carpet Club Washington Dulles, Lufthansa Senator Lounge Washington Dulles

Trip Report Index


The day started on my “usual” flight, which is the 9AM Tampa to Washington flight. I’ve probably taken that exact flight well over a hundred times, so my Saturday morning was like any other, really. I woke up at 6:30AM, took a quick shower and finished packing up. In this case, ensuring I packed everything was a bit more “high stakes” than usual, given that I’d be gone for two weeks.

My mom drove me to the airport, and I arrived at around 8AM. Before my trip I had asked for feedback as to how to handle my luggage situation, given that it would be very hard to live out of a carryon for two weeks. In the end I decided to take a duffel bag with me, which I would check. I figured the other benefit of checking a bag from the get go would be that I could take along proper sized liquids, which would make my trip a bit easier. So instead of using the kiosk I saw an agent, and I exchanged my usual Saturday morning pleasantries with some of my favorite agents. I found out that United would be moving to Continental’s concourse in Tampa, which I’m not all that excited about.

I proceeded to security, where there was virtually no line. I didn’t even get picked for the full body scanner.


E concourse

I went to the “business center” to get a bit of work done, and at 8:34AM boarding was announced.


A320 bound for Washington

United Airlines 758
Tampa (TPA) – Washington (IAD)
Saturday, May 14
Depart: 9:04AM
Arrive: 11:20AM
Duration: 2hr16min
Aircraft: Airbus 320
Seat: 2B (First Class)

The boarding process was uneventful, though no pre-departure beverages were offered. The captain announced the flight time of 1hr53min, and after the safety video (and creepy new intro by Jeff Smisek) we were airborne. About 20 minutes into the flight the seatbelt sign was turned off and the flight attendants began their service.


Legroom

Around this time Shakira music filled the cabin, and no one could quite figure out why. I’m pretty sure I exchanged looks with just about everyone in the first class cabin, as we all wondered what the heck was going on. By process of elimination we determined the music was coming from the lady in 1D, and we were indeed correct. She was playing Shakira music without headphones on her iPhone. I rang the flight attendant call button and asked her to tell the passenger to turn it off, which she promptly did, though not before apologizing to the lady for having to make the request.

As usual, we were first offered beverages, and I went with an orange juice.


Orange juice

After that breakfast was offered, which on this particular route is only one option. This is because United doesn’t have a catering contract in Tampa, so the meals actually sit there overnight and are catered the night before at another hub. For breakfast was the usual egg dish along with cereal.

In today’s case it was an omelet served with hash browns and mini sausages (which were even nastier than the old shriveled turkey sausages, if that’s possible). The hot dish was served with cereal, a banana, a croissant, and some Biscoffs. It’s definitely a pretty filling breakfast!


Breakfast

I took the opportunity to get some work done for the rest of the flight, and by around 10:30AM we initiated our descent, flew past Dulles, and turned around to land towards the south. Overall service was fairly good, though nothing special.

Upon arrival at Dulles I headed to the Red Carpet Club by gate D6, as I had a long connection at Dulles. I was planning on using the Lufthansa Senator lounge, though it wasn’t going to open until 1:30PM, so I figured I’d first get some work done at the Red Carpet Club.


D concourse Red Carpet Club

United’s Red Carpet Clubs at Washington Dulles leave a lot to be desired, though I was happy with just a workstation with a plug and wifi. The snack selection consisted of the “three towers,” which have snack mix, trail mix, and yogurt covered raisins. There are also Milano cookies, veggies, cheese, and crackers. United’s “free” snack selection is quite a bit better than American’s.


Cheese, crackers, and cookies


Snack towers


Veggies

At around 1:30PM I took the train over to the “B” concourse, where the Lufthansa Senator lounge is located.


B concourse

This is a spectacular lounge, made even better by the fact that you have access as a Star Alliance Gold member, even when traveling domestically (while you otherwise wouldn’t even have access to a Red Carpet Club without a membership).


Lufthansa Senator lounge

The lounge has a phenomenal food spread, and all drinks are complimentary. They had several hot dishes, including quiche, meatballs, pasta, and vegetables, as well as soup, sandwiches, cheese, veggies, salad, etc.


Senator lounge


Senator lounge


Snack seleciton

My favorite of all are their German pretzels, which are irresistible. The fact that they brought out fresh, warm pretzels twice during my stay there didn’t help either.


Pretzels

Given that my flight wasn’t until 5:30PM, and I probably wouldn’t have dinner until an hour after that, I had a full lunch in the lounge.


Lunch

I ran into a friend while there, so ended up talking to him for most of the time. The only other noteworthy thing is that a lady had placed her toddler on top of one of the bar tables, and the toddler fell head first onto the tile floor. Obviously the baby screamed like hell, and while the mother tried to comfort her, I really feel like they should have gone to the hospital. The screaming continued for at least an hour, so I hope the baby was okay.

At around 4:30PM I left the Senator Lounge and headed to the “C” concourse, where my connecting flight would be leaving from. The problem with the lower “C” gates in the early evening is that at least a handful of 777s all leave from gates right next to each other, so it’s nearly impossible to get to your gate, let alone find a seat. They were boarding Munich and Los Angeles at the same time from gates right across from each other, both 777s, so naturally it was a cluserf*&$#, to put it nicely.

Boarding started 40 minutes before departure with first class, business class, Global Services, 1Ks, Platinums, etc. In other words, half the plane.

United Airlines 951
Washington (IAD) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Saturday, May 14
Depart: 5:27PM
Arrive: 7:59PM
Duration: 5hr32min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 2B (First Class)

Once aboard I turned left to the first class cabin, seat 2A. Secretly I was hoping that the flight would be operated by a new configuration plane, though there was no such luck. An international first class flat bed isn’t half bad, though.


Seat 2A


First class cabin

United’s first class suites have always been pretty good for sleeping, and while they’re not in great shape anymore, they’re still in one piece, for the most part. Still, the condition of them is somewhat embarrassing. The really nice thing about the experience domestically, however, is that they still give each passengers two large pillows and a very comfortable blanket.


First class seat

Within a few minutes of settling in I was offered a pre-departure beverage, and I went with water. I quickly noticed that I was the only person in the first class cabin under 70 (and no, that’s not because the rest of the passengers were non-revs with a lot of seniority), with the exception of the two air marshalls in first class (yes, your tax dollars at work, folks).


Pre-departure water

Shortly before departure the captain made a very professional welcome aboard announcement, informing us of our short flight time of 4hr40min, well under schedule. Unfortunately we had a slight departure delay as we were waiting for some cargo to be loaded, though within 15 minutes of our scheduled departure time we pushed back.

There was a pretty long queue for takeoff, though about 20 minutes later we were airborne.


View on climb out

Shortly after takeoff the entertainment system was turned on. United has about 10 channels that “loop,” so while it’s not on demand, you do have a few options to choose from. In first class, they also have a selection of movies on cassette, which the purser came around with. I had seen most of the movies, so passed. Instead I watched “Company Men,” which was featured on one of the channels.

Service started about 30 minutes after takeoff with hot towels followed quickly by hot nuts.


Hot towel


Diet Coke with lime and hot nuts

The choices for dinner were peppercorn beef or chicken with rice. I went with the chicken, which was decent, though a fairly meager portion for a transcon dinner (though when everything is factored in, the meal was incredibly filling… I’ve never been hungry on an airplane).


Dinner

After dinner cookies were served, and I ordered a glass of milk with it.


Cookie and milk

The crew was LA based and generally attentive. They were through the cabin every 20 minutes or so throughout the flight to see if anyone wanted something to drink, which I find United to do a better job at than most other airlines.

About an hour before landing the flight attendants came around with the snack basket, consisting of Toblerone chocolate, Pop chips, nuts, and Cliff bars. I went with some of the chocolate and chips, accompanied by a glass of water.


Snacks and water

About 30 minutes before landing we began our descent, and shortly thereafter the seatbelt sign was turned on. We began our descent into a fairly foggy LA, and touched down on runway 25R a few minutes early.

I proceeded to baggage claim, where I was reminded how incredibly impatient I am. It took about 20 minutes for the first bag to come off the belt, and then my bag didn’t arrive for another 20 or so minutes. I proceed outside to the hotel shuttle area, and called the Holiday Inn Express to tell them I was waiting (since their shuttle is at least somewhat “on demand”).

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Comments

  1. Curious why you’re unhappy about the United move to Terminal A in Tampa (other than you may have a way to access the Crown Room). Maybe I’m biased because I was a CO flyer in my Tampa years…

    Do you have any idea when the move will take place?

  2. @ Peter Dominowski — Two reasons:
    a) There’s a SkyClub in the United concourse, which I don’t always have access to, though sometimes I have spare day passes
    b) More importantly, they have a pretty useful “business center,” which I don’t believe the A concourse has.

  3. Lucky, so happy to be reading your mega trip report. Its been a while and lots of teasers. I feel relaxed now, and am really enjoying the slow rev up to the juicy international bits. Love your whole gig. Keep it up. This is truly remarkable, historical stuff. Amazing.

  4. I really like the LH lounge and try to take advantage whenever I can. However didn’t they change the opening time recently to sometime in the morning?

  5. Let’s hope the new UA implements CO’s current fantastic AVOD system on longhaul/widebodies. Reading your description of the 10 looping channels reminded me of how embarrassingly bad UA’s current IFE is, even on newly configured 777’s.

  6. @ PapaSmurf — It does open in the morning now, as ANA uses the lounge for their flight. When they first started doing that they left the lounge open all the way through the evening, though now they close for about two hours around noon, after the ANA flight leaves and before the first Lufthansa flight leaves.

  7. That lunch at Senator lounge looks amazing. Likewise, the omelette from Tampa to Washington looks great. Recently I had the chance to go to Washington but thru Atlanta since I was flying from Gainesville and went to an airport bar for the first time – I love flying!

  8. now they close for about two hours around noon

    Lucky, that may have been true on May 14, but the lounge recently switched to summer hours with no lunchtime closure. See this FT post and those following it.

  9. @ lucky – In comment #3, I think you meant to say, “there are a few United gates in the Delta concourse”….right? 🙂

  10. @Other Ben Errr I dunno, my first reaction on seeing most United “First Class” meals is wondering what the hell it is. Obviously I can tell it was an omellete, but the mysterious pile of stuff at the side….

    Likewise the chicken is more like white stuff on a stick with sauce heh..

  11. @ Andrew: dude, what are you talking about? UA’s new IFE is about 100x better than CO’s new IFE.

  12. How do you find whether catering for brkfst was done in another hub & sat over night? curious.

  13. I absolutely agree with sjs. @ Andrew, Continental’s IFE is basic stuff, nothing more! UA’s new IFE is way better. Then again, CX or EK’s IFE is even better than UA’s.

  14. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the Senator Lounge at Dulles tip. I have to hang out for awhile there on an upcoming trip to Buenos Aires. I will check out the spread at the UA International First Class Lounge first. But at least there is an alternative. BTW, I did manage to score a First Square seat on ANA from FRA to NRT. It was awesome — I was the only passenger in the cabin.

  15. @sjs and Andy: You guys are being sarcastic, right? A few weeks ago I flew in Y on a newly configured UA 777 from London. My seatback IFE system had five or six free movies to choose from, and about four TV shows…I was absolutely shocked, because the last time I flew on a CO 777, my AVOD system had probably over a hundred free movies to choose from…and that was three years ago.

    So we’re talking about tons of entertainment on the CO system that has been in place on every longhaul plane for years vs. a handful of movies on UA’s newest system, which still is only on a single digit number of 777’s throughout the fleet. There’s really no comparison.

  16. Funny Luftansa will let you into their lounge, but United won’t let you into their international lounge. Ah well.

    Lucky, how long does it take to get from concourse B to C using the new train? I’m assuming you avoided taking the moon bus or whatever it’s called…

  17. Hi, Ben- Yes, there is a decent business center in A in Tampa, near the CO gates. I think it is fairly new. My only complaint is the terminal music (and announcements) play pretty loudly in there. Was that the case in Airside E? Hopefully we can get them to turn it off or down.

    Moving UA in with CO in A makes most sense for TPA airside balance, since AirTran will probably move out of A and in with Southwest. Maybe there will be enough traffic in A for UA to add a RCC??

  18. @ Andrew: Ah, you flew coach. Fudamental mistake, since UA doesn’t have the full system in coach. The system in Biz/First is much, much better than the Continental system.

  19. I can’t comment on whether UA’s IFE is better than CO’s (because I haven’t flown CO) but I can comment that, objectively and even in Business Class, it’s pretty poor. The screen’s excellent, the controls are ok (although twice I’ve been on flights where they had to reboot) but the selection of movies is poor. They are largely old or unsuccessful movies with very few prime choices. Compare that with Virgin, or even BA or Qantas and you will see why UA is miles behind.

  20. @Mark: I had actually forgotten what an asshole looks like…..so, thank you for posting.

    TROLL.

  21. Is it because of the catering issue at TPA, that’s why the breakfast come with cereal and banana ? As I know usually when order eggs, it would come with the fruit bowl, no banana or cereal. It is only if one order fruit plate, then it would come with a side of cereal.

  22. @ ORDnHKG — Yes, whenever they do overnight catering they have that meal. This is because the only part of the meal they refrigerate overnight is the egg dish, while everything else (including the milk) can stay at room temperature.

  23. Just a note: you are wrong about the air marshals on two counts. First, they do not identify themselves and since 2006 have been plainclothes, so I’m not sure how you would know. Second, federal personnel are not allowed to book travel in premium classes except under unusual and rare circumstances.

  24. I think that it would be nice to see 1 new United review of the new 1st class product. I understand that there are many better (cheaper) options out there, but you gave American’s new product a try, so why not United?

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