Thursday, May 21, 2009

Trip Report - United London to San Francisco 777

Flight United 931 from London to San Francisco - May 2009

I was interested to see what United's move to Terminal 1 at LHR would bring. The old terminal provided for a decent experience and the Red Carpet Room was located somewhat close to the United gates.

Terminal 1 has been remodeled and the United Ticket area is very large and open. There was no line when I showed up for this 2pm departure. The post-security "waiting area" has also been redone with all new shops and eating areas.

The eating options are all upscale -- there are NO fast food outlets for a cheap meal. The only place to get a decent priced meal is the pre-packaged meal place next to Everything Britain.

The air conditioning was minimal in the waiting area so it was fairly warm and "sticky" -- even during a cool May day. If you are traveling during the summer, you might want to check out Priority Pass to get into a club instead of sweating it out in the waiting area.

In this terminal there is a single Star Alliance lounge -- no Red Carpet Room. I didnt go in, but its tucked in the corner next to the transfers desk.

My 777 aircraft was awating us at Gate 52. This was a 777 with the OLD business class seats, so I didnt bother upgrading and stayed in the economy plus section.

I like the (new-ish) United gates in Terminal 1 -- the concourse has glass walls and very high ceilings, so it gives a more open and relaxing feeling that the old gate holding rooms.

The gate agents boarded Global Service (only) first for some reason, then First Class, then Business Class and 1Ks. After those groups, Premier Execs and Group One.

The Economy Class on the 777 has 2-5-2 seating -- five seats in the middle section. My flight had a couple seats in the very middle open, but otherwise it was full. The 777 has big bins so there werent any issues with carry-ons not fitting.

On they talk about the "entertainment equipment box" in front of the H seats on this plane. Its a metal box that blocks some of your space, but its wasnt too bad. I kept my carryon overhead to have extra leg room. Here is the view from my seat 25H in Economy Plus.

My seatmate was pretty content to sleep the whole flight against the window, so it was a fine flight. However, the United flight attendants were pretty surly and never smiled. One even kept wiping her arm and hand against her nose during the safety demo -- I hoped she washed her hands before the meal service! Plus they didnt come by with a water service at all during the 10+ hour flight.

Although the Purser announced that meals were FOR SALE, this wasnt the case since United International coach meal policy change last year. I didnt take a picture of the main meal, but the "snack" about an two hours outside SFO was a clear bag with Chips, Twix and a pretty good turkey wrap thing.

The video equipment worked ok -- small seat back video screen. The movie hung for a while after each announcement, but it was fine. United doesnt use Video on Demand, so you have to watch in real time and wait for the Purser to "reset" the movies once they end.

SFO customs and immigration was a true breeze -- at our arrival time (5pm PT), we were the only inbound flight so there were no lines. There were plenty of agents to check folks' paperwork. I think I was through the whole process in about a minute (really!) since I only had carryons.

It was an ok flight and I completed my Mileage runs to make Premier Exec during the double EQM bouns period. However, the flight attendants in my section were very poor and pretty much showed disdain to each passenger -- I sent an email to United a couple days ago - I still havent heard back yet.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

London - Park Plaza County Hall

Park Plaza County Hall Hotel
1 Addington Street
London SE1 7RY
United Kingdom

Hotel Review and Trip Report -  Park Plaza County Hall

This is a great business hotel for those who don't need to stay in really-central London. The hotel is located right next to the Waterloo Train station (the Waterloo Tube station main entrance is also close by). County Hall is across the Thames from Central London, but is located right next to the London Eye and its a short and nice walk across the river to Big Ben and other major locations.

The hotel has 398 guestrooms including Superior and Studio rooms, Junior Suites and Penthouses. I was given a free "upgrade" to a Studio from a Superior room. The Studio was nice with a long room that had two basic areas: bedroom and sofa/desk area. The room is on the slightly large size for typical London hotel rooms.

The Hotel is well maintained -- the room was very clean and the bathroom was basically spotless. The room seemed remodeled and still very fresh -- again unlike many "historic" typical London hotels.

The hallway between the bedroom and the sofa area had a nice bar set-up with sink and plenty of storage. There was even a microwave, but the small fridge had no extra space since it was full of sensors and pay-for drinks and food.

There was a large window in the sofa room, which featured a nice desk, chair and LCD TV with about 30 channels. There were plenty of outlets -- plus a wired internet plug. Oddly, the hotel provides FREE wireless connections, you just need to ask at the desk for a code. They said it only worked in the public areas, but it worked in my room 513.

My room had a nice view of the Waterloo Train station, but it was very quiet -- the window was probably triple paned. It was really quiet.

The hotel bar is pretty nice with a wall of windows looking out on the street. I didnt try the restaurant, but it looked nice. There is a Starbucks located just a block away toward the County Hall building.

Great hotel for a very reasonable rate (I paid 85 GBP per night) for those who dont mind staying across the Thames. With the nearby Waterloo station, its easy to get into central london and the sights. You can get from Heathrow to this hotel by taking the Heathrow Express (or the much cheaper Heathrow Connect train) to Paddington, then transfer to the Bakerloo line (Southbound) to the Waterloo station.

From the hotel you can walk to the London Eye and across Westminster Bridge to Big Ben.

Other great options for sightseeing in London:

The Original London Sightseeing Tour: Hop-on Hop-off
Experience the essential introduction to London aboard the original hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour. You'll see all the magical sights of London in a comfortable and secure environment, with full commentary provided.Your ticket also includes a FREE Hop-on Hop-off Thames River cruise as well as three FREE walking tours: a Changing of the Guard walk and a Cool Britannia walk exploring the hidden treasures of Trafalgar Square and central London and a Jack the Ripper walk

The London Pass
Discover more of London with the London Pass. With a choice of 1, 2, 3 or 6 consecutive days, the London Pass offers great value and convenience with free entry to over 50 top attractions including the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, London Zoo, Windsor Castle plus discounts for shopping and popular London restaurants.

A nice off-the-beaten-path spot is the London Garden Museum, which is located a short distance from the hotel along the river walkway.

This is a great hotel with nice, updated and big rooms for London, plus free wi-fi and helpful staff.

Park Plaza is building the new Westminster Bridge Hotel right next door to this hotel, looks like it will open in 2010.

United Meal - Lunch Seattle to Denver

Here is United Airline's "Salad with Shrimp" First Class lunch meal being served this month from Seattle to Denver.

It was actually pretty good with a really good chocolate chip cookie.

The other choice was a hot turkey sandwich -- which was served on a HUGE wheat roll. It looked like too much bread to me -- even the person who had the sandwich next to me avoid eating the big roll altogether.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hilton Prince Kuhio - Honolulu, Hawaii

Hilton Price Kuhio
2500 Kuhio
Honolulu, HI 96815

Hotel Review and Trip Report - Hilton Price Kuhio

This hotel used to be a Radisson, but was upgraded and re-branded as a Hilton in 2007. The location of this hotel is great, its set-off from the main street in Honolulu -- but has fantastic Ocean View rooms.

The whole hotel has been remodeled -- including the Lobby, resturant and all hotel rooms. The hotel is one tower that faces the Pacific Ocean or Mountains behind Waikiki. Be sure to get a Ocean View room above floor 15. The view is well worth it.

The rooms are very well done and still seem very fresh from the remodel. They are not large rooms, but they are well done with Hilton's Serenity Bed, full 42" LCD TV, and long desk area with easy power and internet outlets. Here is room 3306...

The bathroom is small but well done, with a large step-up shower. Everything was very clean and well coordinated. The towels are upscale, but oddly scratchy -- not a big deal.

The flt screen TV sits above a long desk/dresser combo. This is a great efficient set-up, since the rooms are a bit on the small size. The TV has a number of channels, including HBO.

The heavy (good thing) sliding doors open to the balcony. The picture doesnt really do the view justice as you really feel like you are on top of the whole area. The balconies are almost planks -- without walls on the sides. Some folks might not like the lack of privacy, but it really gives some incredible views of the Waikiki, Diamond Head and the beach. I was on the 33rd floor.

This hotel is not -on- the beach, but its a 2 minute walk away and the view is protected by a couple parking lots in front of the hotel. This is the best of both worlds, since hotels on Kalakaua (the main road across the from the beach) can be very loud, especailly at night. Since the Hilton is on Kuhio Ave, it doesnt get some much loud foot traffic.

The pool deck is located on the 10th floor and is very well done. There is a poolside bar, nice terrace area (to get out of the sun), and plenty of pool chairs. The pool is not huge, but its enough space to get a cool dip. The pool area also has FREE wi-fi available, just ask the front desk for the code when you check in.

This is my new favorite hotel in Honolulu. Its a good business hotel with some nice features including free wifi in public areas -- plus free printing in the Business Center. But the views from the Ocean View rooms are just a fantastic value. Yes, you can get better Ocean Front rooms at other hotels, but these are a much better deal.

The resturant MAC24/7 has some good upscale diner food, plus a nice long diner bar for singles eating alone.

The Hilton Price Kuhio has won some recent awards:

MAC 24/7 Restaurant Listed in the Top 5 "Best Hotel Restaurant" from the Honolulu Magazine January 2009

Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio Hotel Winner of the Hilton's 2008 - BEST OVERALL ACCOMMODATIONS - DIAMOND AWARDS - 500 Rooms or larger!

Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio Hotel Winner of the Hilton's 2007 - DIAMOND PROPERTY RENOVATION AWARD - 500 Rooms or larger!

Conde' Nast Traveler - July 2008 Issue - Listed first "Best Lodging and Dining Deals on Oahu".

Friday, May 1, 2009

New "Delta" 747 -- Saw it in Honolulu

I finally saw the new Delta 747 -- which in past pictures I thought looked REALLY boring, I mean all white? Hello?

Upon arriving in HNL, I saw the 747 parked at the old NWA gate. I can say it looks much better in person. (It still looks a bit goofy, but it looks "ok" compared to the pictures I first saw.)

Trip Report - United San Francisco to Honolulu

United 73 San Francisco to Honolulu - Domestic 777

My connecting flight was a bit late arriving in SFO, luckily the SFOHNL flight was just across the Hall at Gate 80. However, the flight’s gate area was PACKED with Coach passengers all trying to board at once -- first class had been boarded a long time ago. I wasnt too sure about United implementation of the dual boarding lanes, but this time it did worked as designed.

I maneuvered myself through the coach passengers to the Red Carpet lane. The United gate agent promptly stopped coach boarding (sorry 100+ folks), then scanned my home printed boarding pass. Once I was through she re-closed the Red Carpet lane and resumed Zone 2 boarding.
I was lucky to get seat 1F (middle section aisle) on this flight -- but it did involve not one, not two but three calls to United’s NON-US call center to get my upgrade correct. Of all the non-US call centers I have dealt with, United’s is still the worst. My last reason for calling them was they didnt process the upgrade correctly, as I was confirmed in First (1F) -and- Coach (17H). Now a good United agent would have just spotted this right off the bat, and removed the coach segment. But it took a 5 minute conversation with United’s “Shamal” and eventually just telling her to remove my coach segment.

Seat 1F is the best non-window seat in first class on this plane. Normally I dont like bulkhead seats, since I like to have my carryon bag close by, but on a 777 its usually a long flight -- so I can deal with waiting for the seatbelt sign going off and then bringing my bag down.

The domestic 777 has 36 domestic first class seats in a very tight-pitch 2-2-2 formation. Seat 1F has the most legroom since its a full bulkhead. Plus unlike other widebody bulkheads, there isnt enough room for folks to cut in front of you -- so the space is all yours for you and your bags.

Sadly, United still hasnt updated their Audio/Video on this type of plane. There is a 1960’s style projector over 2 FE and movie screen on the bulkhead for all First Class passengers (seat 1AB and 1HJ have a LCD screen on the wall as well).

On the good side the flight attendants were very cheery and service was pretty good for United. The meal choices were “eggs” or a fruit plate -- this was my second United breakfast first class meal in a week, so I told the FA that eggs are fine, if they have enough. She thanked me for being flexible. On the downside, she didnt greet passengers by name - even though she had the name list in her hand (sigh - I think a nice “Hello Mr Outflyer, what would you like to have today” would go a long way to make a flight better -- and its free to United !!)

I do have say, the flight attendants hit to ground running serving drinks fast and furiously right after take off. Since its a Hawaii flight, folks were having all sorts of drinks -- even at 9am SFO time. The flight attendants seemed to take everything in stride and did a great job on getting the first and second drinks out, and then a hot towel service.

Breakfast arrived with a choice of Bran Muffin (?) and Croissant. This time there was jam provided for the Croissant.

The meal was not bad, but it was almost identical to the SEADEN egg meal I had 6 days prior -- with the exception being a cheese/pepper filling this time.

The trays were picked up quickly and "the Movie" started -- see below. I decided to watch something on itunes instead.

The empower was working on this plane and Channel 9 was ATC, which is always nice. Oddly I dont think I heard the Captain ever announce the "halfway to Hawaii" game -- maybe United doesnt do this anymore, which is a shame.

Not a bad flight and arrived on-time.