a few months ago

Flight Review: United Airlines First Class AUS to SFO

After failing to wake up for my early morning flight on Sunday, July 22nd, I switched to a flight that departed around noon and landed in San Francisco at 1:30 PM.  I’d been planning to meet friends at Washington Park in Burlingame for birthday celebrations.  I knew changing to the later flight would cause me to arrive halfway through the festivities, but I figured I’d still get a few good hours to celebrate.

I arrived at the airport approximately an hour before my flight was scheduled to depart.  It never takes me more than 15-20 minutes to pass through security with a Clear membership, and this trip was no exception.  I was through the check point and sitting down for a taco and a mimosa at Vino Volo 10 minutes after walking through the airport doors.  One inconvenience I did notice was that United no longer prints baggage tags at the kiosks at the Austin airport.  They’ve reverted to the days when the desk clerk prints and attaches baggage tags as well as checking your ID and weighing your bag.  Many people may enjoy this added personal experience, but as a frequent traveler, I’m all for streamlining the process, taking my time at an individual kiosk and attaching the luggage tag myself before simply handing my bag off to a desk agent.

I usually check my United app frequently for updates, but for some reason on this trip I simply checked out when it was time to board and headed to my gate.  I’d opted for a first class ticket on this trip, but usually miss my group one boarding time.  I was surprised to see long lines for every group at my gate and no one boarding the plane.  I checked the screen at the agent desk and learned that my flight was delayed 35 minutes already due to engine problems.  By checking where the aircraft had come from in my United app I learned that our plane had arrived 17 minutes earlier than expected from its previous flight in from Orlando.  I wasn’t excited to learn about the delay, but 35 minutes for engine testing and maintenance didn’t seem so bad and I used the opportunity to enjoy another mimosa.

When I returned for our new scheduled departure time I learned that the mechanics were still running tests.  The crew mentioned something about flying at a lower altitude for safety (which didn’t make me feel great about the flight).  The pilot came out to talk to us directly a couple of times.  He didn’t say anything the crew hadn’t already told us, but it was a nice touch.  By 50 minutes delayed and still being told we’d only have to wait 10-15 more minutes several times I was beginning to get antsy.  The crew brought out water and snacks for us and told us that at some point we would all be given meal vouchers if we were delayed long enough.  It’s not much, but it’s nice to see airlines attempting to remedy annoying delays, though it’s often out of their hands.  We never hit that mark, however, and we finally boarded nearly an hour after we should have taken off. By the time we were wheels up we were over an hour late and I knew I’d be missing most of my friend’s birthday in the park.  I should have made my earlier flight!

Onboard the flight attendants were very attentive and kind.  We received pre-flight drinks, a luxury that does not always occur due to late F&B cart arrivals.  Our captain communicated with us frequently throughout the flight, updating us if we expected any turbulence, of which there was very little.  He also informed us that all programing and direct TV would be free for the flight due to the delays.  I typically work or watch my own entertainment during flights, but I think many people onboard found this perk quite useful.

I enjoyed a glass of red wine with my chicken mac n cheese.  I may be one of the few who typically enjoys airplane food.  It was a nice dish complete with a roll, salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a large slice of cheesecake.  We of course received a hot towel before the meal and a small bowl of United’s signature hot nuts.

As we began our slightly bumpy decent, we were surprised to receive handwritten notes from our captain.  On the back of his business card he’d written, “Ms Banks, Sorry for the maintenance delay.  We appreciate your business and hope you’ll choose United again.  Have a nice day.”

I’ve never received a handwritten note from anyone onboard a flight before, much less the captain.  I won’t soon forget this personal touch by one captain who reached out to apologize for a fairly common delay.  In a world where it often feels that airlines don’t care about keeping passengers’ schedules or compensating passengers when things get tough, it’s nice to fly with a captain and crew that sympathized with all of us onboard.

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