There was an additional security check at the United gate: another bag search and pat-down. The Russian man doing the check was very apologetic, thanking each passenger profusely for complying and apologizing for the delay.
The purser, who turned out to be a gem, greeted me as I boarded and directed me to my seat. Another flight attendant came by and took my coat and offered me a pre-departure beverage (water, OJ, or bubbly). I was hopeful that the service levels would be much higher on this flight than on the outbound.
We taxied for about ten minutes before lifting off, giving me ample opportunity to take in more Russian jets.
In the air, my hopes for a stellar crew were quickly dashed when beverage service began.
FA (indifferently): What do you want to drink? [Not, "May I offer you a drink sir?"]
Me: Club Soda please.
FA: <silence as she places drink down on table without another word or smile>
And the nuts were not warm either…
The salad consisted of wilted iceberg lettuce, a bit of cabbage, and carrot shavings. The appetizer included a cheese wedge, ham, and bell peppers.
The main course choices were filet mignon, breaded sea bass, and a cheese pasta plate. I chose beef again, and found it to be much tastier than the outbound flight. The potatoes and even the veggies were good too. The menu indicated the beef was from South America.
I thought dessert was a little lacking, but the vanilla sauce on the side was tasty.
The pre-arrival snack was either a fruit and cheese plate or a hot chicken sandwich with more potatoes. The sandwich below does not look all that appetizing, but it was very good. The sauce, cheese, chicken, and bread made for a great sandwich.
As lunch was being cleared away, I had a nice chat with the purser (who called me by my last name the entire flight, BTW). It was just small talk, but I could sense that she was trying to be friendly and for that I salute her. While the indifferent FAs working the C-Cabin were again a disappointment, the purser’s friendliness re-assured my faith in United. As I have belabored before, her actions cost United nothing and only took five minutes of her time, yet completely altered the way I judged the overall flight experience. If only all FAs would follow suit.
One of the things we discussed was security. During her opening announcements, she said something to the effect of:
Purser: The TSA has required us to insure that all passengers remain in their seats for the final hour of the flight. We are required to report to the authorities anyone who gets out of their seat after the captain turns on the seatbelt light for the final time. In order to insure that there are no police officers waiting for you when we land at Washington Dulles, please obey all crewmember instructions.
She confided in me that she hated making that announcement (I certainly would), but that she was required to. There was not a similar announcement made on my inbound U.S. flight a couple weeks earlier, so I question whether such a harsh warning was necessary. But it was made, and everyone complied when the captain turned on the seatbelt sign (20 minutes before landing, rather than an hour before…)
We landed before 1500 and beat most of the European afternoon arrivals. For the first time in my many immigration experiences at Dulles, there was no line. 10 minutes later I was back in the C-Concourse. I stopped in at the RCC for an hour to check my e-mail and noticed that my flight to PHL was zeroed out.
An hour before the PHL flight was scheduled to depart, I went over to the PHL gate. You can read what happened here.
The $400 bump alone made the trip worth it, but I enjoyed doing an international mileage run–my first international run in nearly a year. Though the crews were lackluster overall, I like a multi-course meal, UA’s AVOD system, and the ability to recline my seat into a lie-flat position and get some sleep. That is much easier to do on an international trip, than on a domestic run. Usually I need a 4-6 hour nap after a MR. Not this time.
But for the price I paid for the ticket, I suspect I will return to domestic MRs in the coming months. You can’t beat those $220 transcons. If it is only miles you are after, you can do much better remaining in the United States.