Connecting at SFO. United Economy.

I wrote yesterday about my truly outstanding experience flying Swiss first class to San Francisco – it was one of the best flights I’ve ever had, and I’ve done one or two!

However it was all down to earth with a bump as soon as I disembarked via 1L of the 777-300ER.  On the jet bridge there was a lady with a sign for F/HON services, I said hello and that was the extent of the ground service.

Thankfully having Global Entry, the expedited immigration facility that the DHS offer, I was first through immigration and into the baggage hall, where I waited about 35 minutes for the bags to come off.  Not terrible, but not great either.

After that, clearing customs was straight-forward and followed the signs to connecting flights.  As my bag was already tagged through to Seattle, they scanned the tag and took it from me and placed it on the belt.  So far, very straightforward.

Swiss had pre-printed my boarding pass for me in London already, however I used the United app to get a mobile boarding pass; this was so that I could get a TSA PreCheck boarding pass.  The first check point I came across only had a regular line, but a couple of minutes walk around the terminal and I found the next check-point, which was closer to the domestic gates and did have PreCheck.  I was airside a couple of minutes after that.

This is where the experience gets as far from premium as you can imagine.  I have two gripes, firstly around lounge access rules, and secondly revenue management.

Let me start with lounge access.  I have no Star Alliance status, however I was inbound on long haul first class.  Being a mostly oneworld flyer, their rules for passengers with no status but travelling in first/business are as follows.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 11.30.29
Screenshot from outlining lounge access rules

However, somewhat frustratingly, United has these rules.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 11.31.04
Screenshot from showing lounge access rules for Star Alliance flights

Yes, you read that right, no access.  Ok if that’s the rules, then fine, however all I really wanted was a shower, so I would have happily paid the $59 for a day pass.  However none of the lounges at San Francisco airport have showers.  That’s correct, at their global hub, no lounges have showers.  United, I know you’re trying to improve, but that’s really something quite major you need to address.

Giving up with the United Club, I walked over to the Amex Centurion lounge, willing to pay $50 to access that for a shower.  However when I approached the lounge dragon, she explained that they were full and had been all summer, so weren’t taking any walk up members at all; only those people with Centurion or Platinum cards were allowed in.

At that point I gave up, found a bar, and drank gin!

Which leads me to my next gripe, United’s revenue management.  I fully understand that award availability has to be managed very tightly – that’s perfectly reasonable.  The flight that I was booked on was the first flight up to Seattle with any availability in an award fare bucket.  That was still 3h 20m from landing to take off.

However the flight went out with two people sat in first class out of twelve seats in total.  Given that the US airlines give complementary upgrades to their top tier customers, plus there’s quite often employees sitting in first, I was quite surprised to see it so empty.

Economy was 90% full, however luckily I had a free middle seat between myself and the lady in the aisle.  What was also somewhat frustrating, is that I wasn’t even able to get an economy plus seat (their ones with extra leg room) as I had no status and my fare class wasn’t eligible for it.

Resigned to my fate, I figured there was no point bothering the gate agent as I’m sure he would have looked at the Lufthansa issued ticket, and not been able to do anything.

The flight itself was pretty short, only ninety minutes, and actually it was fine.  There was a beverage service and a small bag of pretzels offered too.  We landed almost thirty minutes early.  Bags came out after about thirty minutes.

Overall, I survived.  Star Alliance’s policies regarding lounge access aren’t as customer friendly as oneworld’s.  United’s lounge product is seemingly poorer than American’s.  Amex needs to expand their lounge products.  United’s revenue management isn’t great.  But it was a short journey and these are very much #firstworldproblems.


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