This past Sunday, I had occasion (see post below) to need a last minute ticket to the Subcontinent. Fares in coach on SkyTeam were through the roof. I had a bunch of Avianca LifeMiles stored up (a good way to get affordable business class fares internationally). Not really expecting to find award travel availability, I went to the LifeMiles website anyway. I needed a flight late in the evening on Sunday, that would let me take the morning Masses in my parish, and give me enough time to get to Hartsfield, 90 minutes away from Athens. Flights out of Atlanta, Miami and Chicago were unavailable. Out of Boston, there was a weird connection via Geneva and Zurich, on Swiss Airlines. It looked risky: short layovers at both airports? I don't think so. United's popular (and lucrative) Newark-Delhi flight was available only a few days ahead. Air India (EWR-BOM/JFK-DEL) was unavailable, though I could have shelled out more points and flown First Class a few days later. And then, I plugged in Washington Dulles. IAD-DXB on UA, connecting to AI on to DEL, with an ~4h layover. Bingo! A few minutes later I had booked that flight, followed by a decently priced flight from Atlanta up to Dulles on Delta.
The 4+ hour layover at Dulles was more than enough to pick up my bags from the belt off the Delta flight, and hike them over to United's premier check-in counter, which was practically deserted. "This is a one way, sir? When are you returning?" I said I wasn't sure. "Well, we have to put in something for immigration." I pointed out that I had permanent residency status in India (Overseas Citizenship of India) and showed her my card. "Oh that's all I needed to know!" A few minutes later the bags were checked through to Delhi and I received the boarding pass for the first leg. I would have to go to the transfer desk in Dubai to get my Air India boarding pass. I headed out to the curb, and was picked up by a classmate from seminary. There was more than enough time for a leisurely dinner nearby.
|The United lounge at C17, IAD|
|Of course there'd better be enough legroom!|
|That's one long flight!|
Business class means lots of food. I wasn't disappointed. Start out with drinks and a small bowl of nuts, followed by a salad and salmon appetizer. For dinner I chose the rack of lamb (it was actually pretty horrendous. Completely flavorless.), followed by a cheese plate and port. I had a cup of tea afterward, and passed on the gelato. By about 0230 or so I was ready to sleep, and stretched the seat out to lay flat, and did my best to snuggle under the blanket.
|Yay! Food photos! Why do we do this?|
|The most completely flavorless main course I've ever eaten.|
|Frommage au port!|
One thing that I did enjoy was the availability of WiFi. $19.99 for the entire flight (comparable to Virgin's £14.99). Non MileagePlus members (such as myself) could only log on to one device (that can't be that hard to rectify!). I had some trouble logging on: it took me a while to realize that the browser wouldn't accept an auto-fill email address. It kept returning and "invalid email" error! Once signed up, it worked fantastically, with decent speeds, and only some very minor interruptions. Oh yes, UA's amenity kit is nice, and comes in a nice leather pouch.
|Heading in to land|
|At the gate in DXB.|
|Farewell, rear-facing seat 8A!|
|The useless Fast Track immigration card handed out by UA|
|A better seat than United|
|The Business Class cabin|
|Yup. Comfy. Nice footrest!|
AI flies a 787 on the DXB-DEL route (Mumbai merits only an old A321!). Executive Class has a 2-2-2 layout with lie-flat seats. The seat was a lot better than United. It was certainly wider (22" vs 20"), and less cramped, with a much wider footrest. The cabin was almost full (I counted two empty seats). There was a welcome drink (mixed fruit juice, orange juice or water), and AI's sad amenity kits (a paper envelope with socks and an eye mask) were passed out. The pillow was smaller than the generously fluffy one on United, but not uncomfortable. At precisely 0005, the doors were closed and we pushed back for the short (2h30m) flight to Delhi. A decent dinner was served soon after take off (options of vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Indian food. Sucks if you don't like that. However, don't travel an Indian airline and not expect Indian food!), and before long, I was stretched out and fast asleep. We were woken up about 20 minutes prior to landing, and given, IIRC, a hot towel to freshen up.
|The lone meal on the 2h30m flight: Chicken Biryani. Quite good!|