VLC-FRA-SFO: Last trip on 747 upper deck!
Due to a snafu with United's online rebooking tool, I got to fly a final time on United's 747 upper deck, before they retire the 747 fleet.
I wanted to extend my trip back to California a couple days, and used united.com to make the change. The website is great for seeing all of the rebooking options, change fee, and fare difference. You can change origin, destination, and dates, and price out the implications of changing each variable. It's quite powerful.
I carefully selected only the return flight to change, leaving my outbound flight unchanged. I went all the way to the last step, clicked confirm change, and got an error message. I considered trying again, but saw that my credit card already had a pending charge, so called the reservations line.
To my shock, the reservations agent told me that I cancelled my outbound flight, and when the system tried to rebook me, they couldn't get the same seat on the first feeder flight on TAP from Valencia to Lisbon! She said that my only choice was to rebook with fare difference. I insisted that I absolutely did not cancel my outbound flight, and the agent admitted that it was "the system." I suspect that "the system" books a totally new ticket when you make a change on even a single leg (hence you get a new ticket number), but with a partner which usually requires 24 hours for confirmation like TAP, "the system" doesn't preserve the unchanged legs as it should. This is my theory anyway.
The agent did find Y-class economy from Valencia to Frankfurt (my original Valencia-Lisbon flight was in economy since it was a single-class propeller plane), connecting to business class on United from Frankfurt to San Francisco. So the unanticipated benefits of changing my return flight were a) a faster overall trip and b) my last chance to fly upper deck on the 747!
Another surprise came when upon boarding my Valencia to Frankfurt flight on Lufthansa, the boarding pass reader beeped, indicating I had a new seat assignment. Business class! I never would have thought that Lufthansa gives out free upgrades, let alone upgrade someone who is not a member of their own frequent flyer program!
Now, for flights within Europe, "Business Class" is basically Economy Class with middle seat blocked, and nicer catering. Still, it was nice to get a continental breakfast of air dried beef, cheeses, a radish cream cheese spread, and quark with cherry jam. I would put this meal a cut above the dry cereal and milk that SWISS serves on flights from Valencia to Zurich.
After a few hours in the Senator Lounge, I boarded the majestic 747.
I was lucky that I was able to nab a seat on the upper deck when the new ticket was issued, just a couple days before departure. I checked the following day and found that an upper deck window seat opened up, and I quickly changed to that seat. Upper deck window is my favorite, because the seats have the convenient side storage bins, not to mention a great view.
United recently changed the amenity kits, and I think the design must be among the best United has ever put out. The Saks Fifth Avenue design is classy, and compact - a great feature to stuff into already overstuffed carry-ons! The construction also feels quite durable.
Lunch was served after takeoff. Starters were beet-cured salmon, pickled radish, capers, and a wonderful salad with papaya, sunflower seeds, and cilantro. Now, the menu said that it also had tomatoes, but the red, pointy things weren't tomatoes. They were petits poivrons originally from Peru: they were so sweet and had such a refreshing taste! It looks like the caterer went rogue on United's menu - in a surprising, delicious, and gourmet way.
The bread plate came pre-plated with barely warm garlic bread and a multigrain roll.
I didn't get my first choice of main course, a cod with lobster sauce (I didn't get my first choice the last time I flew United Polaris business class). But the short rib I got was pretty good - very tender, and served with fingerling potatoes and green beans.
Next came the cheese course, and I took the port for the first time in memory. It was nice, although my favorite dessert wine is still Pedro Ximinez from Spain.
For a while, United suspended serving ice cream, because the glass bowls were cracking. They served the same ice cream that was being served in economy class as part of economy class upgrades, and there were howls of protest from frequent fliers on flyertalk.com about how downscale that was.
On my flight, the sundaes with all of the toppings returned, just served in paper cups. Now, having had the economy class ice cream on other flights, I actually think the supplier is the same as the business class ice cream (Villa Dolce), because the taste and texture are very similar. I quite like it.
From the dessert tower of small desserts, I took some kind of layered bar and a pistachio macaron.
Pre-arrival meal was a choice between chicken or charcuterie plate. I chose the chicken, which was unfortunately extremely dry and tough, to the point of stringiness that was hard to cut through.
The flight ended with a box of chocolates. This used to be served on the same tray as the pre-arrival meal; I think it's a nice touch that they're handed out individually by the flight attendant at the end. It's like a parting gift.
I have to mention that the crew on this flight was very good on this flight: personable, friendly, humorous. That went a long way to making this flight great.