On my way home from Las Vegas recently, I had the opportunity to catch a United Airlines Premium Service (P.S.) redeye flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Newark (EWR). Although I had taken Premium Service flights between Newark and LAX on United previously, I was interested in sampling the latest snack offerings and acquiring one of the Olympic-themed amenity kits currently offered by the airline to its BusinessFirst passengers. It was also much easier to upgrade my original economy ticket to a premium cabin ticket by taking such a late flight.
Premium Service flights are great for many reasons, some of which I have written about in the past. Even in economy, the on-demand AVOD system and low cabin density make these flights are much more tolerable than other transcontinental flights out there. These days, even passengers seated in economy get free snacks (Stroopwafel) on most United flights and the Illy coffee is a great improvement over Fresh Brew. Of course, the full “Bistro on Board” menu is also available for those seated in economy who need to eat during the five-hour flight.*
*All legacy carriers in the United States (and JetBlue) offer an enhanced experience on certain nonstop flights between the New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco markets. These flights are designed to mirror the experience had on international flights, even though they are transcontinental domestic flights. As such, the premium cabins of these flights often contain full lie-flat seats and premium cabin passengers are often served multi-course meals similar to those served in business class on international flights. Premium cabin passengers on these special nonstop flights are also sometimes granted airport lounge access, which is not normally given to other domestic premium cabin passengers.
In essence, premium cabin passengers can experience an international business class experience on these routes even though the routes themselves are still considered domestic routes. United economy cabin passengers benefit as well as the AVOD systems on United P.S. aircraft are not usually available on other domestic aircraft in United’s flight.
United came under heavy fire last year when it announced that it was moving its Premium Service flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport to its fortress hub at Newark Liberty International Airport. JFK to SFO/LAX has always been a special market for airlines, filled with banking executives, celebrities, movie studio big wigs, and other wealthy individuals who are willing to pay more than the standard first class fare price in order to receive international-quality service on their transcontinental flights. Thus, the move to a New Jersey airport was seen as risky, if not catastrophic, by some who thought United was forfeiting its share of this lucrative passenger base.
I should note here that Newark International Airport is still considered a New York area airport even though it is located in New Jersey. In fact, you can reach Newark directly from Penn Station in New York City via NJ Transit and AirTrain or via private car/taxi. On a personal level, Newark is much more convenient for me as I can take the train from my house in New Jersey right to the airport train station.
Whatever your feelings about the move of Premium Service flights from JFK to EWR, United does seem to be selling a fair amount of tickets in its BusinessFirst cabins on these flights between Newark and San Francisco and Newark and Los Angeles. Upgrade space was very limited or non-existent when I booked my flights months in advance and very few people on the “day of departure” upgrade list were upgraded at the gate. In fact, if I had not been on the redeye flight out of LAX, I would have most likely had to sit in economy.
After spending much of the time on my flight from Las Vegas (LAS) to Los Angeles (LAX) under air traffic control delays, I was eager to head out and get on with my journey home. For many passengers like myself, sleeping on airplanes is nearly impossible unless a fully lie-flat seat is available for use. Thus, this redeye flight would be just what I needed to get some sleep before arriving home the next morning. A full day of work and catching up awaited me back in New Jersey, and I could not afford to miss a beat.
Of course, the other reason I wanted to fly on this particular P.S. flight was because I had never had the opportunity to sample the “premium snack” offered on Premium Service flights departing 9:01 p.m. or later. On P.S. flights departing before 9:01 p.m., a full meal with multiple courses and entree choices is offered to BusinessFirst passengers (again, the service on these flights for premium cabin passengers is designed to mirror the services received on international business class flights). Given that my specific flight from LAX was scheduled to depart at 12:20 a.m. at night, it made sense that a full meal would not be offered.
Shortly boarding the plane, I made my way to the very first row of seats on the aircraft. After organizing my electronics, pillow and blanket (a full-sized pillow and blanket is offered to all passengers in BusinessFirst on Premium Service flights), I settled in and was offered a pre-departure beverage and bottle of water. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the plane filled up and we were taxiing to the runway.
There were no air traffic control or other delays this time around and before I knew it we were in the air. By then, most of the other passengers in the BusinessFirst cabin were fast asleep, their seats fully reclined into beds and their eyes covered for the duration of the flight. In fact, because everyone else was sleeping, I had the complete and full attention of the flight attendants throughout the drink and snack service.
On this particular flight, the snack offered was a burger with blue cheese dressing and chocolate truffle. Unlike other P.S. flights, the entire meal was served on one tray to save space and expedite the service. I give the flight attendants credit, as they were very friendly and professional, especially considering how late in the evening it was by the time we were in the air. Drinks were refilled as soon as I finished them, and they even took the time to discuss the wines available on the flight (I declined any alcohol as I did have to work in the morning).
The burger itself was tasty, although I admit I am partial to “bad” foods that contain lots of things that I should not be eating. The blue cheese dressing was a pleasant surprise, as were the included onions and arugula (although there was probably way too much arugula that could have been replaced with a fourth topping). For a meal on a flight that departed after midnight, it was actually a very hearty snack.
After eating, I began to watch a movie but soon found myself drifting off. Before I knew it, the captain was announcing that the seatbelt sign would be coming on for the duration of the flight and that we had began our descent in Newark. I believe that I, along with the rest of the BusinessFirst cabin, had slept the flight away. Normally, I would have liked to sample the pre-arrival scone that is served on redeye P.S. flights. However, I was grateful that the flight attendants did not wake me earlier just for a breakfast pastry.
Overall, I felt the value of the seat/experience was worth the larger copay ($250) required to upgrade from economy to BusinessFirst on this United Airlines Premium Service flight. The bed, the private cabin, and the service do remind me of an international business class flight, and to me, those things alone makes it worth every penny. Sleep is invaluable, especially for those of us who have to work the next morning in a place located completely across the country.
Thus, I was once again a happy United customer.
As we landed, I stretched and let out one last yawn. The person seated next to me had nodded off again, as had half the people in the cabin. Sometimes, you cannot wait to get off the plane. Other times, you wish the flight lasted a few more hours. Apparently, this time was more the latter. For those who are constantly on the move or work from the road, you understand this more than anyone. At times, the best place to find a little reprieve is 30,000 feet in the air, tuned out and shut off from the world. In today’s world, that is a hard place to find.
After we reached the gate, I departed the plane, grabbed my bags, and hopped on the train back home. It was still morning in New Jersey, and a full day ahead awaited me.
Life’s little adventures, one after another.