It takes a lot to make up for a bad first impression.
Last week, I flew from Orlando, Florida to Los Cabos, Mexico on United with a connection in Houston. As you'll see, things started off on the wrong foot, but quickly improved thanks to the kind of service one should expect from a legacy carrier.
Check In (6/10)
One of my biggest issues with airports - especially international flights - is taking off super early or ridiculously late because far too many passengers use it as an excuse to show up unwashed or in various states of casually (un)dressed. Compounding that is my own personal distance from my home airport of Orlando which really stinks when one gets to the airport and can't get coffee after the long drive in or before the long drive home!
This check-in, however, took the cake.
Thanks to a bright-and-early international flight, I actually stayed overnight in Orlando. When I got to the airport, I was surprised to see no one at the United check-in area except a whole lot of other people who had gotten there before the employees! Turns out, the check-in area doesn't open until 4a.m., which wasn't something communicated to any of us upon booking our flights.
Now, I know…but at 4a.m., I was ticked! It was still more than enough time to get through security, but the inconvenience of a whole lot of people could be with just a little more communication.
On the way back, the score jumps up quite a bit because of United's automated return flight check-in system. Things went a lot smoother coming back to the states!
Orlando is the megamall of terminals with a splash of Disney for good measure. No, I don't mean the "Disney magic," but the Disney professionalism that allows everything to run smoothly, efficiently and cleanly. Other than perhaps a little more signage for first-time visitors on the run, it's impossible to want for anything from the Orlando airport except for perhaps a little more uniqueness and character.
Houston has none of those concerns. While the building's skeleton shows a little age if looking closely, the various terminals have all the shopping and dining anyone could ask for - even a tenacious and persnickety foodie like myself. Seriously, it could be a destination all on its own.
In Cabo, things are a little more compact and a little less novel because it's a smaller airport, but there's value in that. After a long trip, it was nice to get to the airport and through security in short order. Everything is clean, and the Duty-Free store and various novelty shops have just about everything one might want to bring along home. Speaking of value, the Corona-branded bar is a fantastic option among an Americanized palette of choices. There is a small "cover charge" which earns you a seat along with chips and various salsas, and my entire meal (and beer) was $16 USD.
One last point about Cabo: Boarding the plane with the mountains in the background is one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Let's just say I wasn't the only one snapping plenty of pictures.
As a bigger guy, I get that space comes at a premium to me, and so I appreciate planes that haven't gone to the slimmest of the slim seats in order to pack us all in. My United planes were middle of the road when it came to space available and if there'd been a few bigger people in the row with me, we'd probably have been a little too analogous to sardines for our comfort.
I don't always appreciate paying a little extra for that space in United's Economy Plus, but I do because it's a nice option to have on certain flights. On flights with multiple legs, it's possible to utilize the service to enable sitting in a partial row by paying extra special attention to seat assignments right up until boarding. If you had the option of paying around $40 to not only get extra leg room but to avoid someone in the middle seat next to you, you might pay that every time. I did.
As for comfort? I love United's adjustable headrests. I'm a firm believer in reclining as little as possible or not at all in deference to the people behind you, and the raised headrest helps.
We'll stay in the seats when it comes to amenities because the outlets that are becoming standard in United's airplanes saved my proverbial bacon when traveling drained my battery and charging wasn't an option between flights. I don't always use them, but when they're needed, those outlets can make traveling a lot less stressful knowing that you aren't going to land with a dead battery and no way to contact ground transportation.
United is also unrolling more and more entertainment options across their entire fleet. I found myself passing the time and being enthralled with even the trailers in between the entertainment I had brought for myself. The one plane I took that didn't have in-seat viewing? It allowed free movies on the United app.
All of my flights were just under three hours, so they are short flights by United standards. Some of the food and beverage options are then limited. It's not necessarily a negative, but it's something to be cognizant of, as some people in front of me were very upset because they weren't prepared. Personally, I was fine with the stroopwafels which are objectively the best free snack on any flight.
Probably the biggest gripe is that onboard internet service is only available over the continental United States, which is fine, but there's little to no way to know when it's going to kick out or how much time you have -something that stinks when you're shelling out money to use the service. This is a minor problem, but one I expect to be fixed eventually.
I was very happy with my service both in the airport and on the flights.
My only tiny quibble would be that a flight attendant flying internationally with a few extra pens is a godsend, and none of my flights this go-around had those. Yet, all the flight attendants were courteous and mostly affable.
The most impressive moment was when payment machines went down on my leg from Cabo to Houston and the flight attendant simply walked down the aisle as if nothing were wrong, giving snacks to anyone who wanted them and then leaning down and quietly telling the passengers it was on the house. It was the best way to turn a bad situation around without creating a run on snack boxes and expensive drinks while still providing top notch service and "wow" moments for some passengers who were paying attention.
Also, maybe it's just because my last trip before this was on Southwest with their self-boarding, but these were some of the most efficiently boarded and loaded planes I've been on.
There wasn't much wrong with this trip, but the wow moments for this traveler were either few and far between or purchased at a premium. When the two most memorable things of the trip are the layover airport terminal and stroopwafels, it certainly isn't a bad journey, but also certainly falls into the satisfactory category rather than exceptional.
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