Getting to Ukraine
It was time to set off on my round-the-world journey. As usual, I was holding off until the last minute to pack so I was up until about 2am stuffing things into my backpack (and surprisingly did not fill it up) and after brief two hours of sleep it was time to go.
[Continental and United] Merger Pains
I got to the airport about an hour prior to my connecting flight to Newark and encountered the first hick up of the trip - an aircraft that was going to be used by United for a flight to Chicago had a mechanical so the geniuses at the ops center decided to use our Continental plane for the trip. That meant that the folks at CO check-in desk had to scramble at the last minute to rebook everyone on our flight.
To make things even more interesting, they wanted to send me to Houston and then onto a direct flight to Frankfurt in
cattle coach class. Thanks, but no thanks. Instead, I was able to negotiate a connecting flight to Chicago (ironically, on the aircraft I was going to fly to Newark on) and then off to Newark to catch my original flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa.
Clubs and Lounges
I had an hour or so to kill once I got to O'Hare so I went to the United Red Carpet Lounge in Terminal 1. I was not able to use my Priority Pass membership to get in, but my business class ticket out of Newark did the trick. On the other hand, the Continental President's Club lounge at Newark's Terminal C would not let me in on Lufty biz class ticket but happily took my Priority Pass card. Go figure.
Amenity-wise, both clubs had free WiFi and plenty of room but refreshment-wise were nothing to write home about. Red Carpet Club had some basic breakfast items - cereal, bagels, muffins, juice and fruit. President's Club had some prepackaged crackers and cheese along with some trail mix and free alcohol.
Just before my flight out to Frankfurt, I stopped by the SAS lounge in Terminal B and it was far less spacious, but had a lot more food choices, still mostly finger foods. The lounge that really impressed me was Lufthansa's Welcome Lounge in Frankfurt intended for arriving business class passengers. I took a quick shower and it really refreshened me up after a long flight, especially considering that it was about 2am my time and I only got an hour or so of sleep on the plane. In addition to the free showers, they also had a full breakfast bar with scrambled eggs, cold and hot meats, selection of breads and pastries and the real Nutella (with just six or so ingredients). Good times!
Lufty Business Class
The flight from Newark to Frankfurt on Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 was not my ideal choice, but there was no award availability for business class on A380 or one of Singapore Airlines flights out of JFK. Strangely, Lufty's business class equipment is not up to par with most other airlines upgrading to the lie flat seats, so I had to settle for a mostly lie-flat seat, which was still pretty comfortable and allowing for plenty of legroom until I unfolded it - at that point I had to bend my knees just a little bit to fit my feet in.
The on-board service was very prompt and courteous by the crew that was really there to serve, as opposed to the 'flight attendants are for your safety' (and do not even try to ask us for an extra drink of water) attitude of most US based flight attendants.
Fly UIA... not
The Ukrainian International Airlines flight was the polar opposite in pretty much every way. First, somehow they managed to pull a last minute gate change without any announcements, and without any monitors to show flight status in the gate area (really, Frankfurt?) I almost missed boarding but thankfully got a bit suspicious when everyone around me appeared to be reading British newspapers.
Once I got to the right gate and we started boarding, my feelings sank. The aircraft (Boring 737-500) was really old and had the worst and dirtiest interior that I have ever seen, in addition to the hard-as-stone "leather" seats. Even more disturbing was the behavior of self-loading cargo (a.k.a. passengers). Everyone acted like we are about to leave without them, hurrying through, shoving everyone, fighting for overhead space and assigned seats (go figure).
The cabin crew was two younger girls that acted like they were the god-sent for this flight (What? They had to close the overhead bins? No way!) They were complemented by an older, Soviet era FA who would not hesitate to tell you where to go if you ask her something (and it would have noting to do with your seat).
The circus continued in the air during in-flight service. The youngins were passing out 'sandwiches' that had something (presumably meat) inside. Thankfully, I had some real food at Lufty's lounge and politely declined this delicatessen, to their greatest surprise. They were even more stunned when I just asked for some apple juice. Everyone else around me acted like it was their last supper, grabbing whatever food they were given and two or three different drinks at a time. It was really a pretty sad sight.
On the other hand, I gotta give it to the flight crew - the landing was really smooth - looks like they still strive for the beauty here, unlike carrier landings and bounces we get 19 out of 20 times in the US.
All things considered, the first leg of my journey went pretty well. I met up with my mom at Borispol airport afte she flew separately on Delta/KLM and we got picked up and dropped off at our apartment.
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