When a last-second opportunity arose to visit the new goddaughter in Singapore–little Sophie turned one this past week–I scrambled to find a reasonably-priced airline ticket that didn’t involve a 14-hour layover in Beijing. Laura, my travel agent, didn’t disappoint.
“I have some good news and some bad news,” she said. “I can get you to Singapore for $800 return, including taxes. And the layovers aren’t too long.”
“Great!” I said. “What’s the bad news?”
“The longest segments are on United.”
United, infamous for dragging paying passengers off their aircraft and generally treating their customers with disdain, is a truly awful airline, and I avoid flying it whenever I can. But time was tight and the price was right. Plus frequent flyers know that carriers generally step up their game when it comes to long-haul international service.
“All right,” I said with a sign, “Let’s give it a go.”
The first segment from Toronto to Chicago was perfectly uneventful, just like you’d expect a one-hour trans-border to be. It was the Chicago-Tokyo leg–a 13-hour, 25-minute flight–was where the grossness set in.
I’m not here to complain about the shabby seats on the 777-200 or the tiny 8-inch seatback screen (or United’s requirement that passengers install DRM software if they wish to watch inflight entertainment on their computers. Uh, no) or the inedible glop they pass off as food (which was also gross with a capital G.) No, I want to warn you about the cleanliness of the aircraft.
I had a feeling something was off when I made a quick pre-taxi trip to the loo. Since I was seated next to the restroom, I knew that no one else had been in there since we boarded. Yet it was immediately and abundantly clear that the grooming of the plane was substandard. Let me just say this: stains. And we hadn’t even left the gate yet. Ew.
Once we were in the air, I tried to settle in for a nap. cracking open the shrink-wrapped blanket at my east. Opening it up, I was immediately covered in crumbs left there by some previous passenger. Gross.
I grabbed another shrink-wrapped blanket from a nearby vacant seat. That one smelled. I tried a third time. More crumbs and some other unidentified…bits.
Yes, I know that many airlines do not launder their passenger blankets between uses–if ever (sorry to break the news to you but it’s true). United, though, apparently doesn’t even bother to shake them out before crudely jamming them back into plastic for the next flight.
I kept thinking about this episode of The Simpsons.
Lest you think that I’m gonna be all negative on United, I do have some nice things to say about the flight.
- The flight left on time and arrived 13 minutes early.
- The flight attendants seemed grimly apologetic about the food. They knew that they were serving garbage. When I peeled back the cover on the hideously over-salty-and-peppery powdered scrambled eggs breakfast, the woman gave me a wry smile that said “I know. But what can I do?”
- Er, that’s it.
Contrast that to my connecting flight from Tokyo to Singapore on ANA. The plane was immaculate, the restrooms operating-room clean. The flight crew was attentive and friendly. My blanket was crisply folded and obviously freshly laundered. And the food? Salad, sushi, edamame, a nice potato salad-and-prawn side dish, and a snow crab noodle dish.
Keep in mind that this was a flight on the same $800 ticket.
My return trip is the exact reverse of the outbound flights: SIN-NRT on ANA and then NRT-ORD/ORD-YYZ on United. Suffice to say I will be stocking up on food and Purell. And I’m bringing my own blanket. I suggest that if you’re flying United in the future to do the same.