In October, United moved its transcontinental p.s. flight operations from JFK to its hub at Newark Liberty International.
Shortly after the switchover, United invited TravelSkills on a quick turnaround trip (Thurs-Sat) to check out the new route, and experience what it’s like to fly p.s. BusinessFirst into Newark instead of our well-worn path to JFK.
Checking fares on United.com today (Dec 3, 2015) for trips this coming January– we found them as low as $1,050 round trip in BusinessFirst, and as low as $247 round trip in economy class. January is typically one of the slowest months of the year for travel so these low fares will not last.
C’mon and take a ride with us…
Even though I’m Premier Gold with United, on this trip the airline set me up to travel as if I were Global Services, which meant access to the secret lounge behind the frosted glass next to SFO T3 Premier security lines, and a lot of personalized attention.
Global Services passengers enter TSA Security through a special door (center, above) that provides access to the front of the line– whether or not they have TSA PreCheck.
I arrived at the airport later than expected, so was unable to check in the new United Club at SFO… luckily I had seen it two days before for the grand opening. You can see it, too, in this TravelSkills “first look” post.
I was surprised that this p.s. flight departed out of the older Gate 81 at SFO- I thought United would consolidate its p.s. flights out of the much nicer new T3E boarding area. Nonetheless, there was a United agent at the gate waiting for me (due to my temporary GS status)- she thanked me for my business and made sure I got on board with no hassles. Since I was late for this flight, I was the last to board– which is why the gate area looks so deserted 🙂
United uses only Boeing 757-200s on its p.s. flights from SFO and LAX to Newark. But there are two versions. The original United version has 28 BusinessFirst seats, the other (old international Continental 757) has just 16. See Seatguru for 24 seat p.s. version and 16 seat international version. The 28 seat version is equipped with Gogo inflight internet. The international version has United’s own Panasonic wi-fi, which is confusing.
On this United flight, I forgot to follow my own advice about buying a $16 Gogo day pass to redeem once I got on board. That mistake ended up costing me $40 to get wi-fi on this five hour flight. If you don’t know about the $16 pre-pay option, read this TravelSkills post, How to Save $$ on inflight wi-fi!
Business first seats are big, wide. comfortable and clean with oversize video screens, and lie-flat functionality. I really like this seat, and to me its only fault is the awkward over-the-shoulder position of the power outlets. For those who want to sleep, flight attendants provide duvets, big fluffy pillows and eye masks.
On the SFO>EWR flight, passengers chose from a printed menu. On the return EWR>SFO, no menus were provided.
One of the best things about United’s BusinessFirst is the huge inflight entertainment screen and a broad range of good movies and TV shows to watch. Its colorful moving map is my primary entertainment option. I can watch it for hours 🙂
In my experience, a quick trip to the lavatory always provides a glimpse into how an airline is run. In this case, I was greeted with the shiniest lav bowl I’ve ever seen. I asked a United PR contact if shiny lav bowls are a new “little thing” designed to surprise and delight customers. He was not sure. But I have to say I was pretty impressed! Have you ever seen one this shiny? I could not help but snap a photo!
Flipping through Hemispheres, I found that SkyMall is back! And now an insert at the back of the magazine.
Meal service started somewhere over Utah with fruit and yogurt. Not pictured are hot biscuits and jam or cinnamon rolls offered from a basket.
I chose the rustic quiche for my main. As with most United business class meals I’ve had recently, it was very good, well-portioned and satisfying.
My seatmate ordered the waffles and allowed me to take a photo of his plate. (I’m sure the guy thought I was a freak since I was taking photos of everything…everything… on this flight.)
As stated above, I forgot to pre-purchase a Gogo all day pass before we took off. What’s irritating here is that I was only provided with two pricing options. We were already two hours into the flight when I fired up the laptop, so I felt ripped off paying $40. I felt equally ripped when asked to pay $11 for a half hour. What happened to the option to buy just one hour? Who knows. In any case, the connection was nice and fast, so I can’t complain too much.
A nice final touch to a very easy flight: Hot chocolate chip cookies that filled the plane with an amazing aroma. But that’s too much sugar for me, so I had to pass. A savory end-of-flight snack option would be a nice addition.
Remember how I said I was set up as a Global Services member for this flight? When I got off the plane at Terminal C in Newark, this agent was there to greet me and ask if I needed any assistance with bags or transportation or directions. I asked her how to get to the AirTrain and connect to the train to Manhattan/Penn Station. She provided concise and easy directions, and I was on my way with carryon wheeled bag and briefcase in tow.
United’s Terminal C at Newark is still a big construction zone, with the center of many corridors walled off to accommodate work on new dining and retail options which will soon open in areas once inhabited by moving sidewalks. (Stay tuned to TravelSkills for Part 2 of this Trip Report– we’ll take an in depth look at United’s facilities at EWR Terminal C)
The first step toward Manhattan is getting on the intra-terminal AirTrain for a slow ride over to the NJ Transit station to catch a train to Penn Station on 34th Street in Manhattan near Madison Square Garden. Train fare from Newark Airport to Penn Station is $12 each way, and you buy tickets from kiosks in the station.
Thankfully, United’s Terminal C is the last airport stop as the AirTran makes its way to the car rental center and finally, the Newark International Airport station where you change trains for the trip to Manhattan. (It’s quite a long ride to the station if you arrive at United’s Terminal A.)
While the journey from EWR Terminal C to Penn Station required a lot of walking, stairs, turnstiles and elevators, it was relatively painless and seemed much faster than the traffic clogged arrivals I’ve experienced when taking Uber from JFK. (I’ve yet to try the train option from JFK.)
My flight from SFO arrived EWR at 4 p.m. on a rainy Thursday and I was in Manhattan’s Penn Station by 5 pm. That’s fast, considering it was rush hour…and raining. That rain messed with arrival at my final destination: the Parker Meridien hotel on 56th Street in midtown.
When came up out of the station at 34th Street, getting a cab in the rain was impossible, so it was back down to the subway, then a wait in line to buy a fare card, then another wait in line for a train during rush hour, a packed ride to 59th St, and then a wet walk to the hotel. So total time from plane door to hotel room door ended up at about two hours.
My return trip to EWR was much better. I got up on a sunny Saturday morning, grabbed an Uber to the airport, and made amazing time: From hotel curb on 56th Street to EWR United Club front door in just 35 minutes!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Trip Report for a look at my ride from Manhattan to Newark, my United Club experience and the flight on United’s other version of p.s. on the EWR-SFO leg.
Disclosure: United covered the cost of Chris’s BusinessFirst flight to EWR; TravelSkills covered transfers, inflight wi-fi, hotels and meals on the two-day trip.
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