It’s a well-known fact that the summer between your first and second years of medical school is considered the ‘last summer‘ ever. For the summers to come, you trade your beach getaways and passport stamps for board prep books and on-call hospital rotations. Knowing this, it was a no-brainer what I wanted to do this summer of 2015… TRAVEL! My mom and I decided to do a 2.5 week trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Neither of us have ever been to Taiwan nor have we stepped foot into Hong Kong in over 20 years. (I hardly remember anything about that trip.)
So that leads us here. My ten-part trip report of our 11,357 mile trip including 4 countries, 4 airlines, 7 lounges and over 1500 pictures.
Part 1 – Planning & Introduction
Part 2 – HNL – NRT via UA 747-400 Upper Deck BusinessFirst
Part 4 – Tackling Taipei
Part 5 – Around-the-island Taiwan Tour
Part 7 – Hopping around Hong Kong Part 1
HONOLULU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (HNL) & UNITED CLUB
I’ll always have a particular fondness for HNL. It’s not the most modern airport nor is it the biggest, but there’s just something about the open air feeling greeting you when you get off the plane that really says, “Welcome to Hawaii!” We had a 10:20AM departure so we found ourselves leaving for the airport around 7:30AM. Check-in was unremarkable as was the TSA check. HNL has three lanes available if I recall correctly: Normal, Gold and TSA PreCheck. Gold is for passengers traveling on premium cabins. And Normal and TSA PreCheck lanes are kind of self-explanatory, no?
Making our way to the United Club was about a 5 minute walk from TSA into the Diamond Head Concourse of the airport. The UC entrance is located above gates 9/10 so we found the escalators and signage there. We were one of the few passengers there at first but the club started filling in about an hour prior to our boarding. The club itself, as you can see from the photo above, is in true keeping with HNL. I feel it would be out of place to have a modern lounge here. Rather, the furniture is Hawaiian Rattan-esque with coconut tree fronds etched into the glass partitions. Parts of the club are definitely in need of updating though. The food area turned out to be a small nook and counter with some cereals, pastries and espresso machine. Much smaller than some other UCs I’ve visited. Suitable for a light breakfast though but I guess I have now been spoiled by Asian airport lounges.
UNITED 747 BUSINESS CLASS UPPER DECK
Now, I was very excited for this flight. Not only had I been waiting for the start of this trip for 7 months, but it would be my first time flying a premium cabin internationally AND as a bonus I got to fly on the Queen of the Skies on United’s upper deck. (Supposedly some of the best seats you can sit on the United fleet) I somehow was able to hide the fact that we were flying Business class from my mom and it was definitely a nice surprise for her since this was her first time flying any sort of premium cabin!
UA 879: HNL – NRT
Depart: 10:20AM (June 10,2015)
Arrive: 1:25PM (June 11, 2015)
United’s 747-400 is a three-class cabin aircraft with Economy, BusinessFirst and GlobalFirst all on the lower deck and additional BusinessFirst seats on the upper deck. The upper deck houses only 20 of United 747 Business Class seats so we really felt the private cabin feeling on this flight especially since there were 2-3 attendants the entire time on the deck. I have to say that entering a plane and going upstairs really does feel special.
The seats recline a complete 180 degrees into a flatbed with a pitch of 20 inches and a length of 76 inches. Being 5’8″, I had plenty of room to extend. The upper deck window seats also have additional bin storage where we stowed our carry-ons. My rollaway carry-on was not able too fit in the overhead so the attendant swung it over to one of the side closets where it stayed the remainder of our flight with 2 other passengers carry-ons.
Shortly after settling in, we were offered our pre-departure beverage. I chose to stick with champagne the remainder of the flight. (Can’t recall what it was exactly.) Menus were distributed and orders were taken from front to back of the cabin. I had originally wanted Japanese selection offered on this route which included a beef and asparagus roll appetizer with pickled vegetables and tofu and an entree of mushroom miso soup, tile fish and beef and veggie soboro. The very apologetic FA (sounded like she was based in Japan) informed me that they did not have enough for me to get the Japanese selection so I chose my second choice: Asian-style shortrib with wasabi grits and stir-fried vegetables.
The flavors were not bad at all and the shortrib was very tender and fell apart (in a good way) very easily. The glaze was a little too salty, but very nice with the wasabi grits. Main course was followed with a wine and cheese plate which was nothing special. Our final course was a make-your-own sundae or rather a tell-the-FA-what-you-want sundae. I went simple and just asked for a cherry on top. She may have gone a little overboard..
But who’s counting?!
After lunch service was over, the cabin lights were dimmed and I reclined back (more so than before) and settled into my seat and IFE. The in-flight entertainment was very extensive and had many recent movies and television shows. Beverage service continued throughout the flight with our very attentive flight attendants. There was also a mid-flight snack service that was done a few hours prior to landing at Narita.
Landing was very smooth and deplaning very efficient. The flight attendants made sure the BF passengers from the upper deck finished deplaning before any of the economy passengers deplaned. Overall, this flight on United 747 Business Class was my favorite United flight to date. A wonderful seat and great selection of IFE paired with decent food service.
After deplaning, we had a nice 4 hour layover in Narita so we proceeded towards the International Transfer station to be rechecked by security. Look out for the next installment of this series about my experience at Narita International Airport, the ANA Business Lounge and our hop over to Taiwan on ANA!