Sunday, September 16, 2012

Summer of Travel 2012: Italy (Part 5 - United BusinessFirst MXP-EWR)

(Don't forget to check out Part 1, Hotel Eden Rome here, Part 2, Exploring Rome here, Part 3, RomaMilano here, and Part 4, Sheraton Milan Malpensa here)

Milan's Malpensa airport is physically connected to the Sheraton hotel, so getting there in the morning was a breeze. My colleague and I checked in, and were given an invitation to the ViaMilano lounge. I was hoping to use the Lufthansa lounge instead, but unfortunately it was in a different wing of the terminal, and would've been a long way from our gate. I'd visited the ViaMilano lounge before and was disappointed then. Little did I know that their new setup for wifi access had managed to make things even worse.

Getting wifi access at the lounge is 7-step process that involves multiple devices, pins and passwords:

7-step process to get online at ViaMilano lounge
Dear ViaMilano lounge (and any other airports / lounges that have a similar setup): this is really, really unnecessarily complex. If you're concerned with people outside the lounge accessing the free wifi, then skip straight to step 7 and have a daily code that people can enter. Don't ask me to create a username and password, and definitely don't send my login information via a text message of all things! Especially when the text ends up looking like this:

Thanks for nothing, ViaMilano
On the plus side, we found out a few days before our flight that our United plane had been changed to the new 767 configuration in business class, which meant better seats and a better entertainment system. Unlike the 777 setup, this configuration only has a single seat in the middle section - which means double-aisle access, and (in my opinion at least) a slightly roomier feel.

My seat in the middle section
In my opinion, having a fully-flat bed for a daytime flight is a bit of a waste, since I don't expect to be sleeping at all - but I do find it more comfortable than the old, recliner-style seats, even just for relaxing and watching movies that I would never consider watching unless I was on a plane.

The meal service was in-line with my prior experiences on United - good, but certainly not spectacular.

Milan to Newark menu
Unlike my flight over to Europe, I decided to enjoy my meal at the normal, more leisurely pace. First up of course, were the warm nuts:

After that, the appetizer course. Prosciutto with melon, and a shrimp skewer - two tasty bites:

Appetizer course
Next, a simple salad. This one was better than most others I've had on United this year - but I still think the salad is where they have the most room for improvement in their business class meal service. The lettuce is generally sad looking and uninspired - but it is nice to get SOME vegetables worked into the mix!

Nice mix of colors in the salad
For my main course, I ordered the pan-seared steak. It was ok - I probably expected a bit too much of a crust based on the "pan-seared" description, but the flavor was fine.

Steak with brightly-colored onion topping
To finish, I indulged in both the cheese course and the sundae (with my favorite toppings: caramel sauce, nuts, and whipped cream!)

Cheese, crackers, and of course, a glass of Port
Mmmm ice cream sundae!

After getting a little bit of work done and watching some movies, it was time for the pre-arrival snack. I didn't know what to expect from a "Chicken Bouquet", but apparently it's this:

"Chicken Bouquet"
It was a little better than it looks (melted cheese always helps), but I'll probably pass next time unless I'm somehow still hungry after eating a 6-course meal earlier in the flight.

All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable flight. I'm certainly not complaining about a much better seat and much better food than I would've had in economy - but I still find the best part of business class travel to be the flatbed seat on overnight flights, as it allows me to actually get a decent night's sleep.

Apparently others feel different though - as there was a family of four (with two small children) sitting across the aisle from me, and a number of other passengers who made it obvious that Milan is very much a leisure-heavy route vs. a business-heavy route (retired couples, etc.).

What are your favorite aspects about traveling in business class?

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  1. The entire experience vs cattle class is what's important to me, so every little touch improves the experience, such as waiting in leisure at the lounge until you are called vs being grouped with the riffraff with no discernible line.

  2. Agreed - though in my experience, waiting in the United Club just means that there's going to be a bigger group of people with "premier access" to fight through when you eventually do get to the gate!