Category Archives: Lounges

United Club San Diego Airport LOUNGE REVIEW – From Terminal to Terrace to Tarmac

After spending a great week on the beach in San Diego’s North County, I was a bit melancholy about leaving town. Fortunately, I had one last opportunity to enjoy Southern California’s sunny, wide-open spaces in United Airline’s new lounge at San Diego International Airport.

The 5,842 square-foot United Club is located is located on the upstairs Mezzanine level of the airport’s newly expanded Terminal 2 West.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Entrance

Immediately past the check-in desk, is the Club’s modern bar area.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Bar Area

The San Diego lounge is the third club to feature the airline’s new design concept. Clean-lined modern furniture complements the space’s beige, cream, grey, stainless steel and marble-look finishes. The overall feel of the place is light and airy. The color palette is calming and spa-like.

Behind the bar is a dining area with café tables and lounge chairs.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Dining Area

Adjacent to this space is a self-service snack area. Since we were leaving on a morning flight, the food options consisted of bagels, cereal and doughnut holes. Coffee, tea and juice were readily available. In addition, a refrigerator below the counter contained small cans of juice and milk.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Food Options

Beyond these areas, additional banquette and café table seating is available under a large vintage aviation photo.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Cafe Seating

This section overlooks a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that open out to my favorite aspect of the San Diego United Club.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Outdoor Terrace Seating

An airy terrace overlooks the terminal’s new Sunset Cove atrium food court. From this Mezzanine level vantage point you can enjoy panoramic views of the airfield and the nearby Point Loma seaside community.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge View from Outdoor Terrace

Comfortable lounge chairs with convenient access to electrical outlets are arranged in conversational groups of four.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating

High top bar chairs provide additional seating and power ports at a countertop that runs along the perimeter of the United Club’s terrace.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating Overlooking Tarmac

The fresh look and open spaces of the new San Diego United Club make it one of my favorite lounges in the airline’s network. Have you visited this lounge before? What are your thoughts?

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Review – Microwave Pasta on the Italian High-Speed Express

I love the romance of train travel in Europe.  There’s something magical about the concept of seeing the countryside glide by as you listen to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails. Hoping to catch a whiff of the nostalgia associated with rail days gone by, I booked my Partner F and I two tickets in Executive Class on Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa express train service between Naples and Florence.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Welcome Sign

However, in the 21st Century the high-speed train networks knitting the Continent together result in a travel experience that’s more Star Wars than Orient Express. Although our journey was fast and comfortable, I wouldn’t necessarily put our experience in the “luxury” category. That said, we did get some fun “Facebook shots” out of the deal. Oh yeah, and there was that nice plate of microwave pasta …

Last summer we spent a relaxing week on the Amalfi Coast.  After a wonderful stay at the Hotel Marincanto (see my review Hercule Poirot Should Have Slept Here for more details), we reluctantly bid Positano good-bye. Our driver Salvatore Jr. (see my earlier post on Driving Mr. Daisy for the highlights of the day we spent with him) dropped us off at Napoli Centrale where we were due to catch our train to Florence.

Naples Positano Private Car Transfers

Our Executive Class ticket included access to the station’s FrecciaClub lounge. However, getting into the lounge required jumping through a few hoops.  The club was located a level above the station’s main floor. I sent my Partner F upstairs to get the lay of the land. After ringing the doorbell several times, it seemed that “no one was home.” I then spotted an elevator entrance that required a key card or PIN code to use. I tried punching in the various Ticket Codes and other numbers on the printout of my reservation but to no avail.  Finally, two business guys exited the elevator lobby so we just ducked inside. Of course, once inside I couldn’t figure out how to work the lift! Finally, a friendly station attendant informed me that I had to press and hold the elevator button to get it work. Things just got even more comical from there since the elevator cab literally crawled its way up to the second level.  Now realistically, most people would have given up much earlier.  However, I love a good business class lounge and  … well dammit … I was going to get in! Was it worth it? Well, here’s what awaited us …

Trenitalia FrecciaClub Executive Lounge Naples Central Napoli Centrale

The room was bright and airy and featured some funky oversized modern furniture. An espresso machine, cookies and crackers as well as complimentary cold drinks were available.

Trenitalia FrecciaClub Executive Lounge Naples Central Napoli Centrale Train Station Refreshments

After relaxing a bit, we decided to make our way out to the train since we didn’t want to risk any elevator snafus that might occur as we tried to exit the lounge which frankly left me feeling a bit … well, you fill in the blank …

Trenitalia Freccia Club Executive Lounge Naples Central Napoli Centrale Train Station Indifferenziata

Trenitalia, Italy’s national railway company, operates the premier ETR500 Frecciarossa (meaning Red Arrow in Italian) high-speed trains on its main Naples-Rome-Florence-Bologna-Milan-Turin route.  The train can reach speeds of 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour) and the journey between Naples and Florence only took 2 hours and 51 minutes.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Naples to Florence Speed Indicator

The train features a restaurant car as well as free Wi-Fi. The Frecciarossa offers Standard Class (Second Class), Premium Class (Second Class but with leather seats and a “Welcome Drink”) and Business Class (First Class – like Premium Class but with a little more leg room).  However, on this journey we decided to splurge and traveled in Executive Class.  What do you get for the extra money? Well, for starters there is that “Welcome Drink” along with a few nibbles …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Snack

After we passed Rome, a hot meal was served …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Meal

Sigh, believe it or not even the folks at Lean Cuisine could probably teach these guys a lesson or two. Thankfully, Trenitalia was pretty generous with their prosecco pours.

A special feature of our car was a private conference room …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Conference Room

After I was done pretending to address the Board of PepsiCo, the cabin attendant promptly locked up the room … and later used it to take a nap. With nothing left to amuse ourselves, we settled into our seats which admittedly were very comfortable …

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Seat

… and offered a ridiculous amount of leg room.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Seat Legroom

At this Point I asked F to leave the train car so that I could enjoy the exclusivity of the space all to myself.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Cabin

All in all, our journey in Frecciarossa Executive Class was comfortable.  The train staff was polite and the cabin clean, modern and quiet.  That said, while Executive Class was a fun novelty, I don’t think I’d pay the premium to experience it again and would likely just opt for “regular” Business Class on my next trip. In fact, the quality of most European trains is so high that riding in Second Class isn’t second rate at all.

How about you? What has been your experience with European train travel?


Transatlantic Trifecta – Comparing United’s First, Business and Economy Class Service

United is my hometown airline.  The carrier is my primary Pointing vehicle (see my earlier post on What Kind of Pointer Are You? for what this means) and its MileagePlus program is one of the most useful and versatile frequent flyer programs in the industry. Over the past year I’ve flown quite a bit with United and have been able to experience all three of its service classes (First, Business and Economy).

On New Year’s Eve I flew from Chicago to London in BusinessFirst (Business Class) and on the way back in Economy.  This past June, I “turned left” and was able to try out service in GlobalFirst (First Class) from Chicago to Frankfurt on our way to Italy (see my post on What I Did On My Pointing Vacation to see what I … well did).  So how did these experiences compare?


I have the United MileagePlus Club Card that gave me access to the airline’s lounge located in O’Hare’s C Concourse.  You can also use the lounge if you’re flying on an international Business Class ticket.  The lounge is huge but can get quite busy during peak travel hours.

United Club Chicago

Traveling on an International First Class ticket gave us access to the Global First Lounge in Chicago which has a similar layout and décor but is smaller and MUCH quieter.

IMG_0837United Global First Lounge Chicago

In London, we had access to the Star Alliance Lounge which, like the United Club in Chicago, also had a “buzzy” (e.g., busy!) atmosphere.

Star Alliance Lounge London

The United Club offers bar service and free beer, wine and basic spirits.  Champagne and more premium options are available for purchase.  On the other hand, the Global First Lounge offers a nice “self-service” selection.

United First Class Lounge Chicago Bar

There is similar “pour your own” access in the London Star Alliance Lounge.

Star Alliance Lounge London Bar

Lounge food options in the United Club usually consist of a simple selection of cheese, crackers and fruit.  Of course, I also manage to sneak a few (e.g. several handfuls) of Pepperidge Farm Milano and Walker’s Shortbread cookies into my carryon for a nice mid-flight snack.  My United Club pre-flight meal usually looks like the following …

United Club Food Options

You can find a more substantial spread in the Global First Lounge which includes a mini-Las Vegas buffet style shrimp option …

United First Class Lounge Chicago Food Options

Leaving Heathrow, one nice touch in the London Star Alliance Lounge was the opportunity to partake in a traditional English Breakfast before boarding our flight back to the States …

Star Alliance Lounge London Heathrow Food Options

Onboard Seating

After we boarded our 777 aircraft to Frankfurt we settled nicely into our seats. I’ve flown United’s First Class product in the past.  However, this was my first experience with their updated First Class Suite.

United GlobalFirst Seat

Source: Courtesy of United Airlines

The seat was spacious, comfortable and reclined into a fully flat bed that had some nice storage compartments and power outlets …

United First Class Seat Storage

… and a diverse selection of In-Flight Entertainment.  On the way over I watched Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn … very appropriate since we were on our way to Italy!

United GlobalFirst In-Flight Entertainment IFE

In addition, United recently launched a turn down service in GlobalFirst (see this article for more details) that provides a special sleeping cushion and duvet cover for the flatbed suite.  This service is available “on request” but I was pleasantly surprised when the purser proactively offered to make up the bed for me.  The added amenity of the sleeping cushion certainly did make the seat more “bed like.”

Our 767 Business Class flight to London also featured completely lie flat seats.  However, BusinessFirst lacks significant in-seat storage.

United Business Class Seat

The on-demand In-Flight Entertainment system was similar to the one in First Class although I did like the fact that the screen seemed closer and more accessible to your seat.

United Business Class In-Flight Entertainment

In the fully reclined position the seat felt significantly narrower than the First Class Suite but was still comfortable.  On our transatlantic flight I managed to get several hours of solid sleep.

A lie-flat seat was less necessary on our return home from London to Chicago since it was a daytime flight. Even though we were unable to secure extra legroom Economy Plus seats, the flight was still perfectly comfortable.

Economy Class Window View

In addition, the smaller seat got me closer to the window where I was able to take in the view.

In-Flight Meals

Even with all of my pre-flight snacking in the lounge prior to boarding the plane, I still manage to squeeze in a full meal on every flight that I take.

United GlobalFirst’s dinner service was a multi-course affair starting off with a selection from the bread basket and a coconut crusted chicken skewer and eggroll served with a spicy chutney.  Although “not bad” the quality of this course was squarely in the Whole Foods frozen appetizer category.

United First Class Appetizer

This was followed by a creamy corn chowder which was “tasty enough” but on the thick side.  Let’s place this course in the Campbell’s Chunky Soup category.

United First Class Soup

Next up was a nicely prepared salad.

United First Class Salad

For the main course I went with the beef option accompanied by a slice of garlic bread.

United First Class Main Course

The steak was tender and not dried out while the side of steamed asparagus tasted fresh.  The weak link in the meal was the side of gnocchi pasta that tasted a bit overcooked and “crunchy.”

I finished off the meal with a made-to-order ice cream sundae.

United First Class Sundae

In Business Class, the meal service is compressed with the shrimp and salmon appetizer coming out at the same time.

United Business Class Appetizer and Salard

The beef option in Business Class was somewhat similar to the First Class meal although this version sported a nice red wine sauce.

United Business Class Main Course

Dessert options included a cheese course (also offered in First Class)….

Business Class Cheese Course

… and the tried-and-true made-to-order sundae.

Business Class Sundae

Of course, I had BOTH!

Meal service in Economy was a much simpler affair with everything (once again the beef option) coming out all at once.

United Economy Class Meal

The food was passable though not memorable.  However, my biggest gripe was with the strangely shaped molded plastic serving tray that didn’t lay flat. I never was able to figure out the best way position it on the tray table so that it didn’t seem like it would accidentally flip over into my lap.  That said, a well-placed, misplaced elbow would certainly have resulted in some interesting Economy cabin aerial acrobatics.


Over the years, I’ve found the service on United to be hit-or-miss.  However, on this particular set of flights I’m happy to report that I experienced a pretty drama-free service experience.

The First and Business Class service experience was very similar. United’s crews on its international routes tend to fall into the “seasoned veteran” category.  Although I found the interaction with the flight attendants to be rather informal, everyone was friendly and seemed to be in generally good spirits.

The real standout, though, was in the service we received in the Economy class cabin.  The London-based British Flight Attendants worked the cabin with a “Lufthansa-like” efficiency (Note: To see what I mean, check out my series of “Love Letters to Lufthansa” here, here, here and here). Special kudos go out to this team who exhibited a crisp professionalism that made sitting in the back of the plane “not so bad.”

What’s Really Important

I’m glad I was able to experience all three of United’s service classes this year.  Comparing United First and Business Class, I have to say that if were to redeem points for future travel, I probably wouldn’t “pay” the premium to fly in First Class for a “relatively short” transatlantic 8-9 hour flight. Although the GlobalFirst seats are certainly more spacious, United’s BusinessFirst lie-flat seats are also pretty comfortable.  In addition, United Economy flying home on a daytime flight isn’t all that bad.  If I wanted a bit more comfort at the back of the plane I’d just pay the additional fee to lock in an extra legroom Economy Plus seat.

Of course, the TRUE test of the quality of an airline’s in-flight experience is how good you look in the obligatory pre-flight champagne toast photo.



What do you guys think?  Have you flown in different classes on the same airline?  What are your thoughts on the differences between the First, Business and Economy class experiences?



Through Baggage Claim and Around the Taxi Ranks to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal We Go

Let the gushing over Lufthansa continue. My last two posts covered our recent experiences with Lufthansa’s short haul Intra-European service and a couple of the airline’s lounges in Frankfurt.  However, at the end of our recent European vacation, we upped the ante and had the opportunity to try out Lufthansa’s First Class Services.

We had originally been booked to fly home on Air Canada from London in Economy.  Since I was hoping to switch into a premium cabin for our journey home I regularly checked for award availability on United’s reservation site in the hope that something would turn up.  Most airlines start to release more award space as a flight’s departure date approaches. At some point, the airlines’ computer programs make the determination that it is unlikely that they will be able sell the seat to a “paying” customer and release space into the award inventory.

As I was doing my research, I spotted that one possible routing home would be to fly Lufthansa from London to Chicago via Frankfurt.  Although this option involved some minor backtracking, I realized that this itinerary opened up the possibility of not only flying home via Lufthansa First Class but also the opportunity to experience the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

It’s actually quite easy to get a seat in Lufthansa First Class.  All you need is about $9000 per person for a one way ticket. Of course, the OTHER option is to do what we did and cash in some frequent flyer points.  Lufthansa is a member of the Star Alliance so we were able to use United’s MileagePlus program to secure two First Class award seats home to Chicago for a total of 135,000 miles.  One thing to keep in mind about Lufthansa is that the airline only releases First Class award space to its Star Alliance partners at the most 15 days in advance of departure.  In my case, I was able to book our tickets 9 days before we left.

Lufthansa’s First Class Service and Lounges were awarded the independent Skytrax airline rating institute’s top Five Star ranking in 2013. Our First Class tickets provided access to Lufthansa’s First Class Lounge in the airport. However, I had my sights set on a much loftier goal. Specifically, I wanted to experience the Lufthansa First Class Terminal (FCT).  As you can see from the map below, the FCT is a standalone BUILDING dedicated solely to Lufthansa’s First Class and Top Tier HON Circle Frequent Flyer passengers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 1.26.36 AM

In order to access the FCT you need to actually leave the main airport terminal.  After our connecting flight from London landed in Frankfurt, we followed the signs to Baggage Claim.  Since we had arrived from another EU country, there was not a need to clear customs.  However, we did still have to get our passports stamped by German Border control.

Our bags were checked all the way through to our final destination of Chicago.  Therefore, we didn’t have to stop by Baggage Claim. We proceeded to the Exit and turned LEFT after exiting the building.  My Partner F started to get a little nervous since it wasn’t exactly clear just where the FCT was located.  However, in advance of our journey I had done EXTENSIVE research on how to get to the FCT.  Specifically, the travel blogger universe was a great resource in obtaining step-by-step directions for getting to the FCT. I knew the drill:

After Baggage Claim EXIT the terminal and TURN LEFT. Walk past the taxi ranks. Walk past the place the break area where the taxi drivers are smoking. After about maybe a 5 minute walk you will see this …


There’s a Main Entrance on the upper level where people arriving at the FCT by car, taxi or limo are greeted.  However, once you cross the street ( … and shimmy around that traffic gate) ….


…. You will see a small (usually unmanned) reception area.  Turn to your left and you will see an elevator that will take you up to the FCT.


Now here’s where it gets good.  Do you remember that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original one with Gene Wilder and not the kinda scary version with Johnny Depp) where you get that first glimpse of the magic that lies within (here’s a link to that scene to get a sense of what I’m talking about)?

However, instead of some Ooompa Loompas, we were greeted by at pair of tall, blonde and angular Personal Assistants… lets just call them Hans and Franz ….who warmly greeted us to the FCT.  We were first guided to a private security screening area (no lines … just us!) and then our passports were collected.  We were told that one of our Assistants would come find us once our flight was ready to board. Not needing to avail ourselves of the private Duty Free shop, our Assistants gave us a tour of the FCT and let us loose to enjoy the facility.

There are a number of comfortable lounge areas spread throughout the FCT …


… with a lot of great snacks within easy reach …


Of course, I thought it was a bit ironic that I was drinking champagne as I thumbed through the Water Bar menu.


There was a full bar which featured just about ANYTHING you could possibly want to drink  ….

IMG_1397… along with a pretty outrageous candy selection if you have a Sweet Tooth (umm, just where are those Oompa Loompas?) …


F booked a Quiet Room with a daybed to take a disco nap (after I was done with my photo op) …

IMG_1398 Meanwhile, I took off to book a Shower Room to freshen up …


Unfortunately, the hot water heaters were out of order in the FCT that day.  However, that development didn’t dampen my spirits since after a “brisk and refreshing” cold shower I was able to get one of these …


The Lufthansa First Class Rubber Ducky is a “must have” tchotchke in the world of the miles and points fanatic. I made F get one as well since I didn’t want mine to get lonely.  Note: On this particular day the Duckies were under lock and key so we did have to ask the Shower Room Attendant for one (hey, persistence pays off!).


Rubber Duckies procured, F and I went for a bite to eat in the FCT’s restaurant. A nice buffet was available …

IMG_0630However, F and I decided to order from the menu.  The waiter asked us what type of champagne we’d like with our meal and I think he was a little disappointed that we ordered the prosecco since he very politely inquired … “Aren’t you sure you wouldn’t like to take a look at our champagne menu? We have some very fine ones available.”  At this point, F and I were feeling a little overwhelmed and since we were still in an Italy state of mind and didn’t want a fancier bottle to go to waste … we went for the “cheap stuff”! Oh yes, you get a full bottle along with your meal …


F ordered a very nicely prepared chicken curry …


And since we were in a German-speaking country, I went for the Wienerschnitzel

IMG_1411 And finished off our meal with some strudel for dessert …


All the food was fresh and excellently prepared.  As we were wrapping up our meal, we were approached by Hans (or was it Franz?) who indicated that they were having a shift change (blush, I built a 5-hour layover into our itinerary so we could maximum our time in the FCT).  He introduced us to … let’s call her Helga … who would be taking over as our Personal Assistant.

It was Helga, who then came to collect us in the Lounge when it was time to board our flight.  She accompanied us downstairs to another private area that had a dedicated Passport Control station where our documents were stamped and we were escorted to a waiting Mercedes Benz.


We were then driven out to the tarmac where we parked alongside the 747 that would take us home to Chicago.  The driver escorted us to a private elevator that exited onto the jet bridge.  General boarding was wrapping up at this point so he brought us directly to the aircraft door and we were on the plane in no time.

Of course, the fun was only beginning.


Keep any eye out for my next post in which I describe our first experience with Lufthansa First Class.


Lufthansa Lounge Lizard: A Reason to Stay Grounded – Lufthansa Lounges Frankfurt Airport

Diet Coke. A comfy chair. Wi-Fi.  Preferably in that order. My needs are simple.  And those are the needs I sought to fulfill after my Partner F and I landed in Frankfurt on the first leg our recent European adventure.  As soon as we exited the plane we were off in search of the airport lounges.

We arrived at the new A-Plus Pier in Terminal 1.  This concourse went into operation on October 10, 2012 and is home to some of Lufthansa’s newest and largest airport lounges. Since we had arrived in United First Class and were continuing on Lufthansa in Business Class we were entitled to use the airline’s Business Class Lounge near Gate A13 and the Duty Free Shop. Here’s a map of Lufthansa’s lounge locations in Frankfurt:

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 1.26.36 AM

Source: Lufthansa Lounges in Frankfurt

The lounge is just under a year old and features the “new” design that was developed through extensive focus groups and customer feedback. Although it’s now missing that “new lounge smell,” I found the space light, airy and efficient.  The use of materials such as leather and oak serve to soften the design’s modern edges.




Of course, all that thoughtful design went unnoticed as my caffeine levels started to drop and simultaneously my “snippy-ness” quotient began to rise.  Thankfully, the lounge’s extensive self-service food and beverage options came to the rescue.


I skipped the wine and champagne … too early in the morning … even for me!


… and parked myself under the Diet Coke dispenser.  I was starting to feel human again ….

IMG_0869Of course, during this whole time my Partner F respectfully kept his distance.  F has learned (through trial and error) that in my jet lagged state it was probably best to NOT ask the question “Do you REALLY need another hard boiled egg?!?!”


The lounge was VERY busy when we entered.  However, with so many people coming and going, we didn’t have too much trouble finding a pair of comfortable leather chairs where we could “nest” during our four hour layover.  With my first two basic needs met, I was then able to enjoy the lounge’s speedy (and free) Wi-Fi to incessantly Facebook.

In addition, to food, drink, comfy chairs and Wi-Fi, this Lufthansa lounge also provides the weary traveler with shower facilities and even a “quiet space” with chaise lounges were you can take a “disco nap” as you await your next flight.


About a week later, on our flight from Florence to London, we again transited through Frankfurt and were able to sample another Lufthansa lounge.  This time, we were leaving out of the B Concourse so we popped into the lounge near Gates B24-B28.  On this leg of the journey we were traveling in Economy and wouldn’t have ordinarily had access to the lounge.  However, since we are both card-carrying members of the United Club Visa, we were granted access to the Lufthansa Business Class lounge (note: Only primary card members are allowed entry using this method – no guests).

The look and feel of this lounge was slightly different from our first experience.  This area of the airport wasn’t as busy which probably explained why the lounge was so empty while we were there.  Although this particular lounge was a bit darker than the first, it seemed to project a “warmer” atmosphere through its more earthy color palette.




The self-service food and beverage offerings were nicely presented …

IMG_1298 And I was pleasantly surprised that hot dogs were being served!


However, I unfortunately realized only after the fact that I was eating a TURKEY wiener (insert HORRIFIED look here) ….


You just don’t do that to a Chicago guy!

In my last post I wrote about the great experience I had on a couple of Lufthansa’s Intra-European flights.  That experience continued on the ground, as the Business Class lounges are very much an extension of the airline’s brand, aesthetics and service culture.  Of course, the Business Class lounges are just the tip of the iceberg for Lufthansa’s Premium Services.  In my next post I’ll talk about my experience with Lufthansa’s First Class services … starting with the famed First Class Terminal in Frankfurt.


Stay tuned …