Maldives Trip Report – UA JFK-LAX Positioning Flight Economy Plus

This is part one of a fifteen part trip report from my travels to the Maldives and Dubai. This report covers my award positioning flight from JFK-LAX on United in Economy Plus.

The one-way flight was priced at 12,500 miles in Economy Plus and we were using it in order to connect to my first ever Emirates First Class A380-800 flight, LAX – Dubai (DXB). Why the additional flight when Emirates has two daily flights to Dubai from JFK…and there was award availability in Business? Simple, I wanted to experience Emirates First on the A380 with private suites and in-flight shower, take the 3rd longest flight in the world(no more EWR-SIN or LAX-SIN), and 12.5K miles extra to do all that seemed reasonable enough. Plus I got to sample the new Economy Plus – United Completes Transcon 757 Renov – Comparing to AA & DL Upgrades.

UA BP JFK-LAX

Now, a few questions I know will come up.

1) How did you get Premier Access and Economy Plus seats after recently writing about United downgrading your status? That’s thanks to my friend Michael. He has Premier status and booked the JFK-LAX flight for me after I transferred him 25K UR for two tickets …thanks Mike!
2) Why didn’t you combine your Emirates flights with Alaska operated flights to save points and get yourself to LAX? Well, there’s only one flight per day and we would have had to fly EWR-SEA-LAX with a layover in Seattle overnight.

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The flight boarded a bit early and all seemed nice enough. The Economy Plus seats had decent legroom, a USB input to charge my iPhone, a standard outlet to charge my laptop, and a great selection of complimentary in-flight movies, especially new releases . The  9″ monitor was much clearer and had better quality than the screen found in most domestic economy seats. Row 21 had even more legroom than the other Economy Plus rows.

New UA PS 5

 

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About 30 minutes into the flight we began to notice a burning smell coming from the galley. Five minutes after that the TVs shut off and the power ports stopped working. We next noticed that the flight had gone from being extremely smooth to having rough air over the wings and there was a strange sound. A flight attendant soon came on the PA to tell us that there was an “oven smoke event” which had cut the cabin power. He told us that out of an abundance of caution we were going to dump fuel and return to JFK. The crew made several announcements to explain the bumps caused by the fuel discharge and to assure everyone that we were never in any danger. I found the announcements to actually be quite strange, they definitely weren’t “as per the manual”. Every 3-5 minutes, the same flight attendant would come back on the PA and say “I am letting you know that you are currently not in danger nor at any time during this flight were you in danger. We are dumping fuel and returning to JFK out of an abundance of caution. Again I repeat, you are not in any danger”. Hmm, I’d say those constant announcements stressing “danger” made things more tense rather than providing a calming effect. However, I think it’s important that during an event like this United made announcements every few minutes to keep everyone updated and informed. About 20 minutes later we landed heavy and safely back at JFK to a fire escort.

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Aircraft maintenance boarded the plane and inspected the ovens while we were all kept in our seats. After 30-45 minutes they decided that we would have to switch aircraft. The pilot informed us that we would be taking one of the jets that was bound for SFO and those passengers would have to wait for a replacement aircraft. I didn’t exactly believe him as that flight was scheduled to leave within one hour, the plane was already parked at the gate, and the screens were showing an on-time departure. I checked with the agent when I got back into the gate area and she told me that there were “plenty of spare planes at JFK” and that we were definitely going to be boarding soon.  Hmm, really, lots of UA spare planes at JFK? I still didn’t believe it and found the pilot in the gate area. I told him about our LAX-DXB flight (he wanted to know why we weren’t just flying from JFK ;-)) and he said there was one extra plane and that we would be boarding within 30 minutes. In the end it was a 2 hour delay back at the gate with a new anticipated departure at 2:35 pm. Wow, we went from having a long connection in LAX to less than 1 1/2 hours. I knew that we couldn’t’ have any further delays or we would likely miss the connection. Once we returned to the gate, status was enabled again, here’s what it looked like at first before the additional delays.

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One thing United needs to work on in situations like this is their flight status communication online and via the phone. My Mom did not appreciate  the “call united for flight information” message she received when checking our flight online or the “we have no updated status” she received over the phone.

Now luckily when checking in at JFK, I asked the United agent to interline our luggage, traveling on UA from JFK-LAX and then on a separate Emirates award ticket from LAX-Dubai and Dubai – Male. I knew it was a bad sign when she asked me what interlining was. I explained the concept and she responded “ohhh you want me to check your bag to your final destination including the other carrier portions”. She had no idea where Male was and was having problems getting the dates to work out (leaving on Monday and connecting to a Weds. 3am flight), but I pressed ahead anyway. I was worried at first, but checked the baggage sticker and decided to give it a go. If we had not done this, it’s likely our bags might have missed the connection as we arrived with just over an hour to spare.

Luggage 21

When checking in with Emirates at LAX they could “not yet see the bags” but told me to check again at the gate. The gate agent said the bags had just then been received and we were good to go. He didn’t sound all that confident, so when the bags actually arrived in the Maldives (as the first two bags on the conveyor belt) I was relived and a bit surprised..and of course thankful that we wouldn’t be buying bathing suits at the Conrad Maldives for $150 a person ;-)

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Upon deplaning, the UA flight attendant gave us a website to visit in order to select a compensation item for the delay. Here’s what the options were – 10,000 bonus miles, $250 e-certificate, or 20% off certificate for economy travel:

United

I went with the 10,000 bonus miles per person, making our positioning flights from JFK-LAX in Economy Plus only 2,500 each! Up next – Korean Air Lounge LAX.

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PS – I was given the option to upgrade this 12,500 reward ticket to First for just $2,359 a person… 😉

UA Upgrade JFK-LAX

Comments

  1. Looking forward to your report. I love the Conrad Maldives. Funny story about lost luggage. We went there in Dec 2012 and our backs were checked on SQ from SFO-SIN-MLE. Our bags made it to SIN but never go on the plane to MLE. We had traveled for almost 30 hours and had our 18 month old with us, who was the only one who had extra clean clothes and supplies. We had extra but had already used them.

    SQ gave $150 USD pp and got our bags to us the next day, on the first flight. Conrad was kind enough to supply my wife and I with two sets of shorts and logo shirts. Retail was over $400 at their store. Regardless it was a funny first day, we were in jeans and tennies.

    • @Rahim – For the Ink Plus and Ink Bold 3rd parties are OK since you could be giving employees points, just ensure they are coming from those accounts and not your Freedom or Sapphire accounts.

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