The Traveling Steve's

Flying home on New Year’s Eve and Day. Happy New Year 2024!

(NOTE: It’s now January 28th and I’m currently in a Rehab Hospital in Orlando. This New Year’s Eve post was mostly written a while back and I’m just now posting it; which covers the end of our trip back from Singapore. I’m ok, and will write a short update post later on my current progress. Thanks for reading!)


It’s now January 8th as I write this, and Steve (DOS) and I have been back from our 7 week holiday for a week now., still adjusting to the 13 hour time change. We flew back on United Airlines, on an Airbus 787-900 on New Year’s Eve departing at 10:20pm, arriving the same day (with the day gained) into San Francisco (SFO) around 9pm. We then spent the night at the Grand Hyatt SFO Airport, and flew back home to Orlando on New Year’s Day at 9:15am.

The United flight from Singapore was nearly 15 hours long, and even though we were in United’s Flagship product “Polaris Class”, it was a bit disappointing for such a long flight. 

We had booked our flight on United only a week ago as we had been in the Raffles Hospital in Singapore (post Seabourn Cruise) for 3 nights with Dengue Fever, and had to cancel our original return on the much nicer Turkish Airlines flight as we wren’t able to fly on December 28th, just getting out of the hospital the day prior.

Our 3 day stay in the Raffles Hospital earlier in the week due to Dengue Fever we caught on the trip.
DOS stores our carry on bags overhead in our even-numbered seats 10D and F.

We got the last 2 Business Class seats on our New Year’s Eve United Flight from Singapore to San Francisco, and while they were better seats than flying in Coach, the 2 middle-section seats were terribly cramped and downright claustrophobic due to the positioning of the seat layout and hard “shell” of the seating “cube”. 

We had “even” numbers seats which had a much more confining layout than the “odd numbered” seats, which by contrast were much more spacious and allowed for easy conversation with your traveling companion. The “even” numbered seats actually faced away from your traveling companion (towards the aisle) and were much less comfortable and private, and too far away from each other for a couple to converse. The odd-numbered seats were much better for a couple traveling together as they were closer to each other to converse, and had a much more open amount of space, unlike the even-numbered seats.

Odd numbered seats were much more preferable for a couple as they were right next to each other and had a much more open floor plan to them, as well as privacy from the aisles. Note the odd-numbered seats behind them (last row of business and in front of Premium Economy), which face the aisle and are much more cramped and further away from each other; not good if you are traveling together.
The Even Numbered seats were not close together and quite cramped due to the “odd numbered” seats in front of them reducing the usable space in our row. They also faced the aisle and were not at all private, and to far away from each other to be able to converse with your travel companion.

 Basically the two odd-numbered seats in front of us took up most of our row’s space, while allowing their row lots of open space together for each other. We would have preferred the single aisle/window “odd numbered” seats for privacy and more space, however none of the window seats were available as we got the last two Business Class seats. Ironically booking late and paying the highest fare guarantees you the worst seats!

The hard shell bulkhead from the odd-numbered seats in front of us reduced the usable space of our row, and made it quite confining and claustrophobic in our ‘even numbered’ row.

15 hour flight in this United Polaris “even numbered” seat 12 D. Better than Coach, but I much prefer Turkish Airlines seating and service on such a long haul flight.

My even-numbered seat in 10 F, facing the aisle.

View from my “even numbered” seat; much less private and faced the adjoining aisle person’s seat.

As our flight was more than 12 hours, United did supply pajamas upon request. These were actually quite comfortable and I put on the top only as I was wearing comfortable travel pants. The top was more like a long sleeve T-shirt, but as the cabin temperature was a bit cool, it was great for the flight, and even after the flight was over I left the top on, and covered it up with my short sleeve shirt upon arrival in SFO.

The inflight bedding from Sak’s 5th Avenue was good quality and comfortable. There was a pillow and blanket on our seat during boarding, and later we had a comforter and larger pillow used for the bed as well. There is also an amenity kit on the seat upon boarding. Note there is an extra shoulder seatbelt attachment (at least for our row) that must be worn for take off and landing, however the shoulder portion can be unhooked after takeoff and during the flight.

The headsets, however, were cheap and didn’t appear to be noise canceling although it said they were. DOS and I both used our own noise cancelling headsets we always bring, although we had to use an adapter as the inflight entertainment did not seem to work with our blue-tooth enabled headsets.

The service on the flight from Singapore to SFO was quite mediocre, with a quick appetizer of mixed nuts and a drink, followed by the appetizer and main course all presented at once. The service felt a bit like upgraded Coach, as the meal service was quite rushed without any attempt by the crew to make the service a bit more personalized. 

Comparing this United Polaris-class flight to Turkish Airlines is no comparison at all as Turkish was far superior in almost every way, both seat comfort and especially flight crew service. Not only did Turkish serve the meal course by course, (complete with an LED candle for mood lighting and atmosphere) they also had an onboard chef, fancy menus, extensive wine list, and genuinely friendly and welcoming service. This service and attention to detail is why DOS and I generally enjoy foreign carriers over American carriers for long international flights, as American carriers seem to cut corners and are generally not as customer service oriented, although there are exceptions when there is an excellent Purser, who can make or break a good flight. This United flight was not one of those flights unfortunately.

The inflight video system was not operational until 2 hours and 20 minutes into the flight, long after the meal service was served and most people were sleeping by that point. (Normally the inflight service is available from boarding until touchdown). United did have a great selection of movies, tv shows, and music to select from, but as it didn’t work during meal service, it was quite a letdown. I don’t know why they departed from Singapore without testing the inflight entertainment service, which is a huge part of enjoying the flight. 

`When the inflight entertainment finally worked (after numerous reboots from the crew) I set the TV for the inflight channel, which showed the progress of the flight as I reclined for my long nap. The bedding was good quality, however there was minimal storage space in the seat area (overhead bins had plenty though), and with the small cutout for your feet, it did indeed feel quite cramped, especially if you tried to turn over to your side. The cabin was dark the entire flight however, which encouraged everyone to sleep. DOS and I both slept for a few hours, although I tossed and turned a fair bit with my feet confined to the small area of the foot cutout.

Small foot cutout (where my shoes are currently sitting) that is used for your feet when reclining into flat bed mode. I had to move my shoes so my feet would go there when resting replacing the pillow below them with my shoes.

We had breakfast a couple hours before landing in SFO. While the flight was smooth, the service and seat comfort was not, but as we just wanted to get home the quickest way possible, the United flight delivered on that. Advice for taking United Polaris: book an ODD-Numbered seat, either a window/aisle seat (preferably) such as A or L seats, or a center section ODD-numbered seat. Bring your own good quality headsets as well. The front section of the two section Business Class also seemed to be a bit quieter and had two restrooms there, versus the single restroom on the right-hand side of the plane, fortunately I (but not DOS) was close to for easy access.

Once at SFO we had a wheelchair waiting for me as I knew it would be a long walk to immigration, customs, and ultimately our Hyatt Hotel at SFO. While I can walk, the hospital stay in Singapore did set me back a bit as far as distance walking (much like when I was in the hospital in Seattle last year), so the wheelchair really helped out. As it was 9:30pm on New Year’s Eve when we got to Immigration, Baggage Claim and Customs, it was not very busy at all, and we quickly cleared Customs and re-checked our bags for tomorrow’s flight back to Orlando. Our Skycap then wheeled us to the Grand Hyatt Hotel at SFO Airport, which was conveniently connected via a intra-terminal train.

We had a nice, albeit short stay at the Grand Hyatt, as we didn’t arrive there until after 10pm, and we had to head to back to the airport terminal at 6:45am the next day for our 9am flight home to Orlando. Still we had a couple appetizers in the bar and a brewski nightcap along with some other New Year’s Eve merry-makers before heading to bed a bit before midnight, as we were quite tired from the long trip from Singapore.

In the morning it was New Year’s, and we went to breakfast when the hotel restaurant opened at 6am. We had a nice first breakfast of the year, before heading back to our room to be met by the Skycap at 6:45am. Since we had re-checked our 4 bags last night after clearing customs, we only had our 4 carry-on bags to take with us, which made it easy to transit to the terminal.

We had an hour or so before our 9:20am flight from SFO to MCO, so we went to the United Club in Terminal F, as we were continuing on an international Business Class ticket with United which originated in Singapore. While the Terminal F was not the International Polaris Flagship Lounge, it was fairly nice, even offering complimentary hot breakfast food items. We relaxed a bit and had another bite to eat, while waiting for the Skycap to take us to the gate via our requested wheelchair.

The boarding was quick and easy thanks to the wheelchair service, and I was able to walk from the aircraft door to our seats in 5A and 5C in the First Class (domestic) section of the 737 Max aircraft. The five hour flight was more or less uneventful (best kind of fight), and we were served breakfast aboard, with DOS’s pre-ordered Frittata, and my pre-ordered Belgium Waffle. 

Also unlike the long Singapore flight from last night, the inflight entertainment was working well, so I got to watch the new Agatha Christie film adaptation of “A Haunting in Venice”, with the now retired Hercule Poirot recruited to solve the murder mystery. The meal and movie was a great combination, and we both managed to still get a couple hours rest on the remainder of the flight to Orlando. 

The flight to Orlando was very good, with a friendly Pilot providing plane trivia about our flight (our aircraft was only 43 days old, will use about $12,000 in fuel for our flight etc) and pointing out occasional landmarks such as EPCOT center on approach to Orlando. The flight crew was also very good on this five hour flight, actually much better than on the 15 hour flight from Singapore.

We had pre-arranged and paid to have our four checked bags sent to our home in Orlando via the airline’s luggage valet service, which is a huge help when traveling home. It only works on domestic flights and from Canada, but as we had to re-check our bags domestically once clearing Customs in the US from Singapore, the domestic flight to MCO allowed us to use this service. Our bags arrived about 4 hours later to our house, and we specified to leave them on our front porch should we not be home or available, which the luggage courier did. We had also pre-arranged for a driver to take us home, and by chance we had the same driver that took us to the airport 7 weeks ago! He drove a huge Chevy Suburban, and was eager to hear about our trip. We only had the 4 carry-on bags with us, so we were quite comfortable on the drive home.

We got home around 7pm, just as it was getting dark, with our outdoor Christmas lights lit up to welcome us home. We had put them on a timer prior to leaving for our trip, and it was good to see they were still working. Like most of our neighbors, most left the Christmas lights on thru January 6th, the traditional day of the Epiphany.

While we had an incredible adventure on our 7 week journey from Athens to Singapore, as always “there’s no place like home”, and it was great to be back. Welcome Home Steve’s, and Happy New Year!

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