User review: Round the World with Star Alliance in Business Class

1. Jul 2016
by Dag Christian Holm

"Careful what you wish for - you might get it" is something I've told friends and colleagues many times over the years. This time I was struck by it myself. I had almost overcommitted myself and I knew it could get tight and it did. The corporate travel agent told me "we wont be able to get you home in between Washington and Sydney - we recommend you to keep going west - it'll be easier for you and cheaper for the company". They booked me GOT-FRA-IAD-SFO-SYD-BKK-FRA-GOT. I spent more than 50 hours and 25,276 miles in the air in 11 days, having used all of the Boeing long haul planes (747-8, 787-9, 747-400 and 777-300ER). I couldn't resist so I documented the trip plane by plane. I also learned more than I need to know about the restrictions of a Round The World (RTW) Star Alliance ticket like the fact that the minimum 3 stops for a minimum of 24 hours each are to the “minute”. I had one stop in San Francisco that was only 23 hours and 38 minutes and didn’t count so I had to put in a 25.5 hour stop on my way home just to get a compliant itinerary. I started day 1 with breakfast at the SAS Business Class lounge in Gothenburg (GOT). Quite nice lounge after the much needed expansion and refurbishment. Food and Beverage (F&B) typical Business Class standard. Leg 1

Route: GOT-FRA Flight: LH 813 Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 (with winglets) Flying time: 1:25 Seat: 2A Miles: 550 Champagne: N/A Lounge: SAS Business Class Comments: New aircraft. Fresh cabin. Wi-FI: N/A I had a second breakfast during a short and very uneventful flight down to Frankfurt. A reasonably short connect of 1h20, just enough time to walk from the gate at the end of the A pier to the restrooms in the Senator lounge by the Z-gates and then almost directly leave for the boarding gate.

Leg 2 Route: FRA-IAD Flight: LH 418 Aircraft: Boeing 747-8 version 748V1 Flying time: 8 Seat: 6A Miles: 4065 Champagne: Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve Lounge: Senator by Z-gates (Nice lounge, good food selection but no champagne, only sparkling wine. Comments: Relatively new aircraft with V-shaped seats where your feet almost touch the neighbor’s feet. Fresh cabin. Wi-FI: Worked fine throughout flight.

  My neighbor was not very talkative, something I appreciate, so I was able to get some work done in between the meals and a nap. Wi-Fi was really stable and reliable during the entire trip. Not lightning fast of course but met my working needs. The seats in this configuration are really comfortable but they’re positioned in a V-angle so your feet almost touch the feet of the neighbor if you’re not careful.

Reliable LH service and all the usual Senator privileges like being greeted by the purser and addressed by name by staff. Arrived to Washington Dulles around 16:00 after an uneventful flight (my favorite kind of flight) and got through immigration and customs pretty quickly after the usual bus transfer to international arrivals and arrived at my hotel around 18:00. After all the flying, I went for a walk before dinner and going to bed. My hotel was only two blocks from the White house so I decided to go around it, which turned out to be quite a walk due to all the fences and security surrounding the White house nowadays.

  After the conference ended on day 4, I went back to the airport for a domestic leg to San Francisco. My RTW ticket was in Z-class and one of the First Class seats offered to Z-class ticket holders had freed up shortly before my trip started so I escaped from 6 hours in coach. The United Club lounges have never been terrific experiences in the past couple of decades but after the last round of cutting back, there is hardly any F&B left, it’s just a place to sit and wait in. Leg 3 Route: IAD-SFO Flight: UA 1025 Aircraft: Airbus A320 Flying time: 5 Seat: 2A Miles: 2426 Champagne: N/A Lounge: UA Club (Very limited selection of food and snacks) Comments: Domestic first class seats, wide but very limited decline. Wi-FI: Not working – crew tried to troubleshoot without success   Domestic first class looks nice, seats are wide and the pitch is generous but it’s not much of a recline. Difficult to get some sleep. Food in First class leaves a lot to be desired. I started to understand why also some of the first class passengers had brought their own food onboard. The dinner consisted of some kind of pizza like substance and beverage assortment was limited and pretty poor quality. Except for beverages, food is light years better when flying domestic first class in India. I tried to work a bit but the crew was never able to get the Wi-Fi up and running.

After a day of work in Silicon Valley during day 5, I went back to SFO for my evening flight non-stop to Sydney. 15 hours and 10 minutes scheduled flight time is the longest I’ve ever experienced and also my first flight on a Dreamliner. Interesting experience to leave SFO on a Friday evening and arriving in Sydney on a Sunday morning due to crossing the date line. The UA Club lounge in the International terminal had exactly the same F&B standard as the domestic one in IAD. Nothing at all to cheer you up before a long flight.

Leg 4 Route: SFO-SYD Flight: UA 863 Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Flying time: 14:40 Seat: 2A Miles: 7426 Champagne: Moutard Lounge: UA Club (Very limited selection of food and snacks) Comments: New aircraft. Fresh cabin. No first class. Great monitor. Seats a bit cramped. The windows had electronic shutters that didn’t operate flawless resulting in missing the sun up. The electrical outlet was way up behind your neck. Almost impossible to reach without getting out of the seat. Incredible uncomfortable position. Seemed to be better options. Wi-FI: Not working – no announcement

International Business Class is pretty OK with United (there was no first class section at all in configuration I was flying). F&B are not up to LH standards but significantly better than domestic First Class. Seats were fine as long as you remained seated but not a lot of stowage and the position of the power socket was a disaster from an ergonomic perspective. Immigration took a fair bit of time even with Fast track privileges. When the conference ended the first day, I took my camera and jumped into a cab and headed down to Mrs Macquaries chair for the traditional post card picture of the Sydney Opera house and bridge.

The conference in Sydney ended after the last connect to Europe so I had to stay around until day 10 before I started my journey back home. I was trying to convince my system that there was only 8 hour time difference back home, not 16, the number of timezones crossed on my trip to Sydney. I was booked on an afternoon flight with Thai that would take me to Bangkok in the evening where I had a 25.5 hour lay over to meet the RTW ticket rules. I sampled both Star Alliance lounges at SYD. First the Singapore Silver Kris lounge and then the significantly nicer Air New Zealand business class lounge before it was time to board.

Leg 5 Route: SYD-BKK Flight: TG 472 Aircraft: Boeing 747-400 Flying time: 8:50 Seat: 14A Miles: 4662 Champagne: Veuve Cliquot Brut Lounge: Singapore Silver Kris (standard lounge with usual F&B assortment) + Air New Zealand Business Class (large lounge with bartender and impressive food selection including chef preparing dishes on demand) Comments: Really old cabin with briefcase sized overhead bins upstairs and the old seats. Wi-Fi: Not installed

The aircraft was a “vintage” 747 with the old interior where the overhead storage on the upper deck is too small for regulation sized carry on so I had to leave my carry on down below and just bring essentials with me upstairs. The old seat is OK for eating and working but leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to sleeping. Since this was a day flight, the absence of Wi-Fi was a noticeable minus. F&B was fine, service was excellent, but the vintage aircraft with the old interior left me with a feeling that things has been slipping a bit since I flew with them the last time. Note to myself: Next time I fly back from Sydney; I should probably go via Singapore instead. My hotel was by the river so I just had to take another tourist snapshot.

After spending 25.5 hours in Bangkok, it was time to continue my journey back home on day 11. I was waitlisted for LH773 but there were never any openings for Z-class so my journey back was again with Thai. Originally, when I booked and got seated, service was supposed to be a 747. Suddenly a couple of weeks before the trip, Thai changed aircraft to a 777 and reseated me to an aisle seat. Interestingly enough, Thai treats you to D-Class on a RTW ticket in Business which means more air miles (200%) compared to Z-class (150%) with the other airlines. The Royal Silk lounge at BKK is not a great experience. It’s definitely better than United Club but nowhere close to a traditional star alliance business class lounge.

Leg 6 Route: BKK-FRA Flight: TG 920 Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER (77B) Flying time: 10:40 Seat: 16F Miles: 5593 Champagne: Veuve Cliquot Brut Lounge: Thai Royal Silk Lounge (large lounge with sub standard F&B assortment) Comments: Medium old cabin. No first class. Seats with alternating “side tables” 1+2+1 with the benefit that everyone have an aisle seat. Wi-FI: Not Installed

The cabin configuration of the 777 was quite nice with everyone having an aisle seat. I was seated in a “colleague/companion” style seating with the seats next to each other and the table between the seat and the aisle.

It worked well when the divider between the seats came up and the distance the table introduced prevented people from bumping into my seat while sleeping so all in all, this is probably the better seating option even when travelling alone. Seat belt was a bit unusual as it was “car style” but worked fine also when sleeping. The lack of Wi-Fi was less of a problem since this was an overnight flight. Service was good as well on this Thai flight with the exception that the FA managed to tip the tray and land a full glass of champagne in my lap. I skipped breakfast onboard to get some more sleep and waited until I got to the Senator lounge at FRA to have breakfast. Leg 7 Route: FRA-GOT Flight: LH 812 Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 (with winglets) Flying time: 1:25 Seat: 2A Miles: 550 Champagne: N/A Lounge: Senator by A-gates (Nice lounge, good food selection but no champagne, only sparkling wine). Comments: New aircraft. Fresh cabin. Wi-FI: N/A I had a second breakfast on the short flight back home and managed to get some sleep as well. In Summary Total flying time, approx. 50 hours Total Miles, Approx 25.276

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