US968 SJU-CLT B767 seat 8F

SJU looks slick from the outside (well, at least those parts that aren’t under construction), but there’s a fair dose of island/US airline lackadaisicalness about it. After I’d queued for 15 min in the First/Star Gold line, I was asked why my check-in bag didn’t have an agricultural inspection tag. What inspection? That inspection, she said, pointing over to a room behind me and off to the side, with a gaggle of people swarming around it. How was I supposed to know? Well, if you came regularly you’d know, she pouted. So why can’t you put a sign to tell people to go there before checking in? It’s a USDA inspection and not our problem. No, I told her, it’s your problem because it’s your line. I was advised to go complain to the USDA, and was duly punished for my effrontery by being assigned an aisle seat next to a blocked window, with a strategic sprinkling of crying babies around me.

As if this initial impression of US Airways weren’t unpleasant enough, the flight was also delayed by an hour. Once past the security circus filled with vacationing clowns (“Hey Bozo! Is Diet Coke a liquid?”), I settled down to munch on my mallorca con jamon y queso and mooch somebody’s free wifi.

On board, the plane smelled of old as soon as I stepped and was still in the old USAir livery. My knees were firmly jammed against the seat in front, just the way I like to spend 4-hour flights, but at least I was assigned a harmless (and non-bulky) crossword-filling granny as a seatmate. The deepest impression, though, was the sheer incompetence displayed by the staff when trying to run through the in-flight safety demo: not only did two different steward(esse)s try to talk simultaneously, but they did so on top of the video, with both their mike and the video flaking out at random intervals. Just how hard can it be?

US Airways’s in-flight magazine consists of thinly disguised advertorials and you have to pay $5 for headphones if you want to listen to Yanni on Channel 1. Not for the first time, I said a prayer of thanks to the elves at Panasonic’s battery factory and set to work computing. But I’ll say one good thing about US: at least they give you a full can of drink, even juice, instead of fiddling about with United-style urine sample cups.

 

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UA960 IAD-SJU B757 seat 9A

I haven’t been to Dulles in ages (some 25 years, in fact), but it looks just like any other older US airport: crowded and grim. I paid a rip-off price for a Nokia charger, a more reasonable price for a footlong Subway, and sequestered myself in the dark and gloomy cubicles of the business section of the Red Carpet Club until it was time to fly on.

And now a mainline UA flight, not that anything seems very different. I again lucked out with not just a Economy Plus seat, but one of the ones right in front of the door, with ludicrous legroom (but no place to stow your bags). Inflight entertainment was provided by the Flaming Latinos, a pair of, um, very intimate stewards who kept up a patter of rapidfire Spanglish with each other (“…that guy uah te digo que muy guapo and then when Juan said like oh my god voy a quitarle al mondongo un peso de encima…“) and did their best to crack each other up during any public announcements.

Drink service was the usual: OJ and pretzels. Thanks to the Great Terrorist Hunt, the seatbelt sign was kept on for 30 minutes until we were well and duly clear of the capital.