Tuesday, September 13, 2016

One World Lounges, SFO

Update Review, 2016

This was my first time flying without BA Gold Status (I am now Silver), so, I had no access to the First Class lounge.  Not that the SFO BA lounge has ever been particularly nice, but, I was shocked by how uncomfortable it was in the main Terraces lounge.  It was loud, there were no working power ports, and it was crazy crowded.

The food was the same as always, just some crudite, stale looking sandwiches, bags of chips, and hard cookies.  I grabbed a snack of mediocre wasabi peas and dried fruit, and quickly headed out to explore the regular terminal.  I was delighted to discover that the Cathay Pacific lounge was already open, so, I made a beeline for that, and sent Ojan a txt message telling him to come join me.

Cathay Pacific Lounge

The Cathay Lounge was the opposite of the BA lounge.  It was quiet, calm, and nearly empty.  They did have sandwiches like the BA lounge, but they also had fairly decent looking salads and cheeseburgers in a buffet, and, of course, the made to order noodle bar, which I had also tried on my first visit to that lounge several years ago.

The food wasn't great, but, it was much better than what BA had to offer, particularly if you like noodles.
Ordering Counter.
Noodles are made to order, so you select a style from the menu, and are given a pager to wait.  Once ready, the pager goes off and your noodles are handed over on a tray with chopsticks and a soup spoon.

My noodles took about 6 minutes to make, which seemed like a long time, but Ojan's were ready in less than 2.  Not sure why such a difference.
Noodle Kitchen.
The noodles are made right there in a small "kitchen" really, mostly just hot water boiling for the noodles.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Ojan opted for the dan dan noodles, which I had on my previous visit to the lounge.  Of course I tried a few bites, but, I didn't care for them, as they were just too greasy for me.  Ojan also didn't like his dish.
Wonton Noodles.
I selected the wonton noodles (shrimp and pork).  My bowl was piping hot, with thin noodles, and two wontons.  I didn't like the flavor of the broth (too porky), the thin noodles were totally mushy, and the wontons were also overcooked.  I also wasn't expecting a big bowl of thin noodles, I'm just not a noodle girl, I only wanted the wontons.

The broth didn't have much flavor, and both Ojan and I were too lazy to go back up to the condiment station to add soy sauce or chilis or something to it, but we both thought it really did need it.

I handed it off to Ojan, who enjoyed it.  Then again, he likes noodles, and I don't.
Cheeseburger Slider.
Ok, so I knew better, but, um, I can't resist trying all the things.  Like cheeseburger sliders, in a buffet, from an Asian airline.

The bun was fairly stale, untoasted, and very boring and generic.  The patty was thin, fully cooked, and didn't really resemble beef.  There was a tiny bit of congealed, melted cheese on top, and a single leaf of lettuce.  No pickles, special sauce, or anything to jazz it up besides ketchup.

Again, I knew better, but I couldn't resist.
Salads, Sandwiches.
Ok, well, if the noodles weren't for me, and the cheeseburgers weren't for me, how about the salad?  I knew I didn't want a sandwich, and I was running out of options.   (Sandwich choices were turkey & cheddar, veggie with sprouts and cheese, and hummus, cucumber, and tomato pitas.  The sandwiches looked much better than the BA ones, with more generous, fresher looking vegetables.)

I selected the "Arugula & quinoa salad with parmesan cheese."  The arugula wasn't particularly crisp, it was very bitter, and just wasn't great.  I didn't taste any cheese.  I passed this off to Ojan too.  He also had, and enjoyed, a greek salad with cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, feta, and olives, with basil & oregano dressing.  The final salad offering was a spinach salad with radish, quinoa, and I think thinly sliced apple.

Original Review, April 2014

I recently took a business trip to Tokyo.  It was my first time flying internationally since having One World Emerald status, so I was excited to check out the different lounges in my home airport of San Francisco.  Of course, I expected to only have an hour or so to "enjoy" these spaces, but ... I ended up being there for 7 hours.  Certainly not what I intended, but it gave me time to do very thorough "research" into all the lounge offerings.

JAL Sakura Lounge

Since I was flying on Japan Airlines (or, at least, I was planning too ... sigh, more on that later), I started with their lounge.  It was by far the least impressive.  The lounge was fairly small, the chairs very plain, and only borderline comfortable.  The entire place felt drab and dated.  Not many seats had nearby power.  The restrooms were a step above the ones in the main terminal, but not particularly nice.
Finger sandwiches, onigiri, Oreos, mochi, hot water for ramen.
The food offerings were sparse and laid out on a single bar area: a few finger sandwiches, hot water and ramen noodles, two types of pre-packaged onigiri, packaged sliced cheese, packaged rice crackers, packaged mochi, and ... Oreos and Lay’s potato chips.

I skipped the finger sandwiches as they didn’t look particularly interesting, and the American junk food, since I can have that any time.
Salmon Onigiri.
I started with the salmon onigiri.  I made a rookie mistake, and didn’t read the instructions on the package, and was left a bit confused.  I just opened it, to find the nori wrapper separated from the rest of it by a layer of thin plastic.  So I took that off, and tried to roll it up myself.  I was confused that I’d have to do this myself, and it turns out, that if I’d read the wrapper, I would have seen that it was magic, I was supposed to just pull a strip, and the whole thing would come together.

Anyway, the packaging was smart, as it kept the nori fresh and crisp, since it would have gotten soggy against the rice.  The rice was surprisingly good, and I don’t generally care for rice in any form (besides rice pudding for dessert).  It was sticky and consistently cooked.  The salmon inside wasn’t impressive, it was cooked, and tasted like it came from a can.  Overall though, I thought this was an decent selection.  I did want some soy sauce or something with it though to jazz it up, as just nori and rice is pretty plain, and there wasn’t much salmon inside.

Since I liked everything about the onigiri besides the salmon, I decided to try the other variety, a vegetarian one.  This time, I sorta followed the instructions, and it mostly all came together properly.  Like the previous one, the nori was crisp, the rice good.  The seasoned seaweed inside was more successful for me than the salmon since it had more flavor, but I still wished for more flavor from a sauce.

If I were stuck in SFO again, I'd get another seaweed onigiri.
Rice Cakes.
Next I moved on to the packaged rice cakes.  Crispy, slightly savory soy sauce flavor to them.  Not particularly interesting though.
Mochi.
But who are we kidding, I'm always in it for the desserts.  I was happy to see several varieties of mochi, since the only other sweet offering was Oreos.

The mochi was disappointing, soft enough, but obviously not fresh, and not particularly flavorful.
Juices, few types of hard alcohol, single choice of each type of wine.
The drink offerings were not much better.  A few soft drinks, a single red and white wine, a couple spirits, a few beers, tea, and already brewed coffee, regular only.  Not an impressive selection.

I tried the white wine, it was inoffensive, but not particularly special, and I don’t even recall the varietal.

Not so thrilled with the JAL lounge, I moved on and joined my colleagues in the British Airways lounge.

British Airways Terraces Lounge / First Lounge

"The Library"
The BA lounge was notably nicer from the moment I entered.  It was far larger, had more pleasant lighting, and higher ceilings.  There was also a variety of seating types, and multiple food and drink stations.
Our little section of couches.
My colleagues had commandeered an entire section of couches, all with power and coffee tables between them.

There was also a separate first class room, with its own food stations and bar with slightly premium offerings.
One Snack Station.
Like the JAL lounge, the primary food offering was finger sandwiches, although the BA ones were larger, more plentiful, and labelled.  There were at least 4 varieties including ham and cheese, tuna caper, egg salad, and veggie, all on different types of bread (sliced, rolls, wraps).  The egg salad wasn’t just egg salad, it had “locally grown arugula”.  A much nicer lineup, although still mostly sandwiches.

Alongside the sandwiches was crudite and assorted dips, which I didn’t try, but they looked fairly boring.  Assorted bagged chips and bowls of fresh whole fruit completed this food station.
Close up of the assorted sandwiches.
I tried the tuna caper on pumpernickel.  It was ok, but the bread a bit dry.  I appreciated that it wasn’t over mayo-ed, but it was a pretty basic tuna sandwich.
Second snack station: soup (minestrone), more snacks, yogurts, espresso machine, tea ...
The second snack station in the main room had different offerings.  Like JAL, there were also packaged sliced cheese in the fridges, along with yogurts.  But unlike JAL, they also had a few other fresh items, like minestrone soup with rolls.  There was also a nice selection of packaged desserts, a mix of American and British offerings.
Wild Mushroom Bisque.
I didn’t try the minestrone from the business class area, but there was mushroom bisque in the first class area, and I’d read reviews that people really liked it.  It was creamy, and full of mushrooms, decent, but I wasn’t a big fan.
First class station: chips, sandwiches, assorted packaged snacks ...
Both sections of the lounge had an impressive number of packaged snacks: a zillion varieties of chips (Cape Cod, Sun Chips, Miss Vickies, Stacy’s Pita Chips), a bunch of types of Nutrigrain bars, assorted packaged cookies (Pepperidge Farm, Oreos, and some english varieties), raisins, peanuts, crackers.

The shot above is from the first class lounge, but the business class lounge had all of these offering as well.
Bar Area, business lounge.
Like everything else, the drink area was far more impressive than JAL.  In the main area there were two bars, with an additional one in the first class area.  They offered more types of soft drinks, juices, beers, multiple types of wine, champagne (in first only), and a much larger hard alcohol selection.
Spa Water.
They also had spa water that I fell in love with, with ginger and mint.  It was so refreshing, and they somehow really infused a ton of flavor in it.  They also had a larger tea selection and multiple espresso machines, including decaf.  Obviously, in a totally different league from JAL.
Vanity Area.
The bathrooms were also much nicer, with a separate makeup area.
Sinks.
The sinks were modern style, and they had more amenities with them.

Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge

I wasn’t intending to visit the Cathay Pacific lounge because it wasn’t going to be open when I was at the airport.  And then, the unthinkable happened.  Japan Airlines didn’t just delay our flight (which uh, they never do.  Look at their flight stats and prepare to be impressed!  Our flight, which had a 6:10pm scheduled departure time, averages taking off at 6:02pm.  What airline takes off early, on average?).  But ... we had a horrible experience.  We got to our gate at the specified boarding time of 5:40pm, and waited and waited with no update.  The monitors all still said boarding at 5:40pm, departing 6:10pm, even when 6:10pm came and went.  We asked for an update, and they told us not to go anywhere, but never made any announcements.  Finally at 6:30pm I asked if we could go back to the lounge, and they told me no, but also that they wouldn’t know more until 7:30pm.  So we went back to the lounge anyway.  7:30pm came and went.  No update.  I went to ask at the desk in the lounge.  They told me they didn’t have an update.  8:30pm came and went.  We STILL did not hear anything.  Nothing at all.  And then, my colleague who was already in Tokyo told me that FlightAware was no longer listing our flight.  Around 8:45pm TripIt sent me an e-mail saying my flight was cancelled.  There I was, sitting in the JAL lounge, and TripIt notified me before they did?  It gets worse.

So, I went up to the desk, and they confirmed that yes, our flight was cancelled.  At this point, they finally made an announcement.  In the lounge, we were told to exit, go find our baggage on claim 12, and then go line up at the ticket counter.  We were handed a $20 coupon for food as a consolation prize.

When we got to the ticket counter, the line was already massive, and we didn’t stop for food or drinks.  I think they must have told the people at the gate before they told us in the lounge.  I guess that is what we get for going back to the lounge, although, 3 hours had passed at this point . There was a single line forming, no additional line for business class, or status.  There was a single agent working the counter.

This was crazy, and JAL was clearly not prepared for this situation (although, it was now at least 9:30pm, hours after we were supposed to have departed, so you would think that they would have started planning what they were going to do with all of us, or that they’d have procedures for this.  But … if they really do never cancel flights, I guess this was a unique thing for them.)  Anyway.  We waited.  Other folks with status demanded a second line.  So they made a second line, but of course didn’t inform anyone about it, but we saw it happening and jumped in (we were all One World Emerald and flying business class).  A few additional agents came out, and the lines started to crawl along.  But they really crawled.  Processing each person took forever.  And once we made our way to the front, we found out why.  They couldn’t just rebook us the next day, there was no availability.  But with a smile, they told us they could seat us in economy on the next day.  Um.  No.  The other option was to take a ANA flight from San Jose the next day in business, landing in Narita (we were booked to Haneda, more desirable, but not a deal breaker).  But, San Jose?  The next morning?  Um.  No.

Now, at this point, I need to thank my friend Emil.  He wasn’t even flying with us, but was watching our ordeal via our increasingly grumpy FourSquare checkins and tweets.  He let me know that there was a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong that was supposed to depart at 11pm, but it was delayed until 12:10pm.  And a flight 1.5 hours after from Hong Kong to Haneda. Now, our original flight was direct, SFO to HND.  It was only 11 hours.  If we flew to Hong Kong, that flight alone is ~15 hours.  Then we’d have a brief layover, and another 4 hour flight.  But it would be that night, from SFO, and in Cathay’s “new business class”.  Sure, our trip that was supposed to be a simple 11 hour flight was turning into a 39 hour adventure, and we’d already been at SFO for 9 hours.  But ... we went for it.  It seemed better than going home, and then going to San Jose the next day.

Not that JAL made this part easy, either.  Since we knew the flight existed, we asked about it, as had the person in front of us in line.  The agent told him to just go check himself over at the Cathay desk to see if they had availability.  Um, no, we weren't getting out of line after waiting so long.  My travel companion suggested that perhaps the agent could call over to Cathay.  Instead, the agent took off running, literally.  Long story short, she came and went several times, we were left alone at the counter for 20 minute stretches at a time, but eventually, we were sent over to the Cathay counters, where our boarding passes were printed up, and things started to go much more smoothly.  Finally.

We had about an hour to kill, and at this point we needed more food since we weren't having the dinner on the flight at 6:30pm as we'd been planning, so after going back through security, we headed to the Cathay Pacific lounge.

I think the lounge was bigger than the others, and had a variety of seating choices, but honestly, at this point I was so exhausted that I didn't really take photos or many notes.  The food was the only thing I checked out.
Food Station.
Like all the lounges, they had sandwiches, salads, yogurts, and soup, this time a clam chowder.  Unlike the others, they also had several hot dishes, including fried rice, stir fried udon noodles, chicken, and a veggie stir fry.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Along with the prepared foods, they also have one of Cathay's famous noodle bars, where you can order noodles cooked to order.  We had three options: wonton noodles, dan dan noodles with peanuts, sesame, and chili oil, or vegetarian noodles with mushrooms, carrots, and bok choy.

I went for the dan dan noodles, my travel companion picked the wonton.  We were given a pager, and went to sit down at one of the tables.  A few minutes later, the pager went off, and our noodles were ready.  So fancy.

Our dishes were hot and fresh, and the aroma coming out of my bowl was lovely, with a strong peanut flavor.  But, I didn't love it.  Maybe because I'm just not much of a soup girl, but it was a bit too rich, very very oily, the noodles mushy.  The peanut flavor was quite good, and it was nice to have fresh made noodles.

I also had a surprisingly good berry scone, probably left over from morning service, but good nonetheless.  It was dry, and crumbly, but really hit the spot.
Drinks, cookies.
A drink station rounded out the area, with water, wine, beer, a few spirits, coffee maker, and some packaged cookies.  But all I wanted at that point was water.
Related Posts with Thumbnails