Ok, as promised, here is a review of our United first class meal and flights to and from San Juan. When we booked our cruise about a month from our sailing date, we immediately booked flights to San Juan. Thankfully, the best deal for a flight, after some online searching, was through United. (At some point in the future I will discuss my trials and tribulations with the other major carrier out of my hometown, American Airlines, but I am still suffering from flashbacks). We booked 2 coach class seats. The route consisted of 2 flights each way, a Embraer EMB 175 regional jet between Midland and Houston and a Boeing 737-900 for the Houston to San Juan leg.
A few days after booking I decided to see what was available in first class for my flights. The Midland to Houston leg had plenty of seats available. However, the Houston to San Juan flights had a wait list for first class. $75 and 12,000 miles each got us on the waitlist. I heard nothing after that, and my credit card was not charged. The day before our trip, when I went to check us in, the United App had first class available for our flights. The upcharge was $99 for the regional jet and $259 for the 737 flight. I happily paid, knowing that the added comfort would allow us to have a better time in San Juan when we landed. We were able to do the same upgrade the day before on the way home when I checked us in.
As the experience was basically the same both ways, I will explain them together. On the Embraer regional jet, there are 12 first class seats in a 1-2 configuration. As you would expect, we were greeted warmly when we sat down and were offered a pre-flight drink. We gladly accepted a pair of screwdrivers on each flight. After take off we again got a drink and a snack from a wide selection of chips, cookies, and muffins. As this flight was just over an hour, you could argue that first class was not needed. However, priority check in and priority luggage is nice to have.
On the 737-900 we again had an excellent experience. First class consists of 20 seats in a 2-2 configuration. As usual we got pre-flight drinks. These seats are also equipped with in seat entertainment, which was nice as the leg between Houston and San Juan is between 4 1/2 and 5 hours. There were multiple movie channels, with a wide selection. I watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Black Panther. Actually, I ended up watching the same movies both ways as the movies did not change between coming and going. The screens also had Direct TV. But, while I could have watched it almost the entire way from Houston to San Juan, on the return trip, we stayed further from the mainland due to a tropical storm and the service was unavailable. The seats also have easily accessible power outlets.
As both flights were afternoon flights of the long duration there was a United First Class meal service. On the flight to San Juan we were offered a choice of mushroom ravioli or a chicken dish with artichokes, rice, and kale and a pesto dipping sauce. It also included a roll and a salad with a pomegranate acai vinaigrette. The food was fine, even if the chicken was a little dry. The white wine they served, which I am sorry I missed the name of, was excellent. Dessert was a warm chocolate chip cookie.
On the return flight, we did not get a choice of meal, we were just offered a chicken dish. Of the two, this was a better meal. The chicken was served covered in a gravy that kept it moist, and I liked the vegetable sides much better. Again the wine and cookie were excellent.
All in all the experience was great and was well worth the money as bookends to our vacation.
Both airports were very nice, but I am going to focus here on San Juan as readers may not be as familiar with it as they are with IAH. San Juan airport is in an excellent location. After we landed, we walked to baggage claim, where our luggage, because it was priority tagged, came out very quickly. We stayed in Old San Juan, so the taxi ride was only about 15 minutes, and cost about $25 with tip. Our return flight was a little more interesting. We had a later flight, 4:45pm local time. Thus, we were at the airport quite early. We entered the San Juan airport where we were dropped off, and walked to the far end of the terminal where United’s counter was.
As we walked, an older gentleman in shorts and a t-shirt began to follow us asking about our luggage. I assumed he was a porter, as there were a large number of them standing about and he had no uniform on, so I told him we were okay. He then explained that we could not check in without our bags going through a USDA inspection. This required us to return to a door far from where we came into the airport, stand in line, and put all of our luggage and carry-ons into an x-ray machine to check to see what we were bringing back into the mainland.
This check was very, very haphazardly done. Quite frankly, the person manning the machine was also putting stickers on the luggage, so, while I was standing there, he never once looked at the screen to see what was going through. This was even more obvious when I was clearing security to go to my gate. A young women behind us in line had mango in her carry-on. She brought it back from the cruise and planned to take it home. She should not have even been allowed to bring it off of the cruise ship, but, even with all of the security checks she had to go through, somehow she made it all the way to TSA security check point before someone noticed.
Final verdict on the San Juan airport
Even though our wait was long at the San Juan airport, it was comfortable. There were plenty of seats, but charging areas were lacking and there was no free wifi, 4 hours of access was $4.99. There were many restaurants though. We went to the Terminal B Margaritaville, where I had one of the best Barbecue Jerk Chicken dishes that I have ever had. It almost made the jacked up airport food price worthwhile.
All in all, our flights and the airports were good. Because of this, we did not have any stress when we started our vacation or on our way home, something we valued greatly. Please watch for my next post on San Juan as an embarkation port!
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