It feels like years ago that I first arrived at LAX to begin the Star Alliance Mega Do 4, but in reality it was less than a week ago. It feels like so long ago, because such an enormous amount of activity and travel is packed into such a tight time frame. We went from LA to Zurich to Frankfurt to San Francisco to Houston to Chicago with hotel and airline events all along the way. I won’t post a blow by blow of the entire trip here because you can find that on the MegaDo.com blog (to which I contributed – especially for the first half of the trip). Instead, I will post some of the highlights that stick out for me.
Getting to Zurich in coach on Lufthansa was not my favorite life experience. An overnight flight from the West Coast to Zurich was tolerable, but admittedly a bit uncomfortable. We all survived though, and I have to say that Zurich is a city I very much want to return to. I will post a full review of the Park Hyatt Zurich soon. The Park Hyatt put on an amazing reception for us with so many different types of wine, cheese, and whiskey. The service we received at that property was truly top notch. My 4:30AM order of coffee was delivered at exactly at the stroke of 4:30AM and it tasted like caffeinated Heaven when I needed it the most.
While the Park Hyatt was fantastic – just walking around Zurich was the real highlight. I went with about a dozen friends/MegaDoers for raclette (melted cheese) in Zurich and it was a memorable meal. Not only was it my first time enjoying raclette, but being able to share a meal with so many friends in a foreign country is a very special experience that I do not take for granted. No question that Zurich is expensive, but it has a magical feel, and I hope to return with my husband in the not-too-distant future.
International First Class on Lufthansa:
I have already posted a teaser of sorts about how/why I ended up flying back to the US from Zurich in First Class on a Lufthansa A380, but I would be remiss to leave it off of a MegaDo recap. The flight was technically not a MegaDo flight, but had I not been on the MegaDo trip I would have not had the opportunity to take that flight. My first international first class experience was a spectacular one, and it really emphasized to me how amazing the results of our miles and points hobby can be.
Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport:
Sadly I did not have time to leave the hotel while we were in San Francisco and actually go do anything, but it was great to get to meet with representatives from all of the San Fran area Hyatt hotels. The rep from the Grand Hyatt San Francisco had some pretty cool updates from their property including the completion of their massive $70 million dollar renovations and the interest in the food truck culture of San Francisco. In fact, their new restaurant OneUp now has a food truck that will be parked in front of the hotel for a while, and then will hit up some other local food truck spots. I thought that was very unique and fun way to be more integrated in the local culture. I also like their pilot program to have children’s books about San Francisco available for “check out” by families staying at the property. I was told that the program was very much a success, so I hope to see other properties do the same thing. It’s often the “little things” that properties can do for children and families that can turn a good trip into a great trip!
Getting some behind the scenes tours at SFO with Captain Denny Flanagan was also pretty exciting. If he is ever the pilot for your United flight, you are in great hands.
Charter of a United 787:
If you step back and think about it, it is absolutely amazing and humbling that United allowed this group to charter one of their two 787s. This plane has only been in service for two weeks, and we chartered it. The MegaDos may have their hiccups, but the fact that the organizers pulled this off is incredible. It truthfully borders embarrassing that we were able to fly it twice when so many United employees have yet to even see it, but no doubt it was a stand-out experience. It is a beautiful aircraft, and I think the consensus of the group was that it was a comfortable bird to fly on...though I do think that the crew working the chartered flight from SFO-IAH was a bit shocked at what it is like to work on a MegaDo flight. It is definitely not your everyday flight.
Not only did we get to fly on the aircraft, but the entire plane received a first class meal with entree selections and a printed menu. Pretty sure I could fast until Thanksgiving after everything we were served this week.
Hangar BBQ in Houston
Once we landed in Houston, there started to be some “I can’t believe they are letting us do this” moments. When we landed, we didn’t go to the terminal like a flight typically would. That would be too “normal”. Instead, we taxied to a hangar where a delicious Texas BBQ and country band were waiting. The 787 hung out with us, and everyone got to take pictures with the plane and just soak in the insane nature of what we were being allowed to do. Since I live in the Houston area, I was frankly most anxious in getting escorted out of the BBQ so I could see my husband and kiddo for the night. That process was pretty complicated since we were in a hangar, but I was eventually escorted out and got to spend the night home snuggling with Little C. That actually was a huge standout by itself. This was the longest I had been away from her.
Day With United at O’Hare:
I’m going to write an entire post on this day because it was that amazing – absolutely the highlight of the trip. We got to do things like work a de-icer, drive trucks, move big cargo boxes, crawl in the cargo bay, see an emergency slide deployed, conduct actual boarding announcements, tag bags, give passenger counts to the captain, go in the tower, etc. The things we got to do are absolutely unreal, and this is far from a complete list. The United employees kept us (and others) safe at all times and genuinely seemed happy to see how interested we were in their jobs. I had no idea we would be that “hands on” at the airport that day. Other tours went to the catering facility and the downtown headquarters, but I cannot imagine their tours beat the airport tour.
Focus Groups at United Headquarters (including time with Jeff Smisek):
The last official MegaDo event was help in downtown Chicago at the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) at the United headquarters. Different focus groups met to discuss concerns and ask questions of the United teams. My group met with the MileagePlus and IT teams and they fielded questions on the fly. It got a bit tense at times, but I left having no doubt that United understands there are and have been many problems. The day concluded with a 30 minute Q and A with United Presidemt and CEO Jeff Smisek.
Most of his questions were pre-selected, though he did field a couple from the audience. However, what was memorable from this event was how entertaining he really was. He was quite funny, and came across as a down-to-earth guy. I did not expect to be laughing out loud at parts of his presentation, but I truly was. He also was relatively candid about his thoughts on some things. I also plan to do a full post on some of the info he shared in this session. Though if you follow me on Twitter then you likely already got many of the “sound bytes”.
Days on MegaDos are long. Very long. Mornings are early. Very early. Schedule changes are common. Very common. However, at the end of it all, it is astonishing what experiences are available when you throw caution to the wind and join in on one of these journeys. I would never personally be able to arrange access to the things that are available to you on a MegaDo, so I am very grateful to be able to go on this event and experience things that would otherwise never be possible. Of course, in addition to the actual events, it is a blast hanging out with friends from all over the world. I hope more of you are able to join in on one of these trips in the future. They aren’t for everyone, but for some of us they are something to look forward to for months..
Stay tuned for a complete review of the Park Hyatt Zurich, Hyatt Regency SFO, all the info from United Day at O’Hare, and details from the presentation by Jeff Smisek.