Stockholm Revisited: The Flights

The longest flight I’ve ever been on was somewhere around 3.5 hours. I’ve flown to the west coast a couple of times (LA, Seattle), with layovers of course, but that’s really the extent of my flying experience. I’ve also been on a couple of Caribbean cruises (lots of Caribbean islands plus Mexico, Belize and Honduras) but that’s really the extent of my international travel experience. I don’t think the cruises really count…you never go through passport control or get the real international experience.

The Stockholm trip was going to change all that and boy howdy, did it!

My United flight from RDU (Raleigh) to ORD (Chicago) was uneventful. The seats were horrifically uncomfortable and the flight attendants were incredibly rude. Luckily it was a short flight. Our flight had been delayed over an hour because crappy weather the night before in Chicago had resulted in flooding and lots of backups at the airport. Nonetheless, we got there fine and had time before our long flight to ARN (Arlanda airport in Stockholm).

This was my first flight to O’Hare. What a wretched place! We had to get from terminal 1 to terminal 5 which involved a bit of hiking plus a train. Upon arrival, we were met with a unruly crowds trying to get through security. There were no lines. There were only masses of rude people trying to get nowhere fast. Personal space was not respected…and I really HATE that! When we finally got through security we discovered that we weren’t anywhere near real food so we grabbed some nuts and headed to our gate. If we had time to explore, we would have found something but we didn’t have the time.

We flew SAS to Stockholm. I was fortunate to be in the first row of economy behind economy plus…so I had a bit more leg room than most…and I had a window seat. My travel partners in crime, Karen (our new data manager) and her husband David, informed me that there wasn’t a lot of leg room in the rest of economy so I decided I was going to pay for economy plus coming home if seats were available.  Anyways, an older gentleman with long legs sat down next to me and asked if I was Swedish. Lars (I’m not making that up) was from Sweden but had moved to the states in the 80’s…first to Chicago and then to Cleveland. He was a lovely seat mate and we carried on just the right amount of conversation and pleasantries. Dinner was pretty decent…better than most frozen dinners…and then it was time to try and get some shut eye. I don’t sleep well on planes. I basically slept in 20 minute increments which was pretty brutal.

We arrived in Stockholm to a peaceful and clean airport where people respected your personal space, your bags were WAITING for you and there were orderly lines to get through passport control. I got my first stamp despite having had my passport since 2002!

Let’s fast forward to Thursday morning for the flight home…this is where it gets good!

I arrived at the airport and was met with rude crowds of people and total chaos around the check-in area. That was a panic attack inducing process. However, once I headed off to security, it was peaceful. There were no lines! I think the airport designed that airport so that there were multiple security checkpoints and passport control areas depending on what gate you were departing from. It was quite amazing how peaceful it was! From the people who brought us IKEA…they really know what they are doing!

One of the gate areas in ARN: It really was that quiet and deserted!

When I got to my gate, I headed straight for the desk and asked if I was eligible for an upgrade to economy plus. The man takes my tickets, confirms that I am traveling alone and tells me to have a seat while he gets the computer up and running. A bit later, he calls me up and hands me a new seat in economy plus, saying nothing about paying extra. The seat was in the middle of a row of 4 but I was willing to suck it up for leg room. THEN, a little while later, I get called back up to the desk. A man with a small child says to me “This is your lucky day.” I am handed a new seat assignment….in BUSINESS CLASS!!!! I guess the dad wanted to sit with his son! Still nothing about paying extra. It really was my lucky day!

I’ve never flown first/business class before and boy was I in for a treat! I board, trying to not look like a total rookie. I am a blue collar girl from Pittsburgh who has no disposable income to speak of! Here is what I experience:

(1) The seats: They are roomy…my hips don’t touch the sides! There is leg room…I can put my legs straight out and not touch the seat in front of me. There are all sorts of reclining buttons to mess around with!

(2) The flight attendants: I enjoyed my flights with SAS…they were really pleasant and nobody had a stick up their ass like the United flight attendants. There wasn’t even a difference between attitudes in economy versus business class…they were just nice overall!

(3) The service: You are greeted with champagne! I declined as I hate champagne and it was 10am. I also encountered hot towels at several times during the flight, constant refills of whatever I was drinking (the wine came later) and you get a special comfort kit with socks and a sleep mask and toiletries for when you arrive and want to freshen up.

The comfort kit (which I left on the plane)

(4) The food: I ate and drank my way across the Atlantic! After the bubbly and taking off, we had our snack. It was sashimi grade salmon with lemon and dill and some salted almonds. Then we had our first course that involved a fancy salad, a cheese plate, some sort of open faced sandwich with thinly sliced elk meat (OMG, delicious) and horseradish cream and some fresh bread. Figuring I should take full advantage of the business class experience, I had some wine…it was closer to 12pm at that point so I didn’t feel too bad. Then we had our main course…you got to choose from a menu of 4 entrees! I, of course, picked Swedish meatballs with potatoes and lingonberries. The wine kept flowing. Then came dessert which was some sort of fruit custard pie. This meal was pretty fantastic! My seat mate decided to talk to me while we were eating…Peter was a businessman from Stockholm going to a medical conference in Chicago. He was nice but a bit full of himself. I got to hear about his racing Porsche and his 43 ft boat on the archipelago in Stockholm. He was nice enough though. And after we ate, he shut up.

I didn’t want to miss any of the experience so I just watched movies and read my books. I think I managed to stay awake for all but 20 minutes of the flight! Also…given the amount of wine and water I kept drinking…I used the restroom like 10 times. At least it was easy getting out of my seat!

Closer to landing, we were served another meal. There was a potato salad and a lamb sandwich of some sort and probably something else. I think I stopped drinking wine at that point.

All in all, I highly recommend SAS to fly with. I also highly recommend business class LOL. I just did a search online to compare economy and business class prices. Um, it’s like a $2500 price difference!!! Crap wagons, that is RIDICULOUS! Business class was nice but it wasn’t $2500 nice. I have a feeling that I won’t ever fly business class again unless (a) it’s my lucky day again or (b) it’s a really long flight and I am willing to pay the money to be able to sleep.

After those flights, I do know that I will avoid United at all costs and I will avoid O’Hare at all costs. Neither of those are something I want to experience again unless I absolutely have to.

Business class on the other hand…

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  • Kristen  On June 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    That was 1st class 🙂 Fun isn’t it?

    • Rachel Palmieri  On June 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      SAS calls it business class…in either cases, it was the fanciest part of the plane and it was awesome!

  • Shelley B  On June 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    What a fun experience to get to fly business/first class!!! How neat. I’m like you – I’ll never get to do that unless I win the lottery or have a lucky day like you did.

    Oh, I looked at that map of O’Hare – what happened to Terminal 4?

    • Rachel Palmieri  On June 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm

      Terminal 4 was a temporary international terminal while they worked on terminal 5. I think it’s parking now…

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