United Airlines Versus American Airlines – A Round Trip to Newark

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Heading to Newark on a United Airlines A320.

My recent travel unexpectedly turned into a little United Airlines versus American Airlines test. I didn’t book the flights, and my wife wound up booking a different airline for each leg of the trip. We flew to Newark from Phoenix Sky Harbor on United Airlines, and returned on American Airlines. Here’s how it all shook out.

United Airlines – Sky Harbor to Newark

One of the reasons I like flying United Airlines from Sky Harbor is because it’s at Terminal 2, the smallest of Sky Harbor’s terminals. Plus, there’s a long-term parking lot a short walk from the terminal. That’s pretty huge. For some reason, we were selected for pre-check to move us through the line faster.

We flew on a pretty shiny Airbus A320 that didn’t look anywhere near its 18 years of age. It still smelled good, and had those nice new slimline seats that move the seat pocket high to free up extra legroom.

English: Stroopwafels Esperanto: Siropvaflo Fr...
The United Airlines take on a stroopwafel – which this is not – is extremely tasty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was an early, long flight. No time for breakfast, so we had to make do with what was on-board. United Airlines has gotten a lot of recent praise for its stroopwafel, and it definitely deserves that praise. It’s one of the tastiest free airline snacks I’ve ever had. They also had two impressive for-sale breakfast items that Sarah and I tried (and shared with Anneka): a chilaquiles mexican skillet and a ricotta-and-berry French toast. We were both surprised by the quality. I’d skip standing in line before a flight and opt for these any day.

After breakfast, I tried to get a little sleep. The slimline seat was nice in every way but the headrest. I raised it up to my height, but it never gave me any support for the head. I just kept tilting back into a very uncomfortable position – I also tried stuffing my jacket in the space between my neck and the seat, but not even that worked. This likely wouldn’t be a problem on a later flight because I’d have my nose shoved into my Kindle (I’m reading a spectacular book called Angelmaker from Nick Harkaway). As it was, I got enough sleep to get by, and it felt pretty fast for a more than four-hour flight.

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Some passengers bring their own in-flight food.

This was my first flight to Newark, and the terminal was more modern than I expected. Baggage claim was pretty quick, so I had no complaints about how things turned out on the ground.

I’d definitely consider this flight a win for United Airlines.

Round Two – United Airlines Versus American Airlines

On the way back to Arizona, we left from Newark’s Terminal A. That terminal and its TSA setup are a study in inefficiency, bureaucracy and rank stupidity. The TSA agents there are in such of a state of stupefied terror that they insisted that we send a stuffed owl attached to Anneka’s stroller through that X-ray for examination – how effective can those millimeter-wave porno-scanners be if they can’t handle a stuffed owl? American Airlines is in no way responsible for this, but I would pay extra for an airline that doesn’t fly out of Newark Terminal A.

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Inside our American Airlines 737-800.

Sarah and I were scheduled to fly an American Airlines Boeing 737-800. I heard more than a few passengers ask "How old is this plane, anyway?" While boarding. It’s probably the bulky old-style seats that prompted the question – and this 737 did not have the very slick, sleek Dreamliner-inspired Boeing Sky interior (which beats the pants off any other interior, even the recently released Airbus Airspace cabin). More than a few people had trouble getting their carry-on luggage into the bins, mostly because some lip of metal seemed to be hanging lower than it should. It’s honestly not that old of a plane, about 15 years old according to my info (though a lot has changed in the last 15 years, as far as the passenger experience).

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Compare the United Airlines A320 or the American Airlines 737 to this Norwegian Air 737 with the Boeing Sky interior. Both fall short.

The seat wasn’t too terrible, but I knew I wouldn’t get any sleep on this 5-hour-plus flight, mostly because the headrest doesn’t extend. Sarah was also sitting across the aisle, which would make it a bit tough to handle Anneka – she’s a long baby, so it’s a challenge to keep her from invading other people’s space. That’s OK if you’re seated next to the other parent, but a bit harsh for anyone else.

American Airlines is also handing out free snacks, but its mix of grainy things definitely comes in a good distance behind the United Airlines stroopwafel. On the other hand, American Airlines offers some nice paid menu items. The fruit and cheese platter was more than satisfying.

Overall, a not-unpleasant yet not-impressive flight.

Summing It Up: United Airlines Versus American Airlines

So, is there a winner or loser here? The flight attendants on both flights were nice enough. Perfunctory nice, not Lufthansa or Asiana Airlines or ANA nice. Nothing stood out in either direction.

As far as terminals, United is the winner here. Food? A slight edge to United.

As for aircraft, I have to deduct points from both. United Airlines has plenty of domestic aircraft equipped with AVOD, and I’d call that a must for a transcontinental flight. Then there’s the seat headrest problem with both. United eases ahead with a much nicer if not much newer aircraft.

Overall, United wins in this particular United Airlines versus American Airlines contest.

Want to read about another recent experience on United Airlines? Here’s how they stranded me in Chicago after a flight from Germany, and what they did to make the situation better.

Twelve Hours in New York City

12 hours in new york city
A few out our window

New York City has never been high on my list of travel destinations. But I finally got out of the airport for a look around after years of putting it off and just using it for connecting flights.

The family flew into Newark on a cloudy Saturday, landing at about 2 p.m. We managed to cram a lot into the past 36 hours or so. Let me give you a quick rundown of just the first 12, with more to come in future posts.

First, we checked into the Millennium Hilton right near Ground Zero. We were quickly back out the door determined to hit Chinatown; we figured that would be a great place to find a late lunch. Sure enough, we ran across a few Vietnamese places. I was hoping to find either cha ca la vong or bun cha ha noi, two of my favorite items from nearly three weeks in Vietnam. Given how much New Yorkers love to talk about what a great food city they call home, I figured it wouldn’t be a tall order. Not a single one had either dish, but New Xe Lua looked promising. Sure enough, it had a great salmon caramel hot pot, plus a really nice com dish with pork chops, shredded BBQ pork and one of those egg/pork things that look like a slice of quiche. They also did a decent ca fe sua da. Anneka couldn’t decide what she liked best.

12 hours in new york city
Checking out some Vietnamese food

Then, we decided to march toward a few of the well-known local beer spots. Along the way, we discovered that New York City has some fine parks for the little people. Anneka had herself a blast – she hit the slides, did some stair-stepping and made a few new friends (even older kids seem to love her).

From there, we ventured toward the beer. But the Proletariat was too tiny and frankly, it’s selection too underwhelming. We reset our course toward the Blind Tiger (running across Seek & Destroy, mentioned a few paragraphs later). Also not super impressive, and not a good place to hang out with a toddler and an Ironman stroller. We set course to walk back toward our hotel and hope for the best.

12 hours in new york city
Anneka makes a new friend.

I can tell you at this point that New York City is not a craft beer city. Contrast that to my home city, whose shortcomings I love hanging in the wind – in downtown Scottsdale, I can walk from the outstanding Craft 64 to Sip Coffee & Beer House to Goldwater Brewing Co. to Brat Haüs to the Cornish Pasty Co, none of which is more than 5 minutes from the other. At any single one of those, visitors will have no problems finding outstanding regional, national and world craft beer (in the case of Craft 64, all the beers are from Arizona). I hear Brooklyn is somewhat better on this count, but I can’t confirm that yet.

New York City seek & destroy
A terrific vintage shop in New York City

So, we walked back south. As we strolled, we came across a very fun place called Seek & Destroy Vintage Clothing Story. My description, if Seek & Destroy hired me to write their advertising copy, would be "Seek & Destroy Vintage Clothing/Bondage Gear/Halloween/Military Surplus Store." I could spend hours there, and probably drop some decent money. This place would be great around Halloween time.

We continued our march, with Sarah noticing a place called Rice Cream Shoppe. I figured this was probably some sort of vegan/rice ice cream sort of place. But no! It’s a rice pudding shop, which is far better! They had at least 20 varieties of rice pudding and various toppings (including carob chips, which I’m nuts about). It was a great dessert that wasn’t too cold for a chilly night, and made neither of us feel like pigs.

Rice Cream Shoppe New York City
The Rice Cream Shoppe in New York City

From there, we continued to the hotel. I made a quick stop at a nearby Whole Foods hoping to take advantage of its beer selection. I had a quick chat with an employee, explaining that I’m from out of town, and would like suggestions for single bottles from regional breweries. He was friendly and helpful, but Whole Foods had few good choices. His first and most definite selection was Flower Power, a nice IPA from Ithaca Beer Co. I’m enjoying that right now, and I mean "enjoy." It’s a fine beer with an aftertaste of pear. I’d bet there’s Cascade and Simcoe hops in it. He also sent me home with Brooklyn Brewing’s Sorachi Ace. I’ll let you know about that one in a moment.

Five Minutes Later

Meh. Tastes kind of bubblegummy, but not in that Belgian yeast sort of way. Probably a characteristic of the Sorachi Ace hop. Not badly brewed or anything -- no off flavors that would indicate that the brewers don’t know their stuff. Just not a recipe I dig that much. Oh, well.
So, that’s 2 p.m. to midnight, first day in New York City. Not bad!