On the Ground: Recently, the new United Airlines, the world’s largest commercial carrier, added its first new route — Washington, D.C., to Lagos, Nigeria — and I had the good fortune to secure a berth on the inaugural flight. I also had the good fortune to get out of Atlanta as snow blanketed the city. Arriving at Dulles International just minutes before the 10:43 p.m. take-off, I was whisked through the terminal to the waiting aircraft, a Boeing 767-300, and took my seat — I mean suite — next to the Nigerian ambassador. (30/30)
Pre-flight: Immediately, as though it might catch on fire at any moment, my jacket was stowed and a glass of Champagne appeared in my hand. The ambassador was immersed in Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey, so I postponed introductions for a thorough inspection of my personal leisure capsule with its spacious compartments, sleek design and curved silver walls that suggest space travel. The flight attendant brought me a hot towel, made sure I was comfortable (I was) and helped me put on my chest harness for take-off. After a brief taxi to the runway, United’s first direct flight to Lagos was in the air. (29/30)
In-flight: You could fly to Lagos and back five times before exhausting the 150 hours of on-demand entertainment. And I would have gladly done so. Stretched out on the fully flat seat, I watched Inception on the 15.4-inch screen while pondering the only decisions I’d have to make over the next 12 hours — which of the Charlie Trotter-inspired dishes to have for dinner and which of the dozen or so wines, selected by master sommelier David Frost, to pair with it. After dinner, I hooked the noise-cancelling head phones up to my iPod, plugged it into the entertainment system and dozed off to the sound of “Gentle Waves.” (39/40)
The Experience: Upon landing at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, we were greeted with a water cannon salute from the Lagos Fire Department and a cheering crowd of proud Nigerians. Indeed, United’s inaugural flight from Washington, D.C. to Lagos wasn’t just another example of the airline’s top-notch international service. It was historic, the first of many flights to come.
Total Score: 98/100
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