For my outbound to Guatemala City, I flew United Airlines nonstop from Los Angeles. The carrier has beefed up its service to Central America during the pandemic and offers nonstops to another of cities, including daily service to GUA.
Flying United Airlines To Guatemala City
It’s not an elite-heavy route and my upgrade cleared shortly after booking, which was about 36 hours before the flight. In fact, I thought the business class cabin would remain only about half full – when I checked in the cabin was booked 10/16 with no one on the waitlist, but there were either non-revenue or paid upgrades added at the last-minute and it went out full.
Before boarding, documents were carefully verified by a gate agent. To enter Guatemala, either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was necessary. I had both (since I tested in advance for my return to the USA…), but showing my electronic vaccination card from Los Angeles County was enough.
Boarding began 45 minutes prior to scheduled departure and as the only 1K in the gate area, I was welcomed first onboard.
United Airlines 1137
Los Angeles (LAX) – Guatemala City (GUA)
Monday, August 9
Duration: 4hr, 50min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 4A (Business Class)
A flight attendant welcomed me onboard and escorted me to my seat…that’s pretty rare on United. In this case, I would have been preferred to have been ignored so I could take more pictures without being disturbed. I never announce I am a blogger…instead, I state another reason for taking pictures. Here, I said it was my first time in Guatemala.
The 16-seat seat cabin, branded business class on international flights, is showing its age, though I managed to fall asleep after dinner and sleep for the remainder of the flight.
I chucked as we pulled out – the aircraft gate controller (marshaller) must have been tired because his big yawn made me yawn:
He was then picked up so he didn’t have to walk back to the terminal.
It was a beautiful evening in Los Angeles and we took off to the west before circling around Long Beach and heading Southeast.
It was fascinating to see all the boats lined up to the dock in Long Beach harbor. That was last month: the problem has grown much worse this month.
Here’s what I don’t understand. Why not put more language-qualified flight attendants on flights to Central America where folks are much less likely to speak English?
The man next to me spoke no English at all. Not a word. The flight attendant stopped by to take drink and dinner orders and he was lost. So was the flight attendant, who did not speak any Spanish.
Rather than pull the language-qualified flight attendant from the back of the plane, she kept trying to describe the two dinner choices – chicken with orzo or cheese enchiladas – using different English words. It wasn’t working.
Now mind you, my Spanish is not great. But I leaned over and told him, “pollo con arroz o enchilada con queso.” He wanted chicken. Done. And cerveza to drink. I told the flight attendant he wanted beer. She then wanted to know which one and I’m sorry, but my Spanish cannot distinguish types of beer, so I pulled out the Hemispheres in-flight magazine and had the guy point to which beer he wanted.
Bottom line: if a passenger has trouble understanding you, find a language-qualified flight attendant, please.
The Old Fashioned cocktails on United are decent and I ordered one along with a a sparkling water after takeoff. Every passenger was also provided a bottle of still water.
The flight attendant got a huge kick out of me transferring my drinks to glasses I had brought from home. Dear United, it’s time to bring back real glasses to business class.
I augmented dinner with some treats from the United Club. Since no appetizer is served, I brought my own, including hummus and pita chips, cheese, and vegetable crudités. I also ordered chicken with orzo, which was served with a touch of pesto sauce and peppers and is a very tasty dish. It came with a grain salad with barley and black beans on the side along with a hot pretzel roll and a hot “pie in the sky” chocolate cookie.
Combined with my snacks, it was a very filling meal.
After dinner, I settled back into my chair and fell asleep. I awoke about 20 minutes prior to landing as flight attendants were making final preparations for landing.
A note on IFE – wireless internet on this aircraft cut off once we left the Continental USA, so it was of no use on this flight. DirecTV with live TV and looping movies was offered (the satellite TV also cut off once we flew over the Mexican border), but I was happy to catch up on my sleep.
Immigration was quite easy after landing. An agent inspected my vaccine card, stamped me, and I was soon out in baggage claim.
I ordered an Uber, very cheap in Guatemala, and was soon at the Hyatt Centric, which is relatively close to the airport.
The takeaway here is that United’s service to Central America is like a domestic flight. Meals are offered in business class that resemble a domestic flight and snacks and meals are for purchase in economy class.
Overall, it was a comfortable flight and arrived six minutes early. Service was attentive and other than the language issue, efficient.
I chose to fly Copa back to Los Angeles, but I appreciate having a number of Latin America destinations available on a nonstop basis.
This is part of my Guatemala trip report.
Were any LOD FAs onboard the flight (as in were announcements also made in Spanish)?
With all the beef AA gets these days (which is 100% warranted), that’s one of the things I have always thought they did exceptionally well on. LOD FAs are onboard AA flights to all Central American cities, Puerto Rico, STI/SDQ, Mexican cities (sans resort destinations), along with Montreal. It seems like such a simple gesture, but from a customer service standpoint it is quite exceptional, and helps improve the airline’s marketability in the foreign country.
Given that LAX-GUA seems like a VFR route (rather than leisure) your story somewhat surprises me.
There were. But that was only one flight attendant and he worked economy class.
If the WiFi was working/connected on the FA’s phone, I would have tried using Google Translate. Not sure if it’s supported over the limited connection. Just speak and it transcribes back and forth in the language you chose. It worked great for me with my Uber driver in Brazil. Like you, I can speak some Spanish, but Portuguese…
We were already over Mexico when dinner started.
You can download chosen languages to Google Translate and be able to use it “offline” next time. It’s handy, escpeially where cell service is spotty.
Those 737-800 seats are pretty cramped in first class. There is not much room at all especially when the person in front of you reclines.
I prefer row 1 on this configuration (as long as you don’t mind stowing during take off and landing) which offers plenty of legroom, easy access if your in a window seat without inconveniencing your seat mate and you don’t have to worry about that sudden recline from the passenger in front of you.
@Matthew why did they escort you to your seat? That is exceedingly rare outside of real international first class, and certainly on United. IS it possible they knew you were a blogger?
Well, I doubt it. I think it was because was first to board and all alone on the jet bridge. But I’ve never had that happen on US before.
I travel to GUA for family reasons, and make the LAX-GUA trip about 3x a year. For many years, UAL and TACA were the only airlines offering non-stop service, sans a short period when Spirit offered non-stop service – but threw in the towel.
UAL would run 757-222”s on the route – sometimes as a LAX-GUA-SAL-GUA tag, other times operating LAX-GUA nonstop.
A Few years after 9/11 UAL gave up the route and handed it on a platter to DL.
I was pleased when UAL resumed the route during the pandemic (cargo only), hoping they would continue flying the route to include passengers. Earlier this spring, the route was re-timed to leave LAX at 7:00 p.m. and arrive GUA at 12:5o a.m. – after all these years – no more red-eye.
I’ve already flown the route 3 times this year – one, because the cost has dropped considerably from previous years, and like you mentioned, it’s pretty easy to upgrade, or for one of my flights, I just purchased business class – not that expensive. Also, no hassles of entry – as long as your vaccinated – or show proof of immunization.
Immigration is a joke – they look at my passport – sometimes stamp it, sometimes don’t and they squeeze my bags – no kidding – but never open them!
It is a small hassle to be tested within 3 days for the return, but extended family have a place for me to be tested at where it’s only a few quetzals.
A few observations:
1) Now that the outbound flight has been re-timed to 7:00 p.m., UAL has been consistent in using Gate 71A, which as you know, is just steps away from the Red Carpet Club (I’ll always call it that) – snack/soups choice seem to be improving in the club with each trip. I believe the inbound plane arrives from Maui. For those who don’t have access to the club- the location of the gate is great in that it’s one of the first gates right after security.
2) Yes – the 737-800’s used on this route are getting a bit worn out. I’m ok with the age of the aircraft – just modernize/re-fresh the cabin. I do appreciate that UAL is offering full meal/drink service on the route in “J” class.
3) Since the departure is at 7:00 p.m., for me, there has been no line at the Premier check-in counter. Maybe at most, I see a few people, no more than 5 – and that’s because of the time of the day of the flight – not much international or trans-con flights at that time of day where you are checking luggage, vs normal domestic flights where for most – it’s usually just a carry-on. Also, a breeze through security at that time of day – no lines for Clear, Pre-Check or Premier.
4) Since the LAX-GUA flight has been re-timed, currently, no bedlam exists in the other section at the economy check-in areas whereas before, all of the Mexico and Central America flights were timed as red-eyes along with flights back to ORD and IAD, etc. – and that area is just packed – as it was pre-pandemic.
I think that’s UA’s tactical advantage. It’s the only one of the 4 or 5 daily flights to GUA from LAX that isn’t a redeye. That’s huge!
Those ex-CO 738’s are so worn. I was on one today. Awful.
Glad they are revamping their fleet!
Glad you enjoyed Guatemala City. It generally gets a bum rap but it’s getting better (especially in recent years). I love the Guatemalan capital and it’s definitely light years away from its Central American counterparts. You could spend 4-5 days just exploring Guatemala City and its amazing eateries, museums, and parks.
For your next trip, definitely spend more time in Antigua. You can even stay on coffee farms! So much to see and do in that little town. And definitely bring your family! Bienvenido!
Since I “stand-out” obviously being taller and lighter…lol, I don’t dress-up or look flashy or wear any fancy watches, jewelry, etc., as crime is a problem there – people will come right up and take your bag/purse/satchel right from your hands. Always use the ATM in a building or hotel – never outside.
Depending on the “zone” you’re in, some areas of Guatemala City are not so good, while others are fine. Usually, I stay at a gated condo complex in Mixco. Other times, I’ve stayed at The Westin – but like the 738-800’s, The Westin is getting worn.
I’ll have to take the authors suggestion of staying at the Hyatt Centric.
Antigua is nice – but I’m getting tired of Antigua becoming more touristy and not the value it was 5 – 10 years ago.
One other issue with Guatemala City is the traffic – pretty much anywhere you go – lots of traffic, and a general lack of expressways/freeways. Also, the stinky busses that are “imported” as used from the U.S. – but I do have a nice time when I visit – the Guatemalan people ae very friendly.
Traffic was HORRIBLE. What a pain to get to Antigua and back.
Curious what you think of row 4 on the 737-800. I always try & avoid it if I can due to lack of recline.
I would avoid it. Recline is lacking.