Over the last two years I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences with United, from downright terrible to excellent. Flying with them is an exciting lottery and my journey from Toronto to Lihue proved to be a classic example of this.
I was flying from Toronto because my BA Club Suites flight deposited me in Canada’s largest city, and I decided to film the San Francisco to Lihue leg to showcase United’s Hawaii service. You can see my YouTube video here:
Airline pricing is market-driven, make no mistake. When I traveled, it was US$594 one way from San Francisco to Lihue, on the 7:52pm arrival, United 1684. Yet, if I took that same flight, but started my itinerary some 2,500 miles further away, in Toronto – the price was just $597! Three dollars more for two extra sectors and more than double the air mile haul.
Depending on arrival airport, Air Canada flies to Hawaiian destinations from Toronto direct or one-stop via Vancouver. This competition helps keep the price from Toronto low.
I arrived in SFO off the back of two perfectly decent flights with United; I even managed to have a delicious chorizo chili verde for breakfast on my way over from Dulles on United’s 787-8, possibly the tastiest breakfast dish you’ll find in American skies.
Having checked out the main United Club by the Rotunda a few times, I tried the smaller, newer lounge by Concourse E. Access was down to my Star Alliance Gold Status; domestic first class tickets alone don’t get access.
The lounge was forgettable and lacking the character of the much larger Rotunda lounge. The food and drink options were identical, though.
There was an interesting exhibition of antique consumer goods in the concourse walkway; it’s interesting to see how things have changed!
Our 757-200 was ETOPS-equipped meaning we can make the five-hour trip over the water to Hawaii safely. As Joanna Bailey reported on this site last month, United will be bringing in Airbus A321XLR aircraft to replace the 757 in the mid-2020s.
I was in Group 1 for boarding, as per my domestic first class ticket entitlement, and boarding was punctual.
Business Class is in a 2-2 configuration and there are 16 Collins Diamond seats in the front cabin of the 757-200. This is an international business class configuration often found on secondary shorter transatlantic routes and to some South American destinations. These seats do not allow direct aisle access for window seat travelers.
The legroom is fine, but the ottoman very small.
Pro tip: get a bulkhead seat. On 777, 787 (pictured below), 767 and 757 aircraft with these seats, the ottoman is three times the size!
I like narrowbody aircraft and find the general coziness of the cabin attractive.
Unfortunately, my lie-flat seat was labelled inoperative!
The seat had been marked as inoperative before I boarded. None of the mechanical functions worked and the seat was fixed bolt upright, meaning there was no recline available. These things happen, but what’s especially annoying is I had paid cash for my fare many months in advance; at boarding, there were two unsold seats which two passengers were upgraded into.
The crew confirmed the seat was broken before all that happened – on the inbound flight. They really should make sure everyone who’s paid for it has a working seat and then start upgrades. This was an 18-hour travel day for me and I was really looking forward to stretching out and getting a nap.
My pre-departure drink was a cranberry cocktail (American carriers, please use glasses all the time instead of just whenever you feel like it!).
Takeoff was delayed for about 45 minutes due to a technical issue.
The views on takeoff, as always when taking off from SFO, were memorable!
The meal service, which kicked off with drinks and a ramekin of nuts, was conducted promptly. Hot towels were handed out.
The meal itself was poor – for some reason, no menus were provided – and consisted of a cider-glazed chicken which was very dry and a salad which had goats cheese and orange, but only came with caesar dressing. United can do so much better than this; it’s the inconsistency which is most disappointing.
The seat is a standard Diamond seat with a fold-out table.
I really hate the socket placement, though; many people will need to stand to plug something in as it’s located well over your shoulder.
The IFE screen suffers a little from glare; close the window to get the most out of it.
Basic headphones are provided which work fine, although I tend to bring my own these days with a series of adapters.
An old-fashioned remote controls many of the IFE functions.
Fortunately, the toilets were spotless – and in good working order! The last time I flew a United 757 one of the toilets was totally busted, with a dangerously loose seat completely off its hinges.
An hour before landing a further snack was provided. My back was pretty stiff by this point; even basic economy seats recline and I was stuck upright in my broken seat.
We landed about 30 minutes late in Lihue, where it was unpleasantly humid – the price you pay for being a wonderfully green island!
As a footnote, I complained to United about the seat issue and sent them a good three paragraphs. For disclosure, if I complain, I never ever reveal I have a social media profile reviewing airlines, so I feel confident the airline will try to treat me like anyone else. Here’s United’s full response, with no greeting and without referencing any of my problems:
We apologize for not meeting your expectations, and for any inconvenience we may have caused during your recent trip. We are constantly looking for opportunities to improve and look forward to providing you a better experience on your next United flight. Thank you for your business.
United Customer Care
This was a ridiculous response, surely sent in error. I took the issue up with United’s Twitter reps who awarded me 200 dollars in travel credit, which is a fair resolution. I’ve since spent it, putting it towards a United 767 Polaris itinerary from London to Newark… let’s hope for a better roll of the dice this time!