Last year, I had a pretty dreadful experience on United. I tried their Premium Service (p.s.) transcontinental route from Newark to Los Angeles aboard a 757-200 and was shocked at how far the airline’s standards had fallen. But, that’s in the past. I flew them again this year from San Francisco to Newark to see if I’d fare any better.
I also filmed the experience for my YouTube channel:
I booked this flight as it was listed as being operated by a Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner, which has the new Polaris product. Sadly, just a few days before travel, it was subbed for a 777-200, which has the old B/E Aerospace seats. Not a bad place to spend five and half hours, but it’s definitely not new Polaris!
United’s check in area is in Terminal 3 at SFO. The kiosks, like the app, proactively suggest flight changes on the day of travel at no cost. This is a great yield management tool, and while I didn’t take them up on the offer, it’s nice to know the option is there.
The atrium at Terminal 3 has a number of replica vintage aircraft hanging inside it – it was a surprise to see an RAF Hurricane and Spitfire staring back at me!
The United Club is accessible for transcontinental p.s. tickets and is located close by the atrium. It’s probably due for imminent refurbishment, but I appreciated its old charm, and interior design cues signifying its location in the Bay Area. I spent an hour here catching up on work and relaxing, watching the aircraft.
Today’s flight boarded at exactly 6:40, as advertised (I find the boarding times in the USA to be some of the most precise anywhere).
This 777-200 had two cabins, one fore and one just behind the second door. Both feature the same 2-2-2 layout. I was seated in the first cabin, in 4A.
A Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow were waiting for me at my seat. This bedding is excellent and could rival most airlines worldwide for comfort and quality.
A pre-departure drink was served – in a plastic cup. I don’t get why airlines in the US do this. There’s a common misconception that glass is banned on the ground in the US due to FAA regs. It isn’t. The rules say only that they must be collected before takeoff. If Delta One can do it on the same route, so can United!
Takeoff was smooth, although the low cloud meant no view of the city, which is a shame. Departures from SFO can be spectacular.
My least favourite aspect of the seat, other than the lack of direct aisle access for window seats, is the placement of the socket, way behind one’s shoulder. Unless you have very long arms, it’s uncomfortable to reach and you may need to stand up to access it.
A remote is provided to control the IFE screen, as it is just too far away to control comfortably with the touch screen. It was responsive, despite its age.
I found the menu to be interesting, although I was a little worried about the quality of the food given past experiences on United.
Fortunately, the chicken chilli chorizo verde was excellent. Breakfast is normally an insipid meal on planes, even in premium cabins. I’m pleased to say this was among the most flavourful airline breakfasts I’ve had. The eggs were great and the seasoning perfect. Even the fruit salad was tart and sweet.
I washed the meal down with a coffee, which was fine.
The seats convert into a bed and I did so, catching a two hour nap and waking as we were entering the Chicago area, as witnessed by us passing O’Hare:
An hour before landing, a second meal – a snack really – was distributed. It’s a half wrap, though well filled and of good quality. Eastbound transcends are what I’d call “day wasters”, in that you depart at say, 0730 and land five hours later… at 1630. As I’d be getting dinner in just a couple of hours, I found the wrap to be an okay offer, but I’d feel different on a westbound flight with the same menu. These flights stretch out the day and you need more than a wrap to see you through!
I also tried United’s signature cocktail, the whisky Old Fashioned, by On The Rocks. Made from whisky, cherry, lemon zest, bitters, sugar and orange, it’s a curious drink, although a little strong for my tastes!
We landed punctually into a smog-ridden New Jersey.
Overall, I was happy with this flight. This set me back $659 one way – around £518. Not too bad for a five hour flight on a flat bed, and I was pleased to note a significant improvement in service and food quality. The crew were motivated and seemed to really want to be there serving us, and I was left with a much rehabilitated impression of United as a serious airline.