This was my return trip from San Francisco which originally included a Singapore to Chicago leg followed by an internal flight to San Francisco on United Airlines Business Class.
I have to start by saying that I am a huge Middle Eastern Airline and Asiana Airline flyer. I usually fly Singapore Airlines or Emirates and whenever possible I use my miles to fly Business Class long haul. For short flights I use the cheapest low cost airline flight so I am always at either end of the spectrum. I had not flown any of the American airlines in a really long time, as in, 10 years, but since I am in the industry and I regularly hear traveler’s complaints, I had low expectations.
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Arrival and check-in
I am driving from Calistoga back to the airport and we are running quite late so I am reaching speeds well above the recommended ones because I keep seeing Google maps’ estimation of arrival time going up rather than down despite my driving and we are starting to get really close to borderline acceptable check-in time.
We finally make it to the car rental return, jump off and stuff everything we had in the back seat and boot inside our suitcases and dash off to the elevators to catch the air train to the terminal. Like in a movie we rush to get into the leaving train as the doors close but one stop later I realize that my terminal is the list one on a very long loop so decide to jump off at the next stop to catch the red line train. I barely say goodbye to Isa and at barely 1h before scheduled departure I get off the train, down the stairs and into Terminal G. The whole area is huge but absolutely empty, so much so that I wonder if I got off at the wrong place. I find the United check in counters which are just in front of me and follow the ropes to the Business Class check-in counter with no waiting time. He lady helps me out pretty quickly and within 10min from dropping the car I have my boarding pass and I am waiting at the security control. Pretty fast and efficient. To top it all off, the lounge is right in front as I go through the controls. This is as seamless as the Singapore Airlines one which I praise as the fastest from door to lounge.
I walk into the two level lounge which is airy, spacious and very bright with views over the tarmac. There are rows and rows of typical lounge sofas all off them decked out with plugs to charge all the electronic items we carry nowadays, pretty smart thinking and , sadly, not such a common facility in most airports.
There aren’t many passengers given that it is a Sunday in the middle of a long weekend, and most people are just minding their own business and are glued to their individual screens.
The food and drinks selection is adequate, nothing to write home about or to loathe. Since it is tea time there are cookies and other finger food.
There are no announcements and the departures TVs show all sorts of flights, not sorted by departure time, but mine isn’t one of them so confused I decide to head to the gate anyway about 30min before departure.
United sure knows how to make me feel like a rock star. As I walk towards the gate one of the stewardesses comes out to greet me, apparently they were calling me out, Six Hotel, or 6H, is my new nickname. She escorts me to the scanning machine, without saying a word, and communicates my arrival to someone at the other end of the walkie-talkie. I feel special despite probably being thought off as that obnoxious disorganized passenger. As I walk on the air bridge I see the stewardess at the end of it, yawning, they must have been waiting for me for long. It almost feels like I am the last passenger to board. I am self-conscious, almost embarrassed.
I guess that because I am late, my punishment is no drink being offered. I know the rest of the passengers got theirs but I am not offered one.
The crew parades a trolley with newspapers. No magazines though.
As I recall from my previous leg this layout truly maximizes the number of passengers in Business Class. Where Singapore Airlines places only 4 seats United has managed to cram-in 8 seats per row in Business Class in a 2-4-2 layout. I am reminded this is the smallest Business Class seat there is.
The smaller size in itself is no big deal for me as I am quite small but the size does mean that there is no space to store anything. All of my stuff has to go either on a very narrow compartment under the arm rest or on the tiny shelf under the TV. The arm rest is shared with the other passenger and you are bound to touch each other if you decide to use it.
The other inconvenience of the layout is that in every row a few seats are facing forward whereas the other half faces backwards. I manage to again get seat that faces the back of the plane. This is not so much an issue on itself but it is rather odd to be looking at someone when eating or watching TV as the two seats of seats on the sides or the middle 4 are facing opposite directions on every row.
The length is however very appropriate. This is not one of those seats which you recline on and then slide down, the seat does go completely flat and I had no issue laying down fully. That being said, the only foot rest is on one side and it is very narrow so taller people may struggle.
If you want to work the seats provide 2-pin America plugs and USB ports. On this flight I don’t manage to charge my laptop because the plug is too shallow and the adaptor does not seem to be able to go all the way in but the crew is nice enough to take my laptop to charge at the back. Since I have two laptops I can alternate but had I just had one it would have been a major inconvenience to not be able to use the laptop while charging.
The seat reclines fully to a flatbed and the pillow s fluffy and large. The blanket is comfortable and soft, one that you can easily cuddle up to, and it is of a good size. Nothing more annoying than a blanket that you are constantly having to pull because when you turn your back is exposed.
If you want to work you will find the seat arm rests too high to rest your elbows on and the table a bit too small and hard to balance anything other than the laptop on it.
The food I was served in this flight deserves a mixed review. For starters we got a fantastically fresh salad made with tender baby greens that were extremely fresh, they looked and tasted as if they had just been tossed. The salad was served with smoked salmon wrapped in nori sheets and a California roll. The salmon was absolutely beautiful. The two cuts were thick enough and extremely fresh. They were offered with a small bottle of soy sauce and a bowl with mayonnaise to dip. I can only assume this to be their nod towards American food? The stared was a delicious opening.
The bread selection also included a few options with wholemeal, seeded and garlic bread. The butter was shaped like a rose, a sweet detail.
For drinks I read on the menu that they were serving sake so I went for it. It came in a small individual serving of about the size of a wine glass. It was still slightly frozen and I thought it perfectly complemented the Japanese starter.
Sadly the main did not live up to expectations. I went for the fillet of Amazon cod with ratatouille, a usual suspect of in-flight dining, someone will have to explain to me why one day. Unfortunately the dish was too spicy hot and, most importantly, the fish was well over cooked making it extremely dry. I rely leave food on the plate but that dish I could no finish.
After the mains cheese platters were available, but nobody offered it to me. It does look like I was quite invisible on this flight…
The desert was a fabulously ice cold vanilla ice cream with toppings. You could add walnuts, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce or various fruit jams to the ice cream scoop. I have to admit that I love ice cream but it is always a comforting treat to enjoy it a 30,000 feet.
The drinks cart also included a selection of wines, two reds and two whites. I was slightly disappointed not to find any Napa wines but this is United’s selection on all flights regardless of destination so I guess they have to be a bit more global. On that flight they had an Australian Syrah, a Spanish Tempranillo and two whites.
The in-flight entertainment
Each seat has its own TV mounted on one part of the pod. The TVs are big enough and have an average selection of movies and series. If you are on a long haul flight like this one which is scheduled to be over 11h long, you may run out of programs to watch. After having taken the 22h Singapore to Chicago there were few movies left I wanted to watch so this was a rather tough flight to endure with nothing to watch. I had to write!
The music selection is even more limited but I am comparing it with Singapore Airlines or Emirates whose entertainment systems are just great. They have a few selections of the best from 60s, 70s, etc. and then of some music genres but no specific albums.
What I was most skeptical about, after reading reviews and hearing people always complain about any American airline, was the service. Here is where I truly believe any of the Middle East or Asian airlines exceeds expectations. I must admit that United positively surprised me on this flight.
Except or a few forgetful moments (cheese, welcome drink) the crew was all very helpful and kind. They helped me solve the charging issue and were generally smiley. I would not say that they went out of their way or anticipated my needs in any way but their reactive help was good.
This was the cheapest Business Class ticket there was for the route I had to take. The next option with an acclaimed airline was $2,000 more expensive and, although I can see how Singapore Airlines is simply better on every aspect, I do find it hard to justify the extra money.
Personally, I fly Business because after so many years of flying my knees hurt quite a bit if I sit still for so long and so what I am willing to pay more for is the seat and the space. United gets a Good on the first one and a Pass on the second of how many seats there are in Business. They could do with one less seat per row.
All in all, it is a decent Business Class for the price.