This was my first official trip on United in international First Class. I’ve flown them dozens of times in Business and had one partial trip from London to SFO back in the early 2000’s when my seat was inoperable and they moved me to First, some upgrade. I was really excited to try out the “new” first class, well it’s not really that new say seven years old or so, but hey First Class is First Class. Besides that, on my return home from Seoul I’m flying Singapore in Suites Class on the a380 and I needed something to compare that too. I mean it’s possible that United might be actually better right? Blasphemy. No never, but who knows. Anyhow on with the show.
I had a 1:15 hour connection at SFO and with boarding starting 55 minutes prior to departure, I figured I had a run ahead of me from the 60’s gates to 100 in the International Terminal. Low and behold my departure was delayed and we had no idea how long, so that gave me a chance to visit my favorite lounge, The American Express Centurion Lounge. I was only there long enough to get a drink and take a shower. Since there was no posted departure time I hightailed it to the United Global First Lounge since it was next to my gate and they would announce when boarding was starting. I was really not in the mood to run once boarding commenced. BTW I’m not a lounge whore but I do love them, and even though the AMEX one is far superior to any United Lounge I’ve ever been too I don’t get many chances to visit the First Class Lounge, so I had to go.
Since the lounge is limited to International First Class, Global Services guests and PS Transcontinental First Class you don’t usually see many people here. Today was not much of an exception it only had about 12-15 people here. There were plenty of seats and not that bad of a food spread either. Since I knew I was going to eat on the plane, I did what any red blooded American would do and had a beer at 10:45 AM. The food was not spectacular but there was plenty of options and actually looked edible.
Finally it was time to get on this beautiful bird. I’m racking my brain to figure out the last time I was on a Boeing 747-400. I’m guessing 2012 or 13. I just love the Queen of the sky. They are beautiful and majestic and getting a chance to sit in the 1A at the nose cone was just going to be cool. This airframe is what many people think of when they think of the jet age or was the first plane they ever flew on internationally. It’s sad to see it slowly fade into the sunset as more fuel efficient planes hit the market.
The seat and space is actually quite nice. It’s not private like Suites on Singapore or Asiana, they are open on one side but you still have plenty of space and some privacy if you take a window seat. The cabin has 12 seats four on each side of the plane and then two rows of 2×2 in the middle. If you’re traveling with someone and you actually want to talk to them the middle seats are you’re only choice. The seats are a true lie-flat and provide enough storage for a small bag below the foot rest. Additionally, they have three storage lockers that you could put a sweater or the amenity kits in and the other could easily store the pillows, duvet and sleeping cushion. There wasn’t a great place to store my laptop, but that’s ok, they had a shelf. There was also a standard power outlet, USB and a data jack (who would ever use that). As for overhead storage it’s only on the window sides of the plane, there’s no storage above the middle seats. Oh and no storage above seats in row 1. I didn’t realize that, so I had to stuff my standard roll aboard above row 2 and that caused a chain reaction. UUGH. That being said, the storage didn’t have that wide of an opening, so I’m sure if someone filmed me trying to stuff my suitcase in, it would become an incredible meme all over the internet.
Additionally I received two amenity kits, with Philosophy branded products. The fabric one is the standard kit, and comes with socks, eye shades, philosophy branded amenities, toothbrush etc. Plus the way it’s constructed, you can easily hang it from a hook in the bathroom. The second one is the business class metal tin amenity kit, that they must have reived after the popularity of them last year. It had most of the same items and is just a cool little box that can have a life after travel. My daughter loves them to store her pencils and crayons in, or little dolls and their accessories.
Service was really good, I won’t say excellent, but probably some of the best I’ve had on United. There were two crew working the cabin and the purser Sandra was friendly and welcomed and thanked everyone in the cabin personally prior to take off and landing. The other lady serving First, I didn’t get her name was just as friendly and was through the cabin every 30-45 minutes refilling drinks and checking in on you. It was really great. I have to give this crew props for the excellent service.
Prior to take off we were served our choice of beverage, and I had a glass of champagne. Too bad it’s served in plastic, but hey what am I a connoisseur? Also, at that time I was also asked what my choice of entrée was. Shortly after takeoff we were served drinks again with a side of warm nuts. Which were refilled without even asking. Yum. The maybe 30-45 minutes later dinner service commenced.
There was not a lot of pomp and circumstance, as you get on Lufthansa, Asiana or Singapore, but they set your table with cutlery, salt and pepper plus a warm roll of choice. I never pass up pretzel rolls. As you’ll see form the pictures it’s a plain service, nothing wrong with this. But if you compare just the simple things like cutlery (basic metal) to others that have it specially designed for their company. Or plastic salt and pepper shakers, Lufthansa for example has mini personal grinders, and Asiana’s are porcelain. So for me it’s just the little touches that are missed. That being said, they do serve each course separately, not on one tray all at once, which is great. It makes it feel less rushed, and you have a chance to enjoy each course, like at a restaurant.
Please click menu images to enlarge
I started with Shrimp Tempura and corn salad. Again perfectly fine, but skimpy.
One single shrimp, you’d think they’d at least serve two. Again though it was tasty, and still warm and crispy. How is that done at 35,000 feet?
Secondly I had the cream of mushroom soup with leeks. It was hot and delicious. It was just missing a
crunchy element like croutons. I’m starting to sound like a judge from the Food Network
We were then served a crisp salad, which did have the croutons, too bad I had
this before the soup, I could have stolen some. It was served with a very passable chunky blue cheese dressing and fresh cracked pepper.
For my entrée I had Turbo with Lobster sauce and vegetables. The fish was well prepared and the
sauce was a perfect accompaniment. I’m not sure how they kept the fish from being dry,
but it was good and hit the spot. I think the buttery/creamy sauce really made the meal.
Finally I had an ice cream sundae for desert. It came with fudge, strawberry and or butterscotch sauce,
whipped cream, walnuts and a cherry. I only passed on the strawberry and cherry.
A perfect end to any meal if you ask me. Yes many other airlines have way more imaginative deserts,
but something about an ice cream sundae while flying is just cool. It’s the kind of desert you’d never think of having on an airplane.
Overall the food was fine, on a scale of 1-10, I’d I’ve it a 6 or 7, which frankly for a US carrier is not bad. They have a long way to go to match the links of Middle Eastern or Asian carriers, but for a meal in the sky it was good. As I said earlier it’s the little touches that are missing. Like premium spirits and wines to proper cutlery and fine china. There’s no chance of getting Johnny Walker Blue, Hennessey Parades or Dom Perignon here. Yes these are all things I’ve been lucky enough to try on other airlines, crazy huh. In fact the drink menu didn’t list any of the wines, you had to ask. To me that speaks of being able to change at a moment’s notice based on what’s cheap at the moment. I know I know you’re thinking this is an airplane, what do you expect. Well a lot, because people are paying a pretty penny to sit in a premium cabin and when the other guy offers a better product sometimes for 30% less you’d think United would try and step it up. That’s all.
SEAT AND ENTERTAINMENT
From an entertainment standpoint, UA offers AVOD in First (audio video on demand) so you can pick and choose what to watch and when. The screen is not huge say 18-20” and it’s not touch screen, like on some of their newer planes or even in business class on the same plane for that matter. But you do get to pick form 30-40 movies and about the same amount of TV shows too. There’s plenty to watch, and so it’s hard to get bored. That is if you haven’t had 4 transcontinental flights in the past 2 weeks where you also had AVOD. Most airlines offer the same stuff so at some point you run out of things to watch. First World Problems I guess. Beyond that the plane had Wi-Fi, but just like the last United flight it was not working. I guess I’ve just had bad luck lately. I’m not sure I’d pay for it, but I didn’t even have a chance to see what they charged, so oh well.
The seat does lie-flat and fits my 5’11 frame pretty well. The arm rests in slide down so you get a bit more room from the wait up. The seat could be a bit wider, but it was fine. There’s something to be said about having a chance to sleep comfortably and have the room to do so. There’s great comfort in knowing you can get to your destination and be well rested if you want to be. As I said earlier it’s not super private but private enough. Add in the two pillows, duvet and sleeping cushion and you’re all set. Not that bad for a bed.
If I were paying the same price for this trip and I had a choice between almost any other Asian carrier (Asiana, JAL, ANA, Singapore, Korean or Cathay) or United I’d pick any of these guys. I’ve not flown them all in First but their reputations proceed themselves. But at $1700 roundtrip for this flight, it was a steal and I’ll fly United any day of the week in International First for that price. I’d fly anyone almost for that price in First. I’ve paid almost that much for tickets in coach to Europe during the summer so $1700 is a bargain.
That being said service, food and comfort were good. Better than I expected, especially after dumping United faster than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends. I had low expectations, and was surprised. The space was good, and privacy in row 1 was excellent. Nobody was ever milling around or walking past you to get to/from the bathroom or serve other guests. That itself was great. I wonder if I was in row 4 if I’d feel the same about the privacy. Let’s hope the return in two weeks is just as good if not better.