United took delivery of its first B777-300ER in January this year, named the “New Spirit of United”.
The aircraft was first rolled out on domestic routes in February, before operating its first international service between San Francisco and Hong Kong in March, supplanting the regular B747 service.
“The Queen of the Skies” was originally scheduled for fleet retirement in 2018, but United has now brought this forward, with the iconic aircraft set to be completely removed from the fleet by October 2017.
My flight UA869 was scheduled to depart at 1300 and I arrived at the San Francisco international terminal at 1115.
I had already checked in online 24 hours before take-off and had no problems dropping my luggage at the bag drop counter. Border security, however, was extremely thorough and it took me nearly 15 minutes to reach airside.
Normal business class ticket holders will be granted access to the United Club Lounge, located just a few minutes’ walk from security.
However, I was given an upgrade to check out the Global First Lounge – see full review here.
My flight was parked at Gate 100, a quick five-minute walk from the lounge.
Boarding had already begun when I arrived at 1220, with the premium passenger queue empty and economy passengers being processed. I was allowed to board immediately with no need to queue.
There are 60 Polaris business seats on the aircraft split into two cabins, with rows 1 to 8 at the front and row 9 to 18 (without 13 and 14) in the next cabin, separated by the galley and midflight hospitality area.
The cabins are arranged in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, meaning direct aisle access for all passengers and a greater sense of privacy. My 2L window seat, for example, was angled towards the aisle but didn’t feel overlooked at all.
The seat has a 23-inch seat width, a generous 78-inch seat pitch and can be easily moved into the lie flat position via a panel on the side. I found the bed set-up firm and comfortable, even for my 6″3 height.
I was also particularly impressed with the variety of storage spaces, ranging from small- to medium-sized options. For example, a small shelf at shoulder level holds the noise-cancelling headphones as well as a mirror inside the door. A flat and narrow space under the TV can be used to store the amenity kit or glasses. Further storage can be found under both armrests, which I found perfect to stow my laptop. There is also an empty space near the window to put documents, and where you can find the IFE handset, international socket and USB output to recharge gadgets.
A folded table is stored under the 16-inch touchscreen TV and can be opened with a slight push.
There are two personal reading lights, one is equipped next to the shoulder with three level of brightness, and another one is a lamp hanging on the partition near the window – a small touch that gives you a homey feeling.
The seat has an electronic “Do Not Disturb” button, which illuminates a sign next to your seat number when turned on. This is a thoughtful design for those who just want a good rest during the flight.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
Privacy of each seat is quite high thanks to the partition design, although those sitting in D and G odd number rows are slighty more exposed (but still can set up a divider).
You may want to avoid Row 1, 6 to 8 and 9 as they are close to the galley and the lavatory. You may also want to sit away from row 18, as the Economy Plus’ baby bassinet seats are in row 19.
Passengers sitting in 16A and L won’t be able to enjoy the view as there are no windows.
Once I got onboard, I found my seat tidily stacked with a choice of thick and thin blanket, plus a large and small pillow. I unpacked and put my bag and jacket in the overhead storage compartment.
A crewmember first assisted my neighbour to fit his luggage into the overhead storage, before helping me to hang my jacket in the closet.
An amenity kit was also presented upon boarding. The well-stocked case consisted of earplugs, eye mask, tissue paper, peppermints, hand sanitiser, comb, dental kits, pen, socks, Cowshed’s chamomile towelette, hand cream, lip balm and pillow mist, as well as an additional “Do Not Disturb” sticker.
After settling down, I was greeted by a flight attendant who addressed me by name and offered me a welcome drink with a piece of chocolate, conveniently presented on a tray with a sunken stand area to keep the glass more steady.
After browsing the in-flight menu in my seat, a crew took my order for lunch as well as breakfast. Slightly disconcertingly, I was also asked for my “back-up” choices… (though luckily, this proved unnecessary).
Eventually the flight pushed back at 1310 and we took off at 1330.
I chose to taste the whites, which included Domaine Skouras 2015 Moscofilero, La Chablisienne Le Finage 2015 Chardonnay and Robert Weil 2014 Riesling Tradition.
For me, it was a case of save the best till last – I really enjoyed the easiness of the Riesling and the sweet fruit notes that came through.
I also liked that this was served with heated nuts, which is rare to see among other airlines.
A while later, lunch was served. I started with an appetiser of smoked nori-wrapped salmon, radish and edamame hummus, and Boston lettuce, soba noodles with sesame dressing, bell pepper and radish.
The fish was fresh, and it was a refreshing starter, but I personally thought the food was a bit too cold.
There were four options for the main course which included short rib, stir-fried beef, char siu duck and stir-fried shrimp.
I ordered the seafood, which was extremely tasty. The sweet and sour sauce was incredibly moreish and I gobbled down every last morsel. The portion size was suitable.
Dessert was rather special. After all passengers had finished with their mains, a dessert trolley was pushed temptingly down the aisle, filled with ice-cream sundaes and decadent pastries.
I confess, a child-like excitement overcame me when choosing the toppings, and I opted for the whole shebang: fudge, caramel, strawberry and oreo flakes.
After the meal service, the cabin lights were dimmed and I decided to use the time to do some work.
A paid-for wifi service is meant to be available once the flight is in the sky, however, some problems with a satellite connection meant the in-flight wifi was temporarily unavailable. Thwarted, I decided to get some rest instead.
It was easy to make the bed myself. I requested a set of pyjamas and a cooling gel memory foam pillow. The pillow was very comfortable; it didn’t warm up from body heat like a normal pillow, but stayed at a pleasant, cool temperature and I slept well for about three hours.
I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful service when I woke up, with cabin crew asking if I’d like any hot snacks.
As there were still around four hours until breakfast, I ordered tomato basil soup (a bit too sour) served with an aged cheddar grilled cheese sandwich (sinfully delicious).
I also visited the midflight hospitality area, which was prepared with a selection of snacks including fruit, crisps, pastries, cup noodles and wines.
I checked the wifi again, and this time was able to access the service
There are three packages available – US$8.99 or 1,390 miles for one hour; US$14.99 or 2,310 miles for two hours; US$29.99 or 4,620 miles for the whole flight.
The wifi was smooth when sending messages, browsing websites and sending emails, but when it came to sending photos, it was very slow or simply unsuccessful.
One slightly annoying factor is that the wifi access is restricted to one device, unless you are a United’s mileage member, and then you have freedom to switch from, say, a laptop to a smartphone on the same data package.
I worked for the next few hours, until the cabin lights were turned on again for breakfast, an hour and 30 minutes before landing.
The three options were fresh seasonal fruit, Chinese congee or a Southwestern omelet. I opted for the latter choice, which came with pepper jack cheese, black beans, corn and roasted red pepper, served with chicken sausage, potatoes and fruit.
The omelet was unexpectedly delicious – typically I find onboard breakfast offerings very standard, but in this case, the corn paired really well with the omelet and again I finished off the whole lot.
The flight started its descent at 1815 and the crew began to make landing preparations, including locating by jacket which had been mistakenly hung in the economy cabin.
We touched down at 1840 with a smooth landing. There were not many people at immigration, so the check was quite fast, however we did need to wait around 15 minutes for our luggage, as our carousel was jammed with three flights.
An excellent seat product. I felt comfortable both working and sleeping thanks to high levels of privacy with each seat. The crew were very attentive and friendly and most of the in-flight food items were served to a very high quality. Wifi connection is something the airline needs to work on, but overall it was a really good flight experience.
Internet rates for a return business class ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong in mid-May start from US$7,380 including taxes and fees.