CHECK-IN I checked in online, selecting seat 7A, and printed off my boarding pass. There was a lot of snow at Chicago O’Hare International airport, so I got there early at about 1500 for the 1755 departure to London on flight UA928. I had a bag to check in but there was no queue at the business class desk and, once through security, I walked to the Red Carpet Club, which is also the Star Alliance lounge.
THE LOUNGE The receptionist told me there was a lounge closer to the gate on Concourse C, so I took her advice and went there, where I was given two drinks vouchers on arrival. In general, wifi costs US$6.95, but if you ask at reception, identifying yourself as a United business class passenger, you’ll be given a voucher for T-Mobile wifi.
BOARDING Because of the snow, departure was delayed by five or six hours. Throughout this time, United staff were excellent, keeping everyone informed. Boarding took place about three hours late, and we were then kept on the aircraft (and supplied with drinks) while efforts were made to de-ice the plane, find a truck strong enough to push us back, get an engineer to fix the cockpit door and then change flight attendants. In the end, we departed only a few minutes before we would have had to change the flight crew as well.
THE SEAT United’s new business class product is a fully-flat bed in a 2-2-2 (A-B, C-H, J-K) configuration on the B767. Just over 50 per cent of the B767s have been converted so far, with completion estimated for May this year. Unusually, some seats face forwards while others face backwards. For example, in row six, seats A-B and J-K face backwards, while middle pair C-H face forwards. (See seat plan, right.) Seats are comfortable and easy to use, with lots of buttons for adjusting the position. All have laptop power, a decent-sized worktable, and a fixed ottoman-style bench to rest your feet on. There isn’t much storage space, and none to stow things for take-off or landing, so you need to keep things on your lap or put them in the overhead bins. Upright, the seat is quite narrow, but both armrests can be lowered to add a few inches to the width when it reclines into a bed. The AVOD in-flight entertainment is the same throughout the plane and offers a good choice of games and films.
WHERE TO SIT? If you’re travelling with a colleague or want unimpeded access to the aisle, go for C-H pairings, although communication is possible across the aisle. If you just want to sleep then the window seats are good. If there are any seats to avoid, it’s probably the pair in row ten as these face the galley.
THE FLIGHT By the time we were cruising it was after midnight, so most people wanted to sleep. The meal service offered a choice of smoked salmon, duck pâté with pistachios, and vegetable crudités with ranch dressing to start, and mains included grilled mahi-mahi with sweet and sour vegetable stir fry, beef stroganoff with egg fettuccine and chives, and cheese agnolotti with chunky vegetable sauce. Among the wine selection were Pol Roger champagne, Labouré-Roi Abbaye de Fontenay 2006 Montagny, and Domaine Santa Duc Vieilles Vignes 2005 Côtes du Rhône. I opted for a glass of water, reclined my seat, woke 45 minutes before arrival and was quickly served breakfast. I was impressed by the flexibility of the staff here – I’ve flown with airlines where you are either woken 90 minutes before arrival or miss breakfast altogether.
ARRIVAL We arrived at London Heathrow six hours late but were quickly off the plane via an airbridge. There was no queue at immigration and the bags were on the carousel within 15 minutes.
VERDICT An excellent, well thought-out flat bed with good staff, confident of their ability to deliver.
CONFIGURATION 1-1-1 in first, 2-2-2 in business, and 2-3-2 in premium economy and economy
SEAT PITCH 193-195.5cm/76-77in
SEAT WIDTH 48-59.5cm/19-23.5in
RECLINE 180 degrees, fully flat
IFE SCREEN 39cm/15.4in
PRICE Return business class fares for a midweek flight in February started from US$4,101 online.