CHECK-IN I checked in online 24hrs in advance which was very easy. I had no bags to check so went straight to the Star Alliance lounge in Terminal 1. There was nobody in the fast track security and I arrived at the lounge at 0635, five minutes after entering the terminal, for my 0755 flight.
THE LOUNGE The lounge was quiet with seating in different sections. The food selection is quite reasonable with a choice of hot bacon and sausage rolls as well as cereals and fruit. There is a TV area, shower cubicles and a business area with desks, PCs and ports. Internet access is provided by T-Mobile. Announcements are not made but there are plenty of monitors and I left the lounge at 0705 to walk to the gate.
BOARDING United operates a strict sequence of boarding. I arrived at the gate just as boarding for premium passengers had started and walked straight on the plane. My jacket was taken from me but it took a while for a drink to be offered (water, sparkling wine, juice) as the two female crew members were too busy chatting.
THE SEAT United’s new business class product is a fully-flat bed fitted in pairs in a 2-2-2 (A-B, C-H, J-K) configuration on the B767-300. Seats alternate with some facing forwards and the next pair facing backwards. I was in seat 9C which faced backwards with 8C/H facing forwards and the pairs either side of me A/B and J/K facing forwards.
The seats are very comfortable and simple to use with no need for instruction from the crew. There is even a lumbar/back massage function. The seats have laptop power (an adaptor is required for UK plugs), a solid good size table for food or a laptop, a small glass table and a fixed leather-covered foot rest. Apart from the magazine holder between the pair of seats there really is no storage and this and the fact there is a blanket rather than quilt are the only negative things about the seat. There is a light overhead and another for reading in the seat itself when reclined. The seat is not the widest in the air but when you recline into a bed the arm rest goes down to provide plenty of space.
The AVOD in-flight entertainment is excellent, simple to use and with a good size screen. Movies and TV channels are classified by themes and there is also the option of listening to audio books, creating your own personalised music playlist or playing games. If you have a special cable you can also connect your iPod to the system and play whatever’s on it. The IFE is turned on for the duration of the flight which you can watch during both take-off and landing.
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. There is a downside to these seats – On my flight the crew served the person sitting next to me across me which was irritating as there was a perfectly good aisle to do it from next to him. If you just want to sleep then the window seats are good. If there are any seats to avoid, they’re probably the pair in row ten as these are next to the galley. Generally go for the seats further forward as these are furthest from the galley and the crew rest area next to it where they tend to chat.
THE FLIGHT We pulled away from the gate just a couple of minutes late but were airborne within a matter of minutes. Fairly soon after takeoff a drink was offered followed immediately by breakfast. I did not eat it but it consisted of a croissant, yoghurt, fruit and a choice of three hot dishes – cheese omelette with spinach and sausage, pancakes with raspberry compote and bacon and a platter of meat, cheese, smoked salmon and egg.
A couple of times during the flight the crew came around offering water and about five hours in served drinks and nuts followed by lunch. This consisted of a salad and smoked salmon and couscous to start. Main course was either filet mignon with merlot sauce, rosemary mustard chicken or vegetarian Indian curry. I had the curry which was very tasty. To finish there was a three chocolate mousse cake or cheese. Among the wine selection were Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut NV Napa, Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc, Isong Sauvignon Blanc, Hayman & Hill Reserve Chardonnay, Lucas & Lewellen “Queen of Hearts” Pinot Noir, Jindalee Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Circle and Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon.
ARRIVAL We arrived at Washington Dulles at 1055 about fifteen minutes early and it was a short taxi to the gate. At Dulles you have to get into a people mover to take you to the main terminal which we waited on for about 15 minutes before it left. There was no queue at immigration. I had no bags to collect but did not notice any on the carousel as I walked through the baggage hall.
VERDICT The seat/flat bed was excellent and only let down by a number of crew who seemed more interested in chatting than serving passengers. I felt sorry for the head purser who had to nudge them into action on several occasions.
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 flight departing Monday November 16, returning Thursday November 19, start from US$7,801 through united.com.