I arrived at San Francisco’s International Terminal shortly past 1200 for the 1335 departure on flight UA9, the carrier’s new 14 hours and 30 minute non-stop service to Chengdu. I was immediately processed and airside within minutes through the dedicated premium lane.
The United Club lounge is immediately to the right once you have passed immigration and security.
The lounge was very busy the Wednesday lunchtime I visited, so it was rather challenging to find a seat. There was a fair selection of newspapers and magazines on the shelves and the typical selection of hot and cold beverages one expects to find. At the back of the lounge was a bar area where standard alcoholic drinks were complimentary and “premium beverages” were for sale starting at US$13. No food was available apart from cereal, nuts and cookies.
Boarding from Gate 91 (a mere three-minute walk from the lounge) began at 1235, though I didn’t reach the counter until 1300. There were no queues and I was on board within seconds. The flight’s purser introduced herself and offered me a welcome drink of my choice and a menu as soon as I sat down. I was impressed with her charismatic and professional hospitality throughout the journey.
Very good. I was in seat 5A, a window in the second of two cabins configured 2-2-2. Both cabins feature three rows each. Although closer to the engines and therefore somewhat louder, I chose the second cabin as it was nearly empty that day.
The 36 Business First seats are well-designed. Every seat pair has a divider in the middle, so if you don’t feel like socialising with your neighbour, you don’t have to. The seat control panel and remote control are on the right, the power sockets, including USB outlet, are on the left. Both are within easy reach. There was a good amount of storage space for personal items underneath the in-built ottoman and to the left where the power sockets are.
The seat panel offers three pre-set positions (straight-up, relaxed and full-flat) as well as manual options for head, back and leg support. The full-flat sleeping position facilitated a comfortable sleep, particularly with the aid of the large duvets and pillows provided.
I have two qualms with the seat: a) it becomes very narrow at the foot end when converted into the full-flat position; b) if you’re seated by the window, you have to clamber over your neighbour if they also extend their seat.
The 15.4-inch touchscreen PTVs featured a good choice of films in many categories, including a large selection of recent blockbusters and Asian cinema, as well as TV programmes, all available in multiple languages. There was no wifi, but the cabin crew told me this would be retrofitted within the year.
We took off at 1405, half an hour behind schedule, but as the estimated flight time was 13 hours and 10 minutes, this wasn’t a major issue.
A first round of drinks was offered about 20 minutes into the flight, followed by lunch. There was a tasty nori-wrapped tuna appetiser with wasabi mayonnaise, followed by a very generous helping of fresh seasonal greens with a choice of either creamy gorgonzola or balsamic vinaigrette. For mains, there were four choices: tenderloin of beef, Chinese-fusion sweet and sour salmon, fillet of Amazon cod or an Asian vegetarian stir-fried noodle dish. I had the beef, which was accompanied by brown butter gnocchi, asparagus and an Asiago reduction. The beef was a perfect medium, the gnocchi a nice golden brown and the asparagus still crunchy – all in all, excellent. Cheese and ice cream, both of good quality and nicely-presented, followed.
There was an executive dining option for those who preferred to dine at a later time.
I thought the crew that day was outstanding. Every point of contact was executed flawlessly and with a personal touch. They remembered my drinks choices and asked follow-up questions, such as whether I enjoyed my meal choices. I felt in good hands.
There was a mid-flight snack and breakfast service, both were good.
We got into Chengdu at 1925, 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I was quickly through customs and my luggage was one of the first out.
Excellent. United Airline’s new B787 Dreamliner and the superb crew and meal selection actually made the long journey enjoyable. I got a lot of work done and managed seven hours of good sleep thanks to the overall spacious and well-thought-through seat design. Only the lounge failed to meet the high standard experienced onboard.
- CONFIGURATION 2-2-2
- SEAT WIDTH 22in/56cm
- SEAT LENGTH 78in/198cm
- SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
- PRICE Internet rates for a semi-flexible mid-week San Francisco – Chengdu return flight in March start at HK$31,300 (US$4,040) including taxes and surcharges.
- CONTACT united.com
Dominic Sebastian Lalk