FIRST IMPRESSIONS: I arrived 0425 at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport for my 0610 flight to Hongkong on UA862. There was hardly anyone about except for a few who, like me, were scheduled on the day’s first flights out. (Airport operations start from about 0430.) After a no-fuss check in, I was soon having breakfast near the departure gate. At 0445, the United cabin crew strolled leisurely past.
BOARDING: Boarding time at gate 4 on my pass was marked 0525, but the announcement for First and Business Class was only made five minutes later, followed by our section. Once settled in our seats, we were informed the flight back to Hongkong would take all of two hours and 40 minutes.
THE SEAT: In the Boeing B747-400 aircraft, there are 87 seats in First and Business Class and 260 in Economy, including 88 styled as Economy Plus, which boast up to five extra inches of legroom and are available in all of United’s international and US domestic flights. These take up rows 35 to 44.
Assigned to the first-row aisle seat of 32D, I was not lucky to land the extra space and was hemmed in by seatmates. But upon discovering it wasn’t a packed flight, I waved down an attendant requesting to be moved. She just shrugged, saying: “It’s free seating.”
A second crew member was more helpful, advising me to “be quick – if not, you won’t get a seat later”. He even went to change my boarding pass as we were still parked on the ground. All would have been well in 38K, except that it already belonged to another passenger! The saga finally ended with me in 41K, carryall comfortably ensconced in the seat in front of me and with even room to do some stretching.
THE FLIGHT: Breakfast was served enroute and it was a choice of stir-fried noodles with pork and ginger or croissant and omelette.
ARRIVAL: We touched down 0925 at HKIA, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
VERDICT: This morning service is a definite bonus, allowing ample time to get to one’s hotel, freshen up before dashing off again.
PRICE: Return Economy fare starts from US$898.40 including tax and surcharge.