Flying United Business Class is an experience mixed with pleasant surprises and some level of dissatisfaction. Or at least this is how I felt as I reacquainted myself with this big name carrier.
United Airlines are one of the biggest carriers in the United States. I’ve previous experience of flying United Business Class although it now seems like quite some time ago. In recent times I’ve ended up with Delta for many of my trips to the US due to their link up with KLM and the convenient timing of their flights.
Business Class on United Airlines has changed a bit since I last flew with them. Most notable for me was the fact that the majority of their aircraft now bore the globe symbol on the rear fin of their craft. This is the logo used by Continental Airlines who are now merged with United.
My experience this time with United Business Class was generally a very pleasant flight. I was flying on a United Airlines Boeing 757-200 plane.
I found the staff to be courteous and always respectful. There was no “loud” and gregarious American air hostess which I tend to often come across on Delta. Already I was impressed.
At check in I was informed that the flight was barely half full, holding about 90 people when the capacity is around 170. This immediately perked my interest since I like quiet flights. Sadly for me the United Business Class cabin seemed relatively full, maybe this was because it was a flight to Washington D.C.
The seating in United Business Class was clearly remodelled to some degree. They maximised space where possible and I was able to enjoy a seat reclining fully into a flat bed. Ah, every travellers wish. On the downside there was little by way of storage space around the seat. Very little evidence of storage pouches as pointed out by the air steward. I’m accustomed to having little storage areas by Business Class seats so this was disappointing. No where to put my kindle, ipod or earphones, well not unless I hid them from the air stewards. Not a great way to get a good United Business Class review eh guys?
The TV screens in Business Class on United Airlines were embed into the frame of the seat/wall in front. I found them to be of a reasonably good size and the picture was very clear. On the downside I suffered from a bit of crackling down the headphones which were available for use. I often fiddled with the connection to try to stop the interference.
The entertainment selection was also fairly impressive. There were 61 United Business Class movies to choose from and a wide selection of TV shows and other entertainment programming.
My major disappointment came with the food selection. I was flying at the front of the aircraft and choices were relatively limited. Okay it was not a massive plane but this was an 8 hour flight with United on a premium ticket.
To further complicate things my work travel agent had advised United weeks in advance of my dietary requirements. A few weeks prior I’d had surgery and this had a big impact on my diet. I had to avoid breads, pastries and try to have light or preferably sloppy food.
United Airlines informed our travel agent that they did not specifically cater for such dietary requirements but I could eat as much soup as I wanted on the flight. So what did the United Business Class menu contain?
Well no soup for a starter!
There was a salad or salmon and shrimp dish for starters.
The main options consisted of tenderloin beef, tandoori breast of chicken, Indian-spiced shrimp, or Pici Pasta.
Considering the advice from the hospital I attended for surgery ruled out pasta and bread I had to dismiss the last option. I don’t like shrimp at all and beef would be too difficult to digest. As a result I had to opt for chicken even though I should try to avoid spicy food. (Thankfully it wasn’t too spicy). I guess you can see that I was not overwhelmed by the United Business Class menu.
I informed the air hostess on United Airlines of my dietary requirements to which she said that they’d not been notified of them in advance. They can provide meals for dietary requirements but they need advance notice.
What a flaming mess we were in now. Much against medical advice I opted for food I was uncomfortable to attempt eating. And why was there no soup on the menu?
I certainly was not going to go hungry for 8 hours so I had to take the risk.
Thankfully I didn’t suffer too many side effects. My ailment did play up towards the end of the flight for up to an hour. Two of the cabin crew came up to me and offered me water. I explained that water would not help and it was a reaction to the food.
To add to the complication the pre-arrival snack was a chicken and mozzarella sandwich. Great, bread! I asked for the food to be served without the bread and that is how it was served to me.
So thanks United. We made all that effort to cater for my medically advised dietary requirements and you just ignored them. This is hardly the service level I expect from United Business Class. I’m glad that my side effects were not worse than they were.
Although my flight with United Business Class was during the day I was given a complimentary toiletries bag. The contents no more than average, yet better than some minimalistic airline toiletry bags.
On the plus side my seat did provide access to a power point which would accept a UK plug directly and a USB port.
It was also worth noting it was possible to join the airlines frequent flyer scheme which is United mileage plus. However since United are part of Star Alliance I was able to earn frequent flyer points with my Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer scheme.
On landing at Washington Dulles airport I was again disappointed by the approach of United Airlines. I was sat on the front row of the aircraft, seat 1A. This meant that the door to disembark was behind me.
Sadly as is often the case now with many airlines they let the Economy Class passengers leave the aircraft at the same time as the United Business Class travellers. Call me a snob if you want but I was travelling on a premium ticket. As part of this deal United Business Class travellers expect priority on boarding and leaving the aircraft. Well done United on this epic fail.
The repercussions of this might have been greater.
As the port of entry into the United States I had to go through Immigration and Customs before catching my domestic flight up to Pittsburgh.
As is often the case in the US this is a slow process. I had just over one and a half hours change over time, not generous by any means.
I must have spent 45-50 minutes queuing up at Passport Control. Eventually I got through, picked up my checked in luggage, passed through Customs then rechecked my bag.
Time was so tight that I was virtually running to my gate, boarding with around 15 minutes to spare. I was one of the last to board the flight. At least I was travelling in a way that let me have a relatively comfortable United Business Class seat on a short haul flight. No food was served due to the short duration of the flight but I did manage a couple of hot drinks.
On arriving at Pittsburgh it was clear that my checked in luggage did not make the flight.
Reporting my luggage as missing to the United services desk was fairly straight forward. The lady at the counter was soon able to confirm that the suitcase was still in Washington.
To be fair to United it is not their fault that Passport Control took such an unbearably long time. I also understand that I have to recheck my luggage. On the plus side the United agent advised that the luggage would come on the next flight and be delivered to my hotel for me. This was indeed the case and by the next morning I was able to go to work dressed appropriately.
Re-acquainting myself with United Airlines was undoubtedly a mixed experience. The seats were comfortable, in-flight entertainment sufficiently varied. Storage space at the seat was disappointingly sparse.
Thankfully the air crew were pleasant and accommodating, far better than any Delta crew I’ve come across.
On the negative side, United need to communicate passenger dietary requirements better. This was a major disappointment for me. I strongly believe that the poor selection of food that I had to choose from aggravated my medical condition for a while. This was very unpleasant for me and the passengers around me. Had I travelled around 2 weeks earlier I doubt that I would have been able to eat any of those foods at all. 8 hours is a long time to fly without food.
I was also very disappointed with the way they did not disembark all United Business Class passengers first. However they were good to their word and delivered my delayed luggage promptly.
Overall to conclude my United Business Class review I found flying with them to be a pleasant experience but they have more to do for me to see them as a premium carrier.