Review: United Transpacific Flights In Economy

Introduction: Chinese New Year in Taiwan
Review: United Transpacific Flights in Economy
Review: The Grand Hyatt Taipei
6 Things To Do In Taipei With Kids
Review: Baby Boss City Taipei


We flew United economy to and from Taiwan. We actually fly United a lot, so I don’t really think about it much. It’s not glamorous by any means, but I maintain that long-haul economy can be quite tolerable under the right circumstances, like if you have a whole row of seats to yourself!

Instead of writing a traditional review of the flight, this is more of an amalgamation of both our transpacific flights, as well as a bit of my experience flying long-haul on United in general. Let’s just say that it’s hard for me to make notes of every nuance of the service — or lack thereof — while wrangling three little ones. And it’s United. In economy.

Our outbound San Francisco > Taipei flight was on a 777 while our return Tokyo > Denver flight was on a 787.

Boarding

United has played with their boarding rules many times over the last few years in an effort to speed up the process. I guess it still takes awhile as United begins boarding very early.

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United 871 from San Francisco to Taipei

One of the recent changes was to again allow families to pre-board, which I have mixed feelings about. As a 1K, my family and I board in Group 1 anyway. In fact, we commonly board at the end of Group 1, which seems like a good compromise between getting settled and not spending too much extra time on the plane. But now if we’re waiting near the back of the Group 1 line, we inevitably have gate agents (or other passengers) telling us that they are pre-boarding families, as though there’s some sort of rule that we have to board then.

I don’t know about you, but it helps my ego to know that I’m boarding as a 1K rather than as a family — I can momentarily be in denial that I drove to the airport in a minivan.

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United 777 at San Francisco International Airport

My kids are at the age that they have started to realize that not all seats are created equal. On this flight, my 3-year daughter insisted that she wanted to sit in first class, not just business, but first. Good grief, has she been hanging out with Ben or what? My son, not to be outdone, informed me he wanted a seat that reclined in case he got tired and wanted to take a nap.

So I had to explain to them that although we sometimes fly in the big seats, this trip was in economy. I worry a lot about whether or not we’re spoiling our kids, so we had that conversation too.

United Economy Plus Seating For A Family

I’m obsessive about seating. I’ve learned that the difference between reasonably enjoying a flight in economy and just surviving it is space. As in, the more the better. So I’m always trying to optimize our seating to give us the best chance of having empty seats around us. I’ve been been known to glare virtually across the internet at other passengers about to select seats next to us.

I don’t believe you need to put much thought into which flights are likely to have light load factors — and thus which are likely to have lots of empty seats — when you go to buy your tickets. Instead, we let United’s inventory management do our thinking for us.

You see, we’re pretty much always flying on super cheap fares — as in it’s cheaper to fly to Taiwan than Orlando style of cheap — that United will really only make available on flights that they don’t expect to sell all that well. So the mere fact that the cheap fare that I want to book is available on a given flight probably means that economy is not likely to sell out. Generally speaking, at least.

We have adapted my strategy of consistently sitting next to an empty seat for a family of five.

For a plane configured with 3-3-3 seating such as the 777 or the 787, our approach is to take the aisle-window on one side, the aisle-aisle in the center section, and the aisle on the other side, in one of the last rows of economy plus.

economy-seat-choices

The idea, of course, is to secure as many empty seats around us as possible. I should also note that we usually buy a ticket for the baby. Again, these fares are cheap-ish, so we see it as a good investment toward maintaining our sanity, particularly in the unlikely case where the flight turns out to be full.

The hope then is that the middles stay open such that we end up #occupying controlling nine seats for the five us. If that holds — and it did in both directions across the Pacific — we have three benches on which to lay down. It’s basically poor man’s business class, and honestly isn’t that bad.

In the worst case, we just consolidate. We’ll swap the singleton aisle on one side for the middle between our aisle-window on the other. Then in the center, we’ll swap one of the aisles for the person in the center. So it’s pretty easy for us to compress quickly if that’s what is required. It’s kind of like when your boss sends out an email announcing that they just hired a bunch of new people who have nowhere to sit, so they’ll be shrinking your cubicle by a foot in each direction. You might grumble, but you do it.

Upon boarding, I watch the seat map on the mobile app constantly until the boarding door is closed so that I know if we should expect anyone in those seats. Yes, it makes it a bit stressful to be explaining to preschoolers that they might not keep the seat that they are currently in, but for a 14-hour flight, it’s definitely worth it.

When everything goes according to plan, this is what it looks like.

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#Occupying row 22

When it fails, well, those are flights that you never hear about.

United Economy Transpacific Meal Service

United improved their food service in economy about a year ago. They bill it as a 3-course meal, which is true, at least in the sense that you get food at three different times.

First comes the beverage cart. I usually order a Dasani lime water with a side of water.

The meal starts with a pack of snack mix. Honestly, I’ve never tried it. I’m usually sort of full from eating the snacks (or even a meal) at the club such that I figure I can skip this course. I once asked a flight attendant what she thought of it, and she responded with “well, once I was really hungry….”

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United transpacific snack pack

Next is the meal service. The time stamps on my photos indicate that the meal was served 52 minutes after the snack. I mean, who doesn’t want a gourmet meal to last all evening?

There are usually two choices, frequently known as “chicken” or “pasta” of some sort. On this particular flight, I think the actual descriptions were “chicken and rice” or “pasta” — just pasta.

You can pre-order other meals, like a vegetarian option, but we never remember to do that. One advantage of pre-ordering though, is those meals are typically served first. That could cut your wait down to 45 minutes between courses. 😉

One of the upsides of traveling as a family of five is that between us, we can always order a “once around the menu”. We don’t have to resort to begging for seconds or thirds in order to sample everything! The real reason we do this is so if the kids don’t like one entree, we can swap it for the other, with Dad always batting cleanup.

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Chicken entree on San Francisco > Taipei

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Pasta entree on San Francisco > Taipei

I’m not going to tell you that these meals are fantastic. But frankly, I think they are pretty good. Surprisingly good even. I almost always order the meat. It’s usually drenched in some sort of sauce which probably isn’t that good for you, but it’s tasty, and is served with vegetables and rice. My son goes right for the roll because we don’t usually eat bread at home.

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Unspecified meat entree on Tokyo > Denver

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Pasta entree on Tokyo > Denver

United is also distributing mini bottles of water now at the end of meal service. It’s a nice touch. But it’s also an excuse for the flight attendants to hang out in the galley for the duration of the flight.

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Bottle of water

The biggest upgrade with the revised meal service is dessert. A couple years ago United was serving a packaged brownie that was dry, crumbly, and honestly pathetic. Now they are serving ice cream. To me, that’s a change I like.

But not just any ice cream

Now here’s the thing. Going to or from Asia, United serves green tea ice cream — not exactly a mainstream flavor. Here’s what I surmise happened:

MBA intern: We’ve segmented our customers, and almost all of our transpacific passengers are either Americans or Asians.
Catering Executive: Seems reasonable.
MBA intern: Virtually every American loves ice cream, and will eat it no matter the flavor. And virtually every Asian loves green tea, and all green tea flavored confections.
Catering Executive: Perfect! We’ll provision green tea ice cream!

Brilliant, right? It basically boils down to this:

GreenTea

I don’t particularly care for green tea ice cream — and I’ve had the real Häagen-Daz version in the Asiana lounge in Seoul and still felt meh about it — but I’ll eat it because, well, it’s ice cream. And from looking around, the Asians eat it too. I’m sure that both of us are thinking a bit “WTF?”, but they are like “hey, it’s green tea” and I’m like “hey, it’s ice cream” so we both finish it.

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Green tea ice cream, ex-San Francisco

On the return, it was a different vendor. But still green tea ice cream.

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Green tea ice cream, ex-Tokyo

Snacks In United Economy

On our flight to Taipei, I went back to the galley to get a drink of water (see previous comment about the purpose of those bottles), and noticed that they had snacks set out, sort of like they do in business class. I think they had packs of cheese and crackers and maybe sun dried tomatoes. You know, decent stuff. But it was completely unadvertised, so you just sort of had to know to go looking for it.

There’s also something served at the end of the flight. On a red-eye flight from Asia to the US, it’s breakfast and consists of eggs and a sausage or noodles. Flying to Asia, you’ll be arriving around dinnertime, yet you’ll still be served breakfast. Why? I have no idea.

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Pre-arrival snack, which is generally breakfast

United Inflight Entertainment And Wifi

This is one area where United really shines. They have the Panasonic system on their international aircraft, or are sloooooooowly continuing to install it. It’s reasonably fast and the best part is that it only costs $16.99. For a 14-hour flight, that’s a steal. Compare that to Gogo which now costs as much as $39.99 for a transcon flight!

The downside is that there are still a bunch of 787s that don’t have it yet. I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to take delivery of a brand new plane without having wifi installed (oh, right, I know who — his name was Jeff, and he doesn’t work here anymore).

It’s sort of like buying a used car and seeing all those plastic squares on the console and wondering which cool options the original owner cheaped-out on.

Anyway if you get a plane with wifi, you’ll be happy. But be careful with the 787s.

United’s AVOD system is also pretty good. There is quite a bit of content to choose from, including for the kids. Even though we have a Kindle and a Tab loaded with some of their favorites, it’s still nice to get a couple hours of shows that they haven’t seen in a while. My son always likes rediscovering the animal factory game.

United Animal Factory game IFE
The head of a weasel and the body of a chicken. We named it Jeff.

United Pillows And Blankets

Each seat gets a pillow and blanket. The blankets are a little bigger now than the blankerchiefs of 2012, but are still about the same quality. If you’re able to secure multiple seats, then you’ll also score multiple blankets, which means you’ll have a better chance of actually having enough gauze-like material to wrap up in.

We usually bring our own blankets for the kids — we’ve found that having a familiar blanket is helpful in the hotel, so we might as well use them on the plane as well.

Bottom Line

Flying long-haul in economy is really about space and that’s one area where United really delivers, at least if you are a premier member. If we manage to snag nine economy plus seats for the five us, the flight is a success before we’ve even left the ground. If I have an empty seat (or three) next to me, I honestly don’t care if the flight attendants never put down the People magazine.

I do like United’s new “three course dining” in economy. Well, more accurately, I like ice cream. I also happen to think the entrees are pretty good.

The service is what it is — you get some food, you get something to drink, and hopefully they shut off the lights. What else can you reasonably expect in economy on a U.S. airline?

Overall, I think flying economy on any airline is about managing expectations. If you go in not expecting that much, you just might be pleasantly surprised. For us, the economy plus seats on United make all the difference. I have no doubt that ANA or Singapore have better service and better food in economy across the Pacific, but again, it’s about the space for us.

It also helps to have a sense of humor. Because if you’re flying United, chances are there will be something worth laughing about. Like weasel-y chickens…

What do you think? Would you fly United economy across the big pond?

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the review Travis! It’s nice to see something different (other than J and F reviews all the time). I’m glad you guys went to Taiwan! One of my favorite places to visit in Asia! PS – I’m Asian and I love green tea ice cream and love the fact that they serve it on the plane!

  2. It’s so easy to become a person who “just can’t” fly long-haul economy. When I was little we traveled as a family around the world in business and first. After having a few forced work experiences in long-haul economy (my distress as the flights approached was pathetic–truly), it’s fine. I know now to buy some extra snacks/sandwiches and drinks at the airport and shove them in my backpack so I can snack and not worry about the service. That’s the difference–in business/first you can let them worry about your needs, in economy you take care of yourself. No biggie.

  3. Wow, just wow. It was refreshing to read a review of UA without it being a total bashing of UA. Does that mean that UA has really gotten better? Well, hmmm. Maybe I will give UA another chance one day. After 2+ million miles on UA, my preferred carrier is now DL. Today’s DL treats me how the good old pmUA treated me. And, I get lots and lots of upgrades (even on elite-heavy routes) on DL.

  4. This was one of the more useful articles I have read. At least in terms of a direct connection between most flyers and reality. Not to say that most articles written here aren’t useful and enjoyable to read, but some times things like the whole Korean Air Nut Rage story-line are more mental exercises than practically useful. The vast majority of people in the world fly economy and only a small segment of the population plays the points game, certainly not to the extent that is discussed here often. I am satisfied with what I read on this blog but its nice to read these reviews that cover a broader demographic.

  5. Thanks for the review, nice to get some different views, keep them coming! I don’t have anything against economy flights as long as I can recline and my knees are not touching the seat in front, any flight is better than no flight.

  6. Thanks Travis, I love Ben’s posts but it’s good to see an economy review for a change. You are braver than me to be traveling with a newborn

  7. Even though I missed Ben’s usual photos of the rolled hot towel and flute of chilled Krug alongside warm cashews (I love good travel porn), this is a review I can relate to because I fly economy always for work trips and sometimes for personal trips (I often splurge on business class for vacations). It all looks good and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly United on long haul economy. As far as boarding order, I’ve always found the best time to board is last, and I mean “final call” when there’s nobody but me and the ground crew left in the terminal. You just walk onto the aircraft and take your seat. Done. No waiting in the jetway line, no waiting in the aisle while Dolores from Des Moines tries to fit her oversized bag into the overhead bin.

  8. When United took delivery of their 787s, the FAA hadn’t yet certified them for Wifi. So even if united had wanted to put wifi on with delivery (and trust me, they did), they couldn’t. It was only VERY recently that the FAA did so. And once they’re in service, as many 787s are, you cant just take them out without reducing service on a route. They are currently installing wifi and have published a time frame for installation. Patience, and a little research are much better than the all too common “blame Jeff for every imaginable shortcoming” that is too frequently used when discussing some of United’s faults.

  9. Most Asians and Asian Americans love green tea ice cream, by the way 🙂
    It’s a staple flavor in Japan, along with red bean ice cream.
    Green tea (both ask drink and flavor) isn’t as big elsewhere in Asia but people associate it with Japanese food and usually still like it.

  10. I have flown long haul economy between Australia and the US many, many times in the past 30+ years (I grew up in Australia, and married an American). I actually enjoy flying long haul – the excitement of being in a large jet has never grown old for me.

    I typically fly Qantas; last year, I flew the A380, where my teenage son and I sat upstairs in the very small section of economy (behind Business and Premium Economy); I felt like I was in my own class – I knew it wasn’t business class, but it didn’t feel like cattle class. I’m average height for a woman, so I’ve never had an issue with legroom on a long haul flight, and there’s always plenty of food, drinks and snacks on the flight, so I’ve never had a bad experience flying long-haul.

  11. Pretty much all of my friends from Asia love green tea ice cream and green tea desserts are extremely popular there – so it’s really only westerners who don’t like green tea foods that would be out of the venn diagram 😉
    Glad to see at least a sporadic United post on here by the way. They really don’t get a fair representation here. Sure, they have lots of issues, but I’ve had more horror stories with American (never lived in any city with sizable Delta service) and for the things that matter to me (ease of changing flights on the app with no charge, good alliance partners, easy partner award booking online, etc.) United is better than the others. I’d also take United’s business class over Ben’s much-beloved Lufthansa. Their product is horrible and international first class isn’t an option for work travel.

  12. Brief and brilliant review. Just what I’d love to see on this blog more regularly. Setting up an “Economy reports” section would be a nice touch 😉

  13. Lucky got kicked out of United FF program, which is why he never profiles it much. As an United 1K, I really appreciate Travis’ reviews on OMAAT but his opinion of this area is likely to change when United move towards the 10 seats across in economy

  14. @PST-Andy – yes, booze is free (wine & beer at least), but the wine you’ll be drinking is from a carton. The Goose Island IPA is quite good though, if you’re a beer drinker. Definitely better than wine from a carton.

  15. Echoing the other comments with kudos for a very entertaining trip report, and as a bonus I learned a few tips / tricks for our family of 8 flying long haul economy, which we haven’t been brave enough to do yet!

  16. I ditto those who appreciate a long-haul economy class review. It’s obviously not sexy or glamorous like First Class or Business, but without 200,000+ frequent flyer miles at one’s disposal, Economy is what most of us are left with.

    Must say, however, that green tea ice cream is awesome. It’s wonderful because it’s ice cream yet not as [fast-track-to-diabetes] sweet as most other flavors. Of course, my being Asian-American probably makes me genetically “orient”ed to it.

  17. I haven’t flown long-haul economy in decades. And my family consists of my partner (who refers to children as “vermin”) and our assorted stray cats. So I have never really paid much attention to Travis’ posts as I didn’t believe they would have any interest or relevance to me.

    I was wrong. Travis, you have a thoroughly entertaining style of writing. Loved the green tea ice cream analysis. FWIW: this Northern European-American loves green tea ice cream.

    I must join the chorus and say that Taipei is a grossly underrated and overlooked city. Besides the great food, Taipei has an excitedly vibrant art scene.

  18. Think @jason knows Jeff I just love it when the “know it alls” come on almost as much fun as the guys who criticize EVERYTHING. Don’t know why these Dweebs come here, oh yes I do they don’t have a life much less friends. Good report Travis especially for folks who travel with little ones,I used to one of those lonf ago

  19. Hands down my favorite article that you have written on here…I don’t have kids and I rarely fly Intl economy, so the relevance for me is limited, but the article is so good that doesn’t matter…

  20. Bravo, Travis, love the review as a fellow 1K who fears long haul economy. My experiences are like yours but if you do have to compress it’s not so fun. Usually the flight back from Asia is shorter and a redeye so more tolerable. If not E+ I don’t know how I would survive. I am considering the $200 upcharge with a GPU to do one way business once R opens up eventually. I guess that’s a good enough deal 🙂

  21. @Travis

    Great read! I just flew long haul economy on Air France’s 777 and was more than satisfied. Like you said, I came in with low expectations and exceeding them really made all the difference.

  22. @jetset – You think UA has a better J product than LH? Despite LH not having aisle access on their seats (which UA doesn’t have as well, except for on some of their 767s), they are leagues above UA with their new product (and in the food, drink, service and lounge departments as well). I think you’re in a very small minority in that belief…

  23. Good Article Travis, nice picture and review.
    One thing though, that Breakfast…..ugggg I would just pass on it. That processed sausage just makes me shudder.

  24. Great review Travis, though the food looks totally gross (especially the breakfast). It’s also cemented that I’ll never risk flying crappy United economy when I have the option of so many better airlines instead.

  25. I fly SFO to HKG often and often on United 869. The flight attendants based into and out of HKG are incredibly efficient. They seem so much more attentive and willing to work than any other United teams. They can feed an entire fully occupied 747 Economy section in 20-25 minutes including beverages.

  26. Yes ! Kudos for finally writing to the thousands of us who fly primarily “cattle Class”.
    I made perhaps 15 trans-pac flights on Northwest Orient, JAL (as a courrier– the good old days :)) , Cathay Pacific… but mostly on United. I usually tried for the window seat at the rear of the 747 where it narrows down to 2 seats. There is a bit of storage space between the seat and the window, and you only have to ask one person to get up when you need to stretch (which I did often). Also, you could stand by the window at the back while you were stretching. Many memorable flights BOS-ORD-NRT-BKK.

  27. Green tea ice cream is the best, although I’m Asian so maybe that’s why 🙂

    Otherwise, thoroughly enjoyed your review.

  28. Well written and a nice change of pace from the typical reviews here. However, no way Taipei is worth 14 hours in economy unless you have family or work obligations.

  29. While I strive not to cross a pond of any size in the back, I thought your review was so great! I had my wife LOL’ing about the ice cream and kids complaining about the seats. Too funny!

  30. Great review. I enjoyed flying this route twice last year; once in economy, and once in business thanks to a super-cheap one-way W fare.

    I actually am starting to prefer the meal options, presentation, and quality in United’s economy over their business class offerings. And as Travis states in the article, if you get a row to yourself, it can be hard to beat. I had that on a PVG-LAX routing last year that was possibly my favorite flight in economy. United as really made improvements in service, attentiveness, food offerings, beverage options, and WiFi that translate to a damn good experience. As long as you’re not in the middle seat.

  31. What a fun article! My husband and I flew the same Denver-Narita-Denver 787 route a couple of times. The last time, I succeeded in getting our requested mileage+fee upgrade to Business and he didn’t. (The first time we were both upgraded.) Wow, has something changed for the better since then! My husband says the last time he was that hungry was when he emigrated from Russia, and at least then, he could buy Wonderbread with food stamps! First of all, he had a cold and was begging for water. No bottles to be seen (though finally one kind attendant did cave in and give him one after he tried both pleading and getting mad with another). The “meal” consisted of a pathetic piece of chicken in some mystery sauce that he says was mostly fat. He was begging to purchase food to no avail.
    I subsequently wrote a letter of complaint to United and my husband is joking (?) after reading your article that I’m the catalyst for the improvement! Perhaps that particular flight that particular day was an anomaly in its badness. More likely, it does have to do with the departure of that certain Jeff guy, which hopefully signals better times for employees and passengers alike.
    We are generally fans of United and heavily invested in its FF program, having earned much of it with Continental where we used to live. I hit the million-mile marker a couple of years ago and have been able to maintain Platinum partly thanks to that now-extinct Presidential Plus Card with its Flex Miles, which you’ll have to pry out of my cold, dead hand. We’re glad to read something nice about the company. We’ve had good luck with some very considerate treatment from agents on the phone many times over the years when we’ve had problems, so overall have had a positive feeling about United.

  32. Travis–I think this is your best post so far! OMAAT has great overall content, but for those of us who fly primarily economy, this one was SUPER helpful. Especially as I look to be traveling with children before long. Your humor is enjoyable, and I think your style of review is just perfect for economy class. Thanks!

  33. @Garrett
    I’ve never actually found it necessary to do that, but then again, I fly economy mostly in Asia, where the service is really quite top-notch – Singapore always has a bunch of snacks lying around that you can order at whatever point in a long haul flight, while Cathay has instant noodles.

  34. This. “those are flights that you never hear about.” Those are most of the flights we end up having. Thanks for the seating tip re: window+aisle and then another aisle. We need to be doing that. We recently traveled to Hong Kong w/our 3.5 yr old daughter. We flew 15 hours on Cathay economy from LAX to HKG. A week later we flew the same route back home, 13 hours. No one got hurt or injured, but it wasn’t pleasant towards the end of each flight, when you just want to get out of that tin can in the sky. Now. […] Traveling a long haul red eye, with a kid who refuses to sleep, is very tough. But I can guarantee that the kid’s’ parents are doing the best they can with the 3-foot tornado they’re trying to wrangle. We’ve been traveling with out daughter in economy long haul since she was 9 months old. It’s never easy, but after we arrive at our destination all those grueling hours melt away and we all have a blast. It’s worth it. In the end.

  35. Hah – the green tea Venn diagram is classic.
    Thanks for reminding me that, yes, you can be OK in economy. My points would sure go further…

  36. Thanks Travis this was great! I don’t know how you and your family do it – but good for you! I guess it really is about expectations. And with three kids, lots of patience! We were big Continental fliers, my hubby is almost a million mile flier now with United but, after his year as a 1K flier where an upgrade was nearly impossible to get even with their upgrade certificates (which is theory make it easier, in theory) and the general tone deaf ineptitude and lack of understanding of how to treat people we won’t fly them (well except to maybe see if we can ever use the upgrade certificates). Anyway long story short even though we have totally given up on United and are now flying Delta it is really nice to see something balanced and positive about an airline that we tried for years to get behind but, were unable to, which is particularly sad as they have the best route map out of NYC of any legacy carrier. Fingers crossed maybe with new management they will become flyable again. Your trip report gives me hope!

  37. Umm, I hate to nitpick, but… AFAIK, “3 course” means appetizer, main course, and dessert, which is typical for most airline meals, especially in Economy (when meals are served). The beverage service with snack is just a drink service, unless UA actually markets it as a “course” (which is ridiculous).

    In any case, thanks for the review; it’s been ages since I’ve flown UA TPAC/TATL Economy. I also like your seating strategy for 3-3-3 configurations. Although, when you can’t secure that empty seat, I do wonder if some people would decline a middle-for-aisle swap in favor of keeping their middle (or switching to the window), which I’ve read/seen/heard happen…

    What’s UA’s boarding process like now? I don’t see how things could have improved unless they’ve redistributed Groups 1 & 2 into 3: a Premium Group & Group 1 for Premier Access and Group 2 (Economy lane) for the credit cards

  38. I don’t understand how this meal service can be considered improved over the old one. Yes, the ice cream is new. But I have the distinct memory that the older meal trays were larger (i.e. held more food). Most importantly, United used to serve 2 meals + midflight snack (instant “Chinese noodles”). Now there’s only two meals with about 10 hours in between. The breakfast tray is also pretty empty. This sounds like a worsening of the meals to me.

  39. If you fly more than twice overseas on United with a family and can afford it, buy the economy plus subscription to save your sanity. I know it’s not a lot, but the extra 4″ can mean a whole lot in terms of extra comfort and keeping your sanity. The cost is $1099, so 2 RT will pay it off.

  40. “On this flight, my 3-year daughter insisted that she wanted to sit in first class, not just business, but first. Good grief, has she been hanging out with Ben or what? My son, not to be outdone, informed me he wanted a seat that reclined in case he got tired and wanted to take a nap.”

    Imagine how snotty your kids will be once they are Lucky’s age!

    Also, that food just doesn’t look good. By any standard, not just economy. Airlines like Turkish or Singapore have much much better food in economy.

  41. Travis! Well written.

    As someone that fly from SFO to HKG twice a year(UA 869, UA 862), I find your article very refreshing. Most of the time, I upgrade to economy plus for more leg room since I am 5′ 11″. United always treat me well and I wonder its because I am a deaf person. (I had got some special treatment over the years, but thats another story for another time)

    My personal opinion of United, they are doing better and I challenge you haters to try them again. All airlines got their bad time and their good time.

    To Lucky if you read this, I love reading your articles, but articles like this is what people like me want to read. I dare you to fly an ultra long flight like this and write about it. 🙂 Come on, it wont kill you.

  42. Nice review, can definitely relate to the economy long-haul trips.
    I just have to say, if you’re the one who started this whole “We’re a couple, but we’re gonna take the aisle and window seat” thing, we need to have words. I’m a regular flyer, but have never seen this before…until my trip to the US a few months ago. Literally, every flight the aisles and windows were pre-reserved and only middle seats remained. Out of the 5 flights my wife and I took (2 trans-pacific and 3 regional flights) we weren’t able to get seats together once.

    Travis, if I’m ever stuck in your middle seat…be warned. I won’t move. I’ll take off my shoes, I’m lactose intolerant, but I’ll consume just enough diary to give some gas, and I’ll regularly ask to go to the bathroom. My misery will become your misery.

    Now I’ve gotten that off my chest, I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip!

  43. Me despierta curiosidad saber que puede motivar a una familia con niños pequeños viajar a Taiwán! Yo hace dos días que estoy en Taipei y no logro encontrar nada interesante.

  44. Nice job, Travis. You’ve taken a lot of heat at various times since you’ve been part of the OMAAT team, most of which I felt was undeserved. You are a funny, engaging writer, whether or not people readily acknowledge it. Thanks for continuing to add substantively to the blog.

  45. Tennen — Yep, United markets it as a 3-course meal. In reality, it’s pretty much the same as before, except that dessert comes separately instead of the dry, crumbly, packaged brownie.

  46. Jim — I don’t think I actually said that this meal service is an improvement (except for the ice cream). And you’re right — the mid-flight snack to Asia seems to be gone, except for the chips and stuff in the back galley.

  47. Ankush — Breakfast is definitely weak. They also offer an Asian option then of noodles. Maybe I’ll try that next time.

  48. Awesome post. You guys travel like I do with my family, kind of a mix of econ and biz, although with more kids biz is getting harder to pull off for me. 🙁

    I’ve only done United overseas in J but I’m thinking about doing a TATL in Y with the family and this entry has given me reassurance that it can work out nicely. It’s nice to read about CX F and all that, but a post like this is filled with a lot of useful information that is directly relevant to me. 🙂

    Just one follow up, what’s the adult bev situation like in UA Y? On AC they give you the run of the bar with beer/wine/spirits included, even in Y although I rarely see many people taking them up on it, especially on TPAC. Does UA at least offer comp beer and wine?

  49. PS – I LOVE green tea ice cream and I’d take that over the UA sundae any day! That is awesome!

  50. Kinda refreshing to get a United review for a change. How much did those tickets set you back and how many miles did you rack up?

  51. What’s the point of taking such young children on a trip like this? It’s certainly not for them. They reap no benefits from any of the “cultural” aspects. So then it’s for the parents. What do they get? A blog post? Some social media cred? Lording over friends? “Look what we did, so much more intellectual than your trip to the beach or camping.” (Things that kids enjoy) Well, I hope you got what you were looking for.

  52. @keith – yes Lufthansa service, food and beverage are better. I was flying out of SFO so you’re stuck with the United lounge even with Lufthansa – no difference there. My connections in Frankfurt were short and the lounges near my gates overcrowded so there was no benefit there.
    But my main issue was sleep – it was for a work trip so really the food, service, drinks, etc. didn’t matter to me – sleep was the only factor. Lufthansa’s new J seat was incredibly cramped at the feet, the mid-section had an uncomfortable bump where different sections met, and I found the width to be cramped even though I’m quite thin. And I was on a window-side aisle – the middle seats look even worse with very little privacy from neighbors. Also they kept the cabins incredibly warm. On a 12 hour flight to Frankfurt I got 3 hours of sleep… I’ve gotten that much sleep on a 6 hour united flight in business.

    For vacation I may take Lufthansa over United J but for work I absolutely would preference United.

  53. Have done trips to Russia and Japan within the past 3 months – once in economy, once in economy plus.
    Net, if one sets the bar low enough and understands the the sole purpose of an airline is to get you from point A to point B safely, then UA looks good.
    Beyond that-
    Food – D (so, I pack my own)
    Entertainment – UA has opted out of seat-back systems. Instead, one needs to bring their own device. Sort of clutters the tray table, doesn’t it?? And, the selection is limited.
    The alternative is the big screen on the bulkhead wall. Not easy to sleep with out a mask – which they don’t provide. In addition, because of the use of a screen, all windows MUST REMAIN CLOSED.
    Lavatory cleanliness – like most US carriers, this is of no concern of the flight crew. Compare this level of engagement with any of the Asian air carries. Recently flew Korean Air – I saw a flight attendant in the lavatory after no more than 4-5 incidence of use. (Sat exit row, so couldn’t avoid the show.

    When I pay, it’s delta ’cause I live in Atl; or preferably – Asiana, Korean Air into asia; or turkish air, lufthansa or even Air France into Europe – Why Air France…the snacks are super, abundant and readily accessible –

  54. I wouldn’t dream of more than a 3/4 hit flight without seat back entertainment! Is that the norm now? I flew Qantas to Singapore from London a few years ago and I was shocked to have to watch a screen 6 or 7 rows away and I was forced to keep my blind shut, to the point the cabin crew leaned over me whilst I was awake to actually shut my blind. I have said I will never fly with them again. In seat entertainment should be the norm now, it is 2016.

  55. I’m mystified why anyone would *ever* choose to fly from San Francisco to Taipei on United Airlines, when the route is served by vastly superior EVA…

  56. Thanks for the refreshing review. It’s very interesting to hear your opinion on the ice cream. I know it’s not the biggest component of a flight, but if I get green tea ice cream on a flight, it makes my flight vastly more enjoyable! (I’m both Canadian and Asian, so I guess I’m in the middle part of the Venn diagram!)

  57. I don’t take long airplane rides for the food. I just want to get there in one piece. I’ll eat before I leave and after I get there. I can survive 15 hours without eating a meal. So if they have green tea ice cream or not really is insignificant. I think people just need something to complain about. No matter what, people find something to complain about. I’m just thankful to get there in one piece every time.

  58. I wanted to post to contradict the Green Tea ice cream comments but it seems I have no need to. Ohh well, great review. I have an upcoming US –> Asia flight on United’s 787-9 and have the hump seat in the exit row. I’m still trying to decide if its worth giving up the exit row for a more regular seat ( and that extra inch of hip room). Or biting the bullet and getting Economy Plus.

  59. I stumbled upon this article and I’m glad I did. I’ve been a subscriber for a while, but this article is one of the best that I’ve seen on BoardingArea.com . Not only is it a review — it offers advice and suggestions. A+ . Thank you!

  60. This is refreshing to see an economy review. Great strategy for securing seats. I will DL the UA app.

    I’ve flown UA transpacific enough times between ICN, NRT, LAX, SFO pairs and their food is disgusting to the point I bring my own food aboard now. I’ve yet to try that brownie or the almond cookie, it looks sooo unappetizing. Do they still use those cheap undersized disposable black plastic forks and spoons? Lately I’ve been booking UA codeshares on ANA and Asiana to get around UA horrible food and service. However I could not escape them for next week’s flight, UA 777 from SFO to NRT but thankfully the next segment is UA codeshare with ANA to KUL.

    Seriously though, there’s someone out there that doesn’t like green tea ice cream? And hey… You got Glucose brand. We can’t get Glico here in the US. They must have flown that over from TW or JP?

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