Hello, Live From United International First Class!

Well, my crazy quick round the world trip is coming to an end shortly. I flew Korean Air first class from Vancouver to Seoul, then Air Astana business class from Seoul to Almaty to Astana to London, and now finally am flying United first class from London to Los Angeles.

I’ve flown both American first class and British Airways first class on this route before, so I was curious to see how this flight would compare.

Well, I’m happy to say that I’m very pleasantly surprised by the experience. Very pleasantly surprised! I’ll keep this post brief, since I’ll have a full trip report soon, but I did want to share my initial impressions.

Let’s start on the ground. United’s first class lounge at Heathrow is stunning. I far prefer it to the British Airways Concorde Room, and think it’s the second best lounge at the airport, after the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse. I also checked out the Singapore Airlines first class lounge, which was a disappointment by comparison.

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The United lounge was spacious, gorgeously furnished, and had a great a la carte menu. There were individual bathrooms with real hand towels, and every time I visited the bathroom there was a perfect towel pyramid.

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The degree to which this lounge puts American’s Flagship Lounge at Heathrow Airport to shame isn’t even funny. Not one bit.

In terms of the cabin, United’s 777 first class product is solid, though hardly revolutionary.

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The seats are basically like reverse reverse herringbone seats, if that makes any sense. 😉 They’re plenty spacious, the padding is exceptional, and the seats have tons of storage. So it’s a perfectly fine first class hard product, though hardly cutting edge (which isn’t surprising, since United is soon phasing out international first class).

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The amenities on the flight are great. United’s first class amenity kit is really impressive, and has some unique items I haven’t seen in other kits, like anti-bacterial wipes (or perhaps it’s just a subtle way of suggesting they have a DIY approach to keeping the cabin clean). 😉

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The plane also has wifi, which costs ~$20 for the entire flight. The speeds have been incredible, almost as good as my recent flight on JetBlue.

As far as the food goes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The meal service began with mixed nuts.

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The appetizer consisted of a chicken skewer, which seemed pretty basic.

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The creamy shiitake mushroom soup, while small, was very flavorful.

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The salad was quite good.

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For the main course I ordered the cioppino. When I ordered it I said to myself “what on earth am I thinking ordering this on a plane?” To my surprise, it was incredible, easily one of the best airplane dishes I’ve had in a long time.

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Lastly there was cheese and ice cream for dessert.

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Overall it was a great meal. But what really impressed me most was the service. If there’s one thing I know about United it’s that they’re consistently inconsistent, and I realize I just lucked out with a great crew.

But they really have been fantastic. We have a senior LA based crew, and all three of the flight attendants who have been working first class — Schy, Silvia, and Diana — have been incredible. Each of them has memorized the name of each first class passenger. More importantly than that, they’re so warm and proactive, I really can’t say enough good things about them. If only service on US carriers were consistently this good.

I’ve been working for the past few hours, and they’ve come by my seat every 10 minutes to see if I wanted some more coffee or something to eat.

Earlier in the flight I tried to make my own bed (given that the “turndown service” isn’t as intricate as on some foreign carriers), and when the flight attendant saw me doing that she was horrified and ran over, and said “please let me do it.”

So yeah, this crew is an absolute gem.

Bottom line

Overall I’m extremely impressed by my United experience. Fast and cheap wifi, comfortable seats, very edible food, cool cabin temperatures (with individual air nozzles) an incredible crew, and a fantastic first class lounge in London? Transatlantic flights don’t get much more pleasant than this.

Comments

  1. So… uh … you’re allowed on United flights again? Figure it’s not taboo to bring up since you said it yourself to national “press”

  2. Where is Ben? And what have you done with him??

    I can’t believe my eyes!

    Nice to see you’re enjoying the flight. I’ll look forward to the full report.

  3. Wonder how many comments we’ll see in the form of “you’re flying United? I thought you were banned!”.

    I submit it’ll be 26.

  4. Regular readers will know that Ben has stated he will not revisit any past disagreements with UA. A closed matter is exacly that.

  5. Maybe he is lobbying for MP reinstatement by giving them good PR. A review like this will be noticed by senior management.

    Just kidding. I know Lucky now has more ethics than to do something like that. I think he is genuinely surprised by the quality of the flight, but he probably also had low expectations to start with.

  6. Nearly identical meal to what I had SFO to ICN 3 YEARS AGO–cioppino and all! (What happened to all rhea upgrades they announced last year?)
    Their wines and spirits are the same as domestic business (bog standard), but yes, the seat is comfy, though not very wide.
    “Luckily” it seems like you “lucked” out with your FA’s. I did too on my flight. One grouch (the purser), but the others were great.
    Still it seems such a waste of miles booking UA Global First when there are usually other airlines serving the same cities with availability. I like over the top posh comforts, and you’re never going to get that with UA. (And I’m not spending 130K)
    That lounge looks amazing though. I wish they’d build some in the US.

  7. United calling that First Class should allow anyone buying that to sue them. Yes, that looks nice for a business class. First class? Well, let’s leave that to Emirates, Cathay, Etihad, Air France, Singapore. The word “first class” does not go well with US airlines.

  8. @ Roberto — Solid, as in it exceeded my expectations. I’m not suggesting it’s a world class product, just that it exceeded my expectations. But yes, I would take United first class with wifi over BA first class any day without wifi. That’s just me, though, because I value wifi immensely.

  9. Lucky
    You realize that your ban from United will be constantly brought up and discussed in comments until you tell us what got you in trouble with United. When you publish details and how you get back, it will loose interest and it will stop trolling.

  10. I actually like F on UA 767-300 the best but the improvement in seating vs BF is greatest on 777-200. Unfortunately UA cancelled my flight today so..

  11. Glad you’re having a good trip. I think with United our expectations are always set low so when you have a product that’s semi-decent and a crew that’s half alive that in itself merits a sigh of relief.

    Lucky, for someone who loves reality show drama, I’m sure you understand our base needs to be in on the drama that went on between you and United and how it got resolved. Still, I respect your privacy and I’m sure there’s a diplomatic reason that you’re not airing all that dirty laundry on your blog.

  12. I love how so many people, Ben, always whine about UA GlobalFirst. In the meantime, while everyone else avoids it, that just makes it easier for us to get those GlobalFirst awards while they last. The fact is that we’ve flown that LAX-LHR route roundtrip so many times in the past few years, and we’ve ALWAYS had tremendous service. Just 2 years ago, we flew LAX-LHR on UA GF…and flew back CTP-DXB on Emirates F…and the service on the UA GF was FAR superior to that of the 777 EK F crew. (But the EK F DXB-LAX was the best flight I’ve ever had, to be fair!) We actually just booked this Thursday for UA GF LAX-LHR just in case Lufthansa goes on strike…and we experience problems with our LAX-FRA-VCE in LH F and J. (It’s been 4 years since we’ve flown LH F so we want to try that again!)

    The UA GF seat isn’t revolutionary…but it’s REALLY COMFORTABLE. Say what you want, but I want to sit and sleep comfortably…and UA GF seat does that for me as well as ANY out there. The fact that everyone else avoids UA makes it VERY EASY for use to get these seats, too. So keep whining about UA everybody, so we can continue to use these “old seats” for F travel from LAX-LHR…while it lasts.

    The UA internet is also one of the best. And the UA IFE is for me the second best after Cathay’s. I LOVE it. EK and EY have lots of options, too, but fewer are in English or are recent…so to me UA is far better. UA’s IFE is far superior to most airlines, IMO.

    And yes, that UA GF lounge is WONDERFUL. We also love it better than the BA Concorde Lounge. That’s the reason we are expecting great things from UA’s upcoming Polaris lounges, to be honest. This is one of the prototype lounges that know they will be trying to replicate with Polaris, I’m told.

    In October, we will return from this upcoming trip on AA F LHR-LAX to compare that to UA GF. We already know the AA FF lounge isn’t as nice. Thus far, the few times I’ve flown AA F on their 773 I haven’t been super impressed…but I’m curious to see what they do on F for LHR-LAX. We’ve already flown BA F LAX-LHR roundtrip on their A380…and we were VERY UNIMPRESSED. The seat was very nice…newer than UA but less comfortable IMO. But the food on BA F was ATROCIOUS. So we won’t return for quite some time to BA F–ever!

    We have recently flown First on UA AA, BA, EK, EY, OZ, CX, etc…and in a few days LH. The fact is that United can comparably offer a very nice F experience…but so many people on this blog (and FlyerTalk especially LOL) have bought into the “UA sucks narrative” from several years ago that no one believes in UA any more. Fortunately, we aren’t among them since we know better. The rest of you are welcome to bag on UA GF and avoid it so we can continue to enjoy it as long as it lasts…and to look forward to UA Polaris when it arrives.

  13. Visited the lounge earlier this year, and indeed it’s fantastic. I didn’t quite understand at the time why they built a separate first class lounge when they were going to phase out F and also had a very nice United Club at LHR. Now it’s clear – this will become the Polaris lounge.

  14. Ben is mysteriously allowed back on United in the same review where he can’t seem to heap enough praise on United’s middling F experience.

    I’m sure nothing is amiss here…

  15. Your review of the AA Flagship Lounge is pretty old. They have since updated the food and service and it’s a bit better than it was in 2014.

  16. I agree with the LHR UA lounge. It is stunning and the United Club LHR lounge isn’t too shabby either. Very solid hot food choices and a much better bar experience than a normal UA Club with improved offerings.

  17. My wife’s first experiences in first class were on United, and they were just like this. That was years ago, she’s tried several others, and she STILL says UA F is the best.

    That’s the other side of “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”.

  18. Ben,

    When you do the full post I wonder if you could comment on whether you think the new Polaris business product coming soon–while clearly a step UP from United’s current lame BusinessFirst (with eight across seating on the 777)–will be a significant step DOWN from the soon-to-be-extinct GlobalFirst.

    Personally, I’m reasonably optimistic it will not be much down…My hope is that the hard product will be only slightly less spacious than GlobalFirst and everyone will have direct aisle access, and the soft product will be an across-the-board improvement.

    I’m glad you liked your flight but I do think maybe you had a combination of low expectations and a good crew. As a Global Services member who flies both BusinessFirst and GlobalFirst a lot, I do think United’s premium cabin product is broadly lacking. The menus change infrequently (if you fly more than occasionally you will recognize the exact same food over many months or even years) and the crew service, as you noted, is quite inconsistent.

    Beside the superior seat, the main differences between BusinessFirst and GlobalFirst are an extra pillow and a soup course in an otherwise identical meal…..

    Basically GlobalFirst in its current incarnation is about the same as Delta One, and BusinessFirst is markedly inferior to that.

    So change is good….or at least that’s what I’m rooting for…but would welcome your thoughts.

  19. Again – shows how shady Ben really is, even when he tries to say he is transparent and forthcoming (does this remind you of anyone in the news lately)?

    You should really EXPLAIN yourself and not be so shady. Just like when you asked readers, “where should I move”, when all along you were going to move in with your BF. Or when you were “going to go for EP”, but the reality was you were banned from UA and had no choice. The list goes on and on. You have the integrity of a politician.

    And why would anyone even WANT to fly such a despicable airline like United.

  20. We also experienced a great flight and service on United GF in June from LAX to Frankfurt. Entire crew was very pleasant and attentive. On our way back our return flight was cancelled and we were booked on Lufthansa First class. What a treat, best flight of our life, we wished it lasted longer.
    The food, service and crew were out of this world. We fly on United every month between LAX and HNL and always enjoy our Honolulu crew. Very pleasant, service with a smile. Can not complain at all. First flight out on 777-200 and red eye back on same plane. These planes are old and we wish they would have full bed seats on red eye from HNL to LAX. We have been lucky a few times in the past 10 years to be on the double deck planes that was re-routed from Maui – San Francisco route to LAX-HNL or reverse route. Most of our flights are very pleasant siting up front. We love the Honolulu based crew. But we noticed some of the LA based crew is becoming nicer and more service oriented than they were in the past. We could feel the different vibes as soon as we enter the plane and know right a way what crew we have.

    er from Maui rerauted to HNL-LAX route.

  21. “If there’s one thing I know about United it’s that they’re consistently inconsistent, and I realize I just lucked out with a great crew.”

    Welcome to the “new” United!

    The “consistent inconsistency” about United that you know most definitely relates to the “old” United. Unless one has traveled quite a bit with the “new” United, one cannot claim to know anything about its consistent inconsistencies, as the company has been working very hard under the visionary leadership of Oscar Munoz to turn things around.

    I fly almost exclusively with United and have been reporting for a while now how the company has been visibly trying to improve their operation, across the board, so that what you just experienced is quite likely the result of that effort. I was offered “turndown service” when I got a complimentary upgrade to United Global First from LAX to PVG in December! And did you notice how the FAs in Global First and BF went from seat to seat on arrival thanking passengers individually for “choosing United”? Well, your “stellar” LA crew slacked off if it did not do that! My crew to and from MEL last month (the MR that got me to the 1MM milestone) seems like it was as good as the one you “lucked out” with (I was in BF and each FA came to congratulate me for making 1MM [the manifest must have flagged me], and they came back to our seat several to see if we needed anything, especially after it turned out that the guy sitting next to me had also previously made 1MM)…Coincidence or the shape of new things and things to come? We’ll see after POLARIS is rolled out!

  22. Picky, perhaps, but I am shelling out maybe 5K or more for first class, I’d be a tad miffed to be asked for $20 for wi-fi.

    That said, I don’t want or need wi-fo but get that others do.

  23. @Ben, thank you for the review. Looks like you did well on an inconsistent product.

    @Ben’s trolls (Brian)

    United != United Mileage Plus.

  24. As we all know sUA LAX is one of the best FA base in UA system, therefore good service should not be a suprise. I took more than 30 flights with sUA LAX FA and most of the experience were excellent.

  25. I’m curious — when I flew UA BusinessFirst earlier this year, I was shocked to see that the menu did not include any sort of wine list. Not even the names of the wines being served (or an attempt to provide names which might not even be correct) — just a long, silly paragraph pretty much explaining what wine is, and then a suggestion to “ask your flight attendant what wines we have today.” That might work with a crew like this one, but I had one of the most actively hostile crews I’ve ever encountered, so it was not a great situation. (In addition to not being able/willing to tell me anything more about the wine than “we have a red one and a white one” they also spilled it every time they brusquely and aggressively topped up the glass.)

    So I’m wondering — do they at least list the wines on the menu in Global First?

  26. Maybe it’s just the pictures you took, but the UA lounge at LHR doesn’t look impressive, other than a large, stylish clock behind the bar. I didn’t see comfy seating as in the Concorde Room, no nice Tarmac views, and the dining chairs look hard and uncomfortable. I like the booths and privacy of the Concorde Room.
    Am I missing something?
    (It would be easy to outdo the Concorde Club’s dreary bathrooms.)

  27. I am very glad to see United included in his reviews here, please don’t scare him away from continuing that.

  28. No only are BA’s bathrooms dreary, the shower facilities in LHR Term 5 are dreadful. Worst showers of any international airline I have flown, and these are the First class showers, not the business.

    I would rate the UA LHR lounge showers the best I have encountered, anyway. This is a big step up for UA. Just too bad they haven’t copied at other UA Clubs.

    UA keeps putting institutional restrooms at its new UA Clubs in the USA, the worst I have encountered in a premium lounge.

  29. Brian. If he’s so shady, why do you continue to read? I surmise so that you can learn a few tricks yourself. The pot calling the kettle black.

  30. @Ted – Stop being a wanker in life!! People like you are the problem with the United States.

    This blog goes far and wide. A good or great review of UA can result in millions of dollars of free publicity/revenue sales to UA. Blogs drive sales, are stuuupid?

    Perhaps we should avoid UA because of douche shareholders like YOU!

  31. United maybe upping its game but certainly not its wine list. In fact on my last United GF flight there was no wine list. What they had available we’re mostly $10 to $20 mediocre wines. Why not up the game in that department?

  32. @Randy, I couldn’t agree more. Was in the BA first class lounge in T5 last week and used the showers, and it’s just amazing how disgusting they are for being first class. Glad to have a shower, of course, but yikes!

  33. @Evan – From the Rolling Stone article:

    “He was banned from flying (United), he recalls the letter saying, unless he paid the company $4,755 — the amount it claimed as losses through Schlappig’s techniques.”

  34. Ignore the haters and trollers. Just brings down the mood. You know what Michelle O says ….

    I just booked United Global First round trip reward tickets from LAX-LHR for May 2017. Have to stop in SF to catch the United 747 between SFO and LHR, but that was a small sacrifice to get a 80k reward in each direction.

    I’ve flown many FC flights on AA, so, like Ben, looking forward to the comparison.

    Any suggestions on London West End hotels? Its early to get May hotel deals, but good to get hotel ideas.

  35. A couple of thoughts:

    I agree with others that this first-class hard product is basically business-class on American, Delta and Air France.

    Polaris will be a potential game-changer for United, but for that to happen United needs to get it fleet-wide well before the published 2021 date. That’s a lot of flying without ever knowing what cabin configuration you’ll receive. I remember paying $5,000 in 2014 for Delta business-class New York J.F.K.-Frankfurt and Stockholm-New York. Delta gave me an old 757 with 2×2 recliner seats for Stockholm-New York. Thankfully, it was a day flight and the crew was good. Still, I was peeved. It will be far worse at United.

  36. I agree on the comfortable seat – it’s fairly long and wide, well padded, but the seat itself can’t really compete with any other First Class seat I’ve flown recently. I also think it’s a good deal on miles – on some of my routes, it’s basically the same price for UA First or *A partner Business, a fair price!
    The food is very much in line with what I have received, and I’d call it solid, but not nearly “the best I’ve eaten in a while” – I’ve had better food on SQ, LH and even Thai, business and first class! And the wine menu is not even remotely competitive with most Asian or European Business or First Class offerings.
    With regards to service, not once in many, many years (even as a GS and MM member) has a UA flight crew addressed me by name (other than reading it off the list when taking meal orders) and offered to make up the bed for me when I did it myself. So, I’d agree, you were very, very lucky with your crew.
    I did notice that the ratio of crews “trying” is going up and the ratio of grumpy, indifferent crews is going down, but they still have a long way to go until the experience you are describing is the experience the average passenger in UA GFirst can expect to find on their next flight!

  37. I don’t get why people are so angry. This blog is mainly reviews about his flying experience and he enjoyed this one more than he thought he would. We weren’t there so we don’t know but that’s the whole point of the blog, to give us an insight to his experience. I too think BA’s First Class is more of a business class and after this review I want to try United’s First Class. At the end of the day if you don’t like the blog don’t read it, then again if you don’t read it I guess you can’t complain about how you subsidies his travels.

  38. So basically, it edges out BA’s first as a really nice business class product due to having wifi. I mean, if you had shown someone just the pics of your meal without identifying the airline or the class you were in, a person would assume you were flying in business class.

    Nice to see them offering a different appetizer besides the usually offered salmon or shrimp.

  39. Curious, how did you book / how much you paid for the flight? Was it through a partner mileage program? Or did you pay cash for the ticket? I remember a recent UA flight you had you just said you paid cash for it. I presume UA didn’t comp your ticket right?

  40. Longtime lurker, rarely comment here but I felt compelled to ask this. Why are people so obsessed with getting additional info on Ben’s issues with UA Mileage Plus? I really fail to understand how that adds any value to this post. If you don’t agree with Ben’s review because you think he has ulterior motives for praising United, then there are many other reviews out there which will help provide additional perspective. I read the Rolling Stones article and am content with the ‘background’ provided there on Ben’s issues with UA.

  41. @Bgriff, your post made me laugh as we were in Business on UA from ATH-EWR in July and like you, I noticed that there was no wine list. I’m sorry but Turkish, Lufthansa, etc. all have wine lists and several offerings. It shouldn’t be that difficult for UA to do so as well. t asked the FA what wines they were serving.

    She responded, “Uh, two reds and a white.”
    Me, “Would you please find out exactly what they are.”
    She looked perturbed but went to the galley. Came back and said, “A cab, a merlot and a chardonnay.”
    I don’t drink chardonnay and didn’t want to drink unknown swill so I said, “Thank you. May I please have a gin and tonic?”

    She rolled her eyes, and stomped off without saying anything to me. I admit that I laughed and wasn’t surprised at all. She did bring my gin and tonic and put it down without any comment. I thanked her.

  42. Nice to see another United Airlines review. They are getting better. I noticed it in the last year. For those that had bad experiences with them in the past, I would give them another chance. I am very sure the top people for UA do read this.

  43. Have you not tried the QR premium lounge at LHR’s T4? In my view that is better than the Concorde Room in T5, the Virgin Clubhouse in T3 and all the new Star Alliance F lounges or sections in T2.

  44. Donald wrote: “Nearly identical meal to what I had SFO to ICN 3 YEARS AGO–cioppino and all! (What happened to all rhea upgrades they announced last year?)”

    UA chose to forego any int’l premium cabin food changes until the massive upgrades coming this December with the introduction of the Polaris soft product. It’s frustrating, but at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And as a small consolation prize, domestic F meals improved significantly last year.

    Ted wrote: “As a UAL shareholder, you should be not allowed for life!”

    There are some dumb comments on here, but this is the dumbest. Ben’s blog reaches literally millions of potential customers, and this is as close to a rave as I’ve seen him give. What kind of idiot shareholder wouldn’t want his company to get this kind of free publicity?

    I for one am thrilled to see a UA review. Hope there will be any more to come once the Polaris hard product is introduced next year!

  45. Anyone can justify anything but that looks comparable to J on Qatar, Singapore, etc. And those probably have better food and beverage options. I’m sure you can have a great flight on it but there’s not much sense in shelling out the extra cash or miles for a UA GF in my opinion, not when their competitors are leagues ahead.

    Seems like a bit of a double standard to crucify BA for flying around an outdated First product and then spin this as such a pleasant surprise.

  46. From Rolling Stone…..

    “During his senior year, he carelessly bragged to a New York Times travel reporter that he had amassed more than $10,000 in bumping vouchers. A few weeks later, Schlappig says, just before his last college final exam, in April 2011, he received a certified letter from United, cheerily informing him that because he had taken advantage of the system his frequent-flyer account was permanently suspended. He was banned from flying, he recalls the letter saying, unless he paid the company $4,755 — the amount it claimed as losses through Schlappig’s techniques. I mean, how do you define ‘taking advantage of’?” Schlappig asks, passing a hand towel back to a doting attendant as we fly over the South China Sea. “Was I seriously inconvenienced to the tune of $200 every time my audio wasn’t working? No. But they create the system.” (United officials will not comment on the record on Schlappig’s case, other than to say, “We don’t take steps toward limiting member engagement with the program unless we see acts of fraud or other serious violations.”) Schlappig has repeatedly offered to send United a check but has gotten no response. “While it doesn’t justify anything, I think it became more about the game in those years,” he says. “And while I was far from the only one playing, I thought I was the best.”

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