United 777-200 Business Class (W/Awesome “Grandmas”) In 10 Pictures

Earlier this week I flew United’s 777-200 business class from Frankfurt to Houston. While I’ll have a full trip report soon, I figured I’d report back with my initial thoughts. As a reminder, I’ve reviewed United’s 777-300ER business class, which features their new Polaris seats. Meanwhile this flight just featured the Polaris “soft product” (food, drinks, amenities, etc.), but not the new seats. So I was curious to see just how much of a difference the new soft product makes in terms of the overall experience.

This flight was operated by an ex-Continental 777-200, which featured B/E Aerospace Diamond seats. These are fully flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, and sadly, this is United’s better “old” 777 configuration, as the ex-United planes feature eight seats per row in business class. Ouch.

Ultimately I find these seats to be perfectly okay, especially if traveling with someone. In this case Ford was joining me (we actually just met up in Frankfurt), so it worked out well.

So, how’s the rest of United’s Polaris product holding up?

United has great amenities in business class. There was a very nice amenity kit and slippers.

United also has reasonably priced wifi, as well as an excellent entertainment selection.

What really sets the product apart, though, is the bedding. In Polaris there’s a big comfy pillow, a nice duvet, and a day blanket. Then on request there’s a gel pillow and a mattress pad. This is the best bedding offered by any airline in the world in business class, and that’s even though they eliminated one of the pillows (which really was a smart move, since there was nowhere to put it).

As far as food goes, United is certainly making an effort with Polaris when it comes to the little details, though I don’t find the difference to be that substantial. The wine flight with the mixed nuts is a nice gimmick, though doesn’t materially alter the experience.

The appetizer and salad were both very good. It would be nice if United offered an option for appetizers, as many airlines do in business class, but this was very good at least. The appetizer consisted of smoked chicken with farro salad, and the salad consisted of mixed greens, celery root, grapes, and hardboiled eggs.

For the main course I ordered the poached cod with lobster sauce, potatoes, carrots, and onions. It was really good.

Then there was a cheese course.

And lastly there was dessert. United still has ice cream sundaes, though unfortunately they got rid of the bowls, since they were cracking, so they now serve them out of paper cups until they find a better solution.

The pre-landing snack was disappointing, given that this flight was over 10 hours. It consisted of a very low quality chicken breast with a side salad and piece of bread. There was no dessert or anything.

Lastly I just have to talk about the service. The issue with service on US airlines is that it’s consistently inconsistent. Qatar Airways’ CEO talked about the “grandmas” working at US airlines, and how the average cabin crew at his airline is 26 years old. Well, I got those “grandmas” he loves referring to, and I’d say the youngest crew member on this flight was at least twice the age of the average Qatar Airways crew.

You know what? These “grandmas” and “grandpas” were freaking phenomenal. Every single crew member I interacted with was top notch — they were friendly, attentive, knew exactly what they were doing, etc. Pam was working my aisle, and she was a gem. She made an effort to get to know each passenger in her section, whether American or German, and was just so incredibly charming that you couldn’t help but love her. This crew gets perfect marks from me.

I couldn’t have had a better crew on a US airline. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of issues with service on US airlines, but the age of the crews isn’t one of them. Some of the “grandmas” working the “friendly skies” are among the most professional people in the industry.

United Polaris bottom line

I’m happy I had Ford with me on this trip, since he flew American’s 777-300ER business class to Europe, and United’s Polaris back, so I asked him what he thought. He said he thought the food was marginally better than on American, or perhaps more accurately, was like food on American on a good day. He loved the bedding, but of course the seat didn’t compare to American’s 777-300ER business class seat.

That also matches my perception. I think the biggest improvement with United Polaris is the bedding. I lucked out with a phenomenal crew, but that has nothing to do with the product as such, given how inconsistent US airlines are. The Polaris food is definitely better than before, but I don’t think it’s actually that much of an improvement, and still can’t compete with top carriers (there’s no on demand dining, they still serve you on a tray, there’s no choice of appetizers, no choice of bread, etc.).

But overall I commend United for the effort they’re at least putting into the product. And most importantly, kudos to this crew for being so professional.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Lucky, for making the case for more senior cabin crew. In my experience, they are always great! And when they joined United, this was still a decent airline, so no reason to blame them for decades of mismanagement.

  2. The “best” United crews I have had I believe are ex-Continental which I bet is what you had on this flight. They are significantly better (in my experience at least) than United crews.

    United really needs to get rid of that bread covered in seeds, just not good. All they had on my flight from MUC-ORD a few weeks back, very disappointing.

  3. I’ve been flying United regularly recently and have already noticed the cost cutting from the original product. Nothing major but little bits chipped away.

    As for the crew, we had one of the worst last week, inconsistency seems to be their only strength!

  4. @ James — I think I’ve been very fair here. I’ve called out Qatar Airways’ CEO for his garbage to no end, and I call things as I see them. I’ve even said that the US carriers could have a valid argument if they actually decided to try and make it, rather than their current flag waving and fear mongering.

  5. Usually the older crews are great. They are still there because they truly enjoy their job and interacting with passengers. They’ve put up with a lot if crap from the legacy carriers over the past 20-30 years so if they wanted to quit they certainly would have been justified. That said, I generally do everything I can to avoid flying long haul on US airlines though. Whether I’m paying out of pocket or with miles, they’re just not as good and not worth the risk. I’d rather connect twice than fly direct on UA from SFO to SIN. That’s really too bad.

    But when you get the crabby, unfriendly, lazy, chip-on-the-shoulder attitudinal nightmare who spoils your flight, it diesnt matter whether it’s 50 minutes or 9 hours. It sucks. They are so miserable you’d think they’d quit….but they keep hanging on unfortunately for everyone. Those are the employees that continue to keep the memes and horror stories alive on the internet. It’s a real shame.

  6. I had a great crew flying lax-syd on United. They were “American casual” as I like to call it, not so formal like on an Asian carrier. But very friendly and great service.

  7. Are you ever going to fly Delta again? You haven’t in a long time so maybe the service will have gotten better.

  8. Being an AA EP, I travel quite a lot domestically and at least once a month on international long haul flights. My experience with the AA crew is they are either pretty good or really bad and unfortunately we only find out what kind of service is waiting for us once we board the plane.
    I also agree good or bad service has nothing to do with the age of the flight attendants.

  9. I fly FRA – IAH and MUC – IAH somewhat often on UA and have noticed the IAH crews tend to be really great regardless of what class you fly in. Classic American country hospitality maybe?

  10. Frankly, the secret, at least for United, on the quality of the flight crew is where they are based. This past February, I was unable to fly Lufthansa from Frankfurt-Dulles, and booked United Business. It was like a “Twilight Zone” episode in the most positive manner–extremely friendly, courteous, service-oriented German FAs-based in Frankfurt. Glasses were never empty, food cooked properly; always a smile. And most of the FAs were not the young, skinny FAs favored by Qatar Airlines, but wonderfully, middle-aged; with a certain elegance about their mannerisms that only comes with experience.

    United’s on-board service issue is commensurate to the same at Amtrak-it starts with HR that typically screens out the best applicants (per Robert Townsend’s “Up the Organization”) continues with inappropriate training; inadequate level of supervision on-board to ensure a consistent level of service.

  11. While I don’t fly with American carriers often, I have found most of the crews on my United flights actually quite friendly or at the very least not rude. The ex-Continental business class seat is far from the best business class seat, but it at least allows for easy communication if you are travelling with someone, without having to give up a window seat. The ex-United business class seat looks terrible, 8 seats per row, no thanks I rather save the extra points and just fly economy.

  12. Looks good though did they change the amenity bag?

    The snack looks far better than what I had on Lufthansa Business Munich-Denver; potato “stew” and a small salad. No protein offered, a half stale pretzel and a small dessert.

    I usually have no problem with basic F and C food but this left me hungry. Very small portion for soup and salad.

  13. @ James – If you must make silly accusations, please at least turn off the autocorrect so your comments don’t sound like you’ve just had your first grammar lesson.

  14. I flew IAD-MAD (767-400) in C a few weeks ago. The crew in C was a mix of older and younger flight attendants. The purser (and older woman) didn’t seem to know what I was asking for when I asked for the wine flight, and finally figured out once I described it (I’m a native English speaker.. unlikely to be my accent).

    The younger flight attendants were unfamiliar with the executive dining option (which is printed on the menu in fact), so kept bringing out my courses separately until I pointed out I had asked for executive when they took my order.

    I put United in the middle of the many carriers I’ve flow international C on — not great, but not awful. Solidly average.

  15. As a 1K, oftentimes there is a significant difference between sCO and sUA flight crews. Remember, the companies are still technically separate. I love every sCO flight i take but leave every sUA flight not feeling like it was even worthwhile. As in, why did I pay more for this?? There is a significant difference between the two.

  16. I feel the same way about a lot of the terrible CO crews out of EWR. Not exactly polished.

    Of course, UA was the more global company pre-merger, with the elevated TCON service too.

  17. Haha. Flew AMS-IAH this week. Same plane, same menu. Your appetizer chicken was nicely presented. Mine was 3 cuts of meat with a farro surprise underneath. Agree with you on the grannies. They were all lovely and attentive.

  18. You weren’t lucky Ben, Houston based sCO crews are the best IMHO. I fly between IAH and NRT a lot and I have never been disappointed by the “grandmas” or “grandpas”, lol. In fact I can fly to any other UA hub in order to connect to NRT (including SFO to experience the true Polaris product, or through ORD to try the Polaris Lounge), but because it’s the IAH based crews working my flights between IAH and NRT, I know they’re going to put on a good show; it’s been this way since the CO days.

    I still need to try that mattress pad you keep writing about. Even my mum and sister who flew NRT-IAH two days ago tried it for the first time and swore it help them get a good nights rest.

    Happy flying!

  19. I’ve noticed too that older FAs take customer service a hell of a lot more seriously than the young “fun” ones. Both literally and figuratively. Older FAs are a lot more attentive, formal, and respectful even though I’m a pretty young and young looking guy. I just feel like they take their jobs a lot more seriously than the younger ones, even though the younger ones look like they’re doing more work given how quickly they dash around. I have a lot of respect for older FAs, and quite frankly I am disgusted by the Qatar CEO and his comments and I have a pretty dim view of the ME3 because of that and how they treat their workforce.

  20. Shout out to the grandmas and the grandpas. It’s been 2 out of 3 good when I’ve flown long haul on American . The service is money more times than others but then sometimes they don’t give a crap.

  21. Well I guess Mr. Lucky needs to start traveling with some NON US BASED AIRLINES as well to see the difference. I was flying on a fully paid business class ticker like I always do and not using miles for upgrades etc. As Mr. Lucky does and it was the most horrible service ever. Stewardess youngest 58 oldest probably 70+. They served lunch (if you want to call it lumch) the whole Polaris class and then they remembered that tbey supposed to server bread as well when the half business class had finished. Not to mention about the croissants for breakfast. I guess Mr. Lucky needs to start paying some tickets with Etihad, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Eva Air, Asiana, etc. To see layout on business class not to mention First and service as well. Air Asia which is a low cost airline and flying brand new 737-800/900 is much better what United and American can put together…not to mention the price. The way I see it …..so call bloggers…get a free bundle here and there just for the advertising.
    So please Mr Lucky……!
    Get a job, get a dog, get a life…but don’t BS everyone here.

  22. Fair review. Ex-Con crews are generally friendlier, in my experience, though occasional gems are to be found on UA. Age does not matter to me – I just want friendly and *professional*. Not angry that I am bothering them with my presence in the seat!

    For me, lots of trans-pacific time on SQ & NH plus MH & LH but majority on UA with 12 yrs 1K or GS status and 1.3M flight on UA.

  23. United have bigger issues to contend with than those referred to in this excellent article. This is exactly how travel journalism is at its best.

    Until United deals with its core problems it shall remain seriously compromised.

    The excellent and critical point of mature staff is crucial. This agist snobbery of some airlines is not acceptable. I have little positive to say about United after their ghastly litany of abuse of the public. In fairness I greatly admire them on their non agist policies re staff and am very deeply impressed by the objective comments I’m this article. After the abusive treatment of a fellow Doctor, I swore I would never flu united again ever. This article makes me think further than the disasters of PR in 2017 .

    Journalism at its best .

    Dr T M Elmore-Meegan

  24. I flew an ex-continental 777-2 plane and crew from EWR-PEK recently and they were top notch as well. United has been getting hammered lately but they aren’t really as bad as they’ve been made out to be.

  25. I flew F on AA LAX-HKG and back this week. Had amazing older FA that was polished, genuine, and frankly amazing on outbound. Complete class act. This was service at a level that can only come with experience–which most only gain by age.

  26. @Lucky, I have to take issue with your “best bedding in Business Class in the world” comment.

    Having just flown Air New Zealand business premier again, their mattress pad is better, their duvets are just as good and you get two pillows as standard. I would say it is as good if not better than United because of the better pad. No gel pillow admittedly but wasn’t that impressed with those on United.

  27. Aren’t all ex-CO aircrafts operated by ex-CO crew? It’ll be interesting to see how fantastic these “grandma’s” and “grandpa’s” would be if they were ex-UA proper crew.

  28. I believe almost all the 787’s are CO crew, for some union reasons that have been covered before, accounting for the experience there. Ex-Ua crew is to be avoided. Even prefer regional partners over mainline UA. My recent flights out of Chicago have been particularly lame, although I did manage to avoid having any body parts broken.

  29. @Chris Apparently, you do not “get out much” in the travel world. Ben Schlappig aka “Lucky” is one of the most well known and well respected travel journalists in the world. He has flown on every airline you mentioned and reported on them all (and countless others). I can guarantee he has travelled on more airlines than you, and probably 99.9999999% of the global populous.

    You are clearly new to this travel journalism world. You can take your Air Asia 737, job, dog and life, and carry on. I suggest you do a bit more research before making disparaging comments.

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