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Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Fri May 02, 2003 3:57 am

Down Under - 18APR-23APR

Warning: The following trip report contains disturbing scenes of non-revenue passengers in premium cabins. Reader discretion is advised.

April 18, 2003
United Airlines UA863
From: San Francisco (International - SFO/KSFO)
To: Sydney (Kingsford Smith - SYD/YSSY)
United First - 5J
747-422 (N174UA)
Flight Time: 13h 35m

After a shortened shift at work, I grabbed my trusty Travelpro and backpack combo and proceeded to the International Terminal G, Gate G94 for my flight to Sydney. I had been activated on the list earlier. After exchanging some US dollars into the Australian type, a thorough inspection of the duty-free shop and a self-guided tour of the other International Terminal gates, my traveling companion and I headed to the departure lounge at Gate 94.

Our names were called soon after, even before the boarding process began. Upon arriving at the podium, imagine my shock when seeing that we had both been assigned seats in United’s International First cabin. Joy!  Smile When boarding did commence, we of course joined the First Class line, and expected receipt of our duty-free articles, but none were to be found.

We took our seats on board, although my friend shuffled seats with other occupants in First so everybody could sit next to each other, etc. He ended up with 4J directly in front of me. J is the single First seat side on the right hand side of the cabin, and with a wonderful stowage bin between your seat and the wall to store little things. Pre-departure beverages were served, of which I chose my normal orange juice. As a strict non-alcoholic beverage consumer, I turned down offers of Dom Perignon (shock, I know).

Roughly 30 minutes after boarding, we pushed back for an on-time departure and taxied out to 28R for takeoff. The engines spooled up as soon as we lined up for takeoff and after a average length takeoff roll, we were in the air at 10:53pm and on our way to the South Pacific.

I would be remiss if I didn’t commend the crew working this flight for their friendly attitude and attentive service. It made the flight one of the best I have ever experienced. The purser was a distinguished older gentleman with a very soothing voice, and did an excellent job. Shortly after takeoff, beverage orders were taken and I opted for my usual, a ginger ale with lime. It arrived about a minute later. Meal orders were taken soon after.


Smoked salmon timbale
Capers and lemon aïoli


Filet mignon with bèarnaise sauce and sautèed shrimp with garlic
Baked stuffed potato topped with cheddar cheese

Grilled lamb chops with cranberry orange demi-glace
Oven-roasted three potato hash and asparagus

Ricotta and artichoke filled ravioli
Roasted zucchini, yellow squash and Parmesan cheese
Your choice of Pomodoro or creamy pesto sauce


Prosciutto with mozzarella cheese, cantaloupe and balsamic vinaigrette
Marinated shrimp with Asian vinaigrette and tropical fruit
Eli’s Chocolate Truffle cheesecake


International Cheese Selection
Brie, Gruyère, Gorgonzola and New England Cheddar cheese

Ice cream with sundae toppings

Fresh seasonal fruit

- - - - - - - - - -

I selected the lamb entree, and it was indeed delicious. A little less cooked than I usually prefer, but it was still delicious. The potatoes and asparagus provided a lovely compliment. For dessert I selected the ice cream, and had some fresh strawberries to accompany it as well. I was apparently slower than the rest of the First Class cabin in eating my entree, so the purser asked me what I would like out of the fruit basket, and that he would save it for me until I was ready. Very nice touch.

After the meal, I returned my full attention to my personal television, which had been playing Airshow since takeoff, and started the movie Spy Kids 2. It was a delightful movie. The flight attendants came around constantly, refilling my ginger ale and water glasses. After finishing the movie, I reclined my seat and turned it into a fully flat 6' 6" bed, pulled the covers over me, buckled my seat belt over it and proceeded to sleep for the next nine and a half hours.

Upon rising, I found a bottle of water to greet me. I went back to the galley and asked if I could get another personal video tape. The flight attendant pulled out the tape basket, and I selected one. Back to my seat, I started to watch the movie Sweet Home Alabama. Shortly after, breakfast was served.

Your selected entree will be served with fresh seasonal fruit and breakfast breads.

Scrambled eggs with chives and smoked Gouda cream sauce
Sautèed potatoes with onions, pork sausage and crispy bacon

Banana nut French toast with creamy maple syrup
Pork sausage and Canadian bacon

- - - - -

I selected the scrambled eggs, which were very delicious. The Gouda cream sauce added a nice bit of tang to usually bland eggs. The bacon wasn’t as good as it is on the ground... but you can’t win them all. The pork sausage (note not plural) was nothing to write home about. It was, however, accompanied by some fresh ripe cantaloupe and honeydew pieces, which cleansed the palate and finished off the meal on a very nice note. I finished Sweet Home Alabama just as the purser made the announcement that we were beginning our final descent into Sydney. I rewound the tape and switched over to AirShow to finish out the trip. The sun was starting to rise, so I peeked out the window and saw beautiful clouds and the very tip of Australia. Land ho! We came in over the suburbs of Coogee, Kingsford and finally the airport suburb of Mascot. We landed at 6:03am local time, two days later. After a short taxi, we parked at Gate 57, right next to a Singapore Airlines “Megatop” 747-400.

After thanking the flight attendants for the fantastic trip and giving them a box of chocolates I had purchased in the Duty Free shop prior to boarding, I was off the plane with my colleague and on my way to Customs & Immigration. As required, my Australian ETA was issued long prior to my departure, and verified by United personnel at the airport in San Francisco. Passport and arrivals card duly filled out, after a fair walk to the Immigration lines, I was processed quickly and efficiently by a handsome Immigration official who welcomed me to Australia, and gave me a yellow card detailing SARS. From a US-originated flight? Intriguing. Down the stairs, we passed the luggage carousels as we both took carry-on luggage only. Our bags were scanned by Customs, and we were free to go. Exchanged money, used the restrooms, then proceeded to the AirportLink train station for our trip to our accomodation.

April 23, 2003
United Airlines UA862
From: Sydney (Kingsford Smith - SYD/YSSY)
To: San Francisco (International - SFO/KSFO)
United First - 4E
747-422 (N120UA)
Flight Time: 12h 58m

After a wonderful couple of days in Sydney, it was time to return home. A friend from back in San Francisco who had arrived that morning on UA863 was kind enough to drive us to the airport. We stopped by The Rocks area of Sydney, where we had breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks. Great stuff. We then sped off to the airport, and arrived there at 12 noon sharp. We checked in with a very nice agent who pulled our flight coupons immediately (odd, I thought), and put us on the Departure Management list. After that, I filled out my departing passenger card, found a post box to mail postcards, and did a little bit of shopping at the duty-free shop. I stopped to take a few pictures of my aircraft as well as other aircraft at the SYD International Terminal (a few QANTAS aircraft, two UA 747's, and a Malaysian Airlines aircraft was all).

I then proceeded through departure formalities and security screening, and waited patiently for my duty-free goods at the Collection Point. It took them quite a while to get my items out there, even though I had first asked for them long past the 20 minute minimum time to transfer goods from landside to airside. I finally got my goods a bit after the first main cabin announcement was made for UA862. Luckily, I passed by the secondary screening at the gate entrance and was through to the departure lounge. I turned in my card at the service desk and sat down with my friend and waited. I took some more pictures to finish off my roll of film.

Soon, they called our names. I got seat 4E, and my friend 4F. We boarded and got ourselves settled. After everyone had boarded, there was still one F seat open, 3J. My friend wanted a window, so he moved over to that seat, leaving the seat next to me the only one open in F class. How nice  Smile I had a pre-departure orange juice as per usual, but this orange juice seemed quite tangy, almost burning-the-throat tang. The purser came around with the choice of personal video tapes. I selected The Bourne Identity, but never actually ended up watching it.

The crew on this flight was a stark contrast to our outbound flight. The flight attendants were efficient, yet cold and somewhat reclusive. The smiles I saw were fake at best. It was very much a letdown. After taxiing past a Air Calin aircraft, Cathay Pacific A340-600, and a pair of British Airways 747-400's, we lined up on the runway and takeoff commenced immediately upon lining up with the runway. The takeoff was smooth and pleasant. After takeoff, beverage orders were taken, and so were meal orders. Customs paperwork was then passed out. Then the meal was served.


Warm grilled shrimp with chervil sauce
Risotto with Parmesan cheese


Smoked ham, salami and Swiss cheese antipasto
Grilled zucchini, tomato and lemon aïoli

Garden fresh salad
Tomato vinaigrette or Caesar dressing


Filet mignon with a mustard demi-glace
Sauteed vegetable in puff pastry and green beans

Roasted Barramundi with bacon and portobello mushroom ragoût
Rice pilaf with onions and sauteed spinach with garlic

Country-style roasted breast of chicken with jus lie
Green peas and garlic mashed potatoes

Cheese tortellini with Parmesan cheese
Roasted artichoke hearts and Gorgonzola sauce


International cheese selection
True Blue, Heritage Brie, St. Clair and Kapiti Cheddar cheese

Ice Cream with sundae toppings

Fresh seasonal fruit

- - - - - -

I chose the chicken, which was very delicious. I was worried that I would be unable to finish it, having just eaten breakfast two hours earlier. But I did, and enjoyed ice cream with all the toppings to finish it off.

I then proceeded to listen to the European Beat channel (my favorite) while I calculated and filled out my Customs paperwork. Then I watched The Princess Diaries (one of my favorite movies) at least twice  Smile I tried to sleep, but unfortunately it was fitful sleep, for it was roasty toasty in the cabin, and I sleep best in slightly cooler temperatures. I got an hour of sleep here and an hour of sleep there. The seat belt sign went on and off, on and off as we hit periods of turbulence.

At one point during the flight, I got up to walk around. I checked with the flight attendants to make sure it was all right, and one told me “you can only go as far back as business for security reasons.” There it goes again  Smile So I walked back to the end of the Business cabin, and saw a cart out with some potato crisps, little sandwiches, fruit, and Dove chocolate. I took some chocolate back with me  Smile When I got back to my seat, the flight attendants were serving the midflight snack. I was given a cucumber and bell pepper sandwich, and a cold cut sandwich. Both were cut in cute little triangles. I also got some more Dove chocolate  Smile

The flight progressed along, and about an hour and a half out of San Francisco, breakfast was served.

Your selected entree will be served with breakfast breads, butter and fruit preserves.

Scrambled eggs Florentine with Hollandaise sauce
Canadian bacon, home-fried potatoes and fresh fruit appetizer

Fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt

- - - - - -

Feeling more along the lines of fruit, I chose the fruit plate. Slices of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, grapes, and passion fruit were accompanied by vanilla yogurt. Very refreshing.

We got closer to San Francisco, and eventually the announcement was made to prepare for landing. Landing was accomplished at 9:47am local time, Thursday. We pulled into Gate G97. Again, I was one of the first off the aircraft, and strolled down the long hall to Immigration. Passed through relatively quickly, no stamp in my passport though  Sad But I was welcomed home by the INS official. That was a nice touch.

Customs was painless as well, and I was soon out back into the United States.


Hope you enjoyed! Comments, as always, are welcome!

Head in the clouds... yet feet planted firmly on the ground.
Posts: 1701
Joined: Sun Jan 07, 2001 9:56 pm

RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Fri May 02, 2003 8:46 am

Tell ya what. I flown UA862/863 Y last week and N178UA was the rego again, both legs. YOU BEAUTY.

Having flown F, C and Y 6 times a yr on UA862 I can tell you the food was BETTER in my opinion in Y rather than F on United. I have Teriyaki Chicken with Rice (Japanese) and Pancake Bacon and Sausage with middle meal box Roast beef sandwich and cookies. With the military action and SARS influnce the travel, United was packed in C and empty in Y. I suspect lots of people don't know the Y was empty and buy a higher than Q class fare (upgradable fare) or use up their miles but found themselve no comfort at all. 71/73 seats taken something like that. I got 4 seater in the middle row of 42, lay down and stretch out , sweet sleep over 10 hours, yes 10 hours non stop sleeping that was also a new record for me! I enjoyed flying United and the service was good down the back! We have 190 pax out of 347 seats on UA862 outbound and 230 pax out of 347 on UA863 inbound.

Thanks for the time and effort to type menu in bold!
For more of myself and my flight reviews visit http://www.SamChui.com
Posts: 2604
Joined: Wed Aug 18, 1999 9:09 pm

RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Fri May 02, 2003 5:06 pm

Nice report. Two days in Australia doesn't sound nearly long enough, though.

That is quite a long walk down a terribly impersonal and bland hallway to the Immigration desks at SFO.

The name of the "art" on the wall is "You Were In Heaven" (IIRC), a nicely poetic title which doesn't justify it by a long shot.
Posts: 1038
Joined: Mon Oct 29, 2001 2:13 am

RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Sat May 03, 2003 12:05 am

Very well detailed report.

Did the Pilot tell everyone when you crossed the Date line?
Posts: 980
Joined: Mon Jan 17, 2000 9:18 am

RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Mon May 05, 2003 2:16 am

I was on these flights a year ago in coach. The flight down was very nice and empty. I had the four seats in the middle in the second to last row all to myself. I believe I was sleeping when we crossed the dateline but I don't think the captain made an anouncement as it was in the middle of the night and almost all passengers were sleeping.

Comming back was a full flight. Pretty cramped but good service again. Was that your first time to Sydney?

Two rules in aviation, don't hit anything and don't run out of gas, cause if you run out of gas yer gonna hit something.
Posts: 10261
Joined: Thu May 18, 2000 12:22 pm

RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Mon May 05, 2003 5:36 am

Excellent report Kai...I dont understand why you werent allowed past business class though when you wanted to take a walk...could you clarify that please? This "security" excuse seems a bit frivolous...

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Topic Author
Posts: 1254
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RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Wed May 07, 2003 1:56 am

USAFHummer: It's exactly as I said. I was not allowed to walk down the aisles past Business Class for "security reasons". It may seem frivolous, but I guess that's just procedure (or what passes for it).

Dinker225: Yes, it was my first time to Sydney. I enjoyed it immensely. I watched AirShow on the way back, and no announcement was made as AirShow crossed over the Date Line, and I doubt it was done on the outbound segment either, but I was sleeping so I couldn't tell  Smile

Head in the clouds... yet feet planted firmly on the ground.
Posts: 2295
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 1999 3:54 pm

RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Wed May 07, 2003 9:57 am

Could well be because the stairs to the upper deck (read flight deck) are located behind the B zone, so as to monitor the movement of passengers.
Posts: 1568
Joined: Fri Oct 05, 2007 7:59 am

RE: Down Under - UA863/862 SFO-SYD-SFO

Thu May 08, 2003 3:37 am

Another great non-rev adventure Kai  Big thumbs up I really hope UA stays around forever, it is truly a wonderful airline...


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