Airline: United Airlines
Flight number: UA922
Aircraft: Boeing 767-322/ER
Seat: 05D (Business Class)
Distance: 3677 miles
Duration: 6hrs 40mins
Date: Thursday 9th February
Photo © Nick Salmon
Photo © Marcelo Fouquet De Biasi
This flight was the start of long planned vacation with my girlfriend to South Africa. We opted to fly from Washington to Cape Town via London to break up the journey and also so we could stop and see my parents briefly on the way back from our trip. The transatlantic legs were on United in Business Class with the flights to and from Cape Town on British Airways in First. I am going to post the BA flights in a separate report so keep an eye out for that.
When I booked the tickets themselves the cabin was very empty and so I went for 5A and 5B for the combined window seat and bulkhead experience but the day before the flight changed to 5C and 5D for the extra legroom. The flight was on the slightly inferior 767 product which offered one less inch in the seat width, but as I had booked one ticket with frequent flyer miles I had no option but to take this particular flight. It would also be my first transatlantic dayflight going eastbound, and my first longhaul in business class with anyone other than BA in about 13yrs so was interested to eye up the competition!
The journey itself began very early on Thursday morning; instead of driving to Dulles at an insane hour of the morning we opted to stay at an airport hotel, in particular the Hyatt Regency at Reston, about 5mins down the Dulles Toll Road from the airport itself. A very nice property in a little neighbourhood with a few restaurants, a multiplex cinema and an ice skating rink. More importantly we got free parking in their garage for the duration of our holiday thrown in which saved us some time the following morning. The hotel shuttle ran at 45mins past the hour so we took the 6.45am option and were dropped off on the arrivals floor but in the vicinity of the UA check-in area. Coming up the escalator into the departure hall I was surprised how busy the place was, I wasn't expecting an empty barn but this was nuts! I was just thankful the UA Business check-in line was only about half a dozen people in length. Boarding passes were retrieved and luggage was scanned by the TSA so I could send it locked. Then it was off to join security where the line itself was rather well managed and in just a few minutes I was airside and amongst the last on the mobile lounge across to the C Concourse.
Although our flight was going from gate C1 the closest Red Carpet Club at C8 was closed for renovation, not a big deal thanks to the location of another much better lounge beside Gate C17. I managed to get a couple of drinks chits each to stash away for the future and the girlfriend and myself settled in with some fruit juice and thankfully disaster was averted as she managed to throw her tea in the opposite direction to where our bags were!
United Red Carpet Club at Gate C17
In plenty of time for the flight my girlfriend went to change some US Dollars into South African Rand at a nearby Travelex. As a BA Exec Club partner I handed her my BA card in order to earn a few token miles. Alas the girl got so confused thinking it was some form of credit card and then said she had no South African Rand, never mind. We headed to the gate where we waited for the flight to board. The Air Marshals boarded soon after we arrived, it was so obvious who they were. All fairly tall, buff looking guys who showed some form of badge ID and then were escorted onboard by the gate agent! An announcement was made for those to surrender the I-94W forms and then boarding started with Global Service, First and Business Class folks. A short line formed and we headed down the jetway. Were welcomed aboard and directed to our seats.
The legroom in 5D was plenty, if not too much! I had to get out of my seat to retrieve anything from the pocket in front. We had a few interesting fellow passengers onboard, a lady in First Class who was welcomed by numerous kisses and 'mwahs' from the equivalent of the Cabin Service Director. A couple of other passengers in First Class had bags with UA Crew tags all over them, cementing my views that UA F is reserved for staff and a few elites upgrading! The other passengers (apart from the Air Marshals ) included a single lady in her fifties that was dressed from head to toe including luggage in black was in the seat across from me. She initially sat in the First cabin although was told she was in the wrong seat and sent back, she had a BA Silver tag with no UA tags, so was probably in a similar predicament to myself although had some serious problems with keeping her jeans in place, despite an enormous belt they kept slipping off her backside....not too pleasant! The rest of the Business cabin filled up to about 60% capacity.
The cabin services director (or person of equal stature in the UA hierarchy) came round and introduced himself to each of us and asked if we needed an explanation of any of the seating controls and if we did just to ring the bell and ask for him. Our amenity kits were handed out, they felt pretty cheap to be honest so I put mine away and then I got out my Bose headphones and my pyjamas to go and change into. At the time there was nobody to hang my jacket so I momentarily put it in the overhead locker, something that could have been a very expensive mistake! Menus were handed out and procedures finalised in good time for our departure. Drinks were also handed out and I took an orange juice. Looking at the menu my mouth was watering a little as we had been up since 5.15am and it was nearing 9.30am now and I'd not eaten a bean!
We headed for 1R and took off with a slight bank round to the north east and headed up towards New York City, the sky was perfectly clear which offered great views for those in window seats although it was a little turbulent for a while so were rooted to our seats. The CSD then came round again and asked if we had chosen our breakfast yet and what we were going to opt for.
Your choice of yoghurt and breakfast breads served with
Fresh seasonal fruit plate
prior to our arrival
Fresh seasonal greens
Roasted garlic red wine vinaigrette or classic caesar dressing
Applewood smoked bacon wrapped filet mignon with wild mushrooms
Oven roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed green beans with shallots and almonds
Tilapia fillet with cornbread crust and pomodoro sauce
Wild rice with sauteed shallots and a broccoli, artichoke and pepper medley
International cheese selection
Stilton and Black Diamond Cheddar cheese
My girlfriend and I both took the mushroom omelette and a drinks order was taken. We both opted for mimosas, after all it was the beginning of our vacation.
Mimosas over Connecticut
At this time I decided to get my jacket down from the overhead locker so it could be put away but as I pulled at it my bag began to move. Very confusing until I realised that by some freak of nature the hook in my jacket had become entangled with the zip on my bag! I wrestled with it for about five minutes but looking at it made it even more confusing how it could have happened in the first place. I put the bag away as it was apparent that it would require a bit more effort to release it and breakfast was on it's way. At this point I thought the zip and coathook were the start of many freak accidents that were to plague my holiday!
Firstly a bread round was done, I opted for a croissant, then a fruit plate was brought round, personally I'm not a great fan of them so sat with it, sipping on my mimosa and nibbling on my croissant whilst my girlfriend buried most of hers and we swapped plates.
Fresh seasonal fruit plate with croissant
The mushroom omelette then came and you are lucky to see a picture of it as I pretty much buried the thing in just a few minutes, must have looked a right animal but I was extremely hungry! It was rather good too. I was advised on Flyertalk the breakfast would be rather filling and I wasn't disappointed.
Mushroom omelette with red pepper sauce. Sauteed potatoes with onions, pork sausages and crispy bacon
I tried to sneak a fork from the cutlery as it was cleared away so I could prize open the small gap where my coat hook had got stuck but got an admonishing look from the flight attendant as if to say, 'You fool, you saw three air marshals board this plane' I gave the flight attendants a few minutes to clear everything up and then went back to the galley with my bag and explained the situation, their view was to just cut it off but explaining the jacket cost £700 got them scratching their heads a bit more. They tried a strange metal device with a thin edge but that didn't quite work so they decided they were going to hack the zip of my bag. Eh uh, the bag is £300! Another FA became engrossed with this and fetched a tool from First Class and within a couple of minutes bag and jacket were separate! I was rather pleased and they laughed when I asked if possible to hang it up Soon after the CSD came around with the pink envelopes and as my girlfriend was a US passport holder she was offered one, as a UK citizen I get a nice welcome to my country without the need for flourescent envelopes
I went back and sat down and thought about how to pass the next few hours. After perusing the IFE guide, I decided against watching a movie, nothing on UA's stone age entertainment system grabbed me. I initially thought to recline the seat as much as possible and then thought the idea of these dayflights is to avoid sleep and then hit the sack upon arrival in London so fetched my music player from my bag in the overhead. I fired it up and listened to a few Paul Oakenfold mixes over the next few hours. I watched as we slowly crept across the Atlantic with strong tailwinds and the sunset got ever closer.
The legroom in 5A & 5B. It had a few inches less than 5C & 5D
Due to UA's policy (or is it FAA policy?) of not shutting the curtains between cabins (rather odd in my opinion as it makes the aircraft feel all open) I was able to watch the First Class service quite closely. It appeared as though the CSD was playing a big role up front and was assisted by another male FA. However there were only a few differences on the 767 between First and Business; a slightly wider and more reclining seat that happened to restrict access to the aisle for window seat passsengers. I noticed a few tall champagne flutes being handed out and service was done from the trolley. From where I was the service looked extremely personal but then the people I could see were the staff so wasn't sure if that was the case or not. At least it looked like UA were trying very hard to differentiate First Class from Business on the 767 where the differences in the hard product were not so great.
During the flight I got up to go the bathroom a couple of times and noticed some of the seats on the right hand side of the Business cabin were used as crew rest and I managed to sneak a quick picture of the cabin. I was half expecting the trigger happy FAMs to wrestle me to the floor after taking this
Business Class cabin on the United 767
Throughout the flight the FAs passed through the cabin topping up glasses of water without prompting. In some ways it works doubly well for all involved as it means less of the more expensive alcohol supplies are used up, passengers don't get drunk and become target practice for our armed friends about the cabin and also we tend to arrive in better shape....oh and our perceptions of United service is much increased. Am I too cycnical when it comes to these things? I think UA may have to revise how often the passings through the cabin should be done though as with the amount of water being used up I think the bathrooms were working some serious overtime. Have they considered the maintenance cost of this?
My girlfriend spent much of the flight watching numerous movies while I sat there awaiting the next course of food! I was getting rather hungry once more...
About three and a half hours after breakfast it was apparent the cogs went into action to prepare for dinner arrived. Our CSD, John, came around again, did the little crouching thing and described the various options to us (see menu above). I opted for the filet mignon and my girlfriend, the tilapia.
Of course the first 'course' was some hot nuts which were accompanied by Duval-Leroy NV Brut Champagne. The wine list was as follows:
Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top NV Champagne
Duval-Leroy NV Brut Champagne
Maison Henry Brochard 2004 Pouilly Fume Sauvignon Blanc
Geyser Peak Chardonnay 2004 Alexander Valley
Wente Vineyards Livermore Valley 2003 Chardonnay
Chateau Lalande Vielles Vignes 2002 Listrac Medoc
Chateau la Boutignane 2003 Corbieres
Bodega Norton Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Lujan de Cuyo
Pedroncelli Three Vineyards 2002 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Aperitifs, cocktails, spirits, liquers and beer
Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto will be offered during the main meal's dessert
STARBUCKS coffee will be available throughout the flight
Hot nuts and Duval-Leroy Champagne
Again the bread was brought round with salad, and I asked for a glass of the Norton Cabernet Sauvignon to go with my filet. I liked the way the dressing was done by spoon from a bowl, it felt a little more sophisticated than shaking a small bottle and pouring it on.
Salad with bread, water and Bodega Norton Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Lujan de Cuyo
The salad dressing, balsamic vinaigrette (not as printed in the menu) was wonderful. I just can't get enough of balsamic but the salad itself was a little disappointing. I'm not a great fan of salads with a huge proportion of lettuce, am more of a spring mix kind of a man but it tasted alright and I was hungry!
Applewood smoked bacon wrapped filet mignon with wild mushrooms.
Oven roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed green beans with shallots and almonds. A glass of Bodega Norton Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Lujan de Cuyo
The filet mignon was pretty decent for airline food, the bacon around it was perfect and the red wine I selected went rather well with it. The potatoes were also done just right, not rock hard and not so soft they crumbled. A for this one. My girlfriend who doesn't usually understand the reason I take photos and the like all of a sudden went nuts and remarked her tilapia was so good she was going to take a photo of it! Yikes! If my girlfriend says fish is done well it means it is good. She eats fish so much it isn't funny and to give this a good rating is a credit to the caterers!
Tilapia fillet with cornbread crust and pomodoro sauce. Wild rice with sauteed shallots and a broccoli, artichoke and pepper medley
Dessert was then brought round...mmm ice cream. Who doesn't like ice cream??
The only thing this could have done with was maybe a sauce to put on it, spooning it off a bowl from the trolley or something, much like with the salad.
After all this was done we were just coming in over Devon and Cornwall and since the meal service was over with I decided to go and change and basically prepare for landing. I peered out of the windows beside 5A & 5B as we slowly descended towards London. At this time the CSD came round and shook everyones hand individually and thanked everyone for flying with United today, he managed to say a different thing to everyone within earshot which made it feel much more personable. He then came around and by name presented a rose, or at least a rather pretty red flower to each of the ladies in the cabin. Not sure if it was a pre-Valentines day thing or if the crew usually hit on female passengers but it cemented my view that this chap in particular and his crew certainly made the flight for me and my girlfriend felt the same way.
My girlfriend with the flower from the cabin services director
We circled just south of Heathrow and came in from the east on the southern runway, at least one of the benefits of arriving into Terminal 3 are that there is no need to cross and active runway, unlike the majority of my flights!
The aircraft pulled up in the back end of beyond in Terminal 3 about 30mins early thanks to tailwinds. It was a good 10 minute walk with no slouching to immigration which certainly dispelled any thoughts of deep vein thrombosis setting in!
My girlfriend beat me through immigration in the Fast Track lane and we headed down to baggage reclaim. As with the majority of my flights on Star Alliance airlines my bags were through amongst the first dozen or so. The only thing left was to withdraw some cash and wait a couple of minutes for the Hotel Hoppa to arrive. At this point I really felt the need to lie down. As I was withdrawing cash I was hassled by an Indian chap asking if I wanted an (illegal) minicab, one refusal should be enough but this guy was persistent. I headed over the Hotel Hoppa stop and the one we required came pretty fast. After about 10mins of terminal hopping we arrived at the Sheraton Heathrow, checked in to our Executive Room and were greeted with a nice bottle of wine courtesy of the manager. My girlfriend and I enjoyed supping it whilst laying on the bed as we got ready for bed. After all the next day we had almost a 12hr flight ahead of us!
Bottle of wine courtesy of the manager at Sheraton Heathrow
Verdict: Have to say UA did pretty well on this flight and it surpassed my expectations. I was warned about UA in Business, the 767 product is inferior thanks to a 1" narrower seat but to be honest it didn't bother me too much. The food was pretty decent and the service was excellent, in particular the Cabin Services Director who gets a big thumbsup If anyone knows the proper term for this guy then I'd appreciate it as I'd prefer to use native terminology.
Having said all the above I'd still choose BA over UA but my views of UA went up after this flight, UA just didn't have the X-factor that my BA flights seems to have. Read my report from the LHR-IAD leg to see if UA once again surprises me....or not.