Review: London to Los Angeles in United BusinessFirst

I recently returned from the Euro Cup on a long routing, most of it in United BusinessFirst.

Kharkiv to Vienna to Frankfut to London to Los Angeles

More than three quarters of the trip was the 5,456-mile flight from Heathrow to LAX. I had the pleasure of flying the 11+ hour flight on a 777 in United BusinessFirst, the unfortunate name of United’s international business class product. (The real first class product is called United Global First.)

United’s business class on its 777s is arranged in a 2-4-2 pattern. The layout of the seats is a major weakness. Only the four aisle seats have access to the aisles. The other four seats would have to climb over sleeping passengers. Contrast this with British Airways’ 2-4-2 layout on their 777s, which I reviewed here. In BA’s layout, all eight passengers can get to the aisle without disturbing other passengers.

Luckily, I had a window seat, and the aisle seat next to me was free, so I had easy aisle access.

Two for me

Champagne was offered as soon as we boarded, and I watched a little TV once I figured out how to change it out of Japanese. There was a large movie and TV selection, so I picked (the new) 21 Jump Street.

As you can see, the foot rest is a recessed area right under the monitor. The tray pulls out from the center console where my phone is resting.

Soon after departure, drinks and lunch were served. The 10:30 AM departure time was delayed about one hour, so I don’t know if it is supposed to be served immediately after departure or at noon, but for us that was the same thing.

Here are the menus.

Mains

Dessert, Snack, Second Lunch

Wines

And here’s the execution:

Everything was tasty, but nothing stood out, with one exception. The beef was awful, borderline inedible. Thinking back, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a good steak on a plane. Have you?

Next was the star of the meal. Ice cream sundae with chocolate syrup and strawberries on top!

If that wasn’t enough, they brought around a cheese-and-crackers plate with red grapes.

The lunch service took about 90 minutes, and it finished as the movie ended. At this point I was exhausted. I had only got three hours of sleep the night before, and I had already been traveling from Frankfurt for about seven hours.

It was time to change the seat to a bed.

The full-size pillow was more impressive than BA’s pillow, and the blanket was comfortable. As for the size of the bed, I thought it was a little smaller than full comfort.

I’m 6’4″ and 200 pounds. The bed was fully flat and 6’4″ long and 20″ wide according to seatguru. At first, I was slightly uncomfortable. My feet were flush against the plastic end of the foot rest area. My sides weren’t touching the sides of the bed, but I did feel like it was a tight squeeze. A few more sundaes, and I might have gotten stuck.

I did fall asleep quickly though due to exhaustion. And those are minor quibbles about the bed. I woke up after four and a half hours of perfect sleep, feeling rested. I did not wake up feeling any discomfort or pain from the bed.

Comparing BA’s Club World seat to United’s BusinessFirst seat

I was interested to compare the numbers of the United bed to the British Airways bed. Seatguru lists BA’s 777 business class bed as 3″ shorter than United’s. I actually felt like I had more space though on BA’s shorter bed. I had the bulkhead, which may have contributed to that.

Seatguru says the beds are of equal width, but BA’s felt much wider. This may be because United’s foot area is much narrower than BA’s, which is the same width as the rest of the bed.

After waking up, I headed straight for the food cart, which was set up between the 40-seat business class cabin and the 12-seat first class cabin. There were more cheese-and-grape plates as well as some good cheese-and-pepper sandwiches. Two more movies and we were over Vegas. The strip:

The Strip: Not as glitzy during the day

 

Near the end of the flight, a second lunch was served, since we were arriving just before 2:30 PM local time in LA.

The chicken burrito was pretty good, and I ate it all despite having already consumed about 5,000 calories on the flight!

We touched down an hour late at 2:30 PM, and I was on the curb in 7 minutes because of Global Entry, as detailed in this post.

Overall thoughts:

While I at first thought the bed was a little small, I slept very comfortably on it for four and a half hours to make up for the three hours I slept the night before the flight. The seat alignment is horrible. Get an aisle seat if you want to avoid having to disturb other passengers to get up. Of course, if you take the aisle, they’ll have to wake you up to get out.

The food was good and plentiful, with the exception of a rubbery, gross steak.

Overall I was very pleased with the timing of the flight. I arrived in LA at 2:30 PM, which was 11:30 PM on my body clock. But because I had slept 4.5 hours on the plane, I was able to stay awake (and even play sports) until about midnight, my normal bed time.

That meant that I woke up for the first time in LA already on my normal schedule. To me, this solved 1/3 of the jet lag equation immediately, which is amazing when crossing nine time zones. The other parts of jet lag, not being able to sleep through the night without waking up and just being a little tired all day took about two more days to subside, but at least I was on schedule immediately.

United’s business class product is nice, not quite as nice as BA’s, but certainly not $300 worse than BA’s. So since BA’s business class product costs at least a $300 surcharge on an AA award and even more on a BA award, use your United miles to Europe and your AA miles and BA Avios elsewhere.

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  1. Great report. I flew the exact same flight (UA 935?) from LHR to LAX last month, but in 2A in Global First. Seems like there’s not much of a difference between BF and GF, especially with the food. The lunch option in First was absolutely disgusting, your burrito looked better.

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  4. Just read this as I’m doing BRU-ORD this summer first time in BF on United after doing Club World on BA seven times. I just wanted to correct you slightly when you say all 8 seats on BA get direct aisle access without waking the neighbor. This is not exactly true as you have to step over someone’s legs if you are in the inside of the 4 seats or the window seat. The only exception are the rear facing seats at the back of the cabin which don’t have to climb over anyone’s legs. Looking forward to trying UA though.

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  9. Just read this trip report since I’ll be flying on UA businessFirst in a few weeks. Thanks for the heads up on the steak!

    If you’re looking for an excellent steak in the air (as in, close to steakhouse quality) try Swiss Airlines’ new business class product. Not only is the seat config 1-2-1 (in Business!) on every other row, but they serve an excellent (and cooked to order) filet mignon. Some of the best food I’ve had in the air!

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