Pre-departure services and the Global First lounge

United Global First Los Angeles to Sydney

Sydney Airport and Air New Zealand Lounge

Air New Zealand Business Class Sydney to Auckland

United 839
Los Angeles (LAX) – Sydney (SYD)
Depart: 10:10 PM on Monday, December 31
Arrive: 7:45 AM on Wednesday, January 2
Duration: 14:35
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 2A (First Class)

After several full meals in the Global First lounge, I headed to gate 77. There were two separate doors, one for the premium cabins and one for the hoi polloi people who haven’t discovered miles yet. The agent checking premium-cabin boarding passes was standing alone since most first and business class passengers had already boarded by the time I arrived.

I walked down the jetway entering the plane between business and first class, right at the galley. The flight attendants were busy doing prep work in the galley, so none greeted me. I turned left, and headed to seat 2A.

Door 1L with the Tulip peeking out.

United’s 747-400 is configured with 12 First Class seats in the nose of the plane on the lower deck. The first two rows have only two window seats. The third and fourth rows are configured 1-2-1. SeatGuru.com recommends seats 2A and 2K without explanation. I assume it’s because 1A and 1K might feel more cramped as the cabin narrows or because 1A and 1K are less private: they can see and be seen by more seats.

I took seat 2A and placed my one bag in the overhead bin. The overhead bin was very small. My bag is a carry on that fits the slightly smaller European carry on requirements, but I had to tug and push to get it in and out.

I excitedly sat down to survey my dominion for the next 15 hours.

Big pillow, small pillow, duvet, headphones

First I checked out the storage compartments. Immediately to my seat’s right was a large, deep compartment with a small opening. I stuffed the pillow I wasn’t using, my shoes, and my computer in this compartment at various times.

Deep storage and water bottle storage

Unfortunately this storage area, which was opened with a push button, wouldn’t open on command at my seat. It was a hassle to open if closed all the way, so I left the opening ajar.

Above this storage area, was another storage area perfect for a bottle of water or some rolled magazines.

To the left of the seat was a smaller storage area where I emptied my pockets for the flight.

Directly in front of the seat, and above the ottoman, was my personal in-flight television. The television was a 15.4 inch monitor, controlled by a remote on the right side of the seat. I found the selection of TV shows and movies to be excellent. I would venture that anyone would easily be entertained on a 14 hour flight with the selections.

The seat had three positions: take off, reclined, and bed. But you could set it at any intermediate position also. I thought reclined was very comfortable for reading and watching TV.

While I familiarized myself with my area, a flight attendant came around offering a pre-departure beverage. I went with champagne, which was brought pre-poured in a plastic cup.

The flight took off right on time. In United Global First, you have to wear a shoulder strap that connects to the seat belt for take off and landing. It’s similar to a car seat belt and mildly annoying. As soon as we were airborne I took off the shoulder strap.

With such a late departure, the meal service began as soon as we were airborne. The menu:

The spring roll was very tasty. The soup was subbed out for a seafood soup, which I didn’t try, and I selected tamale-filled chicken breast as my main course because I was jealous my brother was having traditional New Year’s tamales in El Paso.

My meal was exquisite.

Inside the chicken was the corn-meal base of tamales. It was kind of like an inside-out tamale. I give it high marks for taste and creativity, since I’d never heard of such a dish before ordering it. I was initially skeptical about the yucca. I almost ordered the beef because its side potatoes sounded better. But the grilled yucca was marvelous, far better than the fried yucca I’d had in Peru.

Dinner was cleared and a sundae cart was brought around.

Sure I had just had about four dinners in the last few hours, but I wasn’t about to turn down a fudge and strawberry sundae! Great decision by me!

After the sundae service, a cheese, cracker, and fruit plate was offered. It looked good, but I couldn’t eat any more.

After the meal service ended, it was nearly midnight. As one flight attendant cleared my tray, I noted it was 11:59 PM in Los Angeles. She asked if she should bring some champagne to celebrate, and I assented. (I halfway expected there to be some countdown on the plane, but I guess everyone preferred sleep to a party.)

After clearing all the trays, the flight attendants brought around the mattress pads. If you’ve read trip reports about extravagant first class experiences, you may be familiar with turndown service on a plane. This wasn’t exactly that.

The flight attendants went seat-to-seat asking if you wanted the pad. If you did, they told you to get up while they put it on. It’s possible I could have requested they wait until later, but that option wasn’t given.

The mattress pad itself was a puny half-inch thick blue mat. I’m not sure if it made the bed more comfortable, but it didn’t make it less so.

I watched TVs and movies for a few hours. There were plenty of things on the entertainment system that I had been meaning to watch. Unfortunately my screen froze then rebooted mid-Batman. I looked around and didn’t see anyone’s screen having a similar problem. The reboot took a few minutes, and a few more minutes to fast forward to where I had been in the movie.

Black Screen of Death

Unintentionally I think I had the right sleep pattern to go back five time zones. I naturally stayed up until 4 AM PT, meaning there was about nine hours left on the flight when I tried to sleep.

I fell asleep instantly. I found the bed long enough for a 6’4″ person to sleep comfortably. It wasn’t as soft as a normal bed, maybe more like sleeping on a couch. But I caught seven hours of uninterrupted, natural sleep. I woke up about 2 hours outside of Sydney, just a bit before breakfast.

I decided to take a lap through the cabin. Business class looked completely full like first class. And I was eager to take a look at the upstairs business class, since I had never been upstairs on a plane. The seats are a little smaller on the top deck of the 747 compared to the business class cabin on the main deck, but I would still choose the top deck because it was more private, and you’re on the second story of an airplane!

The flight attendants had had a cart out all night with the mid-flight snacks to be shared by business and first class passengers. I had a few turkey sandwich halves and an apple as a pre-breakfast.

When I went back to my seat, I inspected my amenity kit.

The amenity kit itself is larger and a bit nicer than the BusinessFirst amenity kit on United. The Global First one unbuttons giving access to everything at once in two compartments.

The amenity kit has all the basics for a long flight. The only thing of any quality was the line of lotions and lip balm from Philosophy.

Basics on the Left, Philosophy Products on the Right

I was happy to see that Global First gets the same Philosophy products that BusinessFirst does. I’ve never used them, but they get rave reviews from the women in my life. As I was examining them, a flight attendant came over unprompted and started gushing about the cuticle cream, so they are popular.

At about 6 AM Sydney time, breakfast was served. Having stuffed myself for the previous 16 hours, I had the cereal. We descended with beautiful waterfront shots of Sydney on a dreary morning and landed right on time.

Overall Impressions

Seat: Comfortable for sitting, watching TV, and reading

The shoulder strap for takeoff and landing is annoying, but that’s 10 minutes.

Bed: Comfortable for sleeping

No more comfortable than a couch or a United BusinessFirst bed.

Bedding: Average

The mattress pad is a joke. The duvet is nice. The big pillow is a nice pillow about the size of my bed pillows. The small pillow is nice for watching TV or reading.

Food: Excellent

I was very happy with dinner and dessert, breakfast was adequate, and the snacks left out overnight were tasty.

Service: Adequate

It was very clear to me that the flight attendants’ goal was not for me to have the  flight of my life or me to think that United Global First is a luxury I was eager to repeat. Their goal was to get through the flight.

I wasn’t greeted or thanked for flying United. I wasn’t given a choice of when I got turn down service. A few of my water orders got lost in the shuffle, and I had to take my empty glasses to the galley or have them clutter my area.

Entertainment:

The screen is decent size since you’re so close. The movie and TV collection was very good with a mix of new and old and many popular shows.

Seat Recommendation: If traveling solo, take 1A or 1K. Others will see you, but you shouldn’t really see them. If traveling with a partner, grab the middle seats in row 3. You’ll be able to talk, and you shouldn’t hear much galley noise.

Other:

This was the most turbulent flight of my life. The aircraft shook so much for so long, I was even starting to get a little nervous. This also meant the seat belt sign was on for uncomfortably long stretches. I wouldn’t hold this against United though.

I think the problems I had with my storage area door not closing and my TV restarting mid-movie were one-off problems that I wouldn’t penalize United Global First for. But avoid seat 2A on United’s 747s just in case you’re on the same plane, and they don’t fix the problem.

Overall Rating: Business+

This was what I would expect from a good business class flight. It fell short of my lofty expectations for a first class experience.

Whether it was worth the premium over business class is a question I get a lot and one I’ll endeavor to answer in a future post.

Anything in this post to the contrary notwithstanding, I was grateful to be flying up front with my own bed, happy to arrive rested, and thankful for the opportunity to do it for pennies.

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