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
Eleven months ago, I booked Los Angeles to Sydney to Auckland one way in first class for 80,000 United miles, miles I earned partially from the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
I booked the flight 11 months out because I was flying during ultra-peak high season to Australia, the southern hemisphere summer, specifically around Christmas and New Year.
United flies daily to Sydney and on to Melbourne from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Award seats are readily available during our summer, but during Australia’s summer, you need to get your tickets 11 months out or in the last few days. For help getting to Australia, contact my Award Booking Service.
My flight was at 10:10 PM on New Year’s Eve, and I was dropped off at LAX at 7:30 PM. I wanted to enjoy the United Global First lounge before take off, and I didn’t want to impinge on my ride’s New Year’s plans. Right off the bat, I made a mistake.
I was dropped off at Terminal 7, but United handles all its Premium check ins at Terminal 6. I, of course, could have gotten a boarding pass before showing up at the airport, but I wanted the full first class experience including check in.
Check in was a disappointment. The first class check in stand was empty when I got there. An employee came up and typed in my info on the kiosk for me as I stood next to her. When my boarding pass came out, she didn’t give me any info about the Global First lounge, so I had to ask.
This is the first of many minor quibbles I had with the experience. I mention them not because I’m an over-entitled person who requires the utmost luxury. (I’m writing this from an eight-bed hostel room.) I mention them because when you are considering redeeming 80k miles oneway, you may want to know every detail, and you may want the most amazing luxury you can get.
I headed to security, but the premium security line was closed. I could have entered only if I had applied for TSA Precheck (I should), so I had to go to the normal security line in Terminal 7. Luckily the line was short, and I was into the terminal in a few minutes. I made a bee line for the Global First lounge above Gate 75. (The elevator is temporarily under maintenance, so it is only accessible by stairs.)
The man at the front desk took my boarding pass and welcomed me by name. He asked if I’d ever been to the lounge and hearing that I hadn’t, he gave me a tour. There were some small plates set out, and the bar was self-serve.
I set up my computer to write, and I took a lap around the lounge, which more than two and a half hours before the flight had only one other passenger. The lounge had several areas for sitting or working, but no unified theme.
While I waited for the cook, I had my first round of small food plates. I also tried my hand at making a Bloody Mary from the Bloody Mary bar. I used Ketel One, Mrs. T’s, Worcestershire, pepper, and Tabasco. I made one… tumbler.
When the cook, Marta, came back from her break, I talked with her about the menu. The pupusa caught my attention. An El Salvadorian street foot seemed out of place on the menu, so I asked her if she was El Salvadorian. She said she was from Guatemala, which also eats a lot of pupusas. Once she assured me that they were her homemade creation, I had to have one with a bowl of tomato soup and and a Cuban BBQ pork panini.
The bean-and-cheese pupusa, pictured above, was magnificent–as good as the 35 cent ones I had in San Salvador, and that’s a sincere compliment! The tomato soup was also tasty. The panini had a thin slice of pork and then some loose pulled pork. I picked off the slice, which didn’t look great, and heartily enjoyed the pulled pork.
After eating, I retired to my chair in the corner to write furiously. More passengers came in, but there were never more than 15, and the lounge was far from crowded. Marta walked around making sure everyone was happy and making small talk.
At 9:25 PM, 45 minutes until departure, an announcement was made that we could proceed to gate 77 for boarding. I was rushing to put up a post before the flight and look up hostels in Auckland, so I hung out another ten minutes, then headed for the plane.
The pre-flight services in Los Angeles were adequate, though hardly luxurious. United tells you to show up three hours before international flights, which is silly of course, but there was no check-in agent ready for first class passengers and no cook ready in the Global First lounge for passengers who did.
Once settled in the lounge, I did enjoy the self-serve bar, pre-made food, and made-to-order menu. The bar was stocked with near-top-shelf liquors. The cook was personable and an ace pupusa maker. In short, the club was far better than a regular United Club. If I had to pay to enter the lounge, I would have gladly paid $40 for the internet, food, drinks, and space.
I got work done in a fairly private setting, and I got onto the flight happy, full, and ready for 14 hours in the air.
More Photos of the Lounge