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United 903
Honolulu (HNL) – Tokyo (NRT)
Depart: 11:50 AM on Saturday December 26, 2015
Arrive: 4:00 PM on Sunday, December 27, 2015
Duration: 9:10
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 13J BusinessFirst (United confusingly calls Business Class “BusinessFirst.” The real First Class is called “Global First.”)

Because I was flying international Business Class, I had free access to the United Club, which is right above Gate 8, the gate we were using, at Honolulu International Airport.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.24 AM

I left the United Club at about 11:15 AM, ten minutes after boarding started. Because United has dedicated lanes for Premier Access passengers and because the 747 has a dedicated boarding door for First and Business Class, I was able to skip past the crowds and board easily.

While a nice international airline would greet premium cabin passengers at the door (and escort First Class passengers to their seats), the United flight attendant at the door stood silently as I walked past. I headed for the stairs in the middle of the Business Class cabin. This would be my first flight flying upstairs on a 747!

I chose to fly upstairs for the novelty and because the Business Class cabin on the main deck has an ultra-crowded 2-4-2 layout. Upstairs is just 2-2.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.35 AM
Main Deck Business Class on United 747-400

I was very happy I chose to fly up top. The 2-2 layout felt much less crowded, and I had a view into the cockpit while we were on the ground.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.42 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.50 AMUnfortunately, the overhead bins upstairs are tiny. My laptop bag barely fit.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.01.11 AMMy backpack definitely didn’t fit, so I stored it in the closet near the top of the stairs with several other carry ons.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.01.02 AM

If you have a window seat, there is some additional storage between your seat and the window, but I had an aisle seat, specifically seat 13J, a rear-facing aisle seat.

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Every seat in Business Class was taken, so I was in close quarters with a stranger for the entire flight, who had to climb over or past me whenever he needed to access the aisle. United Business Class is not the most private Business Class out there.

At my seat when I boarded were slippers, headphones (not noise-canceling), a pilow, and a blanket. Before takeoff, I was also brought an amenity kit, a menu, and immigration forms. I was impressed by the flight attendants working the upper deck. They were the most polite of any flight attendants I have encountered in Business Class on an American airline.

The menu read as follows:Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.01.37 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.01 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.10 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.23 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.38 AM

Oddly, the wines were not listed on the menu, just long descriptions of what Old World and New World wines are. I ordered Tamale-filled Chicken Breast.

The amenity kit was very nice. I liked its size and feel. If I didn’t already carry Emirates and Avianca amenity kits filled with my toiletries, I would have kept this one for permanent use.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.01 AMThe contents of the kit were standard with Cowshed branded lotion and lip balm.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.13 AMBefore take off, I reclined the seat and selected a movie from the long list of available movies and shows. I love when the entertainment system is available on the ground.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.49 AM

I don’t love the little cubby where your feet go when relaxing or sleeping in United Business Class. It feels very cramped.

Finally before take off, the flight attendants served a pre-departure beverage in the classiest way possible. Instead of a tray with pre-poured water, juice, and champagne as is standard on many airlines in Business Class, the flight attendant took our orders and brought them two people at a time. I appreciated the personal touch, and the larger drink selection that this method makes possible.

Once we took off, I used the intuitive seat controls to put the seat into bed mode, which is how I watched my movie until lunch was served 45 minutes after take off.

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The meal service started with warm nuts and a drink of our choice.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.07 AM

Next the appetizers came out. The salad was pre-plated, but the flight attendant offered two types of dressing that she ladled on and optional crutons that she poured on. A bread basked was offered, and I chose garlic bread. The other appetizer had a Japanese feel with sushi and sashimi.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.14 AM

The salad was fine, the garlic bread was great, and I don’t eat seafood.

For the main course, I was very happy with my tamale-filled chicken. It is an inventive take on the classic tamale.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.28 AM

While my plates were cleared quickly, I couldn’t really eat at my own pace, as I had to wait for the whole cabin for the next course to start. After the main course came the cheese and fruit course with port.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.35 AM I enjoyed the plate of cheese and also partook in the sundae cart.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.46 AM I went with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and cookie crumbs. Nom nom nom!Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.55 AM After the meal, I was ready for a nap, so I put the seat back into bed mode.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.05.17 AMScreen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.05.06 AM

I slept for two-and-a-half hours, so the bed was a success. It could stand to be wider that 20″, longer than 6’4″, and have more foot room than the cubby. But I did get a good nap on a plane at 6’4″ tall, so I have no complaints.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.25 AMWhen I awoke, the flight attendants had put a snack cart in the cabin with fruits, candy, chips, sandwiches, and fruit/cheese plates. The turkey sandwich was delicious.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.45 AMI continued to watch television shows until 90 minutes before landing when breakfast was served. This is a very odd thing to serve at 2:30 PM in Japan/7:30 PM in Hawaii.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.53 AM

We landed thirty minutes early, got to the gate 15 minutes early, and I got through immigration and customs in 15 more minutes. I was in Tokyo at my hostel about two hours after landing and made it to Shibuya Crossing on my first night.

Bottom Line


Very tall people will be cramped, and many may find the foot cubby uncomfortable, but overall it is a comfortable enough flat bed.


Large selection of movies and TV shows on demand. Noise-canceling headphones would be fancier, but I can’t say I noticed the difference.


The friendliest, most service-oriented flight attendants I have found in Business Class on an American airline. Maybe the service culture of the East Asian airlines has rubbed off on this route.


Edible and plentiful. You’ll generally get better meals on the ground, but I can’t complain about solid, free, unlimited food that ends with a sundae bar.


Fly upstairs to feel less crowded. Grab an aisle seat if you get up a lot and a window seat if you get up rarely because unfortunately one person in each pair of seats always has to climb over his seatmate to reach the aisle.


This is flight is an amazing value for 40,000 United miles + $5.60 in Business Class. (Economy is 25k miles.) I wouldn’t splurge for First Class, which is 62,500 miles each way because United First Class is barely better than United Business Class.

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