Photo review of United Airlines flight from Singapore to Hong Kong in First
This series of flight reports chronicles my journey from tropical Indonesia to France where I would go skiing. It is part of an Aeroplan miles redemption in First Class. Like my previous reports, the journey can also be read in my blog for the original format.
With the compliments Marina Bay Sands chauffeur service, I got another ride back to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. The quiet streets meant I arrived at the airport by 5:30am, with the first departure out of Terminal 3.
Departure hall in Changi Airport Terminal 3 before daybreak
United Airlines check-in area is already quite crowded as the guards ask which flights will I be boarding. United's flight to Tokyo departs around the same time and thus there was already a queue forming at the Economy class section.
No wait at all for Global first which is in a separate roped area, as I was directed to a counter at the end nearer to the terminal entrance. Very professional agent manning this counter as is always the case in Singapore. Though, the check-in took a while as they had initial difficulty in interlining the baggage with my connecting Lufthansa flight in Hong Kong. I should also note that I am due to arrive in Hong Kong in the morning before noon and departing slightly before midnight, meaning I have some time I plan to go out to the city and it makes more sense for me to check my luggage all the way through to Paris, which will be my ultimate destination, via Hong Kong and Frankfurt.
First class check-in counters for United Airlines
As it was Valentine's day, another staff member came over with a basket of chocolates and asked if I would like any! Nice touch by United Airlines in Singapore.
Eventually after a lot of typing into the computer, I managed to get the boarding pass only for the Hong Kong route. Along the way I was also provided with an invite to the SATS lounge which I didn't use since I could access the SIA Silver Kris lounge. The First Class ground handling in Singapore was also superb since my luggage can be left in the trolley and not be placed on the carousel. A staff member would come over to bring the luggage, and that is how First Class travel should always be like.
Looking at the Flight Information display
Since Changi Airport has the Star Wars exhibit, I took the time to snap some photos with no people bombing the whole scene. There was nothing else open in the public space so early in the morning, as many flights have yet to schedule any departure.
Model of the X-Wing Fighter on display at Changi Airport Terminal 3
This also meant no queues at the immigration and even many of the duty free stores have yet to open. However I did get to purchase some muscle rub which I would use for my skiing trip. In addition I did shop around in the duty free stores since I was still early.
First Class reception counter
Eventually I made my way to the Silver Kris lounge which is nearly empty so early this morning as well. With the United Global First boarding pass, I was whisked through to the First Class section. Frequent flyers of Singapore Airlines would know that there is an exclusive 'The Private Room' section that is reserved for Singapore Airlines First Class ticket holders and it is located just past the First Class section, which I have reviewed before. The Silver Kris lounge has also been covered before, and maybe because I spent some years growing up in Singapore, I find they serve a nice variety of food I can enjoy!
At the SilverKris Lounge in Changi Airport Terminal 3
Mac workstations in the First Class section
The First Class section of the lounge is definitely more private and I am not sure if it opens throughout the night as there was one passenger dozing off in one of the chairs when I arrived. There was not much other people inside and the separate dining room for First Class passengers is also empty with the kitchen seemingly starting to open. This meant there was not much choices in the buffet table and there was also no server around, so I made my way to the Business Class buffet section to get some breakfast.
Business class dining area
There were more people in the Business Class lounge and I would have just been here if not for the fact that I had already placed my bag in the First Class section. I grabbed some congee for breakfast since I would not be having this for the next 2 weeks at least while in Europe. There were other Singaporean breakfast delicacies like 'chwee kueh', carrot cake and bee hoon along with western staples like omelettes, French toast and pancakes. The SIA SilverKris Lounge in Singapore is great in their buffet selection and the taste of these dishes are not half as bad either.
Carrot cake, a breakfast staple in the lounge
Chwee kueh with trimmings
Lemon vermicelli aka Singapore bee hoon
Congee and condiments
There are traditional Chinese style desserts like Tau Suan served individually in bowls, and classic Haagen Dazs ice cream from the freezer.
Tau Suan dessert bowl
Haagen Dazs ice cream
Cheese and crackers are available as well in the buffet counter. Noting that this was all in the Business class section of the lounge, Singapore Airlines have one of the best food selection amongst airport lounges!
Cheese and crackers
For my breakfast, I had a second serving of the assorted Singaporean delicacies since I did not expect anything good from United Airlines. I brought them back to the solitude of the First Class lounge and was able to sit down quietly in the empty restaurant area.
Breakfast at the lounge
Restaurant in the lounge
Besides the great food, the lounge have a wide range of beverage from a full service bar counter in the First Class lounge to a well stocked beverage fridge in the Business Class section. A highlight is the selection of TWG teas that is provided in the lounge.
Selection of TWG tea
Bar at the First Class lounge
The shower room in the SilverKris lounges are more or less similar and they are nicely appointed with a rainshower and ample amenities including fragrances to refresh the weary traveller. I did not really need refreshing having done that in the hotel prior to leaving for the airport.
Shower room amenities
Shower room with rainshower
As far as airport lounges go, there are very few that can rival the Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge in Changi Airport. Then again, there are a couple of First Class lounges that are more exclusive and premium than the First Class lounge for Singapore Airlines. The Business Class section is definitely superb for its role but there does not seem to be that much of a diffentiating factor for the First Class lounge. Whatever the case, I was really happy and satisfied to spend time in this lounge prior to my United Airlines flight.
First Class lounge
It was a long trek from the SilverKris lounge to the departing gate and there was a queue out at the gate for security check which occurs by the gates in Singapore's Changi Airport. Fortunately one lane was reserved for Premium passengers and I was through the security check in no time and managed to capture a nice shot of the 777-200ER servicing today's flight.
Gate B10 at Changi Airport
United Airlines 777-200ER
There was a short wait before boarding commenced, starting with Global First and Business passengers.
UA896 Singapore Changi Terminal 3 SIN - Hong Kong HKG STD-STA: 0545-0930 Actual: 0611-0926 Boeing 777-200 N799UA Gate B10 Seat 1A
United Global First cabin on the 777-200ER
I was the third passenger to board the plane and took my seat on 1A today. The crew on this flight certainly did not do much to welcome me onboard. No help with my luggage or welcome by name aboard the flight, which is how things start to unravel.
Global First Class cabin
United Global First cabin
As I got seated, amenities were distributed from a basket with toothbrush, eyeshade, and earplugs along with the immigration card. On the legrest, there were already slippers packed in a plastic cover.
Onto the seat itself, it was certainly comfortable with a generous legroom. However the cabin was not exceptionally private and the dull grey plastic interior does not add any value whatsoever. I would describe it with one word: dreary. Headphones were also on the seat along with a large pillow and a smaller soft pillow. The headphones were wrapped in plastic and is not by Bose.
Headphones and amenities
While waiting for boarding, the steward came over and asked me for my meal order. The choice was between Spanish omelette or chicken noodle for the breakfast and no menu was provided which is a real low in a First Class cabin. Some airlines even gives out menus in Economy class!
Safety card on the seat pocket
Boarding took a while and there was a case of one passenger seeking free upgrades with the chief steward having to be stern to say that there will be a full flight in first and business class today. One does certainly meet all kinds of passengers in the lesser carriers.
First Class seat control and ports
What I did like about the seat was the positioning of the power ports and USB ports for charging my devices. They were easily accessible and located ergonomically. In addition, there was lots of storage space around the seat. There is a space to store eyeglasses, watch, and tablet on the armrest and a larger shelving cabinet on the right of my seat.
The last passengers arrived and an older Chinese gentleman was seated with a personal assistant in the center seats of the first row. It seems the personal assistant was there to help in translating for the flight. And then I noticed a swarm of announcements in English, Chinese and Cantonese which certainly makes it frustrating to start watching the inflight entertainment system. Being the first flight out of Singapore does have its perks since there is virtually no wait for take-off and we were up in the air as soon as possible. I took the time to relax by browsing the inflight entertainment magazine, of which there was 'Rhapsody' for premium class passengers and 'Hemispheres', which is United's inflight magazine. For drinks, I had a cup of coffee and a glass of water, and there really was nothing good about the coffee. American based airlines certainly have the worst coffee onboard.
Inflight magazine and coffee
As the 2 passengers in the middle seats of Row 1 skipped breakfast in order to continue sleeping, there was a couple others that just chose to sleep. And I can see why after deciding to stay awake for the breakfast service. Sure, the table setup for breakfast was First Class with linens, butter, small bottles of jam, salt and pepper shakers in ceramic containers.
Table setup for breakfast
Then they served the fruit plate for starters. Good choice of fruits and it was satisfying but the croissant was not flaky at all, and it felt more like bread. Passengers were also asked if they wanted yoghurt and cereals. Since the croissant was bad, I had the yoghurt as a replacement.
For the main, I had picked the Chicken noodle, thinking that catering out of Singapore for a noodle dish should not be too bad. For some reason, it was the worst First Class meal I ever had. The noodle was a bit dry and the chicken was glazed with gravy that seems to be just full of MSG. Maybe I was full from the breakfast at the lounge but this was for sure a forgettable experience.
Chicken noodle main course
There was some turbulence in the air during the meal which meant that drinks were not refilled. Anyway the service was very hands-off, and the crew did not even ask if I would like more drinks since all I had was coffee and water. Granted it was an early morning flight, but some mimosas would not hurt to compensate for the lacklustre meal. At least the view out of the window seat was amazing with the sunrise in its full glory after the completion of breakfast.
At this time I reclined my seat into a bed and there was no offer by the crew to make up my bed. That meant I just had to do it myself. There was certainly a good enough space and I would probably rate it slightly better than the average Business Class seat. At this time the cabin crew came around and handed some chocolate truffles for passengers though I have to say they were just average.
Water and truffles
In the bed mode, I had a short nap after watching the movie. I was probably asleep for about an hour or so before waking up feeling quite thirsty. Expecting some bottled water by the bedside like I usually get in other airlines' First Class, there was nothing. In the end, I asked for bottled water and a surprised crew member tried to give me a 1.5l PET bottled water. From this attitude it just seems the crew wanted me to self-serve. I had to ask for the water to be poured onto a glass. I find it totally ridiculous for First Class service to be this low.
Flat bed seat
Just before our descent, I checked out the lavatory. It was kept clean enough and at least United bothered to add some distinctive toiletries by a company called 'Cowshed'. Though United does not have any hip image in my mind.
Lavatory interior on mid-flight
The nice view continued throughout the flight and the rest of the journey was devoid of any further service. The captain requested for the crew to prep the cabin for descent and we landed in Hong Kong in time even if we did depart slightly late.
Clouds in the morning
First Class cabin
With this flight, I just wonder why United still continues with this product at all. It is not a true International First Class at all, with service even lower than Business Class on Asian carriers and seats barely better than Business Class. Business class on the 777-200ER was on a 2-4-2 lie-flat arrangement and has got to be one of the worst products out there.
Landing at HKIA
Then it brings out the point that I would never ever pay for such a flight, but for me to get to sit with Lufthansa First Class, it is a pretty nice way to fly regionally within Asia for a bit more than 3 hours. Anything more and I rather pick a different carrier as I would get hungry and frustrated with the food offered by United.
United Boeing 777-200ER at Hong Kong
Cabin crew 4.5
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge/First Class Section Terminal 3
Singapore - SIN
Hong Kong - HKG
With a mediocre crew that lags far behind many carriers, and a First Class seat that resembles the reverse herringbone seats of other airlines, United Global First is a sub-par product. The drab grey colours does not do any favours either. Redeeming it on points is a good way for me to try it but I would not pay any real money to fly in it. Neither will I place it as my first redemption choice either. By the way, United is phasing out these seats and will no longer have a First Class, and I guess it really makes sense to just forgo this cabin and concentrate on creating a better Business Class.
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