Review of United flight San Francisco Hong Kong in Economy

Airline United
Flight UA869
Class Economy
Seat 36H
Aircraft Boeing 747-400
Flight time 14:35
Take-off 23 Jan 16, 13:30
Arrival at 23 Jan 16, 20:05
UA   #120 out of 139 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 312 reviews
aussenrist
By 7146
Published on 10th October 2016
Hi and welcome to my last installment of flight reports for this trip!

Background



This series will cover my quick business trip to San Francisco. Initially I was not the one to take this business trip. But until the day before departure it turned out that I was the only one having a valid US Visa in my department at that moment. It happened too urgent that I was only notified after lunch while the company had already brought me the ticket.

According to my company policy:
a. under any circumstances, all staff are not allowed to travel on the same aircraft together on a business trip
b. all staff in the same department are not allowed to travel on the same aircraft

Therefore my colleagues were mixed and matched into different carriers including CX, SQ and UA for this business trip. Condition (b) is not applicable to me and I could have free choices for the carriers. But my company claimed that since it was a last minute ticket and the time was close to Chinese New Year (CNY), CX & SQ already no direct flights to SF. And for those HKG-transfer airports-SFO flight were mostly full. They could only have this so indirect itinerary to SF. Luckily for the return they seized a direct flight for me.

The series is broken down as follows (all in Y):
1. NH812 HKG-NRT B767-300ER [http://flight-report.com/en/report-13628.html]
2. UA33 NRT-LAX B787-9 [http://flight-report.com/en/report-13859.html]
3. UA5200 LAX-SFO Embraer E-145 [http://flight-report.com/en/report/16442.html]
4. UA869 SFO-HKG B747-400 [You are here!]

This time I took the flight with a colleague who is the head of another department (the head). Being a small fry, I would be in Y class while the head would be in J class deservedly.

This is my first time in Boeing 747. This report will also have a quick look on the recently (at that time) renovated United Club in SFO Terminal 3 (my first time at US Lounge).


Flight Report



Previously on last report, I attended the company business dinner in the evening. During the dinner, knowing that it was my 1st time to SF and would take the UA flight return to HK next day, one of my US colleagues told me that he had a UA club pass which was about to expire in few days. So he donated the pass and recommended me to explore the SFO UA Club! Knowing that there is a newly renovated UA Club in Terminal 3, I decided to have a look on it.

Night of Market Street after the dinner.

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Time flied. After staying in SF about 20 hours it was time to return HK…

I got up early on that day and made my online check-in before breakfast. During the check-in, UA informed me that my flight was oversold and asked if I would give up my seat in exchange for USD400. Come on UA unless you gave USD4,000 to me!

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On the way to Starbucks via Stockton Street. The light rail to Chinatown is in construction.

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I had a Starbucks breakfast with a recharged break before the meeting.

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After the meaningless meeting in the morning, our US colleague drove the head and me to the airport. Once we arrived at airport, we immediately rushed to the toilet… for changing our clothing ;) Weather was not good in the morning.

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Then we packed our clothing and backed to check-in. View of check-in counters.

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We checked-in at Concourse 3. Only few people in the line and it quickly to my turn. The friendly agent greeted me in Cantonese. She asked the same question again if I would take the next day flight in exchange of USD400. No thank you.

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The agent handed my boarding pass (I took the picture in the UA Club later) and tagged my baggage.

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Still having time after check-in, we then came out of the Terminal for the most important task… had a break!

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Actually we had a mini meeting about the staffing issues in the head’s department… Compared with LAX, personally I think SFO is cleaner.

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We proceeded to TSA check. The line was a bit long since there were several flights to Asia at the same time but it was smooth. We just waited about 15 minutes and passed it (for me it was acceptable in US).

In order to buy time for visiting the United Club, we parted ways after clearing the security. The head went to the duty-free shop and helped me to buy the liquor requested by my family. Meanwhile I turned right to the Terminal 3.

Passing the Centurion Lounge and the recently renovated United Terminal 3

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The tarmac view. The weather became better then.

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Eventually I reached to the United Club. The entrance.

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Entering the Club, the concierge warmly greeted me. I showed my paper club pass and boarding pass. At first she looked at my BP and being curious and asked why I did not use the UA Club in Terminal G. I simply replied that I wanted to have a look for the new Club. She then collected my one time pass and let me in.

The FIDS next to the front desk. My flight was listed on the bottom of the far left FIDS.

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The Club has windows and it was bright. The main sitting area were full of people and facilities are in good conditions.

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The bar

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The window seats area near the food desk.

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Tarmac view from the seat.

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Food offering. No hot food available

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The food offering was so unimpressed that I did not want to try it. I found a bar desk seat under the UA Mainliner mural and turned on my Surface to have some work.

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I tried connecting to the Club Wi-Fi but failed. I approached the concierge who collected my BP. She even came to my Surface and helped me set up the Wi-Fi. The network was quite fast.

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15 minutes before boarding the head whatsapped me to come to the gate. Snapshots of Terminal 3.

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The connector to the Terminal G

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*A line up

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Inside Terminal G

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One of the gate murals in the International Terminal

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I arrived at my gate.

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Next to our gate (Gate 102) was a UA B788 to Chengdu (CTU). Not many people taking it.

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My bird today. A classic B744.

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I took the escalator downstairs. The Queen was looking at her passengers.

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For my Gate it was packed with people whom they sat and stood with no order. The lines for different boarding groups were useless.

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As mentioned, today flight was oversold with many stand-bys (probably due to the coming of CNY).

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Boarding started in mess. The agent kept shouting for calling different groups to board. They carefully checked the BPs in order to prevent queue jumping passengers for advanced boarding.

My turn. I passed by the duty free pick up counter and collected my liquor during embarking.

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Gate 100 has the super-long jet bridges.

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Many bags were gate checked.

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Entering the plane. A FA delivered a robotic greeting and guided the passengers.

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Passing the galley of business cabin

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I spotted the Head. He looked extreme helplessness: The business class seats of UA B747 are in 2-4-2 configuration. The head sat in the middle of the 4 business class seats where he was stuck between the 2 very big guys. The Head also spotted me and gave me a “Help!!!” emotion! Sorry… I could not help you~

The Y class. It was totally a chaos.

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Since many people returned to China for the coming CNY, they would bring as many as souvenirs to their relatives. As a result the amount of baggage was much more than normal thus the overhead bins were filled up instantly (that's why so many baggage were gated-checked).

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Many passengers stood on the aisle and kept finding the remain space for their belongings. It made the coming passengers including me got stuck at the aisle and the boarding was extremely slow.

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In the end I found my seat where my two seatmates were in their seats already: a middle-aged man on the window seat and a lady on the middle seat.

The arm rest with seat function control.

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Overhead lights

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There is a plug under each seat.

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Aw Jeez I was so luckily to have an overhead TV entertainment box placing under my seat. Poor legroom and my backpack can only marginally fit in!

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The crews were very impatient for the slow boarding and messy placed hand-carries. One of them even took off her shoes (who later worked on my side), climbed at the arm rest for ordering the overhead bins baggage lol

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The pillow. It is wired that they need 2 covers for it

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The blanket.

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This is an old 747 so no personal seatback IFE. Seat pitch seems a bit worse than B789. And the airport staff did not clean seatback pocket!

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The seatback materials

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Safety card

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Wisconsin should have dumped a lot of $$$ on UA for encouraging people to invest there…

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The headphone. Same model with the ANA. Not the pathetic one in B789 :)

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We pushed back sharply on 1:30pm with safety video playing. The ORD FA once again shows you how to fasten your seat belt.

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The FA made the flight announcement. She firstly welcomed us flying on UA and introduced there were 15 crews from both HK and SF. She very insisted and repeated that you can earn 6,914 miles for premier qualification on this flight and made registration if you are not a MileagePlus member.

We had a long taxiing for took off and the man took a video for that

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Took off. The facilities of this aging B747 are a bit wear and tear. During the lifting the middle toilets shook seriously and looked like they would be totally collapsed any time @@

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Aperitif services started once the plane leveled off.

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The airplane was playing the TBBT.

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Madam are you OK?

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Otsumami were provided and I asked for water

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I headed to the toilets in the middle of the economy cabin. OMG they were very smelly! Fortunately it was very clean.

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Lunch service started when we were here (1.5 hours after took off).

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It followed by a weird announcement that if you wanted to eat please lowered your tray (?)

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The FA came and simply asked "chicken or pasta?" with no other description of the meals. All my seatmates and I chose the chicken while I requested orange juice.

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Same with my UA33 flight the bread was a rubber. The couscous salad looked good, but it was too sour. The chicken rice with Korean BBQ sauce tasted good (a little bit spicy).

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I chatted with my seatmates during the lunch. Both the man and lady reside in Sacramento. The man is a Vietnamese who had a business trip to Guangzhou while the lady who works as a SAP consultant was in the CNY vacation to visit her family in Zhuhai.

Ice-cream was distributed after the FA collected our trays. It was green tea flavor but the size is bigger than my B789 flight :)

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The lunch was done with a bottled water distributed. Overall the lunch was so-so.

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After lunch my front seatmate probably decided to rest and kept his seat in fully recline mode until landing.

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I connected to the United Wi-Fi. I purchased the unlimited plan.

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What? UA said Chrome was not supported????

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But actually I could browse using Chrome with no faults. Same programs offering as my pervious ERJ flight.

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The network speed was adequate which TV steaming was OK. I watched the man who hopes his wife comes out of her tree before he has to bring out his axe.

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The passenger right across the aisle seemed to be still hungry and he bought a big salad bowl which the size is much bigger than the lunch!

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Now the cabin was in dimmed light mode. A lot of passengers did not want to be stuck in their seats. They got out their seat, chatted and stood around the cabin.

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I watched Francis until around here. And went to the rear toilet.

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There was a newspaper corner in the rear galley

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Cabin shot after the toilet.

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Next time I should chose the rear cabin window seats. There is one seat less due to the aircraft curve and hence more space and legroom.

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I returned to my seat and napped a while. Suddenly the cabin light turned on where our plane was over the Kamchatka.

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The FAs came out with carts. At this point I optimistically thought it might be the mid-flight snacks session like my friend on the AA DFW-HKG flight. It turned out it was mid-flight beverage services (I was totally disillusioned lol) I again requested orange juice.

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So I made my own mid-flight snacks session and went to the middle galley for grabbing some snacks. View of the galley.

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Snacks were placed along the galley.

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When I tried to pick the tomato bruschetta, suddenly the FA worked on my aisle shouted me in the back and said “Please get out! Do you know this is a staff working area and it is very dangerous! The bins in the galley could fall down any time and it will hurt you and you will die!!! You can call us if you want some snacks!” She gave me some snacks and I was expelled from the galley. OMG this was the rudest FA I have seen in my life! Think positively I should thank her for caring about my life seriously lol

I looked like Queen Cersei on my way back to my seat (lol) and here were my snack offerings.

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My middle seatmate got out for stretching. Here is my seat in mid-flight.

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I flipped through the duty-free catalog. Oh no the same liquor was much cheaper on the plane lol

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Next I returned to the newspaper corner for reading newspaper^^ It reported the blizzard in the East Coast at that moment.

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We were now over the Russia. Besides reading newspaper, many people including me stayed next to the rear door windows for looking the beauty outside.

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You can see the engine stream flowing

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The winds of winter^^ Jon Snow where are you?

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We were now approaching China.

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Initially I thought that I would lost connection once entering China. But surprisingly the network still worked!!! Good job United!

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Aerial view of Northeast China.

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Later both my seatmates got out for toilet. It finally created the only chance for me taking the only picture of view from the wing on this flight.

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Both my seatmates and I slept for another few hours.

When we just passed Zhengzhou, a little girl several rows behind me suddenly imagined herself was Elsa and started saying Let it go for almost an hour. Nearby passengers including me were totally awoken. I saw the FAs chatting in the middle galley but none of them came out and stopped the little girl from singing.

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I could not sleep again so I went to toilet. I found this interesting equipment next to the toilet but I had no idea for this. Is it for mouth wash?

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Breakfast services started when we were at Wuhan (wrong route depicted in the TV). It was about 1.5 hours prior to arrival.

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The FA asked “noodles or omelet?” with no description again. Since I thought it would be the super boring omelet, I chose noodles while both my seatmates had omelets. I asked for OJ but it was running out and was given the apple juice. My Nexus 5 phone was used for size reference.

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The bread was the same one with the lunch with same quality (another rubber). The noodles tasted good, but it was totally overheated thus became mushy. Only the cookies were in good conditions.

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Immigration Forms were distributed after the breakfast. The pilot made the arrival information and she mentioned that HK was only 3C currently.

We had a big bend in the South China Sea for approaching the airport, and we landed on schedule.

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Deplaning. It was another chaos.

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The old lady on my front row said her ring accidentally fell on the floor. She and her daughter just stood on the aisle and kept searching. They blocked the entire aisle about 10 minutes and eventually the FA came and arranged them stood aside for other passengers deplaned first.

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Passing the business cabin

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Getting off the jet bridge.

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The head already stood at the gate. He looked very desperate^^ He told me both his neighbors did not move for the entire flight and he could only remain seated. We went to have a break before clearing the immigration.

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After passing the immigration, we headed to the baggage claim for collecting our baggage. It was very slow which we had waited nearly an hour for our baggage.

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Walking out of the arrival lobby. Another CNY decoration.

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Then we took the Airport Express together to back home and resumed work next day.







3 days later, UA sent me a questionnaire regarding the flight and I absolutely welcomed and replied it.

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This is the flight report and the end of my 1st business trip to SF. Thank you for your reading!
See more

Verdict

United

6.5/10
Cabin7.5
Cabin crew5.0
Entertainment/wifi7.0
Meal/catering6.5

United Club - 3

7.9/10
Comfort8.0
Meal/catering6.5
Entertainment/wifi8.5
Services8.5

San Francisco - SFO

8.5/10
Efficiency7.5
Access9.0
Services8.5
Cleanliness9.0

Hong Kong - HKG

8.5/10
Efficiency7.5
Access9.0
Services8.5
Cleanliness9.0

Conclusion

Up to now, I think my travel experience on United can be summarized in one word: Inconsistent. For hard product, it is not reasonable to compared an aging B747 and a quite new B789. But on the soft product, this flight has a noticeable contrast compared with my inbound B789 flight.

Cabin: Average. An aging B747, the hard product seems wear and tear which the toilets in the middle were very smelly despite clean. The seats shown their age with bad legroom because of an entertainment box under my seat. The garbage in seat back pocket was not cleared. The color of overhead TV was not correct. But most of the flight time B747 was very stable (except took off). The plug can charge my devices quickly.

Cabin Crew: Average. Inconsistent uniform with my B789 flight. Generally most of the crews were nice but passive. The crew working on my aisle was in very bad mood and rude. Although she was care about the passengers (?), shouting and blaming passengers was totally unacceptable.

Entertainment: Good. Standard seatback materials. No personal IFE, but UA compensates it by a surprisingly good Wi-Fi for browsing internet or TV streaming. I could even access the network in China. The cabin also featured a newspaper corner for passengers.

Meal and catering: Not so good. As expected, the catering service was always the weakest point of UA. Same with my previous 789 flight, size was small. Overall food quality was so-so where lunch was better than breakfast and it is worse than my B789 flight. Snacks taste MUCH better than the meal and was provided throughout the flight.

For SFO, line is a bit long for clearing security in International Terminal but smooth. The airport has clear guides for passengers. The new T3 United Club is OK for domestic lounge standard, which is functional and staff are very helpful.

Information on the route San Francisco (SFO) Hong Kong (HKG)

14 Comments

  • Comment 369896 by
    jish.b SILVER 258 Comments

    Nice report, thanks for sharing!
    Great pictures and descriptions..

    For some reason, I missed out the previous reports on the B76W and B789... I will read these soon!

    I have always been advised against going on a UA B744...and your report proves it. I feel United do not treat the Queen very well, no seatback IFE is a bit of a OMG moment for me!

    I have (un)fortunate enough to fly with United on MUC-ORD recently... The nightmare flight will be shared here soon in due course time! Rude FA, terrible meals.... I'm sorry you had to face the wrath of a UA flight attendant..

    I'm glad you got through this flight pretty soon!

    Cheers

    • Comment 370098 by
      aussenrist AUTHOR 218 Comments

      Thanks for your comment Jish.B!

      “I feel United do not treat the Queen very well, no seatback IFE is a bit of a OMG moment for me!”
      - I think United want to dump their B747s as soon as possible so they just do the minimum maintenance and no upgrades on them. No personal IFE for a long haul flight is weird nowadays, but this aircraft provides WiFi thus I am acceptable for this.

      I am sorry to hear that you also have an unpleasant flight experience on UA. Look forward to your UA experience^^

  • Comment 369921 by
    byromania 37 Comments

    I really hope that United can continue to improve their inflight product. The meals seem especially bad, and this was after they announced the new and improved meals for Y class passengers. Although I liked your trip report, United's service seems rather lackluster and mediocre.

    • Comment 370099 by
      aussenrist AUTHOR 218 Comments

      Thanks for your comment Byromania!

      Personally I think UA had improvements on the meal but in a very small degree. At least the salad is not just pieces of lettuce and the appearance of bread is better (but still a rubber). UA still need to improve it.

      “United's service seems rather lackluster and mediocre”
      - For UA services and in my experiences, it becomes a betting for taking long haul UA flight every time. I had done another UA TPAC flight later which is good in service.

  • Comment 369943 by
    NGO85 1622 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this much anticipated finale!

    “Come on UA unless you gave USD4,000 to me!”
    - I would have done it assuming they put me on a better *A carrier or on a better aircraft than the B744, which is woefully outdated on UA.

    “Compared with LAX, personally I think SFO is cleaner.”
    - I agree, LAX can be really dirty and dusty down on street level with all of the buses and cars piled into the loop.

    The UA Club food didn’t entice you at all??? So disappointing, there were plenty of carrot sticks for you to eat!

    “The crews were very impatient for the slow boarding”
    - Pretty standard for flights from Asia to the US with tired crews wanting to go home, but for a flight leaving the crew’s home base this doesn’t bode well for a good flight.

    “During the lifting the middle toilets shook seriously”
    - This is pretty common on the older B772s and B767s too. I love when they bounce up and down.

    The catering looks standard for UA, small and deceptive. You think it is going to to taste good, but doesn’t^^ I think the noodles for the second meal are the same that I got on SFO-KIX. The quantity offered on this flight is completely inadequate for what is needed for a flight of this length.

    “Next time I should chose the rear cabin window seats. There is one seat less due to the aircraft curve and hence more space and legroom.”
    - I did this on my QF B744 flight, it worked out well getting one of the 2-seaters since I had half a seat of space next to me and plenty of place to stretch out my legs.

    “Is it for mouth wash?”
    - Maybe hand sanitizer?

    Fantastic aerial shots mid-flight of Siberia and China.

    You are pretty generous to the Entertainment rating considering this plane has no personal IFE. Yes working WiFi is a pro, but it is a paid amenity.

    The crews are the ones that I remember from UA, most just handed their jobs and are unfriendly. The way the FA talked to you in the rear galley is just pitiful.

    UA is only an option on TPACs when there is absolutely nothing else to pick. TATLs (the gap is narrower), but with the wealth of Asian carriers to pick from, UA just can’t compete.

    • Comment 370176 by
      aussenrist AUTHOR 218 Comments

      Thanks for your comment NGO85!

      “I would have done it assuming they put me on a better *A carrier or on a better aircraft than the B744, which is woefully outdated on UA.”
      - I thought UA would simply put me on the next day flight or another B747 to Asia (SQ seems impossible, NH least likely). Since I had to attend an external meeting in HK next day morning, I decided not to bear the risk of any delays.

      “LAX can be really dirty and dusty down on street level”
      - IMO no only the street level, but the departure level also

      “The UA Club food didn’t entice you at all??? So disappointing, there were plenty of carrot sticks for you to eat!”
      - At that moment I wanted to have some cooked food but the Club didn't. And it does not have Natural American Spirit lol

      "Pretty standard for flights from Asia to the US with tired crews wanting to go home, but for a flight leaving the crew’s home base this doesn’t bode well for a good flight."
      - Very true. This is a full load B747. They look like really not want to be on there (too many passengers to serve so too much workload).

      “I love when they bounce up and down.”
      - The toilets are very excited for their coming journey so they do an orchestra^^

      “The catering looks standard for UA, small and deceptive. You think it is going to to taste good, but doesn’t^^... The quantity offered on this flight is completely inadequate for what is needed for a flight of this length.”
      - I cannot agree more and that’s why the passenger next to me brought the big salad bowl soon after the lunch! TBH this is not the worst in flight meal I have had, the CX ex-ORD meal is still the champion in my life (both look and taste bad)

      “You are pretty generous to the Entertainment rating considering this plane has no personal IFE.”
      - The main reason for this generous score is the WiFi works well inside China territory and I could even access FB, which is a huge surprise. I seldom watch the IFE shows and usually set it in airshow throughout the flight. I prefer entertaining myself with my own device.

      “The crews are the ones that I remember from UA, most just handed their jobs and are unfriendly. The way the FA talked to you in the rear galley is just pitiful.”
      - It reminds me your infamous KIX-SFO flight^^ Luckily only one FA has attitude issue on this flight. But how come UA does not think that it is a big problem for its service and let it keep going on?

      “UA is only an option on TPACs when there is absolutely nothing else to pick… but with the wealth of Asian carriers to pick from, UA just can’t compete.”
      - Actually in HK UA is quite competitive because of its price compared with CX’s incredibly high fare for ex-HK flights. UA always has the lower fare for traveling HK-North America if the itinerary includes this crappy B747. But recently UA is seriously attacked by AA since the latter is now heavily promoting its HKG-LAX route with incredibly low fares and the brand new B77Ws (>USD500 for round-trip).

  • Comment 369946 by
    757Fan 583 Comments

    Thanks for sharing. Looks like you had a decent flight with United in Economy. That's too bad that the flight was so full. When you're on a long flight like this with every seat taken, it is tough to stretch out in anyway. I flew UA in Y a few years ago between EWR-MXP and found the service to be quite nice, and the food pretty tasty. Great that you were able to get on a 747!

    • Comment 370205 by
      aussenrist AUTHOR 218 Comments

      Thanks for your comment 757Fan!
      - I had lowered my expectation a lot on a UA B747 before flight, so I ended up with not so much disappointment^^ (except the rude FA) Indeed I am glad to have an aisle seat given that this flight was oversold so that I could get out my seat freely. Although it was not a pleasant flight experience, it is nice to have a B747 flight nowadays because they are fading out.

  • Comment 369948 by
    jetsetpanda 2295 Comments

    Thank you ashleyyau for sharing this great FR with excellent pics.

    It was very nice of your co-worker to give you a UA Club pass. The new one that you visited is the best of the three in my opinion.

    Not much to say about UA inflight service. It's on par with what is expected and it is unfortunate that you run into a rude prison matron. There are some really gems working for UA but they are the exception rather than the norm. I will be flying on the 744 in Nov. from Beijing to SFO and I reserved an aisle in the last row. I will also order a Hindu meal since I don't want to be stuck with no choice.

    I hope you had a great time in SFO. Downtown is not what it used to be and these days I seldom venture there.

    • Comment 370270 by
      aussenrist AUTHOR 218 Comments

      Thanks for your comment jetsetpanda!

      - The T3 UA Club has a much fresher design than those in Terminal G, but I wish they could have more food options, not just vegetables and fruit only. Nothing to say on UA services as I always have no expectation on it. BTW hope you will have a much better flight experience on B747! Having a special should be better than the normal choices.

      - For this trip I only stayed in SF for about 20 hours and no time exploring the city. In SF I had only been to the airport, my hotel, my office, a restaurant and a Starbucks.

  • Comment 370018 by
    indianocean GOLD 6741 Comments

    "asked if I would give up my seat in exchange for USD400. Come on UA unless you gave USD4,000 to me!"--> well, it depends. If I'm booked on a SQ or CX flight, YES ^^

    My goodness, I hope UA fares ex-SFO to HKG are cheaper than CX or SQ ones because I don't see why I would fly UA over asian carriers. Everything is so dreadful: seatings, IFE, food and cabin crew. The only reason would be the Queen of the Skies. Even Business Class seatings look awful.
    I sympathize with the Head.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Comment 370271 by
      aussenrist AUTHOR 218 Comments

      Thanks for your comment indianocean!

      “If I'm booked on a SQ or CX flight, YES ^^”
      - And I would try my best to fight for upgrading to J seat^^

      “Everything is so dreadful... The only reason would be the Queen of the Skies.”
      - Totally agreed. After flying with the UA Queen, I would avoid taking it again in the future. BTW I hope UA would deploy the new B77Ws on this route soon for a much better flight experience, especially the business class.

  • Comment 370939 by
    Chibcha 432 Comments

    Thanks for this series Ashleyyau, I enjoyed each FR a lot!

    Its a shame UA could not deliver a consistent product, after the NRT-LAX flight I hoped the 747 flight would be equally good....well go figure, hopefully they can get their act together sometime.

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