Review of United flight Beijing San Francisco in Economy

Airline United
Flight UA 889
Class Economy
Seat 60H
Aircraft Boeing 747-400
Flight time 11:25
Take-off 28 Nov 16, 13:25
Arrival at 29 Nov 16, 08:50
UA   #96 out of 122 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 239 reviews
jetsetpanda
By SILVER 2465
Published on 28th January 2017
Originally I was supposed to fly my last segment as HND-SFO on JL as an award ticket, but I found a USD 378.66 (EUR 353.95) one way fare on UA from PEK-SFO and decided to pay for this segment in order to credit my TK acct. It's a long story, but in a nutshell I was matched to TK Gold Elite for 4 months back in August 2016 and there were two conditions that I had to meet.

a) fly any intl trip on TK to extend the status for 1 year which I did with my IST-ATH trip in Oct. (I got a 2nd membership kit with a new card valid until Aug. 2017).
b) collect 15,000 status miles in my TK acct. in order to extend my membership for a second year.

At the time, I calculated that I was going to easily meet the second requirement until I read some recent developments at another website. It seemed that TK decided to change the condition of the status match and now required that the 15,000 status miles be on TK metal. This was never mentioned during the initial acceptance of my status match (only 15,000 status miles and according to TK Miles & Smiles rules, status miles are accumulated by flying TK or *A partners) . It's been reported by other members in the same situation that TK is not honoring the second year extension unless the new specified condition on TK metal is met. I have already booked a trip mid Feb. to CGK on NH and if I had known about this, I would have taken a BCN trip on TK instead. Time will tell if my pursuit will continue.

in the meantime, I will give a recap of my schedule below:

SFO-LHR on BA Y - click here.
LHR-ARN on BA Y - click here.
ARN-PRG on SK Y - click here.
PRG-CDG on OK Y - click here.
CDG-HND on JL F - click here.
HND-PEK on JL J - click here.
PEK-SFO on UA Y - you are here.


According to my research the two closest hotels to T3 @ PEK are the Hilton and Langham. I chose the Langham PEK airport for my overnight stay. Having stayed at one of their properties in London a long time ago in the 1990's, I was remotely familiar with the brand and kind of knew what to expect.

Langham PEK


The shuttle took a good 20-25 min. to arrive at the airport to pick the guests and once we arrived I stood in line to check-in. One of the front desk agents rang a device and immediately another staff appeared and helped me.

On my way to the room.

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Room.

Spacious, well appointed, comfortable and with a great view as I discovered the following morning.



Bathroom.




Plane spotting from the comfort of a chaise lounge.

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Outside view.

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Let the show begin.



I opened the window for a moment and upon closing it I see debris falling on the floor. O.o

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I look up and see this. What the heck?

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I take a quick shower and get ready to go back to the airport. Just as I was checking out, the shuttle bus pulls up - perfect timing.


A look from outside the hotel in the daylight.

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Comfortable seats in the shuttle bus.

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United PEK-SFO


I arrive at the massive terminal 3 and look for the UA counter.

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CA handles UA operations and I was checked in by an efficient but robotic agent at the premier line. No smiles or small talk.

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Then it's time to catch the train to Passport control and the gates.

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There was a huge line at passport control but the line eventually moves. Once I reach the officer he asked me about the portion of the form that had my dept. information. I remember that upon arrival in PEK Immigrations took that portion of the form and did not give it back, so I thought that it was not needed. The officer tried to search for one in his booth but did not find any, so he directed me to get one from one of the stands. I quickly filled one out and asked one of the staff controlling the line if she will let me in the front because of what happened. She directed me to another line and proceeded to close it behind me telling me to just stay there. A couple of minutes later another agent stamped my passport and I was on my way to security.

Security was a pain and they were very thorough. My carry-on was screened 3 times and I had to empty the contents in a bin.

Once at the other side i headed to the CA J lounge. incidentally, i learned that if you have Priority Pass, you have a choice between the J or F lounge. The terminal is huge and an air of tranquility pervades despite the chaos outside. The small garden in the corner is a welcomed and inviting addition.




CA J lounge


A lot has been said and written about airport lounges in PEK, but I prefer to experience it by myself before I can formulate an opinion. I did not have any problems finding this lounge and check-in was quick. I found the interior to be roomy with empty seats along the hallway with a self serve bar. There is a buffet area right after you enter but this one is reserved for snacks only. The hardcore stuff is found in the back. When I arrived they had an assortment of steamed and hot dishes. There was a small counter with some sushi that appeared to be of industrial quality and you had to get an attendant to serve them to you. If you don't find the food palatable enough, I guess you can exit and go down to Pizza Hut or KFC.

Entrance.

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Snack buffet.

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Interior.

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Bar area.

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Buffet.




Stand with tea and cakes along the hallway.

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My snacks.



After a cup of tea I left the lounge and did some plane spotting around the terminal.



Gate.

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The crew showed up at one point and a few minutes later boarding commenced. We were advised that today's flight was going to be full and agents were soliciting bags to be checked. Since this was a flight to the U.S., there was one last security check before boarding the plane which was quick.

A FA welcomed me aboard and I proceeded all the way to the end of the plane.

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My aisle seat.

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IFE was old school. UA chose not to install individual screens on the 747's.

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A look at the tarmac before my neighbor arrived.

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The 744 is an old plane, and the entertainment system in the back of the cabin did not play at all, so FA's had to do a live safety demonstration. As far as I could tell, every seat was taken and this was going to be a crowded ride with FA's were helping passengers find storage space in the overhead bins.

We were stuck at the gate for a good 45-60 min. due to military maneuvers around the airport. The captain kept us updated of the situation.

Finally we were allowed to take off and when we leveled off dinner service started followed right after by a drink service. I ordered a Hindu meal and this is what I was presented.

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I guess in PEK dolmas are considered Hindu.

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Main dish.

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The overhead screens started to play a movie and suddenly froze and stayed like that for a long time. They were eventually turned off.

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After I finished my meal I asked the FA if it would be possible to try a regular meal. She brought me a pork dish with a smile.

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Once all the trays were cleared ice cream and a bottle of water were distributed.




Galleys were provisioned with water, rice crackers and more ice cream.




Mid-flight snack service.

Special meal - vegetarian sandwich and rice crackers.

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Regular snack - turkey sandwich and cookie.

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After the meal service FA's retreated and appeared once again for the pre-arrival meal. There was severe turbulence during this time so FA's did a quick service and limited half filled hot drinks for those who wanted coffee or tea.

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Once we landed it took forever to exit the plane since I was in the last row. The FA's bid everyone farewell with smiles and wished us a pleasant stay.

To my surprise, upon getting home I received an email from UA apologizing for the IFE malfunction and an offer of either 5,000 miles in my UA account or USD100 off on my next trip. I took the discount. I was very impressed with this gesture from UA.
See more

Verdict

United

7.0/10
Cabin7.5
Cabin crew9.0
Entertainment5.0
Meal/catering6.5

Air China T3 Business Lounge

7.6/10
Comfort8.5
Meal/catering6.5
Entertainment8.0
Services7.5

Beijing - PEK

8.5/10
Efficiency8.0
Access9.0
Services8.5
Cleanliness8.5

San Francisco - SFO

9.5/10
Efficiency10.0
Access9.0
Services9.0
Cleanliness10.0

Conclusion

I was glad that I had the opportunity to visit the CA J lounge and did not find it as dreadful as some reviewers thought. There was plenty of empty seats when I arrived and although the catering could be improved, I appreciated that they tried to offer a variety of hot and local dishes. WC's were relatively clean and staff were quick to retrieve dirty dishes.

UA will retire its fleet of 744's at the end of this year and I enjoyed the chance the ride in this iconic plane despite its lack of IFE's. It's like reliving a little bit of aviation history. Next Feb. I will ride the 747 again when I fly NRT-SFO.

I was reasonably comfortable in one of the pair of seats in the back. Crew was friendly and did the job in an efficient way. Catering was acceptable and taste was decent.

UA was very proactive in the way it handled the IFE situation and it left a positive impression on me.

Related

24 Comments

  • Comment 383699 by
    lagentsecret 8741 Comments

    Thanks for sharing your FR

    The lounge is not that bad even not being one of the best

    On board an old cabin but a rather good crew

    Each time you are choosing a special meal then you ask for a regular one ;)

    The food is edible but not appetizing at all

    Nice UA gesture for the IFE

    See you soon for another report

    • Comment 383703 by
      jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

      Hi Gilbert.

      "The lounge is not that bad even not being one of the best"
      - It is not TK, but it does the job. I've read that there is not a significant different between this and the F one. Perhaps next time I will go to the CA F one. ;)

      "On board an old cabin but a rather good crew"
      - That makes a difference. I don't mind the old cabin. We will all be nostalgic about it once the 744 is gone.

      "Each time you are choosing a special meal then you ask for a regular one ;)"
      - For the purpose of giving a complete FR I always ask for a regular meal to compare. :P

      "The food is edible but not appetizing at all"
      - I don't think it was really authentic neither. ;)

      "Nice UA gesture for the IFE"
      - I was shocked.

      See you on my CGK series and thank you for visiting.

  • Comment 383742 by
    K2World 1534 Comments

    Hi Adan,
    You manage to find a really good price for a one way flight and this gave you the opportunity to fly the queen of the sky before she retires very soon. Oh wait, you'll be flying another 747 next month, lucky you :)
    Those old but thick seats are in a way comfortable but otherwise, there is no personal screen and the meals are not appealing, I hope you had an ipad or something.
    Nice gesture for the broken IFE, that's very proactive, I guess they are used to this ?
    See you soon for another adventure :)

    • Comment 383825 by
      jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

      Salut Kevin.

      " Oh wait, you'll be flying another 747 next month, lucky you :) "
      - I don't want regrets, so I am making the most out of it. ;)

      "I hope you had an ipad or something."
      - I had a couple of books with me. I'm old fashioned in that sense. :P

      "I guess they are used to this ?"
      - LOL. Probably. I forgot to mention that my overhead light burned out after the mid-flight snack service. Maybe I could have doubled the compensation if I complained about that too. :P

      Thank you for commenting.

  • Comment 383753 by
    indianocean SILVER 5794 Comments

    Hi Adan.

    Too bad for you TK decided to change the conditions to meet the status match.

    The hotel is really well located for geeks like us.

    I cannot believe cabins without IFE still exist among long haul aircrafts nowadays. No wonder the price you paid was so low.

    The catering is a real joke

    Good thing, good cabin crew.

    After all, UA meets few expectations one can have: going from A to B and reasonnable fares. Other than that, fly another airline.

    Thank you for sharing

    • Comment 383830 by
      jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

      Hi Bernard.

      "Too bad for you TK decided to change the conditions to meet the status match."
      - There are always options. ;)

      "The hotel is really well located for geeks like us."
      - I couldn't ask for a better location myself.

      "I cannot believe cabins without IFE still exist among long haul aircrafts nowadays."
      - It's so "prehistoric".

      "The catering is a real joke"
      - They've made changes in the right direction but still a long way to go. However, I find UA's catering in Y better than AA (for those of us proletarians who fly in the back) :P

      "After all, UA meets few expectations one can have: going from A to B and reasonnable fares. Other than that, fly another airline."
      - It's rare to find airlines that use 744's these days. ;)

      Thanks Bernard.

  • Comment 383781 by
    eminere™ 264 Comments

    Wow, no IFE and on such a long flight. I would've been crazy bored.

  • Comment 383802 by
    Numero_2 SILVER 7802 Comments

    Thanks Adan !

    The CA lounge is OK, the only bad point is the drinks fridges are switched off (with drinks inside lol).

    This flight could have been a pain... You got what you paid for. ;)

    100$ voucher for a broken shares screen, that'a pretty generous from UA.

    • Comment 383834 by
      jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

      Hi Clement.

      "The CA lounge is OK, the only bad point is the drinks fridges are switched off (with drinks inside lol)."
      - I never touched that fridge. Besides they say that "when in Rome, do as the Romans" so I drank lots of hot tea. ;)

      "You got what you paid for. ;)"
      - Isn't that true?

      "that'a pretty generous from UA."
      - They've been very generous lately. Last year I had to cancel a nonrefundable ticket that I purchased due to a family emergency and they gave me a full refund after submitting a doctor's note without any fuss.

      Thanks for your visit.

  • Comment 383837 by
    757Fan 443 Comments

    Another great report, Adan. Nice to get on a 747 on your flight home, but that's annoying that there is no personal IFE on UA's 747's. The food also doesn't look that appetizing either which is too bad.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Matthew

  • Comment 384036 by
    Nick 172 Comments

    Nice report Jetsetpanda! The poor hard product on this 744 doesn't surprise me due to their impending retirement. I'm impressed that they offered you $100 off your next trip due to the IFE freeze which most people probably weren't watching anyway. United usually doesn't do things like that.

    • Comment 384044 by
      jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

      Hi Nick.

      "The poor hard product on this 744 doesn't surprise me due to their impending retirement."
      - Yep. Probably the reason for not spending more money on upgrading the fleet.

      " I'm impressed that they offered you $100 off your next trip ..."
      - Very proactive on UA's part. Hopefully change is here to stay.

      Thanks for your comments.

  • Comment 384060 by
    linard76 29 Comments

    The United 747s are a special breed and I for one will miss them when they are gone. There is streaming IFE available and wifi through the United app.

  • Comment 384154 by
    Rl 777 812 Comments

    Thank you for sharing this FR with us!

    Stunning spotting pictures from PEK.

    The weather seemed to be pretty good in Beijing that day.

    “I arrive at the massive terminal 3”
    - Wow!

    These queens are obviously old with a dated hard product but the seats didn't seem to be in a bad shape.

    Personal IFE is nice but I rarely do much on it anyway, except for listening to music and watching the moving map. Music can be stored in mobile devices though and as Linard76, entertainment is available in their app.

    Nice that they handed you a regular meal as well.

    The compensation was generous, good job by UA.

    Thank you for sharing this great series with us, a fantastic conclusion with a ride on a classic 744.

    Have a good one, see you!

    • Comment 384264 by
      jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

      Hi RI 777.

      "The weather seemed to be pretty good in Beijing that day."
      - I was lucky that it was sunny.

      "These queens are obviously old with a dated hard product but the seats didn't seem to be in a bad shape."
      - They were well padded and comfy.

      "Nice that they handed you a regular meal as well."
      - Just the main dish. ;)

      Thanks for visiting.

  • Comment 384170 by
    NGO85 1624 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this FR Adan!

    Never knew MF had B757s, always thought they were a B737/787 only carrier.

    PEK T3 is a beautiful terminal (2nd only to MAD), although it is little eerie how large it is with the grand ceilings. The security has always been poor at PEK from my experiences so the hassle they put you through sounds about on-par ;)

    “but I prefer to experience it by myself before I can formulate an opinion”
    - There is a lot of negative buzz about the CA Lounge, but it has good food offerings. I find the ambiance to be poor with unattractive furniture and the drink offering to be below average, but the hot food is decent.

    “The 744 is an old plane”
    - UA’s are especially in poor condition, but with the arrival of the B77Ws these will soon fade into oblivion so you can’t blame them for not caring to update them at all. The seats are probably still more comfortable than the plastic leather ones on the B787s.

    "Mid-flight snack service.” <= Very similar to what DL offers, which is a good marker for UA.

    The first meal service looks quite good, it’s nice they add a fruit plate to the normal catering (also that they use larger trays than on the European flights). The pre-arrival meal doesn’t look great, but the presence of a mid-flight snack kind of makes up for this deficiency.

    “USD100 off on my next trip”
    - A good offer from UA since you can book NH easily through them.

  • Comment 384266 by
    jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

    Hi Michael.

    "PEK T3 is a beautiful terminal (2nd only to MAD), although it is little eerie how large it is with the grand ceilings. "
    - I think it is really spacious and the garden past security is a charming addition.

    " I find the ambiance to be poor with unattractive furniture and the drink offering to be below average, but the hot food is decent."
    - I think catering is varied enough but you are right about the ambiance. I've read that the domestic lounge is better.

    "Very similar to what DL offers, which is a good marker for UA."
    - That's good to know. Now if they could offer hot towels and menus.

    " A good offer from UA since you can book NH easily through them."
    - Yes but the coupon is good for UA only and code shares are excluded. ;(

    Thank you for stopping.

  • Comment 385199 by
    ashleyyau 197 Comments

    I am sorry for late comment but thanks Adan for this nice report! Although my United B747 experience is quite unpleasant (…), I am still glad to have my 1st Queen flight (and last time) on UA. This year several airlines retire their B747s make the end of an era.

    Nice plane spotting in Beijing. CA is an interesting airline that it has so many special liveries on its fleets. The CA Lounge is so “Chinese Characteristics”^^ But I like the idea that it has so many hot food.

    Although the UA Queen is very outdated as per expected, I think your ride is much pleasant than mine. At least there are no rude prison matrons tortured you throughout the flight ;) Did you try the wifi?

    I see the UA improvement on the food. It is nice they add a fruit plate for each meal (more healthy :P) and more importantly the mid-flight snacks return (which was absent from my SFO-HKG flight)! The galley snacks also look better (ice-cream is a nice touch!) I will have my travel on UA again at the end of this month and hope to see those improvements on my flight.

    “an offer of either 5,000 miles in my UA account or USD100 off”
    - If in HK I would definitely go for the first one :)

    • Comment 385571 by
      jetsetpanda SILVER AUTHOR 2243 Comments

      Hi Ashley.

      "The CA Lounge is so “Chinese Characteristics”^^ But I like the idea that it has so many hot food."-
      - At least it tries. The amount of hot food is decent, but they have to improve on the quality of some items, especially the sushi.

      "Did you try the wifi?"
      - Unfortunately I did not.

      "I see the UA improvement on the food. It is nice they add a fruit plate for each meal (more healthy :P)"
      - The fruit is there because I ordered a special Hindu meal. ;) But overall UA has improved its catering.

      "The galley snacks also look better (ice-cream is a nice touch!)"
      - It's nice to have ice cream for sure.

      Thanks for your comments. See you later and in PAX. :P

  • Comment 386601 by
    Chibcha 423 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this series, it was a treat to read!

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