For Christmas break this year, I traveled with my family to Italy, specifically Rome, Florence, Venice and Siena. Italy is an amazing place to see, and I would strongly reccommend it to anyone. However, getting there was quite stressful and not fun for the most part. The flights were mostly Star Alliance based, booked on United and Brussels Airlines. I will publish each review flight by flight, and links to each one are listed below. I was introduced to two world renowned aircraft, the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380, although the A380 was unplanned for, but a nice surprise. Unfortunately, I do not have reviews for the Brussels Airlines flights between LHR and FCO since I was super tired having not slept on the United flight and having stayed up super late studying for a final I had taken earlier in the day. Anyways, here's my first flight on a United 787-9 between SFO and LHR in economy plus.
We arrived at SFO in the international terminal at about 1:30 to check in for the flight. With my Dad's Star Alliance Gold status, checking in was quick and easy, as we had checked in 3 bags and 1 carry on. We proceeded to security on the G side(Star Alliance, except Asiana and Avianca) of the international terminal. Despite a lot of traffic that day, the security was pretty fast and easy. After that, we went into the terminal. Unfortunately, all lounges in the G side of the international terminal were closed so that the new United Polaris lounge could be built. So we went to the United domestic red carpet lounge in terminal 3. The lounge was quite small and pretty basic, with small snacks such as bread, cookies, and brownies. There is quite a bit of seating, and each seat has power and USB ports. However, the lounge is quite disappointing and I would not recommend going early just to eat at the lounge, that is, until the new Polaris lounge opens.
Since we had spent so much time at the lounge, we were quite late for boarding our flight, so we had to rush to gate G94. On the way, I caught an Air Canada A320 in the New Livery and my United 787-9, N29961, delivered in November of 2015.
Air Canada A320(new livery) SFO
United 787-9 SFO
Cabin and Seat
After boarding, I got into the plane. United's 787-9 contains 48 Polaris business class seats, 88 economy plus seats, and 116 economy seats. Business is in a 2-2-2 configuration, while economy and economy plus are in a 3-3-3 configuration. However, the Polaris is their old business class, which is quite inferior to the new one, and United would be smart to refurbish their 787s with the new Polaris seat. As of now the new Polaris seat is only available on the airlines 777-300ERs and one 767-300. Here is the seat map of United's 787-9.
Anyways on to my seat, 21A in economy plus. The seat is covered in dark blue leather, making the cabin look o.k. but nothing to write home about. It has a 35 inch pitch, and additional 4 inches from the standard economy , but at 17.3 inches wide, it is no wider than the standard economy seat. Sitting in it at first, I thought,"damn, this is pretty comfortable." The seat also has a 4.0 recline, which was quite nice. However, the annoying part about it is, that if you have the seat in recline position, and say you need to get up to go to the bathroom. The seat then goes back into its upright position, and you will have to re-recline it again, which got under my nerves after a while.
The cabin of the 787-9 is quite a nice cabin, and it felt quite new as the aircraft was only 2 years old. But the best feature of the 787 is…. the dimmable windows! This is so much fun to play with, and it makes it easier for passengers to get sleep on daytime flights when the sun is bright and shining into their windows.
Sadly, though, the seat is not really meant for flights over 6 hours. While they were comfortable for the first half of the flight, after that, they are sorely uncomfortable, and I found myself twisting and turning a lot after that. Also, you get the effort that United did not put very much effort into designing this premium economy seat. The seat is 95% the same as regular economy. There are many missing pieces of a typical premium economy class, such as the seat being wider, the tray tables being in the armrest, and a footrest. Forget international airlines such as Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore, ANA, and EVA, even their top national competitors, American and Delta, have premium economy seats with these features, and United didn't bother to put them in.
Copa Airlines 737 SFO
Lufthansa A380 and SAS A340 SFO
We had a pretty quick taxi and on-time takeoff from SFO. The 787's 2 GE 90X engines are very massive, and the engines were pretty quiet, but still quite a bit louder than an Airbus A350 and A380. Well, it's a common thing that Boeings tend to be on the loud side while Airbuses are on the quiet side.
The IFE system, one of the most important components of a longhaul, international flight. Well, you're in luck with this one. United's IFE is quite great, with many movies and TV Shows to select from, both English and International. I spent most of the flight watching movies, specifically Baywatch, Why Him, XXX:The return of Xander Cage, Deadpool, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. I spent a lot of time watching the IFE, and it is a great way to pass by the time while flying United. Here is a complete list of all the American movies on its IFE. Also, the seat has a USB and power port, along with the obvious headphone jack. I decided to use my own apple earbuds, since United's earbuds are terrible quality and honestly very germ-infested.
However, the IFE is not perfect. While quite a lot of international airlines put a tail camera or an interactive map of some sort, United does not have a tail camera and its map is very basic, making it not fun to look at. Also, whenever I paused movies to eat my food or go to the bathroom, or even just to stretch out, the movie goes all the way back to the beginning, and you basically have to fast forward it by memory to where you think you left off. This was so god damn annonying, but fortunately not to big a problem. Overall the IFE is very good, and you could spend your whole flight just using that, not really regretting losing sleep.
The very basic in-flight map.
Something that everyone thinks about in a flight is the food. Well United is not known for its food. About an hour into the flight, we were served a dinner meal. We had two choices, either butter chicken or beef. I chose the butter chicken. It came with a piece of bread, along with a small salad. The main dish itself was butter chicken, white rice, and some dal.
Unlike Lufthansa, United still uses plastic containers and knifes, and they didn't offer menus as well. This leaves you once again thinking, "How f***ing lazy did United get with this product?!" Oh, and even worse was the food itself. As an Indian, I have eaten tons of chicken curries and dals in my life, and this was by far the worst I have ever had. It had no taste and was severely undercooked. The salad was basically just a small amount of lettuce and tomato with cucumber. Since it was basic, the taste was very bland. The bread tasted well, like bread.
Immediately after that we were offered a dessert, which was a Villa Dolce Mango Sorbet, the only choice offered. I asked the flight attendant, "Where's the spoon?" and he just responded,"inside". I opened up the sorbet, and it had a small, flat spoon inside it on the cover. I took one small bite of it and it tasted like absolute shit, making this the worst ice cream I had ever had. I decided not to continue on with the dessert.
Finally, there was an inflight snack, which was a turkey sandwich and a M&M's packet. The sandwich was fine, but no better than that you'd get at a local supermarket.
About an hour and a half before landing, we were served English breakfast, appropriate since we were landing in London. After all the terrible food before, I decided to pass and have breakfast at the lounges in LHR.
Bathroom and Cabin Crew
On to the bathroom! It was a typical economy class bathroom, just very basic bathroom, but it was clean and usable.
The cabin crew did their job, but were nothing special. They seemed very robotic and not truly wanting to be there. Even though I had a chat with them, they were answering super quickly and I got the impression that they didn't want me to be there.
We had an on-time landing in LHR on runway 27L at about 9:40 a.m. and went into the Queens(Star Alliance) Terminal 2. We did have to go through security again in order to get to our Brussels Airlines flights, but it was pretty quick and easy. T2 also has 4 lounges, Singapore, Lufthansa, Air Canada and United. I was very tired so I unfortunately did not take any pictures and did not really review the Brussels flights en route to Rome FCO. But now on to the way back.
United Airlines Red Carpet Club (Terminal 3)
San Francisco - SFO
London - LHR
So what do I think of United's Economy Plus on the 787-9? It was better than I was expecting, but still very disappointing. Beware flyers: this is not a premium economy seat. I don't know if that is what United was trying to do, but if it was, then they have failed miserably. The distinctions between standard economy and economy plus is 4 more inches of legroom and... that's it. United was very lazy in creating this product, and is not worth your hard earned money. The product is missing almost every other feature of a typical premium economy product, like the tray tables being in the armrest rather than on the seatback, a footrest, a food menu, a bigger TV. What brought this flight down so much was the food. It was absolute shit and gave me the worst chicken curry and the worst Ice cream I have ever tasted. This was, however, the best flight on United I have had, since it was in their Boeing 787. If you do end up flying United longhaul, make sure it's on a Boeing 787 or 777-300ER. Otherwise, avoid it at all costs. There were some positives on this flight, however. The IFE is quite good, and I would strongly recommend you use it extensively on a United longhaul, although it does have its problems. The legroom addition is quite nice, as is the recline, except for the fact that you would have to re-recline it. However, don't let the name fool you; this is by no means a premium economy seat. If that's what you're looking for, fly Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore, ANA, EVA Air, and Air New Zealand on comparable star alliance routes because they all have premium economy seats that are well, actual premium economy products and are way more worth it for your hard-earned money.
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