Review of United flight San Francisco Hong Kong in Premium Eco

Airline United
Flight UA869
Class Premium Eco
Seat 22L
Aircraft Boeing 777-300ER
Flight time 14:35
Take-off 29 Nov 17, 13:30
Arrival at 29 Nov 17, 20:05
UA   #115 out of 133 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 291 reviews
linard76
By 4404
Published on 25th January 2018
Welcome to my latest trip report, covering a recent flight on United's newly configured Boeing 777-300ERs.

Our good friends were organizing a small wedding celebration in Phuket, Thailand and we had been watching fares from San Francisco for a while. Since prices had been fairly high, we hadn't confirmed our attendance. Just a few weeks before the wedding, we came across a pretty good deal but one that required a fairly complicated journey.

Since these friends helped us out with our wedding a couple of years ago, we made the decision to go with the booking. For just three days in Phuket, we took the following flights:
11/29 - United from San Francisco to Hong Kong on a 777-300ER
11/30 - Hong Kong Airlines from Hong Kong to Bangkok on an A330-200
12/1 - Thai VietJet Air from Bangkok to Phuket on an A320-200
12/3 - Thai VietJet Air from Phuket to Bangkok on an A320-200
12/4 - Hong Kong Airlines from Bangkok to Hong Kong on an A350-900
12/4 - United from Hong Kong to San Francisco on a 777-300ER

I was excited to take this flight. While the vast majority of coverage and attention has been on the new Polaris cabin, United also made substantial changes to the experience for 80% of the other passengers in economy. Following the current trend, United went from a 3-3-3 to 3-4-3 configuration, squeezing in an extra seat per row. I was curious to see how the experience has changed on a long-haul flight. Withmy status with United, I knew I could preselect an Economy Plus seat so I wasn't too nervous.

Check-in and security at SFO has been consistently efficient in my experience. Barely 15 minutes after being dropped off at the curb, we were checked in and airside.

As the United Club in the international terminal was being remodeled, we made a lunch stop at the American Express Centurion Lounge before heading to the gate.

I was pleased to see that we were departing from G96 which offers fantastic views of your awaiting plane

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Best of all, we were flying on N2131U, United's first 777-300ER. Christened "New Spirit of United," the name is meant to highlight United's newfound optimism as it moves forward from a stormy past. This was a treat as the one and only time I took this flight previously in April of 2016, it was operated by N199UA, a 747-400, that was retired just a couple of weeks later.

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Unfortunately, the 777 doesn't have the same sort of gate appeal as the 747.

N2131U at SFO as UA862 in November of 2017

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N199UA at SFO as UA862 in April of 2016

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The flight was fairly full and the gate area was packed to the brim. We decided to line up and board early so that I could get some photos of the new cabin. We boarded through L2 and were greeted by flight attendants predominantly based in Hong Kong.

I quickly made my way to the flight deck before it got too busy to greet the crew and chat about the 777-300ER.

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On the way back, I took a quick shot of the still awe-inspiring GE90 power plant and 777-300ER's signature wing.

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United has made a big deal about the new Polaris experience and I think the cabin and finishes look very nice.

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Arriving in economy to find the new 3-4-3 configuration, my first thought was that the cabin looked new and fresh particularly with the mood lighting but also that there were a lot of seats.

We picked row 22, the last row of the mini Economy Plus cabin right behind Polaris. While next to the toilet, we didn't find that noise was much of an issue and liked that it felt a bit more intimate than the larger economy cabin. We also lucked out as we had an empty middle seat between us.

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The Economy Plus seats themselves are identical to the standard economy seats with a 3-4-3 configuration. Instead, they offer a bit more space with 34 inches of pitch and 4 inches of recline versus 31 inches of pitch and 3 inches of recline for standard economy. Unfortunately, in addition to the extra seat per row, United also removed an inch from both the pitch and recline in Economy Plus.

According to Seat Guru, all economy seats are 17 inches wide.

A shot of the standard economy rows.

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Looking forward from the rear of the mini Economy Plus cabin towards the Polaris cabin.

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We pushed back a few minutes early and the captain announced that we were expecting an early arrival. We ended up being more than 50 minutes early.

Our takeoff roll was long and we had a smooth climb out over San Francisco with the mighty GE90s hurtling us towards Asia.

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After snapping my photos, it was time to settle into our seats for the next 13 hours.

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That is definitely not the right graphic for a 777-300ER.

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90 minutes after taking off, the lunch service commenced. I went with the chicken and fried rice combination which was surprisingly tasty, similar in taste to what you'd get at a cheap Chinese take-out restaurant which isn't a bad thing. This meal service showed improvements over some of my past experiences but that's an incredibly low bar to surpass.

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Last glimpse of the outside world before the flight attendants asked for the window shades to be lowered.

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Settled in for the long flight ahead, I took a sound level recording. The 777s have a reputation for being quite a loud plane but I haven't found that to be the case with the latest 300ERs. I recorded a 85.7 dB average which is noisier than the 84.5 dB average I recorded for the Hong Kong Airlines A350-900 on the journey back but not nearly as big of a gap as expected.

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The lights were dimmed and I got a few hours of sleep which is always a pleasant surprise for me in economy. An annoying feature of the seats is that they will slowly return to an upright position after some time if you move around.

A glimpse of the outside world when I woke back up.

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I got out of my seat to take a stroll around the plane to stretch and use the toilet. This is when I realized there was a problem. The sink in the toilet by our seats was filled to the brim with a dark brown/black liquid. The crew came by to rectify the issue but apparently it was also an issue with the adjacent toilet. They cordoned off both toilets and called the captain.

Leaving the crew to solve the frankly disgusting issue, I walked towards the back of the plane and stopped by the galley. There were some sandwiches, pretzels and drinks available but I decided to wait for breakfast.

A glimpse of the beautiful wing from the rear door.

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Apparently the toilet issue was more serious than expected as the gross liquid kept refilling both sinks and sloshing out. The crew used towels to absorb the spillage and attempted to seal off the doors to keep the liquid from leaking into the cabin.

I spent the new few hours browsing United's typically excellent long-haul entertainment selection. I also think it's neat that passengers have the option to use the built-in system or use their own devices to wirelessly stream content.

About 90 minutes before arrival, the lights came on and the breakfast service started. I chose the standard United omelet which seems to have seen some improvement efforts.

"Now with garnish!"

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The trays were cleared and the captain then announced that we'd be commencing our descent shortly and arriving into Hong Kong early due to the favorable wind conditions.

Surprisingly, just 30 minutes after we landed, we received an email apologizing for the toilet issue and offered a mileage credit or cash award for future flight redemption.

The flight with United's new Boeing 777-300ER was pleasant overall. The flight wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I was expecting it to be. In many ways, I can say I was pleasantly surprised by this flight and think the experience, even in economy, is a big improvement for passengers. As much as it pains me to admit, the new 777-300ERs are a better way to travel compared to the old 747-400s that used to ply this route.
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Verdict

United

8.0/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew8.0
Entertainment/wifi8.5
Meal/catering7.5

San Francisco - SFO

8.4/10
Efficiency9.0
Access8.5
Services8.0
Cleanliness8.0

Hong Kong - HKG

8.9/10
Efficiency9.0
Access8.5
Services9.0
Cleanliness9.0

Conclusion

The flight with United's new Boeing 777-300ER was pleasant overall. The flight wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I was expecting it to be. In many ways, I can say I was pleasantly surprised by this flight and think the experience, even in economy, is a big improvement for passengers. As much as it pains me to admit, the new 777-300ERs are a better way to travel compared to the old 747-400s that used to ply this route.

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

5 Comments

  • Comment 429118 by
    K2World 1739 Comments

    Thank you for this report
    Great shot of the cabin during the boarding !
    Some airlines that have a 3-4-3 layout in Y change it to a 3-3-3 for the Y+, it's a pity UA didn't do it.
    The first meal looks OK. Have you some Coke in your glass under the iceberg ??? ^^
    "the toilet issue was more serious than expected" After Ashleyyau, you also experience a bathroom issue during your flight on UA, I hope this is not a new trend lol
    Having an empty middle seat increases a lot the comfort during a flight I guess
    Looking forward to reading your return leg

    • Comment 429120 by
      linard76 AUTHOR 32 Comments

      Thanks for reading K2World.

      You're right, American for example has a 3-3-3 configuration for the Main Cabin Extra seats. That would be nice for sure.

      I did ask for extra ice, I like my beverages really cold, haha.

      The toilet issue was annoying but was thankfully not repeated on the return flight.

      And definitely agree, having an empty middle seat greatly contributes to comfort on a long-haul flight.

  • Comment 429177 by
    KL651 TEAM 4447 Comments

    Thanks for this FR.
    I really like how the new cabin look but the Y seats look really hard.
    Decent catering, the portions seem bigger than on TATL flights, which is logical.
    You gotta praise UA for their compensation policy, both quick and generous.

  • Comment 429470 by
    KévinDC TEAM GOLD 4904 Comments

    Thanks for this beautifully photographed report as usual! You make UA Y+ almost look good...almost :-P

    The catering seems decent for a US carrier in Y. It's a shame that Y+ is only 34" of pitch...to think that used to be standard pitch in Y not that long ago, and still is on JetBlue and some other carriers.

    "The flight wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I was expecting it to be."
    - The empty seat probably had a lot to do with that. It can really make all the difference. The empty middle helped you avoid the crunch of 3-4-3.

    Aesthetically, the cabin and seats look good, but I agree with KL651, the seats do look hard.

    Thanks for sharing!

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