Review of United flight Frankfurt Newark in Premium Eco

Airline United
Flight UA961
Class Premium Eco
Seat 21L
Aircraft Boeing 787-10
Flight time 07:19
Take-off 22 Jan 20, 11:41
Arrival at 22 Jan 20, 13:27
UA   #120 out of 142 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 319 reviews
Manbou
By 1775
Published on 24th January 2020

Hello and a very warm welcome to my newest trip report!

Being a university student, I might not be flying as often as other people (especially those who travel a lot for business reasons!). But this time, I'm actually flying for studying purposes: I'll be studying in the New York area for the next term, which means I needed to get there somehow. Booking early and thus taking the slight risk of my visa being rejected, I was able to secure quite good prices on tickets that would allow me to travel to EWR in United's Premium Plus and back in regular Economy from Washington DC with Lufthansa. Premium Economy was definitely a good thing, not only because of the added comforts and perks compared to Y, but also because it enabled me to check in 2 bags for free and avoid the 9 abreast cabin in the 787, which has unfortunately become very common, not only on shorter flights. The latter flight lies still well ahead in the future, though, so this will only be about my outbound journey.


Frankfurt Airport Experience


On the day before the flight, I attempted to check in online. The United webpage told me to install the United app to scan my documents, which I did. I expected there to be something like an QR code you scan to connect your passport scan with your booking, but nothing. In the end I ended up with a document that said "This is not a boarding pass!" and the error that check-in was not possible. Fearing the worst (SSSS), I went through the whole process all over again on the app, and it worked. I printed out my boarding pass at home (I'm kind of an old-school guy when it comes to important documents) and left for the airport the next morning.

(Mandatory, albeit somewhat blurry shot of one of these famous departure boards)


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The next step was finding where the bagdrop counters are. Maybe on some website there is information about this - I only knew that it was in Terminal 1, Hall B. My fault. But the airport could do a little better and have more signage or interactive screens to show directions. It turned out that United's check-in and bagdrop desks were kind of hidden in one of these corridors leading towards security. At the counters, there was no line whatsoever, and after a United employee reviewed my passport, boarding pass and visa documents, I was able to check my bags; this process was quick and efficient.
The security lines were somewhat long, but still tolerable and didn't compare to JFK's. Note that flying Premium Plus doesn't give you access to any better security lanes, other than what United usually includes in "Premier Access." As it is typical for Frankfurt, you are forced to go through a duty-free shop directly after security checks and immigration.


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Pretty soon, I found the right gate - Z22. Before getting there, I had to go through a document check by United employees, which however wasn't really thorough at all. From that part of the terminal, all kinds of flights to the US departed, for example New York JFK, Chicago or Miami.
A tip if you want to get something from the duty-free: avoid the big one you see on the photo above. It might be big and carry everything, but the lines at the check-out can be somewhat frustrating. At the duty-free shops further down the terminal, on the other hand, I noticed bored employees having to play with their phones - feel free to help them overcome their ennui ;)


Aircraft:
Boeing 787-10, N12005 (built: January 2019)


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Some random (light) planespotting from the terminal and some de-icing in the distance. Unfortunately, I didn't get to experience much diversity when it comes to planes and airlines (well, at least the LH retro 748).


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Boarding & Cabin, Take-off


When I arrived at the gate, it was quite packed already. United had organized two lines for boarding groups 1 and 2, but some "gate lice" were already populating the gate. Turned out they were there for additional document checks. Actually I wonder where the secondary security screening took place, because I saw no partioned section of the gate.
Boarding commenced at around 10:32, 3 minutes before the actual boarding time. It went quite smoothly, which is why Group 2's turn was already three minutes later. We entered the plane through one jetbridge, which was gray and somewhat depressing just like the foggy weather. Even though there was only one jetbridge, boarding was completed pretty soon. The reason for this might be that while Premium Plus was full, the seat map on the United website showed free seats in Polaris and especially in Economy.



Inside, I was greeted by nice and friendly FAs and some remnants of the "new plane smell." The cabin was in a good condition, indeed, and clean for the most part; however, a more thorough look revealed some cleaning lapses. For some reason I don't know, the cabin was semi-darkened during boarding and a part of taxiing.
My seat was 22L, the window seat on the right in the second of three rows of Premium Plus. I actively selected this seat because I wanted to have the "normal"/"average" Premium Plus experience, so not bulkhead or last row. However, later I found that the seat isn't particularly good for looking out the window. There are two, but to look out of the forward one, you have to lean forward quite a bit, and the other one is literally right at your ear.


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Legroom was ample, even though it was difficult to fit my somewhat-bloated backpack under the seat. Additionally, there's a footrest that folds down from the seat in front of you, as well as a legrest that is attached to your seat - very comfortable. The sense of space is good - next to me sat a gentleman who connected from a Lufthansa A380 in Economy, and he noticed that it was a big improvement over that. Besides, every seat comes with Saks Fifth Avenue branded pillow and blanket, which were nothing special though.
In the pretty wide armrest between the seats, you can find a remote control for the IFE as well as control buttons for the recline and the legrest. Also, you can find a cubby there, which holds the amenity kit (more on that later) plus your plugs for power and headphones. The headphones provided were quite okay, but not noise-cancelling and uncomfortable to wear with glasses. Particularly if you're wearing glasses, I would recommend bringing your own headphones/earphones; though United uses two-pronged headphones, you can actually use your normal ones if you take the jack that's closer to you.
The table folds out from the side and can be opened either half or full. You can also pull it towards or away from you. If you half-open the table, you can fold out a personal device holder (United offer screening entertainment on these planes).
Besides, there were two seat pockets: one larger one down below, and a smaller one (for literature) directly below the screen. The upper pocket is filled with the very average United "Hemisphere" magazine, a plain blue sickbag and the safety card.



The captain informed us that we will likely leave Frankfurt early, and that the flight time would be about 7:55 hours. What impressed me most about this United captain was his excellent command of the German language. In general, announcements were made both in English and German and were always clear and informative.
As a welcome drink, water was offered in blue plastic cups. During taxiing, United's Star Wars-themed safety video was screened. I found it to be very creative, as it combines Star Wars characters and elements with different places in the world, and of course the important safety information.


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Due to the fog, there was nothing much to see during taxiing and take-off. Today's catches include just a few Lufthansa planes, an ANA 77W, a Eurowings A330 and a Delta 767. In the third to last photo you can also see an Singapore Airlines A380 getting ready to continue flight SQ25 to its home base, and next to it the only Iran Air A330.



Finally above the clouds!


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First Service and Inflight Entertainment


Already before take-off, menu cards were distributed. About an hour into the flight, the cocktail service commenced. It consisted of a beverage and a "100-calorie pack" of almonds. As a drink, I chose Ginger Ale and got a cup with ice as well as the whole can. (No alcohol for me on a day flight - my neighbor, in the duration of the flight, downed three white wines and a Glenfidditch though.) However, there was no hot or cold towel service; only for the proper meal would we get a pre-packaged refreshment towel.


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The presence of goat cheese in the pasta choice moved me to go with the chicken. It was good, even though a little bit dry, and had interesting flavors to it. The salad was fresh and went nicely with the dressing provided. The bread roll was nothing special. The Polaris chocolates were appreciated, as was the real metal cutlery and porcelain dishes. I would also like to point out that United indeed has nice textiles, which also goes for the fabric napkin. There was another round of beverages to go with it (not pictured).


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It was all topped off with a dessert of Treacle toffee ice cream, which came with another round of drinks and a small water bottle from Belgium.


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Now time to look at the IFE. I think that United has realized a great system on this plane. As I already said, the screen was crisp and bright, but is was also responsive with an easy-to-use UI. The flight map was interactive and very nice, and there also was a page where you can just see all the important flight information on one view. I also liked that there was a service outline available to review. The film selection was massive in my books; you could literally spend hundreds of hours on this plane without having to rewatch a movie or TV show. This system's scope is extensive and includes both classic movies as well as new ones and other films from in between. I ended up only watching Bohemian Rhapsody, which I had completely missed. Unfortunate, as I found it to be a great one, even though I might be biased there, being a Queen fan.
(What creeped me out a little, though, was the camera on the bottom of the screen, which was directly looking at me all the time.)

Wifi was available for purchase, but I have no idea how much it is and how well it works.



Amenity Kit and other Inflight Services


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The amenity kit was not the regular one but it had Star Wars co-branding. The pouch didn't have a zipper or any other proper way to close it, but you have to stuff the lower part of it into the upper part. On another note, I wonder if it's okay for all parties involved if Disney works together both with ANA and United when it comes to Star Wars stuff, but maybe it's okay because they do different stuff and are "allied" airlines.


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Included in the amenity kit were socks, an eyemask, a dental kit, earplugs, and Sundy Riley-branded hand cream and lip balm. The dental kit was pretty basic and the toothbrush very short. The earplugs did help very well, as did the eyemask - it's very dark indeed except for the lower region around your nose, where, unfortunately, some light still creeps in.
I've read people criticize the 787 windowshades (or better the lack thereof) because they don't really get dark. I disagree, even though I admit there's the possibility that they've improved the windows over the years; this is a pretty new plane, after all.
I did manage to get 1-1,5 hours of sleep, although it wasn't exactly high quality. When sitting in the seat for longer, you appreciate the generous recline, but in my opinion, the seats lack lumbar support. And if you use your pillow for that, there's not enough support in the neck - a problem I usually don't have with adjustable headrests, but that's my take (and physiognomy).

Some time during the flight, we hit some turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean, which was noticeable but not that terrible. Later the crew went through the cabin with a snack basket, and distributed pre-packaged snacks and fruit to the passengers who were awake.
I visited two different bathrooms. Unfortunately, Premium Plus passengers can't use the Polaris bathrooms directly in front of the cabin. While the Economy bathrooms in the middle of the plane were okay (even though nothing special), the aft ones are pretty tight, which is particularly true for the sink.


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About one hour before landing, the passengers were "woken up" with mood lighting, and it was time for another meal service. This time, the choice was between a macaroni and cheese pie, or a meat and cheese plate. Having seen the (pretty sad looking) mac and cheese before on another review of the same route, I went with the meat and cheese plate. Usually, I'm not that much of a cheese plate guy, but I was pleasantly surprised. The lighter-colored cheese was Reggiano Parmigiano (or something similar), I guess, the other one cheddar and the last one of course blue cheese. A proper cheese-lover may correct me if I'm wrong.
I didn't like the blue cheese very much, but everything went well with the pickled vegetables and and meats. While the salami was a bit generic and seemed out of place, I did like the (Serrano?) ham. The fruit tasted fresh and complimented the meal well. I was surprised by the bread roll; it tasted fresh, not necessarily oven-fresh, but way better than the one of the first meal.
The meal was completed by a pack of shortbread, and a (paper) cup of Illy coffee, which was actually very drinkable (side note: I ordered black coffee and got one with milk - not that I would care that much, but it's still a mistake. Imagine someone is lactose-intolerant). The nice cloth napkin and metal cutlery were the same as in the first meal, but United cheaped out on the refreshment towel.


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And this pretty much concluded the inflight service - except for one thing: the immigration forms were only handed out very shortly before arrival. While I'm not sure anymore how this was on my last flight to the US and if this is a legal thing, it left me worried for some time that I wouldn't get a form. Other than that, the cabin crew did a great job, always friendly and helpful, and looking out for our safety. There was only one flight attendant that sort-of seemed to have a bad day. However, I don't think they did any additional drink runs; I'm also not sure if there was anything in the galley self-service-wise. On longer flights, this would probably be an issue for me, but for this flight duration it was okay - considering I've got a bottle of water after the first meal.


Touching down in Newark


After flying over very rural areas, the scenery got more and more urban - and sadly, less and less snowy. Coming in from the Northwest, I got some good views of Teterboro airport and the Manhattan skyline in the distance. The last picture of this gallery shows the Red Bull Arena in Newark, if I recall correctly.



Approaching the runway, while getting some views of EWR and the completely different airline "fauna" habitating the airport in comparison to Frankfurt.


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Thrust reversers fully deployed.


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Completing the landing with some photos of an El Al 787 with the freight terminal on the left; a La Compagnie (all Business Class) A321neo; the port of Newark; a departing UA A320; the skyline of Manhattan, and a landing UA 767-300ER.



Soon, the parking position was reached. I said goodbye to my neighbor and waited a bit, as I was in no hurry. Then I went off the plane through door 1 via Polaris, being thanked by a couple of flight attendants I'd never seen before.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good shot at the beautiful 787-10 that carried me here, but please take this 767 shot with interesting lighting as a compensation.


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Now it was time for the feared US immigration… Taking photos of planes (and answering messages), I fell behing a bit, but maybe this even helped me, as I found very empty immigration lines. Although my visa doesn't allow me to take a different line than all the ESTA people, it was my turn in about two minutes, and everything went smoothly from there on. Next, off to the baggage claim.


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For some reason, our flight was put together on one belt with the luggage from the flight from Lisbon. Perhaps as a consequence, a lot of people were already standing there, waiting for their stuff to come out. It took about fifteen minutes for anything to appear on the belt, and even though I had priority baggage, it took even more time for my suitcases. Does it really make sense for United to generously distribute priority baggage not only to Polaris and Premium Plus passengers, but also to a large group of Economy Plus pax that get it in a package?
However, due to the flight arriving about 50 minutes early and the very quick immigration, I was out of the airport around 2pm.


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Thanks a lot for reading and see you next time!

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Verdict

United

8.9/10
Cabin9.0
Cabin crew9.0
Entertainment/wifi9.5
Meal/catering8.0

Frankfurt - FRA

8.1/10
Efficiency7.5
Access8.0
Services8.5
Cleanliness8.5

Newark - EWR

8.0/10
Efficiency8.0
Access8.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness8.0

Conclusion

United: I was impressed by the hard product. The cabin was generally clean, but not perfectly. I also liked the cabin crew, as they were friendly and professional; still I don't feel like giving a higher score, as they weren't going really "above and beyond" (how United called it in their customer satisfaction survey) service-wise. The inflight entertainment was pretty perfect for me. The meals were generally nice, even though I feel there's still room for improvement. All in all, a good product, especially if you can snatch some tickets for a nice price.

FRA: I was quite satisfied with Frankfurt Airport this time. While it could be more efficient, it doesn't disappoint in any other way. Access wasn't that good at that time of the day, but the airport itself can only do so much about rush hour traffic congestion on the Autobahn.

EWR: EWR was kind of a surprise for me. While I was expecting not much, I found a rather clean airport with quick and efficient immigration and good access to New York and New Jersey. What could be improved is the speed of the baggage delivery.

Information on the route Frankfurt (FRA) Newark (EWR)

The contributors of Flight-Report published 6 reviews of 2 airlines on the route Frankfurt (FRA) → Newark (EWR).


Useful

The airline with the best average rating is Lufthansa with 7.4/10.

The average flight time is 8 hours and 39 minutes.

  More information

6 Comments

  • Comment 539293 by
    KL651 TEAM 4481 Comments

    Thanks for this detailed review.
    Overall i'm pretty impressed by this Premium Plus, the seat and meals look more refined than LH Y+
    Having just returned from Chicago on AF new premium economy, it seems United overall product is better, the seats are comparable but UA has a clearly improved meal and snack and nicer amenity kit.
    The fact that Polaris and Y were not full but Y+ was is a clear sign of how successful this new cabin is.

    • Comment 539309 by
      Manbou AUTHOR 38 Comments

      Thank you for your comment! I don't know about Air France, but I've flown own Lufthansa's Y+ before and absolutely can agree with you; it feels more like a more spacious version of Economy. Anyways, it'll be interesting to see how United will develop in the future, seeing that they developed a really good product after a history of well-maintained mediocrity.

  • Comment 539644 by
    YGeorgeW GOLD 183 Comments

    Hi Manbou, thanks for the report.

    My seat was 22L, the window seat on the right in the second of three rows of Premium Plus. I actively selected this seat because I wanted to have the "normal"/"average" Premium Plus experience, so not bulkhead or last row.

    - Wow, I am not so dedicated to the flight report to do that. Haha

    Legroom was ample, even though it was difficult to fit my somewhat-bloated backpack under the seat.

    - Is there enough overhead bin space to fit both your backpack on luggage? I do that if I see the plane is not very full.

    The Polaris chocolates were appreciated, as was the real metal cutlery and porcelain dishes.

    - I'm not that familiar with premium economy cabins in general, but this looks pretty nice.

    I wonder if it's okay for all parties involved if Disney works together both with ANA and United when it comes to Star Wars stuff, but maybe it's okay because they do different stuff and are "allied" airlines.

    - Actually, both LATAM and Virgin Atlantic also have Star Wars planes.

    I disagree, even though I admit there's the possibility that they've improved the windows over the years; this is a pretty new plane, after all.

    - Yes, most of the criticisms are from the initial windows you'll find on the older 787s.

    The premium economy experience didn't seem that bad on United, consider me pleasantly surprised. Thanks again for this detailed report.

    • Comment 539653 by
      Manbou AUTHOR 38 Comments

      Hi George, thanks for the kind words and the info about the Star Wars planes. It seems Disney can license stuff to whomever they want, makes sense. And about the row, it mostly just interested me how the "average" experience is; if the seat hadn't been free anymore, it wouldn't have bothered me at all. The storage space under the seat in front of me didn't really bother me either, as there was indeed space in the overhead bins. It's just some information for people like me who like to keep (some of) their stuff with them.

  • Comment 539765 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5273 Comments

    Hi Manbou, nice report with lots of good detail!

    The US carriers hesitated for a long time to introduce Premium Economy but when they did, they did it right. They found a good mix of comfort, value, and upgraded service to make the new cabins appealing, but not take away from their Business class products.

    I actively selected this seat because I wanted to have the "normal"/"average" Premium Plus experience, so not bulkhead or last row.

    And thanks for doing that! It's definitely helpful to see what the average experience is like. I myself am selfish and will always go for the bulkhead for more room or the last row, for more privacy haha.

    I really like the aesthetics of the cabin. Even though the seat model is the exact same that DL and AA also have in Premium Economy, United's is the best looking in my opinion. I would have never thought purple/violet would look good, but it really does.

    Thanks for sharing!

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