Review of United flight San Francisco Taipei in Economy

Airline United
Flight UA871
Class Economy
Seat 46C
Aircraft Boeing 777-300ER
Flight time 14:10
Take-off 27 Nov 20, 11:00
Arrival at 27 Nov 20, 17:10
UA   #73 out of 107 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 323 reviews
gmhorse
By 1782
Published on 22nd January 2021

Hello all!

Welcome to my inaugural flight report.

I'd like to share my experience flying from the world's most COVID-infected country (i.e. the US) to one of the least (i.e. Taiwan, which never had to go through lockdown and has fewer than 1000 cumulative cases as of publication time).

Disclaimer: there may be fewer pictures here than in other peoples' reports.I didn't initially plan to post this, and felt pretty paranoid about constantly touching my phone, or reasons that'll become clear later…

I'm hoping to share a couple more flights in this trip, including a domestic roundtrip within Taiwan and my return flight to the US.


Routing

  • SFO to TPE You are here
  • TSA to KNH Coming soon
  • KNH to TSA Coming soon
  • TPE to SFO Coming soon

Pre-Flight Procedures


My trip starts at San Francisco International airport on November 27, 2020 — the day after Thanksgiving in the US.

COVID-19 was beginning to spike again, and California would re-enter the strictest tier of lockdown a few days after my departure. Thanksgiving is the most popular travel season in the US, and nationwide flight volumes in the days before my departure were quite high according to Transportation Security Administration data.

Check-in was a rude but unsurprising awakening. From looking at the seat map before, I knew this flight would be close to full.

Accordingly — a massive crowd snaked towards the United checkin counters, with UA employees doublechecking whether folks met the requisite entry requirements. United lumped together two flights into one check-in line: one flight for Taiwan, the other for China. This caused some confusion as Taiwan and China have different entry requirements.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of this. I was too preoccupied navigating the crowd and showing my documentation.

Taiwan's entry requirements at the time were as follows:
1. Be a Taiwanese passport holder. No COVID-19 test needed (this would change 3 days after my departure). If not a Taiwanese passport holder: obtain a special Visa or have residency status, and have a COVID-19 PCR test from the past 72 hours. Otherwise you're not allowed to enter.
2. Fill out a health declaration and quarantine form on the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control/Ministry of Health website. This form testifies that you don't have COVID-19 symptoms, and is where you declare your quarantine location + phone number for tracking purposes.
3. Upon arrival in Taiwan, quarantine in either a gov't designated hotel or at home for 14 days. During this time, the gov't will text you every day to check in, call you by voice, and track your phone's GPS to ensure you don't leave your quarantine location.

Anyone who's interested in what Taiwan's quarantine procedures looked like during 2020 can look through this slide deck (which I did not create) for more details.

After getting checked in, I sped through security and headed towards my gate. I didn't have lounge access.



Here are some scenes from inside SFO.

There were a smattering of United birds, alongside ANA and Air India 777s (presumably for Tokyo Narita and Delhi, respectively).

I spent a bit of time in an outside terrace instead of milling about indoors.

At around 10am, it was time for boarding. Again, I did not take pictures of the boarding gate waiting area, but it was CROWDED.


BOARDING


photo 2020-11-27-105446

Here's what the plane looked like moments after boarding and receiving a complimentary purell alcohol sanitary wipe.

The cabin crew announced over the PA that we would have a 100% full flight.

Well, I got what I paid for.

United flights were more than twice as cheap as flights from Taiwanese carriers EVA Air and China Airlines (CAL).

EVA and CAL both socially distance passengers and don't fill flights to 100% capacity. As I learned that day, United definitely will sell every seat of its flights if it can.

So it goes.


photo 2020-11-27-105449

Another shot of the economy cabin on UA871. 100% full. This made me reluctant to move around/take my phone out too much.

I didn't take a picture of the Inflight Entertainment offerings — but they were rather sparse. UA international flights usually have a decent array of new international films. There were close to none on this flight. That made sense—few new movies premiered in 2020.


INFLIGHT MEALS


photo 2020-11-27-122017

Not long after an uneventful takeoff, lunch was served. It consistent of a "Spanish style" chicken rice with some sort of grain and lettuce side, bread, rice crackers, and vanilla ice cream. The taste was acceptable. The ice cream, fortunately, was not frozen rock solid like I've experienced on other UA international flights. I tried to eat (in a maskless state) slightly after when my immediate seatmates ate. But when your flight is 100% full, you can only do so much.


photo 2020-11-27-234954

Sometime a couple hours into the flight we got this snack sandwich. It was decent but not memorable.

Shortly before landing we also got a breakfast, consisting of your standard airplane omelette. I think I was way too fatigued at that point, and completely forgot to take a picture.


ARRIVAL IN TPE


photo 2020-11-28-171129

We landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport without incident. Here is the terminal moments after our 100% full flight disgorged its passengers. You can't even tell this is during a pandemic.


photo 2020-11-28-171220

Welcome to Taiwan!


photo 2020-11-28-174110

After arriving - those who do not have a local Taiwanese number needed to purchase a SIM card. There were desks set up to do this. This was required so the government can track you during quarantine.

If you already have a local Taiwanese phone number, you would get automatically receive a text asking you to open a confirmation screen for the health declaration and quarantine form you filled out online, before your flight. You mention your flight number in this form, so the government just knows to text you after your flight arrives.

There were representatives from Taiwan's CDC standing about to verify your confirmation screen. Once verified, they moved you onto another area where another CDC representative confirms and explains the details of your quarantine procedure.


photo 2020-11-28-174238photo 2020-11-28-174541

After this moment I would depart on a specially booked taxi to undergo my 14 day home quarantine.

I'll share more photos of what life in (relatively) COVID-free Taiwan looked like in further reports. If you're really impatient though, you can look at the tourism bonus for a quick preview :) 

Thanks for reading!


Bonus : Click here display
See more

Verdict

United

4.8/10
Cabin2.0
Cabin crew7.0
Entertainment/wifi5.0
Meal/catering5.0

San Francisco - SFO

7.1/10
Efficiency8.0
Access4.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness8.5

Taipei - TPE

9.0/10
Efficiency9.0
Access9.0
Services9.0
Cleanliness9.0

Conclusion

Wow, what a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It's hard to give a rating here, I gave a low "cabin" rating for UA because it was 100% full, and boy did my paranoia spike. But I chose to take this flight; I could've not gone or gone on a different day. Other than that... my verdict is kind of arbitrary given the overall extenuating pandemic circumstances.

Also, I did not end up getting COVID-19 on this flight. Yay.

Information on the route San Francisco (SFO) Taipei (TPE)

7 Comments

  • Comment 570184 by
    wop 269 Comments

    Thanks for this first report! It is quite interesting to see the measures set by Taiwan.
    A packed flight in these conditions doesn't seem to be very enjoyable. Was the crew interacting much with passengers, besides meal services?

    • Comment 570187 by
      gmhorse AUTHOR 5 Comments

      You're welcome! No, there was no crew interaction besides quickly serving the meals and collecting the garbage. No passenger-to-passenger interaction either, I think everyone was feeling quite paranoid at the density.

  • Comment 570226 by
    Pilpintu 732 Comments

    Hello Gmhorse! Thanks for this detailed, very interesting report.

    felt pretty paranoid about constantly touching my phone

    That's easy to understand after reading about your experience! I suppose United was just following the US government's disgraceful approach to dealing with covid at the time. I wonder if they have changed their policy since then.

    a "Spanish style" chicken rice

    What's that style supposed to be like?? Years ago, when I visited my Spanish family for the first time, they prepared what was supposed to be a paella. It had chicken in it, but I was shocked to find the chicken bones had been broken, and the splinters were mixed with the rice!!! "That's the traditional way to prepare it" they said. Now I wonder if they were actually happy to see me, or just wanted to get rid of me as soon as possible. XD

    The taste was acceptable.

    Lucky you! My taste buds usually stay landside when I fly.

    purchase a SIM card. There were desks set up to do this. This was required so the government can track you during quarantine.

    That's a great idea that could be made permanent! One has so many problems getting a sim card in the destination country sometimes. And you often need a local identification to get one, too!

    I would depart on a specially booked taxi to undergo my 14 day home quarantine.

    I read that line and my eyes went on to the photo of the zoo, and I was like "WTF??? The Taiwanese are really strict!" XDDD

    Thank you very much for sharing. Your report was informative and fun to read. You seem to have a natural gift! I'll be looking forward to your next reports! And welcome aboard! :D

    • Comment 570235 by
      gmhorse AUTHOR 5 Comments

      Thanks Pilpintu!

      What's that style supposed to be like?? Years ago, when I visited my Spanish family for the first time, they prepared what was supposed to be a paella. It had chicken in it, but I was shocked to find the chicken bones had been broken, and the splinters were mixed with the rice!!! "That's the traditional way to prepare it" they said. Now I wonder if they were actually happy to see me, or just wanted to get rid of me as soon as possible. XD

      Honestly, I have no idea how it was _supposed_ to be like! In practice, what I received tasted more like Americanized Mexican rice rather than a Spanish paella :)

  • Comment 570231 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5378 Comments

    Hi GMhorse, thanks so much for sharing your first report here with us ! What an interesting review of flying UA transpacific Y in the Covid-era. I’m not surprised to once again see a full flight as US carriers seem to have figured out the perfect capacity reduction formula to keep most flights full despite the huge drop on demand. I have now flown a few times during the pandemic, but only in W or J/F so I haven’t experienced what a full flight in Y would feel like and I don’t think I want to. A 14-hour flight like this where you’re packed in with hundreds of other passengers shoulder to shoulder would be unnerving. Luckily, it seems most passengers have to be tested before boarding and of HEPA filters along with enhanced cabin disinfecting and cleaning helps...but still, I wouldn’t feel comfortable personally.

    Glad it went well for you despite the full flight and thanks again for sharing his interesting ans well-written account!

    Hope to see more reviews from you in the future .

    Welcome to Flight-Report!

  • Comment 570760 by
    ThomasDutch SILVER 514 Comments

    Not sure it is fair to judge an airline based on accepting a 100% load. It remains a commercial company who tries to survive a pandemic and can use as much revenue as possible given the situation. Though service seems to be decent and as expected for UA. Thanks for sharing. Long haul flights are a rare read these days.

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