Review of United flight San Francisco Osaka in Economy

Airline United
Flight UA 885
Class Economy
Seat 23D
Aircraft Boeing 777-200ER
Flight time 11:27
Take-off 16 Jul 11, 11:48
Arrival at 16 Jul 11, 15:15
UA   #40 out of 66 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 353 reviews
By 6644
Published on 1st November 2013
During the summer of 2011, I wanted to revisit Paris but the fares were prohibitively expensive. What isn't during the middle of summer? so I almost resigned myself to sitting around and be content with the idea of exploring some ethnic restaurants in the hopes of transporting myself to faraway places for a few seconds while savoring some dishes. Then a light bulb went off. One of my best friends worked for UA and I could always ask him for a pair of buddy passes. 99% of my travels are paid with my money or miles, so I rarely used the benefits of non revenue travel. Being myself a former airline employee, I am no stranger to the rules of traveling non-rev, but do I want to subject myself to the anxiety and torture of the unknown? What if a flight suddenly gets overbooked or worse, canceled at the last minute leaving me stranded? Do I have enough back up alternatives to rely on to get me out? In the end, I diligently checked the loads of all intl. flights out of SFO and Osaka was the most promising with plenty of availability for the dates that I wanted to fly. Up until this time I've never been to Japan (connected in NRT and KIX but that doesn't count) so that was a tempting proposition. Considering that last minute fares from SFO to KIX were hovering at around $2,000 more or less, and that a buddy ticket came to a little less than 1/4 the amount incl. taxes, the decision was made.

I arrived at the airport by 9:45A and was directed to the regular economy line. As a CO Platinum and UA Premier Executive then, it was hard passing by the empty elite line and not being able to check in there. I went from somebody to nobody, the bottom of the food chain, even below regular employees (a small price to pay given the cost of the ticket). In addition I couldn't access the lounge on this type of ticket so I resigned to my status. Once I got to the front of the line I was directed to the kiosk for check-in. I noticed that this applied to all passengers there, not just non-revs. Why couldn't UA install more self check-in kiosks in order to expedite the process?

I received my boarding pass in less than a minute and proceeded to the gate. There was already a long line by the time I arrived and with more than an hour to spare I waited patiently. Going through security seemed painfully slow and by the time I was inside the gate I heard my name being called. The flight was not overbooked and I thought that I had a fighting chance to get J with still 8 open seats and 2 people listed for that cabin as of two days before my flight. Then the night before an equipment change happened and the seat inventory in J went from 49 to 40 hurting my chances to sit in business class. Oh well, c'est la vie. The agent was actually pretty nice and since she called me so early I knew that I was assigned a Y seat. She gave me the boarding card apologizing that no J seats were available but she put me in an aisle Economy + seat which had more room. I was in 23D - an aisle in the middle row. I couldn't really complain, especially when later on the seat next to me remained vacant giving me more room to stretch. Truth be told during all my years working for UA I have never flown in Y on an international flight. I guess I was either extremely lucky or planned my flights very well. There is a first for everything so this was a great opportunity to try E+. At the same time, flying in Y keeps my perspective in check and make me appreciate F or J even more.

Plane at the gate

photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (14) (800x526)photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (15) (800x533)

The seat was standard economy with decent pitch (34 or 86.36 cm.), but I did not think that it was so vast a difference as advertised. Still, relatively better than regular Y. FA's were robotic except for one Japanese speaker who was the epitome of professionalism throughout the flight. The rest did not smile and just went through the motions mechanically. I was glad to see that UA provides on demand TV and decent earphones in the seats. About 45 min. into the flight the serviced commenced with the drink cart followed by lunch.

Today's choices were beef OR vegetable sukiyaki. In the spirit of my destination, I opted for the latter and it was nearly inedible and tasteless. UA used to have decent meals in Y but to my disappointment there were no appetizers, cheese/crackers or real dessert.

photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (1) (800x594)photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (3) (800x584)

The tray had a salad, roll, entree and packaged brownie. Cost cutting at its best.

photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (2) (800x383)photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (5) (800x597)photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (6) (679x800)

End of meal with a cup of green tea.

photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (7) (656x800)

I went to the back galley and found some bags of pretzels and water cups. Eventually we were midflight and the snack service started with the rolling of carts and each passenger receiving a bag of chips, kit kat, lemon cookie and pretzel stick.

photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (9) (800x588)

Later on the leftovers were placed in the galley for passengers to help themselves.

photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (10) (800x600)

Before arriving into KIX, the second meal started with a choice between hot turkey sandwich or Asian noodles. I had the noodles and the guy at the other end of my row was slurping them with gusto. Sadly I couldn't partake in his enthusiasm for this meal. The tray set up included a bag of chips and a package of Knott's shortbread cookies. Do chips go well with noodles?

photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (11) (800x594)photo UA 885 SFO-KIX (12) (800x448)

Arrival into KIX was on time and immigration was a bit involved since every foreigner had to be fingerprinted and photographed.
See more



Cabin crew7.0

San Francisco - SFO


Osaka - KIX



I was thankful that I was able to save money on this last minute trip to Osaka and visit a new city. Despite the robotic attitude of some flight attendants, the service was adequate and polite. As I mentioned before, the Japanese speaker FA working in the back was outstanding and she left a great positive impression. Too bad she was the exception rather than the standard.

Food was another story and it was poor with a significant lack of quality and taste. Presentation leaves a lot to be desired as you can see from the pictures above. That midflight snack was just packaged junk food. The second snack service was just as disappointing as the first meal. I didn't know which was worse - the turkey sandwich in a thick roll which was disproportionally more bread than filling or the soggy noodles with a few pieces of bamboo and carrots. The potato chips as appetizer does not bode well with the main dish but the 75 cents cookies from a vending machine were reliably decent.

In the end, I can't complain given the price that I paid. Beggars can't be choosy.



If you liked this review or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a comment below !
  • Comment 91478 by
    lagentsecret 12446 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this FR

    I understand now why UA J cabins are always full : it's because of upgrades and non-revs ;)

    I believed that UA has only 772s in its fleet

    The usual pitch is 31 so the Y+ pitch made your flight bearable and even better not having neighbor

    Food looks very bad and I don't think I could flying UA Y without bringing my own food

    • Comment 283428 by
      jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2294 Comments

      All U.S. airlines tend to give great flying benefits to their own employees and friends. For some this perk helps compensate for the low entry level salary and stress of the job. I once talked to someone working for SQ and she said that she only receives one free ticket per year and only in economy as her travel benefit. SQ never fills up their cfabin with non-rev passengers in order to preserve the quality of their premium classes. I think that is pretty much the norm for most quality carriers around the world.

      In addition, a lot of paying passengers in Y use different instruments to upgrade to J or F. When you look at the whole picture, not many passengers flying in premium cabins with U.S. carriers are actually full revenue passengers. Even corporate accounts are flying at a discount. Assuming that money is no problem and you are willing to spend a couple of thousands on a J ticket, which carrier would you choose?

      This meal service has been one of the worst that I have seen, especially on an Asian route. When you look at the quality of the meals provided by competitors like JL and ANA, it's like putting an ant next to an elephant.

  • Comment 91495 by
    Leadership TEAM GOLD 5264 Comments

    Thanks for this report, catering looks cheap and tasteless.

    I whish other airlines would have such practice for their non-rev pax ...

    • Comment 283429 by
      jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2294 Comments

      Other airlines understand the concept of exlusivity in premium cabins better. It is said that when you have happy employees, you have a better workplace and people perform better. The funny thing is that despite this generous benefit, that statement is not necessarily true.

  • Comment 91572 by
    Durian 1170 Comments

    Thanks for sharing! Indeed food looks awful.
    As mentioned by lagentsecret, when I flew LAX-ORD-LAX on UA, some people indeed carried their pizza and McDonalds on the plane !
    From what I know, on SQ, crew get to travel First on holiday but they get the J food.

    • Comment 283478 by
      jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2294 Comments

      It's very common for people to bring their own food on U.S. domestic flights given the high prices of the buy on board meals and unreliable inventory.

      Interesting that crew are allowed to fly F. Perhaps things have changed. The person that I spoke to was working in a ticket office and that was some time ago.

  • Comment 91582 by
    A380B77W 4299 Comments

    Thanks for this good FR.

    Not a good flight with UA....

    By the way, your aircraft was a 777-200ER. UA doesn't have -300ER.

  • Comment 91709 by
    KévinDC TEAM GOLD 5757 Comments

    Thanks for this non-rev report. I am an ex non-rev myself and became addicted to travelling, especially up front. When I could no longer non-rev, I naturally became a mileage-addict and much prefer it to non-revving considering the much lower level of stress. I know exactly how you feel about fear of getting stuck--I remember back when I non-reved a lot (around 10 years ago) I would get stuck all the time and end up spending more money on either last minute tickets to get home or hotel rooms. In the end, playing it smart as a regular revenue pax, especially with Elite status, proved to be a much better situation for me. In fact, the last few years I still worked for an airline, I stopped non-revving altogether and always flew on bought tickets to avoid the hassles. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Comment 91911 by
    jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2294 Comments

    It's so nerve wrecking flying non-rev and you could get an ulcer after a couple of years of doing this. Now it feels so great to have status and know that you are at the top of the food chain.

    My first job out of college was with an airline at a very challenging airport and that was an eye opening experience. I worked for 2 years with the airline and then decided to pack my bags and move to SFO for a change of scenery.

  • Comment 92260 by
    KL651 TEAM 4515 Comments

    Thanks for this report.
    What happened to UA really? Before the merger they were a nice airline, I will always have fond memories of my first time to the USA with them on a 763.
    They merged with CO which was supposed to have an even better service, and the result is this?
    Their catering is just sad, they don't even seem to wanna pretend they're not cost cutting...
    Also the crew seem much less friendly than they did.
    That's sad!

    • Comment 283861 by
      jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2294 Comments

      Many of us were expecting improvements when UA merged with CO. Instead we were disappointed because it seems that they took the worst of each airline and incorporated them into the new one.

      I was looking at some pictures of what UA used to serve in Y on a long haul flight and it was totally different from this garbage. For example, their meals used to have a small serving of smoked salmon with potato salad, a hot main dish of chicken or beef and a slice of cheesecake for dessert. Midflight snack had a sandwich or noodle, not this packaged junk. How things have changed.

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