I don’t usually look forward to a 13-hour flight, but a seat (and bed) in United Airlines’ BusinessFirst cabin has me chomping at the bit to fly.
Seat: 12K (window)
Journey time: 13 hours 25 minutes (departing 13.50)
Check-in: Online and mobile check-in is available from 24 hours before the flight departs. But I check in the conventional way, aided by some very affable and efficient ground crew. It’s a nice welcome to United’s premium cabin service.
Lounge Access: United business passengers have access to the Air New Zealand International Lounge, located airside on level 3.
Luggage allowance: Passengers travelling business class are permitted two items of checked luggage, with a maximum weight of 32kgs (70lbs) per bag. A carry-on bag, with maximum dimensions (length + width + height) of 114cms (45 inches) is also allowed, along with a personal item.
Cabin conditions: Travelling upstairs on a Boeing 747 is always pretty special. With just a handful of seats, it kind of feels like you’re flying in a private jet. The cabin’s 2-2 formation is fairly standard for business class, but it’s the first time I’ve seen seats completely facing backwards. I’m thankful for my forward-facing position though.
Seat comfort: The business class seat is well padded, and as you'd expect, pretty roomy (20 inches wide). In its fully flat position it’s really comfortable and long enough for my six-foot-plus frame. There’s also plenty of storage space for the accouterments business class throws your way. Perhaps the only drawback is the protruding armrest area between the two seats, which makes it just a little difficult to get past your neighbour.
Amenity kit: Very nice ‘Purity’ brand toiletries along with the usual supply of overnight amenities like toothbrush/paste, comb and sleeping aids. Mints are a nice touch.
Staff service: One of our flight attendants seems a little terse at first but the rest of our cabin crew is wonderful from the get-go. They get the balance of being too attentive and being absent just right.
Onboard catering: I’m parched as I board the jet, so appreciate the pre-takeoff drinks. Once in the air, we’re offered some warm mixed nuts and a selection of beverages before the meal service. The early dinner starts with two prawns (which are anything but shrimps) served with a mango salsa, and a mixed salad with a choice of dressing. I choose the vegetarian main, which is a penne in ‘Caponata’ sauce and mixed vegetables. Although the sauce is good, and goes well with the garlic bread (a rarity on flights) the pasta is a little past al dente. After declining a small cheese and fruit platter, I accept the vanilla ice cream served with a choice of toppings. It’s simple, yet tasty.
Breakfast is cereal with banana, some fresh tasting melon, and a warm croissant. Throughout the flight I gorge on the real Japanese green tea, which is excellent.
Inflight entertainment: I can’t work out whether the handheld device (similar to those of economy class) is too sensitive or not responsive enough; either way, it tends to often do the opposite of what I want it to do. And the screen is too far away to comfortably use as a touchscreen (a drawback from all of that legroom). But the entertainment selection is good, and the size of the screen (around the size our home televisions used to be) is great. On the audio side, Business Class offers a wide selection of music, ranging from Classical and Easy Listening to Rock & Pop. Heading to California, I’m inspired to listen to some Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. On the visual side, United offers an extensive collection of television and movies, with genres ranging from Kids to Action & Adventure, and even a little Sci-Fi & Fantasy. I’m taken into the night by Star Trek: Into Darkness. Unlimited onboard wifi is also available for a very reasonable $16.99.
On-time performance: We depart about 15 minutes behind schedule thanks to what I assume (and we later find out on our ascent) are some pretty serious winds. Despite our tardy getaway, we touch down in LAX right on time.
Flight rating: 4 planes out of 5. On a 13-hour flight, the most important thing is a comfortable seat – and United’s BusinessFirst has just that. It’s well worth trying.