What we liked:
· New Seats! This is a newly configured 747 with fully lie-flat seats. Each pair 'backed' up to another pair that was rear-facing. We were in the rear-facing by choice.
· Great food United recently announced an upgrade to their premium menus and it shows. Both flights offered a 5 course meal with 4 choices for a main. The food is worth a story of it's own so stay tuned for a full report.
· Quality wine list. From bubbles to port, the selection was top-notch. Fortunately for us, on the flight to Los Angeles, the cabin ran out of after dinner port and the flight attendants 'imported' some from the first class cabin.
· Brand new amenity kits that look smart and feature Philosophy-branded products.
· Albeit not independent of United, the upper-deck on a 747 is a cozy place to sit and this was no exception. Remember: window seats have the side locker for extra storage and easy access.
· Comfy and soft pillows and duvet, because we all need to sleep.
· The seatback TV was HUGE! Not only was it huge, it was chock full of hours and hours of television shows and movies to suit all tastes. Each seat also came with noise-cancelling headphones.
· Each premium passenger receives a fast-track security/immigration pass so time waiting in lines is limited.
What we didn't care for:
· Lack of warm welcome aboard pointing us in the direction of our seats. Even when we walked upstairs, the cabin crew were too busy in the galley to greet us.
· While the seats were new and fresh, there is a giant center console and it makes getting out of the window seat fairly cumbersome. It can be done, but pretty much only for the nimble.
· Now we are being a little picky, but it took us far too long to receive our pre-departure beverage in Sydney.
· The service was a bit cold and careless. With a smaller cabin, you might expect a little more attentiveness, but this wasn't the case. In all, the cabin attendants were standard; nothing special and didn't give a sense of job satisfaction.
· Since the cockpit is located on the upper deck, we were routinely woken up by the security gate being opened and closed when the flight deck was being fed, grabbing a potty break or catching some rest.
Bottom line: We enjoyed the experience just fine. It was definitely a long time to be on a plane and having the luxury to be horizontal for the majority of the flight made the most difference. We loved the food and applaud United for focusing some attention to their menu. This will not make us switch from our old stand-by of Qantas for this route, but it will do if the cost is right.
In fact, we have already decided to continue to fly other airlines than United when flying from Australia due to a very stressful disruption in LA. Our connecting flight to Chicago was cancelled upon landing at LAX and we were rebooked on a flight that was scheduled to arrive at 1:30am. After asking a phone agent to transfer us to the true red-eye and then having a confirmed seat our flight then departed at 11:30pm. When we rocked up to the gate, there was no seat available. We ultimately had to spend the night in LA with a new scheduled departure for 8am the next day. The hotel accommodation was taken care of by United, as expected. Unfortunately, we arrived in Chicago 19 hours after our original arrival time.
Even more unfortunate, United has yet to extend a "we're sorry for disrupting your travel plans." It's amazing how far "sorry" can go. So we end with this: United, we're sorry that your airline will not be an airline of choice for this particular frequent flyer.
[Photos: Rayme Gorniak for Jaunted]