Pat's Travel Reviews

United Airlines 787 Dreamliner BusinessFirst Review

I was bound and determined to fly on one of United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s while they are still flying them on Domestic routes. I was scheduled to fly on the 787 from ORD to IAH back in December before the plane was grounded by the FAA, but there was a problem with that 787 and flew on a 767 instead. This time I saw United had three flights a day from LAX to IAH using the 787 and I had to take a trip to New Orleans. So I decided to make the drive from San Diego to LA (a drive I hate). Further, to make sure I would actually get to fly on the 787, I scheduled myself to fly it on both legs between LAX & IAH. This way if something happened and they changed aircraft at least I had the other direction to fall back on.

787 LAX

Despite a scare leaving LAX, when we immediately returned to the gate after we pushed (I was convinced that this flight was going to be canceled. The pilots tone was very serious. But it ended up being a false alarm. Some mix up with their headquarters in Chicago. We re-boarded within 15 minutes of de-planing. (then unfortunately, sat for an hour and a half because they let people re-board without looking at their boarding passes)). I was finally able to fly on the Dreamliner (and in both directions).

Post pictures May 2013 298

Because I had read about United’s plans for their BusinessFirst cabin I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect. But that did not lessen the excitement boarding this aircraft for the first time (I remember having the same feeling flying on the 777 for the first time). United 787 BusinessFirstSo my first impression was not as negative as it may have been if I didn’t know United kept the same lay-out and design as Continetal’s BusinessFirst cabins on their 777’s and 767’s. Not that that is bad (I like those seats) and not to get off the point, I just thought they could have upgraded their Business Class/First Class product as these planes are new. The problem with US Carriers premium products are when they upgrade them they are just matching what Asian, Middle Eastern, and some European Airlines already have. Then those airlines roll out new seats or cabins and the US Airlines are quickly behind again. Anyway, despite this, it still was very exciting to finally be flying on Boeing’s 787.

The first thing I noticed was that the Flight Attendants were very excited and you could tell had a sense of pride (nice to see). Most of them are International crews that will be working the 787 once it starts flying internationally – this week DEN – NRT), but I heard one tell another passenger that others are domestic FA’s picking up routes just to get a chance to fly and work on the Dreamliner. This enthusiasm showed in the service. On both flights the service was much better and friendlier than what you would expect on a three hour domestic flight.

The BusinessFirst cabin is made up of two sections. Both have three rows in a 2x2x2 configuration for a total of 36 seats. I was seated in 2K, an aisle seat in the forward section on the outbound and 5K on the return. I was originally seated in 1D then 4D on Post pictures May 2013 272the return but my seat was changed twice (don’t know why). This normally would have bothered me as both these seats are bulkheads. But because the seats are pods there is no difference in a bulkhead seat vs. a non-bulkhead seat. As I said, the seats are the same as United’s two class BusinessFirst seats that were Continetal’s First Class/Business Class hybrid (for complete review of United’s BusinessFirst seat visit; http://patstravelreviews.com/united-777-businessfirst-review-lhr-iah/ ). The aisle/window seats in row 4 (A&B and K&L) are close to the galley and the lavatory’s are behind row 3 (A&B and K&L) and in front of 1K&L. But they are not as close as with other United aircraft, so should not be too bothersome. The 787 has better spacing and three lavratory’s for 36 passengers is a good ratio.

The IFE system is the same as well. Same 15.4″ screen and same AVOD programming (can start watching once you board – which was nice with delay). One can access the system using 13 languages. There are plenty of movies (new releases, classics, and International), documentaries, sitcoms, and other TV shows to watch. In addition, there United 787 BusinessFirstis a moving map, hundreds of CD’s on the audio option, and a library of games to play. You can also plug your iPod into the system. The programming on this flight is the same as an international flight. Not the Directv you may get on a 737 from LAX to IAH. That also means no channel 9 to listen to air-traffic control. The seat pitch (leg room) is over 70″ and the width is 22″. The seat is 180 degree lie-flat and can be adjusted to a cradle position as well. I only slept 30 minutes on one flight, but slept very comfortably. The only issue I have with United’s Business Class seats (here is review for their three class Business seats; http://patstravelreviews.com/united-business-class-review-ewr-to-bru/ ) and BusinessFirst seats is there is no room to store personal items. The magazine storage is very small and is along side the armrest so it rubs up against your arm. There is some room near the power outlets, USB port, and headphone plug (2 pronged) over your shoulder, and a tray under the TV (but contents will fall out on take off) but other than that, not much. There is no Wifi on United’s 787’s yet, but I was told there will be in the future.

Post pictures May 2013 275

On both flights the International blankets and pillows were placed on your seat (again, I did not sleep long, so did not take advantage of), but the headphones provided were the domestic version. Orange juice or water was offered before take-off just like a domestic flight.

While the seat and service are the same as if flying the old Continental 767 or 777 there are many differences the 787 has over it’s predecessors. The overhead bins are very roomy. Maybe a touch smaller than the 777 (a much larger aircraft), but much larger than the 767. One bin can fit up to three carry on bags. They did seem to come down on an angle and I felt it is easy for a bag to slide down after you open the bin. But I am sure that has been tested, and is not the case. The windows are also very different and may be the biggest improvement that passengers can see. They not only are bigger, they can be adjusted to prevent sunlight from entering the cabin. Whether by the crew when the jet is parked at the gate – keeping the plane cooler or a passenger. There is no shade to slide down, rather a button to press that allows several variations of light. At it’s darkest you can still see outside. So if someone wants to look outside they can still lessen the amount of sunlight coming into their seat. The 787 also has the Sky Interior Lighting featuring LED lighting. On the flight to Houston it was not that prevalent, but on the return it was and even the head flight attendant put on a light show with all the different light settings. Looked like a dance club for a while. But with the shaded windows and LED lighting with soft blue colors (or whatever color an airline displays) it is certainly a more relaxed cabin experience.

United 787 BusinessFirst

Strangely enough maybe the biggest difference I saw with the interior of the 787 is the lavatories. Starting from the image in the center of each cabin indicating if the fasten seat belt sign is on and if the lavatory is in use. Also there is a red or green light over the door indicating if toilet is free. The door opens in, as opposed to folding (it is hard to explain how it opens). The lavatory’s are a little bigger than on United’s 777 & 767, but the biggest change is how the toilets flush (strange thing to get excited about). It actually is a little confusing (and hopefully this will not mean the prior passenger will leave a surprise for you). You can wave your hand over the flush button and the cover closes and flushes automatically, but other times this did not work and I had to press the button. However, this would only get the toilet to flush once I closed the toilet seat cover. It kind of felt like trying to get water out of the automated sink spouts. You can stand there and wave your hand for a long time before anything happens.

There are many other differences or improvements that the Boeing 787 provides. The cruise altitude was 41,000 feet as opposed to the typical 35,000 feet. This may provide a smoother ride. We did hit turbulence on one flight and the announcement (as were other announcements) was automated. On one flight it was in both English and Spanish. Thus interrupting the entertainment for a minute or so longer. Having automated announcements can also be good as some flights attendants like the sound of their own voice and can ramble on. This may shorten announcements. The engines are definitely quieter and has a slightly different hum to it. I can not say I felt a difference with the cabin pressure or air quality, but I have never felt any difference being in the air or on the ground. So maybe I am not a good person to judge that. Another big improvement, is the overhead light is very bright and there are four air vents per row that are very strong.

Economy is in a 3x3x3 layout and all seats have AVOD with the screen in the seat in front of you. The screen size is larger than on other United planes and in the bulkhead the screen raises from the arm-rest. Economy Plus seating is from rows 16 to 22, the center section of row 23, and row 27 (exit row). All seats are 17.3″ wide and Economy Plus has a seat pitch of 35″ while regular Economy 32″. You can click the link on the bottom of the page to access United’s site on their 787 Dreamliner.

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The meal service was not elevated to BusinessFirst standards. Both meals were typical of meals served on those routes and at that time of day. A hot towel was distributed after take-off. Then a small cup of warm cashews and almonds were given with drink orders prior to the meal service. Lunch was served Post pictures May 2013 285on the flight to Houston and dinner on the return. For lunch there was a choice of a Chicken and Cheese Calzone or a cold Shrimp Salad. Both served with Red Pepper Bisque. Dinner was either a Beef Tip or Pasta with a side salad and shrimp appetizer. They did bring around a basket twice with rolls (something you will not see on a domestic flight) on the dinner flight. The dessert was the same for both flights. A cookie in a bag. Chocolate chip on return and cranberry (I think) on outbound. Post pictures May 2013 307Unlike if flying on a smaller plane between LAX and IAH in First when they would bring the basket full of snacks after the meal service. On both flights the basket was placed on an area in front of 1D&E and 4D&E to take as one pleased. The Calzone was surprisingly tasty. I have had this same meal on other flights to and from IAH and DEN and for thePost pictures May 2013 286 second meal on United International flights in Business or BusinessFirst. I have had this same beef dish the last three months on the last six dinner flights (from IAD, EWR, ORD and IAH to SAN) I have flown on United in First . It is good (it must be if I keep ordering it), but not great. The meat always seems to have a strange texture to it.

All flights had very smooth take-offs and landings. I actually flew on the 787 again this week from ORD to IAH (I am not the most prolific writer) and of my three flights, two had long delays with a lot of confusion. The ORD – IAH flight had a servicing issue leaving IAH, then we sat for over an hour in Chicago because of a valve in the cargo hold. In both those cases I missed my connecting flights. However, when I arrived I received an e-mail from United apologizing for the delay and offering a token of miles or an e-cert. The flight from IAH left on-time and arrived into LAX a few minutes early. Interestingly when we left IAH there was another 787 parked next to us and a third coming into our gate. So it seems United has several in their fleet now.

United 787

The 787 Dreamliner is definitely a big improvement with both the passenger flying experience and at some point from an airline operating standpoint. But it certainly is having trouble attaining that now. I am sure it will sooner than later.  I also think some of the delays are from United being overly cautious. I heard the LAX – IAH flight was canceled the day after I took it. I know of other flight delay’s and cancellations with United’s 787 and on the first week they flew from DEN to NRT the flight was diverted to SEA because of an oil leak. But that said, if it is not critical you be somewhere on time, it is definitely worth flying the 787. If you can not afford delay’s or mis-connects than I would avoid flying United’s 787 (maybe all airlines 787’s) for now. Hopefully it will get over it’s growing pains and be the game changer that it is forecast to be.

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8 thoughts on “United Airlines 787 Dreamliner BusinessFirst Review

  1. Bobajob67

    Hello Pat,
    I came across your site whilst searching for United BusinessFirst reviews and read your post from LHR and EWR with interest. I was previously a United frequent flyer with elite status but a change of job has kept me more in the UK and Europe in recent years. Consequently, after years of saving MileagePlus miles, myself and family are travelling to Hawaii via LAX in BusinessFirst later this month for the holiday of a lifetime! I’m very keen to sample the BusinessFirst product having not travelled United for a few years now to compare it with the offerings of Emirates and BA and am probably more excited about this than the kids! However, one comment you mentioned in this post interested me – you don’t like the drive between San Diego and LA. On our way back to London, we’re breaking the trip at LAX and driving to San Diego for a few days – staying in Solana Beach. What exactly about the drive is it you don’t like? Having never driven out of LAX, I am hoping it will be straightforward (arrive very early morning from HNL, return mid Sunday afternoon to LAX for LHR flight). Is there anything we should be aware of? Or is it just generally huge amounts of traffic nose to tail?
    Thanks!, Bob

    1. Patrick Post author

      Hi Bob, No need to worry about the drive. I just don’t like it because I have made it so many times before and I only live 15 minutes from the San Diego Airport (and there are 2 more airports in-between). It is a very easy drive from LAX to Solana Beach. Take Century Blvd. to 405 South which merges into the 5 South half way there. Solana Beach is off the 5 (about 100 miles from LAX). If you are driving during rush hour it can take up to 3 hours (the 405 near LAX can get very busy), but without traffic, a little more than 90 minutes. Actually, part of the drive is nice, as Camp Pendelton provides a buffer between San Diego and Orange Counties. Just rolling hills (unfortunately brown in the summer) to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West (and maybe a tank or two).
      One thing you should know. United has two separate Business Classes. The old Continental BusinessFirst hybrid (no First Class on these jets) and United’s new BusinessFirst on their 3 Class aircraft (767,777, & 747). The LHR – LAX flight (777) has this configuration. It is a little more cramped then the BusinessFirst on the 787 or the 777 they fly from LHR to IAH. The seats are 2x4x2. So there are some middle seats. I think you read about the BusinessFirst with only 2 classes. Here is a review of the plane that you will fly from LHR to LAX; (http://patstravelreviews.com/?p=259). Both of these seats are huge improvements over United’s old Business Class seat, and a little more in-line with BA or Emirates.
      Also to be aware of, United has taken most of their 777’s and 767’s off the Hawaii routes from LAX. Plus they usually fly domestic products from the West Coast to HNL. So the seat’s are standard Domestic First Class seats (same 737’s or 757’s you would fly from ORD to SEA). You can read about their Hawaii flights here; (http://patstravelreviews.com/?p=182).
      Lastly, if you will be going to Honolulu. There are many good places to eat. Both casually and inexpensive and more formal and more expensive. But two places that are very Hawaiian are Bob’s (thought you’d like the name; http://www.yelp.com/biz/bobs-bar-b-que-honolulu-2). It is near the airport and you eat outside. But very good lunches and very inexpensive. The other is Leonard’s Bakery (http://www.leonardshawaii.com/) which is on Kapahula on the West side of Waikiki. For a more formal dinner Roy’s is excellent (http://www.roysrestaurant.com/).
      I hope you and your family enjoy Hawaii and San Diego and have great flights (and your kids get excited about the seats 🙂 )!!!

      1. Bobajob67

        Hi Pat, Many thanks for your reply, you’ve put my mind at rest with regard to the drive out of LAX to Solana Beach. Thanks also for the restaurant tips in Hawaii! We’re spending 10 nights on Big Island first, then 7 on Oahu before flying back to LAX (I won’t mention the extra number of annual vacation days we get here in Europe….oops, too late!). The outbound flight to Kona is a 737 and we’re waitlisted for First Class as there aren’t enough award seats in the small cabin for the four of us. I’m not sure if we’ll get them though as I have no elite status with United now even though the award value is for the whole route from London to Kona. I did check out your previous review from EWR to BRU and saw the pictures. We’re in Row 7 from LHR and have the middle bank of 4 seats and am a little wary over the shoulder space (and storage at the seat) but with the kids in the middle it should work fine. I’m sure the kids will love the seats and have already been choosing the films they want to watch on the flight from the AVOD listing! One additional question: for 2.5 days in San Diego, what would you recommend as a “must-see” for the limited time we are there? My wife wants to do some shopping too….I’m sure I can find 30 minutes or so for her to do that….!! Thanks again, Bob

        1. Patrick Post author

          Hello Bob, Thanks for the reminder about the vacation days 🙂 My wife is from Europe and thinks I am nuts for taking a 6 day vacation half way round the world (well not just for that. She also says the only reason I like traveling with her is so I can put things in her seat).
          As far as getting First Class on your flight to Kona it will be very unlikely if you get within the 98 hour window of your departure. Then, for the most part only Elites get upgraded (even most of them don’t). The one nice thing about United is they give complimentary upgrades to Elites to Hawaii (as I said, service is same as rest of US). However, I don’t think they like to do it as you can generally use miles to upgrade with even only 2 or 3 seats left in First. You may want to periodically check United’s site to see if any flights for award tickets become available (even check for 2 passengers). Sometimes they do, and a phone call can get some of your seats to clear. Otherwise you have to wait for all 4 seats to clear. The good thing is that on United’s 737’s they have up to 20 seats in First Class and if you do not get First, most of their 737’s have entertainment (there is a fee to watch and also to eat in Economy).
          As far as what to do in San Diego it depends on how young your children are. It sounds like not too old. So the 4 biggest tourist attractions are Sea World, LegoLand, The San Diego Zoo, and The Wild Animal Park (now called San Diego Zoo Safari). My nieces and nephews are 4 to 11 and they love Legoland. I am not sure why, but it is very popular and only 15 miles North of Solana Beach. The Animal Park is nice but is inland where it will be very hot and a 30 minute drive (interesting terrain). The Zoo is supposed to be one of the best in the world and is near Balboa Park, so is very popular, and Seaworld has rides now along with shows. Next to Legoland is the Carlsbad Outlet stores. There are plenty of shops, all with discounts. This is one of the nicer outlet malls and has some high end shops. If you want to go downtown, Horton Plaza is a nice mall with many restaurants nearby. Seaport Village (more specialty stores) is also downtown and on the water (next to the USS Midway Museum). But if you want to give her more than 30 minutes, Fashion Valley is the place for serious shoppers, but it is just a large outdoor mall. Also in the cities of Del Mar and La Jolla (both very close to Solana Beach) they have small shops in their downtown section. La Jolla is a must see. It is a very nice village with a beautiful cove (with seals). Obviously the beach is also very popular in San Diego. But after Hawaii they may be disappointing. August is our warmest month when the beaches are most popular, but our water temp is still only around 70/71 degrees (keeps our air temp down) and has seaweed. Coronado has the best beach in San Diego.
          One tip for the Big Island is Hapuna Beach. It may be the best beach in Hawaii. Usually calm enough to swim (although Waikiki is also great and safe for swimming) but the waves are big enough to boogie board. Lastly, Waikiki also has plenty of shopping along Kalakaua Ave.
          Hope that helps and you have a great trip!!!!

          1. Bobajob67

            Hi Pat, Many thanks for your very comprehensive reply! This certainly gives us plenty to consider for the short time we’re in San Diego! Sorry, it would have been easier had I given you a clue to the age of my kids! (they’re 14 and 11). A couple of years ago LegoLand would have been a must but we have a similar park in Windsor that is not too far from us and so we have done that a number times over the years. I think the favoured option at the moment is SeaWorld. We’ve had other friends visit there in the past and said it was very good. I was in San Diego a number of years ago at a conference and was impressed by how walkable the city is. Especially by the waterfront and the Gas Lamp quarter. Thanks for the advice on shopping malls; I’ll see how much battering the credit card has received in Hawaii and consider the options carefully!! Fingers crossed for the First Class seats on the Kona leg of our trip but understand your comments. I believe the plane to be 737-900 and also read your other reviews about no entertainment facilities on some of these new planes! We’ll make sure to have the tablets and iPads fully charged and set to go just in case! Though I suspect we may well be sleeping by then as we will have been travelling for 18 hrs already since leaving our front door! Let me know if there is anything I can help you with or recommend for any trip to the UK in the future, though, reading through other of your reviews, you seem to be very savvy with regard to travel and getting around the UK already! Thanks again and All the Best, Bob

          2. Patrick Post author

            Your Welcome Bob, it was a pleasure. I have always been impressed with the number of Europeans visiting Hawaii. While small compared to Japanese and even Australians tourists, there are still quite a few. A long way to travel. But Hawaii is worth it.
            I think we will be heading to the UK next May. I was watching the Scottish Open today and told my wife we should go to Scotland for vacation (I didn’t tell her so I can play golf).
            Happy Travels!!!!

    2. Kevon

      Question:I am going to Lviv, Ukraine next year, and I am currently bokoed in business class on Austrian Airlines in their new business class seats from YYZ going through Vienna. There is also availability on LOT via Warsaw on a Dreamliner. I am conflicted should I fly Austrian business class on their 767, as scheduled, or should I switch to LOT’s Dreamliner business class?What would you do?

      1. Patrick Post author

        Hi Kevon, Sorry it took so long to get back to you. I have been out of the country and did not check my comments till yesterday. First off, I am envious of you visiting Lviv. I have always wanted to visit Western Ukraine and I have heard Lviv is Ukraine’s most beautiful city. I have been to Odessa and Kiev a few times and have enjoyed those cities very much, but I think Lviv is more like Central Europe (which I like very much).
        As far as which of the two airlines to fly. I have flown LOT a few times in Business Class on their 767’s and to be honest was not that impressed. They did not entertainment at the seats (distributed dig-e-players) when I flew (4-5 years ago), and the seats were narrow. But I know their 787 is a huge improvement in their on-board product and service. So those two issues should no longer be an issue. I also know LOT fly’s Embraer 195’s to Lviv which is a nicer plane than the Dash -8’s Austrian flies. As far as Austrian, I have flown them several times in Business Class, but just within Europe. So I can not comment on their Int’l Business Class product. I am sure it is good and probably similar to other European Airline’s (maybe better food). Both airports are easy to transfer and have Business Class lounges. I like LOT’s lounge more, but that is partly do to the fact they had Prince Polo chocolate bars to take. Vienna’s Airport is probably slightly larger and more difficult to connect through.
        Sorry I could not be more help, but if it was me choosing, I would take the 787 and fly LOT. It is new and you will have all the latest bells & whistles at the seat. I am sure their Business Class is greatly improved with the 787. That said, as much as I hate to say this, you have to be mindful the 787 is still having issues. In fact, a LOT 787 was diverted to Iceland last week. So if time is an issue you may want to consider that. If not a side trip to Iceland may be nice 🙂
        Have fun in Lviv!! I hope you enjoy!!

        Patrick

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Pat's Travel Reviews

Pat's Travel Reviews