*** United Airlines announced today (June 16, 2015) that they will end service from JFK Airport and move what few flights they have (they only fly from JFK to LAX, SFO, and a few commuter flights to IAD) to their hub in Newark (EWR). This review and service is still valid through October, 2015 when they make the move and I am sure they will use these same aircraft and the same p.s. Premium Service from EWR to LAX & SFO in October.
United recently updated their p.s. Premium Service between New York’s JFK Airport and LA’s LAX & San Francisco’s SFO Airports. In fact, they have updated their entire 757-200 transcontinental fleet between these airports. Before they had three cabins on their 757’s on these routes. First, Business and Economy Plus. Now they have BusinessFirst, Economy Plus, and Economy. While they did away with all Economy Plus in Economy. The regular Economy seats (and Economy Plus) have been upgraded with complimentary AVOD, in-seat entertainment, on 9″ screens. Economy also has a hot meal for purchase option. This service is only available between JFK and LAX/SFO. It is not available on any other Transcontinental routes (although a few 757’s from EWR & IAD may have their International configuration).
This review comprises of three flights I have taken on this aircraft. One in December of 2013 from JFK to SFO and the other two a few weeks ago between LAX & JFK. On all three flights I used Regional Premier Upgrades or Global Premier Upgrades. There are no Premier complimentary upgrades on these routes. So outside of miles, this is the only way to upgrade. Besides the service, each flight was basically the same as far as seats, aircraft configuration, and meal service. The overall flight attendant service was inconsistent. With the JFK to SFO crew being unfriendly and not very responsive. The LAX to JFK flight had tremendous service with the flight attendants being warm, engaging, funny and available. The JFK to LAX return was somewhere in-between. But this is par for the course with United.
There are two cabins of BusinessFirst seats on these 757-200’s. The forward cabin has four rows (1-4) with a 2×2 configuration and the rear cabin has three rows (5-7) that start at the second boarding door (the one most commonly used on the 757). Both cabins have a more intimate feeling then United’s old p.s. Business Class. The seats are situated at a slight angle or herringbone. On all three flights a pre-departure drink was offered. A flight attendant also came by with a basket offering eye-shades, a small packet of toothpaste and toothbrush, and earplugs. A very nice pillow and blanket was on the seat as you boarded and on the LAX to JFK flight, menu’s and a bottle of water were also at your seat as you arrived. On the other two flights they were distributed later. I sat in seats 1A, 4F, & 5E. Rows 1 and 5 are bulkheads. There is no space or leg-room advantage to these seats as all the seats are in a shell. However, the ottoman is wider in those seats than the rest of the cabin. Not sure why, but I did find the seat in row 4 slightly less comfortable because the ottoman is small. The other drawback to 4F (or any window seat) is that despite there being a very generous 76 inch seat pitch, if the person in the aisle had their seat in the sleeping position you had to climb over them to get out. The pitch is so long because there is a cut out under the seat in front of you. So the TV monitor is actually much closer (more like 45 inches). The seats are wide at 21 inches, which I liked.
The seats are basically the same as United’s International BusinessFirst seats on their planes without First Class (Continental’s BusinessFirst seats). As I have stated on my reviews of United’s BusinessFirst on the 777 (both versions –http://patstravelreviews.com/united-business-class-review-ewr-to-bru/ ) and 787 Dreamliner (http://patstravelreviews.com/united-airline-787-dreamliner-businessfirst-review/), the one drawback to these seats is there is not much room for storage. These seats are no different. There is an area under the TV where you could put a newspaper, book, menu, etc. But on take off, the items will slide out (the in-flight magazine is in a small compartment on the side of center armrest). There is also an area over your shoulder that has a place you can place your bottle of water and few small items. This area also has a power outlet (110 volt and a few Int’l plugs), USB port (came in handy, as I was able to charge my headphones), and a two-pronged headphone socket. The IFE system is the same as well. Same generous 15.4″ screen and same AVOD programming (can start watching once on board ). There are plenty of movies (new releases, classics, and International), documentaries, sitcoms, and other TV shows to watch. In addition, there is a a moving map, 20 music channels, hundreds of CD’s and a few pod casts on the audio option (CD’s did not work on any of the three flights), as well as a library of games to play. You can also plug your iPod into the system. The programming is the same as on international flight. Not sure if the audio not working was just getting the kinks out or if it is a lasting problem. The TV is touch screen or can be controlled by the in-seat control. Both were very responsive. A headphone was offered and is a higher quality than United’s Domestic First Class headphone’s, but I used my own. My one-prong cord worked fine in the two-pronged outlet on two flights, but I had to use a two-pronged adapter on the another. One complaint, because the headphone wire is attached over your shoulder it sometimes gets pulled out as you move your head. Another issue I had is with the TV screen (and not just on this flight, but on most airline’s TV monitors), it is very hard to see dark scenes. I watched Capt. Phillips and had a hard time seeing the final scenes. Besides the standard light and air vent overhead on the 757, there is also a small light over your shoulder at your seat (only visible if seat is reclined). WiFi is available on all United p.s. Premium Service flights, however, on the LAX to JFK flight it was not working. The other two legs it was. I only used the WiFi to connect to United.com, which is free (I think $6.99 if you want to access the internet), but the connection was a little spotty.
As I said, the service was the same on all three flights. Three flight attendants worked the Premium cabin. A hot towel was distributed about 25 minutes after take off. This was followed by drink orders and a small cup of heated cashews and almonds. Another flight attendant would take your lunch or dinner order around the same time (one flight was taken prior to take-off).
Both lunch flights (JFK-SFO & LAX-JFK) had the same menu’s, whereas the dinner flight had different options. While having different items, both were of the same quality and similar selections. The lunch flights started with a chilled appetizer of smoked salmon and sesame-coated tuna that was accompanied with a small side salad. The dinner flight began with an air-dried beef bresaola with roasted tomato and mozzarella. A basket with a selection of breads was also brought around. A nice selection and variety of bread. I am not a fan of seafood so I can not comment on the salmon and tuna (my seatmates on both flights seemed to enjoy), but the dried beef was good and I enjoyed the garlic bread, pretzel roll, and diner roll.
For the main course the lunch flights had an option of Tenderloin of Beef with Delmonico’s steak sauce served with rosti potatoes and green beans. Cajun-style Breast of Chicken in a Cajun cream sauce with collard greens and white beans with chicken sausage. Or Vegetable filled Mezzaluna Pasta in a pomodoro sauce with zucchini. Despite wanting to try the chicken, I opted for the beef on both flights. Both meals were excellent. Served hot (which can be an issue with United) and very tasty (reason I didn’t try chicken on second flight).
The dinner menu also had three choices. A Grilled Pork Chop in a green peppercorn sauce with a shiitake mushroom bread pudding and asparagus and broccolini. Osso Buco Breast of Chicken in a mixed mushroom ragout with garlic polenta cake and broccolini (they must have gotten a deal on broccolini and mushrooms). Or a Spinach Cannelloni in a four cheese sauce with roasted tomatoes. I had the Pork Chop and it was also very good. The bread pudding was edible and as I have said in other reviews; Newman said it best “broccoli is a vile weed”. The flight attendants came around with a choice of white or red wines with the meal.
The one part of the meal service that differed from United’s Int’l service was dessert. It was the same on all three flights. Vanilla ice cream with a choice of toppings. Chocolate, caramel, or strawberry with nuts and whipped cream. But no other choices and no cheese and fruit plate. Personally, I was very pleased with the dessert. I enjoyed the ice cream sundae’s very much and rarely select the cheese offerings anyway.
About 30 minutes after dessert was carted down the aisle, a few snacks were placed in front of each cabin in a basket. The same snack items (Cape Cod potato chips, Toblerone chocolate, and Nature Valley granola bar) United distributes on First Class domestic flights was available. But the flight attendants did not walk through with the snacks. You had to get up a take what you wanted. This was also the time on two of the flights where bottle water was distributed. The flight attendant’s also asked passengers if they wanted any additional beverages. After this they were available, but mainly remained seated.
On each of the flights I was able to sleep a little. The pillow and blanket are the same ones used on United’s International flights. High quality and a huge improvement from United’s Domestic First Class, where only a thin blanket is sometimes available. The pillow is soft and the blanket keeps you more than warm enough. The seats are 180 degree lie flat. Just like a bed. The controls on the center armrest has a sleeping setting that will take your seat into the 180 degree position. I personally like to sleep in a cradle position and was able to find a comfortable setting on each flight. The seats are cloth with a leather adjustable headrest (although with pillow, not needed) and the outer armrest comes down to give you a little more width while sleeping.
There are two lavatories in the Premium cabin. In front of each of the two cabins in BusinessFirst (where they always are on United’s 757’s). A good ratio for only 28 passengers. Just like on their Int’l flights, Philosophy lotions and soaps were available in each lavatory. But while the rest of the plane feels new, the lavatories show the age of these planes. Clean, but a little worn.
Of the three flights, all were very smooth, two were a little early and one a little delayed by fog in LA (but we made up a lot time). Flight times were a little under five hrs to JFK and a little under six hours to the West Coast. Boarding was very easy and orderly on all three flights (less passengers then a normal 757).
United’s p.s. Premium Service from JFK to LAX & SFO is basically the same product as United’s International BusinessFirst. Which is an improvement on these routes, in not only the seat design and cabin layout, but also in the In-flight Entertainment. It seems like there are still a few kinks to work out with the audio portion of the IFE and the WiFi. But those issues should be easy to fix. What will never be easy to fix for United (or American or Delta), is inconsistent service. This will always be a challenge for United. However, even in saying that, the service is still better than what you would find on most United First Class Domestic flights. That said, these routes have become very competitive with Delta flying 767’s and 757’s with BusinessElite seating and American introducing their new First and Business Class seats on their new A321’s. So United can not count on just the seats to get people to pay over $2000 each way on their JFK to LAX & SFO routes.