As I complained in an earlier post, I was not upgraded on my flight from SAN to EWR. However, I was able to sleep and our flight arrived early so I had a lot if time at EWR. Which was good because I was to meet a friend outside to pick up a package he wanted me to bring to his family in Moscow. I mistakenly thought, because I was flying on United, I would be able to use the TSA pre-check at Security. Unfortunately, because I was flying Internationally, I could not use this very convenient service. So I waited 30 minutes in the priority line. The only good thing about this is I passed a Crumbs Bakery on my way to the Lounge and Gate. The BRU flight left out of Gate 90 so I used the United Club in Terminal C1. This is the old Presidents Club overlooking the food court. The lounge was fine except the WiFi connection was not high-speed (in fact, worse than old dial up). It amazes me how New York City Airports have such poor WiFi and cell phone connections.
The flight boarded on time and it was interesting that Military and Global Services (not sure there were any) boarded before First Class. When Business Class and 1K’s boarded there was a rush to board. Slightly chaotic. I was in a rear facing seat (6C) on this 777. A Menu, Amenity Kit, Pillow and Blanket were all waiting on the seat. After putting my carry-on’s away (plenty of overhead storage on the 777) a friendly flight attendant quickly brought a selection of orange juice, water, and champagne. Then returned to ask for jackets to hang. Followed by a selection of newspapers and magazines. One complaint of United’s new Business Class seats is there is not a lot of storage area at the seat to store personal items. There are two cabins in BusinessFirst on United’s 777’s. A smaller forward section with only two rows and a larger section (still only has three rows, but forward section feels more intimate) behind. The seat layout is a crowded 2x4x2. This means there are two middle seat in each row. When most airlines have staggered or herringbone seating to eliminate middle seats United has someway found a way to add one middle seat on their 777. To avoid confusion, United has two separate business class products (really three, they have an old business class seat that is being reconfigured to this product). United’s and the old Continental Business First. This was a United plane with United’s new Business Class. Really it is Business Class and not BusinessFirst. BusinessFirst is on Continental planes where they only have two classes of service. BusinessFirst and economy. I guess they need to have some uniformity in what they call their business class product, but they are different. I will review the other BusinessFirst product in a week or so (ok, took a few month’s – http://patstravelreviews.com/?p=268). The one positive about having two middle seats is if Business is not full there is a good chance the seat next to you will be free. That was the case on this flight which provided me some room to place my blanket, pillow, and personal items somewhere other than in my seat.
We pushed from the gate on time, but remained parked for a while. I knew this was not a good sign as I knew there was weather in the area. Finally we started to taxi when the pilot made the announcement that due to a line of thunderstorms over New England we had to park until we got ATC clearance. Our flight time was scheduled for only 7 hours (we were scheduled to arrive an hour early) so I was only slightly concerned about the delay as I had 2 hours to connect to my flight to DME. One of the best things about United’s new entertainment system is that you can watch it once you board the plane. So I was able to watch the start of a movie while we were parked. The flight attendants took drink orders and served warm nuts while we were parked. After an hour wait and just as I started to get nervous the pilot came on and said we would get in line for our departure. I assumed this would be another hour as Newark can have long waits for take-offs, but 20 minutes later (a total of almost 2 hrs late) we were airborne.
Shortly after take-off, hot towels (good quality) were distributed. This was the only towel service. I actually prefer to get a hot towel before landing than after take-off (really I prefer both). There was no drink service after take-off. Since the cashews and almonds had been served while we were on the ground (along with a drink) the dinner service started rather quickly. A chilled shrimp appetizer and green salad were served together with an assortment of breads. I had to ask for a drink when the tray came (there was wine and water on the cart).
There were four main course selections (which is as many as any flight I have ever been on in business class). Spice-rubbed Breast of Chicken in a mustard barbecue sauce (killed it for me, why ruin barbecue with mustard?), Grilled Fillet of Amazon Cod in a plum jus sauce, Tri-color Ravioli in a cherry tomato sauce, or Tenderloin of Beef in an asiago broth served with butter gnocchi and asparagus (which I ordered). In addition, because this was a quick overnight flight you could also order Executive Dining where your full meal is expedited and served more concisely. The beef was good, and the asparagus and gnocchi were ok. This is basically the same meal I had on a First Class flight from BRU to IAD in May (except there is no soup offered in Business). Same size portion as well (small by United’s standards). But certainly edible. I would liked to have ordered the chicken, but I have an aversion to mustard. It did look good though.
Following dinner, a selection of grapes, cheese and crackers with Grand Marnier and a Noval Fine Ruby Port were served (which I did not take). Then the dessert – ice cream sundae – cart. There was several sauces and toppings to choose from . I had caramel and fudge sauce (now even at ice cream shops I order sundaes this way) with some whipped cream. A very nice way to end the dinner service.
After dinner and dessert, bottled water was distributed (I do not remember receiving this before in business class – nice touch). The movie I was watching had ended while I was eating, so I was able to watch a few sit-coms before I slept. United’s new entertainment system is a vast improvement over their old 9 channel and small screen option. Their new screen is 15.4 inches (First Class seat has same size screen) and is mounted on the seatback in front. There are 100’s of movie and TV options to choose from. From new releases to classics as well as some foreign films. TV includes sit-coms, dramas, and documentaries. In addition, there are many CD’s to listen to and you have the option to create your own music list from any of the CD’s. You can even hook your iPod into the system and listen to your own music. All entertainment is on demand (AVOD). So you can stop and start when you like, and as I said programming starts when you board the plane. On this flight the AVOD was a little jumpy and it did not pause for the announcements. It is bad enough having to hear the announcements in one language, but because this flight was to Belgium we had to endure three languages. So for every announcement you would miss a few minutes of programming (you could of course rewind and re-watch what you missed). One side-note. This aircraft did not have the in-flight WiFi.
The seats on United’s new business class is a little cramped. There is plenty of leg room (76″ of pitch), but because there are basically 8 seats across (economy has 9 seats across) the new seats are narrower than their old business class seat. As I am getting heavier (I am going on diet in January!!) this is becoming more of a problem, but where it really is an issue is if you need to store items at your seat. The seat does lie flat to 180 degrees. Somehow I can not sleep like that and prefer a little bit of an angle. The seat does allow you to position to a setting that you are most comfortable in. The pillow is very comfortable and blanket warm (maybe too warm). I was able to sleep for three hours on this flight and slept through breakfast. When I woke I really wasn’t hungry and outside of taking a photo for this review I was OK with missing breakfast. But a flight attendant came by and asked if I wanted to eat (I was impressed with this). I said yes, and was surprised with less than 30 minutes until landing they brought me breakfast. Breakfast was something you would receive on a European Carrier. Cold meats, yogurt, fruit, and croissant. Only not as good. The fruit was tasty, but I do not like United’s croissants nor the yogurt they serve (if catered from Europe may be better).
As it turned out we circled for 15 minutes and did not land until 45 minutes after I was served breakfast. So I was able to freshen up a little. United’s amenity kit is also a big improvement over the smallish bag they used to provide. They use Philosophy products and also have Colgate toothpaste as well as Purity sanitizing wipes. Plus usual socks, pen, ear plugs, eye shades, facial tissue, comb, and toothbrush. The bag itself may be used as a small toiletry bag. This amenity kit is more in line what you would expect in business class.
Despite leaving almost two hours late and circling for 15 minutes we arrived in Brussels only an hour late. Which was good because it still gave me time to check-in for my connecting flight. After a 10 minute taxi we were at the gate. But not before the pilot very proudly wanted all the passengers to see a new Ethiopian Airlines 787 parked near our gate and to tell us United had just taken delivery of their first 787. Deplaning was very quick and luckily my connecting flight was also in Pier B (Non-Shengen countries). After going through security and a short walk I was at my gate and checked-in for my flight to Moscow.
Even with the entertainment system having some small issues (it is still light years better than their prior system and better than most airlines), this was one of the better flights I have flown in United’s Business Class. Whether their old product or this new one. Partly because no one sat next to me and I did not feel cramped for room and partly because the flight attendants were friendlier and more attentive then I have experienced with United in the past. The delay was caused by weather and we still arrived in time for my connecting flight. This added to my being pleased, as last October I flew United to Moscow and had a delay that ended up causing a nightmare of events. I was nervous of having a similar fate!