June 17, 2017
Flight Review: United Business Class 747-400 Seoul-San Francisco
United is in the process of retiring its aging fleet of Boeing 747 and replacing them with more fuel efficient aircraft, like the Boeing 777 which features the new Polaris seats. I’ve flown the 747 before but never on United, so I gave it a try on their Seoul (ICN)-San Francisco (SFO) route in business class.
United charges 35,000 miles for Economy class, 70,000 miles for Business class, and 80,000 miles for First class awards on flights from Asia to the US. If you end up paying cash, make sure to use an effective mileage earning credit card like the Platinum Card from American Express (which earns 5X points per $1 on airfare) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve (which earns 3X points per $1 on travel).
Business class is separated into two floors on the 747. The first floor is a horribly outdated 2-4-2 seat configuration while the second floor is a 2-2 configuration. United still flies four across seats in Business Class while airlines like Singapore and Qatar use 1-2-1 Business Class configurations, giving every customer direct aisle access-go figure.
I had an aisle seat on the second floor of the plane. The seats have ample space and come with plenty of bedding. United uses Saks Fifth Avenue pillows and sheets for their Business Class flights and they’re quite comfortable. The seat also came with a pair of slippers and United headphones to use during the flight. And of course, the seats can be turned into a lie-flat bed-although the recline buttons weren’t very responsive. You have to push down VERY firmly to get the seat to move.
Storage is the biggest problem with these seats. If you have a window seat on the top floor, you have these huge bins next to you which can store just about anything. If you have an aisle seat it’s the exact opposite-there’s literally no storage space. There’s a small area in front of you underneath wear your feet go where you can put a couple items, but this has to be cleared during takeoff and landing so it’s not all that helpful.
United offers a pretty swanky amenity kit. You’ll find Cowshed lotions, an eye mask, earplugs, pen, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, and tissues, along with a few other items.
United offers three white and three red wines on its international routes and lets you sample them, so I opted to try the three white wines. The wine sampling program has proven so popular that United could be running out of wine. I’m not a very picky wine drinker and I found all three to be delightful.
For appetizers we had a chilled Ahi tuna trio with a mixed salad. The salad was fine; I didn’t like like tuna so much.
We had four choices for the entrée-Barbecue pork ribs, Korean-style chicken thigh, Pan-seared John Dory filet, and Yaki udon noodles with chicken-all good choices. I had the John Dory fish which tasted pretty good. I liked that it wasn’t buried in unhealthy sauce!
The flight attendant brought out the dessert cart after dinner. There was an assortment of sweets, cheesecake ice cream, and cheese.
I tried the ice cream and the brownie-the ice cream was good but the brownie was a bit dry.
United also offers an anytime menu which you can enjoy throughout the flight. These offerings include fruit, ‘sweet and salty snacks’, sandwiches, Kung pau chicken, and tomato soup.
The food itself tasted good and the presentation was terrific. My issue with the meal service was all about the the flight attendants’ service. First off, we had to pick our top two choices for the entrée in case our first choice wasn’t available. Right off the bat they’re setting up an expectation that you might not get the food you want. Customers pay thousands of dollars for these Business Class flights and United can’t bother to have enough food on board to ensure everyone gets their desired choice? For comparison, I’ve flown Lufthansa Business Class many times, and there’s been just one occasion when my first choice wasn’t available. The flight attendant was very apologetic and made clear that it was very unusual for them to run out of an entrée. At United, the flight attendant made clear by her attitude that it was normal for them to run out of food and you should be happy if you get your first choice.
Another thing that irked me was that as soon as the meal service was over (which was rushed), it was lights out. It wasn’t lights out with some small light still available to see what you were doing; it was pitch black lights out. If this was a late night flight, that would be fine. The flight departed Seoul at 4:40 PM. I got the feeling the FA’s wanted to get through meal service as fast as possible and turn off all the lights so they could be done and clock out for the rest of the night.
More Service Misses
There was a lot of turbulence on this flight and the captain had to turn on the seat belt lights multiple times. Every time those lights dinged on, a flight attendant would loudly walk down the aisle with her flashlight to check that everyone’s seat belts were on. It’s a bit unusual to have a thorough seat belt check repeatedly in the middle of the night with flashlights, but its for safety reasons so fine. The fact that they were noisily walking up and down the aisle, with no regard for the comfort of their sleeping passengers, was just rude.
Here’s another fun experience. The lights are pitch black so passengers can sleep. When it came time to start breakfast service, all the lights were instantly switched on and it was bright as day in the cabin. The flight attendant then immediately starts proceeding down the aisle yelling ‘hot towel’ as she passes out hot towels. Is this plane not at all equipped with light dimming setting to at least somewhat gradually wakeup sleeping passengers? And again, how rude is it to flip on the lights and immediately start yelling hot towel at sleeping passengers.
United has a lot of potential. The new Polaris amenities and enhanced food is wonderful, the Polaris lounge is beautiful, and the new Polaris business seats look great as well. The problem with United is that the employees just don’t care about their customers. While United does have some excellent employees, more often than not the employee you’re dealing with just doesn’t care about you. They lack the basic empathy needed in a customer service role. While the amenities in Business Class were certainly better than Economy, the customer service was just as terrible.