I am trying not to be unduly harsh on United but it is difficult to write about their long-haul economy offering and sound positive. They really lag way behind most Asian competitors. Even by American airline standards, I find them wanting.
At the Airport
I had my boarding pass from a previous sector of the journey. Upon arrival at O’Hare I was close to the departure gate for this flight, gate 18. That is immediately beside United’s lounge for their new business class, called Polaris. My colleague had been upgraded to Polaris class so could use the lounge, but was not allowed guests. I went to the standard United Club, which was mobbed and had paltry food offerings. The chairs were not comfortable. If the airport was not heaving with people, there would be little merit to having waited in the lounge versus at the gate.
The display boards showed a delay of around one hour due to the late arrival of the aircraft. I went to the gate at the new boarding time, but the plane did not board for another half hour or so. We pushed back an hour and a half after schedule.
The equipment on this flight had been changed shortly before to a Boeing 777-200ER (registration number N795UA). Cue the passenger across the aisle from me complaining that he had paid to select an aisle seat in advance and was now seated in a middle seat on this fourteen hour plus flight. This is the sort of dissatisfaction which impinges on a lot of United flights, as they do not offer a good experience for passengers.
The interior felt dated but its 3-3-3 seating configuration was more spacious feeling than some newer configured United 777s. The plane could have done with more toilets as there were queues for them for almost the entire flight that I saw.
The seat had a blanket and pillow upon boarding. The seatback touchscreen television was very small – only fractionally larger than my phone. There was an okay selection of American programmes and films, but no music.
Economy class was full. This was a fairly smooth flight and we made up some time, but still arrived around three quarters of an hour late. We arrived at gate 18, convenient for immigration.
There was a crew of varying nationalities, who made announcements in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. They were adequately friendly but I have had warmer crews on other United flights.
They distributed earbuds and small water bottles, and did a drinks run when the seatbelt sign was turned off. They then offered dinner. There was a midflight snack and then a pre-landing meal. The crew came through the cabin multiple times with water.
Food and Drink
The crew read out the menu on the public announcement system, which was difficult to understand. They also announced that wine and beers were free but other alcoholic drinks would need to be purchased.
The food on this flight was miserable. The first meal was chicken rice or vegetable fried rice. I had the chicken rice, which was uninspiring in flavour. It was followed by an ice cream.
The midflight snack was a small turkey roll and handful of M & Ms in a tiny bag.
For breakfast the option was French toast or noodles. French toast sounded like a novel option so I went for that. It was very sweet and not filling. I also would have preferred a proper meal instead of breakfast for this second meal – it was early evening Hong Kong time (and the wee hours in Chicago) so not really breakfast time.
United seems to have problems running their planes on time (the day before this one I had had a three hour delay on a much shorter international United flight). They switched the equipment and served lousy food. There was nothing particularly good about the experience.