Review: United Airlines UA896 Hong Kong to Chicago O’Hare

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We’ve reviewed United from Chicago to Hong Kong. Could it be any better (or worse) going the other way?

At the Airport

The morning departure and early afternoon arrival of this flight make its flight times rather social for leisure travellers. This is one of a number of United flights which leave Hong Kong in the morning, but  their helpful ground staff were quite fast at processing passengers at checkin it seemed, so there was not a long queue.

I had prepaid some excess luggage but had less than I expected, so wanted to ask about a refund of part of the fee. One would have expected that the United ticket desk could refund the money to the card used to prepay but that was not possible, one had to submit a claim form on their website. This seems like a typical United trick to me – they make it easy to pay them money but hard to get it back.

The flight was scheduled to depart from gate 43, close to the United Club.

Equipment

This was operated by a Boeing 777-200 ER (ship number N782UA). The economy class cabin was configured in a 3-3-3 layout and United’s colour scheme though dull is inoffensive.

The seat did not have much recline and the legroom was alright at best. The seatback television had a middling selection of entertainment although it did have a lot of classic movies. Audio and foreign language programming are a real lacuna. Note that on some of its routes between Asia and the States, United uses a 10-abreast 777 which I can only imagine must feel very cramped.

United also makes its cabin very dark and asks for the window blinds to be down for most of this flight. That can be good if you want to rest, but does make it hard to read a book or similar without feeling a bit disruptive (they don’t distribute eye masks) and also personally I find it makes the cabin feel a bit depressing.

Flight

We pushed back on time and had a fairly smooth flight before a beautiful landing at O’Hare. Generally United seems to have pretty good pilots it seems. They barely introduced themselves on this flight, and kept chat to a minimum.

Service

There was a drinks service just after takeoff, followed almost immediately by the first meal service. The meal trays were cleared away very fast after this. Halfway through the flight, the dark cabin was illuminated through turning on all of the reading lights, which is quite disruptive if one wants to sleep. This was for the small turkey roll and mini chocolate served then, again with drinks. A little over an hour before landing we were served breakfast.

The crew was advancing in years and a mixture of white Americans, Asian Americans and Hong Kongers. They made announcements in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. The crew was professional, fast and friendly – they are not given much to work in United economy, but as often this crew made the most of it and their smiles helped take the edge off a miserable passenger experience.

Food and Drinks

United’s food is simply abysmal. There is no menu, but the choice on this flight was between bulgogi beef and rice or pasta for the first meal. I chose the first one and it was just okay. It’s a small meal, without a proper starter and only ice cream as a dessert.

For the second meal I had noodles, which were overcooked, dry and not enjoyable to eat.

The mid-flight snack is, despite its ugy presentation, actually the best food served in the sense that at least it is fresh. They did have extra rolls available in the galley in the second half of the flight.

The meals were fine, with a decent selection of beers and some very uninspiring wines. The staff are generous with drinks throughout the flight.

Conclusion

United’s entertainment and food is subpar. If you get an amazing price, need specific connections or timings, or are a United elite and want an upgrade, I can see reasons to take this flight, but otherwise I’d rather fly another airline between Chicago and Hong Kong even if that means I have to change planes.

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