United Airlines 861
Washington-Dulles (IAD) – Sao Paulo-Guarulhos (GRU)
18 February 2016
Despite a disappointing visit to the United Global First Lounge, I was kind of excited to see what United’s Global First Class was like. After all, “Global First” is a very unique and awesome name… and while the name might cool, the whole experience was kind of like Business Class – not that I was expecting a lot in First Class of a U.S. carrier, but it really felt like just good Business Class.
The boarding process began right as scheduled at gate C7, around 21:20, beginning first for families travelling with small children and Global Services members. Then boarding for Group 1 began.. which was roughly three-fourths of the plane, and overall the flight was very empty.. presumably due to the Zika virus scare.
I was the only revenue passenger in Global First, but of course since United’s employees love travelling in First Class for free… the cabin ended up being full by the time the doors closed. I was kind of in shock that I was the only one that paid for First and yet it was full. BusinessFirst was less than half empty and Economy was mostly empty as well.
The flight to Sao Paulo from Washington was operated by a Boeing 777-200, with eight seats in Global First. United’s international “First Class” is really just like a good business class – the seats are very comfortable but not very private and the service is basically the same as in Business Class. The only real difference between First and Business with United is that the service is supposed to be slightly better (even though it isn’t) and the food should be better (but it isn’t). So technically, the only difference is the seat. That’s all. Hell, there are even no curtains between BusinessFirst and Global First – seriously?! United is in the process of removing Global First and therefore there haven’t been any improvements at all to the seat or service.
The seats in the United Airlines Global First B777 consist of a 1-2-1 configuration for a total of eight seats. Like I said, I was the only revenue passenger with seven other people being non-revs (because they were on the upgrade list for both Global First and BusinessFirst and also on the waitlist for United Economy). It is kind of shocking that United allows their employees to travel in First Class for free and that it always ends up being full… then again, they are an American airline so it shouldn’t surprise me.
The Global First seat is very comfortable and reclines into a full bed – “turndown” service is also available (though in reality they just throw a thin mattress pad on the seat and call it good). What’s nice about the seat is that there is plenty of stowage and the seat overall is very spacious. While it may not be the most modern First Class seat, it still is very comfortable and relaxing to sit/sleep in.
United’s website describes the following amenities for Global First:
- Complimentary amenity kit featuring skin care products from Cowshed, the premium spa and lifestyle brand of Soho House & Co.
- Complimentary duvet and pillows for use during your flight
- Complimentary Turn-down service with sleeping cushion (upon request)
- Flat-bed seats that recline to a full 6-foot, 6-inch bed
- BackCycler® motion system for lumbar support and back stimulation
- Coat hook and additional storage compartments
I love how they have to include “complimentary” in the phrasing… as if these amenities weren’t complimentary in other airlines’ First Class…
Despite Global First not being a real “First Class”, I was very excited for the flight as the flight attendants were super friendly and awesome. The purser was working alongside of the flight attendants in Global First and he was super friendly and very interesting. I think the crew actually added to the overall “First Class” experience and made it significantly better than what it should’ve been.
The IFE/Video monitor is a bit small by today’s standards, but again, the seat hasn’t been refreshed in a while (because of not enough demand). The seat has plenty of stowage, two big compartments on both sides of the seat are ideal for storing amenities, personal items, laptops, etc. There is also a smaller compartment by the individual reading light, which contained the headphones – which were somewhat noise-cancelling.
The seat’s main console features all of the ports and controls for both the seat and the IFE. A universal AC power port is available along with a USB and ethernet port. A very outdated iPod port is also available, though I doubt anyone still has an iPod using that cable. You can also use your headphones for the IFE, which is probably a better idea than using the provided ones.
The purser welcomed me to Global First and presented me with an amenity kit and a menu for the flight. He also asked what I’d like to drink before we takeoff and I requested some water… and it was brought to me in a plastic cup. International “First Class” and water in a plastic cup… I won’t even comment that further, but I’d like you to think about it.
There was also one flight attendant that seemed to be exclusively in charge of selling duty free items – that’s literally all she did for the whole flight. She would walk around the aircraft the whole time and ask everyone if they’d like duty free. A bit odd if you ask me.
The menu was actually very nice and contained more food choices and drinks than I expected – so that’s a plus. Although I did have a look at the food served in BusinessFirst and it was virtually identical. The real highlight was the amenity kit – it’s really nice and perhaps not up to the standards of other carriers, but still more than what I was expecting. The contents of the amenity kit are also impressive and definitely more than I was expecting.
After exploring the seat more, I was finally happy and perhaps this First Class wasn’t so bad after all. The seat is definitely better than BusinessFirst and features additional amenities and is simply more spacious and comfortable – which is important in First Class. Because the crew was fantastic, I knew it was going to be a great flight.
Boarding was completed ten minutes ahead of scheduled departure time at which point the doors were secured and the safety video began to play. We pushed back right as scheduled and after a quick taxi to the runway, we were airborne on our way to Sao Paulo.
My first task was to explore United’s IFE and once again, I was actually pleasantly surprised at the amount of quality content featured. Current music, films, TV programmes, etc. were all included in the IFE and I was actually able to enjoy the IFE for once instead of watching the airshow for ten hours.
About fifteen minutes after takeoff, the purser asked everyone if they’d like to have dinner and if so, what main course they’d like. I had a look at the menu and most of the food sounded delicious and in the end, I decided to order the Cod.
The dinner service began with warm nuts and a glass of water about thirty minutes after we left the ground. My table was set with a white linen cloth and the water and nuts were nicely placed on top. I was also asked what I’d like to drink along with my meal and I opted for some tea with lemon and sugar. As usual, the warm nuts were delicious and I like that they proactively presented them with a glass of water.
After I finished enjoying my warm nuts, my tray table was fully set for dinner. The cutlery consisted of three sets of forks and knives and a single spoon for the soup, butter and mini salt and pepper shakers were also included. The bread selection was extensive and ranging from garlic bread to various dark breads. I really like garlic bread and therefore decided to enjoy some.
The menu began with an appetiser, soup, and salad. I decided to try all three. The chicken appetiser was perfectly edible and fine, while the soup wasn’t really great at all, but the salad was enjoyable. United usually executes the salads correctly, in my opinion. The beginning of the menu was as follows:
Coconut chicken skewer with mango chutney and tabbouleh salad
Fresh Seasonal Greens
Tomatoes, baby mozzarella, Kalamata olives, cucumber and croutons with your choice of creamy Gorgonzola dressing or balsamic vinaigrette
There was a slight pause between the appetisers and the main course, which I enjoyed as I was getting full. About ten minutes after the salad, I was presented my main course. The main courses consisted of:
Short Rib of Beef
Asian-style barbecue sauce, wasabi grits and stir-fried vegetables
Spice-rubbed Breast of Chicken
Mustard barbecue sauce, steamed rice, mixed vegetables and pickled cabbage
Fillet of Amazon Cod
Mixed vegetable ratatouille
Cherry tomato sauce, herbed butternut squash and Parmesan cheese
Normally I would go with the pasta since it is hard for airlines to get pasta wrong, but I decided to further dive into the world of Global First and order the fish to see how the main course would compare. While the presentation of the fish might not have been the most stellar, the Cod was actually very, very good and perfectly edible.
After enjoying the main course, there was once again another brief pause before the dessert – which I was excited for. I decided to skip the cheese selection since I don’t really like it.
American carriers usually serve Ice Cream for their First/Business Class dessert and I was happy to finally be able to try out the famous (or infamous) Ice Cream…. and it was delicious and perhaps the best part of the entire meal service!
International Cheese Selection
Grapes and crackers served with Port
Gelato with your choice of toppings
You have got to love that they decided to call their Ice Cream “Gelato”… oh, United. The “gelato” toppings consisted of nuts, whipped cream, strawberries, caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. I had some whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and strawberries on my vanilla “gelato” and it was so delicious!
After enjoying my delicious dessert (something that is executed very well by U.S. airlines), I decided to ask for the turndown service and in the meantime, headed to the First Class lavatory. The lavatory contained premium amenities from Cowshed (as did the amenity kit) and was slightly larger than your standard lavatory.
The Global First turndown service is executed with a thin mattress pad, two pillows, and a duvet. The seat in the bed form was actually very comfortable and I was able to sleep for a good five hours. I’m happy to have enjoyed my sleep and I like that they provide two pillows, since you can get more comfortable than if only one pillow was available. I’m a tall guy, but I didn’t have any trouble stretching out in this long bed.
Oh, and pyjamas? Hahaha. What pyjamas?
After a wonderful sleep, I woke up about an hour before landing and at which point the purser asked me if I’d like to enjoy some breakfast. I agreed and he set my tray table.
United’s breakfast choices usually consist of either cereal or a warm option like scrambled eggs (which is usually of poor quality). I decided to be safe and go with the cereal… which was average and came with some yoghurt, a fruit salad, and croissant with some butter and jam. A banana was also included. The menu for breakfast was:
PRIOR TO ARRIVAL
Cheddar Cheese Omelette
Broccoli-potato gratin, chicken sausage and grilled ham
Cereal and Banana
Served with milk
Fresh fruit appetizer, yogurt and breakfast breads
The highlight of the breakfast was the yoghurt – it was delicious. The fruit salad wasn’t bad either. I also ordered some tea, which was presented along with some orange juice.
As I finished my breakfast, we began our initial descend into Sao Paulo. I was really excited to be in South America for the first time and was generally excited for the weekend ahead in Brazil. The initial views of Brazil were gorgeous.
The cabin was prepared for landing shortly thereafter and the purser also thanked the passengers for flying with United and asked us how the flight was. We landed about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.
As we landed, I noticed some exciting aircraft parked in Sao Paulo – a Swiss A340, Lufthansa B747, British Airways B747, etc. We made it to the gate about three minutes after landing and the crew welcomed us to Sao Paulo.
So how was my Global First experience? Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed everything. Ok, look, I came into the aircraft with very, very low expectations and therefore I think I was pleasantly surprised at the small things – I mean, I set my expectations really low and in the end, everything was positive.
The crew were fantastic and perhaps they made the flight much better. All of the food being edible is a huge plus, since I know some airlines in First Class try too hard with the food choices and then they end up being horrible. The seat is really comfortable and while not the most modern, you’re still able to sleep nicely thanks to the turndown service.
So while United’s Global First may not live up to the standards of other international carriers’ First Class, it still is a really good product. Considering how cheap Global First usually is compared to other First Class cabins, I’d say it is worth it. I mean they were selling BusinessFirst for ~$200 USD less than Global First on this route at the time I purchased the ticket.
All in all, I enjoyed the flight more than I was expecting and that’s a good thing. While United is in the process of phasing out Global First, I’m still tempted to fly it on their Boeing 747s before those aircraft retire. Anyway, after a nice flight, I was really excited to be in South America!