United Airlines 860
Sao Paulo-Guarulhos (GRU) – Washington-Dulles (IAD)
21 February 2016
I spent the majority of my long connection time in Sao Paulo relaxing and working at the Star Alliance Lounge – which was awesome. Boarding was scheduled to begin around 22:00 and therefore about ten minutes earlier, I headed to the gate where the agents were already lining people up based on their boarding group.
United’s flights to Washington and Chicago are operated by their B777s while their flight to Houston is operated by their Dreamliner 787 without First Class. The aircraft actually fly in the morning of the departure and “sit” on the tarmac the whole day in order to depart at night, mainly to accommodate those with connecting flights elsewhere.
Boarding began right on time first with Global Services at which point the agent asked me if I was a Global Services member and I said I was in Global First and he pointed me to the group 1 line (since there was a different line for Global First and Global Services), I repeated that I’m in Global First and he still asked me to go to the group 1 line – at which point another agent came running and apologised to me and yelled a bit at him for not letting me board. After that, I was the first to board the United Boeing 777-200 bound for Washington-Dulles.
United’s Global First cabin consists of eight seats in a 1-2-1 configuration across two rows. United still operates international First Class on a few routes, however more and more aircraft are being retrofitted without a Global First cabin since United is slowly phasing it out… because no one except their employees fly it.
Seriously. I was the only revenue passenger on the flight. Again. And apparently my friends tell me that this it isn’t uncommon. The purser welcomed me to the cabin and I jokingly told him I was the only revenue passenger and he laughed since he knew – and because he showed me the Global First manifest and I was the only one on it.
About two minutes before the doors closed, three people took their seats in Global First. I was in 2A, a pilot was in 1A, and two United employees in 1K and 2K. The lady in 2K was also on my flight from Washington to Sao Paulo. I’m a bit surprised that the cabin didn’t go full… as apparently that happens 90% of the time!
The purser was a real gem and super friendly and professional. He asked me how my stay in Sao Paulo was and asked me why I’m so young and in First Class, and all of the typical questions. I liked that he was very friendly and attentive and made tons of jokes throughout the flight which made my experience better – which I don’t think he did to the other “passengers” in Global First.
I was able to take a bunch of pictures in Global First since I had the cabin all to myself during boarding. The pilots also walked by and introduced themselves, which I thought was really cool. Several other crew members passed by and said it is “empty” today – well it was, until about two seconds before the door closed!
United’s Global First seats are actually super comfortable and the duvet they provide is really cozy. While their bedding/mattress sheet isn’t the best, the seat does provide a ton of comfort and I had no issue sleeping for six hours after dinner. I like the amount of space the seat has and along with that, many stowage areas so there are no issues storing personal items.
A duvet, thin mattress pad, and two pillows are provided for sleeping and comfort. Headphones are also included, but aren’t the best (though they claim to be noise-cancelling). You can use your own headphones.
The flight was actually super empty and BusinessFirst was less than 20% full with no one being seated directly behind Global First. While the BusinessFirst seats look a bit like the Global First seats, they are significantly thinner and much less comfortable – though are still nice for Business Class.
After exploring some of the aircraft, I was finally able to relax in my suite and begin to enjoy the ambiance and service of United Global First. Headphones, menus, and amenity kits were distributed to every passenger and pre-departure drink requests were taken.
The console contains a power port, USB port, Ethernet port, iPod port, headphones port, seat controls, and the IFE control. There is a small compartment, ideal for storing an amenity kit or headphones, built into the console. Catalogues like United’s Hemispheres magazine, the safety card, duty free shopping, etc. are located under the main console of the seat, next to the tray table.
The other side of the seat features a large stowage compartment and then a smaller one, ideal for storing catalogues, next to the reading light.
Because I’m not 21 yet and United is an American airline, I couldn’t consume any alcohol (but it isn’t like United has the good stuff anyway), and decided to drink some water… which was presented in a plastic cup. May I remind you this is international “First Class”…
United’s amenity kits are awesome and contain an excessive amount of items including socks, eye mask, facial tissue, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, cleaning cloth, mints, lotions, etc. There is also a guide located in the back of the menu in how you should freshen up using the amenities provided. The amenity kit doubles as a cosmetic bag and since I don’t have a nice one, I think I will use this amenity kit in the future as my cosmetic bag.
We pushed back about five minutes before scheduled departure time and after a long journey to the end of the runway, departed a few minutes after 23:00. We were estimated to arrive early into Washington Dulles.
Once airborne, I decided to take another look at United’s IFE and browsed the extensive selection of films, TV Programmes, music, etc. and as I mentioned before, I’m surprised United has such a great selection on their IFE.. in contrast to Lufthansa, who’s IFE sucks.
Each passenger was asked what they’d like for the main course of the meal and I went with the salmon since it sounded like the most edible and delicious option from the menu.
The main dinner service began with a hot towel, about twenty minutes after we had reached our cruising altitude. Our tray tables were also set with a white linen cloth, cutlery, and salt/pepper shakers – we were also presented with water and warm nuts.
About ten minutes later, drink orders were taken and later presented along with the appetiser, bread, and butter.
The menu began as follows:
Chicken satay with pear-mint compote and Asian-style slaw
Fresh Seasonal Greens
Cucumber, sweet corn, tomato and croutons with your choice of creamy French dressing or balsamic vinaigrette
The warm appetiser wasn’t the best and not that edible. It was some sort of chicken with pear compote which wasn’t the best when combined – I ate maybe half before deciding it wasn’t the best choice for me.
The minestrone soup was delicious and perfectly edible – just too bad that United’s soups are so small since I would’ve enjoyed more.
United’s salads are usually excellent and this one wasn’t an exception – it was beyond delicious, tasty, and fresh. Something they get right every time!
There was a choice of four main courses and basically consisted of beef, chicken, salmon, or pasta. As previously mentioned, I went with the Fillet of Salmon, which was absolutely mouth-watering and excellent.
Tenderloin of Beef
Red wine jus, artichoke heart, mashed potatoes, bell pepper, asparagus and tomato with creamed spinach
Pan-seared Chicken Thigh
Passion fruit cream sauce, rice with pequi fruit and sautéed kale
Fillet of Salmon
Creamy ginger sauce, vegetable couscous and roasted pumpkin with cardamom
Roasted Eggplant Parmigiana
Marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese
The salmon was the real highlight of the dinner, it was served with couscous and roasted pumpkin – all covered in creamy ginger sauce.
After eating the salmon, I was just so full that I couldn’t have United’s delicious ice cream which was a real disappointment since that’s one thing U.S. airlines always get right – ice cream. I was angry at myself for eating too much in the lounge before the flight since I really wanted to enjoy the ice cream, but literally couldn’t.
International Cheese Selection
Grapes and crackers served with Port
Ice cream with your choice of toppings
A selection of cheese served with port, grapes, and crackers was also an option to finish the meal.
After enjoying the delicious salmon, I was literally so full that I could barely move – so I watched a film and eventually asked one of the flight attendants for the turndown service while I headed to the First Class lavatory up front. The lavatory contained the basic amenities and some premium lotions and whatnot.
I returned to see my seat converted into a full lie-flat bed. Most people complain about United’s turndown service and say that all they do is throw a sheet over the seat and consider it “done”… well, as you can see from my experience, it was a full turndown service. No chocolate was included with the service, but the FAs did wish me a pleasant rest.
I slept for a good five to six hours and was woken up by a flight attendant, about seventy minutes before landing, who asked if I’d like to enjoy some breakfast. I agreed and ordered some tea to begin.
The breakfast menu wasn’t the most compelling, but then again, airlines usually suck at breakfast.
PRIOR TO ARRIVAL
Rösti potatoes, breakfast sausage and bacon
Cereal and Banana
Served with milk
Fresh fruit appetizer, yogurt and breakfast breads
This breakfast was no exception and consisted of the typical cereal/banana mix with yoghurt and fresh fruit. The yoghurt and fresh fruit were fresh and the cereal was average. Breakfast breads were also available for consumption – mainly consisting of croissants.
As I began to finish my breakfast, we began our initial descend into Washington D.C. at which point the cabin was prepared for landing and all remaining service items were collected. I didn’t feel rushed to finish my breakfast since the FAs said we still had plenty of time.
We landed in Dulles a few minutes before scheduled arrival time and made it to the gate shortly thereafter. As always, U.S. immigration was a real gem especially after I was told “I shouldn’t have left the country” when I asked if Precheck was available after clearing immigration.
All in all, another excellent flight in United Global First. Both flights were similar in terms of service, food, and comfort. I wouldn’t necessarily say that United’s Global First is terrible, but it really does feel like a good Business Class product and not a First Class product – that is mainly due to the lack of privacy between First and Business and the lack of food difference between the two cabins. I’d say the service is a bit better in Global First than BusinessFirst since things are slower in Global First as there are less people.
The crew were super nice and friendly on both flights, which is always nice to see. The main reason United is phasing out Global First is because only a few people actually pay for it and most of the passengers in Global First are non-revs that are flying for free.. so obviously United would rather add more BusinessFirst seats and hope to sell them instead of letting their employees fly for free in First Class.
All of my experiences with United have been positive ones and I really like United Airlines and truly do consider it one of the best airlines in America.. especially after you factor in their global reach and the fact that they’re a part of Star Alliance. Fly the Friendly Skies!