After a fairly mediocre flight to Sydney, my return flight was a far better overall experience, even with an inferior seat.
After arriving in Sydney from San Francisco a bit late, I had two hours before my “connection” back to Los Angeles. I used the time to make a “coffee” run between three lounges. I’ll provide full reviews in separate posts, but first visited the Air New Zealand lounge, which has been totally remodeled since my last visit (many years ago).
The coffee was amazing! It’s one of the simple joys of life and always a highlight of being in Australia.
I also took a few minutes to shower.
Next, I headed next door to the Singapore Airlines lounge. Frankly, I found this lounge inferior to the Air New Zealand lounge. It was very crowded and internet slow. I did enjoy another coffee, however.
Boarding would soon begin for my flight to Los Angeles, but I headed down to the lower level to check out the American Express Lounge, which is more like a Plaza Premium lounge with an American Express logo. To properly complete my coffee analysis, I had another cappuccino. Once again, it was tremendous.
Most passengers had already boarded by the time I made it back to the gate for my flight to Los Angeles.
I was hoping to see the famous Annie, who I seem to miss every time I am in Sydney, but she was off for Christmas Eve.
Sydney (SYD) — Los Angeles (LAX)
Tuesday, December 24
Duration: 13hr, 40min
Seat: 3L (“Polaris” Business Class)
United’s 787-9 has been reviewed many, many times by me. You can check out the seat features here. Business Class has 48 seats in a 2-2-2 layout split over two cabins with a galley and lavatories in between. United still offers superior Saks Fifth Avenue bedding as well as a cooling gel foam pillow. Mattress pads, slippers, and pajamas are available upon request.
For this review, I’ll focus on the service and food.
Great, Great Service
I knew immediately this would be a great flight when I saw the purser, Timothy Trueman, going around to each passenger in business class and welcoming them onboard.
He was the purser on my son Augustine’s first flight and took excellent care of him. Here, he instantly remembered me, warmly welcomed me back, and asked how my son was doing. He could not believe when I said he was now three years old!
That small gesture of greeting every passenger set the tone for the flight. The crew was friendly and attentive. Passengers were addressed by name when meal orders were taken and Tim addressed me as “Mr. Klint” throughout the flight.
This flight definitively proved that U.S. airlines can match service levels to their foreign rivals, dare I say even their Asian rivals.
I always choose a window seat on the right side of the cabin when departing SYD to maximize views of Sydney. Today, the weather was quite cloudy. But that beach adjacent to the runway looks like a great place to planespot!
Let The Dining Began
Lunch was served after takeoff. Although the chipotle beef with macaroni & cheese sounded appealing, I stuck with fish, ordering Tasmanian salmon with Israeli couscous. This was a good choice, as the fish was moist and flavorful. The shrimp appetizer and green salad with French vinaigrette dressing was a nice starter. Garlic bread is excellent out of Sydney.
For desert I had cheese and two macarons,
A respectable Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne was on offer.
During dinner, I watch Ad Astra, an interesting sci-fi movie starring Brad Pitt.
I also bought an internet flight pass, which was $23.99 and worked (slowly) for the entire flight.
Fairly jet lagged, I was awake for the majority of the flight. A little more than midway through, I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup and it turned out to be the best sandwich I’ve ever had on United…I wrote about this in last week’s Meal of the Week feature.
Breakfast was served prior to landing, a frittata with chorizo and potatoes plus fruit and yogurt on the side. By this point, I was wide awake again. It was 5:00 AM, my normal wakeup time in LA.
We landed early at LAX and had a short taxi to our gate in the Tom Bradly International Terminal. It appears that United no longer uses the Terminal 6 immigration facility, which is a shame. With four flights from Australia plus the El-AL flight from Tel Aviv arriving at the same time, lines were horrific for immigration but Global Entry, as always, was very quick.
I had left Sydney on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and arrived back in Los Angeles on the morning of Christmas Eve!
It was thrilling to go on another mileage run after so many years. I try not to fly for the sake of flying any longer; if I do, I at least want to review new products for this blog. But mileage running in business class is a fun way to spend 36 hours.
And kudos to the crew of UA842 for taking such good care of me and the other passengers onboard.
We had a lot of fun having you onboard matt. All of us fight attendants of UA 842 really admire your work.
I will be on a similar flight in a few months but on the other direction with my wife and daughter and wanted to check if the mattress pad and PJs were still available upon request as mentioned in the article. I remember reading somewhere that there is a limited number available and one should ask immediately after getting in the airplane. Is that accurate ? Also, I don’t want to be that obnoxious passenger who can’t wait to ask for stuff before I get my but on my seat. So when would it be appropriate to ask :)?
There is indeed a limited number of PJs available – check out my report in the other direction where this issue comes up:
I would not ask as you board, but do ask before takeoff for both items. Sadly, it seems United is not loading very many PJs on its flights.
Well I asked in the Meal Of The Week post on the grilled cheese/soup combo with no response so I’ll ask again: do you dunk the sandwich in the soup and then eat it? I’m a dunker here myself but not everyone is. Just a harmless little question, no judgement!
Hi Chuck, sorry I missed your question. I do not dip, but certainly do not begrudge you for doing so.
I am guessing this was a 2-2-2 arrangement. For solo travelers, which do u guys prefer? The privacy of the window or direct access of the middle seats?
Window for me. Always.
I always aim for one of the middle pair. That way, no one has to climb over me, and I don’t have to climb over anyone. The bulkhead rows have a larger “foot cubbie”, which helps me sleep. So 1D/1E/6D/6E are my favorites.
I just had the same lunch choices and my flight was the end of February – same flight Sydney SFO. I did not have the fish because although I was seated in the 2nd spot in business class. I was told by the time they got to me (two passengers away) the fish choice was already taken. I did not press it although I knew the flight attendant was lying. United tries to do the right stuff– it will never be European classey unfortunately. Always expensive; always disappointing. And even more so that I see pics of the same meal I ate four days ago. Jeez! Agree about ANZ vs SIN for lounge and the coffee. Does United pay you to do these reviews? Get extra miles from them?! Suspect….
Not on the payroll, that’s for sure. Did you see my less than stellar review of the SFO-SYD journey?
I would not like a window in 2+2 on a 14 hour flight; nor would I like the aisle on the window side. I try to choose window in 1+2+1 configuration flights, if not, it has to be centre section, ie aisle.
Mathew, one of the great things about your writing is your focus on how important a crew is and what a difference they make. While there are basics of a business class/Polaris hard product which are important – comfortable/sleepable seat, storage, etc – to me the engagement of the crew can and does make all the difference. I am not that caught up in the food because I believe we sometimes forget we are flying on an airplane and its not a flying restaurant.
But a great crew can make up for sub-par food by sliding you something from another cabin or just helping you deal with it. They are true ambassadors and they have a very difficult job, in a very difficult industry.
UA has – again IMHO – great crews. I have had many more excellent UA flights than sub-par, and despite the bias against older crews, I find them to be just as engaging as the newbies.
Great review and that for your continued focus on the people aspect of flying.
Thanks Mike! I agree that a great crew makes all the difference and on the whole, United crews are far better than most give them credit for.
Does WiFi pricing always look like this on long haul international flights? Or do you get better pricing as a 1K? I just became 1K at end of December so I have no data yet.
Domestically I see prices of $9-12 for 1 hour of [slow] WiFi and often $25 for the whole flight of less than 3 hours.
Usually yes – not all that much more than domestic flights ironically.
Steve, that’s the odd thing. Wi-Fi is almost always cheaper on longhauls than on shorthauls. A bit ironic.
By the looks of those 3 cappuccinos i think i would fly all the way to Sydney just to try them!
Yes indeed! Why do you think I chose SYD for my mileage run? 😉
UA does use the T6 immigration facility but it doesn’t open up until 7 or 8am…so the early morning arrivals from SYD/MEL usually end up out at TBIT
Actually the SYD/MEL flights are always scheduled for TBIT as the T6 Immigration isn’t open at their scheduled arrival time. And, even when the flight is delayed (I had the normal 3-4 hours mechanical delay out of MEL on one of many trips) and we still had to go to TBIT instead of Terminal 6. Once a clearance point is scheduled, it seems it can’t be changed for passenger convenience.
The only good thing about arriving at TBIT and connecting to other United flights is the .5 mile walk between terminals is a good thing after 14-15 hours on a plane!
Granted, it has been several years, but last time I flew UA842 we arrived at the T6 facility.
Does this mean passengers with connections clear immigration and customs at TBIT and then take the curbside bus to T7?
Does the aircraft get towed to T7 for departures? I didn’t think UA had departures (or even arrivals) at TBIT until now.
Yes, you can re-clear security in TBIT and walk through the tunnels back to UA, or just walk or take the bus over to T7.
The aircraft is towed back to T7, where it usually departs for NRT or PVG later in the morning.
So what did people think about the fires there? I read that scott Morrison is refusing to pay firefighters there and most are volunteer firefighters. This is literally like saving money while your house is burning. But they did spend the money on fireworks though. Conservatives only keep their own ass clean.
Here in the USA Trump isn’t stupid. He will spend other people’s money to get himself relected but let’s hope he does the same and sits on his ass and refuses to spend money while the Republicans in Houston and new Orleans cling to the tree branches in floods from hurricanes. That would be fun to watch on tv and sweet irony.
Australia has a long-standing tradition that bushfire fighters are volunteers; that system has worked well over many decades…generally the firefighters were defending their own communities, but with reciprocity with other areas/regions/states ( and some countries, including the US and Canada).
Given the increasing frequency and severity of fires, that system no longer works. And there is now a commitment to paying them.
Morrison is by far the worst Prime Minister in Australian history. He will be unceremoniously kicked from office , in a mega landslide , at the next election in 2022. NOTHING is more certain. He’s worse than Trump, by a significant margin…and his government is rotten to the core.
Matthew: when you have a lot of upcoming United travel do you subscribe to United’s unlimited wifi service for a month at a time? With the United Chase CC, you also get 25% off so $69 = $51.75. This is what I did for my recent HKG-SFO-LAX roundtrip starting December 23 so I have another 3 weeks remaining.
I thought 3700 miles would be a good spend rather than $23? Or is my math wrong.
I like that old United seat and I love Sydney :). Pls united fly Ord to Syd direct 🙂
SINJim, yes I do! And even better, AMEX deducts it from my annual travel credit.
Matt, great report!
I particularly like the write ups on coffee! My partner is from Australia and she introduced me to the Australian coffee culture, and now I cannot seem to find a good cup of coffee outside of Australia.
I am extremely glad to read about the excellent services you received. Over the past 29 years, I have had some great FAs on United who are passionate about their work. I often feel the negative comments on UA services can be over blown, May be it is a culture thing, personally I never quite feel comfortable with the Japanese in-fight services. American flight attendant services can be quite warm and personal if you respond to the flight crew with the politeness and courtesy as being taught in school or by our parents.
I don’t think I have ever had terrible services on the planes, regardless of the airlines in the past 30+ years.
On the in-flight meals, flights catered out of SYD and MEL tend to be better than those from other Asian location with the exception of SIN. Overall, as much as I enjoy flying UA, its Polaris cabin meals are mediocre at best. It is one area that UA is really cutting to the bones, and may drive premium customers away. As an easy going person, I have found it hard to stomach the entrees on most of the flights in 2019. Hope UA improves its on-board catering, otherwise all the nice hardware and bedding will be overshadowed.
Hi UA_Flyer, thanks for your kind comments. More and more I am developing a love for coffee, which now is an important factor when determining how I go about my day.
I don’t know about you, but I think a key problem with UA meals is presentation, even more so than food quality. I thought the food was just fine even from SFO, but oh so ugly on a casserole dish with splash marks and spills encrusted onto the sides. If UA would simply go back to plating entrees, using bowls for pasta, and putting herb garnishes on top, what a difference it would make. And it FAs would come around with parmesan cheese and a pepper mill, imagine how far that little touch would go.
Matt, what a refreshing report. Having flown United from Australia in business some years ago, I was appalled to see a fellow traveller on the upper deck of the B 747 slip the FA a US $50 bill to make sure that things would be ‘ smooth’ as he put it. Your update of the service provided by United on this recent flight was a delight and augurs well for the company when Australian travellers are looking for a smooth trip across the Pacific. Well done both of you!
A $50 bill to smooth over service? That’s hilarious. Honestly, service was excellent on this flight.