For my duck trip, I “cheeped” out and flew United Airlines from San Francisco to Frankfurt in EconomyPlus. As much as I love to travel in premium cabins, it’s nice to travel in the back once in awhile so that I can better appreciate the flights up front.
United Airlines 777-300ER Economy Plus Review
United’s Economy Plus product offers up to five extra inches of legroom, which makes the economy class experience much more comfortable. It is free for elite status members of MileagePlus (Premier Silver members can reserve these seats at check-in while Gold, Platinum, and 1K members can reserve them at time of booking).
I booked my ticket last minute and could have upgraded to business class (40 PlusPoints) or premium economy (20 PlusPoints), both of which I have reviewed (I’ve reviewed “deep coach” economy class on this plane too). I decided to stay in economy class because there was a last-minute swap from a 777-200 to a 777-300ER, which meant an increase in the number of economy class seats from 202 to 266. Specifically, I was able to reserve my own row of three seats, which would make the overnight flight much more bearable. If you are not a MileagePlus elite, you can reserve a seat in EconomyPlus, usually between $89-129 on an intercontinental flight.
As a Star Alliance Gold member, I had (hassle-free) access to the United Club prior to my flight. Boarding began 45 minute prior to takeoff and required a document check first (proof of COVID-19 vaccination is now required for leisure trips to Germany).
We boarded from the international terminal using new facial recognition boarding gates. That was a bit counterproductive, because instead of just scanning our faces to board, an agent still had to check paper boarding passes to make sure the “Documents OK” stamp was on it.
United Airlines 58
San Francisco (SFO) – Frankfurt (FRA)
Thursday, September 2
Depart: 2:05 PM
Arrive: 9:55 AM+1
Duration: 10hr, 50min
Seat: 32C (Economy Plus)
Onboard, I was welcomed by a flight attendant and handed a wipe, then headed back to my seat.
I found a German man in my seat. It was very clear what he was doing: his wife was in the row in front and they each wanted their own row. Nice try, buddy. I told him in German that he was in my seat and without a word he returned to his own (as it turned out, he scored an entire center section of four seats to himself once the aircraft door closed).
Later, I found another intruder in my seat:
United’s 777-300ER has 10 seats across in economy class in a tight, 3-4-3 layout. When this flight is full, I think the extra legroom truly makes all the difference in the world. Standard seat pitch is 31 inches while EconomyPlus is 34-36 inches.
Three seats share two power plugs while the four center seats share three power plugs. There’s also a USB charging port on the setback monitor.
I was pleased to see United’s new neck pillow onboard. Although I did not have to sleep sitting up, I had one around my neck while I was watching a movie and it represents a significant improvement over the old rectangular pillows.
IFE + Wi-Fi
United’s IFE interface is very easy to use and exclusively touch-screen (there is no passenger service unit).
The welcome screen includes information on the flight including which meals are offered at what times.
The library includes games, audio books, audio mixes, news, movies, TV shows, local weather, and a moving map.
Theoretically, “Channel 9” is available (air traffic control communications), but the pilot elected not to turn it on for my flight and I did not ask about it.
Complimentary disposable headphones are offered to each passenger.
Wi-Fi did not work on my flight. I never count on Wi-Fi on United and always prepare as if I will be offline for the entire flight. That was less important on this afternoon flight, but ever since this incident I’ve never left it to chance.
Food + Drink
Lunch was served after takeoff. Choices included seasoned chicken strips with orzo and cheese sauce or cannelloni with spinach and red sauce. Lunch was served with a bread roll, grain salad, and ice cream (or in this case, salted caramel gelato). Free beer and wine are also offered in economy class, though it is really poor quality.
The main course, salad, and ice cream were fine, but the bread was ice cold and better used as hockey puck. There’s no reason why bread should not be heated prior to the flight.
Mid-flight service included a choice of beverage and a snack bag with a turkey sandwich and small bag of M&Ms candy.
I was looking forward to breakfast prior to landing, which traditionally has been a hearty meal with eggs or pancakes, fresh fruit, yogurt, and a muffin. Not anymore. This is the new breakfast:
Yes, the yogurt and biscoff are even served on a tray.
This is an unfortunate cost cutback and I hope that United will restore a heartier pre-arrival breakfast. Even a hot croissant and fruit, as was served on shorter transatlantic routes prior to the pandemic, would represent a huge improvement. Or at the very least, Greek yogurt with no sugar added…
In any case, I was so hungry I opened up the turkey sandwich from earlier, but it just wasn’t great so I asked a flight attendant if I could have a croissant from business class and she obliged.
I won’t say the lavatory floors were sparkling, but the lavatory was clean enough when I used it mid-flight.
While service was far from hostile, it also wasn’t friendly. For the most part, flight attendants were simply going through the motions. It would be unfair to expect first class service in economy class, but at one point I had my arm on the armrest (not really sticking out into the aisle, but it does hang over ever-so-slightly) and got smacked by a beverage cart. The flight attendant just ignored it…not even an “oops.” I don’t think she realized it.
At one point mid-flight I was thirsty and retreated to the rear galley to ask for a water bottle. A flight attendant offered me three of them. I did stay hydrated on this flight.
Our tailwind was not as strong as anticipated and we landed late, then pulled up to a bus gate. I hate bus gate in general, though I’ve come to see the “glass half full” in the sense that it allows me to get a closer look at airplanes on the tarmac.
Social distancing on the bus, however, was a joke.
We were emptied off into a crowded waiting area for passport control, though the lines moved quickly.
Certainly having a row to yourself makes the economy class experience much more bearable. If you get hungry during flights, bring your own food because the breakfast is really just a few bites of food you should not be eating in the first place. Other than that, the flight was fine and I arrived relatively well-rested.
‘”I was able to reserve my own row of three seats”
Please tell us how you did that? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to pay or upgrade to premium than 3 economy seats?
Unofficially reserve. I asked the gate agent if my row would remain empty and she said she would not put anyone next to me.
Nice review. No thanks, lol. Did you see the list of ingredients in those dishes they served? It reads like a novel of chemicals and sugar additives.
More importantly, your bus experience is one that is really an issue these days. For all the talk of the airline industry in providing a safe experience during the pandemic the buses from remote stands (or at Dulles) are incredibly negligent to the safety of customers. They do everything they can to pack people in as tight as possible, also increasing the time you are all in the bus, when the solution would be simple…add two more buses!
My favorite at Dulles, as they now are back to packing the mobile lounges to immigration like it was 2018, is the audio recording at the start saying, “Please be sure to distance yourself on the mobile lounge from your fellow travelers.” This usually results in some pretty funny reactions of laughter and comments.
Hear hear! Was just at Dulles last week coming in from Vienna. Was on OS, so of course we were at the United/*A gates and had to take the people movers. I already hate those things because they’re relics and I’d much rather just walk than wait for them to fill up and trudge across the tarmac. And fill up, they did. “Nut-to-butt” is what we used to say in the military, and that’s how we were in the people mover. IAD just needs to get rid of those already. I can count on zero hands the number of people who like them.
It will never happen in our lifetimes it appears. No plans have been developed for underground trains to Immigration. And the airport authority has committed to the mobile lounges for decades more. As well, they are developing plans for electric versions. The simplest solution is to speed up the rotation of them (there is almost always one waiting next to the one boarding anyway) and setting passenger limits. This will result in a faster, safer ride, and lessen the crowds and waits. Honestly, it’s just a matter of time before one of these gets into a serious accident racing around the tarmac. Given the crowded conditions and lack of any safety it will not end well.
Can’t wait for LH F to return to Dulles next spring. The best being you get the private car transfer and skip the shuttles.
Speak for yourselves. I quite enjoy the nostalgia of the moon buggies, as they were part of Saarinen’s original vision for the airport. I can’t imagine a better way to be welcomed to the United States.
That ranks up there with Matthew raving about the United Cheeseburger, lol.
I think he was being facetious. On the other hand, I actually love the cheeseburgers!
I’m not sure, Mitch is a SkyTeam guy so I assume a glutton for punishment. Much like eating a United Cheeseburger. 🙂
Seeing the recent reviews of the UAH Clubs and flights cements my decision to walk away from United. The club membership isn’t worth it and the product isn’t great. All the “enhancements” to the frequent flyer program made me a free agent.
I commented on one of your previous TATL economy reviews that fruit at breakfast was not a staple on all flights, and that I had never seen fresh fruit offered even pre-Covid. You replied that that was not true. I can assure you that the “cut” breakfast you got on this flight was the staple on most TATL flights even pre-Covid, maybe excepting the slightly longer LAX and SFO flights (I’ve flown econ TATL from DFW, IAH, AUS and the east coast). This has been my experience on AA, UA, BA and LH.
Fresh fruit was a staple on UA prior to pandemic. SFO/LAX longhauls received a hot entree with fresh fruit while other hubs served fresh fruit with croissants (I have dozens of pictures). Lufthansa also served fresh fruit in economy class, even after it cut back the hot breakfast prior to the pandemic. So did British Airways. The fruit is certainly gone on United. Not sure about other carriers…
Wow that breakfast sure looks awful. Even DL/AA are better in economy there. And I’d rather fly AC, LH or LX than UA if I have to do economy in *A.
AA is serving a granola bar and yogurt, so not sure AA is better. Have not flown Delta behind the curtain.
UA 58 always gets the bus gate. And they always announce it as if it was a super rare, one-time occurrence. It’s a mess and God help you if you gate checked something.
It’s quite funny that honestly the food service in Polaris up until the re-introduction of the full size wine bottles was largely the same – the water bottles, roll, the gelato, the blindness-inducing Camelot chardonnay, the entree size. Geez. At least your return was swankier.
That breakfast is a bit of an insult. It’s bad enough having to bring food to short-haul flights, but this is an altogether different level of stinginess. I also agree with the comments re overly processed food, is it that hard for catering teams at a hub to get a couple of bits of cheese and 3 thin slices of tomato into a baguette?
Nice review, but I will continue to pass on United’s Economy Plus (or any other American carrier’s version for that matter). As a tall person, it is torture to try to endure a overnight or long haul flight in one of those seats. Even with an ‘extra’ 5 inches. The design is horrible, and no matter how many drinks I drink, or sleeping pills I take, I cannot fall asleep or even relax in United’s coach seat. At 6′ 4″, the problem is the 1″ or 2″ curve forward at the top of the seat that forces my head and neck forward. So even with the extra recline in Economy Plus, my head is being pushed forward, and if I were to fall asleep my chin would be resting on the top of my chest (which is what wakes me up!). Even in the bulkhead exit row seat with no seat in front of me (and essentially unlimited legroom) I am unable to relax and fall asleep. These seats are simply torture for anyone taller than 6′ 2″.
I imagine there’s a safety ‘reason’ why the seats are curved that way, but regardless, they are just miserable to sit in for more than a few hours.
I’ll stick to flying less, and when I do I’ll do it in BC or FC!
I’m a tall guy. The extra leg room is sufficient for me. But the 3-4-3 seating is shit. I’ve flown it several times pre-pandemic, on full flights. I’ll decline trips if it means 10 across in Y on UA or others.
🙁 for pre arrival, it would make sense if they heated the midflight sandwich and put it on the pre-arrival tray.l
Exactly! Would be an improvement
Incidentally. You catch a bus from the plane and get to see all the tarmac views. The different planes. Liveries etc. disgusting
However. If you are in a Mercedes $12k can it’s the experience of a lifetime.
Ie going to the famed Lufthansa first class terminal.
Well, duh. You saw the picture of the bus! 😉
There ain’t nothing wrong with the back of the bus Matt. 🙂
It’s true! But I prefer the other end. 😉