Our reviewer found some things to like about United Airlines' BusinessFirst service on a round trip between San Francisco and Sydney. But while the...

The Continental Airlines name is now vanishing, but United has adopted some aspects of Continental’s identity. One such move is United’s recent adoption of the Continental-heritage name ‘BusinessFirst’ for its revamped long-haul business class service, to replace the name ‘United Business’.

United Airlines' BusinessFirst long-haul business class cabins feature fore- and aft-facing seats in alternating seat rows, each row containing two seats

All 24 of United’s 747s have been fitted with new interiors and offer the United BusinessFirst in-flight service product.


Once seated, I noted with approval the 15.4-inch screen on back of the molded, hard-plastic shell in front of me – one of the larger video screens I’ve seen in business class. There were nine channels with movies, games and TV shows, plus audio with CDs in a range of musical genres and the option to build your own playlist.

Seats, each with a power port, faced fore and aft in alternating rows, each row containing two seats. A flight attendant handed me a chilled glass of sparkling wine and a warmed ceramic cup of mixed nuts. I liked the coziness of the 747 upper deck. My seat faced backwards; that was OK. I started to feel better.

United BusinessFirst seats feature 15.4-inch in-flight entertainment screens, each located on the back of the molded, hard-plastic shell of the seat in front or behind

One thing gnawed at me. I wondered when we were going to take off. Some minutes later, a smartly uniformed United employee bustled down the aisle, his wheelie behind him, heading to the cockpit: the co-pilot.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our missing pilot is missing no longer,” the purser announced. Some passengers applauded; a few were already asleep.

We went wheels-up at 12:36 a.m., 2 hours and 3 minutes late. The flight attendants smiled and got busy. I unzipped the amenity kit with its toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, razor, earplugs, eyeshade, socks and Murad ‘Science of Cellular Water’ skin care products.

I ordered dinner – filet mignon, overcooked but otherwise acceptable – with a nicely rounded 2009 Matiz Roble from Spain’s Ribera del Duerto.

Then I figured I’d read. Alas, the overhead light winked on and off as we crossed the nighttime Pacific. I shut it down and used the small reading light over my shoulder. Later, I watched one of the dozens of complimentary in-flight movies, and then I decided to channel-surf.

The seats in United Airlines' long-haul BusinessFirst cabin recline to fully flat beds which are 6 feet 4 inches (nearly 2 meters) long

The touch screen didn’t respond. The remote became increasingly unreliable. The screen filled with code, then went black, then blizzard-white.

I pushed some seat-side buttons, put down my seat – a 6-foot, 4-inch long, true 180-degree flatbed – and slept. We touched down in Sydney at 9:38 a.m. local time, 1 hour and 28 minutes behind schedule.

My return flight from Sydney Airport to San Francisco on United flight 870 on February 16 was much less eventful.

The shared Business Class lounge operated by Air New Zealand at Sydney Airport (SYD) was superb, kitted-out with six free desktop PCs, Wi-Fi, photocopiers, meeting rooms, free self-pour wine, spirits and beer and hot food, including tasty curry lentil soup. The place was fully staffed.

No pilots went missing. The cabin crew was unsmiling but not unfriendly. None appeared to be under 55. As a man of a certain age, I am very much in favor of older workers having work, but experience mixed with youthful energy and enthusiasm would be welcome, too.

Fully extended to the maximum 180 degrees of recline angle, the seats in United's long-haul BusinessFirst cabins offer a fair degree of privacy, enhanced by the small screens separating each seat from its neighbor

I dined on fillet of salmon – also overcooked, but most airlines do that – and sipped a fine 2010 Chateau St. Jean Carneros Chardonnay.

To finish, I ordered the cheese course with seedless grapes, crackers and Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto. The cheese and crackers arrived but nothing else. I signaled a flight attendant.

The port arrived. I decided against asking a third time for the grapes, and settled in for the duration of the 7,417-mile flight.

David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others. He blogs at http://davidarmstrongontravel.blogspot.com.

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  • Jeremy

    March 5, 2012 #1 Author

    Now what is the old United First called or is it Bis First as well?

    Reply

  • Martin Fineberg

    June 8, 2012 #3 Author

    Recently flew MEL/SYD/LAX award ticket economy plus. Except for the leg room, this was a totally bad experience. Dated economy class cabin with no individual video which is the standard on every other airline on this route. Overly bright LCD screen at front of cabin made sleeping almost impossible even with an eye shade. Unfriendly and disinterested crew. Only water served MEL to SYD
    Compared to LAX/AKL on NZ1 – brand new 777, friendly crew – even in economy class.

    Reply

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