TESTED BY Kathryn Creedy
PLANE TYPE 787-8
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2
SEAT PITCH 78 in/198 cm
SEAT WIDTH 20.6 in/52.3 cm
SEAT LENGTH 6’6” sleeping space
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
PRICE Internet Rates for BusinessFirst round trip: $3,142.36
VERDICT: Under its new leadership United is doing a top-to-bottom review of every facet of its business, including its efforts to win back premium passengers. Clearly it’s time to take a second look at United’s premium services and its trans-Pacific offerings.
BACKGROUND: United’s strategy to go beyond the traditional Chinese gateways of Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, mirrors efforts by Chinese carriers to serve secondary cities. However the term ‘secondary’ is a bit misleading; in fact, China’s top five cities are over 10 million each. Those numbers give new meaning to what cities can sustain in terms of air service and United already serves five of the top 10 Chinese markets.
In May United introduced seasonal nonstop service between San Francisco and Xi’an, an important cultural, economic and educational center with facilities for China’s space exploration program, and perhaps best known as the site of the Terracotta Warriors. The nonstop service, the first ever between the Golden Gate and the entrance to the Silk Road, runs from early May to late October.
THE SEAT: United is said to be lagging its US legacy peers in premium services but you could not tell that by its thrice-weekly Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner service to Xi’an. It was, in fact, elegant.
The experience was a departure from my previous premium flights where I dragged through the flight in red-eyed bleariness. Not so United’s BusinessFirst experience which combines the two classes on its 787s. The cabin was arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration with a roomy 78-inch seat pitch. The lie-flat seat was so comfortable it allowed me to sleep soundly and awake refreshed, something I have never been able to do no matter how long the flight or how luxurious the seats.
THE FLIGHT: From the very beginning I was favorably impressed by what I think is United’s secret weapon when it comes to service, Flight Attendant Momo, whose friendliness and effervescence is a destination in itself. She not only brought back the luxuriousness of international flying but added a sense of fun that showed she was enjoying the flight as much as I.
United provides noise-canceling headphones for the IFE which offered a host of movie selections. The amenity kit, a fuselage-like tin, provided the usual comfort items courtesy of the airline’s new partnership with Cowshed with its signature botanical fragrances that are alluring yet not overly perfumed. There was free WiFi on board but service was frustratingly spotty and the seat afforded both USB and plug power-ports but the latter interfered with the sound system.
From the pre-flight Mimosa through the entire meal service, everything was tasty. The menu combined Western tastes with Eastern dishes including Shanghai beef, chicken, stir-fried prawns in five-spice sauce and stir-fried noodles. Chinese noodle soup was served as a midflight treat, and for late-night munchies, fruit and light snacks were on hand. Sinfully topped ice cream and a cheese platter completed the decadent meal service. Just before landing, we were served a breakfast with both Western and Chinese choices, such as congee, a rice porridge.