The life of a frequent business traveler isn’t always glamorous. In fact, despite what family members and friends might think, it’s usually NOT. Dealing with time changes, giving presentations, having to go out to dinner, not being able to see friends, etc – okay – I’m getting off topic here, but while I’ve had a great record with my United Systemwide Upgrades this year, a terrible thing happened: I ran out :-).
Thus, on my most recent trip to Brussels and London, I flew in United Economy Plus. While most of the trip reports here involve lavish meals and great service, this one is a bit more down to earth. People can know what to expect from a normal Economy experience on United Airlines.
The United flight from Chicago to Brussels leaves at a very reasonable time, 6:04PM, allowing for an arrival of 9:20AM. It is similar to a West Coast -> East Coast redeye, except it’s a few hours longer, allowing for a better sleep. United uses one of their 767s for this flight, and those are fully converted over to the new configuration, with the great business class seats.
My goal was to sleep for as much of the flight as I could. I booked a seat in the exit row window, which was also a bulkhead. There’s not as much legroom as the row 33 exit row on the 777, but at least with this seat, people can’t loiter in your space. Dinner came out promptly, and I chose the pasta. I find “airplane pasta” to be pretty hard to mess up, and it’s definitely less of a gamble than “airplane chicken.”
The shells were quite good, and the salad was fine.The only thing I wasn’t really a fan of was the plastic wrapped bread. It was cold, hard, and I never took a bite of it. It reminded me of those buns that come wrapped in plastic in China (and I think those are gross too). I did buy a bag of chips and a little bit of cold pasta at the Chicago airport, but I kept that in my bag for now. Before dinner, I utilized my typical strategy, and I popped a tylenol PM. It worked wonders.
I conked out quickly, and according to my stopwatch, I slept for almost 5 full hours! Awesome – surely that would be enough hours to keep me from feeling like total crap in Brussels that day. I just wanted enough energy to stay up til bed time and grab some waffles. In fact, I slept so long that I missed the “light breakfast” served right before landing in Brussels. No matter – that’s what I bought the chips + pasta for! I ate up my packed meal, and then I only had about fifteen minutes of reading my book before we touched down in Brussels. I felt great. I’m sure I would have slept even better in Business Class, but getting such a great rest did make me debate the value of using upgrades for a flight where I know I’m going to sleep the entire time.
I spent the week doing business in Belgium and London. I flew from Brussels to London in Brussels Airlines, but that ride was so short, it’s not even worth a report.
Coming back home, I was flying to San Francisco via Los Angeles. I wonder why I booked that. I wouldn’t have done that for the few extra miles. It must have been much cheaper. The non-stop flight to San Francisco was at the gate right across from ours, and I definitely felt a bit jealous not being on that flight. I thought about going stand-by on it, but I already had an exit row window on my flight. I wasn’t about to get a middle seat on a ten hour flight.
Flights from Europe non-stop to the west coast of the USA are tough. They’re all typically daytime flights so your body isn’t naturally tired. But due to the time changes, you do a bit of time travel and after 10 hours on the flight, it’s only a few hours later than when you took off (check out my recent Europe to USA West Coast trip on a Lufthansa A380). While it’s clearly best to sleep the whole way TO Europe, I’m not sure what the best strategy is for coming the other way. I think it’s probably best to try and sleep a few hours, if possible. My new batch of United Systemwide Upgrades posted two days before the flight, but the flight looked super full up front, and I had already resolved to sitting in the back, so I didn’t even try to upgrade.
I bought a couple snacks at the Heathrow airport before boarding. I got some chips and some Starburst candy. United doesn’t seem to sell their buy-on-board on the long-haul flights, which I find annoying, and I don’t think the standard issue food is always enough so if you’re flying on one of these flights, I’d buy some food beforehand just as a backup. You never know how bad the food might be or if you’ll still be hungry.
Boarding as a 1K to row 33A on a 777 is a funny experience, I always think. As a 1K, I’m boarding with all of First Class and Business Class, but their walks to their seats are significantly shorter than mine :-). In the end, you get to the seat before anyone else in the cabin is even close to boarding, and the flight attendant seems to give you this facial expression that says, “Dude I’m sorry you’re flying back here. I can tell you must fly a lot since you’re here now. Bummer.” And then with your eyes, you say back, “yeah… but… life is a b***. so… whatever.” At least that’s the imaginary conversation I have…
My plan for this flight was to watch the movie I rented (“The Shining” – I can’t believe I had never seen it before!!!), sleep for a few hours, work on some blog posts, and work on the wedding website for my upcoming wedding. 33A has a lot of legroom, but the emergency exit door sticks out a bit and blocks part of it. I don’t mind. It doesn’t have a full window view, but if you recline the seat, your seat gets about half of a window view.
Takeoff was smooth, and the crew was really friendly. Once again, I went with the pasta – always the safer choice. Again, I got one of those darn plastic wrapped pieces of bread. Gross.
The salad was fine, though, and the dessert was delicious! The desert I got here was much better than the desert Lufthansa served me in Business Class on the A380 a couple weeks ago.
I had fully charged my phone and laptop before the flight, forgetting that this configuration is fully equipped with laptop power. Nicely done, United!
To be honest, I think people should just bring their own in-flight entertainment when flying in economy cabins. In this era of iPads, iPods, smartphones, and ultralight laptops, the experience is almost always going to be better on a personal device. Now that being said, I think airlines should provide power and wifi to keep the devices juiced up. I would be perfectly fine with United not having any in-flight entertainment, as long as we got Wi-Fi and power. For those who who don’t have devices, the airline should just rent iPads out at $10 per flight. In any case, I decided I would play around with the entertainment system, just to check it out on the new configuration.
It turns out that it uses pretty much the exact system as in United Business, except with a touch screen. Cool! I started playing around with it, and then I stumbled upon the first screen a screen that annoyed me:
Premium entertainment? Are you kidding me? I’m on a 10 hour flight here, and you give me some selection of complimentary movies, but you want me to pay for others? $10? That is so lame, United. I wasn’t going to use your stupid in-flight entertainment anyways, but I thought this was a real ripoff. The funny thing is that there are actually a decent amount of films and TV shows for free. Adding $10 just gives you access to an extended library. Do they just have some United Airlines entertainment guru go through and say “yeah I like movie A better than movie B – let’s charge money for that one.” Retarded, in my opinion. Make it free. How many people actually paid for this on the flight? I watched everyone in my row: that would be zero. I’m guessing maybe 5 people on the whole flight… maybe 10?
That was annoying, but the rest of the flight was actually pretty enjoyable. I finally got my chance to watch “The Shining.” I loved it!
After the movie, I was able to do some work and sleep for a few hours. As we got closer to landing, United brought out the pre-landing snack. That included a bag of chips, a plastic-wrapped sandwich, and a full-size Twix. I thought the sandwich was pretty gross. I actually couldn’t fully identify the contents in between the slices of bread. There was some type of meat and some type of “spread.” I’m not sure if it was cream cheese, frozen mayo, butter, or something else. Needless to say, I didn’t eat the sandwich, and I was happy I bought some snacks before the flight.
All in all, both flights were enjoyable, and I got to see a woman jogging up and down the aisles. I think there are some key takeaways here:
- Flying in Economy Plus on United isn’t that bad.
- When flying in Economy Plus, you should buy some snacks before the flight.
- I was pretty comfortable in my seat, but I don’t think I would have been if I were in Standard Economy – the “plus” makes a huge difference.
So for those of you without systemwide upgrades or lots of extra money, don’t worry… Economy Plus isn’t so bad :-).