Last fall I needed to get to Toronto and was faced with two unpleasant options. I could either fly non-stop on a red-eye flight with Air Canada, or I could connect in San Francisco and New York-JFK and try United’s p.s. BusinessFirst service. Since I had never flown on the p.s. route and still had upgrade instruments to spare, it seemed like a better option if only for the sake of novelty.
Unfortunately, I don’t think United’s p.s. service is worth such a detour. Choose it if you already need to connect in San Francisco or New York (it also operates between Los Angeles and JFK), but it is overrated if non-stop flights are available from your home airport. Next time I’ll pick the Air Canada red-eye.
My frustration started earlier in the day when, despite purchasing this ticket weeks in advance and applying a Global Premier Upgrade, my upgrade status was still pending, and I was still at the #1 position despite eight seats being available that morning. Once there were only two seats left in the BusinessFirst cabin (and positive upgrade space listed on ExpertFlyer), I called the Premier 1K line and asked the agent if she could upgrade me manually. Either that or move me onto another flight, because I was not going out of my way to sit in economy class.
p.s. customers flying in BusinessFirst are entitled to use the United Clubs at LAX, SFO, and JFK even without a United Club membership. In this way it’s similar to United’s international lounge access policies for premium cabins, so I stopped at the T3 United Club at SFO for about an hour before boarding after taking care of the upgrade issue.
Boarding was relatively smooth. I found my window seat near the back of the BusinessFirst cabin and looked around to explore the seat. It’s similar to those on American Airlines’ A321T Business Class, so you aren’t sacrificing much in hard product — unless you count United’s older Boeing 757s. SeatGuru reports that United offers greater seat pitch (the distance between your seat and the seat in front of you), but I didn’t notice it. If anything, it felt like there was less space to get up and walk past the ajacent passenger compared to my more recent flight on American.
A pillow and blanket were waiting for me on my seat, and as usual I stowed them in the overhead bin. Domestic flights are never long enough for me to get any sleep. Headsets were provided, but they weren’t Bose. Not that it mattered to me, since I prefer my ear buds.
But once settled in, I was treated to United’s typical service as the flight attendant walked down the aisle yelling “Drinks! Drinks!” There actually are some good flight attendants in the fleet, but unfortunately this kind of indifferent attitude is common enough that it’s what I now expect when flying United. A menu was provided, offering steak or pasta, and I was able to get my first choice when the flight attendant came back around for meal orders before we left the ground.
In the air, I thought the on-demand in-flight entertainment was a significant improvement over the usual domestic offering. There were several movies and television shows, although it didn’t seem the selection was quite as good as United’s international service, even in economy class. At least it beat DirecTV, which I usually turn off as soon as the safety briefing is over.
GoGo in-flight Internet was also available, but I chose not to use it. I still have yet to see Internet access on any other United flights. Even when advertised as available on regular domestic routes, it hasn’t been turned on. The p.s. service might be a good pick for those who need to stay connected and for various other reasons aren’t able to switch to a competitor with more extensive Internet penetration. Or, you could wait to see if United makes faster progress on its new satellite Internet rollout. I think it will be better than GoGo once complete. It just seems to be taking forever.
Once meal and drink service started, the flight was much like any other. Perhaps there were slightly larger helpings and larger plates, but the food was the same quality. The beef was a little overcooked and tasted similar to what I’ve had when flying EWR-SEA non-stop. The wine selection wasn’t noticeably different, though I hear there are premium wines available in economy class. It really felt like an ordinary transcon.
Except for the seat. I did enjoy having a lie-flat seat. I am not normally picky about seats on domestic flights, and it’s rare that I recline mine at all, whether I’m in economy or first class. But one virtue of a lie-flat seat is that it also has a good footrest, which is something I do value.
Beware that it is easy to lose things or trap them in the reclining mechanism because of all the open gaps that form. These aren’t normally an issue for standard first class seats that recline the back and nothing else. I lost the plastic case for my ear buds, and though I retrieved it at the end of the flight it was horribly mutilated. (So that’s what that cracking sound, was…) And my laptop, which I make a habit of leaning against the side of the aircraft wall rather than put in a seatback pocket, got a big scratch on the lid. Fortunately, both issues are cosmetic, but I was very careful the next time I had a similar seat on American’s A321T.
There were a some problems with this flight, including the upgrade issue and the damage to my case and laptop, that weren’t necessarily United’s fault — or at least not directly related to United’s p.s. service. And those that were an issue were not major complaints. But I still didn’t find myself eager to try it again. p.s. is supposed to stand for “Premium Service,” but it didn’t feel like United was trying to be a market leader on this route when it’s now facing competition from Delta, American, and JetBlue.
As I said at the beginning, if you’re already in Los Angeles or San Francisco and a regular United customer, go for it. It’s better than flying into Newark. But there are lots of non-stop flights from New York to almost every major city in the country. In that case, I don’t think it’s worth the detour for indifferent service and meals just to take advantage of a better seat and in-flight entertainment.