The United Family Day event at SFO International Airport was a smashing success.
For some background context on how I was selected to attend this event, which is generally open only to United employees/retirees and their guests, you can read more about it here.
At 10 AM on Sunday, October 8, 50 winners of the contest and their guests arrived at the Tech Ops building at SFO airport to attend United Family Day. According to Wallace, the organizer of the event from The Points Guy, there were over 300 submissions to try and snag one of the 50 slots for TPG readers. TPG was the only non-United affiliated group that was able to attend Family Day besides United employees and retirees.
It was a busy weekend in San Francisco with it also being fleet week, which meant that there would be a lot of aviation mania taking place in the Bay Area over the course of the weekend. Thankfully, Mother Nature was gracious enough to bless us with an absolutely gorgeous, cloudless day in San Francisco, which made the event all the more pleasurable for us.
We met at the SFO Tech Ops building, received our wristbands upon check-in, and then received a welcome from Brian Kelly, the Founder and Creator of The Points Guy, and then after he gave an introductory speech welcoming us to SFO, we were on our way to enjoy the festivities.
We first got to tour one of the narrowbody hangars at SFO to see work being done on an Airbus A319 and check out some of the fuel tanks.
This year was especially big for United Family Day as there would be a special tribute to the 747-400, that will be officially leaving the United fleet in less than one month’s time after decades of service to the carrier. There were two 747-400s on display that people began to line up to tour.
The 747-400 on United included a tour of the main deck, the upper deck, and the 747 cockpits. It was seriously such an honor to be able to visit these parts of the plane. Even though I’ve flown on numerous 747s in my life, and I’ve had the pleasure of even touring some of the cockpits of these Queens of the Skies, the feeling and the rush of being on a 747 never gets old.
There was also a 787-9 on display for people to tour, but by the time the tour opened up, the lines were already too long to check it out.
The 747-400 on United is now only offered on 3 routes: San Francisco to Frankfurt, London Heathrow, and Seoul. The aircraft seats 374 passengers across 3 cabins: 12 in Polaris First (formerly Global First), 52 in United Polaris Business (formerly United Business, Connosieur Class or BusinessFirst) and 310 in Economy (70 in Economy Plus and 240 in Economy).
Comparatively, in October 2016, United’s 747-400s were flying from San Francisco to Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, as well as from Chicago O’Hare to Beijing and Shanghai. They’ve also flown to Auckland, Delhi, Honolulu, Osaka, Denver, Washington Dulles, New York JFK, Sydney, Melbourne, Taipei and Los Angeles, among other places. San Francisco has always been one of the main bases for the 747-400.
The United Economy class cabin on the 747-400 has 31″ of seat pitch with a 4-degree recline and measures 17 inches wide. In Economy Plus, the pitch is 34 inches and recline is 5 degrees.
We then worked our way up to the Business Class cabin and got to check out the seats. The 747 seats Polaris Business customers on both the main deck as well as the upper deck. The main deck seats 32, while the upper deck seats an additional 22. The seat is 20 inches wide, has 76 inches of pitch and is a 180-degree recline flatbed.
On the main deck, the seat configuration is 8-abreast for rows 6 through 8, with rows 6 and 8 facing forward on the port and starboard sides of the aircraft, and the seats in middle section face aft. Row 7 follows the opposite direction for the port, starboard, and middle sections. The reverse is the case for customers seated in rows 6, 7 and 8. The 8 remaining seats in rows 9 and 10 are in a separate, smaller section after the stairwell and on either side of the business class galleys. There are no middle seats for this small section.
The upper deck of the 747 seats the other 22 passengers, with more customers on the right side of the aircraft in a 2×2 configuration. There are two lavatories on the second floor and a HUGE galley area. There is also a crew rest area on the left side of the aircraft that is accessible from the cockpit.
Speaking of the cockpit, we were lucky to get to take a pic (and a pic) inside, which was quickly growing into a 2+ hour wait for lines outside!
Finally, when we got down, we got to look at Global First / Polaris First. These seats are “open suites” which are 78 inches in length (2 more than in Business) and is 22 inches wide. These are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration and align against the nose of the aircraft.
After touring the First Class cabin, we made our way to the back of the plane to exit. There were United employees who served as “volunteers” on the plane to direct the traffic, and it was delightful getting to speak with them. I met a United 757 female captain from Barcelona, and another flight attendant by the name of Nancy who has been with United longer than the 747 has been with United! She said that she will be working for the penultimate 747-400 flight when she flies out from SFO to Seoul before it returns back to SFO, and will also be working one additional Beijing flight before it retires.
After we toured the interior of the 747-400, we got to walk around the aircraft and take some photos of her in her majesty.
Now that things were in full-swing, we basically kissed goodbye to the Queen, but also to the opportunity to tour the 787-9 as the lines would be very long. We first headed to one of the narrow and medium-haul hangars located near dock two and saw some of the markers for the narrowbody planes, which was awesome.
Perhaps one of the coolest things I saw in there was an exhibition where they were deploying and retracting the landing gear of a 757. I took a video of it as well, in addition to the photos, which is viewable on the TravelCodex twitter handle.
There were also displays of United branding, such as special uniforms, as well as vendors selling T-shirts and tech ops teams showcasing paint and parts.
Per Airfleets.com, United has had 90 747s in service at various points: 11 active, 46 stored and 33 historical. The first 747-122 came to the United fleet on June 30, 1970, and was registered as N4703U, and left slightly over 15.5 years later on January 9, 1986, when it went to Pan Am under the same registration. The United 747 fleet stretched across the -100, -200, -400 and SP variants.
Among the active 747-400’s still flying with United today, the oldest one in service is over 27 years old, having been delivered on January 20, 1990 (N174UA), and the newest is 17 years old, having been delivered on May 12, 2000 (N128UA).
After we left the hangar, we got to enjoy the “777 Barbeque” that United offered to us, and right after we’d gotten our food and taken a seat, a 747-400 Captain came onto the stage (there was a live band playing rock music all day) and announced that there was a 747-400 Fly-By that was going to take place in 30 seconds, and so everyone whipped out their cameras just in time before it roared off to go over the bay.
I kept running into #AvGeeks I knew from various events and places, and I also got to chat with Brian Kelly from The Points Guy and a few others on the Editorial team.
We stayed until around 3 PM before it was time to take the shuttle back to SFO Airport. We’d been touring the facilities since mid-morning and were feeling pretty full and satisfied from 4+ hours of geeking out over United jets.
The only let-down of United Family Day, if we can call it that since the overall experience was so awesome, was that there was not a 777-300ER on tour for us to explore. Then again, such is life in the media world and it happens. However, the real star of the show was the 747-400, and so even though I did not ever have a chance (nor will in all likelihood) to fly the United 747-400, I did get to at least provide a very warm farewell in person, and arguably got to enjoy it just as much on the ground even if it wasn’t going to be in the air.
If you get a chance to attend this event, I highly recommend doing so in the future!
A huge thank-you to Zach, Wallace, and Brian from The Points Guy for inviting Travel Codex to United Family Day @ SFO. Also, a special thank you to the United Employees, SFO Tech Ops base and other individuals who made this possible for non-United employees.