Home > Star Alliance, Trip Reports, United Airlines > Asia 2012 Trip Report: United Global “First” Class, London to Los Angeles

Asia 2012 Trip Report: United Global “First” Class, London to Los Angeles

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: United Airlines LAX-SFO, United International First Class Lounges at LAX/SFO

Part 3: United Airlines Global First Class, San Francisco to Frankfurt

Part 4: Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt

Part 5: Lufthansa FRA-ZRH, SWISS First Class Lounge at Zürich

Part 6: SWISS First Class, Zürich to Hong Kong

Part 7: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 8: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Bangkok to Singapore

Part 9: Exploring Singapore

Part 10: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Mumbai

Part 11: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Mumbai to Singapore

Part 12: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Hanoi

Part 13: Hanoi / Ha Long Bay

Part 14: Qatar Airways Economy Class, Hanoi to Bangkok

Part 15: Bangkok / Park Plaza Soi 18

Part 16: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Bangkok to Hong Kong

Part 17: A weekend in Hong Kong

Part 18: Thai Airways/United First Class Lounges at HKG, Thai Airways First Class, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 19: Thai Airways Royal First Lounge and Royal Orchid Spa at Bangkok

Part 20: Thai Airways Royal First Class 77W Suites, Bangkok to Frankfurt

Part 21: Lufthansa European Business Class, Frankfurt to London (plus a day in London)

Part 22: Star Alliance Lounge at LHR, BMI Great British Lounge

Part 23: United Global “First” Class, London to Los Angeles


United 935, LHR-LAX
10:25am – 1:30pm, 11h5m
Boeing 777-200 (new configuration)
Seat 2A, Global First

I got to the gate just as the gate agent was describing the United boarding “process.” What was said was that they’d board by zone numbers. As an First passenger, I had Group 1 on my ticket, so when the gate agent announced, “we’d like to board the first group, Global Services,” I took the comma in that phrase as an “and.” I was turned away, as 4 eager Global Services (United über-top-tier elite status) members walked ahead to board first. Two of them were in business. Remind me again what “First” and “One” mean? I know I’m lucky to be flying ahead of the wing due to miles, but already this is an experience I wouldn’t ever put down money for if I needed to buy a ticket and United were one of several options.

A bit later, I was invited to board, and walked through the jetway. Two bridges were attached, one for Global First/BusinessFirst going to door 1 and the other for Economy going to door 2. I took my seat at 2A. Despite seeing 2 empty seat assignments at check-in, all 8 seats were eventually taken, probably with last-minute upgrades from business (U.S.-based airlines don’t “protect First Class” as much as other carriers).

Seat 1A, a bit different from 1A on the 747

Global First/BusinessFirst Divider behind 2A. Klassy with a K.

I don’t know if this is because this was a U.S.-bound flight, but there was just a lot of hubbub and commotion within the cabin. It seemed like the aisle was a fashion runway and everybody wanted to strut their stuff. Ground staff plus crew members (both service and cockpit) were running throughout the cabin – even though we boarded 50 minutes ahead of “shed-jewel.” What’s all the hubbub about? It’s another reason why I prefer 747s, either the top deck or the nose section.

I wasn’t really welcomed onboard, just asked if I would like anything to drink. Since it was barely 10am, I stuck with a cold glass of water, delivered in a plastic cup. At least the flight attendant placed the advertisements on the napkin downward. I went to place my carry-on in the bin, but found that the bin directly above my seat was filled with crew baggage. I instead put it one bin over. Not a big deal, but seriously?

After having traveled around the world for the better part of a month, I’d noticed a few things about Americans compared to other citizens of the world. We are a talkative bunch, and our flight pursers are no different. The crew was London-based, but the purser definitely spoke with a U.S. accent. In the time it takes for a Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines or Emirates purser to read through a script in 2 languages, it takes that much time for a United purser to formulate a coherent message in 1 language. Add in their some filler phrases like, “we do appreciate your cooperation throughout this flight.” No need to say that … just a simple “thank you.” Want me to fasten my seatbelt? I’ll do it. Want me to put my bag away? Certainly. Why wouldn’t I cooperate? Is it because you have an unwelcoming service environment? Oh right, I forgot about the poor souls down the back. Someone should teach them that foreign carriers like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Air New Zealand fly this route as well ….

But back to the commotion … it’s tough to get ready for a flight when there are so many people running up and down the aisles. Sure, I usually fly economy, but it’s only other passengers slowly walking down the aisles, finding their small parcel of space for the next few hours. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the affair. But the First and forward Business cabins were like a warzone. I tried to escape to the area near the front lavatory, but it seemed like it was the pilots’ second home for the entire flight. Add to the fact that there was only 1 for the First Class cabin. But more on that later. I entertained myself by reading the flight plan left out near the galley.

Once the “ground crew, please leave the aircraft” announcement was made, I headed back to my seat. Ahh, now this is more like it. Well, except for the plastic cup of ice next to me. Menus were handed out before takeoff.

We began taxiing toward the runway, along side the United departures to Washington-Dulles and San Francisco. One thing I really don’t like about United’s First seat is the shoulder strap you have to wear during taxi/takeoff/landing. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.


Following a company twin, headed to the other California hub

While takeoff was to the east, we immediately made a left turn to head back toward the west, so no views of London. With the sun shining brightly, I soon closed all 3 of my window shades, something that seat 1A decided not to do. Since there’s no barrier alongside the windows, the sun shined brightly in my face. Not one to tell another passenger in another row what to do, I made do by placing my menu in between the gap. Again, lucky to be in First, but things like this should have been caught in the cabin design.

Bright in my eyes.

The UA menu is good for something …

But hey, at least I was in a solo seat next to the windows. Since the seat faces toward the aisle, you get to know whoever sits across the aisle from you. Today, 2C placed his bare feet up on the console, right next to 2H’s space. Glad I wasn’t over there.

After he put some socks on …

MacGyver-ing a privacy divider via the seat storage compartment door. Also, the wine glass is empty, something you shouldn’t really see in International First.

Having had 12 segments on foreign carriers since my last United flight, I had forgotten just how long it takes for U.S. pilots to turn off the fasten seat-belt sign. Service took a bit to start. Meal orders were taken as 1A, 1C, 2C, 2A, then the right-aisle, and so I guess some preference to the Global Services members around me (which is fine).

Flight Attendant using my TV ledge to hold his ledger … tsk tsk.

I was given a ramekin of hot nuts, which were delicious, but drink orders weren’t taken until after they were delivered, so my glass of wine arrived while I was almost finished #FirstClassProblems.

Wait, then what’s that circular part for?

That’s better.

Table setting. SWISS’ salt + pepper shakers probably beat up United’s on the Star Alliance playground.



Chilled Appetizer
Citrus-infused smoked peppered salmon with micro greens

Wild Mushroom and Asparagus

Fresh Seasonal Greens
Tomatoes, artichokes, black olive and croutons with you choice of classic Caesar dressing or roasted garlic red wine vinaigrette


Grilled Filet Mignon
Herb and Parmesan compound butter, tomato balsamic sauce, pumpkin mash, carrots, and artichoke

Indian-style Mango Chicken Curry
Pea and cumin rice, pumpkin curry, potatoes with spinach, cucumber and mint raita.

Asian-style Fillet of Salmon
Asian-style sauce, egg fried rice, green beans and red bell pepper.

Vegetable and Ricotta Roulade
Roasted tomato sauce, sautéed asparagus and Parmesan cheese


International Cheese Selection
Roubilliac, Smoked Cheddar and Stilton
Grapes and crackers served with Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Prt

Ice cream with your choice of toppings

Salmon. A bit cold, but still good.

The designers of the United First seat must have forgotten that tables should be level, since mine (and others) sloped downward. The soup was alright, though not as good as the mushroom brie soup from SFO to FRA.

Salad was decent.

The salmon was good, but where’s the egg fried rice??? United’s definition of “Asian-style” means “put some soy sauce on the side…”

Cheese plate.

I actually was enjoying the cheese plate but wanted another set of crackers (since they only give 2). Before I could ask, the flight attendant took the plate away. Again, kind of annoying. Every other flight, they’ve asked, “are you finished” or “may I take this?” I feel as if this crew just wanted to get the service done with, since I was the slowest eater in the cabin (others were getting their entreés while I got my soup or salad).

After I finished lunch and a movie, I put the seat into flat bed mode and got some snoozes. Meal service finished about 2 hours in and I woke up with a bit more than 4 hours to go, so I slept for a good 4.5 hours. The seat is alright for sleeping. They may not have a turndown service. Or mattress pad. Or pajamas. Or a decent duvet – I’ve had better on Delta Business Elite between LA and New York. But hey, it’s better than Economy, right?? In truth, I guess the pillow is big?

I’ll say one positive thing about Global First – the new amenity kits are pretty nice. They’re practical and full of stuff I’d actually use on a long flight:

Upon awaking from my slumber, I really wanted a Diet Coke … rather than wait for 20 minutes, I prepared to push the call button, right after saying my last rites. Fortunately, the Diet Coke arrived, although the empty can stuck around for a while after I was finished.

Another annoying thing, like I mentioned, is that there’s only 1 lavatory for First Class in the new config, which is right next to the cockpit and the crew rest area. That’s an 8-to-1 ratio which is normally fine, though lacking compared to 4-to-1 or 8-to-3 on other airlines.

For the better part of the flight, that lavatory was inaccessible since the crew set up a fence-like barrier whenever the cockpit was open. This meant that those of us up front had to use one of the two business lavatories, even though you can’t leave your ticketed cabin. Or is this one of those times where that’s okay?


To further blur the lines between “Global First” and “BusinessFirst,” there were absolutely no curtains drawn at either the forward or rear part of the cabin. That means that light from the galley was quite bothersome for 11 hours (and made me glad I switched from 1A to 2A the day before). From my seat, I could see all the way down to the front of Economy. Again, lucky to be here, but I don’t see the price or mileage premium in this seat over Business. Sorry, BusinessFirst.

Taken from next to Door 1, while waiting for the lav.

But anyway. As we crossed into the western United States, ’twas time for the second meal service. Remember BKK-FRA on TG? This flight was a mere 150 miles shorter, and only 15 minutes shorter time-wise. Compare it to this:



Cajun-spiced Chicken and Juraregal Cheese Sandwich
Mediterranean-style potato salad.

Ploughman’s Selection
Cottage loaf, cheese wedges, tomato and red pepper chutney, fruit and garnishes

Scones and clotted cream with butter and fruit preserves

That’s it.

I think I saw this in the Lean Cuisine selection at my local grocer’s freezer.

London airline caterers knows how to do scones, but the salad was an affront to taste buds everywhere. Blech.

The best part of the meal. I grabbed it in the BMI lounge. The United flight attendants didn’t bat an eye to it, but I wouldn’t dare pull outside food out on a Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines flight.

As the line for the lavatory grew (including some crew members), we began our approach into LAX. Smoggy. Hot. Lacking greenery. Good to be headed home!

There’s an ocean somewhere there …

Before landing, the team of flight attendants came by to thank every passenger for flying Uni … LOL, JK, NOTHING OF THE SORT. Though there were suddenly a lot of crew who were working in economy and business who marched through the aisles to do whatever it is they needed to do up front. Probably to use the lavatory.

Through the parade of FAs, this somehow fell on the ground and remained for the duration of the flight. I would have picked it up, but the seatbelt sign was on …

In all seriousness though, it felt as if none of the United crew wanted to be there. As opposed to the incredibly welcoming crew on Thai, Swiss, Singapore, and Emirates.

We made our way to a gate at LAX Terminal 7, and were asked by the purser to close the window shades to keep the aircraft cool. I made my way to Immigration – I don’t have Global Entry but our flight was the first to arrive, so there wasn’t any line. I still didn’t receive the “back-room treatment” that I sadistically want one day (only to validate the craziness of the trip); instead, I got a polite “welcome home” from the CBP officer.

It took about 20 minutes to get my bags out. I stepped outside to a refreshingly warm and dry 72º day in the Southern California area, with cool ocean breezes waving the palm trees toward the east.

There’s no place like home.

  1. October 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    You are a First Class whiner! What a sorry-a$$ed person you must be. If you had an empty coke can which was disturbing you, why didn’t you get off your F*tA$$ and walk ten steps to drop it in a galley trash bin. Everyone knows that on long flights one should get up anyway and walk around frequently for health purposes. It sounds like you plopped down and expected to be treated like a King, or a Hollywood self-centered movie star!

    • Amol
      October 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Aww yay, my first real negative comment. I’ve been waiting for this day!

      Well for one, I wasn’t really complaining. I was making observations about the service (or lack thereof). Believe it or not, people use these experiences to see if its worth the miles or money. If you read pretty much every other section of this trip report, you’ll see how amazed I was at the level of service on other carriers.

      Thanks for the news about my largess and large @$$, I’ll have to let my ratty 31-waist Levi’s know about that.

    • HorribleService
      December 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      United and US Airline service is atrocious. Mechanization is not service. And most of the Flight Attendants do not want to be there. There is an amazing lack of attention and sense of detail. The only thing that works, is the police state mentality, with seat belts, locking up the bathrooms for crew use, and the lack of attention to all passengers. Every FA on United should be given a flight on some other Asian airline to see how it is done.

  2. Doug
    October 4, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Wai_Li – do you have any idea how much that seat costs? He has every reason to complain, ESPECIALLY when other airlines do it so much better.

  3. Roy
    October 25, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Wai_Li – Since I almost always fly in economy a flight like this is way better than I’m used to. But still, I think it’s important to see the difference between service on similar routes and different companies. If the same amount of miles could get me a first class flight on the same route with either Swiss or United it will be an easy choice…

  4. John
    January 19, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    “I wouldn’t dare pull outside food out on a Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines flight.”

    why not? i have done it all the time: drinks and ice cream (from SQ lounge), and even home made food 😛

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