I flew with United Airlines transatlantic with my husband over 10 years ago. The experience was so bad we made a concerted effort to avoid flying with them again. I particularly remember surly and downright rude cabin crew, a battle to ensure at least one of us could be seated with our autistic daughter on all flights and a complete lack of concern from the cabin crew when my daughter woke up with a night terror on an overnight flight back to the UK.
I generally fly British Airways these days but for flights to New York the easiest way for me to go has been from Glasgow to Newark on Continental Airlines. In March this year however Continental merged with United. The airline became known as United, with planes bearing a livery almost identical to the old Continental one.
I booked a flight to New York for May 2012 six months before the merger occurred and I must admit I was worried about how it would work out, especially in light of reviews on the Skytrax website which were overwhelmingly negative after the merger happened. It became apparent early on that there were some major teething troubles with the merger which led to cancelled flights, lost bookings and the familiar complaint of unconcerned staff rang out loud and clear.
I booked my flight as a package with a hotel on the Expedia website. You can of course book via United's website and you can also check your booking and check-in online via the United website. Much of the confusion at merger time was due to the fact United changed their online reservation system and website to the system Continental had been using, leaving a large number of United staff in need of extensive retraining in reservations and countless United frequent flyers having to get used to a completely new web interface for the airline.
As I have booked and paid directly for prior flights using the Continental website, the new site wasn't an issue for me. Just after the merger in March I got an e-mail from United informing me my booking reference had changed but apart from that everything else remained the same.
At the start of 2012 Continental planes were given an "Economy Plus" cabin to bring them in line with United planes. I decided to use the Continental site to upgrade the seats just before the merger took place. You do have to pay extra for these seats which give you an extra 5" of legroom but not much else. Prices do vary depending on what seats you select but I paid $99 per person per leg for them on the website but you can't actually book direct into the Economy Plus cabin the way you can if you want to book Premium Economy on the likes of British Airways or Virgin Atlantic.
A few days before I was due to leave I received an e-mail from United effectively cancelling my return flight and leaving me incredibly confused. This was due to the fact when I booked my flight with Expedia, the flights were codeshares with BMI. As BMI left Star Alliance on 1st June 2012 which was a couple of days after my departure date, this left me in limbo. It took the best part of a day for me to get this sorted out as BMI didn't want to help me and United claimed it was a travel agent issue. To Expedia's credit they got it resolved to my satisfaction right down to ensuring I kept the seats I had bought and paid extra for in Economy Plus.
You can check in online for your flights with United, which is a step up from when the airline was still Continental. Back then you could only check in at the airport if you were going on an international flight. The website does ask for advance passenger information including each passenger's name, date of birth and passport number, along with an address for where you are staying on your first night in the US.
The bag drop process is fairly straightforward assuming you had completed the advance passenger information and that you have a valid ESTA. You are asked some security questions before dropping off your bags and getting your boarding passes. I was relieved to see that the seats I had reserved were honoured on both flights. You are allowed one bag to check in free so long as it doesn't weigh more than 23 kilos, and you can bring one cabin sized piece of luggage on board with you. These limits increase if you fly in the Business First cabin.
The planes themselves are still Boeing 757-200s and the interior is almost identical to the Continental version. The only change I noticed was in the Economy Plus cabin which takes up the first 8 rows of the economy section in the plane. These seats have a much better seat pitch but in every other way are the same as economy seats with no additional recline. It's also worth noting if you are considering booking this cabin that there is one row which doesn't recline at all - it goes without saying that's the cheapest row to purchase but to be fair to United the website does clearly state which seats don't recline at all when you are looking to choose a seat in Economy Plus.
Service was friendly in the Continental manner I have experienced on this flight in the past. I have to say I was most relieved about this as I can still remember a United stewardess talking to my late husband as if he were a five year old over where to stow a bag on a crowded plane. We were served a lunch about an hour into the flight which was decent enough. You can order special meals but my daughter, who has a pathological aversion to airline food told me not to bother ordering a child meal for her and instead took a Meal Deal from Boots onboard with her. I had beef (from the usual economy choice of "chicken or beef") and it was pleasant enough, if a little overcooked. It wasn't a patch on the food I've got in Premium Economy on BA, but then again they let you have food from Club World in their Premium Economy cabin.
On the return flight I had a pasta dish and my daughter had this too (in the absence of Boots' Meal Deals at Newark Airport) and she surprised herself by enjoying it.
You get a snack before landing on both flights - the hot chicken sandwich you get prior to landing in New York is lovely but the "breakfast" you get on return is less inspiring.
You have to pay for alcoholic drinks onboard and just like Continental, the new United only accept credit cards for payment. I only ever drink soft drinks when I fly as I hate to get dehydrated on board but a couple more runs down the aisle with some water would have been nice. It's got to the stage now that no matter where I am flying I make sure I have a large bottle of mineral water when I board to keep me hydrated throughout.
The planes had a good AVOD entertainment system with seat back screens. The system included several recent films along with several classic movies, TV shows such as "Family Guy" and music offerings. I had a book with me and just read but my daughter enjoyed watching "The Muppets" movie for the umpteenth time and her beloved "Family Guy". The system also included a moving map, which I must admit I always switch on when I fly. It's not the best moving map I have ever seen (that award goes to the 3D one British Airways have on some planes) but it's good for letting you know where you are flying over.
On the return flight we were given pillows and blankets but you don't get an amenity kit so if you need an eye mask or earplugs, pack your own.
The best thing about our flights was Economy Plus. The extra leg room made the seats more comfortable and it was really nice not to have the person sitting in front of me reclining their seat into my stomach as is the norm in the Economy cabin. Five inches doesn't sound like a lot of space but it really does add to your comfort levels when flying and removes the "do I recline or not" dilemma from travellers. We were also seated close to the door which meant we got off the plane pretty quickly. This was particularly good arriving at Newark as it meant we got to the front of the queue for immigration really quickly.
Of course this review is only based on international legs and American carriers change dramatically when you switch to a domestic flight. It's worth bearing in mind that the flight from Glasgow to Newark takes around 8 hours in which time you do get fed and watered by the airline. If you wish to take the United flight from Newark to Honolulu which is a domestic flight it lasts 14 hours and you have to pay for everything except a soft drink and it's worth bearing in mind that these flights regularly run out of food to buy too.
The new United is also gaining something of a bad reputation for cancelling half empty domestic flights and merging them with later ones which probably does make good business sense but isn't so good for a traveller with a connection to make. On the subject of connections although Newark is a United hub they do seem to have cut back on flights from the airport. I've used the Newark route to connect for Las Vegas while it was still being operated by Continental but it's not worth my while now it's run by United as the layover time at Newark has gone up from 3 hours to 8 hours.
I had no problems with delays or cancellations on this trip however and everything went smoothly including the boarding process which was done in blocks which were identified by a number on your boarding pass. It is worth noting that United have phased out pre-boards for families with children which I think is probably a bad move on their part and just adds to the stress families have when flying. You only get a pre-board if you have status either with United or Star Alliance.
You can join the United Mileage Plus frequent flyer program - I have done but to be honest unless you use United very regularly the miles don't really amount to much. The awards are also very US centric so I may be able to get a cheap room in a US hotel with an affiliated chain but that will probably be about it. If you use the airline regularly it's a no brainer to join - especially if you are flying business class - but for the leisure traveller I have derived no benefits whatsoever.
Overall I think I would probably only use United again if I was wanting a direct flight to New York or if I was travelling to a destination served solely by them. I paid £670 each return for our tickets by the time the additional charge for the Economy Plus is added on, which I didn't think was too bad when you factor in the extra comfort and the convenience of flying direct from Glasgow. The Economy Plus isn't a patch on British Airways' product however so don't be expecting leg rests or foot rests or a wider seat. It's also worth mentioning that since the merger the fares seem to have increased quite a bit on this route so shop around.
I do think the thing that lets United down the most is the thing that generally lets down most US carriers and that is their domestic product which can be akin to Ryanair on some carriers so my advice would be if you plan on using United try to get a direct international flight to your destination - or as near to your destination as possible.
Our first time flying with United Airlines, and it will not be our last, we got an excellent deal for our holiday, Our cabin crew were amazing, they worked as part of a team very well, they were very talkative, and asked how you were doing, you feel safe and secure knowing they are taking care of you, you could trust them, we even asked them some advice about customs which they gave us great help with, telling us what we could take in and what we couldn't.
Our inflight meals were quite good, better than what you usually get on an aircraft, especially in economy.
The inflight entertainment couldn't get much better you had your own screen, which you could choose from a collection of entertainment, such as TV programs, films, music. You could even listen to the Air Traffic Control.
The plane felt cramped, as there was so many people on it but what can you expect when you fly longhaul.
I have and I will continually recommend United Airlines and Vacations to my friends and family.
Thanks for reading! I hope this has been of interest to you and has helped assist you in your decision.
For families travelling with infants - please think twice - maybe a hundred times before flying United. I'd honestly not fly rather than fly United. The first time we've ever flown United was this summer to go from London to Charlottesville, VA, USA. United had the shortest and quickest routind via Washington DC and given we were travelling with a 61/2mth old infant, we wanted to get there as quickly as possible. We had booked a bassinet in advance and were promised one. The flight takes off and we ask for our bassinet and what do we get - A DUFFEL BAG WITH A BLANKET IN IT!!! I'm not kidding - I take a bigger bag to the gym! They asked us to put it on the floor by our feet. Seriously do they have any regard for passenger comfort and safetly of little babies? Not to mention they were flying an outdated plane, served food so bad that you'd rather starve than eat it and the reading lights overhead wouldn't go off. So even if we wanted to sleep, with our infant in our arms, we couldn't! It was the absolute worst journey we've ever had. Further, when we complained to United customer service about our bad experience and the best response they could come up with was - "that is the standard bassinet we provide". I am appalled at how horrific the level of service is at what is now the world's largest airline! With this kind of service - not for too long.....
United Airlines will always be my first choice in airlines. Often providing me with the cheapest travel.
United Airlines provide exceptional customer service, on and off the plane. The staff are friendly and helpful while checking you in, and once on the plane, the air hostess will cater to your needs.
On long haul flights, meals are given free of charge, as are soft drinks like pepsi.
The entertainment packages also come free of charge on long haul flights and provide an excellent variety of TV shows, radios and movies - usually with your own little TV screen to watch what you want and not what others have chosen.
You also have the option to map where you are in the world, how far into your flight your are, the route your plane has taken, how far from landing you are in terms of miles and minutes and you can tune into the pilot's communication if this has been enabled.
The seats themselves are of excellent quailty for standard travel - bigger than average leather seats and roomy leg space.
My wife and i are on a wish trip holiday to Vegas this September, As we have never been business class we went for U A on a 777.It cost a lot of money but as i have terminal cancer i/we wanted something a bit special, I am hoping it will be a pleasent experience and we have to change at S F O so does anyone know if we need to collect our cases or are they transfered on our behalf ??????. also if anyone can inform me about the business class i would love to hear good or bad.I received a slight reduction as i use a U A visa card which gave me air miles many thanks in advance for any info offered.Ken Butler (uk)
I am very used to transatlantic flights as I have to endure them year in, year out. I have therefore flown with UA many times and find themm to be adequate.
The staff are of course very friendly and helpful as you would expect, especially from an American carrier, and they will undoubtedly do their utmost to help you out, so I have no quibbles with them. Furthermore they have a decent entertainment sector, with many new films on offer that have only just left the cinema, so again this is good. However my problem seems to lie with the actual aircraft, obviously UA is an established airline and has been around for years, therefore they have a good reputation and understandably so. But for me this also works against them, with many of their planes tending to be older, and unfortunately a bit grubbier for want of a better description. Although the planes are not unclean, I just think that when pitted against carriers such as Virgin or alot of the Middle Eastern airlines they do not compare in quality as they seem to be alot new than UA and therefore a more pleasant experience, especially stuck in the plane for 8 hours.
Sorry UA, you are'nt bad, you're just getting old.
Flew with United earlier this year to America, drawn by the free connecting flight from Glasgow to Heathrow (they are part of the Star Alliance so our flight was with BMI)
The planes are in reasonable condition and there is Tvs on the back of every seat of the uk-usa planes so you can choose what you want to watch, a choice of 6 movie channels, a kids channel, some comedy and dramas and also the radio channels. A nice thing is that you can track the planes progress on a map and sometimes listen to the captains chatter if he switches it on.
Despite having booked our flights 8 months before our trip on everyone of our 11 flights over 2 weeks my friend and I were seperated when we received our tickets so we had to keep going to customer services to get this changed which was a pain, why could they not just put us together in the first place. On our last leg of the tour (miami-washington-heathrow) we mentioned at checkin about our problems and they checkin assistant must have put a note on our records as when we were allocated our seats in Washington we had been upgraded 2 levels to Business class (there are 4 classes on transatlantic - economy, economy plus, business and executive). What treat - massive chairs which recline right back with a foot rest, proper pillow and blanket, adjustable tv, pre takeoff drink, mini flight pack. There was also a proper menu for food, which was a bit too fancy for me but there was an option for a meal you could have at any time which was a lot nicer.
The food in economy was nice, but then I seem to be one of those odd people who actually like airline food. On the domestic flights over a certain length you could buy snack boxes which cost $5 and they are sooo worth it, the one i chose had bagel bites and soft cheese, fruit, pretzels, packet of mint and a mini pastry. Drinks are free and on the shorter flights they dont have a full service but will provide glasses of water.
Out of the 11 flights we took the only one that was delayed at all was the return flight from Heathrow to Glasgow, no surprise there. All in all I cant really fault United and would definately fly with them again
On a business trip to the USA a stewardess managed to throw coffee over my shirt! Fortunately it was only luke warm so no burns but a poor state to arrive in when being met by important suppliers. She was extremely apologetic but little she could do but give me a form to make a claim against the airline with. I duly filled it in and handed it to the purser before I left the plane.
Did I ever hear again? No.
Over the years, I have been on lots of trips across the Atlantic to visit the good old US of A, either on business or holiday. And I had a choice of plenty of airlines when booking. So far, I have tried British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and United. Once I even ended up on Air India but the less said about that the better, I was too young to know the difference, then.
Of course, from that fateful day in September 2001 on, air travel changed forever and what used to be a pleasant trip for most of us has now become reason to think twice what airline we actually chose on long haul trips.
I have always tried to book United Airlines to the USA, on the odd occasion I was offered a slightly better price by different airlines but I always went back to United. I book with Expedia, an online company we use for most of our travel needs. They tend to have the best offers and prices.
We had flown to Las Vegas with Virgin (the only direct flight out of the UK) in January but after some disagreements with the service we got and their bad customer service afterwards when enquiring about their frequent flyer programme, we decided that we would go back to the reliable old United Airlines despite a stop-over on both in and outgoing flights.
It was a little more expensive to fly United than the airlines we were offered (Northwest or Delta) but we got amazing flights out of Heathrow 8am via Chicago and arrive Las Vegas 1.55pm and back at 11.35pm via Washington, DC, arriving next day at 9.55pm. We didnt mind that we lost a whole day in the air over the Atlantic because we had a chance to spend a whole extra day in Las Vegas after checking out of our hotel at 11am as there was no need to be at the airport before 9pm.
Checking in at Heathrow Airport is in Terminal 3, checking in area G. For anyone not familiar with Heathrow, thats in the far right corner, almost an annexe and entirely taken up by United Airlines. There is only one long queue for all flights unless you fly Business or first class when you have your own queue I dont know for how long its been the case but you are now shown to self-service check-in terminals if you have an e-ticket. There is staff at hand to help you if you get stuck but all your e-ticket number to call up the reservation. You have a chance to pick your seat (or change it if you had an allocated seat.) Its all very straight forward, you even get an upgrade option to business class if there are seats available. There are only a very limited number of check-in desks open (mainly for business and first class).
My partner, his son and I had no intentions of using the self-service machines as we were hoping to get the extra legroom seats on the flight. It used to be that the seats they had not sold in Economy Plus were given to the first people who claimed them. And as I was always singled out for extra security checks I was able to secure one of those seats free of charge for most of my journeys I always gave them the puppy-dog face when I was told I had to go through extra security (thanks to my German surname and passport).
But things had changed, the Economy Plus seats were no longer available on a first come first serve basis, United were asking for £43 per leg of the journey for the upgrade. We politely declined as it meant we would have to pay extra and worse still, would be split up for the flight as there were only limited seats in the middle of the plane, no seats together. Bah, first time ever I had to fly ordinary Economy on United.
It can take a while to actually get to your departure gate so check the monitors and leave with time to spare, just in case. As I mentioned before, I was singled out for extra security checks and had to go through a different channel. I had to take my shoes off and my hand luggage was inspected by hand, not just through the x-ray machine.
When its time to board its quite an easy process, its either by row, from back to front of the plane or by seating area (depending on the size of the plane from 1 to 5) with First and Business Class boarding first as usual.
Once on the plane, put away your hand luggage and take your seat. The overhead bins are usually pretty large so you can get a lot in there. The seats themselves are leather and you are given a pillow, blanket and headphones but no toiletry bag with little samples, socks, etc unless you are in First or Business.
It is very unusual for any flight to push back from the gate on time and even if they do, you are still in the long queue of other planes leaving so it might take up to 20 minutes to taxi to the runway and take off.
On board all United Airlines planes, well, at least the ones for long haul, your seat will come with its own little TV monitor for inline entertainment. In most cases you have up to 5 movie channels, cartoons, comedy and factual as well as a variety of audio channels. The remote for the channels is in your armrest. Headphones are provided for all passengers. Flying into Chicago there was a choice of a number of movies, but none of them were what I would call current. There was Memoirs of a Geisha which I dipped into occasionally, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and the Narnia movie but they had all been out of the cinemas for ages. United used to have some of the most recent cinema released on their planes but no longer. Its the same old boring movies you can already get on DVD. Even Virgin had better movies when we went in January. Very disappointing.
The next disappointment came when I was expecting the drinks trolley to serve me with loads of lovely alcohol for the flight. But United Airlines have cut back drastically on serving free alcohol. The trolley still arrived but you have to pay £2.00, 3.00 or $5.00 per alcoholic drink you order. Soft drinks, juices and coffee and tea are still free. As far as I could see, nobody ordered anything alcoholic. First and business class still get their free alcoholic drinks after all, they paid a kings ransom for the seats so they can expect alcohol to flow freely. Only flight on the Pacific routes offer free alcoholic drinks. I was a little annoyed in particular at mealtime when they didnt even offer a wine with the hot lunch. And I was disappointed when Virgin only allowed one alcoholic drink per passenger and one tiny glass of wine when serving their hot meal.
The staff offered water and orange juice during the flight and at one point during the flight they came round with ice cream, snack-size Toblerone chocolate and packs of mini Scottish shortbread biscuits. You were allowed one of each.
Approx 1 ½ hours before landing you are served a snack meal. This normally consists of some sort of bread roll with filling (ham and cheese in most cases) and crisps. If you are on an overnight flight, you will get some sort of breakfast, roll, jam and fruit salad.
Apparently United are proud to brew Starbucks coffee. As a matter of fact, they should either get better people to brew it or ask for their money back, the coffee tastes like dishwater.
You are welcome to walk around the aircraft but are asked to stay in your own section of the plane, so no wandering off into business class or to the back of the plane. And as I said before no congregating in the aisles.
So far, I have not encountered unfriendly crews on the United flights. I must say service on the 777 has always been impeccable but lacking a little on the other planes. The return flight from Las Vegas was via Washington DC where we had to change planes and got stuck on a 767, the crew looked a lot less happy and smiley. And thats also where the lapses in service were most obvious. I know a lot of passenger just want to flake out as a lot had to get up early, or like us, had been on an overnight flight across the USA and lost a few hours more than most people due to the three hour time difference. We had left Las Vegas around 11.30pm and arrived in Washington DC at 6.45am and had a 2 ½ hour lay-over until our onward flight to London Heathrow (where we arrived at 9.50pm having lost another 5 hours on our 6 hour cross Atlantic flight).
Legroom, unless you are sitting in First, Business or Economy Plus, is not exactly what I would call spacious but you can get by. On the 767 there are two seats on each side of the plane with three in the middle, while on the 777 you get 5 seats in the middle row. Its not too bad if the plane is not full to capacity and you can move around and find yourself a couple of seats to get yourself more comfortable but both my recent flight were fully booked and then it can get cramped.
We checked out the United Airlines website while we were in Las Vegas and it gave us the opportunity to check in online and print our boarding passes on a printer. You then simply drop your luggage at the special desks where it will be tagged and sent on its way.
We checked in at Las Vegas McCarran Terminal 1 and we were very surprised to see that everyone was asked to use the self-service machines. The helpers there had to explain to almost everyone how to use the system and it didnt speed up anything as the computers didnt work that well and not always retrieved the bookings and people had to queue to check in the old fashioned way. We tried (our booking was retrieved by swiping out machine readable passports) but we were not given the option to upgrade from Economy to Economy Plus we were offered an upgrade to Business Class for around $500 per person, though. While we were tempted for a moment we decided against it as we didnt fancy spending about £300 for extra legroom and a bit of free alcohol when we could get more legroom in Economy Plus. That is enough to give you a pretty comfortable flight.
We fought our way to the only open check-in desk. The person there was not particularly knowledgeable and we had trouble explaining to her what we wanted, a straightforward upgrade to Economy Plus at $73 per person (credit card showed just over £43) for the flight from Washington DC to London Heathrow as the seats on the Boing 767 are not quite as spacey as the ones on the newer 777 model and the extra 7 inches make a big difference.
Well, with the restrictions on free upgrades to Economy Plus and no free alcohol, we might have to look for another airline to take us to the USA comfortably next time. We heard that American Airlines have changed the seating and offer more legroom on all their flights. Its certainly looking a lot more interesting now than it ever did before. We have to hope that their flights and onward connections are just as favourable as the United Airlines ones. In a way it looks that the airline has lost a faithful passenger to other airlines that offer the same service at better prices.
A little tip on the side, if you have a connecting flight to somewhere else, make sure you leave more than 90 minutes between connecting flights. You have to clear immigration at a gateway city in the USA which means a lot of flights will arrive from all over the world at the same time and it can take well over an hour to clear immigration, pick up the suitcase and leave it for the connecting flight.
We had 90 minutes between flights but arrived almost 30 minutes after we were supposed to and everyone on the flight was desperate but worried to get their connecting flight. We finally cleared immigration and customs with about 10 minutes to spare before our connecting flight was due to leave Chicago. We were still at terminal 5 and had to get to terminal 1, pass through security and get on the flight in less than ten minutes. We were extremely lucky that the connecting flight was late leaving and was still boarding when we arrived totally out of breath.
Thats where Virgin have an advantage over all other airlines as they are flying direct into Las Vegas and immigration at Las Vegas McCarran Airport is a lot more relaxed and a lot faster I noticed.
I flew from London to California over Christmas and i was able to score a bargain even if i scheduled my trip only a month before christmas. I paid about £323 for Dec14-Jan9 (just before and after the peak period) thru STA travel office. They said it was the last ticket, but I noticed there were still even cheaper (£303) fares available for the same flight if I had booked thru Travelsupermarket.com. (ebookers is cheap)
It was my first time to fly United and it was smooth and easy. The queue at Heathrow was soooo long. I was worried about not making it on time, so people should really chcek-in early especially because check-in is for all United flights, regardless of destination. They ask a few questions about security and make sure you're not wearing metal and you're wearing easy to remove shoes to go through security really quickly. If you're traveling w a laptop handcarry, make sure it's easy to retreieve coz they might want to look at that separately. In California, they had a self-check system which made check-in faster and efficient. They also gave a lot of baggage space.
Despite the hectic schedule with a fully packed plane, United staff were friendly and helpful. I think American service is really the best. They're so service-oriented. They really listen and attend to all your requests and give you extras (juice, blankets, etc) if available. The bathroom was always clean during all my visits and the plane, even if a bit old was well kept. I really liked the service, and the food was good as well. It was pretty simple stuff. Lunch/Dinner made me full, Breakfast/Snack was light.
The plane also arrived early on both directions.
The only disadvantage was the entertainment as they were not showing recent shows.
On the way back, there was an overbooking of flight so they were offering some passengers for next day flight with free upgrade and travel vouchers. I'm not sure if hotel accommodations were included. I hear overbooking is common with United. So, if you really need to fly, this might be a problem but if you don't need to fly then you could score some free tickets. If you're a Star Alliance or American airmiles member, they also give upgrades (but it takes ages and loads of flights to redeem).
If you are purchasing a ticket for the first time, you may want to get the airmiles frequent flier card in advance because they give promos that encourage you to use the card, so had i gotten the card first, I would have gotten a bonus 2000 miles just for using it. Because I got mine after, I did not get the privilege. However, it does allow you to credit applicable miles you have used in the past year.
I would recommend United to others.
I have flown transatlantic with United twice now, once internally within the states, the majority of these trips have been in the premium economy class and once business. Our trips were from London Heathrow to San Francisco premium economy on the outbound journey and business class on our way home. My second trip was London Heathrow to Washington, transatlantic and Washington to Boston internally - all legs being premium economy.
Whilst checking out fares online and finding out about the airline, we actually booked our flights through the United telephone booking service. This was for one simple reason, Paul and l are Star Alliance Gold and Silver cardholders respectively, and as such you immediately get upgraded from economy to premium economy. Now this doesn't really mean much more than a few more inches in legroom. So that we could choose our seats in Premium Economy we needed to speak with an operator.
The United website - located at www.unitedairlines.co.uk is quite an easy to use site. It is very easy to navigate and find the section you are after whether it is to price fares, find out about the aircraft, and see the movies you may watch the list goes on! It is not a fancy all flashing singing and dancing web site - it is simpler than that but sometimes the simplest things are the most effective!
Our tickets were posted out - another simple but effective trick they have is colouring our tickets - Paul is a gold cardholder and his tickets come coloured gold, mine silver! Oh yes we are travel snobs! And yes we always save our boarding cards!
Now l have only checked in directly with United Staff once in Heathrow, the other occasions have been in the States - usually we fly in from Belfast and so check our luggage all the way through.
Check in has been efficient and quick - again as cardholders we do get a prioritised check-in queue. The staff do their job, but on the American side have found them dismissive, and smug. Perhaps they don't understand my Irish sense of wit!
Anyway it is great when you have to catch connection flights - your luggage departs without you. Although in the States as part of the National security policy you must pick up your luggage and check it through again with you before passing on to connections.
This can be hairy if after queuing for immigration, then you have to grab your case, rush through security and customs, to find your new gate for boarding and time is of the essence (note to self - leave more time between connections when in the States!). On our last Boston trip whilst we made it with time to spare between Washington and Boston - our luggage didn't. Now l always pack spares in my hand luggage so that was fine - what did irk me was when we reported our cases missing - the clerk clearly stated they didn't make the connection and therefore would simply be on the next flight down from Washington. Great no problem - we were grabbing a tube anyway into Boston - heavy luggage would be a drag! Our luggage would be with us in a few hours. No, no, no. Our hotel receptionist told us not to be expecting our bags before morning - being optimists we ignored her. Well she was right and we were wrong! I rang the number on the lost luggage receipt - whilst the lady on the phone was ever so efficient and lovely, she told me that when l rang our bags were still vacationing in Washington and it was likely to be late evening before they reached the hotel. Paul smelt lovely that night with my deodorant, using my shower gel and shampoo when we went for dinner! By this time jet lag was hitting and we wanted sleep. By morning our bags had arrived but according to the desk staff they didn't get to the hotel until the wee small hours. It could have been worse, but United did not even provide us with an overnight emergency bag to keep us going until the missing cases caught us up.
For flying with United you may allow yourself one carry on bag and a personal item - i.e. your handbag ladies which will go under the seat in front of you and one stow in the bins bag. It gets me when travellers flaunt this and try and bring on the kitchen sink to stow in the overhead bins. To check in baggage it must weigh no more than 50lbs, and be fully named. You may allow for 2 separate pieces of check in luggage.
RED CARPET LOUNGE
Not everyone has the luxury of being a cardholder, but if you do it's a luxury you never want to forgo! Now l have been in a few airline lounges - BMI, BA, THAI & UNITED - as far as they go they are ok. I much prefer the UK lounges to those abroad. With United should you be flying transatlantic - the booze in the lounge is all yours, internally knock yourself out on the soft drinks and coffee. In SFO we were flying transatlantic - we were given 2 drink vouchers each for use in the lounge - apparently a contractor and not United operates the lounge. For the business traveller the facilities are quite good - lap top points and so on, along with the peace and quite you are not afforded in the main airport. There are snacks - cookies, muffins, pretzels and so on. There is free internet access in the Red Carpet Lounge in Heathrow terminal 3. On top of this the daily broadsheets and a variety of magazines are at hand. The lounge toilet facilities are generally quite good too - especially if you have just stepped of a transatlantic flight and are waiting to grab an internal - great for freshening up and feeling half human again!
Transatlantic with United has 4 classes
· Premium Economy or Economy Plus
Economy - you get the standard allowance - snacks drinks - in flight movies, music and TV channels. Most craft have the seat back TV's with the in flight map showing flight progression.
Economy Plus - this gives travellers an extra 5 inches of legroom - you will automatically be seated here if you are Star Alliance gold or silver member or book a fully flexible ticket. Apart from that you will not notice any difference to standard Economy.
Business - here you can relax in lazy boy type seats, have a choose of dining and wines, pre flight champagne, better headsets and TV viewing, a complimentary refresher bag, priority baggage check in, magazines and extra overhead space.
First - a fully flat bed, champagne - Dom Perigon no less, choose your wake up time and breakfast on transatlantic over night flights, a more swish refresher bag, private DVD choice, or call for your snack delivery during day time flights!
With United travellers with differing dietary requirements are catered for l must say - whether its low carb, low fat, veggie or kosher it's all there - simply at the time of booking your ticket choose. And the food is edible - or perhaps lm strange - l do like airline food me! A typical standard meal - a bread roll, butter, fruit salad, chicken with pasta, and an ice cream. You will be provided water, with drinks, alcoholic and non being passed around also. Before landing there is a snack too - perhaps a breakfast roll - bacon or sausage or a sandwich - depending on the time of day.
United are quite good on the booze front - they provide at least 3 runs during the flight and you can request as much as your heart contends. As well they at varying intervals come up and down the aisle with water. Usually you will get a savoury snack with your drinks - pretzels or the like.
The movie selection has been great. Mean Girls, Day After Tomorrow, Bad Santa, Shark Tale - these were all recent movie selections. As you have individual monitors on the seat in front or your own flip screen if in business, you can pick and choose as you wish. Sometimes quality can be poor - on our flight back from Washington to Heathrow - Paul and l choose to watch Sharks Tale - this flickered, and stalled on numerous occasions and was very annoying.
There is a children's channel showing cartoons, TV comedy stations - showing the likes of Will & Grace, Friends etc or a documentary channel with discovery playing. Also you can expect a good selection (perhaps about 18 stations) of music - surely something to suit most.
I don't have much to say - it was as expected. I can't remember any thing that anyone did for me that l would class as exceptional service, but the staff wasn't bad. The responded to requests, had a smile and a word for everyone, and were prompt and efficient.
I did the return leg of SFO to LHR in business - now l have flow transatlantic business from LHR to JFK with BA. How did United compare - well to me and my mind BA set a benchmark - they have fully flat beds in business, and they are a slight cut above the rest. United is the respectable but slightly poorer cousin. I must say though the seats in United business were extremely comfortable and got a good few hours' kip on the journey home!
With United being part of the Star Alliance family - they are always an option for me to fly with. I have not experienced anything bad with them, in fact they have an ongoing promotion of double destination miles until the end of Feb 2005 - so we may even fly to Toronto with them (yes l know this adds hours to our journey and is slightly more expensive than Air Canada - but l told you we are sad!). When l do set them up for comparison with British Airways they are a bit shabbier around the edges, the planes are not as pristine, and they don't just meet the mark of the worlds favourite airline - but even in saying this, United do provide a efficient and decent standard of transatlantic air travel.
I flew with my family from London Heathrow Airport to John F Kennedy, New York, back in November of last year (2002). It was our first trip out of Heathrow as a family and we weren't familiar with scheduled carriers like United and their check-in policy. We did arrive at Heathrow for our 13:30 flight at about 9:30am (4 hours before departure). It was at one end of terminal 3 that we find United's own check-in area where you could join one long queue and check-in for any United flight. We were greeted by friendly airline staff who guided us into the queue and welcomed us etc. I always think that first impressions are important. Our check-in agent was a friendly, British lady who laughed and joked with us, making the security procedure slightly more light-hearted than most airline staff would. She had no problems seating us together and we only needed our passports swiped to get our seats - no loose bits of paper to hand over. Nothing. The aircraft was a fantastically clean Boeing 777. Inside it was spacious and far better than the charter airlines I have been used to in the past. We had an impressive 32" of seat pitch in economy and it felt so nice to have a personal TV and plenty of legroom. We pushed back on time, departed moments later and were airborne quickly. The food was superb once up in the air and certainly the best I have tried over the years. All drinks were complimentary and these were offered no less than 5 times on the outbound leg of the journey. Because of the politeness of the crew and the efficient service on board, the 7 hours literally flew by and we arrived in New York several minutes early. Baggage allowance for the airline was average, but I never seem to meet the minimum anyway, so I couldn't complain. The flight crew and cabin crew kept us up to date throughout the flight and offered as much assistance as possible. There is only one real disadvantage to United -
I noticed that on a 7 hour flight, the crew took at least 2 hours worth of break time each. This seems an awful long time for a relatively short flight. At £222 return, I will certainly choose United over any other airline in the future. They are a member of the Star Alliance. I am flying with Thai in a couple of weeks and am really falling in love with the alliance.
In the spring of 1993, I took a trip to visit my youngest daughter, and this was the one and only time that I had ever traveled by plane. I must admit, that I was horrified of my feet being off the ground. When we got to the airport, my husband (being a helpful kind of guy, that he is), had told the stewardess that this was my first flight. When it was time to aboard the plane, she walked me to the steps, as she was reassuring me that everything was going to be ok! The plane that I boarded was a small plane, and my next stop was Sea-tac, this is were I would be boarding a B747, By the time we got to Sea-tac, my stomach was in my feet. I had three hours to get it back where it belong. When it got around to my departure time, my stomach was in the right place. I got onto the plane, thinking to myself ?I can do this! I can do this!?. As we finally got into the air, The stewardess introduce herself, and she proceeded to give her safeties speech. When she was finish, she asked if anyone had a question. I raised my hand, ?Are those the emergency exits? I asked so bravely. ?Yes, ma'am!. She answered in a very sweet voice. ?Can you use them in the air?? I asked. All of a sudden. You could hear a pin drop, and the look on the stewardess face is priceless. I knew at the time, I had asked something very dumb. ?No. Ma'am! This time it was in a very low, low voice. She turn around and went back to her station. For the rest of the trip, she avoided me , and I didn't get my Juice.!
What a pleasure to travel with!!! We went to Orlando for our Annual vacation with United in March. My family consists of Me - 36, husband, blind - 33, eldest son, aspergers - 7 and Danny -22 months. As you can understand, pour family has some special needs and taking a holiday involves some major organisation by me. Well not any more!!! I booked and paid for the holiday, then hubby suggested we ring United to see about assistance - of course I pooh poohed the idea - what can they do etc etc. Well, we checked in at Heathrow adn the check in lady took us over to the wheelchair assistance area. hubby was offloaded into a wheelchair and we were promptly wheeled through every queue there was - ha! I went shopping and then our wheelchair man returned and took us a little further in, whereupon we were picked up by a very nice man with a beeping golfcart affair and dropped right at the gate. We were rushed onto the plane ahead of everyone else and were given excellent seats (for economy) - all together in front of the loo bulkheads. The food on the flight was excellent and the stewards were all wondeful with my huband, helping with his food etc as I was coping with the kids. Got to Washington, where another wheelchair was waiting for us, cleared all the queues again and put on the connecting flight to Orlando. We arrived at the Holiday Inn(will write opinion about that as well), immediatley got upgraded to a 2 bed suite - superb. The return journey was just as great and we will always be travelling with them from now on Total cost for a family of 4 was £1425 for 10 days at the Holiday inn Universal, including 5 park orlando flex tickets.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking a holiday to the West Coast of America and Hawaii. (Excuse me while I just pick up that name I just dropped). While the holiday, as you can imagine, was awesome, there were certain aspects of the United Airlines customer service that were certainly not awesome. Actually the title to this op is slightly misleading. They weren’t that bad. (Certainly better than American Airlines, but then that’s not difficult. I think I would be better than American if I offered people piggy backs to wherever they wanted to go.) However, there were a couple of incidents that could have been handled better by the United staff. I’ll get them out in the open early and then talk about the good things they do. The first annoying habit they have, is holding a number a seats back and allocating them at the gate. Don’t misunderstand me, I know why they do this, but when they refuse to allocate you seats when you already have numbered seats on your original ticket, it’s a little annoying. This happened to my wife and myself when we flew home to Heathrow from Las Angeles. (Oops, there goes another one). When I asked the gate staff why we had to wait for our seat allocation when our tickets clearly stated seat numbers, they were very dismissive and told me they would do their best for me and to sit back down. I then explained to them that my wife was pregnant and that it was very important that we sit together. They couldn’t have been less interested if they’d tried. They practically ordered me to sit down. This has a number of consequences: 1) It leaves you very disconcerted. Not one person actually reassured me that we even had a seat on the plane; 2) You have to hang around by the gate and are unable to go and get something to eat or drink (and believe me, that’s something you certainly want to be doing if you’re going to be flying with United. To cal
l their in-flight food pig-swill, would be an insult to pig-swill. I would have welcomed pig-swill with open mouth). The second incident that annoyed me was their refusal to supply my wife with a drink, even though no stewardess had been round the plane for approximately 6 hours. No, I’m not joking. When my wife resorted to walking to the back of the plane to ask for one, she was told to sit down, as they would be around soon. “Soon” turned out to be one and a half hours later. What tremendous customer service, I think you’ll agree. This was made especially annoying when we could clearly see the passengers in economy-plus being pampered beyond compare. Thank god I couldn’t see first class. However, those incidents aside, on the whole they weren’t that bad. The main reason we booked the holiday with them was the price. We had three nights in San Francisco, six nights in Honolulu followed by three nights in Las Vegas. Six flights in all. This whole holiday actually ended up being about £400 per person, cheaper than a two week fly drive to California with Virgin (Our original idea). Their in-flight entertainment wasn’t the best I’d ever come across, although that may be something to do with the quality of films on general release at the moment. The saving grace for their in-flight entertainment has to be the audio channel “From the Flight Deck”. At the pilot’s discretion, you are allowed to listen in to all conversations between the plane and whatever particular tower they happen to be communicating with at the time. This is excellent if, like me, you are a nervous passenger. At one point on the way to SF we went through what I would consider to be extremely bad turbulence. It was so bad that the cabin crew had to strap themselves in for twenty minutes. Ordinarily in that situation I would have been mentally making my peace with the world, but I calmed down con
siderably when listening to the pilot reporting some light to mild chop to the tower on the ground in a very matter of fact manner. Then I heard an Air Canada jet somewhere in the area tell the tower that they had just come through some light turbulence. My god, I thought, we’re not even into turbulence yet. This is just mild chop. When I realised the Air Canada jet survived the mild turbulence I was fairly certain we’d come out of the chop alive. So to recap, the good points about United are: l Fairly cheap; l Good network; l A generous mileage points program. (I’ve now got enough for a free flight to Nice, which is nice); l From the Flight Deck, audio channel. The bad points: l Dubious customer service. On the whole, pretty good. I would fly with them again (if only for the flight deck communication) but I will look around for alternatives in the future.