Friday, September 14, 2012

Olympics & More: UAL 938: ORD-LHR BusinessFirst

The best travel money I ever spent was upgrading to BusinessFirst on United. I am sure you all think that I've absolutely lost my mind. How can a BusinessFirst Seat on United be anything special?  Well, this was my first trip ever flying in a premium cabin on an international route (other than to Toronto, which doesn't count from Chicago).

I decided to use the cash and miles option to upgrade my Exit Row seat to BusinessFirst for two main reasons: 1) To try something new and 2) Since I would have only 48 hours in London, I wanted to hit the ground running after getting as much rest on the plane as possible.

I cashed in 20,000 miles and $550 to upgrade one way. Not cheap, but I wanted to give it a go.  Plus I have more than enough miles.

The flight number to London started in Denver and connected in Chicago (with a plane change).  The Denver flight was cancelled and according to the gentleman at the ticket counter, a large portion of the flight was starting out in Denver.  Our flight ended up being pretty empty.  

Carrier: United Air Lines

Flight #: 938
Seat: 8A (Rear Facing BusinessFirst Seat)
Departure: August 9, 2012 -  21h10 / 21h11
Arrival: August 10, 2012 - 11h15 / 10h55
Travel Time: 8 hours 10 minutes / 7 hours 50 minutes
Flight Miles: 3,953

When I chose my seat, weeks before departure, the only thing available was a window seat or a window or aisle near the galley/lav.  My ideal seat would have been a center section seat -- since the BF cabin is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration, a middle section allows you access to an aisle and no real possibility for someone needing to crawl over you, thus allowing the maximum amount of sleep possible.
My assigned BF forward
facing seat (on the right)
On this trip I was traveling with my messenger bag and my 21" Roller Suitcase.  I didn't realize that a 21" carry on wouldn't fit in the center overhead bins on this 767. I struggled putting my bag in the bin -- then I finally gave up and moved the bag to the exterior bins - where there was no issue stowing my bag.

The seats were pretty comfortable and I had plenty of leg room.  One issue I had with the seat was no in seat storage. I like to put my tablet, iPod, headphones and magazines in the seat pocket in front of me. These don't exist in BF. There really isn't any secure place to put these items.  They either go in your lap, or on the floor (until the Stew yells at you).

Ample legroom,
with legs extended.
Once I put my bag away, the Stew was immediately upon me, offering water or champagne. Is there really a question as to what I selected?
Bad Champagne in
a plastic "glass"
Once the champagne was delivered another Stew handed out the menus and shortly thereafter tossed us the amenity kits.  He brought these kits around on a tray but just threw them at us - not even handing them to us.  I tossed mine onto the small shelf in front of my seat.

BF Menu - To Begin
BF Menu - Main Course
I immediately check the menu to see what we are queued up for -- I also snapped a picture and send it to MS.  I was in hog heaven at this time. I was so excited, my first flight in Business I couldn't wait to experience everything coming my way. 

I then heard the door close. The BusinessFirst cabin was about 50% full and we were ready to make a move.  How exciting.  I immediately moved across the aisle where both the window and aisle seats were empty. This was a Rear-Facing seat. I've had several friends say they can't comfortably fly in a rear facing seat, but I had no issues.

As we pull away from the gate, the first Stew distributes newspapers and magazines.
After a short taxi and takeoff, we are en route to London. As we pass 10,000 feet, the Stews spring into action and take drink orders and deliver warmed nuts.  I asked for the Côtes du Rhône and the Stew says they aren't serving that on this flight.  I asked for a red wine and she asked what I wanted to drink. I again asked for the Côtes du Rhône. She said they didn't have any, even though the menu clearly said they did. I said, I wasn't too keen on the Malbec, but would like to try the other red. She showed it to me -- it was the Côtes du Rhône. I told her again, I wanted the Côtes du Rhône and when the Stew said she didn't have any, I pointed out the type of wine on the bottle. She corrected my pronunciation -- it's evidently called a Coats Du Ruin on United.  Good to know.
Warm nuts and a Côtes du Rhône
To start I had the only option, the Chilled Appetizer, which was a piece of salmon and a bit of shrimp, served along side a Fresh Seasonal Greens salad. The salad came pre-plated, but the dressing was added table...er, seat, side.  This wasn't remarkable, but it was definitely the nicer side of acceptable.


Honestly, I was torn on the dinner options. Do I want the beef or the chicken. Both sounded very good to me.  I decided to go with the chicken as it has a Latin Flair.  It was so freaking dry and really lacked any flavor. I really had unreasonable expectations with this meal.  I was having such a great time so far on the flight and really let myself forget where I was.


There were two options for dessert, a cheese plate and a sundae.  When the Stew stopped by to ask what I wanted I said both sounded good and asked for her recommendation. She smile, winked and said, try both. This really was my plan from the beginning, but I wasn't sure if that would fly or not. I know on international carriers you can do both, but sometimes domestic carriers (even on international service) can get a bit up tight.  I started with the cheese plate and a glass of port.   Once I devoured the cheese, I saw the sundae cart wheel down the opposite aisle.  It looked pretty damn good.  The other Stew serving BF took my plate, refilled my port and walked away.  The first Stew who suggested I try both came back by -- looked at me and kept on walking. I asked her about the sundae and she said "oh, you've already had the cheese, right".  After I confirmed, she walked straight back to the galley and dumped the two ice cream sundaes on her cart, right into the trash.  How tragic.  If I had known I would have gotten only one dessert, I would have gone for the ice cream.


After dinner, the Stews distributed a bottle of water and headed back to the galley to sit and relax.  I put my seat into the bed position and started watching a film.  During dinner I watched the new Sherlock Holmes sequel.  It was pretty decent.  Once dinner was over, I put on a film that I had already watched -- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which I really liked).  I watched this film and slept. I slept off and on for about 4.5 hours.  I woke up about 20 minutes before breakfast was served.  I watched a couple TV shows (Criminal Minds, Big Bang Theory and some British show that was tolerable) during breakfast.  Breakfast was a simple croissant and some meats, cheeses and fruit.  Pretty standard.


I took this quick picture outside as we were approaching Heathrow.  I love London so much - it is an amazing City and has several really dear friends of mine. Heathrow is full of opportunity -- you can fly anywhere in the world from Heathrow, it is just so exciting for me.  I know, I'm a nerd.


The flight to London is pretty short from Chicago and this flight was quite empty. I am pretty sure a flight in coach would have been perfectly comfortable. I've done it several times before, but the whole BusinessFirst upgrade was a fun little treat for me.  Would I fly BF every time I fly internationally?  Yes, if I could afford to do so -- which I really can't.

Have you flown United's BusinessFirst before? Do you fly BF if on flights that are less than 8 hours? What is your magic time frame where coach just won't work?  Do you think the cash and miles option is a good value?  Where is your favorite BF seat on United? Are you an Aisle or a Window Seat person?

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