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UNITED AIRLINES ECONOMY CLASS
THE ROUTE Sydney to San Francisco.
THE PLANE Boeing 777.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME MileagePlus is United Airlines' frequent-flyer programme. Award Miles can be exchanged for free flights, hotels, rental cars, upgrades, gifts and gadgets. United is a member airline of Star Alliance, making it possible to earn and redeem point awards with major world airlines including Thai, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Air New Zealand.
UP THE BACK OR POINTY END? Economy window seat 34K.
TIME IN THE AIR Twelve hours, 18 minutes (an hour ahead of schedule due to favourable conditions).
THE SEAT STUFF An economy seat pitch of 78 centimetres and width of 46cm provided adequate space for the long flight. The passenger directly in front of me reclined his seat minutes after takeoff, putting a stop to plans of working on my laptop.
BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE Economy passengers are allowed to check one bag free (up to 22.67 kilograms, and 157cm). The second is charged at US$100 ($118). One carry-on bag, up to 18kg, may be brought on board.
THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT Trans-Pacific passengers welcomed the April move by United to introduce Boeing 777 aircraft on its services from Sydney and Melbourne to San Francisco and Los Angeles for one major reason: personal seat-back entertainment systems at last.
All seats have personal monitors offering multi-channel audio/video on demand, including latest-release movies, TV episodes, audiobooks, games, music and flight deck information. Thankfully, there were no problems with my monitor, though my adjoining passenger had issues.
COMFORT FACTOR Pretty good on the whole. I usually dread the flight to the United States, but this time the hours went by in an enjoyable splurge of back-to-back movies and television episodes. Would I have been more comfortable in an Economy Plus seat with more legroom and personal space? Certainly, it's worth the extra dollars for so many hours.
The experienced crew gets the job done with a minimum of fuss in most instances. One exception was the remarkably long time - and several attempts - it took for the cabin manager to address the problems my neighbour was having with her entertainment system. The passenger showed more patience than I would have mustered under the circumstances. You just don't need these kinds of hassles on long-haul.
FEEDING TIME A late lunch of cheesy pasta and salad was served about 45 minutes after takeoff. Mid-flight sandwiches circled. About an hour before landing, breakfast (omelette, yoghurt, fruit) was offered.
ONE MORE THING United is outfitting aircraft, including the 777, with global satellite Wi-Fi. Soon passengers will be able to work, stream and stay glued to social media during international flights.
THE VERDICT The seat-back entertainment system markedly improves the appeal of United on this popular long-haul route. When the teething problems are sorted out, United will be offering an attractive trans-Pacific service at a competitive price.
Tested by Kristie Kellahan, who flew as a guest of the airline.
- Sunday Star Times
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