When the CEO of an airline states his product is unacceptable, your expectations of a trip won’t be high. So it was with trepidation I boarded United Airlines’ Flight UA870 from Sydney to San Francisco for an overnight economy class flight.
The 13 hour overnight flight from Sydney to San Francisco is a jet lag nightmare with a 3pm departure and arrival in SFO at 11am the same morning. So getting some sleep on the flight is essential regardless of how cramped the seating is.
United’s online check-in is clunky but works and I was lucky to grab a windows seat that’s essential to getting any sort of sleep on an economy flight. The online check in refused to print a boarding pass so it was necessary to check in at the airport.
At the airport check in is efficient but you’ll have to enter most of the information about your accommodation in the US again. Keep these details handy as you’ll be using it for the US immigration form and may be asked about it on arrival.
One aspect about waiting in Sydney’s international terminal is just how dirty it is. It’s depressing that the Sydney Airport Corporation is too busy clipping the ticket of unfortunate travellers with excessive parking fees and service charges that it can’t be bothered employing cleaners.
When Jeff Simsek says his Airline’s economy class product is unacceptable he’s not joking. The old seats are less comfortable or roomy that those on Australian Jetstar domestic flights.
Leg room is about what’s expected on an oceanic economy flight but when the seat in front of you is reclined it’s difficult to read a magazine or use a laptop.
As far as power for your laptop or iPhone are concerned — forget about it, those things weren’t invented in the 1980s.
The age of the seats shows in the lack of any seat based entertainment system and the socket for the headphones was broken making it necessary to rip off some of the inflight magazine’s back cover to get it working.
Once working, the ‘entertainment’ was restricted to about ten channels, all of them offering some music and it’s suprising there is no news, business or comedy channel.
The 80s channel was eclectic mix including Madness and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax — maybe it was lucky we didn’t have video screens.
If one area illustrates just how 1980s the interior of United’s cabin is, it’s the centrally mounted video screens. These just don’t cut it and are an embarrassment on a modern aircraft.
Food and beverages
Two meals were served inflight with beverages. Alcoholic drinks were included and the red wine was a perfectly fine Fox Grove Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lunch two hours after departing Sydney and was braised chicken with overcooked vegetables accompanied by a lettuce salad and a very dry chocolate cake.
Breakfast two hours before arrival was eggs, baked beans and chicken sausage cooked within an inch of their lives. It was edible but I’d suggest the fruit next time.
One thing to note about the United economy class tables is they are incredibly uncomfortable to rest your arms upon. On more modern airlines these tables fold into two.
Overall the cabin crew were efficient and courteous although not really friendly.
A bizarre aspect about the flight were the in-air announcements which were quickly mumbled declarations that were difficult to follow. The sound levels were low and the announcements were crackly, it must have been that 1980s equipment.
One of the benefits of the United flight between Sydney and San Francisco is the sensible mid-morning arrival time so the airport and roads aren’t crowded. Getting away from the airport was easy.
In many ways United Airlines are a vision of the future — zombie businesses staggering on without the money to invest in modern technology.
The US airline industry has ruthlessly used Chapter 11 to keep afloat over the last thirty years and now we have governments doing everything they can to prop up ‘too big to fail’ businesses we’ll see a lot more companies looking like United.
Qantas’ move off the San Francisco route also illustrates the drooling, anti-customer incompetence of Alan Joyce and the rest of his management team. The United flight was packed and they can continue to run aging rust buckets on the route as there’s no competition.
Given there’s no competition on the Sydney-San Francisco route, United is what you’re stuck with. If you have to fly economy on this route get a window seat, bring a bottle of water and take some sleeping pills.
If you were around in the 1980s, then enjoy the experience of what it was like when United’s 747s were new and the pride of the sky.
Paul travelled courtesy of Salesforce on the way to the Dreamforce 2012 conference in San Francisco