Rookie Alli just flew her first international business class flight. I asked her to share the perspective of someone seeing the front of the plane for the first time. She flew United BusinessFirst, which is widely accessible to Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America with miles, so if you haven’t flown up front, pay attention to this trip report. For my perspective on the same cabin, see my trip report from London to Los Angeles.
I recently experienced my first flight that wasn’t in economy, flying from Buenos Aires to Newark in United BusinessFirst on my way to Washington, DC.
Was it worth the extra miles? What can you expect on your first trip in business class? How comfortable are those beds? Fly with me, and find out.
I flew the overnight international leg into Newark on one of United’s Boeing 767-300 planes, which offer BusinessFirst passengers a fully flat bed.
BusinessFirst is United’s confusingly named business class. United’s true three-cabin international first class is called Global First.
Besides the bed, BusinessFirst passengers are given free meals, drinks, in-flight entertainment, an extra baggage allowance, an amenity kit, and Priority Access, which allows you to board first and enjoy access to United and other Star Alliance lounges.
My taxi to the international airport in Buenos Aires got stuck in a bit of traffic, so I can’t report on the Star Alliance lounge there (located near Gate 9 at EZE), so I’ll skip to the actual flight.
Buenos Aires (EZE) – Newark (EWR)
Depart: 8:00 PM on Wednesday, May 8
Arrive: 6:10 AM on Thursday, May 9
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300 (two cabin)
Seat: 1D (Business Class)
When I arrived at my gate, I was among the first dozen people to board the plane. I loved this, as I am usually stuck in the middle of a long line both at the gate and in the jetway. My seat, 1D, was in the very first row after boarding the plane. I had chosen the location of my seat for a very specific reason involving the layout of this particular plane.
If you are flying alone in United BusinessFirst on a two-class international Boeing 767-300 jet, try your hardest to ensure that your seat is a D seat. (You can figure out your plane model by looking at your itinerary online. You can figure out its exact seat map by clicking View Seats on united.com or matching up the plane type and airline on seatguru.com.)
This two-cabin 767-300 has a 2-1-2 seat configuration in BusinessFirst, with the D seats being the ones in the middle.
The D seats are the only seats with both direct aisle access and no possibility of anyone climbing over you to the aisle. If you are sitting in a D seat, you have access to the aisle on both sides of your seat. If you are seated in an A or L seat–the window seats–you will have to climb over your seatmate in order to leave your seat. If you are seated in a B or K seat–the aisle seats–you may have your seatmate climbing over you. Having a D seat allows you to avoid unnecessary disturbances and fully enjoy your experience and sleep.
I might even recommend getting D seats if traveling with a companion if you mainly plan on sleeping.
I found my seat and settled in.
The flight attendant immediately came by to offer to hang up my jacket and to take my drink order. I only ordered water, but noticed that a number of my travel companions took advantage of a glass of pre-flight champagne.
There was a little shelf to the right and behind my seat that held the dinner and drinks menu, noise-cancelling headphones, safely information, and a toiletries kit.
The best feature of this shelf was a plug where I was able to charge my (rapidly dying) cellphone. Yes, the same one later stolen from me in Buenos Aires. 🙁 I had rushed out the door on the way to the airport without fully charging it, and was glad I didn’t have to wait until arriving in Newark to plug it in.
I had more than enough room to prop up my feet on the footrest that is directly below the television while flipping through the menu.
As the rest of the passengers boarded the plane, the flight attendant came around to take our dinner orders. The full menu read as follows:
After giving my dinner order, I decided to peruse the entertainment options.
Each seat came equipped with a personal TV that could be controlled by both touchscreen or a little remote on the right armrest. They had hundreds of TV episodes and more movies than I felt like scrolling through. I watched a rerun of Friends and settled in to watch Argo while dinner was served.
The flight attendant first brought around hot towels, warm nuts, and cold drinks. I wasn’t planning on drinking on this flight, but immediately changed my mind when I noticed they offered a chardonnay from Wente Vineyards, a winery owned by the family of a college friend.
Next came the salmon tartare and salad. The tartare was delicious, and I usually am not much of a seafood gal. The salad, which I ordered with creamy cilantro dressing, was not the best. I think it would have improved vastly with the addition of the balsamic vinaigrette and the elimination of the soggy croutons scattered throughout.
I had ordered the Tuscan-style chicken breast as my main course, which was brought around very quickly after the appetizer plates had been cleared.
To be honest, the majority of the plate was a disappointment. The chicken was decent, but dry. The asparagus was limp and tasted like it had been cooked days before, then reheated–which it probably was. The meal’s only redeeming quality was the risotto, which was rich, creamy, and warming. I would have preferred a large bowl of it as my complete meal!
Dessert came in two stages–a cheese plate directly after dinner, and an ice cream sundae cart about twenty minutes later. I really enjoyed the cheese plate. There was a brie, a bleu cheese, and a gouda along with grapes and crackers.
The sundae cart was kind of a choose-your-own-adventure. The flight attendant offered chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, nuts, cherries, and various other toppings. Even though I was pretty full, I had to order one in order to write a full trip report, right? 😉
Tuckered out from all this food (seriously, it was a lot!), I readied myself and my seat for bed. The toiletries kit was packed with Philosophy products–one of my favorite brands–along with a number of other items.
I used the controls on the armrest to put my seat into its fully flat bed setting. As this was my first time flying in a fully flat bed, I was unsure what to expect. Let me tell you, I will have a tough time going back to flying redeyes in economy. I was able to stretch out in the bed and also had more than enough room to sleep curled up on my side. The blanket and pillow were large and comfortable, and for the most part, I slept though the night (minus a few turbulent awakenings).
After about seven hours of sleep, I woke up a few minutes before breakfast was served. I ordered the cheese omelette, forgetting how picky I am about the way my eggs are cooked. The omelette was decent though runny, and I definitely enjoyed the potatoes, warm croissant, fresh fruit, and yogurt more.
After breakfast was cleared, the pilot announced that we would soon be descending. I spent the last part of the flight watching a few more sitcom reruns, as the entertainment system was kept on until after we had landed. I enjoyed this–it seems like in flight entertainment usually shuts off right when you are in the middle of something good!
The BusinessFirst cabin was the first to get off of the plane, which was nice as we were able to be the first ones at immigration and customs. Priority Access meant that my checked bag was tagged Priority, so it was literally the first one on the carousal. I flew through the checkpoints faster than ever before and went on to check in to my second flight.
United Lounge at Newark (Terminal A)
I had an approximately four-hour layover at Newark before my departure to Reagan National in D.C., so I set out to find a lounge to hang out in. I was in Terminal A, which had a number of different security checkpoints based on what gate you are flying out of. Luckily, there was a United lounge just past security in Terminal A-Gates 20-28. I presented my international-premium-cabin boarding pass and was admitted.
This United Lounge offers showers, clean bathrooms, free WiFi, a bar, and a great breakfast spread that included coffee, juice, fruit, cereal, yogurt, bagels, and doughnut holes.
I loaded up my plate and was able to snag a table to myself where I watched the news and did some work.
When it was time to board my next flight, I went back to the economy-cabin-and-crowded-gates world I’m accustomed to (it was a single-cabin flight) with fond memories of the flat-bed-and-lounge access world into which I’d just been admitted.
My first experience in a premium cabin internationally was a qualified success. The flat bed is everything it’s cracked up to be. I got a full night of comfortable sleep, meaning an extra day of fun in DC instead of being a zombie.
The free drinks and personal entertainment system made the rest of the flight a joy.
The perks of flying business class like priority security, priority boarding, and lounge access between flights all substantially enhanced my trip.
My only quibble was with the food, which was simply not very good.
But overall, I definitely thought the trip was great value. The 20,000 mile premium (50k vs. 30k) to fly business class instead of economy from Buenos Aires to Newark was well worth it in my opinion.
I’m looking forward to my next chance to fly international business class in a few months on LAN back to the US.