Flight Review: United Airlines BusinessFirst Los Angeles to Sydney

It has been a few years since I’ve been back for a visit to Australia and given my relative work flexibility nowadays, this year ended up being a perfect time to spend another couple of weeks down under. Also, with my flexibility, I was able to book flights on United for which confirmable upgrade space using Systemwide Upgrades, now Global Premier Upgrades, were available.

After spending a bit of time in the Terminal 7 United Club at LAX, I headed down to gate 77 a bit early as the flight was zeroed out in availability and there might have been a chance for a VDB. It didn’t turn out that way, which was fine, but I would have likely jumped on it given my flexibility.

Boarding started as scheduled and after the concierge/GS agent boarded the first class passengers she walked to the gate from the International First Lounge, I was among the first few to board. I reserved forward-facing seat 14K on the upper deck.

After getting situated, I headed up to the flight deck for a chat with the pilots, as well as a quick trip to the lavatory.

While in the lav, I overheard the gate agent mention to the captain that the flight was weight restricted, there were 30 revenue standbys in the gate “biting at the bit” to get onboard the nearly full flight, and he offered up the option to offload some bags to accommodate a few passengers. I don’t know how many passengers were able to make it on, but there was one cart of huge bags they indeed pulled off that didn’t make the flight.

I settled back into my seat and we took a delay while they processed the passengers and removed the bags, which I could see from my window.

Flight attendants brought around the menu and amenity kit, as well as offered pre-departure beverages. By 11:30pm PDT, we were “wheels up” and service began with hot towel service (the bigger Continental-style ones), warmed nuts and drink service off the aisle cart.

I always appreciate how quickly United gets the meal service going on the late flights to Australia. To begin:

The non-descript “chilled appetizer” was a salmon-wrapped piece of some type of fish I couldn’t identify and I neglected to ask the flight attendant what exactly it was. I went with the buttermilk ranch dressing on my rather common, but tasty salad. Croutons were added separately from a dish from the cart.

United recently upgraded the business class menus to offer four main courses instead of three.

I went with the grilled pork chop, which ended up being huge and delicious – a marked improvement from my last international business class meal on United.

While I normally skip the cheese and dessert courses to sleep, I went ahead with them since there’s just sooo much time to sleep on the 14.5 hour flight.

Shortly after having my tray removed, a flight attendant brought bottled water prior to me reclining back into lie-flat mode to get some sleep.

I previously mentioned how I preferred the Continental lie-flat seats on my Dublin flight review, and my impression was reinforced on this flight. The reason? Being 6’1”, I use the entire seat space when sleeping and have to rest my head on the pillow lying over the very hard headrest. It’s fine when simply relaxing in the seat in an upright mode, but damn is that headrest stiff as a board and uncomfortable on the neck when in lie-flat position.

I only ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep total, unfortunately, and tossed and turned for a while before getting up to grab a snack. The offerings:

In addition to the sandwiches and fruit, chips and nuts were also available. When I asked for a coffee at the back galley, the flight attendant said she’d prepare it and bring it to my seat.

I watched a couple of new movies and then scanned the TV programs, which didn’t seem to be any different than the offerings on-hand since April, sadly. Still, there’s enough entertainment to keep anyone busy for such a long flight.

Breakfast began about 2 hours outside of Sydney and I went with the scrambled egg dish. It was very similar to any domestic first class offering, but satisfying enough.

Now, a note about the service. The two main flight attendants serving business class upstairs were the best I’ve experienced on United. While not quite as perfectionistic as those I’ve encountered on other international airlines, they consistently smiled, had a professional disposition, weren’t rushed and accommodated every request with pleasure. By United’s standards, they were excellent and I have since sent a note to the 1K email giving them compliments. Well done, United!

We touched down about 7:00am and I’ve never seen the immigration lines so long in all the times I’ve arrived in Sydney. Fortunately, United provides business (and first) class passengers with the express lane passes and I made it from aircraft door to the customs exit within 20 minutes max.

I simply love Australia and I’m excited to get to spend a couple of weeks here. This coming week, I get to experience Virgin Australia’s business class service from Sydney to Perth, as well as review a couple of new hotels. Stay tuned for those posts in the coming days.


  1. Nice review. I flew that route a few years back (unfortunately in the back, although we put in for SWUs), and the service was great, of course it helped that one of my good friend’s dad was the captain, but even before they knew we knew him, it was great. Once we got to Sydney, the customs and immigrations line was a mess, lines were so long that they weren’t even defined, it took over an hour to get through immigrations alone. It then took another hour to get out of the airport because of the line for customs (leaving of the baggage claim area there were four separate lines merging into one).

    • @Kris. Thanks! I’ve flown in the back quite a few times on this route, myself… was happy to have the SWUs this time, though the W-fare was a bit painful.
      @Paul: Thanks. Nope… no cargo was pulled that I could see. Just huge bags and one long cardboard box. Probably about 20ish in total.
      @FriendlySkies @Matthew: I normally can sleep a long while, but the damn headrest must’ve gotten to me too much this time.
      @Bill N DC: I’m jealous you flew the -SP!
      @George: As @Andrew mentions, main deck seats are larger and the aisle seats have larger footwells. Well… the center of the 4-seaters have the largest, I believe. I don’t know anything about AC’s seats.
      @Deals We Like @AAdvantagegeek: Thanks!

  2. Great Report – out of curiosity, was it cargo that was offloaded or passenger baggage? Hopefully the former…

  3. Thanks for the report, Darren. I flew SFO-SYD-SFO in late-May, well before the changes to the business and first class catering.. Oh well.

    fwiw, I’m also 6’1″, and find that by sleeping on my side, I can get pretty comfortable. Slept about ten minutes shy of eight hours (non-stop!) on both flights. Scooting all the way up to the top of the seat seemed to help, as well as being in a rear-facing seat.

  4. That pork chop looks great and that mid-flight wrap (at least its menu description) is making me hungry.

    I’m about 6’1″ as well and last time I flew to SYD on UA C I got 12 hours of sleep! I had started my day in London, though… 😉

  5. I’m 6’5″ and am planning to take this exact flight. Should I be worried about the seat length when it’s in bed mode? Would I be better off taking an Air Canada Executive First fight out of Vancouver?

    Also, do you think you’d have been better off being on the main deck? Seat Guru says that the business first seats on the upper deck are three inches shorter than on the main deck.

  6. FYI. UA 747 upperdeck biz seats are a bit shorter in terms of space than the downstairs biz class seats….but the trade off is a quieter more personal cabin!

  7. Just had the porkchop myself on EWR-FRA, and I agree that it was pretty tasty. Never been on the upper deck before, but will be experiencing it in a few weeks’ time on SFO-PVG – I hope the reports are true that sleeping on your side makes the fit a bit better, I’m 6’6″!

    • @Food Wine and Miles: Yes, sleeping on your side definitely helps, plus… if you grab a window seat, you can effectively extend your stretch by placing your feet on the window-side bins. Maybe not the classiest thing to do, but at 6’6″, it might make it even more comfortable. Enjoy your PVG trip!

  8. Just a note… United is running their “Outperform” recognition award through Sept. It is available on your United mobile app (http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/company/outperform.aspx). If you have exceptional service, I recommend you use this as a “Thank You” for the United staff, since each submission enters them for a chance to win up to $50,000 (plus a prize for you). It’s best to fill out the form with the flight staff there so they can give you the right codes for their position & employee number. It just would have been nice for your two exceptional flight attendants to get a shot at the prize as a way for you to recognize them.

  9. Having done SFO-SYD several times I think your report was fair and balanced. The food is not stellar but no worse than you find on BA, LH and other mid-tier competitors. The service is much better than many UA critics would allow (and superior to EK in my opinion). And for those of us under 6 feet, the lie-flat seats are light years ahead of the “angled lie flat” seats when it comes to sleeping.

    My main complaint with UA (and others) are the crappy midflight snacks (is it impossible not to put condiments on sandwiches, i.e. butter, mayo) and lack of choice for meal service timing. Sometimes I don’t need another meal at 12am but maybe I want it at 6am. Far too many airlines force you to eat on their schedule, which is annoying when you are paying $5-10 grand for your seat.

  10. Darren,

    I just started a new job Flyin/Flyout of Asia from Western United States nine times/year. I get business class seats purchased as full fare nearly 50% of the time(the others are at purchased as discount business class ). Total Award Miles will be around 170K miles/Year.

    What are the chances of getting into Global Services at the end of the year.


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