Flight Review: United Airlines BusinessFirst, San Francisco to Seoul

[This is the second part of my Million-Mile Trip Report. You can read the introductory post by clicking here.]

My inbound flight from Reno arrived about four hours prior to boarding for the Seoul flight, so I had plenty of time to set up shop and get some work done in the international terminal United Club.

There was a slightly later RNO-SFO flight I could have booked to reduce my layover, but since the Express flights are the first to get delayed by low ceilings at SFO, the 5:30 a.m. departure from Reno is always my preference.

It was a beautiful morning and I situated myself near the windows after grabbing a morning snack from the assortment of fruit, cereal, yogurt, muffins or bagels. There wasn’t a toaster for the bagels anywhere in sight, which I thought was odd.

a breakfast buffet with donuts and cereals

United Club morning snacks

As I obsessively do, I monitored my aircraft’s inbound flight to SFO (from HKG this day) and watched it turn the corner to park at gate 95.

a plane on the runway

N122UA arriving from HKG

Three hours in the club zipped by since I was busy working. About 15 minutes prior to boarding, I packed up and headed to the gate, snapping the best pictures of the aircraft I could through the “annoying†sun shades on that side of the terminal.

an airplane parked at an airport

Another view of N122UA

people sitting in a waiting area

Look! No gate lice!

After the solo Global Services passenger boarded, I was probably the fifth person in Group 1 to make my way down the corridor and jet bridge to arrive at the aircraft door. Flight attendants were busy in the galley, though said a cursory “hello!â€

I had seat 15A on the upper deck, and after stowing my rollaboard in the back of the upstairs closet, I settled in. The BusinessFirst amenity kit and noise reduction headphones were on the shelf under the IFE monitor, with menus distributed later by a flight attendant.

a seat on an airplane with a pillow and a blanket

Seat 15A

a screen on a plane

IFE monitor

The upper deck filled up slowly, with flight attendants offering a pre-departure beverage and later asking for each passenger’s first and second choice for lunch. Before pushback, I quickly visited the lav as I had consumed an enormous amount of coffee in the club and knew I wouldn’t make it to cruising altitude to go again (TMI, I know).

The usual bottles of cleanser, facial mist and moisturizing lotion from philosophy were stocked and nearly full. [Side note: I’ve never used the cleanser in all of the years of it being offered (philosophy, Murad, H2O+, or whatever)… do you?]

a group of hand sanitizers on a shelf

Lavatory amenities (and the edge of my finger)

We took off on-time and flight attendants were quick to come around with a hot towel, followed by beverages and warm nuts prior to the meal service.

a glass of water on a table

Post-departure drinks

a bowl of nuts on a laptop

Warm nuts

A look at the menu:

a menu of a restauranta menu of a restaurantAnd the drinks:

a menu of wine and champagnea menu with black textI went with the Parmesan-pepper dressing on my salad, and selected the tenderloin of beef for my main course.

a plate of salad and sandwich

Appetizer and salad

a plate of food with sauce on it

Tenderloin of beef

I didn’t touch the appetizer, but the salad hit the spot and was complimented with garlic bread (other selections were also available). The beef was cooked (heated) to my liking and tasted great, and the potatoes were just average. I don’t know why United’s string beans always come out rubbery, but these were exceptionally so.

After the main course, a cheese selection (I passed on it) and ice cream sundae with a choice of toppings were offered. I’m a rather basic ice cream guy and simply had both chocolate and caramel sauce on my sundae.

a dessert in a glass bowl

Ice cream sundae

As trays and setups were collected, bottled water was handed out by the flight attendants, who were efficient and friendly all throughout the service. I’ll call that above average for United.

Before taking a nap, I finished a couple episodes each of Nurse Jackie and House of Cards on the in-flight entertainment system.

a map of the ocean

Always love the map

I probably only slept for 3-4 hours solidly, then just relaxed with my eyes closed in between mid-flight snacks.

a menu of a flight snack

a sandwich and a bottle of water

Mid-flight snack

I normally balk at the hummus and pepper jack cheese sandwiches on United, but I was apparently hungry because I had three of them! And two bags of chips and chocolate and nuts and…

Like clockwork, at about 1:30 from Seoul, the cabin lights came up and flight attendants began the pre-arrival meal service.

a menu of a breakfastI was happy to see a non-breakfast option since it wasn’t anywhere near breakfast time, but the soup didn’t appeal to me, so I went with the egg dish. It’s basically the exact same thing you get on United’s domestic mid- or trans-cons. Just “meh.â€

a plate of food on a tray

A standard United breakfast

As I mentioned above, service was friendly and efficient with nothing standing out as particularly stellar (or the other way around). For United, I suppose that’s top notch.

We arrived close to 30 minutes early and even though I was upstairs, I was among the first dozen or so off the flight and headed to immigration via the underground train from the midfield concourse.  I was through it and customs relatively quickly, grabbed some cash from an ATM, and headed outside to the bank of scheduled buses for the various downtown Seoul hotels.

Up next is my review of the less than one-year-old Conrad Seoul. [And after proofing this, I realize that I didn’t mention the seat (comfort, etc.) at all. I have to remember that not everyone flies United as much as I do! I’ll include seat info on my return flight’s review, and I’m sure I won’t forget since I had a problem with it. 😉 ]

– Follow Darren Booth on Twitter, @FrequentlyFlyin, for more airline, hotel and travel industry news, reviews and opinions.


United Million-Mile Trip Report: Intro and Background

Amenity Kit Review: United Airlines BusinessFirst

Hotel Review: Conrad Seoul, Executive Floor King Room

United WOWs With a Fantastic Million-Mile Congrats


  1. Nice review–good ‘ol United does not change. I am happy to see breakfast on the pre-arrival menu. When I took the trip a year ago, there was only some sort of chicken dish and a fruit/cheese plate–I love UA’s fake eggs!

    SFO-based crew I assume?

  2. Good review! Sounds like a typical UA international flight in business. I’m surprised that they don’t offer any Korean dishes on a flight to ICN. The wine selection seemed to be improved, especially with Edna Valley, but that’s assuming they actually boarded the wine.

    To answer your question: yes, I do use the mist spray and the hand lotion in the lavatory to keep myself hydrated. They have the same setup on the p.s. flight.

  3. @Ptahcha: There was a Korean dish on the return (which I had). I use the mist and lotion, too, but the third one – a facial cleanser, I believe – I’ve never touched. I just don’t want to wash my face off with lav water after using it.

  4. Great review! I really love the United meal menu you took. What tools did you use to edit it to be so beautiful and tidy?

  5. @Pablo: Thanks! I scanned the menu with my cheapo printer. The only “problem” with posting it this way is that its contents aren’t searchable.

  6. @ Andrew – PMUA has no such thing of intl flight crew, only PMCO does, however, PMCO don’t have a int’l base in SFO, and certainly all int’l fliying out of SFO are PMUA crew. PMUA crew can bid on domestic or int’l base on seniority, if your seniority is low but a language qualify FA, you can still fly some of the high seniority routes like SFO-HKG. Btw, PMUA SFO base crews are ok, but definately not the friendliest in the system. SEA certainly is better than SFO, and everyone know that.

  7. @ Darren – What was the Korean dish you got served for your return flight ? Was it bibimbap ? Ssam bap ? Did they use a big bowl for that dish too ? How was it compare with OZ or KE ?

    • @ORDnHKG: It was a chicken dish (don’t have the menu handy just now… but will when I post the flight review later this week or next). Bibimbap would probably be too elaborate for United. 😉

  8. @ ORD n HKG,
    While you technically are correct that PMUA has a separate operation (domestic and international) in US crew base, the internationally based flight attendants (in Asia, Europe) fly only international flights. I would expect the crew flying on Darren’s flight, fly almost exclusively International flights and many have been since the purchase of the routes from Pan Am. Any carrier who segregates domestic and international (AA, PMCO, USAir?) have provisions to allow domestic crews to pick up international routes. There is little difference between either system. BTW I agree with you that the Seattle crews are great, but I’ve also had great crews from SFO. I guess it is an individual issue, each crew is different.

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