I’ll post my full flight review in the coming days, but I feel compelled to dedicate a post on the less than international first class service I received and observed in United Global First last week.
It’s no secret that United is remarkably inconsistent when it comes to in-flight service and I think it’s most evident when flying internationally. Last year, I had a terrific experience in United BusinessFirst from Los Angeles to Sydney with attentive and professional flight attendants who were sincere in their desire to provide exceptional service. My return from Sydney was the exact opposite with indifferent, stoic flight attendants who seemed to treat service as a chore.
I was optimistic for my San Francisco-Tokyo Narita-San Francisco flights in Global First knowing that in the past, flights to/from Japan were a particular quality control focus. While the crew I had (the same on both flights) wasn’t stoic or indifferent, the service they provided wasn’t what you’d expect for international first class. I know, I know… not really a shocker for a U.S. airline when compared to foreign carriers. But here are a few unique observations from my flights.
On the ground, the reaction by two Global First passengers arriving in the gate room in Tokyo and being told to queue in the already huge 75+ passenger Group 1 boarding lane was priceless. They were visibly shocked there wasn’t priority given over business class (or even coach passengers with elite status).
Onboard, the dislike between the purser and lead flight attendant serving Global First was palpable, something unprofessional to visibly allow and express in view of the cabin.
When a passenger couldn’t immediately find storage space for his carry-on (a problem on the 747-400), a flight attendant who wasn’t working in First told him he’d have to put it in business class and to “write to the company to complain” without offering assistance. Fortunately, the purser was more proactive and found space for him in first class.
In many cases, the menu, amenity kit and slippers are presented to you after you’re seated in first class. On both of my flights, the menus were nicely displayed on the console, though the amenity kits and slippers were stored away in the seat compartments. Not a huge deal, but there’s just something about the presentation of them personally that adds a touch of class.
United introduced turndown service in Global First? Absolutely no mention of it was made on the outbound. And on the return, I overhead the lead flight attendant say, “What are we… a hotel?!” when telling another passenger about it after he found the seat cover in his compartment. She even went on to say that flight attendants love to take them to their crew bunks for use. Sigh.
Now I should mention that the flight attendants were each friendly in their own way (particularly when I reappeared on their return flight the next day), but service elements and overall cabin management on my flights certainly weren’t worth what a normally priced Global First ticket would run.
I was hoping for a stellar experience, but I drew the short stick on these United flights. I know there are flight attendants at United who pride themselves on delivering exceptional service. It’s just a shame that the amount who don’t or won’t step up will prevent United from ever being on par with their global counterparts.