One may ask how a couple of soft retirees, living in Bali, can experience a first class experience like we had on United. It was our first time flying United Global First, and it was worth it!
Miles. Lots and lots of miles. We were semi-pro travel hackers before we left the US, using credit cards and all sorts of schemes to earn miles. Although our balance is dwindling, we could not pass up the opportunity to fly United Airlines Global First from Beijing to Washington, Dulles. It was bad enough I was dragging Eric back to the States, he might as well have been comfortable on the way.
I sat in what would be considered “bulk head” with Eric sitting behind me, both in window seats. We were asked if we wanted to sit together, but I relish the window when I have no one sitting next to me.
Welcome to United Global First
As soon as we settled in, Trish, our purser, introduced herself, chatted, and made us feel welcome. A nice surprise considering United Air flight attendants tend to get a bad rap. We immediately received a glass of champagne.
The seats were comfortable and spacious, as they should be with only 8 seats of United Global First. I did not feel at all hemmed in by the seat, as I did on our Cathay Pacific Business Class flight. I reviewed the list they provided of United Global First amenities, including an amenity kit, 2 soft pillows, a plush duvet, a sleeping cushion with turn down service, and noise canceling headphones.
I checked out the amenity kit, flush with fancy philosophy branded products, but I did not think the kit was all that great. And, it was provided in a very masculine, United Global First branded case, which would not be one that I would use again in the future (unlike my Air France business class amenity kit, which I still travel with).
We were slightly delayed, which at that point I did not mind. I relish the amount of time I get to spend in the air when flying in a good business or first class cabin (unlike our Air China Business Class flight earlier that day). I also love when an entertainment system works on the ground, making a delay totally bearable.
I started with a movie classic, because I knew I would be interrupted with flight announcements and an eventual dinner service. As Chevy Chase entertained me in Caddyshack, I settled back, and locked myself in for take off. The United Global First seats have a shoulder strap, in addition to a lap belt, something I never quite understood (if you know why, please let me know in the comments).
We ordered our meals with Trish before take off, and she asked if we wanted to be woken for the pre-landing meal, or if she should let us sleep. That alone was a nice touch. As we were scheduled to land at 8pm east coast time, I tried my hardest not to sleep a ton on the flight, so I would be adjusted when we arrived.
The United Global First Dining Experience
The menu was pretty tasty.
A warm appetizer of shrimp skewer and spinach and feta-cheese filled pastry, with a lemongrass tomato sauce
We had a choice of main course between a beef tenderloin, braised chicken, stir-fried noodles, and a San Francisco style Cioppino. The Cioppino sounded lovely, but I always am nervous with fish and seafood on a flight, perhaps I still have PTSD from watching Airplane! too many times.
To make the most of my United Global First experience, I ordered the beef tenderloin, which was served with an herbed red wine sauce, Dijon mustard mashed potatoes, spinach, and pumpkin. It was good, with the steak tender and the mashed potatoes creamy. I drank a few glasses of red wine, which was entirely palatable, although my palate has a lot to be desired after more than a year in Asia, with little access to wine.
As I spent months missing cheese in Bali, so I ordered the cheese platter with a glass of port.
AND, I also ordered the vanilla ice cream sundae, with caramel sauce and fresh whipped cream. There is always something decadent about an ice cream sundae in the air, so it is a must eat anytime it is available.
After dinner, I watched another movie, and took a nap. Although Trish offered when we took off to make up the bed for me when I wanted to sleep, I have never taken advantage of this on a flight. Perhaps if I were looking to get a full 8 hours of sleep, I might be more inclined. Also, I tend to fall asleep, wake, and return to sleep, and have always felt more comfortable using the seat as is. I don’t know that anyone else took advantage of the turn down service. I will say, if I am ever on an A380 First Class flight, I will get the turn down, most likely when I am changing into my pajamas. There were no pajamas on this flight.
Desperately not wanting to sleep the entire time, I woke mid flight to enjoy a pork and shrimp wanton noodle soup, which was fresh, not a Cup O’Noodles in sight. I occasionally lifted the window shade to check the views out below, as we flew the entire flight during day light hours.
The one strange thing was that breakfast was served before arrival. As the sun just started to set as we made our way into Washington, DC, I was surprised that they did not offer another dinner, or at least a snack. I ordered the cereal and banana, but was just was not into it. I was unsure whether I was not fully hungry or did not want my brain to think it was morning when I knew I would be heading to bed in a couple of hours.
We landed, and quickly deplaned. I love being first off a flight and first in line at immigration, even though we now have Global Entry. But, due to the particularities of Washington, Dulles, we had to walk into one of the strange people movers that shuttle people across the airport. It seemed like we had to wait for every single person to deplane the Boeing 777 and board our people mover before we were able to get moving. And, after a 16 hour flight, even in United Airlines Global First, it felt like an eternity. But, United has no control over this issue.
Our priority bag tags meant our bags were one of the first to spit out, and we were on our way, back the US, for the first time in over 18 months. Thanks to United Global First, it was as painless of a journey back as possible.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.