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As I described in Part 1 of this review, my husband and I had our first experience in a premium cabin on an international flight when we headed to London to see the 2012 Olympic Games. We had the experience of flying in BusinessFirst on a United 777-200 aircraft, and we had a blast.
After we settled into our seats and had a chance to look over the menu, our dinner orders were taken. You have the option of having dinner served in courses, or you can get it “Executive Dining” and have it served all at once. The courses took quite a while to all be served, which is great if you are looking for something to pass the time on the flight. However, I can see a bunch of value in having it all served at once, as it would allow you to get more work done or sleep for a longer period on the flight. If you are traveling with young children I can especially see how getting the executive meal service would be helpful. Young children may not appreciate you focusing on dinner for over an hour instead of focusing on them!
I selected the shrimp for an appetizer, and it was surprisingly good. I won’t even pretend to be a food critic, but it exceeded my expectations for shrimp served on an airplane. I was sad there was only one! The flight attendants come by with a bread basket with various types of breads – you can have more than one if you want. My favorite was the pretzel roll that was a little dry, but still had a good flavor. It would have been even better with some mustard and a beer.
The salad was also very edible considering it was served at 36,000 feet. However, the real standout of the meal was the grilled salmon with lump crab meat entrée. It wasn’t just edible, it was really good! Again, I am not a “foodie” by any stretch, but if this were a restaurant, I would have returned to order this entrée. My husband and I both agreed that it was yummy.
This is in contrast to the food on the return fight. I had some type of chicken on the return and it looked exactly like it tasted. Not that great. It was edible, but it wasn’t as good as the food on the outbound portion of the journey.
After dinner (and a couple glasses of wine), I had the cheese plate and a glass of port for dessert. I enjoyed the cheeses, but the port was a bit too “cough syrupy” for my tastes. From memory, I probably drank it anyway, but I do remember it wasn’t my favorite.
My husband had the ice cream sundae and it looked like a winner all the way around. They bring them around on a cart and you get to pick from an array of toppings. I can see this being the hit of the flight with my daughter, if she had been with us. Though, I have no doubt she would be less than impressed when ice cream sundaes weren’t served on all future flights.
After dinner I was sufficiently (over) stuffed, and I knew that the clock was ticking to get some sleep. We left Houston around 6PM at night and by the time we finished dinner it was probably close to 8PM in Houston. However, it was already 2AM in London. Our plane was scheduled to land around 9AM London time that next morning. If we wanted to ward-off jet lag to a great extent, we needed to get as much sleep as possible on the plane, and stay up all of the next day. Our trip was much too short to waste a day or two feeling sleepy. Given that, we did what we could to start getting ready for some sleep as the sun was setting outside our window.
The lie-flat seat:
With a push of the button, the seat can lie back like a recliner, and then if you continue pushing the button it turns into a lie-flat bed. Sure, it may not be impressive compared to some airlines where the flight attendants magically transform your seat into an all-out bed as soon as you head to the restroom to get ready for sleep, but having a lie flat seat of any type is infinitely better sleeping upright in a coach seat. United does not give you pajamas to change into (unlike many other airlines), but that seems like an asinine thing to even be writing about. Wah, the airline didn’t give me pajamas! 😉
When I put the seat all the way back, put on my eye mask (provided in the amenity kit), and snuggled under the blanket, it was not hard at all to fall asleep. Sure it isn’t a “Westin Heavenly Bed”, but you are on an airplane in a seat that lays all the way back so you can sleep as you fly over the ocean. Crazy. This is the stuff most people dream about, but it can be a reality. It really is fantastic, and makes you a bit sad for the majority of the folks on the plane who have no choice but to try and sleep while sitting upright. It’s also not hard to understand that not only do adults sleep better when laying down, but so would kids. I don’t think my daughter would have any trouble getting comfy in this seat while getting some sleep. There is one very large potential issue for kids though, and I’ll come back to that in a minute.
I actually was either eating or sleeping for the majority of the outbound flight, but when we flew home from London, I made sure to stay awake for as much of the flight as possible to not have a time change issue when we arrived home (well, that and the crying twins seated directly behind us). As a result, I got to see many programs on the in-flight entertainment. My show of choice for the flight was several episodes of the newest season of Californication, but there were many new(ish) TV shows, documentaries, and movies to choose from. Plenty to keep us both entertained, and there were also many kid-friendly movies that would have worked for our daughter. The in-flight entertainment is complimentary – no having to swipe a credit card just to have some on-board entertainment. I also appreciated having outlets in our seat to charge all of our electronic goodies.
The Kid Problem:
If you decide to fly in the United 777-200 BusinessFirst cabin with a young child, you have some decisions to make when it comes to ensuring the child is in a safe child restraint system. If you decide to bring a carseat on-board, then you have to think about what are you going to do with the carseat when you want to lay the seat back and let the child sleep. Naturally you don’t have to lie the seat back, but that does diminish the value of the seat a little bit for the child. Potentially you could take the car seat off the lie-flat seat and put it to the side, though technically this isn’t all that safe since it won’t fit under the seat in front of you. It also probably won’t fit in the overhead bins – at least not the ones I have seen, though I’d love some feedback on that. Perhaps it could fit in a closet, but you would really need the cooperation of the flight attendants, and there is no guarantee the space will be available.
The next idea for children starting somewhere between 18-24 months is using the CARES harness. However, the CARES harness will not fit around the entire shell of the seat. I think the maximum circumference for the harness is 60 inches. I didn’t think to try it on this flight, but if it would fit around just the seat part, and not the outer shell, it could technically work. However, I have read about some flight attendants not allowing this as their manual said it must fit around the entire seat, so there might be some safety concern there that I am not aware of. Additionally, I am fairly certain that on this particular seat that there is no way to access the seat portion itself as it is attached to the outer shell in a way that wouldn’t allow the harness to go down around. I will do a much better job at paying attention to that detail next time.
Another thing to look out for in premium cabins are airbags in the seat belts (yes, there really are airline seat belt airbags on some aircraft). The Delta website points out the following locations where child restraint systems are not allowed:
- Any seat in an emergency exit row
- Any seat one row forward or aft of an emergency exit row
- Any aft facing seat
- Any Bulkhead seat when the car seat is a combination car seat/stroller.
- Flat Bed BE Seats on 777 aircraft
The Delta website goes on to say that a Child Restraint System (CRS) is not permitted in BE on 777 since an airbag seat belt cannot be deactivated. The Air New Zealand website essentially says the same thing, but applies it to the CARES Harness as well. The United website has no such stipulation regarding flat bed seats, but the dilemma about how to safely restrain a young child in the premium cabin remains. I found a few related threads on Flyertalk here and here.
I do not have the solution to this problem figured out. We do have a flight with our daughter on a 787 flat-bed seat on United in November. She is large enough that for all practical purposes she could use just the seat belt, but she would certainly be much safer and more secure with an actual child restraint system. We will have the CARES harness and car seat with us and see what happens. I am very curious to hear from others who have faced this dilemma, as it doesn’t seem to be one that is widely discussed. There is a bunch of discussion about lap infants in premium cabins, but not as much about the over two year old crowd. Of course I realize some will say it is just further proof that children don’t belong in premium cabins. That is all well and good, but the reality is that many children do fly in premium cabins, so I am interested in finding what the safest and most comfortable arrangement for little kiddos who are sitting up front. Expect more posts on this issue to come.
Truth be told, this first row of economy doesn’t look like the end of the world on the 777-200, but it also doesn’t look as nice as laying all the way down and getting some rest.
We had an amazing time on our first international business class flight. It really is a world apart from economy, and I hope that it continues to feel that special on our future premium cabin adventures.