Review of Our First International BusinessClass Flight – Part 2

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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! 😉

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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.

In-flight entertainment:

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.

 

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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.

Comments

  1. MP,

    It’s refreshing reading a 1st timers view of flying upfront. Your commentary is not ‘routine’. Did Mr. MP tuck you in?

  2. I first flew in British Airways Club World last summer, and I had many of the same impressions you did. It’s awfully hard to go back to the back of the bus for any flight longer than four hours for me. I found I didn’t even need to sleep the whole way–the engine noise insures I won’t get an uniterrupted night’s sleep–but I found that just being more relaxed and falling asleep for a few hours on my flight over made a huge difference.

    I’ve done several trips to Europe since in lie-flat seats, and I’ve found that the seat itself is the main reason to fly in a higher class of travel. Sure, the food is good, and the alcohol flows freely, but after being nearly a zombie after flying my last few transatlantic trips in coach before my first BA CW flight, I seem to function better when I fly lie-flat.

    I went to London for a Thursday through Monday trip last December, and I’m absolutely positive I would have had a hard time adjusting to the time change without being able to get at least several hours of sleep on the flight over in the biz seat. I don’t think it’s as critical flying back to the States, although it’s nice, but on the red eye over, I have got to have the lie flat!

  3. We used a car seat only twice in Business Class and both times the flight attendants were very happy to stow it for us after take off so we could take full advantage of the lie flat seats. We asked about it as soon as we boarded so if there was going to be a problem, we could have checked it before departure.
    Also, the ice cream sundae has always been my daughter’s favorite part of the Business Class meal. She even managed to get seconds on a few flights!

  4. Nice review, we have the Diono Radian RXT and it’s a carset and booster seat up to 120 lBS. The seat folds in like a clamshell so it can be stored under the seat or in the overhead bin. We just used it in Economy to Australia and in a week will use it in United Business back to the US. And just as you mentioned when our little one wants to go to sleep we’ll undo it from the seat and have her sleep in a flat bed. But so far we’re happy with the seat.

  5. We used car seats a couple of times with little kids when traveling – but soon we left them behind and started using this clip (http://www.babyearth.com/graco-car-seat-locking-clip.html?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=&kwid=productads-sku^2992-adtype^PLA-adid^14730658723) to adjust the rear 3 point seatbelt so it would fall properly over our childs chest and not their neck.

    It’s way lighter to travel with – but obviously it only works for a child who is old enough to have full use of their motor functions.

  6. I have the salmon with crab entree on an international UA flight about a week ago (SFO-FRA, so operated by sUA). It was the best UA biz class meal I have had in a couple of years – salmon was moist and tasted fresh, crab was a treat.

    On my return, the food was blah. So it seems maybe they have improved the catering from the USA but haven’t yet addressed the foreign flight kitchens.

  7. Regarding car seats – depending on where you are traveling, if you are going to most of Europe, I don’t think you would really need a car seat once in Europe, and you’d be better off leaving it at home.

    Our first trip to Europe, when our kiddo was about 1, we bought a device which would work as a backpack, but also had 2 wheels so she could be pulled kind of similar to a rollaboard bag. It worked perfectly for 2 weeks in Europe, multiple cities. Especially if you mainly use transit.

  8. @dhammer53, if flying at the front of the plane ever becomes routine for us, I need to do something else for a while. I have pretty strong feelings that it is a special thing that should not be taken for granted. I think my husband as having too much fun with the in-flight entertainment to know I was going to sleep! 😉

    @Stacey, neither. I was doing a little work for TC while I was there, but mostly it was a trip for us. The how’s and why’s of how we got the tickets were in part 1. 😉

    @Lee, I totally agree with you. It was nice to have the better seat coming back, but it was far more important going over. If I had to pick a way to have it when going to Europe, it would definitely be the outbound.

    @Jamison, I figured you knew what towels, nuts, and drinks looked like. 😉 I love his blog though, don’t get me wrong, we just have very different travel styles and goals.

    @DL, glad to hear the flight attendants were cooperative with stowing the car seat. That is very helpful. For kids, how could you beat an ice cream sundae while on an airplane? 😉

    @rahul, thanks for that info! That seat certainly isn’t inexpensive, but that is super handy to have it fit under the seat or in an overhead bin. Thanks again!

    @Mike, thanks for the info!

  9. @Carl, glad to hear I’m not the only one that thought it was tasty! I agree that the car seat decision may be impacted by your final destination. If you are hoping around Europe by public transit, then towing along a car seat would be a royal pain. Of course, if you are flying with an infant in their own seat, there isn’t a real way around a car seat of some sort.

  10. You made an important point about meal service at the beginning. I appreciate the experience of multi-course dining on-board, but I wish there was an option to have everything delivered at once, including dessert. That way you can maximize your sleep and avoid jet lag as much as possible.

  11. Very nice review. Appreciate your family focus (even when you’re not traveling with a child).
    .
    Ever since our kids were old enough to have their own seats we’ve trusted to the standard seat belt. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but most of the things one imagines going wrong on an airplane wouldn’t be mitigated by a car set or child harness (the exception being severe turbulence).
    .
    Please don’t feel obligated to do an in-depth food review if it’s not something that interests you. It’s enough to know that the salmon and ice cream sundaes were the way to go. Too many bloggers write uninspired tracts about food when it’s pretty clear that they’d be just as happy eating in an Olive Garden (with apologies to Olive Garden aficionados).

  12. It’s refreshing to read of the joy a first time business class passenger takes in the experience. Some of us are jaded because we have the frequent privilege of flying in one of the front cabins. It’s great to be reminded of how good we have it.

  13. 5 points to Gryffindor for proper use of the word “asinine.” Unfortunately those sorts of points do not transfer to United.

  14. Don’t know about the PMCO seats, but we’ve successfully used CARES on both PMUA and BA lie flat seats. We found the trick is to take them off the seat before converting into a bed, as they can get a little stuck in the seat as it reclines and comes back up.

  15. /// 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… ///

    For those who have not experienced those “all-out beds”, you are much better off with the push-button kind of lie-flat seats you described. Trust me. Well, at least that was my experience with Singapore Airlines’ loudly touted “super-wide” new-ish business class seats which truly suck! If you google reviews about their business class seats, you will find lots of people with similar negative views.

    P.S. I flew from Asia to LA and back, no jammies at all either, not that I really wanted them.

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