United Killing (Our) First Class Flight to Australia

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We don’t have many big premium cabin flights on the books right now…in fact, we just have one, our big family trip to Australia and New Zealand planned for the spring of next year.  That puts roughly two years between big fancy premium cabin international trips for our family, which I think is a pretty good spacing.  It is certainly more frequent than would ever be possible without miles and points, but it is enough time between trips to certainly get excited again not just for the destination, but for the process of getting there.

United’s Global First is not nearly as over-the-top as the first class products offered by Etihad, Singapore, Cathay, (almost anyone else) etc. but since I haven’t flown enough international first class to be too spoiled, I don’t care.  I need three (or four) seats on the same plane for my family, and I want the most direct routing possible, so I’m not chasing specific fancy aircraft products.  I’m chasing a comfier than coach way to get us halfway across the globe, and I had booked that from Los Angeles to Sydney using United miles in United Global First on their 777-200 aircraft.

Closest I'd been to United Global First

Closest I’d been to United Global First

That aircraft has three cabins – economy, business class, and first class.  The business class is quite large with five rows of seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.  The first class cabin has just eight total seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.  While first class is totally unnecessary for our purposes, it was an extra special treat we were looking forward to since it was just a 10,000 mile per person surcharge over business class.  We were already booked in business class coming back since that is what was available, and by that point in the trip I’m sure we will be zonked anyway.

United 777-200 seating.jpg

However, yesterday I noticed that it seems United is doing away with first class to/from Australia effective pretty much on the day of our trip.  Ha ha ha ha!  I mean, of course it is virtually exactly on the day of our trip, as least as the plan reportedly currently stands.

They will be switching the service via Los Angeles from the 777-200 that we are booked on in favor of the Dreamliner, specifically the 787-9 that has 48 total business class seats (which is a large number given the aircraft size), but there is no first class cabin.  This means that if all of this plays out the way it looks like it may, we will lose our first class seats to Australia, presumably in favor of business class seats on the Dreamliner…and so will everyone else booked in first class United to Australia after some point this spring.  Currently you are unable to make first class reservations to Australia on United beginning March 25, 2016.

We've always been happy in United BusinessFirst

We’ve always been happy in United BusinessFirst

I find it interesting that United is doing away with first class to Australia, but while I will be a tiny bit sad to lose our first class seats since I probably will never get them again, I have always found their business class seats to be totally fine for my purposes…which is to be able to lay down and sleep on long haul flights.  In truth, it probably will work to our ultimate advantage because we will likely need to add a lap child to the reservation and that will be cheaper in business class than first class since the 10% surcharge is based on paid fares.

You can read more about the changes coming by following @airlineroute or the reading Australian Business Traveler.





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  1. Easy solution ask them to put you on a first class of a different carrier and it should also be a better experience

  2. and exchanging an old bird with lousy food for a new bird with much better air circulation will do you (and especially your baby) a world of good!

  3. @ Summer — “not nearly as over-the-top as” — perhaps that should read “a joke compared to””?

    @ shay peleg — In your dreams…

    @ Michael — Bingo!

  4. @shay
    I peg the change of them doing that at or below zero percent. There is no legal obligation to move them, so I’m all but positive they will either be offered a full refund or to move to business class and get the partial refund.

  5. When flying UA between US and AUS the best that can be said is that it is direct. It’s a none frills operation. The first class cabin is only an improvement on a 777 in that you are not corralled in the bunkbeds of the 4 across mid seats. That said, if travelling with family biz might be better as can talk more easily, especially if 4 of you. My fav has been the upstairs of the 747 which is almost like a private cabin. If wanting to have a good flight experience I agree with comments above and fly another airline, but longer route though.

    As an aside – a UA agent mentioned that they were losing customers where the UA 777 competes with the A380, even on EU route. Take one agents comment with a pinch of salt but I would not be surprised.

  6. Sorry to hear your great plan got crapped upon. Fingers crossed they’re delayed in implementing their equipment change.

    Given your current family situation, wouldn’t a 4-across actually be a good thing?

  7. Could you use the removal of first class as an excuse to get rebooked onto first class on NH, OZ, or SQ via Asia for no extra charge?

    Or maybe even J class on NZ with a stop in AKL?

  8. You did the right thing by booking Global First as the seats are more comfortable compared to United’s business class. I agree with others that you should re-book as United made the change in metal, perhaps on another United flight still with Global First seats. Not sure if a Star Alliance parter option may work, but do explore other opportunities that may arise from this glitch.

  9. Having flown both C and F on this route I would say you will not be missing much. The best feature of F was that every seat was an aisle seat – but this isn’t a real issue for you with 3 people in the 787 cabin. The 787s seats are very nice – just a little more narrow than the 747 F seats but with much better IFE.

    Personally I think you should be grateful – there is a running thread on flyertalk regarding the frequent cancellations and delays on this route to maintenance issues with the old 747s. You should not have this problem with the brand new 787s, now that all the bugs have been worked out. Because the last thing you need is a flight delay when traveling with children.

    In the bigger picture, it looks like F is going bye bye throughout UA, which is a shame as it was one of the few opportunities where I could use my GPUs.

  10. I was a big fan of the C (Connoisseur) class upstairs cabin in the B747 for California (LAX/SFO) to Japan (KIX/NRT) flights. I flew them many times in the 1990s. I flew the B777 on that route once and I didn’t like it nearly as much as the B747. I would’ve loved to try the B747 F cabin, but never got the chance.

    Last year, we flew a B787 in BusinessFirst from SFO to KIX. While the B787 BusinessFirst seats are narrower than the B747 C-class seats, they are true lie-flat seats. The higher cabin air pressure and higher humidity made a huge difference in how I felt on arrival in both directions. The entertainment system was a big plus- so many choices, you couldn’t possibly watch everything on offer even if I stayed awake the entire flight.

      • There was not much difference in cabin comfort over a standard plane flying the B787 LAX-IAH (~2.5 hour flights) and back.

        There was a huge difference SFO-KIX (~10-11 hour flights) and back compared to upstairs on a B747 or on a B777. Upon arrival, I didn’t feel nearly as beat up from the long haul flights.

  11. I think under the contract of carriage they are required to keep you in a First class cabin. That is what you booked and paid for. May be worth looking at the fine print… You may be able to take a flight a day or so earlier and stay in F, or get rebooked onto SQ through NRT and SIN.

  12. MP,
    Take a read of the contract of carriage… Specifically rule 24. E) 2) a)

    E) Schedule Irregularity (includes aircraft change)
    2) Delay, Misconnection or Cancellation
    a) When a Passenger’s ticket is affected because of a Schedule Irregularity caused by UA, UA will take the following measures:
    (i) Transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger; or
    (ii) At its sole discretion, UA may arrange for the passenger to travel on another carrier. United may also, at its sole discretion, and if acceptable to the passenger, arrange for the passenger to travel via ground transportation.

    3) If a Passenger is not transported as provided in E) 2) above, the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request. See Rule 27 A).
    4) If space is only available and used on a UA flight(s) of a lower class of service than originally purchased by the passenger, UA will provide a refund of the difference in fare pursuant to Rule 27 C) 5).

    • I’m betting they go with refund of fare difference (miles) for lower class of service rather than their discretion to put us on another carrier, but we’ll see.

    • Keyword is “at UA’s discretion”. Considering that this is also an award reservation, the chance is almost nil.

  13. I have now a 19 months old son, still very young. In about 4 months, We (2 of us and our son) are going out to HKG & than to DEL, 15 hour and 6 hour flights. And returning a month later.
    How do I book biz class seats when you have a young toddler that will need your attention ?
    How do I book biz class seats where at least 1 of us can sit next to his seat and see each other?

    I am very confused. I haven’t tried first or biz seats before except for very short domestic flight.

    Do airline biz class have types of seats we are looking for?
    Our trip is as follows:
    HKG-DEL & return.

    I’d really appreciate your input and advice!

    • See config all depends on aircraft/airline. Reality is your kid won’t be able to sit in their own separate seat away from you much at that age while they are awake. That is a very tough age for travel.

  14. This happened to us for our trip to CDG, when they swapped a 3-cabin 767 to 2-cabin. In addition to the difference in miles refund, they also offered some (8 or 10K I believe) award miles for the downgrade, which came in an e-mail from customer service without any extra prompting. Granted, we had already rebooked ourselves on Austrian, but it’s nice to see they are being proactive.

  15. 787 Business is an upgrade from 777 GlobalFirst.

    At worst – it’s comparable.

    But I’d consider it a much nicer option.

    I definitely don’t consider it a downgrade.

  16. @Mommy

    What is your advise and recommendations? How do I book, what airlines for biz seats where we can sit next to each other?

    I wish you helped me with bit more detail


  17. I am in the same position. Booked F on SYD>LAX 4/4/16. It is now BusinessFirst on the 787. UA has not contacted me yet about the change. Looking for other availability around those dats doe snot look good. I think I am going to ask for the difference in Mileage plus additional miles for loosing F. Let me know what you do,

  18. Trust me, you’re not missing anything. I flew United Global First between HNL – NRT and SYD – SFO and it was an underwhelming experience, to say the least. I believe the food is the same as what’s served in business class, the seat is just slightly fancier (if you can even call it that), and the service isn’t any better. If you can get the difference in miles back, you’re better off in business class.

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