LLG Travels: United Airlines Business First Class from Heathrow to Los Angeles

by Sasha Wilkins on November 11, 2012 · 18 comments

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I fly a lot. It’s clear that I have the carbon footprint of a Yeti. (Which I do offset.) And that means I get to experience a lot of airlines. When I lived in New York, I pretty much only flew Virgin Atlantic (in Economy) back and forth to London for five years or so, and at the moment, it is still my favourite airline. Charming cabin crew, great in-flight entertainment, pretty much always edible food, even in Economy, and a thorough understanding of what it means to be have a modern outlook in the airline industry. Plus their Business Class (in Virgin nomenclature Upper Class) is excellent, easily the best I have flown, especially with that lovely lounge at Heathrow. Although not nearly enough (IMHO) for my liking.

But since I’ve based myself and LLG in London, I’ve been on all sorts of flights to all sorts of places around the world, and so there’s been a right dolly mixture of airlines in my frequent flyer bag.  My carrier of choice now tends to be Lufthansa, and then its partners in the Star Alliance, purely because I was randomly booked in Business with them by a client last year and subsequently realised that they have a really low miles barrier to use their lounges and Business Class check in desks, even when flying in Goat. Hurrah.

That being said, I’m still pretty relaxed about whom I fly with when I am being booked on flights by clients or as press, as I like to experience new things. Plus I am asked for my advice so often on which carriers are good.

Last week I was lucky enough to be flown out to Los Angeles on what United Airlines call ‘Business First Class’, Business Class by another name. We scored with a new plane and their new lie-flat long haul business class seat, which reclines to a full 6ft 4in bed. We were facing backwards which was a little odd on ascent.

The seat configuration itself isn’t ideal if you don’t know the person next, or even either side, of you. If you are in the middle two seats in the central row of four, you have to climb over the flat bed/legs of the passenger in the aisle seat to go to the loo etc. You’d have thought they’d have come up with a better solution than that.

I was travelling with a group of fashion editors, and four of us had a row together, so there was no issue with strangers there (although apologies lovely Helen if I fell over your legs too many times.) The legs above are me and Catherine Nieto from Grazia, as we settled in for take off, with our big squishy pillows and Philosophy amenity bags on our laps. Although I would like to know why only Virgin Atlantic has amazing cloud-like duvets for Business Class passengers. So civilised – United’s rather thin coverlet was a bit pants in comparison.

The ordered in advance Vegetarian meal was absolutely disgusting, sub school dinners brown slop that made me retch. Since the airline recession, if you order a vegetarian meal upon booking, you pretty much always get a vegan meal and they are uniformly inedible. Plus they served margarine, a crime in itself, and a microwaved bread roll so chewy you could use it as roof insulation. Far better, I am realising, to bring an emergency snack from Pret, and talk to a cabin crew on arrival to bags a vegetarian option  – usually perfectly acceptable pasta – from the main passenger menu.

But: the saving grace was actually two fold. The cabin crew were absolutely delightful, and there was an ice cream cart. Yup, an honest to goodness ice cream sundae trolley with all the fixings. I had vanilla, with hot chocolate, caramel sauce and flaked almonds. Get in!

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Would I fly United again? Well, I can’t speak for Economy this time, (but I’m sure I’ll be back there soon enough), but I would definitely book with them again in Business. On the ground I was really impressed with the check in process at LHR Terminal One, but unfortunately you’ll be using the Star Alliance lounge, which needs a serious overhaul, and is barely worth the effort. (It’s a good thing I like both bananas and baked beans, because that’s about the level of their catering options.)

But, once airborne, the lie-flat seat was really comfortable, and the Philosophy skin products were reliably good; there were plenty of current entertainment options from Girls to The Dark Knight Rises, and, as mentioned, the cabin crew were the best I’ve encountered in a long time. And that ice cream sundae left a very good taste in my mouth…

2012-11-05 13.25.45

LLG was a guest of Citizens of Humanity denim for three days in Los Angeles, and they paid for her flights to and from London.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

K-Line November 11, 2012 at 14:55

Honestly, sometimes your life seems very glamorous. :-)

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Hua Jing Li November 11, 2012 at 15:20

I always find any American airline to be bad, particularly in economy, bad food and service, plus entertainment is shared on an overhead TV ( I stopped bothering a long time ago).
Yes, Virgin Atlantic is my favourite airline, I wish Richard Branson would give the American airline some tips on everything. First flew with their first direct flights to Shanghai, was just amazed, especially after flying with KLM. I’ve heard Emirates are really good as well, though haven’t tried it yet.
Glad to hear you had a good flight :)

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Angela November 11, 2012 at 15:27

I have to agree with you, when I lived in NYC I flew between the two cities, even though economy on Virgin, I always said I won’t fly anyone else. Fast forward….. On returning to London I went for a cheaper flight with BA! Horrible, horrible, horrible oh did I mention horrible! In fact my daughter is flying to NYC in the new year and refuses to fly on any other airline but Virgin and she is a teenager.

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Chris November 11, 2012 at 15:43

Thanks for your post. Did you know that US airlines, unlike airlines based in the EU, are not required to offer compensation. “Compensation” is not always required of US airlines flying out of Europe, but “care” — hotel, meals and transport between airport and hotel — is clearly required even in the case of a hurricane or “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.”

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Rebecca November 11, 2012 at 15:44

But United Breaks Guitars.

rightsideofright.com/2010/08/submission-to-forrester-groundswell-awards-social-impact-category/

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LLG November 11, 2012 at 15:56

@Rebecca: oh I love that video – I remember when it came out in 09. And thanks for the earworm BTW! LLGxx

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Tien November 11, 2012 at 22:13

Not sure if you’ve ever fly Malaysia Airlines, but their Business Class offers lie-flat beds as well. Their in-flight care pack is from Etienne Aigner which I love, and the food is delicious. I’ve fly with them for the past ten years, flying to and from London when I was a student, and now Shanghai as I’m currently base in China.

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Alice Harold November 12, 2012 at 19:48

@Tien: I’ve also flown Malaysia a couple of times (though in cattle, unfortunately) and have thought them wonderful.

LLG: any idea where Catherine’s divine leopard pumps are from?!

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Anne At Large November 12, 2012 at 01:04

Interesting to see this, it does look unutterably glamorous. Unfortunately I can vouch for their Serf class as being one of my worst experiences ever, I believe it was just Newark-Heathrow but I have never had so little room to move in my life!

And they do break guitars, I’m sad that Rebecca beat me to that. Best protest video I’ve seen in a while!

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Meaghan November 12, 2012 at 02:58

I just love your reviews LLG. Aside from the fact that your descriptions are so easy to visualise and you write so beautifully – of all the blogs I read you and yours has the most integrity. Thank you. I aspire for my blog to be like yours. Informative, entertaining and most importantly, honest.

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FashionCloud November 12, 2012 at 04:24

It is always such a joy to read your honest and well written words.

A pleasure

xx

TFC

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MontaRosa November 12, 2012 at 07:11

I really liked your honest review here..
Just a shame your food as not up to standard..It always surprises me that in this present day why airlines cannot get up to scratch.
Brings back memories as I flew first class to LA about 6 years ago with American Airlines – I fondly recall Ben’n’Jerry’s Sundae and Lindt chocolates making me rather content…
Plus 4/5 hours sleep certainly helped due to the seriously comfy seats..x

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