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…

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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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