Airline review: United Airlines 787 Dreamliner business class Melbourne to Los Angeles

THE ROUTE

Melbourne to Los Angeles

THE PLANE

Boeing 787-9

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

United MileagePlus, which is a Star Alliance member alongside carriers like Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines.

CLASS

Business (called BusinessFirst), seat 7K (moved from 2K on boarding as that seat was broken despite it being a very new aircraft).

DURATION

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At 14 hours, 35 minutes, it's currently the world's longest Dreamliner route.

THE SEAT

The layout is 2-2-2 in the business class cabin. There's 78 inches (198cm) of seat pitch in business class, with seats converting to a 78-inch lie-flat bed. The seat is 22 inches (56cm) wide. There is storage under an ottoman in front of the seat, in-seat power via power point and USB and a reading light in addition to the overhead light. Some seats have large ottomans than others, and mine is one of the smaller ones.

BAGGAGE

Two checked bags weighing up to 32 kilograms per bag in business class. One carry-on bag and one personal item permitted on board, with no weight specifications.

ENTERTAINMENT

A 39-centimetre touch-screen featuring over 150 hours of entertainment options, including Hollywood blockbusters, classics, television shows, music and games. There is also in-flight Wi-Fi available for a charge of $US16.99 for the flight, with no data cap. The Wi-Fi is very usable, if a bit slow due to the satellite connection.

COMFORT

The design of the business class seats means not every passenger has direct aisle access and there is only a very short, slim privacy screen between the seats. In short, you may get to know your neighbour whether you like it or not. In lie-flat mode, the bed reclines 180 degrees but lacks a mattress. I get only three hours of sleep during the flight, but I chalk that up to the timing – it departs at 10:15am from Melbourne and lands at the equivalent of 12:30am, making it a very long day flight. The amenities kit includes an eyemask, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, tissues, lip balm and hand cream.

SERVICE

With a smile. The crew, which were with Continental before its merger with United, are friendly and accommodating, and a welcome contrast to the poor service reputation for US carriers. My neighbour presses the call button to get an extra fork and a flight attendant zooms over within seconds in response.

FOOD

Smoked trout with papaya salsa and a garden salad with choice of dressings is offered for the entrée. For the main, I choose the fillet of barramundi in black pepper sauce. The meal is satisfactory but certainly not spectacular. The other choices included rack of lamb, chicken breast and ricotta-filled ravioli. To finish the meal, United offers a cheese selection or its famous sundaes. I opt for the latter, customising mine with butterscotch topping, whipped cream and a cherry. The wines are not listed in the menu, but a Burgundy chardonnay, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a red Bordeaux  blend and an Australian shiraz are on offer, providing new world and old world options. Spanish cava is served rather than French champagne on take-off, with beer and spirits also available. Sandwiches, biscuits and potato crisps are available for those feeling peckish later on, while the breakfast choice is poached eggs in Hollandaise sauce or a cereal and banana.

ONE MORE THING

United's new Melbourne-Los Angeles flight eliminates the longstanding need for Melbourne customers to stop in Sydney in both directions, as was the previous practice with the airline. United also offers daily direct services from Sydney to Los Angeles and Sydney to San Francisco on larger Boeing 777 with a less favourable 2-4-2 configuration in business class, including some rear-facing seats.

THE VERDICT

The Dreamliner's higher humidity levels and lower cabin altitude make for a more comfortable flight, the service is surprisingly good and the inflight Wi-Fi is great for business travellers. However, the food and beverage offering is satisfactory at best when compared with rival carriers flying to the US and a more private seating configuration with more legroom would have been preferable on such a new aircraft.

FREQUENCY

United flies from Melbourne to Los Angeles six days a week (every day except Thursday) which will rise to daily from March 12.

Tested by Jamie Freed, who flew courtesy of United.

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