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Melbourne to San Francisco
Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, UA61
The Loyalty Scheme
United are part of the Star Alliance scheme.
14 hours, ten minutes
Three times per week, every Monday, Thursday and Saturday departing at 1pm in Melbourne and arriving in San Francisco at 840am the same day.
United use electronic check in counters but staff are on hand to assist should there be any problems. The best part of this, however, is that there are many machines and no queues, so check in is a breeze. Business class passengers can then use the Air New Zealand or Singapore Airlines lounges.
A very friendly two bags of 32 kilos is allowed to the US, plus one carry on item and a personal item, such as a small backpack.
There's basically no way to sugar coat the elephant in the room here - the business class seats on this plane are in a 2-2-2 configuration so if you're in a window seat, you're going to be hopping over your neighbour to get to the loo. United will be rolling out the new Polaris seats on Australian routes in late 2020, so until then, make sure you choose an aisle seat.
That being said, it's still a far cry from wrestling your way to the aisle from a middle economy seat. I get an entire overhead to myself to stow my carry on, while my backpack fits snugly under my stretched out legs. There's a small central shelf for personal items, plus pockets for magazines etc. Once you're settled you can recline the seat far enough back to allow for more privacy.
The bedding is provided by Saks Fifth Avenue and includes a mattress and pyjamas (both on request), slippers, a quilt and blanket, and two pillows - a regular fluffy pillow and a memory foam pillow. There is no turn-down service as the mattress sits on top of the fully-reclined seat. It's easy to set up, extremely comfortable and I have no problems getting some sleep. Their Sunday Riley amenities kit is one of my favourites yet - a useful, large bag kitted out with face cream, wash, lip balm and hand cream, toothbrush, tissues, a pen, a decent eyemask and a funky pair of stripey socks. Sunday Riley's products are also available in the bathroom, which means my face gets a decent misting every visit and I pile on the hand lotion. Tip: Aim for the wheelchair-accessible bathroom in the centre of the plane.
Service was cheery and casually professional, with every single request met. Once the flight kicks off, we're offered champagne and a bowl of nuts which I inhale as I haven't eaten breakfast and it's creeping closer to lunch. I'm not mad about the Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, but the wine on board is very good, including red blend from California's Sonoma County, with plenty of French and Spanish options as well. United do not have a wine list, and the flight attendants are more than happy to assist with my selection with helpful samples; ditto applies to the dessert trolley. And they also make a mean bloody mary, which i got 'super sized'.
We're on a US airline so there is no shortage of entertainment, with plenty of new movies and content from HBO (full series) and anything else your heart desires. You will never want for something to watch on United. The internet is also available for hour long blocks or the whole flight for a very reasonable $21.99.
Three courses are served, and I enjoy a tender baked cod in a piquant red pepper sauce with chargrilled zucchini and squash; but we're kidding ourselves if we're not all waiting for the main event, which is their famous dessert trolley, loaded with bite-sized sweets and more famously, the fixings for an ice cream sundae, from which you can choose a number of toppings. This is fun, but my money is on the tiny pecan tarts, a perfect combination of salty, sweet and crunch. There's also a tiny cheese plate served with excellent port. But whatever you do, save room for the mid flight snacks which are the big hit on this flight. Chunky tomato soup served with a buttery toasted cheese sandwich or a nasi goreng, both which I would have been happy to receive as a main meal. United for the mid-flight snack win.
One more thing
For all of those that have experience painful queues at immigration in US airports, a brisk disembarkment in San Francisco meant that I got through in around five minutes. Passengers flying on the return leg back to Melbourne get to experience the luxurious new Polaris lounge, which is worth arriving early for and includes first-class style a la carte menu, as well as excellent shower facilities and other services.
With an arrival time of 8.40am, United provide a fun and relaxing way to start a day in San Francisco. I am very excited to see how this service improves with the new Polaris seats.
Our rating out of five
Four and a half