Airline review: United Economy Plus, B787-9 Dreamliner, Melbourne to LAX

Duration

14 hours 10 mins

Frequency

Daily

The Seat

21D, which is a middle aisle seat. United's Economy Plus section has a configuration of 3-3-3. These seats, which are a cut above economy but not quite premium, offer an extra five inches of leg room, plus priority service within economy. The seat pitch is 34" – 38" (86.4 cm – 96.5 cm) with a 3" (7.6 cm) recline.

Baggage

Two piece of baggage weighing 23 kilograms plus 7kg of cabin baggage, standard on flights to the US.

Comfort

The extra leg room really does give long-legged passengers plenty of room to stretch out and even do some work on a laptop as the tray table slides forward. The seats also have more recline than economy, which is marginal at best. The aisle space also feels a bit more forgiving – I'm not getting my elbows knocked every time someone  struts past my seat, which was the case in economy. We're also in a 787 Dreamliner, a new, modern, clean plane which has fresher cabin air, larger windows and LED lights to help ward off tjetlag.

Entertainment

The good: The seatback screen is about 20cm wide and easy to navigate, with a wide selection of movies and television. The screen has a jack for headphones and a USB port, which lights up on touch if you happen to jerk your cords out while the cabin is dark. There's a power outlet between the seats – though make sure you have a US adaptor in your carry-on as the sockets are US. The bad: United's "box sets" only ever include two episodes of any one series, which does not a box set make.

United also offers a "Private Screening" service enables you to watch entertainment through your personal electronic device via the onboard Wi-Fi, which also allows internet connection at an extra cost. This is handy if you're connecting domestically and there is no seatback entertainment.

Service

Being a claustrophobic aisle person, I have a minor freak-out about being seated in a window seat and, after approaching a flight attendant on boarding the plane, he finds me an aisle seat on a pretty full flight. As an added bonus, there's no one in the middle seat. This attendant continues to make everyone's Monday morning a little brighter, with his bone-dry sense of humour instantly putting passengers at ease.

In my excitement at getting a better seat, I forget to mention my special vegetarian meal, which unfortunately gets passed on to someone else. The flight attendant is very apologetic however, returning twice to apologise, and reassures me it won't happen at breakfast.

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A drinks service after take-off is quickly followed up by the lunch service, dessert then another drinks service, thus concluding all service by 11am when the lights dim in the vain hope passengers will nod off during a daytime flight.

Food

United offer two meals in economy; "pasta" and "beef". The pasta turns out to be vegetarian, a tortellini with a buttery pumpkin sauce, and perfectly serviceable for an economy meal. It comes with Israeli couscous – with onions and beans – and a herb dinner roll, both which have accompanied previous meals I've had on board United. Round two is a small tub of Harry's chocolate ice-cream.

The mid-flight snack for vegetarians is a zucchini, pea, mint and baby spinach on multigrain bread with a box of sultanas and a container of soy milk. Breakfast is "eggs" or "fruit". I'm very happy with the lighter choices United offer; however, for anyone who gets on an international flight and looks forward to a few G&Ts are in for a world of pain: United doesn't offer free spirits to economy passengers on its international flights. You can purchase spirits on board but they are shockingly expensive by American standards and at $US7.99 a pop (for 50ml), you'd be better off drinking water or shelling out the extra cash for another airline that does. On this flight, no-name Australian wine, in choices of red and white, and Stella Artois beer, are free.

One More Thing

It doesn't matter what airline you're on or how comfortable your seats are, a flight can be ruined by the presence of rude people. In this instance, two woman who chattered loudly and inanely throughout the 15-hour flight, oblivious to my death stares, and the people struggling to rest around them. Crying babies at least give it a break every so often.

Verdict

United's Economy Plus offers premium economy with a very reasonable price tag – a definite contender for the perfect economy seat, and a possible winner with the addition of complimentary spirits on board (which would go a long way in tolerating the lack of travel etiquette from fellow passengers).

See also: Economy class on the world's best airline

See also: Inside Emirates' magnificent A380 first class seats

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