Airline review: United Airlines Economy Plus, Sydney to San Francisco

THE PLANE

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. United has 30 Dreamliners in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

Sydney to San Francisco.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

United MileagePlus. Economy Plus tickets also earn Premier qualifying dollars, which count towards higher MileagePlus membership levels. Alternatively, passengers can credit miles towards other Star Alliance membership programs.

CLASS

Economy Plus, aisle seat 19J.

DURATION

Scheduled flight time 13 hours 40 minutes. Actual flight time 13 hours. 

FREQUENCY 

Daily. The flight leaves at 10:30am and arrives at 7:10am the same day.

SEAT

Housed in a separate 88-seat cabin in a 3-3-3 layout, Economy Plus seats differ from economy seats in just one regard – they have an extra seven centimetres of legroom. That might not sound like much but it makes a considerable difference on a flight of this length. My knees are well clear of the seat in front, I can fit more in the seatback pocket and I have ample room to stretch out. It also means the person in front can recline without affecting my viewing and dining experience. Seat width is 44 centimetres and seat pitch is 88 centimetres (as opposed to 81 in economy).

See also: Is flying premium economy worth the price?

BAGGAGE

Two checked bags (up to 23 kilograms each) plus one carry-on bag (no weight limit) and a small personal item such as a purse or laptop.

Advertisement

COMFORT

Sleeping in economy is a perennial challenge but the extra legroom in Economy Plus makes it a more achievable proposition. The Dreamliner's quieter cabin and higher humidity also help. The seat is firm but with the supplied pillow and blanket, I manage a few hours. 

ENTERTAINMENT

I was hoping to try United Private Screening, a service that allows you to watch movies on your PC or tablet via on-board Wi-Fi. However, after a frustrating half an hour of downloading plug-ins, I'm offered a limited range of films, none of which are watchable because of buffering delays. I revert back to the touch-sensitive seatback TV, which is responsive and has a well-stocked library. There are 39 new release movies, a good selection of TV box sets plus audio books, games and a separate section for kids. By today's standards the screen is on the small side (only 22.8 centimetres), but it does have a USB charging point and there's a shared international power outlet between seats.

SERVICE

Efficient but at times a little brusque ("Watch your elbows folks, I'm comin' through.") 

FOOD

Another benefit of being in Economy Plus is you get served first, so you're more likely to get your preferred choice of meal. The lunch options are spicy chicken with rice or pasta with mushrooms and red wine sauce. The chicken is surprisingly good with lots of veg and a pleasant kick of spice. The accompanying Israeli couscous salad is less impressive as is the rock-hard roll, which could double as a cosh. Mid-flight snacks are limited to a turkey sandwich and pretzels from the galley. Breakfast is served shortly before landing and the choices are a fruit plate or a frittata. I try the latter, which is flavoursome, if a little insubstantial.

ONE MORE THING

Economy Plus passengers disembark before the rest of economy, so you get a handy head start at immigration.

THE VERDICT

At first glance, it might be hard to justify the extra cash for seven centimetres more leg room. But when you factor in the other benefits – quicker service and disembarkation – it starts to look more appealing. Anecdotally, a cabin crew member told me that Economy Plus is rarely full so there's more chance of scoring a spare seat next to you.

Our rating out of five: 4

Tested by Rob McFarland, who travelled as a guest of United.

See also: Farewell Boeing 747: Why it's the end for this jumbo jet

See also: See also: Things you didn't know about world's first 'superjumbo', the A380

LISTEN: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater

To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

Comments