Last summer, I traveled to the Hawaiian Islands, where I had a wonderful time. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: United Airlines Dreamliner Business Class from Paris to San Francisco
- Review: United Airlines B777 domestic First Class from San Francisco to Honolulu (today)
- Review: The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Hotel (Honolulu)
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Lanai (Lanai)
- Review: St Regis Princeville (Kauai)
- Review: Four Seasons Maui at Wailea (Maui)
- Review: Travaasa Hana (Maui)
- Review: Andaz Maui at Wailea (Maui)
- Review: Hawaiian Airlines A330-200 Business Class from Honolulu to San Francisco
- Review: Swiss B777-300ER Business Class from San Francisco to Zürich
Today (November 8, 2017): Review of United Airlines’ B777 domestic First Class from San Francisco to Honolulu.
On August 2nd 2017, I flew ‘First Class’ in a United Airlines Boeing 777-200 from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in California to Honolulu International Airport (HNL) – also known as Daniel K. Inouye International Airport – on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Like all carriers in the USA, United Airlines calls its domestic Business Class product ‘First Class’, or ‘United First‘ to be entirely correct. Albeit still good, domestic service is – understandably – not as extensive and refined as on intercontinental flights. But the hard product itself was quiet good since the flight was operated by one of United’s domestic Boeing 777s, which all feature lie flat seats similar to United’s old intercontinental Business Class seats. Lie flat seats on flights to Hawaii are only offered on wide body aircraft, hence why these planes are always preferable over narrow bodies which have angled First Class seats.
This particular flight was operated by a very special airframe, a B777-200 with registration number N777UA. This grand lady of the United Airlines Boeing 777 fleet was the first B777 to enter commercial service. On one hand, I was very glad that this bird is still flying around 22 years after her maiden voyage in 1995. On the other hand, flying on this old plane to Hawaii for five hours overwater did not help to ease my nerves (although I know that United has a perfect maintenance record). Yes, I admit that I am terrified of flying, especially when I have to fly across large bodies of ocean, so this particular flight was a real challenge for me. Flights from the USA West Coast to Hawaii take 5 to 6 hours and there’s no diversion airport in between, meaning that at the point of no return, the plane is 2,5 up to 3 hours away from the nearest airport. Despite the fact that I realize very well that twin-engine jetliners are certified for extended overwater operations (ETOPS), I cannot stop thinking of (extremely unlikely) worst case scenarios when I am cruising at 40,000 feet, such as a double engine flame out or – even worse – an onboard fire. That’s also the totally irrational reason why I preferred to fly via San Francisco to Hawaii since its airports is the closest to Hawaii, meaning less time in the air away from land. Flights from San Francisco to Hawaii take around 5 hours, while those via San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle or Portland last 20 to 60 minutes longer. The flight itself was uneventful and I was happy that my fear remained within manageable levels, with the help of a light tranquilizer.
United Airlines features in my top 10 list of my preferred airlines for longhaul Business Class.
- Trip: SFO-HLN
- Airline: United Airlines
- Aircraft type: B777-200
- Aircraft registration number: N777UA
- Flight Number: UA300
- Date: August 2nd, 2017
- On time departure: yes (1.15 pm)
- On time arrival: yes (3 pm)
- Miles: 2399
- Flight time: 4 hours & 45 minutes
- Seat: 3A
- Class: United First
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Fact & figures about United’s B777 fleet
- United First cabin
- United First seat (+ best & worst seats)
- Onboard internet
- Other inflight experiences (views, crew, lavatory)
- My verdict (score)
1. FACTS & FIGURES ABOUT UNITED’S B777 FLEET
Here are some facts about United’s Boeing 777 aircraft:
- United’s B777s are powered by two General Electric GE90 or two Pratt & Whitney PW4070/4090 turbofan engines, rated up to 94,000 pounds of thrust each.
- Currently, United has 88 Boeing 777 in its fleet, the most of any American carrier. United’s B777 subfleet is composed of 19 B777-200, 55 B777-200ER and 14 B777-300ER aircraft.
- United was the launch customer in the world for the B777. As mentioned above, United took delivery in 1995 of a B777 with registration number N777UA, which was the first B777 to enter commercial service. While the N777UA airframe is old, it is not the oldest B777 in passenger service. That claim to fame belongs to Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-200 with registration number B-HNL. It was the B777 test bed airplane, to be returned to Boeing when Cathay Pacific is finished with it, which will be soon.
- The average age of United’s B777 fleet is 15,5 years. When ranked for the age of the aircraft, United Airlines is 59th on 67 airlines operating the Boeing 777.
- The Boeing 777 has a cruise speed of 550 mph (885 km/h) and a wing span of 199 feet and 11 inches (60,1 m).
- United is the 2nd largest B777 operator in the world. Emirates ranks first with 146 aircraft, and Air France is 3rd with 80 B777 planes in its fleet.
- This flight was operated by a B777-200. The B777-200 is less performant than the B777-200ER as the latter has additional fuel capacity and increased take off weight.
- United’s new B777-300ER all feature the excellent the new Polaris forward-facing pods. All B777-200ER will be retrofitted with the new Polaris seats in the coming years. The domestic B777 (most of them being the older B777-200 planes) will not be reconfigured.
2. UNITED FIRST CABIN
United’s B777 aircraft features 4 different layout versions. The carrier’s B777-200ER and brand new B777-300ER aircraft are used for international flights, while the older B777-200 aircraft – which used to be operated on international flights – have now been reconfigured for domestic use mainly. The good news is that the ‘United First’ cabin on those domestic, reconfigured B777 planes is identical to United’s old Business Class product, which comes with flat bed seats with 180 degrees recline. While this old Business Class product falls short of the current standards for international Business Class (hence why United is replacing it with the excellent new Polaris product), it’s great for a domestic flight and in fact much better than the First Class product offered on narrow body aircraft, which seem to dominate the West Coast to/from Hawaii market.
Each one of United’s domestic B777 features a small, somewhat cramp First Class cabin located in the plane’s front. The 28 lie flat seats are arranged in 4 rows with a 2-4-2 configuration, with the seats in row 2 and 4 facing forward, while the seats in rows 1 and 3 face backward. Large, grey colored panels with the entertainment screens and ottomans are placed between the four rows of seats. The 2-4-2 configuration is not different from what you find in Economy, and it means that are middle seats which don’t offer direct aisle access (which is a huge disappointment for a premium cabin product). While the 4 seats in the middle might be a great choice for families, they are far from ideal for couples or solo travelers. The cabin itself makes a clean and modern, albeit uninspiring impression.
Click here for a seat map of United’s domestic B777-200 aircraft.
3. UNITED FIRST SEAT
I had booked a backward facing window seat (3A) for the 5 four flight to Hawaii. You don’t really feel any difference with a forward facing seat, except for the slightly odd sensation during takeoff.
The United First B777 seat is physically the same seat as the one you find on international flights (although United is in the process of introducing its excellent Polaris pod seats on all of its intercontinental aircraft). The seat is covered in an excellent cushion and has a generous pitch of 76 inch (193 cm) but with of wide of only 19 inch, it feels too narrow (especially in the lie flat position). In front of the seat, you find a 15-inch TV touch screen located above a small footwell. The shared center armrest features a small table (where you can put your drinks) as well as the seat controls and the handset for the inflight entertainment.
With a push on a button on the control panel in the center armrest, the seats recline 180 degrees into a full, flat bed. The cushion feels soft, but the bed is uncomfortably narrow between the armrests, forcing you to sleep on your side when you’ve got wide shoulders. But it’s still better of course than the angled seats that are offered by most carriers on Hawaii bound routes, so I don’t want to complain too much. A bigger problem is the lack of storage space, which is limited to a very small shelf under the entertainment screen and the space under the footwell. Storage cubbyholes in the seat itself are lacking. It means that you will have to climb over your neighbor’s legs every time you need to retrieve something from your carry on luggage which can only be stored in the overhead bins.
IMHO, the seats biggest flaw is the total lack of privacy, especially in the four abreast center section. Due to the alternate forward/backward configuration, passengers look directly into each other seats, which can cause some akward moments. In addition, there is no privacy divider between passengers sitting next to each other, which is fine if you’re traveling with a companion but is less than ideal when you’re seated next to someone you don’t know.
What are the best Business Class seats on United’s domestic B777-200? Click here for a seat map.
- Seats alternate facing backward and forward, so if you are sensitive to that, make sure to book a forward facing seat (located in rows 2 & 4).
- The 2 x 2 window seats in row 4 are the best ones, not only because they face forward, but also because row 4 lacks middle seats, hence creating more privacy.
- Families or larger travel parties should consider the 4 middle seats
What are the worst Business Class seats on United’s domestic B777-200? Click here for a seat map.
- When you are a solo traveler, try to avoid the 4 middle seats at all costs (especially the two center seats).
- Seats in row 1 and 4 may suffer from some noise disturbance from the galley and lavatories.
This was a domestic journey, so amenity kits were not provided. I was impressed though that plush Saks Fifth Avenue bedding amenities were offered on this flight, similar to the ones you find on United’s intercontinental Polaris Business Class flights. The excellent bedding amenities consisted of a light throw blanket and a thick Saks Fifth Avenue pillow. The only difference with the Polaris Business Class product was the absence of a duvet.
A menu was not handed out during this flight. Instead, shortly after takeoff, one of the cabin crew members informed each passengers of the only meal option onboard this flight, which was salmon fillet, served with vegetables, lemon sauce, rice and a salad. Despite its lackluster presentation, the food tasted quite good. A strawberry ice cream was offered as dessert.
As mentioned above, each seat comes with a large 15-inch in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen located in front of the seat above the foot rest. The IFE can be commanded by directly touching the screen, or by using a handset which is located in the center arm rest. The latter is quite handy so that you do not always have to bend forward to directly touch the screen when you want to change the program settings. United’s B777 IFE offers a wide range of movies (including Hollywood’s latest blockbusters), TV shows, music channels, audio books, kids’ programs and another option called Games & Learning. Noise canceling headphones are provided to block most noise from the plane and cabin.
Inflight Wi-Fi was available during this flight and provided by Gogo. Gogo packages are available for direct purchase via gogoair.com:
- $ 7 USD for one hour of continuous WiFi on a single airline
- $19 USD for 24 hours of continuous in-flight internet access on a single airline
- $49.95 for monthly unlimited access on a single airline
8. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
# CREW: The crew on this flight was superfriendly and caring, and their professionalism eased my nerves a little. Some crew members interacted with the passengers and most of them seemed genuinely excited about flying us to Hawaii.
# LAVATORY: There are 2 lavatories onboard the B777-200 for United First passengers, both of them located directly behind the cockpit.
# VIEWS: We enjoyed clear weather all the way from San Francisco to Honolulu, and while there was not much to see except for the vast ocean, the views during takeoff and landing were quite spectacular.
9. MY VERDICT
- Seat comfort (upright): 7/10
- Seat comfort (bed position): 6/10
- Seat privacy: 3/10
- Food (quality): 7/10
- Food (quantity): 7/10
- Inflight entertainment : 8/10
- WiFi: 7/10 (works great but quite expensive)
- Service: 9/10
- Cabin design: 4/10
- Overall experience: mediocre: 6/10