Last week I had the opportunity to fly United Airlines Business First EWR to PEK. I arrived early at the airport because the weather was bad. The previous day flights had been cancelled to many New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania airports. It’s a good thing I arrived early because the check-in experience was not pleasant.
I was not able to check in via the kiosk because I was flying to Beijing with a stop-over and onto Sydney. There were no lines and only about 3 other people using kiosks to check in. The agent who began helping me was not knowledgeable. First she said she could not check me in because I didn’t have a visa for China. I explained the new 72-hour visa-free policy, but she didn’t seem to know about it or care. Frustrated, I asked for another agent’s assistance. This agent was aware of the policy and proceeded with checking me in. Just when I thought all was good, she asked for my Australian Visa. I told her it was electronic. She insisted that I must have a paper copy or visa in my passport for her to be able to check me in. The process had already taken a good 30 minutes. I told her that I have been to Australia before and used an electronic visa without any problems. She then took my passport and disappeared for about 10 minutes.
I asked another agent where she’d gone and was told she went to the international desk. Oddly, I thought I was checking in at the international desk. The agent finally returned with my passport and insisted that I had to buy a visa for $20. It was getting very close to flight time. I asked for a supervisor but after waiting 10 minutes without a supervisor appearing, I decided to pay the fee so I wouldn’t miss my flight. I arrived at the gate when they were boarding zone 5.
Once onboard I took my seat in the second section of business first seats. There were 50 seats in business first. There are only about 15 passengers in business first and after a few people moved around, there were only 4 poeple in my section. I had seat 9B. The flight attendant joked that we were going to have a private dinner party.
I used miles to upgrade from coach to business so I would be more comfortable on the almost 14 hour flight. The seats in business first are very nice. They remind me of the seats in US Airways Envoy and Air China Business class. The seats have a USB port, an outlet, and plenty of storage space.
We were provided with a blanket, pillow and amenity kit. The kit was a tin container “collectors edition.” I got a New York tin. I was a little disappointed to see that United had removed two of my favorite items from the kit. In the past, the kit has included a facial wipe from Philosophy. That was not included in this kit. The other item that was not in the kit was the eye-glass wipe. They did still include the Philosophy Hands Of Hope hand lotion and Philosophy lip balm. I love Hands Of Hope (and actually buy it regularly.) Included on a slip of paper in the amenity kit is a discount code for Philosophy products purchased through their online store.
The flight attendants were very friendly and provided great service throughout the flight. A few of them commented how nice it was to have a 1/2 empty flight. I am really unsure why the flight was so empty. The only thought I had was that it was Chinese New Year and perhaps less people were traveling due to the holiday.
The food was okay on the flight. Some items were good, others were not so good. The soup that was served as a late night snack was actually the best dish. They flight attendants offered snacks and provided frequent refills on drinks.
I only slept for a few hours and I spent the rest watching movies. I think I saw all of the new releases! While I enjoyed the flight itself, the pre-flight experience left me less than impressed with United’s ground staff. I suspect that this will be my last flight on United since I’m a US Airways Chairman and plan to stick with the new American.