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Around the World in 100 Hours: United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul

United Club San Francisco, International Terminal
United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul
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Ambassador Transit Lounge Singapore
Singapore SilverKris Lounge Singapore
Changi Airport Free Singapore Tour
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Transiting Colombo
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Qatar Airways First Class Premium Terminal Doha
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Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
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British Airways Galleries First Lounge and Club World Lounge London Heathrow
British Airways First Class London Heathrow to San Francisco

United 893
San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul (ICN)
Friday, May 24th, 2013
Depart: 10:55am
Arrive: 3:05pm (+1 day)
Duration: 12h 10m
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 15B (Upper Deck, Business)

When booking my tickets, I was trying to decide between a seat on the upper deck or lower deck. Most people prefer the upper deck, but the lower deck had many more open seats. I ended up choosing 15B as I’d never flown on the upper deck of a 747, and I was glad that I did since business class ended up going out full. In fact, first class also went out full with 5/12 non-revs, business class was full with 11/52 non-revs, and coach had 2 open seats with 1 non-rev.

It was exciting to walk up the stairs to the upper deck, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of space, since I feel like the business cabin on the lower deck feels a bit crowded with the 2-4-2 configuration. The upper deck is 2-2, with a large space in the middle for the emergency exits, which was good for stretching in the middle of the flight. I would definitely recommend the upper deck over the lower deck.

The upper deck business class cabin
The upper deck business class cabin
My seat, 15B
My seat, 15B
Ample leg room and large entertainment screen
Ample leg room and large entertainment screen

If you don’t mind climbing over your seat mate, the window seats are better as they have more accessible storage. As I was sitting in an aisle seat, I had to store everything in the smallish overhead bins. Luckily, my seat mate spent most of the flight sleeping, so no one ever climbed over me.

United starts their in-flight entertainment on the ground, which is a big plus in my book. I found the entertainment system to be responsive, the screen was large, and the selection was good enough for me, although I admit that I don’t watch many movies so everything is new to me.

Business class amenity kit
Business class amenity kit
Amenity kit contents
Amenity kit contents

I rather like United’s Business class amenity kit mostly for the bag itself. It’s small and decently made and much more practical to reuse than any of the other amenity kit containers that I received later in my trip.

Service was what one might find on a good domestic first class trip. I got served my meal and drinks, but service wasn’t particularly polished (e.g. I was never addressed by my name, trash would sit around for a long time before being picked up), and one of the flight attendants seemed to have a slight body odor problem, which was unfortunate when she leaned over me to serve my seat mate.

StartersMains + BreakfastDrinks

Chilled appetizer and salad
Chilled appetizer and salad
Vegetable-filled mezzaluna pasta
Vegetable-filled mezzaluna pasta
Herbed scrambled eggs for breakfast
Herbed scrambled eggs for breakfast

For meal services, the flight attendant took orders from back to front. For lunch, she asked every person for his/her first and second choice of entree, but I’m not sure how she determined who got what or if everyone was able to get his/her first choice. For breakfast, they had run out of the Asian-style soup option by the time the flight attendant had reached me.

The food was fine. I actually quite enjoyed the vinaigrette on the salad, but the chilled appetizer included some sort of stitched together frankenfish slice. The side of vegetables to my pasta had a nice peppery kick, but the pasta itself was not to my liking as I’m not a big fan of cheese (for what it’s worth, I had preordered a VGML meal, but it wasn’t loaded onto the flight). I passed on the sundae (I know, blasphemous for a trip report), but I didn’t want to eat so much dairy, and the ice cream looked pretty icy and not so creamy.

The assorted sandwiches offered as mid-flight snacks were really sad-looking. Like maybe something you’d find in your school lunch. They were saran-wrapped and kinda squished with meager fillings. But there were also other packaged snacks available besides the sad sandwiches. Breakfast was forgettable, which I think is probably a good thing.

Seat in bed mode
Seat in bed mode

I found the seat to be quite comfortable for lounging and sleeping. It was softer than the seat in US Airways Envoy class, but it has less privacy and is narrower (which didn’t really bother me, but I can see how it’d be a problem for larger people). I also thought the duvet was nice (again, much nicer than the staticky blankets they hand out in US Airways Envoy), although the pillow was a little thin.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by United BusinessFirst. I found the hard product to be much better than expected, and although the soft product was lacking by objective standards, I had such low expectations in the first place that I was fine with it. And I found it a good sign that my supposedly “worst” flight planned (in terms of carrier reputation) was quite comfortable and enjoyable.


  1. It’s important to note that the Upper Deck seats are about 3″ shorter than the lower deck. The bins on the window on the Upper Deck are seldom used by the window passenger as they have overhead bins they can use. If you didn’t get your pre-ordered meal, I’d advise sending UA an email and get some miles for their mistake.

  2. I’ve flown UA many times in business on their SFO-NRT run, which is basically the same service and plane as the SFO-icn service. I agree the upper deck is the place to be, it’s almost like a small private business jet strapped to the top of the plane and is very quiet and private.

    Service is just like you describe and they often run out of various menu choices, even in business class, which is inexcusable. However, the completely lie-flat bed seats are comfortable and the price is usually right. The food is barely edible and it’s funny watching so many of the passengers get scarfing it down…but an epic fail on the sundae dude, it’s the best part of the whole flight and the ice cream is actually very good, as are the chocolate sauce, real whip,cream, and toasted almonds.

    1. I agree that it’s hilarious to watch people scarf down terrible airplane food. I also know that most people like the sundaes, but I’m just not a huge fan. It’d be great to get a little more variety than just cheese plate and sundae every single time.

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