Tuesday Trip Report: United: London-Washington


I flew four days after the finalisation of the United-Continental merger and four days after the new combined reservations system had commenced. Thought I would test things didn’t I? This flight was the 830th I have ever flown in my life and was my 93rd flight with United and/or Continental. The flight itself was pretty okay. It was about what I would expect from the pre merger United so if I was expecting a dramatic leap to being one of the world’s greatest airlines as promised by United CEO, I didn’t see it. I have long regarded United as one of the worst legacy carriers in the world along with American Airlines and US Airways. Two previous posts  Thats it United, and United 757: Uber Fail pretty much sum up my feelings for the airline.  Although I do try to approach every flight with an open mind. Continental, however, I always saw as holding their own in the airline world and keep hoping their influence will influence the merged airline.

Booking: 7 out of 10

I had an existing United LHR-WAS booking.  I changed the date of travel with an agent over the telephone as the online system would let me do it! The agent changed my flight, quoted me the fare change fee, collected my credit card number for payment and emailed me an itinerary. That was the last I thought of the matter. My Mistake!

Check In: 7 out of 10

I attempted to Check in on the new United.com. This site looks and feels like the old Continental.com which I found disconcerting! The system would not, however, let me check in so I called reservations. As I waited on hold, an announcement apologised for the wait, advising that I try after 72 hours unless it was urgent. This call volume was largely due to the change over of systems, a problem reported in quite a few media outlets. I did get to choose a good  seat online!

Unable to use the online system, I got to Heathrow super early and was first in line for check in. The check in agent paused and sighed. It seems I had not been ticketed properly hence why I could not check in on-line. The agent blamed the new reservations system. Annoyingly. the fee I thought I had paid had vanished.  Now I sighed. The next thing I knew, I had four agents serving me as they discussed how best to navigate the “Continental” reservations system to issue a ticket. There was much joking and complaining as the agents worked out the system for 15 minutes. One complained that she felt she was working for  Eastern (the now defunct Miami based airline) because they felt the new res system was so old! Eventually I got a boarding pass. But I was still concerned,  at the airport, that I might have paid two change fees to United.  I was really glad I had come to the airport early though.

Boarding: 8 out of 10

Boarding the 777, was very smooth as the plane was quite empty.  No crew welcomed passengers on board apart from  the couple at the door. This US custom of ignoring boarding passengers always strikes me as counter productive. I commented on how different airlines welcome people aboard last year.

On Board: 4 out of 10

United Economy on this 777 was 2/5/2. Other airlines aim for 3/3/3. This layout gives the impression the plane is more crowded than it is. I pity the person in the middle seat of the economy rows. Of course when there are few passengers then five seats gives a nice stretch.

Seat pitch (the distance between seats is 55″in Business, 34″ to 36″ in Economy Plus and in 31″ in  Economy.  Width is 18″ in Economy and 20.5″ in Business.

First class has ten Flat bed seats.

United provides no amenity kits to Economy class passengers. It has very thin small pillows and miniature sized blankets available.


Takeoff and Landing: 8 out of 10

We pushed back eight minutes early and joined the long line of aeroplanes waiting to take off.  Soon the huge powerful 777 engines roared into life and we were away. The 8 hour 20 minute flight was very uneventful and despite traffic control constraints at Washington Dulles, we landed nine minutes early – in other words, we gained one minute through the flight!

Meals: 3 out of 10

Catering was up to the usual United standard. Awful. Sad Salad. Tasteless over cooked main meal and revolting dessert. Cabin crew were not overly interested. They did do a couple of water runs but were not very engaged with passengers. I checked in mid flight to see what snacks they had. Not much! 

Entertainment: 3 out of 10

To be honest, I was so tired,I fell asleep pretty much straight away and I don’t recall much about the entertainment on this flight! Every seat has a personal video screen ith nine channels and Airshow. First class also have access to a further 14 channels via digital player. I did watch an episode of The Office and Big Bang Theory. I must admit after flying Qantas, Emirates, Air New Zealand etc which all have entertainment systems that give you multiple movies, TV shows and news, it is a shock coming back to United’s offerring. At least its a step up from the single screen in the middle of the cabin! I do know that United are upgrading their entertainment systems.

The Verdict

My rating: 63% (3 out of 5). My overall rating of the pre merger United over many flights, is 3.5 out of 5 so we are about the same. It interests me how many Americans would only experience this level of service and not realise that many European, Asian-Pacific and Middle Eastern carriers kill United in this area. In fact, United’s CEO, acknowledged that United needs to do better,  to the Australian business community. I do note that the Asian carriers and helped by much lower cost structures and many of the Middle Eastern carriers are in fact heavily subsidised.

Positives:  777 (I love that plane), 9 minutes early,- I am really pushing here!

Negatives: Meal, disinterested staff, lack of snacks, seat layout in Economy, no amenities kit

Would I ride them again? I say NO.  Every time I do fly them, I remember why I don’t like flying United. I am still crossing my fingers that the Continental magic will improve their overall performance.

My Last Trip Report: March 20: Thalys-Paris to Amsterdam

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  1. Would it really cost the legacy US carriers that much more money to treat passengers like Singapore, Cathy, etc on international routes?? Maybe the lack luster culture is just too engrained…

  2. Intrigued by this. So is it your 93rd and last United flight? Why do I suspect not?

    Also, if you fly United as often as you suggest, surely you know that the 2-5-2 777s are being replaced by 3-3-3s and that the one you flew on is one of the last in the fleet. As it happens, I prefer 2-5-2, as there are half the number of people who have to climb over two people to get out of their seat if the plane is full and, if it isn’t, it’s a more comfortable configuration generally.

  3. Yes you are right! I need to fly United so I can keep complaining about them! The reality is their extensive network means I need to fly them. And spot on re the move away from 2/5/2 to 3/3/3. It just hadn’t happened on this trip. I acknowledge the argument regarding half the people climbing over fewer people. It is one reason why I love 767s.

  4. I agree that legacy US carriers have a long way to go before they can catch up to the service provided by the likes of Emirates or Singapore Airlines. I loved the old Continental but am not sure about the new United!

  5. I am with you on that one! Emirates is my number one airline in the world!

  6. I come from the CO side, and I haven’t been overly impressed with the United planes I’ve been on so far…though I have to say many of the domestic first class seats in the United planes are much more comfortable than the CO seats. …though maybe I’m a bit spoiled by the BusinessFirst seats…those are pretty cool, especially when they use them on domestic routes.

  7. Thanks for your comments Mike. I too was definitely a Continental fan! I have sat at all ends of United planes and I am not at all excited or convinced!

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