Greg Fleming is impressed on UA916's inaugural flight.
Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner - quiet and (I'm told) fuel-efficient. This was the inaugural United Airlines flight direct to San Francisco - a joint revenue-sharing venture with Air New Zealand. (That explains the champagne at the gate and free neck pillows.)
The service will operate three times a week and then segue into a daily service from late October. Flights leave AKL at a very convenient 1.20pm.
Flight time: It's a 12hr 20m service. Everything ran like clockwork.
Class: Business First - the cabin is set out in a 2-2-2 layout, with 36 seats. The seats are positioned so there's a good amount of privacy, with a small partition between, but it's also easy enough to lean across and converse with your neighbour.
Of course they're flat-bed seats, with priority airport service, noise-cancelling headphones and some great food. Get an aisle seat if you can. The amenity pack includes toiletries from the English-based Cowshed.
The food: Very good. Lunch featured a rack of Kiwi lamb as a main - perfectly cooked (the chicken curry also got good reviews). A cheese plate, port wine and dessert topped it off. Go for the ice cream sundae - a United speciality, with nuts, Oreo cookie crumbles and your choice of sauces.
I didn't get much sleep because I was bingeing on movies. My neighbour set his seat into bed-mode and was out like a light. My seatmate on the return journey was a Silicon Valley CEO who makes the trip several times a month. He's switched to the United service as it's cheaper, and frequent flyer points stack up quicker.
Service: Excellent. The plane was full but nothing flustered the crew.
Entertainment: The TV selection was sparse going over (much better coming back, a rights issue I think) but the movie selection was excellent. Everything from classics like The Hustler to recent quality fare like The Big Short (better the second time round) and Spotlight. Hard to go past an old favourite, Mrs Doubtfire - filmed in our destination, San Francisco.
Airport experience: A breeze - if only all airports were this efficient. You've heard the horror stories about LAX, well try flying into the forward-thinking SFO instead.
I was through Customs with all my bags in less than 20 minutes. There's free Wi-Fi, workstations and a yoga room. United Business First passengers have access to the United lounge - where you can grab a meal, freshen up in top-of-the-line bathrooms and get your shirt/blouse ironed while you shower. The airport's Wag Brigade is a highlight - the dogs are part of a recent SFO programme to make the airport experience fun and to soothe stressed travellers; yes you can pat them.
Would I fly again? Yes. A superb service.