Winston Aldworth flies UA6755 from California to New Zealand
A B777-200. The interior was fairly dated. United started this service with their plush new 787 Dreamliners, but soon phased in the older 777s.
Class: Economy Plus. There are 72 seats in this section in a 3-3-3 formation.
My seat: The width of the Economy Plus seats is the same as those back in Economy Class (18.3in), but the pitch is better (35in, compared with 31in for the cheap seats) — that extra legroom is a big help.
Flight time: This scheduled 12hr 50m haul is a classic shut-eye shuffler, departing SFO at 9.50pm. Unfortunately, after getting us all aboard, United announced that there would be a delay. Scheduled to take off at 7.50pm, we finally rolled away from the gate almost an hour late. There were a few announcements, but not enough. Eventually word got around the cabin that there was "something like a satellite problem". I'm sure it was a good enough reason to delay the flight, but a little information, and perhaps a pre-flight drinks service might have been nice. Another thing that added to the nuisance is the fact the inflight entertainment system wasn't activated. United hand out headphones once airborne. Watching a movie takes a passenger's mind away from the small annoying things — like the fact you're sat on the wrong side of the planet when you want to be home. Once in the air, the captain told us he hoped to make up about 45 minutes of the lost hour. In the end we came in pretty much on time.
Entertainment: The IFE screens are small compared with the some other aircraft, such as the Air New Zealand 777s that work this same route. But United has a very cool ace in the hand: With their Private Screening Service, you can access the plane's Wi-Fi for free and choose from a very good selection of movies and television shows. For general web browsing, there's a fee. Plane nerds can treat themselves to one of the audio channels that lets you have a listen to the flight-deck crew talking to air traffic controllers. It's only working at the pilot's discretion and, sadly, our skipper had switched it off.
The service: With a wine cork wedged half in and out of its bottle, a crew member stood beside me grunting away as she tried to remove the thing. "If I wasn't standing in the aisle where everyone can see," she mutters to me. "I'd just use my teeth." Like a true gentleman, I took the bottle from her, leaned forward discreetly and whipped the cork out with my gnashers. "You can have two glasses," she smiled to me as she poured a second massive measure.
Food and drink: At dinner, the highly forgettable creamy chicken was very airliney. For breakfast I unwisely opted for a pancake; the scrambled eggs looked better and way less carby. That wine was good.
Fellow passengers: Plenty of Americans travelling in small family groups. It's always hard to pick, but I didn't get the sense there were many Kiwis on board, like it feels on the Air New Zealand flights coming this way from out of the States. My bro-dar was quiet.
Airport experience: San Francisco is the way all airports should be — welcoming, clean, modern and well designed, with some terrific food spots. I've never visited the city and this is the first time that a transit trip to an airport has made me decide to put the city on my list. They have chill-out dogs you can pat! How cool is that? My travel buddy and I perched up at the bar of a United Club lounge near our gate, where we revived ourselves with a seriously good red pepper and gouda soup, a glass of pinot and a chat with a drunk American who loves Noo Zealand.
The bottom line: Good service and a premium seat's added legroom make a longhaul in an old bird bearable.