Stephanie Holmes flies in United Airlines' new Premium Economy cabin, from Auckland to San Francisco aboard UA916.
The plane: Boeing 777-200.
Class: Premium Plus, United's new, improved Premium Economy offering, which launched in March.
Price:Return Auckland to San Francisco in Premium Plus is from $3927.
Flight time: 11h 23m.
My seat: 22K, the back of the Premium Plus part of the cabin, with a wall behind separating us from Economy. There are three rows in Premium Plus, with a 2-4-2 configuration. The seats are designed to be more comfortable than those in Economy, with expanded recline and more leg and elbow room. You also get Saks Fifth Avenue bedding (a pillow and soft, woollen blanket) and slippers, and an amenity kit with socks, eye mask, ear plugs, dental kit and Sunday Riley hand cream and lip balm. The unused items in each amenity kit are given to people in need.
Fellow passengers: A good mix of Americans going home and Kiwis going on holiday. There were a few older couples on their way to visit adult children living overseas.
How full: To the brim, apart from a handful of empty seats in United First (Business Class) which were soon filled with people on upgrade lists. Sadly, I wasn't one of them.
Entertainment: Premium Plus passengers get a 13 inch seat-back touch screen for in-flight entertainment, with noise-cancelling headphones. The touch screen was easy to use — my only complaint was that you can't save movies into a favourites list, so you have to scroll through every time you want to find something new to watch. The selection was pretty good, but nowhere near as extensive as Air New Zealand's long-haul offering.
The service: Efficient and professional without being overly friendly or personal. But everything that needed to be done, was, and I felt well looked after.
Food and drink: Premium passengers get a better food selection too, and it's served on proper plates with metal cutlery and linen napkins. We were served dinner about an hour after take-off, with a choice of stuffed chicken breast or cheese tortellini. My seat mate and I were served last and therewas only one of each option left. I didn't care which I had so I let him choose first; he got the chicken, I got the pasta. It was dense and quite plain, but the marinara sauce served on the side was rich and flavourful. Dessert was a hokey pokey Kiwi Naturals icecream. My cheese omelette at breakfast was great, and kept me going until lunchtime — not bad considering it was around 5am when I ate it.
The toilets: Many passengers seemed to be using the toilets in United First, no matter what cabin they were sitting in, so I followed suit. They weren't extra spacious, but they did have complimentary Sunday Riley face mist and hand cream, and a laundry spot remover for any little dinner spills.
Luggage: Two standard checked bags for Premium Plus passengers, plus 7kg of hand luggage.
The airport experience: Auckland Airport was the busiest I've seen it in a while, with a long queue at biosecurity. I had a very tight connection at San Francisco (I was flying on to LA), and was worried I wouldn't make my next flight; the last time I connected through SFO it took about 90 minutes to get through immigration. But no such trouble this time — I was at my next gate in less than 30 minutes.
The bottom line: A Premium service that makes a long flight much more comfortable.