Flight Review: United Business Class EWR-DUB-EWR and My Thoughts on 757 Service to Europe
Yesterday I wrote about my high stakes ticketing debacle with United that resulted in a nice upgrade for my friend. Whether you agree with my approach or not, here is the flight review, not taking into accounte the hair-raising ground customer service experiences.
For my pre-Christmas jaunt to Ireland and Scotland, I decided to fly non-stop on United from Newark on one of their pre-merger Continental 757-200, which contains 16 United BusinessFirst, 45 Economy Plus, and 108 Economy seats. My flight was $1,400 for business class on the outbound and Economy Plus on the return. I ended up burning 20,000 points and $550 to confirm the upgrade on the way home. This plane is typically flown on many of the pre-merger Continental routes from Newark to Europe including: London, England; Manchester, England; Oslo, Norway, and Amsterdam to name a few.
Although I normally hate flying 757's on these mid- and long-haul flights, the way this particular plane is outfitted isn't too shabby. There are seatback personal video entertainment displays in all of coach and business, and in-seat power outlets (that work!) are available in all rows.
The business class cabin is laid out in a 2-2 configuration and the seats are United's updated BusinessFirst product with 180-degree lie-flat seating, a length of 6 feet 4 inches, and 21 inches in width. The personal entertainment screen was a pretty good size as well, at 15.4 inches, although the "noise-cancelling headphones" are horrible and I would highly recommend bringing your own (I wish they'd give out Bose QC15 sets, like American).
For those in coach, there is 31 inches of legroom in economy and 35 inches in Economy Plus, though recline in both is just 5 inches and seats are just 17.2 inches wide.
My flight departed at 7pm, so we were served dinner almost as soon as we were up in the air. I decided to go simple and ordered the steak in red wine sauce with au gratin potatoes and steamed veggies. It was decent- nothing to rave or complain about. The wine offerings are limited, but I went with the Château Bellegrave Médoc Bourgeois, which was a little rough around the edges, but palatable. I know wine price doesn't always correlate to taste, but after looking up United's wine choices online, it looks like they are all about $10-$15, which isn't surprising, but it just goes to show they aren't really investing in nice wines up front (which is typical of most US carriers).
After dinner, I skipped the cheese and sundae cart and instead raided my small amenities kit with Philosophie products and brushed my teeth, slipped on the eye-mask and ear plugs and curled up for a few hours' sleep.
As I mentioned, the bed reclines to completely horizontal, though it's only 6'4", so I still had to bend a bit in order to fit. Still, I was very comfortable and drifted right off for a few hours of sleep over the Atlantic. I was in seat 1B on the outbound and 1A on the return and I do think that 1B has a little bit of extra room, though I have no hard proof to back that up.
The return flight was great because I was only one of 6 passenger in BusinessFirst, so I had 1A and B to myself, which was nice because I didn't have to step over anyone (or have anyone jostling over me) to use the restroom.
Though I have to say the "brunch" entree of scrambled-egg filled crepe, potato gratin, cherry pancake, salmon, shrimp, pork sausage and sauteed mushrooms was atrocious.
The only saving grace was the sundae I had afterwards, which was made to perfection with every topping available!
I flew out on a Wednesday and home on a Monday and surprisingly I had the same crew (they had been back and forth since). They were perfectly nice and friendly. I had a good laugh at the one flight attendant's bracelet that said "Ex-con". It took me a second to realize that was a throwback to Continental Airlines and not previous jailtime (I hope). The only time I was bothered was in the middle of the night I woke up to loud chattering in the galley, which I thought was a little bit rude since the plane is so small and the galley very close to passengers. Not the end of the world, but something to note.
I tried researching to find out the best seat and I read somewhere that 1B might have a little extra leg space. After sleeping in both 1A and 1B, I do feel that 1B is more spacious for some reason. The flight attendant was actually surprised that I chose 1B and said that most people avoid it because it is close to the galley. If I flew this plane again, I'd probably go for row 2, so you get the quick service (both flights were service front to back), but you have some shielding from the bright (and sometimes loud) galley. As for window vs. aisle- it all depends. I could see someone getting claustrophobic in the window seat because if the aisle seat is fully flat, you are somewhat boxed in and need to step over the person to get to the lavatory. I have long legs, so it isn't as much of an issue, but if you are mobility challenged in any way or need to use the restroom a lot, I'd recommend the aisle to avoid bothering your seatmate incessantly.
American and Delta both fly 757s to Europe from NYC and after having flown all three carriers, they each have positives and negatives:
Seat: United and American both have lie-flats, but American's are angled lie-flat beds, so I give the edge to United because they are more private and have working outlets while American's seats are actually angled lie-flats. Delta has the recliner style seats, which I find comfortable, but nothing like having your own flat bed. If it were down to American and Delta, I would actually choose Delta's BusinessElite because as a tall traveler, I prefer the chunky old-school recliners to a cramped angled lie-flat.
Food: Delta BusinessElite dining beats out American and United in my opinion.
Service: Delta flight attendants are generally happier/more friendly. United still has disgruntled employees from the merger and American is in bankruptcy and may potentially merge, causing lots of stress. It is always a mixed bag, but I give the edge to Delta.
Amenities: While Delta doesn't have lie-flats, they have amazing duvets and large pillows that honestly beat out every other carrier I've flown- even in international first class. American is a close second, only because they give Bose QC15 headphones, which are awesome (though they tend to collect them almost an hour prior to arrival, which can be very annoying).
Saver Award Availability: United is the best in my experience, followed by AA and then Delta
While I prefer widebody planes for international flights, I'd much rather fly non-stop on a 757 than have to connect in order to get to my final destination. While AA, Delta and United's 757s aren't the nicest planes and cabins in the sky, they are perfectly fine for relatively short hops to Europe- at least in the business class cabin!