TRIED & TESTED

San Fran­cisco–Hong Kong

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

United Air­lines B777-300ER Po­laris Busi­ness; Cathay Dragon A330-300 Busi­ness Class; Sof­i­tel Leg­end Metropole Hanoi; The Sanya Edi­tion

BACK­GROUND United took de­liv­ery of its first B777300ER in Jan­uary this year, named the “New Spirit of United”. The air­craft be­gan in­ter­na­tional ser­vices be­tween San Fran­cisco and Hong Kong in March, sup­plant­ing the reg­u­lar B747 ser­vice.

CHECK-IN I ar­rived at San Fran­cisco’s in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal at 1115 for flight UA869, sched­uled to de­part at 1300. I had al­ready checked in on­line and had no prob­lems drop­ping my lug­gage at the bag drop counter. Bor­der se­cu­rity was ex­tremely thor­ough, but 15 min­utes later I was air­side. LOUNGE Nor­mal busi­ness class ticket hold­ers have ac­cess to the United Club Lounge, lo­cated just a few min­utes’ walk from se­cu­rity (open 5am-mid­night).

Cur­rently con­struc­tion work is on­go­ing – they are build­ing a new Po­laris Lounge – but there was still plenty of space, although this lounge can and does get very busy. You pass through a seat­ing area to the L-shaped bar, and through that is another loung­ing sec­tion with a work­bench at the back. There are no shower fa­cil­i­ties and the F&B is ad­e­quate with­out be­ing spec­tac­u­lar. All told, this fa­cil­ity can­not com­pare with Asian air­port lounges – but once the Po­laris Lounge opens we should ex­pect much bet­ter.

BOARD­ING The air­craft was parked at Gate 100, a five-minute walk from the lounge. Board­ing had al­ready be­gun when I ar­rived at 1220, and I boarded im­me­di­ately. I found my seat tidily stacked with a choice of thick and thin blan­kets, plus a large and small pil­low. I was greeted by a flight at­ten­dant who ad­dressed me by name, gave me a very well-stocked amenity kit, took my jacket and of­fered me a wel­come drink with a piece of choco­late. The plane pushed back at 1310 and we took off at 1330. THE SEAT The 60 Po­laris busi­ness seats are split be­tween two cab­ins – rows 1 to 8 and 9 to 18 (with­out 13 and 14) – sep­a­rated by the gal­ley and in-flight hos­pi­tal­ity area. Seats are ar­ranged in a stag­gered 1-2-1 con­fig­u­ra­tion (A-DG-L), mean­ing di­rect aisle ac­cess for all and a good sense of pri­vacy. The seats al­ter­nate by row be­tween fac­ing straight for­ward or be­ing slightly an­gled to­wards the aisle. My 2L win­dow seat was an­gled – odd-num­ber rows are straight and even num­bers an­gled.

The seats are fur­bished in light and dark greys with blue ac­cent­ing – a sleek, clean look. They have gen­er­ous width, and are eas­ily moved into the lie-flat po­si­tion via a side panel. I found the bed set-up firm and com­fort­able, even for my six-foot three-inch (190cm) frame.

I was im­pressed with the va­ri­ety of stor­age space, rang­ing from small- to medium-sized op­tions in­clud­ing a shoul­der-level cup­board, a nar­row shelf un­der the 16-inch touch­screen TV for amenity kits or glasses, spa­ces un­der both armrests that could fit a lap­top, etc. Be­side a side table­top were the IFE hand­set, in­ter­na­tional socket and USB.

A homely wall lamp and two ad­justable per­sonal read­ing lights of­fer some va­ri­ety in light­ing, and the elec­tronic “Do Not Dis­turb” but­ton is a use­ful and ap­pre­ci­ated touch. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Rows 1,6, 7, 8 and 9 are close to the gal­leys and lava­to­ries, and you may also want to steer clear of row 18, as the Econ­omy Plus baby bassinet seats are in row 19 just be­hind a thin par­ti­tion. Pas­sen­gers sit­ting in 16A and L won’t en­joy any views as there are no win­dows.

THE FLIGHT A flight at­ten­dant had taken my or­der for lunch and break­fast while we were still on the ground. Slightly dis­con­cert­ingly, I was also asked for my “back-up” choices… though hap­pily this proved un­nec­es­sary.

Soon af­ter take-off a se­lec­tion of wines was brought round, with the chance for a small wine tast­ing. I chose the whites, which in­cluded a Do­maine Sk­ouras 2015 Moscofilero, a La Ch­ablisi­enne Le Fi­nage 2015 Chardon­nay and a Robert Weil 2014 Ries­ling Tra­di­tion. For me the best came last – I re­ally en­joyed the smooth­ness and sweet fruit notes of the ries­ling. I also liked that drinks were served with heated nuts, a nice touch that only a few other air­lines also of­fer.

Lunch was served soon after­wards, and I started with an appetiser of smoked nori-wrapped salmon, radish and edamame hum­mus (the fish was per­haps a bit too “chilled”). There were four op­tions for the main course – short rib, stir-fried beef, char siu duck and stir-fried shrimp. I chose the lat­ter, which was ex­tremely tasty. Dessert was rather spe­cial: a dessert trol­ley was pushed down the aisle, filled with ice-cream sun­daes and deca­dent pas­tries – I couldn’t re­sist.

With the meal ser­vice over, the cabin lights were dimmed and I de­cided to use the time to work. A paid-for wifi ser­vice is usu­ally of­fered once air­borne, but prob­lems with the satel­lite con­nec­tion ren­dered it un­avail­able. Thwarted, I de­cided to sleep in­stead, re­quest­ing a set of py­ja­mas and a cool­ing gel mem­ory foam pil­low, which was very com­fort­able.

I slept well for three hours, then got up and was asked if I’d like a hot snack. I or­dered tomato basil soup (a bit too sour) served with an aged ched­dar grilled cheese sand­wich (de­li­cious), then vis­ited the busi­ness class hos­pi­tal­ity area, which dis­played a se­lec­tion of snacks and wines.

I checked the wifi again, and this time was able to ac­cess the ser­vice. Three pack­ages (US$8.99/one hour; US$14.99/two hours; US$29.99/whole flight) were avail­able, and the con­nec­tion al­lowed me to browse web­sites and send texts and emails, though send­ing pho­tos was sim­ply not pos­si­ble.

An­noy­ingly, wifi ac­cess is re­stricted to only one de­vice – un­less you are a United Mileage Plus mem­ber, in which case you can switch be­tween de­vices on the same data pack­age.

I worked for the next few hours un­til the cabin lights were turned on again, 90 min­utes be­fore land­ing. Break­fast op­tions were fresh sea­sonal fruit, Chi­nese con­gee or a South­west­ern omelette. I opted for the egg dish, which came with pep­per jack cheese, black beans, corn and roasted red pep­per, served with chicken sausage, pota­toes and fruit. I was im­pressed – typ­i­cally I find on­board break­fast of­fer­ings for­get­table, but the corn, etc paired re­ally well with the omelette and I fin­ished off the whole lot. AR­RIVAL We be­gan our de­scent at 1815 and the crew lo­cated my jacket, which had mis­tak­enly been hung in the econ­omy cabin. We touched down at 1840, ex­ited the plane smoothly and were quickly through im­mi­gra­tion, but had to wait for our lug­gage as our carousel was jammed with three flights.

VER­DICT An ex­cel­lent seat prod­uct. I was com­fort­able both work­ing and sleep­ing, the crew were at­ten­tive and friendly, and the in-flight food was gen­er­ally of a very high qual­ity. Wifi con­nec­tion is some­thing the air­line needs to work on, but this was a re­ally good over­all flight experience on a very long-haul route. Va­le­rian Ho

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