TRAVEL | United Airlines operates daily flights between San Francisco and Melbourne . The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (“Dreamliner”) is currently used on the route, and travellers can choose between Economy, Economy Plus, Premium Economy and Business class. The average flight time on this route is 15 hours and 25 minutes.
Check in is a breeze. You can check in online, or using United’s app. I used the latter, which is one of the best airline apps that I’ve used. You can enter in all relevant passport and visa/ESTA information before your flight, and receive an online boarding pass. If you’re using the app, there’s up-to-date notifications about gate changes, flight delays, and the like, and you can use the boarding pass on the app at the gate.
If you have luggage to check in, there are several bag drop off counters with a few United staff walking around the area to assist if needed. There’s also the option of traditional staffed check in counters if you wish.
United’s loyalty program is United Mileage Plus, which is free to join. United also partner with Virgin Australia’s Velocity programme, which offers the option of points transfers and certain reciprocal privileges.
I’m a Velocity Gold member, so have access to United lounges. United do have a lounge at San Francisco International Airport, but unfortunately it closes at 10:30pm. This isn’t ideal, given that the flight from San Francisco to Melbourne is at 11:50pm.
Checked luggage is included with all United Airlines economy tickets when flying international long haul. You can check-in one bag up to 23kg (50lb). For carry on, you’re allowed one carry on bag no larger than 23cm x 35cm x 56cm (9in x 14in x 22in), and a smaller bag no larger than 22cm x 25cm x 43cm (9in x 10in x 17in). Carry on bags are not weighed.
If you do check in bag, be sure to download the United app, which allows you to see track the status and location of your checked bags.
Service is friendly and efficient. It’s a diverse crew, happy to have a little chat and a laugh, but never at the expense of professionalism. Water is offered at various times throughout the flight, and the one time that I had to use the ‘call attendant’ button (I wanted more water), someone came to my seat very quickly.
The United Economy cabin on the Dreamliner that flies from San Francisco to Melbourne features 149 seats, in a 3-3-3 layout. There are enough flight attendants around so getting the attention of someone should you need assistance isn’t an issue. Colour wise it’s blue and white, with flourishes of black, keeping in line with United’s branding. When it comes to cleanliness, everything nice and clean. You can tell that the plane is relatively new.
The leather seat has dimensions of about 78.4cm x 43.9cm (31in x 17.3in), about the same as you’ll find on most full service airlines flying this sort of distance. Like any economy seat, it doesn’t recline that far back. In this case, the recline is 7.6cm (3in). There’s an adjustable cushioned headrest which is handy when you want to get some sleep.
There are small armrests, and a leather pocket sleeve and secondary mesh sleeve at the back of the seat in front to place a few things. There’s not much space to get work done with the tray down if you’ve got a laptop, but for a tablet sized device it’s possible to get some productive stuff done.
Each seat comes with a 110v power outlet, capable of taking a few different kinds of international plugs. There’s also a USB port for charging devices, but do be aware that it’s a slower, USB-A type port.
If you want extra legroom and a larger seat, you can upgrade to an ‘Economy Plus’ seat, for a fee.
Each economy seat features United’s ‘Private Screening’ seatback entertainment system. On it you’ll find real-time flight information, and a selection new release and classic movies, TV shows, music, and games. Basic headphones are provided, and you can also connect your Bluetooth headphones to the seatback system.
If you want to use your own devices, you can access the ‘Private Screening’ entertainment system via the United app.
To read, it’s United’s ‘Hemispheres’ magazine, which you’ll find in the back pouch of your seat. It’s a good read, with several interesting travel related articles, destination guides and the like.
The food offering on the flight is fine, but not best-in-class compared to other long haul economy cabins that I’ve flown in recent years. You get two main meals on this flight, in this case dinner and breakfast. There’s no menu offered and the descriptions of your choices as the staff offer you your meal are vague. For lunch, my choice was ‘chicken’ or ‘pasta’.
I opted for the chicken, which is a butter chicken with rice. With it comes a grain and lettuce salad, a dry bread roll, and a Milk Bar Lemon Pound Cake Cookie Crumb Cake. To drink, it’s a small selection of uninspiring beer, wine, and the usual soft drinks and juices
Midway through the flight, there’s the offer of a turkey ham and salad roll. It’s…fine. There’s also snacks and non-alcoholic drinks available on request. For breakfast, the “OK but not great” trend continues, with a tray of waffle with berries and maple syrup, Chobani peach yoghurt, fruit salad and croissant with strawberry jam. To drink it’s tea, coffee, and juice.
A thin neck pillow and cloth blanket are provided for all passengers.
Wi-Fi is available for $USD21.99 for the full flight, or $US8.99 for two hours. If you don’t want to pay, you can access the Wi-Fi for text-only communication in apps like iMessage and WhatsApp for free, but reception is spotty.
I flew from Melbourne to San Francisco a few weeks prior, so this flight was a good opportunity to see if the experience on the reverse leg from San Francisco to Melbourne was consistent. I can report that it is.
The United app is best-in-class, useful before and during the flight. The plane is clean and modern, and the staff friendly. Despite being in a basic economy seat, I was quite comfortable, and was even able to get a few hours of sleep.
The one thing that didn’t impress me on this flight was the food offering. No menu and no real explanation of the choices meant that I couldn’t properly decide which option I wanted. The food itself is passable. Fine but not great. Given the advances made in economy class meals and drink offerings by countless airlines I’ve flown on over the past decade, United’s offering feels like stepping back 20 years into the past.
Overall, the pros of this flight outweigh the cons, and I’d definitely fly United Airlines from San Francisco to Melbourne again. Improve the food and beverage offering, and it’d be almost faultless.