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Air New Zealand Lounge + United 747 First Class: Sydney – San Francisco

Our return flight to San Francisco was in the early evening. After saying goodbye to the large extended family I’d met for the first time and grown close with, we were off to the airport. As we were leaving, my aunt tried to convince us to stay a bit longer by mentioning she was making Palaw. My dad was tempted, but I pointed out that there might be traffic since it was New Year’s Eve. So off we went. There was absolutely no traffic and aside from some kangaroo roadkill, there were no bumps on the road.

We were on a direct flight back to San Francisco on United GlobalFirst. My last flight on United First had been pleasant enough, but I wasn’t terribly excited about this one. We checked in and the agent informed us we had access to the Air New Zealand lounge, which was right above our gate.

Air New Zealand Lounge Sydney

Air New Zealand Lounge right above our gate

Air New Zealand Lounge Sydney Airport 

If the long walk at Charles de Gaulle two years ago was the most exhausting, the walk to our gate at Sydney Airport was a close second. It was something straight out of one of my recurring nightmares, where I’m at the airport and I’m just walking and walking and not getting anywhere. The landscape changes, I think I’m making progress, but there’s no end in sight and I’m panicking about missing my flight. It’s only second to my recurring falling dream and that obnoxious one where I dial 911 and they put on hold for a really long time. That’s what this walk felt like. After walking the length of ten shopping malls, we finally made it to the Air New Zealand lounge.

Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge Sydney Airport

Entrance to the Air New Zealand Lounge at Sydney Airport

It’s a good thing it was right above the gate because otherwise I’d say it wasn’t worth the walk. There was a small buffet consisting of sandwiches, salads, a funky looking soup and, oddly, a hot dog cart.

Buffett at the Air New Zealand Lounge in Sydney

Buffett at the Air New Zealand Lounge

Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge Hot Dog Cart Sydney Airport

Hot Dog Cart at the Air New Zealand Lounge

Drink Station at the Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge

Drink Station at the Air New Zealand Lounge

As we got settled and tried some of the food, my dad said in his usual off-handed manner, “We should have stayed for the Palaw.” The lounge was fairly large but packed most of the time. I looked around and nearly everyone (myself included) was badly sunburned. Note: Wear sunscreen.

Seating at the Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge

Seating at the Air New Zealand Lounge

Air New Zealand Lounge Sydney Airport

Air New Zealand Lounge Sydney

United Global First Sydney – San Francisco

On this flight, I had an aisle seat yet again. What I noticed immediately is that this seat had far less storage than the window seat I had on the HNL – NRT flight. The window seats have an extra storage compartment next to the armrest by the aisle. The aisle seats do not. There’s still plenty of space to put your stuff, but this is something worth noting.

United Global First Class Seat 747 SYD- SFO

United Global First Seat

United Global First aisle seat - a bit less storage space than the window seats

United Global First aisle seat – a bit less storage space than the window seats

Looking around the cabin, I got the feeling most of the passengers were flying first class for the first time. There was a distinct sense of discomfort, some of them were looking around as if to familiarize themselves with the cabin, others sat tensely. I got confirmation that this was at least partially true with the passenger seated next to me and his companion who, it turned out, were Flyertalk lurkers. He’d used “that site” to find tips on how to book his trip to Fiji and Sydney, which he was still pretty amazed by.

United Global First Class Cabin 747 SYD- SFO

United Global First Class Cabin 747 SYD- SFO

Dinner

The meal on this segment wasn’t as good as the one on the previous United GlobalFirst segment I flew – which isn’t saying much. The starter consisted of chicken teriyaki and tofu skewers with chile sauce. It wasn’t particularly memorable, by which I mean I literally can’t remember what it tasted like. But that’s what you get when you put off a trip report for 5 months…

United Global First Class Meal SYD - SFO Chicken Teriyaki and Tofu Skewers

Chicken Teriyaki and Tofu Skewers

Next came the broccoli and blue cheese soup, which was as bland as the photo shows. I couldn’t taste a hint of blue cheese. If I had to guess, I’d say it tasted like somebody boiled broccoli in a pot, removed the greens, and added milk to the boiling water along with a few of the leftover stems. In other words, it’s what broccoli soup would taste like if I made it.

United Global First Class Meal Blue Cheese Soup SYD - SFO

Blue Cheese Soup

The salad came next and if you’re wondering how one can possibly screw up a salad, just add extra soft and buttery croutons into the mix – two things croutons shouldn’t be. Not even a gallon of ranch and clumps of cheese could have saved this from being a disappointment…

United Global First Class Meal SYD - SFO

United Global First Class Meal SYD – SFO

Finally, the main course arrived. I ordered the “chicken breast” with creamy chive sauce, herbed potatoes and vegetables. The chicken was pretty awful – basically it was an entire leg (consisting mostly of the bone), which is my least favorite part. For the first time ever, I skipped the meat on the plate and went for the vegetables. At least the chive sauce livened up the peas, which otherwise had the life cooked out of them.

United Global First Class Meal Chicken and vegetables

“Chicken breast” with creamy chive sauce, herbed potatoes and vegetable medley

Dessert was a nice end to an otherwise bland and dragged-out meal.

United Global First Class Dessert Ice Cream Sundae

The end to a bland meal – Ice cream sundae

IFE

During the flight my IFE stopped working. There were three FA’s, two of them utterly useless and rude. The male FA was a gem and super helpful. I told him about the broken IFE and he rebooted it. His comical explanation of what would happen next was, “I’m going to reboot the system. A bunch of numbers will pop up. If you can memorize them, you’re in the wrong business!” He tried rebooting it twice but to no avail. Since my laptop charger had given out on me the day before, I had looked forward to spending the entire flight watching movies instead of working, but that wasn’t going to happen. With no IFE or charger, I was out of entertainment options on a 15 hour flight.

The passenger seated next to me glanced at the broken IFE and apologized, saying “I’d share mine if I could.” He also suggested I ask for compensation in the form of points, but I told him United had put a cap on that with folks abusing the complaint system in the past. We continued talking and it turned out he was a Flyertalk lurker. He explained how he’d checked Flyertalk for trip ideas before booking a trip to Fiji and Sydney for himself and his companion, still in awe at how easy the booking process was. After a while, he asked if I brought a laptop with me and I told him I did, but that my charger didn’t work. He told me he had a Macbook and would be happy to lend me his charger. He pulled a bag out of the overhead, dug around, and found the charger, but it turned out to be an older model incompatible with my laptop.

A while later, the male FA walked around with a Skymall catalog and I asked if by any chance they sold Macbook chargers. He said, “We don’t, but why don’t you just use mine?” He disappeared into the galley and returned with his charger, saying I could use it for the duration of the flight. This was very much appreciated, since that 15 hour flight would have been pretty unbearable otherwise. I did eventually get 5,000 points from United as compensation for the broken IFE, but if I was one of those people who’d paid $10k+ for the flight, I would have been pretty annoyed by this.

Breakfast

For breakfast, I ordered the cheese omelette, which came with salsa, bacon (which I don’t eat), and chicken sausage. The FA dropped off a tray with a bowl of fruit, yogurt, a croissant, and something that resembled a plate of prison food. Seriously, United? One piece of chicken sausage? And I thought the buck stopped at eliminating limes from the drink cart…

United Global First Class Breakfast Cheese omelette with tomato salsa, bacon and chicken sausage

Cheese omelette with tomato salsa, bacon and chicken sausage

The only thing that wasn’t a total fail on this flight was the wifi, which was lightening fast. I have to give United credit where it’s due: They do wifi right. I did have work the next day, so I got a bunch of writing done, handed the nice FA his laptop charger back, and prepared for landing.

Unlike the last time I returned from a trip abroad, the folks at immigration gave us no trouble at all and we were through in a matter of minutes. There was major backlog at the baggage carousel, but after a good 20 minutes, it started up again and our bags came out.

Bags piling up on the carousel at SFO

Bags piling up on the carousel

As I conveyed about the HNL – NRT segment, United GlobalFirst is simply not worth the points it if it’s the only airline you’re flying on a single itinerary. You’re better off saving your miles and flying business class. You still get a lie-flat seat, you get the same terrible service, and I’m pretty sure you’re served the same food.

With the exception of the male FA, the crew was surly and unpleasant. At one point there was some turbulence after dinner and drinks were splashing everywhere. You’d think they’d collect glasses as they walked around the cabin, but it took passengers waiving them down to do it. The lone standout crew member seemed happy to be doing his job and not like he was an indentured servant contemplating spiking your food if you pissed him off. Regardless, I’m glad I got to do this trip in first class and not coach. Getting a good night’s sleep and plenty of space to stretch out on a 15 hour flight is nothing I’ll ever take for granted.

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Ariana Arghandewal

2 Comments

  1. Just wondering… was the Singapore Airlines lounge open at SYD? I’ll do the same trip in about three weeks and thought I’d go to the SQ lounge as I have been to the NZ one a couple of times…

    • The lounge has since re-opened, so you should have access to it.

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