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.
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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 Business Class 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.
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.
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.
United Global First Class Sydney to 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.
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 Dinner
The food on this United First Class flight was mostly bland. 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…
Next came the broccoli and blue cheese soup. 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 and added milk along with a few of the leftover stems. In other words, it’s what broccoli soup would taste like if I made it.
The salad came next and if you’re wondering how one can possibly screw up a salad, just add extra soft and buttery croutons – two things croutons shouldn’t be. Not even a gallon of ranch and clumps of cheese could have saved this from being a disappointment…
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.
Dessert was a nice end to an otherwise bland and dragged-out meal.
United First Class IFE
During the flight, my IFE stopped working. The male FA tried rebooting it, but to no avail. 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!” Since my laptop charger had given out on me the day before, I was out of entertainment options.
The passenger seated next to me glanced at the broken IFE and sympathized, 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 I learned he was a Flyertalk lurker. He had checked Flyertalk for 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 pulled a bag out of the overhead, dug around, and found his 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. I asked if by any chance they sold Macbook chargers. He said, “We don’t, but why don’t you just use mine?” He returned with his charger, offering it to me 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, which was fine with me.
United Airlines First Class Sydney to San Francisco: 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…
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.
United First Class Sydney to San Francisco: Final Thoughts
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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