Review: United Business First Washington to Dubai

A good friend of mine and former roommate moved to Dubai from Washington a few years back, but I’d yet to successfully visit him out in the desert.  Two years ago, I tried to meet up with him while on a trip to Dubai, but engine problems on the Dreamliner and the resulting 24-hour delay forced me to miss meeting up in Dubai that time around.  For this trip, I planned to visit my friend with another good friend from grad school.  We booked the flights back in June with the intention to use my United Global Premier Upgrades to ride in business class of the long-haul weekend trip.

I ended up booking the trip to Dubai out of Boston.  Why?

Well, the price for an upgradeable economy class fare on United (W-fare) was substantially cheaper when departing from Boston — like $700-800 cheaper.

My itinerary would take me from Boston, back to Washington — and then non-stop from there to Dubai.  Luckily, the upgrades cleared in July and August, so we weren’t even close to sweating this one out — we were able to rest easy knowing that the long journey would be in relative comfort of United Business First.  Anyway, in order to position myself to Boston, I purchased a cheap US Airways flight from Washington-DCA up to Logan.

After a moderately lengthy layover at the recently refurbished United Club at Boston’s Logan International Airport, I took a quick hop down to Washington-Dulles where I met my friend in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Terminal B.  Since it was winter time, the lounge closed early and Lufthansa evicted us at 5:45pm.  We trudged to the United Club by gate D-5.  Though it was definite step down from the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, the United Club served as a perfectly comfortable setting to pass some time and drink some (very) cheap scotch.

The chariot awaits -- our B777-200 being prepped for the journey from Washington to Dubai

The chariot awaits — our B777-200 being prepped for the journey from Washington to Dubai


My Last Hurrah as a United 1K:  A Weekend in Dubai


United called for boarding almost an hour prior to the flight.  I was greeted to the gate with an absolute scrum of a boarding queue for zone 1.  Eventually, we made our way through the line and onboard to our waiting United B777-200.

United Airlines (UA) 976
Washington (IAD) – Dubai (DXB)
Aircraft:  Boeing 777-200
Seat:  6K (Business First)
Wednesday, January 14
10:20PM – 8:20PM (+1 day)
Duration:  13:00

We entered the triple-seven from door 2L and hung a left to the first row of business class.  We picked seats 6J and 6K in the mini cabin of business class on this three-class, (pre-merger United) Boeing 777.  I’d flown this configuration a few times before, and it’s pretty tight for business class.  The BusinessFirst cabin on the 3-class United 777s feature a 2-4-2 configuration — eight deep in an international business class means the seat isn’t very wide at all.  Another unique feature of this business class cabin is that the rows alternate between forward and backwards facing seats.  I prefer the forward-facing pairs of seats in rows 6 and 9 on this aircraft.

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Seats 6J and 6K on the United B777-200

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My home for over 13 hours:  seat 6K on the United B777-200

We settled down in our seats and were offered a plastic glass of champagne.  I asked for a scotch since we had over forty minutes before our scheduled departure, but the flight attendant never brought it.  I started a movie at the gate, as the plane continued to fill up.  Though quite narrow, this seating configuration features some pretty decent leg room, as I was able to very comfortably stretch — and ultimately sleep on this flight.

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Lots of leg room in seat 6K on the United B777-200

Lots of legroom in seat 6K

Lots of leg room in seat 6K

Flight path from IAD to DXB

Flight path from IAD to DXB

We departed from Washington on time and raced up the Eastern seaboard of the United States with a very slight chop.  The flight attendants were up and about, but we waited… and waited for drink service.  Finally, an HOUR and FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES after takeoff (we were past Newfoundland on the IFE map), the flight attendant came by to start the drink service.  Considering the flight departed well after 10pm and that I wanted to sleep a lot on this flight, I was a bit annoyed that it took so long to start the meal service — let alone get a drink.  About ten minutes after the first drink service, the dinner service started in the BusinessFirst cabin.

Flight 977 Dinner Menu

Flight 977 Dinner Menu

The menu for the evening was… interesting, as it featured two lamb dishes — a rack of lamb and a lamb korma.  I was thrown off a little because this was the first time I’d seen a United BusinessFirst menu without a beef or chicken choice — or really any business class flight for that matter.  The salmon appetizer and the salad were delivered on the same tray with a slab of butter for the bread.  We were never offered bread until well after the entrees arrived, so that was a miss.  The salad was quite good, and sadly was the highlight of the meal other than the sundae.  I’m not a huge fan of salmon, but the small piece with the tasty mustard sauce was good enough.

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Appetizer — Smoked Salmon with maple-horseradish mustard and Fresh Seasonal Greens with tomatoes, Kalamata olives, Parmesan cheese and croutons with ranch dressing

Again, I ordered the lamb korma — mistake.  It was just not that good.  The presentation was pretty awful too.  I guess it tasted just about the same as it looked.  Anyways, in the future, I will shy away from ordering curry type dishes on airplanes — well, on United at least.  Not quite a business class caliber entrée, in my opinion.  I also paid for eating it later… I won’t get into details.

Entree

Entree – Lamb Korma with Basmanti rice, spinach with garbanzo beans, curried lentils, yogurt and pickled vegetables

My buddy ordered the rack of lamb which looked and apparently tasted MUCH better than the lamb korma.  He was relatively pleased with the meal, and it was much more visually appealing than the korma.

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entrée – Rack of Lamb with roasted garlic-herb sauce, herbed couscous, green beans and vegetable medley

Throughout the entire dinner service, we were offered bread at the very end of the meal in a clear oversight.  All the good stuff was taken (pretzel rolls and garlic bread), and we were left with stale white bread.  Oh, well.

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Dessert — a fully loaded ice cream sundae

Finally, the highlight of the meal was brought out — the fully-loaded ice cream sundae.  I mean, how do you mess up an ice cream sundae?

Overall, the meal was just not up to standards — even for United.  It was simply not a good overall meal for business class on a premier, long-haul route such as Washington to Dubai.  The service along with the meal service was indifferent and almost cold — I’ll get to that later.

I finished up a movie and reclined my seat for some sleep.

I awoke to the sun setting somewhere over Iran about seven or eight hours later.  I slept incredibly well in this BusinessFirst seat — so that was a win!

Sunset over Iran

Sunset over Iran

For the next hour or so, I intently watched the flight map and the changing scenery outside as we flew along the southern coast of Iran on our way towards the United Arab Emirates.

Approaching Dubai -- over Iran

Approaching Dubai — over Iran

About 90 minutes prior to landing, a breakfast service commenced — which was weird considering it was approaching 7pm local time.  Sure, it was about 10am Eastern time, but it was still strange having breakfast and watching the sun set — not rise.  Breakfast consisted of a reheated “omelette”, a potato dish, an overcooked sausage puck, fresh fruit and some yoghurt.  I was also provided with a warm croissant, which went along well with the butter and jelly.  Overall though, it was another disappointing meal, but breakfast meals on airplanes are generally a miss.

Brekkie

Breakfast in the evening — somewhere over Iran

As it got darker outside, we approached the Persian Gulf and started our descent into Dubai.  We approached Dubai from the north and had some amazing views of Dubai as prepared for landing.

Approaching DXB

Approaching DXB

We landed about 45 minutes early, but I was quite well-rested since I slept so well.  We exited the plane quickly and proceeded to make the long walk to immigration.  Immigration actually took a good bit of time — about thirty minutes, despite receiving “fast track” passes.

The Verdict…

First of all, this flight in BusinessFirst accomplished what I wanted — it provided a seat that was comfortable enough or me to get over seven hours of sleep, leaving me well-rested and ready to have a fun weekend in Dubai.  So that part was a success.

With that said, the rest of the flight was frankly — just not up to par for a business class product on such a long route.  The catering has always been up and down with United over the last few years in business class, but this flight was just pretty much downright awful.  I’ve noted catering concerns with United before, so I wasn’t expecting this to be the best business class meal in the world.  At the same time, I’ve had some downright delicious catering on United flights.

The thing that really bothered me on this flight was the service — or the lack thereof.  We may have just “lucked out” and gotten a couple of disinterested flight attendants, but the service throughout the flight was pretty poor — and even cold.  One specific exchange really bothered me, as I felt it was just rude.  My friend (who is from Texas) had a brief exchange with the flight attendant during the first beverage service.  I remember this because it was so inappropriate that I wrote it down:

Friend to FA: “You sound like you’re from Texas.” (he’s from Texas and the FA had a distinct southern drawl)
FA: “Who me? God no. That’s awful. I’m insulted — that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard! Texas? I hate Texas.”
Friend: “Sorry, you sounded a bit like you had a Texas drawl”
FA: “So I sound like a redneck to you? NO. I’m not Texan, thank God.”
Friend: “Sorry I asked. Oh, and I’m from Texas.”
FA: <rolls eyes and mumbled something as she walked away>​

Yeah — that is not the way a flight attendant should ever treat a passenger.  There was no malice or ill intent in my friend’s voice — he was simply making small talk with the flight attendant, and she just lost it.  He was also somewhat offended since he actually does live in Texas.  Hell, I was even offended a bit being from Texas too ( I grew up there, but haven’t lived there in almost 15 years).

From there, the service didn’t really improve.  Every time drinks or meals were served, the general feeling was that the flight attendants had to be bothered to bring me a Diet Coke.  And call me crazy, but that’s not exactly the type of service that I expect.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve had some very good experiences in United Business First — this was just not one of them.  As it happens, this was my last international trip with United as a Premier 1K member, and this particular experience surely doesn’t make me regret the decision to leave United.

How I booked it…

As mentioned earlier, I booked this flight with cash.  I booked a W-fare from Boston to Dubai via Washington-Dulles for under $1,000 round-trip.  The Global Premier Upgrades cleared about three weeks apart, in July and August.

4 Thoughts on “Review: United Business First Washington to Dubai

  1. Andrew on March 13, 2015 at 12:17 pm said:

    FA probably hates Texas because that’s where the evil people from Continental are from – you know – the ones that ruined United Airlines !

    • Haha good point. But still, last I checked, the customer isn’t responsible for the merger and resulting company culture. As such, they shouldn’t be spoken to in that manner.

  2. I am laughing out loud and shaking my head at the same time. Your review brings back the haunting memories of “premium” service on United. The hockey puck sausage needs to go away completely. I still think oatmeal and a fruit bowl would have been a better breakfast choice for United… even for presentation. I am sorry your experience wasn’t wonderful, though I am not exactly surprised either… Being downgraded from a 1K is a blessing in disguise.

    • I’m thinking about collecting food photos from United Business and First class and compiling a little collage… that would be fun and sad.

      Luckily, the return flight was better, and luckily I’ve had AA EXP to fall back on — so far, it’s worlds better. I knew this UA flight was not great while I was flying it, but two weeks later after flying AA in business from DFW-HKG, it was glaringly obvious that UA was sincerely lacking compared to their US-based rivals.

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