Fifteen Days in Australia
A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea
- United Global First Class Lounges – Washington-Dulles and Los Angeles
- United Global First Class Los Angeles to Sydney
- Sydney: Days One and Two (Arrival, Walking Tour, Manly Beach, and Darling Harbour)
- Sydney: Days Three and Four (Sydney Opera House, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks, Bondi Beach, Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, Woolloomooloo, and the Sydney Fish Market)
- New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour
- Virgin Australia Economy Class Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns
- An Evening in Cairns and a Flight to Lizard Island, AU
- Spirit of Freedom Live-aboard Dive Trip (4-night Coral Sea and GBR)
- Qantas Economy and Business Class Cairns to Sydney to Melbourne
- Two Days in Melbourne and the Park Hyatt Melbourne
- United Global First Class Sydney to San Francisco
United Airlines (UA) 839
Los Angeles (LAX) – Sydney (SYD)
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 1A (Global First Class)
Wednesday, December 25
10:05PM – 7:50AM (+2 days)
After a bit more than an hour in the lounge, we were escorted to the gate by a United agent from the Global First Class Lounge to a separate air bridge, where we entered the Boeing 747-400 from the first door. I selected seats for my dad and I in the first row — at the very tip of the nose of the 747. These seats were absolutely fantastic since there was virtually no foot traffic by us. Since it is in the nose, these seats were close enough to each other to have a conversation, yet far enough apart to where we could each enjoy our private space. They were also separated from the rest of the first class cabin, so it really did feel like our own little mini-cabin. I would highly recommend row 1 when flying solo, or with a companion in United Global First Class on the B747-400. The seat itself is very spacious and extremely comfortable. In an upright position, one has an immense amount of personal space. There is also a ton of storage all over the suite. There is a good-sized In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) screen which has an impressive collection of movies, TV shows, music, and games. I really enjoy United’s movie selection and find it to be one of the better IFE systems out there.
Shortly after boarding, the lead flight attendant, Doug introduced himself to us and brought us a pre-departure beverage and amenity kit. The amenity kit for Global First Class is very nice, as it includes basically anything one would need during a flight. My favorite part about the amenity kit is the actual case — it’s functional and re-usable, as I still use it to this day as an overnight kit. Anyway, Doug and his crew took great care of us throughout the flight — the service was pretty outstanding all around on this particular flight. I oriented myself with my seat / suite, and started a movie, as I’d planned to watch a movie, have dinner and go immediately to bed. Our departure was delayed for about 30 minutes as the crew confirmed the weight and balance of the aircraft. We finally pushed back around 10:35PM. After taxiing for about a minute, the plane came to a stop. Minutes later, the captain announced that they were having a mechanical difficulty, so we returned to the gate. This process would repeat itself two more times.
By 1AM, I was pretty convinced that they were going to cancel the flight due to mechanical issues. Fortunately, we finally pushed back and taxied out to the runway for an actual departure at around 1:15am, about three hours late after three separate delays. Our arrival time into Sydney was updated to around 10:20am local time on December 27th. Takeoff from LAX was pretty cool, as you could really feel the power of the 747 in the very front of the aircraft. My dad particularly enjoyed this flight since it was his first time flying the Queen of the Skies — the Boeing 747.
As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the cabin crew began dinner service at around 2AM Pacific time — about 5AM eastern time. At this point, it was so late, I wasn’t even sure I was hungry, but went ahead and ordered anyway. I ordered the coconut shrimp and spring roll for a warm appetizer, and this was relatively tasty. The tomato soup was piping hot, and went great with the warm garlic bread and pretzel rolls. For my entrée, I ordered the tamale stuffed chicken. This dish could have been quite good if it was pulled off properly. Unfortunately, my dish was given the heavy hand with the salt and spice, resulting in a dish that was so salty and spicy that it was barely even edible. This was pretty disappointing, as I’d heard good things about this particular dish. My dad ordered the beef ribs for his entrée, and he was similarly disappointed by a very tough and borderline inedible dish. Luckily, the ice cream sundae somewhat salvaged the meal. Overall, we found the dinner service to frankly not be up to standards for an international first class product.
After dinner, I finished up my second movie and went to go change into more comfortable clothes to sleep in. As I went to the lavatory to change, Doug offered to turn down my bed, which I found to be a nice touch. I returned to my seat with the bed turned down and padded with a duvet and two over-sized pillows. I slept wonderfully in this seat — it was probably one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had on a plane, as I was out cold for a good nine or ten hours.
I awoke about 90 minutes prior to arrival in Sydney. Doug came by check on my sleep and to inquire as to whether I wanted breakfast. After I changed back into my travel clothes, Doug delivered a continental breakfast of scones, croissants, yogurt, and fruit. While not overly memorable, it was tasty enough. After breakfast, we prepared for arrival into Sydney, and talked to Doug for a bit — again, the crew was fantastic and very friendly. Final approach and landing in Sydney was beautiful. The weather was perfect, and I had a wonderful view of Sydney Harbor as we approached Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport. We ultimately arrived three hours late, at around 10:20am on a beautiful summer morning. We were handed fast track passes for immigration, and ultimately got through customs and immigration in about 20 minutes.
United’s Global First Class is a very comfortable way to fly across the Pacific. The seat and cabin are far superior to the BusinessFirst offering on the same aircraft. The service on the flight was very good — excellent by United standards. Sadly, the catering — the food, wine, and drink selection was a disappointment. The catering was worse than my previous experiences in United BusinessFirst, and is nowhere near competitive with other airlines’ first class offerings that I have experienced. At the end of the day, we flew first class in order to be as comfortable as possible on the long flight to Australia, and United Global First Class certainly delivered in that aspect, as we arrived in Sydney well rested after a very comfortable flight.
How I booked it…
As mentioned in my previous post, I booked this trip for my dad and I using United miles. United charged 80,000 miles each way (160,000 miles round trip) for each of us. Note: As of March 2014, United no longer flies the Boeing 747-400 on its Australia routes. Instead, the airline operates a three-class Boeing 777-200 on both its LAX-SYD and San Francisco (SFO)-SYD routes. The B777-200 has four fewer Global First Class seats than the B747-400, so I expect it to be somewhat more difficult to find first class award space on United flights to Australia. Starting in late 2014, United will operate their brand new, two-class B787-9 Dreamliner on nonstop flights from LAX to Melbourne. This flight will only offer BusinessFirst class, similar to what I experienced on my flights on the B787-8 Dreamliner from Denver to
Tokyo Seattle, Seattle to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Denver.