- Broad range of inflight entertainment
- Away-designed amenity kit
- Direct flight saves hours for QLD'ers
- Lie-flat bed is on the narrow side
- AC power outlet wrong position for Macbook charger
- Free WiFi for select messaging apps
- Great sleep experience
United has seized the opportunity to introduce the new thrice-weekly service from Brisbane, making it the third Australian city connecting to the tech hub.
Flying into San Francisco’s International Airport is fast becoming one of the preferred options for Australians jetting off to the US, and this newly-inaugurated route makes it a particularly attractive choice for those based in the Sunshine State.
The route shaves off around four hours – and a ton of hassle – for Queenslanders, who’ve previously had to make an early-morning dash to Sydney or Melbourne to get to San Fran. Add to that all the creature comforts of the Polaris business class and you’re all set for a seamless travel experience.
Through its Star Alliance membership, United Airlines directs all lounge-eligible passengers on its UA97 flight from Brisbane to the Air New Zealand International Lounge, found just up the escalator between gates 81 and 82.
Those who’ve visited recently will know it’s an adequate, yet not overly exciting space, often eclipsed by the adjacent – and much more enticing – Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge.
With United and Singapore Airlines both Star Alliance members, the SQ lounge is open to business class travellers, along with United’s Premier Gold and Premier Platinum frequent flyers (their Star Alliance Gold equivalents).
On entry, a beautiful screen featuring SIA’s signature batik motif sets the tone for the lounge: slightly modern, somewhat traditional, but overall, a fresh and lively space for Brisbane passengers to unwind before their flight.
Inside the small yet functional space you can’t help but appreciate the natural light that flows from the tarmac through the windows at the far end of the lounge.
You’ll find several sitting areas scattered across the lounge, from solo working lounges and booths equipped with power sockets and USB charging ports…
On the dining front, the lounge offers plenty of culinary options, including a cold and hot self-service buffet…
…and a wide range of drinks, including spirits, liqueurs, beers and wines.
Other perks include shower facilities and ‘The Gallery’ , a small room towards the front of the lounge designed to be roped off for VIPs or acting as a touchdown area for travellers with limited time before their flight.
Note, however, that the opening hours of the Brisbane SilverKris lounge are quite limited; from 6.20am to 9.05am and 11.30am to 2.30pm. You can still visit the Air New Zealand lounge for the remainder of your time before your flight.
United’s Brisbane-San Francisco UA97 flight runs three days a week on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. It’s a smooth 12-hour flight serviced by United’s modern Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners – spacious, twin-aisle jets designed for efficiency and comfort.
Leaving Brisbane mid-morning means you can while away the first 5-6 hours catching up on work or watching a movie before sliding off to sleep, and waking up to a brand new start of the day once in San Francisco really pulls off that magical time travel illusion.
Travellers in business class receive an increased checked baggage allowance of 2x32kg bags; add to that some frequent flyer status (MileagePlus Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K, or a Star Alliance Gold card from another airline) and you’ll get a third 32kg bag into the bargain.
While still departing as scheduled at 10:30am, a solid tailwind during our flight sees us reaching San Francisco at 5:50am (local time), some 40 minutes ahead of the planned 6:30am touchdown.
Like most of United’s Australian flights, Brisbane sees a Boeing 787-9 with 48 Polaris business class seats spread across two distinct zones, with most of them found in the forward eight-row cabin and an additional four rows behind the first galley.
A significant upgrade from its previous business offering, the Polaris business class seats come in a 1-2-1 layout, which combines forward-facing and angled seats in a dovetail arrangement, providing every passenger with direct aisle access.
The seats are well-appointed and sport a premium finish with plenty of blue and touches of silver and slate, with an enclosed capsule design offering a degree of individual privacy.
Speaking of privacy, odd-numbered window seats – placed directly against the windows – are the best option for passengers seeking a more intimate flight experience. In comparison, the even-numbered rows see the passenger closer to the aisle, with a bench and cupboard between them and the window.
Those travelling in pairs will instead want to opt for middle seats, with the odd-numbered ones being closer to the centre and nearer to each other (making them the better choice for socialising with your peer).
If you wind up in one of these centre-row seats with a stranger, a full-head retractable divider can be pulled out.
Each seat gets a large compartment under the ottoman – big enough to fit a small bag – plus a shoulder-level cupboard to keep gadgets and travel amenities close at hand.
When it comes to getting work done, the Polaris business class makes for a great office-in-the-clouds.
A spacious and solidly-hinged tray table slides smoothly out from under the video screen, while an additional faux-marble benchtop is wide enough to spread out any work-related documents.
Above this: the IFE controller, a combo AC/USB power socket and the headphone jack.
However, while it’s a handy location to keep your laptop juiced up, the position of the universal AC socket is such that a MacBook power adaptor will only fit if it has a two-prong US or EU plug and if the brickette is turned upside down. Got a three-prong AU or UK MacBook power brick? You’re out of luck.
There’s a second USB port next to a small recess beneath the video screen, providing an additional spot to charge your smartphone or tablet while they sit snugly out of your way.
Once you’re ready to count some sheep, a control strip along the edge of the seat includes an intuitive roller-style switch, which transforms your seat into a fully-flat 198-centimetre bed.
There are also individual controls for the leg rest, lumbar support and lighting.
Although the seat is relatively slim with a small foot cubby, United has provided lots of bedding to help create a comfortable experience. Adorned with Saks Fifth Avenue branding, the bedding includes a mattress pad, duvet, large pillow, and a small memory foam pillow. Once set up, I was able to enjoy a 6-hour straight sleep on this flight.
For light sleepers, like myself, there’s a ‘do not disturb’ button to inform crew that you’d prefer your slumber be uninterrupted.
Other bells and whistles include an Away-designed amenity kit containing a range of Sunday Riley skincare products, a pair of slippers and earplugs, and a comfy eye mask.
Service kicks off with an aperitif – including a selection of non alcoholic drinks and wines – served with warmed mixed nuts.
There is only one choice of entree, coronation salmon with butter lettuce, coriander and vadouvan seasonings, so we went with that.
This was followed by the option of four main courses; seared beef fillet, chicken stuffed with mint and ricotta, spinach ravioli, and seared barramundi fish fillet.
I opt for the seared barramundi, which comes with a rich and spicy Nduja-tomato sauce, grilled green beans, BBQ cherry tomato and toasted macadamia.
The fish portion size was on the smaller side.
Lunch is capped off with an assorted cheese plate, paired with grapes and a beautiful deep and mellow Symmetry Meritage 2016.
With a 12-hour flying time from Brisbane to San Francisco, there’s a good chance you will wake partway through the journey, so United Airlines also offers a range of mid-flight snacks.
In my case, the cheese and Vegemite toastie and tomato soup hit the spot.
After a few solid hours of sleep, breakfast is served as we approach the landing phase.
I go for the Italian-style option: a spinach and feta frittata with a chicken sausage and delightful roasted potatoes, which provides a nice energy boost prior to landing.
Entertainment & Service
When you’re not snoozing and instead seeking something to pass the time, there’s a 16-inch touchscreen loaded with an extensive range of movies and TV shows – all available in multiple languages.
A broad selection of audiobooks, as well as a soothing ‘relax mode’ pairing gentle music with a restful slideshow, are also available.
Onboard WiFi is also available for US$21.99 for the full flight, and US$8.99 for 2 hours of browsing. Like most other inflight WiFi experiences, the speed is slow and latency high, but we’re grateful for the ability to stay connected when needed.
United also offers free WiFi for messaging apps including WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger, which is a great touch.
On the service front, business class onboard this inaugural flight is warm and efficient, with the attendants walking through the cabin several times and proactively offering food and drink top-ups.
For Queenslanders jetting off to San Francisco and beyond, United Airlines from Brisbane is definitely a worthwhile consideration. It’s the fastest way to reach the US, saving time on connecting via Sydney or Melbourne and avoiding the well-documented hassles of LAX altogether.
Enjoying the comfort, privacy and service of the Polaris business class – easily among the best from a US carrier – is just icing on the cake, and we can only hope frequency increases in the near future.
The writer travelled as a guest of United Airlines.