Flight Review: United 787 to Sao Paulo

Airline: United

Flight: 105

Route: IAH to GRU

Aircraft: Boeing 787-8

Class: Business

Right off the bat, United wasn't winning any customer service awards with me. Despite their supposed new direction and focus on customer service, the first employee I dealt with was angry, unpleasant, and despite accusing me of not having proper visa’s, she was just plain wrong… though it took 30-45min of check-in to verify that. The problems stemmed from some confusion on a Brazil transit visa. I didn’t have a visa, because I had checked prior to leaving and everything official that I could find said I didn’t need one… this ended up being true. There was some question on when this was the case and when it wasn’t, it’s pretty cut and dry, transiting Sao Paulo? You don’t need a visa if staying in the airport. After some rudeness, pissy behavior and me trying to be nice, she finally found out I was correct and let me board the plane.

It was a short hop to Houston, with some kind of meat dish as the only option in domestic first class. This is weird to me since American always seems to have a meat and vegetarian dish available. You can’t request special meals domestically… weird for first class, but seems to be the case across the board in the US.

Once in Houston, I made my way over to the gate and then explored a shop or two before it was already time to board my flight. I had switched my seat to a window at the last minute because I prefer window seats and the 787-8 is a plane I helped to design. I hadn’t waited this long to fly this plane to end up in a center seat just so I had aisle access.

Coming through the door, I did notice that at Houston, the plane boards through the front door of the 787. We deplaned through the midplane door, but this was odd and seems like Houston is the only place that they do this. A little weird and sends all of the economy class customers walking past the business class to get their seats. It’s a minor issue, but boarding would likely go smoother for everyone if they boarded through the midplane door.

Taking my seat, I took stock of the seat layout. United 787’s are set up with a 2-2-2 configuration in business class. This is a fairly outdated way of laying out the cabin. Most modern airlines have moved to a reverse herringbone or some way that every seat has direct aisle access so that you aren’t climbing over another passenger to get to the bathroom. Luckily my seatmate was out of his seat on a number of occasions, and those opportunities allowed me to use the bathroom with little issue. Keep in mind that this type of seat setup isn’t ideal and gives little privacy from your neighbor while sleeping. Old and outdated, I find this seat type weird for a brand new airplane like the 787, but for my first international business class flight, it was pretty damn nice.

Seat layout is awkwardly angled to one side. While I can understand this move for the widow banks of seats, I don’t get why the center seats are angled to the left. This little thing really seems to severely restrict the aisle space for the left aisle in certain spots. To me, the design would be best if the left seats angled toward the left window, right seats towards the right window and the center just faced straight forward.

Sitting down at the seat you quickly find that the placement of the USB outlet and headphone jacks is really awkward. The outlets are located above your head, to the left and behind you. It is a really odd choice and requires some level of proficiency in yoga to reach the damn thing.

Headphone Jacks

Headphone Jacks

Seat controls are fairly straight forward and having never used them before, I quickly caught on to how things worked with the seats.

The entertainment system was fairly easy to navigate, the options for entertainment were up to date, but a little clunky to navigate. I found the controller for the IFE system to be in a weird position that was hard to access and again almost required the downward dog position to grab. After flying back to the US in a recently updated 777, you do notice in retrospect how out of date the IFE controllers on the United 787 really is already.

United IFE

United IFE

After settling in, flight attendants came by with the menu.

Flight attendants also handed out amenity kits. These kits are very well stocked and the bag has a nice feel to it.

United Business Class Amenity Kit

United Business Class Amenity Kit

While the menu is shown above, it’s not really relevant to me since I always order the vegetarian/vegan meal on my flights. If you do eat meat, the menu has some great options. My food review tomorrow will cover the meal in more detail, for now, let me say that United impressed me with their food. They chose to go Indian style with spices and naan, it was great. I love Indian food and this was no exception, so kudos to the United team.

Flight attendants came by everyone’s seats while we were still at the gate and took a drink order for the ground and the food order for the air. Right from the start, I really need to commend the cabin crew. Not only were they friendly, but actively joked and had fun with the passengers. That is a refreshing type of person to have on a plane. A bad attitude is not welcome to me, if you don’t want to be there I understand, I’ve worked customer service types of jobs too, but I always treated the customers well. Just because I’m cranky doesn’t mean I want everyone else to be cranky too. United nailed this flight in terms of friendly behavior and attentiveness.

While on the ground, I played around with my window. The 787 has electrically controlled window shades. No physical plastic divider is present on the plane, instead you have a control which can dim the window to varying degrees. There are good and bad things involved here. On one hand there is always some light that gets through. On the other hand, this gives flight attendants control over the window shades. That random annoying person will be unable to raise their blinds to flood the cabin with light while everyone is trying to sleep… yes, that happens every damn flight… usually over the ocean where there really isn’t much to see out a window. This is coming from someone who loves the window seat.

787 Window Shade Controls

787 Window Shade Controls

After boarding completed, we pushed back and quickly made it to the runway. As soon as we got there, we quickly took off and got into the air. Even though I helped build this beautiful airplane, seeing those carbon fiber wings flex under a positive g load is something impressive every time.  The engines look huge for the size of the plane, this is where much of the engine efficiency comes from. Oh, and boy is this sucker quiet, I really noticed how quiet the 787 was after going back to a 777-200 on my way home, even up front the 777 is loud.

Once in the air, we were served dinner and after roughly 2 hours, everything was finished up and it was on to sleep. Laying my seat to flat was easy and super comfortable. Quickly I fell asleep for almost 4 hours. Flying business class is a world of difference here, normally I can’t sleep on planes, but give me that lie flat seat and I’m finally able to get some rest. Lie flat seats overseas is the way to go hands down.

After waking, it was about and hour until breakfast was served. We enjoyed a nice decent into Sao Paulo, Brazil with a beautiful touchdown out of the captain. Well done United, your domestic flight didn’t win any awards with me, but for my first international business class flight… I was impressed.