Flight Report: London to Houston with United Airlines
April 14, 2016
United Airlines Boeing 787 for flight to Houston
Check-in for United is located in Zone D of Terminal 2 at Heathrow and this is easily found with the airport way-finding. All Economy Class customers are initially processed using self-service machines where one can select seats, complete US ESTA information and print baggage labels. The process is straightforward and there are several members of handling agent staff available to assist. The staff encountered are all pleasant and helpful – the usual security checks are encountered prior to the baggage drop counter and these are completed in a polite manner. The baggage drop is efficient and staff explain the receipts and boarding pass.
Boarding is completed in a zonal format and works extremely well – despite this being a full flight queue times are minimal and there is no congestion on the air bridge. On the aircraft staff are quite efficient at assisting customers with baggage storage. Boarding is completed 10-minutes prior to the departure time.
Airplane & Cabin flown
Boeing 787-800 in Economy Class was at full capacity with no spare seats observed.
United Economy Class passengers are permitted 1 x 23kg checked luggage and 1 carry-on bag (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm) and there appears to be no upper weight limit. In addition a small personal item such as laptop bag, briefcase or backpack is also allowed.
This Economy Class seat has a 32-inch seat pitch and 18-inch width. I am 6 feet (180cm) tall and the space feels good in seat 34C (aisle) – although there is no window for this row. The seat has all the expected enhancements for a new product – 10-inch PTV (widescreen), USB socket and 110v universal socket (under the seat / 2 sockets per 3 seats). There are overhead air vents (most useful on this warm flight) and adjustable headrests.
Economy class seat on Boeing 787
Cabin & Toilets
The cabin was clean and well presented as one might expect for a newer aircraft. The washrooms are modern with automated taps / toilet flush – unfortunately the washroom I use is not clean just a few minutes after take-off. This is more surprising given that this is immediately after a member of cabin staff and is left messy and with the bin overflowing – evidently washroom cleanliness is not that important to United Airlines. Amenities are limited to hand soap and there is no presence of further items. Washroom cleanliness checks are not observed for the duration of the flight and conditions are consistently messy.
The flight departed Heathrow 35-minutes late but arrived into Houston 25-minutes early after a 9hr 40min flight.
Food & Drink
Approximately 35-minutes after take-off a bar service is offered – this includes various soft drinks as well as a selection of beers and wine (spirits etc are available for purchase). A packet of soft cheese and crackers is included with the first beverage which is a nice touch. The service is efficient and around 10-minutes later a trash run is completed. The main meal is served around 25-minutes later and this comprises of an appetiser (quinoa and vegetable), a choice of 3 entrees (chicken, pasta or vegetarian) and a cold package bread roll. I chose the chicken entrée on this flight – the flavour was good but the accompanying vegetables are very watery (almost like a broth). The bread roll was stone cold and subsequently had a very poor, stodgy texture. There is a further bar service with the meal, and tea / coffee is offered with an ice cream tub which serves as dessert. There is a final bar service in addition to a water bottle served before the service ends.
Economy class lunch service
There is an additional buy-on-board snack service for the mid-flight period (View Menu HERE) which I did not try. There are sporadic offers of water from a tray (3 across this 10-hour flight) and a hot turkey and cheese sandwich is served prior to arrival – this is tasty but small. Aside from the fact that buy-on-board is available mid-flight, this really is the bear minimum in terms of food quantity – particularly compared against many Asian, Middle East and even some European competitors.
This B787 offers United’s latest IFE product – the screen size whilst not the largest in the industry is good and matching most other mainline carriers. The programming selection is extensive and the IFE interface is easy to use and functional. The film selection offers a mix of Hollywood and International options – however, the TV programming is more US centric and as such may have slightly less appeal to some customers. The headsets are the in-ear type and given complimentary – the quality is basic and not particularly reliable.
Pillows and blankets are available on each seat prior to boarding and the quality is industry standard. As mentioned, other than hand soap there are no additional washroom amenities and there is no offer of any eye mask / ear plugs etc – although this is a day time flight. As this Boeing 787 has automatic windows blinds these are dimmed by staff to the darkest setting shortly after take-off and remain so for the remainder of the flight. Whilst some customers are observed to adjust the windows to let light in, staff are quite quick to ask for these to be closed again. It seems an unusual policy for essentially a daytime flight and I found the overhead lighting to provide quite a poor standard of illumination for my aisle seat.
Staff service is efficient during boarding and offers decent presence – however, other than a brief welcome at the door there are no pleasantries within the cabin. The service after take-off begins promptly and is conducted with purpose – there is little emphasis on dialogue with customers other than what is strictly necessary. The carts are moved along the aisle with speed and whilst staff conduct a warning they do not give customers much time to move elbows etc – so be warned.
Other than 1 friendly male member of staff, the service is unfortunately very poor, and conforms to almost every stereotype of bad US airline cabin staff service. Dialogue is minimal, eye contact is poor and meals / drinks are given out robotically and carelessly. Basic pleasantries such as please and thank you are not observed and staff are not particularly proactive or efficient with cabin maintenance and the floor is littered with items by the end of the flight.
Upon arrival at Houston, priority deplaning did occur but there is virtually no effort by the staff to say goodbye. Baggage delivery times are quite good around 15-minutes after reaching the carousel (approximately 30-minutes after arrival).
Overall the product is the strong point for this newer aircraft. I felt comfortable in the seat throughout the flight (even with the customer in front reclined) and the added power facilities are useful. The IFE offered a wide choice (as one might expect it is slightly US biased) but I could not fault this. The catering is okay in terms of quality and it is the quantity that is limited (outside of the buy-on-board – which I did not find particularly appealing).
The staff on this flight were the weak element and in reality this would not take much to improve – a smile, eye contact and a few pleasantries would have made a great deal of difference to the customer service experience and one would expect this to come more naturally to staff in frontline customer facing positions.