Pros: Comfy seat, lots of attention, endless champagne and ice-cream all the way
Cons: First class lounge not stylish enough
I checked in at Heathrow about two hours before departure and found that there were only two people ahead of me at the first class desk. Check-in was quick and I was directed to the United first class lounge to wait for boarding.
The lounge itself was pretty empty and very large for about the six of us that were in there: you could have gotten 40 to 50 people in there easy. There were only three others on my flight to New York; the remaining were on an ANA flight (star alliance carrier) to Tokyo. I made use of the free drinks and snacks and enjoyed the view of the planes at their gates or taking off. It was very good, but the lounge was not that stylish as such. It had everything, but was not much of an experience. I have a Priority Pass card that allows me use of lounges around the world, regardless of my cabin class or airline, so I have seen quite a few of them, though first class lounges are usually restricted to first class passengers or gold card holders in that airline's loyalty program.
The United first class lounge was above average, but not as good as some amazingly stylish ones that I have seen, such as in Moscow at the DME airport, which is the newer one - avoid landing at SVO where possible/at all costs!
We were called to the gate about 30 mins before take off and then directed to our own gate to the aircraft, United used a Boeing 777 on this route, using its front door, which opens into first class. The other passengers used the other gate to a rear door. It was easy to stow my bag as we all had an overhead bin to ourselves! As soon as I sat down I was brought champagne, apple juice and anything else I or the other passengers wanted. The captain came out to say hello to each passenger in the cabin and the cabin crew knew everyone's names. On the return to London, the captain did not come out to say hello, but this was probably due to me going up to the flight deck and asking 24 questions about the plane: they probably thought that was there due for customer relations on that flight!
The configuration of the cabin was 1-2-1 in first class. I had seat number 1A, so there was nobody sitting next to me. The seats are a private cabin which extend to a flat bed, they were very comfortable. I am 6 foot 3 and I could sleep flat out and relax with more room than I knew what to do with. There was lots of space for champagne glasses and a big dinner tray for the 3 course meals.
There was a little TV, which I could pull out to watch the moving map whilst listening in to the radio transmissions of the flight deck to air traffic control on the ground and in the air. I could watch the normal video feed or the movie of my choice on videotape, which I could insert into the video machine in my seat.You can also position to TV to watch movies when your seat is in the bed position, I watched two movies on the return trip to London, so there was not much time left to sleep after that on a 6hr 20min flight. But the movie Ray on my videotape and another about Bobby Darin on the mainframe were both excellent.
The flight took off on time to New York and also on the return to London. After take-off we were quickly served dinner individually - no trolley in the cabin. On this flight we had two crewmembers in our cabin for five people! The cabin can take ten people in total. As such, you did not need to press the call button, as crew members were always standing or walking next to you! I selected my starter and main course from the menu and the crew then laid out a tablecloth with salt and peppershaker on my tray - very elegant. Drinks were always on tap, and whenever my drinks were low, they would come round without being asked and top me up. Whenever I woke up after a nap, I found a new bottle of mineral water in the cup holder of my suite. I could not fault them for service; they were always exceeding my expectations and were very nice.
We landed a little early to New York and as I was at the front of the plane, I got to customs and passport control fast. The bags were first to arrive and I got though the airport in about 30 mins. On the return leg back to London, we were held up by traffic landing and got in a few minutes late and were then sent to a remote gate and taken to the main building by bus, which was fine. The first class and business class bags on the return to London were taken off the baggage belt and placed next to a sign to save you waiting for them to go round once again when you got there.
A great trip with the return flight being equally as good. The service was slightly slower as the flight was totally full, including the first class cabin. But you wanted for nothing and the service was excellent. However, for the price, next time I will fly British Airways as they have a more stylish lounge(s) and a better looking first class cabin. Also the first class suit seating was very nice, but if you looked down the gap between your enclosed seat and the three windows by your seat, you saw a carpeted area that never got cleaned! It was filthy down there! They could pass a dust buster down there! The only bad point I noted and it seemed really SLACK from the ground crew! Some of you will say its too expensive for a 6 or 7 hrs flight over the Atlantic, and I must admit, in 1st class, it felt like a 15min flight. But that's why its so good, otherwise it would feel like a 6 or 7 hr flight!
I would say, if your flying on an ultra long flight, like the 15hr flight to Hong Kong from the US or a 24hr flight down to Australia - then fly up front. Its so civilized!
#6,400 / $12,000 return (Worth nothing is that American Express Platinum and Centurion card members, in the UK, can book two seats in first class for the price of one! This offer also includes business class for 2 for 1 I believe; just check the web site companion flight offerings for these cards only. In the USA the airlines in the offering are different, but just as excellent. This way, you can split the cost with a friend/girlfriend and each pays half price!)