I've only ever flown coach for 32 years, but I just splurged on my first international business class trip - and it was as good as flying United gets
- I have only ever flown coach for 32 years.
- But I'm pregnant and needed to take a red-eye flight for a business trip to Germany, so I decided to drop $829 on a last-minute upgrade from coach to business class.
- It's definitely the best flying experience I've ever had, although I wouldn't say it lived up to the hype.
As a New Jersey resident who flies a few times a year for work, mainly in and out of the Newark airport, I am subjected to many United Airlines flights.Advertisement
For 32 years, I've always flown coach. I can never justify spending a few thousand dollars extra for fleeting comfort.
But every time I roll my suitcase past the business passengers to my seat in the back of the plane, I stare longingly.They look so happy, curled up in their cushy chairs, sipping champagne and scotch, surrounded by fluffy bedding. They know they will de-board better rested and with fewer neck cramps than the rest of us.
Finally, I had an opportunity to peek behind the blue, class-dividing curtain.I had to take a business trip to Germany. But I'm pregnant, and for $829 I could upgrade from coach and guarantee a seat in United's Polaris business class for my red-eye flight.It was about $100 extra an hour. So I said, "Screw it!" and treated myself. Advertisement
Off I went, on a nonstop flight from Newark to Berlin, swaddled in Saks Fifth Avenue bedding and a 180-degree reclining bed.
Here's what it was like to finally fly business class after 32 years in coach:
I fly a fair amount, so I'm a United gold premier member. That might mean more on another airline, but on United, it basically means you get a free checked bag and economy-plus seating (which means slightly more legroom). Now, I had my upgrade. I was ready to finally get pampered and my hopes were high.
The scene at Newark's United counter was picturesque. No lines. Just super special me, waddling up to the counter with my two carry-on bags, almost giddy for my red-eye flight. I used mobile boarding passes, so I zipped past the counter and straight to security.Advertisement
If there's a special Polaris line for security, I didn't find it. I have TSA Pre-Check and just stuck with that. The line was sort of long but it moved quickly, and I was through security in under 15 minutes.
Newark doesn't make you take your computer or liquids out of your bags, or take off your shoes. You can sail right through, whether you're business class or not.Advertisement
I arrived a little earlier than usual so I could take advantage of the airport's Polaris lounge. Unfortunately, the one nearest to my gate was under construction.
A "pop-up" lounge appeared in its place. A message outside it warned that not all guests would be accommodated due to the smaller-than-usual space. I almost got turned down at the door because the woman told me it was too crowded inside. I assured her I'd only be there about 30 minutes. She sighed and let me walk through.Advertisement
The "lounge" left a lot to be desired. Every seat was taken and there was not much to graze upon.
I settled on a free bag of Smartfood popcorn and a small, crinkled water bottle.Advertisement
But I could smell Auntie Anne's wafting into the lounge from the outside, where all the coach flyers were happily munching away on a much better selection of food. A cinnamon sugar pretzel would surely be better than whatever sad excuse of a business lounge this was. Plus there were no bathrooms. So I bolted and chowed down on a pretzel.
Finally, the moment I had been waiting for. I had long wondered what it took to become "Group 1" boarding on United. I'm usually in Group 2 and can never seem to get any higher. Finally, with my business-class seat, I had what it takes to get on the plane first.Advertisement
Once boarding began, Group 1 people were ushered down a different aisle than everyone else. This aisle would take us to the front of the plane and to the promised land of fully-reclining chairs.
My seat was 1K, the very first row on the plane. I looked down and saw my fluffy Saks Fifth Avenue bedding awaiting me. Heck. Yes. It was also the comfiest plane seat I've ever sat in, by far.Advertisement
The pillow was plush. I wanted to steal it and swap it for my one at home. It was the perfect thickness — not so soft that you could feel the chair beneath it, but not so firm that you got a stiff neck. Just right.
I was also given a comforter.Advertisement
There was plenty of storage space, both next to my seat...
... And in the cubbies in front of me. I had legroom for days! The chair could recline and accommodate someone who was more than 6 feet tall.Advertisement
Here, you can also see all the fancy ways your seat can recline.
A vanity pack gave me all the flight "essentials": a scented eye mask, pillow spray, tissues, ear plugs, hand sanitizer, a pen, lotion, ChapStick, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste.Advertisement
The best perk of flying business class is arguably the free, unlimited booze. The menu is extensive.
Being pregnant, I promptly ordered a club soda.Advertisement
My seat mate ordered a scotch. There was also a lot of wine, beer, or champagne to choose from.
And free chocolate! Mmm, caramel.Advertisement
The bathroom was the same as coach, nice and squished, with one added perk...
Back at my seat, I tried to use my personal clicker to scroll through movies. Mine was broken, even after the flight attendant tried to reset it. Oh well.
I was also given a pair of United noise-cancelling headphones, which worked great.Advertisement
Aside from my reclining chair, I was perhaps most excited about the food. My colleague Ben Zhang had told me I might be served four courses (!). And indeed, I had choices. Did I want spicy chicken? Seared short rib? Or Poached shrimp?
The flight attendant handed me a moist towel that smelled of lavender. Bring on dinner.Advertisement
Up first: A snack of salted nuts, served warm. None of those peanut bags, snack mixes, or pesto "breadsticks" for me.
I didn't have to choose between appetizers. I was served both the kale salad with roasted fennel and the smoked duck. I got a pretzel roll and garlic bread on the side. It was definitely better than the microwave meals in coach, but if you got served this in a restaurant, you would probably be underwhelmed. I ate it all anyway.Advertisement
Out came my seared beef short rib with wasabi grits. The meat was a bit chewy and I only wound up eating half of it. I was pretty full from the appetizers and warmed nuts anyhow.
However, I was not too full to eat this cheese.Advertisement
Or the ice cream sundae! With toppings ranging from chocolate sauce to M&M sprinkles, this was definitely the best food of the flight.
Om nom nom.Advertisement
There were also trays of cookies.
Don't mind if I do.Advertisement
In the morning, I was woken up with breakfast in bed — a choice of either cereal or eggs. I chose the eggs.
It was only about four hours after I'd eaten dinner, so I was still fairly full. Plus there was a strange cheese oozing out and the sausage was meh. So after a few bites, I called it quits.Advertisement
I thought about splurging on business class again on the flight home — which wound up being on my birthday — but opted for coach since I wouldn't need to sleep. United told me I couldn't get a free birthday upgrade, but they did give me a nice birthday card. Honestly, that flight was fine, too.
So, was it worth it? Well, if you're pregnant, taking a red-eye flight, and you can afford it, probably. I also flew a red-eye in coach while pregnant. That was survivable because I had a whole row to myself where I could lay down. But on a full night flight, business class was, for me, the way to go. Even with the shortcomings, it's way more comfortable than coach.Advertisement
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