July 2010
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Day 1: Turning left

I flew first class again. Row 1 baby. Any further forward and I’d have been driving the thing. It was – predictably – sweet.

Believe it or not, it was actually a little bit better than the last time. I did this same route in this same class last December. It was still awesome, but you could tell things were a little old. The dead giveaway was the help-yourself selection of movies on mini-VHS tape.

This time, they’ve switched out everything, including adding a new video-on-demand entertainment system with a really nice screen. I’d guess at about 15 inches using other things in the photo for reference.

I wasn’t expecting it, and neither were some of the crew by the sound of it. While I was settling in and busy taking pictures of my feet, the pilot came forward to have a nose around, commenting that he’d never seen this configuration before.

Everything I’d seen on United’s web site suggested that the 747 fleet had been upgraded, but they hadn’t started on the 777s yet. I’m no plane geek but I can tell the difference. 747s have an upstairs. 777s have “777” printed in the corner of the safety card.

The seats were all shiny and new, with lots of storage space and two huge fixed shelves, as well as a large collapsible dining table. Plenty of room to sprawl.

And as an added bonus, there an actual power outlet, not the silly emPower thing that I was expecting, and have never managed to get the right adapter for. Hence coming prepared with an array of batteries, and – between us – a PSP, five iPods, two laptops and an iPad.

It’s better to have an iPod and not need one, than to need an iPod and not have one.

I was particularly intrigued by what the connectors under the headphone socket were for. Clearly, it’s USB and ethernet. But why? The entertainment system boasted an iPod input, but that used the other one, that looked like S-Video. But who has an iPod to S-Video cable? (The on-board duty free store, of course, that’s who).

Surely you can just use a dock cable into the USB, I thought. Alas no. Not that it matters when I’m all reclined and have taken my glasses off – it’s far easier to watch a 3 inch screen from 2 inches away, than a 15 inch screen from 6 feet away.

“It appears that my iPod is not properly connected”.

In fact, it didn’t even give enough power to keep my iPhone charged, so I have no idea what it’s for – or the network socket. Surely there’s no chance of internet flying transatlantic any time soon. Do they expect teams of Counterstrike players to come on board and have a LAN party?

The other thing I noticed was a peculiar change to the seat configuration. These things are so large you can only fit four of them across the plane (bizarrely, our middle seats were 1C and 1H!) and they’re set at a diagonal.

However, instead of being arranged \ /\ / like on the old layout, they’re now / \/ \. In other words, all the seats face towards an aisle, not away from it.

The practical difference is if you’re sitting in the middle two seats, you now end up with your heads being closer together than your feet. Which is great if you’re travelling with someone and want to talk – you don’t have to shout across a four-foot void.

But as a result the whole cabin felt a lot more exposed than last time. It’s not a big deal to me – I’m just happy to have a flat bed and edible food – but I imagine the kind of flyer who pays for first class as a matter of course would be expecting a little more privacy than they’d get with this layout.

Not that we’d use it, but I couldn’t find a partition between the middle seats – so you have a perfect view of your neighbour’s screen (in theory, you’d be able to see exactly what’s on their iPod). Or with them angled away from you, you have a great view of what they’re doing on a laptop. Also my natural position was to face directly across at the window seat, which was also facing towards me. It was certainly less of a head-turn to look at the stranger opposite than Claire. I just thought it was a bit odd to have changed things this way.

The food was great. I ate swordfish, and quite enjoyed it.

Followed by filet mignon, with a so-good-they-baked-it-twice potato.

Finished off with cheese and biscuits. “I’d offer you port Mr Newman, but you don’t drink do you?”.

Sure, it’s five o’clock somewhere, but nowhere this plane is going, or even passes over, when we fly west from the UK at 2pm.  So I just said no to a drink before takeoff and as I pretty much don’t do wine, declined anything to go with my steak.

But cheese and port is a different matter… come back here!!

1 comment to Day 1: Turning left

  • James

    I would love the first class experience, shame my bank balance wouldn’t. It does sound like the trip becomes a major mart of the holiday!

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