Review: United Airlines, Vancouver – San Francisco – Washington Dulles

While I don’t usually combine flight posts, it seems to make sense in this case since these flights blended into each other. Economy flights aren’t that exciting to write about, but they do form an important part of any trip. This combination of flights led us to our international American gateway, and formed the start of this International journey.


This post is one chapter in our trip to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the Maldives on United Airlines and Etihad Airways. This trip was booked and credited to Aeroplan and Etihad Preferred Guest. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Review: United Airlines, Vancouver – San Francisco

We were up at the ungodly hour of 2:00 AM to get to the airport for our 6 AM flight. Heading east from the west coast, when connections are involved, always seemed to require the first or second flight of the day. 

As with most Canadian airports, Vancouver offered US Customs Pre-Clearance before you get on the plane. This allows you to land in the United States and connect seamlessly with other domestic connections.

The airport was pretty deserted when we arrived and our flight was the first flight of the day on the flight board. The Vancouver airport USA departures area has lots of windows, which made the place seem even darker at this hour. At the Premier Check in, there was no one there, but kiosks able to serve us. Eventually, at about 4:10 AM, the staff slowly plodded into their kiosks to start the baggage tagging.

YVR Transborder Flight Display at 4 AM
United Airlines getting set up for the first flight of the day
United Airlines counters at YVR

As Aeroplan Star Alliance Star Gold holders, we talked our way into a free Economy Plus upgrade at the check in desk. Unfortunately, after we dropped our checked bags, and cleared security, US Customs didn’t start clearing passengers for entry into the secure side until 4:30 AM. We were the first in the Global Entry line waiting to get screened into USA Pre-Clearance facility at YVR.

To make matters worse, the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge was closed as we passed through. The national airline that we love to hate has removed the lounge hours of operation from their website. The hours on the door read 6:00 – 21:00 hrs. But I digress. We took solace in Tim Horton’s Coffee while we waited for our first flight of the day.

There wasn’t much to report about on this flight, it was pretty much like any other short haul United flights. 

United Airlines
Economy Class
YVR-SFO (Vancouver International Airport – San Francisco International)
UA 361 – Economy Class (L)
06:05 AM – 8:23 AM
Oct 4, 2012
Booked: Airbus 320
Flown: Airbus 320

On board, it wasn’t too exciting. At the very last, blue is comforting in the early morning hours of a 6 AM departure.

United Airlines A320 in comforting blue

Stopping by the United Club San Franciso

We stopped in at the United Club San Francisco, for me to collect Global Traveler Magazines and for MsWT73 to collect some Tillamook Cheese and carrot sticks. Access was granted courtesy of our Aeroplan Star Alliance Gold Card on our international ticket. It seems that this lounge has been refurbished since the last time I came through. I still find the entrance to be quite grand for an airport lounge, despite the offerings inside not being super exciting.

Entry Placard United Club SFO
Entry Reception United Club SFO
United Club SFO Clock

In summary, the United Club in San Franciso is a nice lounge by US standards. The place has nice views from its windows.

Review: United Airlines, San Francisco – Washington Dulles

Heading to the gate, Ms World Traveller 73 went to collect some Boudin Turkey Avacado Sandwiches from the SFO T3 food court, and I headed to the United Desk to see if there was any opportunity for another free Economy Plus seat. 

United Airlines
Economy Class
SFO-IAD (San Francisco International – Washington Dulles)
UA 516 – Economy Class (L)
09:53 AM – 5:52 PM
Oct 4, 2012
Booked: Boeing 757-200
Flown: Boeing 757-200

Checking the monitor, it seems all the seats were full. However, the kind woman was able to get us a regular economy bulkhead for our long haul from Washington to Dubai.

United Boeing 757-200 cabin SFO-IAD
Take Away Catering by Boudin SFO

Getting off at Washington Dulles, it was apparent that the airport was showing its age. The United Concourse was pretty uninspiring, but I guess parts of the terminal are over 50 years old. 

With a 45 minute connection time, we headed directly to the gate.

Washington Dulles Concourse

Our United Transborder and Domestic flights were not all that exciting, much like the United brand. The flights were pretty straight forward and we got from point A to point B as required. At the very least, we were able to collect some decent food from Boudin in San Francisco which is always a treat.


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