Review: United Airlines B777-2, Sydney – San Francisco

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No matter how you leave Australia for the United States, it’s always a long journey. Today’s flight was blocked at fifteen hours of travel from Sydney to San Francisco. Our standby travel efforts had us being among the last to be assigned a seat at the very rear of the economy cabin on a United Airlines Boeing 777-200, which is among the work horses of the United long haul fleet. It’s certainly an experience boarding among the last of any flight and the biggest puzzle of this adventure (getting home) was about to have its last piece fall into place.


This post is one chapter in our trip to Australia on Air Canada & Qantas Business Class and United Airlines. This trip was booked using British Airways Executive Club Avios and Starwood Preferred Guest (Marriott Bonvoy) points. 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 B777-2, Sydney Kingford Smith, Australia – San Francisco, United States of America.


Boarding United Airlines:

We got underway shortly after the final passenger list paperwork was processed. It seems as though I had run all through the Sydney International Departure Hall for nothing and we sat on the ground for about an additional 10 minutes past the scheduled 2:30 PM departure time. I had the sprint cough coming up in my throat as I settled into the seat. There was nothing like a little drama to start the next 15 hours of flying.

The Back Rows of United UA 870
United Airlines
SYD-SFO (Sydney Kingford Smith International Terminal – San Francisco International Terminal)
UA870 – Economy Class 
2:30 PM – 9:23 AM 
December 2014
Booked: NIL
Scheduled: Boeing 777-200
Flown: Boeing 777-200

Settling into United Airlines:

Somehow, my sister, Mrs WT73 and I, all ended up at the back of the plane and all together in the same center row. Regretfully, there were no great views on take off as a result of being in the middle of the plane. Surprisingly, they have updated the flight safety video to feature passengers, crew and pilots in travel settings. Once particular scene was filmed in a taxi, which I thought was quite amusing comparison to United. 

United In Flight Safety Video…
…Featuring a Taxi Cab…

There had been strong thundershowers throughout the day. The pilot announced on the flight deck that the winds had caused a runway change and that they were they were re-positioning for a different runway. During this announcement, the pilot had indicated a 45 minute delay. We ended up airborne with under 35 minutes from pushback. During this delay, I ended up toying around with the moving map and flight path.

Video on Demand – Moving Map
A long way home to the Americas

The Meal Service: A Light Dinner

Todays flight service consisted of a dinner, mid flight snack, and a breakfast service 1.5 hours before landing. 

The first dinner service started after a quick climb to cruising attitude. 

Today’s delectable dinner choices were: beef couscous peas carrots or cheese tortellini. They had run out of cheese tortellini by the time they got to our row at the back. It was accompanied by a much needed Gin and Tonic at that point ($8 USD).

Beef with Coucous, Peas and Green Salad

Couscous was an interesting choice as an accompaniment to the meal. I usually don’t see too much of it served on airline menus. It’s a terrific light meal but it tends to drip all over the place on the fork and isn’t all to filling for a long journey; which is a plus and a minus at the same time.

Entertainment on Flight:

After dinner, I played around with the advanced video on demand. United has upgraded its offerings and now features video on demand. The last time I had flown United Airlines Washington – Dubai, a number of years ago, it was the usual looping entertainment stream.

At that time, their aircraft was fitted with individual screens that looped a series of movies over and over. The AVOD system has vastly improved since then with a very large selection of movies, television shows and other content that could compete with amongst the best world class carriers. The Map feature wasn’t super detailed but it was clearly functional. 

Having video on demand was a great upgrade that brought United into industry standards.

United Advanced Video on Demand – finally!

After dinner, I ended up watching Die Hard. The cabin lights were dimmed to darkness at around 5 PM Sydney Time. 

I crashed out after the movie. It was a bit of a bumpy ride but was pretty tired from the early morning wake up.

The Second Service: A Mid Flight Snack

A mid flight snack was offered of a cello wrapped sandwich. It was a small bunwich and wasn’t all too filling.

A Mid Flight Snack

The Third Service: A Breakfast

A breakfast service was offered prior to landing. The famous United sausage made another appearance here. Overall, it was actually not too bad at all. I was happy that we got two proper “economy” meals, but I was still quite hungry getting off the plane.

United Breakfast Omelette

Arriving to San Francisco Airport:

After the fifteen hour journey, we finally landed at San Francisco Airport. 

On Final Approach after fifteen hours

I was the last one off the plane thanks to being in the last row and my cabin baggage being on the opposite side of the aisle. 

At US Customs and Border Protection, MrsWT73 and I snuck through immigration within 3 minutes thanks to Global Entry. My sister, who hasn’t yet gotten Nexus or Global Entry, waited an hour and 5 minutes in the regular line. We hung out in the SFO arrivals hall waiting for her.

Arrivals Hall: SFO International Terminal
Arrivals Hall Flight Arrival Display containing entirely Pacific Rim Flights

After we cleared US Customs and Border Protection, we headed to the public side of the San Francisco International Terminal. I was able to see a few of the (now retired) United Airlines Boeing 747-400’s that made up much of United’s long haul fleet for a number of years.

United Airlines B747’s at San Francisco International Terminal

My thoughts on United Airlines Long Haul Sydney – San Francisco:

This flight would end up being my last long haul flight in economy class in almost seven years. Overall, the United flight was okay. It was better than anticipated in terms of service, food and entertainment. The video system was much fuller in content than I remembered it, which added to the experience. I wasn’t stuck in a middle seat either, which was what I thought might have happened having flown standby and getting assigned a seat among the last of the passengers. I certainly didn’t care for the drama of waiting to get out of Sydney and managed to live through the experience. I think I’ll stick to revenue tickets for the time being.


If you’ve flown on United Airlines flight to or from Australia, would you choose them again for long haul travels to Australia?

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