Review: United Airlines Business Class E175, Vancouver – San Francisco

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There are times when you have to take a short positioning flight in order to get to the better stuff. That was the order of business for today’s flight: a short hop on United Airlines on Vancouver to San Francisco in order to get to a United Airlines Polaris Business Class Seat on their United Airlines Boeing 777-200 equipment type. We would have a quick hop down on the United Airlines Embraer 175 equipment prior to our more exciting journey just thereafter. How does United Airlines Trans-border Service measure up these days?


This post is one chapter on our trip during the pandemic to Honolulu Oahu, Hawaii, United States. This trip was redeemed through Marriott Bonvoy and further enhanced through Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status. 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 Business Class E175, Vancouver International Airport – San Francisco International Airport

We had a two flight day starting off with this flight, which was to be followed by our connecting flight onwards on United Airlines First Class San Francisco – Honolulu in a United Polaris configured business class wide body aircraft. Our second flight would easily be the highlight of the two experiences.

We had this short positioning flight to get down to San Francisco airport. United Airlines usually runs their Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 product between Vancouver and San Francisco. Thanks to light travel demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a smaller Embraer 175 was being used on the route today.

Checking into United Airlines:

We woke up from our stay at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport at 4:00 AM. We were out the door at 4:45 AM and headed downstairs to check in for our United Flight. The Vancouver International Airport check in was deserted on our arrival. Although there were kiosks, we were immediately waved up to a counter manned by outsourced but friendly outsourced Strategic Aviation staff.

Our vaccination status to enter US was verified through print copies, in addition to our Hawaii COVID QR codes that we had obtained through the Hawaii Safe Travels platform.

We were given instructions on how to access US pre-clearance and referred over to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver Transborder. Unfortunately, AC has the lounge closed in a cost cutting more and only would only be open at 7 AM, well after our departure.

United Airlines – Premier Access Check In
United Airlines – Premier Access Check In
United Airlines – Premier Access Check In

Since we were departing from Canada, our boarding cards were issued with “INTL” marking on them, which allowed us complimentary access to the United Club’s throughout the system on the same day of travel.

United Airlines – Premier Access International Boarding Cards

It was pretty deserted on the US Pre-Clearance side of the Airport, with only the Starbucks open today. Even the Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Transborder was “temporarily closed” and shuttered during our pandemic era travels. After a snack at the Starbucks, we headed down concourse to Gate E78.

Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver International Airport
A Shuttered Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge
Vancouver International Airport – Waiting at the Gate

After an uneventful wait at the gate, when boarding was announced, it was those needing extra time to board, followed by Military then Group 1. We boarded with group one. As we boarded, we were provided a single United Clean Plus Sanitizing Wipe with a similar presentation to being given a red notice; almost with a slight bow and flourished presentation.

United Airlines
First Class (J)
YVR-SFO (Vancouver – San Francisco)
UA 5618
September 28, 2021
Booked: Embraer 175
Flown: Embraer 175
Departure: 7:00 AM
Arrival: 9:21 AM
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On board United Airlines First Class on an Embraer 175:

The United Airlines First Class Embraer 175 is a 1-2 configuration in four rows of First Class for a total of 12 seats. We located our seats in 2C 2D today.

United Airlines First Class Seating Embraer 175

We were able to store our rolling suitcases in the overhead bins on the right hand side of the aircraft. As many Embraer flyers will recall, the Embraers only offer suitcase storage on the right hand side of the aircraft. The overhead bins on the left hand side are only large enough for purses and coats. As a result, if storage of a suitcase above your head is important to you, make sure you get there early so you can get the bin space.

United Airlines First Class Seating Embraer 175

The seats are reasonably comfortable for short to medium haul first class. The only disadvantage is that I find the seats slightly firm.

The seats offered working Empower plug ins in the center console between the seats.

United Airlines First Class In Seat Power Embraer 175
United Airlines Sanitizing Wipe

Pre Departure Services:

Instead of the usual open bar pre-departure beverage, a small 237ml bottle of Dasani water was provided.

Pre. – Departure Beverage: Dasani Water

Departing Vancouver International Airport:

We had a long taxi over to Runway 8R, passing by a Westjet 787 Dreamliner and an Air India Boeing 777 that was parked on the ramp stands.

We had a wet take off today leaving Vancouver, as would be expected in the Pacific Northwest in the fall months.

Departing Vancouver International Airport Under Grey Fall Skies
Departing Vancouver International Airport – Views of the Fraser River
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The Meal: All – In – One Snack Bag

As we got to altitude, an All – In – One Snack bag was passed out. The bag was a substitution for any meal service that was offered on the flight.

The bag contained another Dasani 237ml bottle of water, a small bag of Stellar Pretzels and a Daelmans Authentic Dutch Stroopwafer cookie. Thankfully, I had the Bacon and Cheddar Croissant at the Starbucks earlier in the day. The snack bag itself was pretty meager. For an international flight of almost two and a half hours, I frankly expected something a little more.

We were offered a drink service of Tea / Coffee, Juices, Water with alcohol available. I ended up with a coffee which was served in a Illy branded paper cup. The Illy branded coffee was reasonable tasting, a premium coffee that is on par with most air carriers in North America.

A Disappointing “All in One” Snack Bag
An Illy Coffee

United Airlines In Flight Entertainment:

The entertainment was available on the United App. The selection was pretty limited. There were only 2 comedy movies, 2 documentary movies and a few television shows. As a result, I didn’t bother draining the battery down in the device.

We eventually had views of the California Coast as we came in for landing at San Francisco International Airport.

On Approach to San Francisco International Airport
On Approach to San Francisco International Airport

We landed at Gate E3 at San Francisco International Airport. This part of the airport held many of the smaller regional flights. As a result, we had views of United Express Embraer and Bombardier aircraft.

Spotting a United Express Bombardier CRJ
Our United Airlines Embraer 175

We would connect over to the United Club Lounge San Francisco “F” Rotunda and eventually onwards to United Airlines First Class San Francisco – Honolulu flight.

My Thoughts on United Airlines Transborder:

Our United Airlines First Class flight from Vancouver – San Francisco was exceptionally bare bones for a First Class experience. Despite being on a flight over two and a half hours in length, we only received a sanitizing wipe, a coffee and a pre-packaged snack bag with a lounge that was shuttered and closed. The main improvement was the seat and the early boarding, which marked the highlight of this experience.


If you travel between the United States and Canada, do you have any preference in air carrier ?

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