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The morning of our scheduled return from London, we were awoken early by my husband’s phone regularly going off with a warning that our booked US Airways Envoy Suites award flight was delayed…and delayed more…and then delayed even more. It was pre-dawn when we realized we would mis-connect in Charlotte due to the delay. I tried calling US Airways to make sure we had proactively been put on the next flight from Charlotte to Houston, but it was clear the hold time was going to be insane as there were weather issues that day in the US. Instead, I called the UK US Airways number as soon as they opened, and explained the situation. By that point our flight was delayed 4+ hours out of Gatwick, and I had an alternate suggestion available to get us home…a direct flight on their partner United from Heathrow to Houston.
As luck would have it, there was space on that flight in business class for both of us and the agent agreed to the switch. Not only was our delayed original flight now going to mis-connect in Charlotte, but the next flight after that was full. While the last one of the night had space available, it would get us in many hours after we were scheduled, and would require someone to pick us up at midnight. The direct on United sounded like Heaven compared to all that. So, we quickly packed up and headed to Heathrow.
United BusinessFirst to Houston (this post)
SkyTeam Airport Lounge:
We were scheduled to depart out of Heathrow Terminal 4 and once we cleared security (and spent a little time in the airport Harrod’s for last minute gifts), we headed for the lounge. Luckily we had been told that our BusinessFirst tickets (or Star Gold status) would allow us to access the SkyTeam lounge that is right across from our boarding gate. As you may know, United is now a member of the Star Alliance, so it isn’t intuitive that you will have access to the SkyTeam lounge.
I found the lounge to be spacious, with acceptable food (way more than a domestic lounge), a variety of alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks, good views, some quiet/nap rooms, good internet, and plenty of seats with power outlets. I love being able to get a quick snack and do some work before being disconnected on a long flight, so I was quite thankful for this lounge.
I didn’t eat too much in the lounge since we were going to have lunch on the plane, but I did try a couple of things and the crepes were pretty decent.
I also liked that they had a game station – during much of our visit there were some 8 – 12 year old kids happily playing some games.
The nap room would be quite useful if we were stuck at Heathrow on a long connection or delay. This would also be perfect for someone who wanted a calm and quiet place to be with their baby.
The United BusinessFirst Flight from London to Houston:
As we boarded the two class 777-200 we were literally still thrilled that we would now be on a direct flight home to Houston. Though be aware this route seems to be operated currently be a three class 767-300 – if that sort of thing matters to you. This was the longest we had ever gone without being with our kiddo, and we were very ready to get back to her. With this flight we would have time to spend with her that day as opposed to getting in after she had already gone to bed. So, we were already in a very positive state of mind, which made the flight even more enjoyable.
I very much enjoy the BusinessFirst seats on the pre-merger Continental planes. I find them comfortable and roomy – moreso than the business class seats on the pre-merger United planes, even though those are generally still good. While you can’t see it in these photos, I also love that you can stow your purse under the foot rest in front of your seat. That makes it much easier to quickly access things for yourself or your kids rather than having to place it in the overhead bins.
Shortly after boarding the in-flight service manager introduced himself and then it was time to order our lunch – which I was quite ready for given our early AM start.
On our last United flight out of Heathrow roughly six months prior I had not been overly impressed with the catering (yes, this is clearly a #firstclassproblem), but this time our experience was entirely different. The appetizers and salad were both good and the Thai-style tilapia and shrimp was really good. Had I been at a restaurant I would have come back again to order the same dish.
And naturally you can never go wrong with an ice cream sundae to finish.
After lunch I watched one movie from the healthy selection of IFE and then went to sleep. I got several hours of great sleep before it was time to have a snack of fruit and a chicken tortilla wrap roughly an hour before landing. By my body’s clock on London time this was now dinner although in Houston it was still mid-afternoon.
We landed right on time, and thanks to Global Entry we cleared customs within about one minute. Global Entry is worth it even if you only go out of the country occasionally since it will also get you PreCheck on domestic flights. This feeling that it is “so worth it” is reinforced when I see a long line at customs and I get to walk right to a kiosk, scan by passport, and be done. It is the perfect way to end a great trip.
United BusinessFirst flights are a million times better than coach, but they aren’t the totally over-the-top experiences you may have in First Class cabins on some international carriers. I am biased as a United flyer, but I think it is the perfect balance of a good seat to sleep in, good IFE, and decent food without being so opulent that you feel guilty falling asleep and missing one second of the action. I also would not hesitate to bring my mostly-well-behaved-but-still-a-three-year-old with me on these type of flights. When I travel internationally, I just want to arrive both at my destination and back home again as rested as possible, and this style of premium cabin travel allows me to do just that.
In comparison to the US Airways Envoy Suites that I flew on the way out (and was supposed to fly back before the delay happened) I would say it is roughly a toss-up. The US Airways flight attendants on that flight were slightly warmer than most of those I encounter on United flights, but that isn’t inherently a good or bad thing – just different. I liked the food and blanket/pillow slightly better on United, but the differences weren’t huge. The experience and seat itself was very similar in terms of comfort. I give a slight edge to the United (pre-merger Continental) BusinessFirst experience, but that may be just because I am more familiar with it. I would not hesitate to fly either product again.
Our week in Europe was amazing as we got to see some amazing sites, eat great food, spend quality kid-free time as a couple, and enjoy top notch flights and hotels that would have never been possible without miles and points. We are so fortunate to have the ability to take trips like this, and I sincerely hope that sharing some of these details helps inspire some of you to do the same. You absolutely can do this – and it doesn’t even have to be a “once in a lifetime” thing. It can be a “once every so often” thing.
Thanks for hanging in there through this very long trip report, and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask!