Cue BGM “Rhapsody in Blue” and NY skyline – most likely you will remember the TV ads for United Airlines in the 80s. And it always end with the tagline – Fly the Friendly Sky.
When I started my cross-Pacific journeys, UA was my favourite among the other choices (Northwest – remember them?). Even back in economy, the space was quite adequate for a “small frame” Asian like me, unlike SQ. But upfront, UA business class was nowhere comparable to SQ.
Polaris Class, the new and updated UA business class, was introduced in 2016 to pomp and fanfare. And then the airline went into a series of financial problems, and the roll-out was delayed. Delays also hit the opening of the new Polaris lounges. A round of changes and cutbacks, such as a less elaborate meal service and the elimination of the Bloody Mary cart the previous year added to that frustration. On some jets, United cut one flight attendant from the Polaris cabin.
Nuts on American airlines are generally more salted than the ones in SQ, so go easy. I am always surprised by the amount of co-branding, like napkins with the big red soft drink company, and coffee cups from the siren coffee.
OK, don’t expect the course-by-course service that you get from Asian airlines. Everything is placed on a single tray and served. The starters for the SIN LAX sector were pomegranate salad and smoked duck breast on mustard grains.
And on the return flight, we got a mango salad and a seared tuna on quinoa dressed in lemon sauce.
The hot course was choice of either a vegetarian pasta dish, a steak, or a rice bowl. I didn’t go for the steak, I have a general rejection of steak on board. The rice bowl was a fried fish rice bowl with a tangy sauce. Horrible.
And on the return flight, fried chicken and mushroom rice bowl. Equally disappointing. I suddenly remembered the envious looks from US colleagues about SQ.
And then there was this time when laksa was available on the menu. I was totally taken aback when I saw the laksa – it’s like a pathetique ball of yellow noodles drenched with a gooey sauce. And what’s that slice of lime on the laksa? Absolutely a cultural appropriation disaster.
However, the American really know how to do their dessert – portions are big and everything is sweet. Although they are not the fancy French pastry type, they do hit the spot up in the air. And the stewardess was not exactly stingy, you can have as little or as much as you want from the trolley. The gentlemen next to me skipped the dinner but had everything on the trolley, including the vanilla ice cream with strawberry sundae sauce with M&Ms, cream and berries.
I was surprised to wake up to hot congee in an American airline. I guess these days, you have to cater to the increasing number of Chinese travellers.
No exactly Cantonese congee texture, but I do like my porridge runny. But there’s nothing nice about the congee, you can only taste salt in the porridge.
There are mid flight snacks for those who cannot sleep on these long haul. Unlike other airlines, your choices are limited to these instant prepared items.
However what was really disappointing about UA these days was the cabin crew. The service was unfriendly, only adequate. They will make sure they get you what is on the SOP, and that isn’t much. Anything more will depend if it was allowed under union rules. And if you caught them during their union mandated rest time, sorry there’s nothing they can do about.
Not exactly the “friendly sky” these days.
Flight taken Apr 2018