In Flight: United BusinessFirst Seoul-Narita-Newark

On my trip to Seoul last November I was short a bit on GPU and on cash. So I only booked in an upgrade-eligible fare class for the outbound half of the trip (cleared at booking); the return was the cheapest possible with no chance of an upgrade. And then T-24 hours rolled around and it was time to check in for the flight. Much to my delight a good friend indicated that he had a spare GPU which was going to otherwise be wasted and so it was time to play a bit of a game. Not only was I looking to SDC on to a more direct routing home (originally purchased via IAH) but I also wanted to re-fare up to W without paying a change fee. Turns out I didn’t even have to ask for that to be waived. It was a minor case of shenanigans, to be sure, but after about 10 minutes on the phone I was confirmed in business class for the flight home.

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Pre-flight bubbles: Almost always a good idea

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Well, most of the way home. My seat from Seoul to Narita was still in economy (exit row on the Micronesia config 737-800) and I had the “pleasure” of a “snack” on that flight.

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At least this was the economy class snack. But still…

But from there on it was actually a pretty good experience.

The connection in from Seoul is well-timed for the bank of US departures at Narita. I had enough time to grab a meal of my favorite airport sushi and even poke my head into both the ANA and United lounges to remind myself that there was pretty much no point in doing so unless I really need a shower. And then it was off to board the 777-200ER and head home.

Read More: Spectacular airport sushi inside Narita: Sushi Kyotatsu

There’s nothing new about the seat, the IFE or even really the meal service. But that doesn’t make it any less comfortable for the 12ish hours en route to New York. Oh, and this time around the flight had wifi via the Panasonic Ku-band satellite system. It was $17 for the flight and performance was reasonably good throughout the trip.

But on to the bits which are somewhat photogenic, the meals:

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The menu mostly represented what was actually served.
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The seafood appetizers on United are a bit tired, but the flavor was OK on this one.

OK, so the sushi appetizer needs a bit of help. Probably not worth bothering on that one. But the rest of the meal was actually quite tasty.

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Simple salad and the garlic bread is back!
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The fish entree was very good. Enough so that I’m mostly just ordering fish now on United flights.

Yes, I had the fish. It was spectacular. A bit hard to tell from the photo but it was properly cooked, moist and flaky. Sure, the veggies might not be what were listed in the menu, but it was a good meal. Given how frequently the beef option is a miSteak I’m changing my tune in general: The seafood option has been consistently passable to good every time I’ve had it on United (and Continental) for the past 5+ years; the beef has not. Seafood is now my default choice.

Also worth noting is that we had garlic bread available departing Asia; this is an option which was supposedly cut late in 2014 for TPAC flights returning to the USA. And yet here it was on my plate and in my belly.

Wrap up with an ice cream sundae (and cheese plate, if you so desire, though I’ve started avoiding that in general) and a digestif and then zone out for a quite necessary nap.

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I was fortunate to get one of the few Japanese options for the “breakfast” meal served just prior to the mid-afternoon arrival in Newark. I say the mostly because it is the most like a proper mid-day meal of the offerings and I really dislike having a breakfast mid-day, even if it is morning where I was when the flight departed.

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The closest thing I could get to a proper lunch before our afternoon landing

The flight was mostly about catching up on some sleep and I did plenty of that. I can sleep pretty well in the United BF seat and this trip was no exception. And for ~$1500 round trip, plus the upgrade instruments, it is hard to complain at all. I won’t much have that opportunity going forward with no more 1K status, but I’m getting over it pretty quickly.

And, FWIW, comparing my notes on this flight to the same route and almost same seat in July 2011 yields some entertaining similarities. I have switched to preferring window seats over aisles in that time.

More from the trip.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I agree about the seafood on United. To Europe they have a delicious Cioppino fish soup.
    However, their pasta (usually Ravioli) vegetarian entree is quite good too, whereas often it’s smart not to order pasta on flights. Of course, on Alitalia the pasta is spectacular (what do you expect?)
    I agree about the beef being usually not great.

  2. i got a 1150 W fare HKG LAX and both clears.. i am pretty happy about it as it is my last year as 1k as it is moving to revenue based which certainly hate leisure flyers like i am!!!

    i always have japanese meals whenever i fly to/from japan.

  3. Mostly agree about the seafood. Unlike augias I’m not a fan of the cioppino, but the shrimp with julienned vegetables (have had it many times, not sure if it’s still part of the current menu though) was almost shockingly good. Mind you, not shockingly good for food, but shockingly good for United food.

  4. I have been wondering how to do a change to an upgradable fare. I have a GPU cleared SFO- LHR but only booked a K return. Turns out now I have a ton of GPUs and wondering how to get it applied. will I need to request a different route as part of a SDC and see if can be applied on a new flight. What’s ya secret?

    1. SDC is not necessary IME. Generally I’ve called in and asked if it is possible to check how much it would cost to refare the flights/segments to apply a global upgrade and, more often than not, I’ve been successful in getting such without a change fee. If they say there’s a change fee I remark that it is more than I want to spend, and let it go. Call back a bit later and hope for a better answer. You can press the issue – “I’m trying to pay more and you still want to charge a change fee!?!” – but the rules say it is supposed to be charged so don’t fight too hard.

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