Director hops across the Atlantic with United Airlines – the ‘world’s biggest carrier’. What can its premium economy service offer?
Sharply attired but bleary-eyed, the transatlantic travellers termed ‘Nylons’ (portmanteau given to those commuters who constantly flit between New York and London) are a familiar sight at British baggage carousels on weekday mornings.
Takeout entrepreneur Judith Clegg is one such Nylon-ite, making the journey so frequently, she ends up with “cabin crew rating my outfits, saying, ‘Well, your outfit last week was so
Flying into New Jersey’s Newark, United Airlines is a Nylon favourite, with long-term customers citing Newark’s speedy public transport links to midtown Manhattan’s Penn Station, plus the airport’s less gruff and officious immigration staff.
United is also the world’s biggest airline (by number of destinations), thanks to a 2010 merger with Continental. The carrier now services 373 destinations in 60 countries. It represents a volte-face in fortunes for United, after the airline filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002 when its traffic slumped following 9/11 (two of the four hijacked planes were United’s).
United is currently the biggest tenant at Newark airport, carrying 68 per cent of its passengers. It also recently announced it intends to invest $2bn (£1.3bn) to improve facilities at the hub.
But with new disruptive carriers entering the market threatening much lower fares, can United’s premium economy (Economy Plus) service still tempt the Nylon faithful? With a design conference to attend in Manhattan, Director’s creative director boarded an outbound service to find out…
United Airlines check-in
Arriving at Heathrow’s new £2.5bn Terminal 2 at 7.45am, Director is greeted by a battalion of empty check-in machines. Arts Council chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette even claimed this area is the size of Tate Modern, offering a similar artistic experience. Its relaxed, spacious and sparsely populated vibe continued as we glided through security and bag-drop in 10 minutes flat. The first checked-in bag is free, incidentally, but it costs about £63 for a second piece. This airy ambience continued at the departure gate with Director singing the praises of T2 architect Luis Vidal during the 15-minute walk to the departure gate. Score 10/10
Despite a seemingly full service, boarding was fast and efficient, with Director finding itself in a pleasingly short queue of only four people. Score 9/10
Director sampled United’s premium economy service, Economy Plus, which offers up to six inches of extra legroom, up from 31 inches. Sat in seat 21F, we had an entire overheard storage compartment to ourselves, even if the seats were a tad narrow and lacked lower-back support. Score 6/10
Our flight was delayed by 40 minutes while the upgrade from economy was clear in the gratis newspapers upon take-off and the aforementioned extra leg-room. Director opted for Indian butterbeans with couscous and lettuce salad, followed by chocolate ice-cream, cheese and biscuits with a turkey-and-cheese pretzel served later. WiFi was available, but charged at a somewhat excessive $19.99 while the 20cm touchscreen TV was on the microscopic side. Score 7/10
Making good use of mid-Atlantic tailwinds, our flight landed at 12.45pm – 15 minutes ahead of schedule. A brisk disembarkation was followed by a 10-minute schlep to the long-ish queue at passport control (par-for-the-course at US airports). We then dived headlong into Manhattan’s permanently gridlocked and honking traffic; all par, of course, for the Big Apple. Score 9/10
With stress-free check-in, lightning-quick boarding and little immigration fuss, the benefits of flying United between T2 and Newark are crystal-clear Total score 41/50
United Airlines operates daily flights from Heathrow to Newark. Return economy fares start from £436.06 (including taxes). To book, visit united.com