But I’m pregnant and needed to take a red-eye flight for a business trip to Germany, so I decided to drop $US829 on a last-minute upgrade to business class.
It’s definitely the best flying experience I’ve ever had, though I wouldn’t say it lived up to the hype.
As a New Jersey resident who flies a few times a year for work – mainly in and out of the Newark airport – I am subjected to many United Airlines flights.
For 32 years, I’ve always flown coach. I can never justify spending a few thousand dollars extra for fleeting comfort.
But every time I roll my suitcase past the business-class passengers to my seat in the back of the plane, I stare longingly.
They look so happy, curled up in their cushy chairs, sipping Champagne and scotch, surrounded by fluffy bedding. They know they will step off better rested and with fewer neck cramps than the rest of us.
Finally, I had an opportunity to peek behind the class-dividing blue curtain.
I had to take a business trip to Germany. But I’m pregnant, and for $US829 I could upgrade and guarantee a seat in United’s Polaris business class for my red-eye flight.
It was about $US100 extra an hour. So I said “Screw it!” and treated myself.
Off I went, on a nonstop flight from Newark to Berlin, swaddled in Saks Fifth Avenue bedding and a 180-degree reclining bed.
Here’s what it was like to finally fly in business class after 32 years in coach.
I fly fairly frequently, so I’m a United Premier Gold member. That might mean more on another airline, but on United, it basically means you get a free checked bag and economy-plus seating, which means slightly more legroom. Now I had my upgrade. I was ready to get pampered, and my hopes were high.
The scene at Newark’s United counter was picturesque — no lines, just super special me, waddling up with my two carry-on bags, almost giddy for my red-eye flight. I used a mobile boarding pass, so I zipped past the counter and straight to security.
If there’s a special United Polaris line for security, I didn’t find it. I have TSA Pre-Check and just stuck with that. The line was sort of long, but it moved quickly, and I was through in under 15 minutes.
Newark doesn’t make you take your computer or liquids out of your bags, or take off your shoes. You can sail right through, whether you’re flying in business class or not.
I arrived a little earlier so I could take advantage of the airport’s Polaris lounge. Unfortunately, the one nearest to my gate was under construction.
A “pop-up” lounge appeared in its place, with a message warning that not all guests would be accommodated because of the smaller space. I was almost turned down at the door by a woman who told me it was too crowded. I assured her I’d only be there about 30 minutes. She sighed and let me walk through.
The lounge left a lot to be desired. Every seat was taken, and there wasn’t much to graze on.
I settled on a free bag of Smartfood popcorn and a small crinkled water bottle.
But I could smell Auntie Anne’s wafting into the lounge from the outside, where all the coach passengers were happily munching on a much better selection of food. A cinnamon-sugar pretzel would surely be better than whatever sad excuse for a business-class lounge this was. Plus there were no bathrooms. So I bolted and chowed down on a pretzel.
Finally, the moment I had been waiting for. I had long wondered what it took to become part of Group 1 boarding on United — I’m usually in Group 2 and can never seem to get any higher. Finally, with my business-class seat, I had what it takes to get on the plane first.
Once boarding began, people in Group 1 were ushered down a different aisle that would take us to the front of the plane and to the promised land of fully reclining chairs.
My seat was 1K, the very first row on the plane. I looked down and saw fluffy Saks Fifth Avenue bedding awaiting me. Heck. Yes. It was also by far the comfiest plane seat I’ve ever sat in.
The pillow was plush. I wanted to steal it and swap it for my one at home. It was the perfect thickness — not so soft that you could feel the chair beneath it, but not so firm that you got a stiff neck. Just right.
I was also given a comforter.
There was plenty of storage space, both next to my seat …
… and in the cubbies in front of me. I had legroom for days! The chair could recline and accommodate someone who was more than 6 feet tall.
Here, you can see all the fancy ways your seat can recline.
A vanity pack gave me all the flight “essentials”: a scented eye mask, pillow spray, tissues, earplugs, hand sanitizer, a pen, lotion, lip balm, socks, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.
The best perk of flying in business class is arguably the free, unlimited booze. The menu is extensive.
Being pregnant, I promptly ordered a club soda.
My seatmate ordered a scotch. There was also a lot of wine, beer, and Champagne to choose from.
And free chocolate! Mmm. Caramel.
The bathroom was the same as in coach: nice and squished. Though it had one added perk …
… free lotion!
Back at my seat, I tried to use my clicker to scroll through movies. Mine didn’t work, even after the flight attendant tried to reset it. Oh well.
I was also given a pair of United-branded noise-cancelling headphones, which worked great.
Aside from the reclining chair, the food was perhaps what I was most excited about. My colleague Ben Zhang had told me I might be served four courses (!) — and indeed, I had choices. Did I want spicy chicken? Seared short rib? Poached shrimp?
The flight attendant handed me a moist towel that smelled like lavender. Bring on dinner.
Up first: a snack of salted nuts, served warm. None of those peanut bags, snack mixes, or pesto “breadsticks” for me.
I didn’t have to choose between appetizers — I was served both the kale salad with roasted fennel and the smoked duck. I got a pretzel roll and garlic bread on the side. It was better than the microwave meals in coach, but if you were served this in a restaurant, you would probably be underwhelmed. I ate it all anyway.
Out came my seared beef short rib with wasabi grits. The meat was a bit chewy, and I wound up eating only half of it. I was pretty full from the appetizers and warmed nuts anyway.
But I was not too full to eat this cheese.
Or the ice-cream sundae! With toppings like chocolate sauce and M&M sprinkles, it was definitely the best food of the flight.
Om nom nom.
There were also trays of cookies.
Don’t mind if I do.
After dinner, I reclined in my seat and attempted to sleep. Despite the earplugs, eye mask, and stellar pillow, I didn’t sleep more than two hours. Because I was in the first row, I was right next to all the flight attendants, who are on shift all night long, working and gabbing away. But it’s more than I would have gotten in coach on the very full flight, so I was still grateful.
In the morning, I was woken up with breakfast in bed — a choice of cereal or eggs. I chose the eggs.
It was only about four hours after I’d eaten dinner, so I was still fairly full. Plus there was a strange cheese oozing out, and the sausage was meh. After a few bites, I called it quits.
I thought about splurging on business class again on the flight home — which wound up being my birthday — but opted for coach since I wouldn’t need to sleep. United told me I couldn’t get a free birthday upgrade, but the crew did give me a nice card. Honestly, that flight was fine too.
So was it worth it? Well, if you’re pregnant, taking a red-eye flight, and can afford it, probably. I also had a red-eye in coach while pregnant — that was survivable because I had a whole row to myself where I could lie down. But on a full night flight, business class was, for me, the way to go. Even with the shortcomings, it’s way more comfortable than coach.