United Airlines Flight 53: BusinessFirst Houston (IAH) to Buenos Aires (EZE)

I was quite excited for my first trip south of the equator! Business had me headed to Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. Before talking about my flight, a couple words of caution for those visiting Argentina or Brazil:

1) You don't need a VISA for Argentina, but you do need to pay a "reciprocity fee" as soon as you land. Because Argentinians require a VISA to go to the USA, Argentina charges us this fee to make things even. The fee has gone up in recent years, but right now as of July 2012, the fee is at $160USD. So before you ever get to walk through customs and pick up your baggage, be prepared to drop $160 just for the privelege of landing there. Once you pay this $160, they put a sticker in your passport, and you can now visit Argentina without paying the fee again for 10 years.

2) Brazil requires a VISA. Also, the Brazilian Consulate is the slowest turnaround service I have ever witnessed for a VISA. I got same-day VISA service with India, and I remember that my Chinese VISA was a similarly quick turnaround. It took over two weeks for me to get my passport back from the Brazilian consulate.

I give those words of caution to just let you know what you need to take care of and prepare for if you're going to travel to either of these two countries. My experience with my VISA was a very close call, as I didn't get my VISA / passport back until the day before my departure. Don't make it such a close call like I did ;-).

I flew from LAS to SFO to IAH to catch my flight down to EZE. I paid for an economy ticket, and I upgraded it using my Systemwide Upgrade (SWU) Global Premier Upgrade (GPU). When I first applied the GPU, I was surprised my upgrade didn't clear immediately as there was PLENTY of space in BusinessFirst. It ended up clearing about a week before my flight. This flight is operated by one of the ex-Continental 767-200s. This plane is still configured with the older style BusinessFIrst, which does not include lie-flat seating or video on demand. There's still personal entertainment, but there are some number of channels, and movies loop on each channel so you have to either watch one right from the beginning or time it just right later on the flight. I examined the seats as I boarded the plane. I was in 2L.

My initial impression of the seat was that it was quite comfortable, and there was a good amount of width to it. However, it simply doesn't compare to the great lie-flat seats United has on its more recently reconfigured planes or the great seats in Air Canada ExecutiveFirst. In addition to turning into flat beds, both of the other configurations offer significantly larger video screens and foot rests. Nevertheless, I was just really excited to be going to South America for the first time! I settled back and relaxed with a glass of champagne, my standard international Business Class pre-departure beverage :-).

I began perusing the menu, and while I won't waste the web browser real estate by displaying the whole thing in line, the two menu pages are here and here. I decided on the pork chop as my main course. Flight attendants soon came by to pass out the new and improved amenity kits.

To be honest, I didn't notice a huge difference over the previous amenity kits. The most improved item in there was actually the pen. United now includes a nice, round plastic United pen. In previous amenity kits, United would include some awkward flat pen that was difficult to hold and easy to break. In any case, I don't focus too much on amenity kits. If you want a closer look at amenity kits, Darren does a much better analysis than I do :-).

Once we took off, I got the movie started so I could watch it during the meal service. My brother, whose taste in movies is famously questionable, recommended 21 Jump Street. I gotta be honest - I didn't laugh as hard as I was expecting to. I watched Horrible Bosses on my SFO-IAH flight earlier that day, and I found that movie to be significantly better, but still no classic...

After we took off, meal service began. It began with my favorite part of United premium cabins... hot nuts! I decided to accompany them with another glass of champagne. After all, this flight was an overnighter, and anything I could take to help me fall asleep was welcome!

I actually thought the way my meal was served was quite classy for a United Businessfirst flight. Maybe it's just that it has been about eight months since my last international business class flight, but I don't remember United agents putting so much care into the preparation of the meal. To begin, my tray table was set with a tablecloth, and the silverware was nicely placed along with salt and pepper shakers. A bread basket was brought around, and I had my choice of dinner roll, all of which were warm.

The first course of the meal was a choice of either some kind of cured meat with something on a stick or a small salmon dish. I had my headphones on, and I coudln't hear the flight attendant ask me what I wanted. I must have mumbled something that sounded like "both" because I got one of each.

The appetizer was pretty delicious, and after I killed that, my next course was a salad. The salad was relatively basic, but it was tasty.

I mentioned earlier that I ordered the pork chop. It was a MIGHTY delicious pork chop! However, after I ate the first bite, I realized that it tasted familiar... then it ocurred to me that this was the exact same preparation of pork chop that I had on my P.S. JFK-SFO flight a couple weeks ago. Oh well - if it's good, I don't see why they shouldn't serve it on both ;-). Seriuosly, it was a pretty awesome pork chop. No, mom... it wasn't better than the ones you make!

The flight attendants were very attentive during the meal service, always coming by to make sure that our drinks were full and that we were happy. I'm not used to service like that on a United flight. I finished off my meal with a glass of wine, and then I got ready to sleep. I started clearing off my tray table, but then the flight attendant came by to remind me that ice cream sundaes were on the way. Ah of course! Fine... if you're going to force me, I guess I'll have a sundae before bed time :-).

Okay. Now that I filled my belly with ice cream, caramel, chocolate, nuts, and whipped cream, NOW I was ready to sleep. I got relatively comfortable, but I was  nowhere near as comfortable as I am in a flatbed seat. It took awhile to fall asleep, and I was never really able to hit a "deep" sleep, despite my fairly heavy consumption of alcohol during the meal and before the flight at the United Club.

I'm always curious about how well I can get rest on long-haul flights so before I set off to bed, I set my stopwatch on my phone to see how long I stay asleep.

Six and a half hours ain't too bad! However, I never really felt like I was in a deep sleep. On the flatbed seats, I sleep like a baby. While sleeping in my chair on this flight, my eyes opened from time to time and I squirmed to get comfortable. So I wouldn't say that I actually got a full six hours of sleep, or even anywhere close to that, but I slept enough to get me through the day when I landed. I conveniently naturally awoke right before breakfast service began. I had a slight headache when I first woke up, and I wondered if that had something to do with all that champagne...  I headed to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and then breakfast service began.

I wasn't actually that hungry. I ate my whole pork chop the night before... and my appetizer... and the salad... and some bread... and an ice cream sundae... I actually skipped the omelette or whatever egg dish was offered. I just had some fruit and yogurt... and a cinnamon roll. I think the cinnamon roll is a relatively recent United addition, but they do a pretty great job with them!

Shortly after finishing breakfast, we were ready to land in Buenos Aires. I felt quite satisfied with the flight. While the seat simply wasn't that great, I thought the service was top notch, especially by United standards. I actually thought the food was pretty delicious as well. I'm going to Sao Paulo later on this trip, and I come home to SFO via IAD. We'll see if that GRU-IAD upgrade clears. That plane is operated by a 3-cabin United 777-200 with lie-flat seats. Hopefully I get it!

Our landing was uneventful, and I'm happy to say that I have finally been south of the equator!

Our neighbor at the gate in Buenos Aires. Hello, Iberia!


Great report. Sounds like a very Continental-esque flight.

BR July 14, 2012 at 03:02 pm

Awesome report...sounds like a good flight.

Timos July 15, 2012 at 09:47 pm

Why does UA / CO food, plates, silverware, presentation and design look like it's straight to of the 1980s. They have no idea how to present food. Those plates look like something from Grandma's place. And that salad and the begs look nasty. And the ice cream looks just blah.

Contrast that to this domestic Business Class offering from Delta on a JFK-SFO flight. Modern white plates, crisp, clean, beautiful design and presentation - and the five cream and food looks classy and of this decade


Kevin July 16, 2012 at 07:30 am

@Timos, the plates look fine to me. The food on that Delta flight looks good!

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