United Airlines 747-400 upper deck Polaris business class San Francisco to Seoul

United Airlines 747-400 upper deck Polaris business class San Francisco to Seoul

Well, this trip didn’t start quite the way I thought it would. I was feeling rather exhausted standing there in the gate area waiting to board this flight to Seoul, all thanks to that rogue flock of birds that terminated my very first United 747-400 Polaris Business Class experience several hours earlier. Gone was the giddy excitement I was feeling earlier in the day, now replaced by a rumbling stomach and a strong desire to lay down and hibernate like a bear.

I’m a trooper though, and it takes a lot to get me down, so I did my best to stay positive and look forward to what was sure to be an amazing ride on my last united 747. At least I hoped it was my last one…there are only so many birdstrikes I can handle in one day.

747 gate San Francisco international airport
Overlooking the gate area trying to muster up the enthusiasm to do this again.

San Francisco, CA (SFO) – Seoul, South Korea (ICN)
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Aircraft: 747-422
Registration: N121UA
Duration: 11 hours 55 minutes
Seat: 16K (upper deck Polaris business class)

united airlines 747-400 friend ship side view
United Airlines 747-400 (N121UA) side view illustration by norebbo.com. Gotta love the retro “747 Friend Ship” titles!
sfo to icn route map
Our route from SFO to ICN today: GNNRR2 AMAKR BOXER 4506N/12826W 5300N/14000W GRIZZ EHM 5800N/17000W 5700N/18000E NATES R220 NIKLL R220 NANNO ALICE Y111 MQE Y124 GTC Y142 SAMON Y14 DRIPS Y16 SAPRA G585 GUKDO GUKDO1P

One of the bright sides of the aircraft swap was that they brought in N121UA as the replacement, which just so happened to have the special “Friend Ship” titles on it to commemorate the retirement of the 747 from the United fleet. Cool! This was the aircraft I was hoping to get originally, so I guess it all worked out in the end. I did have to give up my Asiana 747 connection in Seoul though, but hey – it was a decent consolation prize I was happy to accept.

 United airlines 747 special friend ship livery
Looks like it’s N121UA this time, featuring the special 747 Friend Ship titles. Score! Let’s just hope she can dodge birds better than the last one.

Speaking of connections and Seoul, I still wasn’t sure yet how I was going to get down to Hong Kong. The United ground staff originally said that our new departure time to ICN would be two hours after we deplaned from the other aircraft, but in actuality we didn’t start boarding until 3 1/2 hours later.

That put me in serious jeopardy of missing that new connection from Seoul to Hong Kong that they rebooked me on. This was kind of a big deal because it was the last flight out that night, and if I missed that I would have to overnight in Seoul. Ugh. Oh well – this United 747 was the most important segment of this trip, so I put everything else out of my mind and just focused on that. Whatever happens when I get to Seoul will happen.

So there I was, standing in line to board the plane with all the same people I stood in line with earlier that day. It was like total déjà vu, man. The only thing that was different this time was my lack of desire to take pics of the boarding process.

This was technically my third segment of the day, and I was pretty much burned out on taking trip report pictures. I knew I had to get pictures though, if only to make this trip report complete, so I just cowboy’d up and did my best to capture the experience yet again. I would like to point out, however, that I didn’t take as many this time.

So…if you’re looking for a ton of pics that describes the United Airlines 747 boarding process in excruciating detail, I’d recommend you checking out my last post. There are a lot more pictures there, taken when I was a whole lot more excited about boarding a 747. This time, it just didn’t feel quite as special.

Boarding a 747 San Francisco international airport
There were no organized lines for the different boarding zones this time. Everybody seemed a bit frustrated, and it was a total free-for-all.
SANspotter selfie frustration
All right, let’s give this another shot.
Passport and boarding pass United Airlines 747
I was definitely putting this boarding pass to good use today. It’s already got me on two different 747’s!
United Airlines 747–400 boarding door
Oooh, the special livery. That alone made this aircraft swap worth it!
United Airlines 747–400 upper deck stairs
Four hours ago these stairs made me giggle like a schoolgirl. This time… I was sounding a bit more like a grumpy old man.
United Airlines 747–400 upper deck staircase
I’m a seasoned pro at this now. It’s no biggie anymore.
United Airlines 747–400 upper deck pic
I am being a bit over-dramatic though, because I was still very excited to be on the upper deck of another 747.
United Polaris business class blankets and pillows
I wonder whose job it was to take all of the blankets and pillows from the other airplane and bring them over here?
United Airlines 747–400 business class seat storage
In order to keep things entertaining, I’ll try to post some different pictures than what was in my last post. If you’re looking for detailed seat pics, definitely check out that one. Otherwise, here we go with some other details that I didn’t show earlier.
United Airlines 747–400 upper deck storage bins
There is tons of storage in these upperdeck window seats – a bit useless for a light traveler such as myself, but I can definitely see how practical these bins can be.
United Airlines 747 Dash 400 upperdeck window shelf
When the bins are closed, it creates this shelf space – which is very convenient for collecting all the crap that the passengers in front of you put there during take off.
United Airlines 747 Dash 400 upperdeck curved wall
I do prefer the window seats up here on the upper deck, even though they are a bit more claustrophobic with the curvature of the fuselage. It’s not so bad though.
United airlines 747–400 upper deck business class seat legroom
Those slippers are getting strapped to my feet as soon as we take off. I’m ready to relax!
United airlines Polaris business class amenity kit
Since I forgot to include pics of the Polaris business class amenity kit in my last post, let’s have a quick look.
United Airlines Polaris business class amenity kit contents
It’s a really nice amenity kit actually, and I quite like the simple black-and-white design.
Swiss air San Francisco international Airport
We’ll skip the safety card pics this time, and I’ll replace it with this nice pic of the view outside instead. Always a good lineup here at SFO!
united airlines 747 birdstrike
While we were waiting, one of the flight attendants came by with a pic he snapped of the birdstrike damage from the previous aircraft. Zoinks!

Once onboard and situated, it seemed that most of the people from the other flight were still here. The people behind me were different, but otherwise it was still the same crowd. Most of the same flight attendants were still here too – which surprised me because some of them were talking about the risk of timing out as we were deplaning the other flight.

Up front in the cockpit, it was a bit more difficult to tell, but I believe three of them were from the original flight.

There was one completely different pilot though, who was very easy to identify due to the fact that he delayed our departure by another hour. He was a relief pilot coming in from another flight, so we had no choice to sit and wait for him to arrive.

And with that delay, my last hope of connecting to Hong Kong once in Seoul had been obliterated. It was official – I was going to miss that flight and would have to find a place to stay in Korea that night. Oh well, I’d have to deal with that later.

Delayed flight at the gate
Oh good lord. Here we are stuck at the gate, waiting to the fourth pilot to arrive. We could’ve been more than halfway to Korea by now!
United Airlines 747–400 pushback SFO
Hallelujah! To say I was ready to get the hell out of San Francisco is an understatement.

Our total delay amounted to six hours as we were pushing off the gate, which really dampened my mood a bit. It was hard not to feel frustrated due to the fact that we would’ve been in the air for six hours already, halfway to Seoul by now if it weren’t for those damn birds earlier today.

United Airlines 747–400 taxi SFO
As I’ve said before, I love San Francisco dearly. But at this moment, this was the last place I wanted to be. Let’s gooooo!

Making things a little bit more frustrating was the fact of the video system wasn’t working correctly, so the flight attendants were working vigorously to reset the system and get everything sorted out. It wasn’t looking good though, and I had a feeling that we may be going all the way to ICN without video entertainment. I had to remind myself that video entertainment was not the reason I was on this flight today, so I just sat back and enjoyed the moment of this 747 farewell.

United Airlines 747 entertainment system failure
Dude. I’ve been waiting all day.

Wouldn’t it have been crazy if we had another bird problem as we departed 28L that afternoon? My fingers were crossed as hard as they could be as we were barreling down the runway on our takeoff roll, and if I had a shotgun I would’ve been ready and willing to take out any rogue geese in the vicinity. We were going to Seoul dammit, and nothing was going to stop that as far as I was concerned.

United Airlines 747–400 take off from SFO
No blood-splattered windows and loose feathers on this take off – we successfully dodged the birds this time!

It was downright freezing in the cabin for the first 15 minutes after departure, and the video system still wasn’t working properly. I don’t really think the flight attendants were very much concerned about that though, as they knew everyone was getting really hungry by this point and they were working their hardest to get dinner served. Thankfully they turned the heat on by minute 20, but the video system never came back.

United airlines Polaris business class slippers
Relax mode: engage!
747 wing and engines in flight
There’s nothing quite like a 747 wing view.
United Airlines business class video screen
So long San Francisco. Next stop: Korea! I hope…

Hot towels were distributed as the cabin was warming up, followed very quickly buy a round of drinks. They also tried resetting the entertainment system once again, but I think everybody knew by this point that there was no hope. Well, let’s just hope dinner is good because that’s all the entertainment we may be getting this evening.

United Polaris business class hot towels
Hot towel and a video screen telling me to wait yet again.
United airlines business class broken video system
It’s gonna be a long flight if this video system doesn’t come back.
SANspotter selfie United Airlines 747
The look on my neighbor’s face says it all. Amen, brother. Amen.
United airlines 747 wing view
Thankfully mother nature was doing a good job of providing some stunning visual entertainment on this flight so far.
Nonfunctioning entertainment system United Airlines business class
Dinner is about to be served and the video system still isn’t working. I’m not gonna lie that I felt a little bit lost at this point, but I totally realized it was insignificant in the grand scheme of things. First world problems, I know, but the 10-year-old in me was having a hard time accepting  the fact that he’d have to eat dinner without Despicable Me 3 to keep him company.
United Airlines Polaris business class dinner appetizer
The appetizer. A bit dried out and not so appetizing looking, but I totally understood considering that it had been sitting around all day. If you’re curious, this is Thai-style lemongrass shrimp with green papaya mango salad.
United airlines Polaris business class dinner main course
The main course: Miso-glazed arapaima fish fillet, with soy beurre blanc, green tea soba noodles, bok choy, carrot, and daikon.
United airlines Polaris business class after dinner cheese
The fruit and cheese plate. I totally didn’t need this.
United airlines Polaris business class ice cream sundae
If I didn’t need the after dinner cheese plate, I sure as hell didn’t need this ice cream sundae. My eating habits definitely change (for the worse) when I’m gathering content for trip reports!

Long story short, dinner was a disappointment. Yes, I was expecting very good things from this new Polaris business class menu, but I’m not complaining because I know the flight attendants were working very hard to get the cabin served as quickly as possible after such a long delay.

On top of that, it was obvious that this food had been sitting around for a while, because by the time it got to my tray table it looked like it had been reheated several times during the course of the day. It was dry and tired looking, which was understandable because that was pretty much the way I was feeling at that moment too.

United airlines Polaris business class salt and pepper shaker
Salt and pepper shakers which were essentially little 3D United (*cough* Continental *cough*) logos. Probably the best thing about this dinner service! Where can I get a set of these of my own??

With no video entertainment to be had, I resorted to some movies I had on my iPhone and tried to watch those during the meal. It wasn’t easy though, mostly because there simply wasn’t a place to put it since my dinner tray took up all of the available space. So far, the Polaris business class experience wasn’t living up to my expectations.

iPhone video in-flight
Having to hold my phone so that I could watch a movie with my meal was not the business class experience I was expecting tonight. Bonus points to anyone who can guess which movie I was watching…
747–400 Sunset wing view
Looks as if mother nature is still winning the in-flight entertainment competition tonight. A view like this is much better than any movie could ever be anyway, so I wasn’t bitter. Much.

It’s a good thing I was really tired by that point, because I didn’t really feel like watching movies after dinner anyway. I needed sleep in a big way, so I put the seat into a lie flat position and was pretty much knocked out completely for the next four hours. It was very good sleep actually, some of the best I’ve had an airplane in a while, so at least that’s one thing that went right.

What didn’t go right, however, was the fact that I couldn’t fall back to sleep after visiting the lavatory after that initial four hours. I was just tossing and turning at that point trying as best I could to get some shut eye since I really had no idea was going to happen once we landed in Seoul.

United airlines 747–400 upper deck lavatory
I really hope united does something nicer with the bathrooms for their upgraded Polaris business class cabins. There was absolutely nothing special about this one, though the 1980s era wallpaper was a nice touch.
SANspotter selfie 747 bathroom
That right there is the look of a confused and anxious traveler who has no idea how the hell he’s going to make his connecting flight to Hong Kong.
Flying to Korea from the United States
Let’s just hope that we’re allowed to enter Japanese airspace, because I was in absolutely no mood for further delays.

With 1 hour and 35 minutes of flying time remaining, the lights were turned on abruptly with no warning at all. I’m thinking perhaps that these flight attendants attended the same school that the TAP Portugal flight attendants…attended. Uh, how about a round of applause for my overuse of the word “attendants” in this paragraph? I was going to delete it and re-word the entire thing, but I’m actually quite proud of that mess that I wrote and I believe it’s worth keeping – just for the laughs alone. lol

Ready to eat united Polaris business class
All set up and prepared to eat again, even though my stomach was still angry with me for the cheese and ice cream several hours earlier. But hey – I’ve got to get pics for the trip report!
United airlines Polaris business class breakfast
I went with the western breakfast this time.
SANspotter selfie Business class breakfast
Arranging things just so before digging in. Food tastes better when it’s neatly organized!

Luckily the in-flight map was the only part of the video system that was still working, and by now you should know how much I enjoy immersing myself in maps and stats, so that’s what I used to hold my attention as I was wiping my hands with the freshly-distributed hot towel.

One interesting thing to note was that we were facing a 144 mile an hour headwind at that point, which is just crazy to think about. I feel like I’m dying when I ride my bike into a 6 mile an hour headwind, so I can’t even imagine the amount of power requires to fly an airplane into winds that intense.

Entering South Korea airspace
The typical dog leg entry into South Korea. I wonder why they always come in from the south like this?

We were originally scheduled to land in Seoul in the afternoon, but by now it was completely dark and approaching 9 PM. I always love flying into ICN, as the views are always nothing short of spectacular coming in over the water.

Unfortunately I couldn’t see any of that tonight, but it was nice to have finally arrived after such a long delay. I was feeling quite a bit anxious though about what the hell was going to happen with the rest of my itinerary, so I turned on my phone and got to work soon as the wheels hit the runway.

Approaching Seoul Korea airport United Airlines 747
This is the first time I’ve ever flown into ICN at night. I much prefer doing it in daylight!
747 landing at ICN
Welcome to South Korea! I wish I could have arrived under calmer circumstances, because all I was thinking about was the plan to get the hell out of here and continue on to Hong Kong.
Flyscoot ICN Airport
If you look at it really fast, it looks like “flyscott.com” – an airline name I could definitely get behind!
United Airlines 747–400 stairs
Down the stairs. It’s actually pretty steep and you’ve got to pay attention, otherwise it’s going to be a very embarrassing start to your trip when you fall face-first down to the main deck.
ICN jet bridge
The anxiety is kicking in full effect right now. What the hell is going to happen with the rest of my itinerary?
United Airlines 747 ICN
Anxiety or not, I still had to pause for a moment and take a pic of the old gal. It wasn’t the best flight I ever had, but it will certainly be one of the most memorable.

It’s a good thing that the Internet connection was really slow and I wasn’t really able to do anything, because immediately upon deplaning, there were customer service agents set up at a desk right at the boarding door with a solution for everyone’s problem. Turns out the solution they had for me was a voucher for a night at the Incheon Hyatt and a confirmed seat in business class on an Asiana flight down to Hong Kong the next morning departing at 9 AM.

OK then, that turned out really well actually. All that worrying for nothing, thanks to United being proactive and not leaving us hanging out to dry. I thought for sure I would have to find my own accommodations for the night, so I was very relieved and very satisfied with the hotel voucher.

The people at the hotel weren’t as happy about it though, as they were horribly overbooked and I almost didn’t even get a room because of it. The room they gave me smelled like an ashtray, which was unfortunate, but I didn’t complain. I was just so happy to have a place to sleep.

I was also given 15K bonus miles directly from United for the inconvenience. That, combined with the hotel voucher, was more than satisfactory in my mind for the events that occurred. The birdstrike was completely out of United’s control, and they didn’t have to be so forgiving for what was essentially an act of God. Thank you for taking care of me United Airlines – I really do appreciate it.

So that’s it. My time with the United airlines 747 is now complete. These birds have taken me all around the world several times over since 1998, and it’s going to be very sad going forward without them in my travel life. At least my final ride was entertaining and eventful. It was an unforgettable experience that was as frustrating as it was entertaining, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Farewell old gal. You will be missed.

Comments (3)

  1. SDRSpotter

    May 4, 2022
    • SDRSpotter

      May 4, 2022
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      May 4, 2022

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