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Flight Test: United Airlines UA61 Melbourne – San Francisco Economy

United Airlines flies daily between Melbourne and San Francisco for access to Northern California and beyond on its extensive US network. Karryon enjoyed the primo service and a prime spot to experience the nonstop economy service from MEL to SFO.

United Airlines flies daily between Melbourne and San Francisco for access to Northern California and beyond on its extensive US network. Karryon enjoyed the primo service and a prime spot to experience the nonstop economy service from MEL to SFO.

With airline delays and flight cancellations dominating conversations about carriers, allow me to counter the negativity with a good news story.

My recent United Airlines flight arrived at the gate two hours early for one of the fastest flights I’ve ever had to the US West Coast. And I scored a whole centre row in Economy to stretch out for the entire trip.

With daily flights from Melbourne to San Francisco, United Airlines offers seven nonstop services per week between the Victorian capital and the Northern California city – one of the carrier’s eight hub airports – and onward connections on its domestic network.

The daily UA61 flight departs Melbourne at 11:55am (AEDT) and arrives in SFO at 8:30am local time and averages around 14.5 hours’ flying time.

Check-in and boarding

Ready at Gate 18.

Online check-in is available 24 hours before departure via the United website or app. You can also track your checked bag’s journey via the United app.

At Melbourne Airport, it’s an easy process for the kiosk and bag drop and through security as you can keep all personal items in your cabin baggage, including laptops – hallelujah – and just remove any liquids and powders for the screening.

The smart gate face- and passport-scan steps are similarly quick and easy with minimal queueing and further passport checks at the gate.

I’m leaving from Gate 18, which is at the very far end of the first floor of the T2 international terminal. It’s a 10-minute walk away from the luxury shopping and laneway precinct and eatery, so grab your Melbourne barista-made coffee on the way.

UA has recently instigated a similar boarding process to other US airlines where window-  and middle-seat passengers embark before aisle seats and according to cabin location.

It makes total sense and is indicated by your boarding group number on your boarding pass – in my case, Group 4 for an Economy aisle seat.

Onboard comfort

Love a sneaky row to myself.

On United’s B787-9 aircraft, the Economy cabin has a 3x3x3 configuration with 31-inch (79cm) seat pitch, 17.3-inch (43.9cm) seat width and a three-inch (7cm) recline.

I’m initially seated in 46D in a centre aisle seat, two rows back from the bulkhead seats, crew area and toilets.

Note the ability to make this pillow into a neck pillow – love!

Thanks to a three-quarters full cabin, I’m able to score an entire centre row to myself in row 45, leaving plenty of room to stretch out plus extra complimentary pillows and blankets.

Each seat has a seatback touchscreen with a USB port plus a power outlet under the seat and complimentary earbud headphones.

The fun stuff

I very much appreciate knowing what’s happening on my flight.

United’s international long-haul economy service on this aircraft offers inflight Wi-Fi with internet available for purchase.

The on-demand entertainment is impressive with plenty of movies and TV series, including new releases, along with Halloween-themed viewing for my October flight, concerts and live events, podcasts, audio mixes, games, a dedicated kids section and mindfulness/wellness features.

The onboard tech.

A customisable relax mode allows you to personalise your audio and video settings such as screen lighting, do not disturb etc. There’s also the inflight magazine, Hemispheres, if you want to go lo-fi.

I especially liked the menu of service for the handy visual heads-up of the expected rundown of the flight for planning (snoozing) purposes).

Inflight food

Example of UA meal service.

As per the aforementioned menu of service, you know exactly when you’ll be fed. It started with a pretzel snack and drinks service followed by a hot meal service approximately 1.5-two hours after take-off.

As I pre-ordered vegan meals, I received my special meal first, which consisted of a healthy if not boring dish of chickpeas, potatoes and broccolini with a bread roll, garden salad and sweet apple slice. The main cabin choice was chicken and roast vegetables or a vege pasta with red sauce.

Mid-flight, we also received a wrap with packaged potato chips (crisps) with plenty of water offered throughout.

Around 1.5-two hours before landing, we also received a hot breakfast meal – mine was baked beans, potato and spinach with a bread roll and cut fruit. Again, healthy but pretty uninspired. International airlines have started to lift their game as veganism takes off so hopefully United will overhaul their special menu soon too.

The details

  • Aircraft: Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner (upgraded to a B777-300ER from 28 October 2023)
  • Seat: 46D (moved to 45D for empty row)
  • Flight time: 13hrs 36mins
  • Luggage allowance: 1x 23kg checked luggage and 1x 7kg carry-on baggage plus personal item
  • Arrival in San Francisco: 8:30am (scheduled)/ 6:24am (actual)

United Airlines operates daily direct Melbourne-San Francisco flights all year round and has recently upgraded the aircraft on this route to its B777-300ER for more capacity.

Overall, the service was USA-level friendly – see Delta – but unobtrusive, given the reduced number of passengers and overnight flying time, and United scores highly for its inflight entertainment and considerate touches. And that early touchdown! Super score!