United 840 ( UA840 ) - Melbourne to Los Angeles via Sydney

After finishing work at 0630 I went home for a 2 hour nap before the very long journey to the United States of America. Today would be my first visit to the USA since I was 15 years old ( in 1997). I took a taxi for the short trip to Melbourne Tullamarine airport for my 12 noon departure. I arrived at the terminal about 10am and headed for the United check-in.

United Check-in at Melbourne airport

Check-in was busy but the premium check-in area had no queue. I was checked in very promptly by a lovely check-in agent who confirmed I was crediting today's flights to bmi (British Midland). It was nice for a check-in agent to actually know who bmi was, although she did call it British Midland (the name used prior to 2001). I was invited to use the United Red Carpet Club, and given boarding passes in gold (for Star Alliance Gold and premium pax). I had 3 boarding passes in total, one for the first hop of United 840, Melbourne to Sydney, then another for the next hop of United 840 from Sydney to Los Angeles, and another for my connecting United flight to Las Vegas (LAS).

Flight Information Display - QF93 to LAX is delayed several hours

It was absolute chaos at passport control, fortunately I had an express departures card so avoided all the queues, which were snaking right out the doors and into the checkin zone.

After passport control and sercurity it was time to go sit in the lounge. Knowing very well that the United Red Carpet Club in Melbourne (and in most places) is horrible, I went to the more pleasant Air New Zealand lounge. I was greeted warmly by the lovely male lounge attendant, and advised that the lounge would close soon after the 11.35am NZ flight to Auckland departed. This would suit me fine as the UA flight leaves at noon.

Loumge Breakfast, Air New Zealand lounge Melbourne. Bacon and egg muffin, cheesy scroll, fruit salad and some sparkling wine. Lovely way to start the day!

Boarding Passes, in GOLD for Star Alliance Gold status, helpful for priority security, boarding etc

I sat down with my breakfast and wi-fi and watched the China Southern and China Eastern Airbus's out the windows. I found out through the handy screens in the ANZ lounge that my flight to Sydney was being operated by N180UA and the load for MEL-SYD was just 148 passengers! This aircraft was built in 1991, making it just over 18 years old. Still good for probably another 5 or 7 years I guess for United.

After a while the Air New Zealand flight was called for boarding and I was the only person left in the ANZ lounge. I decided that since I had never actually set foot in the United Red Carpet Club Melbourne I would pop in for a drink before my flight left. I went back upstairs and into the Red Carpet Club, which is just horrible in comparison. It is amazing how few people know that they do not need to use this club when departing on United, the masses just seem to assume they must go the the operating airlines lounge.

time for a quick coffee in the very plain looking Red Carpet Club

There was only about 6 people in the lounge, I had a quick coffee and read a bit of the Herald Sun before the lounge attendant announced boarding had commenced for our flight. So it was back up the escalators and out to our aircraft. 

N180UA is preparing to depart to Sydney. This aircraft will then operate the San Francisco flight from Sydney.

Since it was such a light load for the initial part of the journey boarding was quick! Our aircraft would today be operating as UA840 to Sydney, then it would operate the United flight to San Francisco in the afternoon. Our UA840 flight number would be operated by another United 747 that was already in Sydney.

There is 4 different classes, First (in the nose), Business (upper deck, and forward main deck), Economy Plus and Economy. There was a time when Star Gold got Economy Plus seating (34 inch pitch vs 31 in economy), however that is now restricted to United Mileage Plus elite card holders only. You can upgrade for 1 or 2 hundred dollars online before the flight if you like. There is a small chance if the economy cabin is full, other Star Gold's may get upgraded for free. This was not the case for me however!

United Economy Class Boeing 747-400

United have fitted numerous LCD screens on the fleet in economy class. Business and First have person Audio-Video On Demand Units in each seat.

On this first 60 minute flight from Melbourne to Sydney I had an entire row of 10 seats to myself. The load was very light indeed! The captain made a very friendly announcement, welcoming us to United's Friendly Skies and advising us that he would be switching on 'Channel 9' after takeoff. For those not familiar, Channel 9 refers to the audio channel 9 on United aircraft, which, at the pilots discretion, can be tuned to the Air Traffic Control frequency that the aircraft is currently listening to and transmitting on. For aviation freaks like me, Channel 9 is fantastic! It's great fun listening to ATC command your aircraft to do something, and then seeing it actually happen out your window. For me, having channel 9 is far better than any other entertainment system.

Once doors were closed we pushed back to the tunes of United's safety video and we made a quick taxi out to the threshold of Runway 34. It was a quick takeoff roll and we were up and away!

Baggage Handler boys having a rest and a drink

Leg room shot, not much leg room, oh well

Moving map display,I like the software they use, nice and clear

I had an ENTIRE row to myself for this first segment

Safety video

Lining up Runway 34, Melbourne

Lifting off, short take off roll, here you can see the new International terminal under construction, and a Singapore A380

Another view of the terminal, Qantas on the left, International in the centre, Virgin Blue, REX and Tiger to the right

Climbing out to the north over my beautiful home state of Victoria. Looks nice and green, will be brown over summer.

There is no meal service on this short sector, however they do come around first with a small cup of orange juice. Then they bring a drinks cart around, and you can have any drink you like (including Alcohol), along with some pretzels. I had a VB :)

Orange Juice, Channel 9 selected for my audio entertainment

Would you like a drink? I wanted Heineken but settled for a VB, and some mini pretzels.

Prior to commencing descent into Sydney I was listening to Air Traffic Control, due to heavy traffic in the Sydney area ATC directed my pilots to enter a holding pattern. It was fun to hear the instruction from ATC and be aware of this before the rest of the passengers. The Captain came on the PA system to announce the hold shortly afterwards, and I observed the aircraft making right hand orbits over New South Wales.

Holding pattern, at about 23,000 ft.

Turning finals over the NSW coastline

About to touchdown at Sydney Runway 34L

We made a standard approach into Sydney's Runway 34L, touching down pretty much on schedule. We would have been a little bit early had it not been for the holding pattern. Was a nice landing and we exited to the left towards the International terminal. As we approached you could see the United 747 that had arrived from San Francisco earlier. This aircraft would be continuing as United 840 to Los Angeles, with me in it. N180UA would become the San Francisco flight 1 hour later.

Approaching our gate you can see United Boeing 747-400 N197UA, will be operating as UA840 Sydney to Los Angeles

Disembarkation was quick with the light load and we had parked right next door to the aircraft which would take us on to Los Angeles. Boarding for the Los Angeles flight was already under way as I arrived in the terminal, I simply turned to my left and got directly on the next aircraft. I spent all of about 3 minutes within the airport terminal.

The flight ended up being quite full, I was sitting at the back row with 2 seats on the side, unfortunately the seat beside me was occupied.! This was going to be a long hop across the Pacific crammed into this small seat with no personal TV to keep me occupied.

We soon pushed back and headed to Runway 34L for a much longer take off roll to the north. It was a marvelous day in Sydney with fabulous views of the city and harbour out to the right side of the aircraft, we made a turn to the right and left the Australian coast, 14 hours of ocean ahead of us!

Beautiful day in Sydney as we slowly climb away from Runway 34L

Classic Australian scene! Goodbye Australia!

Soon after take off the (rather elderly, but extremely friendly) cabin crew came around with the drinks cart. Today's flight would be serving 2 meals and a snack in between. We started with lunch. I had some kind of chicken with potatos. It came with a salad (basically all lettuce), bread roll and piece of chocolate cake. Very simple looking when compared to some of the asian carriers, but the chicken was quite good.


Ocean as far as the eye can see. Flying towards the sun....

Gets dark quickly after departure from Sydney

It wasn't long after take off the the crew asked everybody to put the window shades down for the remainder of the flight, nothing to see out there they said! I took a sneak look every now and then and found it got dark a couple of hours into the flight, as we were flying toward the sun.

I sat back and watched a documentary about Yellowstone national park on the overhead LCD screens, they then showed several movies. I was quite happy with the content on the overhead's, in fact I found it quite entertaining and I didn't even miss personal on demand screens that much. I then tried to get some sleep with my blow up neck cushion. I managed a few hours.

Halfway through the journey the crew came around in the semi-lit cabin handing out snacks. They were very good not to turn on the lights, they worked in only a dim light so as not to wake those who were sleeping. Snack consisted of a small sandwich and an almond cookie. They also brought tea and coffee around.

midflight snack service

United cops a lot of flack because of the age of some of its cabin crew, particularly on flights to Sydney and it's lack of inflight entertainment systems in economy, but I found the service from the crew to be very nice and cheerful. It was never a problem to get you a drink if you rang the call bell, and service was always with a smile. Thumbs up!

cabin crew at work

blurry sorry, but we are almost there! starting to get over this flight at this stage

the sun is rising


Soon the sun was rising and we were nearing the Californian coast. About 2 hours before touchdown it was lights on for breakfast. The breakfast pictured above was awful, the eggs just were not right. I ate the bit of bacon and the potatos and the croissant. Very poor !!!

Nice view with about an hour to go

Well, the flight was coming to an end, breakfast trays were cleared up and the captain announced fine weather ahead in Los Angeles. We would be arriving on schedule, with a landing towards the west, means we would fly past the airport before coming back around to land.

Turning finals, we see Los Angeles city, flaps partially extended

crossing a freeway on very short finals, I like this shot!

Approaching the United area of LAX - welcome to the USA!

We had made it! After just under 14 hours we had arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. We parked at the United terminal and disembarked to find a very long immigration queue! After about a 25 minute wait,  I was briefly questioned about why I had come to the USA, where I was going and how long I was staying by a reasonably friendly customs officer. I was only here for 4 nights but that didn't phase him at all. I was stamped in, and headed off to collect my bags. I had to collect the bag and then re-check it for the domestic leg to LAX after clearing customs. 

Next flight is to Las Vegas!


  1. Wow! Amazed to see people fly UA economy class and actually enjoy it!

    You should try CX First, QF First or SQ First/Biz sometime...

  2. Well, i have flown SQ first and biz, and also Thai first and biz

  3. Are you allowed to use an airband receiver or scanner on flights ?

  4. How much time did you have between your lax landing and depature to vegas. We are flying to vegas on a similiar flight and have only been given 2 hours from landing to departing. Do you think this is enough time. We have flown quantas on our last two flights and have usually had about 5 hours between flights.

  5. is it worth upgrading to E-plus on united?

  6. I think 2 hours will be fine Anonymous. If it is all on one ticket United should cover you and put you on the next flight if there is any problems anyway.

    As for E-Plus - if you value an extra 3 or 4 inches of legroom it will probably be worth it! If you have any sort of status above the base level in United's Mileage Plus frequent flyer program you get to sit in E plus for free!

  7. Loved your trip report. I take this flight ex SYD alot. 1K member here so I do get access to E+. Of course, I much prefer the upper deck when I am upgraded. Yes I believe its worth it to sit in E+ for the space. To Dazz81..if you haven't already, have a look at www.flyertalk.com I think you will LOVE it if you love flying and enjoy obtaining status. There is a whole forum just for United and all other airlines and hotel chains have dedicated forums.


  8. hi dazz81
    do you remember the economy class got the on board power supply, i am thinking of bringing the portable dvd

  9. there is no on board power supply in any UA 747s.

  10. Oh lord. We are flying this route in May next year with 3 kids... I was desperately hoping for on demand screens in the back of each seat... now I'm really freaking out - there aren't any?!

  11. @LeeAnne
    Im sorry to read your situation. Next time I recommend flying with Qantas, V Australia, or Delta, who all have personal TVs in all economy seats flying SYD - LAX.

  12. Thank you so much for this blog. I have been trying to decide between United and Delta for a trip to NY. Thanks to you I realise that United has not changed much in the 18 years since I last flew to US. They were very modern then but obviously have not kept up with the times. Unlike poor LeeAnne above I am doing my research as I too am flying with kids. So thanks again for your thorough and frank discussion.

  13. Thanks for the great blog! Im flying this route 2 days from now. Was it free alcohol and did they cut people off from drinking as the sun went down? Thanks

    1. sorry i didn't reply before you flew Tim... yes it was free alcohol and I didn't notice anyone being cut off!

  14. We have just returned from our holiday from Melbourne to LA and flew United. There are lots of united horror stories out there which is why I am writing this. I would highly recommend united based on our experience. As other people have said if you want five star air travel then pay for it, if you want a good price and pleasant experience then united will be fine.We found the staff to be lovely, even to the demanding passengers. The entertainment was ok, take a book and the time passes fairly quickly. Flights were on time. Assistance was offered with a smile, including help caring for two sick kids on the return flight.

    1. thanks, I agree with this. It's a good option for the prices they offer

  15. Great information! Thankyou! It was very informative for my travels!I do have a question though. With the T.V's, did you get head phones that you could plug into the arm chair to listen to the sound that was on the t.v, rather than having to read the subtitles.

  16. What do you do for work

  17. Did the same flight last year, bought back some great memories of an awesome trip to the States. Going back next month but going to pay an extra $200 with Qantas mainly for the entertainment. Great blog though, well done!


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