Flight test: United Airlines economy class

Route Sydney to San Francisco (then to Los Angeles).

Aircraft Boeing 747-400 Sydney to San Francisco, Airbus A320 San Francisco-Los Angeles

Class Economy 54H (aisle), Sydney to San Francisco.

Flight time 13hr 21min. We touch down 30min ahead of schedule. The San Francisco to Los Angeles flight takes an hour but our service is delayed by 20min.

Seat width and pitch Seat pitch is 31 inches, which feels tight; seat cushions are 17 inches wide. Can recline five inches.

Seat configuration 3-4-3 for 310 economy-class seats.

Luggage Two bags up to 23 kilograms each, plus one carry-on bag (limit of 23cm x 35cm x 56cm in size) and one personal item (e.g. toiletries in clear zip-top bag).

Comfort The seat cushion is on the firm side and my knees are almost touching the back of the seat in front. Each of us has a pillow and a blanket, but it is only my two daughters who slumber briefly. Lifting the armrest allows them to use a parent as a pillow. There is more room on the Airbus A320.

Entertainment There is no individual entertainment console offering movies on demand or games. Instead three films are shown on shared flat screens (one on the bulkhead, six smaller screens above the aisles). Earphones allow you to listen to movie audio or 11 music channels. The Airbus A320 has a channel that lets you listen to the captain speaking with air traffic controllers.

I packed a fully charged laptop and iPad so the children could watch movies (there is no in-seat power). Those aged under two can fly free on their parents' lap, or pre-book a cot next to the bulkhead.

Service Flight attendants are courteous and friendly with the children and respond quickly when the assistance button is pressed, but there is no idle chat.

Food and beverages Dinner is served one hour into the flight, with a choice of pasta or chicken. The highlight is the accompanying chocolate sponge pudding. The drinks trolley has a small selection of beers, but I opt for a fruity Fox Grove Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon. A turkey, cheese and carrot roll arrives with a biscuit mid-flight. Breakfast is scrambled eggs with potato cubes and red-chilli, pork sausage, mini-croissant and fruit salad, served about 75min before arrival. You must pre-order children's meals (for those aged two to 12).

Flight frequency United has a direct daily service from Sydney to San Francisco. Melbourne travellers connect in Sydney. There are 16 flights between SF and LA daily. An economy-class return fare from Sydney to LA via SF costs $1930, but deals can be as low as $1140.

Online unitedairlines.com.au.

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