Meals: Last year, United upgraded the meals offered to premium cabin passengers on international flights. (Read more: United Airlines Upgrades Premium Dining Options)
First-class passengers now receive a six-course dining experience with a choice of four main course selections. To begin, I was served a vegetable and mushroom-filled pastry and beef empanada with Amazon sauce, as well as a sushi selection of pickled ginger and wasabi. The sushi wasn't quite what you'd find in a five-star restaurant, but was acceptable for an airline flight.
Shrimp and roasted corn chowder (which was only lukewarm) followed the appetizer along with a mixed green salad with either roasted garlic dressing (my selection) or red wine vinaigrette.
For the main course, I selected the tenderloin of beef with potatoes, green beans and roasted tomatoes. Other selections included chicken, Newburg-style seafood and a multi-dish Japanese "Washoku Zen" offering.
My beef was delicious, mostly due to the Delmonico's steak sauce, but the rubbery and flavorless green beans were a disappointment. An international cheese selection, followed by a made-to-order ice cream sundae completed the dinner service.
Mid-flight snacks of assorted sandwiches, fruit and nuts were available at any time following the main meal. About 1.5 hours prior to arrival, two breakfast choices were offered — herbed scrambled eggs with potato gratin and turkey sausage (my choice), or a cold selection of cereal and a banana. The egg dish was nothing special, similar to United's domestic first class offering, but satisfying nonetheless.
As for beverages, United did offer a generous selection of champagne, red and white wine, premium liqueurs, beer, soft drinks, coffee, tea and soft drinks throughout the flight.
Service: There were three flight attendants serving the first-class cabin. One lead, one primarily assigned to the galley and the chief purser for the flight who divided her time between first and business class.
The best way I can describe service on this flight is that it was too casual. There was very little done to make the journey feel remarkable in a first-class way. The lead flight attendant was friendly enough to each passenger, but in a buddy-buddy kind of manner versus a focus on delivering professional first-class service.
Also, most flight attendants serving premium cabins internationally try to inject a respectful use of your name sometime during the flight. While it's not truly a big deal and I'm not trying to come across as an elitist, I was never acknowledged by name at any point during the flight. Simple service gestures go a long way to make a flight memorable.
Summary: I was able to take advantage of an unadvertised promotional airfare for this trip and paid only a fraction of the cost of what a normal Global First ticket would run. While nothing was particularly awful about the flight, certain service elements (or lack thereof) really leave United at a disadvantage when compared to their non-U.S. airline competitors.