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Flight Review: United First and Business Class During Coronavirus: Orlando to Mexico

Last updated: December 23,2022
Originally Published: June 28,2020
by Freddy Lansky

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My overall experience flying United First Class and Business Class during the Pandemic

Have you ever experienced flying a domestic United first class and business class flight during the Coronavirus pandemic? On my way back from Orlando to Mexico City (where I live), I got to experience a US domestic flight segment along the way and check out United Airlines’ level of service during Covid-19.

My flight was Orlando (MCO) to Mexico City (MEX) via Houston (IAH) and this article will cover both flights. I’ll also discuss the ground and United lounge experience at IAH.

Flying to Mexico City during a lockdown

If you’re asking why I did it, it’s because I live in Mexico! I’m an American citizen but I’m also a Mexican resident. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to visit Mexico City right now as a tourist because everything is closed.

I went to Georgia and Florida for two weeks to visit my family since both states were off quarantine/lockdown. After two weeks of getting a little taste of freedom, it was now time to head home!

anna marie island florida United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
Had a great weekend with my cousins near Bradenton Florida, but it was time to head home!

Can you travel to Mexico for non-essential travel from the US?

American Citizens flying to Mexico shouldn’t have immigration issues flying to Mexico due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In my case, I’m a Mexican resident so I’m always guaranteed entry.

My American friends living in Mexico, who have tourist visas and DO NOT have residency, said that they had no problem getting in when flying in June 2020.

Per the time of this writing, the land border between the USA and Mexico does not allow non-essential travel. However, the wording regarding entering the border via air from both governments is a bit nebulous. It appears that as long as you’re flying, not driving, the border is still open.

UPDATE: The US ambassador to Mexico has made a travel update on Twitter on June 22. He clarified that there are currently no restrictions for US citizens flying into Mexico.

However, I want to be honest with you and strongly discourage coming to Mexico City as a tourist. Only small shops have opened and tourist attractions are still closed and will probably remain that way until the end of July.

Hotels are closed too but you can stay at Airbnbs if you come here for essential matters or visiting family and loved ones. There isn’t any law on either side of the border that prevents US citizens to come for whatever reason they have.

Mexico was one of the few countries that never truly closed its borders in any meaningful way. I’d see no point in coming for non-essential travel since Mexico City has shut almost everything down.

Why not fly from Orlando to Mexico City direct?

In 2019, there were tons of direct options from Orlando to Mexico City with Aeromexico, Volaris, VivaAerobus, Interjet, and Jetblue but boy o’ boy have times changed.

Jetblue stopped flying the route in late 2019 and since the Pandemic hit, VivaAerobus, and Interjet also stopped flying the route altogether.

Meanwhile, Aeromexico and Volaris have drastically reduced their service. Aeromexico’s direct flights were 100% sold out and outrageously priced while Volaris doesn’t allow dogs, including my small dachshund, to fly with their owners in the cabin. Plus, Volaris was only flying twice a week at times that were not suitable for me.

Why not fly from Tampa to Mexico City?

I was actually spending time in Bradenton to see family but flights going out of Tampa airport were jaw-dropping expensive even with a layover. Sarasota was way worse because we’re talking about $700+ flights in the economy section.

This is why I checked for layover options from Orlando and ended up finding a business class flight from Orlando to Mexico City via Houston. The flight I got was half the price of the economy flight out of Tampa (TPA)!

Plus, I had an extremely overweight bag so I really needed to book business class. My cousin, who happened to live in Orlando, also offered to drive me to the airport so that also helped me saved literally hundreds of dollars.

Read More: Flying Delta First Class During The Covid-19 Pandemic (Mexico City To Atlanta)

Is the Covid-19 Pandemic a good time to use United MileagePlus miles?

Short answer: No, at least not in my case. I didn’t see anything compelling in business class even with my Chase United MileagePlus Business card that gives me access to special mileage fares.

I was looking at flights that were 17.5k – 19.5k United in economy + ~$30 copay. These flights were around $150 in cash so this was not a good use of points, coming out at 0.7-0.9c each.

I’d get a free first bag with my United card but I’d still have to pay the $100 overweight bag fee or schlep an extra 15 pounds of stuff in a reusable fabric grocery bag all day long. I’d be absolutely miserable as I was carrying my backpack and my dog at the same time.

Plus, I had already heard through the grapevine that United is no longer blocking middle seats or reducing capacity in first or business class. I wanted space onboard both to maintain some level of social distancing and get extra space for my dog.

The cost of points was even more outrageous in business class and it looked something like this:

united flight pandemic United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus

Virtually, all the dates and times I was looking at from either Tampa or Orlando were around 65-72.5k points + $29.98. It still would have been way under 1c per point even if I could score their lowest MileagePlus rate on this route of 45k + $29.98,

Despite having 100k+ United miles in my account, I decided to save them for a partner like a comfy long-distance lay flat Turkish Airlines or Singapore flight for later in 2020 or 2021 once travel gets “relatively” back to normal.

I ended up spending only $366.32 + only $125 for the in-cabin dog in business class so I figured, what the heck. Plus, United offers Mexican residents a refund for the Mexican tourism tax so I’d get a $23.72 refund which brings the total to $467.60 for the flight + pet.

Since I booked in cash, I earned 1645 UnitedMileagePlus points worth about $25 to me the way I use them. I also earned 983 Capital One miles since I booked on my Capital One Spark Miles card that earns 2x on all spend.

Read More: Thinking Of Canceling Your Capital One Venture Card? Don’t!

Capital One Venture / Spark Miles statement redemption

Why did I book this flight using my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earning 2x (of lesser value points) when my American Express Gold Card would have earned 4x or when either my Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express would have earned 3x or 4x points?

I typically book plane tickets with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card because it has a more solid trip delay and trip insurance even if my Amex Gold earns 4x. These travel credit cards are better in most aspects but I had Capital One Miles to burn, and in order to use the statement credit feature, I’d obviously need to book the flight on my Capital One card.

Read More: Chase Sapphire Reserve Benefits Guide | Top 10

Is it better to transfer Capital One miles or use the statement credit?

During normal times, I’d be hesitant to use my Capital One Miles for a travel statement credit at 1c each as I frequently could get 1.5-3c per point value by transferring the points to an airline.

You transfer to a variety of partners mostly at a 4:3 (i.e. 1:0.75) ratio although some partners transfer in at a 2:1 ratio. This makes these points worth about 25% less than Amex, Chase or Citi points (but easier to earn).

Capital One also has frequent bonus promotions making the points even more valuable if you can time the transfers right. (Points Panda does NOT recommend transferring points in almost all cases, even with a bonus, unless you have a specific redemption in mind.)

Capital One’s transfer partners as of the time of this writing are Air France, Aeromexico, Aeroplan / Air Canada, Millemigla (Alitalia), ALL Acor Live Limitless, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), Avianca Lifemiles, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Airways, Eva Air, Finnair Plus, Qantas, Singapore Krisflyer and Wyndham Rewards. Please note Acor Live Limitless, Emirates, and Krisflyer all transfer in at 2:1 instead of 4:3.

Capital One miles transfer in increments of 100 rather than 1,000

Another cool feature of Capital One miles is you can transfer them to airline or hotel programs in increments of 100 rather than increments of 1,000 for Chase and Amex.

This means that you don’t have to worry about transferring an extra 100-900 miles to cover your redemption that just ends up sitting there doing nothing but diluting some of the value of your redemption.

Capital One’s travel statement credit also solid redemption

On the other hand, Capital One’s travel statement credit can sometimes be a really solid feature. Why? It’s because you can always find the best deal whether it’s on a travel aggregator like Kayak Or Expedia, or directly with the airline.

With Chase, Amex, and Citi, you’re stuck with a portal that may not have the best deal if you don’t want to transfer. This was the case for this flight as the Chase/Expedia portal was showing the same flight that was priced at $366 at over $450.

In the end, I Redeemed 36,632 Capital One miles for the $366.32 flight. Theoretically, this counts as 1c per point but it really depends on the way you look at it. On Chase’s portal, the flight was over 35k points ( and remember those points are worth more than Capital One) and transferring points to United would have costed 70k Chase points for that date!

capital one redemption statement credit United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
Redeeming Capital One miles for a statement credit at 1c per point is a solid redemption if you have miles to burn like me. If you’re saving up for a big biz class transfer, not the best.

I think this was a decent use of Capital One points though during normal times you could certainly get more value than 1c per point from Capital One points by transferring to one of their many partners such as Avianca or AirFrance/Flying Blue.

However, we are not in normal times. It’s very unlikely I’ll be taking a long-distance flight anytime soon. I have almost a million miles and points stored and didn’t have a big future redemption in mind so it was time to earn and burn.

This wouldn’t have been a great redemption if you aren’t a big mile/point earner and are saving up for a big long-distance business class trip. However, if you have some points to burn, a statement credit or portal redemption is just fine from time to time.

Read More: Handling Coronavirus Flight Cancelations

Check-in & Security at Orlando International Airport During Covid-19

I got to the airport about 1 hour and 40 minutes before my flight which is cutting it slightly close during normal times when you have an in-cabin pet to deal with it plus a bag to check. But I had already taken a few flights during the pandemic so I knew there would be no lines anywhere and sure enough, there weren’t.

Check-in by United agent at Orlando Airport
A fast quick check-in by a friendly United agent (but notice they weren’t wearing a mask)

I went straight to the premier counter where a helpful and friendly United agent quickly checked me in. She did a quick check of the dog’s paperwork, put the pet tag on the dog’s crate, handed me an old school thick paper ticket, and I was on my way.

Notably, even though she saw I was heading to Mexico City, she didn’t ask for my residency or whether my trip was “essential travel” or not. This is just one more data point that Americans should have no trouble flying to Mexico for any reason they wish as of the time of this writing (June 2020).

Is it worth it to have United Premier Access at check-in?

I had United Premier Access check-in access with my business and first-class ticket but either way, as expected there was no line. I’d say until Coronavirus is over and travel returns to previous volume priority check-in from any airline is pretty much worthless. There simply are no lines no matter what class of service. (January 2021 Update: The airports have gotten much busier, and I believe Premier Access does provide value again)

Flying with a Dog on United during Coronavirus (to Mexico)

United makes it so easy for flyers to add an in-Cabin dog to a flight unlike some airlines such as Delta where you have to go through a laborious process on the phone.

With United, you just add “in-cabin” pet as one of the add-ons during checkout on their website. You can also add a pet online even after you booked your flight.

As you can see, you just click “Advanced Search” –> Select your dates, and then on the next page click the “pet in cabin” page, add your pet, then click “find flights” (see carousel above).

Incredibly, it will only pull up flights that allow your dog! I must say that this is LIGHT YEARS ahead of Delta’s system of having to call, often multiple times, to sort out adding an in-cabin pet.

Going through airport security with a dog

flying pet united boarding 1 United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus

According to the USDA, since December 2019, Mexican authorities should no longer ask you for a health certificate or any documentation for your pet when entering Mexico. However, I can tell you as someone with boots on the ground that this isn’t true. They still ask for a health certificate and the pets vaccination booklet to make sure that they are up to date with their rabies vaccine. Plus, the gate agents will almost always take at least a cursory glance at the health certificate and vaccine booklet so you need to have those 2 documents ready.

Believe it or not, it’s actually the Mexican side that’s fussier about pet documentation. Always have a health certificate, preferably in Spanish and less than 5 days old ( or 2 weeks old is fine) with a vet’s signature that says they are free of disease.

If you’re taking a short trip (ex. less than 10 days), either from the Mexican side to the US side or vice versa, you can usually use the same health certificate on your return flight without any problems.

I’ll write further about flying with my dog in Mexico during the pandemic in a future article, but it’s all pretty straight forward.

You just go through security as normal and then go through either the metal detector or full-body scanner while holding the dog (no the dog doesn’t go through the X-ray machine 😂). This is pretty much the modus operandi in all countries and airports when taking your pet through security.

Side-note: This site is not about pet travel, please do more in-depth research before flying internationally with your pet. Rules change, but generally speaking, traveling with your pet back and forth between the US and Mexico is pretty easy compared to other countries.

Are there any extra security measures for Covid-19 at US airports?

Nope. None. No temperature check. No extra forms to fill out. This was true in both the Orlando (MCO) airport and Houston (IAH) airport. Also, the US doesn’t do formal exit-immigration anyways.

The Orlando (MCO) airport didn’t follow social distancing guidelines at all. There were a few signs and reminders from overhead speakers for people to social distance and wear masks but people crammed behind each other at the security entrance and didn’t wear masks

It was totally different from the behavior I’ve seen in Atlanta, Houston, and Mexico City (the 3 other airports I’ve been too since Covid-19 hit) where most people were wearing masks.

Orlando airport coronavirus United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
At the Orlando airport in June 2020 virtually all lounges and most restaurants were closed. However, this Wendys was open. It’s important to eat before your flight as a snack/beverage service is very limited onboard during Covid-19.

Security went by super fast and took about 5 minutes even with the dog. After that, I took the monorail to Terminal B, during which a 2-minute onboard audio message managed to spit out every Coronavirus cliché word in the book (“unprecedented”, “here for you” “these tough times” etc etc)

All airport lounges at Orlando (MCO) are closed (June 2020)

After security, like any frequent flyer, I went bee-lining to the United lounge but found out that the lounge was closed due to Covid-19. I also had access to “The Club MCO” airport lounge with my Priority Pass. Of course, the check-in agent already told me but they were wrong last time so it was worth a quick check.

closed united lounge covid United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
United lounge at MCO closed as of June 2020

My flight was taking off from Terminal B, but I don’t think any lounges were open in Terminal A either. If I’m incorrect on this or if the information has changed please feel free to let me know in the comments.

I arrived at the airport a little less than 2 hours before my flight and it only took me 20 minutes top from getting out of my cousin’s car to going to the departure gate at Terminal B.

I still had a lot of time to kill so I hopped on the free airport wifi that worked really well (No surprise with so few people at the airport tugging on the bandwidth) and just chilled at the gate for an hour.

United’s Boarding process during Coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2)

My first flight to Houston was a domestic flight. United has adopted the back-to-front boarding process just like all the other big US airlines right now.

First-class passengers and those needing special assistance are welcome to board at any time. I don’t remember if they let United Plus or status holders board earlier. Also, masks are required from boarding time until you get off the plane (except when eating and drinking) which is pretty much the standard on all airlines now.

Flight #1: MCO (Orlando) to IAH (Houston)

My first flight was UA2425 with service to Orlando from Houston. The flight should have started boarding at 3:25 pm and take off at 4 pm but like most flights during the pandemic, they started boarding at 3:20 pm and finished boarding about 10 minutes later. We took off about 20 minutes early with virtually zero time taxing.

Blocked seats at United Flights due to Covid-19?

United flight onboard with dog
The neighboring seat was quickly taken.

United pays lip service on their website that they are blocking middle seats in economy and first-class. However, on the ground, it doesn’t appear to be the case.

The plane was about 80% full in both economy and business and this is true for both my first (domestic) and second (international) flight on this journey. I had a neighbor on both flights and flying first does not guarantee you your own row when flying United. If social distancing is your concern when flying United, you’re better off buying 2 seats in economy rather than 1 seat in first – or just fly Delta instead.

Seat Review: First Class – United Airbus A319

United A319 first class seating map
Typical 2×2 setup of 3 rows in first on both the A319 and A320 flights.

The plane itself was a standard single-aisle A319 with 3 rows in business class in a 2×2 configuration. As expected on a United domestic flight, there were no IFE / Entertainment systems even in first class.

There was also a small little “cubby” between my window seat and the window itself. This was convenient to store items but also annoying as it put me too far for my small frame to use the window for support for my J-pillow neck pillow to take a nap.

I got seated in 2A which had plenty of legroom and was a wide seat with a decent bit of recline. This United Airbus A319 plane had one of the more modern “firm” cushioning for their recliner seats which I prefer for my lower back although some people prefer the older cushioning. The seat was comfortable enough (if standard) for a 2-hour flight.

United First Class during the Covid-19 Pandemic, Amenities Review

Due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, United has reduced its services and closed most of its lounges. They’re doing this to limit the amount of interaction between the flight attendants and fellow passengers in the interest of safety.

However, some lounges are still open and there is still some limited service onboard.

IPA served onboard United first class
Yummy IPA served onboard 😋 (alcohol limited to first class)

United First Class Beverage and Food Service during Covid

Unlike my previous Delta flight, I was served a nice ice cold IPA beer on board the United Flight and it was a really nice touch. The United flight attendant on board was friendly too. Ice, cups, and hot meals are all paused for the Covid-19 pandemic but they still serve a hearty “snack box” in first-class along with bottled alcohol or soft drinks upon request. I’m not sure if they extend alcohol service to economy/coach class (even if you pay for it), I believe they don’t.

United Snack Box: Delta’s was clearly higher quality

I know I’m picking at minutiae here but this is a flight review after all. I picked United’s Tapas “snack box” so I could compare it to Delta’s Tapas “Snack pack.” The snack pack I chose came with packaged olives, packaged crackers, packaged walnuts, a packaged chocolate caramel treat, and perhaps one or two things I’m missing here.

Generally speaking, I felt it was somewhat low quality with the Hummus being very runny. However, being that we’re in a global pandemic I wasn’t expecting much, it sufficed, and the olives and nuts complimented my IPA quite nicely.

The flight attendants asked me one more time if I wanted another beer or needed anything else halfway through the flight which was appreciated.

united wifi cost 1 United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
$13 to use the wifi on a
110 minute flight? No thanks!

United First Class: OK Wifi Entertainment, no IFE, no USB, 110V power outlet worked fine

Although the United flight didn’t have an IFE, they did have onboard wifi with free movies, tv shows, and an airshow. However, they didn’t offer free texting like Delta.

I didn’t purchase internet use but I did connect to the wifi to see the airshow from time to time to check in on where we were. I also watched some of a movie on it, but I don’t remember which one.

There were no USB outlets that I could find (If I’m wrong, correct me in the comments). There was a regular 110V plug outlet available and I used it to power my laptop during the flight and it worked fine.

Houston – United ground experience (First / Business Class)

mask wearing houston airport United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
Unlike Orlando, in Houston Airport almost everyone was wearing masks

We landed in Terminal C about 20 minutes early so I had plenty of time to kill, though I did need to make my way to Terminal E at IAH (Houston).

united terminal c lounge closed houston United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
Terminal C United lounge closed, but Terminal E lounge was open.

At the airport, lots of various small shops had cellophane plastic wrapped around their premises. They also blocked the seats for social distancing purposes. You could tell the second you got to Houston that they were taking the pandemic much more seriously in this airport with most people wearing masks and a generally precautious feeling that was missing in Orlando.

They closed the United lounge in Terminal C along with most restaurants so I went ahead to Terminal E where my next flight was going to take off. I wanted to use the pet relief area there and to see if the United lounge would be open in that area.

I got to Terminal E quickly but unfortunately, my dog didn’t want to use the pet relief area and I’ll admit it smelled pretty atrocious in there. Before checking to see if the lounge was open, I had to go outside and let my dog relieve himself on any grass patch I could find (A process that took about a mile walk and going back through security, darn dog 😒)

United Lounge in Terminal E (IAH) – Open as of June 2020.

Once Murph (my dog) did his business, I went to the United Lounge and lo-and-behold … this lounge was open with bar service and limited snack offerings! Sweet!

I asked “Can you bring a dog into the United lounge?” which she responded “Yes, no problem” but gave me a cute United flyer about pet behavior in the lounge.

The second I went upstairs (they had a huge lounge BTW), the attendant upstairs immediately wanted to play with the dog. It seemed like the rules went out the window and the dog could roam free. Nobody said anything and Murph behaved himself.

The lounge was busier than you might expect maybe because people from other Terminals went to the open lounge at Terminal E to kill time, and probably because other lounges were closed.

I enjoyed the fast wifi, a few small carby snacks (all that was on offer), and a Whiskey Coke. You need to pay extra if you wanted Jack Daniel’s so they used some kind of house whiskey but I don’t remember the name).

I spent about one hour in the lounge in total. All food service along with the coffee machine’s was all taken down. United lounge limited their food service to drinks and a very small assortment of packaged snacks.

Either way, the busy United lounge with some basic service provided a much-needed sense of normalcy in an otherwise very strange experience flying during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Flight #2: IAH (Houston) to MEX (Mexico City/CDMX)

My connecting flight was From Houston to Mexico City. Despite the 2 cities being only 750 miles apart, most airlines schedule this flight as taking around 2.5 hours due to congestion when taxing in Mexico City in particular.

Since we’re in the pandemic, it took less than 2 hours from gate departure to doors open at gate arrival. A quick look at FlightAware shows that virtually all United UA429 flights from Houston to CDMX have been arriving 30 minutes early.

Random fact: Mexico City is actually slightly closer to Houston than it is to Cancun!

Boarding Process: Mexicans taking the Pandemic much more seriously

I don’t want to get into a political argument and just stick to facts. Mexican citizens have been taking the pandemic way more seriously than in the southern US from what I’ve seen, and boarding was no exception.

The second I lined up to board it felt like the pandemic had returned. Everyone was social distancing and had an N95 grade surgical mask. Around 20% of people even had face shields as well. You could just feel things getting “serious” in the air and the tension was palatable right away.

The flight boarded back to front but first-class and special needs are welcome to board at any time. Twenty older folks in wheelchairs boarded first and it’s pretty common for this flight as many older Mexicans visit Texas for medical treatment.

Other than that, boarding was quick and uneventful and took all but 5 minutes.

A very serious United flight attendant

The second I got on the 2nd flight, the mood got very very serious. The flight attendant took a 2-minute speech to talk about Coronavirus and why there would be absolutely no service on board of any kind and only bottled water available on demand. She talked about social distancing and mask-wearing for 2-minutes which was ironic since the plane was packed to the brim.

While I was flying back to Mexico City, which was still on quasi-lockdown (and still is as of the time of this writing, June 25), the mood was serious. It was actually the opposite of the mood on my Delta flight when people were escaping the lockdown. It was almost like the attendant might as well have said “your taste of freedom is now over” 😂

Seat Review: Business Class – United Airbus A320

United uses the A320 for both domestic “first-class” flights and international flights. They have the same level of service and are referred to as “business class” but they’re pretty much the same thing.

united legroom a319 first 1 United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
Notice the little side-cubby on the A319 I took that was absent on the A320, providing more seat width.

Seatguru claims the first-class seat provides 39″ of legroom and 20.5″ width on the A320 compared to 37″ of legroom and 19″ of width on the A319 (the plane I took on the first flight. But honestly talking, I couldn’t tell much of a difference. Then again, I’m 5 foot 5 (168cm) and skinny so perhaps a larger or taller person would notice the difference. My theory is the seat is smaller in the A319 to make room for that little “side-cubby” by the window that was not present in the A320.

Either way the seat was comfortable enough for a 1.5 hour flight.

United offering no food or beverage service on short international flights

More legroom on A320 United first class than the A319
More legroom and seat width on the A320

Perhaps it varies from flight to flight but on this particular flight, they didn’t serve anything. On request, they brought me a small wafer cookie and a bottle of water.

The flight attendant was basically invisible the entire time except when making excessive public service announcements on the PA about social distancing.

She did it all throughout the flight which was totally unnecessary. We are in June 2020 now, not March, everybody knows the deal.

They gave me a health form that I needed to fill out towards the end of the flight. It basically asked if I’ve had Coronavirus virus symptoms or been around anyone who is a confirmed Covid-19 case in the last 14 days, amongst some other questions.

Covid-19 Health form to be filled out before before arriving to Mexico either domestic or international
Mexican Covid-19 Health Form to fill out before taking any flight in Mexico (both domestic and international) You’ll also be given a temperature check.
Click to see it larger

Arrival – Immigration process at MEX airport during Coronavirus

The flight arrived at Terminal 1 which is a bit unusual as most international flights arrive at Terminal 2. I guess there were consolidating entry immigration to one terminal, unlike the USA where there were many extra security protocols in place at Mexico City airport.

No line to get through immigration at Mexico City during Coronavirus

There were absolutely zero lines to get through immigration for foreigners. If you’ve ever been to Mexico City, you know it’s a miracle as the line to get through immigration usually takes at least 30 minutes and sometimes takes over an hour or even more during the holiday season.

It’s so bad during “normal times” that sometimes I’ll intentionally fly into Monterrey, Cancun, or Guadalajara first, then take a connecting flight rather than fly direct to avoid doing immigration and customs at Mexico City.

Extra arrival procedures at Mexico City (MEX) airport due to Coronavirus

First of all, there was the extra health form I’ve already filled out at the airport. Then, there were multiple temperature checks at various checkpoints.

An agent at SARGAPA (The Mexican USDA) also checked my dog’s paperwork. That alone took a surprising amount of time as the woman working there was frantically typing god-knows-what on the terminal in front of her.

It kind of reminded me of a throwback to gate agents in the 1990s / early 2000s, when they kept typing and typing and smashing the keys to check you in the airport back in the day. It took about 15 minutes for her to finish and return me my dog’s paperwork and my passport (it left me nervous she had my passport all along).

Extra bag searches for pandemic safety?

I also have no idea what this has to do with the Covid-19 pandemic but they were manually searching everyone’s bags one by one. When you fly from countries like Colombia or Panama they check your bags very thoroughly, but for a flight coming from the USA, this level of bag-searches on arrival was unusual.

Either way, the whole immigration and customs procedure, even including checking the dog’s paperwork and the secondary screening of my bag in total took perhaps about 35 minutes, which by Mexico City standards is speedy.

Overall experience flying United First Class and Business Class during the Pandemic

  • Purchasing/ticketing process: 100/100 – Getting in touch with any airline is a nightmare during the pandemic. I was grateful that I booked and handled everything online without calling United.

  • Pricing: 95/100 – The flight was fairly priced compared to other options and I appreciated how United only charges $125 for the in-cabin pet compared to Delta’s $200 fees.

  • Check-in: 100/100 – Super smooth and fast/

  • Boarding Process: 100/100 – Smooth as butter!

  • Amenities: 75/100 – Given that safety from Coronavirus is (and should be) the top priority right now, I want to be fair here. The premium first-class snack pack on the first flight was decent given the current Covid-19 pandemic conditions but clearly a cheaper version compared to Delta’s. Being served beer on the first flight was a nice touch that didn’t go unnoticed. However, the second flight had virtually no service at all. Also, neither flight had an IFE / Entertainment system. The wifi seemed to work fine on both flights but didn’t include free texting. The wifi airshow was not working properly on the 2nd flight.

  • Lounge: 83/100 – I was still disappointed that they closed the Orlando United lounge although the Houston lounge was great despite the current conditions. Having any type of alcohol or food service included in your ticket during pandemic times is appreciated.

  • United flight attendants friendliness: 80/100 – The attendants on the first flight were awesome and even came around to ask me if I wanted another round of drinks. The attendants in the United lounge at Terminal E in Houston were also attentive. The 2nd flight to Mexico City was a disappointment because the attendants had some attitude and were unattentive.

  • Taking Covid seriously: 65/100 – The planes looked spotlessly clean but they didn’t block the middle and didn’t enforce capacity limits. Masks were required and somewhat enforced though this always gets murky once the food is served.

Overall rating: 85/100 B

Overall it was a good experience but I think United should lower their capacity limits and block middle seats. Also, I feel it’s time for United to start reopening its lounges. Do take note that I didn’t rate timeliness or schedule as an airline’s performance or ability to keep delays down. It cannot be measured in covid conditions since almost 100% of flights right now are taking off early.

Is it worth it to book United business class during Covid-19?

I’d say in most cases it’s probably not worth it to fly United business or first class during Covid times. Priority check-in and boarding are worth much less when nobody is at the airport due to Coronavirus. They’re closing airport lounges and those that are open have much-reduced service. They’re also reducing onboard service but there are times when they completely eliminate them too. This makes business class essentially the same service as the economy but with a large bag allowance and a bigger seat.

united business mileageplus card 1 United First and Business Class Review During Coronavirus
My United MileagePlus Business card would have gotten me a free bag, free priority boarding, and free lounge access (I get 2 per year) should I have flown economy. But my way overweight bag would have remained a big problem. Business class was the way to go.

Perhaps for those of you who are much taller or heavier individuals, getting that larger seat is priceless for the legroom.

You also need to take note that first class is almost the same price as economy these days.

I was traveling with my dog on this flight and I really wanted some extra space. It may have been better if I booked 2 economy seats.

Keep in mind that booking a business or first-class flight is like getting insurance. You’ll get priority assistance for flight changes and cancelations.

Flying first class saved me money as the overweight bag cost would have been a higher cost)
Just the bag plus overweight bag fee would have been a higher difference in cost between Basic Economy and First Class. (My bag was 60lbs)

Most importantly: I had one significantly overweight bag that’s about 63lbs. I was stubborn and didn’t want to check a second bag or schlep around a 2nd carryon + the dog.

With United’s first-class food option, you also get a more “premium” snack pack and free canned/bottled booze on request on select (but not all) flights.

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  • ESA User

    October 12, 2020

    I’m happy to see that you did this flight with a pet. I have a upcoming trip, and I’m planning to bring my emotional support dog. This feels like a great and illustrative read. You’ve put some of my fears to rest!