Last week, I found myself in Beijing, China. My second time overseas in my life, this trip came with a thirteen hour time difference and two (roughly) thirteen hour flights, the first out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). This trip was my first on a United long-haul plane, so, though I didn’t know what to expect, I had high hopes for the trip.

Flight Information

Route: Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)-Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

Airline: United Airlines

Flight Number: UA851

Aircraft: Boeing 777-222ER (Registration N216UA)

Scheduled Flight Time: Chicago Departure 12:40 (Actual 13:16) -> Beijing Arrival 15:15 (Actual 15:15)

Seat: 30D (Aisle, economy plus)


My family and I arrived about 2.5 hours before departure to check in and get our boarding passes. We used United’s self-service stations, which meant that we needed to call a representative over to check our passports before we got our passes. We checked our bags and headed towards security.

Out of a family of four, three of us had Pre-Check. We went through the regular line together, though I wasn’t required to take off my shoes since I did have Pre-Check. The line moved quickly, however, and we had about an hour in the terminal before boarding.

The flight was assigned to gate C16, which is right near a food court that overlooks the tarmac. Outside of the window, a United B777-2 was parked at gate C20, and I was able to get a couple of photos while I ate.

A United 777 at gate C20 in Terminal 1 at ORD.
Photo Credit: John McDermott / Layoverhub

After eating lunch, we headed over to the gate, where we went to the gate agent to scan passports and get seat assignments. All four of my family members were booked on economy. Despite not paying for an upgrade, we were all assigned to row 30, which, on this aircraft, is in Economy Plus.

Afterward, there was still time before boarding began. I noticed that one of the ANA Star Wars plane was boarding passengers en route to Tokyo in the gate next door, so I went to get some pictures.

The ANA jet, bound for Tokyo, at gate C18.
Photo Source: John McDermott / Layoverhub

Finally, it was time to board. I was in boarding group 4, so I had a while to wait before getting on the plane. Once I did board, I found a blanket and pillow waiting on my seat. Upon stowing my backpack, I started playing around with the touchscreen TV screen to see which movies and TV shows were downloaded.

My plane, operating as UA851, sitting at gate C18 before boarding.
Photo Source: John McDermott / Layoverhub

To my (pleasant) surprise, there was a large selection of movies, shows, games, podcasts, and more. Included were Star Wars movies, all eight Harry Potter films, Academy Awards nominated films like La La Land and Moonlight, countless superhero movies, and classic animated and family-oriented films. In total, hundreds of films were offered under categories like New Releases, Classics, Comedy, Action, and Drama.

As we started to taxi, flight attendants came around with the landing and departure cards that would be needed for foreigners to pass through Chinese customs. After takeoff, which was about 30 minutes late, they came by again with drinks and snack mix to hold us over for a couple hours.

There were two meal services in the flight. The first meal was a choice between fried rice noodles and chicken. I ordered the noodles, which came with a dinner roll, some lettuce, and a small carton of gelato. I noticed that the chicken also came with rice. I thought that the service was decent overall, but a little dry.

The dinner service consisted of noodles, a roll, and some gelato.
Photo Source: John McDermott / Layoverhub

After the dinner service, I decided to test the entertainment system by watching a movie. I thought that it was a little hard to use, as I was often required to press a button more than once on the screen. Once the movie started playing, I thought that it was a little hard to hear at times. The screen quality was good, and the movie played well, especially since it was made to play on a larger screen. Overall, I think the system worked well, and was helpful for getting through the flight.

After the meal service, the cabin lights were dimmed for about five hours to allow people to get some sleep. They were turned on around 9:00 (Beijing time) so the flight attendants could serve another small snack. This time, along with the standard drink choice, was a small sandwich and M&Ms. Once served, the lights were turned back off until breakfast.

Flight attendants served a snack between meals.
Photo Source: John McDermott / Layovehrub

Breakfast was served 90 minutes before landing. I decided to have some eggs, which came with fruit. Like the last service, the food was decent, though a little too salty for my taste. I also had some coffee along with my breakfast.

Despite a late departure, we touched down right on time. We spent some time idling on the tarmac due to a gate mix-up with another aircraft, which was parked in the spot we were supposed to take. We were assigned to a new one, however, that was, thankfully, closer to the customs area. At the first desk, we showed our passports and arrival forms to an immigration officer, who cleared us through to baggage claim. From there, we went through another customs checkpoint which required us to scan our passports. After that, we were free to leave the airport.

In conclusion, my outbound flight from ORD to PEK was a good one. Grounds, gate, and air crews were efficient and courteous, and the meals weren’t too bad. I left the airport feeling optimistic about my week ahead in China, and excited for the flight back to Chicago.

Please stay tuned for Part 2 of my Flight Review, which will discuss the flight back: from PEK to ORD.

Featured photo from Harrison Fukuji / Layoverhub