Review: United First Class 737 Houston To Los Angeles

Filed Under: United

This is going to be a short review, as this was a flight without a meal service and we napped most of the way, but I figured I’d share my general thoughts on United’s domestic first class product.

Our flight was scheduled to board at 7:37PM, so we headed to our gate at around 7:20PM. I think United has the worst boarding process of the “big three” US carriers. They use a Southwest-style boarding system, minus an actual reason to do so, given that people have assigned seats. So at United you often have a hundred people lined up to board before boarding is even close to starting.

United self-boarding gate Houston Airport

One unique thing about our gate was that it had self boarding capabilities, like you’ll see at many airports in Europe. So you can scan your boarding pass and then the doors opens and you’re let onboard. It’s cool to see this technology being introduced in the US.

United self-boarding gate Houston Airport

United 1813
Houston (IAH) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Monday, July 17
Depart: 8:17PM
Arrive: 10:00PM
Duration: 3hr43min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-900
Seat: 4A (First Class)

Our flight was operated by a 737-900 with 20 first class seats, spread across five rows in a 2-2 configuration.

United 737 first class cabin

Maybe it’s just me, but I find United’s 737 interiors to be so drab. The interiors just look so outdated and worn, even though this was a fairly new plane. This was also one of the 737s without personal televisions, so instead there was just streaming entertainment.

United 737 first class seats

Legroom in United first class is decent enough (many of American’s 737s have better legroom, though), and I find the seat padding to be good.

United 737 first class seats

United 737 first class seats

Fortunately there are power ports underneath the center console. On one hand it’s unfortunate that this plane didn’t have DIRECTV, though at the same time I’m not a huge fan of live television anyway, especially on a plane.

United first class power ports

One thing United consistently does well is that their crews offer pre-departure beverages of choice. We just had water, served in blue plastic cups.

United first class pre-departure beverages

Boarding was finished by 8:10PM, at which point the captain made an announcement. “Folks, I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that everyone is on board and our flight time is only 2hr51min. The bad news is that we have a mechanical problem we’re working on, which we’re still trying to diagnose. This could take a few minutes, or it could take, well, longer. I promise to provide you an update within 15 minutes.”

At the gate in Houston

Fortunately the delay didn’t end up being too long. We had another 40 minutes at the gate, and by 8:55PM the door closed. We were airborne by 9:15PM from runway 15R, and had a smooth climb out.

About 30 minutes into the flight the crew came around with a snack basket. We were pretty hungry at this point since our last meal was the snack we had at around 4PM on our flight, and we didn’t have dinner. So we tried to grab a few things from the snack basket, though were told we were limited to two per person, until everyone has a chance. Fair enough.

United first class snack service

United has an 8PM cutoff for dinner in first class on many domestic flights (as several US airlines do), which personally I find ridiculous. 8PM is a normal time to eat, and that’s not even taking into account that it takes time to get to the airport. In other words, if you live in a city and your flight departs shortly after 8PM, you’d potentially have to leave home at around 5PM or so. Are you supposed to have dinner at 4PM?

American, Delta, and United are all guilty of this. Meanwhile JetBlue serves dinner even on late night Mint flights. Go JetBlue!

We ended up napping for the entire flight, and before we knew it we were on our descent into Los Angeles.

Approach into LAX

The only other interesting thing to note is that some passengers were connecting to Sydney, and shortly before landing the flight attendant must have made a minute-long announcement asking passengers to remain seated so those passengers could make their connection. She made that announcement again right after we touched down. Then again shortly before we pulled up to the gate. Then again when the seatbelt sign was turned off.

Sure enough people stayed seated (her persistence paid off), at which point she made an announcement saying “ladies and gentlemen, I just want you to know that you did a really great thing tonight. You helped others. Thank you.” Then as each passenger deplaned she’d say “you did a really great thing tonight, thank you.”

This isn’t a criticism (or a compliment, necessarily). I can appreciate where she was coming from. I’ve just never seen someone so, um, passionate about making sure people made their connections. Personally I think the bigger issue here is that people booked a 35 minute domestic to international connection at LAX, which doesn’t seem wise to me, even if it’s the minimum connection time.

United first class bottom line

Personally I’m not a huge fan of United’s 737 interiors. I think they’re outdated, and I’m surprised they continue to take delivery of planes that look like this. It’s also disappointing that they don’t have any sort of food beyond a snack basket on a flight that departs shortly after 8PM. On the plus side, the flight attendants were generally friendly, and I appreciate that United offers pre-departure beverages of choice, unlike American (where you’re often lucky to get a pre-departure beverage at all).

Thanks for following along for this trip report, and stay tuned, as there’s lots more to come!

  1. So wait . . . on a 2 hr 51 min. domestic flight on UA, you were offered bagged snacks in “First Class?” That’s ridiculous.

  2. I don’t understand the criticism of the boarding lanes. I hate when airlines just have 1 or 2 boarding lanes as people end up standing in line before their group is called and gate agents typically don’t wait for a complete group to board before the next one is announced. I was at the gate on time for an Alaska flight and ended up boarding well after first class had been called due to the crowd of people and way they quickly moved through groups. At least with United you can line up as early or as late as you want and have your priority recognized. It’s nice to come late, go through lane 1 and cut ahead of the later groups allowing a better chance at still getting overhead space.

  3. As a Delta Diamond there is nothing I hate more than people boarding out of their zone. Call me pretentious but I’ve earned an early boarding benefit and would like to use it as such. Boarding lanes have greatly reduced the number of people who board out of their assigned zone, so I’m all for it. Also, if people are lined up they board more quickly plane can depart faster – it’s an operational performance play, too.

  4. It’s appalling that a flight which is timed so that you fly immediately after work offers no dinner in “First” class. How low can United go? When are people who work supposed to eat?

  5. On most AA flights, most departures after 8 PM does not receive a full meal but rather a snack. I assume United has a similar cutoff. Some transcons are an exception.

    But a snack basket? That’s a bit lame. AA/Delta would at least offer a small salad or cheese plate.

  6. There is the please stay seated announcement on almost every UA flight i’m on (I’m a 1K and fly 2x a week). I think UA needs to recognize their operations aren’t as good as they think and update their MCT’s. There is a thread about this announcement on FT as well.

  7. minor quibble, but I was flying american F from DTW->ORD a few weeks ago, and they definitely offered a choice of Pre departure beverages.

  8. I’m usually on AA for home port reasons, but I like United’s “boarding lanes” better. The problem with “gate lice” is that it’s hard to push through a chaotic, unorganized mass. Fixed lanes eliminate that problem. (Though I admit it can create a traffic jam if there’s not enough room for disembarking passengers to pass through. I’ve often wondered why they don’t have a lane assigned for that purpose.)

  9. “Personally I think the bigger issue here is that people booked a 35 minute domestic to international connection at LAX, which doesn’t seem wise to me, even if it’s the minimum connection time.”

    I think you missed the mark on this one. The majority of people flying to Sydney on any given flight are NOT the regular readers of this (outstanding btw) blog or Flyertalk, and I would venture to guess the vast majority do NOT fly the amount that may of us do.

    If United vends tickets that are considered valid with xx minutes for a connection, then it would stand to reason that average, occasional travelers would be well within their rights to think that the connecting time was adequate.

  10. POS airline, strikes again. Yes, the UA interiors are drab, and look dirty from the get go. The crappy snack basket (full of salt and carbs) is atrocious. So much for first class.
    The connect time to SYD is laughable. The only better thing, would be having 30 people miss their connection, when UA knew they were late.
    The US airline system is beyond repair, a herd of cattle with just about 0 customer service or amenities.

  11. I would not be sure your plane was as new, at least not based on the lack of personal screens. United is getting rid of those unless it’s a long haul plane, in favor of entertainment via Wifi.

  12. The announcement thing happened to me to on a flight from Tampa to JFK (Though I was the one connecting). The inbound plane was delayed by 3hr due to a diversion. I had a 4 hour layover at JFK for a flight to Dubai. Eventually we arrived 3.5 hours late and many people were connecting (Some missed their flight to Dublin and Paris) and they made the same announcement and we quickly got off. Now I had 25 minutes (i was a preboard on my EK flight) to get from terminal 5 (domestic) to terminal 4 (international) and go through security. Eventually i barely made it!!!
    Jetblue saved my life with that announcement!

  13. It’s not that people make the bookings with the minimum connection time, that is how they are sold, not many choices now this days.
    Very good thing what the cabin crew did, allowing pax with short connecting time to disembark first.

  14. I have been served meals in first on Delta after 8 plenty of times. I was on a midnight redeye LAX-JFK recently that was delayed until 2am and they still offered dinner. I couldn’t believe it!

    Also, I love live TV on planes. You say you don’t like it, and I feel that it’s becoming less and less popular on board as the airlines assume everyone wants commercial free on demand content, but I find that so upsetting. I like watching news. It’s infinitely long and great entertainment on a long flight, that you can drift in and out of without missing anything like a movie. I also find on demand content to be limited, especially in the area of TV series. There’s never enough options!

  15. Delta actually now serves full meals in first class on most longer domestic flights until 9pm. For example, DL 1845 DTW-LAX (1,973 miles) currently departs at 8:37pm and first receives full dinner. As a point of comparison, DL 2255 ATL-LAX (1,941 miles) which departs at 9:08 pm just receives the snack basket.

    Although they didn’t really publicize the change, it occurred sometime last year. I fly often between Detroit and the West Coast and found this to be a welcome change, as I often need the 8pm departure, which is often scheduled closer to or just after 830pm–and that used to mean a hot sandwich at best, or worse, just the snack basket.

    This is not true, however, for flights closer to 1,000 miles…the 8pm DTW-FLL flight gets dinner while the 8:05pm DTW-MIA gets only the snack basket!

  16. United doesn’t install TVs or direct TVs anymore on its 737s. It seems that most of the 737s with direct tv are the ex Continental ones and post merger, the ones United ordered they don’t add Direct TV. The last one with direct tv was end 2012. Now United does streaming entertainment to your own devices. The entire airbus fleet has that. The one benifit of the 737s is that on most of them, the wifi is VIASAT so it’s faster. But the rest of the fleet is Panosonic (other than the transcontinental 757s and the regional fleet) and although its usually better than GOGO, its inconsistent and there is no monthly plan you can get. Here is United’s fleet page that tells you which amenities each plane has.

  17. Well, as you know I’m not travelling to the US frequently and my experience with UA marks the low end of the scale, even compared to AA and DL, which by no means are great either …

    But this is truly a “below third world experience”. I travel regularly in less developed parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America – but never experienced something like this. It starts with the boarding process which is much more civilzed there and ends with a food stamp like first class catering … I’m speechless. Unfortunately, I have one UA flight coming up, which I can’t avoid as it is a monopoly route and I’m travelling there on duty travel … But I’m not looking forward to this.

  18. @jetset – agreed, I think the United boarding process is the best of the legacy carriers.

    @ everyone who’s badmouthing United for only serving a snack basket – I think it’s absurd as well, but Lucky clearly said that United is hardly the only airline to do so on flights after 8PM.

  19. ‘This was a brand new 737, based on the fact that it didn’t have personal televisions (United takes delivery of 737s without personal televisions and then installs them after the fact, which is how I knew)”

    Ah, what? Those seats look beat. Didnt you check the N – number ? If not I doubt it’s new.

  20. Priority boarding allows me to secure overhead space. You obviously dont travel in Economy Cattle class.

  21. I don’t understand the whole “priority boarding” thing at all. I paid extra (maybe $20?) about 5 years ago to board first (even though the fare I purchased was 4th or 5th tier). I showed this to the United gate person and they tried to stop me boarding. When I pointed out that I’d paid extra for the privilege I was told, “Do want you want, I don’t care”. Really? Why offer to take your money for priority if it is irrelevant?

    In AUS you have a seat assignment and can board whenever you want. As I said, I don’t understand the board system that a lot of US carriers use.

  22. I think UA’s boarding system is better than AA or DL. The cattlepens give somewhere for the Zone 3’s to stand away from the entrance without blocking the earlier priorities. This system recognizes that people aren’t going to remain seated at the gate no matter what you do.

  23. I like the separate lanes for each group. Otherwise, all the people in groups 3-5 crowd around the one line, and those in Groups 1/2 can’t even get to the front to board. In my case, I’m usually in group 1or 2, but like to saunter up towards the end of boarding as I’m usually in the lounge.

    The snack basket thing is abominable. I fly paid F on UA and have had the same experience. Heck, on a flight that length on LH in economy and you at least get a cheese sandwich.

  24. I echo many of the comments here that I really like the UA boarding lanes. I can’t stand crowds of people in different boarding zones standing near the gate — causes so much confusion when they call your number and you have no idea if the people in front of you are in your zone or not. UA’s boarding system has people systematically line up so you don’t have the gate craziness I’ve experienced with AA and AS.

    I do however agree that UA’s 737 first class is so drab. Those seats are so bulky and old fashioned. I really like UA’s new first class seats in the A319 and A320s though.

    Maintenance delays on UA seem to be on the rise lately. It’s so disappointing.

  25. Even on a 30 minute domestic flight at 9pm in business BA will serve a meal with champagne…a snack basket is appaling.

  26. That’s not a new 737. As people have already mentioned, you can’t use the lack of DirecTV as an indicator. The newer planes have a tablet holder in the tray table, and granite finishes on the little flat cup holder area. The tablet holder is actually really handy, I use it for my e-reader, and it also means you can use the personal device entertainment hands free.

  27. @Zymm Unfortunately the new first class seats with granite and tablet holder are not an indicator of a new plane. They are mostly found in the A319s and A320s (and just starting on 737-700s), the newest of which are at least a decade old. The new seats were just retrofitted into older planes.

    739s without DirecTV can be as old as four years.

  28. I remember in Brazil on TAM, a 45 minute flight would offer a hot sandwich in economy every time. If there was turbulence, sometimes theyd still be handing out sandwiches on the descent.

    Meanwhile, United thinks first class means a 75 cent package of oreos.

  29. I find it interesting that you said that AA doesn’t serve pre-departure drinks. On all of my AA first class flights, I’ve never not been served a first class drink.

  30. This is the Continental First Class seat. Could be UA is just using its supply of the CO F seat. Nothing wrong with that. Those were decent seats.

  31. Interiors by Office Depot Clearance Dept.

    That legroom doesn’t look too hot either…and a snack basket on a 3hr flight. Ugh.

    AA may not be the world’s greatest airline but I’m glad I don’t fly UA anymore.

  32. That isn’t UA’s latest domestic first seat. Are you sure it’s a new plane? Their new 737 first class has different seats, with a stitching pattern similar to their new economy seat.

  33. @ Lucky — I’m disappointed that you have not retracted and rewritten this review, which is based on the false premise that this is the configuration of *new* United places of which the airline recently has taken delivery. As numerous readers (@Gerald, @steve, @Zymm, @Brent) have pointed out, this was definitely *not* a new airplane. The new 737 interiors have a totally different seat. Not all of the 737-900s have seat-back entertainment. They have *either* seat-back DirectTV *or* personal device entertainment (see You were presumably on a personal device entertainment flight. That does not mean the plane is new.

    There’s a real accuracy problem on this blog. Personally, I think you ought to retract this review and rewrite it. The whole tenor of it would have been different if you had known that you were flying a very outdated product that’s well into the process of being phased out.

  34. I had a flight on either United or Delta in 2006 from Salt Lake City to Houston in first class (3 passengers). We were informed that no meals are served on flights that are less than 3 hours in flight time. Please confirm this info, thanks.

  35. POS airline..we stood in those LANES..waiting to board in Chicago, after an entire day of cancelled and missed flights ..we, the sheep, being led to slaughter stood in those LANES, anxious to finally be GETTING to our destination’s now midnite..”THIS FLIGHT IS CANCELLED..WE CAN’T FIND THE PILOTS!!!!!”. (THEY are the smart ones…hide!!!) An entire day of ‘flying”..cancellations..excuses. we, too, got a blue plastic cup of water and a cookie. .still no compensation from United a/k/a USELESS AIRLINE!

  36. Its ABSURD they dont serve a meal at that time.

    Major thing that annoys me about America is that they consider dinner after 8pm to be late….learn from the rest of the world, dinner is from 7-10pm!

  37. Domestic first seats are so chunky, I often prefer economy plus because you can actually put your legs under the seat in front. In first, there is no shin room to do this, so the pitch feels like it is less. They really should come up with a more streamlined seat. There is no way the cushion needs to be so deep.

  38. I remember when I flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco and then had a connection to Tokyo – Haneda, upon landing the flight attendant said something along the lines of “ladies and gentleman, we ask that you remain seated upon reaching the gate as there is a young lady on board on a connecting flight to (fill in the blank) and need to deplane first.

    Then everyone quickly started complaining about why she was getting priority over everyone else who also had a connection. I remember the passengers in the town behind me saying they only had about 45 minutes to reach the gate for their second flight and it was the same flight I was on. Nonetheless we all stayed seated until the young lady had deplaned then everyone else proceeded to leave the plane, Although some were pretty upset by now.

  39. @Andy I totally agree with you, having flown on budget carriers in Asia myself. I swear in these pics I thought I was looking at business class in Safi Airlines, not on an airline of the richest country on earth. And Safi served a multicourse meal for a flight under two hours on top of that.

  40. Actually just as an FYI, ever since 2012 united stopped installing In flight entertainment on their 737s opting for wifi instead.

  41. Such a whiny review.

    You are so far “gone” that you cant even give a compliment to an FA who clearly went above and beyond in thanking you for your small gesture.

    People like you are the reason most FAs and such in this country dont bother going the extra mile anymore.

  42. I flew multiple 11:59 PM redeyes this year from LAX-EWR on the P.S. 757’s in BizFirst, and while none of them had a full meal, all of them had a hot snack (a calzone or something). I passed, but just saying it was offered. Pretty nice flights I thought, though several were delayed by 30-60 minutes. The Polaris Saks duvet and pillow (and a pleasant flight attendant who got to know me as a repeat customer) went a long way to me forming that opinion. If you’re on one of those, I recommend 1F — the bulkhead row has plenty of footroom, the right side has less galley exposure than the left, and the seat divider affords something like privacy when reclined. I slept well. (Also, the LAX United lounge, which you get access to with that ticket, ain’t bad — I particularly like the private offices, especially if traveling with the right sort of companion.)

  43. Is this the plane where the seats in the last row of First don’t actually recline because of the wall behind them? That would get me irate…

  44. I hate 737s. Well, let me clarify. I hate flying United 737s (but I love Delta’s 737s). Unfortunately, that aircraft is the main aircraft on almost all UA routes. Even the brand new UA 737s look old, dated and dirty. And who in their right mind continues to install that purple/brown/ugly galley interior and panels? That alone adds thirty years on to the look of the 737. It is also sad to see 737s on many transcon flights. I try to book away from those, but sometimes (many times) that is not possible.

    I am not a fan of DirectTV nor streaming. I would like a personal tv (like what Delta offers) that shows free movies.

  45. Lack of dinner close to or after 2000 is a total, pathetic joke-and insult, compared to how airlines in Europe work!

    Financial types now running airlines memorizing their numbers have no sense of how service is defined.

    “Customer Experience” is the new hype by these carriers. However, we need to open fortress hubs, e.g., ORD, to quality, service-oriented carriers–Jet Blue, Virgin America, Alaska.

    If that cannot be achieved, we need to embrace cabotage-let every foreign carrier fly between US cities; not just LA-NYC!

    The customer is being persistently victimized and requires support now!

  46. Since LAX is not a hub for United
    , 35 minute connection is considered legal..even to International

  47. I love that term “gate lice”. It fits perfectly.

    Regarding the 35 minute connection time, I know I never do anything like that. I always put a cushion in there. In July we decided to stay a night in NYC before continuing on to BCN to ensure we had plenty of backup for the outbound. Return doesn’t bother me as much. If I get delayed returning from vacation then I just turn lemons into lemonade.

  48. Pathetic excuse for First Class-whadda expect, it’s an american “airline.” Profits, profits, hustling, and meaningless corporate slogans.

  49. @Bobby: couldn’t agree more. Avoid the b737s (can’t stream to my Android phone on them for one thing); the A319/A320s with their updated F cabins are much better. I remember the days when on Continental IAH-LAX you got a meal way past 8pm.

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