United Premium Service from JFK-LAX: First vs. Business Class

Filed Under: United

This month I’ve had the opportunity to fly United’s Premium Service product in both first and business class between New York and Los Angeles. Both flights were on United 27, the 3:59PM departure. There have been many complaints lately about the cutbacks in service on this route, but I have to say that overall it’s still a great product. Nonetheless, what amazes me is that there’s virtually no difference between first and business class on daytime PS flights.

On the ground:

Yes, on the ground there’s a difference. Not that airport check-in is relevant in this day-and-age of online check-in, but there is separate first class check-in area. The big difference, though, is that first class passengers get access to the International First Class Lounge, while business class passengers don’t get access to any lounge. This is practical at JFK and LAX, where the International First Class Lounges are quite nice.

JFK International First Lounge

JFK International First Lounge

LAX International First Lounge

LAX International First Lounge

In the air:

Service: The service in first and business class is comparable, sadly enough. There are 12 seats in first class, served by one flight attendant, and 26 seats in business class, served by two flight attendants. That means the crew to passenger ratio is 12:1 in first class and 13:1 in business. First class used to have a second flight attendant, which made a huge difference in terms of the speed and quality of service, although JFK-based crews are still among the best.

Entertainment: This is yet another area where first and business class are identical. Passengers in both cabins get decent entertainment systems with all kinds of TV shows, movies, games, and music.

Food: Nowadays the food service in first and business class are basically identical, sadly enough. Back when they had a second flight attendant in first class, there were no trays involved, which distinguished the service a bit. Also, there were choices for dessert, and overall the food was a bit better.

The only differences now between first and business class food on a dinner flight is that the salad is slightly larger in first class, and the entrees are different, although I’d say they’re of relatively comparable quality…. first class has a slight edge. The major difference would be on breakfast flights, where first class gets a pre-arrival snack, while business class gets nothing. Below are some pictures comparing first and business class.

First Class

First Class

First Class

First Class

Business Class

Business Class

Business Class

Business Class

Not pictured are the pre-arrival cookies and milk which are served in both first and business class.

The seats: While business class has recliner seats, first class has slanted flat seats. For redeyes the slanted flat seat is far superior, in my opinion, but for a daytime flight I actually find the recliner seats to be more comfortable for lounging. The only other noteworthy difference is that first class passengers get two pillows, while business class passengers get only one.

First Class

Business Class

So this raises a rather simple question — why the hell would anyone pay the premium for first, be it cash or miles, for a daytime flights? Yes, I think the lounge access is nice, but other than that United has reduced the services offered in first class to the point that it’s nearly identical to business class.

PS: Yes, I was watching Paul Blart Mall Cop on both flights. It was just that good….

  1. I caved and watched Paul Blart in C to SYD. At first, I thought it was an actually pretty brilliant tragicomedy (no, really), but then the film went downhill rapidly and I couldn’t even finish it.

  2. “PS: Yes, I was watching Paul Blart Mall Cop on both flights. It was just that good….”

    Sigh. And now we can’t trust your judgment on *anything* anymore. ;^)

  3. I prefer Business because when the First Class seat is in a reclining position, the tray table reclines with the seat, thereby leaving it at a slant, so if you prop your PTV on the tray table it slides off or falls down…

    THAT, and only in the case of severe oversells in steerage can I even contemplate sitting up front.

  4. I miss the pre-arrival snack in Business class on westbound flights. I remember the first flight that UA did away with this. I was anticipating the meal as I was getting hungry 90 minutes prior to landing. Finally, I asked the FA where the snack was? I told the FA I was hungry. FYI, breakfast flights will not satisfy your food needs on a transcon. Anyway, the FA brings me a BOB from the back. Better than nothing. The chips made it all worthwhile!

  5. Why does it seem from your two seat pictures that the business class seats are much nicer than the first class seats ?

    From the pictures at least, they look much nicer in every way than the first class seats…

  6. Does UA offer sundaes and cookies on breakfast flights? I’m trying to decide to take a breakfast flight or lunch flight. Also deciding between First and Business.

  7. Since this is back from the grave, it’s worth noting that US Airways doesn’t differentiate on domestic awards between First and Business class tickets 🙂 This means you can book UA p.s. First (of which there’s a ton of award space) awards via US for just 50K miles – same as Business.

  8. mechteach: ““PS: Yes, I was watching Paul Blart Mall Cop on both flights. It was just that good….”

    Sigh. And now we can’t trust your judgment on *anything* anymore. ;^)”


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