Review: United Boeing 737 first class: New York/Newark-Los Angeles

Overall Rating

By Chris C., October 7 2015
United Boeing 737 first class: New York/Newark-Los Angeles

New York (Newark) - Los Angeles

Aircraft Type

Boeing 737-900


United Airlines



Cabin Class




The Good
  • Plenty of legroom
  • Live satellite TV
  • Signature sundaes for dessert
The Bad
  • Meals: plastic cups, bland dumplings
  • Lightning fast inflight Internet


As the mainstay of United Airlines' domestic fleet, the Boeing 737 serves on both the airline's shorter hops and also longer journeys across the country such as from Newark (New York) to Los Angeles.

While this particular route adopts United's flagship p.s. Premium Service aircraft from late October – complete with fully-flat beds at the pointy end – here's what to expect in United First if the Boeing 737 forms part of your own travel plans.


  • Frequent flyer program: United MileagePlus, Star Alliance. Aussie travellers can also opt for Virgin Australia Velocity points via the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer scheme.
  • Priority check-in: Head one floor above the economy check-in desks and make use of the 'Premier Access' zone. Alternately, complete mobile check-in via United's smartphone app and head straight through security if travelling with only cabin baggage.
  • Checked baggage allowance: 2x32kg bags, or 3x32kg bags for Star Alliance Gold and United Premier Gold frequent flyers and above (excludes Virgin Australia Velocity).
  • Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x113cm bag with no defined weight limit, plus one personal item such as a laptop satchel or handbag and smaller goods like umbrellas and duty-free purchases.
  • Priority security screening: To the right of the checkpoint, although we found this line considerably longer than the economy queue and jumped across for faster processing and more lounge time. TSA PreCheck is also available for those eligible.
  • Priority boarding privileges: Yes (Group 1), but on this occasion there was only a single lane in use at the gate. Announcements didn't make clear which group number was actually boarding, and with no clear signage many passengers lined up before their group was called – and were declined – slowing the process down.


A boarding pass in United First, even on a transcontinental flight, doesn't in itself grant access to United's airport lounges.

To escape the terminal, you'll need to pair it with either:

  • A paid United Club or Air Canada Maple Leaf Club lounge membership
  • A Star Alliance Gold frequent flyer card from an airline other than United
  • A United Premier Gold/Platinum/1K/Global Services frequent flyer card plus an international flight on the same booking
  • An international United itinerary with the overseas leg(s) booked in BusinessFirst or United Global First, or
  • A payment of US$50 for one-off access to the United Club lounge.

Simply put, Australians travelling from Sydney/Melbourne to New York and back with a business class or first class ticket can use United's lounges along the way, whereas solely domestic passengers in the USA will also need the appropriate Star Alliance frequent flyer card or lounge membership to enjoy the same.

Assuming you're covered, Newark Liberty offers two United Club lounges in Terminal C – the central facility at gate C120 and a secondary Club in the satellite pier near gate C80.

We stopped by the main lounge, and while the common space was relatively busy, there's a great business nook tucked away in the middle with true office-style desks and easy access to power.

Just watch the time – boarding calls aren't made for domestic flights.


'United First' on US domestic flights is really akin to 'business class' as we'd know it in Australia, with comfy leather seats arranged in a 2-2 configuration...

... and measuring at 21 inches (53cm) wide with 38 inches (97cm) between your headrest and that of the row in front, known as 'pitch'.

Each first class seat also has its own multi-country AC power outlet – although not USB port – along with a central shared cocktail table and a seatback pocket for your gadgets, reading material and blanket:

Even when full, it didn't impede on our legroom owing to the generous spacing between each seat.


Pre-departure nips are served – unfortunately so in disposable cups, or straight from the can...

... and with today's flight delayed by over an hour on the tarmac, the crew offered a second round.

Hot towels are distributed straight after take-off, followed by warmed nuts and apéritifs in classier and more traditional glassware.

Beyond that, the extent, or indeed presence, of a meal service in United First depends on the length and timing of your flight.

As a guide, most flights under 2hr 19m (with a few exceptions) serve smaller snacks and nibbles, while flights over 2hr 20m at meal-appropriate times offer a choice between two mains, and those of four hours or longer a choice between three mains.

With New York/Newark to Los Angeles timed at around six hours, our meal was dinner and began with a fresh and generously-portioned salad appetizer...

... followed by a choice between lemongrass salmon with jasmine rice; grilled chicken with polenta, broccoli and smoky tomato; or Asian-style noodles with capsicum (selected):

The noodles were perfectly tasty, although the gyoza-like dumplings were bland, relatively firm and could have used a little soy sauce.

Finishing the service was United's signature sundae, which in this instance combined vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and a copious amount of whipped cream...

... and a warm cookie closer to arrival.

Entertainment & Service

Every first class seat on United's newer Boeing 737-900s offers personal screens with free access to DirecTV – live programming beamed to the aircraft via satellite, allowing travellers to watch their favourite USA pay TV channels such as TBS, Comedy Central and CNN.

Navigation is made easier via an electronic program guide (EPG) divided into categories such as entertainment, news and sport...

... with the controls at your centre console:

Naturally, you can call up more information about the show you're watching by pressing the 'select' button:

Premium movies are also available at no fee on flights over three hours and are kept pre-recorded on the aircraft.

That's great as it provides a fail-safe should the satellite link-up falter, although they play on infinite loop – rather than 'on demand' – which means that every movie starts and finishes at a different time.

To compensate, notifications pop-up as each movie begins...

... but fortunately don't appear if you're already watching a flick.

The system itself, both with movie playback and live TV, worked flawlessly from the moment we took our seat until coming in to land, with just one brief disruption while the aircraft was making a turn.

Our only criticisms? There's literally so much content – over 100 live channels, plus movies – that it takes a fair while to scroll from start to finish to discover it all.

The supplied over-ear headphones also weren't of great quality and differ from those in United BusinessFirst, but as this aircraft uses a 'standard' single-pin (3.5mm) connection, you're free to attach your own pair.

United Wi-Fi inflight Internet was also available on this aircraft and priced at US$3.99/hr (A$5.55), with download speeds exceeding a whopping 18mbps on our journey:

Service on today's flight was noticeably friendlier than on our journey from Los Angeles to New York, with the lead flight attendant making light-hearted comments such as "Ooh yay, we've got a drinking crowd!" when almost every passenger ordered alcohol before departure.

The crew also took the time to explain our flight delay (no-show passenger with checked luggage, followed by an engineering issue), unlocked free DirecTV in economy as a gesture of goodwill and proactively refilled wine glasses during the meal service.

While the seat itself certainly doesn't come close to United's fully-flat p.s. BusinessFirst product – set to grace every flight between Newark and Los Angeles from October 25 2015 – it remains quite comfortable for US domestic flights, even those that stretch to 7.5 hours as ours did today.

Also reviewed: United B787 'BusinessFirst': Melbourne-Los Angeles

Chris Chamberlin travelled to New York as a guest of United Airlines.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 76

By the look of it, American's comparable product leaves United's for dead.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jul 2012

Total posts 117

+1. American "Transcontinental" First and Business are flat beds (very comfy ones).

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 735

United's "comparable product" to that is the transcontinental "p.s." which likewise includes the flat beds and looks nothing like this.

21 Oct 2015

Total posts 26

That's not really true. AA only has lay flat on certain routes domesically, and none on the old US Air routes (basically anything from CLT, PHL, PHX etc) United as a very competitive domestic product called the p.s. product which does have lay flat. 

IMO, AA and United are really close in product when you compare apples to apples.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Feb 2014

Total posts 445

Judging by those photos, the catering award of 3 stars seems pretty generous.  Looks like they've got an economy meal and slapped it on a china plate/bowl.

27 May 2015

Total posts 23

I flew in August from Newark to Las Vegas on United in First. I believe it was an older 737-900 (no personal AVOD screen), the seats however looked identical.

The flight itself was good overal, however there were some chinks in the experience. Check in at Newark was a bit of a fumble as there was no one at the First Class check in section, it was entirely roped off, and we had to approach the desk from the exit for assistance to drop off baggage. 

The food was not great. The highlight was the freshly baked cookie nearer the end of the flight (!) which filled the cabin with the most delicous smell. The beverage service is certainly a plus, copious amounts of alcohol on demand was a great start to a trip to Vegas. Apart from those couple of things, it was mostly mediocre when taking into account it's 'First Class' status.

I undertook 9 inter-US flights between July and August, all in domestic First Class and mostly on Delta. It's completely apparent that Qantas and Virgin Australia are in a league of their own when it comes to their domestic business class offering - world class, surely.

Thanks for the review, Chris.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Dec 2014

Total posts 284

AA's A321 first totally outclasses this

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 188

Re the plastic glasses for pre departure drinks - I understand that this is some FAA mandated safety requirement so the drinks can still be downed during taxi/take off.

I flew AA Business Class transcon JFK-LAX last month and it was great although the menu was kinda weird - three options for main, two of which were veg (soup/a kale pilaf) and the third was lobster rissotto.  Nothing meaty!  The beds, IFE etc were all great.

Saying that it's a bit unfair to compare that flight to EWR-LAX on UA with AA JFK-LAX as UA has a comparable product JFK - LAX (which as Chris says will move to EWR-LAX).  AA offers a similar product as described in this review on long sectors like MIA/BOS - LAX.  Similar flight lengths as JFK-LAX but no beds/enhanced catering or lounge access.

AA is also the only airline that offers First and Business transcon.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2453

Hi Jason, re: departure drinks in non-glass containers, that would very likely be the case while the aircraft is taking off or landing, although all cups and cans were collected before take-off on all four of my United flights that formed part of this trip, and competitor Delta serves its pre-departure drinks in glassware on comparable routes including LAX-NYC, which we've reviewed. :)

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 188

Tazza0712 totally agree with you.  In OZ domestic/regional Business Class is streets ahead of elsewhere in the world (except maybe some intra-asia sectors).

U.S Domestic 'First' even tends to be superior to the intra-european Business Class product we have over here.  The euro style economy seats with the middle one blocked out and an adjustable curtain deciding where Business Class ends and Economy begins.  Some airlines like BA and LH even have the same legroom from row 1 to the back of the plane now.  

QFF Gold QC gold

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 56

18mbps at 30,000 feet. I can't get that speed at home!!

05 May 2012

Total posts 32

Interesting review - curious about the clarification regarding Virgin Australia Velocity?

  • Checked baggage allowance: 2x32kg bags, or 3x32kg bags for Star Alliance Gold and United Premier Gold frequent flyers and above (excludes Virgin Australia Velocity)

Are there any instances where Velocity membership is relevant on a United operated flight? All I can think of is if it was SQ/NZ codeshare on UA metal - but that's a stretch...apologies in advance if this is a daft query on my part.


24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2453

Hi othy, not daft at all – this was included purely to avoid any confusion as we'd mentioned how to earn Virgin Australia Velocity points (via SQ) in the bullet point above it, and wanted to be clear that the arrangement extended only to points and not other perks such as excess baggage that Velocity members enjoy with Virgin's direct international partners.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2012

Total posts 159

American, Delta and Jet Blue leave United for dead, at least for the next couple of weeks

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2012

Total posts 159

American, Delta and Jet Blue leave United for dead, at least for the next couple of weeks

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