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.
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.
... 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.
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.
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