Pat's Travel Reviews

United Airlines First Class Review 737-900 with New Sky Interior

This is a quick update to this review I wrote a few years back. Most of what is written below still applies and at some point in the near future I will have a complete updated review of United’s First Class service on their 737’s. The one thing that has changed and I make mention of is their IFE (In-flight entertainment). On aircraft that do not have Directv, United’s “Private Screening” is available. This is their own device entertainment option. Unlike some other airline’s there is no charge to access and watch programming on “Private Screening” (there is a charge for Wi-Fi – I will have more details in future update). You just need to download the United App or the correct player on your tablet, smartphone, or laptop. I have successfully watch programs on a few flights last year. However, the last two times I flew United (was on A320) I was unable to watch programming even though I have United’s latest app and correct player. I read where they were having a problem with Chrome so that may have been the reason. Before these two episodes I thought United’s “Private Screening” was great with lots of content to choose from.

Upon boarding this flight from SAN to IAH, I immediately sensed something different. It was a bit of a shock as I have flown on United’s/Continental’s 737’s for years. But the overhead bins and lighting were different. At first I thought maybe this plane was leased from another airline, but quickly realized that this was a new 737-900 and had Boeing’s new Sky Interior (inspired by the new interior of the 787). After putting my bag and briefcase in the overhead I took my seat (1E) and realized two things. First; the overheads on this new design are supposed to have more space, but not much more as far as I can tell. I have a standard 21′ bag and it seemed to fit the same as United’s other 737’s. The second thing was this plane did not have ANY ENTERTAINMENT. Either overhead or seatback. This was very disappointing, as I am sure this delivery was from a Continental order and most (not all, – see below) of Continental’s 737’s have the Direct TV in the seat back. So you would think a new plane would come equipped with United’s latest entertainment offerings. Instead, it had no entertainment options at all. All of United’s planes (before merger with Continental) had overhead entertainment and audio as well. Why this plane did not either of those, I do not know. Maybe they will add later or maybe this is new direction United is going in. Either way it took some of the excitement out of flying this 737 with the new Sky Interior. (I recently read that United is having an issue with some seats and that is why the Direct TV has not been installed on all the new 737’s. It is currently on some of the new 737’s with Sky Interior and will be added to the other’s in the future).

The overhead bins on the the 737 with Sky Interior are pulled down (much like a 777) and the luggage or carry-on is placed inside the bin and you push the bin up to shut. As opposed to opening the latch on the overhead bin and placing your luggage in the bin . Besides being bigger and supposedly providing more room by pulling the bin down it may be easier for someone who is a little shorter to put their luggage in the bin. The other big difference with the Boeing Sky Interior is the lighting. It is a softer blue light compared with non Sky Interior aircraft. The LED (light emitting diode) lighting allows the airlines to add any color they want to the cabin. In this case, United chose blue.

The other thing I found disappointing with this particular aircraft was there was no seat back pocket for the two bulkhead aisle seats in First Class (1B & 1E). I hate not having a place to put the newspaper or being able to grab the in-flight magazine. I end up Fall 2013 Post 113putting the paper on the floor (which doesn’t look good) after I am done reading it, plus sometimes I’ll get newspaper print on my pants because I will hold it in my lap or put besides me. On the positive side, the seat was very comfortable. The headrest cushion was softer than other of United’s first class seats.The seats were nice and wide and the lighting switch is easy to find and provided plenty of light for reading.

The meal service was typical for this flight and time of day. Nice glass of Minute Maid Orange Juice from the carton. A choice of a cheese omelet or cereal and fruit. The omelet was better than usual and the potatoes were as bad as usual. Why ruin perfectly good potatoes by putting asparagus in them?? The breakfast also came with sausage, small bowl of fruit, yogurt, and croissant (no cinnamon roll on this flight – seems nothing was going my way 🙂 ).


After breakfast ,since there was nothing to watch, I decided to sleep a little. There were no blankets nor pillows on this flight. I have been noticing on United flights that pillows and blankets are becoming scarcer. Which is a shame. I woke as we were landing in Houston. Flight time was a little under 3 hours and we landed a few minutes early .

The new Sky Interior seems to be an improvement over the older 737’s . I probably would have been more enthusiastic if they had their normal (either overhead or seatback) entertainment on this plane. Without it, it diminished the experience.

I happened to be on the exact same early morning United flight from San Diego to Houston the very next week. It would be nice if United had all their flights leave out of one terminal in San Diego (and a few other locations). But the old Continental routes (EWR & IAH) leave out of Terminal 2. The security in Terminal 2 can be very long, plus the United Club is in Terminal 1 (there is a Delta Club in Terminal 2). In addition, there is no consistency what terminal United uses when landing – I just returned last week from IAH and we landed in Terminal 1 (I told my wife to pick me up from Terminal 2). But that is a different topic for another day.

This flight was also on a 737-900 and again I was in seat 1E. This plane did not have the Sky Interior, but everything else was the same. Including NO ENTERTAINMENT. What makes this more frustrating is these flights were promoted as having Direct TV. So, IMG_3577if it states that your flight will have Direct TV (or live TV with Delta). It may not be so, not all their planes have these entertainment options (buyer beware). Again, there were no pillow or blankets. But on the plus side this plane did have a seatback pocket in the bulkhead. The meal was very similar. This time a mushroom omelet or cereal with fruit. I liked the cheese omelet from the week before much more. But this time they had the cinnamon rolls. So I was happy. I again slept after breakfast and we were also a few minutes early with this flight.

The service was equally as good on both flights. On the second flight there were three (in addition to the regular crew) flight attendants in training and they were fine and very pleasant (I’m sure it won’t take them long to loose that enthusiasm). On both flights the leg room was very good. The seat was more comfortable on the 737-900 with the new Sky Interior, but otherwise flights very similar.  As a side note, if flying on a United 757 (original United, not Continental) you never want to sit in the bulkhead in First on the E & F side (seats 1E & 1F). These two seats have the least amount of leg room on the entire plane. 1A & 1B have a cut out that provides a few more inches of room. On Continental’s old 757’s the bulkheads have cutouts on both sides (I think A&B a bit more space). 737’s have plenty of leg room in the bulkhead and 320 & 319’s have a decent amount of leg room (not as much as United’s 737’s though).



10 thoughts on “United Airlines First Class Review 737-900 with New Sky Interior

  1. Ed D.

    Hi Pat. I just came across your page while doing some research on some of the newer planes (trying to figure out which bulkheads do and do not have the “cutout” or angle forward at the bottoming, creating more legroom). In short, thanks for posting the info that you do, it’s rather helpful. Also, I feel ya on the changing of terminals here at SAN, can’t wait until the construction is done! Take care, Ed.

    1. Patrick Post author

      Your welcome Ed, Happy that it was helpful.
      Also, I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but on United’s 757’s there is no cut out on the E&F side of the bulkhead in First. I think seats 1E&F have the least amount of leg room on the entire plane.
      I flew out of Terminal 2 on Tuesday and saw that United has opened their new check-in area. I asked when they would have all flights out of there and they said not until all gates are finished. So not much longer.
      Happy Travels!!

  2. farazi

    Hi Patrick, came across your blog while searching for First/business class on United’s 737 900. I am traveling with 2 and 4 year old, wondering what seats would you recommend? I am currently booked on all for seats on 1st row of business class. I had a choice between 737-900 or 777-200 ( for whatever reason i wasn’t interested in 777) I guess too much bad press ( recent flight to Guam from HNL ). By the way it will be 5.5 hr flight. to SFO.

    1. Patrick Post author

      If you are flying from the East Coast to SFO on a 777 (would have to be from IAD), then that configuration may have their Int’l Business Class. In which case the seats are far superior to United’s 737-900 First Class seats. You and your children would have a large choice of entertainment to view, nice blanket and pillow, plus seats have a lot more leg room and recline to a comfortable sleeping position. If you are flying from HNL to SFO those 777’s usually just have United’s Domestic First Class seats. So seats would be basically the same as a 737-900, with same amount of pitch (leg room). I actually prefer flying the 777 to and from HNL in First because the cabin is more roomy on such a long flight. But the Domestic 777 only has overhead entertainment. The last SFO to HNL flight I was on the 777 they also gave the International BusinessFirst pillows and blankets, which was a big improvement over no pillow and cheap blanket. The advantage of the 737-900 is on most planes they have Directv (but TV does not work on parts of flight to and from Hawaii). Which has many channels that again may entertain your children. Plus the cabin is much smaller and more intimate which may help traveling with small children.
      But to answer your question. If you are flying on the 737-900 the bulkhead (row 1) would be your best option. The leg room is generally better than the other rows in First and you do not need to worry about seat in front of you. For both your children’s protection (especially if they like to move around – there is more room and safer in bulkhead) and preventing them possibly disrupting the passenger in front of them. However, if you haven’t booked your ticket yet, and the 777 has United’s BusinessFirst version (they also have a Continental BusinessFirst configuration). The seats are 2x4x2. So if there are 4 of you traveling you can have the entire center row. I personally dislike this BusinessFirst cabin as seats are narrow and some face backwards, but would be good for family of 4.
      From your question it sounds like you have already booked your ticket. So First row on 737-900 is the best. Plus to a 2 and 4 year old these seats will be huge :):)
      Hope my rambling helped 🙂
      Safe travels!!!!


      1. Faraz

        Thank you so much Patrick, Very helpful reply. I did book my seats, I was unable to get first on my way to HNL but on my way back i changed the row 1st to 2nd row only because i can fit kid’s bags and other stuff in the seat in front of us and don’t have to get up again and again to pick things up from over head bins. My kids will be happy as long as they can sleep and those seats do look comfy enough for them to sleep. My primary reason to avoid 777 was just the delays, the flights i was looking at, was almost delay every day between 1.5 to 3 hrs. Mostly mechanical issues. I still have option to go first row and will consider again for sure after your helpful reply. Thank you again.


        1. Patrick Post author

          Your welcome Faraz!!
          That is one drawback to the bulkhead, there is no space for your personal items. With children, that is probably pretty important. Makes sense at looking at history of flight. If you see a flight is always late, probably means it will be late.
          Glad I could be of some help.
          Have a great trip!!!!


  3. Carlos

    Hi, Patrick. Awesome website! I’m hoping you can give me some advice. I’m currently booked on United 737-900 from Newark to Liberia, CR in Business seats 2E & 2F (traveling for our honeymoon!) I have the option of moving to 1E & 1F. Would you consider this bulkhead row seats to be superior to row 2 (comfort, leg room, etc.)? I just want the best seats in the house for such a special trip. Thank you!!!

    1. Patrick Post author

      Thank you Carlos!!!
      First, Congratulations!!
      Yes, I do consider the bulkhead a superior seat on the 737-900. In most cases the bulkhead does have a few inches more leg room (not all UA’s 737-900 have same layout). If there is DirecTV, the screen is on the wall and you will not have to adjust as the seat in front of you reclines. But the reason I like the bulkhead the most, is you do not have to worry about the seat in front of you reclining and infringing on your personal space (and if in full recline position it can infringe significantly). This can ruin a flight for me. I also like that in most cases row 1 has their meal served first (I always seem to be hungry when I fly 🙂 – United usually takes meal order by Mileage Plus status, so there is no advantage to where you sit there)
      The only downsides to the bulkhead seats on United’s 737-900 is on a few planes the bulkhead has the same pitch (distance from seat behind to seat in front) as other rows, but you can’t put your feet under the seat, so it feels like less leg room. The legroom is still good though (unlike seats 1 E&F on United’s 757’s). Also, there is much less storage space (this I don’t mind because FA’s will find space for purse or briefcase if overheads full) but more annoying, is the seatback pocket is much smaller at the bulkhead. Lastly, if the entrainment is overhead, the screen is harder to see from row 1. But the upsides way outweigh the downsides!!
      If possible Usually the best seat in First is 1B, as there is usually a cut out at this seat, which gives an additional few inches of leg room. So if 1A&B are available I would sit there.
      Hope this helps a little!
      Enjoy your flights and honeymoon!!!!


  4. Carlos

    Thanks, Patrick! Thank you for such a detailed response! Our flight isn’t for a couple of more weeks so it’s hard to tell wether the plane will have DirecTV or not. Although, from doing some looking around, it seems United is flying the 737-900s without DirecTV to Liberia from EWR. It’d be nice to have the IFE option to pass the time! I don’t understand why United is so inconsistent with the IFE option on their aircrafts? It’s a crap shoot wether you’ll have DirecTV or not. Anyway, thanks for your help! All your reviews are awesome! I’ll be following on. Instagram too! 🙂 thanks again!

    1. Patrick Post author

      No Problem Carlos, thanks for the kind words and happy to be of some help!! 🙂
      I read or was told the reason for the inconsistency with United’s DirecTV on their new 737-900’s has something to do with them not getting approval to install IFE on these new jet’s (with Sky Interior).They initially were going to install DirecTV on all these new 900’s (after some waiting period) and actually have on a few. But, I also was recently told (by a flight attendant) that they are installing IFE that can only be viewed with your own personal device. Last month I was flying on an A320 (that is when FA told me this info) that also had no overhead (nor audio) entertainment. That plane was equipped with their new seats in Economy. So it seems they may be removing the DirecTV at some point.


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Pat's Travel Reviews

Pat's Travel Reviews