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 putting 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, if 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).