Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: United p.s. (757)

I actually ended up flying United both from SFO-JFK on a redeye and from JFK-SFO back (and have flown it three times prior, all retrofitted), so it’s the product I’m most familiar with. This review is a product of the two most recent experiences in January 2015.

united square logo

We start the reviews with United p.s. Service, which I flew twice in January.

  • Introduction: Scoring and Considerations
  • United Airlines p.s. (757)
  • Delta One (757)
  • AA Business Class (A321T)
  • AA Flagship First (A321T)
  • JetBlue Mint (A321T)
  • Virgin America (A320)
  • Results and Summary

Hard Product

First, I should start out by saying that nearly all the carriers reviewed, save for a few remaining aircraft on Delta and Virgin America’s fleet, have lie flat seats. This is probably the single biggest “upgraded” factor offered by any of the carriers. So most score pretty well in that regard, though there are some minor variations.

I would place United as middle of the road, partly because they were one of the first to install this product and didn’t get to install the newer versions that AA or Delta did (they all have essentially the exact same seat). Seats are arranged in 7 rows with a 2-2 configuration split into two cabins, angled slightly away from the single aisle, so half of the seats do not have direct aisle access.


Your standard UA p.s. Service / International Business Class Seat

UA p.s. Service cabin

Rows 1 and 5 have a shelf above the IFE that you can use to reduce clutter inflight. There is also a cubby below the IFE


The seat controls are a little confusing unless you see the highlighted yellow parts

The interiors have definitely been refurbished, but even though the retrofit didn’t happen too long ago, the seats and cabin seemed to be the most worn and I didn’t find the lavatories to be anything special. With a ratio of 14 passengers per restroom, lines are likely to form, which can diminish the “premium” experience.

Soft Product

United isn’t known for its service. I do feel that they tend to assign the p.s. routes with crew that either have more training or have received positive feedback in the past, but it’s less noticeable than the differences you’ll see from fantastic crews on other carriers. While this is surely an anecdotal experience and not likely to happen to most, I didn’t appreciate being woken up 10 minutes prior to landing, having a greasy scone thrown on my lap and my jacket quickly draped over it. I had to spend a few minutes in the bathroom upon landing cleaning the grease off my jacket.

United Pretzel Roll Burger

A burger and chips on the red-eye. It was mushy. The scone in the morning wasn’t much better.


The daytime dining is much better


This is a chicken osso bucco from a p.s. flight I took in mid-2013. It was all right, the beef tenderloin on this flight was better, so it’s nice to see an upward trajectory.


And of course, a sundae. Both American and United offer a sundae as their signature dessert.


United has a selection similar to American with a few extra liqueurs. The beer list was disappointing, but there are a lot of mixers.

The food was not great on the red-eye (a pretzel roll burger with a ton of cheese that had the mushy consistency of a hot pocket), but it was considerably better on the dinner flight return. The beef tenderloin on the way back was actually pretty tasty and cooked medium/medium rare (not sure how an airplane microwave does that), so be sure to try to catch the flights that have full-service catering. Generally, United food isn’t bad, but pretty much all of the carriers are better in this regard.

The drink menu is the standard UA domestic first menu, which is nearly identical to the drinks provided on American (save for UA’s addition of Jim Beam and Courvoisier). Both carriers fall short of their competition. I get the impression that whoever chooses these menus really doesn’t appreciate food or drink — and anyone paying full fare is likely to be disappointed. Surprisingly, United did serve a single-varietal Mourvedre that was pretty tasty, as was the Sauvignon Blanc. So there’s a chance that they are now air-testing their wines (wines often have a muted flavor at 35,000 feet).

Aside from that, it’s a pretty standard UA flight. The “amenity kit” is a selection of eye masks, toothbrushes, and ear plugs from a communal basket (which gives the impression of being cheap), and the snack basket is no different from what you’ll see on short flights in first class (hope you like Milano cookies and Sun Chips). The duvet and pillow are adequate, though nothing to write home about, and certainly not as nice as on American, Delta, or JetBlue.

Ground Experience

United has made improvements in its ground experience, opening a new lounge and p.s. check in area at SFO and renovating Concourse E in Terminal 3 with amenities that mirror those in Terminal 2.

UA SFO check in

Brand new p.s. and elite check-in area at SFO

SFO Term 3 Concourse F United Club

SFO United Club - Terminal 3 Concourse F - this one is a bit older and while big, tends to be packed at all hours

UA Club SFO new

The new United Club in Concourse E is a windowless room with harsh lighting down a long hallway on the second floor. Stick to the Centurion Club if you have access.

UA Club SFO new 2

The United Club has a sterile feel. It’s similar to the other new clubs, but doesn’t have much personality.

However, this is counterbalanced by Terminal 7 at JFK which is almost always overcrowded and a nightmare to navigate. (Really, try to escape it. You have a better than 50/50 chance of sneaking into the BA lounge through a secret escalator than finding the one that leads to baggage claim.) The United Club on this end could use some love since it still boasts a Global First Lounge (even though there is no international traffic — only Global Services or passengers connecting to Global First out of IAD, SFO or LAX get access) and it seems really worn. The staff, however, are very pleasant.

United JFK Gate Area

JFK Terminal 7: It’s a crowded zoo and a maze in one! United only has a few gates here and the seating area is packed to the gills


The JFK United Club is a more tolerable place to wait, but it’s seen better days

The LAX terminals are nothing to write home about and require a decent amount of walking if you have to connect, but all the other carriers have nearly identical layouts here. It’s more due to the airport’s poor design than anything the airlines can do. Generally AA and maybe Virgin has a slightly better experience (given its lounge), while JetBlue and Delta are going to be similarly unpleasant places to wait.

It’s worth noting all of the carriers offer “priority” security, boarding, and a free checked bag to premium passengers on these routes. But when everyone is special, no one is.

Lastly, I pulled data on lost bags among all the carriers from the September 2014 DOT baggage complaint report, but the loss ratios were so similar (<1%) that there isn’t a material effect on the scoring between the carriers.



United gives you a set of no-name, three prong headphones.

I bought a day pass from GoGo on the ground to try to get some work done in the air, but I couldn’t get the service to activate. The inflight entertainment was pretty standard, and I only found one movie on the system that overlapped “haven’t seen yet” and “look’s interesting.” The movie and TV selections were eerily similar to American, though the controls were pretty responsive and intuitive. There is a power port and USB cable on a shelf behind the seat, but unlike the American version, there is no lip to prevent your phone from falling onto you or getting lost in the seat mechanism. The headphones are no name closed ear, so not quite the Bose noise-canceling set offered by American or the Grado set offered by JetBlue.

Fleet and Operations

United operates seven flights each way from JFK-SFO and 5(ish) on JFK-LAX and has 28 seats on each plane, for 196 and 140 total seats each way, respectively. This puts their capacity in the higher end of the pack above JetBlue and Virgin and Delta (DL flies one extra flight to SFO, but with fewer seats overall), but without quite as many seats as American. Anecdotally, I’ve found award availability to be somewhat available — better than Delta, but not quite as much as American.

On-time arrivals are middle of the pack hovering at 75%, behind Delta and Virgin and ahead of American and JetBlue, though really all carriers could improve here.

Overall impressions

United is a perfectly acceptable way to get across the country. It’s not going to win any awards for the seat, service or airport experience and is certainly not the best transcon service, but it is a step up from the domestic first class service offered by most airlines and worth booking over United’s flights to Newark which don’t feature the upgraded services (if only for the smaller footprint UA has at JFK).

Have a different experience? Constructive feedback? Comment below!

17 Responses to “Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: United p.s. (757)”

  1. UA operates 7x to SFO and 6x to LAX on a typical day. DL operates 1 extra flight to SFO but far fewer total premium seats.

    • I doubled checked the timetable and bumped the SFO frequency to 7, but LAX is still showing 5 most days. Maybe it’s seasonal? Totally right on DL - I was surprised to see how much they fly to SFO, but sadly since it’s mostly 757’s, they only have 16 seats each. I’m curious what you think of the Delta review tomorrow!

  2. AA is better. Love the flagship lounge access! VX is terrible at LAX. The security checkpoint was setup so that I could not access Pre Check even though me and my baby boy got it nor was I able to get to the First class security lane even though I booked First class for my family! Complete waste of money. DL food was pretty good had rack of lamb on that flight but the 767 had MX issues and we were stuck on the ground for a while. No potable water system so the lav was filled with sanitary wipes. Got Tumi amenity kit. There were surprisingly a lot of non revs up front on DL. The DL Sky club was crowded but the view was good.

  3. You know, I really wanted to see a pic of that greasy scone and the stain it made on your jacket! 😉 I’ve flown JFK-LAX and EWR-LAX for several years and I’ll admit I prefer the older angled flat seat since the legroom was HUGE! Nowadays with the new seats, your feet are boxed into that small compartment area. I can normally sleep on a lounge chair by the pool so sleeping on the old seats never bothered me. I’ll admit I fly Delta and JetBlue more on this route nowadays but thanks for the review! Good to know I’m not missing much by not flying UA. 😉

  4. Wonder if United would consider moving its transcontinental service out of JFK and into LGA, once the distance limit is lifted.

    The only service that United has at JFK is the P. S. routes. If they move to LGA. they’d not only be able to consolidate operations and save money, but would also be able to market that their transcon service is closest to Manhattan.

    • In theory, JFK makes it easier to connect onward to trans-Atlantic flights, which may be operated by Star Alliance partners. The decision to operate flights there isn’t entirely dependent on Untied’s own network.

      • They also fly the JFK-IAD shuttle, which makes even less sense. Scott’s right that the decision is likely to link up with int’l partners, yet in practice, this only works with half of the flights offered and you have a terminal change outside of security at JFK, not the most seamless process. Not that EWR is much better to connect to LH, LX or SAS and IAD only works if you bring your hiking boots.

        • EWR has gotten a bit better on that point now that there’s a post-security Terminal B-Terminal C shuttle bus to connect to LH/LX/SK/OS.


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