Flying to Hawaii in United Business Class on a Three Class Plane

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Earlier this year I got in on a pretty good deal on round trip flights to Hawaii on United.  The flights were from Dallas and went for a little under $400 RT each.  My husband and I booked two tickets for our anniversary and then applied some regional upgrades to secure a business class seat.  If you want tips on redeeming miles for flights to Hawaii read this post Currently, some of the United Hawaii flights that connect through Houston and on to Honolulu are on three-class Boeing 777 airplanes, and ours was one of those planes.  This meant that our regional upgrade would only get us from economy into business class, not first class.  We were very interested in first class as those seats are lie-flat, but were not interested at the offered upgrade price of $749 per person at check-in.

Read more about this trip:

Planning an Anniversary Trip to Hawaii

Flying to Hawaii in United Business Class

Westin Moana Surfrider in Waikiki

Flying Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu to Maui

Review of a Room and a Suite at the Andaz Maui at Wailea

The Pools at the Andaz Maui at Wailea

On-site Restaurants at the Andaz Maui

The ‘Awili Spa at the Andaz Maui at Wailea

Exploring Maui Beyond the Andaz Maui (Little Beach, Monkeypod, and More)

The First Class Seat:

We were not in first class, but we were seated right behind the first class cabin, so got a good look at that seat.

United business class

The first class seat does indeed convert to a lie-flat.  The service in first seemed to be identical to the service in business class, so your only real advantage was the seat…but that is a pretty significant in first over business, especially on the overnight flight back to the mainland.  If you are redeeming miles, I think it would be worth the incremental 10,000 United miles each way to get the lie-flat first class seat over the recliner business class seat to/from the US mainland.  However, it is probably not worth the $749 they wanted to go from business to first on a revenue ticket for 99.9% of folks.


First class cabin


First class seat


First class seat in the upright position

The Business Class Recliner Seat:

I’ll start this section by saying I am so grateful I have the ability to use things like miles or regional upgrade certificates to sit in a seat that is way more comfortable and spacious than economy, especially on an eight hour flight to Hawaii.  Heck, I’m fortunate to have the ability to go to Hawaii at all.  That said, these business class seats are a tad old and tired compared to the United BusinessFirst seats that I have flown in many times on Trans-Atlantic or Trans-Pacific flights…and flights to Hawaii can be just as long as some of those flights.

It is a 2-3-2 arrangement, so families with three travelers may do best in the middle of the airplane, and couples traveling would be best served on either side of the aircraft.


We were seated on the side, so having two seats next to each other was nice.  The thick pillow and blanket were also very nice.

20130910-131343.jpgWe had bulkhead seats, so legroom was plentiful.


To give you an idea of the age of this seat, it even still has the Airphone!



There was in-flight entertainment, but it was one of the older systems where a selection of movies are shown on a loop on various channels instead of being available on demand.


On the Houston – Honolulu service, they served lunch shortly after departure and then a “snack” about an hour before arrival.  Before the meal service they served the traditional nut mix and drink.  I have had mai tais on United before that were actually okay, but these just tasted like sugary syrup and were not very good.  On the 7:30PM return flight, dinner was served just after take-off and breakfast about 90 minutes before an 8AM arrival into Houston.  I ate before getting on the return flight so I could immediately go to sleep.  I highly recommend that course of action for the shorter overnight flights.  If you skip one or both meal services you can potentially sleep for about 7 hours.  If you participate in both, your sleep time is likely limited to under 5 hours.


The lunch meal on the outbound was chicken, rice, and green beans.  It looked okay, but frankly it was so bad that even the rice was crunchy.  It tasted a bit like leftovers that had been reheated three or four times.


The chicken I eventually deemed inedible.  Again, I am so thankful to be served anything to eat on a plane, but this was really pretty bad.


The smoked salmon appetizer, side salad, and dinner roll were the highlights, but take that with a grain of salt as it really only means they didn’t taste bad.  My husband said the ice cream sundae was pretty good!

The second meal served before arrival was one that I have been served many times on United flights, and it was okay.  Not great, but it was edible.


Despite being in a seat that was not at all lie-flat, I was able to sleep for more than half of the flight on the outbound.  I was able to curl into one side and pass out holding the pillow.  On the overnight return flight, I slept off and on for almost the whole flight (bring an eye mask!).

Getting rest in the reclined business class seat

Getting rest in the reclined business class seat

My husband was too large to really move around in the seat, so he did his best to sleep some sitting upright, but he had far less success than I did.


The service on the flight was quite good, and the crew made it feel exciting to be heading to Hawaii!  They played the halfway to Hawaii game where you guess what time you will reach the midway point to Hawaii.  There was a go-around that happened pretty close to the ground, but the crew was great about keeping us informed as to what was happening so in the end it was just a free extra tour of the island before landing.

20130907-105739.jpgThe seat was a little old and the food was not award winning, but the flight was smooth, on-time, and had a friendly crew.  Best of all, the flight landed in paradise, and that was the point of the journey.  Being able to fly in a seat better than coach is also a plus, just don’t expect to sit in the “best seat ever”.

Have you flown on this or a similar flight?  What did you think?

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  1. I thought all the sUA 772’s had been converted to the “new” config which is now old in 2-4-2 biz and 3-3-3 in Y. Flew one of these to NRT-BKK once…the barcaloungers are better than typical domestic F in my opinion but outdated and tough to sleep in for a redeye.

    • Connie, I have flown in the united businessfirst seat quite a few times. Perhaps not many compared to some, but certainly more than once or twice. 😉

  2. We are connecting in Houston for our flight to HNL in Business as well. I’m taking your advice to heart and will try to eat or bring food with me prior to the flight.

  3. That food looks vile. In fact, pretty much everything United serves these days is vile. Which goes along with the recent “upgrades” in the United Club. I’ve taken to eating before getting on the plane (before going to the United Club, actually) and bringing my own healthy snack food onto the plane to eat while others are wondering what the thing that looks like chicken really *is*.

    With the exception of mileage runs where I’ll tolerate an E+ seat for the miles, extra cheap long haul tickets, and short domestic flights, I’ve taken to flying other carriers when I am vacationing, if at all possible.

  4. Thanks for this review!
    I’m taking this same flight in November. I’m in 9A/B. do you recommend the front row of biz class over the other rows?
    What about power for charging laptop/phones/tablets?

  5. I flew the DEN-HNL route in April on a three cabin 777, and luckily the day of departure it was swapped with an internationally configured plane! I had been upgraded as a premier to business, so a complimentary upgrade to their new business class on a super-cheap fare was an awesome start to the trip!

  6. Such a shame with the dreadful food and poor seat. UA for the time being has the best loyalty program of the major domestic airlines (along with American), yet has such a poor product compared to the foreign carriers and even Delta. At least American seemed to be going in the right direction before the merger…

  7. Rob, yeah I like United because of the convenience factor for me and using things like confirmed upgrades, but there are certainly more comfortable carriers out there.
    The Weekly Flyer, I feel so whiney saying the airplane food was bad, but it was pretty bad.
    Steve, yes the front row was good. No one leaning back into your space.
    Jordan, nice! I had hoped for a swap, but wasn’t that lucky this time!
    Mark, it means some how the $400 got deleted. 😉 Thanks for catching it!

  8. OMG, I can’t believe they still have those old biz seats in service. My first encounter with this plane was about 7 or 8 years ago on a flight from SFO-NRT-SIN. Even at that time, much of their competition had already moved to angle-lie flats (and coincidentally I had flown SQ on the same route about 9 months earlier). I remember boarding the plane and thinking “Whoa, I have taken a time machine back to 1995.” The experience was exactly like you describe – except it was a lot longer flight and had very senior FAs who were clearly there only for our safety. I couldn’t believe that the seats didn’t even have power adjustment. It was a fairly miserable experience, albeit more comfortable than sitting in the back. Kinda like saying that sleeping on wood is better than on concrete. #firstworldproblems

  9. stop, just stop apologizing everywhere for critiquing the flight. it’s as bad as lucky and the constant #firstworldproblems nonsense. of course there are people worse off in the world, and of course there are bigger problems, but acting like this doesn’t change any of that, and is really condescending to those problems and the people dealing with them. just do your thing (review the flight, offer tips) and be done with it – that’s what we’re here for.

  10. -Totally agree the seats are not great. They were way easier to sleep in than coach, bu they were way less comfortable than a lie flat.
    -Perhaps I do qualify my criticisms too much, but I truly do feel that way. Yeah there are better seats or meals served on a plane, but still, I’m “complaining” about my business class seat and meal served at 36,000 feet, so it is all about perspective for me.
    -It was “worth the extra effort” to avoid a much less comfortable experience in coach. 😉
    Tom, stay tuned for lots of details, but initial info is in the linked “Planning an Anniversary Trip to Hawaii” post.

  11. I had that chicken in paid BusinessFirst (from MXP) in August and it was nasty too! I, also, do eat most things that are put infront of me but this was soooooo bad… I still can’t figure out how they can screw up chicken!!!

  12. I think it’s an affront to vacationers that it’s so difficult to find anything but recliners up front going to Hawaii from the mainland. It’s not like the tix are cheap. Anyone finding good rides? from anywhere in U.S.?

  13. Was on the same old 3 class from HNL to NRT in March, despite being global first.

    I know United runs new business/first lay flat from:
    EWR to HNL
    IAD to Honolulu

  14. I know you’ve addressed this already, but I really think you are cutting them too much slack for the horrible food. There’s gotta be something they can serve that holds up better than that chicken plate. The thing is, United isn’t doing you a favor by flying you to Hawaii, or by upgrading you to business class, or feeding you. Those are all things that you paid for.
    I’ve thought about packing my own food (and sometimes do), but I’m always a little worried about TSA and whether they’ll balk at anything I’m bringing through… “Is that mayonnaise on you sandwich ma’am? I’m sorry, but you’ll have to scrape it off and put it in a clear plastic bag.” A few people here have mentioned bringing their own food. Any tips?

  15. Re Comments 16 & 27 – I like your writing style – critiquing nicely, and not being snarky. It enhances your credibility and the reliability of your reviews, too.

  16. I’d definitely carry food on the plane with me. Even a sleeve of Ritz crackers and some string cheese or peanut butter sounds better than that meal. I’d probably find a good salad in the airport. Even a fast food entree salad would be better and I despise fast food.

  17. My wife and I flew out there in June but did the new 767 (2 class) in business from IAD-HNL, but the same 777 (3 class) on the way back from HNL-IAH in first. We used points (quite a bit at 180k total for the 2 of us), the way out there (767) was fantastic – brand new full lie-flat seats and IFE (video on demand with plenty of good titles, games, etc.), USB and AC power at seats, fantastic crew, and pretty dang good food.

    The way back on the 777 however was a different story. Plenty of room, and the seats reclined to beds – that’s where the good stops. the fold-out tv literally looked like it was from 1990, and the FA came around with a box of TAPES that you could select from to play in the *video cassette player*. Okay, first world problems, but come on UA, seriously?!? Even better, since the tapes had maybe 3 hours total of (bad) content, we got maybe 3 hours from our partially charged ipad and kindle fire due to the fact that there was no AC or USB power, ANYWHERE. Okay, my fault for not researching, I guess? The food was just as vile as the pictures you took – my wife also wanted the chicken, but they were “out” – this is in first class with a total of 12 seats (of which 2 were empty). So she got the steak which was equally disgusting. The senior FAs working first obviously had a complete “checked out” attitude – very kurt, short, and unfriendly for the entire flight. I asked for a drink about an hour after dinner and was met with a sigh and extremely rude demeanor, followed by a wait of >10 minutes (when 2 FAs were 10 feet from us talking in the galley, not doing anything else).

    All in all I loved the 767 and would go back in a heartbeat on it, but I’d only take the 777 if it was the last possible option. For 50k miles per person one way I felt extremely short changed. FYI – the renovated 2 class 767s direct to HNL depart from IAD, EWR, and ORD (to my knowledge).

    BTW – we were in Maui for 3 days (short stop before Oahu and the BI) and fit in the road to Hana, drove around the west side mountain, sunrise at Haleakala, snorkeling at Molokini, beach time, and a “lazy day” – I have to admit we were exhausted though 🙂 Try the Fairmont Kea Lani if you have the chance – it exceeded my expectations in every way.

  18. The largest mistake for the former Continental is United. United dropped the hard earned high standard that Gordon Bethune and others after him strived to achieve and then maintain. Although his protege Jeff is now the CEO, he’s forgotten that the United we see now as customers is a flash back to the former pre-1994 Continental days when the equipment and the food were this sad and depressing. I am happy my wife and I went to Hawaii before the change in equipment (we were on a 767-400ER with two class service and it was amazing). The sad part is we felt like we had flipped the calendar back to 1990on our return back via SFO to IAH. Most memorably depressing and uncomfortable flight ever and a terrible end to an otherwise amazing trip. Some advice, Jeff: don’t let the other airline’s standards bring what you and so many others worked so hard to build down. Everything that all of us FF’s feared would happen, actually in fact, did happen. I was once a annual Platinum member on CO and life-long biz traveler from IAH. No more. We now go out of our way to not fly UA. We fly LH to Europe now (in either 1st or biz), JetBlue to NYC, and Cathay Pacific and SQ to Asia. As for Hawaii, we are considering Alaskan via the west coast. At least the product is consistent and you know what to expect, even if it’s not that much. With UA, it’s like a box of chocolates….you never know what you’re going to get until you step on board!!!!!!

  19. I find it very sad that it seems to be so darn hard to fly 8-9 hours to Hawaii on a comfortable plane, at least out of Houston.

    The three-class plane with flat-bed seats layout is no more. Right now, a direct IAH-HNL flight is on a domestic 772 with recliner (!) BF/Y+/Y.

    This makes flying through West Coast a better approach but those 5-6 hour flights aren’t much better — looking at a random date next week I found only one flight on UA with flat-beds (SFO-HNL, UA73 on 767-400).

    P.S. Haven’t done a super-extensive search but one of Delta’s flights LAX-HNL has lie-flats although SeatGuru comments are bashing the seats due to being super-narrow.

    • Ivan, I hear ya. Flying IAH – HNL next week and even though we are in business, it isn’t any business class to get excited about. Better than coach for sure, but I echo your sentiments.

      • @ Mommy Points – what property are you going to check out if it’s not a secret? Want to go next week somewhere beach-y with my mom & was thinking of doing Andaz Maui but concerned about so much flying.

        Also been looking at Grand Cayman, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico. What really bugs me is that there’s a good deal of award space on flights TO a vacation destination but almost nothing coming back. Perils of planning an unexpected last-minute trip 🙁

        • Ivan, we will be at St. Regis Kauai and GH Kauai. I loved the Andaz Maui last year. It is a bunch of flying, but Hawaii is so worth it for us.

          • @ Mommy Points – sounds like a great trip! Want to visit St. Regis one day but it’s mostly booked up for next week (Royal Hawaiian – even more so). My mom has a very inconvenient birthday – most schools are still out 😉

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