First Class on United 777-200 Flight to Hawaii

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Flights from Houston to Honolulu clock in at around eight hours in length, obviously flights from further north or east in the United States will be even longer. From Houston, the flight to London is just an hour longer than to Hawaii, but flights to Hawaii are treated very differently by most airlines than flights of equal distance to Europe. It is a very leisure-heavy route full of folks in Hawaiian print shirts (or more accurately t-shirts) who are looking to either use miles, or get the cheapest fare possible for their vacation. There are limited business travelers who are flying on “other people’s money” and thus paying more for more comfortable seats. For this, and other reasons, the planes that fly to Hawaii are often not the shining stars in the fleet.

In the interest of full disclosure, some of this trip to Hawaii for us was part of an American Express “SPG Stars” program I am involved with that allows me to check out three SPG hotels/events per year, as well as give SPG points away to you all (stay tuned for that!).  I paid for my husband and daughter’s United tickets with 60,000 Membership Reward points each transferred to Singapore Airlines, but my economy ticket is scheduled to be reimbursed by the SPG Stars program.  I used two of my United regional upgrades to upgrade my ticket to first class each way so we could all sit together.  I had booked this trip in that manner before I knew the trip would be part of the Stars program, and had intentionally had me fly on a paid ticket in order to earn miles and work toward re-qualifying for United elite status for next year.

The same award tickets would have been 90,000 miles on United if we hadn’t opted to book via the more favorable Singapore Airlines award chart.  Read this post for tips on using miles to get to Hawaii.


Always fun to spy a 777 at your boarding gate

United 777-200 First Class Seats to Hawaii:

While I certainly have flown from Houston to Hawaii in coach, we like to fly in a premium cabin on flights of that duration when possible. We learned from experience last year on United that business class/domestic first to Hawaii is often nothing like the lie flat seats you can get in business class to Europe – though a few routes do have much better premium cabin seats to Hawaii more often than others. The first class seats are absolutely better than coach, but if you are expecting anything like what most airlines fly overseas, you will be disappointed.

Since we already knew that, we were able to go into this year’s flight to Hawaii with appropriately low expectations. We boarded the United operated 777-200 plane on-time and settled into our bulkhead business class seats. The seats themselves are better than domestic first class seats as they do have a foot rest and do recline much more than usual. We were also provided with a large pillow and thicker blanket than historically we have received on regular domestic routes.

United 777-200 seat

United 777-200 seat

The cabin was configured 2-3-2, so the three of us were able to sit together three across which is a first for us outside of the economy cabin.

United 777-200 seating configuration Hawaii

United 777-200 seating configuration Hawaii


The two seats on the side


Sitting together three across in first class

One thing I love about United flights to Hawaii are the little touches like the crew wearing leis, flowers in their hair, and using Hawaiian printed aprons. The crew was also universally friendly and happy to take pictures of us or do anything else they could to make the flight enjoyable.

Miles of legroom in the bulkhead

Miles of legroom in the bulkhead

The 10AM departure was delayed for 20 minutes or so thanks to some double checking of cargo weight and distribution, or something along those lines, so by the time we were at cruising altitude we were hungry for lunch. We had our choice of pasta with red sauce or beef with noodles and broccoli.

Meal Service:

As usual, the meal started with warm mixed nuts and a drink.


Drinks in glasses and warm nuts on United

We had all opted for the beef and noodles, and found it to be totally edible (which was a step up from the meal on last year’s flight). It wasn’t my favorite meal of all time, but the beef was tender, the noodles were not overdone, and the broccoli was just about right.  It’s about on par with food from a mall food court, but it did the trick in keeping us full.


United beef with noodles lunch

Our daughter, however, was less than impressed with the meal, so she opted for the sandwich we had brought for her, just in case…. Tip: Don’t leave it up to an airline to provide something for your kid to eat. Bring something as a back-up, just in case. A plane is not the place to play a round of “eat this or go to bed hungry”.

Always bring something extra for kids to eat on planes

Always bring something extra for kids to eat on planes

I hadn’t requested a child’s meal for this flight in time (needs to be more than 24 hours before departure), but I had requested it in time for our return flight, and here is the child’s meal she was served coming home on the same route.  She was asleep and never woke up for the meal, but I snapped a semi-visible shot of it to give you an idea of what was included.


Child’s meal on United flight from Hawaii

After the main course was served, the ice cream cart came out. You had your pick of chocolate, caramel, strawberries, whip cream, and nuts to top your (frozen as a rock) vanilla ice cream. As usual, my kiddo’s eyes lit up like saucers when the cart came out, though this time making the ice cream sundae was apparently more fun than eating it.


The ice cream cart dessert service

Nothing more exciting than ice cream in the sky!

Nothing more exciting than ice cream in the sky!

Shortly after the pretty speedy meal service the lights were dimmed, and most people settled in for a nap for the next couple of hours. The recliner seats weren’t bad for a brief nap, but sleep rarely lasted longer than 15-20 minutes at a time for me as it just wasn’t possible to get into a position where some limb didn’t get pinched or lose circulation, or just get uncomfortable. Still, the seats were much better than coach and in our bulkhead seats we had an insane amount of leg room.  I will also add that on the return flight sleep came quite easily for us both and my kid slept the entire flight home. 


Slept the entire flight home in the recliner seat

At around the four or five hour mark into the flight to Hawaii the flight attendants went around the cabin with a snack basket with packaged cookies, Toblerone, and Reduced Fat Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Chips. They were also pretty on the ball with water and drink refills.

In-Flight Entertainment (or lack thereof):

So, the food was okay, the service was good, the seat was as expected, but that just leaves the inflight entertainment. Well, essentially there wasn’t any. On an eight hour flight.

Before the flight I had received an email to be sure we had the United app downloaded to our personal devices as the plane had streaming shows we could watch. At first that was the case and there was a healthy selection of movies including over a dozen kid movies plus at least another ten kids TV shows.


United streaming movies


Child streaming movies

However, at some point during the meal service the signal was lost and never returned. That means that for at least 6.5 hours of the flight you were left with nada, not even a movie played on the old drop down screens (that I’m pretty sure are gone). We had brought a DVD player and movies as a back-up, but that is a long flight to have nothing provided by the airline. The plane also does not have plugs, so you can only use your devices as long as the battery lasts.

The man I was seated across from flies the Houston – Honolulu route frequently and said that he has “never” experienced a flight where the streaming movies worked perfectly. The flight attendant who was also involved in this conversation said that it had been working well “this week” up until this flight, but clearly it isn’t something you can rely on just yet. Consider it a bonus if it works as intended for the duration of the flight, and be sure to have your devices fully charged and the United app downloaded before boarding.

The service did seem to work on the return flight, but I didn’t try it out much myself since we were sleeping.  From observing and talking to others seated around us, I did find out that it seems to work even without the app, but you have a larger selection of movies if you have the app downloaded.

Landing in Paradise:

All in all we had a very good United flight to Hawaii, and we were thrilled to see the blue Hawaiian waters appear from the windows just before landing in Honolulu.


Before we knew it, Hawaii was in the windows

Hawaii is one of those destinations that is very on the line for us whether to sit in coach or use the extra miles to sit up-front, and I think it ultimately comes down to your routing and the type of aircraft you are on.  I think our plan for our next trip to Hawaii is to try the premium cabin seats on the American 767-300 planes that run out of Dallas to Honolulu.  If we select a routing that connects on the West Coast it would be easier to conserve miles and sit in economy as the flight wouldn’t be eight straight hours, but from Texas eight hours is a long time for us in coach.

Our daughter may fit pretty well in any seats, but the situation is a bit different for my 6’3″ husband.  We may not always have the ability to get ourselves up front to Hawaii, but in this case we are glad that we did.


Happy on United flight to Hawaii

What flights/seats does your family take to Hawaii?

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  1. Travel Dude, I wouldn’t say useless, but I do agree that power outlets are very important to get added. We have an external charger for some of our goodies, but the iPad probably would have lasted at least most of the way on its own…assuming it started fully charged.

  2. Enjoying our last 2 days in the Andaz Maui. If you are coming back here before tomorrow drop me an email and we’ll meet at the pool for a drink. We leave tomorrow night. Today is our 28th anniversary – not a better place to spend it that I can think of!

    Now back to your post – we flew on the United 757 – 200 from JFK to LA for the first leg of the trip and the renovated version of that plane is very nice with lie flat seats and a good entertainment system. From LA to Maui we were in one that a
    hadn’t been renovated which is seriously “ghetto first class”. Old seats, old school TV’s in the aisle, really disappointing even knowing it was an old plane.

  3. oops! didn’t read the whole post and now see you talk about the return flight! haha
    Guess I won’t see you – maybe at the US open 😉

  4. I guess I’m in the minority here…we are flying coach class to Hawaii early next year. With 5 of us in my family, it’s nearly impossible to get enough points for business or first. However, we’ve traveled to Far East Siberia in coach, and while it’s not pleasant, it still gets us there. We are just happy to be going to Hawaii. 🙂

  5. I’m actually flying DFW-HNL this Sat onboard an AA 767-300 in Main Cabin Extra. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not expecting much.

    It is really a shame that these flights don’t offer better amenities but I suppose it is to be expected.

  6. Please don’t hate me for saying this , but you are spoiling your kiddo… Creating dependencies and such i say this as a someone who was spoiled as a child that this is not a good idea.

    • She wrote “I certainly have flown from Houston to Hawaii in coach” so they have experienced coach as well as premium classes. We don’t see many posts about flying coach because it isn’t anything to write home about, especially on a long flight. As long as they recognize flying premium seats is an occasional treat I don’t think her kid will be spoiled.

    • So the only conclusion is that parents have to deprive themselves of the forward cabin because they have children? Nuts to that.

      Plus, I don’t see the harm in a bit of elitism, if kids experience how the upper class lives, they may strive to achieve more in life. It certainly can’t hurt.

  7. Great post! I don’t miss flying United for sure! But they do offer a n/s from Chicago to HI so I’m glad to learn how to get a bit of a break in cashing in miles. Keep us posted about the SPG thing! That is by far my favorite travel rewards program and I’ve enjoyed it every year we’ve been members.

  8. Just flew OGG-DFW in F on the AA 763 last week. With angled flat seats, it definitely better than coach and it did allow for a couple hours of sleep. We booked prior to the devaluation and both had saver level awards which was definitely worth the extra miles on the red-eye home. The seats only have DC power outlets, so keep that in mind. The crew did provide Samsung tablets and Bose QC headphones, which was definitely nice. Overall, its not the nicest product from the mainland to Hawaii (or vice versa), but it beats economy and most domestic first class.

  9. MP, does this route no longer offer three-class planes? I thought that at one point you could get true First Class on this route, but it seems it’s no longer “First” class but rather “Business First.” Is that correct?

  10. I’m flying this route in July. When you sit in the bulkhead seats, where do you store your purse during takeoff and landing?

  11. I took the same plane from Denver to Honolulu. Did not know about the no in flight entertainment. Never got an email about it. But luckily I did have a “real book” and passed the time that way and my iPhone (which died midflight). There was an older man sitting in the middle isle who kept asking the flight attendant about the movie. He said “just put on anything, I’ll watch anything”. Poor guy, he just stared straight ahead during the whole flight.

  12. Hello. Thank you for the info on the flight to Maui.
    How does the leg room in the 2 side seats bulkhead compare to the 3 middle seats you were in.

  13. Hi, we’re planning on going September this year. We have seats in coach right now and wanted to upgrade. Was first class completely full when you guys went?

  14. Great review of United and its equipment to Hawaii. This used to be one of my favorite routes, whether in coach economy plus or business class. Unfortunately, since the seatback entertainment systems have been removed (and the focus is on the free content via the United app), I have given up on the Chicago – Honolulu flights. I either fly another airline with better service and amenities or spend $ to fly to Newark where United does offer on board entertainment and lie-flat seats in business class. The one good thing about no monitors/seatback screens for these long flights is that it gives you opportunity to compare travel experiences with your seat mates and discover other options.

  15. Do the reclining chairs in first class have leg rests ? My wife has had a prior blood clot and needs to have her legs up and move a lot.

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