First Class on United 777-200 Flight to Hawaii

Aug 24, 2014

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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.

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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
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The two seats on the side
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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United streaming movies
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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.

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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.

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Happy on United flight to Hawaii

What flights/seats does your family take to Hawaii?

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