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First class on United’s 757-200 was a comfortable way to cross the North American continent. The pros: lie-flat seats, and solid food. The cons: a subpar blanket, and United’s taken the 757 off this transcon route.
After a quick weekend in New York City, I decided to splurge on a first-class return flight to Seattle on United. The airline was operating Boeing 757s on the route for several months this year, and — on that plane — first class meant lie-flat seats. I was hoping that United would keep the 757 on this route, since I call Seattle home and I’m a loyal UA flyer, but, alas, it stopped using the aircraft on this route in late April and instead is using a mix of Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s — which are both significantly less comfortable for the cross-country trek. However, United is using 757s with lie-flat seats on at least one other non-premium (according to the airline) transcontinental route from EWR — it’s currently operating one of the two daily flights to San Diego (SAN).
Having scored a relatively cheap seat on my outbound flight in economy, my fiancée and I justified putting up $504 each for the return leg from NYC to Seattle in first. While not a steal by any means, it seemed a decent value considering we’d get six hours in a lie-flat bed, which is almost as long as some hops from the East Coast to Europe. If we had used points, a saver ticket would have cost 25,000 MileagePlus miles (though availability is sparse), while a standard award would have been 50,000 miles.
I used my Platinum Card from American Express to book my flight directly with United, which earned me 2,520 Membership Reward points thanks to the card’s 5x bonus category on airfare booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel. In addition, as a United Gold member, I earned 3,664 redeemable miles, 4,802 PQMs, $458 PQDs and 1.5 segments.
Since I was already booked in first, I didn’t have to continually refresh the stress-inducing upgrade list on United’s app. Thus, I ended up checking into my flight in the Lyft on the way to EWR only a few hours before departure. Once we arrived at the terminal, it only took about 10 minutes to get through the TSA PreCheck line.
Since there were no Centurion or Priority Pass lounges in Newark Terminal C, we just hung out by the gate before our flight (no Classified for us this time around). Our 757-200 sported the Star Alliance livery and looked beautiful on a sunny Sunday evening in Newark.
United 2151 was scheduled to leave at 6:38pm and boarding began around 6:10pm. We boarded with Group 1 and took a left at the door into the first-class cabin. There were a total of 16 seats in this cabin, though there are some configurations of this plane that have 28 lie-flats — those mostly operate the premium transcon routes.
We had seats 2E and 2F. Each seat was equipped with a small and rather sad looking blanket and headphones. All of the seats were more or less the same, though the bulkhead seats (row 1) do have a bit more legroom. However, I avoided this row because it was so close to the kitchen and lavatory.
The foot cubby was tight and got very cold during the flight, but overall the seat was comfortable in lie-flat mode. The provided blanket, though, barely qualified as one — it was very thin, and very scratchy. I ended up wearing my coat to keep warm.
There was a small area at the upper corner of the seat where headphones, charging ports and an additional light were.
The headphones themselves provided a degree of noise cancellation, and I found them to be comfortable overall.
On the left hand were the controls for the seat and the pullout tray table.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
The in-flight entertainment screen was sizable and had over 90 TV shows and over 60 movies, along with the flight map and audio content. There was a small storage space below the screen. United does offer Wi-Fi on this particular aircraft, but I didn’t connect since I was content watching movies and enjoying the flight.
At the front of the cabin toward the cockpit was the the forward lavatory, which was stocked with Cowshed toiletries and about the same size as the lav in economy.
Food and Beverage
Once we boarded the aircraft and got settled into our seats, the flight attendant promptly came by to take our welcome drink order. I just went with sparkling water.
After just a few minutes, the pilot announced that our flight would be delayed 90 minutes for needed maintenance. They offered passengers the opportunity to disembark, since the delay was projected to be over a hour, but asked passengers to stay close because delay times could always shorten. I’ve noticed these sort of mechanical delays seem to be an increasingly regular occurrence on United 757-200 flights. Luckily, we were sitting up front and passed the time by watching the in-flight entertainment.
In the end, our delay was about an hour and 15 minutes. On our taxi to the runway, I caught glimpse of Swiss’ A330 at dusk, which had just arrived from Zurich (ZRH).
It was rush hour on the taxiway — there were 15 planes ahead of us waiting to take off. Once we got airborne, though, there was a beautiful sunset over New Jersey.
About 15 minutes after we reached our cruising altitude, the flight attendants came around with warm towels, which felt great in the chilly cabin. This was followed by mixed nuts and another round of drinks
There were two options for dinner: lentils with polenta and mixed vegetables, or cheese ravioli with tomato sauce.
As pescatarians, we were excited to see an all-vegetarian menu, though I could hear some passengers complaining about the lack of a meat-based option. I had pre-ordered a special Hindu meal, since United hadn’t previously offered special meals on any first-class domestic flights. I thoroughly enjoyed the three veggie curries and rice, which were spicy and wholesome, though the chickpea salad was bland. I washed it all down with a cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend, which was smooth and drinkable.
My fiancée went with the lentils, which were surprisingly flavorful.It was served with a small salad that had strawberries and feta. The funny thing about this meal, though, was the same thing was served on a Polaris transatlantic flight I was on recently, only with a piece of salmon on top.
For dessert, there were ice cream sundaes (note that it was served in a new plastic bowl), which I couldn’t pass up. However, I was kind of disappointed — the ice cream tasted overly sweet and grainy to me. It was definitely not as good as what the airline serves on major international routes.
About 20 minutes before we made our descent into Seattle, the FAs came around with warm chocolate-chip-and-marshmallow cookies, which were buttery and melted in our mouths. My fiancée claimed these were some of the best cookies she’s ever had, and when she mentioned it to the FA, she was generously offered a second one (which she turned down with regret).
While the seats on United’s 757s are pretty run-of-the-mill overall, they made for a comfortable flight across the country. The food and beverage service was heavy on the sweets but, hey, that’s not an entirely bad thing. My main qualm with this flight was the lack of a decent blanket — the tiny, scratchy blanket that was provided wasn’t cutting it for the six-hour flight, and I just decided to wear my coat instead.
While I’d love to take this flight in first again, it looks like it won’t be happening soon. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, United pulled the 757 off this route and instead is operating it with a mix of Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s with standard recliners in first class. Hopefully we’ll see a return of the 757 on this route soon, but, for now, your only lie-flat options between Seattle and the New York area are on Delta and JetBlue.
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