Skip to content

America's Worst Lie-Flats: United's "Dorm-Style" Business Class on the 777

Aug. 05, 2019
11 min read
America's Worst Lie-Flats: United's "Dorm-Style" Business Class on the 777
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="63" ground-experience="6" cabin-seat="7" amens-ife="13" food-bev="15" service="22" pros="Decent IFE selection, functional Wi-Fi, at least the seat wasn't angle-flat." cons="No privacy or storage space, no direct aisle access, poor food quality." /]

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

During a recent trip to Hawaii, I had the opportunity to relive my college years. No, I'm not talking about the booze I had on Maui and Oahu, but rather the business-class flight I took from Denver to Maui on United's Boeing 777-200, which features a hard product that was so outdated and cramped that I felt like I was back in my college dorm room.

There are 29 Boeing 777s in United’s fleet configured with this ancient hard product. Nineteen of these are configured exactly the same as the plane I flew and 10 of them have the same business-class hard product, but also have eight seats in a “first-class” cabin, a relic of premerger United.

This subfleet primarily flies to Hawaii, on some transcontinental flights and the occasional hop to Europe. United doesn’t plan to update the 19 777s that currently feature 28 business-class seats, but, fortunately, United is working hard to reconfigure the remaining 10 planes (six will get true Polaris seats and four will get the dreaded configuration I flew).

Booking

Since there aren't any nonstop flights from the East Coast to Maui (OGG), I knew I'd need to stop on my way. Naturally, as a TPG employee, I tried to find a flight that maximized my comfort and minimized my travel time.

As I'm working to qualify for United MileagePlus Premier status, I kept my searches confined to United, but American, Alaska, Delta and Hawaiian also offer one-stop options from the East Coast to Maui. By choosing United, my connection cities were limited to Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO). After filtering out the Boeing 737s that fly from LAX and SFO to Maui, I wasn't left with much choice.

To fly lie-flat the entire journey, I needed to connect in Denver or California. In the end, my itinerary was Newark (EWR)-DEN on United's 757-200 and then DEN-OGG on this 777-200.

Had there been award availability on my flights, I could've booked through the following programs.

Sign up for our daily newsletter
  • United MileagePlus requires 40,000 miles (at the saver level), transferrable from Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Air Canada Aeroplan requires 40,000 miles, transferrable from Amex Membership Rewards or Capital One points
  • Singapore KrisFlyer requires 30,000 miles, transferrable from Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points or Capital One points
  • Avianca LifeMiles requires 40,000 miles, transferrable from Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points or Capital One points
  • Turkish Miles & Smiles requires 12,500 miles, transferrable from Citi ThankYou points.

I ended up paying cash for my ticket using the Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x points spent on airfare booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year).

[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Ground Experience" tpg-rating="6" tpg-rating-max="10" tail="N773UA" age="24" departure="10" departure-2="06" duration="6" duration-2="28" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]

My travel day began at 4:30am with an Uber from my New York City apartment to Newark's Terminal C. United, the sole airline flying from EWR Terminal C, has been spending millions of dollars renovating the terminal, and the improvements are beginning to show, especially at the new Polaris lounge.

I entered the terminal on the third level dedicated to Premier Access customers. Given the early hour, there wasn't a line at the check-in counters even though there were only two agents staffing the self-check-in machines. I quickly printed out my boarding passes and made my way to the TSA PreCheck line.

I was airside five minutes later and happy that I wouldn't need to reclear security in the "haunted" Denver airport.

As I made my way to the gate for the flight to Denver, I passed by United's new club directory. Flying business class to Hawaii no longer confers any lounge access, so there was no bar mix or United flagship burger in my immediate future.

Instead, I relaxed by the gate waiting for boarding to start.

Before long, we were airborne for the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Denver. After landing in Denver at Gate B21, I made my way down the departure hall to the connecting Gate B36.

The Boeing 777-200 was already waiting at the gate, having just arrived from Honolulu (HNL). I knew better than to attempt to access the nearby United Club, so I just waited patiently (read: anxiously waiting in the boarding line to grab the best possible cabin pictures) for boarding to begin.

The boarding process was quite democratic, and I was really the only gate louse in sight.

I wouldn't hesitate to connect in Denver again, especially in the summer (when there's little chance of snowstorms). United primarily flies from Terminal B, which is just one long rectangular corridor of gates. I didn't need to take trains or buses and earned extra steps on my fitness tracker.

[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="7" tpg-rating-max="25" configuration="2" configuration-2="4" configuration-3="2" width="19.5" bed="74" tray="18" tray-2="11" lavs="2" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]

This is where the flashbacks to my college dorm began. Immediately upon boarding, I was struck by the incredibly dense hard product.

The hard product reminded me of my freshman dorm, where I lived in a 150-square-foot room with roommates and without any privacy whatsoever.

All four rows of business class are in a 2-4-2 arrangement with seats alternating between forward-facing and backward-facing.

When the center seats face forward, the couple seats on the sides face backward, and vice versa. This arrangement guarantees absolutely no privacy, as passengers face each other the entire flight.

Aside from the lack of privacy across the aisle, there are no dividers or large armrests between any of the seats.

Hopefully you're traveling with someone you know. Otherwise, you'll be making lots of friends by the end of your flight.

Although I had booked my flight about two months before departure, all of the double seats were already assigned, so I was stuck with the aisle in Row 1. I thought that the bulkhead row would at least have a larger footwell, but my hopes were dashed when I measured the footwell as 10 inches deep and 13.5 inches wide.

The seat itself was sagging from the many years of passengers sleeping in it.

My seat was completely exposed and measured a measly 19.5 inches wide, which meant that I kept getting bumped from the galley carts and passengers throughout the flight.

The only good news was that the seat converted to a fully flat bed using the intuitive seat controls.

But beware, the bed length only measured 74 inches, so if you're tall, you'll need to find space to angle your knees when sleeping.

Looking to store your laptop, wallet, glasses or shoes? You're out of luck. The density of these seats meant that there was virtually no storage space other than the literature pocket between the seats.

The tray table wasn't particularly large, either, measuring 18 inches wide and 11 inches long -- there wasn't much room for anything else besides my laptop.

The two lavatories at the front of the cabin were kept clean throughout the flight and featured Sunday Riley hand cream and Murchison-Hume Garment Groom, which added a nice touch to the otherwise basic bathrooms.

[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="13" tpg-rating-max="15" screen="15.4" movies="209" tv-shows="137" live-tv="No" tailcam="No" wifi="0.6" wifi-2="3.4" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]

The amenities and IFE on this 777 had definitely been updated since the plane's first flight in 1994. United also nailed the basics, as there were individual air nozzles and large overhead bins.

Waiting at my seat during boarding were a Saks Fifth Avenue pillow and blanket. There was no amenity kit, pajamas or slippers. United's investment in its business-class bedding showed, as the pillow and blanket were actually comfortable and something that I'd consider taking home.

Much like United's newest 777-300s, the carrier installed their latest entertainment system on this plane. The crisp, high-definition TV measured 15.4 inches and featured 137 TV shows and 209 movies, including newish releases like "Green Book" and "The Front Runner."

The live map was detailed and had multiple views.

There was a handheld remote, as well as noise-isolating headphones.

My inner AvGeek was let down when I only heard static on United's signature audio feed that streams the pilots' communication with air-traffic control.

Considering that United struggles with providing a reliable Wi-Fi connection on many of its flights, I was surprised that Wi-Fi worked for the entire flight (the landing page didn't know the correct route, though).

I found the cost to be quite reasonable at $20.99 for a full-flight pass. Speeds were also quite good at 3.4 Mbps download and 0.6 Mbps upload.

But just like that freshman dorm, things weren't perfect. The TV was not directly aligned with my line of sight, which meant that I needed to turn my head 15 degrees to watch the TV. There also wasn't a tailcam or live TV, amenities that are becoming standard on the best business-class products.

And finally, my power outlet didn't work. It was so wobbly that none of my chargers would stay put without falling out minutes later. And I even tried using European and UK adapters.

[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="15" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals="1" champagne="Ca' di Rajo Mito" dine-on-demand="No" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]

Predeparture beverages of choice were served in United's red Solo signature blue plastic cups.

During boarding, a flight attendant came around asking us for our meal choices. Just like that school cafeteria, there was no menu. Instead, we had to choose from whatever the lunch lady flight attendant said. In this case, it was either four-cheese ravioli or cider-glazed chicken casserole.

I chose the four-cheese ravioli, which was served on a single tray about 45 minutes after takeoff. The pasta was soggy and overly cheesy, but I enjoyed the small side salad and pretzel roll.

The highlight of the meal was the dessert, a DIY sundae of coffee ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Ice cream just makes everything better.

There was no Champagne on offer. Instead, I was relegated to drinking Ca' di Rajo Mito Italian sparkling wine.

Overall, I found the food selection to be basic for this seven-hour flight. It was very clear that, from a meal service perspective, United considered this a domestic flight.

[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="22" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="No" turndown-service="No" /]

The best part of the flight experience was the service. I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of my interactions with the flight attendants.

In particular, the purser was responsible for my aisle, and her professionalism shined through in our interactions. She made sure that my drinks were always refilled and answered the call button promptly during the middle of the flight.

Although she couldn't provide an extra pillow or blanket, she profusely apologized that the full cabin meant that there weren't any extras.

Most incredibly, the purser proactively asked whether I enjoyed my meal. When I responded that I didn't love the pasta, she presented me with the economy buy-on-board menu and offered to bring me something from the back free of charge.

Overall Impression

If you can, avoid this aircraft in business class. The hard product is so outdated compared to the other fully flat business-class products United (and other domestic carriers) fly.

If you don't have a choice, then set the right expectations. Know that you'll be sleeping on top of 27 of your newest best friends. At night, they'll be climbing over you to get to the bathroom. And if you're hungry, prep the stomach for a mediocre food selection.

All photos by the author.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

5X points
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 Points
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees