In flight: My first time in United’s p.s. First Class

I don’t write in-flight reviews very often anymore because, quite frankly, I tend to bore myself writing them. Just how often can I describe the same seat on the same plane? But when I get a new experience I try to share it as they aren’t quite so boring to me. With a number of new (at least to me) experiences over the past few weeks there will be a few of these posts coming out. Hopefully they are vaguely interesting. And with that…

As part of our new years trip to Asia I had managed to score a pair of first class award seats on Singapore Air‘s San Francisco – Hong Kong service. Not living in San Francisco, however, I had to figure a way to get there. United’s p.s. service was the best candidate and given that I had already redeemed for a first class award that meant the trancon was a free add-on. Sign me up! The inventory was actually readily available for the flight we needed so I booked it and a few weeks later we were on the AirTrain at JFK, headed to Terminal 7.


United Airlines still operates their GlobalFirst lounge at JFK. It is a holdover from many years ago when they used to have a significant international presence at JFK and they still use it for their p.s. customers and international connections. It is small but sufficient for the number of guests on any given day. And it is quite a sight nicer than the United Club is it attached to. Nothing earth-shattering, to be sure, but a decent place to wait, especially considering the barren wasteland that is JFK’s Terminal 7.


We only had about 45 minutes in the lounge prior to departure so I had a quick sip of Champagne (self-pour on all the booze) and some finger food before we headed down to the gate and boarded.


For domestic service the p.s. First Class seat isn’t bad at all. That said, I cannot wait until they are replaced with the new flat beds in the coming months. I’m not going to be flying in first again and the new models are more comfortable to me, even if they are officially only a business class product. No pictures of the seats because, well, they aren’t all that inspiring. They were great last decade when they were put in service but definitely showing their age.


The p.s. meal service is rather similar between business class and first class on the p.s. flights. The only thing I noticed at all slightly amiss is that we were not asked for a first and second choice on our entrée orders; they just asked for the one. Maybe they ensure that first class always gets their first choice before doling the rest out to business class. Or maybe I was the beneficiary of GS status on this one. Either way, I ordered the steak and hoped for the best.

First course was a salmon and tuna appetizer. The salmon was just a big chunk of smoked salmon but quite flavorful. The tuna was pastrami-style or something like that. Also not too bad, though definitely a different flavor than I am used to with tuna.


The steak was, surprisingly, not particularly a mistake to order. Not the best beef I’ve ever had on a plane (ANA provided that later in the trip) but a reasonable texture, flavor and size. The green beans and potato thing served as sides were also decent.


And, finally, the ice cream sundae. I don’t know why I get so excited by them when flying but I do. I had this one the same way I always do and it tasted just like all the others. Not the absolute best ice cream but close enough.


There is a snack basket passed around a bit later during the flight and available in the galley at any time. I’m not particularly a fan of the products they have in the basket but I’ll write that off as me not liking them rather than that they aren’t good; I know I have my quirks in that regard. Unlike the breakfast flights westbound the lunch and dinner flights are, to me, well catered both in quality and quantity of food.


For in-flight entertainment on the p.s. flights there are a few options. One is the overhead CRT monitors which are invariably craptacular. They just suck. All different colors, often fuzzy/shaking picture and also, unfortunately, generally not something I’d want to watch at all. For business class and first class passengers there are also digEplayers distributed with a few movies to watch. I’ve used them before and they are OK, I guess, but the technology is a bit tired and the reliability of the systems is less than spectacular. They are being retired as part of the p.s. fleet renovations so it isn’t all that surprising that the maintenance on them is a bit lacking. And then there is gogo in-flight internet. I had a free code left over so I used that to pass the time a bit. Service was actually decent on this flight which is not my usual experience. I doubt I would have used it had it not been free.

Finally, there is the time-tested IFE system which I love the most: staring out the window as we fly across the country. I was able to pass quite a bit of the trip that way.



I also took a nap for a couple hours, further reducing my need for IFE.


The crew working this particular flight was fine. Not particularly warm and bubbly nor overly harsh. Just a typical service. They did everything just fine but nothing special. That’s not a problem in my book though they also don’t deserve special praise in any way.

Overall the trip really was "just another flight" in pretty much every way. The product is a bit tired and it is nice that United is going to be updating it, even if the "new" version isn’t exactly the newest product available.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. A major negative of p.s. service is the lounge access policy on arrival, which is no access whatsoever. Just because the flight is over doesn’t mean I’m no longer a first class customer. If I connect after a p.s. flight to another UA flight there should be lounge access on arrival. That would really be premium service.

  2. I also recently took a p.s. flight for the first time from JFK-LAX. I was in Business Class. My only complaint the seat. I was in the aisle of exit row 9, and it was just not comfortable at all. The meal- and in-flight services were as you said. Lots of food and flight attendants were attentive to the customers so it was nice. IFE – I never use that on any flights ever, so it’s not different here. I always bring my own music, iPad, etc. I did use the Go-Go wi-fi and had a good experience. It met expectations with speed for internet surfing and e-mails. I attempted to launch NBA Game Time and of course it wouldn’t stream any video, but I never really thought it would, just wanted to give it a try in case. I’m also a GS but didn’t think there was any elevated service based on that, because they took meal orders from front to back in Business. I requested only one choice (chicken) from the menu and that is what I received. I visited the International First Lounge at JFK but didn’t think much of it compared to the other lounge. The only sandwich type they had was tuna but it didn’t seem to be chilled enough for me and so I was hesitant to try it.

  3. Writing in-flight reports bores you… that is so funny, I love it! Sometimes flight reports appear to be about showing off, I think, and it’s hard to not to read some of them with a comedic sense of #FirstWorldProblems irony….

  4. They don’t always bore me, Laurel, but they can get quite repetitive. How many Chicago-California or even Newark-Frankfurt flights have anything interesting or different happen? And photos of the same meals the airlines have been serving for years don’t seem like engaging content to me.

    At the same time, I’ve got a bevy of such reports in the queue. I’m working on one right now about the Thai A380 F cabin, and I’ve got a couple Burmese domestic carriers, Ryanair, a J31 prop and a few others from the past few weeks.

    I guess it is more about my needing to branch out a bit more and do different things rather than the typical mileage runs or repeat routes.

  5. Is United p.s. Service the best domestic business class flight? I would
    have not believed it before but yes I loved my recent flight.

    1. Delta, United and American all have a premium offering today which is more or less the same. All three are going to eventually have the same seat in their business class (UA is already there, AA and DL are on the way) while AA will also have F. All three let you into the lounge if you’re on a business class ticket though none of the lounges offer amenities worth getting excited about.

      Service – food and FAs – differs and that’s going to be a very personal preference.

      And then there’s the wildcard – JetBlue – with their new Mint offering starting in June. That’s going to be an interesting one to watch compete.

      Finally you’ve got Virgin America, flying a 1.5 generation old product with no indication of upgrades coming any time soon. Oops.

      I’ve got something of a comparison matrix here: Comparing the players in the “Transcon Wars” though it is mostly hard product discussed.

      1. Cool matrix! I’m booked on the AA lie-flat for April as well and tried the Delta version before. This United flight was better though than almost all international flights I had with them in terms of food and staff friendliness. I hope they keep it up!

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