As a bookend to the trek I’d just made across the country flying in United Polaris on their flagship 777-300ER, I had a chance to experience United 757-200 transcontinental business class. I’d specifically picked one of their premium service (p.s.) flights which offers lie-flat business class seats. United operates this service between Newark and San Francisco, Newark and Los Angeles, and Boston and San Francisco multiple times per day. Besides offering a nicer on-board experience, you also get lounge access before your flight as part of the ticket.

I’d never flown in United’s transcontinental premium service. My desire had been to find an award I could book for 25,000 Turkish Miles & Smiles with a 777 outbound and 787-10 inbound (both Polaris), but that combo never materialized. The 757 premium service would do. Miles & Smiles are the best way to premium transcontinental flights, although there are decent options for booking cross-country lie-flat seats on each of the three major U.S. carriers.

Changing Flights In The United Club

I arrived in Newark much later than anticipated, due to a substantially delayed inbound flight. Fortunately, I managed to nap the entire way across the U.S. in a Polaris seat and didn’t feel half bad for only getting four or so hours of sleep.

Newark has multiple United Club locations, and I wandered through Terminal 3 until I found the one near Gate 74. The club is large, possibly even larger than the United Club SFO in Concourse F. Part might be an illusion, though, as there is a large atrium in the middle of the club which adds to the perceived spaciousness.

a large sculpture of a woman in a restaurant

I grabbed a light lunch and settled in to work for a while. The original plan had been to head into NYC for a few hours, had there been the time. But considering that I was now over three hours behind schedule, it wasn’t going to be worth the transit for maybe two hours in the city. Working from Newark was the new plan, which was fine by me. I was flying for the sheer fun of it.

a buffet with food on it

But this gave me an idea. I’d booked a late return flight, but now that I wouldn’t be leaving the airport, maybe I could get on an earlier one? As a United Silver, I’d have to fork over $75, which would kill the deal for me. But after I received a text informing me of impending thunderstorms and to consider other travel options, I wandered over to the customer service desk. Maybe this was enough to justify a change.

After some back and forth with the agent, she was willing to re-book me at no charge on an earlier flight. I’d done my research, and I managed to snag my the last business class seat on the 5:00 PM departure, still flying a 757-200. I’m sure some United elite was bummed that his upgrade didn’t end up clearing. The rebooking even had another unintended positive effect

a screenshot of a flight schedule

 

At least I should make it back to SFO with a bit more time to sleep. Or so I hoped.

Boarding And Gate Experience

I headed to the gate just before the scheduled boarding time. I knew there were thunderstorms in the forecast for Newark that evening, but so far everything showed as on-time. 

a piece of paper with black text on it

Our bird was parked at gate C92. I’m completely unfamiliar with Newark. It had been years since I last passed through. The airport consistently gets a bad rap in most of what I read, but I found the terminals to be pleasant and navigation easy.

a plane parked at an airport

Soon enough, the dreaded announcement was made: our flight was delayed. Figures. I’d hoped to beat the weather out of the New York area. However, United reversed course just as quickly. The plane was ready, and the captain hoped to get us all aboard, settled, and push back so we could wait our turn in line. It was a mad dash into the boarding queues.

a group of people in a terminal

We were greeted by a pair friendly flight attendants who were soon serving pre-departure drinks. I was in seat 3A, at the window in the forward section of the business cabin. Typically, I opt for an aisle on a cross-country flight, but I couldn’t be choosy booking the last seat on my United 757-200 transcontinental business class haul.

United 757-200 Transcontinental Business Cabin

The mad rush onto the plane didn’t quite play out as hoped. We had no sooner finished boarding and closed the door when lightning struck nearby. The ground crew was sent inside, and we were stuck at the gate. At least it was a comfortable way to wait? This was my view for well over an hour.

a large metal container next to a building

I started a movie. The Marriott ad gave me a chuckle. I’m not sure how to take “treating others like we want to be treated has always been our guiding principle,” given the Bonvoy debacle. 

Even though we spent roughly 90 minutes at the gate, our captain, John, did a fantastic job keeping us in the loop regarding the status of our flight. I really appreciated his openness rather than staying mum and not providing updates. He even walked through the cabin at one point, addressing folks concerns. I’ve rarely seen such an exemplary effort made by a pilot. 

Sitting for as long as we did made me even more glad I was booked in United’s premium service business class.

United 757-200 Transcontinental Business Class Seat

United’s premium service 757-200 aircraft are equipped with 28 lie-flat business class seats. They are arranged in a 2-2 configuration and are a B/E Aerospace Diamond model. There’s little privacy, and no direct aisle access for window seats, making it a more ideal product for traveling with a companion.

United 757-200 transcontinental business seat

The seats are four inches wider than those in economy, although the armrest and partial divider do make them feel even more spacious. Each seat had the same blanket, pillow, and amenity kit offered on my flight in the Polaris cabin of the 777-300ER just hours earlier.

United 757-200 Transcontinental Business Seat

The footwell of the United 757-200 transcontinental business class seat is quite narrow. I didn’t plan on sleeping on this flight, but I did recline the seat substantially, and it would have been a bit uncomfortable trying to sleep in the lie-flat configuration. I’ve read that some of the bulkhead seats have wider footwells.

a seat in a plane

Next to the seat under your elbow is the IFE controller and a copy of United’s Hemispheres magazine. My favorite cover ever is from the one back in March of this year with the title story “Three Perfect Days in Newark”. I’d settled for three perfect hours in Newark. Well…maybe not.

a magazine in a pocket

On the other side, to the side of your head, is the power outlet, USB outlet, and headphone jack for the over-ear headphones provided.

a safety card and a plastic bag on an airplane

The seat controls are in the armrest. Given how long we waited, I did recline while at the gate. The flight attendants didn’t care. They kept checking on us frequently, topping off drinks and offering snacks. It was wonderful service.

a paper on a machine

While I didn’t actually sleep on this flight (I’d done all my sleeping on my way to Newark), I noticed a few things about the seats. The arm rest at side of the seat slides down, which helps a bit when it is lie-flat mode. There is insufficient elbow room unless you lower it, in my opinion. 

The one issue I had with the seat (besides the overly narrow footwell) is that your rear end tends to sink in a bit when it is mostly reclined. There is a bit of a gap between the cushions. Maybe this disappears when the seat is 100% lie-flat, but it is definitely present when partially flattened. 

The last issue of booking a 2-2 business class product is that it can be difficult to extricate yourself from the window seat if you have a sleeping seatmate. This turned out to be the case during the latter part of our flight. I had to be quite careful to not jostle my companion on the aisle. He’d had two of United’s Knob Creek Old Fashioned cocktails and was out after an hour. 

Finally Departing Newark!

If getting to Newark was a highlight of the last flight (honestly, it wasn’t, except for the stretch of the legs after the haul), departing Newark was now the highlight. I was happy to watch the jet bridge retract and feel our 757 push back.

a jet plane and a car on a runway

The late afternoon lighting as the thunderstorms dissipated was lovely. I wish my phone photos could do things justice. I’ve been too cheap to spring for a new one while the current iPhone 7 still works just fine.

a group of airplanes at an airport

There it is: New York City. So close, and yet so far.

a runway with a city in the background

As we ascended I had a nice view of the bridge connecting Staten Island to New Jersey.

a city next to a body of water

I’ll be back, New York. It’s been too long already. My wife and I last visited in early 2016.

a city and water with clouds

Service in United 757 Premium Service

The meal service started around 8:45 PM, Eastern time. This was much later than it should have been, given the delays, and I was more than ready to eat by that point. Luckily the flight attendants had brought snacks around. They had been taking great care of us. 

Menus had been handed out earlier, and I’d had plenty of time to decide what to request. It was actually a difficult choice, mainly because each offering had a drawback. Goat cheese and parsnips with the short rib? Not digging it. Kale pesto and artichoke? Odd, but possibly okay. The portobello kale lasagna was a hard pass. The chicken seemed the safest bet.

United 757-200 Transcontinental Business Menu August 2019

The starter and salad actually turned out to be delicious. I’d was in the process of convincing myself that this would be the best United Airlines food I’d had to date.

United 757-200 Transcontinental Business Starter

But the main course dashed that conclusion entirely. I don’t think I want to ever eat anything with kale pesto again. I really like pesto. But this isn’t pesto. At all. It was gross. At least the orzo was alright. 

a plate of food on a table

An ice cream sundae can make up for anything, though. United 757-200 transcontinental business class offers the sundae cart service that is a staple of United’s Polaris service. Shoulda had two of these and called it dinner. 

United 757-200 Transcontinental Business Sundae

If it hasn’t been obvious, all the flight attendants in our cabin were excellent. Once, when I was headed to the lav, they left yet another bottle of water at my seat and promptly asked if I needed anything else. They were friendly and attentive, everything you hope for in a cabin crew. It is little wonder that they are working United’s premium transcontinental service. 

Final Service and Arrival

With the delays and long flight time, I finished multiple movies on my way across the country and still found a little time to write.

a screen on a plane

The flight attendants served chicken wraps late into the flight, maybe 90 minutes before landing. This was the final service before things were wrapped up for arrival. 

On our descent into SFO I found that you could listen to live ATC. I’d never seen this before in any IFE. It was enjoyable listening to the Australian captain of CX872 responding to the tower as he lined up on the runway, us being cleared for final landing, and a warning about a piece of plastic blowing across the taxiway. It was a busy evening at SFO.

a row of seats on an airplane

Conclusion

We landed back at SFO almost exactly 24 hours after I arrived at the airport the previous day. It’d been a fun jaunt, and totally worth burning 25,000 Citi ThankYou Points. It was nice to know what United offers in their premium cabins, as a very similar product is available on their Dreamliners (with the exception of the 787-10).

Checking UA1526, my original flight, the next day gave me some satisfaction regarding the decision to change. It had departed 45 minutes late, arriving at SFO at 1:30 AM, for a total delay of 90 minutes later than scheduled. Very glad I took the earlier one.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience in United’s premium service. Here are my takeaways from my United 757-200 transcontinental business class flight:

  1. The cabin crew was top-notch. They were solidly the best crew I’ve experienced since my flight back in early 2017 in United Global/Polaris First.
  2. Seat comfort is reasonably nice, although the B/E Aerospace Diamond seat is certainly dated and lackluster.
  3. The catering is so-so. I enjoyed the starter and salad, but the main was a big disappointment. I never want to see the words “kale pesto” again.
  4. An ice cream sundae and stroopwafel will help me forgive United of anything.

Until next time, United. Well, I guess “next time” is today, as I’m headed to the Midwest for work. But in economy. 🙁