United BusinessFirst and Domestic First Class Reviews


The beginning and end of my Round the World 2016 journey was flown with United Airlines. Since I’m based out of Hawaii, I could have flown using the Hawaiian Airlines points I accrued, however, I wanted to save those points for redemption on their new lie-flat seats on their first class cabin, which I’ll get to try out in May 2017.

The two United flights I took to/from Hawaii are as follows:

UA903 from Honolulu to Tokyo Narita on the Boeing 777-200 on February 4, 2016. It was a late morning flight that left at 11:35AM and arrived about 8 hours later into Tokyo at 4:00PM next day.

I flew in BusinessFirst on seat 3E. Because it’s an international flight, I had access to the United Club lounge at Honolulu.

The total redemption rate for this United BusinessFirst segment (along with an Economy leg with EVA Airways from Tokyo to Taipei) was total of 42,500 Mileage Plus points plus $18.30 taxes & fees.

UA15 from Newark to Honolulu on the Boeing 767-400ER on May 31, 2016. The flight left in the morning at 9:15AM arriving about 11 hours later in Honolulu at 2:00PM late afternoon, on the same day.

I flew in First on seat 1D. Although I was flying in first class, because the flight is considered domestic, there is no lounge access allowed. It might sound strange since the flight from EWR to HNL is 11 hours, almost double the amount of time it would take even with flights going from Newark to Europe. However, it’s just United rules. That being said, I had United Lounge Passes from the Chase United card, so upon presenting that lounge pass, I had access to Newark lounge as well.

The total redemption rate for this United First segment is 46,000 United Mileage Plus points plus $5.60 taxes & fees.

Now that I’ve given the brief background into the first and last flights of my Round the World trip, let’s move on into some details of the actual lounges, service, and cabin features.

United BusinessFirst Honolulu Lounge

Prior to boarding my flight to Tokyo, I first relaxed at the United lounge in Honolulu. The lounge itself is a bit dated, still using antiquated furniture that looked like it came from the 90s. Although I’m not surprised by the style since it is retro-Hawaiian accents on the wooden chairs and windows.

Don’t expect too much in terms of food either – just the basic fruits, coffee, tea, and some snacks. However, all in all, it wasn’t crowded at 10:00AM in the morning, and the internet worked just fine for the few minutes I had to write out a couple emails letting people know I was starting my Round the World journey!


Photo above: The United lounge at Honolulu International Airport


Photo above: Refreshments and snack at United lounge in Honolulu


Photo above: The bar area at United lounge in Honolulu. Looks like it definitely needs an update!

United BusinessFirst Cabin Features, Amenities, and Dining

After relaxing in the United lounge, I was off to board my flight. At Honolulu airport, they have two separate bridges to board BusinessFirst separately from Economy class (photo below).


Upon first look at the seat, it’s nice to see a huge plush pillow. I have to say the pillow actually is quite comfortable, and although perhaps not as extravagant as Emirates or Etihad, the pillow sufficed for good sleep.

The seat is fully lie-flat and has multiple controls on the side of the seat. As well, there is a small compartment area just to the upper left area of the seat that can store your electronics and drinks. The plugs and outlets are also located there as well.


The United BusinessFirst amenity kit is decent. I do like the amenity kit bag. At the time in February 2016, United partnered with Cowshed to supply the amenity items including lotion, lip balm, and others. Inside included comb, sleeping mask, ear plugs, tooth paste and tooth brush. Good kit, but nothing extraordinary.


In terms of legroom, there was ample space lengthwise when my seat was upright. When the seat is in lie-flat position, there is enough space widthwise from the head to the waist, although the foot rest area might be a bit tight as you can see from the photo below. If you are a tall person over 6 feet, you might feel a bit squeezed while in the lie-flat position.


The next series of photos was the dining experience from Honolulu to Tokyo. Not surprisingly, the dinner menu had Japanese, and with my liking of Japanese cuisine, I opted for the Japanese style appetizers along with the main course. The Japanese appetizers was actually surprisingly delicious. The fish and miso soup for the Japanese entree was decent, but not great.

As for the salad course and cheese course, those were good as well, but nothing out of the ordinary. Overall, the dinner service was good and the flight attendant came back several times to check on if I needed anything else. I couldn’t help but order many rounds of my favorite cocktail: Disaronno and orange juice 🙂


Photo above: Japanese appetizer course.


Photo above: Salad course.


Photo above: Japanese main entree course.


Photo above: Fruit and cheese course. I decided not to have the dessert course.


Photo above: Light snack and refreshments prior to landing.

United BusinessFirst Tokyo Narita Lounge

After landing at Tokyo, I proceeded to find the United Tokyo Narita lounge. The Narita lounge has the general lounge area for all BusinessFirst passengers, and then a separate lounge upstairs for GlobalFirst customers. Since my next flight was only in Economy, I technically did not have lounge access, however, since I had arrived coming in on BusinessFirst, my United ticket worked in terms of access into the lounge (this works for any arrival of international airline segment and as long as United has a branded lounge at that arrival airport). If I didn’t have that, then I could have simply used my United Club lounge pass to get access as well.

The United Tokyo Narita lounge is very clean and modern. There entire lounge was well lit and the food and refreshment area was always well stocked with the evenings appetizers like sushi and various sandwich meet with Japanese salad. What I liked most was being able to grab the local Sapporo Japanese beer 🙂

The only con is that when I arrived at 4:00PM in the evening, the lounge was quite crowded and finding a seat, even though the lounge is big, was tough to come by. I initially had to sit along the window area until a regular seat opened up elsewhere.





Photo above: Always a digital nomad in transition!

United Domestic First from Newark to Honolulu

On my final leg of my Round the World journey, I was to travel from Newark to Big Island via Honolulu. The long-haul route with United would take me from EWR to HNL and then I’d connect at Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines to take a short-inter-island flight to Hilo.

Newark Airport has a separate check-in floor just dedicated for business and first class passengers. The entire second floor check-in area mostly has self-serving boarding pass kiosks. After grabbing my boarding pass, I proceeded to security that again, is only for United business and first class passengers.


After going through security, I proceeded to locate one of the several Newark United lounges. Even though I was flying in First Class, because Newark to Honolulu is a domestic route, that in itself does not allow entry into the lounges. Again, kind of ridiculous when you think about an 11 hour flight not getting access to lounge when having a First Class ticket. But thankfully, I had extra United Club lounge passes, so I simply used one of them.

The United Club at Newark similar to Honolulu once again, is quite out-dated in terms of furniture and overall state of the look and feel of lounge. And again, the refreshment area choices was pretty lame in the morning, so no point in me taking much of photos of this lounge since it was nothing really special.



After boarding, I proceeded to go towards the front of the First class cabin to seat 1D. The Boeing 767-400ER has a unique business class set-up where it’s a 2-1-2 set-up. The entire middle row is simply single First class seats that have access to the aisle on both sides. The single aisle seats obviously would be great choices for solo travelers while those who are couples travel along the window seats.

The lie-flat seat is very similar to my United BusinessFirst experience flying from Honolulu to Tokyo so I won’t repeat again the seat features. Since the flight is domestic, there is no amenity kit handed out.


Interestingly, with a flight of 11 hours, being around 3-4 hours longer than my Honolulu to Tokyo flight, one would assume that food would be at least on par with international business or first class? Wrong! It’s really disappointing to say the least, but the food quality was not great at all.

In the below photo is what they served as breakfast in First class. The sausages tasted rubbery, and the omelette pretty much had no flavor. I usually am I person that finishes meals, but I couldn’t stomach eating all of that breakfast.



Lunch service wasn’t any better either. The pizza calzone was rough on the palate, and again, simply had no flavor or taste. That being said … gratitude is key and I’m just grateful that I got the chance to sit up in First Class on the 11 hour flight. United economy does NOT serve any free meal on that entire long journey, so if you don’t have food, then prepare to starve or bring your own snacks and food to last you the 11 hour journey.

Hawaiian Airlines would be the better choice flying direct to Honolulu from JFK if you flew in economy as a side note! And as I mentioned before, soon, Hawaiian Airlines will fly their new lie-flat seats on that long route starting February 2017 … so the most obvious option would be to choose that airline. Hopefully this little competition will spur United to “up their game”.


What has been your experiences flying domestic First with United?

If you also fly BusinessFirst with United internationally, do you agree that the level of service differs dramatically between domestic and international flights?

1 reply
  1. Tessa Hill
    Tessa Hill says:

    Enjoyed your post! I had no idea they would be so limiting in first-class based on it being a domestic vs. international flight. Thanks so much for the heads up on that! Hopefully the competition will help them up their game. Great pics!

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