Guide to United First Class: Everything You Need to Know in 2024

by Jem
United First Class onboard meal service
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Ever wondered what it’s like to fly in luxury? Our ultimate guide to flying United First Class will show you how it’s done. Here, we’ll cover all the United First Class benefits, as well the overall experience aboard its domestic and international flights. This includes seating, in-flight amenities, booking experiences, and comparisons with other major airlines. Let’s have a detailed look into United’s lavish travel experience.

United Airlines really knows how to fly in style, especially with their United First. Since 2015, they’ve been rocking the skies with United First on domestic routes, including trips to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, and the Caribbean. Note that for all other international routes, United Polaris is their top-tier business class.

United First Class offers spacious seats, advanced tech, and Premier Access® benefits like priority check-in and baggage handling. United’s not playing around; they’re all in on luxury. Their latest first-class seats? Wireless charging and winged headrests. Talk about flying fancy!

This guide provides a deep dive into United First, giving you all the important details on the best in air travel. Here’s everything you need to know about United First Class in 2024.

#1 tip to find cheap United First Class tickets

Looking for a steal on United First Class tickets? Before jumping into the article, I first wanted to give you this insider tip to find cheap airfare on first class flights.

For years, I’ve been using this site called Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), which sends you alerts on airline deals, discounts, and mistake fares. It’s a total game-changer – saving me $10,000+ on flights each year.

Their $49/year premium version is well worth it- just one discounted flight pays for the whole thing.

And if you’re into business/first class, you’ll want to sign up for their Elite version. Last year, this service saved me $2,750 on a first class flight and $1,500 on a business class flight. At just $199 year year, trust me, it’s a small price for massive savings.

An Overview of United First Class

Over the years, United Airlines has consistently evolved its offerings to meet the demands of travelers. The airline’s journey with premium cabins began with the introduction of First Class on United in 2015.

United First is a domestic, first-class service that offers a more comfortable and luxurious flying experience than economy and economy plus. This includes a range of pre-departure and in-flight benefits that differentiate it from other airlines.

With the exception of select Caribbean destinations and Canada, United First does not fly abroad. You’ll have to experience United Business and United Polaris for that.

In 2023, United introduced its latest first-class seats for domestic, narrow-body flights. This upgrade, the first major one in nearly a decade, included advanced features like wireless charging stations in armrests and winged headrests for added privacy. More info about this below.

These improvements in United First Class flights have not only set the airline apart but have also influenced industry standards. United’s upgrades set a new standard, pushing other airlines to improve their own first-class services.

United First Class flight for all types of travelers.

United first class benefits in 2024

Though United First can be on the pricey side, it’s well worth it for the perks. Here’s what to expect when flying United First Class in 2024. We’ll elaborate on each in more detail below.

  • Premier Access: United Premier offers priority check-in, exclusive security lanes, and priority boarding
  • Complimentary food and drinks: Complimentary meals will be offered at over 900 miles, premium snack baskets on flights 301–900 miles, and complimentary drinks on flights under 300 miles
  • Premium seats: Extra space to recline, six-way adjustable headrests, storage space, double seatback pockets, universal AC power plugs, and padded seat cushions. Note: it doesn’t provide the lie-flat seats that you’ll find with United Polaris
  • More charging options: More charging options and bigger spaces for devices, food, drinks, and personal items
  • Extra privacy: Each seat has more space and privacy. You’ll also have access to the first class lavatory
  • Two free checked bags: Passengers can bring two regular bags with no extra fee. And upon landing, your bags will get priority handling – showing up first on the carousel
  • United Club Lounge Access: This is only available to passengers on transcontinental flights

United First Class Booking Experience

When it comes to booking a premium flying experience, understanding the nuances of the United First Class price structure and booking process is important. Here’s the A-Z on booking United Airline first class:

Booking United First Class with cash and points

United Airlines, well-known for its vast flight network, presents plenty of choices within its First Class offerings. Generally, first class tickets tend to cost 3-4x the price of economy with United, so keep that in mind before booking.

We analyzed a selection of United First Class flights between January and December 2024 to bring you the average flight prices:

Time of yearRoundtrip price (in $ or miles)
Winter 2024$475 to $2,400 (60,000-110,000 points)
Spring 2024$487 to $2,490 (60,000-110,000 points)
Summer 2024$580 to $2,650 (70,000-112,000 points)
Fall 2024$500 to $2,580 (60,000-110,000 points)

These prices can vary based on factors like booking time, season, and availability. Again, if you want to find the best possible deals on first class airfare, I highly recommend signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights (Going.com). While the free version is great for finding discounted economy flights, the Elite version is what you’ll need to find cheap business and first class deals.

Booking a ticket for United’s First Class is an easy process, with the airline’s official website being the primary platform. Additionally, travelers can utilize various third-party booking sites or even engage with travel agents for personalized service.

It’s worth mentioning again that United First is mostly available on U.S. domestic flights, catering to destinations including Alaska, Hawaii, and Canada. However, the experience can differ based on the aircraft type. For instance, while traditional first-class seats are available on aircraft like the 737, wide-body aircraft on routes such as IAH to LAX offer lie-flat seats, providing a more luxurious experience.

Upgrading to United First Class from Economy

United MileagePlus Premier members enjoy the benefit of being automatically waitlisted for complimentary first-class upgrades, depending on space availability.

The confirmation window for these upgrades varies, with 1K members potentially receiving confirmation 96 hours in advance and Silver members on the day of departure. The ticket fare class, especially higher ones like Y or B, can bolster chances of securing an upgrade.

Dynamic pricing influences the cost to elevate to United First, depending on factors such as route, cabin type, and demand. After buying tickets, the specific upgrade price becomes accessible within the reservation, either online or via the United app. However, upgrades from basic economy tickets are off the table.

For those with accumulated miles, United offers the option to upgrade an economy ticket to first class using MileagePlus miles. The miles needed for such an upgrade differ based on dynamic pricing, route, and demand. Upgrades also come with a co-pay, usually around $5.60, but this fee is waived for tickets in O, Y, or B class.

MileagePlus Platinum and 1K members have the added advantage of using their PlusPoints for upgrades, with no associated co-pay. Yet it’s essential to remember that basic economy tickets remain ineligible for upgrades.

By taking advantage of the benefits of United’s loyalty program, staying updated on promotions, and understanding the nuances of the upgrade system, travelers can optimize the first class cost and enjoy a premium flying experience.

United Airlines has continuously modified its services to satisfy customer needs.
United Airlines has continuously modified its services to satisfy customer needs. | Image Credit: United Airlines

United First Class Pre-Flight Experience

Traveling with United Airlines First Class promises a great experience from the outset. At the airport, First Class passengers enjoy Premier Access. This dedicated check-in service improves the process, reducing wait times and providing a more personalized experience.

Once checked in, lounge access awaits, though it’s important to note that not all First Class tickets grant instant entry to United Club Lounges. Exceptions include premium transcontinental routes. While these lounges might not rival the luxury of some international counterparts, they offer a cozy and quiet vibe. Passengers can expect comfortable seating, drinks and snacks, and dedicated work areas to either relax or remain productive.

When it’s time to board, United Airlines First Class passengers are given priority. They’re categorized in Group 1, ensuring they’re among the first to embark. This priority boarding not only allows passengers to comfortably settle in but also guarantees overhead bin space for their carry-ons.

In terms of baggage, First Class travelers are at an advantage. They can check in up to two regular bags without incurring additional fees. This is a stark contrast to Economy passengers who are charged $30 for a checked bag.

Furthermore, the airline tags the baggage of First Class passengers for priority handling, ensuring that their luggage appears among the first on the carousel upon landing. It’s also worth noting that Basic Economy passengers even face charges for carry-on luggage. However, an eligible United credit card, such as the United℠ Explorer Card, allows Economy passengers to check a bag for free.

United Airlines First Class Cabin

Upon entering the first class cabin of United Airlines, a sense of luxury and comfort immediately greets passengers. The seats, designed with travelers’ utmost comfort in mind, are more roomy than those in economy, boasting a larger pitch, adjustable headrests, and extra legroom.

United Airlines offers First Class cabins on a variety of aircraft, both larger ones and regional jets. The experience can vary depending on the aircraft’s configuration and the duration of the flight. However, regardless of the plane, first class seats on United promise a level of comfort and luxury that stands out in the industry, whether on United Domestic First Class routes or United First Class International flights.

Pro tip: Seats 1A and 1B are the best places to sit on United First Class because there’s no one reclining into you. Though be sure to always do your due diligence beforehand to see the seat configuration on your aircraft.

Airbus A319

This aircraft was the first to feature the new domestic United First seats. Configured in a 2-2 layout, it offers 12 seats with a pitch of 37 inches and a width of 21.1 inches. The seats boast a sleek design, with dark blue leather and contrasting cream stitching. They offer a range of amenities, including a six-way adjustable headrest, in-seat power outlets, and a water bottle holder. Additionally, a convenient tray table with a pop-up holder for personal devices improves your comfort during the journey. There’s also ample under-seat storage and oversized armrests for added comfort.

Boeing 757-300

This aircraft has 24 seats at the front, arranged in a 2-2 layout. Each seat has a pitch of 38 inches and a width of 20.4 inches. For entertainment, passengers need to use their personal devices to connect to United’s Private Screening service.

Boeing 737 Series

The 737 series, which includes the 737-700, 737-800, and 737-900, offers seats in a 2-2 configuration. The seat pitch is consistent at 37 inches, but the width varies slightly. All seats come with seatback screens, offering either DIRECTV® or on-demand entertainment choices.

Airbus a320

This aircraft offers 12 seats in a 2-2 layout, with a pitch of 39 inches and a width of 19 inches. Like the Airbus A319, passengers use their personal devices for entertainment.

United Express Planes

These regional jets, used for shorter flights, are configured in a 1-2 layout. Notably, the overhead space above the single seat isn’t deep enough for standard-sized roll-aboard bags. The Bombardier and Embraer series, integral to the United Express fleet, provide seats with different pitch and width. However, none of them feature seatback screens, which forces passengers to rely on their personal devices for entertainment.

The chairs were created with the maximum comfort of travelers in mind.
The chairs were created with the maximum comfort of travelers in mind. | Image Credit: United Airlines

United First Class In-Flight Experience

The entertainment offerings in United First Class are diverse. Some flights come with seatback TV screens, while others might require passengers to use their personal devices. Regardless, power outlets are a standard feature, ensuring devices remain charged. The range of movies, TV shows, and music caters to diverse tastes, ensuring passengers remain engaged throughout their journey.

The seats in United’s First Class, especially on the 737, are notably more comfortable than those in economy. They offer greater width, more legroom, and a 2-2 configuration. On smaller aircraft like the Embraer, a 1-2 configuration is more common. For those lucky enough to fly on a wide-body aircraft that comes with lie-flat seats, the comfort level is significantly improved. These seats can be adjusted to various positions, ensuring optimal comfort throughout the flight.

United First Class Menu

United Airlines takes pride in its diverse menu, ensuring passengers never tire of the same dishes. They rotate their domestic first onboard menus, offering a fresh culinary experience each time you fly. For those with specific dietary needs or preferences, there’s the option to pre-order from an expansive menu that caters to various requirements. Whether it’s kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian, or even a special meal for the little ones, they’ve got you covered.

In a notable move in March 2023, United Airlines unveiled a range of new menu items, changing them every month to keep the experience fresh and exciting. Morning fliers can indulge in Belgian waffles, wholesome frittatas, or a refreshing yogurt fruit bowl.

As the day progresses, lunch and dinner options evolve, showcasing tantalizing dishes. One possibility is the spicy Harissa chicken breast. Another option includes a hearty spelt risotto, elegantly adorned with spring onions, oyster mushrooms, and mini carrots. Alternatively, you might savor a sumptuous grilled salmon plate.

For passengers seeking a drink to go along with their meal, United First Class offers a complimentary range of alcoholic options for those 21 years and older. The curated selection features renowned brands, like Bacardi Rum, Jack Daniels, and Stella Artois.

For the benefit of its customers, United Airlines has a wide menu.
For the benefit of its customers, United Airlines has a wide menu. | Image Credit: United Airlines

United First Class vs. Other Fare Classes

Compared to United’s Basic Economy, which is designed for the price-sensitive traveler, First Class offers a more spacious seating configuration. Basic Economy passengers receive seat assignments after check-in, and they face restrictions such as no carry-on bags and no upgrades for Mileage Plus members. In contrast, First Class passengers enjoy priority check-in, priority boarding, and the perk of two checked bags free of charge.

Compared to United Economy, which offers similar in-flight services and amenities as Basic Economy but without the restrictions, First Class provides an upgraded signature chef meal service with complimentary premium alcoholic beverages. The entertainment options in First Class are also superior, with a larger screen and more choices. The main distinction between Business and First Class is the more spacious seating in First Class. At the gate, First Class customers always board first, and they enjoy open suite or flat bed reclining seats that offer unparalleled comfort.

Compared to United Polaris, the airline’s international premium business class experience, First Class provides a domestic luxury experience. Polaris, on the other hand, is specifically designed for international routes, ensuring the most restful sleep in the air. It boasts features like Saks Fifth Avenue bedding and chef-designed multi-course meals.

United First Class vs. First Class Offerings From Other Airlines

United First Class offers a truly unique experience. Its elegant two-tone leather seats and granite cocktail tables create an atmosphere of luxury. Paired with a gourmet menu curated in partnership with The Trotter Project and wines selected by master sommelier Doug Frost, passengers can savor the taste of luxury at 35,000 feet. This commitment to excellence places United in a competitive position among major airlines.

However, when juxtaposed with global leaders in luxury air travel, there are areas where United could further elevate its offerings. Airlines such as Qatar Airways and Emirates set a high standard with adaptable seating, signature welcome kits, and even onboard shower spas.

Singapore Airlines, with its suites designed by luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, offers an unrivaled hotel-like ambiance in the sky. While United’s first class experience is undeniably premium, these comparisons highlight opportunities for the airline to further refine its luxury offerings.

First Class has additional room for passengers to sit.
First Class has additional room for passengers to sit. | Image Credit: United Airlines

Future Developments with United First (2023-2024)

The airline’s commitment to innovation and passenger comfort is evident in its recent unveiling of the new United First Class seats. These seats, designed for the modern traveler, come with several high-tech features.

Passengers can expect three types of charging outlets. These include a wireless option on the armrest, a 13-inch high-definition seatback screen with Bluetooth connectivity, and vegan leather upholstery. The design also highlights privacy, with screens between neighboring seats and a winged headrest.

The new first-class seats are currently being introduced on select Boeing 737 aircraft. In 2026, the airline aims to introduce these seats on around 200 domestic planes. These planes will include the Boeing 737 NGs, Airbus A321neos, and 737 MAX aircraft. This initiative reflects United’s continuous commitment to improving the entire customer experience.

As such, this improvement encompasses everything from the in-flight ambiance to the digital touchpoints. United First Class flights’ future appears promising with bigger overhead compartments, premium cabin seats, and improved lounge offerings.

Pros and cons of flying United first

United First is available on shorter flights and offers larger, recliner-style seats. While it provides a decent product, it’s not as luxurious as other first class products. Here are some pros and cons of United First:

Pros:

  • Space: Extra space and comfort, with a larger seat and extra space to recline
  • Service: Dedicated flight attendant, better service, and priority boarding and security lines
  • Amenities: Complimentary alcoholic beverages and dining, and access to the United Club lounge
  • Comfort: Quieter cabin, padded seat cushion, and storage space

Cons:

  • Meals: The in-flight meals are not as premium as other airlines’ offerings
  • Power outlets: Some of the power outlets don’t work properly and may require international plugs/adapters
  • Wi-Fi: Though not an issue on all flights, sometimes the Wi-Fi aboard their planes is slow or doesn’t work, a downside for business class travelers

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About United First Class

Explore our United First Class Guide FAQ section to get answers to the most commonly asked questions about this elite travel experience.

What to expect in first class on United Airlines?

When you book a United First Class ticket, you can anticipate a heightened travel experience from start to finish. This includes priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling. Onboard, you’ll be treated to spacious seating, gourmet meals curated in collaboration with renowned chefs, and a range of entertainment options. The attentive service from the flight crew ensures a comfortable and memorable journey.

How should I dress for first class on United?

While there’s no strict dress code for flying first class on United, opting for smart-casual attire is a good idea. Comfort is key, especially for longer flights. However, it’s also an opportunity to elevate your usual travel wear a notch above. Think tailored pants, collared shirts, or dresses. However, it’s essential to wear what makes you feel most comfortable.

Is it worth upgrading to first class on United?

The value of upgrading to first class on United largely depends on individual likes and the nature of the trip. If you value added comfort, improved service, gourmet meals, and additional amenities, then the upgrade can be well worth it, especially for longer flights.

Is it cheaper to upgrade to first class after booking?

The United First Class ticket price and the cost of upgrading can vary based on several factors, including the route, time of booking, and demand. Sometimes, last-minute upgrades might be available at a reduced rate, but it’s not guaranteed. It’s always a good idea to check upgrade options and prices both at the time of booking and closer to your departure date.

What are the new seats on United first class?


United Airlines had been working on upgrading and modernizing its fleet, including the introduction of new seats in various classes. For first class, these updates typically focus on enhancing passenger comfort and providing a more luxurious experience. The specifics of the new seats can vary depending on the aircraft type and the routes they serve. Here are some general features you might find in United’s newer first-class seats:

  1. Increased Comfort and Space: Newer first-class seats are designed to offer more space, with wider seats, more legroom, and increased recline.
  2. Lie-Flat Seats: On some long-haul flights, United has been introducing lie-flat seats in their premium cabins, including first class. These seats allow passengers to fully recline into a flat bed, providing a more comfortable sleep experience on overnight flights.
  3. Improved Privacy: Some seat designs incorporate features that enhance privacy, such as dividers or more secluded seating arrangements.
  4. Enhanced Entertainment Systems: Upgraded seats often come with larger, high-definition personal screens, USB ports, and power outlets to keep devices charged.
  5. Adjustable Lighting and Seat Controls: Advanced seat controls for adjusting positions and personalized lighting options for reading, sleeping, or working.
  6. Storage Space: Thoughtfully designed storage spaces for personal items, keeping essentials within easy reach.
  7. Premium Materials and Design: Use of high-quality materials and a design aesthetic that reflects a modern and luxurious feel.
Due to United's enhancements, other airlines are now compelled to enhance their first-class offerings.
Due to United’s enhancements, other airlines are now compelled to enhance their first-class offerings. | Image Credit: United Airlines

Do I get lounge access with United first class?

Yes, passengers flying first class with United typically receive access to United’s exclusive lounges, where they can relax, work, or dine before their flight. These lounges offer a range of amenities, from comfortable seating areas to a selection of food and beverages.

Do you get a meal on United first class?

Absolutely! United First Class passengers are treated to a dining experience that includes a range of meal options, from breakfast to dinner, depending on the flight’s duration and departure time. The meals are curated to ensure passengers enjoy a gourmet experience even while flying.

How early should I arrive for a United First Class flight?

For domestic flights, it’s recommended to arrive at least 90 minutes before departure. For international flights, arriving 2-3 hours prior is advisable. While First Class passengers enjoy priority check-in, it’s always good to account for potential delays, especially at larger airports.

What does a first class ticket on United Airlines include?

A first-class ticket on United Airlines typically includes a range of premium services and amenities designed to enhance the overall travel experience. As of January 2022, these are some of the features you can expect with a United Airlines first-class ticket:

  1. Priority Services: First-class passengers usually receive priority check-in, security screening, boarding, and baggage handling.
  2. Lounge Access: Access to United Club lounges or partner airline lounges at airports, offering a comfortable place to relax, work, or dine before the flight.
  3. Spacious Seating: Larger, more comfortable seats with extra legroom and space to work or relax. On some aircraft, seats may lie flat for more comfortable sleep on long-haul flights.
  4. Dining: Enhanced dining options with a variety of meal choices, often including multi-course meals and a selection of beverages, including alcoholic options.
  5. Amenity Kit: A kit containing travel essentials and comfort items such as skincare products, an eye mask, socks, and other personal care items.
  6. In-flight Entertainment: Access to a wide range of movies, TV shows, music, and games, often on larger personal screens.
  7. Wi-Fi: Availability of in-flight Wi-Fi, sometimes complimentary for first-class passengers.
  8. Additional Baggage Allowance: Increased baggage allowance compared to economy class.
  9. Blankets and Pillows: High-quality blankets and pillows for added comfort, especially on longer flights.

Are there any restrictions on baggage for United First Class?

United First Class passengers typically enjoy a more generous baggage allowance compared to other fare classes. This includes both carry-on and checked baggage. However, it’s essential to check the specific baggage policies for your route and ticket type, as there can be variations based on the destination and aircraft.

Wrapping Up Our United First Class Guide

In this United First Class Guide, we’ve delved into the various facets of what the airline offers to its premium passengers. Navigating the world of air travel presents travelers with a plethora of choices, and United’s First Class is undeniably one of the notable options. The airline has made significant strides in enhancing the comfort, dining, and overall experience for its First Class passengers.

However, as with all services in the competitive aviation industry, the true value of United’s First Class will be subjective, varying based on individual preferences and expectations. It’s always prudent for travelers to assess the benefits in relation to the costs and to juxtapose United’s offerings with those of other airlines. This guide serves as a starting point, but the final verdict on the worthiness of United First Class rests with each traveler and their unique journeying needs.

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