United 737-800 first class: your grandfather is gonna love this!

United 737-800 first class: your grandfather is gonna love this!

Despite everything else you may have heard, I am of the opinion that United 737-800 first class is something that you just gotta try. Not for the reasons you might expect though.

It’s the wrinkliest, yellowest, and brownest domestic US first class product in existence. Not only that, the seat coverings sag in a way which will remind you of the last time you saw your grandfather shirtless. It’s a bit of a trip.

Basically, it’s an extremely old and outdated (though comforting) product. Just like Grandpa.

Chicago, IL (ORD) – San Diego, CA (SAN)
Monday, October 23, 2023
Aircraft: 737-824
Registration: N37255
Duration: 3 hours 49 minutes
Seat: 3F (first class)

United Airlines 737-800 (N37255) side view
United Airlines 737-800 (N37255) side view illustration by NorebboStock.com.
ua584 flight track
Our route from Chicago to San Diego this evening as UA584.

My full review of United 737-800 first class from Chicago (ORD) to San Diego

If there’s one thing to learn from this entire review, it’s that the Boeing 737-800 is the aircraft which will provide you with the most ‘retro’ first class experience on United. It features the oldest seats in the fleet, and they pale in comparison to what you can see in my United 737 MAX 9 first class review,

Arrival at Chicago O’Hare

Arriving from Flint on a United Express CRJ-200 didn’t have me in the best of moods (nor did the prospect of sitting in a wrinkly brown seat all the way to San Diego). That said, I like being in airports. O’Hare has always been one of my favorites, and I was very much looking forward to a nice flight home.

United airlines terminal at Chicago O'Hare airport
The thing about the United terminal at ORD is that I can never decide where to kick off the review. The underground tunnel connecting concourses B and C is dope AF, but…so is the structure of the concourses themselves. What to do?
Concourse C ORD
Screw it. It begins here.
Gate C22 O'Hare airport
Actually, it begins here at gate C22. See how annoyingly indecisive I can be?
Gate C22 seating area ORD
I wonder why nobody looks excited to be going to San Diego today?
United 737-800 parked at gate C22 ORD
Aha! Now I know why. Not only was this 737-800 supposed to be a MAX 8, it’s wearing the old livery as well. Dang.

The boarding process for flight number 584 to San Diego

Some of the gates in the C concourse at ORD can be a bit tight. This causes problems during the boarding process, resulting in everyone (hilariously) not knowing exactly where to line up. Not only will you hear “is this the line?” over and over again, you’ll probably end up asking it yourself. I sure did.

United 737-800 first class mobile boarding pass ORD-SAN
*sigh* Nope, I wasn’t planning on doing a United 737-800 first class review today. Last-minute aircraft swaps should be illegal (and punishable by wedgies) IMHO.
SANspotter walking down the jet bridge at gate C22 O'Hare airport
The relaxed boarding process gave me time to voice my displeasure about this aircraft swap to the AvGeek gods above. I doubt they were even listening.
United 737-800 forward boarding door
Come to think of it, this 737-800 probably wasn’t all that excited to see me either. It all evened out I guess.
United 737-800 forward boarding door frame
Mind the gap!
United 737-800 first class cabin
I know! United 737-800 first class is awfully yellow, isn’t it?

The seats

Bad news: the first class seats on the UA Boeing 737-800 are even older (and worse) than what you saw in my United 737-700 class review. I’m not exactly sure why the 737-800 (one of the most common aircraft in the United fleet) has been neglected so badly, but at the very least, it’ll give me fodder for some colorful commentary.

United 737-800 first class seats
It’s wrinkly too. These saggy brown first class seats are a perfect match for the yellowed plastic walls IMHO.
United 737-800 first class leg room
Yep, legroom is exactly the same as what you saw in my United 737-900ER first class review. That’s a good thing I suppose.
Saggy seat pocket United 737-800 first class
This is basically the 80-year-old man of domestic first class.
seat pocket contents United 737-800 first class
Continuing with the 80-year-old man analogy, rummaging through the seat back pocket like this is probably the equivalent of a doctor performing a prostate check on that poor chap. I was gentle. 
United 737-800 first class electrical outlets and USB ports
Yes! There are electrical outlets (and USB ports) in these seats. They’re not that old and crusty.
United 737-800 first class video screens
There are even video screens too!
United 737-800 first class video screen remote control
They aren’t touchscreen though, and the only way to interact with them is with this slimy remote control built into the armrest. The upcoming section about in-flight entertainment is going to be fun!
United 737-800 first class seat pitch and leg room
She’s either barfing into her purse or admiring the leg room. Both scenarios make total sense given the circumstances.
SANspotter in United 737-800 first class
Maybe all I needed to do was post this single pic. You’d still get the gist of United 737-800 first class pretty well I think.

In order to avoid ending this section on a low note, you’ll be happy to know that first class on the United A321neo is darn near excellent (and pretty much the opposite of what you just saw here). They are making an effort to get better!

The departure out of ORD

Personally, I couldn’t have cared less about how old and outdated this first class seat was as we were pushing off the gate. This was the final leg a very busy (but fun) trip, and I was just happy to be going home.

United 737-800 pushing off gate C22 ORD
We outta here.
United 737-800 old first class interior
Bad news: we’re already 6 minutes behind schedule. Good news: we’re 1 day closer to these older 737-800s being updated with new interiors.
Taxiing over the road O'Hare airport
I seriously doubt anybody down there on the road even noticed us. I mean, these old-livery UA 737-800’s aint exactly sexy.
United 737-800 taking off at ORD
And for any of you thinking that I complain a lot, I understand. The honest truth is that I was loving every minute of this. The miracle of flight (and the freedom to travel from one place to the next) is not lost on me, and I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t enjoy it so dang much.
United 737-800 taking off at Chicago O'Hare airport
So long Chicago! I’ll be back again in a few weeks…

In-flight entertainment

Despite how small (and old) the video screens looked in the pics above, I guess we have to appreciate the fact that they even exist at all. You won’t even see video screens in United A319 first class, so…quit ‘yer bitchin’.

United 737-800 first class DIRECTV
Good news! These old 737-800s are equipped with DIRECTV (which allowed me to watch the Monday night football game in real time all the way to San Diego).
United 737-800 first class armrest remote control for the video entertainment system
The bad news is that you’re probably going to get carpal tunnel trying to scroll through all the channels on the armrest remote.
United 737-800 first class video entertainment menus and screens
FYI, it’s going to take 11 awkward (and painful) button presses to get to the best channel in the entire catalog.
United 737-800 first class in-flight map
It’s worth it though! Being able to count the individual pixels on the in-flight map is a feature – not a bug.

It’s also worth noting that the 737-800s are Wi-Fi equipped. With that comes the ability to stream an impressive catalog of movies and TV shows to your personal device. Cool.

United 737-800 first class streaming in-flight entertainment
Those of you who prefer your in-flight entertainment (and credit card ads) in higher resolution will appreciate the Wi-Fi streaming option.
United 737-800 first class complementary earbuds
It’s hard to imagine anybody appreciating these complementary earbuds though. You ain’t gonna hear s**t with these.

The dinner service

The food in United domestic first class is hit or miss IMHO. There were a variety of options offered on this particular flight, and I chose the vegetarian pasta dish. Dare I say that it was probably one of the best domestic US first class meals I’ve had in a long time. The fact that it was served with a smile was the icing on the cake (I mean…the cream sauce on the pasta).

United 737-800 first class hot towel
Kicking off the meal service this evening is a much appreciated hot towel. I’m not even mad anymore about what that awkward entertainment system remote did to my thumb.
United 737-800 first class warm nuts
Deez nuts (were delicious).
United 737-800 first class dinner meal tray
Upon first glance, it seems that maybe I should be embarrassed for admitting that I pre-ordered this. BUT…
United 737-800 first class pasta dish
…I’m going on record as saying that this is perhaps one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had on an airplane (anywhere in the world). Think of me what you will!
SANspotter eating pasta in United 737-800 first class
Looks like somebody’s got a crush on his bowl of pasta!

Seat comfort

These seats may be ugly, but at least they’re still comfortable. Mostly. The main benefit is that they feature more padding than newer style first class seats on other aircraft. Combine that with a decent bit of recline, and you’ll feel just as comfortable as Grandpa is when he kicks back in his favorite chair to watch Wheel of Fortune on network TV every evening.

United 737-800 first class seat recline
Thank you kind sir for helping me demonstrate the seat recline. Basically, I think he may be more comfortable than I am.
United 737-800 first class adjustable video screens
Don’t worry – the highly adjustable video screens will ensure that you WON’T MISS A SECOND when the person in front of you slams their seat into your face (and f***s up your s**t).
United 737-800 first class adjustable headrests
Adjustable headrest score: 4 stars out of 5 (which is awfully generous considering what I was saying about the wrinkly old man leather earlier in this review).
United 737-800 first class comfort
At the very least, this kicks the snot out of what you saw in my United 737-800 economy review.

The arrival in San Diego

Being able to catch a sweet sunset during the descent and landing when you weren’t expecting it is…well…pretty sweet. We arrived in San Diego just in time to witness one of the best Southern California sunsets I’ve seen in a while. A full three minutes ahead of schedule to boot!

United 737-800 flying into the sunset
San Diego ATC: “United 584, descend and maintain flight level one one thousand.”
United 737-800 descending into the sunset
Our Pilots: “Unable. You should see this sunset…”
United 737-800 landing in San Diego at dusk
San Diego ATC: “Get your butts below the hard deck return to base immediately!”
United 737-800 landing on runway 27 San Diego airport
At least that’s how I assumed the conversation went. Welcome to San Diego!
Sunset arrival at SAN United 737-800
BTW, there’s never much to see here at SAN after using up the entirety of runway 27 upon landing. Let’s just say that we came in a little hot.
Unbuckling seatbelt in United 737-800 first class
Final thoughts? Think of this as a very similar (but far more wrinkly) version of United A320 first class. Both products are remarkably unmemorable, but certainly better than economy class.
Exiting United 737-800 first class
Also, given the fact that this particular 737-800 is 23 years old, I doubt it’ll be sticking around long enough to be retrofitted with the newest first class seats. Flying rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong on the other hand…
United Airlines passengers in jet bridge San Diego airport
Hold up, bro! I could easily keep going with the Top Gun quotes if anyone would just care to listen.

Pros and cons of United Airlines 737-800 first class

So yeah. This is one of those domestic US first class products that can be classified as “aspirational” (just as long as you’re in the mood for it). Seek it out for the nostalgia – not for its substance. You might actually enjoy it.


  • The padding on the seats is quite good actually. It’s better than many other domestic US first class seats these days.
  • You’re very likely going to appreciate the ability to stream content to your mobile device (as opposed to trying to watch something on those tiny / washed out little screens).
  • It’ll remind you of Grandpa.


  • The video screens are perhaps the worst on any US airline at the moment. Watching content is nearly impossible in direct sunlight.
  • Being forced to use the remote control integrated into the armrest to scroll through the video content is awkward and annoying.
  • It’ll remind you of Grandpa walking around shirtless.

Comments (8)

  1. Kevin

    November 27, 2023
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      November 28, 2023
      • Kevin

        November 28, 2023
        • Scott (SANspotter)

          November 29, 2023
  2. JL

    November 28, 2023
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      November 28, 2023
  3. Peter

    November 30, 2023
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      November 30, 2023

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