United 737-900ER first class: a throwback to a different era in air travel

United 737-900ER first class: a throwback to a different era in air travel

There comes a time in every airline reviewer’s life when it becomes necessary to do a thorough United 737-900 first class review. After all, there are 136 of these things in the United Airlines fleet at the moment, so chances are good that there are a lot of people searching for this kind of thing.

In summary, the first class seats on United Airlines 737-900s are well past their prime. They look like they were plucked straight out of 2005, and they represent an era when fluffy pillow-like airline seats were just about as cool as Blackberry phones (and Nickelback).

Thankfully, the food has kept up with the times. The meal I was served on this particular flight from San Diego to Houston couldn’t have been stored in a freezer for more than a year.

San Diego, CA (SAN) – Houston, TX (IAH)
Sunday, June 26 2022
Aircraft: 737-924/ER
Registration: N37420
Duration: 3 hours 14 minutes
Seat: 4A (First Class)

united airlines 737-900 side view
United Airlines 737-900/ER side view illustration by NorebboStock.com
ua2472 flight track
Our route from San Diego to Houston this morning as UA2472.

My full review of United 737-900/ER first class from San Diego to Houston

Even though I have flown United 737-900 first class a bajillion times before (actually just three times), I’ve never done a comprehensive review such as this. Past experience reminded me not to get my hopes up, which actually helped to make this a decently pleasant flight.

Arrival at Terminal 2 West at the San Diego Airport

It seems that even when I’m trying to be casual and free-spirited, I still end up arriving at the airport way too early. This flight to Houston was scheduled to depart at 8:10 AM, but that didn’t stop me from being dropped off at the entrance of Terminal 2 at precisely 6:42 AM. I’m basically physically (and mentally) incapable of showing up late for a flight.

Terminal 2 west entrance San Diego airport early morning
Welcome back to Terminal 2 West! This is the home for United Airlines here at SAN.
Terminal 2 west bridge San Diego airport
It’s also the home for many other airlines I’d rather be flying today, but it is what it is.
Terminal 2 west windows San Diego airport
Speaking of other airlines, the first thing you’ll see immediately after clearing security are Delta airplanes. Give them the finger if you must (for that time they lost your bags in Atlanta), but otherwise, ignore them and turn left. 
Terminal 2 west rotunda San Diego airport
I’ve arrived! The far end of T2 West is where most United flights out of SAN depart from. If you think your rent is insane, imagine how much United must pay each month for the use of these gates.

The boarding process for flight number 2472 to Houston

I think I’m jinxed. It seems the shorter connection time that I have, the greater chance there is of my flight being delayed. I had a measly 45 minute connection scheduled in Houston after this flight, but wouldn’t you know it, the boarding process for this segment was delayed by about 30 minutes. Frick.

Gate 40 terminal 2 San Diego airport
Gate 40 is the departure gate this morning. The only problem is that the boarding time has come and gone…and I’m still standing here (confused AF).
United 737-900 parked at gate 40 San Diego airport
The plane isn’t on fire, so I guess it’s safe to eliminate that as a possible reason for the delay.

Long story short, they were missing a flight attendant and they were scrambling to find another. They eventually found one (sans uniform) and we were suddenly back on track. Yeah, having a plain-clothes flight attendant on board seemed interesting, but I was more concerned about my impossibly tight connection at IAH…

United airlines domestic first class mobile boarding pass on iPhone
I’m so not going make my connection at IAH.
Apple Watch in airport
That’s it. I’m screwed.
Boarding United airlines flight gate 40 San Diego airport
Finally! Yeah, my connection in Houston is toast, but I’ll guess I’ll have to worry about that when I get there.
SANspotter gate 40 jet bridge San Diego airport
It’s hard not to worry when you realize that you didn’t pack enough underwear to account for an unexpected overnight layover due to a delayed flight.
United 737-900 boarding door
This guy looks well-prepared though. How exactly does one ask a complete stranger to “borrow” a pair of their extra underpants? 

A detailed overview of United Airlines 737-900 first class seats

Anyone hoping to see fancy-pants first class seats here on the 737-900 (just as you saw in my review of first class on the United 737 MAX 9) will be disappointed. These seats are very thick, very wrinkly, somewhat comfortable, and they’re covered in a dark blue vinyl material tough enough to withstand pretty much anything our disgusting bodies would be able throw at them.

United Airlines 737-900/ER first class cabin
Unmistakably United Airlines 737-900/ER first class. Welcome back to 2005!
United Airlines 737-900/ER first class seats
“Crinkle-tactic” is the first thing I thought of when trying to write a caption for this pic (which is admittedly better than thinking “puke” when looking at United A320 first class seats).
United Airlines 737-900/ER first class seat legroom
Despite all the snarky comments you’ve read (and have yet to read) about the seats in this review, I have to say that leg room is excellent. This is nearly identical to United 737-800 first class by the way.
United Airlines 737-900/ER first class seat details
The best way to describe these seats is to say that they are about as wrinkly and saggy as a 65 year old guy who quit working out 25 years ago. #oddlyspecific
United Airlines 737-900/ER first class entertainment system controls
The entertainment system controls are integrated into the arm rests. I’ll save my complaints about this for later…
United Airlines 737-900/ER first class video screens
Yes, you will be forced to watch an endless stream of advertisements for hotels and credit cards, but there are video screens in these seats (which appear to be a different aspect ratio than the ones you saw in my United 737-700 first class review).
SANspotter selfie United 737-900 first class
However, I’ve found that flying with a pair noise-canceling AirPods Pro is a great way to drown out those ads. Nickelback (at high volume) seemed appropriate given the circumstances.

For what it’s worth, I actually prefer the first class seats on the United A319 instead. Those are old too, but they are not as “vintage” as these monstrosities are.

The departure out of San Diego

It’s hard to sit back and relax (just like the captain tells you to do in his welcome announcement) when you know that there’s no way you’re going to make your connection. I knew my connection in Houston was toast, but I vowed to forget about it and deal with it later. Morning departures out of the San Diego International Airport are always stunning, and this one didn’t disappoint.

San Diego airport gate 40 jet bridge
United 737-900 pushback and taxi out to runway San Diego airport
Here’s a collection of pics shows the pushback and taxi out to runway 27. They don’t call me SANspotter for nothin’.
United 737-900 first class passengers
“Of all the idiots to sit next to on a flight, why did it have to be SANspotter?”
Taxi into position and wait United 737-900 San Diego airport
“United 2472 taxi into position and wait. Oh, and tell the guy in 4B that we apologize about the SANspotter thing. Good day.”
United 737-900 takeoff San Diego airport
So long San Diego!
United 737-900 takeoff San Diego airport views
Nope, after all these years, I’m still not getting tired of these views.
View of San Diego after takeoff from SAN
Making the big left hand turn inland with an amazing view of San Diego in the distance. I’m totally not going to make my connection at IAH, but this view makes it all worth it.
North island naval air station San Diego
Here’s a nice visual size comparison of Naval Air Station North Island (foreground) with the San Diego International Airport (background). Yup, San Diego is pretty much going to be the first US city to be wiped off the map in a nuclear war. 

In-flight entertainment

For as old and out of date as these seats are, having a video screen at all was a nice little perk. The United in-flight entertainment product consists of a selection of live TV channels, movies, and music. That was very high tech back in 2005, and it’s still fairly decent mildly acceptable to this day.

United seat back entertainment 737-900 first class
Hold yer horses! It takes a moment for these old video screens to boot up.
United 737-900 first class video entertainment
Once booted up, you’ll notice that the screens aren’t all that great (but the selection of live TV, movies, and music is).
United 737-900 first class entertainment system remote control
And no, they aren’t touch screens, so the only way to toggle through the options is via this “remote” which is integrated into the arm rest. It was not ideal.
United domestic first class earbuds.
I’ll bet Nickelback would sound fantastic through these!

It should be noted that there is also a streaming video entertainment service available for anyone who prefers to watch content on their own device(s). This streaming content is completely free, and all you need to do is connect to the in-flight Wi-Fi to access it.

United airlines streaming video content
Honestly, I’d rather watch the streaming content on my own device. Not only can I use my own headphones, the screen resolution is much better.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, it is available on the United 737-900. Costs vary, but you can expect to pay around $10-$20 to access it for the entire duration of the flight.

United airlines 737-900 engine and wing view from seat 4A
“Never made it as a wise man, I couldn’t cut it as a poor man stealing…”

United Airlines domestic first class food is getting better!

I’ve been flying United first class quite a bit over the past year or so, with most of those flights occurring during breakfast hours. Most recently (in 777-200 Polaris business class), I came to the conclusion that United Airlines first class breakfast food isn’t all that great.

United airlines domestic first class drink glass
A round of drinks were served before the initiation of the breakfast service. I went with a glass of water, only because I knew that I’d need something to help dilute the amount of sodium I was about to consume.
SANspotter drinking water United 737-900 first class
Who am I kidding? Y’all know I’m boring AF and I always drink water on airplanes.

The steaming hot plate of scrambled eggs (mixed with sausage and potatoes) that was served on this flight to Houston was a nice change of pace. For the record, I knew this was coming since it I was able to pre-select this meal online several days prior to the flight.

United airlines domestic first class egg scramble breakfast
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that this looks pretty good!
United airlines domestic first class eggs breakfast
This looks so much better than the waffles I was served in United 787-8 business class last year. Sodium > sugar. 
United airlines domestic first class breakfast tray
It was right about this point that I could sense my seatmate looking at me like “wtf bro – it’s just eggs.”
United airlines domestic business class breakfast
“Just eggs??” Dude. This is the first United Airlines first class breakfast I’ve had in a good long while that I didn’t wrinkle my nose at!

So what’s the verdict? It was quite tasty – at least compared to some of United’s most recent breakfast offerings.

SANspotter selfie domestic United first class

Seat comfort

I can’t think of any way of saying it delicately, so I’ll just spit it out as naturally as it comes: these are terrible first class seats for any flight longer than 4 hours. My biggest gripe is the lack of lumbar support, which had my lower back throbbing in pain by hour number 2. Seat recline was decent though, which helped to alleviate some of the pain.

Crossing legs in United 737-900 first class
Thankfully I was able to get a pic of my crossed legs before full lower body paralysis set in.
United 737-900 first class seat comfort
If you’re under 25 years of age, the seats are fine. If you’re under 35, they’re ok for short flights. 45 and older? RIP to what’s left of your already fragile spine.

If there’s one thing that I can praise about these seats, it’s the fact that under seat storage space is fairly decent (which translates plenty of usable foot space). It’s even better than what you’ll experience in United A321neo first class (arguably their best domestic first class product at the moment).

The arrival into Houston

As we began to descent into Houston, the cabin crew made an announcement stating that all connections were still valid. Thankfully, my connecting flight was delayed slightly, so my layover was going to be about 30 minutes. I knew from past experience that layovers of an hour or less are OK in Houston, so I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Starting the descent into Houston
Houston, we don’t have a problem anymore. If what the flight attendant said about all connections still being valid is true, I just might make my connecting flight!
San Diego to Houston in flight map
At least now I won’t have to ask the guy next to me if he’d be willing to loan me a pair of his skivvies.
View of Houston from airplane window
Looks hot out there.
Approach into Houston intercontinental airport
Looks a lot like Texas, too.
Landing at Houston intercontinental airport
Welcome to Houston!
Arrival at concourse C IAH airport
How lucky was I that we parked very near to where my connecting flight to Nashville would be leaving from? I was fully prepared to make an OJ Simpson style run through the airport today, but it looks like all I’ll have to muster up the energy for is a lively walk at Joe Biden pace. Niiiice.
Old United 737-900 first class
I’m tempted to say that I’m looking forward to trying the new United 737-900 first class soon, but with the way that UA has been dragging their feet, it’s likely still a few years away yet.
Walking off United 737-900 first class
I ain’t dragging my feet though. I’ve got a plane to catch!
SANspotter walking off plane Houston airport jet bridge
“Look at this photograph, every time I do it makes me laugh” 

Pros and cons of the United 737-900ER first class experience

It’s hard to be overly judgmental about the first class experience on these old united 737-900s. There’s a new first class product coming to every plane in the United fleet soon, so it’s only a matter of time before this particular review will need to be updated.

That said, this is a product that will be flying around for a few more years (at least). Therefore, until the new first class seats arrive, here are all the pros and cons of the current version:


  • Vintage domestic first class seats aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The seats on the 737-900s are thick and fluffy – at least compared to the new-style first class seats that will be replacing them in the coming years.
  • Video entertainment is quite good. You won’t have to worry about loading your devices up with content before for the flight (unless you’re really picky about what you watch).
  • On flights over 2 1/2 hours in length, you will be served a full (hot) meal. The quality is fairly decent actually.
  • The cabin crew on this flight was great. They couldn’t do anything to help make the seats feel any better, but they were happy to supply everything you would need to dull the pain (*cough*alcohol*cough).


  • Seat comfort! Ugh. To be honest, United 737-900 economy isn’t all that much more uncomfortable.
  • Even though the selection of video entertainment is quite good, the hardware itself isn’t up to current standards. It’s not a touchscreen, and the remote is physically integrated into the armrest. Navigating the menus is more awkward than you can possibly imagine.

Comments (6)

  1. Peter

    July 13, 2022
    • Peter

      July 13, 2022
      • Scott (SANspotter)

        July 13, 2022
  2. Declan Daleiden

    July 28, 2022
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      July 28, 2022
  3. DL

    November 28, 2022

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