United 737 MAX 9 first class: better than most, worse than a few

United 737 MAX 9 first class: better than most, worse than a few

My recent experience in United 737 MAX 9 first class was much-needed reassurance that we are making progress as a society. Not only do the seats look great, the cabin is filled with everything you would expect in a modern (and competitive) domestic US first class experience:

  • Large video screens
  • Pretty decent food
  • Power outlets and USB-C ports
  • Generous overhead bin space
  • Skin-staining mood lighting

It’s essentially a giant middle finger to everyone (including me) who has been criticizing their old domestic first class product lately. I (we) totally deserve it.

San Diego, CA (SAN) – Chicago, IL (ORD)
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Aircraft: 737 MAX 9
Registration: N37535
Duration: 3 hours 27 minutes
Seat: 3A (first class)

United Airlines 737 MAX 9 (N37535) side view
United Airlines 737 MAX 9 (N37535) side view illustration by NorebboStock.com.
ua2325 flight track
Our route from San Diego to Chicago today as UA2325.

My full review of United 737 MAX 9 first class from San Diego to Chicago (ORD)

At the time of this writing, Chicago O’Hare is the farthest destination from San Diego where United is utilizing the 737 MAX 9. I had no need to go to Chicago, but I had much need to try out first class on the MAX (for the MAXimum amount of time as possible).

Arrival at the San Diego Airport

The scheduled departure time for this flight was 10:52 AM. I arrived at exactly 8:52 AM (and mentally berated myself for arriving too early as I made my way to the security checkpoint in Terminal 2 West).

San Diego airport S zone
It’s kinda hard to believe that a guy named Scott (who calls himself ‘SANspotter’) has never started a San Diego based airline review from the S zone before. How did I not notice this until now?
United Airlines check in and package drop terminal 2 west San Diego airport
The U zone (aka ‘the United check in area’) here in Terminal 2 West is very familiar territory though.
Waiting at the United gates San Diego airport terminal 2 west
I’ll spare you the details, but this was my 5th attempt at a United 737 MAX first class review since April (something always went wrong). Can you believe that the ceiling hasn’t collapsed and killed me dead yet?
United 737 MAX 9 arriving at the San Diego airport
Hallelujah! This arriving United 737 MAX 9 is the plane that (fingers crossed) is going to take me back to where it came from (Chicago – not Everett).
Pilot walking through the San Diego airport
I think that’s the captain for my flight. Please don’t die of a heart attack please don’t die of a attack please don’t die of a heart attack…

The boarding process for flight number 2325 to Chicago

As I waited for the boarding process to begin, I couldn’t help to think about the number of people who fly between San Diego and Chicago on any given day.

Not only does United do this multiple times in a 24-hour period, so does American Airlines and Southwest. Nearly every one of these flights is on at 737 of some kind. Let’s hope this 737 MAX 9 experience will be the bestest of them all…

United first class mobile boarding pass San Diego to Chicago
Contain your excitement. Holding up my boarding pass like this isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you are going to see a United 737 MAX 9 first class review today.
San Diego airport gate 39 terminal two
The anticipation builds here at gate 39. Most everyone in this picture is probably anticipating a nice flight to Chicago. Me? I’m anticipating a fiery meteorite to take out that MAX 9 at any moment.
SANspotter walking down the jet bridge at gate 39 San Diego international airport
Perhaps I should be more optimistic. Other than the boarding process starting several minutes early, nothing out of the ordinary has happened yet. Is this really going to happen?
United Boeing 737 MAX 9 forward boarding door
It’s really happening!
United 737 MAX 9 entryway
Nice. I like how they hit you over the head with the United brand colors (and logo) as soon as you step onto the plane. This kind of confidence leads me to believe that this might be a little better than what you saw my United 737-900ER first class review.
United 737 MAX 9 first class cabin
Oh yeah. Based on the large overhead bins and non-wrinkly seats, I can already tell that this is going to be better. When do you suppose the meteorite is going to hit?
United 737 MAX 9 first class seats row 3 (seats A and B)
Row 3 (seats A and B). I’ve got the window seat today (which will no doubt offer an excellent view of impending doom).

The seats

I can count the number of times I’ve been to church on one hand, but it was hard for me not to mutter things like “Lawd have mercy!” when sitting in a United 737 MAX 9 first class seat for the first time. I saw these seats briefly while trying out United 737 MAX 9 Economy Plus a while back, but getting the chance to experience this firsthand was refreshing (to say the least). This is so much better can be old domestic first class product!

United 737 MAX 9 first class seats video screen
Interesting! The colors and textures in these seats are very similar to what you’ll see in United A320 first class. You won’t see a giant video screen like this though – I’m diggin’ that like a ditch.
United 737 MAX 9 first class seats video screen
Legroom is about as good as you would expect in an aircraft named MAX. I can work with this.
United 737 MAX 9 first class video screens in seats
A slight pause in the review as I take a moment to enjoy the crap out of this video screen. It’s so nice to (finally) see decent in-flight entertainment in United domestic first class!
United 737 MAX 9 first class armrest with storage space
The review continues with a picture of the storage bin located underneath the armrest (while still thinking about that video screen tho).
United Airlines tag on 737 MAX 9 first class seat headrest
This United tag on the headrest is both cool and classy (two words I don’t believe that I’ve ever used in a United domestic first class review before).
United 737 MAX 9 first class power outlets and USB-C ports
The only words I can think of describe the electrical outlets and USB-C ports between the seats are dirty (because of how extremely nice and hard to find they are).
United 737 MAX 9 first class cabin view forward from row 3
Yup. This is an awfully nice place to wait for a meteorite to hit!
SANspotter in United 737 MAX 9 first class
It’s coming. I just know it is.

The departure out of San Diego

Rain in San Diego is one thing, but…lightning? That’s rare. They actually had to close the ramp for a few minutes before we were scheduled to push off the gate due to lightning strikes in the area. Still, through all that drama, we were able to depart only few minutes behind schedule.

Rainy San Diego airport
Never in all my years of flying out of San Diego have I been on a flight delayed because of lightning strikes in the area. And you thought I was being silly about the meteorite thing.
United 777-200 in San Diego
Oh hi! Look what just arrived from Washington Dulles. Those of you wondering why this thing is here should probably read my United 777-200 domestic first class review.
United 737 MAX 9 first class passengers
I think she’s counting down the hours until this flight is over (and she can get away from the annoying AvGeek bro sitting next to her).
United 737 MAX 9 taking off from the San Diego airport
OK. I can now say that (after 4 failed attempts) I’ve officially flown in United 737 MAX 9 first class. Even if we nose dive straight into the ocean from here – I technically did it.
Flying over Sunset Cliffs after departure from San Diego airport
Spoiler alert: you’ll see scenery even more stunning than this later in the review (an admittedly bold statement considering we’re headed straight to the heart of the Midwest).

In-flight entertainment

The best thing about in-flight entertainment in United 737 MAX 9 first class is the fact that it is Bluetooth enabled. Sure, the catalog of movies and TV shows is excellent (as it has always been on United), but being able to watch all that content with my noise canceling AirPods made the experience so much better.

United 737 MAX 9 first class in-flight entertainment customization screen
Please stand by. I’m customizing my in-flight entertainment experience…
United 737 MAX 9 first class in-flight entertainment Bluetooth headphone pairing
Niiiice. Not only is it possible to pair your Bluetooth headphones to this in-flight entertainment system, it actually works.
Sanspotter listening to Bluetooth audio in United 737 MAX 9 first class
Shhhhh. I’m trying to think of something critical to say about this Bluetooth connectivity thing (but nothing is coming to me). I told you – it freaking works.

Another significant change from the older in-flight entertainment product is the fact that there is no more DIRECTV (live TV programming). It won’t be missed, IMHO.

United 737 MAX 9 first class in-flight entertainment menu
Basically, ain’t nobody gonna be bored with an in-flight entertainment menu as robust is this.
United 737 MAX 9 first class in-flight entertainment movies and TV shows
You may suffer from indecision (and indigestion) as you try to decide what to watch though. F**k me there are a lot of choices!
United 737 MAX 9 first class video entertainment system remote control
I’d like to think that this handheld remote is a result of the nasty accurate things I said about the armrest-based remote in my United 737-800 first class review. At least they’re listening.
United 737 MAX 9 first class video entertainment system meditation app
There’s a built in meditation app too! Anyone brave enough to smuggle hallucinogenic drugs through the security checkpoint is gonna enjoy the hell out of this.
United 737 MAX 9 first class adjustable video screen
Oh – and the screen is adjustable as well. A much-appreciated feature considering how glossy it is.

The food

It’s been a while since I’ve flown United domestic first class on a lunchtime flight. I was mostly curious to see if the meal choices would be any different from the dinner options. Guess what? They weren’t. It turns out that lunch is dinner on United, just as dinner is lunch. At least the food (and the service from the cabin crew) was good.

United 737 MAX 9 first class full can of soda
Muchas gracias for the entire can of Coke!
United 737 MAX 9 first class drinks and warm nuts
Well…sort of. It was actually was one of those little (7.5 fl oz) cans (and I’m not complaining). It’s basically impossible for a guy to be disappointed with anything that exaggerates the size of his nuts.
United 737 MAX 9 first class chicken meatballs lunch
Lunch is served. It’s a chicken meatballs (chicken balls?) kind of day I guess.
United 737 MAX 9 first class chicken meatballs and polenta
Look at my balls! (*sigh* I promise you that testicle references were not the goal in this review – but it’s not entirely my fault. United needs to share the blame for making it too freaking easy.)
United 737 MAX 9 first class lunch meal tray
Also on the tray was a green salad, fresh(ish) bread, and a piece of crumble cake (the best part of the entire meal). The stuff under the chicken you-know-what’s is polenta I think.
SANspotter eating lunch in United 737 MAX 9 first class
Everything was really good (though perhaps a little dry). My only real criticism of this meal is that the chicken testes had me thinking of meteorites again…

Seat (and cabin) comfort

I will say that the first class seats here on the MAX 9 are a little less squishy than the old first class seats. They recline just as steep though, and the leg room is just as good. They’re a little thin that’s all, and I definitely would’ve appreciated a little more padding.

United 737 MAX 9 first class crossed legs comfort
Other than the large video screen (and the chicken balls swimming around in my belly), this felt a lot like my United A319 first class experience. The seat is just as firm, legroom is similar, and the colors and textures are all pretty much the same.
United 737 MAX 9 first class seat recline
Seat recline is just about the same as well. ‘Satisfyingly unexceptional’ is all you need to know.
United 737 MAX 9 first class overhead air vents
The overhead air vents can be described as ‘pleasantly violent’. To put that in better context, these things would’ve saved my life on that flight from LAX to EWR back in 2017 (in United 757-200 P.S. business class). I can’t believe that I never lost consciousness from the stench of my seatmate’s bucket of homemade garlic asparagus!
Flying over Scott city Kansas
Well, well, well. Look what we have here?
SANspotter looking out the window of a United 737 MAX 9
Shoutout to all the fine folks down there in Scott City, Kansas. My peoples!
United 737 MAX 9 first class lavatory
Ain’t nothing ‘MAX’ about the first class lavatory IMHO (unless you’re just dying to read more male anatomy jokes). At least it was clean.

The decent and arrival into Chicago O’Hare

Sunset arrivals are the best. They’re even better when you arrive pretty much exactly on time (as we did), but honestly? We could’ve been an hour late and I wouldn’t have minded a bit. The sunset was that good.

On the descent into Chicago O'Hare in a United 737 MAX 9
The neat thing about flying into Chicago (one of the biggest cities in the world) is that even during the descent, it looks no different than flying into a little farm town somewhere deep in Oklahoma. Yeehaw!
Flying over downtown Chicago
“This is WZAZ in Chicago, where disco lives forev…”
United 737 MAX 9 first class deep blue mood lighting
$20 says that the guy in front of me was thinking of that exact same quote as we passed over top of downtown Chicago on our downwind approach just now. It was a little close lol.
Flying over downtown Chicago at sunset
See? I told you the scenery was going to be epic!
Arriving at ORD at sunset
No comment (other than the fact that Mother Nature is the GOAT).
United 737 MAX 9 touching down at O'Hare airport
Welcome to Chicago!
Arrival at ORD at sunset
Not only were we treated to stunning scenery all the way in, we’ve arrived 5 minutes early. Not too shabby for a flight that was supposed to get taken out by a meteorite, right?
Gate C21 jet bridge O'Hare airport
Even that ramper standing under the jet bridge here at gate C21 seems surprised to see us. It’s not just me who was skeptical.
United 737 MAX 9 first class mood lighting, video screen, and aisle
So… was it worth the wait? Kind of. While I do find first class here on the United 737 MAX 9 to be a huge improvement over the current 737-800 (and -900) configuration, it’s not quite as good as what you saw in my United A321neo first class review. I highly recommend checking that out next…

Pros and cons of first class on the United 737 MAX 9

There’s really not much to complain about if I’m being honest. This is a very competitive and modern domestic first class product, pretty much in line with what I would expect on any major airline. For the record, I do consider Delta A321neo first class to be better than this, but not by much. Here are all the pros and cons…


  • Being able to pair my wireless headphones to the in-flight entertainment system made me wonder how I ever lived without this feature before. It’s nice.
  • The video screens are huge! Browsing (and consuming) content is comfortable and convenient.
  • The storage bins under the armrests are a good use of space.


  • Even though I’m a huge fan of the large video screens, they are extremely glossy (and hard to see in daylight).
  • The placement of the electrical outlets and USB ports are a bit awkward. You’ll never find them without bending way over (looking as if you’re examining your seatmate’s crotch).

Comments (4)

  1. Jason

    December 5, 2023
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      December 6, 2023
  2. Peter

    December 13, 2023
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      December 13, 2023

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