United Airlines 737 MAX 9 Economy Plus: worth it or not?

United Airlines 737-9 MAX

Easily the most controversial aircraft of my lifetime, the Boeing 737 MAX was one that I vowed to stay away from for as long as humanly possible. And I really meant it too – at least up until I saw a really good price for a ride on a United 737 MAX 9 from Los Angeles to Houston back in February.

I know. It’s a little scary to think that the opportunity to save a few dollars will completely void firm (and possibly life-extending) commitments I make for myself.

UA1946
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) – Houston, TX (IAH)
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Aircraft: 737-9 MAX
Registration: N27515
Duration: 2 hours 54 minutes
Seat: 9A (Economy Plus)

United Airlines 737 MAX 9 side view
United Airlines 737 MAX 9 side view illustration by Norebbo.com
UA1946 flight track
Our route from Los Angeles to Houston today as UA1946.

The video

The video that I put together for this United 737 MAX 9 review was fun. It was probably also one of the most nerve-racking of my life, since I wasn’t exactly sure that I was ready to step foot on a MAX so soon.

Despite any nervousness that I had (whether it was warranted or not), it ended up being a lot of fun to document my experience of this flight. The Boeing 737-9 MAX is a really great aircraft to get footage of, thanks in part to it’s amazing sound and beautiful split scimitar winglets.

As usual, the soundtrack for this video was sourced from Epidemic Sound. Yeah, it was a little difficult to stay away from choosing a horror-themed soundtrack, but I refrained from that and went with something cool and hip instead. Which is really easy to do when sourcing music from them (as I explained in my in-depth Epidemic Sound review).

Full transcript of the video (complete with all the pics and stupid commentary you know me for)

This was easily one of the weirdest flights I’ve had in a while. Not only was I am extremely excited to fly on the United 737 MAX 9, I was also a bit terrified as well. Just a little.

My arrival at LAX

I flew up from San Diego on a United Express ERJ-175 in order to catch this flight. It was relatively nice and relaxing – at least until the moment we landed. I had a very short connection time, and I knew that I was going to hit the ground running as soon as I stepped off the plane. Combine that with being nervous about flying on the 737 MAX, and…ugh.

SANspotter at LAX
Hey everyone, my name is Scott, I’m the founder and author of SANspotter.com, and (up until last week) I was standing firm on my pledge to avoid the MAX for two years. At least.

However, if you know me, you’ll know that I’ve got the attention span of a fly, and there was no freaking way I would have lasted two years. I’m actually kind of proud of myself for going a whole week before caving in.

empty terminal 7 LAX
Whoa. Terminal 7 here at LAX is as empty as I’ve ever seen it, which is eerie – to say the least.
United Airlines 737-9 MAX
Anyway, this right here is my ride to Houston this morning (a two month old 737 MAX 9 in the old livery). Which confused me for a moment since I thought all of these things were painted in the new blue livery. Interesting.

The boarding process for flight number 1946 to Houston (and my first ever ride on a United 737 MAX 9)

I guess I wasn’t really sure what to expect here at the gate. The Boeing 737 MAX still has an awfully bad reputation, and I was curious about a handful of things:

  1. How full is this flight going to be? Would it be obvious that people are actively avoiding the MAX at all costs?
  2. What will the conversations be like? Will I overhear lots of people talking about the fact that this is a 737 MAX?
  3. Will the gate agents make any specific announcements about this being a 737 MAX?
  4. Most importantly, would I crack under pressure and be unable to step foot on this plane??

It was a weird feeling standing there at the gate area for sure, but to be honest it didn’t seem all that different then any other flight to Houston.

nervous SANspotter
This right here is the look of a man who is mere moments away from cracking under pressure.
Gate 70b LAX
Which is really embarrassing, since everyone else here at the gate looks to have their shit together.
737 max boarding process
But seriously. I wonder how many of these people *know* (or care) that they are about to fly on the Boeing 737 MAX?
United Airlines 737 max boarding pass
Here we go. There’s no turning back now. Well, I guess there wouldn’t be anyone stopping me from turning right around and running out of the airport at full speed, but I desperately need footage for my YouTube channel.
LAX jet bridge terminal 7
It’s not often that I contemplate the reliability of patched software, but it was kinda hard not to think of anything else during the long walk down the jet bridge.
United Airlines 737-9 MAX boarding door
Truthfully, I’m more excited about this than I am nervous. I have complete faith in Boeing engineers AND the entire crew of this aircraft, so I think it’s time to man up and at least *pretend* like I can’t hear the negative voices in my head.
United Airlines sanitizing wipe
Oh – they were handing out sanitizing wipes at the boarding door. Is this United’s way of telling me that I’m really gross?

My first impressions of the United 737-9 MAX

Despite this aircraft being in service for less than two months, it didn’t have any of that sexy “new airplane smell” that I love so much. This is likely because this aircraft was actually built a year ago, and sat in storage while Boeing engineers worked to get the 737 MAX re-certified.

United airlines 737-9 MAX premium economy
Being distracted by negative voices totally made me forget that I had booked a seat in premium economy for this flight. Cool!
United economy plus seats
Anyway, anyone who has flown United Airlines in the past 10 years will instantly recognize the colors and style of seats featured here on the MAX 9.
United Airlines 737-9 MAX economy plus seats
It’s…familiar.
SANspotter reading safety card
No, I’m not nervous about this at all. Why do you ask?
United Airlines 737-9 MAX safety card
Let’s just say that I’ve worked with enough stressed out software engineers over the span of my career to know that patched code is NEVER perfect.
SANspotter B737-MAX9 safety card
And even though I just claimed to have faith in everyone involved in making this flight happen today…you’re darn right I’m going to sit here and study the location of the nearest emergency exits.
United Airlines 737-9 MAX power outlets
For those that are curious, I couldn’t find any USB ports, but there are power outlets down beneath the seats.
Free streaming and wifi United Airlines
All onboard entertainment is free to consume on your own device via the complimentary WiFi, and…
United Airlines 737-9 MAX safety card cover
…you’re darn right I’m keeping the safety card within easy reach. Just in case.
SANspotter crotch shot
All in all, the United 737-9 MAX seats are comfy and spacious. I’d easily be able to spend five hours in one of these on a long transcon between New York and Los Angeles. Sorry about the crotch shot.

What’s it like to fly on a 737 MAX?

The takeoff process was really fun. The engines on the Boeing 737 MAX are a lot different than the engines found on other models of the 737, and they sound really nice as well.

737-9 MAX engine
Ok, THIS is the point where there is officially no turning back. I’ve got nowhere to run to now.
737 max engine and wing
And why would I run? My first impressions of the United 737 MAX 9 were pretty good actually – the premium economy seats are really spacious, and I love how the engines look like mini versions of what are on the 787.
737-9 MAX takeoff
With all the negative drama centered around this aircraft over the last two years, it was kind of hard not to feel a little tense during the climb out of LAX.
SANspotter clenched butt cheeks
Does it look like I’m clenching my but cheeks? Because I totally am.
737 max overhead air vents and lights
All that butt clenching aside, I felt like I was starting to like the MAX more and more by the minute.
flying on the 737 max
The sound was one of the most impressive aspects of this aircraft. It was loud but soothing (if that makes any sense), and I also quite liked how generous United was with the legroom up here in premium economy.

What kind of snacks do you get in United Economy Plus?

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic still being very much in full rage, I wasn’t expecting very much in terms of beverages and snacks on this flight. The good news is that I was expecting too little.

United Airlines 737-9 MAX tray table
Wondering what kind of snacks United Airlines is serving these days? Me too. All I’m gonna say is…I better not see any freaking Stroopwafels.
United Airlines snack service
Anyway, With all the COVID stuff still going on, they were handing out pre-packaged snack bags to limit interactions with the cabin crew.
United Airlines pre packaged snacks
Looks like we’ve got some pretzels (which is nice) and…
United Airlines stroopwafel
…are you freaking kidding me? Look – I wasn’t a fan of these things way back in 2016, and I sure as heck haven’t developed a taste for them since then.
United airlines snack selection
Am I weird for not finding Stroopwafels appetizing at all? Please be careful how you answer that…
united airlines pretzels
At least they included a bag of pretzels, because….well…I may not have survived this flight without them. Your boy SANspotter was hungry!
SANspotter pretzel dust and mask
FYI, the amount of pretzel dust that ended up on both the inside AND the outside of my mask was more than a little annoying.

What kind of onboard entertainment do you get on the United Airlines 737 MAX 9?

Although there are no personal video screens in the seat backs, United does offer a very decent streaming entertainment option which is available via Wi-Fi. This streaming entertainment is complementary and viewable on your personal devices.

United Airlines 737 MAX 9 in flight map
A quick check of the in flight map reveals that we are heading straight north along the Arizona / New Mexico border. Which is weird.
United Airlines 737 MAX 9 tablet holder
These tablet holders built into the seats are very convenient – although being slightly overkill for mobile phones. Still a neat idea though.
United Airlines 737-9 MAX in flight entertainment
And if you’re curious, the selection of tv shows and movies available on the free streaming service is quite good.
737 MAX wing view
Easily good enough to distract you from the fact that you’re heading dead nuts north on a 737 MAX when you *should* be pointing East.

Final thoughts about the United 737 MAX 9 premium economy experience

You know what? All of the fears that I had about flying on the 737 MAX were more than just a little irrational. Time will tell if it is as safe of an airplane as Boeing claims that it is, but I quite enjoyed this flight between Los Angeles and Houston. Here’s how the remainder of it went:

United 737 MAX 9 mood lighting
Let’s see. What else can I tell you about the United Airlines 737 MAX 9? Oh – there’s mood lighting, which probably looks really slick at night.
United economy plus leg room
And, it’s actually kind of fun to demonstrate how easy it is to stretch out and get comfortable here in Economy Plus. This is nice.
737 max 9 safety card pocket
Especially since there haven’t been any situations that have necessitated the use of the safety card yet.
Austin Texas snow
As if this morning hasn’t been interesting enough already, check out all this fresh snow on the ground just west of Austin Texas.
SANspotter looking out the window
Texas was hit with a once in a lifetime winter storm just a few days before this flight, and this is worth soaking in since I’ll likely never see anything like it ever again.
United Airlines 737-9 MAX interior
Oddly enough, I was supposed to do this flight the day of the storm, but I rescheduled since flights in and out of Houston airport were experiencing significant delays and cancellations.
approaching Houston
Today looks better though! It seems as if all the snow and ice is fading away as we approach Houston, and we’ll be on the ground 25 minutes ahead of schedule.
737 MAX 9 misaligned window
Pro tip: seat 9A on the United 737 MAX 9 has a misaligned window. It’s not all that bad though. Assuming you’re somewhat flexible, it’s not hard to crank your head around and get some decent views of the action.
737 MAX 9 shadow
Speaking of which, here’s some pretty sweet 737 MAX 9 shadow action on our way into runway 8L.
Runway 8L IAH
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Houston, the termination point of today’s flight.
successful 737 MAX flight
And there you have it. This little 737 MAX adventure is over, but the good news is that I’ve got lots of other fun all new adventures coming soon.
737 MAX united end of flight
Hope you’ll stay tuned for those, and (assuming you have the courage to do so)…
United Airlines 737-9 MAX
…I’ll catch you in the next one!

Pros and cons of United Airlines 737 MAX 9 Economy Plus (premium economy)

If it wasn’t obvious by now, Economy Plus is just a fancy way of saying “premium economy.” It’s important to note that this is just domestic-quality premium economy – which means that it’s basically regular economy class with a little more leg room.

For comparison’s sake, United domestic Economy Plus is absolutely nothing like the international versions of Qantas premium economy or Delta premium economy. Just throwing that out there if it wasn’t obvious already.

Pros

  • United Economy Plus (especially on the 737 MAX 9) is a really good deal. I paid just $35 to upgrade to one of these seats from a standard economy seat, so it’s absolutely worth it for longer flights.
  • Leg room is fantastic. I am 5‘10“ tall, and I could easily cross my legs without touching the seat in front of me. People over 6 feet tall should feel very comfortable in these seats.
  • Since the Boeing 737 MAX 9 is such a long aircraft, it means that the majority of the premium economy seats are forward of the engines and wing. In other words, these seats are generally quieter compared to seats located behind the wing.

Cons

  • Because United has made their Economy Plus seats so affordable, the chances of having an open middle seat next to you is slim to none. Especially on busy routes. In this case, you might want to read my list of tips for having an empty seat next to you if you want to increase your chances of it happening.
  • Being in the forward cabin of a very long aircraft means that it’s a long way to the lavatories in the back. And no, the flight attendants will not let you use the lavatory located at the front of the aircraft. That one is reserved for first class passengers only.

What did United do to inform passengers that they were flying on a 737 MAX?

One of the things I was looking forward to the most about this flight was seeing how United handled the announcement of the aircraft type. Given how much bad press this airplane has received over the past two years (all of it justified IMHO), I was curious to know if they would:

  • Proudly proclaim it as their newest (and safest) airplane, or…
  • Not mention it at all

It turns out that there were no announcements regarding aircraft type at any time during the boarding process or the flight itself. However, there was this disclaimer on their website during the booking process:

united airlines 737 max disclaimer

Clicking on the link in that disclaimer led me to the 737 MAX resource and information page – which I’ve made a screenshot and posted below since I’m not sure how long they will be keeping this page on their website:

United Airlines 737 MAX resource and information page
This is the top portion of the full United Airlines 737 MAX resource and information page. To see the entire screenshot, click here.

For comparison’s sake, I recently flew on the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 as well. They took a completely opposite approach by not mentioning it all on the website. However, they did mention the specific aircraft type (in a very glowing way – mostly related to being brand new and highly fuel efficient) during the announcements while on board.

What do you think about the Boeing 737 MAX 9?

Interestingly enough, I never once overheard anyone aboard this flight say anything about it being a 737 MAX. I did, however, overhear a group of UA flight attendants talking about the MAX just after I stepped off the plane at IAH and was taking pics of it parked at the gate.

“Oh, look at that, it’s a MAX!” one said to the others. They continued talking about it as I was walking away, and thinking back on it, I should’ve stuck around to hear if they were good comments or bad comments.

Anyway, what kind of thoughts do you have regarding the 737 MAX? I’d love to know in the comment section below!

Comments (8)

  1. Brian Arthur

    March 8, 2021
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      March 8, 2021
  2. JD

    March 8, 2021
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      March 8, 2021
  3. Nick

    March 9, 2021
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      March 10, 2021
  4. Alan

    March 13, 2021
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      March 14, 2021

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