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.
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) – Houston, TX (IAH)
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Aircraft: 737-9 MAX
Duration: 2 hours 54 minutes
Seat: 9A (Economy Plus)
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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:
- How full is this flight going to be? Would it be obvious that people are actively avoiding the MAX at all costs?
- What will the conversations be like? Will I overhear lots of people talking about the fact that this is a 737 MAX?
- Will the gate agents make any specific announcements about this being a 737 MAX?
- 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.
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.
It's often cheaper to pay for a flight with miles than it is to pay with cash!
- I usually purchase miles to pay for long haul business class on United and Star Alliance partners. It's generally cheaper that way.
- Its a great way to top off your account balance if you're just short of the amount required for an award trip or upgrade.
- You can buy miles for yourself or another MileagePlus member.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
- 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. It’s almost as good as the legroom in first class (there are loads of pics in my United A319 first class review if you want to see how it compares).
- 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.
- 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:
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:
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!
This jet is an engineering joke. By moving the engines forward from the “old” 737 a completely new aerodynamic result occurred which Boeing attempted to patch up with a band-aid approach. I will still avoid this plane whenever I can. Just waiting for the next crash….
They definitely took some shortcuts for sure. Let’s just hope they fixed whatever was wrong with it…
The Max has made well over 500,000 flights, maybe a million. Most other means of transport are less safe – that includes cars, trucks, trains, bicycles . . . . . Those two crashes were obviously frightening but do need to be viewed in perspective.
Has the MAX really made over 500k flights by now?
itripreport would probably like to have a word with you about Stroopwafels! I don’t have an opinion yet since I haven’t tried one before. Good to see you back in the skies!
Haha, I think a LOT of people would like to have a word with me about Stroopwafels. I’ve found that it’s a love/hate kind of thing – I don’t know very many people who think they are just ‘ok’. You’re either going to really love it…or really hate it.
My opinion on the 737Max is that it never should have existed, I’ve always thought that Boeing never should have closed the production line for the 757, being a better platform to develop on for planes on this size. Of course there was good reason at the time to stop building 757s. But yet I also have faith in Boeing, including their 737Max, this is similar to the DC-10 “problem” quite a few decades ago: bad things happen, it gets fixed and doesn’t happen again.
And Stroopwafels? I personally love those, always look forward to those if I fly United. But I understand that you can’t expect everyone to love the same food so I completely understand that some people simply aren’t fans of them.
My hope is that Boeing learned a lot from trying to extend the life of the 737 too far, and that this is the last that we’ll see of this airframe. I also agree that with everything that has happened, this is very likely the safest plane in the sky at the moment. Regarding the Stroopwafel, one of the things that I’ve learned from telling everyone how much I hate them is that I’m definitely in the minority! I always knew I was the weird one…
Just got back from Hawaii (5 hours) one seat back from where the author sat and must say the Max 9 was one of the most comfortable flights I’ve been on including the 787 Dreamliner in economy plus. Overhead storage is also huge. Would look to fly again.
The video you made is one of my favorites. I especially liked the beginning, with all the suspense/anxiety of being about to fly on a 737 MAX. This written review is also pretty good.
I’ve said this before, but I really liked flying on the MAX! It felt like a cross between the 737 & 787. The narrow cabin and awkwardly low (but decently large) windows are in line with what you’ll get on most 737’s, but the engine sound reminded me a lot of the 787, in that it was quiet & smooth. Both have the beautiful Boeing Sky Interior.
Regarding the MAX itself, I think that Boeing took the 737 too far and should’ve made a clean-sheet replacement. The 737’s engines can’t be enlarged any more without making the aircraft unstable, requiring MCAS. And we all know how Boeing handled the MCAS issue. Sure, a clean-sheet design is more expensive, but it’s definitely better in the long run.
Thanks Peter! I forgot that I even made a video about this (lol). They’re all starting to blend together at this point…
Anyway, yes, I fully agree with what you’re saying about the MAX. It’s an aircraft that Boeing took too far, but luckily, they pulled it off and I quite enjoy flying on it. This is the end of the road for the 737 though. At least I hope it is!
Also, I agree that United’s Economy Plus, if reasonably priced (a small premium over regular Economy), is worth the extra cost. You’ll get a really good amount of legroom, and from my experience, the service is slightly better than Economy.
Oh, and I think I’ve said this before, but I’m one of those who likes the Stroopwafel! It’s one of my favorite parts about flying on United.
Okay then, that settles it. Now I know where to send all my uneaten Stroopwafels!