United flies two flights from Honolulu to the east coast on internationally-configured two-cabin planes. What is sold as First Class on these planes–and BusinessFirst if you fly internationally–is a fully flat bed in a 2-1-2 configuration across the cabin.
This First Class is far superior to most domestic First Class, which is served by a recliner seat with only seven more inches of legroom than coach.
United charges 40k miles each way for two-cabin first class between Hawaii and the mainland. But some of its partners charge fewer miles and have access to all the same United Saver award space. The cheapest access is with Singapore miles–a Membership Rewards transfer partner–at only 30k miles each way. Next cheapest is Lufthansa Miles & More miles at only 35k miles each way.
I used 35,000 Lufthansa miles and $2.50 to book myself from Honolulu to Newark since I had a ton lying around from getting the 50k mile bonus (now dead) on the Lufthansa Miles & More MasterCard. I detailed the award booking here.
On the day of departure, I had my brother drop me off a few hours early at the airport to fit his schedule.
I breezed through security in the priority line (because of my first class ticket), which was uncharacteristically crowded for HNL.
After security, I headed straight for the American Airlines Admirals Club.
I got in for free with Priority Pass Select that I got from my Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN.
Find out more about the benefits of the Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN in How to Get the Most out of Your Platinum Card.
The Admirals Club at HNL is one of my favorites because during the day it has a nice view of the courtyard outside. Plus the lounge is shared with JAL business class passengers, so it has a tiny food selection including soup and Famous Amos cookies and a slightly better drink selection than a normal Admirals Club.
I had a bowl of soup and some cookies while I worked on the free wifi. I didn’t want to have too much though because I was looking forward to the dinner onboard.
The lounge isn’t incredible by any means, but it is a little better than a normal US-based airline lounge, and the price is right. After a few hours, I headed to my departure gate at about 9 PM to board the flight.
Honolulu (HNL) – Newark (EWR)
Depart: 9:25 PM on Sunday, February 16
Arrive: 12:03 PM on Monday, February 17
Aircraft: Boeing 767-400ER
Seat: 1D (First Class)
How was the seat, bed, food, and service? Is United First the way to get to Hawaii?
I was one of the last passengers to board the 39 seat first class cabin. At the aircraft door, there was no one there even to greet me. I took a left and headed to the front of the plane.
I had selected seat 1D, which is the middle seat in the 2-1-2 configuration. The window seats don’t have aisle access, which means the side aisle seats risk being climbed over in flight. The middle seat was an obvious choice for a solo traveler. A pair should grab two seats by a window like 1A and 1B or 2K and 2L.
The seat was ready for me with a blanket and pillow.
I took a look around my seat. The seat had power outlets and a USB port, which are crucial for a long flight.
The television was a good size on the bulkhead in front of me. For seats behind me, the TV is on the back of the seat in front of them.
Directly below the television was the cubby for my feet. As you can see, it’s a bit of a tight fit.
For lounging, the tight cubby isn’t a big deal. But if you’re tall like me–6’4″–the cubby is not very comfortable for sleeping. You feel like your legs are trapped.
Kudos to United for giving out full sized pillows and big, warm blankets.
Some cheap headphones were provided at each seat. I’m not sure I can tell the difference when listening to a movie between noise cancelling and regular headphones. But if you can, take note.
As pre-departure preparations continued and I snapped away, I had my first interaction with the flight attendants. While I stood to take a picture of the seat, a flight attendant walked up and gave a stern “Excuse me!” to get by. It was jarring. When I think about how non-US flight attendants in a premium cabin would have handled the situation (probably just wait for me to finish, possibly a polite “Excuse me”), it was all the more so.
No drink, menu, or amenity kit was offered before departure.
We started our nine hour flight right on time, and I excitedly waited for the menus and dinner, hoping for a kind of “international business class” experience.
That was not how the flight unfolded.
First, we never did get those amenity kits–a toothbrush would have been very nice if I had forgotten one–or menus, things you would get on seven hour flight from the east coast to Europe on the same plane.
Not getting menus made perfect sense though because there was no dinner, just a snack, which was offered by a gruff flight attendant: “We have Cusco (sic) vegetables and salame. Do you want it?”
At 10:40 PM, just before the snack service, a hot towel was offered. Then the food was brought out.
I found everything solidly tasty–especially the cheese–but it just wasn’t enough for me since I hadn’t had dinner yet, expecting it on the flight.
I finished and asked a flight attendant if there was any way I could have another. She politely declined the request because she said she wasn’t sure if there was enough and that she needed to hold them for the passengers who were already asleep in case they wanted one upon waking.
About 15 minutes later, she brought me one with a wink. This was the high point of the service.
After my movie finished, I put the seat into bed mode somewhere over the Pacific and slept a solid six hours.
I woke up as we passed Cleveland, just in time for the breakfast service. The bed had been a little tight, and there was no bedding, but I found the flat surface, pillow, and blanket comfortable enough to sleep the majority of the flight, which makes the bed and flight itself a big success.
Breakfast was on par with the dinner snack.
No options were given, and a sausage and egg biscuit, fruit, and yogurt were distributed.
The food was edible, but slightly below McDonald’s in tastiness.
The plane touched down in Newark right on time, my buddy was waiting at the gate for me, and we headed straight to the Air Train to Manhattan to start the first chapter of my trip.
The seat was mostly comfortable for sitting and reclining. The cubby hole for your feet is a little small, and the seat is pretty narrow, but it didn’t negatively impact my comfort too much.
The bed is narrow, especially at your feet and comes with no bedding. So it’s certainly below the top flying beds in quality. But it is completely flat and long enough; I was only a little scrunched. For reference, Seat Guru lists it as 6’3″ long.
I have to give the bed fairly high marks since I slept six of the nine hours and arrived in New York City refreshed.
Catering is awful on the flight. A full dinner should be catered, and a more delicious breakfast would be nice.
Service is what you’d expect if you’ve ever flown a US-based carrier in any cabin. The flight attendants give the impression that they want to get through the flight, though they generally avoid outright hostility. But do not expect any sort of proactive examples of exemplary service.
There was a solid selection of shows, music, and movies on my individual monitor. I finally watched Captain Phillips, which was a great way to pass the beginning of the flight.
I think the value proposition of this flight–despite the food and service–is incredible. United wants 22,500 United miles from Hawaii to the mainland in economy, even if you only fly to the west coast. United wants 40k for recliner first class, even to the west coast.
So to be able to pay only 30k Singapore, 35k Lufthansa, or 40k United miles to get all the way to east coast in a fully flat bed is incredible by comparison. This–and the United flight to Washington-Dulles–are the two best options to and from Hawaii by far.
For more trip reports and pictures of United BusinessFirst internationally including one on this exact plane, see:
Full Trip Report
- Introduction and Mistakes
- Honolulu to Newark in a flat bed in United First
- Radisson Martinique on Broadway
- Cathay Pacific First Class, New York to Hong Kong
- Grand Hyatt Macau
- Jetstar from Singapore to Cambodia (Low Cost Carrier Tips in Asia and Europe)
- Le Meridien Angkor Wat
- How to Do Angkor Wat
- The Private Room (Singapore Airlines Lounge) in Singapore
- Singapore First Class, Singapore to London
- The May Fair Hotel London
- Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt
- Lufthansa First Class, Frankfurt to Washington-Dulles