Flight Review: United 737-800 in Economy — LAX to Maui

Oct 14, 2015

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En route to the Hawaiian island of Maui, TPG Assistant Editor Matthew Zuzolo flew two legs on United —  Economy Plus from JFK-LAX, and then standard economy for his five-hour leg from Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG). Here’s his review of United’s transpacific experience in standard economy aboard its 737-800.

View from my seat on the ground in Maui.
The view from my seat on the ground in Maui.

Booking the Flight

The total cost of my one-way ticket from New York (JFK) to Maui (OGG) was $696.50. Although I had the chance to fly in Economy Plus to Los Angeles, I was back in standard economy for the second half of my journey. Major carriers’ economy fares for LAX-OGG flights are usually around $250-$300 each way (though prices can go much higher), and while premium economy upgrades vary between carriers, United charges approximately $100 for Economy Plus on this route.

Ticket prices can vary depending on the flight details.
Ticket prices can vary depending on the flight details.

Here’s my fare breakdown:

One-way ticket from New York-JFK to Maui (OGG): $538.01
Taxes and fees: $45.49
Economy Plus upgrade between JFK-LAX: $113
Total: $696.50

If you want to book an award ticket for this one-way leg from LAX-OGG in United Economy, it will require at least 22,500 MileagePlus miles (not including taxes and fees).

I chose not to check luggage on this trip, so I wasn’t charged United’s baggage fees ($25 for the first bag, $35 for the second), but if I had the United MileagePlus Explorer Card or United elite status, I could’ve checked my bags for free.

LAX’s Terminal 7

My flight left from Terminal 7 at LAX, which was pretty nice. There were plenty of food options (including an outpost of LA’s BLD, a Wolfgang Puck Express, a Loteria! Grill, the Rolling Stone Bar & Grill and The Counter Custom Built Burgers), as well as a United lounge close to my gate. The boarding process was quick and easy, and I was on my way in no time at all.

Cabin and Seat

A row in United's 737.
An economy row on United’s 737.

After a long transcon flight in Economy Plus from New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) on United, I was ready for the next leg of my journey to Maui (OGG) in economy on United’s 737-800 — which turned out to be cramped almost to the point of claustrophobia.

The economy cabin on this 737-800 has 150 seats in a 3-3 configuration. The 96 standard economy seats (54 more are Economy Plus) have 31 inches of pitch and 17.3 inches of width – and neither measurement was enough to keep my six-foot frame comfortable on this flight. My row-mates slept most of this five-hour and 42-minute daytime flight, so I remained seated/stuck in my window seat for the entire flight with my knees hitting the seat in front of me and little space to move at all.

Economy seats on the 737 are really cramped — especially for a six-foot frame.

The rest of the seat design is equally unfortunate. There’s almost no at-seat storage for personal belongings, so I found myself juggling my books, electronics and earbuds whenever I had to shift even a little bit. The narrow storage pocket is located just below the seatback entertainment screen, and only has enough space for the in-flight literature. There is a small pocket located at the bottom of the seat below the tray table, but it’s pretty much useless for anything besides a single small book or tablet.

Amenities and Food

The in-flight entertainment was pretty useless for most of the flight.
The in-flight entertainment was pretty useless for most of the flight.

The flight also includes seatback entertainment touchscreens and DirecTV (click here to see what’s playing on your flight), but because the media remote is located in the center of the right armrest, it’s the perfect place for your seatmate to accidentally change your channel … repeatedly. I rarely watch or listen to in-flight entertainment, so this didn’t bother me personally, but if I were looking forward to this option, it would’ve been quite frustrating on an already uncomfortable flight. Also note that DirecTV doesn’t work over the ocean, though you can watch recorded programming.

In my confirmation email, I learned that United offers Wi-Fi on this aircraft, but as I’d expected, it only actually works when the plane is near land — and is therefore pretty useless on a flight between Los Angeles and Hawaii. The (theoretical) service costs $5.99 for flights two hours and less, and $7.99 for flights more than two hours.

One of the possible meals for Economy Plus passengers.
One of the possible meals for United’s Economy Plus passengers, which I never had the opportunity to purchase in economy.

As I mentioned in my review of my Economy Plus flight between JFK-LAX, United does serve food on long flights like this. However, Economy Plus gets food preference on each flight’s limited stock, and on board this flight, I was never even offered the opportunity to buy anything. Instead, I subsisted on my complimentary beverage for the duration of the flight. If you’re flying economy on this route, be sure to eat and/or pick up some food while you’re still at LAX.

Bottom Line

United’s economy class on its 737-800 is very cramped. This trip was my first time flying United in quite a while, and I was surprised and disappointed by the lack of space in and around the seats. It’s hard to complain when your final destination is Hawaii, but my legs were definitely hurting by the end of the flight. On the long flight from Los Angeles to Maui, you’d likely have a better experience by springing for a roughly $100 Economy Plus upgrade, especially if you’re tall or like to have an in-flight meal option.

Have you flown from Los Angeles to Maui? We’d love to hear your comments or questions below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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