Flying in Style: United Airlines Hawaii Premium Economy Review

Beat of Hawaii editors Rob and Jeff recently had the opportunity to try a product new to them, United Airlines premium economy. That took place on a nearly 5,000 mile flight to Hawaii. It was United Flight 345, from Wahington Dulles to Honolulu, onboard aircraft N69059, a 22-year-old Boeing 767-400er widebody. Read on for our take on the product and whether we would fly it again.

Premium Plus is United’s name for its premium economy product.

The diagram above shows it nestled between Polaris (United’s business/first class) and Economy Plus. What Hawaii-bound travelers can expect is a vastly enhanced experience that sits firmly positioned between economy/Economy Plus and business/first class. That’s true both philosophically and literally, as seen on this aircraft’s seat map above.

United Premium Economy (aka Premium Plus) comes with a separate cabin, different seating and configuration, complimentary alcoholic beverages, two free checked bags and additional amenities. This service is only offered on specific domestic routes, including United’s widebody flights to Hawaii.

United Airlines Premium Plus (premium economy) cabin to Hawaii.

Welcome on board and departure.

While waiting to board, they announced the long duration of the flight and suggested passengers not in Premium Economy or Polaris, bring food onboard. The flight attendants (two) who served the Premium Plus cabin were welcoming as we stepped on board and remained cordial and helpful throughout the flight. They were hard-working and attentive. To set the tone, Hawaiian music was played during boarding.

United Airlines Boeing 767-400 from IAD to HNL.

The flight was on time into Honolulu.

We pushed back from the gate early, but due to some issue that required “working the checklists” for about 25 minutes, we actually just took off slightly late. The captain announced that “everything’s working,” after which taxi commenced, and, following a brief wait in line, we rolled down the runway for the nearly 5,000-mile journey.

Seatback entertainment on United Premium Plus, premium economy to Hawaii.

Entertainment in Premium Plus.

Significantly larger and more padded seats were arranged on this aircraft as just two seats together in three pairs. Spacing featured 38 inches of pitch, compared with 31 inches in economy.

Each seat had a high-quality 13” articulating touchscreen monitor with a separate armrest-mounted remote control. Unfortunately, the headset adapter was the old-fashioned type with twin plugs. The plane had no Bluetooth connectivity, which we’ve come to enjoy greatly on United when using Bluetooth active noise-cancelling headphones. The entertainment assortment on United is vast. Jeff counted, and there were 273 TV shows and 336 movies available.

Seating in Premium Plus to Hawaii.

The dedicated premium economy cabin consisted of 24 seats. They were arranged as 2x2x2 in four rows.

The larger, comfortable seats made a huge difference during the 10-hour flight. The seats were 19 inches wide and offered a reasonable 38-inch seat pitch. While we never felt crowded, and it was a world apart from economy, it did leave us wanting for just a bit more space. Seats had 6 inches of recline, which was great unless the person in front reclined their seat all the way.

We were provided nice quality blankets but no pillows. There were footrests, but they were completely useless, except for the shortest of people.

Lavatories. The flight crew asked that passengers use the economy class lavs located mid-way in the economy section. Many people instead used the Polaris class lavs that are directly in front of Premium Economy. The lavatories were full-sized, rather than the compact type size now found, for example, on United MAX aircraft.

United Premier Access included.

Premium economy passengers receive the benefits of United’s “Premier Access.” That means you’ll have dedicated airport check-in lines, plus dedicated security lanes at some airports, priority check bag handling, and priority boarding.

Much improved food and beverages.

The dining options were far better than in economy, and were pretty much identical to what we find on United Business/Polaris to and from Hawaii. However, there was no food available for pre-order, which we have come to enjoy in order to guarantee multiple options including vegetarian or fish.

While both a generous breakfast and lunch were served in premium economy (as seen above and below), economy-class guests only had a small continental breakfast as their free dining offering on the 10-hour flight. Premium Plus guests are also offered complimentary alcoholic beverages. The flight attendants offered water and beverages frequently during the flight.

Both editors slept right through the second meal service. When we awoke, there was only one vegetarian option available. Rob grabbed that while Jeff was offered anything he wanted from the economy meal purchase options at no cost. He chose the Tapas box (pictured below), which had a nice assortment.

Tapas box.  United Airlines to Hawaii.

The food and beverages were all served using nice quality dinnerware, with cloth place mats and napkins.

Overall, how were the meals in United premium economy to Hawaii?

The meals were a huge upgrade compared economy. Having said that, United is not known for superb food no matter the class of service. It can vary from awful to very good. In this case, our take is it was very good.

Booking United Premium Plus

You can start your search online using Google Flights and select Premium Economy as the class of service. Or you can do the same thing starting directly on the United Airlines website.

In terms of cost, the price was high since we flew several days before the end of year holidays. Economy was $960, Premium Economy was $1,360, and Polaris (with lie-flat seating) at $3,560.

Flight Selection: Look for flights with Premium Plus seating available and review the details to ensure they meet your preferences and requirements.

Seat Selection: During the booking process, you can select your preferred seat in the Premium Plus cabin. Alternatively, you can preview available seats by selecting “Seats” before finalizing your booking. In checking for premium economy on other flights, we find that the price and the difference between economy, premium economy, and Polaris vary widely.

Tip: We would have preferred to choose two seats in the center section. That way, both passengers can have direct aisle access. When we booked, those seats were already taken.

Review: United Airlines Hawaii Economy/Economy Plus. Finding Comfort In The Friendly Skies.

How does Premium Economy compare with Economy Plus?

The difference between United economy and premium economy is vast.

Economy Plus (pictured above) is part of the regular economy section of the plane, whereas premium economy is located in an entirely separate cabin. Economy Plus seats merely offer extra legroom. It can either be purchased when buying economy-class as a separate fee or is offered free to elite members.

When would we choose Premium Economy instead of Economy Plus?

On a flight of ten hours like this, it was a great relief to have the space and amenities offered in Premium Plus. On a flight from the West Coast to Hawaii, however, we might have opted instead for Economy Plus simply due to the cost difference.

To us, United Premium Plus is compelling when traveling longer distances (more than 2,500 miles), where business class is cost-prohibitive (as was the case on this Washington DC to Honolulu flight). It offered a clearly superior flying experience when compared with economy.

The decision on how to upgrade depends on many factors. We’d always prefer to fly in Polaris/first, but that simply isn’t always affordable. When we want to have a good modicum of comfort without the premium price tag of business/first, United Premium Plus is a great option for us that achieves a satisfying balance between comfort and cost.

In summary, we liked Premium Plus more than expected.

The service was excellent, the comfort was very good, and the food was good. If there had been just a couple of more inches of legroom, it would have made the entire experience superb. As it was, we would definitely consider flying Premium Plus to Hawaii again under specific circumstances. First, the price would need to be reasonable relative to the cost difference between economy, premium economy and business/first. Also, for an overnight flight, it would still be difficult to sleep.

Have you flown in the premium economy section of United, American, or Delta to Hawaii?

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14 thoughts on “Flying in Style: United Airlines Hawaii Premium Economy Review”

  1. I liked your article on UA Premium Seating Plus. My wife and I along with another couple and are traveling UA Polaris/First from Boston with a 1hr stop in LAX. Is there anything you can provide re what experience we can expect during our flights such as Bluetooth vs Plug noise cancelation headphones; are pillows provided; is there a need for neck pillows when sitting upright? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Stephen.

      We don’t recall getting pillows recently in the United First. Just in Polaris. We had them between Hawaii and Denver (which they called Plaris) and between Europe and the mainland in real Polaris. Others may have had different experiences they can share.

      On the Bluetooth, it seems to just vary by which planes have had that upgrade and which have not. We’ve had those on Dreamliner, and 737 recently.

      Aloha.

  2. I have flown from ORD to HNL in premium economy many times. I love it. I always book well in advance so that I can get a seat in the first row of premium economy. The leg room is fantastic in that row (at least on the Dreamliner), though there’s no place to store things during takeoff and landing. I’m a little concerned because I’m planning an October flight, and I see very few premium economy options. Does anyone know if United is phasing out premium economy on the Dreamliner?

  3. We always fly American’s premium economy from DFW to Hawaii. We always get a pillow and blanket, but this year they included headphones, socks, and eye covers. Everyone on American’s Flagship gets a meal, not just the upgrade seats. Those who pay for preferred seats in economy w/more leg room get free cocktails as well.

  4. I have flown UA PE from DEN to LHR and LHR to ORD. I like it for the extra room compared to Economy on long haul. I really don’t get too excited over the food or amenity kit. It’s all about the extra room. Biz is usually out of my budget so it’s a nice compromise.

    1
  5. Excellent thoughts and review of UA Premium Economy to Hawaii. As a million miler lifetime premiere Gold, I fly UA a lot on the mainland, but not so much anymore to Hawaii. I have really enjoyed HA’s AUS/HNL nonstop over the past few years. However as I have stated before, HA’s new 787 product is a good change, but their seating configuration in economy, and no premium economy product is discouraging. I might have to consider flying UA again to Hawaii.
    Aloha!

    1
  6. United’s Premium Plus is the exact same seat as American’s Premium Economy, but having flown both recently to/from Latin America, there’s a world of difference in service.

    United’s service was friendly, even cheerful, helpful, and attentive. While the boarding drink, as always, was served in a plastic cup, wine was served in a proper glass with dinner.

    The kindest thing I can say about American’s service is that it was indifferent. Flight attendants couldn’t be bothered to make eye contact, and their beverage service used plastic cups throughout, including with dinner.

    4
    1. Hi,

      I just flew AA PE to HNL from DFW on Jan 23, I had no complaints at all. The cabin crew was cheerful and attentive, beverage service (coffee for me) was served in a china mug (came back twice to top off).

      I have to stand often to stretch bad knees and had a nice chat with them in the galley section. Even though the return flight was badly late, the crew was just as nice.

      I actually avoid UA because of the hideous 772 FC seating and often cold fish crews. Totally opposite experience right??? 😀

      Best Regards

  7. I’m flying Delta Comfort + in May, originally it too was scheduled on a 767, but it’s been abruptly changed to an A330 a few days ago. Demand seems to be picking up for the late spring “slow” season. Folks trying to lower costs of travel to the islands may be a factor. In regard to First Class on these Delta 767s? Don’t do it. The lie flat seating is short, Very uncomfortable, and confining. You actually have to position your arm in a slot under the window side armrest to be able to fit Before you can even fully recline the seat…

    4
    1. Hi Jay.

      We get it about uncomfortable lie-flat seating. Many people complain about the current Hawaiian A330 Optimares lie-flats. They’re quite odd. After many attempts, we get them to work by pushing up as high as possible to the top of the seat when flat. Otherwise, legs hang out in the aisle. Also, United has some super-short lie-flat seats – on the 757-200.

      Aloha.

      6
      1. There wasn’t much in the way of reasonably (for this route anyway) priced Biz/First class back to the CONUS at the end of May (most were 767’s and 757’s at the time of booking) so I opted instead to fly Hawaiian P Economy ( $700 ish)to LAS (leaves at ~ 08:00 HST and arrives ~ 3:30 pm local LAS). Visit some friends then fly back on SW Biz Select $320. WAAAAY Mod Bedda if you know what I mean… 😀

        Best Regards

        2
  8. So I equate the United Econ Plus to what used to be called Business Class on some flights back in the past. The layout is the same, if a little more roomy on some flights, and the service is at or about that level.

    1
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