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Review: United Airlines Premium Plus (premium economy) from London to San Francisco

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This is our review of the United Airlines premium economy cabin on a Boeing 777-200 flight from London to San Francisco.

My very first long haul flight back in 2014 at the age of 18 was on United to San Francisco, so it feels like a homecoming of sorts to be returning not just on the same airline but also the same exact flight, UA900!

In fact, it was that trip that got me interested in aviation and flying. Whilst I’d been on short haul flights since I was born visiting family in Germany, something about the long haul experience ignited a new interest in me. I’ve never looked back.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

In the nine years since that flight a lot has changed, not least that United has upgraded all its long haul aircraft with new Polaris business class seats as well as Premium Plus and economy cabins.

Without a UK alliance partner (American has BA, Delta has Virgin) United has to do all the heavy lifting itself. It now has 23 flights a day from London to San Francisco, LA, Denver, Houston, Chicago, Washington DC, Newark and Boston.

There are three daily flights to San Francisco – one 777 and two 787s.

United Airlines provided this flight to HfP for review purposes. As usual, HfP paid all of its other costs.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

The United app is amazing

Before I begin, I want to make a note of how good the United app on iPhone is. I’ve got so used to the slightly useless British Airways and Virgin Atlantic apps that it’s almost a shock when an airline app actually works in a fast, intuitive way.

(Although, of course, British Airways won ‘Best Travel App’ – not even best airline app, but best TRAVEL app – at the Business Traveller magazine awards this week so it seems I am a little out of touch.)

It just works, from being able to select seats within the app to offering various add-ons such as wifi bundles, lounge passes, travel insurance etc. It also offered me the chance to change my flights on the same day for free as the flight was very full.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

It is the first airline app I have used that integrates with iOS live activities, which is so useful when you’re travelling. It is also quick to show gate numbers, track baggage and more. It just works, which is more than can be said for most airline apps.

Checking in for my flight

Whilst there are no dedicated premium economy check-in desks, United’s Premium Plus tickets come with what it calls ‘Premier Access’, which means you can use priority lanes at Terminal 2 check-in and security. United is in Zone D – the area on the right next to the pub.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

That said, when I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 2 at 7am there was no queue for economy either. I quickly used one of the desks to print out my boarding pass and dropped my bag at one of the stations, which didn’t take long.

(Note that the staff will tell you that you can’t drop your bags until three hours prior to departure. I correctly assumed there is nothing actually stopping you if you walk up to them and do it anyway! I assume they say this to manage queues at busier times but I did find it funny when they told me as virtually the only customer ….)

It was then a hop skip and a jump to the fast track security queue, which I’m glad I had as the normal channels were very busy. In fact, they were feeding people into the fast track queue which was virtually empty. I got through within about five minutes despite the baggage scanner taking its time with every bag.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

Unfortunately, like most other premium economy tickets, United’s Premium Plus does not get you entry into the United Club at Heathrow. However, you could book a United Club pass for $42 if you wanted to.

I did get access as a courtesy because we were reviewing the lounges. You can read my review of the London United Club here and of the United Global Services Lounge here.

Onboard United’s Boeing 777-200

I was first to board the aircraft in order to get some photographs. United operates a lot of premium-dense aircraft to London. The Boeing 777 I was on had 50 seats in Polaris business class, followed by a relatively small cabin of 24 Premium Plus seats and another 202 economy seats:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

I was surprised by the size of the Premium Plus cabin, which is just three rows. Premium economy tends to be one of the most popular (and profitable) cabins for airlines so I’m surprised it wasn’t larger.

Seats are in a 2-4-2 configuration, which means there are two seats fewer per row than in economy, which is 3-4-3.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

You can generally distinguish the Premium Plus cabin by the purple leather seating. I was in 21K, the aisle seat of a window pair:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

At my seat was a lovely Saks Fifth Avenue pillow, herringbone blanket and a purple neoprene amenity kit.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

Inside the amenity kit was a pair of socks, eye mask, dental kit, ear plugs and Sunday Riley hand cream and lip balm:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

Note that this amenity kit has been replaced in the last couple of weeks by one supplied by Therabody in a grey recycled plastic bag:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

It’s a shame they didn’t retain the purple! Inside, you’ll find non-slip socks, tissues, dental kit, eye mask and TheraFace products including a towelette, lip balm and hand cream.

Overall, I thought the amenity kit, blankets and pillows were excellent for a premium economy flight.

United’s Premium Plus seat

Let’s take a look at the seat itself. One of the benefits of flying in premium economy is more leg room and a wider seat, and there was plenty of both: 38″ seat pitch and 18.5″ seat width. This is in line with other premium economy seats, and I believe United uses the same seat as Virgin Atlantic does on its A350s.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

At 6’2″ I had more than enough space for my knees:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

The seats come with adjustable headrests with fold out wings that keep your head in place when you sleep:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

In the centre armrests you’ll find some storage space, as well as a USB and mains socket which charged my phone very quickly.

Seat controls and an IFE control unit were just under the cocktail table:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

The tray table is in the other armrest, and features a bifold table including a tablet stand.

There is also an adjustable leg rest as well as a fold-down foot rest:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

In-flight entertainment

On the seatback in front of you you’ll find a large 12 or 13″ in-flight entertainment screen depending on aircraft type. This was excellent quality and very responsive, and again United’s IT shines through.

For example, close to arrival, it would make recommendations of shows or films based on whether you had enough time to finish them or not.

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

It also showed you the service pattern for the flight, which I thought was very helpful. This included when there would be meal services and how the lights would be dimmed:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

There was a decent selection of movies and I ended up watching Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fablemans, which I can highly recommend.

Wifi was available throughout the flight, with free messaging for all. You could buy a full-flight surfing package for $8, which I thought was exceptionally good value for an 11 hour flight. This allowed me to catch up on my emails and industry news, although there were a few moments when it seemed to drop. Reconnecting seemed to do the trick, however.

Food and service in United Premium Plus

I was surprised to find that no boarding drink was offered on the flight. I think this is the first premium economy flight I’ve taken without a drink before departure.

After take-off the crew came round with a drinks service, with a choice of beers, spirits, house wines or soft drinks. I asked if they had any sparkling wines, which they don’t. This is a bit poor in premium economy – it would have been nice to have something on board, even if it was cava or prosecco.

This first round of drinks was also served in a plastic cup ….

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

The initial lunch service commenced a while later, with a choice of chicken or veggie option. I went for the chicken:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

It tasted good, although I found the portion a little small and the lack of a ‘proper’ dessert, in favour of some admittedly delicious truffles, a little basic.

(Note the glass of champagne from business class, which the cabin crew unexpectedly brought me after I asked about sparkling wine. He knew I was reviewing the flight so kudos to him for taking initiative but this is absolutely not something you would get as a normal passenger, unfortunately!)

Later on in the flight the crew came round with a choice of light snack with another drinks service, and they also passed bottled water around a couple of times. For the light snack you had a choice of Walkers cheese and onion crisps, some chocolate or some corn; cabin crew encouraged you to take more than one.

In the final 90 minutes a final meal service passed through the cabin, with cheese and turkey crostinis:

Review United Premium Plus (premium economy) London to San Francisco

I actually quite enjoyed this – it felt more suitable than the ‘pizza in a box’ you often get as a second meal service in economy and premium economy flights. It would’ve been nice to have a different salad rather than an identical one to lunch, though. Sadly, it was back to the plastic drinksware.


To summarise my experience flying in United’s Premium Plus cabin ….

On the one hand, the hard product is excellent with a comfortable seat, good in-flight entertainment, a comfortable pillow, blanket and amenity kit, as well as a useful app. This part of the experience was great and, to be honest, there is nothing I would change here.

On the other hand you have the meal services, which whilst fine are not as good as they could be. No boarding drink, the lack of a sparkling wine, plastic cups and a duplicated second salad are a step down from the competition.

Whilst the cabin crew were perfectly friendly, I do wish United would run a couple more drinks services throughout the flight, particularly between the lunch and the snack service. For several hours it felt like they had disappeared entirely.

With a couple of changes, I think United Airlines could offer a best-in-class premium economy service. All it would take is a little more focus on the food.

Overall, it feels like United treats Premium Plus as a better economy product than a half-way house to business class, which is also reflected in the lack of a curtain between economy and premium.

Thank you to United for arranging my flight. You can find out more about Premium Plus on the United website here.

A review of Polaris business class will follow next week.

Head for Points made a financial contribution to the Woodland Trust as part of this trip. The Woodland Trust creates and manages forests in the UK in accordance with the Woodland Carbon Code.

Comments (56)

  • Bernard says:

    Nice review. Of course premium economy is just that, so perhaps no surprise there is economy like catering. (Catering is United’s weak point. It’s terrible in every cabin since covid.)
    It’s amazing that the BA app won something that wasn’t ‘world’s most dysfunctional useless app’?
    How much did BA bribe Business Traveller? Clearly business traveller have not done any travelling to discover an app at BA that
    Randomly logs you out
    Can’t make bookings
    Forgets your flyer status
    Looses all your personal details
    Couldn’t cope with covid forms
    Can’t cope with multileg itineraries
    Manages to lose every booking
    Struggles to generate boarding passes within the app
    Provides inaccurate flight information.

    In contrast yes United is good, as is SAS now.
    BA are in the stone age.

  • PH says:

    I’ve just been booking and then re-arranging some US domestic flights with United, and I thought their website and booking journey was light years ahead of BA. Then when I needed to call about something, they answered the general (no status) line after 3 rings…

    • PH says:

      Problems with US carriers are food, service (sometimes) and if flying from the UK annoying security questions, which BA doesn’t seem to do unless your boarding pass is marked SSS

  • @mkcol says:

    Is the United app as spectacular on Android?

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