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I flew on United's new ultra-premium transcontinental flight from New York to California and it's now my least favorite way to cross the US in economy

I flew on United's new ultra-premium transcontinental flight from New York to California and it's now my least favorite way to cross the US in economy
  • United just began flying between New York City and California again for the first time since 2015.
  • Flights use John F. Kennedy International Airport and are flown by a premium-configured Boeing 767-300ER offering 46 business class seats, 22 premium economy seats, and 99 economy seats.
  • In economy, however, many of the most desirable seats are dubbed "Economy Plus" and come at a premium, with few options to get a good seat for those that don't want to pay up.

United Airlines is back at New York's John F, Kennedy International Airport, having returned in March after a six-year absence that started when the airline ended flights to California from the airport in 2015.

United Airlines is back at New York's John F, Kennedy International Airport, having returned in March after a six-year absence that started when the airline ended flights to California from the airport in 2015.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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The transcontinental routes were premium-focused and used Boeing 757s outfitted with additional first class and business classes seats to service the lucrative clientele flying coast-to-coast.

The transcontinental routes were premium-focused and used Boeing 757s outfitted with additional first class and business classes seats to service the lucrative clientele flying coast-to-coast.
A United Airlines Boeing 757-200 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Eliyahu Yosef Parypa/Shutterstock.com
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Although the routes weren't profitable, then-airline president Scott Kirby said that it was a "mistake" for the airline to leave because those lucrative customers shifted to other airlines like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines for their transcontinental needs, and more.

Although the routes weren't profitable, then-airline president Scott Kirby said that it was a "mistake" for the airline to leave because those lucrative customers shifted to other airlines like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines for their transcontinental needs, and more.
United Airlines president Scott Kirby speaks at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago Reuters
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But now, United is back with a vengeance and taking on competitors with one of its supposedly swankiest aircraft, a Boeing 767-300ER with a whopping 46 Polaris business class seats, 22 Premium Plus premium economy seats, and 99 economy seats.

But now, United is back with a vengeance and taking on competitors with one of its supposedly swankiest aircraft, a Boeing 767-300ER with a whopping 46 Polaris business class seats, 22 Premium Plus premium economy seats, and 99 economy seats.
The first United Airlines flight to return to New York's JFK Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I flew on the newly restored route from New York to San Francisco on a trip to the West Coast. Here's what it was like.

I flew on the newly restored route from New York to San Francisco on a trip to the West Coast. Here's what it was like.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Arriving at around 3 p.m. on a Monday, the terminal was eerily quiet thanks to a lack of international flyers. Only two United flights were scheduled to depart that day, both in the early evening, and there was no line at all to check-in.

Arriving at around 3 p.m. on a Monday, the terminal was eerily quiet thanks to a lack of international flyers. Only two United flights were scheduled to depart that day, both in the early evening, and there was no line at all to check-in.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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United returned to its old home at Kennedy International, Terminal 7. It's among the smallest terminals at the airport and all gates are just a short walk from the security checkpoint.

United returned to its old home at Kennedy International, Terminal 7. It's among the smallest terminals at the airport and all gates are just a short walk from the security checkpoint.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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But with a fraction of its normal number of travelers, many of the shops and eateries were closed. All the lounges in the terminal were also closed, which takes a bit of the premium out of the premium service as both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have open lounges at the airport.

But with a fraction of its normal number of travelers, many of the shops and eateries were closed. All the lounges in the terminal were also closed, which takes a bit of the premium out of the premium service as both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have open lounges at the airport.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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United primarily uses Gates 2 and 3 in the terminal, which are just a quick walk from security and boast expansive seating areas.

United primarily uses Gates 2 and 3 in the terminal, which are just a quick walk from security and boast expansive seating areas.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I got a quick look at our aircraft before departure. This Boeing 767 was nearly 21 years old and was due for a paint job as there was some green showing.

I got a quick look at our aircraft before departure. This Boeing 767 was nearly 21 years old and was due for a paint job as there was some green showing.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Boarding began a full 50 minutes before the flight, which I initially thought was more than needed since the aircraft only has 167 seats.

Boarding began a full 50 minutes before the flight, which I initially thought was more than needed since the aircraft only has 167 seats.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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United has since abandoned its back-to-front boarding policy and now boards in zones, based on seat location.

United has since abandoned its back-to-front boarding policy and now boards in zones, based on seat location.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I walked onboard and quickly realized that all that glitters isn't gold. The first thing I thought when I stepped on board was that this was an old plane with new seats..

I walked onboard and quickly realized that all that glitters isn't gold. The first thing I thought when I stepped on board was that this was an old plane with new seats..
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Polaris business class did look impressive with the luxurious and privacy-minded seats arranged in a 1-1-1 configuration. All of these seats go fully lie-flat, as well.

Polaris business class did look impressive with the luxurious and privacy-minded seats arranged in a 1-1-1 configuration. All of these seats go fully lie-flat, as well.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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A single seat in the cabin was initially selling for thousands but once I booked, the cheapest upgrade price I saw was around $364. This is the route's moneymaker but 17 seats went empty, the seat map showed just before departure.

A single seat in the cabin was initially selling for thousands but once I booked, the cheapest upgrade price I saw was around $364. This is the route's moneymaker but 17 seats went empty, the seat map showed just before departure.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I probably would've enjoyed the flight a lot more if I was in this swanky cabin. But I was in economy all the way.

I probably would've enjoyed the flight a lot more if I was in this swanky cabin. But I was in economy all the way.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Business class was followed by the Premium Plus cabin with its purple recliner seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration. These seats offer a luxurious 19 inches of width and 38 inches of pitch.

Business class was followed by the Premium Plus cabin with its purple recliner seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration. These seats offer a luxurious 19 inches of width and 38 inches of pitch.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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United wanted $199 to upgrade to these seats, which isn't unreasonable at all for a long flight such as this one.

United wanted $199 to upgrade to these seats, which isn't unreasonable at all for a long flight such as this one.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Economy houses the remaining 99 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, standard for the 767. It's preferable for me since I normally choose a window seat and have one less person in the row to climb over when I get up.

Economy houses the remaining 99 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, standard for the 767. It's preferable for me since I normally choose a window seat and have one less person in the row to climb over when I get up.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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But on this flight, a window seat is a luxury. Only seven window seats are available in regular economy, the rest are "Economy Plus" seats that cost a premium because they offer extra legroom.

But on this flight, a window seat is a luxury. Only seven window seats are available in regular economy, the rest are "Economy Plus" seats that cost a premium because they offer extra legroom.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Naturally, the free window seats and the aisle seats in the two-seat pairs are the first to go. I booked this ticket less than two weeks from departure so my only option was an aisle seat in the center aisle.

Naturally, the free window seats and the aisle seats in the two-seat pairs are the first to go. I booked this ticket less than two weeks from departure so my only option was an aisle seat in the center aisle.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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And that was the biggest disappointment of the flight as I'm a lover of the window seat.

And that was the biggest disappointment of the flight as I'm a lover of the window seat.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I was in seat 31F for the flight, one of 56 standard economy seats in the cabin. The center-aisle is almost exclusively regular economy seats and offer, in my opinion, the least desirable seats in the cabin unless the entire row is open.

I was in seat 31F for the flight, one of 56 standard economy seats in the cabin. The center-aisle is almost exclusively regular economy seats and offer, in my opinion, the least desirable seats in the cabin unless the entire row is open.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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There are also 43 Economy Plus seats in total offering 34 inches of legroom. Prices averaged at around $70 for an upgrade.

There are also 43 Economy Plus seats in total offering 34 inches of legroom. Prices averaged at around $70 for an upgrade.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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The regular economy seats were quite comfortable and spacious with 31 inches of pitch and 18.5 inches of width.

The regular economy seats were quite comfortable and spacious with 31 inches of pitch and 18.5 inches of width.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Each seat had its own seat-back touch-screens to provide entertainment on the long flight to the West Coast.

Each seat had its own seat-back touch-screens to provide entertainment on the long flight to the West Coast.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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On offer was a selection of movies...

On offer was a selection of movies...
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Television shows...

Television shows...
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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And music.

And music.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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There was also a moving map to keep track of the flight's location throughout the journey. It wasn't United's newest system but it did the trick and flight attendants even gave out headphones, which I needed since I forgot to bring my non-iPhone pair.

There was also a moving map to keep track of the flight's location throughout the journey. It wasn't United's newest system but it did the trick and flight attendants even gave out headphones, which I needed since I forgot to bring my non-iPhone pair.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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As I settled in for the flight, I quickly saw why we needed 50 minutes of boarding time. Flight attendants worked double-time to properly guide seemingly lost passengers who couldn't navigate the twin-aisle aircraft and wanted to move around to be closer to family.

As I settled in for the flight, I quickly saw why we needed 50 minutes of boarding time. Flight attendants worked double-time to properly guide seemingly lost passengers who couldn't navigate the twin-aisle aircraft and wanted to move around to be closer to family.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Some passengers moved to empty seats, not knowing they were Economy Plus seats, and were told they'd have to pay for an upgrade to sit in the seats. All in all, a frantic start to the flight.

Some passengers moved to empty seats, not knowing they were Economy Plus seats, and were told they'd have to pay for an upgrade to sit in the seats. All in all, a frantic start to the flight.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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The plane's age showed even more when we tried to leave the gate. The auxiliary power unit was seemingly inoperative and required a fix that delayed our departure by around 20 minutes.

The plane's age showed even more when we tried to leave the gate. The auxiliary power unit was seemingly inoperative and required a fix that delayed our departure by around 20 minutes.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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But it was ultimately fixed and we taxied to Runway 31L for departure. Soon enough, it was our turn to take to the skies.

But it was ultimately fixed and we taxied to Runway 31L for departure. Soon enough, it was our turn to take to the skies.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I normally love the view of New York City when departing from this airport, which made not being in the window even more frustrating.

I normally love the view of New York City when departing from this airport, which made not being in the window even more frustrating.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Flight attendants quickly jumped into action and started the in-flight service shortly after takeoff.

Flight attendants quickly jumped into action and started the in-flight service shortly after takeoff.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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While I was waiting for it to reach my row, I started scrolling through the movies and while there weren't a lot of new releases, there were some classics. I was torn between "Inception," "You've Got Mail," and "That Thing You Do" to watch first.

While I was waiting for it to reach my row, I started scrolling through the movies and while there weren't a lot of new releases, there were some classics. I was torn between "Inception," "You've Got Mail," and "That Thing You Do" to watch first.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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The traditional plastic snack bags were first handed out.

The traditional plastic snack bags were first handed out.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Inside were the essentials including a bottle of water, packet of pretzels, Stroopwafel, and sanitary wipe.

Inside were the essentials including a bottle of water, packet of pretzels, Stroopwafel, and sanitary wipe.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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The drink service quickly followed. United has returned to a full soft drink service and that meant full-size cans with ice.

The drink service quickly followed. United has returned to a full soft drink service and that meant full-size cans with ice.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I watched the last 10 minutes of "You've Got Mail," arguably the best part of the movie, while enjoying my seltzer water.

I watched the last 10 minutes of "You've Got Mail," arguably the best part of the movie, while enjoying my seltzer water.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Business class and premium economy class passengers were treated to a hot meal.

Business class and premium economy class passengers were treated to a hot meal.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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After the meal service, I opened my laptop to get some work done. My MacBook Pro fit decently well on the tray table, though I did need to angle it when the seat in front of me was in full recline.

After the meal service, I opened my laptop to get some work done. My MacBook Pro fit decently well on the tray table, though I did need to angle it when the seat in front of me was in full recline.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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WiFi was available for purchase and prices were reasonable. It was only $14.99 for the entire flight.

WiFi was available for purchase and prices were reasonable. It was only $14.99 for the entire flight.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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The rest of the flight continued uneventfully with no true highlights in economy. But while economy was full, many seats in the premium cabins went unsold.

The rest of the flight continued uneventfully with no true highlights in economy. But while economy was full, many seats in the premium cabins went unsold.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Hand sanitizer dispensers were also installed throughout the aircraft and next to the restrooms, which was a nice safety touch.

Hand sanitizer dispensers were also installed throughout the aircraft and next to the restrooms, which was a nice safety touch.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I was able to get glimpses outside but walking to the exit row and glancing out. The sun had stayed up just until we got to San Francisco.

I was able to get glimpses outside but walking to the exit row and glancing out. The sun had stayed up just until we got to San Francisco.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I also caught a glimpse into how the other half lives in business class. The seats look quite comfortable and private.

I also caught a glimpse into how the other half lives in business class. The seats look quite comfortable and private.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I started to get peckish over Denver so I decided to order a snack box to tide me over.

I started to get peckish over Denver so I decided to order a snack box to tide me over.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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United just began offering in-flight purchases again on longer routes such as this one. On offer were snack boxes and individual snacks, though there was no menu and I wouldn't have even known they were for sale if I didn't see them when passing through the galley.

United just began offering in-flight purchases again on longer routes such as this one. On offer were snack boxes and individual snacks, though there was no menu and I wouldn't have even known they were for sale if I didn't see them when passing through the galley.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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This $10 kit included salami, two cheese spreads, crackers, almonds, apricots, and a Toblerone. It was a veritable feast for economy and I enjoyed it.

This $10 kit included salami, two cheese spreads, crackers, almonds, apricots, and a Toblerone. It was a veritable feast for economy and I enjoyed it.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Flight attendants came around once more, around two hours before landing, with drinks.

Flight attendants came around once more, around two hours before landing, with drinks.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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Soon enough, it was time to land in San Francisco, and I was eager to get off.

Soon enough, it was time to land in San Francisco, and I was eager to get off.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I wasn't overly impressed with the flight and it mostly had to do with the plane. I've been on some of United's newest aircraft and this wasn't the airline's best.

I wasn't overly impressed with the flight and it mostly had to do with the plane. I've been on some of United's newest aircraft and this wasn't the airline's best.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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And while it may seem trivial not having enough window seats in economy, it's a big source of entertainment on these flights. Not having enough for regular economy passengers is enough to keep me away from this flight.

And while it may seem trivial not having enough window seats in economy, it's a big source of entertainment on these flights. Not having enough for regular economy passengers is enough to keep me away from this flight.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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I love flying on United and out of JFK but I'm an economy flyer and other airlines on the route better serve flyers like me. United's route is just too premium-focused.

I love flying on United and out of JFK but I'm an economy flyer and other airlines on the route better serve flyers like me. United's route is just too premium-focused.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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But the flight did have one thing going for it: we had the smoothest landing that I'd ever experienced.

But the flight did have one thing going for it: we had the smoothest landing that I'd ever experienced.
Flying on United Airlines from New York to San Francisco. Thomas Pallini/Insider
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