Review: United B737-900 First Class (AUS-IAD)

For our final trip of 2023, Mrs. ATX and I were off to Washington D.C. for the weekend. This trip was initially planned as a mileage run to requalify for 2024 status but we expanded it a bit to do some sightseeing and visit friends in the area.


I needed roughly 500 PQPs to requalify for my United status for 2024. To find a routing I started where I always start my flight searches, Google Flights. I was looking for something I could easily do as a weekend/overnight in First Class that would give me some interesting routings. This uncovered decent flights to both Washington D.C. and Los Angeles that would give me a chance to fly one of United’s widebodies on a domestic route.

I ultimately decided on D.C. since I haven’t been since Grad School and I have some friends that live in the area. With my destination decided, Mrs. ATX decided that she wanted to tag along. I booked both of our flights directly through with her on a direct AUS-IAD-AUS routing and me on a slightly less direct AUS-IAD-IAH-AUS routing. Each ticket was right around $550 with taxes and fees, which just pushed me over the PQP threshold I needed.


I don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to booking flights, especially if you ask Mrs. ATX, and this flight was no different. For some reason I didn’t check the calendar and booked a 7:15a flight the morning after her company holiday party, whoops. Alarms went off at 5:00a and we were out the door and headed to the airport by 5:30a.

We arrived at Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport at 5:45a and parked in the Blue Garage. From the garage, it was just a short walk over to the terminal which was already bustling this morning.

a man walking in a terminal
people in an airport with a group of people

The security checkpoints were backed up at 2E so we followed the signage over towards 2W which I usually have pretty good luck with. Unfortunately the PreCheck and CLEAR lanes in 2W were closed so we headed back over to 2E. Even with PreCheck it still took us 25 minutes to get through security. Don’t try and cut it close when you’re flying out of Austin early in the morning.

a group of people in a terminal
a group of people in a building

We made it airside by 6:20a and with only 15 minutes to go before boarding we headed straight for the gate. On the way Mrs. ATX stopped at Einstein Bros. and grabbed coffee for both of us.

Interior of the Barbara Jordan Terminal near Gate 19 at Austin Bergstrom International Airport


Our flight was departing from Gate 36 which is located at the far western end of the terminal. There is come construction going on which led to a very crowded gate area as our flight was boarding next to an American Airlines 737 headed to New York-JFK. Thankfully, the Spirit gate was unoccupied as it was hard enough with 300+ passengers crammed into this space. Another A321 would have made it even worse.

Gates 32, 34, and 36 at Austin Bergstrom International Airport

Pre-boarding began at 6:35a and consisted of the standard, and extremely long, list that includes those needing extra time, families with small children, active duty military, Global Services and Premier 1K members along with Santa and all of his elves. Boarding for Group 1 (which also consists of many different groups) was called a few minutes later and we headed down an extremely long jet bridge to our waiting 737.

United Airlines
UA 654
AUS-IAD (Austin-Bergstrom International – Washington-Dulles International)
Seat: 2E (First)
B737-900 (N37434)
Scheduled: 7:15a-11:19a
Actual: 7:10a-11:05a

people walking in a hallway
a man walking in a hallway
a hallway with a man standing next to a luggage rack
a man walking into an airplane


We entered through door 1L and immediately found our seats in Row 2. I typically try and get the bulkhead when flying but Mrs. ATX likes being able to keep her bag under the seat in front of her. We were on one of the 737-900’s that hasn’t yet gone through the retrofit process which meant we had the old style recliner seats on this flight. While these seats may be old, they are extremely comfortable and offer much more padding than you’ll find in modern seats.

United Airlines Boeing 737-900 First Class Seats

Legroom was pretty good and I had more than enough space to where my knees didn’t come close to touching the seat in front of me.

a black leather seats in an airplane
a person's legs in a seat with a pocket in the back

Seatback IFE screens were located at every seat, though they were old and not very crisp. They even had the old school credit card swiper mounted next to the TV. On the plus side, these planes have live TV is available via DirecTV.

United Airlines Boeing 737-900 First Class Seatback IFE

Between the seats there was a small tray area that was perfect for holding drinks. Both of our coffees fit here without issue. An additional, smaller tray could slide out if extra space is needed.

two cups on a scale
a pair of rectangular objects on an airplane

Next to the small tray was the remote for the IFE. Though the plane was old, the remote was still very responsive. Underneath were the power outlets as well as the headphone jacks.

a close up of a device
a green light on a black panel

The tray table was located in the armrest closest to the aisle and could be folded over in half or extended across the width of the seat.

a rectangular metal tray on a person's lap
a black and white folding table on a black seat

There was space for me to use my laptop while still having plenty of space for phones, drinks, snacks, etc.

United Airlines Boeing 737-900 First Class Tray Table


As we settled in to our seats, the flight attendant working the First Class cabin came around and offered us a choice of water or a mimosa. After serving the PDBs, they headed into the galley with another FA and had a long, confused conversation about the breakfast offerings. I overheard them ask “what is a frittata?” and “do we have anything gluten free?”. We had both pre-ordered our meals so I was hoping our choices were loaded on board. This was happening as the final bags were being loaded onboard and we prepared for departure.

two cups of coffee and a glass of juice on a device
a man standing on a runway with airplanes on it

We pushed off of the gate five minutes ahead of schedule and started our taxi over to the east side of the airport. There was a bit of arrival traffic and a few planes lined up in front of us so we had a 15 minute wait before it was our turn to go. At least the plane spotting was good.

an airplane on a runway
an airplane on a runway

Once it was our turn, we lumbered down Runway 18R and slowly climbed away from the airport. While it was cloudy on the ground, we quickly punched through the low cloud layer and were greeted with beautiful blue skies.

Flying above the clouds after leaving Austin


As we climbed, we made a left turn to head northeast towards Washington-Dulles. Once we crossed through 10,000 feet, I pulled out my laptop to get some work done and was easily able to connect to the Wi-Fi. I was able to get a full flight pass for $8 and it was fast enough that I was able to work without delays for the duration of the flight. Also at this time, flight attendants came through the cabin offering beverages. I had a mimosa while Mrs. ATX had seltzer water.

a computer screen with a sign in and sign in
a drink and a glass on a tray

After beverages, they began the breakfast service. There was no menu on this flight but we did receive an email a few days before departure which allowed us to pick our meal. There were also options to choose on board or skip breakfast. The menu from the email is below.

United Airlines First Class Breakfast Selection

We both pre-ordered our meals and I went with the breakfast frittata. The sausage had some flavor and the egg portion was ok, but the cheddar cheese sauce was downright vile. I’m not sure how anyone could eat that.

United Airlines First Class Breakfast Frittata

Mrs. ATX decided to go with the egg shakshuka. She said that it wasn’t bad, but it was far from good. We were both pretty disappointed in our meals for this flight.

United Airlines First Class Egg Shakshuka

After finishing what I could of my meal, I headed to check out the forward lavatory. Since this was an older aircraft, this lavatory was slightly larger than the ones being installed on new planes, you could actually wash both hands in the sink. Hand sanitizer and hand soap were both available but otherwise there were no additional amenities for First Class.

United Airlines Boeing 737-900 First Class Lavatory

Back at my seat, we had an hour and a half remaining until landing. Mrs. ATX took a nap while I switched between doing work on my laptop and watching the news on the seatback IFE. Time moved quickly and soon we started our descent and you could see the Virginia countryside below as we approached Washington.

Overflying rural Virginia in a United Airlines 737-900


Fifteen minutes after we started our descent, I spotted Washington-Dulles International Airport off on our starboard side. We passed the airport before turning around and overflying some of the DC suburbs to line up for Runway 19C.

an aerial view of a city
an airplane wing above a city

We touched down at 11:00a local time next to a Southern Airways Cessna Grand Caravan 208B. After landing, we had a very quick taxi over to our arrival gate, D9. We pulled in next to a variety of United aircraft all sporting different liveries.

a plane on a runway
airplanes parked on a runway

It only took a couple of minutes for the jet bridge to get connected and soon we were off the plane for my first visit to Dulles airport. As soon as I stepped into the terminal it immediately felt cramped, with narrow hallways and low ceilings. Concourses C and D, where the majority of United flights operate, were built in the early 1980’s and meant to be temporary. 40+ years later they’re still in use and definitely showing their age.

Interior of Concourse D at Washington-Dulles International Airport

While a train has been built connecting the main terminal building with Concourses A, B, and C, Concourse D is connected to the main terminal and Concourse A via Mobile Lounge. Washington-Dulles is one of the only airports in the world that still utilizes these funky moon-buggy looking things. While trips between the concourse and main terminal are slow, they’re pretty cool and you get an up close view of many of the airport operations.

people walking in an airport
people walking in a building
a white truck with a q on it
a plane on the tarmac

Once we were at the main terminal we followed the signage for ground transportation and, with no checked bags, we headed straight for the curb where my college buddy was waiting for us. All in all, it took about 15 minutes from gate to curb.

people walking in an airport
cars parked cars outside a building


This flight was quite the mixed bag. Though the plane was older and hadn’t yet gone through the retrofit it still had very comfortable seats and seatback IFE, which isn’t on all 737s yet (and won’t be for a while). The food was not good at all and the service from the crew was decent but didn’t stand out much. As a United frequent flyer I’ll definitely end up on this aircraft type and cabin class again, I just hope the overall experience is a little better.

In This Trip Report

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