I flew from Houston to Chicago in economy class on the very first Airbus A321neo commercial flight for United Airlines, an enjoyable journey that turned out a bit different than I had anticipated.
Inaugural Flight: United Airlines A321neo Economy Class Review
I already gave you a sneak peek of what United’s swanky new A321neo looks like onboard, but this review covers what the economy class experience is like onboard.
United held a press event in Houston yesterday to highlight its new baggage system, break ground for the new Terminal B airport expansion project, and showcase its new A321neo. I had booked a ticket to Houston and back, but decided at the last minute I might as well join the inaugural flight.
Thankfully, the weather forecast called for a tornado warning and a flight waiver was issued. With that flight waiver, I switched my nonstop to a routing home via Chicago, including the inaugural flight. I wound up with a seat in “regular” economy class, not even Economy Plus let alone in first class, but I was just happy to be on the inaugural flight.
I wound up #8 on an upgrade list of 112 people…
Thankfully, the forecasted tornado and lightning shower never appeared.
The gate area was bustling even an hour before the flight, with many av-geeks euphonious about the inaugural flight.
Boarding began 35 minutes prior to departure after a few remarks at the gate by Kevin Peters, a Director of Commercial /Fleet Strategy at United.
Houston (IAH) – Chicago (ORD)
Thursday, November 30
Depart: 05:30 PM
Arrive: 08:13 PM
Duration: 2hr, 43min
Distance: 925 miles
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo
Seat: 12C (Economy Class)
At the boarding door, I was offered a commemorative bookmark highlighting the first A321neo flight on United.
Stepping onboard, I was greeted by a flight attendant and found my way to my seat.
I love the accents in the forward galley!
Before takeoff, Captain Steve Bogert welcomed everyone onboard explained a bit about the aircraft, and gave us an idea of our flight plan. Rather than do this from the flight deck, he stepped out into the first class cabin so that everyone could see him. It was a very nice touch.
United’s A321neo has precisely 200 seats onboard, including 20 first class seats (United’s newest generation of domestic first class seats, which have “wings”) and 180 seats in economy class, divided between Economy Plus (57 seats) with extra legroom and standard economy class (123 seats).
The divider between cabins is a soft screen.
Interestingly, the aircraft configuration includes regular economy class seating sandwiched between two sections of Economy Plus:
- Rows 1-5: First Class (seat pitch 37 inches, width 20 inches, recline 5 inches)
- Rows 7-11: Economy Plus (seat pitch 33.5 inches, width 17.5 inches, recline 3 inches)
- Row 12-19: Economy (seat pitch 30 inches, width 17.5 inches, recline 2 inches)
- Row 20-22: Economy Plus
- Row 23-26: Economy on ABC side, Economy Plus on DEF side
As you might notice in the pictures, the rows are staggered on the basis of this division in seat pitch.
Booking so late, I grabbed one of the only aisles I could, seat 12C, which turned out to be just fine for the two-hour flight to Chicago. I’m 6’1″ and found the legroom tolerable, though I would want an Economy Plus seat on a longer flight.
There are two A/C universal plugs for every three seats, but each seat also has a USB-A and USB-C charging port on the bottom of the monitor.
All seats have individual air vents.
Each row has raised Braille lettering, a recent accessiblity-friendly feature that is coming to all United aircraft.
I love the mood lighting and attention to detail, including the ceiling accent down the center aisle and in the forward galley.
This aircraft is also equipped with “space saving” overhead bins in which there is theoretically room for 200 large carry-ons when stacked upright instead of placed on its side.
In-Flight-Entertainment + Wi-Fi
Each economy class seat features a 12-inch, 4K touchscreen display with the latest generation IFE system on it, a big leap forward in terms of interface and snappiness.
I love the details.
In the bottom right corner of the IFE screen is an indicator such that you always know how much flight time is left, a very helpful feature. It will also remind you to fasten your seatbelt when the seatbelt light goes on (though thankfully it is not like a car that can sense when your seatbelt is unfasten).
This system also listed all the complimentary snacks and drinks as well as the food and drinks available for purchase, foreshadowing perhaps a future in which passengers can order snacks and drinks from their seat.
The system also featured an extensive library of movies and TV shows as well as an expanded selection of audio selections.
A moving map was also available and both the overhead reading light and flight attendant call light could be controlled from the screen.
Complimentary headphones were provided, but this new system also has Bluetooth connectivity, which makes it easy to connect your own headphones. In my case, I easily connected my Apple AirPods.
I will note that the Bluetooth system cut out a few times (went silent) but always re-connected seconds later.
Internet was available for purchase ($8 for MileagePlus members or $10 for non-members) and I quickly connected and found download speeds of up to 9 Mbps (though an upload speed of less than 1 Mbps).
The flight turned out to be productive. I was expecting this might be like other inaugural flights I have been on in which folks spend most of the flight standing up and chatting, but that was not the case here.
It turned out to be a rather bumpy flight with the seatbelt light on for most of the journey and a long period in the center of the flight in which flight attendants were instructed to take their jump seats.
Food + Drink
The big innovation on this aircraft compared to other United aircraft is a self-serve snack area in the rear of the aircraft. It features drinks and snacks and is intended for passengers to help themselves during the flight. United plans to make this feature available on flights of over 800 miles.
We hit quite a few bumps after takeoff, but eventually flight attendants appeared and offered a choice of beverage and a snack (chocolate quinoa crisp or pretzel mix).
As a 1K member of the MileagePlus program, I also receive a free food item and alcoholic drink onboard. I skipped the drink but did order a tapas snack box (normally $10), which served to tide me over quite nicely.
The United A321neo features four lavatories onbaord, including one in the front of the cabin for first class passengers, one in the front of the economy class cabin:
and two in the rear of the cabin in a “space-saving configuration,” with one located behind a jump seat:
The bathrooms are small and I could not locate the paper towels, but at least the faucet did not splash like on the Boeing aircraft with similarly small lavatories.
In addition to the moment card, first class passengers received a United-Airbus keychain, fan, and sticker. Economy class passengers only received the fan and sticker.
We landed at 7:58 pm in Chicago and taxied for about 10 minutes before arriving at the gate. The first flight was in the book. I said farewell to Captain
It was great to run into so many readers and I appreciate that many of you stopped to say hello. I love the frequent flyer community and hope we can chat again soon.