Grant Bradley flies UA1654 from the USA to Mexico

The plane:

An 8-year-old extended-range Boeing 737-9.

On time? Almost, and that was surprising because of chaotic boarding due to the lack of space in overhead bins further back. There was a knock-on effect up the cabin. (Boarding was not so bad on the return flight but passengers were still carrying on bags the size of bar fridges). This scrum doesn't need to happen — Iata, the body representing airlines, pushed for a smaller standard cabin bag but this was rejected after pushback over passengers worrying about having to buy new bags. Time for a rethink — but airlines need to come to the party by re-pricing hold baggage.

Advertisement

My seat: 10C on the aisle in Premium Economy, which you can buy at check-in for about US$60. This is at the front of the economy cabin and these seats have up to 12.7cm more legroom than those further back but it was a tight 44cm wide, so not much elbow room. United's extended range 737s seat up to 179, 20 of which are comfy-looking reclining first-class seats in 2-2 configuration. For the rest it's 3-3. They had a North American power socket but no USB port.

Fellow passengers: Mainly a vacation crowd. I was surrounded by a twitchy family, one of whom was dealing with a relationship issue on the phone until wheels-up at LA.

Chaotic boarding on a United Airlines flight from LA to Cancun. Photo / Grant Bradley
Chaotic boarding on a United Airlines flight from LA to Cancun. Photo / Grant Bradley

Price:

Return fares for the overnight flight started at US$947 in June.

Food and drink: Got off to a good start then hard to spot — occasional water, juice and complimentary pretzels. Alcoholic drinks start at US$6.99.

Service: Boarding was a shambles but order was restored after that. An attendant serving drinks early in the 4h 45m flight remained remarkably cheery in the face of rude holiday-makers loudly barking orders at her while she was clearly dealing with other passengers.

Luggage: My ticket covered one checked-in bag of 23kg. Otherwise it would be US$25.

Toilets: The one at the front of the economy cabin was clean, but not much fun for those seated near it.

Advertisement

The airport experience: LAX is an "expect the worst but hope for the best" experience. From an Air NZ flight it took just on an hour to enter the US and claim my bag. Not a bad run, apparently. With colleagues I had access to the freshly remodelled United lounge on the way out. It is spacious, with an outdoor terrace, healthy food and some complimentary drinks. Cancun Airport is a manageable scale, and entry to Mexico was smooth.

Bottom line: This midnight flight is not much fun for sleeping in the cheaper seats. The daytime return flight was better.