Review: United First Class Q400 Denver To Salt Lake City

Back in July I had a little business trip over to Salt Lake City, and was originally booked to fly United Express on a CR 200. The night before, however, I noticed that the flight before mine was available for a free Same Day Confirmed change. Not only would it get me in an hour earlier — which was preferable — but it would also give me a chance to fly the Bombardier Q400 operated by Republic Airways for United. Even better, the flight showed F3 R2 at the time that I made the change, meaning that there was an excellent chance that my complimentary upgrade would clear.

Given that United has announced plans to phase out the Q400, I couldn’t pass up this bucket list opportunity to fly first class on a propeller plane. I seem to recall having flown a de Havilland Dash 8 many years ago, but that was in economy.

The novelty factor of flying on a pimped-out prop plane along with the fact that the Denver – Salt Lake City flight path offers some great flight-seeing made this a surprisingly interesting trip.

And to all those who grumble that you never get a United First class trip report around here, this one’s for you.

I should also apologize for the poor quality of the pictures. This was a business trip for my day job, so I didn’t bring my D-SLR. I really regret that given the spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and western slope, but oh well.

The Q400 in all it's glory
The Q400 in all its glory

Boarding

As I was walking to the gate, I noticed that my original flight was already showing a 45 minute delay. That seemed to reaffirm my decision to pass up a jet for a propeller plane.

My flight, however, was on-time.

Not delayed, at least this time
Not delayed, at least this time

Boarding started promptly 30 minutes before departure and was actually wrapped up about 15 minutes later. I didn’t try to fit my roller in the overhead bins, and instead just gate checked it.

Seating On The Q400

The Q400 has a 1-2 seating configuration in first, and a 2-2 configuration in economy.

united q400 seating
United Q400 seat map

The first class cabin has 7 seats.

First class cabin on the Q400
First class cabin on the Q400

At the time that my upgrade cleared, I had a choice of any of the bulkhead seats — 1A, 2B, or 2C. I chose 1A for the privacy.

Seat 1A on the Q400
Seat 1A on the Q400

Both 2B and 2C are considered exit rows seats, though they are also the bulkhead.

Lots of legroom in these exit row bulkhead seats
Plenty of legroom in these first class exit row bulkhead seats

Service On The Q400

This flight was scheduled to serve refreshments in first class. That translates to the snack basket. Now truth be told, it’s quite impressive that there is any food served on a propeller plane at all, and in fact, the new United snack basket is pretty decent. Given that the flight had just been catered in Denver and the fact that I was in 1A, I had the full assortment to choose from.

That said, when it comes to refreshment flights, I actually prefer to sit in the back of the cabin since then I feel like I can be a bit of a pig and take as much as I want since everyone else has already had their chance. Then again, I’ve also had that plan backfire when the guy in the row ahead of me had the same idea.

This time I had to restrain myself and settle for just two items. I chose the bag of 7 chocolate covered pomegranate seeds (no really, that’s how many you get), and the Culinary Crisps along with a Dasani lime water.

Gotta savor every one of these little guys
Gotta savor every one of these little guys

It seemed like a lot of people were sleeping or not eating, so there was quite a bit left over. She didn’t actually offer seconds, but I requested a bag of Popchips, just so I could include them in this review. Yeah, that’s the reason.

Just for the review
Just for the review

The Smallest Lavatory I’ve Ever Seen

I thought the Q400 was generally comfortable for what it is. Except for the lav. This has to be one of the smallest lavs on any plane, at least in terms of legroom. I didn’t measure, but it seemed like there was less than a foot from the edge of the toilet seat to the door.

Not a lot of legroom here
Not a lot of legroom at this seat

Flight-seeing In The Q400

The Q400 is perhaps the best plane in the United fleet if you like to look out the window. No really, hear me out.

The Q400 actually flies at a very low cruising altitude. For this flight, we were at 24,000 feet which is a lot less than the 32,000-36,000 feet that would be typical of regional jets or larger aircraft.

Then consider that we were flying over the Rocky Mountains where the summits can top out at 14,000 feet, and well, it seems like you can reach out and touch them. Like most propeller planes, the Q400 doesn’t set any speed records, so you have plenty of time to savor the views.

Mountains
Mountains

For this route, I recommend sitting on the left side of the plane such that you are looking south. (Or on the right side, if you are flying from Salt Lake to Denver.) That way you are looking toward the I-70 corridor and, if you’re like me, you’ll have a little better chance of identifying some landmarks such as 14ers, ski resorts, or the Colorado River. Looking north is nice too, I’m just not as familiar with the terrain in that direction.

Here are a few more the pictures I took on the flight with my iPhone. I really regret not bringing my D-SLR on this trip. Some people pay big money for these flight-seeing trips, and here I got one for free and couldn’t really take advantage.

Meandering rivers
Meandering rivers
Dunno
Patches of snow in late July
Q400 view 3
Cool erosion patterns on the western slope

I feel like I should be able to explain this phenomenon, but I’m kind of at a loss. Any ideas?

Can you explain this effect?
“Captain, I think our propeller is defective.”

Conclusion

I enjoyed this Q400 flight. There was a little more noise, but it wasn’t deafening or anything. The flight time was about 15 minutes longer, versus flying on a regional jet, but that wasn’t a big deal. In fact, I was enjoying the view so much that I wouldn’t have minded it taking a little longer. I’m glad that I had the chance to fly the Q400 upfront, especially given that it is being phased out of the fleet.

Have you flown the Q400 or any other prop plane in first class? What was your experience like?

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Comments

  1. That propeller effect has to do with how phones take pictures. They actually record the image top down (or sometimes bottom up) and one line at a time. Since this is a relatively slow process compared with how fast a propeller rotates you get the bent prop effect.

  2. Thanks Andrew! I’ve wondered about this when looking at prop photos I’ve taken aboard Porter’s Q400s and Air Botswana’s ATR-72s.

  3. So Ben is still banned from UAL. Are you still working with them to have that reversed, as it really does negatively impact the value of OMAAT and seems to be quite unfair, both to you and your readers.

  4. I like flying on props as a change of pace every once in awhile. The sensation of “flying” is a lot more visceral on them.

    On short hops from BOS-EWR I’ve been on flights where 8,000ft was the cruising altitude- great view!

  5. He wasn’t banned, it was a conscious uncoupling!

    “And to all those who grumble that you never get a United First class trip report around here, this one’s for you.”

    Yeah, but this wasn’t exactly the TR we had in mind. I mean, it was interesting and whatnot, but most of us want to see United first and business class TRs to compare them to the long haul ones we see on American.

  6. @wwk5d According to the recent article, Ben was indeed banned by UAL and made an unsuccessful effort to be reinstated. He does not dispute this.

  7. Sigh. The picture of the patient with her legs up on the bulkhead — would you do this at home? Or at a restaurant? Some people….

  8. Good to read this report. Sad to see what they served you for first class.
    Not to brag, just being honest and putting things into prospective. I once flew on a pro plane from Venice to Munich on air Dolomiti. It was a day flight and I marveled at the Austrian alps as we flew right over Insbruk.
    The flight was all economy and I was blown way at the service for breakfast. Cold cuts, cheese and crackers with warm bread. I could not believe it. It was an international flight on a ATR, but still, the food was a huge surprise.
    Safe travels.

  9. It’s always interesting to learn about the hard and soft product standards of other airlines. QantasLink services in Australia (also operating the Dash 8 family of aircraft, along with the B717) are mostly all-economy and on flights as short as an hour serve a complimentary refreshment as comprehensive as rice crisps, crudites with blue cheese dip, a piece of chocolate and water.

  10. Those aren’t Popchips, those were Popcorners. Both are great alternatives to actual potato chips, though.

  11. Everybody else is right on the camera. You can tell from the way the propellers go that your camera takes left to right

  12. I flew a Q400 from DEN to EGE a few weeks ago. It’s a short 20 minute flight, and the views are great. At least you weren’t put at the remote-ish gates at the end of the terminal (high 60s and low 70s).

    One of the downsides of being based in SFO is that there is no direct flight to EGE.

  13. Thanks for the great trip report. I enjoyed it.

    I wish people would not put their feet on the bulkhead wall. Such poor manners.

  14. The real reason that the propellers look that way is because it is not uncommon for propellers to melt and fall off during flight…you were lucky to live through it. This must be true because I saw it somewhere on the Internet…or someone told me that…either way, that’s SCIENTIFIC PROOF!

  15. Prop flights are fun. My favourites are on small/weird full-service airlines. Calm Air flies from YWG to places North, serve full hot meals on ATRs. I will be flying Air St.-Pierre later this year YUL-FSP-YYT… That should be interesting too (3.5 hours on a ATR 42!).

    But the only “full” business class on props I know of is on UA and some African airlines. Otherwise eg. AT (Royal Air Maroc) has different coloured seats and Euro-carriers simply block as many seats as they need.

  16. @Brian,

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed this. The airlines really should start the equivalent of the no-fly list that is the no-bulkhead row list. If you are caught putting your feet on the bulkhead wall, you are banned from sitting on the first row. Period. Better yet, make it the no-bulkhead/no-upgrade list.

  17. Another flight with great views is DFW – SLC, right over Moab/Arches/Green and Colorado rivers…stunning parts of the world (including western CO!)

  18. The views are awesome but that lav is tiny!

    P.S. Slightly off-topic, but has anyone been on those Antarctica flights out of Australia? Wish THOSE could be booked with miles! 😉

  19. I used to be a regular (at least 2-3 times a month) on Alaska’s RNO-SJC Q400 flight when I was living in Lake Tahoe and working in Silicon Valley. It’s a 45 minute flight that was spectacular scenery and often $60 each way. Only disappointing thing is that it departed RNO at 6am so for much of the year it was dark both on departure and arrival.

  20. It could just be me, but I often feel like the Q400 (and other props) offer a better flight experience on short hops in bad weather. On RJs in bad weather, I often feel like we’re bouncing around, riding the weird winds and precip. On props, I feel like the props are clawing through the muck.

    Could just be me though.

  21. Love the Q400, sad to see them phased out.

    I remember an ATR-42 flight I had from Corpus Christi to IAH many years ago, the woman sitting next to me was nervous because she never walked outside to board a plane before. Halfway through the flight, we hit some turbulence and dropped pretty rapidly. Suddenly, I felt the top of my right arm in a grip – like a “tourniquet grip” where I started losing feeling. I looked over and she said, “I’m sorry, I’ve never flown in a prop before.” I replied, “That’s ok.” She then said, “I don’t think I can let go of you” to which I replied, “You’re going to have to – I’m losing feeling in my fingers.” 🙂

  22. Just what’s wrong with putting up one’s feet against the wall of a bulkhead seat? Sure, one should not put up one’s feet against the seat in front – any movement of the feet will cause a bumpy jerk to the poor fellow sitting in front. Also, due to proximity, the smell on one’s feet will more likely reach the nose of said poor fellow, before it dissipates away. But, for crying out loud, this is a bulkhead seat! There is no one sitting in front who would be disturbed. And unless you have this strange tendency to like leaning your back against the wall of a bulkhead seat, your super-clean clothing will not be dirtied. I am no foot fetish, but hey, if you have a nice pair of feet, I don’t mind seeing them on display. And if you don’t, heck, I have more things to look at on a plane than to find your feet an eyesore. So what’s the problem? Stop being so prim and proper!

  23. To all those who lament the absence of reports on United First Class, you’re not missing anything.

    I just took United Global First from Chicago to Shanghai and will not be doing so again.

    Not only does United seem very sad relative to all the Asian airlines Ben does write about, but there is barely any advantage in going First rather than Business – the seats are old and don’t go fully flat, the food is unimpressive, the wines poor (though Nicholas Feuillate 2005 champagne was OK), and the attendants ignorant and uninterested.

    I chose the Chicago-Shanghai route in order to do Global First on the 747. In June I went Business on the Dreamliner from LAX to PVG. It was better than First on the 747. But I’m looking forward to taking Ben’s advice and going Cathay or Singapore for future trips.

  24. All of United s Q400s are actually operated by Republic Airlines, one of many regional carriers for UA.  They are configured with 71 seats; seven in first class, 10 in Economy Plus, and 54 in economy.

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