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Flight Test: United Airlines UA100 Sydney – Houston Economy

United Airlines flies daily between Sydney and Houston for direct access to Texas, the US South and beyond on its extensive North American network. Karryon strapped in to experience the nonstop economy service from SYD to IAH.

United Airlines flies daily between Sydney and Houston for direct access to Texas, the US South and beyond on its extensive North American network. Karryon strapped in to experience the nonstop economy service from SYD to IAH.

If romcoms have taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible at Christmas when it comes to airports, big dreams and big gestures.

My recent flight from Sydney to Houston with United Airlines was filled with festive cheer from the glittering ornaments, gift packs and sparkling trees in Sydney Airport to the holiday movie playlist on the plane.

Flying during the holiday season can be a joy – airports are lit up in red and green, the Christmas tunes are playing on loop and the gift packs are on point.

SYD T1 Luxury Christmas 2023
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Sydney Airport T1 luxury precinct.

The real standout Christmas miracle was the shorter flight – just 14 hours and 46 minutes gate-to-gate compared with the average 15 hours and 35 minutes flying time.

It’s also the second United flight I’ve taken in 45 days that’s arrived in-destination early – see the UA MEL-SFO route review.

With daily flights from SYD to Houston aka George Bush Intercontinental Airport, United Airlines offers seven nonstop services per week between Sydney and the Texas base – one of the carrier’s eight hub airports – and onward connections on its domestic network.

The scheduled daily UA100 flight departs Sydney at 11:50am (AEDT) and arrives in IAH at 10:25am local time. Despite a late pushback of 12:10pm in Sydney, we made up the time in the air with a flying time of 14 hours 46 minutes, arriving in IAH at 9:46am.

Check-in and boarding

UA SYD Gate 61
Ready to board at Gate 61.

Online check-in is available 24 hours before departure via the United website or app. You can also track your checked bag’s journey via the United app.

It’s an easy process for the kiosk and bag drop, however, if you’re flying to the US via transit from another Australian city, you’ll need to check-in at your local airport as staff will need to check your US visa for entry.

At Sydney International Airport on a mid-morning Saturday, there is a bit of a queue for the smartgate departures and security, however the line soon moves quickly.

At security, you’ll need to remove liquids, laptops, large electronics, and the usual belts and jackets for screening.

I’m leaving from Gate 61, which is a nine-minute walk from the duty-free retail and eatery options –  that is if you can tear yourself away from the bright, shiny items at the T1 luxury precinct.

UA recently introduced a similar boarding process to other US airlines where window-  and middle-seat passengers embark before aisle seats and according to cabin location by groups 1-5 to facilitate more efficient boarding.

Onboard comfort

UA SYD IAH screen

On United’s B787-9 aircraft, the Economy cabin has a 3x3x3 configuration with 31-inch (79cm) seat pitch, 17.3-inch (43.9cm) seat width and a three-inch (7cm) recline.

I’m initially seated in 49F in a centre aisle seat in the rear Economy section but with a few spare rows, I can move to another aisle seat – 48J, creating some breathing space with a middle spare seat between me and the window seat passenger.

Otherwise, it’s a mostly full flight to Houston in Economy.

Each Economy seat has a seatback touchscreen with a USB port plus a power outlet under the seat and complimentary earbud headphones.

The fun stuff

UA SYD IAH menu of service

United’s award-winning on-demand entertainment has plenty of movies and TV series to keep your company on the transpacific flight, including new releases, along with the aforementioned festive-themed viewing for my December flight.

There’s also concerts and live events, podcasts, audio mixes, games, a dedicated kids section and mindfulness/wellness features.

A customisable relax mode allows you to personalise your audio and video settings such as screen lighting, do not disturb etc. There’s also the monthly inflight magazine, Hemispheres, to peruse.

You can track the flight in real-time or keep a collapsible panel on the side while you view other entertainment. The menu of service is also handy for a rundown of the flight, detailing the schedule for meals, lights out etc.

The international long-haul economy service on this aircraft also offers inflight Wi-Fi with internet available for purchase.

Inflight food

UA meal service
Example of UA meal service on B787-9 aircraft.

United started the service with a pretzel snack and drinks service followed by a hot meal service approximately 1.5-two hours after take-off.

As I pre-ordered a special meal, I received my vegan-vegetarian meal ahead of the main service of a healthy if not boring dish of chickpeas, potatoes and broccoli with a bread roll, garden salad and sweet apple slice. The regular choice was chicken and roast vegetables or a vege pasta with red sauce, which came with a Tim-Tam as well.

Mid-flight, we also received a sandwich and a snack – mine consisted of a harissa vegetable spread on seeded bread plus a muesli bar, while the main option was a chicken sarnie.

Around one hour before landing, we also received a hot breakfast meal – mine was cannellini beans, potato and spinach with a bread roll and cut fruit. Again, healthy but pretty uninspiring.

The main cabin brekky was an omelette with the same beans and spinach I was served, subbing an apple cinnamon muffin for the bread roll.

The cabin crew also often come through with water regularly throughout the flight.

UA Economy cabin on B787-9 aircraft.

The details

  • Aircraft: Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner
  • Seat: 49F aisle (moved to 48J aisle for extra room)
  • Flight time: 14hrs 46mins
  • Luggage allowance: 1x 23kg checked luggage and 1x 7kg carry-on baggage plus a personal item
  • Arrival in Houston: 10:25am (scheduled)/ 9:46am (actual)

United Airlines operates direct Sydney-Houston flights all year round, recently moving to a daily service for the Northern Hemisphere winter.

As Australia’s only direct route to Houston (Air New Zealand flies from Sydney to Houston via Auckland and Qantas flies from Sydney to Dallas Forth Worth), UA offers an alternate US option to Los Angeles and San Francisco for better access to Texas and the Southern states.

At only an additional hour longer than its California services, the SYD-IAH route offers the same trademark UA service to one of the world’s top airports and beyond.