Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It had to be done.

I'd heard so much about these planes -- and so little of it was good -- that I had to experience one for myself.

In its glowing self-confidence, however, United Airlines suggested I experience it twice.

You see, I was searching for a United flight back from the Miami area to San Francisco and the airline's website offered me one of America's more glorious detours.

First, I'd fly from Fort Lauderdale to Houston. I'd then change planes to get from Houston to San Francisco.

Both flights would be in a Boeing 737 MAX.

The MAX, should you have been underground for a while, is the new, highly efficient plane, that has allowed airlines to shove far more seats inside and claim that everyone will be happy. 

Now I had the perfect opportunity to test both classes of this new flying profit center and see how different they really were. And, of course, to see whether they were as uncomfortable as I'd been led to fear.

Economy Class. And We Really Do Mean Economy.

United is committed to rediscovering its friendliness.

I was surprised, therefore, when a United employee in Fort Lauderdale sauntered up to me as I was printing out my bag tag.

In a highly faux-friendly manner, he immediately picked up my suitcase, without even asking.

No, not to help me, but to check whether it was too heavy.

Without even the use of a scale, he decided it wasn't. 

Thank you for that, sir. That's so helpful. Please go away.

Remarkably, United's friendly new boarding system was observed by almost everyone at the gate. Principally, it seemed, because there was enough space at the gate for everyone to sit and wait.

And then, the moment when I discovered the future of travel. 

United's 737 MAX is a MAX 9, slightly bigger than the MAX 8's for which American Airlines has been routinely pilloried.

I wandered back to my window seat, 23A, only to encounter my first obstacle.

A woman was in my seat. Her friend was in the aisle seat. 

It appeared, indeed, that they'd decided I'd sit in the middle.

Ah.

With the help of a couple of words and a few facial gestures, I persuaded them to sit together, although this meant losing my window seat.

No matter. I could now place myself into United's newest seat, aisle-side, and savor the joy. 

I feared my knees would immediately touch the seat in front. This didn't happen. 

I was, though, distracted by a woman across the aisle declaiming rather loudly and miffedly: "There's no TV!"

Indeed, this is a decision made by United and American -- to get rid of all seatback screens and leave customers to their own devices.

I looked extensively to see who had come prepared. Precisely three customers out of the 40 I could see had perched either their phones or their tablets on the little retractable shelf that replaces the old seatback screen.

The remaining passengers were suddenly bereft. I saw at least four reach for, gasp, United's inflight magazine. Cruelty in marketing, if ever I've seen it.

The flight was around two and a half hours. The seat wouldn't get two and half stars.

I measured the outside arm rest. It was precisely as wide as two of my thumbnails.

It was like balancing your arm on the blunt side of a very large knife blade.

What about those infamous bathrooms, I hear you cry.

Well, never mind room to swing a cat, there was barely enough room to swing the door closed.

I've been to porta-potties on the golf course with more space. I've been to broom cupboards that were more welcoming.

The sinks, too, are a tiny kidney shape. This isn't conducive to putting your hands anywhere over them, though I'm sure if I'd wanted to wash a tiny kidney, they'd might been perfect.

But, in truth, I'm trying to avoid talking about my greatest despair: my buttocks.

Halfway through the flight, they had receded to numbness. 

The seat was so hard that it was like flying in a Charles Rennie Mackintosh chair

You see, the way airlines have managed to squeeze more seats into these planes is to make the seats a lot thinner. 

The back felt hard, too, though the headrest was a little more restful than I can ever remember in Economy. 

The whole effect, though, was that of a bus seat circa 1992. And I'm told American Airlines' 737 MAX seats are even more uncomfortable.

The mere thought that I might have to fly six hours in one of these things would make my buttocks revolt and my spine sue. 

"This is the future, you can't be numb to it," I told my buttocks. It took them a while to reply and, when it came, it was unbecoming.

First Class. Oh, No It Isn't.

Perhaps, then, it had been wise to book First Class for the longer part of my journey. 

4 hours and 14 minutes of bum-numbing isn't generally my idea of joy. 

But, on landing in Houston, I realized I'd made a big mistake.

I opened the United app and suddenly discovered that this particular First Class would have no food.

We're talking refreshments only. We're talking 737 (TJ) MAX First Class. 

I had around 15 minutes to find something to eat. The choices seemed to be a pizza the size of a UFO or Wendy's.

I plumped for the latter, because I knew it'd be much smaller than the pizza. And surely sitting in First Class would mean I could persuade the Flight Attendants to rustle up something if I was peckish.

Oh, the looks I got when I sat down in 1B with my single cheeseburger, tomato and lettuce only. And small fries. 

Oddly, the Flight Attendant didn't offer me a glass of red wine to wash it down.

I tried to eat discreetly, but please, I hadn't eaten all day. I'd been on a slightly arduous trip. What would you have me do?

I made myself comfortable and wondered if the seat would make my self comfortable too. 

One thing, though, became quickly evident. This wasn't First Class. It was what Europeans might call Premium Economy.

For example, these seats are half an inch narrower than those in Virgin Atlantic's Premium Economy class.

They're not by any means awful. They're just not First Class.

And then, shortly after takeoff, I saw the food.

When you're seated in 1B, you get a much clearer view of what's going on in the front galley.

I saw trays being prepared. I saw, with my very own eyes, real food. Surely that was a dessert, I pondered, as my lips quivered.

If I was still hungry, I'd be saved.

Then I saw two trays being handed to a pilot who leaned out of the cockpit.

The pilots, you see, get fed. The First Class passengers don't.

I admit I was still hungry. 

Yet all I was offered after takeoff was a drink and a lot of snoring from the row behind me. 

Yes, babies and children can ruin a flight without trying. Here, though, was a large man whose snoring was akin to an elephant's rear-end emissions after 75 kilos of brussels sprouts, washed down with 60 kilos of baked beans.

The woman next to him, who may have been his significant other, tried to nudge him. 

She clearly didn't try hard enough.

Still suffering from hanger management, I asked the Flight Attendant whether anything could be done.

"No, he's probably got sleep apnea," was her considered reply.

I went to the First Class bathroom, which seemed fairly identical to the Economy Class bathroom. The ceiling sloped so low over the toilet that one jolt of turbulence and I'd have had an NFL-level concussion.

On the way back, I experienced severe internal pain. 

There was the Flight Attendant making her dinner, smearing butter on a bagel. It looked good. I confess I wanted a bite.

Please, I don't begrudge Flight Attendants their snacks for a moment. But to be paying a substantial amount in First Class and get no food, while the Flight Attendant at least has something warm was a touch peculiar.

Which leaves me with the seat. 

The First Class (sic) seat was also hard. No, I don't have an especially sensitive posterior, but my buttocks still expressed a certain displeasure.

The seat didn't go back very far either. And, oh, at least the snoring man woke up with about 90 minutes left of the flight.

The Verdict. United In Indifference.

Whether in Economy or First, there were no oohs or aahs, but quite a few aaghs.

Some might delight in the overhead bins being bigger. I won't, as this will only encourage the self-centered to bring ever-bigger bags onto these planes.

The blue lighting in the ceiling is pretty. Seated in Economy, you look up and almost believe you're in a spaceship from the early years of Star Trek.

Then you look down again.

I've flown several times with United this year and, on these MAX flights, the cabin crews weren't overwhelmed with enthusiasm.

They seemed more concerned that you'd get your elbows out of the way as they drove the drinks cart down the wonderfully narrow aisle.

What of the passengers, though? Other than the one woman who complained about there being no seatback screens, the rest seem to accept the ever-shrinking legroom, tiny bathrooms and overstuffed cabins as the new normal. No matter how far they're flying. 

That's exactly what airlines want them to think.

My buttocks will never think this treatment normal.

Published on: Dec 29, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.