new ua biz seat 2 United Airlines rolls out new business class seats

It’s official: United Airlines has rolled out their next-generation business class seats, and they look good. (They rolled out a first class prototype a few months ago.) The new seats will be fully lie-flat, which is great news. They’ll also alternate forward and rear-facing seats, much like British Airways’ ClubWorld.

Some videos introducing the new seats, with some fanfare, can be found at United’s press release. See also their promotional site for the new business class: suitedreams.united.com. Better yet: An anonymous tipster forwarded this internal company “employee q&a” memo (MS Word doc) — it’s still a sales pitch, but it’s pretty detailed.

So what to make of the new UA business class? Four thoughts:

First, the seats themselves look very good. 180-degree lie-flat. Proper. Screw those angled flat seats — gravity always wins, people! Nice big screen. Wider (23.5″) than the current-generation first seats. On its own, it looks like other new-generation seats out there, with larger screens. But they’re the best looking seats offered by an American airline right now.

Second, the alternating forward- and rear-facing seats will be an adjustment for many people, but British Airways has been doing it for a while, and they’re still selling tickets. (Interestingly, the promo photos show two parallel seats…)

Third, the service is supposed to improve along with the seat. But “service” is really “features.” That is, new food from chef Charlie Trotter, and better in-flight entertainment. (Movies and games.) But what’s missing from the company’s PR pitch is the actual service in flight. A great restaurant is more than a tasty-sounding menu and a nicely decorated room. It’s how the customer is treated that makes a world of difference. The same is true of an airline, and United’s in-flight customer service has been hit-or-miss lately. It’s not clear that the company realizes this, either. The promotional materials focus on the hardware, and not the human “software” that really makes or breaks the experience.

Fourth, and from the customer’s point of view, the question remains: How much is this going to cost? And how much more difficult will it be to get an upgrade (or free frequent flyer ticket) into these swank new seats? The airline says it’s not raising prices, or changing upgrade policies, but it’s easy to limit award supply or to blame “market forces” for a price hike.

At any rate, the new seats are a step forward for the airline. The new seats will only be on internationally-configured three-class Boeing 747, 777, and 767 planes, and the rollout will take thirty months to complete. I’m hoping to try them on for size some day soon.

pixel United Airlines rolls out new business class seats

22 Responses to “United Airlines rolls out new business class seats”

  1. S A Says:

    From the employee Q&A document:

    Q. Are we selling fewer premium seats?
    A. The modification will result in fewer premium seats. Upgrades will be inventory controlled as they are today. Seat counts will change as new aircraft are rolled out with fewer first and business seats but the procedure for securing space will remain the same. The best way to enjoy the new international United Business experience is to purchase a business class ticket.

    Translation: Bye bye upgrades!

  2. pam Says:

    I don’t want to harsh the mellow here, and those new seats look cool but…

    Airlines are always doing something to swank up the spendy seats but they don’t seem to be doing anything to fix coach.

    I’m just sayin.

  3. American Airlines beefs up their business class, but will anyone notice? » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] business class seats to their Boeing 777 fleet yesterday, on the same day as United’s announcement of their next-generation business class. It’s good to see some improvements. But I’m [...]

  4. Mark Ashley Says:

    Agree 100%. In fact, I just wrote the following in another post:

    Don’t get me wrong, improvements of any kind are great, and I’m looking forward to similar bravado in improving economy class seats. (… crickets chirping …)

    Well, at least UA still has Economy Plus. And other airlines are improving their economy seats:

  5. DCtraveler Says:

    United HAD to do this to be competitive, I only hope they can get the inflight service up to par. A fancy seat is fine, but if it has old empty glasses all around it because the crew isn’t servicing the cabin in a regular basis (like asian crews do), then all that design won’t build the brand. If United can somehow find away to recapture the real spirit of “the friendly skies” they would have a true market edge with this new product. When I have a choice, United is not the first pick; I’ll go with an alliance partner that offers a better world-class experience. United needs to get people to WANT to fly them again; stop telling me “its time to fly…” I already do, but just not on United. But, this is a good, much needed step forward.

  6. Mark Ashley Says:

    Agreed, again! What worries me in the new seat rollout (and in AA’s parallel announcement of biz-class improvements) is precisely that there is no mention at all of the service aspect that you’re referring to. UA’s inflight crews are often disillusioned and bitter, and that has to change somehow. That’s the weak link in any cabin improvements, and I’m not seeing any public effort to address that deficiency.

  7. Cranky Says:

    Second, the alternating forward- and rear-facing seats will be an adjustment for many people, but British Airways has been doing it for a while, and they’re still selling tickets. (Interestingly, the promo photos show two parallel seats…)

    They’re actually doing it differently from the way BA handles it. There will be sets of two facing the same way, just as you see here. So individual pods of two will rotate facing forward and backwards. This still allows United to squeeze an eight seat abreast on their 777/747s whereas today they only have seven. Take a look at this PDF aircraft layout to see what I mean:

  8. Mark Ashley Says:

    Good point, Cranky, and my mistake for not opening the seatmap. It *is* different. I’ll try pasting in a snippet of that seatmap, so people can see the configuration without having to open the PDF.


  9. DCtraveler Says:

    In their materials United talks about how they researched “sight lines” of the reward and forward facing seats. Hmmm. 15 & 16 J&K will have a nice view of the upper deck galley, I suppose. And that four across on the main deck will be a bit stuffy with a full load. I guess its the best trade off for the flat seat, will be very interesting to see how it executes.

  10. tseliot Says:

    The seats look great. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them. Would love to try them out. They do look like you might fall out of them though, with the lie flat design.

  11. Business Travel Guru Says:

    The seat and LCD screen look nice, Once this is rolled Out I don’t think I never have a fear of an aged and outdated United business cabin again

  12. dc_indi Says:

    Any word on which routes are getting rolled out first and when we can expect to see them available? I know the article I read mentioned Q4. Anyone have any more details than that?

  13. thomas eng Says:

    i agree. while ua picked up the pacific routes from market setter pan am, they forgot to include the personal service. seats are mechanical versus foreign flags who offer electrically powered seats. and the quality of food? well…think mcdonald’s versus trader vic’s. the attitude of the fa’s? after being ripped off by ua (lower compensation, longer hours, loss of retirement, and big bonuses for the management) if i had been working for ua for 30+ years, i guess i wouldn’t give a hoot about the company either.

  14. JEMSAM98 Says:

    This is a step in the right direction. I’ve flown United Business the London and the seats were okay, but very beat up. I agree with the writters commenting on the crew. I’ve found if you butter them up they respond a lot better.

    I looked at the comment from Mark Ashley and it looks pretty tight. Has anyone seen how the 777′s will be laid out?


  15. michael choi Says:

    The 777′s will be in the 2-4-2: same as the 747′s. Looks crammed if you ask me.

  16. Bob G Says:

    I just flew in the new seat and they’re a big improvement though there’s no place to put your stuff. They don’t allow you to put anything in any space below the screen for takeoff and landing. The screen is big and the entertainment options were good.

  17. Michael Hartmann Says:

    Hi. Wondering if anyone knows if the UA 777s from FRA-SFO will be the new seating by December? Otherwise, I’d rather fly the LH 747 with its flat slant…

  18. James Clarke Says:

    I flew in a new seat from LHR to ORD. It’s OK, a little hard and narrow when flat and there is no central privacy screen like on BA which is a problem, the fat guy next to me was masticating on something throughout the flight which was bothersome.

    It’s a step in the right direction but still a decade behind BA and every other airline that doesn’t have the misfortune to be American, so it seems. BA Club and Virgin Upper Class across the pond are infinitely superior. This may be the end of the road for United, if they can’t get this right then there is not much hope for the future particularly given their recent financial problems. Mileage Plus is good, but not good enough to justify continuing to use United if this is the best they can do.

  19. Spenser Says:

    Just booked my flight from SFO to CDG on UAL Biz after reading about the new seats and having an option to purchase a ticket during their EU Biz sale that’s going on.

    I specifically tried to find a flight from the West (SFO) that would utilize the new seats but wasn’t able to do so. (I was surprised to see the 777 3 class config being offered though (SFO-IAD-CDG; so I took this flight as it justifies the cost over flight cramped 1st to ORD in my opinion).

    Anyway, I am glad to say that on my return I am slated to be on a 747 with the new seats. (Have to fly from CDG to FRA then SFO though).

    I just hope there are no changes to that flight and maybe one for my IAD to CDG.. That would be nice

  20. Ted Says:

    Will they ever upgrade the service?

  21. GGH Says:

    Just travelled from LAX to LHR in the new configuration in Business Class, big improvement as I travelled out in the old cabin configuration. Seat was good and definitely detected an effort to improve the human element of the cabin service which was always a bit hit and miss. They need to do some basic things to improve service like self service snacks on a trolley with drinks, common on many airlines and not a big cost just a nice touch but I have to say the crew on both legs were very friendly and made a real effort. This cabin is a massive step forward for United, well done.

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