United Airlines will “test [their] U.S. domestic customers’ acceptance of a new economy-class seat” later this month, when a Boeing 757 gets outfitted with a new economy seat design. The plane, with “Slimline Seats” will go into service later this month.

Thanks to an e-mail forwarded to me by a reader of this site, we’ve got UA’s internal-company pitch of the new seats:

New features of the modified B757 include:

* four additional economy-class seats
* leather seat covers in both classes of service, United First and United Economy
* in-seat power available in both classes of service
* life vests installed for all passengers and crew members (given that the seat cushions are not floatable in the new design)
* brand-new seat cushions

The new, slimmer seats have 40 percent fewer parts, making them easier for Maintenance to service, and they are of a lighter weight. In addition, the passenger control units which are typically placed on the tops of the armrests are located on the sides of the seats for a smoother armrest surface.

Literature pockets on the new seats are located above the tray tables, opening up additional personal space surrounding the knees and legs. A smaller, mesh pocket is available lower down on the seat to hold incidentals such as PDAs or eyeglasses.

The test aircraft will enter modification at Timco in Greensboro, N.C., on April 18 and is scheduled to return to service this month. Testing will be conducted for 60 to 90 days to determine customer response.

The aircraft is flying as nose number 5493 today; it will be renumbered 5093 after the modification.

Squeezing four more seats into the 757? I’m trying to figure out how that will work on the seatmap.

Inseat power in both cabins is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t require en EmPower or other adapter.

Reconfiguration of the seatback pocket to provide more room at the knees sounds good, too.

The big risk? Butt and back support. These 757s fly cross-country, and a thinner seat means less padding. (The seat cushions are no longer a floatation device…) Materials science has admittedly come a long way since these planes were last outfitted, so the slimmer seat may be equal to the existing, well-worn seats. But passengers should hope for an upgrade, not a lateral.

And that’s where the phrasing of the announcement worries me. “Testing customers’ acceptance” of the new seats doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you say when there’s an improvement at hand.

Photos of the new seat below (admittedly small pics, but they’re all I can get at the moment.) I enjoy the way the seats are untethered from the confines of an aircraft cabin, and have a backdrop of staircases and shrubbery…

ua slimline 1 United to start testing new slimline coach seats

ua slimline 2 United to start testing new slimline coach seats

ua slimline 3 United to start testing new slimline coach seats

pixel United to start testing new slimline coach seats

13 Responses to “United to start testing new “slimline” coach seats”

  1. Sean Says:

    I don’t think that being thin necessarily means having less support or cushioning. These look similar to the seats on Virgin America, which others have complimented on being thin yet comfortable. (Last time I flew VA, it was a relatively short flight but I remember being quite comfortable.) The thinness should provide more seats (or more legroom … yeah, right!) per plane length.

  2. Robert Says:

    yup – sort of like VA or JetBlue seats WITHOUT video in them …

    trust United … Always 1,2,3… steps behind …

  3. Wade Says:

    Of course, because as we all know, the American public is getting smaller in droves…….

  4. ptahcha Says:

    re: customer acceptance. Remember, this is an internal e-mail and not meant to be disseminated in public. The project manager is probably the person who drafted the e-mail, and they’re at the user/customer acceptance phase of the project timeline, hence the wording.

  5. rcjordan Says:

    Take a look at the headline from yesterday’s Consumerist

    United: If You Can’t Fit In One Seat You Need To Buy Two


  6. Latin Flyer Says:

    The word “slim” is a bad choice as it implies anyone who is not very skinny will be even more cramped than before. It does seem though, that if they adopted the principles of an Aeron chair, then thinner does not necessarily have to mean “less comfortable.

    If you are carrying a very wide load behind you, however, you’re probably out of luck no matter what unless you can afford charter flights or can take the train. Writing is on the wall…

  7. The latest “passenger of size” brouhaha: What’s the fuss? | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] a single seat. The irony of the fact that this news hit the wires on the same day I posted on the new “Slimline” seats is not lost on me. But in the end, the question remains: Why is this a [...]

  8. Suresh Ramasubramanian Says:

    I think these are the new slim recaro seats several airlines are deploying. The seat is comfortable .. it just isnt as clunky as the older seats, so thinner that way. You would actually find it much more comfortable (and more to the point, ergonomically contoured so that your back gets better support). Not new – several airlines have had these for a few years now.

  9. Sonja Holverson Says:

    If it’s so lightweight, simply constructed for easy maintenance, I’d hate to have to endure heavy turbulence or brace for and/or survive a crash!

  10. Suresh Ramasubramanian Says:

    Composite materials and such – light but strong. Seats dont have to be clunky and bulky for that.

  11. Supersized and Overloaded | Flight Wisdom Says:

    [...] has sort of proven that with another recent development Upgrade Travel alerted us to. United is testing ‘customer acceptance’ of a new configuration in economy for [...]

  12. John Gezelius Says:

    Will it be running on specific routes or just in the general flow plan? Has to be better than 11D on Flight 47 today!

  13. Bill Payne Says:

    TWA (remember them?) installed “slimline” seat back in 1995 or so, on all their 747s and L1011s. They were fine – the improved legroom came from a higher seat, meaning your legs could stretch out under the seat in front of you.

    For United to tout these as something new is a bit disengenuous. But they have not been in the inflight service leadership position for many years.

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