United is refitting its international widebody fleet with new first and business class seats beginning in the fall (with the 767s) and ending two and a half years from now.
United’s promo site is here.
Business class will feature:
- true lie-flat seats (not the angled-flat wedgie seats)
- some rear-facing seats in business class
- 15″ lcd video screens and video on demand
- iPod adapter and standard outlets for seat power
This will give United the best seats among US-based carriers. But they’re hardly world-leading. Virgin, Air New Zealand, Singapore, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific already offer similar business class seats. Those last three all offer first class as well, with products that will still surpass United’s (and we’re not even getting into the ‘soft product’ of food, service, and amenities – more about that below).
Along with the business class upgrades come far fewer seats — the 747 goes from 73 seats to 52, the 777 from 49 seats to 40, and the 767 from 32 to 26. That’s make international premium class awards and upgrades much harder to come by.
Not surprising, of course, if United is going to invest the money in the product they want a revenue premium for doing so.
There will be fewer first class seats, and on the 747 a whole bunch fewer economy-plus seats. They’ll be packing more sardines in the back.
While first class is improved as well, the difference in hardware between two cabins is reduced. Other airlines that upgrade their business class product while retaining 3 classes of service differentiate the front cabin not just with fewer seats and better hardware, but with meaningfully better service and meals. It’s just hard to imagine United doing this … with designer amenity kits and pajamas, with truly gourmet meals (including good Iranian caviar, lobster, etc) and fine wines (even Dom fails the test for first class champagne), and with attentive, anticipatory flight attendants. I’m actually surprised that United didn’t go two-cabin with this investment and cabin re-fit..
The promo video courtesy of YouTube: